when your manager won’t manage

Posts this week will include some reprints of older posts that I still love. This post was originally published on August 29, 2008.

A reader writes:

I work in a cultural/academic/non-profit institution, and am part of a professional community small enough that I don’t wish to identify it, lest one of my colleagues identify *me*.

I should say that I love what I do for a living. It’s a calling, I spent a lot of time in graduate school preparing for it. Some days, I really couldn’t be happier.

Those are the days when my boss and most of the other people who “work” with me are not here.

There are really more personnel problems than I can reasonably describe, but I’ll give you the Top 4:

1) My boss allows an unqualified volunteer to perform a skilled, essential function that he is profoundly unfit to perform. Said volunteer is also inappropriate, indecorous, insubordinate and all-around annoying. He argues with us when we assign him tasks, he comes in earlier and stays later than allowed, wanders the building bothering people, and generally behaves like an unsupervised child. I have repeatedly approached my boss about all of the above issues, and while he agrees with me, he WILL NOT discipline or replace this person. My attempts to correct his behavior are ignored.

2) Another volunteer (also profoundly unqualified for his duties) is incredibly rude to me, and has made sexist, racist, and all-around inappropriate statements to me, to my boss, and to coworkers. I have documented such statements, and have had 4 meetings will my boss about this individual. My boss even agreed with me that this person should be terminated’then I went on vacation. When I came back, he was here, and here he remains.

3) A member of the paraprofessional staff is insane. She does no work, and is so horrible that she actually drove away her gifted and qualified supervisor. Despite no specialized training in our field (and a part-time paraprofessional position), she feels she is entitled to order around/abuse the professional staff, and she refuses to learn simple tasks like changing toner in the photocopier (and I mean REFUSES. As in “I will not learn how to do that, so stop trying to teach me.”). She’s also a classic whiner who complains about problems, but refuses to do anything to solve them, even when given tools and support. She’s worked here over 20 years.

4) The boss will not deal with any of this. It’s almost like these people have something incriminating on him, the way he lets them get away with murder.

I love the people I serve, and the one employee I supervise. But I feel trapped. I can’t absorb Problem #1’s duties, since we’re already so understaffed. I feel I’ve done everything right with Problem #2, but to no avail. I wait anxiously for Problem #3 to retire. I pray Problem #4 wins the lottery and retires in Tahiti.

For my long-range career plans, this job is perfect, but the people are making me homicidal.

Thanks…just the venting feels good at this point. Keep up the good work!

You don’t have four problems. You have one big problem: your boss.

You can try to reason with him and plead and use logic, but ultimately there is only one thing that solves the problem of working under a boss who is afraid to take action. I’m sorry to say that it’s this: Leave, and go to work for a boss who is willing to do his or her job.

I know that’s not an easy solution. But in my experience, it is the only long-term solution.

Your manager is profoundly flawed, in a way that nothing you do can fix. He is allowing his desire to be nice and avoid unpopular/difficult decisions to trump his fundamental obligations as a manager — obligations like holding the bar high and expecting people to adhere to it, warning them when they’re falling short, and taking action when warnings don’t work.

And what is happening to you now is the irony that all such wimpy managers spawn: In their quest to be liked, the opposite happens. Because problems go unresolved, good employees get frustrated and end up hating them.

Are there short-term solutions? Maybe. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to badger or cajole him into taking action on some of this, or to give you the authority to handle it. Or you may be able to find discreet ways to go over his head to bring the problem to his boss — but if he’s being permitted to get away with this basic abdication of his duties, chances are good that the boss above him is the same flawed type.

But in the long-term, absent a boss who will make him do his job (likely having to push him through it every step of the way), this stuff isn’t going to change. You have a boss who isn’t interested in or willing to do his job. To have long-term happiness, you’re going to need to find one who is.

All that said, there is one good thing about a boss like this: They provide inspiration for the rest of us, as a model of what not to do. I worked for a boss like this early on in my career, and I ultimately quit over it. It’s no exaggeration to say that having worked under someone like that has formed the foundation of my own management philosophy and approach. Now that I manage other managers, I make sure none of them do this to their people — we say the hard things, have the uncomfortable conversations, and take the difficult actions. And I’m convinced everyone — even the people on the receiving end of those tough conversations — is better off for it.

