I made a bad joke about my new hire

A reader writes:

I have a new hire who’s coming to the end of his probationary period. Chris is conscientious, smart, and has gelled well with the team. He’s completed his probationary objectives with time to spare, and in our most recent catch-up, I suggested that he start considering his longer-term goals for career redevelopment so we could set his annual objectives together in a few weeks’ time.

When we got back to our desks, we kept chatting, and then Chris said, in front of the rest of the team, “Well, in a few weeks you’ll be stuck with me for good.” Thoughtlessly, I joked back something like, “Well, aren’t you confident!” … and then instantly regretted it. I don’t think I said it in a negative tone and I had a smile on my face, but I know that “jokes” like that are never funny when they’re coming with a power imbalance, and I’m sure I saw Chris’s smile falter hard.

Honestly, I didn’t want anyone to think that I was giving Chris an automatic pass, or that he was being cocky about his probation. But equally, I’m sure that nobody is expecting him to fail. Am I overthinking this? When a new hire is clearly performing well, is it okay to be open about the fact that they’re going to pass their probation? Or should I be keeping up a bit of a façade to ensure the process is seen as a genuine professional trial and not just a hand-wave?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should I encourage my employee to stay home with their sick kid more often?
  • Coworker sees herself as a mother figure

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Zona the Great*

    I once successfully ended similar mothering by basically disappointing my Catelyn. I didn’t do this on purpose but I found that when I was open about smoking cigarettes, drinking in high school, living with someone out of wedlock, being pansexual, being pro-sex-work (we worked in a political environment where this was a normal convo), she became more and more disappointed in who I was as a person that she eventually stopped associating with me. But, the better advice is to tell her directly this must stop.

    1. Stopped Using My Name*

      My style of dressing is very conservative. My beliefs not so much. I am very discerning as to what I share with a person.

      People project their beliefs based on your appearance more often than you think. If you don’t find this to be true, you probably “look” the way you “think.”

      1. Paint N Drip*

        Isn’t it interesting!! I do find those who don’t ‘get it’ are ones who look closer to their character.
        I came into this world to look like a Strawberry Shortcake universe character somehow, very unassuming and cutesy. I am bull-in-a-china-shop chaotic, full of anxiety and rage. Strangers (and plenty of non-strangers) do NOT know what to do with me :)

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          There’s a raging tortie kitten on the strip BREAKING CAT NEWS named Ora Zella. You might like her. :)

          1. Forever an Admin, it seems*

            Ora Zella is my goal! I have a tortie much like her. Every cat lover should check out the strip!

        2. Mongrel*

          Robot Chicken had a bunch of sketches based around exactly that Strawberry Shortcake ‘universe’ character called Bitch Pudding, voiced by Katie Sackhoff.

          Obviously, NSFW.

      2. Nice girl*

        Ohhhhh yes, I have a very sweet, “nice girl,” vaguely conservative energy and appearance that doesn’t match my personality at all and people very frequently make staggeringly incorrect assumptions about my religion and politics.

    2. My cat is the employee of the month*

      I’m lucky — the supervisor that was trying to mother me stopped after I told her that I already had a mother and she stopped worrying about me years ago. I was in my late 40’s when this happened.

    3. Cedrus Libani*

      I once dealt with it by looking the “dad” in the eyes and telling him the filthiest joke I knew. Message received, and I got to use the machine shop without any more of his “help”.

  2. Managing While Female*

    For LW2 — Definitely don’t say more than what you already have. I’ve had to pick up a sick kid from daycare several times too and part of that is just being a parent. Kids go from totally fine to not very quickly and sometimes it’s difficult to judge whether they’re ‘stay home from school’ sick or not. This is a parental decision and if you say anything more, it’s going to feel like judgment.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      I’d also suggest that LW2 look at their other direct reports and the office culture – is everyone comfortable staying at home when their kid is sick, or is the culture one that frowns on taking personal days? Sometimes if you’re in a hustle culture employees are less likely to take their boss at face value when they’re told it’s okay to be out sick.

    2. Bast*

      This. Even as an adult, there have been plenty of times I have been fine… until I am not. Wake up feeling fine, and then something (stomach flu seems to be the main culprit because it hits especially fast) hits like a ton of bricks and I am not fine. Most kids have even less awareness than your average adult.

      1. I Laugh at Inappropriate Times*

        Yes. The last time I had a bout of stomach flu, I was playing a few rounds of Mario Kart with my husband and son, and started to feel just a little weird. Within the hour I felt like I was ejecting my very soul from my body.

        1. Sneaky Squirrel*

          Oh my goodness, the last time I had the stomach flu, I did a whole day of exercising, planning out a future vacation, spending the afternoon with family friends. I was with those family friends when I did a complete 180 and went from completely happy and joking around to laying on their bathroom floor.

        2. Cassielfsw*

          Seconding this. I had (what I suspect to be) norovirus several years ago, woke up feeling completely normal, ended up having to go home at lunchtime because I was too busy being violently ill to get any work done.

    3. Alex*

      This. You can have no idea your kid is sick in the morning and then the school calls and they have a fever/are throwing up etc. Sometimes illnesses ebb and flow–you think “Oh, my kid is finally over this cold” but then it moves to an infection and they are sicker than ever. Illness doesn’t neatly show up promptly at 7am all the time.

      I remember going to school once when I was about 12 and I was 100 percent fine, even arguing with my parents that no I did NOT need a jacket that day, it was sunny and I felt great! Three hours later I was so sick with the flu I could barely stand up. My teacher found me sleeping in the hallway because I couldn’t make it to my next class and I had a fever of 103.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, once I took my 6-year-old son to school and he seemed fine. 3-4 hours into the school day, the school nurse called and said, “His temperature is 99 so technically you don’t *have* to come get him but he obviously is miserable.” I said I’d come right away – by the time I got him home his fever was over 101. Straight to the doctor, he tested positive for flu, and he missed a full week of school. (One of the huge benefits of working from home was that I was never even tempted to send a sick kid to school.)

        Yes, children can get really sick really quick.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          This has happened to me SO many times – nurse calls and says she has a fever of 100 something and I am shocked because she seemed 100% fine at breakfast.

