can I ask if a coworker will be fired?

A reader writes:

My coworker, Sue, is painful to deal with. The feeling is shared by generally everyone in our office. In addition to personality issues, she is often tardy to meetings/work, misses deadlines, is unhygienic, etc. Sue has told us that her reviews have been much less than stellar.

While I enjoy the work and most of the people I work with, Sue is a substantial drag overall. My boss had previously telegraphed to me (not to the group) when I began working with her that Sue would be let go, but nothing ever came of it. I’m not sure if I’m considered a “superstar” or not, but I am generally in the “exceeds expectations” group, and I would be very surprised if our supervisor would rather retain Sue than me. Even if any action was a year away, I’d be OK with that; I just don’t want it to be a forever situation.

While I have not yet gotten to the point of an active job search, it is certainly something that encourages me to return calls from recruiters. I’ve made some very veiled attempts to communicate with our supervisor on the matter, but I’m not sure if I’m getting through. Is there an appropriate, and perhaps blunter way to bring this up? If it makes a difference, I wouldn’t want to make an ultimatum without another accepted offer (which I wouldn’t accept if I was considering staying), so I’m in a catch 22.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss slapped me
  • Why am good enough to train my new manager if I wasn’t good enough to get her job
  • Is it okay to ask my employer to look at my daughter’s application?
  • Should employers get back to all rejected candidates, or only people who were interviewed?

{ 202 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Denise

    Regarding the Sue situation, unfortunately, you never know if another “Sue” is waiting for you at a different employer. Or a different headache. I’d just keep that in mind before leaving specifically over this one issue.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      While true, the LW knows that her current employer has concerning issues – managers shouldn’t be “confiding” in direct reports, and companies should not be dragging their feet on handling problem employees.

      Reply
      1. EddieSherbert

        +1
        It’s very odd her manager told her Sue was being let go (when evidently she isn’t and Sue hasn’t been told that).

        Reply
      2. Denise

        Well, the LW doesn’t seem to be bothered by that. She wants her employer to go even further and not only continue to confide her intentions for this other employee in her, but to also take her own employment in consideration in doing so. The LW seems to be exclusively interested in being in a workplace without a difficult personality such as Sue, which leaving may or may not grant her.

        Reply
    2. Audenc

      Agreed! I’m wondering if this is OP’s first job. If the job is great other than single irritating colleague (who is not a direct supervisor)…well, it could be a lot worse in my experience.

      Reply
      1. Beth Jacobs

        I disagree. Sure, the OP doesn’t have cancer or an eating disorder, but if she works closely with Sue, it could be impacting her happiness at work a lot – if you spend 40 hours a week with someone who’s obnoxious and then have to do another five hours overtime because of Sue’s mistakes, that makes your life miserable.

        If people adhered by “it can always be worse”, they would never change jobs!

        Reply
        1. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

          Agreed. Today is actually my last day at my current job, and the largest slice of the “why am I quitting” pie chart is because of our Sue. She’s unhappy, needy, and hostile to clients. It is at least 50% harder to work when I’m on with her, which is all the time, because other coworkers just won’t be on shift with her. Manager can’t/won’t manage. It has dragged me down to the point where I’m just unhappy and completely exhausted at the end of every shift. Such a weight off my shoulders to be going!

          Reply
          1. Julia

            Same here. I quit my first full-time job mostly due to my own Sue, who I also had to share an office and tasks with, and it became unbearable after a while. Apparently, I wasn’t the first to quit over it.

            Reply
            1. pope suburban

              Me too. My last workplace was pretty much Sues all the way down, and it was just draining. When the bulk of your human interaction every week is with people who are difficult, dishonest, hostile, and demanding, you reach the weekend bone-tired. Even when you know it’s them and not you, it’s demoralizing to be dealing with that kind of thing all the time. I stuck it out there for three years because I had no other choice, but I was the rarity. Apparently, a lot of other people had quit over it, with a few just not coming back from their lunch break one day. Morale is way more important than a lot of managers seem to want to think, and while it’s not pleasant to discipline or fire a worker, the cost of not doing so with a Sue is often terribly high.

              Reply
              1. Julia

                So much this. In the end, managers will be left with underperforming Sues because everyone with other opportunities will leave.

                Reply
        2. Indoor Cat

          Tangent: I know ” at least you don’t have cancer or an eating disorder” is a meme around here, but what letter is it from? I can’t find it.

          Reply
  2. Penelope

    And perhaps Sue can’t be fired. Maybe she has some medical stuff going on that muddies the waters between performance and physical/mental capabilities.

    Reply
    1. LSP

      That may hold up for some of what OP brings up, but I’d think if Sue’s overall performance isn’t good and she has personality conflicts with people, OP’s employer needs only to document that, and then can fire her at will. Having a disability/medical issue doesn’t automatically ensure you can never be fired.

      Reply
    2. KHB

      Even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean the only option is putting up with this forever. If one member of a team needs an accommodation, the other members are well within their (moral) rights to insist that that accommodation NOT be “shoulder everyone else with so much more work that it makes their lives miserable.”

      It’s not clear, though, if that’s what’s going on here or not. Some of the things OP mentions in her letter sounds like they’re causing legitimate problems for workflow, but others sound more like Sue is b-eating-crackers level annoying. The OP would do well to make clear in her own mind which is which before she talks to the boss, and then be sure to focus on the former.

      Reply
    3. fposte

      That doesn’t mean somebody can’t be fired, though. That just means that it has to be done in accordance with protocol to make sure your legal boxes are ticked.

      Reply
    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is kind of a frustrating line of argument (along with “protected class!” arguments) because it’s a sign of a dysfunctional employer, not an actual problem that cannot be redressed. As fposte notes, the way to deal with performance issues when there may be an ADA issue, as well, is to go through all the proper procedures and protocols. Declining to address the performance problems or negative conduct is the mark of an ineffective manager, not antidiscrimination programs that seek to strike a balance between business needs and combatting structural discrimination.

      Reply
      1. Indoor Cat

        +1

        It’s possible to fire someone with a disability, just like it’s possible to fire a teacher or staff person in a union; when unions or the ADA put additional restrictions around firing to prevent discrimination at the workplace, there are always means to fire someone for non-discriminatory reasons like incompetence or hostility. Sure, it takes a bit longer and there’s more paperwork, but on the balance it’s good to have protections–even if it means occasionally a lazy manager won’t fire someone she otherwise would have if the work of firing took fewer steps.

        Reply
    5. Close Bracket

      “muddies the waters between performance and physical/mental capabilities”

      Performance and capabilities are never actually muddied. If you want to keep your job, you must be able to do the core responsibilities. You can ask for accommodations that do not burden your employer in doing those core responsibilities, but you must be able to do them.

      Reply
    6. Safetykats

      Either way, you don’t get to ask – and a good manager would respond by explaining that they won’t discuss confidential information concerning other employees with you – same as they wouldn’t discuss confidential information concerning you with other employees.

      And then, if you’re lucky, they will write that off to you being severely clueless about confidentiality and how personnel actions are conducted. If I was your manager though, it would leave a pretty bad taste in my mouth – regardless of whether you’re a high performer. You have to be pretty darn irreplaceable before you decide to tell your manager how to do their job – and even then, it might not work out well for you.

      As others have said, if Sue’s performance directly affects yours, you can register that with your manager. However, if you’re exceeding expectations, it doesn’t seem like it’s affecting you much. And if you just happen to find Sue distasteful or unlikeable, neither of those things are really relevant unless you’re being asked to share an office with her, or work really closely with her in a regular basis.

      Reply
    7. Not Sue

      Yeah, I’m convinced the Sue at my work has claimed disabilities and that’s why she hasn’t been fired yet despite poor performance and not being able to get along with people (which in my opinion makes her of no value to the company). I would be more sympathetic, but she’s annoying on a level I’ve never encountered before.

      Reply
    8. SophieK

      My own personal Sue, who was actually named Sue, couldn’t be fired because she had asked to be fired. My boss was gathering documentation to give her the axe, but firing her in response to her request would have been unemployment fraud.

      She was awful. She followed me around wanting to be in my presence all the time and considered me a daughter. (I hated her and did nothing to give her the impression that I liked her back.) She avoided clients, sitting in a cubicle and crying instead. She retained none of her training, preferring to ask me the same questions over and over. One of my managers and I made her a booklet for her to refer to, but she never used it. And she confided in me one day that she’s psychotic without her medication.

      I inadvertently caused her to quit by nicely “managing” her and “retraining” her one night when we were closing together. She was so upset by cool, calm, and collected non response to her drama that she drove to my bosses house and threw a temper tantrum, claiming that I yelled at her. My boss knew that wasn’t true and laughed herself silly.

