did I err by reprimanding my direct report’s employee, revolving door on another team is causing problems, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Did I make a mistake by reprimanding my direct report’s employee?

I’m in a senior management position at my workplace and I supervise a handful of managers. One of these managers (Sansa) is currently dealing with a challenging employee (Arya). Due to some recent changes, Arya has started having lengthy loud personal conversations in the open office area, which is a major problem. Sansa has addressed this with Arya several times. I have zero problems with how Sansa has been handling the situation, but at the same time, Arya doesn’t seem to be getting the message.

Arya’s desk is right outside my own office. Recently she had another inappropriately lengthy and loud personal call at her desk, while I was in my office with the door open. I was emailing back and forth with Sansa and basically said, “You should definitely say something to her, unless you want me to say something to her, just to see if that gets the message across a little more emphatically.” Sansa agreed that this might help, so a little while later I asked Arya if we could talk in my office and basically said, “This is still a problem, I know Sansa has talked to you about it, I wanted to say something today because I noticed it happening, and I want you to realize that Sansa isn’t the only person who’s aware of this and this is something you need to get serious about addressing.”

At the time, Arya seemed fine. Later, she complained to Sansa that she was very upset that I would talk to her about something like this, because I’m not Arya’s manager. Arya was apparently incredulous that Sansa didn’t immediately agree with her on this, and is still really frustrated that I would think it was appropriate to speak with her directly about this. Based on all the problems we’ve been having with Arya, her grasp of professional norms doesn’t seem to be the greatest, but now I’m second-guessing whether I committed a faux pas. To be completely honest, Arya one of those people who kind of just drives me nuts. In the past, I feel like I’ve always done a good job putting aside how much I may not love someone personally when I’m in a managerial role, but now I guess I’m a little worried that Arya has finally pushed me to my breaking point.

Arya is wrong. Arya is part of the overall team you’re responsible for, and of course you have standing to talk with her about this kind of thing.

Whether or not it was wise is a different issue, because stepping in like this can end up undermining the person’s manager. It’s true that it can make someone take a situation more seriously — but then you have an employee who doesn’t respect her boss enough to take things seriously unless she hears it from her boss’s boss, and that’s not good. In general, it’s better to coach the manager from behind the scenes to handle the situation herself. There are a few exceptions to this, like when the problem is very serious and the manager is a new/inexperienced one … but in general, your default should be to coach the manager to act on her own, rather than acting for her.

But that aside, you did have the standing to have the conversation you had with Arya. Arya also sounds like a pain in the ass, and I’d recommend coaching Sansa to resolve the situation one way or another in the near future.

2. Revolving door of employees on another team is causing problems

I’ve been working at a medium-sized company for about a year and a half. I like almost everything about my job—good team, good manager—but a revolving door of employees on another team is causing problems. When I was first hired, this position was filled by “Jane.” Jane had been with the company for about three years and had the skill set to fill this relatively technical role. We worked in the same department, but on different teams. Jane was the only direct report to her manager, “Alistair.” Our team routinely has projects that overlap with Alistair’s, and as the most junior employee, it’s often up to me to collaborate with the person in Jane’s role. While good at her job, Jane was not the easiest person to work with. She was often condescending and could get away with a lot of things because her manager was hands-off. She had also briefly left the company for another job before I began but returned a few weeks later while the position was still open.

Three months after I started, Jane amicably left the company to return to school full-time. A  new employee, “Robb,” was hired to replace her. Robb was a terrible employee. He was frequently late, unable to meet deadlines, and the quality of his work was far below acceptable. I believe the hiring process was too rushed because the position is not one that can go unfilled for anything more than a couple of weeks. Robb was fired after four months, and around the same time Jane decided that it wasn’t the right time to go back to school and was rehired.

Six months after being rehired, Jane and her husband decided to move away for his job. This time Jane was involved in the hiring process, and to avoid getting burned again the position was offered as a six-month trial, temp-to-perm position. The new employee, “Anna,” is a vast improvement over Robb. She has quickly learned the more technical aspects of the role and is very pleasant to work with. But now I’m hearing from coworkers and social media that the move is not working out for Jane and her husband and they are planning to move back.

I’m concerned that if/when they do move back, Anna will be let go and Jane rehired. I have actually heard Jane’s manager tell her that “she’ll always have a job here.” This is frustrating to me because Jane is good, but not great, at her job and I honestly feel that given more time Anna will surpass her (and is a lot easier to work with!). Also, while the new employees were trained on the technical side of the job it was left up to me to help them learn the other aspects of their role.

I feel like Jane is using this position as a rest stop while she figures out what she wants to do next and her manager is allowing this because he knows she can do the work and doesn’t want to be bothered with hiring and training. I have talked with my manager about this but as this is not her employee her hands are tied. Alistair is a superstar and as long as the work is getting done upper-management seems reluctant to interfere. Should I suck it up and continue to train new people each time she leaves, only to have her come back time and again? Each time there is turnover, I get left picking up the slack. I would really like to have one person in this position long-term as it makes collaboration much easier, but it’s not up to me at all.

Yeah, it sounds like it’s not up to you, so you may indeed have to continue training new people only to have Jane keep coming back. However, just because it’s not your decision doesn’t mean that you and your manager don’t have influence here. One thing you can do right now is to talk to Anna’s boss and let her know how great you think Anna is. You could explicitly say that you think that given some time she’s going to surpass Jane’s performance, and you can mention that Anna is also much easier to work with than Jane was.

Since Anna’s boss is so hands-off, he may not even know these things, and it’s helpful input to provide. It also makes it much less likely that he’ll consider getting rid of Anna if Jane wants to return. But if you start hearing rumblings that that could happen, it’s fair game for you and/or your boss to say to him, “Hey, as people who have to work closely with this role, we really like Anna in it and strongly urge you to not to replace her with Jane.” (And of course, he may not be considering that at all — hiring Jane back when there’s a vacancy is very different from firing someone good to make room for her.)

3. Can I recommend two people for the same job?

I have two former colleagues who are applying for the same job. Both of them are great people, excellent workers, and good friends of mine. They are applying for our former boss’s position. They have both asked me to write a recommendation for them. Can I recommend them both for the job? Would it be weird? I think that they would both be good for the position, although they have different skill sets.

Nope, you can definitely recommend both of them. A recommendation isn’t saying “this the absolute best person you could find for the job and there is no one better.” It just says “this person could be a strong hire and here’s why,” and then talks with some nuance about the person’s abilities. The idea is to share your impressions, and your impressions of each could be very positive, with the details being different. The hiring manager will then take that information and factor it into her thinking about each of them.

If you want to be totally transparent, you could tell each of the requesters something like, “In the interests of transparency, I want to tell you that you’re not the only person who’s asked me to recommend them for this job. That won’t stop me from giving you a strong recommendation, but I wanted to be up-front with you about that.”

4. Moving into a different area with the company I’m interning for

I have a question regarding how to approach a conversation with my boss. I’ve been an intern/student employee at the company for just over a year, and I will graduate this spring. At my last performance review, my manager told me how much she loved my work and said that there would be an opportunity for me to move into full-time employment at graduation. This was six months ago.

The team I currently work in is in a specific area (more sales/fundraising) while I am qualified in another (accounting/finance). Our organization hires a lot of people with my training because that is their main business. Would it be out of place for me to ask my manager if there was a possibility of me transitioning into a role that aligns with my line of study? If it is okay to do, how can I approach the conversation without sounding entitled or presumptuous?

You can do that, and it won’t sound entitled or presumptuous. Say it this way: “I’m graduating with my degree in finance in May, and I’d be really interested in staying on with the company, ideally moving into accounting or finance here. If that’s something you think might be a possibility, what would be the next right step for me to take to explore that?” (The answer will probably be to talk to the person in charge of hiring for that area, but it makes sense to talk to your boss first since she may be able to grease that path for you.)

5. My boss expects me to keep working for her after I’d planned to stop

I work for a small environmental testing lab. My boss is planning to retire in June. I knew about the plan for a year, and I was fine with leaving and looking for a new job.

Now she’s backtracking by wanting to be open by appointment only. She’s also talking about having me work remotely for her (typing/running the office from home). Between school and a new full-time job, I will not have time to work for her. How do I tell her no without losing her as a reference? I’ve been working for her almost four years.

You don’t typically lose someone as a reference just because you leave! I wouldn’t worry about that at all, as long as you give notice and handle the resignation professionally.

Does she already know you’ve been planning to move on in June? If so, say this: “Between school and other work, I won’t have time to continue doing this work as well, so I need to stick with moving on in June. But I’d be glad to help with the search for a new person if you’d like.”

If this is the first she’s hearing of it, say this instead: “I really appreciate the offer to stay on! When I thought you were retiring, I started looking for other work and I’ve found another position that I’ve decided to take. So I can’t stay on past June, but until then I’d be glad to help with whatever you need for the transition.”

{ 153 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Lord of the Ringbinders

    #1 Okay so hindsight is a fine thing and all, but in my view the issue isn’t that you reprimanded her but some of the nuances of how you did it. I think it’s fine to observe behaviour that’s not okay and comment on that, e.g. her personal conversation you just heard was too loud, please can she not do that.

    I don’t think it’s such a good idea to tell the person that their manager isn’t the only one who has a problem with it. That’s an answer to a question she hasn’t asked and which shouldn’t exist. Of course her manager isn’t the only one who has an issue with it, so it’s not particularly great to justify that line of thinking by answering to it. Also, it makes it clear it’s been discussed and when people feel talked-about they can feel humiliated and get defensive which sounds like it could be what has happened here. You didn’t need to literally tell her it wasn’t just a problem for her manager. You were already going to demonstrate that by commenting on observable behaviour.

    And that’s what I think is key: you observed her having the conversation. You did not observe her questioning whether her manager was right but assumed she was questioning it (unless I’ve missed something). You have standing to talk to her, but it’s never really appropriate to give feedback on a presumption about what you think someone is thinking. It’s also perhaps more effective to simply comment on observable behaviour – once you make assumptions about the reasons for it (e.g. assuming they don’t think anyone else has a problem with it) you can lose your chance of the person taking the feedback on board. And it could have been an opportunity to ask why she thinks it’s okay / reiterate that it’s not.

    So I think the answer is somewhere in the middle: the issue is not if you should have commented, but the scope of your comments. And if she annoys you this much (which happens, you’re human) you might not be able to give feedback with empathy. And if you’ve lost empathy, you’re not the right person to give feedback to her.

    Is the issue that her calls are loud and would be okay if not, or that she shouldn’t have them there at all? If the former, many people don’t realise how their voices can rise when they’re on the phone. Has her manager explained why it’s a problem?

    Reply
    1. Willis

      If your manager has addressed a major problem with you several times and you’re still not getting the message, I think you lose a lot of standing to feel defensive about it, or to assume that it wouldn’t be discussed with the senior team manager.

      Reply
      1. Lord of the Ringbinders

        Right. But people take feedback better when it’s based on observable behaviour and not attempts at mind reading, regardless of who is in the right.

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        1. MK

          But the employee having a lengthy loud personal conversation was observable behaviour, which is what the OP reprimanded her on, not her possible motives. You seem to attach greater importance to the OP’s comment about Sansa not being the only one to notice this, but that’s not all the OP said to Arya or even the main message, as far as I can tell. And more importantly, it doesn’t seem to be what Arya even focused on, she seems to object to the OP speaking to her at all, so I really don’t get your stance that this would have gone so much better if the OP hasn’t said that.

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          1. Sunshine

            I’m with you. Arya doesn’t get to be defensive and pouty over something she has known is a problem. She’s deflecting attention from her behavior problems.

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            1. Aunt Margie at Work

              I came here to write that. She’s been told. She isn’t changing. Now she’s playing you as well as her own boss. And it’s working. You are questioning yourself (good on you, being a sympathetic person) so she is winning her game.

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            2. Jessesgirl72

              Exactly!

              My only quibble is I think the OP shouldn’t have waited to call her in after the conversation was over. I’d have gone to her and said something in the moment.

              Even if the OP was just a coworker, it would be appropriate to say “Hey, your conversation is too loud and it’s distracting to my work. Please keep it down!” It also would be okay to complain about the offensive nature of the conversation as a “mere” coworker, let alone someone up the chain.

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              1. always in email jail

                I agree with this- I would have called her in or said something immediately. If that didn’t work, I’d ask the manager that reports to me if they want a sit-down with the three of us, where I’m there just to project higher level support

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              2. snowball

                I had this exact situation a few weeks ago and handled it this way. Glad to know that someone else would suggest the same.

                (I am more senior than the person but not her supervisor. I did tell her supervisor that I said something because it’s a recurring issue.)

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              3. Jamie

                I agree with this – I’d have gone over as it was happening and addressed it without referencing her manager at all.

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            3. paul

              or: She may be defensive, but at this point that isn’t terribly relevant. Some people are naturally defensive but that doesn’t mean you let stuff slide right?

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              1. Kimberlee, Esq

                But nobody is suggesting just letting it slide. Lord of the Ringbinders was just suggesting that maybe the reason the employee got defensive was due to delivery, not messenger, and that maybe taking a different tack in the future is a good idea.

                Reply
          2. Beautiful Loser

            Arya should be mortified that the OP spoke to her about an issue her manager had already brought up because the behavior had continued.

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            1. MegaMoose, Esq.

              Absolutely. I’m faintly embarrassed just reading about it! Leaving aside what I think are minor questions about the wording, I am baffled that an employee would think that someone up the hierarchy from their own supervisor can’t reprimand them. Of COURSE they can, and if they feel the need to, you’re not in a good place.

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              1. The Rat-Catcher

                This too! I MIGHT be a bit annoyed if my grandboss addressed something with me that my direct boss hadn’t previously brought up, but I certainly wouldn’t think they didn’t have standing to address it or that it was inappropriate. And if it was an issue that had been addressed before, I’d be mortified.
                But then, our org structure is such that I don’t even personally know my grandboss, so YMMV.

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            2. irritable vowel

              Totally agree – this is the correct response when your boss’s boss calls you into her office to reprimand you about something your own boss has already spoken to you more than once about. Arya should be feeling like she’s on extremely thin ice and that she needs to turn things around immediately.

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      2. Artemesia

        This. This is a situation where the manager of this person needs to sit her down and tell her that she has ignored direction on this point several times which is why the boss jumped in. Let her know that boss is angry that she has continued to ignore direction and that this is a serious matter that she needs to attend to. And before doing that think through the consequences. Telling isn’t working, so what is next? Ultimately people who are not responsive to direction need to be fired. So what are the steps between this failure and dismissal? Telling doesn’t work. Will moving her cube to be more isolated help? Will some sort of pip or probation work. What tools does the manager have to nip this before it leads to disaster for the employee over what is a minor but irritating matter?

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    2. MK

      I disagree. To begin with, the OP wasn’t giving feedback, she was delivering a reprimand. And it doesn’t matter what she was questioning or not, what matters is that she was given clear direction from her boss and isn’t following it; the grandboss is perfectly justified to comment on it.

      As far as being “talked about”, this doesn’t apply to your superiors; talking about you is aprt of their job. It’ not really appropriate to react as if they are your friends and are talking to you behind your back.

      And I am very dubious about “her voice is just loud” or that she just didn’t understand why it wasn’t bad. When your boss tells you to stop having lengthy loud personal conversations in the workplace, your reaction shouldn’t be to keep your voice down, but to cut the conversations altogether.

      Frankly, I don’t hold much hope for this employee. When your reaction to being reprimanded by your boss’s boss about something your boss already told you not to do is to contest whether they technically had the right to reprimand you, well, that sounds to me as if you have no intention to comply with direction and are trying to sidetrack the issue.

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      1. Mookie

        As far as being “talked about”, this doesn’t apply to your superiors; talking about you is aprt of their job. It’ not really appropriate to react as if they are your friends and are talking to you behind your back.

        So much yes. This is a hard lesson to learn for some people, that the act of managing and delivering consequences is not a form of ‘gossip’ and is rarely meant unkindly or designed to sabotage your standing in the company, and that truly constructive feedback can and often is a group effort based on the consensus or involvement of multiple tiers of management.

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      2. sstabeler

        there’s also the fact that- and this is why I disagree with Allison that it wasn’t particularly appropriate to intervene- LW ASKED Sansa “would it help if I talked to Arya?”- that is, LW rightly put matters under Sansa’s control, but offered to make it clear that people higher up the chain were aware of the problems.

        Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think that’s reading something into the OP’s language that isn’t there, and is more nitpicky than is warranted. I don’t read it as the OP speculating on what Arya might be thinking. She was basically saying “you need to cut this out, and be aware that just because you’ve only heard about it from Sansa, that doesn’t mean Sansa is the only one who’s seeing it.” That’s fine.

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    4. chomps

      It’s work. It’s unrealistic to expect that her manager hadn’t talked with HER manager about her talking too loudly. The employee being embarrassed by being talked about isn’t something the manager should be concerned about.

      Reply
    5. OP #1

      Thanks everyone for your comments, they’ve all been very helpful! To clarify, what I was trying to get across when I told Arya that Sansa isn’t the only one who notices her inappropriate conversations was something along the lines of “If you are failing to take Sansa’s feedback on this because you think it’s just a minor thing or you think it’s just Sansa’s weird pet peeve that no one cares about, that is definitely not the case.” And so, to some extent, Lord of the Ringbinders was right, I was trying to guess what Arya was thinking, and that’s not really the best approach.

      (Also, I’m glad to hear that others agree that Arya’s response was way out of line! That was my initial reaction, but because her reaction was so emphatically not the one I would have had in her position (i.e. mortification), it made me start to wonder if I was missing something major.)

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        She sounds like one of those people who is always in a huff because people are ‘bossing her around’ when she is in fact talking about bosses whose job it is to boss her around. Usually direct orders are not necessary because people understand that when the supervisor gives feedback, it is to be followed. This person is either hopelessly unsocialized about professional and work norms or is inappropriately aggressive and stubborn. Let’s assume she doesn’t understand work norms; it is your job to make them very clear. And one thing that should be clear is that lengthy personal conversations in the work place no matter their volume are inappropriate but that loud makes them everyone else’s business and are triply inappropriate. She needs to do what she has been told to do and that the people telling her are doing their job.

        Reply
  2. Sue Wilson

    1) I think that since Sansa asked for your help, in this case it was appropriate for you to talk to Arya, rather than just coaching Sansa, so I disagree a bit with Alison there.

    That said, if Sansa is asking for your help, Sansa feels powerless/feels the need to borrow your authority. You need to tell her that she has the power to move Arya out and that ignoring repeated directives is in fact a good enough reason to at the very least put someone on a PIP. I think this is less a situation where Sansa needs coaching so much as a situation where Sansa feels the need to be empowered. I think the mistake was in not recognizing that.

    Also, Arya seems to lack the common sense to understand that if the boss’s boss is reprimanding you, you’re in a lot of trouble. People who can’t see the signs of their impending doom aren’t going to do so without someone directly telling them the consequences, so consider tell Sansa that further conversation with Arya needs to be less about improvement and more about the terms of employment.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d argue that the OP’s job is to ensure that Sansa is managing well, which includes coaching her on how to handle situations like this one herself. Part of that might be making sure that she feels empowered to deal with it, but I’d take Sansa asking for help as a sign not that Sansa needs the OP to talk to Arya, but that she needs coaching in managing the situation herself. If she feels like she’s at the limit of what she can do on her own and it’s not working, the next step there isn’t “I’ll talk to her myself” but “it sounds like you need to escalate the seriousness of this with her — let’s talk about what that should look like.”

      Ideally the OP would sit down with Sansa and delve into what she’s done so far, and then coach her on next steps. (For example, when I’m managing managers, I’ll do a lot of “let’s run through what this will sound like,” “hmmm, you’re softening the message there in a way you probably don’t intend,” “if she responds with X, you can say Y,” and so forth.)

      And really, a manager needs to be able to handle this type of situation on her own without leaning on her own boss, so it’s a really great opportunity to help her build the skills to do that.

      Reply
      1. M from NY

        Given Arya’s response I wouldn’t assume that Sansa doesn’t know how to manage but that Arya is that employee that refuses to take responsibility for her behavior. She’s good at deflecting and detracting to the point that grand boss is questioning their action instead of everyone focusing on ARYA behavior. Arya needed to hear it wasn’t some pet peeve from her supervisor but actionable offense that others have noticed. I wouldn’t assume Sansa doesn’t know how to manage but that she asked for backup because she’s tasked with managing someone who refuses to be managed. If Arya loses her job it will be here in fault. I wouldn’t frame this as a failure on Sansa part at all.

        I’ve dealt with an Arya and her refusal to accept feedback was treated as if I was the problem. Ultimately when others were tasked with managing her they saw that she was in fact the problem. Unfortunately during the length of time it took to finally let her go company lost 5 great employees who were tired of the mess Arya created and was never held accountable for.

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        1. animaniactoo

          However, Alison’s point here is that Sansa doesn’t need the backup in front of Arya. She needs it behind the scenes where she says “I’m going to put Arya on a PIP, and I may have to manage her out” and OP says “Okay, if that’s what you think you need to do here”. OR OP says to Sansa – “I think you need to look at stronger methods for getting Arya under control. Let’s talk about what you’ve tried so far, examine the language and see if we agree that it’s been clear enough and see what might be possible as a next step; or whether we should be considering letting Arya go.”

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Right. If Arya refuses to be managed, then she needs to be fired, and the OP needs to coach Sansa in how to do it. The next step isn’t for Sansa to throw up her hands and say “you handle it; I can’t get through to her.” It’s for Sansa to let her go, if other things haven’t worked.

            Reply
      2. Sue Wilson

        I mostly agree, I’m just saying that talking to Arya wasn’t undermining Sansa, which you said it could be, since it was an agreed upon solution. And with some employees, it can be the opposite of undermining. As I said, I think the right solution was to get Sansa to fell less like she needs her boss to step in. And I don’t think it necessarily does need coaching, if Sansa’s problem is that she feels like she can’t take negative actions (not that she doens’t know how, but that she feels like she’s wrong about that being the appropriate solution), although coaching never hurt anyone

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        1. Emilia Bedelia

          It’s not necessarily undermining to Sansa, because they agreed upon the situation- it’s undermining Sansa’s influence on Arya. Sansa should not need the OP’s interference to tell Arya to do something. By pulling in the OP when it’s not necessary, it’s teaching Arya that if Sansa says something, it’s not that big of a deal, but if the OP says it, it is.

          It would be like, if someone comes to my desk and asks me “Can you come shine my shoes for me?” (note: not my job), and I ask my boss to go tell them “No, I can’t do that”, that undermines my authority to my colleague. It is entirely within my authority to tell my colleague that it’s not my job- by appealing to my boss, it creates the impression that I don’t have the power that I actually do.

          Of course, if my colleague come to my desk repeatedly to ask me to shine their shoes and it’s becoming a big problem, I would ask my boss for help. But it would be more valuable for her to work with me on how to say no and ways to communicate with my colleague, rather than having her just step in to help. Obviously this is a bit more complicated situation, but that’s my read of it.

          Reply
          1. Sue Wilson

            it’s undermining Sansa’s influence on Arya

            Yes, I understood the first time, and I’m saying not necessarily. Sometimes your authority is undermined because you don’t seem to have upward support, and when you get that upward support, it’s applied broadly to your directives thereafter, not specifically to a certain criticism. It is the opposite of undermining.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I know the type of thing you’re talking about, but with something as relatively uncomplicated as this situation, Sansa needs to be able to deal with it without borrowing authority from the OP. If Arya isn’t respecting Sansa’s authority on something this straightforward, there’s a big problem (and either Sansa needs to dramatically improve how she’s managing or Arya needs to go).

              Reply
              1. Sue Wilson

                I don’t think we disagree there. I definitely think Sansa should not be borrowing authority for something like this.

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              2. The Supreme Troll

                And Alison, I think that if a follow-up conversation is needed with Arya, the OP needs to make it crystal clear that Sansa is the final authority. Arya must only comply & follow (reasonable)direction from Sansa – not debate it, challenge it, or argue against it. Period.

                Sansa must, through her direct verbal communication and indirect body language, display herself as the final authority for Arya.

                Reply
      3. myswtghst

        While I absolutely get where you both are coming from, Sue Wilson and Alison, I did wonder if it makes any difference that the OP directly observed the behavior and pulled in Arya shortly after (to my understanding). I think in a situation where the grandboss is observing the bad behavior, it’s worth providing that feedback (more or less in the moment) in the hopes Arya will realize the impact her behavior is having.

        (I ask, in part, because I’ve been in situations where a grandboss observed something and could have provided feedback in the moment, but instead passed it on to Sansa to pass on to Arya, which meant the feedback was delayed and a bit watered down, so to speak. In this situation, I can see how Sansa could have a conversation with Arya later to basically say “this behavior I’ve told you needs to stop is still happening”, but I don’t really have an issue with the grandboss providing some feedback to Arya too.)

        Reply
        1. NK

          I think it absolutely makes a difference. If I did something that a grandboss observed and wanted to provide feedback on, I’d prefer to hear it from the grandboss rather than my own boss saying “grandboss observed this”. Even though the places I’ve worked in have a clear hierarchy in terms of the org chart, the environments themselves weren’t so hierarchical that it would have been out of place for a grandboss to comment on performance or provide feedback. While I think general feedback should typically come from the direct boss, wanting all feedback to come from the direct boss feels overly rigid to me.

          Reply
          1. SarahTheEntwife

            Agree! I had this happen with my grand-boss a while back and it somehow made the whole thing way more of a big deal than it should have been, since our organization is otherwise pretty laid-back in terms of hierarchy. I screwed up, but in a relatively minor way that I had thought warranted a “hey, you forgot the thing; please get it together next time” from grand-boss and having them go through my boss made it feel like much more of an Official Reprimand. Which might have been intended, but since my actual boss didn’t seem worried I think grand-boss was being weird.

            Reply
      4. OP #1

        Thanks for your advice, Alison, and I definitely see that I need to leave these convos with Sansa in the future. To be clear, Sansa is a great manager, and is usually one of the best at delivering and following up on corrective feedback. For whatever reason, the Arya situation seems to have thrown us both for a loop. The ‘you don’t seem to be hearing what I’m saying, so I’m going to try letting you hear it from someone else’ approach is one that we use a lot in our externally-facing work, so I think I sort of defaulted to that method, which isn’t necessarily the best way to go in this case.

        Reply
        1. animaniactoo

          To be fair, considering it was happening right outside your office door, it wasn’t necessarily an awful way to go either. You get to comment on what’s happening in your environment, and you shouldn’t necessarily have to go through the chain of command as best practices to do it.

          However, it may be more effective to address it in the moment—walking out of your office and interrupting her phone call “Excuse me. I should not be able to hear your conversation, much less these details about your personal life, so clearly while I’m sitting at my desk working.” Yeah, it’s got an awkward factor *for her* all over it, but that awkward factor is something you may want to lean into rather than try to avoid in this case. As opposed to sitting there and suffering through the awkward yourself while she chatters on obliviously. So long as you keep your tone calm and even and your words polite and firm, you’re fine. I suspect this is more along the line of what Sansa may have thought you were suggesting when she agreed that you addressing it may have more weight. Maybe check in with her about that if you revisit this with her?

          Reply
    2. Patrick

      I think it’s less that Arya doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation and more just a kind of rules lawyering on her part. She is trying to cloud the issue and deflect.

      Reply
      1. AnonAnalyst

        Yeah, this is my impression. I managed an Arya early in my managerial career and this was her tactic to “prove” that any critical feedback or discipline was inappropriate because (unrelated rules-type reason). Essentially, all the reasons boiled down to her not believing I had the authority to set and enforce expectations for her performance. I didn’t work closely with her previous manager, but my sense is that her previous manager would back down whenever she presented one of these “rules” arguments. We ended up firing her because she refused to be managed, even after I gave her several crystal clear warnings.

        My manager and I were totally flummoxed by the situation since neither of us had ever encountered someone who just flat out refused to take direction from management. I left to go to business school about six months later and my manager and I laughed about how that experience would make an excellent discussion point for some of my classes (it was!)

        Reply
  3. SL #2

    #4 – some thoughts for you: when you’re an intern, if you’ve got a good supervisor going to bat for you within the company, that’s as valuable as gold. But it’s a lot easier when they know what your goals are, so they can find ways to help you achieve them. My own example: I had many conversations with my fellowship supervisor about where I saw myself after the program was done. I ended up staying past the end of my program for an extra month, was nearly poached by another department in the meantime, and ultimately went on to bigger and better things at a new job. But all of that was a result of me being very open with my supervisor about where I wanted to be at the end of our 6 months and she found ways to help me get there, whether it was by assigning me projects with other departments that built up my portfolio, re-designing and re-naming my role, or cheerfully being my reference when I was applying for other jobs.

    Reply
    1. Elemeno P.

      Yes, this. All of our interns have moved upward when they finished their internship because they talked to us about goals and we wanted to help them succeed. Intern 1 loved the work our team does, so we hired her full-time. Intern 2 did NOT like the work our team does, but we talked to her about her goals and gave her projects more tailored to those, and she was hired into a supervisory role when she left. Intern 3 is with us now, and since he likes some of our work much more than others, that gave us an idea of who to introduce him to for future internships.

      Reply
    2. myswtghst

      “But it’s a lot easier when they know what your goals are, so they can find ways to help you achieve them.”

      So much this! And this goes for employees too, especially when you’re entry level – your manager can’t read your mind, so if you want to advance, you need to make sure they know what you want to do so they can help you be successful. A good supervisor can help you find positions in the company, make connections with business partners, find training and development opportunities to help you grow, and more, if they know what it is you’re working towards.

      Reply
      1. SL #2

        I mean, I get it! Especially when you’re first starting out and getting your bearings in the professional world, talking to your manager about anything is terrifying. But a lot of it is up to the intern or employee to be proactive about their own professional development; it’s something that I’m still working on myself.

        Reply
        1. Intern OP

          Thank you so much for your perspective! Part of it definitely is fear of manager, but also that I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the opportunity that she already offered me by trying to ask for a role in another department. It’s good to know that that would be perfectly okay!

          Reply
          1. SL #2

            I think you know your workplace and your manager better than any of us, but don’t worry about coming off as ungrateful. Professional development is one of those things that can be tricky to navigate when you’re new to the working world, but any good manager would be supportive of an intern trying to make the most of their opportunities. That’s 90% of the reason why people take internships in the first place.

            Reply
    3. Annie Moose

      Yes, definitely talk to your manager!

      I did this to get from a teapot spout administration role to a teapot handle development role, and ended up being hired in full-time to that department (and I am still a “teapot handle developer” today!). It worked out beautifully for everyone: I learned a lot from my original team, but I wasn’t a very good fit for it (spout administration is just not my thing), and my skills were much more suited for my new team. I’m so glad my manager recognized this and encouraged me to move to another team that fit me better.

      You do not have to feel like you’re stuck on one team just because that’s where you interned!

      Reply
  4. nofelix

    #1 – the loud employee is deflecting, and it seems you two are falling for it. The question of who gave the reprimand is much less important than whether she’s finally going to sort out the problem phonecalls! I would coach your direct report to shut such comments down, e.g. “I’ve spoken to you a number of times about these loud personal calls; it’s not acceptable in this office so it’s not surprising Big Boss has now spoken to you about it as well. If you keep doing this, then [consequences]”. The employee’s complaint about who reprimanded her should not have been passed up the chain honestly.

    Reply
    1. Czhorat

      I wonder if part of it is reluctance to go down whatever “progressive discipline” rabbit-hole your company has. In most situations, a word from the boss – especially a repeated word from the boss – will end situations like this. If it doesn’t, a word from the grandboss almost always does; where I to hear from my boss’s boss I’d be positively mortified and, quite likely, in fear of my job. Her push-back on this is, to me, baffling.

      And yes, the boss SHOULD be able to handle it on their own, but this may be a weird case in which the employee just won’t listen. If not, I can completely understand not wanting to go through the written warning/suspension/dismissal trail for personal phonecalls. Sadly, you just might have to.

      Reply
      1. Kalamet

        Yes, this. I work in the same immediate area as my boss, grandboss, and great-grandboss. It’s generally accepted here that if someone above your manager has to comment on a problem behavior, it’s a Big Deal.

        Reply
    2. Julia

      Absolutely. And even if OP1 had not been Arya’s boss’ boss, if she was having loud personal conversations in front of OP’s office, OP had every right to tell her to cut it out. Heck, I’ve told my colleague that it was distracting how loudly she yelled into her phone, and I certainly had zero authority over her (unfortunately.)