So admittedly, your letter tapped into a major obsession for me. And perhaps others would tell you to stick it out, let it roll off your back, blah blah. And that’s certainly an option. But if you find yourself a manager willing to manage, the impact on your quality of life can’t be overstated.

{ 59 comments… read them below }

  1. Tater B.*

    I was in an interview a few weeks ago for a Director of Volunteer Services position and the interviewer asked me if I believed volunteers could be “fired.” I told her yes, with no hesitation….and she seemed absolutely floored.

    Having spent almost the last decade in the nonprofit sector, it always surprises me when people are afraid to give constructive criticism to a volunteer or even have that “your services are no longer needed” conversation. I realize that volunteers are hard to come by and great volunteers are even harder, but I refuse to coddle someone who is just not getting it. ESPECIALLY if what they are doing/saying falls along the lines of harassment or discrimination. I have “fired” several volunteers and I would do it again.

    Oh, and I didn’t get the job. Could be for any number of reasons, but I can’t help but think she was genuinely offended that I would fire a volunteer. The horror!

    1. Josh S*

      I’d venture that one of the reasons it’s so hard to find genuinely good volunteers is that the good ones don’t want to work with the crappy ones, and most places won’t ‘fire’ the crappy ones. :/

      1. Kou*

        Oh god this is so true. If I start volunteering somewhere and the other volunteers are crappy to be around, I’ll quit unless I’ve made a serious commitment to be there longer. I do it to help out but I’m not getting anything out of it except social interaction, so if the interactions make my day worse I’m out. Fortunately it’s only happened once.

    2. EJ*

      Similar situation at my place of work. In charge of student workers but no authority over them. They don’t do a thing I ask, don’t come in on time (or often at all) w/no notice, or pay attention to their work resulting in egregious errors, and all I can do is say “Please do X” but can’t do anything to actually make them do it. When talk to boss about it, boss just shrugs shoulders and says “what can you do?” and won’t let me discipline or do the disciplining hirself. But as soon as there’s a problem that affects boss, I get chewed out & told am incompetent. It drives me nuts.

      1. KellyK*

        Wow, that’s really unpleasant. That sounds like one of those “Your boss is crazy; you can’t change that. Run,” situations.

        I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to manage people, but I’m 100% sure that I don’t want to be responsible for the work output of anyone I can’t discipline or fire.

      2. LL*

        Have you tried a performance improvement plan for them? Document, document, document. Even if the student workers can’t/won’t meet the performance goals, you’ll have plenty of documentation of your efforts and their lack thereof.

      3. Lily*

        An acquaintance saved me a lot of stress when he pointed out that student workers have to fill out a timesheet. If they perform a task satisfactorily, then you give them another task to do. If they don’t perform and you can’t think of anything they can do, then they don’t have any hours to fill in on the timesheet, even if you can’t “fire” them or discipline them. Would that work?

    3. KellyK*

      I like the idea of “firing” volunteers when it’s necessary. If someone is doing a bad job, driving off other volunteers, or not contributing productively to the mission they’re volunteering for in the first place, you have to address that. Even if they’re not doing as good a job as they could be, it’s important to try to correct the problems.

      In the SCA (non-profit historical group), a lot of the time I see people take offices because there’s no one else to do it, and then not do the work of the office. People really hesitate to criticize because “it’s a volunteer position,” but at the same time, if you volunteer for a role, you need to do that role, and if you can’t, either give it up or try to redefine it so that you can.

      I’m totally okay with someone saying, “Look my life circumstances have changed so that I can only do half of this role. I can resign so that you can find someone else, or I can stay in the role and just do the highest-priority stuff. How do you want to handle this?” That gives you the option of replacing them outright, using their half effort to train someone else, bringing in someone to help them out, or all kinds of things. I’m not okay with, “I know I volunteered to do X, Y, and Z, but I’m just going to stop doing X and Z without mentioning it and get snippy if anyone asks me about it or brings it up as a problem.”

      I think “firing” volunteers definitely takes a softer touch than you might take with employees, because it’s harder to replace someone who’s working for free. There might be more constructive criticism and more “chances” than you’d give an employee, as well as more willingness to rearrange responsibilities to keep someone.

      But if you have the idea that you can’t fire any volunteer, no matter how bad, then you’re going to have people whose efforts are a net *loss* to your goals, and the fact that they’re free doesn’t make up for that.