      Since then I’ve gotten several Sues to quit by being coolly professional and holding them to a basic standard. It’s kind of magic and the breakdowns and tantrums are kind of fun to watch as long as you can steel yourself for the drama.

      So don’t quit, people! Help your boss with the force out!

      Reply
      1. Just Jess

        “Firing her in response to her request would have been unemployment fraud.” That’s not an actual loophole. End employment contracts without basing the decision on someone’s request to be fired.

        As other people have noted above, managers need to do the work of documenting poor performance so that they can show they fired someone based on their poor performance. Employees can claim whatever they want (discrimination, retaliation, evil twin) and the employer simply has to pull out the documentation.

        Reply
  3. ExcelJedi

    #1: Learning to work with people you dislike is an important life skill.

    If a direct report signaled to me that s/he would be likely to leave if another coworker wasn’t fired, I would think of them as a diva with poor judgement. The only way I think you could address this is by talking about how her behavior affects your work, not her personality or that you want her gone.

    Reply
    1. STG

      Same. Delivering ultimatums sounds like a power move and I wouldn’t be too surprised if you found yourself being shown the door afterwards.

      Reply
    2. Luna

      Yes, this. If Sue’s actions are directly impacting your work, it’s okay to raise these concerns with your manager, maybe ask to not be assigned to work with Sue on certain projects (though even with this you need to tread carefully, because if you won’t work with Sue than your other coworkers have to work with her more, which isn’t fair to them either). You can raise concerns but tread lightly.

      Reply
      1. TCO

        True. I’ve never asked for a co-worker to be fired or asked when they will be fired. I have asked for help in resolving issues that co-worker has created–for instance, at my last job I had an ineffective coworker that my managers kept telling me to delegate to, but delegating to her created more problems than it fixed. I did make management aware of those problems and then advocated for other resources (in this case, student employees) who I could delegate those tasks to instead.

        Reply
        1. Ann Nonymous

          I hope you delegated work to the incompetent employee, cc’d your bosses and then let the natural consequences occur.

          Reply
          1. TCO

            That would be ideal, but in this case my management made it clear that there would be no consequences and that resulting problems would be mine to resolve, which is why I eventually just worked around her. I no longer work there, not because of this employee but because of the ineffective management that affected many aspects of my job.

            Reply
            1. Julia

              Yeah, in a lot of cases, Sues really make work harder for the regular, competent employees, and management not doing anything can be intensely frustrating. (Didn’t someone yesterday say, “if you want more work, be good at it” to describe the situation in a lot of jobs?)

              This isn’t just “working with someone you dislike”, this is “working harder than necessary – and than the person in question – to fix others’ mistakes, often while the other person snarks at you”, and that’s just not sustainable.

              Reply
    3. Penelope

      I am in this situation as we speak. My counterpart is a very dark cloud of negativity. Coworkers don’t like working with him, he tends to bring down the tone of the meetings he runs, and recently he bragged about his income to someone who likely doesn’t make half what he’s paid. I know that I am valued at my company but I myself have been seconds from throwing out the “it’s him or me” threat. I’ve let my manager know that the coworker’s negativity has been a problem, and the comment about income made its way back as well. I’m praying either he or the company does not renew his contract next month.

      Reply
    4. Caramel & Cheddar

      IDK, I feel like if I had a high-performer who I wanted to keep on the team but who was close to leaving over someone who was a disliked poor performer, I wouldn’t consider that person a diva. It’s like anything else regarding staff retention: you have to consider that keeping on bad staff is going to drive the good ones away. I’d almost appreciate the honesty; sometimes the firing process takes a long time, but can be sped up if those who are involved in the process know that there is more at stake than just getting rid of this one person. (I don’t know if LW meets the definition of “high-performer” as an “exceeds expectation” person but I mean this more in general.)

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        This. I worked on a team with a guy who was horrible — toxic attitude (would actually shout at people during meetings), constant bad mouthing, and never delivered anything (no exaggeration — I couldn’t find a single deliverable in 8+ months for a doc release) but would try to fake file commits to make it look like he was doing things.

        We lost 4 people during the time I was a team lead because they could not bear working with this guy, and I kept trying to escalate it to management. Who kind of hinted that maybe he was being disciplined or would leave soon, but ultimately did nothing. I finally transferred to another department (and they hired 4 people to replace me and messed with their budget for a fiscal year, which I found satisfying, which I know was petty).

        Sometimes the “him or me” speech is entirely legit because management is already failing. It’s not something I said explicitly and certainly not something I’d say lightly, but if the OP is already looking, I’d up that job search and drop some kind of hint or “try to look for solutions.”

        Reply
        1. Julia

          Yes, sometimes people have legitimate reasons for disliking someone. If a co-worker yells at me or, curses at me, or sabotages my work, it’s not a petty personal problem, it’s a huge work problem.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I do think presenting it as an ultimatum comes across badly, though (which is why Alison’s script is helpful and better).

        I was in the same position as OP (super high performing, had received multiple bonuses and merit increases in < 1 year) and had to tell my ED that I would have to leave the organization if she changed my reporting structure to include a supervisor with a history of micromanaging and constructively firing women of color. I told her I would give it my best if it happened, but also laid out all my concerns. I didn't present it as an ultimatum, but I'm sure it came across that way. She changed my reporting structure, and within 2 months, I gave notice. He didn't leave for another 8 years, and I would not go back to that organization for any amount of money or perks.

        So I wouldn't treat it as an ultimatum, which is not a good look—I would treat it as an exploratory mission. Once OP knows whether their boss will ever take action, it will help OP decide whether to leave. That's a much more empowering situation to be in than one where you wait on someone else to act.

        Reply
      3. Kate 2

        Yes. Presenting it as a threat is not a good idea, but “it’s him or me” is a simple fact. People don’t want to work with an unpleasant person who doesn’t pull their weight. People will leave. There’s nothing wrong with matter of factly telling the truth in this situation.

        Reply
    5. LSP

      While I mostly agree with this, I do think someone’s personal behavior can alone sometimes be grounds for firing. The most egregious case would be if there is actual unlawful harassment going on (which doesn’t seem to be the case here), but I think even a coworker who is extremely unpleasant with everyone, not based on a protected characteristic at all, could still merit other employees having grounds to insist something be done by management.

      I agree the best case to make is still one based on productivity, etc., since that’s what matters to the company, but if Sue is routinely difficult, rude, etc., that alone can affect someone’s work productivity.

      Reply
    6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      “#1: Learning to work with people you dislike is an important life skill.”

      Agreed, but this sounds like it goes beyond dislike. If Sue is a poor performer then I think the LW was well within rights and scope to discuss with manager.

      As a manager I want to know if I have an employee is affecting morale and performance of team members (Hopefully I would already be aware of that fact). And you bet your sweet patoot that I’d want to know if I had people considering leaving due to a documented poor performer.

      I’m really not sure why anyone would want to keep a poor performer over a competent employee? That makes no sense.

      Reply
      1. ExcelJedi

        Yes, I think I covered that in my second paragraph. If someone’s a poor performance, talk to management about their performance in ways that concretely affect you (missing deadlines, late to meetings, etc). But the personality issues & hygiene in the initial paragraph is irrelevant.

        And the him-or-me ultimatum elevates a pretty reasonable conversation into something completely beyond the pale, IMHO.

        Reply
        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

          To be fair I’m super keen on the the ‘him or me’. But if I had a valued employee that was at the point of leaving because of a poor performer, I’d want to know.

          Reply
      2. SarahKay

        I think this is one of the things where it’s all in how you present it.

        If you go in saying “I’m sick to death of Sue; if you won’t get rid of her then I’m leaving!” you can probably expect to be shown the door.

        On the other hand, if your approach is more along the lines of “I just wanted to let you know that Sue is still not doing x, y, and z. I’m finding her very hard to work with because of this, and I think I need to let you know that it’s starting to make me unhappy in my job here.” then you’re more likely to get a useful result.

        Reply
      3. WonderCootie

        I’ve actually just been through this situation on the other end. I was the manager for a really bad employee. What employees don’t realize is that it’s not always easy to just get rid of someone, no matter how bad they are. I work for a state university, and the bureaucracy that goes into firing someone is unreal. Several of my employees did start to give me ultimatums (hell, I was very near to giving myself one!), but because it’s a personnel issue, I can’t really discuss what I’m going through to discipline the problem employee. Even though the employee was on probation, it still took 9 MONTHS for HR to let us fire her, and even then, they barely let me do it.

