update: I’m filling in for someone on leave who left me tons of rules for what I can and can’t do while she’s away

Remember the letter-writer last December who — on her first day filling in for someone going out on leave — was given a list of ridiculous rules by the person she was covering for? Here’s the update.

I did speak to the company director within the first week to ask his opinion of the list of “rules” Miss A had left me and about how he wanted me to proceed with running the department. That’s when the whole story of Miss A and her team came out..none of which I’d been informed of prior to starting. If I’d had, I would have run for the highlands!

Miss A had for the past few years developed an extremely friendly, relaxed, motherly, heading-to-the-pub-every-Friday-evening relationship with her team…which is all lovely, expect she had let the team run wild, there where no KPIs in place, no performance evaluations (HR suspected she was faking evaluations), and no standards upheld, and by the September last year, the department had failed to hit targets four months in the row. The only reason that Miss A wasn’t let go was that she had announced her pregnancy and HR felt it would reflect very badly on the company image if they sacked a pregnant lady.

I should have seen the red flags. I know that now, but I decided to stick it out and naively thought I could sweep in and change around the culture of an entire department containing nearly 50 people in a few short months. I was very wrong. The past six months have been exhausting, every day is a battlefield, and I am constantly stressed and haven’t had a good nights sleep in months.

The team did not take kindly to me trying to introduce even simple things like coming to work on time, booking your holiday/vacation time in advance, or introducing departmental KPIs.
The organisation is unionized, so that’s the first place my team ran, claiming I was changing their workplace conditions and was a tyrannical boss.
I had HR on my side who claim to support me 100% but also suggest I let some stuff go ( one team member started a social media campaign against me, one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early, and another carved graffiti about me on my office door). They have advised me that suspending those team members would send them running to their unions and bad press for the organization would follow.

I have huge respect for unions, but I feel in this case it was completely unwarranted to involve them. Now every single little change I try and introduce is met with “we’ll have to discuss this with our union reps.”

I have spoken to the director about how stressed and exhausted I feel, but he just keeps telling me to “hang on in there, you’re doing an amazing job.”

Bizarrely, the most helpful has been the PA. It turns out she was more scared of the team’s reaction once playtime was over then anything.

I had mentioned in my original post that the organization is extremely prestigious. At networking events, when I mention where I work, people say, “Oh wow, that must be so glamorous, you’re so lucky.” That’s the only reason I’m still here — I keep thinking of my CV and that I need to survive the full year here.

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. LBK*

    Several things confuse me about this…for one, if the higher ups had been on the verge of firing Miss A and wanted things to change, where did their support go once you actually tried to implement those changes? I’m also baffled by what “negative media impact” HR thought there might be – is the company really the one who looks bad in a story about a grown adult laying on the floor crying like a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum in a toy store? This is the kind of stuff that always makes me head for the hills whenever I hear about unions. I think their intended purpose is noble and important but all too often they get taken advantage of by bad employees who use them to hamstring good management with bureaucracy.

    I think you just have to picture yourself as Andy from Devil Wears Prada in this scenario – put up with your Miranda Priestly of a department long enough to get in on your resume and then get the hell out.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s the same reason they didn’t fire Miss A. They want things to happen magically and smoothly; they don’t want to take any responsibility or do anything hard.

      This is the kind of workplace I think of when somebody says “Oh, but they could sue you! Oh, how horrible a fate that would be!” I’d take the risk of a suit over this kind of workplace any day.

      1. INTP*

        This. They also likely never got close to drawing up the papers or anything, just thought “well, we’ll fire her at some point.”

      1. RobM*

        The higher ups sound just as useless as the boss that the OP was standing in for, frankly.

        Part of being a manager is that you occasionally have to, well, do some management.

    2. MW*

      For that it’s worth, most companies can’t/won’t share information about personnel matters, even if the personnel involved are totally crazy. So it never comes out that the lady was laying on the floor crying like a 3 y/o, only that the mean old company was horribly unfair.

      (That doesn’t make it right, but I understand the concern from the PR perspective)

  2. Lily in NYC*

    Holy crap. I am just gobsmacked by their behavior! I am trying to picture what would happen at my office if someone actually got on the floor and had a tantrum. Good luck OP, I guess it won’t get better but at least you know there’s an end in sight.

    1. Jeanne*

      I am gobsmacked as well. Is the OP supervising toddlers? What a big mess. And it is stunning that upper management is not acting more strongly to back her up. I am personally dying to know what company this is.

      1. The Strand*

        I think this is really unfair to the millions of toddlers who do not carve graffiti into the door and only throw tantrums in the grocery store, like normal children do.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            My mom is still mad at me for stamping my bedroom wall with a smiley face stamp when I was 3 – I did all four walls as high as I could reach.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Ha. My son is 14 and his room still has his scribble mural (medium: permanent Sharpie marker) around the light switch. Yes, we need to paint in there. It’s on the list . . .

                1. Judy*

                  You will need to use a good primer. I can’t remember the name. The first house we bought, it looked like their kids got into the markers while they were packing. Luckily our move in plans included painting those rooms.

                2. Jazzy Red*

                  Let him pick his own paint color(s), and teach him how to do it. If he does well, send him over to my house.

        1. Cruella DaBoss*

          SMH over this one. I have four children (one set of twins, now all teens) and I never allowed them to behave this way. much less adults!

    2. A Dispatcher*

      I just can’t even imagine this scenario, I really can’t. I’d like to hope I’d be able to have a professional reaction to that (though what would that even look like?), but I’m having trouble picturing doing much else other than laughing my way out the door and telling her to see me in my office when she decides to act like an adult.

    3. lowercase holly*

      No kidding. I saw a nine year old having a tantrum lately but an adult? What? And graffiti? Wtf. I don’t have experience with unions but isn’t this making them look bad?

  3. Ten*

    “one team member started a social media campaign against me, one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early, and another carved graffiti about me on my office door”


    1. Betsy*

      I’m relatively new to the workplace and the one thing that doesn’t cease to amaze me is how childish adults can be.

    2. Adam*

      “Carved graffiti”

      How is that not destruction of company property? Unless you have no way of proving who did it how does this idiot still have a job?

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Exactly what I’m wonderimg. Do unions really protect people behaving this way? Hasnt Hr/mgmt presented all the known issues to the union rep previous to Op being there? One would think a long history of documented issues would be enough for even a union to go “ok this person/people need disciplinary action now”

        1. GMA*

          Unfortunately, unions can’t legally just decide that someone is bad and isn’t going to be defended anymore. The union rep can certainly say, “You were crying on the floor like a three year old! That’s insane! You absolutely should just quit and not make more of a fool of yourself,” but if the employee wants to proceed with a grievance, the union is legally bound to represent them as best as they can.

