can you be fired for being OK but not great, my employee is pushing for “girls’ weekends,” and more

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

1. Can you be fired for being fine but not great?

Beyond egregious performance violations and the like, can an employer fire you for doing fine or decent work — but it’s not quite at the level they have in mind? (Maybe a rephrase here: for states with at-will employment, I know you can be fired for any reason. But does something like this actually happen?)

I’m thinking of a former colleague who by all accounts was well-liked, showed up to work on time, didn’t slack off, met their deadlines, and otherwise did a more than decent job in their role. However, I think their manager was somewhat frustrated that, despite this person being fine at their job, they weren’t “great” at it. This person wasn’t fired, but it got me thinking: if you’re an otherwise good and reliable employee, but don’t necessarily perform at “great” levels, could your job realistically be in jeopardy? Or is more industry-specific? To be clear, it’s not that this person was doing sub-par work; they just maybe weren’t as talented as their manager hoped they would be — or develop into.

It depends on the job, the manager, the organization, and the needs of the team. In the majority of cases, someone who is fine but not great probably isn’t going to get fired. But there are situations where the team really needs someone who’s performing at a higher level. You’re most likely to see this when something has changed (a new manager comes in and realizes “we could be doing a lot better than this,” or the job itself changes and the person who was fine in the old context isn’t well suited for the new one, or the org/team goes through belt-tightening and the impact of one person being OK versus great becomes bigger).

Also, for a lot of jobs, performance is about a lot more than not slacking off and meeting your deadlines. Those are bare minimums, but in a job that requires creativity, innovation, or initiative, they generally won’t be enough to put you in the “good” category (let alone the “great” one). So it depends on the nature and needs of the role too.

People often bristle at that, feeling like by definition most people are average so it’s unfair/unrealistic to expect everyone you employ to be great. And for many jobs, that’s true. But if you think about the difference in having, say, a trainer who does an OK job versus one who does a great job, there are jobs where it’s reasonable for managers to hold a very high bar. (With the example of trainers, I used to hire them and the difference in results and participant satisfaction for OK versus great was enormous. It was good for the organization and its clients that they held a high bar on that … but it did mean that people who couldn’t get beyond the OK level wouldn’t succeed there.) In those cases, though, the employer should be very clear about their expectations, both in hiring and in the metrics used to measure performance, so there’s a shared understanding among everyone involved and it’s not just a gut-level, poorly defined “I know it when I see it.”

how to tell your team their work isn’t good enough

2. I became my friend’s manager and she’s pushing me for “girls’ weekends”

I am a new supervisor to a team of 10 employees. I have worked at this agency for 7 years and have also worked alongside a coworker who became a good friend of mine during that time. This friend, “Ann,” always had some needy, boundary-less qualities but I put up with them because we rarely worked together closely.

Now that I am her supervisor, she is really pushing boundaries, constantly asking to go out drinking and go away for girls’ weekends and I’m so over it! I have said “no” on so many occasions, explaining my chaos at home and the business of work, that I just can’t. She continues to make sly comments that I’m “no fun anymore” and that I “always come up with excuses” or complaining that I say I will try next time and don’t. I’m over her behavior. How do I address this?

If you are telling her you’ll try next time and then don’t, you’re part of this problem! You need to clearly tell Ann that now that you’re her manager, the relationship needs to change and you’re no longer going to socialize with her outside of work, period.

Sample language: “I’m sorry I didn’t say this more clearly earlier. Now that I’m your manager, our relationship needs to change. We can of course have a friendly relationship at work, but we can’t be friends. I need to be able to evaluate your work objectively, and I don’t want others on the team worrying about favoritism or bias or that you have special access to me. So we do need different boundaries than we had in the past and can’t socialize outside of work. I know that’s an awkward change to make but I’m committed to it, for the sake of the whole team.”

I’m becoming my friend’s boss — do things have to change?

3. My company wants me to pay them back for paid sick leave they advanced me

I have 10 PTO days earned per year. This is my second year at my job. Last year, I had to take bereavement because I lost someone, and then I was sick repeatedly, and at the end of the school year, I had negative PTO hours, and our finance manager told me it would roll over to this year, and I could earn it back. This year, I was sick again for a whole month, and I reached out to management to ask what to do about my negative PTO. I figured they would ask me to take sick leave unpaid, but they never got back to me.

I felt sick today, went home, and let the finance manager know (our policy when taking PTO), and she just emailed me: “Since your current PTO balance is -71.75, no paid time off is available and any time off will be unpaid. So I will prorate your 5/10 pay to be for 72 hours, instead of 80. [Management] also wants you to pay back the remaining -71.75 hours that were taken as PTO. Of course, we can do some kind of payment plan or deduct from any future checks, just let me know what works best for you. The amount owed is $2,508.23.”

What the heck? I don’t have to pay them back, do I? I’m cool with having present and future time off unpaid. But they can’t retroactively ask me to pay all this money, can they?

They can. They handled this badly — they should have clearly informed you when you were first getting into the red that you’d either need to take the time unpaid or pay it back, not wait until you were 70+ hours in debt to inform you — but legally they can indeed require you to pay them back.

Where it gets interesting is that in most states they can’t just go ahead and deduct it from your paychecks. Most states have restrictions around pay deductions, which can include needing your explicit agreement for the deduction and that the deduction in any given paycheck can’t take your pay below minimum wage for that pay period. That said, even if you don’t agree, they can make repayment a condition of your continued employment, and in some states they can withhold the entire amount from your final check if it’s still due at that point (as well as pursue you in court for anything remaining, although most employers won’t do that). Their ability to do the latter may depend on whether their unearned leave policy was communicated to you before you received the advance, so check your employee handbook or other written policies to see if it’s in there anywhere.

But your best bet is to try to negotiate a repayment arrangement. Tell them it would be a hardship for you to repay the amount they’re requesting and that they should have informed you earlier of that expectation or had you take the time unpaid originally, and ask what can be worked out. It’s possible that if you push back, they’ll back off or come up with a more palatable way to fix this.

4. Responding to a group hug designed to violate your boundaries

This happened years ago, but I still think about it sometimes and wonder what I should have/could have done.

I had only been at this job a couple months, and I was working on something on the same computer with the practice owner. He (a man in his 60s) was leaning in, and I (a woman in her 30s) politely moved over so he could see better. He started joking about me being standoffish and not wanting to be touched. I laughed it off and got back to work. He left the room, and a few minutes later when I left, he got everyone who was working and readily available — probably five or six people — to crowd around me and give me a group hug, since I “didn’t like to be touched.” It was very brief and nobody got handsy. I was in shock and just kind of stood there not reacting until they quit. That was the end of it, nothing else ever happened, and it was never mentioned again.

But what if things had escalated or continued? This guy was the owner, the practice manager was pretty much never there, and there was no HR. I moved on less than a year later; unsurprisingly there were a lot of management issues. But would there have been any other options other than just leaving?

Well, speaking up. That doesn’t always work, but it works a lot! If he had continued, you could have said — in a serious tone, not one you softened to downplay the message or sound nice — “I know you’re joking around, but I’m not. I don’t want people touching or hugging me, so I’m clearly telling you to stop.” In a lot of cases, that would have put an end to it. In other cases, it might not have — but those cases are more rare.

Also, for the record, that guy was a jackass. “I think your boundaries are funny, so let’s deliberately violate them” is gross.

5. Is it worth it to interview if you know the hiring manager already chose someone else?

I applied for an internal job (lateral move with almost identical job duties) and recently got an interview request. I shared my news with a friend (Marcia), who is also friends with the hiring manager (Jan), and Marcia informed me that Jan has already chosen a candidate.

However, because the chosen candidate is an external hire, there is a longer process to officially confirm them. And in our company, hiring managers are required to interview a minimum number of internal candidates. Meaning application statuses in the application system stay in limbo until the chosen candidate is hired.

I’ve already accepted an interview date, but I’m wondering if I should cancel now that I know what I know. In addition, now I feel Jan probably invited me to an interview because we have a mutual friend in Marcia and to fill the internal hiring quota while they wait for their chosen external candidate to get through the HR red tape.

That would be giving an awful lot of power to Marcia and to information you heard secondhand. What if Marcia got it wrong? What if something changed since Jan talked to her? What if the external candidate doesn’t accept the offer?

If you’re interested in the job, go to the interview and approach it the same way you would have if you hadn’t heard this.

If the hiring manager is just going through the motions with you and already plans on hiring someone else, that’s crappy — and it’s contrary to the spirit of rules that require interviewing a minimum number of candidates. Those rules aren’t supposed to mean “check this bureaucratic box” (although they often get used that way); they’re supposed to ensure a range of candidates is actually considered. Too often this kind of rule is used to waste people’s time, and that sucks. But it’s not clear enough that that’s what’s happening here.

{ 397 comments… read them below }

    1. Artemesia*

      I have seen someone drifting along get fired when a new manager came on and basically said ‘we obviously need a strong performer here, why is everyone accommodating Betty who has refused to upgrade her skills and is doing the minimum?’ Betty was gone within the month.

      1. Clorinda*

        The question is something of a verbal trick. If you’re performing poorly enough to be fired, you are not doing fine. Maybe that level of work was fine three years ago, but now you are more senior and have experience, and the expectations have changed.

        If your work doesn’t keep pace with changing expectations–not fine.

        1. Plate of Wings*

          I was thinking the exact same thing! Thank you for explaining this in a way I couldn’t.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          That’s kind of what I was thinking. For example looking at the situation Alison described:

          “With the example of trainers, I used to hire them and the difference in results and participant satisfaction for OK versus great was enormous. It was good for the organization and its clients that they held a high bar on that … but it did mean that people who couldn’t get beyond the OK level wouldn’t succeed there.”

          The trainers who scored really well in participant satisfaction were getting results that were good for the organization and its clients and that was the level of performance that was, in essence, required for the job. Although it’s referred to as holding staff to “a high bar” that was the bar that defined good, acceptable performance for that role.

          Someone who was an “OK” instructor who got middling participation satisfaction ratings wasn’t actually doing an okay job in the role, because they weren’t performing as needed in some way and it showed in one of the metrics the organization used to evaluate the trainers.

          But all that *should be* being communicated and evaluated iterative loop during onboarding, training, day to day feedback, performance reviews, etc. And recalibrated, communicated if there’s a change (in management, job responsibilities or anything else) that impacts how performance will be assessed.

      2. Bitte Meddler*

        Refusing to upgrade skills is not the same as doing a fine — but not great — job.

        I think LW1 is describing someone who actually does upgrade their skills, does more than the bare minimum, but isn’t a rock star. They’re a dependable worker that others can rely on, but they’re not going to ask for bigger / splashier projects and they probably have no aspirations to move up the corporate ladder.

        In a lot of roles and departments, those people are actually needed. Everyone can’t be the CEO.

    2. MK*

      Never say never. I think there are many (most) workplaces where that person would not be fired “for being adequate, but not great”. But, they also may not have a lot of leeway if they make a mistake or if there are layoffs. I have seen these people get fired over things that stronger performers wouldn’t.

      1. KHB*

        Well, the definition of “adequate” is “satisfactory of acceptable” – so by definition, if you’re doing an adequate job, you’re not going to be fired.

        But the question is, what’s “adequate,” from an employer’s point of view? Is showing up to work, submitting all your assignments on time, and not setting anything on fire always “adequate”? Or can an employer’s definition of what’s “adequate” for a role include a degree of qualitative excellence?

        Put that way, I think it’s obvious that it can (and the LW seems to acknowledge this, with their reference to work that’s “not quite at the level they have in mind”) So the question becomes: If you’re doing an INadequate job in terms of the quality of your work, but you’re still showing up, submitting your assignments on time, and not setting anything on fire, is your job realistically in danger?

        And the answer to that depends on a lot of things, like how conflict-averse your boss is and how hard it would be for your employer to replace you with someone who can produce the excellent work that they expect. A good manager wouldn’t fire you without warning, and they’d have plenty of clear conversations with you about how the level of work you’re producing is putting your job in jeopardy. But not all managers are good.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘But the question is, what’s “adequate,” from an employer’s point of view? ‘

          That’s a murky area, no doubt. One of our department’s team managers does shout-outs during our monthly meetings, spotlighting their team members who went ‘above and beyond.’ Almost every shout-out is a literal job requirement: ‘Suzy sent several pre-screened candidates to her hiring manager for a tough role to fill! Great job, Suzy!’ or ‘Jimmy created a spreadsheet of applicants his hiring managers are reviewing! Nice work staying organized!’ Suzy and Jimmy glowed with pride, as did their manager. The rest of us were puzzled because their performance was…adequate.

          Also, I’ll add the question ‘What’s “adequate,” from an employee’s point of view?’ I’ve had direct reports who brushed off compliments for truly outstanding work, saying ‘Excellence is a job requirement.’ I also had Suzys and Jimmys who thought showing up on time for candidate interviews was an accomplishment of high order.

          As usual, communication of expectations and understanding of baseline performance is a good idea.

          1. ShineSpark*

            “Excellence is a job requirement” reminded me of the most confusing annual review I ever had.

            Manager at OldJob had given me good feedback all my first year, was impressed with how quickly I picked up the role and complimented me regularly on my work. So I was confused to get to the end of my first year and get “Did not meet Expectations” on my review.

            He explained OldJob’s culture was “one of excellence”, and that their expectations were that you were always going above and beyond. To get “Meets Expectiations” on your review, you had to exceed expectations.

            He had no explanation for how you scored “Exceeds Expectations” or higher.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              That’s terrible, ShineSpark, what a lousy way to handle your review. Your boss isn’t helping you, or even himself.

              I mean, I think we *should* consider excellence a given, if only because we take pride in out job. But my boss and grandboss not only let me know I exceeded expectations, they tell me what I did to make them think that. You can bet I took note of their feedback and did more of the same.

              1. La Triviata*

                A former boss took pride in the fact that he almost never gave employees “exceeds expectations” when doing their reviews. Less based on what/how they were actually doing than on keeping his record for downplaying their ratings.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I agree that a person doing adequate but not great, if they had a good attitude, would probably not be fired at most places I’ve worked – but I also agree that sometimes they’re the first whose role is made redundant or re-orged out; often a stronger hire can pick up what they’re doing along with something else and do a better job. It is usually only evident in comparison to someone else.

        1. Check cash*

          Attitude absolutely helps in that middle – fine, but not amazing space. Because there will be other fine, but not amazing workers and the ones that are easy to get along with, are enthusiastic about helping others and don’t cause drama definitely get that boost. High achievers on the other hand, often get a pass if they are hard to deal with.

    3. Katie*

      My company did when we had to get rid of the bottom 5%. When everyone else was doing good or better bare minimum people were the bottom.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Whereas my Toxic!Job seemed to think that the best way to maintain excellence was to fire the bottom 5-10% of each “hiring class” each year. You went from top-quarter in stats to bottom-quarter in a few years, then you were out the door. As long as there was a steady stream of bright-eyed new hires, who cared?

        The amount of institutional knowledge they threw away every year was staggering.

    4. Bast*

      I know in plenty of my past positions at smaller companies, I would have been THRILLED to have someone who was good enough to be considered “fine” at their job. We put up with so many mediocre employees because “Jane is a nice person” or “it’s too much of a hassle to fire her” that I’d see the “average, okay” employee as a major upgrade.

      1. Lacey*

        Same. I’ve dealt with so many coworkers who didn’t seem to have the ability/drive to think through the smallest problem before asking someone else how to handle it.

        And they stuck around for years bc people felt bad firing them. When they finally quit they acted as if they’d been ill-treated for being expected to handle very basic tasks, like answering the phone, on their own.

        1. Bast*

          Oh yes. I have worked with, and managed, quite a few of those, who upper management would refuse to fire despite they had been at the job years and asking the exact same questions that they started with on Day One. They refused to either take notes and use them, or use the MULTIPLE resources available to find answers to simple, common questions. There were others that COULD have been good employees, but chose to spend the majority of their time not working. And yes, some of them actually were very nice people, but they were doing little to no work. We did have some people that I’d consider “middle of the road” average employees and they were godsends compared Jane Who Watches Youtube All Day.

    5. Lalchi*

      In my work, and ok employee would not be fired. There aren’t a lot of promotional opportunities, so we need a lot of “cogs” who can and want to just do the job they have. We’re a regulated industry, so as long as the regulations are being met, pretty much no one is ever fired. That being said we did just have to fire someone who I think would describe herself as a great employee, but she exceeded her authority with some transactions that subsequently went badly, resulting in multi-million dollar losses for the business.

      1. Piscera*

        OT, so then do you hire people for the “cog” jobs who aren’t interested in career development? Some people just want a predictable 9-5, five days a week. Nothing wrong with that, if the job fits.

        1. Lalchi11*

          We’re very up-front in the hiring process that there are not a lot of advancement opportunities; you are applying for this particular job and could be in this same job your whole career potentially (we do have annual raises and bonuses though). The job itself has some variety day to day, so for a lot of people who just want to put in their 9-5, it is a really good fit.

    6. BW*

      I know in my line of work that I was fired. After 25 years of hard work, and being promised raises several years in a row for my excellent work and never getting those raises, I decided to “quiet quit.” I kept doing my job at a good level, but I quit going above and beyond. It took them 3 years, but they finally noticed and “eliminated my position.” They gave me a huge, very nice, severance package. I was very happy. It’s 100% more than I would have gotten if I had retired. If I had retired, my co-irkers would have chipped in for some gag gifts and a cake I couldn’t eat.

      1. ferrina*

        I was also fired from a job I was good at, but I didn’t quiet quit at all. I had been doing really well- the department had seen crazy turnover and I had been doing work way above what I should have been, working long hours, etc. I didn’t have KPIs, because the department wasn’t even organized enough for that. One year we had KPIs for a team of 3, then 2 of them left and I was expected to do all the KPIs by myself (I did 80% of them, which was me + another job + a little more).

        A new manager came in, gave me good feedback…then fired me. She claimed it was for performance because I had made 2 typos in the last 3 months. HR forced her to turn it into a layoff. The official reason was because I didn’t have an advanced degree; I think the real reason was that I was well-liked and she felt threatened that I had more political capital than she did (even though I was using that capital to support her). The real kicker is that I had recommended her for the job in the first place.

        1. Plate of Wings*

          That’s awful, even before I got to the last sentence! The “gave me good feedback then fired me” is such a stinker move.

    7. T.N.H*

      I agree with Alison that it completely depends. If you have an EA, a writer, a press secretary, a COO etc. of a major company who is doing a passable job that person is likely to be fired. But the average everyday worker at the average company can probably squeak by.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      I’m one of two assistants at my job. I’m the higher skill level/needs less supervision of the two. The other person does good work of a sort that we need done and is plenty good enough most of the time, but when we were in a crunch in 2008 they came very close to laying her off, either to not replace or to find someone with a higher skill level.

      My workplace doesn’t lay people off lightly and our supervisor fought to keep her until the crisis passed (and we’re glad he did) but it wasn’t, objectively, entirely unreasonable for her to be considered for layoffs, either.

    9. old curmudgeon*

      Nor in mine. I work for a government entity, and it takes literally years to terminate someone for cause. Managers aren’t going to undertake a years-long process unless the employee’s deficits are so egregious that they present an active danger to the organization.

      While I hate to admit it, there is very definitely a mindset among a number of my fellow government employees that they’re just there to get away with the absolute barebones minimum expected of them. Not everyone by any means, there are definitely hard-working and dedicated government employees, but if every person doing the minimum was terminated, they’d have to shut a majority of the government down.

      1. Blue Pen*

        I think this is similar in higher education (admin). People are just not fired or laid off here. And while I would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the job “security,” I also see the other side of that coin: those who are otherwise “fine” but are stuck in their ways and don’t care to innovate or take risks or try new things, those who essentially take up spots that should go to someone more talented or visionary, those who are baseline at their jobs but aren’t so bad they merit termination, etc. The higher education environment is so bureaucratic that, I think, it enables this mentality of “old dog, old tricks” that can be challenging to maneuver if you’re more ambitious.

        1. Orv*

          I have definitely seen higher ed staff fired for mediocre performance, although not often. Faculty basically have job security for life, though.

          1. Bess*

            Yep, depending on the manager and the organizational support to see it through, it definitely happens. I have seen changes that were a long time in coming be bundled in with other things, though, like reorgs/non-renewal of contract that was expected to be renewed, or be referred to publicly as one thing while it was really a firing at the end of the day. There are a lot of weird privacy rules in higher ed about PIPs, discipline and firing, so it can make it difficult to understand the true story unless you are high up in an org with inside knowledge.

        2. Paulina*

          I agree that this is common in higher ed, both for academics and for staff. It’s additionally problematic because a lot of promotions are expected to happen from within; if you don’t have at least some upwardly mobile and visionary people in the junior ranks, it sabotages the future.

      2. Check cash*

        My ex was an alcoholic (he actually ended up dying from it) who was barely functional for a very long time. He continued to work for the Feds (with some security clearance) as they tried to get rid of him but it took several years and they never ended up succeeding.

    10. Eldritch Office Worker*

      In mine that person is always at least part-way on the chopping block, whether they’re aware of it or not. It varies a lot.

    11. Anonymous Koala*

      I’ve worked in industries where that person would almost certainly be let go (biotech R&D, some academic jobs) and others (gov) where that person is probably never going to be fired. It’s very field -specific, and to some extent company specific too.

    12. I'm A Little Teapot*

      In my field, you probably won’t be fired, but you also won’t advance. And if there’s layoffs, you’d be higher on the list.

      1. Check cash*

        I definitely have had people working for me who could keep their job, but desperately wanted to be promoted and every year it was the same thing, I’d lay out what they needed to do and they 1) wouldn’t do it; but also 2) would actively try and make a case based on things that were not any of the things I talked to them about. Exhausting.

      2. Some dude on the Internet*

        This is something my father (who has been in management for 30 years) has always told me.

    13. Heffalump*

      Some years ago I went to work as a typesetter at what was then the top advertising type shop in my city. I lasted several weeks. When the manager let me go, he said, “We need typesetters who can do it perfectly the first time.” I had figured they’d want a high degree of accuracy, but perfection? Maybe the job interview was the time to tell me that they’d expect this of me?

    14. JelloStapler*

      Same. Plus, at my place of work, people are leaving in droves on their own, so they’d never let a warm body doing acceptable work leave. It’s not like they are giving rasies to those who DO the the extraordinary work either,.

    15. lyonite*

      Maybe not fired outright, but I’ve been through a lot of layoffs, and particularly if you’re in the first round of choosing who to let go, the “just adequate” performers are often the first out the door.

  1. Certaintroublemaker*

    LW5, I would also go through with the interview because you’ll make new connections outside your current team, Jan might have another opening in the future, and/or Jan might hear of another manager with an opening. At the very least, it will be interview practice.

    The only reason not to do it is if your current manager might become an unhinged weirdo about you looking for a different job, in which case you could use the excuse, “Oh, I was just filling in as an internal interview as a favor for Marcia’s friend.”

    1. Waving not Drowning*

      I agree – I applied and was interviewed for an internal position, where it was a long shot that I’d get the role as I was fairly certain they already had people in mind and they were just going through the motions to say it was a competitive application process (as a general rule, in our workplace, if a position is only internally advertised, and the position is listed for a week – the shortest time they can have listed – they already have someone in mind for the role. If its listed for 2+ weeks, both internally and externally, they don’t have anyone already acting in the role and are looking for someone completely new). My current manager was on the interview panel, and until that point he had no idea of my experience/skills (which was another reason I was looking to leave – I could count on one hand and still have fingers left over the number of 1:1 conversations we’d had in a 6 month period), but he was impressed with what I had to say, and put me forward for an internal secondment for 2 months in the type of role I had applied for. If I hadn’t had the initial interview, he would not have known that I was interested in exploring a different role. At the end of the two month secondment, I happily stood down, and realised, yeah, I don’t actually like this type of work, so it meant that I didn’t waste time applying for similar types of roles.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        1000% this. It really doesn’t hurt at all to get your name and face out there. In 2022 I interviewed for an internal transfer, didn’t get, but 1 year later the manager called me up and offered me a different job (no interview required) and that’s my current job. A coworker of mine in a previous job also did an interview and our mutual boss was on the interview panel– she didn’t get the job she interviewed for, but got plucked up by our boss instead.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Likewise. I interviewed for an internal job where they had a person identified, but I did so well that they found a way to hire us both.

    2. Performative gumption*

      Heartily agree with this advice.
      I applied for an internal role last year that I knew I wouldn’t be first choice for. It helped me make some connections with key people and the hiring manager gave me the opportunity of a stretch assignment and then recommended me for a similar internal role that was actually better suited for my experience.
      I’m now in the new role and I know I wouldn’t be here without having gone for the previous interview.
      Go in, perform your best and use it for the opportunity in itself.

    3. Rhymetime*

      Yes, this often works out well. For example, my colleague interviewed for a new role in my organization. While she didn’t get the original position, she so impressed the hiring team that soon thereafter she was promoted to a different role.

      1. ferrina*

        The visibility can really help you out. I also applied for an internal position I knew I wouldn’t get, but it got me face-time with VIPs and they got to learn about the work I was leading. It helped when I needed support on future projects.

    4. Six Feldspar*

      Definitely worth going through with it, there’s no telling if the external candidate might fall through and you’ll get interview practice if nothing else

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I really appreciate all the examples above of how doing the long-shot interview resulted in more contacts who knew you wanted to do this type of work, or more information about what it’s like to do the role.

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      There’s also something to be said for doing an interview where you are pretty sure you’re not even going to be considered for the role; it might actually make you more relaxed than you would be if you were trying really hard to impress the interviewers. One time I was auditioning for an orchestra and as I was warming up I could hear someone else warming up with the same piece of music that I was going to play, and they were *worlds* better than I was. I thought to myself, welp, there’s no way I’m winning this audition because if that person doesn’t win someone even better than them will. Since there was no pressure on me, I went on to play one of the best auditions I’ve ever played. And I was correct, that person won the job. (It turned out to be someone I’d known from youth orchestra and even then she was a superstar compared to the rest of us.)

      So who knows, OP, maybe you’ll be so chill at the interview compared to how you might feel if you think you have a better shot at the job that you’ll actually impress the hiring committee more than you would if you were really nervous. Best of luck!

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Although amazing things can happen. One young woman was clearly going to be fourth in the Olympic figure skating competition, and knew it, so she went out and skated her butt off.

        Those ahead of her–two of them fell, and one failed to do the difficulty needed.

        She ended up with the gold.

    7. M2RB*

      I would do it for all the reasons people have commented above, as well as the fact that you might have some skill that the hiring manager isn’t aware that you have, and it might make all the difference in who she selects for the role.

      You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take! Give it a try, make the connections outside your current team, get the interview practice, etc.

      (and then come back and let us know how it turns out!)

    8. Sparkles McFadden*

      In my experience, getting a job is never a straight-line process. So many different things can happen! The top choice may not pan out. You might be better qualified but the hiring manager doesn’t realize it until the interview. They might not hire you for that job, but will remember you when something else comes up. The hiring manager may choose someone else but direct you to another opportunity elsewhere.

      If nothing else it’s a great opportunity to practice interviewing. I used to apply for jobs just to see what’s out there, and for the interviewing practice. It’s amazing how relaxed you can be in an interview when you don’t much care if they reject you. That practice makes you better prepared for an interview for a job you really want.

  2. DeepThoughts*

    I’ve worked at a few places where I ended up having to take up the slack for merely okay employees because the expectation was excellence all around. Okay was not good enough. At the same time, they wouldn’t fire folks who did okay; the rest of us were expected to pick up the slack. It was super frustrating.

    So I guess part of the question is how do you define okay? Because if okay isn’t good enough should it really be considered okay?

    1. Joe Lies*

      I agree and that’s my experience as well. Getting dumped on at work because “Susie just can’t handle the work, that’s just how she is”. That’s not ok.

    2. Zeus*

      It’s hard to say for sure without knowing all the context, but if someone is leaving slack for others to pick up then I wouldn’t say their work is “okay” but “sub-par” (or some synonym).

      For me “okay” is getting the work done; “excellence” would be going above and beyond in terms of quality, timescale, stakeholder satisfaction, or some other metric (depending on the type of work).

      If okay isn’t good enough then I agree it shouldn’t be considered okay.

      1. DeepThoughts*

        As with the commenter below, it’s usually something like they fulfill the technical requirements of their position, but they are completely incapable of thinking about what they’re doing in a critical way, innovating to make it more efficient/better, problem solve, etc. So I end up supplying the brains/being told to see if I can figure out what the problem is or how to improve something and they do the scut work associated with the work/implementing the stuff I came up with (sometimes with help from me) all on top of the stuff associated with my actual job. They meet the technical requirements of the job which is the scout work, but the other stuff has to get done and in other roles is done by the same person who does the related scut work; they take ownership over their area of responsibility but the merely okay guys have no initiative or critical thinking skills. Technically the job is the scut work because they’re used to hiring people who automatically do the other elements because they want to do the best job possible. When that doesn’t happen someone else has to do it for them.

        1. allathian*

          Sounds like the job description needs rewriting to include the creative requirements of the job.

          Doing the scut work and only the scut work would be perfectly fine if you had two tiers of employees, the juniors would only do the routine stuff while the seniors would be expected to create new solutions and improve processes for a significantly higher salary.

          1. Allonge*

            That works if you have capacity to hire two levels of people. Sometimes it’s a small area / project or a small team or a small business and there is just one person.

            I would argue that this approach is also restricted to certain jobs: how long you can do the job on a ‘scutwork’ level without major issues is going to diverge widely. In general, very few individual contributor jobs are going to need strategic level thinking every day, or even every week. Probably there will be lots that can just be done on the daily work ‘ok’ level for months. Some for years, even. But eventually you get to the point where it becomes a major issue.

            The point I want to make here is that this is not an easily quantifiable thing. In a lot of jobs you cannot pinpoint exactly which day it is that you need to start thinking strategically or things fall apart. It’s not about a specific number of pieces of flair.

          2. Sloanicota*

            Yes and then doing what’s really hard: keeping someone who is only great at the junior level, regardless of tenure. This is hard. Many people sort of fall upwards and get promotions over time just because they’ve been there long enough. You can’t do that if you’re committed to titles having meaning and excellence being valued. The so-so employee might not like being passed over and might look elsewhere, or they might accept that they’re performing at the junior level.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I wouldn’t necessarily call someone who only does the scut work the junior level. Working in a lab research environment, there are usually too many “experts” and not enough people doing the physical work. As a manager, it was harder to find and retain the people who did the bench work. Problem solvers are great and all but they’re not usually content doing the grind.

              The key is to have the right balance, treat everyone well, and set clear individual and team expectations goals. If you refer to the physical work as junior or inferior, everyone on that side of the team is going to look to leave in one way or another.

            2. bamcheeks*

              I don’t think this is true in most of the sectors I’m familiar with. There are lots of jobs where there’s a distinction between the first 3-5 years and the full professional grade, but once you’re at that full professional grade, it’s expected that the majority will stay there and only a minority will move up. You only need one manager to fix or six ICs in many sectors.

              The important thing is that if that’s the structure you want, it’s the structure you design, recruit for and reward. You don’t take on ten people who all want to be managers one day, promote one and lose nine, you look for people who want a long-term commitment from the employer, enough new projects to keep it interesting, and a pay structure that keeps up with inflation and rewards longer tenures.

            3. NotAnotherManager!*

              My primary experience has been with the mediocre employee not liking being passed over but being unwilling or unable to move and simply complaining all the time about not getting promotions/substantial raises despite the fact that they are performing at a junior level. We also charge customers for project time, and PMs don’t want a resource that costs $50/hour when the $30/hour resource works just as well, sometimes better.

        2. DyneinWalking*

          Agree with allathian. There are actually two positions, one doing the scut work and one doing the remaining scut work plus problem solving. And I agree with you – your higher-ups are cheapskates who don’t want to pay the higher salary they’d have to pay if they made the distinction official.

          If you don’t think that they’ll agree to compensating you for the extra work you should find a different job where people will (make sure to underline in your resume and cover letter that you did much more than the scut work!).

          Overall, I’m team “if ok isn’t enough to produce the desired result long-term, you have a weird definition of ‘ok'”. Because to me ok means that there are zero problems and everything is fine and could stay like that forever with everyone being content. And I’m sure most people would interpret it that way. If you’re telling me that I’m doing ok I’ll assume that I’m meeting all expectations for the current role and salary – although I probably shouldn’t expect a promotion but should consider myself expendable come layoffs.

          1. Allonge*

            So, I totally agree that the definition of ok is questionable.

            What I think this misses is that in a lot of jobs, you are doing dozens of different things, with varying frequency, priority on your to-do list, importance to the employer and so on.

            So just as it’s not-quite-fair from one perspective to say you are doing ok if you are not performing (well) on some longer-term / less immediate aspects, it would ALSO be not-quite-fair to say you are not even doing ok just because you are not passing expectations in all fields.

            It would be quite demoralising to hear that kind of feedback, no? That there is this monthly task that you would get a C- on, so overall you are not doing ok, no matter your performance in everything else?

            Lucklily in most cases evaluation / managerial feedback is a bit more complex that not-ok, ok and excellent.

      2. Earlk*

        Completely. If okay means there’s “slack” for other people to pick up it means the roles aren’t defined clearly enough or there aren’t enough staff in the team.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Or it means you work in a reactive industry with variable demand that is not predictable. When I worked in legal, it was very feast or famine and deadlines had an amazing way of overlapping with each other – we once had two trials that were initially scheduled for six months apart that ended up going at the exact same time. We do our very best to plan for demand, but we don’t always know when a client is getting sued or when they’re going to settle out a big case. We hire when things get too crazy, but that takes time to staff up and train, and conversely, I had people sitting around without enough to do because three large cases settled unexpectedly (one in particular, the parties hated each other and had FU money to go scorched earth). Even with better utilization and profitability metrics and continuous monitoring, things out of our control happened all the time.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I think this is the corporate version of grade inflation. Everyone can’t be excellent and Exceeding Expectations all the time! The amount of work in the pipeline shouldn’t exceed what can be done by N employees working at Acceptable pace. If some people working at Acceptable means others *have* to work at Exceeds Expectations to get everything done, you should get more staff. Exceeds Expectations should be taking you above and beyond your team’s KPIs and targets, not helping you meet them.

        Something is wrong with your team targets, your individual targets or your staffing levels if some people just being Acceptable creates a burden for others!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          If everyone and everything always exceeds your expectations, you’re just really really bad at having expectations.

          1. Ginger Cat Lady*

            Similarly, if you always expect that people should be going above and beyond to exceed your expectations, you’re just really bad at having expectations.

      4. Myrin*

        Yeah, I don’t think what DeepThoughts describes is necessarily what OP describes – the person OP talks about doesn’t leave slack for others to pick up, and I think commenters are kind of wandering down a path OP didn’t have in mind with her question, which is the question I find infinitely much more interesting.

        As a relatively benign example from my own job: my two predecessors (my immediate predecessor was here for only two years so most people I interact with interacted with both of them) wrote emails which were perfectly polite, got the message across, and didn’t have any egregious mistakes in them grammar-or-spelling-wise. However, I’ve had numerous people now comment on my email style compared to those of my predecessors.

        I think part of it is that I’m simply a better writer than either of them – although they’re both still good writers! – with regards to structuring sentences and whole texts, part of it is that my style is more personable whereas theirs was more distant – although the difference very often consists of only a handful of words -, and part of it is probably that I’m more approachable in general and you can tell that from my emails, too.

        Again, both of them were good writers, both of them were polite, friendly, and professional, and both of them had generally good relationships with both colleagues and customers. Their emails were completely fine by all standards, but mine are better. And I think that’s the kind of thing OP is talking about, just not with regards to (only) emails, but the whole job.

      5. Also-ADHD*

        Not sure about that person, but I know I work in a field where okay performance does tend to leave slack (but it’s a field where the backlog doesn’t end, and there’s always more to do to increase efficiency and effectiveness) in its own way, because minimums lead to maintenance of programs or implementation of core budgeted programs, but not high performance or growth. You sort of need mediocre folks though to see to some of the rote work, but it can cause issues when they want to grow and feel it’s unfair they don’t get interesting work/projects. To stretch out of the rote work, someone else has to do it usually, and then someone has to also supervise any more complex work they do, and work/life balance is a core tenant but so is growth. I know high performing folks can get frustrated if they’re put on rote pieces and asked to supervise other projects they could just execute better themselves, and that’s the core source of tension on many teams I’ve led or seen. So someone mediocre who wanted to stay and do all rote/support stuff would be valued, but they’d never grow. (And they may not be valued as tools change/progress, either because their work gets automated or because they don’t learn the new tools.) This can be tricky in fields with project based work, constant change, and ability to impact business in unpredictable ways. Our KPIs are all the business’s KPIs (business I work in the side of People Operations that deals with not just training but all performance management, tracking, improvement, etc. including change management, talent management, and implementation, and while we’re prioritized to certain KPIs and not expected to do everything all the time, there’s always more to do).

    3. Allonge*

      So – we have something going on now that I think qualifies (although I see your point).

      My colleague, Matt, is responsible for our social media. He has daily operations well under control, ha drafts very well, coordinates for / creates good visuals, his messaging is on point, has good relationships with everyone he needs to work with.

      Despite regular requests, discussions, clear (very clear) instructions from our manager, Matt is not willing or able to do any strategic or even minimally forward-looking work around this: he has (or shares) no vision on what we would need to do to do better on social media, does not look for / point out best practices, is not willing to experiment with new things, has seemingly no ambition to do anything other than what he is doing.

