my employee takes over other people’s work and gets emotional when I ask her to stop

A reader writes:

I have a great, well-rounded employee who can do everything asked and be creative when needed to find solutions. The problem is that she sometimes takes over other people’s tasks, saying something like, “Oh, it was just easier from me to do it” or joking that she wanted it done right.

We’re a small team and we all wear many hats, but time after time I’ll see this employee working on a project that I assigned to someone else. I’ll also see her staying late to finish work that isn’t due for a week or more down the road. I’ll ask and get the usual, “Oh, I was on a roll so just did it all.” Then she’ll indirectly complain that she’s juggling too many projects.

This has also included interactions in the office. If someone comes into our department and asks a question to me, since I’m the manager, this employee makes it a point to speak first and get out as quick an answer as possible.

Being careful not to offend such a great employee, I’ve talked with her about this before and that didn’t go very well. I explained the problem of routinely taking over other people’s tasks and the trouble that causes. She listened, then started crying and said she would change their schedule, wouldn’t do anything extra again, etc. It wasn’t as dramatic as it looks in writing. It was about a 20-minute conversation, and this person is an outstanding employee. However, within 2-3 weeks it was the same as before.

This past week, this escalated when I was talking with my boss about a project I’d been working on and she was asking a few questions about time lines, loose ends etc. as we were making coffee in the break room. My boss said something like, “Well, it’s all in Excel so shouldn’t be a problem.” Conversation finished.

However, as she said this, my overachiever walked into the room and added, “Not everybody understands Excel,” t hen started quickly throwing out online data collecting sites and processes. My boss was asking me about these, but my employee was constantly getting interrupting or answering for me. Keep in mind that at this point, she still didn’t know what project we were talking about! Within a few minutes, she had our boss convinced enough that online data collecting is the only way to go and I should start working on that. My response was, “I’ve been working on this for 3 weeks. We have 1 day before the client needs the project. Why don’t you take this over, since it sounds like you know how it should be done and get the client what they need?” and I walked out of the room. Which I shouldn’t have, but I was just too frustrated at yet another interaction like this, this time with my boss involved.

The rest of the day, this person kept saying out loud, “I just don’t know where to start, this is all due tomorrow.” I left early for the day so I wouldn’t or couldn’t help. I know that’s a bad manager move, but I really wanted this person to understand and feel the ramifications of her actions. The following day, when the project was due, she called in sick with a migraine. We used the work I had done, and when she came in the day after, she acted like nothing had happened. Project, what project?

What’s your advice?

Well, this is a great example of how when managers put off dealing with performance issues as directly as they need to, the situation often blows up in a way it never would have if they’d have a clear and direct conversation earlier on.

It … wasn’t okay for you to handle this latest situation the way you did. You pretty much set up your employee for failure (knowing that would be the case, I’m guessing), signaled to her that there’s no real accountability in play (she’s now been allowed to skip out on an assignment and act like it never happen), and probably came off looking pretty weak in front of your boss (walking out of that conversation in obvious annoyance = not a great move).

I totally understand being frustrated by this. But you are the one with the authority to fix this situation. It doesn’t make sense to lose your cool and do something like this, when you have much simpler, calmer, more direct solutions in your tool chest. This is exactly the kind of thing that ends up happening when managers aren’t managing staff problems — they become increasingly frustrated until they lose their cool, when they had the power to fix it much more matter-of-factly earlier on.

So. You’ve got to fix this, and that means talking to her about what is and isn’t okay, holding firm on it, and not getting thrown off track if she gets emotional about it again.

I’d sit down with her and say this: “We’ve talked in the past about not interrupting other people’s conversations, and not jumping in on other people’s work without being asked to. You made the changes I asked for for a few weeks, but since then I’ve seen it happening again. It’s important to your success here — and frankly, to your relationships with your coworkers — that we find a solution to this. I thought we were on the same page when we last talked. What am I missing?”

If she becomes emotional or cries again, don’t let that throw you off. Ask her if she needs a minute before you continue, hand her a tissue, get her some water, or whatever feels appropriate — but then continue the conversation.

If she tells you (as she did last time) that she just won’t do anything extra anymore, say, “That’s not what I’m asking. I’m telling you that I need you to stop doing other people’s work for them because it’s demoralizing to have one’s work taken over by someone else and it can be disruptive to our work flow and I need you focused on your own job. I’d welcome you going above and beyond in your own realm, but I need you to stop inserting yourself into projects that are being handled by other people.”

Also, I’d encourage you to re-think your assessment of her as a “great employee.” Great employees don’t alienated their coworkers by talking over their work after being asked to stop doing it, or respond like she did when given feedback, or call out sick when they can’t complete a project and then act like it never existed. Great employees aren’t perfect and all have flaws, certainly, but great employees as a general rule will hear feedback and work on incorporating it into how they operate.

Right now, she’s not being a great employee. And honestly, you’re not doing her any favors by avoiding this conversation (and then later letting your frustration come out as it did). You’d be doing her a service if you had a calm, straightforward, kind but firm conversation with her about what you’re seeing and what needs to change — and then holding her to it.

{ 256 comments… read them below }

  1. Kateyjl

    When she starts interrupting you, stop her. Use words like, “I wasn’t finished”, “As I was saying”, “Jane, please don’t interrupt, you don’t have the full picture”, etc.

    Stay calm. Talk softly, it gets people’s attention.

    1. fposte

      Or, since she wasn’t supposed to be in the discussion in the first place, use words like “Jane, I need you to go back to your desk so Bob and I can finish this.”

      1. fposte

        P.S. And then follow up with her when you and Bob are done. “Jane, I understand that you’re eager, but that’s leading you into mistakes. It’s not appropriate or helpful for you to insert yourself into a discussion like that, no matter how it feels to you at the time; don’t do that again.”

    2. BRR

      Chronic interrupter here. Call it interrupting. I don’t think anybody thinks of it as a positive trait, especially when it’s called out directly. I was flat out told (my boss and I both have direct personalities so it worked), “You interrupt people a lot and you have to stop doing it.”

      1. Natalie

        Yep, I’ll cop t0 it, too, and it’s really helpful (albeit embarrassing) to have it noted in the moment.

        1. jmkenrick

          I don’t think I know anyone who NEVER interrupts – it’s one of those things we often do without realizing, so it can be really useful to have it called out in the moment.

          I actually don’t consider myself a chronic interrupter, but when a conversation gets intense (either good or bad!) it happens.

          1. Kelly L.

            Yes! I’m usually pretty good about it at work, but I got called out by my SO a few months ago for doing it during our conversations. I just get so enthusiastic about stuff! And I want to jump in! And he likes to pause between sentences! I’ve had to get better at waiting out the pauses, and I’m still not amazing at it.

            1. De Minimis

              That’s a big part of where my interrupting comes from….I think it’s about this desire to be seen as the smartest in the class, you want to give the right answer. I still have trouble with it sometimes, but I have to keep reminding myself that people most likely see it as annoying.

              1. Cruella DaBoss

                I have a son who has Asperger’s . He does this for the very reason you mentioned. But he does not see his action as rude. To him, he is just sharing important information that needs to be heard. He is so enthusiastic about getting his information out there, that he totally misses that he has offended someone by interrupting.

            2. wishfulxsinger

              My SO did the same thing with me! I find that I sometimes have trouble focusing if I’m worried that I’ll lose my train of thought. It’s tough, but I think it will be helpful to become a better listener.

          2. ThursdaysGeek

            I don’t interrupt very much. As a consequence, I don’t speak much in many conversations.

          3. Marilyn

            I would say I’m on the shyer side so I have often been the one getting interrupted, and I feel like over the years I’ve (unfortunately) overcompensated by interrupting others just to make sure I actually get a chance to say what I want to say, but then end up being paranoid about interrupting too much.

      2. Dana

        I had no idea I was a chronic interrupter until I started dating my current partner. I grew up in a loud household with a large-ish family and the way you got heard was kind of to just be louder than everyone else. All very friendly, but we just constantly interrupted everyone. I never saw a problem jumping into the middle of a sentence for clarification or trying to “help” the conversation along. But when it was brought to my attention multiple times (it’s one of my partner’s pet peeves actually) I was so embarrassed. I’ve worked really hard to try not to interrupt people the last few years. And, wow, does it annoy me when my mother does it to me now!

        1. Kelly L.

          I had a similar evolution, except in my family, there wasn’t really a ton of interrupting even though we were a big family…but in my ex’s family, you didn’t get a word in edgewise unless you stepped on someone else. They thought I was rude and standoffish for not interrupting! So I adapted. But then he and I split up, and with current partner, it just didn’t fly. I really liked You Just Don’t Understand for this. It wasn’t even the gender stuff that really fit the situations to a tee, more the cultural differences among how families of different backgrounds and social circles talked.

          1. AnonAnalyst

            Yeah, I don’t come from a large family, but this is how my family conversations work. It’s really frustrating, too, because I have been called out on it before in other contexts and have worked really hard to stop, but then have to pick up the habit again when I talk with my family in order to get a word in at all.

            Unrelated, but I also often struggle with this in meetings. I’ll have something to say, but want to let whoever is currently speaking finish their point, and then someone else jumps in immediately. So I feel like I either never get a chance to talk, or end up inadvertently interrupting someone before they’re finished speaking or talking over the next person to start so that I can get what I need to say out there before the meeting moves on or ends. So frustrating! Sometimes I wish conversations would operate like a classroom where I could just raise my hand when I have something to say…

            1. I called her Estella

              Yes, I’m just the same. I feel like I have a great point to make, pause until the other person has finished but then the conversation has moved on and the moment goes.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian

              Sometimes I wish that work meetings had a talking stick, like my women’s wisdom circle does :-) Whoever is holding the stick has the floor and nobody else is supposed to talk until the stick is passed to them.

              1. Kelly L.

                I once literally went and grabbed a conch shell (I already owned it; I didn’t go to the beach on the spot or anything) when a conversation had gotten really out of hand.

        2. Rene UK

          Urgh, I have two aunts who I swear don’t even stop for breath. If you want to say anything..including directions while driving…you have to interrupt, very loudly! It was very uncomfortable for me, since my family was more the ‘don’t interrupt at any cost’ variety.

        3. Soharaz

          I have the same type of family. My SO was completely shocked by it and was quiet for most of our first visit home. 5 years later he’s not much better at interrupting, but he knows everyone well enough now to pull one or two people for side conversations that he finds a lot less stressful.
          It doesn’t help that my family is American and he’s British. I never noticed how loud Americans can be until I moved abroad *sheepish grin*

      3. Retail Lifer

        Yes. I was always really bad about interrupting. I grew up in a big family and that was the only way to be heard sometimes. That habit followed me into the rest of my life and I didn’t realize how annoying it was, or even that it was really rude. I doubt I would have ever recognized how annoying it was until someone else called me out on it a few time.

      4. ExJourno

        Yep, I’m a chronic interrupter as well. It’s a symptom of my ADHD and I often do it without realizing it because the talking part of my brain gets ahead of the listening part of my brain.

        I agree that calling it “interrupting” and noting it at the moment it happens is smart.

        I’m sensing that this employee wants to feel heard and appreciated, and for whatever reason (maybe not the manager’so fault), she’s not getting that.

        It also might be helpful to suggest ways in which it might be appropriate to go above and beyond when she has the time and inclination, so that enthusiasm gets channeled appropriately. Something like, “If you want to take on additional work, it would be better for you to focus on the spot report rather than jumping into vanilla teapots, which are Wakeen’s territory.”

        Also, something like “It’s too late to take that suggestion for this project, but if you want to write up a proposal about using that software/method/vendor in the future, I’d be happy to consider it” might help.

      5. That Marketing Chick

        Me too. It’s a need for me to be helpful and useful, and has really annoyed people in the past. I’ve made a conscious effort to STOP DOING THIS and sometimes have to literally bite my tongue. It’s not easy, but if she wants to not be alienated by everyone in the office, you need to do her a HUGE favor and be honest with her and help her grow as a person and learn some Emotional Intelligence.

    3. Kelly L.

      I’ve found myself having to use things like “Sorry, that’s not where I was going with this” when interrupted by someone who thinks she knows what I’m talking about, but actually doesn’t have enough context.

