short answer Sunday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s short answer Sunday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. Should I intervene when one assistant is rude to another?

I have a question about tolerating rudeness. I am on a team of about 14 people, three of whom are assistants. I am a supervisor and have one associate director and two directors who I report to. My issue is that one of my assistants is being very mean to another (she is very nice to the third assistant, as well as everyone else), and I am not sure how (or if) I should handle it. The mean assistant will giggle and roll her eyes in a meeting after her counterpart says something (sometimes silly questions but she is clearly junior and still learning), will ask her personal questions in a disdainful tone, and is just generally not inclusive or nice to her. The non-mean assistant is generally a good worker and good at her job, very eager and well liked by members of other teams. She has not said anything to me about her mean counterpart and it seems to kind of roll off her back. As supervisor though, I hate to condone such outright mean-ness because it is done in front of me.

What are your thoughts? Should I make sure it’s mentioned in her review? (Someone else is reviewing her, but my manager is reviewing that review, so I can talk to her.) I feel like it shouldn’t be tolerated but am conflicted because it is affecting no one’s work.

Yes, you should absolutely say something to her, and don’t wait for her review. You should be giving her feedback all along, and this is absolutely an appropriate topic for you to talk to her about. Tell her that she needs to be pleasant and professional to everyone she works with, that it’s not acceptable to roll her eyes at coworkers or otherwise be rude to them, and that you expect her to immediately begin treating the other assistant pleasantly. And if you notice any more of it continuing after that, have a more serious conversation with her, as you would for any performance issue that wasn’t getting resolved.

It’s not just about whether something is affecting the work; it’s that she needs to act in accordance with the culture and values that you want reflected on your team, and that includes not making it an unpleasant environment for someone else.

2. No room at the office lunch table

I am a grad student who is interning full-time at a small company as part of my program. From noon until 1, the office closes for lunch. My supervisor is always trying to get me to come to the workplace lunchroom for lunch. However, every time I go, there is no room for me. I have been able to get a seat there three times in the last seven weeks. The room is very small (it is actually a meeting room) and there no available chairs to borrow so that I can join everyone. I have tried showing up 10 minutes early or 30 minute late to no avail.

I end up eating at my desk or going to the large conference room where there is room for everyone to sit. However, I am always alone in that big room! The office had a lunch meeting in there last week, and several people mentioned that they should move lunch to the big room. However, nothing changed. I do not want to miss out on opportunities for socializing and networking, so I attend all work events and going away parties, etc., but my supervisor is convinced that sitting in the lunch room is a good way to network at this company. What should I do?

Since your supervisor is always trying to get you to join them for lunch, next time she mentions it, tell her why you can’t! “I’d love to, but when I’ve tried, there aren’t any chairs! What’s the secret to getting one?” You can also ask other coworkers the same thing — especially the next time you walk in to find the room full. I bet someone will make room for you.

3. Should I get an MBA?

For the last year or so, I have been struggling to identify what I want to do with my career. I finished my Ph.D. last May while working in a very high-profile job in the government. I loved my job, but a new director who did not have the same vision for my work left me feeling anxious and depressed. I ended up leaving that job for a position doing the same type of work at a small nonprofit. I still enjoy what I do and make a bit more money, but I’m finding that I thrive with a faster pace and higher visibility. I’ve been reading Lean In on my commutes lately and am realizing my goal is to get into more senior leadership at bigger organizations or government and have a more powerful and visible role. My Ph.D. gives me expertise in an albeit narrow field but I’m wondering if I should go pursue an MBA at night to help me achieve my goal. What else can I do to help get myself on that path? If it helps, I am 28 and about to get married with no kids.

Personally, a PhD and an MBA seems like overkill to me, but maybe there’s some justification for it. But I’d want to really know what that justification is — is an MBA truly necessary for what you want to do? I can’t tell from what’s here, but that’s the question to ask yourself. If it’s not required, then you’re better off getting the right work experience instead.

4. Going from a research specialist to a research generalist

My job is going to be eliminated in about a year and a half, and I am starting to look for a new position. I work in politics as a research analyst, but for the past 5 years I’ve focused on very specific issue areas that aren’t very marketable. I probably won’t be able to find a position doing the same issues I do now. That’s fine — in fact, I have become an expert on these issues mostly because my bosses needed someone to do them. They weren’t things I had prior knowledge or experience doing. My question is how to approach job opportunities that are in different issues, or how to market myself as someone who isn’t pigeonholed into a couple very obscure areas. I’m still looking to do policy analysis, but most of the jobs I’m seeing are either a lot more general than what I’m working on now, or are for different issues. I’m qualified for the analysis part, but I’m concerned with how to appeal to managers when I won’t necessarily have the particular issue expertise other candidates will probably have. I know for a lot of jobs this will be a sticking point and there’s not much I can do, but I’d love your advice on the best way to market myself for different areas.

