my employee keeps accusing me of favoritism toward her coworker

A reader writes:

I recently expanded from one direct report to two. I manage and take only the most complicated projects. “Tammy” takes the mid-level work: she is proficient, but not great and can get confused by complicated projects. “Carrie,” the new hire, has simple projects. She is still learning but is a superstar. She picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses, despite the fact that Tammy has been in the role three years. Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected. I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position. Based on Carrie’s current learning curve, I expect within the next three months that Carrie and Tammy will be directing projects at the same level of difficulty.

Tammy is very insecure about Carrie: she has repeatedly told me that she feels that I favor Carrie. I immediately told her that is not true and asked for specific examples of when Tammy saw Carrie being favored. She mentioned that we spend a lot of time together and I pointed out that I’m still training Carrie, not socializing. I said that I trust Tammy to do her work without my oversight, and it’s not favoritism. I asked if there were any examples of times when I treated them differently. Tammy could not provide any, simply saying others outside the department had made comments to her about it. I told her that it was not true and said that others might perceive it that way because Carrie and I eat lunch together in the cafeteria every day, but Tammy chooses not to eat lunch with us because she goes next door to the gym. Tammy replied in an angry way that it was her lunch hour and she could do whatever she wanted. I calmly told her that I agree and was not upset that she goes to the gym. Then I said, “I am not criticizing your use of personal time. Why are you snapping at me?” She replied that she hadn’t meant to snap.

Since Carrie was hired, Tammy has been giving terse and almost rude responses. Recently, Carrie forgot to invite Tammy to a meeting involving multiple teams. I assumed she was invited and asked her to bring the project file. Tammy was very upset that she had not been on the invite and exclaimed, “I need more lead time than a few minutes to attend a meeting! You can’t expect me to drop everything!” I snapped. I countered, “Then don’t go” and walked away. It was not professional and I have no excuse, I’ve just become so tired of this childish situation! She did not attend the meeting, and when we spoke later, I apologized for my angry response, but told her that if she speaks in a rude way to others, others may respond in a similar manner. Two days later, she slipped me a note as she left for the day. In the note, she said that I favor Carrie and that I don’t have to like her, but I do have to respect her.

I have kept my manager appraised about the situation. At first, he said that it was “team growing pains” that would work itself out. As time has gone on, he has gotten frustrated, finally telling me that he is tired of the “gossip.” I told him I’m not gossiping, I’m telling him about problems on my team that I need guidance on. He replied that it’s not seriously impacting our output, so it’s not a problem. It is not impacting the level or quality of our work, but it is making life miserable.

The HR dept is only one woman, who won’t get involved unless it’s a lawsuit in the making. My boss has said I should not bother HR over “interpersonal problems.”

I am at a loss about what to do. Even though I’ve addressed this a few times, Tammy keeps bringing it up and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback. Sometimes I question whether this is actually a problem or if it’s just normal team differences that I am blowing out of proportion. Other times I’m sure there’s something I should be doing as a manager to remedy this. Please help!

Tammy is out of line, but you’re not quite handling this correctly.

You shouldn’t be eating lunch with Carrie every day. Regardless of the fact that Tammy would be welcome to join you if she wanted to, it is going to come across as favoritism — to Tammy and to others who notice it. It’s also going to make you look less than professional; as a manager, you need to have professional boundaries with the people you manage. You can certainly eat lunch with employees from time to time, but when it’s an every day thing, especially with only one employee, it starts looking like a work-BFF situation. This would always be the the case, but it’s especially true when the person you’re eating lunch with is a super star new employee who your other employee is feeling threatened by.

Plus, if Carrie ever wants to stop eating with you, the power dynamics mean that it might feel awkward for her to say that.

So, effective immediately, stop eating lunch with Carrie every day. (Frame this for Carrie in a way that won’t make her feel weird. For example, you could tell her that you’ve joined a book club and are going to read at lunch for a while, or that you’re running errands at lunch, or whatever else makes sense.)

Then, sit down and talk to Tammy. Regardless of her feelings about Carrie, it seems pretty clear that Tammy isn’t feeling valued or respected. So address that first: “Tammy, I want to talk to you about how things are going. You’ve said things to me recently that make me think you’re not feeling valued or respected. I want to be clear that I do value and respect you. You’re great at X, and are making a fantastic contribution on Y. You’re a key part of our department. Is there something you’d like me to be doing differently so that that comes across?”

That’s the conversation you want to have — not one about Carrie. And if she does continue focusing on Carrie, I’d say this: “You’ve mentioned to me quite a few times that you think I’m favoring Carrie. I’ve heard you and I’ve tried to make clear to you why I’m doing what I’m doing, but I’m continuing to hear this from you and it’s becoming a distraction. I welcome hearing from you about what you need in your work and from me, but I need it to be about you, and not about Carrie or anyone else. Going forward, can you do that?”

Ultimately, Tammy may need to decide whether she can continue in her role reasonably happily and without continuing to complain about your relationship with a coworker. You’re not obligated to entertain endless complaints about it; there’s a point where it’s reasonable to say, “I’ve heard you, I’ve explained my thinking, and now we need to move on.”

But you also need to stop snapping at Tammy. You might be frustrated, but that’s not really okay to do. Also, the fact that you’re frustrated is almost certainly connected with the fact that you haven’t set the boundaries with Tammy that I describe above. You’re not acting with the authority of your position; you’re allowing her to behave however she wants and then you’re feeling frustrated by her behavior. Use your authority to set clear and firm (and fair) boundaries, and there’s going to be a lot less for you to feel frustrated about.

(Also, as for your boss, he’s telling you very clearly that he doesn’t want to be involved in this. You should believe him. I can argue with his framing, but ultimately it’s his call if he wants you to handle this sort of thing on your own — and he clearly does.)

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. B*

    Completely agree with Alison’s advice regarding eating lunch everyday. While you may think it looks innocent and really does not affect how things are handled, to those outside it does. And that perception is part of the battle, you need to be seen as a more neutral party that is not favoring anyone. As well, the current employee who you are having lunch with needs to feel she can stop it at any time without repercussions.

    1. some1*

      Yes, and other departments are noticing it, too, which means if they ever have an issue with Carrie they might be afraid to bring it to the LW. (“LW and Carrie are besties so she’s not going to address this.”)

      1. Squirrel!*

        The only “evidence” of that is Tammy saying other departments are noticing, without saying which departments or who specifically. And no one else but Tammy has approached the OP about it, so we can’t really count that as a fact in this case.

        1. BritCred*

          Yup. favorite hiding tactic of those who are called on something they can’t substantiate…

        2. Michele*

          But if Tammy is never there for lunch, how would she know that Carrie and OP are eating together every day? She probably has a friend in another department who sees them. It might not be that other departments are noticing, just that one friend, but that can be plenty to get a rumor mill going.

            1. AW*

              But knowing there’s a standing invitation isn’t the same thing as knowing the co-worker always accepts the invitation.

              1. Kat A.*

                It’s not that hard to figure out. This kind of knowledge doesn’t require any sort of rumor mill.

        3. Jaune Desprez*

          People are going to notice (and talk about) the manager who eats lunch with only one of her two employees every day. That’s just human nature.

          1. OP*

            Original Poster here – she knew because we have a lunch room with meals served for free (so everyone eats there). I sit at the same table every day with a number of co-workers, not just Carrie. My manager eats at this table 1-2 times a week, as does another of his direct reports. Tammy used to eat with us every day as well, until she started going to the gym.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yes, exactly. As a manager, it’s not enough to worry about actual bias, you have to worry about the perception of it.

      1. JM in England*


        When I started at my current job, on of the basic training modules was about conflicts-of-interest. It clearly stated that even the appearance of favouritism is just as damaging to reputations as when it is actually present in a working relationship. So the OP needs to literally detatch in professional terms……………

    3. INTP*

      Yep. And this is a situation that is going to be awkward with the most perfectly neutral management – most people don’t think of themselves as inferior in skills to their coworkers, so if you keep promoting Carrie at rockstar pace, Tammy is going to feel threatened and like you are playing favorites no matter what. Of course, you should not stop giving Carrie new responsibilities, but given the differentiation in potential, you need to be perceived as incredibly neutral so that your objectivity isn’t questioned when differential treatment is actually warranted based on their skill levels. If you’re getting super friendly with one employee while snapping at another, it’s more difficult to convince an outsider to the situation that you are giving Carrie the best projects because of her skill levels and not because you so clearly like her better.

    4. The IT Manager*

      Plus, let’s be honest, eating lunch with someone every day is probably going to lead to the growth of a friendship. You’re proably going to discuss personal things and grow closer. Even if Tammy is invited, she not attending and is losing something by preferring to use her lunch hour separately.

      Time for you to stop eating lunch with Carrie on most days.

      1. Kelly O*

        You could even reframe this – have a standing lunch time on a certain day of the week. Maybe pick a day when things are slower and make sure both Carrie and Tammy know it’s time for both of them.

        I can’t recall ever actually eating lunch daily with a boss or coworker. Even when I’ve been in situations where groups regularly eat together, it certainly wasn’t every day, even when we had a cafeteria that made lunch easy. (Actually I really can’t recall eating lunch with my boss on any sort of regular basis, unless you count both of us eating at our desks…)

        Alison has given some excellent advice. It’s time to take a step back and put Tammy’s conversation in the context of Tammy, and then put a little space between you and Carrie. They’re not the same person, and they need to be treated individually, even when one is a “rockstar” and one is not. Maybe consider this an opportunity to grow as a manager.

        1. JM in England*

          At my current job, have had the boss join my peer group’s table on the odd occasion. In all instances, it felt incredibly awkward and like we could not talk as freely. A good analogy would be like having a sleepover party with the parents present all the time!

        2. Vicki*

          I used to eat lunch with my manager most days, but then, our whole team used to eat lunch together and we’d been doing the same thing since before the man became a manager. At company A, he was a co-worker. Then he (and we) moved to company B where he was our manager. Then he (and we) moved back to company A where he was a manager but not our manager. Through it all, for 6 years, we ate lunch together.

    5. Ann Furthermore*

      Agreed. This is a simple thing that the OP can do immediately. It might be petty, but people do notice that kind of thing, and then they talk — and the talk is never good.

      This is causing blowback for the OP already, because she stated in her letter that now she feels like she can’t give Carrie praise or positive feedback, which is really unfair to Carrie. Tammy may be being a pill, and not handling the situation well, but she has a point.

      One VP in my company is BFF’s with one of her staff members, who is a director. It’s well known. For a long time, they would eat lunch together every day, until that director moved to another building, which just reinforced the friendship and put it very much on display. It’s been a given for as long as I’ve been here that this director is untouchable, even though there are multiple well-known examples of her treating other people really horribly, because of her friendship with her boss.

      A few years ago she was given a very prestigious award for her work on a huge ERP upgrade project — but almost 18 months after the project launched. As the director, she was not the one working 12-14 hour days and every weekend for the 6 months leading up to the go-live date. When I saw the announcement on the company website, I rolled my eyes, and was annoyed that none of the software developers or functional people were mentioned at all, since they are the ones who made it happen. I was also irritated that the director did not have the grace or awareness to email her team and at least thank them for all the work on what was one of the largest projects in the company’s history. It was such blatant favoritism, and pretty galling.

      My boss, who has been with this company for her whole career, told me once that she always hears people complain about how bad the politics are, but said it must happen everywhere else too. I told her that yes, it does happen everywhere else, but what’s unique to our company is that it’s so blatant, and on display. Usually people try to be a little more subtle in their maneuvers, but not here. It’s just put right out there for everyone to see. I used the above situation as an example, and asked my boss, “Does anyone really, truly, believe that [Director] and [VP] being BFF’s had nothing to do with getting that award, especially when you can go to the cafeteria any day of the week and see them eating lunch together, or hear them talking about what they did together over the weekend?”

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Well it was in the 2009-2010 timeframe, when layoffs were not uncommon, and people were more willing to put in the long hours to keep their jobs. Plus, and maybe even more importantly, this kind of implementation/upgrade work really does ebb and flow. So you’ll really pour on the hours for awhile, and then things will ease up and you’ll get a break.

          My boss didn’t really say anything, but I think she saw my point. Both those individuals are in our organization, and higher up in the food chain than we are, so she may have been cautious about being too candid.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    Your boss reasonably expects you to manage this. You’re a manager – you need to be able to handle these kinds of situations. (However, his comments are fairly sexist). You really need to establish yourself firmly as the manager, now.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Totally agree. His comments were wrong but he’s right about the OP needing to handle this.

      1. nona*

        I don’t agree that it’s sexist (I don’t know) but framing OP’s issues with her employees as “gossip” dismissively implies that she’s acting like a teenaged girl when she is looking for advice on management. Someone might wonder if he would see the same things happening in a group that wasn’t all female and take it more or less seriously.

        (Again, not arguing that the guy is or isn’t sexist. Because I have no idea. I’m posting this because it reminds me of some things I’ve seen in person.)

        1. Kelly O*

          And this can easily read as high school foolishness. I have to admit I was taken aback by the “she slipped me a note” comment.

          The way the problem presents itself can make a huge difference when trying to work out issues, especially with senior management. When I’ve had to deal with this, I’ve found it helps to present it as neutrally as possible. Don’t talk about someone “not liking” another person and try to frame your questions in the context of how this affects work, not how this affects a person’s emotional state.

          Sure, the emotional state of your staff is important, but there are plenty of people who will hear that as catfighting, whether it is or not.

          Maybe that’s how you deal with this between Tammy and Carrie – lay some groundwork for professional working relationships that aren’t necessarily tied (or given the appearance of tying) to friendship. That can be a really slippery slope.

          1. M-C*

            The ‘note slipping’ is weird indeed. Is this Tammy’s attempt to get her problems down in writing, as a first step toward involving HR or more? If she’s feeling so insecure, I’d imagine she might be hearing from her friends about how she needs to proceed in order to secure her position..

            And yes, AAM is right, OP has to stop with the constant lunches at once. In fact, I’d go further and say that the endless ‘training sessions’ in her office should taper down too. Is there a reason why Tammy is not involved in training the child star? Why is she a star if she needs that much training? If OP is training her to essentially do the same job as Tammy, and there’s no hint of Tammy being actually incompetent, there’s no reason Tammy isn’t at least equally responsible for the training. Warm fuzzy feelings notwithstanding, as this sounds like just hanging out with your bff in your office to me.

            And if something comes up that requires a different approach than the routine angle Tammy is taking, then that should be discussed openly at a team meeting, so that both employees get to contribute their insights, and both learn more about what the general picture to keep in mind is. You are having at least semi-regular team meetings to discuss the workload, right?

            1. MissLibby*

              I agree about the lunches needing to end, but I think you are making a lot of assumptions about the training sessions. I supervise a team of three and I spent a lot of time training the newest one in my office and at her desk, because it was my responsibility not her peers’. And “child star”? Where did that come from???

      2. My Fake Name is Laura*

        Because “gossip” in American culture nearly always refers to an immature behavior attributed solely to girls and women. The term is supposed to be insulting and pejorative to women, and when used regarding men implies he is not behaving in a masculine way.

        1. M-C*

          Totally right Laura. In fact every study of the phenomenon shows that men engage in that behavior -more- than women. Which is why they need to label it dismissively when it’s done by others.

          1. nk*

            Really? That is fascinating. I certainly know men who gossip a lot so I didn’t think that it was more a female than male thing (even though the word is more associated with women), but didn’t know that men generally engage MORE than women!

            1. Dr. Speakeasy*

              The gender split is pretty even (basically everyone gossips!) but men’s communication about others tends to be “shop talk” “information” etc. The term “gossip” often brings up the image of some “gossipy” women and thus can be a conscious or unconscious way of devaluing women’s experience. Similar to when women having a disagreement gets labeled “catfighting.”

          2. Ann without an e*

            In my experience working with the military and engineers that is absolutely true. Men just get mad because women are so much better at it, as we -tend- I stress -tend- to have wider vocabularies and better memories for who said what when in a conversation.

            1. Jamie*

              Ha – this is the bane of my husband’s existence (and an occasional boss or two over the years.)

              I may not remember my direct dial, or where I put my keys, but I have almost total recall on things he wishes I’d forget.

            2. Anonsie*

              This reminds me of how my partner tells stories. He always wants to talk to me about what people did at work or in his group of friends but his stories are almost completely unintelligible. Once he was trying to tell a group of people about when a friend of a friend made a bet that he would pay all our tabs at the pub if I could eat the entire massive order of french fries I’d bought (it was like two pounds of potato) which I did easily to his jaw-hanging amazement.

              My partner’s version of this story was, verbatim, “There was this guy, he said, ‘you can’t eat that.'” The end.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yes. Women “gossip”, men “shoot the shit” or “catch up” or just “talk”. Never mind that talking about sports teams or bass fishing is hardly more profound than talking about, say, shoes.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yup. I think the word “gossip” even started out as a term for old lady. What makes it pejorative is when it’s called “gossip” when women do it but “talk” when men do it. There’s a poem called “Men Talk” that kind of takes on the same issue.

      3. Violet Rose*

        “Sexist” wasn’t my first thought – “dismissive” was” – but nona summed up why it might have sexist undertones. Also, my usual litmus test is: would the boss have called it “gossip” if it was happening in an all-male department? Not knowing the boss, I obviously can’t say, but I suspect not.

    2. Just Another Techie*

      Oh good, I’m not the only one who got a whiff of sexism from the OP’s boss. I might be misreading but it sounds to me like OP is a fairly new manager and might need mentoring and guidance, which her boss is deliberately withholding. He’s not even explaining in a reasonably professional manner that handling this on her own is part of OP’s responsibilities now. He’s just being an ass.

      1. steve g*

        I’m the one who 95 percent of the times does NOT see sexism in things but in this case I DID see it. I think calling a legitimate concern “gossip” is a nice way to dismiss it, for both sexes, but overwhelmingly towards women.

  3. JB (not in Houston)*

    Wow, I think Tammy maybe needs to go. I don’t mean Tammy needs to be fired, I mean that Tammy is clearly very unhappy, and I don’t think there’s much that can be done to make her less unhappy. If the OP stops eating with Carrie every day and has the conversation that Alison suggested, maybe that will take care of the problem. But she’s threatened by Carrie, and that probably won’t change as Carrie learns more. She reaction to that hasn’t been to look for ways she can improve, it’s to lash out at the manager. And she hasn’t handled this maturely at all (that’s not to excuse the OP for her part), in a way that makes me wonder if she can’t handle stress or change very well.

    Of course, Tammy could be going through something in her personal life that makes it hard for her to keep it together at work. There could be something going on between Carry and Tammy that the OP isn’t seeing. Maybe the OP is accidentally doing something (on top of what’s included in the letter) that just happens to push Tammy’s buttons. But just based on the letter, it seems like she’s pretty unhappy due to things that aren’t going to change much, even if the OP takes more steps to make it clear she’s not biased. I hope I’m wrong and everything settles down. But if I were Tammy’s friend, I’d be asking her if she’s thought about if she’d be happier moving to a different job or department.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      No doubt Tammy is threatened by Carrie, and I think that’s causing her to read more into the situation than what’s actually there.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I think so, too. It’s entirely possible that if the OP takes Alison’s advice, Tammy can be happy in the job. But I’d be concerned that this is such an overreaction that it is an indication that she’s unhappy in general and can’t keep a perspective on things. In other words, if she’s gotten to the bitch-eating-crackers stage with Carrie or her boss, it’s really hard to come back from that. The OP needs to do what she can to make sure she’s not pushing Tammy to that point if she wants to keep her.

        1. Observer*

          I’d say that the OP needs to not push her to that point, even if she doesn’t want to keep her. If someone is not good enough to keep, have the sense (and decency) to cut the drama short. Managing that way does have repercussions for the manager.

      2. Judy*

        I would say that when something at work dealing with your manager is such that people in other departments are asking about it, it’s usually not reading more in to the situation that what is actually there.

        Face it, from reading the letter, the OP does favor the new employee.

        1. Spiky Plant*

          Well, yeah. Because the new employee is better. There’s no reason to think that Carrie won’t be out-performing Tammy in a couple months. I wonder if Tammy is meeting expectations because, for however long, she was *setting* the expectations, as the only other person doing the work, and what once Carrie is up to speed she’s going to be setting a new standard that Tammy can’t/won’t meet?

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            This may be precisely why tammie is taking it so hard and feels so threatened, and Op’s just fueling the insecure fire without realizing. In addition to what Alison suggests why not also gently bring in the fact that Carrie is picking up on certain things very quickly and getting the nuances etc just be honest and that may put things in perspective for tammie and give her an “OH” moment

      3. INTP*

        That’s clearly true but I think it’s also normal in this situation. It’s totally reasonable to be threatened when someone is hired for your job and is clearly better than you at it. It would be a bit naive or oblivious not to be – this absolutely may affect her career trajectory within the company for the worse. I think anyone would have a hard time adjusting to the situation at first and we’d all just express it in different ways. If Tammy can learn to accept it over time and be happy in her role again, which of course requires the OP cutting out all the little hints of favoritism that don’t have a business case, she’ll be fine. It’s a possibility that she won’t adjust, but I think it would be premature to fire her now for not adjusting perfectly while her boss isn’t handling the situation very maturely either.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          While this is true, the proper response to feeling threatened by someone new being better than you isn’t to accuse your manager of favoritism. Either step up your game, just deal with the fact this new person is better, or look for a new job elsewhere.

          1. illini02*

            But it does seem like favoritism, even just basing it on the OPs letter. If I had a manager doing these same things, I may not be as upset by it, but I’d definitely see the manager as favoring the other person.

          2. INTP*

            Well, it does look like she is playing favorites. The LW is aware of the difference in skills so it seems reasonable to her but from an outside perspective, she’s snapping at one employee and befriending and promoting another. The employee isn’t responding in an ideal way but I don’t think it’s productive to fire people just for not responding to every emotionally difficult situation in the ideal way. Especially when, as I said, the manager is also handling it very poorly – hard to behave properly in that environment.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              If favoritism is taking place, whining about it isn’t going to fix it. Either you believe your manager to be unconsciously favoring the other person, in which case you talk about the situation in a calm and collected manner; or you believe your manager is consciously favoring the other person, in which case no amount of pleading or whining is going to fix it.

              Looking it pragmatically from Tammy’s standpoint, the same options remain. Either you genuinely believe there might be a reason for the perceived favoritism (i.e., Carrie is better than you) and thus need to step up your game or deal; or you believe there’s no logical reasonf or the perceived favoritism except your boss being a jerk, and thus you should look for another job or deal.

    2. Jennifer*

      That’s a very good point that Tammy is miserable and there isn’t much that can be done to make her not miserable. Even if the OP stops eating with Carrie, damage is already done, you know? Unless the OP starts kissing Tammy’s ass and ignoring Carrie all the time or something.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I hope for Tammy and the OP that they can make this work, but sometimes you do get so miserable somewhere that they can’t ever really fix it.

