8 signs that you’re a problem employee

Being successful at work is about more than the skills you bring to the job – it’s also about your relationships with your colleagues, and especially about how your boss perceives you. You can have incredible skills in your field, but if no one wants to work with you, it’s going to make your professional life harder and harder over time.

Here are eight signs that you might be perceived as a problem employee who’s tough to work with – and that you could be putting your professional reputation and future options at risk.

1. You see management as your adversary. If you think that peers who get along with their managers are suck-ups, and you see employee/manager relations as an “us vs. them” situation, chances are strong that your attitude is coming through to your manager and marking you as adversarial. And no one wants to spend their days working with adversaries – let alone paying them.

2. You say “It’s not my job” at least once a month. There are times when it’s appropriate to say that you aren’t the right person to do something, such as when you’re swamped with work that your manager agrees is higher-priority. But if you find yourself refusing tasks on a regular basis, you’re probably painting yourself as difficult. Job descriptions aren’t comprehensive, and most people end up doing work that doesn’t fall perfectly within their job description.

3. You take your manager’s requests as “suggestions.” Sometimes a manager’s input really isa suggestion that you’re free to take or leave – but more often, managers tend to expect you to do what they’ve asked. If you habitually ignore requests or input that you disagree with, over time your manager will figure out that she needs to scrutinize your work to make sure that you’re not rejecting aspects of assignments you don’t like. You will probably not find that close scrutiny pleasant.

4. You have trouble finding a former manager willing to give you a reference. If former managers don’t get back to you when you contact them about a reference and they don’t return reference-checkers’ phone calls, there’s probably a reason. Most managers feel incredibly awkward about turning down a request to be a reference, so if you’re seeing a pattern of it happening, it’s a sign that you need to rethink what’s going on in those relationships.

5. You always ask for forgiveness rather than permission. It’s true that as you advance in your career, you’re expected to exercise independent judgment and make your own decisions in many areas, but if something is a major decision with high or public stakes, most managers want to be in the loop. If you regularly make calls that you know your manager might not approve and just hope you can beg forgiveness afterwards, you’re likely to seem like an increasingly high-risk bet for your employer.

6. You look for reasons things can’t be done rather than looking for ways to do them. If your favorite refrain is “that will never work,” you might be having a supremely frustrating effect on your team. People sometimes think they’re serving a valuable role by playing devil’s advocate, but constant naysaying takes the wind of new ideas and initiatives and squelches people’s enthusiasm.

7. You’re stuck in a negativity loop. Occasional frustrations at work are normal. But if you feel negative about your job and your company every day, it probably shows – and maybe more importantly, it’s probably affecting both your work and your quality of life. When that’s the case, your best bet is to figure out whether there’s a way to be reasonably happy at work or whether you’d be better off moving on. If you don’t make that decision for yourself, it may eventually be made for you.

8. You’ve disliked every boss you’ve ever had. If you’ve never been satisfied with a manager you’ve worked with, you’re the common denominator there and it’s likely to reflect something that’s going on with you. It might be an inability to be satisfied, unrealistic expectations about work, a problem with authority, an anger problem, difficulty getting along with others, or something else entirely – but it’s worth taking a look at it and seeing if you can spot what’s going on.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee*

    I hit a couple of this — #1 is HUGE for me and the negativity one — but I think it’s less likely I’m a problem employee since out of my 11-person group, 4 of us are transitioning to other roles and another 2 are actively looking. At that point, it really is management, right?

    /me is starting to worry

    1. J.B.*

      An atmosphere that promotes any of these points, rather than rewarding the opposite behavior, is problematic.

    2. LOLwut*

      I wonder about this myself. If I’ve had a string of jobs where people are looking to jump ship, the problem can’t just be me, right? But then there’s the quote from Justified:

      “If you run into an a**hole in the morning, you ran into an a**hole. If you run into a**holes all day, you’re the a**hole.”

      Tough to tell which is which.

      1. MS*

        It may be that you are consistently choosing jobs that are the wrong fit for you, or missing warning signs during interviews that the management is not up to par. Ask yourself these questions: what would you need to be happy at a job? Are these expectations realistic? Next, what steps would you need to get to such a job?

        1. MashaKasha*

          Yes, I totally have this problem where I jump on the first semi-decent job offer. Then 6-12 months down the road, it turns out that “this job sucks 15% less than OldJob” can only carry you this far.

          I also run into the problem where, with all the multiple mergers/acquisitions happening to what seems like every company, all of the time, the company you’re currently working for could be nothing like the company you accepted a job offer from two years ago, as well as nothing like what this same company will be two years from now. Different size, name, strategy, management, you name it. You may have been excited about the small, growing company you went to work for a few years ago, but not nearly as excited about working for the Fortune 100 Uber Corporate Behemoth, Inc. that ended up absorbing your small company. And there’s no way you could’ve predicted it a few years ago.

      2. Allison*

        If you run into assholes all day, you’re either an asshole or you live in Boston. this city is crawling with jerkbutts.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha . . . I need to save this for when I need to show it to some of my Boston coworkers. They aren’t really assholes, but they make it really hard sometimes to remember that.

