my employee has been sulking and slightly rude ever since her job changed

A reader writes:

I was recently promoted at my job and am managing two of my coworkers. For one of the people (Lucy), this is a new position. She was on our team but in a different capacity. Her position was eliminated and the company moved her to my old position and promoted me. The company did create a new position that is essentially Lucy’s old position but made certain skills a requirement that this she didn’t have. Lucy wasn’t doing everything in her old position that they needed someone to be able to do. I have only been at the job six months and was brought to the company by my director. My director wanted me in this position from the start but had to bring me in at a lower position because it was open and they needed someone in the position immediately. The amount of time it would have taken to create this new position would have left my old job vacant for too long with too few staff to pick up the pieces.

Initially, Lucy said she was a “team player” and ready to do whatever may be asked of her. Overall, the quality of her work has been okay. She’s not getting everything right but I think that’s due to her learning curve and this being a new job.

But since the change has happened, she barely interacts with coworkers, keeps responses as short as possible, wears her headphones most of the time, and occasionally makes passive-aggressive comments. Last week, she gave my boss (who she used to directly report to) a present back that was gifted to her six months ago and said, “I won’t ever use this so you can have it back.”

When the change occurred, I took Lucy to lunch and expressed that I understood this must be hard for her/unexpected, that I was grateful for her being open to the change, that I thought she was going to be a big benefit for our team in this position, and that I wanted to keep communication open between us. At that lunch, I asked for her input and she said she was fine. She would only respond with yes, no, or keep the answers as short as possible.

Before the change to her role, she was MUCH more engaged. She would chit chat with her team members (myself included) who sit by her, as well as people from other teams who sit nearby. Now she might say a couple of sentences a day unless someone has to work with her on a task or project. During our department meeting last week, she didn’t say a word, whereas in the past she always asked questions and would crack a joke or two (our team is pretty jovial). I have made a point to stop by her desk almost every day but she will only answer with short answers and won’t engage. When she’s done answering my question, she’ll abruptly end the conversation and will turn her chair towards her computer so that her back is to me.

Our entire team did a personalty assessment a couple of weeks after she found out about her new job, and one of her biggest things was that she likes to be social/feel included. She scored high on the extrovert/outgoing section, as well as having the shortest fuse out of everyone in our group. She used to come over to my desk to chat every couple of days and that has ceased.

What’s the best way to approach this? This behavior isn’t completely unexpected because prior to this change she’s had difficult interactions with almost everyone on our team. What is the best way to proceed?

Well, she’s either (a) trying to Make A Point to you all that she’s unhappy or (b) just legitimately unhappy and it’s showing.

I think it’s probably a bit of both, because some of what you describe is pretty over the top, like turning her chair so her back is to you when you’re trying to talk to her.

Of course, she’s allowed to be quiet at work and not chit chat with people, and she doesn’t have to crack jokes at staff meetings, even though it’s a change from how she used to be. But you’re allowed to notice that her demeanor is greatly altered and that it happened around the time that her job changed, and you’re allowed to talk to her about that. You’re also allowed to have a problem with it if her withdrawal is making it harder for people to work with her or for to excel at her job. Answering questions as tersely as possible and not contributing to conversations that involve her work could both fall in that category.

I’d say this to her: “I’ve noticed a real change in your demeanor and behavior since we moved you to your new job. I can give you specifics about what I’m noticing if you’d like, but the upshot is that you seem really unhappy. Will you talk to me about what’s going on?”

If you get another terse answer and she denies that anything is wrong, then say this: “Well, this is an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about. You’ve begun giving very short, terse answers to most things, and not engaging in real discussion about work issues. This is a change from how you were before, so I’d like to figure out what’s happening — both because I want you to be happy here, and also because it’s impacting your work and other people on our team.”

If you still don’t get anything from her, I’d say this: “If you decide you want to discuss it, I’m open to talking with you any time. Meanwhile, though, I do need you to interact with people pleasantly and openly. You don’t need to socialize with people if you don’t want to, but I need you to engage in real discussion when people ask you questions or when we’re at meetings that involve your work, and not cut people off abruptly or turn your back while they’re still talking with you, or make comments like X or Y. If you think about it and realize that you’re too unhappy here to do what I’m asking, let’s talk and we’ll figure out what to do from here. Do you think you can do this?”

And then, hold her to that. What that means in practice will depend on the specifics of how this impacts her work. It could be anything from letting her know that it’s going to impact things like raises, assignments, and promotion potential all the way to deciding to replace her in the role, if it’s getting in the way of your team’s ability to be effective.

Again, I want to be really clear that isn’t about her not chit-chatting with people or going from being gregarious to withdrawn; she’s allowed to do those things. She’s also allowed to decide that she doesn’t want to stay in the new role she was moved into, and to be disappointed with the change. (And hopefully, someone gave her a clear explanation of why her job was changed; if not, it’s really important that you go back and do that now.) But what she can’t do is to go on sulking in a way that impacts her work and the ease of working with her.

With someone who already has a history of “difficult interactions” with almost everyone on your team even before this change, and whose work you describe as only “okay,” I wouldn’t give too much slack here. It’s reasonable to want staff members who don’t make it unpleasant to work with them, and I’d be looking to her to pull it to together pretty soon after this conversation.

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    I feel for Lucy because I’ve been there.

    She’s probably unhappy, yes, but has there been some drastic social change in the nature of this job? I can’t deduce it from the letter, but she is reminding me of how I had to learn to behave drastically differently after my job transfer. My current job is very draining on me and it makes me less inclined to chat and gab and “have a good time” with coworkers and I’m less social than I was before. Also if you’re unhappy, it’s easier to keep your mouth shut as a method of not venting about it–especially if you’re normally tempted to blab things. It may just be easier for her to try to keep to herself about it?

    I’m not saying Lucy’s right, mind you, I just think there’s more going on that I can’t deduce from the letter.

    1. Laura*

      Well said. She might also have things happening in her personal life that OP isn’t aware of.

    2. Roscoe*

      That is my first thought. I think there are a few things that OP can address here, but a lot of it is just her personality. If something happens and she just doesn’t want to chit chat, don’t bring that stuff up. But the stuff that is affecting others, go ahead.

    3. Not Me*

      I’m currently in this situation and just had my manager talk to me about it last week. It’s a really tough position to be in. Over the past 6 months, I’ve undergone a major title change (same salary, but the title change is a demotion), different managers who don’t seem to understand what we do and make constantly changing requirements, and have been assigned to a crappy task that will last 6 months. It’s hard to be anything other than silent and upset over all this when every time I’m forced to talk about it I cry because I’m so disappointed and worried that I’m about to be fired.

      So honestly, I can see where Lucy is coming from. I agree that she (and I) need to be more pleasant, but these kinds of changes can be a very bitter pill to swallow.

      1. today's username is...*

        I just wrote a long reply and accidentally deleted it, but the gist of it is that I’m here right now too. I actually thought the letter was about me for the first 2 paragraphs, which actually kind of made my heart stop for a second.

        I’m also silently upset to avoid crying in front of people at work. I can’t help it – what happened in my situation was so similar to what was described above, but in my case it was so demoralizing and there have been constant reminders that make me feel like I’m never going to be good enough at this company (and I’m used to being a top performer). My new role just isn’t what I want to be doing – I’m still TRYING, I’m still attempting to learn and be positive, but it’s a massive mental and emotional effort every single day and I’m sure my coworkers would tell you that I’m not myself.

        None of them know though, that my home life was massively disrupted right around the same time as my role change. Major health issues, a family member going into hospice, other huge issues that I won’t mention because they’d out me to anyone I know who’d stumble upon this. But home and work are massively disrupted right now and I am depressed and anxious and sad a lot, because there’s no ‘safe normal place’ for me to go and feel like I have control anymore. It sucks. I’m working on it, but life is tough right now.

        Glad this letter isn’t about me, but it might as well be; hoping to pick up some tips from the comments on improving my own situation!

        1. Janice in Accounting*

          To both today’s username is… and Not Me: I’m so sorry this happened to you. Two years ago I had something similar happen–I got a big raise but my job was changed from something I enjoyed to something I absolutely hated, and it was horrible. My boss constantly criticized what I did, even though I had been clear when he changed my duties that I had no idea how to do what he wanted or even what it WAS that he wanted–he literally expected me to read his mind. (Sample quote: “I want you to do a better job of knowing what I am thinking.”) The extra money wasn’t worth how sad and defeated I felt every day.

          I wish I could tell you that it will get better where you are, but in my case I started job searching and left about six months later for a great job that I love. My only advice is to take care of yourself in any way you can, and to start a job search. Very best of luck to you both.

          1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

            “I want you to do a better job of knowing what I am thinking.”

            This was exactly what one of my terrible bosses said to me in an early job. What possesses these people to think we can literally read their minds?

          2. today's username is...*

            @Janice in Accounting, thank you.

            Side note, I’ve been reading this page on and off for a long time but only recently started commenting when one of my own questions was posted. I’m consistently surprised by how positive, helpful, and kind most of the comments are, I’m spending way too much time reading comments now where I used to just read the posts and occasionally skim the comments! :)

          3. Browni*

            @NotMe, @today’s username is & @Janice in Accounting

            I’m sort of in a similar situation… I started a job and it was promised that I would be doing high-level, creative work. Months after being thrown into it with no guidance or guidelines and entirely too much work, I had many added responsibilities that were related to data entry (tedious and boring for a creative person), and some creative responsibilities taken away and given to a new person. Their justification to me has been that I’m detail-oriented, and could still do high-level creative work. I did however, receive a raise for the extra work, but no title change.
            Over time, my responsibilities have drastically shifted from creative work (which is what I’m passionate about), to data entry. It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about it—like you said, it’s a hard pill to swallow. And, honestly, I am very skilled creatively—I think they just need someone to give this work to that no one else wants to do (but I don’t want it either).
            I can’t leave because I’m pregnant, need the health insurance, money, and convenience of the job more than ever, but it’s completely unfulfilling and soul-sucking. I just feel demeaned—this work is below my skill level—they aren’t even utilizing my real skills. I also don’t know how this job will advance my creative career at this point.

        2. Michelle*

          I’m so sorry you’re feeling like this. Count me too in that same situation. Same company for so many years, and surrounded by new younger people. I have a new manager who doesn’t give me the time of day, but is there for everyone else. He has his favorites, and I’m definately not one of them. Even though I have so much experience, nothing impresses him. And, I try really hard, because I want to have a good relationship with him. Doesn’t matter. Still the same results. Sometimes, it’s just better to keep your head down, which is what I’m doing as well. I am so sad and it hurts everyday. I want to quit, but why should I after being here for so so long. Sometimes, life just stinks. But it will turnaround and things will get better. Try not to let if get you down. Just live one day at a time.

          1. LabTech*

            This happened to me too in my current role. Two weeks in to this role, my job description changed drastically and was incredibly stressful. While I managed to get back (a large percentage of) my original duties, they’ve also recently decided to quadruple my workload for a time-sensitive project while during a period when I had a significant chunk of vacation time booked months in advance, while also refusing to allow other coworkers to help or cover for my vacation time, then claimed the only reason I was having trouble keeping up was due to poor time management on my part. (And no, the added work didn’t mean higher pay.)

            My attitude and motivation have been pretty terrible since then, and have not recovered. I’d like to be more professional and more motivated, but simply can’t after the blatant gas lighting and being told I’m not trying hard enough when I was stretching beyond what I’m able to do to complete the work. I’ve been looking for a new job, of course, but those take time.

            1. LabTech*

              So this comment isn’t completely unhelpful: My coping strategy has been to devote time to a non-essential (but very useful) side project that I like doing after the major project was finished. That way I get to be productive and spend time on work that I like doing.

        3. LD*

          Oh my, I am so sorry for your situation. And I want you to know that even if you have a lot of details, don’t worry about people thinking it is you! Really! We all think like that and it is actually a relief to realize that there are so many others with tough health and personal situations that we don’t share at work and so it is unlikely that someone would think….that must be “today’s username is…”. More likely they are thinking…”that could be me!” Or even, “That was me!” As you can see from the comments, you are not alone. As I can attest to, things often get better. They did for me and for others I know. I wish you peace and solace and space to recover. Best of luck to you.

      2. Anonymosity*

        Same here–things are changing and while it’s encouraging, I’m so unsure about it–and seeing things I recognize from times when transitions didn’t go smoothly at other jobs. For now, I’m just trying to hang on and working on being more flexible. But we did the exact same things for three years and now I’m taking on support for twice the same amount of people. :(

      3. jaxon*

        I am basically in the same situation and I’m actively looking for a new job. I’m trying to maintain my normal chipper personality but it’s been very, very hard.

    4. Anansi*

      I agree, there are many factors that can influence happiness/sociability. That doesn’t make it ok, but it may not just be, “Oh, Lucy is being a bad sport and is pouting.”