    3. AMG*

      I think OP should frame it in terms of, ‘Here’s what you can do to get the same types of projects that Carrie is doing’ and give her a chance to bring herself up to a different stanard. She may be happier that way. I could see myself doing this, and I would be happy given that opprotunity.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        That would be a good approach. Hopefully Tammy isn’t already too unhappy to make it work.

      2. Artemesia*

        I agree — but that is step two. Step one is to end the very obvious favoritism shown Carrie with the lunches and best bud behavior and to reassure Tammy and set clear boundaries as Alison suggested.

        Then in a month or two when Carrie has set that new standard, the ‘if you want the challenges Carrie is receiving with these new projects then I need to see that you can produce 10 flawless widgets an hour or process TPS reports without flaws and to meet deadlines. or whatever.

        The OP favors Carrie because Carrie is better at the job. She needs to be able to articulate what is better (not more fun to work with or gets the jokes — but what about her project work and productivity is measurably better) and then let Tammy know what excellent as compared to adequate work is. And probably frame it that way — your work on the licorice teapot project was adequate — here is what would have made it excellent. And excellent is what I am looking for in assigning complex projects or reviewing for promotions.

        1. fposte*

          But even if Tammy doesn’t get better I think it’s quite possible for her to be content with the job if the management gets straightened out. Both employees are important contributors. Employees are not going to be assigned identical projects, and they don’t all progress at the same rate, but that’s not the same thing as favoritism.

      3. V*

        I agree. I think OP is not doing Tammy any favors by telling her that her work is “fine.” (I’m assuming that is what is happening, but OP is telling us that Tammy’s work is fine). It sounds like, in OP’s mind, Tammy is and forever will be “competent” whereas Carrie is “great”. As a result, OP may not be making the effort to manage Tammy in such a way that will help her become a “great” employee and Tammy may feel that whatever she does the OP will never view her as “great.”

        OP – Explain to Tammy what it means to be a superstar, and do so without drawing comparisons to Carrie. Tell Tammy that you want her to succeed (which I’m assuming you do because what manager doesn’t want a team of superstars?) and lay out specific goals detailing what success looks like.

      4. Just Another Techie*

        I wouldn’t phrase it ias “the same types of project that Carrie gets” though. I’d put it more neutrally “This is what you need to achieve to be given more complex projects and more responsibility.”

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep. I think it’s an okay outcome if Tammy decides the job isn’t for her. But she does need to decide if she can be reasonably happy and stay or not; it’s not okay for her to stay but keep acting like this. That’s the part that the OP needs to communicate — here are the boundaries, here’s what you can expect from me, and now I need you to figure out if you can work reasonably happily in that context or not.

    5. Observer*

      I think you are jumping to conclusions about Carrie. But, even if you are right, there is no doubt that the OP needs to take Allison’s advice or she’s going to have a hard time down the road.

  4. KT*

    Totally agree with Allison. Going to your boss (and even considering going to HR) with this is really invalidating your position as a manager. This is a very minor thing-your employee feels insecure. This is not a threat to work output or the company’s security–just your comfort.

    You also need to control your attitude–it reads from this like you really do favor Carrie, she’s a superstar, while Terry is only adequate (even though you’re happy with the work she does). When Carrie left Terry of of a meeting (a pretty big mistake) you snapped at Terry even though she had a very real concern–it isn’t fair to expect someone to be prepared for a meeting in a matter of minutes when everyone else had days. And was Carrie reprimanded for her mistake? Your correct response would have been to tell Terry “Carrie accidentally left off your name from the invite, and I’ve addressed that with her. I know it’s incredibly short notice, but can you attend and bring X,Y,Z? We’ll debrief after the meeting for the 3 of us to discuss and flesh out any information gaps.”

    I know it’s easy in small companies to fall into routines like regular lunches with one person, but that has to stop. No matter why it happens, it does reek of favoritism (real or imagined).

    Instead, why don’t you have a once a week or once every 2 weeks team lunch with all 3 of you? Discuss big achievements, give out kudos, discuss webinars or learning opportunities, etc.

      1. Michelle*

        When I began my current position, we had a Kerry, Terry, Cherry and Mary in the same office!

        1. brightstar*

          I once knew a family where the parents names were Larry and Mary and they had a daughter Cherry.

          1. Jessa*

            Can I ask a weird question about this? Do people think those names – Larry, Mary and Cherry sound the same? In my head they are three different sounds and in no way rhyme.

            1. Windchime*

              They rhyme exactly to me (from the Pacific Northwest).

              I knew a family who had named two of their children Don and Dawn. Those are spoken exactly the same by people here, but this family was from New York and they pronounced Dawn like “Du-wan” . I can’t even say it, let alone spell it the way they said it.

              1. Dawn*

                D(awww)n, I think, might be the more phonetic spelling (more like, “Awww, how sad for you”), but with a more O-ish sound than an A sound (family from NJ here!) :)

            2. EvilQueenRegina*

              They don’t to me – I’m a Brit ( think the actor Dominic Monaghan and that’s about my accent). Guess it depends on the accent?

            3. Joline*

              Pacific Northwest accented here as well (the Canadian bit) and Larry, Mary, and Cherry rhyme for me too. They all basically have “air” in the middle.

            4. AW*

              In my head the ‘y’ in each name sounds the same and so they rhyme. Southern US, if we’re keeping score.

              1. mialoubug*

                None of them sound the same to me. Larry sounds like “lar ree”; Mary is Mare-ee; Cherry is Cheh ree. Bostonian here, so that might count me out with all the Rs

                1. Katieinthemountains*

                  I’m in the South – I’d say Leh ree, Meh ree, and Cheh ree…but then this is the place where Sarah may well come out Say ruh.

            5. Talvi*

              They sound the same in my dialect of Western Canadian English – it’s often referred to as the “Mary-marry-merry merger”.

            6. HR Pro*

              They all rhyme when I say them. I’ve mostly lived in the mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania & DC) and have midwestern parents (who, presumably, taught me how to say these words similarly).

              There’s fascinating information about the different pronunciation of words in different areas of the US. I believe the New York Times even had a dialect quiz you could take that would predict where you live based on how you pronounce various words, and which words you choose for various things (soda vs. pop, for example).

            7. nona*

              Southern U.S. here – They all sound the same to me/in my accent. Merry, Mary, and marry do, too.

        2. DMented Kitty*

          LOL – at my grade school homeroom there were four K(C)atherines in my class. Imagine the hardship new teachers had when they call one of us and four of us look at each other before teacher realizes it and then calls the surname of which K(C)atherine she wanted.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I agree with your comment generally, but I can see why the OP snapped at Tammy about the meeting invitation. Not that it’s excusable–she shouldn’t be snapping at people at work, and certainly not people she manages–but Tammy’s reaction was over the top, I think. Of course, that possibly just how I’m reading the OP’s characterization of Tammy’s reaction (the “exclaimed” part made me think it wasn’t a calmly made statement). And I don’t know what kind of meeting it was, so I don’t know if the problem was that Tammy didn’t have time to prepare (not every meeting needs much preparation) or she was in the middle of something and was irritated that she had to drop it to go to the meeting. But I can see how Tammy would be particularly irritated if she was already feeling excluded by Carrie and the OP.

      You are totally right that the lunches have to stop. As someone who until recently had a weekly team lunch with her boss, though, I’m going to vote against having weekly team lunches unless there’s actually stuff to talk about that needs to be addressed every week. Maybe monthly?

      1. Mike C.*

        Really? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell someone that making them drop everything to prepare for a meeting they didn’t know about is unreasonable. Otherwise people will walk all over you and cause unneeded stress.

        1. Cat*

          I’m pretty sure I was visibly not super happy when someone did this to me about a week ago. That said, we moved on from it in about 30 seconds because I know the person in question does actually respect me and it was a legitimate error. It sounds like everyone is so on edge here that everything is getting magnified into a big dispute.

          1. Kelly L.*

            This happened to me recently too. I was probably…unusually quiet for a few minutes afterward. Didn’t squeak out a word, though. But so annoying.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If someone I managed told me that, I’d be pretty shocked. If there’s an ongoing problem with it, come talk to me about that. But snapping at me over a single instance? I’ve never seen a high performing, easy to work with person do that.

          Sometimes mistakes happen. Good people roll with them. If it’s a pattern, good people raise the pattern.

          1. DarcyPennell*

            I’m less than a year at my job and the meeting scheduler for a big project keeps forgetting to include me in all-hands meetings. I haven’t snapped at anyone about it– well besides saying “if you have a group set up in Outlook can you make sure I’m in it? This keeps happening” and I probably sounded annoyed when I said it. But I have to say, it feels lousy even though I know it’s unintentional. If I were already feeling threatened & not valued I can imagine it seeming like I’m so not part of the picture that it doesn’t matter whether I’m even there. Snapping at one’s boss is never okay, but I can see how it would happen.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            I’m going to disagree with you. The meeting issue is part of a pattern of other incidents so can’t be judged by itself. Tammy had previously gone to the manager about other issues, had been ignored, and this is one more thing out of several.
            I think both sides are having communication issues. Tammy is can’t seem to articulate a pattern of behaviors by the manager. The manager, on the other hand, is merely telling Tammy there’s no problem while not addressing Tammy’s concerns. That’s a classic gas lighting technique, so would make Tammy even more paranoid.

            1. AMG*

              See, this is important. I don’t see it as gaslighting, but I do think OP needs to tell Tammy why Carrie seems to be getting some better project stuff and what Tammy can do to bring herself up to that level. It will take a certain amount of finesse to not come across as, ‘Why can’t you be more like Carrie’. If OP focuses on developing Tammy and training her, I bet a lot of this goes away.

            2. Ann without an e*

              Gaslighting is when I know I am doing something and look you in the face and tell you I’m not for the sole purpose of deminishing others faith in your samity. A perfect example is in Orange is the New Black where all the women pretend to have their minor ailments cured by Pensitucky when she decides she is an evangelist healer…….but they were just having fun at her expense they never intended to have her sent to psych so even in that instance calling it gaslighting is a stretch.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                I’m not saying that gas lighting is going on. I am saying that the managers actions look the same as if gas lighting were going on.
                Tammy: You’re playing favorites
                Manager: That’s ridiculous!

                The “ridiculous” comment is out of line for the manager. The appropriate response is “Why do you think that?” Instead, the manager went into defense mode, demanding examples from Tammy. At no time did the manager modify their behavior in response to Tammy’s inputs.
                Tammy can’t tell if she’s getting gas lighter or not. If she’s already concerned, this would make her concerns worse.

                1. Ann without an e*

                  Well, Tammy COULD
                  1. feel left out even though she chose to workout instead of join them for lunch, but even if she did she would feel left out since she missed so much already. OR
                  2. be smart enough to realize that Carrie is a super star and is going to get promotion or pay raise and is setting it up to look like favoritism to prevent it, because “she has been here for three years and for some newbie to get anything before her is obviously favoritism……….”
                  3. be so territorial she would have problems with the new whoever no matter what.
                  4. NEED drama, so much so that without it she would shrivel up and die.

                  I have worked with at least one example of the above in the past, the first just sorta happens and it stinks when it does,the second is hard to see coming and it’s horrible when you finally do , the third is impossible to please and the fourth is the most common but often go away when ignored.

                2. LBK*

                  I don’t think “why do you think that?” is an appropriate response either, actually. I think the right response is “I treat all of my employees appropriately with their level of performance – higher performers get better perks. If you want to discuss what you can work on in order to get bigger projects or less oversight, we can talk about that, but it’s going to be a conversation about you that doesn’t involve Carrie.”

          3. AMG*

            This one. It happens here all the time. It’s not that people don’t respect me, it’s that things change on a dime, especially with projects. I have left people off of invites and been left off of invites. It happens, and obviously there are mitigating circumstances, but still.

            1. Zillah*

              I think that there’s a difference, though, between an environment where that happens to everyone sometimes and an environment where it’s only happened to you, by someone who you feel excluded by.

              1. Just Another Techie*

                Also the difference between an environment where you generally feel valued and respected, except for this one annoying thing (the last minute meetings) and an environment where this annoying thing (the last minute meetings) are just one of a zillion ways in which you feel sidelined, insulted, and belittled.

          4. Loose Seal*

            Yeah, but Tammy is already dealing with being second-fiddle to Carrie despite having been in this department longer. Carrie had ample time to prepare for the meeting and Tammy had none (which, in a department where there is already tension, could be seen as a purposeful move by Carrie to show up Tammy). Depending on the type of work they do, it might not have been possible for Tammy to make intelligent contributions to the meeting without preparation. I’d hate to go to a meeting where I looked unprepared and stupid when it wasn’t my fault.

            Regardless, a good manager would deal with the employee’s snapping without resorting to it on their part. A simple acknowledgement that the manager didn’t know why she wasn’t invited but would find out after the meeting (and then later correct the problem with Carrie and inform Tammy that the invite list was updated) and asking to borrow the XYZ file from Tammy for the meeting would have been a better way to manage this situation. (Of course, that only works if Tammy really did have the option not to go to the meeting without it hurting her part of the team’s work? OP can’t hold it against Tammy for not going to the meeting when she was told by her manager not to go.)

          5. Anonsie*

            I do wonder a little bit how the conversation went up until Tammy said that, though. Since the LW is pretty open about being often snippy with her now, maybe the conversation was already pretty tense. I wonder if part of why Tammy seems distressed during what should be calm conversations is that the LW is being disapproving in all interactions with her, but the LW doesn’t realize how much she’s telegraphing her feelings about how Tammy measures up to Carrie. So it appears to her that Tammy is reacting to nothing, but there is a lot more needling coming from the LW than she realizes. I have definitely seen this happen before.

            Not that the best response to that is to start snapping back at people, but if that’s the case then the solution is very much two-sided and the LW should be aware of it.

            1. BridgetG*

              I was thinking the same thing. I’ve been in both Tammy and Carrie’s shoes before. As the Carrie, I was well-aware of the seeming favoritism and it did make things awkward not just with my peers who were resentful of me but also with the boss who was, apparently, favoring me.

              When I left that job, because I really didn’t care for the office politics, I went to a place where I became the Tammy and was expected to compete at the Carrie’s level even though I was much newer and was frequently left out of informal meetings that my then-boss had with the Carrie that were usually friendly chats where they discussed their personal lives and business. I honestly felt like I was being gaslit and set up to fail even though I don’t think that was the intention. But it was the result. And as I was the fourth person in a year they’d hired to fill that position, I don’t think I was the only one who had a problem with the climate in that office.

        3. Marie*

          The manager was unaware that Tammy had not received the invite to the meeting – Tammy should have calmly explained the oversight. If the OP was reasonable at all she would have been embarrassed and handled the situation from there. She acted like a child instead by having a mini tantrum.

          1. Karowen*

            But Tammy may not have known that the OP was unaware – she may have thought that the OP sent the invite and left Tammy off deliberately. Not saying that Tammy was in the right to snap, but it’s not like she knew that the boss hadn’t had anything to do with it.

        4. JB (not in Houston)*

          I guess it depends on where you work and what kind of meetings you have. Maybe at some places, meetings are a huge deal that you need a lot of time to prepare for, or you’ll face dire consequences. But at m office, we have meetings we aren’t prepared for all the time. Heck, sometimes I have to give presentations at meetings I’m not prepared for. I certainly get mildly irritated if I’m in the middle of something that requires a lot of thought and I have to drop it to go to a meeting, but I’m not going to snap at somebody over it.

          1. Marcela*

            Yes, that’s true. In my last job we had general meetings that were scheduled months in advance, where people would present their results of months of work to the group, and specific subgroup meetings only for the people working in the same thing as you, that were very informal: there was just a weekly meeting, no speaker scheduled in advance, but chosen from the people in the room, who had to give a small talk about any topic in our area, with less than 5 minutes to prepare. The first ones were very important and many times we would have guests, important scientists visiting us. A good talk could make all the difference when looking for a postdoc or a position. The second ones, they were not mandatory and many, many times the guy in charge “forgot” to tell me when and where the meeting was going to be (we hated each other guts). These meetings never had any impact.

      2. Artemesia*

        Being left out of important meetings IS a big deal in the workplace; it is often the first sign you are going to be fired for example. It is a clear sign you are not valued. Sure accidents can happen but isn’t it interesting that the ‘accident’ affects the person Carrie is competing with. Yes more grace all around including the OP before more apologetic and accommodating when the error is discovered and showing some empathy. If Joe Blodget in another department had been left off, I would think ‘hey Carrie is new, she didn’t realize.’ But this is Carrie’s peer and competition; as Freud said ‘there are no accidents.’

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I was wondering about that. And Tammy is Carrie’s direct co-worker, so she’d be the first person on the list. Has there been any checking to make sure that there’s no address group error or anything that would perpetuate this error? I think I’d want to look a little deeper than just accepting an “Oops, I forgot.”

          1. M-C*

            Alas, I can think of a good amount of work places that aren’t even organized enough to have departmental aliases setup so invites can go out rationally, much less project-based ones. But it looks to me like the new star has already been groomed to think of Tammy as irrelevant, which is why she forgets her in her lists of invites.

            1. My two cents...*

              But, the LW brought it to Tammy’s attention when she asked her to bring something to the meeting that LW assumed she was invited to, which is less offensive (imo) than Tammy missing the meeting entirely because she was left out.

              1. Rene UK*

                I think it would depend on how the conversation went. If there was accusation or some pointed implication that Tammy was at fault I can see her responding as she did.
                Did Tammy ever receive an apology from Carrie? Or an acknowledgement that Tammy was placed in a very awkward position?

              2. Jamie*

                Right – and without knowing the details we can’t assume malice. There are a lot of ways this could have happened.

                More than once a boss had asked me about data for a meeting which was news to me, turned out the invite was sent to a James right by me on the outlook list – and he was sitting in the meeting with no idea why he was there.

                If it was intentional then Carrie isn’t as awesome as the OP thinks because few people have enough talent to overcome also being a sh*t stirrer – but without anything indicating otherwise money would be on it being a simple error.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yeah, that’s why I said it maybe depends on where you work. At my work place, this would not being a sign you were going to be fired. Sometimes people accidentally get left out of things. And it would never be appropriate to have the kind of outward reaction that Tammy did.

          It would be very appropriate for Tammy to say something to Carrie about making sure she was included in the future. If there is a pattern of exclusion, it would be remiss not to say something. But throwing a mild temper tantrum is never ok.

        3. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I’ve had coworkers that were trying to compete with me pull this. It drives me nuts!

        4. Jamie*

          Freud was wrong – there are definitely accidents. If I thought every person who made an error which annoyed me or complicated my job was subconsciously doing it to mess with me I would be too paranoid and angry to be allowed to leave my house.

        5. Ann without an e*

          Playing Devil’s advocate: and I’m watching two people go through this currently. One person has a problem with the other, the other person doesn’t. It is a young engineer that is being trained by an older technician…..the younger guy is in the middle of a power struggle, the older guy is trying not to laugh. Its like watching the baby chicken hawk and foghorn leghorn……in fact most of us around here have nicknames……I get the feeling that new guy is about to be chicken hawk.

        6. Not So NewReader*

          I had a situation where a coworker failed to tell me about a meeting. Boy, did I land in hot water. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to tell my boss that I needed her to let me know about meetings. (We went over the details of what went wrong and why, she agreed that she needed to tell me directly in the future.) That solved the problem and I never missed another meeting again.

          I am not clear why Carrie is informing Tammy of a meeting. The subtle thing there is the knowledge is power. Tammy could be thinking “How come Carrie knows about this and she has been here less time than me?” Something as simple as informing someone of a meeting can be perceived as a power play.

          How many times a day does this happen to Tammy, where Carrie seems to be better informed than Tammy? We have no way to know and neither does OP. But, OP, if you need Tammy to do something it should come from you most of the time. I felt like my boss was playing favorites, too. (Well, she was but that is a longer story.) However, I stayed off that topic and hit the main point of telling my boss that I wanted to hear from her directly what it was she wanted me to do. That plan did work out very well for us.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I’m gonna defend LW for one part of this. Sounds like she didn’t even know that Carrie left Tammy off the invite and just asked Tammy to bring the file and then Tammy snapped at her. Tammy 100% out of line. Doesn’t make snapping back right, but still kind of a stunner in the moment.

  5. YandO*

    It is obvious to me from this letter that the OP likes Carrie better.

    Tammy feels threatened for a reason. Yes, she is not handling it in the “right” way, but she is not unreasonable in her reading of the situation. Carrie was hired to be below Tammy on the hierarchy, but she will be on the same level in three month and then? Maybe even hire a few months after that.

    Who would not be upset by that kind of turn of events? Especially if you hear outside gossip confirming your fears.

    I think Alison’s advice is spot on, but I also think a conversation that includes “what are you goals, Tammy?” should happen too. If she is comfortable with her level of responsibility/dedication, then she should expect Carrie to surpass her. If she is not, then you need to address that.

    1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I felt the same way. If there truly isn’t any favoritism, why defend so hard in the letter with all the examples? The tone of the OP’s descriptions were glowing for Carrie and miserly for Tammy, showing clear judgment is already set in at least OP’s subconscious mind.

      And poor Tammy, to see Carrie spending so much time with the boss, feeling penalized for doing something else at lunch, only to be told her feelings are “not true” and completely dismissed. And then, to be snapped out over Carrie’s mistake with the missed meeting! How is that Tammy’s fault that she wasn’t prepared, and again – she hears defense of Carrie and admonishment for her.

      OP, I don’t mean to be harsh, but as a manager, please look within this letter to read the subtext of how you describe Carrie, how you describe Tammy, and why you are so adament that Tammy is very wrong in her perception. I encourage you to examine the poles you’ve drawn between Tammy and Carrie and why.

      Sometimes, what matters is not the truth, but the perception, and in this case, you need to focus on managing the perception, not the truth.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Is it wrong to favor the high performers? It’s wrong to favor your friends and for personal not work reasons, but high performers should be rewarded.

        I also think there’s an element here of LW discovering that employees like Carrie do exists and she has been putting up with whay frankly sounds like a mediocre performer.

        I’m starting to think that LW needs to sit down and think about her sections’ long term goals and where Tammy fits. No to be a jerk, but all signs point to her being out performed by Carrie quickly. How will that work?

        LW need to up the professionalism because Tammy may be making a preemptive strike to justify why its unfair when Carrie is promoted above her and becuase the whole lunch thing not professional.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          It isn’t wrong to favor high performers. There are two kinds of fairness; I subscribe to the kind where I treat each individual based on that individual’s contribution in the workplace. I would have no problem putting a newer hire on a more complex project than a long-time employee if the skillset made sense for it. And I would talk to the long-time employee about why I made that decision based on performance.