        Reply
    7. FirstTimePoster_LongTimeLurker

      Someone at my old company tried this – she went to the CEO, said “it’s me or him.” Guess what – it was her. She was escorted out immediately after.

      Reply
  4. Amber T

    The “my boss slapped me” – I was ready to be freak out on your behalf, but it sounds like your boss has some minor boundary issues that could be corrected with a side of infantalizing his subordinates. But coming right out and saying “he slapped me” when he slapped the back of your hand as a goof? I think there’s a big difference there.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      It’s joking-not-joking and it’s completelg inappropriate. As are all the little touches, which are a pretty clear dominance display. This kind of ‘but you can’t be upset because it wasn’t REAL slapping’ stuff he’s pulling is deliberate and not OK.

      Reply
      1. Ann Nonymous

        I had a male boss who (I’m pretty sure) thought that light touching of me (on the arm, back and shoulder) was bonding/humanizing because he read that somewhere. I sincerely doubt that he did the same to his male employees.

        Reply
        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

          I had a male boss that wouldn’t touch female employees because of propriety, but would touch male employees.

          FTR… I have an overly developed sense of personal space, so touching is ever ok.

          Reply
      2. Amber T

        For the record – I don’t disagree that it’s inappropriate and the boss shouldn’t do it. If OP is uncomfortable with the touching, they should absolutely speak up. I don’t know if the “you can’t be upset” was directed at the letter (OP didn’t say anything in the moment, just plans to next time it happens) or at my comment, but what I meant was that there’s a difference between being violently struck across the face, which is what the headline of the letter makes it seem, and someone who is inappropriate and touchy-feely.

        Reply
    2. rldk

      Keep in mind the headlines are often written by Alison, not the LWs, so nitpicking the language there rather than considering the body of the letter is misleading at best.

      Reply
      1. Winifred

        I would not say the part about “I’m weird about being touched,” as it’s not weird to not want to be touched at work. I’d hesitate to say “I know you mean it warmly,” too.

        Reply
        1. EddieSherbert

          I see that phrasing as a ‘peace offering’ way of getting it done, keeping it light, and hopefully not making a big deal of it.

          But I also agree there’s nothing weird about NOT wanting your boss patting you or slapping your hands!

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I agree, although I do think it’s hedging language to help soften the intensity. But I agree that it is not weird to request not to be touched. I’m more ok with “I know you mean it warmly” or any similar substitute that shows you’re assuming good intent.

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      2. Amber T

        OP has a right to be bothered by what happened. If my boss did that to me, it would definitely be a “wtf, seriously, do you think I’m six?” moment for me. But as Courageous cat mentioned below, the title makes it seem like the boss slapped OP across the face (or I suppose, somewhere else, but like Cc, I thought face at first too).

        So then you’re left with the thought “oh, it’s just a slap on the back on the hand, that’s not as bad,” which isn’t fair, because of all the reasons pointed out above and below. It’s comparing apples to broccoli – you don’t want to compare those two. But instead of “the problem is X, the solution is Z,” it was presented as though the problem was X, but it was really Y, so instead of focusing on the solution, you’re juggling between problems X and Y.

        Reply
      1. Observer

        Not at all. The boss was going for a “slap on the hand” vibe. In some ways that fact that he did it so lightly smack of a high level of calculation, which makes it worse. And it’s working – the reaction that he didn’t REALLY do anything wrong because he didn’t REALLY slap her is potent.

        Reply
        1. Courageous cat

          “My boss slapped me” pretty much implies he slapped her across the face – I can’t imagine someone reads that and thinks anything else. A light slap on the hand in a joking manner just… isn’t the same thing. I’m perplexed that multiple people think it’s practically the same thing.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I’m with you—I think it reads as a slap across the face, not a light hand-slap.

            Reply
          2. neverjaunty

            I don’t think anyone is really saying they’re identical; they’re both terrible for different but overlapping reasons.

            Reply
    3. Puzzled

      I guess I am going to be in the minority, but I just don’t see how this is a big deal at all. She made a mistake and he made a joke (slap on the wrist- and just made it literal instead of figurative) and it was meant as a way to put the person at ease and communicate that it wasn’t a big deal.
      I wasn’t there, but I totally don’t see how this was an attempt to infantilize subordinates or come across as a disciplinarian. Maybe I’m just dense, but I literally would have thought nothing on this and probably been a bit relieved. I mean its the same level of contact as a handshake.

      The touching on the shoulder is something that i can see making some people uncomfortable, but something that was done obviously in jest and meant to be disarming, no?

      I fully can accept that I could be reading this wrong though. I just don’t see it as “creepy”

      Reply
      1. rldk

        Do your friends slap you on the wrist when things go wrong in your personal life? Has anyone slapped you on the wrist for a mistake since you were a child?
        For most people, the answer to both of those questions are no. It’s specifically an action associated with an adult reprimanding a child. Which is a very weird dynamic to introduce into a manager-employee relationship. It may have had no weird intentions, but especially if other dynamics are at play (older or male manager to younger or female employee), invoking that association nudges into infantilizing territory. Especially paired with other unwelcome physical contact, even if also with harmless intent, can feel very uncomfortable for an employee trying to be taken seriously in their work.

        Reply
        1. Puzzled

          Actually this exact situation has happened to me. And I’ve seen it happen to others. Hell I think I’ve seen it done as a joke on TV. Its clearly not meant to discipline. It’s not meant to inflict pain. It is not analogous to what you do to a child. It’s a turn on the phrase “slap on the wrist”

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          1. Kate 2

            I have never in my entire life seen this done, on tv or in real life. And I think going by the other comments here, neither has anyone else. Have you seriously seen people get deliberately and gently slapped on the wrist for making a mistake? Between friends or family, or in professional situations?

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            1. Kate 2

              Eta, okay looks like 2 or 3 others have, but the vast majority of us never had, and those were mostly with equals, friends and coworkers.

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        2. Rat in the Sugar

          Yeah, actually I have definitely had friends and coworkers slap my wrist/hand as a joke. I think it’s one of those things that’s about how close your relationship is; there are forms of teasing that I will only accept from people I know well and have mutual respect for. So what’s making it not okay for me is the fact that OP and boss don’t have that kind of relationship (and that kind of closeness isn’t necessarily appropriate between boss and report anyway), not that it’s infantilizing or the equivalent of a slap in the face.

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        3. Massmatt

          I have had this happen to me in both personal and professional life, and done it as well. Sometimes it is a pantomime slap with no contact, all other times it is playful and light, intended to make light of a situation. But clearly it did not have the intended effect here with the OP. As with workplace humor, you need to know your audience and act accordingly. The fact that the OP mentions other boundary issues with the boss touching her speaks volumes. If the boss is reasonable then a mention of the boundary should be sufficient, if he’s unreasonable and continues to touch in ways that makes the OP uncomfortable then she knows he has an issue a and can act accordingly.

          Reply
      2. Courageous cat

        Yeah, I’m with you on this. I would have been relieved too because it meant he obviously didn’t see it as a big deal.

        I mean I could really be alone in this but I think if I went to HR and said “[boss name] slapped me” and they found out what actually happened, I would be perceived as juvenile and maybe purposely obtuse.

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      3. neverjaunty

        Briefly petting a subordinate’s hair or touching their thigh is the same level of contact as a handshake, but I suspect you’d agree that doesn’t make it ok?

        And yes, the touching is meant to be disarming; that’s the problem. It’s not friends who have a level of physical comfort with each other goofing around. It’s a boss responding to a subordinate’s mistake by touching her and mimicking the kind of corporal punishment some would give an errant child.

        Also, perhaps focus on the LW’s reaction instead of trying to explain the boss’s intentions?

        Reply
        1. Courageous cat

          Ok touching a thigh is not the same level whatsoever though, that’s an unarguably intimate spot and there’s no context in which it could be taken jokingly. Even touching one’s hair doesn’t have any context behind it like the phrase “slap on the wrist” does. I see a lot of commenters trying to conflate lightly slapping one’s hand with a lot of other wildly inappropriate types of touching and I really don’t agree with it.

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      4. Amber T

        If it’s something you would do to your toddler, it’s probably not something you should do to your grown coworkers/subordinates.

        That said, it’s also about respecting people’s boundaries. So it sounds like if your coworker did this to you, not a big deal. But OP, and many others here are uncomfortable with levels of touching. And we know from countless letters here 1) how awkward/difficult it is to ask a coworker something uncomfortable (like hey, please stop touching me), 2) how much worse that could be to ask a boss for that uncomfortable thing (are they going to get pissed? will this affect my performance record? am I not a good fit for the culture?), 3) so many offices have the tendency to bleed into faaaaaamily but sooooo many coworkers do not want that – I mean, I love hugs, I’m a touchy feely person, if I’m sitting next to a friend or loved one on the couch, we’re probably touching… but I don’t want to touch or be touched by my coworkers, because I want that divide there.

