This is a relationship question, but not one concerning anyone legally related to me. As usual, there's a lot of explanation. Sorry.
There's a woman at work with whom I've become friends since she started last summer, taking over a position I had last held and a temp covered the 7 month gap while we looked for the right fit. I'll call her Y. Because I had held the position, I was asked to conduct the final interview, and Y's qualifications and ideas made her by far the best candidate. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. I don't think anyone would be perfect for this all-encompassing positions with is somewhere between receptionist, travel agent, and office manager, but without any real authority. It's the only position in which the hours of work are strict, 9-6 with one hour's break at the same time each day. Since the phones must be answered, there is a rotating group who covers during lunch and various errands, and when there are sick days. This position supports the entire 35-person office, so everyone is affected when the Admin Assistant isn't doing the job well. Also, within the next month or so, I, as the Executive Assistant, will likely be made the manager over the Admin Assistant. It makes much more sense within our organizational chart; it just has to be made official.
So my question is: Can you, or should you, try to help a co-worker/friend who's life is a constant mix of shitstorm and poor planning? We all know a few people in our lives to whom the crap just keeps happening. We wish that the universe would stop being such an asshole to them, but it just keeps on being an asshole nomatter what. Somehow life goes on, one day at a time. This is her, about 75% of the time. She finally got up the nerve to kick out her abusive deadbeat husband, and her life improved dramatically in self-esteem and finances (he had been a major drain on her, hadn't bothered to look for work for over a year while spending on himself), but also took a toll on her in child care. Her sister, who had been providing free, loving, in-home care, was offered a job and had to accept or decline on the spot, so Y had one day to find care for all three, two toddlers and a 13 y.o. with severe developmental and physical problems, and she did. She's taken over her parents' house, and after 12 years of not draining, the septic system's pump died and it overflowed into her house and yard. This took another day off. She had surgery, which was planned well in advance and covered, but they found something while inside and changed procedures, which turned a one day recovery into 7 days. Her older daughter also had surgery last fall, and was in the ICU for several days. More and more and more stuff keeps happening. I really feel for her and wish I could help.
All this would be completely understandable by the bosses if her absences were just this stuff. You can't help stuff like this. But the days when she's not having her shitstorms are ruined by personal poor planning. Not leaving the house in time which means a simple traffic delay due to an accident (a daily occurrence in DC) makes her 30-45 minutes late. Failing to buy the staff meeting birthday cake the night before means she has to stop on the way in, which both delays her further and means she has to buy a really expensive cake at the only bakery near her house, and she's been told she won't get reimbursed for these overly fancy pastries anymore, just the grocery store cakes. So she decided to make cupcakes for last week's meeting at 5 am the morning of the meeting, and it took longer than planned, so she was an hour late then. She oversleeps because she's understandably exhausted from her life, and is late again. In the last three weeks, there's been only 2 days when she's been here on time at 9 am. If she's not here at 9, someone else has to go sit at the front desk, usually myself or one other guy who also starts work before 9, and it's disruptive to us. Also, when she's late, she forgets to go through her morning routine including emptying the dishwasher and changing out the backup tapes in the server, potentially losing info. I know that the CFO, who's in charge of personnel, will be giving her a letter of warning about her lateness, which is the precursur to being fired within a short time period.
I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing personal and work relationships. If I were her manager now and not later, she would not have lasted this long. They certainly have enough documented disruptions to have fired her months ago. But as a friend, I want to support her and help her find a way around this. If I had zero stake in her business position, I would say that she needs to find another position nearer to her house. She now has enough time on this job that if she were to go job hunting today, she'd find another admin assistant position pretty quickly. It might even be better ebcause she wouldn't spend so much time and money on commuting. She's got more experience than I, but had the downside of just coming off of 3 years as a SAHM when she signed on here. Now she should be good. If she stayed here, continued to have problems, and got fired, she'd have nothing. She'd end up on welfare. She's said as much. Her ex lives on his friend's couch and refuses to work. Her family can't help financially, only with some time and hands on the weekends.
I know I should probably keep my nose out of her business, but I'm really her only friend here and I know she's on thin ice. Do I sit back and watch as she runs herself out of a job, or do I encourage her to cut and run before her only recent background reference gets ruined?
Wow, tough one. As an outsider, it's easy to say be objective and say, "Hey, you should meet her for lunch on the weekend and tell her, as a friend, that you are very concerned for her job, yada yada yada." However, that is very easy for me to say since I don't have to do it.
