my coworker exploded when I let our boss know about his major mistake

A reader writes:

I supervise Team A, and we work closely with Team B. We have a lot of interaction and my team is dependent on Team B completing their work promptly and accurately. Team B reports directly to my manager, Teresa.

Team B has an employee, Chris, who joined the company a few months ago. He has not been well-trained – Teresa is not a good manager – and makes a lot of minor mistakes. My team repeatedly has to fix his errors in order to complete our work. I usually send him an email (we work in separate buildings), stating what happened, what we did to fix it. and what we need him to fix. If it’s really simple, I just call and tell him the issue and offer to walk through it with him on the phone. I am very familiar with the process because I was on Team B for several years before I was promoted a couple of years ago to my current position.

A couple of weeks ago, I told Teresa that Chris still seemed to be struggling and might need additional training. Teresa wanted specifics, which I didn’t have at the time, and told me to let her know about any further mistakes. This week, my team came across a realize massive mistake in a basic process. It will take us a lot of work to fix and could have caused major issues. It was a freak accident that it was discovered when it was still relatively fixable.

I send an email to Chris outlining the errors, what we were doing to fix them, and what he needed to correct right away. I reminded him where the written instructions are located, suggested he review them, and offered to go over them with him if there was anything he didn’t understand. I also cc’d Teresa on the email; she is traveling but immediately contacted Chris to ask what happened, blind copying me on the email.

Chris is furious that I included Teresa in this exchange (although strangely he also cc’d Teresa on his scathing reply). He told me I need to start acting like an adult, if I had a problem with his work I should leave the boss out of it, that I had created trust issues between our departments by throwing him under the bus, and he did not appreciate my unprofessional behavior. I am angry and hurt, because I have been nothing but patient with him and offered to help him many times. He’s always seemed pretty easy-going and I’m a bit stunned by his reaction.

I have not responded to him yet. Should I? How? Is he right and if so, what should I have done differently? I considered a blind copy to Teresa but I HATE when people do that and he would’ve known anyway when Teresa got my message and asked him about it. Teresa really hates conflict, so I doubt if she will do anything about his response, but what would a good manager do?

Wow. This dude has a strange idea of what is and isn’t unprofessional and adult-like behavior. Any chance that he meant to say that he’s being unprofessional and childish, rather than you? Because that would be an email that made sense.

Some people react really badly when their manager is looped in on a mistake they made. They seem to think it’s a direct attack on them, and that there’s some social code that requires you to let them handle it on their own. This is, however, false. When you make a pattern of mistakes, or when you make one really big mistake, of course your manager should be in the loop. And there’s no right to have your mistakes kept from your manager, even though this guy seems to believe there should be.

He messed up doubly: First, he made the massive mistake you found. Then he compounded it by sending a crazy email.

But he’s not the only screw-up here. Teresa is a crappy manager, and that’s going to make this harder to deal with. She should tell him bluntly that his email was wildly out of line and inappropriate, and that she needs him to own his mistakes and not attack other people for pointing them out, and she should charge him with repairing relations with you. But she doesn’t want conflict, so who knows.

If you had a decent manager, I’d suggest writing back to Chris, cc’ing Teresa, and simply saying: “Teresa explicitly asked me to keep her in the loop on this type of thing. I’d be glad to talk to you and Teresa both about this, but this type of email isn’t helpful. Let’s set up a time to meet with Teresa is back.”

But if Teresa is such a bad manager that you think she might come up with a BS “solution” like telling you and Chris to work it out yourselves or otherwise not handle this appropriately, then that might cause more problems than it will solve.

So instead, I’d call Teresa, express concern that Chris is sending such inflammatory emails, and ask her how she’d like you to handle it. You should also be explicit about the problems he’s causing, without pulling any punches: “Chris is creating serious problems. My team repeatedly has to fix his errors in order to complete our work. The XYZ error he made this week was a particularly bad one, which will take us a lot of work to fix and which could have caused major issues. Now he’s having angry explosions over email. This is making it very difficult to get our work done. I’m not sure how to proceed here.”

Put it on her to figure out how to fix it.

And if she doesn’t and the problems continue, it would be great if there were a way to have a discreet word with someone above her. Of course, whether or not you can actually do that depends on whether there’s someone above her who’s sane and reasonable and solution-oriented. If there’s not, you may need to accept that this is what happens when managers are allowed to suck at their jobs.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    I like Allison’s ideas about the email reply and talking to Theresa. He was way out of line. I would want to have a sit down with Theresa before a group meeting to make sure she’s on the same page with you about the seriousness of this and to present further information about his mistakes but I think the focus of the meeting would be more on the wildly inappropriate email. Does Chris have any idea of how big of a mistake he made? That’s the only thing that I can think of that would cause the out of scale response. If he thought it was minor mistake, your email would be seen as the nuclear option. Sounds like some education for Chris is definitely in order.

    1. Artemesia*

      THIS. This so needs to be escalated. This is why when there is a pattern of errors, the manager needs to step in and address not the error but the pattern. This guy has a pattern of errors, he isn’t getting better and when it is pointed out he name calls. He needs to be brought up short and his manager needs to be clear that the pattern can’t be allowed to continue AND that this response is unprofessional and inappropriate and also causing concerns about whether he is a good fit for the job.

      But given the manager, the OP needs to sit down with her first and make sure she will follow through. Perhaps if the OP frames this as a pattern and highlights the inappropriate response AND gives the manager a script for dealing with him i.e. “I really think we need to sit down with him and you need to let him know that this is a pattern that is causing problems, that his continuing errors are impeding production, that this last error might have caused a disaster with our client if it hadn’t been discovered, and that you need him to both own up to his mistakes without unprofessional outbursts AND to start producing a higher quality of work consistently.” It is important to get that word ‘unprofessional’ into the dialogue since he threw it around and HE not the OP is exhibiting it.

      The manager needs to be bucked up here and alerted to the possible need to put this guy on a track to firing him before he costs clients. I’d go all in on this.