          1. GMA*

            Actually, what I just said isn’t strictly true. However, as a defense mechanism, many unions will defend everything, because if someone gets fired, they can sue the union for failing in their duty to represent everyone equally. It also depends on the individual union’s contract and constitution.

          2. sunny-dee*

            I really think the circle-the-wagons defensiveness of unions has waaaaaay more to do with union due$ than it does with any legal requirement.

            1. GMA*

              I obviously can’t speak to how every union everywhere works, but for my local (whose executive board I served on), that is absolutely false.

              1. Heather*

                The unions have to defend everyone because they are entitled to union representation. It’s like the law – you are entitled to a legal defense even if you are guilty. Unfortunately unions often win in representing really poor employees which gives them a bad name and all the good employees who work in unions.

                1. Billy*

                  While we are on the subject of unions,my union dues just went up today….hooray for unions……I need to find a new job.

            2. Algae*

              We just had an incident where something happened. The problem wasn’t that thing happened, but the guys didn’t tell their supervisor and thought no one would notice. Apparently, the union rep’s reaction was “Yeah, that was stupid. I can’t help you with that.” They were let go that week.

            3. AW*

              This logic fails in every US state where you don’t have to pay union dues to be represented by the union.

          3. neverjaunty*

            Right, but they aren’t bound to act ridiculous or violate the CBA. If the employees are violating work rules, the union will throw paperwork around; that doesn’t prevent management fro, enforcing rules.

            The lack of support from higher ups is the real problem here.

        2. Mike C.*

          It’s pretty much federal law that unions have to defend all members, dues-paying or not. It frustrates me when I see others complain about “unions will defend anything and everything” when there’s a little more context going on here.

          The thing is, the contract should define how discipline works and ultimately how to fire someone for cause. Yes, you most likely can’t just walk them out the door, but I work in a heavily unionized environment and there are plenty of things like destruction of property or assault/battery that will get someone fired very, very easily.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            It seems like the union would want to preserve its reputation by taking stances on real issues, though. Defending employees against the consequences of laying in the floor and having a toddler tantrum seems counter to that.

            1. Mike C.*

              Yes, they would, but federal law says otherwise. Specifically, the Taft-Hartly Act allows states to make “Right to Work” laws, and these laws require unions to defend nonmembers the same as dues paying members, and those folks can sue the union if they don’t feel they are being defended in an appropriate manner.

              In the real world, this doesn’t mean a full court press in defense of the toddler in question, it means ensuring that the correct process as agreed to in the contract is followed for discipline or termination. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a very big deal.

          2. Heather*

            Yeah if that’s not in the union contract then management needs to negotiate it in. And it’s in the unions best interest to negotiate it in too!

        3. Jason R.*

          Employment/labor lawyer here…

          Sometimes it is absolutely worth it to just take the action you need to take and deal with the fallout, if it’s the only realistic way to actually get business done moving forward. That fallout may involve a lengthy spat of disciplines and/ot terminations and a flurry of unfair labor practice charges from an out-of-control union, but sometimes that is the price to pay for getting control back over a business that has been left to rot–as this one evidently has.

          1. HR Pro*

            Well said, Jason R.! I appreciate that perspective, since I am working in a unionized environment for the first time in my long HR career.

            1. academic librarian*

              Jason R. You described my life for 18 months. After it was all over the union rep thanked me and the HR rep for our patience during the process! I did feel sorry for her that she had to sit through meeting after meeting listening to the absurdity of the employee’s accusations of “unfair labor practices” All the grievances stopped just short of arbitration.

          2. Red Fox*

            I used to work in a union shop and saw more than a few supervisors who wouldn’t engage in ANY kind of disciplinary action because they just didn’t know what they could or couldn’t do within the union rules. A union employee could just say “I’m going to file a grievance against you!” and some supervisors would completely back off, regardless of whether or not the complaint was valid. As Jason R said, that just ended up letting the business rot. The most effective supervisors I saw were the ones who enforced discipline first and dealt with the union bureacracy after.

    3. Anonicorn*

      one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early

      Please tell me that one is a toddler.

      1. Liane*

        “Please tell me that one is a toddler.”
        If so, that would explain what kind of bad PR Company is worried about:
        “Prestigious and Cool, Ltd under investigation for violation of child labour laws!”

    4. Sunshine*

      Yeah, um… not just “No”, but “Hell blanking No!”

      If every one of thos people wasn’t fired immediately, I’d pack up and leave on the spot. That’s beyond ludicrous.

      1. Sarahnova*

        From the OP’s language, this is in the UK, where people can only be fired on the spot for “gross misconduct”. Theft qualifies; merely being a giant baby would require a PIP before firing.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            I don’t know how, but I read that as “a giant baby squid”.

            Maybe I *should* take a nap.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I would think that carving graffiti into doors would also count as “gross misconduct”?

          1. Sarahnova*

            Potentially, but unless the employee was actually caught in the act, they would need to be suspended on full pay while an investigation was conducted, and then formally terminated at a disciplinary hearing. You can’t ever really just say “you’re fired, get out” here, but good managers can and do fire people (and at-will laws in the US don’t exactly stop managers from failing to fire for poor performance and gross misconduct. Op. cit. Alison’s archives).

    5. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Seriously. Compared to what most folks around here talk about my workplace would be the picture in the dictionary next to “dysfunctional workplace” and what the OP describes makes us look normal.

      1. Adam*

        Some office’s are dysfunctional. I think this place has leapfrogged over that into being a three-ring circus.

    6. BRR*

      You know that one class in school for kids who are real trouble, this is apparently where they all go to work.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I taught that class and my students acted better than these people. The occasional thrown chair or defaced desk but that was over the course of years…

        1. Chinook*

          “I taught that class and my students acted better than these people”

          Ditto. Even at their angriest and most misbehaved, those high school students knew when they crossed the line. They just didn’t care about the consequences. And not one of them would have thrown a tantrum like a toddler for not being allowed to leave early because they were all about saving face. Instead, they would have just gotten up and left (because what is anyone going to really do if you do that?).

    7. Kvaren*

      Exactly. I want to tell the OP, “Wake up! You’re in a nightmare! This isn’t real!”

      Because, like, WUT.

    8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      “one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early”

      The only way this is acceptable is if the woman in question had some terrible accident and broke her leg as she entered the meeting room.

      In horrendous pain = crying = okay.
      Can’t stand = on the floor = okay.
      Needs medical attention = wants to leave early = okay.

      Somehow I doubt that is part of the story, though.

  4. Sherri*

    Horrible experiences make for GREAT stories. Sometimes that’s the only upside. I’m so sorry you’re having a terrible time.

    I feel sorry for the unionized employees. It’s sad that they feel the need to run to the union rep for any change, instead of dealing with things on their own. Can’t they just read Ask A Manager to learn how to cope?

