my manager won’t manage and tells us to “police our own ranks”

A reader writes:

What does one do when their manager gives them mixed signals and contradictory orders?

My manager runs my department as well as another. He is quite qualified for the other department. He understands how it runs, and how it should run. My department, however, is something with which he has no experience and very little understanding.

The problem with my department is that out of 15 people, we have 5 hard-working employees and 10 people who are just there to do the bare minimum. A lot of times, they don’t even do that. Essentially, those 5 workers are carrying the weight of the entire department. When approached about the issues, our manager tells us to “police our own ranks” and ask the person to start pulling their weight. A few are uncomfortable with this.

As instructed, I recently sent an email to someone who let their duties fall onto my plate after the person failed to do it. I started my email off with a positive note, ended it with a positive note and made sure to remain professional and not accusatory in the email, such as saying “We need to be sure we are handling things in a timely manner” rather than “You need to…”

The person reported to our manager that they were made uncomfortable by my pointing out that things weren’t done in a timely way, and felt it was aggressive for me to go to directly to her since I’m not a manager.

My manager then tells me that I should not be asking people to handle their responsibilities and that it’s not my job to pay attention to who is/isn’t pulling their weight. I tend to agree, it’s not my job. But this same manager told me to “police my own ranks” and he certainly isn’t paying attention to who is actually working or not. I did point out to him that I felt I was following his own instruction, but I immediately let it go, as I didn’t want to seem argumentative.

I still do not know how to handle this ongoing situation going forward. He doesn’t want to be bothered with handling it himself but now seems to have decided he doesn’t want us to handle it either. My only conclusion is that he wishes for us to just not acknowledge the fact that a few of us are doing our own workload along with the workloads of those that refuse to do their own. Any advice for dealing with this issue?

Your manager sucks.

I think your conclusion is absolutely right: He doesn’t want to deal with under-performers himself and he’s hoping you’ll somehow deal with it on your own — but you need to deal with it in a way that doesn’t bug anyone, because he doesn’t want to hear about it. In other words, he doesn’t want to do his job … and he’s hoping that you’ll use magic to do some of it for him.

As you are not in fact a magician, and as his job is actually to manage people, this won’t work.

There aren’t a lot of options for you here: You can stay and resign yourself to the fact that you have a manager who won’t manage, which in turn will mean that you’ll have a bunch of coworkers not doing their work … or you can look for a job where you don’t need to own a magic wand.

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    OP could call the witch from that one letter. Maybe the witch can place a magic curse on the manager to get him to manage.

    1. Chriama*

      Or the witch from the DailyWorth comment section. That way you can be sure your significant other has all the kids s/he wants and never leaves you!

  2. Chriama*

    Haha. If you were a magician you could just give yourself a million dollars and never have to work again. Your boss is terrible. While you’re job huting, Is there any way to point out to him a similar situation where he’s given you the opposite advice? Approach it as asking him for help rather than defending yourself. “Hey boss, last time I told you about Lucinda missing the TPS report deadline you told me to speak directly to her. This time, I ended up having finish up her section, which put my other work on the backburner. If this happens again, how would you like me to deal with it?” In other words, toss him the stupid hot potato. If he comes up with a non-committal answer (e.g. I trust you to use your judgement), next time ask him before making a decision. “Hey boss, Lucinda’s late with the TPS reports again. I can do her section, but that means the client won’t get my teapot specs until next week. Do you want me to talk to Lucinda or let you handle it?”

    1. KimmieSue*

      I love Chriama’s advice here! But you have to be very careful in your tone. Stay professional and with zero emotion. No eye rolling. No whining. Just clean and concise.

    2. Extra Mile*

      When I’ve mentioned specific contradictions in his instructions, he gets weirdly defensive. We once had more open lines of communications but over time, that’s dwindled a bit. I’ve asked him directly for more accountability within the group and he thinks people don’t want to “babysat”. My thoughts are that it’s sad we need to be babysat, but we obviously do. And really, anyone who is anti-accountability is probably one of the reasons we need it.

