update: my employee doesn’t think we’re doing enough about bears at work

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee didn’t think they were doing enough about bears at work? Here’s the update.

I am struggling to put everything into words because what I wrote in about was only one example of many different challenges I had with managing this employee’s expectations and performance. The bear safety training question was the least of it. It got worse before it got better, but it did get better. Last year, we ended up in mediation over three or four other points of conflict. Reaching out to you about this topic was an attempt for me to really check myself and think “am I wanting to shut this request down because I am feeling frustrated with being continually criticized by this employee, or do they genuinely have a point and I am not doing everything I can to ensure the safety of my employees in the workplace?” The commentariat on this blog were really helpful in getting me to reflect, too. Their advice and yours helped me have conversations with my own manager about how to address this issue and others going forward to a fresh operational season. Effectively, though, your last insight in your reply hit very close to home: that there may have been a fundamental misalignment between this person and the type of work they had been hired to do.

The crux of the problem was that this employee and I were at odds for how we envisioned their role, as well as the work we were doing as a team. They would continually push back on what I asked them to do. It felt as if every single time a decision was made without their input (which is a lot of them, as this employee isn’t in a decision-making role and only works four months a year) or a direction was set that they didn’t like, it was a hill to die on and they worked on persuading me that I had to adopt a new direction and rescind the tasks I’d assigned them. That’s things like the bear safety training, but also things like whether an activity for children was scheduled for 9 am or 10 am, or directing staff to set up a shade tent for an activity. Some of these are things that I take input from front line staff on. However, I do take input from my whole team, and consider the perspectives and impacts for everyone and their schedules, which of course means that sometimes I go with my own judgement, or with the suggestion a different employee offers. And this employee would not let things lie. One point in the mediation that I successfully raised was how it was exhausting to have to continually justify every decision, no matter how trivial, to ensure that this employee is persuaded enough to follow directions. They were not respecting my position as a supervisor to direct them in their daily assignments.

This person is also a seasonal staff member and only works for four months a year and they aspire to a lot of additional training and responsibilities, which are challenging to accommodate within a very short season that already has lots of mandatory training and content to learn, as well as actually doing the job they were hired to do. That’s not to say I don’t work to ensure that all of my staff get additional learning opportunities. I tailor their work plans so they can grow and gain experience for their particular goals. Usually, I can manage job shadowing or some sort of additional training course around operational requirements. I have done so for this staff member, managing to arrange for them to attend a week-long train-the-trainer course on a subject they’re passionate about so they can deliver a more advanced training session to colleagues in the spring. That train-the-trainer training and their involvement in training other teams was a huge time commitment and I had to go to bat with my manager to make it happen, as my manager was prepared to just turn down the request given this staff member’s short season. When the season is so short, every bit of extra training adds up. We want staff to feel supported in their positions and set up for success, but every time another optional or mandatory one-to-five-day training course is tacked on, it reduces our offer for the public. That’s one of the reasons my boss had me reach out to our visitor safety officer (our onsite bear safety expert) to determine what type of black bear safety training is necessary for my staff’s positions. It’s not that we didn’t want to ensure they were safe around bears, or only wanted to do the bare minimum, but we had to be really conscious about how much time we were spending on training. If we had longer bear safety training, something else, potentially critical training or operations, would have to give.

In general, I found that when I went to bat for this staff member and arranged things as best I could within the limitations of the system, I would only get complaints about what I wasn’t able to accomplish for them. I would work really hard to provide flexibility within the confines of their position and our collective agreement, when it came to things like paid leave (to the point where my manager was saying I had to rein it in), but this employee would complain that I wouldn’t bend the collective agreement provisions on their behalf. I’m thinking of an incident in which I moved heaven and earth to cover their work and get them paid leave that didn’t come out of their vacation leave bank when their dog unexpectedly passed away right before our busiest weekend of the year. However, they were upset that I couldn’t count it as “bereavement leave” in the leave system. The collective agreement (we’re unionized) explicitly defines the human relatives you can have time off for in that category. Again, they got paid time off, it just wasn’t labelled “bereavement.” And then they told coworkers I was being heartless about them “grieving a family member”… which felt particularly galling as this was the same week that my father was diagnosed with a serious, potentially fatal medical condition, and I was the one covering their shift.

I pride myself on having a good knowledge of the collective agreement, the rights and responsibilities of employees and the employer, what resources are available to employees, and being able to work within the system to provide the greatest benefit and support to my team, while still getting our work accomplished. In this employee’s case, I felt like whatever actions I took to support them, my intentions would be misinterpreted or thrown back in my face, which of course makes me as a human feel less inclined to go out on a limb in the future. The focus was always on what I didn’t or couldn’t do, and which of their suggestions I didn’t or couldn’t implement, instead of the things I did do for them. I am not perfect. I can’t know everything or anticipate every possible eventuality. Our system, our workplace, and our collective agreement isn’t perfect. But I do try my best for my team.

Yes, it is and was emotionally exhausting.

However, the other reason I am still grappling with this is … things have genuinely improved with this employee this past season! A lot of it was the hard work we and the mediator put in to getting things out in the open and recognizing when we were talking at cross purposes. So we have a much more frank and open working relationship now in which they don’t jump to assumptions about me having ill intent anymore. I don’t overcorrect and over-explain my decisions anymore either, which I had fallen into the habit of doing because I got continual pushback. We also had some good discussions in performance management meetings about ways that their behavior and our dynamic had to change to be successful in their role.

Specifically, when it came to the question I wrote in about… I had followed steps one and two of your advice already (confirmed with bear safety experts about appropriate training for this location, found a different kind of training to provide to my staff) but stalled on step three (having the frank conversation about this topic) because there were so many other issues that needed to be more urgently addressed. So for bear safety training, a bear safety expert who worked for a sister site did a comprehensive two and a half hour virtual training session this year about black bear behavior, bear conflict prevention, safety in bear country, and tips and tricks for using bear spray (which is still only to be used in extremis and isn’t provided to all staff). It was recorded and made available to all staff who may not have been able to attend the session live, and that person and others on site who have a lot of experience with black bears and bear spray were available for staff who may have additional questions. I only loan out the bear spray stored in my office upon request of my team members and only one regularly borrows it (not the staff member under discussion).

In any case, I still have some performance concerns with this staff member, which we are working on collaboratively. They did report to me that this past season was the one in which they were happiest with their work assignments, and I was very pleased with improvements to their public-facing work and the way that they interact with me. I’m hoping they continue on this path. I certainly learned a lot as a supervisor through this process. Compared to last year, we have started on a blank slate and now have a much more respectful and fruitful dynamic.

{ 256 comments… read them below }

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Right? This sounds like so much energy to invest in someone who’s only on payroll 33% of the year.

      2. Owlet 101*

        Not even a part timer really. A seasonal employee.

        Good on OP I guess if they wanted to learn how to manage a difficult employee. I am not sure I would have hired them back on this season.

      3. bamcheeks*

        That doesn’t really make sense if the work is seasonal but highly-skilled. You’re making the assumption that part-time = low-skilled and easily replaceable, but for something as specific as this, it might well be pretty high-skilled and technical and you have to work hard to make it worthwhile for good employees so they keep their schedules clear for four months a year.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          They also mentioned in the OP that bears are a very commonplace sighting in folks yards. Betting this is also a very rural area, so hiring is probably more difficult than in a larger city – and even more so for a highly skilled but seasonal position.

          1. North American Couch Wizard Society Member*

            It sounds like this is a position with a national or state park. It also sounds like this employee is in a unionized role and that even without skills that they may be bringing to the role, it may not be practically feasible to let them go since often getting fired from a governmental union role requires actual misconduct, not just being a pain in the neck to work with.

            I really sympathize with the OP. I’ve had a couple of employees like this–who do their job reasonably well, who aspire to higher level work, but who are simply absolutely unable to recognize that their managers are juggling multiple different priorities and so spend a totally inordinate amount of time advocating for their own priorities. It’s exhausting.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              It’s a version of Main Character Syndrome–I’ve met some people who honestly think a job is like montage in a movie, and knowledge/skills are just magically acquired or bestowed by a boss/mentor who is never, ever too busy to talk or spend hours on training one person.

        2. JSPA*

          I’m also wondering if the person is very solid and dependable once they get on board with a plan, or they’re willing to take on at least a subset of undesirable jobs.

          Some people meld a very strong sense of what the job “should” entail with a very strong devotion to doing the job–at least, within the parameters they have visualized, or within updated parameters that they train themselves to accept.

          I’m more familiar with teen camp staff, so this may not fit; but…

          If the rest of your seasonal staff is sneaking out to smoke up behind the toilets, or sneaking off for trysts, or just saying “sure thing boss” but then wandering in 10 minutes late wondering where their whistle is? Then that one person who wants to debate details and know WHYYYY, but is 100% dependable when the details have been hashed through, can absolutely be worth keeping.

          And someone who spots the weak points in a plan also has their uses (though the fact that they seem to have used it mostly for self-serving ends makes that a less compelling argument.) Or there may be some specific features (known past issues that have been overcome, e.g.) that makes the LW want to do much more remedial management than would normally be appropriate.

          But if that’s not the case? Then, yeah, there may be a bit of sunk-cost fallacy at work here.

          (LW, Continued employment is not the same thing as a “most improved” ribbon. Bargaining unit or not, chances are that with a seasonal employee, you can give them a good reference highlighting their growth in the job, and send them on their way, if you’re still not consistently getting what you need out of them; and that’s true even if they’ve pulled themselves up to the level of “mostly tolerable.”)

