Gen Y professional obliviousness - what's a good manager to do?
January 15, 2011 10:50 AM   Subscribe

What to do about an oblivious young employee abusing a lenient work environment?

I manage a couple of people, working for a large creative company. One of the folks I manage is a young woman (Gen Y) for whom this is her first desk job.

She sometimes has a hard time grasping professionalism, such as when she has to ask permission to do things (like push a deadline) or what's just not cool in the workplace (like bringing the novel she's reading for pleasure to a meeting she thinks will be boring).

She has a baby who's under a year old, and who's been sick lately. She asked me Wednesday if she could work from home on Thursday to take care of her daughter, and had prepared material to bring home so she could be productive for a day or so.

On Friday morning I got an email saying she was going to work from home again. I bristled a bit because she wasn't asking, but I let it go because I would've said yes anyway and it's not that big a deal.

Here's the problem: mid-day on Friday, she posted a video to facebook with the caption "Look who forgot all about being sick". In the video is her husband, playing with the baby. She's holding the camera.

Question 1: Am I mistaken in thinking that she's abusing the leniency? If she needs to work from home to cover childcare for a sick kid that's one thing; if her husband is there, that doesn't appear to be what's going on. (They're a modern parental unit. He takes care of the kid solo sometimes.) I don't have kids, so there may be something I'm missing here.

Question 2: Am I wrong in thinking that posting this to facebook in the middle of a workday is flagrantly flaunting the leniency she's been given? She knows I follow her on Facebook daily, and this is likely another case of her professional obliviousness - she can't see what might be wrong with anything she's done.

Question 3: What (if anything) should I do about this? I want to be a responsible manager and a helpful mentor to her, not a douchebag boss.
posted by nadise to Work & Money (60 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
She could have taken that video in the evening and posted it to Facebook during the day - her husband might not have been home while she was working from home.

I think you definitely need to address these issues, but do it as they come up, don't save up a list of past grievances. So for instance, talk to her on Monday about policies for working at home and the procedures to request it.
posted by yarly at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, this is why companies have rules.
A lot of places I've worked for won't allow anyone to work from home until they've been there for a while.

But anyway,
People still take breaks and lunch when working from home. If they want to post to facebook, then fine. If they want to take a shower for 20 minutes, then they can. Do you expect her to be working without taking a break?

Husband could have come home early. Maybe he came home sick. He may have just come home for lunch. Or she may have not felt like going into work and wanted to work from home.
Who knows.
Ask her.

Has she produced the workload she would have made from working at the office? Does she NEED to physically be at the office?
posted by KogeLiz at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can't tell you what you should do as her boss, but she is definitely crossing the line. I've known people to be fired for what you're describing. Calling in sick and then posting a playful video is beyond unprofessional, it's stupid.

There are enough people out there who need a job and will act like a professional. I don't think she realizes how good she has it. Maybe a written warning outlining all the unprofessional behaviors is in order.

(Seriously though, is she the daughter of the owner? That's the only kind of person I've seen get away with behavior like that.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:58 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


As someone who also doesn't have kids and has, generally, no idea what it is like to be a parent, I tend to give parents at least some extra leniency in this department.

Assuming she actually did the work she said she would, I would cut her some slack on the Facebook thing, especially if this was her first time. If there's one thing I do know about young parents and their first kid, is that every bruise, scrape and sneeze is an OH SHIT moment regardless of how serious it is. So maybe the baby was sick, got better, and she and the husband are just making sure the kid stays better. God knows I've showed up at work because I thought I was better only to end up having to be sick on the train on the way home at 10 AM.

However, she does need a talking-to about general professionalism, and the book-at-a-meeting and blowing deadlines things are perfect examples, so you don't even have to go into sick-baby territory. Which you really, really shouldn't.
posted by griphus at 10:58 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


1. Not mistaken. If the husband is there, why does she need to be home, too?

2. That's pretty ballsy and stupid on her part. She is being rather flagrant. The video said "look who forgot all about being sick." Oh, your baby isn't sick anymore? There is someone there to take care of your baby? Go to work.

3. If you want to be a responsible manager, then you need to be a boss and not a friend. You sound hesitant in holding her responsible for her actions. I'd guess a meeting and some powerful conversation would be needed here. Make sure to document it all, etc. I wouldn't say "punishment" is in order, but you need to make sure clear expectations are set. It's not being a douchebag to tell someone to do their job as expected, it's being a boss.

I'm part of Gen Y that works in an office. Absolutely everyone I work with is in an older generation. I don't pull this kind of crap. It's called work ethic (a great subject for your conversation). Do not lump in all Gen Y's with this one.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:00 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't have a ton of experience with this but whenever I've tried to mentor someone in my creative field they were either A) highly motivated and very boundary conscious and do well or B) they didn't appreciate it and wound up biting ME in the ass. She sounds like a B type. That's not to say they aren't nice young people but they'll throw you under a bus if they have to because they're just centered around their own life and social circle and everything else is just kind of "there" for the taking.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


middle of the day = lunch break right? even if you're working from home, you do get to have a break. maybe husband swung in to have lunch with the family? I'm just not seeing this particular incident as obviously a bad thing. Bringing a novel to a meeting on the other hand...
posted by ansate at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


on the other hand, that might be a good way to bring it up "Oh hey, that was a cute video of your kid. I'm sure you were making it during your break, but I wanted to give you a heads up the posting to facebook in the middle of the day like that looks kind of unprofessional."
posted by ansate at 11:10 AM on January 15, 2011 [24 favorites]


We've got a one-year-old. She goes from death's door to knocking over everything not bolted down in under an hour... it's just the way kids are. New parents aren't as good at judging how sick their kid actually is, and tend to err on the safe side (ask our pediatrician.) Daddy might have gone home early, or have been home at lunch.

