How to handle an eager employee if you can't afford their help?
May 20, 2016 10:04 AM   Subscribe

A young company employs someone in an hourly capacity who is really enthusiastic about the company and loves telling people about it. The problem is the employee has recently begun to do more than simply tell people about the company, but asked for flyers and took the day off of work to promote the company. The company cannot afford to employ another person in this capacity right now but feels obligated to pay her for the day (as well as the temp who had to replace her). How can this be handled going forward in a diplomatic, fair way?

The employee, who has worked there less than a year and has been an excellent performer in their job, has already received two raises ahead of schedule and for more than any other employee. The employee recently referred potential clients who may choose to go with the company and for this she would receive bonuses. One client has already chosen the company because of this employee. It is the nature of the business that clients take a long time to develop, so several months may pass between a typical referral and when the client ends up with the company, assuming they actually do. In the meantime, the employee could end up doing all kinds of extra activity out of enthusiasm while not seeing compensation for it.

Now there is some grumbling that the employee might begin to feel used. One of the clients (who was not referred by this employee but knows her well), accused the company of using the employee when they found out the employee had taken the day off and marketed for the company and hadn't been compensated for gas. But the company didn't plan for the employee to do this marketing at all, and it is not unusual for this employee to call out of work and need to be replaced. It just so happened that on this day, she also took flyers and handed them out, so the company will pay her a day's wages to be fair and because she's done so much. But this cannot go on in such an informal way, and the company cannot afford to hire on the employee for more of this kind of work, not yet! No one in this field is making a lot of money, in fact, many of the employees are coming from welfare programs and the clients are Medicaid recipients. So money is important. What is a fair way to address this situation since the company isn't making much money yet but absolutely does not want to exploit anyone?
posted by Danila to Work & Money (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can't you pretty much just say what you said here? "We appreciate your enthusiasm and you are one our most valued employees, but at the moment, we don't have room in our budget to pay you to flyer while also paying a temp to cover you."
posted by greta simone at 10:15 AM on May 20, 2016 [39 favorites]

I'm not really following why someone can't just have a friendly but straightforward chat with this person to say that the company would prefer she not do that and if she does it again she won't be paid for it?
posted by brilliantine at 10:16 AM on May 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

On preview, what greta said. The employee might just not realize (like, at a gut level) that there is only $X to pay people, and that when she takes more of that than was anticipated, it affects other people.
posted by Etrigan at 10:17 AM on May 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

It sounds like she's pretty new to the working world? It sounds like she just doesn't understand the line between "can-do go-getter" and "rogue employee". Someone needs to sit her down and say "We love your enthusiasm and we're so glad that you're excited to work here, and we've been trying to reward that enthusiasm and hard-working spirit with the raises you've received. Unfortunately both basic fairness and federal law require the company to pay hourly workers for any time they spend working, and that includes time spent marketing us. At this point, we simply don't have the budget to pay you for that extra time, although we're going to pay you for the day. Going forward, we need you to discuss any marketing activities you're thinking about with us before you do them so we can decide if it works with our budget." I would also probably clarify with her that "talking enthusiastically about the company while conducting your day to day life" is reasonable off the clock activity but that "handing out flyers and directly pitching potential clients" counts as work.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:32 AM on May 20, 2016 [62 favorites]

She sounds like the type who, when told "we can't afford for you to flyer" would say "oh that's OK I love this place so much I'll do it for free!" Let her know it's actually illegal for her to work off the clock, and the company could get into a significant amount of trouble. Even if she swears she won't tell anyone, it's not her decision (especially since some clients already got wind of it and aren't happy about it).

If she ignores these warnings and continues to stealthily work off the clock, you unfortunately may have to just let her go. I had a friend who was fired for this reason - despite several warnings, she kept working unauthorized, unpaid overtime to "help out." (this was in a human services type field). It ultimately cost her the job because she wasn't able to obey these necessary boundaries, and just didn't comprehend how much liability she was creating for her employer.
posted by castlebravo at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2016 [43 favorites]

I don't think I've ever assumed that if I did extra work outside of explicitly scheduled work hours, that my company has to compensate me for work they didn't ask that I perform.

Now there is some grumbling that the employee might begin to feel used.

