Underperforming employee, remote edition
May 29, 2023 4:58 AM   Subscribe

I’m a fairly new manager. My team is great, except for one. He is smart but is clearly spending most of his time not working and it’s painfully obvious to everyone who works with him except my own manager. I’ve been supportive but I think it’s time to take off the kid gloves.

He used to report to my manager before me. I’ve worked with him over a year, so I know his performance issues are consistent. He might have been a harder worker earlier, but I think it’s more that my manager is biased by his degree from a very revered school. Some of his issues:

- Tasks that should take anyone in his role a few days take weeks. He has complained in the past that he doesn’t enjoy certain types of work, but giving him work he likes hasn’t really helped. I’ve seen from logs that something he was supposed to be working on all week went untouched until 3 am the day he was due to give a presentation.

- We are a remote workplace and he’s noticeably absent on Slack and misses check-in group meetings about half the time. No one else does this and others have made remarks about his unreliability.

- He will often miss 1:1s with me unless I send him a reminder 5 minutes in and then says he had a Zoom mixup where he was on another link by accident. I believed him for a while but recently realized he was lying and just being tardy.

- He has ambitions of growing in his role and becoming a manager, whereas I would say he is vastly underperforming even in his current role. We are supposed to bring up underperformance with our managers, but as I mentioned, he’s unsupportive and tells me it’s my fault for not motivating this guy with more interesting work.

Partly because of my manager and partly because of my conflict avoidance, I’ve been pretty subtle about what I want to see improve and have been generously praising him when he does deliver. I don’t think I’m doing anyone any good with this strategy. My company is a bit of a hot mess with zero support or coaching for managers right now, so I’m floundering. How do I handle this?
posted by redlines to Work & Money (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to have a sit down with him where you go over these things. Ask a Manager has some great scripts but here's a few things to mention:

"I want you to succeed in this role, but right now there are a few things that are holding you back."

"One thing is that you are unreliable about meetings. I believe this is having an impact on your reputation among the team. I'd like you to make every effort to attend meetings/check-ins on time."

"Another thing is that I've noticed...X task should probably take someone at your level Y time to do. But it seems to take you much longer. Can you help me understand what's going on?"

Having a meeting like that is precursor to the "in order for you to continue in this role..." performance level. But you can call a spade a spade here. Be open to hearing what his challenges are, and approach it positively, like you and he are working on his career together. Don't use words like 'lazy' or even 'tardy' because those read like character judgements (although tardy really describes a behaviour, but with school and stuff people don't hear it that way.) Just outline the issues clearly and see if he will partner with you in fixing them.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:08 AM on May 29 [26 favorites]

This pattern of behavior is indicative of people that are over-employed (multiple full-time jobs).
Obviously it's not definite, but maybe worth investigating, have you searched for them on linked-in or the broader web recently?
posted by askmehow at 6:31 AM on May 29 [12 favorites]

Whether the employee is over employed or not is irrelevant. They do seemed checked out though, which is reason enough to have a harder conversation.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:54 AM on May 29 [9 favorites]

As someone who can be not-great at tasks that do not amuse my adhd (in between finding them overwhelmingly challenging during depressive episodes), I consider talkings-to like "hey, have you consiiiiiidered putting, mm I dunno, maybe a reminderrrrr in your calendarrrrr" a punishment I can't escape because I deserve it, but undignified for both of us because we both are perfectly aware how insulting it is to me AND how bullshit it is that you have to do in the first place. I don't want career development guidance about timely timesheet entry or looking like I'm not on slack all day (the latter is not my personal issue but I recognize it from experience).

It's entirely possible this person expects to float upward with no effort, and he might get to, but there is the off chance you might get some performance out of him if you introduce some clarifications.

You being conflict-avoidant is a you problem that you're going to have to put aside at least enough to speak plainly. Not everybody speaks fluent euphemism, and some people tune out when that's all they hear. Send him a reminder 2 days before your next 1:1 and say "this is a reminder about this meeting and I need to you to be there on time on the right zoom link because we need to talk through some upcoming tasks."

Yes, everybody hates "we need to talk" but he has earned it.