In any event, if she got her work done, it may be a good idea to let this slide. Instead of requesting a work-at-home day, I myself would have taken a sick day... if she didn't get her work done, tell her she has to burn a sick day to cover it.

Don't let the other crap slide. If she blows a deadline, hold her accountable for it. If she comes to a meeting with a paperback, tell her to go put it in her car (or at least her desk drawer if she uses public transpo) - 20 somethings are stupid about office etiquette at times. You'll be the mean ol' boss, but they'll thank you in the end, especially as their career matures along with them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:12 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


One thing you should do is defriend her on facebook, unless your work uses it, or you both were friends before her start at this job. The facebook video is no big deal - the actions that happen in the office are the ones that need dealt with. If you allow her to work from home, and she produces her work on time, how she structures her work day is not that important.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:12 AM on January 15, 2011 [21 favorites]


Well, fwiw, I'm a gen Y and work in what I consider to be a pretty lenient work environment (no real dress code, relaxed worked schedules, silly office, etc.) and I think that my generation expects the work environment to be much more lenient now then it ever has been - and I think that's a good thing. We're a group that likes to be left alone as long as our work is getting done. So that's the first question: is she getting all of her work done and on time?

That said, I think bringing a novel to a meeting you think might be boring is pretty egregious. I agree that you should talk to her as these issues come up.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


My company's WFH policy is that you ask permission a priori. It is not guaranteed. The unwritten clause is, "as long ads you get the work done." If you can't manage that, you don't get to work at home. Sick child? Take a day off, don't pretend to work.

Book at a meeting? Right out. The correct questions are (1) does she need to be at the meeting? (2) what is her role? Always ask the first question for anyone for any meeting. If yes, then (2) is what you should be doing. Otherwise there are certainly other things that need to be done. Save the book for lunch.
posted by plinth at 11:21 AM on January 15, 2011


My impression is that little good can come from your trying to divine the propriety of your employee's choices from facebook snippets. You could easily be taking things out of context, and doing so could easily sour a relationship that could've been productive.

I think that norms of "professionalism" are shifting all the time, and trying to enforce your particular notions of what constitutes it will put you on shaky ground. The only soundly defensible position is that the work needs to get done. If your employee's ability to do her job is hampered by not being in the office then you need to make it clear that a day working from home is not equivalent to one spent at the office, for the simple reason that it prevents her from doing at least some parts of her job. Leave her husband and her family videos out of it.
posted by jon1270 at 11:22 AM on January 15, 2011


OP here. Thanks for all these responses. They're (all together) completely representative of the thoughts going on in my head.

@yarly - the video was taken during mid-day light, not a chance it was taken in the evening. Good call about talking with her as issues come up - I definitely do.

@KogeLiz - thanks for the perspective on some feasible reasonable explanations. The more I think about it, the more I think our conversation might be about the perception around flaunting our lenient policies.

As for whether or not she did the same work, it's hard to know how much she's done since I haven't seen her work product yet. But there would've been a couple of rounds of review of her work (we have daily check-ins), so I assume she's not as far along as she would've been in the office. And we do creative work, which is highly collaborative in nature, so there were changes in process and tasks since she wouldn't be there physically. Again, I don't mind if she needs that understanding once in awhile (we all do).

@TooFewShoes - nope, she's not related to anyone else in the company

@Mister Fabulous - sorry if I implied anything about all Gen Y employees, I didn't mean that. I haven't found a lack of professionalism coming from all members of Gen Y by any means.

@shinyshiny - our work does require us to be facebook friends. And I think I would have fewer doubts about how she structured her day at home if there weren't issues with professionalism at work.
posted by nadise at 11:22 AM on January 15, 2011


I work in a creative field, and while the FB thing wouldn't bother me, the assumption that she can announce that she's working at home would. She needs to know the protocol--you might have been planning something in the office that she'd need to see/hear/do in person.

The book to a meeting--I'd be down on her like a duck on a bug, because it doesn't just make her look bad, it makes me look bad.

And you might drop a hint that you follow her on FB, if you think that knowledge will change her behaviour. I doubt that it will and fully expect to see a question here about "My uptight boss follows me, how creepy is that? Can I sue for harassment?"
posted by Ideefixe at 11:26 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Answering this from a perspective of formerly teaching uni students, and a few (very, very few) sometimes did not know what was or was not appropriate. I did want them to do well, yet not behave in ways that were inappropriate and I wanted to nip some behaviors early on.

From your description, this person should not have been allowed to work from home: How long has she worked there? She is already behaving inappropriately at work? Working from home is a privilege.

I also agree with all the posters above – there are many reasons she could have done this (posting the night before, her husband took her to the doctor’s office, etc).. By the same token, pple lose their jobs and other opportunities for appearances similar to what she just did.

So the approach I took before (for a different behavior)– you scare her as to how serious this is. You can lose your job for what she did at some companies (you may want to find out if HR has policies for this, although I would not get her trouble, just find out the policy). So let her know the consequences could have been potentially much worse for what she did. If those other behaviors (book at meeting), have not been addressed, let her know that there is a concern as to whether she can meet the standards and expectations for her job. You need to see her improve (and outline what she needs to do).

The consequence? Moving forward, she does not have work from home privileges. It needs to be earned with a great job performance. You also let her know about the FB thing because you are concerned about her future, whether it is in this industry or another, she needs to learn these skills.
posted by Wolfster at 11:28 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't make assumptions about what happened while she was working from home on Friday.