      Does he do ok? Sure, if you just look at what is happening now. Can we afford to have him continue like this? Probably not, which is why our boss is expecting to dismiss him fairly soon.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, similar thing in a role I had. Llamas who presented for grooming were getting groomed, but really the field as a whole is moving away from individual llama grooming and more towards creating environments where llamas didn’t get into such a mess in the first place and had access to self-grooming kits. Senior llama groomers were supposed to be leading on influencing the lead llamas of each pack to get them to see the benefits of changing the llama environment, but were instead agreeing with the lead llamas that the changes were stupid and there was nothing wrong with the existing llama environment, and telling them they could ignore the llama environmental strategy.

        However, you have to make sure the job description is very clear that strategy and influencing is part of the job description, and that just getting the daily llama grooming done isn’t the whole role, and make sure that’s reflected in the salary and performance evaluation. Which is actually a good thing! If these kind of things are required and expected, they shouldn’t be “going above and beyond”– they should be explicit, and appropriately rewarded and recognised.

        1. Coffee Grinder*

          I just want to express my appreciation for the effort you took to transpose all of this into llama land. Very funny!

          1. bamcheeks*

            :-D Honestly, I actually do it as a mental exercise sometimes when I have a problem at work to try and boil the problem down to its essentials!

    4. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah, an employer has to decide on their strategy and back it.

      They can decide that they only want excellent employees, and move fairly quickly for PIPs and firing if someone is performing at a sub-excellent level. They also need to work hard to hire and retain excellent employees, which is probably going to involve paying above average salaries for the position, with genuinely good benefits and perks, plus opportunities for career growth, raises and promotions. It also requires being very good at interviewing to hire the best candidates, and a pool of applicants that includes the desired talent. They also need to staff properly, so that there is enough labour to cover when someone is fired, or promoted, or moves to a new job, or when a normally excellent employee is at reduced capacity (or off) due to life stuff.

      If they aren’t willing to do they above, and still want high total output, but with okay but not spectacular employees, then they need to hire more people so as not to burn out the top performers.

      1. Nebula*

        Yes, I think part of the issue with these kinds of situations is that all too often, employers want superstar work for not-superstar pay. Or a really high performer who was going above and beyond leaves, the job description isn’t updated to recognise everything they were doing, and so the next person who just does the job as it was presented to them is seen as being sub-par. The person doing their job to an acceptable level who is nevertheless leaving slack that the rest of the team needs to pick up (or whatever) is generally a symptom of broader problems with management/leadership, as you say, rather than the whole problem in and of themselves.

        1. honeygrim*

          At my previous job, I supervised someone (Joe) who was hired to fill a position we had due to a person in our department (Sandy) moving to a different role in the company. Sandy was a very strong performer who went above and beyond her job in our department. However, the position Sandy vacated was a pretty high-level position that senior management felt wasn’t necessary. So, to save money, they rewrote the position to make it a lower level one and then hired Joe. Joe had none of the skills required for Sandy’s position, but seemed suitable for the lower level position.

          Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t a particularly strong performer in the lower level role. I struggled to help him improve, and he became really discouraged because he couldn’t figure out how to meet the expectations of his job, because my boss really wanted him to do Sandy’s job (that didn’t exist anymore). It was very frustrating all around, and demonstrated that our department really did need the role Sandy did, even if the person in that role didn’t perform at the level Sandy did.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I think the dreaded “stack reviews” or whatever were an attempt to get at this – weeding out so-so or okay employees – because they basically had a curve for everyone so someone had to be the worst out of the lot, even if they weren’t objectively bad. It’s pretty awful though. It would be better to just have clear ambitious metrics and hold people to them (and pay well).

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Stack reviews are puzzling to me, because they are usually implemented by people who want to think of themselves as so smart and rational, BUT even if you ignore the human element (which you shouldn’t, because they’re terrible for morale and cooperation), logic tells you that they don’t work mathematically beyond a few rounds at best. That’s because it gets increasingly less likely to get someone better, you have a good chance of getting someone worse, and each replacement has a considerable cost. Plus, ya know, incentivising sabotage.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Right! It’s like assuming all employees in any given set are on a perfect bell curve, but – they’re probably not in a bell curve under every manager. You can easily have a team where everybody is hitting a high bar already, and they still have to fire someone who is great (and then hope to replace them with someone else who is … also great?).

            1. Polly Hedron*

              And even if the distribution started out as a perfect bell, after the first layoff the left tail is gone, and management must slice off more and more arbitrarily towards the middle.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            Stack reviews have been proven as a poor practice for this reason, but the companies that do them often do them for other reasons, namely to have data for frequent layoffs or for promotion/compensation discussions and decisions. That’s useful data if you want a more tracked element, but they have to be designed very carefully when you do use them (for instance with understanding that one department/team may have all 5/5 staff, managers need to be trained and audited for consistency but you can’t rely on bell curve assumptions, and you have to adjust for the fact that sabotage will still be a potential barrier).

          3. I Have RBF*

            Stack ranking also has the added problem of making teams compete with each other, thus tanking teamwork. Some managers will hire in unsuitable people, just to have sacrificial lambs to use to keep their teams together. The worst is when they do quarterly stack ranking, and the rubric is “what have they done that is visible and “moved the needle”. Teamwork goes to zero, KPIs are often set up to fail if others are needed, and morale goes to hell.

        2. Antilles*

          The Stack Ranking concept came from GE and was used elsewhere as well. The overall theory is that you should rank a set percentage (e.g., 20%) of your employees as top-tier performers who get richly rewarded, a large percentage of your employees as middle performers who get small raises, and then a set percentage (e.g., 20%) as bottom tier performers who get put on PIPs or straight up fired. Effectively, taking the typical Standard Distribution “bell curve” and applying it to your team.
          Of course, the problem is that a Standard Distribution bell curve is intended for large sample sizes, BUT the stack ranking was applied to every department individually. So if you had a team of 10 teapot designers, you would have two “Excellent” employees and two “Failing” employees no matter what; even if your team was the 10 best designers in the entire universe, one of them would be marked as failing because the system required it. Which is both wrong from a basic statistics perspective and from a human perspective since it encourages all sorts of toxic behavior.
          Excellent employees have a clear motivation to not be on teams with other top employees, since only 20% of people on any given team can be “top performers”.
          For more average employees, the perverse incentive is even worse: In order to ensure you’re not in the bottom 20% that gets labeled as “poor”, you want to knife other average performers in the back whenever the opportunity safely presents itself, just to guarantee someone else gets ranked below you.
          There’s a legendary Vanity Fair article from the early 2010’s describing how Microsoft wasted the entire decade of the 2000’s and missed the boat on basically every technical innovation of that era (smart phones, Internet search, e-commerce. etc) and it was unanimously agreed that the stack rating was a major reason why.

          1. IP Paralegal*

            I worked at a Fortune50 company that utilized the stack ranking system. It was maddening. I was part of a leadership program one year and one of the team’s did a presentation about eliminating the ranking system. The presentations were judged by senior leadership. You could see the smoke coming out of their ears as the presentation went on. It almost ended in a brawl. It was hilarious how hard leadership argued against eliminating “forced ranking” (that’s what they called it). I no longer work there but it definitely strained and put a competitive spin on relationships with most of my peers there – and it is EXTRA hilarious to me that it felt very cut throat because I came from a BigLaw background.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yeah, I did BigLaw for years, and this stacked ranking thing blows my mind. I get up-or-out – really I do, including the business reasons for it – but it isn’t a fit for most types of jobs. Definitely a terrible fit for staff – and what do you do when you have a team of aces? Even my lowest performer on one of my standout teams ran circles around most people. Having to PIP or fire him would be insane – and I’d have had partners on my doorstep out for blood if I PIPed their best paralegal (because they were ranked below the best paralegal in another group).

              It just seems to fly in the face of having clear expectations, providing training/resources/management to meet them, and measuring against those expectations. Basically, you could do everything right and still end up in the bottom because Bob was on the extra-shitty case and your case was only medium-shitty.

          2. Justin D*

            Even companies that don’t do this officially can have these problems, top performers really want to stand out so they avoid strong teams and everyone else wants to avoid being considered the weakest contributor even if everyone is roughly equal.

    5. JM60*

      So I guess part of the question is how do you define okay? Because if okay isn’t good enough should it really be considered okay?

      This isn’t a perfect analogy, but this discussion reminds me of of the scene from Office Space where the restaurant manager talks to the waitress about only wearing the minimum number of pieces of flair. In that scene, if the manager wanted the employees to wear double the minimum pieces of flair, he should just clearly tell the employee to use twice as much.

      On this issue, if an employer wants employees to perform much better than industry standard, they should clearly communicate that okay at their workplace is much higher performance than okay at other employers. They shouldn’t call okay by industry standards “okay”, then punish employees for being okay.

      1. Just a question*

        I work in hospitality a hotel. My okay employees never get negative comments from guestsand also they never get accolades
        They don’t go out of their way for guest requests

        My great employees get accolades and extend themselves. Guess who won’t get invited back the following season

        1. bamcheeks*

          Ok, but then there are a couple of questions here:

          1. Are you paying enough that your great employees want to come back?

          2. Can you improve your recruitment processes so that you only hire the great employees in the first place?

          If “getting invited back” is the reward for great employees and those employees are excited to come back, that sounds like a win! But why not set out to attract and recruit those people in the first place?

          1. Allonge*

            But why not set out to attract and recruit those people in the first place?

            Obviously not Just a question, but could be because:
            – a reasonable number of good-to-excellent people get hired each year already
            – there is a limited source for applicants (e.g. due to location or other factors)
            – spending more time / effort for recruitment may not yield significantly better results (maybe there is no reliable way to distinguish between future ok and future excellent performers)
            – guest returns and satisfaction is good – as long as the ok people do the job ok, there is no major need for a higher percentage of excellents
            – maybe they are doing it already and the best way they found is to ask the excellents to return

            1. Just a question*

              On Point. When hiring everyone has their Wedding photo attitude on. As the season progresses their true work ethic and personality eventually comes through.

              We pay well and provide free housing.

            2. Just a question*

              Here is an example of an excellent vs okay.

              Front desk gets dusty.

              The excellent will take it upon themselves without being told to clean it.

              An okay has to be told.

              Also please dont get into “is it in their job description”

              One of the duties is keep the front desk neat and tidy.

              1. JM60*

                ON the point of job descriptions, I think most reasonable people will agree that a job description won’t explicitly enumerate every tiny thing you need to do during the workday to do the job well. However, I think job descriptions need to be clear enough so that most job candidates could reasonably infer what those subtasks are.

                I never worked in a hotel setting, but I have worked in retail primarily as a cashier/general customer service agent. I was never explicitly given any job description at all for the job (at least that I could recall), yet I surmised that occasionally cleaning the checkout area when I wasn’t helping a customer was a miscellaneous job task. I did it without being asked when I was trying to find something to do. I considered myself an okay employee (not bad, but not excellent either).

                1. Just a question*

                  Basically a job description is derived from a daily task list up to a point.

                  Be personable and friendly
                  Check in check out guests
                  Answer guests question
                  Offer suggestions on dining or activities.

        2. Justin D*

          so you dont invite back the “okay” people. do you then hire new people? how do you ensure that the new people are better than ok?

          1. Just a question*

            Good Question

            Our pay scale is good
            We provide free housing
            I check references or they are referred by someone I know

            If I make a mistake I start to correct it sooner rather than later

      2. Snow Globe*

        That scene in Office Space resonates so much, even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant. Whatever the standard is for “meets expectations” clearly state that. If what managers think of as “great” is the standard they expect from everyone, than that is “meets expectations”.

      3. Baunilha*

        I was thinking about this very scene when I was reading the letter. If management want people to wear 37 pieces of flair, they should set the minimum to 37, not 15.

    6. Fikly*

      So if they aren’t firing the person who is merely ok, what happens to you if you don’t pick up the slack? What actually makes you need to do that?

    7. Six Feldspar*

      And it depends on the structure of the department, there’s a difference between a person doing an okay job and only impacting their own job prospects vs a person doing an okay job and everyone else having to pick up the slack.

  3. Hot buttered croissant*

    #4 For unwanted touching, I learned that saying “Ouch!” in a very loud voice gets results when boundaries didn’t work. Maybe I have a sunburn, fibromyalgia, or post-surgical wound; you don’t know! But you’d be a real jerk to deliberately keep “hurting” me with your group hug nonsense, especially after I’ve said it loudly enough to attract the attention of witnesses.

    1. Old Admin*

      When I was had to do woo nonsense at work, I did a tiny derailment:
      A manager and wannabe woo psychologist forced an entire team at a meeting to wander around with eyes closed and hands outstretched. I’m on the spectrum and hatehatehate being touched by strangers (but understand social cues etc.), also knew others hated it.

      We completely disrupted the “exercise” by loudly apologizing whenever we bumped into or touched other! Angry complaints followed afterwards, and it never happened again.
      Pushback on more stunts and reports made said manager go away.

      1. bamcheeks*

        This sounds HORRENDOUS. Forced trust and forced vulnerability are the opposite of team-building!

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, ugh. I have two follow-up questions:

        1. Did y’all plan this disruption or did it happen completely by accident because y’all were being so polite? (Either way that was brilliant.)
        2. By “manager go away” do you mean the manager left the company or just stopped bothering y’all with the woo nonsense?

      3. Annie*

        If everyone else was closing their eyes, I would have just kept my eyes open and avoided everyone. How is this not basically sexual harassment, if you’re accidentally “bumping into” someone else. Ugh, Horrible.

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          This is absolutely sexual harrassment, although it’s a rare case where you’re not necessarily being harassed by the person who touched you.

          Theoretically, if my coworker Jane is a very timid person who feels coerced into compling with the order to wander around with her eyes closed and she accidentally puts her hand on my chest, she’s not the harasser, she’s a fellow victim. The psychologist who used their position of authority to make us do the activity without strongly stating that “anyone who felt uncomfortable is welcome to opt out and will face zero consequences” is the harasser. They should have seen the high potential for unwanted sexual contact created by the activity. Whether that ignorance was by design or stupidity is irrelevant, but it’s not good enough to expect adults to always speak up when they feel uncomfortable. It’s the responsibility of the authority figure to actively provide an opt-out and to make it clear that the opt-out is real.

          (I’m not even going to discuss the version where my co-worker Sam peeks and makes a bee line for my chest, we all know that kind of harassment is also possible.)

        1. The Rural Juror*

          On my team, we did some mild personality tests that revealed me to be a “WOO,” which stood for Winning Others Over… which I thought sounded bad. It was meant to say you’re outgoing and welcoming to others, but it sounded to me like a description of an overzealous car salesman.
          So for me, it has 2 weird and equally not great meanings, and I don’t like it when people call me a “WOO.”

      4. Space Needlepoint*

        What on earth was the point of that exercise?

        I am someone who starts or jumps and occasionally yelps when unexpectedly touched. I would not have liked this at all.

    2. ferrina*

      That’s so smart! Definitly say it loudly so people will look over. In most cases, the boundary crosser knows they are in the wrong. They don’t want this type of attention (they only want the attention where they can spin the story).

    3. The Provisional Republic of A Thousand Eggs*

      I have sensory issues and I’m easily startled. I’ll flinch and yell and probably flail my arms at any unwanted and/or unexpected touch. (Sometimes I’ll already flinch and possibly yell when I see someone stretch out their hand in a way that doesn’t clearly say “let’s shake” or “could you hand me the thing”. It’s not really something I can control.) Lots of fun all around. /s

      I’m a librarian and I live in an assisted-living facility. Patrons and nurses learned very quickly that I don’t like being touched.

      Patrons? At Old Job, we had a lot of children who liked to spontaneously hug their favorite librarians.
      Little girl: *sudden hug from behind*
      Me: *flailing uncontrollably*
      Also me: *crawling on my knees looking for tokens under the shelves for several days* (I had been checking and sorting out board games at the time)

      Nurses? Apparently many of the older neighbors like it when someone pats them on their shoulders or holds their hands… no idea why.

  4. Heidi*

    What is up with LW4’s coworkers? They all got herded into a random group hug and no one said anything?

    1. Garblesnark*

      Right?! Especially if the boss explicitly said in front of those people that it was because LW didn’t like being touched.

    2. Myrin*

      Right? That’s actually what I find most puzzling about this situation. The boss was just a jerk which I can at least understand (in the sense that I know jerks exist and sometimes you’ll meet one) but the coworkers just went along with his random request?

      (Of course there might’ve been stuff going on in the background OP either wasn’t privy to or didn’t mention in the letter, like the boss telling everyone “OP is a bit sad today, let’s all hug her to make her feel better!” or something. Still random but also something many people wouldn’t question (especially from their boss) even if they found it weird.)

      1. Myr*

        AAAH, ignore the second paragraph – between reading the letter and coming down to type my comment, I had already forgotten the “crowd around me and give me a group hug, since I “didn’t like to be touched.”” part! Disregard, disregard.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Shocking that noone spoke up, because it was explicitly said the OP did NOT want this”
      give me a group hug, since I “didn’t like to be touched.”
      Did noone actually switch their brain on first?

      I’d have loudly said “Oy, STOP!”
      because I’m a bolshy sod who has always spoken up loudly when my boundaries are being encroached upon (I was notorious as a small child in the 1960s for telling guests not to smoke)

      However, I’m in Europe so it’s a lot less risky with employment protections, no affect on healthcare etc. Probably safe in a US union shop though?

      1. Paulina*

        I think that part of LW4’s lack of pushback at the time is because the “don’t like to be touched” issue was something that the boss made up, because she politely gave him space. She doesn’t say that she actually doesn’t like being touched. So the boss intended to boundary-violate (was this some bizarre attempt at exposure therapy?) and any staff that the boss told this to went along with it. And LW4 didn’t want to confirm the boss’s weird assumption.

    4. Mary Lamb*

      Frogs in the boiling water, would be my guess. OP doesn’t write a lot about the hug itself so I am guessing (hoping!) they were holding somewhat back and more crowding than crushing.

      1. Mary Lamb*

        “crowd around me […] It was very brief and nobody got handsy.” I think the coworkers knew it was a weird thing to do but the owner said they had to so they felt they had no choice except to make it quick.

    5. Old Admin*

      Reportreportreport the guy for rounding up the group (witnesses!) and doing that to you!

      1. Old Admin*

        …as a sensitive person, this feels like a mini version of a r..e . Sorry, I had to say that.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      The exact same thing that was up with LW: “I was in shock and just kind of stood there not reacting until they quit.” Humans go along with social norms. They do weird things convinced that they are social norms or other people wouldn’t be doing them. (Facing backward in elevators, for example.) They hope that weird violations of social norms will be one-offs and quietly go away if they don’t Make Things Awkward by calling attention to it.