        As for creepy – it might not be creepy, we don’t know for sure. Boss could be a nice, friendly dude who just goes around playfully touching everyone he meets. But… probably not. Men touch women. That’s a Thing. Sure, men do handshakes and punches on the arm, but when I was at a vendor dinner last week, did any of my male coworkers get “playfully” squeezed on the neck or have a dude’s arm placed behind their chair? Nope.

        Reply
      5. It Might Be Me

        Agreed. It’s the type of thing that would happen in our relaxed work environment. It would be a jokey acknowledgement not an attempt to control or infantilize the other person. The OP didn’t like it and that’s okay. It’s a leap to add a lot of layers of motivation. It’s okay for the OP to calmly state, “I don’t really like to be touched”.

        Reply
        1. Anon Y. Mouse

          Exactly, I think this is a context dependent sort of thing. I don’t really agree with Alison that it’s an across the board inappropriate thing because of this. But in THIS situation with THIS type of relationship, yeah not good.

          If you have an established rapport with someone where something like this would be par for the course, then no big deal, but you’ve gotta know that

          Reply
  5. Denise

    Oh, and regarding training. I guess I’ve always considered there to be a difference between training for job knowledge and skills and communicating internal organizational policies and procedures. I’m imagining that when a subordinate has to “train” a new manager, they are showing them how things are done in that particular organization, not teaching them actual skills or industry knowledge more generally.

    I’ve found that sometimes when people haven’t worked in a lot of different places or positions, they don’t see as clearly how different different organizations operate and most internal processes and policies are not at all intuitive and must be explicitly communicated.

    Reply
    1. periwinkle

      Agreed. The OP for #3 couldn’t quite see that there’s a difference between being learning how to do tasks and learning how to manage. OP might be a stellar individual contributor but that does not necessarily make for a stellar manager. Presumably the company hired someone who could manage, and then trusted the OP to teach that person the specific routine tasks (inventory, scheduling, etc.).

      My current manager was newly hired to run this team; she didn’t know the company processes/culture/expectations, but she knew how to manage. She just needed to learn the specifics of the role. Perfectly normal.

      If someone higher up the management chain told the OP that she was expected to continue doing the management work without the management title or pay, yeah, time to leave for a better opportunity. That’s a different issue than bringing the new manager up to speed, though.

      Reply
  6. Teka

    Once the person who was training me on a computer program at work lightly pinched my arm in a joking way. I was %100 sure it wasn’t badly meant but it still made me go “Huhhh?” So I told my supervisor about it, basically that I preferred no touchy, and the situation was resolved. There was also a language/culture barrier going on at the same time.

    Arm touching feels weird and out of bounds at work, and a decent person should knock it off.

    Reply
  7. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

    #1: Maybe I am misreading or misunderstanding the situation, but I feel like your boss should not have said anything to you to begin with about Sue potentially getting fired. Unless you are Sue’s supervisor or in HR, I don’t think that your boss should be making you privy to that kind of information. And while I understand that Sue is a big factor in your decision to stay with this employer or leave, the possibility of Sue getting fired really shouldn’t be any of your business.

    Reply
    1. rldk

      Definitely agree that OP1’s manager messed up. But now that he’s done the mess-up, and Sue’s work continues to have a huge negative impact on OP1, inquiries about progress made on improving her work/mitigating the damage are a risk that the manager has created for himself

      Reply
    2. KHB

      I don’t necessarily agree. If Sue’s poor performance is causing workflow problems for the rest of the team (as opposed to this merely being a case of personality clashes), then that’s absolutely the other team members’ business. It’s reasonable for them to want some reassurance that he’s managing the situation and trying to make it better (e.g., “I’m working with Sue to improve her punctuality with meeting deadlines, and I hope you’ll let me know if there continue to be problems in that area”) rather than to be left thinking that he’s stuck his head in the sand and is doing nothing.

      Reply
      1. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

        Saying something to reassure staff that you are working on a known performance issue and not ignoring it is fine, but I guess I feel like its out of line for your boss to confide in you that they are planning to fire your coworker. That seems very inappropriate to me.

        Reply
        1. KHB

          I think it still depends on the situation. If it’s bad enough, the boss might want to let people know that firing is on the table to show that he’s taking the problem seriously.

          I’m thinking back to when a colleague of mine flamed out on a major project. When a couple of us went to the boss to express our horror, the boss told us “He’s on his last warning – if he messes up like that again, he won’t have a job here anymore.” I appreciated hearing that, because this is one of those places where nobody ever gets fired, but this situation was so bad that anything less would have been an underreaction to the severity of the problem.

          Then again, that was still at the stage of saying “could be fired,” not “will be fired.” If the boss has a plan in the works to definitely fire someone and is talking about it to everyone except the employee in question, that does seem inappropriate.

          Then again again, it’s not really clear what the boss said here. The OP says that he “telegraphed” something to her. That suggests to me that there’s at least some chance that the OP misunderstood.

          Reply
    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      It depends, I’ve had managers ask me to ‘keep them in the loop’ or ‘copy me on emails with so and so’ or other requests that it doesn’t take a genius to figure out they are in the documenting stage of performance management.

      Reply
    4. Bea

      I come from gossipy office cultures. I’m high enough up that I’m told things first or a rumble comes my way.

      You’re correct. Nobody who isn’t Sue’s manager should be given knowledge of a pending termination. It’s bad for morale and business if people know that they’re talked about like that despite everyone knowing Sue in particular is no good at her job.

      Talking about employees to other employees as a manager is toxic behavior.

      Reply
  8. McWhadden

    Unless a co-worker is harassing, abusive or has thrown you under an on coming car because he saw a bird “it’s them or me” is just a really horrible idea. I don’t think being a “drag” is at that level from what was described.

    The thing is they may choose you over Sue. But that sort of move can still stick in their craw and they might remember it down the line when they have to start making promotion decisions or, God forbid, lay-off decisions.

    And being “unhygienic” could be related to an actual medical issue. Tardy, missing deadlines, problems with hygiene? It’s not impossible that are all related to a disorder covered by the ADA. Which doesn’t mean they can’t fire her but could mean they are trying to give her some accommodations. Now that is a stretch and I’m not saying it is the case for sure. But the point is you just don’t know why they haven’t fired her yet. There could be valid reasons behind it. And you don’t want to stick your nose into that.

    Reply
  9. ET

    For the last one, sending a quick form rejection letter to everyone who applied is easy and can be really nice to help give closure (and stop future follow ups that take time to answer individually). It’s not hard to send out a mass BCC email with a basic “we’ve decided to go with another candidate” template. As a job seeker it’s impersonal but certainly better than nothing.

    Reply
    1. Grizzzzzelda

      I just hate it when people reply. I don’t know if my mass emails sound too robotic or automated, but man, I get some awful responses when I mass-reject hundreds of entry-level applicants! A certain free job posting site that I use for the entry level positions makes things a little too easy for people to apply, even with screening questions I can get 400+applicants on a single posting within 3 days on entry warehouse positions.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        I usually only get a few responses, but some of those responses are doozies. I got one in ALL CAPS from someone who had just sent generic materials and appeared to have applied through some automated process.
        Apparently he took the rejection personally, though. Our letter closes with a general “good luck” sentiment, and that really set him off. “DON’T WISH ME LUCK, BOZO!” I felt sorry for the guy because I know how hard it is, but he wasn’t helping himself.

        My wife still likes to say “Have a good day, bozo…” when she drops me off at the train station.

        Reply
          1. De Minimis

            One of m coworkers thought it might be some kind of bot, but I think it was way too personal. [think she was just trying to make me feel better.]

            It was some guy who I think was applying to everything—he had no experience in our field or in this type of position. but as he put it in his reply, “JUST BECAUSE IT’S A DIFFERENT INDUSTRY DOESN’T MEAN I CAN’T HANDLE THE DAMN ASS JOB!”

            Reply
      2. Lynn Whitehat

        I think some people honestly don’t expect a human being to read them, and they think they’re shouting into the void.

        Reply
      3. Lindsay J

        My most recent batch either people are blatantly lying about their qualifications in the screening questions, or they’re doing a terrible job of constructing their resumes/cover letters.

        If I ask if you have 2 or more years of aviation/warehouse experience, and you say yes, but then your resume shows me that you’re a lead at a research firm and a tax preparer and nothing about warehouse work, I’m not going to advance you.

