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I was recently promoted to manager and I have this employee who, to put it nicely, is... difficult.

They interned over the summer for the past few summers and didn't seem to enjoy working here, but nevertheless accepted a full-time job after they graduated with their Masters in Science. They were valedictorian their undergrad year and have an amazing GPA as a grad student. And yet, they refuse to listen during any of the training and then complain that they don't know how to do something we just went over the day before.

What's more, they are so negative. Their coworkers praise them for being critical and a realist, but they are not constructive in their complaints and incapable of offering solutions to problems. They would just rather complain about everyone and everything else. They refuse to ask for help and will just sit there twiddling their thumbs until I check in on them. They have no initiative to ask for help. If I do offer them a solution they don't bother implementing it. It really is draining and they have been here for less than a month.

I am also really baffled here, because I am stumped why you would even bother getting your Masters if you have absolutely no drive to learn anything and again, they have the grades to prove that they can at least retain information short term. All their work they have done as an intern had to be redone, because it was all trash and they ended up creating more issues then they fixed.

I am sure part of it is that they don't see me as their superior so I am not worthy of listening to. They have openly complained in front of me about my boss and try to extract gossip out of me even after I attempt to shut it down. I have tried repeatedly explaining the big picture so that they understand, but their eyes just glaze over and they tune out.

I am at the point where I am wondering if I should just let them fail and focus on people who want to work. Any advice on how to get through to a wayward employee?

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    Do you have influence on the interviewing/hiring/onboarding process?
    – iLuvLogix
    Jun 21 at 15:54
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    How long have they been working there? Are they on a trial period or will their performance be reviewed soon? Waiting a year for a review is too long, and if someone really isn't getting on with the job and isn't prepared to develop, then letting them go is the only answer.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 21 at 16:27
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    You are their manager, but they don't see you as their superior ...? Are they seriously mistaken about the identity of their boss? Any idea how that happened?
    – meriton
    Jun 21 at 17:03
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    They interned over the past few summers... Was their behaviour the same? Jun 21 at 17:22
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    Two internships where the work quality was garbage and you've now hired them full time... What power do you have in your role? Would you have the ability to fire them if it came to that?
    – spuck
    Jun 23 at 20:40

4 Answers 4

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I am at the point where I am wondering if I should just let them fail and focus on people who want to work. Any advice on how to get through to a wayward employee?

As their manager you owe it to them to provide honest, timely feedback on their performance.

If you don't already do so, you should have weekly one-on-one meetings. And for this employee, the number one topic should be their performance so far as you have expressed.

Make sure they understand exactly what they are doing that you don't like. And make sure they understand the consequences of failing to improve. Finally, see if you can get to the bottom regarding why they are doing what they do, and offer ways to break the path they are on.

Make sure to follow up in a week. Praise any improvement you see. And keep holding them accountable. That's your job.

I am sure part of it is that they don't see me as their superior so I am not worthy of listening to.

Make sure they understand that "not listening to you" isn't an option.

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    Excellent answer, as always, Joe. As a manager if those you supervise are failing, it means you are failing.
    – spuck
    Jun 24 at 15:08
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Sounds like the relationship between you as a manager and them as subordinates is at a dead end..

"All their work they have done as an intern had to be redone, because it was all trash and they ended up creating more issues then they fixed."

Interns aren't expected to produce content of sound quality - maybe you were expecting a bit too much back then..

In regards to advice: Don't expect a fresh grad to deliver top content and be 100% productive - they are new to the workplace and don't have a track-record in their CV.

Sometimes you can get a rough diamond, sometimes they turn out as you described. In order to produce, maybe hire some folks with a couple of years experience and a good track record in terms of finished projects, past work-history etc..

Either way, bring the mentioned issues to their attention (in a productive manner, maybe during a 1on1) and tell them what's expected of them.

If they continue to show no effort or simply ignore your suggestions and demands you can always show them the door (if that's within your powers) or escalate it to your superioirs.

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A bit to breakdown here.

They interned over the summer for the past few summers and didn't seem to enjoy working here, but nevertheless accepted a full-time job after they graduated with their Masters in Science. They were valedictorian their undergrad year and have an amazing GPA as a grad student. And yet, they refuse to listen during any of the training and then complain that they don't know how to do something we just went over the day before.

There is a bit of a difference between academically learning, and learning a job.

I know some students that never attended a lecture, because they couldn't focus for long periods of time, and hated not being able to control the pace of their learning. They learnt everything via written material, and by trying things out.

It's very possible your employee is very much the same. You should consider documenting what is practical to document.

What's more, they are so negative. Their coworkers praise them for being critical and a realist, but they are not constructive in their complaints and incapable of offering solutions to problems.

Sounds like the coworkers agree on some level, so what solutions have they offered? If there is any truth to the statements made, you should consider getting everybody together to try to find better ways of doing things.

I don't like the mentality of "don't complain if you don't have solutions". Sometimes the person with the best solution isn't someone that actually has identified a need for the solution.

They have no intuitive to ask for help. If I do offer them a solution they don't bother implementing it. It really is draining and they have been here for less than a month.

Not good enough. You need to explain that if they are stuck, they need to ask for help. You wouldn't even expect an intern to twiddle their thumbs, so you need to set clearer expectations around behaviour when they can't proceed with their work.

I am also really baffled here, because I am stumped why you would even bother getting your Masters if you have absolutely no drive to learn anything and again, they have the grades to prove that they can at least retain information short term.

Maybe they just don't want to become experts in the substandard processes or solutions that your company seems to utilize. They likely learnt some idealised version of reality during their studies, and are a bit despondent that your company is nothing like that.

All their work they have done as an intern had to be redone, because it was all trash and they ended up creating more issues then they fixed.

The irony here is the company didn't like their work but decided to offer them a full time job. Just like they didn't appear to like working there, but decided to commit to a full time job.

I am sure part of it is that they don't see me as their superior so I am not worthy of listening to... I have tried repeatedly explaining the big picture so that they understand, but their eyes just glaze over and they tune out.

It really doesn't matter how much authority you wield. If people cannot operate with a particular learning style, that's just something that needs to be worked around.

They have openly complained in front of me about my boss and try to extract gossip out of me even after I attempt to shut it down.

Doesn't mean you seem to lack authority, just means they view you not as an extension of your boss, but someone who can act and speak autonomously.

I am at the point where I am wondering if I should just let them fail and focus on people who want to work. Any advice on how to get through to a wayward employee?

If you are their superior, letting them fail is not good enough. You need to do something to address the issues you are seeing, otherwise you are not doing your job. If your approaches don't work, then it's your role to bring it to your manager's attention.

If you have a systematic problem with graduates not being able to find their feet well, you need to look at your company to determine if your processes need to be updated to more modern standards.

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  • "Maybe they just don't want to become experts in the substandard processes or solutions that your company seems to utilize. " How did you conclude that from the OP's question? Everything else in your answer blames first the OP, the then the OP's company, and also builds up the problem employee as the rational one reacting to his conditions. I don't think so.
    – davidbak
    Jun 23 at 2:03
  • @davidbak The OP doesn't dispute there are problems at all, just states that the employee doesn't provide solutions to the problems. Jun 23 at 4:54
  • @davidbak And I'd probably just with any situation, there are a number of factors which means the "blame" may be spread around a little. Though my interpretation of the situation may wrong, so how that blame should be proportioned (if it indeed matters), could very well be different. Jun 23 at 4:56
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I am wondering if I should just let them fail and focus on people who want to work.

Before doing this, you should talk to Human Resources (HR).

I would expect there to be a process for this situation. For example:

  1. Create a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for the employee.
  2. Get the employee to sign it (possibly in the presence of HR).
  3. Regularly check on the employee's performance against the plan.
  4. Give the employee feedback on how their performance measures against the plan.
  5. If the performance continues to be substandard, fire the employee.

Note that a PIP may get through to the employee even if talking does not. Maybe that's what the employee needs to understand that you are serious about your concerns. If not, failing a PIP is obviously a reason for termination.

It's also possible that your HR will have a different approach. If so, follow that. But if you are at the point of thinking that the employee is a lost cause, you should absolutely make sure that corporate is aware of it. This should include both HR and your boss. Giving up on the employee without doing that is the kind of thing that can get you demoted or fired. I seem to recall there being a question from a demoted manager under similar circumstances.

Your boss may have other alternatives. For example, moving the employee to a different team or providing a separate mentor.

Nothing of what I read in your post is concrete enough that I expect you to get much useful advice on improving your relationship with the employee here. So I expect the problem to continue. I think that you are at the point where you should at least mention your concerns to your boss and HR so that they aren't surprised in the future. And it may be time to initiate a firing process (which may include something like a PIP to give the employee a chance to reform). Or perhaps your boss and/or HR will have additional things for you to try first.

It might be a good idea to write up your concerns about the employee first and then talk to your boss and HR. Because then if asked to write up your concerns, you'll already have them and can just edit them into shape. Also, it might make it easier for you to remember your concerns when you are talking to your boss or HR. You definitely don't want to leave out what are really your most important concerns. Also, include specific examples and how you would like the employee to behave differently. If you don't have specific examples, either remove that section or wait until the employee gives you a new example. Dates and times are helpful as well.

You probably will have to leave out the need to rewrite the employee's work as an intern. That predates the current employment, so it should be out of scope. You can mention that to your boss if you think it's helpful. I don't know that HR will care. HR is going to be more interested in the process than the technical details. If you and your boss agree on termination, HR will be more interested in making it a smooth process than evaluating whether it is a good idea.

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