my friend is a terrible coworker

A reader writes:

I work in the same small office (around 30ish people) as one of my good friends. We went to college together, and after grad school she had better luck finding a job than I did and helped me get this one. We were roommates for three years, though we mutually agreed to split up when the last lease ran out. And in the past year or so, I’ve grudgingly come to admit that she’s just a terrible coworker.

Whenever she gets a bad review – or even just not a glowing one – or negative feedback of any kind, she sulks for days and refuses to do any work beyond the bare minimum needed to get by. There are a few aspects of her job she genuinely loves, and she throws herself into those, but she acts like any request to pull her weight in the rest of the department is a huge imposition. (She thinks she’s much better at concealing the fact that she’s unhappy than she really is, which means she’s interacting with customers in a way that makes it clear that she does not want to be there.) A few months ago, when she was feeling particularly unappreciated, she decided to just stop doing any work entirely and spent most of her day working on her novel.

She’s my friend and I feel terrible about this, but it’s incredibly frustrating. It hasn’t seriously impacted my work yet – we used to be in different departments, and although thanks to a restructuring we now have the same manager, we still work in different enough spheres that our work doesn’t really overlap. When she does work it’s fine, it’s just that she does so very little and is so very angry about everything all the time. Should I talk to our manager about this, given that I only know about most of her attitude issues because she’s my friend and therefore complains more easily to me than to our other coworkers?

[To make matters worse, this year I got a promotion (same job title, better pay/benefits) and she didn’t. No one knew it was a possibility; it was presented to me as thanks for working my butt off for the past four years in this job. When I told my other coworkers, their first question was always, “How’s [friend] taking it?” and now she’s angry at me for saying anything to them at all in response and she hasn’t talked to me in two days.]

I vote for talking to your friend rather than talking to your manager.

Since it’s sounds like you’re close, could you sit down with her and say something like this: “It seems like you’re really unhappy at work, and it’s to the point that it’s showing up in your work habits. I’m worried that your unhappiness is going to end up limiting your professionally, because it’s impacting how you are with customers and other work habits. I hate seeing you unhappy and possibly hurting your professional reputation. Have you thought about what you can do to make yourself happier, even if it means looking for another job?”

Now, this conversation might really piss her off, but I think it’s worth saying. I suppose there’s an argument that it’s none of your business, but she’s your friend, she’s obviously unhappy, and you’re seeing her do things that really are likely to have professional consequences for her. I think you should speak up. And I also think that if she tells you in the future that she’s on a work stoppage or anything like that, you should tell her that she’s putting you in an awkward position by sharing that and that you don’t want to hear about it.

As for the question you actually asked — whether you should talk to your manager — I don’t think so. This is stuff that you only know because your friend has talked to you as a friend, and it’s not impacting your work. If it starts to impact your work, then yes, I do think you need to speak up.

That said, I’m mildly torn because in general I’m a proponent of sharing information with your manager that impacts the organization as a whole, and this certainly does. But it seems like this is a close friendship and she’s talking to you as a close friend (which I’m basing on you being roommates for three years). I think this is a talk-to-your-friend situation, and only becomes a talk-to-your-boss situation if something changes.

And if it does get worse and you do feel like you need to speak up, I’d say something like this to her first: “You’re putting me in a really awkward situation. If I saw anyone else doing X, I’d feel obligated to mention it to Lucinda. I feel uncomfortable doing that because of our friendship, but expecting me to look the other way when you do X makes me feel complicit and that’s not okay with me.”

Frankly, it also might be considering whether this is a distance-yourself-from-your-friend situation. I’ve got to think you’re having trouble respecting her, and she sounds like she’s being a jerk about your promotion.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 92 comments… read them below }

  1. Allison*

    OP, it may help your friend if she can vent to you about what’s bothering her. You say she sulks when she gets a bad performance review, but has she ever mentioned with the critique is? Maybe she feels the manager is being unfair in their critique or harping on something she’s either trying to work on or thinks is really petty. I’m not saying she’s right, but if she has a trusted friend to confide in over drinks after work, she may feel better at work.

    1. fposte*

      The problem there, though, is that makes things harder on the OP, who’s already struggling with her friend’s unhappiness at work. Maybe it would work if the friend finds a different friend, who she doesn’t work with, to vent to, but I think that would exacerbate the OP’s problem.

