New baby having an impact on job performance?
May 2, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

My super-star employee returned from maternity leave a completely different worker. Her performance has gone from first rate to marginal / unsatisfactory. These are the exact same tasks she excelled at only half a year ago. Could it be a baby thing? And if so, what do I do?

Lest I come off as insensitive or anti-mom, let me preface with a few details:

- I (her department head) am a woman, no kids.

- I do not in any way look down on women who choose to be moms, and while I have no first-hand experience, I am sensitive to the challenges working mothers must face.

- The employee, "Jane", is middle aged; she has other children. Her husband is an active dad. She has a solid childcare arrangement.

- I urged Jane to take as much maternity leave as she needed. I did not pressure her to return too soon. She insisted she was ready to come back to work after a couple of months.

- I am supportive when she needs time off for baby reasons and have accommodated her breastfeeding requirements in the workplace.

- I'm aware that there are lots of non-baby reasons for poor employee performance - but I know Jane well enough to rule most of those out.

So here's the rub. Jane has a demanding job- but pre-maternity leave, she knocked it out of the park. I could not have been happier with her performance, and I told her so all the time.

She's been back for 5 months. I knew it would take her some time to get up to speed and tried to ease her into things. But it's been 5 months, and if anything, her performance is getting worse.

Key differences: her numbers are dismal. Huge drop off in quantity of projects completed compared to last year's numbers. Quality of work is also a problem. Her reports are a mess. She maintains a database of information and I'm always finding errors now where I did not before.

She also seems "lost". Routine tasks now baffle her. "Oh, did you want me to do that?" "What do you want me to do with x ?" Things she always handled before, now she seems completely unprepared.

As I would with any employee, I have addressed these issues with her. I try to listen and focus on problem solving. All I get are defensiveness, excuses, and tears. She insists she still loves this job and is doing the best she can.

Post-partum depression seems a possibility - but she's the least-depressed person I've ever met. Outgoing, upbeat, all smiles. She also doesn't seem sleep deprived or especially tired, no more than the rest of us.

I've heard women joke about being addle-minded with "pregnancy brain". Is there such a thing as "baby brain"? (Again, not trying to be insulting.)

I hesitate to ask her because it could be misinterpreted as an anti-baby hostile work environment thing. So I thought I'd ask if any of you had experienced something similar when returning to work after having a baby?

What helped you / would have helped you?

posted by falldownpaul to Work & Money (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Being upbeat is not proof that she's neither depressed nor sleep deprived.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:41 AM on May 2, 2013 [55 favorites]

Since you've already addressed it as her supervisor, can you have a meeting with the employee and HR?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:42 AM on May 2, 2013

That kind of confusion and disorganization is similar to what my friends have described as their experiences of post-partum depression/psychosis. She could indeed be suffering without seeming "sad."
posted by like_a_friend at 8:43 AM on May 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

I have a friend who gave birth a year ago and is still sleeping less than 4 hours a night on a consistent basis. I wouldn't know that unless she told me, but I have to imagine that is impacting her ability to live her life in a number of ways. Talk to the employee.
posted by something something at 8:45 AM on May 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

As I would with any employee, I have addressed these issues with her. I try to listen and focus on problem solving. All I get are defensiveness, excuses, and tears. She insists she still loves this job and is doing the best she can.

She's doing the best she can, and what she's doing is not what you need to be done in that position. That's a problem for the company.

I've been depressed, sleep-deprived, a new mother, a mother with relationship issues, a mother with financial issues, etc. I still needed to do my job.

I would leave her personal life completely out of it and stick to the duties you need done, without personalizing it.

If she has a personal or medical problem that's interfering with her work, then it's up to her to bring it up and seek remedy/accommodations for it. She's not doing that and you have a business to run.