      3. AMG*

        Yep! I think if you’ve got one or even a couple of these, it may be that you work in a toxic environment. But you have to really take a hard look at your career and life patterns to be certain it’s them and not you.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Sometimes it’s both, I think. I know someone in marketing who has had a string of jobs with a**hole managers, but it can’t be ALL of them. I think in her case, it’s endemic in her line of work for non-creative, clueless managers to say, “Make a thing that does this!” and then she works like a dog on it and they say, “But I wanted it to do that!” *headdesk*

        She had a very negative attitude toward it, and while understandable, it undoubtedly colored her interactions with them. After a certain point, however, when you start getting written up and in one case, fired, then you need to look at your own contribution to the situation. If tension and a**holery is coming from above, it can absolutely feed it in the lower ranks. So it’s sort of a push-pull situation.

      5. Biff*

        I think it’s also possible that the job market and other socio-political issues have created an environment wherein the employee just isn’t as valuable to the company and it’s easier to burn-n-churn through people. Since 2000, I feel like I’ve seen trends that basically create problem employees by the handfuls.

        My first job I was working for a company that had a very good reputation — when I was first hired the store was clean and a positive impact in my community. When I left in 2001, however, it was understaffed, not clean, and had serious loss issues. They had several policies in place that I now realize caused major headaches. Underpayment of full time and senior staff caused a lot of petty management problems. The company no longer has a good reputation, to the point that it is being easily edged out of the market by a chain that is only better by a narrow margin and also by a sudden explosion of mom-n-pops in the same market.

        Since then I have worked in several dysfunctional environments (and several okay situations.) But I’d say I’ve had more dysfunctional positions than functional ones. I had two jobs straight up lie to me about the position and then act hurt or shocked when I walked away. Both had serious safety concerns that went unaddressed. I actually like both of the jobs and would have stayed. But they lied and refused to address serious safety concerns…. and I have no idea WHY. But these things don’t make for positive employees. I feel like several of my jobs were very much manufacturing problem employees out of people that really wanted to do better.

        1. Suzanne*

          Yes! One job in particular that I had Seemed to have a business plan to either fire staff on a regular basis (usually no reason given) or make their lives so miserable they would quit. I was there 2 years, longer than anyone on staff. Why did I think the turnover was part of the plan? When customers complained, the answer given was so often that the problem was really employee X or Y and gee, gosh, we saw the problem and they are no longer with the company. So, sorry for your troubles. Move on.

    3. A Non*

      How have your other workplaces been? If you’ve had a problem with the management at all or most of your jobs – including high school work – it’s more likely to be you. (But still not necessarily you… craptastic streaks of luck do happen.) If you’re chronically “unappreciated” or “not being respected”, then it might be time for an attitude check.

      You don’t have to prove that it’s a management problem rather than a you problem before you’re free to move on. There is no “job must be this crappy to leave” bar. If you’re unhappy and you have options, go ahead and start looking. I hereby give you permission.

      1. Ad Astra*

        You hit the nail on the head with “unappreciated” and “not being respected.” There are enough bad managers in the world that it’s possible to have a string of ineffective or straight-up jerky managers. But if you’re chronically unappreciated and disrespected, it’s likely because you’re expecting more appreciation and respect than you’re earning.

        1. WorkingMom*

          I can’t agree with this enough! To the same degree – if every manager has been “out to get you” maybe you lack some ownership of your mistakes.

      2. sunny-dee*

        Most normal — nothing really dramatic either way. I’ve been here the longest of anywhere. For everyone *not* in my dept management, I get along great — product managers, project managers, engineers, marketing. Even upper management. It is really just my director and supervisor, but there’s a long, long history of mismanagement in this department. I don’t think it’s me — but I will say that some of their own quirks are perfectly matched to things that annoy me, so … yeah, it may also be a little me. ;)

      3. Doriana Gray*

        You don’t have to prove that it’s a management problem rather than a you problem before you’re free to move on. There is no “job must be this crappy to leave” bar. If you’re unhappy and you have options, go ahead and start looking. I hereby give you permission.

        This is where I’m at now. I’ve been in the workforce for nearly 10 years and the last two places I’ve worked (including my current position) have been in highly dysfunctional work environments where I loathe(d) my managers. At least the place before this one allowed me to limit my interaction with the boss I couldn’t stand (I had a supervisor who acted as buffer for all of us because everyone hated our manager) – unfortunately, I sit right next to my current boss and her negative energy is literally sucking the life out of me.

        The turnover in both jobs have been ridiculous, and I didn’t know about either situation until after I was hired.

        Basically, I need to learn to vet better. And if people talk around my questions, I now know that’s a danger sign. I have a phone interview Friday and I’m so praying this is a better fit. Four years of misery (with only an eight month reprieve in the division I was in prior to moving to the one I’m in now) has worn me down.