    4. Long Time Admin*

      I helped out a friend who was the Administrative Assistant at the local office of a national non-profit. I had to undo all the work (filing) that the volunteers did, then re-file everything in the right folders. It took several hours to do a one-hour job.

  2. Just a Reader*

    I used to work for a boss who was all talk and no action. Horrible clients stayed put, abusing the team and costing the company money. Bad employees exhausted their 3 strikes and stayed around until something catastrophic happened (in one case, a freakout that turned violent, and that we all saw coming). Promises of action for professional growth were never delivered on and the goalposts for success measurement were always moving.

    I quit after almost a decade with that company and declined a promotion in favor of moving on to a company where my boss does what she says she will, and am 1000% happier.

    Unfortunately companies who let managers like this stick around suffer from the same mentality as the managers themselves.

  3. Mike*

    So hard in small non-profits too; the next step beyond the boss is probably the board of directors. Unless you really wanna stir the pot, best to stay away from them. In my expereince, the board of directors is usually besties with the boss and no one can do any wrong in each others’ eyes. You are usually stuck looking like the unreasonable one becuase you actually want to engage in the company’s mission statement.

    1. -X-*

      Yes, though on some occaissions the board may not know and can also be good contacts for future, but related work if you jump ship.

  4. Anonymous Accountant*

    This is 1 of my favorite articles on this website. My current boss (who also owns the company) won’t manage. We have a receptionist who routinely talks very rudely to current and prospective clients, has meltdowns in front of clients and if things don’t go her way, look out. My boss coddles her but won’t have a discussion on proper behavior or terminate her.

    Another employee won’t call in when he’s not going to come in to work and although most places a no call/no show would get you fired, he’s still employed. He won’t complete assignments in a timely manner so his work is reallocated. When deadlines approach and he hasn’t started on his work, it is reassigned to other staff.

    I could continue but will stop here. The great news is that Allison’s post is correct- in these situations there is nothing you can do but seek other employment and leave. Currently, I am 1 section away from completing the CPA exam and hopefully this will aid in my job search.

  5. Twentymilehike*

    Ugh. I am suffering from such a similar problem. Only my boss owns the company so we are a lost cause! It’s especially frustrating when clients are telling you that your boss and/coworkers are horrible at their job/don’t follow through/etc. I’ve actually been told by a client that if I quit they would never do business with the company again.

    Did the OP ever send an update to the original post?

    1. Jamie*

      That’s sad, because you’re one of the commenters whose jobs I covet because of the peace and solitude you’ve written about.

      Maybe your boss should hire me and we can co-manage – all the peace and 100% more competence?

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – the more I think about this…your boss retires to become a silent owner and Twentymilehike and I run the office as a benevolent dictatorship with awesome new hires and all the quiet I need.

        Heck, I don’t even need to manage – I’ll work for you. I just want the quiet of which I’m so envious.

        1. twentymilehike*

          Oh goodlord a what a perfect fantasy! LOL

          It’s only quiet and peaceful when the circus is on the road. Us lowly clock punchers get along great!!

          Jamie, I’ll take you up on that as long as we can get a receptionist. Do you have any idea how long it takes to run any kind of report or do any sort of project when you have to stop every ten seconds to answer the phone!? We have six incoming lines and no receptionist. One time I didn’t file any paperwork for about six months because I can’t squeeze all my projects into my day, and play receptionist, and do menial tasks … all while being severly discouraged from working any overtime. What a freakin’ mess!

          1. Jamie*

            I do remember what that’s like, and I’d change to a career as a ditch digger before I’d work the front desk/phones again. I hate it and I’m really bad at it.

            I was actually forbidden to answer the phones, unless I’m the only one here. It was said in jest, but I cling to that like it’s in a contract.

            And see, that’s why you should manage. You want to hire a receptionist where my go-to move would have been to disconnect the phones so they wouldn’t ring.

            This is why I’m not allowed to touch anything that could affect sales.

            1. twentymilehike*

              I was actually forbidden to answer the phones, unless I’m the only one here. It was said in jest, but I cling to that like it’s in a contract.

              I would, too!!

              Reminds me of just the other week … I took a sick day (for which I was not paid), so my subsequent paycheck was 8 hours short. A few days later, I mentioned that I wanted to work an hour overtime to catch up on a time sensitive project. I was basically told not to work the overtime because of the cost.