          On the other hand, if the LW is doing it as a bit of a public service, to turn a young person who’s excellent on paper but a PITA in real life, into an minimally-tolerable employee–then the ex-PITA’s future employers owe the LW a debt of gratitude.

          We’d probably be better off as a society if all employees employing young people in seasonal jobs did a bit extra to clue them in to the ways of the workplace, and especially to disabuse them of the notion that holocracy is standard practice in the workplace, or that self-advocacy is something that is normally practiced continually throughout the average workday, on every topic great and small.

          1. Beboots*

            Hello, OP here – your first comment is right on the money. I had hired them into a permanent seasonal position after one season as a rockstar worker on a temporary contract. When they agree with my vision/direction, they give 110%. But particularly last year there were a lot of times when they didn’t like the direction I set, hence a lot of pushback.

            1. Beboots*

              Also, thank you for introducing me to the term “holocracy”. I find this blog is great for introducing ideas that help me articulate what is going on.

            2. allathian*

              Ugh, I’m sorry. I hope she learns to be a better employee under your guidance and direction.

            3. Princess Sparklepony*

              It just sounds so exhausting. I hope it keeps getting better, you have way more patience than I have.

            4. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

              Hello! I manage academics and I was MELTING with recognition throughout your post. The fact that the mediation worked & you’ve got to a better place with this employee is filling me with hope for some analogous situations of my own (much as the rest of your post filled me with exhaustion and tummy ache). You are my hero

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  Yup, once you know OP is Beboots you can search for “Beboots[asterisk]”. Hard to find that info easily in 200+ comments unless someone gives a hint though :)

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Sounds like a government position, and union. There’s a disciplinary process they’d have to follow before they can fire, and since they ended up in mediation I suspect they were following it, or else had something grieved.

  1. Catwhisperer*

    It sounds like the employee in question may be made of bees, which explains why they were so concerned about bears.

    1. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Definitely. “The bear safety training question was the least of it” is one of the strangest one-sentence red flags I’ve ever read. OP, please draw some boundaries around this beehive for your own health!

    2. Beboots*

      OP here – this “employee is made of bees” concept is delightful and I will think of you and this employee whenever I see bees from now on.

    1. UpstateDownstate*

      Agreed! My eyes crossed over.
      My only guess is that perhaps it’s hard finding that kind of candidate in that area otherwise they would have been gone ages ago. Just yikes!

    2. Dr. Doll*

      Yes, what a time and energy drain. Epic Questioner meets Monumental Obliger, in Rubin parlance. I’m surprised there wasn’t an Explosive Rebellion, maybe it’s that 4 months didn’t let it get that far.

    3. PX*

      Yup. I was ready to give up and just let this person go as “not a good fit” halfway through reading this.

    4. Sara without an H*

      Ditto. LW, I’m glad things are improving with your Bear-serker, but that’s an awful lot of management time and energy to sink into an employee who only works four months out of the year. Do you typically work this hard to accomodate staff?

    5. Van Wilder*

      Yes, this strikes me as one of the LWs that thinks they’re not a good manager if they don’t help every single employee succeed. This employee is not worthy of the time and energy you’re expending to help them grow. What have they done to make your life easier? Cut ties and focus on supporting your staff that are not PITAs and are worthy of your care and leadership.

      1. sb51*

        Or someone who, in turn, has a manager who thinks that a good manager helps every employee succeed and measures their success on it.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, I was very confused about why they entered into an entire mediation process with a seasonal employee who is there 1/3 of the year. I’m not saying mediation can’t be useful even in a seasonal role, but it seemed like a lot to invest in an employee who clearly had a ton of other stuff going on with their work and who wasn’t even year round.

      1. Jess*

        Sounds like it may be wildland park service, in which case rural and low pay. I imagine that must be difficult to fill, so any hands are better than none.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          There’s an offshoot to the “any hands are better than none” line of thinking:

          Bad breath is better than no breath

          … which IME is decidedly NOT true

          But maybe LW’s specific circumstances make this worth it.

          My guess is that at the very least they will be quicker to have “maybe this person isn’t a good fit for the position or needs to be managed differently?” pop up earlier in the process when the next compulsively “show your work, in detail / why aren’t you doing this instead?” employee veers out of their lane. Then after one or two rounds of doing a sanity check to make sure they’re not missing something and realizing “nope, we’re good” they can move on to how to manage the employee’s behavior and avoid a massive time sink. (And possible fall out of other employees getting fed up and leaving instead)

          1. Pescadero*

            “Bad breath is better than no breath … which IME is decidedly NOT true”

            Being dead is better than having bad breath?

            1. Hannah Lee*

              If you read it in the context of “hiring manager needs to fill a position” it will make more sense.

              Hiring someone who is a bad fit just because you want to staff up quickly IME does not work out. Not even in the short term, because they suck up resources you didn’t have enough of to begin with as you try to manage them and then have to fire them.

              1. Govemployee*

                In some government positions, if a position is vacant for more than a certain amount of time then funding for the position will be removed from the agency’s budget and they will need to seek a reauthorization for the position in the next fiscal year.

                1. Hannah Lee*

                  Got it.

                  Though I’m curious, from what I’ve heard about government positions, once someone’s hired, it’s hard to get rid of them.

                  So how do they manage hiring someone who is a bad fit, just to get someone in to make sure funding isn’t cut, but then deal with the fact that the position is filled by someone who can’t do the job or takes up more resources/effort in managing them than they bring to the organization, so they’re a net-negative?

              2. Govemployee*

                Typically they hire who they think will be the least bad and hope they don’t stay too long. Once they want them to go, sometimes they will give a glowing reference if they go elsewhere or treat them poorly in the hopes that they will quit. If they are still probationary it is not as hard to fire them. It’s not a preferred solution but after losing a position it can take more than a year to get it back so it may be operationally easier to have someone who does very little and leaves after 6 months than leave the position unfilled.

      2. Beboots*

        OP here – I will say that the mediator was super helpful but that she retired over the winter. Someone from the higher up HR team in my organization followed up in the spring to close the loop, and when heard about what conflict led up to the mediation his response was “…so why was mediation the direction my predecessor chose? This should have been a straight up insubordination case. It shouldn’t have gone to mediation.” Which, uh, was very gratifying to hear. ;)

    2. Linda*

      I was wondering why they’re being brought back, too. I thought jobs like that, even seasonal jobs, were highly competitive. Have I been wrong about this? Am I about to change careers and run free in the bear-infested woods?

      1. Raccoon Lady*

        I wonder if it’s something like previous seasonal employees don’t have to fully reapply/are given preference, etc.

      2. slashgirl*

        They’re unionized and it could be in their contract that they’re have right of recall to their positions every year.

        I’m unionized educational support staff–I do not get paid for xmas/march break or summer break. In fact, we’re laid off every June for the summer, so collect ei (and can also get it for xmas/march breaks). BUT we are also recalled to our positions in June. We get a notification on our employee info site and the notice says we’re being recalled to x position(s) at x school for x hours for the upcoming school year. We click yes or no.

        Sounds like they may have something similar at this job. That would also explain doing mediation and having to work through this with the employee.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          But even then there has to be a mechanism for not bringing back underperforming people. Oh sorry kids, you get the support staff that will only do their job if every attempt to get out of it doing it has failed.

          The manager was even leaning towards not rehiring, so I don’t think this person has such super special skills that they have to be kept on.

          1. Paulina*

            Yes, I was somewhat shocked that OP was trying to get this person “train the trainer” training, setting them up to train other staff, when they had such a bad attitude and a known disregard for that workplace’s procedures. Presumably OP saw some greater potential in this person than came across in the initial letter.

          2. doreen*

            In many cases, the mechanism to not bring back underperforming people is the same as the mechanism to fire underperforming people in any position at any time of year. The employer can’t just decide not to bring Sally back for the next school year because she didn’t perform well this year – they have to go through the same process as they would if they wanted to fire Sally in November.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              But there is a process. It might be difficult and labor intensive to follow, but it can’t be more work than constantly trying to keep the complainer from complaining. The upside is once you spend the energy on the firing process and they are gone, you don’t have to spend any more energy on them. But if you keep them, its a constant energy drain.

      3. Stoney Lonesome*

        I work in environmental education. It really depends on the location, job description, and housing options as to how competitive it is.

        The reserve where I currently work is not super remote, but still pretty rural. It’s about a 20 minute drive to the nearest town and about an hour and a half drive to the nearest city. We currently provide housing to our season techs, but not to our seasonal educators. The technician jobs are pretty competitive, but it can be really difficult to find seasonal educators. There is a university about 30 minutes away and that is where pretty much all of our seasonal educators come from. At this point, we time our summer programming around the college schedule. I am pushing this year to get housing for our seasonal educators as well to maybe open up some more options.

        We have a sister site that really tries to hang on to seasonal staff that have the ability to come back year after year. There is something to be said for someone who already knows the site and has some institutional knowledge.

        I will also add that when I was fresh out of college, I took a seasonal gig in the bear-infested woods. I lived in park housing in a one room cabin in the middle of nowhere. There was no internet and hardly any cell service. Town was about 10 miles away. It was incredibly lonely and I hated it. While the bears are cute, they aren’t very talkative. I still love the environmental education and the work I do, but I need to live in civilization.

      4. Pescadero*

        You’ve been wrong about this.

        They’re generally low paying jobs, that require some actual skills, in areas of the country with low population and generally minimal job prospects.

        They’re massively understaffed – with places like USFWS and the national refuge system being around 50% understaffed. National Refuge officers are down 65% since 1990.

