after an employee died, her team has driven off anyone we hire to replace her

A reader writes:

A year ago, someone I worked with (Jane) died. She was killed by an impaired driver while crossing the street after work. Some of her colleagues witnessed it. Jane worked here for almost a decade and was well-liked. (The company has an EAP and offered paid therapy services to anyone who needs it as well as fully paid bereavement and time off to attend the trial, no questions asked.) Jane was one of my reports (I manage her manager).

A month after Jane’s death, her replacement started. The replacement was an internal transfer who was offered the job after a job search was conducted inside the company. However, three months after starting the job, the replacement suddenly quit without notice. She emailed her resignation to HR at the end of the work day effective immediately. The job was then offered to the other person who had been looked at in the job search. He started a week after the first replacement left. Four months after he started, he also quit without any notice. After he left, no one in the company put in to transfer into the role, so the company did an outside job search. An outside person, new to the company, was hired a month after the second replacement quit. That was three months ago, and the outside hire just quit last week after giving only two days of notice.

After the outside hire quit, the HR manager and assistant HR manager asked to meet with me. They informed me the outside hire had said in her exit interview that she was leaving because she couldn’t handle working with Jane’s old coworkers and manager. She said she resumed job searching almost as soon as she started here because of how bad it was. She told them she had tried to address it with the manager (who managed Jane) but nothing changed. HR shared this with me because they had received similar complaints from the first two replacements for Jane’s job. In their resignation emails, both of them said they couldn’t handle it and the manager did nothing. The first replacement quit without having anything lined up. The second replacement took a job with a lower title than he had here.

What Jane’s replacements said they couldn’t handle was being constantly compared to Jane, being accused of hostility or coldness for arranging the desk differently than Jane had it, having things like “if Jane were here…” or “some of us still care about Jane” said aloud to them. According to the resignations and the exit interview, the manager participated and accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” the dead when they brought their concerns forward. The outside hire said she was excluded from everything and asked how she could sleep at night for taking Jane’s job.

Word got around the company so no one put in to transfer into Jane’s role and that is why an outside person had to be hired. After the outside hire left, upper management tried to get another person who already works here to transfer into the job so they didn’t have to go through the hiring process again. The person they picked wrote her resignation and was ready to quit before they told her she didn’t have to take it.

I work in a different building than Jane’s coworkers and manager and I had no idea any of this was happening until HR told me (I also don’t know why HR didn’t act on these complaints). No one came to me about it before this. Jane’s job often involves tight deadlines, and I thought the first two replacements left because they couldn’t handle the pressure. It turns out they always met the deadlines and had no performance issues.

I understand Jane’s death is upsetting and difficult for her coworkers, but what they are doing cannot continue. We can’t keep hiring people every few months. Since the three replacements and the person upper management wanted to bring in have all said the same things (especially given that the outside hire never met the other three), I do believe they are telling the truth about Jane’s coworkers and manager. I know I need to talk to the coworkers and manager about their behavior but given the emotion behind this I don’t even know where to start. I am way out of my depth with this.

Oooof.

Yeah, you’ve got to talk to them. Start with the manager, because ultimately she has the most responsibility for this.

Lay it out for her really directly: “We’ve now had three people quit this role after only a few months, and each of the three said they left because of how they were treated for taking Jane’s job. One person said she was expected not to rearrange anything on her desk because it should be left the way Jane had it. Jane’s death has of course been hard on her team — there’s no way around that — but we can’t mistreat future hires because of it. We’re not going to be able to keep anyone in that job if your team keeps doing this. Knowing that we can’t let that role go unfilled, and knowing that it’s clearly tough on you and your staff to adjust to someone else being in the job, what do you suggest we do?”

The idea is to make it a conversation about what’s going on. It’s possible that you’re going to find that the manager and others on her team didn’t quite realize the extent of the problem. Or who knows, maybe they did, in which case a very direct “this is driving people away and we can’t keep doing it” conversation is the way to go anyway. But lay it out there, ask for her help, ask for her team’s help, and see where that gets you.

Note: Commenters have pointed out that you shouldn’t say “Jane’s job” — as I did in my suggested language above — when you talk about this, since that’s reinforcing the problem. Also, there is much better advice in the comments below than what I had to offer.

{ 724 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    These people are being completely unhinged. I get being upset and grieving at a coworker’s death and having a hard time getting used to a new person in that role, but “asked how she could sleep at night for taking Jane’s job” and “accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” the dead when they brought their concerns forward” is balls-out insanity, totally delusional.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Right? There has to be some kind of intense groupthink happening here to make this as pervasive as it seems. The hell.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that! It’s totally groupthinky. That’s even weirder! I wonder if there’s a really charismatic person on the team who sort of swept everyone else up in the “it’s not a job and a desk, it’s a shrine to our dear departed Jane” inanity. Hell, it could be the manager, for all we know.

        Reply
        1. Noobtastic

          In that case, I think it’s time for some new furniture for that entire department, as well as shuffling everyone’s physical location around (still within the same area of the building, perhaps, but definitely new-work the floor plan), so that the “shrine” is destroyed, and they all have to hit the reset button on their auto-pilots.

          A physical change can make a big difference.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Like, move the entire department to a supply closet. Without their favorite staplers.

            Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                No unkindness intended, I just always think of Milton when talking about moving employees around.

                Reply
              2. Jeannalola

                You are so right, Alison. These folks may be acting irrationally, but grief is irrational. Also, there is probably so much shock, PTSD and survivor guilt involved in seeing this poor woman mowed down. Whoever comes in to manage will have to have a gentle touch for awhile.

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                1. Zal

                  Rubbish. I’ve had PTSD and know others who have had it too. The bottom line is, if you are an aggressive, mean-spirited person, your PTSD will be mean-spirited too. A person’s true character is best shown when under a fiery trial, and these workers are bullies. I am sure it is not the first time they have bullied someone.

                2. Zombii

                  I completely disagree. This isn’t about someone floor-crying in the bathroom after seeing different family photos on Jane’s the new hire’s desk, this is an entire department actively and hostilely driving out new co-workers. Of course it takes time to come to terms with a loss, but this behavior isn’t acceptable in any context—and I would expect a manager to be shutting this shit down quickfast, not exacerbating it.

                  It’s a terrible situation, and I recommend firing the whole department: nuke it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). Failing that, they need a new manager immediately, preferably an interim manager from a functional department or someone else already known to the company who is more senior than the outgoing manager, and that new manager needs to be willing and able to manage a hostile team, possibly by replacing them one by one until they have a group that can start acting like reasonable adult human-things to each other again.

                3. Just my opinion

                  I have to agree with both Zal and zombie’s posts. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and it *never* made me mean spirited and hostile to someone, other than the manager I worked with who knew I had it, knew why I had it, and would under the guise of concern poke and prod with “caring” questions, resulting in my bawling my eyes out and then her being concerned over my mental state.
                  As zombie said, the whole department would be at risk of losing their jobs, but particularly the manager as she has not only allowed the hostility to go on but has participated in it.
                  She obviously would be the first person spoken to and while I would go about it as gently as possible given the circumstances, I would also be extremely firm and pointed about her complete inappropriateness and dreadful choices as a manager.
                  While this group is grieving, their hostility and actions undermine the company as a whole.

                4. Danielle

                  My workplace has been doing a lot of mental health training in the last year. The goal is to make people more aware of mental illness, lessen the stigma, educate people on how common mental illness actually is, and provide resources for recognition, treatment, and support. The training has been very valuable, and in cases like the one the OP describes, I am reminded of a line from one of the course instructors.

                  “A depressed a**hole is still an a**hole.”

                  It’s true. While there may be a mental health related reason for their behaviour, having a reason doesn’t make being an a**hole acceptable. The good news is that a “depressed a**hole”, with the right treatment and support, can hopefully stop being an a**hole.

              3. Cruella Deangelo

                I disagree. You shouldn’t be unkind per say, but you should definitely tell them that what they did was mean and unacceptable and hold them accountable for it. Grief is a possible explanation for this behavior, but it is not an excuse. How many of those replacements need therapy for the harassment and guilt they needlessly suffered? Would Jane, their idol golden child, have wanted them to single out these people and make them feel so unwelcome? Assuming these are professional, grown adults, I’d tell them that if I heard this was going on again, we were going to have a very serious talk about their futures with this company.

                Reply
              4. Zal

                What about those poor job seekers who felt forced to resign because of these people’s unkindness? We don’t know what struggles or challenges they could have been facing while all this was happening. Perhaps one of them was fleeing from an equally abusive work situation, hoping that this new job would be a safer, healthier situation. Or maybe one of them just buried a parent… or just got through some tough financial times. Honestly, when I read the original post, my heart was downcast – not for these childish bullies, but for the three or four poor souls whose careers and livelihoods have been unjustly interrupted this way. I quite like the idea of dismantling the office and destroying the shrine. These employees and manager needs disciplining, imho.

                Reply
          2. Also Anon

            This was my thought as well. At the very least, redo the seating arrangement so the new hire doesn’t have to sit at “Jane’s desk” and give it to someone who has expressed displeasure with things being rearranged. Perhaps they will then realize how ridiculous it is.

            Reply
            1. Drew

              I am reminded of when a classmate was killed in an auto accident my junior year of high school. The teacher in the class we shared kept the seating chart the same for a week or two, long enough to acknowledge the loss, and then created a new seating arrangement in which not only pupils but actual desks were shifted around so no one felt like “Oh, I’m sitting in Jane’s desk, that’s so creepy.” I think the teacher may even have swapped that desk with one from another classroom.

              And the teacher was totally up front with all of us about this: “We all miss Jane, but part of grieving is recognizing that life goes on, and so rather than focus everyone on the hole in our seating arrangement, I’m changing it up so those of us who are still here can come together and move forward. We’ll always remember our dear friend Jane, but let’s also remember that we are alive and that change is part of life.” Something to that effect.

              Some of us teared up, but it did exactly what we needed it to; it let us let go of our grief and accept that it was OK to start to heal.

              Reply
              1. calonkat

                This is exactly the plan I would suggest, and her wording is excellent as well. What a great job by that teacher!

                Reply
              2. The Strand

                Agreed, what a thoughtful teacher you had. I think that wording could absolutely be used in an office situation, to help disengage some long term feelings and memories, while respecting other memories everyone wants to keep.

                Reply
          3. Abby

            I think this is a good idea. Not to a supply closet, but a move might help them distance themselves. Because at some point, they do have to move on at work-not from their grieving process or missing Jane or dealing with the horror of witnessing her death, but being professional, working with others, allowing someone to get their job done.

            At some point, it becomes a discipline issue for those employees. I would never tell someone that they had to adhere to a specific grieving timeline (after my father passed, my grief came in waves), but I would tell them that they had to move on at work.

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            1. Stranger than fiction

              Yes, all this. Also, perhaps let a couple of the team members be included in the interview process next go around.

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              1. dappertea

                Honestly, I would be a little hesitant to recommend they sit in on interviews without someone else who is not on the team present as well. They might try to scare away candidates before anyone can even join the team.

                Reply
              2. Liane

                I don’t think that is a good idea. These people are grieving so badly they are professionally dysfunctional. They have driven away 3 people who had the role of Teapot Polisher* and caused another employee to tell her superiors/HR she would resign rather than take that job, which is a really drastic move. I don’t want to think about what they might do/say to candidates to discourage them from continuing in the process.
                I was going to suggest they might be asked to give input on an updated Teapot Polisher job description or must-have vs. nice-to-have requirements. But then I realized they could create problems on that end, such as sit on their draft to delay the hiring.

                *to avoid “Jane’s job” as Alison asked

                Reply
              3. Turtle Candle

                I’d worry about that. Interviewers make a big difference in how the company is perceived by potential hires, and this department is in no way what I’d want potential hires to think of me.

                Plus, it feels like rewarding bad behavior: want a bigger say in who your new coworkers are? Be actively hostile to new hires!

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              4. lokilaufeysanon

                Yeah, I have to agree with others that this is a horrible idea. There is no way I believe anyone on this team is professional enough to do this when they aren’t even professional enough towards anyone who has actually been hired to do this job. All I see is them sabotaging the interviews of candidates and dragging the process out.

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          4. Anon Guy

            This is a good idea. I think people are reacting so strongly because many of them SAW someone get killed. That’s a very traumatic thing.

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            1. OhBehave

              This is so true. If they didn’t take advantage of the counseling offered by the company, then they are even worse off because they may be stuck with the accident replay on a loop in their minds. Counseling wouldn’t erase the image, but they might be better able to cope. Couple that with an upcoming trial and the very real possibility that some of them may have to testify make this very hard to manage.

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              1. Lablizard

                Or that the person might be found not guilty. There is often a bit of a jump from “did it” to “jury agrees and evidence supports”

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                1. Zowayix

                  One of several reasons why I’ve always preferred the Scandinavian system where the verdicts are “proven” and “not proven” rather than “guilty” and “not guilty”.

          5. Newbie

            Wow…I completely agree with the physical change being a key component. We went through the death of a very dear, very much loved, long time employee at my former job. She got ill, and passed very quickly and in a very difficult way. The employees in her department and some of the folks that were there longer were all like family. We wound up leaving the position open for as long as possible (she was a manager) and several of her team members pitched in to cover her duties – it gave them something to do, and I believe, made them feel a little better – just comfort in knowing they were carrying the torch so to speak. She was very particular, and liked things done just as so, always on a very specific schedule, etc. – so I think the sense of routine and “no outsiders stepping in” helped. Until, it could not go on any longer like that. We moved the entire department into a different area of the office, changed things up a bit in their new work space, and turned the old office into a “work room” so no one had to office in it. Just too hard for so many long term employees still to see someone in that office. Eventually, a new hire was brought in from the outside – that has its own pitfalls and advantages, but bottom line – we had to bring in someone from the outside for some of the reasons outlined here. It had to be new blood. An incredibly difficult situation, but this is how my company handled it. I also think after the manger has been met with and had a chance to voice concerns, complaints, grief, etc. – get it out – the entire department should be involved in a group meeting. Something along the lines of – we have to move forward, and Jane would not want her department to crumble in her absence – we owe her more than that, and we have to get back to taking care of business. After the appropriate amount of time of course! At a certain point, you have to tell the employees – very kindly, but firmly – how they will or will not be allowed to act going forward. This has already gone way too far, it sounds like. Just some comments from my very painful experience.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              This is a really great example of what “to do” for the OP. Thank you for sharing this pearl. This is probably THE example that comes to mind when people talk about the worst things that a leader may have to deal with- the loss of a respected cohort.

              As you show here, no answer is smooth sailing. Even under the best of planning it can be a really rocky road.

              I am sorry for your loss and your pain. Thank you for reaching out to help others.

              Reply
            2. Volunteer Enforcer

              My organisation handled it very well too. A front line worker from a different department and a first level manager from my department died. It was handled by acknowledging the loss, offering support such as pointing towards counselling and only filling the jobs after two to three weeks had passed to allow staff time to process it.

              Reply
          6. Cath in Canada

            Before I joined my current team, a young woman who used to work here collapsed in the office completely out of the blue and passed away later that day. I’d met her, and she was lovely, and everyone was obviously devastated. One of the things they did was to move everyone to a different section of a different floor, which everyone says was very helpful (especially the person who found her, and performed CPR on her). I think they also shuffled project portfolios around a bit, so no-one ended up with the deceased person’s exact job – just parts of it.

            Reply
          7. Artemesia

            This. I would plan a major reorganization and break this team up and assign them elsewhere if possible and demote the manager. If the team is incredibly uniquely specific and this cannot be done, I would be inclined to demote and transfer the manager and hire a new manager and reorganize the space entirely; perhaps move them to a different building or office suite.

            This manager has failed big time and should not be cut any slack; once is happenstance, twice is coincidence but not really in this situation and thrice is enemy action. Everyone in the company knows what is going on; the only way to deal with it is to transfer the manager and reorganize the department.

            If it had been handled two replacements ago, a stern talking to might have done it — but it is too late for that. Everyone in the company needs to see that this kind of crap will not be tolerated.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              I totally agree that the manager has a huge hand in this, that is why the problem is so pervasive and so entrenched.

              Reply
          8. kms1025

            The manager needs to be demoted into the open position and the new hire should be an experienced manager who knows how to deal with open hostility in the workplace.

            Reply
          9. Angel525

            I know I am months late on this, but I felt I needed to share my perspective. My mother was a much-beloved manager at her company (her co-workers were pallbearers). After her untimely death, the office found it hard to move on, especially as she was the first and only manager in her department at that company, and had been for years. So they re-structured the room, and placed a bench in the outdoor portion of the lunchroom, with a memorial plaque on it and a tree planted beside it. This helped her co-workers feel like they were “keeping her memory alive” while still allowing them and a new manager to move forward. It also felt like upper management understood and respected the depth of their loss. And her family greatly appreciated the gesture as well.

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        2. Bryce

          It could also be a case where one person got the idea at the start when it was fresh and now they’re all reinforcing each other without any particular ringleader.

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            It is the manager’s job to have stopped that though and apparently she has been participating. This is a firing level failure; at least the manager needs to be moved out of this group and demoted from management. It is a year later — there is really no excuse for the manager to have run off 3 people and created the reputation this department now has throughout the company. They have someone threatening to quit if they are transferred to this group. This manager must go and maybe some others if a new manager can’t turn it around.

            Reply
            1. GeoffreyB

              There are a lot of “fire the manager” comments on this one, and from what the OP has described, that may well be appropriate. BUT…

              The manager should be given an opportunity to give their side of the story before that decision is made. The evidence the OP has given is so extreme that it’s very unlikely that the manager will say anything that substantially changed the picture. But as a matter of principle, somebody being fired for misconduct should almost always have the chance to offer a defence.

              (apologies if this is a duplicate, I had a couple of comments that seem to have been eaten at my end.)

              Reply
      2. MegaMoose, Esq

        My thoughts went right to groupthink – it’s amazing how easily people can get swept up in really wacky stuff, and given that there was a shared trauma, it makes some sad sense.

        Reply
      3. seejay

        What makes this even more batshittery is that this is a coworker… not a family member or loved one. I mean, I love my coworkers and all and I’m close to some and I’ve known some for coming close to a decade, but to enact a shrine to them? That’s wackadoo. That’s an explanation I’d expect from someone when they lose a child.

        Reply
        1. Zaralynda

          I went into the same line of work as my father, so imagine everyone’s consternation when I got a new supervisor and it was someone my Dad had worked with 30 years ago (and had met me when I was in diapers). There are also plenty of stories of coworkers who become friends, date/marry, etc. I wouldn’t brush off the emotions involved because they are “just” coworkers.

          My supervisor died (suddenly, in an accident while on vacation) a few years ago and Dad and I drank a bottle of whiskey together to him.

          Reply
          1. Hmm

            The problem with turning this around and making it about you and your coworkers and your new manager is the fact that in does not actually relate to the problem at hand. These people are actively sabotaging the company by refusing to allow someone else to move into and retain the role Jane had. It is absolutely time to “brush off” their emotions now.

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            1. MashaKasha

              That’s what I thought too. This is not a group of friends we are talking about, this is a company, that needs to get things done and turn a profit, otherwise it’ll be out of business and these coworkers will be out on the street. Have they thought of what will happen to Jane’s shrine when the office shuts down because of what they’re doing? This is such a ridiculous misplacement of priorities.

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              1. MWKate

                Even if this was a group of friends it would be weird behavior. “Why are you sitting in Debbie’s spot on the couch?” “That’s not how Debbie made taco dip, you should be ashamed of yourself.” It’s double weird inside a work environment, but it’s unhealthy behavior all around.

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                1. Aveline

                  Grief is not a license to treat THREE people like dirt. On purpose. For an entire year.

                2. Turtle Candle

                  Yeah, even within families, there’s a point at which you gotta say something.

                  In another branch of my family, the “family matriarch” passed away suddenly. (They aren’t close to me particularly, except for one cousin who I’m good friends with, which is how I heard the family gossip about it.) The whole family grieved greatly, of course, and of course her husband most of all. Everyone was very understanding of that, up to and including angry outbursts for the months immediately after her death.

                  This is/was a very traditional/conservative branch of the family, all very close and living with one another, with a lot of family gatherings and suchlike. After the matriarch (Laura) died, a lot of the planning for those events (Fourth of July picnics, Christmas dinner, like that) fell to her son and his wife (Nancy). The problem was that after Laura’s death, her husband was actively nasty to Nancy whenever she did something that Laura had used to do. (We aren’t talking like, a big inappropriate festive Christmas three weeks after her death or something–these were events nine months to a year later.) He insisted on holding the events, but then he’d criticize everything: Nancy didn’t make sandwiches for the picnic the way Laura had, Nancy served the wrong kind of cranberry relish, Nancy had cousins stay in a hotel instead of hosting them all in one house as Laura always had, Nancy introduced new ornaments to the Christmas tree. Nancy wasn’t doing it like Laura had, and so Nancy was wrong wrong WRONG, sometimes with yelling.

                  Like I say, in the months immediately after the death this was tolerated with grace becuase he was deeply grieving, and that can really bork up your emotional responses. But eventually Nancy’s husband said, “Dad, look. It’s okay if you want us to skip the Fourth of July picnic this year. But if we have it, and if you come, you have to be civil to Nancy. You cannot be unkind to my wife that way. I know you’re grieving, we all are, we all miss Mom, but you cannot yell at Nancy. If you do, we will leave. I’m not going to subject her to being yelled at all afternoon after she spent three hours putting together a picnic.” It took a few rounds, but it eventually sunk in.

                  So yeah. Even in a family or friends context, even with very real and very intense grief, there’s a point at which this is something that’s appropriate to set boundaries around.

                3. The Strand

                  Turtle Candle, that is very sad, and must have been so hard on Nancy. But I admire the way your cousin stood up for his spouse, in a respectful way that also gave his father an “out”.

            2. Zaralynda

              I was responding to seejay’s comment that these people are wackadoo for having a strong reaction to losing a coworker. Losing a coworker can have real grief involved.

              (This particular behavior is unprofessional and needs to be reprimanded, but again, it’s not wackadoo to care deeply about a coworker)

              Reply
              1. Jesmlet

                Yeah I spend more time with my coworkers than I do most of my family and friends. It’s nutty behavior, but I don’t think it’s made more or less nutty by the fact that she was ‘just’ a coworker.

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              2. tigerStripes

                It’s not wackadoo to care deeply about a coworker, but it’s kind of messed up to be so nasty to 3 people who had nothing to do with what happened to Jane.

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              3. Lablizard

                Yep. A co-worker at an Old job was killed by a boyfriend and an HR person and her manager were there when the body was found because they called for a Wellness Check and accompanied the police. It was a rough time because we all started realizing the were signs of double plus ungood, but they only made sense after the fact.

                The company changed the the title of her job, rearranged that workspace, planted a tree in her name, started a donation/volunteer program with a local DV shelter, and, essentially, had a wake (sans booze) where we could all do whatever we felt we needed to do to mourn. It is only OldJob because of a move.

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                1. skunklet

                  Lablizard – hmmm, sounds like my old job…did the boyfriend commit suicide too? With a shotgun?

                2. yasmara

                  I was wondering if this would be helpful too – if the OP could suggest to the company that something visible be done to memorialize Jane (plaque, tree, bench) and then if a charitable program or initiative or something else could be started in her name, even if it’s small at first. These co-workers seem really stuck and are obviously behaving inappropriately, but I wonder if channeling their feelings towards something *good* in Jane’s name would help take the pressure off.

                  I think the ideas of a physical (and perhaps organizational/job role) reorganization are also key to moving forward.

            3. Sunny

              Absolutely. My first thought was that the manager ought to be told that the department’s headcount will be cut, seeing as how the team seems to view every new hire as expendable. If they want to play that game, they can damn well do Jane’s work. It’s terrible that they’ve lost a friend in such a traumatic fashion, but that doesn’t excuse what they’re doing to her replacements. Imagine having to go find a new job after just a few days or weeks (after likely having quit a job to take this one) because your co-workers are acting like middle-schoolers.

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          2. seejay

            There’s always going to be the exception to the rule but that’s the thing, those are generally the exceptions. Most people don’t become so enmeshed with their coworkers that they’re in mourning like they lost a close family member a year after the person passed away… and *then* engage in serious hazing rituals to drive out anyone that dares to fill that person’s role, akin to the jealous child being cranky about dad dating a new woman and dishonouring their dead mother’s memory. That’s what this reminds me of.

            I’ve never made really close friends in any of my work places before my current one. Good acquaintances sure, but actual friends that I trusted and would confide in, not at all. My current workplace is the only place that ever had people in it that I genuinely grew close to and cared about, so I get how some places can actually develop friendships like that. This sounds genuinely strange and unhealthy though.

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          3. Alton

            I think it’s kind of strange for everyone in the department to feel that strongly about Jane, though, unless it’s actually only a few people who are that vocal.

            Even within a family, oftentimes not everyone has the same level of affection for the deceased.

            Not to mention people grieve differently no matter what their relationship to the deceased was.

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            1. Chalupa Batman

              People tend to deify the dead, though, regardless of the relationship. I have a former coworker who died unexpectedly, and my feeling about him now are definitely much softer than when I left the position and he was still alive. For a well liked, long term coworker, that could easily translate to Jane being everything that was right about the job. That said, these people need to be put in check. This is not a normal response, and they need to either take advantage of the resources the company has provided to deal with the trauma of what happened or accept that Jane’s work still needs to be done and be welcoming to their new coworker, even as they continue to miss Jane.

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              1. Artemesia

                I chaired a new department when the much loved colleague who was expected to do it died unexpectedly. We were all devastated. No one made me feel like I had usurped his role. I am feeling very lucky about that now. This whole thing is bonkers. It needs to be dealt with aggressively.

                Reply
        2. BethRA

          Not to let them off the hook for how they’ve treated the new hires, but Jane worked there for close to 10 years, and some of her colleagues apparently witnessed her death. That’s some pretty heavy trauma to deal with.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            So? If we were talking about simply grieving or something like that, then yes. But accusing someone who never even knew Jane of being a terrible person because they “Took Jane’s job” is exceedingly worrisome.

            Reply
            1. BethRA

              So they’ve experienced a significant trauma and I would expect a more extreme reaction than I would for a death that happened off-screen, so to speak.

              As I said, doesn’t excuse their behavior;and of course that behavior has to stop. I’m just not willing to write them off as “batshit” and “whackadoodles”

              Reply
              1. turquoisecow

                Yeah, I think we can leave off the insulting comments like “batshit” or “whackadoo.” Insulting the grieving coworkers doesn’t help anything move on, and drags us down to their level, so to speak. And, it’s insulting to anyone who *does* have a mental illness.

                I’m not saying this is appropriate behavior, but we (at AAM) can surely comment on that without insults.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I agree, and I’ve asked that it stop and removed some that really bugged me. I haven’t read all the comments though so I may have missed others.

          2. Definitely going anonymous for this

            +1. I saw my brother and his wife get killed by a distracted driver. I was angry after they died and I still sometimes get angry about it now nine years later. But even in my darkest time I would never have treated anyone the way these people have treated the replacement employees. Grief is not an excuse. There is a big difference between being angry or upset and being a bully to people who don’t deserve it.

            Reply
            1. Definitely going anonymous for this

              Also there is a difference between having a bad day due to grief and apologizing for snapping at someone or saying something hurtful, and running a group campaign of harassment for a year against three separate people who didn’t do anything wrong.

              Reply
              1. Honeybee

                I think that’s the thing that takes this over from normal grief to bizarre. It might even have been a little understandable if they lashed out a bit at the first person to take the position, but they’ve led a concerted effort to drive away three separate people and make the department so toxic that no one wants the job.

                Reply
                1. Elizabeth West

                  That’s the part that is problematic. Seriously so. They’re actively interfering with the company operations. It has to stop, even if that means letting some people go.

            2. Zal

              My thoughts exactly. Wrote my 2 cents (above) before I read other people’s posts. I am sorry for your loss.

              Reply
          3. Turtle Candle

            Yeah, I think there’s a middle ground between “this is inappropriate behavior and must stop, and that may unfortunately mean people being reassigned or let go” and words like “whackadoodle.” It’s possible to both have empathy for them and believe that this is behavior that must stop, on pain of firing if necessary.

            Reply
        3. Observer

          I don’t think that that’s really relevant.