      1. Chriama*

        Your boss officially sucks. My bet is he’s in over his head and doesn’t know how to handle it, and basically secretly panics every time he has a personnel issue.

        Can you provide an example of his defensiveness? Would it work if you just brought issues to him in the moment and asked how he wants you to handle them? Or focused on how it’s affecting your own work rather than talking about the general issue of “accountability”? What happens if you go to him and say “Lucinda has been late with the TPS reports 3 times when I had a teapot spec deadline, which resulted in me working late for several hours last month. I feel like my work-life balance is suffering — how would you like me to handle this?”

        1. Extra Mile*

          His defensiveness is just an awkward, either “I never said that”, despite me having an email from saying it. Or an “I have my reasons, you don’t understand” type of attitude.

          1. spocklady*

            Oooof. I’d say, then, unless Chriama has more awesome advice, if he’s that defensive, it’s back to Alison’s suggestions.

            That is a genuinely awful position to be in – I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with it.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            This isn’t good at all. He has his reason, eh? Sounds like he feels he has bigger fish to fry.

    3. PucksMuse*

      This right here. Awesome advice from Chriama. For Boss, “police your own ranks” means, “Do my job for me and make sure I don’t have to deal with problems.” That’s total bull. Put it back on his plate and don’t let him re-direct you.

    1. Hermione*

      Well, NOT to get technical, there ARE other magical schools besides Hogwarts… Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Durmstrang Institute, Uagadou School of Magic, Salem Witch Institute, Mahoutokoro in Japan…


        1. Hermione*

          I’m married to Ron Weasley… There’s NOTHING you could say that could get on my nerves anymore.

  3. Magda*

    Ugh. The woooooorst! I suspect inertia has kicked in, the whole “all the work is getting done, so there’s not really a problem” syndrome. This guy probably won’t really get his ass in gear until something (turnover, a major snafu, etc.) forces him to.

    Part of me thinks you need to just let the low performers fail, and let that failure rate sit on your manager’s plate for him to deal with. But I know that’s a lot easier said than done.

    1. Extra Mile*

      I do think that’s one of the issues here. Our “goal” is being met, and at the end of the day, that number is all he cares about… whether it’s the entire group contributing or just the few of us. So I even tried appealing to that “number-focused” part of him. I mentioned, if we are meeting our goals with just a few, imagine how far we could EXCEED that goal if all of us were giving 100%.

      1. Malissa*

        Maybe you could make a case for cutting some of the dead weight and dividing up their salary among those who do work?
        If you have to do the work anyway, might as well get paid for it.

      2. Chriama*

        If your goals are being met, how is this affecting your work? If your productivity isn’t slipping, does that mean you’re working all sorts of crazy hours? Can you tell him that (with the implicit subtext that if he doesn’t handle this you’ll need to find a job that respects your work-life balance)

        1. Extra Mile*

          In my opinion, our “goal” is set too low. We could be accomplishing more. I try not to work more than 8 or 9 hours overtime per week. There are times, though, that while our “numbers” look great, we’re not providing the customer service we should because the ones that are working hard, are rushing to get everything done. There’s little time to provide a wow factor to the customers who keep us in business.

          1. Chriama*

            In this case, I don’t know that there’s much you can do. Your boss knows he has a bad team and he doesn’t care. It isn’t putting a lot of pressure on you (although 8 or 9 hours overtime is about a 50 hour week — I wouldn’t want to work 9-10 hours a day!), so he doesn’t really need to worry about losing his best performers. In the end, the only danger I can think of is redundancy — if your standards are low, you may be the first to go in cost-cutting season. Is that a real concern given your company’s nature and history?

            It sucks, but I think it’s a lot harder to argue that you could be doing better (for some undefined standard of “better”) than it would be if things were actually bad.

            Overall though, you sound like an excellent employee and it’s too bad your boss doesn’t appreciate you. I think you may have to either tolerate it or leave.