      5. Not A Bear*

        As someone who works in this general sector: Can you BYO housing such as an RV? If yes, congrats, you’ve cleared the biggest hurdle to your new career running free in bear-infested woods (while saying “you need to put that in a bear box” and/or “hey bear go away bear”)

        But in all seriousness, the problem is almost entirely housing. I’ve had opportunities to apply for full-time permanent jobs that I’d love and that I’m qualified for and that are at a higher level and are in or next to the areas with some of the best outdoor areas in the country and laws against anti-trans discrimination – but the housing market in those areas is SO expensive that I’d have less take-home pay, even with the increase in salary! Unsurprisingly, I’ve had conversations with people who’ve worked at those sites who’ve told me they can’t hire enough seasonal staff because in addition to labor shortages affecting their applicant pool, even the employees who do accept offers sometimes have to rescind them because they simply can’t secure housing in the area during the peak season. Even at my workplace, which is in an area with a 6-figure population center that’s not close to either a top wilderness recreation hotspot or hardest hit by the housing crisis, it’s still tough enough that over the past few years we’ve had employees including management temporarily living in their vehicles, couch-surfing, supercommuting once a week or so from hours away, and so on.

        So, yeah, on top of everything with union and probably government employment that’s going on, if this seasonal employee is capable of finding a place to live nearby and properly storing and disposing of bear attractants and showing up on time and hasn’t been caught doing a crime on the job and is not actually a particularly smart bear in an employee uniform… Then yeah, I can see how the management of that site would have a hard time justifying further up the chain why they didn’t hire him.

    3. Beth*

      I was also wondering why this employee keeps getting hired back. Maybe OP is in a remote enough location that staff are hard to come by? That’s all I can think of–even the best union protection doesn’t usually extend to forcing the rehiring of seasonal staff.

  2. i like hound dogs*

    Credit to you, OP. This person sounds exhausting.

    Some of your insights actually kinda remind me of the things I’ve learned about parenting my eight-year-old son. My husband is constantly arguing with him and overexplaining his parenting rationale. I’ve noticed that my son reacts much better when you just tell him what he needs to do / issue a consequence rather than going in circles about how you (the parent) feel. Still trying to explain this to my husband before all the back-and-forth arguing and negotiation makes my head explode, lol

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      IDK if this is relevant or useful but with my godkids we’ve settled on “you can always ask me to explain later but if I tell you to do something with no explanation I need you to trust me.”

      This was originally a rule for being out in the woods or on watercraft but it actually works out really well for everyone in general.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        That makes sense!

        The irony of our parenting discrepancies is that I do try to make sure and listen to my son when he explains why he doesn’t want to do X or Y. I just then say, “Okay, I hear that you don’t want to take a shower, but you need to anyway. Go.” My husband’s response is more along the lines of “I played with you all day and let you play video games for an extra half hour; now you need to be grateful. Okay? Got it? Are you okay with that?” Etc. etc. It seems like he’s always asking for buy-in/approval.

        I’m having trouble articulating the exact dynamic/reason behind it, but somehow I feel like when we try to be more accommodating (“Okay, you can delay your shower by 30 min”) it just ends up worse in the end, kinda like the OP is experiencing when they try to meet the employee halfway.

        1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          I would think that part of it is that you’re increasing the anxiety around it by just pushing it forward a half hour. Instead of getting it over with, there’s an extra 30 minutes to fight/worry over it. For both you and your kid.

          Like, it’s fine if kid doesn’t want to do something. But it still has to get done, so better to go ahead and get it over with if there’s no actual reason to delay (like, if they want to finish building the lego set they’re almost done with, or they want to finish the chapter they’re reading/etc., let them do that, because it’s rude to insist someone stop in the middle of something for something that can wait).

        2. DisneyChannelThis*

          Your approach is basically validate that he is objecting but standing firm on do it anyway. That’s helpful for teaching kids to emotionally self regulate too, we acknowledge how we feel, set it aside and do the task.

          You’re also not setting yourself up for failure, ie if arguing for 20min gets him out of task, he’s going to always argue at least 20min to see if he gets out of task. Kinda like giving into tantrums.

          I don’t like your husband’s approach. He’s actually invalidating the emotion (You don’t feel angry at wanting to do this task , you feel grateful instead). Which now on top of having to do task your son is having to navigate having the “wrong” feeling which is a second task he probably doesn’t want to do!

          1. i like hound dogs*

            Thank you — you articulated that much better than I could. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to manage my own parenting PLUS my husband’s and it’s very tiring and both of us hate it.

            We could probably use the mediation that the OP went through.

            1. DisneyChannelThis*

              The best relationship advice I ever got was from Brene Brown. It’s team us vs the problem. Don’t let it become me vs my partner, it’s team us vs the problem. You vs me can quickly lash out in all sorts of ways, it lingers too.

              Find a time to discuss with your husband not in the heat of the moment, its not your technique vs my technique on how to handle ‘I dont want to shower’-child. It’s us vs the problem that kiddo won’t do tasks promptly. “Babe after the kids go to bed let’s have a drink and check in and discuss strategies together for parenting.” “Getting on the same page” “consistency” “Presenting a unified parenting front” are other keywords to use in that discussion.

          2. Clare*

            This is the key to the whole problem.

            Your husband is invalidating your kid’s feelings by insisting that he should feel gratitude instead of grumpiness. It’s so much more helpful to say to a kid “Ugh, I know, right? It does suck to have to waste time on showering when you could be doing other things! When you invent a magic insta-shower wand I’ll buy the dozen pack! Now off you go!”. That shows them that you understand their feelings, that you believe them, that you’d protect them from this (incredibly minor suffering) if you could. You’re providing an atmosphere of empathy and understanding. It’s the two of you against the world, side by side. Reflecting people’s mood back at them is a very important way of making them feel validated – child or adult.

            By telling your kid his feelings are wrong, your husband is making your kid feel guilty and misunderstood. It’s not surprising that a kid doesn’t respond well to that. Stewing in a misunderstood miasma of misery for 20 minutes isn’t going to help at all. He’s inadvertently setting things up so that it’s him vs son, rather than family vs life chores. Your husband probably doesn’t feel a spark of joy when it’s time to take out the trash, even if you watched a movie with him earlier. Adults are just usually better at doing the chore anyway without letting their feelings leak out.

            You husband can empathise with your son, I’m sure. He just needs to do that mental reframing to stand next to him, rather than opposite him. He’ll still be grumpy every time he has to do things he doesn’t want to, but he’ll bounce back much quicker and they’ll build their rapport in the process.

        3. Jay (no, the other one)*

          Yup. I am Team You. I didn’t need her to agree with me. I listened, validated the emotion, and reiterated the decision. And I tried very hard to give her autonomy when I could and choose my battles. The older she got the fewer battles I chose.

          Result: 20 yo kid comes home in March of 2020 because of lockdown and has to live with my very strict COVID rules because I’m an MD and was seeing patients in person. Not one argument or objection. “You say no to me more now than you ever did when I was in HS and I know you have to.”

        4. Marna Nightingale*

          Oof yeah that sounds *exhausting*.
          I was thinking more along the lines of “you need to have a shower because:
          a) There won’t be time tomorrow morning, we have to leave early for chess club,
          b) I know it’s not bothering you but the state of your hair is driving me nuts,
          c) I need you to try this on and if it doesn’t fit it has to go back and that means we can’t get it dirty, or
          d) We live in a society and sweetie, you stink.”

          Not so much the “you owe me personally a shower because I let you stay out all afternoon” circles.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            I forgot to say that the best part about “I’ll explain later” is that roughly 90% of the time either the reason becomes clear to the kid or they decide they don’t care that much, and the other 10% is stuff where you probably really do need to explain or negotiate the nuts and bolts.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              When it’s a matter of safety, they *have* to obey now and understand later, so this is the way to go.

    2. TootsNYC*

      when I was a kid, my mom used to do a lot of “Why don’t you think about it and see if you can figure out why I made that decision?” and then disengaging.

      Or if you had some other question, couldn’t find something, etc., she’d say, “What would you do it I weren’t here to ask? Try that.” and disengage.

      1. Cyndi*

        My mom was also a big “don’t bring me problems if you don’t have a solution” person when I was a kid and sure, that taught me to handle my own stuff, but it also taught me that asking for help is shameful and equates to failure. Obviously people’s experiences vary a lot, but I think it can hit very differently in parenting than in managing an adult report.

        1. i like hound dogs*

          I definitely help my son with stuff (honestly probably too much) so it’s interesting to see perspectives from the flip side of the coin. I guess it’s all on a parenting spectrum, because I do want him to come to me when he needs my help, but I also want him to get his own glass of water or whatever.

          Mostly I just want my husband to stop arguing with a kid!

          1. Allonge*

            It’s not really the same thing, though. Never, or almost never responding to a need from a child is bad parenting / abusive, and bad managment for adults.

            But ‘I need you to pay attention to me and I use useless arguments to do so’ is not an appropriate life strategy. Not taking a bath is not a option, most days, and arguing with a manager for every item on a to-do list will get you fired. Cutting this short is not the same as expecting a child to fend for themselves.

            1. Cyndi*

              That’s exactly what I was saying! The kind of thing Toots was describing is really similar to advice I’ve seen on here for getting employees to be more self sufficient and it makes sense in that context, but children don’t know what they don’t know, and usually can’t just go to SharePoint and dig up a 100 page PDF that will explain their parents’ decisions to them.

              1. Allonge*

                I think that the ‘what do you think’ approach can be appropriate for adults and children alike, as long as it’s a response to specific situations.

