my boss is the department joke — and I don’t want to be in on it

A reader writes:

I’ve worked in the same division for nine years and was recently promoted to assistant manager. I am now directly supervised by our director, “Harriet.” In my new role, I attend more events and trainings at headquarters. At a training, I met several other directors who made it very clear that they think my boss is an idiot. The thing is, Harriet is kind of an idiot. She regularly misses deadlines, has poor reading comprehension which results in her often not answering the questions asked in reports, needs to be texted on her personal cell phone about work meetings already in progress that she’s forgotten to attend, lets her email get so backed up that it stops accepting messages, etc.

She was promoted a few years ago, after a short-term special project that she managed did well, and I get the impression that she is in way over her head. In my new role, I’ve taken over almost all of her reporting duties and draft all of her replies, which she then forwards on as her own work.

I don’t mind not getting credit at all (if it’s good for our department, that’s enough for me, and Harriet is very generous with bonuses and annual reviews) but it was awkward when the people at headquarters started laughing that they knew Harriet couldn’t have written any of her recent replies and that they knew I had to be doing them. Now, when she sends in something and it gets praised, they send me laughing emails about how they know I did them. (And I did.)

I’m glad that they know that I do quality work, but it makes me feel awkward that they think I’m in on laughing at her behind her back. She’s eligible to retire in a few years, and while she’s no good at her job, she is nice to me and very supportive and complimentary of the work that I do. Is there a polite professional way to get out of the “cool managers club” of people making fun of her behind her back? I’ll be working with these people for a long time, but I’m sure that if Harriet knew, she would be very hurt. She seems happy to finally be getting compliments on her products after several years of complaints, and doesn’t know that it’s become a running joke.

Ooooh, this is tough. If they were off-base in their assessment of her, your response would be easier. You could say something like, “Wow, that hasn’t been my experience with Harriet at all. From what I’ve seen, she does excellent work.”

But in this case, their assessment is accurate … just not very kind, and they’re putting you in a really awkward position.

And you’re right that it’s not good for people to see you as in on this particular joke. If it got back to Harriet, it could seriously damage your relationship with her — and even aside from that, you’re generally going to look better if you’re not perceived as mocking your boss. Staying professional and diplomatic is a smarter way to go.

At the same time, though, you don’t want to come across as if you’re oblivious to what sound like very serious problems with your boss. So that makes this a tricky line to walk.

But if someone makes fun of Harriet to you in person, you could say something like, “She’s actually been a good boss to me.” There’s not much there for them to disagree with, and you’ll be communicating that you’re not leaping at the chance to badmouth her. And then if people continue to try to badmouth her around you, you could say, “This is putting me in an awkward position, so I’d rather not be here for this conversation.”

Similarly, if someone sends you an email laughing about how they know you did Harriet’s work, go talk to them in person (this isn’t for email) and say something like, “I know you mean well, but Harriet is my boss and she’s been really supportive of me. It puts me in an awkward spot when you send me emails like that. I hope you can understand.”

More broadly … working for someone like Harriet is a hard situation to navigate. On one hand, you might end up getting more responsibility and opportunities than you’d get otherwise, and that can help you professionally. On the other hand, working for someone incompetent can also hold you back — you won’t get the kind of coaching and mentoring you could get from someone more skilled, and it’s possible that her incompetence will impact the kind of projects and exposure that your team gets. In some cases, there’s also a danger that being closely associated with someone incompetent will impact your own reputation, although it doesn’t sound like that’s happening here. You sound like you’re handling the situation really well — and not letting it frustrate you — but I’d keep an eye out for these kinds of issues, so that if you do start to see a negative impact on you and your work, you can decide if you need to make a change or not.

{ 147 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Specialk9

    The only thing more worthy of respect than someone doing a kickass job even without recognition… Is someone doing a kickass job without recognition who keeps up a kind professional front when others are taking cheap shots.

    It’s a hard line to walk, but I’m so impressed at your impulse to be kind over snarky.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      I sympathize, OP! One of my first managers gave me so much room to grow, but there were some real limitations to that too. I was admin support on a small project, led by someone who I later realized was self medicating with a lot of prescription drugs (and so was a little high all the time) and was also almost surely a pathological liar. I was basically the one who stepped up, did all the project management (despite never even having seen it done before!) as well as did all the work. It was a doozy of a learning curve, and I was in a mild state of panic at all times. But I managed somehow, and was seen as having risen to the occasion by senior management, and was fast-tracked. So it was an incredible opportunity. But I didn’t get to see good management until much later, and I made a bunch of mistakes.

      So I guess I’m mostly saying, I sympathize, OP, and see that it’s a barbed blessing and hard to navigate. I think your heart is in the right place, and with Alison’s scripts you’ll be recognized for being awesome.

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      1. Jesmlet

        Agreed, there’s some risk but a lot of upside in having an incompetent or lazy manager. You learn faster and you’re in a better position for development and advancement in the future. You’re in a decent position given that you like your boss and you’re mature enough to handle getting zero official recognition right now.

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      2. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo

        “But I didn’t get to see good management until much later, and I made a bunch of mistakes.”

        The good news is that the OP seems to have a good head on their shoulders and sound judgement. That goes a long way in management skills. And even those of us who have had good management examples still make mistakes!

        Poor OP, this is tough place to be, at least you’re getting clandestine recognition! Hopefully this will translate into a great opportunity for you down the road.

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    2. OP

      Thanks for the kind words. This has been an awkward situation, but I look forward to some polite deflection using Alison’s advice next time this comes up. I don’t want to come off as no fun, or like some kind of angelic saint/martyr to the other directors (they could be future bosses after all), but not being included in the behind-the-back taunting would be such a relief.

      My biggest fear is someone sending one of those joking messages and them forgetting to take Harriet off the chain. Oof. It gives me nightmares.

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        1. Kate 2

          Alison, can I ask why not to put it in the email? I get the discretion part of it, but my counter is that if OP doesn’t reply in email they have a long chain of Harriet jokes from other people with no according defense of Harriet on OP’s part. If someone ever does slip with the email, which is quite likely, at best OP will look as though she never defended Harriet. At worst OP will look as though she agrees.

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          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            My thought is that by responding in any way, OP is acknowledging that she read the emails. If she is simply a recipient and doesn’t reply, she has plausible deniability if HR ever discovers the chain and wants to take disciplinary action against the people who participated.

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          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Put yourself in Harriet’s shoes if she ever saw it. ““I would be mortified if Harriet saw this” is all well and good (and it’s the right thing for the OP to say in this context), but Harriet would probably be hoping for something stronger from her. It’s better to keep it a private conversation.

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            1. RB

              I got the impression that some or most of these laughing managers worked at headquarters whereas the OP worked at a different location.

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              1. Fortitude Jones

                Yeah, that makes it a little trickier if that’s the case, but the OP can also pick up the phone and say this.

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      1. Barney Barnaby

        Having a bit of time to think about this, I would probably say something like:

        “Harriet is a very kind person. I’ve worked for some real jerks before, and her kindness and good nature alone make this job so much easier for me. I also really like how she lets me take credit when I do good work – in fact, you guys are proof of that, because she’s allowed me to be seen as a really good assistant manager and doesn’t work me into the ground to make herself look like a superstar.”

        Now, tweak away to make it sound…. better.

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        1. Temperance

          That kind of makes LW seem like a prissy scold, which is not a great look if she’s trying to move up in her company.

          Also, Harriet is taking credit for these reports and responses that LW drafts. She’s not giving LW credit, they just know she’s doing it because Harriet apparently has literacy issues.

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          1. nonymous

            regarding the credit thing, isn’t it well accepted that the stuff that spews out of a particular manager at any time may ultimately be the work-product of their staff? I mean my supervisor attends bunches of meetings where he rattles off summary statistics. Obviously he isn’t compiling them himself, it’s the staff that does the analysis. But for the routine stuff, individuals aren’t identified for credit, that’s reserved for higher profile projects.

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  2. Detective Amy Santiago

    I’m kind of astounded that Harriet still has a job, to be honest.

    If you said that she was just promoted a few months ago, I wouldn’t be, because that kind of thing can take time to develop as a serious pattern, etc. But if she’s been in this position for a few years, well…

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    1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

      … or HR doesn’t have the guts to fire or demote someone who is close to retirement, since it’s easy to accuse them of ageism.

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      1. SallytooShort

        It’s actually quite hard to accuse them of ageism in a way that would have any impact on them. A legal case is very difficult to make. Especially with documented issues.

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        1. Jadelyn

          It’s difficult to make in that it’s difficult to build a case that’s likely to be decided in the employee’s favor – but not at all difficult to *start* the process, which is enough of a legal and financial headache that most companies will go to surprising lengths to avoid it, even if they know the employee wouldn’t have a sound case if it went before a judge.

          Now, it would probably be better if “going to great lengths” in this case was more along the lines of “offering a really nice “early retirement” package that includes a release of liability/promise not to sue as part of it” rather than “walk on eggshells and let her get away with massive incompetence”. My org offers generous severance to any employee over 40 who has their employment involuntarily terminated, whether they’re let go or just laid off, for this exact reason. But I can still understand why a company might choose to avoid rather than confront in a case that even has the *potential* to look bad. They would probably win in the end, but is it really worth the hassle in the meantime?

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          1. Fortitude Jones

            The severance package is a nice touch. OP’s company would benefit from doing something like this with her boss.

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      2. GG Two shoes

        ding ding ding! We had an employee who sounded just like this. They demoted her after 3 years but kept her on another 4(!) until she “resigned” i.e. they had enough documentation to CTA. I was in the same position as OP- I did lots of her work and people knew and if I didn’t do her work it either didn’t get done or was in such bad shape it couldn’t be used.
        When folks used to bad mouth her I would say two things, “I’m not interested in discussing her right now” then deflect to another topic or say, “she has a very kind heart- she cares very much about ___” People know that was true, she was a sweet woman but in over her head and not great at a lot of tasks she needed to be great at.

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      1. DDJ

        There’s someone like that in my organization. I’ve heard so many conversations about “finding a place to put this person that will actually work out,” and “Where will they do the least damage?” It’s because if this person were to leave, it would impact the business negatively, to a much more significant degree than just letting this person be…not super competent or reliable.

        Everyone knows to just “work around” this person. I have no idea what they actually do all day…

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    2. Future Homesteader

      I had a boss who was extremely similar. Although on top of being incompetent and forcing us to do her work for her, she was also nasty to *everyone.* Literally no one liked her, the higher-ups all knew she was incompetent, and they *still* didn’t do anything. So I don’t find it surprising at all.

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        1. Future Homesteader

          It helped that my direct supervisor (who was the other person who worked under this boss with me) was actually amazing and it brought us closer (like, drinking wine in her office at three in the afternoon closer…). But it was such a relief to finally leave.

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      1. Luna

        Yup, almost every place I’ve worked has had at least one problem manager, everyone knew they were a problem, but the higher ups & HR didn’t want the hassle of firing them and finding a replacement. So nothing changed.

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    3. Miles

      If all her duties are being done (by someone else but still) and she is keeping morale high in her department, hr might not see her as a big problem compared to what her replacement might be. If she is close to retirement it may be more worthwhile to have her leave on good terms as well, even if she isn’t that great, depending on how closely she works to something trade secret related.

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      1. OP

        Miles- This is pretty much the exact state of things. Our department has same of the highest morale ratings every year and meets our goals. She just doesn’t have some skills that would make her own products seem more organized/ professional (but now that I handle it, even those pieces are chugging along).

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        1. nonprofit director

          I think that says something right there. We have a similar situation where I work – incompetent and disastrous manager. The only difference is that no one respects him and morale in him department is very low.

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      2. circus peanuts

        I think I have to hand it to Harriet that she can keep her department happy and productive. The ‘people’ touch isn’t teachable and she knows enough to find an employee like the OP to balance out her weaknesses and treats that employee well. Just tell people who ask that her people and management skills are excellent.

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      3. Nico M

        Yeah. A manager who doesn’t add to – but doesn’t subtract from – the competence and productivity of their reports is in the top half of performers.

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    4. AKchic

      Sometimes, friendships count in business. Depending on the industry, the community, the money/contract… it can all be very “who you know” not “what you know”. This may very well be the case here. I’ve seen it in the non-profit world. Some people used to be decent at their jobs in their prime, and got to a high position. Then, in their twilight years of employment, they started resting on their laurels, or allowed bad habits that they always kept at bay to take over, or worse, medical issues actually did set in (or general old age). Board members, wealthy donors, people with access to grant monies – they still like these older, familiar faces. These people don’t want to leave yet. They aren’t ready to retire (for whatever reason). They still want to feel vital, capable, and needed within the community. Contributing. Or they financially cannot afford to retire. So, they keep going. Whether its right for the company or not. Some companies can handle it, some can’t.