You should come to this discussion with a list of plainly-defined deliverables, but preface with, "Hey, I know this isn't the most exciting job in the world, but you have been appearing especially lightly-engaged. I see it, I'm having other people come to me about it. Not sure if you're having trouble with the work holding your attention, or if maybe we've just under-defined and not properly modeled the job requirements*, but I know you don't want to be called out for it, and I don't want to either, so we need to come up with a plan so we all look good. Do you feel like that's an accurate assessment and next steps?"

Depending on the kind of person he is, this may be where you get a lot of excuses, or a clenched "okay, yeah, great", or maybe you find out about some kind of heavy shit he's got going on (he would not be the first person to prefer to let work think everything is normal while he is dealing with his own or family's crisis of some sort).

And then you proceed with The List, like:
- Attend all team and management meetings on time unless you are taking PTO or have an unavoidable client meeting conflict that you tell someone about in advance. Yep, they're not exactly scintillating but they are necessary.
- Be on slack and responsive at least between the core hours of x and y (because the most uninterested person can easily fake this, not trying is a red flag)
- Increased touch-base standups and/or work sprints with you for the indefinite future so you can be more aware of what's on his plate, where those tasks are w/r/t deadline, so you can quickly clear any blockers he runs into (for some people this is punitive and for others it's a gift, you can at least pretend you mean it in a helpful way)
- Prep meetings in advance of deliverables to review together
- Quicker turnaround on assigned work (which should be easier to manage with the frequent stand-up meetings)
- Having more conversations about what kind of work he wants to do and finds interesting so you can help him thrive better in this job

Your company employment agreement likely has a no-moonlighting clause. If you want to bring it up now as an aside, you should look it up to make sure you know the wording.

I'm a person who suffers a lot of anxiety procrastination, and one of those real sources of anxiety is not having enough to do. Sounds a little absurd, I know, but I am more productive when I am more or less evenly busy in a reasonable way. It's not that I live down a well and haven't been firehosing productivity culture for years until I realized it was harming me, it's just the constant miserable insecurity. If you can probe lightly - but in a non-patronizing way - about whether there are soft conditions that are making it harder to do the things he has to do quickly and responsively in a low-error way, you might be able to turn this into a win for both of you. Sometimes you end up finding out somebody is a beast but only if they work 10-1 for meetings and 7p-midnight for worky-work, and if you can make a way to let them do so, it works out great. But it may also just be a self-discipline problem, as mine can also be, and if so that's not something you can manage him into. He either uses this opportunity to light a fire under his ass or he doesn't.

*If you get any kind of hit on this particular clause, listen with an open mind. I have been the person who's been overwhelmed just by bafflement about the work I'm being given to do compared to what I'd thought I understood the job to be (or this but I had thought it was a given that I was going to need closer guidance until I learned the product/process, but nope), and I have also worked with those people and felt bad and not known how to help them if the problem really is muddy expectations or ineffective onboarding or direction.

I think you kinda have to split your perspective between "let's see if this is raw clay we can make a workable situation out of" and "this guy's clearly got something going on, even if it's just 'entrepreneur mindset' where he expects to do nothing and make money, but I'm not going to ever get 40 good hours out of him so let's see if we can make 20 decent ones happen for now."
posted by Lyn Never at 7:06 AM on May 29 [36 favorites]

Just to loop back on an overall principle...while you can for sure search to see if he's working two jobs, etc., one principle I have found extremely useful in managing real people on the ground is "if someone's not doing something they should, get curious."

And sure, looking into the two-job possibility is something to consider. That would be like a heroic reveal! But in my experience, the best person to ask is the person who is doing the work. As a tiny example, I had a staff member who was continually missing calendar items and it was a busy time and I kept sending like "check the calendar" notes on it.

It turned out they couldn't see the shared calendar, but they thought they could, because they had named a personal calendar the same thing. We only solved it when they showed me their calendar in great frustration.

