my coworker with imposter syndrome actually does suck at her job

A reader writes:

I am a woman and have a female coworker who, like most of us (myself included), struggles with impostor syndrome.

Here’s the thing, Alison. She is LEGITIMATELY TERRIBLE at her job. She’ll bungle something up and someone will need to go bail her out. Projects that should take two weeks take a year (seriously). She claims to be making an effort to learn the technical skills required to do her job, but I have seen little-to-no improvement in the five (five!!) years she’s been at the company. We have interns outperforming her.

It’s routine that she’s unable to perform her task, so someone else does it for her and then she often takes the credit.

She claims that she’s not respected by coworkers because she’s a woman. But no, it’s because her work speaks for itself.

This coworker often comes to me to discuss being a woman in the workplace and impostor syndrome, seemingly looking for validation. Whenever she messes something up or doesn’t understand something, she chalks up her feelings of not understanding to “impostor syndrome” and decides she’s actually skilled after all! It’s more “Dunning Kruger” than “impostor.”

I’ve spent dozens of hours teaching her to do things that she ultimately forgets and bailing her out of simple tasks. As women, we’re constantly reminded to build up other women in the workplace. I feel like she expects this of me.

She often cries (!) about impostor syndrome and then I feel bad and try to say some platitudes like “hey, you can learn how to do this” to make her feel better. I feel uncomfortable when she cries to me at work and feel as if a boundary is being crossed.

In addition to being part of her personal mentorship squad/clean-up crew, I feel emotionally manipulated. I don’t know how to handle this. We share a manager who knows about her technical misgivings and how much of a resource drain she is, but he’s (inexplicably to everyone who works with her) kept her employed here for five years, so I don’t know what I’d even say to him.

I find it unlikely that I’ll be able to affect her employment situation, but how do I extricate myself from being who she looks to for validation? Any other tips on dealing with a person like this?

It’s great that you want to support other women at work! But being a woman doesn’t mean that you are obligated to invest your time and emotional energy in all women, even those who irritate or frustrate you. That would just be an additional burden for women to have to carry! You are allowed to decide where your support makes sense and where it doesn’t.

Things you could do here:

* If you see her taking the credit for something someone else did, speak up! It’s fine to say, “Fergus worked all weekend to correct errors before this was released, so let’s make sure to recognize him for that.”

* You can decide to stop investing hours in teaching her to do her job. It’s been five years. It’s reasonable to say that you’re busy with other work and can’t help out.

* You can stop bailing her out when she messes up. Part of the reason your boss may be avoiding dealing with the problem is because other people are rescuing this coworker, and thereby preventing it from being a problem for him. Stop bailing her out and see if your boss gets more concerned.

* You can short-circuit what sound like long, emotional conversations with her that you don’t want to be in. You don’t actually have to have any of these with her! The conversations you describe aren’t typical, and seriously, you have zero obligation to keep having them. If she comes to you wanting to have an emotional discussion about imposter syndrome (or whatever), you can say, “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that! I’m on deadline right now, so I’ve got to get back to this” or “I’m swamped right now so can’t talk” or “sorry, I’m just about to get on a call.”

* When she complains that people don’t respect for because she’s a woman, you can say, “For what it’s worth, I generally feel respected by colleagues here. It sounds like this is more about the fact that Jane had to step in for you on project X / that you left the client hanging / that the work you turned in wasn’t what Fergus had asked for.”

* And frankly, you could even consider being honest with her and saying something like, “I do think you’re right that in this role you need to have mastered X, Y, and Z.” If you really want to be honest, you could say, “Since you’ve been struggling with it for a while, I think it’s possible that this role might not play to your strengths.” (That said, I think you should be having fewer Big Conversations with her about her job, so I’m not necessarily advocating this. But if you find yourself in one anyway, this is something to consider.)

The big takeaway I want you to have here is that you aren’t responsible for your coworker just because you’re both women. By all means, help out other women in general. Lend a hand to women coming up behind you and try to make their path easier. Network and mentor and advocate. But you do not have a gender-based obligation to perform this kind of labor for every single individual woman who crosses your path — and I doubt you have the energy to do that anyway, assuming you are a normal human with normal supplies of time and energy — and you especially don’t have to do it when someone violates your boundaries and makes you feel manipulated, or where you see it won’t pay off.

Free up the energy you’re investing in this coworker and spend it on someone else who is more likely to benefit from your support.

{ 326 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, she’s an office dementor! Stop covering for her, don’t let her suck all your emotional energy, and be kind without being overly “nice” (i.e., stop taking responsibility for her emotional and technical failings). Do all the things you would do if you had an underperforming, energy-sucking male colleague.

    When someone is floundering without improvement for this many years, it’s often an indication that they’re not in the right job. Covering for her only draws that process out, which makes you miserable and might be making her miserable, too. Allow her to really sit with her feelings and think through what’s happening. She may continue to Dunning-Kruger, but it’s not your job to help her improve. Let her realize she’s inept at her job—it will feel painful in the moment, but is probably a courtesy in the long-term.

    Reply
    1. Hills to Die on

      I am concerned that she may never realize she’s bad at it (although she may have some awareness of it, given her insecurity). Still, it’s not your job. I think it would be a kindness to be honest with her as she clearly wants to confide in you, but that doesn’t make you obligated if you don’t want to.

      I’m sure there are some great interns that would love some support and/or mentoring. There’s nothing wrong with putting a stopper in an emotional drain, whatever you decide. Do it and don’t look back (except to give us an update)!

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      1. Teal

        I feel so bad that she’s frequently crying at work after five years!!!! I can’t believe she is accepting this as some kind of normal way to feel about her job.

        I think, given how distressed this woman is, there’s some room for OP to say something along the lines of “I feel bad that you are having such a rough time. Do you think it’s been getting better as time goes on? If I were as stressed as you, I know I’d be looking to make a change.” I don’t know. Phrasing. But essentially the key point of “You’re not having a good experience and it’s not getting better, maybe you should start making moves. You don’t have to be miserable.”

        Bleh. I can think of so many situations where that wouldn’t work, but I think SOMEONE has to be frank with her that the level of misery after 5 years isn’t some normal part of being a woman.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yes! I actually think this doesn’t get talked about that much–how to tell whether you have impostor syndrome or are genuinely not that good at your job. The discussion sometimes makes it seem like either you have impostor syndrome and are better than you realize or you’re a Dunning-Kruger phenomenon who’s not as good as you think, but the reality is always going to be more complicated than that.

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          1. Tau

            The discussion sometimes makes it seem like either you have impostor syndrome and are better than you realize or you’re a Dunning-Kruger phenomenon who’s not as good as you think

            I have definitely seen this around a lot. The corollary, of course, would be that it’s only possible for you to be good at your job if you think you’re bad at your job, which sounds like a) some kind of logical paradox in the making, b) a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

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            1. fposte

              Right. There’s no room for accurately assessing yourself, or for being overconfident in some areas and underconfident in others, or for misattributing your quality level, or, or, or.

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              1. boo

                Yes, and I think accurate assessment of your own work shouldn’t be something that takes covert operations and reading of the entrails. It should be something that’s easy to reality test, even if you don’t have super-obvious metrics to go on.

                For example, one might say, “Okay, I feel like a fraud, but realistically, I’ve been at this job for five years and no one has ever told me my work isn’t good enough. When I’ve struggled people have been happy to help me, meaning that it’s probably not out of the ordinary to need help sometimes. I’m probably doing just fine.”

                But this woman is living the nightmare scenario here!!! She doesn’t have impostor syndrome, she knows she’s not good at her job and her boss is just smiling and playing with the gas lights.

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                1. boo

                  Also, I’m not advocating for the coworker’s behavior-she sounds draining and awful to work with and I do empathize with the OP.

                  I just had a moment of horror. It’s like having everyone you’ve ever dated get together to tell you you really do have a weird laugh and that’s why they all left.

                  Or your parents tell you Billy really always has been their favorite, they never loved you equally after all.

                  Or your friends send you the long-running transcript of the group chat where they’ve all been making fun of you behind your back for years and years.

                  Or you see your long lost golden retriever with another family, and he magically starts speaking and tells you that he left because he didn’t love you, not the way he loves these people, and those people over there, and those dogs, and that cat, and chewing on old boots, and literally everything and everyone he has ever encountered in his life. Except you.

                  The anxiety-fantasies that fester in the dark corners of your mind aren’t supposed to come true!!!

                2. Cherith Ponsonby

                  I don’t know what it says about me that I could handle the first three but I’m legit tearing up at the golden retriever one. And I’ve only ever had one dog and he was a terrier and I know he loved me second best in the whole world.

            2. Betsy

              I have been confused about this too, especially since the idea of impostor syndrome has become so prevalent in academia. I hear plenty of people talk about their impostor syndrome with the implication that they ‘think they are better than they think they are’, if that makes any sense.

              But I hear the same people boasting quite a lot on Facebook, so I think that can’t quite be right. I think it’s tremendously seductive to have this idea that you might actually be better than you think you are, but you’re just a bit bashful and misunderstood.

              The one colleague who I think actually *might* have impostor syndrome has never mentioned such a thing.

              When I bring this up, people say I am not taking into account structural issues and their effect on confidence, and of course I think it’s true that minorities and people from lower class backgrounds are not socialised to have the same sort of confidence as people who’ve had quite privileged backgrounds. I accept that this is true.

              However, I have noticed a lot of people claiming impostor syndrome lately, who I do not think have this issue.

              Reply
              1. Agenda

                My take from this is that imposter syndrome is a more likely event if you are busy doing your job rather than spending time considering your imposter syndrome symptoms.

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              2. TeacherTurnedNurse

                I think this shows up a lot in academia because it’s a field in which performance is notoriously hard to measure. I remember grad school being a nightmare of constant guesswork with no real feedback, and the same has essentially been true in my career as an instructor.

                I think, though, that instead of chalking that up to “imposter syndrome,” we should be acknowledging the glaring issues with performance measurement in academic fields.

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              3. Oenonono

                There’s a couple posts above that go into the fact that in real life, for real people, imposter syndrome and Dunning Kruger aren’t binaries. The same person can exhibit both about different things or at different times as they gain experience. I am a very anxious person and I feel like an imposter about a lot of things, but there are also things about which I simply feel confident. When it comes to things I am insecure about, I am very self-deprecating, but I have also bragged about myself or complained that I deserve more respect. Sometimes, people who feel insecure unconsciously try to paper over their insecurity with arrogance. Trump comes to mind. But it’s also true everyone doubts and feels insecure. Like with so many other phrases, it’s been appropriated by people who are feeling routine self doubt. What makes it a syndrome is it being persistent and difficult to rationalize away. But it’s rarely worth it to say that to someone who is claiming imposter syndrome. I had to learn that from experience.

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            3. Wintermute

              people misunderstand Dunning-Kruger all the time though and I think that is the key problem here.

              The dunning-Kruger effect says that below a certain skill threshold, you tend to over-estimate your ability or under-estimate the difficulty of the task. This was done by asking people to make estimations of their placement within the class. People that were in the 12th percentile averaged ranking themselves in the 66th percentile.

              So the study had them self-rank, then told them their scores in empirical but context-free numbers and had them guess how they stacked up.

              The interesting part here is that they placed themselves at the breakpoint of the top third, on average. So these people were not thinking they were superstars, just above average but within the main part (if at the very top of the main part) of a bell curve.

              Secondly, this was in a context-free environment, where they knew the raw numbers they had but not what they really MEANT in real terms. This suggests that public performance metrics for all would completely remove the effect from the workplace but, that’s only an aside. The workplace is not context-free, we get all kinds of performance data about relative ranking, in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways.

              And third of all, The effect was only seen at the VERY low end, the D-K effect begins to taper at 12% and is normalized to within statistical noise levels rather fast.

              BETTER studies than the original Dunning and Kruger one have gone further, and show that the real problem is that when people were measured on things like “sense of humor” (one of the criteria the study looked at) or in complex fields like

              A better study by Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger and Kruger (2003) showed that the root cause is a lack of understanding about the metrics upon which a subject is evaluated leads to the over-estimation, not their inherent ignorance of the subject.

              All the Dunning-Kruger original study proved is “when people have NO idea how they did, they guesstimate average, and then bump that up a bit to compensate for the fact they don’t want to admit to being average”– BAM 66%.

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              1. Just Jess

                Thanks for this. The concept of the Dunning-Kruger effect probably gained so much steam because people can relate to watching other people be ridiculously confident about and proud of below average performance.

