Employee says he can't take any more knowledge in

I need some help with my thinking regarding an employee.  I believe we have two issues with him, one won't do and potentially one can't do.

The won't do are several incidents where he has been told by his manager not to do something and he has done it again!  His manager has spoken to him and made it clear that if it happens again we may instigate a formal procedure.

At the same time when his manager spoke to him about the won't do incidents, the employee also informed her that he was unable to take on any more knowledge and if he was trained on a new subject something else would drop out of his brain (I kid you not, this is what he said).

I advised the manager to speak to him to try and understand what his issue was and what we can do to help, ie did he need more training, a different way of being trained, etc.

The employee just re-iterated the issue that he can't take any more knowledge in and related it to a car fuel tank and he's nearly full and he can't take any more in.

We provide ERP software to small/medium size businesses and the employee's role is consultancy so he is liaising with new/existing customers to understand their processes and advise them on the appropriate solutions.  The role requires a wealth of knowledge and experience which is built up from previous experience and training etc provided by us.

I'm really not sure what to do here, my instinct is to put him onto a PIP or should I consider something else?  Is this a won't do as well, ie he is not prepared to learn anything else?


  • I think he is saying his stress levels are at max
    I would therefore be trying to find out what you and/or he can do reduce that stress.
    Alternatively he is acknowledging that he is going beyond his levels of competence/confidence, which means a different difficult discussion.
  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    24 Sep, 2021 16:15

    It does sound like he is struggling - at least he is opening up about his limitations. How about coaching/buddy scheme/development plan etc? (I have my line manager hat on here!) Also a sit down chat about his personal situation and anything that could be affecting his ability to work?
  • In reply to Johanna:

    Thank you
  • There are some conditions that cause cognitive difficulties, so maybe an OH referral would uncover an undiagnosed condition. In others in stressful situations they just can't recall basic information so maybe crib sheets or check lists might help. In PDF format they can be accessed on a mobile phone for easy access. So maybe eventually he may improve but then again we can't all be rock stars or fighter pilots (which is why I ended up in L&D!!) maybe this is just a case of the Peter principle in action and the role being beyond their capabilities.
  • In reply to Jim:

    Agree with Jim here - and agree referral to Occupational Health is a stage you should try before making any final decisions

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    28 Sep, 2021 11:28

    In reply to Cass Clothier:

    In principle I agree... but not sure we have enough information to make that call. If it is as simple as a recognition that they are at the limit of their current "competence/confidence" (as Peter put it)... a OH referral would come somewhat out of the blue.
  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Sadly for many people OH is the Go To option.

    I can see it might be right here but would take a bit of getting to.
  • In reply to Peter Stanway:

    OH is something to consider but at the moment it is at the back of my mind. We have decided to have a chat with the employee to understand why they think they can't take any more info, what we can do to assist etc.
  • I wonder if he is struggling with his currentwork load and doesnt feel he can articulate that, or is he just not enjoying his role. There are many reasons he could feel negatively to learning additional activities. I would definately investigate his wellbeing. IF he is on the spectrum I agree OH would be worth exploring to identify a way forward.
  • I had something very like this. The staff member was very transparent and honest in a discussion with me. When we dug a little deeper he described it as having too many filing cabinet drawers open, referring to the breadth of work he had and not being able to remember the detail of what was in each drawer, he was worried that by opening more 'drawers' it would all the cabinets would topple over. What we came up with was a prioritised plan of what he had to deliver and when so that he was able to open, then shut each drawer having completed on that piece of work. So, it was a bit like a PIP but as I said, he was very open.
  • I'm interested why he keeps doing things despite being told not to. This sounds like the main issue. Once you know that you'll be able to see if there's any underlying link between the two - bloodyminded and attention seeking? or Autistic? or Stress? or something else
  • It really doesn't sound like 'won't do' to me so the initial approach should be supportive rather than disciplinary. I think the first thing I would want to ask would be whether there are any issues at home, e.g. family, health or financial concerns which may be affecting his performance at work. If so, has he spoken to anyone about these issues?

    He does sound like he is at breaking point. At the very least he may benefit from taking some time off to recharge his batteries?
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    30 Sep, 2021 14:30

    This has turned into a really interesting discussion. Thanks for starting it!
  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    I was basing this on the assumption of all other avenues being explored and discussed in concert with employee as I agree that to refer without discussion would be a bolt out of the blue. Like Isabel says on the surface it doesnt sound like 'wont do' - I have seen an example very similar to this where the employee kept writing himself little messages and notes to try and keep a track of things but kept forgetting to either pass on the notes to the relevant person or wasnt able to recall the reason/context behind the message. At the root of this was a cognitive issue which the candidate hadnt disclosed because he himself had never been formally diagnosed though he had 'suspected' there might be something.