our job candidates have to give “positivity presentations”

A reader writes:

Let me start by saying I love my office and I love my job, but sometimes management gets a little weird about handling conflict.

We have a small pool of coworkers who are up for an internal promotion, and one of the candidates has caused nothing but drama. She claims that other members of the office are causing discord because we used to all take breaks together and that’s beginning to taper off. In reality, she’s the one causing the discord. She seems to think she’s being victimized and alienated because she hasn’t been invited along on lunch breaks. (We’ve never had to invite anyone on lunch breaks. It’s always been whoever wants to show up in our agreed upon lunch area can, and she’s been here long enough to know that.) Besides, she chooses not to go on lunch breaks with everyone else so she can run errands and do other work. She’s opting out; she’s not being left out.

Anyway, she’s pointed the finger enough to raise concerns with our management that there may be something wrong in that division. Now the candidates for the promotion have to jump through all sorts of hoops, including “positivity presentations” where they have to come up with initiatives to foster positivity in the workplace. One of the requirements of the presentation is that the candidates, acting as team leaders, must get everyone in the division involved.

I’m interested in your take on this. It seems like a ridiculous way to handle the problem, but that’s just me. Why not just sit down and talk to this coworker causing the issues, instead of making the rest of the candidates and the entire division solve a problem she’s responsible for? How are they expected to solve a problem they didn’t contribute to? And finally, is it wrong for management to consider this candidate for the promotion when she’s causing these issues? I don’t think she’d be very good in the role as it is lower level management and requires trust of her employees, which I feel like she’s been steadily destroying. Should they just remove her from consideration?

What?!

Yes, that is indeed a ridiculous way to handle the problem, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that you’re adults, not young children.

Yes, they should indeed just sit down and talk with this candidate and get a better handle on what’s going on. And it’s especially important that they do that before considering promoting her, because someone causing this kind of social drama is not a great bet for promotion, especially since it sounds like she’d be moving into a role where she’d be managing other people, because it’s helpful for managers to be grown-ups.

Requiring all candidates to give “positivity presentations” is guaranteed to nauseate good candidates and make them question whether they want a role where such a thing is required. It’s also sending a terrible message to everyone forced to sit through these presentations: that this is a company that will find convoluted, round-about ways to address perceived problems (without even finding out if there’s a real problem to begin with) rather than addressing them directly. Seriously, blowing a hiring process with something absurd like this is ridiculous.

When there’s drama that’s impacting work — and it’s not clear that this even rises to that level — you sit down with whoever’s involved, do whatever conflict resolution is appropriate (or direct the parties to do it themselves, if realistic), and then get people back to work. And you take it as a flag to look at people’s goals, performance, and workloads and to assess whether there’s an issue of low workload or low performance, because often serious drama ties back to one or both of those, and solving those will often solve your drama problem.

I hope all the other candidates say that their initiatives to “foster positivity” would just be to hire strong people, give them clear goals and resources to achieve those goals, and treat them like adults.

{ 112 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber T

    Wow. This would be a huge red flag for me. This just seems very silly and a ridiculous amount of extra work for people who shouldn’t even be involved.

    1. Jeanne

      I would not want to do the interview. I don’t know if it’s a red flag though. It says they’re all internal candidates for a promotion so they probably already know management is weird. But the best candidates will be turned off and they probably get someone worse than otherwise.

      1. Charityb

        I think as internal candidates it might be more awkward for them to back out now after it’s known that they’re vying for the position. If these were outside people they could just politely excuse themselves and walk away knowing that they will likely never see any of these people again, but they might not feel comfortable doing the same thing since they will have to work with these people from now on either way.

        They may also feel more pressure to try to resolve the tension between the coworkers and rehabilitate their image in management’s eyes; I get the feeling that the management team only hears about this situation from the drama queen coworker.

  2. BRR

    I may just be feeling extra cynical today but would it count to make a presentation on firing the problem employee? That sounds like something that would foster positivity that everybody could get behind.

    1. Nother Name

      I agree, and I used to work for Disney! (In all honesty, they had a better handle on the limits of positivity and what great customer service truly means than most other places I’ve come across. I mean, they were smart enough to hire Tim Burton and let him be… Tim Burton.)

    2. Elizabeth West

      That’s a great book. I posted it as a current read on LinkedIn when I was job searching. I figured that would weed out any potential employers who would pull stupid crap like that and were peeking at my profile.

  3. Student

    Since this drama is now figuring into the promotion process, I would say it is definitively “impacting work”.

    OP, if I were you, I’d talk to management about this from your perspective. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. It sounds like management has only heard from your aggrieved co-worked so far. You’d better weigh in with your perspective soon so they get some clue about what’s really going on. She’s successfully made you all sound like nuts to your management chain – it’s past time to start combating that.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yes totally. It concerns me how they took the drama queens complaints at face value and automatically assumed them to be correct. So much so that they implemented this crazy tactic.

      1. Jerzy

        It sounds to me that rather than management assuming the drama queen is correct, they are simply avoiding the issue however they can. They don’t even want to do the work to gain an opinion of who is correct. They want someone else (i.e. their employees) to solve the issue for them, and in the most inane way possible.

    2. Chickaletta

      +1.

      I’m usually not a fan of complaining to management about another employee, but in this case it would be a smart move. They need to know how the rest of the office feels because they’ve judged the situation completely wrong.

    3. OP

      Hi there! I have actually recently spoken to management about this and gave them my perspective. It turns out they are more aware of the problem than I realized, but they had no idea the employee was basically making up problems because she feels “left out” of off the clock activities. They sounded really pleased to have my take on it and they are monitoring her VERY carefully. I got the impression that she has effectively removed herself from consideration.

      1. VideogamePrincess

        So what’s the deal? Are they still going to make you find the best brand of tape to keep smiles in place?

  4. BadPlanning

    The funny bit to me is that if they started to humor annoying coworker and swing by all the time and say, “Hey, it’s lunch time” then I imagine she’d feel harassed instead.

    1. Ops Analyst

      But there is a difference between humoring someone and taking their complaint and magnifying your response to it at a level that someone could call harassment. I get that it’s hard to want to include someone that is seen as A Problem, but I think that if they did actually swing by her desk and invite her to lunch a few times (until she feels permanently invited) that a lot of that complaint would be solved.

      Of course, if someone is just the type to cause drama they will find another way. But I don’t think actually inviting her to lunch would be a bad idea, so long as it is done in a sincere way, not in a mocking her complaint way.

      1. Jerzy

        As I understand it, she did used to participate, then she opted to start doing other things during her lunch hour. That’s when she started feeling excluded. Her invitation did not become null and void just because she decided not to participate for a certain period of time.

        And even if it were, frankly, feeling excluded from a perceived social gathering at work sucks (and I know from experience), but I would never go to my boss about it. It’s ridiculous that she did.

        1. fposte

          Yeah, that’s the thing for me. I could easily see somebody deciding to run errands *because* she felt excluded, so I don’t think that’s proof of opting out. But I also don’t think that from a management standpoint it matters, because this isn’t management-level stuff.

          1. OP

            That’s actually an interesting point I’d like to clarify. We all had lunch together for the longest time…ironically, SHE was the one who opted out of taking lunch first. The rest of the group tapered off from there as we filled our lunch hours with other activities as well, but she was the first to stop coming to lunch. So the fact that she’s complaining about being excluded now holds no water whatsoever.

            1. Pipette

              She might feel that she is missing out on socialisation in general because the lunch was/is the main and “easy” socialising venue at work. So if you don’t join the lunch gang, you will have to work harder to keep up with the gossip and banter. And if you’re a bit socially incompetent, that might be too hard but you still hear colleagues refer to fun stuff that was discussed during lunch, and then you feel left out. So basically she ate the cake but now she’s sad that she has no cake.

              I’m not defending her – she seems to have dealt with it in an immature manner – but just wanted to point out that there might be some legitimate ground to her feelings.

              1. OP

                No, I agree. I think her feelings are absolutely legitimate. But I also think they’re based on non-issues that she’s made into a bigger deal than they need to be. The fact that she thinks complaining about feeling left out and not being best friends with her coworkers will get her a promotion is beyond me, though.

      2. Elizabeth West

        I’m sorry, but I don’t want to include someone on my OFF WORK TIME who is such a drama llama that the company would actually do this to placate her. I would use my lunch hour to get away from her!

  5. Ama

    Ugh, this reminds me of an old manager of mine. I was the last hire into a four person department (including her) and the other two non-managers had been working together for years, lived in the same neighborhood, and hung out frequently outside work. It bothered Manager so much that they never invited her (although in addition to not wanting to hang out with their boss, Manager also lived on the opposite end of the city, making weekend/snow day hanging out difficult for practical reasons).

    When I was hired, Manager tried to get me to take sides with her against the other two (including warning me on my very first day that the others would try to sabotage me), but I managed to stay out of it. Manager ended up “resigning” with no notice a year later (before she could be fired), and my coworkers and I had to really pull together to keep things running for the six months it took a replacement to be found.

    Tl;dr — OP if your employer makes drama queen the manager, start looking now.