          What IS relevant is that no one is doing anything to Jane. The idea that someone should feel bad for “taking Jane’s job” is out of touch with reality regardless of their relations ship. The idea that someone – an outsider yet!- should not be able to sleep at night because they took the role previously held by another person who died is delusional. And it would be equally delusional if the three had been sisters or something like that.

          Reply
        4. TootsNYC

          I’m sorry–I so disagree with you, seejay.

          I spend more than 8 hours a day in the company of my colleagues. That’s as much time as I spend with my husband, and WAY more than I spent with my mom.

          They are human beings to me, and some of them, I’m very fond of.

          So the impact this death has had is perfectly reasonable.

          It never was OK to treat people they way they are treating people–in fact, I would say it’s not even cool to do that if you -did- lose a close family member.

          Would we think it wasn’t batshit crazy for a mom to turn to her child and berate the poor kid for growing up, when their deceased sibling couldn’t? We’d have a -little- bit of sympathy for her pain, but we wouldn’t be very understanding of his misbehavior.

          Reply
          1. OhBehave

            Also don’t forget the fact that some teammates socialize after work and on weekends. They could have been with each other 10 hours a day for all we know. It’s not for us to judge how much someone should care about a coworker. Just because ‘we’ don’t feel that close, doesn’t mean others feel the same way.

            HR really dropped the ball on this one. I can see letting the first set of complaints go and chalk them up to a fluke, but the second and the third? A change needs to happen in that office. Move offices or furniture around, etc.

            The employees seem to be following the manager’s lead on this one.

            We didn’t see the accident that took her life. We have no idea what gruesome images are embedded in their memories. And unless we are working with these people, we have no right to judge them for handling their grief this way. Just as in a family, someone would be sure to tell the grief-stricken person that how they are treating xyz is out of line.

            As I pointed out up-thread, there may still be a trial to go through with some of those employees as witnesses. This brings up coaching with possible photos to bring back the accident scene. Who knows what’s going to happen.

            Reply
        5. Enya

          And I understand that they miss her, but it’s been a year. Shouldn’t they be able to accept a new boss by now?

          Reply
        6. Not So NewReader

          Grief will do this type of thing if no one puts the breaks on. A death can end relationships and it can cause people to regroup themselves with other people.

          To me this looks like the department has figuratively cordoned itself off from the rest of the company and turn it into “the company vs. our department.”

          Reply
        7. Elizabeth West

          We lost a long-term and beloved employee at OldExjob and he was replaced, because they needed someone to do the job. Nothing like this went on to my knowledge (his boss wouldn’t have let it). However, they didn’t acknowledge him at the next quarterly meeting, and that really chapped my britches. I mean, we all knew he died, but to not even mention him felt kind of crappy. Maybe his boss asked that they not, but I find that hard to believe.

          Still, if I had seen anything like this, it would have set off my time-for-a-new-job sensors (not that I wasn’t already looking, due to other bullshit). I’m sure working with that team hasn’t been easy for other employees either.

          Reply
      4. Christine

        I’ve taken a job when someone retired, it was terrible. I quit after a few months, wasn’t worth it along with a terrible manager.

        I think that mandatory counseling might be required

        Reply
      5. paul

        I’m really, really confused by this situation.

        Look, I’ve lost coworkers. Multiple times; the first time was way back in high school (drunk drivers can burn in hell). But through the years there’s been drunk drivers, cancer, a stroke…it happens. People die.

        Reply
      1. Gadfly

        I think if your employer pulls that, they better be able to come up with an appropriate benefits package. Nothing in the standard one appeals at that point.

        Reply
      2. Cassandra

        obDiscworld: this actually happens in Going Postal, and the currently-vitally-challenged wizard is not at all pleased at being contacted.

        There’s also obDouglasAdams: “He’s spending a year dead for tax reasons.”

        Reply
      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        Y’all, I like dark humor as much as the next person, but we’re talking about real people, both the person who died and the people who are grieving her.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          I take your point but I am not sure they are grieving Jane. A year after a co-worker dies and they are bullying new people? Doesn’t feel like grief, it feels like gang behavior.

          Reply
    2. Antilles

      The weirdness is most notable given that one of the people they hired is an outsider. How can I sleep at night for taking Jane’s job? Uh, fine? I sleep a lot better than when I was worrying about paying rent, that’s for sure.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Yeah, I was just thinking that. At least the third replacement didn’t know Jane and maybe the two internal transfers didn’t, either. There’s really no reason any of them should have problems with their sleep here.

        Reply
      2. Sans

        Yeah, whether you’re an internal or external hire, it’s not like the act of taking the job is what killed Jane. She died in a horrible way. It was awful. But the job still needs to be done and it won’t bring her back to leave the position open, a year later.

        Reply
        1. Julia

          And it’s not like they took the job FROM Jane and Jane is now jobless. They only took the job because, as terribly sad as it is, Jane cannot do it anymore.

          Reply
    3. Noobtastic

      Yeah. I’m thinking more than just a conversation with the manager. I’m thinking PIPs, across the board in this group, with the warning that if the next person to fill that role quits, then they’ll be leaving the company, as well. It cannot be allowed to continue. Full stop.

      Definitely have a conversation about how they can avoid this in future, but do not go easy on them.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        Yeah, that’s what I think too. This is SO egregious.

        At minimum, the Manager goes on a PIP for allowing and participating in the insanity. Their job is to prevent that kind of thing from happening.

        Reply
        1. The Strand

          I agree with Artemesia’s comment in an earlier thread that this is too entrenched with the manager. The manager should be demoted and transferred. PIP at this point, after multiple people have been pushed out of the job, is not appropriate.

          Reply
      2. Lily in NYC

        Yeah, these people need to be told there will be consequences if this happens again. This is a really strange situation.

        Reply
        1. Aveline

          I think they are already beyond that. I think the only solution is to break up the group.

          This has to be done swiftly and before they can push back. Essentially, so a reorg and then tell them when they show up to work at 8 that there’s a meeting at 9. Then tell them George, you are now in department X and report to Susan…..

          There are some behaviors that should not require a warning. Harassing new hires/transfers to the point three people quit in a year is so extreme that I do not think a warning will work.

          All a warning will do will be to make them more devious. It’s not going to suddenly make them accept an outsider into the group.

          So, essentially, I see two issues:

          (1) Behavior that drives people off
          (2) Unwillingness to accept anyone new in “Jane’s place”

          You can solve (1) with warnings. You can’t solve (2) so long as the group exists intact.

          Reply
          1. Lily in NYC

            True. Maybe I’d get rid of the problematic manager first, have a serious talk with the remaining team, and then transfer them if that doesn’t solve it.

            Reply
            1. Artemesia

              +1000 The time for discussion and understanding is long past. It is now a notorious situation for the entire company. Everyone is looking to see if management can manage.

              Reply
              1. JessaB

                Honestly one of the biggest issues is that HR took three people leaving to tell the OP anything at all about what was happening in the department. I’d be really ticked at HR as well. Even if it was only a rumour after employee 1 left, they still should have reported the information from the exit interview to the OP if only to clue the OP in that the team was still having problems with the loss and might need more support.

                Reply
          2. SusanIvanova

            I’m in software, so I’ve never been in a group that was that fungible – if you broke up our group, you essentially killed the project, as it takes new people 6 months to come up to speed *with* coaching from the existing team. But we also did have a co-worker die in a traffic accident – though not in front of us, at least – and we mourned, redistributed tasks, and carried on.

            Someone upthread suggested there are a few strong personalities driving this – maybe moving just those people out, plus moving the entire team physically, might alleviate things.

            Reply
            1. Jessesgirl72

              Yeah. The idea that people are just interchangeable is so strange to me. I doubt they can be so easily transferred.

              Reply
              1. Newby

                I don’t think that the suggestion is that it would be easy. It would be extremely disruptive, but possible less disruptive long term than letting this continue.

                Reply
            2. alter_ego

              yeah, this would never work at my job. we have a team of electrical engineers, a team of mechanical engineers, a team of plumbing engineers, a team of it specialists, etc…

              And we did actually have one of our IT specialists die unexpectedly last year. Not in front of us, but it was still awful. We’re a small company, and the IT group is the smallest team. But when an IT specialist from one of our other offices was flown in to help out of a couple of weeks, we were all just grateful for the help.

              Reply
              1. Chaordic One

                Yes, this has been my experience. Every place I’ve ever worked, when there was an opening because of an unexpected death, after a period of redistrubuting the work, we were grateful when a replacement was brought in and could pick up where the former employee left off. It didn’t happen overnight and the new person didn’t always do things the same way as the old one.

                I really can’t wrap my head around the way these grieving people have taken out their anger on the three people who’ve tried to take over Jane’s responsibilities. Like many of the other commenters, I also think that the manager who allowed this to happen and participated in it, needs to be held accountable, and if necessary, replaced.

                Reply
            3. Honeybee

              Maybe, but this is a situation in which a position is being left unfilled for a year because the team keeps driving people off. And I’d imagine that the act of driving them off is also lowering productivity, as teammates are focusing on the wrong things. So breaking them up and taking 6 months to get a new team trained up isn’t necessarily worse than the lower productivity and an entire missing position that can’t be filled because the team is acting bizarrely.

              Reply
          3. TootsNYC

            Actually, I agree with this. I think a warning will just drive this underground and make them aim for plausible deniability.

            Reply
      3. fposte

        I would do it two-handed, though; be firm, but I would also see if there was a possibility for some in-office counseling about the transition. Whether they should be ready for it or not, they’re not, and this is a way both for them to acknowledge the loss that’s still a thing for them and get mentally directed toward letting go.

        It doesn’t even matter if the root of this is something other than genuinely missing Jane; it’s now a big culture thing there, and a big kind acknowledgment of the need to let go will, I think, be a useful partner to the impending consequences.

        Reply
    4. L.

      I could imagine it’s just one person or two who are the source, and then the others just go along, as the lower-level manager did, rather than risk appearing insensitive to the situation. I agree that whoever those folks are, however, are in serious and urgent need of mental health care — were they really so close, as colleagues, that they’re still acting out with such intensity a year later?

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        This might be a thing that would motivate me, as the OP (and therefore one level up, and removed), to sit down and ask for a lot more detail from any of the rapid resigners who were willing to consult.

        if only to see whether there was anyone I could “salvage” from the group.

        Reply
      2. AFRC

        I was wondering the same thing – if it’s, say, the person who sat next to Jane. But it’s the manager too. Ugh.

        Reply
    5. Paige Turner

      This is like some kind of Shirley Jackson story or suspense movie. I know that grief can cause issues like misplacing blame, and it certainly must have been terrible for the coworkers to lose Jane like that, but this goes way over the line of reasonable behavior.

      Reply
      1. AndersonDarling

        This is what I was going to say! It’s like the opening to a mystery novel or a story line for American Horror Story. I understand morning and being distraught, but the behavior has crossed into the land of entertainment fiction.

        Reply
    6. Kyrielle

      This. Especially the “taking Jane’s job”. They took an open job. Jane has no use for the job any more. It is horrible that Jane has no use for the job any more. But it is not the fault of the person who is now trying to do the job.

      Reply
    7. j-nonymous

      From the timeline given by the OP, this is still year one (or the very beginning of year two) following Jane’s death. Some of these team members *witnessed* her death. I agree what they’re doing isn’t helpful, or fair, or even appropriate but to call them unhinged is exceedingly unkind. They are grieving, and some of them may be dealing with trauma.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        Absolutely. Especially if there’s a trial coming up. Court can take forever, and everything to do with it will open the wound again and again. But still all of that is just a sidebar to the fact that it’s gotten up to people threatening to quit rather than go work with them.

        I am kind of wondering, despite HR falling down on not reporting the issue earlier, and yes the OP works at a different location, but there should have been way more oversight in the first place. Considering what happened. It might not have been the OP’s job even though they supervise the manager, it might have needed to be someone from the Employee Assistance group, but it just feels like so much was missed in that year and somebody should have caught something. I mean it might have been a good idea to get a victim’s advocate in also. Someone in the same building as they are missed a whole heckuva lot of problem behaviour and I’m not saying this well, but it’s almost like there was a conspiracy to keep the OP from finding out about this.

        Also maybe they could be given something concrete to do to memorialise Jane. Someone said their company planted a tree, or maybe I don’t know some kind of donation thing to a cause that was relevant to Jane.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          Yeah, I do wish the AAM answer had touched a bit more on the fact that the OP didn’t figure this out until three people had been driven off. A manager needs to be more in touch with their team than this, *especially* when managing an off-site team. OP, put out this fire, but then sit down and take a long look at your management style. This went on for so long because you set up the conditions for it.

          Reply
    8. MommyMDd

      They are unhinged. And it is that which needs to addressed. Punitive action won’t solve this. Because they literally mentally and chemically are temporarily completely unhinged. A coworker finishing off the work day by literally being smashed away by a drunken idiot while some of them watched her horrible senseless death and battered body is about as bad as it gets. And this is what needs to be addressed. The horror of it all, the senselessness, the horrific fact that one second and action in time can change numerous lives, and maybe they or their children or the person standing right beside them is next. This is the time for addressing this subject with experts and brutal honesty in group and individual sessions and acknowledging that they are all going through a TERRIBLE thing, that their grief and anger is real and expected, that it can be fixed, that employer is going to fix it, and that everyone moves on as a cohesive team, including any new hires.

      Reply
      1. Liane

        The OP said there was paid counseling. Clearly though they either need more (or need to start it if they didn’t take up the company’s offer at the time of the tragedy). And this time it needs to be mandatory. I don’t know if something like belongs in a written warning or an all-out PIP, but if that is acceptable both from legal and good-management standpoints, the OP should do so.

        Reply
        1. Never use mandatory counselling as a punishment

          Please OP, do not include ‘mandatory’ counselling as any part of anyone’s PIP!

          Counselling should never, ever be part of a punishment, and trying to force someone into counselling can be extremely counterproductive and even harmful.

          Reply
          1. Excel Slayer

            Any counsellor worth their salt won’t go through with that either. You can’t force people to have treatment for something.

            Reply
      2. Renee

        I agree with this. I don’t think it’s an excuse, but I do think that the horror of it all needs to be acknowledged in a less passive way than “here’s an EAP referral.” It may not be the employer’s responsibility, but I think the trauma should be addressed in a more direct and active way and with some compassion. Once that’s been done, harder decisions can be made about what should be done about the department or specific workers that just can’t move into a better place with new coworkers.

        Reply
    9. Elizabeth West

      Haven’t read all the comments yet (because damn–do I have to get up at 3 am to keep up?) but if they don’t stop doing this, I think the company will have to start systematically replacing all of them.

      ALL of them. Because you’re right–this is bonkers.

      Reply
  2. Tiffany

    For the first time, ever, I somewhat disagree with your advice. The position is not “Jane’s job”; continuing to refer to it as such will only add fuel to the fire. I believe that calling it the “Teapot Admin” will help dissociate Jane from the job and help her coworkers be better able to move on.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Agreed. “We’ve now had three people quit this role after only a few months, and each of the three said they left because of how they were treated after they assumed the Teapot Admin position on your team.”

      Reply
    2. 2 Cents

      Yeah, I was just coming to say the same thing. It’s not “Jane’s job.” It was the role Jane was in at her time of death.

      I know you can’t put a timeline on grief (trust me, I know), but you can have expectations of basic professionalism — and these people, including the manager, are showing these hires none of that.

      Reply
      1. misplacedmidwesterner

        “I know you can’t put a timeline on grief (trust me, I know), but you can have expectations of basic professionalism.”

        This. Use almost this exact wording with the manager and perhaps the entire team. And I agree you need to work really closely with this manager, on a PIP, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

        Reply
    3. Adam

      Agreed. Jane was not her job. Jane was a person. A person of no doubt many facets and qualities and she is surely missed by many. Right now I doubt her friends and family give two bits about what she did for a living, if they ever did.

      Reply
    4. Student

      In fact, changing up the division of job duties, or just changing up the position title to something parallel, might help people stop associating the role with Jane so strongly. Can you dole out part of Jane’s job duties to the survivor co-workers, and then take some co-worker duties and put them into the “new” position? This might just be changing the clients they all manage or shifting a couple priorities around, but it may help. Some of the co-workers might be able to process their grief better if you give them a piece of Jane’s portfolio to handle. Others might not be able to handle the reminder of Jane, so tread a bit lightly.

      Reply
    5. Milton Waddams

      Erasing institutional memory is a morale sink; it shows that your achievements with the company won’t be remembered once they are done, and implies in a round-a-bout way that to do anything for the company with an eye on long-term success rather than short-term gain is unlikely to be appreciated.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        But this about the role Jane filled; not Jane herself. She’s not being erased by acknowledging that someone new must fill that position.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          It’s a framing issue. For the department, Jane and Jane’s role seem to be linked in a way where they cannot be separated like that by the rest of the team. So having someone use her tools, sit at her desk, and perform under her job title, while at the same time not having any formal memorial acknowledging Jane’s contributions to the department or the uniqueness of her efforts to the company, implies that she was seen as a plug-and-play employee, who can be as easily replaced and discarded as a burned out lightbulb, and that that is how the company views all employees and their contributions.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            They could have suggested a memorial if the company did not offer one automatically.

            To drive people off the job is abusive and in this case seems to perpetuate their raw grief. Instead of processing their grief. they are focused on driving out anyone who takes over Jane’s work.

            Reply
          2. Adam

            The company offered fully paid therapy and bereavement leave to anyone who wanted it. I think they’ve at least considered their staff members feelings in this. And the OP doesn’t make mention of any of any memorial services the company may have had but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have one. If Jane’s desk and such need to be retired out of respect then go ahead but that’s not the real issue here. The staff have actively bullied each new hire to fill Jane’s former role right out of it in a season. Whether that’s a side effect of them not processing their grief in healthy way or them being unreasonable angry people is not the company’s fault.

            Reply
            1. Milton Waddams

              This is once again a framing issue. Offering to pay for therapy implies that the department’s reaction is a personal problem, rather than a normal one; it seems unlikely they would feel they needed it.

              Reply
              1. Adam

                Bullying new hires to the point where they all quit is not a normal problem. Being sensitive to grief is important, but the company has every right to expect their staff to behave like professional adults.

                Reply
  3. Allypopx

    I understand this is misplaced grief probably spurred on by the group psychology surrounding it, but it’s so confusing to me. OP says Jane’s job has lots of tight deadlines and such so it doesn’t sound like it could just…stay vacant? What outcome would not cause hostility?

    Also, assuming the manager is competent at managing, I’d venture that that person is also falling victim to some of that grief and group psychology, and will hopefully snap out of it to some extent when sat down and spoken to directly.

    This is hard, sorry OP.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      At some point, OP may have to say outright that hostility is not acceptable and will be considered a writable/fire-able offense.

      Reply
  4. Vaca

    Call a staff meeting with the whole group. Explain the problem. “This stops now. If you can’t accept a new supervisor, there is the door. You will get six weeks severance and a positive reference. If you choose to stay and the problems persist, I will fire all of you for cause and we will give no references. I trust we are good here?”

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Honestly? This is hardass, but it’s completely on point. Though I’d admend it to be “If you can’t accept a new Teapot Coordinator and treat that person in a professional, cordial, and collegial way, there is the door” and so on.

      Reply
          1. Kbug

            YES. That’s what stood out to me the most, oddly enough- one super abrupt resignation should be enough to put a major antennae up, especially after what the group has been through, letting it get to three was really unprofessional.

            Reply
            1. Lance

              Yeah, I’m really curious why it took a third instance to finally bring this up to OP, when the manager’s own role in all this was clearly displayed by the comments of those in the exit interviews. At the very latest, it should’ve been brought up to OP on the second instance; it shouldn’t have taken a third for this to apparently be a big enough issue to bring up.

              Reply
              1. moss

                It doesn’t surprise me at all. The two times I’ve left a company because of the terrible behavior of a coworker, I followed several people out the door. I was honest in my exit interviews but I know nothing changed. People seem to discount exit interviews as sour grapes.

                Reply
              2. AMPG

                Honestly, I think if the OP was doing her job, she would’ve suspected something was up and started digging at least after the second surprise resignation. You need to have a better handle on your team than that.

                Reply
          2. JessaB

            This was my thought too. How in heck did HR not step on this after the first person left and before they hired the second one.

            Reply
          3. Dee

            I think people don’t realize that “exit interviews” are really only done for show. Companies don’t really care about what you think. I mean hey, if you didn’t like how things were done…someone else will.

            Reply
    2. Mary Dempster

      Yep, this. I may be projecting, but I’m REALLY sick of management acting like people aren’t replaceable. Almost everyone is, especially when it gets this bad.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Unfortunately, it sounds like this group performs business-critical tasks, so it may not be so simple.

        Reply
        1. Mary Dempster

          But eventually, it is. There are very very very very VERY few jobs in the world that only one, or even just a handful of people can do.

          But I’m projecting because my manager won’t fire two people who really deserve to be fired, because she “needs them,” as though no one else in the world can handle maintenance or speak Spanish.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Yeah, but blowing them all out an airlock tomorrow morning – deserved as that would be! – would mean that stuff wasn’t getting done, deserved or not.

            Reply
    3. Delyssia

      Jane was not a supervisor (the letter refers to “Jane’s old coworkers and manager,” not to direct reports), so I’d change the word supervisor in your script to colleague or co-worker, but otherwise, I tend to agree with this. I think it might be worth starting with a softer conversation, along the lines of what Alison suggested, but I’d be ready to go to this level.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        I dunno, it’s so unbelievably goddamn bonkers that I might just go straight for this. What these people are doing is bonkers.

        Reply
      2. Noobtastic

        After the first time, when the person reported the issue to HR, a soft conversation would be in order. After THREE people reported the same thing, and the fourth person they picked to assign to the job was all ready to quit rather than go there? Nooooooo. No softness, here. They need to be hit with a clue-by-four.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          Some people do not know how to talk about grief and the grieving process. I had to learn so in that regard I am “fortunate” to have some insights. Not everyone does.

          If we don’t know how to handle a situation, then we can chose to bring in consultants/advisers who have experience to share. It seems like the company brought in people to help with the initial grief but they might have done well to bring in someone to consult as the story here started to unfold.

          This is an instance of a manager and HR who were in over their heads, which happens in life, this is not a slam. None of us know everything there is to know. The problem comes in when they failed to say, “I don’t know how to handle this situation.”

          Which leads me to ask, OP, does your company have a culture where it is not well received if people ask for help? Clearly, you don’t because you wrote in to AAM. But could others feel that asking for help is not an option?

          Reply
          1. Troutwaxer

            The problem comes in when they failed to say, “I don’t know how to handle this situation…” Which leads me to ask, OP, does your company have a culture where it is not well received if people ask for help?

            This is a really, really profound question. The OP should really follow up on this issue.

            Reply
        2. JessaB

          If HR had done their job at the first resignation, telling the OP and other management, and talking to their EAP team and asking them for advice on this, maybe bringing in a grief counselor or expert, it would have been different. That was the time for the soft conversation. The second person quitting should have been the moderate one, at this point with the third and the company wide rumours I think at least the manager of the team needs a major talking to.

          Reply
      3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Wait, so is OP Jane’s grandboss? Or an HR person or something?

        Reply
        1. AMG

          Well, there’s the answer. Have a come to Jesus discussion (pun intended) with the manager first, then the rest of the team, and make clear that anyone not behaving professionally is subject to disciplinary action. Then have a skip level meeting regularly with the person replacing Jane.

          Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            Yep. There has been a little too much hand holding and misplaced understanding here. They’ve run off 3 people and that’s not acceptable.

            If they get offended and quit, well, that takes care of that problem. At this point, who does the work short-term is the least of the OP’s problems.

            Reply
    4. JMegan

      I would do this as two meetings. The first one just with the manager, with a message of “you are in charge of this group, and it’s up to you to get them to knock it off.” Then a meeting with the whole team, plus the manager, with the message of “knock it off, all of you.”

      Reply
      1. Aveline

        But even if they “knock it off,” they are still unwilling to accept an outsider.

        You can get them to refrain from overt behavior with a threat. You cannot get them to accept and treat an outsider with respect by a threat.

        This is why I think the long-term solution has to be: break up the group.

        Reply
        1. copy run start

          I say give them a chance (and OP should be stopping by unannounced to check on any new hire and seeing for themselves what is happening here) but definitely plan on a potential re-org and/or letting go of any ringleaders in the near to short-term. This is sickening behavior and raises questions for me about how these people are acting otherwise–was this team well-regarded before Jane passed?

          I also think there’s a lot of merit in changing up the work space. Not just shuffle cubes but move them, maybe get new cube pieces if it’s time for that, so that “Jane’s desk” no longer exists. Pairing it with a re-org is sensible.

          Springing change on them will only breed resentment and more group bonding, so the company will have to tread carefully with any changes they make. I think OP needs to get more involved with this team for the time being.

          Reply
          1. KimmieSue

            Agree with the grandboss spending more time in presence of the team (not the other building). Perhaps grandboss actually sit at Jane’s old desk 1-2 days a week?

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              This would be something I would actually think about doing. It could be done as a show of support. “I am using Jane’s former desk for the time being, just to be with you guys for a while.”

              Reply
        2. E

          If this is explained to them as a required job duty(getting along with ALL coworkers), followed up with write ups or terminations if they fail to comply, it’d seem reasonable to me. Remove the deceased coworker from the equation, this level of bad behaviour can’t be tolerated in a healthy work environment. You can give them the option of requesting a transfer if you want, but I’d leave it up to them. Their actions will show if they can improve in this dept or any other.

          Reply
    5. madge

      This. Three consecutive hires quit, others within the company would rather resign(!) than transfer. The time for polite coaching is gone. I realize they are grieving but their behavior is far beyond any acceptable grief-stricken missteps and they have the support of {Jane’s} manager. Whoever the next new hire is needs to report to OP or at least do regular check-ins until manager can redeem herself.

      Reply
      1. Aphrodite

        Actually, OP, I’d consider transferring the manager to another department, exchanging them if possible. I think as long as you keep the group as it is now nothing will get through to them. Oh, they might display proper behavior in front of others like you but there are other, more insidious, ways they can bounce a newcomer out of there. I know. I know it very well. Social isolation, ignoring, snickering, behind your back comments, stabbing comments to the newcomer and extreme politeness in front of the supervisor. It can be done just enough so there is no real room for complaint. You really should consider a real change here.

        Reply
        1. Newby

          If possible, transferring the manager and maybe even more of the team to break this up is a good idea. I think it might also help to reassign “Jane’s desk” to one of the current team members so that the new hire won’t be physically in what they see as “Jane’s spot”.

          Reply
          1. AMG

            Fantastic idea. Pack up all of her old office supplies and any personal items so they can’t be left in place as a shrine. Pick the worst offender to sit there if you can.

            Reply
          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Everyone’s gonna blow a gasket about how moving stuff is disrespecting Jane’s memory and so on, though. Not a reason not to, but there will be blowback.

            Reply
            1. E

              My concern is that the current level of behaviour shows that their grief has not been dealt with. Moving the furniture may not really help that, and if these folks can’t work through this level of grief, the department will never function properly if they all remain.

              Reply
            2. Not So NewReader

              We can’t prevent people from acting poorly.
              If OP does her best to be considerate and there is still blowback then they are responsible for their reactions.

              It’s pretty easy to see that because this has gone on so long and been tolerated that once an intervention is started there will be push back. That push back can be planned for and responded to. OP is not without recourse here.

              Reply
            3. Been There, Done That

              I’ve been thinking that the coworkers’ behavior is totally disrespectful to Jane’s memory. Being mean to people and forcing them out of their jobs in Jane’s name is horrible.

              Reply
          3. designbot

            That’s what I was scrolling down to suggest. Break up this team before it becomes a permanent memorial to Jane. Transfer the manager and another person or two to other departments–ideally make it people who you perceive as highly social, as they are likely the ringleaders of any behavior that is this persistent. Move the seating arrangement of the rest and make sure that the new person will not in any interpretation of things be sitting in “Jane’s desk.” Not her physical furniture, not her spot, ideally switch the orientations of the desks so that it doesn’t look the same at all. Box up any remaining Jane items and give them to her family.