                There are some things that even smallish kids know why/how/what they need to do, it’s just much easier to ask Mom to do it (because learned helplessness / anxiety / laziness / other suboptimal responses to life). Ditto for adults: there are only so many times I will answer the same question on procedures before I start referring people back to previous conversations.

                Like everything else, it’s a balance to be found – parent/manager does not need to supply everything pre-chewed, but a lot of times they need to make a decision / give the answer.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  it’s such a kid-dependent thing though. I’ve got a 5yo who has been getting her own cup of water since she was 18 months old and realised she could drag a chair over to the sink, and has taken over making her own and her big sister’s hot milk because she doesn’t trust us to do it the way she likes it. The 10yo needs you to prove you love her by getting her a glass of water or taking a crumpet out of the freezer and putting it in the toaster. This part is NOT relevant to management IMO. ;)

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        This is great for when you get to the 3rd or 4th question in the “why” chain too!

    3. bamcheeks*

      YES I see this with my partner and our 9yo. Justifying and rationalising things is like feeding more energy into a fire, and 9yo starts marshalling her arguments and gathering all her energy into arguing rather than Doing The Thing. If I see that she’s starting to work up a counter-argument as to why she WAS putting her shoes on (getting dressed, eating dinner, cleaning her teeth, tidying up, etc) I withdraw from the argument, and all that gathered energy goes into (resentfully) Doing The Thing instead!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It was relevant to how to address arguments when you just need the person to do the thing. Sometimes parenting skills overlap with managing skills, and not just for people who work with kids.

  3. Nia*

    There is absolutely no way that a subpar employee who only works four months a year is worth all of this. They should have been fired ages ago.

    1. Siege*

      At the very least, not rehired. I’m exhausted reading this and I don’t work with this person. This is like my most terrible coworker’s year, I can’t imagine packing all that drama into four months.

      1. mags*

        I am dying to know what the other employees feel about all this. It probably evens out more than it sounds in this account, but SO MUCH time and energy seems to be spent going to bat to placate this one employee. It seems like other balls have to be dropping somewhere?

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I know that unions can make things harder, but this person is 100% not worth all this extra effort. I fear the LW is too concerned with seeming fair and kind and not seeing the big picture. I am glad things have improved, but was it worth all that effort?

    3. TootsNYC*

      they may be in a physical location where there simply aren’t that many choices when it comes to employees. And if there’s a union, there are protective steps. Not that it’s impossible to fire someone, but there’s work to it, which is supposed to incentivize managers to more proactively manage.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Excellent points. Seems quitw likely, given the workplace is in a location where bear training is required.

        Plus, being a seasonal job might reduce the pool of potential employees even more, as many people don’t want such short term income/employment.

    4. Antilles*

      I agree.
      The training part in particular felt really odd to me. I applaud managers trying to grow employees and encouraging their employees to take additional training. But is it really a good use of your time and funds to have someone who’s there for four months a year go to a weeklong “train your trainers” thing that’s not really part of the role, purely because the employee finds it interesting? That’s something like 8% of his entire working year, gone.
      I’m not surprised the manager was planning on just flat turning down the training, because that seems like the objectively correct call.

      1. Kes*

        Yeah I have to agree with this. It sounds like OP is really invested in being a really good boss, which obviously it’s good that they do care, but also as a leader you need to balance the needs of your team with the needs of the organization. This sounds like OP was focused on what their employee wanted, but if it doesn’t make sense from an organizational standpoint it may not be the right call. Also, in pushing things through and going to bat for the employee OP is effectively spending their own capital with their boss, which is a limited resource, on something that honestly may not really be worth it (a training that doesn’t necessarily make sense, for someone who already isn’t really doing great as an employee)

      2. Pam Adams*

        I winder what kind of training they would be doing- possibly infecting the team with their negativism,

      3. Hlao-roo*

        I went back and re-read that part because I was similarly confused. The OP wrote:

        I have done so for this staff member, managing to arrange for them to attend a week-long train-the-trainer course on a subject they’re passionate about so they can deliver a more advanced training session to colleagues in the spring.

        The context of the OP planning for the employee to lead trainings on [topic] in subsequent springs makes a little more sense. The employee didn’t take the course just for fun (or just to learn more about [topic]), they took the course so they can start leading trainings on [topic]. If the employee continues to improve (general performance-wise) and works for multiple years (including leading trainings on that topic for multiple years), then the decision to let them attend the train-the-trainer course could pay off pretty well.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’m questioning that kind of investment into an employee that it honestly seems like the organization would be better off without. How many better-performing coworkers are considering quitting because of the time, capital and opportunities spent on this one person?

    5. Looper*

      100% agree. I cannot fathom what value this person brings to this team and I will bet they are actually dragging down the work of other staff. This person should not be working there anymore.

    6. CRM*

      This was my first thought too, but then I realized that since they are working for a park that is likely in a remote area, then they may struggle to stay fully staffed (especially for seasonal positions). As much work as this employee is, it may be more work to try and find a replacement, especially is this person is reliable enough to return every season and is showing improvement. But OP is definitely between a rock and a hard place on this one.

      1. MM*

        It’s a harsh rationale, but what happens if the person is hit by a car the next day? Or hospitalized (or worse, die).

        Even though it is unionized and there are steps, I would not hire this person again even if their skillset is one of those “hard to fill” positions. See above for reasoning. Gotta find someone else, OP.

        1. Pescadero*

          “It’s a harsh rationale, but what happens if the person is hit by a car the next day?”

          IME with this sort of thing… the work just doesn’t get done. Things fall apart.

    7. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Is this a case of rural employer has literally no choice because they’ve hired everyone in the county not otherwise employed? Because if not, I can’t imagine re-hiring this jerk every year.

  4. Mike*

    This person is a “help-rejecting complainer” (thanks to Lori Gottleib for this term, which is the perfect description once you encounter them). I fear the improvement in behavior will be temporary, but I wish you the best!

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Or they have just switched to complaining to someone else. I fear that other employees are now receiving an unending stream of negativity because employee has learned that doesn’t work with boss, but has not learned not to do it in general.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        … except that OP said “They did report to me that this past season was the one in which they were happiest with their work assignments” so I think OP’s work has had definite results.
        (It was in the last paragraph, I perfectly understand if you didn’t get that far!)

    2. higheredadmin*

      100% – this is the most tothe point observation in here: In general, I found that when I went to bat for this staff member and arranged things as best I could within the limitations of the system, I would only get complaints about what I wasn’t able to accomplish for them. Once OP breaks this cycle it should get better. Not better like if the staff member was actually good at their job. OP should also consider the other staff – someone like this can really suck up the manager time and energy, and end up with a lot more “things” (training, paid time off) than others who are not complaining.

    3. Throwaway Account*

      I also want to say many thanks for this concept!

      I just went down a rabbit hole reading about it. It does not suggest cutting those people out of your personal life, but I have dropped one and am low contact with one now. It is just too exhausting even to follow the advice!

      1. allathian*

        I’ve done the same. I mean sure it can be great to vent to a friend every once in a while, but do it too often and your friends will start to resent you. Sometimes the venting provides just enough of an outlet to the person that they can go right back to enduring whatever it was that they’re venting about (toxic job, abusive spouse, horrible extended family members…), and when they’re finally deprived of their enabler, they may get help elsewhere and maybe get out of the horrible relationship, get a new job, or go low or no contact with parts of their extended family. Obviously this isn’t guaranteed, but more often than not, listening to repeated venting about the same issue is a form of enabling.

  5. Janeric*

    Ah OP, I’m glad to hear it! Balancing seasonal outdoor work and training is usually such a heavy lift already.

    1. Janeric*

      (And like. Finding someone who’s willing to work multiple years for only four months in a job that has bears (and other outside complications), customer service, and extensive training requirements… I can understand why you’ve stuck with this person.)

  6. Marna Nightingale*

    That’s a pretty great outcome for everyone—including the bears, who I feel should not be wantonly sprayed.

    I have to ask — did the training include a screenshot of that mildly famous tweet about bear spray not working like bug spray?

    1. Working Class Lady*

      LOL Even I know that bear spray isn’t supposed to be user like bug spray, and I work in a setting where food & chemical safety (not bear safety) is the main concern.

      (I’m just a person who enjoys hiking, and the National Park Service website will tell you this).

      As a supervisor myself who has dealt with a particularly difficult employee, this was EXHAUSTING to read.
      I understand getting emoloyee input where feasible, but you do NOT need to spend time & energy justifying *every single minor decision* you make to your employee when making decisions is part of your job description, not theirs.
      Supervisors and managers make decisions- that is how jobs work, and it seems this person doesn’t fully understand that.

      And I would not have spent all those extra resources on train-the-trainer courses if that’s not a normal part of this person’s role, especially on someone who causes this much drama.

  7. I should really pick a name*

    I honestly don’t see the point in hiring this employee for another season.
    The level of effort required just doesn’t seem worth it.

    I also think the LW should explore why their urge is to bend over backwards to fulfill every request. A good manager is flexible, and listens to their employees, but they still need to evaluate whether a request makes sense. For example, an extra week of training (that is not required) for a four month position is not reasonable.

    1. Specks*

      This. What on earth is this employee bringing to the table that no one else could possibly deliver? I was exhausted just reading this; the employee sounds demanding, negative, and unreasonable. OP, do you have to hire this person back, truly? Why do this to yourself?

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        There’s a reasonable chance that this person is doing a forestry or outdoor rec or related degree and working for Parks Canada (or a provincial equivalent) in the off-season.

        In which case they’re going to be around long-term in some capacity in what’s not a huge workforce and getting them dialed in to the culture is part of what the summer positions are for.

