Home Jobs & Career employee always calls out sick after feedback, company doesn’t give much notice to come into the office, and more — Ask a Manager

employee always calls out sick after feedback, company doesn’t give much notice to come into the office, and more — Ask a Manager

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Employee always calls out sick after feedback

I have a direct report who is the lowest performer on my team. She fails to be able to do the most rudimentary tasks despite repeat coaching, training, and ample time to complete them. After months of working with HR, I was finally able to put her on a formal PIP. I have led her from a place of support and assured her that the PIP is going to be her roadmap to success so that we can be sure that she has mastered the basic aspects of this role before we move her to more complex projects.

Sometimes she reacts to coaching with anger and sometimes she owns her mistakes, but without fail, the afternoon or morning after receiving formal coaching/feedback, she calls out of work. Either she is sick or her cat is sick. Just yesterday, 30 minutes after discussing with her that she was going to be given a verbal warning due to a mistake she made that had far-reaching customer-facing consequences, she told me that her landlord called her to tell her that he had entered her apartment because he heard her cat crying and saw that her cat had vomited, so she was going to leave work to take her cat to the ER. Now today she can’t come in to work because her cat needs an ultrasound.

While I believe that people should be able to use their PTO however they would like, consistently leaving a team short-staffed because of an inability to process coaching is a tough pattern to accommodate. How do I address this without calling her a liar? Or can I preempt this behavior in the future the next time I have to inevitably provide coaching?

Yeah, this is pretty suspect. If you had to take a cat to the ER every time they vomited … with some cats you would be at the ER constantly.

Can you just name the pattern? “I’ve noticed that every time I talk with you about a mistake, you leave early or call out of work the next day. I need to be able to give you feedback on your work and have you roll with it. That’s an essential part of every job here, and it’s especially important during your PIP, when I’m giving you extra support and coaching. If every time I give you feedback, it blows up the rest of the day or the following day, that’s not sustainable. Is there something I can do differently that will make those conversations go more easily for you?”

Maybe she’ll be able to suggest something that will help, like that she could process feedback better if it’s always at the end of the day so she doesn’t have to return to work immediately afterwards (that might not always be practical, but you could probably do it at least some of the time) or who knows what. But if she can’t suggest doing anything differently, you’ll have least have named what you’re seeing and put her on notice that it’s not workable.

Also though … she really doesn’t sound suited to this job. Since it took you months of working with HR to be able to do the PIP, I’m guessing that HR is the roadblock here — but it sounds highly likely that she won’t be able meet the terms of the PIP and you’ll need to let her go at the end of it, and so you should start preparing for that now. Coming from a place of support is great but you also need to come from a place of realism, and if she can’t do this job, it’s better for everyone to talk honestly about that possibility (and for you not to keep investing huge amounts of energy if it’s clear this isn’t going to work out).

2. How much notice should I get when my company wants me to come into the office?

During Covid, I shifted from totally in the office to 100% work-from-home. We have a mix of fully in the office, hybrid, and 100% WFH. Also during Covid I moved, so I’m now assigned to location A, while everyone I work with works out of location B (although my manager is also at location A). However, while initially the plan was for me to sometimes work from Location A, nothing ever materialized and I found plenty to keep me busy that I could do 100% from home.

Every once in a while, upper management wants to talk to all of us at Location A, and we are given less than 48 hours notice they want us in. For example, we are told Monday morning that we should be in Tuesday at lunchtime. I find it very annoying to be given such short notice to come into the office and wonder if I need to suck it up or can I push back? This most recent time I said I couldn’t do it due to a doctor’s appointment. (There was no way for me to get all of my work done and attend the in-office meeting and keep my appointment). I don’t think my boss was thrilled, but no one said anything (and I am actively searching for a new job). What would you recommend I do next time this comes up?

If you’re assigned to occasionally work from location A, even if in practice you end up working from home all the time, it’s not unreasonable for your employer to occasionally ask you to show up at Location A, even without many days of notice. “Be here in an hour” wouldn’t be reasonable, but asking you to be there the following day isn’t outrageous — as long as they accept that occasionally there might be a reason you can’t, like your doctor’s appointment. It’s pretty normal for this to be inherent in work-from-home agreements where you’re officially assigned to a local office. (I’m assuming you live within a reasonable driving distance of the location, of course.)