What I would do, though, is talk to her more generally about her professionalism at work. I wouldn't phrase it as "you're doing X, Y, and Z WRONG," but more like, "you do your job well and I think you have a good future in whatever, and I don't want other people to not recognize those things because they see you disregarding other kinds of workplace norms." I feel like that's the message that I would be most responsive to, and probably embarrassed and grateful, rather than angry, about hearing.
posted by liketitanic at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


There might be legitimate reasons for her to be playing with the baby mid-day (she's taking one small break in the middle of the day, kid suddenly started feeling better and it was impractical for her to come back to the office at that point, etc), but I agree that this situation needs to be addressed with her because of the professionalism issue. She should have realized that it would look inappropriate for her to post this video when she did, regardless of what the actual circumstances are. The fact that she didn't realize this on her own indicates that she needs more guidance about conducting herself well in a professional position.
posted by Bebo at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't it possible that her baby was sick, and was feeling better on Friday afternoon? Her Facebook posting of "Look who forgot all about being sick" then refers to her baby, who got well. Since it was mid-day when the baby was well, she might have thought that she should remain at home to make sure, and because most of the day was gone anyway.

Clearly she needs to improve as a worker (see reading a book during meetings, for example, although I see much older and more experienced people not paying attention in meetings as they tap on their iPhones), but maybe you would be less bothered if you did not monitor your employees' Facebook postings daily?
posted by Houstonian at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crack down on her now. She might think of you as a jerk but as long as you aren't being jerky about it, it'll serve her well in the long run to know what professionalism looks like. (I'm Gen X and there were plenty of folks in my generation that had no idea what it looked like either. Oddly, I'm grateful for the crappy service industry jobs I had in college that put up with no slacking whatsoever.) She likely just has no clue, especially if she hasn't worked much before.

Re: facebook: I think I'd mention to her that privacy settings are her friend, and work does not equal friendship. My boss is hurt that I won't friend him on facebook. Although I don't put up much of anything that would bother me if I saw it in the local paper, it's important to me to keep work and home separate.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:35 AM on January 15, 2011


Nthing Ansate. You might want to point out that because work requires you to be facebook friends, that everything she posts on facebook reflects on not just her, but the company.

The book thing is *nuts* I look back on my 21 year old office-gopher self and cringe at some of the stupid things i did, but I would NEVER have done that.

Nip this in the bud if you can. Because either the rest of the office will resent that she gets away with what they know better than to pull...or they'll go ahead and take the same advantages. Every company I've been in has at least one person who's totally unprofessional and takes more than their share of advantages, and they're always deeply resented by the rest. Not so good for workplace harmony.
posted by Caravantea at 11:37 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the long run, you'll be doing her a favor if you tell her she can't bring a book to a meeting or assume she can work from home without asking. If you haven't already told her it was ok to work from home Friday, you might want to tell her that day will have to be taken as a sick day. As for the fb video, she does have a right to take breaks when working from home, just as she would at work, but I'd warn her about the dangers of giving the wrong impression. She'll benefit in the future if she can be clued in about this stuff.
posted by Mavri at 11:39 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, I forgot to say, you might want to look at the book "Crucial Confrontations." Which is all about how to handle those kind of 'I'm trying to be nice but you're pushing it' conversations without making the other person go on the defensive.
posted by Caravantea at 11:40 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm also a fairly young person whose Very First Real Job is not far behind me.

Nobody is born knowing how to be "professional". And because people of my generation were by and large not able to get office jobs before graduating from college (you need a degree to get almost any desk job nowadays), our work experience tends to be of the low-key part time service variety.

I learned things like "you can't read a book at your desk even if it's a slow day" and "don't blatantly be posting to facebook while you're supposed to be working on something" by people telling me. Usually gently, or in a jokey, indirect way. I've always made a point of taking the hint about stuff like that, I otherwise have a fabulous work ethic, and it's never gotten to the point of having a sitdown with a supervisor about Unprofessional Behavior.
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


My boss has worked from home with her husband. Because they were both at home, they could switch off care of a sick baby AND both get their work done.

Solo taking care of a sick baby + getting work done is not easy.

I would, personally, not even try to work with a sick baby at home. I'd just take a sick day. It was good of her to take the initiative to get the work done.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


@Sys Rq - This question is not about whether or not she should be allowed some slack or understanding. It's whether or not she's abused it in this case.

It's worth noting that she chose not to take PTO, which she was entitled to do, and which many companies would expect a parent to do in this case.

And to clarify, I have dealt with both of the previous issues around the book and deadlines (and more than a few more). I included those here just to give clear examples of her past behavior and her lack of understanding of professionalism.

@Caravantea - Thanks for the book recommendation!


And thanks to all for your thoughts and advice.
posted by nadise at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2011


She needs to understand that perception is everything and she ain't looking too good regardless of her output
posted by jasondigitized at 11:47 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


No one magically "grasps professionalism."

If you want to have a policy on work-from-home, ie when it's allowed, who to email for permission, make a policy, email it to all the employees. Don't expect her to magically know what is and isn't acceptable. And don't let her get away with stuff, seethe inwardly, and then take it out her later.

re: Facebook. Most people at office jobs get on Facebook during the day. So do you apparently, as you "follow her daily." Why are you friends with your employee? Because she's your friend, or because you're hoping to "gotcha!" her? If you think using Facebook during work hours is unprofessional, a) stop doing it yourself and b) drop your subordinates as friends.

If you want a professional environment, it's incumbent on you to clearly lay out policies on what is and is not allowed.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:47 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


And to clarify, I have dealt with both of the previous issues around the book and deadlines (and more than a few more). I included those here just to give clear examples of her past behavior and her lack of understanding of professionalism.

How did she respond? Because I wonder now if she really has cleaned up her act but you're more inclined to see things negatively because of her past record. Consider how she's changed, or if she has, if that makes sense.

Once when I was in her position, the following happened. I was at a job where I'd already missed a lot of work. Fully admit it. Then I was in a car accident for which I had to wear a neck brace and took a couple days off work. A coworker saw me on a Friday night at a folk concert at a feminist bookstore (so not a taxing activity, and after work hours) and not wearing the brace (which was pretty uncomfortable, and it had been a couple days) and I was accused of malingering. It mostly looked that way because of my previous history, though--not because of the actual circumstances. Basically, I just wonder if you're taking into account changes she HAS made, because I think that's important here, too.
posted by liketitanic at 11:51 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


For this question, I agree with the young rope-rider:

Question 1: Am I mistaken in thinking that she's abusing the leniency? If she needs to work from home to cover childcare for a sick kid that's one thing; if her husband is there, that doesn't appear to be what's going on. (They're a modern parental unit. He takes care of the kid solo sometimes.) I don't have kids, so there may be something I'm missing here.

As a manager I think work from home is exactly what I'd expect in that case. If she's home without the husband, that's a case for PTO - there's no way someone can really 'work from home' with a baby, let alone a sick baby. It's fine to call it that and expect some partial work, but it's really taking care of someone who is sick and getting in work when she can.

On the other hand, work from home is what I'd expect when there was another caregiver around. Maybe he has a doctor's appointment, or lunch plans, or something where it would be convenient for her to be around but doesn't require her to be the primary caregiver.
posted by true at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2011


This might be a good time to pull her into a one-on-one meeting and detail the ways she is being unprofessional and see if you can change her behavior. Chances are she doesn't even realize just how bad this stuff looks. Like many others, I cringe at some of my first real job mistakes but I learned from them. If they were really egregious, I would have been grateful if an older person gave me a good talking to. This meeting should conclude with a clear message that any early mistakes will be forgotten if they don't happen again. I wouldn't put anything in writing either.

I think the Gen Y kids are going to have a tougher time of it because they are growing up where traditional standards of privacy and boundaries are being redefined and not every place has changed. A less understanding manager might have fired her right away.

(I can't wait until these kids are in charge- "Can you believe that candidate, four years of college and she doesn't have one picture of her on Facebook drunk and naked. Tell me why again we should hire her?")
posted by JohntheContrarian at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2011


You definitely need to talk to her about
a. bringing the book to a meeting;
b. pushing deadlines;
c. working from home (tell her that the protocol is: she asks, you decide).

Regarding c - Don't even bring up the facebook video, your speculation about the midday light, etc. Frankly it makes you sound petty and bitchy and like you have too much time on your hands to micromanage and analyze the breaktime behaviors of your employees. If Project Deadline Time rolls around and she's making excuses, then you can bring up the "hey, working from home means working from home, not posting videos on facebook which we all can see."

But not now. You have enough material with a, b, and c that you needn't stray into that territory.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


@drjimmy11 - I'm flattered that you think I've got the power to make policies, but as someone who manages a couple of people within a large company, that's simply above my paygrade. Unfortunately, the company doesn't have a written policy about working from home, so it's a bit of a gray area, which is why I'm asking the hive mind about what's reasonable. I'm not trying to "gotcha" her, I didn't go to facebook looking for her -- heck, I didn't even see the post until this morning -- I'm just stuck having to react now that I have seen it, and I'm trying to help her navigate a professional environment. I'm really not the enemy here.

@liketitanic - She responded well to previous course corrections on the professionalism track. She tries not to make the same mistake twice. She really is just oblivious, despite having been in our office for over a year. Other managers who've worked on projects with her have noted that she doesn't "connect the dots" about norms in the office. She's smart and creative, and a great employee in other ways. She just doesn't have the inner voice saying "maybe this isn't a good idea". I actively look for her positive contributions and try my hardest not to see things negatively with her. I know she's learning and trying her best.
posted by nadise at 12:06 PM on January 15, 2011


And just to give you more perspective in terms of baby care, if babies are sick, they often get crabby, sleep poorly, need to be held constantly, etc. If their noses are plugged it can be uncomfortable for them to drink from a bottle/nurse. They need lots of attention.

If the baby is puking or has diarrhea then there is a lot of cleaning/laundry to do. Or even if there's a lot of snot...they can't blow their own noses. They get snot everywhere.

Both parents might want to be available to take the baby to the pediatrician, which is understandable.

They both might have been up all night with the baby. Maybe her husband took night duty and needed her there so he could nap.

I take care of a baby full-time. It has been made into a one-person job by our society but it really is not. It can be physically exhausting and unrelenting.

A sick baby, especially, is not in any way easy for one person to care for solo.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:07 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


To clarify what I said before:

It's always better to over-communicate. When she tells you she's working from home, call her on it right then. It's better for everyone to talk about it as it happens, rather than keeping a list of grievances she isn't aware of, that will be brought up at a disciplinary or firing meeting.

I'm not defending her, because I don't know her, but this stuff is hard. I've worked in offices for ten years and I barely get it. The closest I can come to describing etiquette re: Facebook is that it's like the bottle of liquor in the paper bag, or how we deal with masturbating. Everybody's doing it, everybody knows everybody's doing it, you just don't call attention to it. Go ahead and look when you have a few minutes, but when the boss stops by and says "what are you working on" don't say "oh just checking out this awesome video of a gorilla farting on a cat" or whatever.