      Who knows what Harriet brings to the table for this company that is positive / beneficial. One would think that they keep her around for some reason besides comedic relief behind her back.

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      1. nonymous

        I’ve been in this situation in academia (think professor emeritus types). While their technical skills aren’t up to par, I’ve often found their feedback in the moment to be especially useful in the big picture sense. It’s a waste my time to reinvent the wheel and that legacy person is often a terrific source of institutional knowledge.

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    5. tigerlily

      I had a boss who was very similar, but she was like the nicest lady ever and everyone she dealt with kind of let her incompetence roll off their backs because of it. People loved her, but she drove me crazy.

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    6. Lynca

      I’m not but that’s because it does seem like she has a functional department. The fact she’s struggling doesn’t seem to impact the work they’re producing. Also we don’t know how much goodwill she has higher up than the other directors.

      I agree it’s counterintuitive but I’ve seen directors like this before. It generally takes burning their capital entirely or someone with more capital to call for change to actually get changes. The one I immediately think of had a spectacular, obvious falling out and I still don’t know exactly what happened to trigger it.

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    7. YarnOwl

      Early last year my Very Bad Boss was fired, and up until two of my coworkers and I went and talked to her boss about the many issues we had, he thought she had been doing a great job. She had a team of people below her who were very good at our jobs (good enough to cover for her mucking things up), and basically had each of us scared that she was going to fire us if we didn’t do what she wanted.

      I agree with you that it’s pretty crazy that she has that position for years, but I think it’s possible that things are going fine because of great people below a manager, so upper management doesn’t consider firing the manager because there are “no problems.” I’ve definitely seen it happen more than once.

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    8. Bea W

      Not very surprised based on my experience. This stuff was rampant at way too many places I have worked.

      I was like the OP, but then my Harriett started sabotaging my work and feeding me a steady diet of BS. If she had treated me better I’d probably still be there cheerleading for the dept. I enjoyed it. I like helping my team be successful. When I was no longer able to contribute to that, it sucked all the joy out of my work.

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  3. AnotherAlison

    I really like this question and the response Alison provided.

    The only thing I might add is if there is anything Harriet does do well (dealing with personnel issues, smoothing over client problems), you could add that to the response that she has been a good boss to you. It could help Harriet and you if some of the opinions that she is an idiot could be changed.

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    1. Ama

      Yes this can be a really helpful way of reframing things when someone is frustrating to work with. I have a colleague who can be extremely difficult to work with because he’s just not particularly organized or very good at keeping track of projects (much like you, his direct reports end up doing much of the administrative work to keep him on task). But he is really great with our stakeholders and has a natural skill at building relationships with people that has proven really crucial to the success of the initiatives his department runs. It’s helpful when he’s annoying me by falling short on the administrative front to remember that he has some skills I don’t have that we need to be successful.

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      1. SignalLost

        And, flip this around for a second. I work with a guy who is incredibly competent at his job, and it’s unfortunately accurate that things run better when he’s there. I say it’s unfortunate because he is also a self-aggrandizing blowhard who, just last week, tried to take credit, to my face, for me knowing what my job entails and doing it. Like, literally walking up to me (as he left early in a snit about something no one had control over) and saying that he was leaving the department better than he got it because he had done X … when a) I was proactively doing X on my patch anyway, and b) the morning had been plagued with problems that meant X didn’t get done.

        I would probably rather work for Harriet than for this guy. People skills are valuable, especially in managers.

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        1. LiptonTeaForMe

          People Skills, gawd yes…
          With the constant pressure from Congress as to whether they are shutting down the government or actually coming up with a budget to fund us, to the pressure from the Commissioner down through various Directors to the Call Center Managers to the Team Managers, etc., my manager has literally lost any sense of people skills. I once went into the office to ask a technical question and was met with, “I’m busy but go ahead and ask your question”…while his back was turned to me and he was typing away. Seriously?

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  4. Going anon for this reply

    I’m in a kind of similar position, working for a boss who is the embodiment of the Peter Principle while I’m an expert in the field. People aren’t laughing at them, but any questions from inside our organization about our program come either directly to me, or to both of us.

    I’ve had a couple of comments from people that are pretty much, “We know you are carrying the program.” Their manager knows that I’m the go-to person for program information.

    All that said, they is (English really needs a good singular neuter pronoun) a decent manager. They will be retiring in the next year or so and I will likely get to see if the PP applies to me. :-)

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      > they is (English really needs a good singular neuter pronoun)

      Please don’t do this. It’s the equivalent of nit-picking the choices someone else (like me) might make. “They is” is just incorrect, while “they are” for a single person has a long history of use in Modern English. (Which, btw, starts with Shakespeare.) Some people don’t like the usage, but it’s not new.

      (And yes, I know this comment counts as a nitpick as well, which is why I didn’t go into any detail supporting my statement, but just asked Going Anon to avoid that complaint.)

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        This was a nitpick about her own grammar, not anyone else’s. I’ve deleted an off-topic thread here debating that.

        Everyone, please re-read the comment site rules. They’re getting broken all over the place lately.

        Reply
    2. Jen S. 2.0

      On the (thankfully rare) occasions this sort of thing has happened to me, I have seldom been able to resist letting it be known — usually fairly subtly, but still — that I know good and well that I deserve the credit. Sometimes it’s just a lift of the eyebrow to just the right person at just the right moment; sometimes it’s my tone of voice; sometimes it’s not contradicting someone (which was part of Alison’s reply) even as I say the “right” thing; sometimes it’s just thanking someone who notes that I must have had a huge hand in the project; et cetera. It’s not like I put it in writing, but it’s there. I wish my ego would let me let it go and just let it play out, but noooooooo.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Believe me, I’m not perfect on this account. We do have some pretty hilarious directors and while I want to be cool and professional, I have cracked and smirked at some of the remarks. In my case, it’s a little easier because they already know it’s my work (that’s the whole joke), so I am getting credit for it (Harriet just doesn’t know that its happening).

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        1. Mints

          I definitely think Alison has the real advice, but if I accidentally laughed or agreed, I think a joking perk is a good deflection. Like “At least she gave me chocolate cupcakes for my birthday” or “She has my undying loyalty now that I have a standing desk”

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          1. Dolorous Bread

            I like this! I think it keeps you friendly with the Cool Managers without going down to their “level”.

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      2. Mike C.

        I don’t think it’s entirly ego – many workplaces only reward those they easily observe doing well right in front of them. I hate it, but I hate making less money even more.

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  5. Jesmlet

    If this was me, I’d probably just shrug off an in person joke with a “I have no complaints, she’s a good manager”. That way it’s not like you’re disagreeing but you’re also not really participating. Stuff over email is tough. In principle, you should do exactly what Alison says. In practice, I’d be uncomfortable and I’d probably just ignore them.

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    1. Nacho

      I think OP wants it to be known to her peers that she’s no so incompetent that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with her boss’ behavior. If she wants to succeed Harriet when she retires, it’s important that people not clump them together.

      Reply
  6. I worked for a Harriet too (we'll call him Harry)

    I had the same experience and was able to navigate it. My boss was wonderful to me, and I did his work. I deflected any jokes made at his expense to me by saying something like, “You know you’re talking about my boss, right?” or a simple, “I’m really uncomfortable talking about my boss in that manner.” By the end of his employment at the organization, some of our colleagues were downright rude to him. My boss understood what was going on around him, and how I was not engaging in that behavior. I think my level of loyalty and professionalism in the situation was a good part of the reason I got his job on his retirement. Do a good job, don’t engage with petty conversations about Harriet. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      I’m so jealous this worked out for you! When I found myself in a somewhat similar circumstance, it did not end up paying off. Incompetent boss looked good because I was carrying the whole department – but when I left, I didn’t really have any evidence of all the work I’d been doing because my title was junior and my salary wasn’t great (and he’d never really understood what I did for him either). I ended up in a very lateral role when I should have been able to get promoted / advance based on my experience being the “acting” boss for all that time. Part of it is probably how close the incompetent is to retirement. Mine was not that close.

      Reply
  7. AdAgencyChick

    A similar thing that happens often at ad agencies is when a large client has several employees on their side, not all of whom like each other. They will talk about each other behind their backs, often with agency personnel present who work with both the mocking clients and the mocked clients. You can’t agree with them publicly (even if you agree with them privately), because they’re ALL clients and you can’t be seen as someone who badmouths. But it’s also really hard when the clients are pushing you to dis their colleagues along with them!

    My account executive colleagues often deal with this sort of thing by letting the clients run their mouths, saying little to nothing, and then changing the subject as gracefully as possible. Or, if it gets really bad, they might say, “I hope you know I’d never speak badly about you in front of Cersei, and I couldn’t possibly pile on her with you guys now.”

    The clients are usually a little disappointed we won’t join in, but they get it (and I think deep down they appreciate that an agency that trash-talks one client will trash-talk them all). I think OP can try deflecting like this in her situation as well.

    Reply
  8. The Supreme Troll

    OP, I think here that the most that you can do is let your colleagues know that Harriet is a good person and doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed, and leave it at that. Be polite, but neutral when expressing this. If your colleagues try to keep goading you into a debate about Harriet’s lack of management abilities, just briefly mention her good points and then change the subject. Unfortunately, you will probably have to keep doing this quite often until they get the hint.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I’m afraid that the “she’s a good person and doesn’t deserve” approach will end up looking as though the OP is censuring/scolding them.

      That’s not a good look either.

      I’d keep it at, “she’s my boss, and she’s actually been pretty good to me/I see the good things about her that you don’t. I’d prefer not to be part of the conversations about her.”

      That makes it about the OP, and her personal comfort level.

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        1. Observer

          I get it, but that burns political capital very quickly to very little effect. If you can get the same effect without it, why not go the more diplomatic route?

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        2. ContentWrangler

          OP calls these people potential future bosses so clearly they are higher on the totem pole than OP. So that makes scolding them pretty unlikely and probably unwise. It sounds like they’re being mean but also that dealing with Harriet must be frustrating. I think OP’s best bet is AAM’s language to shut down the conversation. If OP doesn’t continue the loop, it might force them to realize what they’re saying really isn’t cool.

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          1. Mary

            Long-term, I’d be looking for another job for exactly that reason. These people are sarky and mean about an employee, TO HER OWN REPORTS. Nothing about this says they’re good people with good professional boundaries.

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            1. Nico M

              I think that’s a bit harsh.

              We don’t know just how bad Harriet was before LW started to bail her out.

              And meh to the hierachy. The actual situation is that LW is in charge. Why hide from that fact in private correspondence?

              And Harriet could have avoided all this by admitting LWs contribution publicly. She could have spun it as proof of her super management skills.

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          2. essEss

            I think it’s a teaching moment for them to realize what they are doing and how unprofessional it is. If they are on the ‘upward track’ that really needs to be addressed before they get in the habit of treating an even wider audience the same way.

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      1. The Supreme Troll

        Yes, I see what your saying and what ContentWrangler wrote below, and you both make good, important points here (that I hadn’t been paying good attention to in the OP’s letter). The OP shouldn’t come across as a defender of Harriet’s management abilities or make excuses for her shortcomings; she should just make it clear that she’s not comfortable making fun of somebody and then change the subject. And, yes, the ridicule is immature and totally not cool.

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    2. Spider

      +1

      This is how I handled my Harriet situation — try not to outright explicitly agree with the negative-but-true comments about Harriet (especially in writing!), but just say something vague and then follow with something either positive about Harriet, positive about the work you did for her in general, or don’t even acknowledge the comments but launch right into another subject (I’d usually ask the person something about themselves to take their minds of Harriet altogether).

      Sometimes I’d cave and vent about my Harriet, because she really *was* incompetent and frustrating to work with much of the time, and I’m only human! But I usually felt bad about it afterwards, because my boss truly was in over her head and it was apparent to me that the work she was producing was really the best she was able to do. [Side-note: This is why I get irritated with well-meaning people who encourage me to apply for jobs I know I’m not qualified for — what if I got it?? Then *I’d* be someone’s incompetent boss!] She was also a good person with a good heart, very friendly and warm, and it was upsetting to see people treat her with open disrespect (on a personal level) because of her workplace problems.

      In my situation, the circumstances had a sad ending, because after a few months when she seemed to be getting worse and I felt more and more frustrated with her, my boss was discovered to have brain cancer and ended up having to take a medical retirement (and then passed away a year later). I felt guilty for a long time for not being able to recognize that her skills were declining, her memory problems were getting worse, etc., and that all of this was not due to her usual spaciness but to something actually neurological going wrong with her. But at the same time, I did feel glad that I hadn’t joined in with the people making fun of her in a mean-spirited way, I had spoken up in defense of her good qualities, and she and I had always had a good rapport.

