Today I had the most surreal human resources experience of my entire career.
Backstory is simple – an associate at the firm has been having escalating interpersonal issues with other staff members and increasingly clients. Despite numerous conversations, significant amounts of coaching, disciplinary write-ups, and actual one-on-one mentoring with me, her professional behavior continued to deteriorate. After a 2 week paid vacation at the partners’ request, she returned on Monday and within hours of being back in the office she was again having angry confrontations and displays of temper with other staffers, most of whom are higher up on the organization chart. A direct conflict with me on Monday brought out the sterner, I-am-your-superior tone and demeanor, which completely sailed over her head and she trudged on in trying to argue with me, over professional courtesy and somehow made me feel as if I could be more productive being the yard supervisor at the nearest school yard. I finally warned her that I was about to fire her ass for insubordination, and she tried to argue with me about that. Shutting her up came down to squaring off with her, practically nose-to-nose, and suggesting she keep talking if she wanted to really see what I am capable of doing to her professional career. Wisely she turned and stomped off.
I gave up. I emailed the partners a brief report on the day’s events and stated my opinion we could either have rebellion with the rest of the staff (myself included) or we could terminate our employment relationship. I was to be back in the office Wednesday and we could discuss it further at that time. Get out the forks – I was so done.
This morning I was getting texts before 8 a.m. about her having temper tantrums and ransacking offices and desktops for files she wanted to review for the case she had been assigned. Not asking for the files, merely marching into offices, demanding them, and then starting to look through piles on desks when the other person did not jump quickly enough. Shortly thereafter my boss was on the phone with me asking if I could calculate a final paycheck, PTO payout, and the insurance COBRA information for her benefits. If at all possible, could I also come in and be present for the conversation? Things were falling into such disarray so quickly I agreed.
I got to the office around 1 p.m. and our meeting was scheduled for 1:30. At 1:15 she returned from lunch … with her parents in tow. She knew or at least strongly suspected what was coming and insisted her parents be present for the final conversation. The partners held firm and said her parents be confined to the reception area and she refused the meeting without them present. I asked the receptionist to please adjourn to the copy/work room, because I thought we were going to have to fire her right there in the lobby, but the managing partner related and we moved into the conference room, parents included, where he and her supervising partner explained the firm was terminating the employment relationship, and I explained the terms of her final paycheck and severance (paid through May 31), her insurance benefits, and requested any/all final expenses by the end of the week. The investigator we use was also in to the office specifically to escort her to her desk to remove her personal items and escort her from the building. Her email and all electronic access had already been disabled.
Her parents did interrupt several times during the meeting, trying to plead their daughter’s case – she’s so brilliant, she’s so talented, she’s special and unique and is entitled to allowances for her delicate temperament. Yep, they actually used those specific words, although the quote may be inaccurate. The partners present were kind and firm about it – this was a conversation between an employer and an employee, of which they were neither, and it was only courtesy and expediency that they were allowed to be present.
She lashed out, but we remained calm in light of her outbursts. She insisted that her parents must accompany her to her desk, and we refused. Finally she went with our investigator, I stayed at the reception desk, and the partners went to their offices to get back to work. She wanted to talk to other staff members working in their cubes and offices, which our investigator did not allow, and it was a very tense 45 minutes before she and her folks finally left.
We are all very busy right now, and that hour is something none of us can get back. But I am so glad she is no longer our problem. Her parents tried to talk to me about the situation, explain or plead her case further in hopes of some reprieve, and I had to be very firm in repeating myself that I could not, would not discuss this with them. It was a very awkward wait for her to finish gathering her stuff. What do you talk about with parental units who insist upon accompanying their child to her firing/exit conference? If you’re me you smile vacuously, repeat that you cannot discuss this matter with them, and pray she hurries up and gets out of your life.
This young woman is very bright, possibly even brilliant. But the symbiotic relationship with her parents does her no favors. That said, it was not my place to counsel or discuss their responsibility in their daughter’s irresponsible and erratic behaviors. But dang, in my head I could not help comparing my own pretty normal kids with these people and their fucked-up parenting style.
I have young adult children. I know quite a few fully functional, independent 20-somethings. I am not someone who makes broad-brush generalizations about entire generations, but this was helicopter parenting on steroids.
Knowing my former associate as well as I do now, I know she is particularly high strung and overly sensitive and suspect she will struggle to some greater or lesser degree in most firms. Because ours is a pretty chill and supportive firm as far as lawyers go, and I have worked with several through the years. The fact that the most gentle of constructive critique unnerved her so completely speaks volumes. Her parents and their overprotective enabling do her zero favors.
The office was a quiet, sober place after the drama concluded. The managing partner emailed everyone that she was no longer associated with the firm and thanked the staff for their patience through resolution of this unfortunate situation and expressed hope to hire another couple of associates over the course of the upcoming several weeks. I think I heard a collective sigh of relief before I left to return to my other work.
Frankly I’m relieved as well. Only now after ties have been completely cut do I recognize how much a drain on my time and energy she has been.