It could be as easy as a job-share or an addition to the reporting process that adds a proofreader, or something. Of course you want to accommodate your staff's needs. But the work needs to be done.
posted by headnsouth at 8:46 AM on May 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

I admire the way you have handled this so far, and also the way you wrote up your question with such sensitivity and reasonableness. Fundamental question: is SHE aware that the quality of her work has decreased? If no, then that's one problem, and if yes, that's a different problem. If the latter, have you tried shifting the burden to her to try to come up with an explanation and action plan?
posted by Dansaman at 8:48 AM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

Define "middle-aged", please. If she's in her mid to late 40s she might be dealing with a double whammy of post-partum depression and menopause. Can you make her see a doctor or a therapist, no. Can you suggest it kindly? Make it clear that a) her work is nowhere near as good as it used to be, b) you're worried about her health, c) if she needs medical leave it's available.
posted by mareli at 8:50 AM on May 2, 2013

Sleep deprivation and post-partum depression are real possibilities, no matter what her appearance suggests. I had a hard time performing at work for the first year after my son was born (I went back to work full time when he was 9 weeks old) and I had no idea why. It turns out I was sleep-deprived and I did not even realize it -- I only figured out that was the problem when my son started sleeping through the night in his own room. If I had also had PPD I don't even know how I would have functioned at all.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:50 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Post-partum depression seems a possibility - but she's the least-depressed person I've ever met. Outgoing, upbeat, all smiles.

Sometimes very depressed people are very good actors. She may seem like she's keeping it together emotionally, but you're seeing the cracks come through in her work. Don't decide she's not depressed just because she's not awash in tears all day.
posted by scratch at 8:50 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

All I get are defensiveness, excuses, and tears. She insists she still loves this job and is doing the best she can.

I'm guessing that she's scared. Scared you will fire her or demote her, scared she can't really handle the pressure, scared that you think less of her.

On top of sleep deprivation and depression (which she probably is dealing with, most new parents are. The problem with both is that they include a lot of shame, and that makes it harder to admit/get help).

Or possibly there are other illness/drama, marriage issues. Lots of things could be in play.

The questions for you are:

1. How far are you willing to go to accomodate her? You know what she's capable of. You know she's having a hard time right now. Can you let her take it slower for a while? Is that less of a hassle than firing/replacing her would be?

2. Can you get her to seek help? Not just from you, but from someone like a therapist, doctor, by hiring a nanny, whatever she can do?

She sounds like a valuable employee that you want to keep. Approach this like any problem and try to find a solution together. Start with the assumption that things will get better and she will be ok and you are not assuming you'll have to fire and replace her.

Maybe she will decide to quit or you both will decide it isn't working, but start from the assumption that there is a way to get past this hard spot.
posted by emjaybee at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Speaking as a new mom who returned to work in the beginning of January when my son was 12 weeks old - not only is she likely sleep-deprived (my son is almost 7 months old and still doesn't sleep through the night, so no full nights of sleep for me), but if her kid is in daycare s/he is probably constantly sick and making your employee constantly sick as well. This had a significant effect on my job performance my first few months back at work.
posted by amro at 8:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Post-partum depression seems a possibility - but she's the least-depressed person I've ever met. Outgoing, upbeat, all smiles. She also doesn't seem sleep deprived or especially tired, no more than the rest of us.

Hi. I am a person who struggles with depression. And 'you alway seem so happy' is The Most Common thing I hear. Seeming happy and being happy are very different things. Very different. If I don't seem extra super happy I am constantly terrified that I am going to lose my shit and/or be revealed as a depressed person. ('person who struggles with depression' is slightly different from 'depressed person' in terms of framing....)

Unfortunately, depression is a sneaky sneaky bastard and will not be fixed by the boss saying 'I think you might be depressed.'

If your company has an employment lawyer, consult that person. If your company does not have an employment lawyer, get one. Because making suggestions about health care, and/or letting someone go so soon after maternity leave has a potential raft of consequences.
posted by bilabial at 8:56 AM on May 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

depression (which she probably is dealing with, most new parents are

Whaa...? I'd like to see a cite for that.