        If I ask if you have 2 or more years of lead or supervisory experience, and if you have experience training employees, and all the roles on your resume are individual contributor roles with no bullet points about leading a team or training people, I’m not going to advance you.

        (Apparently it gets you past HR and to me though, so there’s that…)

        Reply
      1. De Minimis

        My favorite was a letter I got months later, addressed to me, but the letter inside was to a different person.

        Reply
    2. It Might Be Me

      I send a quick email, “Thanks for applying….”, to everyone who applied. We try and so more personal emails or phone calls to those we interviewed depending on the position level. An email blast is so much nicer than silence and only takes me 3 minutes.

      Reply
      1. the search for understanding

        Should employers get back to all rejected candidates, or only people who were interviewed? I was very surprised to see Alison’s answer. Most of the jobs at my organization get more than 200 applications per posting. We probably have 50-100 opportunities posted at any given time. There’s no way we’re going to send any kind of reply to every single applicant. I send a four-sentence form rejection email to all applicants interviewed, but that’s all I’m going to do. Our system doesn’t have a one-click “reply to all applicants” option, but even if it did, I never thought that all the applicants who didn’t get an interview expected a response. Live and learn …

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          I agree it’s not absolutely necessary for all applicants to hear back, but it’s really not hard to set up an e-mail to all rejected candidates [the trick is having a system in place where applicants are placed in different categories as their application materials are reviewed.]

          I usually am the one to send rejection emails to interviewees. I do those manually, but only because it’s my choice to do that, I could send an automated response if I wanted to.

          Reply
  10. Kate

    #3 – I agree with everything Alison said, and I’d seriously consider looking for opportunities elsewhere. This gave me some pause, “I was also told by a higher up manager that I’ll still be basically in charge, but just not have the title.” That’s really undermining to your new manager who is actually the one in charge. It also sounds like saying, “You get all the responsibility of a manager without the perks.” I’m assuming a new title would come with a pay bump, both of which are good for advancing your career. It’s possible that was just the opinion of that one manager, so I wouldn’t write off the company as a whole based on the one remark, but I’d be thinking about how the company shows they value their employees.

    Reply
    1. epi

      I agree. In general, it’s true that training your manager in a few things doesn’t mean that you could or should do their job. But the OP’s situation sounds bad and I hope they tried to leave.

      Training the person who got a job you applied for would be awkward for a lot of people even if they understand that training the boss doesn’t make them better than the boss. I think it’s a kindness to avoid having someone do that if possible. Even if not possible, shouldn’t someone be offering the OP some personalized feedback, as a valued internal candidate who has now applied and been rejected twice?

      Then someone actually told this OP that they would “still be basically in charge, but just not have the title.” That is a pretty far cry from hear that you have the basic skills but not the leadership skills to take on the management role. I have been in that position before where no one will give you real information about your future there, and expect to be able to tell you you’re indispensable and pay you in compliments. That never changed, I had to leave.

      Reply
      1. Seriously?

        It makes me wonder if they are looking for a candidate with a higher degree. If that is the case: 1) It sucks. Degree requirements should only be used if there is an actual need and 2) They should communicate that to her so that she can either get that degree or find a better company.

        Reply
    2. Bea

      I agree.

      I had to be trained in basics of jobs I need to cover but that’s to be expected. I can’t just slide in and do ordering or processing without knowledge of procedures. However the undermining and placating when you refuse to promote them, no. That’s probably due to being valuable in that position and wanting to keep someone stuck for asinine and selfish ways…it’s how you lose your top team.

      Reply
    3. designbot

      ooh I didn’t catch that line on the first read. I would definitely follow up on that if I were the LW. I’d ask why that was—what was the company getting out of me basically having the job but not the title? Are they basically trying to get two managers for the price of one, in which case they’d be doing you a disservice? Or did they not mean that so literally and they were really just trying to reassure you that you’d still enjoy the same level of autonomy you’d come to expect, in which case they’re trying to do something good for you and expressing it badly?

      Reply
  11. Courageous cat

    #2 – Huh, in most of the places I’ve worked, jokingly slapping your hand would be kind of … nothing. Maybe I just don’t understand people who don’t want to be touched by others at all costs, but I don’t know anyone who would be overly bothered by something like this. Maybe slightly annoyed in the moment. But I guess it partially depends on your office culture.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      Everyone has their own boundaries, that’s for sure. I’ve never cared about random touching but others seemingly crawl out of their skin if brushed against.

      It can also develop if someone has PTSD or be an issue for those with sensory sensitivity.

      Reply
      1. Courageous cat

        I don’t disagree with that (though the last two situations are probably uncommon enough to be an exception). I also wonder if this is a particularly American thing, because a lot of my coworkers from other countries have always been somewhat touchy-feely at work.

        Reply
        1. Bea

          It’s not as uncommon as you would think. The spectrum keeps expanding and “no touch” is one of the top issues I’ve ran into.

          It can certainly be cultural and regional.

          Reply
        2. It Might Be Me

          This is a good point. I remember many TV shows decades ago about how Americans didn’t touch casually as much as other cultures. The emphasis was that this makes us a colder, less caring culture. We were encouraged to touch each other on the shoulder, the arm, etc. To acknowledge the other person’s humanity and create bonds. Now we’re back to hands-off.

          Reply
          1. Kate 2

            But if someone doesn’t want to be touched, you AREN”T respecting their humanity. And how much you touch someone DOES NOT necessarily correlate to how much you respect them. That’s a false equivalency. And I can care about someone without touching them, we all can. Also suggesting that cultures that don’t touch each other as much are “colder, less caring” is super judgmental and ethnocentric. It also suggests that people with autism, for example, who often don’t like to be touched are colder, less caring, and less human than other people. Please reconsider your stance on this.

            Reply
        3. Kate 2

          Space bubbles vary hugely from culture to culture. Just think of greetings, some cultures double cheek kiss, some shake hands, and some bow. This isn’t an American thing, this an Every Country thing. In addition, we as a culture are becoming more aware of and respectful of those who are autistic, have PTSD, etc. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

          Reply
        4. Kate 2

          Space bubbles are different in every culture. It’s not an American thing, it’s an Every Country thing. Just think of greetings, some cultures double cheek kiss, some shake hands, and some bow. We are also becoming more aware of and respectful of people with autism, people with PTSD, etc. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

          Reply
          1. Courageous cat

            I don’t disagree with that. Just to clarify, what I mean by it being an American thing is that we tend to value our personal space a good bit more than many other countries. I have had a lot of friends and coworkers from all over South America, Europe, and the Middle East that have all been pretty hands-on.

            Reply
    2. EddieSherbert

      I don’t like touching, but in this case, I would be more upset about that specific situation than touching in general – getting your hand slapped because you made an error is sooooo infantilizing!

      I also have the added level of being a younger woman with an older male boss (if it matters for perception).

      Reply
      1. Courageous cat

        I mean, I guess we all obviously read this differently, because I don’t find it infantilizing in the slightest – I would read it as “he’s making a joke on the phrase ‘slap on the wrist’ and trying to lighten the mood”

        Reply
        1. Puzzled

          This was exactly how I saw this as well. If this had happened to me, it probably would have put me more at ease than a curt and professional “don’t worry about it.”

          Reply
        2. Lawyer Anon

          That’s exactly how I read it – it’s a play on the “slap on the wrist” phrase to try and lighten the mood.

          Reply
          1. Puzzled

            I am interpreting it differently, I guess. The phrase “slap on the wrist” isn’t usually used with children. To me it signifies that you are giving a token reprimand for something but you are not taking it seriously. It’s a common metaphor that’s used all of the time. When referring to criminal punishment, corporate fines, athletic suspensions, etc.
            The guy just did a literal play on that idiom for humor to make the employee feel more at ease. . Not to infantilize or degrade.
            I honestly thought that this was a phrase commonly used throughout the English speaking world. Maybe this person is in another country? From another country?

            Reply
            1. McWhadden

              The phrase is understood but it comes from the practice of punishment for children. That’s what the whole thing means. You don’t get to invade personal space to play out metaphors with people. Especially metaphors referencing punishing kids.

              And you should never ever grab your employee’s wrist and slap them. This should really go without saying.

              It’s patronizing and rude. It’s not remotely cute or funny for adults. And some people don’t want to be touched.

              Reply
              1. Courageous cat

                I think there’s many ways to view it, and while I personally think this view is a pretty uptight way of looking at it, it really just depends so much on the office culture and maybe regional culture as well.

