how do I motivate an unresponsive employee, company won’t promote me because of childhood trauma, and more

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

1. How do I motivate someone who doesn’t bother to do his work?

I recently started a new role with four employees who have already been in their roles for a while. I previously worked with this group sometimes, but without any of them reporting to me. Due to a re-org and someone leaving, I’m their third manager in this role. I used to work somewhat closely with their first manager.

I have one employee who is not performing well. I knew from his first manager that he had some issues and knew I would have to eventually address this with him. So now that time has come, and his performance isn’t what I expected.

I’ve managed different kinds of performance issues in a previous role. I’ve had employees who did barely any work and their work was low quality (they were clearly in over their head). I’ve had employees who were super enthusiastic and would rush to complete everything but the work quality wasn’t as good. But this man is different. He’s very unenthusiastic. It takes multiple reminders and follow-ups to get anything from him. Our department has some flexibility with scheduling, but he does need to be available during certain specific time periods and he often isn’t. Multiple people (including me) have told him the expectations. But here’s the surprising part: his work is competent. He’s not a rockstar but his work is correct. I was expecting him to fall into the first category of just being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start, but that’s not it. He can do the work, but just doesn’t.

I have already talked to my boss and I already know that I will need to formally address his performance and likely fire him. But I want to at least try to keep him on, since he can do the work correctly, which isn’t always a given. I just need him to do it independently. I know this is a long shot since he didn’t improve for two previous managers. But is there anything I can try to motivate him or inspire him to stay on top of his work?

(Also I want to pre-empt the likely comments. I can speculate many reasons for his performance. But I’m his manager, not his therapist, and ultimately I need to focus on what I can do myself.)

Have you asked him what’s up? It sounds like he’s had plenty of conversations about where he’s falling short. How about just sitting down with him, explaining what you’re seeing, stating clearly that he’s not going to be able to stay in the job without significant improvement, and asking for his take on what’s going on?

Who knows — maybe you’ll hear something that changes your assessment or influences how you proceed. Probably not, but maybe and it’s worth listening with an open mind. Otherwise, after that, you’re at the point where you should lay out what needs to change and what kind of a timeline he has to make those changes.

Generally, though, it’s not a good use of your time to try to come up with creative ways to motivate or inspire someone who just isn’t bothering to do their work. It’s of course important to create the conditions in which good employees will feel motivated (by doing things like giving them meaningful roles with real responsibility, ensuring they see the bigger picture of what their work adds up to and have opportunities to develop their skills, etc.) and you need to avoid de-motivating people by things like yelling or continually changing your mind on projects after he’s put a ton of work in or never recognizing work that’s done well. But taking someone who isn’t invested in a job — someone who requires multiple reminders and follow-ups and who isn’t available when he’s supposed to be — and turning them around is awfully hard, and generally not a great use of energy.

2. My company told me they won’t promote me because of childhood trauma

I work in a role as a peer leader supervisor, where I oversee a team and support my community through the process of substance use recovery by using a peer support model.

In peer support, we are person-centered and honor self-determination. But the primary mode of service is through a model of coaching, with our lived experience in our own recoveries from life situations, such as mental health, substance use, addiction, trauma, and raising children with behavioral issues or substances.

I have been with the company for two years and worked my way up from a part-time position to be supervisor of my region. I’m really good at my job. I love my job. Recently my supervisor told me that she and her boss don’t know if they would promote me again because of self disclosed childhood trauma, and that I am a liability. Can they say that? Is it legal for them to exclude me from roles because I’ve been to trauma therapy and have disclosed that I am recovering from an abusive childhood? I was so confused because that’s exactly what we do: model recovery from all of these life situations, including trauma.

That sounds a lot like discrimination based on perceived disability. As we talked about earlier this week, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects you not only from discrimination based on actual disability, but also from discrimination if you’re perceived to have a disability. It sounds like your managers told you that they perceive you to have a disability and will not consider you for certain jobs because of it. That would only be legal if they can demonstrate that the disability means you couldn’t perform the essential functions of the job, even with reasonable accommodations.

That’s the legal side of the situation. The other part of the situation is: WTF? You do work based on sharing your own recovery from trauma, and they’re saying they won’t promote you because you shared trauma? The only way this makes sense is they’re saying they don’t think you’ve done the necessary healing from that trauma to be able to do those higher-level roles effectively (and if that is what they’re saying, they should spell out specifically what behaviors/approaches they are/aren’t seeing that are job-related issues, not just broadly refer to past trauma).

As for what to do … you could talk to a lawyer about the legal angle (which doesn’t have to mean actually bringing legal action; it can mean the lawyer just guiding you behind the scenes), but this sounds like a sufficiently dysfunctional place that you’re probably better off just getting out of there.

3. Why is there an external person on this hiring committee?

I’m an internal candidate for a leadership position at my company. I believe I’m a strong candidate but others are rightfully being considered. I just had my interview and was surprised to learn that an external partner is on the hiring committee and was in fact leading the questioning. Let’s say my company has a lot of goats, and my current role is curating our goat performances and managing opportunities for people to pet the goats. The external partner is someone who knows a lot of people who love goats and contracts with us to help make those connections. They are an important partner for us right now.

I don’t have any problem with this person; they have always been pleasant and reasonable. I just found it puzzling that they are on an internal hiring committee. Logistically, I’m not sure where they’re volunteering their time or being compensated. I’m also not sure whether it’s a conflict of interest somehow? Is this a common practice? Maybe it is and I’ve just never heard of it before, but in the five years I’ve been at this organization, I’m pretty sure this has never happened.

It’s a thing that happens sometimes, usually because (a) the person is believed to have particular insight into what an effective hire will look like (that others on the hiring team may lack) and/or (b) their buy-in on the hire is important to your company.

4. Traveling to clients with post-chemo hair

Sadly I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year at 41. I work in a small consulting organization and I’m part of the ownership team. Since I’m a younger cancer patient, I managed to work pretty close to full-time during my chemotherapy, with the reminder to folks in my office that I did move a tad slower during the days after my treatment.

Currently I’m two months post-chemo and I’m back to having hair again. Right now I have a full head of hair that I would call somewhere along the lines of a younger KD Lang look. During chemo and radiation, I was not able to travel to clients but now I’m looking forward to getting back on the road. I guess what I’m struggling with is, is my super short but fully there hair okay to have in a professional setting if it is well groomed? I do have a wig, but it was very hot to wear when I was completely bald and I cannot imagine wearing it through airports and long car rides.

Yes, super short hair is fine! People are likely to assume it’s simply a fashion choice. Give it no further thought.

{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Poster*

    #2 – this is why I do not disclose often that I was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. The abuser is openly gay now, and I doubly don’t want people to assume that I’m homophobic because I was abused. I know it’s silly, and most people won’t peg a 5-year-old as somehow bringing it upon himself, but still, it’s not worth the can of worms.

    I’m really, really sorry you’re going through this and your story reinforces my not disclosing. I wish we lived in a world where it didn’t matter whether I do or do not disclose, and my heart really aches for your going through this.

    Honestly if someone is going to hold trauma against you, it may be time to consider going for another job. This job has also clearly stated there’s not a way upwards that you’d like anyway, so even removing the they’re-scumbuckets part of it, they’re advertising to you it’s time to look for your upward mobility elsewhere. Unfortunately it may be time to move on.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you were abused as a kid, and people who conflate homosexuality and pedophilia make me so, so angry. Hating one pedophile for what he did to you and who also happens to be gay doesn’t make anyone a homophobe, though.

      1. Lucy*

        So much this – you did nothing wrong. As a gay woman, I’m here to tell you that it is *not* homophobic to be honest about your abuse. (You also don’t have to tell anyone about it if you don’t want to, obviously. But if you did, there would be no question of homophobia.)

        It would be homophobic if you assumed a gay man was an abuser with no knowledge of abuse. It is not even slightly homophobic to know that someone is an abuser, because you experienced their abuse.

        Although I understand not wanting to share, I hope you have shared with enough of the important people to have support and love and affirmation in your real life.

        1. Saraquill*

          One of the reasons I left a group that prided itself on being intelligent, open minded, etc., is they were aghast I refused to equate homophobia with preventing abuse. They spilled a lot of digital ink trying to convince me I was hurting people by not stereotyping.

          Making it weirder is I was openly queer with this group for years before this incident.

          1. MassMatt*

            I’m struggling to understand this—the open minded group WANTED to equate preventing abuse with homophobia? As in, sexual abuse among people of the same gender shouldn’t be talked about because it’s homophobic?

            1. What_the_What*

              I understood “homophobia equated to preventing abuse” to mean, “Homophobia is okay because gay people are all pedophiles, so we need to keep them out of whatever.”

            2. Irish Teacher.*

              I interpreted it the other way around, that they thought gay people were more likely to be sex abusers so they thought being homophobic was a good thing as it meant being against abusers.

            3. Saraquill*

              The group wanted me to assume my fellow queer people are all abusers. I still don’t believe that mindset protects anyone.

              1. Vio*

                The only people it protects are the homophobes who want an excuse for their irrational hatred.

        2. Vio*

          The last paragraph is really important.

          It helps to talk about it, to the right people. You don’t have to, but once you feel comfortable and safe enough to share it, it’s a help. Thinking of it as a dark secret you must not share just gives the past too much power. The opposite is also true, thinking of it as something you have to disclose to people regardless of your own comfort level, that’s too much too.
          The past is the past, but it does impact the present. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s also okay not to. The important thing is to feel safe doing so. A close friend, therapist… once you feel safe. If you can’t talk about it, try to frame it as “can’t yet” rather than just “can’t”.

          I hope you’re doing well.

        3. Anonymous Post*

          Thank you for your kind words.

          Some folks have assumed that since I was abused by an openly gay man, that I must hate all gay people. It’s very sad and part of why I just don’t disclose unless I know someone’s going through something, and it’s a way to try and help that person. That said, I never would disclose at work unless I have that personal relationship with someone.

          I’ve disclosed to important people in my life. The hardest were my parents, who still feel guilty this happened and that they didn’t know or get me the help I needed. But they also simply didn’t know, and I didn’t understand what was going on to disclose. My abuser liked telling me this is how men form friendships and bond, and I was five. How would I know better? I keep telling my parents that I know they would have done something and cared for me if they knew, and it’s neither of our faults that they didn’t know. It’s hard though. Other people in my life know and have been helpful or supportive. I really appreciate where you’re coming from.

          It still crops up a lot, and I’m in my late 30s. I would encourage anyone who is scared of talking about it or bringing it up to find someone to share this with. It’s a huge burden, and I waited until my late 20s to bring it up. It’s not worth waiting, and you can find someone who understands that this isn’t something you brought on yourself. And for myself what helps is telling myself the truth:
          – I didn’t bring this on myself
          – This is the sole fault of my abuser, not me
          – This is part of my experience, but this isn’t who I am

    2. Comment*

      The ordeal you went through never should have happened. I hope your are doing well now. You are inspiring in using your experience to do good (advising others) instead of passing on more pain. I hope society can be more open on matters of abuse; Gen Z gives me hope. Thanks for sharing, and have a good life.

    3. Anthony Tellier*

      “did barely any work and their work was low quality” Well, that IS fortunate

    4. Lakeside*

      I hear this so hard. I think you are commenting mainly on disclosing personally, not professionally but I have a strong reaction to childhood trauma and the workplace as an adult. So many many people have strong negative reactions to hearing about certain trauma experiences. I work in public health on the health science and the programming and evaluation sides. The severe traumas I experienced in childhood are areas of study and intervention in workplaces I’ve been in. The last thing in the world I should do is disclose personal experience because it will trigger a very strong bias that I am too damaged, and cause people to not feel comfortable around me, and to not trust my judgment. I learned this by experiencing less severe forms of trauma that were entirely random and not my fault. They were known because they happened while I employed at this place. They most certainly triggered withholding accommodations I needed, retaliation, and an unwillingness to promote me. I am trying to stay somewhat vague, but I would love to have more conversations with people who experienced childhood sexual abuse and disclosing as relevant to school and work. I have a chip on my shoulder after seeing peers be very open about losing family members while young to disease, and getting a leg up in medicine, for instance. There are socially acceptable traumas and traumas we have to hide even if they make us more insightful in work and school.

      1. Anonymoose*

        This is really interesting. I experienced CSA and prefer to remain private about it in most circumstances, but it have occasionally been in situations where it would be helpful to disclose *something*. I work in public history, and it definitely feels like an invisible axis of marginalization – for instance, I once led a book discussion that dealt with sexual assault in a historical context, and I was able to offer insights about the subject matter but couldn’t explain that my insights were based on first-hand experience. (If I were, say, a tenured professor, I might feel more comfortable disclosing, but I’m not.)

        I have occasionally made informal comments to coworkers about the effects of my trauma – for instance, that a former boss was a bad fit because she triggered my people-pleasing tendencies. But I can’t imagine ever disclosing the cause. I agree that the stigma is really frustrating. In this era of moral panic about “trafficking” and “grooming,” the stigma of sexual assault and abuse is nevertheless very firmly attached to survivors rather than perpetrators.