        And honestly, if OP thinks the work has paid off who are we to say no?

      2. Pescadero*

        “What on earth is this employee bringing to the table that no one else could possibly deliver? ”

        Potentially a warm body that is willing to show up for like minimum wage for only 4 months a year.

        There is a reason national parks, national refuges, etc. are massively understaffed and have been for years and years.

  8. Some people’s children!*

    This would be exhausting with a permanent full time employee. I wouldn’t do it for a 4 month employee unless they have special skills that are hard to find. I’m happy for you that it seems to be working.

  9. The dark months*

    What a great update! It sounds like you have learned a lot as a manager and hopefully, with the reduced conflict, you can spend more time on your job and the other staff. I hope your father is ok and that your staff member (and the bears) continue to respect each others healthy boundaries.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – thank you for your well-wishes! My father is doing alright – at this stage his condition is considered “life shortening” but not terminal, as was originally more likely, and he’s receiving good treatment from experts in their field. And this year had way less conflict with that employee, which did wonders for my own mental health (and availability to support my other staff members).

      1. Clare*

        Glad to see things are looking a bit better for you! You’ve well and truly earned it, by the sound of things.

  10. Fiona Orange*

    At first, I thought “bears” was a code word because the LW didn’t want to reveal the nature of their work due to privacy; much in the way that people here often refer to their jobs as “chocolate teapots” or “llama grooming” or “squirrel wrangling.”

    1. many bells down*

      Even knowing they work outdoors in an area with actual bears, my brain won’t stop picturing OP in like… a law office in Manhattan.

  11. pally*

    I deeply admire the amount of time and care the OP put into making things work for their report.
    (I’d work for the OP any time!)
    Glad that things have improved with this report.
    OP is way more patient than I could ever be on something like this.
    I hope the relationship with this report improves even more.

    1. Working Class Lady*

      Same. I’m a supervisor myself and care deeply about the well-being of the people who work for and around me.
      But a job is still a job at the end of the day, and it sounds like this employee is sapping valuable time & resources.
      This sounds exhausting – no way would I do this to myself!

    2. Allonge*

      I admire OP’s effort (and I too am glad there is improvement), but I would not want to work for them.

      This is waaay too much of the squeaky wheel getting the grease – there is no way this is not impacting OP’s ability to do their job, take care of themselves and the other employees.

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – thank you for the positive comments on this thread! They really touched me. This whole situation with this employee last year really battered my confidence in myself as a supervisor, as I was getting a fairly constant stream of negativity and criticism… I am heartened by comments like yours, and from another staff member telling me when they finished for the season that I was the best supervisor that they’d ever had! It’s too easy to focus only on the negativity I find.

        1. allathian*

          I’m glad that this negative Nelly hasn’t sapped all your energy and time, even if she takes a disproportionate amount of both.

          I hope that things continue to improve if she comes back next season.

  12. Chai and Coffee*

    Kudos for your patience LW.

    I’m curious how your other team members have felt about this whole experience? Did anyone ever complain about this person’s negative attitude or quit/not come back for unexplained reasons?

    I’m glad you feel happy with the resolution. I just wonder how much emotional labor everyone else had to deal with, because of your decision to rehire this problematic person.

    1. Silver Robin*

      +1 I, too, am curious how this person is to work with. We know they complain to others about OP from the bereavement leave episode, so I imagine they complain about other things too. That is such a drain on morale…

    2. Dido*

      I agree. I’m sure the LW thinks she’s being nice, but she sounds like a bit much of a pushover and no doubt the rest of the team’s morale is in the gutter after watching the LW pander to their nuisance colleague over and over

      1. Emily*

        Dido: Yeah, this is my concern as well. LW needs to think about all their employees, not just the squeaky wheel, who is not even working properly even when it does get grease.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      Was anyone else hoping to go to the train-the-trainers seminar but was passed over in favor of this squeakiest of all wheels? Did anyone else on the team lose flexibility in their shifts to accommodate this one person? For that matter, did the organization as a whole get closer to achieving its mission thanks to you going to bat for this employee?

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – oddly enough, this train the trainer seminar is for a training session that is extremely difficult to get people interested in. This employee is actually a huge outlier for being really passionate about the subject. Usually staff from other departments have to be effectively dragged to this (mandatory) training, let alone sign up to be the trainer themselves.

        1. Clare*

          Hmm. It sounds like there’s a bit of a theme popping up here. Your problem employee seems to really enjoy formalised learning opportunities. Could that be why they keep making a fuss and insisting that they need training on everything including how to use the kitchen sink? Perhaps there might be other ways to get them learning things while on the job that don’t result in everyone else having to do all the extra unnecessary training courses.

          It also might be worthwhile having a chat to them and pointing out that different people learn in different ways, and that just because they’d feel most comfortable learning XYZ via formal training, others on the team have learned it to your satisfaction through experience or through observation or conversations with colleagues – and that’s not inferior, just different!

          1. Beboots*

            OP here – that’s a really good point! The person does really focus on formal training sessions instead od self-guided learning or on the job shadowing… And also seems to try to apply what they think is needed (for themselves) in a blanket way for the team. Like, “we all need this training” instead of “I’m still not comfortable using this tool/doing this task, so I need more time to practice /to do more research/ to talk to an expert and ask them questions”. Hmm… Something to think about.

    4. Beboots*

      OP here – I can’t speak too much to this as most of my staff don’t confide in me about things like this in depth, but I get the impression from observation and from some comments made to me in confidence that this person is very gregarious and willing to help, plus passionate about our visitor-facing work but very overbearing to work with behind the scenes. I definitely have some more stories about this person in my back pocket but that would be more identifiable. Overall, I found that some staff really like them, or put up with their quirks, but others don’t enjoy working with them.

      The staff member who has been on the team the longest (12+ years) who is normally the most supportive person in the world, very focussed on being mindful of workload and mental health of staff members, and who I thought was very much on that staff member’s side (if we can call it “sides”), confided in me this season that they were a bit fed up with the problem employee. They were talking about a few other complaints the employee had couched in the rhetoric of occupational health and safety – the problem employee was trying to make the case that wilderness first aid training (a 5 day training course) should be considered a requirement of their job, to lead short guided hikes or to do programs with children adjacent to a shallow pond. This long time staff member was worried that essentially the problem staff member would argue them all out of the fun parts of the job. (Because the more efficient solution would be – well, if it requires that much training, then we’ll just stop doing activities outside of town in natural areas.) This long time staff member is not in the habit of sharing critical comments on other staff so this was a surprise to me, that they felt this way!

        1. Emily*

          Yes, it’s a ginormous red flag waving right in OP’s face, and I really hope they pay attention to it…

  13. BradC*

    So… hypothetically speaking, is choosing not to re-hire a seasonal employee for the following season the same as “firing” them? Or more like declining to extend an offer to an applicant?
    Or is that distinction important?
    Because… unless OP has a vast lack of applicants, wouldn’t hiring someone with less issues following directions be preferable?

    1. Yes And*

      My organization took this tack with a deeply problematic seasonal employee. It didn’t stop him from hiring a lawyer and threatening to sue us. We wound up settling for a nominal sum, but it still rankles.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      This is a common way that teachers are “fired”. Since they are on contract, it is usually easier to wait until the year is over and decline to renew them.

  14. Sally Sparrow*

    This employee needs to go. They’re making a ton of fuss for a seasonal 4-month position. I commend you OP for going to bat for them and am glad your manager seems to be looped in on how much handling this employee needs. But I really think they should not be rehired for future seasons.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, I’m particularly concerned that OP went against their manager’s advice to recommend this employee for extra training. OP, is this employee really where you want to be spending your limited capital?

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – the train-the-trainer course was to lead a mandatory training that is not particularly popular so it made operational sense to have someone in our department capable of leading it… but as you say, I do regret spending my limited capital on this. :/

  15. Alle Meine*

    I am so tired for the OP from reading that. I have kids and the coworker sounds exactly like my 5 yr old who is trying to build a case for staying up past their bedtime even though they have school in the morning and will be super cranky if they don’t get to bed.

    1. i like hound dogs*


      You don’t get everything you want just because you are loud/make a case for it.

  16. Never the Twain*

    LW you are a world more patient than me. I can’t help wondering if the ‘improvement’ observed really means that the employee is now what one would want them to be, or just better than the previous catastrophic black hole of morale and goodwill such that they are ‘good’ by comparison. I’ve seen multiple promotions claimed and awarded on just that basis – if not expressed in quite those terms.

  17. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    UGH. Even with the improvements it sounds EXHAUSTING. You have to continually watch what you are doing with this person and put in a lot of extra effort.

    For what this person brings to the position — for only 4 months of the year — is keeping this person on really worth it? not sure how well staffed you are or what options you have, but do really consider not keeping this person. You have to consider the effect of this person on everyone else. She might not be improved with you, but how is she with others? The public? Are other staff seeing you walking on eggshells with this person and wondering why she gets all the attention? Quietening the squeaky wheel instead of replacing it can have a heck of a hit on morale. Sure they see how you try to accomodate requests. But they also see you will put up with a lot and even work hard to make that person happy, while letting other things go because you only have so many hours in the day.

  18. Twenty Points for the Copier*

    I agree this person sounds exhausting and I am very impressed with the LW’s patience. Even though the original letter was actually about bears, the problem wasn’t about the bears. It was about a compulsive need to be consulted for and have input in every decision… which seems unreasonable for a lower level seasonal employee.

    Though “my employee doesn’t think we’re doing enough about bears at work” remains my favorite letter title.

