columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I have an employee who has been with my company about five months. She is smart, and easy to work with, but is not performing that well. It's a tough job (recruiting), and I think she's just not a good fit. She does something that drives me crazy, and I'm trying to figure out if this is legitimately annoying or if I perceive it that way because I'm frustrated with her performance overall.

Whenever I make small talk with her, she works in something about how she can't wait for 5:00 and/or Friday. For example, I say, "How are you today?" She says, "Great, but I'll be better at 5:00." I say, "How's it going?" She says, "Just waiting for Friday." Every. Time. This week, at midday on Tuesday, I was answering some of her questions, and I ended with "Anything else I can help you with?" She replied, "Not unless you can make it Friday."

I totally understand that many people are working for the weekend, and I certainly talk about looking forward to the evening or the weekend, especially in the context of having fun plans or in reaction to a particularly challenging day. But this occurs in every interaction and has since the day she started. Additionally, she doesn't say much overall, so it's not like these comments are tucked into a 15-minute conversation -- they are often the only communication I get from her during the day. It also seems weird to me that she would constantly remind her manager that she doesn't want to be at work. I mean, I know you'd rather be elsewhere, but I don't need to be reminded of it every day!

She makes these comments to co-workers as well, and I'm concerned about how their frequency might affect morale.

Am I right to be annoyed, or do I need to let this go? Is this just a weird verbal habit, or should I take this as an indication that this person is truly and deeply dissatisfied with this position (or working in general)?

Green responds:

No, you're right to be annoyed. It's one thing to make the occasional "can't wait for the weekend" comment; everyone does that. But when her most frequent topic of conversation is how she doesn't want to be at work, it's really off-key.

That said, it doesn't sound like it's your biggest issue with her -- the performance problems are. If she were otherwise doing well, I'd say that you should address this -- but in this case, you're better off focusing on the performance stuff and figuring out pretty quickly whether she can do what you need, and transitioning her out if she can't. And I worry that adding this separate thing on top of a very serious performance conversation will feel like you're just picking at her.

However, if that weren't the case and/or you want to address this anyway, I'd go with one of two options: the concerned "is something going on?" option or the "you probably don't realize how this is coming across" option. Or you could use both!

For example: "I've noticed you comment a lot about how you can't wait for 5:00 or for the weekend. Of course we all look forward to time away from work, but you mention it so frequently that I wonder how the job is going for you. Are you running into problems that I could try to help you solve?"

Or: "I've noticed you comment a lot about how you can't wait for 5:00 or for the weekend. Of course we all like time away from work, but you probably don't realize that saying it so frequently that it's starting to sound like you really don't want to be here. If that's the case, can we talk about what's going on?"

I do think it's possible that this a sort of verbal tic and she doesn't realize how often she's saying it. Especially since she doesn't say much overall, it's possible that she's settled on this as a thing she says to make small talk with colleagues and doesn't realize that it's not a great choice.

Or, it's possible that it reflects a more problematic attitude about work -- not just that she'd rather not be there (because again, fine; I'd rather be in bed right now so I'm sympathetic), but that she doesn't realize people will find it odd that she's talking about it all the time. Sometimes people get like that when they've had past jobs with bad cultures, where it was normal to make comments like this all the time because it's openly acknowledged that the workplace and the work was awful and everyone hated it. That is not an attitude that works when you bring it to a healthier workplace, but she may not have realized that yet.

Who knows what's at play here. But I think it's a reasonable thing to mention to her.

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