      Reply
  9. BadPlanning

    On a smaller scale, but good results similar to what Alison suggested….I used to have an officemate that people would regularly respond with sympathy or somewhat negative comments. Like, “Oh, you sit with Fergus? I’m sorry.”

    Fergus was a little difficult, but he had several good qualities. But I understood how he could annoy people. I would usually say, “Oh I don’t mind, he’s really good at helping me find stuff.” Or shrug and say,”We get along fine.”

    People didn’t usually follow up with more negative comments.

    Reply
    1. MCMonkeyBean

      I interned at a company once and everyone would say things like that about everyone, but in jest. It was obvious they didn’t really mean it, but it still left me feeling like “how do I respond to this” so I usually defaulted to nervous laughter.

      Reply
      1. Jules the Third

        I hate the ‘mean love teasing’ thing, since I realized how it completely undermined the confidence of a close friend when her family did it. I am totally the Queen Party Pooper of mean love teasing.
        ‘That’s so not funny’
        ‘Why would you say that?’ [just a joke] ‘To you, maybe. Doesn’t come across that way.’
        Cool stare, raised eyebrow, long awkward pause…

        My poor kid has even gotten the ‘words can sting even when you don’t mean them. Say what you mean and people will trust you more’ lecture more than once.

        Reply
    2. Nico M

      On the other hand I worked for a toxic shit of a boss and it was very useful to be reminded by others that he was the problem not me.

      Reply
  10. Sue Wilson

    “I actually really appreciate what Harriet does for our department” It doesn’t say Harriet does her job, it says what Harriet does do (generosity of bonus), you like. Honest and supportive without validating her shortcomings.

    And while maybe the first pushback of those emails should be face to face, I think it’s worth it to at some point to send an email saying the above and asking that you not be sent those kinds of email anymore. I understand why Alison thinks this should be a face to face, but I think it’s worth it to have immediate evidence that you pushed back if Harriett one day sees an email like those.

    Reply
  11. essEss

    Another thing to remember is if this is being sent to you on company email, then Harriett may have access to read it. I would shut down any impression of you being part of this sniping by sending out a reply that you enjoy working for her, she’s a good manager to you, and you don’t feel it’s very professional to hear these comments about someone you like to work with.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Ugh- this is my worst nightmare. I haven’t sent anything incriminating from my end, but I’d feel awful if she saw some of what they say.

      Reply
      1. Pollygrammer

        Could you comment about specifically keeping things off email? You wouldn’t come across as a wet blanket, just a pragmatist. “Eee, this isn’t the kind of thing I like to have in writing. Big Brother, y’know?”

        Reply
        1. MM

          That just implicates the OP as a participant. It doesn’t at all make it clear that she’s against the conversations, just against the idea of their being found out.

          Reply
    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      I would advise against this. If there is acknowledgement in writing that OP was aware of these emails and didn’t take action, it could blow back on her if/when it ever comes out.

      Reply
  12. Amber Rose

    Maybe “Harriet works really hard” or something like that would work too?

    It’s not like she’s a lazy/slacker boss. It sounds like she does her work, she’s just not terribly good at it.

    Reply
    1. Daisy

      It doesn’t remotely sound like she works hard, if she doesn’t check emails or turn up for meetings, and OP is doing the core work.

      Reply
    2. Temperance

      I think that actually might be worse, because it highlights her incompetence. Effort doesn’t really matter if she lacks the basic reading comprehension skills to read and understand an email, or if she can’t even manage to use Outlook reminders to show up at meetings.

      Reply
  13. KR

    I’ve dealt with a similar situation. I did pretty much what everyone else is suggesting here – “He’s a good manager to me.” “Oh he’s got a lot on his plate. I think we’re all doing our best.” “You’re putting me in a tough place right now.” “Maybe you should talk to *manager* about this.” “I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated about this. There’s not much I can do about it, unfortunately.” I tried to highlight that a) he was my MANAGER. I’m not about to talk about him behind his back and b) this is a conversation for him not for me.

    Reply
  14. Canto Bight

    Maybe I have ingrained this super hard from working in government and the ever-present fear of FOIA but never! put! snark! in! emails!!! I can’t believe those people are e-mailing the LW to laugh at Harriet, and the advice to respond in person is very sound.

    Others might differ on this, but I think in addition to the lines Alison provided it would be okay for the LW to acknowledge Harriet is in over her head. At least, when someone tries to come with snark or gossip, saying “yeah, she’s been very overwhelmed” would let the others know you don’t think she’s doing a stellar job, but also might introduce a little sympathy on their part. She’s not doing a bad job because she’s an “idiot” – she’s just dealing with stuff beyond what she can handle.

    Reply
    1. DDJ

      After helping to collect emails for a lawsuit many years ago? Yeah, never, ever, EVER put snark in writing. I’ve had colleagues comment “Wow, you’re always so professional and diplomatic in your emails!” Right, because they’re discoverable.

      Also, once, after a coworker left, I ended up having to go through archives of some of his emails pertaining to a particular matter (they were in a shared folder, I’d just never had reason to review them). And…wow. It really clouded my perception of him. He was downright mean. I’d always thought he was pretty professional and level-headed, but…yikes. I wouldn’t want to work with him again.

      Reply
    2. RabbitRabbit

      I work in medical research, which sometimes involves the government, but I’ve always heard, “Write your e-mails as though they will one day be read out of context in a deposition.”

      Reply
    3. Insufferable Bureaucrat

      Oh yeah this. I work for a governmental agency where every single email I write could be released to anyone on God’s green earth who fills out the right form, save some communication with our attorneys. Our rule of thumb is “if you would be embarrassed if this was on the front page of the newspaper don’t put it in writing”. Also, I’ve been in the exact same situation as OP. Twice. My MO was “boss is a really nice person and is very good to me and the rest of the team. I don’t feel comfortable participating in this”. But nothing was ever in email. I cannot believe these people are creating a paper trail of making fun of her!

      Reply
      1. Name changed to protect the innocent

        Not only governmental bodies. When I was a reporter, a former city commissioner I’d had some correspondence with was FOIA’ed and that included some of the emails we’d exchanged. Nothing negative from my end, just a normal business interaction, but the person who FOIA’ed them noted to me that she’d seen my email, and I felt really violated.

