my boss loves me but hates my coworker

A reader writes:

I started a new job six months ago and it has been really amazing. I report directly to the head of our small department, Jamie. My relationship with Jamie is pretty great. I feel incredibly supported, and she goes out of her way to sing my praises to others. I get to take the lead on tons of interesting projects, and she includes me in her projects as much as possible. I feel like she really trusts me, and when I need guidance she is very good about providing it. She treats me like her right hand and I am loving the experience I am gaining and all of the knowledge that she is passing on to me. This is truly the dream position that I have been looking for: an organization that I highly respect, a supportive work environment, new and interesting projects all the time, and the potential for long-term growth.

In our small department, there is also a new manager who started a few months before me, Emily, who also reports directly to Jamie. We are close in age and get along really well.

While everything seems to be going well for me, things are not going well for Emily. There are subtle differences in the way that Jamie interacts with Emily versus the way she interacts with me. If Emily makes a suggestion in a group meeting, Jamie will meet it with pessimism; if I make a suggestion, Jamie often responds with enthusiasm. In my standing meetings with Jamie, she often asks how she can help or if there is anything she can do to support me. Emily says that in her own meetings with Jamie, they’ll agree on project plans but then if another department complains to Jamie, Jamie will side with the other department and ask Emily to reconfigure her project. Emily often feels undercut by Jamie. There also seem to be other leaders in the organization who will not respond to Emily’s requests, instead sending responses to Emily’s questions directly to Jamie. Emily’s team is noticing the difference in treatment as well; she has told me that two of her direct reports have mentioned it to her.

I have asked Emily if there is anything she would like me to do. I have offered to bring it up to Jamie, or to speak with Jamie together with Emily, but she says that she will handle it. When she is frustrated by Jamie’s treatment of her, I try to offer advice, but it’s really difficult since I have a completely different experience with Jamie. I also feel terrible when Emily complains about her negative interactions with other departments when I get completely different reactions from the same people. I also worry that she will see it as some kind of betrayal because I actually enjoy working with some of the people who she has been having issues with. I can’t shut people out – even if I want to be supportive of Emily, I need to build good working relationships to be effective in my job.

I want to be a good friend to Emily, but I don’t know how to address these issues. I want to help, but I don’t know how!

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. Secretary

    Great article!

    The other thing is that maybe OP has better leadership and people skills than Emily. That can make a huge difference in performance at work and how people respond to her. These are qualities that are often hard for managers to give feedback on as well.

    1. Nonprofit worker

      This crossed my mind too. I went through something similar at my office. I have a positive relationship with the C-Suite, but a work friend of mine, Jane, had a pretty negative relationship with the C-Suite. I always felt a bit guilty because the same people that were praising me/being kind and friendly to me, were not treating her the same way.
      But there were some things that went over Jane’s head that I noticed. Jane would get demoralized/despondent quite easily with small setbacks at work. She seemed afraid to make decisions about small things (worried of repercussions from the C Suite) and it become a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. It ended up just being a bad fit. But on a good note, she moved to a different branch and is much happier there.

    2. Argh!

      It’s common to side with the more experienced worker or a boss when people are treated differently, because we want to believe they are fair, but in this case I’m dubious. OP isn’t likely to have opportunities to demonstrate “leadership” skill after 6 months in the position. Also, the “people skills” we have as newcomers tend to be on the side of being deferential and non-threatening. I’d love to know how things shake out after another year in this workplace, when the boss has had opportunities to be develop a history with OP & possible nurture some grudges, and when OP has developed sea legs and more confidence.

      1. Secretary

        I should clarify, when I said leadership, I mean personal leadership. Things like having the social awareness and empathy to know when to talk to the boss about something and when not to. Knowing to follow up on something that the other department assigned so they know that they’ll have it the next day.
        People skills can be things like being courteous and kind with a big smile on your face when you talk to people. Knowing how to be critical in a way that wins friends, etc. Those are things a candidate is hired with.

  2. Hills to Die on

    Man, that sucks. It’s nice that you aren’t in a position where you have to address it. The best thing you can do is really the only thing you can do, which is what Alison outlines.

    Beware though and file it away: I have known a type of Jamie who always has to have a bad guy on their team. I’ve seen the Emily leave and then watch Jamie turn on another person, and another, and then take my turn in the barrel as well. I’m not saying that is the case here, but if Jamie will treat Emily like this, she could one day decide to treat you like this. I hope it never happens.

    1. BeezLouise

      Yep — I have worked for a Jamie. And I have been the OP in that scenario, and then when enough Emily’s left I have been the Emily. And sometimes there were vaguely performance based things that dictated who the “Emily” was, but often it may start with something small, and then grow because my boss HAD TO HAVE someone she could gossip about and be frustrated with.

      1. TrainerGirl

        1000%.

        I worked for a boss like this. Our team was literally divided into “the Haves and the Have Nots”. She had two of her close friends that worked for her, and then myself and my teammate (who I had recommended to take the job, so I felt horrible that he ended up with a boss that didn’t like him). I was lucky, because she decided to get rid of me and arranged a job swap with someone on another team, and that ended up being a great job with a great boss. FirstBoss was enraged that it turned out so well…how dare my new boss like me? It was amusing once I no longer worked for her.

    2. Penny

      Yes, I have been Emily and worked for a Jamie. Nobody helped me even when I spoke up about it. It’s the main reason I left my last job.

    3. SignalLost

      Yep, there’s a Jamie at my workplace. I dread the manager shuffle we do in March and October, because I wasn’t his scapegoat when I last worked with him, but he does that, and people lose their jobs because of his crap.

    4. Smithy

      Completely this.

      While there may be some performance issues at play, if this is a case where there’s always an Emily….just file it as important information. Where I used to work, the Emilys always had an initial performance reason that was blown out of proportion until they were encouraged to leave or someone else could be hired to function between the Jamie and the Emily.