Where is this grumbling coming from?

If from the employee, yeah, you guys have to sit her down and explain how being an hourly employee works, and how jobs work in general. You do your assigned tasks at your assigned schedule, because there are other things to take into account and her time/workload/schedule isn't really her decision.

If from clients, I think you should also have a chat with this employee just to explain that while her enthusiasm is noted, her working uncompensated extra time actually doesn't look great for the company as a whole, with the clients. So while you're excited that she's excited, it's probably best for her not to do highly visible free work on her own time. Just because then people kick up a fuss, and you know how it is...
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pull her in and let her know that someone has complained. Ask her if she is feeling used and explain the financial situation to her. If your company has anything perk-worthy, offer her perks for her enthusiasm but let her know that if she is doing something outside of what she is asked to do, there will be no monetary reimbursement.
posted by myselfasme at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please don't do anything to crush her enthusiasm. (Enthusiasm crushers are evil people.) Can you find anyone who can afford her full time? What about taking her somewhere nice for a career talk over extended lunch? One good turn, and all that.
posted by popcassady at 10:43 AM on May 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would also probably clarify with her that "talking enthusiastically about the company while conducting your day to day life" is reasonable off the clock activity but that "handing out flyers and directly pitching potential clients" counts as work.


She sounds like the type who, when told "we can't afford for you to flyer" would say "oh that's OK I love this place so much I'll do it for free!"

Yes yes, this thank you, this is why I didn't think anyone could just tell her, "thanks but please don't" because she wouldn't understand (I barely did, I run the company and I'm not paid nor do I own it) or necessarily stop. She was recruiting employees on Facebook (this we have already asked her to stop), she talks to her neighbors, etc. She does many things for free, not just for this company but just in general she takes care of people.
posted by Danila at 10:44 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

She was recruiting employees on Facebook (this we have already asked her to stop)

Okay, in addition to greta's advice that I already seconded, maybe whoever speaks to her should also point out that things like this create work for other people.
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 AM on May 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

Seconding Etrigan. Recruiting on social media has some risks and she should be coordinating with HR before posting anything.
posted by veery at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2016

Yeah. It sounds like she's trying to be helpful and doesn't realize tbat she's actually making things harder for people. Someone needs to explain to her that she needs to stay inside the boundaries of her job description and her schedule, and that if she wants to do extra work or take on additional responsibilities it needs to be approved first. Doing unapproved work can cause as much of a problem as not doing expected work, and she probably needs someone to explain to her why that is the case.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

She does many things for free, not just for this company but just in general she takes care of people.

Yeah, the social services field really tends to attract this "giver" type of employee, who really needs to be needed, and can get swept away by enthusiasm for the cause. They're often wonderful people, but do need to be carefully managed so they don't overextend themselves.

I think you've really got to use the legal angle. She loves the company? That's great, but there won't BE a company for her to love if you guys get fined into bankruptcy by the Feds (and again, that wouldn't be her call. This isn't something where she can just choose to not press charges, or whatever). If she keeps doing this, either way she'd be putting the entire company in jeopardy, either by opening you up to legal action or depleting funds you don't have as you attempt to compensate her. Hopefully that sort of language will drive the message home for her. Did she sign any new hire paperwork or a code of conduct or anything like that, with language about working off the clock? Fall back on that.

I run the company and I'm not paid nor do I own it

Sooo...are they a nonprofit and you volunteer, or something? Otherwise this seems odd. You may have to be prepared with a valid explanation about why you are not paid, but she has to be (if your unpaid status is widely known within the company and she calls you out on that).
posted by castlebravo at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Her manager needs to approach this as a serious coaching/warning. Being nice won't work because she's not trying to hear what others are saying.

What you need to do is to put it in writing and get her to sign off on it. It might seem like overkill, but this situation is out of hand. These are the points you need to stress:

1. No unauthorized work activities outside of approved hourly work. Because A) it's illegal for her to do this for no pay. B). There is no money in the budget to pay her.

2. Social Media. She is to stop recruiting and talking about the company on her private social media. You have your own social media strategy and her efforts are not within it.

Thank her for her efforts so far and tell her that other than these issues that you're all very happy with her work AND that these things are undermining her effectiveness in her current job.