    Cheers and Happy Friday!

    1. LizNYC*

      I feel bad for their union rep! If that person is at all reasonable, s/he probably doesn’t enjoy being pulled in for every.little.thing (even though that’s the job), since the workers are acting like brats.

      1. Anna*

        Yes and no. I mean, a union rep’s job is to represent members when the company is doing something egregious or is going against the contract they’ve agreed on, not necessarily over normal business standards that all businesses, unionized or not, have to adhere to. This union rep probably wants to flip their desk and tell them to get a grip.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My ex was a union rep and he used to just shake his head at some of the grievances filled and the people he had to go defend. But as he always put it, the people who want to get away with doing the least amount of work are the most familiar with the rules.

          1. Stephanie*

            Ugh, yeah. There are a couple of people at my job whose job seems to be looking for grievances to file. There are a couple of people who apparently make significant chunks of their annual salary from grievances.

            (I am generally pro-union and most the unionized workers aren’t that bad. Those guys are outliers.)

          2. PurpleGerber*

            In my past unionized jobs, the worst/useless/whining employees were almost always the same ones who knew the union handbook backwards and forwards.

    2. HR Pro*

      Sherri, great point about horrible experiences making great stories. They also make great stories to tell in interviews when you are asked how you dealt with stressful situations or difficult people or challenges or whatever. Plus, they help with your perspective when you get to a new job and the worst thing people have to complain about would have been the best day ever at your old job!

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, telling myself “This will be great material for a story/comedic monologue” is how I’ve gotten through most of my crap jobs (including my current one).

  5. Marina*

    I haven’t worked directly with unions, but I wonder if you can form some sort of proactive relationship with the union rep? Something like setting up a meeting framed as education for you, because you want to know from the union rep what you can and can’t do to support union members. Because somehow I doubt the union rep thinks carving graffiti on someone’s door (?!?) should actually be covered/promoted by the union. These people are making the union look bad and I’m sure their rep knows it.

    1. RO*

      I worked at place that had union employees and the bureaucracy needed to engage with their reps was too much. It got to a point where unless you absolutely needed a change we avoided most projects that impacted employees represented by a union.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Depends on the union & the reps. I proactively talk with our reps all the time about stuff.

      2. GMA*

        That’s really unfortunate. I was in a union where the union leadership had an informal meeting with three or four of the top management folks three times a year. We had a really good relationship (as far as union/management relationships go) and both sides found those meetings very useful in resolving and preventing problems.

    2. Mike C.*

      I work in a heavily unionized environment, and this is really a great idea.

      All workers want a say in how the business is run, and a union is a formalized process for that. Engaging reps in that sort of transparency is really the way to go.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I was coming here to say just this. If the team is consistently missing targets then the company is in a downward spiral. It does the union no good if everyone loses their jobs because the company can’t make money.
      I would sit down with the rep and establish goals and expectations. I would also establish union approved methods to meet those goals. In addition, I would establish union approved consequences for bad behavior. Once those are in place it becomes easier to take action because everything is pre-approved.
      Once expectations are established then start with consequences, including PIPs. Most of these folks will never get it – they’ve run feral for too long. But with consequences in place they’ll start to self-select out. That gives you an opportunity to bring in normal people.

      1. Not So Sunny*

        I would applaud all these actions, but the OP’s position is temporary and I wonder is she has the stamina remaining for that kind of battle…

  6. Allison*

    A social media campaign against you and bathroom graffiti are super immature, and lying on the floor crying during a meeting is atrocious behavior for something as silly as not being dismissed early, but I can’t blame them for feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under them. They’d gotten used to coming and going as they pleased, and not being held to number goals, and suddenly they had strict hours and goals they needed to meet.

    I realize, of course, that in this instance it was necessary since the department was a hot mess and weren’t meeting their targets, that part did require improvements. I’m not sure how you implemented things like KPIs and performance reviews, but I’d like to think you did it gradually and with an understanding that new processes would take some getting used to, along with an explanation as to why these changes are taking effect. Unless they needed to be there at a certain time to do their work successfully, I probably would’ve kept schedules relatively flexible with the expectation that people will put in full days, 40+ hours a week, and get their work done. These days, that flexibility is so common that it should be one of the last things you ditch in order to improve performance.

    1. Anna*

      There are some things I can see a slow approach on would be the best approach, but when you have an entire department who is clearly out of touch with how to behave, I don’t think they are entitled to slow and gentle. Their manager was useless and they were taking advantage. Their reactions indicate they would have been incredibly resistant no matter how it was handled.

      1. LBK*

        Agreed – and sometimes the best way to do this is by ripping the bandaid off and letting the people who can’t handle it see themselves out. I find very few employees are salvageable out of departments like this; most usually have to be fired, because the good people who want to work somewhere with successful management have usually quit long before it gets to this point.

        1. Allison*

          Fair enough, I once started a job in a department my manager essentially had to gut when he came aboard, so yeah, I guess that does need to happen sometimes. But from my own perspective, if someone took over my department and said “all right missy, your last manager might’ve been loosey goosey, but there are gonna be some changes starting right now. From now on you are to be here at 7:45AM sharp, you are to stay until at least 5:00 every night with no exceptions, and you need to start hitting these metrics right away or else!” I’d actually feel *less* motivated to work harder. Wheras if they’d said “Look, I know you’ve gotten used to things being pretty chill around here, but we need to tighten up and start hitting our targets, so I need to make some changes. Let me know if you’re having trouble adjusting and we can talk about it,” that’s someone I’d feel inclined to clean up my act for.

          1. fposte*

            Does the latter mean not requiring people to work a full day, though? Because I think that’s a basic thing that it’s not acceptable to just move toward.

          2. LBK*

            I think it depends on what the change is. Something as simple as working a full day? No. I’d give maybe a week of leeway so people can adjust to changing commutes (if they’re taking a different train now or hitting rush hour traffic) but there’s no way I’d be willing to “talk about it” for something that straightforward.

            As for performance standards, I’d want to preface it with a full skills assessment of the department. Often the worst problems that come out of sudden changes in expectations come from people who were genuinely never taught how to do their job well because when they got hired all their coworkers were slackers and their wimpy manager wasn’t comfortable correcting errors or giving direction. Once you feel you’ve got a good grasp on everyone’s capabilities, I see no problem with saying “Starting tomorrow, these are your goals, non-negotiable”.

            1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              Yeah, I’m having trouble picturing the floor-crier going home to his/her friends at the end of the day.