          1. Freya*

            Kids’ immune systems sometimes have no sense of moderation, they just want to BURN IT WITH FIRE

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      Oh, this is so true. Some kids have tons of energy even when they’re sick, and some may have times when they barely touch their food even when they’re well. My kid fits into both of those categories. So, we have a morning when he’s running around, chattering, playing, and only nibbles a little toast at breakfast. Could be a perfectly normal day. Could end up puking in a couple hours. You literally never know until it hits.

      1. straws*

        Absolutely this. Just yesterday, I dropped off a happy kid and by the time I got home, I had a message to pick up a sick kid with a fever. I live THREE miles away.

      2. Double A*

        Ugh, with my daughter we joke that if the illness has slowed her down, it’s probably time to go the ER. (It’s barely a joke).

    5. Not your typical admin*

      This – kids (especially young ones) have trouble communicating exactly how their body feels. They also tend to play hard and keep going until they totally crash. It’s so hard first thing in the morning to know if a sluggish kid is sick, or just tired.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yes. My kid is not a morning person AT ALL (nor are her parents) so sometimes she doesn’t want to eat breakfast because she’s tired and then she perks up and eats morning snack and lunch fine at school. Other times it’s because she’s sick and she’s not doing it today.

    6. Beth*

      This! OP, it’s worth using this as an opportunity to review your team’s policies around leave (and work-from-home as well, if it’s relevant for you) to ensure that they’re generous enough for people to feel good about using them. And it’s worth reviewing your team culture too–if you offer PTO but higher-ups and more senior team members are known to never use it, then just telling people to take days off isn’t necessarily going to counter the pressure to come in every day.

      But don’t judge your employee for this–it’s very possible that it’s outside of their control. It’s not that unusual for a kid to seem fine in the morning and later develop a fever or throw up.

      1. Clisby*

        Yes, OP, I don’t know what this employee’s job is, so I don’t know whether WFH is feasible, but even if your organization isn’t fully on board with WFH it makes sense to figure out *how* people can do it if necessary, if the job is something that can be done from home. Obviously this does not apply to firefighters or ER nurses or any number of other employees, but it might apply in this case.

    7. purple monkey & bubblegum tree*

      I’ve had to pick my sick daughter up from daycare several times, and I would be beyond mortified if my manager ever said anything like “you should be staying home with her more.” I would feel like she was calling me a bad mother.

      I would also have to wonder if she would have made the same comment if she managed my husband instead of me. “Stay home to take care of the kids” is an expectation that’s usually placed on women, not men, so…

    8. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      Totally true. One time, my son had mentioned his throat being scratchy; he has allergies so we assumed it was that. Half an hour later, I go to the store only to get a call that he’s lying on the ground crying and holding his ear. Straight to urgent care; severe ear infection. The pain came on so fast. Looking back I could say the scratchy throat may have been a sign, but certainly not enough to keep him home.

  3. CubeFarmer*

    LW #1 needs to remember that they cannot make jokes like that to those underneath them. Our grandboss reviews our vacation time requests. I already feel like I’m giving her too much information in the request (like I should be able to leave it as dates, and yes, my colleagues are okay with that, ) and then she’ll say something like “Well…I guess I can approve this. What’s in it for me??” Um, ha-ha? Those jokes always fall flat and make me feel like I’m imposing for using a job benefit (it’s actually reading AAM that made me realize that I’m not in the wrong for using my vacation time, it’s my grandboss’s attitude that’s out of line.)

    Regarding the sick leave, also make sure that the supportive attitude is top down. For example, we’ve had a few situations in my office where such understanding and flexibility were offered with what amounted to an eyeroll or a snide side comment (intended as a joke? I have no idea. See my response to LW #1.)

    1. MK*

      Also #1, I am baffled by OP’s attitude that they don’t want to give Chris a free pass or toffee him to be too cocky. Maybe it’s different views of what a probationary period means, but in my book it’s not a protracted interview, it’s just a precaution; if you have hired someone, you have already vetted them and they should be confident that they will be employed permanently.

      1. ferrina*

        OP messed up badly, but I get where they are coming from. I’ve had good people get a little cocky and it’s awkward. Like, yes, you’re good, but not quite good enough to make that assumption.

        Ideally, OP would have said something like “Pending the formal review- we still need to complete the formal probation period successfully”. Something neutral. But our brains are bad about calculating that in the moment- when there’s an overpositive assumption, the brain balances that with negative, trying to get to the average of neutral. Of course, that’s not actually how social interactions work, but I can see the brain misfiring that way.

        But OP still owes Chris an apology.

        1. cei*

          If that cookiness show in some other ways I can see this, but just expecting not to be let go during your probation period is just normal.

        2. Olive*

          I don’t think he was cocky given that OP said “I suggested that he start considering his longer-term goals for career redevelopment so we could set his annual objectives together in a few weeks’ time.” That sounds to me like a clear indication of passing probation, and if my manager then made even a joking suggestion that I might not pass (and was arrogant to think I would), I’d also feel shocked and dejected.

          1. ferrina*

            You’re right- I had skipped over this, but this is really important. OP had initially said that he could expect to stay, so it makes sense that Chris would just be following on what OP said.

            I retract my earlier comment.

        3. CRM*

          Chris wasn’t being cocky though – he made a joke in response to an entire conversation they JUST had about his future at their company/organization. That’s why it was so out of place.

        4. Fluffy Fish*

          But to echo Alison, probation isn’t a trial period. There absolutely no reason to imply there’s this great big formal test to pass before they are officially an employee. Saying what you suggest is implying just that.

        5. Beth*

          It’s not cocky to assume that when you got hired and have been meeting expectations, your job is secure–even if you’re in a probationary period. Someone who’s receiving good feedback on their work SHOULD feel confident assuming that they’ll keep their job. Even the language you call “ideal” sounds to me like it’s designed to destabilize the employee, in this context. Why would you want to remind someone who’s already completed all their objectives and has been performing well that you technically don’t have to keep him?