              Help me with this math: If my overtime rate is 1.5 times my hourly rate, but my current pay period is short by 8 hours, then they company, this pay period, will be actually saving 6.5 hours worth of my pay rate. I even mentioned that I was short hours, but you see, this project is not for that particular boss, so therefore it is not important that I get it done. This boss only prioritizing their specific projects is a reoccuring theme.

              Sorry for the rant. It’s already turning into one of those days …

              1. Jamie*

                I agree with your math – but some people are really inflexible about OT rules.

                In mfg it’s common for managers to have their metrics tied to OT but regular hours are a fixed cost.

                So it doesn’t help their metric when you take a day off without pay (even thought their labor bucket is lighter) but they have to explain any OT.

                I don’t know if your place does it this way or not, but I’ve seen it before. It’s blind adherence to rules without using common sense when required. And typically I’m in favor of that, since I hate when some people make everything an exception (I’m big on following procedures) – but this seems like they just aren’t looking at the big picture.

            2. ChristineH*

              Sorry to butt in on your conversation with twentymilehike, but I just want to say “hear, hear!” on not wanting to work as a receptionist! I’ve had two receptionist jobs that each lasted a grand total of two weeks. Probably one of the most thankless job known to man. I certainly appreciate the work of receptionists, but it’s not for everybody. Even volunteering at a Patient Information desk in my local hospital was no picnic.

    2. Adam V*

      I second the call for an update! I’m really hopeful the OP left for much greener pastures soon after writing in.

  6. "Your manager is profoundly flawed"*

    I *so* wish I had been reading this blog in 2008. The OP was in a situation eerily similar to mine, so much so that “volunteer” in points 1 and 2 could easily have been changed to “coworker” (for me). I could have used the peace of mind in knowing someone else had the same expereince and that I needed to give up hope that anything would change.

    Anyone for whom this post strikes a cord should really mull over and take to heart the word “profoundly.” If “your manager is profoundly flawed,” too, nothing will change, particularly in a non-profit/academic setting where that person’s performance cannot easily or tangibly be tied to a financial bottom line.

    Since leaving, I’ve worked at another non-profit/academic job and then in the private sector. While there’s not the same “doing good” vibe in my corporate work, the management is held accountable and policies are crystal clear. It’s wonderful to focus on work instead of having to navigate an interpersonal landmine of slack and indifference.

    1. twentymilehike*

      It’s wonderful to focus on work instead of having to navigate an interpersonal landmine of slack and indifference.

      This is so beautifully stated that it brought a tear to my eye.

  7. anon for this*

    My attitude when faced with management like this and badly behaving colleagues is to behave exactly how I like, knowing that there will be no consequences. I won’t involve myself for snits and giggles but if someone impacts on my work, I quickly become unreasonable. Most of these people are bullies. Once you make it clear that you won’t put up with it (in this kind of environment), they back down.

    I remember one place where the manager was ineffective and the workplace was full of crazy, cliquey nightmares. I was only a lowly assistant and the many other assistants had quit due to mistreatment. Once I settled in (a month or so) and saw that management were weak sauce, I just did whatever I liked. If someone screamed at me, I screamed right back at them. If you crossed me, I turned the air blue. I was passive aggressive, rude, and moody and soon, nobody crossed me either. It got to the point where the CEO (and other senior managers) would come to my desk, see me eating lunch, and slink off without disturbing me because “I didn’t like to be disturbed during lunch”. But I got AMAZING results because unlike the other crazy colleagues, I wasn’t trying to avoid work or just disrupt processes. I would get abusive (to be completely honest) if someone else was being so in a way that impacted my work. So I did excellent (amazing) work AND got all the interesting and great assignments. Meanwhile, all the other staff around me were quitting with no other jobs in place and going on stress related leave. People like to complain but never do anything about it. I was actually really well-liked by most people because I (a) owned by own drama and never tried to drag anyone into it, (b) i was very clear that i would misbehave when pushed (I wasn’t some crazy sociopath boss who pretends they are doing it for your own good, and (c) most people like to live vicariously through others. They were too afraid to do anything about it but enjoyed seeing others not too afraid to. I took on the jobs of other people many grades above me who had quit without notice, refined processes, wrote reports, fixed problems created by crazy staff, and worked tons of hours without complaining (because I like to). When I was ready to leave (18 months in), I left with a great reference, for better money and a title change and am now perfectly well behaved at my current job. They actually tried to promote me when I handed in my notice.