        1. A Non*

          Best of luck. At this point I’ve developed a radar for the specific type of jerk that I’ve had trouble with. If I catch myself being overly warm and animated and smiling a little too wide, it’s a sign that I’m slightly scared of the person I’m talking to and am trying to make them happy. I’ve also learned to at least sometimes recognize the way that type of person tries to provoke that response – usually being subtly critical or unhappy, and then watching like a hawk to see if you jump in to smooth it over. I usually don’t consciously realize that’s how I’m reacting at the time, so I’ve learned to deliberately check in with myself after interviews. If people inspire that kind of appeasement reaction in me, I now run like hell.

        2. Daria*

          I hope that things went well with your interview. Fear and misery is no way to live. (The red flag for me going forward is if the department resembles the Stepford wives – all of the ‘cool kids’ went to the same university, best buddies on Facebook, etc…)

    4. Daria*

      I’ve just lived through this, and believe that management needs to take some responsibility for this situation – although it may be intentionally created on their part to get turnover. New management came in – their favorites were very well rewarded and the rest of us dispersed either by choice or being managed out. I was told that I was negative and sucked the atmosphere out of the room (? – didn’t know this was possible). I wouldn’t wish the performance management process on my worst enemy if it is handled like mine was – my manager was always looking for anything that she could document to get me out faster and this even involved all of my colleagues (questioned regularly about me due to the negativity accusations). The money was good, I had many years at this company, and there aren’t many jobs in my field, so I tried to comply with the PIP terms. Now my former employer has tons of job postings for recent graduates to replace those of us who are gone. I still have nightmares, but hopefully this will resolve once I find another job in a better environment.

  2. Kelly L.*

    Ugh, I diagnose myself with a big case of #6. It comes from working with people with a lot of pie in the sky ideas, and knowing I’m the one who will have to actually bake the pie and launch it into orbit. I’ve got to figure out a better way to respond.

    1. The Optimizer*

      I’m SO going to use that the next time one of the sales team approaches me with yet another inane request!

      I do have this problem and quite frequently, but it’s usually just with Sales and their big ideas and expectations that I can turn things around in mere moments during very busy, calendar driven periods. Thank goodness I have a supportive boss/owner that always has my back and agrees with my assessment of what’s possible 98% of the time.

      1. Liza*

        I thought it was just my Sales team that had the big ideas and unrealistic expectations of what’s feasible on short notice! Fortunately I too have a supportive boss. (That doesn’t always mean agreeing with me, other times it means asking me to reprioritize other tasks to make the new request work, but either way it works out well.)

    2. hbc*

      I’m the kind of person who always sees the downside, but I think it’s very valuable–when framed a certain way. “It’s impossible to get a pie into space in 24 hours” makes you seem negative, versus “Well, I suppose it’s possible if someone here has connections with a company launching a satellite tomorrow, and we have a container on hand that fits the pie and can absorb 8 Gs. Then we just have to decide whether we need a courier to get the pie there or FedEx overnight is sufficient.” It gives specifics and possible solutions (based on some definition of “possible”), and makes someone actually come up with a reason why you’re wrong. “I’m sure we can whip together a good enough rocket with parts from Radio Shack.” “Okay, I hope it turns out.”

      You can also be pretty negative without bad consequence if you have a history of being right. A couple of melted pies on the launch pad, and they’ll be listening more carefully.

      1. Serin*

        The church where I used to work had one committee member who was a kind, hard-working woman but the world’s expert in everything that was wrong with everyone’s idea. Eventually several of us figured out that we’d been deploying her wrong — instead of going to her when we had a solution we were happy with (so that she could make us unhappy with it), we needed to go to her when we were combing through the results of our brainstorming session, because that’s when it’s actually useful to have someone say, “We tried that in 1982 and it was a big debacle.”

      2. James M*

        The big problem with that are the 5-word-attention-span people I mentioned in a previous post. They stop listening at “Well, I suppose it’s possible” and assume what follows is just inane babble. They’ll also tell anyone else that you gave Project MoonPie your seal of approval.

      3. OriginalEmma*

        If The Martian taught me anything, it’s that you just need a tarp. Or in this case, some wax paper?

    3. College Career Counselor*

      #6 resonated with me, too. And like you, I want the pie-launch to go off without a hitch. One thing that might help is to approach your response from the standpoint of “that’s an interesting idea” without jumping immediately to “here are 47 ways your crust will not achieve escape velocity.” But I struggle with that, so YAMV (your altitude may vary).

      If you can go from “interesting idea” to “let’s think about how to make this work most effectively,” you might either solve the challenge or the person you’re dealing with might actually come to realize on her own that Operation Pastry Launch needs to be scrubbed/is too expensive, etc.

      1. OriginalEmma*

        I feel like if anyone could make a pie crust that achieves escape velocity, it might just be Smitten Kitchen.

      1. JessaB*

        You realise pie launching is now going to be a meme here like teapots and Wakeen and all. :-)

        I suppose pie does go well with tea from chocolate teapots.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I try so hard not to be a #6 person, but my company loves to brainstorm solutions before we know the extent of the “problem.” It’s so frustrating to spend 30 minutes discussing which form the teapots should take when we don’t yet know what function or purpose of this new teapot project. It’s not even that the ideas are unrealistic; it’s that we can’t pick a damn cart until we have a horse.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah I have this problem as well; I think it’s due to being process driven. I don’t want to waste energy on Stage D of a project when it’s dependent on Stages A – C working. So I’m a downer about D, but only because I’d like to switch to working on A.

        Solutions I have come up with so far are 1. trying to fix in place that we always look at A first, and 2. accepting that there are sometimes reasons to explore D first, such as getting a team enthusiastic about a project (though it has the opposite effect on me, for others it helps).

    5. Bostonian*

      I also fall prey to #6. At an old job a coworker and I got pegged as the negative ones, but it was also a dynamic where a couple of other people (including the CEO) were the vision people and this coworker and I brought them back down to what was realistic. I didn’t love the way that it played out, always, but I don’t think coworker and I were problem employees in that respect.

      There are a lot of partnerships out there between free-thinking visionaries and the practical people whose job it is to rein them in and implement what they dream up. It can be a pretty workable way of doing things, though you do have to be self-aware about how you communicate within that dynamic.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Instead of being negative, can you turn it around on them?

      “Interesting. How are you going to make the crust?”

      “It’s going to be difficult to get pie cherries that time of year, but it sounds like you’ve got a plan; can you tell me more about it?”

      “Sounds delicious, although the line to put pies in the oven really gets jammed up around them, so perhaps you can give me a memo on rearranging that, or maybe hire another baker?”

      1. nofelix*

        “Oh the solution to that is easy, we’ve done it before on [very dissimilar project 20 years ago]”

        “We can figure that out when we come to it (after weeks of work)”

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Okay, I won’t mention that getting a 23.5 foot pie into an oven might be tricky.

      It’s really hard to hold back and not laugh.

    8. vox de causa*

      I’m also the pie baker/launcher. I’ve been really trying to watch my responses so that everyone understands I’m not necessarily saying “No,” I’m just trying to work out how to make it happen.

  3. videogame Princess*

    I have to work to avoid number 6 sometimes. I have to remember that my job didn’t hire me to say that something couldn’t be done, but to do it–even if that thing has never been done before.

  4. Charityb*

    To control “not my job” ism, I really recommend the advice — I think it was from AAM — of replacing “no” with “yes, but”. Instead of just shooting down an idea, describing the resources/time/commitment it will take to get something done. That way, the onus is on the asker to evaluate how realistic their suggestion or request is. It may be that they didn’t really understand how much you had on your plate or how much it would take to get whatever they asked for done. It may be that they DID know and their issue really is that important. Either way, you can easily inject some realism in a situation that doesn’t make anyone look bad (including you).

    1. Ops Analyst*

      I think there is a difference between “not my job” and “not a practical request”. When something is not a practical request, for whatever reason, it makes sense to talk through it like that. When something is not your job -for real not your job- then it makes sense to have a process in mind with how to deal with those requests.

      When I get asked to do something that is not my job, my answer really depends on what it is. If it is something really simple that I would do one time for someone, I’ll usually just do it, unless I see some larger picture as to why I shouldn’t. If it’s something that someone would need from me over and over again, or is quite time consuming, I will either do it and teach them the first time (so that they don’t have to ask me again) or direct them to the person who should be doing that work.

      One of my coworkers has the opposite problem, she asks people to do things that legitimately are their jobs and when they say no she just does it for them, which creates a whole other set of problems.

        1. Ops Analyst*

          Oh yea! It’s crazy. They say it’s not a priority for them. But when they don’t do it, that means she either does it herself or is late with her portion of the work. I think she needs to be a bit more assertive (easier said than done, I know) and push back instead of doing it.

        2. UsedToDoSupport*

          I used to work with someone like that. In the end, it was less stressy to just do it myself, rather than deal with the no, no, no, okay maybe conversation that happened with every request. Extrememly helpful and respectful to the boss though, so nothing was ever done about it. Mercifully, that person retired.

          1. Jennifer*

            Seconded. It’s not worth it to fight or push back against anything. People expect everything done ASAP and they’re not going to change that expectation because I said they had to wait 24 hours, plus I get in trouble for not giving excellent service.

    2. Serin*

      Or sometimes it’s an issue of “yes, if.” Get me [four volunteers for one hour / access to a faster folding machine / someone with enough Excel expertise to make me a macro / permission to drop two A priorities down to B] and I can get you what you’re asking for.

    3. Rat Racer*

      Yeah, “not my job” is verrrry tricky. There are a couple of different scenarios I see day to day:

      1. Request for information or a task for which I am not the expert
      2. Request for information or a task that the questioner could easily figure out herself

      How I respond really depends on who is asking. If it’s my boss or another executive asking a “Let me Google that For You” question, I will respond in a heartbeat no questions asked. If they’re asking a question to which I don’t know the answer, or for a task for which I’m not the expert, I will go to great lengths to find the expert and hold myself accountable for getting them the information they need.

      If it’s someone else… well, that really depends. Even if the request is ridiculous, I strive to be diplomatic, as in “Now that my team has created the presentation you asked for, you are its owner. So if you want a different font, you can go right ahead and change it. You don’t even need to ask me!”

      Or: “Hmmm… I can’t see Executive A or B’s calendars in Outlook, have you tried asking their administrative assistants for help scheduling that meeting?”