        6. Ellis Bell*

          I see what you mean, but I don’t think Chris was cocky, exactly, it was more than he opened a jokey conversation up about something that isn’t really fodder for jokes. OP would definitely have been better off letting the joke fall flat, but there’s an inherent risk of awkwardness and chilliness in refusing to joke around about it too. To be clear, I’m not criticising Chris, he has no responsibility or need to avoid this subject but I do think it was an awkward joke for OP to respond to on the spot. Nevertheless I’m sure OP has come up with numerous scripted responses in the middle of the night that they wished they’d used instead.

          1. Double A*

            I think both of them were joking. Chris joking, “You’ll be stuck with me!” when there’s every indication they’re happy with him so they are in no way “stuck” with him. The LW joking, “Well aren’t you cocky!” also because they’ve given every indication they’re happy with him, so he is not actually being cocky. The problem is that the LW’s joke didn’t land due to power dynamics. A joke that misses its mark happens all the time! But I do think the right thing to do is clear it up with Chris and apologize for the joking misfire.

        7. Mio*

          > Like, yes, you’re good, but not quite good enough to make that assumption.

          But it should be the assumption that you won’t be fired during your probation period or when it ends, provided you perform and behave normally.

          You passed the interview and got offered the job, you might have quit another job or turned down other offers, the default assumption, in any healthy job setting, should be that you will keep your job, unless your performance or attitude reveals that hiring you was a mistake. Ie, staying on is the default, being fired is the exception.

          It’s not cocky to think so and it doesn’t mean you believe yourself exceptionally good.

        8. biobotb*

          I don’t really see how your script is that neutral (it seems like it’s calculated to make the employee doubt themselves even if they’re doing well), and I don’t see how Chris was being cocky. Should he not have felt that he was fitting in well and doing a good job?

        9. Pescadero*

          If you’re doing the job and your manager hasn’t noted any problems with you during your probationary period – you’re good enough to make that assumption.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, I misread the letter at first and assumed that Chris was some sort of temp or intern who was in the process of being hired full-time. The comment would have been bad enough if he were, but it’s even worse because he’s just a regular new hire!

        Where I work, we technically have a 90-day probation period per the employee handbook, but it seems to be largely a formality. Nobody makes an announcement like “John has now passed his probation period!” or anything like that. But it might be a bigger deal at the LW’s company — the fact that Chris said what he said, and everyone understood him, suggests that it looms larger in people’s minds there than it does at my company.

      3. Annony*

        I agree. The assumption is that someone will pass probation. Something has to go seriously wrong for that not to happen. I have only seen it happen once and the person literally didn’t come to work most days (while filling out their time sheet as if they had). HR sucked so that person wasn’t fired until the probation review.

        1. Zelda*

          The existence of the phrase “pass probation” implies a different framing, though– like it’s a trial period/ temporary contract/ internship, after which some people are hired permanently and some are not. If you’re thought of as a permanent hire from day 1, then I wouldn’t expect to hear any more talk about a mere HR classification than I do about “did Jim pass the threshold for being awarded 3 weeks of annual PTO instead of 2?” Unlike Alison, the LW’s entire organization seems to see it as “a genuine professional trial” that leads them to talk about it in pass/fail terms.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            At my job new hires are thought of as permanent from day 1, and the expectation is that you will continue past your probation period unless there’s a serious problem. Even if there IS a serious problem, they usually just extend probation for a couple more months and give the person a chance to improve performance before getting permanent status. But people do still talk about it because it’s more than “a mere HR classification” for us.

            For starters, there is much more security for employees once they’re off probation – we’re public sector so terminating someone after their probation period is a very involved process with strict standards. Not that we have much turnover anyways, but it’s still nice to know you have that protection. Until completing probation employees can’t get promotions/raises, use vacation time without special approval, serve on employee committees, or begin certain types of training.

      4. Also-ADHD*

        Yeah I’ve never worked anywhere the probation mattered, except one where it was literally a professional certification process for the state (first year in education, in addition to performance/job, there are official benchmarks you need to hit to be fully certified, in the program I started in back when I went to teaching from corporate—that was a formal process and I did have a different employment contract until it was completed, but it still wouldn’t have been appropriate to make jokes about me leaving/washing out and no one would because they wanted staff). Does LW’s workplace not want staff? I get a probation period even in corporate in case something goes very wrong, but I’ve never seen one in that setting that is routine to fail, unless it’s more like a certification issue (training for CPA and having to get licensed in X time, having to pass the bar as a new lawyer when hired right out of law school, etc).

    2. MicroManagered*

      LW #1 needs to remember that they cannot make jokes like that to those underneath them.

      LW has that clearly stated in the letter, so we can assume she understands this. The question is how to address the mistake she already knows she made.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. The manager needs to apologize to Chris and say that they spoke without thinking, that he’s doing great (because he obviously is if they are talking about career planning with him). They should also confirm as quickly as possible that Chris has passed his probation period with the team. It’s not fair to have the team wonder whether Chris is or is not performing well.

      1. Java*

        ” they spoke without thinking, that he’s doing great (because he obviously is if they are talking about career planning with him).”

        To be honest that’s probably why LW felt comfortable making the joke. The quick brain thought was probably “it’s SO obvious that this is a joke because we just talked about long term things”
        Of course that doesn’t mean it was the right time/place situation for the joke, but OP knows that.

  4. not nice, don't care*

    “Once you’re a mom, you can’t stop being a mom.” Sounds a lot like ‘boys will be boys’. Or maybe that person needs to check with their doctor/therapist about their compulsion. In any case, OP should respond like the commentariat advised the woman getting her ponytail pulled by a male boss.

    1. Chocoholic*

      I would probably accept that line from my own mother, but only my own mother.

      1. Laura L*

        Yep, this is literally the only time it’s relevant. My mom has said this to me, actually, although she’ll include my dad too and say something like “well, we’re still your parents, even though you’re an adult now.” But that’s only true for parents about their own children. You’re not a mother to EVERYBODY, you’re a mother to one or more specific people.

    2. Anon for This*

      I catch myself reminding people to take their umbrella, coats, etc. and say something like that if they seem irritated, but I would never offer “mother-type” advice – that has no place in the office!

  5. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    I’m not even sure whose benefit a “façade” would be for. There’s no point in being coy about your expectation that an employee will pass the probationary period. Not passing should be a relatively rare exception and if they aren’t you should revisit your hiring processes.

