my boss gives in to my coworker’s temper tantrums

A reader writes:

I’m preparing for my yearly evaluation with my boss in two months, and I’m worrying about some issues I want to bring up. Our department is small, with only four positions. The budget person in our office is controlling and has made my life difficult these past few months. My boss is kind, but this work colleague (she’s a peer, and I’ll call her Jane) does sway her decisions quite a bit since they have worked together the past 10 years.

One of the worst things that has happened concerns my purchasing duties in the office. I was approached by my boss for a meeting to take away these duties due to Jane’s concerns. I was not doing the purchasing incorrectly, but Jane did not like my filing system (which I was never approached about). Since Jane was going through a death in the family at the time, my boss asked me to just let her Jane control of those duties instead of fighting her on this.

It’s just gotten worse since then, over the most minute of issues. Just last week, she threw a fit when I left for lunch and only confirmed it with the front desk person and not with her. She threw the fit in front of my boss, and now we have assigned lunch times. I’ve been at this office over three years, and while I am looking for other jobs, the economy dictates that I’ll be here a bit longer.

How do I bring up my issues with Jane appropriately during my evaluation? I know that my boss will ask me how I’m doing/feeling at the office, and even though I am uncomfortable speaking out against anyone, I would like an easier work environment and my job duties back.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

 

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily in NYC

    I couldn’t see the photo using Chrome but I’m so glad I looked at it through IE – hilarious. I guess there was no update to this, bummer. I wonder what happened.

    1. AMG

      I can just about guarantee that Jane continued to be a shrew and Beth continued to give in and even though OP left for a grown-up environment, Jane and Beth haven’t changed a smidge.

      1. NickelandDime

        Agreed – especially since Beth and Jane appeared to be close. Sometimes all you can do is leave. If someone is behaving inappropriately, and management is supporting it or not correcting the issues, what else can you do? Deal with it or leave. It’s really unfortunate.

  2. NicoleK

    When you’ve addressed the issues with the coworker and the boss, and nothing changes. Time to move on.

  3. Techfool

    I approached a supervisor about the fifty (literally) emails she was sending me a day when she worked mere yards away. She yelled at me, walked out and did not speak to me for the rest of my time there. HR wouldn’t do anything as she was the favourite of a big boss.
    Simetimes you just gotta leave.

  4. Anony-moose

    Oh my…if my lunchtime started being monitored because someone (who was not my supervisor) didn’t know where I was, I’d be looking for a new job the next day.

    As it is, our “flexibility” in my office is a total joke and there are undertones of the Beth/Jane dynamic here. Even the hint of it has caused me to reconsider if this is somewhere I can stay. Cause, you know, I’m an adult…I don’t need/want to be micromanaged and treated like a child when it has literally nothing to do with my job performance.

  5. Navy Vet

    Holy Toledo! I work with her! (or rather, her long lost sister) This is a person that throws temper tantrums and hissy fits at everything that doesn’t go her way. Not a single person in the office wants to deal with her and my boss’s response is always “That’s just the way she is” It’s like sharing an office with a baby t-rex. (In my head I call her a Dementor, because she drains all the happiness out of a room)

    That being said I am on my way out…I have 5 days left…and she is in panic mode. Even though she was promoted to the same position as me 2 years ago she still does not grasp the basics and fails to understand some very basic concepts. Not because she was not trained, but because she literally refused to be trained. Which was allowed. I’ve seen it said many places before here included…people don’t leave good jobs, they leave bad managers.

    It has been communicated to me that she will not be involved in the training of my replacement and they are trying to find a replacement for me to give some training in to start before I leave….in 5 days. I am doing my best to give a proper turnover and leave with grace. (I’ve been here for 7 years)

    I am however, enjoying the daily temper tantrums. She slammed her hands down on her desk once because she didn’t like me answer yesterday and today stormed out of a room when she was told we were already working on an issue she was talking about. I need to bring some popcorn in for the rest of my time here…looks like it’s going to be a good show.