  19. Generic Name*

    My goodness. This is A LOT of effort for a sub-par seasonal employee. Why does she still have a job??

    1. allathian*

      I suspect that she does her job well enough when she feels that her objections have been listened to.

      Just because the job is seasonal doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily unskilled.

      I’m wondering what she does the rest of the year, though, given that this sort of seasonal work is unlikely to pay well enough for her to twiddle her thumbs the rest of the year…

      That said, she sounds exhausting to deal with…

  20. Essentially Cheesy*

    I am glad things came to a good resolution.

    Since there is a CBA involved, I would think that a union steward would have been handling these issues with grievances? Or is the LW the union steward?

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – at the time, I was a union steward as well, though obviously I wasn’t acting in that role in this mediation. (It was actually a point that the problem employee tried to use against me, claiming that they felt that because I was on the local union executive they couldn’t go to the union for help… even though there are representatives from multiple different departments, and all of their contact information is shared through multiple avenues accessible to them, alongside regional reps that are above my head??)

      Anyway, it didn’t go to grievance, as mediation was proposed by HR and my acting manager at the time. Though if it had gone to grievance, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere as it would have been without merit – part of the “problem” was I was exactly acting within my role and theirs, and following the collective agreement (because I know it so well) and safe work practices. I was just not agreeing to do a bunch of extra things for them.

  21. Panhandlerann*

    It must be hard to come by seasonal employees at this place. Otherwise, I can’t imagine rehiring this person from one season to the next.

  22. CRM*

    I just wanted to say that I’m wishing you all of the best, OP! As an avid outdoor enthusiast, I really appreciate the hard and often thankless work you do.

  23. Emily*

    Thank you for the update, LW. To echo what others have said, this sounds exhausting, and my two cents is that it seems like way too much work is being put in around this employee. I’m struggling to see why it is worth it to bring this person back season after season.

  24. bamcheeks*

    I’m kind of fascinated by all the comments which seem to assume that 4 months a year = part-time, not that important, easily replaced. Given what sounds like fairly intense demands in the role, I was assuming the opposite– that it’s hard to find qualified and skilled people who can do seasonal work, and therefore you work hard to keep those you’ve got.

    1. Cyndi*

      I got the feeling that the work itself is seasonal, too, so it’s more like the work is 33% of the year but this employee is there 100% of that period.

      1. bamcheeks*

        yes, that was my read too– it’s not that 9/10 team members are there 12 months and BearFriend is an optional extra, it’s that the season is May-September and “how do we recruit and retain enough staff to have a full and successful season” is the problem. If they need higher levels of skill and experience than things like summer camps and ski seasons where students and young people with relatively few financial commitments, but can’t pay close to a full-time annual salary, it can be REALLY tricky to recruit for things like that.

        1. Beboots*

          OP here – people in this thread are correct. It’s a position that is full time for like 33% of the year, and does require a lot of local knowledge and some specialized skills. With limited staff housing in a rural area. (I will note that for my field, having worked for different organizations, ours pays very well for the work that is done! It just isn’t year round work at the entry level.

          This position also requires a lot of sound judgement, which is the theme I’m working on with them in the performance management process. They’re great at the visitor-facing part of their role, but it’s the other components that need work.

    2. Emily*

      At some point though, it shouldn’t matter how hard the person may be to replace. LW has truly gone completely over the top for this person, and by LW’s own admission there are still some performance issues.

    3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I think people are multiplying the 4 months and imagining how much more horrible this person would be to work with full time – and that even with *only* 4 months, they are not worth keeping on. “Not even worth it for part time” is more about the person’s terrible time-sucking, undermining, constant negativity and dealing with that in such a short space of time when so much needs to get done, rather than the idea that part time jobs are not valuable.

      Even if it’s hard to find a replacement, I’d be putting all my energy into that rather than into the black hole of thanklessness that is this person. Interesting that you are equating hard with impossible.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Not so much that it makes it impossible, but it alter the balance of power between employer and employee. This isn’t an employer who is committing egregious safety violations or insulting customers, they’re just asking for a LOT from their manager. What counts as “too much” depends a lot on how hard it is to recruit.

  25. Typing All The Time*

    OP, I give you credit. Please set strict boundaries with this employee. You’re doing a lot to accommodate but the employee is not reciprocating.

  26. Dido*

    Sounds like the LW acquiesced way too much to this person. She had performance issues, attitude issues, didn’t respect your authority, didn’t want to do her work, but you still moved heaven and earth to send her to a WEEK LONG TRAINING (to train other people, no less – is this the kind of person who should be teaching others?) when she only works four months out of the year? Did she ever actually do the job she was hired to do? Of course she continued to act the way she did when she faced no consequences, and in fact was encouraged.

  27. Fallon*

    What value does employing this person bring you? I am having a very difficult time finding anything positive. Not only do they sound exhausting to deal with, but the effort needed to work with them would take away time and energy from your other staff and your own work. This person needs to be gone yesterday.

    1. LCH*

      yes, this is definitely the part missing from the story. this is so much work to be going for a FT employee and seems overboard for a 1/3 employee unless we’re missing some information.

      although complaining about getting PTO for a dead pet would also have put me over the edge. that’s an amazing thing to get… and you still want to complain about it. is this person never happy?

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – yes, that PTO complaint was right when mediation began. They actually submitted the PTO in the leave system (under the code for sick leave one of the days as they’d been up all night with no sleep at the vet’s, and personal leave for the other, which is the workaround I found complied with the collective agreement) with a very passive aggressive phrase stating the reason for the leave that was pulled from the definition of bereavement leave, as if intending to lay the groundwork for a case that this leave should be a different code in the system. Note: I am the only one who sees these leave requests.

        I find it is a theme with this person, that they want their way, but they want everyone to acknowledge that they were in the right as well. It doesn’t matter that the end result is the same (e.g., paid time off as they were struggling with the death of their dog), they need everyone to agree with them as well.

        I am thinking specifically of an incident at peak-pandemic, when there were vaccine mandates in a lot of workplaces, including ours. To be clear, I am very pro-vaccine (health care worker for a mother! immuno-compromised sibling!), as was the problem employee, but they started speaking really negatively of another colleague who was reluctant to get the vaccine but who ultimately did. Like… you got the outcome you wanted? This person followed all of the health and safety protocols as laid out by the employer, and they also went and got the vaccine? And then just quietly went about their work, following all the mandated protocols? Who cares why they did it – if you’re concerned about safety in the workplace, this person complied, and didn’t complain about it or criticize your views? I may disagree with the anti-vax perspective, but this person complied with the employer vaccine mandate, and contributed to keeping our workplace safe. End of story, from my perspective. I was able to get through to my employee in this case – no need to harass people who ultimately did what you wanted. (No need to harass people at all in the workplace.)

      2. Beboots*

        OP here – yes, that PTO complaint was right when mediation began. They actually submitted the PTO in the leave system (under the code for sick leave one of the days as they’d been up all night with no sleep at the vet’s, and personal leave for the other, which is the workaround I found complied with the collective agreement) with a very passive aggressive phrase stating the reason for the leave that was pulled from the definition of bereavement leave, as if intending to lay the groundwork for a case that this leave should be a different code in the system. Note: I am the only one who sees these leave requests.

        I find it is a theme with this person, that they want their way, but they want everyone to acknowledge that they were in the right as well. It doesn’t matter that the end result is the same (e.g., paid time off as they were struggling with the death of their dog), they need everyone to agree with them as well.

    2. That wasn't me. . .*

      But they corrected their behavior, right? Learned their lesson, grew up. And op learned from it too. Satisfactory outcome, it seems. And good on OP not treating problem employee as disposable to begin with! Instead OP worked hard to parse their OWN motivations and try to correct the problem, being willing to go into mediation. Great managing!

  28. Emmy*

    This is too much effort for a seasonal employee. Even with a union involved, I think something akin to an ROI needs to be assessed to make a case for not continuing any employment with this individual. How much time/effort is being put into this situation at the expense of productivity and disruption in business operations?

    1. That wasn't me. . .*

      Treating humans as disposable is poor management. OP was right to try to correct instead. I think they learned from it, and sounds like employee did as well. What could have resulted in unemployment for one, and a hiring headache for the other, resulted in two people maturing, even if just a little. I think way too many commenters are being really rather harsh (on the scared-bear person, but especially on the OP, who just doesn’t deserve it!))

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – thank you very much for this comment: “Treating humans as disposable is poor management.” This really resonated with me.

  29. Be Gneiss*

    I think I a lot of people in the comments don’t understand that “seasonal” isn’t the same as unskilled & part time, especially when you are talking about the people that deliver programming during the peak season in the national parks, and other related locations.

    1. BellyButton*

      One of my friends is a retired botanist and professor, she works for a national park during the season giving tours and educational classes on foraging and other plant-y things. It sounds like such a fun thing to do when retired!

    2. doreen*

      I agree – and I think a lot of people also don’t understand that “seasonal” doesn’t only refer to the extra staff that stores and delivery services etc add for the Christmas season. It also refers to jobs like lifeguards and summer camp directors that just don’t exist in the off season, so that everyone in those jobs is seasonal.

    3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Oh I get it. I still don’t think this employee rates another minute of OP’s time. I’ve worked with highly skilled, hard-to-replace people who managed to get fired regardless.

  30. Yes And*

    “Some of these are things that I take input from front line staff on. However, I do take input from my whole team, and consider the perspectives and impacts for everyone and their schedules, which of course means that sometimes I go with my own judgement, or with the suggestion a different employee offers. And this employee would not let things lie.”