      An office (and life) shouldn’t be “as long as no one with authority tells me to stop, I’ll do whatever I want” zone, but an “if someone tells me this disturbs them, maybe I should stop it” zone. And what is it with people having loud personal conversations where they can be overheard anyway?

      Reply
      1. nofelix

        Indeed. Anyone who says “I’ll only stop doing a bad thing when the right person tells me” clearly isn’t interested in avoiding bad behaviour.

        Reply
      2. NotAnotherManager!

        Yeah, I have definitely had the opportunity to directly intervene in real time on issues like this. I don’t think it’s wrong of OP to say, “What you’re doing RIGHT NOW is a problem, knock it off.”, but I also would have had Sansa handle any formal reprimand following up on the conversation that they already had about how this is not acceptable behavior and what specific improvements need to be made to her performance. Sansa needs to also point out to Arya that it’s not only not improved but has escalated to the point that Sansa’s boss has noticed it, and this is not how you want your boss’s boss to perceive you. I do think that Sansa needs some coaching on how to handle management of Arya.

        Reply
  5. Murphy

    #1 – Do people only talk to Arya about this after the fact? Has anyone tried stopping her in the middle of a phone call? Either telling her to keep it down, or to hang up, or something like that? I don’t know if that would be more effective, and it might depend on the nature of the personal call, but if you have enough time to have a conversation about what to do while she’s having a conversation, you could just as easily go over there and confront her in the moment.

    Reply
    1. Raine

      Her boss has talked to her multiple times. Her boss’s boss has now also reprimanded her. It’s way past time Arya stopped — the next step isn’t her bosses trying to figure out how to interrupt her in the act to get the same message across.

      Reply
      1. Murphy

        Oh I completely agree that she should have stopped by now. No question. This is all on her, and I think they’d be justified in taking formal disciplinary action, or just firing her. It just seemed odd to me to let her finish her conversation before talking to her about it. She’s been getting away with it with nothing more than a talking to. If she’s prevented from doing it while in the act, it might shock her into stopping.

        Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      I can see why this would be helpful if Arya claimed she wasn’t doing any such thing, or if she said she didn’t understand what her managers were talking about. In that case, it’s good to say “See! This, right here, is what we want you to stop doing.” But there isn’t really any indication that Arya can’t fix her behavior because she’s not aware of what she’s doing wrong.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        Even if Arya claims to not be doing what she is doing, she shouldn’t be able to gaslight two of her bosses into backing down. This woman must have a lot of chuzpe, though…

        Reply
  6. Katie the Fed

    1 – I don’t think you were out of line at all, actually. You backed up Sansa, and you told Arya how her actions were impacting you.

    But seriously – how much effort is required to “work on this.” This is a pretty black-or-white issue and one that shouldn’t take several coaching sessions. Arya needs to stop making personal calls, NOW. And that’s the message that Sansa needs to deliver. Not work on it, not get better – she needs to fix it now.

    Reply
    1. Raine

      So much this! I have been mortified the rare times in my career when a boss has talked to me ONCE. Heck, even when I haven’t been reprimanded I’ve worried.

      Reply
  7. Sheworkshardforthemoney

    “Arya, you need to put your phone away and start doing your work. Where is the report on teapot malfunctions for January? Have you finished it yet?”
    Maybe it’s the industry but in my last two jobs taking and receiving personal calls or texts outside of your break times was forbidden. We were told the clients were our priority.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      I’ve had coworkers make necessary personal calls at their desks; things like making doctor’s appointments, talking to spouses about the kids’ afternoon schedule, etc., and while I know it’s not acceptable everywhere, my office seemed to have no issue with it. But I’ve never had the guts to do it, I’ve always made those calls outside the office.

      Reply
      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney

        It can be the office culture but because my work involves dealing with the public we cannot be seen as being more engaged with our phones than with our work. Recently, I was at a bakery and the clerk was busy texting as I waited for service. The manager stood beside her glaring at her until she glanced up and saw me waiting. I like phones, but there is a time and a place. Again every office has its rules and if you are told by boss and grandboss to get off your phone then you better hang up and not argue about who has the right to tell you to get back to work. Arya sounds pretty clueless and hostile in this area.

        Reply
    2. ThatGirl

      I don’t do client-facing work, and I do occasionally make personal calls either at my desk from my cell phone or from my work phone. But it’s generally pretty short and not THAT personal – 2 minutes to make a haircut appointment, that sort of thing. I do occasionally hear people making frequent, more personal calls and that’s the sort of thing I think should be done in a less public area.

      Reply
    3. Nervous Accountant

      Clients here are our priority as well, but we’re not forbidden from taking calls. But everyone here still makes personal calls time to time. There’s a few who make long calls with their SOs, but I think it’s cute, not annoying (plus it’s outside of normal client hours). I dont’ do long phone calls, maybe a quick one to make a Dr appt or something but that’s it. Texting OTOH is my poison.

      Reply
    1. Jessie the First (or second)

      I disagree. This is not a complex skill-building or relationship-building or a whole host of behavior problems that need work. It’s really, really simply – just stop doing this ONE THING. Not every work problem should be addressed by a PIP. I don’t know to what extent this behavior and her refusal to comply is disruptive, but they can reprimand, demote, fire, or anything they like – but I don’t see how a PIP would help with this sort of thing.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        That’s the easiest kind of PIP to write. Arya’s loud, personal phone calls are disruptive and should be made away from her desk during break time only, and if she is unable to do so, she will be terminated. It’s about as specific as you can get, and if it’s someone who’s arguing about who can and can’t reprimand her, I’d err on the side of having a paper trail and putting her on notice (since she’s not getting the hint from the numerous boss meetings).

        I don’t think PIPs are only for complex or numerous problems. Several of the ones I’ve had to write have been very straightforward and addressed problems as simple as an employee refusing to fill out their timesheets correctly or specific steps we expect to see from those proactively seeking out work to maintain a full docket.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          I guess then I am just wondering why – why a PIP? Why a whole “plan” for one easily addressed problem ? Why not just reprimand and then fire?
          It just strikes me as too much hoop-jumping bureaucracy for this type of problem. Sure, it’d be easy to write. But why do it, especially as PIPs tend to be longer term (you’re not going to do a week of a PIP, right? We’re talking, put up with disruption from this crap behavior for 3 months or something)?

          Reply
          1. Thomas E

            A PIP gives you an opportunity to adress both the less important issue (the phone conversation) and the more important issue (refusing to act on feedback).

            It also makes it crystal clear that your job is on the line. That’s something that hasn’t happened yet.

            Reply
            1. Sunshine

              Maybe it hasn’t happened yet… we really don’t know. But again, it can happen in a conversation. No need for a PIP. “If I see this behavior again, you will be terminated.” Done.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I agree. You should do the warning part of the PIP (“If this happens again, I will let you go”) but you don’t need to do the whole “here’s 30 days and a list of metrics to hit” in a situation like this.

                Reply
          2. NotAnotherManager!

            Because sometimes HR likes a paper trail when you’re talking about firing someone. Some will take a note to file for each discussion, but others prefer formal documentation, particularly when you’re dealing with someone who has weird ideas about who can/cannot reprimand them or what is/is not appropriate in your office.

            My current HR would take the latter, but there is no way I was firing anyone without a PIP or a really egregious violation under former HR. Former HR wanted a witnessed meeting, preferably with an employee-signed PIP, before they’d OK a firing. I don’t disagree that it’s hoop-jumping bureaucracy, but you can play the game and get rid of a problem employee or you can fight the system. I wrote the PIPs.

            Reply
      2. Kimberlee, Esq

        a PIP is a formal way of saying “this is a big deal and you should address it” since the previous formal ways are obviously not doing it, and it’s probably not something they want to fire someone over.

        I totally know the frustration of trying to get someone to stop doing a relatively small thing… like, especially if their work is otherwise great (idk about OP, but generally speaking) and you know you’re just not going to fire them over this thing, as much as you want it to change. I was once in a situation where I found myself wondering if I was going to actually recommend a colleague get fired because they refused to tuck in their shirt (or, in this case, would tuck in and then untuck as soon as I was out of the area). It’s absurd and stupid but there are also just so few options! So, a PIP is a handy way to demonstrably escalate the problem without actually hurting your bottom line by demoting or firing someone.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But if you’re not going to fire/demote them, what happens at the end of the PIP if they haven’t made the changes you’ve asked for? It’s inherent in a PIP that there are consequences at the end. I think you might be saying “well, it won’t get to that point because a PIP is so serious that they’ll make the changes” — but I think you can do that from a sufficiently serious conversation too.