      LW, I was with you until pretty far into the letter. This employee sounds tremendously annoying. I’ve worked with similar, and they drove me up the wall. But I agree with Alison that it also wasn’t OK to just drop this on her when she didn’t actually know what you were talking about. It’s probably lucky that your work was so close to finished, so that it could be submitted instead. But I think I’m having a sympathy freakout imagining Annoying Employee’s state of mind after being given the assignment.

      (And of course she responded badly as well, by pretending it didn’t happen. So nobody gets a medal here.)

      1. Stranger than fiction

        I actually like the “lesson” she tried to teach her but hey I’m not a manager and I know I have passive aggressive traits. But this made me think a discussion about respecting hierarchy is in order. Maybe this employee used to have higher rank at her previous job

        1. Jane Alex

          I thought the same thing about the lesson. Part of me was so satisfied that the LW actually let the employee experience the consequences. I can definitely see that’s problematic for a manager (or anyone) to actually do, but it’s still rewarding (in a perverse, schadenfreude way) to see someone actually do it.

        2. Cassie

          I like the lesson too, except that did the employee really learn her lesson? Yes, she wasted all day trying to figure it out, and had to take a day off, but when all is said and done, it would kind of feel like “no harm, no foul” to the employee. She didn’t have to face the client and she didn’t even have to answer to her boss/supervisor for failing to complete the project as she proposed.

      2. JoeManager

        I agree, and said so that it was a bad move. I also, knew that my boss had signed off on my work the day before and that the client wouldn’t be harmed.

      3. Jen S. 2.0

        Agree with Katie. I was with the OP until s/he got passive aggressive. You should have used your words, interrupted her right back, and **said** something like, “Actually, I have this handled. Thanks for the offer, but I’m all set and won’t need any help.” There was no need to let her take over the project and stomp off in a pouting snit to watch her fail.

  2. fposte

    She really hasn’t accepted the truth that her doing more makes her a *worse* employee, not a better one. She’s like the student who doesn’t grasp that a 20-page paper for a 10-page assignment isn’t going above and beyond, it’s getting the assignment wrong.

    It also sounds like she may be really invested in “the person who does more” as her identity; if so, if you can identify acceptable ways for her to excel (pardon the phrase), that might be helpful. And if she goes back to the same behavior after two weeks, pull her in and let her know that her work is problematic again. And talk in those terms–don’t use positive phrases like “doing extra,” make it clear that her work needs to *improve.* Because it does.

    1. Artemesia

      I once had to have this conversation with a grad student who preempted her team’s work to the extent that she arrived before teams were formed with the ‘team name and logo’ for her yet unselected team.. The night before the big final presentation she developed and copied a 60 page report to distribute to the class. Her team was the worst performer because the precise instructions were not given till that morning and her 60 page report in addition to being expensive to produce and way to long, also missed the point of the assignment so that they were off target.

      1. kozinskey

        This person sounds like someone who saw Paris Geller on TV and decided to be exactly like her.

        1. beachlover

          and Paris Geller went on to Law school and now works for a Law Professor, that can teach you how to get away with murder!

    2. Kelly O

      I tend to agree with you on this one, fposte.

      This doesn’t make her a better employee. It makes things worse and she can’t even see it, and doesn’t seem to recognize the problem, as you’ve attempted to have the conversation before. I know we had another discussion about being abrupt and rather blunt, but this may be one time that sort of conversation is needed.

      Ideally you could frame this in terms of allowing others to do their jobs (although I would avoid saying anything about allowing others the opportunity to excel, because it seems like she wants to hoard all that “glory” for herself, for lack of better phrasing.) She has her job, others have their jobs, and while some cross-training can be good, she’s making it harder for everyone else. Maybe she has a martyr thing going on too? If she takes on all this stuff and throws herself up on the cross, then she is working harder (not smarter) and perceives that as better?

      This is just a difficult situation, but you have to figure out how to take control of it, without just walking away. That doesn’t help you or her (and I would about guarantee you she’s already told someone she took the work because you couldn’t handle it and walked away. Not 100% certain, mind you, but most of the martyrs I have worked with would have been on that like a duck on a junebug.)

  3. PEBCAK

    Ugh, I hate to say this, but I’m a crier when I have PMS, and it’s like, two days/month, and I have actually pushed back on my boss about having sensitive conversations on a day that I knew I’d probably burst into tears. I’ve said stuff like, “I’m a little stressed out with personal stuff today, would it be alright if we had this conversation on Thursday?”

    All of which is to say that nobody WANTS to be the person who cries in the office…it’s embarrassing for all parties involved, and I think it’s best to just pretend it isn’t happening and move on.

    1. Brandy

      Its also a form of manipulation. Not in your case, but some people know it makes those around them uncomfortable and will end the conversation quickly.

      1. Engineer Girl

        I can be a form of manipulation. It can also be a sign of frustration. The problem is that the person watching may assume one motive when it is the other. The solution is the same: Allow the crier a moment to pull themselves together. A frustrated person will appreciate it and the manipulator will get derailed.

          1. CatDog

            You can often tell which it is based on how the person reacts (I grew up with a sister who loved her crocodile tears!). If the person apologises, is looking down, avoiding eye contact and their body language says highly embarrassed it’s not manipulation. Embarrassed people don’t generate so many tears because they’re so focussed on trying to stop the crying quickly, whereas manipulators actively let floods out in as though they’re watching a weepy film at on their sofa. They also quite confidently wipe their tears.

      2. Stephanie

        Honestly, manipulation was my first thought, but perhaps because this person seems to have a work martyr complex.

    2. wishfulxsinger

      My boss found me crying during my lunch break a few weeks ago. It was ridiculously embarrassing, but she helped my through it and let me leave an hour early so I could take care of my personal issue.

      I totally agree at being a crier during PMS, it’s the worst! I sometimes cry over the most insignificant things, and it gets super awkward.

    3. Nutcase

      I am most definitely a crier and it is so embarrassing. I am a massive introvert and never wear my heart on my sleeve so having emotions effectively leaking from my face on any occasion is mortifying for me. Over the years I’ve narrowed down the many things that can make me much more likely to cry, including PMS, stress and even just a bad nights sleep and sometimes all I need is a sad song on the radio or just a sad news article to get a massive lump in my throat even on a good day. I don’t even have to be very sad, I am just really sensitive to others’ emotions around me. I do sympathise with any of the OPs or coworkers they write about who have cried at work because I’ve been there, done that and got the soggy tshirt. I can’t be the only one who can’t help it!

      1. weepy

        I have a crying problem, too! I actually think I found AAM searching something like, “crap i cried at work.”

        I had a professor in undergrad who told a story of a dept Chair who cried during meetings and would say blatantly at the beginning, “I’m probably going to cry. Please just carry on.”

        I’m interested by people calling it manipulative; I definitely see that perspective, but it really can be involuntary and is one of those things that can be VERY difficult to phase out of your temperament.

      2. Soharaz

        There is an insurance commercial that had me bawling once. They made you care so much about the characters for a 30 second commercial that when the fictional mom got cancer (and lived, thanks insurance!) I totally lost it. So yeah, I feel you.

        1. JMegan

          I once cried because somebody was eliminated from a reality show. It wasn’t a show I had been invested in, or even actually watching – I was channel surfing and happened to land there just as the host announced the name of the person who was going home. And I sobbed! Actual tears, as if this person were my dearest friend who I had known my entire life and I had been watching the show from the beginning of the season to wish her well.

          Most of the time I’m not *quite* that bad, but yeah…I’m definitely a crier!

        2. spocklady

          Oh man I’ve had that too — there was this great Google one from India about these two little old grandpa guys who had been besties, who were separated by the India/Pakistan split, and their grandkids conspire to get them together again for one of their birthdays. Oh my god. Floods. And it’s for GOOGLE for gosh sake.

      3. VintageLydia USA

        The weirdest stuff makes me super upset for WEEKS at a time. I was reading a longish running fanfic that was generally a pretty happy, fluffy piece, but there was one mildly sad/angsty chapter and the author neglected to update it for over 3 weeks after (after having a pretty rigid weekly schedule.) I was DEVASTATED and moody for pretty much that entire period and I couldn’t figure out why until she finally updated and suddenly I wasn’t moody anymore. WTF brain???? (Now I make any effort to avoid sad or angry works and try not to read anything that isn’t complete because my brain is dumb.)

        I also was a major crier at work when I was younger. Retail isn’t the most mature work environment to begin with and my manager at the time was not only physically imposing, but prone to anger. He legitimately terrified me. I cried in front of other similarly imposing managers, too. I’d like to say I have a better handle on my emotions now but the above story proves I don’t.

    4. Marilyn

      Ah me too! I cry all the time, even about really stupid things (hasn’t happened in the workplace though), but I don’t want people to think that just because I’m crying it’s a huge deal. Despite being an easy crier, I can never force myself to cry, so I can’t imagine using that for manipulation.

      To the OP: Maybe the lady is just an easy crier, and I would not let the crying itself throw you off, particularly because you said it was less dramatic than it sounds on paper.

  4. ThursdaysGeek

    I think I’d try to work in a discussion on the recent episode, where you set her up to fail, because of her jumping in. Don’t just not mention it like it never happened, because what you did is what others probably feel like doing too.

    Plus, she isn’t allowing others to shine, others to learn and grow, when she jumps in and does their work. She is keeping them from growing, and frustrating them as well. Does she realize this?

    1. fposte

      Oh, good point. This relates this post to the “too abrupt” one earlier today; both people are making it harder for their coworkers to work well with them.

      1. Journalist Wife

        And she probably currently thinks this is a way to get an “edge” over the other coworkers, if she’s a competitive, I-want-to-be-the-top-performer sort of personality to begin with. She probably sees her taking over their projects as a means to climbing the corporate ladder, rather than being viewed as a major flaw in her ability to work on a team.

        1. BRR

          I get the competitive sense from her. Maybe defining the “competition” would then help. Let her know that doing these things makes her a worse employee (clean up that wording obviously). For her to succeed she needs to do A,B, and C. Doing anything else will be detrimental for her. Do I make any sense or should I just call it a day?

          1. CatDog

            She’s bringing the team into disrepute by ignoring procedures and misrepresenting who does what. Workflows exist for a reason. She can’t simply ‘improve’ someone’s work. That’s demonstrates a terrible understanding of workplace culture and poor interpersonal skills.

        2. Anonsie

          For sure. I’ve never worked with someone who felt the need to handle everything like this who didn’t also see other people’s achievements as detrimental to them. I’ve seen a number of people like this just seethe if someone else gets praised or does something helpful when before they can.

          1. SerfinUSA

            I have a coworker like this. The butting in and being ‘helpful’ was often a cover for getting the jump on some new project and hijacking it away from the intended person. She got away with it by constantly going over our supervisor’s head with her ‘suggestions’, and quickly embedded herself before things could be straightened out. It took some serious organizational changes (and ‘input’ from the rest of us) to ratchet that back.

            1. Windchime

              I have a coworker like this, too. He interrupts and mows over people because he truly believes that he is just smarter than the rest of us all put together. It makes it hard for me to hear him during the times when he does have a legitimately good idea, because I’m so accustomed to him interrupting and trumpeting his own ideas.

    2. JoeManager

      Good point about others. If the morale of the team gets upset, then work overall slows down.

    3. Natalie

      Her coworkers are also probably frustrated with you, her manager, for seeming to be okay with this. When you accept this behavior from her, your other direct reports may well assume that they have failed somehow or that this is what you expect from people on your team.

    4. LabTech

      Not a manager here, but I’m wondering whether or not it would be better to briefly acknowledge the mistake on her part, handing off the project less-than-professionally (but still focusing on the subordinate’s performance). Thoughts?

    5. AnonAnalyst

      Empowering others to act, shine, or grow is a huge, and in my opinion, hidden part of teamwork. Granted, it doesn’t sound like this employee is doing a lot of team-based projects, but I think some of the comparisons can be applicable here given the information provided.

      It wasn’t until I got to grad school where this was an actual team metric that we were supposed to work on as part of our project teams that I realized how important this is (and frankly, how incredibly annoying and frustrating it is if someone is constantly taking over all of the work that you’re supposed to be doing). In my first team project, I encountered a major issue with a couple of people on my team doing this, which was completely aggravating. That said, this was a project that we were just supposed to get done, so it was on us to figure out how to manage those roles.