              Crier: “Oh man, I had the worst day. My new boss is NUTS!”
              Friends: “Aw, that sounds awful. What happened?”
              Crier: “She wouldn’t let me leave!”
              Friends: “Ugh, she made you work late last-minute?”
              Crier: “Yeah! She wanted me to stay until 5! She wants me to stay until 5 EVERY DAY!”
              Friends: “Uh…”
              Crier: “And she didn’t give in even when I lay on the floor and cried!”
              Friends: “……”

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      You just touched on another thing that’s driving me nuts – if they’re not meeting their goals/numbers four months in a row how on earth can they still be protected by the union from being disciplined by management?! Well upper mgmt in this case since their mgr is part of the problem or source of problem

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I disagree. Schedules and flex time are available to those who meet basic norms, such as hitting reasonable targets.
      I would tell people that I would like to give them flex time, and here’s how to get it. If you don’t meet this criteria then no, you can’t have it.
      I want to let you leave early on occasion. If it is not an emergency you need to schedule it 2 weeks ahead of time and have it approved by me. I will try to say yes unless we have a major coverage conflict.
      I want you to take vacation. Again, same rules. Talk to me at least 2 weeks ahead of time to make sure there are no conflicts. Then put it on the master schedule so we don’t get 5 people out that week.
      These KPIs are required for our company to make money. If you think you can’t meet them I want to know the specifics of why, so we can make the required changes to help you meet them.

    4. Artemesia*

      Before the OP arrived to take over, the highest level boss of the organization should have held a meeting with the group and laid out the data on failure to meet output requirements over time and let them know that changes would be immediately necessary including full face time that would be monitored, and any leaves or vacation requiring prior approval etc — so that when the OP took over that frame had been set. It is impossible to come in as a temporary director of anything and make major changes apparently unilaterally. I doubt any of us here would not have reacted similarly — not having a full on tantrum, but being filled with resentment and passive aggression at least — if an acting boss suddenly started being picky about comings and goings and such that had been ignored or flexible in the past. This noodle cannot be pushed uphill by a temporary fill in person without some pull from the top that is overt.

  7. jmkenrick*

    Thanks so much for the update, and good luck with the rest of the year!

    I’m also super curious to hear about what it will be like after Miss A returns, since her expectations were clearly so out-of-touch.

  8. nona*


    Godspeed, OP. It sounds like you work with toddlers. “You can’t leave early today.” “BUT MOM SAYS” *crying on the floor*

  9. Adam*

    “I have spoken to the director about how stressed and exhausted I feel, but he just keeps telling me to ‘hang on in there, you’re doing an amazing job.'”

    By the metric of she hasn’t pulled all her hair out yet? OP I am so sorry you fell into this trap. It just goes to show how one person with authority (in this case the woman who went on leave) can poison and entire group of working people. Do they honestly think they’re behavior would fly anywhere else in the working world?

    At this point I think the department needs a Drill Sargent more than a director.

  10. Doy*

    I’ve been a union member. It really infuriated those of us who were there to do the job when upper management wouldn’t back their line managers in setting a high standard.

    Employees have the right, and duty, to grieve violations of their contract, but which clause protects the workers’ rights to tantrums, libel and property defacement?

    The only way a company can maintain a stellar reputation is by hiring and supporting excellence. It eventually hit the fan at OldJob and will do so at this company, too.

    Good luck, OP and take care of your own mental health, eh? This is taking an even bigger toll than you realize.

    1. Adam*

      I wonder what the directors in this situation can do about this if the unions are heavily involved? The OP’s boss’ only advice is to “hang in there”, yet it’s measured that the department on the whole is consistently not producing as they’re expected to. What needs to happen to change things before the whole place implodes? I’ve never worked for or with unions so I have no idea how it all works..

      1. Sunshine*

        Right…. that’s what im wondering. What exactly is she “hanging in there” for? So the other manager can come back and put everything back where it was? How is that okay with the company? Dysfunction at its finest, folks.

  11. JMegan*

    Well, I guess the good thing is you’re halfway through this ridiculous assignment – the end is in sight! But ye gods, what a group you have inherited, and it sounds like the boss isn’t going to be much help either. Hang in there, and please update us when it’s over so we know you survived!

  12. Uyulala*

    Get a copy of the official contract with the union regarding work conditions. I’ll bet that already includes most of what they say you are trying to”change”.

    1. LizNYC*

      YES! And if the union rep is at all reasonable, having frequent meetings to discuss concerns, plans, etc. (to the extent you’re able to / want to) may go a long way as well. I bet the rep’s copy of the contract is worn out from s/he constantly referencing it for these childish employees. (“It’s well within the contract.” “BUT WHYYYYYYYYY?”)

      1. Sunshine*

        And most likely doesn’t include “laying on the floor like a child when you don’t get your way.” Egads.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          I am most definitely going to have to read our contract as well as employee behavior standards P&Ps at work tonight because the behavior described here is just so ridiculous and egregious it may just fall out of the bounds of what is described as misconduct. Who would have ever thought you need to actually tell your employees temper tantrums are not allowed and punishable by written warning (or whatever your union approved discipline system entails)

      2. frequentflyer*

        Union reps may not be reasonable. In my workplace, the union agreement states that union members are exempted from getting poor performance ratings (the lowest they can get is “average” or “meets expectations”). Union reps are paid a union allowance by the company and they spend maybe just 50% of their time doing company work and the rest of the time doing union stuff, and they use the union as an excuse to slack off work and not perform, since they’re protected. It’s really terrible, so I feel for OP. :(( A large part of the problem would be the management-union relationship – management should keep the union in line and not agree to terms which aren’t beneficial to the company’s performance.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    Come back at the one year mark and let us know how it goes by you. I am routing for you.

    Make sure your upper management is “seen” supporting you. Don’t skate by this, it should be well-known that your higher ups support you.

    Additionally, talk over your goals with the union reps, preferably upper level reps. Give the union reps a general idea of what you are doing, where you are going and what your goals are. You don’t have to do this for every single thing, but having an open door/transparency will only work in your favor.

    Know what it says in the union hand book- your people know it word for word, so being very familiar will be an asset for you.

    You are at the six month mark. By month number 12 this should look different, month number 14 or so should be more where you want to be.

    I’d like to encourage you to ride it out. Just my experience, but I believe you are at the worst part right now. If you tough it out, you will get to see the flip side of the coin where things come together. Yes, you will probably lose some people, but you will be okay without them.

    It’s very tough, I do understand that, although I cannot explain how I understand that. Once you get through this you will never have to go back to it again. You are creating a new work place and if you stand your ground you will have something in the future that you might actually enjoy. Also, you will have the entire respect of upper management because you cleaned up a big mess. This could mean that in years to come you will see promotions or other recognition. I hope you hang on to the big picture or long term perspective here.