Can you get her to seek help? Not just from you, but from someone like a therapist, doctor, by hiring a nanny, whatever she can do?

That's crossing a line. It's not your place to make those suggestions.
posted by amro at 8:57 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you hire a temp (part-time or full-time) to help take the load off this employee for a short time, until her work improves?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:57 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd be careful to not ask her medical questions until HR says it's ok. Your heart's in the right place, but if she's scared she might lash out at you or get defensive if you ask her about depression, etc. You're her boss, not her friend (or, even if you two are friends, this discussion is one between a manager and a worker).
posted by Houstonian at 8:58 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would meet with HR to see what would be acceptable to discuss with your employee regarding the possible reasons for the changes you are noting.

You are doing an excellent job of documenting the specifics of exactly where her work product has changed and in what ways. Technically, these are the pertinant facts.

What you want to do is tell this woman, "You're a mess! Get a Grip! Go to your doctor and explore why you are having these problems!" But you may not be able to legally, which is kind of a shame. Imagine if just a bit of anti-depressant could turn this around?

That's why you need to go to HR. Because, while we want to be as helpful, kind and accomodating of new mothers as we possibly can, at some point we can't let someone who isn't doing her job properly continue on. As her manager, you can't ask her about any medical issues that may be affecting her work output, but perhaps HR can help you navigate this situation so that your employee gets the medical assessment and help she needs, and you don't find yourself in a jackpot for recommending an post-partum depression assessment.

Damn, it's hard enough without bringing HIPPA into it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was outgoing and upbeat and all smiles, and I had to go to a psychiatric ER when my baby was 14 months old because I was losing my shit between PPD and unrelenting, torturous sleep deprivation. (My kid nursed every 2 hours around the clock.) Up until that moment I would have been defensive and tearful at the idea that I wasn't managing anything perfectly.

You sound like a great boss. She might need some additional leave, or she might need your EAP program, or she might need a temporary job share. Ruthless Bunny has some great tips.
posted by KathrynT at 9:06 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

depression (which she probably is dealing with, most new parents are

Whaa...? I'd like to see a cite for that

I'm pretty sure the "most" refers primarily to "sleep deprivation," which appeared immediately before "depression" in that sentence. And, yes. Most new parents are sleep-deprived.

nthing that when I seem my most chipper and upbeat at work, that is when I am coming home at night and drinking myself to sleep in the bathtub. The chipper all-smiles persona is how I manage not to sob and scream and smash my computer to bits. Demeanor is not a reliable indicator of mood.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:08 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

This sounds like classic PPD and sleep deprivation affecting her performance, despite what you are seeing. The inability to concentrate, baffled by routine things, it all fits in that mold. I know because I had it with my first and it sucked the very marrow out of my life.

I think you need to push her a little harder on getting some help because otherwise, her performance is not going to get better and she could be looking at losing her job.
posted by Leezie at 9:13 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So happy to see so many thoughtful responses! As a non-baby person myself, I am getting a lot of valuable insight from you all. Thank you.

To answer your questions:

mareli - I'd like to keep her age vague; she is not menopausal. Good suggestion tho.

dansaman - yes, she is aware that her numbers aren't where they need to be, and I gently point out the other errors / oversights when they matter. "Action plan" - yes! I've tried that very approach, but it didn't work. I asked her to help identify what's getting in "our" way here and what "we" can do to get back on track. She couldn't offer anything.

SuperSquirrell and headnsouth: your jobshare/ temp suggestions are exactly what I tried. I brought in some extra help for her. She can't figure out how to utilize the help and told me that she doesn't have anything for him to do... all the while the work is sitting there in front of us. I'm at a loss.
posted by falldownpaul at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2013

Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you. You get to a place where you feel like you have a "normal" energy level, and the baby's sleeping a reasonable amount, and you're like, "I guess I'm just not that energetic a person," because you have so much MORE energy than you did when you were totally sleep deprived with a new infant, but just not that much ...