    Point is: learn the game and play by the rules. Or quit.

    1. AMG*

      I must admit, I like this. It’s not right, but I understand that you have to do what you have to do to survive sometimes. Acting rationally in a crazy place makes you look–and feel–like the crazy one. And it’s ineffective. You got things done, protected yourself, and got out. Mazel Tov.

    2. Rachel*

      While my job isn’t quite like this, I can totally relate to having a job with zero consequences, and it is frustrating, but it also has its perks. You can’t change a situation, but you can change how you handle it. Not sure if your approach is a popular one on this blog, but I totally get it. Good for you for establishing boundaries and getting ahead.

    3. Lily*

      There is a part of me which would seriously enjoy misbehaving as you describe. When your life story gets turned into a movie, may I play you?

    1. Thomas*

      Oh wow, I’ll bet you’re right. I had no idea what this person might do for a living, but that would make perfect sense.

      1. Aggie*

        As a librarian, I am deeply acquainted with the neverending librarian-paraprofessional battle over toner cartridge replacement :)

        1. Confessions of someone who will not replace the toner of others...*

          This battle of which you speak sounds much like those going on right now in offices everywhere – even those without books and study carrels. :)

          I’m in the middle of one of the battle off-shoots myself, right now.

          New copier and the person whose job it is to know how it works sent someone to me about a setting. This person (whose job it is – check the job description. I know it’s there – I put it there when I wrote it) did not look in the troubleshooting section of the manual, this person did not ask me if I minded helping. If I changed the setting it would be all over and copy machine tutorials would become my job.

          I did tell her the answer was in the appendix of the manual. She opted to call their tech support instead of looking where I told her. Where it’s listed. In a table. In bold font.

          I’ve lost this battle before and the carnage never ends. I’ll die on this hill but surrendering is out of the question.

  8. Jamie*

    I know this is a repeat so maybe I shouldn’t opine about the actual OP – but I’m going to.

    All of those issues are huge problems, and I agree that the manager isn’t managing properly. But I’ve found that when people have multiple problems with multiple people (which is a very real thing in a badly managed environment) it’s important to bring these to the attention of your boss dispassionately.

    There is a lot of hyperbole in the descriptions of the co-workers – and I assume this is venting because she was writing here and this is not how it was presented to her boss. But just for the sake of discussion, when you label a co-worker as insane it doesn’t matter how valid your complaints are, it’s very easy to dismiss the issues as personal or whining.

    And I think it’s good standing advice that if your co-workers are making you feel homicidal you should look for another job…I think that’s the #1 sign the workplace isn’t a good fit.

    1. Lily*

      Jamie, you are so right! I used to put up and shut up until I exploded in hysterics and my manager thought I was the problem. And then I thought I would completely lose my motivation to do a good job. Now I’ve learned to speak up a lot earlier and very dispassionately about how my work is impacted and my new manager takes me a lot more seriously.

    2. Kelly O*

      Remember, they don’t get pedicures in prison, and very few people look good in that particular shade of orange.

  9. Sparky629*

    Another volunteer (also profoundly unqualified for his duties) is incredibly rude to me, and has made sexist, racist, and all-around inappropriate statements to me

    One of the best things that I ever learned about how to handle volunteers/coworkers who behave like that is to establish boundaries for them. Your personal boundary that they are not allowed to cross.ever.

    I’ve been in those situations with a boss who won’t manage and employee/coworker just does whatever and treats everyone around them horribly.

    I once worked with a woman who could only have been classified as the meanest, nastiest person that I’ve ever had the misfortune to run across. She was good at what she did but God help you if you ever asked her a question or had the audacity to question her about anything. She would cut you up one side and down the other.

    Unfortunately, we had an run in one day she said some nasty things to me in the manner of…’you don’t know sh!* because I’ve been here longer’ and this exchange happened via email.
    I responded to her with a professionally appropriate answer and added, “You will not speak to me in that manner or tone. I am not your child nor am I a child. If you have a problem with me or my work then I expect that you will address it in an adult professional manner. Thank you and have a nice day. :)”

    I then cc’d my boss and her boss with my response and the entire email exchange. After that, I never had a problem with her ever again.
    Was it the right way to approach that situation? Maybe not but it was effective for establishing a boundary of how she was supposed to behave with me.

    At the end of the day, if the boss can’t or won’t stand up for you then you have to do it for yourself.

