19

This question is currently titled "How to prevent a psychologically fragile person from harming a team?", and the OP rolled back an edit that changed it. The question begins:

I'm currently advising a team of six developers working in a company which relies on this team to handle all in-house projects.

The team has a female developer with a physical disability (she uses a wheelchair) who was hired... “by mistake”: the interviewer thought the candidate has enough skills for the job, but it appears now that she doesn't. There are actually several problems:

So far, it seems to be a question about an employee with legally special status (disabled, woman) who doesn't have the job qualifications. The question proceeds with several more paragraphs explaining specifically what skills are lacking. In the fifth of these bullet points it says:

She barely speaks with her coworkers, making team communication difficult and awkward. Being depressive, she also takes a lot of things personally, which means that even a question such as “Have you finished implementing this interface?” can (and often would) be taken personally, and will be answered in a very defensive way.

Communication problems and taking things personally are problems on a team. The OP ascribes psychological problems as a cause, but we have no reason to believe there's an actual diagnosis involved. In some jurisdictions a diagnosed mental-health problem would have legal or policy implications, but it doesn't sound like that's what's going on here.

The following appears near the bottom of this lengthy question:

More generally, how would you manage a psychologically fragile employee who actively (but unintentionally) harms the team, but cannot be moved somewhere else, nor fired?

I am uncomfortable with this question focusing so heavily -- in the title and in the only bold block in the question -- on an assumption of psychological fragility. It seems to me to be unnecessarily contentious and I think it also derails the core problem, which is: "this person isn't qualified, it's damaging the team (and others are getting ready to walk), there are legal and PR problems with firing her -- how do we solve this?".

I would prefer to see the question focused on that. The OP rolled back an edit to remove the psychology language from the title (that edit didn't touch the body).

Is this question ok as-is, or should it be edited in some way? If the latter, how? It's generated a lot of discussion and several flags. What sayeth the community?

| |
  • I am unclear why the original question merits a meta thread what to discuss about it. It sound like you have some commentary on it, but I'm not following why that merits a meta thread to "do something" about it. Admittedly, I don't do a whole lot on this site, but I find myself sucked in all the time reading about workplace shenanigans; is that the culture on this SE? – YetAnotherRandomUser Jul 25 '18 at 22:45
  • @YetAnotherRandomUser the edit history (and maybe chat at the time? I don't remember, 3+ years later) raised some concerns, so I brought the question to meta to discuss. The author then edited the question, so the discussion served its purpose. I see that I had failed to accept the author's answer here to signal that; I've now corrected that. – Monica Cellio Jul 26 '18 at 0:38
  • HNQ brought this to my attention, and I failed to see that this scenario was 3 years old. D'oh! – YetAnotherRandomUser Jul 28 '18 at 19:01
10

So since clarification is required, let me clarify some points. As explained in the comments, the question is specifically about a person who is psychologically fragile:

  • “she already consults psychologists for several years”

  • “Being depressive, she also takes a lot of things personally”

  • “During the meetings, she practically doesn't participate, and also takes everything personally.”

  • “she barely speaks to her coworkers or her manager”

  • etc.

So no, this is not just “an assumption of psychological fragility”. There are further elements which show that this person is fragile, but I'm not happy discussing them openly, and the elements which are already in the question are largely enough.

The fact that she is a woman and has a disability is just a piece of context. Without this piece of context, the obvious answer would be to fire the person; it was obviously necessary to explain why the person cannot be fired (that is because of a lawsuit in the past and because of the disability of the person). While this information is important, it remains just a contextual info, and nothing more. By putting it into the title, you indeed denatured the question.

As stated by Hugo Rocha:

The sex is irrelevant. The disability is irrelevant. She should be treated as any developer with poor performance results. If I was in your place, I would not even state the sex of the developer in the question.

Actually, she could be a he and a brother of the investor, making him a person nobody can fire. This wouldn't affect the question, nor the answers.

On the other hand, remove the “psychologically fragile” element, and the question changes radically and the answers become mostly invalid.

About job qualifications

it seems to be a question about an employee with legally special status (disabled, woman) who doesn't have the job qualifications. The question proceeds with several more paragraphs explaining specifically what skills are lacking.