      LW4, I am sorry this happened to you. I think freezing is probably the most common human response to that sort of weirdness, and what almost everyone would do. The ideal reaction is to return the awkward to sender, thinking fast on your feet to deflect in a humorous way, or in a “you startled me so I screamed and flailed way,” or whatever way would work best with this group to derail the plan. (I believe this even if someone has a whole internet thread in which people insist they would immediately Deliver A Zinger. Zingers are easy when it’s a hypothetical.)

      1. Emily Byrd Starr*

        I have a high startle reflex, so I usually wind up jumping or yelling automatically when someone touches me unexpectedly or startles me. That way, everyone knows that it’s not a case of “mildly annoying,” but rather a MAJOR violation- like in the same category of grabbing your co-worker’s breasts in the middle of a meeting. “Mildly annoying” isn’t okay to do at work, either, but for some reason, there are people who think it’s funny or cute to make someone mildly annoyed. In my experience, these people tend to be men of the Boomer generation.

        1. Nightengale*

          you’d be surprised. For a time I had a history of FALLING when touched unexpectedly (startle reflex + poor balance) and this did not send the message not to touch me in the future. Oh, and the people doing the touching and also throwing things which caused me to startle – were all doctors or fellow medical students.

    7. DJ Abbott*

      I think it’s just they were afraid they would lose their jobs if they said no, or called out the owner. Since it was a small business with one owner and no HR, they were probably right.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I mean once he was done with his power play and pouting, I am sure OP continued to wait for more touch-tests and how-dare-you-have boundaries corrections if she tried to move out of the owner’s way. He has a knack for leaving people with lingering fear and they were probably all under that type of influence.

    8. CheesePlease*

      I don’t mind being touched (I am definitely a hugger) but being TOLD TO DO A GROUP HUG AT WORK violates *my* boundaries too.


      OP I’m sorry because this was seriously not ok on many levels

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        This is exactly how I feel! I’m a hugger as well and don’t mind sharing hugs with a couple close coworkers, but a group hug????? No way! Especially if I heard the person of focus does not like to be touched. I’m sure as hell not doing that to that person. Maybe I feel strongly about group hugs in the workplace because I work in a male dominant field and I’m often the only woman in the group, so a group hug to me seems like the opportunity for someone to get handsy with the excuse because it was a group hug, it was an accident they touched me inappropriately! :/

    9. Irish Teacher.*

      I can see two possible reasons: the first is that the person who asked them is the boss and honestly also sounds like a bully, so they may have just done as he said to avoid becoming his next target. If somebody has the ability to make your work life difficult (or even fire you) and seems to enjoy showing his power/ ignoring people’s boundaries, I can see people being reluctant to say no to him.

      The other option is that it sounds like maybe they weren’t around for the whole thing, that he just called them over for the group hug, so they may have thought it was just a joke between the boss and the LW and not realised she was truly uncomfortable with it.

      1. Paulina*

        Yet LW4 doesn’t say that she was truly uncomfortable (other than with the bizarre group hug itself, because it was strange). The coworkers may have thought that it was a joke because they’d never previously noticed her not liking to be touched. All she did was give her boss some space when he needed to look at something, which really is a pretty basic thing and not actually indicative of not wanting to be touched. The whole thing sounds like the boss may have been mocking her having given him space.

    10. Ink*

      Given that the dysfunction was apparently not limited to that incident, it was probably a group with reasonable people like OP self-selecting out. Everyone left behind vibes with the dysfunction or feels unable to leave or resist.

      Granted, “let’s hug someone specifically because they don’t like to be touched” is upper-tier nonsense even among janky workplaces. At least their inability to pretend to be reasonable got OP out fast :/

    11. fhqwhgads*

      They were either brainwashed by the boss’s assholicness, already just as bad themselves, or they were more worried about getting fired for refusing than they were about being horrible to LW4.

  5. Garblesnark*

    LW1 – You know what’s related and does result in being fired in many industries? A decline in work quality, even if the quality remains within the typical acceptable scale. I see this a lot in employees with ADHD (including myself), especially those without reliable access to medication. They will start a new job, and what I call “new job energy” makes great or even superstar performance readily accessible. Within a year, new job energy tends to fade, and these employees begin performing at the same level that’s expected of everyone else. (If they are actually not meeting objective metrics in place for other workers, that’s not what I’m discussing.) However, many managers and others at the org appreciated the extra work and energy they were getting from these employees, and will retaliate due to the new lack of extra bonus features that were previously included, even though all objective standards are still being met.

    I honestly don’t know any consistently employed person over 35 with ADHD who hasn’t experienced or been threatened with this.

    1. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Hi, me. Except I’m in the UK and have been a mix of employed and self employed. Your comment made me reflect that one of the things that works for me about my current role is there’s enough change to keep it interesting, without it being destabilising. I’m still performing well 4 years in. My work has a project feel to it which is part of what keeps it interesting.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah, part of managing conditions like this is finding your niche. Mine (as autistic) is looking to be compliance. I have much more ability to focus and take things directly off management’s plate rather than actually doing that longer term, strategic planning, and I’m really happy. I originally trained as a chartered accountant but bombed out after a year because I lacked the stamina to keep going in full time work and do the immense amount of study necessary. I was in bed at 8pm on nights I didn’t have to go to lectures and even then fell asleep at my desk one afternoon, which was the beginning of the end (even after I’d convinced my boss that it was fatigue and not being out drinking all night — in Ireland with its generous licensing laws, so that was the first thing people thought of, not least because the company itself on a corporate night out drank TGI Fridays out of glassware and everyone was still in at 9 the next morning).

        I’m now doing the same job internally and loving it because I’m responsible for plugging the clerical gaps rather than hunting them down. It satisfies my demanding brain while still allowing me to log off at 5 and relax.

      2. Justin*

        Yes, that’s part of why my current job works so well for me (with ADHD) whereas the last one was so repetitive that I could not keep focused.

      1. Paint N Drip*

        I think a lot of us are having that moment with you LOL
        (is this another ADHD thing and not a I’m-a-failure thing??)

    2. HollyTree*

      Yep. Threatened with being fired when I only did my job instead of two halves of other people’s jobs (I also wasnt trained in a key area)

    3. Rachel*

      It’s starting to feel like ADHD is raised in every comments section, regardless of the letter. I don’t think ADHD is relevant unless the writer clearly says they have it and need advice on accommodation.

      1. Hawkwind80*

        I suspect it’s because ADHD has gone undiagnosed for many elder millennials or older people, and someone noticing how ADHD manifested in them might let others know it’s something to check out.

        1. Rachel*

          It is really good people with ADHD are getting the diagnosis and treatment they need to succeed. That doesn’t mean every problem needs to be addressed from an ADHD perspective. It is increasingly becoming the go-to topic in the comments, despite specific rules not the diagnose.

          There is such a thing as the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction. This is happening right now with ADHD.

          1. Parakeet*

            What even is there to diagnose when LW1 asked a general question that wasn’t about anyone in particular? Do you object to every subset of people that has non-normative experiences talking about them in response to general questions, or just people with ADHD?

            1. Rachel*

              You know the phrase “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

              That is what is happening with ADHD. Every single problem is traced back to that. Is it accurate sometimes? Of course! ADHD is clearly a legitimate disability that impacts work. Is it accurate or relevant every single time it is raised here? Highly likely not.

              1. Garblesnark*

                Rachel, I’m not confident this conversation is constructive in this location, and I am confident that it’s not entirely kind. If “ADHD is clearly a legitimate disability that impacts work,” and none of this impacts you, please simply allow the affected parties to discuss their disability that impacts their work, in this forum where the author permits and often even welcomes it. Sometimes in public, people will have conversations that are not curated for you because we live in a society made up of many kinds of people. This is one of those times, and part of adulthood is learning to tolerate that and move on.

                1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                  Hear, hear!

                  As another member of the ADHD crowd, I really appreciate this comment!

              2. Garblesnark*

                I have decided to explain the pervasive relevance of ADHD to work. I don’t think you’re going to be convinced (or frankly even that you’re really reading my comments), but it’s likely there are also other people reading this who could gain perspective and insight that could help them understand or advocate.

                ADHD impacts every aspect of how I interact with the world. I will describe this in terms of one of the easiest tasks I have ever done at work.

                At work, it is often part of my job to answer the phone. Answering the phone involves recalling the greeting for the company where I am working, modulating my vocal tone and register for the context, listening closely and interpreting often garbled audio information with little room for error, recalling that new information (such as the caller’s name and reason for calling), determining the correct course of action to handle the call, and carrying out that action.

                ADHD impacts every step in that process.

                1. Recall the greeting, caller & reason for the call – ADHD is well documented to affect and limit recall. I often handle this by putting a post-it with the script for answering the phone on the machine, and keeping a notepad by the machine where I write down each caller’s name and reason for calling. These are called “accommodations,” things that I do to work around my disability in the workplace. I had to learn and figure them out through trial and error.

                2. Modulate my vocal tone & register – a lack of vocal tone and register modulation is a common reason for people to be referred for ADHD evaluation. Callers can quickly become upset or even irate if they don’t prefer the tone & register of the person who answers the phone, and my disability makes it such that using the ones they prefer is a conscious effort, rather than an automatic process like it tends to be for people without ADHD. Imagine if you had to breathe manually the whole time you were on the phone.

                3. Interpret the audio – A common ADHD side effect is difficulty with audio processing. So just imagine this task, but every call has a 50% worse connection.

                4. Determine the correct course of action – The skills needed here vary wildly depending on the nature of the call, but let’s say it’s an easy answer-and-transfer. To transfer a call, I need to figure out how to look up the extension I’m transferring to before the caller becomes upset (problem solving under pressure is affected by ADHD), complete the lookup, determine whether to do a cold or warm transfer, explain that while continuing to modulate my tone and dealing with nigh-unintelligible phone audio, and then do all of that.

                Everything you have ever done was processed by your brain. ADHD is a condition you are born with that dramatically impacts the processing in your brain. Every part of my life is impacted by my ADHD, just like every part of my life would be impacted if I were a brain in a jar, or if I lived in the year 4600 BCE. If every part of my life is impacted, of course every part of my work is impacted.

                I understand there are letters on AAM sometimes where many people jump into the comments and let the LW know that it could be this or that condition. That didn’t happen here. The only diagnoses here happened with licensed medical practitioners, in their offices. I don’t think you want to live in a society where no one gets to discuss their disability and share insights about it – if nothing else, I’m sure you’ve benefitted from a cold remedy or two in your time. I’d like you to compare the severity of your complaint to the 13 distinct people who replied and said they related or this perspective is helpful to them.
                Is seeing “ADHD” in the comments section so horrible for you that those experiences of connecting with others and getting helpful perspective on how things could be better or why something isn’t working are outweighed or made insignificant?

                I don’t at all think so – and importantly, I worry that responses like yours (especially when there’s no rule violation and it’s on topic) could discourage others from sharing things that could help people when it is appropriate.

          2. ThatOtherClare*

            One in every twenty people has ADHD. That’s a much higher proportion of the population than is autistic, and yet autism comes up in the comments just as frequently, if not more (not that I’m saying it’s a competition, I think it’s excellent that both are being acknowledged and discussed).

            I’d hazard a guess that one of the reasons why it feels like ADHD is mentioned too much is because the acronym is spelt with all capitals. It jumps out at you from a sea of text as your eyes scan down the page, and because internet convention is to interpret capital letters as a shout, it can feel like ADHD is shouting its way into every conversation, boisterously muscling the more sedate topics aside. But I assure you, on a by-the-numbers analysis of comments on this website, that’s not actually the case. There’s no data to support the concept of a pendulum swing. Hope that helps!

      2. Also-ADHD*

        That person was sharing their own experience as someone with ADHD, I think. Personal anecdotes and experiences grounded in identity are common across letters. The person didn’t give accommodation advice, and the relevance was to their experience with the topic since it was a general question especially.

    4. Sloanicota*

      It’s so hard – but I actually do try to be measured in my initial approach to a new job in order to prevent this! It’s tricky because when you’re new and the boss doesn’t trust you yet you want to do a GREAT job (and small mistakes can be blown out of proportion) but … I try not to take on a “rockstar” level of work, volume wise – just do really well with the work I do get done. Boundaries in the beginning can set reasonable expectations down the line!

      1. Garblesnark*

        Yes, I make a conscious effort to do this now as well, and when I see the pattern in others, especially others who know they have ADHD, I suggest the same to them.

    5. Distracted Procrastinator*

      yeah, just went through this with my current job. Stress made my work product reduce from previous levels and all of the sudden me doing an average job that many others in my role are doing isn’t good enough any more and every little aspect of my work is being examined when bosses have been very hands off previously.

      It’s so hard to keep up that “new job energy” when it’s just the same thing over and over every single day. It’s annoying when you know where your work stands in relation to everyone else and they are treating you like you are one misstep from being managed out.

    6. Third Eye Dimly Lit*

      Wow. Ahem.


      I think my third eye was just opened and I have seen my past and future all come into my present presence with this comment.

      Is this why I get hired and yet my bosses seem to hate me by the end?

      1. ferrina*

        Right?! I never saw this before but, Garblesnark is so right. Also ADHD, and it’s true- I get energy rushes at certain points in my work where I can take on 2 or even 3 jobs (and I have), but when the rush fades I need to pull back to regular workloads. And my managers are always pissed, even if I tell them that the super-productivity is only temporary.

        I never realized that this was tied to my ADHD before, but it absolutely was.

      2. I Have RBF*

        Are you me?

        In jobs that become routine, I start out a rock star, learn and tame my job into automated routine, then when I get bored and slack off they hate me, even though the original part of my job is done reliably and automatically. I have literally automated myself out of a job.

        Then my replacement comes in, decides that I was stupid and didn’t know anything, doesn’t read my documentation, blows the whole thing up, and leaves because it’s “too hard”. I proceed to laugh and enjoy the schadenfreude.

    7. kiki*

      Yes! I’ve definitely see the incredible employee who needed to take a step back be held to their previous stellar employment even though other employees at the same level/pay/etc. are held to a much lower bar. I’ve definitely seen this hurt mothers when they return after maternity leave– so often they were running circles around their counterparts in the office pre-pregnancy but then they come back after having a child and only have bandwidth to do the same work as their peers. Even though for their peers that level work is considered acceptable, leadership only perceives the “decline.”

      Even great employees will not be able to be at 100% turbo speed for their whole career. There will be seasons where other things take precedence, there will be times of hardship that impact their work. Employers who do not understand this are short-sighted.

      1. Garblesnark*

        You’re absolutely right – it also happens to new mothers (or new parents who contribute significantly to the parenting regardless of gender), people dealing with a new acquired disability, and those with new outside stressors like suddenly becoming a full time carer for their parent on top of their other responsibilities. The tie-in is a decline in performance, even if the performance was always within acceptable metrics for other employees.

    8. Justin*

      Racking up small mistakes and almost losing my job despite my full effort is how I actually went and got evaluated for ADHD at 35.

      Now, I maintain my energy because I’m just at a much more supportive workplace (I take meds but for mood, have not been prescribed stimulants).

      So, yes, you’re totally right.

    9. Also-ADHD*

      I haven’t really experienced that. Most trouble I’ve had has either been at the start or I just bore out and move on, but I’ve been in jobs where I’d be allowed to do less (one where I was even asked to do less by my boss and she’d stop giving me new projects after I’d hit a certain point each quarter). But it’s project based work I do which keeps that new job energy flowing now, and I couldn’t keep a very rote job well early career (even at first). I can do rote tasks if they’re not the bulk of my job, but I get bored easily certainly. I have hit points where the ROI for doing more was nonexistent (teaching/education especially when I was in K12, but also in almost every corporate job) and if there was no growth or bonus potential, I moved on to something new. I am very careful to examine ROI on my interviews though because I know what motivates me.

    10. I Have RBF*

      Urk. Yeah, I have to always find new and interesting things on top of the same ol’ same ol’ that I have down to a fine routine, or even automated into trivial push button stuff. That’s why I tend to do better in jobs that require problem solving.

    11. Orv*

      If I’m having a week where I’m hyperfocused at work I’ll deliberately delay turning things in, because I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations about my future performance.

      1. Hermione Danger*

        Yes. This. I know how long things are supposed to take. If I am having a great day and get it done in half the time, I am still billing for the full time minus a little because I do not want my employer to expect that higher turnaround every time. I know from experience they will, and it’s a short road to burnout cliff from there.

    12. Orv*

      This is why I sandbag by delaying turning things in if it’s a week where I’m hyperfocused. I don’t want to create an unrealistic impression of what I’m capable of. (Sorry if this is a double post, the site glitched on me.)

  6. Kstruggles (Canada)*

    The majority of. Y jobs have been in retail. And that pointed out that exceptional often means disregarding your rights and mental health. By requiring 16 hour of work to be done in 8 or purposefully understaffed shifts (unpaid hours. Had multiple managers expect me to work without pay). Or not altering expectations based on the actual situation (like if I’m stuck on till for 5 hours, because of an infux of 1000 people housed temporarily near by, I can’t do the normal amount of work).

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, does “merely OK” mean not having 100 pieces of flair and no life outside work?

  7. Oregon Girl*

    LW 2. It doesn’t sound like your boundaries were clear. In your head your boundaries shifted with your job change, but that obviously wasn’t clear to your “friend”. I am a high masking autistic woman, but the subtext you are describing would have gone straight over my head. They way you describe her isn’t very nice. Maybe she is just a boundary pushing jerk, but as a new manager you might be open to other reasons for her behavior. Being clear and specific and direct works for everyone. It seems you might need to work on those skills. It seems one of your employees doesn’t pick up on subtext very well.

    1. Thegreatprevaricator*

      Yes it made me smile that boundaries were mentioned. I am not autistic but I didn’t see a boundary by the letter writer. You can’t hint a boundary, it needs to be clear. A good opportunity for practice!

    2. Artemesia*

      A manager needs to SAY IT not hint at it. The first time a ‘girls night out’ was brought up, the OP needs to have said ‘We can’t do that anymore because as your manager that is inappropriate.’ This inability to say this, probably reflects other issues with your management so you may need to get some management training or mentoring — managing is hard and often people are pushed into it because they are good workers. Good work doesn’t mean good manager as that is a whole new set of skills.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, OP, I get the feeling you’re still trying to preserve the friendship as much as possible – and unfortunately, the point is that being the boss has to come first. It’s okay to just say that when Ann says “you’re no fun any more.”

        1. ferrina*


          I can’t think of a single supervisory role where I was accused of being “fun”. Kind? Sure. Advocating for my people? Absolutely. In the trenches during crunch time? You bet. But fun?? I think this happened once, and I was utterly confused by it.