  6. SRC

    One thing that stood out to me was how defensive you were about not inviting this person to lunch. You say she should have just known that she could eat with you, but if she’s introverted, shy, or has a social disorder, there’s no obvious reason why she would assume she was wanted at an already established lunch group. I don’t understand why when it was first brought up that this person felt excluded, someone didn’t just pop by her desk and say, “hey, wanted you to know that everyone is welcome to eat lunch at (place). We hope to see you there sometime!”

    I realize that now bridges are burned, but you might want to give that message to all new hires if they don’t start coming on their own.

    1. Myrin

      I feel like someone who’s introverted, shy, or has a social disorder wouldn’t react in such a drama llama-y way, though. (I also feel like the original “offence” doesn’t really matter here anymore since clearly it’s become a much bigger problem by now which probably doesn’t have anything to do with office lunches anymore – I doubt all this ridiculous behaviour on both her and management’s side would just stop if someone just invited her to lunch now.)

      1. Renny90

        I agree. I’m a shy introvert and if I really wanted to join my coworkers for lunch I would just ask.

      2. Anna

        Yep. As even a mild introvert I’ve been hurt plenty of times about not being included when I probably could have just included myself, but I would NEVER bring it up to a boss or otherwise cause drama about it.

    2. Seal

      Agreed. I once was temporarily located in a office space in the middle of another department and it was very, very difficult not knowing whether or not I could or should assume that I was welcome to attend parties or help myself to food brought for the entire office. Since the other department (my peer) and I did not get along well, I always erred on the side of not attending, only to find out much later that people considered ME to be cold and standoffish when I simply didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I, on the other hand, am still offended that they would have parties literally 5 feet from my desk and not even offer me a cookie. After all, as I was constantly reminded, I was the visitor in THEIR space. The whole thing was ridiculous and could easily have been resolved with a 2 minute conversation.

    3. JustALurker

      It doesn’t sound like she is all that “shy or introverted” since she has raised enough hell that management decided to change the hiring/promotion process. And even if she does have some sort of social disorder, good management would have addressed “lonely co-worker’s” issue simply and directly instead of making the hiring/promotion process so ridiculous and convoluted.

      1. SRC

        That could be a bad manager magnifying the issue.

        It could also be that when manager raised the issue, people got defensive (like the attitude in the letter) and everything got blown out of proportion, so now the company is trying to figure out how to stop the Cold War.

        LW didn’t write in for advice, they wrote in to get support for their perception of the situation. And maybe they are totally in the right and the company is crazy! Or maybe the narrative they’ve constructed for themselves leaves out their own culpability in the situation sliding so far down the rabbit hole. I have no way of knowing. I just wanted to give LW an alternative to what could have been done if the situation was as I described, so that she might think about it in a different way.

        1. OP

          I honestly haven’t re-read the letter since I sent it in so I don’t know if I was coming across as defensive or not. That certainly wasn’t the intention. I just don’t tolerate drama well, and I’m in a weird position because I’m her closest friend. Of course I want to help her, but wow. We’re adults here and I feel like enough is enough. At the end of the day, her behavior is very telling that she should not be the one considered for this promotion.

          (That sounded defensive again, didn’t it?)

      2. I'm a Little Teapot

        Even if the coworkers are deliberately not inviting Drama to lunch with them, what is management going to do, force them to hang out on their lunch break with a drama-loving jerk they don’t like?

        1. OP

          Even if they could do that, dramatic coworker would opt out. She’s really arguing that people are leaving her out of an event that maybe two or three people attend now. The rest of us opted out because we have other things to do on lunch breaks now. She’s doing other things on her break, too. Even when we tried inviting her for a few times after everyone else tapered off, she’s turned it down because she’s running errands.

    4. some1

      I didn’t get that impression from the letter at all. I got everyone who wants to go eat in the break room does. The drama coworker used to so and knows that whomever wants to is welcome.

        1. Myrin

          Agreed. There doesn’t seem to ever have been “an established lunch group” since the letter says “[i]t’s always been whoever wants to show up”, and I’ve found that it’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference between the two situations.

          1. AnotherAlison

            Well, it seems easy to tell from one side. I’m an eternal outsider, and I tend to assume I’m not welcome unless I’m invited. It’s a mean girl thing to let someone join in to mock them, right? I don’t assume that’s what the op is actually doing, but we know the drama llama coworker is seeing things differently from the op.

      1. neverjaunty

        It’s not clear to me either the extent to which this is a misunderstanding – OP certainly believes it’s obvious that anyone is welcome, but if the group is coming across as clique-ish or if it isn’t clear that anyone can bop in, that can lead to someone feeling like they either have to invite themselves or be excluded. I can see why SRC picked up on it sounding like OP is defensive – though maybe it’s just that things have escalated given the dramatically inappropriate response.