No, not really. The question is about an employee who has job qualifications (otherwise, she wouldn't be hired in the first place), but is currently unable to use her skills to their full extent. The difference is crucial. It's like asking what to do with a coder who don't know how to program versus what to do with a skillful developer who, because of some temporary problems, is unable to work as one would expect.

I've seen her resume. She was perfectly able to perform her job five years ago. It's just that personal reasons put her in a position where she has difficulties she hadn't five years ago.

Should the question be edited?

I've received four great answers which are very helpful. Those four people understood the problem, and answered the question itself, not the denatured "What to do with a disabled employee"-style question.

On the other hand, there are at least four other persons who did not understand the question, proving that it is not perfectly clear. This is annoying.

  • Some found it too long. I don't see how can I shorten the question without loss of useful illustrations.

    But more importantly, I don't see the reason to waste my time for that: if those persons don't want to read something because of the length, they can skip the question and read other, shorter ones.

  • Some misunderstood it. This is a more important concern, because it means that the question may attract wrong answers (given that the question is protected, which reduces such risk).

    Maybe my bad English is the reason. Maybe it's the way I formulated the question. After thinking a bit about it, here's an edit I can suggest. What do you think about it? Any suggestions?

The modified paragraphs are in italic. I also replaced "she" by "he".

Suggested edit

How to prevent a psychologically fragile person from harming a team?


I'm currently advising a team of six developers working in a company which relies on this team to handle all in-house projects.

The team has a developer who—for some legal reasons I would prefer to keep undisclosed—cannot be fired. The problem is that this person doesn't perform as well as expected, due to personal problems. While the person has the required skills, an personal event made this person psychologically fragile, and his integration within the team is very difficult. Here are some of the problems encountered:

  • He is unable to perform some of the tasks and spends a huge amount of time performing others. For instance, two weeks ago, he took a task of implementing a rather basic feature¹ of the project. One week later, it appeared that he is unable to implement it, so another colleague took over and did the feature from scratch in two hours.

  • Despite all his efforts, he creates a lot of bugs in his code. I worked with him personally to explain how to unit test the code, what tests are relevant and which ones are not, but I failed. For instance, he is still not testing more than a half of the edge cases.

  • He is reluctant to perform some basic tasks expected from any developer. Two are especially annoying: he doesn't commit his code often enough (usually he stays from one day to seven days without doing a commit, while his colleagues are committing at least twice per day and often up to ten times per day), or he never writes comments in her code.

  • He creates regressions when modifying others' code, and often can't figure out how the code should be fixed. Frequently, he ends up being helped by the original author of the code, wasting a lot of time.

  • He barely speaks with her coworkers, making team communication difficult and awkward. Being depressive, he also takes a lot of things personally, which means that even a question such as “Have you finished implementing this interface?” can (and often would) be taken personally, and will be answered in a very defensive way.

  • During the meetings,she practically doesn't participate, and also takes everything personally. For instance, during the last weekly meeting, the manager was asking why a given feature was late. While the feature was completely independent of his work,² he still perceived it as a personal blame (note that this manager never blames anyone).

  • Code reviews are absolutely out of question. The team tried pair programming with him, but failed.

Unfortunately, he not only harms herself, but also the team morale both during the meetings and the daily work. A week ago, his colleague (who also appears to be the most valuable developer in this company) talked informally with the CEO, telling that he can't work in this environment any longer and will leave soon if the management doesn't take a firm decision. I'm afraid other developers will soon start searching for another job too.

[Sentence explaining why the person can't be fired removed]

We (the project manager, the CEO and I) also thought about:

  • Another job within the company for this person. Since the company deals with manufacturing requiring special skills and other jobs (accounting, legal affairs, etc.) also require specific skills, this is not a solution.

  • Get help from a psychologist. It appears that he already consults psychologists for several years, so I hardly doubt her lack of self-esteem and her communication skills will improve this way.

  • A development-related job which is technically simple and requires no communication skills. The problem is that it's difficult to come with such job and will affect negatively his self-esteem.

  • I recently suggested another alternative: let the person work remotely (from home) on low-priority tasks assigned to him directly by a manager. This would prevent him from affecting the team, without lowering his self-esteem. The CEO is currently discussing this alternative with the lawyer.

Are there other alternatives?

More generally, how would you manage a psychologically fragile employee who actively (but unintentionally) harms the team, but cannot be moved somewhere else, nor fired?