Have her sign something saying she understands.

Just having the conversation, without the gravity of a formal, written warning, will NOT impress upon her the seriousness of your concerns.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:17 AM on May 20, 2016 [20 favorites]

The ol' sandwich approach to criticism would be great here. Pull her in to a meeting to talk strategy with her about her efforts.
1. Positive - begin by speaking quite positively about her efforts and how you see great things for her going forward here.
2. Criticism - Discuss how you want to work with her to develop a new, more focused strategy for her efforts going forward - unfortunately though you appreciate her so much and she's so well-intentioned, her current approach is also creating a few unintentional problems - legal/liability, with other people, with costs. Discuss them with her. Ask for her input on what changes can be made to her current approach to mitigate these problems, and guide her towards coming up with a revised, more limited strategy.
3. Positive - reinforce that you all solidly appreciate the work she does and how you think the new strategy will be a great stepping stone for her, etc. etc.
posted by lizbunny at 11:18 AM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pay issues aside, it is a terrible idea to act or behave as a company representative in ways that haven't been authorized by the company. This could cost her a job, or an entire career, down the line. She's already making the company look bad by implying to clients that you're making her work for free. She may be good, she may have the best of intentions, she may love the company, but this is a fireable offense at a lot of places and she doesn't seem to get that. This shit needs to be reined the fuck in and I'm surprised you aren't furious.

Does she have a written list of job duties? Time to go over them with her. If there are any official policies for how employees should recruit/interact with clients, time to go over those too. Set limits for what she can do outside of work hours (including days off).

You need to make it clear to her that, although you appreciate her enthusiasm, doing this is creating a lot of problems and makes you all look unprofessional.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:46 AM on May 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Other posters have given good advice for how to frame the conversation. I just want to add that it is very important to document the conversation you have.
posted by mikek at 11:56 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wait...she called in sick to go flyering?

I really think that part of your conversation with her needs to be you asking what her line of thinking was there. That feels like someone who can't see past the sweet commission money to their actual responsibilities (and suggests that her enthusiasm for the company is actually just greed), or some kind of manic or impulse-control issue, which is not your problem to diagnose or treat, but should at least guide how you put boundaries in place.

She does many things for free, not just for this company but just in general she takes care of people.

That certainly can be part of a healthy human existence in the presence of extremely secure boundaries, but it more often comes bundled with serious insecurities or highly-manipulative personalities. I hate to be the jerk saying "you should be suspicious of people who are sooo nice" but you should. It could be that she just fell off the hay truck, I certainly had my moments of naive enthusiasm when I was young, but I suggest not assuming she has no motive.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:26 PM on May 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

I agree with pretty much everything said above.

However, if she's growing your business both on the client side and by bringing in good employees, she sounds like the kind of employee that you can't afford not to have.

I'm afraid that if someone has a chat with her and says "listen, keep your head down, keep your butt in your chair, and just get your work done" it may squash her enthusiasm. What a terrible loss that would be!

Is there a way that you can redefine her job responsibilities? Can she be offered commission, or can she be paid as a consultant rather than as a straight employee? Since she's so good at developing clients, something that would recognize and reward that, while letting her have free reign as to how she goes about doing it. And pay a bonus for every good new employee she brings to the table (I have been given bonuses or finder's fees for bringing in new employees). Can PR somehow be worked into her job description?

Maybe you should talk with her about her enthusiasm for the job, and what she ideally sees herself doing for the organization. Don't let her get lost filing paperwork when she really shines doing client outreach.
posted by vignettist at 12:30 PM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of good advice here; I'll just add that Ask A Manager can be a great resource for these kinds of questions and many more. As a new manager myself, I've found reading the archives there pretty invaluable.
posted by anastasiav at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

No one in this field is making a lot of money, in fact, many of the employees are coming from welfare programs and the clients are Medicaid recipients.

And she has gotten two pay raises and possibly is trying to make sure the company is profitable so she can keep getting pay raises.

I have one foot in the camp of "She sounds like a ninny with poor boundaries whose behavior is warped by the expectation that women should do emotional labor for free" and one foot in the camp of "Would we be having this conversation if she were male or would it be a completely different conversation?"