            Reply
        2. DeskBird

          This. If the company is big enough to do internal transfers so much – I would transfer the manager – even to a slightly lower position if need be. This needs to be stamped out and the current manager might not be capable of it after turning their back for so long.

          Reply
          1. SignalLost

            The fact that the manager is aware of this and enabling it suggests that there is no reason to keep this person in a managerial role. If OP wants to retain the manager, fine, but the manager needs to have jack and squat as their direct reports, because they do not understand managing people. So I think a lower position is not “if need be”; it’s essential. This person is not managing.

            Reply
        3. Mr Frog

          I would personally fire the manager, then bring in a new manager with the specific goal to break up the existing team either by internal transfers or managing them out of the company.

          Reply
          1. AMG

            This has my vote. I was thinking the same thing. The manager obviously is not cut out for the job if she’s letting the monkeys run the circus.

            Reply
          2. Turtle Candle

            Yeah, I’m leaning that way too. If it really is that the manager just didn’t know what to do with such an awkward situation and felt misplaced sympathy, it would maaaayyyybe be something that they could come back from with really intensive coaching. But this level of it, for over a year, and watching three of their own direct reports get run off without intervening at all–so badly that word has got around the company that this position is radioactive and people will quit rather than accept it? It doesn’t sound like they’re salvageable with this team, and maybe even with the company at large.

            I don’t know, I’d usually try coaching first, but it just feels like this well is poisoned.

            Reply
              1. Turtle Candle

                I’d be afraid that that would be setting up a role that was downright impossible for whoever replaced Manager, though. Now they have a team that is grieving and resisting change and lashing out, and a demoted manager for the new manager to deal with. It feels like setting the entire team up for failure, but especially the new manager.

                Reply
              2. Jesmlet

                Yeah I like this idea on a karmic level but I don’t think it would ultimately have much success. I’d imagine anyone who comes in as the new manager would quit after a few months too.

                Reply
            1. Liane

              “so badly that word has got around the company that this position is radioactive and people will quit rather than accept it?”
              Although I do like the idea of transferring the team’s manager and possibly 1 or 2 others, this is the biggest problem with that otherwise great solution–word has gotten around about this team. Other employees–certainly the employee who refused to become the latest Teapot Polisher–are probably going to push back hard against being forced to work with or manage Troubled Team Alums.

              Reply
              1. SignalLost

                It depends on what the gossip is, though. (And OP, you need to get plugged into the gossip network!) If the gossip is that the team is the problem, or one or two people acting in concert, that might mean an individual move of Person A to Team X is “okay”. I put that in quotes because I’m pretty sure OP is going to have to discreetly pass the word to the new team to feel comfortable reporting bad behaviour from Person A to the Team X manager, but if the gossip is not singling out individuals but rather the team, it might be okay to do internal moves for some people, if possible.

                If, however, the gossip is saying “Person B and Manager are totally the ones doing this and everyone else is going along,” Person B and Manager need to be either let go (Manager does anyway) or managed out of the company, because their reputation isn’t salvageable, I would think.

                Reply
          3. Trillian

            I’d be curious about the previous history of that team. Were they functioning before, or did they decide who they wanted to keep? Was there resistance to change and turnover?

            Reply
            1. Anon today

              I was wondering exactly the same thing . Perhaps this team is toxic to a lot of people and has been for a long time . I suspect that because new hires weren’t really there long enough to establish close relationships with people in other departments

              Reply
          4. Not So NewReader

            There is a job I would not want. oh boy.
            I think OP could take over as acting manager by saying, “We have lost four employees from this department. I will be taking over leadership of this department to find out why.”

            Reply
          5. Noobtastic

            Fire or demote, yes, I’m leaning that way, too.

            She may not be the actual ringleader, but she definitely holds responsibility for allowing it to continue, on her watch, for a year, and three replacements (plus the fourth one who pre-emotively offered her resignation, rather than take an assignment there!).

            Reply
        4. Jessesgirl72

          Yes, if possible, I’d split the group up entirely.

          That may not be as easy as firing the lot of them and starting over fresh, though.

          Reply
          1. Newby

            It is not as easy but is is kinder. They are all in a lot of pain and behaving badly because of it. It does not excuse the behavior, but it does seem to call for a softer approach at least at first. If possible, splitting up the group would be the ideal solution.

            Reply
            1. Jessesgirl72

              They have run off 3 people, and the manager is already BEING soft on them. So was HR.

              And I’m not sure it is actually kinder. It’s nicer, but not kinder- it’s not what is best for them, long term. A clean break away from the company where they saw dear Jane die is probably healthier for them. Even if they are split up within the company, there is going to be so much baggage associated with it still- and I’m not convinced most of them will be good for the company, if they have gone this far into insane and inappropriate behavior.

              Reply
              1. Noobtastic

                To be honest, re-reading this, I’m not feeling kind. They had a year of softness and “kindness.” But if I were going to be really, truly kind, I would offer all of them assistance in networking and applying for jobs in other companies.

                I think they’d be better off in another company, where they don’t bear the stigma of being one of “the nuclear team,” who destroys their co-workers, and they wouldn’t have to deal with the reminders of Jane, either.

                One company I worked for had lay-offs for the first time, ever, and they did offer assistance at finding new jobs for all the employees they let go that day. All the networking of the big wigs were at the employees’ disposal, as well as a six-month pay, to carry them over until they got new jobs.

                Now that, I believe, is the “kindest” option. But I do not think this team can stand, at least not as currently staffed, and frankly, I don’t think internal transfers would work for most of them, now, anyway. Not now that no one will even accept an assignment to work with them.

                It’s sad that they are so hurt, and it’s sad that they did so much, and it’s sad that it’s come this far but I think it’s a bit of “too little, too late,” to try to fix it with softness and counseling, now. You have to consider the morale of not just this team, but of the entire company.

                Reply
        5. Aveline

          I think transferring the manager will stop the overt behavior. It’s not going to make them want to accept someone new.

          Short term: transfer the manager, rearrange the space, reallocate the role/tasks, etc.

          Long term: transfer most of the team elsewhere into roles where they aren’t together.

          Reply
          1. Turtle Candle

            As far as that goes, with a group with this much dysfunctional behavior going on, it might be difficult to find a replacement for the manager who will stay in the role and be able to effect any kind of change. I would worry that as soon as she starts to address the Jane-related problems, the new manager would just become the target of the hostility (and while a good manager can deal with hostility, hostility from the entire group would be pretty difficult to address, especially if for work reasons you can’t just fire them all at once).

            The more I think about it, the more I think that if possible this group has just got to be split up. Something weird is going on in the intragroup dynamic that I’m not sure is fixable with normal good management.

            Reply
        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I agree—I really hold the manager responsible for exacerbating the dynamic, especially because it sounds like the manager was actively harassing the new hires. I would consider PIP’ing that person, but perhaps a more kind/reasonable approach is to transfer them for now. They should not be allowed to oversee “compliance,” and it’s beyond the pale that the manager (1) did nothing, and (2) contributed to the harassment.

          Reply
        7. Trillian

          Whatever you do, don’t throw another person into this mess without action that goes beyond talking about it and evidence of change. People quit without notice and without a safety net. People left the company entirely. That says to me you didn’t hear the half of it, and none of the departing employees trusted management or HR to have their backs.

          Reply
          1. Anon today

            Yes I’m thinking the same thing there too. When you have lost three new hires And an established employee comfortable in a company Will resign instead of excepting the transfer there are serious serious problems . I really get the feeling that this team behaved this way even before Janes death. As a manager I encountered this once. I quickly realized that the soft approach was not going to work. ( I was the one that they wanted gone ) most of the team was salvageable but two were let go as a result the team was more manageable and much more productive. This may be the only option left of this company as replacing an entire team can have dire consequences .

            Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          That’s what I want to know! I mean, I guess I can KIND of see the rationale. Like the first time “okay, it hasn’t been that long and they’re still grieving” and the second time “well, let’s try an external hire and see if that works better”. But OP still should have been aware of what was happening.

          I’m wondering if this unusual situation was mentioned during the interview process. I feel like it should have been. And I’m definitely in agreement with the people saying that this team should be split up if at all possible.

          Reply
        2. Windchime

          HR at my previous company has seen four people from my old department take long leaves for extreme stress caused by a nasty management team and have done nothing. Three people have quit. So color me unsurprised at an HR department who can’t be bothered to notice a pattern.

          Reply
        3. Not So NewReader

          The manager should have told OP that she was having a problem and she didn’t. Speaks volumes to me.

          Reply
    6. MuseumChick

      I agree with this in spirit, but I would take a slightly softer tone (at first). First, I would address it with with the manager and then have a team meeting.

      “We have tried X time to fill the Teapot Coordinator position. I’m very concerned that so many people have quit so quickly after being hired and by the feedback we’ve received regarding the treatment of each of these hires. It needs to stop. We are going to fill the position again, if this pattern continues I will have to consider re-organizing this team.”

      Then at first whiff of trouble, the OP address it directly with either the individual or the team, which ever make the most sense. This time using strong language.

      Reply
      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        Just curious .. was any attempt made to promote someone into the position from WITHIN the team itself?

        Could there be resentment from the staff on that? It might be too late to fill the position from within the team – “that’s letting the inmates run the asylum, loss of face, etc.” BUT that might be the root cause of the ongoing problem.

        Reply
        1. E

          That could be interesting. Would the group run off one of “their own” who suddenly was the one not doing the job like Jane did?

          Reply
        2. Detective Amy Santiago

          There’s nothing in the letter to indicate Jane had a higher position than her teammates.

          Reply
      2. Ann O'Nemity

        I agree with the softer tone at first. Yes, it’s ridiculous that it’s reached this level and gone on for so long. But it also hasn’t been addressed before!

        I think OP should also do some work to figure out how this could have gone on under their nose for as long as it has. Why didn’t HR raise the concern earlier? Why aren’t these things bubbling up to the OP? One of OP’s responsibilities is to make sure the managers that they oversee are effective managers themselves.

        Reply
        1. Trillian

          Yes, OP should also check in their any other teams to make sure nothing else is festering unreported.

          Reply
    7. Rusty Shackelford

      Call a staff meeting with the whole group. Explain the problem. “This stops now. If you can’t accept a new supervisor, there is the door. You will get six weeks severance and a positive reference. If you choose to stay and the problems persist, I will fire all of you for cause and we will give no references. I trust we are good here?”

      I think it’s too harsh to threaten to hire “all of you” if it turns out some people are trying and some people aren’t. Other than that, I like this. I mean, I understand their need to grieve, and I wouldn’t want to put a timer on anybody’s ability to cope with the situation, but (a) she was a coworker, (b) it’s been a year, and (c) they’re not just being sad, they’re being actively destructive. That needs to stop.

      Reply
    8. Milton Waddams

      The new manager might score brownie points for a tactic like that, but they’d better be a master of Blame Judo, as that sort of action is likely to destroy staff cohesion and be incredibly expensive in the long-term.

      Reply
  5. Antilles

    “Word got around the company so no one put in to transfer into Jane’s role and that is why an outside person had to be hired. After the outside hire left, upper management tried to get another person who already works here to transfer into the job so they didn’t have to go through the hiring process again. The person they picked wrote her resignation and was ready to quit before they told her she didn’t have to take it.”
    Wait, it was so well-known throughout the company that Replacing Jane is Not Possible that someone almost quit over simply being offered the job?
    Wow, just wow. That’s actually kind of impressive. Crazy dysfunctional, but impressive nonetheless.

    Reply
    1. Noobtastic

      Yeah, and if everyone in the company knew (except for the LW, who seems to be well out of the gossip loop, which is impressive in its own way), why didn’t HR address the issue before this?

      And now they are “addressing the issue” by dumping it on LW’s lap? What’s up with that?

      Reply
      1. AD

        OP is the team’s senior manager (she manages their manager), so it’s not really “dumping it in her lap”. It’s part of her job to provide oversight, and this certainly falls into that category.

        Reply
          1. pescadero

            Three resignations in a short time by someone who reports to your direct report – and you’re finding out the details from HR, seems rather strange to me.

            How did this never come up between the OP and the person managing the group?

            Reply
            1. Anon 2

              I think it would depend on how many direct and indirect reports the OP has. If she has hundreds of direct and indirect reports then I could see how that could happen. If she has fewer than 50-75 then I’m curious why she didn’t know that position was having such rapid turnover and why she wasn’t asking for the reason?

              Reply
            2. Jessesgirl72

              We don’t know that the OP didn’t ask the Manager about it, and the Manager just poo-pooed it off as not a good fit or some such nonsense. Until HR finally told the OP what’s going on, the OP had no way of knowing the Manager is part of the problem.

              Reply
            3. Detective Amy Santiago

              it sounds like the manager was complicit, so of course s/he wasn’t going to mention it to OP

              Reply
            4. SignalLost

              The manager is actively involved – “According to the resignations and the exit interview, the manager participated and accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” the dead when they brought their concerns forward.” – so I’m pretty sure the manager was covering up the problems when reporting to OP. The manager needs to be fired for cause, tbh. The more I think about it, the more I think the manager is absolutely not salvageable.

              Reply
            5. AMPG

              Right – I said above that I think the OP needs to really think about her management style, since this apparently could have gone on indefinitely if HR hadn’t finally stepped up. She shouldn’t be relying on others to pick up on problems with her team.

              Reply
          2. Jadelyn

            Seriously – she should have been notified the first time it happened so she could keep an eye on it. After the second incident, it should have been a serious conversation with agreed-upon specific action items. It should never have gotten to THREE TIMES before grandboss was even NOTIFIED that there was this issue. Their HR fell down on the job, hard.

            Reply
        1. Hlyssande

          Yeah, I’m really confused about why they didn’t bring this up after the FIRST person quit. And if not then, then the second at the very least. It should never, ever have gotten to this point before bringing it to the OP’s attention.

          Reply
          1. Solidus Pilcrow

            My guess is HR let the first resignation pass and excused it as the grief being to0 fresh. The second resignation (and the reasons behind it) was probably brought to the team manager—who either did nothing or was not effective. Third resignation came and HR realized they had to escalate it another rung up the ladder. (One time was a fluke, two times is suggestive, third time is a pattern.)

            Not that this was a good way of handling it, but I can image it going that way.

            Reply
    2. Turtle Candle

      Yeah, that stood out to me too. I’ve only once seen someone give a “I will quit rather than accept this role change, full stop,” and that was at a past job where the manager they would report to with the change was known for sexually harassing female staff. (Yes, the whole environment was hideously toxic, and I’m glad I was only there briefly.) Even fairly high levels of dysfunction, people will usually IME go, “well, it’s not great but I’ll give it a try,” or “I’ll take the switch but start job searching right away.” A pre-emptive “if you make me make this move, I will quit immediately” means that the situation is not only horrible, but is well known to be horrible, and that’s just, ack. This needs to be dealt with pronto because the negative effects are already spreading beyond this one team.

      Reply
    3. Chickaletta

      Yes. The entire department’s reputation has been tarnished. Alison’s advice is just step one. After that, the OP (or maybe someone higher even) will need to do damage control across the company in step two. If people are quitting just from the suggestion of working in that department, I can imagine that it’s impacting work between departments in all sorts of ways and that will probably need to be addressed too. I suppose you could just talk to the department and hope that everything else falls into place, but I wouldn’t count on it.

      Reply
    4. Abby

      And, I mean this as gently as possible, but the OP has some fault here too. Why didn’t she look into this earlier? HR should have notified her before, but she should have been questioning things more. This is problematic turnover even without the issue of Jane’s death. The manager should definitely be on a PIP but if I was the manager of the OP, I would have a serious conversation with her as well.

      Reply
      1. INFJ

        I wouldn’t go that far. OP said that the position was tough, and she thought the new hires couldn’t handle the stress. It’s possible that it’s a hard position to keep. Without more background, it’s tough to fault OP for not noticing the pattern.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          I absolutely think the OP bears some blame for letting it get this bad. Being a manager means knowing what’s going on with your direct reports, not relying on others to flag you if there’s a problem. Apparently there was data available on the performance of all three of the replacements, since the OP found it after the fact – she should’ve looked at it and seen there was an issue much earlier.

          Reply
  6. Leatherwings

    It also sounds like OP is going to have to take a bit more of a hands on role with the manager and the managers’ team for a bit going forward. The fact that the manager didn’t bring this up until after three people left because of this and HR found out raises serious questions about their ability to manage.

    Reply
    1. PlainJane

      Yeah, this. I hate micromanagement, but I think the OP needs to get more involved here with the team, the manager, and any new hire. I suggest being very direct with the team’s manager that this behavior will not be tolerated, that the manager is expected to hold regular meetings with a new hire to listen to concerns and ensure that the person is being treated well, and to intervene immediately if there are issues. That combined with Vaca’s approach above should make expectations pretty clear. Then follow up weekly with the manager and check in with the new hire to see how things are going. It sounds like this manager has forfeited the right to manage the team independently, at least till this issue is fully resolved.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        It’s not micromanagement if the manager is not handling a problem or if the manager is actually part of the problem. Both actions are unacceptable.

        Micromanagement tends to refer to people who monitor every single detail of a process that is basically going well with out their intervention.

        I think the manager has lost the right to manage people period because the manager lacks the ability to know when to ask for help. That to me is a deal breaker.

        Reply
    2. Mike C.

      Yeah, I would have to agree here. In my org, this would have been noticed immediately as headcount/budget issues are dealt with at a higher level.

      Reply
    3. AD

      I was coming here to say the same thing, but I think OP needs to have more skin in the game.

      No disrespect meant to the OP at all, but I am wondering why s/he didn’t notice this happening for what sounds like a full year (and the manager of the team in question reports to OP) until HR brought it to her attention (and didn’t bother to do that for the results of the last 2 exit interviews from what it sounds like?). OP says they work in a different building….but still, this team is under her direct purview. There was no indication for a full year that this was a highly problematic situation? (The turnover itself should have been some clue)

      Reply
      1. Serin

        Yes, this is what I was coming in to say. I think the OP needs to manage the manager of that dept (who is the OP’s direct report) in a very serious and hands-on way, and see to it that the manager manages the rest of them.

        “How do you sleep at night, coming in here taking Jane’s place?” — there’s some sort of advanced level of reality denial going on there.

        Reply
      2. Chalupa Batman

        OP mentioned that the role is challenging, so she attributed the turnover to that at first. Two people in a row probably should have perked OP’s ears a little, but I can understand how, without having been told the first few times that this was a problem, OP may have thought it was bad luck that the first two rehires didn’t work out.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          It should have perked her ears a LOT – remember, these are people who were from the company so they should have had an idea of what the job entails.

          Reply
          1. OhBehave

            OP said that she works in another building so was not privy to the goings on here. For all we know, the manager (who she manages), told her a tall tale in order to cover his behind. My concern is that HR was told by the first one who left, that this was happening and they sat on it.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              She’s not privy to the fact of each resignation? If nothing else, she should have been questioning the hiring process.

              Reply
          2. INFJ

            I wouldn’t be surprised if the company tried strongly suggesting that the first two hires transfer, or somehow tried sweetening the pot in an attempt to get the role filled quickly. (Ie, the internal transfers didn’t do so because they actually wanted the job) If OP knew this, I could see why their sudden departure didn’t raise an eyebrow, particularly for a high stress position.

            When my last company had high turnover at a busy location and needed bodies quick, they offered up to $20,000 in bonuses over 2 years and relocation costs.

            I’m particularly sceptical of something like this considering that the fourth candidate didn’t want to transfer and had to threaten to resign in order to not get pushed into it.

            Reply
    4. Ramona

      Since the manager was part of the problem, she would have most likely made something up (or just not mention at all) to the OP. OP also mentions working in another building which gives the manager time to spin the story in her favour.

      I’ve known cases where the manager’s manager actually had no idea how toxic the manager was because they worked in a different office and only heard directly from the manager. It wasn’t until someone put an official complaint into the manager’s manager (this is a pain, MM from now) that they discovered how toxic the manager was. Fortunately for the workplaces, most of the managers were stupid bullies and left more than enough evidence to get fired. The reason is because whenever they did go and check on the team, the manager spun it in a way to make them look favourable.

      I do believe HR just ignoring it. Considering in the above scenarios, HR ignored multiple anonymous complaints that the caller stated it was anonymous because they literally feared for their safety if the manager found out they complained. So I can see shitty HR being shitty. MM not being aware because the manager explained it away in her favour, I can see.

      Reply
  7. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    It makes me wonder if there’s some kind of PTSD thing going on. Watching someone die traumatically can put a major, major zap on your head. I watched my SO die in a horrifying car wreck when I was 22, and it didn’t manifest itself anywhere close to this way, but I had some major baggage for years afterward – like, breaking out into a screaming panic attack seeing cars from a cross street approaching an intersection without decelerating, and so on.

    Reply
    1. PainScientist

      I’m really sorry you experienced that and I’m glad to hear you’re doing better these days.

      I also think this is a really important point to consider. It doesn’t excuse their actions and it definitely does not make their ostracizing of new hires okay. Considering that some of these coworkers witnessed Jane’s death and are likely not only mourning but dealing with the emotional baggage of an event that is known to cause PTSD (ie, witnessing a violent death) adds another layer to the problem. Again – it doesn’t excuse their actions. It just shouldn’t be forgotten, because it gives the OP another data point on why this is happening and maybe how to address it. Whatever needs to be done for the sake of the company should be done, but maybe with a bit of sensitivity toward the fact that her death doesn’t only mean a lost coworker and/or friend, but a traumatic experience for at least some of them.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        And, in my experience, the only way to move forward is to engage with the trauma and the reaction to it – not to deny and forget it. If these people have been letting a disordered, PTSD-ish trauma reaction carve a groove into them for a year, it would explain a lot about the really irrational and emotional reactions to reminders of that trauma.

        Reply
        1. PainScientist

          I agree with all of this. (As someone who also has some PTSD-ish symptoms due to a traumatic experience (not similar to this one or to yours, though).

          Reply
        2. RVA Cat

          Would it be feasible to move the whole team to a different location? Since it sounds like Jane was killed nearby, so the proximity could be tying into the PTSD issue as well.

          Reply
    2. Aveline

      DH had to deal with something similar once. Jane didn’t die, but was raped and in a coma. She had been for 5 years.

      They tried all the things suggested in this thread. In the end, they had to split up the team. Eventually, a few were fired b/c they refused to adjust.

      In the end, it doesn’t matter if this is PTSD or not. The results are the same: the group is not functional and is actively destructive. The group needs to be broken.

      The individual employees need to be offered and strongly encouraged to get individual therapy. The group cannot be saved.

      Reply
      1. Serin

        This sort of reaction to a person in a coma is a little less bizarre and inexplicable — that person might come back and want her job back, however distant the possibility, whereas the Jane who was killed clearly is not going to do that.

        Reply
      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Yeah, I’m kind of going back and forth here. From a boss’ perspective, this is a toxic and dysfunctional team and needs to strongly reprimanded and preferably broken up. That’s not the humanitarian thing to do and it won’t help their PTSD at all….but is it really OP’s job to further their emotional recovery?

        Reply
        1. Aveline

          It seems to me the company has been very understanding and supportive.

          It’s also not either-or. They can break up the team and offer more therapy.

          I also – though not a psychologist – cannot believe it’s health for any of the team for this to continue.

          Reply
        2. Observer

          In fact, it actually could help their PTSD if that’s what is going on. The sameness of the group and the environment is almost certainly acting as a bit of a trigger for their behavior.

          Reply
          1. Fiennes

            The extremity of the team’s reaction also makes me wonder whether there’s a feeling of guilt at work. No doubt irrational guilt – but still, that emotion being present would explain a lot. OP mentioned that people witnessed Jane’s fatal accident. Was this near work, tied to an event? Was Jane possibly running an errand or performing a task for the team? If the team members (wrongly) feel in some way responsible for Jane’s death, it might explain some of their anger — they may be most upset *at themselves* for Jane’s absence and are projecting that onto whatever new person comes along.

            Just theorizing, but I could see misplaced guilt being a factor here, and in my experience guilt sometimes clings even longer than grief.

            Reply
    3. Alton

      That’s definitely possible, and I wonder if this situation could partly be an accommodation effort gone awry. Maybe there are a few people at the heart of this who are really struggling and the department has sort or normalized the extremeness of their reactions. Things like talking about “if Jane were there” or getting emotional over her desk being rearranged might be reasonable up to a point, but it’s clearly gone beyond that, and people either don’t recognize that or don’t feel capable of doing anything.

      I’m sorry you experienced that.

      Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      TNMBOIS, I am profoundly sorry this happened to you. It totally makes sense that a fast moving car would hit the panic button in your mind.

      Respectfully, I would like to say that you did not use your terror to push people out of their jobs. Nor did it cause you to be verbally/mentally cruel to others.

      Matter of fact, your example here on AAM does the opposite. I have been following your posts and you are kind and thoughtful to others. Which just goes to show, it can be done in spite of on-going grief. (I should say, I don’t believe we “get over” grief. We build a new normal and continue on with our sadnesses woven into our life story.)

      Again, very sorry and no disrespect intended.

      Reply
  8. Keli

    Supposedly routine helps you move on from losing someone, but these people are carrying it too far. This doesn’t seem healthy for anyone.

    I think in addition to addressing the management issue, I’d start making gradual changes to the environment and job duties. Repaint, buy Jane #5 a new desk, chair, and phone if that hasn’t been done already, reorganize the furniture, and possibly reorganize some of the staff so that they can move on.

    Reply
    1. Zaralynda

      Agreed. I had a supervisor die suddenly while on vacation a few years ago (and I was his stand-in while he was gone!). We had the position temporarily filled by a volunteer until they could do a full search (this is federal government so that took about 8 months). The volunteer did not move into supervisor’s office until the position was finalized (he got it).

      We still have awkwardness in the office around his death sometimes (well, Wakeen was doing that, but ….), but it’s not to this level of dysfunction.

      Reply
    2. PlainJane

      I was thinking along the same lines. Changing things up may help people move forward in a more healthy way.

      Reply
    3. Fawnling

      Unrelated but hello from one Keli to another! I was shocked to see the spelling on here. Don’t see that very much. :)

      Reply
    4. Jady

      I was even thinking – could the job title be changed? That makes it obviously not ‘Jane’s job.’

      ie. Jane’s “Administrative Assistant” would become “Office Administrator” or “Executive Assistant”.

      Flout it to the team that it’s a brand new job position (even though it isn’t). Have that person sit in a different desk. If there’s the space, move the entire team to a new area.

      I’m mainly concerned about the comment of rearranging Jane’s desk. Is her stuff still there? Everything has to go immediately. Until the position is filled, it should be completely empty. Get rid of everything – phone, monitors, computer, etc. Put her personal stuff in a box out of sight. Even if you bring the same furniture back when someone is hired, they will put things where they want them. It’s not rearranging, it’s ‘new’.

      They are silly mental tricks on the team, but I think they could help a lot and they’re simple and fast to do.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Oh, I think changing the name is really good idea, and it has two advantages–it breaks the pattern, but it also lets them keep the “no one can replace Jane” notion without hurting anything.

        Reply
      2. GeoffreyB

        Sometimes indirect methods are best, but this case sounds so egregious that IMHO it needs to be tackled directly rather than looking for a work-around. The people involved, especially the manager, need to know that this behaviour is unacceptable and has to change.

        Reply
    5. Sunflower

      That’s a really good idea. If the office has the space to move the desk location somewhere else, that’s the first thing I would do.

      Reply
    6. Chickaletta

      This is a good idea. OP or someone else high up should be the one to rearrange the furniture, or at least be very transparent that it’s their orders if, say, building maintenance does it.

      Reply
    7. Milton Waddams

      I’d be careful about that — if there is concern that Jane is being “erased” from the company’s memory already, this won’t help.

      Reply
      1. Chickaletta

        However, by having the furniture rearranged/replaced by internal management, it takes the burden off the person who will fill the position. Also, there are healthier and better ways to memorialize Jane than by turning her desk into a time capsule.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          Replacing Jane’s desk isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it has to be done correctly. As has been pointed out, the department has a problem with others sitting there, because it is acting as a surrogate memorial. The thing to do here is create a formal memorial that takes up less space than a desk. If people associate Jane with her red stapler, put it in a display case with her picture. Change the job title slightly, use this as a chance to reassess job roles slightly. Give the new hire a new desk in a different place, a new title, and slightly different roles. Then it does not seem like Jane is being replaced, but rather than a new member of the team has joined who aspires to live up to Jane’s professional example without trying to replace her.