          But OP isn’t having that conversation with Tammy. OP isn’t telling Tammy why Carrie is moving along better or using concrete examples, as well as proposing development opportunities to address Tammy’s value. Instead, OP is focusing on the validity of Tammy’s emotions. That’s a zero-sum focus.

          Ideally, OP would have a factual discussion of the situation, acknowledge Tammy’s feelings yet not let them become the focus, then talk to Tammy about what she needed to improve and feel recognized.

          1. My Fake Name is Laura*


            Also, has Tammy previously asked for training opportunities or other assistance and been denied for various reasons? Did OP also train Tammy?

        2. Jamie*

          It’s human nature to have a more positive rapport with people who make the work easier and are less needy and/or demanding. Favoring with unjustified perks or adoration would be horrible management, but if Tammy has her nose out of joint because the OP seems to have a more comfortable working relationship then that’s on her.

          If her work as-is is acceptable then the OP should tell her that and assure her of her job security if that’s the case, and I agree the daily lunches shouldn’t have happened and need to stop as that’s adding a layer of cliquishness even if just in perception and at work – perception is everything. If this has been made clear and Tammy is upset that she is less personally liked then she needs to suck it up and make some changes to her own off-putting behavior.

          I’m the first to admit I would like someone who was great at their job and drama free a whole lot more than someone who slipped me that kind of note on my way out the door.

          Totally see where Tammy would feel threatened, I think most of us would if someone came in and kicked 7 kinds of ass at our job outclassing us – but the proper response to that for Tammy to do some soul searching and evaluate if it’s the right job for her, if so then come up with a plan of how she can shine and work on improvement where needed and talk to the OP about other areas she can add value, if appropriate. The response is not to basically punish your boss for making a good hire and bringing on a high performer who will help the department.

          I think most of us have worked with a Tammy and I’d bet a paycheck that if Carrie were a sub-par performer she’s be complaining about that, too.

        3. Jessa*

          The issue here is that we’re don’t know that Tammy is not a high performer because, before Carrie came in the OP was satisfied with Tammy. The issue with this was where was the growth plan for Tammy BEFORE Carrie. Now that Carrie is there, she has a growth plan, and Tammy still does NOT have a growth plan. This is an issue separate to the discord in the department. Tammy has still not been sat down and told how to become better at what she does, and if she has, she needs to have that brought up and dealt with independent of the Carrie thing.

          Objectively speaking if Carrie is doing a better job at this as a new person, why was Tammy not given this opportunity even before Carrie was hired. Why wasn’t she trained to take on more/better work. Just because she’s competent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting the best from her. If training has changed or people have learnt more while training Carrie, then that needs to be also given to Tammy.

          1. Lindsay J*

            It sounds like Tammy is barely handling the level of work she is doing now, though. From the OP’s description, Tammy is, “proficient, but not great and can get confused by complicated projects.” If I saw that one of my employees was getting confused by the more complicated projects she has on her plate, my last thought would be how I could get her to take on more or better work. My concern would be whether she was capable of doing the work I am expecting her to do now. Same with a growth plan. Tammy isn’t in a position to grow within the company right now. She needs to become more proficient in her current tasks.

            And an employee not being proficient isn’t always a training problem. Some people are better suited to some tasks than others, and better able to do some tasks than others, and some just more intelligent than others. I could recieve all the sales training in the world and still be a shitty sales-person. Other people who recieved the exact same training as I did started out better than me and improved exponentially more than I did during the time I was there. That wasn’t my manager’s fault – I recieved the same initial training as everyone else, and when it became evident that that was not enough I also recieved more follow-up training that the high performers didn’t need to get. I still never improved enough to be a high performer, and I don’t think there was anything anyone could have done to turn me into a high performer. On the other hand, I’ve been at my new job for two months, and am picking up on things a lot quicker than one of the employees who has been here for several years. She does an adequate job, mostly because she has a giant binder full of training material, etc, that she has accumulated over the years, that she references for every task every day. If something is not in the binder, however, she runs into difficulty – either she doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t want to ask someone and just leaves it for someone else to handle. Or she guesses what to do, but often guesses incorrectly. It might be possible to train her to have better troubleshooting skills and judgement, but she is also pretty set in her ways and probably wouldn’t take well to it.

        4. Ann without an e*

          More to your point, Tammy might be smart enough to see this coming, and is making these noises to thwart Carrie on purpose.

        5. MK*

          Obviously employees like Carrie exist, but how rare are they? Is she just great at her job or protigy that won’t stay long at that level anyway? The OP won’t be wise to compare employees to Carrie, there needs to be a reasonably objective meter.

    2. Sunflower*

      I think it’s really important that the ‘what are your goals’ conversation happens. Once Carrie starts taking on equal projects, Tammy is only going to get more insecure. Truth is, better employees get better perks and it’s possible Tammy either doesn’t understand that or thinks Carrie is producing equal or lesser work so she is seeing it as ‘manager just likes her better’ whereas it’s really that Carrie is a better producer. While LW is happy with Tammy’s work, she is only going to dig herself deeper into this if she maintains that she doesn’t ‘favor’ Carrie because her work is better. She’s gotta spell out for Tammy that while her work is acceptable, it could use improvements and that’s why Carrie is getting better projects.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      But if you get upset because a new hire is *performing better* than you and is being favored because of it, the correct response is to work harder and look for ways to improve. You may well feel upset by the situation, but you shouldn’t act out at work because of it.

      1. nona*


        If there wasn’t favoritism to begin with, Tammy has made sure that OP would prefer Carrie by now.

      2. Mike C.*

        But what if you’re getting shut out of opportunities to work harder? I feel like that may be happening here.

        Also, why work harder if you believe your efforts will go unrecognized?

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Maybe that’s what’s happening. I don’t see that in the letter at all based on what the OP said–I see Tammy upset about being passed over when she has been doing the minimum. But it’s always possible that the OP is wrong about that or not telling us the whole picture.

          1. Mike C.*

            Well, no one can really see the whole picture, but I would think those feelings would go right along with feeling out of favor with the boss.

        2. Been There*

          I agree with you.

          The other question I have is: What is Carrie’s relationship with Tammy?

          I have a situation at work where one of my coworkers “Cathy” is BFFs with our manager. Cathy takes every opportunity to gloat about how close they are and how they talk for hours every day. At one point, the manager actually assigned me to “protect” her (–his words–) when she was struggling on a project. As soon as I got there, Cathy started stealing credit for work that I had done, and started feeding untrue, negative “reports” about me to my manager. (Fortunately for me, the client loved my work and kicked her off the project.)

          Did Carrie *really* forget to invite Tammy to the meeting, or was it intentional? Has Carrie ever leveraged her close relationship to the OP to undermine Tammy when out of earshot of OP.
          Is it possible that Carrie could be making the situation worse, and OP doesn’t see it?

          Also, has OP ever given Tammy the same level of training as Carrie is getting? Is it possible that Tammy was thrown into the job with little or no guidance whereas Carrie is getting lots of attention and training?

      3. Just Another Techie*

        I wonder if Tammy has enough visibility into the new hire’s work to know that Carrie is a “superstar” performer? I wonder if she even knows OP thinks her work is mediocre? If OP has just been silently taking on the hard stuff and leaving the rest for Tammy, and has been telling Tammy her work is fine, would Tammy even know she’s only turning in adequate work. I think OP needs to have a forthright conversation about performance really soon, and may need to even apologize for not giving better feedback earlier.

        1. Anonsie*

          That’s a very important thing to note. From Tammy’s seat, all she sees is that Carrie came in and she and the manager were spending a lot of social time together and Carrie is being offered more training and more advanced work than she was offered. And when she tried to bring it up to her manager, her manager just said that wasn’t true.

          It’s easy to say that Carrie gets more because Carrie seems more skilled, but that hasn’t actually been communicated to Tammy at all. From her seat, all she can possibly know is that it’s favoritism based a big fat question mark that her boss denies exists at all. She’s handling it poorly, but the whole situation wasn’t handled well by the manager in the first place either.

    4. Adam V*

      > It is obvious to me from this letter that the OP likes Carrie better.

      Wouldn’t you “like” the employee who’s eager to learn, picking up things that other employee is missing, and volunteering for extra projects? Not to mention the one who’s *not* accusing you of favoritism, snapping at you for innocent oversights of your coworker, and passing you notes instead of sitting down with you to discuss issues at work?

      I get that showing favoritism is bad, but seriously, Tammy is doing herself no favors here.

      1. YandO*

        Yes, of course, but isn’t the manager’s job to make sure they keep peace within the department?

        Why is Carrie so much better than Tammy? Extra hours? Eagerness? Better computer skills?

        Have she offered Tammy constructive feedback? Training opportunities? Had an honest conversation of where Tammy is currently and what she can do to improve?

        She can reward better work, that’s not a problem. She cannot reward a better personality without consequences. Whether favoritism is wrong or right is besides the point, favoritism leads to situations like that. It’s up to the manager to decide what is more important.

        1. The IT Manager*

          (Tammy) is proficient, but not great and can get confused by complicated projects. (Carrie) picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses, despite the fact that Tammy has been in the role three years. Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected.

          1. YandO*

            Yes, but my question is, does Tammy know she is viewed this way?

            Also, Tammy is there for a reason. Not every employee needs to be a superstar, but employee and employer expectations need to be aligned for the non -superstars to be happy.

            And OP is favoring Carrie and Tammy sees it. Telling Tammy she is seeing unicorns is not helping this situation.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Exactly this. It’s about transparency.

              Has the manager talked to Tammy about the nuances? Is there a checklist or other method Tammy can use to pick up on the nuances?
              Has the manager had a conversation with Tammy about Carrie’s willingness to do extra projects? Maybe Tammy doesn’t have the time in her life for this, but she needs to know that people that do extra will get rewarded.

            2. sunny-dee*

              I think this talks past the issue a bit. Tammy claims that the OP is “favoring” Carrie — with the implication that this is an unfair and unjustified preference for Carrie. That’s favoritism and that is not what is happening here. The thing is, Tammy seems to misinterpreting the OP’s actions. (And some are inappropriate and open to misinterpretation.)

              The OP isn’t “favoring” Carrie because she likes her better. She is rewarding her for hard work, skill, talent, enthusiasm, and a good attitude. When Tammy cries favoritism, the OP is disagreeing with her because it isn’t favoritism and it isn’t unfair to Tammy.

              I think Alison’s advice of taking the conversation back to Tammy and her performance or career goals will make that more clear — because it isn’t about favoritism and that is a red herring. It’s about performance (and a lot attitude).

          2. Loose Seal*

            A lot of people show eagerness when they are new to a role, like Carrie. OP was happy with Tammy’s output (quote from OP: “I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position.”) before Carrie came along. It is absolutely unfair to Tammy to be making comparisons and judgments about her work without telling her what needs to change. If the job now requires someone to see nuances, increase output, and ask for more projects, you should tell Tammy!

            1. Ellie H.*

              I agree. I think that the problem is that the OP somehow believes that Tammy will be happy continuing to do adequate work and (deservedly) getting no special recognition, while watching Carrie do awesome work and (deservedly) get special recognition. Before, there was no awesome work and no special recognition. If what Carrie is doing isn’t available to Tammy to also do, Tammy needs to be recognized in some other way IF her work is truly valued (and the OP says she is satisfied with Tammy’s work) or she needs to be induced to improve in some other way.
              I agree it’s legitimate to recognize excellent work and not do anything special for adequate work, but the fact is that Tammy is unhappy and if you want her to be happy in the job, you have to make clear that her work is also valued in and of itself. Or ideally induce her to improve her performance and then get the same kind of recognition as Carrie.

      2. Mike C.*

        If you’re a manager, part of your job is to suppress those sorts of personal feelings or at least not let them affect decisions at work.

        1. Adam V*

          Part of my thing is that it doesn’t look to me (admittedly, as an outsider with only OP’s view of the situation) like she necessarily *is* letting them affect decisions. Carrie’s getting more work because she’s volunteering for it. Tammy’s falling behind because she’s missing nuance that OP expects she’d have learned to read by now.

          I totally agree that it can look bad (specifically, the lunch thing and snapping back at Tammy). However, I don’t actually see that anything has really happened yet that anyone can point to that says Carrie’s actually getting favorable treatment – just the appearance of it.

          Sit Tammy down and say “here’s what’s holding you back [insert reasons], and it’s nothing to do with Carrie. I can understand why you thought there was the appearance of favorable treatment, and I’m going to work on that moving forward. However, I want to be clear that no favorable treatment actually occurred. In the future, if you notice things, please bring them up to me so we can discuss them[, instead of passing me a note that I have to wait until the next day to address].” (The last part in brackets can be omitted if it’s too snarky.)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It could be this. Or conversely, it could be that Tammy really does not know how to excel at her job. Tammy does not know to do the things Carrie is doing such as asking for extra work. What is the difference between a super star and an adequate employee? (Tricky part: We all have different ideas about that.)
            If OP is a new manager, she herself may not be aware of what a super star looks like and then along comes Carrie who basically writes her own definition of “super star”. There are a lot of Carries in the world, and each one would have their own unique take on how to make themselves shine. The point here is that if Tammy chooses to, she can shine in her own way. As a boss, OP, what can you do to help Tammy develop?

            Here’s an idea: Toss it out to Tammy that you are willing to help her develop her skills/abilities, also. You don’t have to like a person to do this- you just have to show them and put the opportunity out there for them.

            The irony here is that your own boss is not developing you as a leader, but you have to develop your own people. He is blowing you off by calling it gossiping. This to me means he does not know what to do, either. Those who don’t know how cannot teach something they don’t know. I am not that impressed with your boss.

            1. OP*

              I’ve spoken with Tammy about her willingness to take on any other additional duties, but the company does not allow overtime and for the most part Tammy’s duties take up most of her time. I’ve suggested a number of projects to grow her skills in areas that will help her in the future, but she doesn’t want to take them. Conversely, Carrie requests specific projects that she’s investigated. I really don’t feel I favor Carrie, it ends up appearing that way because she goes out of her way to do so much beyond her regular duties. When you have one employee doing the exact amount of work they’re compensated for, and another willing to go above and beyond, how can it not appear that one employee gets the majority of the praise?

              My boss is a curt, terse sort of man. We’ve known each other through many different companies and positions. He’s not the type to deal with interpersonal problems of any kind. If these were his employees, he’d sit Tammy down in a room and tell her to knock the attitude off. I say that because that was his original advice to me (which I didn’t take). He’s not the best at that kind of thing, but a genius with our actual work product with an amazing breadth of knowledge.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                You ultimately do need to tell her essentially that though. Which leads me to: Are you planning to take the advice I gave in the post? I am dying to know.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Why does Tammy’s duties take up most of her time and she does not have room for new duties, when Carrie does?

                I guess I am assuming that Tammy and Carrie do the same work and have similar work loads. Maybe Carrie works faster, more efficiently

                I am not sure what you mean by praise. Praise can be subtle such as giving an employee desirable tasks. Or praise can be blatant by saying nice things in public areas where it can be overheard. If you are standing in the work area every day loudly telling Carrie what a great job she is doing this can be read as “Carrie you are doing a great job, but you, Tammy, uh, not so much.” Tammy is going to pick up on that in a heartbeat.

                Your boss might be right about telling Tammy to knock it off. If Tammy does not allow you inroads to help her develop, then all that is left is telling her to knock it off.

                1. OP*

                  Tammy’s work duties are slightly more complicated, but as I stated in my email Carrie’s will be just as complicated in just a few months. The difference is two-fold:

                  1) Carrie seems to grasp subtleties in the projects faster than Tammy, faster than I did at either of their age. She sees a project and can see roadblocks ahead. As much as I’ve coached Tammy, that’s not an easy thing to learn. Normally, it just takes lots of time and exposure to different projects to learn signs like that. I can’t make a training that says “if this rare event occurs, maybe this will happen, or this or you need to look out for that”, because there are thousands of variables that I’ve learned over decades to spot. I’ve had two previous people in the position and they all learned at the same rate as Tammy. Carrie seems to adjust to this work quickly, picking up the possible problems even though she does not have as much experience. So when Carrie does a similar project to Tammy, it’s done faster because she’s already prepared for the 1000 things that could go wrong while Tammy goes slower by having a problem appear and not having prepared for it. As I’ve said, I’ve never found a way to teach someone all of the contingencies, it’s just something you pick up. You can teach someone to drive a car and give them basic skills like if a car in front of them slams on their brakes, they can slam on theirs (best if no one is behind them) or they can quickly look in their blind spot and go around. I can’t tell them every environment this will happen in – side street is different than alleyway and different from freeway, etc. Carrie seems to see she’s going to be on a freeway, so she knows her best bet in traffic is to go around if possible or to pull into the side of the freeway in worst case scenario. Tammy doesn’t look ahead at the car in front of her until the last minute.

                  and 2) during “slow time” our company has liberal policies to make a better work/life balance. You’re allowed to go onto social media, go on walks with coworkers, etc. I support these and think they lead to more productive team members. Tammy uses them accordingly – going onto Facebook and taking walks around the building when she finishes her projects. I encouraged Carrie to do the same, but she prefers to keep working (she told me she needs to stay busy constantly or goes crazy with boredom). That’s when she asks for extra projects. If Carrie walked as much as Tammy, she wouldn’t have time for extra things, but this is a cultural aspect of the company that I adore. After a walk or a quick PM on Facebook, I feel better about work. So I never want to imply or tell Tammy that she could “catch up” by not doing these things and frankly my company would be very unhappy if it was implied.

    5. Allison*

      Agreed, this is one of those cases where someone’s jealousy is warranted, and while it still needs to be handled in a mature, professional manner, she’s exactly not wrong to feel that way.

  6. Judy*

    Tammy could not provide any, simply saying others outside the department had made comments to her about it.

    As time has gone on, he has gotten frustrated, finally telling me that he is tired of the “gossip.”

    I’m wondering if he has been hearing gossip from others about your perceived favoritism and is telling you that indirectly.

    1. KT*

      Yes, it definitely sounds like Tammy isn’t the only one who perceives favoritism, but other people as well. It sounds like this is more pervasive than Tammy and sour grapes.

    2. sunny-dee*

      My impression was that the gossip was coming from the OP herself — “Tammy said this, and it made Carrie cry!” — and the boss was sick of hearing it.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I think Tammy took what she wanted to say and pretended others had said it. Additionally, if others say it that ads validation to the Tammy’s concern. It must be real because others are noticing and commenting. If Tammy is pretending others are saying this then that telegraphs to OP that Tammy does not feel her words are good enough. Tammy feels that she must bring in other people because what she has to say will not be heard.

      OP, I am not saying that you do not listen to Tammy. I am saying that Tammy could possibly believe that you do not listen to her. Perception. This could be all about Tammy’s perception of her status in your mind. Tammy thinks she is second fiddle in your mind.

  7. Cordelia Naismith*

    From what the OP wrote here, I think she does favor Carrie over Tammy. She obviously thinks Carrie is a better employee and better at the job, and she eats lunch with her every day. That’s pretty clear.

    Tammy isn’t handling it well and she needs to behave in a more professional way, but she’s not crazy either. Her fears seem grounded in reality.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I don’t think the lunch thing is necessarily evidence of anything, since Tammy chooses not to eat with them.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        But I can see why Tammy is taking it as evidence of favoritism. She’s afraid she’s being edged out and will lose her job — and then her manager, who clearly thinks Carrie is a superstar while Tammy is merely adequate, eats lunch with her new BFF every day? I’m not surprised she’s worried, although I think she isn’t dealing with her worry in a mature, professional way.

        1. Adam V*

          I don’t see “edged out”. Does Tammy think there won’t be enough work for two employees once Carrie is up to speed? Or just that she won’t get “first pick of projects”, or something?

            1. Loose Seal*

              Perhaps (speculating here) Tammy wasn’t told why the department size has increased for the first time in three years. Is is possible that she thinks that as soon as Carrie is up-to-speed, that Tammy will be let go? Has there been any discussion with the team about why the company thinks they now need two people in the department?

              1. OP*

                For two years Tammy and I handled all of the work alone and it was overwhelming. Tammy helped me gather evidence for things that we couldn’t complete on time in order to get a new employee and she participated in the hiring decision. She’s fully aware that there’s enough work for 3 people and was instrumental in helping to find Carrie.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I can see why Tammy would think that, especially since she’s already decided favoritism exists and isn’t likely to be dissuaded from that. My remark was directed at your conclusion that there is actually favoritism going on here, and it’s not just Tammy’s perception. There’s plenty else in that letter that you can base that conclusion on if you want to, I just don’t think a lunch to which Tammy is also invited but chooses not to attend is your best evidence that the OP is *actually* favoring Carrie (as opposed to just looking like she does).

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            I think every word of OP’s letter makes it clear how much she favors Carrie over Tammy. She flat out says she does when she describes Carrie as a rockstar and Tammy as adequate. Then, in addition to the lunch thing, she snaps at Tammy over Carrie’s mistake of not inviting her to the meeting.

            Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Tammy is right to behave the way she does. As someone else said, she’s not doing herself any favors here. But the OP’s preference for Carrie fairly jumps off the page of this letter, imo.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I’m not going to argue with you on the other evidence. All I was saying is that the lunch should not be what you’re hammering the jury with in your closing argument in the case where you’re proving that the OP does really favor Carrie. It’s not good evidence of actual favoritism. I had no other point in my comment and was not taking any sort of stand on whether the whole letter showed actual favoritism.

            2. sunny-dee*

              Well, the thing is, Carrie really could be a superstar and Tammy could be merely adequate — that’s an assessment of their performance, not favoritism. And the OP snapped back after Tammy snapped at her first. Neither of those are evidences of favoritism.

              As someone else said, there could definitely be a preference growing, but it could be as much a part because of Tammy’s own actions as favoritism in the OP.

            3. Jamie*

              She flat out says she does when she describes Carrie as a rockstar and Tammy as adequate.

              If favoring means she thinks more highly of Carrie because her work performance is better then yes – but that doesn’t mean she’s unfairly favoring her at work. If she is that’s wrong – but merely explaining the situation and having an honest opinion of each person’s work isn’t favoritism. Managers should know the strengths and weaknesses of their reports as it impacts the job – if they refuse to see differences and treat everyone as if they are performing equally well then the Tammy’s of the world will never get the constructive feedback they need to improve and the Carrie’s of the world will sooner than later find a place where performance matters.

      2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        But by bringing up the lunch issue in relationship with Carrie’s sharp rise and the perceived favoritism, Tammy may feel that her choice to do something different is what is holding her back. I can see how Tammy would get the message that eating lunch with the boss makes a difference in career opportunity. Tammy’s actual choice is irrelevant; Tammy shouldn’t have to feel that she must sacrifice her own lunch time to improve in her job.

