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I work at a large company that, unfortunately, has a recurring habit of hiring small armies of under-trained and under-skilled junior engineers that don't get much done (mostly due to our lack of training new employees, they don't stand a chance unless they train in personal time). On-boarding and "training" takes about 8 months per employee, while at other jobs of mine, it's seldom taken more than 6 weeks. This results in the bulk of the work and stress falling on our "Ace" engineers (we have maybe 40 in a company of over 8,000 engineers). These "aces" train the more senior engineers that have managed to stay afloat, so that the senior engineers can lead teams. However, turnover is high for senior engineers, due to stress, hours, lack of support, and so on (and wanted to be "initiated as an ace" rather than having to suffer as a senior engineer for years before earning the promotion to "ace").

One of our country's aces, "Ace Al", got into an argument with a director (Al was given 8 months to "trial" being a junior director, and formed a dream team that churned out excellent results, but Al's "secret" was "fewer engineers with more talent, and pay them double our current rates"; senior management loved his results but not his summary indicating how to achieve it (despite Al's approach still being very profitable, despite the salary increases), and demanded he "re-write it to better apply to current hiring policies"; our company has an obsession with "being in control", and feels that having an army of grunts is easier to manage than a battalion of elites). Ace Al told the director that current company practises are "diametrically opposed" to his successful methods, and when pressed about 10 more times, told the director to "eat sh**". Al was not reprimanded, but turned in his resignation the next day. He won't tell anyone where he's going (though with his talent and connections, I have zero doubt he could get in with a FANG company overnight).

Al has to serve 6 weeks of notice, and has asked me, his "temporary boss" (his regular boss doesn't manage him anymore as of Al's resignation; HR won't tell me why) to "just give him garden leave". I'm honestly not sure how to work with a guy like Al. He's always been very polite and professional and helpful, but right now, he treats anyone in a role of seniority with extreme distrust and contempt.

We need him to offload his knowledge and train additional "Aces in the making", but he seems to sense this. Suddenly he has home internet issues, calls drop, VPN goes down randomly (he's a smart guy; I have zero doubt he could fake this with some scripts and a DD-WRT router without our compliance/tracking software being able to detect it). We can't demand he comes in to the office due to COVID policies. The company is literally proposing we rent him a high-end hotel room he can use as an office (safe from COVID) with all the necessary equipment pre-installed in the room (2x joined rooms if necessary), and he just keeps coming up with the most bizarre-yet-plausible excuses. I think he literally broke one of his toes to buy himself a week of time (called in sick with a broken toe for a week; has a legit doctor's note for it). We've tried offering a "consulting fee/bonus" and he ignores the e-mail.

I think we should just give him the garden leave. This entire debacle is destroying morale around the office, and has become a major embarrassment. I don't think anything we do is going to force Al to produce the training documentation we've requested, and frankly, someone this disgruntled should not have access to company secrets and VPN. Senior management already scoffed at this suggestion of mine once.

How do I convince the people in charge to just cut their losses? This is destroying the morale and productivity of my team, and Al seems like he's out to make the company bleed rather than benefit himself (without exposing himself to lawsuits by deliberately declining to write these training materials; he just finds excuses not to do it).

He has maybe 3.5 weeks left in his notice period, and I'm almost convinced he's going to just claim illness when only 2.0 weeks remain and go into self-quarantine to ride out the remaining time.

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My honest, personal answer to your plight, rather than your question, is to invite the guy for a beer and ask him if his new company is looking for people like you.

But your question was how to convince senior management.

They have already refused your rational and - based on the information you have given - IMHO correct assessment. So you can't win by repeating that or pressing on it.

You pointed out a second point:

someone this disgruntled should not have access to company secrets and VPN

You can declare to senior management in writing that you consider the guy a security risk. Mention that you have no evidence of any wrongdoing, but that you believe it possible and him capable enough to do it without being found out in time. Recommend removing all his access rights for security reasons.

Doing it in writing means that in case something like this actually does happen, your ass is covered. Doing it in writing also means that your next higher up knows that your ass is covered and he'll think about covering his ass.

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I could only find one actual question in your post

How do I convince the people in charge to just cut their losses?

I don't think you can. Senior management has demonstrated repeatedly that they are not willing to listen to reason and that they value their bizarre cultural approach above proven success, logic and actual data. They have burned the bridge with Al far beyond any possible repair.

At this point the best you can do is to cut your own losses: Try to remove yourself as much from the situation as much as possible.

One last possible attempt: have a private talk with Al. Be as open and honest as possible. Don't sugar coat what the company did, acknowledge it, apologize for it. And then ask him if there is anything he wants or you can do to make the last 3 weeks less shxtty than the previous ones and see of there is any potential middle ground.