      2. Myrin

        And, upon re-reading, I just saw that it does indeed say “we used to all take breaks together” – it isn’t clear whether that’s something the OP tells us here or whether it’s indirect speech by drama coworker but either way, it seems pretty clear that once upon a time, drama coworker actually participated in these lunches. Leaving aside the question of how this kind of “feeling left out” situation could have come out of this in the first place (I really don’t quite see the progression of events here but whatever, I maintain that it ultimately doesn’t matter), I feel like we can’t really infer coworker thinking it’s not okay to attend the lunches.

    5. Renny90

      If you reread the letter, it sounds like this employee has worked there long enough to know the deal about lunch.

    6. Jerzy

      I’m an introvert, and prefer to have lunch time to myself when possible. I know that if I want to have lunch with someone, I may have to ask them, but most of the time, I welcome a respite from needing to be interacting with people.

    7. Liane

      Huh? The question clearly stated that Drama Queen used to go lunch with them. Which means that at some point she wasn’t too shy to join every one else without an explicit invite.

    8. OP

      I don’t think I made that point very clear in my letter, so thanks for bringing it up. We started working together on the same day in a large group of people. From the get go, we are lunch together every day. Fast forward over two years, she’s the first to opt out to run errands on her break instead and now complains that nobody’s hanging out with her. It’s entirely self-inflicted. I promise I’m not just being callous about her response. Also, she’s an extrovert.

    9. collegeemployee

      I have actually been in a situation where I was deliberately excluded. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors invited all the graduate students to class except for me. The only reason that I knew that I wasn’t invited is that I ran into them at on-campus dining and they all looked embarrassed to see me including the professor. I probably could have complained and gotten invited to lunch. But I did not want to spend time with people pretending to like me. And it is possible that she will feel that way about any future invitations.

      If she is not normally a drama queen, is it possible that there is something else going on in her life that is causing her to be overly sensitive? It might make sense for someone to sit down and talk to her. Maybe her complaint about lunch is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

      Another possibility is to either post an invitation for lunch to all employees in the break room or in the company announcements (assuming the company has announcements) making it clear all are invited?

  7. LBK

    Yet another letter on this site where I just want to post a GIF of Lana Kane saying “Noooooope!”

    Would one of these promotions be into a position that would be supervisor the problem employee? If so, maybe some covert ops are in order: say what you need to in the presentation in order to get the promotion, then once you’re actually in power, fire her.

    Ultimately the real goal would be to infiltrate the leadership team to the point that you can change the method of problem solving from touchy-feely nonsense to actual performance management, but this wouldn’t be a bad first step.

  8. F.

    As someone who chooses to spend my lunch time by myself on a nice walk or in the company of a good book, recharging my batteries for the afternoon, I find it odd that this employee would complain about being left out…that is IF she is choosing to be by herself at lunch. I have been the person who was left standing in the cafeteria with no table at which to eat because I was excluded from all of the cliques. While complaining to management about being left out sounds rather like junior high, I would like to hear the other person’s side of the story. It is entirely possible that she perceives the situation differently than the OP and her friends do.

    It is possible that management is seeing more of the bigger picture and wants the people involved to solve the problem themselves, hence the “positivity presentations.” Although a juvenile sounding idea, it would force those up for the promotion to examine the entire situation from an objective viewpoint to come up with possible solutions that allow everyone to work together. If management thought one particular person was being a “drama queen” and that their complaints had no merit at all, it is likely they would have already taken care of the situation, and the drama queen would not be being considered for a promotion at all. Anyone who is promoted from this dysfunctional group will have to be able to rise above the group dynamics and manage the entire team.

    1. Mickey Q

      I too would like to hear the other side of the story. Perhaps management thinks the OP is the drama queen. Maybe the candidate runs errands at lunch to avoid being obviously left out. This could all easily be avoided if she simply was asked to join the group for lunch. The OP comes off sounding like a mean girl.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s possible, but the fact that their management has come up with such a ludicrous idea and the OP recognizes it as such are points in favor of her being the sane one.

          1. F.

            Cell phone not playing well with my fingers today!
            In my experience, so-called mean girls never recognize themselves, not to say that the OP is mean. And who’s to say that the person who feels left out doesn’t also think the presentations are ludicrous, too. We have only the OP’s side of the story.

            1. fposte

              And we give the OPs the benefit of the doubt–otherwise why would they write in?