            1. Chriama*

              Also, to someone like your boss, “not providing the customer service we should” is a statement that needs facts to back it up. Are there recurring issues that arise because no one has the time to investigate the root cause and propose a permanent solution? Are there customers who have left because your service just wasn’t good enough or your response time was too slow? Who measures the standard of service?

      3. FRRibs*

        If the goal is being met, imagine how much money the department could save if they cut out the bottom 2/3 of the staff. The productivity rate would triple as the labor overhead would decrease by 66%! You could even have fun arrainging all the empty desks into strange geometric shapes…maybe a desk-moat.

      4. LQ*

        Yeah I’m kind of surprised AAM didn’t address this. But there isn’t a problem as far are he is concerned. Your business has goals, it is meeting those goals. He doesn’t care that it is all being done by 5 people because they are doing it. If you work 80 hours a week and the other people work 2, both of which are spent poking you in the shin he doesn’t care. The only thing that matters here is that the work is getting done. There is no business case for things to change right now. You can leave or quit doing your job. Though I’d bet a lot of pennies that you’d be punished and your coworkers who don’t do their jobs would continue to float.

    2. Kevin W.*

      I used to try and do that with an old coworker who clearly didn’t carry his own weight. Unfortunately, any time he failed, my manager blamed ME for it. Any time I brought up those issues with my manager? I got blamed for “not communicating well” with said coworker. It’s gotten to the point where any of my successes “belong to the department” and any failures are placed squarely on my shoulders, whether or not I had anything to do with them (I got blamed one time for something that occurred when I was on vacation for a week, as an example).

      Some managers just REALLY suck.

  4. Senor Poncho*

    This is probably overly simplistic, but I would just stop doing other people’s work and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. Adam*

      I had that thought too, but considering what this environment is like I can see a number of rotten things happening. The manager is very hands off and he may be expecting the good workers to do everything that falls in their lap regardless of how it got there. He may want the work to just be done and not care who does it. And if there becomes a backlog as a significant issue since the slackers outnumber and the diligent employees 2:1 I can see an “Us vs. Them” battle going really badly.

      Honestly I think she should keep her head down and hunt like mad for the next agreeable opportunity.

      1. Magda*

        Yes. In my experience, this particular breed of crappy manager is more likely to pick apart the high performers in situations like this, because they know the higher performers actually give a damn. And because they get resentful that it forces them to do all that pesky, y’know, managing.

        I had a coworker who ended up in therapy thanks to a situation like this — her manager was super critical and dumped all the worst tasks on her, because he knew she was a perfectionist who cared about her work. Meanwhile, there was another slacker on the same team who probably could have humped a goat in the middle of the office and gotten away with it, just because the manager was so conflict avoidant. Morale was just AWESOME in our department :/

    2. Anonsie*

      I’m willing to bet that would result in the chips all landing on the LW’s (and/or the other more productive people’s) head(s).

    3. LBK*

      This only works with certain types of roles or organizations – if you’re client-facing most clients don’t care whether it’s you or Jane or Bob who dropped the ball. You’re all employees of ABC Teapots Inc, so all they care about is that ABC Teapots screwed them over and you get the same bad rep as the people who actually caused the issue. It’s not worth it.

      Also, in a role like mine, the work involved in cleaning up the mess of letting things fall through all lands in my lap anyway. It’s less work to just cover for my coworkers on the front end rather than dealing with resolving a bigger issue on the backend. Would it potentially lead to less stress in the long run if the problems got so bad that my coworkers were fired? Maybe, but it’s really, really hard to balance that while still maintaining your sanity.

      1. Jennifer*

        Seconded. When it comes to work, avoiding the “missing stair” is the best thing, really. Especially when you have no power to fix anything.

    4. Extra Mile*

      I’ve tried to do this and can’t. The function of my group is to provide service to our customers, both internal and external. Each time I try to “let go” and do JUST my duties, it lasts 4 seconds before I remember that ultimately the ones who suffer are our customers and the people that I was hired to support. I can’t see it adversely affecting the lazy person nor our manager. And I’m too nervous to do the experiment and find out.