    2. Anna*

      I worked with a friend a few years ago. I had recommended her for the job and while she wasn’t a horrible coworker and she didn’t let annoying things at work affect how she worked, it wasn’t good for our relationship. I started to feel like her unhappiness was my fault, her unhappiness exacerbated my unhappiness, and we started to have some real issues. Then she left that job (she and her husband moved) and then I got laid off, and our friendship was saved. Having someone you’ve known before you worked together is not a great thing, in my opinion, even if you don’t notice your friend sucks as a coworker.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Agreed. I was the sucky coworker and my friend ended up being my manager. We’ve saved the friendship, and neither one of us is at that job anymore, but it’s not the same as it was. Now we’re more Facebook friends than anything else. Ironically, I was mostly sucky at THAT job. Maybe the coworker does need to find a different place to work.

  2. LBK*

    I think it’s worth having that conversation even if the initial reaction is an angry defensive one, because she’ll probably realize a few days later that you have a point. Or she won’t, in which case she’ll have proven she’s not a reasonable and/or self aware person, at which point it’s probably not much of a loss if she stops being your friend entirely. Frankly, just the way you’ve described her now sounds exhausting to be around – I’d already be considering whether I want to stay friends with someone who doesn’t speak to me for two days because I got a promotion. A good friend should be happy for you when something good happens to you, even if it stings them a little bit too.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yes! I would actually be ok with it if a friend told me privately that she was happy for me and knew I deserved it, but disappointed for herself, and to avoid taking it out on me, she wouldn’t be around much for a few days while she got over it. Because I can understand that kind of feeling. But somebody just giving me the silent treatment for 2 days, sulking over the fact that I got a promotion, that’s a lot to expect a friend to take. It is possible to be both happy for a friend and sad for yourself, and I couldn’t be close to someone who doesn’t get that.

    2. Sadsack*

      I took Op to mean that the friend got upset about the conversation that was had when the coworkers asked Op how her friend feels about the promotion. It seems that everyone there seems to see the friend the way Op does with regard to work, which is bad for her friend.

      1. Koko*

        Yeah, I think the friend was more upset because she knows she’s perceived as fragile and emotionally unstable by everyone at work, and is mad at OP for not shutting down the conversations or taking it upon herself to do something to counter that perception (which she’s not under any real obligation to do, and which may have had limited efficacy anyway).

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I told my other coworkers, their first question was always, “How’s [friend] taking it?” and now she’s angry at me for saying anything to them at all in response and she hasn’t talked to me in two days.]

    And I would be mad at you too.

    I get that you’re in a bad position, and I don’t envy you.  But this is a highly inappropriate question on your coworkers’ parts, which means answering it in kind is inappropriate too.  Unless you’re answering it by saying you don’t know, it’s none of anyone’ business, and/or people should ask coworker directly.

    Talking behind someone’s back like that, regardless of how well-intentioned or innocent it seems, is really condescending and extremely unhelpful.  Then she hears about it later?  Ouch.  Yes, she obviously isn’t taking your promotion well, and she needs to act better.  But talking about her like she’s an insolent teenager will help nothing and only make her feel worse, especially because she knows everyone is talking about it.  It’s humiliating.

    On that front, please don’t encourage and respond to such discussion.  However wrong your friend is at work, she definitely has a point on this matter.  

    1. Nina*

      I’m confused about why you would be mad, though. It doesn’t say anywhere that the OP brought up her friend’s feelings about the promotion to her coworkers, just that she told her coworkers that she got the promotion at all. If her friend is really as unhappy as OP says, then their coworkers have probably noticed her miserable behavior as well.

    2. fposte*

      I think the people to be mad at there are the co-workers, especially since we don’t know what the OP said in response and it could have been quite appropriate, and it could be OP’s friend who’s been broadcasting their togetherness in everything. But I’m with you on the underlying point–if people are coming to OP about her friend, they’re too intertwined, reputationally, at work, and it’s wise for the OP to rebuff such attempts and send them over to OP’s friend if they have questions for her.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. We don’t know exactly how the OP responded to the question. I agree there are definitely appropriate things she could have said to them as well as things that were over the line. It’s debatable how appropriate it was for her co-workers to ask about it in the first place, but the fact that they all jump to this immediately makes the OP’s friend’s reaction seem kind of inevitable regardless.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        Your comment is exactly correct. Of course, the OP could have answered it in a way that would tick me off if I were her friend, but we don’t know what she said.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Nah, i think the friend is probably more mad at herself for slacking off and not getting the raise herself and was probably embarrassed/frustrated people were asking about it. Clearly they know she’s prickly

      4. No Longer Passing By*

        if people are coming to OP about her friend, they’re too intertwined, reputationally, at work

        This. Stop answering these questions. Just shrug and say that you don’t know.