    2. illini02*

      That was my immediate thought. He probably thought it was a small mistake, in which I could understand frustration that someone went to his manager for something minor. Not saying his approach was good either, but as someone who has had a manager CCd about something that could have been handled between us, I can understand why its upsetting

      1. Artemesia*

        But it is not his first mistake — it is his umpteenth apparently. Given his response the manager really needs to come down with a hard stomp; this behavior i.e. repeated mistakes capped by viciousness, needs to be nipped asap.

  2. Sabrina*

    I’ve been in Chris’ shoes, sort of. I’d be willing to bet that he knows full well that he wasn’t trained right and he’s very frustrated by it. He’s probably tried to figure things out and doesn’t know how. Likely because his manager is useless. He’s worried about getting a reputation as being someone who’s unreliable and incompetent. Your email was the last straw and he lashed out at you. Unfortunately you were the wrong target, but perhaps he doesn’t see it that way. It might be that because you’re a supervisor, he sees you as part of the problem. As for him seeming easy-going, he probably has a very slow burning fuse. I’m the same way. It takes a lot to set me off but it’s generally a big explosion when it happens.

    1. HigherEd Admin*

      I’ve been here too, but what makes me disagree with this general sentiment is that OP has repeatedly offered to help walk Chris through the process(es). So, while he may be the victim of poor training initially, he also isn’t accepting help to be properly trained a second time (or, absorbing that material when it’s presented).

      1. Jillociraptor*

        I wasn’t clear from the letter whether Chris is continuing to make the same mistakes over and over or whether new mistakes are cropping up? If it’s the former I think you’re right — OP has gone above and beyond to get him right. But if it’s the latter I can see that contributing even further to Sabrina’s point: here’s a guy who hasn’t been trained properly, and it just seems like the more he learns, the more he has access to mess up. How frustrating.

        Of course, his behavior is completely inappropriate; no way around that.

        1. HigherEd Admin*

          Good point; you’re right that it’s not clear if it’s the same problem or a bunch of separate issues.

          1. OP*

            It’s both, really, and you’re right – the more he learns the more things he can screw up. He hasn’t been trained well, but we do have some pretty clear work instructions and I know he knows where they are (on line). And he has several people he can ask when he’s not sure. It’s not ideal, but other newbies don’t seem to struggle as much. He has previous experience in this position at another company and should at least know the general type of questions to be asking.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’m thinking the same thing to be honest. The email is a symptom of a much, much larger problem.

      1. Sabrina*

        Yeah, that’s true. Unless Chris was misinterpreting the tone of the previous emails. I’ve never blown up like that. (Well, I did, but I was totally justified.)

    3. Jamie*

      But the OP has offered to help him before this happened – so if it’s lack of training he has the OP willing to go over the procedures and answer any questions.

      So if it’s lack of training, he didn’t take advantage of an offered option to mitigate at least some of his knowledge gaps.

      1. Alex*

        I have been in situations where I’d have to rely on one person for help and training, but having them offer to be available and providing me with written directions is very different than actually training someone. In some roles, especially where things are unique and different situation that have proprietary solutions crop up a lot, you need someone to actually be training you or proactively reaching out to you, rather than relying on the new hire to come to you each time. You may come off as less available or willing that you mean to, or the new hire may feel bothersome if they have to come to you a lot. If you’ve seen issues with this position with previous employees, it may be a sign that this role needs more proactive, hands-on training.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m not saying lack of training isn’t an issue, or that it’s the OP’s job to train them. But it’s far better to take her up on her offer and then you at least show that you care about not making the same mistakes over and over – and she can show him how to avoid the ones he’s repeating.

          Then the OP can address the issue of training with the other manager – but if this were me my irritation would be at the other manager for lack of training and I’d be pleased someone cared enough to avoid errors to take whatever help they could get.

          1. fposte*

            It also means that Chris can’t go very far with “How was I to know? Nobody will tell me” as a defense.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          Agreed. And it seems like most of the help the LW offered was specific to mistakes that were already made. Having someone catch your mistakes is different than being properly trained or even having a resource you can proactively approach with questions.

          1. De Minimis*

            I think some of the issue might be that the LW isn’t part of the same workgroup as Chris…it’s way easier to approach someone with questions when you’re working on the same projects together and are in close proximity.

            This may also be part of the issue as far as Chris overreacting.

    4. Anon*

      Something like this is happening at my workplace. I wasn’t completely trained, the people who were supposed to train me aren’t doing so, and I’m only able to figure out so much on my own. It does make me look unreliable and incompetent.

      A coworker usually finds my mistakes and teaches me how to do things correctly. I could see either of us snapping at the other if a mistake on LW’s coworker’s scale happened. Not that snapping at each other would be a good thing to do – but someone who’s frustrated by their untrained coworker or someone who’s frustrated by being unable to work could be angry enough to send a regrettable email.

  3. vox de causa*

    I really like the email option, even if Teresa usually avoids conflict. It spells out that you were asked to notify her, it sets the expectation that you three will meet and talk about what has been happening, and it continues the paper trail that might be important later.

    Also, I am just stunned that someone who has only been in his position for a few months is sending emails like that. Particularly when the OP was so helpful to him so far. Way to burn a bridge.

    OP, you are not wrong. He’s hoping you’ll react to his emotional outburst by second-guessing yourself. You have the high ground here; I hope things will get better for you after this.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I’m not stunned at all. The most unprofessional outbursts I’ve seen in my career come from two groups: new in role, and lifers (15+ years in the same role). It’s inexcusable, but there is something about being new and not fitting in (as well as being there a longtime and getting complacent) that causes people to react badly to adjusting feedback.

      1. Sarahnova*

        In the case of newbies, it’s probably a sense of insecurity that gives a heightened threat response to feedback; in the case of lifers, maybe a sense that they’re stalling, or failing to develop while the world changes around them?

  4. Sadsack*

    If another similar issue comes up with this employee or any others in the future where copying the manager is required, it may be a good idea to include a sentence at the end of the email explaining, “I am copying Teresa because she asked me to make her aware of these types of issues.” I realize this won’t help in this case as the email was already sent.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree with adding that line.