      1. QualityControlFreak*

        I get this – I totally do, but the boss isn’t going to fix this, because it’s not a problem for him. And he sucks. I’m sorry, but for anything to change, someone besides you and your fellow high performers are going to have to feel the pain.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        If this is where it is at for you, OP, then you need to work some place where people are professional.

  5. Robin*

    OP, if this is the way he runs your department, I have a hard time believing that he runs the other one well. This is about managing, not about specialized skills. You probably just aren’t seeing all the ways things go sideways in the other department.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      You never know. I could imagine a scenario in which an over-worked manager is given a second department to manage although they don’t have the experience, knowledge, or capacity to take on the responsibility. In that type of situation, the manager may choose to focus on what they know/enjoy/excel. Or maybe the manager feels like their (limited) attention is needed more in the first department since those 5 employees are keeping the second afloat.

      1. Chriama*

        That’s why I think it’s a good idea to push back with your boss. If they’re so overwhelmed with their own work they don’t see the inconsistency in their statements, pointing out the pattern to them might help your department. It could also be that te first department just has better employees, and he doesn’t know how to deal with your slackers (especially if he inherited the team and doesn’t know it’s processes well enough to know who’s slacking).

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OR… each department thinks he is doing more in the other department and the truth is he is doing nothing in either department. Anything is possible.

    2. A Jane*

      I thought this as well. The other team might be self-sufficient because their boss won’t actually manage them.

  6. Sharon*

    I don’t have any good advice, either, just empathy. I had a boss like this once. Actually he was a department head and I had a supervisor between him and I, but he was just exactly as bad as the OP’s boss. In my situation, me and my coworkers were software engineers and officially supposed to act as second tier technical support, while our customer service group acted as first tier. In practice, the customer service group did next to nothing. They occasionally logged problem calls but they never did any troubleshooting for the customers. This encouraged the customers to call me and my coworkers directly because they knew that calling customer service was a waste of time. Despite years of complaints about that group by us and our customers, the boss never lifted a finger to fix things or discipline them. In fact he got worse in that he stopped responding to emails or phone calls and never gave answers to direct questions and things started piling up on his desk.

    I think this is one problem that’s unfixable by anything other than getting yourself out of the situation, e.g. get a new job.

    1. Extra Mile*

      We are kind of the customer service group equivalent in my company’s structure. At one point, under a different manager, there was a “house-cleaning” so-to-speak where many of the paycheck-collectors were let go. That’s when I was hired. It’s been a few years and I think it’s time to clean house again. Honestly I’m not sure if that’s even necessary. I believe these workers are quite capable and if they were shown there is accountability and consequence, they could produce just as much as I do.

      1. Ruffingit*

        There is no accountability of consequence and there never will be and those slackers know it. They are collecting a paycheck for doing nothing all day. Sweet deal for them. There’s no other option here but to get out. If your manager is going to suck this bad, let him do it alone. Take your skills and work ethic to a place where it’s appreciated.

  7. Jerry Vandesic*

    Time to get him fired. Do your best to make him look bad while shielding yourself and others. A little Machiavelli sometimes works wonders.

    1. Extra Mile*

      I believe he needs to stick to what he excels at, in his other department. We need a new leader. A fearless leader.

  8. Mike C.*

    Time to let their work fall. Stop making up for their lack of effort and when people start wondering why, simply say “X didn’t finish their job”. Make it really public, perhaps to your manager’s boss.

    Also, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. You aren’t being needlessly argumentative if you point out to your boss that s/he said one thing, and now is upset that you followed their instructions.

    1. KJR*

      I don’t know how people like OP’s co-workers live with themselves. I would be embarrassed and ashamed if others had to pick up my slack. I will never understand people like that.