    Sometimes it’s just time to move on to a more constructive work environment.

      1. Navy Vet

        Yes, happy endings are always great!

        I should have seen the red flag when I found out that once of my references was asked if I worked well with men. (I was in the Navy for 11 years…I think I know how to work with men) But I had just been laid off and needed a job….

    1. F.

      We had someone like that in my office. I privately nicknamed her “Princess Stompyfoot” because she would literally stomp her foot if things did not go her way. Fortunately, she left a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, it seems like I have inherited a lot of her work, since they’re not going to replace her.

        1. LJL

          I wish I’d heard “Princess Stompyfoot” years ago when I was dealing with my own version of her.:-)

    2. Marketing Girl

      “I’ve seen it said many places before here included…people don’t leave good jobs, they leave bad managers” – YUP! So very very true.

      Good luck in your new role!

  6. Kyrielle

    The photo for this one is awesome.

    I’m still puzzled by the answer, though. The letter-writer describes Jane taking issues right to the boss, without discussing them with the LW. LW learns of the issue when their boss hands out a new edict in Jane’s favor. When/how is the LW supposed to bring something up with Jane? Because I would think addressing the issue to Jane after the boss made a decision would not look good / work well….

    Ideally, Jane would bring the issue to the LW who would then address it with Jane, but if Jane isn’t doing that, other than asking Jane to do it, what other steps could the LW have taken? If Jane is taking all issues straight to the boss and LW doesn’t know until the boss’s decision on that subject has been made?

    1. Jeanne

      I think Alison is advising the OP to act like an adult even though Jane is acting like a child. I have personally found this doesn’t work but maybe it could.

      1. Kyrielle

        I agree that’s what she’s advising, but how can the OP do that? If Jane has already gone to the boss and the boss has said ‘scheduled lunch times’ then any attempt to address the issue with Jane will almost certainly read as trying to undercut the boss, and involve Jane in doing so. (Jane might, in fact, help it appear like that by running to the boss afterward.)

        If Jane gives clear signs that X bothers her *before* she goes to the boss, then yes, OP should address it. But I don’t see how OP can safely address a thing *after* the boss has ruled on it without getting into more trouble – and I worry that this reply requires OP to be a mind-reader.

      2. Newsbunny

        I attempted acting like an adult when others around me acted like children (including one woman — older than me, and I was 40! who sang nursery rhymes all day, and one guy, who enjoyed dressing up like a vampire and attending vampire conventions, and men who would re-arrange furniture and smoosh drugstore muffins over furniture). It doesn’t work. But you can say you tried and didn’t get dragged down.

        My job is sooooooooo much better now. I love my job. OP, you will feel better when you get out.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I didn’t read the OP as saying that Jane always goes to the boss first, just that the boss does end up ultimately getting involved.

      But if Jane does always go to the boss first, the OP should say to the boss, “I’d like to be able to resolve these things directly with Jane. Would you ask her to talk with me first in the future before escalating it to you, unless it’s very serious?”

      1. Kyrielle

        That makes sense. I think it was the “which I was never approached about” and the “in front of the boss” parts which led me to believe the OP was not given a chance to address these things. It’s hard to be completely sure – just nice to know the best approach if that is the case.

    3. NutellaNutterson

      I thought the same thing – asking Jane to come to the letter writer directly *in the future* might work – but only if the manager was asking Jane the “reasonable manager” question that Alison suggests.

      Ugh, I ask these questions of my preschooler when there’s a complaint about a friend. How can a grown adult not do it?

  7. Stranger than fiction

    I ran into old boss the other day and he mentioned my two previous coworkers (we’ll call them) Mary and Jen and I had trouble keeping my composure because these two have not gotten along for about eight years now. Mary is prone to crying at the slightest thing but Jen has made a huge stink about Mary stressing her out to the point of having to move her desk to where she couldn’t hear Mary anymore and at one time told boss and HR she had to take Xanax to calm her nerves due to Mary. I cannot believe they’re still working together especially because they were recently acquired and are now in a much smaller building and presumably pretty close proximity now!