      First of all, the OP doesn’t need to borrow Teresa’s authority to copy her on an email – she can copy whoever she wants to copy, and if she’s out of line, she has to deal with the consequences. In other words, if Teresa doesn’t want to be copied, she can say so herself.

      It also puts the OP in the position of having to walk on eggshells around Chris, instead of expecting him to act like a grown-up professional.

      I have a colleague who reacts badly to feedback of this sort, and her reaction to the feedback is doing her far more damage than the minor issues she’s getting feedback about.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I do agree with adding the line, however. Chris has been getting emails with help. And suddenly, without warning, he gets one where the manager was cc’d. He doesn’t know this is worse than the others, he doesn’t know that the OP has talked to the manager and she wanted to be looped in. All he knows is that the OP has escalated the issue without any warning to him. His reaction was unprofessional, but he does sound a bit blind-sided too.

        1. Colette*

          Yes, it’s escalated, but … that’s not his call. The OP can escalate with or without talking with him first. It’s about the business need, not his ego.

          It’s also not necessarily because Chris screwed up – it could be background info so that she’s not surprised when X is late or the team has to work overtime. Taking something like that personally is never appropriate – and, in fact, it makes it look like he has something to hide.

          1. Sadsack*

            Agreed, taking it personally is not appropriate, but providing a frame of reference is courteous.

          2. Alano*

            I agree with Colette. I think it’s important to remember OP is a supervisor and Chris is not. If they were equals, I’d say it MIGHT be a bit rude to escalate to management without some prior warning or explanation, but they’re not equals within the organization. If OP has to explain to Chris why she’s communicating with his direct boss about mistakes he’s making, then I think it undermines OP’s authority.

        2. Traveler*

          The CC-ing caught me as off-putting as well. I can see where that would feel like being thrown under the bus. Personally I’d always handle those two issues separately – talk to Chris, inform him the error was large enough I was going to have to pursue it with high ups in his department, and then talk to Theresa, outlining the issues, explaining that I told Chris I was contacting her, and then ask for the three of us to meet.

          His reaction was incredibly poor form, but I wonder if a large part of this blow up wasn’t because of the manner in which it was handled.

          1. Sadsack*

            Yes, in this case maybe a phone call before sending emails would have been more appropriate. Give a head’s up that this needs to be escalated to the manager. We are dealing with people at work, it is nice to try to relate to them as such.

          2. Fabulously Anonymous*

            I’ll be honest: I hate the phrase “thrown under the bus” because I have no idea what it means. How is Chris being “thrown under the bus” when he made the mistake? And why should someone have to warn him first that his manager will be notified? He made a mistake. IMO, he should stop worrying about what the OP is doing, own up to his mistake and work on improving himself.

            1. Traveler*

              To me “thrown under the bus” means to be overtly harsh or thoughtless in the manner in which you correct someone’s mistake or report them to a superior. Or to pin blame to one person, when it may very well apply to more than one.

              I think it works in this case because CC-ing someone is a pretty cold way of reporting someone and might seem out of the blue when OP has typically been kind/helpful in response to mistakes Chris has made. Secondly, OP states that Theresa is not a good manager and makes mistakes in her own right, which may leave Chris feeling like he’s getting all the blame for something Theresa is at least partially responsible for. As far as why OP should warn him? It’s a departure from OP’s previous behavior – Chris was not expecting it. They don’t have to certainly, but if they want to appear to have taken consideration for Chris into the equation, it might have been the better thing to do, particularly if OP suspects Theresa’s poor abilities and managing are in play.

              Chris didn’t write in for advice about what he should do, OP did. To some people a CC out of the blue might seem a little surprising and incite some of the feelings behind what Chris did. I’m not condoning his reaction or the original mistake by saying that.

          3. De Minimis*

            The CC-ing itself I think isn’t necessarily wrong, but maybe the communication should be more like, “This is what I see happening right now, let’s meet and discuss how we can fix these ongoing issues.”

            I’ve been “Chris” in the past [new employee messing up a lot due to lack of training] and I don’t think Chris should be surprised that his manager is contacted….if you keep messing up, you have to expect that to happen. In my case I kept goofing up and eventually got an e-mail from the person in charge of our project. It wasn’t fun, but I can’t it was unwarranted.

      2. Sadsack*

        I didn’t mean necessarily in the next email to Chris, I meant in the next email to anyone. If you are copying someone on the email, it might be helpful to state why.

        1. Colette*

          That feels to me like you’re justifying why you’re copying them. There’s no need to do that. Whether you’re copying the manager because you have bad judgement or because it’s something they need to know about or because you’ve had a separate conversation with them and they’ve asked you to copy them doesn’t matter, nor does the recipient of the email need to know why.

          1. Sadsack*

            Yeah, I can’t really disagree with you there. Perhaps it is my wanting to avoid conflict that makes me think it would be helpful, maybe even friendly, even if it is not necessary.

            1. Colette*

              I think it’s one of those things that seems like a friendly thing to do, but it opens the potential for an entirely different (and escalated) conversation about why you did so.

  5. Famouscait*

    I was recently in a similar situation and wish I’d had this advice then. I work with a colleague who has been here 20 years and has recently decided to stop taking any accountability for her job. When the pattern of mistakes escalated and started impacting my work, I looped in our boss. I got a scathing email from her, which she also cc’d the boss on (really strange). Believe it or not, even my conflict-averse boss saw that this was no good, and told me privately he was going to speak to her about it. I was not privy to that conversation, and while I’m sure it wasn’t as firm as I would have liked, I haven’t gotten an email like that since. I try to stay absolutely above-board in all my dealings with her, and ensure my work is 100% clean and accurate so that I remain “spotless”; what’s showing up more and more (to my boss and now our whole team) is how much of a problem she really is.