          Reply
    2. Katie the Fed

      Conduct issues really aren’t appropriate for a PIP. This is a conduct issue, not a performance one. This one is very, very easy:
      “You need to stop making personal calls on your work phone. You are allowed no more than 2 phone calls lasting less than 5 minutes per day. Anything beyond that will be grounds for disciplinary action including termination.”

      Reply
      1. MillersSpring

        I disagree. I’ve seen PIPs that were all about conduct, such as tardiness, sleeping at the desk, work attire, disrespect to coworkers, and other interpersonal behaviors.

        In many workplaces, following the code of conduct goes hand in hand with your job performance. It’s even part of each enployee’s performance review. So a PIP is appropriate.

        Reply
    3. Mephyle

      A PIP would be a way of formalizing the consequences. It can be as simple as NotAnotherManager! says. Without the PIP, this could play out (and so far has been doing so):
      Supervisors: Stop doing X.
      Employee:
      Supervisors: Stop doing X.
      Employee:
      Supervisors: Stop doing X.
      Employee:
      and so on. Until she is fired. Or not fired and just keeps on doing X.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        The no-PIP version:

        “We’ve spoken repeatedly about the fact that you need to stop doing X. It’s still happening. Can you tell me why?”

        … “I want to be really clear with you that if you continue to do X, I will need to let you go. This is the final warning I’ll be giving you. Do you understand that if this happens again, we will have to fire you?”

        Reply
  8. Agammamon

    Regarding #1 – I would just like to add that the writer was not only right but he was actually *reinforcing* Sansa’s authority.

    Arya might have the mistaken impression that what Sansa wants is just what Sansa wants – you’ve shown her that what Sansa wants is the same thing as what you want – she speaks with your voice and you will back her up.

    Now, not only has Arya been disabused of the notion that she could play ask-mommy/ask-daddy but Sansa has just that much more confidence to take the initiative to correct such things in the future.

    Now, this shouldn’t be someone’s *first* response – the writer says he’s been working through Sansa to correct these things but it does seem, from what was written, that Arya has a view of the workplace, professional norms, and her place in the heirarchy that is completely at odds with reality and needs to be smacked with the clue bat a bit.

    Reply
    1. On Fire

      Exactly. OP #1 isn’t undermining or taking authority *away* from Sansa – s/he is reinforcing Sansa’s prior instructions. Arya is acting like a misbehaving student who will not respect the teacher’s instructions and must therefore be addressed by the principal. With this escalation, she should see now that her behavior is unacceptable across the board.

      And with no idea where the OP is located or what the laws are regarding job retention, I would suggest that this is an insubordination issue worthy of “Stop, entirely and immediately, or (consequence). Period. End of discussion.”

      Reply
  9. Purest Green

    #2 – It’s like Jane has blackmail on these people or something. I’ve certainly experienced employees being rehired, but I don’t understand how she’s able to jerk them around like this. But anyway, I fully agree the best thing you can do is drop statements in front of her manager like, “It’s really great working with Anna. She’s a good hire!”

    Reply
    1. eplawyer

      Because the manager of that team is hands off. It’s easier to just rehire Jane who requires no training and/or supervision than go through the effort of dealing with someone new. Path of least resistance.

      Reply
      1. SophieChotek

        I agree — path of least resistance/no need to train.
        Had an employee like her at coffee shop where I work; I think my manager hired her back 2 or 3 times even though we explicitly told our manager we didn’t like having to pick up her slack and her dropping shifts; manager hired old-employee back because then she didn’t have to budget for training. When old-employee was “on” she was good and customers like her – when she was “off” (i.e hung over in the back and sleeping it off — literally, on a piece of cardboard in the backroom) — it wasn’t so great.

        Reply
    2. Garrett

      Yeah, it would be really crappy to fire someone to bring back Jane, especially if that person is performing well. This situation is different than before, so things might be okay. But, I would definitely heed Alison’s advice and tell Allistair how good she is.

      Reply
      1. EvilQueenRegina

        Yeah, the other times Jane has come back there was a genuine vacancy – the first time before OP started the position hadn’t been filled yet, and from the way Robb was described, he’d have been out the door anyway most likely regardless of Jane did, rather than actually letting him go to bring Jane back. Since it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here the manager might not do that.

        I’m curious about the context of the “You’ll always have a job here, Jane” remark that Alistair is supposed to have made. Is it something he’s said recently *because* Jane is making noises about coming back since the move for her husband’s job wasn’t working out, or was it an off the cuff remark made as she was leaving last time, one that he perhaps didn’t think would really become an issue again since she was supposed to be leaving the area?

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          This. There is no reason at all Alistair can’t say ‘We’d love to have you work with us but we don’t have any openings right now.’ It would be monstrous to fire the good new worker so Jane can continue to take the office for granted.

          Reply
      2. Zombii

        That would be really crappy, and I’ve worked somewhere where it happened.

        Similar story, with our “Jane” having quit twice previously, then our manager laid “Anna” off so Jane could come back again—because Anna had only been there for 10 months, so it’s not like she has as much experience as Jane, so that makes all kinds of sense, right?

        The punchline was when Jane quit to go do something else again 3 months later, and the manager was appalled when he called Anna to offer her the job back, and she said something like “Are you serious?!” before hanging up on him.

        Reply
    3. OP#2

      OP#2 here. From what I understand, the first time Jane left it was to join a tech start-up that she was introduced to through her manager, Alistair. It apparently fell apart literally at the last minute, after she had already quit her job. I’m thinking that is why she was hired back the first time, and maybe why she keeps getting to come back. Maybe he feels guilty? I really don’t know him well enough to say.

      Reply
  10. Darsy

    I don’t actually work in an office setting so now I’m curious–is it simply out of bounds to request that someone stop holding loud personal conversations within your own earshot? By which I mean, is this something that needs to be done by the person’s boss? I also wonder if the subject overheard makes a difference–for example if it were an issue of very personal or even inappropriate discussion, I’d want to say something to the person ASAP, whether or not I spoke to their superiors.

    Reply
    1. Julia

      Personally, I think it’s completely within your rights to remark to someoone that their personal conversatiions are disturbing your work, which you are paid to do. How they react is another story sometimes…

      Reply
      1. Liane

        I think it’s fine even for loud work-related conversations, in person or not.
        “Fergus and Dane, can you take the TPS convo to Dane’s office, please. We need to concentrate on XYZ. Thanks”
        “Wakeen, please don’t put your calls on speaker in our cube farm. There’s an empty office you can use.”

        Reply
        1. Julia

          I tried to tell my colleague that her yelling into her phone was terribly distracting (and making my ears bleed), but she just came up with bullshit ad hominems like “well, you walk too loudly” and our boss was the kind to think both arguments always have the same weight, so I left that job. Ugh.

          Reply
    2. A Nonny Mouse

      I work with financial stuff and totally heard a co-worker give their cc# over the phone for a lunch order. Yeah, that was a fun convo to have, especially since said co-worker also does financial stuff.

      Reply
      1. Tatertot

        Ugh I used to work at hotel reservations call centre that *obviously* took credit card info over the phone (can’t book without a credit card on file)… The amount of people who would sound astonished when we asked for a credit card and tell us they couldn’t give us the credit card info because they were in a public place was baffling. However, I once had one guy who was obviously in a very public place when he called, and when I suggested he either find a quiet place, call back later or book online, called me some choice names and told me that the government would steal his information if he paid for anything online. I wasn’t quite sure what he thought would happen when he called from a coffee shop.

        Reply
        1. Jessesgirl72

          What used to kill me is that the bank would decide that our credit/debit card had been compromised, and put a stop on it without warning (buying $50 more than “usual” at Meijer’s still does it!) So I would have to call from the checkout lane to get the card un-stopped so I could continue buying groceries! And the person wanted me to give my SSN to them over the phone in the middle of the checkout lane!

          I’m so glad that now I just get an email that I can click on to say “Yes, I recognize this transaction! Unstick the card!”

