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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Is Your Office Helper More of a Hindrance?

Dear Sue: In order to help with my workload, my boss hired a part-time intern for me. She was previously employed in a separate department. In their haste, they did not ask her former supervisor about her work habits. I have since learned that her former department manager was going to fire her prior to my department hiring her. He cited several issues including her lack of respect.

I now fully understand why they were going to let her go. When she doesn't get what she wants or doesn't want to do what she's asked, she rolls her eyes and makes rude comments. She constantly whines about her workspace (she was placed in a common area with a secretary). She feels that she deserves an office as she is not a secretary. I strongly disagree as she is an intern, only works two days a week, and offices are typically reserved for full-time professionals that have earned their dues.

I have warned her about the workspace situation and she has since quieted down. She is highly judgmental and feels that she is always right. I am always amazed by her constant lack of humility. After all she is a college student and has no experience in this field. My field is highly male dominated. She does behave more respectfully toward my male counterparts in my department. As a result I donít feel I will ever trust her. I feel that she wishes to perform well but, her attitude gets in the way.

Today, my boss will be firing her based upon the reasoning that she is more of a hindrance than a help. Why do I feel so guilty? I donít think itís appropriate to reprimand her upon her judgmental attitude, as this is apart of character and a personal matter. What is an appropriate way to handle such matters?

Sue Says: Thanks for writing. Here is my response: Now that this young intern has been let go, perhaps you feel guilty because youíve realized it didnít have to end the way it did. The intern is young and gaining experience. You knew right away that her manner and attitude were a problem and it became a problem for you. Because you didnít think it was appropriate to talk to her about such personal matters as her character, youíre left wondering if she understands why she was let go. After all she is young and still learning.

You might be feeling guilty because you werenít able to give this intern what she so desperately needed; experience, with part of that experience including education about what itís takes to be successful at work. Instead, she was treated like an employee who should have known better than to behave as she did. The reality is she did not know better. Although you did warn her about the workspace situation, you hesitated to talk to her about her attitude and how it was hindering her.

Most college students who seek an internship do so to gain valuable experience to better prepare them for their first real job. An internship typically will benefit both the employer and the intern. The intern does work for the employer and the employer provides experience and on the job training, which in my opinion, includes training in all areas to help these students understand what is expected of them.

I realize attitude and personal character are sensitive issues to address; however, they are highly important matters that will either propel someone forward or hold them back. Most people who have attitude problems donít realize the impact it has on others or on themselves.

As this young womanís supervisor and mentor, you had every right to talk to her about her attitude and behavior and to teach her what is acceptable and what is not. You missed an opportunity to teach her something of great value, but it is not too late. If you want you can still let her know, especially if she asks you why she was let go. Do her a favor and tell her the truth.

I hope this helps. Please donít be too hard on yourself--you were in a difficult situation. I give you credit for reflecting and asking the questions.

Thanks for writing--please let me hear from you again.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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