  2. AcademiaNut*

    For #3 – thinking about it, having an external person on an internal hiring committee could make a lot of sense and be very useful. You’d get a different perspective for evaluating the resumes and interview process, to compare to the views of interviewers who personally know all the candidates.

    In the case where it’s a mix of internal and external candidates, or the internal committee knows some people well and others not at all, it could be even more useful.

    1. RedinSC*

      I’ve been part of hiring committees that have external individuals. It was super helpful.

      1. We brought in an external SME to help us determine if the candidate had the appropriate knowledge and skills.
      2. We brought in an external individual from a partner organization to help us view the candidate from another perspective, as someone they would be working with.

      Both times this was really successful and really helpful.

      1. Teaching teacher*

        It seems like reason #1 should be a common reason for having an external person. if you are hiring someone who is a department of on, essentially, like a webmaster, accountant, or German teacher, how do you know if they have any competency at their job if you the hirer don’t know how to do that job?

        1. RedinSC*

          That was exactly it. We were bringing in a data base administrator, the people interviewing (me included) did not know the tech behind things, so if there was a technical question, we would not have been able to tell if the candidates knew what they were talking about.

      2. Miette*

        Came here to say something similar. I used to manage a marketing team of 6, and one of those needed to be a web developer. We asked our external partner, who built and maintained our site, to help in the interview process for a new hire, so we’d be sure to hire someone with the best skillset. Basically, we needed them as a BS-ometer, because none of us would have been able to evaluate someone’s technical skills in that case.

      3. AW*

        it’s very common in academia to have at least one external hiring committee member. Usually it’s an influential alumni, although my department serves the general public of the state so we often have community members or someone from whatever industry the new hire will be serving.

        1. higher ed lifer*

          Alumni on academic hiring committees is not “very common”; I’ve worked in higher ed for twenty years and never heard of such a thing for anything below maybe president.

    2. Outside Panelist Professional*

      In government jobs like mine it’s all external people until the final round when it’s down to 3 candidates!

    3. Kay*

      As a consultant I am often tasked with hiring for my clients, sometimes with their help, sometimes not. I most often see this type of situation where there is some kind of collaborative effort between the two companies on a project and they are hiring for a role that will interface with both entities, or will be public facing and might be associated with both companies in some way. A really basic example is a receptionist who will be hired by one company, but will be a gatekeeper for two since they will both be in the same building – or staffing company is hiring a contract worker who will be at Client A’s site 80% of the time. Basically – Company A is footing the bill, but if Company B doesn’t like you things will not work out, or Company B knows more about what is needed for the role.

      In this case it sounds like LW3’s proposed role would work closely with this outside partner, if I had to take a guess.

    4. Sloanicota*

      The best way I’ve seen this done is having the external person be the one to review the assignments. This really reduces bias, and in a way it’s how external people receive the work that matters most in many cases (ours was for a comms job, so it matters more how other people like our tweets then how much we like them internally). I think it might be a bit odd and confusing to the candidate to have someone who isn’t going to be hiring you asking questions in the interview itself, but I suppose if they will be truly close collaborators with the final position it makes sense.

    5. Ama*

      I’ve seen this done in academia — in that case it was a new graduate program in a field that the hiring university did not have existing expertise in (and thus for a few years they didn’t have any tenured faculty in that field on staff), so they created a hiring committee that included university leadership, the new Dean of the school (once he was appointed), and then several external experts in the field. As faculty were hired they would often replace some of the external experts, but when I last worked there (about 5-6 years into the program’s existence), there were still a couple external experts on the hiring committee to fill out the last few faculty positions.

      1. higher ed lifer*

        This version is absolutely more common in academia- it’s another example of needed subject matter experts.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      There are very good reasons to bring in an external interviewer in some hiring situations.

      1. The external person has expertise in the function, and nobody internally does. I’m currently working on an insurance role where the hiring company has asked their insurance provider rep to sit in on interviews, because they have nobody with the required expertise in-house. The hiring manager cannot evaluate the person’s skills and experience, but the required skills are critical to the company’s objectives.

      2. the hired candidate will work closely with this person / their company – ie. they’re a stakeholder (perhaps a client or an important vendor).

      3. Sometimes a board member of the company will be in on the interview panel – they’re not an employee and it might not be evident that they are a board member, but they are very important to the decision of who gets hired.

      4. Sometimes a consultant to the company may be included in the interview process – eg. to be objective, in situations where there has been a lack of diversity in the past, and the company needs either to determine why or ensure a fair process for all candidates.

      1. anonymous anteater*

        reason number 4 is especially important when internal candidates are being interviewed. Many members of the hiring panel might be familiar with OP and their work, and while that context is very useful knowledge for the hiring decision, it might also come with a filter (whether rose tinted glasses or lingering resentment due to past interactions with that applicant). An external member who doesn’t have a horse in this game can be valuable to fairly compare candidates based on just resume and interview.

        In my organization, this is routinely done for higher-level leadership searches. Sometimes actual external people, or sometimes people from a different department.

        Why do they volunteer their time? It’s a shared expectation, and they will eventually be repaid by one of us serving on one of their committees.

    7. What_the_What*

      Yes. Especially if the role will include coordinating events or outreach into the “goat” community via this person and/or his network.

  3. Damp Soil*

    Not to get too off-topic, but out of curiosity re #5: what makes a wig very hot for someone bald compared to having your own hair? Is it just the material used, or are real-hair wigs just as hot?

    1. Kay*

      If you think about it, our natural hair just grows out of our follicles, we don’t need any extra material to hold it in place. Wigs are the opposite – since the hair isn’t held in by follicles, you have to have a whole artificial layer in place to hold onto those hairs. Being as it is pretty easy to see that layer, wigs generally have more hair per square inch than you do naturally. Since the edges are easier to see, you have to keep a layer of hair down around your face and neck so that doesn’t show through. This doesn’t even take into account the method of securing the wig and how that isn’t always the most comfortable nor cooling.

      Of course they have gotten better over the years with density and how natural things look, they are still a lot warmer than just our normal hair. Plus – the more natural they look – the more ridiculously expensive they are.

    2. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

      Also, they have to fit pretty tightly to stay on, which can get oppressive.

    3. Brain the Brian*

      In addition to what others have said, consider that when you’re trying to grow out natural hair under a wig, you basically have two heads of hair (plus a wig cap and the netting into which wigs are woven). It’s hot and swampy as an Alabama summer.

    4. DyneinWalking*

      In addition to what the others have written, head skin can sweat. I have fairly long hair that I normally tie together, but if it’s very hot and humid I prefer to wear my hair open – that allows the sweat on the back of my head to evaporate.

      Since wigs are hair tied to a netting, and even very net-like cloth can make you sweaty, especially if it sits tightly on your skin (how do you like wearing nylon pantyhose in summer?), it isn’t surprising that wigs with their extra layer of netting would feel rather hotter than natural hair.

    5. Dog momma*

      She could live in the South and…summer’s coming. She might be having hot flashes or something along that line. I’m A cancer survivor and did not want to wear a wig..bc its too hot and thing. I wore a nice ball cap and had no problem taking it off if it was too hot. I felt ” everything ” was taken away from me and I’d lost all self control. I couldn’t even control my own hair!
      LW, its your call. I’m of the firm belief that we should support cancer patients with their decisions. its their life and we, the public, have no idea what they’re going through. . unless there is self harm.

    6. Op5*

      op5 here. As others stated you have a whole layer of netting underneath the hair in the wig which is like wearing a beanie under your hair. When you have natural hair, when your scalp sweats the hair wicks away the moisture: sweating under a wig just sits there and gets swampy. Throw in some chemopause induced hot flashes and a wig is like a sauna on your head.

      1. Hypatia*

        I had chemo and started teaching again after a few months with that same level of hair. No one commented at all. And I work with students who have no filter at times. I did wear a knitted beanie at times because it was winter and my head would get cold.
        But beanies are worn by lots of people, so it’s wasn’t unusual. I think anyone whom you interact with will assume it’s style choice. If anyone makes a comment about it, I would just cheerfully redirect things back to business.
        ( I never wore my wig either- uncomfortable and i wasn’t sure it would stay on right.)

      2. Random Dice*

        Thanks for explaining!

        To make very short hair look intentional instead of dandelion-puff or military, a tiny bit of hair gel or hair pomade can really make a difference. A clean version (no fragrance, dye, parabens, gluten, etc) I like is by Vanicream.

      3. Blarg*

        OP 5 — best wishes to you! I am a bit behind you in my own treatment regimen, and around your age. Done with 12 weeks of chemo, going for surgery next week. I am EAGER to be at “KD Lang” length of hair, as currently I am not even at Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. But I’m hopeful! I never did a wig cause that was never my style, but have been making my own beanies/hats (an excuse to buy nice yarn!). I’m now getting tired of wearing hats, especially as it gets warmer. So people are just gonna have to see my bald head.

        Has your hair changed? I’m somewhat terrified of ‘chemo curls’ cause I have always had bone straight hair and have no idea what to do with curly hair — though I will figure it out.

        1. Once too Often*

          Chemo curls are easy! I did pretty much nothing but wash them for about a year. Ran my fingers through instead of combing. Then they got a bit unruly & I went for a trim. Then they started to straighten.

          I finished chemo end February, found a fancy hair product* around May 1st, & my hair had grown out enough to lay flat by mid June.

          *Zenagen. Folks at the cancer center started asking what I was using since my hair was growing faster than most. They could see a difference week to week. And my hair is still super soft. (Designed for bariatric & cancer patients, my supplier sells mostly for age related hair loss. Shampoo & condition are expensive but bottles last more than a year. Daily serum is just expensive.)

        2. Petty_Boop*

          My MIL went through chemo. She started out with thick, beautiful jet black hair (she is Asian) and after chemo, it grew back… pure white! Very startling initially. But it’s beautiful.

          1. A Significant Tree*

            When my mom went in for chemo she had salt and pepper hair – she hadn’t gone gray til she hit 70, a few years earlier. Post-chemo her hair was growing in jet black. You never can tell!

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              This happened to us, too! My husband’s hair was pure white, and then he went through a second chemo for a different cancer, and it fell out–and grew back in black-gray. It meant he had to wear the wig and fake beard for Santa again that year, but what the heck.

        3. Book bug*

          I don’t know how different hair treatment is before/after chemo. But from someone who has been curly their whole life, but only recently learned how to care for curls, there are tons of resources available.
          If you live in a larger city, it’s pretty likely that there is a curly salon near you. Most of those will be able to set up a sort of info visit where they show you how to style and care for your hair and which products might work for you. even if you’re not getting your hair cut, I’d recommend visiting one of the curl specialists at a curly only salon to learn what to do.

          You’re going through something so much harder than I could ever imagine, please don’t let curls be one more thing stressing you out!

        4. TheOtherLaura*

          I needed a haircut with post-chemo hair because it grew back very uneven in the first months.
          First time I cut it evenly back to 12 millimetres, which looked quite good, second time I went to the hairdresser for a cut, plus, had it dyed bright blue. Always wanted to do that!

      4. learnedthehardway*

        Love the term “chemopause” – totally describes it. I suppose mine was “radiopause”, though.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I like that term, too. I’ve had chemopause, radiopause, and now I’m on an estrogen suppressant because my breast cancer was estrogen fed, and the hot flashes from that are *intense*!

      5. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I have my chemo hair right now, and I was given a free wig of my own selection, and I have worn it only a couple of times because it is so hot and uncomfortable. My hair is about half an inch long now, and I do exercise and walk my dogs with nothing on my head (I visited a barber to neaten up the edges, so it looks like a Peewee Herman haircut).

        However, I’ve gotten used to the little cotton or some of the dressier beanies I’ve been wearing, to the point that they feel like part of my outfit now, so I still wear them when I go out. When I was bald, I let them cover my whole head; now that I have some hair, I let them set back on my head and show some of the bangs area (they’re not long enough to be bangs yet, but they will be).

    7. Kitters*

      Depending on if real hair is used or not, the wigs may not “breathe” and could feel like wearing a tight beanie on a hot day.

      Chemo can mess with your body’s internal temp. control and heat you up. Plus, your body gets used to not having hair and then you place a wig on top of that and it feels stifling.

    8. Artemesia*

      your own hair keeps the head warm just as fur does for an animal. So a wig which is already hot is putting a fur coat on top of a fur coat. Super warm.

    9. I'm just here for the cats!*

      A wig is basically a hat with long hair attached to it. You can’t feel the breeze so to speak, because there’s a layer of fabric over your scalp. And depending on materials I can imagine it can get really sweaty and itchy,

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Plus with a wig, you can’t just snatch it off and put it back on again (neatly or correctly) as your body gets hot and cold. With the little beanies, when I’m driving somewhere, I yank it off and put it back on several times because I cycle through hot and cold spells so frequently. The beanie is very forgiving with how you set it on your head; all I do is make sure the seam in in the back and that it’s relatively straight on my head. Wigs have to be fidgeted with too much when you take them off and on.