          The boss can be friendly, but can’t be friends. There’s too much room for bias, drama, and plain-old bad optics. OP needs to be clear that the friendship is on pause indefinitely as long as OP is Ann’s boss (and be clear about that to Ann! Say those words- “I need to put our friendship on pause while I am your boss”)

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Also, saying “you’re no fun anymore” is not an appropriate thing to say to a manager, so while on the one hand, Ann clearly doesn’t get it, on the other, she opened the door right there for the manager to make it crystal clear.

          That said, OP said Ann was not great with boundaries before the promotion happened. So I suspect some of this might be not necessarily trying to preserve the friendship, but sort of bad habits leftover from the friendship. In other words, if LW has spent a long time thinking “gaaaah why does Ann not understanding she’s making it weird”, it may be hard to step back and think “oh, I’m the manager now, it’s literally my job to spell it out”. Whereas before when they were peers/friends, it wasn’t necessarily LW’s place to do it, and the choice to involves willingly taking on awkward, which a friend/peer can totally opt out of. But a manager can’t.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Definintely state it clearly. Hinting oh I can’t because of family and work leaves the impression that a future date might work. That’s why she keeps asking. OP you really need to tell this person that as a manager hanging out is not happening anymore. It would actually be kinder to tell her than just keep putting her off. Also better management.

    3. Distracted Procrastinator*

      Hinting also is how people pull back from a relationship when the other person is the problem. The hints instead of being direct can make the friend feel like the distance is a “Friend” thing that can be fixed instead of a “work” thing. She may be trying harder because she thinks if she were a better friend, your relationship could go back the way it was.

      It’s actually cruel to not be open and let her know this is a decision based on current roles and not something she did.

    4. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, it often surprises me that people think they’re saying “no, I’m not interested” when the words actually being spoken are “maybe next time.” Erring on the side of being too polite only extends the problem for both parties.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        This. LW is saying yes and waiting for Ann to guess that she really means “no, and please stop asking.”

        “Maybe next time” in no way means “I can no longer do this.” While yes, it would be nice if Ann had made the leap, she hasn’t, and LW now needs to say the thing. The thing, of course, being that indeed, she is no fun anymore, because the change in her position means it is no longer appropriate for them to be socializing one-on-one outside of work.

    5. Emily Byrd Starr*

      I’m also Neurodivergent, and I can not emphasize enough how important it is to always be clear and direct, especially when communicating boundaries. There are many of us who only understand the words that are said, not the words that are implied. If someone isn’t responding to your subtle hints, always assume that they are not ignoring you on purpose, but that they don’t understand your hints. Neurotypicals don’t pretend not to understand you so that you’ll have to be direct, and then snap at you for being “too” direct (or if they do, then they are a-holes).

  8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (sick time) – I think it’s the finance manager who screwed up. They initially told you (do you have it in writing?) that you could pay back the negative balance over time by taking this year’s sick days unpaid when otherwise you would be accruing more PTO. Now ‘management’ has asked for it to be paid back (did they find out that finance has advised OP wrongly?)

    Can you suggest a compromise where you pay back half of it, and the other half is earned back via accrual?

    1. Ariaflame*

      Though likely at that point they weren’t expecting the person to get sick so much next year. If they hadn’t it probably would have been fine. But it should have been flagged when they started getting sick.
      Not sure what the good answer would have been though.

    2. Tess of the D'Atabases*

      My company lets you borrow sick time. it’s capped at 40 hrs though, so they can take your final paycheck to get it back. We accrue PTO weekly, not as a gift of X time on January 1, so it’s easier to manage. I think LW’s company needs to get a handle on their policy, not throw their employee into undue hardship.

      1. Bast*

        Completely agree. This was a management failure, not so much an employee failure. I’m not exactly sure what the employee is supposed to do in this situation — just suck it up and come in? No one gets sick for fun. That aside, employee having to pay back all of the (overwhelming, at this point) time should have been made clear from the get go.

        I’ve worked for companies that give 0 PTO your first year, but will let you “borrow” up to a week from the next year’s PTO. As much as I hate the policy and found it unrealistic that no one would ever get sick/have an emergency/etc for a full year, and thus have to cut into their already paltry allowance for the next year, it was always made abundantly clear that you would be expected to pay back that time if you left before hitting your 1 year anniversary.

    3. lilsheba*

      Only in the US does this kind of bs even happen. If anyone gets sick at all it’s immediate no support and no money for you! I really wish people could be supported in this country.

      1. JustaTech*

        Honestly I’m kind of surprised that no one at OP’s company suggested that they take Short Term Disability when they were sick for a month.
        I had a coworker who got very, very sick (pneumonia) and was out for like a month or 6 weeks and HR directed her to take short term disability when it was clear she wouldn’t be back after a week.

        1. Jessastory*

          yeah, I’d be asking about thaat- if some of the time off should have been under FMLA / short term disability, is it possible that LW3 maybe only needs to pay back part of their sick leave?
          Also, if LW3 is part of a union, now would be a good time to talk to their rep.

        2. Salomé*

          I came here looking for this comment! Be real with yourself, letter writer — if your health is still on the fritz, filing for short-term disability may be the way to go.

    4. Ess Ess*

      Based on the numbers… OP said they accrue 10 days per year. That equals 80 hours. They used up the entire year, and then dipped into next year’s future accrual with the agreement to make it up with next year’s accruals. But now that it is the next year, OP already owes them almost their entire accrual (71.5 hours) for the new year so there’s no way they will be able to “pay it back” with accruals in the second year either because of so much sick leave used again. I can understand why the company is now saying to pay it back because OP has already proven they won’t be able to “pay it back” using this year’s accruals. The company doesn’t want to keep pushing this deficit into multiple years.

  9. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #3 Ten days PTO is ridiculous, nowhere near enough to cover the quite normal life events that happened to the OP.
    It even sounds like this may include sick days?

    Management/HR should always warn in advance if an employee is about to go into the red and offer the choice of unpaid time. They should agree to a long repayment period, since they failed in their duty – noone should be allowed to unknowingly get into debt.

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      I mean, a lack of taking a proper break from work won’t be helping the employee’s health that’s for sure.
      Only 10 days is crazy.

    2. Former school worker*

      It sounds like OP works for a school. In my experience, 10 PTO days is pretty standard for schools, because they assume you can handle routine appointments and take vacations during the summer or on winter or spring break. When I worked for my local school system, we got 5 PTO days and 8 sick days per year, and everyone talked all the time about how unusually generous this was for a school system.

      1. ?*

        Yes, I’ve always gotten 10 days working in schools. Keep in mind that most school workers are working 10 months of the year, in addition to multiple week long breaks and long weekends built into the school year. It can be a little annoying having to plan things around the break schedule, but it’s a lot of time off overall. Our administrators who work year-round get additional vacation time.

        1. Lyn*

          I had 10 days pto until 3 years ago, when I hit 10 years. 5 days pto until 5 years. Everything included. I don’t work in a school setting, and my understanding is that this is pretty normal here in the United States. It also really sucks. I now have 15 days, and it still really sucks, and I end up losing a fair amount of income. I’m fairly low-income already, and I’d guess the op is too.

            1. Laser99*

              I’ve never had a job with PTO. In my world if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, full stop.

      2. M2*

        Usually school employees can bank that time.

        My child was in a classroom with an aide and teacher one had taught 20+ years the other 15 years and the last 2 months of school they both took every Friday and Monday off as “sick leave.”

        A parent asked because the sub they brought in was awful. They both accrued those sick days for all those years and wanted to use them, but it did kind of mess with the very young elementary kids at the end of the year.

        I believe our state also pays it out when you retire. I read some story about how our state will owe billions in paid out sick leave…

      3. Natalie*

        Yes, that’s always been the trade off as a teacher.
        Lots of time off, but no real flexibility around when you get it!

      4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Meh. My husband had 10 days PTO (combined vacation and sick) per year until he hit his 5 year anniversary, now he’s up to 15, and he does not work in a school.

      5. Anonymoose*

        What made it sound like he works for a school? The fact that there’s a finance manager sounds less like a school and more like a corporation to me

        1. GythaOgden*

          >and then I was sick repeatedly, and at the end of the school year, I had negative PTO hours, and our finance manager told me it would roll over to this year, and I could earn it back.

          Probably this quote.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            The being sick a lot + being a (new to the workforce) teacher tracks. Elementary schools are GERM FACTORIES.

      6. EA*

        Yes, agree that if LW is a teacher that should be factored into the answer. Teaching has the major tradeoff of getting the summers and additional vacations (Christmas break, spring break), but it is coverage based, strictly in person, and the school has to pay a sub if the teacher is out. It’s really not the same as an office job.

    3. Rachel*

      The LW has to:

      (1) deal with the PTO they have, not the PTO they want or

      (2) find a new job

    4. Sloanicota*

      I want to be honest that no job I’ve ever had would cover a whole month’s sick leave. You’d have to go on short term disability or something for that, I think.

      1. Lomster*

        Yes, we have 22 vacation/sick days and WFH flexibility. A month of sick time would obviously use almost all of that if you were literally too sick to work even at home. A month of sick time all at once would require short-term disability.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        that’s kind of what I was thinking. I don’t know official policy off the top of my head, but as a manager, if someone is going on two weeks sick leave and still needing longer, I would be directing them to the FMLA team to check their options for medical leave and/or our STD program. (Which, fortunately, is available to everyone in our org at no cost for the base program now, instead of being opt-in.)

      3. RussianInTexas*

        At my previous job, with very generous PTO (25 vacation days + 8 sick days), the police was you HAD to go on the short term disability if you are sick for longer than 5 consequitive days.

    5. Suzie the Doozie*

      I’m not sore if OP is in the US – but wouldn’t they be entitled to short term disability for being sick and running out of PTO? Can you look into this, OP?

      1. doreen*

        Not necessarily – there are only five or so states that require employers to provide disability coverage. And even those don’t necessarily cover every employer/employee – for example, NYS excludes teachers who work for a non-profit religious or educational organization.

        1. GythaOgden*

          It’s not standard over here, even when statutory sick pay is so dismal. I’m lucky to have a really good package of ordinary paid leave, but even in systems with better standards, there are shortcomings.

  10. Adam*

    LW1, at least in my industry (software engineering), this isn’t unusual. Many places both have quality expectations — where it’s not enough to produce work, the work has to be very good — and growth expectations — a junior engineer is expected to advance to senior engineer in a reasonable amount of time and can’t just produce junior-level work forever. There are a bunch of functions of this, but a key one is a recruiting one. Great engineers want to work surrounded by other great engineers, not good-enough engineers, and so they look for places where good-enough engineers get let go.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Those expectations need to be set out in the ad and the interview.
      Their “OK” is what is regarded elsewhere within the field as “exceptional”

      And of course, such an employer should provide absolutely topnotch salaries and PTO, premium rates much higher than the normal market level.

      1. Claire*

        LW1 I guess it would come down to whether they’re confident they could replace the OK worker with someone better. In journalism I bet there’s loads of people applying for any reporter job and it’s pretty easy to see if their work is any good. In nursing there’s not so many applicants and it’s harder to tell if they’ll be great or terrible.

      2. Adam*

        They definitely make it known that this is their expectations, it doesn’t work as a recruiting tool otherwise. And these companies do pay at the top of their market (otherwise the excellent people would go work somewhere else). At least in software, it’s not unheard of for top tier engineers to have total comp in the 7 figures.

      3. bamcheeks*

        I think this is the thing– this is the culture in some high-salary, high-performing industries and companies, and that’s one thing. But then it gets turned into a Moral Good and something that should be emulated in all industries and organisations, with no reward and incentive structure, just a punishment and threat of joblessness if you *don’t*.

        Someone on a seven-figure salary working 70 hours a week can make a positive decision whether that works for them and have other good options if they decide it doesn’t: holding someone on minimum or near-minimum, or even a median wage to the “always striving to go above and beyond” standard under the threat of destitution is immoral.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          Yeah, the usual rule applies: Of the choices Cheap/Fast/Excellent, you only ever get to choose two. Although a subset of people constantly tries to get around that problem via threats (note that the lacking social safety net in the US also counts as a threat – because losing your health care and potentially your home IS a threat).

          By the way, it occurred to me that scammers put people into stressful situations and push for fast on-the-spot decisions to prevent them from thinking clearly about the situation.
          Employers who expect employees to be constantly available and barely ever take time off are essentially using the same tactics. Sometimes the job does require it – those jobs are the ones that pay handsomely – but a most of the time the reason is that exploited overworked people don’t push back as much.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. There’s moments when Hetty on Ghosts is spouting her Gilded Age-isms that I think how modern bosses use jargon to say the same things.

          2. bamcheeks*

            Right– I think a lot of this is designed-in anxiety, which isn’t actually about high-performance but about maintaining the employer’s power over workers.

            1. Bird names*

              For sure. Someone linked to Issendai and her writing about “sick systems” here recently.
              When the broader culture is so incredibly punitive, as you stated, it is rather easy for a workplace to put the last building blocks into place. Hence me finding it a bit difficult to approach this discussion without that context.

      4. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        The idea that a junior engineer is expected to advance to senior engineer in a reasonable amount of time and can’t produce junior-level work forever isn’t regarded as “exceptional” in the field; that’s normal. It does need to be communicated! And I’ve seen managers fail at that and people get blindsided by firing. But it’s a very standard expectation in the industry of software engineering.

        The up-or-out attitude basically comes down to: software engineering is, by definition, solving novel problems that no one you work with has solved before. If you have the cognitive abilities to do that, then given enough time, you will have solved a bunch of novel problems and you will thereby have accrued enough knowledge and proficiency to be a mid-level engineer. If you don’t have the cognitive abilities to do that, and someone has to solve your problems for you forever, then 99% of your job is being done by someone else, at which point there’s no reason to pay you a software engineer salary.

        Being a successful junior engineer is a very narrow window of time in which we assume you have the skills to learn to solve new problems and you only temporarily need an unsustainable amount of hand-holding in order to ramp up and become independent. You’re an investment. If the investment doesn’t pay off and you don’t start independently solving novel problems of increasing complexity, you’re not doing software engineering. I’ve compared it to being on scholarship: you need to graduate.

        So what’s “okay” work in your first year or two in the job–showing up, doing what you’re told, needing a lot of help–will be inadequate after that first year or two. And during that window, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re on the path to becoming independent, or a good manager will decide that the job isn’t a good fit for you.

        The amount of self-teaching, innovation, and independence expected are part of why software engineer salaries are higher than a lot of fields for a comparable amount of education. You can have no CS degree, just a couple personal programming projects, and command a higher starting salary in an entry-level software engineering position than you can with a PhD in some other fields (ask me how I know).

        1. Magpie*

          I often compare those junior engineer years to a medical residency. Junior engineers are not terribly productive for the company, they’re mostly there to learn how to be engineers. The company is investing that time and money in the hopes they have end up with a great engineer who they’ve trained from the ground up. In a medical residency program, the expectation is after your 4-6 years there, you’ve learned how to be a doctor and can move on to an independent role, but you definitely can’t continue to be a medical resident forever and probably need to consider a different career path if you’re not ready to move on at the end of your residency. Similarly, if junior engineers are not ready for a more senior role after a year or two, they’re probably not cut out for software engineering.

        2. Justin D*

          Also it depends on the workplace. A household name app known for fast innovation will have that expectation more than maybe a school district or government agency. Or a large company that doesn’t specialize in software at all, or one that produces a much less “sexy” product.

          1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

            Fair. I’m thinking mostly of places where the software is the product (but none of the ones I was thinking of are household names or especially known for fast innovation).

      5. JustaTech*

        All of that is well known in Big Tech, where everyone who works at Google and Meta and Amazon and Apple and even (to a lesser extent) Microsoft knows that if you’re not exceeding expectations (that are very clearly laid out) at least every couple of review cycles then you’re at risk of being managed out. (In general people are given leeway for their first review cycle after being hired, and any review cycle where they were on extended leave.)

        So also yes on pay, PTO, stock, benefits, etc.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Amazon also has annual stack ranking and does a reorg every year after review time. They expect always increasing levels of effort, and anybody who is not a good political player will end up with a layoff during an annual reorg if they don’t get in to a good project. Part of their retention is based on your manager’s political pull and what products you work on.

    2. Magpie*

      I’m also a software engineer and have seen this happen. A junior engineer on my team was great as a junior engineer but, two years later, had not progressed beyond junior level despite a lot of coaching from the seniors. He was put on a PIP and eventually let go. We also had a couple rounds of layoffs last year and all of the engineers cut were in the “good but not great” category.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I said above that I think layoffs and reorgs are the way companies prefer to cut the good-but-not-great employees sometimes. I’ve certainly heard a boss say this. Some articles about the recent tech contraction claimed some places had deliberately over-hired at one point and were using the wave of tech layoffs in the news as an opportunity to correct.

      2. DyneinWalking*

        Keeping only the best workers during layoffs makes perfect sense (well, unless it’s a position where the job being done is way more important than it being done by a rockstar).
        I’d be confused to be fired for ‘ok’ work but not at all surprised to be laid off for this reason.

        1. Clisby*

          “where the job being done is way more important than it being done by a rockstar” – Yes.

          I retired after working 27 years in a software job. By the time I left, I had plenty of co-workers who were good but not rockstars. This company still had legacy systems extremely important to their bottom line, and it will likely not surprise you that rockstars eager to take jobs programming in assembly language for an IBM mainframe are not exactly lining up 10 deep to apply.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, I’ve found that trying to hire ninja rockstars to maintain legacy code doesn’t work well. For maintenance work, fixing minor bugs and updating incremental features average but solid people are exactly what you need. They won’t want to completely rewrite it in the hot language du jour as a resume building thing like high flying rockstars are won’t to do. (I have spent waaaay to much time playing janitor after the rockstars are done mucking around with the fancy “innovative” shit.

    3. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

      This sounds like the military up or out promotion process. If an officer doesn’t get promoted within a certain amount of time, they are discharged from service. Could be a good officer, but if there are more captains up for major, they don’t make the cut.

    4. Justin D*

      So the growth expectations are a little different from performance, it’s reasonable to expect someone to take on more challenging work and move from junior to senior or whatever as they work there longer. Even without changing titles I’ve taken on a wider variety of work tasks with higher levels of difficulty. It’s not enough to move up but I have grown.

      And expecting high quality work can definitely be your “average.”

      But once you’re growing grow and doing high quality work, are you ALSO expected to go above and beyond all the time and continue growing forever? Is everyone expected to be a star? Or can you settle into a sort of being sort of a “lunchpail” player who consistently works hard and hits metrics without always making a big splash? I think that’s what people mean when they say they want to be “average.”

  11. ffinlo*

    #3 (pay back the PTO hours we let you accumulate) works for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were they in the UK…

  12. Irish Teacher.*

    LW1, as you can see from my username, I’m in a different culture and public service but how it would would work in my role is that you wouldn’t be fired for that and couldn’t be once you had CID (basically a permanent contract), but you have to reinterview before getting CID and the position has to be readvertised, so it’s highly likely you wouldn’t be re-employed at that stage.