Now, think about what happens when you become her manager. On one hand, the current management has not really dealt with the issue. When you become her boss, you can do the same thing. Except, you have to realize that she will be a reflection of your management skills and I, personally, wouldn't want someone like that being the reflection of my capabilities as an employee or a manager. On the other hand, if you don't say anything as a friend now and then ultimately have to fire her, I imagine that will suck. You'll probably never hear from her again, so maybe you can just wash your hands of it, but if you're like me, it will weigh on you significantly, before and after the firing.
So, it seems like the better of the two options that I proposed is the former. Take her aside now, encourage her to find another job because it's not going to get any better. We all seem to know a person who has endless shit happening to them and no matter what we try to do, nothing really helps. It's hard to know whether she's sticking with this job because it seems guaranteed right now or if she feels some sort of loyalty and doesn't want to quit for that reason. Maybe she either needs to hear that it's okay to find something else or that it's in her best interest to do so.
At this point, she could still get a decent recommendation from you guys (even if she isn't a great employee, she may get good ones just so you guys can get rid of her). If she gets fired, nothing good will come of that for her and won't help her to find another job.
What LG said. If you give her a heads up now chances are it will be better for all. Maybe between your advice and the disciplinary letter from the CFO she will get it together for this job or plan a more graceful exit. But it would deffinately suck for you if you said nothing now and then had to giver her the ax later.
I haven't been in the workforce for over ten years now, so I feel really unqualified to give my opinion! I think LG covers the basics. I think if I were in your co-workers shoes, I'd probably appreciate the heads up about the situation and the job rec.
I agree as well. I had a job with a woman, K, who reported to me. I left and went to another company and shortly after that, I hired K to work for me at t he new company. About 6 months later, she had some kind of personal meltdown. (We were friendly, but not really friends outside the office...but I did feel a larger than normal sense of responsibility for her since I brought her on board). Looking back, I wish I had taken a harder line with her earlier, and maybe encouraged her to find something else when it became clear that it wasn't going to work. Ultimately, I had to fire her, which was awful. I still think about her often, and wonder how she's doing.
I agree with everyone else--give her a bit of a heads up if you can and encourage her to find something else sooner rather than later. It will be better for her and also better for you, since you then won't have to deal with the situation once you become her boss.
I think meet with her, and see if there's any way to modify her job duties or start time to make it possible for her to succeed. For example, if you move her to a 10am start time, and make it another employee's perma-job to answer the phones for the first hour. That way it's covered but also plotted into someone else's schedule and not a surprise. Also, she sounds sort of overwhelmed by the job duties, which makes sense if she's got a bunch of other stuff going on - statistically, the 3-4pm hour has been found to be the lowest for employee productivity because of parent employees needing to check to make sure their kids made it home from school and/or to afterschool care okay. That's not going to change unless there's a serious sea change in our work culture, so in the interim, employers are wise not to expect too much in that hour. ;) It only seems to be a logical extension that she, as someone who has a lot of variables in childcare needs, etc, would have a more intense experience of that.
Is there some other job she could do at the organization that's less schedule-dependent? That might also be a good fix.
Barring all of that, however, I think a heads up to her is in order. There are certain things it makes sense for an employer to be flexible about (i.e. childcare emergencies, schedules that incorporate very awful commutes). But you're not obligated to fix her life. You can train her on good calendaring techniques so she doesn't forget to order things on time, etc, but beyond that, she either meets the expectations in front of her or she doesn't. Honestly, if you ask her, it's probably not feeling like a great fit to her either, so helping figure out a smooth transition for her is, to me, the kindest thing to do.
I think it would be hard to help her get organized without coming across as preachy or pushy unless she asked for ideas first - I'm sure it can be done, but I'm not sure how to start that conversation. It's also completely friend-appropriate to ask if she is happy with the job or if she has considered looking other more flexible/shorter commute options. She might have ideas about what could happen at the job that could make her life easier, but it does sound like the office personnel has been very patient.
Since I have no heart, I would tell her to shape up or ship out. A business is only as strong as its weakest link, and when my income depends on everyone pulling their weight, I get very agitated when someone lets their personal life get in their way of their job. Work life and personal life are two totally separate things. Yes, stuff in your personal life, like medical things, or a family illness can make it so you are not at work sometimes, and I understand that, but when someone is just not with it in terms of not being able to be at work on time and being able to fullfil their duties, then it's time for them to go. I try to make nice with everyone, including the big wigs, which helps me get "the in" on what is going on in the inner workings of the companies I've been at..not that I'm a gossip..but it's helpful to know what's really going on. This way when I know someone is on the chopping block, I'll usually give them a heads up so they can get ready for it. If Y is treading on thin ice, you should probably gently let her know to get her shit together. You don't want to be put in the position of being her manager and having to deal with a bunch of crap, do you? I wouldn't.