    10. Nonanon*

      Adding in to the conversation, but one of the ladies at my elementary school was working while undergoing chemo, and she preferred headscarves because they breathed whereas wigs do not. Combining 1. a hot, humid region with 2.from my understanding now, she was going through menopause, and depending on the chemotherapy, you can have menopause-like changes even during reproductive years, you don’t want anything on your head that can trap extra heat.
      (For what its worth, I have a few friends who are drag performers, and they say similar things about their wigs; assumedly lights, makeup, and performing are different than just going out in public and doing your day-to-day thing, but the swampy head feeling remains)

      1. anonymous hat*

        I have some hair thinning and tried wigs a few times, they do get really hot, especially if you’re a more naturally sweaty person.

        When I did wear them, I found a product called “headline it” that is a little absorbent pad you stick under your wig to help with sweating. I couldn’t find the wig kind, but found the kind to put in construction hats and just cut them to fit. The brand is the same they are just shaped a bit differently.

    11. Sara without an H*

      After my first chemo session, I made an appointment with my hair stylist and got a buzz cut, rather than just wait for my hair to fall out. It was much easier to manage. I also made a conscious decision to go with headscarves and wraps, rather than a wig, partly because of the heat factor other commenters have described. Good wigs are also quite expensive. For the same money, I could build a wardrobe of scarves that can now be used in other ways.

      OP5, fashions have changed a lot, and short hair on women is kind of fashionable. I doubt very much if anybody will say anything to you. If they do, freeze them with a hard stare.

      Jedi hugs from a fellow breast cancer survivor. Best wishes for your continued recovery. And enjoy that short hair!

      1. TheOtherLaura*

        I wore Buff neckgaiters knotted to a hat. Very flexible, comfortable, and not too hot.
        Being bald did not bother me much (I’m lucky with my bone structure), but not having eyebrows or eyelashes was not something I’d have done as a fashion choice.

        Unfortunately I never got to wear the straight, black wig for “events where I would feel imporperly dressed in a Buff”, because my immune system did not take well to chemo and there wer no events. Now, even with short hair, the wig itches.

  4. raincoaster*

    As a post-chemo hair haver myself, I remember what that was like. Fortunately for you super-short cuts and even buzzcuts are in for both genders these days. My hair, previously straight and limp, came back like marcelled waves. Maybe slicking it down like that is a good look for you? Try some gel and see how it looks.

    The range of acceptable hair looks is so much wider than it used to be. If styling your new hair is a challenge, maybe book an appointment specifically about that with a stylist. I am betting you’ll get compliments.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I have very short hair (by choice) with a fine texture. A bit of styling wax at the top of the head to get it to stick up in a tousled look works for me, and is both cool in hot weather and very low maintenance.

    2. Zelda*

      “The range of acceptable hair looks is so much wider than it used to be.”

      All of the series _The Hair Tales_ was worth watching, but the episode in which Representative Ayanna Pressley (one of the people behind the CROWN Act) discussed her decision to just go ahead and be bald in public was especially fantastic.

      1. Super*

        I get so happy when I see women with bald or buzzed hair. It just feels so confident and authentic.

    3. Dog momma*

      I do that and its exhausting. If I grow out my hair to any length it looks like my mom’s old lady perm. I’ve tried twice. I’m going to shave the back for summer and possibly the sides. & really shorten up the top . I need to use padte..gel won’t work.
      Your hairdresser should have some ideas and there are short hairstyle pages on FB, to give you more choices depending on its length..which LW said was very short. There are women on there with post chemo hair so scroll through.

    4. On Fire*

      A colleague lost a lot of hair due to a (non-chemo) medical issue. She finally buzzed her head, and it has grown back to a very short ‘do that she is absolutely rocking. Best wishes for your continued recovery, OP5, and go forth with your short hair!

    5. Artemesia*

      It also sounds like the OP has a good head of hair — it is just short and this problem will grow out of itself. Many chemo patients have scraggly weird hair before it all grows in if it does. I have a friend whose previously glorious hair didn’t grow back in well. She did keep wearing her very realistic and beautiful wig for quite a while.

    6. Joielle*

      As a woman who’s had super short hair for many years, it has never occurred to me that someone might think it was anything other than a style choice! I get a ton of compliments on it. Even if it’s not your preferred look, I very much doubt anyone will think anything of it.

      1. Catalin*

        Same! My preference is ‘fingertip length’ hair (where the stylist can barely get a grab on it at the end of the cut). I’ve had it for ages and I rock it with absolutely no frogs given. Earrings, decorative hairbands, and makeup can glam you up if you’re feeling it.

        Also, a bold lip color will dominate people’s vision, they won’t even see your hair if they can’t get their eyes off your mouth.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I have worn my hair long almost my entire life. I got it cut super-short to see if I liked the style, just a bit before I got sinus surgery (because who wants to fight with tangles in long hair while recovering from sinus surgery?) and it was *so weird and wrong to me*. And I got so many compliments. It looked fine, it was just weird to me because it wasn’t what I normally did and I didn’t really like it.

        Short hair is fine, and you will probably notice it more than anyone else. And while that’s especially true of people who never knew you before this, it’s also probably true of the people who have seen you with longer hair.

    7. Not that Jane*

      I have super short hair entirely as a fashion choice (cis woman) and I love it. The first time I looked in the mirror after my husband buzzed my hair, I was like, Oh! That’s what I’m supposed to look like! So I agree with Alison that no one will likely give it a second thought.

      I hope you’re doing well, OP5.

    8. lilsheba*

      Or they could not even worry about what their hair looks like, that is the LEAST important thing to even worry about. Who cares if it seems “professional” or not? you’re sick, you’re recovering, focus on that and not hair.

  5. Cheshire Cat*

    I am also about 2 months post-chemo, and my hair is growing back but still quite short. It basically sticks straight up on the top of my head and straight out on the sides. I look like I stuck my finger in a light socket!

    I’ve tried everything, and the only thing that helps is to wear a scarf over my hair. Then it looks more normal when I take the scarf off. I keep telling myself that this look is temporary, and my hair will be easier to manage in another month or two.

    On the bright side, pre-chemo my hair was mostly grey, but it’s growing back dark (its original color). I am 100% remote at work; my company doesn’t expect video on internal calls; and I don’t have meetings with customers or external partners. So I don’t have to worry about how they perceive me.

    Best wishes, LW!

    1. BellaStella*

      Same with my hair, post chemo for breast cancer! It was partly grey and grew back the original color!

      For the OP, I admire you! To have your strength and dedication to your work is great. Go ahead and go to the meetings with your short hair and maybe fun earrings and a scarf! You are an inspiration!

      1. Sigrid says hey*

        Mine too, it grew in curly for the first 6 or7 months post chemo. Then it reverted back to growing like my previous hair, sick straight. 15 months post chemo now and I am keeping it cut super short as I’ve come to love it this way. I’ve also come to believe that any hair is so much better than no hair that every day is a “great hair day.”

    2. lilsheba*

      You shouldn’t ever worry about how they perceive you it does NOT matter. What matters is recovery.

  6. Maroon*

    OP 4: I’m sure there wasn’t any deeper meaning behind your K.D. Lang reference (and I love K.D. Lang!), but short hair doesn’t necessarily have to come with Lang’s more androgynous style . . . Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews each wore super-short hair as part of a very “classic” and feminine look prior to the 1970’s, so it’s likely possible to incorporate shorter-than-normal hair into your general style. FWIW, I don’t need to own a business wardrobe, and I certainly don’t need to represent my company’s ownership team through my appearance, but I can’t imagine anyone who’s seen a Hepburn movie (or even Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail) objecting to your short hair!

    1. MK*

      I agree. I don’t know this guy, but looking at his photos his hair isn’t super short; a good hairdresser could find a flattering feminine style for a woman with hair that short. If OP wants to bother, that is, because an androgynous style like that is fine too.

        1. Anon attorney*

          yeah, even kd had a pixie at one point! I’d forgotten what a beautiful woman she is (with all hair styles).

          LW I’m sorry for what you’re going through. There’s nothing wrong or unprofessional with super short hair and honestly it kinda makes me sad that you’re worried about this – have beauty standards become that calcified or maybe you’re feeling anxious about everything (which would be understandable!) and it’s focused on your hair?

          fwiw I have very short hair by choice and it’s a complete nonissue and I work in a conservative field.

          wishing you well with the rest of your treatment

        2. MK*

          Yes, sorry, I only did a quick google for photos and glanced at them before commenting. I assumed that OP was having an issue because she was comparing herself to a man.

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            That’s….a lot of assumptions. Women can and do have very short hair by choice.

            1. LWH*

              Honestly as a kd lang style butch woman the way people are talking about hair like kd langs (and mine) here is really bothering me and some people are bordering on homophobia acting like short hair on a woman is bad in some way or “man” hair. Honestly even the original letter bothers me some, like…do you look at kd lang and go “wow, unprofessional, I need to hide this”?

              1. Be Gneiss*

                This is really unfair to the LW. Going through a medical crisis that *also* changes your outward appearance can take a huge emotional toll on a person, and is completely different than your personal *choice* of a short hairstyle.

                1. LWH*

                  The implication, whether LW intended it or not, is that kd lang hair is not professional. That doesn’t just apply to LW.

                2. Blarg*

                  Yes, and I cannot reply to the comment below cause it is thread-maxed-out. But LWH — it isn’t that KD Lang’s hair is unprofessional or homophobic. It is that it is a CHANGE and not a choice for LW. We see ourselves one way, and then that is radically altered with cancer.

                  I’m a bisexual cis woman. I’ve never been particularly “girly.” I don’t wear makeup. Don’t know how. Didn’t shave my legs (now, there’s nothing to shave). But my hair and my breasts were parts of my body that I liked. And now my hair is gone, and my breasts are about to be gone, and how I perceive myself has changed and how people perceive me has changed. It’s all just weird and hard.

                  There are a million little indignities of having cancer (my fingernails are discolored and slowly dying! so fun!). So if you are just unsure about your new look, a look you did not choose, it makes sense to get some affirmation that it is fine, and probably no one will even notice. There’s nothing political about it, nothing judging other’s choices or styles.

                  It’s just a forced change amongst a million others that make you feel like your body isn’t yours and the choices you do “get” to make are terrible (in my case, single mastectomy or double). Please don’t judge her for working to find her confidence and footing.

              2. Jackalope*

                I interpreted it more as not knowing what to do with hair that length on her own head. Chemo not only makes your hair fall out (some chemo), but it can make it grow back in patchier and/or a different texture, or (see other notes above) even a different color. Most people who’ve reached adulthood have learned how to manage their own particular hair in ways that work for them, and it’s hard to have that change. If the OP isn’t used to having super short hair (or hair of whatever thickness and texture it is now; I know she said it’s fully in now but that can still be different than what she had before), that can be tricky to figure out.

                1. LWH*

                  The question was “is having short kd lang hair as a woman unprofessional”. That’s my problem.

                2. Once too Often*

                  Unfortunately, there are still some more conservative businesses which do find super short hair unprofessional for women. There are still some businesses that essentially require women to wear skirt suits & dresses instead of slacks – & specific make up styles – especially if you’d like to move up, & do things like meet with clients.

              3. bamcheeks*

                Also queer (although broadly-femme presenting) lesbian— reading LW’s letter, it just struck me as gender dysphoria. What she describes sounds to me like exactly the experience queer people have of, “this gendered look is fine for *other people*, but it’s so wrong for me I need to figure out how to deal”. I think that’s a very understandable way to feel after chemo, and I definitely understand LW wanting extra reassurance that it’s possible to make this work professionally. I do also appreciate how jarring it is for you, though! Does it help to read it as, “I need to figure out for myself how to make this hair-length work as a femme-presenting professional style” rather than “butch = unprofessional”?

                1. learnedthehardway*

                  I agree – gender dysphoria is exactly what it is. It’s WRENCHING to have your body suddenly NOT be what it was just a few months ago.

                  It has nothing to do with how you feel about other people. It’s about how you view yourself.

                2. LWH*

                  It helps to read it as that sure. But it’s not what LW actually said. I think LWs impression that that hair would make her look unprofessional is showing some unconscious bias, I’m not accusing her of being a raging queer hater. Just that she might want to examine why her thought was that it was unprofessional instead of “how do I cope with having hair I’m uncomfortable with as a professional”. I think that’s a reasonable question but it’s not how it was presented, and kd lang isn’t exactly a neutral person to compare your hair to in that regard.

                3. OP5*

                  I did not mean to come off homophobic or transphobic, but if I did I apologize, regardless of my intention. My hair color is pretty close to k.d. lang (hence i used her) and unfortunately I do not have the bone structure/face to wear a pixie cut at all. My clients will notice has I had medium to long thick hair prior to chemo. I definitely do not look like myself anymore and I get the feeling people feel more comfortable when I wear my wig as I look like I used to.

                  Right now I have ‘fake’ temporary boobs, very short hair (after being bald for months) and my hormones are being suppressed for the next 10 years to prevent a metastatic reoccurrence (there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer). I absolutely do not feel like this ‘body’ is my ‘body’ and I worry how to present myself in a body that is not what I am used to.

                4. bamcheeks*

                  I totally understand that, I’ve had short hair and loved it in my twenties and thirties, but sudden short hair for reasons beyond my control + all the other changes that come along with cancer would be a huge deal for sure.

                  I think you’re probably right that people react initially to the change, but in my experience from the other side, I do think it’s the kind of thing where other people’s reaction tends to be brief and then you see all the familiar things that haven’t changed and you very quickly adjust to how someone looks now. I appreciate that even that initial surprise and adjustment feels like a lot when you’re vulnerable though. I hope you can find a short hairstyle that feels good and all your clients are kind and discreet in their concern.

              4. Super*

                I’m queer, and have a thing for the k.d. lang look. (Ahem – A Thing!)

                But even though I love that look a lot on others, it’s not *my thing* if that makes sense?

                I’d spend time on Pinterest figuring out short hairstyles and on YouTube for hair products, and would get there… but growing out hair can be weirdly awkward and self-conscious.

                1. LWH*

                  I never said LW has to be comfortable with the hair on herself, I just don’t appreciate the insinuation that that hair isn’t professional for some reason.

              5. I'm just here for the cats!*

                I think you are reading more into what the OP is saying. For one, she may have had really long hair before and is overwhelmed with what to do with short hair. Especially if it sticks up in odd places like other commenters have said happened to them. She might be thinking something like this looks closer to someone in a Punk rock band than a professional.
                I think the OP means this is not how “my” professional look look like and my clients are going to expect the old me not this.
                Also, there are still professions where women are expected to look a certain way, and having short hair might not be the norm or could be looked at weirdly.

                I think we can give her some grace without calling her homophobic or putting words into her mouth.

                1. LWH*

                  I don’t think I’d have a problem with it if LW had said “MY professional look” but that’s not what was said. So we’re both reading into it at this point.

                2. Cicely*


                  Some think another person’s hair is unprofessional looking; while other people would think that same person’s hair is professional looking.

                  Why overthink it?

                3. Myrin*

                  To be honest, I feel like the commenters getting hung up on this are putting way more thought into it than OP did when she wrote her letter.

                  She clearly tried to be very concise, wasn’t sure if something was okay so asked Alison who answered “yep, it’s okay!”, and used a more-or-less random woman with her same hair colour as a comparison for people to be better able to visualise what she means.

                  I don’t want to make light of the topic or brush off what is definitely a worthwhile discussion in another setting but here, I honestly feel like it’s simply not that deep.

              6. Joielle*

                For what it’s worth, I’m also a woman with very short hair (although pretty femme presenting overall) and I had the same reaction. I give the LW a lot of grace because what she’s going through is not easy and I can understand why she’s seeking reassurance about her new look, but the way it was presented as a concern about short hair in general being unprofessional feels pretty regressive.

                1. LWH*

                  And I find it pretty off-putting that a lot of the commenters are trying to make LW feel better by saying “look at all of these famous straight women with even shorter hair than young kd lang had! See you can look like them instead!” This is almost bothering me more than the LW itself. Somehow I’m being scolded for saying LW should be fine with having short hair (which I never said, just that the letter implied it’s unprofessional IN GENERAL), but everyone else bringing up straight women with short hair aren’t asking LW to embrace it? If she wasn’t happy with it when it’s kd lang hair why should she be happy with it being Judy Dench hair?

                2. Starbuck*

                  Same. I also wasn’t impressed to see stuff like “short hair is common now for both genders!” Ahem. Ok then.

                3. New Jack Karyn*

                  Joielle, this is about where I land. I think she’s struggling with the fact that her body has undergone a lot of very difficult changes. Hair is generally one of the things we can control about our looks, and she cannot right now. I appreciate your wording of ‘giving her grace’.

                  And her original phrasing didn’t land well for me. LWH, you’re not alone.

              7. Myrin*

                I mean, OP could well be in a field that is conservative and/or old-fashioned in a way where short hair on women might indeed be seen as unprofessional – that’s a ridiculous attitude, of course, but it’s not OP’s fault if that’s the case. Furthermore, people are allowed to be unsure of things they have no experience with (which would be the case here, since it sounds like OP had long hair before) and ask about it in a low-key and “imperfect” manner.

                And I assumed she used k. d. lang as a more or less random example of a woman with short hair whom she likes and whom people either know or can google so that she didn’t have to painstakingly explain what exactly her hair looks like and how long exactly it is.

                1. Awkwardness*

                  There are a lot of good and personal explanations above why the change to a short hair look might be challenging for OP (not a choice she made, very feminine presenting with long hair, no idea how to style it).
                  And another reason LW is insecure could be that her consulting work environment indeedis conservative and embracing traditional gender looks. If I had to name conservative industries, banking and consulting would be the very first to come to my mind.

              8. LWH*

                I can’t reply to LW because it’s too far down but I think honestly if the original letter had had some of these details it actually would have improved the advice, because you also wouldn’t have a bunch of people recommending celeb pixie cuts. I think you’re fine LW, I think that comment is a lot more honest about the concern than the published letter. I think the comments got a lot worse than the actual letter with recommending straight celebs with short hair like that’s better somehow.

                1. WNBGAY*

                  @LWH I agree. I think it’s all unconscious bias, but there’s something significant to concerns that what is a common butch queer woman’s haircut is questioned as unprofessional, and that some are responding by saying look, here are straight women with short hair, so it’s okay. I think it’s unfortunate some (I’m sure well meaning) people are claiming you’re telling LW to embrace the look or be comfortable with it, or in any way responding to anything other than the part of the letter that reads “ is my super short but fully there hair okay to have in a professional setting if it is well groomed?” I think LW has gone through something awful, we can have great sympathy and kindness, and in that kindness still point out a potentially unconscious bias, bc presumably we all want to have those pointed out to be able to grow in those areas. I would also ask any heterosexual people pushing back on queer women’s discomfort with this to question if they’re the appropriate authority here and if they could be, for lack of a better terms, ‘straightsplaining.’ LW, wishing you all happiness and good fortune.

                2. Starbuck*

                  LWH, I feel the same. The letter read to me as “how can I look professional and not like [a visibly lesbian woman]” as if those were two opposite ends of a spectrum… I still feel for LW, I currently have very long hair that I like to do fun things with and would be devastated if I lost it all, especially while dealing with such a challenging medical issue. But that particular example was a really unfortunate way to express her discomfort with that change.

              9. Elle*

                People, even people who think of themselves as very liberal and open minded, have some very strongly held beliefs about performing femininity.

            2. theletter*

              well that’s the challenge – lots of women have figured out how to style/cut short hair in a way that doesn’t trigger some dysmorphia, but it can be very challenging for some textures or face shapes. Lots of women also have deep associations with their own locks, and it will take some extreme grappling to embrace anything close to androgynous/masc for themselves.

          1. Tammy 2*

            E.E. Cummings actually preferred to be capitalized. His publisher used the lower case on some of his book covers but it wasn’t a permanent change driven by Cummings himself. I’m sorry to be a “well, actually,” person about this but this is something I recently learned after years of typing it wrong and thought it was super interesting.

    2. Jill Swinburne*

      Great point, there were some fab pixie cuts in the 1960s – people like Twiggy and Liza Minelli, but also more recently you’ve had Emma Watson, Halle Berry, and Michelle Williams.

      1. Annie*

        Every once in a while I go back to a very short pixie and bring in pictures of Mia Farrow in her Rosemary’s Baby days.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          This! My hair fell out more on one side (first time chemo) the second time it was on patchy clumps (and the grow-back is just as unpredictable.)

          My kids were preschool, I’d come home from chemo, whip off my scarf and collapse on the couch like the dead.

          One friend got my kids some colored markers and coloring books, and I didn’t even stir while they drew hair on my bald scalp. The markers weren’t washable, and they tried every color in the box.

          That was the week my driver’s license needed to be renewed, and my wigs were all being fitted or cleaned and styled. I bought a “Flesh- tone” swimming cap, but the Driver’s license person disapproved. Until I peeled it off and showed the “Sharpie Image”.

          So for the next 4 years, I was allowed to use my work photo on my driver’s license- which made it look like I had 2 forged credentials. (This was before computers and stored ID.)

          OP- a good wigmaker can usually show you digital styles, and since most of them are licensed cosmetologists, might be able to show you a few.

          But DAMN, honey, don’t feel like you have to wear something that makes your head feel like an ape’s armpit!

    3. DrSalty*

      OP #4 – I am a woman with short hair as a fashion choice with an otherwise very conventional style. Rest assured it’s totally professional :)

      Best wishes on your recovery!

  7. Lamon the Salmon*

    OP1 – One of the biggest learnings I had as a manager was that you can’t want more for someone than what they want for themselves. You can’t want them to succeed or grow more than they want to succeed or grow. Honestly it’s something I still struggle with when I see potential in someone to exceed but they have no interest in it.

    If this person doesn’t want to do better then they simply won’t. There is often not much you can do about it.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      That could be lesson No.1 of being a manager. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. I learned that with an employee who was content to do the bare miminum but could have excelled in their role with a bit of effort, Looking back it’s obvious that it was a waste of time but as a newish manager my job was to inspire and motivate but you can’t build a fire under someone who watches the embers die time and time again.

      1. MassMatt*

        When I last managed a team, we evaluated members based on skills and also on will/motivation.

        Ideally, you want people with high skills and high will. If someone has high will but poor skills, maybe they were not trained well and or in a way they understood, or why the skills were important. This is a very doable task though it can take a lot of manager time.

        If someone has the skills and not the will, it’s a MUCH harder challenge. Unless there is a specific reason which can be addressed, such as problems at home or being burned out from overwork, it is extremely difficult to get someone to improve.

        As others have said, you can’t care about someone’s job more than they do. I was fortunate that my company had very clear policies for giving warnings and if need be terminating someone who was not working out.

        The nightmare scenario is if you have an employee with this low—will problem (or more! This sort of attitude can be contagious) and your upper management just expects you to somehow make it go away, or ignores it, and refuses to let them be fired while holding you (and only you!) accountable for their failing.

        1. not nice, don't care*

          As an employee with high skills and high sense of value for my time, I balance effort with actual need, not a manager’s desire for performative actions. I rent my time & skills under tightly-managed conditions, and some jobs/managers just don’t rate that much of my headspace for the returns I want in that situation.

        2. HighskillLowwill*

          I had extremely high skill and high will at my job.

          Then expectations were tripled, and when I asked for 90 minutes of overtime to get it all done by the deadline, I was told I just didn’t prioritize well enough.

          I told leadership they needed to hire a replacement for the people who quit and whose jobs were given to me. I was told this was “top priority” for a year. Meanwhile, they had been paying those people each more than me, and could only “afford” a 2% raise at my annual review.

          My present low will has a cause.

          1. The Assistant*

            OMG, I was also HighSkillHighWill at one point but was not rewarded in the way I thought I would. My job at the time was basically admin assistant, but instead of being given a chance to own a semi-technical project and begin to climb up the ladder, I was given 4x the admin-assisting duties (while being told it was only 1.5x as much). Plus, after a couple years, I noticed people who were perfectly nice to me when I was the quiet assistant used a sharp tone with me when I tried to assert an an actual opinion on how to best get an action item done. Three workplaces later, I still have regrets about how my career path went down at that company.

    2. Just a question*

      This is so true. Some folks can to the work however there is no enthusiasm or motivation
      I have an employee like that.

      It drives me nuts constant reminders constant coaching. And this is in hospitality

      Good Luck

    3. Frances*

      I have worked with an employee like this and believe me people like this never change. She never cared to try to do better. And many complained she never responded to their emails and phone calls. She was also never reliable so we never knew when she would come in, which led to me doing all her work and mine. She was basically there to get paid and for health insurance because she had a multitude of health issues. And many people were always patting her back.

      1. ferrina*

        On the flip side, sometimes this is a response to going through a bad employer. I’ve seen mediocre to poor employees suddenly blossom under a good manager. Especially if previous managers never recognized or rewarded effort, but the new manager comes in saying “I see you. You do good, but we’re taking this to the next level. I know you can be amazing because I see your skill in XYZ, but I also need you to do ABC.” The person is seen for the first time and recognized.

        But like other commenters are saying….that only happens if they want to. It’s not a guarantee. The manager can do all this and the employee could make absolutely no changes. So invest your energy wisely.

      2. Snark*

        And let me guess – either she was astonished when she got let go, or she was never let go and just functioned as the missing stair.

      3. Nightbringer*

        I’m sorry but this comment really bothers me. You have no idea what it’s like to be chronically ill. And ppl are stuck bc health ins is tied to employment. Don’t blame her, blame the system.

      4. Brigs*

        ‘She was basically there to get paid and for health insurance because she had a multitude of health issues’
        And instead of blaming a system that requires people with a multitude of health issues to still work full time to get insurance and showing some grace to the person dealing with all that, you decided to go ‘hope lazy bones gets fired soon’. ok then.

        1. Boof*

          I mean, yes the system has a lot of problems,but people aren’t devoid of tools to handle it and I don’t think that raging at the machine actually helps anyone here; at least an out of office message on when to expect a response is a totally reasonable thing to do if one is trying to balance respect for one’s coworkers and need for employment despite serious health issues.

    4. Sloanicota*

      I’m sure I would also be haunted by the wasted potential (especially if it’s a hard-to-fill role) but it would also be a huge opportunity cost for you as a manager if you’re spending, what, 50% of your time trying to prop up a demotivated employee? Managers aren’t really expected to be over their employee’s shoulders all the time the way I think you’d have to be. I’d hate to be one of the other direct reports, or a partner to the program, if that’s where you have to put so much of your energy. Also, at previous periods in my life where I was extremely demotivated, there was nothing a senior person could have done to fix it, other than letting natural consequences play out for me to learn from.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        This is key: I’d hate to be one of the other direct reports.

        You can’t put so much energy into saving a guy who doesn’t care that you have no time to manage your other reports. They need to see that you have reasonable expectations of the job and that you will give reasonable support to help people do their jobs. But they also need to know that you will not bend over backwards to save someone who isn’t putting in the effort. Because guess where all the work not getting done lands? On them. It’s really unfair to the rest of your reports that this guy is allowed to get away with not being available, not meeting his deadlines without constant reminders when they do what they are supposed to do.

    5. Artemesia*

      I have sympathy for the worker who struggles to do the job and that person is worth a lot of effort to bring them up to speed. But someone who doesn’t want to work? After a reasonable attempt to provide structure and guidance, this is one where you should just cut your losses.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        100% this. OP1 seems concerned about what they can do to fix this. Instead, the question should be if the problem is even fixable. While there are some causes that OP1 may be able to address (e.g., the employee needs new challenges, has the aftereffects of a bad boss, is going through a personal loss and needs time, etc.), there are many that are not OP1’s to fix. The biggest: the employee simply doesn’t care anymore. Given OP1’s description, there is a decent chance that is the case. If so, prepare to sever him if he cannot change quickly.

    6. Smithy*

      First of all, absolutely yes to all of this. And I’ll also add that very often that perceived lack of desire for more is rooted in some very pragmatic pieces.

      My brother does a job he could do for many employers (think accountant). Since graduation, he’s been employed in one place that is stable but also has some tighter than average constraints around things such as salary increases, PTO, and other types of employee benefits where my brother could easily at least see if other employers had better packages. And again, he has a job that is present at many types of employers – government, corporate, nonprofit, etc.

      However, in addition to hating interviewing – my brother has some diagnoses where things adapting to new systems or ways of working is really hard for him. He’s also a dad to a young family, and so the reality for him is that trying to get and then start a new job sounds insanely difficult vs dealing with the realities of where he is. In this case it’s my brother so I’m aware of more personal stuff, but with folks we work at – versions of “not trying for more” can be tied to endless reasons that we’re just never going to know. If we did it might make more sense, but it’s also just not our place to know.

    7. learnedthehardway*

      Some people are really tough to motivate – not that they cannot be motivated, but it’s really hard to know HOW to motivate them.

      I would have a conversation with the employee – point out that their work is competent, but that their performance, reliability, etc. aren’t up to snuff. Get them to look at what they need to be motivated.

      Perhaps they are just bored and need new challenges. Maybe they are dealing with mental or physical health issues or family issues or something that affects their ability to focus on their job. Perhaps they hate what they do and should be looking at a different function. Perhaps they are very demotivated by the kind of feedback they are getting from other people – people who require recognition/appreciation can get into a really negative mindset when they are criticized repeatedly – perhaps you as their manager need to find opportunities to provide praise for what they ARE doing well.

      1. Snark*

        Maybe I’m just a hardass, but why try to motivate someone who isn’t doing the job? Put them on a PIP, let them know that without sustained performance improvements they will be fired, clearly characterize what that looks like, and they either do the job or don’t. Recognition is nice but there needs to be something to recognize, and he’s employed to do a job.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          If he’s already discouraged by negativity or toxicity, this will make it worse. It’s an escalation of the bad stuff.
          If possible, it would be good to find out what’s causing his attitude before punishing him. (And a PIP will seem like punishment and moving toward firing.)

          1. Snark*

            I’ve been discouraged by negativity and toxicity – and I still did my job, even if to the minimum viable extent. If you’re just not doing the job, you’re not meeting your end of the employment transaction any more than a toxic, negative employer is.

            And a PIP isn’t really a punishment, or shouldn’t be. Most people who feel that way are externalizing the knowledge that they’re doing something that should be censured.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              No- I have a new manager who came in asking questions about my work, and I answered them. Then she gave me a bad review, completely missing how hard I work and all the things I do well.
              If she starts giving me a written warnings or a PIP, that would definitely be a punishment. For not reading her mind and understanding what she wanted when she didn’t tell me.
              Not only am I not doing anything wrong, I’m doing a damn good job with difficult work. That the manager can’t see that is her failure, not mine.

        2. GlitsyGus*

          Because if the issue stems from something internal and fixable (Say, having three managers which lead to no consistency or support for the employee) why NOT talk it out and fix it? Why lose a good employee when a little positive reinforcement could turn things around?

          Not all things are reperable, but there is no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          1. Snark*

            I mean, he isn’t a good employee. If someone is just straight-up refusing to do the job, in my experience that means the relationship is too far gone to turn around and it just makes sense to move on, on both sides – even if it’s internal and fixable for whomever replaces them.

    8. Pescadero*

      I’m firmly of the opinion that is pretty irrelevant.

      Some people want to “grow”. Some people want to come in, do the same job competently every day until they retire.

      Both are OK.

      No need for managers to be pushing growth on the folks who just want to do their job and go home.

      1. GythaOgden*

        In this case, though, the guy isn’t just marking time, he’s not even putting the bare minimum in to do what he needs to do.

        1. Pescadero*

          The why mention things like “growth”?

          This isn’t about motivation, and it isn’t about growth – it’s just about someone doing the work.

          People don’t need to be motivated and they don’t need to grow to get work done.

          If the problem is work not getting done – the problem is work not getting done, not motivation or growth.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah…but OP has said he’s not available when he should be and thus not actually doing the work he’s supposed to be doing in the first place. That’s the whole point of the letter — you may want to read what she actually said, or indeed her reply just below my comment.

      2. OP1*

        “Some people want to come in, do the same job competently every day until they retire.”

        He’s not doing this though. *When* he does the work, it’s competent. But often he doesn’t do it without multiple reminders or follow-ups.

        1. GlitsyGus*

          I still think Alison ‘s advice is good. Have a very transparent talk about what is and isn’t working. Ask him what is going on. Really listen to the answer. This may be fixable, it may not. You won’t know until you have a discussion with the employee.

    9. GlitsyGus*

      100%. I do think, though, that Allison gives really good advice here. Have the talk and ask what’s up. Really listen to the answer without judgment. That will tell you if he wants to succeed but is demoralized or frustrated or if he’s just skating for as long as he can.

      Three different managers in relatively quick succession can be a real ambition killer if they all had different styles and expectations. Also if that means you never get a chance to grow and improve because there isn’t consistant guidelines and monitoring. This might not be the case, but you won’t know until you really ask.

  8. Waving not Drowning*

    OP3 – our organisation has a 3 person interview panel, with 1 person working for our organisation in a similar role, in a different area (our organisation is divided into 5 distinct areas, no overlap but similar structures).

    Having the external can help with potential bias (both favourable/unfavourable) against internal applicants.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I had a 3-person interview panel for the second round of interviews for my current job, which is IT supporting department A. For some reason, the three people were my hiring manager in IT, someone from department B and someone from department C, and I spent the entire interview trying to figure out why they were there:

      “So, tell me more about department B and how I’d be working with you in the future! I wouldn’t be? Oh. Um, how interesting. How about department C, would I be… no? I’m only supposed to work with department A? That’s good to know. Did… did you have any questions for me?”

      My only guess is that the hiring manager couldn’t get anyone from department A, so they just… invited people from random other departments?

  9. Brain the Brian*

    I feel like LW1’s employee a lot of days. My job involves a lot of final review before things leave the building, and after years and years of asking the same people to fix the same problems hundreds and hundreds of times and having them continue to make the same mistakes over and over without any recourse for them, no amount of praise for successfully fixing the problems myself motivates me anymore. I used to put in tons of extra hours, but now I just don’t care anymore, and I’ll spend entire workdays online shopping or — if it’s a WFH day — in bed with a book or my phone. Someone with the power to institute a better, more efficient system that didn’t make me feel like I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day should have done it, but no one notices or cares. Why should I? Let it all go to hell — clearly, no one gives a damn. My boss has even talked about promoting me despite my abysmal work ethic.

    I guess the lesson I would share for LW1 is that if you have an employee like me who isn’t motivated to do their job, no matter how well they do it when they actually sit down and get to work, you might just need someone else. It sounds like you have an employee with a fundamental mismatch in interests — not necessarily skills, but interests — for the job. Cut him loose so he can find something better suited for him and you can hire someone who will actually do the work — unlike your employee (or, at lot of days, like me).

    1. Support Project Nettie*

      I see so many people in this situation and generally, it is in toxic / dysfunctional work environments. I happen to love my job role (its practically a hobby and im damn good at it) but a few people in my department have the attitude of “why should I bother?”. This is usually because there is no incentive to go the extra mile, being criticised unfairly, not being valued for their worth or they witness incompetence around them being rewarded or ignored. About 30% of people in my dept. feel like this demotivation and if I had my way, the remaining 70% would be fired, as they’re the ones causing the problem. But then, it’s perceived that when you’re in the minority, you’re usually the one that’s wrong.

      1. MK*

        And it’s particularly sad that it’s the more idealistic and passionate people this happens to. I got into law school because it sounded interesting, I thought I would be good at it and I wasn’t passionate about anything else (I was right on all three counts). Many of my classmates who were really passionate about saving the world/becoming incredibly successful lawyers/super invested in some other way, they ended up disillusioned by the reality of working in the field and their job satisfaction is generally lower.

      2. Smithy*

        This OP manages that this team has had three supervisors recently?

        I will say that feeling like what you do doesn’t matter can be extremely demotivating, even for someone who’s technically good at their job. I do think if the OP can recognize that there’s been a history of neglecting this team or the work of this team, then instead of trying to return motivation – I do think that setting concrete deadlines and caring about those deadlines can be a start.

        There’s nothing worse at work than feeling like you do work that no one reads, doesn’t get used, etc. Essentially, you’ve put time and effort into something and it ends up in an unopened email for a few months before being deleted. Setting deadlines where you care about them being met and also engage with the work can make a difference.

        Like if I was in a case where I was required to submit one grant proposal a week to any donor anywhere – but no one actually cared if the proposal made sense for the donor, if it was for a project we could actually do, etc. Rather the only metric that mattered was that one submission a week – then I’d get super apathetic and likely prone to missing deadlines. In that case, a new manager comes and was still holding to that requirement, but then actually demonstrated that they were reading those proposals it could start to make a difference. Not so much that they system would necessarily change, but that someone was actually paying attention.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Yeah, a lot of this resonates, too. There’s a strange vacillation here between “no has done anything with the last 27 things I’ve sent” and “I read this thing you sent, and here are 187 changes to make in the next two hours — GO.” Neither one is helpful in getting me out of a funk: one feels like no one cares, and the other feels like no one cares about me as a human.

          1. Abundant Shrimp*

            I had a teammate who did a lot of the second. It was a nightmare. After having to stay late on last-minute notice multiple times, driving home at 9PM in a snowstorm that hadn’t picked up until 8:30 and until everyone else had left for the day, etc., I got into the habit of typing up an email with the info she needed from me, attaching everything and so on, then getting ready to leave for the day, then as I was back at my desk with all my things packed, my coat on, ready to go, I’d hit Send, lock my computer, and leave immediately. Like in the movie Office Space when Peter is trying to get his work done and his computer shutdown before Lundberg wanders over to his area! This person was terminated soon after, which to me says a lot of how healthy the workplace was after all. I’d go batty working someplace where this is the SOP.

            1. Brain the Brian*

              My weekly one-on-ones with my manager are supposed to be midafternoon. They are often delayed, sometimes until 6pm or 7pm, and they often run over two hours. Why? My manager “knows you’ll still be here anyway” because for years I didn’t mind staying late. Now I do — sigh.

    2. BellaStella*

      I am so sorry and agree with you that lack of management to drive change for more effective and streamlined work means demotivated employees.

    3. WellRed*

      I like to do my job well but the constant pressure for “more content, more clicks” is dreadful and has me just filling space. Lack of advance opportunities and 3% raise don’t motivate me (I can’t afford my own apartment). The tighter management of people’s time and inefficient technology upgrades that add extra steps to workflow make me feel frustrated. OP please just ask him what’s going on.

    4. Aerin*

      My job does provide recognition and rewards for going the extra mile, I just… can’t. I can’t even motivate myself to do the stuff I genuinely love. Something in the apparatus just broke. I’ve been trying to fix it, but haven’t had a ton of luck so far.

      One thing that still does motivate me to get stuff done is *consequences*. And they have to be pretty significant consequences for them to override my brain’s current “meh, does *anything* really matter?” prioritization settings. When I was struggling with my in-office arrangement, various people were being cagey about what might happen if I didn’t come in for the minimum number of days. I finally had to ask flat-out what the actual consequence would be, because something like “not eligible for quarterly incentive bonus” is something I would just accept, but “progressive discipline up to and including termination” is something I would want to avoid more than I wanted to avoid going in.

      So I think if LW wants to give this guy the best chance, they should try to get a bit more granular than “you need to do better or you’ll get fired.” I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, that this guy knows that. It just doesn’t help moment to moment. Something like “we’re going to take away your scheduling flexibility if there’s another incident where you were AWOL” might break through the general background malaise, because it’s a specific thing they can do to avoid a specific bad outcome.

      (Although if you go that route, you have to be prepared to back it up. If I get threatened with badness if I don’t do the thing, I don’t do the thing, and nothing happens, that threat just joins the general background malaise.)

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I resonate with this very strongly, especially your comment that it’s like “something in the apparatus just broke.” That’s it exactly: it’s like I woke up one day in the past couple of years and had finally reached the tipping point of not being able to care. The things I liked about my job slowly disappeared; other people clearly didn’t care, either; and I just couldn’t bring myself to give a damn.

        If I had to pick a day when it hit me, it would be the first WFH day that I didn’t send a single email or answer a single Teams message all day and no one even bothered to ask if I was okay or online. I had this dawning realization that I could actually not do my job most days and sleep on my own schedule. It was like a sweet relief, after years of trying to make myself give a damn, to just not anymore. I suspect if anyone actually imposed consequences, I might start to tune in more again. Shrug.

      2. Bruce*

        I’ve had ups and downs in my motivation, happily in more of an up phase now after being allowed to step back from being a manager and focusing on projects… but I also think I may have a depressive streak, it runs in my family. Therapy has helped some, and I often suggest people look into it and into psychiatric meds if they really need them. I have friends and family that have had their lives changed for the better by meds. I completely agree that some work environments can suck the life out of people, but treating depression can also help fight back… Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes!

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Several years of therapy has done nothing for me except make me angrier and more bitter about everything, and I can’t take psychiatric meds because they would conflict with other meds I do need. So… YMMV, indeed. :D

        2. Aerin*

          Oh, been there, done that, bought the binder for handouts from the partial hospitalization program. This very afternoon I shall again watch my psychiatrist brainstorm all the meds that sound textbook perfect for my situation, that already did nothing for me. I feel like I’m not far from the point where we start trying the weird stuff, like electroshock or shrooms.

          1. wavefunction*

            I’ve been at that point and did transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is something to try before electroconvulsive therapy (far less side effects). After, antidepressants finally started working for me. Some people don’t find the results long lasting, but I did.

            If you’re on the cycle of trying infinite meds, I know a lot of people who have had great results from pharmacogenetic testing (looking at your genome to try to predict how you’ll respond to different drugs). If you’ve already tried basically everything this might be less useful.

            Also know some people who have had great results with mushrooms. Hope you find something that works for you! (And of course, feel free to ignore the unsolicited ideas.)

          2. My life is exhausting*

            Electroshock – or to use the correct term, electro convulsive therapy – is not “weird stuff”. It’s a useful and effective therapy for many people with major depressive disorder that doesn’t respond well to medication. It’s not like Frankenstein and it’s not like the 1950s methods. A lot of people get good results

            I’ve got a partner with major depressive disorder, recurrent, with psychotic symptoms. Medication resistant. ECT is making a real difference. I’m sorry you feel scared about your situation, but don’t then denigrate a worthwhile treatment.

      3. JustaTech*

        I used to have a coworker who had a card posted in her cube that said “Reasons I work” on the front and inside it said “I like to eat.”
        (This was weird-funny because this coworker was painfully conscientious about her work, while also being deeply irreverent about reporting structures/upper management.)

        Personally I don’t love fear as a motivator (fear of losing your home, fear of not having enough money for food or meds), but in the short term, like if you need a new job, it can be a catalyst.

        I’m sorry that so many of the commentariate are in this place.

      4. DriverB*

        Burnout is really real, and I find that so many of my peers are going through it. I have a good job at a company that does positive things in the world, and I have still been doing the bare minimum the past several months because I just can’t motivate myself. Not sure if it’s a midlife crisis, some kind of post-pandemic collective reckoning, or just plain old depression, but I’m hoping an upcoming vacation will help me reset.

        OP’s employee could just need to move on from this team, especially since they’ve been through multiple supervisors. But if they’ve had good performance in the past and it stopped, maybe the lack of caring could be turned around with some clear conversations around expectations, impact on others, and potentially support (whether that’s an EAP referral, placing their work in context, getting them interested in expanding their skills) for whatever they are going through. OP doesn’t need to solve the emotions – this dude could remain unenthusiastic if that’s just his general vibe – but they do need to solve the timeliness piece, together.

    5. Lucy P*

      I used to be the star worker, but I’ve found that I just don’t push myself as much anymore. For a variety of reasons, all centered around the job and the company, my morale has gone down.

      Now, I’m 5-10 minutes late every day. My 30 minute lunch period usually runs 35-45 minutes. I take breaks more often.

      One side of me cares, the other really doesn’t. It’s not that I’m doing bad, per se. My work stills gets done. I’m just not putting as much enthusiasm into it as I used to.

      On the other hand, I’m actively searching for another job. Why would #1’s worker just stay and deal with it, if it’s the environment or the job? Is it easy money and previous managers have just let them coast?

      1. Aerin*

        “Is it easy money and previous managers have just let them coast?”

        I mean, yeah, probably. After I’d been at my job 3-4 years, an engineer friend of mine suggested I start looking around for my next move. I told him I’d never find another job that would pay me more to do less. He looked at me like I was an alien. But I think a lot of people do the bare minimum because the job is just a paycheck and they get their fulfillment from other things.

      2. Brain the Brian*

        It certainly could be easy money. I know for me, there’s a lot of the identity that I present to my friends and family wrapped up in this job I secretly hate: it’s at pretty much the only company that works at the intersection of my college degrees (let’s say it’s lobster grooming; there are groomers and there are lobster fisherman, but there’s only one lobster grooming firm), I moved cities for it (gotta be near those lobsters!), and half my family didn’t want me to take the job (I kindly told them to screw off, and I know they would never shut up about it if I admitted they were right to tell me not to). So I plod along hating most days and doing nothing a lot of them.

        1. Aerin*

          In my PHP/IOP, there were a lot of people in there with the predicament of “my whole identity and life is wrapped up in this job that I now hate, what does success and happiness look like if it’s not this?” It’s a hard nut to crack, and I think it’s a very common point of crisis, especially for men.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          What is more important – your health and happiness, or keeping your family quiet?
          Do what’s best for you and your life, and ignore your family if they keep talking about it.
          Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to correct them and move on. If your family doesn’t understand that, it’s on them.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Honestly, in my situation? Keeping my family quiet. Too much rides on not rocking that boat.

  10. Ochre*

    LW 2: the fact that they said your history makes you “a liability” first makes me think they are jerks. But is it possible that they think you might over-disclose with clients (traumatizing them) or talk too much about yourself (trauma dumping or making the client think you need your own peer supporter)? Or that you would do those things with the people you’d be supervising? I’m not sure what else “a liability” could mean in this context…can you ask them to clarify?

    1. Empress Ki*

      If this is the case, they need to explain this to OP, and giving examples of when she over-disclosed or talked too much about herself. At least they could give OP a chance to correct this.

    2. Arthenonyma*

      I suspect it’s more that they think interacting with clients might trigger OP’s trauma. Or that OP would treat certain clients differently. Like, if their trauma was related to an alcoholic parent, for example – the fear might be either “if OP has to work with an alcoholic parent they might break down” or “OP won’t be able to treat them fairly because of their trauma”.

      To be clear, that is not okay. They don’t get to make that decision and it is insulting for them to assume OP can’t be trusted to know their limits and biases. But I think it should be seen for what it is – either paternalism or distrust. It’s in the same bucket as “we can’t promote you because you’re neurodivergent and we just don’t think you can handle a more complex role”.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Which is why it’s rightfully illegal, not to mention against the entire spirit of the organization they’re a part of. The way they’re acting is disgusting.

    3. melissa*

      I did wonder this too. I work with some wonderful peer support specialists (aka recovery support specialists). We have also had a few that do over-share with clients. Typically it’s because they want the client to really understand that they share a similar background, but it comes out as though they are needing to process their own trauma, thus taking the focus off the client.

      When you speak with your bosses, #2, ask them specifically. Are they saying that you are a poor employee simply because you have childhood trauma? Or are they saying that you talk about it in an inappropriate way/at the wrong times? If it is the latter, ask for specific coaching on how to have professional boundaries.

      If it really is just that they think your having trauma makes you a liability, then it does sound super toxic and you probably need to move on.

    4. different seudonym*

      For real, plenty of people just think that everything you do is impaired if you’ve suffered abuse. It’s a stigma, not an analysis.

      1. ferrina*


        I went through a traumatic childhood. The few times I’ve talked about my childhood at work, people start treating me differently. I don’t change, but their perception/attitude does. It’s especially frustrating when my lived experience helps inform our work, but then people treat me like because I lived that experience, I am now too volatile/unpredictable/angry/sad/whatever to be trusted. Even if they were perfectly fine with me before, because I am a living representation of child abuse, they want nothing to do with me.

        The kicker is that when I started presenting my knowledge to remove myself (saying things like “some children have home situations where it is dangerous to tell an adult that they are struggling with school”), then I am treated as an authority figure.

        1. Amanda*

          This. Same same.

          Also: There is a huge stigma in having no-contact with your family. I’ve been treated like a weirdo simply because I don’t go “home” for holidays or celebrate Mother’s Day. At this point, I skim past those questions or even outright lie a lot of the time, unless I’m feeling snarky.

          TLDR: Don’t assume people love their parents. If they don’t, they have a good reason.

          1. Ally McBeal*

            I’m an open book about my childhood & parents because I hope it will reduce the stigma of going NC. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their horror stories; mine are relatively mild compared to the extremes, but still severe enough that people with healthy families are shocked, so I’m in a perfect position to drop anecdotes that won’t stop lunch conversations dead but explain why I don’t speak with my father and am on eternally thin ice with my mother.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          And it’s really problematic because those of us in education and medicine and other professions which need to consider people’s home lives, traumas, etc need to learn from those who actually have experience.

          There is a certain level of understanding that I do not think those of us with “traditional” childhoods will ever really have. The people who dismiss you when you speak from experience but listen when you speak as an authority are probably giving equal weight to people with no experience in the area and who are talking very much as outsiders and even with a sort of “ah sure, these poor people who don’t have our advantages” mindset, which is othering.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      If your employer’s business model is “disclose personal trauma with clients as part of the process of helping them”, then it’s really rich for them to come back and say “oh, yeah, you shouldn’t have disclosed that.”

      Either there’s some missing context, or they really need better policies and training about when, why, how, and how much to disclose.

    6. Treena*

      But this makes so little sense in the context of promoting someone to a management role. Op is *already* relating to clients and has been their entire tenure. If this was happening, it would be a current performance issue. My gut says that what they’re really saying is OP is not polished enough to be in a management role in some way. Either because this position represents the org with donors, partners, or something else.

      1. Elsewise*

        That’s what I’m thinking. That would make sense. (They would still, of course, be jerks, and they’re still discriminating against LW for an actual or perceived disability- “you’re not polished enough to put in front of the board” is one thing, “we won’t promote you because of your trauma” is a completely different thing. “We assume you’re not polished because of your trauma” is functionally no different from option 2, even if they mean option 1.)

    7. MassMatt*

      I am leaning towards jerks given the way LW talked about how their approach to helping clients is by sharing their own experiences. Punishing someone by saying they can’t be promoted because of those very experiences they were encouraged to share is pretty awful.

      This is one reason why I am leery of any job that emphasizes this sort of sharing of life experience—the vulnerability is very real, and in a less than functional workplace it can be weaponized against you, as it seems to be here.

    8. Chauncy Gardener*

      I can’t even imagine what the leadership at #2’s workplace is thinking. I think Alison’s advice is spot on.

    9. Lucia Pacciola*

      “LW 2: the fact that they said your history makes you “a liability” first makes me think they are jerks.”

      I dunno. The overall letter makes me think it’s a very niche field, where the usual boundaries between personal and work life are set aside. For all we know, getting too hung up on one’s own trauma and trauma-processing is a common form of burnout in this field, and LW’s bosses are telling them exactly what they need to be told.

      I doubt anyone without recent management experience in this particular niche could give LW any good advice, except maybe “talk to an ADA lawyer, see what they think.”

      1. MigraineMonth*

        There’s a huge difference between “we’re worried you’re burning out, here are some resources that could help” and “we believe you’re traumatized based on information shared in confidence rather than any behavior on your part, but instead of offering any help we’re going to ensure you have no path to promotion at this organization.”

        For one thing, the latter is flat-out illegal.

      2. Bird names*

        It they are really worried about burnout or any of the other reasons people specaluted about then they are at minimum horrible communicators. Which strikes me as rather ironic considering their field of work and the stated criticism of the LW.
        Also I concur with MigraineMonth.