      1. Chriama*

        I would just be scared of being fired. The people who slack off — how are they so assured of job security?

        1. LBK*

          These people are often extremely confident about their self-worth as an employee and are blinded by how valuable they think they are – they deem themselves irreplaceable so they believe they can get away with not putting in effort. Also, it’s very easy to feel your job is secure when you have a crappy manager who doesn’t set standards or show evidence of holding you to them. I work with one of these people and for this manager so I witness it first-hand every day.

          1. BRR*

            I agree with everything you said. There is another type who cares as little about being fired as they cared about their performance. It’s probably not the first time and probably wont’ be the last. They complain about having to do any work even if it’s light and when they get fired they’ll just complain about how unfair it is(similar to the students who miss a final because they slept through it or forgot about it then call the professor awful names for not letting them make it up).

          2. Windchime*

            We had people like this at work who had been there for years and years. One guy just wandered around talking to people, and when he got tired of that he would do his side job on his laptop in his office. He let his employees do the same; talking, laughing, very little working at all.

            As to how they think it’s OK? They think it’s OK because the company is telling them it’s OK by letting it continue and cutting them a paycheck every two weeks with no consequence for bad behavior.

            I have to say, though, that when the inevitable layoffs came this spring, many of the people who were let go were those people who didn’t ever seem to have much work to do. It took a long, long, long time but it finally happened.

            1. Artemesia*

              We had a secretary whose only job was to type for a very productive guy who didn’t use a computer — he was worth the support. Then he left. She whined about every new task she was given and she was a real pain (the type who would corner people and blather forever.) She also whined that she should be paid more as there were all these new things she was being asked to do. I actually sat her down (I was not her manager) and told her that there was a huge need in the department for X and Y and because we couldn’t get another position approved, if she would jump into doing those things, she would have a secure future. She wasn’t interested in doing what was needed. She was shocked when she was let go a couple of months later.

          3. Ruffingit*

            Thing is, they don’t just believe they can get away with not putting in effort, they actually can do so. And once that has been understood, all bets are off. They know they don’t have to care one single bit so they don’t. Some people truly have no shame and that, coupled with the inflated sense of self-worth, is a bad combo.

    2. Chriama*

      It’s not fair or right, but I think it can be hard to say “X didn’t finish their job” without showing any indication that you asked for what you needed. That’s why I recommended pushing back with the manager, and making it his problem. Ask for confirmation of your decision, so when someone comes back to you and asks why something isn’t done you can forward them the email chain. Or, if your boss ignores your emails, ask for correction and not confirmation (as in, “this is the action I’m going to take unless I hear otherwise from you, please let me know if you have any concerns”). That also works for situations where the turnaround is too quick to get your boss to signoff on your actions (e.g. TPS report is due tomorrow and coworker’s part is missing so you end up doing it anyway).

      There’s also the option of sending a request by email and cc’ing the manager on the second request.

  9. Anonsie*

    I really doubt leaving things for the less productive team members to handle will get the LW or other productive folks anywhere, and if this office is anything like the similar ones I’ve worked in, it will actually come back to bite them in the buns. This type of dynamic crops up in environments that encourage or even reward it. Could be that the folks working harder are considered more junior and turds roll downhill, as they say, so if there are issues with things getting done it’s considered all on them simply because they’re easier to blame. Could be that everyone now just expects those people to get things done even though it’s 100% Not Their Job, and if they stop people would react much more negatively to people willfully disrupting productivity suddenly than they do to people who chronically screw around. Past that, the work could be enough of a unit that there is no Theirs vs Ours tasks, and then the above apply even more easily.

  10. The IT Manager*

    I totally agree with Alison, but see two possible solution.

    1) As mentioned above, stop doing other people work. Just do own and let other things assigned to the slackers not get done.

    2) Go over your manager head to his boss.

    Neither option is great, but since the best solution of having your manager, ya know, manage is off the table, these may force his hand or his boss’s hand about fixing the problem.