                I’ve typically worked at places where I would look like a pretty extreme germophobe/people-phobe? if something like this bothered me really significantly (I realize it’s not about germs in this case but for plenty of people, that can be an interpreted cause, or a reason for not wanting to be touched). It would just be viewed as… just a small joke, and not worth another thought.

                I’m also in the south, not sure if it varies more elsewhere?

                Reply
              2. Puzzled

                I guess people will always find something to be offended about. I think the context was clear he was trying to be disarming and make the person feel better. But if we strip away all context, then I suppose the guy was creepy and infantilizing and for good measure trying to act out his own S&M fantasies on this poor coworker who might have PTSD.

                He should be fired. Nay, he should be executed.

                Reply
              3. Puzzled

                When you say someone is “barking up the wrong tree,” you aren’t calling them a dog. When you say “kill two birds with one stone,” you’re not referring to killing parakeets. When you say “pull the wool over someone’s eyes,” you’re not actually putting cloth over their face. Idioms come to mean different things than where they originated.

                In any case if she goes back to her boss, especially after time has passed, he’s going to think she is weird. And if she went to HR and said “my boss slapped me,” they are going to think she doesn’t have touch with reality.

                Reply
              4. Max from St. Mary's

                No, it really isn’t just a punishment for a child. If you look up the definition of the phrase the majority of dictionaries use examples of adult situations. There are a couple of different origins attributed to the phrase, but both are centered on punishing adults.

                Pretty much every time I’ve heard it said it referred to an adult making a mistake and getting a punishment that is disproportionately mild to their actions. Several people here have said that’s the way they understand it also. You can say you disagree, but your interpretation obviously isn’t universal.

                Reply
                1. Kate 2

                  The origin of the phrase IS about punishing kids, which you would do by slapping them on the wrists. To punish an adult as you would a child is a very minor punishment. Which is why the phrase is used to refer to adults now, but the whole reason why it works, what it means, is from childhood punishments. Adults are punished by getting lightly slapped on the wrists. They get jail time, the stocks, etc.

            2. Observer

              Well, it can’t be a play on “slap on the wrist” because he didn’t slap her wrist. What he did was the “naughty, naughty” slap on the hand.

              Reply
              1. Courageous cat

                You’re right, but I feel like this is splitting hairs and the distinction is not significant.

                Reply
            3. Kate 2

              It’s a metaphor that comes from rearing children. That is literally, actually the sole source of the phrase. It is supposed to be a light punishment because you would punish children lightly, not harshly, as opposed to putting someone in jail or firing them. You see? The whole “joke” of the phrase is wrapped up in the idea that you are treating an adult like a child.

              Reply
          2. Courageous cat

            I mean, if he were dead serious about it then it would be. If he was really genuinely slapping her on the wrist as a way of truly scolding her then that would be an entirely different (and yes, infantilizing) story. It doesn’t sound like this was the case here, in any way.

            Reply
              1. Courageous cat

                I mean, do you feel this way about people jokingly saying or doing anything bad to you? Like if someone jokingly says “you suck” or jokingly flips you off? There are plenty of things that are “technically” disrespectful if you take them out of the context of, well, being a joke.

                If it’s the touching in particular that gets people, then there’s not much to say there, as it varies what people are comfortable with – but I just don’t find this particularly egregious either way.

                Reply
                1. Courageous cat

                  I can’t respond to e271828 directly (I’ve always wondered why some comments lack a “reply” button) but my point is that, if someone says it to you *jokingly* (that seems to be the key word that’s getting missed a good bit in this thread), it may very well be perfectly normal and appropriate. I don’t know if some of the people replying to me work in very stodgy corporate firms or something, but plenty of workplaces have banter and sarcasm and humor, and their days aren’t comprised solely of Specifically Talking Only About Work In A Very Polite and Professional Manner Only.

                2. SarahTheEntwife

                  If my boss said I suck or flipped me off, even jokingly, that would be hugely inappropriate unless we already had an unusually casual and jokey relationship. Joke-teasing/reprimanding from a supervisor can get complicated and problematic really quickly.

                3. Kate 2

                  You do realize that what “you suck” is short for right? That is highly inappropriate to say to anyone but close friends.

                4. Courageous cat

                  @Kate 2 – yes, thank you for asking. If you take issue with that phrase though then we’re just on entirely different planets with regards to language use. Are you offended by cursing?

                5. Courageous cat

                  Like, I can think of so many situations in the past where I’ve done or said something silly to a coworker and they, while laughing, were like: “you suck”. I just can’t imagine ever getting offended by that if I was at all friendly with them.

    3. Observer

      This is not just about being touched. The boss asked for her hand and then lightly slapped it. I don’t care how lightly it is, you do NOT slap that hands of other adults unless said hand is actually touching you without permission, touching something dangerous or in the process of stealing something.

      Reply
      1. Courageous cat

        I dunno. I guess that is the case in many office cultures, but that’s so strange to me. A light slap for comedic effect is nothing like a real slap, and I feel like acting like they’re practically the same thing is… really taking the context out of things, at best.

        Reply
        1. Rat in the Sugar

          Yeah, I’ve had people slap my hand as a joke a few times before, and it was always a very mild sort of teasing. Then again, the people who did that to me were people that I had a long and respectful relationship with, so that sort of teasing felt okay. I’m guessing that since this boss already has habits that bug OP and especially since they have been doing some unwanted touching even before this, that it really changes OP’s reaction.

          I mean, if I screw up and my sister calls me a moron I would just laugh and tease her back, but if someone I wasn’t close to did that I would be pretty PO’d even if they had said it just as a joke. While I don’t think that a slap on the hand is always infantilizing, I think it can be if you don’t have that kind of close relationship (which OP and boss do not).

          Reply
            1. Courageous cat

              Rat seems to be clearly acknowledging that it’s a different context in their last paragraph.

              Reply
    4. McWhadden

      Slapping someone’s hand like this is incredibly patronizing and inappropriate. It may not be the same as being slapped in the face but hard physical violence is NOT the baseline for office behavior.

      Reply
    5. Double A

      The slap on the hand thing didn’t bug me that much, but the touching shoulders and arms gave me the heebie jeebies. I think if I were already on guard around a coworker because of unwanting touching (I am one of those that find all touching from coworkers unwanted), then I’d have a harder time shaking off the hand slap, because it would feel like something testing boundaries with me to see if I can be pushed around.

      Reply
  12. Bea

    Ah the Office Sue. I recall how long it took to let ours go many years ago. It came down to not wanting to pull the trigger, he was a sweet man but a bull in a china shop, over the years his abilities were limited as well. I get the feeling it boils down to feeling bad for her but that’s tainted by my experience.

    I’ve seen more people fired who are good at their job but have a personality conflict than bad performers who tug on heartstrings.

    Reply
    1. ballpitwitch

      The Sues of the world truly get away with murder – I’ve been driven out of jobs more than once by these morale-sucking ghouls!

      I’m very jealous that you got to see one get shown the door. I never have.

      Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        This is why I’m really confused over some of the responses here… we’ve all been stuck with a Sue before. Some of us have managed Sue. I can’t imagine anyone here saying “Oh goody I get to work with Sue today!”

        I’m not sure why the LW is suddenly the bad guy because they want to tell their boss they don’t want to work with Sue anymore.

        Reply
        1. ballpitwitch

          I’ve noticed that some commenters prefer to play Devil’s Advocate when it comes to questions about interpersonal conflicts.

          There are also plenty of people who can keep a low enough profile to never be a target of a “Sue,” so they really don’t understand how much animosity they generate amongst people to whom they are a constant obstacle to doing/excelling at their jobs.

          Reply
        2. WonderCootie

          It’s not so much that LW is the bad guy, but from a manager’s perspective, this puts the manager in a difficult spot. In many places, there is so much more that goes into firing someone than just saying “you’re fired” and sending them packing. A lot of organizations have rules that the manager has to follow about things like progressive discipline and what has to be documented. It’s even worse if there are extra factors like unions or medical/ADA issues. Improper firing can open the organization up to lawsuits. So when an employee gives me an ultimatum like this, I can’t tell them that I’m working on firing the person, nor can I really tell them much else except to ask them to hang in there and trust me. While I completely understand their frustration (and share it), it just adds yet another layer of stress to the steaming pile I’m already under.

          Reply
        3. Luna

          It’s not that we want to work with Sue, but just because I don’t want to do something at work doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to run to my boss and say “change this now or I quit!”

          Reply
        4. McWhadden

          You can’t really demand someone be fired because you don’t say “goody I get to work with Sue today!”