  5. Sarasaurus*

    I’m definitely a little guilty of #6. I work in a field that not a lot of people understand, so I have to resist the urge to yell “THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS!!” every now and then. Consciously reminding myself to explain why something isn’t feasible and offer alternative solutions has helped quite a bit. Saying “I’m not sure X will work, because Y. What if we tried Z instead?” is a lot softer than just “no, we can’t do X.”

    1. A Non*

      It’s especially difficult when it’s something that sounds like it should be easy, but you’ve got a technical rat’s nest that prevents it and you know the person you’re talking to doesn’t have the background to understand it. I’ve gotten good results from saying “sure, we could do that, but it would cost _______” rather than just saying “no, that’s not reasonable, can’t do it.”

      1. nofelix*

        That’s a very useful approach to take, even if it’s just rough estimates like “piling will cost 10x more than underpinning”. You never know how much might be in the budget for solving a problem the expensive but useful way.

        1. A Non*

          I work for a non-profit with some dysfunctional accounting practices, so if I name anything over four figures it’s an automatic nope. I usually hate the knee-jerk “we can’t afford that!” reaction, but sometimes it’s useful.

    2. CMT*

      I do think it’s important to remember that this list isn’t behaviors that should *never* happen — they just shouldn’t happen frequently. Sometimes you really do have to tell people no, and that’s okay. I recently had a colleague ask me multiple different times in multiple different ways to do something that goes against federal regulation. In that case “I’m not sure” or “maybe” isn’t good enough.

  6. Anonymous Educator*

    I’ll do “not my job” if I’m repeatedly asked to do something that is clearly somewhere else’s job. The issue isn’t so much that I don’t want to help out (“not my job”) as it is just proper protocol (“that’s someone else’s job”) and not stepping on other people’s toes.

    As an example, I used to work in admissions, and both parents and faculty view admissions as the primary contact for anything to do with new students, which is the case… until the students enroll. Once the students enroll, we don’t handle their stuff any more. That’s student affairs or the registrar or the deans. That’s not a matter of shirking work. Those departments are actually in charge of those things, and it’s not our place to mess with it. My boss (the admission director) would make a big point that I shouldn’t try to handle those requests.

    I will also say that you can combat a lot of “not my job” up front but making clear to new hires what is generally in the scope of their job… and what they may occasionally have to do that’s not necessarily in their formal job descriptions.

    1. Charityb*

      Another way to help with that is for the administration to make it easy/possible to redirect people to the right place.

    2. squirrel*

      If what someone is asking for is someone else’s explicit responsibility, what I say is “My job at this point is to refer you to…”. Which happens to be true. And I know my boss will back me up, but it has never come to that.

    3. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      Like you the “not my job” stuff I get is frequently stuff that is literally someone else’s job which also usually means I haven’t been trained to handle it at all. Obviously I’ll refer to the correct person, but sometimes you get a particularly stubborn person and you need to just keep repeating “That’s not my job, it’s Kimmy’s. This is how you reach her. That’s not my job, it’s…”

    4. UsedToDoSupport*

      How about “that’s actually not something I do but I know who does do that, here let’s go talk to her.”

    5. Rebeck*

      I’ve had a situation where I was in the role of Coordinator of Teapot Manufacturing. Then I became Coordinator of Teapot Design within the same team, at the same desk. I did a LOT of Not My Job because I didn’t want to step on the toes of the new Teapot Manufacturing Coordinator, but also because I didn’t have time to do both jobs, and that’s what would have happened.

      (New Coordinator of Teapot Manufacturing was fired six months ago and has not yet been replaced, which is a whole ‘nother issue.)

  7. Not an IT Guy*

    I’ll admit to being guilty of #7. I’ve been finding myself driving into work every morning angry for the last 6 or so years over the things my company has done to me (broken promises, lies, law violations, etc). I’m trying my hardest not to let it affect my work but as of lately it’s becoming more difficult. Ironically no one else seems to notice since I’m always getting praised by my manager. If they do notice, well no one’s telling me.

    1. Walk/jog/Exercise it Off.*

      Instead of getting angry at the millionth time that I have applied for FT Regular work … to be almost bullied into accepting part-time or Temporary positions (at large profitable companies, mind you)
      I started my exercise routine back up.

      Use that negative energy to tone up/lose weight/clear your mind.
      You will feel better.

  8. non-profit manager*

    I so want to send this article to a specific department/function in our organization. Between the two of them, they hit all eight. And both of them hit 2, 6, and 7 …. ugh.

  9. Whippers*

    I would say that I do have a bit of a problem with authority. However, I also think that in a lot of cases the management I have worked under has been pretty poor and that really gets my back up.

    A lot of people seem to be able to accept the problems with management and just carry on with their work without asking any questions or holding people accountable in any way. I can’t do this; if someone continually says something which is incorrect, I have to query it. If someone doesn’t follow through continually, I can’t let it go. I just don’t see why employees should be held to different standards than managers and that to question managers in any way is often to be labelled a problem employee.

    1. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist*

      agreed! my current manager is great but previously I’ve had some problems but the minute anything is said your labeled a problem.

      1. Former "Broke Person Donating Plasma for 20 Bucks"*

        There is an art to sticking an IV tube.
        Ask ‘the person who is good at this’ to show you how to do their technique.

        You’ll probably make a friend.
        Your patients will notice too.

        Say “I’m working on improving my technique” if you get called onto the carpet by management.
        They might even partner you up with a more experienced person for more training.

        Good Luck

    2. Jillociraptor*

      One side-effect for me of being in a direct support role to senior leaders (variety of levels of executive assistant/chief of staff) is that I hold leadership to a very, very high standard and have extremely limited patience for messing around, but also huge empathy for the genuinely hard decisions. In my experience, leaders who are broadly good at their job and generally normal people take feedback very well when it recognizes that they are faced with very real constraints and trade-offs, that they’re not just sitting behind their desks rubbing their hands together like a Bond villain. There’s a tendency to believe that management has more power than they do, and COULD make the “right” decision if only they weren’t so [whatever], and that’s just not enough of the story.

      Certainly, some managers are defensive and use their authority to make bad decisions, but those are also people whom questioning will often just make angry rather than get the outcome you actually want.

    3. nofelix*

      It’s unfortunate that poor management is common. I could easily see how someone with bad luck could work for 100% bad managers. I’m at about 75%. I think the only thing to do is notice how this affects you and use what you’ve experienced to find a good manager for your next position.

  10. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    “You see your manage as your adversary”

    Employees like this make me nuts. I’m pretty damn collaborative. We’re all working towards the same goal. Please do not come to work to “fight against the man”. I’m not interested in being the adversary in your internal conflict.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Oh, in my case, it’s true. I have mentioned this here, I think, but I am a team lead but not a people manager. The people managers routinely grant PTO / training / special projects to my writers without ever telling me first. We recently had a 3-writer team where every. single. writer. was out at the same time, for a week and a half. In the last 6 weeks before a release. This has happened more than half a dozen times just this year. And the people supervisors refuse to notify me of time-off requests until “I need to know” — but since they also don’t track project or release schedules, they decide when I need to know based on, um, themselves. It’s usually weeks after it would have been useful to know. It’s hard not to feel like we’re in an adversarial relationship.

      1. Judy*

        When I was a team lead without being a people manager, I had a team calendar that I requested the team to fill out when they would be out of the office. I used excel on a shared drive, because shared calendars didn’t work well due to time zones. I needed to know the holidays for the different locations along with vacation and training time.

        It was to their best interest that I know their schedule as soon as it was planned, since I was handling their project schedules and loading.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Well, you are, but that’s because they’re causing problems, not because you want to stick it to The Man.

        Is there any way to have a shared calendar or some other way to have project and release schedules available to them, so they can refer to it before approving PTO etc? If there already is and they’re just ignoring you, then you may need to escalate.

  11. YOLO*

    #7 is the one hardest for me. We have a strong culture of “nice” here job, and there’s pressure to cover up anything negative or that could be improved upon. When asked by our new managers if there’s anything in need of change, I speak up – not meaning to be negative, but saying ‘hey, doing X has produced Y, which we don’t want…has any tried doing Z?”, only I get nothing but “oh Y isn’t so bad, sometimes X doesn’t produce Y, when *I* do X I don’t Y”, etc. And then because I’m the only one speaking up and everyone else is saying it’s not a problem, nothing changes (it’s as if they are bad people they admit there’s room for improvement, so my speaking up is like calling them all bad people).

    The irony in this is that it’s taken me from someone perceived as being negative by my peers (because I would speak up when asked!) to someone who is actually negative (because even admitting that there are small & easily fixable things is just too much for my workgroup). Only now I don’t speak up or try new things or show initiative, because that gets me in trouble with my peers.

    Sigh. I need to find another job.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh, I hate that. Rarely will you find a workplace where everything is perfect and nothing ever needs improvement. Plus, businesses aren’t static things; they’re dynamic. Customers’ needs change and services and processes have to change with them.

      Sort of an aside, but a couple of years ago, I was looking for a writing group in the area and found one whose listing said they only welcomed positive feedback among participants. I emailed them something like, ‘Hi, I found your group on X and I had a question about your feedback policy. How do you handle work that could benefit from definite suggestions for improvement?”

      CRICKETS. They never answered me. Bullet dodged.

      1. Biff*

        I think this is how you get some very self-deluded artists. It would be much kinder if people said what they really felt.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I remember in school talking about this. Groups will let one person wear the emotions for everyone in the group. Because you are speaking up, they do not have to. Because you are getting upset they do not have to. Yes, it will cause the speaker to grow more negative.

      It’s a good pattern to watch out for, I have even seen it in families. One person gets worked up into a lather and everyone else is along for the ride. One way to help think about this is to realize that all these people are happy with their crappy system of handling things, or minimally they do not want it to change because it suits them in some way.

  12. Whippers*

    That’s fair enough. But you have to admit that a lot of managers do not see themselves as being at the same level as their employees, or believe that it’s a collaborative effort. They see their role as to hand down diktats and for employees to carry them out.

    I don’t think employees’ attittude towards management has just come from nowhere in a lot of cases.