      3. Mike C.*

        You do understand that the human interactions regarding such things as sharing a public space with others is way more complicated than simply flipping a coin or making a consequence-less choice, right?

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Well of course I do. My point was that I wouldn’t pick on the lunch thing to hang my hat on. It’s one thing if the boss is taking Carrie out to lunch every day and not inviting Tammy. But if they are both eating at the same table in the lunch room, and Tammy is invited but chooses not to join them, I don’t think she should rely on that point to show favoritism or exclusion. No, she shouldn’t *have* to eat with them. No, the OP shouldn’t be eating with Carrie every day because of how it looks. But a lunch at which Tammy *chooses* not to join them is not her best argument for favoritism, and if we’re looking for evidence of ACTUAL favoritism, we should look at something other than the lunch, is all I’m saying.

          1. TeapotCounsel*

            Let’s turn the tables for a bit. Hypothetical: A woman is part of a six person team. She is the only women; the rest are men. A couple of times a week, after work, the team goes to a sports bar to drink and watch sports. It is not the woman’s scene; further, she has other commitments at that time. How would you feel if you were the woman in that situation?

            I realize the Tammy/Carrie issue isn’t exactly analogous, but it’s close. The “you choose not to” is not really a valid defense to the lunch situation.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              You’re talking about leaving work and going somewhere else, and doing it after work. That’s quite different. And maybe I’d change my opinion if I were talking about what Tammy should or shouldn’t do, or the OP should or shouldn’t do. I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT. I’m talking about whether WE should decide that the OP is ACTUALLY FOR REAL favoring Carrie, rather than just looking like it. If we’re going to sit here and decide based on the evidence how the OP really feels, I don’t think the lunch thing is good evidence to show actual feelings of favoritism. That is literally my entire point about the lunch thing.

              1. Green*

                JB, the sports bar thing is actually a factor in creating relationships that hold women back over time, even if it is “somewhere else” and “after work.” It’s highly frowned upon to have unofficial happy hours or get-togethers in most large corporations that have diversity policies or diversity officers, particularly between managers and people they manage…

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  I am so confused right now. Where are you getting that I said that the sports bar thing would be ok? Where are you getting that I said unofficial happy hours are ok? I didn’t say that hypothetical would be ok, I said it wasn’t relevant to my point.

                  The OP should not be having lunch with one, or even both, of her direct reports every day. But if the lunches are in the lunch room, during the lunch period, and both direct reports are invited, I’m not going to say that the fact that one of them chooses not to is evidence that the OP is actually biased in favor of the one who chooses to eat with her. I think it can lead to bias because spending more time socializing with someone can lead you to be closer to them and therefore lead you to unconsciously favor them, but saying that it proves she is already biased is looking at the effect and saying it’s the cause.

            2. Marie*

              I wouldn’t compare drinking and eating at a sports bar to eating in the company cafeteria (which, for all we know, is only a few tables).

            3. sunny-dee*

              I am the woman in that situation, and it doesn’t bother me a whit. Of course, I’m secure in my performance and my team interactions aside from the sports bar thing.

            4. Marcela*

              I’m that woman. I was in 6 person team. 5 men and me. Once a week, they went to a sports bar to drink and watch sports. I only went once, when I was leaving the group. I don’t drink, and I don’t like sports, even less sports which are not at all known in my country, so I would not understand a thing. I never felt different, or discriminated, or isolated because of that. Nothing ever happened in my office, when we were working, to make me thing I was less valued than any of my coworkers.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Awesome, but do you really not understand why the sports bar thing is so often a problem, or why personal relationships can affect workplace success?

                1. sunny-dee*

                  What Marcela and I are saying is that it doesn’t matter because we have good relationships and good performance. In Tammy’s case, if the lunches are making a difference, it’s because she already isn’t performing and doesn’t seem to have good relationship skills. Lunches and more face time may help that, but that’s the reason it seems like such an issue — because she’s already in a weak position.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  I hope you are right about your workplace, because it’s not at all uncommon for women in this situation to be unaware of exactly how much networking and time-with-the-boss goes on in their absence, sort of by definition. That’s why TeapotCounsel used the example – not because it’s always discrimination for a bunch of guys to go to the sports bar, but it’s sort of a classic example of subtle discrimination.

          2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I can see where Tammy’s concern about lunch does show actual favoritism – perhaps not intended, but perceived.

            A corporate lunchroom provides a wealth of information about the political workings of organizations and the personal networks within. You can see very quickly who holds power and who doesn’t. Someone seen with a manager will be seen as someone with an “in”. Again, perhaps intended, but message clearly perceived.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              On an additional note, when I eat lunch with others, I eat lunch with people I like. One might say my choice of lunch partners shows actual favoritism on my part, and they would be right. It’s fine when I’m with my peers, but I would never do that with direct reports.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                And that could definitely be the case, depending on the work place. On the other hand, in my office, there lunch room is tiny and has only two tables with just a few chairs at each. If you eat in the lunch room, you’re basically eating lunch with everyone else who eats lunch at the same time. That wouldn’t be evidence that you eat with them because you favor them. It’s only evidence that you eat lunch at the same time.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  I think if that were the case, though, I doubt Tammy would feel excluded. I’ve worked at places like that where there were only six or eight seats in the lunchroom/break room. If it’s that small, you converse with everyone that’s there and no one would perceive favoritism.

            2. EngineerGirl*

              Another point – if the manager is discussing work situations with Carrie, then Carrie is being mentored by the manager. This is something that Tammy is not receiving.
              I don’t think you can frame it as “just lunch” because it isn’t. Carrie is getting extra help with her career.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea for the OP to be doing it. I just don’t think you can say “they eat lunch together, and that’s proof that the OP likes Carrie better.”

      4. Oryx*

        It’s like that Friends episode where Rachel starts working at Ralph Lauren. Her boss and co-worker both smoke, Rachel doesn’t. That decision to *not* smoke starts to affect her because smoke breaks are used to discuss business and work. It’s all very casual, but information is exchanged and Rachel is missing out and she eventually takes up smoking just to be a part of those conversations.

        Tammy probably feels like she’s missing out as well and is concerned that by missing lunch she’s missing opportunities and discussions that are important for her career.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          To which I say that Tammy is invited, these aren’t smoke breaks (she presumably eats lunch somewhere at some point, yes?), and if she thinks it’s important to her career, she should choose to eat with them instead of going to the gym. I also think that the OP shouldn’t be eating with her direct reports every day, so this should be moot. And I also wasn’t trying to make a comment about what Tammy should or should not do. I am merely saying that if *we* are going to draw conclusions about whether the OP actually in fact for real favors Carrie, we shouldn’t base it on the lunch to which Tammy is also invited but doesn’t attend. Perception of favoritism? Yes, include the lunch. Actual favoritism? No, I don’t think it’s evidence of that.

          1. MsM*

            But the fact that it’s every day does push it over the line. If this were happening every few weeks, that’d be one thing, but Tammy shouldn’t have to continually choose between her career and her health. If the LW wants to include her, she should try and find some other times for casual departmental check-ins where nobody has any conflicts. The fact she’s not sends a clear message she values face time with Carrie over Tammy.

          2. Oryx*

            Like MsM said, it’s the fact that it happens every day that is the real issue because that means every day Tammy is put in a position to have to make a decision between using her personal time to use the gym or use her personal time to eat lunch at something that may feel like more of an obligation if she wants to stay up with her job.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Oh, I don’t think the OP should be having lunch with Carrie every day, as I already said. It’s a bad idea. I just don’t think that the fact that it’s been happening is why we should conclude that she likes Carrie better and is favoring her. My boss would eat with me every day if I suggested it because she doesn’t like eating alone, not because she favors me. And I don’t think it’s comparable to a weekend golf outing, a smoke break, or an after work happy hour. It’s eating lunch at lunch time in the break room at work. Still not a good idea, but not to the same level of exclusion.

  8. JBean*

    Could the manager be experiencing some kind of halo effect with the new hire? She’s spending a lot of time with her, and then seems impressed that the new hire is picking things up so quickly and easily. There could be a transmission of knowledge that gives the new hire a seeming advantage.

    (The new hire could also be a superstar, but I’ve worked with new superstars and the shiny-ness eventually wears off once they take full responsibility for the tasks, rather than assisting.)

  9. Green*

    On lunch:
    My manager line schedule departmental “lunch bunches” where everyone can bring a bagged lunch into a conference room. It’s completely optional; there’s no benefit to going other than time to socialize with managers or ask quick questions that may not be something you’d set up a meeting about, and it is infrequent (every two weeks or so).

    Also, the manager here is behaving unprofessionally by indulging (and then participating in) drama and allowing discussions to evolve into arguments. Frankly if I felt an employee was being rude, I’d say, “I understand this is a difficult issue, but I need you to communicate with me professionally.” If the tone/comments continued, I’d cut the meeting short. By arguing with her (and then getting snippy herself), manager here isn’t managing.

  10. PEBCAK*

    I don’t know why favoritism is such a dirty word. You should treat employees differently, and do more to retain the best.

    Now, in this case, the daily lunches are a problem, but in general, not every employee should be treated exactly the same.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think any employee should be treated poorly, though. I don’t know if Tammy is a good employee or not–she sounds possibly marginal but good enough to retain and counsel–but I’m not sure that’s really the issue here. We often see people struggling to grasp the fact that fair doesn’t mean the same thing as equal, but the OP seems to have gone in the other direction and failed to grasp that unequal ability doesn’t get you off the hook for being fair.

    1. Juli G.*

      You know, this is not untrue.

      But you have to find a way to motivate and retain top talent without de motivating or alienating your other employees. OP isn’t managing that balance right now.

    2. justcourt*

      In practice favoritism can push away otherwise good employees or demotivate the non-favorites.

      For example, I had a boss who, for whatever reason, decided she didn’t like me. She did like my co-worker and friend who started at the same time as me. My co-worker and I had similar skill sets, so it wasn’t a tactic to retain the best employee. It was strictly personal.

      Anyway, my boss friended my co-worker on Facebook, took her out to lunch, and gossiped… about me (stupid when you consider my co-worker and I were friends). As a result of my boss’s favoritism, my co-worker was given challenging projects that helped her advance her career. I was given support projects that never gained me any kind of recognition. I lasted 6 months before I went back to my previous role, where I was given challenging projects and the chance to advance my career.

      The LW should try to support and encourage all her employees to do their best work. It’s not guaranteed to work, but she doesn’t have to be the cause of her employee’s apathy.

    3. CA Admin*

      Seriously. When I managed a pet food store, I had one employee who constantly complained that I treated her differently and was favoring the other employees. My boss asked me about it and I told him the truth–she was right. I treated her differently because I couldn’t trust her to do her job without 24/7 supervision and I “favored” the other employees with better assignments because I could trust them to do them right without having to be constantly checked.

      Favoritism isn’t a bad thing. Mediocre employees shouldn’t be treated the same as stellar ones.

      1. My Fake Name is Laura*

        But did you tell that employee what the problem was? If not, you were only doing part of your job as a manager.

        1. CA Admin*

          All the time. She just never wanted to hear it. In her mind, she was an amazing employee–dedicated, loved animals, great at selling, etc.

          To everyone else (her peers, managers, customers), she was pushy, selfish, over-dramatic, and incapable of following the most basic directions. Nobody liked working with her and our regular customers tended to avoid her. She got bitten by dogs regularly because she would get up in their faces and make them extremely uncomfortable. She’d make bad/inappropriate product recommendations to maximize her selling bonuses and would “steal” sales to win monthly bonus games.

          No amount of training or coaching made any difference (I tried for close to a year), but I wasn’t allowed to fire her because my boss felt sorry for her. Eventually we had to ban her from even touching customers’ dogs because she was being so inappropriate with them. It was the greatest relief when she quit to work at a vet’s office–she was fired soon after, but the store refused to rehire her when she wanted to come back (I’d already left, but I’d have turned her down flat had I still been there).

      2. fposte*

        To me favoritism doesn’t even mean that anyway. I always hear it as being about unfair preference–you like her better so she gets better treatment, you deal better with that gender/race/height/religion/pet ownership so that person gets better treatment. People don’t generally complain that it’s favoritism to give the CEO a higher salary, after all.

        1. CA Admin*

          That’s the thing though, “unfair” preference is in the eye of the beholder. My employee thought I was targeting her unfairly because I didn’t like her. She thought she was doing a great job, no matter how much coaching I tried doing. Criticism simply proved her right in her mind.

          To me, though, it wasn’t unfair. She was a bad employee, so she got her hours cut first and she had to deal with crappy assignments that kept her away from customers. I couldn’t trust her around the customers’ dogs (in a pet food store!) because she was such a liability that I couldn’t trust she wouldn’t provoke the dogs and get bitten. If I had to cut hours, why would I cut my high performers who can get 3x as much done and are customer favorites?

  11. Lily in NYC*

    I think Tammy is being ridiculous. She passed the boss a note instead of speaking to her directly and is acting like a spoiled child. I know bosses aren’t supposed to show favoritism but I admit it doesn’t really bother me all that much and I can’t help but feel that a superstar employee should have more leeway and receive more attention/praise than someone who does the bare minimum. Want to be treated the same? Then step it up and do your job better.

      1. Rene UK*

        Well, except that it sounds like she’s tried to explain her concerns and was completely shut down….not ‘Oh, I’m really sorry you feel that way’ but ‘No I’m not! Prove it!’ It probably seems to Tammy that a note would have a better chance of being taken seriously.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          Huh. Good point. Maybe what the OP characterized as a “note,” Tammy considers a “formal complaint.” Two very different things.

        2. My two cents...*

          This is where the ‘soft apology’ skill comes in handy. I use it all the time to help diffuse angry/frustrated customers without putting liability back on the company or admitting fault with a part. “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I can understand how that’d be frustrating” with an empathetic tone can do wonders.

          This is of course in stark contrast to challenging their (real or fabricated) concern, like the LW did.

          1. Jessa*

            OMG no. If anyone told me “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I’d probably flip. It’s very patronising and it basically translates to “I’m not sorry for anything at all, and the way you feel is kinda silly because no rational person would feel that way, so I’m sorry YOU feel that way. Not for anything I did or did not do, and even if we’re wrong I’m never going to admit that.”

            And I’d also say “Well if you can understand how this would be frustrating, you can understand that I AM frustrated, and do something about it. So what are you going to do to fix this?”

            Neither of those two statements would do anything to de-escalate a conversation with me and actually both of them would make it so sufficiently worse that *I* would probably escalate over your head.

            “Director Two Cents admits there is a problem here but won’t in a managerial manner, do a darned thing about it except pat me on the head and patronise me. We need a solution and Director TC doesn’t have one, help please.”

            See as a customer I do not care about your corporate liability and as a worker, I don’t really care to be soft shoe’d either. Mentioning liability basically says you’re doing your best to “not deal” with a problem so as not to point out that something wrong was done.

          2. Sadsack*

            She’s supposed to be managing employees, not just telling them what she thinks they want to hear.

    1. Marie*

      The note passing makes Tammy sound like a teenage girl not a grown woman in a professional job. If she resorts to that type of behaviour, does she not expect her manager to view her less favourably? It’s very difficult to treat someone like an adult when they’re acting like a child.

      1. Loose Seal*

        If it were an email, I doubt we’d have been hung up on the fact that Tammy chose to communicate via the written word. Many of us commenters have said we prefer to write than to verbally communicate a sensitive issue. Frankly, I doubt the OP has ever told Tammy what communication methods she prefers to discuss team issues so Tammy likely resorted to what she felt most comfortable with.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I was referring more to what the note said. It would have been just as immature in email.

    2. Sunflower*

      ‘I am at a loss about what to do. Even though I’ve addressed this a few times, Tammy keeps bringing it up and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback.’

      This is the problem right here. LW needs to be upfront with Tammy about her work. She can leave Carrie out of the conversation but it sounds like Tammy is a rightfully confused. Carrie is obviously being favored but LW is basically telling Tammy that Carrie and her produce the same level of work so it’s seeming like her favoritism must be because LW simply likes Carrie better. LW needs to have a real conversation with Tammy and explain that she is happy with her work but here are the areas that can improve on. If Tammy openly asks if Carrie is giving better work, OP should answer honestly IMO. If Tammy continues to act this way afterward then it might be time for Tammy to think about whether this job is still the right fit for her.

      *I think it’s worth noting that Carrie is new so that is why she could be so eager to take on projects. I’m not sure how long Carrie has been in the job but it might be too early to label her a superstar.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Do we know that the OP hasn’t addressed her concerns with Tammy’s work, though?

        I don’t think the OP needs to tell Tammy that her work is worse than Carrie’s. Other worker’s performance is none of her business. However, she does need to let her know that while she is performing adequate work, great work at this level is expected before she gets more challenging projects, and that great work consists of [making less errors/exercising more independant judgement/showing more insight about the data collected/completing X amount more work a week/whatever Carrie does that she doesn’t] and this information should be quantifiable if at all possible.

        So, yes, if the OP hasn’t already provided constructive feedback to Tammy, she needs to, but she should leave Carrie out of it. We don’t know that she isn’t already being up-front about it, though.

        1. Mephyle*

          As to us not knowing whether the OP has addressed her concerns with Tammy’s work, her statement I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position, implies that she has not said anything to Tammy about leveling up her work.

          1. OP*

            I have worked directly with Tammy, encouraging her to take on new projects but she does not want to. Since these projects would be skill-building but not job-required, I respect that she does not want to.

            It’s similar to school. If Tammy does all of her work and does just fine, she get’s a B+ on her grade. We’re happy with it, we expect that grade, she did great. I let her know that her grade was above passing and tell her about Key Club and Extra Credit and Robotics club that she can join – it will help her in college! She doesn’t want to join and since it’s not a required part of school, she doesn’t have to. It’s just advised.

            Meanwhile, Carrie is a two or three grades below Tammy, but she does work only 1 grade below and is gaining quickly. She easily gets A’s. She has come to me and asked about extra credit and Key club and wants to do them both.

            I’m happy with Tammy’s work, but not her attitude about their differences. While I am training Carrie quite a bit (because she’s moving into more complicated areas, but definitely spending less time with her 1:1), it’s the same amount of training Tammy received. If Tammy gets B’s, I’m happy with the work, but it seems like rather than push herself or be happy with what she’s doing, she just wants everyone else to get B’s.

  12. CAinUK*

    I agree with AAM re: errors on both sides, but what is with the NOTE PASSING (?!). Is Tammy 12? That is the opposite of professional, and it swayed me from erring toward “Tammy is picking up some legit favouritism and has reason to be annoyed” to “Tammy is petulant/immature and the manager needs to smack it down ASAP”.

    No notes! Adult conversations! I’d address that as a separate issue, frankly.

  13. Rene UK*

    It kinda sounds to me that the OP is getting excited and pleased at how great Carrie is proving to be, and that Tammy is picking up on it. I’ve generally found that my deep-seated feelings are picked up by those I’m speaking to; so that even if I know it’s not fair and it’s mostly irritation, if inside I’m thinking ‘Oh, god how STUPID you pathetic human being’ it comes through no matter what I actually say. This is especially true if the person knows that they messed up. In this case, it sounds like Tammy has eyes in her head and is fully aware/afraid that Carrie is a better employee than she is and is defensive about it, and your responses are falling flat because you really do prefer Carrie and that comes through.
    I think AAM has it right, in that you need to back off from Carrie and address your relationship with Tammy without bringing Carrie into it. Before you do, make sure that you can speak with absolute sincerity–find things that you really like about what Tammy does. If in your mind you’re thinking ‘but Carrie could do it soo much better’ it won’t ring true and will probably make it worse.

    1. YandO*

      Another thing is, of course Carrie is more eager to pick up new projects/tasks. She is new. This is the honeymoon period. Maybe she will continue on that trajectory, but more likely she will fall into a routine like we all do.

      1. Rene UK*

        So true! I’ve known many people who seem just great at first, but once they’ve been around for a while their flaws show up. Sometimes it’s that they only shine when faced with something new.

  14. Jazzy Red*

    Wow. Nearly every sentence shows how the OP is making this problem worse.

    OP, Alison is right when she says that the first thing you must do is stop eating lunch with Carrie. Let me tell you what happened at my last place of employment. Our department of 4 got a new boss, and the old one retired. The new boss was a great guy, and we liked him. He started spending a lot of time with our coworker (a guy, but that doesn’t matter here). They worked on marketing projects together, became good friends, and the boss and his family started joined our coworker’s church. It was obvious to everyone that they were friends, but my other coworker had a very hard time dealing with this. Of course, people outside the department noticed and made comments, which made it worse for coworker 2. There were a few scenes, which just escalated the problem. It didn’t bother me as much as it did coworker 2 and all the gossips at work because I was planning to retire in a few more months. But it did make a difficult time at work much more difficult for all of us. The solution came a year later during one of our frequent layoffs, where coworker 2 and I both were let go due to lack of business. Then a year after that, our former coworker was also laid off.

    You need to stop favoring Carrie (which you are doing, even if you don’t realize it). More importantly, you need to stop giving the IMPRESSION that you’re favoring Carrie over Tammy. Stick with Alison’s advice about keeping your talks with Tammy about only her, not Carrie. It will take work to get your two employees to become a team; in fact, it may never happen. But you’re supposed to be the leader here, so keep your goal of creating a team in mind and make it happen.

  15. Mike C.*

    Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected.

    This is a huge problem. Not for Tammy but for the OP. If the minimum isn’t good enough for you, why are you setting it as the minimum? If you want your employee to wear 25 pieces of flair, tell them clearing that they need to wear 25 pieces of flair.

    Furthermore, you seem to be giving the more interesting stuff to Carrie, so have you reached a point where Tammy feels it’s useless to ask in the first place? Are you telling Carrie things that might clue her in to other needs that are coming up that Tammy is left out of the loop, thus Carrie is better able to “volunteer” for new projects?

    Look, you’re both acting poorly, but you’re the one with the power and you need to take a good, hard look at how you’re treating both of your reports. I certainly wouldn’t be doing the same things as Tammy if I were in her shoes, but I’d certainly be pissed off and I’d most likely be looking for someone else to work for.

    1. Marie*

      I see the “minimum” in a job as being equal to a passing grade in school. You get to move onto the next semester, but don’t expect any scholarships or accolades at the end of the year.

      Tammy doesn’t seem to show any initiative, and is feeling insecure that someone who is much more driven than her has joined the team. Tammy can’t expect to move up in her job if she does the minimum – it’s the Carries of the world that get promotions and raises.

      1. Mike C.*

        I don’t know, I went to a school at had zero grade inflation over 50 years, and at the time I graduated had only 5 4.0 students out of 10k overall. Even where I work, the minimum is set high and getting a “C” or “Meets expectations” is a good mark, because you’re expected to perform well.