    I had a colleague like this. Only that organization actually operated by consensus, so every person was a potential veto point. (This worked fine when I joined the org as its 6th employee. It had become untenable by the time I left it with 20 employees.)

    I came to the conclusion that this employee’s problem was the inability to tell the difference between having their voice heard and having their opinion adopted. I never found a solution for it.

    1. Silver Robin*

      Folks have a really hard time with that last bit. Just because I heard you out does not mean I will do what you want me to do. In my family, we joke about it a bit by just responding “noted” when the requests/opinions are meant to be silly, but I think it works in more serious conversations too.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’ve been in situations at work where decisions were made that I didn’t agree with, even after a fulsome, respectful discussion. Had to remind myself that based on the org structure, the people who decided were empowered to do so. (And I was not).

        Worked pretty well when I had a supervisor I trusted and respected. Worked a lot less well when I had a supervisor I didn’t respect. Rather than fight a bunch of losing battles, I quit.

        1. Beboots*

          OP here – this is a very good point, and articulated something I was really struggling with: “I came to the conclusion that this employee’s problem was the inability to tell the difference between having their voice heard and having their opinion adopted.” I am listening! But that isn’t the same as agreeing, or implementing.

    2. JR 17*

      Yes to the last bit. I tell my kids that they always have a voice, but they don’t always have a vote.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Our teenager’s thankfully internalized this lesson, we’ll listen to his opinions on things that affect him, but the ultimate decision is ours, as is the responsibility.

        Granted, in general I dislike comparisons between relationships between parents and children, and managers and employees for the simple reason that as an employee you always have the option of quitting if you dislike a managerial decision enough. Kids, especially young kids, don’t have that option, and things have to be truly dire at home for the foster care system to be the better alternative for the kid.

  31. H.Regalis*

    LW, you have the patience of a saint, but is this employee worth the time you’re putting into this?

    You have a finite amount of time: How much time does this person take up relative to other employees? I’m glad they’ve improved, but what about all the other people who’ve been doing good work the whole time? Is the problem employee actually a good employee now, or did they go from awful to bad? This person only works four months a year. Are you falling into the sunk cost fallacy with them?

  32. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish*

    OP, I find it encouraging and refreshing to read a letter from a manager who has really gone to bat for their direct report and tried to provide them access to growth opportunities, paid leave, and tried to improve performance with your direct report. I haven’t had managers who had my back, and it sounds like you are really doing that with this person.

    I don’t have any solutions, but I sure would be deeply appreciative of these actions from a manager, and it would make me feel safe in my job and committed to the work. Even if it doesn’t work out with this particular employee, and even if you overextended yourself this time, I hope you can recognize that the pattern of support you’ve offered your staff is really valuable.

  33. BecauseHigherEd*

    Yeah…I grew up in grizzly bear country and I remember when this initial letter came out thinking, “Huh, that sounds like kind of a wild request for this employee…especially because black bears are smaller and not as dangerous as grizzlies/polar bears. If they’re that concerned, why are they working at a Canadian campground?” I kind of agree that they sound like a high maintenance person in general. OP, it may be helpful to draw a line in the sand, say, “This is the most I can do” and if they push back, have a short, concise explanation for why. (ex. I’m not an expert on Canadian bereavement leave, but in the US it’s only for humans because it’s expected that you’re setting up a funeral, settling an estate, meeting with attorneys…which you don’t have to do with a pet. I feel like the response for this employee is, “I feel you, but the law is this.”)

    Actually–I’m not a fan of self-help type books, but I found “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss to be helpful for working with unreasonable people at work–I use his tips often.

  34. phira*

    Thank you for the update, and you sound like a wonderful manager and person, but this employee is exhausting and if you don’t NEED to hire them back next season, I don’t know why you would. :\

  35. BellyButton*

    I have NEVER received any sort of training about bears at work!

    I have given and used the advice- don’t justify your decision. When you justify it, the person thinks that is an invitation for debate. Nope. (this works with family members too)

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I imagine it can be a fine line between justifying and explaining. And that the line might be different depending on whom you’re dealing with.

      Personally, I do better when I understand why the tasks I’m doing need to get done. That being said, the examples here shouldn’t need too much explaining. It’s pretty obvious why someone would put up a shade tent. (So that there’s shade!). I also like knowing the rationale of the approach we’re taking to do something.

      Maybe it all comes back to the classic Captain Awkward saying – reasons are for reasonable people. I like to think I’m a generally pretty reasonable human. The odds are pretty good that giving me a little information about why something is happening will probably go fine. That’s not the case for everyone.

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – I agree. I think that I fell into the habit of justifying when I thought I was explaining – because this employee kept insisting on explanations – and it then opened things up for a debate. I don’t need every single thing I say at work to be considered an order with a “sir, yes sir!” but some things are just… me as a supervisor giving you direction in your daily tasks or workplan. And I have worked for supervisors and managers who were very much not transparent in the past, and I always found I was more enthusiastic about “meh” tasks if I understood the reason for them. But I definitely swung into the realm of overexplaining, in large part because of all of the pushback.

        1. allathian*

          I’m in a job where I provide a service for internal clients, and some of our deadlines are statutory, in the sense that they have to be completed on time or my employer could face legal consequences. I have a lot of discretion in prioritizing those tasks that don’t have statutory deadlines, though. So I don’t really get any direction on this from my manager.

          That said, I do have her back when I get unreasonable requests, like someone wants a task that takes 20 hours to be done in 2, when I’m already busy with a task that has an imminent statutory deadline.

          I absolutely prefer getting explanations for changes because I loathe change for its own sake and I’m very much an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of person. Thankfully my employer treats its employees as reasonable adults, not petulant teens who object to any and all requests as a matter of principle, so the vast majority of the time, the reasons for changes are explained when we’re notified of the change. This hasn’t always been the case with all employers, though, and I’ve come to realize that I need to feel that my concerns are being heard to be engaged in my work. If orders from management are simply handed down with no explanations given, I’ll very quickly disengage and simply do the bare minimum.

          If I get an explanation for a change that sounds reasonable to me (and the vast majority of them do), I’ll comply with the new requirements reasonably cheerfully even if that doesn’t mean that I now like the new way of doing things. Eventually I’ll get used to it and stop wasting my energy on grousing about it. Negative emotions take a lot of energy that could be used more constructively for other things, like doing what I’m paid to do.

          There’s a fine line between explaining and justifying an action, as you’ve no doubt discovered.

  36. Buffy*

    I am concerned that my employer isn’t doing enough about bears on our campus. They don’t even mention them as a potential problem. I think we need to do a risk assessment.

  37. BellyButton*

    One of the things I do when assessing how much effort someone is going to receive from me– what is their impact on the company/team? This has little to do with their level/title. For example. I have a fairly junior coordinator type role, and the person who fills that role is amazing. She contributes so much to the company in her efforts, her dedication, her personality, she is a wealth of knowledge. Then on the other side of the coin, I have an employee who is a Director, who contributes a lot in their knowledge and skill, but they negatively contribute to our culture. I have have reached my limit on how much I will coach them and how much I will spend on their development, because at this point I spend a ton of time with other people who are upset and frustrated about this person’s communication style, gossip, etc.

  38. sdog*

    Can I say, OP, you have so much patience, and I’m actually wondering if it’s a bit too much patience. You don’t have to bend over backwards for this person (unless, I don’t know, are you not able to just let them go if things aren’t working out?). Union bargaining agreements exist for a reason, and the fact that you tried to go outside of it to get her paid leave will put you in a difficult position next time someone else comes along requesting the same. I get that she probably comes with a specific skillset and that government agencies can make it hard to fire people at times. The fact that you went to mediation makes me wonder if these are hoops that your employer is putting you through. But I’m having a real hard time understanding what this employee brings. Is she pulling her weight? Are you setting her work assignments or is she? How much time do you spend on her vs. other employees? Is this all really worth it?

  39. Tehanu*

    So many updates boil down to “…and the thing I asked about wasn’t the only problem with the employee; Actually this employee is full of bees and I only asked about the one bee. I now realize that there is whole hive of discontent that I need to tackle.”

    As a newish manager, this is so illuminating, how you can focus on this one problem, when it is really the overall picture that needs attention.

  40. kiki*

    “I would only get complaints about what I wasn’t able to accomplish for them.”

    “I moved heaven and earth to cover their work and get them paid leave that didn’t come out of their vacation leave bank when their dog unexpectedly passed away right before our busiest weekend of the year. However, they were upset that I couldn’t count it as “bereavement leave” in the leave system. ”

    There is a type of person who enjoys the feeling of righteous indignation so much that they’re willing to cultivate it over the absolute silliest things. LW, it sounds like you know this already, but your employee was being ridiculous about this issue for sure. You fought to give them what they needed. All your employees who heard this story know that you’re a great manager who will fight for their needs, even if this particular employee meant to convey something different.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That bit was bananacrackers.
      I’d have been very tempted to ask the employee why they care so much how the leave was classified administratively. But I’m a pragmatist a lot of the time and less willing than some to get super riled up about “the principle of the thing!”.

  41. An Australian in London*

    This seems to me a great example of why managerial intuition on who gets training is usually wrong.

    It seems intuitively obvious to many (most?) that the people who should get the training are the C list – those with the lowest skills and the worst attitude. The “obvious” thinking is that training may improve them from a C to a B, and will improve their attitude.

    I think that’s exactly backwards. Training is a force multiplier so I would rather multiple my A list effectiveness. Plus think of the effects on morale if only the C list get trained: they will stick around for a place that treats them so well, while meanwhile the A list will see the C list being invested in and will not stay.