              I also don’t think it matters whether the other person thinks the presentations are ludicrous, because I don’t think the real workplace issue here is the colleague but the management. Lots of places have colleagues who feel slighted, or people who like to hang together in part and not in whole. Even assuming that’s management’s job to change–which is a big assumption–making positivity homework for the office is not the solution.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

                It’s not as if we haven’t had Drama Queens in our place. But we (management) never feed them.

        1. OP

          I appreciate that. :) I did talk to management. Our department is set up a little oddly. It’s like this:
          Director
          Assistant Director
          Me
          Position candidates are vying for
          Candidates in their current roles

          My relationship to the candidates is actually a little outside of the list. I have no hiring/firing power, but I work directly for the person who does, so I have an excellent relationship with her. I have approached the situation as objectively as possible in terms of “this is what I’ve been hearing and I don’t want to pull myself into it but I think you’ve been getting misinformation.” I think because I approached it from a calm and level point of view and because I have a good relationship with the Assistant Director, she would agree that I’m the sane one.

          I also have a reputation as being overly logical and (admittedly) emotionally unavailable, while the coworker up for a promotion is notoriously emotional. Oddly enough, I think that helps in this situation.

      2. Colette

        Really? I don’t get that at all. But even if management thinks the OP is a drama queen, positivity presenations are not the way to deal with that. If that’s what they think is going on, they should be dealing with it directly.

    2. Colette

      The thing is, management didn’t ask them how they’d deal with this situation. “Positivity presentation” could mean a lot of things, and is more about avoiding conflict than dealing with it.

    3. LBK

      Even if this is somehow supposed to be a signal to the employees to work out their issues on their own, it’s really ineffective management because good managers don’t send hints through ridiculous exercises. If the problem is drama, you fix it by setting an expectation that the drama stops now and then holding people accountable to it. Petty problems don’t justify petty solutions.

  9. Ops Analyst

    Regarding the lunch issue, I used to work in a place where everyone on my team went to lunch together on Tuesday’s. They had been doing this for years, looooong before I worked there myself. I had even been to some of the lunches before I worked there because I have family that worked there and occasionally family went.

    Even though I knew anyone could go (and that my sister went most of the time), it felt very clique-ish. I felt like I needed to be invited in order to go and not feel out of place. In the back of my head I thought they would be thinking “who is this, and why is she here?” even after I worked there for a long time.

    That’s not to say the drama is justified, but something to think about. Not everyone feels super comfortable or outgoing enough to just show up to group functions like that.

    1. Colette

      That’s a pretty normal way to feel, but it’s not one her colleagues can or should solve for her. She’s been invited, she knows everyone is welcome. If she chooses to let her anxiety keep her away, that’s a legitimate (albeit limiting) choice. It’s not up to others to invite her in a way that will overcome that.

      1. Myrin

        And even if that is how she feels – which I doubt, as I said above – the way to deal with that really isn’t to start such a ruckus that suddenly has management, internal candidates, and promotions involved.

      2. Ops Analyst

        I wasn’t saying OP needed to solve it. And OP actually said that no one has been invited, including OP. I think it’s valuable to consider why a person might be feeling the way they do.

        1. Colette

          I agree, up to a point. I think it’s worth the OP thinking about whether they’ve done anything to make her (or others) feel excluded, but I think the onus is more on the coworker to speak up and act like a grownup – either by asking whether she can join them, by speaking up when they do something offensive, or by deciding to do something else.

          The danger with speculating about why someone acts the way they do is that there’s a good chance you’ll be wrong. People have lots of motivations, and trying to guess them can lead to armchair diagnosing medical issues, for example.

          1. OP

            Idk if it makes a difference but for the record, I don’t go to lunch with the group anymore, either. I opted out just like this coworker did and I’m not crying to management about being excluded.

    2. LBK

      I think that’s such a weird thing to begrudge people, though. Of course people who have been working together for years will have established traditions together that you won’t naturally fit into as the newer person, because they have strong relationships that they don’t have with you. I think there’s a tendency to look at these groups and think the only overlap on the Venn diagram is “coworkers,” and therefore it feels exclusionary to be left out since you also have that overlap. In reality, usually the overlap that matters here is “friends” or at least “work friends,” and that’s a circle you can’t force your way into just by showing up at the office (or even by taking advantage of a standing invitation a few times).

      Work relationships form organically over time just like any other relationships, and it strikes me as a little out of touch to expect to be instant friends with anyone forced to be in your proximity. It feels like the elementary school “don’t bring in cookies unless you bring enough for the whole class” mindset.

      1. Ops Analyst

        But I didn’t say anyone was supposed to be instant friends or imply that there was something wrong with that group for doing that. The group can be acting in a completely normal and acceptable way and still there could be a new person feeling left out. I’m not saying that is someone’s fault, but it is an explanation.