Anyway, then you wean, and you're like, WHOA, I HAVE A WHOLE SECOND PERSON WORTH OF ENERGY THAT I WAS APPARENTLY USING TO MAKE MILK. You don't realize how much it takes out of you until you stop.

If you can muddle along until the baby is a year old (documenting as necessary, of course), you might want to do that; things just get a lot easier around a year. Most women in the west wean at or before a year, 12-month-olds are less clingily dependent and are more a part of normal family life, daycare arrangements are easier, there's less night-waking, etc. If she's like a thoracic surgeon or an F-16 pilot, obviously you're going to have to take action now. But if it's the sort of thing you can manage with a mediocre employee for another quarter or two, it may improve if you muddle along until the baby is a year old. If not, you'll have your documentation in order.

Otherwise I'd suggest saying, "Jane, what support can we give you at work? I know you've got a lot going on with a new baby and we value you as an employee and want to support you so you can do both at once." But it sounds like you've tried that. Frustrating. Are there specific supports that YOU think might improve her work performance until she's a bit more herself? She might be grateful for the outside direction rather than trying to think of an answer herself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:32 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's also important to realize that it's risky, as an employer, to guess about medical/disability reasons for performance problems.

Yes! Be careful how you approach this with her. Talk about her job performance, not her medical status.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't be the kind of manager that confuses "people" with "human resources" because, well, that's just not reality. A new mother cannot possibly perform at her pre-baby levels until she stops breastfeeding and her baby starts sleeping better. It's not likely these two things will happen until the baby is at least a year old. So now you are left with some decisions, both ethical and practical.

Ethical: how would you feel if you invested x months/years into a fresh college grad, only to lose her once she learned enough to get a better offer next door? Would you be upset because you've had certain expectations, or would you be ok because it's all about money?

Practical: can your business continue to function through the period of reduced performance from this employee? If yes, then give her a break because superstars are hard-to-find and expensive and it's the decent thing to do. If no, then give her a break because she is a mega-superstar and you cannot afford to lose her.

P.S. I am a bit disappointed by the number of "she is depressed!" responses with the implication that she needs to be medicated. There is no scenario where a mother of a 5-month old infant is not sleep-deprived and that's ok.
posted by rada at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Her reports are a mess. She maintains a database of information and I'm always finding errors now where I did not before.

I've no idea what her job actually is, but this jumped out at me. What may help is a data entry clerk / admin assistant who can enter stuff into the database she maintains and type up her reports for her. It'll probably be someone much more junior than she is - possibly down to fresh out of high school, who can do the detail-focused scut-work for her and catch mistakes until she has the concentration to handle it again herself.
posted by talitha_kumi at 9:40 AM on May 2, 2013

Okay, here's some advice. First, be careful of bringing cognitive biases into this. There is a lot of folk wisdom about childbirth and motherhood and their effect on workplace performance. Every woman is different, so you want to try really hard to not make bad assumptions about what's going on with her. Especially since you don't have children yourself, and so have no first-hand experience. You sound sensitive and thoughtful, but still --- you don't want to slip into "girls are bad at math" territory. (What I mean is, our culture is massively sexist. We all need to try really hard to not accidentally perpetuate it. Also, humans are storytelling creatures. Be careful that you're not telling yourself a story, and bending the facts to fit it.)

Second: I know you want to be analytical about this and try to problem-solve. You're a boss -- that's what you do. But it's best to stay completely out of her personal life. Maybe it's the baby. Maybe her husband is having an affair. Maybe her mother is dying. Ultimately for your purposes it doesn't matter, and it's none of your business. The question is, can she do her job.

So I'd go with the practical suggestion upthread. Figure out how much trouble it would be to replace her, and how bad her performance would need to be for you to do it. Then figure out how much time you're willing to give her to sort this out. Maybe it's six months. Then tell her. "Your performance is really down. I need you to get it back up. It seems like there might be external reasons you're not performing right now. I sympathize, and I want to give you time to sort things out, because you've been such a good performer to date. So I'm going to give you six months to turn this around. If you don't, then I'll probably need to let you go." This treats her like an adult: it gives her all the relevant information, and leaves it up to her what to do with it. Then the ball is in her court. Support any efforts she makes (with interim support or whatever), and wait and see what happens.
posted by Susan PG at 9:43 AM on May 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

As noted above, if your company has an Employee Assistance Program, or a help line through your medical insurance carrier, you can suggest those to her as part of an overall package when you meet with her to put together her next action plan (which you should do).

You definitely don't want to bring up the topics of PPD, general depression, or anything else - but of course if she brings it up you can suggest appropriate resources.

But - do you have decent medical coverage? If so, you could suggest that she get a comprehensive physical. Just make a general statement along the lines of "While it's not appropriate for me to discuss specific health issues with you, your doctor is always a good resource in identifying and treating anything that may impact your performance at work. The physical is free under our coverage and I'll give you the day off if you'd like to pursue it."
posted by trivia genius at 9:43 AM on May 2, 2013

P.S. I am a bit disappointed by the number of "she is depressed!" responses with the implication that she needs to be medicated.

As much as other people on the internet can diagnose someone, my comment that she had the classic signs of PPD came from my own experience with PPD. I made no implication that she needed medication - she probably needs regular, restful sleep that she can enjoy without any chance of someone waking her up for something. I tried Zoloft so I could continue breastfeeding and it made me even worse than I when I started it.

OP - is it possible that she can work a different schedule so that she can get some extra sleep maybe during the day? I was fortunate to be able to work from home during that first year of my son's life and I was able to get some very helpful cat naps in there that staved off a lot of mental fog.

At the same time, I'm really concerned by her inability to level up to the help that you are offering. Something needs to be done - I doubt that you can wait for another 7 months until her kid is sleeping through the night to maybe get your stellar employee back. It's not fair to you or her.
posted by Leezie at 11:53 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't mention how old her baby is but I get the impression it's less than a year?

Is there such a thing as "baby brain"?

There is such a thing as 12 months of sleep deprivation. And not just "oh I only slept for 5 hours straight last night" sleep deprivation - "I slept for a total of 5 hours in 45-60 minute chunks last night, because the baby keeps crying and my back is killing me and I'm anxious about work and money" sleep deprivation.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Key differences: her numbers are dismal. Huge drop off in quantity of projects completed compared to last year's numbers. Quality of work is also a problem. Her reports are a mess. She maintains a database of information and I'm always finding errors now where I did not before.

Okay, so this is a problem. Is it possible to have a sit-down performance review?

You said you discussed it with her, but was it as it happened? Or all at once?

I think you can gather some before and after work, you can gather things that have errors, and present it to her. Let her know SPECIFICALLY what she is doing and what you need done. Now, what you need done and improved can be on a checklist that you give to her. That way she has something solid she can look at to make sure all the steps are being done.

However, there is only so much accommodation you can do. To me, defensive seems that there wasn't an "I understand and will do better." But a "You don't understand and I'm defending my actions."

At some point, what is going on in her personal life needs to stop affecting her work. I appreciate you being accommodating, but at some point it may be too accommodating.

I bring this up - maybe I'm harsh? - but you don't want this to become a habit. Like she is being excused because of it and then her work will continue to go down hill. This is why I think a performance review, or a series of them, say every month, is important. You need to be seeing actual improvement and be encouraging actual improvement with a set deadline for that improvement.