      In addition to just being mindful, it can also be very informative in regards to knowing if an Emily does get fired/demoted/transferred or not. At my last place when it became clear among a few Emilys that they’d never actually be fired, for different reasons they learned to live with the situation. Not saying anyone should want this, but it can help with the anxiety of how rushed you feel you need to be in getting a new job.

      1. Argh!

        The “performance issues” tend to be self-fulfilling prophecy when someone has been singled out. They get set up to fail over & over, by getting a smaller budget, or fewer assignments, or less constructive feedback. The boss probably has no idea she is making things worse, and in the end feels justified letting Emily go.

        I hope Emily has her resume up to date and is actively seeking another job.

        1. Anonymiss

          I’m the Emily now. I don’t think I’m making glaring mistakes, but there’s definitely “I would have done it differently” vibes from my boss. (Following up on an email I sent to re-state what I just said, that kind of thing. Feedback is delivered in attack-mode, rather than constructive. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking.) Being singled out and set up to fail can definitely be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m new at this job, but have been in my field for two decades, and I’m generally pretty good at what I do. I had more breathing room, and less anxiety when I was a clueless intern, and did make my share of mistakes. But the people above me were supportive, and that made all the difference.

          1. Argh!

            Yep, sounds about right. Your boss feels threatened by you and subconsciously (I’m being generous) wants to put you in your place or make sure you can’t outshine her. Not that I have a supervisor like that myself, just ruminating here… ;-)

    5. paul

      My wife worked for a person like that. Wrung her out bad emotionally because they could never tell who the next Emily would be :/

    6. Crystal

      Yep. OP is too new, she doesn’t know how this will shake out. It could be that in another 6 months she’s “Emily” too.

    7. Been There, Done That

      Well said. It’s possible that OP is simply the boss’s favorite. Even if there’s good reason for that, when a boss plays favorites there’s often an unfavorite in the mix. And even the appearance or perception that Emily is being singled out or “unfavorited” doesn’t speak well for the manager.

    8. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      Yeaahhhh… This was my initial reaction as well. Of course I’m viewing this through my own dirty lense – but I had a boss that had two direct reports and he just cycled through them. As soon as someone new started (person A), boss just loved person A and pooped all over person B. Then person B could see the writing on the wall and left. New person was hired, and original favored child (person A) was then pooped on.

      It was such a jarring experience going from person A to person B.

      Now – the head of our department always has someone who is on their naughty list. She has several sr folks reporting to her so it’s not as simple of a cycle. It is well known though, that as soon as one of those sr folks leave there will be a new scapegoat. It’s like she has to have single punching person that she then makes her mission to drive out of the organization.

      I’m not saying that’s definitely what’s happening here – but there are managers out there who behave this way (and have no conscious idea that this is what they’re doing)

  3. Lil Fidget

    Slight sidenote, feel free to disregard OP – but is it possible that Emily is a bit of a drama llama? The line that twigged me here was: “Emily complains about her negative interactions with other departments.” Departments you’ve had no problems with. All of them? Also, frequently complaining at the office, even to a friend (who’s also your colleague, though) doesn’t speak super well of her. She’s putting you in a bad spot. You know your own situation best but if you’ve had other hints at llama-ing, you might want to back off a little on that friendship, and not get too sucked into her drama.

    1. Hills to Die on

      OP also says that she sees how Jamie treats Emily differently, and Emily’s direct reports have noticed it also. Seems like more than one person’s misinterpretation.

      1. BeezLouise

        I agree. And complains is a really broad term — it could means mentions it occasionally when they’re discussing the department in question, or it could be that Emily never shuts up about it, but it sounds like the former here.

    2. AliceW

      The fact that she seems to have such a different experience with both OP’s boss AND other departments, may indeed mean that Emily does have some performance issues that OP and Emily’s direct reports are not aware of. Unless the OP is in possession of all the facts I think she should tread carefully.

      1. rldk

        OTOH, I’ve seen that how a manager interacts with a direct report with other teams can shape the other teams’ view of that report. I’m currently in a situation where several departments are all very hostile to mine due largely to their interactions with my manager – but when individuals from my department go and talk in-person with members of those departments, they’re much more understanding and helpful.

      2. Genny

        It could also be that the other departments are simply being pragmatic. They know who holds the real power, and it isn’t Emily. So why would they go to her when they could just circumvent her and get the “real” answer (i.e. the one that won’t change when Emily tells Jaime what she’s doing)?

    3. Arya Snark

      Yes, THIS.

      My Experience: I worked with Emily – not in the same department, but for the same division. There were reports, etc that I had to send to her and some she had to send to me. Her data was perfect and always delivered on time. Her instructions were clear and all of our interactions about work were fantastic. We got along really well and became good friends outside of work (a rarity for me). Emily then moved away for a bit but later came back to our state and tried to get another job int he company. Her manager told me he would never hire her back but did not elaborate on why. I couldn’t understand it but didn’t pry.
      Fast forward a couple of years later when the company closed and I got laid off. Emily was working elsewhere by then and offered me a job, which I took. I then found out about how incredibly difficult she was to work with directly. She complained constantly, didn’t want to do anything she considered beneath her (and there was a lot), drove management absolutely mad, upset (to the point of tears) subordinates, etc. She was eventually let go for all of these reasons and I learned even more from her boss about how bad she was, as I now have her job.
      Looking back, I do think some people did associate us because of our friendship. I commend her manager for not letting on to the drama he had to deal with, however.

    4. Delphine

      They seem to be sharing experiences with each other and Emily’s reports have noticed the difference in treatment as well.

  4. CatCat

    Oh, such a tough spot to be in. I worked for a Jamie and it really bothered me to see how she treated other people for reasons that I just could not discern. When her sun was shining on you, you were treated very differently than when it was not. I did not like to see that and it made me paranoid for when I would fall out of good graces (for what… idk, it was never really clear why she was suddenly snotty to some people).