  6. Kevin W.*

    Oof, I’ve been there with this. But in a slightly different way. My old coworker was constantly making mistakes. Whether it was due to poor training, lack of technical acumen (it’s an IT job), or simply coddling from my boss that would inevitably sweep those mistakes under the rug, any time I had to call him out on said mistakes (and putting the boss into the loop on it), I would get blamed and accused of “lacking communication”. These emails only (thankfully) ended up between myself, my coworker and my boss.

    Any time I made a mistake, on the other hand, it was emailed on blast to the whole department and everyone else would be blameless and I would be made to look incompetent, even if it was an honest mistake that anyone could have made (and that my coworker had probably made several times before).

    My thought is that, unfortunately, Teresa has created this environment with her poor management (much like my boss has) and as long as she’s in charge, it’ll continue.

  7. Jennifer*

    Reminds me of the one with the typos. Except in this case, it’s appropriate to report it to his direct supervisor. Now if it was going out to everyone in the office, or every higher-up…. But yeah, Chris needs to suck it up on this one.

  8. Interviewer*

    It might be just me, but I get the sense that you have been giving him a lot of “Do this, do that, go here, get that, I always stored the extra teapots on the upper shelf by the water cooler.” This kind of hand-holding from a supervisor of another team sounds so odd to me. I get that you have the direct experience, but Teresa is his supervisor, responsible for his training, performance and cleaning up his messes. So far you haven’t made much progress in improving his performance by handing him the answer key. Maybe you could consider instead reporting every Team B problem directly to Teresa and ask her to let you know when it’s been fixed.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I can understand that response, at the beginning. If she knows everything and can quickly point it out, it makes sense that that is what she’d do — it’s what I’m doing with a couple of people taking over my former duties. It’s just being helpful and polite and not making a big deal out of being new. I think the problem hits when that never trails off, either because he has been given no resources to do his job (meaning, training) or can’t do the job.

    2. Cari*

      OP isn’t just a supervisor of another team, they’re a supervisor of another team whose work is dependent on work Chris’s team and Chris does. OP’s behaviour doesn’t seem that odd in that context, especially if they know from their own experience Teresa is not good at sorting out the performance issues in her own team that will impact on OP’s team’s performance.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Yeah, this didn’t sound to me like the OP was saying “You used Times New Roman and I always used Arial.” He made mistakes that the OP had to fix to get their own work done, and the OP was telling him how to fix them. If I were in a new role and not getting any help from my own supervisor, I’d appreciate the advice from someone else who knew the role well. That said it is hard to read for tone in email so maybe he felt the OP was being condescending. But regardless he greatly overreacted in attacking the OP.

  9. CL*

    I see this a lot with newbies. They don’t understand how work works, and they actually question the most basic things. And in very accusatory tones. How dare you make HR part of administration! How dare you pay your 10-year employee more than you pay me! How dare you write me up for leaving work early!

    I think this employee is bad news that isn’t going to get better, and someone should be suggesting to Teresa that it is time for him to move on.

    1. Anon*

      Is it really surprising that someone asks questions about something that’s new to them? Your examples are all things that really… shouldn’t need explanation… but of course newbies will ask about the most basic things.

      1. Mander*

        Well, there’s asking why X thing is the way it is, and then there’s attacking it as unfair or incorrect without understanding the reason it’s like that.

  10. Steve G*

    Ugh, I hate the sentiments the mistake-maker expressed, especially the sentiment of “if I do something good tell everyone about it, but when I make a mistake let’s just handle it between us.”

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, that’s the best way to modify someone’s behavior, it’s called positive reinforcement. Decades of studies have shown that it’s usually more effective than punishing someone for bad behavior (negative reinforcement). Unfortunately, you can’t always let someone make mistakes free of consequences, especially when positive reinforcement doesn’t work. But in general, I do tend to try to point out mistakes privately to co-workers and clients (lower-level employees of my client org.) unless they repeat and really start taking my time away from more productive tasks.

  11. MaryMary*

    Some people don’t make an immediate connection between a consistent pattern of mistakes at work with having a performance issue. It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve had performance conversations before where someone didn’t realize their mistakes were a serious concern, and they felt surprised and blindsided when formal performance management steps were taken. Particularly since he wasn’t well trained, Chris may think your emails and phone calls were friendly suggestions, or even how the training process was supposed to work. Ideally, it should be your manager setting expectations with him. Since that’s not happening, in future feedback I’d make it more clear that these are mistakes you’re correcting, and that he needs to improve his performance.

    Knowing the big picture may help too, so he can understand the impact of what he messes up. Getting an email that say, “Next time, you need to follow documented procedures so that X happens instead of Y” is different from “Because you did Y instead of X, John and Jane had to stop working on project A and spend eight hours creating a workaround. J & J stayed at the office until 11pm transforming Y back into X, so we could deliver it to the client within our 5 day service level agreement. If we miss that SLA, we give the client a $1,000 credit.”

    1. EngineerGirl*

      This. I’ve seen employees look at each mistake separately Vs as part of a pattern. They are also unable to judge the magnitude of the mistake. They can’t see the reach back to other groups and therefore think it is a small mistake instead of a whopper. OP, you did the right thing. This is a pattern that needs correction. The impact of these mistakes is going up. Do what Alison says.

    2. fposte*

      Now you’re making me think how hard it is generally to know what an acceptable error rate is in most jobs, because it’s so rarely quantified. I think most of us can figure out when we’ve made a huge mistake, but it can be really tough to know how many times you can make a forgiveable mistake before it becomes unacceptably shoddy work.

      1. MaryMary*

        What my old job used to call “time to proficiency” isn’t quantified at most jobs either. Depending on the work and the corporate culture, some places expect you to operate pretty independently (and error-free) from day one, and some places expect to provide lots of handholding and double checking for several months. If a new employee thinks he is getting lots of leeway because they’re new but in reality he’s not, that’s a disconnect too.

  12. soitgoes*

    If the OP is sure that all of Team B wouldn’t be punished for Chris’ mistakes, she could go to Teresa’s superior and inform him/her that Team B is making a lot of mistakes and that Teresa knows about them but isn’t solving them. This is really Teresa’s problem, not Chris’, since one lousy hire (that everyone knows is lousy but won’t get rid of) is something that exists in every office.