          Reply
          1. Blue

            I would also move the new, small memorial out of the office. Put it in an entryway or hallway, maybe. So people can still see it as they pass, but it’s not right there in the same space as the latest new hire. A visual reminder right in this dysfuntional office could still prompt more “But Jane used to…” comments than would be healthy.

            Reply
  9. Scarlott

    I’d say if this keeps happening lay out some consequences. There’s only so much time and productivity that can be lost over this. They’ve done everything in their power to help including counselling, paid time for the trial and funeral, ect. Enough is enough. If they can’t cope, and they’re not getting help, transfer them to different departments, or let them go, as working with others is part of the job, and they’re not capable of it.

    Reply
    1. AMT

      I would actually start that conversation now, especially considering how long this behavior has been going on. ESPECIALLY considering this: “[The] manager participated and accused them of being awful.” That line tells us that the behavior is pervasive, ongoing, and condoned by the manager. I’d have an immediate conversation with the manager about potential consequences for both the manager and the offending employees. This is beyond bad management.

      Reply
      1. Aphrodite

        The manager didn’t just condone the behavior, she actively participated (and maybe encouraged it).

        Reply
    2. Gandalf the Nude

      I almost wonder, if the trial is still ongoing or even recently concluded, if continuing to be mired in that process has at least partially caused the lingering grief issues, especially the misdirected anger. It’s hard to move on from something when you’re still immersed in it. Of course that doesn’t excuse the behavior. Especially the “how can you sleep at night” comments. What the f*** even?

      Reply
    3. Milton Waddams

      I’m surprised how many people seem excited by the “hardball” approach — do you really want to take a tightly-knit team and break it apart into a series of bitter deadwood employees?

      Reply
      1. Cassandra

        The difficulty there is that a lot of what’s knitting them together is making them toxic to everyone else… and quite likely not helping them much (if at all), either.

        Workplace dysfunctions a lot less serious than this can get that weird kind of codependent where Wakeen’s fine and so is Fergus, but put them together and they’re a disaster. I’ve been Wakeen in that situation, and leaving was the best thing I ever did for Fergus, the former workplace — and myself.

        It’s a shame, but these folks can’t be trusted to function together. If they are to stay in this workplace at all, I tend to agree that they need to be broken up. I also agree with commenters saying that the group’s current manager has made the problem worse, and cannot be trusted to manage this group.

        Reply
      2. Natalie

        “Tight knit” isn’t automagically a good thing. This is a work group, not a family. Their primary goal is to be productive at whatever the company does, and if being tight knit is impeding that (which it seems to be in this case) than it’s a negative aspect of the group, not a positive one.

        Nor do I think it’s a given that breaking the team apart is going to lead them all to become bitter deadwood.

        Reply
      3. Scarlott

        Only if they’ve been given chance after chance to become a productive group again. This wouldn’t be about breaking apart a tight nit group, but perhaps they need to be separated to truly move on. Perhaps the ghost of Jane will always haunt them too much in their current roles. That’s why I suggest to find another place for them at the current company. Maybe even just a location shake-up would suffice. but if none of that is feasible, then yes, I believe letting people go is the only way to become functional again.

        Reply
      4. Not So NewReader

        It’s not so much excitement as it realizing how deeply embedded this problem is. This is a huge problem with long term impact.If people cannot change what they are doing then there are very few options left.

        Basically, this is a whole department that is sabotaging company endeavors/productivity by not allowing a new person to join the department. An employee cannot tell his boss not to hire anyone ever. This is insubordination. Here is a group of employees who have burned through several replacement people. This becomes sabotage. Should this continue on unchecked, this department could cause the company to collapse.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          Sometimes business decisions erase an important human element of interactions; treating it as though the driver of a car dying is the same as it running out of gas, and that the important focus is that the car is not moving, not that the driver is dead, may make business sense but it doesn’t make human sense.

          Reply
        2. 2horseygirls

          +1,000.

          Taking a step back, let’s consider the institutional knowledge that walked out the door with the two employees that were transferred into the role, then left, and the third transfer that almost did. There is a larger strategic issue here.

          (deep breath . . . . prepares to be banned . . . . )

          What happened to Jane is HORRIBLY tragic. There just aren’t words.

          BUT, if it had happened on a Saturday while she was running errands, or on a vacation with her family, would there still be this pervasive sense of memorial, of being frozen in time, unable to move on? Or is this situation unique because she literally spilled blood on company grounds?

          People leave positions all the time. They quit, are terminated, transfer to another office, retire, or die. They made their contributions, and those contributions are appreciated. But unless Jane developed a new method of glazing teapots that is 100% environmentally friendly, costs $0.001 to produce, and the waste runoff is being studied as the next cure for a horrible disease, there is truly no reason to memorialize her stapler, or her position, or her, other than to speak warmly and positively about her.

          It sounds like the company has been sensitive to her co-workers, and offered appropriate resources to those left behind.

          However, life goes on. Do her colleagues believe that the company should simply cease operations entirely?

          Reply
      5. aebhel

        When the group is dysfunctional, sometimes the only way to deal with the dysfunction is to break up the group. ‘Tightly knit’ isn’t always a good thing, especially in a work environment that has to be able to admit new people. This group cannot admit an outsider at all, and has abused three people out of their jobs. That is not a functional group. Whether the employees themselves would be functional in other groups remains to be seen, but the situation cannot continue like this.

        Reply
        1. Candi

          I agree.

          Search the archives here. There are several letters and many many comments from people who transferred or were hired as the newbie member in an already tight-knot group.

          Very very often it’s a disaster of at least moderate proportions.

          Similar stories can be found on other sites that publish stories from a wide swath of industries.

          It’s a decent amount of data, and leads to the reasonable conclusion that when a tight-knot group goes toxic, it’s dangerous for anyone who tries to ‘intrude’. This group is simply more egregious then most.

          At this point, transferring/demoting the manager or bouncing him out the door is necessary. Then you peel away the main ringleaders and their chief sidekicks, again with transfers or firing. After that, you assess if the remaining workers can be salvaged. And in this case, salvage is very much the word.

          Reply
  10. MassMatt

    What an awful situation. I agree with the advice, however I would try not to use phrases such as “taking Jane’s job” as this feeds into this whole odd mindset of the group. It isn’t “Jane’s job” anymore, sadly Jane is gone. People retire, die, or leave jobs all the time, it’s a fact of life. The job still needs to be done and the behavior of this group is damaging the company.

    Reply
  11. MegaMoose, Esq

    This whole situation is just really, really sad. I agree that it’s past time to reel in the former co-workers’ behavior, but that doesn’t make it less sad.

    Reply
  12. emma2

    Is in-house grief counseling an option? They sound like they are behaving terribly, but reactions to grief can be extreme.

    Reply
        1. Mephyle

          Or if they did, whether the therapy was good. Because if anyone did take advantage of it, it didn’t seem to have helped, at least not helped the workplace.

          Reply
    1. L.

      They did, but the accident was a year ago. I’m not sure if it’s feasible for this company to offer this service for free for years on end. What do HR pros think?

      Reply
      1. Emilia Bedelia

        It doesn’t seem like they’ve taken the company up on it though.

        I could see a “shape up, get help or leave” ultimatum- obviously it’s very tough to deal with grief, but if they’re not even making an effort, that’s an issue.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I can smile now but at the time no. When my father passed, I was exhausted from putting in 20 plus hour days for months. I knew I was not looking at things right, I was making mistakes, calling in sick and I was weepy. My boss suggested EAP.
          I made sure to let her know that I knew she was right, I had to do something to get myself some additional support for my grief. Although, I opted not to use EAP (and she agreed with my rationale), I DID pick another option that I would follow through on. This satisfied her concern.
          It is fine to say to an employee, “You cannot do x, y and z. However, I understand that this is a rough thing for you and I think you should build a plan.” We may not owe our bosses an explanation of what our plan is. I believed in my situation that it was important to loop the boss in so she could clearly see that I agreed I needed to beef up some of the things that had been slipping on me.

          Reply
      2. Abby

        I think providing free therapy for an extended period of time could cause problems regarding future benefits. Presumably employees have health insurance at this company.

        Reply
      3. fposte

        I’m not HR, but I think a one-off piece of transition counseling wouldn’t be amiss. The goal is less to make everybody peachy than to provide a thoughtful launching place for the transition that didn’t happen when Jane died.

        Reply
        1. Ruth

          Am HR and at my workplace we organise for counselling for the team .we give them three different sessions to come to terms with the loss.We also encourage each one of them to go for their private counselling sessions with a designated counselor and the employers pays for that.We have seen good results and employees eventually come out to appreciate the service and thought.
          As HR ,we also hold welfare sessions with the team ,to reaffirm our support and check out any other underlying concerns that we may need to deal with

          Reply
      4. Jadelyn

        If they have an EAP, this kind of thing is a standard part of it on an ongoing basis. I think my org’s EAP gives us 5 sessions per year free or something like that. So while they may have done grief counseling on a specific short-term basis because of Jane’s death, this is exactly the kind of ongoing issue that an EAP should be able to help with without requiring additional specific “we need to take care of this situation” context. If the company has an EAP, it’s time to remind these employees of that benefit. If they don’t have an EAP…maybe it’s time to get one.

        Reply
      5. JessaB

        It’s not for years on end though, from what the OP says there might be court things that they have to participate in still. I would for certain make sure they’re looked after til they don’t have to relive this thing whilst trying to get the driver convicted of an offence that a lot of people get away with a slap on the wrist for.

        Reply
    2. Jessesgirl72

      I suspect some kind of group therapy (common for grief therapy) is only feeding into the group think.

      Reply
  13. Tuesday

    It might not be practical, but what if the nameless, faceless company management rearranged that section of the office so that there was no more “Jane’s desk” or “Jane’s office.” Obviously that wouldn’t resolve the problem entirely, but maybe it would get rid of some of the ghosts. The metaphorical ones, anyway.

    I get being angry, and I can’t imagine how traumatic it would have been for those who witnessed Jane’s death. But it seems like this group should channel their angry energy into fundraising for MADD, not taking it out on someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy.

    Reply
    1. Paige Turner

      Yeah, the coworkers need to change either way, but I wonder if it would be a good idea for OP/the company to create some sort of fundraiser or scholarship in Jane’s name to counteract the feeling (subconscious or otherwise) that Jane is being forgotten.

      Reply
      1. KM

        Agree with both this and the comment above. Physically remove Jane’s desk, do something to honour her memory, and shuffle things enough that it doesn’t seem like the new employee is literally taking her place. It might even make sense to change the title of the job slightly, depending on the situation.

        I think Jane’s former coworkers are behaving poorly but, if I had watched someone die, it would be hard not to be haunted by it and not to constantly relive that memory, if I were sitting in the same place where we used to sit each day and that person wasn’t there. It’s the same principle where people sometimes sell their homes or move after a loved one dies — it’s too painful to look around a location where you have memories with that person and see that that person’s not there.

        Reply
    2. MoinMoin

      Agreed on rearranging the desk preemptively. It also takes some of the blame off the newcomer for doing it. Honestly, they should probably look at retooling the position, since it’s probably changed a bit since Jane simply because it’s been in flux so long due to attrition.
      And if it’s at all possible to reshuffle the whole department a little it would probably help, though that may be difficult depending on the company and department.

      Reply
    3. Emmie

      I agree on rearranging the desk, and office position, and channeling energy into MADD. Maybe it would benefit grieving coworkers to help prepare that desk for a new person. Kind of like offering people the work equivalent of cleaning out the person’s closet so to speak.

      Reply
  14. Feathers McGraw

    It seems odd for an entire group of people to be this irrational so I do wonder if there’s a ringleader or two.

    Reply
    1. Ypsiguy

      There absolutely must be. And I wonder if it might be the manager, because otherwise wouldn’t at least one of the workers there come to his/her senses and start treating “Jane’s replacements” with the respect that they deserve?

      The fact that the manager knows about these problems and does nothing (or worse than nothing) also leads me to believe that it’s coming from the manager.

      Reply
      1. Gen

        I’d wonder if the ringleader wasn’t angling for some of Jane’s role? Like “only someone who really knew Jane could do this job right, none of these people are worthy, I could do it if you can’t possibly find anyone else” sort of thing

        Reply
        1. Manders

          I was going to suggest that someone from this team could be moved into Jane’s former role or assigned Jane’s tasks, but yikes, you could totally be right that this was their plan all along.

          Reply
    2. Keli

      Me too. I wonder if things would change if they reassigned the manager who does nothing to a different team.

      Reply
      1. AnonAnalyst

        Yeah, I’m thinking the manager needs to be reassigned or let go. The fact that the new hire brought these issues to her and she did nothing to address them is unacceptable (and for all we know, the others in the role might have expressed similar concerns that she ignored). At the very least, management of this team has gotten away from her and I’m not sure OP can trust her to be effective in that role; at worst, she’s too close to the issue and is actively participating in this behavior.

        Bring in someone else to manage the team, warn the others that this cannot continue, and fill the vacant role. Then hold the other team members accountable and start disciplinary procedures if it continues. Hopefully, though, if the manager stops allowing this the fervor among the other team members will just diminish on its own.

        Reply
    3. Mike C.

      It’s something to consider, but even if there is, these are adults we’re talking about. Unless it’s the direct manager, in which the power imbalance has to be considered.

      I also wonder if there’s a company culture issue where groups are really tight knit and never go outside for help or collaboration.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        It sounds like the manager condoning this managed the entire team including Jane, and reported to the OP, so yeah, it would be their direct manager.

        And I’d still hope one of their reports would contact the OP about it, but it’s hard to do that, especially if the grandboss is remote and mostly-absent/non-intervening.

        Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      By the simple fact that the manager did not stop the behavior makes that manager a leader in the behavior.
      And OP indicates that the manager participated.
      Additionally, it appears that the manager did not tell OP she was having a problem with her crew.

      People go in the direction of their leader or tend to go that way.

      This is a person who cannot manage people.

      Reply
      1. tigerStripes

        Or maybe the manager can manage people and was the ringleader. Either way, the manager isn’t doing the right thing.

        Reply
  15. Some2

    If possible I would bust up that working group. Transfer them all into new departments and away from each other.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      This is another good idea. Just reshuffle everyone away from each other, and reconstitute the group from other departments. At least, if that’s possible.

      Reply
    2. Natalie

      That was my first thought. If it’s a big enough company, it shouldn’t be too hard to transfer everyone to different groups, since they seem to be feeding off each other in some way.

      Reply
    3. justsomeone

      This was my thought too. Shuffle people around and break up the group. It’s the only way any new blood will ever get the peace to do the job.

      Reply
    4. DeskBird

      With a warning. They need to at least be told what they were doing was unacceptable and their new manager will be keeping an eye on them. But splitting up – or even moving two if possible with probably dig the problem out the fastest.

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        I’m not sure a warning is necessary. They’ve driven off three people in a year – that’s fairly extreme, and the consequences of losing yet another new hire are serious enough that they override the normal managerial goal of giving people a chance to improve.

        Reply
        1. Jessesgirl72

          But if you don’t tell them why they are being moved, they will never know if it’s a consequence of their behavior, or just coincidence. I don’t think they need warned, as in “warned and then fire” but they need to be told, in clear and certain terms, that they have been acting unacceptably and there are consequences for that.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            Ah, sure, I could see that. I guess I would call that an explanation rather than a warning so I was thinking of a warning more as “do this or X happens”.

            Reply
        2. Mallory Janis Ian

          I didn’t take DeskBird’s comment to mean a warning prior to moving them; I thought it meant moving them and also telling them why they’re being moved, versus letting them just get away unwarned.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            Sure. Just difference in parsing – I would call that an explanation. A “warning” in my mind is more punitive. Formative retail experience, I guess. :)

            Reply
    5. brightstar

      I think that has to be done to stop the behavior. Even if they stop outright harassing the replacements as they have been, they can switch to micro aggressive behavior or more subtle things that will still drive out people.

      Reply
    6. Aveline

      This. 100000%

      Corrective action may stop the overt hostility, but it won’t make them magically accept and welcome an outsider. It won’t make the team functional again.

      What’s going on now is a negative-reinforcing loop that’s bad for the company and bad for the individuals in the team.

      Breaking up the group is likely the only long term solution.

      In the short term, “cosmetic” changes and changing the manager are fine, but as long as this group is intact, there will be a problem.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Agreed. This isn’t something that’s going to get fixed so long as that team is still intact. It might get less worse, but it won’t ever really be good.

        Reply
    7. Rachael

      I agree with this. They forced two current employees to quit and another outside employee? They have damaged the reputation of their department beyond repair.

      Reply
    8. Milton Waddams

      Group unity is expensive to build and easy to break — I’d be careful about doing this. A productive group is more than the sum of its members.

      Reply
      1. Aveline

        But a productive group that is so toxic that no one within the company wants to join is actually not something you want to keep.

        Their group unit is toxic. It’s not a good group unity.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          Right. This isn’t a group that’s productive but a little difficult. This is a group that is behaving so badly to new employees that potential transfers will threaten to quit rather than to go.

          In some ways it feels like the trope of the ‘asshole genius’ writ large. Sure, the team may be cohesive and may actually perform their job duties well (I’m not sure that we can tell that from the letter), but they’re so toxic that it’s bleeding over into the rest of the company (if only even in terms of the resources put into replacing this role every two months or whatever it is), and it’s fair to address that.

          Reply
        2. Milton Waddams

          The group doesn’t seem toxic to me — what is being reacted against is that they are treating Jane’s death as though an anonymous employee had quit; using the same desk, the same job title, the same job duties. It seems like the tone-deaf way that management is going about it that is causing this reaction.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            C’mon, this is clearly more than just sad employees who’s grief is being ignored by their company:

            “What Jane’s replacements said they couldn’t handle was being constantly compared to Jane, being accused of hostility or coldness for arranging the desk differently than Jane had it, having things like “if Jane were here…” or “some of us still care about Jane” said aloud to them. According to the resignations and the exit interview, the manager participated and accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” the dead when they brought their concerns forward. The outside hire said she was excluded from everything and asked how she could sleep at night for taking Jane’s job.

            The steps you’ve suggested in various comments may well have been helpful to fend off this kind of dysfunctional behavior a year ago. But we’re past that.

            Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            The new hire is being badgered by the constant stream of comments to such a point that they walk off the job.

            The ones that tone deaf here are the ones that feel grief is a justifiable reason to abuse other people. All of us have things in our lives we grieve. This does not give us the right to abuse other people to the point that they are willing to quit their jobs without notice/another job.

            Reply
    9. babblemouth

      Agreed, this is necessary. It’s usually a worst-case scenario to bust a team, but LW has reached that.
      For what it’s worth, I’m currently in a team that was made up to replace another team that was split up due to multiple disfunctionalities. We all had about 5 days heads-up. It was hard for a few weeks to figure out what was going on, and what tasks to immediately take up, but a few months later, there isn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind this was a good solution. The people in the previous team that have been moved somewhere else are all also happier for it, even though it was particularly hard on them at first.
      It’s a nuclear option, and management should not use it widely, if ever. But it’s there. And here, it’s warranted.

      Reply
  16. Interviewer

    I just did some math – based on OP’s letter, it’s been a year. I’m not telling anyone how long to grieve for a coworker, but to haze every single replacement seems incredibly harsh. It sounds like the company extended this team every single opportunity to be flexible with their attendance after she passed away, and their response has been to completely shut out anyone new. That is … bizarre.

    I would meet with everyone one-on-one, and dig deep to find out why they are having such a hard time. To exact such a universal hatred of every new hire, internal or external, implies a serious grudge, and I’m wondering if somehow, somewhere the company went very wrong and the OP is completely in the dark. I would not have a group meeting – instead, find someone willing to talk without being seen by others. Be kind & sympathetic, but firm. You need answers to understand why they are behaving this way toward the new hires, and that will take some probing questions.

    I would recommend this process take priority over filling the current vacancy. Once you figure it out, maybe you can meet as a group to figure out how best to move forward.

    Reply
    1. Teclatrans

      This is my favorite response so far. Compassionate but firm, and breaking up the groupthink aspect by dealing directly with individuals.

      There may need to be warnings and consequences, but I would start here.

      Reply
      1. Lana Kane

        Agreed. I think this is very good advice because it balances action with compassion.

        I think something to remember is that at least some of Jane’s coworkers actually saw the accident that killed her happen. I have a feeling that might be a level of trauma that can manifest itself in strange ways.

        I think this absolutely has to be dealt with because it’s behavior that is completely beyond the pale, but doing it with some compassion might make any eventual decisions the OP makes go down easier.

        Reply
    2. Yorick

      I agree that one-on-one meetings would be helpful. I also think this group should be broken up by transferring at least a few, if possible. That would also give them a chance to move on, as they wouldn’t have the daily reminder that Jane is gone. Maybe during the individual meetings you can identify certain people who would be open to a transfer.

      Also agree with the idea of rearranging furniture and seat assignments – and other changes like painting or whatever might also help.

      Reply
    3. zora

      This one is the winner for me, too. I think if your values include supporting your employees as human beings, this is a good way to go, to focus on figuring out what the problem really is, before moving on to hiring a replacement.

      Well put, Interviewer, this is really good.

      Reply
    4. Kristin D

      This is a great suggestion. I can’t help but feel that there are facts that the OP does not know about.

      Reply
    5. Not So NewReader

      Not an expert, but something is causing them to remain locked in their raw grief.
      It could be that they are encouraging each other to attack the new hire. This would help them avoid processing their own grief and give them something else to focus on.
      It seems to me that the boss is probably driving the behavior. OP has said the boss participates in the verbal assault.

      One of the symptoms of grief is anger. The problem with anger is that once we are done being angry we still have to sit down and cry. Anger can block tears. This group has a habit now of using anger to process their grief but it’s not working because they are becoming more angry and more destructive.

      If it were me, I would want to try to find out who is NOT participating in the verbal deluge. Separate those people out and address their setting differently than those who are active participants.

      Reply
    6. Tealeaves

      It’s possible that the paid therapy wasn’t effective, or the effects have worn off. Or they actively ignored the advice from the therapists. The group may also not have attended it at all since it was offered but not mandatory. I wonder if it’s possible to make it mandatory for the whole group to attend another session since they’re obviously still affected.

      Meeting with everyone one-on-one may also reveal that it’s not the entire group that is doing the bullying, but a few key people leading the harassment.

      Reply
  17. Snarkus Aurelius

    I have a couple of things to add to AAM’s advice. They’re going to come off as a bit odd, but this is an odd situation.

    1) Start hiring Jane’s replacement replacement replacement immediately. Take a very hands on approach. You’re looking for someone who can do the job AND have a strong and professional spine. You need someone who is direct and calm and someone who will have the good sense to know when to handle things on her own (like the desk thing) and when to come to you (being cut out).

    2) Before you make an offer to this person, have a candid conversation about what happened and what’s continuing to happen. You owe it to this person to tell her everything that went down. While this might scare some candidates off, you want the person who will take the role to know everything and be prepared.

    3) You tell this new person that she is to come to you at even the whiff of the status quo. In the beginning, you’ll want to know anything that’s amiss, and hopefully those meetings will wind down to nothing. Don’t tell the manager about this arrangement. While that might sound shady, it’s the only way to substantively address this behavior. The manager should have addressed this when it started, but she didn’t so now it’s on you.

    4) You say you work in a different building. Is there any way you could work in that building on a random day of the week or month? You wouldn’t announce this of course. It’s a non-communicative way to announce you’re going to be hanging around to check in on things. How about sitting in on a meeting or two but not participating? Again, this is something you’d do in the beginning to get things to calm down. This isn’t permanent.

    5) Make it clear to HR that you’re to be informed of every complaint being made. They should have told you before, but perhaps that wasn’t clear. Moving forward, that should change. Also try to get an explanation as to why they didn’t act on these complaints.

    If I come off as heavy-handed, I’m fully intending to. What happened is not okay. Lack of management contributed to it. These short-term actions are designed to target these issues at the root.

    Reply
    1. Spoonie

      I think being fully candid with a job candidate would be extremely beneficial. I’d hate to be Jane #5 and have no clue what I’m walking into, and I think it would shed much needed light on some of the coworkers’ actions. And if I were given the access to immediately let OP and HR know that some of the hazing/harassment were happening instead of trying to suppress it? That would be quite freeing.

      Reply
    2. Adam

      I agree that heavy-handed is the way to go at this point. This group bullied three different people out of a job in a year and now they have a reputation in the company that’s so bad people would rather quit than be transferred there. Grief is terrible, but there are appropriate ways to address it and they have chosen none of them. They’d have zero trust from me at this point.

      Reply
    3. Corky's wife Bonnie

      I totally agree with this, OP, please do everything on this list along with Alison’s advice. I saw all of this unfold at my office first hand. A co-worker of mine was murdered, and the whole department she worked in including the boss were all close friends, doing things outside the office, going away together on weekends, etc. This was a devastating and heartbreaking situation. Then came time to replace her position. The first one was going to work in a different office, but she came here to train. I saw her in tears more than once, and she was only here for a couple of days. She only lasted about a month. The next one lasted a few years, but it was abundantly clear that the others in the department didn’t like her and didn’t like her being there, they never gave her a chance. She had to get HR involved because the boss did nothing, much like in this case. The boss’s boss was never really in the loop, and was surprised to hear all this later. The latest one that has been in this position is a tough cookie, so she’s been able to thwart their negative attitudes and even managed to get herself promoted. After I read Snarkus’s advice, all I can think of is that if the boss’s boss had been aware and involved in the situation and done all those things, it could have resolved a long time ago.

      Reply
      1. Paige Turner

        Wow, can’t believe that this is something that has happened to other people. Sorry to hear about the loss of your coworker.

        Reply
        1. Corky's wife Bonnie

          Murder/Suicide…her husband killed her. It was the worst day I’ve ever experienced at a workplace.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            That can shake people to their very core. I am so sorry you and your colleagues had this experience.

            Reply
    4. not really a lurker anymore

      Maybe OP can come and work in the vacant desk that was formerly Jane’s? At least while it’s open.

      I know in my workplace, rearrangement of desks is hindered by Internet drops, phone drop, emergency outlets and regular outlet placements.

      Reply
    5. Turtle Candle

      Yes, re: this is the time for heavy-handedness. A light hand is great when people can manage themselves and their affairs without a lot of oversight. If they can’t, though? You either have to go heavy-handed, or replace them with people who can.

      (Honestly, this has gone so far and for so long that ‘replace them’ might be what you have to do. But you can try being very hands-on first.)

      Reply
  18. Feathers McGraw

    And of course the death of a colleague and any associated trauma does not in any way excuse this.

    I have lost two colleagues. One to suicide and one in a motorbike accident. Nobody in either workplace would have dreamed of behaving like this.

    Reply
    1. AndersonDarling

      Yes. I’m hung up on this as well. The employees have either finished morning or have transferred that into being seriously cruel. You can’t say these things to a new hire and think it is okay, you have to know that you are tormenting a person.

      Reply
      1. MWKate

        Yes – it’s not so much that they are drawing out their grief, everyone deals with this differently. It’s that they are bullying people, bad enough that they are willing to quit without another job lined up. That is malicious behavior that cannot be tolerated.

        Reply
    2. The Optimizer

      Exactly. I’ve lost two colleagues to suicide. One I worked very closely with (I sat next to him and we worked on several tasks/projects together) with and another was the spouse of one of my closest work friends who also worked for the company in a different department. We mourned, we took up a collection for one of their children and I spent a lot of time with my work friend just listening to her and holding her hand.

      The collection we took for the child was a college fund and I think it helped people move on. Perhaps honoring Jane by letting the affected workers raise funds for MADD (as someone else above suggested) or even seeing if company charity funds could be directed in her honor would help.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I like this idea. I agree that it makes sense to break up the invisible Jane approach in the physical office, but I think if it ends up looking like Jane is being retroactively erased that’s going to be a big deal. The message is “We will always remember Jane. That way is not appropriate; this way is.”

        Reply
    3. ExceptionToTheRule

      I agreed. We lost one of the single nicest co-workers ever to a sudden heart attack. There were a lot of self-recriminations among the staff because people hadn’t noticed she wasn’t well, hindsight, etc… There’s a small, framed picture of her in the office and we moved on. A replacement was hired, integrated into the team, and we went on with life.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I have often thought that work can be annoying and consoling all in the same stroke.