And if your boss insists on friending you, hide your updates from her. But she will probably figure that out soon enough.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:10 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


And ok, I get that you don't get to make company-wide policies, but you can inform her of your personal policies and then call her out for breaking them.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:11 PM on January 15, 2011


This question made me cringe retroactively, because I have been that employee in the past. Some of it was pure cluelessness at not knowing how things were done in that particular office (woulda been nice to know that we enter the conference room as a team for in-house client meetings, instead of me trying to be right on time and enduring awkward conversations with clients as we sat there waiting for everyone else), and some of it was just being lackadaisical. I wish someone had told me, because when I figured out what I was doing wrong, and nobody had said anything, I kicked myself for not getting it, and felt embarrassed. You don't have to confront her as a manager, or make it seem like she's being punished, but taking her aside in a friendly manner and just saying to her, "Hey, you might want to think about doing this instead of this, because it makes you look more professional." I wish I had had a mentor to tell me these unwritten rules when I entered the office environment, because honestly, I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong. Maybe you can be that person for her.
posted by Fuego at 12:21 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You need to sit down and set some boundaries with this employee ASAP. My first job was an office job in a Fortune 500 company (I was 16 years old and a high school co-op) and even though that was back when there were only 13 colonies, I still remember some harshly learned lessons. Part of my job repsonsibility was spelling the switchboard operator on her breaks, vacations, etc. The Company didn't care what else you did while monitoring the switchboard, be it addressing your Christmas cards or reading the newspaper, as long as you dressed appropriately and answered the incoming calls expeditiously and forwarded them accurately. I got used to that attitude, so when I was laid off after six years and got a job elsewhere, I brought a book with me to the switchboard when I was informed that all the girls in the office at this new company took turns spelling the switchboard operator for her lunchbreak. I was so accustomed to doing so it never occurred to me that it might go against the grain. After my first day of switchboard duty, I was summoned to my supervisor's office who said that an executive had seen me reading a book at the front desk and had chastised her for not giving me some work to do. Had it been explained to me from the get-go that while working the receptionist area I was expected to do nothing but company work, I would never have cracked open a novel.

Explain the facts of corporate life to Y Gen employee. You don't bring extraneous reading material to a meeting. You are allowed only X amount of paid days off (company policy), whether you're working from home, your child is ill, your car won't start, whatever. There's a reason boot camp is so stringent - it's a wake-up call that tells recruits you're no longer in the cozy bosom of mom and dad, your're an adult now. I'm not saying you should be a drill sergeant, but as of now you're setting a very lax precendent, so one day when your department is on deadline and Gen Y calls in "sick" because her child's daycare provider isn't available and you call her onto the carpet she'll be completely gobsmacked - "What's the problem? He's never complained before? What did I do wrong?" Parameters and guidelines that apply to all employees need to be set in place and adhered to.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:21 PM on January 15, 2011


I'm really confused about the Facebook thing. Why on earth does your employer require you to be friends with your employees on FB? Its their FB page right? A personal site not affiliated with work? Clearly not her updating the office FB site or her personal presence as a representative of the company? Then I honestly don't understand how what she posted to FB makes any difference here - lord knows there are plenty of people posting to FB (and MeFi, and Twitter) from work, which would be a much bigger issue than posting from home.

Working from home is a lot more relaxed than working at work. You do some work, then put in some laundry. Do some more work, and maybe have the TV on while you do it. Do a little more work and make some lunch. Do more work, then put then take a shower. Working from home allows you to structure your time in a more relaxed sort of way generally.

When working from home while also taking care of a under 1 year old child you must be even more flexible. The child is her first priority here (do I need to tell you that?) and any work you get done gets done while the child is a) napping, b) in 15 minute bursts while the child plays alone for a few minutes (which babies that age aren't good at) or c) while the baby watches a movie (not really recommended for children that age). Especially if the child is at that sort-of-but-not-really-walking stage, you're going to be working in short bursts at best, because the child wants to toddle around and have you play with her and in general do dangerous and/or attention needing things. Its not like being home with a sick 8 year old who needs you to make them lunch and otherwise is self entertaining.

Leaving aside the book thing (which is totally egregious) and the deadline thing (which I'm also not clear on: are you saying she needed to push a deadline and didn't ask, or she asked in an unprofessional way? Doesn't matter here in either case), I suspect that what's actually going on here is that she's getting the work done very early in the morning, or at night after bedtime, or even worked on it Saturday when her spouse could be home for the full day or she had other coverage. The real key here is: how much work did she get done? What product do you see on Monday? Also, is she hourly, or salaried?

FWIW, provided she comes in Monday with an acceptable amount of work done then anything she posted to FB is a non-issue. You yourself say above "I think I would have fewer doubts about how she structured her day at home if there weren't issues with professionalism at work" and I think that's really the key here: you need to talk with her about her professionalism in the workplace and not drag the FB video into it.

- If she doesn't have work product, then she's lost the ability to work from home.
- If she does have work product, then the FB video is a non issue and you're being a DB boss to bring it up.
- If the issue is her professionalism in the workplace, then continue to work with her on positive expectations and don't be so caught up in how she's structuring her day when she's working at home.
- If you want to be a really great boss, do some research on FB privacy filters & send around a memo to all your employees that says "although we're required to be FB friends by the company, I also recognize that there are some things you might want to post to FB that you don't want all your workplace colleagues to see. Here's some information to help you keep private things private."
posted by anastasiav at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Nthing forgetting about the Facebook thing and why her husband was home. Either she can work from home, or she can't.