    1. Colette*

      That’s inappropriate at this point – it sounds like Teresa asked to be copied so that she can address the mistakes with Chris. If she doesn’t take action, then it might make sense to escalated, but she needs to have the opportunity to do something about it first.

      1. soitgoes*

        Is it really all that inappropriate for the OP to go over Teresa’s head when one of Teresa’s employees is sending borderline abusive emails while Teresa refuses to do anything about it?

        I’ve never been in one of these slow-burning disaster scenarios where upper management didn’t wish they’d known about it sooner.

        1. Laura*

          But Teresa’s employee just did that an OP is *concerned* it might not be addressed in a timely fashion. It hasn’t happened yet. I’d pursue with Teresa first, and raise the issue only if need be.

  13. alma*

    Oooh boy. Problem number one is that Chris is old enough to have learned the “don’t hit ‘Send’ when you’re angry” rule. I can understand his frustration on some level, but his reaction shows a real lack of maturity and professionalism.

    I wonder if Chris would have had a less ballistic reaction if OP’s first time copying Teresa had been on one of his less serious mistakes. I guess I can see where he might have felt like this was an unexpected escalation if it went from “hey, can you please look over the training manuals?” to “boss copied on a potential catastrophe.” It’s absolutely no justification for what he sent, mind, but Teresa’s management seems ad-hoc and I can see where that would generate frustration.

    Also, if Teresa is as conflict-avoidant as OP thinks, I wonder if Teresa is allowing OP to be the “bad cop” where Chris’s performance is concerned.

    1. BadPlanning*

      The curse of Immediate Angry Reply Email was my thought too. Sure, you can write said angry email, but you shouldn’t send it until you calm down and think about the situation.

    2. OhNo*

      Chris also should have learned the “Don’t hit Reply All” rule. OP mentions that Chris copied the boss on his scathing reply- either he thinks the boss will be on his side (and I can’t imagine why he would think that), or he just didn’t think that one all the way through.

      1. OP*

        I was also very surprised he cc’d Teresa, or even put his anger in the email. I too wrote a really foul-mouthed response to get the anger out and then deleted without sending it.

  14. Chloe*

    I’ve been in a really similar situation, and it only got worse. The first time my colleague lashed out at me was after I let her know she had missed some work that she was meant to do, and this had a big impact on me and substantially increased my workload. I let her know after she had done it a couple of times, in case the first one was a one-off. Her response was so shocking that once the screaming (her alone) had stopped she actually sent me a formal written apology (copied to my manager) and a bunch of flowers.

    However, once she had ripped the lid off her true feelings, there was no stopping it. I said to my manager that I feared it would happen again because it seemed to reveal some serious underlying issues, and alas it did happen again. And again. Eventually she resigned, but now I’m about to as well. Management offered absolutely NO support and it was crushing to be left hanging with a volatile and irrational coworker ready to fly off the handle at any moment.

    Maybe you can turn this ship around, but sometimes bad management just needs to be left behind

    1. Nina*

      Good for you for getting out. I don’t blame you, because management definitely dropped the ball here. Sounds like your former coworker has some serious anger issues.

      1. Chloe*

        Thanks Nina, she definitely does. The thing that scared me was how quickly she could switch from pure rage at me to completely normal with everyone else. It was honestly the most bizarre thing. No-one understood what I was going through because they just saw this lovely polite person that she was 99% of the time. It was a very isolating experience. I’m slightly terrified of resigning (which I’ll do today or tomorrow, as soon as I get the formal offer), because….I don’t know, I just am. But so relieved that I will soon be out of here.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Google Borderline Personality Disorder. These people absolutely exist. Those that haven’t seem them in full rage mode can’t understand

          1. Chloe*

            Wow. Thank you for that, really. Reading a summary of Borderline Personality Disorder was like reading a description of my colleague, and my experience of working with her. The outbursts, the frantic need for approval, unstable image of self (when she made mistakes, as I learned the hard way, it made her absolutely hate herself), inappropriate and intense anger, and emotions spiraling out of control. That is it, so accurate.

            I always knew when things were going bad, she would start by overreacting in a very self critical way. The she would come back justifying herself. Then she would start lashing out at me, usually finishing with an explosive rant about how terrible I am. Then she would move back (sometimes within minutes) to telling me how wonderful I was and pretending the whole thing had never happened.

            This was very very difficult for me to deal with, I have never experienced anything like it and had literally no idea what was going on. I never thought of mental illness, I actually wondered sometimes whether there was substance abuse. She’s also had two marriages and a number of other relationships that have failed, so she fits the ‘chaotic relationships’ part of the description.

            Thanks so much, that has really made a lot of sense of it all.

        2. Mander*

          When we first got together my husband would sometimes act like this, until he realized that he actually hated the research work he was doing and quit his PhD to get a job doing something that he liked a bit more. His feelings of incompetence had a lot to do with his irrationally angry behavior (in addition to undiagnosed depression and Asperger’s).

    2. Anon*

      Oh, that was awful. I’m glad you posted this story. I’ve been relating to the mistake-making coworker in this situation (bad training), but if he is anything like this, OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

  15. Anna*

    But when is it appropriate not to correct someone’s mistakes and just let them fail? Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the only way to really shine a light on a real problem and have higher ups find out about it.

    1. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

      Depending on the ramifications of the mistake, the company might face serious consequences if they let him fail.

  16. LBK*

    Out of curiosity, is there something preventing the OP from speaking to Chris and/or Teresa in person? I know the OP works in another building, but unless it’s across town or something, I think a situation of this severity merits a face-to-face follow up. Continuing to address it via email sounds like a recipe for further disaster.

    1. Nina*

      I wouldn’t want to face Chris in person after this incident, though. At least not alone. And emailing guarantees a paper trail in case he tries to deny anything later.

      1. A. D. Kay*

        I wouldn’t want to speak with Chris face-to-face either. Something similar happened to me in my last job; a coworker in a different city went off on my team lead and myself in separate incidents. I told my manager I didn’t want to have any more communication with that person again until he intervened.