        Some days it’s as annoying as heck that life goes on. IMAGINE! WHAT NERVE!
        Then other days it’s consoling that life goes on. THANK GOODNESS.

        And this is what grief looks like, it’s a yo-yoing of emotions. Some days life gets in the way of our grief process and other days we find consolation/comfort in ordinary things

        Reply
  19. BananaPants

    About a decade ago a coworker was killed at a young age in a car accident. We’d worked together for 4 years, he was my unofficial mentor since he and I *were* our entire group for the first year and a half that I was working there, and he universally well-liked and respected in our organization. To say that it was a blow was an understatement.

    We kept his desk untouched for about a week, to let the initial shock wear off and get through the funeral. Then his manager and HR collected his personal items to send to his wife. The rest of us divided up his work-related documents and took over different aspects of his job for the short term, and we had IT clean off his laptop hard drive and sorted through everything. Some months later we held a little ceremony to install a memorial plaque (paid for entirely by coworkers) at the entrance to a lab that he worked in. At my desk I still keep a small poster that he had given to me maybe a year before he died.

    When we were hiring his replacement we did refer to it privately as “filling Wakeen’s job” because that was the skillset we needed. It felt weird to see someone else sitting at his desk (and then the entire building moved around and shuffled cubicles and that ended). But life goes on, you know? Nearly everyone in the group today never met the guy and wouldn’t know who we were talking about anyways.

    Sadly several years ago another colleague died suddenly at a young age. While I didn’t work as closely with him, it followed roughly the same process for moving on as an organization; those who worked most closely obviously needed more time to get there, but it was still a done deal within a few months.

    The OP’s situation is seriously weird.

    Reply
    1. Chickaletta

      The OP’s situation makes me wonder if the department never got closure with Jane’s death. What you describe, especially the part about the plaque, sounds like a very nice way to honor your colleague. Perhaps OP’s reports never got anything close to that, and that’s maybe part of the reason why they’re so aggressive towards anyone appearing to replace Jane.

      Reply
      1. OhBehave

        I keep harping on it, but if there is a trial, chances are some of those people will be called as witnesses. This kind of thing does not allow for normal processing because it’s always in the front of your mind that you have to talk about this tragedy. If they have to relive it, in some ways, she just died yesterday. This doesn’t give them a pass with their behavior, but it may explain it a bit more.

        Reply
        1. Troutwaxer

          Keep in mind that there could be a criminal trial, then a couple years later the civil trial would come up on the docket, so these people might have to testify twice. Civil trials are frequently delayed, so they could be testifying about this stuff for years.

          Reply
          1. JessaB

            And deposed, by both sides in both cases, and possibly by the defence made out to be liars or wrong or “You couldn’t possibly have seen that, maybe this other employee told you about it, you all work together, you’ve been talking about this and discussing your testimony. How do we know your memory is untainted,” etc. Especially in the civil trial if there is one. Also a lot of first time vehicular manslaughter due to intoxication kinds of perpetrators get off fairly easily. So it’s also possible that they go through all of this and watch the defendant get a slap on the wrist.

            Reply
  20. Employment Lawyer

    Oooh.

    So, first thing you should do might be to seek guidance or a team approval. I say this because these things can be much wider than they seem and can have repercussions which go far beyond normal reality: company “feelings” or a “sense that the company didn’t respect Jane” can do a lot of damage in the long run. And there can be corporate and even personal risk of you personally being seen as a heartless chump if you end up “disciplining someone for mourning.” Which can really happen, right? Because while this behavior has a sad undertone it is so obviously unacceptable that you may well end up firing or disciplining someone if they cannot or will not change.

    So.

    What I would probably do is to bring this to a higher-up conference of folks at your level, and agree on what to do. I’d loop in H.R. You should all memorialize it in writing if possible. Then you should go forth and have the discussions with your next level down, and be prepared to respond to anyone and everyone who complains with the same, CONSISTENT, company-wide response.

    Not incidentally you should consider two options when you communicate w/ your manager. one or both may be true:
    1) Your manager is mourning Jane and is inappropriate, and is part of the problem.
    2) Your manager knows this is a problem, but is terrified of being seen as a heartless chump, and requires a lot of obvious orders and backing from higher-ups so that s/he can deflect the “heartless!” stuff.

    Reply
  21. Katie the Fed

    I wonder if a better approach might be to start making some moves within the team too. Can someone currently in the team be moved to do Jane’s job, and then hire to replace that person? And maybe it’s time for the manager to be moved to something else in the company. This seems like a very toxic group mentality right now and it might be time to consider bigger changes. Start with talking to the manager but after that I’d consider some broader moves.

    Reply
  22. Going Anon for this today - for reasons.

    I work at a company where most of the employees have been here for at least a decade. This a tight group of people: they hang out after work, on weekends, at family celebrations and on holidays. I was hired about 4 years ago and am very much an outsider. My first few weeks in the company I noticed that each of my co-workers had one of those “In Memorium” cards on their desks…all with the same person on it. Apparently this person was an employee who had been tragically killed at a non work-sanctioned company outing. Every person in the office was there that day and witnessed the death. It’s been close to 7 years since the death and the staff here gets angry each time someone new is hired. I was not hired to replace this person nor do I do anywhere close to the same work that they did, but there’s a definite vibe in the office with the people who were here pre-accident. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re mean or spiteful but they’re definitely not warm, welcoming, or helpful and it’s clear that it’s only with the people hired after the employee death.

    Reply
    1. Venus Supreme

      I agree. I think there is no any malicious intent behind OP’s employees, but instead their behaviors and actions are stemming from grief. OP did say that some colleagues witnessed Jane’s death, and it happened outside of work. That’s important.

      A close friend of mine experienced a sudden death that could have been prevented. Their grieving included LOTS of anger, and I can only imagine that the employees are in the same boat. My friend learned to “feel the feelings and change the behavior,” and the employees need to apply this to their emotions around the new hire.

      Reply
      1. Abby

        At this point, intent doesn’t matter anymore. Whether they are being deliberately cruel or just don’t understand, the behavior has to stop.

        Reply
      2. LKW

        They abuse a person until that person leaves because they can’t tolerate the abuse. Doesn’t matter if they “intend” to be malicious – they know exactly how their actions are received. These co-workers have become bullies. Whether by grief or by groupthink they are ganging up on and attacking someone for simply being not Jane. They need to be treated like 10 year olds: Separate them, move them around, let them know their behavior will not be tolerated.

        Reply
        1. Venus Supreme

          Understanding the reason behind someone’s behavior and putting a stop to that behavior doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. That’s my point. I agree that the employees need to be separated and the manager needs to stop harassing the new hires.

          From my POV, recognizing that some of these employees may have witnessed possibly the most traumatizing event in their lives helps me get more control in this situation. It doesn’t affect what actions need to happen to change the situation, but it may help influence how it is conveyed.

          Reply
    2. Observer

      Just as with the OP’s situation, this is a management problem as much as a people. Time did not stop with the death of the coworker. And, the company needs to make sure that the group doesn’t freeze people out. I’m not saying that the company needs to make sure everyone is best buddies. But within the office anger at new hires and the like is just not appropriate.

      It sounds like this group has an unhealthy dynamic going on, though.

      Reply
  23. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

    I think the others have hit on some good advice. 1 – Stop referring to it as “Jane’s job”. 2 – Rearrange the office.

    I understand how important it is to be cognizant of the emotions and grief of that team. But the rest of the company refuses to work with that team because they are batshit crazy. That’s a level that cannot be ignored anymore. Allison’s script is good for the initial approach, but I would really suggest connecting with a grief therapist for advice on how to proceed as well. The manager needs to know that things have to change, but the therapist will be able to provide guidance on how to make those changes.

    Jane’s death is traumatizing, but it may be helpful to reframe it mentally as if she quit. She’s no longer with the company, so how would you proceed if the team were doing this in that case?

    Reply
    1. Teclatrans

      Yes, I think paying for a consultation with a grief therapist to get guidance on how to approach this is exactly the way to proceed.

      Reply
  24. BritCred

    This is probably the first and only time I’m going to ever say this: I recommend that the company consider professional counselling for their staff. And yes, I mean the psych kind.

    There is something causing this and if it the grief side for some reason then perhaps they can be helped to get over it and be able to move on.

    Of course if that doesn’t work PIP and warnings have to be considered. You can’t not fill a seat because of it.

    (Although I do like the suggestion above to rearrange the office to break the association with her desk too).

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      The company already paid for professional grief counseling.

      Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      I actually think it might be worth it to see if the company can re-offer that, if the time for it has ended, as part of this conversation. Failing that, at least refer them to the EAP again if they need further help. (They clearly do, but whether they will decide they do….)

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        At some point, though, how much can a for-profit business really be expected to intervene?

        Reply
        1. Mskyle

          I mean if rehabilitating these people is less costly and risky than firing them and/or letting them terrorize others, it could be the correct business decision in addition to being a humanitarian act.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Grief counselors run to the hundreds of dollars per hour, per counselor. I can’t see how that’s possibly cheaper than firing them.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Estimated average cost of replacing an employee ranges from 16% of annual salary for lower-paid employees to 20% for mid-range ($30-50k). So assuming we have at least 3 employees, even if they’re all under $30k that’s $10k to the business to replace them. I bet a grief counselor would be cheaper than that.

              Reply
      2. fposte

        I think I would follow Teclatrans’ advice of bringing in a grief counselor for a one-off (possibly mandatory) and then redirect the staff to the EAP as I enacted many of the other changes discussed here.

        Reply
  25. animaniactoo

    I’d also look at transferring the manager and maybe one or two of the other key players in keeping “Jane’s Memory” alive to different departments.

    It’s possible that some of the other co-workers would be not as resistant to change without the vocal support they’ve been getting keeping them aligned with the bandwagon.

    Potentially, you might also bring in a counselor to help them transition past this point. While the EAP was available, people may not have taken advantage of it or gotten enough out of it.

    And a point to press – if Jane was really this awesome person that they’re all grieving – how do they think Jane would have reacted to how the replacements were treated? Sort through that – there might be a nasty tangle that she would have supported it and need to resolve whether that was really reasonable, and they are not bad people for thinking less of Jane, knowing she would have supported it, but still being able to honor her as human and prone to foibles and weaknesses that we should embrace as part of them without embracing them as acceptable, etc. If she wouldn’t have supported it, this is a very poor way to honor Jane.

    Reply
  26. DeskBird

    I feel like when you do manage to hire *another* person for this job you need to sit them down and tell them to come to *you* if they have any issues with harassment from their new team. Let them know what they are walking into -and that you have their back and will support them. And then follow through. If anyone on the team continues to harass the new hire *again* then a PIP and firing should be on the table. Don’t let anyone else be blindsided by the behavior – and make sure you are willing to take direct actions if it doesn’t stop.

    Reply
  27. Parenthetically

    Holy Mackerel, I’ve got nothing on this one. These folks are being absolutely ridiculous. If they need more grief counseling, more leave, even a different job, that’s fine, but the one thing that cannot continue is the thing they’re choosing. Mercy.

    Reply
  28. MuseumChick

    In addition to Alison’s advice, I think the next time you hire someone be proactive and make it clear to the new hire that they can come to you with any “issues” they may have with the team. Check in with them once a day for the first few weeks to see how things are going, they well, tapper off the checking in.

    If however, this behavior continues after you have addressed it, you may want to consider shaking up the team, moving some people to different departments. Compassion is important, you want to be sensitive to their grief, you also have to have a well functioning team that’s not going to run off every new person.

    Reply
  29. Mike C.

    There’s a lot here to unpack but there’s one thing that is really, really bothering me.

    It seems like the OP’s workplace is overall a normal, professional place to work. What kept the first two employees from speaking to someone outside the direct group about these issues, like HR or the OP? Maybe it’s just my big mouth, but I certainly would have said something to someone, and it would take something serious to convince me to say nothing, so what is that something

    Even if I couldn’t talk to my current org, I would certainly consider reaching out to folks in my previous org for some advice. Furthermore, I presume that this is the sort of place that people don’t generally just drop and quit at a moment’s notice? OP, what kept you from talking to these people? Did your direct report ever say anything to you?

    I don’t want you to think I think you missed something obvious, because the whole thing is absolutely nuts. I’m just thinking from a root cause standpoint here.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      It looks like HR knew, but sat on the information until three people had complained. OP may need to have a chat with HR about how all relevant complaints should be brought to her at once, even if it’s not yet obvious that there’s a pattern.

      Reply
    2. Kelly White

      I’m not sure that if I was new, having what (to me) might feel like a “personality” issue, and I went to my manager, and my manager said it was my issue, and that I didn’t fit in with the group (since I wasn’t Jane), that I would go to HR or go to the grandboss. And I probably would talk to my old colleagues who would , I’m guessing, tell me to quit.

      This seems like such a weird thing- that the problem is I am not the dead woman. How can you ever get past that, with this group- and the MANAGER. That’s a big part of what would make me leave.

      As for the OP- if he/she was getting their info on the turnover from the manager who was in on it- who knows what OP was being told.

      Reply
    3. Rusty Shackelford

      It seems like the OP’s workplace is overall a normal, professional place to work. What kept the first two employees from speaking to someone outside the direct group about these issues, like HR or the OP?

      When they brought it to their manager, they were told they were being “awful.” That might convince me it was pointless to take it further.

      Reply
    4. KimmieSue

      I completely agree, HR dropped some major balls here. Should have escalated to grandboss after first departure. With the first two replacements being “internal” transfers, why didn’t they escalate? Something else doesn’t seem to be adding up.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        At least if I was an internal transfer I would beg my old job back before quitting outright. There’s something strange about that. If newboss was nasty to me, maybe I’d talk to oldboss. But just quitting? When the rest of the company appears to be reasonable? The outsider I get, they wouldn’t have any resources or inside knowledge but the company just let the two transferees quit without digging down into anything?

        Reply
        1. Blue

          But if Dysfunctional Manager was involved, then when Not-Janes asked that manager for a transfer out, the Dysfunctional Manager probably reacted … badly … to that. (I could see an emotional person giving Not-Janes a catch-22 response: “Get out, Not-Janes!/HDU *betray* this team & *abandon* Jane’s Job!”)

          I mean, Dysfunctional Manager must know on some level that they’ve crossed several lines here. They could be (rightfully!) nervous about how people would react if any of the Not-Janes talked about DM’s lack of professionalism and leadership.

          Maybe Dysfunctional Manager even took it to the point of sabotaging transfer requests between Not-Janes and their Old Team Manager(s)? Or just sitting on them, hoping the problem (that they created and allowed to fester) would just magically go away. And lo, the Not-Janes did indeed magically vanish. ~sigh~

          Reply
    5. Detective Amy Santiago

      I’ve been thinking about this happening at OldJob, which was a large company with varied teams. People switched around fairly regularly and, on occasion, someone would switch roles and it wouldn’t be a good fit. Most often, they would ask to return to their previous role. I’m a little surprised that didn’t happen here.

      And, like you, I would have probably reached out to grandboss directly and asked for a meeting or at the VERY least talked to my former manager so it’s interesting to me that no one did that. Makes me wonder if there are other dysfunctional aspects to this workplace.

      Reply
    6. Lissa

      I suspect this is an instance of HR and management treating people with kid gloves due to their legit grief and trauma, and never taking off those gloves, so it became a pattern. it sounds like the hires did say something, but it never went anywhere. I do agree this whole situation is bizarre, but I also can see why it happened and nobody was able to step in, I think.

      I have seen this sort of thing before, where one person or a group becomes sort of untouchable due to a personal tragedy, and it can get really toxic.

      Reply
  30. Questionario

    I wonder if organizing some kind of memorial for Jane – a tree outside the office, a nice painting inside the office, some kind of potted plant, a section of the office named after her (a bookshelf serving as the office’s lending library, or the staff lounge, or the kitchen area, or a meeting room, or whatever) would help. People could focus this energy (grieving, remembering, etc) on that memorial instead of on the innocent people stepping into fill a job that needs to be filled.

    Reply
    1. Paige Turner

      Yeah, it’s possible that this could backfire in some way, just because this group is already being so unreasonable. But I think that along with laying down expectations and rearranging desks if possible, that having the company organizing some sort of formal memorial (whether it’s a planting a tree or sponsoring a 5K) would be both a nice thing to do, and give the OP something to point to while saying, “This company is committed to preserving Jane’s memory. I need you all to commit to welcoming our new hire.”

      Reply
    2. Adlib

      Good suggestions. We planted a tree in memoriam of a coworker who died a couple years ago (unexpectedly but of natural causes at home).

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I like this idea.
        A volunteer group I belong to had an outside bench made. The bench has a sign on it, “in memory of” and then a line or two about the person. I smile every time I see it, I am warmed by the thought that a bunch of people decided this was important to do.

        Reply
    3. Keli

      Good idea. It would be so much nicer to memorialize Jane with a library or a tree than old office furniture and bad attitudes!

      Reply
  31. Bend & Snap

    I have not read all the comments.

    But I’m wondering if some of the physical reminders of Jane are detrimental. Can you remove her desk and put a new one somewhere else? Physically separate the team or move everyone around so it isn’t so noticeable that Jane is missing?

    If the only thing that has changed is that Jane is gone, it has to be a tough mental and emotional shift for the team to see everything remain the same except for the “outsider.”

    Also I wonder if you can mandate grief counseling for these guys. They clearly need some help in addition to better management.

    Reply
  32. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    The more I think about it, the manager needs to be let go. Maybe the employees can get a firm whack with the clue-by-four or reassigned to other positions, but for a manager to both condone this and participate is prima facie evidence they lack the judgment to manage.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      I think a very firm, direct talk with the manager needs to happen first, as other have suggested something like “This is your team, you are responsible for them. This behavior needs to stop. If this keeps happening we will have there will be consequence A, B, C.” Then a team meeting where they are told basically the same thing “The treatment of these hires is unacceptable. It stops or the team will be reorganize/you will be let go/whatever.”

      Third step is being very straightforward with the next hire about what they are walking into. Keep tabs on what is going in and at the first hint of trouble the manager is brought to account for it.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        But my read is, whatever else, that level of bad judgment from a manager can’t fly. Like, she already screwed up beyond repair. The others? Maybe they get put on PIPs or formally reprimanded, because let’s face it, the teapot reports still need to get done every day, and you can’t just fire an entire department at once…usually. But not squashing this like a bug when it first cropped up was a basically unforgivable lapse.

        Reply
        1. Allypopx

          The manager may be getting pulled into this grief-induced group think tornado and not be thinking clearly. I’d start with a sit down. If that sit down doesn’t end with “Oh god what was I thinking that was totally unacceptable and I’m going to do everything in my power to fix it” – then yes. But managers are people too and this seems like a hard environment to be surrounded by. It can be easy to lose perspective.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            You’re not wrong….but….the people who are in management positions, ideally, are the kinds of employees who one can trust to think clearly and not get pulled into unprofessional behavior in these kinds of situations. The manager has been piling on for a full year, so it wasn’t just a lapse.

            Reply
            1. Allypopx

              Entirely fair. It just reads to me as a feedback loop. OP hasn’t had the information to address it so the manager just gets more and more affirmation that her team is suffering and Jane’s memory needs to be protected.

              I’m not saying it’s ok but the manager, the team, and HR have all horribly mishandled this, not just the manager. I think taking the opportunity for a sit down that includes “I am incredibly disappointed in you” and “what’s been going on here?” and maybe even “how can I trust you to handle this going forward?” is more appropriate than just pulling the plug.

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                I can get on board with that. And like you said, if the reaction is anything but “OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE” then the tone could change.

                Reply
  33. LCL

    OP, be prepared for someone to try to bring religion into this. Someone will start talking about what happens after we die, and etc. Practice your response ‘your beliefs are your own and I would never tell someone what to believe.’

    Reply
    1. Jessie the First (or second)

      Wait, what? Why do you think this will be an issue? I think you are seriously borrowing trouble here.

      Reply
          1. LCL

            I saw the trouble ticket request when AAM was blocked during an IT security upgrade. IT accepted requests to unblock sites that had some professional use. There were approximately 8 of us…

            Reply
    2. Lady Blerd

      Without knowing where OP is located, I think that is quite the assumption to make without any evidence. The likeliest explanation to what’s going on is a grieving process that is maybe being fanned negatively by some ringleaders. Many of the suggestions above, should finally put a stop to this.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        There you go, OP, that is the answer to that one.
        If people need to discuss the religious side of things they can make arrangements to do that on their own.

        Reply
  34. Ypsiguy

    Okay, I said this more gently above, but I re-read the OP: “According to the resignations and the exit interview, the manager participated and accused them of being awful for ‘disrespecting’ the dead when they brought their concerns forward.”

    The problem here is Jane’s former boss, period. If he/she had not been actively awful, the problems almost certainly never develop. We aren’t talking about ignoring a problem, we are talking about reinforcing it. Reinforcing it repeatedly, even after bad consequences (people quitting).

    Reply
    1. ArtK

      The problem is also HR. They got some *very* good information in the very first exit interview. That should have been brought to the OP immediately. Dismissing it as possibly “too soon” was foolish and allowed this to fester until drastic measures will be necessary.

      Reply
      1. Emmie

        You’re right. HR should’ve addressed it at the onset. HR sometimes faces issues out of their depth. We have the perspective of tons of internet strangers. I can understand how this might be hard to address. Part of the resolution should be for the manager to tell HR how she is handling the situation. It might be a good learning opportunity for HR. Big kudos to OP for addressing this.

        Reply
  35. Pwyll

    I agree with the others who have noted that this might be coming from the boss. At a minimum, I think the conversation with the supervisor has to include that the inability to keep someone in this role is a serious performance problem on the part of the supervisor. As in, the management of subordinates should be a performance metric for a middle manager, and in a situation where group dynamics are this off track, it needs to be made clear to the supervisor that HER job is on the line if this doesn’t get resolved. But I would be curious what the response is when the OP sits down with the super and uses Alison’s script. Perhaps she also does not know how to manage the grief of the employees? Is SHE the one with the grief, and it’s being projected downward?

    Assuming the middle manager is at a loss for how to handle this, though, I think there are a few options. One is a crisis counselor for the group, who are clearly still grieving collectively even if not every member is grieving. Assuming it really is a huge problem within the group, and it’s just not feasible to let go of the entire department due to its size, another option is to discontinue the position entirely, split the work among the team members who remain for a significant period of time, and then in six months to a year work with that team to create a new position in a new seat with responsibilities borrowed from many other areas in the department. Can’t blame people for taking Jane’s job if, to them, it isn’t the job Jane did. But I’m not sure that is any less work than simply taking the productivity hit and doing PIPs and terminating folks for making the lives of new teammates miserable.

    Reply
  36. MommyMD

    Sudden, unexpected violent deaths create enormous mental trauma. I have dealt with this in my practice as well in real life when my son’s colleagues were murdered in a horrific terror attack in recent years on US soil. It can deeply affect critical thinking skills and behavior. Those who witnessed Jane’s horrific senseless death are most at risk. The entire department is likely suffering PTSD, a term I never through around lightly. Overreactions and irritational response to stimuli is common. A rearranged desk can trigger stress hormones a person is not even aware of and create irrational behavior. IMO these coworkers need effective targeted PTSD and grief counseling to move past this and be gently advised as a group how their deep grief is affecting innocent parties. The counseling should be done as a group and individually by a licensed therapist or psychiatrist who has experience and documented success in this area. These coworkers are overwhelmed with grief and trauma to an extent they cannot even realize and are acting out. They all need expert professional help which can be delivered over a few sessions with the right therapists. PTSD is hell, and overdiagnosed, but fits this case. Jane’s swift and senseless, violent death, at the hands of another, violates their sense of the world and safety and creates an internal chaos they may not be able to overcome on their own.

    Reply
    1. MommyMD

      I believe the punitive approach here will not be successful and may make matters worse. I believe the mental health issues must be seriously addressed and the enormity of what these workers are dealing with acknowledged if there is to be a true solution, not just skin deep.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        At some point, though, the true solution is the responsibility of the employees; the company already provided a counselor, which went above and beyond. From the perspective of their emotional healing and recovery, you’re totally correct, and being fired will probably set their recovery back.

        But from OP’s perspective, this is a performance issue and a staffing issue, and I think she’s well within the bounds of ethics to demand that both be resolved now, or to let the staff perpetuating those issues go. Like I said above, I’ve struggled with something not unlike PTSD – maybe it would be so diagnosed now – and I’ve experienced the kinds of irrational overreactions I suspect are motivating this team. But at some point, if you can’t do the job and actively prevent the job from being done, how long do you get to keep that job?

        Reply
        1. Abby

          This exactly. I am not trying to minimize grief or PTSD but at some point, the employees have to move on at work. Work is not a charity. I don’t disagree with offering counseling again, but I would point out that nothing stops someone from independently seeking out counseling and there is simply a point when this can’t be tolerated anymore.

          Reply
          1. MommyMD

            This happened right after the work day, some employees witnessed a horrific and violent act, a crime being committed resulting in the death of a cared about one. This acting out in the wake of extreme psychological trauma is now the company’s problem. It can be fixed but it is going to take true experts, time and money. Yes, the employees should be advised not to bring up Jane with new hire, but that’s a bandaid on a huge open wound.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              It is, however, fair to acknowledge the company may not have that time and money. I hope they will, but it’s not a bad employer if it doesn’t arrange long-term grief and trauma therapy for employees.

              Reply
            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              And what I keep trying to point out is that the open wound isn’t the employer’s problem to fix. It is the company’s problem only insofar as it’s a performance issue. That reframes the company’s responsibility. It is not, not, not on the employer to invest endless sums of money for very expensive specialists and endlessly tolerate professional conduct so poor as to be unhinged.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                But that’s not the only way the decision gets made. I don’t think it’s as clear as you do that it’s financially advantageous to fire ’em all, but organizations don’t always limit the calculus to the financial: they hold jobs for people who are out longer than for FMLA, they pay for employee parties, they cover memorials for employees who die. None of these things pay off for themselves when looked at locally and they may not even organizationally, but it’s still a stand some employers take.

                Reply
              2. aebhel

                Also, you can’t force people to participate effectively in therapy. The company has already offered grief counseling. If people have not taken advantage of it, there’s nothing the company can do about that. It would be hugely unfeasible in most companies to retain a full-time psychiatrist to deal with employees’ grief and trauma, and even if they could, OP has no responsibility–and indeed, no right–to force the employees to attend therapy sessions.

                These people are traumatized, and they need help. But you cannot force people to get help. OP can (and should) encourage these employees to seek therapy, but that’s about the limit of what she can do in this situation.

                Reply
            3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              Also, as a practitioner, you should know as well as anybody that you can’t force someone into productive therapy.

              Reply
      2. Manders

        Well, mental health issues still aren’t an excuse for bullying coworkers who are just trying to get their work done, plus the company can’t really do anything to fix the problem except offering the services they’ve already provided.

        OP can’t and shouldn’t try to fix this department’s collective grief, but she absolutely should address performance issues.

        Reply
        1. Aveline

          ” department’s collective grief”

          This is the key. The department has to be changed or disbanded so their is no longer “collective grief.” People need to be moved out to other roles and new people moved in.

          So long as the group is largely intact, there will be a self-feedback loop of negativity.

          Reply
        2. Rusty Shackelford

          Well, mental health issues still aren’t an excuse for bullying coworkers who are just trying to get their work done

          And this is what it comes down to, in my opinion. I’d have more sympathy if they simply find themselves unable to work. But preventing someone else from doing the job is completely different. Their pain isn’t an excuse to bully others.

          Reply
          1. Allypopx

            I left a job where a coworker committed suicide because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was only 17 and I didn’t have the maturity or professionalism to work through it. I can even imagine having lashed out at her replacement. But I can’t imagine it happening as a group. That’s so very toxic.

            Reply
        3. MommyMD

          I never support bullying. The collective grief is the core issue. Address it, deal appropriately with it, acknowledge the deep wound, and guide those affected in the right direction with the tools they need to handle both physical and mental reactions, introduce a new person into the position with the open knowledge that Jane is horribly gone and we all need to move forward as a team. If the core problem is not addressed and correctly, the core problem remains. No matter if there is an edict to change behavior.