      I’m going through a similar situation where I was turned down for a promotion (for a job I’d already been doing without the title/pay for eight months). I was disappointed but it was also a wakeup call that this position isn’t what I want to do longterm and I’m ready for something else. However, a few weeks later I was moved to a windowless basement office shared with a coworker I absolutely can’t stand. I’m trying very hard to keep a cheerful attitude so people don’t think I’m upset about the promotion, but in reality I am struggling to preserve my sanity while working next to someone who annoys the crap out of me.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        A windowless basement office? Keep a sharp eye on your red stapler!

        Seriously, this sounds like they’re trying to drive you out.

        1. Anansi*

          Ha, I’ve had that thought too! It’s mostly because we lost several office suites due to construction/remodeling so everyone got shifted around. But I definitely got one of the worst changes. That said, while my new boss really likes me and depends on me heavily, I do think that HER bosses are not that keen on me, and I am definitely job searching.

    5. Aurion*

      I’ve been a Lucy too. My issues were different, but I’ve definitely been openly resentful and made no attempt to hide it (my conflict was with management, and my coworkers’ sympathies were with me, so even though I cringe at my previous behaviour now I was at least partially justified).

      Not that I’m disagreeing with Alison’s post, but at the time, all the reason in the world would’ve gone over like a lead balloon. I feel for both sides here.

      1. Yogi Josephina*

        +1. I was a Lucy too. My job before my current one (over 5 years ago at this point) sent me spiraling into such a deep depression I could barely get out of bed in the morning. I spent my weekends crying. I had the world’s most abusive and awful managers, and I got to a point where I just didn’t even CARE about being professional and pleasant. I actually started to convince myself that they didn’t deserve my professionalism and respect, and that my poor behavior (by the end) was them getting exactly what was coming to them. In my mind, they didn’t get to abuse their staff and then demand I be pleasant. In retrospect, I was being difficult to punish them for all the things they’d done to me. I WANTED to be difficult to manage, so that I could feel like I somehow, someway was able to reclaim SOME amount of power and control, and not feel like they were just “getting away” with being abusive.

        The most productive course of action? Not at all. And I CRINGE when I think back to some of my behavior at times. If I could do it all over again I just would’ve jumped ship sooner (I eventually quit with nothing lined up; it was THAT BAD, but I had a support network and it all worked out), but at the same time I empathize with those who can’t, truly are trapped, and just can’t fake nice anymore. I still do kinda believe that if you are a dick to your staff, you forfeit the right for them to be easy to manage.

        (Not that the OP is a dick to their staff; I’m sure she’s not. Just offering another personal experience being the person who literally has had the spirit beaten out of them).

        1. Aurion*

          Yeah, I did this too. I also left that job without anything else lined up and stayed unemployed for six months. I could do that because I had a safety net (parents), but if I hadn’t…well, I think I would’ve been worse than Lucy.

          In retrospect, while my management then didn’t handle the issues well, my behaviour then wasn’t exactly helpful, and my terrible attitude didn’t exactly inspire them to bend over backwards to help me either, so it was a vicious cycle. I’ve dropped by to visit some old coworkers years after the fact and ran into my manager there, and the conversation was pretty warm. We’ve never spoken of my tenure there again, but when I left there was acknowledgement that both sides weren’t behaving well, and I think there were lessons learned on both ends. (It was a terrible place to work for many reasons, but when you are there and mired in that difficult situation it was so, so hard to be objective, and I think that applied to them too.)

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The biggest question here is what does Lucy know about the following issues: challenges with her old position, her lack of qualifications for that job, why there was a change, why she is in a different position than she was before, why she was kept on, and why and how all of these decisions were made.

    You need to have this conversation anyway even if you feel like you’re talking to a brick wall.  You need to know what she knows because I have a hunch what she knows doesn’t match up with what you know.  I get the management is in the thick of it most of the time, and they’re absorbed in these details so it’s easy to assume everyone outside of that bubble is just as informed, but that’s not always the case.

    I’ve worked in government for several years.  A very common occurrence, which affected me too, is where major circumstances change and so does a person’s job.  The problem is no one tells the person in question because management forgets or wants to avoid an awkward conversation or doesn’t want to deal in general or thinks everything will blow over.  Whatever the reason, a person’s job is changed, she doesn’t know why or she doesn’t know all the important details, she’s cut out of things she used to be part of, and she’s left to wonder WTF?  That situation is fertile ground for resentment and bitterness because Lucy may be asking herself why she’s loyal to an employer who doesn’t have the inclination and/or courage to be honest and direct with her.