    3. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Yes, this seems like a somewhat toxic workplace. Part of this might be that your friend is burnt out because she knows how much gossiping there is about her.

      1. Green*

        That requires a couple of leaps here and seems to be projecting a bit. I think OP probably presented that information as an indication that others are also picking up on her friend’s sulking habit.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, that was my take. There’s lots of info here that shows the friend is the problem and not much conclusive that shows the workplace is. It’s possible that the workplace is a problem too, but I wouldn’t leap to that conclusion.

        2. HeyNonnyNonny*

          I guess my first read was that coworkers were overly interested in pot-stirring and wanting to hear about potential drama, but I can see that it could also have been them anticipating a sulking fit. I’m still not sure I’d consider it an appropriate question, and I hope OP headed it off.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Given that it sounds like OP is really standing out in a good way, it’s also possible these coworkers like OP and were trying to reach out a little bit in case OP was dealing with blow-back, as well. It could have been a friendly or concerned inquiry, in other words.

      2. fposte*

        This is where relationship comparisons can come in. To me this is like people who just get into a negative spiral with each other but there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of them. Negative spirals don’t automatically prove the person–or the job–is toxic.

    4. mdv*

      I completely disagree. “How is [friend] taking it?” is not an inappropriate question! In fact, I would argue that shows a lot more awareness on the parts of coworkers as to how badly the friend was (likely) going to take it, and one I would not be surprised to hear, if it was directed towards me.

      And nothing here indicates that there was an ‘unfriendly’ discussion “behind [friend’s] back”, that is an assumption you are making based on the friend’s reaction. I am willing to bet this friend blows a lot of things way out of proportion! She only has a leg to stand on for being upset enough to give OP the silent treatment IF the OP said something WAY over the line of “I haven’t had a chance to tell her yet, but I expect she’ll be pretty upset.”

      1. some1*

        I’m inclined to agree with MDV. The letter mentions other behavior that is really disproportianate than the situation called for, sulking for days after a negative or neutral performance eval, doing the bare the absolute bare minnimum or less because she feels unappreciated — these are not things emotionally mature or proessional people do when faced with common frustrations at work.

      2. TL -*

        I think any response besides, “She’s taking it well, why?” is out of line with coworkers. With close (non-shared) friends, I can see the OP having justification to vent or talk through her problems, but with coworkers, the OP needs to not encourage that line of questioning/drama.

        1. Green*

          While I agree that it’s best to discourage drama, the appropriate answer (that is both truthful and discouraging of drama) is “Oh, I’m not sure. We haven’t really talked about it much. NEW TOPIC!”

          1. Laurel Gray*

            Right, or turn it back on them with “Have you asked her?” There is absolutely no need for the OP to be answering questions on how her friend is feeling when said friend also works in this environment and could be directly asked.

          2. Annonymouse*

            I think it’s obvious WHY they’re asking:

            friend has shown whenever stuff doesn’t go their way (not glowing performance review, having to do parts of her job she isn’t as passionate about, getting any feedback in general) they sulk for days afterwards and do the barest minimum of their job and it’s obvious to customers and coworkers they’re not happy.

            OP getting a promotion over them is bound to be in the “not going her way” pile.

            I’d also bet they’d ask if OP wasn’t their friend.

      3. cv*

        If OP and her friend had both actively applied for a position and OP had been selected, then maybe I could see the coworkers’ question being okay, since everyone knows that it’s tough to lose out on something like that and the friendship adds another layer to it. But they do completely different work and OP’s promotion was totally unrelated to the friend, from a professional standpoint. In this case the coworkers’ question ramps up the drama – it sounds like the friend’s behavior is attention-seeking, and this sort of tiptoeing around her/gossiping about her just gives her that attention.

        1. Green*

          I think it’s a bit simpler: if you act inappropriately in the workplace, people may talk about your inappropriate behavior in the workplace. From Terrible Coworker’s perspective the Thing to Do is stop acting inappropriately in the workplace, not get mad about people talking about your inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

        2. No Longer Passing By*

          Plus it seems that OP didn’t apply for the promotion and was taken by surprise by it. I don’t understand why anyone would ask her how another person is handling the OP’s unexpected promotion, even if the friend is the kind of person to take everything personally. There’s no nexus except the reputational link that fposte mentioned up thread

      4. JB (not in Houston)*

        But how the friend is taking it is not any of their business unless, when she doesn’t take things well, she takes it out on them. To me, it sounds like people with a bad case of schadenfreude or drama-stir-itis.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I don’t like the sound of that either, and I think it’s worth trying to squash it. It’s not helping any, that’s for sure.