      If this happened in my workplace where the manager was rewarding this behavior (letting the employee take on all the work)? I would be completely demoralized and would probably be looking for another job.

  5. Stephanie

    Unsure about your industry, but I’ve always worked in regulation-heavy industries where stepping out of bounds work-wise can be a Bad Thing, due to licensing or liability issues (like giving a legal opinion when one’s not actually an attorney or not having prior safety training to go into parts of an industrial facility). If that’s applicable, you could think of it that way (for example, “Jane’s not a CPA and should not be doing X.”)

    Plus, it is demoralizing to have your work co-opted by coworker. It screams “I don’t trust you to do this.”

  6. JoeManager

    I’ve had the “I thought we were on the same page when we last talked. What am I missing?” conversation before, calmly. Being more direct and giving her time during the conversation to calm down is a good approach I’ll add. Also, not waiting until things boil over to have the conversation.

    1. Nerdling

      I think you also need to be prepared to follow this up with actual consequences if she changes her behavior for a short time and then reverts again, especially if you’ve had the conversation about not being on the same page already. Having the conversation over and over doesn’t actually give her impetus to change, because there’s no negative consequence to not changing. You also aren’t doing yourself any favors with the rest of your team if they are seeing that your actions have no teeth.

    2. AntherHRPro

      I would recommend that as part of your conversation you ask her what happened with the project that you assigned her and she didn’t finish due to being sick. It might be helpful for her to understand that cause and effect of her actions. No, it was not a reasonable deadline. Why was that? Get her to admit to the role she played in setting herself, you and your organization up for failure. What if you hadn’t already had the project complete for the client in Excel and ready to go? A customer would have suffered and both her and your reputation would be tarnished. This happens when you overstep your role and try to take over work that you have no business being involved in.

      All of that said, I do have to say that as a manager you handled this improperly, but I know you are aware of that. Think back about how you handled it, why you made the choices you did and what you will do next time this type of situation happens.

    3. fposte

      Also, recognize and give her credit if she’s hit a streak where she’s avoiding the behavior. It’s really easy not to notice that somebody has *stopped* doing something, but reinforcing the new behavior can be beneficial.

  7. Katie the Fed

    OP – you’ve got to get a handle on this! I think one of the worst things that can happen in a team is for there to be any Golden Child who thinks they’re indispensible to the team, know more than everyone, and can hoard work or interfere as they deem necessary. This is absolutely toxic to the team – I am guessing the rest of the team has been long aware of the issue and you’re only starting to experience it now.

    This employee needs to be taken down a notch or five, now, and you need to re-establish your position of leadership. YOU are in charge, not her. You decide who does what work, not her. She’s not respecting you or your position (not to mention any of her teammates) and you’re letting her get away with it. You’re worried about offending her? How about all of her colleagues who she’s offending constantly?

    Every time she jumps on something she’s not supposed to be working on, you need to correct it. “Loretta – I actually assigned this to Bob and I want him to work on it.” If she interrupts you in front of your boss: “Loretta, we’re in the middle of a discussion – I’ll stop by to talk to you when we’re done.” Stay calm and in control.

    Think of this like a cat that just keeps jumping on the counter. REMOVE THE CAT. And then prevent the cat from returning. Don’t reward it by allowing it to stay on the counter. Unfortunately, spraying her in the face with a water bottle is probably frowned upon. Man, wouldn’t that be nice.

    1. GigglyPuff

      I would also suggest letting the boss know you’re going to start saying things like that if she’s interrupting, could they could always come back and be like “oh no, that’s okay, she can join us.” So I would definitely think about giving them a head’s up about that

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

          Hard to tell from the letter, does OPs boss even know this is an issue?

          1. some1

            Well, the boss didn’t shut it down when the employee horned in on the Excel project.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

              No, but I didn’t read that as indulging a problem that he knew existed. It’s possible he didn’t even realize there was a problem at all and thought she was being a helpful employee. In the absence of all the other behavior, this one incident wouldn’t necessarily stand out to someone who is uninformed about the situation.

            2. fposte

              I would expect the direct manager to do the shutting down, if I were the boss’s boss.

          2. JoeManager

            My boss does know it’s an issue, we’ve talked about it several times. Although, I have to remind my boss about it time and again.

            1. fposte

              Does your boss do stuff that undermines your attempts to correct her as a result? Or is this just general reporting on employees stuff and he forgets?

              1. JoeManager

                My boss likes fun, flashy, bells and whistles. I’m a fan too, but when I know that it can be achieved under deadline.

    2. Ann Furthermore

      Agreed. I have a colleague like this, who believes that she is smarter than everyone else. To be fair to her, she is very intelligent, picks things up quickly, and is always willing to jump in and help people out. And she’s a very nice person with good intentions. But she can easily become overbearing, so the rest of the team doesn’t particularly like working with her.

      For a long time this was a huge frustration because my boss made no secret of the fact that she thought this co-worker could do no wrong. I think enough people gave her feedback that she finally realized that this person needed some coaching and development. I was one of them. We had worked together for most of the year on a big project, so my boss asked me for feedback about her (just as I’m sure she asked her for feedback about me). I was honest, but tactful and diplomatic. I said that she was absolutely very intelligent, and her skills were great, but she had a tendency to latch onto her solution as the only viable option, and not listen to other alternatives. I also said that our team is full of many very smart people with considerable expertise, and for her to challenge or dismiss people as uninformed or wrong was very frustrating.

      To my co-worker’s credit, I think she heard this feedback and took it to heart. She still tends to be pushy and overbearing, but it’s greatly improved and it’s clear that she’s made an effort.

      1. RVA Cat

        “Agreed. I have a colleague like this, who believes that she is smarter than everyone else.”

        This. The ‘gifted child’ has a rude awakening when you’re thrust into the work world with people who may have been C-students but they’ve got 5, 10, 20 years’ experience on you — which matters a whole lot more. It sounds like she is super invested in being the highest performer but no interest in what being a team player actually means — and that is not really about intelligence, it’s about arrogance, and her co-workers can see it even though she can’t.

        (said as a 30-something still getting over this…)

    3. Lizzy

      All of this. And to add an extra point of view from an employee who has dealt with team members like this, it is extremely alienating. Not only is she making collaboration difficult, I would assume she is intentionally trying to undermine her team. She might come off as friendly and eager when taking over tasks, but I would feel she is implying incompetence on my part if she repeatedly did this to me. And because I tend to be distrustful and think pessimistically, I would think she is kneecapping manipulator. That being said, she could be one of those overly eager types who doesn’t realize how she comes off, but my point is her behavior does affect her team and this could lead to some major resentment.

    4. Mike C.

      Toxic is absolutely the right word. By taking over the work of others, you’re allowing this employee to devalue and infantalize her coworkers. You (through her) take away their ability to learn new skills, show that they perform well and advance in the workplace.

      This will cause people to start looking elsewhere for work. Have you had any team members leave recently? Perhaps a run of “doctor’s appointments”?

      1. Nerdling

        Yep. I would not be looking to stick around on a team like this. If I weren’t looking externally, I would certainly be looking internally if I liked the organization enough to stay.

      2. Not So NewReader

        OP, take a second read at what Mike C has written here, please. And no, she is not a great worker, she is more like a hurricane.

    5. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      My high school choir teacher was known for occasionally spraying kids in the face with his water bottle when they deliberately sang off-key. We called it water therapy. (It was usually the tenors.) The last day of our senior year, we all sneaked Super Soakers in and really let him have it. He tried to dodge us while yelling “You butts! You butts!”

      He was an awesome choir teacher.

      1. Jaune Desprez

        I’ve had better luck with making the cat feel that s/he has committed a faux pas. When my husband purchased his long-desired bar, we decided it would be a place where the cats Do Not Go. We discussed our strategy in advance, so we were ready when they started to explore. As soon as I noticed a cat mincing among the decanters, I gestured wildly in her direction while making the kind of gasp you might if you dropped a pan of sizzling food on your feet. My husband (a one-time theater major), staggered back, collapsed to his knees, clutched at his hair, and groaned. We both addressed her in tones of deepest reproach and woe, “Oh, Persephone, how COULD you?” “No, no, no! Persephone, nooooo!” “Why, why did you do it? Why?” “Oh, that I have lived to see this day!” At this point the cat decided that she had been guilty of some enormous impropriety, jumped off the bar, and slunk away. We have to reinforce the lesson from time to time, but it usually just takes a single shocked utterance to keep them off the bar for another month or so.

          1. Jaune Desprez

            Sadly, no. This was about 15 years ago. But we still have Persephone, and she still mostly stays off the bar!

        1. Jessilein

          This is completely amazing! I want to try it, but I don’t know if I have the requisite dramatic skills. Woe is me!

          1. Jaune Desprez

            You should try it! Many people underestimate how much cats hate feeling embarrassed.

        2. ThursdaysGeek

          We had a cat that would have just looked at you and asked “what’s your problem? I’m just walking along the counter, licking the butter knife, and peeing near the decanters.” I was ready to put up a hot wire, because nothing else would faze that cat.

          1. De (Germany)

            Mycat wouldbe likeshealwaysis “Oh look,the human is talking. Interesting.”

              1. Kero

                There is only one word in my cat’s vocabulary. That word is “Shan’t!”

                (Ok, three words. The other two are “FEED ME”)

        3. DMented Kitty

          Sadly embarrassment does not work with our cats – they have no taste for theatrics. We just yell “NO” and clap/stomp loudly and so far that has worked. They have stayed off the kitchen counters so far (at least when we’re around). They also liked to jump on the dining table too, but I think I curbed that habit by just avoiding leaving “interesting” stuff on it. Any bits and bobs we usually leave on the table for a future “to do” is thrown in a basket. So the cats just got bored of the Top Of The Dining Table because there’s nothing to tip over to the floor. My husband leaves clutter on his work desk, and our cats constantly like to jump up there and bat stuff into the floor. I keep telling him to avoid leaving little trinkets out so they get tired of it, but oh well.

  8. Elizabeth West

    Much as a parent who is worried whether saying no to her kids means they won’t like her, the OP seems to have begun with the assumption that correcting the employee is “offending” her. It is not; it is managing her. Like the effective parent, you need to stay calm and let the tantrum pass. Nothing about effective management should offend someone. It’s your job to deal with her behavior.

    I think Alison gave you some really good phrasing here, OP. I’m confident you can deal with her, but if she won’t change the behavior, you may have to put her on a disciplinary track. Again, not fun, but think about the impact to her coworkers. I’d be really irritated if one of them constantly did my work. Heck, someone else is doing a task I normally do right now, for a legitimate reason, and I HAAAAATE it.

    1. Carrie in Scotland

      Yes, when it’s someone else’s work and Golden Child (to steal the title from Katie the Fed) then they are possibly ruining the relationship the co-worker has with the client or whoever.

      In my last job, when I was on holiday, my work would be temporarily taken over by co-workers and my manager. Because I worked with the people on a daily basis, I knew their quirks and short cuts etc – stuff that’s implicit without being told but – my co-workers did not and that sometimes harmed the work. Which is similar to what your employee is doing.

      So, OP, take Alison’s advice and the advice in the comments and brace yourself for a conversation with your employee about it. And then, please update us with how things are.

      1. JoeManager

        I’ve braced for 2 conversations with her, knowing it wasn’t going to be easy and ready for whatever the outcome was going to be.

        1. fposte

          Good plan! This sounds pretty ingrained, so you’re probably going to have to correct her a few more times before it really starts to take. Define success as having the behavior appear less and less.

  9. Cheesecake

    Alison is spot on: you treat her as great employee. Great employee is someone who does her work well and on time, listens and respects the manager, supports colleagues and knows when to push back and say no. Honestly, she doesn’t seem to do any of this.

    Does she perform her core responsibilities great and fast? Then maybe she is bored and needs a different job. But something tells me she is not really happy about daily tasks and finds ways to do something “more exciting”

    1. kozinskey

      I feel like there’s a trend in AAM letters where “great employees” actually turn out to be pretty awful. Reminds me of relationship advice columns with letters that go “My partner is wonderful but ____” …where the blank space is filled in with something truly terrible.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Maybe the issue is managers in these situations looking at employees as black and white, good and bad, instead of seeing the gray areas that no one is perfect, and that even the employees you are most grateful for have room to improve. It’s easy to feel really appreciative of an employee who fills an important need on your team to the point that you don’t want to touch it because it might break. I have made that mistake so many times. No only have I missed opportunities to correct problems, but I probably also held back the careers of some pretty awesome people by not giving them the feedback they needed.

      2. Anonsie

        “My husband is a wonderful man, but he won’t do any housework or help with the children and the other day he called me a lumpy cow for asking him to do the dishes. Was I out of line? How can I get him to help me? He’s so great aside from this.”

        “I have this star performer employee, only sometimes they just throw away the paperwork I hand over to him and then lie and say he never received it. I’ve tried incentivize him with a raise and additional PTO, but now he seems to do it more often. What can I do to reduce the amount of work he throws in the garbage? I don’t want to lose this employee to a competitor.”

        “I love my job, but my company makes me sit in a closet and knock on the door for permission to come out. They also don’t pay me and sometimes my boss steals from my purse. How can I tell her that I don’t want her to take my things?”

      3. LBK

        Captain Awkward describes this as a “Darth Vader boyfriend,” which I absolutely love. “No, really, he’s good inside, I swear!” “Luke, he cut off your hand and had your best friend frozen in carbonite.” “That was a joke! You just don’t know him like I do.”

        Maybe we need to establish the concept of the Darth Vader employee? Like, yeah, he completed an impressive project, but it was a Death Star he used to blow up Alderaan and then he ended up throwing his boss into a pit. Not exactly a rockstar.

        1. Fuzzy

          Yes! A Darth Vader anything (except for an awesome action figure or costume) is unhealthy.

    2. katamia

      I agree. She may have a lot of skills, but she doesn’t sound like a great employee to me.

  10. Anonymous Educator

    OP, from my outsider’s perspective, these are the most concerning parts of your letter:

    I’ll ask and get the usual, “Oh, I was on a roll so just did it all.” Then she’ll indirectly complain that she’s juggling too many projects.

    Being careful not to offend such a great employee, I’ve talked with her about this before and that didn’t go very well. I explained the problem of routinely taking over other people’s tasks and the trouble that causes. She listened, then started crying and said she would change their schedule, wouldn’t do anything extra again, etc. It wasn’t as dramatic as it looks in writing.

    However, within 2-3 weeks it was the same as before.

    Within a few minutes, she had our boss convinced enough that online data collecting is the only way to go and I should start working on that.

    My guess is that you’re calling her a “great employee” because the tangible work she turns out is great (maybe her reports are thorough or she’s very tech-savvy). But there are many things that go into being a great employee that aren’t tangible:

    1. Being aware of what’s assigned.
    2. Not undermining your manager.
    3. Understanding situations before diving into them.
    4. Not going back on your word.
    5. Not complaining about too much work when you’re doing unnecessary work.

    Don’t just judge “great” on tangibles. And good luck—this sounds like a tough situation to deal with!

    1. AMG

      OP, you should also let her know that all of these points will be avaluated in her performance review.

    2. LPBB

      This is a great point. I think there is such a bias toward “go-getters” in our culture, that people have been trained to see this kind of behavior as a positive, even if it is actually harmful.

    3. BethRA

      6. Not undermining your colleagues

      I would bet cash-stuffed chocolate teapots that she is having a very negative impact on her coworkers, both in terms of their morale and their actual work output.

      Really great employees don’t bring the rest of the team down.

  11. Artemesia

    For this employee I would sit her down and open with the failure to complete the assignment she grabbed and then not coming to work and ignoring the client deadline. From there I would talk about the pattern and previous conversations and failure to stick with it. And make clear that this is far from helpful behavior — that undermining co-workers by preempting their work is not helpful, it is hurtful to productivity and to morale.

    And ‘good employee’ — not even.

    1. fposte

      Though she didn’t grab the assignment–she grabbed conversation about the assignment, and the OP assigned it to her out of annoyance, knowing she couldn’t complete it (which he admits was not a good response).

      1. Artemesia

        I have worked with someone who preempted my work on a project in this case we were co-editors of a book. She would take authors I was working with and insert herself. It is beyond annoying and my response is to withdraw — and let her do the work and then watch her whine about having to do the work. When the employee inserted herself into that conversation she was constructively preempting other people’s role on the project — assigning to her was the logical consequence.

        This is not the behavior of a good employee but of a tone deaf twerp; who wants to work with someone who essentially declares that the co-worker is too incompetent to do their own work. It is pretty much the definition of ‘not a team player.’

  12. AnotherAnon

    I’ve had at least one coworker who behaves like the employee OP is referencing. It was very demoralizing and discouraging for me to see the coworker take over tasks I thought I was supposed to do (with the manager doing nothing about it). This coworker was a darling of the management in general, so I perceived this behavior as favoritism toward her, and it worsened my morale as I felt she was being given (and then taking more) opportunities to contribute while I wasn’t allowed to.

    1. Mike C.

      Yeah, I’ve experienced this as well and it’s INCREDIBLY toxic. Suddenly all of my opportunities to learn and gain new skills are arbitrarily taken away and there’s no good way to complain about it unless you have a great relationship with management.

      What angers me the most about these people is that I can totally understand the desire to look good, get promotions and all that. But here there’s so much opportunity, why rise to the top by climbing on the backs of others? It won’t last, and you’ll need our help once you’re there anyway.

      1. Perpetuum Mobile

        This. I have been given a different role on the same team and a new guy was hired to fill my old position. My manager divvied up our duties for the transition period: I finish my “old projects” and he picks up whatever’s new. Instead after a month or two the new guy started inserting himself into my stuff, firstly by politely offering help, then (after I repeatedly said thanks but no thanks)by simply highjacking my bits and pieces whenever he had a chance. It blew up a few weeks ago when after yet another frustrating epidsode I asked him nicely but very firmly to stop. He did – and he stopped talking to me. Completely. Feels kind of weird as he’s sitting in the next door cube but oh well. I have no problem communicating with him about work so as long as the business side doesn’t suffer, it’s fine by me.

    2. AnonEMoose

      I’ve got one of those, too. I’ve learned to live with the favoritism, for various reasons. But it’s not good for the team dynamic overall.

    3. Malissa

      I had some one who wanted to take over my work once. So I did the most evil thing I could think of and let them have it. Not just the fun high level part of it. All of it. And it was essential to my other work so they also got emails about it until it was done and I could move on in other areas.

      But in my case it was someone being very dense about the situation and not comprehending all of the details. They let me have all of my work back after the first month. We had a much better relationship after that.

  13. Alternative

    I have a friend like this. They’ll take over anything and everything that is totally not their realm and it drives everyone nuts. They mean well, but boy is it irritating when they decide to speak on your behalf, jump in and take over something you are doing (cooking dinner), and commandeer projects that aren’t even remotely their business (someone else’s house renovation).

    I believe my friends identity is tied up in being seen as a “super competent awesome helper” and so I remind myself of that to have patience with them.

    It’s like a helicopter parent, who doesn’t let their children struggle to complete anything on their own. They are communicating that they don’t have faith in anyone else to do anything. Helicopters/smothering people often ARE really great at doing lots of things, but if they can’t trust anyone else and treat them like competent people, their relationships will suffer.

    I suspect it’s going to be really hard to get this employee to stop. Good luck to you!

    1. Katie the Fed

      One of the hardest things about getting married was learning to let go on when he does things but not the way I would do them. Between you and me, I still think I do most of them better :) But if I want him to help, I can’t be on his case about it all. That’s not good for anyone.

      1. KJR

        I’ve been married for 22 years, and this is still hard for me (I’ve gotten way better over the years though)! Good for you for recognizing it early.

        1. Diane

          IT MATTERS HOW UOU FOLD THE TOWELS.

          sorry. Apparently I still have towel-control issues.

        2. teclagwig

          I…am still working on this. In my defense, the linen cupboard is very shallow, and his towels don’t fit on the shelf.

        3. Natalie

          I read a great quote from someone’s dad on a CA comment thread recently: There are towels that are folded correctly, and there are towels that are folded by people I love.

      2. Rene UK

        Ugh, this. I discovered I can’t be in the kitchen when my hubby/kids wash up. I just….can’t. If I’m not there the dishes are clean and I don’t have to know that they used cool water and ran the tap and other things that make me crazy.

        1. Nutcase

          I am exactly the same when my fiancé loads the dishwasher or packs the shopping away into the fridge, both completely wrong. I just can’t do it. I can’t be there to witness the mayhem.

    2. waffles

      I have one of these, although in my case, it’s my boyfriend’s best friend’s wife. I think she’s a good person, and she’s indeed very competent, but ugh, this is such a difficult personality trait to deal with. She “decided” my boyfriend should have a big party for his 35th birthday (despite the fact he hates parties) and suggested that she call the place and make the plans herself. Sigh. I wanted to say, “Am I planning your husband’s next birthday?”

      I agree that it’s likely going to be hard to get this employee to change. Severe control issues are deep-seated, I think.

  14. knitcrazybooknut

    One of the best pieces of concrete, usable information I ever got from a former manager was this:

    It is physically impossible for someone to cry while they are drinking water.

    Have a glass of water at your desk. If she starts to cry, hand her a tissue and have her drink some water. It will interrupt her crying process, and if she starts up again, she had to start from the beginning.

    All of the other advice is spot on as usual. This isn’t a Golden Child. It’s an overachieving problem child who is trying so hard to impress that she is out of her depth and greedily hoarding all of the gold stars. She needs to balance out by achieving her own goals and letting everyone else have theirs, and slowing down in conversation so that others have room to speak.

    1. Adonday Veeah

      It’s also helpful to learn to be comfortable with a crying employee. Some people do it to manipulate, but others are just wired that way and truly can’t help it. Either way, you need to not let it derail you.

      Having said that, her pouty comments during her crying fit lead me to suspect the former in this case…

    2. Melly

      I’m pretty sure I could still be crying while drinking water….but I like the sentiment.

    3. Sarahnova

      Man, I’m gonna try this! Thanks, it may well prove useful for me (occasionally prone to frustration-and-anger tears, plus lingering pregnancy hormones) and for people I work with in my sometimes-emotionally-intense line of work.

  15. LiveAndLetDie

    Employees who are allowed to backslide into behavior which has already been addressed in the past can be such a pain. I’m currently grappling with someone who will not stop asking if she can change her hours so that she can come in before her supervisor. Her inability to handle “no” is making her look far worse than anything else she’s doing lately, and I am trying to convey to her that she needs to LISTEN and PROCESS the response she gets, as she is clearly not doing. LW, your employee needs to understand that lesson as well–you need to be firm and clear with your employee that they are going about their job the wrong way, and that they are in need of improvement. And you need to make it clear to your employee that they need to LISTEN and PROCESS that information, and show that they have learned from the interaction. Backsliding repeatedly is a sign of a bigger issue–either the employee thinks they know better, the employee doesn’t respect you as their manager, or the employee isn’t capable of change. All of which are problems that must be addressed.

    1. AMG

      I have a coworker who backslides frequently. I just figure that learning a new MO is a long road. Beleive me, the behavior is not ok and either is the backsliding, but the harder thehabit, the longer it will take to break. I’m in it for the long haul though, so I am willing to revisit and recorrect as many times as needed. >:)

      1. Windchime

        Our interrupter guy does this, too. This is what happened today (via email)

        Bob: “I’ve finished coding the patch for the X bug and will test it in the Test system before we send it to production.”

        Interrupter: “Good plan, and I would agree with it for a one-line fix, but since this is a little more complex, I would propose that it go through the Test system first.”

        Ummmm….pretty sure that’s what Bob just got don saying.

    2. LiptonTeaForMe

      The key to this issue in my opinion is that she appears to listen to respond, rather than listen to understand. And breaking someone of the habit of responding immediately before the echo of the last word dies is extremely difficult. I have reached the point with a woman on my team that I call her on it as she interrupts others, talks over them, asks the exact same question that was just addressed, monopolizes the conversation, etc. If the manager isn’t going to address it, then before she drives me to insanity, I will.

      1. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl

        LiptonTeaFor Me, can you share how you call her on it? I’d love to hear how you word it.

        1. LiptonTeaForMe

          There are folks that can hear what you are saying and apply it to the situation at hand and there are folks that hear what you are saying and then continue in their line of thinking like you never said a thing. And there are folks like this woman who do not seem to listen at all and then monopolize the conversations in trying to understand something that literally was just discussed. As I work in a call center, the number one pet peeve for many of us on the floor is being talked over by the very people that called us for help. Since I am not the manager and am in fact her equal as far as job title goes; I don’t exactly have to couch what I say in niceties. In this instance with this woman, you have to be as direct as possible anyway so she doesn’t later come back with an excuse as to why she didn’t understand what was said. So with all that in mind, I have said the following a number of times:
          Susan, did you hear anything that was just said as the question you just asked was literally just answered. As we have moved on to another topic, you should discuss this with the manager after the meeting so as not to monopolize the time of everyone else in the meeting.
          Susan, I was talking, did you not hear me? I do not appreciate your interruption as you do not allow me the common courtesy of speaking and furthermore, it negates my input to the team.
          Susan, when you insist on this line of questioning, you invalidate everyone else’s contribution as you neither hear what they are saying nor do you allow for their response to what you said. By doing this, you are monopolizing the time we meet as a team as it all becomes about disseminating information to you alone.
          I have also been known to say would you shut up and listen! I am not proud of those moments, but sometimes that seems to be all that she can hear in the moment.
          The team for the most part doesn’t stand up for themselves and the manager doesn’t rein her in either, so the hour allotted to our team meeting gets wasted with her agenda and our questions never get addressed. This is not ok with me.

          1. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl

            Thank you so much for sharing this. She must be a piece of work if you need to be as direct as this!

  16. Anonymousterical

    “The problem is that she sometimes takes over other people’s tasks, saying something like, “Oh, it was just easier from me to do it” or joking that she wanted it done right.”

    Shut that down yesterday. Imagine how your other team members feel, when your Great Employee jokes that they couldn’t do a project right, so she decided to just do it, while you did nothing to defend them or give them their work back. It’s disrespectful and, more than that, insubordinate, as she doesn’t assign projects, you do. That isn’t a call an employee makes; that’s a call supervisor makes. Honestly, if I was on your team, I’d be looking to jump ship out of sheer frustration and quite possibly regular humiliation.

    Stop being careful about offending her. You’re a manager; you’re going to step on people’s toes. Shut her down and hold her accountable, and not passive aggressively, like you think you just did. Now she knows she can get away with not completing a project and calling in on the day it’s due. She’s walking all over you. (Ask me how I know. :))

    1. Lizzy

      You second paragraph is especially spot on. These types tend to conflate overachieving with alienating others. You can be an excellent employee without having to step on your teammate’s toes.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      But that brings up a good question: what are her teammates saying when she does this?! “Oh ok sure just do my work”?!

      1. So Very Anonymous

        That’s kind of the situation where I work — we have someone who chronically overfunctions and then gets upset because she’s so overloaded. And yeah, there are definitely people who just sit back and let her do it. Her identity does seemed wrapped up in being The Responsible One, so she isn’t good at not volunteering, but, the problems she’s basically covering over aren’t really being seen. The people sitting back are a problem, too, but I also feel like she needs to learn not to take everything on, too.

    3. Jen S. 2.0

      So much word on the stop being careful about offending her. While it’s not your goal TO offend her, you need to draw a distinction between saying something offensive and saying something that isn’t what she wants to hear. It’s offensive to make inappropriate racial or sexual references. It’s not offensive to define your employees’ tasks. “I need and expect you to do only the work I’ve assigned you” is something she does not want to hear. If she gets offended, the problem is with her, not with what you said.

      Also, a very valuable lesson I’ve picked up over the years is that a lot of times, you need to say something in a much stronger way to others than you would need to hear in order for them to get that you really mean it.

      Let’s say that on a scale of 1 to 10, you’ve reached a 5, which would be more than enough for YOU to have gotten the message that this is a serious issue. But she won’t really get it until you say it at more like an 8, which would be really harsh to you, but is to her the point at which she finally hears you. Full disclosure: I had a college roommate where I had to learn that when I said, “Oh, I don’t know,” I meant no, but she heard “She doesn’t know! Keep asking.” I really needed to say, “No, I’m seriously not interested and, in fact, don’t ever want to do that.” I would have been taken aback by that, but she was like, “Oh, okay, I guess you don’t want to. Are you really sure? Okay,” and was fine. My point: Have you said “Butt out, biznatch” at a 5, and she thinks you’re just being polite, and so she needs to hear it at an 8.75?

      1. Beth

        I personally can’t really blame your college roommate on that one, so it’s really interesting to hear the other side of communication issues like these!

        1. Jen S. 2.0

          Precisely my point! Neither one of us was wrong; we just spoke different languages. To me, not-yes means no. To her, not-no means yes. There was a lot of ask vs. guess culture going on between us.

          *Please note, that particular human was a pushy, narcissistic, impulsive, selfish, annoying mess in a lot of ways, and I had to break up with her as a friend after she left me stranded in London, among other issues. But in the specific example above, there was no fault on either side.

  17. Lanya

    OP, I’d be curious to know if there has been feedback about her behavior from her coworkers – whether direct, or in the form of body language. I know that you have not wanted to offend this person, but the sooner her obnoxious behavior is back on track, the better and less demoralized everyone in the office will probably feel.

    1. JoeManager

      I have heard from other employees, that’s what started the first conversation, as well as myself noticing it too.

  18. some1

    Ugh, this sounds like my counterpart. She thinks she knows everything and even interrupted me when I was training her.

    Question: how was the LW supposed to react, though, at that moment where her boss was buying into what the employee was saying about the project? I realize that the approach was wrong, but it would be tough to know what to do in the moment.

    1. Delyssia

      The best solution would have been for the manager to have pushed back before it got far enough that the boss was really buying in. So, NosyNellie inserts herself into the conversation, and manager cuts her off before she gets far enough to have sold the boss. She’s raised the topic, so maybe manager and boss continue the line of thought a bit, but she’s out of it.

      Barring that, I think a few logical, pointed questions could have gotten there. “We originally chose to do this in Excel because of [reasons]. Why do you think those don’t apply? How do you suggest that we redo 3 weeks of work in a day?”

      1. Kelly L.

        Or maybe something along the lines of, “this is due tomorrow and we don’t have time to overhaul, your idea is interesting, can we revisit it after this deadline,” undoubtedly in better words than mine.

    2. Well

      My guess is – and OP, correct me if I’m wrong here – that Jane is a content/technical expert on some aspects of the work, and knows more about them than the OP does.

      The thing to keep in mind here, OP, is that Jane isn’t responsible for managing the team’s workload, which is why she suggests scrapping 3 weeks of work because she thinks her way is better. That’s your job, and as a result – even if Jane knows more, and maybe she’s right about online data collection having been a better

      “Jane, those are great points, and I really appreciate your expertise on this. Of course there are a lot of dynamics at play here – I’ve got the team’s workload on other projects to consider – so given the time-sensitive nature of this project, we won’t be able to do that this time around. Let’s have a conversation once this project is completed about how we can incorporate the great points you just made into the planning process moving forward.”

      The key here is that it actually doesn’t matter whether she’s right or wrong on the technical/content/etc merits, you just need to emphasize that you’re seeing it from the perspective of someone whose job it is to manage the team’s resources and workload…and she’s not. She’s seeing it from the perspective of an individual contributor who hasn’t even been working on the project in question! She’s weighing in at the wrong time on the process.

      Also, after this happened, I’d have two separate conversations. First, with your boss. You DEFINITELY need to make the challenges here visible to your boss so that the two of you are on the same page. Your bosses’ response to this makes it sound like he’s probably not aware of the problems with your employee; if he were, he’d have deferred to you.

      With that in mind, I’d say something like:

      “Hey boss, I wanted to talk about Jane briefly. She’s super smart and knows her stuff, but to be honest she’s not a very strong team player, and she sometimes makes interpersonal blunders: she tends to interrupt people, sometimes she doesn’t think ideas through all the way before proposing them, she’s not very respectful of other people’s ideas, etc. Frankly it’s bringing the team’s productivity down, and I’m getting fewer of Bob, Sally, and Linda’s good ideas as a result. Not only that, but I think we both know that it’s going to hurt her professionally in the long term. So I’m coaching her on that. I just wanted to give you a heads up about it. The conversation the three of us had last week about Project X – where she felt comfortable interrupting the conversation you and I were having to suggest an approach that was good based on her technical expertise, but wildly off-base given the project timeline and the team’s workload – made me realize I need to be much more direct with her about this, because I’m starting to get frustrated with it and I know that’s not cool. I’m going to address this with her more constructively going forward. So if you happen to see her engaging in this kind of behavior when I’m not present it’d be helpful to hear about it so I’m aware of it.”

      Then, of course, if it happens again in front of your boss, he’s much more likely to think “Riiight, this is what OP talked about. Yeesh, I see what he means” rather than “Great idea, Jane! Let’s scrap three weeks of OP’s work!”

      Second, I’d have a conversation with Jane about this specifically. I mean, there are lots of places where directly undercutting your manager in front of your manager’s boss is career suicide, no matter how right you may be. Heck, there are places where it would get you directly, loudly, and unceremoniously fired five minutes later. You will be doing her and yourself a favor by letting her know this is Not Okay.

      As a final point – OP, in general it sounds like you could stand to be more assertive, at least with Jane. Please note that I’m offering this in the spirit of an observation about how to make your interactions with Jane more effective, not an assessment of some deep flaw in your character. :)

      The tone of your letter and the way you say things like ‘Jane answered for me’, ‘Jane kept interrupting’, etc. tell me that you probably don’t have the urge to assert your authority as manager that often. (Jane crying is probably making you even more reluctant to do so.)

      I don’t think you need to rule your department with an iron fist or anything, but remember that *you’re her boss*. It’s totally 100% fine for you to tell her to let someone else (or you) finish making a point, or to cut her off and say “you know, Jane, your thoughts on online data collection are great to have here. But you and I both have too much on our plates to change course on this project – it’s due tomorrow.”

  19. Natalie

    I work with someone like this and it is deeply, deeply annoying. Aside from straining my relationship with co-worker, it’s also affecting my relationship with my manager. From where I sit (metaphorically), it seems unlikely that he’s utterly unaware.Thus it seems he is either actively or passively encouraging my co-worker to do my work, seemingly at random and without telling me (extra frustrating). It’s hard to feel like one is a valued, or even basically competent, employee under those circumstances. It’s deeply frustrating to devote time to something and then find out that it’s been completed by someone else. It’s hard to know how to approach it with my manager when I don’t know if the cause is ignorance, apathy, or something more troubling.

    So keep that in mind, for sure – your other employers are probably also quite annoyed with both her and you. The sooner you deal with her, the less likely this will have permanent effects.

    1. Jo

      I’d approach my manager and basically ask for a performance review. “Hi, I’ve been noticing that when you give me an assignment, Coworker X is taking it over or completing it. Are you not satisfied with the quality of my work or do you have any suggestions on how I can improve? I really want to complete these assignments and make a contribution to my team.”

      1. Natalie

        Ah, well, that was more for illustration of why the manager might not hear from other employees about this. In my specific case there are a couple of other issues that indicate I should just look for something else.

  20. Lily in NYC

    She is not a great employee! She might do good work, but this is a big problem. The anecdote about excel and the project had me gaping like a slack-jawed yokel (no offense to any yokels out there). She completely steamrolled her manager, took over the project, couldn’t hack it, and then called in sick the day it was due. Not good.

    1. Lily in NYC

      Oh jeez. I skimmed the last paragraph of Alison’s response too quickly. And then posted pretty much the same exact thing above. I hate when I do that.

  21. Mena

    I’m not getting the ‘great’ part here … perhaps your other employees are really weak? This employee sounds time consuming, dramatic, self-absorbed and comfortable steam-rolling anyONE, including her own boss! Getting your (note: YOUR) tasks completed thorougly and thoughtfully is a ‘performing’ employee, so perhaps she is performing. But all the other crap to be tolerated along the way? Ugh!

    Lanya asks a good question – feedback from others on working with this person?

    Where I work, serious candidates can do the job but the offer goes to the person you can best work WITH … this person doesn’t make the grade.

  22. TBoT

    I’m sort of surprised that the comments so far are almost all focused on the employee. OP, I would recommend thinking about (and practicing) strategies for talking to people about their performance in the moment, even when you’re stressed or frustrated. When I was a new manager I found it very helpful to look at things with the situation/behavior/impact format as a way to frame my thoughts about feedback on the fly, rather than having to take the time to formulate what I wanted to say (while meanwhile things ran off the rails as I was thinking about it).

    Sarcastically saying the equivalent of “Well why don’t you just do it yourself if you know so much,” then leaving an employee with an impossible task to do … and an impossible task tied to work begin done for a client … isn’t going to help anyone see the ramifications of their actions. Clearly articulating what you need (and the consequences for nto delivering that), and what is appropriate to interject into a conversation in a professional context, is.

    In that employee’s place, I would feel like, in a pinch, my manager is more likely to deliberately throw me under the bus and then leave for the day than to help me learn from my mistakes, and that punishing me for my mistakes is more important than delivering what was promised to a client.

    1. TBoT

      (Also I am not trying to be ugly or overly critical, but from this letter there’s more going on than just the employee’s behavior for sure.)

    2. YandO

      If I had read your comment first, I would have skipped posting mine.

      Totally agree!

    3. sunny-dee

      I was wondering myself how much of this employee’s behaviors are being caused or exacerbated by bad management. If she’s making a lot of comments about how it’s easier to do things herself, it could be that she’s a massive, demoralizing jerk — or maybe this manager has all kinds of performance problems rolling around that just aren’t being dealt with.

      Every single thing that this OP did with this employee was wrong — and the Excel project thing was the absolute worst. This could all be because of a cantankerous employee, or you could have a slightly bossy overachiever who feels like they have to take all of this on for the sake of the project/team because this is a broken working environment. In the first, it’s the employee causing the problem; in the latter, it’s the employee responding to a problem.

  23. JoeManager

    It may not seem like it, but there have been plenty of times when a quick frank conversation has called her out about my responsibilities with her knee jerk responses. It’s disrespectful and, insubordinate, I’m not blind to that. I’m not being careful in offending her, just know that the next conversation will have to come with consequences. Which is why I’m gathering options and advice now.

    1. Kate M

      I agree, an update about this would be great!

      I think people are saying you’re being too careful about offending her because you said you were in the letter. You might have been overstating that, but it’s still something to consider. I think that being a manager can be very difficult with walking the correct line all the time, especially when you have a problem employee. It’s true, though, that if she keeps getting away with this, nothing will change. Obviously, just talking to her hasn’t worked. And she thinks that she got away with not doing the big project. One way to think of consequences in this instance is, how would you put into effect consequences for someone who just wasn’t delivering their work? Would it be a formal warning? Taking certain projects away from them? (Which, depending on the person, could be a reward or a consequence). Finally, firing? Because that’s the exact situation you have, even though it might not seem like it. Correctly delivering her work means doing HER work (nobody else’s), not taking on other things, not interrupting, not derailing processes, not causing slowdowns other places. She’s not correctly delivering her work. So I think that’s how you have to look at it.

    2. J.B.

      Good on you for looking into this, and best wishes. It will probably be a lot of work to coach her through it!

    3. Not So NewReader

      Good luck! Keep in mind that if she cannot follow your instructions that is insubordination or maybe she just plain cannot do the job. I would tell her that, too. The job requires A, B and C. Will you be able to do that?”

      If you ever catch yourself thinking, “Jane/Joe is indispensable, we would be lost with out them”, get ready for major problems with your crew. This is a path you do not want to start down. No one is indispensable.

    4. Ultraviolet

      I’m not a manager, but it looks like that won’t stop me from offering my two cents:

      Cent 1: If you’re willing to eventually fire her over this, tell her so now. Tell her you need to see significant improvement over the next N weeks, or you will have to let her go. And plan to check in with her often (every week maybe?) to discuss her progress on this front. Honestly, I anticipate that if you’re not willing to fire her over this, you’ll have to assume it will never change and start planning your workplace around her. That plan should incorporate the fact that you’ll very rarely hold on to any truly great employees. They’ll have much better options than working with her with no intercession from you.

      Cent 2: If you’ve avoided calling her out on the spot in front of other people when she’s overstepping, stop. When you see her working on someone else’s project, ask her why she’s doing it. If the answer is something other than “Lee asked me to help,” tell her right then, “That’s Lee’s project, not yours. Put it down and go back to your own work.” That will probably embarrass her but I don’t think that’s a good reason not to do it. She’s behaving egregiously and has used up many chances to change more easily. It would also be good for your other employees to see you sticking up for them.

      I feel I’m coming off a bit harsh. Based on your letter it seems really unlikely to me that you’re better off with this employee than without her. I understand that she has redemptive features that were not highlighted in your letter. But don’t underestimate how much better off you’d be with someone really good.

      I love the “JoeManager” username!

  24. the_scientist

    This “Golden Child” behaviour is so often (wrongly) rewarded by parents and teachers that it can be hard for someone to understand that acting the same way in the workplace is actually NOT a good thing. I was definitely like this as a child- and I was rewarded for it! I was often held up as an example of good behaviour, good work ethic, and understanding of the subject matter at school, and my teachers sung my praises to my parents. And at home, that behaviour was reinforced through a “if you want something done right, do it yourself” attitude, and constant reinforcement of the notion that there is only one right way to do things. Did I mention I was a know-it-all and a total brat, too? No wonder I didn’t have many friends in elementary school!

    I’m sure the employee is like this because 1) Type A perfectionist 2) this behaviour is or has been rewarded in other parts of her life and 3) some degree of emotional immaturity/social tone-deafness. She clearly thinks that her behaviour is good and positive and should be rewarded and is NOT getting the message that this makes her look worse, not better. It’s time for a real Come to Jesus (TM) moment with this employee.

    Having been on the other side, too (now that I’ve learned to tone it down, I’ve definitely been stuck with This Person), I can attest that the rest of your team probably can’t stand this woman and may be looking to leave because of her. So your “great employee” may bring down your entire team if you don’t take action here.

    1. Shell

      In fairness, “if you want something done right, do it yourself” is often valid for students, because students lack authority over their peers. Teachers/professors don’t always step in when a team member is uncooperative, and when everyone shares the same grade, it’s natural to want to at least have a backup in case your team sucks.

      But school doesn’t translate to the working world because OP and her management have authority, and are able to bring about consequences. They should use that authority.

    2. BRR

      This is what I thought too. I love children that act like this. My spouse used to adjunct and these were his favorite students. In some office this is rewarded which doesn’t help (looking at you old boss).

      1. fposte

        Yeah, I think a fair amount of us commenters are wincing a little about our similarities to what’s happening here.

        1. Sarahnova

          Hah, guilty. I could be a repulsive know-it-all as a kid, and as an adult I still sometimes have to remind myself that it’s not an attractive quality.

    3. sunny-dee

      There is a 4) here — that the OP isn’t dealing with legitimate performance issues in other employees.

  25. Jo

    Ugh. I know someone in the office I work with now. When she is annoyed or frustrated about something, she takes it out on you even though you had nothing to do with why she is upset. She’ll apologize for yelling or getting excited, even go as far as to start crying like she’s the victim. When you say okay or try to console her tears, she’s fine. But then guess what, 5 minutes later when she is annoyed again, she’s back to yelling at you.

    Talk through the person’s tears. If a person starts getting upset, I just continuing talking. If she gets hysterical, I might pause for a minute or two and just look her. When she looks back at me or makes eye contact, I pick the conversation right back. Don’t be intimated by someone else emotions. It might seem harsh, but this is person who only cares about their feelings and not anyway else’s.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Very important to keep in mind that we are not always responsible for other people’s emotions.

      Think of it this way, OP, she is not worried in the least how any of this impacts you or anyone else. She is not worried about how you looked in front of your boss. And she is not worried about how her coworkers look to you.

      1. JoeManager

        Good point, another manager here often tells me the hoops a sales persons puts him though and he still refers to them as a friend. I always tell him that a friend wouldn’t put you in this situation.

  26. YandO

    Here is the thing that really struck me: when you handed over a project and walked away, you betrayed your client’s confidence.

    You knew that you Problem Employee will not and cannot deliver the same results as you have, but you were so fed up with her (understandably) that you chose to teach her a passive-aggressive lesson instead of putting your client’s needs ahead of everything.

    To me, this is a huge issue and one that has to be addressed immediately with everyone involved: Problem employee, your boss, and the rest of the team. You address it differently, obviously, but the goal remains the same: cooperation, respect, and customer focused environment.

    1. TootsNYC

      Well, I thought that the OP (JoeManager, right?) had already completed all the Excel stuff, and that the Golden Child’s busy-work “project” wasn’t ever something he was counting on. That the client was already well covered; it was just a matter of giving the Golden Child all the rope she wanted, as an object lesson, perhaps.

      Not cool–it would have been better to have spoken up the moment Golden Child interrupted and say, “Loretta, isn’t there something at your desk you need to take care of? Boss and I are talking,” or “Loretta, I’m afraid you don’t know the context of what we’re talking about right now; tomorrow I’d like to hear your ideas, directly.”

      It might help to have a standard phrase or three (one for when she’s doing someone else’s work; one for when she’s interrupting; one for Other Frequently Occurring problem). Then just trot them out. Using the exact same wording might help her realize that it’s the same problem.

      And when you say, “Loretta, please return that project to Bob; it’s his to finish,” and she says, “It’s OK, I’m on roll!” you say: “Nevertheless.” And stand there and look at her.

      1. JoeManager

        You’re right TNYC. Client was protected the whole time. I left that day knowing her work would never be done, mostly just because of the volume and time frame. I do like your “standard phrases” idea.

        1. Kelly L.

          The question then is, what did you want her to achieve during that time period? If it was a serious assignment, then at least maybe it had an endpoint, but it sounds like you were just hoping she’d never finish and spend the entire night on it to learn a lesson. I can’t really get behind that, when presumably she has a life outside of work.

      2. Jen S. 2.0

        I might even define the standard phrases with her. Like, you and she agree that when you say “Butterfingers,” or whatever, it means, “You’re out of your lane and I need it to stop this second.”

  27. Alano

    Most of the comments on here strike me as too negative, overly harsh, and sound like they’re coming from non-managers who underestimate the difficulty of finding hardworking employees with drive and initiative. Employees with this much willingness to work hard, stay late, and tackle problems without being directed to do so are hard to find, and what you need to do is figure out how to manage this type of worker and help her properly channel all of her energy so that she’s not stepping on toes. You shouldn’t be trying to beat her down or “take her down a notch” like some of the negative people on here are saying.

    You need to let her know that her hard work and tremendous energy are valued. You need to let her know that she’s a rock star – and that she doesn’t need to prove herself every second of every day. You also need to firmly let her know that she’s been overstepping her bounds. And you need to be very specific in pointing out which behavior is problematic and which behavior is perfectly acceptable hard work. Give specific instances of where she overstepped her bounds.

    Make sure you’re letting her know that if she ever wants to move up the management chain she’ll have to learn to “let go” and not try to do every project herself. A good manager is comfortable with delegating and letting other people do their jobs.

    But like I said you want to try to mold and channel this person’s energy rather than shutting it down.

    1. Nerdling

      But it doesn’t sound like she is actually being all that productive with all that energy — she’s not tackling problems that no one else is addressing; instead, she’s taking over everyone else’s work and making it into something that is taking her more hours over and above her other work. That’s not necessarily being a rockstar, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be valued. In fact, it’s likely having a very negative effect on her coworkers whose work is being taken away from them by someone who isn’t their manager but apparently feels like they don’t do it well enough.

      1. Alano

        No, the OP specifically said several times that she’s a great worker. She’s just trying you hard and needs some guidance.

        1. Nerdling

          He did say that. Her output does seem to be good when she gets it done. But that doesn’t mean that that overshadows the damage that she’s doing otherwise. To me, that’s not a rock star.

    2. LCL

      Yeah but, it has been my experience that workers who are overstepping their bounds as described will always fight with their managers over what the work priorities are, and should be. These people do need to be channeled, but their managers need to keep a close eye on them to make sure that if they are constantly busy, it is doing what is supposed to be done, not reorganizing the supply room (example from real life).

    3. Anonymous Educator

      I haven’t met a “rock star” employee yet who indirectly complains about juggling too many projects when she has decided to take on projects unnecessarily.

