Screwed up at work. Now what?
February 4, 2014 4:07 AM   Subscribe

I learned last night that a temporary employee did only part of a job I needed him to do, making it basically useless. Now what?

I've had a temporary employee - Friday was his last day - to help me with a project associated with a major upcoming event at work. This event is a source of a lot of stress for me. The temp's task was to print a lot of materials. I learned last night that he only printed the cover sheets for said materials.

My manager asked a few times if the temp was doing what he was supposed to be doing but I saw him printing and organizing cover sheets so I (wrongfully) assumed he had printed out the actual materials. My manager has been a little crankier than usual (yesterday he complained that the labels I bought weren't sticky enough) plus this is embarrassing and I feel guilty and horrible so I'm hesitant to tell him.

I can fix this mistake - it will just take a lot of time when I'm at my busiest. I can potentially outsource some of this work to Kinko's but I would have to ship it. I know I screwed up and I know I need to fix my mistake but I'm overwhelmed and frustrated and freaked out. I haven't cried over this yet but the day is young. I woke up in a sweat thinking about this.

My manager asked for the temp to do two copies of everything on Wednesday or Thursday. Rather than tell him that the temp screwed up (therefore I screwed up), I'd prefer to correct my mistake and say that temp didn't finish the second version (true ...) and work to do it this week. Is this a horrible idea? How horrible? Do you have any not horrible ideas?
posted by kat518 to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just throw the temp under the bus and tell the boss you will fix it. No need to get creative here.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:11 AM on February 4, 2014 [70 favorites]

Totally agree with Admiral Haddock. It's not really completely clear to me that you screwed up - perhaps you ought to have kept better tabs on the temp, but he is the one who failed to complete this assignment.

I'll also add, even though you didn't ask, that feeling "guilty and horrible" over something relatively minor like this, and being "overwhelmed and frustrated and freaked out" seems like a major overreaction. On top of that, giving off a frazzled vibe doesn't make others feel confident in your abilities. It's in your best interest to manage these feelings, both for your own mental well-being and for the way you're perceived by management.

Good luck with your event!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:21 AM on February 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Okay, take a deep breath, because while I haven't been in exactly the same position, I've been in a very similar position. With a bunch of different temps.

So take that deep breath.

Okay? Ready?

You did not screw up.

You only did one thing wrong - you didn't keep checking up on the temp. And with the billion other things you and your manager have going on right now, this isn't even a screw up.

The temp was supposed to get the work done. He didn't. It's entirely his fault. You checked on the temp, he was printing stuff, you assumed he did the rest of the work. A decent temp would. An excellent temp would have even collated it properly and made sure it was properly boxed up.

This guy? He was a BAD temp. Your manager needs to know and the agency needs to know.

You need to take another deep breath, go to your manager, and put it like this:

"I just checked over everything [Bad Temp's Name] did, and he didn't do any of the work. I'm absolutely furious with him, and I'm angry I didn't check up on him more often. I can get all this work done in time, along with everything else that needs doing, but I'm going to need to outsource some of it to Kinkos. Do I have your permission to do so?

"And do you have the number of the temp agency? They really should know how awful he was - after we finish getting everything ready, of course."

You can do this. You're not flapping around like a chicken with its head cut off - you already have a plan in place. Just take that breath, step in, and tell your manager so that you can get everything done and be the shining awesome organiser you know you can be.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:29 AM on February 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

Just get the work done. That's all the boss cares about. If he asks, say "temp didn't finish it, but I'm taking care of it" or something like that. No need to go into any details of why this fell through the cracks, just get it done and move on.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:34 AM on February 4, 2014 [31 favorites]

Melissasaurus couldn't be more right. Bosses do not want drama or reasons (because reasons look an awful lot like excuses). They just want the work done. It was your responsibility to see that the work was done, and you didn't do that, so now it's on you to fix this as efficiently as possible.

The funny thing is, work gets a lot less stressful once you stop having conversations (in your head, with coworkers, with the boss, and recaps with friends) about the whys and wherefores. Spend this time, the time that you'd usually spend blaming yourself over this, to take a deep breath, write out a checklist of everything that must be done today, and execute.

I'd go in a couple of hours early this morning to knock out some of the tasking. If the boss asks, tell him "temp didn't finish it, but I'm taking care of it."