        2. neverjaunty*

          They probably don’t give two rips about Friend, they’re worried about OP, who is going to take the brunt of Friend’s displeasure.

        3. LBK*

          I think it depends on the spirit of the question…I could see it being asked with genuine concern if people knew about their friendship and the friend’s existing frustrations. That might still not make it appropriate, but I wouldn’t immediately leap to assuming those posing the question are being gossipy.

          1. some1*

            I can’t remember asking or being asked, “How is So-and-so taking this?” without the assumption being that it’s being taken badly.

            “Guess what, I’m pregnant.”
            Response: “How is your boyfriend taking it?” is completely different than, “Is your boyfriend excited?”

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yes, exactly. I think it does depend on the spirit of the question as to whether it’s *maliciously* gossipy. But because they are talking about two coworkers, and because the wording of the question presupposes that there could be a problem, it’s still gossipy and drama-stirring. You can express support for someone without coming and saying, “oh, boy, I bet this is causing you trouble with So-and-So!” which that question more or less says.

              Honestly, I’ve done this thing before with one of my friends who worked for someone difficult. I was legitimately concerned for her, but I realized that by asking questions that were designed to or likely to provide dirt about a coworker, I was adding to the dysfunctional atmosphere.

        4. Sadsack*

          The fact that the coworkers even asked how the friend would take the promotion is very telling about how they see her based on her other behaviors. That says a lot more about the friend than it does about the coworkers. If they see the friend acting the way Op describes, then they are probably sick of working with her.

      5. Colette*

        It’s kind of a weird question to ask the OP – they also work with the friend and could ask directly (or simply observe the friend), if they really want to know.

      6. Stranger than fiction*

        I dont get how y’all think that’s so inappropriate, whether theyre friends or just coworkers it seems like a natural question to me. But it does point out they’re aware she will probably be upset and friend’s reputation proceeds her

  4. African Sun*

    This sounds like one of those situations where you should talk to your friend first. She might be going through something, she could be sad about a personal issue in her life which is manifesting into work life.

    You noted she is working on a novel – she definitely sounds preoccupied but she is also clearly unhappy which is indicative from the fact she is working on the book.

    I think you should talk to her first and try and encourage her to perk up if she wants to keep working there, and then tell her that she needs to be more supportive of you and not so self-immersive.

    Sometimes all we need is someone to tell us ‘hey get it together’ but it totally depends on the person. I’m an advocate for tough love friendship talks but it completely depends on the dynamic of the friendship. I say talk first to friend, not manager as that might seem like betrayal to her, as silly as that sounds.

  5. 42*

    I’m wondering if the manager already sees this and has taken any steps toward addressing it without the OP ever having to step in. Not doing any work, but working on her novel? No one said anything??

    1. UKAnon*

      This is exactly what I was about to post. If your manager is at all competent to deal with this, they will have already noticed and will be dealing with it (nobody gets to be that much of a slacker and a moaner without a good manager noticing) If they haven’t, I think that argues strongly that if you took it to them they’d create a snafu and whatever extra drama they manage to create when they go to your friend would also hit the fan.

    2. Susan the BA*

      Yes, it seems super weird that the manager either wouldn’t notice or isn’t doing anything about it. It’s great that management has recognized the OP’s awesomeness and rewarded it with a promotion, but having been in that situation I would have rather management recognized who wasn’t pulling their weight and addressed that.

      1. Pill Helmet*

        I think it really depends on the kind of work she is doing. In my job I’m working on one really big project that will probably take me about a year to complete. I have virtually no deadlines. I could easily slack off for a few days to a week without it being noticed, and since I’m exempt, I could also easily play catch-up during non-work hours if I did.

    3. Really anonymous for this one*

      So off topic but struck a nerve. My husband had an assistant who spent his days working on a novel . He would come home and tell me about the kid he was perfectly aware of the novel writing but felt the assistant was talented and benignly enabled for awhile. Fast forward 20 years, kid becomes a renowned playwright and novelist . Husband speaks fondly of giving the kid his start. I pick up the kids first novel in a used bookstore, that tanked when first published. Husband is thinly disguised as bumbling clueless boss whose assistent is writing a novel instead of doing his job. Haven’t mentioned to husband but still pisses me off.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wow. There are so many ways to say “Thank you, Bossman!” and that is just NOT one of them. The assistant sounds like a foolish person.

  6. Vex*

    Your friend sounds burned out. Not that it excuses her behavior, but that might factor into your approach. I also have to say, it sounds like she’s also nursing some resentment towards you. I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer, but I’m worried for the continued health of your friendship.

    Working with friends can be tough. My best friend and I worked together exactly one time and it was horrible. Neither of us was a particularly bad employee, I don’t think, but the stuff that balanced us as friends (I’m more mellow, she’s more Type A) were like oil and water in the workplace. I ended up being really happy when she found a different job.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah–long long long ago, I had a friend put in a good word for me at her job, and I got hired there too–and it was a miserable cesspit of dysfunction. She ended up mad at me because I wasn’t fitting in, I ended up peeved at her for making me think the place was a normal job with adults working at it. :D She was used to the dysfunction and didn’t really see how bad it was. And in the end, I made her look bad when I quit after only a few months. It was a bad scene all around.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, this sounded like burnout to me, too — unless the OP’s friend has a long history of pouting or overreacting when things don’t go her way. If this behavior really is out of character, there may be hope for the friendship once she finds a solution to her problem: taking some time off, moving into a new position, or maybe finding a different workplace altogether.

      If this is how she responds to unfavorable situations in her personal life, too, you might find the friendship increasingly untenable as you continue to grow up and she continues to, um, not.

      Either way, it’s best for the OP to distance herself from this friend professionally. It’s not very fair, but people tend to assume that friends who work together have the same working habits — and it sounds like the other colleagues aren’t too impressed with the friend’s attitude. I think long-term that will mean one or both of them will have to leave the company. For the time being, OP can make this work by talking to her friend outside the office, as Allison suggests, and keeping the relationship strictly professional at work.

    3. Golden Yeti*

      I was thinking something along the same lines. I don’t know if it’s full on burnout, but at the very least, it sounds like your friend may not be as happy at her job as she used to be.

      Jealousy could be at play, too. If she helped you get the job, and then you “swooped in” and outshone her at it (with her average/poor performance reviews also as supporting evidence), she might feel a little underlying resentment. Not saying it’s right, but I could see it happening. Still, you don’t need to “dumb down” your performance to make her feel better. Maybe just keep an eye out for positions she might enjoy more and pass them her way. If you can help her find a role she could be happier in, maybe she’ll start to realize that the issue was never you, but her own attitude about her job.

  7. nani1978*

    I definitely agree you should talk honestly with your friend first. It sounds like she is way overdue for a new job, and you might be questioning the future of your friendship, but this is only going to get worse on both sides (and potentially the 3rd work side) if you don’t speak with her now. This conversation should also happen well away from the workplace and may not be one single discussion, either. I don’t think she will necessarily take this constructive criticism of her behavior well, but if you approach it as a friend rather than a colleague, it might resonate with her more than she dares admit.

    I trust that my adult friendships are going to require well-intentioned, sometimes very hard to hear honesty as to my comportment with coworkers and other friends and family, because I trust that my adult friends really want to see me succeed in all areas. Some of these conversations have indeed ended friendships, others needed cooling periods but we have restored the relationships, and others continued as usual but I or my friend really took it to heart, and found the courage to ask deeper questions and improve our friendship.

    If you do have this conversation and your friendship survives and thrives (i wish you the best!) just don’t screw it up later by openly taking “credit” for the improvement. We all have our silent glories, as well as things to work on!

  8. Katie the Fed*

    I gotta go with – it’s time to distance yourself from this friend.

    Look, she’s immature in general – she’s a terrible worker, she sulks, she can’t support you when you got a promotion, etc. You two have different values and she’s being a jerk to you – maybe this friendship has kind of run its course and it’s time to let it fade?

    You’re also going to be associated with her in this workplace. If that many people associate you two as such good friends – that’s going to reflect on you. It sounds like you’re seen as quite close – do you REALLY want to be associated with her professionally? Fair or not, you’re often judged by the company you keep.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      Well said. Sounds like the season of the friendship may have come to a close, or at least can use some distance.

    2. CAinUK*


      And I think giving her an honest assessment as Alison suggests (before you distance yourself) will be a good measure of whether she has capacity to mature (as well as a favour to her, whether she recognises that or not). But I’m guessing she will be defensive, and that will corroborate the advice Katie the Fed is offering.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Yeah, this is what I was coming to write. I could have written this a few years ago – one of my friends was also a coworker and we were seen as best friends at work. I came to realize that while he was ridiculously smart, he was also immature and acted very inappropriately by either joking around too much or by being dismissive to senior staff. He expected a promotion that he didn’t get and pouted and complained for days. I finally tried to have a real conversation about it and gently told him that while everyone respected his work, if he was not willing to tone down the joking or act more respectfully to his boss that he was never going get the recognition he wanted. .
      …He ended up giving me the silent treatment for a week and got fired for a playing a prank that backfired on him. I didn’t do myself any favors by being so closely associated with him – looking back, I should have distanced myself from him.

