A reader writes:
Your recent post about an intern who wanted rides to work made me think perhaps you might have some insight into my present situation. Unlike similar posts I’ve seen, it’s not the chauffeurs who are asking about the situation, but the manager (me) who sees someone taking horrible advantage of coworkers. I know these people are so compassionate and caring, but they also don’t have the extra funds to be putting the wear and tear and gas on their vehicles.
I have an employee who started working here as a college student, “Jenny.” Jenny didn’t have a driver’s license or vehicle, but the campus housing was less than a quarter mile away, so she walked. However, after she graduated, she moved a few miles farther away and started asking fellow employees to give her rides to work and rides home. People gave her a ride. Jenny also now asks the person giving her a ride to stop at her child’s daycare on the way to and from work to drop off/pick up the child. (She’ll leave the car seat at the daycare during the day.) This has been going on for almost a decade. She still does not have a driver’s license or vehicle and has no intention of getting them, as far as I know.
Employees have actually quit because they didn’t want to continue to give Jenny a ride but felt guilty saying no. Currently, she gets most rides to and from work (and daycare) from three compassionate employees who are very caring and can’t tell her no. One person always gives her a ride home, every single day. Usually Jenny gets a ride to work with one of the other two employees. Sometimes Jenny will ask for (and receive) a ride from someone who is not even working that day. They will drive in (one employee driving 23 miles one way), pick her up, drop her off at work, and drive back home.
She never offers to pay for gas. She’s asked people to drop her off at the movie theatre where she’s meeting friends. (Presumably the friends give her a ride home.) She has had coworkers drop her off at her kid’s daycare in the morning for a meeting. Then she’ll call her coworkers in a few hours to pick her up and bring her to work.
She does occasionally have other friends give her rides, but it definitely looks to be the majority of time she asks coworkers to pick her up and drop her off and generally drive her around.
I don’t think she’s ever used public transportation (which is mediocre here). Her daily commute is farther than the previous quarter mile, but could still be traversed by walk or bike.
This is the situation I inherited when I became manager about a year ago. I have talked to the employees giving her a ride. Most don’t want to do it, but they are too compassionate to say no. If this is what their conscience is telling them to do, what can I say to that?
Part of the problem is that the majority of this happens before and after work hours. Occasionally, Jenny will ask for a ride to or from an appointment or meeting (during work hours), but most of it is the employees giving her a ride on their own time.
The few times when she does ask for a ride on work hours, well, everyone helps each other out occasionally. How can I forbid an employee from picking her up at her child’s daycare when I just drove out to jump another employee’s stalled vehicle?
She rarely asks me for a ride so it hasn’t been an issue personally. Again, how can I help one employee (with a dead battery) when I won’t on occasion help out another employee?
I hate to see people taken advantage of. I know most of these people don’t have extra financial resources. I have heard some employees say something like “She’ll hate me if I don’t give her a ride.”
Is there anything, as the supervisor, I can or should be doing?
Aggggh. This could all be solved if your employees would stop being so passive about it! If they’d simply tell Jenny they can’t drive her anymore, the problem would be solved.
But they’re not — and since you’re actually losing employees over it, something that shouldn’t need to be your business is becoming your business.
To be clear, there are a lot of ways this could play out that wouldn’t be your business. If Jenny were just asking for occasional rides and people were mildly annoyed but doing it anyway … not really your business. But you’ve had employees quit over it.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if over time, a cultural expectation has built up on your team that driving Jenny around is “what we do here” — and so people who would like to tell Jenny no worry they’re expected to do it anyway. Some of them might worry about how it will affect their relationship with Jenny at work, or even their relationships with other coworkers if their refusal to drive her means someone else feels obligated to drive her in their place. So again: your business.
But I can see why you’re struggling with it, since it’s outside-of-work behavior that your employees are agreeing to. Keep in mind, though, that there are times when behavior outside of work falls into your purview: for example, if an employee kept showing up to outside-work social events and insulting the coworkers who were there, that would be your business because it would affect the dynamics on your team. Or, for an example that’s closer to your situation, what if you had an employee who was constantly nagging coworkers to buy her dinner and they didn’t want to do it but felt obligated to help her out, and some people were starting to resign rather than continue to fund her meals? In both those situations, although the behavior was outside of work, it would be affecting your team dynamics and so you’d have standing to intervene.
There are limits to this, of course. If two of your employees used to be outside-of-work friends and had a falling-out, it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to get involved other than ensuring they were treating each other civilly at work. But when things come into work, they’re your business. And in this case, with people quitting over the situation, that bar has been met.
Ideally, you could just talk to the people driving Jenny and give them your explicit encouragement and permission to turn down her ride requests. But it sounds like you’ve done that and it hasn’t changed anything. Maybe that’s because these employees are people-pleasers or afraid to be assertive, which can become extra potent if it intersects with any feeling of “this is what the team does.” But since talking to them hasn’t worked, I’m hesitant to rely on trying more of that.
Because of that, I think you’ll have to talk to Jenny and say something like: “I need you to figure out transportation to and from work that doesn’t involve relying on your coworkers. I know on your end it must look like people are driving you happily, but what I’m hearing on my end is that people feel pressured to help but would like to stop, and it’s affecting the dynamics on the team. I understand this has been your set-up for a long time, so I don’t expect you to change it overnight, but I do need you to have another system in place one month from now.”
She will probably push back, saying people are happy to do it and they’d say no if they didn’t want to. To that you can say, “Unfortunately, we’ve had people quit over this and I can’t continue having it impact the team that way. You do need to find your own transportation to and from work.”
In theory you should add, “Obviously an occasional ride when you’re in a pinch is fine — we’d all do that for each other. But your coworkers can’t be your default plan for getting here and home.” But given the high danger that Jenny will take that as license to continue to ask for rides most of the time, I’d probably leave it out for now.
After you have that conversation, it’s worth talking to the ride-providing coworkers again, letting them know you’ve had this conversation, and saying you need them to do their part by being clear with Jenny that they can’t continue to drive her.
From there, you’ll need to stay pretty actively involved to make sure that Jenny really does stop leaning on colleagues for constant rides; this is entrenched enough that it’s likely to take fairly active involvement from you (possibly ongoing for a while) to ensure she actually lets up on people.
Is this a weird amount of involvement to have in an employee’s transportation and other employees’ favor-providing? Yes! It absolutely is. But it’s at the point that you’ve lost multiple employees over it, so you’ve got to intervene.