This temp won't be the last slacker you encounter. You've learned your lesson and are in a better position for success next time.
posted by mochapickle at 4:52 AM on February 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

You owe the temp nothing, there is no need to protect them. Just do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to get that work done. If it is transparent to your boss, great. He won't know that there ever was an issue. If he asks, just say "The temp didn't finish the work. I am getting it fixed up, and I'm double checking the Temp's other work where I can, just to make sure everything is up to our standards."

Basically, fix it, make it your problem, and when everything has gone off without a hitch and your boss isn't so grumpy, go to him with a "We should contact the temp agency. That guy did a terrible job. After he left I double checked and all of his work was done wrong, half done, or not even started. The temp agency should know." You can put in there that YOU swooped in and saved the day, your boss may ask and you can say something to that effect, but your boss will likely connect the dots and see that you stepped up and did what needed to be done, etc.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:21 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some agencies will actually refund some or all of your fee (depending how often you use temps, and how much they want to keep you as a client) if you report that the work that the temp did was sub-par. It doesn't come out of the temp's paycheck (though it may affect his/her ability to book more work through the agency...though, if s/he can speak in full sentences and bathe, generally, that's not going to happen), so you may be able to recoup some of the costs of this, as well.
posted by xingcat at 5:22 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain.

You'll get in early and take half an hour to assess the situation with the materials in front of you. You'll write up a list of things you need to do and then re-order that list from most pressing to least.

You'll outsource what you can safely outsource. Do this first so that if something still needs to be corrected you have time to send things back to the printer (or whatever) for revisions.

You'll personally complete what of the project you can complete in-house. You will put off or ask for help with your other responsibilities in the office that don't pertain to this task. This will be fine; you have a right to ask for assistance without explaining yourself. Your focus is to get this project finished properly.

You will ignore your boss' mood. Your boss' mood is not yours to manage. Your focus now is completing - rather than "fixing" - this project.

You'll stay as late as you need to stay for a few days in order to see that the project is completed, and completed well.

You won't say anything to your boss about the temp at all until after you've done a stellar job mopping up this mess. And even then you'll only vaguely allude to "some issues" you had with their job performance. You might not even have this conversation at all.

In my experience, bosses don't want to hear it. They just want results. That's what you're going to deliver with a minimum of huffing and puffing and a maximum of focus, diligence, and relaxation. You can do this. It's all going to be fine.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:35 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're in a position to do this, and you used an agency, call them up and tell them in no uncertain terms that your temp did not do the work you hired him for ("he only printed the cover sheets for the reports he needed to print and collate") and as a result, you're going to miss a deadline. Request that they send another warm body to you, today, on their dime, to finish it up.

It sounds like your boss doesn't care so much about the details as much as getting things done, so if the above is not an option, you're best off doing it yourself. Sorry. That sucks.
posted by juniperesque at 5:53 AM on February 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Yeah, you will be held responsible, but it was the temp who behaved irresponsibly, not you. The best thing to do in these situations is admit that you dropped the ball and promise to go out of your way to fix it, even if that means a lot of extra work for you.
posted by deathpanels at 6:15 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your boss doesn't care about the ins and outs. Just sort it out with minimum fuss. If your boss asks, just say ruefully "yeah you were right, the temp messed it up. I'm sorting it out and it'll be done by tuesday" and leave it at that unless he actually asks for more detail (in which case yeah throw the temp under the bus).
posted by tinkletown at 6:28 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Delegating Work 101

Those who first delegate work and then micro-manage their co-workers' progress do it wrong. They end up stressing themselves to smithereens about work they shouldn't even be doing, and they frustrate the hell out of everyone else.

The essence of delegating work is to trust the people who will do it. It's an investment, that trust, and if all goes well, the payoff is much stress-free time and an appreciative crowd surrounding you.
Sometimes the payoff is bad. Those are the few cases when you, personally, will have to (for instance) step toward the photocopier and fix a mistake someone else has made. In and of itself, that task ought to be stress-free too, because it's so very clearly outlined. No idle guessing required, you know what needs to be done, and nobody else involved.

So back to answer 1, with the addition that you ought to feel good about it. You did everything right here. It's the risk we take.
posted by Namlit at 6:31 AM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Actually, be careful not to be too emphatic in blaming the temp or it might *sound* like you're throwing someone else under the bus, which often goes over poorly. No one expects much of temps and interns - that's why someone like you is put in charge of them. Always better to own up to situation (should have been on top of temp's situation, wasn't, will fix problem, sound confident, whatever else do not cry at work).