  8. KittenLittle

    My word! I also work in a business office and am sitting here reorganizing purchase orders that our budget person misfiled. Reading this letter nearly gave me a heart attack–thought someone was spying on our office. So sorry about your crazy coworker, OP!

  9. Chris

    I am dealing with this issue right now, but from the other side. I inherited an employee that is very tantrum prone from a boss that would roll over for her rather than deal head on.
    Trying to talk (like reasonable adults!) about situations/occurrences is hard when someone has been conditioned that their behavior is acceptable/gets results. I’m not sure she will ever stop using tantrums to attempt leverage but I remain hopeful that the rest of the team takes notice she is being shut down rather than indulged.

    Sorry your boss allowed this to happen OP. I hope you’ve found an awesome job and moved away from the drama!

    1. MicheleNYC

      I had an employee like that once! I finally reached my breaking point and told her if she was going to act like a 5 year-old that she needed to leave the office until she could act like an adult. The look on her face was priceless! It may have worked on her parents but not with me. Looking back now I probably would adjust my phrasing slightly but it was my first time managing people!

    2. The Bookworm

      I’m just curious – what would have to happen for you to put her on a PIP?
      I would be interesting to find out if she could control her tantrums when the repercussion of continuing the behavior would result in loosing her job.

  10. Not So NewReader

    I dunno…. it depends on the boss and depends on the subordinate. I have tried in the past saying something to the effect of, “Jane’s meltdowns are getting to be too much….[I let my voice trail off and wait to see what the boss says}.

    Once I had a boss where I felt comfortable enough to say, “Jane is manipulating you with her outbursts.”

    I think that trying to view it from the boss’ perspective helped. Sometimes you have to say obvious things, such as, “she is just going to keep doing that, you know”.

    It seemed to help to some degree in most cases. BUT. This presumes you have a boss that is a thinking person. If the boss is just like Jane, then forget it. The times I have tried to do it, I try to figure out if I stand a chance of being heard before I even tried to say anything.

  11. RNPALS

    Oh, wow, I worked somewhere like this. A pediatric urgent care clinic that was an extension of the large children’s hospital in my area. My Director of Nursing’s excuse/reason for constantly giving into this 19 year-old receptionist’s tantrums (which she would also throw in front of patients and families) was the almighty survey scores. The receptionist was young enough to be served as a patient there, you see, therefore, she would receive a satisfaction survey on the rare occasion she was seen here. Therefore, she could affect our Picker Scores in ways those old enough to be nurses could not. Of course, nobody in management concerned themselves with the effects of a shrieking harpy at the front desk had on survey scores, much less anyone’s overall health. The DON did absolutely nothing… Except (unsuccessfully) beg nurses not to quit.

    A lot of rigmarole/insane troll logic to avoid a manager actually doing their job, and this wasn’t the only example. That’s what this letter sounds like, too. “Let’s give someone more responsibilities because they had a death in the family”? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a grieving employee to have the same duties as before, keep to their routine at work? Just my two cents. And Jane’s friendship with the boss should never have escalated to the point that OP needed to confirm her lunchtime with Jane, muchless to the point where everyone has assigned lunchtimes due to Jane’s preferences. This letter makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I have grown to hate bosses like that.

  12. Anonymous in the South

    I work in a similar environment. Luckily, our “Jane” works in another dept so her actions don’t effect me personally, but I have seen the effects it has on the other employees. I think these types of situations come about because appropriate manager/employee boundaries are crossed. I think it’s fine to be friendly with your direct report, but it’s a mistake to become friends with them. That causes the lines to become blurred and the manager is going to always try to please his/her friend and not make the best judgement for the company, such as LW’s boss did with the purchasing duties and lunchtimes. I wonder if the boss is friendlier with Jane and that’s why Jane’s allowed to go directly to her vs. trying to work it out with the LW first.

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