You can always go in guns blazing later.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:55 AM on May 29 [19 favorites]

Think of him as someone who has deficits, not as a fuckup, although maybe he's just a fuckup. This helps you because it's less confrontational, and also gives him less option to argue details. Guy, there are a number of areas where you seem to be struggling. Your performance needs to improve in these areas: list. Let's talk about how I can help you with these. We're going to meet weekly for a while. You will need to be early for these meetings; tardiness is wildly unprofessional and unacceptable. Ask him if there are any issues affecting his performance that you may be able to help him address. Maybe he needs child care, has a sick family member, whatever. Many companies have Employee Assistance Plans(EAPs) that can really help.

Promptness. I struggle tremendously with this due to anxiety and a genuine lack of time skills/ awareness. Using the calendar app for gmail (whatever company mail is) is hugely helpful. Having a mobile phone makes so much difference; I set reminders for 90, 45 and 10 minutes. Require him to complete a training on the calendar app. Meet with him and review strategies for being on time.

Start documenting his performance and your efforts to correct it. Notes in your calendar app, and just notes, including comments from other staff. Fairly soon, you'll probably have to give him notice that his performance is lacking, typically a Performance Improvement Plan(PIP). Honestly, it's a ton of work for a manager, but do your part calmly and sincerely. If he has a 2nd job or other undeclared issues, he'll know to address the issues and he'll have to make some choices. Find training for him, maybe even a subscription to Lynda or similar. You're going to bend over backwards to help him shape up, the rest is on him. Guy, we missed you at today's check-in. What happened? Do the same for any missing staff, to avoid claims of favoritism. Guy, you haven't been participating in Slack; is there a problem? It's an important part of the job, how can I help you learn this critical tool?

He may have a disability like ADHD, dyslexia, whatever. It's legally required to help someone but only in a reasonable manner. So, he might need you to get him a clock with large numbers(not the greatest example), but you can still require him to be prompt.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on May 29

Daily stand-ups or more frequent deadlines are probably a good idea.
posted by slidell at 8:31 AM on May 29 [10 favorites]

We are supposed to bring up underperformance with our managers, but as I mentioned, he’s unsupportive and tells me it’s my fault for not motivating this guy with more interesting work. [...] My company is a bit of a hot mess with zero support or coaching for managers right now, so I’m floundering.

You're managing multiple people with little to no support and it sounds as though your manager is going to be on this guy's side against you. Do what you need to do in order to keep things going in your team but please don't go above and beyond for this dude. He doesn't sound as though he deserves it, and it doesn't sound as though your company is going to reward you or acknowledge the amount of effort needed to drag him back to the same level as everyone else.

I'd be quietly updating my resume, to be honest.
posted by fight or flight at 8:34 AM on May 29 [11 favorites]

If your manager is going to be a problem one thing to do is to document what you’re doing to manage the situation. Things like sitting the employee down to have these more uncomfortable conversations. In addition, you have to define clear expectations for them and follow up a lot more.

Considering what you said about your manager that should include asking them for advice and documenting what they tell you. If they stick to their previous recommendations, make sure you ask employee what they want to work on, give them some of that and if they still fail to deliver you can demonstrate you followed your manager’s recommendations. Please also make sure you actually document these conversations, send a follow up message summarising what was agreed etc. And in three months you seek out your manager again and repeat the process…

Basically, this has the potential to become a problem that gets blamed on you not managing the situation/ not communicating appropriately. So make sure you do communicate and document you are doing so.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:15 AM on May 29 [10 favorites]

I have, at various times in my career, been an imperfect employee due to anxiety and depression. I have always appreciated when my managers start with “hey, how are you doing? What’s going on?” in a non-judgmental, compassionate way. I’d try starting there.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:18 AM on May 29 [9 favorites]

It’s far more common that an employee like this thinks he’s too good for the grunt work and really doesn’t respect you because he thinks he should be in charge, not you, and he also has a badly mistaken notion of what being in charge looks like (less grunt work and less accountability—when actually it’s more of both!)

I mean it’s not 100% but I don’t think you have to become a sleuth and it’s not your job to brainstorm lists of possible reasons because you’re going to be empathetic and professional either way. I think if you’re conflict-averse, you may latch onto the most sympathetic reason as an excuse not to manage him. He’s not performing and it’s on him to tell you whether he can or will, because you’re magnanimously giving him many chances. The reasons matter only to the extent it’s something you can do anything about (like if he needs some kind of accommodation he needs to request it.)