          Reply
      2. Zombii

        I don’t understand the problem with the coworker giving her own credit card information over the phone for a lunch order? Is the concern that she might be giving out client information so casually too, or that she shouldn’t trust people who take credit card information as part of their job to not misuse that information?

        Storytime. When I was working at a call center that handled a bank’s credit card customer service, I got a call where no info auto-popped on the screen. When this happens, we have to look up the account manually. I asked the woman for her credit card number, and got yelled at because she had chosen to call from a crowded subway car, and didn’t “trust any of these f!ckers not to steal [her] information!” I apologized, and let her know she might want to call back from somewhere more private, because the only way I could look up the account was with either the credit card number or her full social security number. Without a pause, presumably still on the same crowded subway car, she gave me her social security number.

        Reply
    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      There’s a difference between doing it as a colleague and doing it as a boss. A colleague would say “do you mind?” and the talker has the right to decline to change their behavior. When a boss makes the request, it’s reeeeeeally not a request, it’s a directive.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think even there the talker can’t decline to change (in the moment, anyway) without being a workplace problem, but obviously the co-worker has no authority to do anything about it directly.

        Reply
    4. A Person

      I think it’s reasonable if you’re in an office your conversations should err on the side of using your indoor voice and being worksafe, especially where you can be overheard. Asking someone to stop it/take it elsewhere is reasonable, well it should be reasonable but reason has never stopped some people. I don’t think any kind of hierarchy should really matter here and it shouldn’t really matter who its coming from- too loud/NSFW stuff are pretty clear lines most of the time.

      That said, there’s a whole lot of calculations to be made to decide if you feel able to tell someone to knock it off. There’s an ass at my work who has a nasty habit of dragging staff into awkward conversations about violence in the public facing front office. Whilst I feel able to tell obnoxious self-aggrandizer to knock it off, I know some of my co-workers would rather just extricate themselves/ignore and hope he goes away.

      Reply
    5. NW Mossy

      One of my directs brought this exact issue to me last week (loud coworker making it hard for her to concentrate), and I advised her to take it up with Fergus Loudy-McChatterbox directly when it happens. In their case, the behavior’s sporadic and largely unconscious, so a general “hey, keep it down” from me at a time when Fergus is not being loud won’t have the same impact as Isolde saying those exact same words in the moment.

      Reply
    6. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not at all out of bounds to ask people to stop having loud personal conversations that are distracting you, and it would have been totally fine for the OP to do that. It got more complicated when it became a manager’s reprimand.

      Reply
  11. AdAgencyChick

    #1: Arya sounds like a giant pain in the ass. I think you and Sansa need to sit down and decide whether you’re willing to fire her if the obnoxiousness doesn’t stop. If you are, then Sansa needs to start escalating her conversations with Arya about the problem to include, “this will jeopardize your employment here.” If you’re not, then Sansa can still say, “this is going to get in the way of your advancement here.” She should also tell Arya, “And I have OP’s full support on this.”

    I also think Sansa needs to make it clear that there are three issues here, not one:
    1) the obnoxious behavior
    2) the far more serious issue that Arya has repeatedly ignored instructions from her manager to stop the behavior
    3) Arya’s utter cluelessness as to OP’s role on the team

    I would address 3) by making it clear to Arya that OP is in charge of the entire team, and that includes both direct and indirect reports. I might also remind Arya that OP is the one who would decide whether a raise or a promotion — or a termination — moves forward, so it’s in Arya’s self-interest to be more respectful of OP in the future.

    Reply
  12. Grey

    If I were Arya’s boss, I’d ask: “Arya, either you’re reprimanded for causing the disturbance, or I’m reprimanded for not correcting it. Which would you have preferred?”

    The answer should tell you all you need to know about her.

    Reply
    1. TL -

      The boss’s job performance isn’t any of Ayra’s business, though. I would be really angry if my boss tried to guilt trip me like that.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I don’t care if the employee is angry, but I think it’s a weak management strategy. You manage because that’s what needs to be done, not because you’ll get in trouble if you don’t.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          I meant more: this would be a highly ineffective management strategy because I would a) not care b) lose a lot of respect for you as a manager and c) think that there would be few realconsequences for me.

          Reply
          1. Rusty Shackelford

            I’d take it as a threat. “If you don’t shape up, I get in trouble, and if that happens, you’re going to deal with the consequences of that, and they’re going to be worse than what’s happening to you right now.” But then, if that’s what you want to say, you should come out and say it.

            Reply
    2. animaniactoo

      I 100% would not go with this strategy. If anything that last question would be “Which do you think I’m going to choose?” AND ONLY if I thought that it would get across to this particular employee that getting her to stop *is* actually my job, in a way that she wasn’t hearing any other way. However, I think that if you’ve gotten to that point, you likely have already lost the war, even if you win the battle on this one.

      Reply
    3. Anna

      I think a better strategy would be to say, “Arya, I know Sansa has spoken to you several times about making loud personal calls from you desk. I called you in here because I just heard you doing that same thing. Is there a reason you haven’t made this change despite Sansa’s request?”

      1. It backs up Sansa.
      2. It puts it back on Arya to explain herself.
      3. It removes the possibility of Arya being able to divert attention because Not My Boss reprimanded her.

      Reply
    4. Sunflower

      This doesn’t make any sense because it makes it seem like the boss is only reprimanding her because she has to as opposed to because what Arya is doing isn’t okay. It may reinforce a culture (that doesn’t seem to exist at this place) that people only do things because they are told. These managers seem totally capable of thinking for themselves and making decisions based on that.

      I would lose a ton of respect for my manager if she pulled this on me. Also if you don’t correct someone when they are doing something wrong then you deserve to be reprimanded for it?

      Reply
    5. Grey

      My point in saying that was to illustrate how ridiculous Aray’s complaint sounded, because to me, it sounds as if she’s saying “I’d rather your boss address my problem with you rather than me”. It’s seems as though she’d prefer the OP to reprimand Sansa rather than herself.

      I can see now that my intent isn’t as clear as I thought it would be, so this is probably not the thing to say.

      Reply
      1. Grey

        And really… If I have an employee who continues to ignore my instruction and blatantly does so directly in front of my own boss, and then implies that I should “get a talking to” instead of her… At that point, I’m not going to worry about how much respect she might lose for me because her days are likely numbered.

        Reply
    6. The Supreme Troll

      No, as TL and fposte said below, this is a very “cop-out” time of management strategy. Sansa shouldn’t have to beg or gain Arya’s sympathy in order for her to change her behavior.

      Reply
      1. Grey

        It’s not about looking for sympathy and no strategy was intended. It’s like Arya is saying, “Your boss shouldn’t be talking to me about my behavior. She should be asking you why you can’t do anything about it”. I was just trying point out the absurdity here.

        In no way whatsoever would I want my employee to think I wanted her to improve just so my own boss would back off. But like I said, since my original comment might be misinterpreted that way, it’s best not to say it. Maybe there’s a better way to spell it out for Arya.

        Reply
  13. Nervous Accountant

    #1–I’m just trying to think of how something like that would play out in my own office. And in fact it just happened yesterday! Not a huge deal, but my supervisor brought it up to me, after another coworker brought it to his attention. Again, not a big thing, but one of the things we adamantly agreed on was that we KNOW if our boss starts noticing it and brings it up, then it’s crossed over into a serious issue…..idk about how others feel but that’s what makes the most sense to me.

    Ideally, a trusted coworker/peer would bring it up to you so that you can self correct before it gets to a higher up…even your own direct boss bringing it up is OK…but when your boss’s boss is telling you to get your act together, thats a HUGE red flag.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      I fully cosign everything you’ve said here. A grandboss taking interest isn’t a sign that they’ve overstepped themselves, but that you’ve gone flying past the line in a pair of seven-league boots!

      Reply
  14. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    1) Holy holy hell, OP!! That is such a bizarre and abnormal response to a reprimand from a grandboss, I can’t even fully grok it. Honestly, I would be questioning (in fact, as a spectator, I am questioning) whether Arya is even salvageable as an employee with an attitude like that. Even if her work is spectacular when she’s not taking loud personal calls, that’s a poisonous attitude that can easily spread around.

    2) I agree with Alison’s feedback here. While Jane may be great, it sounds like in the long run she is costing your company money with the way she keeps leaving and prompting another new hire and training period. Maybe her expertise isn’t quite so valuable in light of that?

