open thread – March 12-13, 2021 — Ask a Manager

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Kind of just venting here, but might as well get advice if you feel you have some.

I have recently inherited an employee who is just…wildly incompetent, and it’s not something I’ve ever encountered before. Issues include, among others: avoiding doing tasks that would be new for them, extreme reactions to correction, circumventing the need for permission by waiting to do things until I’m out of the building, ignoring my requests NOT to do something if they feel they have a good reason (and not discussing it with me), being unable to follow very straightforward instructions given multiple times in multiple formats, etc. etc. etc.

An illustrative example for people who want to feel my frustration in full technicolor: I sent a list of tasks to be completed; it’s about 15 items, but they all have very explicit instructions and most can be completed in under an hour. It’s essentially a list of busywork that’ll help them learn a little more about the job, including reviewing manuals that I attached to the e-mail, etc. I ask them to keep me updated. Two MONTHS later, I follow up, assuming that everything is done and they just forgot to keep me updated; all like, hey, of the attached list, what did you complete? No response, I follow up again in a few days, going, hey, see the attached list and just confirm for me what you completed, get it to me by tomorrow. No response. Third time, I go, hey, you still haven’t told me what you completed on attached list. They respond and…tell me about a project they’re working on that isn’t on the list. Fourth time, I go, that’s not what I asked, please look at the attached list, tell me what you did on it. They respond to a different list. Fifth time, I go, that is not the list I was looking for, please, respond, to the attached list, tell me what you did on it. They respond…to let me know they’ve completed two items.

Like, one of the problems here is that there are both innocuous and less-than-innocuous ways to read the employee’s issues; I’ve taken the time to talk to their manager and coworkers from a previous location and some pointed to learning issues, others were certain that my employee compulsively avoids doing work. Regardless, I literally do not have the time in my day to manage this person; like, I don’t have enough time to catch and fix all their mistakes, let alone manage them closely enough to prevent them in the first place. I’m not in a managerial role, and usually an employee in that position takes up 25-40% of my work time, and takes the extra 50% of work I can’t get done off my plate. Right now, employee is taking up 80% of my work time without alleviating my workload, and I’ve only managed to stay afloat because I am, quite frankly, a boss at time management. My manager and I have come up with a plan; I’m drawing up a very, very explicit document about my basic expectations of this employee (things like “read my e-mails,” “stick to deadlines,” “don’t do things if i told you not to do them, even if you REALLY want to”), and I’m going to go over it with employee, with manager present, and have employee sign to understand that they’re struggling with these expectations, and they absolutely need to meet these expectations in time for their annual review, which is in 8 months. Unfortunately it’s about the strictest move I can make; we can’t do more until their review, with a case like this.

I still feel…a lot, though. In a way I feel like i’ve failed? I want to read the most generous interpretation into this, and also, I want to HELP my employee. I usually deal with problems by working harder and fixing them with my hard work; and I just can’t do that with this, I literally do not have the time. So….it’s rough.

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