  11. Chriama*

    Another idea: maybe the manager doesn’t realise his inconsistency. If someone says “so-and-so isn’t pulling their weight” without specific examples, an overworked manager might tell them to go sort it out. Then, when confronted with a specific example of their employee’s idea of ‘sorting it out’, realized that he would rather deal with it himself. I think you should have followed up with your boss, but there’s still time to do it now or when it happens again.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    Is your manager willing to deputize someone to deal with things? Have you asked him? You could go to him and say “Boss, I know you’re really slammed with managing two departments, but we need a clear chain of command here. Would you be willing to make someone your deputy in this department, at least on a trial basis?”

    You can also suggest yourself for it if you think that’s a good idea. But I would make sure that if you do it, he supports you completely because the team will know if he doesn’t have your back.

    This sounds like anarchy. Gahh.

    1. Chriama*

      I think that could work depending on the manager’s personality, but he would need to be willing to acknowledge that he has some low performers on his team (even just to himself).

    2. BRR*

      I would proceed with caution in case the wrong person gets deputized.

      Side note, the other employee feels uncomfortable that you pointed out they weren’t completing their tasks in a timely manner and went to your boss on how they felt that way?!?!? An employee went to their boss and admitted they weren’t doing their tasks in a timely manner and they didn’t like being called on it.

      Try shooting them with a nerf gun to get them to work better.

    3. Extra Mile*

      We had a team leader at one time. When this particular manager took over department, he let the team leader go and eliminated the position instead of replacing her. It left a lot of people lost, because he doesn’t “get” our job, our processes, etc. so while he’s our manager it doesn’t help to go to him with a real work-related question.

      1. Chriama*

        Can you ask that he brings a team lead back with specific examples as to why the role is necessary (issues that have remained unresolved, responses that weren’t according to your SLAs with customers, etc)?

  13. LBK*

    As you are not in fact a magician, and as his job is actually to manage people, this won’t work.

    Part of me hopes the OP actually is a professional magician. I wonder if that would force Alison to rewrite her advice. “Since you are in fact a magician, pull a new manager out of your hat and then make your current one vanish while handcuffed inside a locked chest.”

  14. soitgoes*

    It sounds like the issue is that the problem landed in the manager’s lap. He gave you the instructions to “police your ranks” and you followed them to a T. No one anticipated that the coworker would end up running to the manager and “tattling”; reasonable adults would expect the issue to end with the constructive email.

    In the future, go to the manager again before taking any actions with coworkers. Say, “In the past you’ve told me to manage the department from within. Can you give me a suggestion for how to best do that?” Follow his directions to the letter and let your coworkers react however they will.

    1. Chriama*

      “Let the work that’s falling on you also fall on your resume.”
      Haha that’s an amazing phrase and I think it should be used more often.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      I do wonder if there’s any way to get some resume-building benefit out of this messed-up situation. Are any of the tasks which the slackers are not doing something the OP wants to gain experience in? It would be easy to pick them up. I’ve spent some time in my career struggling with the catch-22 of “you have to have experience to get experience”, so that is what I always think of first.

  15. Can't Post This One Under my Name*

    We actually have a very similar issue. My manager accuses us of “triangulating” if we go to her with the issues. My co-workers tell me I’m “micro-managing” them if I try to follow-up with them on work that isn’t done (even when it’s just a simple, “Hey there. I thought we were going to get x done by last Friday. Do you have a new date?”. Then my manager dings us on our review if we aren’t getting along with each other on a personal level. I really have tried to do some self-evaluation to see what I’m bringing to this situation, but I’ve never had this kind of problem before and I really do think it comes down to petty co-workers and a weak manager. I don’t have any advice as I keep doing other people’s work too.

  16. Extra Mile*

    Thank you for posting and responding to my letter. I appreciate such great, and blunt, feedback on this issue. I wish I had the Bippity-Boppity-Boo that I’m expected to have, but I am a mere human. I have put a lot of thought into leaving due to this issue but in the end, I love what I do and I love the company I work for. I just work in what is kind of a “problem department”. Add bad (or no) leadership into the equation and it’s a mess.