    Try to keep your humor and try to watch for the people who are following your lead and doing what you ask. They are the ones that are less noticeable and usually in the background because the troublemakers are filling up your time and your mind.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes how awesome would it be if the person Op is covering for came back to not the same job? Im pretty sure they only have to have A job for you to come back to but not necessarily the same one ;)

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        You’re technically right that it doesn’t have to be the same one, but it can’t be substantially different. Just to start it has to “involve the same or substantially similar duties, responsibilities, and status;”
        “include the same general level of skill, effort, responsibility and authority;” and “offer identical pay, including equivalent premium pay, overtime and bonus opportunities, profit-sharing, or other payments…”

        This is why the time to document problem employees is long before you get to the point you’re ready to fire them!

  14. Ally*

    Holy crap. This is just …. wow.

    “one team member started a social media campaign against me, one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early, and another carved graffiti about me on my office door”

    WHAT EVEN. Are these adults or toddlers? Unbelieveable. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this OP!

  15. Decimus*

    Okay that is ridiculous. While it depends on both the union and the union rep – I wonder if it might help to basically ask the union rep to set up a weekly or monthly meeting with you, so you can discuss all this stuff all at once. Then lay out the changes you’ve made and why they are being made, and the problems your employees have made, and try and be proactive about it all. Even if it achieves nothing it will help that you’ve tried to work with the union instead of stonewalling, which is a good PR move. And if you can explain to the rep that if these people meet simple goals like, say, showing up on time and otherwise meeting the union contract, it might end-run if and when they DO go to the rep. Or if you are having meetings with these people about performance, proactively invite the union rep.

    I also suggest you consider talking to the legal department about the union contract and become very familiar with what the union is obligated to do and what the disciplinary procedure is. It will save you a world of trouble later.

    1. MsM*

      I was thinking this. Even just reaching out to the union reps to introduce yourself and make it clear that you’d like to be proactive in addressing any issues might go a long way toward establishing that claims of your “tyranny” are wildly exaggerated.

    2. Mary Terry*

      Right, read the union manual or contract, and understand what the members are committed to do, and the steps required for discipline. They’re almost definitely required to work a full day to get paid, so you need to follow proper documentation procedures when they’re late for work, or leave early. Is there a time clock? Is there electronic submission of vacation requests? Document everything.

      If you know the union members requirements and you document their violations, so what if they file a grievance? In fact, if they continue the behavior, you’ll be able to fire them. It might take a while, but it’s possible. Or they might decide to shape up.

  16. Sigrid*

    This is amazing. In a horrible way.

    It strikes me that upper management doesn’t have your back nearly as much as they say they do. If they did, they’d show some teeth; instead, it looks like you’re being forced to make unpopular changes (which upper management wants) on your own. That’s the ultimate reason why everything is a giant cluster*#&!. There is no way you can overcome these kinds of obstacles when the people in power are afraid of putting the kibosh on behavior like carving graffiti into a door (?????) or lying on the floor crying in a meeting (?????????????????) for fear of “bad publicity”. This is not a good place to work, and I’m glad you’ll be leaving when the year is up.

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      I was kind of hoping Alison would offer some followup advice on this update, since it’s such an amazingly awful story. (Carving graffiti?!) Sounds like a case of upper management wanting something done (Miss A out, all the other changes put into place) but wants it done by someone else, so is bringing in someone from outside to do it. I hope you’re going to be able to go from this job into something better for you!

  17. Menacia*

    My company has some workers who are in a union (the union came over when their company was purchased) who should have been fired years ago. They don’t do anything as blatant as what the poster has described, but anything the company implements, policies, procedures, etc. apply to everyone *except* them! I think unions were a good thing, when companies were the ones taking advantage, but oh how the tables have turned. My husband also works for a union, but has never, ever taken advantage of that, in fact, I wish he would use them more for (legitimate) leverage. Some of his coworkers seem to relish taking advantage and in fact put all their effort that should go into their work into figuring out how not to work and not get fired (it’s almost unheard of that anyone where my husband works gets fired, regardless of the infraction).

    I wish the OP all the best, this was a tough burden to take on, but you’ve hung in there. Make sure you are also taking care of yourself, without your health you have nothing, regardless of the status of the company. Perhaps taking a step back and reevaluating realistically what you can and cannot do and then focus on the small changes would alleviate some stress. Make sure you also have any of that great feedback by upper management documented!

    1. LBK*

      I think there are still plenty of companies that take advantage of their people or otherwise don’t treat them well (otherwise AAM probably wouldn’t exist). However, I think many of the truly exploitative measures that unions were designed to combat are outlawed now. Many reasons people think they still need to be in unions could be solved by people at all levels being more educated about employment laws, both so employees understand their rights and managers understand some of the laws that are easier to run afoul of like exempt/non-exempt & contractor/employee classifications or various payroll timeline requirements. I do think on some level unions encourage the us vs. them mentality that steers people away from just talking to their coworkers and managers like normal people, which could solve at least 50% of conflicts, if not 75-80%. If anything I think union reps should turn into sounding boards for employees who can tell them “Nope, this isn’t an issue that should be escalated, you need to speak directly to your manager to resolve this.”

      1. Misc*

        I think many of the truly exploitative measures that unions were designed to combat are outlawed now.

        Speaking as someone from outside the US*… um. Not really. It’s fairly well established that worker rights in the US are a horror show. (Case in point: not having the right to take mandatory holidays off! Tipping culture. Sick leave. The amount of paid holiday time you get. No required lunch/tea breaks. Basically 74% of the ‘is it legal? Yep!’ questions!).

        (*if you’re not talking about the US, ignore this. It can be hard to tell sometimes).

        1. Misc*

          Edit: And even if worker rights are all ‘fixed’, unions help prevent backsliding. Once unions weaken, there’s nothing to stop new laws or abusive employees making the situation worse again.

          1. frequentflyer*

            Personal view – unions really aren’t that great. I’ve heard of quite a few cases of union reps running away with the union’s money. It’s crazy. They’re like gangs asking for protection money.

    2. jhhj*

      Mostly unions are still a good thing. Are there people who abuse it? Yes. But it’s not nearly as common as employers who do shitty things, and there’s a huge power differential.

      Unions can help prevent sexist pay differentials, can protect people from being fired for bad reasons, can prevent you from having crappy call-in maybe hours, can ensure that promises are in writing – they do a lot of good, even if they don’t only do good.

  18. some1*

    “They have advised me that suspending those team members would send them running to their unions and bad press for the organization would follow.”

    Where do you live that an employee being suspended would make the news (unless it was for doing something really out there)??

    1. misspiggy*

      The year’s maternity cover and some of the other details make me think this is in the UK. Local papers often cover union disputes, but this is where upper management need to support the OP. If the OP were to go to upper management and say, I want to suspend Waken, HR says this could be the consequence, I think it’s worth it because of x and y long term benefits, what would management say? If they say anything other than go ahead, they are useless wimps and clearly the reason why the permanent postholder has been allowed to fail so badly. They’ve set themselves up for a long term nightmare as well, because when the permanent person comes back, if they get rid of her they’ll walk right into a constructive dismissal claim for discrimination against mothers. And if they keep her all the OP’S hard won progress will be lost.

