Every Office Has One(sie)

, , , , , , | Working | June 19, 2018

Several years ago, my company was looking to hire an intern, and we received an impassioned application from a young woman in her early 20s. She didn’t have much experience, but she seemed driven, smart, and dedicated, and we felt like we could take a chance on her. All of us kind of empathized with being that young person, trying to get a foot in the door and get noticed. The job involved a lot of basic “intern-y” stuff like paperwork and emails and data entry, but also involved attending meetings and check-up calls with our clients, contractors, and so forth, more to take notes or answer basic questions and take information than anything huge or stressful. It was basically a lot of the sort of work that we were desperate for an intern to handle so we could focus more on our bigger projects and our main duties. Since we knew it was a significant amount of work, even if it was mostly made up of a lot of little things, it was paying more than minimum wage.

When we called her in for her interview, she seemed different from her application. She was very quiet, a little awkward, and stumbled through speaking, though we chalked it up to nerves. Because it was only a four-month internship with option for us to hire permanently or “renew” the agreement, it didn’t seem like much of a risk to us, and we decided to hire her. The first few weeks went… okay. She seemed so outgoing in her application and emails when we’d followed up with her, but around the office she was quiet as a mouse and seemed to be trying to actively avoid people, even after extensive training. She did her work quickly and effectively, but any time she had to do something that involved working with her coworkers, or clients, face-to-face, she found some way to get out of it.

Because that sort of thing was in her job description, which she assured us she could do before we hired her, that just wasn’t acceptable. I tried to speak with her privately about it, and she told me she was just not used to dealing with people professionally, and swore she’d get better and try harder. I was not unsympathetic; I might have been ten years or so older than her, but I knew what it was like to be the awkward, anxious gal… Heck, I still am, and get a lot of social anxiety; I’m just better able to hide it and work with it. But as her first month dragged into her second and we didn’t see an improvement, that sympathy turned into frustration; my coworkers and I were left holding the bag for a lot of the duties she was specifically brought on to handle that involve dealing with people in person or over the phone, all because she was uncomfortable or nervous. It got to the point where she was not doing half of what her job required, something that annoyed my boss more and more when he was paying her significantly above minimum wage for an internship, making him feel like she was coasting. We’re a small, tight-knit company and he’s an extremely generous boss, but all of that depends on all of us handling our responsibilities so we can rely on one another.

I pulled her into my office and told her, frankly, that if she couldn’t get around this and we couldn’t find a reasonable solution that didn’t involve her hiding every time she was expected to talk to someone, or coming up with excuses, it was not going to work out and she was going to be let go. She got teary, and then defensive, saying she’d been trying but it was hard, and she just needed us to be a little patient and understanding. At this point, she’d been “trying” for almost two months, and we hadn’t seen even a little progress since the beginning. I told her as gently but firmly as I was able that at the end of the day, this was still a job and we were still a business, and if she literally could not do the job she was specifically hired to do, we’d have to part ways.

The very next day, she was supposed to be sitting in on a meeting with one of our contractors and a coworker, both to take down information to update our system with later, and to get some experience on how these things went so in the future — if she got her act together and was hired on– she could handle them herself, and gain insight and experience into the industry itself. As it was, she’d mostly just gained insight and experience into being your standard office gofer.

Because I was wrapped up in my own work I didn’t get to see this happen, but my coworker came storming back after, angry and embarrassed, because our intern, this adult helping to represent us as a company in a business setting, showed up to this professional meeting in. A. Unicorn. Onesie. I absolutely refused to believe he wasn’t joking until I heard from everyone else. The contractor — who was more confused and made awkward than anything else, and thankfully as understanding as she could be about it — attested to it, including how the intern dragged her chair away from the table and sat in the corner with her head down, taking notes and not speaking, as did everybody else in the office who had seen it. Apparently, she just stood up shortly after she sat down, grabbed her things, and left.

I tried getting a hold of her multiple times, but she ignored all attempts to contact her, even though you could see her on social media out partying with her friends and chatting online. She even went so far as to delete every single reference she had ever posted to working for or with us. Because she still seemed to be active and happy, we just decided to drop it. We never saw her again, but it still remains the single most bizarre experience of my career, maybe even my adult life. All we could guess is that she just got overwhelmed and maybe wore it as some sort of comfort thing, then got embarrassed and fled. I’m still not 100% sure whether it was some elaborate troll, but I honestly can’t figure out what the point would be. I looked her up again recently; she seems happy and healthy, and is working for another company in a completely different industry, so it seems like everything worked out for her. The whole incident was just so strange I wanted to reach out to her and ask her what the hell happened, but ultimately I decided she was probably far more embarrassed by the ordeal than I was impacted by it and let it lie. She seems to be doing very well for herself, and at the end of the day, that’s worth more than my curiosity.

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