the guy who did my job before me won’t go away

A reader writes:

How involved should a former employee be in current work? The quick backstory is that my predecessor, Gaius, was demoted into my position after a terrible run in the director position, did a nightmarish job for 20 years, and finally retired two years ago. The reason he stayed for so long had to do with some relationships he had built with community members (as it turns out, the community is also frustrated with him at the same time they admire certain knowledge he has, plus he has this charm that works on some people); however, he neglected his daily duties, never finished projects, and left a disaster zone (literally, the fire marshall cited the area as a hazard). He emails me regularly with advice and on two occasions has sent very nasty emails to me. I have been nothing but polite and patient with him, although I’m feeling very on edge and frustrated. I have talked to my boss (the director of the department) about this numerous times, and we both have talked to him about not interfering, emailed him, and tried to get him to go away. It will work for a few weeks, but Gaius always returns with more advice.

My immediate problem is that he left some boxes labeled for “Gaius to sort.” It has been over a year and he has made minimal progress on sorting. (I suspect most of it is junk–he was a hoarder who collected junk mail and printouts from the internet and called it “special collections.” It is taking up a lot of space. I could definitely deal with this stuff myself and quickly, and I have told my boss that.) Now he wants to sit down and talk to me about my priorities and how I am organizing things. I have no interest in doing this. He’s not helpful in anyway. My sense is predecessors should stay out of new people’s business; even a predecessor that was great at the job should only help if asked, and after almost two years should not be involved at all.

What else can I do? What can my boss do? Am I wrong? Is this a situation that HR should be involved in? This is a university setting, and unfortunately Gaius has emeritus status, something my boss didn’t want, but Gaius must have at least one high ranking advocate who ensured it for him. I’m trying my hardest not to let this situation get to me emotionally though I’m not succeeding at the moment; a solution would be welcome but I’m not sure what to try next.

You’re right that he’s out of line, and that he shouldn’t be interfering or offering all this unsolicited advice, and he definitely shouldn’t be asking to sit down with you and talk about your priorities (!). The only appropriate role for a former employee who still wants to be involved is to be available as a resource if asked.

But it sounds like you have a lot of control here. You’re the one in the job, not him, and your boss apparently agrees with you to the point of being willing to tell him to go away. That puts you in a position where you can probably ignore most of what he’s doing and not let him dictate how involved he is. This would be a lot more annoying if your boss was pushing you to consider his input, make him feel valued, etc.

I would do the following:

First, send him an email saying that you need the space that the boxes are currently taking up and plan to sort through them on the week of ___ (say, three weeks from now). Let him know that if he’d prefer to do it himself, he’s welcome to set up a time with you to come and deal with them before that, but that otherwise you’ll be handling it then. If he does choose to do it himself before that date, put him in a room with the boxes and schedule a meeting or something else for yourself for the same time, so that you have an excuse not to get pulled into conversation with him. If you think your boss would object to this plan or want to be aware of it, run it by her ahead of time.

Second, starting today, ignore the advice emails. If that feels rude, send the occasional “thanks for the input!” back and leave it at that. (And I’d even wait a few days before sending that type of response back — you want to train him not to expect you to immediately jump when he emails, and you want to deny him the immediate gratification of getting you to engage.)

Alternately, when you and your boss tell him to go away and he does for a few weeks but then returns with more advice, you could say, “This is the kind of thing we were talking about — I’m hoping you can trust we have this under control.” But it might be easier to just ignore.

And stuff like asking you to sit down with him and talk about your priorities? The correct response to that is, “I’ve worked out my priorities with Jane and am all set” or “no thanks, I’ve got it under control.”

It’s likely that if you don’t feed his desire for interaction about your work (which he apparently thinks is still partially his work), he will eventually pull back. Until then, ignoring, vague responses, and/or clear no’s are your friends.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Are we talking Gaius Julius or Gaius Octavius? The former problem will solve itself but if it’s the latter things may be more tricky.

    More seriously this is a great time to stand your ground and put an end to this once and for all.

      1. Ella*

        I’m currently watching BSG (the reboot) for the first time ever, and I may not get through it because my desire to punch Gaius Baltar in the face is too strong.

        1. Koko*

          I felt so conflicted when I watched that show because he was such a pathetic and terrible person whereas Julian Bashir had been so lovely and delightful.

          1. Anlyn*

            If this is a joke, then kudos, because for a long time I too thought it was the same actor.

            If not, I hate to break it to you, but they are different actors. ;)

      2. OP*

        Gaius Baltar is what I was thinking :-) Although I have more affection for Gaius than the former employee.

  2. TotesMaGoats*

    I think Allison’s advice, as usual, is spot on. No further advice except that I know the position you are in is a really sucky one.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    I’d highly recommend going for Alison’s first advice:

    Second, starting today, ignore the advice emails.

    And not doing her backup advice:

    If that feels rude, send the occasional “thanks for the input!” back and leave it at that.

    In fact, I’d go a step further and say to set up a filter that automatically marks his emails as read and puts them in the trash so you don’t even see that they arrived.

    1. Sadsack*

      Yes, I agree with this. Why get involved at all? The next time he writes about looking through the box, just politely respond that you are taking care of it, thanks anyway for offering to help. Then filter his emails as someone suggested above.

    2. ElCee*

      Yes, this. For someone who has overstepped boundaries to the point Gaius has, all he thinks when you reply to him (for example) every third e-mail is that it will now take him 3 e-mails to get a response from you. You need to starve the beast, not put it on a diet.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        I don’t think OP should change just the ratio of reinforcement – like a reply to every 3 emails instead of each 1 – because like you say that will teach him to send more emails. But if OP delays the reinforcement -waiting several days (at least) to reply – and the quality of reinforcement – “Ok, I’ll take that into consideration” rather than a long response – that should make it less rewarding for Gaius to contact them.

    3. Workfromhome*

      Yup I was thinking the same thing. Set up a rule that puts all his emails directly in the trash or even better have his email marked as spam. Its really no different than those ads for Viagra or any other spam. Its unsolicited, unwanted and this person has no standing or authority within your organization.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But this person does have standing within her organization. He’s emeritus faculty and she can’t send all his email to trash or spam, because it’s possible that at some point he’ll send something that she actually needs to respond to.

          1. The Strand*

            Yeah, it really is. Emeritus faculty can continue to teach and be involved with core activities like fundraising. They may be best friends with the dean, or the provost, or someone else crucial, or they might be purchasing major gifts for the university with their own money.

            And sometimes just getting the title can build its own momentum. It can mean the difference, on someone’s passing, between a brief acknowledgement, and a long obituary sent out to every employee, along with notice of the on-campus funeral and/or scholarship fund in their name. I have seen that happen with professors who had a very long tenure, and were highly respected in their field, but who had not been “titled” before their passing, and thus got a much quieter send-off.

            Anyway, a friend of mine became an emeritus faculty member after 25 years of working at the same school. He is fortunately not a bozo like Gaius, and stepped down from leadership positions a long time ago, but people still talk about him, he still goes to all the parties. Ignoring the loyalty and fondness people have for him by tossing his email away is not smart, while choosing to simply not reply probably is.

            1. Honeybee*

              When I was a graduate student we had an “emeritus” faculty in my department who was essentially just still faculty. He was always around, and he taught classes and had an active research agenda. More importantly, he knew EVERYONE, and where all the bodies were buried. He was a good-natured person, but did not seem like a great person to piss off.

          2. OP*

            One reason I can’t send emails to spam or trash is that every now and then something useful comes in. For example, he does have friends outside the university who contact him because they are very close. He will send me these contacts, and then I can help them. What has been frustrating is that besides sending them on, he offers lots of advice to them than sometimes is in conflict with current practice. I’m learning to let go of that and help the people as best I can! I think these types of emails are decreasing as people learn to contact me; I suspect they will never go away completely.

            1. Patty*

              I think that the delay in response is a great idea.

              Also, develop a fine ear to detect his ‘advice’ and lots of polite but firm ways to tell the folks he’s contacting on his own that his information is not state of the art.. but that ——- is the leading edge of the field. That way, you’re the updated version.. and they’ll get the picture soon enough.

              As for the stuff, if your chair has some space for it, let hir deal with the issue, otherwise tell the retired prof to handle it ornforever hold his peace, because it’s going away.

            2. Anonna Miss*

              I’d suggest that you set up an Outlook (or whatever) rule to have them go into a “Gaius” folder automatically. Once or twice a week, skim the emails in the folder.

              Keep replies minimal. Vague/short when a reply is necessary, and don’t reply at all if there’s really no substance that you need to address.

        1. Artemesia*

          Emeritus doesn’t carry any real status. He gets to keep his Email and use the library but it is not likely that he has any portfolio. But she can certainly ignore his emails without necessarily spam routing them.

          1. Cassie*

            This. They get the honorific and such, but the title doesn’t really mean much. We had a emeritus prof. who wouldn’t move out of his gigantic office (new faculty members had nowhere to sit because of this). He had lots of excuses on why he had to keep that particular office, such as having to meet with students or researchers, or the office offered to him wasn’t properly furnished, etc. All the while, the chair and dean kept trying to gently coax him to go, while not being too heavy handed. They got him new furniture, new carpet, newly painted walls, etc. He finally moved more than a year later.

        2. Anon for this*

          It’s also not unheard of that they will send something to someone high up and that person will forward it back to the OP (because the higher up also doesn’t want to deal with it) and perhaps also make the OP look bad.

    4. Artemesia*

      I agree. This isn’t the annoying rich donor who has to be humored; this is the incompetent PITA that your boss agrees is a PITA. I would be a black hole as far as he is concerned.

      Except to separately and not in response to anything he emails you let him know that the boxes will be dealt with By X date.

    5. Mena*

      Skip the ‘thanks for the advice’ replies as that will encourage continued communication.

      Filter emails to the trash after the stated sort date comes and goes.

    6. girlonfire*

      I agree with this as well. I recently read Gift of Fear, and the recommendation for someone who won’t take a hint is to IGNORE everything. If you ignore three emails before sending a “Thanks for the input” email, you’ve just trained them to think that they will get a reply after three emails. Do not engage, file his emails into a folder, and continue to discuss with your manager as appropriate.

      I’m not saying this guy poses any threat, just that people who have no boundaries should be treated as such.

  4. Jubilance*

    Why hasn’t your manager or HR taken a more forceful tone here? I don’t understand why they are enabling this behavior from a previous employee. He needs to be told again, by your leaders and by HR, to stop contacting you. After that, I’d mark his emails as spam. He also should be told to collect his things by a certain date or they will be disposed of.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      He also should be told to collect his things by a certain date or they will be disposed of.

      I like Alison’s suggestion for people who seem reasonable (I’ll sort this out on this date; if you’d prefer to sort it out yourself sooner, let me know), but for Gaius… I don’t think that approach will work. Based on what the OP has said, it sounds as if he has a good way of weaseling his way in at that org. and will find some ally to make a case for him pushing that date out somehow.

      In this case, your suggestion makes more sense to me: It’s being dumped by this date if you don’t come for it.

      1. Jerzy*

        That’s what I was thinking. Forget having him come and sort the stuff. It’s been years, so how important could it possibly be?

        If you think there may be work product in those boxes, by all means, go through them (or better yet, have an intern do it) and throw out anything that is not useful to you. You can tell him the boxes will be out on the curb for him to pick up if needed.

        I would NOT let him in the office. I think that just encourages his own sense of importance within the organization.

    2. Susan the BA*

      An emeritus faculty member, if that’s what’s happening here, is still pretty much a current employee but with significantly reduced responsibilities. They probably still have their keys, email, possibly even a very nice salary! They could even be receiving/managing federal grants for the institution. It’s not as cut-and-dry as when a person retires from a staff position at a normal employer.

      1. Lils*

        Agreed…he’s not gone, but I doubt that he has carte-blanche to interfere. Treat him as you would a professor emeritus: help him when he approaches you as a client, otherwise set boundaries. YOU are being paid to do the job, not him.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*


        Universities are an odd, odd place with all sorts of special considerations.

        1. Brisvegan*

          Yes! x millions.

          Can you courier the boxes to him? Let him have his junk. It looks like you respect his stuff and they’re not in your office. If there was anything important in there, you would probably have known it by now.

          1. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

            This! The boxes are out of the office, he doesn’t come into the office to deal with them and more importantly, you don’t have to go through the boxes yourself.

      3. Artemesia*

        Emeritus faculty are not salaried unless he is working on a grant or such, but then he would be a continuing employee and likely have an office. I assume if he had some continuing role like this the OP would have mentioned it.

    3. fposte*

      I’d say it’s because it’s academics. HR probably isn’t relevant and the manager/department chair/whoever really doesn’t want to piss off emeritus faculty, because that’s Not Done.

      The good side of this is that the OP is likely to have a lot of leeway, and they probably already thought she was letting Gaius’ emails roll off her.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Bingo. Even if he’s not a “current” (ie, actively teaching/researching) faculty member, there is a lot of habit and tradition (and the accompanying deference) paid to emeritus faculty, esp. for projects that they’ve had a long-standing role in.

  5. LisaLee*

    Honestly, I would just completely ignore his emails. Mark them as spam if you need plausible deniability. He is not your boss, he is not a coworker or someone you have to be accountable to, so why indulge him?

    You could also try a lighthearted, “Giaus, aren’t you retired?” If you think he might take the hint.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I see what you’re saying, but he’s probably not going to take the hint. Because he’s used to being in a position of authority/”helpfulness” as a faculty member, he likely sees it as continuing to contribute his institutional knowledge and expertise (“I’m a valuable resource–why shouldn’t you use me as such?”). May also be having trouble adjusting to his new emeritus status and sees this as a way to keep his hand in.

  6. Ani*

    He had emeritus status. I know it’s clear OP thinks little of him or his advice, but he clearly does have standing or a name in the field. To that extent I really wouldn’t recommend a snark “aren’t you retired?” or other blatant disrespect that could really come back to bite you and the university if people in the field heard it. But everything Alison recommends would be appropriate.

    1. mdv*

      It depends — although “emeritus” *should* have some special meaning, not all places (or people) view it with the same definition.

      1. Artemesia*

        Unless you commit a felony, you get Emeritus status when you retire from an academic position and occasionally from long term non-academic positions. It is not a special honor, it is sort of by default and has a few perks but no real power and few significant perks. You don’t want to be overtly rude, but ignoring in this circumstance is probably not a problem.

        1. Honeybee*

          That’s not true everywhere. At some universities it is indeed a special honor. It is at my graduate institution – there’s a difference between regular retired tenured faculty and professors emeriti. And the University of Texas has a short document outlining that emeritus status is only conferred upon certain professors, based upon the budget and the approval of their chair, the president, and the Board of Regents.

    2. LisaLee*

      I don’t mean that the OP should be snarky or disrespectful at all. I think some people don’t know what to do with themselves after retirement and keep looking to their old workplace to occupy them (especially in academia). I had an old boss who did this same thing to a slightly less annoying degree, and jokingly saying, “Jane, don’t you have somewhere better to be? Go take that painting class you talked about!” or something else like that a few times eventually got her to realize she didn’t need to be there anymore.

      Of course, this is assuming the OP’s predecessor has a sense of humor and is a reasonable person, which is debatable.

  7. Lils*

    Even before you said “special collections” I was guessing you’re in a library…

    We librarians as a group have a habit of acquiescing to weird behavior. We’re in a service profession that has “non-judgment” as one of its chief ethical values. But I think this otherwise awesome attitude leads us to a bad place with personnel issues.

    I like Alison’s advice: be polite, be firm, set boundaries. I’ve seen this happen before and in no way is this appropriate. I too work in a university environment and I’d guess that if you set the tone, your boss/colleagues/community supporters will follow suit. And they’ll thank you silently for getting him out of their hair.

    1. Kristine*

      That’s a problem that I see: librarians not understanding the difference between approaching the public without preconceptions as to who/what they identify as, versus setting sound boundaries for behavior. These two mandates are complementary, not opposites.

  8. HarryV*

    Why is he even still employed at your company? I wouldn’t even respond which may validate himself. Just simply and directly email him to stop, copy your superiors and leave it at that.

    1. Clever Name*

      He’s not. He’s retired. He has emeritus status,which usually means he still enjoys some university perks, such as email and access to campus resources.

  9. Clever Name*

    Brilliant advice, as usual.

    Since he has emeritus status, I would ask your boss point blank how important it is that he be kept happy. If nobody cares, then feel comfortable completely ignoring him. If he is someone that the higher ups want to be happy, you may need to think of it as part of your job to occasionally deal with this guy. But obviously you don’t have to do what he wants, but think of him more like an annoying/pushy elderly relative who gives you dumb advice. I can’t tell you how far, “Wow! I’ve never thought of it that way! Thanks for the advice!!” and then doing what you were going to do anyway will get you.

    This situation reminds me of a coworker whose job it was to deal with complaints from the public. She had one guy who would constantly call her, and then take up a ton of time on the phone. She finally realized that he was just lonely and bored and really wanted someone to talk to, so when he’d call, she’d record the complaint, chit chat with him for maybe 15 minutes and be done with it. It really lowered her stress level when she had that realization and tweaked how she interacted with him.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree w/ this. Find out how important it is to keep him happy, and do the bare minimum.

      Think of him as those grownups in Charlie Brown. “Wah wah wah-wah-wah.”

      So maybe you have to make room for him to talk to you, but consider it as him talking “at” you. Just because he says it doesn’t mean you need to take it seriously. So you can be way too busy for any real meeting, but he can say a few words, and you say, “Interesting! I’ll have to look into that,” and you walk away. Mentally crumple up his “note” and toss it in your mental wastebasket. And never think of it again.

      Also, if you can start to feel a little pity for him (true pity, “: a strong feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone or something”), it might make it easier. He has a sad situation and lack of purpose that makes him act this way. So don’t view it as being about you–it’s about him, and his lack of purpose.

      1. OP*

        Great point about the pity. I have had pity for him at times. I think he knows he messed up and wants to make things better and is worried about his legacy.

    2. OP*

      Alison’s point about this situation being much worse if my boss was pressuring me to keep him happy was a great one! It put things in perspective. We want to be compassionate and polite to Gaius which so far we have. And your point about thinking of it as part of my job occasionally is a good one too! Thanks.

      1. Carpe Librarium*

        Perhaps it would help to mentally allocate 1% of your salary to ‘dealing with Gaius’.
        Say you work a 40 hour week, 1% of which is 24 minutes. Could even be 0.5% or 12 minutes. Once Gaius uses up that attention in a week, your budget dictates that you move on to other things; but you’ve still been courteous.

    3. JessaB*

      Maybe what you do is only respond to emails that are useful. Whether that’s every week or once a month, since he does send you things you need to be aware of, ignore all the chaff and just respond or thank him for the wheat. If you ignore (with your boss’ okay,) anything fluff or job advice or irrelevant he sends you, and only answer stuff that’s helpful, you’re not being rude to him, you’re rewarding good information (in hopes to stop bad infomation,) etc.

  10. TootsNYC*

    ” I’m hoping you can trust we have this under control”

    I wouldn’t say this, because it implies that it matters what he thinks. And it really doesn’t, especially not down at your level.

    I would send all his emails to the spam folder, and simply never, ever, ever respond. What is the worst thing that he can do to you–even if he is emeritus? Everyone who truly matters understands that he’s out of line. So as long as you aren’t actively rude, they aren’t going to pay much attention when he complains to them that you aren’t listening or responding to him.

    Sort through the boxes for anything that’s *truly* important to the organization, and then decide whether any of it could be remotely considered personal. Mail those to his home and toss the rest.

    If he does get ahold of you somehow, perhaps by showing up in person or calling from an unknown number, say, “Gaius, I have my marching orders from my boss. I don’t have time to speak to you, excuse me.” And hang up, or go to the bathroom. (Set your computer to lock when you walk away from it.

    1. surlyrat*

      There’s no way that’s appropriate in a university setting – you can’t just ignore emeritus professors. There are quite a lot of ‘worst things’ he can do – even if he doesn’t have great standing, long standing academics have made many connections over the course of their careers. Those connections may be helpful to the OP (which she’s said in some cases they are). You also really don’t want him badmouthing you to other senior academics – i’ve seen that exact thing happen, even when it wasn’t warranted and even when the person doing the badmouthing wasn’t widely respected. It still stuck, and in academia connections are crucially important. I also think that completely ignoring someone like you’ve suggested is actually just unprofessional.

  11. Susan the BA*

    From my university experience, I’ve found that sometimes deans and other higher-ups are happy to go through a lot of trouble not to address problems head-on. This often sucks for the people involved, but if you need to, you can use it to your advantage. If you’re getting higher-up pressure not to dispose of this guy’s crap, contact the person in charge of space or facilities for your area and say something like: “As you know, Gaius was a very important person here in Department, and with his emeritus status, [person giving me the pressure] indicated that it’s critical we have his things preserved. Unfortunately the space currently in use will only be available for another three weeks because of [good reason, hopefully related to high-profile project/initiative such as university strategic plan]. Please let me know where we can move his priceless crap at that time. Thanks!” Best-case scenario, the facilities/higher-ups agree that the crap should just be thrown out. Worst case, the higher-up has to give up some other space to avoid dealing with this issue like a reasonable person.

    (I had a closet in my office for years that was used almost exclusively for storing important people’s crap)

    1. Sparky*

      If the boxes of stuff are literally a fire hazard, I think this is the solution. “The fire marshal requires that we get rid of these boxes in 3 weeks, I will go through them unless you want to come and get them before then.”

    2. College Career Counselor*

      Agreed. In my experience, deans and other higher-ups are reluctant to address problems head-on because they generally come up through the faculty ranks and value a high degree of autonomy and latitude to construct their work and are loathe to impose that on their colleagues. Along with that, they are often deeply suspicious of administrative authority (presenting a wonderful cognitive dissonance when they’re also expected to, you know, exercise said authority from time to time). On a related note, I’m convinced the phrase “like herding cats” was created to describe management of faculty.

      1. AMG*

        Which is precisely why I wouldn’t bother letting him know that I’m getting rid of the crap. I’d just do it lest he try to get someone to hold on to it for me. Just dump it, and ask forgiveness rather than permission.

    3. Kristine*

      “Priceless crap,” haha. I like your method of using a high-profile project/initiative to nudge the important transfer of this treasure trove.

    4. The Strand*

      Susan, Susan, Susan! What great advice. You may be a BA, but I think you have a PhD’s worth of good advice for navigating the university system.

  12. ArtsAdmin4Life*

    I’m confused about “boxes labeled for ‘Gaius to sort.’” Is it personal stuff or was he collecting it for the company? If it’s personal, then I think it’s reasonable to give him a deadline to pick it up, then junk it if he doesn’t. If it is stuff meant for the company or was collected as part of his job, then the OP does not need to concern him or herself with Gaius. In that situation, the stuff belongs to the company and inviting Gaius to sort it only prolongs the inappropriate relationship that he insists on maintaining.

    1. Rana*

      This is what I was thinking, too. Why does he need to be the one to sort it, especially since the OP says that they could do it easily and quickly? If it’s personal stuff, just mail it to him. If it’s not, it’s no longer his concern.

    2. OP*

      Great question! Alison asked me a follow up question, and that triggered the brilliant idea of just going through the boxes myself. I think we were determined to have Gaius do it because his name were on the boxes. However, there are very few personal items in the boxes. Last Friday I emailed him and said thanks for your input and offer of help but due to deadlines and space considerations I would take care of the boxes of myself. That resulted in a number of emails from him but he didn’t try to fight it.

      Of course, I know I’ll hear from him again, but the advice here is super helpful and I’m going to try to keep everything in perspective. As Alison said, I do have a significant amount of control and I look forward to recycling the paper in those boxes, and taking care of the items that do have value.

      1. AcidMeFlux*

        I think it’s a good idea for you to go through the stuff, and not just dump it as other people have suggested. Hoarders do keep a lot of crap, but unfortunately they also tend to stash important stuff amid the old newspapers. When my mother died she left two closets (3’X3’X8′) filled with a lot of nonsense (like the menus that come on the hospital meal trays for her hospital stay when I was born, about 50 pairs of used white cotton gloves from the 1950s), but also important items like my baptisimal certificate, photos of her grandparents in Ireland in the early 20th century, some good pieces of vintage costume jewelry. It took me about 6 weeks working a couple of hours a day to get it all done.

        1. SL*

          My grand-aunt was the same way–when she couldn’t live alone anymore and had to move into an assisted care facility, my parents spent an entire month, at least two to three hours a day, clearing out her house. There was plenty of stuff that got donated or thrown out, but there were also lots of usable things among the junk–we’re still working our way through the stockpile of bath soaps 4 years later.

          1. LucyVP*

            My grand-aunt was the same way. We are currently working through an entire closet of paper goods (paper towels, napkins, toilet tissue, Kleenex).

            My favorite thing we discovered: Every coin she ever found, e.g. a penny she found in the gutter when she was 10. All organized in coin envelopes and labeled/sorted by when and where she found them.

            1. College Career Counselor*

              A former colleague’s aunt had FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS squirreled away throughout her house when she passed.

            2. LeighTX*

              My father-in-law discovered several envelopes of cash when going through my mother-in-law’s things. Who knows how long it had been there!

        2. Artemesia*

          Yeah the envelope of 50 dollar bills is always between the old magazine and old menus. True in going through my mother’s stuff and alas when I moved and went through my own old boxes.

        3. JessaB*

          Heck I was helping a friend move and she was giving a file cabinet to the Goodwill. She’d gone through it. I flipped through the folders just because I’m picky that way and found a couple of important papers in them. So yes when you’re clearing out even good, organised people, let alone hoaders, it’s a good thing to have a fresh eye on it.

  13. Nicole*

    I’m rather fascinated by someone who didn’t seem to care much about the job while in it (at least in the respect that he didn’t complete projects, etc) but yet can’t seem to leave it alone after retiring. It’s so bizarre to me. He must be really bored.

    1. AcidMeFlux*

      Oh, I’m sure he cared. The problem is that hoarders tend to be on the attention-deficit and obsessive/compulsive spectrum, so while they often are passionate about the job, they just can’t handle the committment.

      1. Anna*

        There might even be some residual guilt about what he didn’t accomplish while in the position. Oh humans. So complex!

    2. Adam*

      I think a commentor above nailed when they said this person upon “retiring” was confronted with a rather profound lack of purpose in his daily life. You’d see this a lot in regular companies where people work years longer after they could have retired, or even going until they literally can’t do the job anymore because they have no idea what they’d do with themselves if they didn’t work. Since this is a university setting he can continue to be somewhat involved even though he’s not exactly active anymore.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This might be an idea. OP, is there some little tiny job he can do off to one side, that does not effect you or your department? I’m not saying busy work, I mean something that in the long run will be useful/enjoyed yet keeps him out of your day.

  14. Kristine*

    Yep – this happens in libraries/archives. A former VOLUNTEER at an aviation museum started spamming me after being “invited back” by the ding-dong board (now former) chairman after being told to leave by the previous one for his misbehavior. I was the archivist on paid assignment; he thought he was a top-notch curator but it turns out his methods were worthless.
    Emails all the time, history/archives links that I already knew about, invitations to events (“I can provide some commentary at the Blue Angels performance,” etc.). No kidding, this guy could talk 3 hours straight! I did not go to the Blue Angels with him. ;-)
    After he kept showing up and begged me to let him make the labels (“I make them yellow and black so that they stand out,” etc. Well, I have a Master’s in archival management and we’re using archival materials and standards, if you please.) It finally blew up because no one could stand him (they couldn’t stand him before!) and then-current clueless chairman asked him to leave. Volunteer wanked about being “fired again.” Can’t be fired if you don’t have a job!
    Now, here’s the really funny/pathetic part: my email was hacked, and I switched to gmail. I found that he had responded to the hacked email, not once, but twice! As luck would have it, the hacked email said, “Don’t hate me please don’t hate me, check this link! [Link]” His reply was, “I don’t hate you, I think you’re a wonderful professional, let’s get together to talk.” NO. His second reply asked if I sent the first reply. Um…
    He recently talked my ear off again, and after my eyes glazed over, I ended the conversation by telling him to shoot me an email. Then I remembered that he doesn’t have the current one. I told the current board chair to talk to him instead, and left it at that. ;-)

    1. OP*

      I’ve been lucky with my volunteers who are amazing! Sounds like you handled this one well– the hacked email is pretty hilarious :-)

  15. Interviewer*

    I would ship the boxes to his new office, or if he doesn’t have one, to his home. Let him sort it out in private.

    I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I am not sure there is a way to invite his input in another area to get him to leave you alone – maybe direct his energies elsewhere? If he was good at charming people, is there a communications or PR role he could tackle for your department? Is there some outreach he can lead on ways the community can help your department? It sounds like he might be struggling to figure out “what’s next” for him, or what the new title means in terms of duties, and if no one’s spelled it out for him, all you’re doing is crossing things off the list. Adding something back might be more useful here.

    Again, so sorry. Thank you for your timely letter. I’m moving to a new role in my office very soon, and am now very determined not to do this to the person who takes my place.

    1. Vito*

      Yes, make friends with the UPS person….why spend your time going thru his junk… Either that or just mark them trash and let building maint take care of them

  16. Dasha*

    How big are these boxes? Is there any way you can ship or drop off his things to his address, then filter his emails to your spam folder and be done with him?

  17. JoJo*

    Throw out his ‘collections’. If those boxes haven’t been opened in two years, there’s nothing in them of any value.

    1. Observer*

      That’s not necessarily true. And that’s the problem. There is a real chance that among all the junk there are a few genuinely useful items. Better go through it so you get at those things without further “help” from him.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Our library has special collections people who will come and look through boxes left by retiring or emeritus faculty. They take what they want for the archives and leave the rest. After they’re done. Anything left is safe to throw out if the faculty member doesn’t pick it up soon.

  18. Meredith*

    I worked at an academic library where the former person in my position would insert herself into the running of the place. She came in and scolded me for how my office lighting was set up, that I had moved this or that thing, that her projects from when she retired (years before!) had been changed or re-prioritized. When she first came in, I had no idea who she was – just this lady yelling at me about the lighting choices in my office and turning on her preferred lamps! Luckily, my director had a very low opinion of that kind of behavior, she and he got into some sort of verbal fisticuffs about it (I would have loved to be a fly on the wall!), and she was politely invited not to return to the library. Luckily I had management on my side – because she had worked there for years and years with the assistant in that department, who was clearly much more loyal to the ways things had been when Former Librarian had been in charge. I was constantly told that Former Librarian would always do things this way, we should never change that policy. Thanks so much for that director who had my back.

    In my current academic department, our director and associate director deal with all the sticky politics of keeping emeritus faculty happy. Luckily, our emeritus faculty are largely agreeable, reasonable folks! But I suggest that you ask your director to take a more active role in being Gaius’s contact. If he has complaints or shows up to your office one day about his “special collections” long after you’ve thrown them in the dumpster, you can tell him to go to your director if he has any questions or concerns. A good manager (especially in academia) will finesse that relationship and make it so that your job isn’t to keep Gaius happy.

    1. Kristine*

      Yelling at you and. Turning. On. Her Preferred. Lamps.
      This thread has an “I am Mrs. DeWinter now” theme already but your tormenter sounds like Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers rolled into one! ;-)

    2. Adam*

      People who act like this seem to be majorly concerned about their legacy. Why else would they pitch such a fit over the state of job they haven’t actually done in years?

      1. dragonzflame*

        Academia is an all-consuming job. Often, people who retire have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves because they have literally lived and breathed it for their entire career, sometimes 7 days a week. Not surprisingly, for those folks it’s very hard to let go.

        1. Adam*

          I can imagine, but don’t they usually go write books or something? Or take sabbaticals in European countries.?…I think I’ve been watching too many movies lately…

          1. Honeybee*

            Some – many – of them do. But often they entered the career because they were passionate about their research, and the career requires many hours and a near-obsession with the topic in question. So I think for a lot of them it’s difficult to just go write books and take vacations in Europe and completely disengage from their old jobs. That’s why so many emeritus faculty still teach and do research at their old institutions!

        2. Artemesia*

          Academia is the easiest job in the world to retire from. You can continue to consult and give speeches. If you are a serious scholar you have continuing access to library resources and can devote time to writing. It isn’t like a business management job where when you retire you no longer have authority and people to manage — the life of the mind has no off switch.

    3. Artemesia*

      Wow. I created a program that literally saved my organization and became a nationally known success. Since I left many changes have occurred with it, many of which I think diminish its quality (although not the contribution it makes financially to the organization.) Well duh. Stuff changes over time. People get pretty identified with the cool stuff they create and naturally assume it is better than what their successors do with it — and sometimes they are right. But when you are done, you are done and someone else gets to be in charge. I cannot fathom trying to meddle in someone else’s job painful though it may be.

      I worked closely for several people in high positions and one thing that always impressed me is that CEOs, Deans and Presidents tend, in my experience, to identify with their successors — not necessarily their policies, but with the challenges they face and tend to be very carefully about being hands off and affording the new guy a clear shot without trying to pull strings. Even the current immediate ex-pres of the US whom I have zero respect for as a leader, has been punctilious about not hassling the new guy.

  19. fposte*

    I know this one. Better than I’d like to, maybe, even.

    I would recommend you recalibrate your goals. The price of making Gaius stay the hell out of stuff has been determined to be too high for your library right now (and this is by no means unique to libraries–I’ve seen it in other areas of academics), and this is likely to be a long game rather than a short solution. You’re not going to have a Gaius-free directorship, at least not for several years. But that’s okay, or at least it can be. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the directorship or that they don’t want you to have it; it means another way you’re solving the library’s problem is by becoming the person Gaius directs his attention to. You are the Gaius shock absorber. You just need to get that technique down so that it takes minimal time and effort.

    And in that respect, it’s a lot like Alison’s advice for dealing with needy colleagues (I’ll see if I can find the best links and post them in a followup). If it’s email, you don’t have to respond to everything, and most of the time a quick “Thanks–good thought!” will cover it. What can be really helpful, believe it or not, is making the occasional deliberate time where you hear from Gaius–maybe you’re wanting to fill in some gaps on institutional history, or are talking about his relationship with donors or something. Meanwhile, you don’t take it personally and you don’t stew over it; it’s not worth more time and energy than it takes to flick your eyes over the email and type a few words in response. He’s just an overcommunicative patron.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “You are the Gaius shock absorber. You just need to get that technique down so that it takes minimal time and effort.”

      This is a succinct description of what I was trying to say earlier. I totally agree.

  20. Elizabeth West*

    Ugh, I wrote out a very vehement response (along the lines of WHY???? are you even responding!?) before I went back up and saw 1) academia, and 2) emeritus.

    Things in this field need to change. GAH. I don’t know when I’ve read a letter that frustrates me more. Please, please update us, OP. And I hope this guy finds something else to do with his time. He’s wasting his retirement on this. Seriously.

    1. AcidMeFlux*

      Don’t hold your breath. Academia/non-profit will become much more modern and efficient when business becomes kind and empathetic. Someday, but not soon.

      1. Adam*

        Yeah, someday all those things will change when they literally have no choice left but to do so. Unfortunately, that is not today.

        With academia in particular there is the sticky wicket of it being a culture entirely unto itself filled with brilliant people, but unfortunately many of them are aware of it and thus feel that there aren’t too many other people around who can do their jobs.

  21. Seal*

    Academic librarian here. As someone who has inherited duties and messes from a variety of opinionated hoarder colleagues upon their retirement, my advice is to sort through “his” boxes (they’ve been sitting unclaimed for a year, they really aren’t his boxes anymore), box up and send him any personal stuff you find, and then just ignore him entirely. Don’t be rude to him or pretend he doesn’t exist if he shows up in person, but ignore all of his emails and don’t allow him to engage you in conversation about the library. He keeps coming back because you are giving him openings to do so – you need to close those openings.

    And by all means, do NOT give him a library-related project of any sort to appease him! That’s exactly what he wants and you don’t want that extra headache.

  22. NJ anon*

    I am not so nice. I’d throw the boxes out and have my email address changed. If that doesn’t work have your director meet with him and tell him ” thanks but no thanks.” Ignore his emails, etc. If he shows up, excuse yourself and leave for a meeting. I mean seriously,

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, then the dean calls you in and says, “So I got a call from the provost, who’s heard from an unhappy Gaius.”

      This situation is like pulling apart a cracked egg. You don’t want to apply too little pressure and not get the egg separated, but you don’t want to apply too much and smush the whole thing.

  23. Christina*

    How did I know from the second sentence that this was at a university? I have no advice, only sympathy.

  24. anon for this one*

    I feel your pain. I inherited over 200 boxes of materials from the previous resident of my position. After 2 years…informed the previous curator that materials will be moved to the University archives. Surveyed the materials- kept what I needed for the department. Moved what seemed appropriate to the UA. Tossed the rest. (4 dumpsters worth)
    Best advise …polite thank you for any email. Non- committal email for a meeting. No time on my schedule. I will let you know when some time opens up. (time will never open up) blind copy supervisor.

  25. Academic Librarian*

    I had a Gaius in my life once. I could have written this 8 years ago. I ignored all of his advice, immediately told him that I would be taking over the projects that he tried to retain for himself (he also tried the trick with boxes), and gradually solved many of the problems he created. When I left that job, five years after I started, I got a book from coworkers with little notes on all of the pages. Almost all of the notes from people in my department thanked me for cleaning up Gaius’ mess. Just cut the cord. Ignore him, don’t meet with him, and do your job. Unless he’s a prospect for major donations, the university administration probably doesn’t care about his “emeritus” status, and the community will warm to you once they realize service is so much better on your watch.

  26. TheBeetsMotel*

    Gaius has emeritus status presumably because of his illustrious career… not because of his ability to hoard two-year-old junk mail. While I wouldn’t just throw it out (these are his personal belongings, after all, even if it is junk), I would give him a deadline to take them AWAY from the premises to sort out, otherwise someone else will be doing it for him. (Perhaps the threat of a whippersnapper intern pawing through all his super-important papers will be enough to light a fire under him!)

    Ignore his emails. Engaging with him here is just going to make both of you more frustrated.

    1. Cassie*

      At my university, all associate and full professors can have emeritus status upon retiring – it doesn’t matter how illustrious or not their career was. Our emeriti faculty typically fall into 1 of 2 categories. Some continue to do research (they might have retired just to get out of teaching) and come to the office every day. Others leave and we never hear from them again.

  27. anon university veteran*

    This is going to sound Machiavellian, but: you need to figure out who is pulling strings for Gaius. If this person matters, then you need to put up with Gaius and his crap. If that person doesn’t matter, go ahead and set those boxes on fire.

  28. Not So NewReader*

    My thought is to start a new procedure where all his suggestions have to be reviewed by your boss. That means you have to forward everything that he writes to your boss. You can just say that you are waiting for your boss to review it and get back to you. If your boss’ email becomes a black hole… oh well, that’s the academic world.

    If this idea seems like it won’t work out then you might be able to think of some similar “fight fire with fire” solution, where you use the idiosyncrasies of the academic world to work FOR you.

  29. schnapps*

    I had a coworker who had so much stuff at home, she’d bring in boxes and store them at the office. When she had her own office, she’d store them in there. When we switched to open office, she stored them in all the nooks and crannies around her pod (which she shared with someone else), and around the office, generally. We have a central table in my area for when we have short meetings, etc. and her stuff was always under there.

    When she retired, I inherited her main job duty (and a really badly designed database – don’t get me started on that), and I had to go through her piles of paper. I kept finding these boxes of personal things – clothes, books, etc. I didn’t dig into them too deeply but whatever. I finally sent her an email saying, “Francine, I’ve gone through all the boxes at your desk and around the office. Many of them seem to be personal effects. Since they are taking up a lot of real estate, we need them removed by [date]. If they’re not gone by then, they will be taken to the Salvation Army shop up the road from the office.”

    She didn’t come and pick them up or reply that she needed more time so the day after her deadline, I requisitioned a company car and two strapping young men and they helped me move her Crappe. She came in two weeks later to get her stuff. I told her where it went, showed her the emails I sent and said if there was a problem she could talk to my manager. She bitched and complained at my manager who told her, “That stuff shouldn’t have been stored here in the first place. You had your chance.”

    And I had to go through her reams of paper – most of which were irrelevant. She’d file an official copy of her documents and then keep one for herself – confidential information that was kept in an unlocked drawer. I came across one box that had a bunch of files in it. No file had more than three pieces of paper in it. My mind boggled.

    My recycling bin is an integral part of my filing system. I don’t understand people who hoard paper.

  30. Kat M.*

    I used to bike commute about that same distance! Took about 20 minutes each way, no big deal. When I asked about it, not only did my boss allow it, he encouraged me to bring my bike inside and keep it in an old storage closet instead of locking it outside the building, as we were in a neighborhood with a fair bit of theft. I didn’t get particularly sweaty since I wasn’t riding very fast, I just changed my pants and shoes for nicer ones when I arrived, washed my face, and re-did my bun before getting my area set up to see clients. When it rained I put my rain jacket in the same place that other people hung their umbrellas to dry. It was an unusually casual and supportive workplace, but I’d ask again if my situation warranted it.

  31. KH*

    I worked at a consulting firm that let go a very senior partner. He could not let go of the job. Due to his stature, he negotiated a graceful separation whereby he would retain a work area and executive assistant. He probably kept coming in for a year after the initial separation. He was clearly unable to let go of the job. He would try to be part of meetings even. I think eventually someone had a talk with him because at some point he stopped coming in.

    I think that is what is happening here. Alison’s advice should shut him down.

  32. L_A*

    I am dealing with something similar. The person I recently replaced is still involved in a friendship with the owner of the company. I have heard rumors of the type of friendship but its really none of my business. She still has a key to his office and comes by even when he is not in town. She will just pop into my office unannounced a couple times a week. I don’t like it. It is disruptive and non-employees shouldn’t be hanging around the office. The person I report to has asked me to make changes since I started and the other day she was questioning why things are now different. I think there is a little tension too because after she left, I had to do a lot to get our records properly updated, it was as if they hadn’t been worked on in months. I was very clear to my boss what hadn’t been done and word got to my predecessor, she actually came in and stood there and told me that some completed reports were in the file drawer. They were not. So I told her “find them then”…. she pulled a “where ever did they go??”. Obviously not where they were supposed to. Her past performance aside, my issue is she does not work there anymore. How can I tactfully say I want her to stay out of the office. The owner’s office is in a different part of the building, if she visits him in there it doesn’t bother me one bit.

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