  11. Goldie*

    #2 I would get clarification and I would flip it.
    I must be confused by our conversation. I walked away understanding that you said I couldn’t be promoted because of what I was encouraged to disclose. I’m sure that can’t be right. Not only am I on a path to qualifying for a promotion in the future, it would be illegal for that path being blocked.

    I also wouldn’t necessarily believe the claim that the grand boss said it. You might try clarifying with her too.

    I know this is scary but I think you can get this turned around with this approach. Document it all and if they really mean it, be prepared to make a claim

    1. BellaStella*

      This is a good take on how to handle this. And I strongly agree with documenting things.

    2. Twix*

      As someone who’s been a client in several of these programs and dealt with dozens of mental health providers, I definitely think asking for clarification is a good approach. I can think of a few possible scenarios here.

      1) What boss said was “You’ve told us that you struggle with A, B, and C because of your history of trauma, and we’re not sure someone with those issues can perform in that role” and what LW (understandably) heard was “We’re not going to promote you because of your trauma”.

      2) Boss has concerns about A, B, and C based on things LW has disclosed, but did a terrible job of explaining what the actual concerns were.

      3) Boss doesn’t think people who are “damaged” enough can function reliably past a certain level. (Which is sadly a pretty common thing.)

      My gut feeling is that a promotion would mean LW was interacting with more “normal” people and their boss is concerned about their ability to do that well. (Which, in fairness, is not necessarily an invalid concern – some people who are fantastic therapists/mentors/peer support are terrible at interacting with people in a less personal way.) Getting a better idea of what exactly the actual performance concerns are would give a better idea of how to proceed. And then if it really is just “We think you’re too broken to promote”, it’s time to start hunting for a new job or a lawyer.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        4th option, which seems unlikely but still possible, is that leadership knows how effective she is with clients (in part because of her trauma) and doesn’t want to promote her because it would decrease the amount of time she can spend with those clients. Keeping her stuck because she’s “too valuable” to promote.

        1. Goldie*

          Or #5th LW misunderstood the conversation/boss is a bad communicator and is just concerned about LW

          Best thing is to clarify first (and put them conveniently on notice)

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      The other side of that coin, I would have appreciated knowing what the business truly was, because I think it would have added context that would inform whether having the external partner was a usual thing for the hiring process for that role and level.

  12. Ron48*

    Regarding the third question, I’ve been that external person several times. I was once a consultant working in a particular capacity with organizations. I’d been doing it for awhile as well. So when they hired someone among whose responsibilities would be interacting with me, they asked me to participate (though I never led the interview).

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, it’s less weird to me that there’s a third party person on the interview panel, than it is that they seemed to be leading it. It’s the second part that struck me as much more uncommon.

  13. Yup*

    #2: I am so sorry you are dealing with this situation, and that people in a position to know better are allowing your childhood trauma to affect your life again. That is just unconscionable and I hope Alison’s advice can help you navigate this.

    From what I understand , people who have lived through, dealt with, and shared past trauma are the best possible people to help others who are trying to overcome theirs. All I see from your letter is a compassionate person who gets it and is in a position to guide others. I wish you luck and hope the people standing in your way are quickly set straight.

  14. Anon for This*

    OP1, I had an employee like this – I called him my “C Student”. When I talked to him about motivation, he works to live, period. His motivations were outside the office, he didn’t want to be promoted, he just wanted his paycheck and to go home to his hobbies at the end of the day. The absolute only thing that motivated him was that paycheck. So I laid out for him exactly what I needed, in writing. I told him if he didn’t meet those requirements, he was out. No paycheck. It worked. He was never stellar, but he was solid, and turned out good work.

    OP3, we use outside members for hiring and promotion panels. It’s to make sure we are being fair, not just hiring/promoting based on the old boy network.

    1. cloudy*

      There was a guy like this in my high school. He would just not do any of his homework or assignments until his grade almost nudged into failing, then he’d go and get a few 100%s on tests or assignments and then go back to waiting until the grade dropped again.

      Extremely smart guy, just didn’t want to be there and calculated the exact minimum effort he needed to do to pass. Sometimes I wonder what he’s up to now. (This was nearly 20 years ago.)

      Basically you just can’t force people to care about things they don’t care about.

      1. LaurCha*

        I grew up with a guy like that. C’s because why bother? He was absolutely STUNNED when he found out I got a free ride + assistantship at a very expensive private school for my MA based on.. guess what? My academic achievements.

        He’s a state senator now, btw. Life is not fair.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Some kids like that do very well in college! They get to choose most of their courses, there’s less busy work, they’re paying actual dollars to attend. He could be doing great!

        1. not nice, don't care*

          I did the same in high school, elected to buy a house instead of going to college (it was the 80s) and ended up in a job people with advanced degrees apply for and move across country for. No student debt, no burden of being a manager. Just a decent schedule/workload, steady paycheck & benefits package, and so much of my own time & energy to spend on my non-work life.

    2. anon for this one*

      It me. I am very good at my job, but I am only there for the money. Difference is, I do everything very fast and am super responsive because that frees me. Procrastination means this job is always hanging over me, and I hate that. Maybe your solid performer can see the beauty in getting stuff done and over with. He might be holding back out of fear that if he finishes his work quick, more and more will be dumped on him. (that did happen to me with one manager)

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Same scenario for me. I’ve always had good performance reviews, but I am a work-to-live person and I just get my stuff done and then make sure I’m available in case anyone needs me. But in the meantime I’m doing laundry or other house chores that will clear up my evenings and weekends.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Same here. I don’t have the stamina to go much higher but what helps motivate me is that when I am at work, the work needs to get done and doing it to the best of my ability is a point of pride. When I switch off my computer at 5, I’m doing so having got everything done, and while I don’t work in anything glamorous, exciting or lifesaving, my work is part of what keeps our society going, which benefits me in the longer run.

          If we want all the mod cons we have, someone has to work to get them to the consumer. Few of us want to be in the position of having to do it all ourselves, which would mean much less leisure time and more exhaustion (because smallholdings take a long time to cultivate and don’t always provide you with everything you want to have, meaning you’re always going to have to trade something for the product of someone else’s labour). Plus we get things from other parts of the world — if I want that lovely coffee after work, I can’t just grow the beans myself; I have to buy them, and I’m at the end of a very long and very labour intensive supply chain.

          Working to live is fine, but casting it in your mind as ‘if I slack off on this compliance issue/don’t tighten this screw properly, it will be my fault if the oil rig blows up (true story, because bad paperwork kept in the wrong place meant Piper Alpha blew up and took many lives with it)/hospital bed collapsed’ is one way to focus on the outcome, even when you work for the private sector. (As a government org we do a lot of things in-house, but we also support local and national businesses, often small contractors, with work to keep the money sloshing around the wider economy, so even if you’re working in admin at a screw company chances are your screws will be in a lot of different public projects. It’s the ‘For the want of a nail…’ thing all over — even the most trivial jobs contribute something to someone else.

  15. Enn Pee*

    #3 – I once helped to do first-round interviews for a small organization that didn’t have enough people with the background to evaluate technical expertise of candidates. (Those who progressed to the second round would talk to the person in that organization who did have the appropriate tech background.)
    I was given the questions and I completed their evaluation form, as well as doing a review with the other interviewers post-interview.
    For what it’s worth, I wasn’t compensated — just doing someone a favor for a few hours.

  16. Some People’s Children*

    Regarding 3…I’ve worked in government for many years and it’s not unusual to have “stakeholders” on a hiring panel. In police/fire dispatching for a management role there might be a police chief and fire chief on the panel, for example. It might be less common in private industry but I could still see benefits in doing it.

  17. Delta Delta*

    #3 – An external person might see pluses and minuses of internal candidates that the company may not see, especially if the committee already knows the internal candidate fairly well.

  18. Yall im*

    I was once an external “consultant” for a small organization trying to hire someone to run their content side. They asked me to interview first for the role and I declined but offered up freelance writing support if they needed. They brought me in to conduct interviews specifically on content and make recommendations for who to hire. It was actually a really fun job but I could tell candidates were a bit confused why someone with my experience was involved in hiring. (Think someone who was a sr manager deciding who to hire as a VP/Head of content)

  19. UptownBrownGirl*

    #1 this is a will problem. You’re going to have to fire him. He has the ability to do the job, he just doesn’t want to. Instead of spending your days begging him to do his work, you’re better off training those who are eager but don’t (yet) have the skills. Look up the Skill Will management tools.

  20. Irish Teacher.*

    LW1, personally, I’d be less inclined to support an employee who could do the work but just wasn’t bothered than one who was doing his best but struggling. Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but I would feel guilty about firing somebody who just wasn’t suited to the job, but in this guy’s case, it sounds like it’s his choice.

    If you have something like a PIP system, that sounds like it might help. Perhaps he would take things more seriously if he realised his job was at risk, but I think it quite possible he would improve for the period of the PIP and then slip again.

    LW2, that sounds horrific. Especially the part where they called you a liability.

    It sounds like your experiences should make you an asset in your work, not a liability. I realise it does depend on how you are dealing with your past and if it affects your work in a positive or negative way, but even if you were reacting in a way that concerned them, firstly, I still don’t think it would be appropriate to call you a liability and secondly, they should have been clear about how it is affecting your work and what changes they would want to see.

    It also strikes me as unlikely that this is the case, given that you have worked your way up to supervisor. If you were…say misinterpreting clients’ situations because you were interpreting them all in light of your own or otherwise showing that you were not yet ready to be in a peer-support role, I doubt you would have been promoted so often.

    And it seems really odd that in a job where many of the employees have a history of trauma or substance abuse or mental health issues that you would be singled out in such a way.

  21. Hiring Mgr*

    With #2, I don’t understand how they could have promoted you this far already, but a further promotion would be wrong somehow? What would be different from what you’re currently doing?

    It sounds like you need clarification about what they mean

    1. Myrin*

      That stood out to me as well. Abuse survivors are only allowed to climb the career ladder up to a certain rung?

  22. Suz*

    #3 I was once included on the interview panel for one of my employer’s customers. The position was for a lab manager. The hiring managers were not scientists and did not know much about the type of testing done by the lab while I had extensive knowledge of it. They asked me to help evaluate whether the candidates had sufficient knowledge in that area.

  23. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    LW #3: This is a totally normal thing. I’ve been in all three roles in this kind of situation: candidate, hiring company, external consultant. Consider that you’ll probably be working closely with this external goat-lover-connection-maker and it makes all kinds of sense that their opinion about candidates would be very pertinent.

  24. Hybrider*

    For #1 – Has this employee always need to be motivated or is this new? You said that you are the 3rd Manager; in what period of time? Also, how long have you been in the role?

    If it’s new behaviour and you’re the 3rd Manager in a year; it might be related to that.

    It can be demoralizing to go through Managers so quickly especially if each bring different expectations or are constantly learning the role. It can be easy to decide not to bother to do something because you’re going to get a new Manager in a few months anyways.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      The LW says they know his first manager and they had similar issues with him, so it doesn’t sound like this is a new development for him.

    2. OP1*

      He has always performed like this since he started. He’s in an entry-level role right out of college, and he has stayed at entry level because of his performance, after 2 years. I guess I’m more willing to extend some grace because it’s new to him, but he surely had to do his work and show up to things in college.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        2 years isn’t new. Give him a final: this is what the role needs, do it consistently or you’re out. No more “time to improve”. No gradual. Immediate sustained change or he’s telling you he doesn’t want the job with his actions.

    3. Tiger Snake*

      I’ve got a coworker with a very similar story; the missing, missing reason in his case is that he’s just not sure of what he should be doing and is too demotivated and overwhelmed to try and work it out.

      He’s not sure where his role starts and the next begins, he’s not sure what his role is meant to consist of, he’s not sure what the manager (who’s new to the organisation, and my version of #1 is in a slightly more senior role) wants from him when she asked him to create a plan defining what his opinion of what that role should look like. He wants a role that is very clear cut and with no grey areas in its responsibilities, and is too impatient to accept that getting something like that is going to take time, and unwilling to participate in the process because he just wants to be told what to do instead of try to define it.

      So he sits there throwing his hands in the air saying “I don’t know what I’m doing!” While our manager sits there going “He won’t even try!”… and both those statements are 100% correct.

  25. Falling Diphthong*

    Probably not, but maybe.
    This is a nice distillation of the mindframe for initially addressing a problem: You extend some grace and allow that someone might give you information that makes you rethink your annoyance. 90% of the time annoyance will turn out to be the right take, but you don’t assume it’s 100% and then get stuck trying to back-justify your annoyance in the 10%.

  26. mango chiffon*

    LW4: short “kd lang style” hair is not unprofessional. My guess is your discomfort is making you feel self-conscious, but if you saw someone else with that hair would you say that’s unprofessional? Please be kinder to yourself as you recover! As many people have already mentioned, look at celebrities who are famous for having short hair over their careers as inspiration

    1. AngryOctopus*

      This. I’m sure it feels unprofessional *for you* because you’re totally unused to having a style that short. And you may not want to keep it! Just mentally reframe it as you’re “growing out” your hair, and maybe that will help–you’re just in between styles so you don’t have to figure out something new and big. Just something that works for you in the moment.