      1. UK HR bod*

        Yes, it could be the UK. As another poster said, check the union agreement – most are consultation, not negotiation. Plus unions do’t generally want the bad name that comes from defending tantrum throwers.

      2. Jeanne*

        Thanks for the info. This happening in the UK helps with why I don’t understand. I still want to know which company this is though.

    2. Anonsie*

      If it’s a very large company and the union is also rather prominent, it can happen pretty easily. When I was a kid my dad was head of his organization’s branch of a very large union group that covered all similar employers in the region, and the union butted heads with management so much they were frequently in the news. Somewhere we still have copies of all the newspapers that ran his photos at various times throughout the whole thing. This wasn’t a small town, either.

      I remember my dad taking me to union events and making sure I was dressed nicely and warning me to be on my best behavior because there were likely to be news crews outside or media folks sitting in taking notes. Of course the core of this was over some labor violations that were a lot more sensational (extremely hazardous work environments and the suspicion that a handful of employees had become gravely ill due to safety infractions that the employer had covered up) but once there was any interest in the whole thing, every time there was a small incident like this it had the potential to blow up and affect the public case for one side or the other.

  19. schnapps*

    It could also be Canada – mat leave is a year here and most large, public or non profit orgs here are unionized.

    In fact, some of that behaviour sounds a lot like my org – I seem to recall hearing something similar before.

    I’m union, and I’ve only called on the union once in 15 years of employment, and that was a respectful workplace issue and it’s being handled that route (or was, until my manager decided going on medical leave was better than working the skills they were trying to give her to resolve the problems. But that’s another story). In fact, the OP may want to have a meeting with her director, HR and union rep and see what can be done. With my situation, the union rep met with my director, and then me, my two coworkers who also submitted the complaint, the union stew, my department head (manager’s manager) and HR had a meeting to hash it out.

    1. fposte*

      I’m too lazy to check, but I thought in the original post it was identified at some point as being Canada.

  20. So Very Anonymous*

    Off topic, but Alison, is there ever a way to undo or move a comment location? I originally started to write a comment under someone else’s, but then wanted to add it as a standalone. The comment field showed up as being at the end of the comments, but when I clicked submit, it nested under the comment where I’d originally started to write. I think this is happening for a lot of us (because I see a lot of “darn, I meant my comment to go [somewhere else].”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all can’t move them, but I can. I do move them when I see them (but I also don’t want to promise to because on busy days I often can’t).

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        OK, good to know. I think it’s probably a matter of remembering to click “Cancel reply” rather than just navigating away!

  21. MegEB*

    Holy shit. I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. Hang in there, and take yourself on an EXTREMELY well-deserved vacation once the year is up.

  22. Amy*

    It makes so much sense, now, that she didn’t want you doing evaluations if she was faking them, like HR suspects.

    1. MashaKasha*

      I was wondering when I read the first letter. Why didn’t the crew revolt when manager A told them their performance reviews and, consequently, their raises would be suspended for at least a year, for no reason other than that Miss A is on maternity leave? Aaaand now I know why!

  23. Yep, me again*

    The employee who carved graffiti into your office door needs to be terminated immediately. I really don’t understand why they were not. Other companies would have fired the rep who started the social media campaign to get rid of you. Clearly the manager who you are filling in for and said in your original post would ‘take care of you’ if you did everything her way is very delusional.
    Then again, I’m not too sure why a grown woman is sobbing on the floor because she wants to go home early if that’s what you meant (your comment was ‘one lay on the floor during a meeting crying because I would let her go early, ‘).

  24. silvertech*


    What department is this that it’s been allowed to produce sub par work for such a long time?!

    And the employee who started a campaign against you on social media? I would report them to the police, that’s a felony where I live!

  25. Bea W*

    Wow. Were you managing a department of 50 middle school students? Social media smear campaigns? Carving graffiti on office property?! Crying on the floor??? I don’t even.

    1. Three Thousand*

      And that was the stuff HR told her she should let go! I wonder what number of kittens ceremonially slaughtered and eaten on company property they would have considered actionable.

  26. Anonsie*

    Ok ok. The woman laying on the floor and crying because she couldn’t leave early. I don’t feel like I’m super naive to how ridiculous people can be or anything, but I feel like there almost has to be something else to this story than that. Did she need to leave early to go to her kid’s dance recital or make an important appointment or something? Anything?

  27. Elsajeni*

    She lay on the floor crying.



    Congratulations (?), this is the most gobsmacked I have ever been by a story on AAM. (Previous recordholder: the intern who brought a cot to work to nap on. A COT. With PILLOW SHAMS.)

    1. Seal*

      I hate, hate, HATE women who cry to get their way. A grown-ass woman who lies on the floor crying to get her way? I can’t even.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        I understand some people, more often women, cry during conflict. I am not one but my best friend is. That being said, crying to get your way is behavior I don’t tolerate in my pet, much less another adult.

      2. Margaret*

        I definitely cry in confrontational situations – it’s my response not just to sadness, but also to anger, or just anxiety. It’s a reflex that I can’t always completely control. But when it’s happened a few times in work situations, I do everything I can to remove myself from the situation, get calmed down, and then return to deal with it. I know it makes me look childish and incompetent, plus I know some people will assume I’m doing it deliberately to be manipulative.

        I cannot imagine doing it deliberately or playing it up by laying on the floor! Totally mindboggling.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yes, me too. I hate that I can’t always control my tears – but I also hate if someone assumes I’m doing it on purpose to get my way.

          However, I can (and do) control whether or not I lie down on the floor.

    2. libertybelle*

      OP here, I posted this further down but just in case people can’t see it..
      I can confirm she is a grown up lady and not a toddler! To give some background she has 8 years service but a poor performer, her manger tried to place her on a PIP, which she refused to acknowledge as she felt it was ‘harsh and too rigid’.
      She was due to have a meeting with her manager and myself at 4pm to discuss the matter further but came to me at 2pm to say she wanted to leave early as she ”didn’t want to attend any meeting where we would pick on her”. When I turned down her request to leave early as the meeting was very important, she stormed out back to her shared office, I got a call 5 mins later to say she was lying on the floor howling, crying and shouting that I don’t listen to her and refusing to get up. It took approx. 40 mins to calm her down, get her up and I sent her home in a taxi.
      The next day I received notice (via the union rep) that Miss Tantrum was extremely stressed and was now ill,she would be forwarding me a doctors cert for work related stress and was not expected to return to the office for the foreseeable, Its now been 12 weeks and no sign of her..when I broached the subject to HR I was reminded we pay up to 6 months sick pay and so to let the matter be.