    1. A Significant Tree*

      Good point! If an employee is at risk of not passing probation that definitely should be made clear in a 1:1 conversation, not an unfortunate public remark. I mean, it’s true that coworkers wouldn’t necessarily know whether a probationary employee is at risk or not, but assuming the employee has done as well as Chris has, there also should be the assumption he will be staying on.

      However, it sounds like LW1 absolutely gave Chris the sense that he would pass probation – it’s not false confidence if your manager is talking about future development in the role and long-term career goals. I’m sure it felt like a smackdown when Chris later referred to staying on and LW1 was like “not so fast.” And there are probably plenty of stories of bad managers who strung someone along with false hope and then axed them at the end of the probation, so Chris might have felt he was about to experience that. Hopefully the LW was able to have a clarifying conversation and apologize for the off-the-cuff remark.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Yeah, that’s the thing, Chris had just been told directly that LW was thinking of him in the long-term, because that was in fact the case. LW wasn’t actually worried that Chris wouldn’t pass probation. They were worried about looking “soft” if their new hires didn’t appear to be on their toes about a future with the team. Talking long-term plans with an employee in private and then humbling him in front of the rest of the team sounds like the move of an inexperienced or insecure manager who is overly worried about optics.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Sorry, OP, but this is a good point. Why are you concerned with seeming like a pushover in front of your team, when you were willing to praise Chris and talk about long-term plans in private? Is this a cultural thing in your organization (there seems to be an unusual emphasis on “passing” or “failing” probation), or are you feeling a need to exert control for some other reason?

    2. CRM*

      Right! The default expectation should be that the employee will pass. The probation exists in case it becomes clear early on that a new hire is a bad fit and unable to meet the expectations for the role. For a new hire that is doing well and receiving positive feedback, there should be absolutely no doubt that they will pass!

      1. CR*

        I was an employee who didn’t pass probation – because the organization was a toxic mess, my boss left as soon as I was hired, leaving me with nothing to do and no one would who would assume responsibility for me. I have no idea why they hired me. I was let go after three months on the dot and my role was canceled and I was never replaced. It was such a nightmare.

  6. CRM*

    It seems like OP1 misunderstands the purpose of a probationary period. It’s meant to provide an easy out if the new hire obviously isn’t a good fit (i.e. the new hire clearly has no idea how to use a software that is crucial to the job, is rude and unprofessional, has outside conflicts that make it difficult to adhere to the required schedule, ect.). It’s not meant to be a special test that new hires must go above-and-beyond to pass. Even if the new hire isn’t a rock star (and it sounds like Chris is, which makes this even worse), as long as they are competent at the job and professional, the idea is to develop them further from there. Like Allison said, you treat them like you treat any other employee.

    1. Moonstone*

      That is what really jumped out to me as well – LW made it sound like the probationary period was some special type of employment and he didn’t want to go too easy on the employee? I wonder if the LW has the skewed opinion or if the entire company treats that period in that strange way.

  7. Percysowner*

    Although this letter is about daycare, there are reasons for taking your kid to school when possibly sick. In my public school system, if you call your kid off from school sick more than X number of days, the kid gets put on a truancy list. If you send them to school and THEY send them home, then truancy doesn’t apply. So the choices are to get an appointment with a pediatrician, take the kid there and get a note or send a questionably sick kid in and let the teachers decide. The first means taking time off, co-pays and having your pediatrician guess how long the child should get a note for, which can be a lot for a working parent.

    1. Testing*

      What an awful system! It inevitably leads to kids who should rest at home and/or not spread their illness if contagious having to turn up just for a little while.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not great for the average family, but you’d be surprised how many child abuse and neglect cases are spotted and resolved because schools won’t allow an unlimited and unexplained number of days off unchallenged. You just have to look at how many kids died during COVID because this wasn’t in effect.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Sobering thought. Sigh – what a terrible thing that a completely pointless policy for most children is life-saving for others.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I really think it depends on what the “truancy list” means. In Ireland, schools have to report any kid who has been absent more than 20 days. Doesn’t matter if the kid has a note. Doesn’t even matter if the school knows full well the kid is in hospital. They ahve to report them all.

          However, the school reporting it doesn’t necessarily mean anything will happen. The parents might be sent a “hey, your kid has missed x number of days this year. School attendance is important because…” letter, but it definitely wouldn’t make sense to send a child to school sick because “he’s missed 19 days and the school will tell social services if he misses any more.”

          I assume the logic is exactly what you are saying, that if schools had the discretion to report only those they considered “concerning,” there would be a risk that some teachers would think, “oh, I know his parents. If they say he’s sick, he’s sick. They are such nice people. They couldn’t possibly be covering up abuse” and on the other hand, groups like the Travelling Community might well get reported at far lower levels of absenteeism, due to racism.

          So the schools report them all, but social services are only going to act if the number of days missed is excessive, like a child has missed more days than they have attended in a school year or if there are other causes for concern or if this is an ongoing issue (like the kid has missed 20+ days every year since they started school. And even then, the first reaction is going to be to contact the parents and see what the issue is.

          Any kind of “punishment” is a long way down the list. It begins with something like a letter to the parents, then contacting them to find out what the issue is, then supports, if necessary and things like court only come into it if a parent refuses to engage with supports.

          So while nobody wants their kid to be on the list or to get a scolding letter, it’s not a big deal and sending a kid to school sick would be worse, both for the child and his or her classmates.

          On the other hand, if parents are being given large fines or the child is being docked marks that would reduce their opportunities for things like college or there are other severe penalties imposed without any prior investigation, then I do think that problematic. Not that the state should just believe the parents but the aim should be to find out what is preventing this child from attending school rather than punishing them.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            In the US, there has been an astonishing rise in reports of suspected child abuse in the last decade. There isn’t an increased number of cases of actual abuse, but the number of contacts between Child Protective Services and particular families (generally racial minority, generally impoverished, very often having disabilities) has become a huge problem. It traumatizes families to be repeatedly investigated for child abuse, and CPS isn’t equipped to get them social services if the reason they were reported was for lack of food, clothing, or affordable childcare.