If that’s not workable for you (for example, let’s say you have a fifth-grader who doesn’t require “child care” from you while you work but who you can’t leave alone and so you need more notice to make other arrangements), that would be something to raise with your boss to figure out if there’s a solution. You’d just need to be aware that the answer could ultimately be, “Letting you work from home is contingent on you being willing to occasionally come in with only a day or so of notice.”

3. Navigating limited sick leave

How on earth do we navigate limited sick leave?

It makes no sense to me to limit sick leave. We don’t control when we get sick. That’s like limiting snow days. We don’t control the weather.

I’m used to places with abundant or unlimited sick leave. Now I work at a place with 10 days. I got a horrible infection that knocked me out for almost seven days. Six months later, I am sick again.

I think it’s pretty normal to get sick (or injured or need to take care of a sick person) two to three times a year, right? And also to go to the dentist and doctor, etc., even just for annual check-ups. If you have an actual medical condition, how would you possibly make do with 10 days? That’s absurd. It means I push myself to work when I’m sick, which just makes me sicker. This seems like bad practice all around.

Yep, it’s a bad system. In addition to the points you made, it also means people end up coming to work sick and infecting other people, and now you’ve got more people out than you would have if the person hadn’t felt obligated to come in.

Employers who resist unlimited sick days generally worry employees will abuse it. (I’d argue that good employees don’t, and if you have someone who does flagrantly abuse it, it’s usually accompanied by bigger problems anyway, and employers should train managers to address those rather than worrying about sick leave.) They also tend to worry about situations where someone needs extended medical leave of weeks or months … but that’s when short-term and long-term disability plans should kick in.

It’s still pretty common for companies to offer a limited number of sick days per year, so your company isn’t unusual in that regard, although it does seem archaic when you’ve experienced a different system.

4. Can I tell my boss I don’t want her job?

My boss is clearly grooming me to take her job when she moves onward and upward. Her feedback is now always directed toward how I should behave when I am in charge of our function.

The mere prospect of this fills me with dread. I hate 1) her job, 2) my job, 3) our company, and 4) perhaps our entire profession. I am tired and burnt out and the idea of putting one more thing on my plate or navigating one more sensitive work issue makes me want to scream.

We have mid-year reviews coming up. Can I (or should I) be honest with her? I don’t want her to think I’m out the door when I’m having trouble lining something else up. But it is killing me to stay positive and act like I care about any of this.

Stay away from telling her that you hate #2-4 (your job, your company, perhaps your entire profession) for your own job security*, but you can definitely tell her that you don’t want to move into her job when she leaves. You could say, “I might be misinterpreting, but I’ve gotten the sense you might be prepping me to move into your job at whatever point you leave. I want to be up-front that I want to stay where I am for now, so I wouldn’t want you to be looking to me to take over.”

* “Job security” in this case doesn’t mean “you will be fired if she finds out you’re unhappy,” but revealing that you want nothing to do with the job/company/profession can cause you problems — from not being put on high-profile projects that you might actually want, to ending up on the list if they have to do layoffs “because she wants to leave anyway.”)

5. What do I need to have in place before I announce my retirement?

I have been with my current employer for more than five years, and am planning on retiring next year. They don’t know this yet. I’m wondering what job-related ducks I should have in a row before I tell them. Should I have plans on how to complete unfinished projects, for example? Or is this just not my problem? I may be sensitive to “leaving them in the lurch” because I had to take a few months of unexpected FMLA last year to cope with the equally unexpected and rapid decline of a family member’s health. And at the time I left for FMLA, something I really had not planned on doing, there was no one in a position to do my job. If it makes any difference, I am in a creative industry, and at the moment, there is someone who could cover my work after I leave.

As I write this out, I am starting to feel that this isn’t my problem, but I’m still feeling (unnecessarily) guilty about leaving abruptly last year.

Unless you’re at a very senior level, it’s not really your problem. You should just plan to leave your work sufficiently documented that someone else won’t be starting completely from scratch when you leave — but that means things like writing down where projects stand, key processes, and important contacts, not devising a plan for how they will complete work once you leave. (Presumably the way they will do that should be to hire someone to replace you. But that’s something for your manager to figure out, not you.)

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