    4. fposte

      I am a manager, and this employee is not a rock star. Eagerness isn’t what makes somebody a rock star; if it were, half the college graduates would be rock stars in their first job, and they’re not. Being a rock star is about *outcome*, not about enthusiasm. I have a long run of deeply eager and enthusiastic employees who also seriously deliver. None of them would have taken over other people’s projects or inserted themselves in my conversations with my boss.

      That doesn’t mean she couldn’t be a rock star–lots of young employees making big mistakes could turn into great employees, and I think you’ve got a point that it’d be good to have a longer conversation about her strengths and where they could take her if she can manage to overcome her weaknesses. But these are significant weaknesses, and they hurt the organization. You’re right about channeling her energy, but that’s something she needs to figure out a way to do, and she still needs to learn that the way she’s doing it now impairs her value.

    5. LBK

      I think it’s hard to think of someone as a bad employee if their individual work is good, but I’d strongly disagree that this employee is a rockstar. Working long hours (when there’s zero reason to do so), stealing work and solving problems that didn’t need to exist in the first place doesn’t make you a rockstar, it makes you a narcissist. Also, a big component of being a rock star is being awesome at participating in and leading your team – two things this employee sucks at. Perhaps the term “rockstar” is misleading since ego trips and diva behavior are typical of actual rockstars, but in an office context those are not desirable qualities.

    6. AntherHRPro

      As a manager, I can tell you that a strong performing employee who is also difficult to work with and doesn’t listed to direct feedback is not a great employee.

    7. JoeManager

      I’ve been managing for 20+ years. (ugh, that sounds terrible) and can tell when an employee has the drive to not just do their job, but bottom line care for the well being of the company. Big difference. I’ve opened every door possible for this person based on work ethic alone. The overstepping is something that is one aspect, that I’ve been able for the most part to apply to added responsibilities and other creative projects outside of our dept. or what was once outside of our dept. We’ve had frank conversations over the past few years when this overstepping has gotten out of hand. I’d like the last conversation about this to be the last. Which is why I’m looking for advice.

      1. Mike C.

        I just want to say, i really appreciate the fact you’re participating in the discussion here. It adds clarity to what’s going on and frankly so few folks do so.

      2. fposte

        Agreeing with Mike on your participation here–it’s really appreciated.

        One possibility is to state what you just said outright to her: “We’ve had several conversations about this, and I’m disappointed by the lack of progress in this area. I’d really like this conversation to be the last we have to have. Do you think you could meet that goal? What steps do you think you could take to do so? What do you”

        To be honest, though, I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal, though; it sounds like she hasn’t really internalized the previous conversations, and if you’re going for a more systematic and formal treatment of the problem, you might want to consider yourself as starting from square one. If I were doing so, I’d have the conversation that Alison suggests and let her explain herself; I’d also ask her to reflect back to me what she thinks I’m saying. I might also ask her how important she thinks this is, because my guess is she’s underselling its significance.

        It may sound like a PIP, but my inclination at this point work together in that meeting to articulate her goals in this problem area, which *she* should write up and you should approve. Keep an eye on her for a week and then have a check-in meeting to see how she’s doing, or how she thinks she’s doing. Make her an active participant in this change–or else you’re just squirting water at the cat every so often, and the cat’s thinking counter access is worth the occasional squirt.

        1. Mike C.

          Maybe I’m being a bit harsh since I’ve dealt with this, but giving the harm it’s causing and the number of times it’s been addressed, I wonder if a PIP might not be a bad idea here.

  28. sittingduck

    I was doing similar things when I started my current job, I thought I was being helpful inputting my opinion in places I wasn’t involved and butting into conversations that interested me, or I felt I had something to contribute to when I was never I voted to the conversation.

    In my first review after 30 days my boss mentioned this, and told me the big boss had mentioned it and that it wasn’t ok. She told me I have to essentially mind my own business. Or if I really feel I have something to co tribute, ask to join the conversation first, with the knowledge that the answer might be ‘no’ if they just don’t want my input.

    It has been tough butting my tounge from time to time, but my boss recently told me she has seen a huge improvement in this area.

    I wonder if this person is fairly new to the workforce, as I am, and just doesn’t know the etiquite. She may think she is just being helpful and doesn’t understand how it is disruptive.

    As a slight over achieved I too like to take on projects so I know they get done right, but I’ve learned to hold back for the sake of my colleagues, and ended up learning a ton from them doing things differently than I would have.

    My boss was very frank with me about the problem, she is that way normally, and I think that really helped get the message across.

    1. Girasol

      And you must have been rather open minded. It has to be tough to explain and to grasp the explanation that doing the right thing – volunteering to take on more work, helping others, etc. – can possibly be a bad thing when overdone. I’m wondering if that’s the OP’s employee’s problem: she understands the OP’s correction in the same sense as the interviewee who says “I suppose my biggest fault is that I work too hard.”

  29. LBK

    One thing I haven’t really seen touched on in the comments that stood out to me – the way she responded to feedback was WILDLY inappropriate. Not the crying (which carries a boatload of its own issues), but basically throwing a hissy fit and stomping off to her room like a child is an absolutely unacceptable way to handle your manager trying to ask you to do something. It reminds me of the Beast after Belle refuses to come to dinner – “If she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all!” It’s petty, it’s unprofessional and it shows a serious lack of understanding about what working in a team means. Hint: it’s not sucking up all the work around you like a black hole.

    1. fposte

      I agree with the principle, but I think that makes it sound like she stomped off in the meeting, and she didn’t; it was the OP who did the stomping off, at the later meeting. And that’s another reason why the OP may want to up her own standards; staff tend to follow the managerial example.

      1. LBK

        Agreed, and I meant the stomping off more metaphorically (which is perhaps confusing since there was actual stomping off later in the letter). But point being, saying “FINE, I just won’t do any extra work ever again!” is so petty and defensive. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that when I was in middle school.

        1. fposte

          Oh, I agree; I just thought it was kind of amusing that it was the manager who did the literal version of that.

          1. JoeManager

            I do fine this helpful. I did stomp out, but it wasn’t a meeting, it was standing waiting for our coffees to finish in the break room. I don’t disagree that it was childish.

  30. Looby

    I agree she needs to be taken down a peg or two, but when she says she did something to make sure it was done right, is there any hint of truth there? Does getting this stuff wrong impact her in anyway?

    I ask because I used to take work from my coworkers so I knew it would be done correctly because getting incorrect information directly affected me and my job. An when I say done correctly, I don’t mean correct as in the way I like it, but actually calculated correctly to give the correct answer.

    Could there be frustration on her part that you, as the manager, are not stepping up to make sure these mistakes stop happening?

    1. LBK

      Even if that’s the case, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snagging the work like that, especially since it doesn’t appear to be accompanied by conversations with the OP (their manager) about the errors being made. I’ve certainly been the one who had to point out or catch errors before and while I understand the impulse to just fix it and move on, at a bare minimum the manager needs to be informed of those errors so they can identify patterns and performance manage their employees as needed. If you’re silently fixing the problems without trying to fix the overall issue with work being done incorrectly, you don’t really have anyone but yourself to blame for your frustration.

  31. TT

    Sounds like OP has Tracy Flick reporting to him. There’s a big part of this that is getting a handle on her current behavior, but I’m also wondering if there’s a way to help manage some this before it happens.

    I worked as a teacher in a previous life, and I learned pretty quickly that idle hands really are the devil’s playthings. Even great, straight A students were prone to trouble starting if they finished their work early. Perhaps the employee mentioned here would benefit from some more complex assignments. Have a great idea about digital data? Great – create a full proposal. Do some research. Come up with a list/calendar of short training sessions she’d like to complete.

    Great ideas and opinions are very easy to form. Fully researched proposals and plans are not.

  32. J-nonymous

    Gosh, OP – I’m very sorry for this going on. I’ve been the employee in question before, and it’s a really hard impulse to fight. I’m very passionate about my beliefs (usually involving how to get things done the Best Way) and I find it easier most times to do the work myself than to either show someone else how to do it, or risk it not being done My Way.

    The best advice I ever got was from a former director of mine who told me how it was going to hold me back if I insisted on doing everyone’s work for them. I think the key difference between my reaction and your employee’s was that I was at a point in my career when I wanted and needed to accept feedback. Now that I’ve incorporated that feedback into my work style (which, by the way, is always going to be a struggle for me, and possibly for your employee), I’ve seen my career grow by leaps and bounds, so it’s obvious how much my style held me back for over a decade.

    But here’s the thing, you’ve given your employee this feedback. It sounds like your employee isn’t quite ready to hear it and accept it, or at least takes it personally instead of how it’s intended — which is to help her improve as an employee (and advance her career). Maybe that’s because she sees her ability to *deliver* as what sets her apart from all her peers.

    It’s unfortunate that the situation escalated to the point you describe in your email, but now you’re in a great position to point out to her how badly things *will* go when she (or anyone else, really) takes on work without having a sufficient understanding of what’s being asked, how much time there is to deliver it, and no support from a team to deliver the work.

    And then you need to have a very frank and direct conversation with her about her performance. I highly recommend understanding what motivates her to take on other people’s work: Does she have overall responsibility for project-like work but lack the project management skills necessary to manage others’ tasks? If she is responsible for a collection of work and doesn’t know how to ensure it gets done without doing it herself, those are skills she can be taught (and, that you can measure her performance against during reviews).

    Is it possible she is doing this because there are underperformers on your team? If so, you need to know about that and Jane isn’t doing the team favors by shielding her manager(s) from knowing where employees need to improve.

    It’s also possible Jane is doing this because she is competitive and thinks it gives her an edge over her peers. If that is the case, you need to be clear with her that collaboration and teamwork, not competition, is what you value in employees — of course, you can only set that message if that’s the truth. If you / your organization rewards speedy results at the expense of teamwork, then Jane is simply falling in line with the (unsaid) expectations of the company.

    Regardless of why she’s doing it though, you need to dive into specific examples of when she’s done it and what effect it had on the work and the team. My personal experience was that it was very helpful to learn how people felt about my usurping their work; it made me empathize with them.

    As for her interruptions, others above have suggested great ways to curb her of the habit, but again I’d recommend understanding what her motivations are. Does she need to be seen as an expert? Is she striving to get new and interesting work? Is she “just passionate” about her job?

    You need to explain to her that always having a quick answer often ends conversations before all questions could be asked. This is going to require a *lot* of coaching, but some things you can do immediately are, “Jane, I need a quick answer about how to do X” for when you need her to quickly answer a pretty fact-based question. Conversely, “Jane – I have this situation and I need some input. Can you take the next day to come up with some options to address Y.” In conversations when you want her to pause and think about things before she answers, you can say “You don’t have to answer now. Take some time and think about it and get back to me.” If she’s still forging ahead without listening to others, you can reassert control of the conversation and make sure that others have a chance to ask questions.

    If Jane is as eager to please as she’s described, and if she is eager to advance her career, clear expectations from you about what constitutes being an excellent employee combined with good, collaborative behavior modeled by you will give her some great paths out of her current mode.

    Good luck!

    1. JoeManager

      ” having a quick answer often ends conversations before all questions could be asked.” the biggest draw against answering too quickly. Thanks for your insight.

      1. Artemesia

        Great point. I am one of those people who is task focused and plans the work and works the plan and this can result in jumping the gun — moving ahead without really looking at all the options. Teams work better if there are members who are blue skiers and who are task oriented who keep each other in check.

  33. Anon for this

    Based on other people’s responses, maybe I’m being too charitable here, but I can identify a little bit with the employee on the “taking work” issue (not the interrupting — I agree, that looks super annoying and inappropriate), and I wonder if there might be more to the situation.

    I’m a really hard worker and a fast worker who gets things done right and on time. There have been so many times that my coworkers have gotten behind on their work, and then at the last minute, the work is reassigned to me because everybody knows I’ll get it done. I do it, but I hate being put into these tight deadline situations, so I developed an eye for people getting behind on their work. It would be much easier and less stressful for me to be able to plan for having to do this work, so sometimes, when I get the sense that somebody is not going to get to something and it might get reassigned to me, I’ll proactively get a head start on it so I’m not rushed at the last minute. People often get annoyed when I do this and accuse me of taking their work, even though I know from past experience that it’s highly likely I would have ended up being assigned to do it at the last minute. They like being able to count on me as a safety net, but heaven forbid I try to get started on it before the 11th hour.