      1. Extra Mile*

        I’m not really sure. It may be an option. Just seems slightly risky. I don’t want to viewed as the one with the problem simply because I’m the one voicing it.

    1. spocklady*

      Well, that’s a tough situation, but your dedication to your work is really impressive! Good luck – I hope something changes to improve the situation for you!

  17. Malissa*

    My advice is to email your manager when ever possible. That way you have proof of his advice.
    Forward back to him emails that contradict current advice and ask for clarification.
    It sounds like he’s dropping the ball because nobody is keeping track, including him. So sending the mixed messages back might actually help him realize there is a problem and that it just might be him.

    1. DBAGirl*

      I am in a similar situation, and trying to put together a more comprehensive reply to OP.

      In the meantime, I LOUDLY second Malissa’s advice. Rare is the boss who will complain “My direct report communicates too much”.

      As long as your emails are objective and professional, you should bomb as needed.

      I have to mention something an older colleague told me 20 years ago, as I have yet to see that he was wrong:

      “Management doesn’t care about the details as long as the work gets done”.

      Sadly, once you’ve made it known that you can do that, you are expected to do it. “No good deed goes unpunished”.

      1. Another comment on the situation*

        I disagree. I am friends socially with my bosses boss. We were out after work and bosses boss received several texts and e-mails about work situations from my boss. Trust me – you can communicate too much. It was a combination of interrupting her time off, too many texts/e-mails, and things that she didn’t need to be asking because she had already been told that sort of set a fire on a situation. I was just wishing that I wasn’t there the whole time. Awkward. Very awkward. I am still trying to forget forget forget.

      2. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I was an overcommuincating employee (boss said I asked too many questions). It is impossible and very hard to convince your boss you’re competent/confident after that line has been crossed.

  18. Jen*

    OMG you could be talking about my manager – we deal with the exact same issues, doesn’t want to manage and leaves it up to us, criticizes/contradicts the choices we do make (even when they contradict what he originally said), etc etc etc. And we’ve pretty much came to the same conclusion that there’s just nothing we can do but put up with it, document what we can (aka CYA), and cross our fingers that we find other jobs or get shuffled elsewhere…

    Unfortunately most of our managers/upper level staff have issues, ranging from not managing at all to uber-micro-managing – just shows that because they are “smart” (ie have PhDs – its a research institution), doesn’t mean they can manage and should be required to attend training of some sort (similar to my belief that just because someone has a PhD means they can be a professor, and they should have training).

    1. Melissa*

      I think PhDs in general are actually worse at supervising because of the PhD, not better. The work, both on the degree and in the research afterwards, can be so isolating. And doctoral students are NOT encouraged to get any kind of corporate/real world skills during their training, as many PhD programs have the idea that the corporate world and its strictures are “beneath” PhD holders.

  19. JC*

    This sounds so, so familiar. Same circumstances. I had a poor manager that was not interested in managing under achievers. She sat around and rallied her subordinates to sit around a table all day and talk negative about people. I became very unhappy and it eventually began seeping into my home life. The only decision I had to maintain my happiness was to leave. I did just that am so happy with my decision. I have no regrets.

    1. Red*

      Last year, my boss called my coworker and I into the Bossoffice (totally one word). My colleague and I share the same position, but I was doing most of the work on all tasks (because if I didn’t, the tasks simply didn’t get done, and then the whole office would be chastised). Boss reamed us both out and said tasks needed to be divided equally and our names should be signed out on everything we do. Later that day, I needed to ask boss about something, and boss had me shut the door and said that lecture had nothing to do with me but I had to be present for it to be “fair.” Then boss told me I should give my coworker tasks to do and provide this coworker with direction. I am the most junior employee in terms of time employed, though my coworker and I have the same job and are close in age. I felt like (and still feel) as though my boss told me to do her job and manage this colleague.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yup, punishing or limiting the higher performers in order to be “fair” or not to single anyone out is in the Bad Manager’s Top 10 Tricks to Destroy Morale. Problems need to be dealt with, but if something (or someone) is not a problem, STOP TRYING TO FIX THEM!!!!