        And frankly, it’s easier to “show initiative” when you have information and relationships that others have, and when you know such efforts will be rewarded.

        1. Cat*

          But there will always be a gap between “performance that is good enough to keep your job” and “superstar performance” and it’s not reasonable to expect employees to treat employees in each category precisely the same. If one employee has access to different information and relationships, that’s a problem. But that’s different than saying that Tammy is doing a decent job and will keep her current job but Carrie is doing a spectacular job and will be promoted. The latter is completely above board and has nothing to do with not communicating expectations – it sounds like OP is communicating expectations with Tammy is meeting, which is why her job isn’t in jeopardy.

          If Tammy came to OP and said “what can I do to get myself ready for a promotion” and OP said “just keep doing what you’re doing,” that would be dishonest. But there’s no sign of that.

        2. Elsajeni*

          But didn’t those five 4.0 students get more recognition, and perhaps more opportunities for things like scholarships and internships and research projects, than the folks making C’s, even though the C students were also doing satisfactory work? Just the fact that you know how many of them there were suggests that they got at least some degree of recognition and attention. I don’t see anything in the line you quoted to suggest that the OP isn’t satisfied with Tammy’s level of work, just that she’s impressed with Carrie’s willingness to do more.

          1. Jessa*

            And I bet the people who got 3.5 averages, or 2.0 averages, knew by the first semester how they could do better, and it was up to them to decide what to do, or whether they were able intellectually to do more.

            Right now it seems like Tammy has been getting a C for years and nobody ever stopped and said, if you wanna get a B or an A you need to do these things. OP was happy with Tammy for all that time but never once stopped and told Tammy how to do more/better. Now that there’s a 2nd person who is getting an A, Tammy doesn’t get it. Up to now SHE was the A student according to the OP, there seems to be no evidence Tammy was ever told she was doing C work and passing, until the TRUE A student came on board.

            That’s not Tammy’s fault, she’s been doing the job and being told she was doing well and had no idea there were standards above that because nobody told her.

            1. fposte*

              But there’s no evidence the OP considered Tammy an A employee before, and we know nothing about Tammy’s prior reviews, either.

              Sure, to some extent it’s incumbent on a manager to direct an employee toward possible heights. But not all employees reach them, and I don’t think it’s fair to assume that the OP hasn’t done this directing just because Tammy hasn’t risen higher. And some of this really does have to come from the employee–I can’t grant the capacity to deal with complicated projects, and it makes more sense to allot projects accordingly than to overtrain an employee without the knack.

              1. Jessa*

                Agreed, but I think the issue here is that the OP is now rethinking Tammy’s competencies having seen the new employee. But she’s not actively working with Tammy to try and bring out more. And it could also be because “new employee training,” has been mentally updated because of working with Tammy, so now there’s more stuff, better stuff, out there, that maybe the OP was doing, and never trying to get Tammy to do.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I agree with you, Jessa. I think that Tammy is having a wake up call. She realizes she could have done better all these years and did not. This is the thing when you work you realize that any day a person could come in and do the job BETTER than you do. Tammy never thought about that and she was caught off guard by it.

              1. Jessa*

                Yes, but there’s also a bit of management fail here, just because Tammy was working up to task, they never told her of other things she could do or learn. If nobody tells you that your grade is a C, just that you’re “doing the job,” how the heck do you ever know that there are more, better things you can be doing? She goes to work, does work, doesn’t get told that hey if you could ALSO do x and b, it’d be great.

                1. Lindsay J*

                  But she’s not working up to task. She’s “getting confused” by the more complicated projects she is currently being asked to handle.

                  We have no evidence that the OP hasn’t previously told Tammy that she needs to see better performance in areas X, Y, or Z.

                  The default should always be to assume that there are more, better things you can be doing. I have never met anyone that had nothing they could improve on in their job.

                  And this doesn’t seem to be an issue where Carrie is getting all the praise just because she volunteers to help out, etc. It is an issue where Tammy’s work output is adequate, but not excellent or even good, and that she would not be receiving the opportunites Carrie is getting whether Carrie was there or not because she couldn’t handle them.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        I agree Marie. These types of workers are employed all across the globe and they do the work, get their “meets expectations” performance evaluations, and settle with their whatever percent annual raise, if that. I don’t think workers who do the minimum really have a right to react when high performers are getting praise and attention.

    2. fposte*

      The minimum *is* good enough for the OP, though. It’s just not a performance that advances you. I don’t think it’s realistic in most workplaces to suggest that only people eager to advance and grow get hired for every position, but I do think it’s realistic that those people eager to advance and grow get more opportunity to advance and grow.

    3. Helka*

      That’s a really unreasonable way to frame things. There are plenty of ways in which someone can do more than the minimum, and doing only the minimum, in combination with other factors like the ones the OP detailed, makes for a mediocre (at best) employee.

      Like, sure. If someone comes in and does the things they need to do and does a good solid job on them, they’re a solid worker even if they don’t go the extra mile. But if they come in and do as little as possible and also have trouble with it… then they’re not really all that great.

  16. Marie*

    I would not be surprised if the OP is unconsciously favoring Carrie because she is a better worker, but I think Tammy’s problem is more that she is feeling insecure about her own performance and workload. As a mediocre employee, she feels threatened that this new employee has swooped in and will most likely be outperforming her soon. I’ve seen it happen at other companies – people get comfortable doing as little work as possible and then get upset when someone new starts showing them up because they think the manager will start expecting the same of them. Instead of putting more effort into her job, Tammy has decided to white about the situation like a child by passing you notes and throwing small tantrums.

    OP, you are naturally going to like Carrie better because she is a better employee. Try to hide it as much as possible – you might need to change the time you normally eat lunch or start eating at your desk. It’s unfortunate, but in a year from now if Carrie is promoted and Tammy isn’t, you don’t want her to be able to claim to HR that Carrie was only promoted because you’re BFFs.

  17. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I see a lot of comments arguing that, despite her protestations, the OP does actually favor Carrie.

    … so what?

    Managers prefer stronger employees. That’s obvious. That’s why we strive to be stronger employees. Tammy is proficient, performs at the level required, and as a result her job is secure. But if Carrie is better and easier to work with? Yeah, she’s going to get the better/harder/more interesting work. This is as it should be. The manager’s primary goal is not fairness, it’s achieving the outcomes that need to be achieved.

    Fairness is a value, one of many that can inform how the work gets done. But every organization, manager, and employee has different values. Fairness may not be primary here, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s no end to the other possible values that could take priority: excellence, efficiency, proactivity, compassion, relationality, etc. etc. etc.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      All of that is not to say that it doesn’t matter that this is happening for the OP. She’s the manager here, so she needs to figure out how to support both employees and help make both of them successful. If Tammy really values fairness and sees Carrie’s ascension as unfair, that’s something the OP will have to manage. (And likewise, if Carrie correctly observes that she’s “better,” and highly values recognition and achievement, she’s going to need that to be successful.)

      1. YandO*

        and favoritism based on projects getting done faster, clients liking Carrie better, big boss complimenting Carrie on her work is one thing

        favoritism based on eating lunch together, having inside jokes, and likes the same color are not the same type of favoritism.

        and by denying that favoritism exists, the OP is completely missing the opportunity to identify which favoritism this is and how to address it.

        In first case, she needs to give Tammy a chance to improve/succeed or decide that she would rather stick to 40 hours a week and stay at this level, while expecting Carrie to progress. In the second instance, the OP needs to address her won behavior.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly, if you take the lunch thing out of the equation, I would not have a problem at all with the type of favouritism involved here. But it’s not impossible that at those lunches work is discussed, tips are given, or even just bits of here’s how to navigate the politics here. That’s an incredible boost to Carrie, absent Tammy feeling bad about it. Just like Alison said, the lunch thing has to stop. And I think maybe a one on one meeting with Tammy where you let Tammy actually vent without being snapped at and see if you can drill down to what it is that is really bugging her about this and work on a solution to fix it and retain her.

    2. Sadsack*

      I do not disagree with you, but I think people felt the need to point out to OP that she states that there is no favoritism when it is apparent that there is and she may not recognize it.

    3. Florida*

      Definitely see your point and agree to some extent. The problem here is the lunch. The perception is that OP is favoring Carrie because they are lunch buddies, not because Carrie is a better employee. You are right that Carrie is the better employee and that is probably why she is favored, but the perception that Tammy and other employees have is that Carrie is favored because she and the manager are buddies, not because Carrie is a good employee.

      If OP follows Alison’s advice about the lunches and about focusing the conversations with Tammy only on Tammy, I think this will work out.

      OP, please send us an update.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Oh, I agree. The lunches need to stop, whether or not they are based on favoritism.

    4. Cordelia Naismith*

      Yes, I see your point — but I think managers also need to make sure that employees don’t feel like they’re being treated differently even if they are. If employees feel like their managers unfairly favor one employee over everyone else, that’s going to destroy morale.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I actually think that managers need to understand their employee’s values, and work with those. There are plenty of people who don’t care about fairness, but whose morale will be depleted by inefficiency (or indirectness, or whatever).

      2. Florida*

        I think employees need to feel like they have control over it. For example, if No.1 salesperson is treated differently than No. 20 salesperson, most people expect that. No. 20 feels like if he becomes a better salesperson then he will get the perks that No. 1 is getting. While No. 20 might not like that, I’m sure he understands it. It’s a work-related reason and he has some control over it.

        But if Employee A is being treated better than Employee B because Manager went to the same school as Employee A, then it starts to seem less fair.

        What also happens sometimes is Salesperson No. 20 is treated better than Salesperson No. 1 because No. 20 went to the same school, or is related to the CEO, or whatever other reason. That really lowers morale when bad employees are treated better than good employees.

        The caveat to all of this is that perception is reality. So you might be treating them differently for one reason, but if everyone perceives that it is for another reason, the perception is what matters.

        1. Jessa*

          This, there is a line between strictly fair and truly reasonable. If I think someone is getting something for no good reason, I’m going to have issues. If I know they’re getting it because they make 45% more sales than me, or because they took on crazy whackadoodle project that nobody could do and WOW did it? okay.

          If it’s cause they’re cozy with the boss or the reason is so invisible that I can’t even make up a possibility as to why it’s happening nope. And sometimes that means the boss has to say “I cannot tell you why x is happening, it’s not your business,” when it’s a reasonable accommodation or such.

          Now if that boss is normally transparent and forthcoming and every other time someone got a perk it made sense, good. But if 100% of the time nobody is willing to explain things? Um nope. It’s very much the appearance of someone getting something for no rational reason that would make me crazy. And right now I think Tammy sees no other reason than “lunch with boss,” because boss hasn’t told her (or if she has, has not gotten THROUGH to her,) about the other reasons.

      3. Lindsay J*

        But it also destroys morale if you come to work every day and do a fantastic job, and are treated (and paid) exactly the same as someone who does work that is only adequate. I find that a lot more morale killing than the opposite.

    5. Mike C.*

      It’s really easy for that favoritism to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that’s a huge problem.

      1. Judy*

        I seem to remember reading research about kids in school, in which teachers were told different things, like “You’ve been given all the high achievers” and “These 5 kids are the high achievers in your class” and generally what the teacher was told was what happened.

        The classes where the teacher was told they had the highest ability kids all did very well, and the randomly chosen “high achievers” did well in the other classes.

    6. Teacup Puppies*

      Yeah – and this is exactly the view that AAM also holds…wasnt there a post few days ago on this? Only the lunch bit is the issue….other than that it seems par on course in terms of OP’s behaviour.
      Yes Tammy is getting defensive because she is picking up OP’s positive vibes towards Carrie; I dont know if reassuring her is a gameplan of a good manager.

  18. J*

    I don’t think Tammy is handling this right, but I feel for her–I’ve been there. It’s devastating when a manager openly prefers someone else. I think “openly” is the key. We all have our favorite people at work, but when it’s a manager, and the favoritism is very noticeable, the un-favorited employee has a lot of hurt and confused feelings to process.

    In my case, my manager already had a superstar employee. He then hired me so he had two teapot designers on his team. I am a superstar employee myself, although quiet and shy. But my introverted, eccentric manager is captivated by my very bubbly, extroverted co-worker. (He’s actually told me that he prefers extroverts, and in my yearly evaluation meeting, he talked about my co-worker’s wonderful personality traits.) For the first few months at this company, he seldom made eye contact with me or spoke to me in meetings, and he drops by my co-worker’s desk to casually socialize. They have hallway conversations and made decisions, and when I show up for meetings, I often have no idea what they are talking about. He says he loves her interest in art and music. I’ve mentioned I have similar interests and hobbies, but he doesn’t seem interested.

    It’s been a long slog, but I’ve made some headway by requesting difficult projects, going good work, and doing my best to ignore the lovefest. But the upshot is that I’m going to leave before long. It’s still pretty soul-crushing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tammy does the same, and maybe she should.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      That must have been very frustrating. The way you describe it (“captivated by”, “loves her interest in art and music”), it sounds almost like he has a romantic interest in her!

      1. J*

        He’s hard to read sometimes, but I suppose he might have a little crush. He’s kind of a nerdy, eccentric guy (an engineer possibly on the spectrum) with an interest in the arts, and I think he sees her as someone with an interesting, artsy life that adds value to his own life. They are both happily married, so I think it’s more of a “I want her to be my cool friend!” thing.

        (On a side note, I just noticed all the horrible typos in my first post! I’m a sewperstarr emplyeee.)

    2. Cupcake*

      @J: I can totally relate. Two of my managers are very open about what I see as blatant favoritism to my colleague, “Lemonade” who does the same job as me. She’s been here 6 years to my 2. We are both admin assistants in a large office and I am 10 years older than her.

      Both of these men regularly stand in the doorway of their open office and say, “Lemonade, what would I do without you? You are so wonderful and you can tell me what to do any time and I’ll do it, because really, you’re my boss!” “Fantastic job, Lemonade! Once again, you’ve raised the bar on what others should be doing!”Ugh. Pass the barf bag. I have to listen to this kind of crap regularly.

      I’m doing a good job and have been told so in my performance reviews. I’m fine with someone receiving praise, but how about doing it privately in your office or in her performance review? Do you really need to stand in your doorway and say this, with your loud voice bellowing down the hall?

      1. J*

        Oh, ugh! Barf bag, indeed!

        I’m glad you’re receiving good reviews despite the goo-fest lavished on Lemonade. I would be annoyed too!

    3. The Strand*

      He talked about your coworker’s wonderful traits in your evaluation? !!!!

      I hope you’ll find a new place to bloom soon.

      1. J*

        Yeah, that happened. He said something like, “I just really enjoy her. We talk about art and music, and I appreciate that I can talk to her and she doesn’t take things personally.”

        I suspect that he has challenges associated with Asperger’s (which I sympathize with) and doesn’t mean to be hurtful. But, he says some cruel things sometimes. (“Your predecessor had mental issues, and she could figure it out, so you can.”) I try to distance myself from his comments, but I’m so looking forward to finding a new place to bloom like you said. :)

        1. Cupcake*

          My manager did the same thing to me during my review! He said how “Lemonade” was instrumental in me learning things so quickly and that her wonderful leadership had made me such a good fit with the team, because she is so helpful and professional.

          I had to politely disagree and say that if I learned things quickly it was entirely due to my own efforts as Lemonade was of no help at all. She hoarded information and refused to provide me with basic info about the department and the team.

          1. J*

            Oy. I wonder if our respective managers are trying to be helpful by offering the comparison, but are not realizing that it ends up being demoralizing. (At least that’s how I felt about it.)

            I don’t know if this applies to your situation, but I think certain types of people are overly dazzled by charming people.

            I’m glad you stood up for yourself! I just nodded politely. :/

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this is a great example of a boss doing what not to do. Those quick conversations, stopping in the hallway, etc all send a message to Tammy. Make sure you are equally willing to have a quick convo with Tammy or stop her in the hallway. Part of how you manage people is realizing that every. single. thing. you do is watched, monitored, and analyzed. I am not saying be paranoid. I am saying have a higher awareness of how you appear to others. This is reality. People watch their bosses quite closely. In your case, Tammy. But if you gain more employees in the future this rule still applies.

    5. Anonsie*

      I was wondering about this above as well. It’s possible that the LW’s admiration of Carrie manifests into practices that are actively affecting Tammy’s ability to contribute (like the hallway conversations you mention) and then insult to injury is that Tammy is then scrutinized for not being involved.

  19. Sans*

    I haven’t read all the other responses yet, but I see another problem looming. Carrie is progressing rapidly. She will soon not only handle the same level of projects as Tammy, but probably surpass her. She may even get a promotion at some point instead of Tammy. Don’t wait for that time to sit down with Tammy and have a career conversation with her. Explain what she needs to do in order to get more complicated projects or more responsibility in general. If she wants to do that, or indeed is capable of doing it — well, that’s a separate issue from Carrie, and it will be up to her to try. But at least she will know that she has the same opportunities available.

    1. fposte*

      But I think it’s also useful to say “And if you’re happy to continue in this position, we’re pleased to have that kind of stability.” Don’t make it into a conversation where merit only lies in outgrowing the job.

      1. Sans*

        I agree. She should be given the opportunity. But if she doesn’t want it, that’s fine. At least she knows it’s an option. (I’m one of those people who don’t want to be a manager, so I totally get it about not being forced to move on and move up.)

      2. Chriama*

        > And if you’re happy to continue in this position, we’re pleased to have that kind of stability.

        I think that really depends on the type of organization or the type of position. There might not be a place there for people who don’t want to move up — at the very least, they’ll find their salaries capped or too high relative to market value. I think OP needs to be clear about what kind of organization this is and what the ramifications are for Tammy if she chooses to accept a certain role. Someone upthread mentioned that it’s interesting that the department has grown by 50% for the first time in 3 years. Is this because the workload increased, they finally got the approval for more headcount, or because the organization needs a different set of skills. The cruelest thing would be to assure Tammy that her work is acceptable and her position is stable, and leave her to become obsolete.

        1. fposte*

          Right, obviously you don’t say it if it isn’t true. But so much of this conversation has been focused on pushing Tammy to grow, and most workplaces have room for people who keep trucking away, too. 50% growth sounds big, but it just means they hired another person, which is the smallest growth increment you can get. I don’t think it necessarily means the whole business is aflame with progressivity.

          1. Chriama*

            Fair enough. I think the real danger here is that Tammy *isn’t* performing well enough to guarantee she has a future at the company, so OP should definitely consider what she actually expects when she’s having the conversation with Tammy. Especially since Tammy seems to be a status quo kind of worker, there’s a risk that her skills will stagnate and she won’t keep up with the needs of the business, so there may need to be a certain amount of professional development expected even in the course of maintaining her current status.

  20. Sunflower*

    ‘I am at a loss about what to do. Even though I’ve addressed this a few times, Tammy keeps bringing it up and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback.’

    This is the problem right here. LW needs to be upfront with Tammy about her work. She can leave Carrie out of the conversation but it sounds like Tammy is a rightfully confused. Carrie is obviously being favored but LW is basically telling Tammy that Carrie and her produce the same level of work so it’s seeming like her favoritism must be because LW simply likes Carrie better. LW needs to have a real conversation with Tammy and explain that she is happy with her work but here are the areas that can improve on. If Tammy openly asks if Carrie is giving better work, OP should answer honestly IMO. If Tammy continues to act this way afterward then it might be time for Tammy to think about whether this job is still the right fit for her.

    *I think it’s worth noting that Carrie is new so that is why she could be so eager to take on projects. I’m not sure how long Carrie has been in the job but it might be too early to label her a superstar.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      +1. OP, as a manager, it is your job to give Tammy constructive feedback. How can she improve if she doesn’t know where the room for improvement is?

      1. YandO*

        Exactly, plus this conversation should have been happening before Carrie started

        Was Tammy seen as less-than ideal employee before? Or was she considered really good until the shiny new superstar showed up?

        That’s a hard adjustment, even if based on fact.

        1. Jessa*

          This especially, because it gives Tammy the right to believe she’s doing great, when she isn’t and wasn’t. That’s really not fair to her. She should have been told long ago. And maybe she’s not as fast or as good as Carrie, but maybe she’d still be at that level now if the help had started 6 months prior.

          Also in hiring Carrie the boss has probably also learnt. IE what didn’t work with Tammy so she could do better with Carrie. This now needs to go back to Tammy as suggestions and help on how she could do this too.

      1. Jamie*

        It can be, but I can see a lot of instances where it wouldn’t take much time to earn that label. Especially the part about catching nuances of things – I’ve found some things like a extraordinary attention to detail and a certain innate understanding of some situations is something you have or you don’t. That’s why I’m a big believer in hiring for what you cannot train. If the basic skills are met I can train hard skills – I can’t train work ethic, being able to read a room, see patterns in data, etc.

        Superstar potential may be a fairer assessment early on, if she’s still low on the value apex due to the institutional learning curve, but you can know pretty early on when someone has really great skills for X and it’s just a matter of getting some experience under their belt.

        I’m not explaining this well, but some personal anecdata I’ve worked with people for years where if you have to find a problem in the data you need to tell them exactly what to look for. They have other skills and are good at many things, but they don’t see patterns or know how to troubleshoot without someone else giving them a checklist of things to look for. When you have someone new who just does this because it’s what they do and they get the nuances of whatever task…know how what you’re looking for without hand holding because they are operating along the logical paths required by the task…it’s impossible not to get really excited about that person.

        It doesn’t make them better people, our inherent worth is so not job dependent, but it can make them better at task X and if that’s going to mean less hand holding for the manager and better performance for the department you see that person as someone who can help you move forward rather than tread water and in a small group (and you don’t get much smaller than the OP) that’s a really big deal.

        The flip side is a team full of Carrie’s can be a pita too, if there isn’t enough high level work to go around or you just know their trajectory is such that they will move up in the company or elsewhere before too long. Every workplace needs solid performers who may not be rocketing up the corporate ladder but provide valuable service in their positions. If this is the case with Tammy she needs to know she’s valued as well since it’s common for that to get overlooked because the performance isn’t as flashy or new.

  21. Anonymous for this one*

    I’m in a similar situation. I manage in a small office of three people. We all had lunch together 95% of the time until one employee starting having severe performance issues (lying on timecards, calling out sick 1/2 the workweek). Now that employee does not want to eat lunch with me and the other employee. Thing is, the other employee does not want to eat lunch with the one having performance issues either, so now I feel none of us should eat together. Although I hate doing that since it’s such a small office.

    Do you think it’s appropriate for me to have lunch with my one employee 2-3 times a week instead of 5 in this case? The other is of course invited (we invite her everyday, even after performance issues were discussed). I don’t want to create a hostile work environment, but I hate to eat alone, and sometimes we also invite a neighboring department as well. Is that not appropriate either?