    4. TL -*

      It could also be that they work well as friends, but not as coworkers. The friend might be great at everything that matters in a friendship but not good at being a valuable employee.

      Seconding what people have said above, my roommate and I are great friends, and good roommates, but we would not be good coworkers.

    5. Adam*

      I get the feeling for the OP this friendship is one of the “this-relationship-would-be-so-awesome-if-not-for-[insert one crippling flaw here]” types. They go back a ways, and three years is a long time to live with anybody. They may have been great before when they were friends rather than co-workers, and they could be great again should her co-worker sort out her head-space. But right now in this time the co-worker is going through something that’s preventing this from being a solid working relationship and much less a good friendship. Maybe some distance is called for this time.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. OP, this isn’t about your friend simply being a terrible co-worker. You’re finding out more what she’s like as a person (and therefore as a friend), and what you’re learning isn’t pretty.

      This isn’t simply a friend who’s in over her head or finding work frustrating; this is somebody acting like a toddler. Grown-ups don’t sulk and punish everyone around them because they failed to get things they aren’t entitled to.

    7. Colorado*

      Yeah, it could be that when they were in college and room mates things were different and immaturity was fun during those times, but now OP moved on, grew up, got a good job and immaturity isn’t so fun anymore.

  9. Apollo Warbucks*

    I can have a little sympathy with the OPs friend, it’s not much fun feeling fed up and frustrated at work, but self sabotage and “going on strike” isn’t the way to go and it will just reinforce a negative cycle of people not liking her work ethic or attitude and her feeling more frustrated and fed up because of it…..

    People notice tend to notice if you change you attitude towards them, but are not so quick to recognise their change in behaviour that prompts it.

    OP please do your friend a favour and see if you can talk some sense into them, or at least give them a reality check, but I wouldn’t talk to your boss unless it starts affecting you directly at work.

    1. LBK*

      Yeah, I agree with your first paragraph – especially because these seem to be conscious actions. It’s one thing to feel burned out and as a result you just aren’t particularly productive (I’ve been there). It’s another to actively choose not to do work because you’re frustrated or upset. The former might be a problem you could work through with your manager; the latter is grounds for a really serious conversation about staying employed.

  10. Mena*

    You are being a friend by (gently!) pointing out that she is clearly unhappy and may need to think about what her expectations are and how to best fulfill them. It sounds like she needs to consider looking for something else (the dead give away is NOT working when given negative feedback).

  11. TootsNYC*

    I’m a proponent of sharing information with your manager that impacts the organization as a whole, and this certainly does.

    The thing is, none of this is something that the manager doesn’t already know.
    Or, shouldn’t already know.
    Nothing’s secret here–the manager ought to be able to realize that an employee just spend a whole day working on a novel instead of working. A manager ought to be able to realize that an employee was unpleasant to customers.

    There’s no need to do the manager’s job for her.

    At times I’ve “said something” to either a direct report, a colleague, or a friend, by saying, “I’m not sure if you realize how you are being perceived. I think I’m seeing something from a perspective that you can’t have, so let me serve as an information source for you.”

    And I think a friend can almost always say, “I’m worried about you.” And sometimes friends are “seeing something from a perspective you can’t have” in an emotional way (i.e., “you can too get a different job, you know–you aren’t stuck here, even if you THINK you are”). I’ve been the person who needed a friend to say, “hey, go to a doctor!” or “hey, get some therapeutic help!” from an “I’m looking out for you” point of view.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Probably the manager should know. But I don’t think that’s certain. In jobs where you have a fair amount of autonomy, it can be possible to slack for three days without a decent manager noticing it, as long as you aren’t doing it the rest of the time (that part is the key). And it can be possible to occasionally sound disengaged when you’re dealing with customers, although I agree if it’s your normal M.O., a good manager will definitely know it.

      1. Green*

        There are plenty of high autonomy jobs where you can slack for weeks or months (or at least do the minimum upkeep to avoid management hearing about it). I’ve seen some burnout situations like this.

