My first employee

Sallie Mae was my first employee and she was a mountain of a woman. Six feet tall and 350-plus pounds. We both worked as administrative assistants for a locked psychiatric facility for teenagers. She started a couple of years before me and was hired because her mother, who worked there, recommended her. This is an example of the high level of employee vetting our company had at the time. Sallie Mae had a plethora of health problems and I frequently had to cover for her absences.

Sallie Mae affirmed for me that the most ignorant people often have the biggest mouths. On more than one occasion I heard her refer to some of our clients as “colored girls”. In her seven years of employment she had been moved to a different office 13 times. Mostly because her office mates would complain about her obnoxious behavior so much. Nobody told her the real reason why she was being moved, but she knew something was up and by move eight or nine she began crying uncontrollably before packing up her belongings.

As fate would have it, I became her supervisor for the last year we worked together. The facility administrator, Janice, told Sallie Mae that she wasn’t eligible to apply for this position due to her lack of a college degree. Sallie Mae  then sat at her desk and cried as she did so often and I sat with her, being supportive while she whined about how unfair it was that I was being promoted just because I went to college. Clearly Sallie Mae had yet to understand how life really worked.

Once I started as her manager her absences increased and I became acutely aware of the abysmal quality of her work when she was there. Janice and I talked and the decision was that it was time for Sallie Mae to no longer be employed with us.

The path to termination is a long one at our company and it began with an initial counseling. I had to tell Sallie Mae that morning that I was going to give her a disciplinary action later and she had a right to union representation (which she refused). Then I ran away to my office like the big chicken I was. The sobbing immediately commenced. Loudly.

I sat down with Sallie Mae and Shirley, our HR manager, and read a few paragraphs I had written, explaining her offenses. When I was done I didn’t know what else to do. There was a moment of intensely awkward silence and then Sallie Mae threw her arms and head down onto the table and started bawling. Shirley and I looked at each other uneasily.

Shirley did most of the talking after that (thankfully). She reiterated what I had read and explained to Sallie Mae that we valued her as an employee.

“Well it doesn’t feel like it!” She spat and looked at me. “I left you messages asking you to call me when I was out and you didn’t!”

I was stunned. Yes, I remember her voicemails asking me to call her so she could give me details about her migraines and diarrhea and wanted no part of it. In my naïveté, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to talk to their manager when they were sick. Several of my therapist co-workers later explained what attention-seeking behavior is.

When I talked to Shirley later on to get her assessment of the meeting she looked at me and said, “Well, I’ve just never seen anyone cry so much before.”

Her performance did not improved after this. She barely talked to me and refused to voluntarily go to the weekly supervision meeting we had. I frequently heard her crying in her office but nobody paid any attention anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to another disciplinary action but desperately wanted to get rid of her.

But then, the unthinkable happened: Our facility was being shut down. We had two months to find new jobs or go on unemployment. When they officially announced the closure I had already lined up a potential job in another division of our company and had to watch everyone else agonize about their fate. Not surprisingly, Sallie Mae was not taking it well.

Several positions were opened in the same division I was going to work for and staff were lining up for them. Sallie Mae applied for several of them and received coaching for her interviews but she was too infamous in our company and no one would hire her. Nobody told her she wasn’t being hired because of her frequent absences, poor quality of work and general ignorance. She just assumed she would be getting one of the positions and started to freak out when she kept getting rejected.

During the last couple of weeks Sallie Mae’s anxiety shot through the roof. After having argument after argument with her she finally jut stopped speaking with me. I didn’t really care at that point though. On the last day, I saw her carrying boxes out of her office and offered to help her carry them. She just glared at me.

A few weeks later I was talking to my new employees.

“I’m so glad that Sallie Mae was wrong about you,” said Sharlene.

“Huh?” What had this awful woman been saying about me? Was I ever to get rid of her presence?

“She told us that you were the Hitler of managers,” Sharlene laughed.

Ironically, most of the complaints about me these days are that I’m too nice. I’m good with that though.


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