          Reply
        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          I’ve worked with Sues, and agree that it is unpleasant. But, unless Sue is actively interfering with me doing my work, or actively harassing me, it doesn’t rise to the level of “let’s endanger her ability to provide for herself and her dependents so I can feel mildly better coming into the office every morning” unpleasant. Honestly, if I saw a coworker fired for a combination of low (not unacceptable) performance and “nobody likes her *and she stinks*”, I’d probably start looking before someone decides I’m the next Sue. To me it’d be a sign of a cliquish workplace where the popular kids get to decide who deserves to earn a living and who doesn’t.

          Reply
      2. Bea

        I’ve been stuck with emotional terrors, Fired Sue legit had to chop off a finger before being let go for safety fears. Hand right over a guard into a saw…then didn’t tell me the extent. I thought it was a grazing wound but got him to hospital. Hours of waiting and I finally find out he had to have an operation. I was 20 something and so confused.

        So yeah.

        I quit because I hired a Sue. Then they wouldn’t get rid of them after a disastrous training period. They fired him like a month afterwards.

        I’ve become hardened and work now without any of that nonsense.

        Reply
  13. Cobol

    RE: #5 (rejection letters) am I the only one who actually prefers not hearing anything if I don’t make it to the interview stage?
    Those mails always seem to come a month after I stopped thinking about a job, and are just a quick downer.

    Reply
    1. Courageous cat

      Agreed 100%. I hate rejections if I haven’t interviewed (and sometimes even if I have). It’s so useless to me at that stage. If I don’t get an interview within a reasonable amount of time, then I completely forget about the job and move on, so yes, getting a rejection is just like “oh, well thanks for reminding me”.

      I have also gotten them as late as 9 months after I applied and have loooong forgotten ever applying there which is extra frustrating.

      Reply
      1. Cobol

        Prior to internet applications, I got a mailed rejection 6 months after I applied to one. That was my favorite.

        Reply
      2. Lindsay J

        Yeah, I got one like 6 months after I applied, from Target for a seasonal retail position.

        I was just like, “Oh yeah, I guess I did apply to that.”

        Reply
        1. Courageous cat

          I know they’re automated but I still can’t help but think “how presumptuous” when I see it come across my inbox. Like, how presumptuous that Target (or whoever) thinks I’m still thinking about the position half a year later.

          Just one of those things that riles me up pretty irrationally, being that it’s not intentional.

          Reply
    2. epi

      I think they are helpful if you get them soon. It’s good to know if a bunch of applications you just sent out won’t be moving forward, so you can decide to spend time applying to more jobs or improving your materials or something. Sometime after 1-3 months, I’ve either forgotten or moved on so the rejection is not helpful, just pointless bad news in my inbox.

      Reply
    3. Puzzled

      Unless I am just shotgunning, I don’t usually just forget about a job I am applying for. I either reach a point where I don’t hear and assume it’s a rejection, or actually hear about a rejection. Either way, there is the still the feeling of rejection. Them taking the time to contact me means I can potentially close the loop and move on sooner and shows that they respect my time.

      Reply
      1. Cobol

        I think a lot of people feel the way you do. I’ve gotten good at applying and then not worrying about it unless I hear back (unless it’s through somebody I know then I will check in about 2 weeks later).
        I’m not forgetting per se (although I have received responses 3+ months later that I had to look up). It’s more like you say, I assumed I didn’t get it.

        Reply
    4. Dlique

      I once got a rejection email a full five months after applying for a position. No phone interview, no contact from them that entire time – I had literally forgotten about it. It didn’t ruin my day or anything, but to be honest it did leave a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

      Reply
    5. H

      I thought I must be weird because soooo many people like the closure, but it’s like, after probably 3 weeks of silence I get it and would rather not be told something I already know. It’s almost insulting to me, to get that perfunctory letter telling you something that a) you already knew and thus b) didn’t need to be told.

      Reply
  14. I'd Rather not Say

    Regarding #3 sometimes companies are hesitant to make someone a manager over their former peers. Could this be a factor? Alison’s advice to ask for feedback on what to do to be prepared for future opportunities will be valuable. It also may be true that they could get some management/supervisory experience at another company, and get hired back there in the future.

    Reply
    1. DaniCalifornia

      “may be true that they could get some management/supervisory experience at another company, and get hired back there in the future”

      I hear/see this a lot and it always makes me wonder why the company doesn’t want to invest in who they have now? My husband’s company is like that. Most of the managers/team leds/senior staff left after 2-3 years and then came back a decade later and get paid top dollar. He has had several coworkers he started with leave already. Yet his company values his loyalty after being there 7 years and they tell him that. Is there a strategy to this? Do you learn more if you work your way up the ladder at different companies instead of staying at one place? Perhaps it is easier for companies to let employees go and essentially be “trained” in leadership/management and then have them come back then do have experience it? As opposed to taking the time to invest in employees and train them themselves?

      Reply
      1. I'd Rather not Say

        Sometimes companies seem short-sighted on things they can do to encourage/reward loyalty. Our company puts a cap on how much of an increase in pay someone can get when being promoted to a new job (when the new job is a higher pay grade) even if they would have to pay an outside hire more.

        Reply
        1. voyager1

          I think a lot of people are missing the part (which AAM appeared to do to) about the LW being in charge but no title. To me that is a huge red flag for the LW, hopefully she moved on to a new job because this one is just using her.

          Reply
      2. Gotham Bus Company

        Never mind what they say — what do they actually do? His company says that it values his loyalty, but what it values more is leaving and returning.

        Reply
  15. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I had a Sue at my job before this one. Just…ugh. And medical issues/disability made the management afraid to fire her.

    I’m actually wondering if this is about the same person I dealt with- but there are apparently a lot of annoying poor performers with hygiene issues out there.

    Reply
    1. Anon to me

      I have a Sue where I work right now. The only difference being is that Sue believes she can’t be fired because of her medical issues. She repeatedly claims that the company is required to give her as much unpaid time off as she wants/needs because it’s medical/disability related. And to be honest, she isn’t wrong about feeling untouchable, because it’s been years and no one has fired her yet.

      Sometimes complaining does no good. Because even if the person is driving everyone mad, a company can be too scared to pull the trigger and fire the person.

      Reply
      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

        Ugh, all the commiseration to you! It upsets me a bit that poor performers who have ADA issues get that level of protection, whether because it’s actually the law or people are just scared to fire them- while my being queer does not cause these sort of issues but is still not a protected class in many states.

        I am glad to live in a “safe” state!

        Reply
  16. NicoleK

    I so can relate to LW #1. My coworker is very slow at her tasks, incompetent 50% of the time, and needs a ton of hand holding even though she’s been in her role for 5 years. However, my coworker is very personable and very skilled at getting people to help her. I’m smart enough to know that coworker isn’t going to go anywhere as our Boss continues to prop her up. But it’s getting harder and harder to deal with coworker since we have to work closely together.

    Reply
  17. Hiring Mgr

    Regarding Sue, I’m not sure where the OP is located, but please keep in mind that in some parts of the UK and Europe, it can take up to six years to terminate someone (due to the various gov’t protections). Also, if she has maternity leave, that’s an extra two years at full salary on top of this. It’s one of the many differences in employee protections between the US and Europe. /s

    Reply
  18. Mutton Lettuce Tomato

    I’m in a situation similar to letter #1 and also don’t know if/when I should say something. Casually job searching over here too even though I know there’s no guarantee there won’t be another “Sue” at the next job. The problem with just accepting my Sue with grace and letting her behavior go is that her complaints about me seem to have affected the scope of my new position here. I was promoted above her and was told when I was offered the promotion that I’d be managing both office staff members, including Sue. Because she was so unhappy about my promotion and was extremely vocal to our boss about it (tears, yelling, etc.), it seems that my role has been scaled back so I only manage one person. Our boss still assigns Sue work and I have no clue what she’s working on most days. On good days she’s fake nice to me, on bad days she’s frosty or complains to our boss about me for things he dismisses as nonsense. For the first time in my life I dread coming to work every day and feel cheated out of the exiting new role I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, my boss is very much the type of person who is 100% confident in his decisions so going to him with my concerns is pointless. He isn’t much of a listener and I doubt that anything short of, “I’m thinking of finding a job somewhere else because of Sue” would register with him. He has also made comments about how she’s this close to being fired, how he almost fired her on previous occasions (namely, the times she yelled at him about my promotion), and he’s given her ultimatums that if she’s more than 15 minutes late without notifying him she’ll be fired on the spot. Of course she’s rolled into work later than that and is still working here, so I don’t put much stock in the things he’s overshared with me.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      Your boss is a spineless jackass.

      I hope you find something soon. I’ve worked for small businesses with their problems and “personalities” but putting up with someone taking so many liberties with your boss is over the top.