    2. Bruce*

      My aunt has had a pixie cut since the 80s, it suits her well as a (now retired) nurse and she looks great! Of course the smile that she usually has on her face makes the biggest difference, she is a very very upbeat person, I can imagine her being the labor cheerleader in the delivery room :-)

  27. Cam*

    For #4:
    – Wear showy earrings
    – Get a haircut that fades to skin at the back, and trims the hair to the front of your ears into a point, not straight across
    – Get your haircuts touched up often
    Most people’s hair will grow faster at the back of the head, and once the bulk of your hair has some length you can more easily give up the tighter trims. But while some of the hair is short, it will look more styled and intentional to keep the edges very tight.

    Recognize also that short haircuts can feed into a practical no-nonsense image, and it might help your work cred.

  28. Parenthesis Guy*

    “Also I want to pre-empt the likely comments. I can speculate many reasons for his performance. But I’m his manager, not his therapist, and ultimately I need to focus on what I can do myself.”

    You really have two choices. The first is not worry about why he isn’t performing, but then you’ll likely need to put him on a PIP. But I would worry about putting him on a PIP because he very well may decide to perform while on it and then stop.

    The second choice is to try and figure out why he’s acting the way he is. Could be it’s a medical issue. Could be he’s simply discouraged. Could be he’s working two jobs. If you can figure that out, then maybe you can fix the issue.

    The other thing you may want to look into is whether he’s asking other people on your team (or maybe outside your team) for significant amounts of help. Could be that his work is competent but slow because he’s not doing it.

    1. Boof*

      OP shouldn’t try to “figure out” why their employee is acting like this beyond 1) asking them 2) clearly state what they need to do to be able to retain their job (don’t state the bare minimum, OP doesn’t want low performers; state what they’d feel satisfied with/average expectation) 3) ask again if that seems feasible, and if not, what the barriers are. Follow those expectations up, PIP if not being met, etc. Op should not dig beyond asking and making work expectations clear.

  29. Lizzay*

    Seconding what Allison said re #4! I had BC as a young woman, too & as soon as I could not wear the wig, I did & had no issues. I even had someone compliment my “haircut”!

  30. metadata minion*

    LW4 – from the pictures I’m seeing of k.d. lang, that length wouldn’t even register to me as “oo, what a stylish super-short haircut!”. It’s a very standard “no nonsense” length for women, though I know from experience that taking care of short hair can be a completely different hassle from taking care of long hair. (I like my hair either long enough to go in a ponytail, or buzzed. In between I wear lots of hats, because I can’t be bothered to do the styling my hair needs when it’s short to not look like a raccoon has been nesting in it.)

    1. JustaTech*

      I read a book a few years ago called “Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office” about how to be a professional woman (and not a “girl”).
      There was some good stuff and some eh stuff in the book, but one of the pieces of advice in the “appearance” section was “the older and more senior you are, the shorter your hair should be”.

      As a person with long hair and an occasionally contrary disposition, I thought “heck no!” to this, BUT! It is very common to see women in senior positions with very short haircuts. So don’t be surprised if people treat you as higher ranked with you new hair style.

      (That doesn’t mean you have to keep it if it’s not you – your hair should be as much you as you can!)

  31. kiki*

    Letter 1: I think at this point all you can do with this employee is be incredibly candid and hope he’s just as candid in return. “Whenever you do your work, it’s solid. But I’m a little stumped by how many reminders and follow-ups it takes to get the work. Is there something I’m missing on my end? Right now, it’s a severe enough issue that it’s putting your job at risk.”

  32. Gigi*

    OP2: I’m with Allison here. And if you do decide to leave, tell everyone in and out of the company why. They deserve to have to justify how they treated you. Then again, I’ve reached a stage of middle-aged rage where my motto is “may the bridges I burned light my path,” so take that as you will.

    I’m proud of you, internet stranger, for your work and your honesty and vulnerability. In the words of the late, great Carrie Fisher “Take your broken heart and make it art.”

  33. Nonanon*

    Hi LW4, this is just to say I wish the best with your recovery, site visits, and rocking the KD Lang look.

    1. Pepper*

      I took wish LW4 all the best.
      My Mums had metastatic breast cancer in her early 40s, estrogen positive. She had radical surgery, radiation, and a year of chemo.

      She got through all those treatments and lived a lovely life.

      She also gave back being part of a group that supported other people diagnosed with breast cancer.

      May you find tons of support and love – including loving yourself — body changes and all — as you go through this journey.

  34. NotSarah*

    LW 4 – you have hair again!!! That’s so awesome! Enjoy it! Sometimes a little mascara helps to pull a style together. Wishing all the very best. ❤️

    1. Gloria Gaynor*

      Agreed that it is awesome that LW4 has hair again! But eyebrows and eyelashes also tend to thin and/or fall out during chemo. I was fortunate in that my treatment center had an aesthetician who warned that mascara and false eyelashes would hasten my eyelashes’ demise at the beginning of chemo, and delay their recovery afterward, because the roots are weak for a while. So I invested in fabulous large earrings instead, then threw them all away in a ceremony once my hair grew out the length I actually wanted.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I was going to say the same about earrings! Rock those, OP, and best on your recovery journey!

  35. What name did I use last time?*

    Why do you care about this guy’s motivation? You only need to care about his work. His internal state is his own problem.
    His motivation should be his paycheque. Lay out very specifically what he needs to do to keep on getting it.

    1. Work isn't life*

      This is where I fall, too. It’s a job. People work for money and so they can live their lives. Expecting everyone to be super enthusiastic and highly motivated and “rockstars” (god I hate that term) is more of a problem and needs to die out, especially when it’s been shown time and time again that going the extra mile doesn’t pay off.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      One reason to care about his motivation is to determine if this is temporary. If he’s demotivated by the revolving door of managers, and the environment that led to those changes, he might turn it around once he sees that you are engaged, interested in his work, and not going anywhere.

      Or if he’s burned out on this work, but a new challenge would re-engage him. If your company is large enough to have something else he’d like to do, ask him. There should be a caveat that he’d have to improve his work for you if he wants to transfer–you’d have to be honest with a prospective new manager who asked about him.

    3. GythaOgden*

      I don’t think he’s actually doing much of it or available when he needs to be though — and that probably matters as much or more as the actual quality of it.

  36. Database Developer Dude*

    Regarding #5, I look someone objecting to the LW’s short hair the same way I’d look at the so-called “manager” who brought a complaint to a breast cancer survivor about the uneven look of her breasts. Unacceptable. This LW needs to rock her hair however she pleases.

  37. Survivor2*

    OP4, welcome to the other side! We are so glad you are here! I also had BC at 43, and am now 7 years cancer free. I ditched the wig as soon as I was able. I am in a constantly public-facing role, and had no problems. I am not exactly a hip person for whom the super-short look could have been a deliberate, cool fashion decision, but I found everyone to be really gracious. Be prepared to have your haircut touched up often while it grows out — it may grow in different textures or at different rates in different areas. A good stylist is invaluable, and you will be surprised at how often some hair stylists deal with chemo hair issues. A few words of encouragement: My hair initially came back chemo-white, but then grew into its natural color after about 6 months. (BTW, chemo white CAN be colored, but be sure you get someone who knows what they’re doing.) My eyelashes and eyebrows came back in just a few weeks. Wishing you so much luck with your continued healing!

  38. Justin*

    There was an external person on the call for the job I have now. Turned out she was a consultant they’d hired to assess their programming… and she was the one who recommended they needed to create my role.

    (And she liked me and I work here now, obviously.)

  39. Anonarama*

    OP1 could be my team’s new boss, the situation and timing sounds nearly identical. So from the shoes of someone who has to work with this employee – please don’t shy away from the problem. The unreliability and apathy of this person in my situation has a profound negative effect on team efforts and even on people who work with us who aren’t on the team. I’m still picking up the pieces of work that team member decreed “impossible” but now appears was just more involved than he felt interested in/capable of doing. Figure out how to make his work reliable, and fast, or get him out so we can get someone else with that money instead.

  40. Addison DeWitt*

    “How do I motivate someone who doesn’t bother to do his work?”

    In the immortal words of Don Draper, “That’s what the money is for!”

  41. blood orange*

    OP #2 – I used to work at a facility that sounds similar to yours (in-patient substance use disorder facility). I was the HR Manager, so not in direct patient care. I was involved in most hiring and promotion decisions, and I saw a lot of the behind the scenes decision making when it came to operations and personal-related decisions.

    First, I’ll say that this field wasn’t my chosen industry, and I’m no longer in that industry. I only have about a year of experience, but I do think my access level gave me a good bit of insight.

    I do think as an industry – meaning SUD and other mental health facilities – workplaces are often dysfunctional and can be toxic. The intersection of therapy and employment, in my opinion, don’t mix well! Especially if your top leadership are providers, therapists, and/or clinicians themselves. I’m certain there are facilities and companies that do this really well, but the one I was part of did not. I can’t tell where yours falls in this, BUT I will say it is possible that your facility has a good workplace with good leadership. They may just blur the lines between therapy and employment (they shouldn’t, but this was rampant where I worked). If they’re good leaders/managers, though, and they just aren’t informed on the rules of engagement with employment, then educating them might be possible.

    I say this mainly to say that leaving your company, if it’s otherwise good, might not be practical or at least not necessarily your best option. Since this seems like it might be your chosen profession, then I think you risk finding the same issues at other facilities.

    Alison’s advice to speak with an employment attorney, at least for guidance, is probably the best option. If that’s not practical for you, I think the next best is to discuss this with your manager or HR IF you’ve found either of those people to be reasonable and supportive in the past. For instance, if you were to come to me as HR about this, I’d tell leadership exactly what Alison has told you – it’s not right or legal to use your disclosed trauma as a reason that you can’t perform a job unless they can show you can’t perform the essential duties of the job with or without accommodation (which is a high bar, BTW). I’d then ask them if there were any performance-based reasons they don’t think you’re a fit for another position, and we’d keep talking from there to figure things out. If they said, for instance, they actually felt you over-disclosed and they’re concerned about boundaries, that might be a performance issue we’d consider and discuss with you, but it’s a *performance issue*.

    I’m working from limited information, of course, and my advice to you is based on how I’d personally handle the situation (read: you can’t trust everyone). If you determine it’s best to leave your current employer, that gives you the opportunity to ask new potential employers about the factors they consider when promoting people in your current role. What they say might inform you on whether you’ll face the same issues, etc.

    Hope that helps somewhat. Best of luck!!

  42. goodmorning*

    OP5, I cover my hair for religious reasons. I wear wigs professionally and headscarves at other times. I never fly in my wig. I wear my headscarf, stick my wig in my bag and put it on (in the airport restroom if not going to a hotel) when I arrive. Just adding this in case you want the flexibility to sometimes wear a wig, you should know that it’s an option to not travel in it.

  43. jojo*

    LW1, you say his work (when he does it) is correct and competent. Have you ever said that to him? An occasional “good work on that llama haircut today” can go a long way towards motivating people.

    I once worked for a manager who virtually never gave feedback on anything I did right, only on the things she wanted me to improve. The only positive feedback I got from her was at annual review time, when she’d briefly tell me I was doing well overall. The rest of the year, I heard nothing but criticisms. If it hadn’t been for positive feedback from my peers who appreciated how my work supported theirs, I would have had no idea whether my contributions mattered.

    That job taught me how important it is for me personally to know that I’m doing my job well–not perfectly all the time, but well enough most of the time that I am clearly contributing something of value. If your employee has gotten used to hearing only complaints and criticisms from his previous managers, that may have contributed to his lake of motivation then and now. Not saying their criticisms weren’t valid, just that they obviously didn’t represent the whole picture, as you’re now discovering.

  44. Student*

    #3 It’s a new fad in hiring, at least in my particular part of the world. We are required to have one “external” person on hiring committees, regardless of the position and the relevance of the “external” person to the hiring process.

    Here, “external” generally means somebody outside of our ~10-30 person direct organizational team. Someone outside the hiring manager’s chain of command, is probably how the rule works. So, for our work, it’s not someone from another business altogether – but someone with substantially different work from what we do.

    It only came up post-pandemic for us in hiring rules.

    However, I work in the US federal government. If we’re doing it, it’s probably a trend that somebody politically influential is pushing, and it may be infecting other work that happens in proximity to the US federal government (such as contractors that get lots of federal funding, state or local governments). We tend to do these things with little regard for context or relevance, and so it tends to spread to others divorced from context or relevance.

  45. TootsNYC*

    re: 3. Why is there an external person on this hiring committee?

    If there are a lot of internal candidates, they may deliberately want someone external who will bring a clearer perspective free from any favoritism, (or anti-favortism) from earlier interactions. They may think it’s more fair.

  46. morethantired*

    LW4 — I wore my hair that short by choice for years and it never caused a problem as far as being seen as professional. You have nothing to worry about and I wish you all the best!

  47. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    LW2: What what what? They put you in a position where you’re expected to bring your personal past to work with you in order to do the job, and then refuse to consider promoting you because of that past? That’s bananapants.

    As for the fact that she said this to you openly, I can’t decide where that falls, relative to the original problem, on the bananapants scale.

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