          Reply
          1. LKW

            But this group has now created a pattern. It’s hard to break that, especially when it’s destructive. It feeds off of itself. Everyone acts to demonstrate their loyalty to Jane. If you don’t treat the new person like shit – then you’re disrespecting Jane. And collectively they have bonded over this awful event and therefore need to prove to one another that they’re in this together.

            The best way to break the pattern is to shuffle people around and tell them in a respectful and professional way that the team’s behavior was becoming toxic and management is stepping in to ensure that the office returns to a respectful and professional standard. Anyone who can’t work within that standard will be counseled appropriately (and by counseled, I mean possibly given their walking papers).

            Reply
          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Then the core problem is the employees, and OP needs to proceed under that knowledge.

            Reply
          3. aebhel

            That is the job of a therapist. The OP is not a therapist, presumably, and even if she was it would be wildly inappropriate for her to act in that capacity for people she manages.

            Reply
    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      I think you’re probably correct that moving the desk will result in more blowback than it’s worth. I disagree, though, that the group needs more grief counseling. The company did what it could. It already provided grief counseling.

      Reply
      1. KR

        Yeah and these employees are adults. If they still need counseling they need to go make an appointment and work it out. Also, it’s true that moving the desk may cause trauma but the new hire shouldn’t be worried about moving their desk or arranging their office how they want it because they don’t want to cause trauma. People die, tragedy happens, and learning to deal with it is part of being an adult.

        Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I don’t think you’re suggesting that PTSD sufferers are not dealing with their problems like adults….and hope not. But otherwise, yes, I agree that at some point your mental health is your business, and your row to hoe.

          Reply
          1. KR

            I’m not suggesting that. More what you said that at a certain point it’s someone’s job to seek help if they need it rather than hazing someone.

            Reply
    3. Teclatrans

      Yes, I think you are right that this is PTSD. Offering to pay for therapy on an individual basis isn’t sufficient because that requires finding a good therapist, finding time to go, and believing that you need it in the first place. My heart goes out to this group.

      Reply
      1. MommyMD

        The company needs to find and bring in the experts. Done during office time. It will pay off greatly in the long run. That so many employers are affected speaks to the immensity of the deep grief and trauma.

        Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          During office time? To be blunt, how much money do you think most companies have to plow into this? It’s not the employer’s responsibility to fund their therapy. It might pay off for the individual employees, but it won’t pay off for the company.

          Reply
          1. BookishMiss

            This, and, frankly, I wouldn’t be up for serious trauma counseling at work. Especially in this case, as it’s the site of the trauma and reminders of the trauma and loss. I wouldn’t benefit from the counseling because I’d shut down rather than engage, just so I could function for the rest of the work day. Trauma counseling can really destroy my ability to hold it together in any form, and that is NOT something I would be open to at work. (source: been there.)

            That said, trauma and grief absolutely do not excuse the level of awful that these coworkers have exacted on the new hires. They can make it harder to control oneself, but adults with access to counseling should do better.

            Reply
          2. JessaB

            I think bringing in someone as a consultant to help the company themselves deal with this would be wise. I mean if you have to move furniture and rearrange office space sometimes you call in an expert designer or someone in ergonomics to make sure you’re coming up with a good plan. Laying this mess out to an expert whether in HR or in grief counselling or in victim counselling (remember in a way those who witnessed the crime were also victims of it,) could give management solid advice on how to go forward without using the nuke it from orbit Aliens option.

            Reply
    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I agree, and I wonder if it might make sense for the company to have on-site group therapy for this, with the option of individual counseling. That’s the approach often used for folks who work in positions where they’re often exposed to trauma–e.g., police departments, sometimes ER personnel in high-violence communities, etc. I think it’s worth taking a page out of that book for this group because of the unique circumstances of Jane’s death.

      I think leaving it up to the employee’s to seek help is not going to work (or at least it doesn’t seem to have worked thus far).

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Oh, I like the idea of adapting an existing model, too. I’m not sure it’s necessarily PTSD–there are all kinds of dysfunctional grief reactions–but it doesn’t matter; the important thing is to recognize that this isn’t just mean-girling and give some methodologies. This is going to be a tough habit to break at this point, but I don’t think it would be a huge investment, given the circumstances, to set something up with the staff for support at the same time as they’re subject to more scrutiny and restraint.

        Reply
        1. JessaB

          I might also approach it not as a grief thing but as a victim thing. A lot of people would be more willing to have a group therapy type gathering if it was more “You witnessed her death, you have to go to court, it’s not just that someone died but that they were killed.” There are a lot of organisations that are really good for that.

          Reply
      2. Tabby Baltimore

        Would it be ethical/legal to put group counseling, or even individual counseling, in a PIP, if it comes to having to create one for each of these employees?

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          No idea as to the legality, but I still wouldn’t do it because I don’t think it would actually be practical or appropriate for a PIP. Counseling can be an incredibly long process, and it’s unpredictable when and how a person will experience improvement. Since this is a workplace rather than a personal relationship, they really want to keep the focus on the issues that impact work (the behavior) rather than the cause of those issue (the grief).

          More importantly, this situation has probably gotten extreme enough that they’re past the PIP stage. A PIP is better suited to issues that can improve over time. This is an issue that has to improve pretty quickly.

          Reply
        2. BookishMiss

          ExJob mandated that I go to counseling. Legal or not, that boss would have found an excuse to fire me. I went – and my counselor helped me find a new job on ExJob’s dime.

          So. Can they do it? Sure. Will it work out as intended? Not necessarily.

          Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          In most states, employers can require counseling as part of a PIP so long as it’s rationally related to the reason you’re on a PIP to begin with. But I wouldn’t recommend putting this in a PIP—I’d treat as requiring therapy as a condition of “returning” to full duty. This is kind of a tough needle to thread because you don’t want to be so aggressive or overbearing that people show up begrudgingly or think you’re interfering with their health choices. But I think it would help if OP can convey that this is an important thing they need to do (even if they aren’t technically required to do it).

          Reply
  37. You're Killing Me Smalls

    I have no good advice to add to the pile already in this comment thread — I just DESPERATELY want an update for this eventually!

    Reply
  38. Anon for this one

    I replaced someone who had committed suicide. And while I didn’t experience the overt hostility that these co-irkers are showing, I did have my fair share of comparisons and “that’s not the way Fergus did it” comments. He had become the perfect employee; no one had a bad word to say. I was actually grateful for a counterpart in an out-of-state office who told me that Fergus was okay at the job, not great.

    My employers did me a great (albeit inadvertent) favor though, by giving Fergus’ office to another, established employee. And although my office was windowless and not as well laid out, not sitting in “Fergus’ office” made it easier for the other employees to adjust.

    It took a couple of years to get past the “curse of Saint Fergus”; now there are but a few people who recall that someone was here before me.

    Reply
  39. Mr Frog

    This might sound a bit harsh but the manager of the group needs to be replaced immediately. I don’t think an internal transfer would be the solution, the manager needs to move on from the organization. The issue is that they were either actively participating in the issue or that they were aware and chose to do nothing, either scenario shows a significant lack of judgment. Specifically, the fact he/she did not mention the issue to their boss makes it sound like the former is more likely than the latter.

    After the existing manager has been dismissed I would have a come to Jesus meeting with the rest of the team, the message here would be simple I was made aware of why we had such high turnover for the position (don’t refer to it as Janes position). Tell them the behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop. The OP can choose if they put a shape up of get out message depending on how likely they think it is for a few people to take the leave option and the impact on the business.

    Second I would bring in a new manager that has the specific goal of overhauling the entire team, by replacing a large portion of the people in that team, this can be done via internal transfers where appropriate or by managing people out of the company. I think ideally this manager would be an internal transfer so an external person does not get a hatchet man reputation.

    Reply
    1. LisaLee

      Agreed. It sounds harsh, but a manager who’s been acting like this has totally abdicated her responsibilities.

      Reply
  40. OlympiasEpiriot

    This is bleak.

    But, it did occur to my twisted brain that perhaps getting that employee who could cast spells to apply for this position might be the way to go.

    (In addition to reaming everyone involved including HR who was awfully namby pam by about this until the 3rd/4th.)

    Reply
  41. AnotherAlison

    It sounds like the company was very gracious to Jane’s team regarding bereavement, etc., but did the company do any special public recognition of Jane?

    Not that it’s required, but we had a coworker die somewhat tragically last year. Not work-related, but he was <30, and just died of a heart thing in his sleep. The company did a really above-and-beyond memorial video and speech at our annual meeting and started a scholarship in his name.

    If Jane maintained a special place in the company (in memorial), then maybe the coworkers would have an easier time letting her spot on the team go.

    Reply
    1. Chickaletta

      I agree, I mentioned above that maybe the team never got any closure with Jane’s death. While OP should take managerial action to correct the problems, it might be well worth her time too to take a look into what ways, if any, Jane’s memory has been honored by the company.

      Reply
      1. AD

        It’s gone far past that point. It’s been a year, and the company is in no way obligated to hand-hold employees (and a manager) who are grossly uncivil to multiple employees.

        Reply
        1. KAZ2Y5

          Actually, if the one-year anniversary is coming up that would be a perfect time. My late Husband’s former employer held a memorial service on the one year anniversary of his death and it was very helpful/healing for a lot of people (definitely including myself in that)!

          Reply
  42. Elle

    I can’t figure out what the employees want management to do here. Who is doing Jane’s work?? I would be half tempted to call the group together and say something along the lines of “We can’t seem to keep anyone in this position, so we will be dividing Jane’s duties up among the remaining staff,” and do just that. I am willing to bet that they will come around rather quickly when faced with the prospect of extra work. Granted, this is kind of a backhanded way of dealing with the problem (I really do like the direct approach outlined above), but boy it would be very interesting to see how it would play out.

    Reply
    1. KR

      I agree that the employees seem to have forgotten they’re at work and they need to allow business to continue to keep the company going. It’s a good point to bring up to them

      Reply
      1. Christine

        I may be wrong in suggesting this … others let me know if I am. I believe that the entire team should be separated, and/or the manager transferred to another department. Being in the same office, maybe interfering with the grieving process and coming out as aggressive to new hires.

        They have to be aware of what they are saying, and the results (high turnover). People cannot be that unaware of their actions and consequences. Separate them, switch them with other employees in other departments, but especially their direct manager.

        Maybe some mandatory counseling to address their behavior. HR dropped the ball on this one.

        Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Yeah, HR really screwed up. Like, the PTSD and grief thing explains the coworkers being dreadful – doesn’t excuse it, but explains it – but what on Earth was HR thinking not coming to OP months ago going, so this is what we learned in X’s exit interview…

          Reply
    2. nnn

      That’s what I came here to suggest! I can’t even begin to speculate on whether or not it would be a good idea, but it would be a natural consequence and it would certainly be interested to see what happens…

      Reply
    3. Oscar Madisoy

      I would be half tempted to call the group together and say something along the lines of “We can’t seem to keep anyone in this position, so we will be dividing Jane’s duties up among the remaining staff,” and do just that.

      I like this very much.

      I am willing to bet that they will come around rather quickly when faced with the prospect of extra work.

      Especially when their compensation will not be increased to reflect the additional duties. Hey, they brought it on themselves.

      “Hey, you’re the ones who don’t want us to replace Jane… but we still need to get the work done… so you can do it!”

      Reply
  43. Learning Grasshopper

    I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if this is already out there

    Can you direct the team to a positive remembrance of Jane? Move away from the work and do something in her name?
    Raise money for a scholarship
    donate at the holidays to a family in need
    Something that focuses the team on a positive action vs the desk shrine

    also love the idea of shaking up the configuration of the floor plan/seat assignments. Once it is no longer ‘Jane’s desk’, some of the hostility should disperse

    Reply
  44. Beancounter Eric

    As others have stated, new paint, new furniture, move EVERYONE. I’d consider breaking up the team if it’s at all feasible.

    Team manager probably should go work somewhere else. LW may want to suggest to them, perhaps even escort them to the door with their belongings.

    Whether team manager gets gone or not, LW needs to be spending more time MBWA in the department….LW also needs to convey how unacceptable it is to haze, harass, etc. the new hire(s) and make clear that people are going to lose their jobs is if continues.

    Reply
    1. Is it Friday Yet?

      I work for a small company, and the owner tends to move people around a lot. In the past year, I’ve changed desks 3 times. It’s annoying at first, but it actually has helped to keep workspaces pretty tidy. It also means that no one gets too territorial over their space. I would definitely agree with this advice. It will be hard for anyone to get too upset over a new employee moving something on “Jane’s desk” when it’s not in the same spot, it’s been replaced, or her old manager has to sit there. Time for a change.

      Reply
  45. MassMatt

    I second the idea for the LW to get more hands-on with this manager and team. Three replacements have been driven off, AND the group’s reputation within the company is so infamous that someone was preparing to quit rather than being transferred there! It seems the LW/manager is really out of the loop.

    Reply
  46. I'm Not Phyllis

    This is rough. I agree with those above who say to change the furniture … buy new if possible, but if not rearrange, relocate, etc. At the bare minimum Jane’s belongings need to be dealt with – by you or HR or whoever is willing to do it. Then I’d talk to the manager – make it clear that this can’t continue and that it’s his/her responsibility to stop it. They need to manage their team. At best they’re ignoring the team’s behaviour, and at worst the team is taking their cues from their manager, and it needs to stop. Then, yes, meet with the whole team and give them the same message. Tell them that the company continues to be committed to helping them through this but that they need to treat each other and any new team members professionally and with respect. And be prepared to lay out some consequences if that doesn’t happen, because it may not.

    Less than a month after I started in my current job, one of the directors passed away after a long battle with cancer (so not the same situation but …) at a young age. I never saw anyone behave less than kindly to his replacement or be anything less than supportive. I can 100% tell you that her boss (same as mine) would have accepted nothing less and neither should the manager of this team. And neither should you. Be prepared to take the necessary steps to make sure that this department gets back on track. It might not make you popular, but allowing this to continue isn’t doing the company, Jane, or any of Jane’s former co-workers any favours.

    Reply
  47. NW Mossy

    Many years ago, I was interviewing for a job and when I asked why it was open, I learned that it was due to the tragic early death of an employee. It also transpired that I was superficially similar to the deceased in age, gender, and appearance. I was glad that the owner/hiring manager was candid with me about it, and it did make me alert for emotional challenges that might come along with that.

    Ultimately, I declined because I got a better offer at a firm closer to home. When I contacted the owner to tell him I’d accepted another offer, his behavior was deeply reminiscent of someone who’d just been dumped – he wanted to know why, what he could do to get me to take the job, etc., etc. That cemented that I made the right call, because it demonstrated that he had a level of emotional attachment to this hiring that was outside professional norms and was a big red flag. I felt for his pain, but not enough to live my work life in the shadow of an obviously much-beloved person.

    In this case, OP, you’ve gotten a lot of great advice that I encourage you to take. You do seem to be operating at an emotional remove from Jane’s death, and it’s time to leverage that to help get this team back on track. Being more hands-on in your management of your direct (the team’s manager) and this group will help set the tone, because you can demonstrate what “compassionate but professionally appropriate” behavior looks like. They’ve lost that point of view, and you need to give it back to them if they’re going to succeed.

    Reply
  48. Blurgle

    Oh, dear: they’ve got stuck in anger (possibly because of how Jane died?) and are acting out that anger on the job site. It’s something that has to be stopped, but with kindness and sensitivity. This is the kind of thing that can spiral into workplace violence if handled “professionally” – ie. coldly and directly.

    It’s nice that they have an EAP but not everyone is willing to go to therapy; some see it as evil quackery, others as “unmanly” or “weak”, and of course there are as many incompetent therapists as incompetent managers. I suspect some directed group therapy combined with breaking up the team (unfortuntely) and the office – not just moving them but replacing the furniture entirely and changing the layout of the area – would have helped. Whether it does now that Jane’s direct report has allowed it to fester for so long is a good question.

    Reply
    1. Squeeble

      Thank you for this. As inappropriate as the staff have been acting toward the new hires, I really disagree with the hard line some commenters are taking–the whole “shape up or else” concept is probably not going to solve anything long-term. Especially since it seems like the manager is a big part of the problem.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        Which is why the manager needs to be at minimum demoted and moved out of the group and possibly fired. This is a huge management fail at several levels: the LW who has been out of touch for a year with a report and her team, HR which whiffed on their responsibility and the manager of the dysfunctional group who has been a ringleader in this monstrous behavior. It has been a year — this might have been handled with counseling and good management 9 mos ago — it is too late now.

        Reply
        1. Candi

          I’m fairly sure she was perfectly in touch -with the manager. Who was involved in the harassment of Janet, Janie, and Janice, and had no reason to enlighten LW on the topic.

          Reply
    2. Aveline

      “hey’ve got stuck in anger (possibly because of how Jane died?) ”

      Bingo. They are taking out their anger on the person replacing Jane not the person who killed Jane.

      Reply
    3. NW Mossy

      To me, professional doesn’t mean cold; in fact, it often does (and should!) show up as consideration for the opinions and feelings of others.

      I’m also a bit concerned by your statement that not handling this with perfect emotional intelligence can show up as violence at work. I’d hate for the OP to be so concerned about not doing the exact right thing that they end up doing nothing at all and letting the situation persist indefinitely. We might disagree about what may or may not help stop the current cycle, but I think we’re pretty much all agreed that allowing it to continue unchecked is definitely bad.

      Reply
  49. MyTwoCents

    A lot of good suggestions here. I have nothing to add right now but am following for continued suggestions , insights, and hopefully follow up by the OP.

    Reply
  50. AJ

    I’d be really curious to find out what exactly was the last straw to make multiple people quit without notice. That’s a big risk to take (as discussed on AAM often), so what would make a few people go that route? I think it might be worth trying to reach out to the people who left to find out what happened. Some may not want to talk to you but worth a shot. Then one-on-ones with everyone involved while reading the riot act. If the actions of hazing/harassment were so bad as to make people leave with no notice, then they might be bad enough to open the company up to legal action.

    Reply
    1. Allypopx

      Mm, agreed, I’d like more detail if it’s available. “I’m leaving as of the end of the day” multiple times is very extreme.

      Reply
    2. Chickaletta

      ^^This. This isn’t a case of “I wish you hadn’t moved Jane’s stapler” type statements. Three, actually four, people have quit, most without any notice. There’s a red flag if there ever was one.

      Reply
    3. really

      Don’t think there was a last straw. It was continuous from the beginning.
      ‘…outside hire had said in her exit interview that she was leaving because she couldn’t handle working with Jane’s old coworkers and manager. She said she resumed job searching almost as soon as she started here because of how bad it was.”

      Reply
  51. Colorado

    What I can’t get past is how come it took a year and three replacements later for the OP to find out this was even going on.

    Reply
    1. BethRA

      Or that HR/management didn’t intervene sooner. If significant numbers of people in other departments knew something was going on and nothing was one? Not that it’s particularly helpful to know now, but they really haven’t done anyone any favors letting this go unaddressed for so long.

      Reply
    2. Been There, Done That

      I once worked for a small company under the manager whose dept. was known to have a revolving door, and she only had a staff of 2. For at least 4 years before I arrived, no one had stayed a full year. About 4 months after I arrived, the other staffer gave 2 weeks notice and left a week later in a rage. I remarked to a friend in another dept. that I was surprised the owners didn’t do something about the manager since turnover was so expensive, and my friend said they thought she was irreplaceable so they let it go on.

      Reply
  52. Christine

    I may be wrong in suggesting this … others let me know if I am. I believe that the entire team should be separated, and/or the manager transferred to another department. Being in the same office, maybe interfering with the grieving process and coming out as aggressive to new hires.

    They have to be aware of what they are saying, and the results (high turnover). People cannot be that unaware of their actions and consequences. Separate them, switch them with other employees in other departments, but especially their direct manager.

    Maybe some mandatory counseling to address their behavior. HR dropped the ball on this one.

    Reply
    1. Turtle Candle

      I agree. At first I thought some serious discussions and coaching could solve this, but the problem is that these employees are stuck, and their actions have been to further entrench by driving off anyone who impinges on their status quo. If the reputation at the company is so bad that people will quit rather than be moved into this position, I don’t really see how this can be fixed besides by… well… unsticking them in a literal sense, by breaking up the department, or at least by switching out enough of them that the group mentality of ‘drive off the interloper’ can’t get a foothold anymore.

      Reply
    2. MuseumChick

      I think that is one of the steps in the process. I would not at all be surprised if they dismissed the high turn over as problems the hires, not with how they treat the hires.

      To me it should do like this:

      Step 1: Serious Talk with Manager
      Step 2: Serious Talk with Team
      Step 3: Hire someone, be honest about what they are walking into and monitor it closely.
      Step 4: (If something happens) Manager is (depending on a number of factors) transferred or let go.
      Step 5: (If issues continue to arise) Team is split up and/or (when appropriate) team members are let go.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        “I would not at all be surprised if they dismissed the high turn over as problems the hires, not with how they treat the hires.”

        Oh, I bet you’re right. “And then they just tried to replace Jane with that–with that mediocrity/airhead/frat boy/whatever.” There’s a reinforcement loop here either about how irreplaceable Jane is or how heartless and stupid management is for sending them losers in their grief.

        Reply
        1. MuseumChick

          I was once hired at a very small museum to basically bring some professional standards to their collections care. My boss was very explicated about hiring me for that reason. Well, the 65+ year old volunteers who had been handling the collection were not at all happy when I came and said things like “Oh, what do you think about doing Y instead of X? It will have A, B, and C positive effects.” They always rolled their eyes and dismissed me. It didn’t matter that I had the training and education and work experience they desperately needed, they had done things a certain way for years and were totally dismissive of any other way. I found a job at a larger place in less than a year and my boss didn’t ask any question about why I was leaving.

          No doubt they still complain about that young whippersnapper who wanted to “change everything for no reason”;.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            I had such trouble with this back when I worked for a museum that we eventually just had to ‘fire’ the volunteers in question.

            Reply
    3. Milton Waddams

      Building a tight-knit team is expensive and time-consuming. Breaking one apart is fast and seemingly cheap, until the long-term consequences are felt. Transferring the staff to other departments seems like a recipe for creating bitter deadwood employees, in my mind.

      This may be as simple as a job title change, the same way that a star quarterback’s jersey number is retired, but the actual role of quarterback is kept on. Something to let the staff know that Jane is not being replaced, just that her work is being supplemented as everyone in the team aspires to live up to the standard that she helped create.

      Reply
        1. Lissa

          Agreed. It’s similar to something I heard before — maybe here. The downside of a job where everyone is “like a family” is that, well, it’s like a family.

          Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          This is certainly a common mindset — sort of a genetic determinism of the workplace. I doubt it’s really that way, though. People I’ve known have changed throughout their lives, often with no great hurdle that had to be overcome beforehand; generally when I encounter resistance to change in the workplace, it is passive-aggressive resistance to changes which are seen as being made at the expense of the employee, a sort of “go slow” tactic when the power dynamics involved make it so an employee can’t explain that they are flexible to change but have concerns with this change. When the majority of changes being handed down from above seem to be at the expense of the workers, this can lead to the illusion that the workforce “struggles with change”.

          Reply
          1. Candi

            This group is provably locked into a pattern after a year and three hires. As long as they remain together, they’ll keep feeding each other toxins.

            If this department was a rosebush, their grief and anger and hate would be the blackberry thorns choking it. In a case like that, you’ll never get rid of the vines without hurting the bush; they’re too intertwined. To remove the problem, everything has to go, down to the tip of the roots.

            Reply
  53. Observer

    I started reading the comments, then skipped to comment. So, I’m pretty sure that some of what I’m about to say was covered.

    A few thoughts.

    The team should, at minimum have their space re-arranged, and preferably they should be moved. It makes it much easier to move forward when the physical surroundings are significantly different.

    The OP needs to have a discussion with the manager of the group. You may need to move her to a different group. Yes, the remaining group may try to drive a new manager off, but the fact that you transferred the first manager out is a strong signal that you are not going to allow this kind of thing to continue. They need counseling and therapy? Fine! Seriously. What happened is a really big deal so that’s a reasonable accommodation (used in the human, not legal, sense.) But letting people keep a role unfilled is NOT reasonable by any stretch of the imagination.

    I would give the manager a choice – either she starts actively dealing with the situation, or she moves to a different spot. If she chooses neither, she’s out. If she says she’ll deal and then doesn’t, she’s out. She does need your commitment to totally have her back on this, though.

    Once you have the manager on board, or moved over, you need to let people know in unambiguous terms that this is over. If anyone needs help dealing with their grief, shock and PTSD or whatever, you’ll make resources available. But the role WILL be filled, and anyone who tries to keep it unfilled, or mistreats a new co-worker for any reason, but especially because the are “not Jane” will face serious consequences, including the possibility of termination.

    You also need to have a serious conversation with HR. How is it that they didn’t act on these issues, nor did they come to you with any of this? How is it that they thought that trying to force yet another person into the role was even remotely useful?

    Lastly, you really need to think about your role in all of this. How is it that this dysfunction was so widely known that no one put in for the transfer – and someone even threatened to quit rather than take the transfer, but you had no idea? I get that you don’t want to gossip and all, but being THIS disconnected from what’s happening on your team is a bit much. Why didn’t you ask about why people said they quit? Why didn’t these people feel like they couldn’t talk to you – or to HR, for that matter?

    Also, it’s one thing to hire someone who can’t handle the job. But to do so with two people from within the company who should know the deal? To do so three times in a row?? This alone should have raised the possibility that there is something dysfunctional going on. I would have expected you to be going to HR rather than the other way around. I’m also trying to figure out what your role in hiring was here. If you were involved, didn’t it seem odd to you that three people who you thought could do the job turned out unable to manage? If you weren’t involved, why weren’t you asking about the hiring process as well?

    I think this stuff is important because it could help explain the dysfunction and how to manage it. Understanding this also might make a difference to keeping other dysfunction from growing up.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth West

      Lastly, you really need to think about your role in all of this. How is it that this dysfunction was so widely known that no one put in for the transfer – and someone even threatened to quit rather than take the transfer, but you had no idea?

      This makes me wonder if perhaps it was really difficult for other teams to work with the dysfunctional one. I can see someone knowing this because of gossip and thinking, “Wow, that’s bad.” But to threaten to leave over the possibility of working more closely with them? Uh uh. Dysfunction rarely stays in a tight little box. It tends to spill over.

      Reply
    2. Candi

      I suspect the manager involved in the bullying may have been feeding the LW a load of hooey, about just about everything. Very easy with the LW in a completely separate building.

      Reply
  54. Amy The Rev

    …me too

    and now I want to make some joke about how today is Ash Wednesday for Christians, when we do the whole ‘remember that from dust you came and unto dust you shall return’ aka ‘don’t forget you’re gonna die one day!’ thing and I’m searching and searching but can’t find a good pun…but its the thought that counts, right?

    Reply
  55. Buu

    I think the office reorg is a good idea, I was also be tempted to shuffle around the job title so it becomes a new job.

    Might I also suggest that you make you schedule a direct performance review with the new hire once they start? Hopefully that means you can weed out any problems as they arise.

    Reply
  56. Victoria

    Two years ago one of my coworkers (also one of my best friends outside of work) died suddenly. There was only three of us in our department so her loss was felt immediately and strongly. I rearranged our office so that I wasn’t sitting at my desk staring across the room to where she used to sit. My manager waited a long time to fill her position, by which time I was practically begging them to hire someone because I was drowning in double the work on top of grieving. Luckily, the person they hired ended up being another friend who used to work in our department but had been gone for a few years. Rearranging the office was one of the most helpful things I did. I took some of her things, left some for the new person… We still have a picture of her up and named our annual Halloween contest after her so she isn’t forgotten but she doesn’t haunt the office.

    Reply
  57. GrandBargain

    Break up the team. Reassign all members of the team to other teams – the team manager drops down to a team member role. No two people go to the same team. Divide up the work that was Jane’s among two or more other roles. Take Jane’s old desk out back and burn it.

    Reply
      1. Xarcady

        Perhaps not re-teaming everyone, but even a slight personnel change-up might help. Moving one or two people, and filling their places with internal transfers. Except that I think that ship has sailed and no one will willingly work on that team.