    Do the reverse. Invest only in the A list. It’s better to make strengths even stronger than to try to (usually futilely) make weaknesses less weak. Plus the A list when invested in are far more likely to stay… and if we’re lucky the disgruntled C list won’t.

  42. Anonymous for this*

    I have had an employee like this, and while I am not working in the same industry, I am in an industry where safety is a key component of our ethical and professional mandate. As a manager, I have to actively welcome and thoughtfully consider critical feedback, to ensure that I am adequately incorporating any valid concerns of my employees, no matter how junior or inexperienced.

    I know firsthand that this takes so much emotional intelligence and judgment and labor to do well, and I so deeply applaud how much effort you’ve put into thoughtfully weighing your own frustrations with the employee, the bruises to your ego being repeatedly and routinely questioned (which is an entirely human and normal response) against the needs of your workplace, this individual, and the whole. You’re good at this and I wanna get like you.

    This employee sounds like the someone (who I no longer work with) who assigns deep meaning to the act complaining. It’s an easy way to “contribute”. It’s often the folks who are the worst performers in the technical areas of the job who only have nitpicking and offloading their frustration as avenues to “add value”, with no regard to whether it actually helps.

    As a manager in the type of safety-oriented workplace that you and I are both in, I deeply understand how much you can’t just ignore it, or come down too hard. You have to do the personal introspection to make sure that you’re keeping everyone safe, which, sometimes feels like you’re gaslighting yourself. This person is taking advantage of the role that you play and isn’t looking out for the team, they’re just soothing their own insecurity with your thoughtfulness and conscientiousness. I’m telling you from the other side. It is so much easier for both you (and the rest of the team) when they are no longer “contributing” in this way, either through correction on their own or through the end of their employment with you.

  43. Pets Banshees*

    My goodness. I just spent all morning with preschoolers but this is a thousand times more exhausting.

  44. Bruce*

    I’m impressed you hung in there with them and didn’t just tell them not to come back.
    I’ve had to work with difficult employees, but usually I’ve had some reason to want to save them (not wanting to cut loose a long time employee, specific historic knowledge, or special skills for example). This just seems to be your desire to do the best by people even if they are not reciprocating at first. I hope it continues to reward you in this case!

    1. Bruce*

      I want to add that reading the original story it sounded to me like you really needed a formal policy for bear safety. What you are doing in practice sounds reasonable to me… I’m not an expert but I’ve encountered bears many times while camping. If it is safe enough to have people camping there it is safe enough to have staff there. It sounds like your new approach spells it out formally, which should be enough…

  45. boof*

    Seems like a “less is more” employee – well the right kind of less. OP do make sure you do what you normally feel you should do, but do not go out on a limb for this employee, and/or set some sanity limits. Your energy and sanity count here too!
    — you’ve had a frank discussion pointing out the bigger picture, eventually, with mediation, and it sounds like that actually went relatively well. Every time they question a decision, if in your judgement the concern is minor, the response should be “try it and we can circle back later and see how it goes” or “I’ve already balanced this with all the other options and this is what we are doing, we talked about respecting this” etc
    — address if they are complaining about things you did “I went out of my way to do ___ for you, but I’ve heard you are complaining about ____, what is going on?” (if there’s no good explanation) “If something needs addressing, please take it to me, or else please focus on constructive steps” IDK – or just fire them if they won’t improve and you can. Just document why they are more work than they are help.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – thank you for these sample scripts! They’re great and I’m definitely filing them away for potential use in the future.

  46. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I wonder if one thing that helped was having a mediator there to push back on some of the employee’s behaviour. It sounds like the relationship between the LW and the employee was pretty bad, particularly the point about the employee assuming bad intent on the LW’s part. In that kind of situation, it’s easy to just reject anything the LW says out of hand. Even if it’s eminently reasonable. The emotional charge short-circuits the more rational assessment.

    It’s a lot harder to summarily dismiss what an independent (I’m assuming) mediator says. There’s no pre-existing relationship. They’re not out to get you.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – yes, the mediator was very helpful. They met with each of us one on one as well as facilated several discussion sessions. I definitely cried a few times from the stress in sharing things with the mediator on the one on ones. She was very clear that she wasn’t there to make judgements on my decisions as a supervisor, but was there to help us reflect and articulate ourselves… but she did, like… “break character” is the only phrase I think of … at one point when I was crying in trying to explain what I’d tried to do and the response I’d gotten, and she said, “you know, [OP], you should consider the possibility that you did nothing wrong? That you did all you could do?” And I kind of really needed to hear that at that point. There were definitely things I could have done better in the moment (see: knee-jerk turning down requests because I’d been bombarded with so many, alongside lots of criticism) but I hope that people can tell I was really trying to do my best by this employee, even if it didn’t always land right.

  47. Danish*

    Whew, exhausting to read and I’m sure moreso to experience. I do think LW that perhaps you are not quite as over all of this as you’re trying to project, though – I was struck by this phrase, ” I don’t overcorrect and over-explain my decisions anymore either”, five paragraphs in where you over- and re- explained quite a few things. It seems like your brain is still constantly churning away at justifying those past decisions, even to us, people who don’t need to be convinced.

    Honestly I hope you can be rid of this employee – she is taking up so much time, energy, and brain, even when you’re not directly dealing with her.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – um, I think that you are completely correct that I am not entirely over this. I still have a tendency to turn this over in my head, thinking of things I should have done or said. I’m really trying to break that habit. I think that commenting on this post is me giving myself permission to do one last stewing session, and then I need to let things go. This season was a bit more of a blank slate, and I hope it’s more so going forward if I keep seeing improvement. We’ll see how things go.

      1. Danish*

        That makes sense. You put a lot of energy into her and it went nowhere, and if you’re a fixer kind of person it’s so hard to move on from something that flopped.

        I hope this post helped and you can purge her from your brain!

  48. That wasn't me. . .*

    I was so waiting for this. v. satisfying update, both from the perspective or resolution and also from OUR perspective, getting juicy added details – love me some subtext/backstop revealed. Almost as good as an Agatha Christie. (It’s essentially all there, but hidden, in the initial telling, but only makes sense at the end!)

  49. Jaybeetee*

    Canadian fed here: LW probably hasn’t let go/not rehired this person because, essentially, they can’t. While they do indicate other performance issues with this employee, they have to be doing *really* badly to justify termination (essentially, not doing their job at all). If the employee has improved with mediation and additional training (which LW says they have), basically LW’s hands might be tied, even for a seasonal employee. The union rules be strong in these parts and someone like this *will* get litigious if you don’t follow the process to the letter. Reading between the lines, it’s also possible this person is part of a racial minority in Canada that could make firing them even more potentially fraught – but that’s speculation on my part.

    Reading the previous letter, LW, indicates that this person is a “long-time resident” in the area, so not a student. My guess is this is a provincial park or federal site really in the middle of nowhere (Canada has a lot of “middle of nowhere” that may not even be on a road network and are fly-in only), where locals cycle between various odd jobs and seasonal employment, such as working as guides in the summer.

    Unfortunately, anyone who has worked in the fed for any length of time had encountered this sort of person, who perceives management in an adversarial way, knows their job description and collective agreement down to the letter, and constantly pushes for everything they can get while complaining about anything they don’t or can’t get. Luckily it’s not a *common* personality in government, but you do come across it.

    This is also why the LW is describing all this as tiring, but seemingly… normal. For government, this isn’t *exactly* normal, but it comes up enough to not be shocking. Unfortunately, you really can’t fire people for “just” being difficult.

    I’m not a manager, so I won’t advise LW on that front (this sort of employee is a big reason why I never want to be a manager), but my first instinct would be to give them everything accorded in the collective agreement, but stop going above and beyond or bending rules for them unless you really think it’s worthwhile.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – I won’t comment in detail to preserve anonymity, but there is a lot of truth in what you say! The one thing that isn’t quite right – this person isn’t part of a racial minority group.

      And yes, I really appreciate your advice – I will do as I do with my other employees, follow the collective agreement, give them encouragement and performance management, and give them reasonable workplans within their roles. But yes, it would take a lot for me to go above and beyond for this person going forwards unless it’s under exceptional circumstances.

  50. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    Considering this is a union position, I’m thinking the best course of action is to just stop accommodating this person. No bending over backward, no struggling to cover their shifts. Not hostile, just not particularly helpful. And wait for them to rage quit over something trivial.

  51. Dorothy Zpornak*

    When my job gets stressful, I think back to LW’s original letter and remind myself that it is someone’s job to “haze problem bears.”

  52. Zeus*

    It sounds like the LW has put a lot of work into supporting this employee and others. Kudos to them, hopefully it pays off for them and their staff.

    > It’s not that we didn’t want to ensure they were safe around bears, or only wanted to do the bare minimum,

    Bear minimum, anyone?

  53. crash override*

    I cannot believe you have not fired this person. They are taking up an unbelievable amount of your time and energy that you owe to other things, or at least to yourself.

    1. allathian*

      This isn’t an at-will environment, so the LW can’t fire the troublesome employee just for being difficult to manage. If the employee stopped doing any work or became a genuine safety risk for other employees or customers, that would be a different matter.

  54. Elizabeth West*

    Is this person named Colin Robinson? Or Evie Russell?

    If their eyes glowed when they were sucking you dry, that would be a dead giveaway.

  55. Io Rae*

    Oh gosh, I remember this one from the original posting, I didn’t even have to go back and read it. Poor OP. Good job using adversity for personal growth, geez. I’m cheering you on!

Comments are closed.