And while I do recognize that there are labor laws, etc, that impact the situation, it seems to me that it might be better to call her on the excessive sick days and then maybe approach the promotional work as "It's great that you want to promote the company, but growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancerous tumor. What you are doing is potentially harmful and needs to stop. Here are acceptable channels for helping grow the company."

In other words, instead of telling her "just stop," try to harness this enthusiasm and give her direction on how and where to channel it. Because it isn't true 100% of the time that doing extra is bad. How she does the extras matters. Maybe give her a reading assignment to the effect "The next time you are tempted to do x, y or z, instead, please read up on (applicable laws, whatever) that will help you do your job better."

I agree that you need to be firm about the things she cannot do, putting it in writing, and having consequences, but employee roles are not set in stone. It is a new company. Try to find a way to harness this enthusiasm. That does involve placing limits. But it also involves empowering her by tying her actions to the burden that needs to be borne in a manner that can move numbers.

Talk to her about self discipline and knowing proper limits as an important part of career development. She needs to grow as a person to have a serious career. Making these distinctions is part of that.
posted by Michele in California at 1:05 PM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah this is 100% part of managing people. Firstly they should cut it out coming from personal experience go getting is great but they need direction and no good can come from this kind of going rogue.

I'd clearly layout your responsibilities are x and not y and you need to stop doing y. If youd like to do more we can talk about other productive projects and go from there.
posted by KernalM at 1:14 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ask A Manager actually had a recent entry (letter #3) talking about a similar issue.
posted by lazuli at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I hate to tell you this, and feel like a real meanie for saying it, but in my experience employees like this often turn out to have a cluster of problems. Not all of these are fully realized yet, in that she hasn't really had The Talk yet, but people who behave like this sometimes go on to:

- burn out. They were trying to fulfill some deep-seated need by crusading for your organization, and they find out there isn't a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, then get really bitter. Not saying it's bad to work for your organization, just saying no job is the total cure-all for the burrs under some people's blankets...

- not take direction well. It's really useful when employees take their cues from other employees in like positions and follow their lead as to what's done. Stretch the boundaries and look for ways to improve and make suggestions, sure - but when the rookie cop tries to be Batman, as it were, there is a disconnect with reality there somewhere. She has done what you didn't ask her to do, while at the same time not always being consistent with doing what you asked her to do.

- try to force the organization in a direction by "taking stuff on" without management direction or blessing. Obviously, she has done this already - that's the crux of your story. And somehow the client found out that she wasn't planning on getting paid - that's a very weird off-message thing to signal to your client, that damages your credibility.

If she was a rising star at one point, either enthusiasm blinded her supervisors to some shortcomings, or success has made her feel she should be running the place, or there has been something happen in her life or on the job that has made her change.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:59 PM on May 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

A lot of great advice and insight here. Thanks for recommending Ask A Manager, here is another question there that I found useful: "Why won't my manager let me work extra hours?"

I was initially surprised by many of the answers here as I was only looking at the issue from the perspective of labor and being fair to the employee and obeying the law. I wasn't thinking about the extra work this has created for others, the damage (realized and potential) to the company's reputation, and the likelihood that this can't end well for reasons besides the company's inability to pay. We have failed to provide firm and clear direction. It's the kind of problem that just seemed to sneak up on us.

She wasn't supposed to be taking the whole day off, she had initially asked to leave early to go to a gathering and distribute flyers but she decided to make a whole day of it. She ended up accomplishing a lot that we can verify and may have a calling in sales, but she can't force our hand and I definitely agree she has to do her actual job. With her manager and the owner, I believe we can get a handle on this (I am business administrator, I set up the business and still run much of the back end until better people can take over, and I try to keep things compliant).
posted by Danila at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you get a new client as a result of this flyering, will she get a bonus? If so, its not hard to see her motivation and what she did was completely inappropriate. Taking the day off to go flyering is pretty mad to begin with but if she took the day off, to bring in more clients - for which she will get a bonus and you had to pay a temp to cover her real work, that would be a serious talking to, in my book and the first step on the path to dismissal.

If you have to pay her for legal reasons, that sucks but you have to do it, I would look into seeing if the cost of the temp could be legally deducted from any bonuses she earns.
posted by missmagenta at 7:51 AM on May 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

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