The kindest thing you can do for him is just get really clear about what’s expected in his role and to have a conversation each time he misses. You’re going to have to follow up these conversations with emails and substantiate them somehow, especially their impact on the rest of the team, other departments, clients etc. if you want to make the case to your manager.

If your manager has made this person bulletproof then you are in a really tough spot. So your evidence needs to be overwhelming.
posted by kapers at 9:24 AM on May 29 [5 favorites]

I kind of feel differently about this than most people on this thread. If there is a problem here, it's one that needs to be fixed by setting explicit and clear expectations and deadlines. You need to set up daily standing meetings and give him regular deadlines to meet. (slidell's comment is spot on.)

Questions I had while reading through your post were: has his laziness actually caused any issues? Has he missed deadlines? Has he created setbacks for projects? Is he failing to meet any clearly and explicitly set expectations for his work? To be quite honest, in his shoes I would probably do the same things he's doing, because I don't feel obligated to do anything above bare contractually-obligated minimum for my employers. If I'm meeting all my deadlines and not causing any hiccups to the project and my bosses are pleased with me even when I'm putting in 5% effort, why the fuck should I do any more work? I'm 100% serious. I don't think this guy is actually very much at fault? Unless there is some issue he's causing that you don't mention.

I get how his laziness would rankle his coworkers! And I get how his expectations and attitude are annoying to you, and I get how the indulgence shown towards him by your superiors annoys you. But none of that is something HE is doing wrong. Why do you care when he does his work if he's meeting his stated deadlines? If he has expectations of coasting upward, that doesn't mean you are obligated to fulfill them or pay any heed to them, so why do you care what he expects? If your superiors are indulgent towards him, shouldn't you be taking that up with your superiors instead of harboring a grudge against him for it?

If you want him to be doing something differently, you need to set those expectations for him explicitly first. Tell him to send you that report by X date and then you'll have a real complaint when he doesn't. Tell him you need to see a draft by X-3 date, and then you'll have a real complaint when he waits until 3 am of X date to write up the one and only draft. As things stand, you're in the iffy territory of having only one leg to stand on (he doesn't work as hard as everyone else, he seems to be slacking off). If you set clearer expectations and regular deadlines for him, then you will have two legs to stand on (he is not only slacking off but also failing to meet deadlines).
posted by MiraK at 9:28 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]

He may be a self entitled jerk. But it also sounds like he's not been given a lot of definitive expectations. Especially since you're encountering these two things:

I’ve seen from logs that something he was supposed to be working on all week went untouched until 3 am the day he was due to give a presentation.


Tasks that should take anyone in his role a few days take weeks.

When he takes longer, is that because he's not given a hard deadline? And when he does all the work the night before, is the work acceptable, or close to it? I'd start by giving him definitive due dates for everything. Even if it's a due date for a first draft. So, if usually he'd get assigned the task Monday for a Friday presentation, now he has a draft due Wednesday for a quick check in to make sure he understands the task and provide help/clarification on anything he's got questions about.

It adds more work to your schedule, but since you don't have support from your own boss you may not have many other options. It also has the added benefit of trying to meet the employee where they are. And nthing to make sure you're documenting everything.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:41 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]

Would you be allowed to fire this guy, or no? (Also would suggest asking Ask A Manager here.) Does anyone higher up CARE if this guy doesn't do any work until 3 a.m. the day of the presentation? How is his work when he finishes it even if takes him 3 weeks or all night? Is anybody actually needing him at these meetings he doesn't show up at? Because if your manager is fine with all of this behavior (I laugh at "give him more interesting work" as well), I don't see how you're gonna get anywhere short of firing his butt.

I personally want to laugh at "this guy wants to get into management."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:50 AM on May 29 [6 favorites]

I think the possibility that he has two jobs is irrelevant. If someone has four jobs and is excellent employee, who cares? (assuming no conflicts of interest, confidentiality issues, etc). If someone has one job and isn’t meeting expectations, that’s a problem.
posted by maleficent at 9:52 AM on May 29 [5 favorites]

I'm a big fan of asking, not telling. Somehow it seems to sink in better when they hear out their own mouths that they're not doing the job, but when I as their manager say it, it's in one ear and out the other.