        Reply
  15. Jess

    I agree with Alison’s response and most of the comments. I would also add that, while it’s not great that Harriet is forwarding on your work as her own, I think it’s actually a laudable thing that she knows her weak spots and has identified a better solution/outsourced some of her trouble areas to you. I haven’t heard a ton of evidence here that she’s an idiot so much as that she’s just completely overwhelmed and disorganized. So the fact that she at least has the self-awareness to know she needs to use the resources available to her to fix some of these issues is a good thing. And maybe now that she’s outsourcing some of her pain points, she’ll be able to do better at the other stuff. Again, I wish she weren’t doing it all under her own name like it’s a secret just between the two of you (and in so doing she’s inadvertently contributed to this behind her back joking situation), but she doesn’t sound like a total lost cause. IME, the worst bosses and directors are those who have no idea what their weak points are. All this to say, it sounds like there are some legitimate positives about Harriet that might make it a little easier for you to gently push back.

    Reply
    1. Nanani

      About forwarding OPs work as Hariet’s own, I actually don’t have any problem with that. OP works directly for her, so there’s nothing weird about work from Hariet(‘s department) being made by an employee but signed Hariet.

      I drafted plenty of letters with my boss’ name on them, for example, back when I still worked in an office.

      If anything, I find it weird that the other colleagues are finding this joke-worthy at all. Bosses delegate.

      Reply
      1. many bells down

        I worked as a PA once and my boss had me practice his signature so that it would appear he’d even personally signed every letter I drafted for him. He didn’t. I signed them all. Hundreds in a month, sometimes. Fortunately he had a short name LOL

        Reply
      2. Boots

        Our e-mail system is set up to show all the details when delegation occurs. I like it.

        So, company-wide announcements from the CEO read “from: John Assistant on behalf of Fergus Headhonco”

        Reply
    2. OP

      100% agree. I was relieved that she delegates this stuff to me, because some of her products were making our department look… not great. The awkward stuff is mostly when she has me write basic emails on her behalf and then cut-and-past sends them, because those are somewhat obviously not her writing (and the “cool kids” spot it every time).

      Your summary is pretty spot on.

      Reply
  16. Myrin

    I can only second Alison in that it sounds like you’re handling this situation really well, OP – you seem like a kind, level-headed, and professional person, I’m super impressed!

    Reply
  17. crookedfinger

    I work as an assistant for a team that tends to get complaints from my other coworkers who try to drag me into the complaining because I work closely with them. They’re both very busy, need a lot of assistance, and aren’t always great about communicating what they want, but they’re also very hardworking, intelligent, nice people who have been nothing but kind and understanding to me. I shut it down the way Allison describes every single time.

    Reply
  18. Turquoisecow

    This doesn’t seem like an issue in this case, since everyone not-so-secretly knows that OP is doing the actual work, but another problem with doing the work for an incompetent boss is when no one recognizes that you’re the one actually doing the work, so it’s hard to get the recognition for doing the work. This may not be an issue internally, but if OP decides to leave the company, she may have more experience than her job title would suggest, and that may make it harder to advance.

    OP, if this situation is working for you, then I’m not going to tell you to leave, but I’d find it kind of demoralizing to work for someone who didn’t recognize my hard work and took credit for it, plus got the higher salary.

    Reply
    1. SallytooShort

      Well, in this case, Harriet does recognize her good work. She gets glowing reviews (which are more than well deserved, of course) and generous bonuses. Anyone evaluating her for a promotion would see a glowing work history.

      I guess it varies occupation to occupation but it is fairly typical for employees to draft things the boss will send out in a lot of jobs. I do it all the time for my boss.

      Reply
      1. SallytooShort

        Just to be clear, I am not suggesting Harriet is doing her a favor. OP deserves those things. But she is in a good position to advocate for herself given her work history and consistently stellar reviews. Even if everyone wasn’t in the know.

        Reply
    2. Lil Fidget

      Yep, this happened to me. The boss was too incompetent to understand what I was doing for them either – they really thought they had smoothed out the issues in their department and things were just doing better under their benign neglect. So nobody recognized my contributions.

      Reply
    3. Argh!

      If it’s possible to document those extra things or use one of those others as reference, that might help in the long run.

      Reply
  19. Kathenus

    Hi Alison – Just wanted to say that I never fail to be impressed by the scripts that you provide. I learn so much just from these, even if I don’t have the same situations myself. Some of the more common and straightforward scenarios I think I’ve gotten pretty good at on my own, but your insights into these complex situations are really amazing. Thanks for offering such consistently great advice for all of us trying to keep improving.

    Reply
  20. E

    I love Alison’s response. One small tweak I’d personally use would be to call her a “kind boss” as opposed to a “good boss.” I feel like good boss sounds a little too close to suggesting you think she’s good at her role, whereas kind just suggests she’s a nice person and you don’t want to mock her.

    Reply
    1. Jules the Third

      +1

      Overall, I am really impressed with how well AAM and commentariat are threading this challenging situation.

      Reply
  21. RareCommentator

    I’ve been somewhat fortunate (or as Allison points out, potentially unfortunate) enough to be viewed as smarter than all of my bosses except my 1st out of college. It doesn’t take long for people to notice, and as someone that never wants to usurp another’s authority (aka corporate suicide), these are some of things I usually say that have worked to discourage future comments & preserve my integrity:
    1. Eh, nobody’s perfect (when referring to a skill my boss isn’t good at.)
    2. Like most people, some days are better than others (when the praise is too effusive and starts leaking into comparisons)
    3. This is just something that aligns well with my particular strengths (good for everything else, though I wouldn’t overuse. The others I do overuse)

    Reply
  22. Anon for this one

    I have a boss with a reputation for being prickly-they’re very good at the job and treats me quite well, but most of the people in my company don’t know or care much about Boss’ actual work until it involves them in some way (which is infrequent, and often related to situations where Boss has to Bring The Hammer). People occasionally make comments like “It must be awful working for Boss” or “You’re in the White Chocolate Spouts division with Boss? Oh, you poor thing!” (once even before I started!). I’ve used variations on several of the suggestions in the comments here, and it’s always gone well. I think it stays a little uncomfortable, OP, but most people will back off respectfully when you indicate that you like Harriet and don’t have any interest in complaining about her. As unpleasant as it is, some people consider this type of thing small talk. A pleasant “we actually get along great” shuts down the complaining without making the colleague, who you still have to work with, feel chastised. Bonus points that it reflects well on you by implying that what they perceive as a bad situation doesn’t fluster you-you even see the good in it. I think it speaks highly of you that you can maintain loyalty to someone who’s been loyal to you without turning a blind eye to their flaws. Many people can’t do both.