    1. Charityb*

      True. And even if the current manager isn’t like this, the past managers may have been. It doesn’t make it OK of course but I can see how that might happen even if the current workplace isn’t dysfunctional.

    2. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Yeah – especially in low-paid and/or low-status positions. Managers that abuse people, treat their employees with distrust, or have unreasonable expectations shouldn’t be surprised to find that their employees consider them the enemy – because in that case the employees are right!

  13. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist*

    well according to this I’m not a problem employee! … yea tell my boss :-(
    I had a patient complaint today on top of last weeks issues it was not good timing….her blood draw was painful.
    the higher ups are still in debate about my job and wither or not I still have one. but my boos said I should know by the end of the week wither or not I’ll be terminated.

    1. Formerly "Broke Person Donating Plasma for 20 Bucks"*

      There is an art to sticking an IV tube.
      Ask ‘the person who is good at this’ to show you how to do their technique.

      You’ll probably make a friend.
      Your patients will notice too.

      Say “I’m working on improving my technique” if you get called onto the carpet by management.
      They might even partner you up with a more experienced person for more training.

      Good Luck

    2. Not Myself*

      Sometimes blood draws are just painful. If the patient hasn’t been hydrating properly, or has small rolling veins, or veins that have a tendency to collapse, it’s going to be rough. But I agree with the previously broke plasma donator – find someone who is willing to help you with technique. There’s a fair number of things you can do to improve, from learning the ideal tightness of the cuff to getting better at finding bigger veins. Try learning to stick with your non-dominant hand. It’s a surprisingly great way to make you better at what you do. – former Phlubs’s wife

    3. Not So NewReader*

      In retail we would joke, “Yeah, they want me to finish out the work week, then they can fire me.”

      I hope you can get out of this place soon, they don’t seem to know their elbow from their nose.

  14. Nervous Accountant*

    I think I recognized myself in #2 and 8 the most, didn’t se myself inthe rest. Except instead of “it’s not my job” it’s more.. “it’s not my client.” my manager has urged me to take more ownership which he acknowledges that I have improved upon, but I need to do a better job of it. Except for this one, I have disliked most of my bosses in the past, but this is the first job where I like 99% of the people I work with, including my boss/supervisors/managers etc. I try to take more ownership but I remember in the beginning, I inherited a lot of problem clients and felt overwhelmed/struggling.

  15. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve been the Negativity Monster. It’s something I’m still working on. But I’m trying to be more mindful in general, so if I’m tempted to snark about something, I am trying to stop and think, “What is motivating my desire to kvetch right now? Is there an actual problem, and will pointing it out solve anything?” If the answer is no, I just feel like moaning, I’ll either turn it into a joke or keep my trap shut and write it in a Notepad document and then delete it. Or vent to friends or family later.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One place I worked I was the quiet one. Yeah, I had teeth marks all over my tongue to keep words from falling out of my mouth. It’s not easy.

      1. Jennifer*

        I need to just shut the hell up, but I am getting angrier by the day (and with no way out) and it just gets harder and harder, especially when everyone else is angry as hell and we have no option but to take it every day.

  16. Mando Diao*

    I used to think that maybe I was one of these problem employees (it can be hard to get out of the sector of jobs that are genuinely stocked with bad management), but my new job is such a relief. I find myself telling people, “The pay isn’t the best, but the work is fine, and my manager is easy to work with.” It was totally worth taking a slight pay cut to accept a job that I’ll be at for 2+ years and that validates my presumptions of how a positive workplace should feel.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I just told my husband this morning that I would take a pay cut in exchange for some sanity in the workplace.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        All the pay cuts I’ve taken have been for my sanity… and they’ve all been worth it!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think there has been a study or two that back this up. I remember my uncle said that his people were not paid that well. He used to encourage them to go out and get something better. He said very few left. He was told it was because of his leadership, they would rather work for him at a lower rate then get a higher rate with a boss who was an unknown factor.

  17. NicoleK*

    #9 You routinely operate outside professional norms
    #10 People who have to work closely with you are wondering why you were hired in the first place

  18. Anon Accountant*

    If you keep saying that’ll never work then please make some suggestions for what you think WILL work. Or bring up potential issues and help with finding solutions if possible.

    1. Argh!*

      I have dealt with a supervisee who just can’t conceive of any other way of things getting done. He would come up with technical reasons that I know he just made up, because my knowledge base is as good as his. He was just so desperate not to let anything change he grasped at straws…. then blamed other people for things that were within his own power to improve. Over time his mind has been opening bit by little bit…

    2. NicoleK*

      On the flip side of that….I have a coworker who loves to share her crazy, unworkable ideas. Unfortunately, I became a negative nelly because I would always have to tell her we couldn’t do this, we couldn’t do that, and etc. If you’re going to be throwing out suggestions left and right, please make sure they make sense and are grounded in reality.