You’re thinking this is more of a problem than it actually is. Unless you’re looking at job postings that specifically require experience in Issue X, generally policy research in one area makes you a fine candidate for policy research in another area. You know how to find information, judge what is and isn’t important, present it concisely, and become an expert in issues you previously knew nothing about. That’s the part you focus on when applying.

5. Asking for a title bump

I landed a fantastic short-term paid internship earlier this year. Thanks to your blog and commenters (I don’t comment, just read what others say), I’ve really been excelling at my position — so much so that my manager wants to keep me on after the internship ends! Long story short, the plan is to hire me on contract.

Currently, my title is intern. Would it be bad form to ask for a title bump — say, to assistant, so an entry-level title and nothing crazy? I’d really like to show some progression on my resume and somehow indicate that it wasn’t just a long internship. I’m not getting a raise (fine by me as it’s a nonprofit and I’m lucky for the contract when there are layoffs happening), so I’m not sure when or how I could ask as there aren’t going to be negotiations.

That’s completely reasonable to ask for. They may be planning something like that since you won’t be an intern anymore, but it’s totally fine to ask about now.

6. My manager and I are applying for the same jobs

One of my immediate supervisors and I are applying for many of the same jobs (and just, f.y.i., I’m really not applying for jobs that are over my head; it’s in academia where academic background is really important and I have a good work background, too). He is one of my references and an extremely strong one. There is at least one other person who I’m pretty sure would be willing to serve as a reference but it would be less strong because of knowing that person for a much shorter length of time and not having as close a relationship.

Basically, I’m wondering just how important references are. I think if my current reference and I apply to the same jobs, I’m not going to get a chance to interview because it would put the interviewer in an awkward position. But at the same time, I don’t want to use a weaker reference if that’s not the case. The supervisor and I have been discussing job searching, but I’m not about to ask him to tell me which jobs he’s applying for so that I know not to use him as a reference for those! It’s awkward either way, but I’m probably over-thinking this.

Don’t even worry about this. You don’t need to preemptively save hiring managers from the awkwardness of asking one candidate for a reference for the other; if you and your manager are both finalists for the same position, they’ll just ask you for other references if they want them. So it will be good to be prepared to supply others if asked, but I wouldn’t worry about it proactively.

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. BCranston*

    OP #3 – I have also been asking myself this question lately as I am on a certain track where an MBA is expected, however I have a Masters in Economics which is (sort of) close but leaves me with holes in my knowledge around marketing and finance. Three years ago I had applied for a full-time MBA program and was a finalist, and that same week I had an interview for my current position. The next week on a Monday I was rejected from the MBA and Friday I received a corporate job offer.

    What have I learned? I learned that while I thought I wanted to go into business, that the big corporations aren’t for me and there is absolutely nothing fast paced or fair about them. I also have little to no tolerance for the levels of politics required to get up the ladder. Perhaps the politicking is different in non profits and government? The MBA would have gotten me a start in another path with a large company, but its the soft skills once you are in the door that determine how far you rise.

    I am also at a crossroads in my career where I need to decide to step off my current path and pursue something different or figure out a way to make the current path work better for me. I recently spoke with some trusted advisors in my company and asked the MBA? question and one mentioned, quite rightly, that “it is the price to play the game.” For my line of work this is absolutely true. For your line – how does senior leadership get their positions? What about in government? Do the job postings for the positions you want list an MBA as preferred? Is the MBA the ticket for your dance, or is there a different entry fee?

  2. StellaMaris*

    LW# 1-

    AAM is completely right here. Stop this nonsense as of the next workday, for your own sake as much as the non-mean assistant’s. This could be seen as workplace bullying, and I doubt you want the reputation of being the supervisor who allowed this to happen on her watch. When you talk to the employee, be blunt and direct; don’t allow for any ambiguity, especially about what the consequences will be if the meaness continues. Plan on following through with those consequences if things don’t improve.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Agree that this is definitely bullying. The mean one is most likely threatened by the new ones talents. I wouldn’t be surprised if mean one gave out bad advice, left nice one off key emails, started rumors, or even made false accusations. OP, you need to read up on workplace bullying NOW.
      Go to mean one in private and tell her you will not tolerate bullying . Tell her if she continues she will be terminated. And tell her you will be watching her like a hawk for further incidents. This should be a very strong talk.
      Looks like someone has queen bee syndrome.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        And BTW, mean one will insist that each incident is a small thing (and they are). What you are addressing is a *pattern* of behaviors. Mean one will keep trying to turn the conversation to each incident. Keep focusing on the pattern.
        I would also suggest the book “Crucial Conversations”. This thing needs to be nipped now.