                TL;DR takeaway quote – “when people have NO idea how they did, they guesstimate average, and then bump that up a bit to compensate for the fact they don’t want to admit to being average”

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          2. LSP

            It seems to me that part of it is that women especially are taught to believe that every experience is rooted in some internally facing emotion, rather than being rooted in the “real world”. Of course people’s emotions and how they view themselves has a real world impact a lot of the time, but sometimes the solutions to what troubles us need to be viewed as more of a practical matter, rather than one we need to have regular weepy talks about.

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            1. Jaydee

              I think the other part of that is that women especially are taught to see their “failings” as the result of something intrinsically wrong with them, rather than with external circumstances. So I see men and women responding differently when they feel frustrated or unsuccessful at their jobs. Women see it as a sign that they aren’t good enough, so they stick around and try to “try harder” their way to success. Men look for a job that is a better fit.

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              1. Jiya

                You know, I hadn’t read about that being a male/female divide before, but rather a difference between optimists and pessimists – optimists tend to see failures as due to external circumstances, which means they can do better next time, while pessimists tend to see failure as being due to some flaw in themselves, which will still be present next time around.

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              2. Rachel

                Well… this person isn’t exactly blaming herself, per se, or seeing herself as not good enough. She’s essentially blaming the performance issues not on a lack of ability, but a lack of ability to see her own ability. It’s not quite blaming external circumstances, but more so that than self-blame.

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              3. Teal

                Yes!!! This is what I was getting at. Imposter syndrome or bad at job- who cares? You’re not a failure of a human who needs to put up with misery forever. Get a different job! Find happiness!

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          3. Baska

            While it doesn’t get talked about very much, it’s not actually that hard to determine whether your impostor syndrome is warranted or not. Uncomfortable, yes, but not hard. You just have to ask people to assess your work, and then listen to what they say. Sometimes you don’t have to ask — you can check the feedback you’ve received from bosses, colleagues, clients, what-have-you. But sometimes just directly asking is the best way to tell. (“Hey, boss, I wanted to check in with you about how I’m handling the chocolate teapot orders. Am I doing okay? Is there anything you want me to work on in particular?”) If you honestly ask, and allow yourself to really listen to the response without bias, you’ll probably be able to tell pretty quick whether the feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone is going to find out and then I’ll be sunk!” has any basis in reality.

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            1. Oenonono

              In my experience, people aren’t honest when you ask them. Even in the workplace. The more uncomfortable someone is with their answer (probably, the more they expect a negative reaction from you, so the more negative the real answer is), the more they sugar-coat it. But, still, the point stands.

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        2. Shona

          I could have written this letter. I’m sitting here wondering if someone else at the job I left to get away from this person wrote it.

          My only caveat about gently telling someone they may be in the wrong job for them: it can be really, really hard to deliver that message in a kind way to someone who spent literal years dumping their messes on you to clean up, making your work more difficult, lowering the quality of projects that have your name on them too, and crying to you (or at you) about how unappreciated they are.

          By the time I left there’s no way I could have told this person “are you sure this is the right job for you?” without them hearing “you suck! Do us all a favor and quit.” To be honest, that’s what I would have meant. That’s on me, I’m not proud of the way I let resentment get the best of me. I’m just saying, sometimes it’s best to get some distance and let the problem coworker be not your problem.

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        3. Mr. Rogers

          I have done this with some success, for what it’s worth! This person wasn’t bad at their job, just so not suited for the kinds of personalities in our office. Every day it would be another meltdown from her about it, and I’d be sitting right next to angry rants, sighs, thrown pieces of stationery, etc. Eventually I got so annoyed with the stress she was pushing my way, I started to gently say things like “You seem so unhappy here, you don’t deserve to feel this way every day. Maybe you should look at other openings?” and lo and behold, she got another job and left. Granted, IDK if she was happier there, but it certainly wan’t my problem anymore so I was happy!

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          1. LPUK

            Yup, I’ve used this approach more than once myself. It helps if its genuinely coming from a place of empathy (rather than letting resentment build up) and actually I have seen more than one person go on to be happier in another role/company, so I feel more confident using this approach again. I’ve also been known to say that after a certain amount of time trying to improve in a new role, when perceptions are against you, it might be more useful to put that effort into a new job, where you don’t have to overcome people’s existing perceptions of you

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          2. Narise

            I worked at a company years ago and sat next to a guy who was negative all the time and would actually become so angry at situations that he would physically shake. His boss would have to take him into her office to talk to him and calm him down. (I went to my boss and expressed concern about her being alone with him but that’s another story). Finally one day I said to him ‘You are not happy here and yet you work almost 50 hours a week. Life’s too short to be this unhappy you should find something else to do.’ Of course he took it as though someone told him he should quit because no one liked him although that had little to do with it. He was still there when I left and his daughter was having the same issues working/living with people at college that he had.

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    2. neverjaunty

      THIS.

      And I am suspicious that she is as insecure as she claims to be, given that she takes credit for others’ work. She might just be manipulative and good at guilt-tripping.

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        1. neverjaunty

          Maybe not. ”Oh, I’m so terrible at this, not like you, so you need to do it for me” is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and layering on boo-hoo-I’m-so-insecure is just another way to sell that. Plus the forced teaming based on gender.

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          1. Lynca

            I am so tired of having things brought to me like that. “You do this all the time so you need to do it for me!” Uh no.

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          2. Fortitude Jones

            Yup, that’s what I thought when reading this. She’s exhibiting classic signs of learned helplessness and she’s highly manipulative.

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            1. Ego Chamber

              My grandma does this too, so I don’t think it’s always the highly-calculated manipulation tactic it’s being presented as here (because some people aren’t emotionally intelligent enough to do this on purpose).

              Sometimes it’s just this thing that’s always worked, so they keep doing it without really connecting the dots. It’s Pavlovian or something.

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              1. Oenonono

                …Are you saying your grandma isn’t doing it on purpose because you know her and she’s a sweet lady, or…what?

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          3. Optimistic Prime

            They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. She could be actually insecure and really good at manipulating people.

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            1. LSP

              Yeah, I think for some people the insecurity is such an ingrained part of their personality, that the manipulation and learned helplessness has become an automatic way of dealing with life, rather than a conscious decision to manipulate.

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              1. OP with the coworker who sucks

                LSP, I think you’re right – I don’t think she sees herself as manipulative, but rather it’s a coping mechanism.

                Reply
      1. Sarah M

        I agree with you (and others). The continual Taking Credit for Others’ Work makes me think the “imposter syndrome” bit is just a sham. My money’s on Manipulative.

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    3. Falling Diphthong

      This was a topic last week, wasn’t it? Feeling like you’re terrible at your job can be a sign it’s the wrong job, not that you are bad at all the jobs.

      Reply
      1. OP with the coworker who sucks

        Yes! She’s a smart person and there are a lot of things she’s good at, but unfortunately none of them intersect with our core job responsibilities…

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    4. Tuxedo Cat

      I had a coworker like this, and people covering for her or allowing her to take credit (when she didn’t even help) enabled my boss at the time to avoid firing her. He was conflict-averse and I think he figured it didn’t matter what was happening with this coworker as long as the work got done.

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    5. Elizabeth West

      OP, she’s an office dementor!

      Just throw chocolate at her.
      LOL kidding, but you might need to keep some around for yourself. It really sounds like this job isn’t the right fit for her. And it seems like we have yet another example of a spineless manager, sigh.

      Reply
      1. Snow Day Lady

        I’m with Allison- it’s possible that because she is taking credit for her colleagues’ work and being shielded by others, her manager doesn’t realize the extent of the issue.

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    6. JB (not in Houston)

      Yes! This coworker does not have imposter syndrome, she’s just bad at her job. Don’t cover for her anymore.

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    7. Anon Accountant

      Wow you nailed it. I know it’s hard OP but management needs to see she can’t do her job. Plus she needs a role where she’s a good fit.

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    8. Specialk9

      One of the things my abusive ex did was to tell me (frequently and believably) that he would never do X, and then proceed to do X, while creating this fog of confusion so I thought it was really Y. If he could control the narrative, he could control EVERYTHING.

      That’s exactly what this woman is doing:
      -Words used for cover: Feminism! Empowerment.
      -Actions: exploitation of women using gendered demands for emotional labor. So, like, anti-feminism.
      Confusion: crying, distract with a popular topic that sorta kinda fits and will nicely divert conversations to sound sympathetic.

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      1. Plague of frogs

        Wow, I didn’t see it until you pointed it out, but you’re completely right. You have a very clear-sighted way of seeing what she’s doing. I’m sorry you had to have such a crappy experience to get it, though.

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      2. OP with the coworker who sucks

        Wow, I’m sorry you had this experience with your ex and I’m glad you’re out of that relationship. I’m the letter writer – I never looked at it this “control the narrative” way, but I think you’re spot on. I think she might be starting to believe her own narrative thanks to all the enablers (myself included, ugh) in the workplace that have fallen for it.
        I’ll keep this in mind that this is exactly what she’s doing, wow.

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        1. Ego Chamber

          “I think she might be starting to believe her own narrative”

          Most people believe their own narrative. You have to be highly emotionally intelligent and highly unethical to manipulate others in a mercilessly calculated way.

          Remember: We are all the unreliable narrators of our own life stories.

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    9. Casuan

      Wo. OP, you & your colleagues have gone so very above & beyond trying to help her.
      My takeaways from your letter:
      -Feelings do not often coincide with reality. So whilst having feelings are her rights, they don’t dictate her work reality, which is that her work is substandard.
      -My impression is that she heard about imposter syndrome & self-diagnosed. She’s using this & her gender as excuses & to her, these excuses are justification for everything that goes wrong in the workplace.
      -She doesn’t think of imposter syndrome, gender & the resulting excuses as something to be overcome. The status quo is her safety blanket here: she always gets bailed out, she gets to keep her job & she has a workplace therapist to help her through her feelings.
      -She doesn’t need a “workplace therapist.” She needs colleagues & a manager who will do what they can to help her thrive in her job. And thriving [in my context here] isn’t really a high bar: it’s doing the work to meet the employer’s needs, which can involve getting things wrong, being corrected, learning from mistakes & advancing by learning how good work can be even better. Feelings have nothing to do with this. One might feel inadequate for not getting something done or screwing it up, yet one should put those feelings aside & focus on how to make things better.
      -I love what Alison said about how the manager doesn’t see the need to correct this because his employees are doing this for him.
      -This is the same with your colleague: she doesn’t have incentive to learn, retain knowledge, do her work, or to not talk about why she’s so bad at everything because her colleagues keep bailing her out.

      OP, you can’t change what she’s doing or how she feels. After five years, nothing that any of you have said or done have changed her work to be at acceptable levels.
      What you’re doing isn’t working, so change what you’re doing.

      Your colleague might balk, resist, complain, feel &or [other]. Let her.
      *You* aren’t the one who is causing things to be difficult for her, nor are your colleagues nor gender nor imposter syndrome.
      You really have done all you can to help her!

      As for your manager, ideally if your colleagues stop bailing out your colleague then he will finally take notice & respond accordingly. If he doesn’t, then you [& colleagues] can let him know that your work is affected because certain things aren’t getting done. If you can, put numbers on these reports so he can see how the bottom line is affected (it doesn’t need to be in currency, it could be stats on units produced or whatever fits your work).

      Just so you know, OP, what I’m telling you is from experience & I suspect many others here have also been through this. So when we tell you that it’s okay for you to stop enabling your colleague, it’s because we’ve had to do the same. It isn’t easy when you’ve invested so much effort in helping someone. As things are, you really are doing her [& yourself & colleagues] a kindness by disengaging her, as well as your company.
      Good luck & please update!

      ps: Dementor is the new energy vampire.

      Reply
      1. Amber T

        Great list!! And your last couple of points –

        “Your colleague might balk, resist, complain, feel &or [other]. Let her.
        *You* aren’t the one who is causing things to be difficult for her, nor are your colleagues nor gender nor imposter syndrome.
        You really have done all you can to help her!”

        Really nail it for me.

        Reply
  2. AdAgencyChick

    Also your boss sucks. I’d start making him deal with some of his own suck. You might want to add to your “I’m busy and I can’t help with that,” a “Maybe that’s something to discuss with Boss.”

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    1. K.

      I agree. Five years this has been going on? Projects that should take a couple of weeks take a year? Why does she still have a job?

      Reply
        1. K.

          That was the case at a previous employer. An employee who was objectively bad at her job was protected by our VP, who said he felt sorry for her. She was the opposite of OP’s colleague though – she thought she was great at her job because everyone was covering for her and doing all her work, and surely she must be good if the VP cares so much about her, right? I had to work with her on something and it was one of the worst professional experiences I’ve ever had. I was very clear about the fact that I’d done 90% of the work at the end of it, including teaching her basic functions of her job. My team was laid off in 2015 and she was still there (she was on a different team), and it raised a lot of eyebrows.

          Reply
        2. Tuxedo Cat

          The coworker I mentioned above was really good at getting people to pity her… I don’t know how, because it was really transparent to me how manipulative she was (and actually, mean in a smile while stabbing you in the back way). However, she knew how to turn those crocodile tears at the right time.

          Reply
        3. Fortitude Jones

          I wouldn’t be surprised if she was someone’s relative and that’s why she’s gotten away with being terrible for so long. I saw that kind of thing happen a lot at my previous employer.

          Reply
        4. cncx

          this happened at a job i was at. someone was completely sucky at their job, but was protected by their boss’ boss for political reasons. but i think op would know if that were the case, we all knew and wound up working around it. that person wound up just getting tasks taken off their plate.

          Reply
      1. Natalie

        Maybe her manager also thinks they have impostor syndrome but are actually just crappy at their job? Turtles all the way down, you know.

        Reply
      2. Slow Gin Lizz

        Yeah, where does she work that it’s acceptable for a two-week project to take a year???

        And yes, I agree, get the boss to deal with this, not you. Assuming you’re not her manager, of course.

        Reply
    2. ItsNotJustMe

      I just did this today! Person said, “If you want you can ……” and stated a part of their job. But….. I’m busy. :)

      Reply
    3. zora

      I would combine this with the “stop bailing her out.” Basically, my process for not bailing her out would be, everytime she came to me with a crisis, I would tell her “I am busy, I can’t help, you should talk to Boss about that.”

      Reply
    4. Mas

      I’ve learned the hard way that overperforming and covering for others can just create more problems in the long run. If you’re picking up the underperformer’s slack and tidying up her mistakes, the boss is effectively shielded from having to deal with it (until/unless the rest of you burn out, I suppose). There’s a certain amount of pain that has to be felt up at that manager level to prompt them to act. Secondhand inconvenience or frustration or discomfort just don’t cut through the stress and busy-ness. I came up saying yes to everything and my impulse always has been to go above and beyond, even if it meant doing the work of several people — but you know what that can do? It can make the bosses think, “There’s no reason to hire more people, the workload is totally manageable,” or “Clearly this team is functioning just fine, because everything’s getting done on schedule and on budget.”

      Reply
  3. JokeyJules

    This letter made me cringe. Women should support other women – not carry them and feel forced to endure things they are uncomfortable with. This all seems deeply uncomfortable and almost feels emotionally abusive.
    OP, you don’t need to carry her and be her therapist and give her validation to be supportive. Please know that.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      Perfect comment. Support is “You mentioned you wanted to learn the X process, I have a few minuets now to go over it if you want.” Carry is “I’m going to cover for your poor performance because we are the same gender.”

      Reply
    2. Sloan Kittering

      Plus maybe there’s OTHER women that deserve this energy that’s being wasted! Try to think of it that way, OP, and maybe you can shake off the guilt that’s holding you back.

      Reply
      1. earl grey aficionado

        Bingo! Your heart is in the right place, OP, and this person is taking advantage of that. Take your support and good intentions to people who will use them in good faith instead of being such a drain on your time and energy.

        Reply
      2. Anna Held

        The other woman who deserves this energy that’s being wasted is YOU, OP. You’re not only picking up her slack, you’re doing an insane amount of emotional labor. You deserve better.

        Frankly, I’m impressed you didn’t snap at her long ago. I would have. (Five years!)

        Reply
    3. earl grey aficionado

      Yes! In my experience, this kind of person rides the coattails of some very real type of oppression in order to avoid dealing with their own individual problems. Every mistake of theirs becomes about [oppression] in a way that makes them immune to constructive criticism, because then they can frame it like “well, so-and-so just doesn’t understand [oppression] like I do, so they must be wrong!”

      I’m a lesbian and have had very painful breakups with friends in the LGBTQ+ community over this sort of thing, and I imagine there’s an added level of difficulty in the workplace. Alison’s advice is spot-on, OP!

      Reply
      1. earl grey aficionado

        (just to clarify: of course things like sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. dramatically affect people’s lives and their careers! I’m talking about a very specific type of emotionally manipulative person here.)

        Reply
        1. Eye of Sauron

          Honestly there doesn’t even have to be an ‘ism’ attached to a person for them to fall into this trap. Some people are just wired to believe they are the victim in every situation. My in-laws are like this I darn near had to deprogram my husband from this thinking too. (He knew better, but would slip into this kind of thinking from time to time)

          Reply
          1. Harper

            Do we have the same in laws? What you described sounds familiar enough that I just questioned whether my husband has a secret brother!

            Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        My experience has been that for every adjective, there’s a (young?) adjective person who regularly attributes everything that happens to them to the adjective. This includes industries/jobs/places that are majority adjective. Some things might be because of adjectivism, too. Just not all the things.

        Whether it’s your job/duty/role to point this out to them is another question.

        Reply
        1. earl grey aficionado

          This perfectly describes what I meant, so I’m adding “adjectivism” to my personal dictionary, thank you! (I think people’s attachment to introvert/extravert labels is a good example of this, too.) And unfortunately, yes: in my experience, pointing the behavior out does little to fix it and tends to torpedo the conversation and often the working relationship. Better to acknowledge their tendencies to yourself and adjust your time and energy accordingly.

          Reply
          1. Oliver

            Really loving “adjectivism” too. I think some people aren’t well calibrated to tell when their behavior is actually problematic and when it isn’t, so if they learn “sometimes other people will make you feel bad because of [oppression/social phenomenon]” they will latch on to that. There are definitely people who use it in an very manipulative way, but others may just not get the distinction. Either way it’s hard to explain, particularly if you’re not their therapist.

            Reply
            1. earl grey aficionado

              +100

              Exactly. It’s so sticky to talk about and I am definitely not a therapist! I also think it’s worth noting that someone can be emotionally manipulative *and* well-meaning. Manipulation is not always dastardly (or even conscious), though it usually has unpleasant consequences for the manipulated.

              Reply
              1. Falling Diphthong

                One of my favorite child development bits regarding the different types of intelligence: Researchers and preschool teachers differed on their assessment of children’s interpersonal intelligence. Turned out this was because the teachers gave them low marks if they were good at manipulating other students, while the researchers gave them high marks for the same trait.

                Reply
              2. Annabelle

                I think your last note is really interesting and important. Obviously, manipulating people isn’t good, but it’s not always malicious. This might not be the case at all, but the OP’s coworker could just be frantically trying to stay afloat keep her job without realizing that she’s being a pain in the ass.

                Reply
          2. Lissa

            I feel I witnessed this firsthand when it came to introvert/extrovertism. I recently was in a seminar where people had to identify as either, and after a long speech about how introverts were way less common and tended to be oppressed in the workplace, 20 out of 25 people identified themselves as introverts!

            Reply
            1. WellRed

              I feel like we are seeing more letters from folks having issues at work/with coworkers etc., who say “but introverted!”

              Reply
            2. paul

              “introvert” has become the go-to identifier online for a lot of people…and unfortunately seems to be used as a get out of jail free card for social faux pas or awkwardness.

              Reply
        2. Djuna

          Such a great way of putting it. We had a young co-worker who raised a stink over there being no adjective people at levels above them in the company – it was clear that she and others were being held back because of their adjective status.

          I sat back (being an adjective in a higher role myself) and counted an easy dozen fellow adjectives in our office alone that she was choosing to ignore so she could blame adjectivism rather than her own terrible attitude for her lack of advancement. Our poor HR person had a parade of adjectives walking in and out of his office all day telling him that she didn’t speak for us.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            Can I use your comment in other contexts? What you wrote is brilliantly creepy. You’ve just illustrated the dehumanizing effect of describing a group of indivuduals by ONE single adjective.

            Reply
            1. Djuna

              Sure, feel free. Falling Dipth0ng coined it, I just ran with it. It is horribly weird when it’s spelled out like that though, isn’t it?

              Reply
      3. Specialk9

        Yes. One of my most toxic coworkers ever was so unpleasant to everyone at work, except her male manager and male clients (to whom she was warm, funny, and seemed totally With It). She would literally walk past people in the halls and refuse to greet anyone (including the nicest people – I mean, women – and other women of color). All of whom were people who could pull her onto a project and give her work, but didn’t because she was so rude and hostile. But in her mind, the reason nobody gave her work except the one male manager she would talk to, was her brown skin, and not her overt hostility (or the occasional psych flare-ups in which she was *vicious*, which without the hostility we would have not minded so much).

        It was this weird moment because I was really just starting to learn how *stacked* the decks are against people of color, legitimately, but that was decidedly not what was happening in that situation. But she will never know that she causes her own problems, and will be convinced that she is surrounded by racist coworkers, rather than that she’s a sexist terrible person.

        Reply
      4. Oranges

        That’s because no one wants to think that they’re not good at what they’re doing so they’ll find a scapegoat. Something else that’s to blame so they don’t have to face the fact that they’re bad at something. Be that something making/keeping friends to their job.

        I wonder sometimes, if our society didn’t twin success with being a worthwhile human being would the world be a better place. The idea that humans aren’t intrinsically worth more if they do better at what our society rewards. Or if that’s a pipe dream because of the way our brain’s reward system is set up.

        Reply
      5. TeacherTurnedNurse

        Earl Grey, just a quick shoutout from another lesbian who has had community fallouts over this same debate. Sometimes it’s nice to learn you’re not alone!

        Reply
    4. KitKat

      I actually find the phrase “women should support other women” to be cringe-worthy in general. I do not want my career to be supported because I am a woman, I want to be supported because I am good at my job. Enabling a completely incompetent woman is the opposite of a win for feminism – women don’t need coddling from other women to succeed, we just need a fair shot, which OP’s coworker has definitely gotten.

      I get that the context for this remark is that women should support other women because men will not step up to do it, but I feel like it’s often used as a double standard and as a way to slam women who aren’t being “supportive” enough. OP, you do not have to cave to her using feminist buzzwords, and it’s probably better for you and your career that you don’t.

      Reply
      1. JokeyJules

        I totally see where you’re coming from with that, and agree in the risks in my statement. I will say most of my experiences working with women were very toxic and particularly non-supportive. It often felt like a huge cat-fight just to be able to move forward with your own work among my female coworkers, while the men at the company just watched, laughed, and bypassed all of that. But I do see in your comment and in the world that being supportive might accidentally become the new competition – disgusting as that is.

        Reply
        1. KitKat

          Sorry, I was actually agreeing and adding on, but that was definitely not clear! I think we’re both in agreement that “women should support other women” in no circumstances should mean that you should do everything in your power to help every woman.

          Basically, I think when women feel like they have to represent not just themselves but their gender at work it can raise the stakes in a way that’s not always productive – women can feel like they are in competition with each other to be that one token woman who succeeds, or can feel obligated to spend a ton of labor helping other women just because of their gender, and neither is good.

          Reply
          1. Serin

            Women should support other women in getting the opportunity to learn how to do good work — not in getting the opportunity to get paid for virtually nothing.

            Reply
  4. Snark

    I cringed so hard reading this title.

    It does feel like emotional manipulation, honestly. It feels like she’s using a common issue to get others to do the emotional labor of quelling her cognitive dissonance. I think all of Alison’s suggestions have utility here, as usual, but my inclination would be to breeze through the first few items and get right to the Chair Leg of Truth, as Dr. Nerdlove calls it.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      I had a past coworker who was genuinely mismatched for the job, but not being manipulative like this one. She came to me and said she thought she was about to be fired. I privately agreed (the job required quick acquisition of skills and the ability to work independently, and she… Couldn’t.). I didn’t want to be mean and basically say, yeah, you’re not very good… but then I realized the “nice” approach was not the kind one. It avoided discomfort for me. So I agreed, and together we talked and made a strategy on how to get her into a different job. She walked into the performance reviews that would have destroyed her, and because she had a path to get her out of their hair and not have to be mean, she got glowing reviews and was passed off to another dept. She really excelled there! None of which would have happened without that honesty and then self-rescuing. It was a potent lesson for me.

      But that’s *not* this OP’s co-worker.

      Reply
    2. oranges & lemons

      I’m having a hard time figuring out if she’s just being manipulative or genuinely doesn’t realize how bad she is, or maybe a combination. Maybe I’m feeling for her more than I should because I’ve been in the position of having a hands-off boss who gave me zero indication of how well I was doing, and it does feed the insecurity. The boss is definitely a large part of the problem here either way.

      Reply
      1. Luna

        Yeah it sounds like the boss has never given her honest feedback. Doesn’t this company have annual performance reviews? I wonder what the boss says about this employee during her reviews.

        Reply
    1. Work Wardrobe

      Plus, I disagree with “most of us (myself included), struggle with impostor syndrome.”

      I don’t think “most” women struggle with IS.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        I think it’s become a buzzword that used to mean something very specific, but now I think gets used to mean “I sometimes feel insecure in my job” or “I worry other people think I’m not doing well” which I think just about everyone does occasionally feel! A lot of concepts like this get watered down.

        Reply
        1. Clairels

          This. The fact that people like this woman are using it who obviously don’t have it means it’s on its way to losing its original meaning entirely, which is too bad.

          Reply
          1. Djuna

            A friend of mine was at a conference last week and was super-excited about there being a panel on impostor syndrome…only to find that the panelists seemingly didn’t know what it was.
            She said a bunch of women just got up and walked out after fifteen minutes.
            To me, impostor syndrome means that I have somehow bamboozled my way into my job and no-one has noticed that I don’t deserve it and ANY MINUTE NOW I will be unmasked, and fired.
            I think that’s the original meaning, and I was bummed that my friend didn’t have any tips from the conference for me since we both struggle with it.

            Reply
        2. Betsy

          Yeah, I agree with you and I hear it used all the time. I really think most of these people are quite confident.

          I’m no expert on it, but I think the person needs to feel significantly underconfident and unsure about their performance. Not just occasionally underconfident. I do not think I have impostor syndrome, however I get quite nervous when starting a new job or undertaking a difficult task. This is different than feeling that you’re not meant to or don’t deserve to be in the position, or genuinely aren’t as capable as the average employee.

          I think it’s particularly appealing to people in academia, because they were always top of their class before they did a PhD and can’t handle just being average.

          Reply
    2. Beth

      Yeah, this doesn’t actually sound like imposter syndrome. Pretty sure you need to actually be competent at what you’re doing to have that!

      Reply
  5. LKW

    While normally I agree with Allison’s advice, in this case, this woman sounds ridiculously fragile. Any criticism may be met with out right hostility. I caution against saying anything if you think she’s duplicitous or would sabotage your work.

    You can put distance between you and you can redirect her to ask what she can do to improve her standing in the department and use examples where other women receive accolades for the good work they do. But she doesn’t know she’s incompetent so she’s less likely to accept that she simply sucks at her job.

    Why has she been allowed to stay if so many people have had to redo, correct, and cover for her?

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah, as with job seekers, you have to decide if somebody deserves constructive feedback and can handle it, or if it’s not worth your time because it’s just going to suck you down into a spiral. I’m getting powerful spiral-feelings from this woman. I think OP might be better off just avoiding her and not engaging.

      Reply
    2. Tuxedo Cat

      I agree. Coworker I had who was like this would’ve taken any critique as a personal attack and gone running to the manager. Actually, my coworker Jane (not her name) did and my colleague, who was competent, got an earful from management for daring to suggest how Jane could do better.

      Reply
    3. MLB

      I disagree with your disagreement. You also shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around a co-worker because she may be fragile. They don’t have to be mean about it, but direct and professional. She’s an adult, has been given MORE than enough chances, and is manipulating all of the people around her by getting them to do her work. LW needs to stop helping her, and needs to direct her to her boss to deal with – clearly the boss is aware, and not doing anything about it and it’s about time they step up and do THEIR job.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        I think LKW was referring to the part of the advice about talking to her one-on-one about the situation. In some cases, there’s no point in trying, as they’re not going to listen or benefit from the feedback. But i think we’re all in agreement that OP shouldn’t cover for this employee, shouldn’t indulge her need for reassurance, and should redirect to the boss as much as possible.

        Reply
        1. Tuxedo Cat

          That’s how I interpreted the comment.

          To me, it’s not walking on eggshells but self-preservation. I’ve faced this situation a few times, and it’s not worth my emotional energy and possibly good standing to tell such a person that their work isn’t good or how to improve.

          Reply
      2. LKW

        Lil Fidget is right – I believe in direct language but I also don’t think this person actually wants to hear that she does a poor job. I think Jane likes excuses. I also believe that many, but not all, people who like to use excuses are quick to blame, throw people under the bus and in some cases actively sabotage people they feel have “wronged them”

        Reply
    1. Snark

      So what is a horttruggle, exactly? We need to define this. The internal turmoil and cognitive dissonance of an office dementor?

      Reply
  6. Purplesaurus

    “Fergus worked all weekend to correct errors before this was released, so let’s make sure to recognize him for that.”

    A Fergus who did something good for once!

    OK, kidding aside, LW does not owe this woman any emotional currency. Personally, I’d probably try Alison’s 3rd and 4th bullet points first: make yourself unavailable to her for both conversation and ass-coverage.

    Reply
    1. Boo Berry

      Emotional currency is an excellent way to describe this. Women already get stuck with so much of the emotional labor as is in a lot of situations. No need to borrow trouble because the trouble took a shine to you.

      Reply
  7. MuseumChick

    I think this falls under: Your boss sucks and it isn’t going to change. And, Your co-worker sucks and it isn’t going to change. You boss know the problems and won’t address it in any meaningful way. Your co-work has zero insight.

    I second all of Alison’s advice, especially to stop bailing her out, stop training her, and make sure those who actually do the work get credit. It’s perfectly reasonable to say to her “You know Jane, I’ve showed you this several times I can’t spend anymore time on this. Perhaps ask (boss) if you have any more questions.” Then do not answer any more of her questions!

    It’s also reasonable to say to your boss: “I’ve spent X hours over Y time frame training Jane on (Process). Continuing will take time away from my X, Y, and Z projects.” And/or “I overhead Jane mention that she completed the teapot re-categorization project but my understanding is that Fergus doing most of the heavy lifting and I want to make sure he is recognized for that.”

    Reply
    1. Kate

      Agreed. I was really torn about the suggestion to stop bailing her out because sometimes, especially when working with external clients, an unfinished project reflects badly on everyone and not just Jane. But since the OP said the boss already knows what a drain Jane is on their resources, I don’t know what other options there are. The best I could come up with was rerouting her to the boss with something like, “I don’t have time right now to help you with that. You should ask Boss how he wants you to handle it.” And DEFINITELY correct her if she’s taking credit for other people’s work.

      Reply
      1. Anony

        If it is something that would reflect badly on the team if they let the ball drop, they can try to do something official to make it clear that Jane is not doing the work. At the very least loop in boss about what Jane is unable to do and who took over for her so that she cannot claim credit for someone else’s work.

        Reply
      2. Oranges

        Some bosses require the severe pain of client disappointment. I’m pretty sure I would, which is why team lead is the highest I ever want to get. The only tough conversations I have are around why a person’s code isn’t up to standard. I can do that. Every other tough decision/conversation is my manager’s to have.

        Reply
  8. Mockingjay

    Wow! Five years of emotional labor. You’re a better, far more patient person than I am.

    I’d like to emphasize Alison’s point about not covering her work anymore. Let her fail. It sounds horrible, it feels horrible. But you have spent many, many hours teaching her and she didn’t learn. You’ve gone well above and beyond what is required. It’s one thing to mentor someone, or to lend a helping hand during a crunch. It’s entirely another to do the job for them.

    I also wonder how much of this has affected your own work. Even if your productivity and quality remain high, such emotional demands can suck the joy out of a job you truly like.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I worried that OP is letting people group her together with this woman, if they seem like a work duo that has each other’s back. It’s not fair, but you really have to watch who you’re being associated with sometimes. You never want your name in the same sentence as this person!

      Reply
      1. OP with the coworker who sucks

        Sloan, believe me – I think that’s why people let her get away with taking credit for their work. Nobody wants their name anywhere near hers!

        Reply
  9. CaliCali

    Everything she’s saying — talking about impostor syndrome when it’s really a matter of incompetence, taking credit for other people’s work — isn’t about actual impostor syndrome, it’s about looking for validation of her ego. And she frankly needs to be humbled in order to improve. You can’t improve, after all, when you decide there’s no need for improvement (the Dunning-Kruger effect’s consequences) — and I’m not even sure she wants to; I think she’s just trying to not feel as bad about her ineptitude. She’s trying to avoid the consequences of failing by figuring out non-performance reasons for her failure, and they’re just not true. Don’t take her bait, and realize that in order to support our women colleagues, we sometimes have to let them realize harsh truths, which will be the only way they’ll learn to truly cut it, rather than be coddled.

    Reply
  10. Wannabe Disney Princess

    This is someone my mom would refer to as “A Sucking Black Hole Of Negativity”. They can be men or women. And they will. not. stop. You have to put up and enforce boundaries with them. So please don’t feel like you’re betraying women everywhere by treating her as the lousy coworker she is at this job (in an other position she could be stellar…but it is NOT this one, clearly).

    Reply
    1. BRR

      That’s one of the things the sticks out to me as well. I don’t know if this counts as nitpicking LW language but this isn’t imposter syndrome. Just because she calls it that, doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I think she’s trading on the power of that phrase, and the resonance it has with a lot of female professionals, to guilt others into covering her ass and convincing her she’s not incompetent deadweight, so I think it’s totally fine to chew over how she’s misusing it.

        Reply
        1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

          Bang-on. It’s not impostor syndrome if you actually do have shortcomings and limitations that you’re aware of, but it’s a term that’s become very weighted in the public mind as a thing that keeps women professionals down and inhibits women’s success in the workplace, so it has a lot of pull.

          Reply
          1. Serin

            It also reminds me of those girls I used to meet when I was single, who were sure that guys were “intimidated” or “had a fear of intimacy,” when really it was more that guys didn’t want to date someone who never talked about anything but themselves.

            For every person who looks at a popular phrase and says, “That might be an explanation,” there seems to be another one who says, “That might mean that none of it is my fault!”

            Reply
            1. kb

              Yes! It’s a really frustrating phenomenon that has been exacerbated by the proliferation of inspirational quotes/advice on the internet. Yes, there are people who need to say “no” more, but there are a substantial number of people taking that advice who already say “no” too often.

              Reply
      2. Birch

        It’s not nitpicking LW’s language because it sounds like this is what the whiny incompetent coworker is using as an excuse. Coworker is the one who doesn’t understand what it means.

        Reply
    2. Elizabeth H.

      It’s also possible that she has so much anxiety about not being able to do her job that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy! It definitely sounds like she’s been able to legitimize her poor performance to herself as explained by imposter syndrome and arguably that’s prevented her from realizing she’s so bad. At this point it definitely seems logical for the letter writer to point out that it seems like this isn’t the right role for her if she still is experiencing these struggles after 5 years.

      Reply
      1. Naptime Enthusiast

        That IS a sign of Imposter Syndrome, where someone will procrastinate up until the project doesn’t get done, and then blame their procrastination for the project failing rather than failing outright. However, the fact that she’s taking credit for other people’s work doesn’t really equate with Imposter Syndrome, since many times people will deflect praise to other team members because they genuinely feel that they don’t deserve it.

        Reply
    3. Specialk9

      I think she knows exactly what the term means, and that it’s not her. Manipulators know how important it is to change the narrative to something sympathetic. Some people will believe her, and some will keep quiet out of fear of sounding sexist. She’s likely doing this because it works. (Speculation – but founded on life experience.)

      Reply
  11. Girl With a Cat

    Thank you OP for asking this!! With the exception regarding worry about discrimination you have exactly described the assistant / counterpart I am stuck with (knows a bigger wig up the chain). The strategies posted here will help. Right now we just avoid the issue so we don’t have to deal with the crying or the comforting the imposter syndrome.

    Reply
    1. Hellanon

      The crying and demands for ego kibble are exceedingly manipulative, imo – even if she doesn’t have that end in mind, she’s seeking assurance that her substandard performance is “okay.”

      Reply
  12. NW Mossy

    Over the years, I’ve found that people like this generally start to leave me alone when I ask what they’re intending to do about their predicament. It’s uncomfortable for them to realize that the answer to that is nothing, and if all you’re offering is a reminder of the nothing they’re doing, they’ll move on to a more receptive audience. She’s looking for validation and emotional bolstering from you, but you’re under no obligation to give that to her. Once you stop being a reliable source of that, she’ll naturally drift away.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Agree. If OP stops being a satisfying person to talk to, this woman will probably move on. I go for a flat affect, no emotion in my face, and say something like “bummer. I’ve got to get back to work now.” People decide not to be my friend.

      Reply
    2. Eye of Sauron

      This is great advice and does work.

      Usually (not always) but these kinds of people at least do have some sense when it comes to answering this question. Not many of them have the uh.. bits to say “Why Jane I intend for you to fix it and make it better” most will wander away to the next poor victim.

      Typically it’s a good indicator to them that you aren’t on their list of people who will bail them out or crutch them up.

      Reply
    3. Anna Held

      This. Carolyn Hax recommends this a lot in personal relationships, too — a calm “Oh, I’m sorry you’re dealing with X. What are you going to do about that?” when they’re expecting advice and validation can very powerful. (She’d also point out that people are people and relationships are relationships, whether it’s romantic, familial, or professional.)

      Reply
    4. Weyrwoman

      I really wish I’d thought to use that kind of question when I got stuck with a coworker who sat across from me and did the same emotional crap.

      Reply
  13. Sara without an H

    With regard to your apparently clueless manager — Since this woman has a “personal mentorship squad/clean-up crew,” he may not be entirely aware of what a disaster this woman is. (He should, but I know from experience that many managers will avoid dealing with personnel issues until they reach a certain level of awfulness.) You, and probably some of your co-workers, need to calmly but firmly refuse to clean up any more messes. Let her cope on her own and he may have no choice but to actually manage her.

    Reply
    1. A Nickname for AAM

      On the contrary. He may be well aware of what a disaster this woman is, which is WHY he is avoiding dealing with her.

      In my experience, people like this, when fired, explode. They will file inaccurate, highly exaggerated, scorched-earth complaints against as many people as they can, to as many people as they can. They typically pick people who have to take what they’re saying seriously (HR, your boss’s boss) because they have no relationship with the boss and the person in question and are unaware that the person is a Boatload o’ Nuts. They create a ton of headaches for the people they’re accusing, which even when the truth comes out, reflects poorly on that supervisor because people will always associate him with being “the guy responsible for dealing with this mess.”

      Because she’s made a loud hullabaloo about “workplace sexism,” anyone who’s been even remotely unsupportive of her is going to be called a sexist, discriminating against her mental disorder (imposter syndrome/anxiety), and/or creating a hostile work environment (“stealing” her assignments, failing to “support her”, failing to “recognize her contributions.”)

      Chances are he’s just waiting for her to do something that ticks a mandatory termination box so he can be done with her without the drama.

      Reply
    2. Safetykats

      Yes. I worked with a woman like this – terrible at all aspects of her job but great at getting other people to do her work. She has bounced around in our industry for years, and somehow managed to never be formally let go – because she’s just smart enough to leave on her own just before everything crashes down on her. My guess is that this woman will also go find another group of people to feed off of, as soon as everybody at this job stops playing her game and doing her work for her.

      I second what many have said – refer her to the boss when she has issues; make sure the boss sees her crappy work; either refuse to fix it or at least refuse to fix it unless directly assigned to do so. If you’re aaaignes to do these fixes, make sure the boss knows how long it takes and how it impacts your work. This way the boss is forced to understand the magnitude of the problem.

      Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised – she may step up and do her own work. (But I doubt it.)

      Reply
  14. Myrin

    Ugh, I’m exhausted just reading this.

    OP, your coworker is clinging to certain platitudes as a justification for her ineptitude. “I have imposter syndrome!” she cries, knowing not what an imposter or a syndrome is. “Women need to support women!” she yammers, all while being an insufferable burden to another woman in her professional life for literal years.

    Sometimes the reason for incompetence is incompetence.

    Reply
    1. AnnaleighUK

      Oh yes, agree so much with that last statement.

      We used to weed out the incompetence with when we suspected someone was failing at a Thing, making them train someone else on it. ‘Yo, Bobby, you’re going to be training Fergus on *thing Bobby sucks at*’. They were either terrified into actually doing a good job or, in one case, fired.

      Maybe you could try that, OP – make her train someone new on her job. Then you’ll have evidence that she’s incompetent when her trainee sucks. It really does work.

      Reply
        1. AnnaleighUK

          It needs to be monitored by someone competent to check everything is okay but it’s more the ‘oh my days I cannot get away with being crap at my job anymore’ aspect we used to find out how good people were. It used to be that the last trainee trained the newbie, so that was a good way of cementing their training. Really worked for us, but then we’re an industry where you need certain qualifications so training is more ‘this is how our system works, we assume you know how to draw a building diagram or why are you even here?’ (architect/building compliance company)

          Reply
          1. SoCalHR

            I guess maybe a better option would be to TELL Bobby they’re going train the newbie but then review the content before they actually sit down to do it. If its good, then they train. If its not, it accomplishes what you outlined.

            Reply
  15. OP with the coworker who sucks

    Hey all, I’m the letter writer! Thank you for your thoughtful comments – I’m realizing that I have, in fact, been manipulated by her (as has pretty much the entire team) and I am going to start cutting her a LOT less slack. When the boss (who I otherwise love) is inexplicably on her side, it adds an extra layer of difficulty to say no, but I’m going to start doing it.

    Reply
    1. Lumen

      Good for you! And I hear you on the boss-inexplicably-on-her-side thing. I used to work with a woman who was rude and insufferable with every single person in the company, did almost no work (she was far too busy micro-managing everyone, including people outside of her department) and yet was constantly fretting vocally about not having enough time. Yet for years, the boss thought she was incredibly valuable. Turns out she had him just as manipulated as everyone else, and it took him a long time to realize how toxic she was. As soon as she started getting pushback from everyone and suddenly didn’t have that higher-up support, she didn’t even need to get fired; she quit.

      Reply
      1. Lumen

        PS It’ll be a lot easier to say no to her when you are too busy helping interns or other people in the office who are actually willing to learn and grow.

        Reply
    2. The New Wanderer

      Bosses aren’t necessarily immune to manipulation either. He may just be forgetting or ignoring exactly how long it’s been that she hasn’t improved. I think the cutting less slack, saying no, and forcing her to do something else will start highlighting the issue much more clearly. Do you know if the rest of the team is planning to do the same (or maybe they already have been)? I can see any newer (female) employees being at risk of becoming the next helper.

      Reply
    3. MuseumChick

      Good luck! And with the boss, I would just stick with the facts, be calm, and non-judgemental when you find yourself in situations related to this cowork:

      Boss: “Please train Jane on Y.”
      You: “Oh, she and I already went over that three times. I think we spent about X hours on it.”
      Boss: “Well she needs more training.”
      You: “Ok, that will be the A and B are delayed, is that ok?”

      Boss: “Jane did a great job on X!”
      You: “Jane? Didn’t Fergus do all that? He was here all weekend working on it.”

      Reply
    4. ContentWrangler

      Stay strong and keep saying no and don’t get dragged into her emotional tailspin of manipulation. Hopefully if the bad employee is left to her own floundering, your boss will finally recognize that this is a problem. Fingers crossed we hear a positive update from you in the future!

      Reply
    5. Sara without an H

      Is your boss a rescuer, by any chance? I work in academic libraries, where there’s a strong culture of helping. Unfortunately, there’s also a pronounced tendency to confuse “helping” with “enabling.”

      Reply
    6. Lynca

      I have a co-worker like this and have started saying no to her requests for me to help or walk her through things that she should already know (she’s not 5 years in- more like 3 years).

      One of the best things I’ve found is when she presents me with a problem she wants solved I tell her this is something to talk about with her supervisor or remind her we went over this before so she should be doing this work on her own before seeking help. She’ll try to talk over me, continually repeat why I should help her, and get me to say what she wants me to say. In which I repeat “You need to talk about this with Sansa” or “We’ve already gone over this for a previous project and you should be attempting this on your own before you ask for assistance” a max of twice before I move on back to what I was doing.

      Reply
      1. Irene Adler

        Good advice. I’ve noticed most folks like this want on-the-spot assistance. So I like to tell them that I’m available to help on their issue AFTER next Friday as this week I have big deadlines. That tends to discourage as well.

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          Yes, this is a good way to shortcut some learned helplessness that’s not hard to fall into. If you’re the fastest, easiest way to get information – people are going to come to you first, before even trying anything else. You have to make yourself a little more inaccessible.

          Reply
      2. MuseumChick

        I’ve worked with people like this.

        “I can’t figure out X what should I do?”

        “We’ve gone over the that 3 times, talk to (boss) if you have any questions.”

        “But I just need to know X!”

        “You’ll need to talk to bo-”

        “But he’s busy! It will only take minuet!”

        “Ok, well, I’ve sure he will be out of his meeting soon. Send him an email.”

        “Really I just have this one quick question I don’t want to bother him.”

        *shrug with silence*

        Reply
        1. Lynca

          This is pretty much my Jane. She will literally hop from office to office seeking ‘help’ to avoid talking to the bosses. She does do some work on her own, which is the only thing that I think has saved her from a PIP, but she routinely ‘forgets’ basic things so I don’t know how long that will last.

          Reply
    7. Detective Amy Santiago

      It’s hard because as women we are socialized to carry the burden for others and be ‘helpful’ but this is one of the many times that it crosses the lines into emotional manipulation. Good luck in setting boundaries and taking care of yourself!

      Reply
    8. Eye of Sauron

      The trick to navigating with your boss about this is to cultivate a neutral tone about your coworker.

      Boss: Jane (<coworker) seems to be having trouble with the teapot design software
      You (Neutral tone): Yeah I noticed that too. I know I've sat down with and shown her the process 4 times in the past two months. You might need to check in with her to see what the problem is. Fergus picked it up right away when I showed him. Maybe she needs a formal class? BTW… here are those TPS reports that you asked for

      You: Boss, I just spoke with Jane about the marketing project that she's been working on. I was wondering if you have any idea when it will be done. I was expecting the results to feed into my project, but it's been a year now. I've had to make some assumptions about x, y, and z so that I could finish my part up. If you think Jane will have it completed soon we can slip them into my work, but we'll have to go with what I have until then.

      Boss: Hey we just landed the Acme account. We'll need all hands on deck to get this kicked off.
      You: Great, I know I have some time to work on this. I think Fergus has been tied up with Jane trying make the deadline on that task you sent her way. He noticed that she hadn't properly calculated the teapot glaze estimates so we almost ordered 100x of our yearly requirements. Should I pull him off of clean up to help me?

      As you can probably tell I had a Jane the coworker. As you say my otherwise great boss had a blind spot for her and used myself and another to cover. I split off and took the other coworker into my new organization so there was no more cover. My old boss is now seeing and feeling the pain acutely.

      Reply
    9. TootsNYC

      I wonder if you could say to that otherwise-lovable boss: “I’ve reached a wall with Jane. I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve trained her on X and Y, and she still doesn’t get it. And she interrupts me a lot for conversations about imposter syndrome and women supporting women–but she never gets better at her actual job. So I’m going to be a lot less helpful to her. I don’t have the time, and I’ve given all the energy I can. So if you notice that I’m not volunteering to undo her mistakes, or if I’m less chummy with her, that’s why. I just wanted to warn you.”

      Reply
    10. Jules the Third

      Document, Document, Document. Give your boss the tools needed to put her on a PIP or fire her.

      Go back over specific projects or requests, and write down what happened:
      Month Year, Project A: Spent x hours rewriting proposal
      Feb 2017, Project B: Spent x hours rewriting presentation
      Mar 2017. Project A: Spent x hours rewriting code / spreadsheets / reports
      “Overall, I estimate Project A would have taken 60 work hours. It was turned in a a year after kick-off.”

      If possible, dig out some before / after examples. Do not get into ‘she pulls me into long conversations’ or ‘she complains about sexism,’ just write down the business impact for the boss.

      Y’all may be doing a good enough job covering for her that your mgr really doesn’t see it.

      Reply
      1. Shiara

        I don’t know about at OP’s workplace, but at mine this would be received really poorly if I wasn’t explicitly in some sort of team lead position over coworker, beyond slight seniority and occasionally being asked to train them on X or Y process. It would be one thing to start looping the manager in more when I was being pulled off things by Jane, or to remind him that I had actually gone over process X with her three times already, but to suddenly hand him a retroactive log tracking a coworker’s project and how long I think it should have taken would not go over well.

        It’s not the OP’s job to do this documentation, it’s the manager’s. That the manager is blind and not doing it is annoying, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the OP should take on more work to prove her coworker’s incompetence. The best thing in this situation is for OP to step back and reroute Jane’s questions to the boss/someone else, aggressively make sure credit is recognised moving forward, and to stop covering for Jane.

        Reply
    11. pcake

      Do you keep logs of what she needs help with or things you had to fix for her, the date and how much time she required, as well as including? It might impress your boss more how useless she is if you can show him that you showed her on 5 different occasions how to do the exact same thing.

      Reply
      1. BeenThere

        That doesn’t help if the offender is being protected and often gets you on the wrong side of management. Speaking from recent firsthand experience here.

        Reply
    12. Susan Calvin

      Hi OP!

      Glad you’ve made that resolution; good for you. If it ever feels hard to stick to, like maybe you’re being mean or unfair after all, please think of me – who will be losing sleep over this letter. I’m serious. Because my ability to function in the workplace in large parts hinges on the conviction that if I actually sucked, *someone* would surely tell me that to my face?

      Reply
    13. Observer

      Well, document everything. Get as much of this in email as possible so it’s harder to do the whole “You must have misunderstood” nonsense.

      If you refuse to clean up her messes and / or make the cost clear when you DO help her, the problem starts becoming your boss’ rather than yours. That’s what you want to happen.

      Reply
  16. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    I think OP should us this as an opportunity for self-reflection as well, as to why she has, for years, been volunteering for the clean-up/mentor squad for the poor performer. It might make the AAM action plan easier to execute.

    Reply
  17. CatCat

    Oh my goodness, she sounds utterly exhausting. Sounds like she is miserable and making everyone else miserable. If she starts crying, I encourage you to excuse yourself and leave the room so you don’t become the crutch she leans on for comfort during the crying. “I can see you’re really upset! I’ll excuse myself and give you a few minutes to collect yourself.” Then walk away.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yes yes yes. Crying can be a technique people use to manipulate you, and this is the perfect response. If somebody was actually overcome with emotion, they would be grateful for a moment to pull themselves together; if they’re crying AT you, this will hopefully short-circuit that.

      Reply
  18. Persimmon

    I am coming out of long-time lurker mode to comment on this. OP, I feel for you. I am a female software developer and I am good at my job. My coworker is a female software developer who stinks at her job. Like your coworker, she spends months on projects that should take weeks, claims to be doing training but does not remember how to do simple tasks, and basically hasn’t mastered the basic skills after two years on the job.

    I take pride in being an awesome software developer partly to defeat the stereotype that women can’t code. But this coworker truly sucks, not just because she’s a woman. She’s doing a disservice to all women in technology by staying in this role.

    I don’t have any advice for you beyond what Alison said, but I hear you.

    Reply
    1. OP with the coworker who sucks

      Thank you for commenting – I’m the letter writer and am also a software engineer (yay!). I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only person with this problem. Your description of her sounds EXACTLY like mine.
      I totally am in the same boat about wanting to defy the stereotype of “women can’t code”. Good luck with your coworker and keep being an awesome dev :)

      Reply
      1. Lora

        Five YEARS in software-land?!? That’s like 35 years in other fields. I mean, I work reasonably hard to keep up with the latest and greatest most cutting-edgiest things in MY field (hello CRISPR and CAR-T, someday I’ll get around to learning you) and I know for a fact that computer languages are way harder to maintain. The one friggin’ thing that you REALLY MUST do in software is be a fast learner, so you can learn the newest changes to Java / Python / Ruby / whatever that happened in the last 20 minutes. And there’ll be more next week. You can be terrible at math and a fuzzy thinker and have the social skills of a poo-flinging monkey suffering from tertiary syphilis, but you absolutely must be a detail-oriented fast learner with a very decent memory (cause it’s a ton of rote memorization) to work in software.

        Nah, you’re not doing her any favors helping her.

        Reply
        1. wayward

          It’s not that extreme, but if you never make any effort to keep up, it will show. The key is figuring out what information is relevant to your job (and general employability).

          Reply
    2. LilyP

      I feel what you’re saying here, but I also want to push back on the idea that women who struggle with tech are “doing a disservice to all women in technology”. I know that when I was a female computer science major I worried a lot about “making women look bad” or letting my gender down somehow if I ever made mistakes, and it definitely had a chilling effect on my behavior, from asking questions in class to going after risky opportunities to speaking up in group projects.

      Obviously the co-worker in question has some other stuff going on with self-centeredness/entitlement/emotional manipulation, and coding may not be the right job for her, but those are her individual problems. She’s not doing a disservice to women in tech by failing; the people who see one woman fail and make sexist generalizations are.

      Reply
      1. Eye of Sauron

        I kind of agree and disagree :)

        A woman in tech who sucks isn’t singlehandedly doing ‘damage’ to all other women in tech.

        but…

        A woman in tech who sucks and is putting blame on the fact she’s a woman instead of the fact that she sucks is going to make it harder on other women.

        The good(?) news is that incompetence can be found in every color, religion, gender, nationality or any other group-able trait. So those factors should be irrelevant. It becomes sticky when people, either the one who sucks or those around them, use them as reasons for the incompetence. In my opinion no matter who is doing it, it’s detrimental.

        Reply
        1. Plague of frogs

          This woman is trying to drag another woman down with her. So she is, specifically, damaging another woman in tech.

          I do hate the extra anxiety of being a woman in tech and having to “prove” myself all the time–I felt it keenly at the beginning of my career. After 17 years in engineering, I find a lot of that anxiety has gone away. It gets better :)

          Reply
        2. LilyP

          Fair point! There is a sort of “crying wolf about gendered inequality” thing she’s doing here that could be harmful

          Reply
      2. Sloan Kittering

        This is such a fine needle to thread! I know when I’m trying to do something that is new, and I’m “supposed to be bad at it,” the pressure is terrible. There’s Stereotype Threat to deal with too, making me perform even worse than I should. But after five years, I think it’s safe to say this woman isn’t going to pick it up.

        Reply
    3. BeenThere

      Me too, I got burnt badly by another female senior software engineer who constantly needed help often multiple times with the same simple task. I raised the issue as the technical lead and all I got from my manager is “you aren’t being helpful”. Anytime I pushed back on spending all day doing her job for her or if her work wasn’t getting done she’d go and complain to him that I wasn’t helping. So I spent the three days straight helping this woman to her greatest desires while documenting it all, then showed it to my manager. He said he didn’t believe me. So I left the team but before I did I found out bad coworker and manager’s children went to the same school. His unwillingness to address her performance was one of the most spineless things I’ve seen.

      Karma has paid back though, ever since I left the team has had zero progress and all the technical debt from this woman has come home to roost.

      Reply
    4. winter

      I wanna push back on “She’s doing a disservice to all women in technology by staying in this role”. If you don’t say this about men being shitty at their job¹, the wider issue isn’t her being shitty at her job (which sucks in the confines of your company, for sure), but that people are extrapolating from one person to the whole group.

      ¹ Because spoiler: they don’t say “he is doing a disservice to all male software developers”

      Reply
  19. Lora

    Oh wow. Yeah, pull back hard on how much you support this person.

    Have had friends who tell me they want to get into STEM, or move from their current field to my particular sub-field, because there are more job opportunities, it pays better, etc. and when I explain that you have to invest in at a bare minimum, a 3-year accelerated full time degree, they want to know why can’t they just do “something” with it. These are people who struggle with algebra, so multivariate calc and diffEq are out of the question for them, nevermind OChem. On occasion when they had a science degree in a vaguely related field, they have been able to get a position that they struggle in and then they want help – but they still can’t do more than high school level algebra, and they’re unwilling or unable to invest in any education that would be truly adequate. And they don’t want to hear that a week-long seminar isn’t going to cut it.

    Your colleague is apparently going to have to learn the hard way that not everyone gets to be an astronaut.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Yeah, I think OP can absolutely just start flatly refusing to teach this person technical skills they should already know, going in off hours to fix her errors, and so on. Building up other women in the workplace is one thing; this is quite the other.

      Reply
      1. Anony

        If just refusing feels too abrupt a change, she could also try redirecting to other resources. I have personally found that directing people to online classes or forwarding them a powerpoint gets them to leave me alone but I don’t feel like I can be accused of not being a team player. It also discourages them from asking me for help just because they think it is easier than looking something up. However, OP is not obligated to point the way towards other resources and should not feel any need to do that if she is comfortable just saying no.

        Reply
        1. Lora

          Yeah, this works, although I have gotten the “will this weeknight 2-hour class teach me reactor design?” questions thereafter. But “oh you can borrow my Giant Textbook Reference” has been helpful in getting people to realize that if they can’t even figure out what to look up in the index of the Giant Reference Book, they have a bigger problem.

          If I can manage it, I try to let the interns and kids fresh out of college borrow the same reference book and use it successfully in front of the frequently needy person so they know exactly how far behind others they are, relatively speaking. But the OP’s problem hasn’t even realized how bad she is relative to the interns, and that’s saying something.

          Reply
        2. wayward

          Pointing them to resources is a good idea because it sends a message that when you don’t know how to do something, you look up information and find ways to teach yourself.

          Reply
        1. tangerineRose

          I work as a software developer, and I did take a lot of math in college, and I almost never use any math that’s more advanced than basic algebra.

          Reply
          1. Windchime

            Same here. I’ve done application development and currently do mostly SQL and there is very little math other than basic arithmetic and algebra in what I do. Some programming is very “math-y”, but lots of it isn’t.

            Reply
      1. Lissa

        I wonder if this is related to how some people talk about STEM, as though it’s the be all and end all and people who are Motivated and Smart should do it! Without realizing plenty of motivated, smart people don’t have an aptitude for math and science no matter how hard they work.

        Reply
        1. WellRed

          Thank you! As an English grad with a facility for language, all the focus on STEM disheartens. It’s not feasible for many people.

          Reply
          1. Lissa

            same, man. My two best talents are a really good verbal memory (not visual) and being a super fast typist. Not things that are likely to get me an amazing job in a well-looked at field. :D

            Reply
        2. Persimmon

          Right, and just because we need more women in STEM doesn’t mean that all women are cut out for STEM. Not all men are cut out for STEM either.

          Reply
          1. Lora

            I would argue that STEM jobs are becoming a bit like being a professional musician – so many more very qualified people want to get into it than there are jobs available, that realistically you should expect to have a boring day job which is only tangentially related and involves minimal actual research. Sort of like how even Juilliard grads end up with a non-fine-arts day job.

            That’s how we ended up with a bunch of quants in finance: physicists who realized they would be far more gainfully employed writing software for trading than chasing the tiny number of physicist jobs available. It’s the same in just about every STEM field: there’s not a shortage of qualified people, only a shortage of employers who want to pay for that kind of responsibility AND able to hear objective reality without getting upset.

            But that is neither here nor there for OP.

            Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              Hmm… I would say that if you have talents that fit well with STEM, it tends to open a lot of different pathways to jobs. Including the quants who drop out of grad school after two years to write models of financial markets (rather than of bosons) and the ones who get a PhD and then go into consulting (about international sales, not bosons). The people I knew who did that liked analyzing data and developing models, and were about as happy to do that outside a lab as in, so more money tipped the deal. They don’t wish they could be analyzing bosons and glumly settle for financial markets as a safety job while they research on the side.

              Reply
            2. Quant

              I’m a quant at a high frequency trading firm and I do a ton of research (including writing and publishing papers). I do cutting edge math. I made 6 figures early in my career. It has nothing to do with settling – finance is a great field for people who do math.

              Reply
        3. hermit crab

          And even if you “have an aptitude for math and science,” that doesn’t mean you HAVE to pursue it or else let down other women/feminism in general/everyone who’s supported you/your potential/etc. There are lots of other ways to be successful!

          Reply
  20. She Who Must Be Obeyed (formerly Laura)

    I’d be tempted to tell her you’re too busy to listen to her whining/crying because you’re doing *her* work…I don’t know if I’d actually have the nerve to say it to her, but I’d be thinking it *very* loudly!

    Reply
  21. Birch

    This is not impostor syndrome and this is infuriating. This woman is using that term as a crutch to get other people to help her out, thus confirming her own belief that she is doing fine. OP, you don’t need to humor her. Get busy with your own work, stop covering for her, play things totally straight, and act confused if she straight up asks you to cover for her. Set the example for others that they don’t need to cover for her either. You do need to talk to the manager about this, and frame it as you’ve been helping her for a while, but it’s taking up too much of your time and energy and you have to stop doing that, and that her performance is affecting your work. When she complains about not understanding something, can you just say “That’s a problem, you really need to do this, it’s part of your job.” Honestly I think you should straight up tell her she is misusing the term ‘impostor syndrome’ and that it’s insulting to everyone who is really struggling with it. Neither of you are doing the rest of us any good by pretending that actual incompetence is the same thing, and it makes it harder for us because this is exactly what impostor syndrome tells you is happening–that everyone else is just covering for you and you haven’t actually earned your achievements. This has to stop, for the good of everyone.

    Reply
  22. C in the Hood

    Also, are you getting any credit from your boss for helping her & covering for her? (i.e. does it come into play during performance reviews?) Because if you’re not, then why keep doing it?

    Reply
    1. Lumen

      I’m guessing the benefit here is the avoidance of social (and possibly professional) blowback. In most environments, it’s assumed: women nurture. Women say yes. Women help. Women are ‘nice’. Women are always there to pull you out of a jam.

      Just saying no, setting healthy boundaries, and letting someone who is incompetent fail on their own terms? In a lot of places, that earns you a disproportionate amount of judgement and backlash. Not because what you did was wrong or cruel in any way, but because it goes against what we’re culturally conditioned to expect (and therefore demand) from women.

      No idea if this is the case at OP’s office, but if it were me? Even without any other benefit, just avoiding the sexist blowback might be enough to keep me on the hook.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        I wonder if our OP has observed how the men in the office interact with her. Maybe she should take some tactics from them.