Possible script:

First let's start at a very high level. What, in your view, is the purpose of our 1:1s? What should we discuss (agenda), how often should we meet, and for how long?

You've been late or MIA our last five 1:1s. Tell me what's going on / why that happened.
"I didn't get a reminder / I had the wrong Zoom link..."

All right, since it happened that first or second time, what steps have you taken to address the problem?
"I told you about it / I check the links... sometimes / I did nothing..."

And did those steps address the problem completely? Do you now have 100% confidence that for our next five 1:1s you will be there on time?
Trick question - obviously it did not solve everything since they're still consistently late/MIA beyond the first or second time it happened.

Since it did not solve the issue, what else do you think is causing this meeting problem? What are the remaining friction points? Now that you've listed the friction points, what is your plan to address each one?
Make them actually give you a solid plan not just, "Uh... I'll just check it next time I guess?" You can ask them to review their plan during the call and think of any other friction points they anticipate from their own plan. Basically iterate on it a few times. And then, once they have a detailed plan in place, you can finally ask...

How/where would you like me to provide support in this detailed plan? What can I do to make this plan successful?
Commit to your part, and even throw in a few ideas of your own. But what's important here is that they defined how they want to solve the problem, not you. So they can't say you just gave them an unrealistic plan or forced a process that wouldn't work with their working style, etc.

Now let's go back to the original issue - that you have been late or MIA to our 1:1s. Now you have this plan in place, how would you determine if the plan is working or not?
This is defining success criteria - for example if you meet every week and they're only late maximum 1x per month and only by 3 mins or less, maybe that is a win. ALSO, what's great about this question is you get some insight about your team member's assumptions about what is OK vs not OK. Sometimes there is a big disconnect in manager's vs. team member's expectations, and if it is not discussed explicitly, both can be oblivious to it.

To make sure we are on the same page, pls email me the plan that we discussed, so we have it documented on both sides. What would you say is a good trial period? One month? Let's check in on (date) and see how effective it has been.
Whether they actually follow through on documenting it or not, YOU document it yourself and send them an email with YOUR understanding of your new agreement.

The above might feel very patronizing and awkward. "Surely they know that what's happening is not OK? Do I really need them to spell out calendar management to me?" But even though the question-and-answer format might be grating, this is about them taking ownership about how they do their work. It ensures that the problems are specific to them (not just what you assume), and that the solutions also align with their strengths, weaknesses, and working style.

As for "motivating them with interesting work" I get that to some extent, but the job is the job and for all of us employed, the primary motivation is... making money and paying your bills! So if you do have some control over their work assignments, make it clear that the sequence is (1) prove you are reliable and deliver the work (2) then I will give you your preferred assignments. It is not the other way around.

On preview, 100% agree with ghost phoneme that clear and well-defined expectations need to be set. "I need you to be more reliable / work faster" doesn't mean anything. Faster than whom? More reliable compared to... a year ago? Last week?

Aim for:
  • I need you to join each meeting within 3 mins of the start time. If you will be more than 3 minutes late, send a heads-up in the group chat.
  • I expect this assignment to be completed and turned in by Wednesday, 1PM, so 2 days from now. Can you do that, given your other assigned work and deadlines? If not, tell me everything you're doing so I can reshuffle them for you.
  • I need you to be available on Slack from 8AM to 12PM, then 1PM to 5PM. By that I mean you will read and respond to messages within 10 minutes, unless you're in a meeting. If you need to step away for longer than that, I need to see an Away status on your profile with your expected return time.

posted by tinydancer at 9:57 AM on May 29 [7 favorites]

I have seen two such examples like you describe, in my current and prior job.

Current job I am not a manager, but pretty clearly person has "checked out" just coasting for retirement.