  5. Catabodua

    My thoughts went back to a former supervisor who rotated through “golden” employees. While you were on her good side, all was well and your errors were small things to just get past. When she decided you were no longer the golden employee it was absolute hell.

    Does this manager cycle through people? When Emily is gone and there is a different new hire will you now be the target?

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      Hey, you and I might have had the same boss! Ours would have a rotating “golden child” and she would occasionally try and pit employees against each other. Luckily all of us employees were normal and managed to avoid getting sucked into that kind of thing.

      1. Catabodua

        Isn’t it depressing to see how many others have had bosses like this?

        And, can’t be the same one. My supervisor went out of her way to stir up issues between staff so that if you were the target everyone was after you.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          That sounds awful. My work was only bearable because all the employees had each others backs and the “golden child”(ren) would step in to deflect the fire. I can’t imagine being in the same situation without that support

          1. Liz

            My grandparents did it to their children. My mother did it to her children. I’m determined to break the cycle with my children.

            1. Artemesia

              My grandparents and my MIL both did this with their large family of children. I have usually been the golden one in my work situations, but I did have one boss for awhile who treated me like an Emily. After a meeting in which my suggestion was dismissed as ‘stupid’ (the stupid policy was adopted by the department within the month) one of my colleagues laughed and said ‘you must remind him of his first wife.’ In my case, I had been the interim dept head and had been on the search committee that selected him; I had supported a different candidate and it was clear to me that he had been told that or had access to the selection materials. It is easier to deal with this when you have a lot of political capital; it is very hard for newbie like Emily to cope.

        2. Samata

          I didn’t have a supervisor like this but did have a co-worker who was in a senior team lead type position. She cycled through office favorites and when she was done with them would try to stir issues among them & the rest of the office – turning everything into a BIG DEAL, loudly showing exasperation when she’d open an email with a “Emily, AGAIN, c’mon” and a major eye roll. She ended up leaving on her and luckily management chose not to rehire her when she asked for her old job back.

          1. Catabodua

            One example, while I was the target du jour –

            Boss: Hey, Golden One, Person Boss Doesn’t Currently Hate and Person She’s Mostly Ignoring, let’s go to lunch today! The new blah blah place is open.

            Me: Sitting 3 feet away from all of them, not invited …

            Golden One: Oh yeah! That’s awesome!
            Person Boss Doesn’t Currently Hate: Sure!
            Person She’s Mostly Ignoring: ok

            I made sure I was not at my desk when they were going to be gathering and leaving.

            1. Cercis

              And in the morning when boss comes in at 10am (after insisting that everyone be there at 8am for a job that was NOT time sensitive going so far as to periodically call and find out who was there) and greets everyone by name except 2-3 of you. Luckily in my situation there was at least another target. Funnily enough, after we were driven out she turned on another person. And then another until the only people remaining were people she had directly hired, and even then she started on some of them. Full on turnover within 2 years of her starting. But since it’s nonprofit it was just blamed on normal turnover. I’m not sure how they’re still justifying it now that people are leaving within 18 months.

            2. Been There, Done That

              As horrible as that is, and I’m going thru it now, at least I know there’s nothing unique about the situation. It does make me feel a lot less isolated.

            3. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

              An old boss walked through the office giving little gifts to her favourites while pointedly ignoring some people. I got one and I trashed it as soon as I got home.

    2. k.k

      That’s an interesting point. OP has only been there 6 months, perhaps they just haven’t been there long enough to see that this is par for the course.

    3. Argh!

      That was my first thought, too. LW shouldn’t assume the current relationship with Jamie will be the way it will always be.

      The newbie is always the least threatening person in the room. If the boss is insecure, training & coaching a newbie is ego-affirming and positive. Then when that newbie gets up to speed things can change dramatically.

      1. Kittyfish 76

        This is very true. At Oldjob, this was me. They loved me and got rid of the Emily. Then a new me came, and although I was still included for a little while, eventually the new girl after me became the golden child and I could do no right and became the Emily. Glad I am gone. It’s a shame things like this happen.

    4. Anon because this might be too identifying

      Yes, I had a coworker who had a “wheel of fortune” that constantly rotated. Someone was always her golden and someone else was always her Emily. Luckily, she wasn’t a manager, but she still managed to make people miserable and had enough influence to get at least one person knocked off a prestigious project they should have been involved in.

    5. Fiennes

      I worked for one of these too. The absolute best was always the one doing who just started, and the absolute worst was the one who had just left or announced they were leaving. She had a small stable of favorites (who so far as I could see weren’t necessarily more skilled/professional/etc), but beyond that, anyone could turn into the goat at any time. I once had an egregious error pinned on me solely because I pointed it out; I also once made an error on a public document, immediately took responsibility via a group email to all highers-up in my department…and saw someone else get written up for instead, because she was the current goat. (I apologized to her privately, and she just said, “Happens to all of us sometime.”)

      It’s staggering how many people keep pulling their junior-high Mean Girls act all the way through their professional life.

      1. Hardwood Floors

        At exjob I worked many years for a boss who would rotate through golden children and scapegoats repeatedly. I had a year where every suggestion I made was brilliant and I was constantly praised in front of other departments and then the next year everything l did was wrong. The cycle would last six months to a year and you would know who was in which role. Sometimes you would send the boss an email with someone else’s suggestion if you were the golden child because it was a policy that the group wanted implemented and goat’s idea would have been rejected if they submitted it. The worst time was when I was the goat for two years but suddenly one day I received a glowing email from said boss and then I was the golden child. The sick jerk is still in the same job.

      2. JoJo

        ” I also once made an error on a public document, immediately took responsibility via a group email to all highers-up in my department…and saw someone else get written up for instead, because she was the current goat. (I apologized to her privately, and she just said, “Happens to all of us sometime.””

        This is why we need unions.

    6. TardyTardis

      My manager went through people like fairly rugged tissue paper–nobody could seem to read her mind that well, till the last one came in, and she was golden…but the manager retired before the newest one could end up on the block as well. There were reasons the manager no longer had a whole section reporting to her after a while, just the one accounting person.

  6. Jesmlet

    Without knowing if Jamie’s issues with Emily are justified (which they very well may be), the best you can do is be supportive without explicitly agreeing with Emily. Keep giving her advice and emotional support, but this isn’t your fight.

    1. Delphine

      If Emily has performance issues, Jaime should be working with her to improve–professionally. She shouldn’t be behaving in the ways described in the letter. I don’t think that behavior is ever justified.

        1. Former Employee

          “If Emily makes a suggestion in a group meeting, Jamie will meet it with pessimism; if I make a suggestion, Jamie often responds with enthusiasm. In my standing meetings with Jamie, she often asks how she can help or if there is anything she can do to support me. Emily says that in her own meetings with Jamie, they’ll agree on project plans but then if another department complains to Jamie, Jamie will side with the other department and ask Emily to reconfigure her project. Emily often feels undercut by Jamie. There also seem to be other leaders in the organization who will not respond to Emily’s requests, instead sending responses to Emily’s questions directly to Jamie. Emily’s team is noticing the difference in treatment as well; she has told me that two of her direct reports have mentioned it to her.”

          What stands out is the fact that the OP can see from group meetings that her suggestions are praised while those made by Emily are looked upon as questionable. If there is no objective difference in the quality of their suggestions, then it’s more likely than not that Emily is getting a disproportionate amount of negative feedback in her one on one meetings with Jamie.

  7. MuseumChick

    Just one thing to add to Alison’s (as always) excellent advice: When you feel its warranted you could mention to Jamie and/or others in your organization when Emily does something that really helped you out.

    “Sorry this took so long to complete. I couldn’t figure out the (issue) but today I mentioned it to Emily and she had the answer.” Or whatever it is. But again, you should only do this if you truly believe she is a good employee who is good at her job.

    1. Catabodua

      I think this is a good idea, but I wouldn’t qualify it whether she’s a good employee or not. If she actually helps you solve a problem, pay her a complement. That’s just good practice anyway.

  8. LouiseM

    OP, just keep your head down and keep doing excellent work. I have been you and unfortunately, I have had it happen to me that the “Emily” in my situation eventually turned on me. Being around people who are far outperforming you can be exhausting and people handle it in different ways. But when you are a star employee, like I think many of us here are, sometimes you make a few enemies along the way.

    1. Lil Fidget

      I think we worked with the same Emily haha. It’s funny how hard it is not to bring your own past experiences to your thoughts on each letter.

      1. Hills to Die on

        It’s also the beauty of it though! People contribute so many great insights from all of their experiences–things others wouldn’t have thought of . :)

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I’m finding it fascinating for this letter! Commenters have been OP–working for a Jamie who always created an Emily. Commenters have been OP–working with someone who was great at a slight remove but turned out to be awful to manage. Commenters have been OP–working with an Emily who came to resent all the more competent/favored people.

    2. Delphine

      What suggests to you that Emily is being outperformed? The letter suggests they are treated differently, but never implies performance differences.

  9. Competent Commenter

    I’m seeing this right now at work. There are three of us under our supervisor. My area of responsibility is in A and the other two are in B. Supervisor is also in B. I get respectful treatment, my coworkers get micromanaged and undercut. They have big wins in their areas and it’s barely mentioned. They need to leave for a personal appointment and they get interrogated. I get left to do my work with minimal involvement. It’s hard watching it. I’ve been coaching my coworkers, who are substantially younger than me and supervisor, to stand up for themselves more, as it seems to be effective with our supervisor, but it’s a struggle for them. And there’s no guarantee that even if they did the same things I do, they’d get the same results.

  10. Mediamaven

    I tend to agree with the possible performance based issues. Often there underlying things happening. We recently hired two people at the exact same level. While on the outside they both seem to be doing well and they both say the right things, only one of them has actually been doing her job, and it’s really not been all that clear to their peers. Because of that, I’m sure my frustration shows while my appreciation of her colleague is evident. I’d be interested to see how this plays out.

    1. Argh!

      It could also be that Emily had issues in the distant past or made a whopper of a mistake, and that Jamie & coworkers still don’t trust her.

    2. Stef

      Yep, performance issues is the most likely option.
      I am not excluding, as Alison pointed out, that there might be another less logical explanation, but if both Jamie and other departmentS (plural) have such behaviour, first thing that comes to mind is that Emily is not doing that great of a job and OP is not (rightly so) aware of that.
      There has been a lot of discontent from one of my colleagues because she kept being passed over for interesting projects and we could not understand why – she seemed to be working hard and be knowledgeable. I and other colleagues at the same level were getting opportunities and we ended up being promoted above her even if she had seniority, and now that we are in our position, we have been made aware of the feedback she has had for years – she avoids extra work like the plague (in an industry where flexibility is part of the routine), she is rude and clients and project managers don’t like working with her. She has been made aware of it all and her work was configured in a way that she could interact with a limited number of people, but she is still baffled by the lack of recognition.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        The other departments data point is interesting. Normally I’d expect them to take any Jamie griping with “Mmmm, yeah, rainy this week, how ’bout them Eagles?” and so if they complain about her work it’s independent. But there could be a thread of Jamie telling them “Send things to Ophelia, she’s more competent than Emily.”

        Depends whether they interact more with Jamie or more with her reports.

    3. Jen RO

      I agree. I have two reports that are similar to this. One of them is a fast learner, reliable and good at her job. The other needs a lot of hand-holding and doesn’t usually bother doing her research. I try to stay calm but sometimes I get frustrated when report #2 asks the same question the 5th time… For someone looking from the outside, who didn’t see the previous 4 interactions that happened over IM, I probably look like a tyrant.