    Reply
  23. BarkusOrlyus

    When I was in college, I worked at the library in the acquisitions department, which consisted of a large office staffed by two women with a desk for an assistant. They complained CONSTANTLY about the requests professors made. When they started talking trash about my academic advisor, though, I spoke up and said that I didn’t want to have to listen to them badmouth someone I respect. My advisor was actually pretty much a jerk, so I’m sure there was truth in what they were saying, but I still didn’t want to have to sit there and listen to them trash talk. I got fired a couple of days later. It was like I burst their bubble or something.

    I think AAM’s advice here is excellent. I still think that speaking up was the right thing to do, and there were other issues with that job, but I wish I’d been much more diplomatic about it.

    Reply
    1. Kate 2

      Yeah, I think, defending your advisor gave the impression you were defending his jerky behavior. I try to say something about negativity, in cases like these. “I don’t want to give Jerk Advisor any more of my time than I have to. Let’s not talk about him. How’s the (awesome thing you like talking about) Coworker?” All said very cheerfully.

      Reply
      1. BarkusOrlyus

        That would not be an authentic solution for my personality and I wouldn’t have wanted it to get back to him that I said something like that. I think AAM’s suggestion of just not mentioning what’s wrong with the person being complained about is best. The suggestion of loyalty is sufficient.

        Reply
    2. Chalupa Batman

      As a professional academic advisor, thanks for this. It can be a VERY thankless job-there are many people on campus who think I spend all day dropping and adding classes and don’t realize the time and energy that advising takes. Faculty with advising duties treat me much differently than those who don’t (on my campus, each department decides if faculty, professionals, or a blend will be used for advising). My role is a mix of caring and a high level of prescriptive skill, and being treated like a paper pusher by colleagues is a supreme insult. Jerks are jerks, but it’s very cool that people like you and OP recognize that there’s far more to most people’s jobs than others see from the outside and are willing to go to bat for them every now and then.

      Reply
  24. KimD

    I’ve worked for someone similar to Harriet, but not as bad I think. With the added spin of there being an undertone of racism to the criticism my boss received.

    I was a big fan of saying things like “yeah, she’s not always great at “this specific thing” but she does “this other overarching thing” well and it makes for a good work environment/project management/etc. ”

    Maybe OP can think of the things her boss does that are valuable to the company and why Harriet has the position and use that to deflect or turn around the conversation. For me, people stopped talking to me about my boss after I pointed out her accomplishments and what I liked about her a few times. I also have no control (maybe no desire to control…..) over my exasperated face so that might have clued them in.

    Reply
  25. Shistovite

    (Sorry to put this in comments)
    Is anyone else getting these awful ad.t78.net ads? They hijack the webpage away from AAM and often show fake virus warnings (also fake facebook stuff and fake amazon stuff). They don’t obey the back button, forcing the web page to be closed.

    I’ve been getting them for at least 5 days, I’ve reported them via the form multiple times, and frankly, they’re making AAM unreadable for me, especially when I’m in comments, or in the archives.
    HELP!

    Reply
    1. Troutwaxer

      I’ve seen those occasionally. The funny thing is that I use Linux, so when they anti-virus ads say, “there something wrong with you C: drive…” I have a good laugh.

      Reply
        1. Shistovite

          I installed Opera (I’m on an android phone), and that is helping. Not my favorite solution, but working for now. Thanks.

          Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m so sorry about this. The whole online advertising industry has been hit with them in the last week (although they were getting bad for me before that). I’m pushing my ad network to come up with something that they haven’t tried so far. I actually turned them off completely yesterday because they’d gotten so bad, but I can’t really leave them off long-term so I’m super frustrated too.

      You always have my blessing to use an ad blocker if you want to!

      Reply
    3. Sparrow

      Yes! More than half the time, I get two minutes into a post, then the ad happens, and it’s so frustrating!

      I’ve reported the ads a couple of times, but I don’t want to swamp Alison, or nag. It’s just nice in a way to hear that it’s not just me.

      Reply
      1. Shistovite

        I’m a religious user of Adblock Plus on my desktop, although I do try to allow ads through for sites whose content I really respect, like AAM. And I buy products from those respected sites (like AAM, Scalzi, etc.) when possible to make up for blocking ads.

        This was on my Android phone, though. The lack of scripts on mobile Chrome is a constant frustration.

        I stumbled upon a video gaming site the other day that wouldn’t allow you to continue with an ad blocker on. Too bad! I don’t need your content, anyway! I understand the situation site owners are in with respect to ads and revenue, but I, as the consumer, don’t deserve to be held hostage to an industry (the ads) that can’t police itself and is a proven vector for viruses and other attacks.

        Whomever comes up with an actual working solution is going to be the next Steve Jobs / Bill Gates.

        Reply
    4. Kewlmom

      I only read AAM on my phone because I always get those ads on my computer where I use Chrome and AVG. I use Chrome and Lookout on my phone and have been getting those ads for the last 2 or 3 days.

      Reply
  26. rachola

    It is soooo frustrating to see mediocre employees holding good positions that could otherwise be held by good professionals.

    Reply
  27. Samata

    I literally just finished a Sophie Kinsella novel in the middle of the night (thank you meds) about people trying to push a boss lady out by making her appear more incompetent that she really was. Reading this was a little weird for me…but I think professionally not joining in with jokesters will be more beneficial to the OP long term. And I think all things considered she is handling an awkward situation rather well.

    By no means should you turn into an uptight prude, but its just I’d caution against having any association with down the road – even if the current jokesters are future bosses.

    Reply
    1. Jules the Third

      Hey – what’s wrong with being an uptight prude! I don’t have to worry about Duck Club invitations….

      Reply
  28. Digitaldruid

    It’s quite possible, even likely, that Harriet realizes how incompetent she is, and sees her primary role now as identifying people such as the OP who have the skills she lacks to do her job.

    I would let it ride. Harriet will ultimately either retire or be pushed out by higher-ups looking to clean house. As long as the praise is high, the money is good, and you’re OK with arrangement as is, what’s not to like?