Definitely get on her about what's allowed/professional at work though. A book in a meeting!? I started working in offices years before I could legally drink, but I would have never dreamed of doing that.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:29 PM on January 15, 2011


I think many people are of the "leave me alone if I get my work done" mentality, not just GenY. Making it a generational issue is a derail.

The book to the meeting is a 100% bad idea, and sort of a bad sign. She is going to be reading a book in a room while someone else is speaking? That is super rude. Having that little self awareness is kind of scary. I had a supervisor who would put his feet up on the desk and read when his boss wasn't around. Needless to say, he was among the first to get laid off. He did his job fine, but if he had time to read, he clearly didn't have enough to do. If he'd have followed the advice he gave to me on my first day ("If you don't have anything to do, don't let anyone see you."), he might not have been.

The working from home thing should go like this: "Hey, Jane, I need you to check with me before you plan on working from home each day. There are some days where I will need you to be in the office, and if you can't be in the office, you will need to take a sick day. Working from home is a favor we do for employees, and it is something we really can't let people to do more than once a month or so."

The Facebook thing: "Jane, while I'm sure you meant no harm by it and I'm sure you got all your work done, the video posting during work hours looks bad. When I see it, it makes me wonder if you are focused on working during work hours. And if my boss or one of our clients were to see it, they would really wonder if I am doing my job well. I don't want to have to make excuses for my work or the people who work for me, so I need you to not make any postings on Facebook or wherever during work hours, or that makes reference to work. Appearences count- other people looking in don't know that you are on break or have all your work done. All they see is someone who was screwing around during work hours. Sometimes you might have the opportunity to explain yourself, sometimes you won't. Sometimes you won't even know that someone has taken a bad impression, but that impression WILL be in their minds and may well come back to bite you in the ass."


Regardless, do a favor to yourself and all of her future employers and handle this gently but firmly. Foremost, explain to her that following the rules is just a part of working for someone. Part of what they pay for when they hire someone is predictability and giving a good appearance. Just because an employee knows they are doing their job doesn't mean that someone walking by or surfing the internet knows the same thing. Doing the work is only part of the equation.
posted by gjc at 12:41 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the Facebook filters is a great option, if it seems like she "gets it". But I would hesitate to suggest it to this particular employee. It is rarely a good idea to teach work-arounds, double-especially to an employee who has professionalism and work-ethic deficiencies. Teach the Right Way, and let them figure out the work-arounds on their own. Tell her you don't want to see that stuff on Facebook. How she solves that is her problem.
posted by gjc at 12:46 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


our work does require us to be facebook friends.

This is among the most screwed up things I have ever heard. It is no wonder she has trouble with work/personal boundaries. Your office has trouble with them too.
posted by fritley at 12:48 PM on January 15, 2011 [24 favorites]


This is among the most screwed up things I have ever heard

Not if you're in the business of developing things for Facebook.

Everybody in that situation should make use of filters or have a dev/work account separate from their real FB profile... not everyone does.
posted by toxic at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2011


The concept of professionalism is somewhat fluid, and some people have different ideas about what's okay and what's not (or what should be okay and what shouldn't) but, simply, if you feel like a direct report is being unprofessional, they're probably being unprofessional.

Schedule a meeting. Come prepared for the meeting. Your responsibility is to be completely honest about each of your concerns, respectful of both her family situation and potential cultural or generational differences, and constructive. She's going to feel embarrassed. It's not going to be a fun meeting. If you're not completely honest about your concerns, you're not being fair to her. She can't fix something you haven't told her about and she can't fix something that isn't a real problem. Work together to form three or four outcomes for her to achieve: transparency (e.g. talking to you if her kid is ill and about how it will affect her work; or e.g. keeping an informal timesheet if she is working from home), consideration and respect for others (e.g. being aware that the other four people at the meeting have worked hard); openness and discussion (e.g. "if a meeting doesn't seem valuable, tell me, and we'll have a look at it, though I might still expect you to be there").

Be careful not to give her the impression that if she stops x, y, and z, specifically, she'll suddenly be professional. You want her to be more professional and less naive in all contexts. Emphasize perception of her activities, rather than her specific activities. Emphasize communication. You don't seem to have communicated with her openly about your disappointment that she took an extra day without talking to you. You bristled and said nothing. She might have reasonably assumed that if it was fine yesterday it'll be fine today. This is a fair enough interpretation, even though many of us would consider it unprofessional. Emphasize also that, regardless, there are some things that simply aren't allowed, regardless of her opinion or your opinion.

Professionalism isn't innate, and it isn't the same in every office. I started in the private sector, where if I had a question about something I'd go to someone's desk and have a chat and ask how their weekend was and probably sit down and discuss the question. I then moved to a government office where that sort of behaviour would get a glare from five or six people in the area - email or going to a meeting room was preferred. There are different ideas even within offices and sometimes it's not even what you do, but the way you sit at your desk or talk on the phone that betrays an unprofessional attitude.

tl;dr: Professionalism: fluid, not innate perception. Employee: sit her down, talk to her honestly, give her outcomes to work toward. You: communicate better. Good luck.
posted by doublehappy at 1:12 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm flattered that you think I've got the power to make policies, but as someone who manages a couple of people within a large company, that's simply above my paygrade.

You may not be able to set company policy. But you do have preferences and limits and so on, and I'm sure it would be within your job description to lay those out in a clear, policy-like way.

Maybe you can't say "Here are the XYZCORP rules on working from home." But you can say "Look, if you're reporting to me and you want to work from home, you have to convince me you're not abusing it. Here's a list of do's and don't's; no guarantees or anything, but you can improve your odds if you follow the stuff on this list."
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:39 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have a lot to add but if it were me I would let the baby-video stuff go. You have to draw too many inferences about when it was taken, her husband, her baby etc., and that's going to come to seem stalkery: "I noticed by the angle of the light that you took the video between 11 and 2...".