  11. Peggy

    I would hope that LW would have mentioned this if it were the case, but I wondered if they were a different gender, race, or ethnicity than Emily. Because I have absolutely seen this play out along race and gender lines.

    1. RCB

      I was an Emily and this is absolutely what was going on in that situation. Although one difference is that others at the company got along with me very well and didn’t understand why my boss was so conspicuously awful to me; I was a good performer with an excellent reputation amongst other departments. That said, I ended up leaving the company because coming in to work every day with a manager who just plain didn’t like me and radiated negativity towards me all day long was extremely stressful and was making me incredibly depressed, so much that it started to spill over into my personal life.

      The Jamie I was working for subsequently got in a lot of trouble for openly and loudly making slurs against a certain ethnic group (not mine but from the same part of the world) in the office. She still works there though; I’ve heard from my former colleagues that she got a slap on the wrist and was sent to a diversity training seminar. She’s found another Emily to scapegoat.

      I’m glad I don’t work there anymore.

    2. Fiennes

      My Evil Jamie* made a point of preferring people who were thinner, wore designer clothing, etc. She had no qualms about ridiculing an employee in her disfavor for being overweight, having short hair if female, etc. (As she was heavier & had short hair herself, I’ve never figured out where that was coming from.) Almost all her favorites were white. A couple of African-American women temporarily made the cut when they got their hair straightened. No man of color ever won her approval for even a day. She was THE WORST.

      (*Actual Jamie may not be an Evil Jamie, but the type is real.)

    3. Chaordic One

      My evil Jamie* made a point of preferring people with whom she socialized outside of work, with people who were alums of the same ivy league school she attended, and who shared the same political beliefs that she did. She made a good first impression, but the more you got to know her, the less you liked her.

      1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

        Oh man… So much like my current boss. But to the the point that I firmly believe that this manager is favoring certain employees (of a specific gender, socioeconomic background) at the expense of equally capable (or more capable) employees (that happen to be female and of minority backgrounds).

        It looks pretty ugly. I don’t think it’s intentional, but I also know that intent doesn’t matter. It the effect that matters. I wrote in to a Friday open thread to see if there was anyway I could bring this up – unfortunately I’m more junior than the employees involved, so I do acknowledge that there could be performance issues in play that I’m unaware

  12. Amber Rose

    That’s a tricky one. An employee was let go a while ago that I got along well with. My experience was that she was quite good at her job, but our manager was really unhappy and seemed like she was micromanaging the heck out of that employee. It wasn’t until after she was gone and I was cleaning up some projects that I realized that to me the employee had seemed good at her job because she lied about everything. She hadn’t done hardly any of the things she said she had, and made up instructions from suppliers she’d never even called.

    There’s a lot you don’t know until you’re elbow deep in someone’s work, and it doesn’t sound like you work that closely with Emily. Best to stay neutral unless you have some reason to think that there’s something wrong happening.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Yeah, I had that happen once too. Someone I had hired weaseled her way into a supervisory role, complete with a huge promotion and insane bump in pay, and did it by talking sh*t about me, and the rest of the team, to the new manager of the group.

      She had that job for about a year, I think, and then one day she was just gone. No explanation. I never did find out what happened, although I suspect that she finally rubbed someone the wrong way one too many times, because she was pretty abrasive.

      I was sorting through her desk with a couple other people, and we were finding stuff that had been sitting there for weeks untouched. She was the AP supervisor, so there were some PO’s, check requests, invoices, and so on. One of the other people mentioned finding a letter from Treasury dated 3 months ago. Our company was a subsidiary of a huge corporation, and the parent’s Treasury group handled all of our cash related activities, like funding our accounts, sending wire transfers, etc. So that’s what I thought this person meant, and asked if whatever it was had come from the person in that group we usually worked with. And the answer was, “No, I mean like this is from the US Department of the Treasury!” I looked at it and found it was some sort of official request from the IRS about payments we’d made to some company that was being audited or under investigation. It should have been sent to the Legal group the minute it was received, but it sat on this woman’s desk for 3 months, buried under another pile of crap. Unbelievable.

  13. WonderingHowIGotHere

    I know this isn’t going to go down well, but when this happened to my other half, he did an experiment where he took one of his “Emily’s” ideas and presented it as his own (with Emily’s full knowledge and consent). Turns out his “Jamie” just really disliked “Emily”, because the idea was fully accepted with enthusiasm – so it wasn’t the quality of the ideas that was in question.

    Sorry, I know it’s no help, but it did put things into perspective for my hubby. He knew where he and his “Emily” stood.

    1. Lil Fidget

      Oooh, sneaky good idea!! I’m not saying OP should do this, but it would certainly shed some light on the situation.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think it’s always conclusive though. Your manager might shoot it down from Emily because she knows that Emily needs to focus on her core priorities right now, while welcoming it from you, because you’ve mastered your work. Or, frankly, there’s a middle ground — where she IS shooting it down because of frustration with Emily, which is unfair, but the frustration itself could be rooted in legit work problems on Emily’s side. So I don’t think it’s a really conclusive test in many cases.

      1. Where's the Le-Toose?

        I just want to reiterate Alison’s first point. I manage a team of 19 right now (2 supervisors and 17 front line workers) and there are 3 front line workers who really need to be focusing on their day-to-day duties and get up to par on their daily duties. If any of the three came up with a great idea, I’d be annoyed that they were focusing their time on the wrong thing, especially based on the one-on-one’s we’ve been having and for one of them, the PIP that’s been in place. For the rest of the team, the great idea would be most welcome. And one the three have remedied their day-to-day job performance, the great idea would be welcome as well.

        1. Been There, Done That

          But getting a good idea doesn’t mean they’re sitting their cudgeling their brains trying to dream one up while their “real” work languishes. Sometimes ideas just strike you. Would you reject it?

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

            Yeaaahhhh… I’ve been in a very similar situation. Where I an admin, and I’m a good admin, but I’m not a rockstart and I’ll never be one. I will always make the occassional mistake. Doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of taking on additional projects that I’m better suited for or that my ideas aren’t good ones. Basically – I can do admin stuff for 75% of the time and twiddle my thumbs for the other 25% of the time and I’m still going to make the same amont of mistakes in my admin work (actually I’ll probably make far more, b/c I do MUCH better with a more steady workload) than if I spend 75% of my time on admin work and 25% of my time on special projects. The very minor mistakes in my admin work that Im referring to are in no way related to the additional work that I was starting to take on.

            If this were to happen I would strongly urge you to look a little deeper at it. Did aspects of their work actually suffer because they came up with this new idea? Like are these two things actually related? How much time did they actually spend on this new idea – it’s very possible that they came up with it while working on their regular stuff. It doesn’t mean that the stuff that you wanted them to focus on wasn’t getting done to the best of their ability.

            This is touching a bit of a nerve, because this is the exact thing that I’ve been fighting against my entire career. Just because I forget to put a person on a meeting invite once out of every 100 invites sent out has no bearing on whether I have the time and/or the capability to take on more advanced technical/anlytical work.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I think this test can give depressing insight when the only thing you know about the person responding is their apparent gender or ethnicity, based on their name or photo. (See the “brother” of a scientist who did much better work than the “sister” in the unbiased view of his male peers…. except it was actually one person with a sex change.) But when there’s a pile of background, you can wind up in Alison’s middle way–where someone is so cautious due to someone’s past mistakes–or so confident due to their past success–that that heavily colors the presentation of an okay idea. Or, of course, it can be that the boss just finds Emily’s personality grating and there’s no workplace foible beyond that.

      Your husband did his Emily a generous favor here, in terms of demonstrating, “Yeah, this isn’t going to get better barring extensive plastic surgery and a name change.”

    4. Argh!

      Great idea! It occurred to me too that this is just personal. Sometimes a manager just doesn’t like someone and undercuts them subconsciously.

    5. LQ

      I accidentally had this happen in college once. Turns out the professor REALLY didn’t like me when another student presented an idea I had (she thought it was a good idea) and the professor changed his grade when he found out she wrote it not me (which he actually wrote on the blue book, back in the days of blue books). It is incredibly illuminating.

      That said, I know that me putting forth an idea would come off differently than a coworker presenting the exact same idea because of my experience with my boss, he’d assume I was bringing my experience and knowledge to it. So if say…we both said, “I think there should be a coffee maker in the bathroom.” My boss is going to view it differently from different people since we bring with a different set of skills and expertise. From a coworker who doesn’t always think things through, or who always just brings all of the ideas her staff have directly to the boss it might make sense to shoot it down immediately. But if I would never bring a not fully vetted idea forward my boss might stop and listen more even to a super weird idea. And that doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone or not, it’s about their skills and what they bring to the table.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yeah…. I can think of a few groups where I would react “Interesting approach, let’s explore it” to a proposed change from Anabel, and “Oh FSM no, don’t change anything” to the same thing from Cersei. Because Anabel has reliably looked at thing from 13 directions including compliance before suggesting something, while Cersei is going to argue with me about very basic Actual Facts.

    6. Givetakematch

      Did you mean your hubby then knew where he and his “Jamie” stood? Lol

      Wow. This really resonates with me! Im following the discussion and will try to post later because right now, I have no words…

    7. Phoenix Programmer

      Lol I have literally presented an idea in a meeting and be told no then a man turns around in the same meeting and says the same idea and it’s adopted.

      1. Hills to Die on

        What?! That never happens (sarcasm).

        Call it out net time and watch how someone will try to justify it by saying that the man said it differently, or that the situation / circumstances were different than 39 seconds ago. So fun.

        1. anon for this

          Any suggestions of how to do that? I’ve been seriously tempted to say “Excuse me, how is that any different from what I just said?” at times when a man was praised by a higher-ranking person for repeating my idea, but stopped myself because if I said that, I’d basically be accusing the higher-ranking person of not listening to me!

          1. Wehaf

            The phenomenon is called “he-peating” and if you search for that online (or something like “how to combat hepeating”), you should find lots of suggested phrasings to address it. I usually go for something along the lines of “I’m so glad you agree with my idea from before, Dave. I think the most important factor to focus on is…”

        2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

          Ah, but if you want a man to accept an idea, you have to make him think it was *his* idea in the first place (another trick my hubby learned when dealing with a different – but far more antagonistic, and male – boss)

  14. Daria Morgendorffer

    I would also add to Alison’s advice is that you need to keep an eye on how Jamie behaves to Emily in front of you. It is not okay to be openly hostile or disrespectful to colleagues even if they are poor performers or have made mistakes or are just downright frustrating. The description of the situation doesn’t sound like it has gotten to this extreme but it does have the potential. If Jamie does over step, you do have the right and responsibility to bring it to her attention in a respectful and professional manner.

  15. C in the Hood

    In my experience, you don’t know what you don’t know. Alison’s advice is spot-on as usual.

  16. Falling Diphthong

    Anecdatum:
    Fergus is a newer member of the graduate research group, and has not impressed the boss. Specifically, boss feels that Fergus is good at getting other people to do Fergus’s work for him, but hasn’t really demonstrated any other skills. Wakeen, a more senior student, knows this because the boss has complained to him. Picking up that his job is in jeopardy, Fergus comes up with a plan: Get Wakeen to talk to the boss on Fergus’s behalf, about how Fergus is doing a good job. As part of this, Fergus approaches several other students in the program (but not this group) about Plan Wakeen Talks To Boss For Me.

    This plan did not work.

    Wakeen offers to coach Fergus in talking to Big Boss, but is not willing to go in alone and argue that Fergus definitely does NOT have a tendency to talk other people into doing all his work for him. To anyone outside, it was so cringingly clear that “get someone to talk to Boss for you” was the worst possible answer here. But to some people right down in it, or really fond of Fergus, it seemed the obvious choice.

  17. mf

    Could you make a point of speaking up when you think Emily is doing a good job? Or be sure to praise her in front of Jamie? If Jamie values your opinion, she might actually listen were you to say some positive things about Emily.

    1. The Supreme Troll

      This is a great idea; it might make Jamie to take a step back, so-to-speak, and look at herself, and how she is appearing when she speaks to Emily.

      Beyond this, Alison’s advice is spot on. The OP should speak strongly about the good traits that she’s seen in Emily (especially if Jamie or Emily’s fellow coworkers are specifically trying to contradict that), but don’t just jump to the conclusion that Emily is an impartial critic of herself. So, yes, the OP should stay neutral, especially on things about Emily that she doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of. And even on things that she does have first-hand knowledge of, the OP should speak up only if or when Jamie happens to bring up her frustrations about Emily with the OP. Don’t accuse Jamie of being unfair or hostile to Emily; just talk about you’ve seen.

  18. LQ

    I’ve been in the in between situation. The coworker is (to what I can see at least) doing some stuff not great, but the response is out of proportion to the not greatness. It’s hard because yes, you can see what’s wrong but when it feels disproportionate it’s either …that thing/s is more important to the boss than it is to you or they are responding to something else. Yes, Coworker isn’t great at X…but is that the hill they want to die on? Maybe it is, maybe there’s a lot more going on underneath the covers which creates more problems.

    It seems pretty rare that we really have such transparency into the work of our coworkers that we (as coworkers) have enough information to judge them. Sometimes they are so much worse or so much better when you pull back the blankets. (This seems especially true for 2 supervisors, some roles would be easier to see, but 2 supervisors seems like a serious challenge.)

    1. Argh!

      I currently have a coworker that I found intimidating and super smart when I was new, but as time has gone on I’ve been shocked by some of the things she’s done. She’s not incompetent, but definitely has limitations that it takes awhile to see.

    2. joriley

      I’ve been here as well. I had a coworker who was truly bad (missing deadlines and working secret overtime to try to hide it, oblivious to certain social and professional norms, showing up late and in bike gear for meetings with prospective students, the works) but our boss’s treatment of him was above and beyond. She would roll her eyes at him in meetings and be openly dismissive and condescending to him. It was painful to watch but there wasn’t much I could do about it other than be as pleasant as I could be without either ignoring his problems or making them my own.

  19. rocklobstah

    Is Emily different from you and Jamie in some way, e.g., is Emily a different race or ethnicity? Is she overweight? Unconscious bias can really color someone’s view and they won’t even notice, they just think the other person isn’t doing such a great job. And that would totally suck for Emily.

    1. What-about-us

      Hmm I’m wondering about the gender of the OP. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the ‘Emily’ yet male colleagues both are treated more leniently by my female bosses and are also given better projects.

  20. Aphrodite

    This was painful to read. In my case, the reorganization got me a new supervisor, one who sings my praises to the sky and beyond all the time. He is thrilled with my attitude, my talents, my experience, my skills. We work so well together it’s like peanut butter and milk–the perfect team.

    My previous supervisor was just the opposite. My colleague could do nothing wrong and everyone likes her a lot. (So do I.) But most people at the other campus make a point of treating us very differently even though we had offices in the same room and could hear everything. It was beyond awful for me. It took me back to grammar and high school where I was one of the two most picked-on and hated kids there (and it didn’t help that my home was seriously dysfunctional with an alcoholic parent).

    I feel for Emily but I don’t know if OP can do anything. I suspect Emily is dealing with it with as much dignity as she can but hurting. I really do feel for her.

  21. TheOtherWoman

    I had a boss like this. She would even put down my co-worker directly in front of me and clients while following with a praise to me. It was very disheartening for my co-worker because I could even see it in her face how much it was hurting her. I work with my other co-worker every day so I knew it wasn’t her work ethic or performance issues, it was all personal.

    I ultimately went to the big boss with the problem and he even knew I was the “favorite” but he didn’t know about the whole situation. I shed some light on the situation (there were many other issues of her showing favoritism to me) and he ended up taking her supervisor role away and put us under someone else. It has been a huge weight off of both mine and my co-workers shoulders.

  22. Bea

    I’ve always had solid relationships with my superiors with the exception of Voldemort. I’ve seen good managers who have a bad report and they suck dealing with them. Then there is Voldemort who had falling outs with everyone I learned in the end, when it was my turn it is why I left abruptly. However the guys who were closest to him told me it was just a misunderstanding and his tone was just cold and blah blah blah. No. We went from constantly laughing to him being ice because he decided I had done him wrong.

    This could be so many things. It’s best to stay out of it because it will never end well and when it flips on you…ffff yeah, I do not wish that on my worst enemy.

  23. Observer

    OP, I’m going to echo the people who say tread carefully.

    Be kind and empathetic. Give public praise when it’s warranted. And watch Jamie’s patterns with other people. But understand that there is a really, really good chance that there is more to this than you know. The fact that she is having issues with other departments, to the point that they send their replies to Jamie is a red flag for me. That’s just an extra step that most people won’t take unless they have a good reason for it.

  24. Samata

    I agree that you should stay in your lane and let Emily handle her own dealings – there could be personality conflict, concerns with quality of work or follow through and an whole host of other problems causing this.

    But my biggest concern here is that Emily’s team has noticed the way Jamie is treating her. I am not sure it’s escalated to a point that needs to be brought up to Jamie’s manager, but if a supervisor is having trouble with a manager, the manager’s staff shouldn’t openly be picking up on it. At least not in my experience – to me that is the bigger thing to be on the lookout for. If you do something to fall out of favor, how will you be treated? Is she openly showing lack of confidence in Emily, is she talking about Emily’s issues openly with her staff, is she not supporting Emily in the best way?

    1. BethRA

      Possible, but it’s also possible that what they’re picking up on or noticing is boundary-setting and push-back that’s entirely appropriate (for example, being asked to reconfigure a project based on complaints for feedback from other departments), or that Emily’s complaining to more than just the OP and that’s made them more attuned to differences that might otherwise go unnoticed.

  25. Robin Sparkles

    I was you in my old job and I had a colleague who was Emily. I liked my Emily as a friend and was sympathetic to her but I (wisely) stayed neutral and offered help to manage our manager the same way Alison advises. I am glad I did because once she transitioned out – I could see that there were legitimate reasons for why my boss treated her differently. She was a drama queen, she didn’t respond to people’s requests in a timely manner, and she tended to get frustrated over minor things. She also gave my boss work that wasn’t always fully fleshed out. I know this because the same thing happened in her new job! So Alison is spot on as usual.

  26. CB

    As the current Emily at my job, I’m going to echo the sentiments of others to stay out of it. My boss is another one that needs an Emily at all times and when a previous employee left a year ago I became Emily. But while my coworkers have noticed and commented to me about it, I make it clear that they are not to intervene. For me at least, the treatment is specific to my direct supervisor and not company-wide, which I think would have a larger impact, but I’m leaving within a few months and I do not want any of my coworkers to have put themselves directly on the path to becoming Emily over defending me.

    1. Argh!

      Have you considered telling them that your boss is just that way, and that you don’t take it personally? If they haven’t figured it out yet themselves, they may appreciate a subtle heads-up to be prepared when you leave.

  27. Lissa

    It’s nice to have a letter from this perspective, I think! It’s almost always the “Emily” who writes in, so hearing it from the other side is helpful too. I think it’s just too hard to know whether Jamie is being unfair, or if there are legitimate reasons. Or a combination of things – Emily has done a few frustrating things so now Jamie is at the stage where every little thing she does annoys her. I think it’s natural for people to hear this story and jump to whatever happened in their most memorable situation but being the coworker in that situation, best not to assume and perhaps leap to the wrong conclusion.

  28. NotMyProblem

    I’ve been Emily here. I had a boss who loved my co-worker and mostly ignored me and pretended I wasn’t important. She’d go so far as to invite coworker out after work for drinks when she was in the local office and not invite me. When she was in the satellite office she’d only give me instructions through my coworker, hardly ever communicating with me directly. She made sure my coworker was on every big project.

    This boss told us she was resigning, which was the best news I could have gotten. Since then my coworker went to work for her at her new place to follow her. Right before my coworker left I got offered a large promotion that elevated me a step ahead of where our boss even was. This solidified it to me that her problems with me were hers, not mine.

  29. Adhdanon

    Another thing to pay attention to is how much praise/crap Jamie says about other people. When I worked for a Jaime I went from being a ‘confidant’ while she forced out an Emily to the new Emily. The first earning sign was that she talked shit about almost everyone she knew in our profession. I quit – it was was almost freeing to know she was going to bag on me no matter what.

  30. Hardwood Floors

    At exjob I worked many years for a boss who would rotate through golden children and scapegoats repeatedly. I had a year where every suggestion I made was brilliant and I was constantly praised in front of other departments and then the next year everything l did was wrong. The cycle would last six months to a year and you would know who was in which role. Sometimes you would send the boss an email with someone else’s suggestion if you were the golden child because it was a policy that the group wanted implemented and goat’s idea would have been rejected if they submitted it. The worst time was when I was the goat for two years but suddenly one day I received a glowing email from said boss and then I was the golden child. The sick jerk is still in the same job.

  31. Lindsey

    I’m in a very similar situation – it’s performance-based, but somewhat exaggerated. My boss loves me but always seems annoyed at my coworker *Bill, and treats us differently.

    I used to think my boss just didn’t like Bill. But Bill and I get along really well, and Bill told me some of the negative feedback he got at his performance review, and I could see where my boss was coming from.

    One thing is Bill has a tendency to ignore my boss’s “pet peeves” which annoys my boss and leads to him scrutinizing Bill’s work altogether. I try to just go along with my boss’s “pet peeve” requests, and I think that’s bought me more trust from him (plus I do really well at my job – but Bill certainly isn’t bad). When I say pet peeves, I mean very insignificant unimportant micromanaging things that don’t impact our work product, but my boss prefers them to be done a certain way, like “use control V instead of right click/paste even though we are not in a rush.” I’ve learned to just not fight these things (which do tend to be more efficient), and to use my political capital to argue more important things, but Bill seems to not get the hint that my boss wants him to change these things and that it leads to my boss getting annoyed and having more of a negative bias towards his other work. My boss doesnt always phrase these as direct requests or suggestions but more like offhand comments, “you know it’s faster/better if you do it this way.” I’ve pointed this out to Bill, because it’s just part of my boss’s work style and complying makes him easier to work with.

  32. Wren

    I used to be in this position as the favoured one. As Alison writes, there could be a lot of different scenarios resulting in this basic description, but in my case, it came down to my boss’s lack of professionalism. I had the capital to advocate for my disfavoured coworker and tried my best to do so, including straight up telling my boss his obvious favouritsm was unprofessional. This was not the only area where he was unprofessional, but this was where I ultimately lost respect for him. I left the job to focus on a health problem and thought I’d stay in touch, but once I was out of there, I found I just didn’t want to be. And it didn’t surprise me that after I left, my disfavoured co-worker left within a few months (we’d both been there for several years, but I’d still been there significantly longer.) We’d had a friendly and I hope supportive working relationship for a long time, but my boss sort of destroyed the trust between us towards the end, and just in general my health related absences put a lot of distance between us, so I have not been in touch with her either.

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