  28. Ani*

    “Bizarrely, the most helpful has been the PA. It turns out she was more scared of the team’s reaction once playtime was over then anything.”

    I’m sure this is stupid but — I have no idea what/who the PA is, or why it would bizarre that this person has been the most helpful.

    1. fposte*

      Personal assistant. Who in the original post had seemed pretty loyal to Miss A and likely to be a problem for the OP.

    2. A Dispatcher*

      I’m guessing personal assistant/admin or something similar. In the original email LW mentioned that important emails were to be sent to the PA who was to then forward them along to Miss A, so I’m guessing there was a lot of other stuff that LW was supposed to “run by” PA as well as part of the ridiculous demands. Commenters (and maybe LW as well) were certainly worried PA might be very much on Miss A’s side or almost like a “mole” for her, so I’m guessing that is where the bizarrely comment comes from.

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      I went back and read the original. The original manager wanted the OP to send important info to the personal assistant who would then forward to original manager for the entire year. The request stuck the PA right in the middle and OP wasn’t sure where she stood at first in terms of support.

  29. Nobody*

    Wow, what a tough situation. Kudos to the OP for trying to turn things around.

    A lot of people, including union members, management, and even HR, have misconceptions about unions and what authority they have. As others have suggested, if you haven’t done this already, you need to read the union contract very carefully. Remember, the contract is an agreement between the company and the union, and both parties agreed to it. If your company has a lot of union employees, there may even be a labor relations expert at your company who can advise you on dealing with the union.

    Most contracts contain some kind of statement about management rights and responsibilities, which typically include the right of management to hire, fire, and discipline employees, and the right to set standards of performance. It is true that there are some working conditions that are set in the contract that you can’t change — for example, there are probably rules about schedules, and if the contract says employees will work 5 8-hour days per week, you can’t just decide to change it to 4 10-hour days. But enforcing existing rules that fall within the guidelines of the contract (like showing up on time) does not constitute an illegal change in working conditions. If the company has some kind of employee handbook with policies on, say, attendance, those rules still apply to union members as long as they don’t conflict with the contract.

    Most contracts also have some guidelines about the disciplinary process, which will usually say something about stepwise or progressive discipline. Again, this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to discipline or fire a union member, but it does require some extra documentation. You may be required to start with a verbal warning, then a written warning, then suspension, before firing an employee, unless it’s an especially serious infraction. You need to make sure you document everything — even a verbal warning. You also need to be consistent and use the same level of discipline for the same infractions.

    Another common misconception is that a grievance is the end of the world and that you should be afraid of getting grieved. Union members have the right to file a grievance, but they don’t automatically win. The contract should have a process for handling grievances, and it typically starts with something fairly informal, and if it’s not resolved in the early stages, it can go all the way to arbitration. Someone can file a grievance that you didn’t let her leave early, but that probably doesn’t violate the contract in any way, so it should quickly and easily be decided in the company’s favor. Disciplinary action will usually be more complicated and reach a more formal step in the process, but if you have good documentation, you should be able to prove you’re acting within your management rights.

    Good luck, and I hope you send another update at the end of the year!

    1. 2horseygirls*


      Performance, or lack thereof, is the basis for employment.

      Tantrum = unprofessional conduct. Oral warning (documented).

      Carving in door = 48 hours – either someone fesses up/points someone out or the entire team gets a documented oral warning for damage to company property and unprofessional conduct.

      Social media campaign = documented oral warning for conduct directly detrimental to the company and unprofessional conduct.

      OP has nothing to lose by whipping this department into shape, following the letter of the union rules and employment law. OP was brought in to do a job, not make friends or be the house mother. Seriously?!?!

      On a side note, I’d love to know why management didn’t have Miss A on a PIP, which has everything to do with performance and nothing to do with her pregnancy.

      1. Sarahnova*

        It sounds like the short answer is “because they suck and have no spine”. I mean, sure, Miss A is a horror show, but upper management is just as culpable for letting this situation go on (with their full knowledge!) and failing to properly back the OP now.

        OP, as a UK resident I am dying to know what company this is. Could you at least hint?

    2. Academic Librarian*

      Exactly this. Also in addition to documenting everything no matter how small. Three weeks later that small incident – not following directions, not delivering an accurate timesheet might be part of a pattern. Be scrupulously fair. Apply work-rules to everyone- if timesheet are due on Monday at noon- document anyone who does not deliver accurately on time.

      Also- document coaching meetings. Schedule regular meetings with reports who are not meeting expectations. Be a broken record. These are the expectations. This is the observation. This is the improvement that needs to happen in this time frame. How can I help you meet these expectations? This is the consequence for not meeting these expectations.

      Also- talk to no-one about the work situation except HR and your direct supervisor. Here is fine.

  30. Academic Librarian*

    I am sorry to say that I went through just this and maybe worse when I took this job. 2.5 years ago. AND at my previous job, I WAS the Union Rep. I know this misery. The “everything was fine until SHE showed up” I am here to help with practical advice. Pull everyone’s job descriptions. Revise with bullet points creating a document that states what acceptable, unacceptable and outstanding would look like. Include statements like- arrives on time, creates accurate and on-time delivery of work. Keep it simple. All paperwork filed accurately by end of day Friday. (the job description is the “contract” with the employee”) If there are no job descriptions ask other managers for a few of theirs and create comps for your reports. Meet one on one with 15 minute time slots (like teachers do for parent meetings) read aloud the job description and have the employee sign it. No drama, the only discussion should be- Is this “teapot assembly” part of your job? Do you feel confident? Do you need more training?. Stay on topic. Anyone who cries is asked to leave the room and reschedule. Make copies- one for employee, one for HR and one for your files. (it helped for me to pretend that I was doing this for the next person in this role as I was certainly not sticking around)

    Start documenting immediately and email the employee. State simple facts- I noticed that the paperwork from this week was not filed by 5:00 on Friday. In order to meet the expectations as stated in your job description, this is an essential task of your position.

    Meet with HR. and state your goal is to either have everyone doing the minimum or be retrained.

    It doesn’t matter if this sucks up all of your time. Nothing was getting done anyway.

    1. The Strand*

      This is terrific advice. The job description will set you free (or let you cut someone loose if needed).

  31. CreationEdge*

    To the Letter Writer:

    I sincerely hope you can find a way to make the job less stressful for yourself! Try not to internalize so much of the job.

    From the sounds of it, any change you can effect, no matter how minor, is an upgrade. Make sure you view those as accomplishments, and not failures to implement larger changes.

    Some of the people there are behaving in petty, childish, and unprofessional ways. Realize that it’s nothing you could realistically change or affect in anyway (since your hands are effectively tied by senior management’s lack of involvement). Try to laugh to yourself about how ridiculous they’re being!