      2. Marie*

        OP#1 –
        Please address MeanEmployee’s behavior and don’t mince words! This behavior absolutely fits the definition of workplace bullying. I was in a similar situation and had a (clueless & spineless) manager who dismissed it as “boys will be boys” blah, blah, blah, and was afraid to address it. (Funny you should mention Queen Bee Syndrome….in my case, it was Golden Boy Syndrome!). Despite trying everything I could think of to change the bully’s behavior, things deteriorated to the point that I was fired and one other employee in our small dept quit. Read the workplace bullying info by Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie. Workplace bullying doesn’t have to be yelling and shouting; the subtle, manipulative behaviors are equally damaging. If MeanEmployee is behaving the way she is in your presence, I would say there’s a good chance that much worse behavior is occurring that you are not witnessing.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Oh absolutely. Usually the most bullying takes place in private (so there is no accountability ). So another piece of advice is to make sure that mean one is never alone with nice one. I also echo that the bully will get sneakier once confronted. She may even set up some bullying by proxy with another person. These people are VERY manipulative and sneaky.

          One last thing to do is speak to the new one. As stated, assure her that she’s doing a good job. Also ask her about some of the mistakes she’s made. It is fully possible that the mistakes were because she was given bad info by mean one.

        2. khilde*

          Another great resource for the topic of workplace bullying is I learned some really interested things on this site, particularly that workplace bullies will often target competent, well-liked people. That and some other things flew in the face of everything I would have assumed. It’s a great site to poke around.

    2. glennis*

      Yes, but do more than just speak to the employee. It’s not just the offender that needs to hear the message that this kind of behavior isn’t right.

      When you’re in a meeting and this goes on, speak up – say something like, “Excuse me, that’s not an appropriate way to speak to a colleague.” or “That’s not the kind of tone I want to hear in a professional setting.”

      Call attention to it when it happens, call it out and say that it won’t be tolerated. You can word it in a general way – not personally accusing the person by name, and certainly not reducing it to a two-person dispute – the issue here should be that that kind of behavior isn’t professional and that it won’t be tolerated – from anyone.

      1. Jess*

        Yeah, normally I’d say calling someone out in public is a terrible thing to do, but in cases like this it’s probably one of the most effective things you could do.

    3. Jess*

      I’m betting this is affecting the nice assistant more than she lets on and she probably feels she can’t tell anyone without “tattling” or seeming like a whiner. The only solution is the one suggested: the manager must step in or she’ll probably lose a good assistant before long. That’s the kind of stuff it’s extremely difficult to live with on a daily basis.

      1. anonymous_J*

        This. You’re probably right.

        When this was happening to me, I would keep a brave face on at work, but then some nights I would go home and just CRY.

        This is serious and needs to be stopped ASAP!

  3. Chinook*

    #1 – please say something to the mean assistant. If this is how she acts in front of witnesses, I can only imagine how she acts when only with the other assistant. The stress of being bullied may even be causing the “silly” questions as the newer assistant may be getting flustered or being given conflicting information from the mean assistant as a way to set her up as an idiot (been there, done that as the victim)

    I have no advice on what to say when witnessing something except for the giggling. If she giggles, look confused and say you don’t get the joke.

    Also, please tell the newer assistant if she is doing a good job and back it up with examples. I can guarantee her selfconfidence has been taking a beating.

  4. perrik*

    #1: “Dear AAM, one of my co-workers regularly and publicly belittles me at work. She asks really rude personal questions, rolls her eyes when I talk at meetings, and otherwise is just plain crappy to me and only me. I remain professional and don’t visibly react because I don’t want to encourage the jerk to get even worse, but she hasn’t stopped her hostile behavior. The supervisor sees this, but because I don’t break into tears and run off, he seems to assume that I’m okay with being the target of a bully and doesn’t do a damn thing about it. I’m looking for a new job…”

    #2: What do other workers do when there aren’t enough chairs? They probably drag in chairs from another room and wedge in. Not ideal unless you want your elbow in someone else’s soup, but that seems to be the norm. Ask your boss how to squeeze into the clown car… er, lunch room.

    #5: It seems unlikely that they would make your official job title “X Intern” when you’re no longer an intern. When they’re ready to bring you in, sit down with your boss to discuss the specifics of the contract – responsibilities, expectations, length of the contract, job title, etc.

    1. Chris80*

      +1 on your response for LW#1. The non-mean assistant may not be saying anything, but that doesn’t mean she’s OK with it. She could just be afraid that she’ll hurt her standing with you (the supervisor) if she complains about a coworker. Also, being a junior staff member can make you a little unsure about everything – please stick up for your team member and don’t allow this behavior to continue!

      1. fposte*

        And it affects everybody who witnesses it, so the morale of other employees is involved too.

