update: how do I warn new hires about a toxic colleague?

Remember the reader who asked how to warn new hires about an especially toxic coworker? Here’s the update.

I used essentially the wording you suggested with both of my new colleagues, separately. Person 1 (my replacement in my old job) very obviously knew immediately what I was getting at; I know from continued correspondence with her that Toxic Tina is up to her old tricks on my old project (we joke about it and have actually placed a bet on how many days she’ll miss an upcoming deadline by), but my replacement has kept all her correspondence with Toxic Tina and has her behind well and truly covered.

Person 2, in my new department, didn’t really seem to react at all when I passed on the advice you suggested – none of the raised eyebrows and knowing looks I got from Person 1. I’ve asked her a couple of times since then how the project she works on with Toxic Tina is going, without going into any specifics, but she always just says “fine” (she’s very sweet, but not one of my most interactive colleagues).

Thank you for the advice, and thanks also to the commenters who suggested having the conversation off-site and reiterated your advice to keep things very neutral. I’m well and truly satisfied that I helped Person 1, and I think I’ve done everything I can for Person 2!

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    I commend the OP for warning the newbies about this woman. That is incredibly helpful when you show up on a new job site – someone who gives you the lay of the land and lets you know what you need to be watchful for. It’s like the “underground employee handbook” in a way.

  2. Looby*

    I’m torn with this update. While it’s great that you warned your co-workers about Toxic Tina, I think you and Person 1 are acting pretty unprofessional making bets etc.

    I also think Person 2 knows what you are hinting at but is professional enough not to respond. It’s obvious you have (justified) problems with Toxic Tina, but repeatedly bringing her up makes it seem like you either can’t let it go or you want Person to join your team of Toxic Tina haters.

    1. Kerr*

      Agree. I’m glad that the OP was able to warn her co-workers, but the continued joking and betting sounds unprofessional. Also, if any of that was done by e-mail, it’s going to look bad if anyone else comes across it.

      Person 2 sounds, well, like me. I would appreciate the warning, but wouldn’t feel like I owed the OP any kind of an update or mutual commiseration party.

      1. saro*

        I agree. I’d appreciate the heads up but not being asked several times for updates (unless OP is the supervisor and is tasked with managing this project).

      2. tcookson*

        Re: person 2’s response: I might respond like person 1 once I came to trust a co-worker, but until then — not knowing the person well enough to know in what context they might repeat anything I said about a colleague more senior than my boss’s boss) — I’d play that pretty carefully. It would seem reckless not to.

    2. Today's OP*

      The reason it is being repeatedly brought up is that some of the external people involved with the project in question (which I set up) keep emailing me, rather than Person 1, when TT causes problems by missing deadlines. I forward the messages on to Person 1, without commentary so she can forward them on; she replies to thank me and express frustration (the bet thing came from Person 1, not from me). You’re right that it’s not the most professional thing in the world to respond in kind, and maybe I should start pulling back from that – it’s good to get external perspectives on these things, so thank you :)

      1. Lacey*

        I personally don’t have a problem with your little side bet, its normal human behaviour to try and inject a little humour and comradarie into an otherwise stressful situation.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          +1. When you need to deal with a cronic stressful situation, a little levity help you to cope and not blow up.

      2. Shelley*

        Discretion being the better part of valour, yeah, just keep venting chatter out of work and work email. TT overhearing this would not end well.

      3. Ellie H.*

        I think it’s pretty human and not too problematic to express things that are frustrating about your job. I agree that engaging in conversation about the shortcomings of a coworker (or honestly, the shortcomings of any person) is not perfect behavior but many of us would go insane if we were never allowed to commiserate about someone we feel is acting unreasonably and in so doing making our jobs more difficult.

      1. tcookson*

        Exactly. And the stakes would be lower if the colleague being discussed were a peer, but this person is more senior than the OP’s boss’s boss. I’d tread carefully, too.

  3. Ann Furthermore*

    AAM’s original advice for how to handle this was great. You want to warn people about what they’re getting into, but you have to tread carefully so as to avoid coming off like Negative Nancy (as opposed to Toxic Tina). So I’m glad the OP was able to do this.

    That said, I do agree that the side bets and such is probably not a great idea. And not because I wouldn’t be tempted to do the same thing, but just because you wouldn’t want word of anything to get back to Toxic Tina and give her anything to use against you. Especially via email, or even IM.

    It is infuriating working with someone who is protected like that though…I did years ago. She wasn’t a toxic person, but she just flat-out refused to change the way she did anything. She was responsible for publishing a monthly shipping schedule, and she would make all her adjustments by hand to her hard copy, and then update it once at the end of the month. She refused to update her spreadsheet and send it out throughout the month. It would have made everyone’s life so much easier, but she just wouldn’t do it.

    1. Jessa*

      Yeh I agree on the bet being a bad thing. But I’m also not sure person 2 didn’t also get the message which is basically “Look, cover yourself for when the project doesn’t get done, and you need to prove you did your end.” Which is not necessarily a “OMG Toxic Tina is awful,” but “look in this company you need to keep records,” kind of thing.

  4. Dang*

    I’m not really clear on why you’re still talking to people about your toxic ex boss. I understand the temptation, but you’re out of range from it now. Sounds like the only thing you’re doing is getting person 1 rules up and person 2 uncomfortable,

    I get it. I recently left a similar situation and I still talk to my coworkers but I will only talk about it with them if they bring it up. They’re the ones who have to deal with it and there’s no sense in getting them angry if they’re dealing with it.

    1. Today's OP*

      As I mentioned up-thread (and should have included in the update), I have to keep talking to Person 1 because people – especially external people – still associate the project in question with me, and email me when TT misses deadlines. So I have to forward the messages on to Person 1, which has never yet failed to elicit a venting, frustrated response.

      With Person 2, all I’ve ever said to her about anything TT-related since the initial “heads-up” conversation “hey, how’s Project X going?” – literally nothing else. It’s actually a very cool and high-profile project, so I’m not the only person asking about it – the uber-boss of the whole company even mentioned it in the annual Christmas speech last year. I very much hope that more exposure is making TT better behaved than she is on the project Person 1 inherited from me, which is very much low-profile :)

      1. Dang*

        Oh, sorry I misread! Hopefully for your coworkers, TT is learning her lesson.. I know that when I left my prior position (with a boss who sounds much like TT), she started easing up on other staff. I was the third to leave in a short time span so I like to think she took it to heart that it had something to do with her!

  5. Wubbie*

    I’d recommend you quit bringing it up with Person 2 or you risk coming across as just as toxic as the person you’re warning them about. You’ve had your say, now it’s up to Person 2 to deal with the situation.

    1. Today's OP*

      As I mentioned above, when I say I’ve asked Person 2 a few times how the project is going, literally all I ever say is “hey, how’s Project X going?” It’s a very cool high profile project, so lots of people are asking the same question

  6. HeAtHeR*

    Say nothing!!!! They will figure it out. Sounds horrible but I have learned the hard way. Turned out the newbie became fast friends with Toxic Tina. Nothing worse than being viewed as an enemy by one of these. Also, management seems to allow these types to remain firmly planted even when it is bad for moral, progress, quality and even external business. Work around it. You are out numbered by One.

  7. Working Girl*

    I think the more you talk about it the more these people will think it is you that was the problem. You gave your warnings now move on. These people will seek you out for any advise when they run into the same problems you had. Good luck on your new job.

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