It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Can I teach my employee critical thinking?
One of my direct reports, “Phoebe,” who is just out of school, has a great attitude about the work we do. However, she has zero ability to problem solve on her own. Every time something is not exactly right, she comes to me or another manager for help. I’ve tried asking “what do you think the next steps should be” and other forms of redirection. I’ve tried showing her how I’d handle a particular situation, but when a very similar issue comes up later, she isn’t connecting them. Her constant questioning when she searches for clarity and her nervous energy is noticeable — I’ve had two other managers and three clients mention it to me.
I want to help her progress, both for her own growth and also because I can’t keep doing 75% of her job in addition to mine. This past week I asked her to retrieve an item from the supply closet. She messaged me three times about where in the closet the item was — eventually I just went with her and it was exactly where I’d said. Another time, I asked her to order 200 markers. She called me because the supply store didn’t have boxes of 200 markers. They only had boxes of 50. It did not occur to her to buy four boxes of 50 markers.
All of her executive functioning skills need work and as a manager I’m clueless as how to help her get to where she needs to be. I do not want to coach her out of this role, because she has such a great attitude and honestly I’m worried that she’d be crushed out there in the big bad world.
You can’t keep someone just because you’re worried they’d be crushed in the big bad world. You can’t keep someone just because they have have a great attitude either, if they’re missing fundamental skills needed to do their job — particularly if that means you end up doing 75% of their job. Is your employer really okay with paying her to do 25% of her role (while your own work presumably suffers)? I’m guessing no. What about the impact on other employees who are likely to resent the situation more and more over time?
Her great attitude does mean that you might devote extra time to coaching and training her … but critical thinking is generally impossible to teach in the amount of time a manager reasonably has available to coach someone. Ultimately if she can’t do such basic chunks of the job, it’s not the right match for her, and you’re doing her no favors by keeping her in a job where she can’t thrive or advance.
All that said, the one thing I’d try if you haven’t already is naming the issue very explicitly. If you haven’t yet done this, it’s worth clearly telling her that you need her to problem-solve on her own (ground it in specific recent examples and describe how you would have liked her to handle those situation differently) and what she should try before coming to you for help. But given the details you’ve shared, it sounds likely that this just isn’t the right match.
2. Employee stole coworker’s food delivery
A DoorDash order arrived at our office today. The name listed on it did not belong to anyone we know, but the instructions were specific enough that we knew it had to be for someone in our department. We tried calling the number listed, with no response. After an all-call of “Hey! Did anyone order a cookie?” an employee came up to claim it.
About half an hour later, another employee’s husband called to ask if she received her cookie. All the pieces started falling into place, and we realized that the employee who claimed the cookie should not have. How do we address this? I do not want to outright say, “You stole that cookie,” but I do believe that the issue needs to be brought up, and the employee needs to reimburse the cost of the cookie and delivery. But can I “force” someone to do that?
Sure — but first make sure that’s really what happened. It’s possible that that she had ordered her own cookie delivery and thought this one was hers (and then presumably figured it out when hers arrived, but she could have assumed that was an error on the delivery service’s side, especially since no one else had claimed the first one). So talk to her and ask what happened! If she’s like “yeah, no one was claiming it and I really wanted a cookie,” then tell her it wasn’t hers and she should reimburse the colleague whose cookie she seized.
If it was an honest misunderstanding and she thought it was hers, that’s different and you can leave it up to her own judgment whether she reimburses the coworker. Most polite people in her shoes would, but it’s also true that the other person’s husband created this chaos by not including clearer instructions (like his wife’s name!) or alerting her to expect a delivery.
3. New hire is leaving because of a coworker
We have a new employee (been here right at 30 days) leaving to go back to school. But her main basis for her decision was “I can’t work with someone who is always negative and hateful. And not welcoming.” How do I handle this with the employee who is still here?
Is she referring to the other employee? If so, you’ve got to get more information — a lot more information! If she hasn’t left yet, please ask her about her experience and get details, then figure out if it lines up with what you know of the other employee. Talk to the other employee, too, and get her perspective on what happened. If you’re not sure how to sort through everything you hear, consider talking with others who work with this person and getting their input on what she’s like to work with (since as her manager you might see a different side than they do). This isn’t a court of law and you might not come away with rock-solid conclusions, but do what you can to get a sense of what that new hire’s experience was like and why. And then if you determine the problem lies with your other employee, even partly, you’ve got to address that. Sometimes that sort of thing can be resolved through coaching, and sometimes it can’t — but this should start a conversation about what’s going on.
If the new hire wasn’t talking about the new employee — if she was talking about you or someone else — that’ll change the details of how you proceed. But either way, you’ve got to take the feedback seriously (unless you have strong evidence the new hire’s judgment was way, way off), assume you’ve got a problem on your hands, and figure out how to resolve it … both for the next person and for others still there.
4. Drinking alcohol-free beer at work
I work in a safety-critical industry where drinking on duty is absolutely not allowed (and with regular drug tests). That being said, your thoughts on drinking alcohol-free beer during the working day?
My thoughts are: Why?! There are much better things to drink.
Plus you risk people thinking you’re drinking actual beer since they look similar. You can explain if asked, of course, but why deal with that?
5. My boss can see my personal Google calendar
I made a mistake in my enthusiasm for my current job back when I started and used my personal (but professional sounding) gmail calendar for work. My company has company domain email addresses for us, but we all use our personal google calendars for company appointments and tasks. Because my boss has edit permissions on my calendar, they can see everything, even if I mark it as private. (For clarity: I have a separate actual personal gmail and calendar with a more casual name that is where most of my life resides.)
I’m job hunting furiously and finally got an interview but realized in a panic that accepting the calendar invite put it right where my current boss can see it! I deleted it immediately, then realized it looked like I had declined the invite to the other party. I followed up in email, citing technical issues with google calendar, and assuring them I was looking forward to our call. But now I realize this is going to happen repeatedly. I can’t just change which email I’m job hunting with, nor can I switch the one connected to my company calendar without drawing attention. If they’re thinking about this at all, my boss would assume I’m job hunting, but I don’t want to poke the bear. Do I just confirm via email but not accept the actual invite? Any ideas or perspective on how this looks from the hiring side?
Your boss isn’t going to assume you’re job hunting just because you decide to stop using your personal gmail calendar for work. Set up a new calendar account, switch your work stuff over to it, revoke your boss’s permissions for the old one, and explain it was getting too messy to have personal and work stuff in one place so you’re streamlining. There are tons of reasons for that besides job hunting — private medical appointments, for example, or just a general feeling that your office shouldn’t have such visibility into your non-work life.
Alternately you could start using your other gmail account — the one where the rest of your life resides — for job hunting stuff, but it sounds like it might have a more casual name than you want for job hunting, and regardless you presumably have a bunch of applications out there with the other email on them … although you could change it going forward if you want to.
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