Note: if it matters, it seems that I have a privileged relation with this developer: while he barely speaks to his coworkers or his manager, he seems to trust me and talks to me. The fact that I don't work in this company and intervene in an informal way, as a friend of the CEO, may be the reason for that.


¹ The feature consisted of implementing LESS minification in an intranet website. Not straightforward in the context of an actual project, but still not particularly difficult; I would estimate the task at one to four hours.

² The feature was purely on client-side, that is JavaScript with no reliance on server-side components. The developer works exclusively on server-side part of the project.

| |
  • 4
    WHAT SHOULD I DO IS OFF TOPIC!!!!!!! That is what you are asking here "what should i do about this employee that I don't want?" How do I tell her X? is on topic. How do I take [specific action] with reguards to here is on topic. This is off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 11 '15 at 22:10
  • 2
    My second issue here is that you have not demonstrated that she is fragile... just that you are uncomfortable dealing with her. Fix that! – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 11 '15 at 22:11
  • 9
    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame almost all questions here are some form of "what should I do". I'm not sure that's what's wrong with the question. – Monica Cellio Mar 11 '15 at 22:24
  • 2
    That edit is much better. (You've got some pronoun problems, though, so either fix them or just leave it as "she".) Instead of asking "how would you manage", which is kind of vague, try asking the action question: you want to know how to keep the team productive and happy with this person in the company, I presume. (One could ask instead "how do I make this employee productive", but I don't get the sense that that's your question.) – Monica Cellio Mar 11 '15 at 22:26
  • @MonicaCellio: thank you for your feedback. The question is now edited. – Arseni Mourzenko Mar 11 '15 at 22:39
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio But this question is just a general here is my situation what should I do which is off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 12 '15 at 14:11
  • 1
    "I've seen her resume. She was perfectly able to perform her job five years ago. It's just that personal reasons put her in a position where she has difficulties she hadn't five years ago." This needs to be made clear in the question. You may have attempted to imply that, but I didn't pick up on it when I read the question and answers. – YetAnotherRandomUser Jul 25 '18 at 22:37
  • If you want to remove the persons gender, then use neutral pronouns like "this person". I would not change it from a she to a he, because the bit about "she" is actually important. A wheelchair bound female developer has all the privilege (legal, political, etc). The only way to heap more on her is if she was also a minority of some kind. Changing the question to a "he" means it's about yet another random programmer and there will be no sympathy for that kind of person. – YetAnotherRandomUser Jul 25 '18 at 22:40
5

At a bare minimum the title needs to be changed. There is no real evidence in the question that there is any risk of this person damaging the team.

I suspect that the question is a fake. The op said he is not the manager and just friends with the CEO. Lets just blast this question or at least close it until the question is cleared up. Right now its hitting sympathy strings because we have all dealt with people who are less stable. But the problem really appears to be that the OP has an ax to grind.

| |
  • 11
    Since when do we need to verify that the questions are true? If he asked how write a for loop, would you complain that we can't verify that he really wants to write a for loop? – user14155 Mar 13 '15 at 14:20
  • 1
    @davor from the Help Center You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. - The OP Admits its not his problem to deal with, but I concede it is just my suspicion that the OP is grinding his ax. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 13 '15 at 14:32
  • 2
    I partially agree with Davor. There are several well-received questions submitted by a third-party to the problem. The OP not being the manager, or the one responsible for any changes, should make no difference. Also let them grind their axes if it leads to some good answers. That said I wouldn't oppose freezing the question until it's been rephrased to get to the point. – rath Mar 13 '15 at 18:27
  • @rath - Certianly... I am not saying we should out right ban them all. this one has a bad smell to it that makes me think fake. I dislike axe to grind questions. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 15 '15 at 4:17
  • Why would we close the question? – Code Whisperer Mar 17 '15 at 13:45
  • @itcouldevenbeaboat - Because askign a general what should i do question is off topic and thats what this is. but the heat is off the question now so i am content with letting to fade away. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 17 '15 at 13:47
  • 3
    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame Is there any other kind of question on SO the Workplace? – Code Whisperer Mar 17 '15 at 15:23
  • @itcouldevenbeaboat So create your meta post about that asking to change the rules everyone else does. Just stop being snarky in my answers.\ – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 17 '15 at 15:53
5

While one could nitpick details, I do not see any fundamental problems with the question.