    2. Tai*

      OP on 2 here. I believe the other people who can’t get seats sit at their desk. There are no chairs in the area to bring in unless you steal someone’s desk chair. You couldn’t even get a chair in through the door when the table is full.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        That whole situation is crazy. It’s just like junior high school – only a select few can sit at the “cool” table. Even more so, because you said there’s a larger conference room that they could use.

        You could make friend with some of the other employees and invite someone to each lunch with you. We’ve had lunch parties at our desks many times. Unless you like eating alone (and that’s what I do so that I read without being rude to others), which is your preogative.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Urgh, I hate being sociable when it means impersonating a sardine.

        I would probably suggest to the boss that eating lunch in a sardine environment is not nice, and could we instead go into the big conference room?

  5. Anonymous*

    LW #4–I’m in the exact same position as a research analyst in a policy area that I think I want to move away from. I don’t agree with Alison here (that’s a first!) about the importance of subject expertise. I think it’s pretty important, especially for some of the think tanks that pride themselves on their researchers’ expertise and for political offices that need a subject specialist. And for government jobs, you generally have to have experience in the exact field you’re applying for to make it past the initial screening. So far, my lack of experience in Y means most places won’t look at me for a Y policy analyst.

    I wish I had advice; I’ve been trying to focus my cover letter on clear examples of getting up to speed quickly and successfully, but so far it has yielded limited results.

    1. Noelle*

      Agreed. I also work in policy research and it is not easy to leap from one field to another. I’ve been trying to get a wider range of projects from my bosses to help me if/when I decide to leave, but even that is difficult because I specialize in X and they want me to do X. They’d rather hire someone who specializes in Y to do Y than take a chance on someone with no demonstrable experience.

    2. no expert*

      I agree with you and disagree with Allison, which is very rare for me. I am in a similar situation – formerly held a policy research and analysis position that also involved a lot of writing, community outreach, and project management. It was in a very specialized area that no longer exists (the body of California law that I worked in was repealed). I had no previous experience or education in this area, I learned it on the job.

      My education is in a different but very closely related area. Despite that, I am having a difficult time finding a comparable position in the area that is more related to my education because I don’t have the actual subject matter work experience, even though I am very familiar with that area because it overlapped with my previous experience.

      I can tell you what I think and what I’ve been doing, though I’m not sure how valuable it is as I’ve not been success full in my own job search. First, think long and hard about any overlap in subject matter and really focus on that. Second, play up your technical and any soft skills. Third, and probably most important, use your contacts to meet and talk with people in the area(s) you would like to work in. Even though nothing has worked out for me so far, I have a couple of possibilities due to contacts.

    3. just another hiring manager...*

      Although I am not in policy analysis, I have to wonder if tailoring your resumes and cover letters to strongly reflect how your previous knowledge and skills in another area translate to the new area would be helpful.

      As an academic advisor, I have worked vastly different programs and different populations, such as math/science teacher education, early childhood education, engineering, hard sciences, undergraduates, transfer students, re-entry students, working adults, and grad students. I became a subject specialist in whatever area I needed to even though my background was specialized with with low-income, first generation undergraduates.

      Again, not sure if this would work in policy, but I was able to convey why I could advise other student populations even though I didn’t have any direct experience. You can’t always assume hiring managers are going to get this on their own, so you have to make it clear!

  6. PEBCAK*

    #3: You already had a high-profile job without having an MBA. I therefore wouldn’t conclude that you need an MBA to get a high-profile job.

  7. Anonymous*

    #4 – Pick a couple of specializations that you think are both marketable & interesting. Pick up a book on them, find a good blog or three, look for online / journal articles on it, and start getting up to speed on them. Use a library to avoid shelling out your own cash on this. Quit acting like you have no personal control over your own skill set.

    1. Noelle*

      I think you’re underestimating the amount of experience many policy jobs require. Knowing about different issue areas is not useful if you can’t demonstrate experience in those areas, and most people are not going to let you do work on issues just because you’ve read a library book on it.

      1. Sunshine DC*

        Indeed! Picking up a good book can in no way come even close to what an actual policy expert will have! Which will be backed by having produced a PhD Dissertation (or at least a Masters Thesis) on the topic—which will have meant that such a person has read HUNDREDS of books on the topic, plus HUNDREDS of journal articles, etc. An expert at that level, at a think-tank, will be

        What one CAN do, however, is to familiarize oneself (including reading more books) further with RELATED topical themes. So, say one has focused on “Chocolate Teapot-related Peacekeeping Strategies in Central Asia”… then shift to “Vanilla Teapot Peacekeeping….” or “Chocolate Teapot-related Peacekeeping in Northern Europe…” or “Post-Conflict and Reconcilliation in Central Asia (in the aftermath of fiale Chocolate Teacpot-related Peacekeeping…”

        1. Chocolate Teapot*


          It never ceases to amaze me how creative people on here have got with Chocolate Teapots!