            A number of states are trying to retrain the “mandated reporters” (people who could face professional or even legal penalties for failing to report suspected abuse) to stop reporting poor families just for being poor or families of children with disabilities just because the kids are disabled.

        3. Happy*

          We don’t know that the policy itself is what protects those kids though, as opposed to the other benefits of being in school, having more support and oversight outside of the family, lack of stressors related to the pandemic and economic environment, etc.

          (…I’m assuming, that is. If you have research that points to causality and corrects for confounding events, I would be interested to see it!)

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

          Unfortunately there are schools who take it too far. I’ve heard where kids have a documented disability which causes them to get sick more often. Even with letters from doctors the school still threatens truancy.

      2. Jojo*

        Yes, it is terrible. And, I’d like to apologize to my son’s teachers and classmates for sending him to school sick last week because we had gotten THE LETTER of too many unlawful abscesses. We did end up taking him to the doctor because we needed the note for the school. So, time lost to take him in, and the copay, to find out he just had a really bad cold.

        The worst part is that this is what leads bosses to think people should work when they are sick. It’s really an American cultural problem.

    2. ferrina*

      Truancy doesn’t apply to daycare. Very few daycares have truancy policies- as long as you are paying, most are happy to let you do reduced hours (it’s easier for the teachers and classroom ratios). (this is for the U.S.)

      But little kids get sick extremely quickly. When my kiddo was 1, he woke up at 7am happy and chipper and healthy; when he was dropped off at 9am he had a small rash forming and was still chipper and otherwise healthy; by noon he had a raging fever and was miserable.

    3. Double A*

      Part of this is about funding. Schools don’t get paid for days kids miss, but if they show up for part of the day, the school gets paid.

      So kids are basically like salaried employees with no PTO.

  8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW2, in addition to Alison’s suggestions for fostering the right environment for taking time off to care for sick children, I would suggest you consider capacity and coverage.

    If your team has a reasonable workload and is fully staffed, it is no big deal for someone to take a day off. But if everyone is already working flat out for 40+ hours a week, someone’s absence either overloads everyone else, or means their work has to wait for their return, so they have to work hard and long to catch up.

  9. Guest*

    LW3 is senior to Catelyn and needs to remind her of that. If the mothering persists, Catelyn’s boss and HR need to step in.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Being senior is a red-herring and there’s no need to mention if. It wouldn’t matter if OP is a brand new hire. The issue is the mothering. Calling out senior status implies that there would be other circumstance where mothering a non senior colleague would be acceptable.

      1. wordswords*

        It would be a problem no matter what, unless both parties were totally fine with it (and possibly even then, depending on how it affected their work and other coworkers), but it does add a couple of extra dimensions. Number one, an older coworker “mothering” a younger but senior coworker undercuts the senior coworker’s authority, in general or over that specific coworker — and sometimes, subconsciously or consciously, that’s the whole point, but even if it’s not it’s an effect of it. Number two, it affects how blunt LW3 can be — usefully, in this case, whereas a more junior coworker still has standing to shut it down but might have to be a little more careful in their phrasing (though I admit that’s less relevant to Guest’s comment).

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          undermining isnt an issue because op i senior – it would be an issue regardless.

          i would argue that it would undermine a junior employee even moreso.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think that LW3 needs to tell Catelyn that this is undermining BOTH of them at work. Pointing out that it feeds into stereotypes of older workers (especially female) is probably going to be more effective than just saying that LW3 doesn’t appreciate being “mothered” at work, as it undermines her own position/status/way she is seen by others.

    3. purple monkey & bubblegum tree*

      That doesn’t matter. It’s completely inappropriate to “mother” anyone in a workplace, regardless of anyone’s seniority level.

  10. Ana Maus*

    It sounds like a lot more is made of probationary periods at this organization than I’ve ever seen. You hire someone with the assumption that they will pass it and settle in. Unless there’s a formal review at the end of it, I usually don’t even see it mentioned. Chris even mentioning it tells me that someone thinks it’s a big deal.

    The joke was out of line, especially coming from a manager. If I were Chris I’d be seriously bothered by it.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      This varies from company to company. In my current company (and also some others I’ve worked in) probation period is much more like a ‘trial period’ which at the end, you pass or not. Of course the expectation is that if there are issues, managers address them as they go, rather than get to the end of the 3 months and then say it’s not working out… but it is clearly a kind of “provisional” status where any mistakes etc have a larger impact than they would if you are more established. And many companies have a formal review process at the end of the period (and often, halfway through as a check-in) at which your continued employment is confirmed (or not). If the person isn’t quite up to standard but the manager thinks they could get there, there’s often provision to extend the probation period, although typically only once. It works the other way as well, the person can decide the job isn’t working for them and leave with little or no notice.

      I would have probably responded to Chris with “well, but also you will be stuck with me! :)”

      1. Cat Lover*

        Same- my old company’s probationary period was 90 days and very serious. It allowed the company to separate with the employee with 90 days under a “bad fit” reasoning, which protected the company, but also allowed for the employee to do the same. After 90 days it was much harder to let someone go for performance issues.

      2. AnonORama*

        Definitely apologize to Chris, as it’s not always easy to tell 1) whether a probationary period is just a formality or 2) whether a boss is stumbling in an attempt to be funny, being cruel on purpose, or not actually kidding.

        Everywhere I’ve worked that’s had a probationary period, it hasn’t been a formality. Employees got limited benefits (if any), and there was a formal review, usually at 90 days, where the employee was either welcomed as a full member of staff or let go. It never happened to me, so I’m not sure if the folks who were let go had been informed they needed to improve or that they weren’t the right fit, or if they just got blindsided at the review meeting. Probably depended on the manager.

      3. Coach Beard*

        I’m surprised so many people still have probationary periods. I haven’t had one since my days in local government, which I last worked in seven years ago. It carries such a negative connotation and even if one does pass their probationary period, it’s not like a new manager can’t come in and make cuts as he sees fit, assuming it’s a workplace with at-will employment. The only time I think it makes sense to have any sort of probationary period is in government or any other situation where an employee can’t be fired without cause or without going through some sort of progressive discipline.

        1. PotatoRock*

          Same, I think we technically have one but it would be really rare not to “pass” – it’s not something that I’d expect either employee or manager to treat like an extended interview/trial period like that. And if the company saw it that way, it would be really hard to hire strong candidates who currently have a job

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I think there are a larger number of organizations than you imagine that require progressive discipline, either because of a union or because of strong internal policies.

          Probation periods can also be very subtle. A number of my employers say you can’t take vacation in the first 3 months, and only later did I figure out that was actually a probationary period. There wasn’t any formal review or anything at the end, but they probably could have fired me more easily during that time (and I wouldn’t have been expected to give 2 weeks notice).

          1. Coach Beard*

            For my second to last employer, I believe it was expected that most people would be put through a progressive discipline process, except in more egregious circumstances. I don’t think newer employees were any less entitled to that in most cases. I also think this is/was the case at my previous and current employer, but I don’t know of many cases at either where anyone was terminated. That said, all three had made a point to say that employment was at-will. I do believe other companies might have stricter guidelines, but in those cases, it might make sense to have a probationary period.

            A number of my employers say you can’t take vacation in the first 3 months

            I saw a lot of similar policies earlier in my career, but I think those kinds of policies are thankfully dying out. At my previous employer, the policy was two weeks of vacation which began at your one-year anniversary, but I negotiated my offer to allow one of those weeks to be used after 90 days. It didn’t give me any extra time, just gave me two weeks over my first two years. I would have also been allowed to take unpaid leave if needed. I ended up leaving that company after 6 months with this being one of the reasons.

        3. londonedit*

          Here in the UK probationary periods are important because it gives either side a chance to terminate the employment contract with only a short notice period (ours is two weeks on either side) if it turns out to have been the wrong choice, either for the employee or for the employer. Once someone’s out of their probation period it becomes much more difficult for an employer to fire them without going through specific disciplinary processes, and the employee will have at least a month’s notice period, if not longer (usually the length of the notice period increases with seniority, so it could be three or even six months). It’s not some sort of ‘we don’t trust you to do the job properly so we’re putting you on probation’ thing, it’s a legal protection for both employers and employees.

          1. Coach Beard*

            I think it makes sense to have probationary periods in this case. In the US, most companies have at-will employment, so in most cases, a formal probationary period would be pointless.

          2. BubbleTea*

            My understanding, and I’m extremely new at hiring (mid way through the first round of recruitment ever), is that it’s actually not any more difficult to get rid of someone in the first two years of their employment than in their probation period, but it’s still better to have it set out and have deliberate reviews of specific goals than to let it drift indefinitely and then change your mind after 18 months.

    2. metadata minion*

      I *think* I had a kind of mini-review at the end of my probationary period, but it was really more about setting longer-term goals now that I knew how to do all the usual work tasks. It was very clear that unless I was clearly a disaster I there was no question about me not being kept on.

  11. Jodi*

    #1 You’ve already expressed that Chris is doing great and you plan to meet re planning his future with the company so why the need to prolong his uncertainty about it till the last minute? He was excited about your last meeting and his probation coming to an end and you took the wind out of his sails. I’d be highly doubtful this great employee was going to tank in his last couple of weeks of probation. Years ago I took some career development night classes at a college and after our final papers were handed in, the teacher called and told me I had received a great mark in the class. He said he didn’t want students to have to wait and wonder how they did till grades came out in a couple of weeks. I thought that was very thoughtful of him.

    1. Saturday*

      Exactly, I don’t understand why everyone has to be kept guessing until the last minute in order for the process to be a “genuine professional trial.” He met his objectives and is doing well – unless the process is random and unfair, he has reason to expect to pass.

    2. Eric*

      Yes, why not have a system where people who are obviously competent can “pass” early? I know the LW probably isn’t in charge of the actual policies, but I think within their own team and one-on-one with new hires, they could explain it that way. It’s a weird fiction the LW is engaging in, pretending not to know if Chris has passed in front of him and his peers.

  12. constant_craving*

    I can’t think of any parents who want to send their sick child to daycare. I’d bet one of two things is happening here: a.) the child isn’t sick in the morning or isn’t even sick at all (some daycares can be really strict and do things like send a child home “sick” because they’re fussier than usual or their temperature is 1 degree higher than usual after sleeping under a pile of blankets, etc.), or b.) LW is giving lip service to the idea the parent should stay home but does not provide enough sick leave, etc. for it to be feasible.

    1. purple monkey & bubblegum tree*

      My daughter’s daycare once sent her home “sick” because she had a “rash” on her stomach that had completely disappeared by the time we got there to get her. I had the same thought.

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    Setting aside whether a probationary period is just a formality, if you were already talking with Chris about long term goals and plans, it would be logical for him to think that he had passed!

    1. pally*

      Sure. But sometimes there’s mixed messages that can be difficult to decipher.

      My boss hired on a lab tech after she’d been with us for a while as a temp. She was a couple of years out of school. All were very impressed with her work. Boss was too.
      And told her so.

      Only, his way of doing this was to explain to her that he’d never stand in her way should she want to leave the company.

      This left her confused. He’d just hired her but was okay if she left? Whaaaat? She asked me if boss wanted her to quit.

      No, I explained. Quite the contrary. He’s very happy with her work and wants her to stay. He also doesn’t want to stand in the way of her moving on -in time- to do greater things. IOW, he was being supportive of her career. He saw great potential in her that would only be stifled if she stayed forever.

      Yeah, an odd way to express this.

      Later I spoke to boss about his comments. He was genuinely surprised this was her take on his thoughts. He wanted to set things straight but I told him I’d fixed things already.

      (I should add that boss, while a good person, was low on EQ )

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        In that instance it makes sense for the employee to be confused because the well-meaning boss had said something that was confusing to her (happens to the best of us!). OTOH, Chris understood LW perfectly well when they were talking about long-term plans and they seemed to be on the same page, which is why her concern about his “cockiness” afterwards is misplaced – he was responding to the signals she’d sent.

  14. Shepherdess*

    Re: Catelyn, the motherly colleague -“”Once you’re a mom, you can’t stop being a mom.”
    What the heck? Moms do all kinds of things for their children that are totally inappropriate on the job. Catelyn’s treating the OP like a child because OP is younger than Catelyn is off the wall!