    Again, you may think you and your employer have been clear, but until you explicitly spell that out to Lucy, you can’t be sure.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      This is such a good point! I was moved to a different division without my input and no one would tell me why. I was pretty upset because I’ve always had stellar reviews and it seemed like a punishment. However, I didn’t sulk or pout – although I did let our HR rep know later that her lying to my face was not appreciated. Three months later, I found out that they moved me because there were too many high-paid EAs in my division and the boss of another division really wanted me to work for her. If they had just told me this upfront I would have been fine with it -but the cloak and dagger bullshit way it was handled really turned me off.

    2. enough*

      Yes, this was what I was thinking. It sounds like Lucy’s new position could be considered a demotion. And then the person who was in the position gets a promotion that puts them not only above her new position but also the older “higher” position after only 6 months. Without knowing the background of the changes (like why LW was in the lower position to begin with) it could appear that someone with less experience at a lesser position then Lucy’s old position got to go to the head of the class while maybe Lucy thinks she got the shaft.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I think the letter said she was hired at the lower level because they were in a hurry to get someone on, but knew she’d move up to the other one from the start.

    3. Katie F*

      I had a similar thought to this, definitely – that maybe Lucy is unhappy in part because she feels like she’s been ‘demoted’, or that management could have given her a chance to learn those new skills and keep her old position but didn’t make an effort to cultivate her as an employee. Even if you think she understands that – even if you’ve been told that she was informed – that doesn’t mean she really was.

      I worked for a boss who routinely lied to HR about having told us about important employment changes when in reality, he had never mentioned a thing and we were ALWAYS blindsided. I was pretty unhappy after a couple of those occurrences, but speaking to HR didn’t help, as their hands were essentially tied as far as there being any consequences to the boss’s behavior.

      LW throws in a throwaway comment at the end about Lucy having had “difficult interactions” with basically everyone – right after a letter all about how everyone is friendly, social, jovial, etc. These seem like two wildly different personality types… so maybe Lucy is someone who shows unhappiness by withdrawing or getting occasionally hostile?

      I feel like there’s some key piece of context here I’m not quite getting.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        . . . maybe Lucy is unhappy in part because she feels like she’s been ‘demoted’, or that management . . . didn’t make an effort to cultivate her as an employee

        This is similar to what I was thinking. It may seem from Lucy’s perspective that OP is the only employee being cultivate, while she is being moved around like a pawn to accommodate OP’s move to the new role. If Lucy sees all these changes as a disparity in how she is valued compared to OP, then the sting of that may be weighing on her.

      2. Jayn*

        Even if she does know why things happened the way they did, she may still have those sorts of feelings. I’d probably be resentful if I were her, even if I did understand the underlying logic.

    4. Shannon*

      All of this. My initial question is whether or not Lucy knew any of this, or if she was moved around like a chess piece. You don’t have to ask for anyone’s blessing to conduct business, but, keeping them informed about what’s happening lets them make informed decisions. For example, if Lucy knew that her position was going to evolve into something different, she may have started looking for another position, either in the company or elsewhere.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        If this is the case, I can totally see why Lucy is acting the way that she is. That doesn’t make it okay, but if I were here, I wouldn’t trust anyone at work either.

        1. Dot Warner*

          Most likely, she is. A few months before I left my previous job, I wound up in Lucy’s situation, and if I hadn’t already been looking for a new job, I certainly would have started when my role changed.

    5. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      I would agree with this. The job I’m in right now changed. I was only asked if I wanted to do training on a new skillset. I had no idea that it meant a totally new job on a new team. It’s a bit more advanced than what I had been doing and it came with no pay or title change. I haven’t sulked about it, but I have told my manager(s) that I wasn’t happy with the change but the only answer I’ve gotten is too bad, so sad. So I agree, Lucy probably needs to have a conversation where she can be told what’s going on and why, fully, and vent her frustrations. Your job changing and you having zero control over it can upset a lot of people.

