a good employee who’s really a terrible employee

A reader writes:

My direct manager recently resigned and, until I hear an answer from higher up, I am the acting manager. I’ve been receiving complaints from some of my employees about another employee, let’s call her Leah.

Leah is a very good employee. She meets her goals every day and is always happy to lend a hand. She’s eager to learn other parts of the job so she can help out.

According to others in her department, though, the reason she’s so eager to help is she wants to prove she can do the job all by herself and we can get rid of the other employees. Often she sneaks behind and finishes half-done tasks. These tasks may be left undone for many reasons, and there have been times when she’s caused a major snarl by shipping products that aren’t fully packaged or something akin. Some people have reported that she goes through and pulls the best products for herself, leaving others with sub-standard. With our former manager gone, she seems to think she’s going to be my right hand, and that she can decide her own work duties, including dictating how her peers operate.

Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies, and at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments (that management only ever hears secondhand, of course).

I have told her directly to stop doing these things. I don’t know how well it went over, with it being my first disciplinary action as the acting manager. I’m also concerned that it may affect her relationship with other employees, as she’s been known to take it out on other people when she gets in a foul mood.

Currently we’re in the process of hiring a new full-time position. Leah is very interested in that since she’s only part-time, and has upped her behavior to try to push out any other in-house candidates.

How can I approach her behavior? She does her job very well. She just tries to do everyone else’s as well.

She doesn’t actually do her job very well, because part of her job is getting along reasonably well with coworkers, not messing up their work, and stopping behaviors that you ask her to stop. So the first thing here is to reframe your opinion of her as a “good employee” who’s just too enthusiastic and eager to help. She’s not one.

This is someone who sounds like a horribly toxic influence in your workplace, who has driven off other employees, who takes her bad moods out on other people, who flagrantly ignores the boundaries of her role, and who ignores you when you directly tell her to stop. Frankly, she sounds like someone you should be thinking about firing if this continues.

That means that the next step here is much more serious intervention than you’ve done so far. You need to give her clear, direct instructions about what needs to change and a warning about the seriousness of the situation, and then you need to watch her really, really closely to see if she makes those changes or not.

I’d start by sitting her down and saying something like this: “We’ve talked in the past about X, Y, and Z, but the problems have continued. These are serious concerns and they could jeopardize your job here, so I want to be very clear: I need you to stop doing work that hasn’t been assigned to you. That’s not making you more valuable; it’s causing real problems for our work. I also need you to change the way you interact with coworkers. Having pleasant, cooperative relationships with coworkers is as much a part of your job expectations as any work I assign you. That means (specifics of what you need her to stop doing). Can you do that?”

You should also explain that you can’t consider her for the full-time position because these problems are so serious (and really, that does need to be your stance — there’s no way you should be considering making her full-time under the current circumstances).

And I’d seriously consider telling her, “If this continues, I’ll need to let you go.” My hunch is that as a new-ish manager and an acting manager, you might not feel comfortable doing that since this is only your second conversation with her about these issues, so I’m not going to push it … but I do want you to know that, based on what you’ve described, it would be reasonable and warranted. (Of course, as acting manager that might be tricky; you should talk to your own manager about the situation and find out how much authority you have here.)

Anyway, after that conversation, keep a very close eye on her. You mentioned that you’re concerned that she may respond by taking it out on her coworkers. You want to be watching closely enough that you know about it if she does (don’t just rely on someone else to tell you about it) — and if that happens, you need to immediately address it with her, probably as a final warning.

But the biggest thing here is to change your lens from “good employee who’s just too over-eager.” That’s not the situation you’ve described. And it’s not fair to your other employees if you don’t change that framing, and it’s not even fair to Leah herself, who apparently thinks her behavior is making her more appealing, rather than less.

{ 172 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. AMG

    She sounds truly terrible to work with. If you are indeed uncomfortable talking to her, practice in the mirror. Don’t let her cost you good employees.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      The “cost you good employees” thing is huge, OP. The only way you can consider Leah a good employee is if you look only at her and not at your whole team. But it’s your job to manage that whole team. Talented people with a choice will leave to work elsewhere, leaving you with Leah, short-timers, and the resentfully trapped. That is not doing your business any good.

      I’m saying this mostly just to bolster you–I think you know you need to do something about Leah and just needed some confirmation and tactics. But make no mistake that her effect on the other staff can tank your unit, so if you’re looking for another reason to step up your approach with Leah, there you go.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, very huge. People leave because of really awful situations that won’t change. They don’t leave because of good employees. Unless they are the awful situation. I keep thinking of the Tim dude in that letter a couple of months ago, the one who was mad because that OP got the better job (or whatever–the one who threw fits over everything).

        The first conversation was her first warning. The conversation Alison suggested will be her second. Third time is the charm and out she goes.

        Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Sadly I think that she thinks steamrolling coworkers is how you get ahead in the workplace. It may be in some, but clearly not at the Op’s company, and she needs to be crystal clear to Leah that this is not ok.

        Reply
        1. Anonamoose

          Yep, there are lots of Leah’s in the world and I would really appreciate it if someone who is savvy enough (*cough OP) sees her for what she is and teaches her a grave lesson that this isn’t how you get ahead. 80%* of success is related to people skills, regardless of what Leah seems to think.

          *made up number but very close to the truth in my experience.

          Reply
    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      In the past, I have roll played these situations with my HR Department. They have been incredibly helpful in navigating tricky situations and helping me be firm and direct.

      It was very helpful when I was a new manager and navigating some really, really tricky situations!

      Reply
    3. BRR

      Exactly to your last sentence. The fact that she has caused one or possibly two employees to quit is a huge problem. I haven’t heard of an employee who causes others to quit to be the world’s greatest employee in terms of their other actions but causing others to quit is a bad trait in and of itself.

      Reply
  2. Charity

    Have we had a letter from an employee who was trying to do something like before? (The whole, “trying to prove that she can do everyone else’s job so that they can all be replaced” thing sounds vaguely familiar…)

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Yep, and iirc Alison’s response was something along the lines of “No no no no stop that right now!!”