  8. AB*

    Alison, there is a typo on the first question (“to” instead of “is”):

    1. Should I intervene when one assistant IS rude to another?

  9. Anonymous*

    #1 – AAM is bang on! Don’t wait for the situation to get out of hand or to a point where it starts affecting the work enviroment. Silence only increases the bullying person’s power, so in saying nothing, it will likely get worse. It certainly won’t stop anytime soon, not without someone stepping in. I commend the OP for seeing the behavior and wanting to do something about it, many managers would rather choose to ignore. AAM is right in getting right to the point, no pussyfooting around, there is no room at work for childish, immature behavior. In Canada, several provinces have legislated workplace bullying laws under worker’s compensation. One case actually fined an employer who ignored the situation over $800,000.00.

  10. Chris80*

    #2 – Even if the table is small, does the lunch room itself allow room for standing around and socializing? We have a very small lunch room where I work, but it’s not uncommon for people to drop by when others are on breaks or lunches to use the microwave or coffee maker. They often end up lingering in the lunch room for a few minutes and making small talk while preparing their meal, even though they don’t spend their entire lunch break there. Even if it’s standing room only, you could still get to know your coworkers, and eventually you might walk in at the perfect time to grab a seat!

    Also, you’re surely not the only one who often ends up without a seat, right? Is it possible for you to grab another coworker who is left standing and invite them to join you in the conference room?

    1. Tai*

      OP here. The room is really too small for the table, so when people sit near the door, other people have to squeeze by them. I have never seen anyone stop by and stand around while chatting. There isn’t really enough room for that unless you block the door. There aren’t any microwaves in the room — they’re in the kitchen in another area of the building.

      I am probably not the only person who doesn’t get a seat. However, I suspect those people end up eating their office because they aren’t sitting in the lunchroom or the main conference room, and there really aren’t other places to sit. I don’t know everyone at the company, so I’m not really sure what they do.

      1. PD*

        Frankly, this sounds ridiculous!

        Clearly you are doing something out of sync with the people who do get a seat, like taking your lunch too late. Ask your boss (or another coworker who regularly ends up at the coveted table) when he takes lunch and to save you a seat! Or just stake out a seat very early. Figure out when the room is empty, and get in there and sit down and don’t get up. Don’t get up for anything! Not for a fire, not to go to the bathroom.

  11. Anonymous*

    #6. I just can’t imagine your supervisor giving you a great reference to snag a job he wants/wanted. Self-love will hold sway. Sorry! Just yesterday I watched Serena Williams rip her beloved yet ailing sister Venus a new one in the semi-finals in Charleston, thrashing her in front of thousands in less than an hour. In your case, he will e able to do it behind your back and without your knowledge. Think of Plato’s ‘Ring of Gyges’: given anonymity, people will further their own self-interest, regardless of the damage to others.

    1. fposte*

      I’m inclined to disagree, or at least offer a competing viewpoint. Giving a good employee you trained and supervised a good reference is absolutely the professional thing to do; throwing a tennis match is not (unless you want to argue that Venus threw the match for Serena, since sisterhood goes both ways). There are a lot of places where it would hurt the applying supervisor’s candidacy if he dinged the junior who he knows is competing with him. I would certainly caution against it as a strategic move, as there’s a high risk of backfire.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with fposte — this would hurt the manager’s candidacy. Plus, as I wrote in my answer, the employer is unlikely to go to the manager for a reference if they’re both finalists anyway.

        1. Anonymous*

          Hopefully the supervisor is a sane person that would wish the underling the best in their future endeavors… (fingers crossed, right?)

    3. Kit M.*

      The Williams sisters situation isn’t really the analogy you want. It would be dishonest/unethical of Serena not to play to her full abilities. It would be similarly dishonest/unethical of the manager to give a poor reference.

    4. OP6*

      I’m not actually worried that he’d give a bad reference. He’s a respectable person and it would really be out of character. I was more worried that the hiring manager would see the name of someone else who applied for the position on my application and discard it to avoid drama. Thanks to all for seeing this from a more reasonable perspective. I’m going to move his name down on my list of references and find an alternate if needed.

      1. Tai*

        No one saves seats, as far as I can tell. People just have really great timing, and I don’t.

  12. Tai*

    OP on #2 here. Not long after I wrote in, a bunch of people from another department came into the big conference room for lunch. I sat with them, and it was great! Unfortunately, that didn’t solve my big problem.

    At the times when I’ve gotten a seat in the lunchroom, no one has saved seats or had a problem getting a seat. I think people do what I do — peek in and leave if there isn’t a seat.