    Reply
  15. Christine

    1. Did I make a mistake by reprimanding my direct report’s employee?
    At this stage the employee should have a formal write up that she is not following her manager’s directions. I think you were right in saying something, but I would have taken the approach of informing her that her loud conversations are disturbing you as an individual. Look out your door, “Hey, tone it down I can hear everything you’re saying in my office. I also think she needs to focus on her work. Her direct manager needs to look at her deliverables. Her chatting could be cutting in the amount of work she produces.
    2. Revolving door of employees on another team is causing problems
    Send a nice memorandum to her manager stating how happy you are with the temp’s work performance, best performer, etc. and cc HR. That would like to see her position turn into permanent, etc. You’ll have to think of the type of wording to be done, etc. Someone may suggest something that is professional, makes it clear that you very happy with the current employee, etc. Would like to see them make permanent … done in such a way that HR would question him terminating her position and rehiring former co worker. You can always that you find her easier to work with than past employees, etc.

    Reply
    1. Jessie the First (or second)

      “done in such a way that HR would question him terminating her position and rehiring former co worker”

      This seems oddly adversarial to me – trying to set up the other team and force a decision that is not yours to make. The other team isn’t your opponent. They are colleagues. Just talk to them and let them know what you think. And in the end, the other team has the right to make the call that works best for them – all you can do is give them input. Setting it up the way you suggest is overstepping boundaries. And passive-aggressive, I think.

      Reply
  16. Rusty Shackelford

    #5, if you’re worried about not having a good enough “reason” to turn her down (which is unnecessary but I understand that you might be finding it harder to simply tell her “no”), tell her that you need a full-time job, and what she’s proposing sounds like a part-time job. That’s all. It seems like you’re assuming she’ll want you to work for her in addition to whatever job you might find, and she’s probably not actually thinking that.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      The OP does not need a reason. She is not a slave; she gets to decide what work she does. Saying ‘I won’t be able to continue past June because I made other plans when you told me you were closing. Of course I will do everything I can till then to help assure a smooth transition’ is a complete sentence. Acting guilty actually undercuts the OP and makes her look guilty or responsible for doing this. Saying ‘no’ with confidence is the best approach on every level including future references.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        I know she doesn’t need a reason. That’s why I pointed out it’s unnecessary. But sometimes people have a hard time saying “no” without adding “because,” and it sounded like the LW might be in that kind of situation.

        Reply
  17. Ama

    OP 2, I’d definitely follow Alison’s advice and mention to Alistair how easy it is to work with Anna. If he’s really a path of least resistance kind of guy,your support for Anna will make it easier for that path to be keeping Anna rather than bringing back Jane.

    I might also say something to Anna about how well you think she’s doing (leaving out the comparisons to Jane). I imagine by now she’s heard some of the Jane stories and rumors and might be feeling a little nervous about her job security; I know you can’t definitely promise her everything will work out, but I bet she’d appreciate some positive feedback.

    Reply
  18. animaniactoo

    OP1, not only did you have the standing to address it as Sansa’s boss, you had the standing to address it as somebody who was hearing it and having an issue with it.

    Arya does NOT get to decide who in her chain of command talks to her about performance issues. Dead stop. Arya does NOT get to decide. You and Sansa who are in charge of managing her get to decide. If anybody had a right to have an issue with you addressing Arya directly about this, it would be Sansa as a question of undermining her authority. But Sansa was on board.

    Do not second guess yourself. When somebody pushes back against something you’ve done like this – stop and asking yourself the question: Who does it serve for it not to have been you who spoke to Arya? Based on that, who has the most *right* to decide who speaks to Arya?

    In this case, it served Arya for you not to be the person. And Arya is the person who is not following direction, so Arya doesn’t get a vote. It *could* have also served Sansa, who is the person tasked with managing Arya, and therefore Sansa’s preference for it to be you as reinforcement does get a vote. Because when it comes down to it – if Arya had followed direction, there would have been no need for you to speak at all. It would never have even been a question.

    Quite honestly, I think the coaching you need to give Sansa right now is in giving a Arya a hard setdown about this since she’s still “extremely frustrated” – that *anyone* higher up than she is in the company – and particularly in her chain of command – is entitled to speak directly to her about something that they see as a problem. If she, Sansa, does not agree with what was said, she will push back and defend Arya as her manager. But since Sansa DOES agree with this, Arya needs to stop focusing on who spoke to her and correct it post-haste before it becomes a bigger problem than it already is. She she take the fact that Sansa’s boss (OP) found it necessary to throw his oar in as a sign that this is a MUCH more serious problem than she (Arya) thinks it is. Whether she agrees with that assessment or not – the people who are in charge of managing her and signing her paychecks do.

    Reply
  19. Liz2

    Whenever I hear of people wanting to contact after you leave or retire I always just think “No problem, my consulting fee is $250 an hour between 7-9pm on Wednesdays.”

    Presuming you’d want to give those hours up, time is worth more than money.

    Reply
  20. Sled dog mama

    Having been Arya in a previous job (sort of, different issue than talking on the phone). If she wasn’t getting it from Sansa talking to her then you are totally right to reinforce what Sansa is saying.
    I think the only way it would be inappropriate is is if you hadn’t given time to see if what Sansa said to Arya sunk in or if it was clear that Arya did get it from what Sansa said.
    My first job out of grad school I struggled and my boss called me into his office one day because I had fallen asleep waiting for a computer program to load (program was taking forever), I had a lot of respect for this guy at the time (he later did some things that made me loose respect for him) and him reprimanding me and telling me what a poor reflection it was on him made a huge impact. Not three hours later grand boss walks into my office and proceeds to harangue me about how terrible this was, he proceeded to lecture me for about 30 minutes. Clearly he believed that he needed to repeat what was said but I already felt humiliated from a person I respected reprimanding me and now I’ve got someone I have zero interaction with lecturing me a second time when I had already gotten it. If I had continued after the first meeting I could see escalation but there was no time to see it I got it or not.

    Reply
  21. Sas

    Yay for you (#3 ) for knowing two people that need and deserve a good recommendation. We need more recommendations (within reason). I think Aam’s advice is helpful, might leave out the last part though, “In the interests of transparency,” and keep it simple.

    Reply
  22. (Another) B

    5.
    “You don’t lose someone as a reference just because you leave”

    Unfortunately in my case at my last job it happened to me. I gave notice, my boss threw a fit and told me to GTFO, deleted me on LinkedIn, and now I have no reference from there.

    Reply
  23. ArtK

    #2, so Jane has left the company *three times*!!!! I wouldn’t have hired her back after the 2nd departure. She’s shown, repeatedly, that she isn’t committed.

    Reply
  24. Trout 'Waver

    OP #3, Having multiple recommendations for an open position makes you look well-connected, which is a very good thing. Apparently you’re great at networking.

    Definitely let the people you’re recommending know that you’re recommending others as well. You wouldn’t want a bad assumption on their part to tank a good relationship.

    Reply
  25. EddieSherbert

    #2: My one comment I would add to Alison’s advice (which is great) to be aware of how you approach it and know that whatever you say may get back to Jane. It shouldn’t, but it feels like a situation where it could.

    To me, it sounds like there’s a chance Jane could be hired back in a different job (and hear things through the grapevine) if they want to keep Anna but Jane “always has a job with them.”

    Reply
  26. MommyMD

    You are a senior manager who corrected an employee who was yapping loudly directly outside your office. An employer who had been warned. You were not wrong. IMO I believe this entitled employee should have it spelled out very clearly that her behavior threatens her job. And if she doesn’t take her direct manager seriously, you needed to intervene. So what if this unprofessional employee has her feelings hurt?

    Reply
  27. TootsNYC

    #5: Heck, offer to be a reference for her.
    You know, since her new part-time concept might strike an applicant as iffy in terms of financial viability, and it might be important for them to know that she’s a person of honor.

    That’ll throw her off a little, and remind her of the concept of references.

    Also–speak soon. She may be floating trial balloons, and if she thinks your silence means you’re going along w/ her plan, it’ll be a jolt when you say something.

    Another option to cement your reference is to offer to set up the new systems (communication, files, documentation, etc.) and train the first new hire, even if it means you come back (for pay) after you’ve left.

    Reply

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