I bring all of this up because I had a coworker who I supervised that pretty much let everything be an excuse. She had some stressful stuff going on in her life, and at first I was accommodating and understanding. But it kept affecting her work and her performance kept going down because I kept being nice about it. As I tried to get more strict with deadlines, by that point she seemed to be entitled to having excuses of how her life was so hard. She was later fired because of her lack of improvement. I know having a baby is hard, but so were the things that she was going through. Everyone goes through really hard things in their life, but many of us need to hold it together at work.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:06 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think time for nudging and gently suggesting is done. You may want to tell her that at some point, she has to decide on what it is that she needs to do to perform better. Tell her that you have tried all of these things to help her along. Tell her you understand she may be sleep deprived and stressed. Unfortunately, work does not make allowances because you are a mom. I remember my crew chief telling me that people thought I was just f@!#&ing up because I didn't care about my work, which was not the case. I honestly didn't realize my lack of enthusiasm was showing.

My daughter is now five. I can say that sleep still is a problem for me. I am exhausted. I work at a job that only men do. As a matter of fact, someone walked in where I am working this evening and said he has never seen a woman do this job that I do. Trust me when I say this, none of the people (men or women) in my industry gives a rat's ass if I slept two hours because my daughter had a nightmare or a fever or was throwing up or had a nosebleed in the middle of the night making me give her a bath, change the sheets, hold her until she was sleeping again. I still have to get my butt out of bed at 4:30a and get to work.

I am sympathetic but at some point, you will have to convey to her that she has to pull it together or at least tell you what it is that she is going through so you can help her pull it together.
posted by Yellow at 12:53 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you.

THIS. THIS. THIS. (And I wholeheartedly second the rest of Eyebrow McGee's comment.)

I'm sure that your employee wants in her heart of hearts to do a good job at work, just as much as she wants to do a good job at home. I'm sure that she doesn't want to let anyone on either side of that equation down, and that she is still trying to figure out how to balance everyone's needs. I'm sure she is doing the best she can, and wants everyone to think she can hold it all together. She may not want to ask for more help, because she doesn't want to burden anyone who has already been so understanding. She might earnestly be promising herself, more than you, that she will do better at work.

I was recently in your employee's shoes. Sleep deprivation can be very debilitating in terms of being able to think things through. At home my husband had to give me reality checks when things weren't working, and help me find a solution rather than wait for me to tell him what I needed. He had to take the reins basically and tell me what I was going to do in order to handle some things that were overwhelming me.

Similarly, my boss snapped at me one day "Man, your sleep deprivation is really showing on this report" (I have been ridiculously fortunate that his wife had a baby 2 months after I did, because before that happened he would not have been nearly so understanding). I was able to have a conversation with him where we agreed to take some more-intensive stuff off my plate for a while. But that was with the understanding that my request was temporary (a few months), and that I wouldn't be permanently changing my role.

Would it be possible to transition your employee to something a little less detail-oriented for a little while? This is obviously something that needs to be cleared with HR first so it doesn't come across like she is being demoted/punished for her physical condition. She might even protest at first, but I'll bet after a few days she would be very appreciative for the breathing room for a little while. But it really sounds like you need to be driving the change (while working with her, at least in appearance), because it sounds like she really isn't sure how to get out of this mess, or that she might be afraid to ask for help because she thinks you expect more of her.
posted by vignettist at 2:22 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

your jobshare/ temp suggestions are exactly what I tried. I brought in some extra help for her. She can't figure out how to utilize the help and told me that she doesn't have anything for him to do... all the while the work is sitting there in front of us. I'm at a loss.

Is she in a managerial type position now? If not, tasking someone could be a totally new challenge for her and it sounds like she has the burden of teaching this person as well. Are there other employees that do similar things to Jane that can help train this temp worker? Can you help train the temp worker? (Obvs, I have no clue what you ladies do or if this is even feasible, just tossing out suggestions)

It may be worthwhile for you to sit down with Jane and discuss tasks that newhelp can perform now and tasks that you and Jane would like newhelp to be able to do in the future. The two of you can plan for newhelp's growth into those roles if it makes sense or you can at least know what newhelp should be working on and be able to discuss it with newhelp. Once you do that the three of you can sit down and get newhelp set up with tasking for a week or two. You may need/want to iteratively repeat the process until Jane and newhelp seem self sufficient.
posted by Feantari at 3:36 PM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I did not realize how sleep deprived I was until I stopped being less sleep deprived. I functioned, but I was scattered and extremely disorganized, as well as very defensive because I really could not imagine anyone doing it better. I think it is entirely possible that you can get your old employee back if you are willing to wait it out (for me it took until my baby was 11 months old and we sleep trained), but it doesn't sound like you want to wait especially when you have no guarantee she will improve.