  13. K*

    Sounds like other people are leaving a couple of minutes early for lunch to snag a seat, which might be worth doing periodically if that is, indeed, your department’s culture.

    1. Tai*

      I was able to get a seat one day when I arrived 10 minutes early. However, when I tried to get a seat on Friday 20 minutes before lunchtime (my supervisor suggested I come join them), there wasn’t any room by the time I got my lunch out of the fridge.

      I am not sure how early I can show up to lunch because our company has a lunch hour when we’re closed.

  14. TL*

    OP #1, please, do intervene! I can almost certainly assure you that the nice assistant IS bothered by the mean assistant’s behaviour, even if she hasn’t shown it. She could be just letting it roll off her back, but most likely, she’s just not reacting in a dramatic way (crying, getting visibly upset) *at work*. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t affecting her, or – in the long run – her work. Luckily, I’ve never had a really bullying co-worker, but I’ve had an extremely obnoxious one. On the outside, I was letting it “roll off my back”. Away from work? There was crying, and frustration, and I was *this* close to walking off that job with a snappy exit line. (For several reasons, but that co-worker was a major one.)

    Please, nip this in the bud. Nobody should be allowed to get away with that kind of bullying and non-collaborative behaviour in the workplace.

  15. Monica*

    What would happen in a situation like #1 where HR had already been involved, it was 2 against 1, and the manager told the 1 “hey they’re probably going to keep treating you like this so it’s a better idea if you just do this other less desirable position.” The original position was a director, second non-director.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Start applying to other jobs asap, because this one is run by people who don’t give a damn.

  16. Anonymously Anonyomous*

    1. Yes, say something. Your silence may look like you are condoning the behavior especially since it’s done in front of you. I agree with AAM, I would add to it though, I think you should also talk to the non-mean assistant to get some feedback from her as well. She may want to say something or stand up for herself but isn’t sure how to go about it.

    I’ve experienced this before and at one point. I had to say to the meany “your behavior is rude and unacceptable.” She was getting loud in front of clients and other co-workers. Then I turned and walked away. And it continued because she is also known as the office brat. The next incidence was in front of clients and other co-workers again. That time, I went to my supervisor and addressed it with her. My supervisor asked if I wanted to address it myself ( I don’t think she knew it was a problem because I, like the non mean assistant, let things roll off my back) and I told her no I would feel better if she addressed it because I had already tried.

    2. Have you considered bringing a chair from the conference room? Or you or your supervisor can invest in a fold up chair for you doing lunch. I’m sure it’s going to be hard to get everyone on board to eating lunch inside another room–even if it makes more sense. People have their favorite spots and favorite chairs and perhaps this has become their favorite room though it’s small. Not to mention–this person likes to sitting by the window and this one has to sit next to the door or the head of the table. I’m sure if you bring a chair people will be more accommodating and make room … I’m laughing a I type this thinking about the particulars at a lunch room table.

    1. Tai*

      OP from 2 here. The big conference room is on the other side of the floor from the lunch area. Also, there really isn’t any room to fit another chair in there, no matter how small.

      For the most part, it is the same crowd every day, but people sat in different places on the days that there was room for me to join them.

      1. Anonymously Anonyomous*

        Judging by the way you’ve described it, who would want to network that way? I would hesitate to eat my lunch in there for fear of someone breathing, talking and laughing all of my food. Does anyone actually eat lunch in there? I would do as some suggested, I would go in to chit chat for a bit and then leave and eat lunch at my desk…

        Yes, in my office people have seating preferences during lunch but I think my environment is a tad bit different… we eat in a neighboring teams’ space. So it’s kinda like house rules. Newbies, who aren’t familiar, do come in and eat from time to time, then everyone adjust their seats it’s usually no big problem esp for me. But some do have problems with it …so they will come in early and claim their spots.

        1. Anonymously Anonyomous*

          “someone breathing, talking and laughing all of my food.”

          all *over* my food

          1. Chloe*

            Agreed, this just sounds like a nightmare to me! A lunchroom so full everyone is practically sitting in each others laps. I can’t stand the sound of people eating, mind you, so I guess I’d hyper-averse to this kind of thing. I’d rather scamper outside and enjoy fresh air 1000x more than sit in such a tightly packed room and eat lunch.

            But if you want to network/bond with your colleagues, by all means suggest a bigger room – it sounds like some other people are already staging a break-away group, so you might end up in the majority over there anyway.

  17. DSL*

    #1 of course I agree with everyone that you need to address this. On top of it all, while you don’t mention it, if the person being bullied is a member of a protected class this becomes even worse if you leave it unaddressed.

    The bully may be doing this for a number of reasons including because she feels threatened by the newer employee. But, if there is something that makes her different play particularly close attention.

    1. Anonymous*

      Isn’t everyone, by definition, part of a protected class?