      2. Student*

        The vast majority of people are not going to get violent at work over stuff like this. They are willing to get extremely hostile via email, but not to actually do anything in person.

        The vast majority of incidences where workplace violence does occur turn out to be minor injuries.

        You are significantly over-estimating the odds of this turning out to be a serious safety problem for the OP.

        The people who are most likely to violently attack you are people close to you. Family members, long-time friends, long-time acquaintances. Fairly new co-worker is a statistically low threat.

        1. Nina*

          I’ve witnessed coworkers (old and new) fly into a near-physical rage because of an issue, regardless of the severity. It’s not as rare as you think.

          And it’s not just for the sake of safety. If I was talking to Chris in person, I would want someone I know and trust nearby in case anything needed to be verified later.

          1. fposte*

            Though there’s a difference between violence and a rage; Student isn’t saying they won’t yell, just that it really is statistically unlikely that there’s a physical risk here.

          2. LBK*

            Honestly, I think that’s an outlier situation. I’ve never seen anyone come even remotely close to physical rage even during the most heated discussions and I would think that’s indicative of a particularly high-stress environment.

            I also don’t see the need to require verification of anything. The OP is a manager. If a manager can’t be trusted to give an accurate account of a conversation or handle a situation like this without needed backup, that’s a bigger problem.

            1. Nina*

              I forgot the OP is a manager, and that’s a good point. They really don’t need anyone to verify what they say; it’s their word over Chris’.

              Still, I would want someone else nearby. Even if my experience is an outlier, it’s taught me enough that a situation like that would have me feeling uneasy.

        2. LBK*

          The vast majority of people are not going to get violent at work over stuff like this. They are willing to get extremely hostile via email, but not to actually do anything in person.

          Agreed completely. I don’t see anything in the email that indicates he might become violent – it was a pretty standard angry work email that someone sends when they’re safe behind a computer and don’t have to say it to someone’s face.

        3. OhNo*

          The issue may not be physical safety. There are a lot of reasons why you may not want to meet someone like this alone – including the risk of getting yelled at.

          I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of people getting in my face and screaming. Even having one other person around lessens the chances of that significantly.

          1. LBK*

            The OP is a manager. Sorry, I just don’t see that as valid. Sometimes in leadership you have to deal with unpleasant people – part of your job description.

            1. OhNo*

              I think there is a very big difference between “dealing with unpleasant people” and “putting up with being screamed at”.

              1. LBK*

                I’d consider that a potential behavior of an unpleasant person.

                Maybe this is just coming from retail where employees tend to be a bit more emotional and act more erratically, but as a manager I wouldn’t be phased by an employee screaming at me. If people are dramatic, it’s not really my problem and will only make it easier to get rid of them if needed.

                1. OhNo*

                  While I agree that there are unpleasant people who do the whole “screaming fit” thing, my point is that accepting a managerial position is not equivalent to signing a waiver saying “yes, I agree to allow employees to scream at me whenever they get cranky”. There are unpleasant people who will certainly resort to yelling and screaming, certainly, but that doesn’t mean I, as a manager, am required to sit there and take it.

                  Managers are not punching bags, verbal or otherwise.

            2. NotMyRealName*

              OP is a manager, but is not the problem employee’s manager. In fact, the case could be made that they are relatively equal, since they both report to Teresa.

              1. OP*

                Yes, we are equal on the org chart, although I am technically a higher level because I have direct reports and Chris doesn’t.

          2. Cari*

            Same here. From my experience, it’s what comes out of people’s mouths that does more damage than what they do physically.

            1. Alano*

              If the situation isn’t resolved by the time Teresa is back, I think OP definitely needs to sit down with both of them in person. Email is not conducive to solving situations like this. You need an in-person discussion. Of course it will be uncomfortable, but that’s why supervisors get paid more – they are expected to deal with lots of uncomfortable things, including conversations like this.

              And if there’s an honest fear that this guy will start yelling in a meeting, then THAT is all the more reason to have one! You can’t let him intimidate you; he’s not the boss. And if he actually is the type of person who will blow up in a meeting and start yelling, you need to know that (and take appropriate action).

        4. Cari*

          Doesn’t mean it’s a threat anyone should just ignore though. It’s useful to know to help put things in perspective if it’s causing anxiety, but it is a statistic better used in situations where someone is *ignoring* a threat close to home, not expressing their feelings about a situation they may feel is threatening to *them*. Besides, Nina’s point about the paper trail is spot on. Always handy to have a record of communication.

        5. alma*

          Sure, but I don’t think the only issue is the threat of physical violence. Even in the case of coworkers who “only” yell or sling personal insults, I would want a third party present as a witness.

          I’ve also known plenty of people who might cuss you up one side and down the other when it’s a one-on-one conversation, but magically learn to control themselves when someone else they marginally respect is present.

          1. LBK*

            If someone is a loose cannon who could potentially be a long term problem, I don’t want them faking nice behavior. I want them outed so they can be fired.

            I get that there’s an aspect of self-preservation here in that it’s just not fun to be yelled at, but unless the OP is actually more of a peer in this situation than what I’m getting out of the letter, I think the OP’s personal discomfort is outweighed by the responsibilities of holding a leadership role.

            1. Anon*

              “If someone is a loose cannon who could potentially be a long term problem, I don’t want them faking nice behavior. I want them outed so they can be fired.”

              I think talking to these people in person could be useful – but a paper trail via email could be very helpful for exactly this reason.

            2. alma*

              The way I see it, Chris has already outed himself by sending that e-mail. Having a third party present doesn’t inherently mean the OP/manager isn’t “dealing” with the problem.

      1. LBK*

        Ah, okay, that makes more sense. Probably doesn’t merit the trip especially since he’s not your direct report.

      2. Chloe*

        Having been on the receiving end of this kind of experience, I’d personally never have this conversation without a third person present to ameliorate their behaviour. People who feel free to insult and abuse over email, text or phone are rarely so ‘brave’ in person, and certainly not when there is someone else around.