Consider it a lesson learned in the event you get temps or interns working for you in the future. I hate to generalize, but I see interns and temp at our office pay more attention to their iPhones or Facebook than their work when they're left alone for long periods of time with minimal supervision.

It sounds like your boss doesn't care so much about the details as much as getting things done, so if the above is not an option, you're best off doing it yourself. Sorry. That sucks.

This. In general bosses don't care who is to blame, only that something happened as expected.
posted by aught at 6:51 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's going to be ok.

Say as little as possible to your boss. If he asks, say what's been indicated above, "you were right, he didn't complete the work, I'm going to make sure it's all done right." Take a breath, make a plan to fix it, do it. Use the least complicated plan and the one that requires as little explanation/additional factors as possible -- so probably not Kinko's and probably not another temp right now. Probably just stay late/come in early and get it done.

(I would call that temp agency yourself though, especially if it is one you have used before and have a relationship with. It'll take you two minutes, they will be mortified and next time you need something they will be more inclined to try hard for you.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:03 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

In defense of the temp - did he have clear instructions? Do not report him to the agency unless you are sure he screwed up.

That's for after the event though. Right now, just fix it. Boss doesn't need or want much info - boss wants this done.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:51 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would do one of two things:

- Pull an all nighter to fix the work, or whatever other ridiculous midnight-oil-burning was necessary.

- Have Kinko's do it and pay for it myself.

Oh, and word of advice?

Just go to the bathroom and have a good cry. You'll be able to think more rationally about this once you've done so.

I would not say ANYTHING about the quality of the temp or what he did or did not do. Hand in the completed project and say nothing about why you have such dark circles under your eyes. It is strongly likely that your boss doesn't want to hear about it. What is "OMG I failed to properly supervise someone who is no longer here!" going to accomplish, aside for some kind of pointless flagellation your boss doesn't need to be part of?
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also I would stress that any work task that can be solved in a pinch by Kinko's probably isn't that important in the long run. Certainly not worth beating yourself up over to this extent.
posted by Sara C. at 10:38 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take accountability. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone screws up.

One thing I'd do is go to my manager's office and say, "You won't believe what that knuckleheaded temp did, he only printed the cover page! He spent X hours on something that should have taken minutes. I should have checked up on him, but who would have thought someone could screw up something that simple? I've learned my lesson! We have an option, I can stay late tonight and do it, or we can send it to Kinkos. Which would you prefer?"

What you've done:

1. Apprised your boss of a potential issue.
2. Identified the breakdown
3. Assured him that it won't happen again
4. Come to him with a plan that will fix the problem
5. Given him a choice as to how to deal with it.

He may grumble, but what can he say? Everyone has screwed up like this in life. We've all survived.

Go now, once it's over with you will feel SO MUCH BETTER!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:53 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the temp was printing cover sheets to make it look like he'd done the work when he hadn't, those who need to know *really* need to be informed.
posted by stormyteal at 4:35 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for the advice and for talking me off the ledge (metaphorically). I wrote the question after realizing the situation and getting some sleep so while I wasn't frantic, I was still worked up. Part of the reason that it was upsetting was that otherwise, I had a relatively good day at work that day so that late in the day discovery was unfortunate.

The good news is that my manager didn't notice and when I handed him a sample that I put together at the end of a 12 hour day, he was happy with it so now I'm finishing it. I know that he likes the way it looks and I know what's in it so if there are any issues with it, I can probably fix them.

I haven't decided whether to call the temp agency. I put it off yesterday by telling myself that I needed to focus on solving the problem, plus I was worried that if I called them, I wouldn't be as rational as I should be. I'm not sure how much of this is my fault vs. his fault. I could have done a better job of monitoring him obviously. I should have asked him to complete part of the task and then show it to me so I could be sure that he was on the right track. I made too many excuses for him and I won't do that next time.

I've had some great temps but this one seemed like kind of a dud from the beginning. I should have let him go and asked for someone else but I felt awkward about it - I couldn't point to something specific about him or his work. I think I actually thought to myself at one point, maybe he's just printing the cover sheets but then I thought, who would do that, that doesn't make any sense. For better or for worse, I usually get a temp after the event to help with another project so I can give it another shot then.

Lessons learned: trust but verify, don't judge a temp by their cover sheets, trust my gut when I think someone isn't doing what they say they're doing.
posted by kat518 at 1:32 PM on February 5, 2014

« Older What's it really like living in extreme poverty in...   |   How to set platonic boundaries in a male/female... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.