      ALL genders are protected.

      ALL races are protected.

      ALL religions are protected, etc.

      1. Zahra*

        Yeah, but the majority group (the group in power) isn’t the one that you need to “protect” per se. In most cases, christian white heterosexual and cissexual men are in a position of power in the workplace. If a man is bullying a woman or white woman a black woman, it could be said that the employer didn’t take action because the bullied person was a minority and thus, not “worthy” of being treated like every other [majority group name here].

      2. fposte*

        Yes. And everyone can be discriminated against in illegal ways, so I think this is a point worth emphasizing.

  18. cncx*

    I hope that the OP for #1 will take Alison’s advice to heart and not just have the conversation with the mean assistant but also monitor. I had a job with a Queen Bee and once she got “talked to” she started doing stuff harder to trace, like leaving me off key emails, complaining to her boss about my work, physically sabotaging my work by going into the filing cabinets and moving stuff around…having the difficult conversation and continuing to monitor are key here, because very few bully types back down just because they were talked to.

    1. tcookson*

      So true! We are dealing with a queen bee bully type in the office right now. She is a senior admin. assistant who claims to “champion” the junior assistants, while actually she undermines everyone else to further herself. Her boss finally heard enough negative feedback about her from the all the junior assistants and their bosses that he asked for formal feedback from the bosses, using that feedback to reprimand her and delineate to her what is acceptable vs. unacceptable practice in our university department.

      His intervention has helped a great deal, but the senior assistant still insists to anyone who will listen that she was misunderstood in the situation, that she actually was “championing” the junior assistants by putting them down all the time, and she absolutely will become a problem again if she isn’t monitored beyond the immediate “fix” for the situation.

    2. K*

      I just started a new job and I fear I have a few queen bee type supervisors. I would really love some practical advice about working with people like that. So far I have had “snippy” responses (not letting me finish my sentence before replying) and very vague answers to my questions, making it more difficult to learn my job. Also none of them have been friendly or offered any advice or support that you might expect on your first few days on the job. I hope I’m just overreacting, but it has already made me feel uneasy and thinking I need to prepare myself to deal with any future rudeness or condescending remarks.

      1. Anonymous_J*

        Can you have a sit down with your actual BOSS–the boss of all of you–and see what HIS/HER expectations are? I have found that going around these people is sometimes helpful.

        Good luck!

    3. anonymous*

      In my case, she was very rude to me all the time, in front of everyone–I never knew when she would snap. She also hoarded all of the work and actively would NOT let me help her with stuff, so I rarely had enough to do, which made me look bad.

      In the end? I was the one who was told I was the problem, and I had to struggle to find another internal position, or I would have been laid off! That woman STILL works with my old group!

      The only things I can think of are: Either she is sleeping with the boss, or he is terrified of her.


  19. Mrs Addams*


    I was in a similar situation to your (non-mean) assistantin my first real job – the woman I worked did all of what you describe – the rolling of eyes, the smirking at “stupid” questions, the being left out of emails – all of it. It was horrible. Being 21 and new to the working world, I kept as professional as I could, and didn’t say anything to my boss for fear of coming across as naive and petty. (It didn’t help that I worked in a 2-person office and the boss was rarely around to see what was happening. Of course, when the boss was around, mean coworker was as nice as pie).

    After 18 months of this, I eventually decided it was time to tell my boss. Sadly, he took exactly the response I expected, told me I was being petty and that the things I had brought up with him were nothing to do with him – it was up to me to deal with my relationship with my coworker and he “shouldn’t have to hold [my] hand”. I quit the job 6 months later when I’d found a new position.

    Please please please address this problem immediately. The assistant who is being bullied may seem to be coping fine, but she may just be scared to tell anyone, for the same fear I had of being seen to be unprofessional and naive. The fact that you’ve noticed this is going on is to your credit – many bosses would simply ignore it or put it down to petty differences. But now you have noticed it, you have a responsibility to address it.

  20. Heather*

    #2 -eat in the big room. You’ll be alone for a bit but I can pretty much guarantee people will follow. Especially when they realize it makes more sense.

    I have no clue why they are making people eat in the small room that doesn’t even fit a table properly.

    I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than be forced to eat lunch with people every day but that’s just my extreme introvert-ness talking.

      1. Heather*

        One thing you could do is check out the small room first and then when there’s no room say “I’m going to eat in the big room”. I’m sure people will follow or other people will join when they see therein no room in the other room

    1. Tai*

      OP 2 here. I’m an introvert as well, but I’m making an effort to be sociable. That’s why it is so frustrating that my efforts haven’t worked very well!