    2. Nobody*

      I agree. From the way the OP describes her friend’s behavior, I’d be very surprised if the manager hasn’t noticed. The fact that the OP got a raise and the friend didn’t is evidence that management is paying attention. Going to management probably wouldn’t accomplish anything other than seriously betraying the friend.

  12. Anonaconda*

    The one thing I don’t understand is how your responses to “How’s [friend] taking it?” are getting back to your friend? I can’t imagine they asked you that in front of her. Did you tell her that people are asking you that? Because that doesn’t seem particularly helpful.

    That said, this sounds like a really difficult situation for you, and it’s not fair to have to choose between showing loyalty to your friend or to your job. You might even say as much to her. I would definitely vote for backing away from the friendship, at least a little bit. I’ve had friends complain about their jobs for months on end, and I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t make someone make a change in their life—they can only do that themselves, when they’re ready. I bet your friendship will get a lot better once she finally moves on.

    1. Adam*

      For me the co-workers asking about her reaction to the promotion straddles the line between behind-the-back talk and legit conversation, but if it’s all getting back to her I’m starting to lean towards this office being a tad gossipy.

  13. Another HRPro*

    The sad truth is not everyone we like or care about (friends, family, etc.) are good employees. I learned this early in my career and was surprised by this. I thought that if someone was a good friend/relative they must be a good worker. I was naïve. :)

    I think it is worthwhile to attempt to discuss your observations with your friend. Let her know that you care about her and that she generally seems unhappy at work. Has she thought about doing something else she would enjoy more? Are their ways for her to find more enjoyment in her job? This may not go well, but as a friend it seems like something you would want to do.

    You also need to think about if you want this person to be a friend or a co-worker. Obviously she is a co-worker, but what relationship is the primary one? If it is friend (and it sounds like it is based on your prior relationship) then treat her like a friend. Be shoulder to cry on, support her and help her when and how you can. But work is work and you shouldn’t let her attitude and work ethic rub off on you. Try to keep your friendship out of work as much as possible. You may even want to limit work socialization (lunches, chats, etc.) so that others do not associate you with her poor behavior/performance. If you do this, be sure to increase your out of work connections. I.e., “I can’t grab lunch today as I’m busy, but would love to catch a movie with you this weekend (or drinks after work, etc.).” This way your friend won’t feel like you aren’t there for her.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I think this is the right route. It might just be that she’s in the wrong role for herself and thinks that the kind of struggle and frustration she’s experiencing is normal. Based on the information from the letter, I don’t know that I would use this as an opportunity to completely cut off ties from what sounds like was previously a good friendship.

      Let her know you see she’s unhappy, be compassionate. You’ll probably have to set some boundaries at work, and she might balk at that…but if you approach it with sincerity and compassion, hopefully it won’t take her long to come around.

  14. CdnAcct*

    Oh boy, a similar situation has happened to me. The difference is that before it got too bad, we moved to completely separate departments so there was minimal work connection. Actually, one other difference is that my friend kept talking about how hard she was working, she didn’t slack off.

    However, what feels sadly similar here is the constant complaining outside of work and resentment of me doing well. It was a big learning experience for me, but my friendship eventually went down the drain in an upsetting way, and I wish I had done a lot of things differently.

    We would go out after work almost weekly and over half her conversation was complaining about work, her boss, her workload, our old bosses, everything. And it became pretty repetitive. I eventually tried to cut it off, and that worked okay by saying ‘Let’s not talk about work’, but I wish I had done it earlier, and it only worked temporarily. Also, eventually I got fed up and asked what she was doing to deal with it, and that made her really angry. What I wish I had done is to strongly recommend she look for other jobs, and then just repeat that and shut down the topic every time she started complaining instead of asking questions about her situation and trying to help her ‘fix’ things.
    I also kind of wish I’d pulled back earlier, because by the end it was really draining, and I don’t know if it was that, but our friendship got poisoned and I was almost glad when she finally blew up at me over something minor (that had never bothered her before) and broke up the friendship.

    1. Anonymous Coward*

      Yes, the constant discussion of how awful work is, poor management, etc. is so wearing. I worked with my friend at a small company, and we often ate lunch together and walked to and from the bus station, and EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. was a huge flood of negativity. It was really hard to be sympathetic after a while. I started avoiding her by taking lunch at different times. I asked her outright more than once to not talk about work on our off-hours. I recruited my partner to change the subject whenever the topic of work came up during social events, because my friend was SO unhappy and would take every opportunity to rant about her awful manager. This took months, until she found a new position and left.