    1. Jamie*


      There is no work related issue in the world that can’t be discussed civilly.

      When my kids were younger they learned, quick, that whatever issue was bothering them was going to be backburnered if there was nastiness or incivility in how they were complaining about it. If you’re rude to me the world stops while we address that issue.

      Admittedly it’s much harder with co-workers and it can be really hard with people who out rank you. There have been times when someone higher than me on the org chart was less than civil and it can be a tough situation to navigate on the fly (at least for me). Fortunately for me it’s extremely rare and I’ve found silence until the tone changes can be effective as well.

      The key is that your response will show people how they can and can’t treat you. My rule is you don’t have to like me, but you can’t raise your voice to me.

      1. Malissa*

        It’s not that hard with people who outrank you. In my world a jerk is a jerk no matter their pay grade. As evidenced by me chewing out my boss for calling me on my day off to think about something that was a non-issue.
        This might be why I get to deal with all the difficult vendors that others are just tired of dealing with.

      2. Kelly O*

        This has worked for me, at least in the short term.

        I have said to people in my office that I won’t engage if they’re upset because we won’t get anywhere. I’ve refused to engage and just tried to very calmly continue doing my work. It doesn’t work every time, and I’m finding that it’s not a long-term solution to the problem, so you have to be ready to just state what you will and will not do and then say it again and again and again.

        I personally have my spiel memorized. It’s short, polite, and in no uncertain terms shows that while I am glad to deal with you on a professional level, I will not play games or engage in that kind of behavior.

        When you work in a crazy environment (and I guess I give the OPs more benefit of the doubt in some of these because I do work in Crazy Town) you just have to be willing to say the same things, over and over again, and try to be as consistent as you possibly can be yourself.

    2. fposte*

      Again, it’s probably long resolved by now, but I wonder if the OP could even have fired the racist volunteer herself and if the boss would actually have been relieved.

  10. sparky629*

    Admittedly it’s much harder with co-workers and it can be really hard with people who out rank you.

    Lol. Not for me. I have huge cajones so I have absolutely no problem with speaking up for myself. Chalk it up to being the youngest girl in a huge family of boys. :-)
    I once had a manager of another department speak to me in an absolutely horrible tone. I told her, ” I realize that you don’t know this about me but I don’t let people talk to me in any kind of manner they want. ever. I don’t really care who they are (all said with a smile on my face).” Then I walked away.
    She thought about it for a few minutes and when she approached me again she was much nicer. She also apologized.

    My approach may not work for everyone though but I realized a long time ago that people will only treat you like you let them.

    1. K.*

      people will only treat you like you let them.
      Completely true, and a valuable lesson. I learned some time ago that saying “You may not speak to me that way” in an even, modulated voice with strong command presence (shoulders back, chin up, looking people dead in the eye – I’m a fairly tall woman with an alto voice, which helps convey seriousness) will go far in terms of being spoken to respectfully. And not just saying it, meaning it – if the tone doesn’t change, I will walk away/hang up until it does. See also: “Please don’t interrupt me; I wasn’t finished speaking.”

    2. Elizabeth West*

      One thing I valued was having a boss who would not put up with clients treating me like crap. If someone called and was rude to me on the phone, I had permission to hang up on them.

      I only did it once in my entire career–to a salesman who cold-called my office and when told the field manager was out in the field, started yelling at me. I hung up immediately. When I told the field manager he might call back, he said “I hope he does!”

      Usually I just say in as neutral a tone as possible, “I can’t help you if you’re yelling at me. If you don’t stop, I will end this call and you can call back when you can speak calmly.” Usually that stops them in their tracks. If not, I say “Goodbye,” and hang up.

  11. AMG*

    Youngest girl in a family of boys…so that’s what happened to my cajones (I have 6 older brothers). Comes in handy when you start dating also, doesn’t it Sparky? Thanks!

  12. Cheryl*

    I was in a very similar situation once, and when I realized that our leader just wasn’t going to lead, I found another job. Later, I stumbled across the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and found myself re-reading page 56 because it struck such a chord: “Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people, as they inevitably find themselves compensating for the inadequacies of the wrong people. Worse, it can drive away the best people. Strong performers are intrinsically motivated by performance, and when they see their efforts impeded by carrying extra weight, they eventually become frustrated.”

  13. Kelly O*

    I appreciate everyone who talks about having the guts to say blunt things because they need to be said. Sometimes I can do that, but lots of times I find myself trying to find a more tactful way to say things, because despite what it may look like here sometimes, I am not normally blunt at work.

    The real challenge for me is finding a way to say something that shows clearly I am not going to engage the crazy that is as polite as possible, professional in its nature, and succinct. It doesn’t matter how many words you use with the crazy, it doesn’t matter, so I try to save mine.

    The big issue I’m facing right now, and it’s tangential to this one, is that I have a coworker who clearly has her own issues. They affect me, yes, but in the years she’s been here, people tend to just say “Oh, she’s just being Jane” and let her do whatever she wants to do. So Jane continues to behave the way Jane always has, thinking there are no consequences. Higher-ups seem to ignore her, no matter what she does or says. I’ve had issues with her before and have been told that it’s actually my issue in dealing with her, that’s just how she is, and I need to get over it.

    I’ve waited to see how our new member of “upper management” would handle the situation, but she seems to take the same approach as the others. So I’m left trying to deal with the fallout from what the coworker does, and no one seems to want to do anything.

    That’s why I try to plot out ahead of time what I’ll say. Jane is rather easily upset and can make life miserable if she’s so inclined. I sit too near her to want to cause any unnecessary problem. (I also keep telling myself eventually I’m going to find the right new job and I won’t have to worry about it anymore.)

    Point being – sometimes the return on handling an issue is not worth it to the manager. In that case you have to put your own plan into place for dealing with coworkers/volunteers/whatever. Then you decide if the big picture is worth it to you, and act accordingly.

    1. Yup*

      As a side note, I’ve often wondered how I can get in on this “Oh, she’s just being herself” thing. I sometimes wonder whether my professional demeanor is working against me on keeping the crazies and the incompetents out of my work stream. If I, like, randomly throw staplers at people when they take up work energy with stupid nonsense, will *I* get to be the special snowflake with the steel-reinforced boundaries, or no?

  14. rachael*

    I have a question related to this. I am at a non- profit/ academic setting, and have been here for about six months. And everyone is really nice and gets along well in my department, but…….. we have no work. The manager has been here for many years, and does very little work. I can’t blame her so much because she has been here for ten years and no one has complained to her yet. Two other people at the company has said to me, on different occasions, that everyone knows its difficult to work with her and she doesn’t do much, but ‘that’s who she is”. For instance, the main role of her job is fundraising, and she openly discusses hating to raise money. I guess I wanted to put this out there because… well.. there isn’t a problem per say, except I don’t think I am learning as much as I should. I mean it’s easy, people are nice, but no one does work and no one seems to care. Has anyone seen this kind of situation? Any advice about how to deal with it? The organization has a good mission, but the department has really fallen into disarray and there doesn’t seem to be a way out of it.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Leave as soon as you can. If you are not accruing job experience by actually working, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage with those that are. The longer you stay, the greater the skill gap becomes. When you are competing for your next job, others with actual work skills and acheivenents will beat you out.

      1. "Your manager is profoundly flawed"*


        And…quite likely, if you try to develop projects (or otherwise find ways to…well, work), you will encounter resentment from your manager and coworkers.

        Everyone is getting along because they are happy with the status quo. Be prepared for backlash if you try to disturb that. But, there’s no reason not to (quietly) continue your professional development while looking for a new position. Also, if you can collaborate with people in other departments or organizations, do so. Build productive professional relationships where you can and move on as soon as you can.

    2. Jamie*

      This is one of the few occasions where an exit interview would come in handy – so you can let tptb know about the lack of work.

      Honestly, if a for profit company wants to pay people to do nothing, that’s certainly their prerogative – but a non-profit doesn’t have that luxury because they are wasting other people’s money not their own.

      Maybe it’s just because you said you’re in academia and I work my tail off to pay tuition for two kids in college I bridle at the thought of a school wasting this kind of money.

      1. Jamie*

        Clarification – I meant if a for profit privately held corp wants to waste money – not publicly held companies.

  15. dorkusamericanus*

    Your job sounds EXACTLY like my situation. This wasn’t, by chance, UCSF? In any case, I’m beginning to realize that working at a non-profit union on is a nightmare for me. My boss refuses to manage my coworker, who refuses to do her job, and diverts all of her work to me. I’m trying very hard to get out and go back into the private sector.

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