    My point is that, if the manager has a habit of dumping more work on this employee because he knows he can count on her to get it done right and on time, that may be contributing to the employee feeling the need to take work from coworkers. Maybe this isn’t the case, but it might be worth taking a look at whether he’s putting an implied expectation on her to do more.

    Oh, and something that might help the situation is making clear assignments (i.e., make she knows Jane has already been assigned to that spout upgrade project) and telling the employee to ask the assigned person before doing anything that’s not assigned to her, rather than just taking the liberty of starting it on her own.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      I can relate to the desire to take on others’ work, but if you are complaining you’re overworked, you don’t have permission to take others’ work, and you are, in fact, just eavesdropping and taking on work you don’t fully understand… that’s a major, major, major problem.

    2. also anon for this

      I was thinking something similar – especially that there might be more to the story. If this person is such a great employee, and as people are pointing out – these are traits that aren’t so great, how would OP rate the performance of his other employees (if they were allowed to do their work)?

      I know I have some similar traits as the subject employee, and can be a bit of a ‘Golden Child’ – however, this is because the performance of some of my co-workers is truly not up to par. We are reactive (no thorough project planning), deadlines are missed, and we are losing customers because relationships are being neglected. Leadership is positive because they see the potential in everyone, but lacks in offering any clear guidance or performance mentorship. I get frustrated and start seeing/offering solutions when they weren’t necessarily solicited in the first place.

      I’m not fully justifying the employee’s actions, but in addition to all the comments on how to help guide her – I’d also suggest taking a closer look at her motivations (see, still offering solutions).

  34. Chickaletta

    If this employee is so smart, how did she not realize that her suggestion would take way more time and work than what was allocated? Did she not realize that building this online system couldn’t possibly be done by the next day? I’m all for action, but she sounds like the kind of person who should spend more time thinking and less time talking. Just because someone speaks up all the time doesn’t mean they’re the smartest person in the room. I’ve seen this dynamic happen A LOT in groups where the person who talks the most is assumed to be the most informed. Be careful about that.

  35. CatDog

    “I’ll also see her staying late to finish work that isn’t due for a week.” To state the obvious, who chooses to stay late at work for no reason or reward, unless they’re either unhappy at home or have tunnel vision for one area of their life.

    There’s something quite disconcerting about staying late unnecessarily – it shows a poor cultural understanding as work isn’t a drop-in centre for people who don’t want to go home. She’s doing it to make herself look good, but I would counter the opposite as it could appear to outsiders that she’s struggling to do her regular work in normal hours, or could be making colleagues feel uncomfortable if they think they need to stay late too. As a manager, it doesn’t reflect well to have direct reports hanging around the office for no reason. I think you need to tell her to stop this behaviour.

    I also get the impression that she thinks she can succeed faster by doing ‘more’ than everyone else, but that’s often not the case in work. If it takes X amount of time to get a promotion, she’s not going to get it any quicker by doing this extra stuff.

    1. CatDog

      I wonder whether your company runs any internal team working or interpersonal skills courses that you could send her onto? Or perhaps HR can recommend online training. It really sounds like she needs extra support to deal with this, as she just isn’t getting it. Make it clear that you’re doing this because she’s not reaching expectations.

      You should then incorporate what she’s learnt into her objectives and hold her accountable. So one could be to excel at the tasks assigned to HER, but not to touch other peoples’ work unless you tell her to. If she still tries to take over work, you tell her that she’s not meeting the standards required and that you expect her to change her behaviour.

    2. stellanor

      I actually do sometimes stay late because I’m on a roll. I don’t have anything pressing going on at home (no kids, my SO is not fussed if I come home late occasionally) and sometimes I’d rather knock something out while I’m in the groove and go home early on Friday or something. We don’t have very set hours so no one thinks a thing of it.

    3. M-C

      And staying late to do other people’s work is downright weird. As well as totally inappropriate. If I was the OP I’d order her to stop right there and get out.. If she doesn’t want to go home, she should find herself a hobby, instead of putting down and alienating her coworkers.

  36. Andrew

    I work with this person every day. I’m not her manager; I’m one of the people whose projects get taken over if I turn my back for 5 seconds. The OP is doing no one a favor by not stopping this immediately.

  37. AcademiaNut

    It sounds like there hasn’t been actual consequences for this behaviour – she gets stern talking toos on occasion, but the work she usurps gets accepted, and she wasn’t called on the carpet for the aftermath of the situation in the letter.

    I’m wondering how it would work to *not* accept this extra work. If she announces that she’s done Susan’s work for her because it was easier/to make sure it’s done right, clearly say “No, I wanted Susan to do that work” and then reject the work. Have Susan do it, and accept Susan’s version of it.

    I have a feeling that the employee deep down really believes that her behaviour is showing what an amazing employee she is, even when she is told to cut it out – maybe she thinks “Oh, they just don’t want me making the other employees look bad.” If the usurped work is outright rejected – you don’t even read it, or look at the attachments, or delete it and go back to a saved copy – it might drive the message home. Probably with drama, but I’m not sure you can do this calmly, given the employee’s track record with being reprimanded.

    I’ve occasionally had to tell students that if they’re assigned a ten page essay, they need to turn in a ten page essay, and if they turn in a 20 page essay, I won’t even read the last ten pages – they’ll be graded on the assigned length. It definitely gets the point across.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      I’m wondering how it would work to *not* accept this extra work. If she announces that she’s done Susan’s work for her because it was easier/to make sure it’s done right, clearly say “No, I wanted Susan to do that work” and then reject the work. Have Susan do it, and accept Susan’s version of it.

      This actually happened to me once. My manager gave me a task to do, and a co-worker of mine decided to start working on it instead. Our manager told my co-worker “Don’t work on that. I want Anonymous Educator to work on it.” And then that was that, and the manager (and our entire office) ended up going with my version of the work.

      Could my co-worker have done as good a job or possibly a better job than I? Maybe. I think I did a darn good job, but it wasn’t up to me to convince my co-worker—that was my manager’s call.

  38. stellanor

    I worked with someone like this — in fact I almost suspect this IS my former coworker — and being her peer was excruciating. She stole work to make herself look good to our boss, and it got so bad that people avoided telling her what they were working on lest she take it over and work a ton of overtime to give our boss her version before the original assignee finished.

    It was horrible and the entire team breathed a sigh of relief when she was gone. That behavior is a massive morale sink.

  39. nomdeplume

    This situation is playing out with Star Helper as my coworker right now. By the time I’m called back to a project at the realization that the person has taken on too much, the deadline is impossibly tight and doubling up the work to get caught up to speed. Any pointers for team mates on the receiving end would be appreciated!

    1. J-nonymous

      A lot of Star Helpers have no idea they’re causing more problems than solving by volunteering to take on every task that needs to be finished. When I am on a team with a Star Helper, and the SH volunteers for another task, I’ll suggest (non-confrontationally) that he or she reconsider. “The teapot inventory project is due in two weeks. I know you’ve also got the proposal for new teapot spout washing process this week, not to mention all the work you’re doing to get us ready for the teapot convention in three weeks. Will you have enough time to complete this teapot cozy design layout too?”

      This doesn’t always work though. I have recently been on a project where the project manager was woefully under-engaged, one of the team members never volunteered for (and often never completed) tasks, and another team member was Star Helper – except of course nothing really got done.

      The biggest factor I’ve seen when there’s a rise in the Star Helper on projects or teams is that there may never have been a clear understanding of what each person on the team was supposed to do and the team doesn’t necessarily understand the scope of the work and its tasks adequately.

  40. Jill

    I think there’s another issue here, too, that I haven’t seen anyone bring up. If I’m the manager and I assign employee A to a task, and then all of a sudden I see Employee B working on it, that would be a problem. Unless your office culture is one where employees routinely swap projects freely…

    But I would also have a conversation with the other employees and make it clear that the person to whom a project is assigned is the person that should be completing it. I mean, if Problem Employee is doing all these other projects, what are your other employee’s doing with their time? Are clients or higher-ups being misled about who is actually completing work? Consider the possibility that your other employees need some management intervention here, too. It sounds like they have been allowed to be lax when it comes to giving up work, just as Problem Employee has been allowed to get away with her issues for too long, too.

  41. Sally Forth

    Thank you for this. I am at the end of my career. Because I wanted to reduce stress and working hours, I purposely took a job that interested me, but that is a cinch from an experience and education standpoint. Consequently, I am constantly pushing the boundaries of my job. Reading this post, I realized that if I wanted to do more interesting projects, I should have gone after a higher level job and the responsibility that entailed. Until I read this and had my epiphany, I thought I was being a go-getter, stepping up to the plate all over the place. Now I see that it’s not fair to the people who do have those jobs (and the responsibility) to be stepping into their sphere unasked.

  42. Low Paid Know It All

    I’m late to the party but just saw this today, and have to say I feel absolutely elated to see this addressed in print. Long story short, I lost a role to a coworker who fits this description (we both applied for the same job, she was chosen). I think her initial ‘do it all’ persona won her the job with our very disingenuous manager. Now I hear through the grapevine that her behavior is a problem in the very manner our letter writer described. But all I can say is HA HA I TOLD YOU SO and it feels so good!

    Know I’m sounding bitter and immature…it was a big deal, y’all

  43. Yuubou

    I’m not sure if its because I identify with your problem employee or not, but I feel like the comments here are really harsh towards her. I’m actually kind of shocked.

    Take your Excel story- she walked into the coffee break room and heard chit chat about Excel, so she joined the conversation about technology that interested her. You mention yourself that she didn’t know the project or the timeline, so to her it was a philosophical question, and was unconnected with a specific project. It sounds like its your boss that was the one who was out of touch, deciding to switch software 1 day before a project was due. I think if you had replied, “Let’s keep it in mind for next time, but the work is already completed,” everyone would have agreed that made sense, since she didn’t know what project you were talking about anyway.

    I don’t understand how contributing ideas is harmful and why you would want to push an employee to stop. It sounds like its just a difference in communication styles rather than an employee who is doing stuff to just look good. Maybe when you are in a meeting and ask for ideas, you mean formal proposals and she thinks its a brainstorming session.

    You mentioned she has a strong work ethic. So maybe it is the case she does other people’s work because its faster to do error free than to fix something error ridden. I dos. think its a problem if she’s taking over projects without communicating with the person doing it. That’s the problem I would address.

    Personally, I’ve had cases where I’ve stayed late working on a project that wasn’t due immediately because I was worried if I left it to the morning that I would lose my place, or I figured if I didn’t do it then other things would pile up during the day and I’d end up staying late on a day when I wanted to leave on time.

    I think the way you are going to approach the conversation with this employee is going to be very demoralizing for her. It is demoralizing when you sacrifice your time to help a project succeed, or when you care about your work so you do what needs to be done and then are resented for it.

    I think you are better off coming from a place of wanting to help her succeed – ask what can you do so that she can get home at a decent hour because you are worried about her being burnt out. Be specific if a meeting is for brainstorming or formal proposals to make sure everyone is on the same page. Explain you wanted Susie to work on that project so she could grow.

  44. JoeManager

    It wasn’t a philosophical question, it was a quick, “We should be doing this, we should be using this, we should have this..” Also, contributing ideas isn’t harmful, unless you know that the person you say them to loves bigger, faster, shinier bells and whistles. The problem I need to address is that I’ve talked with her twice about this. For good reason.

  45. SageForest

    So let me get this straight, you have an employee who completes her work on time and then has enough bandwidth to take on other people’s projects and do them at a high level. What exactly is the problem? It sounds like your high performing employee is frustrated that she’s not getting recognition for her work. Instead of worrying about how you look, remember that when your employees do well you also do well! People assign a lot of credit to their manager. Your job is also to run a high performing team that delivers great solutions for your company. It’s not to feel good that your employees defer to your every request.

    This woman is looking for bigger challenges. That’s why she’s going the extra mile. She might be complaining about how much work there is as a way to let you know all she’s working on.

    Figure out how to give this employee room to grow. She’ll be much happier and you’ll get more control of the work she choses to take on. She might totally fall flat, in which case you’ve established that she is a small time know it all. But you could be stifling an employee who can be very helpful for *your* career. Your “problem” is actually an awesome opportunity.

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