      2. Melissa*

        But that’s patently UNfair. It’s not “fair” to blame Person A for Person B’s mistakes, or force Person A to partake in the chastising that Person B is getting. I’m just baffled that a grown adult would do this in the workplace and then give this reasoning.

        1. Red*

          That’s how I feel, too. I was pretty shocked when it happened because I had no inkling that anything was going on (besides that I was doing the lion’s share of the work).

  20. John*

    How about suggesting to implement some technology (such as a mobile app) enabling quick feedback sharing in real time? You could bring it up as an opportunity to improve performance and communication, without pointing fingers.

  21. mel*


    He’s too lazy to confront people who aren’t pulling their weight, but he’s perfectly capable of confronting people who are following directions? He could just as easily have whined at the complainant instead. Is there some kind of favoritism happening here?

    Otherwise, would he also be too lazy to deal with 5 people alternating with complaining to him and managing their ranks as his directions flip flop over and over? Because I would be sooooo tempted to continue with that. You’re only following orders, after all.

  22. Joey*

    Does your managers boss know he sucks at managing your dept.? I say that because frequently he will think everything’s fine if stuff is getting done(which it sounds like it is) and no ones complaining. Ask to meet with him and frame your concerns about the productivity and morale of the high performers. Of course this only works if your managers boss doesn’t know about the issue which is very possible.

  23. TONY*

    Once again an example of how a crappy manager can ruin a great workplace. I hear so many stories about crappy managers who are either dis-engaged or a semi-psychotic impediment to success that I now feel this is what is wrong with business performance and the economy as a whole. At best these managers are no-help but all too often are an actual roadblock to company success. unfortunately this will not change until the people that report to these people are able to evaluate their perfomance as a leader and have as much weighted input into the manager’s evaluation as the person the manager reports too. I think this is why so many companies are terrified of 360 degree reviews because leadership, up to and including the CEO, might see that the people they lead think they are a crappy leader and their ego can’t allow that.

  24. MNBound*

    Sounds like my husband’s job. He got so fed up with having more work put on his lap because of co-workers he actaully started timing their “breaks”. Which I don’t advise because it just upset him more. But I get to hear about it the whole way home (which again I don’t advise doing to your spouse). His boss doesn’t want to to anything about it and when he’s asked her about things she just kind of waves it off as more and more work is being handed to him.
    He has to deal with smoking co-workers that take multiple smoke breaks of over 10 minutes each. The people that come to work after him that start at 9:00 but chit chat with co-workers until 9:30 which then they go on their smoke break. Well and simply the people that do work so slowly and inaccuratly that instead of retraining them the work gets tossed his way. Oh by the way he’s looking for a new job. I’m assuming you can see why!

  25. Jason*

    for the last two years I have worked with a Guy who despite being in the UK for 30 years can speak next to no English. he also lies and has been caught stealing and has zero common sense. my manager defends him. because of the English issue he does the 3rd shift only meaning he goes home 30minutes early every night. on weekends its only two Guys working and if one is him he sits in the control room watching movies whilst we deal with everything. I have made written complaints all the way upto the top manager with nothing done. final straw was Christmas eve my boss sent him home at 2PM despite him not celebrating Christmas and then left himself. I left at 7pm. I went nuts and sent him a text saying he is useless listing all the above reasons. that was two days back. on Monday I’m back at work. should be fun. he is a massive security risk I’m considering saying I refuse to work weekends with him but not sure what will happen then

  26. Irene*


    I have a manager who’s done almost exactly this. He’ll either do nothing, or he’ll call someone in and fuss at them to make it seem like he’s doing something. (Because apparently bitching someone out in front of someone else is a total resolution to a problem???)

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