  15. AnonAnonAnon*

    Oh, OP it’s haaaaaard to work with friends. I once had a friend start volunteering at an organization I was at in the hopes of getting hired for a job there. She was working on recruiting for a new internship program I was launching. OMG, she was so difficult!!

    She wanted to do everything her way and ignored what I and the executive director asked of her, right down to rewriting our mission and vision (which she got wrong).

    She made unreasonable requests. For example, requesting one on one time with the President of the Board of Directors, asking us to buy her a laptop to do work when she knew even I’d provided my own, wanting to develop and write all internship curriculum with no experience in education at all, and asking to be reimbursed for her $100+ per month cell phone bill because she made work calls on it (meanwhile we provided an office phone for her, and she had unlimited minutes anyway).

    To top it all off she threw a fit when I refused to give her access to internal documents with sensitive information because I should trust her. And there was absolutely no need for them.

    The work relationship didn’t last long and for a while our friendship was strained because she didn’t end up with a job. But worse, my professional reputation got a bit damaged in the process. I agree with Alison that it would be good to examine whether its time to distance yourself from your friend. But I do hope you find a way to resolve this that you’re happy with.

  16. some1*

    LW, I’m curious, does your friend overreact to things in her non-professional life, too?

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I’ve agreed with your other comments on this letter so it was only right that you are asking the same question I am wondering! I know someone who reminds me of OP’s friend. She has a very difficult time existing whenever there is anything going wrong in a specific part of her life. It ends up affecting everything else. She can’t keep her personal or family drama from affecting her professionally and vice versa. I’ve known her for a decade now and I watched a toxic relationship spill into a great job and she was fired. I also watched her ruin a relationship by bringing her work related drama into it. These types can be treadmill at max incline exhausting.

      Also, OP says they once were roommates too and I wonder if their relationship ebb and flowed during that time.

  17. Cari*

    If I were in your position, it would be a slow fade on the jerk and then do what you would do if one of your other colleagues told you they weren’t doing their job.

    Because tbh, if she’s taking out her lack of progression (due to her poor work ethic) on you for getting a promotion (due to your good work ethic), she’s not much of a friend.

  18. Artemesia*

    Maybe I misunderstood but why would you tell your co-workers you got a ‘promotion/raise’ if it didn’t change your title and presumably your job tasks. I remember getting a 30% raise once; it was an equity thing after a merger where my salary and a few others were way out of line (but most people didn’t get this bump although later when I was in a position to do so, I did bring up some of the others in this situation) I certainly didn’t tell my co-workers that I had received a huge raise. What good can come of that?

    1. Judy*

      Now that you point that out, I’m curious also. I’ve had off cycle raises, due to things like you mentioned. In one case, because they wanted to promote me, but because of the salary ranges, they needed to give me a catch up raise to set me up for a promotion during the next raise cycle. No one besides my husband ever knew about it. Promotions, with title changes, yes, it was announced. Off cycle raises for whatever reason, no.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I agree. While I realize that I can’t prevent employees from talking with each other about their pay, it can make it harder for me to give raises outside of our normal cycle if I know that there will be backlash from others. I just recently gave one employee a raise, even though I can’t do it for anyone else this year. I did it because we did some research on her salary and realized that it is low for the work she is doing and she’s on my priority-retention list (she did not ask). I would be really irritated if she told everyone in the office – no good will come of that.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Ask Lily Ledbetter what good can come of discussing compensation in the workplace.

        1. No Longer Passing By*

          She never did get her salary bumped up though, huh? So many years….

  19. Erin*

    Ugh, I hate when people can’t just be happy for other people’s well deserved good fortunate (like getting promoted). Not to mention the other plethora of issues you mentioned, but anywho.

    I would just add to Alison’s advice that when you have the talk with her, acknowledge that she helped you get this job in the first place and you’re so grateful for that. Others might disagree with me here. But it’s not like she’s going to forget about that, and it’ll probably be one of the first things she’ll defensibly point out to you. I’d mention it up front to transition to the tougher stuff.

    Also, I wouldn’t necessarily write her off as a friend, although I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you think that’s right. Sometimes you just can’t work with friends (or family).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, maybe you can appeal to her heart, remind her that jobs and SO’s can’t ruin your friendship.

      There is nothing wrong with being a job that is a bad fit- that is not her fault. Many people here talk about how this happened to them, too. We really don’t know what a job is until we try it.

      Lots of people have felt miserable because of their job. But the biggest let down is when we do not get ourselves to a better place. We let our own selves down when we fail to strive for something better.

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