    LW4, I sort of disagree with Alison here in that I don’t think speaking up would help. I think that would lead to it continuing as he appears to be trying to upset you and that would tell him it worked. He already knew you didn’t want him to touch you and I’m guessing he did it for one of two reasons, either because he’s a bully and enjoyed showing you that he can ignore your boundaries and force you to do something that upsets you or because he’s well, a different kind of bully and thinks he knows what’s best for you and that you are wrong not to like hugs and the more you protest, the more you “need” them.

    I know this isn’t really much help, but people like that tend not to listen to reason.

    What I think mightbwork is to speak to the other people as they probably didn’t realise you were genuinely unhappy with it. If some or all of them are reasonable people, you could let them know you were really uncomfortable being hugged like that and he might get some pushback if he tried it again and it mightn’t be so much fun for him if he didn’t have a group backing him up and laughing along with him.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      For LW1, I am assuming that “just OK” means “doesn’t do anything wrong but isn’t at the level you would really want the person to be at,” such as the teacher who presents the information accurately and so that it can be understood and has good discipline, but shows no real enthusiasm for their subject, does nothing to support the students who are struggling or deal with the underlying causes if a student is acting out.

      If it’s more the equivalent of the teacher who does a great job in the classroom but just doesn’t organisate any extra-curricular activities or take part in any committees or school initiatives, then they probably would be rehired, unless somebody particularly impressive applied. At that level, they just wouldn’t be likely to get any promotions, but most teachers who do that wouldn’t want the roles that you get promoted into anyway – they are usually people who just want to teach and prefer to avoid the politics.

  13. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Letter 4 (handsy boss):

    I can’t help but think that he was deliberately crossing a boundary in the very first interaction. His overreaction, “Oh yOu DoN’t LiKe tO bE tOuChEd lolololol” suggests he was indeed trying to touch her.

    I think most people who interact normally with coworkers wouldn’t have even considered LW moving over to have anything to do with anything but the monitor. I think most people who interact normally with coworkers would have, at most, noticed her shift across, acknowledged it, and forgotten within three seconds.

    1. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

      +1 to this. Someone with power over you making fun of you for having a boundary is a major red flag by itself, but recruiting everybody else in the office to gang up on you and ritually embarrass you for having a boundary should set off several gothic cathedrals’ worth of alarm bells. Sure, he might really have just been joking, but “just joking” is exactly the kind of cover story an abusive person would use.

      Alison’s advice is good. I would add that you should keep your distance from anybody who does @#$% like that.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, that guy is waving enough red flags to be a Chinese military parade. If he is a major power in the company I would consider the incident to be a resume generating event (RGE = time to generate your new resume and start looking for a new position.)

        While it may not be a “quit in cod” level incident, I would strongly recommend finding a new position that doesn’t have people who “joke” like sexist bullies.

  14. Irish Teacher.*

    LW5, I don’t see that you have anything at all to lose by going to the interview and you could potentially have a fair bit to lose by cancelling it. For one thing, Marcia could be wrong (or just have misheard “I’m really impressed by this external candidate” as “I’m going to employ this external candidate” when Jan may have meant “I want to see if she is better than our internal candidates and if so, I will hire her, but it’s far from certain”) or worst case scenario, could be lying, if she were going for the job too and saw you as a threat. Or even if she is right, Jan might change her mind if you do a really good interview. We had a letter here a few days ago from somebody who was told the job was 90% hers, then didn’t get it and was told it was because she hadn’t performed as well as expected in the interview. The same thing could happen here.

    And even if Marcia is right and Jan is 100% decided (which honestly seems less likely than that she is just leaning towards that candidate), you still have the opportunity to impress Jan and perhaps make her consider you the next time a promotion comes up, whereas cancelling the interview might make her think, “well, LW isn’t that interested in promotion. No point in offering her interviews in the future. She’ll probably pull out again.”

    I really don’t see any reason for pulling out. Worst case scenario, you get some practice at interviewing and a chance to impress somebody with hiring power. Best case scenario, you get the job despite Marcia’s opinions.

    1. Antilles*

      I agree. There’s just so many ways the “external candidate” could not work out in the way Marcia is presenting it.

      Maybe Marcia is misinterpreting what Jan actually said. Maybe Marcia is reporting it accurately, but Jan is way ahead of herself and the reality during the interview doesn’t live up to the stellar resume. Maybe HR’s background/reference checks find something that give you pause. Maybe the external candidate withdraws for her own personal reasons. Maybe the external candidate’s salary expectation doesn’t match up with what you have available.

      There’s enough possible scenarios where it works out that it’s worth at least trying and seeing where it goes.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Recruiter here – totally agreeing. There are so many factors that go into hiring someone. It’s never over until it is over, basically.

      Jan might have misunderstood Marcia. The candidate could take another role or not pass a reference / background check or be too expensive. The list goes on and on.

      Go and do the interview – and put your best foot forward.

      (Also, anecdote – I got my first permanent role despite the hiring manager having already decided who he was going to hire. For whatever reason, he decided I was the better candidate, despite thinking that he had found the right person.)

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, I can easily imagine a situation where Jan said something like “oh, this candidate looks excellent” or “I’ve received a resume from somebody with (really hard to obtain qualification)” and Marcia thought, “well, that’s that job gone, so. The rest of the candidates may as well give up,” but Jan may have simply been making a throwaway comment.

        To be honest, that seems more likely to me than that Jan, assuming she is a good manager, would tell Marcia who was getting the job before the interviews even took place. Even if she had already made her mind up, it wouldn’t really be a great idea to tell people about it before the interviews had even taken place..

    3. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

      There is also the possibility that Marcia is sabotaging the OP because she feels threatened by the OP’s competence or Marcia prefers the external candidate.

    4. Bess*

      Yeah, and just to say, it can be hard to compete with an internal candidate’s prior experience and knowledge, but it can be done and people who want to make the best hire (as opposed to preserving a prior relationship) will at least entertain it if you bring something really different and great to the table. It can be especially true if the internal candidate is too comfortable and considers it a sure thing.

  15. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #4: This is a nightmare!

    My workplace has learned that touching me can be dangerous. I tend to flail around when I’m startled and my boss once greeted my by heartily clapping me on the shoulder while I was very focussed on something. Ended up elbowing in the stomach in my flailling…

    1. Elsewise*

      Shoutout to my old coworker, who snuck up behind me and grabbed the back of my neck “as a joke”. When “fight or flight” kicked in on the “fight” side, I accidentally smacked him in the face before I even processed what was happening. He announced in a very affronted manner that “I guess I just won’t touch you anymore”.

      Thank you, random guy, that was what I was after!

    2. JustaTech*

      Thankfully my old boss and I both have very strong startle reflexes, so he would never try to startle me, because when I would shriek then he would shriek and then everyone else on the floor would stick their heads out of their offices to check on us.

      Anyone who complains about you not wanting to be touched at work is weird.

    3. I Have RBF*

      I nearly folded one boss over my elbow when he came up behind me and touched me when I was deeply focused on what I was doing. My startle reflex can be painful for others who don’t consider such things.

  16. Yup*

    LW#4: That is sexual harassment and you have the right not to be touched inappropriately at work—even with his workaround of a group hug. I would speak to HR about it; no way this is his first offense.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      From the LW: “This guy was the owner, the practice manager was pretty much never there, and there was no HR.”

      1. I Have RBF*

        IMO, that is a real good reason to start looking for a new job. That kind of shit is just not okay.

  17. Six Feldspar*

    The “okay” job question is a pickle because we’ve got plenty of stories on this site about:
    1. People who have to pick up their coworker’s slack
    2. People who agree or are compelled to take on more work than their job descriptions, without a pay rise
    3. Job descriptions that don’t match the actual work
    4. Companies that understaff or expect too much from their staff given the job demands/pay rates/etc

    Which one applies depends on your situation and pov, but I think there’s a difference between a person who does okay work but is reliable and has a lot of institutional knowledge/experience vs someone who is stagnating.

    1. Six Feldspar*

      As soon as I sent the comment I realised what this reminds me of – sounds a lot like the classic fast/cheap/good argument!

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah there’s also a difference between someone who is doing exactly their job and nothing more as a choice and say, someone hired into an entry level job with zero experience, a job most people outgrow in 1-2 years, but has been in it for 5 years and is still only capable of doing exactly that job. Not talking someone happy to stay where they are, but rather someone who seems to be unable to do more with 5 years of experience than they could with 6 months. Like, it’s OK for the scale to change when you’re judging someone “new at this” vs someone very much not new.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Some people with 20 years of experience are senior, because the 20 years all build on the previous. Then there are those people who do the first two years over and over ten times. Yes, there are some people who will never be more than junior because they can’t learn enough from experience.

        1. Paint N Drip*

          I’m actually terrified of my career being the latter example there :/ better get moving!!

  18. Future*

    Re LW1, I just get so frustrated with this mindset. If ok isn’t good enough, then it isn’t ok, is it? If you want people to wear 37 pieces of flair, make the minimum 37 pieces of flair. People shouldn’t have to constantly be second guessing if they are genuinely good enough at their jobs when the requirements aren’t clear.

    1. This one time I agree*

      Exactly this.
      If you are paid to do a job and are meeting the provided expectations/objectives then that should be enough. It’s not fair to hold people to uncommunicated standards.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I like your Office Space reference (LOVE that movie, we used to quote it a lot at my job when things were dysfunctional)!!

      I have a manager who is a pretty high achiever, but is accepting of people being just good at their job. He often says, if the company expectation is that you show up, do your work, and meet deadlines, then that’s a great employee, because that’s the expectations of the role. He would love to have all high performing employees that go above and beyond their basic job functions, but he knows that’s not reality and not a way most people can work. He knows I juggle my job, 3 kids, and helping my elderly parents. He knows someone else is battling the effects from years of cancer treatments that they will have to live with the rest of their life, so some days are a struggle for them. Basically, he knows people have a life outside of work, but for those who come to work and do their job, he thinks that’s great and those employees deserve to be treated well for doing what is expected of them.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      Agreed! It’s unfair (and unethical really) to tell someone that the standard/requirement is X but in your head secretly want X+10, and then get mad at the person for “only” hitting X. If you want/need X+10, you need to say that!

      In my experience someone who wants X+10 knows they aren’t allowed to ask for that, but it will make them look super good to the higher ups so they’re going to squeeze that out of their employee or make them so miserable they leave and replace them with someone new who won’t know the ask is unreasonable.

      1. JustaTech*

        Ah, I see you’ve met my VP, who keeps intermittently banging on about “why isn’t everyone still here at 5:30?” (because they were here at 6:30) and that “just doing your job isn’t enough”.

        If “doing my job” isn’t doing my job then you need to be a whole heck of a lot more clear about what my job *is*.

    4. Cat Executive Officer*

      This is where I stand. Not everyone can be a “rockstar”. Most of us are Average Joes/Janes and we deserve a living, too. And if your company does want to exclusively hire rockstars, you better pay a rockstar salary and provide rockstar benefits.

      1. House On The Rock*

        When I moved into management 6+ years ago, I realized that there is something to be said for the non-rockstar employee who wants to do their work and solidly meet expectations while not be consumed by their job. Having a team full of rockstars sounds good, but too many high strung, high achievers can also be a drama bomb waiting to happen (or always happening). Our HR rep even coaches managers that they need to be at peace with people who can’t or won’t go above and beyond. And I like being able to save the “exceeds expectations” ratings for people who really do differentiate themselves, it makes managing so much easier!

          1. House On The Rock*

            Full transparency, I work for the hospital system of a large, public university (in a non-clinical, IT-ish group). Meaning our salaries are not at the level where we can realistically ask everyone to “exceed” and we kind of self-select for the Good Enough For Government Work types (or the Burned Out From Corporate Hellscape types – that’s me). Still, there’s a lot of evidence that having a blend of different levels of achievers is good for the team dynamics. When everyone is jockeying to be the Most Best Rockstar, it’s sometimes hard to get the less glamorous work done.

            1. JustaTech*

              Or, to continue the metaphor – even rock stars need a band and backup singers. Not everyone can be a soloist, but the concert still needs a choir.
              (Says a person who was always in the chorus/choir, and never a soloist.)

              1. Freya*

                And roadies, who make sure the stage is set up every time and the necessary gear gets to every venue!

    5. Devious Planner*

      I think this just depends on the industry. If you need 100 reports filled out a week, and your employee fills out 100 reports a week, great. It’s not above and beyond, but the employee is meeting expectations and shouldn’t be reprimanded for that!

      If you run a math tutoring company, and your employee is just fine, you might have more of a problem. A parent might not want to pay $80 an hour for a tutor who is “just ok.” Or they might keep paying but won’t recommend your business to a friend.

      Maybe this is just boils down to the fact that for some jobs, “meeting expectations” includes more soft skills and enthusiasm than for others.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes to this. If someone is incapable (or unwilling) to do the required parts of the job, they’re not “OK but not great.” They’re not meeting the job requirements and it’s up to management to make that clear.

      I actually liked having some “Just OK” people as direct reports or as coworkers, because they didn’t bring any drama. Yeah, they didn’t go above and beyond, but they could do the day-to-day work adequately and they were a reminder that “Hey, it’s just a job” which is a good perspective to have.

  19. S*

    LW1, this happened to me. At my last annual review, my boss told me I was a fine “x” but not at the level she needed her team to be. She wasn’t firing me but needed me to apply elsewhere. She was right—I am a better “x” than many but I was the lowest performer on her team.
    I suppose it was a mercy firing. I do have a new job now in a different field, but it was incredibly painful and I’m still recovering. I wanted to be good at my old job.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Your old job wasn’t a good fit for you either. Maybe you *couldn’t* be good at it while remaining true to who you are.

      Sports analogies suck, but would anyone remember Babe Ruth if he’d stayed a pitcher?

  20. Justin*

    Alison’s example of a trainer is apt. I work in that field and truly great adult education makes a huge difference.

  21. Madeleine Matilda*

    #3 – I’m assuming from the letter that OP works for a school where like many schools their leave consists of 10 days PTO plus summer, winter, and spring breaks. By my math OP was approximately 9 days in the hole with her negative PTO balance which is practically an entire school year’s worth of PTO. I’m curious how OP thought they would “earn it back” while they were still calling out and increasing their negative leave balance? To earn it back in a timely manner would have meant they used no PTO for an entire school year which seems unlikely.

    The school administration made a mistake in allowing her to use advanced sick leave of more than a day or two and not raising the issue of earning it back/repaying it when she had fewer hours of advanced leave. OP made a mistake by not asking more questions when they first requested advanced leave and by not considering how they would earn back all of that advanced time.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Everywhere I’ve ever heard of that let you go to a negative balance it was always: with explicit approval to do so AND usually also required any more leave before the balance was earned back to be unpaid. So this really was a failure on management to communicate this much much sooner.
      Whatever balance they agreed to let them carry over and reaccrue? Fine. New illness in the new year when already in a negative balance? Unpaid. They control the rules. It’s on them to say what they are. And LW reached out and asked! And didn’t hear back. The response LW just got is what they should’ve heard when they reached out that first time this year (with the numbers changed to whatever they were at that time).
      It’s really bizarre no one from payroll/finance/whoever manages this didn’t notice and call it out right away that LW was trying to use PTO they didn’t actually have. Worse given LW had actually asked about it.I’m not saying the clawback is incorrect, but dang, someone else dropped the ball. The controls involved here seem to suck.

  22. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#5: Even if Marcia is correct, think of it this way: You’re interviewing for the next opening that manager has. Even if the manager has already decided on another candidate, if you show up professionally and competently and ace the interview, you’re probably going to be on the short list for the next opening on that team.

    1. Nathan*

      Yes, this.

      At my current company, there was a position that had come open a few times, and I was interested in, but hadn’t applied for as I thought I was too junior to be considered seriously. The next time it came open, I put in for the position, despite knowing that two people more qualified than me had also applied. As expected, they chose the two most qualified people for the position. However, I made a good impression on the management over that position. A few months later, a member of that team got an internal promotion, and they needed to expand the team due to workload, so they decided to offer the new positions to me and one other person who had applied for the previous opening, rather than running new interviews. Applying also raised my profile within the company, and helped me make it clear to management where I wanted to go as far as career advancement.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Absolutely! We’ve had many good-news-friday stories about someone who interviewed, didn’t get it, and then later the person reached out because they remembered how good their interview was and now had something else to offer them.

      Maybe it won’t be this job, but you might be throwing your hat in a different ring you don’t know about yet.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    The times I’ve seen people who were doing “okay” get let go was when someone new came into the team who was suddenly doing things at a much higher level and management realized that while okay had seemingly been good enough before, now there’s a higher standard that’s possible and the rest of the group had to level up

  24. six of one*

    #3, it sounds like your company is flexible about structuring a payment plan that works for you. You can make the impact fairly minimal per week if you want, or you can pay it off faster, whichever is best for you.

    I don’t understand why you are saying you’d have been ok taking the leave unpaid at the time, but you’re resistant to paying it back now… Doesn’t it work out the same? With unpaid leave, you’d have had a smaller paycheck THEN, and a full paycheck NOW — whereas the way it actually happened, you had a full paycheck *then*, and a smaller paycheck *now*. Six of one, half a dozen of the other…

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      Yes, and I think there is something else that is not coming across here that the LW should consider. (I am assuming the employer is in compliance with the requisite state laws.)

      Let’s say they wind up sick again and have to take 5 days off unpaid. What happens if that pushes them down below the threshold for full time benefits eligibility? What happens if it affects the threshold for some other kind of benefit like a tuition reimbursement etc. Now they may not accrue PTO, or they may need to pay more for their healthcare, or whatever. Or they might lose access to some amount of a retirement match, push out the eligibility for a vesting period, etc.

      What the company is explicitly doing is offering to maintain the employee’s full time status and future PTO accrual by offering a payment plan that will reduce the employee’s take-home pay on a predictable schedule (that they seem flexible about). They are preventing the employee from going further in the hole! The employee will continue to accrue PTO that can be used for future leave. They are creating a small, predictable payment amount instead of the employee winding up in an “oh no suddenly I am not paid for half of this pay period” kind of situation.

      The other thing I see is that the LW hasn’t indicated if they have a chronic condition for which they want to use FMLA status for a lengthy illness in the future (based on their statement about missing work for a month). If they go unpaid, and do so often, they may well over time chip away at their eligibility for FMLA protection or certain paid disability benefits.

    2. HonorBox*

      I think the difference lies in the amount that is being “paid” to take that unpaid time. If someone has to take a day or two unpaid, that’s one thing. Totally different if they’re being asked to come up with $2300 in one fell swoop. Much easier to budget around a day or two.

      1. doreen*

        But they aren’t being asked to come up with it in one fell swoop – “Of course, we can do some kind of payment plan or deduct from any future checks, just let me know what works best for you.” It’s about 72 hours , so it could be one unpaid day for the next nine pay periods. Maybe the payment plan will be unreasonable- but it isn’t necessarily.

  25. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Ah yes. The “your job is ABC, but if you don’t also XYZ with no notice or expectation of doing that, we’ll fire you.” Seems like moving the goalposts.

  26. Ridic*

    It used to be normal; I think it’s less so now. I’m pushing for a policy change on a Board I’m on because new hires still only get 5 days there. Shockingly, they’re having trouble with staffing. From what I see, five days is becoming an outlier.

    1. Sloanicota*

      To be fair, when I think about it, since my job accrues leave (and it doesn’t roll over) we do end up with about five days leave after the first six to eight months. The difference is of course we don’t only have five days by the end of the year and in the following years, but maybe your board will see that the accrual process does still prevent new employees from being able to be out a lot.

  27. Didi*

    OP #1: absolutely this can happen. Consulting firms encourage companies to cull “just ok” workers by creating rubrics such as: “Has been at the company X years. Has been in the same job for X years. Is not on a promotion track. Has not had “exceeded expectations” reviews at the job.” If the answer to all these is “yes” – watch out. Probably this person won’t be outright fired, but if there’s a layoff, or if work is being outsourced, this person will probably end up on the list to lose their job.

    Is this age discrimination? Probably. Does it devalue experience and dedicated? Absolutely. But it happens all the time.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This is so industry dependent to me (or should be, until the consultants show up). In plenty of fields having strong, experienced people in the middle, performing to expectations (not necessarily exceeding them!), and not needing a lot of hand-holding is what makes the world go round. Their longevity lets them make the widgets effectively and consistently according to schedule. I would take a team of ten of them in a heartbeat. In other places, I guess maybe if everyone is a white-collar account manager and could in theory be pulling in more business, maybe it makes sense to look critically in an “up or out” mindset.

      1. Kristin*

        my workplace is full of solid, long-term, meets-but-does-not-exceed expectations employees, and while it can be frustrating to work with people who don’t have a lot of ambition or initiative, there’s something to be said for institutional knowledge. Someone who’s been here for 30 or 40 years just knows all sorts of things which I would never even know I didn’t know, and has context for things that I find baffling. It’s shortsighted to chase people like this out of a company, unless they are in a role where excellence really is the expectation

      2. Hydrangea*

        Same. I hear too many companies brag about their “kaizen” culture now where people are expected to constantly be improving and exceptional – but where does it end? Why isn’t a solid, dependable performance enough? No wonder workers are so stressed and tired.

        It’s also demoralizing when the people who are praised as “going above and beyond” are actually just more social and visible, while their work product itself isn’t exceptional. I see that a lot – introverts getting overlooked while the social butterflies get praised as extraordinary performers. The managerial mindset often seems to be, “I don’t notice you much so you must just be okay, nothing special.”

    2. kiki*

      Consulting firms advise companies to do this because it’s how thing work at their firm– the major consulting firms definitely have an “up or out” culture. I think this makes sense for consulting as an industry, but it doesn’t make sense for all workplaces and industries. In a lot of workplaces, there is a huge benefit to having somebody on the team who has many years of tenure in their role and no desire to move up or take a leadership role.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. After seeing McKinsey consultants gleefully sing “Hit the Road, Jack!” about layoffs in John Oliver’s takedown of the consulting industry, their culture is downright sadistic.

        1. kiki*

          Yes! The culture is sadistic and it’s also designed in a way that really only works well for short-term projects. The issue is that most companies don’t work on a series of unrelated short term projects, they work on a few long-term issues that are inter-related.

          My partner used to work for a major consulting firm. They’d have projects with bonkers timelines. The timeline would be way too short to actually deliver what would have been valuable to the company they were advising, but the full length of project would be “too expensive.” So they’d take shortcuts and deliver something that looked well put-together, but actually had a lot of holes in research, numbers that were stretched, or work that was not maintainable in some way.

          This worked for the consulting firm– clients were pleased with what was delivered, the firm was paid the big bucks, and the firm moved on to the next project for a different client. But if you followed up on the results of that project a few years later, it probably wasn’t useful. The recommendations the consultants made may have been wrong. The staff may have advised layoffs that went too far and made operations take a hit. Or the recommendation may have been outright terrible (see McKinsey, Perdue, and the opioid crisis).

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “Up or out” is common in most industries that have a primarily billable business model, but it’s absolute hell for just about everyone else. Especially if your industry has reasons not to be that way (difficulty with recruiting, need for steady and consistent performance at a certain level, no budget to manage the huge costs incurred by constant turnover) this kind of advice from consultants can be the thing that sinks your ship.

      3. Fluffy Fish*

        Everything I have ever learned about consulting is either straight out toxic or an absolute nonsense way to operate.

        There is no dollar amount that would make me take a consulting job.

    3. Distractinator*

      “Up or out” is a very businessy phrase but even in my fairly technical industry it’s true. Not necessarily “up” meaning promited into management, but up through the learning structure and getting more done. We hire new grads based on expectations that they’ll grow from having some skills (a useful asset for helping others solve problems) into actively spreading those solutions and ideas around the team, and eventually into team lead capability working with the next batch of new grads. So if someone has been around for 5-10 years and continues to be a useful asset but is not growing into the role imagined, then what? Do they get fired? Do they get soft-fired with encouragement to find a different job? Do they just get such pitiful merit raises that they are paid the same as new hires, and they have to infer that they’re being encouraged to find a different job? Or are they doing ok at the job they were hired to do and why is management complaining? It’s an interesting question of whether you’re hiring someone to do this year’s job or a decade-long career.

  28. Jam Today*

    LW4 I don’t have any advice for you here other than “leave” because that’s what I eventually had to do, but a nearly identical event happened at a job 15 years go, with the added shock of discovering that my grandboss had offered (and paid — I watched the cash change hands) money to the first person who would hug me specifically because I had said I didn’t want people hugging me. “Go to HR” was not an option because the grandboss who put a bounty on me was sleeping with the head of HR.

      1. Jam Today*

        In retrospect, yes, but that was in the middle of a harassment and abuse campaign my my *direct* boss, and my executive function was so diminished by the stress that I couldn’t really think of anything else beyond getting through each day.

        Years later I wound up speaking with the Legal department following that company getting taken over by a private equity firm and told them, and while I can’t draw a straight line from A to B, the grandboss abruptly left the company and best I can identify is that it was within a month of my conversation with Legal. There’s now way I’ll ever know if they were related, but I’ll take the win for the sake of my own sanity.

  29. Ex-prof*

    LW #4, that sounds like my nightmare. And many other people’s. That was horribly violating.

    I had a co-worker who used to grab me because of my funny boundary. I spilled a can of chocolate sauce on him.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Oof I’m sorry you had to go through that but good call spilling something on him. (Side note: a can of chocolate sauce? What a delightful thing to have at the office, yum!) I’d offer the lw or anyone else in this situation to start carrying around a drink or something spillable to “accidentally” dump on the person when you are obviously startled by them trying to touch you. Might be enough of a deterrent if you spill cranberry or tomato juice on enough people.

      I want to note that you should never need to take this route, but if you’re stuck in a bad bananas situation where people want to keep touching you, it might be a good way to keep the monkeys at bay.

  30. What's My Name Again*

    #5: At my company, if the hiring manager has someone in mind, that person has always gotten the job. I’ve learned not to apply to any roles that currently have a temp for this exact reason.

    1. Bast*

      How far are they willing to go to pursue that person though? There is always a chance that someone gets a better offer somewhere else and doesn’t accept, or just decides they really don’t like working at X company anyway and don’t want to stay.

  31. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

    1: Some jobs at some firms can be remarkably like dating. The person is fine, doesn’t have any major problems, checks all the ‘nice person’ boxes but just doesn’t mesh with what they/you want.

    Now in the UK there’s a lot more restrictions about when you can fire someone and without a case of gross incompetence/behaviour/insubordination it requires warnings first about not meeting expectations. I’ve only ever fired 3 people in my entire management career and 2 of them were for shockingly bad behaviour. The other one just didn’t do the job up to our standards regardless of training and time.

    I’ve also BEEN fired and can say that while it’s a good thing to look on ‘what could I have done to avoid this in future?’ it’s also important to move on when the answer is ‘there wasn’t anything I did wrong’ and approach future employers with the attitude of maybe they’re not all overly picky ableist muppets (which was why I was fired).

    Takes time. But rest assured in the fact that I’ve had a long and fairly turmoil filled life and I’ve never again encountered an employer as turd filled as the one who fired me.

  32. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    LW3, first off, I’d ask management if they can continue to apply your PTO to your prior leave and take sick days unpaid going forward. Secondly, if that doesn’t work, when doing the math, remember that if you’re paying back the entire negative leave, then you will be accruing leave going forward. Don’t forget to count that when doing the math.

  33. MAOM7*

    LW#2: this is why you should not make friends at work. I learned this the hard way many years ago, and now, work is work, friends are friends, and never the two shall cross.

    1. Boss Scaggs*

      It’s always good to be aware of the potential pitfalls, but I disagree with that as a blanket statement. It’s very common to have work colleagues as friends, and has been for decades and decades

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

      I very highly disagree. My best friend who’s pretty much been adopted into my family at this point? I met at work. I’m still friends with people I worked with over 15 years ago.

      Extremes of anything are rarely healthy, but after a traumatic experience I can understand why that might seem natural to you (ask me sometime how I swore off all men for a period of time).

      But it’s not germane to everyone and it’s not helpful advice to tell other people that your coping mechanisms are the only true way.

    3. EA*

      I think this is the wrong takeaway from this letter. I do think that work friendships can look a little bit different than your closest non-work friends. My friendships at work have made my jobs much more enjoyable. And even if you don’t care about that, friendly relationships at work help with networking for future opportunities. It’s worth looking at this with a bit of nuance and not setting all work friendships off limits just because LW2 has challenges with one colleague.

    4. Orv*

      Yeah, I’m friendly with people at work but I don’t really think of them as friends. At least not in the sense of being people I’d spend my free time with. But I already spend eight hours a day around them.

  34. Czhorat*

    LW1 is interesting in this modern culture with numerous youngish influencers pushing (rightly, to an extent) for work/life balance and against what they see as excessive expectations to go “over the top”.

    The problem is that as you move upwards in your career people expect a bit more than the absolute bare minimum – once you’ve arrived at a salaried position with some responsibility you’re expected to proactively see what needs to be done and to assist co-workers when they get into the weeds just as they’re expected to assist you. The overall relationship between you and peers, you and your boss, and even you and your company should be mutually beneficial and not as antagonistic as some want to portray it as.

    Will I take an email after hours if there’s some kind of issue with a project? Will I stay late in the office sometimes if we’re hit with a last-minute deadline? Yes to both. Will I also come in a few minutes late if I have a dentist appointment before the start of the day, or take an extra work from home day if I need to pick up one of my kids from school? Also yes.

    I’ll also note that one form of job action is “work to rule” in which employees do the minimum required by their published contract and/or job description. In other words, doing the bare minimum is literally used as a form of protest against an employer with whom you are having issues. That is, perhaps, another way to frame this.

    1. Justin*

      Yeah, I mean, same. I will answer an email from a west coast colleague after my day ends, it’s not extra work for me. But if I gotta walk my dog/pick up my son/etc, then that’s what’s happening. My company says, officially via HR, so long as you get your work done and let us know what’s up, live your life.

      But I have a good workplace, as my last one was very micromanagey as I’ve said here.

    2. kiki*

      It is a really interesting balance! I do think part of the pushback that I’ve seen, though, is against industries who have started to take for granted what used to be considered going above. It seems like some industries and companies are designing workloads to incorporate more time outside of work that as the expectation so they can get away with hiring fewer staff. I’ve also noticed a decrease in willingness to provide training and educational resources– the expectation has changed that employees will come in with the education or find time and resources outside work to get more training/credentials.

      I will stay late to work on something if we’re hit with a last minute deadline that nobody could have expected and if in general I get to go home on time. I will start to push back when it seems like my company is creating last minute deadlines willy-nilly, when I’m staying late in the office more often than not, when non-emergencies that could be handled in the morning are treated like issues that have to be addressed at 7pm, etc.

      I think where this gets tricky, though, is that truthfully to advance you will likely need to go over the top sometimes and sacrifice some time outside the office that goes towards your career. The guy who takes work-related courses in his free time is probably going to advance higher more quickly than the person who strictly protects their personal time. But some young people aren’t thinking that part of the picture through/have unrealistic expectations about that.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I also think a lot of people get burned out after being the “above and beyond” person for a few years if you don’t see that reward you were hoping for. Some companies definitely, deliberately take advantage, and sometimes it’s the most junior/lowest paid people that are hit the hardest. It *can* pay off, but it certainly doesn’t always pay off, so you have to decide for yourself where that line is for you knowing there’s no guarantees. My sense is there used to be a bit more of a gentleman’s agreement that employment was a long-term relationship from your first day to the day you started collecting a pension.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          there used to be a bit more of a gentleman’s agreement that employment was a long-term relationship from your first day to the day you started collecting a pension.

          There was, but corporations ended that agreement in the late twentieth century.

      2. Czhorat*

        I also think that some young people are coming from a position of having either entry-level or service positions in which one often doesn’t want to advance and management will often try to take advantage of workers.

        There is absolutely a balance here, with “bare minimum” on one end and “work is your entire life” at the other. Most of us are best off somewhere between.

        1. kiki*

          That’s a good point! I also think there’s been a shift in many industries that mean positions that previously had room for upward advancement no longer do. And sometimes companies may pretend the role has room for upward advancement, but it’s a mirage. People who went through that in the past are likely to bring a more protective energy to future roles. If they’re working somewhere that is genuine in their desire to boost employees up and provide advancement, that learned protection may not be helpful going forward.

          1. bamcheeks*

            But also, there are more people who are considered eligible for upward advancement. A standard organisational structure used to be that there was a small number of people in professional roles with opportunity for advancement, and a much larger number of staff (mainly women and racially minoritised groups) were expected to stay permanently in clerical, administrative and care roles without the expectation of advancement or autonomy. Most developed economies have seen a huge expansion in the number and proportion of professional roles over the last few decades, but that’s often been masked by the expansion of people looking for those roles.

      3. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. The reason I got promoted from reception was because I took an active interest in trying to take what little responsibility I did have and leverage it into another job. I was proactive in looking for something else and took advantage of a new manager coming in at a regional level who wanted to cultivate lower-level employees into higher level ones. I’m now getting a lot of different experiences and opportunities because I’m in a place where I want to move on.

        You do often have to go out and get it. It took me a while to get into the right headspace, but I finally feel like I’m going places and I did it on my own terms.

    3. bamcheeks*

      people expect a bit more

      I think that’s the thing though– are they clear that those ARE the expectations? I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having things like “stay on top of broader professional practice in the sector and develop new projects and skills”, “take part in self-reflection and CPD”, “some nights and evening work required”, “proactively assist co-workers, develop solutions” and so on as part of the job description. The problem is when the job description just says, “9-5, groom llamas”, your KPIs say, “ten llamas a week”, but then you find out there’s a secret expectation that you’ll actually be staying two hours later three times a week to make sure 15 llamas are groomed and reading Llama Weekly on your own time, except that a couple of people stay late five times a week and do 18 llamas, and if you only stay one night a week and do 12 llamas you’ll get side-eyed and be first in line when the firm down-sizes.

      You can quite easily make everything you’ve described part of the explicit expectations for the role, and then everyone knows where they stand, what they are signing up for, and whether they’re doing a good job. But if you start judging things by unwritten or unspoken expectations, you are deliberately creating an environment of uncertainty, and the mental load of “am I doing everything I’m SUPPOSED to do, or is there another secret set of things I’m also supposed to be doing” is incredible detrimental to people’s health. I think there’s a pushback against that, and that’s absolutely as it should be.

    4. Cat Executive Officer*

      The question isn’t about advancing, but about getting to simply keep your job. I agree that if you want to advance, you have to go above and beyond. But some people don’t want to advance, and in some cases, some people do advance but don’t get the freedom that should come along with it (ie flexibility around appointments) while still having put in extra hours.

  35. Kristin*

    LW 1 – you know how if you give a store or something a less than 5-star review the owner/manager will show up in the comments and try to do damage control? I wish we could normalize the 3-star review. Some things are merely OK! I don’t need going to the hardware store to be a transcendent experience!

    Like Allison says, sometimes the job expectation really IS “great” and “OK” doesn’t really cut it. But for the vast majority of jobs, good enough is good enough. If you work in, like, a normal office and aren’t a heart surgeon or something, I think it should be fine to be like 3 stars at your job. If it’s not, that really sucks, because by definition most people are average and will perform at an average level.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. Society cannot function if average people can’t earn enough to afford food and shelter. People will revolt or turn to crime.

  36. Justin*

    Let me tell you about my friend. He was someone I really cared about (I mean, I still do, he’s not dead, but we’re not close anymore), and he was just someone who always did the bare minimum and was good enough at tests and such to skate by through elite schools. I was similar to this until I found out how to weaponize my hyperfocus in college and started doing a lot better (and got more degrees, etc). He could be neurodivergent like me, or he just figured he could do this forever and got a rude awakening when he entered the workforce.

    An unfortunate thing happened (he had to have knee surgery) and his recovery was slow and difficult. His job tried to keep him on as long as possible (years) but eventually they had to let him go. The problem was, he was someone they liked personally, but his work was only okay, so when it declined for understandable reasons, he eventually just wasn’t able to pull weight (and this was normal workloads not some 16 hour work life balance issue thing).

    And his career has never recovered. (It makes me particularly sad bc we’re both people of color and there are very few of us who went to our college.)

    The point is, you can probably get by being “okay” but you have no margin for error, depending on your industry/workplace.

  37. kalli*

    LW3: they literally invite you to contact them and make a manageable payment plan. Just take them up on it – they’ve paid you for work you haven’t done, and that generally counts as something that can be pursued as a debt through legal channels.

    They initially said you can ‘earn’ it back by using the leave you accrue to count against your balance, but now that you need more and they can’t advance you more like that, they’re asking you to renegotiate so that a) you don’t need to keep taking unpaid leave and b) they end up having paid what you’ve earned, which means you can both report tax correctly, insurance is happy etc. etc. So work with them! It’s 9 days pay.

    But yes, they can ask you to pay them money you owe. Overpayments are a thing that happens and most companies would rather sort out a payment plan than have workers going without pay entirely until they’re even. But you don’t need to go into ‘it’s a hardship’ and ‘you should’ve said’ because they’ve already invited you to work it out and you’re currently in the position of having your leave unpaid if you get sick (hence the 72hr pay coming up), so you’re not going to get any worse off, and they want you to work with them to figure out something that works out for everyone. So do it! Just write back and say you’ll pay back $150 a week or whatever you can reasonably afford – I’m saying $150 because if they deduct that from your paycheck it’s roughly the 9 days your next one will be, and if you can swing that this fortnight then you’ll know you can do it, but you can say $100 a week or $200 a week or $50 a week and see what they say – remembering they’re flat out saying ‘let us know what you can manage’. You can even ask that they keep deducting your accruals as well, although I suspect they might need it back to 0 by the end of their financial year so you might have to settle on something like them deducting your accruals and a part payment if you do that.

  38. Pretty as a Princess*

    The question in #1 is interesting, but I think that it really centers around how clear the organization is about goals/evaluation criteria AND advancement criteria (promotion to new levels).

    Someone upthread described the situation where someone might do just fine technical work, but has not demonstrated the critical thinking/creative skills to advance beyond a “just do the technical work” position. We have those general expectations clearly defined; for a senior role, you are expected to be able to do X,Y,Z which includes things like synthesizing results across multiple activities, independently managing certain things, etc.

    So you can do perfectly “fine” at the “base level position” requirements but our expectation, clearly stated, is that as you get mentoring and more project experience, that you will build those synthesis skills and the ability to do certain things more independently. You’ll get assignments to help you grow those muscles. Those things will also be in your annual goals/objectives that you develop with your manager. If you aren’t progressing on those fronts (which means you aren’t demonstrating growth in those skills as we put you in reasonable assignments to develop them), then you aren’t doing “fine” anymore even if you are basically doing “fine” at the work that is appropriate to someone with less experience.

    I do expect that progression in skill, independence, and analytical thought over the course of several years and we are clear about growing skills. We are clear that we are building towards certain sets of expectations. That does NOT mean that I promote people into people manager roles who are not suited to them – but we absolutely have the expectation that you will progress in your skills & analytic capability as you gain more experience and that you will demonstrate those analytic, critical thinking and synthesis skills on project assignments.

    So if you have been here 10 years, say, and you can’t do that, the good news is that if you are on my team, you most definitely know that even though you can do the more mechanical stuff “just fine” – that as we develop new assignments based on goals/growth in your technical skills, you are not performing “just fine” against what we expect in terms of your technical progression.

    There are probably places & teams where it is acceptable performance to, say, be a guy who writes Java code in response to Jira tickets and happily just pumps out updates to whatever app based on employer needs. If your job is defined that way, then no one is ever going to fire you for being “just fine” as long as you are meeting clearly documented objectives. But if growth of skill & capability is expected, then yes, “just fine” at *one part* of what is expected of you could very well be not fine for your long term opportunities there.

  39. Former Retail Lifer*

    #1: I remember in my first retail management job, my boss told a co-worker that they might have to let me go. Why? Because I didn’t come in early every day and I took my full lunch breaks. I came in early when I knew we were behind (but not every day), I took the full lunch break that company policy allowed, and I stayed late as needed to properly close the store. But that wasn’t enough? Luckily, that manager transferred and the new one had a more reasonable approach to work.

    1. Pizza Rat*

      A lot of “goes above and beyond” seems to come down to, “does extra work without extra pay,” and many of us are sick of it.

  40. doozy*

    LW5: I once applied for an internal position I knew a coworker had been being groomed for and was almost 100% certain to get it. I hadn’t realized the grooming was happening until the position was officially posted, and at that point it became clear and it pissed me off since I had more experience and (I believed) would have been a better choice. I was a remote worker (this was long before the pandemic and wfh was still experimental for this organization) and the groomed co-worker was in the office, and this was not the first time I’d felt overlooked because I wasn’t there in person.

    It was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done. I knew I had next to no chance, but the hell if I was going to let them continue to overlook me.

    It also turned out to be one of the best things I’d ever done. The hiring manager took my application seriously, and the interview was a serious one. I didn’t get the job, but the manager finally noticed me and (I think) realized that the remote folks were getting a raw deal. She worked with me and several months later when a similar position opened up, I applied for and got it. I don’t think any of that would have happened had I not stuck my neck out and applied for that position that I was sure not to get.

    That same hiring manager advocated for me for years after, and was a key part of me getting a few more promotions in the same organization. I’ve since moved to a new job, but I think about her often and try to pass on the great leadership I learned from her.

  41. Coffee Protein Drink*

    LW reminds me of the annual reviews I had at some workplaces. There were various categories where you were rated 1-5, 5 being Excellent, 3 was Satisfactory, and 1 was Poor. We were told that we should be happy with overall ratings that were 3 and above.

    A manager at one of these told me they were only permitted to rate 1 category a 5, and 4 was to be used with discretion.

    So this comes down to, like others have said, what is “adequate” in this context? Why should anyone strive for excellence when all they’re going to get is “Satisfactory?”

    1. Polly Hedron*

      Why should anyone strive for excellence when all they’re going to get is “Satisfactory?”

      At many workplaces, the incentive is that the “Satisfactory” people get laid off.

    2. Pizza Rat*

      I’ve seen that situation. A friend of mine wanted to rate one of her direct reports with mostly 4 and 5 in this scenario and HR sent it back saying she couldn’t rate anyone that high.

      1. I Have RBF*

        My manager specifically told me that he would just about have to write a book of praises to justify giving anyone above a three, because that’s what HR pushed.

    3. bamcheeks*

      So say you shifted the dial, and said that there were high expectations and you expected most people to get 4s and 5s because they were all high-performers and meeting those high expectations– would that motivate people? Or would they be annoyed because they genuinely couldn’t exceed expectations?

      1. Coffee Protein Drink*

        In the situations I described, the employees were annoyed that they couldn’t be credited with exceeding expectations.

        Personally, I am motivated by wanting to do my work well, but not being able to have it officially recognized was a bit demoralizing. My boss knew it too and hated having to work within that system.

    4. Ari*

      Our system is like that. I was honestly grateful for my middle of the road people. They did their work and nothing extra. They were perfectly happy getting the middle rating. They had no desire to do more or be more. The difficult years were when I had several rock stars and I couldn’t give all of them the rating they deserved.

  42. Stephanie*

    #1 — depends. My last job at MegaCorp tended to stack rank during layoffs and those people tended to get laid off. Not always, but that seemed to be the pattern. I know consulting and other professional services that do up or out will try to get rid of average performers past a certain point.

    #3 — I had to get advanced sick leave due to a family member’s death right when I started my current job. And then I got COVID after the funeral and was like “I need to go negative another 9 hours, whoops.” They goofed in not making the policy clear or saying how many hours you had advanced. My managers advanced me the max amount of leave to use at my discretion, but it was very, very clear if I left before I paid it back, I owed what I used.

  43. Ginger Cat Lady*

    If you tell me what you expect from me, and I do what you expect from me, that should not be a bad thing. People should never get fired for fulfilling expectations. If you want higher level work, then expectations for what you want should be CLEAR, not a vague “we want people who exceed expectations!” and also THE PAY SHOULD REFLECT THAT.
    This whole “the job pays X because expectations are X level and then firing people who do not perform at a higher level thing is just really crappy. If you’re not adequately staffed for the work to get done with people who only meet the expectations, that’s on the company, not the individuals.
    I’m just over the wages not keeping up with inflation, super lean staffing, and expectations that employees will consistently perform “above and beyond” on a regular basis.

    1. Maroon*

      I completely agree! It’s also relevant that what one manager regards as going “above and beyond”, another manager might see as presumptuous, overstepping, or crossing boundaries. This obviously depends on the nature of the job and workplace, but I believe we’ve seen previous letters from managers who wanted employees to take a more proactive approach to work, as well as managers who wanted employees to respect standard operating procedures and stay in their lane.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      It’s interesting to me a lot of folks seem to be focusing on “above and beyond” as a factor for LW1. That didn’t even occur to me. It’s not about employees who don’t go above and beyond. It’s about employees who are “just ok”. To me, there’s a clear difference between someone “just ok” at a job, someone “great at a job” and someone who goes above and beyond. It’s totally possible to be great and not go above and beyond.

      I’m taking at face value “ok” and “good” and “great” as qualitative measures of the work itself. Whereas “above and beyond” is more like scope-creeping yourself but in a helpful way. Or possibly, doing 10 doohickeys in an hour when most folks only do 5, and you did the 10 and they were all adequate. Doing 5 that are adequate is still great. A “just ok” person might attempt the 10 but either: would be incapable of doing so in that amount of time at all OR not all 10 would be usable so it didn’t matter anyway.

  44. Take the Interview*

    Three Scenarios – all real from my past:

    Scenario 1 – I was the last interview, the interview had already decided to hire the prior candidate. I did well enough that the interviewer also decided to hire me. (He had a second position available, but I found out a couple of years later he had been leaning toward holding it for another purpose prior to interviewing me.)

    Scenario 2 – The company hired someone else internally – I suspect I was interviewed to as the mandatory outside interview – but called me about a year later when another opening came up.

    Scenario 3 – I interviewed with the same company 4 times over about 5 years, and was offered on the fourth attempt. Four different hiring managers leading three different sections within the same division, seeking similar but not identical roles.

    On the flip side, I currently work for someone I had turned down 7 years earlier. I think the general rule is “don’t burn bridges”.

  45. HonorBox*

    OP3 – When you inquired earlier about your negative balance, how did you do that? Was it via email? If so, I’d use that in your inquiry about negotiating a way to pay back the balance you owe. You asked. They never answered. At the very least, it would be a courtesy to you to find a way for this not to be a MAJOR expense, especially because you would likely have made different arrangements earlier. I would respectfully point out that you had asked before and no one answered. Being asked to fork over more than $2300 to clear that balance creates an undue hardship for you, and could the company figure out a way that you can pay that back over time?

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      The company has offered that up front already. It sounds like it is up to them to *propose a repayment schedule*. Meanwhile it sounds like getting on that plan enables them to keep accruing other PTO they can use, rather than going further into the hole.

  46. Ho-ho-holey hose*

    I have been in a team where we needed great, and saw someone who was good but not great get let go. Not every team needs great- I have also been in teams where we are perfectly happy with ‘good’ because you don’t know that a new hire would be any better, and hiring is expensive and time consuming. But I have been on teams that needed to be high performance teams, and where they struggled to figure how to hire for that, and unfortunately had to let a few people go because they couldn’t meet the standard required.

  47. SometimesMaybe*

    #1. From a companies point of view, there are always choices to be made. If they have an option of a better performer why would they just want to stick with ok. And that doesn’t make them evil. From a client’s POV wouldn’t you choose a company that out performs their competition. I know this blog is mainly from the viewpoint of the employee, but often business need to view things from a prospective client’s/customer’s needs as well. That’s not to say employee should kill themselves to keep their job, but a mindset of excellent will take you father than just doing enough to not get fired.

  48. Excel Gardener*

    LW1 – I think this varies by field, company, and department.

    Personally, I’ve always worked places where employees merely meeting expectations were generally thought well of and would never be fired. In a lot of fields, especially at larger organizations, there really isn’t a lot of room for initiative and going above and beyond even if you want to. Everything is so hyper-specialized and siloed and constrained, and really what the company wants is a good and reliable cog in the machine.

    1. Angstrom*

      Agree. There are jobs where you don’t want creativity — you want someone who will reliably and efficently follow procedures, or be a good team player without aspiring to lead.
      Still, if your job is to be a cog, you should try to be a good one.

  49. Debby*

    LW#1: I guess I have had experiences that others have not: I have worked several jobs where I have been the high performer and got nothing for it. Others around me did just the bare minimum, and still got by. When it came to review time, there was no difference in the raises given-it was all based on the same percentage (0.02%) of what your pay rate was. It is not in me to just do what is expected or required, so I did leave those jobs and move on to others where merit raises are given.
    But I have also been in situations that when lay offs were happening, those who did just what the job required were the ones let go. It didn’t matter how long they had been with the company.


    #1. My sister works at a Fortune 500 company. And if you get an “average” on your annual evaluation 3 years in a row you are fired.

    In my industry, it’s rare to get fired for being average. But there are a few exceptions: anyone dealing with safety issues or security clearances needs to be exceptional. We typically try to find these folks a different position within our company, if they don’t excel in their role. But a few folks do get terminated for doing “average” work.

  51. Mmm.*

    LW3: Are you okay, friend? I found myself getting sick like that, and it turned out I had an underlying condition that caused me to get sick for long periods of time.
    –eventually becoming nonstop. It took us over a year of more-than-weekly appointments to find a solution, but because I communicated with my work about the basics of what was happening, I managed to work out an adjusted schedule per ADA.

    Though it may feel as if the sick time isn’t *frequent*, it is *long*, and that’s not a normal thing to happen!

    Also, starting to address it aggressively may make them rethink your need to repay the total. It’s worth trying.

    Hope everything works out!

  52. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Ugh #5 – our company has an unofficial official policy that any internal candidate who applies must get an interview out of courtesy. Even if they really only posted the job because we also have a policy that all jobs must be posted for a minimum of 2 weeks.

    I don’t know in what world they think raising someone’s hopes, the stress around preparing and interviewing, and in some cases the repercussions when your coworkers find out you were thinking of making a move, is any kind of courtesy.

    I’ve declined to be on the last 2 hiring committees because it left such a bad taste to sit on interviews when I could tell the deciding manager had already decided. It was essentially a promotion, not a new job but they had to post it anyway in order to backfill the lower position and they never had any intention of hiring anyone except the person who already worked for them. But 5 other people all got their hopes up.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      That’s every internal job I applied for–they already had another internal candidate in mind, I didn’t find out until after the interview. God, I hated that. I gave up on internal application after while, knew they weren’t going to pick me.

  53. A. Noni Mouse*

    #1 – I had a situation almost exactly like this recently. And Alison was spot on when she noted that a change was what really precipitated the need to let the person go. They’d been struggling with consistent performance for a while and there had been several conversations with their boss about the level of performance that needed to be maintained. To most outside observers, they were a good employee and were very well liked. But the boss could see things that were being dropped and needing covered for them. However, none of them were super major things, just not things that you would expect to still be needing to catch for them at that level. A change in the organization meant that it was no longer possible for the boss to be playing back up for things and the inability of the “good” employee to be truly independent meant that the role would no longer work for them. There were more conversations and expectations clearly laid out, but when they weren’t met, unfortunately the good employee was let go. And again, you could argue they weren’t “good” based on the things they were missing, but to any outside observer, they didn’t see most of those things and the employee did seem to be meeting everything they needed to. Since they’ve been gone, it’s become even more clear the number of things that were missed though.

  54. Piper*

    #3 I’m assuming they said you could earn it back the next year by being more scrupulous with your days off. But you literally called out for a month straight?!? It sounds like. You need to pay them back. Also being that much in the hole and it’s only your second year is not a good look. I wouldnt push back on paying them back.

    1. Dahlia*

      Going to work super sick while we’re still living in a pandemic-touched world also isn’t a good look. OP’s work should have brought up short term disability.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Honestly, people can get seriously ill at any point. I have an operation my 3rd year in my current job and was out for a month. It could just as easily have happened my first year. Being sick isn’t really something you have control over.

  55. Cat Tree*

    LW1, I have a different perspective. If you’re not the person’s manager it’s hard to judge that they’re OK.

    I’m a manager. I had one employee who always turned work in on time, but it was riddled with errors. Worse, she didn’t learn and would make the same errors over and over. I had to go through her work with a fine-tooth comb because of it. To her coworkers, she probably seemed to be doing OK. She was pleasant and enthusiastic, and always got her work for on time. She was let go because of a re-org. I honestly don’t know if I would have eventually fired her over it. (FYI- I did try multiple methods to try to improve her accuracy and attention to detail, which were only marginally effective.)

    Now I have another employee who is good at the technical part but requires multiple reminders to get anything done. Again, to his coworkers he is Ok because he turns his work in on time. But it takes so much effort from me to get to that point. It’s a balance because it definitely is part of my job as a manager to keep track of projects and follow up. But he seems really skilled in figuring out the exact minimum he can do to not get fired, and then doing exactly that much. For right now I’m not planning to fire him but he’s so close to the edge that any decline will be a huge risk for him.

    1. Justin D*

      “But he seems really skilled in figuring out the exact minimum he can do to not get fired, and then doing exactly that much.”

      Sounds like an important skill at your workplace!

  56. Tempest*

    LW1 – I have an employee like that and I would NEVER fire them. I place a lot of value in reliability, this person is always prompt, always gets their work done, never has any personality issues with other employees… I don’t care that they will never be outstanding or blowing me away with their performance. I will take consistency and reliability any day.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Employers keep saying they want soft skills. Not everybody has to be charismatic but they do need to be kind.
      There are too many “rock stars ” and “rainmakers” who utterly fail at respecting their colleagues. Being an egotistical jack wagon is also a performance issue.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ve noticed the same thing: my experience is that most “rainmakers” and “rock stars” end up limiting team performance by needing others to chant along in the rain dance or sing background to their anthem. Their personal numbers look great and the team’s as a whole look lousy.

        I just escaped such a quagmire.

  57. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I have a tech role, and I used to have a support person who handled the basic, day-to-day work in the tool I support. It was a great setup because support person was happy at their level, and I was freed up to work on strategy and projects. Then my support person was let go because they just weren’t enthusiastic enough about developing other skills or moving up….or something. I haven’t had a dedicated support person since. So now I have to handle all the day-to-day work AND all the long-term strategy and projects. The kicker is when leadership recognizes “we need to get you support because you’re paid too much to do this day-to-day stuff” and then gets me a summer intern who leaves immediately after they are actually trained enough to help me. Ha!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m in publishing, and the normal career path is to start as an editorial assistant and then move up. The edit assistant did mostly office support stuff, and a little bit of writing.
      But I worked at a place where, when the edit assistant got his promotion, they slotted in an office support worker from the company pool.

      The big cheese apparently told them to keep her in our spot, and we didn’t hire an editorial assistant. Because she was so good as the admin stuff that our office ran like clockwork.

      It meant a loss of an entry level spot, and I don’t remember if they found a way to create one.

  58. judyjudyjudy*

    LW1, another thing to keep in mind…during a reduction in force (aka downsizing), *sometimes* people who do an ok job are let go in favor of stronger performers. This isn’t quite the same as getting fired (since they would have been kept on in a better financial situation).

  59. Tessa*

    LW1 – I’d like to add that great employees deserve great employers. If you treat your staff well, support their development, pay them fairly, give them adequate time off, etc. etc., you can set a high bar. If you are an “average” employer, in that you pay your staff just enough to keep them, support their development as long as it doesn’t cost you too much time, effort or money, give them the legally mandated vacation and sick leave, etc. you will probably have more average employees than great ones. If you are lucky enough to get a great employee, if they are smart they will start looking around for an employer who is equally great.

  60. TootsNYC*

    5. Is it worth it to interview if you know the hiring manager already chose someone else?

    I would treat it as if I did have a chance, on the theory that this is a good opportunity to make a good impression outside my current team.
    You just never know where or when it can be helpful for there to be someone with a good opinion of you.

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