Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Anxious Direct Report

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the anxious direct report.

Daniel Lavery: I get that this is an ongoing problem, but I don’t think you should suggest she look for another job just yet, since you only recently started supervising her

to me the obvious move is just to do a great deal less than you’re doing at present!

Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely, do less

you really don’t have to manage her emotions


some people are just anxious like this

If it impacts the quality of her work (she panics about a project and so doesn’t submit it) then have a kind sit-down

Daniel Lavery: right, if your goal is to “make sure she’s okay” you will be exhausted and frustrated all the time


but if your goal is “get her to stop panicking out loud during work conversations,” I think you stand a really good chance of getting what you need

Nicole Cliffe: Yep, and try to deal with it just after it happens

I guarantee she is terrified of surprises during her standard one-on-one meeting

Daniel Lavery: and the kind sit-down can involve saying “Here’s how I’m going to deal with these moments going forward; I’m going to tell you to stop and take a minute if you need to compose yourself, but I’m not going to reassure you or get drawn into those conversations.”


Nicole Cliffe: Yes

Daniel Lavery: and then you can’t try to dress that up with like “Hey, you’re actually doing great” or trying to otherwise engage with the cycle of compulsive worry

because as soon as you try to reassure her again or talk her out of a fear, you’re already losing ground

Nicole Cliffe: Yep, she just has to develop her own coping skills for this

Daniel Lavery: so you can just say “Do you need a minute?” or “Let me know when you’re ready to get back to discussing ____.”


which is not mean, or cold, or anything

it’s perfectly appropriate given that you’re her boss and not her close friend

Nicole Cliffe: you will not do her any favors in her next job if you try to accommodate her this much


Daniel Ortberg: and to that end, I don’t think you need to suggest therapy to her, if this continues to get in the way of her job performance and you do need to eventually suggest she look elsewhere for work /  fire her, then you can cross that bridge when you come to it


Nicole Cliffe: now, of course, if she comes to you and says she has anxiety and needs ADA accommodations

Daniel Lavery: yeah giving her prizes and praising her in meetings is not helping

that’s not to say it’s bad to reward your employees for doing well

it’s great!

but it’s not a solution for this problem

Nicole Cliffe: then that’s for your company’s lawyer to figure out, in terms of what’s reasonable


definitely not

Daniel Lavery: right! but even then, i don’t think the accommodations would involve “regular awards”

Nicole Cliffe: Oh no

Daniel Lavery: what FEELS helpful in the moment (giving her a token of appreciation, telling her she’s great, trying to soothe her fears) is not helping her at all


Nicole Cliffe: Just there may be some flex time suggestions or a request that she not have to talk at meetings w clients, etc

and until she brings up the ADA, your advice is perfect

do less

Daniel Lavery: Sure, that might come up, and just on a personal level I also hope she talks to a therapist, because this sounds really overwhelming and almost debilitating

Nicole Cliffe: give her a minute


oh absolutely

Daniel Lavery: and just be calm and quiet until she gets back to the topic

Nicole Cliffe: I would casually remind her of the company’s EAP program

Daniel Lavery: right, that seems reasonable

Nicole Cliffe: Probably in a group context

“Lots of us don’t realize our benefits include this private option for mental health issues”

“It’s on page 226 of the handbook”

Daniel Lavery: “The choice is yours!!”

Nicole Cliffe: Which is another way of putting the ball in her court

Which has to be your goal

But thank you for caring, honestly!!


Daniel Lavery: yes, it was really nice to hear from a boss who’s appropriately concerned/interested in an employee’s life


Nicole Cliffe: Many many people would have said “ugh, this lady, I’m going to slowly manage her on out”

Daniel Lavery: and I don’t want to encourage you to do less because I think her problems don’t matter or she just needs to “tough it out”

Nicole Cliffe: Just don’t get TOO focused on helping

right! You want to give her tools

Not reassurance

and presents

Daniel Lavery: right, the thing isn’t that this problem is unimportant, it’s just that this problem goes way beyond work, and this particular tic of disrupting meetings/conversations by spiraling about her fears about getting fired is something you can just put a really clear, bright line around

and just get used to calmly and politely interrupting her when she does it

Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely