my insecure coworker keeps spying on me and trying to one-up me

A reader writes:

My former boss was all about giving orders, and when she did ask for my feedback on a project, she usually took credit for my ideas. She recently resigned and there have been some organizational shake-ups in my department. The result is that I’m getting more exposure to higher-ups, more responsibility, and a chance to contribute ideas to big projects. Overall, it has been great and I feel that I’ve been impressing the department head with the quality of my work.

My coworker, “Jake,” has been extremely threatened by this. We have the same title and job duties, but now that we’re no longer just following orders, I think it is becoming clear that I am more polished and more competent in general. And it probably doesn’t help that I am slightly younger than he is. That said, I’m not gunning for a promotion and I would never try to make him (or anyone) look bad — I’m just trying to keep my head down and get things done.

Jake’s behavior has gotten obnoxious over the past few weeks. If he sees me having a private conversation with my new boss (in his office!), he will forcefully insert himself into the conversation. In meetings, he just repeats what I say and talks in circles (most of his original ideas aren’t very good). If we are both copied on an email, he races to respond before I can (even when his response is unhelpful). It feels almost having an annoying little brother who can’t stand being “left out” of what the older kids are doing (ironic given the age difference).

However, the most annoying thing is that he has started “spying” on me when I am working. We have cubicles with low walls and we sit next to each other. He is constantly standing up and looking over my shoulder to see my computer screen, and when I turn around, he immediately sits back down. He’ll also make excuses to walk by my desk and linger behind me so he can stare at my screen (“dropping” things, choosing candy from my candy dish, etc.) It’s really bizarre, especially since I’m rarely working on anything juicy or confidential (aside from this email to you!) It’s gotten to a point where my other coworkers have started to notice and I have requested to work from home when I can just to avoid the feeling of being watched constantly. I have tried asking him if he needs anything, asked him if he’s looking for something, etc. but it hasn’t stopped him.

How do I address this with Jake? We actually had a friendly working relationship for about a year until our boss resigned. Should I bring this up with my new boss?

Jake sounds like he’s deeply insecure about his work and jealous of yours.

It also sounds like a lot of what he’s doing will be obvious to others, and you don’t need to worry about responding to it — I’d put in this category the forcefully joining your conversations with your boss, the repeating what you say, and the racing to respond to things before you do. I wouldn’t worry too much about finding a solution to those; it sounds like he’s sort of hanging himself with his own behavior there, and people will be able to see it (and will be able to spot that his responses aren’t helpful, whereas yours are).

The spying thing is super weird, and I’d just say something to him directly about it. For example: “Hey, I keep noticing you watching my screen. What’s up?” … Followed by, “Well, it’s really distracting. Could you stop?” (If he denies it, say, “I don’t think I’m imagining it; others keep commenting on it too. But I’ll point it out the next time I notice it” and then do.) There’s a decent chance that this will shame him into stopping, especially if you keep calling it out, turning to stare back at him when you notice him doing it, etc.

Also, any chance that you can reposition the way you sit so that he can’t see your screen as easily? And/or put something behind you so that he can’t walk behind you? (And/or put something on your screen that says “MOVE ALONG, JAKE”? Okay, not actually that. But I’d be tempted.)

You asked about bringing it up with your new boss. I wouldn’t. It’s weird and annoying, but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of needing boss intervention. I think you’re better off continuing to be awesome and letting Jake demonstrate his non-awesomeness in all the ways he sounds like he’s doing that.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. LawBee*

    OP, get a privacy filter for your computer monitor. All Jake will see is a black screen, but you’ll be able to work just fine. And you say that you and Jake were friendly before – maybe you can just talk to him about it? Or not – he’ll just deny it.

    Ugh. Workplace jealousy is terrible. Keep being great, that’s about the best you can do.

    1. MegEB*

      Second the privacy filter! I have a privacy filter on my screen and I LOVE IT. They’re not too expensive either.

      1. ST*

        What should OP say if the manager happens to see her computer and asks why she has a privacy filter on her screen?

        1. Meg Murry*

          They cut glare as well. So just say she wants it because the glare from her screen was giving her eyestrain. I’ve actually been looking into them for that reason recently.

              1. Wehaf*

                Prices will depend a bit on the size of your monitor, but you should be able to get a decently big one (for a 22″ screen) for around $45. If that’s too much, and you don’t need the privacy aspect, you could just get an anti-glare screen; they’re cheaper (I got one for my laptop for $11 from amazon).

                1. Becky B*

                  And maybe the OP has the handy “$50 or less doesn’t need manager approval” kind of set-up when it comes to ordering office supplies.

                  And this would drive me nuts, blatant eyeballs on me, yeeeeugh.

      2. ST*

        To clarify: Is there any explanation that doesn’t call out Jake specifically but doesn’t make OP sound paranoid? I think it’s a great idea, but I’m wondering how it gets explained to a manager.

        1. LBK*

          “I just have a weird thing where I get easily distracted/nervous when I feel like people are watching me work – having the privacy screen gives me peace of mind about that and makes it easier to focus while I’m working.”

          1. Kat A.*

            I wouldn’t say that. I think that’d make the OP sound weird and paranoid. Not the image she wants to project.

            1. LBK*

              Really? I think with the right tone this would sound totally normal to me – just a little quirk of how the person wants to work, not a big deal. You don’t say it like there’s a workplace conspiracy about spying on you or something.

                1. LBK*

                  Huh. My coworkers must think I’m very weird then since I’ve always given people a heads up about my workplace quirks that they might otherwise find off-putting. I find it odd you’d both think that was weird since it’s even suggested on this site sometimes (eg for people with a sensitive crying response).

              1. Koko*

                Yeah, I’m inclined to agree with Kat as well. I suffer from anxiety in various forms and I do in fact get very nervous or anxious when I feel like I’m being watched. But I’ve learned over the years that there’s no way to express this that doesn’t make me look weird and paranoid, especially to people who aren’t anxiety sufferers. There is still a stigma on mental illness in our society and even though irrational paranoia is a pretty common and mild one as far as mental illness goes, OP doesn’t want to be in the position of outing themselves as having one if they can avoid it. Too many people will still take the position that because your concerns are irrational, you should be able to easily just snap out of it through the use of logic and reasoning* and thus won’t see your need for the privacy screen as valid. I would stick with the other excuse given upthread of saying it’s for eyestrain/glare. A physical ailment will not be questioned the way an emotional one will.

                (*There’s a kernel of truth there – CBT basically teaches you to use logic and reason to dissuade yourself of irrational thoughts – but it’s not all that easy and often requires a lot of time, the help of a professional counselor, and possibly even medication to settle the anxiety enough to allow CBT techniques to be used.)

                1. LBK*

                  …what did I said in my comment that sounds like mental illness? I’m honestly completely baffled by the reaction here. Is it not a completely and utterly normal thing to not like being watched while you work?

              2. CM*

                LBK, I think the negative reactions you’re getting are because you start off with “I have this weird thing…” So not surprisingly, people think it’s weird. Saying the same thing without apologizing for being weird (“I find that I stay more focused when I have the privacy screen”) would probably come across better.

              3. AW*

                I’m also surprised people think this would sound odd. Maybe it’s a culture/industry thing. Most of my current co-workers have bookcases blocking part of the entrance to their cubicle for this exact reason. People had no problem pointing out that people being able to watch you work was a drawback of the open office design at a previous job.

                I’ve just taken it for granted that folks don’t like people looking over their shoulder while they’re at a computer. It never occurred to me that some people would see that as weird and paranoid.

              4. NutellaNutterson*

                Part of the difference is that it’s not at all true, and if the whole situation had to be explained later, would have the ring of unnecessary hijinks. The “glare” screen is a straightforward face-saving answer that doesn’t go into psychology or interpersonal dynamics.

        2. Betsy*

          I wouldn’t worry about calling Jake out specifically. He does it often, so who else would you be referring to?

      3. OP*

        The thing is, I’m not working on anything confidential (except this letter to AAM!) that I wouldn’t want him to see, so I don’t really care if he sees my screen. I just hate the feeling of being watched (which I think is pretty universal).

          1. sharon g*


            At a former work place, a coworker used one due to confidential customer info. Worked great, and as a plus the light glare was down.

        1. "Computer Science"*

          It might just require constant intervention- “You’re looking at my screen. What’s up?” Keep it about his behaviour, and don’t excuse how weird it is. This is his insecurity in action.

        1. AW*

          Man, that would be awesome of someone made screens with customized messages like that.

          Even one that just said, “Stop looking over my shoulder” or “Stop spying on me” would be cool. Now I’m going to look for one because this can’t be the first time someone’s thought of it.

        2. LeighTX*

          I’d be tempted to make up a Word doc that says just that, in huge bright letters, and Alt-Tab to it every time I felt his eyes on my monitor!

    2. Simplytea*

      Was coming in just to say this–he won’t be able to see your screen unless he is DIRECTLY BEHIND YOU.

      He’s just making himself look bad.

    3. legalchef*

      Also, make sure that you lock your computer any time you get up (by hitting CTRL+ALT+DELETE), even if it’s just to grab something from the printer. I know it will be annoying to have to keep entering your password, but it’s better to do that then to run the risk of him pilfering through it when you get up.

        1. Adam V*

          Ctrl+Alt+Delete on Windows 7 machines brings up a screen where “Lock this computer” is the first option. Pressing Enter selects that option.

          Yes, Win+L does it a bit faster, but it’s not like Ctrl+Alt+Delete is *wrong* advice.

          1. Miles*

            Some companies still run on Windows XP as well, so that might not work there, and a few IT/IS departments like to disable the “three finger salute.” Win + L is definitely a good one to know for situations like that and for the odd emergency where that one extra click is valuable seconds wasted.

        2. legalchef*

          I think Windows+L will immediately lock the computer, and ctrl+alt+delete gives you many options (locking, shutting down, restarting, etc). So I guess Windows+L is a shortcut (which I didn’t know existed, so thanks!). You don’t have to officially log out/in (ie you don’t need to close your programs and files).

      1. Ariadne Oliver*

        At my former place of employment, we were required to lock our computers every single time we left our desks. It was just another layer of security at our company, and got to be a habit very quickly.

    4. Honeybee*

      Was coming to say this! He’ll have to be super super obvious about his efforts to see your screen, which makes it easier to point out.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Totally, if they’re allowed. At my work they’re not and everyone’s monitors are purposefully set up so anyone walking buy, aka mgmt, can see your screens.

    6. ComputerGeek*

      Install the privacy screen. I’ve also gotten a little round “rearview mirror” for my monitor, so I know when someone’s standing behind me. (I work with headphones on). Just knowing that you’ll see him at all times with the mirror, will probably make him stop

  2. Katie the Fed*

    OP – can you get a privacy cover for your screen? You know the ones that cover your screen so you can only see it from your angle?

    But yeah, I think you need to directly address the shoulder-surfing. “Please don’t read over my shoulder.” You don’t need to give a reason why – you just want him to stop.

    I would let the other stuff ride for now. Don’t bring it to management – he’s making himself look like an ass and it will become clear very soon.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, it’s a legit request. Honestly even if people aren’t actually spying, it’s still annoying to have people looking at your screen over your shoulder.

      1. Koko*

        I had the experience once of being at a concert with friends…I got a text message from Fergus, who wasn’t with us, and was answering it…and the friend standing to my left said, “Tell Fergus I say hi!”

        I was just flabbergasted that she was openly reading my text messages over my shoulder and apparently had so little shame about it that she would announce it like that!

        I *never* read someone else’s phone unless they spin it around to face me and say, “Look at this!” I felt so violated, like I shouldn’t have to be turning away or shielding my phone from view to have an expectation that my text messages are private.

        1. CM*

          Maybe that was your friend’s subtle way of telling you to pay attention to her instead of to your phone… Also, it’s hard to avoid glancing at the dinging/ringing phone of someone who is right next to you, so why pretend you didn’t see anything?

        2. Amy UK*

          Eh, in the dark of a concert, it’s natural she’d have looked over when your screen was lit up and she might have just reflexively read the name when she did. If she’d leered over your shoulder and commented on what you were writing, that would be rude, but I don’t see how she was in this case.

          I don’t think either of you were overtly rude, but “texting while out with people” is ruder than “happened to glance over and comment on what was seen”.

          1. Guest*

            I don’t think it’s rude to momentarily check your phone or answer a text when you’re out with someone, especially if neither person is actually talking. I think it’s a bit unfair to expect someone to be paying attention to you 100% when you’re hanging out with them.

            Also, yeah sometimes you can’t help but glance at someone’s phone, that doesn’t mean you bring attention to it.

  3. M*

    I could be totally off base here, but I wonder if any of this is in OP’s head? Not that there’s anything wrong with doing good work and knowing it, but I was a little put off by the talk of Jake being less polished and less competent than OP, and his ideas not being very good. But, like I said, I may be off base and just reading too much into this.

    1. Brooke*

      I was in OP’s situation and at first thought I was imagining things and being too sensitive….. until pretty much every single coworker came to me, umprompted, and basically reassured me that our own version of “Jake” was indeed just as jealous/petty/insecure as he seemed, and to try to keep my head up.

      It’s easier said than done.

    2. LBK*

      I wondered about that too. He’s definitely going about it the wrong way, but this could be his way of trying to stay involved in the work your team is doing – he might be feeling left out with you getting the better assignments. The spying part is particularly weird, but I can see jumping into conversations as being a relatively normal response to feeling like you’re out of the loop on what’s going on in your department.

          1. LBK*

            I’m not sure what “private” means in that context, though – if this is a one-on-one about the OP, yeah, that’s wildly inappropriate. If the “private” conversation is the two of them discussing a project, I don’t think it’s completely out of line for Jake to poke his head in and say “Hey – were you guys discussing the Teapot Upgrade 2.0? Mind if I join you?”

            I had a coworker that used to do this when he would overhear me talking to our manager and to be fair, I did purposely cut him out of conversations about things that impacted him because his input was annoying and useless. But he wasn’t totally unjustified in being worried that we weren’t including him in discussions that related to him.

            1. Myrin*

              I see what you’re saying. I admit I’m biased since this is something I would never do myself (even if a topic technically concerns me, I wouldn’t just pop into an office to insert myself) and thus have a hard time imagining and am bewildered by the thought alone, but I understand what you mean.

              1. LBK*

                IOh yeah, I definitely wouldn’t inject myself into someone’s office but I’ve certainly done it with conversations going on around my cube.

            2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I would not be thrilled if an employee walking by decided to jump into a conversation about a project that I was having in my office.

              I am usually pretty good about saying, “hey, let’s grab Jake and loop him in” or “let’s hold this until we can get everyone together.” so if I am having a 1:1 conversation with an employee it’s intended to be a 1:1 conversation.

              That being said, I think it does fall to the boss to say, “Jake, if I am meeting with Jill, I would prefer you don’t interject.”

            3. Ariadne Oliver*

              LBK, the OP did say the door was closed, which meant that Jake had to open the door and “crash” the meeting. (What would Miss Manners say about that??)

              A lot of people at work are very happy just following orders and doing exactly what they’re told, and never showing any initiative or ambition. It sounds like Jake is one of these people, and has no clue how to become more like the OP, so he’s bumbling around making a fool of himself.

        1. Liane*

          With the boss. In the boss’s office. I think if the boss wanted Jake in on the conversation, he would have called Jake in at the start, regardless of whether Boss or OP initiated the conversation.
          Rude and clueless about office norms, as well as insecure.

      1. Koko*

        I actually have a social contact who is like this. There’s no way to describe the situation without sounding like I might be conceited, but it’s been going on for well over a year now and other people notice and remark on it. She clearly looks up to me and tries to emulate me in every way. I’ve seen her do a complete 180 to reverse her position on something the second I say I feel differently (and these are not consensus-building “let’s make a shared decision” discussions, but rather “share something about yourself and your preferences” type of conversations). I’ve seen her get mad at a mutual friend for something that I was actually involved in, and then suddenly not be mad anymore once I tell her that I was involved too – or even stay mad at the other person but not me. I hate going to parties with her because if I leave a group conversation to go to the bathroom and don’t return within 5 minutes, she goes looking and when she finds me talking to a new group of people she inserts herself into that conversation (these are parties where she knows tons of people, not just me). She also is constantly watching me – I’ve gone on trips with her where we are spending days on end together in a hotel room and every time I get up to get a book out of my suitcase, get a glass of water, or do whatever, I see in my peripheral vision that she’s staring me down to see what I’ve gotten up to do, not just occasionally but every time. If I even grab my purse and start digging around in it, she’s watching to see what I’ll pull out of it. It’s very obvious to me and everyone else that she’s watching me and imitating me constantly, and the most awkward part of it is that it’s pretty clear that she just really likes me and wants me to like her and doesn’t realize that her shadowing/mimicry/spinelessness actually makes me want nothing more than to get away from her.

        I could very easily see it being something similar here. Coworker likes OP, looks up to them, wants to be like them, and thinks that by monitoring OP so closely and glomming onto all of OP’s conversations and inserting themselves into OP’s projects, that they will become as liked and respected as OP is. They don’t realize how creepy and alienating their behavior actually is.

        1. YogiJosephina*

          Not that this excuses it at all, but it sounds to me like she has a crush on you, and is being REALLY SUPER AWKWARD about how to express it.

          Still deal with it the same way you would anyone, but I definitely got a vibe from that description that she probably “like likes” you.

    3. Squirrel*

      Given that the OP specifically said:

      It’s gotten to a point where my other coworkers have started to notice…

      I don’t think they’re making it up at all.

    4. OP*

      This is something I’ve wondered at first too, but it has become pretty clear over the past few weeks that my assumptions were correct.

  4. Spooky*

    I’d also consider holding up my phone and taking a (very obvious) picture of him doing it. My money says he won’t like getting caught, and it will hopefully put a stop to it.

    1. Mabel*

      I first read that as “My mother says he won’t like getting caught…” and I thought, “well, that’s a little weird.” But then I laughed when I realized my mistake!

  5. Artemesia*

    And when he races to respond first to an email this gives you time to compose a thoughtful response quite different from his and since he went first, he won’t be able to embroidery your offering.

    I agree that a privacy screen and if at all possible a rearrangement so you are harder to snoop on would be worth doing. But most of all don’t act annoyed or flustered — just keep producing competent work and being calm and collected while he shoots himself in the foot. You might think a bit about ways to promote your ideas and work subtly. Be sure you are keeping your boss apprised of successes and ideas.

    Responses to Jake should be in the order of avoiding a buzzing fly. If he buzzes in while you are talking with a peer, then it is fine to let him know you are having a private conversation. When he walks into the bosses office while you are talking with him the boss should take care of the intrusion. If he doesn’t and Jake hangs, perhaps turn to the boss and ask ‘when would be a good time to continue our conversation since apparently Jake has an emergency he needs to discuss with you.’

    1. AnonaMoose*

      I would change ‘apparently’ to ‘it looks like’. Apparently seems sarcastic regardless of intent. Not sure why, maybe just a pop culture evolution thing.

  6. mskyle*

    Set up a keyboard shortcut to open up a window with a big flashing, “HI, JAKE!” and click over to it when he’s looking?

    1. Lizabeth*

      With some eyeballs underneath the “Hi Jake!” and the words “I’m watching you…”

      Or get a human face mask and wear it backwards like they do in tiger country? Halloween’s coming up…

    2. Simplytea*

      Also alt-tab is your friend. Gets you out of whatever you’re working on, fast!

      But also feel free to casually yawn and stick your hands near your screen and/or stop having a candy dish LOL.

      1. Anlyn*

        So is Show Desktop. Though I use it more for a quick way to minimize everything, it can also keep others from snooping.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Oh, thank you, I was just wondering if there was a shortcut for that! I think we need an open thread tomorrow on our favorite shortcuts

          2. Katie Pi*

            This is fantastic! I’ve always done WIN+M to minimize, but those two are on opposite sides of the keyboard. WIN+D is so speedy. Thanks!

    3. Turanga Leela*

      I’d be tempted to click over to obviously non-work stuff—shopping, tabloids, pretty much everything I normally wouldn’t want to be caught looking at at work. This is probably not the most helpful approach…

      1. Trillian*

        Contravening the habit of a lifetime spent trying to play down the scariness of science, I’d be tempted to pull up the most formidable-looking scientific article that I could bluff my way through, and greet him with, “Hey Jake, did you see this FAScinating article … “

        1. Blurgle*

          I’m thinking a nice gruesome medical article. “Hey, Jake! Did you see this great journal article on testicular maceration? It’s got pictures too!”

      1. AW*

        I had a co-worker a couple of jobs back that had one of these. IIRC, he had it because he didn’t like being startled when someone needed to get his attention and seeing someone approach before getting tapped on the shoulder helped with that. (People weren’t purposefully startling him; he’d just be deep in thought and someone coming up was jarring.)

      2. crookedfinger*

        At a former job where I could wear earbuds and listen to music all day, I set up several small mirrors on my cubicle wall so I could see if someone was standing behind me and trying to get my attention. It worked like a charm.

        Strangely enough, the mirrors came from these silly cardboard periscope things that the company handed out to the employees for fun… it’s almost like they were TRYING to encourage people to spy over their cubicle walls!

  7. Jane*

    This is so timely for me. I’m dealing with a very similar issue with a coworker. In my case, my coworker is making a big show of trying to jump on my tasks and take care of them before I get a chance. (Today, she literally tried to take over one of a request that came in while I was walking back from the water cooler. In the 15 seconds it took me to get back to my desk, she had already gone into my manager’s office to “make sure someone had seen the email.”) I have a great reputation and am definitely on top of my work, and I definitely don’t need a colleague to micromanage my tasks. I tend to get a lot more recognition from higher ups than she does (although we’re in the same position) so I’m assuming jealousy is the motivation. I want to ask her if I’ve done something to make her think I am not able to handle my workload by myself, but I’m not sure that’s the best response. Thoughts?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Try to keep a perspective. You said your tasks but it sounds like in the example you gave, that was an email to others also. In this example, it could be that she thinks everyone that got the email needs to be micromanaged.

      Look for situations that are clearly involving only you. Then when you go to ask her, frame your question differently, so as not to subtly put yourself down. “Jane, I noticed you ask me questions (or tell me things) like that a lot lately, what’s up?” And she may say something weak like “Oh, I thought you would want to know.” So prepare an answer for that, such as “I am okay here and you do not need to do that.” Or, “A good rule of thumb is if you don’t see my reply within [x time frame] then that means I am having a back up of work and could use a hand. Otherwise, I will get to it ASAP.” [Or similar rule of thumb that actually fits your situation.]

      I know that even now, after decades of work experience, once in a great while I can do something I think is very helpful and find out- whooops- it’s not a good idea at all. So although, I would not make the particular mistake you illustrate here, I can find my own version of that. I appreciate it when someone tells me to stop. I don’t want to work with people who are frustrated with me and I can’t figure out why.

      As an aside, when she does do something that is actually helpful then encourage her with a verbal thumbs up of some kind.

      1. Anonsie*

        Try to keep a perspective. You said your tasks but it sounds like in the example you gave, that was an email to others also. In this example, it could be that she thinks everyone that got the email needs to be micromanaged.

        Some of the folks I’ve worked with who do this are often copied as an FYI, or everyone in a project group is on an email even if it’s only directly asking something of one of them so all the conversations about the project are with the whole team. They’ll be on an email just to be looped in and immediately start emailing or talking to the person who was the actual subject of the email telling them what to do and how and when like it was their idea, requesting deadlines, stuff they 100% don’t need to know or do. Sometimes they do it for everyone, and sometimes they just pick specific people they feel insecure about to try to steamroll. And everything describes here is classic of this pattern.

        I have never, eeeever not known ever single one of them to be trying to snatch credit and acclaim from others and prevent anyone else from getting the same praise they do. Like they think getting credit is a zero sum game where only they can have it, and if anyone gets some it’s ruining theirs. So when the project involves other people and theoretically everyone would get the same credit, they have to fight to be the standout. Sometimes that means interfering with everyone, sometimes it just means trying to screw with one person that they feel particularly threatened by.

        Since a lot of people will just do what these people say and are fine with one person jumping up and saying “I’m directing!” it means when one or two people on the team continue to do their own work without deferring to the hand-raiser, the hand-raiser feels they are being threatened and has to start trying to chip away at it by forcefully trying to direct and monitor them. They want to be the only one who interfaces with higher ups, who communicates with other teams, who is essentially the face of the project in order to claim more of the glory if it goes well.

        (oh academia, you nasty beast you)

    2. Artemesia*

      I wouldn’t be indirect e.g. ‘is there a reason you don’t think I am on top of my tasks.’ I’d be direct. ‘Jennifer this is the third time this week you have meddled in one of my tasks; I’d like to ask you to leave my work alone and focus on your own.’

    3. hbc*

      As a manager, I’d be ticked if I was getting bugged about an email that had sat for all of sixty seconds and had a clear owner, so know that she’s sabotaging herself with this behavior.

      I’d react to each incident and not the overall pattern. “Susan, I use the same email system you do, so I don’t need you to tell me about stuff we can both see.” “Any reason you thought that was such an urgent email that it couldn’t wait for me to get back to my desk?” “Hey, I’m sure you have enough work to do without trying to schedule mine.”

    4. OP*

      In my case, I’d be fine if Jake actually wanted to take work off my plate — that would be awesome! But it’s more that he wants to give the *appearance* of working on those projects (ie he demands to sit in on a meeting, I rearrange the meeting around his schedule, and then he sits there silently doing other work doing the meeting and doesn’t offer any input…).

      1. Anonsie*

        I wish I knew how many of these people I’ve worked with before, but I honestly haven’t counted them.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Oh, the meetings are easy.

        “Jake, you’ve been pretty quiet so far – any thoughts on Wakeen’s proposal for the new spout design?”

        “What do you think, Jake?”

        “Yes, I think that makes sense, but I’d like to hear Jake’s input as well.”

        1. OP*

          I am fighting the urge to do this…it seems mean since I know he’s not prepared and would inevitably look dumb…also LOL @ “Wakeen’s proposal for the new spot design”

          1. Book Person*

            If he’s inconveniencing you and everyone else involved in the project by having you rearrange the meeting to fit HIS schedule, then it’s fair game.

  8. Bee Eye LL*

    I was in a similar situation where a supervisor got demoted and I found myself at the same level but in a different job title. My desk faced a wall and he would stand in the doorway watching me work until I turned around. He’d do this every day for the first few weeks. I eventually turned my desk around the face the doorway and then it stopped.

  9. Apollo Warbucks*

    It’s completely passive aggressive but there are prviacy screens for computer monitors that let you know see the scene when you are looking at it from the seat in front of the computer.

    It might send a message that you don’t want him reading your screen over your shoulder.

  10. Lizabeth*

    Jake may be of the type that will only “get it” if you’re blunt and to the point – instead of asking him “could you stop” I’d tell him “I find it distracting, stop doing it, thank you”.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling. I remember in high school reading over a friend’s shoulder. She was so annoyed, way to much reaction for the situation. However, her point has stayed with me. Some people do not like someone peering over their shoulder. As you are saying here, the gist of what my friend said was to stop, it’s distracting/annoying.

  11. Anoners*

    I think you can get a screen protector that makes it super hard to see unless you’re standing RIGHT in front of it. I noticed a coworker has one for some reason or another. Might be a little extreme though.

  12. Anon in Texas*

    Well – what would y’all suggest if you were Jake? I’m actually leaving my current job because I’m sort of in Jake’s shoes. No, I’m not being weird about the situation (i.e. desk hovering, jumping to be heard, furiously waving my hand). But it’s discouraging to be told you do good work and have a colleague of the same skill set and same work quality be given a lot more praise and more high-visibility projects and tasks than you. I tried to be a grown-up about it but frankly I just hate being ignored when I feel I can contribute the same high-quality work (and made it known as best I could). Oh well :/

    1. LBK*

      After asking for more work and not getting it, I’d go to the manager and say something like “I’d ask before if it was possible to get some bigger assignments, but it seems like everything is still getting given to Jane. I have to ask – is there something about my work that makes you trust her more with big assignments? I generally get good feedback, so I’d love to hear any suggestions you have about what I could be doing differently that would give me whatever edge Jane has.”

      1. Ariadne Oliver*

        Oh, no, don’t go that route!

        Instead of asking your manager to compare you to Jane, just ask what you can do to get bigger assignments, etc. Ask if there are any classes you need to take, or skills you need to develop to move forward in your department or company.

        Inviting a comparison with another employee is a very bad idea. You have no idea where this could go. It might even put negative ideas in your manager’s head that he or she hadn’t had before about your own competence.

    2. fposte*

      It’s kind of interesting, because I was going to say that these are two different situations, but from Jake’s POV they may not be–he may not be seeing this as somebody who does better work than he does logically rising.

      I think your choices are leaving, as you’re doing; accepting the different treatment and being satisfied with the work you do; or finding a different niche area that’s going to bring value where you are. I don’t think you can complain to the manager that the treatment is unfair, especially if there’s the possibility that it is fair, but you can certainly have a talk about how she views your future at that employer, given the kind of growth opportunities you’re seeing around you.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I was wondering if Jake was nervous about the shake-ups and restructuring, and saw Jane was succeeding and was trying to emulate her, and that is part of it. Or if someone specifically said “Jane is doing good work, why don’t you try to be more like her?” or “Jane seems to get along well with management, maybe you could learn something from watching how she interacts with them” I could see Jake starting to watch Jane more and not realize he isn’t being subtle about it at all.

        I suspect this is starting to verge on b*tch eating crackers territory – now every time you see Jake, it looks like he is trying to butt in, whether or not he actually is. All I can suggest is for OP to keep her head down, say something directly if she sees him reading over her shoulder, and otherwise just ignore him – it will soon be even more obvious if OP is so much better than Jake.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Do something that is uniquely yours. Don’t copy your coworkers. They already have a Sally that excels at ABC and a Bob that is a super star about DEF. Continue on, look for gaps in the work group. There are always gaps. Find out the weak points of the over all effort and make yourself an expert on that weak point. If you try to excel at ABC, then you will always be in Sally’s shadow, likewise with DEF putting you in Bob’s shadow. Learn from Sally and Bob, copy the best of their best ideas and at the same time carve out an area for you to shine in.

      It takes time to do this. So the first months, or even years are going to suck because it feels like all you do is copy others. Be patient. You will find your niche and make your own contribution.

      1. BeenThere*

        Here’s the thing, I’ve often found the gaps are the undesirable work that they are trying to avoid hiring for but really should be done by a specialist. Typically team is playing hot potato and doing the task poorly amoungst themselves because they don’t want to do it and be known as the person who does it. My point is that I think it’s important that you make sure the gaps you are filling are the direction you want to take your career in.

        This is soming from a Software Engineer who filed the gap in support on their team and now every manager expects me to be happy doing support work when it’s the polar opposite.

    4. Anonsie*

      Sometimes people just aren’t willing to give you that acknowledgement, so moving on is the only thing to do. Sometimes they just feel that the need is filled by that person so that’s the go-to-guy and that’s the extent of their thinking, so trying to fill a different need by being the go-to for something else (like Not So New Reader suggests) may work. That can also backfire if they consider what your colleague does to be more important and then start seeing you as the housekeeper– the person who does all the necessary work that has to be done and keeps things together, but is not glamorous or recognized.

      1. BeenThere*

        Yes, the housekeeping work trap. Sorry I didn’t read this before posting my reply but it’s exactly what I was driving at.

    5. Honeybee*

      I sort of felt like I was in this situation before, and I did a combination of asking for my own specialized projects and just letting it go. When I really thought about it, Jake and I had different goals and my goals were not necessarily served by getting on all the projects Jake was getting (although I don’t think that’s why he was getting more than me). I also made a point of pitching projects that were personally meaningful to me and my supervisor was pretty into that. It did mean I had to do a little more legwork than Jake, which maybe wasn’t fair, but actually suited my own style better anyway.

    6. AnonInUS*

      Maybe this is coming way too late, but I am in a situation just like OP.

      My “Jake” doesn’t realize that his disinterest in our main job functions , and the need to be recognized and given fun stuff to do has made nearly everyone he works with distrust him, especially the ones who could give him more challenging projects.

      It can take awhile to build people’s confidence in you, especially if you come across as at all odd or do anything that would cause people to question you or your abilities even a few times.

      I think in my Jake’s case, he would need to consistently show that he is willing to take the mundane stuff and put as much effort into it as he would with the more interesting projects. And now it will take longer to prove this to people than it would have if he had done this from the beginning.

      But I think people would give him a chance if he did that.

      Just my two cents…

  13. some1*

    I have a similar coworker who tries to steal my assignments and inserts herself where she doesn’t need to, so I’m very interested in responses to your comment and the entire post.

  14. Jenniy*

    A lot of people mentioned the privacy filter, and a few mentioned the boss would question why.
    Instead get a glare reduction filter. They double as a privacy filter in that you can’t see from any angle other than straight on, just like a privacy filter, but you can “sell” it to a boss or higher up much easier without worrying about “complaining.” Heck you could probably mention to your boss you’ve been getting headaches and the doctor recommended it and see if the company would purchase it for you! (Mine did, but it was actually for headaches)

    But honestly the guys a jerk. See if you can set aside time with your boss on a day this guy is out of the office, or a phone conference on a day you work from home to raise your concerns.

  15. F.*

    Why is it a factor that Jake is older than the OP? I see people be called out here for comments about women, millenials and others frequently, but this is not the first time I have seen remarks about a problem person being older go unchallenged.

    1. Career Counselorette*

      It’s a factor because simply by being older than the OP, Jake may feel entitled to a promotion even though his work is subpar and he’s not taking initiative on what matters. Many (not ALL, but MANY) older people who grew up under the paradigm that age gives you power and seniority become anxious when they see younger people assuming senior roles faster than them. This behavior would be out of line for anyone of any age, but if Jake is feeling threatened that his younger co-worker is in line for a promotion before him, it adds an extra layer to how inappropriate it is.

      1. OP*

        It’s not a factor in my mind, but Jake has made several comments about wanting a promotion/different title than mine because he is older (even though we have the same amount of professional experience), so I thought it was relevant.

        1. MashaKasha*

          What? That’s crazy talk. Especially since, as you said downthread, he’s really only older by several years, which means nothing.

          When I read the original letter, I was picturing Jake as a much older guy who feels that he’s being pushed out of his job because of age discrimination, and tries to hold on to it for dear life. While that wouldn’t excuse Jake’s behavior, it would at least sort of explain it. But expecting a promotion for being several years older, and with the same amount of professional experience and the same amount of time at the company, is beyond ridiculous. Jake’s not making any sense.

        2. jamlady*

          Ahh such a bummer. My coworker and I just learned our boss is thinking about leaving within the next year and we had an open conversation with each other about each of our qualifications for the position. We’re both strong workers and we have entirely different approaches and skill sets. He’s also 20 years older than me. But that didn’t stop him from saying that my skill set is more appropriate for the next level up. I’m sorry your coworker is a butthead :(

    2. LBK*

      I think “older” may be a stand-in for “has been here longer” in this case, so it would contribute to Jake’s feeling shortchanged – not only is he not getting the big projects, he’s losing them to someone who hasn’t even worked there as long. I don’t think the implication was that older people are generally more jealous of younger people or something like that, although I agree “older” is then not the best word choice.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I think the implication was there that older people are slower, don’t catch on as quickly. And yes, someone who has been there longer can have reactions like that, and saying they have been there longer is an important point. Saying they are older is not.

        We are all adults, and age should not be a factor. I know many people think it does, with some older people thinking they should get some benefits just because of their age, and some younger people thinking they have strengths just because of their age. It’s valid to call that out when it’s happening. There are a few jobs where age matters (many athletes, US President), but this doesn’t sound like one of those.

        1. LBK*

          Where’d you get that implication? I read it as part of painting a picture of Jake’s paranoia, not saying that the reason he’s less competent is because he’s “slightly” older (which could be 28 if the OP is 25 and therefore still well within the stereotyped “fast learner” phase, so it feels a little like you’re projecting the assumption that he’s much older than that).

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I didn’t get the “slower” implication at all. I actually think the OP pretty obviously meant what others already said – the, hm, cultural “rule” or assumption that older people have been working longer, thus have more experience and know more and thus are higher up the chain/better than younger people. So someone older who “loses” when “competing” with a younger person might feel disgruntled and like they’re owed or entitled to the better position/more money/having their ideas heard by the bosses.

            1. OP*

              Yes, this is what I meant. Jake is several years older but has the same number of years of experience as I do. He has only been at the company 4 months longer than I have.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              Which is too bad — age should not make any difference at all. I have had co-workers older and younger than me that are better, older and younger that are worse. I see them as adults and co-workers, and age doesn’t matter. Why even think about a co-worker’s age?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think the OP’s point was that some people do get hung up on people who are younger advancing past them, and she said elsewhere in the thread that Jake has made comments along those lines. She’s not the one with the hang-up; she’s providing context about an additional element that seems like it might be contributing to his insecurity.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            I guess it’s because the OP never mentioned that Jake had been there longer, but mentioned age twice. As if age (not experience) were an important part of the story.

            And even a few years difference is important to some people. For instance, my spouse is talked down to by a co-worker who thinks she is older (and thus more experienced, more qualified, more whatever). But he only looks younger, and is actually older than she is. He doesn’t bother to correct her. The age difference is probably only 2-3 years, but for her, it matters.

        2. LBK*

          And not to get too nitpicky but she also doesn’t call it out but just suggests it as part of the bigger picture: “It probably doesn’t help…”, not “I assume he feels this way because…”

    3. fposte*

      Because it’s not tied to anything about a particular age, just that it may be hard to see somebody younger than you going past you. What specific problems were you seeing?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am wondering if this is not a question about OP’s setting, but a general question regarding a similar situation involving a coworker who is older than the person in OP’s shoes.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Because she framed it as one of the possible motivations for his actions. And since we try to give the OP the benefit of the doubt unless there’s something they say that specifically gives us reason to think otherwise, I would guess that he’s done something along the line of making snide comments about having seniority or more experience when he’s frustrated. Given the other behavior that’s described, I find that more likely than the OP simply being ageist.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      It’s not a factor for the OP, but it may be for Jake. Granted, this could be the OP projecting, but it wouldn’t be wildly out there for Jake to feel a bit like he’s getting the shaft because he’s older than her or more experienced (so by some twisted logic, more deserving of praise and bigger and better assignments).

    6. Turanga Leela*

      It creates a difficult dynamic when the younger person is better at her job and getting more senior assignments than the older person. If the older person is better, it can be explained away—“Oh, Athena is more experienced.” People are used to getting less recognition than an older person. But if you’re doing your job, and someone younger is getting the accolades and the interesting work, it’s easy to feel like she’s passing you and therefore you are a failure (or, looked at another way, that you are being treated unfairly).

      Alison has done some articles on being a young manager working with older employees; this is similar.

    7. JHS*

      I read it as an additional reason for Jake to feel threatened by the OP. I didn’t take it as a dig at Jake being older just to dig at him for being older. I took it as a piece of the puzzle adding to the awkward dynamic between them. For example, when I first started my job, my assigned secretary was twice my age and it took us a while to adjust to that dynamic. Somehow the “boss” or the most successful co-worker is expected to be older and more experienced and when that isn’t the case, it can cause weirdness.

    8. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Well, it’s not ideal that is is a factor, but it might be. I recently offered to one of my staff that my assistant (I’m the only one with an assistant) could do something for her one day when she was really busy. She hesitated, and when I asked why, my staffer said she didn’t feel comfortable because my admin is older than her. No matter that the admin is very friendly and kind, and really likes to do the task that the staffer needed to get off her plate. Nope – you’re both adults. And this isn’t high school.

    9. Fergus and Lucinda*

      If you’re older than someone and they’ve accomplished more than you have in less time, that takes away one excuse you might have in your mind for why they’re better than you. You can’t tell yourself, “well, she’s older, so when I get to be her age and have her level of experience I’ll be just as good as she is.”

    10. Ad Astra*

      Maybe I’m just putting my own personal filter on it, but I interpreted “slightly older” to mean that the OP is, say, 28 and Jake is, like, 33. People who followed the traditional path of high school, then 4 years of college, then full-time job tend to equate experience and age because, in their own lives, the two are inextricably related. If the OP had followed a less straightforward career path (military service, nontraditional college student, etc), the two might be less closely associated in OP’s head.

      I really don’t think the OP was saying that an older person would somehow be worse at their jobs, or suggesting anything about older people in general. It sounds to me like the OP and Jake are more or less from the same generation, doing the same job with no formal difference in seniority.

        1. Editor*

          I know it’s easy to get overinvolved in speculating about a backstory with these situations, but with Jake’s sensitivity to seniority (even though it’s only four months!), I wonder if background could be an issue.

          If Jake comes from a family whose members worked union jobs — possibly quite skilled jobs but still unionized — he might be sensitive to seniority issues. If he was the first in his family to go to college or in the first generation of his family to go to college, he might be floundering about how to figure out how to succeed because even in nonunionized low-ranking jobs, seniority can be a be a bigger factor in promotions where there are multiple candidates for advancement and they have roughly equal skills. He might have grown up in a household where everybody worked in a family-owned small business. Basically, I’m thinking he didn’t learn the dinner-table lessons about how to cope at work that some people do.

      1. Anonsie*

        That’s what I thought as well. The age difference is small, but it may or may not be part of Jake’s thinking so it’s worth noting.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          The OP mentions above that Jake himself has commented on the age difference – it sounds like he thinks that, because he’s older, he should be more senior. Which is, ironically, a pretty immature stance – like a 10-year-old complaining that he should get to stay up later than his 8-year-old sibling.

  16. hbc*

    Since he’s apparently trying to be sneaky, I suggest mounting a mirror on the monitor and say, “Hi, Jake” without stopping whatever you’re doing. If that doesn’t do the trick, start a tally. “Hey, Jake, fourth time today you’re looking at my screen, are you sure you don’t need anything?”

    The rest of it is just letting him hang himself.

    1. sam*

      They actually make these specifically for cubicles – several of the admins in my office have them – basically so that they can see when someone is behind them – the way all the cubes are set up, they basically all have their backs to the cube “openings” when working on their computers. Everyone got tired of feeling like they were constantly being snuck up upon. Even unintentionally.

      Also, everyone here has privacy filters – no one thinks twice about them.

    2. Brooke*

      “The rest of it is just letting him hang himself.”

      Except this doesn’t always happen. In my case, “Jake” has been here for fifteen years. FIF. TEEN.

  17. FiveByFive*

    Dear AAM,

    My name is Jake, and I’m having a problem at the office lately.

    I have a coworker, Jane, who comes up with the craziest ideas! She pitches them directly to our boss, and she does this many times throughout the day. It’s to the point where my boss has asked me, when I hear Jane go into her office, to follow her in and serve as a buffer to counter her ideas.

    Sometimes I’m actually able to change her ideas into something that might actually work! My boss has noted this and told me how clever I can sometimes be.

    Now recently my boss has asked me to keep tabs on Jane. She wonders what Jane does all day. She has asked me to peek in on her computer screen, and report back if she is actually working at all during the day.

    But I think Jane is catching on to this, and rumors are starting to go around the office. What do you think I should do about this? By the way, Jane is a bit older than me, and I think our boss sees me as more of a young up-and-comer.

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Episkey*

      Dear Jake,

      You have a terrible manager, as this is something they should be handling and not asking you to do their work for them. If they have a problem with Jane, they should address it with her directly and leave you out of it.


      1. Koko*

        Hahaha, this was exactly my reaction. What kind of manager asks one of their direct reports to run some kind of wacky interference play against another direct report instead of just dealing with the situation at hand?? (Sadly, probably some.)

    2. MK*

      If your manager asks you to play detective at work, it’s not the weirdness of your coworker you should worry about.

    3. Squirrel*

      Did you also miss the part where the OP said that everyone else is noticing Jake’s odd behavior? Why do people keep responding as though the OP is making this behavior up with no back up?

        1. FiveByFive*

          It’s just a joke. I commented as such to clarify that, but I accidentally put it as a reply further down instead of on this thread.

    4. OP*

      I appreciate trying to see this from multiple perspectives, but this just isn’t the situation.

      I don’t pitch ideas unless I am asked for them, and have been getting consistent praise and more responsibility from our bosses.

      Although I think I have a pretty firm grasp on reality and appropriate behavior in the workplace, I’m not the only one in the office who has remarked that Jake’s behavior is strange.

      1. FiveByFive*

        OP, apologies, that wasn’t meant as commentary about you (I said so originally, but the reply went further downthread by mistake).

    5. Observer*

      If that were a real letter, it would be a contender for worst boss of the year, I think as well as unlikeliest story of the year.

      Bottom line, whatever is going on on that office, your scenario doesn’t make sense.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Dear Jake,

      And you agreed to do this. WHY?

      Please spend more time reading AAM and less time spying on your coworker. Unless of course you work for a spy agency, then just ignore me.

    7. MashaKasha*

      “Now recently my boss has asked me to keep tabs on Jane. She wonders what Jane does all day. She has asked me to peek in on her computer screen, and report back if she is actually working at all during the day. ”

      I know this is a hypothetical, but this is when the hypothetical Jake should say NO and take it to the hypothetical HR if boss keeps insisting.

  18. Bend & Snap*

    I think the OP needs to check the ego. That’s almost certainly bleeding into interactions with Jake and the boss.

    This letter was so off putting. I can see how some of Jake’s behavior might be annoying, but the OP isn’t someone I’d want to work with either, based on the tone of this post.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      Yeah, it sort of came across this way to me as well. Especially the “more polished and more competent in general” comment. To me, it almost seems like OP is a bit threatened by Jake as well. But I could just be reading into it too much!

      1. Newhouse*

        The “more polished and more competent” stood out to me as a weird descriptor, too, but other than that I have to say I didn’t really get that vibe from the letter. More that of someone who knows what they’re worth and what they can do. I don’t see anything wrong with someone saying “I’m good at this” when it’s true. (Although there’s obviously no way for us to know for a fact if that is the case.)

        1. CrazyCatLady*

          No, not at all. Saying “I’m good at this,” is something I say regularly when it’s true and appreciate when others acknowledge their strengths. The tone of the letter didn’t come across as someone who’s confident though; it actually came across as someone who’s insecure, to me. But like I said, I could be reading into this WAY too much! :) It seems like I’m in the minority by reading it this way anyway.

        2. AMG*

          I agree. Perhaps she is more polished and competent. It’s not hard to see when someone is, especially when that person is you.

          1. Anonsie*

            Agreed. Back in my museum days I worked with someone who didn’t proof anything before submitting it so often her records were inaccurate or contained typos that were actually big enough to cause confusion when I needed to reference them later. She also botched a lot of mounting jobs, requiring us to scramble for materials at the last second more than once, and was once hours late to an important event because she got the date wrong. Overall she wasn’t a bad employee, but she was not very thorough or careful. Day to day she was fine but she made mistakes significantly more often than anyone else and it could be aggravating.

            She tried hard and took her mistakes seriously and made real efforts to not repeat them, so I wouldn’t trash her or anything. But no matter how true any of this is, it’s still culturally unacceptable to say I did an overall better job than her, which is stupid when you’re trying to give a situational picture like this. Sometimes people in the same job can be better or worse at parts of it, it doesn’t make you a wad to know that or to claim it when it’s relevant.

      2. Rayner*

        But people can objectively be more polished and competent than others. I know people who are immaculately dressed and presented, speak with confidence and authority, and do all their work in time and in great order. I also know other people who try as they might cannot reach that standard through no obvious fault of their own.

        It’s just something that comes naturally to some, and not to others. Pointing it out isn’t always a bad thing.

    2. London reader*

      I also did not like the tone of the OP, and wondered what Jake would have to say about the office dynamics.

    3. Three Thousand*

      I don’t find it off-putting at all. A lot of women (I’m assuming the OP is a woman) have a hard time seeing themselves as professional and competent and are constantly feeling pressure to talk down their accomplishments. There’s nothing wrong with the OP knowing that she’s competent and not letting some insecure jerk affect her opinion of herself. Far too many men get away with taking credit for women’s ideas in the workplace as it is.

      If the OP is a man, he’s just as entitled to be aware of his own competence and to point it out, and luckily for him it’s less likely that this Jake person’s behavior will reflect on the OP at all.

      1. CrazyCatLady*

        I don’t think it’s because she knows she’s competent that it came off this way, for me at least. It was that she compared herself as being more competent in general and that she seems to be very critical of Jake (he’s not helpful, he’s not competent, etc.). That all may be true, but it seems like she’s trying to build herself up by comparing herself to him.

        1. Koko*

          But if the facts of the situation are that her work is better relative to his, that dynamic is crucial to understanding the coworker’s motivation and thus how she can go about resolving the issue. If she omits it because it seems in poor taste to point out that her coworker is insecure about their skill disparity, then she’s leaving out very important context. We usually try to take OPs at their word here, and the fact is that it’s incredibly plausible that she has an edge over him in skills, that she’s having more success at work as a result, and that insecurity and jealousy are motivating his behavior. That actually does happen not infrequently in the working world and when you’re writing in for advice you need to be able to call a spade a spade.

        2. Amy UK*

          If you’re telling a third party about how your co-worker is insecure and jealous of you, it’s important to be clear that they have reason to be. Otherwise you’ll get a load of “helpful” people telling you you’re imagining things and Jake probably isn’t jealous.

          Oh wait, OP did clearly and concisely explain why she’s certain this is insecurity/jealousy and she still got told to check her ego and consider other options. Sheesh.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        It’s not that she’s pointing out her competence, it’s that she’s measuring it based on her perception of his competence.

        I’m a woman and I manage to talk up my accomplishments without slamming my coworkers. That is not okay no matter what gender you are.

        1. CrazyCatLady*

          Yes, exactly this, but you said it much better than I could. The comparisons make her seem really insecure instead of confident in her abilities and accomplishments.

        2. Isben Takes Tea*

          I think my difference comes from that while I agree that slamming coworkers is never necessary, I didn’t consider her “more polished and competent overall” comment to be “slamming.” She didn’t say he wasn’t polished or competent, she just assessed that she was more so.

          Of course, you could argue that her boss, not her, could best assess the situation, which is true, but we all do our best to self-assess. It didn’t bother me because I think she was using it to try to explain a reason behind his behaviors, not as the point of contention itself.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In general, yes, but in this case the differences in their work is relevant to the letter.

          I didn’t find it off-putting. I just went back and read it again and still didn’t.

          1. OP*

            I don’t think it’s right to throw coworkers under the bus and I would NEVER say anything along these lines to my boss or other coworkers. I am objectively more competent than Jake in most areas, and I think this is what is causing his behavior, but that doesn’t mean I measure my value against him. Ideally, I’d like us to work TOGETHER and complement strengths/weaknesses.

          2. Anon for this*

            I agree Alison. To be honest, the comments like the ones here calling out the OP for their “tone” make me hesitant to write in or ask questions on Fridays. Tone is hard to convey and read on the internet.

            1. SL*

              I like to read a letter, and then imagine what the comments are going to look like… I’m surprised at this particular thread, actually. Pride in your own work isn’t a bad thing, you guys!

            2. catsAreCool*

              “To be honest, the comments like the ones here calling out the OP for their “tone” make me hesitant to write in or ask questions on Fridays.” This has been bothering me too.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes. I just addressed this in the comments on tonight’s newest post, because I want to put a stop to it. I’ll try to keep a closer eye on things and be more aggressive about addressing it when I see it happening.

                1. AW*

                  Suggestion: Volunteer moderators & a commenting policy.

                  Way, way back in the day when Consumerist allowed commenting they added 3 moderators and a policy when victim-blaming became a really bad problem.

                  It actually worked really well while they had 2 or 3 people doing it consistently: Really bad comments were removed quickly, folks who were consistently a problem were banned, and comments could stay on topic rather than folks trying to defend the OP from bad accusations.

                  The policy helped because rather than just saying, “be nice” and everyone having a different idea of what that means, specific rules kept everyone on the same page. For example, some sites would actually be OK with folks being critical of the OP but you don’t want that here.

                  Another option could be giving people the ability to flag comments, something else Consumerist implemented so that people had a quick way of letting the moderator know there was a problem. (IIRC, everyone could see if a comment was already flagged)

                  I’m unfamiliar with WordPress though, so I don’t know if these tools already exist or not on this platform.

        4. LawBee*

          Slamming is a pretty harsh word. If someone isn’t helpful, they’re not helpful. He’s not here, her boss isn’t reading this, why should she sugar-coat that in this forum?

        5. Honeybee*

          But it was relevant in the context of the letter. It’s not like they’re at a public work meeting. And she wasn’t slamming Jake – she didn’t say he was incompetent and slovenly, just that she was better than him at these things.

        6. Amy UK*

          But the whole question is “How do I deal with a jealous colleague?”. OP has to present evidence that he’s jealous, or else everyone would ignore the question and focus on “Perhaps he isn’t jealous at all, big head!”.

          Would it have been better if OP had said “My colleague is jealous of me (don’t ask why, just believe me it’s true)”? I’m sure that would have got rational and reasonable responses….

      3. Ad Astra*

        I would bet (a very small amount of) money that OP is a woman, because I’ve never heard a man use “polished” in that manner, nor have I heard professors and career counselors and mentors lecture young men on the value of being “polished.” Same goes for “poised.”

        Just because the OP frankly states that she’s better than Jake in this letter doesn’t mean acts accordingly at the office. She’s giving the facts as she sees them so Alison can help with her problem. A letter like this would be a bad time to get coy about your abilities.

    4. Isben Takes Tea*

      That’s interesting, because I didn’t feel that ego was an issue at all. I got the feeling that there was a healthy self-respect (which is showing after having a previous boss take credit for her ideas), and sometimes it’s simply a fact that other people are “less polished and competent” overall than you might be at a particular job.

      It may be true that Jake’s behaviors have nothing to do with feeling “threatened” by the OP, but we know that 1) they didn’t occur before, when OP wasn’t getting noticed by higher-ups, and 2) it’s entirely plausible that they do.

      I’m giving the OP the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    5. LawBee*

      I didn’t get that at all – I read a letter from someone who is good at her job and knows it (nothing wrong with that) who is being annoyed by a coworker who is less competent. Where’s the ego? Being “more polished”? Well, that’s a subjective thing that the OP didn’t give us details about but workplace polish is pretty easy to imagine – well groomed, composed, works hard.

      I didn’t get any weird tone at all.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Me either. Sometimes you’re just great at your job, and your co-worker isn’t. It’s not nice to say it to the co-worker’s face, but it’s fine to know that it’s true. It’s also fine to say it on Ask a Manager, because it’s relevant. The OP isn’t benefiting from favoritism; she’s being recognized for being the better employee. If she weren’t the better employee, it would be an entirely different situation.

      2. Lizzy*

        Agreed. If anything, I am finding it off putting that some of the commentators here feel the need to question the OP’s evaluation of her competencies and to defend of Jake. I thought it was a policy here to give the letter writer’s the benefit of the doubt? Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where it is blatantly obvious you are more competent than the people around you and that they may resent you for it. It is not egotistical, cocky or smug to come to this realization.

        I get that tone is often hard to decipher in writing, but I don’t pick up anything conceited from the OP’s letter or replies here. Hell, I’ll brag about myself and say that I am pretty good at picking up on tone and deciphering different styles of writing. You want to read a letter written to AAM with an off putting tone? Read the one from the OP who wanted to expose how horrible his interviewer was. I won’t add further insult, but put that one in the search engine if you want to take a gander. ;-)

  19. Sadsack*

    Hey, you know it is perfectly fine if you ARE hoping for a promotion! Sounds like you are earning it. I got the sense that you may feel like you wouldn’t want anyone to think that you want one, but it would be ridiculous for anyone to hold it against you if you are trying to earn one.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! Of course I would welcome a promotion but it doesn’t seem like that is a possibility, and it’s not something I’m prioritizing. A raise, on the other hand, is something I am planning to pursue, especially since I am pretty sure I make less than Jake…

        1. F.*

          If you want a raise based on your ability and performance, why are you comparing yourself to Jake? Present your business case justifying your request for a raise and leave him out of it. It’s not a contest. I, too, would like to hear Jake’s side of the story.

          1. Newhouse*

            I’m with Alison. From your other replies in this thread you seem to be taking this really personally when everything the OP has said seems perfectly reasonable and not like there is a whole lot of “Jake’s side” that could make him look better.

            1. Effective Immediately*

              I’m getting the sense that this is about gender (with perhaps a side of age) for this particular poster (not OP; F.–just in case it doesn’t nest correctly).

              The sheer level of disbelief that the obviously female OP could possibly be better at her job (and has the nerve to SAY SO *horrors*) than poor, probably-actually-better-though-we-have-no-evidence-for-this-whatsoever Jake is setting off alarm bells for me.

  20. OP*

    Letter-writer here. Thanks so much for all your advice and suggestions!

    Since I wrote in, I scheduled a friendly lunch with “Jake” to see if we could clear the air. I told him I was getting the vibe he thought he was being excluded/left out and emphasized I wanted us to work together as a team. He claimed he had no idea what I was talking about and we were all good. The obnoxious behavior/peeping my screen continued anyway but I just resigned myself to living with it. I don’t care if he wants to have access to things I’m working on or sit in on meetings — but it is annoying to have to constantly respond to request for information/arrange meetings around his schedule etc. etc.

    Then a week later after some fake outrage over not being invited to a meeting he had absolutely nothing to do with (that I didn’t even organize!), he tried to set up yet another lunch meeting with me, claiming he now had “concerns” he wanted to address. I responded by saying: “I have made it abundantly clear I want us to work as a team, that I value your input and would never intentionally exclude you from projects. We talked about this last week and you said you had no problems in this vein. Now you say you do. Clearly, that meeting was not helpful. So I really think it’s more appropriate for you to bring your concerns to [our boss].”

    He obviously didn’t go to our boss (since he has nothing legitimate to complain about) and has decided his new MO is being a petulant dick — not responding when I say hello in the mornings, etc. Ironically, he has started trying to find ways to make me look bad (which completely backfired). It’s not affecting my work but is super annoying.

    His attitude has gotten even worse since I’ve been having quite a few big successes at work — to the point where the division head praised me to the CEO and is flying me to a major conference. Jake is not floundering per se, but I think it’s becoming clear to our manager (and the company leadership) that he may not stack up.

      1. OP*

        Thanks…the worst part is that I don’t actually want Jake to fail. He’s not a bad guy, just kind of immature. He has developed this grudge against me but I don’t have any bad feelings against him (other than annoyance at the spying, etc.)

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Yeah. I’m sorry, OP. If he’s determined to self-sabotage, there’s not much you can do about it. And it sounds like he is being legitimately annoying.

        2. esra*

          I’ve been where you’ve been OP. As annoying as it is right now, I think you’re handling it really well. Eventually my Jake got himself fired with his antics and he had no one to blame but himself.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I think you did okay–you reached out to him and tried to mend the rift, and you emphasized the team aspect. He is the one who reacted poorly; it’s all on him now. Whatever happens from now on, OP, please don’t blame yourself (if he gets PIPed, canned, etc.). He’s digging his own hole.

        4. Kristine*

          1. That’s kind of you, but it’s Jake’s choice to fail, and in some cases failure can actually do a worker some good. Focus on your career, and let him find his big-boy pants.
          2. In my present workplace (county government), someone looking at my screen would be a big no-no, and certainly something to bring to a manager, but if that’s not the case in your office – and I think that Allison is right on target about that – I wonder if you could put a mirror behind your computer so that Jake sees himself whenever he loiters. After all, you can have a mirror in which to check your appearance before meetings. ;-)

      1. LSP*

        I, too, offer empathy and encouragement. I would add, “Do you!”

        This exact same thing happened to me last year, plus a little bullying too. Focus on yourself and continue kicking a$$. My Jake eventually moved on after I decided to ignore her. She just kept making a fool of herself. Eventually she saw me as a resource and someone she could learn from instead of a threat. “Jake” and Jake’s of the world will always be insecure.

    1. SL*

      I hope the commenters in the thread above who thought you were acting immaturely read this, because it sounds like you’ve handled the situation with as much diplomacy as you possibly can. Jake is simply digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole now.

        1. Alice*

          Agreed. I opened this post and couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Comments suggesting that this is all in the OP’s head, or accusing her of having an ego and picking apart her ‘tone’ for daring to evaluate herself as more competent than a peer? Wow.

    2. Rayner*

      Jake is a grade A douchewaffle, OP. Man, I’m sorry you have to work with him, it sounds like you’re constantly being harassed by a two year old who hasn’t got the idea of ‘backfire’ quite worked out yet.

      I hope you get the raise you wanted up thread, and that you soon managed to drop the burden of Jake. By your account, it sounds like he’s doing most of the dropping all on his own.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      Wow! It sounds like you have a really good sense of boundaries and drama-resistance…I’m a little envious! :-) Good luck with that raise!

    4. Chalupa Batman*

      Thanks for the update! You sound like you’re handling this like a pro. Taking him up on his lunch request to discuss his “concerns” would have felt like the nice thing to do, and I would have jumped on the chance to just fix things… then I would have kicked myself when he proceeded to take advantage of the power position I had served up to him on a platter. You actively tried to build a supportive environment, then deflected when he tried to come back and use your proactive attitude as a weakness, sending a clear message that you’re willing to cooperate, but not interested in playing games. Luckily, people usually like me at work (I work hard and avoid drama), but there are difficult people in every workplace, and I’ve sometimes fallen into trying to play nice in hopes that they’ll leave me alone when they’re throwing their next tantrum. It works about as well as you would guess. I’m definitely putting your approach in my back pocket as I learn to shut those dynamics down.

  21. SerfinUSA*

    I had a coworker like this. I used to put an image on my desktop/screensaver that said “I found your nose. It was in my business again”. It helped that I have 2 monitors and could put the sign on the one most visible from the spy walk while working on the other monitor. I left it up until I knew the message was received, and the behavior settled down a lot.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      From the sound of the OP’s latest update, none of that seems necessary now. Jake’s buying himself a ticket on the Redundancy Express.*

      *not to be confused with the Hogwarts Express, as Jake is clearly a Squib.

      1. DMented Kitty*

        … he’s headed to the Department of Redundancy Department.

        ** I’ll see myself out **

        I’m late, but good to see OP has worked things out. You’ve helped him all you can, at this point Jake preferred to dig his own grave.

  22. Raptor*

    Some of the strongest words I’ve learned to use in meetings are; ‘Stop interrupting me’ and ‘I already said that’. Also great words to use against jerks and a-holes in general.

  23. Bob*

    Wow, so if you ask your coworker to stop spying on you and they don’t then what do you do? You said it’s not a big enough problem to speak to the boss about but after years and years of being spied on it starts to become borderline harassment don’t you think? Why do people defend these crazy people?

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