Previous job I was the person's manager, had sit downs with him, warned him about a "Needs Improvement" rating if I didn't see changes. Indeed I did not see changes, told him as the evaluation approached to expect NI, he signed the evaluation with no hard feelings. Here is where it gets good: #1- my manager's manager (department head) came to my office, closed the door and told me that NOBODY in his department "needs improvement". So I changed the evaluation and that was that. #2- the company got bought out and he took the early out bonus package, I was left to figure out my next move on my own.
posted by forthright at 10:11 AM on May 29 [3 favorites]

The mention above of someone having trouble managing their calendar did remind me of how 100% critical it is for me to live a calendar-based life even if email has largely died in lieu of Slack, and while I maintain probably nobody like me or your employee wants a Calendar 101 lecture, you CAN require that all your direct reports use their calendar for:

- All scheduled work meetings
- Time off/OOO/PTO
- Unavailability for meetings (my workplace is pretty respectful of people needing to pop out for 20-30 minutes for kid drop-off/pick-up, blocking off "no-meetings" times for known household disruptions, meals etc)
- Setting available hours (both Outlook and Gmail have a "set working hours" feature)
- Work blocks to actually get stuff done
- Visibility blocks for deadlines
- And calendar stays open all day even if they do email budgeting.

Slack cannot do that shit, all it can do is notify/report on it in vague ways.

In my previous life in a fairly calendar-intense industry/work culture, setting your calendar visibility to "Free/Busy Only" was not really done, because other people needed to be able to see what they were scheduling around/against (especially for long customer-facing work sessions, onsites, go-lives etc). You could use the "private" setting if you needed the details obscured. I think you should require at least this employee to allow detailed visibility at least to you (harder to do these days for just one person than it used to be, but I don't think impossible), so that you can "help him keep an eye on deadlines". If your employee is indeed a person like me, this is a little embarrassing to be told (which is why all my shit is on display to everyone all the time now) and also actually super-helpful. Not so much that I'm incapable of reading my calendar (just very capable of ignoring it) but I'd rather have it where someone is free to look any time they're interested rather than asking me for ad hoc status updates. I'd 1000 times rather hear "is everything okay on the Flarble project?" than "what are you working on this week?" which feels more like a quiz or a trap.

Between the two of you, this should help you both maintain the agenda for his running meetings with you.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:27 AM on May 29

I agree with the general approach of don’t focus too much on how he’s getting the work done so long as he’s getting it done, but it sounds like he’s not! Consistently blowing off scheduled meetings with your boss or your team is totally unprofessional and disrespectful and lying about it is unacceptable. Yes work sucks (for us all!) but that doesn’t mean he’s exempt from baseline expectations. Also, if it’s taking him three times as long to do projects, that sticks the more conscientious people with the work he won’t get to, and that’s completely unfair.
posted by kapers at 11:01 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]

I have been this employee, sort of. I have never blown off meetings, but aside from that I have been very close to your description. No, I wasn’t working two jobs. In my case, the real problem was a procrastination/shame spiral. At a certain point, knowing that I was way behind on my work stopped motivating me to catch up, and instead only caused me to dread even thinking about the tasks I was behind on. This led me to avoid them, causing me to get even further behind, and so on. Sometimes I would break out of this cycle and have a few productive weeks, but then fall back into it for another few weeks.

Some of the root causes were burnout and lack of energy (maybe due to physical and/or mental health issues). But ultimately what it meant was that it was past time for me to move on and find a different job, which eventually I did on my own.

I know that doesn’t help you very much. I’m not sure if there was anything my manager could have done to solve the problem in the long term. I knew exactly how badly I was doing, but the same pattern of behavior that caused the problem in the first place also made it hard to do any of the things I knew I had to do to fix it. However, there are a couple of things that often helped me in the short term:
  1. Give me more “reactive” tasks like fixing support tickets from customers or bugs, in the existing product, rather than “blue sky” work where I have to create something new. This avoided my tendency toward writer’s block, and also gave me a sense of urgency that I didn’t get just from having a deadline.
  2. Put me on projects where I’m working more closely with peers, including pairing up in real-time over video calls or screen sharing. Don’t give me tasks where I’m expected to go off in solitude until the work is done.
Since this employee is interested in becoming a manager, possibly you could accomplish the second item by handing off a bit of your management workload to them. Especially if they are a somewhat senior employee, this could be a new way to make use of their experience as well as motivate them. It could start with an informal and/or temporary role, like making them a mentor for a new teammate, or a “project lead” coordinating a sub-team of two or three people working on a common task. They will be less able to “forget” a meeting if they are responsible for scheduling and leading it. And they will be less able to vanish off-grid for a week if they are answering not just "upward" to you but also "downward" to their peers/juniors. If nothing else, this will let you (and them) figure out if they really are better as a manager than as an individual contributor.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:01 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]