        Reply
        1. GrandBargain

          I agree about the ship sailing. It appears that as long as the team remains, the problem will remain as well. My concern with moving just a few is twofold… who? and, will the problem remain afterward? Better to eliminate the team in order to avoid assigning blame and risking that the problem will continue or magnify.

          Reply
  58. Milton Waddams

    Can Jane’s old role be split apart or merged into another role in a way that gets the work done? If so, you can then “retire” Jane’s old role like a team jersey, providing a sense of closure without actually inconveniencing the day-to-day operations.

    Reply
    1. Milton Waddams

      Doing so formally might even help; a photo and plaque outlining Jane’s accomplishments and job title, maybe some sort of display that doesn’t take up too much space.

      In addition to providing closure, stuff like that can also inspire — team members want to live up to Jane’s memory, and will believe that their contributions to the company will be remembered like her’s were. That’s great for building good morale.

      Reply
  59. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

    Reading more of the comments, I feel like it would be a good idea to meet with each team member individually, then meet with the manager. You may get a sense of which people are heavily caught up in the grief and which others are feeling pressured about being involved in the grief. Groupthink is hard to break without moving personnel, but you have to make sure you move the right personnel. The manager is the lynchpin: she is the one who spoke on behalf of all management when she told those three replacements that they needed to not disrespect the dead. She needs to be moved, for sure.

    From personal experience, I have learned that when I participate in “support groups” or “memorial groups”, I become much more fixated and focused on my problem/grief. It’s something I noticed with my sister as well – she suffered an incredibly traumatizing medical complication and 5 years later she hasn’t progressed past her grief, mainly because she is the local coordinator for the support group and spends at least an hour a day thinking of this issue. It was very good in the beginning to get her to talk about it, but now it seems like she is stuck at this point. I’m afraid that will happen with your team – they will become so wrapped in their grief and in supporting each other’s grief that they cannot move along the stages of grieving to acceptance.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Good level of discernment here. You are right I’d agree. A good support group teaches you how to continue on without the support group. This would mean as a fully functioning individual.
      I did GriefShare at church. The program is finite- 7 weeks or so then you are done. And each week builds on the week before so in the end you are armed with plenty of things to think about and work with.
      The expectation that you will resume life is key, in my mind.

      Reply
  60. Pam

    Could the department hold some type of memorial event for “Jane” where they are able to talk about her. It sounds like despite being offered services they haven’t enough closure about the event and they aren’t healing. I was going to suggest, and I see a number of other people have also suggested this, that the department is somehow how rearranged so there is no daily reminder of “Jane’s” work space. Perhaps a plaque (even with a picture?) could be hung in the department to honor her life and service to the department so they have a place to focus their grief. I hope the people in the department will be able to find a healthy closure and a new person to add to their team.

    Reply
  61. Crazy Squirrel Lover

    This letter really hit a tone with me. I graduated a little under a year ago and about four months ago I started an entry level HR position. The day I started I was full of nerves and anticipation of how my first day went. However, nothing I thought of could have prepared me for how my day actually went. As I arrived at work, there were emergency vehicles outside the entrance with their lights going but not moving. I didn’t think anything of it because I knew this company has tight security and I figured someone accidentally triggered an alarm. As soon as I walked in the door, I was taken aside and told to find the emergency contact for an employee who was being rushed to hospital after being found unresponsive in their office. I barely had time to drop my things and get to work before we got the call saying the employee had unfortunately passed away. After the news got around no work was done and I was left with a sense of helplessness. I ended up going through my orientation and then sitting around for the rest of the day as my manager helped the employee’s family.

    About a month after this all happened the their position was filled by an external candidate. What my company did to help with the transition was involve some of the employees who would be reporting to this individual. They then offered this employee’s office to one of their direct reports instead of the external candidate, who was given a different office. I believe this helped the company do what it needed to do as far as filling the position, while also showing that they cared about this employee and the affect of their passing was having on their co-workers.

    Overall, I agree that there needs to be change in the office arrangement, maybe even offering Jane’s desk to one of her co-workers.

    Reply
  62. I'd Rather not Say

    I work at a University. Years ago, one of the managers in our department died suddenly. It was unexpected and he was young. An award was created in his memory to recognize an outstanding student worker each year. Maybe after some time has passed the group might consider doing something to honor Jane, whether an award, scholarship, or donation in her memory. It might help their grieving process.

    Reply
  63. fposte

    I know regular commenter Amber Rose worked at a business that really lost its emotional balance after the unexpected death of the founder; Amber Rose, I’d be interested in knowing if there was anything you think the company could have done to prevent those problems.

    Reply
    1. Jules the First

      I’m not Amber Rose, but I went through the sudden and unexpected death of my boss (also the company founder) last year. We weren’t particularly close (especially in the context that many of my peers had worked with her for a decade or more) but I was wildly and completely unprepared for the emotional fall out.

      I ended up leaving the company in December because I didn’t work well with the person who took on the leadership of the company after her death, but to be honest, I’m not sure we could have done anything differently – we had access to counselling, numerous supportive gatherings, but when someone is that integral to the work you do every day, it’s very hard to carry on because literally every task you do reminds you of your loss.

      I’m not condoning the behaviour of Jane’s team, but I can easily see how it might happen if Jane’s role was sufficiently integrated into everyone else’s.

      Reply
  64. Student

    If these individuals are valuable employees who are otherwise good at their jobs, you may need to look into relocating them all elsewhere in the company. At minimum, the evidence is overwhelming that the manager is no longer able to perform her role in this group. If she’s actually a good manager and this death is the core performance issue, time to shuffle her to managing a different group. If she was never a good manager, move her back into what she’s good at or let her go.

    The other worker bees may need to be reorganized to other (separate) departments. If they can’t handle the existence of Jane’s replacement, I have to wonder how they’re doing with core job functions. Maybe breaking up the band and giving them something different will help them move forward. It’ll probably make the department more functional to rotate a substantial number of new people into it, given what you’ve outlined here.

    Reply
    1. Milton Waddams

      Employees who have formed a tight-knit and productive group are more valuable together than they are individually, especially if breaking them apart is as a way to side-step some problem. Sending them off to new departments rather than addressing their concerns is likely to cause long-term resentment and create deadwood employees where before you had had high-performers.

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        There isn’t actually any indication that they were high performers rather than perfectly average performers. And they certainly aren’t being high performers *now*.

        Reply
      2. Observer

        That would be true if they actually had addressable concerns. But, their concern about someone taking “Jane’s job.” is not really addressable. It may be possible to salvage the team, but only if they are on board with making changes in the way they deal. If not, then they are no longer more valuable as a team because they are not allowing a significant function to happen.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          It’s easily addressable. Retire “Jane’s job”, create a display or something to inspire the employees by, and then have the renamed, reassigned tasks done by the new person. Sports teams do this all the time when they retire “Bill’s Number” after a unifying member of the team leaves. They don’t actually cut that role from the team in a literal sense, they just do it symbolically.

          It’s a little irrational, of course, but so are these cries to burn Jane’s desk and break apart the department. :-)

          Reply
          1. Observer

            Maybe yes, maybe not.

            I agree that if that works, it’s worth looking at. But the kind of toxicity that has developed here and the simple cruelty that’s been unleashed isn’t going to be rolled back so easily. And that’s something that needs to be kept in mind as well. In the short term it keeps a significant function from happening. In the long term it can create even more poison in the organization.

            Had it been addressed early on, it would probably have had a far better chance of working.

            Reply
      3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        There are no valid concerns to address. It’s not reasonable to demand that nobody ever take “Jane’s job” or sit at her desk or replace her in any way.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          This happens all the time in Real Life.

          A regular and popular bar patron dies, and their stool is given a plaque and nobody sits on it anymore.

          A star quarterback is killed in a car crash and their jersey goes into a frame on the wall, and their number is never reassigned.

          Anyone ever dies and they get some sort of permanent spot that is assigned to their memory in perpetuity, even if it might be more convenient to be able to rearrange the dead into a flexible office type scheme like they use with cubicles.

          These may not be rational customs, but they are very normal.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            The quarterback’s number is never reassigned, but the quarterback’s POSITION is reassigned, and no one even renames it. And no one expects the next quarterback to act exactly like the old one, on or off the field.

            What these people are demanding is NOT a plaque to remember her, or even a plant on a bookshelf. They are demanding that no one ever take “Jane’s JOB” – no one fill the position, and while any person does so “temporarily” the must do EVERYTHING, even handle their stapler, in the EXACT SAME WAY as Jane. That’s a whole different level.

            Reply
            1. Turtle Candle

              Right. This isn’t the case of a quarterbacks’ number being reassigned–that would be, say, a memorial plaque or charitable donation or something. Which I agree would be tasteful. And offering counseling–which AFAICT this company did do.

              This is the equivalent of being hostile to every new potential quarterback, and saying “you aren’t doing it like the old quarterback did,” and suggesting that it be renamed the “one fourth behind,” and trying to run the group without a quarterback or one-fourth-behind, and etc. etc.

              I mean, maybe it’d be helpful to have a tasteful plaque. But insisting on all the new one-fourth-behinds being kicked around because we all miss our real quarterback? You can’t run a company like that.

              Reply
      4. ZNerd

        You keep saying that, but right now this is a team of bullies, not high performers. It is NOT a good thing for a company to continue to enable workplace bullying. You can have much sympathy for the original cause of the behavior, but a year later, what matters is that the behavior stop. And honestly, my sympathy goes to the bullied co-workers who “dared” to step into hostile territory while just doing the job they were hired for.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          The issue is in how they step, not that they step. The team obviously wants the department to thrive, since that is what Jane wanted while alive. Imagine if your postman had a heartattack on your doorstep, and the post office’s solution was to send someone to strip the corpse and put on your old mailman’s new clothes and nametag; many people would be horrified by that behavior, even if that is really just a more blatant version of what goes on when they assign a new driver to the old route.

          Framing is important.

          Reply
          1. MassMatt

            You have just blamed victims for the behavior of bullies.

            Your postman’s corpse being stripped of clothes and name tag analogy is absurd.

            And there is no evidence that this team wants the department to thrive, or for that matter whether deceased Jane did.

            You are utterly and completely off-base.

            Reply
            1. Milton Waddams

              Framing them as bullies seems silly. If they were bullies, then bullying behavior would have been obvious when Jane was there.

              Reply
              1. aebhel

                They are engaging in bullying behavior right now. That makes them bullies. If you only start psychologically torturing people after a traumatic event, it may change my judgement of how awful a person you are, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are psychologically torturing people.

                Most bullies have shit going on in their lives. That doesn’t make the damage they do less real.

                Reply
              2. Observer

                Maybe they weren’t bullies before, but in this respect, they have become bullies.

                Do you really expect that if a postman dies, no on is going to take over his route or use his truck? Most rational people understand that that’s just not even possible to consider. Why is taking over the position that Jane had any different? Just as taking over the route and using the truck IS perfectly acceptable – and really the only reasonable way to move forward, filling the position is in the same category. It is NOT “stripping the corpse”.

                Reply
              3. Elizabeth West

                No, Milton.
                They’re bullying BECAUSE Jane is gone. They’re egging each other on, too. Bullies do that (the manager is the ringleader here). No matter the cause, it’s classic bullying.

                This team is no longer functional. Its focus is no longer on the work they’re getting paid to do, which in this case requires that the company replace Jane. Their behavior is unacceptable in a professional environment.

                Reply
            2. Been There, Done That

              And the postal service would be fully expected to send someone to get the mailbag and continue delivering the mail.

              Reply
          2. Zombii

            Imagine if your postman had a heart attack on your doorstep, and the post offices’s solution was to hire someone else to deliver the mail to your house, and then they didn’t appreciate it when you tormented the not-Jane postmen into quitting—3 postmen and counting. Those monsters.

            Framing is important, and exaggerating the situation beyond the bounds of the ridiculous does less than nothing to support your point.

            Reply
      5. Not So NewReader

        I have seen a couple comments about deadwood employees.

        Most certainly this can happen. It’s also true that it can be dealt with when it does happen.

        We can’t let fear of X prevent us from doing Y. People are accountable for their actions.

        What concerns me is that everyone gets punished by transfer regardless of their participation or non-participation in the problem. I think OP needs to sit down and find out how many people are participating in the bullying first before moving everyone around. It may come to light that some people are no longer employable there because of their unfixable toxic attitude.

        Reply
      6. Anon tonite

        I would not consider this group productive. When this much effort is expended to ostracize and then drive employees out of the company some aspect of the work is suffering. With observation it’s not difficult to identify the ringleader(s) and they either have to be transferred out of the group or terminated from the company. This groups reputation is so bad that people from other departments refuse to work with them. This can have extremely damaging effects to a company that could last for years. From what I can see it is more cost-effective to start rebuilding this unit then maintain it. The damage this team has caused appears to be irreparable. No other department wants to interact with them apparently and this can have disastrous affect on the business, shareholders, stakeholders and the community in which it operates. Milton it’s good to be pro employee but from your comments I’m not sure I would want to hire you for my company

        Reply
  65. Xarcady

    I was a work-study grad student at the university library when one of the members of the department died. He died in his sleep due to complications from a medical condition he had. Two members of the department went to his apartment and found the body. The entire department, and the rest of the staff, was badly shaken up.

    The person I was assisting moved to his position, and I was given her position full-time. But cubicles were moved around and the general seating plan was changed.

    The employee who died had been the main support of his mother, so we took up a collection for her to pay for the funeral. Also, he had an extensive collection of books on a particular topic, and the library arranged for a book auction, the proceeds of which went to his mother.

    I think having the book auction and being able to help his mother really helped a lot of people deal with what had happened.

    It might help if the team could do something small to commemorate Jane–put her picture up somewhere, name the break room after her–something to indicate that the company doesn’t want her to be forgotten. And/or some sort of fundraiser for a cause she cared greatly about. The yearly Jane Smith Commemorative Pie Eating Contest to benefit the local animal shelter, perhaps.

    Something that sends the message that Jane will not be forgotten, but that work must still go on.

    Reply
  66. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    And, as I said – it is possible that the team is beyond the grief stage, and may be resentful that people from outside of their immediate group are the only ones considered for the vacant slot.

    Anyone knows, that if they were hired from the outside, for a role that incumbents were preparing for or were seriously interested in, there’s going to be resentment “from the floor”. Upper management and/or HR usually are aware of these situations, and if they had any smarts, they’d prepare for the results of a passing-over.

    Reply
  67. Julia

    This is totally group think at its worst and needs to be stopped. I once tried to join a group (hobby not work) that had experienced a tragedy 6 years before where about 10 people dies. The group was so super tight but they did not accept outsiders at all. Eventually, a rival group for the hobby was formed because new people never felt comfortable in the old group.

    Try reorganizing the team. Change peoples roles shift things around so the job is not quite the same as Jane’s. If possible move someone out of the group so it is not the same team.

    Reply
    1. Milton Waddams

      Tightly knit groups are a good thing. They are expensive and difficult to create, and once you have them, it’s important to think twice about breaking them apart.

      In the case of your hobby, forming the rival group was the correct choice, not the bad second choice, assuming that the first group used its tight nature to effectively produce things important to your hobby that require good teamwork.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Tight knit groups can be good or bad. This group is so tight knit that they’re fostering a toxic, angry, resentful atmosphere for anyone who dares to sit at her desk, and that’s not good.

        Reply
        1. Milton Waddams

          The desk seems to be acting as a surrogate gravestone; likely management has not formally produced any sort of memorial display — as is pointed out, they are actually expecting the new employee to sit at Jane’s desk and use her old tools, which has the same impact as finding someone sitting on a relatives grave wearing their burial clothes.

          Reply
          1. Turtle Candle

            which has the same impact as finding someone sitting on a relatives grave wearing their burial clothes

            I ask this in all earnestness: if a coworker dies, what do you think should happen to their title, desk, and office belongings? I’m a Senior Technical Writer; were I to suddenly be hit by a car, should that title be retired, should my desk be ceremonially destroyed and my notebooks and pens and Office install discs burned, before someone else can be brought in? I communicate with many colleagues via Skype; should my headset be retired?

            If you were my boss, how would you handle it?

            Reply
            1. Milton Waddams

              Take Turtle Candle’s famous desk lighter and stick it in a display with their picture, a few quotes outlining their work philosophy and a blurb about their departmental achievements, maybe on the same wall that was once backed by their desk. Retire the title.

              Do some job analysis on the role and see if there are any opportunities for splitting off or merging tasks for effectiveness.

              When the new Senior Technical Writer comes in, give them a new desk in a different location, a new title, and (depending on the results of the job analysis) a slightly different set of job duties. Make it clear to coworkers that their role is to support the department in doing its best to live up to Jane’s accomplishments, rather than to erase them.

              Suddenly a tragic event becomes a morale boost — the team wants to live up to “Jane’s memory” as reminded by the display, and it shows that the department remembers and appreciates it when employees make decisions for the long term benefit of the department and company. Instead of encouraging a culture of “Why should I care about where the department is 10 years from now? They would forget about me tomorrow if I left today!” which exacerbates the principal-agent problems that many large companies struggle with, it demonstrates that company management respects the efforts and sacrifices made on a departmental level, and that good decisions made within the department will be remembered and inspirational to one’s co-workers and future co-workers.

              Reply
              1. Turtle Candle

                Retire the title “Senior Technical Writer”? What about Sandra, who also has that title? And Mandy, who is Technical Writer II and about to be promoted to Senior Technical Writer next year? Does Sandra become Fancy Technical Writer, and Mandy that also when she gets a promotion?

                What about the fact that Senior Technical Writer is an industry-standard title, and making Sandra and (eventually) Mandy into Fancy Technical Writer hurts them in their future career? Because it would. Senior Technical Writer is an understood role; Fancy Technical Writer, or whatever other role you’d invent to not step on my dead imaginary toes, isn’t. (Which, personally, as a coworker who cares about them, I would not want. I would want them to have a title that could empower them in the future.)

                Senior Technical Writer isn’t a random title, like Princess of Fancycake Land. It’s something that matters on resumes. Retiring it for future employees would actively be an insult to me.

                If I was hit by a car tomorrow, I’d hope that they found another Senior Technical Writer. Not a Made Up Writer Title. I’d be insulted to be replaced by Made Up Writer Title. Because my role means something.

                I assume Jane’s did, too.

                Reply
                1. Milton Waddams

                  If Senior Technical Writer is the equivalent of quarterback rather than “#42 quarterback”, then obviously there wouldn’t be much fuss over someone else taking on the role, and the title wouldn’t need to be retired.

                  In many industries, job titles are incredibly non-standardized — a “vice president” from one company can have absolutely nothing in common with one from another; it doesn’t even necessarily guarantee you are talking with somebody important.

                  If Mandy’s role as a Technical Writer II is clearly understood, I doubt there will be much confusion if she becomes a Technical Writer III. :-)

                  While there are HR departments out there who will refuse to hire a secretary because the job ad for their company clearly states they are looking for “personal administrative assistants”, and they don’t want to be responsible for determining if those are the same thing, good hiring practices are based on skills and duties rather than on matching the title from a resume to the title in the job ad.

                2. Turtle Candle

                  then obviously there wouldn’t be much fuss over someone else taking on the role

                  This is baffling to me. So you think Jane’s role was something like “Fancypants Documentor” and not “Senior Technical Writer,” and they’re totally mad that they’re trying to hire a new “Fancypants Documentor” but would be totally chill with a new “Senior Technical Writer”? And they’re only bullying people because they took the specialty “Fancypants Documentor” role and would be friendly with a “Senior Technical Writer”?

                  All I can say is that that is not at all what I read from the post or the followups, or anything that I have ever seen in my history of having jobs, and I’m a bit baffled by it. Assuming that a job title is unique and retire-able is really… rare, to me. Assuming that people are so hostile that they are driving other people out of the job because it’s a unique job title, but they’d be chill if it was a widespread one, seems like a pretty big reach.

                3. Milton Waddams

                  That’s silly — in many jobs, the title is a pointless feather put in the cap of the worker to avoid having to pay them more, something so that the employee can impress their friends and relatives. It doesn’t matter what the title is, so long as it is psychologically meaningful for the worker and functionally useful for the staff. Some companies even veer into preferring psychology over functionality, like the West Coast companies hiring for “rock stars” who don’t play music or “ninjas” who don’t know martial arts. A good manager recognizes how psychologically powerful those titles are, however.

                  As far as Jane’s title, without further details it’s hard to tell if it was something generic or specific; all we can go with is the reactions of the department. If it turns out that the way they see “Jane’s job” doesn’t include the title, then fine, leave the title alone — it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. :-)

                4. Turtle Candle

                  At this point I can’t tell whether you really are in an industry where most titles are made up, or you’re playing devil’s advocate for shits and :-) giggles, so I will bow out.

  68. Lalitah

    Who are these HR people that do not follow up with a group that has suffered trauma AND has not worked well with the new hires????

    Reply
  69. Will (the letter writer)

    All of the advice from Alison and the commentators has been great. Some asked why I didn’t know about this sooner, it is a fair question. I have 9 direct reports (all managers and supervisors) and over a hundred indirect reports who are managed by them. I am in a different building than some, including Jane’s old team and no one told me about this until the third replacement employee left. Not the employees themselves or HR or anyone else. As I said I thought the first two people left because they couldn’t handle the pressure of the tight deadlines, it is common for a role like that one. No one on Jane’s old team is qualified to fill her role, it is a specialized job that requires certain educational requirements and membership in a specific professional organization. I will be meeting with my boss to loop him in and to figure out what to do next. I’m also planning on meeting with HR to find out why I was not notified sooner. Transferring everyone or breaking up the department is not an option but I will weigh transferring out some people if it will help the situation. Jane’s role cannot be split or taken on by others, there are laws and regulations against anyone without the professional designation doing it (we aren’t a law firm, but think a non lawyer doing the job of a lawyer and holding themselves out as one). I have lots to think about. Thanks again everyone.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      A tough situation all around. Good luck with it. I hope you will update us when it has played out more, but I suspect that in the immediate future you will be rather busy.

      Reply
    2. Observer

      I hear what you are saying. But, you still need to think about why no one went to HR or you about this till they left. I get that you can’t manage each individual person. But, there should always, always be some path to escalate complaints. And it needs to be a real path, not just something on paper.

      So, either the manager did something really bad in that she told people that they are not allowed to use the escalation path – or you don’t have an escalation path. You need to figure out which one it is, and act accordingly. Sure, you don’t want people running to you every time someone sneezes. But “June asked me how I can sleep at night having taken Jane’s job and my manager thinks I’m terrible for not accepting that.” is definitely something you want people to be able to come to you with.

      Reply
      1. designbot

        Or those having this problem perceived that the escalation path was not useful for them and OP and others at his level need to find a way to show they are accessible and responsive.

        Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        This is true, but it’s also true that an awful lot of people won’t escalate things like this. They’ll just leave. (That’s all the more reason to ensure that you know what’s going on in the teams beneath you, of course, but the answer to “why didn’t any of them speak up?” could easily be that they didn’t realize they could or should.)

        Reply
        1. Observer

          If that’s what’s happening, then the OP needs to insure that people DO know that they can – and should – escalate. And should also find some way to get a bit more visibility as to what’s going on in the team without waiting for escalation.

          Reply
    3. Merely

      I think the incredulity that you weren’t informed earlier is directed at the HR department, not you, OP.

      Reply
    4. AD

      Thank you for this thoughtful update.

      I think you need to consider what you’re going to do about your direct report (the team’s manager). I didn’t see a reference to that in your follow up. S/he essentially enabled this to happen for a year, and kept you in the dark about it. You need to hold them accountable for that.

      Reply
    5. Tabby Baltimore

      Thank you so much for coming back and letting us know your reaction, offering more specifics about your particular situation, and giving us some idea of your initial way ahead. I hope, after the dust settles some and you have created the new paradigm this team (and its manager) needs, that you will be able to take some time to reflect on the health of the relationships you have with your other 8 direct reports. Would a worthwhile way to begin such a reflection be to consider whether there could be issues (personnel? budgetary? professional development? something else?) that they are not discussing with you, that you wish they would? You sound like a caring manager; I hope everything works out for the best, for everyone.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Yes. Exactly. The last thing you want it to get blindsided by another situation that could have been resolved if it had been addresses earlier on.

        Reply
    6. Detective Amy Santiago

      I would suggest talking to the head of HR about this. It was a serious lapse on someone’s part and it needs to be addressed.

      Since you can’t break up the team completely, would it be possible to relocate them? Possibly to your building so you can keep an eye on them?

      Good luck.

      Reply
    7. designbot

      I think transferring a couple of people sounds like a good start, and the suggestions of many about rearranging the space so that there isn’t one spot so directly linked to Jane in everyone’s minds is a great one. That way organizing things in a way that Jane wouldn’t have liked, etc. is on the management now, not on her replacement.

      Reply
    8. Aphrodite

      Thank you for your thoughtful response, OP. I think your plan of action is a good one.

      You didn’t mention what if anything you plan to do with the department manager, but I would suggest that the manager was, if not the instigator, at least the driver of this awfulness. To me, handling that manager would be a priority.

      I would also strongly suggest contacting the three people who left the position as well as the one who threatened to quit and seeing if any of them would talk honestly with you. (Maybe one or more of them might be willing to consider coming back if they felt you really were changing things.)

      Best wishes for what is sure to be a difficult time. If you are willing to update us, once or more than once, please do so. This is not just interesting but definitely educational.

      Reply
      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

        Yes, I agree with talking to the people who left. Some people would be open to returning or at least having an honest conversation. I know I would be.

        Reply
    9. Artemesia

      Why can’t the manager be demoted and moved? That is the biggest problem. It does suggest that you personally need to do exit interviews in the future since your HR is obviously not competent here.

      Reply
    10. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

      Thank you for the update. It sounds like there will some very awkward moments ahead, which may not be easy to navigate. It’s good that you’re willing to take strong action now that you know what’s happening. Wishing you lots of luck.

      Reply
    11. Dot Warner

      OP, I just had an idea as regards what you could say to the team. You mention that Jane was well-liked. Think about some of the reasons why people liked her – was she kind, did she warmly welcome new team members, support her colleagues, encourage everyone to do their best? Think about whatever Jane’s best qualities were, and then remind the team that one great way to honor Jane’s memory is to try to cultivate those traits in themselves and pass them along to new people. Remind them that there will be new hires after this one – maybe one of the current team members will retire or get a new opportunity, maybe you’ll need to create new positions at some point – and wouldn’t it be a wonderful legacy for Jane if she inspired this team became a warm, welcoming place for new hires?

      Reply
  70. Tangerina Warbleworth

    I haven’t seen this suggested yet, so: you, the manager, and the whole has a sit-down, in which you tell them directly:

    “Complaints have been that no one is being the same kind of Teapot Manager that Jane was. While I understand where that comes from, you must understand that NO-ONE will be the same kind of Teapot Manager that Jane was. That is an impossible standard — and it is unfair of you, not disrespectful of her, to hold her replacement to that.”

    In other words, state it clearly and out loud that you’re not looking for Jane 2.0. You’re looking for a good Teapot Manager.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Good one. That needs to be said out loud and said more than once. Put it right out there for all to see.

      Reply
  71. Anon for this

    Throwing in my two cents as a grief and PTSD expert. I absolutely disagree with bringing in an expert on company time.

    Whatever issues each person has, they will need a lot of time and (perhaps) therapy and work to go through. I don’t believe the workplace is an appropriate place for what emotional/mental work needs to be done. In fact, it might blur the boundaries for proper emotional and professional health even more.

    Also, PTSD is something you need to be very prepared to work on. You can’t force that.

    These people deserve proper professional consequences for the ways they are behaving. I wouldn’t allow leeway on this point right now.

    Reply
    1. J-nonymous

      Would you agree that the OP present things like EAP as an option for the employees & managers to take advantage of in order to find treatment for the likely PTSD?

      I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the behavior might be caused/exacerbated by the trauma response, that it’s imperative the behavior change immediately (and on an ongoing basis), and if you need additional help, EAP is an option.

      Reply
      1. Anon for this

        I think EAP can always be mentioned as an avenue for employees to explore if needed. But grief/trauma work can take years, if the person is even ready for, or acknowledges they need to do work on it.

        I’d focus on the behavior that is being seen and what needs to change.