    I’m sure others can offer some advice, too. The job might look great on your CV once you’re done, but there’s no point risking your health in the meantime!

  32. asteramella*

    OP’s HR department is incompetent. It is not illegal to fire a pregnant employee who has a documented and genuine history of performance problems that would warrant firing absent the fact of her pregnancy.

    1. Sarahnova*


      I feel like they just thankfully dived behind “we can’t possibly discipline or terminate a pregnant employee!” to cover up their complete lack of ability/willingness to tackle major performance problems. It should never have gone this far even BEFORE she got pregnant.

      And yes, UK law provides significantly more protection to employees than US, but I don’t want to hear anybody saying “in the UK you can’t x”. You can and I have. If you follow process and do things by the book, you can absolutely terminate poor performers, even if they’re pregnant. It’s a matter of holding your nerve and making sure you have ER support and have followed the proper process.

  33. Coach Devie*

    All I have is WOW.

    Wow. Wow. Wow.

    Adults in the workplace actually behave this way? (Sitting on the floor crying for not being allowed to leave early???!!! and still have a job to come back to??!)


    I… I…

    I have nothing.

    Just wow.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I once worked for an owner of a small company who threw such tantrums – stomping her feet, crying, screaming. She had serious problems obviously, but it was amazing to see someone in their 40s behaving like that.

  34. Artemesia*

    And keep detailed notes at home with the idea of writing a roman a clef about your workplace when you move on. My daughter who write beautifully had a job that was totally insanely managed in a very entertaining, although soul crushing way. I wish she had done that so she would have gotten something out of it besides a crushed soul that it took a while to mend.

  35. Academic Librarian*

    oh and on the grievance front. So what. I had a great HR person. Your HR person needs to realize that “threatened grievances” are just a cry for help. Treat them as such. In a six month period I was in various states of 3 grievances- a grievance was filed every time I entered a new step on the PIP. Your documentation is all you need for those meetings. Keep a diary. a pattern of lateness or calling in sick will emerge. At the end of the week, email the employee ccing yourself . “I have observed (neutral language) that you arrived this week 10 to 20 minutes late everyday. As we discussed it is imperative that you are at your desk ready to work at 8:30 am.” The ccd one get moved to an email file with the employees name. News to me was that excuses do not matter. Excuses do not matter. Excuses do not matter. Poor performance can only be improved by effort and re-training. If the employee is not owning to the problem, blaming others, lying, or not completing to expectation, document. Real problems interfering with acceptable performance should be referred to Employee Assistance. It is up to the employee to follow through. AND
    the best thing someone told me during this process- there are people who want and need these jobs and would be thrilled to work for me. (as I have twenty years of management experience)

  36. Ruffingit*

    This is a situation where you leave as soon as you can. Things are just WAY too far gone to bother staying. Get out. I wouldn’t even worry about staying there a year. Move on to anything you can to remove yourself from this because it is totally insane and I can only imagine the damage being done to your mental health.

  37. Academic Librarian*

    I don’t know. After my first 8 months I was ready to cut and run but…. I did stick it out. I was pretty nuts for the last 3 months of the experience…but now in my 3rd year. I have a terrific staff. All the reports were terminated, left for better employment or positions in other departments. I have other managers stopping by asking “how did you do that?” Looking back, I would have informed HR and my supervisor of my plan to help the team meet expectations and get agreement that this was my priority and not worry so much about everything else.

    Also documenting the previous manager’s not meeting expectations will help your administration. If she had been “making up” performance reviews, that would be a terminable action. Leave not-with-standing.

  38. Lumbergh*

    If the OP is leaving employees on the floor in tears, I have the feeling that they are one of those dysfunctional managers that people usually write in about — I doubt any of them realized how awful they were, either.

    That isn’t to say the employees involved couldn’t also be childish — at the end of the day, money talks; if the childish employees bring in money, and the dysfunctional managers cut costs, the shareholders certainly don’t care about the human costs on either side.

    1. Adam V*

      I totally disagree. Regardless of what kind of manager you have, crying on the floor is utterly unprofessional – as is carving anything into office doors or starting a social media campaign to shame someone. If your manager pushes you to tears, you take a quick break and make your way to the bathroom or somewhere away from the office, not make a scene.

      Yes, Occam’s razor says it’s easier to say the problem lies with one employee (the boss) rather than a whole host of them, but the fact that the director says she’s doing a great job and HR is behind her (except when they refuse to make a stand) lends a lot of credence to the idea that these are problem employees being shielded from consequences by the presence of the union.

  39. libertybelle*

    OP here..
    Thanks so much for all the lovely advise and support, its really cheered me up! A few things people have asked for clarification on..
    Yes I’m in the UK, up in Edinburgh in Scotland.
    A few people have asked about the unions position, basically there are just over 600 employees in the organisation and 300+ belong to the same (public sector) union, the union is very powerful and I honestly am beginning to think HR is does everything to avoid confrontation with union employees, even is they are out of line. For example to give a verbal warning there’s a 5 step investigation process which takes weeks.
    As to the lady who threw a tantrum on the floor, I can confirm she is a grown up lady and not a toddler! To give some background she has 8 years service but a poor performer, her manger tried to place her on a PIP, which she refused to acknowledge as she felt it was ‘harsh and too rigid’.
    She was due to have a meeting with her manager and myself at 4pm to discuss the matter further but came to me at 2pm to say she wanted to leave early as she ”didn’t want to attend any meeting where we would pick on her”. When I turned down her request to leave early as the meeting was very important, she stormed out back to her shared office, I got a call 5 mins later to say she was lying on the floor howling, crying and shouting that I don’t listen to her and refusing to get up. It took approx. 40 mins to calm her down, get her up and I sent her home in a taxi.
    The next day I received notice (via the union rep) that Miss Tantrum was extremely stressed and was now ill,she would be forwarding me a doctors cert for work related stress and was not expected to return to the office for the foreseeable, Its now been 12 weeks and no sign of her..when I broached the subject to HR I was reminded we pay up to 6 months sick pay and so to let the matter be.

    1. Adam V*

      > her manger tried to place her on a PIP, which she refused to acknowledge

      Seriously, you can do that? I never thought about that. Does it work for other work issues?

      “I refuse to acknowledge your demotion of me.”
      “Okay, I guess you can keep your old title and pay rate then.”

      “I refuse to acknowledge that punching my coworker is wrong.”
      “Sounds good, we’ll just tear up this pink slip then.”

      > she would be forwarding me a doctors cert for work related stress

      Did you get the doctors cert? If not, can you let her go for that reason?

    2. Katie from Edinburgh*

      Hi OP – I also work in the public sector in Edinburgh and wonder if your lot are in the same union as ours – no one ever seems to get fired around here either! Let me know if you ever need a coffee and a moan in real life!

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