      2. need more canoodling un my life

        I love that sentence “Work relationships form organically over time”. I have a new co-worker who got upset with me because she organized an outing for outside of work and I declined to go. She gave me grief over it and then went to the boss and I was pulled aside and was told to be nicer to her. My original reply to her e-mail was something to the effect of ‘Thank you for inviting me but I just don’t have the time’. I have a full time job and a part time job and I am taking classes. Trust me, if I have spare time, I am grocery shopping, doing laundry, or canoodling with my boyfriend. My second reply to her when she asked me to explain my decline to her get together was to let her know about my part time job and classes and say that I would love to have more spare time for fun but that apparently was a sign from Satan to her and things have just deteriorated from there. My other co-workers are giving me support but any time she enters the office, there is tension between everyone. Like the OP, I didn’t sign up for this and I am not happy being churned in the wake. With her trying to force relationships, it just distanced a lot of people away from her.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          Wow – someone who gets angry at you for declining an invitation outside of work, and management takes HER side?

          It’s impossible to force other people to be friends with you. (Don’t most people figure this out in elementary school?) It’s also impossible to force your subordinates to be friends. Ugh.

    3. Ops Analyst

      Well, I wasn’t begrudging people or implying that OP needed to solve it for her. I just meant that it’s a perspective that could be considered if you’re wondering why she may not feel invited. OP specifically said that she hadn’t been invited and that no one is ever invited. I was offering insight as to why the coworker could feel the way she does.

    4. OP

      We all started working at this company on the same day, though. This has been an established routine from day one, and she was part of the original group who started going to lunch together. Very unusual that she would feel left out now.

      1. LBK

        Yeah, with this additional context I’m pretty firmly on your side of the story. If she opted out of something she always had equal opportunity to participate in, I don’t know what you’re expected to do at that point.

        1. OP

          Yeah. That’s why it’s frustrating to see her escalating it to management. It’s her own doing and it’s something she could easily change. I think she would rather believe the fault lies with somebody else.

          I’m not sure she realizes this has ruined her chances at the promotion, but that’s the vibe I’ve received from management about her. It seems like they’re seeing through her drama at this point, so that’s good. :)

  10. OriginalYup

    Ugh. Just ugh. I really hate it when companies breed this kind of sparkle flavored garbage through wimpy avoidance.
    If I were one of the candidates for promotion, I’d be hard pressed to come up with “positivity presentation” that didn’t consist of me, sitting at the conference table with a WTF expression on my face, saying, “My positivity plan is to give everyone raises and not stand for any nonsense on meeting high performance standards.”

  11. hbc

    Sounds like it’s been handled badly all around. She obviously shouldn’t be complaining the way she is, and a generic plan to foster productivity isn’t going to address the issue. But I take issue with this: “It’s always been whoever wants to show up in our agreed upon lunch area can, and she’s been here long enough to know that.”

    The group may know that, may feel it in their hearts, may think it radiates out of their pores, but it’s not that obvious to many people on the outside. *You* know that the gregarious new coworker wandered in without an invitation, but the shy or socially awkward person does not. (You can’t hear a non-invitation.) Or maybe they do, but still would feel odd coming over uninvited.

    Once the first complaint of exclusivity got back to, well, anyone, it should have been stated plainly to her that “Hey, sorry if you’ve been feeling left out. It’s a completely open group, and you’re welcome to join any time.” Her second complaint looks a heck of a lot stupider if she’s ignoring a clear standing invitation.

    1. fposte

      I think you’re right that it’s just a good approach to state that and to be the side that *isn’t* getting their back up about it, and I like your language.

    2. Jerzy

      My husband has a bad tendency to tell people they can “drop by whenever,” and then gets offended when they don’t. I’ve told him most people don’t feel comfortable with that kind of open door policy and that, at least the first few visits, we should invite them over at a specific date and time.

      That said, I agree wholeheartedly that it’s straight up ridiculous to complain to your boss about feeling left out from lunch, especially when you’ve always chosen to use your lunch hour for something else. And it’s even more ridiculous how management has decided to deal with this non-issue.

    3. LBK

      I’m not sure I’d include the “sorry you’ve been feeling left out” since that sounds a little infantilizing to say to an adult – I’d be embarrassed to have someone call out my emotions like that in the office. I’d just make sure I extend a single, explicit invitation next time you go out (“We’re going to the pizza place for lunch today, want to join?”) and if it’s turned down, follow up with something like “No worries, if you feel like joining us another day there’s a bunch of us that usually meet at Jane’s desk around 12.”