        Reply
    2. fposte

      Oh, that’s an interesting viewpoint, thanks; I’m disappointed, as that seemed a really useful avenue to explore.

      Reply
      1. Anon for this

        Trauma work might be very useful for some of the employees one day, if they are really interested and ready for it. If they have actual PTSD, IME it usually takes years for someone to really be ready to do the work.

        And of course, many, many people experience trauma and do NOT develop PTSD. Some develop other mental health issues and some don’t.

        Not to reveal too much, but my current clientele almost exclusively deals with family/friends of people who died traumatic deaths. The actions these people are displaying are beyond the pale and bizarre.

        Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      I mentioned bringing in an expert way up thread. I meant an expert to advise upper management on how to handle the situation. I did not mean someone to talk with individual employees.

      Would you recommend an idea like this? Or is it too hard to find someone to advise them?

      Reply
      1. Anon for this

        Hm, it might be useful for grand boss to talk to an expert, but I am hesitant to assign any of their actions to “PTSD” at all. And I don’t feel it’s useful (in this situation) to delve into a whole group of employees’ potential mental health issues. The focus should be on their professional actions.

        Reply
    4. Anon for this

      (A different “Anon for this” here)

      Thank you for your input on this. The blurred boundaries between emotional and professional health are a good point.

      Reply
  72. Karenina

    This is so terrible, for everyone involved. I cannot imagine being in the position of Jane’s coworkers who witnessed her death. I cannot imagine getting a new job and being harassed by people still that deep in their grief. I cannot imagine finding out what is going on almost a year later and having to try to find a way to navigate it.

    Yes, Jane’s coworkers are behaving irrationally, but I am wondering what parties in the company thought that offering grief counseling and making other concessions would be enough. I don’t think everyone should have the acumen of a grief counselor, themselves, but especially when some of the coworkers SAW IT HAPPEN, I don’t think that expecting people to carry on as if this is no different from replacing a coworker who retired was the right call.

    And by that I mean: they should have considered (and should consider now) reorganizing things more fully. They DO need to take the time to talk to their employees individually and find out who has what problem and why and what to do about it. Lumping them together, both at work and in these comments, is not going to help break up the idea that they’re really just a mob with one single viewpoint.

    I think OP and their team needs to find out which coworkers, specifically, are causing the really serious infractions and address that. It’s the ‘a few bad apples spoils the bunch’ problem. Not that these people are ‘bad apples’. Their coping has become deeply dysfunctional and it needs to be addressed (maybe for the more problematic cases their performance improvement plan could require counseling? legality? idk) but my god. I cannot even imagine how they are really feeling.

    Reply
  73. Alex "Barney" Barnaby

    “According to the resignations and the exit interview, the manager participated and accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” the dead when they brought their concerns forward. The outside hire said she was excluded from everything and asked how she could sleep at night for taking Jane’s job.”

    Demote the manager, who is contributing to the problem instead of solving it. That’s incredibly unprofessional and the opposite of what her job is.

    If you’re wondering where to demote her to, there’s a hard-to-fill spot on the team that she would be perfect in: Jane’s role.

    …. yes, I’m a terrible person.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      The OP wrote in just above (Will) Jane’s role legally requires education/certification that no one else on the team possesses.

      Even if it were possible, then you just have a resentful and disgruntled employee. Better to just fire him for cause.

      Reply
  74. Sad regular poster

    I feel like I need to take a break from the comments. The strings of jokes about a woman who was horrifically killed in front of her co-workers and the pure lack of compassion for her grieving co-workers is just hard to read. I get they are acting poorly and that something needs to be done, but man oh man I am so saddened by how blasé and/or harsh people can be when they are behind a keyboard.

    Reply
    1. Also sad

      +100 to this. Between that string of posts above and the comments on the post last week about the woman who was accused of racism for not hiring someone I have been disappointed and saddened by those comments and those who posted them (including the regular posters)

      Reply
      1. Observer

        I hate to say this, but it happens a lot. I know that you try to address it, but it slips through enough that I’ve started to filter it out – possibly too much. (Upthread I responded to something, and the person pointed out that they were talking in the context of using terms like “whackadoodle”. I totally didn’t mean to imply I thought that was ok – I had just discounted it.)

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It definitely happens too much for my liking, believe me, but I also think it’s on the low end of the spectrum when you compare it to other large groups of anonymous strangers without heavy moderation, and so I try to keep that in mind too.

          Reply
        2. TJ

          +1000! I’ve noticed as well especially the post last week. I’m not saying it is all new comers but I did notice a few new comers were the ones making the ugly comments on woman who was accused of racism & today. Any way, this is a difficult situation and I hope to see an update. Thanks Alison for trying to clean up the negative comments.

          Reply
      2. OlympiasEpiriot

        I was away on a vacation and saw the thread about the accusations of racism when it had already been locked. Very disappointed in some commenters. Not that I’m some paragon of virtue, but, still, given previous conversations here, very disappointing.

        /tangent

        Reply
      3. (Another) B

        Alison maybe you should require people to register to comment? So snarky people can’t just jump in anonymously?

        Also, I’ve been wondering this – is there any way an OP’s comments/updates can go to the top of the page? Idk if the website has that capability but sometimes they’re hard to find when weeding through hundreds of them.

        And add me as someone else who has also been disappointed in the last few letters’ comment sections. Seems like quite a few people looking for a fight and just wanting to hear themselves talk. People really need to be more respectful.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          There are a bunch of reasons I don’t want to require registration, but it’s in my head as my final resort if I need it. I think we’re really far away from the point where I’d be ready to implement it though.

          Unfortunately there’s no way to do that with the OPs’ comments (or at least not automatically; I’d have to do it manually, which isn’t practical).

          Reply
    2. OhBehave

      Agreed.
      The name-calling got me. Calling these people “wack-a-doodles” and “nut cases” does nothing to help. The buck stops at HR and the manager (who is involved in ‘hazing’ the new hires). They have greatly failed this team.

      Reply
    3. J-nonymous

      Yep. This and the whitesplaining racism to the African American OP the other day have really soured me on many people commenting here.

      Reply
      1. AD

        Agreed. The macabre jokes on this page which Alison removed were (I’m guessing) done without malice if a little tactless. But the whitesplaining engaged in by several veteran commenters on that other post was bad.

        Reply
        1. AD

          And not to harp on this, but I don’t think people on this post were lacking compassion for the employees mentioned in the post – they were horrified at the behavior described, which is justifiable.

          Reply
          1. J-nonymous

            I do think many were lacking compassion. The behavior might be out of line and even intolerable, but the people experienced a significant traumatic event (and some of them witnessed it firsthand). Calling them nutjobs, unhinged, whackadoos, or whatever lacks compassion.

            Reply
    4. Jessesgirl72

      Joking is a normal way of dealing with an uncomfortable situation. Jane can’t read the comments and being dead, probably wouldn’t be offended by them if she can.

      As for her grieving coworkers? Even for the circumstances, they have gone well beyond acceptable ways of grieving. You can have compassion for them having gone through something terrible, and still think the lot of them should be fired. A lot of people keep *saying* that it doesn’t excuse the behavior, but then go on to say things that clearly is trying to excuse the behavior and justify why the coworkers shouldn’t be given the consequences for pushing 3 people to quit (and almost 4!) and disrupting the work of their department. The company has done everything they possibly can to help the coworkers. The coworkers have returned that kindness (and it was truly kind and not necessary!) with sabotage. To me, that explains why so many people are so shocked and angered by what’s going on there. They are showing compassion for the poor people who were hazed out of a job!

      Reply
      1. Sad regular poster

        But nothing happened to the commenters who were making jokes about whether or not someone who has died is exempt or not. There is nothing for them to “deal” with. The OP, on the other hand did know Jane and while she recognizes that she needs to do something about her team, she also has her own grief to deal with. I can’t imagine her coming here and reading those jokes, it’s horrible.

        Further, just because the employees who were run off deserve compassion, it doesn’t erase the compassion the grieved co-workers deserve. It is possible to have compassion for both sides of a tough issue when you are an impartial observer.

        Anyway, it’s not just this post. There was the post last week about racism and the one about the woman who brought her sick child to work and a few others. I just can’t believe the way some people seem to be out for blood.

        It just makes me sad because I really like this BLOG and have enjoyed reading and contributing for years. I don’t always agree with the consensus but in the past disagreements were much more civil. It’s still one of the best lightly moderated comment sections I’ve ever participated in, but the last few weeks have been rough.

        Reply
        1. ArtsNerd

          I agree the past few weeks have been rough.

          And as you and Alison have point out, even still–this one of the smartest, funniest and most civil communities on the internet. I can’t even express how much AAM and all of you have helped me through some of the hardest times of my life and career. It’s going to take a lot of rough weeks to counteract that goodwill and fondness.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I agree totally.

            Alison, maybe when you delete something you could remind people to check their posts with questions such as:
            How does my post help the OP?

            Reply
        2. Jessesgirl72

          It didn’t have to happen to them personally to make them uncomfortable. It’s an uncomfortable topic!

          As for compassion for the coworkers, the company showed them plenty of compassion, for starters. And no one is saying they shouldn’t grieve or it wasn’t terrible, but it really IS no excuse for what they’ve done and how they’ve treated the new people in that role. You can have compassion for the hard time they are having and still think they absolutely deserve to be fired. At least, I think the Manager deserves it, and the others need a very stern talking to, to hopefully bring them to their senses.

          I walked away from the racism thread very early on- almost immediately, in fact. But what you call “the woman with the sick child” *I* call the woman who knowingly snuck her highly contagious child into the office, which caused someone else’s child to be hospitalized!” Once again, that is a subject people can closely relate to and get passionate about. It’s not a lack of empathy- it’s just more empathy for one side than another, that disagrees with the ones you have judged as more worthy of empathy.

          And, as Alison says, the people here are far kinder than anywhere else on the internet. By leaps and bounds.

          Reply
        3. Halpful

          “I just can’t believe the way some people seem to be out for blood. ”

          The irony of this just hit me. The toxic co-workers could be said to be “out for blood” too. I assumed many commenters (of the ones that weren’t deleted before I got here) came off as lacking compassion because they couldn’t believe how awful the co-workers were being. Not understanding the behaviour, they end up sorta repeating it. Wow.

          Maybe we need to do something before it gets as bad as those co-workers? Maybe I’m just seeing patterns that aren’t really there? Most of the advice for OP can’t be applied to a comment section… But maybe the first step is better understanding how these things happen. (oops, I just found myself Yet Another Research Project)

          if anyone’s actually reading this, there’s a very relevant comic page (but, spoilers for a major plot point): http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com/issue-6/page-121-2/

          Reply
      2. Jaguar

        I agree with you, Jessesgirl72. I had written out a reply to this thread along the same lines but didn’t hit Submit. The gist of it was, while I have no intention or desire to excuse everything people have said, here and in another post a few days ago, there has been this sentiment of “how dare you try to joke about this!” which is really a bit much. Making light of difficult topics is a way many (most?) people deal with those topics, and deal with them more effectively: joking about things provides an easy way to talk about something, is inviting for others to talk it, and removes the tension inherent in the thing so people can grapple with it more clearly. It’s also just more enjoyable to talk that way.

        I’m not saying everyone should be able to joke about things – I’m the type that does, but I picked up quickly here that people don’t like it so I don’t engage in it – but the moral superiority some people engage in about it is really stupid. Nobody’s better than anyone else because they won’t joke about certain things. If anything, you’re lacking in a basic way people communicate.

        Reply
        1. Gunter

          No kidding. If something as simple as a joke disturbs you that much, frankly, it’s on you to leave, not on everyone else to cater to your sensitivities. And I am not making light of those sensitivities – we are all sensitive about something. It’s still not appropriate to insist that perfectly normal interactions be shelved just because you don’t like them. Walk away.

          Reply
  75. Granny K

    Lots of great comments. I would add that the LW needs to escalate this issue in HR. Why did it take three people to abruptly quit before the LW heard about it? Also, if the team is going to be physically moved, maybe now is a good time to move them into the LWs building, OR the LW needs to go work in the other team’s building 1-2 days a week since there seems to be a lack of visibility and accessibility to upper management.

    One more thing: groupthink aside, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t one team member that thought this was a toxic mess to deal with.

    Reply
  76. Gene

    While coworker didn’t die in front of us, it was totally unexpected. Yes, there was a time of not moving stuff in his office, but then we cleaned all the personal stuff, including non-work files on his computer (acceptable around here in moderation), and got it to his wife. It’s been an ordeal trying to hire someone to fill the niche position, we think we have some good candidates now – after two years.

    Just last week we had the Second Annual Pancake Breakfast to celebrate him. But when someone comes in, they will move into his office and rearrange as needed.

    I have three suggestions for the LW: since you can’t break up the group and they’ve shown themselves as a problem, move them en masse to the same building you are in, preferably in your sight daily; fire or transfer the manager, he is the biggest problem as I see it; and give this ultimatum to the rest, “Here’s counseling, use it and coagulate your excrement in a single stocking, or GTFO.” There is no excuse for the behavior, period. I don’t GAF how terrible the experience was. I’ve had a spouse die in front of me, I’ve lost the coworker who was best man at my wedding to her a couple of years later, the coworker who died two years ago, and another who died two weeks ago on the way home from work. These people need to have their attitude adjusted posthaste or find new places to be employed.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Love this, Gene, great post.

      OP, I, too, lost my spouse right in front of me. It forever changed my life. No doubt in my mind that seeing a coworker hit and killed by a car would forever change the lives of the people who observed it. It could very well be that these people need to do something different with their lives and move on from this job. It has nothing to do with the job and everything to do with processing their grief and what they know about life itself.

      You can have compassion and still carry expectations. I think the best stories here show a give and a take on the part of management. A key point that seems to be skating past us is that there seems to be some plan of what to do and some scheduling for the plan.

      Hammer out your plan. I really like the idea that you are looping in your own boss. Good role modeling there. Take the group and tell them what the plan is, hopefully have a time line. The plan could include, remodeling the office (okay fresh paint and push the furniture around) and a memorial picture, outside bench,etc. This is the give.
      Then talk about bullying, what bullying looks like. Bullying is unacceptable at this company, here is why and so on. There will be consequences. This is the take.

      It could be that some people decide they must leave the company. It’s probably wise on their part.

      And, uh, give some serious, serious thought to removing that manager that allowed this situation to build to this degree. If you are looking for motivation, look at yourself. You KNEW you had a problem so you wrote AAM. (Such a smart move, just my unbiased opinion!) And now you are talking about looping in your boss. Yet another good move. It’s totally fair that you expect your managers to use resources just like you do. This one did not… for a YEAR. You have not indicated but it seems she STILL has not said to you there is a problem. She can’t be trusted to be your eyes and ears in her department.

      Reply
      1. OlympiasEpiriot

        Absolutely to the having expectations and being compassionate.

        That manager and HR were not doing their jobs right if OP only finds out about all this so late in the game.

        Reply
      2. Observer

        HR wasn’t doing it’s job. The manager actively encouraged this behavior, so it’s at a whole different level.

        Reply
  77. Schnapps

    It sounds to me like the group has a choice (there is always a choice):

    “We can fill the teapot admin position, and make that person feel welcome and help them excel, or we can divide up the teapot admin’s duties between the rest of you. If we do this, any raises, etc. will be discussed at your next performance evaluation. What would you prefer?”

    Reply
    1. Aphrodite

      The OP explained that the position is a highly specialized one with professional requirements so dividing up the duties isn’t possible.

      Reply
      1. Schnapps

        Right, I missed that.

        So they’re sabotaging the org’s work. That’s a problem and it needs to be dealt with in no uncertain terms.

        “We need to fill this specialized position and we would like to reduce the turnover that’s been happening the last few months. We really need your support in this and hope you will be welcoming to the new Teapot Admin. If new Admin doesn’t work out, we may have to look at reorganizing how we do things around here.” And anyone with any brains should realize that it’s shape up or ship out time.

        Reply
  78. jlv

    This team needs to be re-assigned and split apart. They are suffering from massive insubordination and obviously being together they are able to get away with it. They are bullying and intimidating people and no one wants to work with them.

    Reply
  79. coffeeandpearls

    I’m in a position now where the person before me passed away suddenly. I had no clue until 6 months in to my position! I used to think it was weird that nobody mentioned it. Now I realiZe how lucky I was.

    Reply
  80. Kbug

    I may have spent too long in communes, but would something like a group retreat for the team be helpful? Not one where you’re rewarding the negative behavior, but where maybe a therapist comes in and the team processes grief together in a healthy way. It would totally depend on your workplace/culture, or might be totally inappropriate, but it came to mind. I immediate thought of one of my former workplaces, where two or three people might be enforcing an unhealthy “norm” of grief, and others might not feel comfortable violating that norm.

    There’s also making use of the EAP mandatory, maybe? Some of the stuff described seems like bullying (controlling where a coworker puts their belongings) and since its due to grief, maybe having a few mandated EAP sessions would help people get the support they really need?

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      I strongly suspect some of what is going on is BECAUSE they are in a grief therapy group together, which had led to this really inappropriate coping and group think.

      Not all therapists are competent or the right fit for everyone (or group)

      Reply
      1. Kbug

        Maybe if they’re in a small area, or if they all got the same EAP referral, or there’s only the one support group, etc. Still, bringing in a professional who will reiterate that while grief is individual and appropriate, there are office and work place norms that must be adhered to might be something to consider, especially as a precurser to punitive action against the staff (except the manager, because seriously).

        Reply
  81. Rick Tq

    +100 the manager needs to be terminated for cause, as they helped chase 4 employees out off the company and allowed a sufficiently toxic environment no one will transfer in to “Jane’s Group”..

    Here is a part of the process that hasn’t been covered that I think may be important: Pull 100% of the team into a meeting that is out of sight of their current space with no stragglers allowed. At the same time OP introduces their new manager and announces the team is moving to new offices a professional moving team strips Jane’s desk of everything and it is cleaned completely. Any remaining personal items can go to Jane’s family and every other item should go back to the office stock room or simply discarded if they are beaten up enough to be identifiable.

    When the team returns to their space to pack their offices anyone who over-reacts to the newly cleaned desk should be put on a PIP, or possibly terminated then and there for insubordination.

    Harsh, but how much productivity has been lost over the year of serial replacements?

    Reply
    1. bunniferous

      That last part is too harsh.

      This is somewhat different but I was a member of a closeknit worship team at a former church-the beloved worship pastor died after a short unexpected illness, and they recruited a replacement from out of state. That kind of transition is very very hard emotionally.

      What these folks have done to new team members is very very wrong but you can and should address that without needlessly poking the trauma with a stick.

      Reply
      1. Rick Tq

        The shock treatment of coming out to see an empty and clean desk is intended to identify the Wailing Willie or Moaning Mary who is the remaining epicenter of the problem, since I’m assuming the toxic manager has already been let go. There is a good chance that with the enabling manager gone AND the shrine removed the team will realize just how unreasonable they have been and move on.

        If someone completely loses their composure seeing a clean desk after a year and cannot get things reined back in the best thing for the company is to let that person go, they will NEVER accept a new Certified Teapot Inspector until Jane is re-incarnated..

        Reply
  82. Bend & Snap

    My company lost someone around 2005 who was well loved, and they created a major award named after him and built on what made him great–think common sense, respect for others, company first, original thinking. The award is very prestigious and people who worked with this guy enjoy remembering and telling stories about him when this award is given every year.

    Perhaps something like this would work for Jane’s memory. It can be about how she approached her work and team vs being the best teapot analyst at the company.

    Reply
  83. CAndy

    Surely there’s a case to be made to the team.

    “This is difficult for everyone and it’s being made increasingly difficult. Do you think Jane would have wanted this to happen, or do you think she would have wanted you to keep her in your thoughts and your hearts and be a successful team?”

    If that doesn’t work I would split all of them up among different teams or departments if possible.

    Reply
  84. LadyPhoenix

    The team needs a break up and a warning about their behavior. They created a very nasty group mentality that drove off three people and left a lot of work undone.

    They can be given options about how to grieve healthily (I would even suggest make a small memorial), but they also need a swift kick in the behind for being jerks.

    As for the manager? I say let them go. They allowed 3 people to leave under their watch, which means they are either ineffectual or possibly volunteering in the bullying. Whichever it is, they have proven that they have absolutely failed at their job and have questionable leadership skills.

    Reply
    1. LadyPhoenix

      Also, if it turns out the group had a ringleader or two, seperating them is a MUST. By firing the manager and transferring everyone to different departments, you’ll be able to depwer the ringleaders and probably force them out in the open to either be put on PIP or also terminated.

      Then the old office can be redesigned and a memorial can be planned.

      Reply
  85. Tertia

    I want to emphasize a suggestion that a couple posters above have made indirectly: the OP (Will) should take a really hard look, if possible, at how the team was functioning before Jane’s death. My department experienced the sudden loss of the staff member (‘Sarah’) who had been the mainstay of the department for many years–she had a fatal medical crisis at her desk. When the time came to replace her, everyone’s overriding concern was that the new hire be welcomed as a team member in her own right and not made to feel like “Sarah’s replacement.” That was a directive set by the department head, who was the one performing CPR on Sarah until the ambulance came, but it wasn’t a directive that really needed to be articulated because everyone innately knew that it would be terribly unprofessional to treat the new hire like an unwelcome step-sibling. And I’m in a profession that’s notorious for its lack of professionalism. (And yes, the new hire sits at Sarah’s desk, uses her supplies, and has her title, and no, there’s no photo, plaque, or memorial to Sarah. It wouldn’t be appropriate in that space).

    I think there’s a strong possibility that “professionalism” is not a quality on this team’s radar, and if it’s not there now, it probably wasn’t there before. I’m not implying that they’re bad people or ineffective employees, and they have every right to grieve Jane’s death. But the team’s current behavior may have roots in a dynamic that precedes the loss, and if that’s the case, then renewed efforts to help them cope with the trauma would be generous but would not prevent the toxicity from manifesting in a different form six months down the road.

    Reply
    1. e271828

      Yes, this kind of garbage doesn’t bloom into such a spectacular efflorescence overnight. The bullying and the fetishizing of objects associated with Jane sound like products of a closed echo-chamber clique culture within the company.

      Reply
  86. Vickorystix

    This is so incredibly sad. I think it’s important that there is acknowledgement that not only did the department suffer a death, they also suffered a trauma when witnessing it. Likley, every time a new person starts, they experience the trauma all over again as they rehash the death of Jane. I’m not excusing their behavior, but empathy is important here. I like the idea of changing desks/layout/environment. Also, the team has turned Jane’s desk into a shrine. While they’re not going about it in a productive way, the team is obviously saying they need a place to memorialize Jane. So I also like the idea of a plant or tree with a bench in her memory. I think the op should absolutely speak with the manager first and honesty will be the best policy, let her know what’s come to light and why it can’t continue. Then assuming the manager is on board, op should sit down with the team, the manager and it might be good to bring in a grief counselor as well and share with the team how they’ve made others feel, what changes will happen to acknowledge their grief and trauma and open the floor to other ideas or resources they may need. Then clearly explain that this behavior can’t continue and how you’d like them to behave to a new person moving forward. They’re not villians, they’re people who are hurting. It’s not ok what they did, but it’s also never been addressed until now (an HR issue), and I’m inclined to believe they’re good people who have gotten carried away. I think a soft but firm hand is key.

    Reply
    1. FD

      I think you’re right about what’s happening.

      I think what’s probably going on is that whenever a new person comes in, it rips open the bandaid. Since Jane was killed by an impaired driver, there’s probably a lot of anger; even if the person did receive legal consequences, there’s probably a feeling that it wasn’t enough. Since there’s nowhere productive to direct that anger, the new person who’s (through no fault of their own) opened up the wound gets the brunt of it.

      The behavior isn’t okay, but it does make sense, and I think identifying it is important. I suspect the team isn’t aware they’re doing it. They probably think the employees have left because they’re just not as good as Jane.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        That’s a highly unlikely scenario. *3* people left in short order, and a 4th threatened to resign rather than take the job. Given that people have said some explicitly horrible things, and that one of the people was lambasted for bringing up the issue, it takes willful blindness to not see that their behavior is implicated here.

        To be honest, the number of people involved in such a short time is part of the reason I questioned the OP as to why she wasn’t a bit more proactive. I don’t really understand her answer, but I hope she does take this as a lesson learned – such a string of quick resignations is almost always a sign of something wrong, whether bullying, bad management or even poor hiring.

        Reply
        1. MuseumChick

          Eh, people are pretty unaware of their own shortcoming in general. I would be bet money that this team honestly believes there was a problem with each of the past hires and doesn’t see their own behavior as problematic. It’s probably wrapped up in a sense of loyalty to Jane. On a subconscious level they believe that if they accept a new person they are being disloyal to Jane. Even if some of the team want to move forward, if they speak up they will be lambasted by the more vocal and aggressive people on the team.

          Hopefully the OP will take a firm hand with this team going forward.

          Reply
    2. Troutwaxer

      “turned her desk into a shrine”

      Maybe if there’s some kind of garden environment in/near the building, like an Atrium or something, it can be replanted (perhaps with plants Jane was knowns to like) and dedicated to Jane, with a plaque or stone or whatever is appropriate to the office culture/setting. Then Jane’s desk/cubicle can be removed.

      Reply
  87. e271828

    If this department has become so notorious already for unprofessional drama and bullying, Will the LW should be prepared for pushback if he tries to transfer employees out in order to break up the claque.

    The manager’s conduct through all the shenanigans (participating in bullying, feeding the problem instead of bringing it to Will’s attention) strongly suggests that immediately firing the manager may make clear, combined with PIPs, to the remaining group that there are consequences for driving people out of the company. HR’s records of the exit interviews provide ample justification for a firing. Afterward, keeping a really sharp eye on this bunch for a while will be necessary. Maybe have lunch or coffee regularly (and separately) with the new employees?

    Finally, Will, this incident hints that you may not be getting accurate, or even any, information about employee performance in general, and that you’re not responding to red flags when they come up. You “assumed” the internal-transfer employees in that group had left for reasons that you guessed at without knowing. I hope you’ll follow up immediately and in detail next time someone in a department under you leaves, at least to the extent of promptly reviewing the exit interviews. People don’t walk off the job for no reason!

    This isn’t an emotional problem, or a grief problem. It is a bullying problem. Handle it like one.

    (As for all the suggestions about therapy in the workplace and so on—that’s not what work is for. The employer provided timely counseling. If someone needs further counseling or therapy to deal with this, they can arrange that themselves.)

    Reply
  88. Fronzel Neekburm

    I completely, 100% agree with people that some sympathy is needed, but one of the things that’s being glossed over is that someone threatened to resign rather than take a position on this team.

    While I enjoy AAM, I really feel that little signs like this are often glossed over in favor of dealing with a bigger issue, or being kinder to bullies in the workplace than necessary. It’s fine for Jane’s old team to grieve. It’s fine for Jane’s old team to miss her. But if they’re coordinating together as a group of bullies, they will not only alienate team members, but other teams.

    This is past the point of therapy or “what can we do.” This requires harsh action, including reassignment of someone to Jane’s “Shrine”, and possibly demotion for the manager, breaking up the team, and PIPs or some kind of reprimand.

    An. Employee. Threatened. To. Quit. If. Assigned. To. This Team. That’s not a red flag. That’s 12 red flags, and several of those red flags are on fire because the building itself is on fire.

    Reply
  89. EG

    Alison, I normally love your advice but this time it just doesn’t go far enough. First, the OP needs to take a lot of the responsibility for what went on. Working in a different building (presumably in the same city, perhaps even on the same compound) is no excuse for not knowing what was going on in Jane’s department. The OP needs to be more of a hands-on manager–s/he needs to show up more, attend their staff meetings, be a physical presence there, and have one-on-one meetings on a regular basis with every employee under them–whether those are yearly or more frequent, depending on the OP’s schedule. The OP should also have a one-on-one meeting as soon as possible with every new-hire and an exit interview with every departing employee. The OP should be doing this for every department s/he oversees. Second, it’s time to dismantle Jane’s job, and her desk. This will help any new hires in the department to not be compared to Jane. The OP should take all of Jane’s job duties and divide them up among the existing department staff. Then, any new hire should have a completely different position description that does not resemble Jane’s job. It’s not fair to expect someone to sit at a dead woman’s desk. The OP should ask the department manager to divide up Jane’s office