    Would Catelyn also tell a male colleague “Once you’re a wife, you can’t stop being a wife” and then assume that he’ll slip into the role of her husband, complete with “marital relations”?! No, she wouldn’t and she’d be fired for harassment if she did!

    1. Poison I.V. drip*

      Honestly, there comes a point where even a real mother has to step way back or they’ll find boundaries being set. Someone appointing themselves your parent is infantilizing and undermining you and it needs to stop. The hell with her feelings, this is serious.

    2. Emikyu*

      It’s funny, because I did sort of work with my mom for awhile (volunteer positions, but still work). In fact, technically I was senior to her, which made sense given our relative experience.

      Not only did she not “mother” me when we were working (which would have been wildly inappropriate), she suggested that I should call her by her first name while we were there. Not that we were trying to hide the family relationship, which wasn’t even a secret, we just weren’t trying to call attention to it. Basically, she didn’t want to undermine me by making me seem even younger than I was.

      So yeah, you absolutely can stop being a mom (temporarily, when the situation calls for it) even with your own actual offspring. The idea that you have to go around adopting coworkers to raise is absurd.

  15. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 Apologise NOW and explain it was a silly joke that misfired. Chris may not just have hut geelings but be worried sick.
    When you have power over people, it is even more important to apologise when you’ve done them a wrong.

    #2 OP should MYOB

    #3 Catelyn should MYOB.Politely tell her to take her nose out of your biz.

  16. Eric*

    I never thought of a probationary period as all that serious a test. If you’re a halfway decent employee, I figured it goes by basically unaddressed. But my experience is in higher ed – maybe in corporate it’s different? But according to Green’s response, it’s not supposed to be. Basically, “passing” is the norm, and it just makes it easier to fire someone if they’re grossly incompetent and it was just a hiring fail, yes?

    1. metadata minion*

      That’s what I’m familiar with as well. There might be specific fields where it’s an actual trial period, but I’ve only ever heard it talked about as an “easy out” if someone is clearly a bad hire.

    2. Beth*

      That’s my understanding from office jobs – the point is to make it easier to let go of someone who’s obviously an awful fit. Many companies have policies around firing people, and the documentation and process can take a while; probationary periods are a workaround to ensure that you don’t end up spending 2 months working up to firing someone who was obviously a bad hire by the time they’d been there for 2 weeks.

    3. just some guy*

      Pretty much, IME. By the time you get through recruiting, induction, and a probation period, having to fail somebody means a lot of money down the drain, so I’d never be making an offer unless I was very hopeful they’d make it through probation.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      In the companies I’ve worked at, it’s usually a period where not all benefits are available (ie, eligibility for group insurance, retirement plan, tuition reimbursement doesn’t kick in until after 90 days) Not sure if that started due to medical insurance policy waiting periods or just as a way to prevent churn of people being in and out of benefit plans (which can create hassles for both employee and employer for different reasons) Plus it’s a period in which if it’s obvious an employee is not able to fulfill the job, you end their employment, without a formal PIP, etc.

      But completion of the introductory period is also used as an opportunity for an informal review, check in – how the employee is doing generally, what’s going well, what might need some extra focus to continue getting her up to speed.

      And sometimes, especially for people hired for entry level or lower pay positions, it’s an opportunity to increase their rate of pay, because sometimes a person was hired, paid based on the baseline requirements of the job, but turns out they’ve come up to speed quickly or demonstrated a level of work that merits a higher wage and there’s no need to wait for an annual review to get that adjustment in place.

      But aside from weird “House” or “Hunger Games” elimination nonsense, I can’t imagine hiring an employee that I didn’t expect would succeed, and also couldn’t imagine the situation where someone was so shaky that I’d want them gone at 90 days … but didn’t know and address it with them for the first time until day 90. There would be several conversations way back in month 1 … in unusual circumstances, maybe month 2 at the latest, with retraining, reiteration of performance standards, and if they didn’t improve they would probably be gone well before the 90 day mark was on the horizon.

  17. Gilgongo*

    My manager keeps joking about firing me, and it’s pretty awful. I just got a great raise & bonus… and I’m 95% sure I’m doing a great job. But, man. Last Friday, we had a 4pm meeting, and he started it off by saying “Welp, there’s no easy way to say this… “
    I kind of freaked, and he started laughing and was all “Gotcha!”

    1. Pickle Shoes*

      Oh that’s awful. I’m sorry.

      My grandboss has a habit of giving his direct reports a hard time, which has recently extended to me. Since there’s a level between us, we pretty much only interact in group meetings. I’ve known him too long to worry about what he says, but it’s still awkward because any response from me runs the risk of publicly humiliating a senior manager.

      With my own employees, absolutely not. Even if they’re making the jokes about being fired or disciplined, I have to remember that they might really be worried and trying to keep it light.

    2. PotatoRock*

      Yeah, I think this is good to keep in mind. My manager made one joke once about firing me, and it took up WAY more mind space than he ever realized

    3. Hannah Lee*

      I HATE “Gotcha’s” in work settings.

      It’s completely inappropriate, especially when there’s a power imbalance and the one being pranked’s pay/employment is teased as at risk. It’s NOT funny.

      Once was on a very stressful project where smart people were diligently working their butts off, and dealing with technology and budget issues that meant things didn’t go as smoothly or as quickly as anyone wanted. One afternoon, 2 weeks after we’d pulled off hitting one major milestone, but in the midst of another crisis (not of our making) Project Manager calls an emergency meeting, very serious, giving “not good news” vibes and comments. We all scurried around panicked, fearing the project or worse, our jobs were about to be axed. Meeting time comes, into the conference room we all march, silently, waiting for an ax to fall somewhere … and PM laughs (cackles, actually)

      “Hah! Psych! Everything is great! Management is really pleased with how well you’ve tackled the challenges and they’re adding more staff to help, plus, you’re all getting Special Project Awards and bonuses!”

      You’ve never seen a group of people more pissed to be awarded surprise 4 figure bonus checks and recognition from Senior Management in your life. I think a couple of the team leads wanted to punch him when he gave them their checks.

  18. Pickle Shoes*

    Y’know, I’m extremely good at masking most of the time, but it would probably slip if a coworker dismissed my objections to them mothering me as though they couldn’t possibly help it.