      I think basically pretending everything up to this point hasn’t happened helps the coworker retain the most dignity rather than making her feel like the weird kid that got invited to the birthday party out of pity.

      1. fposte

        That’s a possibility too–what I was liking about hbc’s point, though, is that it makes it clear that this isn’t an invitation situation, so that waiting for an invitation wasn’t the thing to do; that’s why I like that better than issuing a specific invitation and then having the situation start itself all over again if you don’t keep doing that. (And I think in some cases it can really help to acknowledge there’s been hurt feelings, but that depends if you have direct knowledge and the rest of the situation.)

        1. Kyrielle

          I think instead of saying sorry for her feeling left out, it might be better to say something like, “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you – anyone who wants to show up is more than welcome. We didn’t mean to exclude you, and I’m sorry we didn’t communicate that!”

        2. LBK

          That’s a good point about setting an expectation that there will always be an explicit invitation. I think I’m coming at it from a perspective similar to the one Jerzy mentioned above – that sometimes vague, general invitations of “you can join whenever” read like “I’m just being polite but I don’t want to spend time with you badly enough to set up a specific occasion.” It’s a little like “we should do this again some time” in the dating world. Giving an invite to a specific lunch and then following it up with an open invitation feels more personal and genuine to me.

    4. OP

      I should have mentioned this in the letter because it’s tripping everybody up. We all started working there on the same day. It’s been an established tradition since day one, and coworker has known it for over two years. Very odd that she’s trying to play the excluded card when she was part of the group that established the tradition.

  12. Zscore

    In my experience, when drama flares and a higher up pays attention to the drama-maker, it’s because they, too, are a drama-maker. Who would listen to this kind of junior high silliness but someone who has an appetite for junior high silliness? I’ve been the meat in a drama sandwich before, with a direct report creating drama and the manager above encouraging it. It’s a quagmire.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I tend to agree. I think that management does not know how to handle the complaint, which is almost more concerning than the complaint itself.

      I would like to know how she explained the problem to management. Maybe that is part of the problem. OP is explaining an argument involving lunch invites. Does management understand that is the extent of the problem or do they think there is something bigger/more sinister going on?

      I am not sure if OP can actually do anything here. I think Alison’s point about some good candidates will not jump through hoops for this job is a terrific point. OP, maybe you can mention that to your boss.
      Maybe you can describe the actual problem to your boss in the context of pointing out that the added steps in the hiring process are not going to cure the problem. No matter which way this lands, if the coworker does or does not get the new job, she will probably still be one angry coworker. The new job has nothing to do with her anger nor does it do anything to cure her anger.

      As a boss I could not make people have lunch with each other, matter of fact, if I did, matters would only get worse. That is because basically I would be ordering people to eat together… on their time off the clock…. So I said NOPE, not going down that road. While I did insist that people talk to each other decently during the workday, I also said “I can’t MAKE people LIKE each other. They either do or they don’t.But people do have to work cooperatively with each other as that is essential to doing the work we have.”

      Coworkers are similar to family members in one way- you can’t pick your family members and you can’t pick your coworkers. They are just THERE.

      I do have that part of me that likes to move things along, so I am wondering, OP, if you and a couple other people in your department took turns inviting her to lunch (which she claims that is what she wants) then you could see what happens next. (I am betting my last chocolate donut that she does not accept.) But, I would be tempted to try this. If this fails, you can go to management and say “Steve, Sue, Bob and I each took a turn inviting Sally to lunch. Each time she said no.”

      As an aside, if she does accept and she tries to make a pleasant time of it- I would give her points for that. It’s not easy to change gears sometimes, so if she shifted, I would be impressed.

      1. OP

        You’re right. We could take turns inviting her. The only problem is the group of people she’s complaining about has dwindled to two or three. I don’t even go on lunches anymore because I’m working on my Masters degree during lunches. The people who still go to lunch have invited her a few times because she has a history of pulling stuff like this so everyone already tries to invite her more than they would anyone else in the office. She turns them down every time.

        I did talk to management about the presentations, though. They said they are hoping that by teaching about positivity, Dramatic Coworker will learn about it. It’s not a terrible method, but I still feel bad that the other candidates have to jump through these hoops, too. One of them has already dropped out because of it.

        1. Elizabeth West

          No, it IS a terrible method. They’re shirking their responsibility in dealing with her drama by pushing it off onto the coworkers. The fact that one person already said “Nope” and dropped out should be a big fat clue. Making the other employees do this extra work is just enabling and coddling Drama Llama and won’t teach her a thing. All she’s going to learn is that her tantrums work.

          Kind of like a toddler.

  13. New Commenter

    I can’t fathom complaining to Management about something like this or in fact responding in any way other than by making myself scarce at lunch time, but I strongly suspect that there is a clique here and at least one unhappy outsider. Members of cliques never see themselves as those on the outside see them. They also tend to do all they can to discourage intrusions by non-members. As unrealistic a goal as it may be, Management may want all the employees to play nicely together and may think these bizarre presentations will foster this. They may even be trying to communicate that staff members who include others and are “positive” are more likely to win sought-after promotions.

  14. Collarbone High

    Nothing to add except sympathy for the OP. I had an employee like this, and bless his heart, the things he could find to take offense to:

    “People went for drinks after work on Thursday and didn’t invite me.”
    “You were out sick on Thursday.”
    “I’m hurt that I wasn’t included.”
    “You have a 90-minute commute. Why would you want to spend three hours driving, when you’re sick, to have one beer?”
    “It’s because they hate me. I’m not speaking to them anymore.”

    (100% guarantee that if they had invited him, he’d have complained they were inconsiderate. “Don’t they know I was sick and have a 90-minute commute?”)

    1. OP

      Thank you! That was really encouraging to read, so thank you very much. It’s a strange situation, for sure. I’m honestly just glad I’m not management so I only have to deal with the problem as much as I choose to. :P

    2. Dynamic Beige

      At OldJob, there was an employee who was a devout Muslim. At one year’s year end party, they requested that Halal foods be provided, but then didn’t go to the event because alcohol was being served. Uh… if you knew you couldn’t go to the event because it was taking place in a bar and there would be alcohol, then why were you so insistent on having food you could eat there? I mean seriously, is it so hard to say “thank you for considering me but I will not be able to attend. Have a good time!” If you want a party that does not include alcohol, then float that suggestion up and see who also thinks it’s a good idea.

  15. Cheesehead

    Sorry….I’m just stuck on management’s apparent idea that they need to take such a dramatic (and stupid) step in response to HOW A BUNCH OF PEOPLE SPEND THEIR (presumably unpaid) LUNCHES. I mean…..really?

    Honestly, I’d almost go back to management for clarification. “I’m concerned about the need for this positivity exercise to prove our worthiness for promotion. It seems like it’s in a direct response to Lucinda’s notion that she’s excluded during lunch. This is completely untrue, because anyone is always welcome to join us, which she knows. And furthermore, she is the one who is excluding herself by choosing to run errands and voluntarily not join US. So I just don’t understand why she would have a problem with how we spend our lunches, when she goes off and does her own thing anyway. And really, we’re talking about LUNCH, which is unpaid downtime. But I guess that what I’m really confused about is that I’m getting the impression that I’m being judged for a promotion by how I choose to spend my hours off the clock, rather than what I contribute to the company during my work hours. Can you help me to understand the requirements for the promotion, and how our time spent off the clock will affect our eligibility?”

    Then if you’re told that the positivity thing has nothing to do with the coworker’s hissy fit (which I’m sure will happen), then I would politely ask what was the impetus for this change in promotion requirements? Explain that you always try to conduct yourself in a positive, professional way during your working hours, and you’re having a hard time understanding how a presentation about hypotheticals will speak more to your qualifications than the work and positive interaction that you try to demonstrate on a daily basis.

    So essentially, I would really hone in on the “I don’t understand” and “Help me understand” comments to make them explain themselves, all the while stressing your professionalism during working hours.

    1. OP

      You are SO right. I actually went to management and talked to them about coworker’s concerns being about off the clock, unpaid events. Management didn’t have any idea that was the case because they only heard coworker’s side of the story. I’m so glad I cleared things up. Presentations are still a go but management is hoping that coworker causing drama will learn it if they teach it. Even if the method seems ridiculous to me, I admire the goal and think it could be worthwhile.

      1. Graciosa

        Okay, I still think management here remains clueless.

        A drama queen is not going to see the light because she has to give a “positivity” presentation.

        It will never happen.

        Never.

        And management that imagines this is even a possibility is a problem.

        1. OP

          Dramatic Coworker has also threatened to quit if she doesn’t get the promotion, so she’s kind of sealed her own fate here. I think most of us are just waiting for her to make good on her promise and step out.

  16. Tommy Pickles

    “Yes, that is indeed a ridiculous way to handle the problem, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that you’re adults, not young children.”

    Does this mean what it used to, though? I know folks who use the term “adulting” in a non-ironic way to describe the way they act at work; it’s not something that seems to come naturally for many people.

  17. Dynamic Beige

    Honestly, just reading the words “positivity presentations”… I think I threw up in my mouth a little. I don’t think I could get up in front of a group of my peers and do something like this — unless it was something debunking enforced positivity as good for employee morale.

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