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    if management knows onboarding takes EIGHT MONTHS, in what universe would you expect anything done in 6 weeks? Why don't you ask them that? If it takes minute to boil water, ask them to boil it in 10 seconds. – Nelson Mar 22 at 2:38
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    I can't really remove myself, as this has been dumped on my lap and I was told "fix it!". – Duras Mar 22 at 2:47
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    @Nelson Not all on boarding requires 100% overlap. You get the critical stuff done in 6 weeks, and the non-critical stuff you can blunder along a bit. – Gregory Currie Mar 22 at 3:56
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    @Duras you've been handed a pile of glass shards and told to glue them back together. You have to be able to say "this isn't going to work". But then, you already know your work environment is abusive! – pjc50 Mar 22 at 9:11
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    Obviously, there's nothing magnificent that can be done in 6 weeks. One thing the OP can do is to make a series of recorded "webinars" with "the ace". Just treat it like an interview, ask questions, share screens, let them talk. This removes the dread and pressure of sitting down, alone, in front of a blank page with nothing but resentment and a mandate from management. If a few key (non-executive) people can sit in and ask questions, that's even better. A lot can be covered this way and even disgruntled people are usually willing to help their peers. – teego1967 Mar 22 at 11:28
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The problem isn't Al, the problem is the company

Your answer has already pointed out several issues with the company, none of them are related to Al. This company spectacularly fails the hit by a bus test according to your write-up. Ensuring others can step in if a senior person quits is part of running a company. There is nothing illegal in what Al is doing - not working himself into the ground during his notice period.

He wrote a report telling the company how to make more of him months ago and they ignored it.

I'm not surprised Al doesn't want to live in a hotel room. It is not your job to determine if Al broke his toe or not. Work with him as best you can during the transition.

The notice period is not when to ask for mission-critical documents. Those should have been made already. Document what you can from Al, and keep the document up-to-date as you learn so when you get fed up and leave the company you can avoid this exact scenario.

EDIT

This company already has some very serious issues if it takes 8 months to train someone to be productive. Al knows he can't produce 8 months of work in 6 weeks. Currently, you've given Al power over your career.

He literally told the company he doesn't want to work there anymore. You need to figure out a way to move things forward without counting on someone who is likely literally counting the days until he never has to talk to the company again.

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  • He wouldn't have to live there: just work in the hotel room 8 hours a day for the next 3-4 weeks. – Duras Mar 22 at 2:46
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    @Duras - the reason he can't come to the office is COVID. Commuting to a hotel every day would be almost as bad potential exposure wise (giant lobby with lots of travelers = COVID hotspot) – sevensevens Mar 22 at 2:52
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    @sevensevens - The company is likely suggesting the individual live and work at the hotel. Of course with a family, you are still looking at travel, good luck getting any court in the world to say the individual HAD to stay in the hotel “to work”. It’s a stupid idea for a lot of reasons even without COVID-19; Could just offer the vaccine, have them come into work (CDC says vaccinated individuals can be around vaccinated individuals), that would be a reasonable request (outside of forcing the vaccine on someone) – Donald Mar 22 at 11:48
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Summary of my understanding:

  • Ace Al spend 8 months training "juniors" as part of building a team
  • Ace Al was asked create a document describing how he got such good results
  • The document describes too radical a change for how the business operates
  • Ace Al was asked to compromise and document something more palatable
  • Ace Al swore at a director, and then resigned, and asked for gardening leave
  • Ace Al was advised that he is expected to work through his notice period
  • Part of this work is to complete the document described above
  • Ace Al has been suffering a range of setbacks (either self-inflicted or otherwise) that make it difficult for him to complete his notice period

I'm going to answer your question ignoring the fact that the employee probably has some legitimate grievances, and speak to what you should do as a manager. It is very tempting for me just to say that the company deserves this misfortune, even if you do not.

Your problem is you don't really have any cards to play. You have made, what I think is a fair assessment of the situation. I don't think there is any point at all keeping them on.

You should be documenting every instance of the employees inability to do their work. No matter if it seems deliberately contrived or absolutely honest. Every dropped call, every missed meeting, everything. That coupled with insulting behaviour towards other staff members is forms the body of argument you should make to your senior people. This all proves that it's highly unlikely there will be a positive outcome.

You put this all in front of your senior people, and you either make a case for firing this person for insubordination, offering to come to an agreement to terminate the employment (the middle ground) or granting them gardening leave.

Something to keep in mind is that most contracts work on a balance of probabilities basis. If this were ever to get to court, you don't need to absolutely prove they deliberately avoided work, a judge just has to look at the body of facts and decide if the most reasonable assessment. An employee telling a director to eat shit, then resigning, and then demanding gardening leave doesn't look too good from the onset. The employer trying to find reasonable workarounds for technical problems and getting rebuffed in every instance shows only one party is acting in good faith.

HR are the people that are most likely able to make an objective assessment of the situation if you begin to think if firing this employee is the way to go, though I recommend that mutually agreeing on early termination is the best way forward.

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  • A neat analysis from the employers perspective. – Stilez Mar 28 at 15:34
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Why would Al be in legal jeopardy by not writing these training materials? I'd find it very hard to believe that the company has any legal recourse whatsoever.

You've done everything you can. You've tried yo get Al to produce, and he won't. You've tried to get the company to acquiesce, and they won't.

I don't see this as your problem. Let the situation wind itself out and do your best to keep your team on track until it does.

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    If he deliberately does nothing during his notice period, he's open to litigation. Since he's not directly declining what's been assigned to him, he's not technically violating the terms of his notice period. – Duras Mar 22 at 2:46
  • @Duras As I said in my answer, you almost certainly don't need absolute proof. I'm NOT saying the legal approach is the correct way to go, but if you fire him, he may have a tough time arguing unfair dismissal. – Gregory Currie Mar 22 at 10:32
  • That an employer has any legal recourse, other than firing an employee, when said employee refuses to perform the duties of their job is dubious at best. If the employer can prove that the actions of the employee are tantamount to negligence that materially harms the company, then they might have a case. – joeqwerty Mar 22 at 12:02
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    @GregoryCurrie, I don't think it is as straightforward as you suggest. If the matter went to court, it may be the employer who is accused of having already sabotaged the relationship prior to the resignation (and so dismissing him would consummate that into an unfair dismissal), or having upset him so deeply as to cause medical illness. A temporarily flaky internet connection and a broken toe don't in themselves suggest a probability of malicious causes, and general "bad luck" often swirls around those whose routines and emotions are upset. – Steve Mar 22 at 12:44
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    @Steve Based on what has been said here, I don't see anything suggesting the employer has sabotaged the relationship. He was simply asked to write a report in a different way that is more palatable to the status quo. It's really not a major thing, unless you get unreasonably upset about not getting things done your own way. – Gregory Currie Mar 22 at 12:47
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You have to deal with a very difficult off-boarding here. I think you are on shaky ground here, and whatever you do your career is in danger, but not for this off-boarding project they assigned you, but because:

his "temporary boss" (his regular boss doesn't manage him anymore as of Al's resignation; HR won't tell me why)

Even if you make the miracle of briging the AI ace back to work 40h/week for the company, having all the knowledge transferred to the company, the fact alone that this issue was offloaded to you raises a huge red-flag about your future in the company.

Either you can climb the rank fast in the next 3/6 months, or "they" are building a trap under your feet to get rid of you (not in a personal term, maybe for cost-savings, maybe having a bleak outlook of the market).

So my suggestion is to just gain time, ask to be reassigned or do as the AI-ace is showing you, skip meetings, take days off ... all you can do to prove you don't have the time to work on this temporary, risky subproject called "offboarding of a smart guy".

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    If there is a conflict between an employee and an manager leading to an employee resigning, it is not unreasonable to transfer the employee to another manager to try and ensure the remaining weeks are painfree. – Gregory Currie Mar 22 at 15:13
  • @GregoryCurrie I agree, although there may be some cultural difference based on country and cultural norms. What is striking is the silence from HR (ok, I do not know how exactly OP contacted them, stating "HR won't tell me why", maybe the question that was formulated was too precise, asking for causes of resignation rather than for the necessity of changing the manager). – EarlGrey Mar 22 at 15:32
  • To be honest, I'm not sure what HR is actually meant to do here. Senior management didn't do anything wrong. Presumably nobody complained to HR about the employee's conduct, and it seems the employee would rather quit than complain to HR. The decision to transfer them across may not have even come from HR, or maybe they acted pro-actively. Who knows. – Gregory Currie Mar 22 at 15:38
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I agree with the other answers; it's best if you can talk with him privately and come to a cooperative solution.

However, if those don't work, and his employment is at-will, then I think you need to consider terminating his employment early. In that case, I would send an email to him letting him know the following:

  • You have no other work for him to do besides {training/knowledge transfer} and {random cleanup stuff that takes 1-2 days}.

  • His performance appears far too inadequate at this point for the company to justify paying him for the rest of his employment period.

  • Therefore, while you wished to find a mutually beneficial path forward, you now unfortunately appear to have no other choice but to ask him to do {cleanup} and terminate his employment in 2 business days.

If he cares to stay beyond that, he'll come to you proposing a solution. But if he's determined to provide negligible value moving forward, then he won't... in which case, why are you keeping him?

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    The "6 week of notice" suggests it is not entirely at-will, and probably the company has no option to shorten that notice period unilaterally. Having said that, a mutual agreement to shorten the notice period can be workable. The company could offer to pay 50% in lieu of the not-worked time. – MSalters Mar 22 at 12:13

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