      Reply
    2. Turanga Leela

      Came here to ask this. Does anyone have a link to that post? I was trying to find it but couldn’t remember the specifics.

      Reply
        1. Charity

          Thanks, Not Me and Gandalf! That’s exactly the one I was thinking of but I couldn’t remember the key words to search for it.

          One thing that struck me about some of the comments is that they pointed out that the OP doesn’t necessarily know enough about the work to know that she is really doing the work of 2 or 5 or 51 other employees. She might not know everything that those 51 other people are doing; she might have come up with a time-saving function but that doesn’t necessarily prove that those 51 other people are superfluous/unnecessary. There were also other good points brought up there too, including the need for backups (if the company does fire everyone except for Leah, what happens if Leah gets sick or wants to take some time off…?) as well as the synergies and new ideas cultivated by having more than one employee in each department.

          Leah might have the same attitude as that OP, and that letter could give this OP some material for a future discussion with Leah. Leah may think that she’s doing the right thing but teamwork isn’t necessarily inefficient and being a solo traveler isn’t necessarily better.

          Reply
          1. JessaB

            Plus the fact that the OP clearly states Leah’s attempts to grab work are causing mistakes (things shipped out improperly, etc.) This is a biggie. It’s bad enough if a work hog is doing things right, but when they’re messing it up, nope, nope nopity NOPE.

            Reply
            1. Big McLargeHuge

              Definitely. My golf coach in high school described it in terms of practicing the wrong way. Doesn’t matter how much practice you do, if it’s wrong, it’s useless.

              Reply
              1. Justpassingthrough

                In the words of my middle school band teacher, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes *permanent*”

                Reply
    3. Paige Turner

      There was an OP who wanted to propose getting rid of their coworkers and taking over their jobs, but I can’t find the post. I think it was in a short-answer post.

      Reply
    4. Sunflower

      Unfortunately I think it’s because it’s a common thing. My old boss was kind of like this. While he wasn’t trying to push anyone out, he was relentless in trying to prove he was irreplaceable. When he took his annual week long vacation, he made me send him work to do every morning instead of letting me do it. BTW this ‘work’ was basically sending confirmation emails to people or scheduling meetings essentially. So you can imagine how other people felt when they were expected to answer emails while on vacation because he always did.

      Reply
    5. Not me

      I’m good at finding these kinds of super-efficiencies, and I’d like to get paid for producing the work of up to 51 people (my record) at once, and usually doing it better.

      This one? I’ll link to it in a reply.

      Reply
    6. BRR

      I believe the LW was trying to show they could do the other employee’s work in order to get a rise. The thought process being that they could sell it to the company as doing the same work as a couple of people and would get paid less than that number of people. The response was to not go down that route. I can’t find the post though.

      Reply
  3. LawBee

    Ugh, she sounds like a nightmare to work with – the kind of employee who management loves and her coworkers hate. Alison’s advice is spot-on. She’s not a good employee, she’s a suck-up who apparently will cut corners and throw people under the bus to get ahead. Warn her, have the meetings, and be prepared to fire her down the line, because her behavior isn’t likely to change.

    Reply
    1. JMegan

      Agreed, and in fact I would argue that her behaviour is likely to escalate now, either because you’re a new manager or because you’re an acting manager. Either way, she sees your hesitation, and is taking advantage of it.

      We don’t know from the letter how much of this was going on before you came into the role, but I would not be at all surprised to see her doing more of it now – testing the waters, to see how much she can get away with now that there has been a change in management.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      I totally agree the firing conversation is the next thing BUT the OP needs to totally CYA with her own management. She needs to lay this out as an undermining employee who is causing problems such as (give specific examples in each category of awfulness) and who has not responded to your requests. Then lay out next steps including the need to fire her if this doesn’t change. THe WORST possible outcome would be the OP being appropriately direct about consequences that the management then won’t back up. She should be on a PIP formally immediately but that has to be authorized from above since the OP is a new manager.

      Reply
  4. OriginalYup

    “Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies, and at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments (that management only ever hears secondhand, of course).”

    OP, that’s a huge red flag, on both Leah and the handling of her behavior to date. Firstly, you’ve had to talk to her TWICE about this? People who don’t “understand” policies about not yelling at their coworkers don’t *want* to understand the policies. People are quitting over this?? It sounds like you are dealing with someone who think the rules don’t apply to her, and that does not bode well for her continued presence on your team. Second, of course management is hearing about the comments secondhand. That’s how harassment (and pretty much most bad workplace behaviors) work. It would actually be weirder if you did hear these comments first-hand, because what kind of knucklehead violates policies right in front of their boss who’s twice warned them about doing so? I think you need to do some more fact finding with the rest of team and treat what they’re saying as factual reports of Leah’s behavior, rather than as unsubstantiated rumors. I’m not saying that you don’t take them seriously already, and I understand that you’re inheriting this problem, but framing them as unsubstantiated reports will allow Leah’s bad behavior to continue to go unchecked. Which is bad for everyone.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      “because what kind of knucklehead violates policies right in front of their boss who’s twice warned them about doing so?”

      The kind of knucklehead who genuinely doesn’t think those are improper comments/behaviors.

      The fact that Leah is doing these things when management can’t see or hear tells me that she knows she shouldn’t–and that’s huge to me.

      Reply
  5. Katie the Fed

    I’ve said it before, but I expect three basic things from my employees: do your job, do it well, and don’t be a jerk.

    Your employee is failing miserably on the third facet of that. You need to have a serious discussion now about the pattern of her behavior.

    Reply
  6. AndersonDarling

    “…apparently thinks her behavior is making her more appealing, rather than less.”