  17. VisibleVoice*

    I had a co-worker ask me to not ask her questions in meetings that she didn’t know the answer to. I guess there were a couple of instances where she was running a meeting and I asked a question and she didn’t know the answer. She said I was making her look unprepared and disorganized.

    I asked her how I was supposed to know ahead of time which questions she WOULD know the answers to and which questions she wouldn’t?

    She didn’t know the answer to that question.

    1. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*


      Seriously… if she’s afraid of not looking like she knows, I have concerns about her suitability for a managerial role.

    2. Sarahnova*


      Seriously, though, you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but feel free to ignore her. Her insecurity about her competence and how she’s perceived is definitely not your problem.

  18. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

    First of all, I don’t know how often people should be looped in, but I do think that people should be careful about looping others in. It *is* right to loop your boss in on this, because it’s a serious matter that hasn’t been resolved.

    In a previous job I had, everybody made a few mistakes that were noticed and corrected, but nothing else happened beyond that. Then all of a sudden, a few people kept notifying me of minor mistakes that I’d made – looping in our manager (and her deputy!) on those mistakes. This happened four or five times in a row! Like I said, I had made mistakes before – and have corrected those mistakes! – without having that treatment. (And these are mistakes that *everybody* on the team made.)

    I tried to explain my concerns to my manager, but it was too late. I got a PIP and then got shown the door. Still think it was a back-stabbing issue above all else.

    But yeah… you were right to loop in your boss on this, and Chris committed a major faux pas with his response. Hey Chris, whoever said “silence is golden” is right.

  19. Angora*

    Stop fixing his mistakes. Return the work to him, stating there is a problem with so and so, and he needs to resubmit it correctly.

  20. OP*

    Thanks to everyone, especially Alison, for some good feedback. I replied to Chris on the work-related issues and ignored his insults. I did tell Teresa that this was inappropriate and she said she would talk to him when she returns in a couple of weeks. While I feel that I’ve been more than fair with Chris, after reading some of the comments I’m willing to consider the possibility that he felt blind-sided and over-reacted badly. He has received very little training and may be struggling more than I realize. Ultimately, the problem is with Teresa and that is another entire issue (she is untouchable and requires a lot of “managing up”). I have a meeting with Chris later this week on another subject and if he seems receptive I hope to be able to discuss this further.

    1. EG*

      Good, if Chris isn’t getting guidance from his manager but is willing to improve on the issues that affect you and your department, that’s a huge positive.

    2. Chayele*

      Chris likely perceives what you did as “telling on him,” which is why he characterized it as being thrown under the bus. I once worked in an office where everyone seemed to be obsessed with “tattling” and it was really destructive for morale and motivation in the long run, with a high turnover. I’m extra sensitive to it because of that experience, and he may be extra sensitive to it, too.

      1. Artemesia*

        Thrown under the bus means scapegoated though. The person who made a serious error is not a scapegoat.

    3. Artemesia*

      Therese is a fool to let this drag on for two weeks; she has his email — she should by now or certainly by tomorrow respond with something like ‘I have asked to be kept in the loop and am concerned with errors that affect our ability to deliver to clients and I am concerned about your response on this matter; we will sit down and discuss this when I return in two weeks.’

      For a manager to let something like this sit there for two weeks – at which point it is impossible to really deal with effectively is another demonstration of her unfitness for the job.

      With any luck he will be looking for another job.

    4. Hal*

      THIS. Imagine how Chris feels? Geez, you only have to work with them some of the time, she’s his boss.

      Another sucky manager, and no way to manage them out. And btw, it is always best to not CC the world when you have an issue. I understand this has gone on and on, but you chose the wrong person to focus on basically b/c Theresa can’t be managed.

      And burned a bridge with someone who was trying- granted, he may have not been professional, but you weren’t either.

        1. Hal*

          I am sorry to play Sunday evening quaterback, but having worked in office setting for two decades I can say that no one likes having their boss CCed. It’s rarely effective if one’s goal is to get the job done-of course, when one wants to be punitive than CC away. But here the OP apparently can’t get what she needs by CCing the manager, all she ended up with was an angry co-worker she still has to work with. Teresa is an idiot apparently, and I empathize but in reality to get the job done one must be smooth the gears with understanding. This situation will not change as long as Teresa is there- so either suck it up and manage by training those you shouldn’t have to or leave.

          1. Greggles***

            In our office this is the culture. I used to hate it but came to understand that everyone is keeping their butts covered. In this case the OP is not his boss, so if their had of been issues in the past, especially with a new employee the manager should have been in the loop. This allows the manager to manage their people and their processes, or lets the manager call themselves out in doing a poor job.

          2. Cari*

            It doesn’t matter if Chris liked having his boss CC’d or not, OP was *told* by Chris’s boss to let her know about future incidents. If OP had e-mailed separately, he would still have found out Teresa had been looped in, only then it would look like the OP went behind his back (and OP could still expect an angry e-mail, judging from Chris’s actual complaints – that his boss had been informed of his mistake).

          3. Colette*

            Just because some people don’t like having their manager copied doesn’t make doing so unprofessional. Keeping things like this from the manager is unprofessional, because the manager needs to know about performance issues.

            If Chris sulks/won’t work with the OP, that’s on him, and is something else his manager needs to know about.

  21. Gene*

    At some point the OP’s team needs to stop fixing Team B’s errors and send the work back to Teresa with a note that “Project X cannot be completed untilo this error is fixed.” I’ve found that that’s sometimes the only thing that will prompt the Teresas of the world to manage. Yes, it can impact the bottom line, but unless Team A has so little to do that the rework doesn’t effect their work, they are Team B’s job when they should be doing their own.

    A good example of the “push it out the door on time, done or not” mindset is what is going on with the Boeing 787 line right now. The SC plant is pushing out fuselage sections with unfinished tasks that have to be done in the Everett plant. The local Machinists are putting in lots of OT to get the airplanes out the door, and even then they are not finished and have to be worked on on the flight line because there’s another airplane moving up the assembly line behind it, and another behind that, etc.