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      If you’re the manager, then I think you really can’t eat lunch with just one of your direct reports on a regular basis without creating the impression of unfair favoritism. Even if you invite the other person and they turn you down, it just doesn’t look good.

      I think you might have to get used to eating alone. Sorry.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        I don’t disagree but I think for Tammy’s sake, she could benefit from going to lunch with new-coworker and her boss. I actually think interacting with them more (and I don’t mean a fake friendship) but just more communication can help her to get out of her own way.

        1. Windchime*

          I understand why people are suggesting this, but honestly, Tammy might be the kind of person who needs a break from work (and work people) during her lunch. I don’t think that she should be judged on whether or not she sticks around to eat lunch with the boss instead of going to the gym. Lunch time should be personal time that you are allowed to take without any kind of penalization (official or unofficial).

          1. Jamie*

            I’m with you – that’s her time. There are more than enough hours in a typical work day to build rapport and communicate. That personal time is scared and people really need that. I’m an eat at my desker and I’m happy to work through lunch or have a pleasant non work related chat with someone, but would resent like hell the expectation I sit the lunchroom and listen to people talk about basketball or politics or whatever the hell else people discuss when they are boring me to sleep.

            This is a team of 3 people including the OP, so it’s not like there aren’t other opportunities to engage.

    2. fposte*

      I think you’re right that none of you can eat together if it’s only going to be the two of you most of the time. If you invite a neighboring department, I think it’s okay to eat together then–unless you invite them and they never come, so it really ends up being you and the single employee in practice.

    3. Xarcady*

      Looking back over more than 30 years in the working world, I don’t ever remember a manager/supervisor regularly eating lunch with their direct reports.

      The managers ate lunch together. And that’s what I’d advise if you don’t want to eat lunch alone–start networking a bit with other departments and meet up with your peers for lunch.

      My personal take on this is that sooner or later, you will need to have an uncomfortable conversation with each of your direct reports–they will make a big mistake, or as in your post, have attendance issues, or have some sort of other performance issue which you will need to bring up with them.

      If you’ve been behaving like a friend, eating lunch with them every day, socializing outside of work, that sort of thing, it will be much harder to have this sort of discussion. You are their manager, you should set boundaries. Be friendly, but not a friend, so to speak. You aren’t really their friend, you are their boss.

      That said, I don’t see any harm in a monthly lunch with your staff, or a lunch where you invite the other department.

      1. Christian Troy*

        At my previous position, “special lunches” were not uncommon between certain staff and certain managers. It definitely didn’t start out that way, but it was definitely a very obvious thing between some people.

    4. Jamie*

      I don’t know if this will work for you, but in my office no one specifically eats together per se. The non-desk eaters just go to the kitchen and eat and whoever is there is who they eat with.

      Sometimes the boss(es) is in there alone, sometimes with several people, sometimes 1 or 2 – but it’s not by design. If people time their lunch by who else is in there you wouldn’t know it as there is always a different mix.

      So in your case I think it depends if you are deliberately eating lunch with specific people, which is problematic, or just eating lunch with whomever happens to be there when you eat which is not. They key is that no one feels either excluded or pressured to join in.

    5. Ineloquent*

      Well, I think you need to fire your bad employee, frankly. But other than that, show your appreciation by ordering group sandwitches or something every now and again.

  22. Rene UK*

    This might be my paranoia talking…but is it possible that Carrie is fanning the flames, so to speak? Was it really accidental that Tammy was left out of the meeting invite? If Carrie is making much that she’s the ‘favourite’ then it puts Tammy in a very sticky situation.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      I have to admit, I wondered that, too. I don’t think we have any proof of that from the letter, but it did cross my mind.

    2. brightstar*

      I was also wondering that. I’ve never regularly eaten lunch with a manager, except when I worked in a two person office while in college and the “lunchroom” was also our shared desk.

    3. sunny-dee*

      It could be intentional, or it could have just been a big invite list. Or Carrie could have thought that Tammy was on some project mailing list and would get the invite automatically. (This happens to me A LOT.)

    4. Jessa*

      I had that thought immediately. If Carrie is so great at this stuff, that’s a pretty big omission on her part. I would seriously look at Carrie’s interactions with Tammy. And if you can’t see it, can you ask a fellow manager to take a look when you’re not around? Because there are a lot of ways Carrie can sabotage Tammy without it being obvious, and if you automatically snap at Tammy when Carrie left her off the list, this is a big deal. Because it wasn’t Tammy’s fault and she was right that she couldn’t figure out her stuff in five minutes.

    5. Windchime*

      I wondered about that, too. If Carrie is being petted and admired for being a superstar and she can see that Tammy is just average, then maybe she just didn’t see the need to invite Tammy at all.

      1. Jamie*

        Anyone else drawing comparisons to Lily and Petunia Evans? Just me? Yep – I’m going home now.

    6. Anonsie*

      I wouldn’t assume anything, but I would keep a close eye on things like this in the future just to be sure.

  23. Laurel Gray*

    I’ve skimmed the comments and think others already made great points about the issues at play but I just want to make an observation on the favoritism thing. Going off of the OP’s letter, I gathered that if, and maybe this is a big if, Tammy decided to step her game up, she would be in a much better position and would feel entirely differently. Meaning asking for additional training to get over her weaknesses, create a working relationship with Carrie so that she is a team member and not a threat. Or, maybe it is management’s job (the OP) to make Tammy step her game up. If Tammy is able to do better and more, her expectations bar should be risen.

    I know I may be way off base here and maybe this is bad advice but going off the letter, it seems like the OP is giving Tammy and Carrie a level playing field. Tammy could choose to go to lunch with them, after all, it is her career here. I know the perception of the OP going with only one worker without the other isn’t great but Tammy’s pettiness helps create that. So often we read letters here where a BadManager goes out of their way to exclude an employee, and this is not the case.

    1. Mike C.*

      Wait, so you’re saying it’s Tammy’s fault if she misses stuff because she doesn’t choose to spend her free time socializing with her manager?

      1. Laurel Gray*

        No not at all, I was just pointing out that Tammy is being invited to have lunch with her colleague and manager and chooses not to. Maybe some in her shoes would go often enough to stay in the loop and not feel “left out”. I just think it is relevant to point out that Tammy is invited and many times with favoritism at play, the un-favored has no invite.

        1. MsM*

          I think it’s disingenuous to extend an invite when you know the other person has a regular commitment (like going to the gym) that will probably preclude them attending, and then go “Oh, well, we tried; guess she just doesn’t care enough.” If you offer a variety of options – breakfast, coffee, drinks after work – and the person doesn’t want to take you up on those, then that’s on them.

          The lunch is a relatively minor problem, of course, but it does have me wondering if there are other ways in which the OP isn’t recognizing that Tammy has legitimate constraints, and is intepreting that as “she’s just not picking things up as well as Carrie.” Tammy’s still doing a poor job of advocating for herself if that’s the case, but I think it’s worth examining to see whether there’s a blind spot there.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            I have a part-time job in the small office of a non-profit. When I was hired, it was the Executive Director (ED) and the Office Manager (OM) and me. I’d known the OM from a different part-time job.

            To get to my full-time job, I have to leave by time X. With great frequency, the ED and OM would head out to lunch at 45 minutes before X time and go out to a sit down restaurant that was guaranteed to take at least an hour. Which would make me late for my real job or it would end up being unpaid time. They would periodically invite me. I’d go when there was enough time.

            Not that big a deal, I was hired for a few specific tasks and it wasn’t important that I was in the loop on everything. Until they hired another person and those lunches got more important. And they stopped inviting me and pretty much stopped communicating with me at all.

            It was a very, very long year of feeling like I was being cut out of the loop on everything, including those tasks I’d been specifically hired for. Since the OM retired at the end of the year, my job has gotten much better and so have my relationships with people. Turns out she spent those lunches complaining about me and without her around, I get evaluated on my own merits.

            I’ve been able to ask for increased duties and done them very well. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do them before; it was that the OM wanted to do them herself so she could look and feel important and invaluable. That gets old and tiresome after a while and eventually you stop asking.

  24. Macedon*

    It sounds as if the addition of a more driven team worker may have opened OP’s eyes to Tammy’s slightly lukewarm performance – the letter has a bit of a ‘Carrie is frankly better’ undertone. That’s absolutely fine. As another commenter mentioned, sterling employees should be viewed differently and promoted/rewarded accordingly. It’s when social and professional boundaries seem to cross that ‘favouritism’ gets thrown around, and the daily lunches unfortunately help in that accusatory direction. Following Alison’s advice should help settle that issue on the short run.

    On the longer term, I’d return to my first point: it seems you were previously all right with Tammy’s performance, but that you’re now starting to notice that a new employee is picking up on nuances that her senior of three years fails to grasp. While it’s certainly all right to help grow Carrie’s potential, it might be a good idea to also sit Tammy down and to investigate where her weaknesses lie and what can be done to overcome them.

  25. John R*

    I agree that the lunch every day looks like favoritism, but as for the rest of it Tammie needs to learn to deal.

    I’ve been on both sides: I’ve been the threatening new guy eager to learn as much as I can that has p*ssed off some long-timers, and I’ve also been the longer-time employee threatened by the newcomer.

    The bottom line, though, is that each person is ultimately responsible for their own career. If you think someone is trying to pass you, and it’s important to you, then up your game. Also, sometimes the work world just isn’t going to be fair and in those cases you have to move on and work somewhere else. It took me a long time to learn this. I stayed in jobs I should have left because I thought (wrongly) that things would change in time.

    Now, I’m finally in a job where I feel valued and respected, have a good boss who uses her authority just the right amount (not wishy-washy and not a tyrant–sets clear expectations and doesn’t micromanage), and I’ve stopped worrying about my co-workers. Some of them will probably pass me, others won’t, and that’s just how it is.

  26. Oryx*

    I get that the note thing seems very childish, but if Tammy doesn’t feel like she’s literally being heard or if she’s finding it difficult to verbally communicate with the OP because of attitudes and past experiences, maybe she found that writing it down was the only way for her to effectively get her point across.

    1. Macedon*

      I’d honestly still say ‘no’ to notes on count of sheer practicality: my desk is Paper Mountain, where Mordor couldn’t withstand the rent or the bleak view. You slip me a note on it, there are lottery ticket odds of it ever emerging within an alligator’s lifespan, unless you also signal it verbally or by e-mail. If you don’t, chances are, it doesn’t get read, and you might start to wonder whether I am deliberately (and maliciously) ignoring you. And lo, the situation deteriorates.

      We’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of expecting notes; if Tammy really couldn’t bring yourself to the in-person convo alternative, I’d have suggested e-mail.

    2. Just Another Techie*

      Or maybe she’s creating a paper trail to eventually take to her boss’s boss or HR. . .

    3. Sunflower*

      I always remember in school that we were taught when emotions were running high, it was a good idea to write a letter to that person to get your feelings across in a clear, logical way. I also think the note seems childish but I wonder if she wrote it as to avoid snapping or her emotions getting the best of her.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Except the note itself seems to be emotional and childish, not well-thought out. “It’s obvious you like her better, and you don’t have to like me, but you do have to respect me”? Um, okay.

    4. Mephyle*

      Yes, this is another thing that can be seen two ways. OP: Now she’s passing notes like a middle schooler. Tammy: Talking with her isn’t getting me anywhere, it’s time to start the paper trail.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I agree it could be a paper trail, but there’s something about handing her the note as she’s walking out the door that seems a little immature.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m confused – how is it a paper trail if she hands it to her as she’s leaving.

          Email is a trail, certified mail is a trail, but handing a note? Even if you kept a copy for yourself how do you prove you have it to me?

  27. W*

    I am the “Carrie” in my department, and while my other coworkers don’t like me (they’ve made snide remarks but nothing openly aggressive), my manager doesn’t seem to care. I’m tired of working so hard when my coworkers are slackers. I feel like my only option is to quit, which sucks because I like my boss, my job, my pay, and the only thing I don’t is the slack environment.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yeah, unfortunately, there really are workplaces where you can’t fit in if you go above and beyond.

  28. FD*

    To me, the bigger thing that jumps out is this:

    She is still learning but is a superstar. She picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses, despite the fact that Tammy has been in the role three years. Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected. I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position.

    Should you be okay with this? Yes, this level of work may be adequate, but adequate isn’t the same as good. In fact, you’re seeing this now, with a new hire that is picking things up much more quickly.

    I’m going to assume for the sake of argument that Carrie really is a superstar–some associates, you can tell right out of the gate. This can definitely create resentment in ‘just adequate’ associates, in my experience, because people feel the newbie is showing them up. And it’s hard to hide that you are inevitably going to ‘favor’ high performers, because people performing well can and should get praise, trust, and valuable assignments.

    So I think the question is–why are you OK with Tammy’s performance? There are cases where there’s a reason to do it. For example, a lot of superstars tend to have shorter stays on a specific team, because they’re driven to grow and expand into new positions. In some cases, it may be worth it to retain an adequate performer who contributes by helping keep continuity, where a higher performer would leave sooner.

    But if you find yourself thinking “Why can’t Tammy be more like Carrie?” a lot, Tammy’s going to pick up on it, and reassurance is going to ring false. If that’s the case, then maybe you should think about laying out for her how she can go from an acceptable performer to a great one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      YES, totally agree. (And wanted to get into this in the answer, but it was already very long.)

      Carrie may be showing you some problems with Tammy’s performance that need to be addressed.

    2. Green*

      People also tend to perform like sprinters at a new job (high effort, time outside of work, etc.) in a way that may not ultimately be a sustainable pace for the jobs. I view work as a series of sprints (for which I need recovery time), but others are thinking “marathon” and want to keep a sustainable pace of achievement. So it may be difficult to compare new employee right out of the starting gate with others until she has really settled in.

      That said, managers need to set the pace for all employees, *including* encouraging new employees to work at a sustainable pace. I was staying late every day when I started and my boss came up to me and said, “We have plenty of time allotted for you to train and the job will move at a very difficult pace sometimes; please take these few weeks as an opportunity to leave earlier and focus on work-life balance.” She had to say it a few times for me to really believe her, but I enjoyed the next few weeks and understood the up-and-down pace of the gig better.

      1. FD*

        True, in some cases. Still, “She picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses” and “Tammy only does the minimum that is expected”–to me, these aren’t just the markers of an employee who sees work as more of a marathon, they’re the marks of an employee who isn’t performing very highly.

        That doesn’t mean Tammy CAN’T perform highly, though. That’s one of the reasons I think that the OP needs to consider what being a “good employee” means to her, as a manager. Should Tammy’s performance be good enough, or should she be coached to a higher bar?

    3. Whippers*

      I don’t know if I agree with this. Some people are just better at their jobs than others; you can’t judge everyone by that standard.

      1. FD*

        In general, a good manager wants good or great employees, not adequate employees. It’s good for the team, good for the company, and good for the employees (how many time have you been frustrated by coworkers who weren’t all that good at their jobs?).

        I’m not saying that the OP should fire Tammy, but she may want to think about whether there are areas that Tammy should be coached.

        For example, she says that Tammy often misses nuances. Why is that? Does she not feel comfortable with the process itself? Are her strengths in another area? For example, maybe she doesn’t easily identify when a C-curve and when a Q-curve should be used in a teapot handle, but she works well with customers and is good at diffusing angry clients. In that case, it might make sense to reduce the number of chocolate teapot handles she’s working with, and give her more of the work that deals with handling client questions and requests. Or maybe you could spend some extra time explaining and training her on how C-curves support the teapot body differently than Q-curves, so she can make better decisions.

        The OP indicates that Tammy is an adequate performer, but we don’t really have enough information as to why she’s an adequate one instead of a good or great one. Some people just aren’t the right fit, but a lot of people might need some additional training and coaching into how to make that move from ‘okay’ to ‘quite good’. A good manager doesn’t just identify who’s a superstar and who isn’t; she also works with her lower-performing staff to try and help them reach a higher bar.

  29. Sunshine Brite*

    I’ve been on athletic teams in the past and in work situations where supervisors clearly favor some over others. It’s a difficult and horrible feeling on the negative end and awkward on the positive side – I’ve been on both. It can get to be pretty all consuming the more negative an overall situation becomes.

    I take on complicated cases in my position and could be viewed as “confused” at times, but that’s part of the complications that these cases have. I know I have to fit within multiple systems so I go to my supervisor often when I do things ‘out of the ordinary’ and hope that I’m not viewed as confused often. It does sound like you heavily favor Carrie throughout your whole letter and with only 2 reports it’s natural to compare treatment of one another.

    Have you noted specific areas of development for Tammy to improve on? Like research x, y, and z processes in the manual a little more, I’ve seen that questions come up in this area a lot. Have you acknowledged her feelings at all? It sounds like you immediately went towards the defensive (as she may have read it when you immediately requested specifics) and she might not feel heard. Plus, you are socializing with Carrie even though you say you’re not. Lunch is socialization.

    Did you address the meeting oversight with Carrie? I would’ve been upset as well in Tammy’s position needing to scramble if that’s not something I usually need to do, plus it’s like another notch in the evidence of being on the outs. It does add to the frustrated feeling. While it doesn’t excuse rudeness, it does add to tension. You handled that situation admittedly poorly in the moment, but your apology read as a non-apology to me and uncalled for. The note trade is passive aggressive, but she may find herself too upset to be as direct as she should be anymore and may feel her feelings are better in writing. Asking for respect is not a problem. Especially when you have shown a lack of empathy for her situation.

    When was the last time you noticed anything to praise Tammy on? She is still handling difficult cases in an adequate way. There should be something that she can be positively reinforced on even if Carrie is advancing quickly. Create and hold boundaries with both your employees and respect them both in public and private.

  30. BritCred*

    OK, I’m going to to way back to when Carrie was employed and ask just *how* this was handled with Tammy then? The seed of discontentment may be based on that introduction. Two ways I can see straight away:

    -Carrie was going to be there to help take some of the lower stuff off the both of you but now Tammy feels sidelined as it hasn’t gone that way.
    – Tammy was surprised by the idea of bringing on a new hire and thought everything was going great. Even when Carrie came in she felt left out and sidelined by not hearing about the decision to hire earlier in the process.

    It may also be that it is purely a personality clash. If Tammy is a very quiet, introverted type and Carrie is a extrovert then Tammy has to push a lot more to be perceived as “helpful” and “eager”. The note passing is something I see that is childish as hell but I do see in some friends who struggle with verbal communication and will often write notes instead – or even several page letters in one case – instead of talking to the person involved. Within their personal life that is one thing but in a work setting its not going to help at all!

  31. Chriama*

    OP, it sounds like you don’t have a lot of experience managing. Throughout this whole situation I see you letting your emotions dictate your actions. Keeping your boss updated so constantly was also a bit much. You say you don’t think you were gossiping, but I see how your boss perceived it that way – every week there’s another discussion about OMG can you believe how immature Tammy is being? This is an issue that you could have handled without looping your boss in, and really the only time you need to loop him in is if you think it could be escalated and you don’t want to be blindsided (e.g. would Tammy go to HR, who would come down on your boss?). In this case they’re both your direct reports, and unless you’re looking for advice on how to handle this (and really, if you’ve been coming back to your boss for advice multiple times over this you need to be a little more proactive about asserting your authority as a manager), you shouldn’t be talking constantly about this with your boss unless it gets to the level you’re planning to put Tammy on a PIP or replace her.

    I don’t think this situation is unsalvageable, but you do need to acknowledge certain things:

    1) you obviously like Carrie better than Tammy. That’s ok, emotions are what they are. But you need to acknlowledge this bias in your own mind so you can take steps to counteract it (e.g. not eating lunch with Carrie, making a point to talk to Tammy about her own career development)

    2) you need to tell Tammy to cut it out with comparing herself to Carrie, AND you need to set a standard for Tammy and talk to her about her professional development. If Tammy is meeting the minimum requirements, what does that mean for her? Is this the kind of role – and organization – where people can stay for a long time without needing to move up or out? Is Tammy actually meeting the minimum or is she underperforming, and you just noticed it now that Carrie is here as a comparison? Does Tammy have plans to move up? Set clear expectations for her performance and clear guidelines about how she can progress in whatever path she has in mind.

    3) have some confidence in yourself as a manager! You can absolutely tell Tammy that she needs to cut the attitude. Don’t ask her why she’s snapping at you – tell her it’s not appropriate and she needs to be able to communicate professionaly. Don’t feel like you need HR or your boss to give you authority – Tammy works for you and you have the right to hold her to certain standards, both in her work and in her interactions with others

    Good luck!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. Totally agree. Tammy is mirroring OP’s emotions and amplifying those emotions.

      OP, if you have tighter control then Tammy may reign it in, also. Posts here have talked about setting boundaries, talking about goal setting and talking about professional growth. These three things are tools to help tone down the emotional charge going on and do some real fixing.

      The Tammys of the work place can show us how to improve our leadership, how to be a better boss. But we have to let them do this. Every employee is different with different needs. Therefore, it takes different things to get each person on the same track as the others. Again, your boss is not doing this for you and, ironically, you have to do it for your own staff. Not fair, but there it is.

  32. Algae*

    OP, are you managing people or tasks. This sentence:

    “I manage and take only the most complicated projects. “Tammy” takes the mid-level work: she is proficient, but not great and can get confused by complicated projects. “Carrie,” the new hire, has simple projects. ”

    makes me wonder if you are perhaps not really in the correct mindset for this problem. This problem has nothing to do with the tasks they’re assigned. How had this department started; were both you and Tammy at the same level and you were promoted? Did you inherit her from somewhere else? Could there be leftover feelings from that?

    This is not about which tasks each of you do, this is about the fact that you’re not acting like a manager and other people are picking up on it.

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      That’s an interesting perspective, and one I agree with. When you expand a department, the goal is to have multiple employees doing more or less the same amount of work at the same difficulty level. You never want to have people who are technically peers competing for ranking among themselves. Carrie might not even be all that special for rising to Tammy’s level after her training period ends. That’s what training periods are for.

    2. vox de causa*

      This is what I was wondering – was Tammy already in her position when OP was promoted to a manager role? That might have a lot to do with it. If the OP didn’t get to train Tammy the way she has with Carrie, it’s natural that she feels more comfortable with the way Carrie does things (because Carrie is doing them exactly as the OP wants and is training her to do).

      Now, if Tammy was offered that sort of coaching and training when the OP took over, and didn’t want it or couldn’t learn it, that’s a different story. It sounds, though, like this is a case of the OP mistaking the good training she is providing with Carrie for pure talent on Carrie’s part.

      I’ve seen something like this happen before – where I worked, our Tammy was a fixture, and then someone new was promoted to management (Tammy thought it should have been her). Tammy begrudgingly accepted it, but in a million small ways she made sure that she let the new boss know that Tammy wasn’t going to take training from her. Tammy would ask ANYBODY else for help when she didn’t understand something, and she was condescending to her new boss when the new boss tried to help her improve her work.