    I would neither praise Harriet nor join the Harriet haters who are critical. Just be neutral, and don’t get swept up in the politics.

    The only thing I would worry about is the possibility of someone higher up getting wind of Harriet’s incompetence as a manager and asking the OP her opinion about Harriet’s performance. You might want to keep a good diplomatic answer to such a line of questioning in your back pocket.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I should probably prepare a script like this, just in case. I can see running into GrandBoss or GreatGrandBoss at headquarters in the hallway, and being put on the spot. Thanks.

      Reply
  29. Cobol

    It doesn’t sound like Harriet is a bad boss, it sounds like she is a bad employee. Honestly I’d rather work for somebody who isn’t good at their job, recognized it, and gives their reports opportunities, than somebody who is highly capable. My experience is the latter group is much more likely to hold on to responsibility and not be as detailed of a trainer.

    Reply
  30. Argh!

    I report to a Harriet, and everybody else thinks she’s brilliant. She’s not. I think she must be Good-Harriet when dealing with Grandboss & her cohorts, but with her reports she’s scatter-brained, doesn’t pay attention to anything she didn’t personally do on the way up, i.e., most of what I do is meaningless to her, doesn’t communicate well (if at all), and in general is really difficult to work for.

    You could say “Nobody’s perfect” or “I’m used to it” when they say something about her. Or… “I have to spend a lot of time with her, so I’d rather not hear that kind of thing if you don’t mind.”

    If you have an opportunity to transfer to one of their departments, them knowing that you have pitched in under Harriet may help your chances of moving up or out, so criticizing them for criticizing her may backfire.

    Reply
  31. Noah

    I think this one is really easy:

    * if you see these benefits as a quid pro quo for anything other than the employees doing their job, stop giving them.

    * if you do see the benefits as a quid pro quo for employees doing their jobs, stop acting like you see them as a quid pro quo for something more.

    Reply
  32. Free Meerkats

    A big part of my job is writing things for my boss’s and boss’s boss’s signature. This is all represented as their work. It’s part of my job. Though I can understand where the OP is coming from; simply because her boss is taking credit for the work.

    I think that Alison’s script with E’s edit is the way to go.

    Reply
  33. Anon for this

    My boss has some Harriet qualities. He is a bumbler, for lack of a better description, but is about the kindest person around. In many ways he is a great boss for me because he lets me do my job (essentially ghostwriting for him) and does not micromanage me. I know he always has my back. I am very satisfied working for/with him and do not want to make a change. It infuriates me when others in my workplace (who don’t work for my boss) criticize or make fun of him to my face and seem to expect me to join in. My response is to look the co-worker straight in the eye, say I enjoy working for my boss, and praise his indisputable strengths, such as his kindness, his integrity and sincerity, his dedication to the job, and his work ethic. (He has all of those traits, he just isn’t all that effective due to his bumbling.) Basically I make it clear that, although I recognize his flaws, I am his supporter and am not an audience for jokes at his expense. So far this has worked for me and not damaged my relationship with my work colleagues.

    Reply
  34. Nico M

    I’d say on the ‘phone or in person.
    Look guys, it is what it is, I really appreciate your understanding, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with a written record that could make me look disloyal. ‘

    Reply
  35. Monica

    I’m sorry but Harriet is not nice. Nice people don’t ignore emails to the point no one else can go their job, take credit for other people’s work, or force other people to essentially work two jobs because they can’t or won’t do their own.

    The OP is either a martyr or been habituated to unhealthy patterns to be okay with this! The entire office culture sounds totally toxic.

    I wonder if the OP’s resentment towards the others is because they have an outlet to call out what is clearly inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour from Harriet, and the OP does not?

    If I worked for a boss who was completely incompetent to the point it was damaging the company and everyone else’s ability to do their own work, and someone else had to secretly impersonate the boss just to get stuff done, I’d be incredibly uncomfortable. I understand the OP feels she has no choice, but she’s enabling Harriet’s terrible behaviour.

    Reply
  36. GreenDoor

    I’m really disturbed by the fact that multiple people at Headquaters know that Harriet is really bad at her job, yet they haven’t transferred her to a role she’s better suited to.

    Reply
  37. yellowbear

    I would probably just not respond anything to these emails if I were in your shoes. That way you do not come across as if you’re dismissing your colleagues (if they ever ask why you never respond to their emails, you can just shrug it off casually and make them subtly understand that you saw no reason to reiterate the obvious, namely that you’re in fact responsible for much of Hariet’s quality work product) and if Hariet ever does find out about these emails and confronts you about your clleagues’ chatter, you can just tell her confidently that you never responded to them because you don’t want to acknowledge and empower such unprofessional and demeaning behaviour. One the poitive side, you did mention that Hariet is an appreciative boss that gives generous bonuses and performance reviews. It could be much worse than that: imagine your situation but in a scenario where Hariet aggressively takes all the credit for your work and shows no appreciation at all for you basically doing much of her job or, even worse, pushing you down out of a fear that you could outshine her professionally in the eyes of her superiours — this actually happens quite often even in well know brand name companies. At the end of the day, bosses are just humans and sometimes people tend to forget that perhaps every now and then the reason why incompetent bosses are in management positions is not necessarily because they are subject matter or industry experts but because they’re good in e.g. selling to customers, mantaining customer relationships or getting things done in the informal and political spiderwebs of big companies. Good luck to you.

    Reply
  38. MaltaKano

    I might go at this a little differently, not jumping straight to shutting down the mean comments until I’ve made sure the coworkers know I hear them and understand. I’ve been in similar situations recently, and, assuming I agree with the overall criticism, I usually go a little softer than Alison is suggesting – when this happens in person, I listen to the person’s joke or criticism as if they’re revealing a real concern, then try to move the conversation into a more neutral, proactive place. Example:

    Coworker- Ugh can you believe Fergus botched the department meeting like that? Idiot.
    Me – That meeting was frustrating because I couldn’t figure out what was being asked of us. I think Fergus is stronger one-on-one, since she’s been great helping me with my conference proposal. Maybe we could change the way we do these meetings to give us more individual time. I might suggest that to her. Do you have any other ideas for how to improve these meetings?

    Usually people either:
    A) take the invitation to elevate the dialogue
    B) lose interest really quickly and stop seeing me as someone they can complain to
    Either is fine with me. But I work in a pretty collaborative environment with a lot of empathetic people, so that approach might not be right in all settings.

    Reply

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