  19. Argh!*

    I have resorted to #5 in my current position because it’s so impossible to get permission for anything interesting. There is tremendous resistance to even tiny changes, so I have just gone ahead on things. Usually there’s no pushback after it’s done, but if I ask for permission I have to deal with a bunch of nit-picky questions, being put off with “I’ll check” or just never getting the go-ahead. Then on my last evaluation I’m told I lack initiative. After that I decided not to ask for permission unless I absolutely have to. (I’m also keeping a record of all the ideas I’ve proposed that got stymied or nixed so I’m ready for my next evaluation)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. There is a time and a place, though, and it sounds like you have such a setting.
      I know that I have just gone ahead and done things, it got done, it landed well and no one said anything. Each time I have done that there have been some common factors:

      1) People reeeeally want the problem solved. It’s causing a lot of headaches and people just want to go back to their jobs.

      2)I have built a history of being reliable, using good judgement and being successful at projects that I start.

      3) I feel super confident that what I will do will work out just fine. If I am not super confident, I do not start it.

      4) Often, I have a way to test out my idea before running the real thing. I can show the boss what I am doing. Sometimes at the testing stage, the boss will change her mind and allow me to continue.

      5) I make sure that if they truly are not happy, I will undo my own work and put things back as they were. This almost never happens, but it offers a pressure relief, when I say I am willing to do this. People are more willing to let me run my idea.

      I love my current boss, she will follow along with my idea and then add her own inputs that are usually quite good. Yeah, she catches on fast and then leaps out ahead of me. This is how ideas should play out- one person idea’s spark more ideas from others. It’s kind of fun.

      1. Argh!*

        My conversations go like this:

        Me: Customers have been asking for purple teapots, not just blue or red, so I’d like to develop a purple line.

        Boss: They’ll need lids.

        Me: I know.

        Boss: They need to be able to hold hot water.

        Me: I know.

        Boss: You’ll need to ask the color people.

        Me: I did and they’ve got a purple that they can use.

        Boss: Will this take up too much time? It shouldn’t take away from your job duties.

        Me: Developing new products is one of my job duties.

        Boss: Send me a proposal in e-mail.

        I send the e-mail, detailing all the petty crap from her patronizing comments, and then I get no answer. I ask again months later and she doesn’t remember anything about it. She wants me to forward the e-mail to her. So I do that. And ask again. She has no answer. She’s waiting for someone else’s input because of course her own indecisiveness and inability to see the big picture can’t be the true reason I can’t get stuff done. So I try again…. No results.

        Then I develop the purple line without official okay, it’s successful, and there are no repercussions. Seriously, if you hire me for a specific job, then why act like I am totally unable to do the job? I want to scream sometimes. Fortunately, she treats everyone like they don’t know how to wipe their own arse so I don’t take it personally.

        1. Argh!*

          (oh and it’s months later when I follow up because if our one-on-one gets cancelled she won’t reschedule)

  20. Ruffingit*

    I’ve had a stream of bad managers. I used to think it was me until I found out that several of my previous managers got in serious trouble with the law and/or were sued and/or lost professional licenses due to egregious ethics violations. If not those things, they ran companies where everyone jumped ship as soon as possible. I’ve always gotten along great with coworkers and others, but the majority of my bosses have just sucked. Probably some of it is taking jobs that were bad fits to pay the bills.

    1. Whippers*

      Yeah, I think that people who’ve had to take jobs because of circumstances are more likely to end up with bad companies/ bad managers. It’s not always a case of it you being the problem; after all there are a hell of a lot of bad managers and bad companies out there but someone has to work for them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I was thinking about my bad bosses, also. Like you are saying my choices were driven by “Get a paycheck from somewhere/anywhere.” I was also pretty clueless about red flags on interviews. I just could not get a read, in part, because of being driven to distraction about needing an income. Right now, I have good bosses and I have no problem remembering to be thankful for that, because I remember the pain and suffering all too well. Now if I could just get my income up some more……

    3. fposte*

      Yes, I think there’s a bad picker possibility in a lot of these. I also think that’s true of job-hopping–people Liz Taylor their way in and then have to Liz Taylor their way out.

    4. Argh!*

      I’ve had incompetent bosses that pretty much left us alone so we would collaboratively do what needs to get done. As long as I have the freedom to do my job, I’ll just do it and keep my head down. I have only had one job that was a bad fit, fortunately.

  21. Voluptuousfire*

    Yep. At my last full time gig, I was a full on #7. It was crappy overall and when I walked away and saw a few months later I was “that coworker,” I was so embarrassed. I usually have a pretty positive attitude but the company culture was so weird. They played at being laid back and “cool” (it was a start up) but were the very opposite of that.

    The job I have now is contract, but they regularly tell me how much they appreciate me and extended my contract 6 weeks in to March because they were so happy with my work. It’s such a 180 from that job. I truly had work PTSD! Here if I offer a suggestion on how to improve something, it usually gets the go ahead vs. “consideration” and it gets dropped.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The laid back culture can backfire big time as people get nervous about deadlines/commitments/etc. Too much “cool” does not always work out. There are times when worry and running about are appropriate.

  22. Dovahkiin*

    #8 is a really good one. There’s a world of difference between hating aspects of the job, or not liking the new company direction corporate just handed down, or just wishing you could do more of X skillset, but hating every manager is a big interpersonal skill warning sign for me.

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