      That’s not the way to put your best foot forward with a new manager, and it’s easy for managers to write an employee like that off, if not outright discipline them out of their job. In our case, Tammy stayed on until retirement, doing the minimum, never moving higher, and seemingly not understanding why she was passed over every time a promotion came up. She often spoke of management making surprising decisions about whom to promote. Meanwhile, Carrie earned tons of accolades and was eventually promoted to another area. Our Tammy never could wrap her mind around how that happened, chalking it up to favoritism when it was really performance.

      That said, OP, you’re showing favoritism to Carrie. The way you describe each of them makes it so clear that you prefer to spend time with Carrie, that you feel as though you have things in common and you enjoy spending time with her at work, and that you find Tammy irritating and “necessary.”

      If Tammy suddenly started coming to lunch with you and Carrie, would you feel perfectly natural about that? Would you and Carrie make reference to “in-jokes” or make comments that referred to shared experiences that Tammy didn’t share in? Would you secretly prefer that she not come to lunch with you? If any of those are a “yes,” it’s definitely favoritism. As things stand, you’re already showing favoritism of a sort by being seen with only Carrie at lunch. Yes, Tammy could be there too, but does everyone else in your office know that (and more importantly, believe it)? Probably not.

      You have three people in your group, and a triangle is a rough situation because one point always feels like it’s on the bottom. As the manager it’s part of your job to make sure to give your employees the ability to succeed and remove obstacles to that success. Are you doing as much for Tammy in that regard as you are for Carrie?

      Limit yourself to one lunch a week with Carrie, and it’s better if that is more of a group lunch with others, if possible (not necessarily Tammy, since she doesn’t want to, but maybe others in your organization). If you find yourself composing emails that can be used as guidelines by Carrie when doing her work, consider sending those to Tammy, as well.

      And consider that your superstar made a really basic mistake in leaving Tammy off that invitation. If that wasn’t deliberate, it was a severe oversight and she needs to be reminded how important it is to double-check that sort of thing. If it was deliberate, she’s not the superstar you think she is and she may be doing other things that are needlessly making Tammy miserable.

  33. Just Reading*

    I sympathize with Tammy and OP.

    OP, you might be making mistakes, that others from the outside can see more clearly than you may in the thick of things. I just wanted to say that managing is difficult and requires the ability to learn how to diffuse conflict in respectful and constructive ways. While you haven’t been doing that yet, you can get there! Think of this as an opportunity to become a better manager!

  34. Amber Rose*

    OP, there’s a lot of great advice here. So instead I have a story.

    Once upon a time, I noticed I was getting saddled with a lot of work while my manager and coworker were nowhere to be seen. I didn’t think too much about it aside from some annoyance.

    One day I went into the safe to grab some money for up front, and found them doing each other’s hair. They had curlers and such plugged into the wall even.

    I think as long as you accept criticism with good grace and never become that bad, you’re going to be just fine. :D

    1. fposte*

      Wow. I don’t even know what you’d say at that. “Thanks for contributing to a hellish stereotype”?

      1. Amber Rose*

        I said nothing. There was too much awkward for words. I grabbed my extra cash and backed out, eyes averted, like I’d caught them making out or something. I can only hope they felt at least that much embarrassment.

        I have some of the weirdest work stories.

  35. amp2140*

    I don’t agree that a boss can’t have lunch with their employees regularly. I think it’s a shame that someone’s cattyness is getting in the way of bonding with an employee. If Tammy wanted to join, it sounds like she’s more than welcome, but if she’s going to say ‘don’t tell me what to do with my break’, then she can’t be mad at what LW and Carrie do on theirs.

    Also, I wish this response answered what to do when Carrie surpasses Tammy. I’m the Carrie in this situation, but my Tammy doesn’t do anything. I’m someone who’s always improving things and quickly became a subject matter expert to things that my Tammy still doesn’t understand. I wish this letter had given a response to what I/ and especially how my boss should handle when a newer employee blasts past an older one that is content with their current pace.

    1. Chriama*

      The thing is, an effective manager should maintain an arms-length distance from their employees. Even in cultures where people are friendly and close-knit, it’s bad management.

      As an example: I have a family member who’s an accountant. She has a couple student interns from time to time and one main assistant. This assistant is not great at her job. However, it’s a small, “family” business – I help out with IT stuff and some of her kids come and sort files when they don’t have school, and sometimes the assistant’s husband helps out in small ways and gets paid for it (he has a job that doesn’t pay well). What does this mean? It means that she can’t fire the assistant (who is way overpaid compared to her abilities and the quality of her work) because the whole family pretty much lives off whatever she pays the assistant and her husband, and she also knows that the assistant wouldn’t get a job paying nearly as much anyone else. The company isn’t going to go bankrupt, but she works a lot harder than she needs to as a sole proprieter because her employee is practically a charitable cause.

      Anyways, I get that you sympathize with Carrie because you relate to her. But understand that a good manager can nurture a ‘superstar’ employee without creating the tension that the OP has done, and bonding with your employees is harmful past a certain extent.

    2. fposte*

      I’m not clear what you’re asking–or maybe the answer is simpler than I feel like you’re looking for. You stay professional and polite to Tammy whether she’s the superstar or you are. And much of this discussion is explaining what the manager should do.

      It sounds like maybe you want your Tammy to do more work and your manager isn’t managing that. If you have a workload problem as a result, go to your manager and note that you need some help prioritizing/organizing the workflow so deadlines are met/whatever; note that you’re avoiding the “make Tammy be better” demand and identifying the task issue. And if the manager doesn’t do it, assume it’s not going to change.

    3. MsM*

      Obviously you can’t spend all your time trying to teach or motivate your Tammy, but you can keep her in the loop. If you offer her a chance to do something social or to contribute to something outside the scope of what she usually works on and she turns it down, you say “Okay, maybe next time,” and you look for other opportunities to get her engaged. You don’t leave her off of things that affect her or the team even if you know she won’t respond or understand. You forward her resources that are helpful for you, and leave it up to her whether she wants to use them or not. And if she’s holding up your work with things that are absolutely her responsibility to manage, you talk that over with your manager in the context of how it affects you. If your manager fails to address that effectively with Tammy – and I think AAM provided some good suggestions for how she might do that – then maybe it’s not entirely Tammy’s fault she’s not living up to expectations when there aren’t clear expectations and consequences being set.

  36. The Strand*

    Count me as another person who thinks you are clearly favoring your new employee. “She is still learning but a superstar.” Your language says a lot about your expectations.

    I left a team where the boss decided virtually overnight that a newbie was a “superstar” – frankly, I think she overtly identified with the new hire as someone from a similar background, upbringing. They did become very apparent BFFs, and morale plummeted (you might want to read about a situation 10x worse at the Virginia Quarterly Review).

    You need to be concerned about the people who aren’t talking to you. Because they will walk.

    Despite the newbie’s lack of experience (she had never worked anywhere before), the boss would do things like leave her to run meetings or represent the team in high-level meetings. She was invited to sit in on hiring meetings while those of us who had worked at our organization or in our fields for years, or had prior hiring experience weren’t invited.

    Now, while my boss wrote me great reviews and gave me raises, she still focused her attention on building this one person she had already decided was a “superstar”. And she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t hold onto good employees… Why one of the backbones of our team suddenly quit with no notice … why another new hire, with much more experience, only stayed a year and then moved on. I know at least one person will quit if they formalize her into a leadership role. The boss created a monster – not the “superstar”, mind you, but a green-eyed monster that interferes with efficiency and a well-bonded team.

    The sad thing is that the supposed “superstar” confided in one of us that she really wanted a lower key career and more time with her family. She was so young, and our boss so much of a stronger personality – she was afraid to speak up. I also think that with so much of her time caught up with the boss, and with her getting vaulted over more experienced people, the young hire wasn’t picking up skills and wisdom she might have learned from the rest of us. She was being taught to convey power that she hadn’t earned (through experience), which was not only obvious – she seemed like someone who was trying to please Mom – but fueled resentment.

    So understand that if your new employee IS talented, and is a future superstar, being overt in your favoritism isn’t helping her OR your existing team.

    1. not telling*

      Yes I too have seen a few ‘superstars’ in my time….they all peaked very early and crashed and burned. It’s a very lonely fall from that pedestal too, because they’ve made no friends in the process.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s not really inherent to the profile though. Plenty of super stars are people who are able to maintain an extremely high level of performance over the long term.

        1. The Strand*

          I would agree… I think that the “quotes” are important – true superstars are those who can and do work excellently for a long time. There are those who are fantastic performers, period, and those who have been singled out for praise who are not there (and might never be) but who are being groomed. That makes an incredibly volatile mix when you add, say, imposter syndrome to the mix.

          1. OP*

            Perhaps I can clarify – Tammy is in her early 30’s and we’re in a financial sector. I’m happy with the work she’s taken on regarding mid-level projects because they are incredibly confusing and while she misses some things, she gets most of it. At her age, I was at her level.

            I’m in my early 50’s and have 25 years of experience, which is why I take harder projects. I also see how Tammy doesn’t want additional projects and has expressed that she is not ready to move onto even more complicated processes, which is normal and on par for what I’ve had for previous employees in this position. I think it’s a wise move, since we don’t allow overtime at this company and if she volunteers for too much she may not meet deadlines. I’ve told her I’m happy with how much output she has and I’ve encouraged her to keep up the good work. She is a good employee – I’ve told her so multiple times.

            Carrie is in her late 20’s and already learning and understanding things that Tammy only mastered in the past few months. This is Carrie’s first real “financial” job, but Tammy’s third. Carrie is picking it up quickly – one this to note is that some people just have an affinity for numbers and understanding accounting / finance. It took me a long time to learn what I have and I see Carrie picking things up in a month that took me 4-6 months to fully comprehend.

            I think Tammy is jealous of Carrie, not just because she is clearly very good at things that take others (including myself!) much longer to understand, but because she has volunteered to take on more so quickly. Despite the no-overtime rule, she has started taking on mid-level work and meets deadlines with no problems.

            It reminds me of my kids – one of whom excelled at sports and even though the younger never enjoyed sports, he was very jealous of his older sibling because she had a unique talent. In my younger child, I helped him foster other strengths. With Tammy, I encourage her to see and work on her talents, it’s just hard to see someone younger who is faster/better/stronger worker. Carrie has mentioned the tension and asked what she can do to fix it, she wanted to step down from taking things on. I asked if it was because she doesn’t want to do XYZ project, won’t have time, or because she is uncomfortable for other reasons. She said it’s the tension with Tammy, she doesn’t want to “rock the boat”.

  37. TotoinKs*

    OMG… can something be done about the advertisements that autoplay? There are 4 video windows down the side and they keep starting at random times. I can’t have this site open at work anymore because of the ads!

  38. 27.5 Hz @ 189 db*

    This situation reminds me of the movie Amadeus. Not that that necessarily helps, but – life can be tough for the Salieri’s in the world.

    I may have missed it, but something I haven’t seen mentioned: is Carrie just blissfully unaware of the state of things? You can call me paranoid, but if we’re going to give this situation a thorough analysis, one may wish to consider the notion that Carrie is subtly goading the situation along. Forensic analysts will say “follow the money”. Similarly, of Tammy, Carrie, and the OP, who’s pulling some major WIN out of this dismal situation?

    It could be a purely innocent coincidence. I’m willing to accept that meeting notice foul-up as an accident. But I’d ask the OP: is Carrie really squeaky-clean and just trying to keep out of the way? If so, then good for her.

    But if Carrie *is* engaged in some subtle back-stabberry, then: the entire situation is WAY different and WAY more toxic than you think it is.

    1. The Strand*

      Or even if Carrie has picked up on the hostility (from Tammy or others) and is trying to protect herself (or so she thinks). Maybe she deliberately mixed up Tammy’s invite; maybe it was subconscious.

  39. AnnieNonymous*

    This is a really good point. At my office, the youngest woman is clearly the favorite of our boss. Now there’s a certain personality element there; I wouldn’t be comfortable having personal conversations with my boss the way she does, and she’s in a role that I don’t particularly want, so I’m content to fly under the radar a bit (plus, I do think there’s an aspect of their dynamic that’s a bit…unsavory). The boss defers to her about things that aren’t in her purview and which other employees know more about. I’m not unhappy in my job, but I’m certainly not loyal to the company. When I hit my two-year mark, I’m going to start looking for a position where I can put my talents to better use, since I know that won’t happen here. This is a situation where the workplace isn’t toxic and I don’t hate the job at all…but the favoritism is still pushing me out the door.

  40. AnnieNonymous*

    And to the OP: it may be true that Carrie has the makings of a rockstar employee. However, your lunches with her are a version of men playing golf together. Technically you’re not working, but you can’t deny that you’re likely sharing insider info with Carrie and giving her advantages that Tammy doesn’t have. One part of the meeting snafu raised my eyebrows: you put the newest hire in charge of the invites? Why didn’t you ask Tammy to send out the notices? Why didn’t you just tell Tammy yourself? Did you mention the meeting at lunch and assume that Carrie would tell Tammy?

    1. OP*

      We don’t talk about work during lunch at all – we talk about current events (we have a TV playing CNN right next to our table). Tammy used to eat lunch with this group (which is not just Carrie and I, but a number of people) every day as well, so she knows that none of us speak about work during lunch.

      Carrie was in charge of sending invitations because this was a rare “team” project – where it was so massive that it touched on not only my work product, but Tammy’s, Carrie’s and over 20 over people’s. At that point in the project, it belonged to Carrie and was being logged as closed so this meeting was simply pulling us all together to close the project and make sure that every part of it was accounted for. Hence why I believe not inviting Tammy was an oversight while balancing everyone else, rather than a deliberate act as some people have implied.

  41. not telling*

    Sorry but OP sounds pretty petty. As a manager, you shouldn’t be relating verbatim every complaint that your staff have, to your manager. If you need advice about how to deal with interpersonal issues, then arrange a time and speak in GENERAL. But simply relating every latest ‘now she says this’ IS gossiping–not seeking mentorship.

    As others have said, it sounds like OP is an inexperienced manager and doesn’t know how to deal with complaints other than to pass them up the food chain. It also sounds like the new hire is showing enthusiasm for their new job which OP is flattered by and perhaps reading more into than is warranted–if OP is spending so much time with them training them, then they aren’t a star employee yet. Just a trainee.

    I’m not suggesting that mediocre employees should be rewarded unnecessarily but OP should take care that she isn’t neglecting a long-time loyal employee in favor of the flashiest new toy. It is terrible for morale to cast aside good workers for the latest model.

    1. vox de causa*

      I think you’re onto something here – it does sound like OP is new to management. I’m wondering what kind of managers she has had in the past. I’ve had some, like OP’s current manager, who don’t want to be bothered with the “small” stuff. I’ve had others that would have taken it as a slight to NOT be filled in on all the minor goings-on in the department. It could be if the OP is relatively new that she’s not in tune yet with what her manager expects, and that she may be used to the other sort who wanted to have input on everything and put his stamp on it.

  42. Not So NewReader*

    Some random thoughts, OP.

    You were the one who mentioned the lunches first, not Tammy. I don’t think it is first and foremost on her mind. However, later you mentioned that your boss eats lunch with you, Carrie and the others once a week. Consider copying what your boss does here. But don’t hang your hat on this as the magic fix. It’s not. You will need to do several adjustments to corral this situation.

    Please stop letting her have discussions on favoritism. Clearly, nothing you say will dissuade her and you are wasting your energy. Again, copy your boss. He turned you off like a button on a car radio. Likewise, tell Tammy that you are done discussing this. Offer options that others have mentioned here. “Tammy if you would like to talk about goal setting or growing your current job, we can do that if you would like.” Which probably is her main point anyway- she wants to talk about her job with you- if she did not care about her job she would not get PO’ed like that.

    Not every employee is easy. My husband used to talk about automatic employees, you plug them in and they go. Those are the easy ones. Some people require more effort. Understand that these are the people that grow you as a boss/leader. They will show you your strengths and your weaknesses. They will bring levels of clarity to your own job that you did not think were possible.

    You know, I used to draw the hardest stuff back on myself and keep it off of my crew. Two things happened. I could not get the work done all the time and I failed to grow myself as a leader because I was too busy with my own hard stuff. And the crew did not grow, either, because they did not see these tasks and learn how to do them. Slowly and steadily I started training. They were awesome. I mean I was wowed. It was in part because I trusted them to handle the hard stuff. It added variety to what they were doing and they were happy about that. Most importantly, they knew they were successfully making a real contribution to the effort. Ha!- they ended up showing me a few things! They were that good.

    Take a step back, look at this whole thing with fresh eyes and see what you notice.

  43. I'm the Carrie*

    I’m glad someone wrote this in because I’ve been thinking about submitting my own question. I’m in a very similar situation, but I am the Carrie! And man, is it awkward. I see a lot of similarities in terms of perceived and actual favoritism and am wondering how correct my situation at this point?!

    I started college a couple months after turning 16, had my first degree before turning 18 , and scored in the top 1.5% percent in the US on an SAT testing and then in the top 5% for specific training for my current company. As I was going for my 4 year degree, I was hired on an intern and hit it off really well with the company (they considered me high potential). That didn’t sit well with one of the employees that was having issues with our manager – within 8 months, that employee (who happened 30 years older) than me constantly would tell me that the manager was going to give their job to me. It was bizarre. I had 2.5-3 years left of university left, but they brought it up on almost a monthly basis. I wasn’t the type to “steal” someone’s job or even step on their toes. I thought they were paranoid and tried to assure them of that that was crazy, but they didn’t believe me. I tried lending them support at their job, giving them all the credit on projects, and dropping encouragement wherever I could. It didn’t work -they continued to have a variety of workplace issues over the next year from accusing our manager of discrimination to throwing a public tantrum in a hallway (literally yelling as he stormed down the hallway) to outright throwing me out under the bus in front of our director and VP. My manager sat down and told them to stop bullying the intern. The workplace issues were completely not exclusive to me, but ranged to numerous employees. He was eventually transferred to a different department and I did end up accepting his job, officially stepping into the role almost 6 months after graduation.

    I chalked it up to a weird experience.

    My manager really fought to bring me on board. The employee previously in my position told me that if they were fired, they would sue both the company and my manager. He hired me anyway. A competing company manager of the same level basically told me I would wash out because “they don’t hire anyone under 40” for the position. My manager was still willing invest time and resources to put me through the training. I have a lot of respect for my boss and we have a very good working relationship. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, often putting in 60-70 hours per week and they are aware of that. We share the exact same sense of humor and joke often and like previously mentioned, my story matches a lot of what the OP wrote about in terms of apparent or perceived favoritism.

    A lot of my coworkers do not have a good relationship with my manager. We work in a very stressful, political, and competitive environment. We’ve been understaffed for quite some time and it’s really getting to people. It’s not all my coworkers’ faults and it’s not all my manager’s fault, but a mix of both. To top it off, the morale is really low. The fact that I do get along with my manager does not go unnoticed. However, many of the coworkers seemed to chalked it up to me being an intern and “not a real person.” As I was still in school, I was told that I “wasn’t yelled at because you’re not a full time employee-you’re a kid. When you’re hired on, then you’ll get yelled at too.” That still has not happened to me yet and that really irks people.

    After graduation, things really got interesting. I was immediately sent to a host of training sessions. The company invested a lot of money in me to bring me up to speed to for additional duties that I would eventually be moving into. However, these are the standard classes that everyone has to take for the position. I started noticing that I was getting very odd reactions from coworkers like “They didn’t give me that course till I was here for A YEAR.” (they were hired for another position) or when I’d walk up to my manager’s office “There’s your girl!” to my manage or “Don’t you look smart today?” or another employee yelling out of the blue “YOU ARE A BIG, FAT LIAR” when my manager wasn’t around (I am overweight, but not a liar). Something needs to change!!

    At this point, I’m curious how to undo the damage that the favoritism has done. It’s VERY apparent that quite a bit has been done and may not ever get done. I can’t hire more staff. I can’t change the relationship that they have with my manager. I’ve even turned down opportunities offered to me because what other staff members may think. Looking back, I should have been much more aware of the storm brewing. I’m walking on eggshells now. WHAT DO I DO NOW??

    1. nona*

      I don’t have advice, but I want to say that this doesn’t sound like favoritism at all. It sounds like you’re extremely good at your job and other people are taking their personal insecurity or dissatisfaction out on you.

      I’m guessing here, because of the ages you mentioned, but were you clearly academically or intellectually “gifted” as a kid? This sounds like “teacher’s pet” bullying: Part 2.

      1. MK*

        I disagree about this not sounding like favoritism “at all”. Not about the professional development stuff; obviously “Carrie” is reaping the rewards of her natural intelligence and hard work there. Also obviously the person who was fired was indeed very insecure and was taking it out on her. But if the manager yells at other people and jokes with her, that’s pretty blatant favoritism. It sounds to me as if the manager has bad relationships with the rest of the staff and has “chosen” her to be her “right hand” person; frankly, it has a creepy “catch them young” vibe. “Carrie”, if you are the only person in your manager’s team that they have a good relationship with, that’ doesn’t say much either for her skill as a manager or in general. And it’s really at odds with the glowing picture you paint of your own relationship. Are you sure you are not seeing her through rose-tinted “my mentor” glasses?

        1. nona*

          That’s possible.

          I haven’t mentioned relationships or a mentor of my own. I’m not in “Carrie’s” position myself.

          1. I'm the Carrie*

            You bring up a lot of valid points and I appreciate the outward opinion as it can reveal things that I may be missing while in the middle of the situation or due to inexperience.

            As far as the “catch them while they’re young” idea, you’re kind of right. Historically, my company has not hired younger employees (under 40 for technical positions). Almost all our employees are within 5-10 years of retirement and when they do, we’re going to be facing some major issues both programmatically and resource wise. There’s only 4 people under 40 and they are train / educate younger (under 40) employees to help with the transition periods. Each time when we have someone retire, we take a huge hit because a wealth of historical and tribal knowledge disappears. We often will have to offer retirees fantastic temp contracts and they come in and aid us with backlogs. It’s more of a band-aid then a solution because it’s a constantly reoccurring issue.

            Here is where I am conflicted: I believe it is a mixture of performance based acknowledgement and favoritism.

            Here’s why:

            Some of the conflict with the other staff members is action based or personality based. For example, they were told not to perform action A and they will go perform action A, get in trouble for it, then complain about getting in trouble with the manager. They believe they “know” better than the manager and will act on it. Or, conversations like “don’t tell manager A or Director B we discussed this, but let’s do this instead.” will occur Some people intentionally step over the line over and over knowing that we can’t afford to lose their expertise right now. It’s not surprising that that causes conflict.