      1. Heather*

        As an introvert I would use my working time to network and be “sociable” and use my lunch hour to recharge. I don’t buy the “belief” that you have to socialize during your lunch to be effective at your job. I really, really, really need that hour to recharge and without it I get really cranky and headachy. Besides I’ve always found it take a while to get to know other staff at work when you are new and siting with them at lunch doesn’t increase it that much. Better to spend your lunch hour the way you want to and then just let the getting to know staff happen naturally. If I really had to I’d compromise at one day a week. I hate it when supervisors pressure staff to eat lunch with each other.

        But again that’s just me.

        1. Lynn*

          This situation reminds me of the Dilbert strip where he tells the pointy-headed boss “lunch is not defined by food. Lunch is defined by freedom from tyranny. The lunch break begins when the meeting ends.”

  21. OP #5*

    OP from #5 here. I’m hopeful that they may be planning a title bump anyway, but how do I ask for it? Should I offer some sort of justification other than I’m not longer in the internship program?

    1. perrik*

      Just ask your supervisor what title you’ll receive when you’re brought in on contract. In the highly unlikely event that she’ll say “you’ll still be an X Intern”, that’s when you worry about justifying the title bump.

      I’d be willing to bet a year’s supply of Earl Gray tea that this will NOT be an issue, and that you’ll automatically be given a normal entry-level title like X Assistant or X Coordinator.

  22. Cassie*

    #1: Absolutely say something. I don’t know how much authority you have (if the mean assistant’s behavior doesn’t change, would she really be let go?) but nonetheless, I think we all have a duty to stand up to bullies (whether you are a supervisor or not).

    And if there is lack of response from the higher ups, such as “oh, it’s so petty” or “it’s just one incident”, I agree that stressing the pattern of behavior is crucial.

  23. Anon*

    #1 – I am with the “do something” camp.

    It’s possible that non-mean assistant is afraid to voice her opinion on this, especially if she’s sometimes supervised by the mean assistant, and/or if mean assistant has suggested that personnel decisions are influenced by her. Non-mean assistant may be afraid to raise attention to the issue herself, but feel grateful and relieved that someone else has also noticed what’s going on & that she’s not alone on this.

    There’s also group dynamics. I think showing solidarity with the non-mean assistant could be just as important as a formal review. If you show your support for the non-mean assistant in front of mean assistant and everyone that mean assistant has acted this way around, I think mean assistant will then have no choice but to treat non-mean assistant nicer, at least when you are around. I think this solidarity may need to be reinforced by pulling aside other people in private (whom mean assistant acts like this in front of), and letting them know that you (and/or the other directors) think her behavior is unacceptable. This way, others will be more hesitant or resistant to go with the flow when mean assistant starts acting like this, and mean assistant will have to be nice to the non-mean assistant when others are around, too, if she starts picking up that the others don’t support her behavior anymore.

    On the other hand, if you only talk to the mean assistant privately (conversation or via the review), I worry that she’ll find other outlets or ways to make the non-mean assistant’s life miserable. Or complain to others and make it look like non-mean assistant is “tattling” on her. There has to be some kind of accountability with people like mean assistant, because they are probably used to getting away with treating people this way. Someone needs to show them they are not the “boss” and it’s not OK to treat anyone this way, and they can’t get away with things like this with excuses and reasons to justify their behavior.

    This is all theoretical though.

  24. Lily*


    Kudos for both the question and the answer! I’m pleasantly surprised that no one is saying MYOB or that intervention would be insulting the woman being bulled.

  25. Anon*

    For #1… I feel these things are really tricky to deal with. Sometimes saying something can make things worst for the nonmean person and Ive also seen cases where rebuke by higher authority resulted in creating ill will towards the person being bullied. It’s tough to figure these things out. While mean assistants behavior is not nice, it seems like a delicate situation. And if backed into a corner, mean assistant may feel even more threatened and cause even more problems and conflict between people.

  26. Tai*

    OP from 2 checking in. I just wanted to let you guys know that I decided to eat in the big conference room today. I had just enough me time before a bunch of people from that other department joined me. It was great! We talked about TV and food, everyone’s favorite topics. Here’s hoping it takes off!

  27. Laura*

    #1: Yes, yes, yes you need to speak to the mean assistant immediately. Make it clear that you will not tolerate that kind of behavior. Do this in private. At the next staff meeting (or whatever) generally address it without using any names, by reminding everyone that you’re all professionals, and everyone does not have to be BFF’s, but everyone does need to treat each other with courtesay and respect. This will indirectly let the other assistant know that you’re aware of the problem and are trying to address it.

    And as far as the mean assistant goes, talking to her immediately lets you get something on the record for her performance evaluation. If you don’t say anything, then she’ll be angry about that, and rightfully so. Nothing should ever come as a surprise during a performance evaluation. And consider having someone from HR present when you talk to her, to keep it official and above-board, and also let it serve as an official verbal warning.

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