        (Of course, it’s unlike that Jane goes to whine to them about imposter syndrome, or the difficulties of being a woman, so there may not be an easy way to observe the guys’ reaction to that, but maybe she can imagine it. And do it.)

        Because I think there are some things that men do better than women. They get a different set of socialization. (even if it’s just that they are given permission to let their discomfort with “too emotional!!” topics show, and thereby they learn that it’s a way to avoid them)

        Reply
        1. OP with the coworker who sucks

          Hi, I’m the letter writer! This is smart – I do have one male coworker who is successful at blowing her off. Unsurprisingly, she hates him >:) I’ll probably go talk to him (we’ve commiserated about her in the past) to see what tips he has and attempt to observe their interactions (this is less feasible without looking like I’m lurking around, but I’ll see what opportunities there are).

          Unfortunately, I think a lot of the men are worried about her crying “discrimination!” (a part I forgot until just now: she’s reported men to HR before for doing anti-woman things. Or something. Really they just don’t tolerate her bullshit). So, they go along with bailing her out.

          Wow, just typing that really solidified how manipulative and terrible she is.

          Reply
          1. Eye of Sauron

            ughh…

            Honestly the best way you could help is to blow her off. Then at least when she complains about a man doing it, they can use you as an example and say “Hey OP with the coworker who sucks did the same thing and she didn’t get a complaint leveled against her”

            This does now shed a little more light on why your boss may not be aggressive towards fixing the performance problems.

            Reply
          2. Falling Diphthong

            This reminds me of the saying that equality means the freedom to be bad at your job. And it’s just one person, bad at speed llama grooming, without it becoming “Oh yeah, we once had a blue square in the company. Didn’t work out.

            I wish I could remember the exact line, but it was from a physicist about being told by a professor in grad school about something he’d observed over the years with women: Some were good at physics, but others weren’t as good. He presented this as a startling difference between the sexes.

            Reply
  23. Cafe au Lait

    My coworker was/is like this. She’s been at her job for almost twenty years, but still needed constant reminding on simple processes. My boss kept bailing her out as what didn’t get done still needed doing.

    Until my boss was promoted, and I wasn’t around to bail Coworker out. Suddenly she figured out how to manage those tasks. Correctly and on time. While I can still run circles around her in terms of daily tasks, I no longer feel that the entire department is riding on my shoulders.

    Reply
  24. ArtK

    Sometimes the most compassionate and supportive thing to do is: Nothing. Sadly, she’s clearly in the wrong job and covering for her is not being supportive, it’s really hurting her. She has no motivation to find a job that suits her talents.

    Reply
    1. BadPlanning

      We had a coworker that was brilliant but horrible to work with. He wasn’t exactly a jerk, but everyone dreaded having to work with him directly.

      After much coaching, my manager took the hard line and gave him a low rating as a wake call.

      Then the low rating got somewhat unexpectedly caught in a layoff. People had mixed feelings about this result, of course. Relief mixed with guilt.

      But Coworker quickly got a new job that probably suits him better overall.

      Reply
  25. Cheesehead

    When she starts in with her whining for sympathy, at what point can you just say, “Frankly, I don’t blame Jane for being a bit upset at how you handled this. It was a relatively simple task that we give our interns, and they perform it fine. I’ve showed you how to do it X number of times. Yet you still forgot to use soap when you bathed the llamas, and you didn’t even comb them afterward. What’s up with that?”

    And maybe it’s high time that someone told her what impostor syndrome REALLY is! “You know, Felicity, you keep mentioning impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is basically when you don’t think you’re good at something that you really are….like you’re an impostor in your role. But you’ve actually been having trouble in your role, where people have to step in and help you or correct your mistakes. Frequently. So if you’re feeling frustration with your job, that’s something, but it’s definitely NOT impostor syndrome.”

    Methinks that if you say one of those two things….which are perfectly polite, by the way….she will give you a very wide berth in the future. Right now, she wants sympathy. Challenge her accountability instead and call her on it. Five years of this crap IS manipulation. Start calling her on it and being too busy to help her.

    Reply
  26. Oliver

    Oh wow, what a title! I’m not sure it counts as imposter syndrome if she’s actually bad at what she does? But it sounds like she’s latched on to that term as an excuse for why she’s not doing well, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    I mostly came here to reiterate that supporting women doesn’t mean making sure all the women in the office do well. It’s more like making sure you’re fostering a healthy environment for women in general as best you can.

    Reply
  27. wayward

    It sounds like she’s in over her head , i.e., she lacks crucial skills and being overly dependent on other people is the only way she knows how to survive at work. If she’s getting training and not retaining a lot of the stuff she’s been taught, that’s not a good sign. (Has she been explicitly encouraged to take notes?)

    Reply
  28. sometimeswhy

    I have one of these too, right down to calling it impostor syndrome, literally crying about it, and a boss who Believes In Her despite all evidence. I managed to cut myself out of her self-pity loop–which involved a lot of being very boring and repeating myself when I had to say no or correct her–but our roles still intersect very occasionally and I still have to deal with her OTHER colleagues who are still trapped in/blinded by it.

    Thanks, OP, for writing in. I’m going to be watching the comments on this one pretty closely.

    Reply
    1. OP with the coworker who sucks

      Letter writer here! One of the most enlightening things about writing in (in addition to Alison’s great advice) was to see how many other people have this same situation! I’m glad to hear that you’ve successfully cut yourself out of that situation – I’m hoping to do the same.

      Reply
  29. Bagpuss

    I agree with the advice to stop enabling her.
    If she asks for help with things you’ve shown her before, then a “Sorry, I don’t have time to go over it with you again, Perhaps you should review your notes from last time I walked you through it? ”
    Speak up to your boss to praise others who have picked up/ dealt with the things she has dropped or messed up.
    Redirect – I’m sorry, I don’t have time to discuss this – perhaps you should speak to Boss about any difficulties you’re having.
    I do think, as Alison suggests, that you can push back a bit if she is blaming it on her gender., even if it’s just a “That hasn’t been my experience working here” or, if you feel you could say it without it become a huge thing, even “That’s not something I’ve observed in how people here treat either of us. I’m aware you’ve had to ask for a lot of help, do you think that people may be reacting to the amount of extra help you’re asking for, rather than your gender?” But I’d only say that if you think that it won’t trigger a lot of drama.

    Reply
    1. OP with the coworker who sucks

      letter writer here – unless you are manipulative and terrible and I woke up and somehow became the boss… ;)

      Reply
    2. LQ

      I’m so glad I’m not the only person who had this reaction to this letter. I love it when details are included enough that I can be sure it’s not actually me. I mean, I might still suck, but I don’t think I’m manipulative, and aside from the disaster I’m working on now (which my boss keeps telling me isn’t my failure) it’s never taken me a year to do anything…but yeah, is that me!?

      Reply
    1. Birch

      This is one of those situations where if you’re invested enough to question your own view of the situation, you’re fine. But yes, also, I have been known to claim that I’m the one person who legitimately IS the worst. :D

      Reply
    2. wayward

      Oh yeah, there have definitely been things I’ve struggled with and screwed up, and sometimes I look back at something and think, “God, why didn’t I know to…?” So there’s some sympathy for the inept coworker. OTOH, I’ve done a fair amount of reading and studying on my own time to build skills and have also participated in hackathons, open source projects, tech groups, etc. So it’s a little harder to understand someone who doesn’t even try.

      One of the most toxic managers I worked for told me that my ability was low. Others have told me that I was very smart. I figure that the key is not to get sucked into extremes on either side. The reality is that I’ve done some things well, and also things that I should work on improving. So just keep trying and avoid getting either discouraged or complacent.

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yeah the whole point of combating these feelings is to use real metrics to evaluate your progress. It sounds like this person is failing on the metrics.

        Reply
        1. wayward

          Heck, I think being able to realize that there were better ways to approach some things in the past and feeling embarrassed are probably signs of progress, albeit uncomfortable ones. But yeah, the usual progression for me seems to be 1) be unable to do x without help, 2) do x slowly without help, 3) go about x in a methodical way that makes sense, 4) do x fairly quickly and easily.

          Reply
    3. Tuxedo Cat

      I have, a lot. I also know I’ve screwed myself at times, because I’ve eroded by confidence to the point that I’ve made rookie mistakes.

      Reply
    4. Rusty Shackelford

      It seems unlikely that the LW’s coworker is truly that oblivious to her own shortcomings, unless they’re somehow hiding the amount of work they do on her behalf. Or maybe she thinks that’s just how it works for everyone?

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        It’s hard to know what these whackadoos think of themselves, but I’d guess this person thinks she deserves better than she’s gotten so far, and that all the failures are outside of her control.

        Reply
  30. Lissa

    Oh man, this letter! It reminds me so much of someone in my personal life who constantly says, and I’m not paraphrasing THAT much, “I have such low confidence even though I’m super smart!” I think sometimes when a particular concept gets a lot of attention all at once it can be really easy to attribute that to oneself, especially if it’s flattering. I mean, by saying “imposter syndrome” there’s the underlying idea that you are actually good at what you do! And it gets into questions of “how do I know if I’m good at my job and not experiencing imposter or Dunning Kruger or some weird mix.”

    I agree with the advice given – it seems like she’s either being deliberately manipulative and realizes using buzzwords like “imposter syndrome” means nobody wants to correct her, or she keeps telling herself it’s imposter syndrome instead of not actually being very good. I think there’s often a lot of advice given by well meaning friends and so on, that basically says “No, you couldn’t possibly terrible! It’s just low confidence!” but…well, some people do actually suck at their jobs, it could be your friend whose work you actually have no idea of. (not that I’m suggesting people tell their insecure friends they might just suck, but…)

    Reply
  31. Leela

    Oh man, in a previous job, I (a woman) felt extremely respected by my male co-workers and superiors, of which there were many because it was tech. My boss and her boss, both women, were not respected at all but it was clearly because of their poor work and lack of professionalism. I’m well aware that women being treated less equal for being women is a thing and have seen and experienced it firsthand many times, but that’s not what was happening here.

    My boss would lie about her mistakes, try and blame them on other people, and when hard evidence was put right in front of her that she had messed up or lied, she’d totally blow it off, literally to the point of suddenly pretending you weren’t in her office until you got so weirded out you just left because she wasn’t acknowledging you or responding to your speech. Her boss, the HR department head, would be tasked with something, call us all into a meeting and ask us what she should do, while shrinking her head down into her shoulders and looking around nervously. She’d jump to conclusions without investigating, gossip about issues with coworkers pay in meetings when it had no bearing on my job or work activities at all, and refuse to take responsibility for the fact that our department wasn’t healthy/functioning well. Both of these women would constantly talk about being underpaid and undervalued just because they were women. I don’t know their pay but I still feel somewhat confident saying that whatever it was, it was too much.

    Reply
    1. OP with the coworker who sucks

      I’m really amused at the boss who pretended you were invisible when you presented her with evidence. Wow.
      It reminds me of how dogs pretend they didn’t do something bad and look the other way. That’s spectacularly bad.

      Reply
      1. Leela

        Yes it was ridiculous!! If I wasn’t on a contract I would have been tempted to bring it up to beyond the grandboss, but that would have been CFO. I thought it would be very odd and professionally dangerous for a contractor to go up to the CFO with such a problem so I just ran out my contract and left.

        Reply
  32. Caledonia

    Your co worker probably needs to be put on a PIP and then let go if she doesn’t meet the standards of it. It doesn’t sound like she can do the job and is causing everyone more work by carrying her.

    Reply
    1. OP with the coworker who sucks

      Hi, I’m the letter writer!

      I feel that way, you feel that way, everyone we work with feels that way…. but I have no bearing on her employment situation. She actually recently got promoted(!!!!!). My boss didn’t want to promote her (he’s not totally blind to her nonsense), but someone higher up felt bad that she hadn’t been promoted for 5 years.

      So, Her Royal Ineptitude is gonna be here for a while. Best I can do is follow Alison’s advice and not enable her.

      Reply
        1. Fortitude Jones

          LOL! They sometimes did at my old company, smh. But I agree with you – this is so wrong on so many levels.

          Reply
      1. Eye of Sauron

        And this, my friends, is why it’s critical to have measurable benchmarks and quantifiable measurements for employees from day 1.

        I think the only thing you or your boss can hope for at this point is that she finds another job and moves on from your department. Sounds like you’re both stuck with her.

        Reply
      2. Lora

        Oh noooooo…now THAT is insulting, that there are qualified women busting their butts to carry her, and instead of the people who are pulling more than their weight, SHE gets promoted.

        Depressingly, I have seen this happen because the woman they promote fits the higher-ups’ idea of what a woman in tech should be like and the other women don’t fit that notion regardless of their contributions.