            However, I’ve also seen the opposite case my manager was at fault and not the staff member. Like I said before, we’ve been severely understaffed. My manager has admitted several times that he pushed us way too hard to meet deadlines that we didn’t have the resources to complete. It really burned out good employees. It’s literally a mix of all parties being guilty here in this conflict, including myself.

            I work in a very specialized, technical field. Out of 40 people in the nearby departments, only 1 other employee has the background to work on the newer projects. I get promoted to positions of leadership on the projects just because I’m the only person who could right now given the technical background unless they hired someone else in . This means I have to learn on the job quickly and often make mistakes as I try to grow into these challenging new roles, but I am gaining experience as I go. People see it as undue promotion, especially when they see mistakes, but their technical knowledge does not match the projects that we are pushing – being a talented electrical engineer does not mean that they could advise on database development or an industrial hygienist on application testing.

            As far as training goes, some of my coworkers have 40 years of experience in their jobs for their particular field (which is completely from my background) . They don’t need to attend intro or intermediate training – they can and do teach some of the classes themselves. They’re no dummies, but incredibly high performers. But when I get sent in for training, it looks like I’m getting tons of extra resources not being offered to them when in reality, I’m not – I’m getting the same training as everyone else that starts out on the ground floor. They’re overqualified for it.

            I agree some of it is favoritism and that it is very much perceived that way by my coworkers. Some of the employees that have the biggest problems with it used to be “the favorites” and very much enjoyed that position, but are no longer. It’s not a healthy dynamic and the more I read on the forums and gather real world experience, the more I see what kind of staffing situations this can produce.

            I wish I would have forseen this earlier and taken different actions to mitigate the effects of this on our group, which leads me to the point of my question: If I am shown favoritism, how do I address it in a constructive way? It might be too late for this job, but I’d like to learn this lesson now for future jobs. I’ve worked very hard to be successful in my career, but I don’t want to be known as being successful for being the “manager’s favorite.” I want my work to be what I’m judged on instead and there to be no doubt that I deserve the responsibilities I’ve been handed.

    2. Observer*

      MK has some good questions.

      It seems to me that you should not turn down opportunities, but I also think that you should be an awesome coworker. AND you should also start looking for a new job. If you have been in this job for a really short time, you might want to wait a bit, but give yourself a deadline to start.

      The issue here is that you are at risk here. If your manager goes, you will almost certainly be the first to go with her, and possibly under less than positive circumstances. I also have no doubt that others in the organization will have no hesitation in throwing you under the bus if they can. And, your manager sounds like a poor enough manager, and volatile enough, that if you displease her, she could turn on you. On top of which, this just sounds like a fairly toxic environment that is likely to pull you down in a lot of ways.

      All in all, you are probably better off elsewhere, when you can start off better.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree about turning down opportunities, do not do this without good, strong cause, such as it’s not your interest, it’s out of your skill set and so on.
        This is a decision that bites you from both sides. Management could quit backing you and peer group people are not going to like you better. They have already decided not to like you.
        Do not make decisions on the basis of how much people will like you because of the decision. It’s a really short-sighted way to go at work/career.
        If you want to build friendships do that outside of work. But don’t allow yourself to become isolated in effort to find friends. Turning down opportunities offered by management AND having jealous cohorts can mean isolation sometimes.

        In all likelihood, some of them probably do like you. Sometimes I have to examine my own thoughts to find out what I am doing. Double check yourself make sure it is not you who is distrustful of them, make sure it is not you who is presuming this or that about people. Don’t assume people do not like you. Make every effort each day to hold things in the best possible light. And if you have opportunities take those opportunities.

      2. I'm the Carrie*

        I’ve been in the job for 4 years including the internship. The first 3 years were really good, but I noticed that more issues began appearing when I began a full-time employee.

        I’ve discussed a lot of negative things I’ve encountered at my job, but there have also been a lot of good things as well. While I agree that there are certainly some workplace changes that could stand to take place, I’ve grown a lot from my time spent there and experienced some unique experiences that most similar companies would only offer on a limited basis. I grow bored very easily, but in the 4 years I’ve been here, they’ve more than adequately challenged me in terms of project related work. The compensation is very competitive. I don’t often ask for less work, but when I experienced health issues, 5 out 7 projects I was involved with were sidelined to allow me to recover and still be at work. The department took that hit on not meeting/extending those project deadlines.

        I am trying to remain with an open mind for either leaving or staying. I don’t like to walk away when things get tough, but if it comes to that, I do have one outstanding job offer available to me now. However, they have a higher turnover rate then we do.

    3. MsM*

      Honestly, no matter how good your relationship with your manager is, I think your best bet is to flee this nuthouse. But since you can’t get these people to like you, it may be time to start cracking down on particularly egregious examples: “I’m no longer an intern, and even if I were, it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk to or about me like this. If you have a problem with my work, please address it with me in a professional manner. If you have a problem with my age or how long I’ve been at the company or anything else that’s out of my control, keep it to yourself.” Maybe when they realize you’re not going to knuckle under this treatment like a kid would, they’ll start leaving you alone.

    4. The Strand*

      OK, I am sharing this link again: – read that. You did something right as a superstar – you tried to bond, you tried to be a helpful person. It’s a tricky thing to do when you are female, because being helpful and sensitive sometimes leads to people dumping various jobs on you.

      Also nthing that you sound like a gifted person. Have you read Barbara Kerr’s books on gifted women? Go to the nearest university library and look into this.

      It does sound like a negative work environment that you should disentangle yourself from, sooner rather than later. You’ll truly find out how good your mentor is once you prepare to leave. If they really want you to succeed at life, rather than just at this particular job, they will support you moving forward. Be prepared to be disappointed, though. Keep reading AAM, you’ll find some wonderful people and wisdom here as well as Alison, and keep us posted on the Friday open thread if you’d like. You can and will find a better, more human place to work. My advice is for you to find an “supergroup”; the “Cream” of whatever field you want to be in. It won’t eradicate envy entirely, but when you work with excellent people who are satisfied and achieving, it makes a big difference.

      1. I'm the Carrie*

        I really liked that article – it a great reminder to me as I’ve worked with both employee types and there is a definitely a preferred type. Some of the people I’ve respected the most have been people that are interested in helping others instead of themselves. They’re not caught up in maintaining their own image, but building other people up.

        I haven’t read the book, but I will add it to my list! And I appreciate the perspective and honesty in the advice – leaving is something that has been on my mind and many people in my life have weighed in on both ends and time will tell where this leads.

        In the mean time, I’ve found that reading through the articles posted and the comments helps me grow by presenting opinions I never had thought about before, but were completely legitimate. I’ve transferred some of the advice into my own job, but still have a ways to go, so I’ll keep reading and growing.

    5. The Strand*

      Oh, and “I’m the Carrie,” I should specify – when I say “supergroup,” I mean a group where everyone is high performing. Harder to find, though, so start looking now.

  44. Cassie*

    My boss currently supervises another employee (Betty). Betty is basically Tammy – she frequently gets upset that our boss assigns me projects or tasks that she feels she should be handling. She complains about the favoritism to HR all the time. I don’t know if she has told our boss how she feels but even if she did, I have a feeling he would not be able to handle the situation well.

    Betty has underperformed on multiple occasions. For example, she was supposed to provide a detailed report and she sent him a single paragraph summary. Instead of sending the report back to her and asking her to fix it, he forwarded it to me with a note that said “the report was not sufficient – can you work on this?”. So for future tasks, he would just directly ask me. To Betty, it looks like he’s favoring me for no reason.

    I really wish he would just be direct with her and tell her where her work is insufficient. And tell her what she needs to do to bring her work up to par. Instead, she badmouths me to everyone who will listen (I guess she thinks I blind him with my magical powers or something) and it’s not fair to me.

  45. NE*

    The incident with Carrie leaving Tammy off the meeting invite and the OP getting angry at Tammy for being upset about that sends a pretty strong signal to both Carrie and Tammy that Carrie can do no wrong. The favoritism in your post is staggering. I can’t imagine how it looks to Tammy in RL.

    As a manager, you need to take ownership of your direct reports’ work performance. If you have a chronically weak performer, you need to find and fix the flaws in your own leadership. You might ask your boss for permission to take some generalized supervisory training rather than going to him with all the details.

    1. nona*

      OP didn’t know that Tammy hadn’t been invited, and didn’t understand why Tammy was angry about it.

      Not arguing with the rest of your post – the preference for Carrie is definitely there.

      1. Observer*

        That may have been true AT THE MOMENT. But, afterward, when she had to have known what happened, she still didn’t handle it well. And, as I noted, it’s reasonable to ask why she didn’t know – most meeting invites I have gotten show the full list of invitees.

        1. nona*

          I don’t know about you, but I’m often confused and pretty upset when somebody snaps at me. Particularly when something like this happens:

          I assumed she was invited and asked her to bring the project file. Tammy was very upset that she had not been on the invite and exclaimed, “I need more lead time than a few minutes to attend a meeting! You can’t expect me to drop everything!” I snapped. I countered, “Then don’t go” and walked away.

          Tammy didn’t say that she wasn’t invited. OP pieced this together later, and in the moment, was reacting (badly) to a strange, passive-aggressive little fit.

          1. Observer*

            Sure, being confused and upset is understandable, but snapping back is not a great idea. However, I get that it happens. But once she had a chance to calm down AND FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED, she needed to react differently. The fact that she said “I need more lead time than a few minutes” should have been a clue. And even if she didn’t bother to follow up on that and didn’t find out till later, once she knew, she needed to apologize

            She also needed to follow up with Carrie. Tammy does not need to know how she is dealing with Carrie, of course. But, the fact that the OP doesn’t indicate that she is following up with that makes me wonder. I get that the OP may have left that detail out because she was trying to be brief, but if she really didn’t follow up that’s a big deal.

            1. nona*

              Okay. I am only saying that OP, in that specific moment, didn’t know what had happened yet.

              1. OP*

                Thank you for picking up on that! I had no idea she wasn’t invited, this was a meeting with 25+ people, I didn’t review the full list to make sure one person was specifically invited.

                I mentioned in my email that Tammy has been almost rude recently. My email was already incredibly long so I did not expound on this. Tammy has been snapping at me, Carrie and other members of our team since Carrie was hired. That’s why I snapped, after months of her either muttering angrily at all of us or full on blowing up (not shouting exactly, but loudly complaining or going on a tirade), this was the end for me. I’ve been calm and given explanations in the past and asked her to change her behavior but I was just tired of it all at that point. That’s why I apologized to her about getting angry but pointed out (AGAIN) that if she is rude and caustic to others, she needs to realize that they will eventually be that way back to her.

                1. Observer*

                  The point is that when you apologize, you should leave it at that. The issue of her being rude should be addressed separately. Otherwise, the message gets lost AND your apology is meaningless. In this case, it’s an especially big problem, because as rude as she was she DID give you a clue as to what happened, and you should have found out what happened and acknowledged it.

                  I’m not excusing Tammy’s rudeness. But that doesn’t mean that real issues should not be acknowledged. And not being invited IS an issue, on it’s own. Being asked to do something for the meeting just makes it worse.

                  Also, I get why you missed the fact that she wasn’t invited. But, having found that out, have you looked to see if there have been other errors of the sort? And, in any case have you followed up with this issue? It really IS a fairly serious mistake, even though it’s an easy one to make.

                2. Jamie*

                  @Observer – I’m obviously not the OP, but curious about this. You really consider this a serious mistake?

                  It would have been if the OP didn’t care that she had no notice and chewed her out over not having the preparation done. If OP fired her or put her on a PIP – or was even mad at her for not being ready then it would be a very big deal because the OP would be completely and totally irrational.

                  If it was a pattern of leaving her out then I agree, even if there were no consequences to Tammy, because that’s passive aggression not even trying to be subtle. But it was once and on her first (?) meeting she was arranging – for me that would be an error not an issue. More in the category of typo than serious mistake.

                  I’ve forgotten to add someone to a meeting invite – I typically check and resend with an “oops, meant to include you on this” but if I missed it I either reschedule if I need them to to prepare or (if not) appreciate if they can squeeze it in last minute and apologize.

                  If she had to do something critical to the project file for the meeting the OP should have made sure this element was complete – if it was just bring the file in (as is) then I don’t get why that needs lead time. No doubt it’s annoying to have your schedule hijacked by an unexpected meeting – but if she wasn’t asked to prepare anything special and just grab a file that’s so not a big deal it makes it even weirder that Tammy overreacted.

                  OP? What was the level of prep she needed to do for this? Because now I’m curious. :)

                3. Observer*

                  @Jaimie, I DO think it’s a serious mistake. Not one I would make a huge deal over, but nevertheless, serious. And, I certainly hope that Carrie does get that. At least she’s heard from her boss about it, so that’s a good start.

                  The issue is not that Tammy had to do a LOT of work for the meeting, but not letting her know in advance, and then expecting her to find and bring something (even though it probably is a small task) can easily come off as dismissive and belittling.

                  OP, I’m curious. Did anyone eve apologize to Tammy? Not groveling or anything major – it wasn’t the end of the world. But, “That was a real goof, and I’ll try to be more careful in the future” level apology?

                4. Jamie*

                  OP, I’m curious. Did anyone eve apologize to Tammy? Not groveling or anything major – it wasn’t the end of the world. But, “That was a real goof, and I’ll try to be more careful in the future” level apology?

                  For sure – this definitely should have happened – totally agree.

                5. OP*

                  Yes, Carrie apologized directly to Tammy and explained that it was her first big meeting and thought she had invited Tammy. Tammy was gracious and said it was fine.

                  As for the lead time, I can see if it was a deadline day or she was preparing something important that she would be upset (I would be too). This was literally her bringing a file and sitting through a wrap up of the project and then giving any feedback on how we could have done better / made the process easier. There was no prep needed from Tammy for this and no deadline that this interfered with. To be honest, I could see over her shoulder that she was on FB (which this company is very lenient about if there isn’t much to do).

                  We’re in California with a VERY causal culture and pop up last minute meetings are not only typical, it’s expected in our department. I was extremely concerned about her reaction given that it’s not unusual for last minute meetings.

                6. Observer*

                  @OP It’s a good thing that Carrie apologized. And the fact that Tammy responded appropriately is a good sign as well. The issue is NOT that there was a lot of objective work for Tammy. And, it does not make that much of a difference that last minute meetings are common. The issue was that it was last minute FOR HER, while EVERYONE ELSE got an invitation in advance. If you had sent out an email blast to all 25 or 26 people saying “Guys, we need to meet on the Chocolate Embargo ASAP. I’ve got the big conference room with the good projector lined up. See you in 5” and then asked her to bring the whatsit file, that would be one thing. You didn’t give her any warning, but neither did you give anyone else. It makes NO difference that she wasn’t busy. The difference in way she was informed of the meeting can be taken as a sign that you don’t respect her time or work.

              2. Jessa*

                The problem here is if this had happened to me (5 min notice on a meeting,) I would have said I was fine (because really it’s not on to gripe about it,) but I am the sort of person that you cannot screw with my scheduling without screwing me up mightily.

                If I have my alarm set for 7am and someone wakes me up at 10 to 7, my whole day is out of whack. Now if it was an emergency I’d deal, but seriously, I’d be flipping internally to have to suddenly change my entire day’s mental schedule for a five minute notice to a meeting that everyone else found out about days ago.

                It doesn’t matter if all I have to do is bring a file.

                Now I have to A: find the file, B: change mental gears from whatever to meeting, C: actually look and sound competent AT said meeting, then when it’s over D: try to salvage whatever I was working on when I was interrupted and hope I remember any trains of thought I was on.

                It is a bloody big deal to do this to someone. And just because it was an accident (and I’m not 100% sure it was, even if it was UNconscious on Carrie’s part,) doesn’t mean Tammy shouldn’t be totally reassured and processes put in place that this does not happen again.

    2. Observer*

      The incident with the invite jumped at me, as well.

      OP, you really didn’t handle that well. Snapping was a bad idea in any case – but ESPECIALLY so when the rudeness was precipitated by a legitimate issue. And, you should have ACTUALLY apologized, rather than “explaining” that rudeness begets rudeness. Again, that was always a bad idea and made a bad situation worse, but it was made even worse because Tammy could just as easily have said the same thing. After all, leaving her off a meeting – especially one where she might be expected to actually do something for it – was extremely rude as well, even though it was probably unintentional.

      Also, did you take this up with Carrie? She may be a rock star, but these kinds of details are important. Assuming that it was an honest mistake, it’s still something that she needs to deal with. And, she needs to know that it can’t happen again. I’m not suggesting that you come down on her like a ton of bricks, but she does need to know that part of being a truly valuable employee with working well with others. I’d also suggest that you keep an eye out for a pattern here. There really is no way to know based on one incident, but it’s very easy to sabotage a person with a lot of little “mistakes” that are not really “mistakes”. Have there been other incidents where Carrie has accidentally neglected to loop Tammy into something she should have known about?

      Have you even been paying attention to this issue? One of the things I was wondering about this incident is that generally when meeting invites go out – whether by email or calendar notices, a list of invitees tends to show up. How did it happen that you didn’t notice that Tammy was not on the list?

      1. OP*

        It was a legitimate mistake on Carrie’s part – she invited a number of people from various teams and Tammy got lost in the mix. I have seen no evidence that Carrie is sabotaging Tammy, she’s been pleasant and eager to learn. I spoke to her about it and have no doubt she’ll remember next time. To be clear, this is the only time that Carrie has made a mistake that in any way impacted Tammy, so there’s no ‘issue’ to follow between them. That is why I asked Tammy for specific examples of when I treated her differently (or if there were any problems with Carrie that I did not know about) and she could not give even one example. I suspect that this is just a case where Tammy sees a new employee stronger than her in this role and worries about her future (I’ve assured her that she’s a valued employee and I’m very happy with her output). She appears to be jealous. Frankly, that’s what grates on me – it feels like I have two children who are squabbling because one finds the job easier to pick up and Tammy takes everything personally because she is scared. Aside from telling her how valued she is, giving her good feedback on her work (which I do), I’m at a loss on how to make her feel more secure on the team.

        1. Jamie*

          Is there anything you can have Tammy train Carrie on? Obviously you’re handling the training on the bulk of it, and I’m not suggesting busy work (hate) but is there anything you’re currently training Carrie on which isn’t high level and Tammy could do as well.

          People like to share their expertise and Carrie seems like she’s eager and receptive to learning. It can give them a work thing to do together where Tammy is taking the lead and that may make her feel more secure. Positive interactions build off each other and it’s a lot easier to resent and think someone is out to screw you over if you don’t really know them.

        2. Observer*

          Follow Allison’s advice.

          The lunches are an especially problematic issue, because it’s clear that from Tammy’s perspective you are telling her that she has a choice to spend lunch with you or spend her lunch on her preferred activities AND PAY A PRICE. It’s a very reasonable perspective, too.

          And while you should not avoid praising Carrie when she deserves it, you should NEVER compare the two, and preferably praise Carrie out of Tamy’s presence, unless Carrie did something that *really* should get an immediate response.

          Lastly, keep in mind that although you say she can’t voice a single instance of disparate treatment, that does not let you off the hook. Firstly, she actually did – and you dismissed her. She told you that she shouldn’t have to give up her lunch time to get face time with you and you essentially brushed her off, politely, but petty definitively. So, you already have an issue there AND she probably figured that anything in that range is going to get shot down as well. The other thing is that often favoritism can be hard to pin down and prove. And, given your attitude, you may not be the best judge at the moment.

          That said, I agree with Allison that Tammy might still never be happy. But, you are going to be in a MUCH better position to deal with the behavior if you make sure you are doing what you need to, and stop doing things that really (at best) create an appearance of favoritism.

        3. Anonsie*

          That is why I asked Tammy for specific examples of when I treated her differently (or if there were any problems with Carrie that I did not know about) and she could not give even one example.

          It’s very difficult, though, to articulate an overall attitude that manifests in a lot of little things here and there. I think it’s very possible that she’s picking up on the same thing a lot of the commenters are in how you’re displeased with her and glowingly happy with Carrie, and that could be coming out into little practical problems that are small enough to seem petty to bring up but frequent enough to send a big message.

          And to be clear, Tammy being cranky all over the place is not reasonable and you need to let her know that’s got to stop. But when she initially brought up her concerns to you, you essentially shut it down. That leaves the statements you did give her (that she’s very valuable and there’s nothing special about Carrie) ringing rather false, because you absolutely are treating Carrie differently– it appears rightfully so, but denying favoritism without explaining the very real discrepancies in the opportunities Carrie is getting is going to stand out to Tammy. What is she supposed to think is happening if you don’t tell her? Don’t make it about Carrie, as Alison said, but don’t just sweep her concerns under the rug.

          I’ve been Carrie and I’ve been Tammy, and the way this is playing out is not fair to either of them. Tammy is looking for constructive feedback about why her performance doesn’t match up to what appears (to her) to be your new expectations, and Carrie is having to deal with a disgruntled coworker.

          It also might help to not let yourself frame this as a conflict between kids, especially your own kids, which I’ve noticed you brought up a few times. Your employees aren’t children and you don’t settle concerns with adult professionals (however childish they are acting) the same way you would with children. I think that might be part of the issue behind your conversations with Tammy, you’re presenting your framework (“I’m not favoring Carrie and you’re doing fine”) without any explanation for the ways in which they are in fact being treated differently. You’re expecting her to accept that as truth when her own observations contradict it.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Wait. Is Carry squabbling, too?

          You can help* Tammy feel more secure by giving her skills, knowledge, training and more autonomy. If she will not accept these things from you, there not much you are going to be able to do. Explain to her that if she is worried about job security in any job, this is how to make yourself feel more secure. If she has no interest in any of these things there is not a lot you are going to be able to do. Maybe you should tell her that point blank.

          * I think you know that you cannot make anyone do or feel a particular way. You can help to ease the way for that. But that is all.

  46. Teacup Puppies*

    Oh this strikes close home. I am sure I am the Tammy at my work place. So hard to deal with the feeling that you aren’t “good enough” and aren’t the “natural superstar” . So hard. I feel for Tammy, but yeah, she needs to fix her attitude, and up her game as much as she can.

  47. Petronella*

    Yes, live and work long enough and you will eventually have been both a Carrie and a Tammy. Sometimes even at the same job, at different times. (just as an aside, what are the relative ages here? I would not be surprised if Carrie is 10 years or so younger than Tammy).

  48. e.*

    I know it’s two years after the post but here goes:
    I think there’s a good chance Carrie did not invite Tammy to the meeting on purpose.
    I also think it’s suspicious that Carrie eats lunch with her manager everyday.
    Even if the manager does not show favouritism, which cannot be ruled out, he should keep an eye out because Carrie could be trying to gain something from him at the expense of Tammy.

Comments are closed.