Were you or someone you trust enough to ask in confidence around when she had her other kids, and did the same thing happen? If so, be reassured that she will bounce back! If not, it is possible this one is hitting her harder if she is in her forties. (god I hope she's not in her thirties because if that's where "middle aged" is now I am a geezer, gah!)

Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:22 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I take the view that there is no professional life and work life.

There is just LIFE!

And sometimes careers take precedence. And sometimes family takes precedence, and companies would do well to accept these peaks and valleys

Has Jane's performance in the previous time at the company been fruitful? Has she been a good employee? Would, LONGTERM!, you lose more by losing Jane? Would you lose clients because they would follow Jane to a new company or into consulting?

Five months is not a lot of time across years. You would do well to weigh LONGTERM vs short term here before you did anything. And on that note, do you offer an employee assistance program with specific support for parents? Do you offer time out of the work day for counseling or support groups? And why the hell not if not?

HAVE YOU ASKED JANE HOW SHE WAS DOING AND MADE IT CLEAR YOU WANT TO HELP HER AND NOT FIRE HER??? In other words, have you met her at a human level where she doesn't have to be afraid of losing her livelihood?

Consider this book.

And consider waiting and seeing until baby is at least a year old to see if Jane's performance kicks back to what it should be. For me? It took over two years after my first. Not all babies are the same. This could be a particular challenging baby (Damn you, colic!!!) or a baby with needs you aren't aware of.

Best way to get Jane's performance up to par? Assure her her job is not on the line and offer her assistance you'd offer any other employee in crisis mode.
posted by zizzle at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

When someone has performed dismally for 5 months you put them on a performance improvement plan with specific milestones. You provide support to help them support as possible to help them be successful, but ultimately it's their responsibility to do their job.

I'm not unsympathetic to her situation, but this is her job and not an entitlement. You should also make sure that she is aware of any EAP offerings which might be helpful to her.
posted by 26.2 at 6:22 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since she is aware she is not performing up to snuff she may have thought the newhire was actually her replacement that you expected her to train into her role. The sleep-addled brain can come up with crazy scenarios. The fact she returned to full time employment only two months after giving birth leads me to think she needs the income and is worried about losing her job. If she was a superstar that have 150% before can you keep her on full pay but reduce her hours/workload to give her breathing room until the baby is one year or so? Better yet, can you give her paid parental leave? It sounds like the baby is only six or seven years old and she is breast feeding. Whole chunks of my life are missing due to baby brain and sleep deprivation and I actually coped extremely well with the post-partum period.
posted by saucysault at 7:15 PM on May 2, 2013

If her performance is causing problems for her coworkers as well as you and they find out that you're treating her differently than they'd be treated in similar circumstances just because she has a baby, that could be a problem in all sorts of ways.

You really need to talk to HR about how they want to handle this before one of her coworkers decides to do so.
posted by winna at 3:19 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Depression, or PPD in this case, is not just about being sad. That's often the most obvious symptom, but there are so many other symptoms that fit into it -- see this: Sapolsky On Depression.

Secondly, lots of times pregnancy throws a woman's thyroid out of whack.

However, while these things are common, I don't think it's reasonable to expect most new moms to come back to work and perform this way -- I think the vast majority of working moms would be around 100% ~at work~ when their baby is seven months old. So yeah, a decrease in productivity after having a baby: completely normal. *This* much, after 7 months: not normal.

If this woman were my friend, I would be nudging her pretty darned hard to seek medical attention.

(But I have no idea what you can do as her boss.)
posted by MeiraV at 6:47 AM on May 3, 2013

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