How to Deal

Coaching Unprofessional Worker Is Manager's Job

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 24, 2008; 6:23 PM

I have a younger co-worker (19 years old) who is in serious need of some lessons in professionalism. She doesn't do (many) things "wrong" or incorrectly... but she is far too casual in her behavior: in the way she dresses, in the topics she discusses, in the way she apologizes for the mistakes she does make. I know her behavior really grates on others at the office, too -- including our supervisor -- and she will have a difficult time advancing in any career until she behaves as though she is at work rather than a college mixer. I have no official seniority over her; we have the same position, though I have a year of seniority over her and am about 8 years older than she. What can/should I do to help out this young woman? She can be annoying, but mostly I would hate to see her crash and burn just because nobody taught her what was appropriate at work.

It is kind of you to take an interest in your younger and less discerning colleague. However, it is not your place to help -- at least not directly. Unless you have established a close mentoring relationship with your colleague or she has otherwise expressed an interest in your professional advice, it is not appropriate for you to try to coach her.

This role rests with your manager, who should be addressing the deficiencies in your colleague's demeanor as a performance issue. From what you have told me, it sounds like the issue would be hard for anyone to miss. But perhaps your manager has not yet appreciated the magnitude of the problem. If you want to help your colleague, it may be best for you to focus your energies on fully informing your manager about how she is perceived. Urge your manager to invest in educating your colleague on how to appear more capable and polished.

As you say, it comes down to professionalism. Which we all had to learn one way or another. At 19 years of age, I am not surprised that your colleague communicates in a way that seems unsophisticated or immature. Some of us are fortunate to have had early experiences with adults who taught us how to come across professionally. But many people make it well into young adulthood without learning having learned these critical skills.

I hope that your manager will be able to see beyond the irritation of this young woman's foibles to the reality of her potential.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Aug. 5 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live. Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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