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I have an employee who, after a great pre-employment interview, has problems with the use of proper grammar even after, initially, being advised of the problem in private employment reviews and written evaluations. She has been advised to seek assistance with her grammar several times. What started out as a great prospect for a critical not-for-profit fund raising development team, has turned into an embarrassment with the donors we need to continue our mission.

We have formal performance reviews in place for all employees. We have multiple reviews of written communications between staff and donors. What we cannot control is spontaneous conversation between staff members and donors. There was absolutely no indication in multiple interviews that this was going to be a problem. We have advised tutoring, reading and other means to enhance her communication skills.

She now has difficulty putting in a full 40 hours a week due to "family" issues and it is affecting our development team. She is well salaried and I have made numerous attempts to advise her. What do I do?

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    How is it possible that this kind of obvious grammar mistakes weren't noticed during the interviews? Or why did it become a problem later, if you did notice the errors in the interviews? Only because you realized donors are disliking it?
    – Luchadora
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 14:22
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    Your comment doesn't make sense. She was "wonderful" in interviews, which are high-stress situations, but she's incapable of holding a casual conversation without "embarassing" your donors? The only way that would make sense is if you're using grammar as code for "our donors are racist and we're losing funding after hiring someone for whom English is a second language". The only alternative I see is that your company royally screwed up the hiring process for this position. So which is it?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 11:20
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    'She now has difficulty putting in a full 40 hours a week due to "family" issues and it is affecting our development team.' - What does this have to do with her Grammar? You're looking to excuse yourself for letting her go is the feeling I get. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:36
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    I think some people (myself included) are a bit confused by the whole scenario. Could you give us an example of the type of "spontaneous verbal communication deficiency"?
    – camden_kid
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 14:40
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    @nvoigt "Development" is the word nonprofits use for the fundraising department.
    – Casey
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 19:14

4 Answers 4

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What do I do?

It's not clear what you expected her to do when you advised her to "seek assistance with her grammar". Just saying in effect "do better" is unlikely to help.

You could have her work proofread before being sent externally. You could enroll her in an English Grammar course (and pay for it). You could get her a tutor. You could buy her a book.

If you have advised and mentored her sufficiently, but are still seeing no improvement, you may have to take more drastic measures.

Perhaps you can give her tasks to perform that don't require proper grammar. If not, perhaps she's simply a poor fit for the requirements of the position and needs to look elsewhere. These things happen. As her Manager, you need to decide if the role can tolerate her difficulties or not. And if not, you need to act.

And if grammar is that important in this communication critical role, you may want to modify your hiring practices to look more effectively for the appropriate level of competence. She may have been wonderful in her interviews, but clearly nobody spoke with her enough, or asked the right questions to uncover her deficiencies.

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    Can someone explain why it is the manager/company's duty to educate the worker? As as software developer, I would not expect my company to pay to send me to programming classes if I was unable to code properly. Certainly it's nice to have company paid training, but the way the answer and comments are phrased it sounds like it is required.
    – James
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 16:58
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    @TechMedicNYC it really isn't, but not everyone wants to jump the gun on firing an otherwise-good employee.
    – user17163
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 17:01
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    @TechMedicNYC I think the issue is that if you hire someone and later find that they are not qualified for the job, that's not the applicant's fault, it is a failing on the part of the hiring party. It would be like if I hired you to develop a web application and then found out you didn't know anything about SQL and fired you, even though SQL knowledge was never part of the hiring process. Wouldn't you think it would be more fair at that point to send you for training? Or at least give you time at work to do some research, guided by a knowledgeable mentor?
    – WalkerDev
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 19:14
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    Not to mention that if they've already been hired, training will often be significantly cheaper than going through the effort of hiring an entirely new employee Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 19:50
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    @UpAllNight Grammar skills what are considered prerequisite with all professional job. Can argue that SQL not be prerequisite to web development, then employer be training for fairness. But to have grammar of goodness be important at all jobs for important communication having. Good assume that all applicant are have good grammar for do good work. Note: this comment is all spell correct with also good vocabulary with also good content, while had bad syntax plus bad grammar. But hard type but also probably hard read for you.
    – user9158
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 0:50
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When you say "several donors have commented", is that in a way which impacts on the company and the company image?

Most people have "formal" and "informal" modes of speech. The way you talk in an interview or in a serious formal meeting is generally not the same way you'd talk to your friends down the pub. If she doesn't have sufficient command of grammar that her "formal" mode of speech is suitable for her job, you absolutely should have spotted that at interview when she would have been at her most "formal". If she was OK then, you can reasonably tell her (not ask her - this is a formal order!) to use that mode of speech with any donor.

Whether it's an actual impediment to getting donations is something only you can judge though. Her ability to do her job should be fairly measurable by the number of donations she solicits. If she keeps getting the money in, donors may see her as amusingly quirky rather than slapdash, especially if she is highly competent at everything else. For a very personal example, my girlfriend is from Essex (south-east England) and regularly drops into Essex "we was doing this" grammar, but as one of the top contractors in the country in her particular niche, you would be very wrong to think it implies a lack of intelligence or an inability to do a good job.

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  • However anyone speaks informally, it is reasonable to expect them to speak and write in the standard manner when interfacing with customers/clients. I find it really rude and unacceptable when someone speaks so sloppily that I have to translate for my non-English colleagues. Things like ey-mau for e-mail. If I can restrain my Yorkshire accent I can expect other people to make the effort too.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 9:48
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    @RedSonja True enough. I've worked with someone where I had to translate his Lancashire valleys accent (I'm from Lancashire too) into regular English. :( If the meaning is still clear though, local variations ("we was" instead of "we were", or "aye" instead of "yes") should not be a big deal. The only important thing is that communication is communication, so that the information gets across intact.
    – Graham
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 14:11
  • Please don't make grammatical errors on purpose when foreigners are listening. They get confused. In the worst case they start making the same errors and get laughed at. Been there, done that, thanks kids.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 15:10
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If your frustration is coming from these mistakes in distributed communications, I'd suggest a multiple point proofing system prior to distribution (ie two of these five people sign off before anything gets distributed). If the problem as you see it is in her one on one communications then classes, tutoring, getting someone else to proofread, or feedback on specific recurring problems could all be valid solutions.

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This question is tremendously missing context. Whether your employee:

  • Is too lazy to proofread written grant proposals, and fails to ask for lightweight editing help, or
  • Is a fluent ESL speaker who makes verbal grammar mistakes while speaking fluently to external guests,

are very different circumstances!

For one, if the question regards verbal communication, the following circumstances are true:

  1. Fluency requires not being embarrassed or hesitating at trivial grammar mistakes
  2. Trivial grammar mistakes are not possible to correct over the course of becoming fluent as an ESL speaker
  3. Trivial grammar mistakes do not impede one's ability to "think" in English or understand English
  4. You would have noticed ESL grammar when hiring this person if you interviewed them in person

If the issue is putting an ESL speaker in front of an external client or donor, might I humbly suggest promoting a culture in which a talented ESL speaker who is talented at their job and talented at communicating with colleagues internally is furthermore talented enough to speak to external donors? I think it's nonsense that your donors have the privilege of only communicating with your native speaker employees.

So, one solution to your problem is "Don't be embarrassed." Being embarrassed is something that's on you. I don't know why your donors would care.

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