    That’s a little aggravating just to read. I won’t accept it from women who know me in my personal life, including my actual estranged mother.

  19. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

    Alison said that probationary periods aren’t intended to make people feel like “well, maybe we’ll keep you and maybe we don’t.” I worked at two companies that had formal probationary periods of three months, and I was definitely made to think that maybe the company would keep me, and maybe they wouldn’t. It all depended on how well I performed during probation.

    At the first company, my supervisor told me that he was so pleased with my work well before the three months were up that I was no longer on probation, and he immediately notified TPTB. This confirmed my belief that maybe they would keep me, and maybe they wouldn’t, but now I knew that they were going to keep me.

    At the second company, I was fired eight weeks into probation because another employee was displeased that a supervisor had praised my work, and she ran to the branch manager and said that if I wasn’t fired, she would quit. So I was fired. No need for any warnings because I was on probation, which Alison said is the point of probation – that an employee can fired without being given any kind of rational reason or the company going through proper channels. And since I was fired during probation, I was put on the ineligible to be hired list for all of their branch offices, and I was told that anyone who called them for a reference would be told that I had been fired and was ineligible for rehire. Some companies would have concluded that I had done something terribly wrong to be put on their ineligible for rehire list. But I hadn’t. All I had done was to be very good at my job.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      You know, if the probation is anything other than a way of making it easier to let someone go if they’re a bad fit for the job, and relatively rarely used, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to keep job searching until your probation is up. You don’t want to be fired 89 days into a 3 month probation period and have to start job hunting from scratch. And if you get an offer during the probation that’s better than your current job, it’s fine to leave without any notice, because the probation, like a job interview, is mutual.

      1. Plate of Wings*

        This is a great point I’ve never considered. I hope readers in fields where probation periods are common see this!

        It definitely doesn’t make sense for companies that use it in the way you describe in your first sentence. But a real test with real uncertainty? That’s not a bad idea.

  20. just some guy*

    It’s easy to forget that the view looks different from down below than it does from management. I once had to reassure a guy who had already completed probation that no, we weren’t going to fire him just because he was going through a minor bad patch (mismatch with a supervisor who had an incompatible management style and was spread too thin to give him adequate guidance).

    From my perspective, the idea that we’d fire him was absurd. This was a workplace where firing somebody post-probation is a long and involved process that requires exploring all other options first, and nobody had even started on that process. Even from a completely cold-hearted perspective (which isn’t mine, nor his managers’), replacing people is expensive and not something we’d want to do before trying other things. And treating people as disposable is awful for morale. Plus, if somebody that junior who’s previously been doing well *is* suddenly doing badly, that’s as much a reflection on their manager as on them.

    But he was new to the workforce, he hadn’t seen how these situations were handled, and he had high expectations for himself that he wasn’t quite meeting; if you’re the kid who’s always scored As, a B feels like the end of the world. He had no way to know his catastrophising was unrealistic until we talked through it.

    1. Plate of Wings*

      I am at a senior level (maybe I’d be mid at a big big company), and I know I am a high performer, but for some reason I worry about this every time there’s a bad patch! (Definitely wasn’t an A student though lmao.)

      It was so kind of you to reassure him! Your perspective was a gift. Hopefully he is more confident now, and hopefully I will shake it some day too!

  21. Elle by the sea*

    It might be because I‘m not American and this kind of banter is common and acceptable in my culture, I don’t don’t see OP’s joke as a big deal. The employee already paved the way to OP’s answer with his joke. I had almost the same interaction with my manager after my probation period at some point. I laughed at their answer. Both of us knew it was a joke. OP’s employee is reading too much into it.

    Nevertheless, OP should let the employee know (ideally in front of the team) that it was a joke and they are confident that the employee will do well in this job. If OP was able to read their employee’s reaction, this conversation should have happened right after the joke was made.

    1. Managing While Female*

      Honestly, this is where I am as well… I guess you’d have to be there to get the tone but I read it as just banter. Once, I had an internship where my boss would frequently “fire” me and I always knew it was a joke. I’m a fairly anxious person but I knew I was doing a good job and I just laughed when I got ‘fired’ every day. At my current job, someone will say they’re going on PTO and someone will jokingly be affronted and say “what?? Who approved that?? That’s not allowed here!” but it’s clearly a joke and followed by “sounds good. We’ve got it from here. Have a great time.”

      I get that some people are ‘absolutely no humor in the workplace’ and have a hard time deciphering tone, so I guess you have to pick your audience. If the employee was upset by it, best to apologize and make it clear that they’re doing a good job.

  22. Rosacolleti*

    #1 it would depend on the culture in the workplace but at mine, they are definitely overthinking it as this remark wouldn’t be that out of place given the other banter that goes on.
    We also all know that letting someone go at the end of their probation would only be after many discussions of the issues along with opportunities to address them. It would never be a surprise.

    1. PotatoRock*

      I think it would still be a good idea for the manager to address it with Chris – because he’s new, he doesn’t have all that evidence that, hey, you are definitely on track to pass probation, and if you were not, you can trust me to raise it proactively and give you clear standards to meet. The manager and long term employees know that – because they’ve seen how both probation and performance problems are handled – but you don’t want your new team member stressing over “wait, maybe this /is/ the kind of place where no one tells me there’s a problem until I actually get fired”

      1. Rosacolleti*

        I agree with you, I would have have addressed it personally with them, particularly given I think the OP thought they saw a big of a reaction.

  23. gvmtgirlie*

    just a culture-specific note on #1 – I work in government and we ALWAYS joke about new employees on probation because you’d have to do something pretty egregious to not pass and they are more of a formality than anything. when new employees are nearing the end of probation our whole team jokes about whether they will “make it” or not. it does sound like this specific employee didn’t take the joke well and maybe their team culture is different. I’m not a supervisor and I never found the jokes demoralizing or anything.

  24. Semi-retired admin*

    Re: the mothering…I’ve run into the opposite problem. For several years I’ve been now, I’ve been older than the majority of my colleagues. I would often here comments like “you’re the office mom”. I did NOT want to be the office mom. My daughter is an adult, my husband is very self-sufficient. I am done with nurturing!

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