        Reply
  33. AKchic

    Wow.
    There is so much here. I’m not even sure where to begin.
    I think that the biggest thing that stuck out at me, and stuck with me is the “boosting women up” part. Yes, we want to boost other women up in the workforce, but you yourself admit that her work, objectively, is terrible. If you are trying to boost her morale and ego by saying “no, you’re not terrible” while actively knowing it is – you are lying to her. Please don’t. You aren’t doing her any favors, and you aren’t doing anyone else any favors either.
    In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say she actually knows how bad she is (Dunning Kruger here be damned) and is manipulating and playing pity party for both the manipulation factor and the outright ego stroke.

    As others have said: Stop doing her work for her. Stop helping her. She has mastered the learned/feigned helplessness. Its time to master the art of “too busy to help” (and by help, we mean “too busy to do your work for you, Tom Sawyer”), “too much on your plate” and no longer have time to listen to her complaints about her emotions, and learn the art of redirection. When she has problems, start redirecting her to your boss. “Hey, I think X needs to know about that so X can help you find solutions to your *ongoing* problem”.

    It would help if you could get everyone else on board with this so it puts pressure on the boss to actually deal with her.

    Reply
  34. Dust Bunny

    Stop bailing this woman out. Sisterhood < personhood, sorry. She can't do the job. She doesn't get a pass because you're both women.

    Reply
  35. ReallyNeedToGetBackToWork

    I could have written this, but from a few years further down the road. So there are a couple differences: firstly, I was finally in a supervisory role with my soul-sucker and I spent an inordinate amount of time setting clear expectations and deadlines, walking her through things, etc. Nothing improved, so I did a performance review that was pretty honest — X, Y, and Z hadn’t gotten done — but also gentle — I said possibly, maybe, I hadn’t been clear enough. She went ballistic, and threatened to take me to mediation for my sexism. I’m also a woman but she says I’m a Queen Bee who crushes all the females by whom I’m threatened. So things soured and after that project she didn’t seek me out anymore, but a colleague who became her supervisor explained what might be going on with your boss. Every time she gets a neutral-or-worse review, she claims sexism. She’s even burst into tears during performance reviews. Manipulate much?

    I’m a woman, and I’m pretty into gender equality, and so now whenever I see this woman I feel literally sick to my stomach, as she single-mindedly poisons the pond and derails much of our progress towards parity. And also it makes pretty clear that the “help me” and the “poor me, I’ve got imposter syndrome” is all just manipulative BS. Wide berth; she deserves wide berth.

    Reply
    1. SusanIvanova

      I’m hoping there are only a few of those and they just get around a lot: long ago, I was on a software team that was already at near M/F parity. We hired a new programmer who said she’d left her last job because of sexual harassment. Time goes by and it becomes obvious she’d overstated her skills, and she doesn’t take well to criticism. Everything your coworker did, plus her reaction to the bad review is to go running to HR to accuse our male team lead of harassment. I discover this because team lead is also my office mate, and HR calls me in to ask about one of her stories: she claimed he called her into his (our) office, shut the door, etc. Which would be a good trick in a shared office with glass walls, when she never once stayed later than I did.

      Reply
    2. Leela

      You hit the nail on the head here: stuff like this totally undermines it when women who are actually experiencing sexism come forward. It shouldn’t be the case but it is, and women make it harder for the rest of us to make progress.

      Reply
  36. SusanIvanova

    ” You can stop bailing her out when she messes up. Part of the reason your boss may be avoiding dealing with the problem is because other people are rescuing this coworker, and thereby preventing it from being a problem for him.”

    This. My boss wasn’t avoiding dealing with Coworker Coffeecup, but gathering evidence takes a lot of time in something as fluid as software development where it’s hard to point at something that’s 100% one person’s effort or lack thereof.

    We helped him out without realizing it: individual team members’ busy cycles don’t overlap, so the less-busy will sometimes pick up a small task from the busy ones. Nobody did that for Coffeecup, even though he had a dozen things in his bug queue that would take about 5 minutes to do – non-essential, but nice to have. Turned out part of his PIP was to complete one small task from the queue every day. By letting his queue stay nice and big, we helped our manager get him booted.

    Reply
  37. Ruth (UK)

    Omg I too have had a past coworker like this, however not as bad as this one, and she didn’t make it so much about gender. She felt she was more individually singled out (for no specific reason). She was below average but not terrible at her job but constantly sought validation and felt she had imposter syndrome (actually used the term). She also would get upset etc and have overly personal conversations with me about how undervalued she felt (and would also get emotional and ask me for oversteppy favours).

    Anyway, I found her difficult enough to cope with and I think she was a much milder version of what the OP is experiencing. My main advice is to try as much as possible to remain as un-emotionally-invested in her problems as you are able to when she engages with you in discussion about it, and be as bland as possible about anything you reply. I used a lot of ‘I see’ and ‘oh’ etc rather ‘yes’ ‘ok’ or ‘uh huh’ that might be read as me directly agreeing with her (rather than just acknowledging hearing/listening)

    Reply
  38. it_guy

    People who are struggling with impostor syndrome don’t actually worry that they have impostor syndrome. It’s the ones that keep bringing it up are the ones that don’t have it.

    Reply
  39. So Not Me

    Oh my gosh… I could have written this letter, only about my boss who is a VP. She is so insecure while at the same time says how qualified and skilled she is while under performing. It is so frustrating working for someone like that.

    Reply
  40. Clairels

    This woman does not have imposter syndrome, and the fact that she claims she does proves why the term “imposter syndrome” is becoming more and more meaningless the more it’s used. I’m sure imposter syndrome WAS a legitimate thing for many people once upon a time or perhaps still is for some, but because it’s now the workplace buzzword du jour, it is on its way to losing all meaning entirely because it’s claimed by all sorts of people with all sorts of problems who have nothing to do with the original concept.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      It does label something that occurs and can be hard for people to picture–specifically thinking of people from the dominant group in industry X, who have always been messaged they belong in X, and are initially mystified that the only blue triangle on staff might not take being an X as their birthright. Or might feel that every action gets filtered through “so we once admitted a blue triangle, and based on that data point of 1 I know all about blue triangles in this field.” (I’m coming at this from knowing someone doing college orientation to address “So you are probably now meeting a more diverse group of people than you knew in high school.”)

      Just because words get over-used and splattered on every slow-moving surface doesn’t mean the concept stops existing, or mattering. (See “introversion.”)

      Reply
  41. GreenDoor

    I like the last tip from AAM the best. Start agreeing with her!
    “Yes, it’s odd that after five years you still don’t have that down pat.”
    “Yes, you sure do seem to struggle with that moreso than everyone else.”
    Just keep on agreeing with her. I bet she stops running to you for help and for a crying session in no time. Especially if you couple that with no longer helping her/training her, etc.

    Reply
    1. AKchic

      I like this. Validate the wrong things ever so helpfully.
      I mean… nothing else has worked to get her to improve, so why not?

      Reply
    2. Maggie

      Agreed and add…

      “Yes, it’s odd that after five years you still don’t have that down pat. Although you’ve had all that extra training on it. ”

      “Yes, you sure do seem to struggle with that more so than everyone else. Even after all the training you’ve had.”

      Reply
  42. MommyMD

    You don’t have to tip toe around chronically BAD employees. Do not cover for her. Let her sink or swim. When she whines to you for validation simply say “I can’t help you with that ” and turn back to your work. Do not apologize or placate. She’s an adult and her job performance is up to her. Don’t enable her. Good luck. I also would not have “the big talk” with her because she could find a way to turn it against you.

    Reply
  43. Anon for this

    I’m honestly kind of put off by women who don’t bust their butts to ensure that no one can use laziness as an excuse against them. You don’t get to use gender discrimination as a smokescreen when you refuse to take responsibility for your work product, and I’m sure as hell not going to have my credibility damaged by supporting someone like that.

    I’m a WoC who probably experiences some weird work stuff because of being a WoC. BUT, I’m intensely self-sufficient to a fault and I make skill development a priority because I will always be on shaky ground – being good is not ever going to be enough to be seen as good. I do not come to work expecting anyone to respect me unless I act like I take my competence seriously. I have to kill it at my job 24/7 in order to even be able to be candid about the ways in which things other than my performance affect the way I’m perceived at work, otherwise I’d have no hope in hell of finding allies. And that’s the standard to which I hold my female colleagues. I believe in solidarity, but you’re not entitled to it unless you’re good, sorry.

    Reply
  44. flaps

    Even though she’s incompetent, it could still be that she’s not respected by co-workers because she’s a woman! Men get much more of a free pass on incompetence than women do.

    Reply
    1. wayward

      Hmm…like where a blowhard guy might be more highly regarded than a needy woman, even if they’re equally incompetent? That’s plausible.

      Reply
    2. Clairels

      Yes, but there’s still the fact that…she’s incompetent. And she’s bringing the OP down with her. If there’s any sexism going on here it very much takes a back seat to that. Sure there could be some equally inept male employee somewhere who is being allowed to get away with murder, but the OP didn’t mention that.

      Reply
    3. Observer

      Can we stop with the excuse making? She’s incompetent to a level that she does not deserve any respect in a workplace context. Why on earth would you ignore that and try to spin this as a matter of xx-ism? The OP sure is not getting upset because this person is a female. Jumping to “it’s because she’s a woman” when there is good evidence for real and significant issues is NOT fair to ANYONE, not men and not women.

      Please stop it.

      Reply
      1. wayward

        Oh, I just thought it was an interesting question. Definitely not a reason to let an incompetent coworker slide, regardless of gender.

        Reply
  45. August

    I know LW has made some comments re: how this woman is likely manipulating her coworkers, but…I can’t help but feel kind of bad for her? Because honestly, I can see how she would think that what she’s experiencing is impostor syndrome! Her coworkers help her with her work and assure her that she’s doing alright/can get better, her boss never talks to her about her bad performance, and she hasn’t just been retained for 5 years- she’s gotten a promotion!

    So she’s stuck in a position where she’s constantly panicking about her bad work and asking for help, but, miraculously, no outside forces have ever come out and said, “that internal panic and insecurity that you always feel? That’s absolutely right, you’re not succeeding at this job.” If no one at work ever told me that I was failing after FIVE YEARS, I’d think I had impostor syndrome too! Five years of no one ever cluing me in to the fact that I’m not meeting any of the required metrics, and that my coworkers helping me out on every project is not actually a thing that’s supposed to happen? My personal hell. LW, I think Alison’s absolutely right, the best thing that you can do at this point is to be honest and stop bailing her out.

    Reply
  46. MassMatt

    Ugh, another incompetent but untouchable employee. I wonder why anyone in this organization bothers to do their jobs, or learn anything, when a person who doesn’t gets other people to do or redo her work, and gets promoted!

    Bad manager for not recognizing or confronting the problem, but when the update comes in that grandboss promotes the incompetent employe (because he felt sorry for her?!) it shifts to doubting the competence of the organization as a whole.

    Reply
  47. Willow Sunstar

    Refusing (even politely) to help may cause you problems if you work in a forced-niceness setting. My advice: be sure to have actual other projects so your manager does not automatically blame you.

    I had a male incompetent coworker for several years. I had to look for another job, as management was unwilling to do anything about said coworker.

    Reply
  48. LadyCop

    I really like what Alison had to say here. Ultimately, we want to help women we work with succeed (especially those of us in male dominated fields) but through human nature, and sheer statistics alone, not every woman is going to be able to carrying her own weight in a given role…no matter how much shoring up you do. That’s life. And gender aside, no man or woman should be investing emotional energy, time, political pull etc. on people who can’t/won’t benefit from it. Especially when a lot of us don’t have much to give.

    Reply
  49. Student

    While you are investing all your energy into this lost cause woman, there are many other more competent and deserving women who are missing out on what you can offer as a mentor. Prioritize your time, and invest it in places it is more likely to pay off.

    Reply
  50. Dogeared

    I’m in a similar situation with so many parallels that I hesitate to name them all or describe my situation for fear that someone will somehow recognize me. I’ve been trying for a couple of years to do everything I can to make it better and/or find another job and it’s tough. I don’t think there’s much left in my power to improve my situation but reading all this makes me feel a little more confident/better since I’ve been made out to the grandboss/HR as part of the problem (although multiple coworkers disagree/support me).

    Anyway… I appreciate this post and everyone who’s taken the time to comment thoughtfully. <3

    Reply
  51. Techlead

    I have a coworker like this, but unfortunately I’m the team lead. I have both a responsibility to try and train her on the technical aspects of her job, and no power to enforce consequences when she messes up. My manager is strangely afraid of just letting her go and seems convinced she can improve. Ugh.

    Reply

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