But on a "being unprofessional" scale of one to ten, telling you she'd be working from home rather than asking permission is a nine, and bringing a book to a meeting is a ten. I have never in my working life heard of anything so rude. If you're reading a book, you're not at the meeting. It's not much different to wearing headphones and listening to music.

I'm sure all Generation Whatever people aren't like that. It doesn't require some nebulous cultural-relativist concept of differing boundaries or priorities to be that rude, it requires ignorance about what meetings are for. Unless your meeting was on a boat and her presence was required solely as ballast, it's unprofessional.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:51 PM on January 15, 2011


I just wanted to note that if she's shown herself to be an eager, competent employee in other ways, she'll probably appreciate a kind comment about ongoing professionalism issues. As a 25-year-old in my first professional, corporate job, it's always helpful for my boss (or coworkers) to point out aspects of corporate culture I might not be aware of. It's not that I try to "get away" with anything or shirk. It's like I'm traveling in a foreign country where I don't know the customs: sometimes I just do something inappropriate. Once I know it's inappropriate, I won't do it.
posted by linettasky at 2:17 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You said it's her first real job; she probably doesn't get the "perception" thing yet. You're not being a bad guy by correcting her, you're doing her a favor. Even if she doesn't take it that way at the time.

I see this at work sometimes, too. Being an "overhead" function (like a safety monitor - we're required to be there but don't drive the production schedule) sometimes we have people assigned to a job that is on hold, or in a phase they don't need us for. Sometimes those people can't be reassigned, because they'll be needed soon enough and can't get tied up in something else.

It's difficult to convey the concept, though, that just because you're not actively doing something right now, it's still not ok to be playing a card game or reading a novel in the office where people from production are going to walk in and see you. I might have just told them I don't have anyone for their "urgent" job that "will only take a half hour" (never correct, but they think it is) and now they are seeing an epic game of pinochle in my break room. Not cool.

Sometimes you just have to throw the "not cool" flag and don't worry about whether they understand why. You boss, them not. Point at the book and say "Absolutely not. Go put that away." She'll start to see the general pattern a lot faster that way than if you're all wishy-washy "hey, it's not ME, I'm cool and all, but see, there's this perception thing, and could you maybe..."

In my experience anyway.
posted by ctmf at 2:26 PM on January 15, 2011


I recently took 2 days off for a sick baby, even though my husband is a stay at home father - the baby in question is still nursing and had the flu so after a night of that (I got 4 hours sleep in half hour blocks) the doctor gave ME a medical certificate for exhaustion. As it happened I came down with the flu myself and had to take another three days off.

I don't know that I updated facebook during that time but baby anachronism sure did do some adorable stuff while she was sick.

The book to meetings thing is pretty odd - just how little relevance do these meetings have? Or rather, just how little relevance does SHE think they have?

The telling you about working from home may have come over wrong due to communication issues - I know I 'told' my boss I wasn't coming in due to road closures and the only route in took twice as long and cops were telling us all to stay off the road. If I could work from home I would have said "I'm working from home again today" because the reasons for yesterday are the same for today, so I'd figure the same applies. I'd also expect you, as my boss, to say different. If it needed to be PTO rather than work from home, then is the time. And it's not really a confrontation, it's just telling me what is happening and what the expectations are.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:29 PM on January 15, 2011


Just as an FYI: the worst possible thing for working from home with a sick baby is when the baby gets well halfway through the day. A sick baby is frequently lethargic and sleeps a lot, just like a sick child or a sick grownup, but a well kid? Not so much. And you can't just drop them back at daycare, because daycare won't take the kid back until they've been fever, vomiting, and diarrhea-free for 24 hours.

so here's a possible scenario: Baby feels like death, employee gets work done. Baby perks up at about 11:30 (and yes, it can be really fast), employee says "Oh crap! Husband, can you come home and watch Baby so that I can finish this thing?" Husband comes home, employee finishes task, they have lunch together and shoot the charming video because isn't that always the way, they look so sick and then climb the walls? Then Husband stays home to look after Baby while Employee works.

Now, I have no way of knowing if this is the case or not, but neither do you. It's certainly possible, even plausible. If she got her work done, then tracking every minute of her day is petty, and if she didn't, then THAT'S the issue -- not the time she may have spent with a video camera. Either way, if it's not her prerogative to decide when she works at home, that's something that definitely needs to be addressed. But I think this FB thing is a non-issue, beyond you perhaps asking her if she knows how to set up a filter or if she'd consider getting a work profile.
posted by KathrynT at 3:24 PM on January 15, 2011


I haven't read all the responses, so if this was addressed already I apologize. But I wonder if there has not been a miscommunication. When she asked if she could work from home, maybe she took your "yes" to mean that working from home is generally ok and you were giving her permission to make a judgement call as to when it would be appropriate.

Some workplaces do allow that sort of autonomy. My husband does not have to ask for permission every time he wants to work from home... it's understood at his workplace that once permission has been granted, it's ok to work from home approximately one day a week, after checking one's calendar to make sure there is no pressing reason to be in the office.

Maybe your Gen Y is assuming such an arrangement and just needs to be gently informed of the wfh protocol at your workplace.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:00 PM on January 15, 2011


WRT to the book in the meeting thing, I have to wonder why you're making her go to meetings that are so boring she expects to need a novel to endure them. One of the attributes of an outstanding manager is that she shields her people from as much of the the corporate BS as possible.

