Editor's note: Inc.com 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 writes:

I have a new employee who just finished grad school but is not new to work because she worked a few years between college and grad school. Some of the people we work with have been put off by her behavior.

She is asking a lot of questions in meetings and making a lot of suggestions about things she knows nothing about yet, rather than sitting back a bit, listening, and learning.

She seems to believe that everything has to be done quickly and does not check her work before giving me a "finished" product that has not been checked for errors or to see if it looks OK. As a result, I am getting a lot of things that are not finished enough for me to review them and have to give them back a couple of times. In addition, her writing skills are substantially below what I would expect from someone with her level of education, but she does not take feedback on her writing well.

She has also taken it upon herself to do some things I told her I would do and offended a couple of good clients in the process. She annoyed these clients enough that they mentioned it to me.

When I have spoken to her about these issues, she has said she is enthusiastic and just wants to get things done. She always uses the term "enthusiastic" to describe what comes across as pushiness. I am planning on sitting down with her and nicely telling her that this behavior is not productive. However, how much should I invest in a new employee with what seems to be ingrained behavior?

Green answers:

I think you need to be less nice, actually. It sounds like she needs to hear very directly that the behavior she thinks of as "enthusiastic" is actually jeopardizing her job.

While it might seem nicer to find a softer framing for that message, it's not at all nice to let someone continue problematic behavior to the point that they lose their job over it, without clearly telling them that that's happening. So you would be doing her an enormous favor by sitting down with her and clearly spelling out things like:

  • "I need you to check your work before you hand it in. By the time it comes to me, it needs to be error-free and in what you consider final form. This is a requirement in order to be successful here."
  • "I need you to produce work that only requires minimal editing from me, which means that I need you to listen to the feedback I'm giving you so you can incorporate it into your work."
  • "You cannot do X, Y, and Z without clearing it through me first. Continuing to do that would jeopardize your job."
  • "While I welcome your questions and ideas, I'd like you to spend most of your time in project meetings listening to others so that you're building your understanding of how we do things. That doesn't mean that you should never speak up, but it does mean that the majority of what you're doing there should be listening and learning--which will help you ask better questions and think of better ideas in the long run."
  • "This is not about enthusiasm. This is about understanding the requirements of your job. I'm willing to help you improve so that you can excel in this role, but that means that you're going to need to be open to feedback without dismissing it as merely you being enthusiastic. I don't see it that way, and I don't want to see you lose your job, which could happen if this continues."

On your question of how much to invest in a new employee when the problems seem to be ingrained behavior, it's hard to give a universal answer to that. It depends on the role, the specific issues, and how likely you think the person is to be able to take your feedback and make relatively quick improvements. And it really depends on how the person reacts to your first attempt or two to spell out the issues clearly and directly. You can't really say whether the investment will be wasted until you've had the type of direct conversation above--the type of conversation that lets her know in clear, unambiguous terms where things stand.

Have that conversation, and then you're going to have much more useful data to help you figure out whether it's worth investing in her, and for how long.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Jul 9, 2018