    1. Artemesia*

      Boeing used to be filled with competent people who knew how to build airplanes. Then some clueless bean counter decided it didn’t take expertise — just low bidders and jobbing out parts and then assembling them with other low bidders — and they have been floundering ever sense.

      I agree that it is time to stop fixing errors and sending them to Theresa to have her team A rework and get right.

      1. MR*

        I used to work for Boeing and was amazed that they were ever able to build anything to completion.

  22. Lifelong learner*

    From my point of view…

    Chris is making mistakes.
    Chris has been offered help, training,and direction.
    Chris has not accepted help, training nor in our limited point of view communicated to OP that he understood how important this issue is.

    OP is not his supervisor.
    OP and team are dependent on Chris’s work accuracy.
    OP is aware of Chris’s supervisor’s managerial deficits.

    Are there others on Chris’s team to help him get up to speed?
    Is it more than training- is Chris a bad hire?

    I had an employee whose work caused problems with 3 other departments for over 4 years with NO cc’s on record of not following directions, lateness of work delivered, undelivered work and numerous mistakes that caused headaches years…yes years later. It is the corporate culture here not to “rat out” “complain” or cc supervisors. As I investigated these issues- going through emails from as far back as 2010, there is a paper trail of requests and offers for help and training. I have even discovered customers who were never responded to…who just gave up.

    Yes. OP were correct in ccing his supervisor.
    and yes, I dislike Blind Copying, that would be blind siding and underhanded. CCing states this is a problem, I have alerted your supervisor. That is it. He overreacted. If this is a one time thing, great. If not, so the documenting begins.

  23. Hal*

    Problem is, is that his manager is not providing training. Manager is a known problem, yet OP was called out.

    I’d be annoyed also. Until training changes, what is the guy supposed to do? I assume he is gib=ving it his best shot with no help.

    Considering manager sucks- what was to be gained CCing her? I would have worked with the guy, only way to get anything done.

    They fire him and get someone else who won’t be trained….how is that better?

    1. OP*

      Hal, Teresa is my boss too. If this blew up, her first question would be “If Chris was screwing up, why didn’t you tell me?”

      1. IvyGirl*

        That is a very important piece of information. Did she train you? Did you have similar experiences?

        I think you did the right thing, and I think you need to meet with everyone face to face.

        But, if this persists, I think that is something else to ponder, since if Theresa doesn’t address this, it will never get resolved. Then it’s time to go higher, or get out.

    2. Colette*

      Replacing someone who can’t take feedback or isn’t willing to learn with someone who can and is is often better. I don’t know if both are the case here, but if they are, it would be better to find someone else.

  24. Not So NewReader*

    I can empathize with the part about lacking enough training. But I have been there and I busted my butt to get up to speed. Many jobs out there now are not doing the training they should be doing. It’s tough.

    OP, I think you have been absolutely super. Didn’t we have a post on here just recently someone was asking what to do because NO one will help with questions on his new job?? I feel the pain.

    However, the story here is numerous small mistakes culminating in a whopper mistake. Even without the huge mistake, I would tell myself that someone is getting ready to report me to the boss. All it takes is several small mistakes and the boss starts hearing the complaints. It’s no surprise to me that OP CC’ed the boss. I would expect that. Matter of fact, I would have expected a BCC and there would be no way I would know the boss saw a copy.

    Chris seems to be flashing back to school years and screams of “tattle tale”. The work world is different. Other people cannot cover up others’ mistakes nor should they be asked to. For Chris to expect OP to let mistakes slide indefinitely is not realistic. OP can’t do that, at some point OP has to move forward with all the problems s/he is seeing. It would be interesting to find out of anyone in Chris’ department was trying to help Chris, too.

    Maybe OP could have called Chris to say “We have a big deal here and I must report it Teresa.”.
    But the phone works two ways, Chris could have been calling OP and asking questions. Or maybe offered some type of rough draft for OP to look over. It sounds to me like OP was not receiving much from Chris in terms of any feedback. I noticed that there was no comment on Chris improving by much.

    Compounding the problem Teresa is not a strong leader. While I was reading, I thought OP is doing Teresa’s job AND Chris’ job. Adding to that it’s OPs former department. Do you feel like you are still working in that department PLUS doing your current job??

    You had to say “Enough”, OP. You had to set some boundaries, not a choice. Things will never change if you continued on.

    Hopefully this whole situation will settle down. Chris can either think the situation through, thoroughly or possibly resign, who knows. Hopefully, Teresa will change what she is doing, perhaps assign mentors to newer folks.

  25. FX-ensis*

    If it were me, I’d look down on that co-worker, well not see him as an equal professional. Getting angry at work should only be reserved for serious issues or mishaps, and frankly if you don’t report to him he had no real right to respond that way.

    If anything, I would suggest you ignore it. He has no power over you as a higher-up, and seemingly Teresa doesn’t care that much about your actions at the least. He may even gossip about you, but then you know you acted in good faith and was justified in doing so. Does your team have a manager? And is Teresa the overall head of the department? You could raise this with her superior, but then it can be dangerous to do so.

    1. Hal*

      Be very careful going around incompetents they tend to have their enabling idiot superiors.
      Ask yourself why is she still here? They keep her, so why should you have a problem with when they don’t?
      Sucks, but I have found this to be true.

  26. Red*

    I, personally, am always reluctant to tell my boss about a coworker’s mistake. It’s even difficult for me to let our internal clients know when a co-worker made an error. I always feel as though I am tattling or throwing someone under the bus, and I am also afraid that others will perceive me the same way. I have a coworker who frequently makes mistakes, usually out of haste or unfamiliarity with the issues involved, and who is regularly late, disappears to move their car for long periods multiple times a day, and often cherry picks tasks in order to take on easier work. After I caught them deleting emails sent to our shared account by an irate colleague they had put out, and notified my boss, I gave up on saying anything at all about anyone’s mistakes and even misbehaviors since nothing productive comes out of it.

Comments are closed.