      I know plenty worry about leaving because “there will be a Sue in the next office.” Bullshit. Not true.

      My partner and I left a bad situation last year. And we both landed in Sue Free Zones.

      Reply
      1. Mutton Lettuce Tomato

        That’s incredibly reassuring! I feel like I’m back in middle school wondering why the other girls suddenly aren’t talking to me. It sure would be nice to leave her behind, so it’s good to know not every office is plagued with this.

        *sigh* Yes, as much as I enjoy certain elements of working for a small company, I’m starting to see how much hinges on the boss managing people properly since it’s such a small team working so closely together. There isn’t room for these sort of Sue-like antics. I really feel like he’s failing here and it’s making it difficult for me to see a future here.

        Reply
    2. tangerineRose

      Your boss sounds like someone who will accumulate Sue’s because he’ll never get rid of them.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        THIS. Sometimes I wonder if bosses actually like Sues for some reason. Do they feel more competent if they rule over slackers?

        Mutton Lettuce Tomato, in your situation, I would be tempted to try Sue’s strategy of crying and yelling just to see if it works. I doubt it, though – once you’ve established yourself as reasonable, you’ll be held to a much higher standard than her. :(

        Reply
    3. SophieK

      I inadvertently caused my very first Sue to quit by being relentlessly calm and professional, and have used the tactic several times since.

      Take her on as your personal project to get the very best performance out of her! Cheerfully retrain her on everything! Her tantrums will get worse and worse and she will quit in frustration, because the pressure to be positive and competent will be too much. She will haaaaaaaaaate that she is not getting to you.

      It’s magic. I swear.

      Reply
      1. Mutton Lettuce Tomato

        I was doing that as best I could and still think it’s a great tactic in a different environment or with a different boss. The problem is that instead of having a tantrum and deciding to quit, she went to our boss with a completely made-up claim about how I was harassing her (apparently politely following up on a project several weeks after assigning it = harassment), belittling her, and that I humiliated her in front of the other office staff member (again, simply by asking for a quick update on a project while they were both sitting in their shared office). Instead of letting us talk to resolve whatever underlying issue there is, or having a mediator work with us, or addressing this in any official way with me, my boss decided the best course of action was to let it blow over. He only told me as a courtesy, not because he’s going to do anything about it. As far as she knows, I know nothing about the formal complaint she tried to file against me so I can’t let on that I’m aware of any issues between us. Aside from the obvious frostiness and awkwardness of working with someone who seems hellbent on finding something wrong with my conduct. As a result, my boss seems to have decided to manage her himself and not allow me to give her any work to do. I strongly suspect that was a concession he made to her, telling her that she won’t have to deal with me acting as her manager. So no more opportunities to be nice and professional with her other than being sure to cheerily greet her every morning.

        Reply
        1. Julia

          I’m so sorry.
          I don’t think mediation works with the Sues of the world, though. I’ve had one, and it was literally me saying that she sabotaged my work, her replying that one time I had been curt when I asked her about something, and our boss saying, “there you have it, you’re both at fault and making our department look bad.” I quit a few months later.

          Reply
  19. DaniCalifornia

    Ugh I have been there OP #3! While your situation might be different and more office related, I was put in the same spot. My manager was dealing with her husband’s health crisis and opening a new branch. I was left in charge by her, she showed me how to do everything she did, and I even had the doctors deferring to my decisions. All for $9/hr! Six months alone and making manager type decisions. We met our quota for corporate (and exceeded it!), no major mistakes, no complaints from patients. A temp floating manager was finally hired when my boss “officially” went to the new office. She was surprised and ecstatic when she saw how smooth the office was running and that I had not let managerial duties get behind and she didn’t have to do tons of paperwork. She even recommended me for the job. I was still under a “patient care coordinator” title after 2 years there and had learned all of the other front office positions. My company wouldn’t even give me an opportunity to interview. They said I had to interview for a treatment coordinator first, work in that position for 6 months – 1 year and then I could apply. So I said ‘ok’ and was bummed/pissed. Applied for every treatment coordinator position they had in all branches. Never even got considered for it and the new manager they hired (even though she liked me) wouldn’t help me try to move up. So I resigned. Two months later had a job as an office manager elsewhere, making twice as much. It was very frustrating but I learned my worth and realized it was a good learning experience. I know now that I need to stop and do self evaluations at jobs, to make sure I’m putting in my all and that the company is appreciating it and meeting not just their needs.

    Reply
  20. Bookworm

    As someone who is in the job hunt now, it IS nice to get a rejection to know if I will not be selected for an interview. I’ll be sad, of course, but it’s nice to know that this job is not at all under consideration (sometimes I have been contacted months after I applied and I assume something happened to delay the process, the original hire/interview process didn’t work out, etc.). So while it’s really nice to know I do respect that if there’s no other requirement (no pre-interview test/sample work done) then silence will tell me everything.

    Reply
    1. A Reader

      I am job-searching, too, and I agree with you. I like having closure in the application process, especially as I am filling out numerous applications every week.

      The only time it really stung was when I was rejected within about an hour or two of applying to a position. For some reason, that really hurt more than if I never got a response.

      Reply
  21. AnonymousforThis

    Before I got promoted, I was also in a super-subtle, rage-inducing “it’s her or me” situation. I was literally waiting for This Person (who lied on accountability reports, had no memory to speak of, often couldn’t remember how to do her job, broke rules because she felt they were stupid, slammed desks and yelled, was consistently late and missed deadlines, got pulled off projects, etc) to leave in order to be promoted out of my low-rung role (which I was consistently outperforming and outworking every day). Although I kept getting nice new job titles to reflect my contributions, my primary job title and work was clerical and I still had to work at reception, where I was constantly bothered for “I’m not busy, let’s be social!” reasons, no matter if I was reserving a room or writing a 500-page data report (not even kidding). I also thought, “My boss would much rather keep me than her.” I almost wrote a letter here asking if I should go to my boss and say, “It’s her or me.”

    Well, then my boss mentioned that the plan for me to move up was to wait for This Person to leave “in her own timeframe – could be next year, could be five years.” The rationale? This Person had been at the company forever, and my boss wanted to reward that loyalty, if only for appearances on his end. I was job searching that night and came to work bitter and upset for a few weeks. Fortunately, a different, huge door opened for me at my company, thanks to that same boss, and, although I still work with This Person in a much more limited role, I’m not covering This Person’s behind or doing her work or answering her questions about how to do her job while idling at reception. I don’t know that my boss ever realized how upset I was about the whole situation, and I’ve never told him how close I was to leaving.

    I don’t know what advice I would give, even having been in this situation myself. I don’t know what would have happened if I HAD said, “It’s me or her.” That’s a heck of a roll of the dice, even with a job offer in your hand. I wish I would have been up front with my boss about my problem with my coworker and job situation, rather than stewing or feeling like “fire her, or I leave” was my only conversation starter. I think there is a healthy, positive way to address the issue…but, boy, I couldn’t see that then.

    Reply
    1. tangerineRose

      It’s odd to me that the boss considered that person “loyal”. Sounds like she was undermining the company at every turn.

      Reply
      1. AnonymousForThis

        My perception is that my boss had already chopped a lot of heads and didn’t have the political capital at the company to chop This Person. Nothing This Person did was intentionally malicious (even the desk pounding; meanwhile, no one seemed to take the lying on the reports seriously). All in all, This Person actually is a dedicated, hard worker. The only way I can think to explain This Person is, when given the task to cut down a forest, This Person will call for a three-hour meeting about each tree, climb each tree, pluck off each leaf, cut off each branch, call another meeting to rehash the first meeting because s/he has forgotten everything from the first meeting, and then cut down the first tree. Nevermind the whole forest is left to finish, while the deadline is already blown.

        Reply
  22. Lara

    I actually find the ‘slapping’ story really, really creepy. There should never have to be a scenario where you have to tell your boss you don’t like to be touched. Your boss should never be touching you.

    Reply
  23. Gotham Bus Company

    Letter #3…

    Your superiors are clearly wrecking your morale, and I suspect they’re also consciously, actively dead-ending you. If they won’t promote you, maybe a competitor will. Start the job hunt now.

    Reply
  24. Story Nurse

    #2: I’m wincing at the suggestion to say “I’m weird” about not wanting to be touched by a coworker or supervisor. It’s not weird, and upholding the image of it as weird is detrimental to other people who also don’t want to be touched and now have to fight harder to have that taken seriously. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just “I’m not touchy-feely” or “I’m not comfortable with being touched” or “Please don’t touch me, I don’t like it” without downplaying it or apologizing for it.

    Reply

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