Great advice here. One addition: tell him he is now responsible for showing up five mins EARLY for every Zoom. That will give him time to sort out and problems. If you're not there until the meeting starts, he can spend that 5 mins doing extra prep. Also ask him to email you every couple of days to confirm that he'll be attending upcoming meetings and that he's making progress on the right projects. Maybe this over planning will help with his ADHD, maybe it will communicate to him that you mean business, maybe it will help him sort out a genuine Zoom problem. Maybe it will feel so demeaning he'll quit! Either way, you should not be sending him reminders or waiting for him on Zoom - he's wasted enough of your time already.
posted by equipoise at 2:54 PM on May 29

Response by poster: Just a quick response, not to threadsit:
When he takes longer, is that because he's not given a hard deadline? And when he does all the work the night before, is the work acceptable, or close to it?
No to both. He is given deadlines, often very explicitly. And the work is not good -- mediocre at best -- especially considering his potential. I wouldn't even have bothered to check logs if it was.
posted by redlines at 3:12 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]

The "your boss likes him" angle may be a problem. Is he related to your boss? Same fraternity, perhaps? Because some people place a whole lot of weight on ties that are unprofessional, and you'll lose that fight as an outsider
posted by scruss at 3:34 PM on May 29

Working on something at 3am to me does not say "this employee wants to do poorly." They care. They know. People who want to coast do not burn the early morning hours working.

Imagine that the employee wants to do well and, if supported, could do well.

What would that support look like? It's probably not managing them more aggressively. Could coaching, training, or other support turn this situation around?

If you find that, you could make difference in their life and win as a manager.
posted by zippy at 6:32 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]

Recommend reading "Laziness Does Not Exist"— the author has a slim essay by the same name.
posted by lloquat at 9:53 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]

Slack availability is a poor judge of whether someone is working or not. It forces people to game the system. Are your meetings consistent in times? I have very early meetings that change daily which makes keeping up with them hard.

I myself get really unmotivated when work is boring and will often wait until the last minute. Have you tried finding a new role for him? Maybe pair him up with a really engaging and motivated coworker? When I spend days and months not doing anything or communicating with people I get in similar spaces. Remote work is hard when there’s no self motivation.
posted by geoff. at 10:34 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]

Do you work in an Agile environment?

I'm a Scrum Master, and I worked with a peer who had similar issues. Because I was a peer, and not their Lead, they felt more open into confiding what was going on with them, and what steps they were trying to do to remediate it. In this case it was issues that were out of their control causing the subpar performance, so I was able to point them to EAP and FMLA resources.

I don't know if they followed up with them, as I got laid off. But, I felt I was able to point them to resources that could help. (I also didn't do this behind their Lead's back; I had noticed the same behavior patterns that the Lead did, and I asked if I could talk to the employee as well; their Lead gave permission to do that.)

Maybe there is a Scrum Master, or someone with a similar role, in your department?
posted by spinifex23 at 10:47 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]

I should also add make sure your boss isn’t inadvertently pulling them into calls they aren’t a part of and isn’t on their calendar. A half hour sales call doesn’t mean they can go back to programming immediately.
posted by geoff. at 10:55 PM on May 29

He is doing another job, this job is not challenging him enough and he is happier doing someting else.

If you won't even make it to the slack standups, that's an issue.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 8:57 AM on May 30

Something to keep in mind here is that often one underperforming colleague is resulting in stress on one or more other colleagues. In a perfect world we can find underlying causes, we can have patience, we can find ways to help someone overcome challenges and "be productive" within an organization. I'm thinking of my own finite resources, I am thinking of my team, and sometimes it's not just about solving the one person's issues. That's all I'm going to say about that.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:50 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]

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