"You have not demonstrated that she is fragile." Umm, how is the poster supposed to "demonstrate" that? I'm sure that for a very large number of questions on this site you could say that the poster has not "demonstrated" the facts that he cites. He has not provided documentation proving that his employer really did fail to live up to a contractual agreement, he has not provided corroborating testimony that the boss is unfair, etc. I'm sure that in at least some cases, it is fair to reply, "Are you sure that you are not misunderstanding the circumstances?", "Maybe you should consider the possibility that the problem is you and not him", or the like. In this case, I suppose a fair response might include the question, "Are you sure that this person is as 'fragile' as you say?" But such thoughts are hardly grounds for closing a question. In general I think we assume that facts stated by a poster are accurate. If someone is going to lie in a question, he's only reducing the possibility that he'll get a useful answer.

Also, I'm not sure if this is what some posters here were driving at, but: Phrases like "psychologically fragile" are not necessarily intended as a professional diagnosis. People often use the word "psychologically" to distinguish from "physically". I don't read "psychologically fragile" as necessarily indicating a diagnosable mental illness, but simply as a description of the person's personality.

"Not his problem to deal with." He says he's trying to help a friend, and apparently he's on friendly terms with the problem employee. Is it really a rule on this site that you can only ask questions if you have a personal financial stake in solving the problem? You're not allowed to ask for advice that you can pass on to a friend because you care about other human beings?

"The sex is irrelevant." No, it's not. In real life and not EEO fantasy land, there are many, many ways in which we treat women differently than men. And people who insist that they be treated the same today very often turn around tomorrow and demand different treatment. I don't want to get into a socio-political argument, but just to take a simple example: If a man tells a vulgar sexual joke to a female co-worker, he can get in serious trouble for sexual harassment. If he tells the same joke to a male co-worker, it is very, very unlikely that there would be any negative consequences, no matter how offended the man is.

| |
  • 2
    For me it's not just that there are unsupported claims; as you said, that happens a lot. But when assessments are being made of people's health, personalities, or other traits, I see that as a little different than "the company is financial trouble" etc. I feel the same way about questions that describe coworkers as jerks, which clearly isn't a medical claim. These are not only matters of personal opinion but are often provocative, & I'd rather not encourage rants, competitive war stories ("you think your jerk coworker is bad?..."), etc. We can ask questions without descending to that. – Monica Cellio Mar 18 '15 at 13:54
  • @MonicaCellio Hmm, but I think a question like, "What do I do about a co-worker who is really rude and obnoxious?" is a fair question. (Okay, as stated far too general to be likely to get useful answers, but that's not the point here.) If they're naming names then it might be slanderous and I'd certainly be uncomfortable getting into it, but it's the sort of problem people have in real life all the time, and to say, "discussing people's personalities makes me uncomfortable" doesn't help the person who is dealing with someone's difficult personality. Yes, if the person isn't asking a ... – Jay Mar 18 '15 at 14:01
  • ... question but just ranting about how much they hate so-and-so, sure, doesn't likely lead to useful responses. – Jay Mar 18 '15 at 14:02
  • Jay yeah, but wouldn't you need to explain what you mean by "rude an obnoxious" for it to be answerable? "Rude coworker" could mean lots of things; a coworker who does such-and-such in meetings, or invades your personal space in this way, or uses gossip and manipulation to put others down, or whatever -- now that's something we can talk about. At which point the real problem is that you've got a coworker who does that in meetings or behaves that way or whatever, and while "rude and obnoxious" is a shorthand it's not really the core question. Does that make sense? – Monica Cellio Mar 18 '15 at 15:32
  • 2
    To me the original version of the post focused too much on labelling the coworker, which isn't helpful, and presenting personal opinions as facts. That made me uncomfortable enough to raise it on meta so the community can weigh in. Thanks for helping with that! – Monica Cellio Mar 18 '15 at 15:36
  • @MonicaCellio RE "could mean lots of things" Absolutely. That's basically what I meant when I said "as stated far too general" etc. "Co-worker tells obscene jokes at meetings" is a very different problem from "co-worker claimed credit for something I had done", etc. – Jay Mar 19 '15 at 13:28
  • Dammnit, I can only give +1 to this. – YetAnotherRandomUser Jul 25 '18 at 22:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .