my coworker is complaining to my boss that my morale is low, when it’s not

A reader writes:

I was blindsided today. My boss informed me that a coworker had come to her with concerns about my morale and well-being. My boss wanted to know if all was well and if I needed to talk with HR. It was made clear that the coworker felt that my issues were affecting others at work.

The coworker in question is the newest hire (6 months ago) and most junior member of the team. Since coming on board, she has been given increased responsibilities, done well with her work, and is generally liked by everyone. But she is shy and seems to be very sensitive. A few weeks ago, she complained to our boss that I chatted more with one colleague than with her and she felt left out and wondered if she had upset me. I approached her and assured her it was simply that I am very close with that particular coworker. Since then I have made efforts to involve her in at-work lunches, but I try to keep my distance when working. Obviously, that has backfired.

I told my boss that I am fine, happy in my work but very confused to be having this conversation. I asked if she wouldn’t mind digging into the matter to obtain some examples of my low morale behavior and how it has affected the team.

On Friday, two days after the initial meeting, I asked my boss for an update. My boss admitted there had been no details forthcoming so she had advised the colleague to approach me directly, and gave her a deadline for doing so. I assume this will happen early this week.

I told my boss I was frustrated by the incident because the new coworker is very sensitive and I felt it was unfair that I was made to have a conversation about my morale when the concern would be more appropriately placed on our young coworker’s oversensitivity. My boss admitted that the young lady’s sensitivity is annoying but assured me that I needed to go through the process she had put in place, and she knew I would come out of the other side concluding this was not about me.

I left the meeting by letting her know I felt annoyed that I was pulled into this, did not feel I needed to go through any process, and expressed my hope that the sensitivity would be handled, and that I would continue working as I always have since there was no actual problem with my performance or attitude in the first place.

Now I feel I am dealing with an inexperienced boss who didn’t handle the situation appropriately, AND an immature coworker. Any advice on how to handle this would be greatly appreciated.

Wow. Well, ideally you wouldn’t have asked your boss to dig into the issue for you, let alone followed up with her for an update. Ideally, you would have kept the focus on the coworker’s oversensitivity causing distractions in the office, rather than charging your manager with finding out more details — because that put the focus (unintentionally, I realize) on you, rather than on her.

But regardless of that, your boss is handling this badly, of course — you don’t need her to micromanage your relationship with this coworker.

And the coworker sounds like she has some serious problems with judgment, maturity, and boundaries.

In any case, if/when the coworker talks to you about this, I’d tell her in no uncertain terms that your focus at work is on your work and that you’re not interested in getting pulled into drama about how much you talk to Person A versus Person B, that your morale is just fine but that she’s welcome to approach you if your behavior even makes her work more difficult, that you’re baffled that she’s now gone to your boss on two separate occasions about things that were non-issues and that she could have spoken to you about, and that you’d appreciate her conducting herself differently going forward.

And I would not circle back to your boss after all this unless specifically required to, because your boss doesn’t belong in the middle of this at all. If she brings it up herself, say: “I don’t plan to engage further with Jane on this, as it’s distracting me from focusing on my job. If you have concerns about my work, I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

Model good boundaries for both your boss and your coworker, since both of them seem fuzzy on what that should look like.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon*

    Oh man, this brings back bad memories of a coworker who came at me out of left field, totally reamed me out, about how I disrespected her, acted like I was better than her, and that she couldn’t hold it in anymore and had to “tell me about myself.” I don’t think I said much more than “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” to her. It was so out there, so unprofessional, like someone exploding at a lover than a work relationship.

    Luckily I had good managers that handled it professionally, but I kept my distance from her and eventually left the company for another job (not because of that issue).

    I wish people would just come to work and do their jobs, and stop coming to work seeking out fulfillment of all their emotional needs. She hasn’t been there six months, and instead of focusing on learning a new job (because that is how long it takes! maybe longer!), she is worried about who is sitting at which lunch table. This is about her issues and insecurities, and nothing to do with you, as was the case with me. And yes, your boss is handling this badly. She’s giving this more importance than it deserves.

    And please don’t blame this on age – the woman who attacked me was well into her 40s. It’s a personality type and nothing to do with age. Lots of people in their 20s know how to do their jobs and go home with no problems.

    1. Anonymous*

      “I wish people would just come to work and do their jobs, and stop coming to work seeking out fulfillment of all their emotional needs.”

      I love you so much for saying this! I hate it when people treat work as more than a job, but instead as a huge part of their life. While I agree that it is nice to have a friendly atmosphere at work, cordial relationships with co-workers and management, etc., it is also not the end of the world if someone at work isn’t your BFF. I feel like some people tie their job to their ego, and anything that happens at work, directly impacts them, for good or bad. Some people just don’t have lives of their own and their life is their job. It’s pathetic really.

      1. Anon*

        I say this all the time, and everyone always nods in agreement. It’s a job. Yes, career is important, but this kind of thing isn’t related to career at all. In my case, this woman had a lot of issues – way too many kids, no insurance, husband struggling, grandkids, illnesses, etc.- a lot of things that she liked to share with whoever would happen to stop by her desk to listen. I wasn’t ever RUDE to her – but I never stopped by her desk to listen to her problems. Because…

        I had problems of my own. My mom was very, very sick, and my husband’s father was ill, and I was pregnant with my first child. I had enough on my plate, THANKS. I chose not to discuss these things at work, I mean, people KNEW, but I didn’t talk about it every day all day. She had this perception of me being aloof and uncaring with her plight – not caring to realize I had a plight of my own.

        Like I said, these people have ISSUES.

        1. Liz T*

          It took me so long to learn this. I always wanted to say, “But it’s different in the arts!” I learned the hard way that people will bond in the arts, but it’s not necessarily a long-term or reliable thing. It was a beautiful day in grad school when I realized I was happy to just eat lunch by myself, instead of insecurely craning my neck for someone to sit with.

          Work is work. Long-standing close work relationships are special, not the norm–nor should they be the norm.

        2. Anonymous*

          Me too. I keep a distance from my co-workers for good reason – I don’t want to be distracted at work or be put into a situation where I or the other person is juggling friendship vs. boss/co-worker relationship issues when stuff has gone wrong.

          I have stuff going on right now personally too and leave it outside the door – I don’t want to be pressed to talk about it *in* work or to talk about anyone elses.

          I’m sure that makes me seem nasty but Its not about that and I don’t mean to be.

      2. Jamie*

        I feel like some people tie their job to their ego, and anything that happens at work, directly impacts them, for good or bad. Some people just don’t have lives of their own and their life is their job. It’s pathetic really.

        I was with you until this part. I will admit my ego is too tied to my career – but that’s not to say I care at all about being BFF with anyone at work. It’s about my own trajectory and growth – I’m very competitive with myself and who I am professionally now needs to be different than who I was last year or I get stagnant and that puts me in a bad place, emotionally.

        I think my job is too big a factor in my “life” and that’s something I’m beginning to feel …and am working on…but I don’t think that’s pathetic. Anymore than people who immerse themselves in any hobby, sport, or whatever are pathetic.

        I think the difference, for me anyway, is being immersed and tied to career goals and challenges as opposed to the politics at any particular work place.

        I understand office politics. I’ve been accused of being far too good at them. I know their place in how they can help or hinder ones career…but those are never the issues that keep me up nights.

        When I lay awake in bed feeling like a failure it’s because I can’t figure out X, or Y is taking too long…or I’m tired and I don’t want to work this weekend but I need to finish Z, but if I do I’ll increase the speed at which I’m burning out…so damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

        Or I am beating myself up for my excessive use of run-on sentences.

        Seriously though – there is a difference between people obsessed with their own career and obsessed with their workplace. Both can be equally annoying, but people like me are far less likely to talk to your boss about anything, much less who you’re eating with.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed — the difference you’re describing is obsessed with your work (you) and obsessed with workplace dynamics and people (the OP’s coworker). We can debate whether the first one is ideal (I’d say it’s fine at many stages in life, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other things you value), but the second one is bizarre.

        2. Lisa*

          There is nothing wrong with thinking about your work when not there. It means you like something about what you do 40 hours a week. I had a job that I raced out of every day at 430 pm, but i hated it and felt disconnected to it. I may get out at 6 pm every day now, but damn… I find myself whistling in my head even on stressful days. Liking what you do means you will care enough to think about problems and cool ideas when not in the office, and there is nothing wrong with being happy enough to not check your job life at the door when something pops in your head outside of work.

        3. Kelly O*

          I work in a place that is overly concerned with how we “get along” and wanting people to “be friends.”

          I honestly just come here, do my work, and go home. I don’t see my coworkers outside of work, I don’t normally go to lunch with them, and I try really hard to stay out of everyone’s drama.

          Yes, if I know you’ve been sick, I’ll ask how you’re feeling. But seriously, I would really rather here “better” or “about the same” – you do not have to tell me all the details of your illness. If I know you just had another grandchild, I will ask about how everyone is doing. I don’t need to know that kid’s BM schedule or how sore your daughter’s nipples are from nursing (god I wish I were kidding about that.)

          I have always believed that when someone asks “how are you?” as a general rule they are just making polite conversation. They do not want to know about my lack of sleep, my issue with my downstairs neighbor, my fears about failing at the gym, my worries about my job, or whether or not I’ll find a better job this year, or what sort of financial aid I will score for college.

          When someone asks me “how are you?” I say “fine, thank you” and move on. But some people seriously don’t think that’s enough, and it’s frustrating.

          Because no offense, but if I had the choosing of friends, I really wouldn’t pick anyone here. But I also come to work to earn a living, not necessarily to make BFFs.

        4. Cassie*

          “Seriously though – there is a difference between people obsessed with their own career and obsessed with their workplace. Both can be equally annoying, but people like me are far less likely to talk to your boss about anything, much less who you’re eating with.”

          Gosh, yes – I’m pretty immersed in my job (albeit not “career”, per se) but although I see plenty of stuff going around in my workplace, I’m not about to go complaining to my boss or anyone else’s boss about anything. I can’t even imagine how to do it – do I just waltz into my boss’s office and say “Boss, Susie Q is being mean to me!” What am I, five?

          We do have people who are like that (including one of the managers) but I am not one of them. My boss is one of the head bosses in the office so imagine if I was one of those people – and imagine if he wasn’t quite as laid-back as he is – anyone who looked at me funny would be outta there!

      3. Ellie H.*

        I think there are two kinds of people, people who need/want their job to be a part of who they are, and people who are fine with just doing something non-objectionable that they feel competent at for eight hours a day and save their non-work life for expressing their identity. Obviously there are many gray areas/fuzzinesses here, and probably most people aren’t all one or the other.

        I love, love, love my job, am genuinely interested in all aspects of and in what I do, think about it when I’m not at work, and definitely consider it as a big part of my identity. It IS a huge part of my life but I consider that a positive factor. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it for free but I truly love it that I can get paid and feel valued to do what I do. Whereas, there are people I know may enjoy what they do at work but feel that their “real” self and “real” interests are what they do in their free time, and therefore aren’t emotionally invested in work whenever they don’t have to be. It’s just a different approach.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly – and no right or wrong, IMO – just different.

          And ITA that just because you love what you do does not mean you’d do it for free…there is a beautiful symbiotic relationship between working and replenishing of a bank account and I for one would never want to twiddle with that. :)

          But I liked the way you described it as “real self.” If I found myself unemployed I would absolutely have a crisis of who am I without my job. Others I know work to support their “real selves” and jobs, although done well, are just a means to an end.

          1. Ellie H.*

            Glad you agree – and I think that getting paid is part of what makes work fulfilling and meaningful.

      4. Malissa*

        The pathetic comment is a bit out of line. My job is a huge part of my life. I’ve spent years going to school to obtain this job. I spend weeks every year keeping up current trends and changes in my industry. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into my job. So yes it’s partially tied to my ego. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be so awesome at what I do.

        1. Anonymous*

          If you had met some of the people I worked with, you would not say it was out of line. Like Allison said, if your work is a positive thing and it doesn’t affect other parts of your life negatively, that would be ok. But people get so obsessed with everything that they have 0 life outside of work, and that’s the issue I have with it.

          1. Jamie*

            And not to parse words too specifically – but I think the zero life thing is what some people are taking issue with.

            I am absolutely one of those people who are accused of this on a regular basis. I have no hobbies (unless you count posting here – which is truly the most consistent non-work related thing in my life), my social life is non-existent and when I’m not working I’m either cleaning my house or catching up on sleep. I went to lunch with my husband the other day and came home and we played a couple of rounds of WWF and that was a big day out for me.

            But as long as my family is happy and I’m happy – and my employer is happy…it’s not pathetic.

            It is not for everyone, and it wouldn’t have been for me when my kids were smaller…but now that they are older it’s the main focus of my entire life – yep. This works for me, although I could use a day or two off right about now, so using myself to illustrate the point my life would be a miserable existence for someone else, granted, but it totally works for me.

            I don’t judge other people who work as a means to support themselves as being unambitious. As long as they do the jobs that they are paid to perform well, it’s none of my business how they fulfill themselves or seek happiness.

            So it’s the idea of stamping someone as having “zero life” just because it isn’t the life you’d choose that’s off putting.

            I mean if I spend my Saturday nights writing Crystal Reports or going out with friends – why would that matter to anyone?

          1. Anonymous*

            Not only being obsessed with your co-workers, but with your workplace in general. Being obsessed with your work can be a bad thing if you let it affect other parts of your life, e.g. health (mental and physical), relationships, etc. I think that if people are happy with their work that isn’t necessarily a problem, but like someone said up-thread a bit, needing work / the workplace / your co-workers to give you emotional fulfillment is a huge issue.

      5. Long Time Admin*

        Amen, amen, amen!!!

        I worked for one year at W**mart Home Office, and it was like one great big seriously dysfunctional family. I hated every minute there, and couldn’t wait to find a job where people behave professionally (desperate times call for desperate measures).

        My co-workers are not my family. I got over that feeling the first time my company had mass layoffs. The only reason I work is to earn money and have insurance. I like having a cordial and friendly atmosphere at work, but I wouldn’t give anyone here one of my kidneys.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s a good benchmark for keeping those relationships in perspective. “Would I give this person a kidney? No? Then we’ll just smile and say hi and pass our TPS reports back and forth.”

          1. Laura L*

            Ha! Although, for me, the bar for donating a kidney is much higher. I’d definitely donate one to my brother (gotta keep him around for the rest of my life) and my parents, but other than that…? There’s no one else in the world that I can say, yes, I will definitely give you a kidney if you need one.

            1. ARS*

              Yeah, maybe a better measurement would be “Would I be willing to help this person move? Or lend them some cash if they came up short?” There are people I worked with and still have great relationships with that would be Yes. There are people I’m friendly with that would be “maybe $20” and there are people who the answer would be no.

    2. Anonadmin*

      “I wish people would just come to work and do their jobs, and stop coming to work seeking out fulfillment of all their emotional needs.”


  2. AHK*

    I think there may be a typo in there. It looks like you want say you’re *not* interested in getting pulled into drama between Person A and Person B.

  3. Anonymous*

    A person I once worked with was fired because the boss said “someone overheard her” saying she didn’t like her job. It was a call center… Bottom line is people are crazy!

  4. Yup*

    I’ve read the post 6 times and I’m not sure I understand what happened. It sounds like a lot of discussion (by the coworker and boss) about a non-issue.

    OP, I’d probably be really irritated and defensive if my boss came at me with such nebulous perception thing. But it’s not worth it to get angry with your boss, because you don’t want to poison what sounds like a decent relationship otherwise. As far as the coworker, well — you can’t control other people, you can only control your reaction to them. As immature as this person may be, you might be best served by giving her complaint a few minutes of open minded consideration, then letting it go. That way, you can honestly say to your boss or HR or the coworker, “You know, I thought about it, and I don’t quite get where you’re coming from” and chalk it up to a misunderstanding. Which then frees you to go about your work and your workplace life in peace. It’s not worth you giving free rent in your head to someone else’s imaginary issues.

  5. Andie*

    OMG! Situations like this drive me insane! I question how the boss handled this as well. This is so elementary school! The boss should have told the employee to grow up and get back to work.

    1. Jamie*

      And you can nicely tell someone to grow up and get back to work.

      What baffles me the most is the bosses reaction. Common sense would dictate that if employee A came with a complaint about how employee B’s morale is hurting the team the next question would be “How?”

      – Whenever we ask her for an update on project X she throws a stapler through the nearest window.
      – She’s refusing to answer emails.
      – I mentioned the copier was jamming and she burst into tears.

      Legitimate concrete reasons to have a little chat. But without a concrete example I would expect the reaction to be more along of the lines of ‘why are you telling me this’?

      1. Julie*

        This was my thought, too. Unless there’s something specific that’s preventing other people from doing their job or causing problem in the office, why does it matter?

        1. Waiting Patiently*

          I agree. If its directly impacting my work, then yes it needs to be addressed with her first then management. The OP said her coworker feels “her issues are affecting others at work”. What does that mean?
          Makes you wonder if OP actually has some issues which are affecting others in the work place…..just a thought.

      2. Victoria HR*

        Years ago, I worked at a dysfunctional insurance company. Someone complained to my supervisor that I hadn’t verbally said “hello” in response to their greeting (I just smiled and nodded) and so therefore I was “rude.” The supervisor not only took their feedback and made me go apologize like a 5-year-old, but put it on my yearly review.

    2. fposte*

      I’m also questioning the manager’s passing the first complaint on to the OP. (And how would you say “Beth thinks you don’t talk to her enough and that it’s because you don’t like her” and still feel like a legal adult?)

      1. KarenT*

        And how would you say “Beth thinks you don’t talk to her enough and that it’s because you don’t like her” and still feel like a legal adult?)


        I can only imagine what other types of micromanaging are going on.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          An action plan to MAKE Beth LIKE the OP.
          Step 1:_____________

          I would have told her that we are not here to be her bestest friend. Do the best you can. Quit being fixated on OP.
          Okay, I would have been a bit nicer, but essentially the same concepts.
          Managers are not responsible for people’s personal relationships or the lack thereof.

      2. anonymous*

        These are the kinds of comments I respond to with the plainface and “ok.” (The boss’ not yours.)

        It’s like “Really? This is important to my job HOW?”

    3. Kelly O*

      Must admit, I am with Jamie and fposte on this one. I’m really unclear on how it got past the manager.

      FTE – Jane has low morale and it’s affecting my work.

      Boss – Really? I’ve never seen that from her. Can you tell me more?

      FTE – Well, she talks to Mary more than she talks to me, and sometimes they go to lunch and don’t ask me to go with them.

      Boss – And this affects your ability to work how?


        1. JM in England*

          Right on the money!

          Going slightly off topic, in one of my previous jobs, we had a woman who complained to the boss because we allegedly didn’t talk to her much apart from work related matters. However, she had a reputation as a gossip so we knew that we had to be guarded in what we said to her.

  6. Malissa*

    Not too long ago I had my boss ask me if I had a problem with guy X in another department. Which I did not. My only dealings with this guy was that he procured cell phones for my department and he wasn’t exactly the quickest about following up to request. I did my job down to the letter when dealing with him. But at some point he thought I had a problem with him. My only problem was having people constantly asking me about their phones, and him not actually answering emails.
    What this problem is I couldn’t say. I just thought he’d gone grumpy and didn’t hold that against him, because everybody in his department did that every now and then. Eventually they all come out fine.
    Needless to say I wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that he thought there was a problem. But I did offer to apologize if I had actually done something wrong or change the way I handled things if he’d prefer I do them some other way. After that I never did hear anything. But the guy’s attitude has changed and he’s been absolutely no problem to deal with since.

    1. Jamie*

      FWIW the closer I get to burn-out the more difficult I perceive others to be. And more importantly the more difficult I presume others think I am being.

      I know this is wholly my problem and my perception – so I don’t mention it to anyone – but it rings perfectly true to me that this was dropped and now he’s fine.

      1. Malissa*

        Honestly I think he might have been circling around burn-out. Especially now since the part of his job he hates the most is about to get transferred to a new hire, he’s been an absolute delight to work with.
        The only bad side to that is that new-hire may be my #2 person, as she’s going to see if she can transfer over. While this would be absolutely perfect for her, I’ll have to hire a new person.

  7. PPK*

    The references to shy and sensitive and young lady make me wonder about the rest of the story. I’ve been a shy, sensitive young lady working with a bunch of men. It can be hard to work your way in (even when it’s a fairly normal work space). Sometimes it takes awhile to learn the social ropes and when you have to buck up and talk to someone directly vs speak with a manager (or realize you’re over thinking something). It still may be that there’s really nothing to talk about in the end.

    1. Ellie H.*

      I find one aspect a little weird: “I told my boss I was frustrated by the incident because the new coworker is very sensitive and I felt it was unfair that I was made to have a conversation about my morale when the concern would be more appropriately placed on our young coworker’s oversensitivity. My boss admitted that the young lady’s sensitivity is annoying . . . expressed my hope that the sensitivity would be handled”

      It sort of seems to me that trying to change the focus to the perceived “sensitivity” of the “young lady” compounds the issue by coming up with a personality defect of the coworker’s for the boss to address in retaliation for the personality defect (morale) the OP was accused of. Like, “It’s not me, it’s her!” – just a further descent into irrelevant personality sniping and kind of unappealing, especially with the idea that the OP and boss are now talking about this coworker behind her back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it’s because it’s the second time the coworker has done something this. And after only being there six months. She does sound over-sensitive!

        1. fposte*

          The fact that the first complaint to management was “OP talks to colleague more than me!” should be a *giant* red flag. I fear this is a manager who believes that every employee complaint needs acting on.

        2. Ellie H.*

          No, I agree that the coworker does sound like her assessment is off and that from the information given, it can be perceived as over-sensitivity. I think I reacted because I don’t particularly love hearing “oversensitive” as I think it’s something that can be used to belittle and dismiss complaints, especially used toward young women, though I agree that that doesn’t sound entirely like the situation here. It just seems a little counterproductive to have added a new personality complaint, now directed toward the reporting coworker, to this incident.

          1. jill*

            I like this. I, too, have a negative reaction to calling people “oversensitive” because, well, you feel what you feel and I don’t really care to decide whether other people are feeling the right things in the right amounts.

            The issue here is the colleague’s behavior–she needs to understand both reasonable office behavior, and the role of the OP and manager. The manager needs to help enforce that. It’s not the OP’s, nor the manager’s, nor our place, in my opinion, to decide if the colleague’s sensitivity is appropriate. We can agree that her behavior probably isn’t, and that’s what’s relevant.

    2. LPBB*

      I wonder a little bit if this shy and sensitive young lady is being perceived as “safe space” for a venting coworker or is simply being overlooked when other coworkers talk amongst themselves.

      I am a shy and quiet person who has been privy to a surprising amount of office gossip simply because my presence in the break room, for instance, is quiet and inoffensive. Even when my presence was noted, I think the basic assumption was “Oh well, she’s not going to tell anyone,” which in my case was correct. “Shy and sensitive” might be leading people to the assumption that she is less likely to share whatever it is they’re talking about.

      None of this should be read as if I’m defending the coworker’s actions. She definitely should be more focused on her own job and performance, rather than talking to the boss about any perceived morale issues of a coworker, particularly because she is a fairly new and, I’m assuming, junior hire. It just seems like odd behavior, but given her previous previous, maybe not.

      1. LPBB*

        So that last sentence should read:

        It just seems like odd behavior, but given her previous actions, maybe not

  8. nomorerefs*

    Morale? Strange coming from the newest member of the team. Maybe she was upset you didn’t recognize her 6 month anniversary and throw her a party.

    1. Anon*

      This made me laugh. I’m having a hard time drumming up much sympathy for this woman. I mean, six months on the job…I don’t feel comfortable on a job until the one year mark. I would not be worried about this kind of stuff at six months. I would be worried if I was doing a good enough job !

  9. mel*

    The tone of this letter makes it sound like the boss was pretty caring through this situation… why express your irritation multiple times and then indignantly refuse to mediate? She already agreed that it was a non-issue, so why all the fuss? Do you have to write an official report or something?

    1. Jamie*

      The talk about process makes it seem as if she needs to go through a formal thing with HR – and accompanying paperwork.

      I’d be pretty annoyed if my boss said he thought it was a specious complaint, but I still needed to go through an inquiry and possible mediation with HR. I’d feel kind of hung out to dry.

      1. KarenT*

        I would be livid if my manager brought a specious complaint like this one to me at all (I would act calm and collected, but I’d be fuming on the inside) though I agree with you adding HR to the mix would make it worse.
        It sounds like the manager’s position is that the complaining co-worker is being oversensitive, and that after the “process” they would learn the OP was not the issue, but they still have to go through this process in place (I’m imagining HR coaching or mediation).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t get the sense it was a formal HR thing, but rather than the boss was requiring them to have a formal conversation about it — he’d given the coworker a deadline for it and everything. The OP is rightfully annoyed that the boss’s way of dealing with this is to set up a big conversation between the two of them — which signals that it’s an important issue worthy of being addressed — rather than just telling the coworker to drop it.

      1. Jamie*

        I can see that, too – and yep, either way I’d be annoyed because if my boss didn’t think it was of concern she should have quashed it without making me take time to deal with it.

      2. Lily*

        Can someone explain? I would have thought that the boss telling the co-worker to have a talk with OP by X date would be a way of getting co-worker to stop complaining to boss and getting co-worker to address her problems with OP (or shut up!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not everything rises to the level of something a manager needs to act on. In some cases, it’s appropriate to say, “This doesn’t sound like something that needs my involvement,” without any directive to even go back and handle it themselves. Or “I understand that you’re bothered by this, but Jane’s behavior doesn’t sound especially problematic to me.” Or whatever.

          The manager’s job isn’t to micromanage relationships. Telling the OP that she must discuss with her coworker something that doesn’t even sound like a problem is weird — and putting a deadline on it is over-reaching even further.

          “I would have thought that the boss telling the co-worker to have a talk with OP by X date would be a way of getting co-worker to stop complaining to boss and getting co-worker to address her problems with OP (or shut up!)”

          But if the manager wants the coworker to stop complaining to her, then she needs to say that directly, not sidestep it like that.

          1. Omne*

            If one of my direct reports came to me with something along the lines of “so-and-so isn’t talking to me as much socially as others”, assuming we both kept straight faces, my response would be an honestly curious” what exactly do you expect me to do about that?”

            After an, hopefully entertaining, answer I would then explain why it’s not my role to deal with that type of issue.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I had a boss that used this sidestepping technique frequently. It just makes everything 100 times harder. I do hope it is a learning experience for the new hire.
            I do not see where she would have “it” together enough to broach the subject with OP. And, OP, that date goes by without a convo- is the matter closed? I would think the boss would want to focus on real work soon.

    3. Elizabeth*

      Depending on your company’s culture and policies, this can end up in your HR folder as a formal counseling incident, and they never seem to go away. It’s worth being indignant about when it may follow you for the rest of your tenure with an employer.

      If a co-worker were complaining to my boss about my attitude & morale, particularly one of the newest ones, I’d be pretty shocked & unhappy. I’d be trying to figure out what action my boss was going to take and how that action affect me going forward.

      I’ve had a couple formal counselings in the nearly 20 years I’ve been with my employer. One of them I earned, because I was an idiot in that particular instance, which came early on in my career. The other, I fought hard to keep out of my file & lost, because of something similar to this. They were a number of years apart, and they didn’t have any relationship to one another. Today, I would refuse to sign the disciplinary notice on the second one and ask to write a formal response to it, along with possibly filing a counter-complaint against the original complainant.

      1. Lily*

        “I told my boss that I am fine, happy in my work but very confused to be having this conversation. I asked if she wouldn’t mind digging into the matter to obtain some examples of my low morale behavior and how it has affected the team.

        On Friday, two days after the initial meeting, I asked my boss for an update.”

        OP, I think I would have done this, too. I would have thought that I was demonstrating that I take criticism seriously, without thinking about whether I was enabling drama.

    4. M.*

      Because the whole thing is frivolous! You have an individual whose need to be liked is usurping her judgment and is creating a tense work environment.

      If i were her manager this incident would diminish her in my eyes a) because she lacks the interpersonal skills to manage relationships and handle tension in the workplace (which is common) and b) because her assertions are based on her perception and not facts.

      With that said, the OP needs to do whatever it takes to make this a non-issue ASAP because, unfortunately, OP works with a manager who lacks managerial judgment.

  10. ChristineH*

    Ideally, the OP’s boss should’ve encouraged this coworker to speak with the OP her/himself, although I’m not clear if the coworker tried that already. This is one reason I don’t think I’d make a good manager/supervisor: petty issues such as this.

    I can see this from the coworker’s side, actually: It’s possible that the coworker (being shy and sensitive) just doesn’t quite know how to approach the OP with her concern, and went to the boss instead. I think I can be like that–I’m afraid of conflict and saying the wrong thing, so I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this myself.

    Still, I’d rather the coworker come to me directly. Sometimes people come across a certain way without realizing it, although it sounds likely that, in this case, the coworker is being oversensitive.

    1. ChristineH*

      Just to be clear, I am not at all condoning that employees run to their boss over things like this. Just playing devil’s advocate.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I might go further and say that the boss shouldn’t have even encouraged the coworker to approach the OP on her own, but instead just redirected her back to her own work. It sounds like the boss may need to make it clear to the coworker that this isn’t stuff that rises to the level of a problem that needs to be addressed by anyone.

  11. Been There*

    I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I am getting a strong feeling of “watch your back” for the OP. This person has a hidden agenda of causing lots of drama on purpose for her own twisted needs. She is going to divide and conquer the whole department. Why she started with the OP is unclear. But be ready for her to talk about you behind your back, tell others you’ve said mean things about them and generally get your co-workers on her side to push you out.

    I hope I’m wrong, and maybe I’m just jaded, but I’ve seen this happen many times. Keep your eyes open. I don’t think she’s shy and sensitive. I think she’s manipulative and sneaky. I would kill her with kindness and keep communication open with my co-workers.

    1. AMG*

      I think that has merit. I mean, why say that OP has a morale issue, and not some other problem directly related to the sensitive girl? Why not say OP is rude instead of something more general that has an impact on the e tire office, like morale? I would avoid her and take pains not to engage her in any way, and keep an eye on her.

    2. Anonymous*

      This makes sense. When I read that she was talking to her boss that OP’s morale and issues were affecting others in the office, I wondered, “Why would she take it upon herself to speak for everyone in the office on this issue while being the most junior employee there?” There’s two possibilities: 1) OP legitimately has a morale issue and her co-workers don’t say anything about it, or 2) her co-worker is starting drama and wants to be the ‘favorite’ of the office.

      Your suggestions are good ones. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be this way, but seeing this passive-aggressive garbage happen in the workplace and in school, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I had this cross my mind, too. Newbie has been there six months and she is speaking for the group?
      Usually this is a technique that is used to gain credibility. “Well we ALL feel this way….”
      Who is “we”?

      I think we are watching an office trouble maker in the making.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    Even though the sensitive coworker is CLEARLY in the wrong, it can be a good reminder that sometimes you do need to moderate your communication style in the workplace to get the best from everyone. I’m learning this as I grow into my management role. Some people really are more sensitive and you have to be careful how you engage with them, because they’ll shut down and/or create drama. Yes, it’s their problem. But ultimately it’s better for the mission if I can meet them halfway.

  13. Anonicorn*

    The whole situation seems bizarre to me.

    Basically the manager said “Newbie is tattling on you,” which not only doesn’t solve whatever issue Newbie and OP might have, but it also damages OP’s relationship with both Newbie and the boss herself.

    I would be concerned that the boss actually does suspect that OP has low morale. Otherwise I would wonder what, if anything, I did to lose her trust that she would entertain Newbie’s perceptions of me.

  14. Scott M*

    Whenever I get frustrated with my job, I at least am grateful that I don’t have to deal with issues like this.

  15. Julie*

    The one thing I haven’t seen so far in the comments is that possibility the new employee was talking to the manager because she’s concerned. OP uses the term “morale,” but it’s possible that the new employee just approached the boss and said, “I think Jane may be having some issues. Is she all right?” Sort of a concerned, caring discussion that she might be too embarrassed to bring up with OP.

    I know it doesn’t necessarily read like that, and the new colleague should still have just spoken to OP directly, but I think before we jump to conclusions about the new employee, we should at least allow for the possibility that she’s inexperienced, empathetic, and concerned, rather than juvenile and a tattletale.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      If person A goes to person C because of a misunderstanding with person B then it is triangulation and dysfunctional. If the coworker was truly concerned about the OP then she should have talked to him. She needs to learn that behavior now and the manager should be helping her learn it by pushing it back on her.

    2. KarenT*

      I can see where you’re coming from but I have to agree with EngineerGirl. If the new co-worker was worried about the OP, it still seems inappropriate (though perhaps not conniving) to talk to the person’s boss. Also, unless the OPs behaviour is particularly over the top (Which I’m assuming it’s not because if OP was acting erratically at work she wouldn’t have needed to write this letter) six months is a really short time to know someone.

    3. Flynn*

      “…rather than juvenile and a tattletale.”

      That’s the bit that’s bugging me in this thread.

      If she had a genuine concern, she should raise it. If she’s not comfortable raising it directly with the co-worker, the manager is the next best bet (and if they’re inexperienced, they’re not going to know whether it’s better to say something or keep quiet). It’s possible this person has been hearing *other* people complain about the OP, or watched what she thinks is a negative effect.

      And it’s possible she’s perceiving things differently to the OP, that doesn’t mean they’re not valid concerns. They may be incorrect (e.g. OP always snaps at people lately, something must be wrong), but it doesn’t make her concerns wrong. And it sounds like she raising her concerns with the manager because she doesn’t know what else to do. If I was assigned to work with a small group and they didn’t talk to me, I’d want a second opinion as well – who I’d get it from depends entirely on who I actually knew and the dynamics and how it was affecting my work.

      But ultimately, I think everyone’s over-focused on the ‘co-worker tattled and manager micromanaged’ rather than ‘concern raised about my well being, manager followed this up, but made it clear my work was fine’. Yes, the overlap a lot, but that could have been the headspace they were in (I agree the rest of it went a bit weird, but I guess the manager was already involved and felt they had to do *something* – even if it was an official ‘right, sort it out yourselves’!). It may not be the manager’s business if the OP has been under stress, but she should at least check it out.

      Anyway, back to the tattle-tale stuff.
      I’m just going to selectively quote and pretend I’m smart by association.

      “The thing is, there’s really no such thing as “tattling” in the workplace. There are petty complaints about things that don’t affect anyone’s work …”

      “Now, of course it’s generally better if people bring mistakes to your attention before escalating it to your manager, and it’s annoying if they didn’t. But sometimes they just don’t. Sometimes that’s because they’ve pointed out mistakes to you in the past and are now concerned there’s a pattern, or because the mistake was big enough that they thought the manager needed to know. Sometimes it’s because they’re not comfortable talking to you directly (either because you’re not especially approachable or because they’re just bad at those conversations). Sometimes it’s because they really just didn’t think it through and alerted the manager because that seemed like the logical choice to them. And yes, sometimes (not often, but sometimes) it’s because they’re jerks who want to get you in trouble.”

      1. Flynn*

        To clarify the ‘over focused on the micromanaging’ bit: if this was the manager writing in, it would be appropriate, but this thread is more about ‘how dare co-worker X raise this with manager Y’.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This isn’t about an accusation of “tattling” though — it’s about the coworker going to the manager with something utterly trivial and that doesn’t seem to affect her work — as evidenced by the fact that the manager didn’t think it was a problem and wasn’t able to give any details about why it was a problem (and indeed, had to say she’d go back and ask the coworker for more information, when the OP pressed her).

  16. Vicki*

    I had something similar to this happen, twice, the big difference being that I never knew which co-worker it came from. (13 years apart, two different companies, no co-worker overlap)

    Boss called me into his office and started going on about how he had gotten a complaint that my morale was low and I wasn’t sufficiently “into” my job. I asked where the complaint has come from. He said he couldn’t (wouldn’t) tell me. Something abut “privacy issues”.

    I said “Well, it’s not true and if I can’t talk to whoever talked to you about this and clear it up, I guess we’ll just have to take my word for that.”

    I never did find out who it was, either time. But both times, there were no more “low morale” accusations.

  17. anonymous*

    I work with one of these. When he/she first started, I ordered a nameplate for him/her and put it on the sign in board closest to his/her office. The person went BALLISTIC and went off about how it made him/her feel “unwelcome.” I calmly told him/her that he/she was welcome to move the plate to the board near my desk, that I had simply put the plate where I felt it was most logical and had not meant anything by it, other than making it easy for people to find him/her. Did the plate get moved? No. He/She went and vented at someone ELSE about the same thing! LOL!

    This is the same person who got all butthurt because he/she perceived he/she had not been invited to our group’s holiday lunch. That’s because he/she is IT, and the IT group does a separate holiday event from project folks. He/She did not come to me that time, but went to the same other person he/she’d vented to about the nameplate.

    *whackadoodle* That support staffer and I have had a few good giggles over this person.

    I do not like working with people like this. They make me really nervous and stressed out! Fortunately, our paths don’t cross on an average day, and he/she now bothers a different admin with his/her crazy.

  18. jesicka309*

    I’ve been the oversensitive coworker.

    When I first started my current job, I was completely ignored by my team. Now, I didn’t need to be best mates with everyone I worked with, but at the same time, seeing them be overly friendly with each other, organising lunches and going to bars after work was hurtful. It’s one of those things where you think “I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway…but why didn’t they ask? Have I pissed them off that much in the 3 months I’ve been here? How did I did that?”
    And while the OP may think it doesn’t affect the coworkers’s ability to do her work, it can in inadvertent ways. The coworker may not feel comfortable approaching the OP with work questions/discussions. The coworker may find it hard to work while friendly conversations go on around her, but never include her. The OP could be creating a cliquey high school environment by excluding the coworker without meaning to – and the coworker is just trying to get the boss to nip the cliqueynees in the bud.
    Now, the morale thing – as a newbie, the coworker could be onto something. Quite often, people will snipe about their bosses and their job in general conversation without realising it. Coworker could have merely said in a discussion with boss that “I think I’m settling in here, but I’ve noticed everyone/OP is really negative about team leader/job function/salary/promotion prospects. I don’t know what to make of it…help?”

    OP sounds overly defensive of her own actions, without examining whether the coworker actually has a point about poor morale in the office.

    1. Jamie*

      The coworker may not feel comfortable approaching the OP with work questions/discussions. The coworker may find it hard to work while friendly conversations go on around her, but never include her.

      I don’t understand why not being invited out for drinks would inhibit work questions/discussions at all. If people are being professional and pleasant when discussing work matters that’s all anyone owes a co-worker.

      If the conversations are disruptive because they are too loud or otherwise taking away from work, I can see that. If its just because they are friendlier with each other than with you….I wouldn’t know what to do with that if it was brought to me. I think it’s incumbent on everyone to figure out how manage this stuff on their own.

      1. jesicka309*

        I was more talking about approaching someone – if the OP is ‘trying to keep her distance’ while working, as she says, that can make it really hard for a shy person to approach them for work reasons.
        Many people who try to keep their distance while working end up doing so in anti-social ways, like putting both earphones in their ears and ignoring people talking to them because they are ‘working’. AND if the OP if maintaining a cool, professional distance during her interactions with the coworker, but is jovial and lively with others, that too can create an environment where the OP is unapproachable by the coworker. And if other coworkers are following OP’s lead (possible) then a ganging up affect can happen.
        I’m not saying that the coworker isn’t being oversensitive, because they are, but the OP needs to make sure they are treating everyone equally (at least during working hours, because that’s where it counts).

        1. fposte*

          I still don’t agree with this. You need to be appropriately accessible, and it’s a problem if you’re not, but beyond that, no, you don’t need to treat people equally at work. You are allowed to like some people better than others and talk to them more. You’re allowed to go to lunch with some people and not with others (though the OP has, in fact, made a point of including her colleague at lunch). You’re allowed to keep your distance as long as you’re providing the necessary contact for work.

          And if the problem is that the colleague can’t get what she needs for work, that’s what the complaint should be to the supervisor and that’s what the manager needs to address.

          1. Anonymouse*

            This. And I would add that I can’t really buy the idea that a colleague who is open and jovial with others in the office is LESS likely to be approachable –especially about work matters– in relation to the colleague who feels left out. If anything, the office socialites should at least have “approachability” generally down-pat, and if they’re decent people, most likely do and are.

            I’m NOT saying that exclusive nasty “cliques” don’t exist (I’ve been on the outside of a few, in work situations no less), just that the nasty clique-ishness is a separate issue (indeed, the opposite) from genuine open-ness and joviality in the workplace. I think the most concise way to describe the difference is “click” vs. “clique”. As in: some people naturally “click” more than others and thus will talk to each other more, in any group. Just the way of the world. It isn’t a “clique” unless there is some deliberate mean-spirited exclusion (and usually gossip to go with it) of particular targets (and “targets” is a good word for that because in “cliques”, outsiders are deliberately focused on and “targeted”). Admittedly, sometimes the difference can be hard to discern, especially if the cliquesters are really being sly. But at the end of the day, I think it becomes obvious, basically by which “camp” is expending the most energy focused on the other. Bluntly put: people who simply “click” outside of you probably aren’t thinking much about you one way or the other (either because they’re having too much fun focusing on each other and/or you’re not making enough effort to give of yourself in the group). “Cliques” make you their diabolical little pastime and you are an intense focus of their energy.

            A good way to test the difference (and a good way to be, in general) is to make more of an effort to engage them nicely. But —and here’s the key— not to seek attention for yourself but to be a contributor to the group’s dynamic in, at first, a low-key and ideally helpful way. If they continue to shun you or crap on your efforts, then you can probably be sure they’re a clique of assholes. But just as often you’ll find them warming up.

            In one workplace I was sure I was being excluded by a clique, and perhaps initially I actually WAS, but I started volunteering to help on a lot of their projects and taking a more genuine interest in them as people and generally trying to make it work and be friendly and approachable myself, and I saw their relation to me (or my perception of it) literally transform. When I left that job I legitimately missed them all and I’m quite sure they missed me too. I’ll never know if there was ever a grain of truth in my initial suspicions, but it ended up being a moot point, partly because I changed my attitude and approach toward them and stopped assuming they hated me. They either never did hate me, or they changed their opinion of me based on my willingness to meet them halfway. Not saying this will always work out for everyone, but it’s worth a shot. And if it doesn’t work out, there is definitely a thrill in the whole ‘kill ’em with kindness” thing in relation to proven assholes.

            1. jesicka309*

              I understand you don’t have to treat ‘everyone the same’, but there’s a level of professional courtesy that should be a least even across the board. In my current workplace, I have coworkers who are loud and talkative and jokey, but if I ask a question or try to talk to someone, they shut down, stop talking and turn away. Sure, don’t be best friends with everyone, but your whole personality shouldn’t morph depending on who is asking the question.

              In my situation, I brought up at my 3 month evaluation that I wasn’t sure the rest of my team liked me, and that I got the feeling they were going out of their way to exclude me as the newbie. My team leader said ‘oh yes, I noticed that, in fact that’s a problem our department has had for a while.’

              1. Jamie*

                I absolutely agree that everyone is entitled to professional courtesy at work – no question. If you are asking work related questions and they are turning away from you and refusing to speak that’s definitely a work issue – people need to communicate professionally with co-workers about work stuff, period.

                But here’s an example: The other day I was having lunch in my office with a work friend and we were talking about her upcoming wedding. We weren’t loud – but laughing and it was obvious it wasn’t work related.

                A co-worker came in to ask a question, and we stopped what we were talking about so I could nicely ask her what she needed. “Hey – what’s up? Something wrong?” said with a smile. She told me, I gave her the answer, she left and we resumed our conversation. Now this is a co-worker I neither like nor dislike – she’s fine – I don’t know her that well.

                Seconds later another office friend of both my friend and I came in with her lunch and pulled up a chair…after a brief recap we went on with details of the wedding.

                If someone were sensitive about being left out they could be hurt that friend A didn’t want to talk about her wedding with everyone or that we didn’t ask her to join us for lunch. But she was treated with total professional courtesy and got what she needed even though I was on lunch.

                As a kid I doubt anyone really wanted a birthday party invite if it was only because the kid’s mom was making him invite you. It’s kind of the grown up version of that, I would think, if people were faux friendly just because the boss issued a directive.

                I don’t want “ask Jamie how her weekend was so she doesn’t go to the boss” on anyone’s to-do list.

              2. Waiting Patiently*

                You bring up some valid points. I remember being the newbie at my company and during lunch time, which consisted of about 6 -8 of us who work closely together in teams, I sat and ate lunch which was perceived as “quietly”. I would only chime in on topics which were non-work related or safe work topics. I guess the group didn’t like my quiet approach. Being a newbie you’re unsure of a few things -if it’s safe to vent and to whom about what. Obviously they perceived me as a “safe” person to be around to vent. However, because I wasn’t venting, I was asked if I felt the same way and I was told they felt uneasy with me at the lunch table. I expressed to them I felt some of their frustration but in no way would I take any of their lunch time topic back to management. Topics were mostly about frustration, burnout, dislikes-can this affect morale? Yes, I believe it’s a clear indication but again without facts of direct impact, which I didn’t/don’t plan on monitoring, I leave it all at the lunch table. I think a good manager would know if their teams’ morale is low and to the point where performance and work duties are affected. That’s for them to monitor. Luckily, I do know that our teams are pretty great at what they do -but we occasionally vent. To a newcomer our venting could be alarming in a since. There is definitely a group dynamic and culture that is unique to us. Perhaps this is the case of the OP’s coworker. She’s is caught between her views of what the group dynamic and culture is- versus what it actually is. If their social cue is to shut down around her, there is a reason why, and since she ran to management that just might be the reason. We have other teams that work together and when I have to fill in, I follow their social cues, would I be upset if they shut down around me…nope not one bit.
                In one of my very first jobs, where I was fairly a newbie; I was pulled into a meeting with my supervisor and an admin because of gossip that was going on about my supervisor. (They met with each team member) What I found hilarious was that the admin who was apart of the meeting was also part of the problem. I sat there in disbelief, as the admin said she had witnessed team members talking about the supervisor, though she never saw or heard that I had said anything, she just wanted me to be clear that gossiping wasn’t allowed and that I should bring the matter to my supervisor attention, leave the area or tell my co-workers to not talk about the supervisor because that me saying nothing and being in the midst could be viewed as contributing. We worked at a front desk, took our breaks at the front desk in intervals— where should I go when I’m literally in a space 5’X9’ and it was my job to be at the front desk….and furthermore why should I be managing gossip that I’m not apart of. I was just there by circumstances…
                To say I looked at the admin side ways (on the inside) is an understatement She knew, I knew she had participated in the gossip. I told them, that since they both could agree that I had not contributed to the petty gossip (which topics included her choice of clothing and length of fingernails), that I would continue doing my work and staying out of the drama nor would I would bring petty stuff like that to her attention because it was way too much drama for me to entertain.

                You mentioned that your co-workers shut down when you ask a question. I’ve seen this happen to with two co-workers one on my team and one who isn’t. I was told in a separate conversation, out of the mouth of the co-worker who had done the ignoring. That she had purposely ignored her even though she could hear the lady asking her a question. The lady was asking her if she wanted her to get mail from the office since she was going that way. My co-worker said “I didn’t need her doing that so I just ignored her.” Some people are rude, so it’s not always the case of someone being too sensitive.

            2. Jamie*

              This is such an excellent way to approach it as well as illustrating the difference between people not being as friendly as you’d like and legitimate cliques that interfere with work.

              I’d argue that while the latter is disruptive, the former is just part of life and not a manager’s problem to solve.

              When I first started my current job everyone was fine – very professional and pleasant…but I’m not an instantly chummy kind of person and I’m nervous when starting a new job. When I’m nervous formality is my go-to defense mechanism – everything from my speech to mannerisms to how I dressed. So while I was always professional and polite, I pride myself on that, I was about as warm and fuzzy as a porcupine wearing a cactus coat.

              So I sent out an email to a group of people on this one project and used the word “party” as in “when party A completes blah blah blah…

              So I got an email back from this one woman who, up to that point I hadn’t spoken to aside from a nod hello, asking me if I meant the Whig or Know Nothing party.

              Oh come on, how could even someone with as big a stick up my butt as I had resist old timey political humor delivered by a smartass?? Pure awesomeness.

              I emailed back that I considered the question harassment since I’m a registered member of the Whig party… and we’ve been friends ever since.

              The point is sometimes this stuff takes time and sometimes it’s one thing that can break the ice and other times it’s a gradual thing where friendliness grows organically.

              I have another work friend that I defy anyone to try not to like her. She’s so sweet and nice – genuinely and sincerely interested in other people – even my old Snow Miser heart melted immediately. There is something about people being genuinely kind – there’s no immunity to that.

    2. anonymous*

      I am the OP. Thanks to all who commented here; the responses have been interesting and offered many perspectives.
      In the interest of clarity, there truly has been no morale issue. I have loved this job since I got comfortable in it, and have good relationships with my bosses and coworkers; friendly and easy but not so close as to blur lines. My boss’s boss gave me a Christmas card a few weeks ago in which he thanked me for my “hard work, kindness and unfailing good humor.” That meant a lot to me because I felt it validated the efforts I have made to be the best, most supportive and productive team member I can be. My coworker is very young, very shy (her voice disappears before she completes a sentence) and I mentioned her over-sensitivity because it was the second time she had reported me not for something I did but because of feelings brought on by her own perception of things. If she had only asked me, I would have put her at ease. My larger problem is that I feel very let down by my boss who I thought knew me better than this and would have spared me the circus. I can’t help but wonder… what next?

      1. EngineerGirl*

        It could be that she was raised in a dysfunctional family so really doesn’t understand proper boundaries and dynamics. Triangulation could be par for the course for her. The very young don’t have any experience on the way the world “should” be if they haven’t experienced it.

        The good news: Your boss trusts you enough to involve you in the solution. The co-worker has been told to go talk to you – the correct response. I’d say it is in your best interest to encourage this type of behavior. You also might try to find out why she thought that you had moral issues. Do this in a true questioning way, not an interrogation way. If you interrogate you’ll get her intimidated and going to the boss again.

        Now if the co-worker never follows up and talks to you your boss will see that and it will be another data point in your favor.

      2. Lulu*

        I wonder how much her youth also plays into this: I think it takes people awhile to realize that work is not school (or home). This not only means that the Grown Up In Charge is not interested in every little issue, personal or professional, that you might have, but that the ways people relate to eachother are different. While I respect the POV of those who think it’s a bad idea to socialize with coworkers (although I don’t subscribe to that attitude myself), I don’t feel like that’s at issue here as much as immaturity. Going to lunch with people, hanging out after hours, talking about personal stuff at work isn’t disruptive in and of itself, but treating it like you would when you were 13 is. It sounds like the new coworker needs to develop a better concept of what genuine “workplace issues” are and how to separate that from personal reactions that need to be worked through on her own. Also agree that the manager is the crux of the problem in this case, and absolutely should have enlightened her as to what is and is not appropriate to be brought up as a concern. I’ve been working amongst some very young (to me! late teens/early 20s) people lately, and am always struck by some of their behaviors on the job – but I realize this may be their first non-school/home experience and they have yet to learn how to navigate the differences in how things are handled. Fortunately, at least it doesn’t sound like the manager is holding the “complaints” against you!

        1. Lulu*

          Also, have to add that the young certainly don’t have a corner on the “immaturity” market as a personality type, nor are all young people clueless in this regard. But I can imagine cluelessness combined with being soft-spoken and non-assertive (for which she may have been coached to “compensate” by speaking up so she doesn’t get walked all over), in this case, may be the main issue for the new coworker.

  19. Anonymous*

    Hey Alison,
    Would you consider writing some pieces on “managing up”? It would be great to hear strategies & contexts for this – including sorting out when this is likely to be fruitful & when this is inappropriate. You address this in some answers without calling it that; from the comment section here it seems that this would be very well received. (If this is already in your book, I apologize.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s actually a whole chapter on managing up in my book for managers, but there’s also a lot in the “advice about your boss” category in the archives! I tend to find it easier to give advice in response to specific questions, though, so when people have them, they can always email them over to me!

      1. Miss C*

        I’m off to buy a kindle version of the book, but I secretly wish that I could buy the book book and give it to my boss as a gift.

  20. Anonymouse*

    I can understand both sides of this –and have been on both sides of this– but I am admittedly skewed toward NOT catering to over-sensitivity if it seems pretty obvious it’s less about real sensitivity (which I would try my best, within reason, to be empathetic to) and more about stirring up drama. The time that I was on the other side of it was a bit atypical– I was much younger then, and the co-worker “freezing me out” (in my perception) was the friend of a guy I’d recently stopped dating (I think he felt I did his friend wrong) and thus someone I was formerly quite chummy with (no, not in THAT way). So it was in fact an abrupt dramatic change in how he related to me, but in hindsight it was not something to complain to management about.

    Anyway, I have found that it’s almost always women complaining about other women, or men complaining about men, or men complaining about women who they feel rejected by, or vice-versa. In other words, it’s generally a jealousy issue of some sort. (Longing for romance and/or attention being the most likely root cause: just calling it as I see it, YMMV.) Sure, it would be great if everyone did their best to try and be as inclusive as possible (some effort toward this end is always called for)— but the thing is, it’s not, and shouldn’t be, a tattle-worthy offense if you don’t. More like something a kind person tries to do in general, as gravy, as long as mutual respect is maintained. Mutual respect ENDS when one co-worker starts tattling on another behind their back, especially about vague and petty personal feelings.

    And even with very kind people who make an effort to be socially considerate and inclusive— let’s face it: there’s only so much this can be forced. Right now in my workplace there is another young woman whom I’m reasonably sure thinks I’m a snot to her (who knows—maybe even has complained about it to higher-ups) because we don’t really “talk”. We don’t really “talk” because we literally have almost nothing in common and, moreover, trying to get her to keep a conversation going is like trying to get blood from a turnip. Meanwhile there’s a guy there whom I have to pry myself away from talking to all the time because we have such fun, free-flowing conversations. Everything is very proper and there’s no romance going on, but nonetheless I have little doubt that the young woman presumes there is, or could be, and even though she’d likely have no interest in the guy herself, she’s bent because she’s not got that level of conversation in her workday (because she doesn’t make any effort on her part, just expects people to cater to her).

    In the end: you can do your best to behave properly & discreetly enough, be considerate to everyone within reason, but you cannot and should not deny the simple fact that in any workplace or collection of people there are simply going to be pairings or groupings of people who naturally “click” together much better than others without having any ill intent or maladjustments whatsoever. Also, there’s a reason why many people meet their life partners and/or closest friends at work: it’s conducive to meeting/getting to know people IF you’re lucky enough to fall into a dyad or group that fits and if you make the effort to relate to people as ADULTS (as opposed to kindergarteners you tattle on if you’re not class clown). If you’re on the short end of the stick in one group, try to either give more of yourself in the existing group or go find/create other groups where you can “click” too.

  21. Cassie*

    We have a situation similar to this at work – you know how it is if you’re having a bad day or whatever – you just want to hunker down and work (and not have to talk to anyone)? Well, this explanation was not good enough for our newest worker (Abby) who took it as a personal affront that her cubiclemate Betty wouldn’t chit-chat with her on this particular day.

    Abby complained to Personnel, who forwarded the complaint to the head manager, who forwarded it to HR, who forwarded to the staffers’ supervisor (she happened to be out that day). When I heard of this, I thought – why didn’t anyone just tell Abby to leave Betty alone? It’s just one day! She’ll be back to her chatty self tomorrow (or even if she’s not, this affect Abby’s work how?).

  22. Marise*

    I learned the hard way not to become BFF’s with a co-worker. I started a new job and shortly thereafter, I found out I was pregnant. I told the very, very nice co-worker about it because I was co-chairing a trial with her and had some morning sickness. She was wonderful, praised me to everyone and was extremely supportive for years. We became close friends, until I applied for the same promotion. She then turned on me, and we no longer have a friendship, which is hurtful and difficult to manage in the workplace. Once you become close friends in the workplace, it is very difficult to deal with a situation where you are competing with them for the same job.

  23. Anon*

    I’ve been on both sides of the fence as well:

    – Being younger and wondering if older co-workers were “freezing me out” (did I do something wrong? did I step on someone’s toes?) on days I perceived they were more distant than usual. I realize now that there’s a myriad of explanations for this: maybe they were having a bad day, they were busy and super focused on something, or maybe there’s work/personal things on their mind, so forth. And then there’s some co-workers who still confuse me, but I think it’s because maybe they haven’t warmed up to me yet (and vice versa), since I’m very new while they have been with each other for many years, so it will probably take us time to develop a friendlier relationship. With other older co-workers who I’ve had more of a chance to work with, I can tell we’ve both warmed up to each other, and at least I feel more comfortable around them.

    – Though I’m younger, I also tend to be more quiet and reserved and don’t have as much of a need for emotional fulfillment from work. Over the years, I can see how people working in a great job can develop long-term friendships over time, but it’s not something that’s a top, TOP, T-O-P priority. As long as we get along, work well in a team to get things done, and have chemistry in the sense we enjoy talking with each other, I’m alright. Of course, I’d enjoy maybe an occasional lunch, dinner, happy hours, after getting to know them better, but I’m content with my life outside my work with a few close friends and personal life. Also, I disagree with what someone wrote above — I think it’s totally possible for you to have a job that’s more than a job, and something that you are very passionate about, but still have a life of your own that doesn’t involve your coworker 24/7. I’ve often observed coworkers or people in general who seek out fulfillment of all their emotional needs in one scenario, whether it is work or a school activity. It can be tiring, because they take everything SUPER personally and a lot of their reaction to things seem amplified. But then I realize it’s probably because they’re way more emotionally invested in one area of their life, rather than having a life outside of that area.

    Sorry to write a novella there, but I thought it might help to show both perspectives. I’m still really surprised to hear that this new person complained about this. Most people I know, including me, stay away from stirring drama or rocking the boat when they’re new, and just bite their tongues and keep to themselves. I know thats what I did/do. Is it possible that someone else is “stirring the pot” by telling your boss things? I’ve seen this happen too, when there’s a nosy person who likes to stir up drama and relays their concerns about other people.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      I agree. We don’t have to be best friends but at least past the stages of being overly formal.

      True. Same here unless she’s on some type of power trip. I’ve seen newbies rock a few boats! And they didn’t get far with it!

  24. Anon*

    I had this issue-I was in a full time volunteer position that was mostly young people like myself. In addition to working very long hours and occasional weekends, they all wanted to party, hang out and socialize and they got ridiculously upset if you weren’t going out of your way to be their “very best friends”.

    I made quite a few good friends there but I’m the type of person who needs to wind down at the end of the day. In addition, I felt I barely saw my partner at all and simply preferred to relax with him. On top of it, our work was quite intense and I wanted to take care of myself so that I could be at my best. My friends and manager understood but some, notably those with whom I didn’t click well, were hyper offended. I just gently stood my ground and let them know that I was there to work and not party.

    In the end, it worked well. I developed a good reputation, made strong professional contacts within and outside of the organization and my partner and I are getting married this year. As I’m in the non-profit world, I simply remind myself that the causes and organizations I work for need my best work more than my party, social side and, if people get offended by that, that’s their problem. My responsibility is not to satisfy their every emotional need.

  25. Jax*

    I could be the complaining co-worker!

    In my case, I was hired to be a partner with my co-worker in a new department co-worker built from scratch. It’s her baby. I get it. She was thrilled to have me, talking, laughing, etc. I thought I found the best job ever.

    2 months into the job, she went on vacation and I handled everything while she was away. She came back, saw that I could handle things, and started treating me really badly. Cold, angry, storming around the room, slamming the phone, being completely silent. Obviously I was still VERY new and I didn’t know what was going on. I went to managment to ask if I had screwed up something that I didn’t know about!

    Instead I learned that my co-worker has a history of doing this to other coworkers–that she’s insecure, worries about job security, has control issues. She has a file on her and a string of coworkers who openly hate her. The manager actually said, “Ovbiously I couldn’t warn you of this in the interview, but she is VERY difficult to work with.”

    Like someone else pointed out up thread, her attitude makes it impossible for me to go to her for help or further training. How do you go up to someone who is openly seething and say, “So sorry, but would you continue training me and stop treating me like the enemy?”

    I’ve had several sit downs with my boss about her, because I want advice on how to handle her. It *is* effecting my work because she stopped training me, stopped giving me work to do, and likes to pretend I don’t exist. I shouldn’t have to sit at my desk with a nervous stomach all day because my co-worker wants to be a bully.

    I hope the OP at least gives some thought to what her sensitive coworker is complaining about. Because in my case, management is just watching and waiting for a chance to let my coworker go. They’ve had enough.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The difference here though is that you didn’t go to her manager to complain about her morale; you went about specific behaviors that were impacting your ability to do your job.

  26. Anon*

    Ugh, this reminds me of the time I had to give an internal presentation when I was battling seasonal sinus and allergy crud. My manager subsequently wrote on my performance review – without ever mentioning it beforehand – that a colleague said she was concerned about my low enthusiasm. Well, of course it was low that day, I felt like death warmed over!

    Incidentally, this is the same manager who had a mandatory party during working hours in his new corner office, complete with drinks, music and hors d’oeuvres, to celebrate … his new corner office.

  27. Anonymous*

    I had a very similar situation. Got a job that was seasonal with the potential of permanent. I was hired as a supervisor and trainer. I absolutely loved the job and my boss. Didn’t find out till later that the boss favored 2 employees above everyone else due to them being loyal to him when the company was first starting up. I was friendly to everyone, always in to work early, and even brought up some new ideas on how to do things better. They liked me and even implemented several of my ideas. Then, I decided to overhaul my appearance to be more in line with what society calls “professional looking”, complete with a smashing new hair cut! Everyone loved it (and no, I wasn’t looking for them to love it!!) but right off the bat, both ladies who had the bosses ear, started to become distant and make those passive weird remarks. Of course I let it fly right on by and those remarks were probably the ones I actually noticed. I am that type of person who is genuinely nice, works really hard and talks to everyone. I know, hard to think that’s possible but that is a trait I picked up along the way in life. Even my boss mentioned that was something he admired about me! LOL Anyway, I didn’t get the permanent position and my boss actually started to ignore me the last 2wks! I was baffled because I had always made it a point to talk to him. I have no idea how I was suppose to handle this type of situation. It ended up that I just finished my time and went home. The saddest past is I invested 150% of myself into that possible job only to be ignored and released from work. Totally willing to re-evaluate myself and would appreciate some input?

  28. Anon*

    Funny I am going through this myself as the NEW coworker. Just remember a story ALWAYS has two sides and it’s funny how people will side with someone when they only hear one side of the story.

    I have been in my job for 4 months now, I take pride in my work and do the best I can with the knowledge I have. It’s stressful trying to learn and do the work load at the same time, to try and fit in and have the people you work with like you and let you in to their circle. So YES the new person can be sensitive because they don’t have any “close” co-workers yet. They are still developing relationships and trying to fit in.

    I found out yesterday that a collegue of mine (whom I don’t report to but have the same boss) was complaining amongst her team that I am continuely dropping the ball and can’t be trusted. It completely blind sided me. I have NO idea where that came from. I was warned when I started not to trust anyone. I was really upset about this and I spoke to my boss about it. I never told him who told me, but wanted to assure him I take my work very seriously. That with being on course a few hrs a week and already covering for other co-workers on top of my work load I am really doing the best I can.

    Please just remember that there is something called “learning curve”. Cut the new person some slack!!

    If your boss handled it poorly, that’s not on the new person. However I do agree, when a complaint is made there should be examples to back it up.

  29. D*

    She sounds like a moron. New hires that are opinionated are usually insecure people that are over-educated and under-skilled. She probably has never had a real job. Such people spend more time in the classroom than in the real world. These people are always a pain in the ass and rarely an asset to any organization. I would not trust this person at all and I would not take any of her useless opinions seriously. Nobody gives a shit what some low status new hire cares anyway.

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