    This is really the root of the problem. If this has been going on for a while, and at any point she was praised for doing unassigned work, then she thinks this is a great behavior. I could see how she is confused and will keep trying to “get ahead.” It will be a big blow to hear that this is actually bad behavior, but it is possible she will learn to work with co-workers instead of against them.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think the OP’s predecessor may have been ducking the issue. I have a hard time imagining retaining an employee after I’ve had to have *two* conversations about harassment policies with her.

      Reply
      1. Laurel Gray

        I’ve always felt like one conversation should usually be enough to let the offender learn they will have to curb their foolishness or alert them to what their behavior is if they are truly ignorant. I remember a Dateline episode had a potential suspect that had 5(!!) documented incidents of harassment toward female coworkers (one being the victim) and was never fired.

        Reply
  7. CJ

    Gotta agree with Alison: reading this, my thought was “This is just about the opposite of a good employee”, in that she is actively disrupting the business. I cannot imagine the rebound workload she’s generating with those incomplete orders alone.

    I’m also really caught by two things in your sentence: “With our former manager gone, she seems to think she’s going to be my right hand, and that she can decide her own work duties, including dictating how her peers operate.” In the latter, she doesn’t get to decide her own work duties, let alone her peers – in most jobs, that’s not how it works. In the former part, more tellingly the “with the former manager gone” bit makes me wonder if these are new behaviors, and/or if the previous manager was aware of her games in any way and she’s trying to be opportunistic. Which, also, not good employee traits.

    Reply
  8. Juli G.

    It’s going to be really rare that harassment is going to be heard firsthand by a manager. This is where you need to push your HR team. HR has to make a lot of decisions based off secondhand info and trying to determine who is being truthful and it sucks but in this case, there is a lot of overwhelming evidence.

    Frankly, the EEOC isn’t going to give a damn if a manager didn’t hear it firsthand.

    Reply
    1. AnotherHRPro

      Agreed. Managers hearing something firsthand is not necessary. The company needs to examine the preponderance of evidence and determine who they believe. Often situations come down to one person says one thing and the other says something else. The company still needs to make an educated decision based on what they know and who they believe. The fact that this person has had two situations involving your harassment policy is fairly significant. If your HR folks are not involved, they should be. At my company if you have violated our harassment policy more than once (even for a minor violation), your job is on the line. And if an employee retaliates against coworkers then you are absolutely fired. No second chance.

      Reply
      1. Liane

        Yes. We just had harassment training at my company and HR shared a time (no identfying details) that she had to fire someone for this it wasn’t the actual harassing behavior, but retaliation. Harasser was suspended for behavior and first or second day back confronted Harassee for reporting it.

        Reply
    2. Anna

      I wondered about this too. Very few people who have been fired for harassment have had their behavior witnessed by a manager. Unless what the OP means is that the interaction was between Leah and Carl but she heard about it from Jen. And even then, that can be sufficient.

      Reply
  9. Bee Eye LL

    I used to work with a couple of Leahs and eventually quit the job after one got promoted. Someone like that will destroy your dept. from within.

    Reply
  10. blueandbronze

    OP here.

    This is good advice. I’m glad I’m not being an alarmist by being worried about her behavior.

    I also received confirmation that the second employee also left partially due to Leah’s comments. She said she couldn’t handle the atmosphere anymore. With that employee gone I’m filling in for shipping and some other duties, so I’ll be on hand more to keep an eye on her. I’ve also brought up concerns with my manager, and he shared some trepidation after she interviewed for the full time position.

    Since we spoke she seems to have dialed back a bit, especially since she knows I’m watching her pretty closely. I haven’t received any other complaints. Should this begin to flare up again I have no compunctions about doing exactly as you’ve said and sitting her down for a serious talk.

    Reply
    1. LawBee

      Honestly, if you have the authority, I’d go ahead and do it now. Give her a warning, because I guarantee this is temporary – she’s testing the waters.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine Brite

        +1

        OP, I would say if anything your reaction and your boss’s is under-alarmist rather than alarmist. She’s run off 2 employees already.

        Reply
      2. fposte

        Though my bet is the OP will have an excellent opportunity for that discussion when the full-time hire is made in the next couple of weeks and it’s not Leah.

        (OP, Leah isn’t seriously being considered, is she?)

        Reply
        1. blueandbronze

          We are required to ‘consider’ anyone who puts in an application. Because she’s already in the department, she’s a frontrunner. So far I’ve only given her a verbal warning (tier one of our disciplinary system, I’m not sure how it works elsewhere) which doesn’t have to go through HR, and my former boss never documented corrective action and let a lot of things slide. But A, her behavior is not what I would want in the role and B, if she moves up we’re still short an employee and will immediately have to interview for that. So no, she’s not being considered in my mind but officially she is.

          Reply
          1. BethRA

            “Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies…”

            This suggests you HAVE had more than one conversation, no? Or was that prior to you stepping in as acting manager?

            Reply
              1. blueandbronze

                BethRA and TootsNYC –

                It was prior to me stepping in as a manager. I’ve mentioned in some of my other comments that my former manager had a tendency to sidestep corrective action. Instead of addressing the comments made to her directly, he would call department-wide meetings to ‘go over’ the harrassment policies, make everyone sign a paper that they understood, and never really face-to-face with Leah over the issues. He didn’t want to make a stink about it. So while we’ve gone over it with her in the past, it was never in a direct manner.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  To be clear, that’s not “not wanting to make a stink about it,” that’s “ducking his managerial responsibilities.”

                2. Persephone Mulberry

                  Echoing fposte. You (general you) cannot claim that you’ve addressed harassment complaints with an employee when they have no idea they’re the reason for the all-hands meeting.

                3. BRR

                  It sounds like not only are you new to managing but you got a more difficult situation to start with with a predecessor who didn’t manage. I’m not sure if you read this site often or the comment section but something that comes up is managers who address something to a group when they want to and should be saying it to one person. The person who needs to be talked to tends to be the person who doesn’t think this is about them.

                4. TootsNYC

                  You can still tell the people hiring that you know for a fact (if you do) that Leah was the reason for these meetings. That’s relevant.

          2. fposte

            Is it up to you? Because I don’t think she can get this job, whether your forerunner documented this or not. This isn’t a situation where you have to prove to the court she’s not eligible.

            Reply
            1. LQ

              This. I think that you can just not hire her for this full time position. She might be in the stack of people, but that doesn’t mean she gets the job.

              (Assuming this isn’t a union position where she could file a grievance, I figure you would have mentioned if that was the case.)

              Reply
          3. C

            A frontrunner? How is that even possible. This kind of employee should be on a PIP immediately. Please do yourself a favor and do not consider her seriously as any kind of candidate.

            Reply
      3. Michelenyc

        I agree. You still need to talk to her about these issues. She is testing her limits! It’s only a matter of time before she reverts back to her old ways!

        Reply
    2. OriginalYup

      “Since we spoke she seems to have dialed back a bit, especially since she knows I’m watching her pretty closely.”

      I’d still be super cautious about this. She needs to dial it back a LOT and demonstrate that she can behave well all the time, not just when you’re watching. Keep your antenna alert for issues.

      Reply
      1. AMG

        This sounds about right. I’d also it dialed all the way down entirely and immediately. Give the impression that you aren’t watching that closely if you can and see what you get. I bet she backslides quickly. I would be moving on getting her out of there as fast as I could.

        Reply
        1. Anon Accountant

          Yes! The minute she thinks OP isn’t watching her closely anymore the behaviors will return. Possibly with making up for “things getting out of control” while she “wasn’t watching”. (Leah not watching I mean)

          Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes. This is a common new manager trap — “well, she’s improved a little…” She needs to improve all the way, fully up to the bar you need her at. “A bit” isn’t enough.

        Reply
        1. Liz L

          Exactly! This is someone who obviously doesn’t know or respect boundaries. If she’s this ruthless at the current level, imagine the power struggles she’ll try to engage in later on if she manages to move up the ladder.

          Reply
          1. ILiveToServe

            I had a horrendous employee who just did not understand that when said and documented in writing that

            You should complete the task of spout making before pitching in on handle making.
            Despite written and oral communication, she insisted that completing most of the spout making was an improvement and meeting expectations.

            She also expected a promotion as she was already ” in place” no she is no longer employed by us.

            Reply
    3. Beezus

      Take a look at how you do your metrics, too. If she’s able “go through and pull the best products for herself, leaving others with sub-standard”, and that makes her numbers look better, something is wrong with how you’re measuring performance. Find a way to level that out. If you’re measuring picking times in a warehouse, for example, and she’s cherry-picking all the orders for product stored close to the shipping dock so it takes her no time flat to get her orders picked and staged, you either need to take distance into account in your measurement, or change how work is assigned so it’s evenly distributed. Don’t let people game your performance metrics.

      Reply
      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        YES.

        Your metrics are only as good as the tools you use. If the assumptions they’re based on don’t hold up, the measurements are worthless.

        Reply
        1. Meg Murry

          Yes OP, change your metrics! Is there some kind of bonus attached to getting good numbers, or does Leah go to the top of some kind of scoreboard? If so, you have to find a way to counterbalance that – for instance, any returned products or damage complaints from her rushing out a shipment count as a minus 10x one shipped product, or even minus 100, or some kind of escalating scale – first one is minus 1, 2nd is minus 5x, 3rd is minus 20, etc.

          Is there also some kind of system where the person to do the last step (ship the box, etc) gets all the credit, so that is how Leah is sweeping in and doing the last 5% of the job but getting full credit? That can’t continue.

          If possible, you need to quantify the things you can, and explain it to everyone, but especially Leah, how much time and money mistakes cost.

          I could maybe, maaaaybe see this being a case of a brash and overeager employee desperately trying to look good (my job is to ship teapots? I’m going to be the fastest damn teapot shipper there is, and I have no problem telling slow Jane she’s a lazy a$$ and to hurry up so I can make my shipping quota), in which case OP needs to have a “look, here’s what’s happening and it’s NOT OK” talk with Leah once. But after that, yeah, write her up, do what you have to do and get rid of her before she chases any more employees away. I’d rather have a half dozen mediocre to average but pleasant and steady employees than one rock star that is dragging down all the morale.

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        Yes, once good thing about bad employees like this is that they help you find the holes in your process!

        There shouldn’t be “best products/substandard,” bcs that’s not fair to any of your employees.
        And then there are those tasks she completes that she shouldn’t–even a well-meaning, non-toxic employee might think they’re being helpful by completing those tasks, so you need to figure out how to flag that “pending on purpose” / “on hold” status for EVERYONE to see.

        Reply
      3. Eliza Jane

        Back when I worked in a bookstore, I had an coworker who would do this, and it drove me up the wall.

        We had to try to sell membership cards, and they were priced so that if someone was buying over $100 of product, they’d save enough that day with the membership to pay for the membership. I spent almost all of my time on register, and really struggled to hit my quota, because it was calculated not as a total number but as a percentage of transactions. But there was this one guy who would watch for someone coming up with a huge stack of books and swoop in to grab that transaction. He had a conversion percentage of something like 15%, and always won cash prizes and awards for it.

        I LOATHED him.

        Reply
        1. JessaB

          That’s lousy management. That should have been nipped in the bud with a single line system, you get who is next in line period.

          Reply
          1. Sarah

            I suspect I worked at the same store at one point in my life. It’s easy to be in the vicinity of the registers, and then when the customer with the huge pile of books is at the front of the line, step in to “help”.

            It is lousy management though. Everyone who worked early morning and lunch hour always had horrible numbers, because it was people running in to buy a magazine right before dashing back to work. Everyone working in the evening or on weekends when people had time to browse magically had better numbers. An employee trying to juke the stats is merely exploiting an already broken system.

            Reply
    4. Artemesia

      PIP now. And frame it to your manager with a greater sense of what it is costing the department. And absolutely don’t consider her for full time work. Sitting down and talking? That ship has sailed. PIP formally done should be the next step.

      Reply
    5. neverjaunty

      You cannot let this go and you cannot drop things “until next time” just because she is improving a bit. Now is the time to have the clear conversation about what you expect from her, even if it means n unpleasant confrontation.

      Reply
    6. Observer

      Please don’t wait for other complaints. I saw your comment here about the two occasions where the problem was addressed in a general way, but she was never spoken to directly. What that means is that you may wind up with a letter from the EEOC rather than a staff complaint. See, the the EEOC (at least in theory) wants to have some reason to believe that the employer know, or should have known, about the harassment and did not handle it properly. In this case, an employee could say “Of course they knew about it, but all that happened is that there was an all hands meeting, and nothing ever happened. And two people have already been driven out of the place.”

      Oops – severe and pervasive enough for two other people to have left, and the organization clearly knew about it. That’s a recipe for trouble.

      You need to watch her like a hawk. Any sign of harassment or retaliation (aka “take[ing] it out on other people” when she gets told off), and you really need to escalate. Be proactive – do NOT wait till someone has just had too much.

      Reply
  11. Snarkus Aurelius

    I blame the “disrupt” culture for nonsense like this.  “Leah” reminds me of Avi Zolty.  (Google his name and “voicemail hacking” to learn that horror story.)

    Such behavior comes from the garbage advice that you have to “disrupt” and do something unique to make yourself stand out if you want to go anywhere.  To some degree that is true, but rarely do I hear where the lines are drawn… Because I fear there aren’t any.

    Leah’s behavior is, of course, her own responsibility, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if she took advice from some “maverick” success story who pulled crazy stuff like this and got ahead.  I can hear a TED talk saying something like, “Don’t get mad at Leah!  Get mad at those slackers!”  For every OP who is disgusted by a Leah, there’s another who thinks Leah would be a fantastic CEO one day.  As I learned when I had my own Leah to deal with…GR!

    The American workplace does value and reward such behavior, no matter how crappy it is very everyone else.  Until that gets reigned in, expect to see more of it.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I don’t think you need that mindset to do this.

      In any time of transition, people will get ambitious and try to make themselves stand out more. And if she’s been ambitious and seen the workplace as a zero-sum game (doing other people’s jobs so she can take over that job?), then of course she will think this is a time to become the acting manager’s right-hand person.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        That’s the thing about “disrupting” trends though – it’s mostly repackaging old stuff and pretending it’s new.

        Long before Google et al put cafeterias and gyms and dry cleaning places Disney was doing that in the 1940s. I’m sure there were folks before him.

        Reply
          1. Jill of All Trades

            Fordlandia is my personal favorite. I feel bad for the locals who were elbow deep in the incompetence/negligence of their management team, but this is my favorite example of corporate overreach gone wrong.

            Reply
    2. RVA Cat

      “The American workplace does value and reward such behavior, no matter how crappy it is very everyone else. Until that gets reigned in, expect to see more of it.”

      I wonder if that’s one of many reasons why CEOs have a higher percentage of psychopaths than the public at large?

      Reply
    3. JaneDoe

      Awe, Avi is actually a really good friend of mine. While that VM incident lacked better judgement, it is not overall reflective of his professional style. He is very serious and hardworking when it comes to his business ventures and he has a work ethic like I’ve never seen before.

      Reply
  12. boop

    What sucks is, and maybe I’m just projecting, while this one employee is furiously trying to outshine everyone else, these other employees may actually have been wonderfully productive people! That is, before they realized that there is no consequence for bad behavior, and thus, very little benefit to showing good behavior.

    Reply
    1. The Butcher of Luverne

      Right. It’s not just the issues with Leah herself and her negative behavior.

      It’s also what is happening to the morale of your current employees. I’d be pretty disgusted with management (and unfortunately, that includes OP) if I saw a part-timer running roughshod over all employees.

      Reply
      1. blueandbronze

        (OP) I’ll be first to admit that she likely knows more about the job than I do. I’ve just recently stepped into this position. There’s two departments under my purveyance now and I worked more closely with the other before I became the acting manager.

        And morale is pretty low, since we were all fond of our former manager AND upper management is dragging their feet as to whether or not they will actually hire me as the manager.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          One way to make yourself management material is to manage. Clearly identifying a problem and consequences and having a plan to turn around the morale issue might actually make you more promotable. You can’t be effective without their support. Show confidence about what needs done and see if that convinces your management to promote you to this position.

          Reply
          1. IT_Guy

            Agreed!!

            If this person has a history (which she does) of bad toxic behavior, it needs to be made clear to her that this is unacceptable. It doesn’t have to be ‘wait for her to screw up’, but if there was an incident while you were acting manager, then put it in writing and that will ensure that she won’t get the permission.

            A toxic unmanageable employee can drag the whole department down.

            Reply
        2. catsAreCool

          Since “There have been times when she’s caused a major snarl by shipping products that aren’t fully packaged or something akin.”, it sounds like if she really knows the job, she’s lacking in some common sense.

          If I did that once, I’d be mortified and would take steps to avoid letting that ever happen again.

          Reply
    2. Anonymous4this27

      Thank you for projecting! Because that is also me right now. After dealing with one workplace bully, being gaslighted, and loads of casual racism that my boss somehow either doesn’t see or sees and can’t/won’t deal with – my performance has tanked. I struggled to get training opportunities or supported re: promotions while watching the bad seed coworker get 2 raises, back pay, and their preferred schedule with ease all while crowding out a new coworker. So now it’s really, really hard to motivate myself to being a great employee again.

      Reply
  13. TootsNYC

    Do be sure that you have verified these problems for yourself.

    I worked at a place where we got a new top boss, and a group of people used this as their opportunity to register every complaint–no matter how petty–with the new boss. The new boss wasn’t savvy enough to see this, and felt that she had to ACT!! on every complaint, and it was a really uncomfortable and toxic place to work for a while. It took a while, but she did eventually see that she’d ended up with a really gossipy place, because what had happened was that the gossipy people realized that she would ACT!! on their comments or complaints, so they made more of them, and worried less about whether they were accurate or fair.

    So be sure that YOU are the one documenting the problems and observing them. Put yourself ina position to do so.
    Partly because it’s also not fair to the other employees to force them into a position where they feel they have to “gossip” or “tattle.” (quotes because reporting problems isn’t gossip or tattling, but they may feel that it is, and it may be perceived that way by Leah, which will lose some of the credibility and effectiveness)
    This is more work for you–but welcome to managing; this is the work you should be giving priority to. (and once you see how much work it is for you, you’ll see more clearly why it’s important to not hire, or to PIP/fire people who cost managers this much time)

    But yes, if you’ve independently verified these problems, Alison’s advice is spot-on. There’s more to being a good employee than just doing your own individual tasks well.

    If you feel that you can’t fire her, you can certain make her job less fun, supervise her more closely, give her a lot more negative feedback (that’s warranted–don’t let things slide with her that you might overlook otherwise), and assign her tasks that move her down in status, cut her hours. All these things are “negative consequences” that hopefully will indicate to her that she needs to fix something.

    Reply
    1. Anon Accountant

      Oh yes this!

      Not saying this is the case because it sure sounds like it isn’t but in some places reporting every little thing becomes a full time job for some people. Once you’ve independently observed and verified the problems AAM’s advice is spot on. But please verify the issues first.

      Reply
  14. voyager1

    LW: What do you mean by “keeping the best products for herself?”That sounds like stealing. Or is she getting the best for the customers she ships to.

    Reply
    1. Kelly L.

      It sounded to me like she held back better stuff and then bought it–not stealing, but not really right either.

      Like if she works at a retail store, say, the shipment comes in and she puts out the less desirable stuff on the shelves while buying the better stuff for herself. She doesn’t need to technically steal it to be shady.

      Alternately, I wonder if she steps over people to get better products to sell to customers, either ones that bring in more commission or ones that have fewer issues.

      Reply
      1. my two cents

        yeah – i read that bit as “keeps the best inventory to fill her orders”, not stealing for herself.
        either way it’s still crappy.

        Reply
    2. blueandbronze

      (OP) We work with a well known company that deals with donations, in the book department. From what I understand she’s pulling boxes of books for herself and hoarding them on her desk, or going through them before other employees arrive to make sure she gets the choice items to list for sale (we’re in eCommerce). I have no proof of her going through boxes, just hearsay, but I’ve seen how she loads down her desk before she leaves so no one else can have her products to list.

      Reply
      1. hbc

        I’m not a fan of making rules for everybody because of the misdeeds of one person, but is it clear that the hoarding isn’t cool? Or that the pre-selection isn’t a good idea?

        Obviously, the “finishing” shipments that aren’t really finished is just a flat no, but in some environments, the picking through stuff would be reasonable. Even if you don’t want a hard and fast rule, you can set some rough guidelines, like new stuff should go on a public shelf unless there’s an active order in process for that book.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          Or, no one may hoard books on their desks; books not listed go back in the general area, and you can only take 3 or 4 at a time.

          Especially if people’s compensation is at all linked to how many books they list…

          Reply
        2. CADMonkey007

          Yeah, this is where “the spirit of the rule” starts to come into play. It might not be against the rules to hoard books at your desk, but it signals that Leah cares 100% about herself and only herself, perhaps willing to find loopholes that benefit only her. This type of attitude is very difficult to address, because *technically* her actions are not *wrong.* The best bet might be to let her get passed up on the promotion, and let her see herself to the door.

          Reply
      2. Victoria

        Is there a rewards system based on sales?

        When our company did eCommerce (clothing) we had a rewards system based on volume and accuracy of posts. That way if someone ended up posting a bunch of sweaters in June they didn’t end up making less than the person who posted a bunch of sundresses.

        Reply
        1. Chameleon

          That would end up being a whole lotta extra work for OP. Plus, I think OP above meant she “locks down” her desk meaning she couldn’t reach them anyway. It just needs to be made clear that this behavior is unacceptable.

          Reply
    3. Rebecca

      “Best” could mean easiest to pack, quickest to process, prettier/nicer to look at while she works… I worked in a frame warehouse for a while, and I loved packing matboard because it was easy and quick, and hated handling glass, because, well, glass.

      Reply
  15. Mike C.

    Frankly, this feels like sabotage and should be treated accordingly. You’ve already lost two great employees and the others who remain are being undermined. I’m solidly in the “fire her as soon as possible” camp.

    Reply
    1. Charity

      This technique may even show up in that guide to sabotage/infiltration that AAM posted a few weeks ago. It does seem like the kind of covert and insidious tactic that a professional agent could use. (“Appear to be a conscientious and assertive worker while undermining your coworkers’ morale from within”)

      Reply
  16. TT

    Yeah that woman sounds like a nightmare. I’m more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt though – have the hard talk then give her a chance to change her ways and mend some fences. But definitely “no” on moving up to full time. If she’s settling for part-time when what she wants is full-time, she may be trying extra hard to outshine her co-workers and just not savvy enough to realize she’s shooting herself in the foot.

    Reply
  17. Rebecca

    “who flagrantly ignores the boundaries of her role, and who ignores you when you directly tell her to stop”

    My manager didn’t address this with a former coworker. She frequently, and I mean every day, took it upon herself to do things she deemed not done, without asking the owner of the task, or showing up at someone’s desk shoving paperwork under their nose and demanding attention to something right now. She also refused to make updates to our order file after production quantities were en route, so she created surplus inventory by canceling items too soon. EVERYONE pointed this out to manager, to no avail, and all of us just joked we must have 2 managers, not one.

    She got really stressed and burned out, and then left for another job at another company. Everyone is glad that we don’t have to deal with our second manager any longer.

    OP – please nip this in the bud. It’s horrible when you have to work along side someone like this.

    Reply
  18. Grey

    at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments

    I doubt they quit over her comments. It’s easier to believe that they quit because management never did anything about her and they assumed those comments would be tolerated.

    Reply
  19. CaliCali

    I think this can be one of the downfalls of task-oriented thinking (versus relationship-oriented thinking): she’s being defined as a “good employee” because she performs her tasks well, but relationship-wise, she’s hoarding work, sabotaging coworkers, harassing them (!), and creating an atmosphere where people are quitting as a result! From the relationship-oriented perspective, she’s an utter nightmare and failing on every level. Of course, a friendly and amiable, but totally underperforming, employee would be failing in the reverse scenario, but healthy workplaces value performance based on both task- and relationship-oriented measures.

    Reply
    1. AnonEMoose

      Maybe. But I’m pretty strongly task-oriented, and what this person is doing would have me considering places I could hide the body without getting caught (ok, I exaggerate, but not by all that much). Having someone “helpfully” finish a task I hadn’t yet completed for a reason – without bothering to at least ask me about it, would infuriate me. Because it would create more work for me, cleaning up their mess. And I’d be talking to my manager about “this is what happened, these are the problems it caused, here’s what I had to do to fix it, and here’s how much time that cost me (and, by extension, the company).”

      OP, you need to deal with her, firmly and decisively, because she is absolutely toxic to your other workers. Besides, if she gets the full-time job, she’ll no doubt be gunning for the manager job next (if she isn’t already).

      Reply
      1. Charity

        Honestly, you could probably store the body underneath the pile of books and other inventory piled on her desk. It would probably take a few days for anyone to notice and probably a few more days after that before anyone bothered to tell the authorities.

        I think this can be a task-orientation run amok, but more specifically it’s a person who doesn’t see her coworkers as adding value. If she was a manager she would probably never delegate and would probably insist on redoing all of her direct reports’ work as a matter of course, regardless of how much time this wastes or how little benefit the company gets from this.

        Reply
      2. T3k

        Agreed. I’m very task-oriented, but I don’t go and try to do a coworker’s job unless they told me I could. On more than one occasion I’ve had to go to my boss because another coworker will try to do my job, causing me to have to spend longer on it to fix their mistakes. It’s one of the few times I prefer working directly with a client so I can hear what they actually want, and not what the coworker thinks they’d like (too often the coworker has suggested something girly and the customer wants something more unisex, ughhhh).

        Reply
    2. fposte

      And she hasn’t been performing the tasks that well anyway, from the sound of the shipping errors. I think it’s somebody who’s numbers-oriented in a situation there hasn’t been any management to make sure that means doing good work.

      Reply
      1. Beezus

        This!

        You have to line it up in two ways – make sure that actual good work results in good numbers, and make sure that good numbers are the product of good work. Neither is a given.

        Reply
  20. CM

    I’m always surprised at how many letters start off with, “She’s a great employee, except…” and then go on to describe really terrible behavior. Even if somebody is the smartest and most productive person ever, if they’re driving away your other employees by harassing them and interfering with their work, they are NOT a great employee. Reminds me of an employee who I had to deal with, who kept insisting that they were a great employee because they completed their tasks on time, but meanwhile they were making their entire team miserable on a daily basis.

    Reply
    1. One of the Sarahs

      It reminds me of one of the relationship advice columnists, maybe Carolyn Hax, who points out that “we have a fantastic supportive marriage except for this one super-awful thing” means no, the marriage is NOT fantastic.

      Reply
      1. Liane

        I like to read advice columns and just about every one of them comments on how often they get letters that start “Person is a perfect, wonderful (SO, sibling, whatever) except for One Evil Thing”

        Reply
        1. One Esk Nineteen

          I think this comes partly from a desire to be nice? Like, you don’t want to badmouth someone to a bunch of strangers on the internet, so you try to downplay [terrible awful behavior] by saying how great they are at other stuff, no really, I swear! And that goes double for an LW writing about their partner or good friend, whom they love and care for, and do not want us internet strangers to call bad names and say “good god, DTMFA!” about.

          At least one of the other parts is that if you have to deal with this stuff day-in and day-out, you start to unconsciously see it as less and less weird–especially if your manager is nonverbally communicating that it’s okay by not doing anything to stop it. (I mean the previous manager, OP, not you.) So you start downplaying it to yourself, which is why you do things like write an advice column for external confirmation that your gut is right.

          Reply
          1. Ann Cognito

            I’ve noticed on those advice columns that if the person writing in doesn’t mention how great their spouse/partner is, it’s commented on in the response, i.e. “Why are you still married? You haven’t mentioned love at all in your question.”

            Reply
  21. Zahra

    The ship has sailed with this employee, mostly because of her bad attitude at work. If you do have another employee in the future who takes it upon herself to “finish half-done tasks”, along with the “you can’t do that without checking with X before doing it” talk, you should have the “do you have enough tasks to fill your time?” talk. Do it before the employee’s behaviour creates too many problems.

    Reply
  22. Tomato Frog

    This reminds me of so many relationship advice letters, where the letter writer says their SO is a great person except for one thing, and then proceeds to outline a bunch of classically abusive behaviors, and then the letter ends “Am I overreacting?” No, OP, quite the contrary.

    Reply
  23. Saro

    I had a co-worker like this and she came to mind in the previous ‘Stay in your lane’ post. It’s so hard to work with someone like this and demoralizing to the rest of the team. If at all possible, I suggest dealing with it now rather than waiting and watching. I know it may not be that easy. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Wendy Darling

      I had one of these too. Our mutual boss, who was great in many ways, was very nurturing and came at everything with the assumption that the person had the best of intentions and just needed coaching. Which was great for me because I was moving from academia to the corporate world and needed a lot of coaching! But it was a DISASTER with this coworker because she did not have good intentions. Her intentions were in fact to tear people down and climb to the top on a pile of their corpses.

      Reply
  24. blueandbronze

    OP Again

    Thanks so much for all the advice. I’m still very new to management and appear to have inherited a problematic department. Thank you for the encouragement and suggestions.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      Thanks for writing in and being so open to feedback. I wish I had more managers through the years who were open to and sought advice.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      Agreed with BRR. You’re being really thoughtful and even about this, blueandbronze, and it’s a tough situation for a new manager. But you’ll handle it.

      Reply
  25. hotsaucenmybag

    I’ll play devil’s advocate a little bit, and say that while I agree with what Alison and many other commenters have said, I think there may be a possibility that she genuinely believes that her behavior is really going to propel her further with the company. She may (or may not) be new to the workplace, but I’d guess that she’s still pretty green and that lack of experience is a huge dynamic. It’s not to excuse her actions, because they absolutely need to be shut down, however she could surprise you; be completely mortified when you point out her behavior and how it’s affecting her job, and really take to heart what you say. Those “good” traits you see, could actually be good once she chucks off the nastiness that surrounds them. And like Alison said, it’ll only happen with direct conversation, because whether she rises to the occasion or not, you’re not doing her any favors by soft peddling this (not that you are intentionally, but it’s really common to soften what doesn’t need to be softened as a new manager as a means of being nice, sensitive, kind, easy going etc.-I’ve been there). I’ve also been on the other side of after addressing serious performance issues, witnessing someone really make significant strides to change their behavior and become a strong performer. I hope this is what happens in your case OP! Please update

    Reply
    1. Person

      I agree so much. The fact that Leah is being referred to as a great employee alone hints to me that Leah has been praised for these disruptive actions. She probably thinks this is what management wants. It’s not fair to her to not tell her directly how she is being perceived. Tell her! It could be a huge kindness.

      Reply
    2. Elizabeth West

      It could happen, but in order for that to occur, her behavior needs to be firmly and directly addressed. A PIP is a good idea–it would give her the chance to improve and provide documentation to management if she doesn’t.

      Reply
  26. Need cheering up

    AAM, I really appreciate your response and I wish more managers would act like this. This is very good advice and I do hope that the OP takes this very serious.

    Reply
  27. SusanIvanova

    There *is* a right way to do things assigned to other people, and this isn’t it. I’m a software dev who’s primarily in UI – which means my teammates are busiest at the beginning when they’re building stuff I’m going to connect to, and I’m busiest at the end once those parts are done. So during their busy time, if I’m bored, I’ll go through their bug list, looking for low priority things they just don’t have the time for, and then *ask* if it’s anything non-trivial. They might have a spare 5 minutes to point me in the right direction even if they don’t have an hour to do it themselves.

    Reply
  28. EmilyG

    I originally found AAM while working with an employee like this, although it sounds like the person I dealt with was in a position that involved more independent, professional-type work. She thought that she was an excellent performer and an expert, but did all sort of things that spoiled her ability to work with others.

    My two tips for OP are, 1. Take this seriously and deal with it as proactively as possible, because someone like this will shrug off or circumvent any but the most direct feedback and consequences and 2. Be prepared for the staffer to lash out if she feels that you’re not appreciating her excellence; my former direct report decided that I must be incompetent since I didn’t see her brilliance and wasted a lot of *my* manager’s time complaining about me.

    Reply
  29. INFJ

    Good God. I used to work with a Leah… She eventually got fired, but it took a long time and a change in management to get there.. The previous manager overlooked her issues because she was so “productive.” Alison’s advice and scripts are spot on. I hope you have the authority to follow through with this and that your own management doesn’t work against you.

    Reply
    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      Our department had a “Leah” and it took forever, after the staff had been on to her for a long time, for management to finally begin to suspect that maybe she wasn’t such a good employee. The staff put up with her through the term of one dean, then through the term of an interim. But when we were hiring a permanent dean, everyone suddenly realized that this employee could ruin everyone’s respect for the new dean, if he didn’t catch on to her pretty quickly and then *do something*. We didn’t want our new dean ruined before he even started, so everyone who ever had a problem with the employee, including heads of each department, brought it back to the attention of the interim dean. That, combined with a complaint about her from another college’s dean, was enough to get the interim dean to finally confront her, and then the employee immediately quit in a fit of rage because she still believed that she was brilliant and everyone else was blind to that fact.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        The point of the story being that the staff are probably desperate for someone in management to finally do something effective about this terrible employee.

        Reply
  30. LENEL

    “I also need you to change the way you interact with coworkers. Having pleasant, cooperative relationships with coworkers is as much a part of your job expectations as any work I assign you. That means (specifics of what you need her to stop doing).”

    Alison, this resonated with me so much and articulates why I was so relieved when my co-worker left and then, while sad because they were a lovely person, my boss who was a bit too friendly with my co-worker left soon after. My boss wouldn’t manage my co-worker’s appalling behaviour and I was looking to leave myself to escape the nastiness (small team, being almost completely ignored, not even a hello or goodbye).

    OP, it sounds like you are on the track to dealing effectively with Leah’s behaviour and that is wonderful to hear, as a new manager that would be a really difficult decision to make and even more difficult to implement. Know that your good employees are very likely already looking to leave with someone so destructive in the team and may even be dreadfully unhappy because of her continued behaviour and lack of consequences.

    I hope it goes really well for you in addressing this, best of luck!

    Reply
  31. Momiitz

    She has run off two employees already. I’m sure you have others reports that are looking as fast as they can to leave as well. If she gets the full-time position, you will most likely have a mass exodus of your good employees as soon as they secure other positions.

    Just my two cents, but if I worked there in those conditions and management did not do anything about a rogue employee I would be out of there as soon as I had another position secured.

    It does suck that you have inherited such a mess. Please be proactive in taking care of business as much as you are allowed to by upper management .

    Reply
  32. Copper Boom

    This! The fact that Leah continues with this behaviour indicates she doesn’t realize the impact of her mistakes or recognize that it’s a big deal. That’s a problem and will surely continue if not addressed.
    My dad says something similar to the golf instructor above. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect

    Reply

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