A large majority of the office meetings I've attended were a complete waste of my time, offering no information that I couldn't have gotten from a one page memo, and requiring no input from me. And a large majority of the meetings that were useful took 2 to 10 times as long as they should have.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am not a parent, but from what I understand, childcare is not the sort of thing that takes 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and an hour at lunch. Childcare is a full time job, and might be even harder rather than easier when the kid is sick. Just because the baby isn't wanting to play doesn't mean there aren't things a carer has to be doing for it.

I don't really understand how someone could "work from home" and take solo care of a baby. Not without doing more of a 1/4 or a 1/2 day of work instead of a full day. So the good news is that her husband might have been there "working at home" as well so that they can take turns. The bad news is that I still don't really see how either of them could have got a full day's work done in that case. Not without working during the evening or something as well.

There are reasons why employers don't let people bring their baby to work everyday. And those are the same reasons why you might not be wanting to let this person work from home.
posted by lollusc at 6:50 PM on January 15, 2011


if after more than a year in the office she can't figure out what's acceptable or not at the very least by observing her co-worker's behaviour it sounds like she's more trouble than she's worth. this sort of thing will constantly be popping up and you'll have to continue being her work-mommy. the problem becomes worse when other people and new employees start modeling their behaviour on hers.
posted by canned polar bear at 2:24 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


With employees, it's often good to think about formal output and informal output.

If her formal output is great but she is a bit rough around the edges, maybe she needs a bit more handling than other employees.

If she is well-liked and helps the team perform better, but is a bit rough around the edges, maybe she needs a bit more handling than other employees.

If either of those cases is true, it's probably best to use informal tactics and bring her around as either loss is a net negative for your team.

If either her output is substandard or she is a net negative experience for the team, it's probably best to resort to formal methods of discipline.

Whilst it's true that you give someone an inch and they take a mile, how you deal with it can make all the difference. If you can give her informal guidance, that may help.

People have had a million different jobs and employers and whilst it may be obvious to some/many, it's not obvious to everyone.

For example, I was closing a deal with a new customer on behalf of the client. I showed up to the office beforehand wearing jeans and a sweater. Very informal. The partner of my firm was irate yet held his anger back until I returned from the meeting.

"We really need to discuss your dress code. How can you go to a customer and represent my firm and the client like that?"

He's talked to me so many times about this before as well. He dresses just like his father told him to, regardless of the situation. "Your shoes must shine and be spotless. You must wear a blazer. If you're meeting with someone senior, you must wear a tie."

After he was done releasing his anger, I replied that "my friend who works at the company said the CEO hates salesmen and consultants and not to dress in a suit. He said dress in a sweater and jeans and act like a person instead of a business person."

"So is the next step for me to go and close the deal?"

"The deal's already done."

"Oh. Well can you go home and change and come back for the rest of the day in a suit please?"

"I have another meeting this afternoon with another customer."

"Are you going to change before that?"

"That meeting is with a VC who also hates salesmen and consultants."

"Did your friend tell you not to wear a suit to that meeting?"

"We're going to a pub to watch the football and have a burger."

"Fine."

Point being is that there is a difference between being correct and being right and without having empathetic interactions with your employee, you won't know her reasons or motivations.

Of course, if her output is crap and you want to can her, by all means, be right. But if she is a good worker and a valuable part of the team, try to work toward correctness.
posted by nickrussell at 7:37 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


our work does require us to be facebook friends.

So does mine. That shouldn't stop you from making a second account, friending everyone at your work on it, and hiding your real account from searches. Encourage coworkers to do this too, especially if Facebook is continually a problem.
posted by Ndwright at 9:03 AM on January 16, 2011


The Facebook thing is a red herring. Bringing a novel to a meeting? Announcing that she would be working from home? Those are the problems.

Stuff like the book need to be addressed privately when they happen. As for the work from home thing, she needs to be told that this is not a right she can use whenever she wants. Tell her that unless you okay, she needs to use a sick day or something.

This has nothing to do with her generation. She needs to be told and then held to the standards and expectations of the office. When you didn't say anything, even though it bristled you, all you were doing is telling her that's okay.


our work does require us to be facebook friends.
So does mine.


What? Other than your work being at Facebook itself, I can't imagine any acceptable reason for this.
posted by spaltavian at 6:36 PM on January 16, 2011


What? Other than your work being at Facebook itself, I can't imagine any acceptable reason for this.

Well, mine doesn't require it, and it could care less if we're friends with each other, but it is highly encouraged to be a "fan" or whatever they call it with the company's Facebook page. That's becoming their main channel for putting out general announcements like snow days, mandatory training, etc.

There are other channels, of course, but they're less efficient or slower. My gets a weekly training list and is supposed to tell me if I'm on it, but there's both a time delay and a game-of-telephone-effect. And I can't check my DoD email from home, so the snow delay email isn't going to do me any good. I can call the info telephone line, but I have to think to do that. FB is a push method.
posted by ctmf at 11:36 PM on January 16, 2011


Other than your work being at Facebook itself, I can't imagine any acceptable reason for this.

I work in the finance industry, which is highly regulated; if you're licensed, and working under the company insurance/legal umbrella (which everyone has to be) you're required to "friend" the legal department contact because they assume that you will be advertising your services or products via facebook. They are supposed to have all access (in other words you can't privacy-set them away from big chunks of your page), though I'm not sure how they enforce that.

I understand it because a lot of people in this industry are complete slime and will scam widows and orphans out of their life savings for a 2% commission. However, I dropped that part of my business rather than put my (imo very boring) posts under the scrutiny of some midwest compliance dweeb who has the power to make my life a misery.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2011


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