    6. Soupspoon McGee*

      My former workplace did this to people all the time! My department was moved from supervisor to supervisor, each in different divisions, whenever one would retire, die, or be pushed out. Sometimes I’d learn who I was reporting to quite by accident, and in a few cases, it directly contradicted what I’d been told. The expectations around my work changed each time, but of course I wasn’t told this explicitly either. So, if your company is like that, it isn’t going to change.

    7. Senior Widget Wrangler*

      “Whatever the reason, a person’s job is changed, she doesn’t know why or she doesn’t know all the important details, she’s cut out of things she used to be part of, and she’s left to wonder WTF? That situation is fertile ground for resentment and bitterness because Lucy may be asking herself why she’s loyal to an employer who doesn’t have the inclination and/or courage to be honest and direct with her.”

      This exactly– OldJob once “promoted” me and three other high-performing Widget Wranglers to Senior Widget Wranglers… without telling us anything about what expectations and responsibilities came with our new role, or even asking if we WANTED the new role.

      And yeah, I was kind of an ass about it, because it was like getting dropped into the last period of a game blindfolded, only to get thrown in the penalty box immediately because I had no idea what I was doing.

    8. Anonymosity*

      This is a very good point. My new manager is less accessible than my old one, and this doesn’t help. I feel like I’m bothering her when I have a question (not because she’s impatient, but because she’s so busy). I feel very disconnected from the new team, and it doesn’t help that I literally have no idea what they’re doing. Not because they won’t tell me, but because I don’t know what it means. I don’t do that kind of work or have familiarity with the industry we service, so a lot of times, I’m just doing tasks that have no real meaning to me anyway.

      I kind of like it that way, since I’m hourly and can not think about work when I’m not here. Thankfully, the overtime thing means I likely won’t have to anyway.

    9. Alienor*

      Yes – this happened to me four years ago, and I just found out the reasons behind it last month. It wouldn’t have made the job I was moved to any more appealing, but I would have been a lot less bitter and disgruntled about it.

  3. BRR*

    Brainstorming possibilities for her attitude because in my opinion if you figure out the cause it can help with addressing the current situation:
    -Lucy liked her old position and/or doesn’t like her new position? She might feel that even though the requirements changed she could have handled the added responsibilities. If the position is a big change, it might have been a position she wouldn’t apply for. Also does the new position have less responsibilities?
    -Was Lucy involved in her transition or was she just told one day?
    -Did Lucy want your job? I’m not really getting this from your letter but it’s a possibility that she has resentment.

    1. K.*

      I landed in a position I hated after a restructuring, and it was one I never would have applied for. I was miserable. Professional, but miserable. There were others in the same boat at my old job so at least I wasn’t alone – but we were ALL miserable. (Other departments noticed and commented that we looked sad.) If that’s Lucy’s situation, I sympathize – but that doesn’t give her the right to be rude.

      1. the_scientist*

        My department re-orged a couple of months after I started, and my team alone had 50% turnover following the re-org. People were placed in new positions without consultation, jobs they never would have applied for.

        Similarly, my partner’s department just re-orged: his boss was let go, and someone at partner’s level from a different department was promoted into a newly created assistant manager-type position, and someone else on his team was effectively demoted. Partner has been in that department since it’s inception and has voiced his desire to move up; he was peeved that he wasn’t given an opportunity to compete for this new assistant manager position (obviously, the company had good reason to keep it on the DL). Plus he now has three bosses and isn’t sure who he really reports to. That re-org happened two weeks ago; partner got an offer at a different company yesterday and is probably going to take it.

        So, based on my limited experience, it’s really, really normal for people to be unhappy and demoralized following a restructuring. I don’t think there’s anything employers can do about that. They can, however, require continued professionalism and quality work and enforce those requirements.

        1. RVA Cat*

          It sounds like rather than just reassigning people, it might have been both wiser and kinder to offer people a choice between taking the new position or being laid off with severance.

          1. the_scientist*

            I think it’s tricky, though. The issue of scale is important- you can’t offer the option of a layoff with severance unless you’re prepared to pay severance to every single person you’re moving around on the org chart. If it’s one person, or a couple of people, it’s much easier to present that option. And certainly, I think most wise companies offer the option of a layoff with severance when they present someone with a demotion- that’s what my partner’s company ended up doing to the person they demoted. But even if the person who’s demoted stays voluntarily, it really affects the morale of the whole team. People staying in roles they aren’t happy about also affects morale, even if everyone remains professional….you can kind of just tell that people are unhappy. And then you get a ton of turnover when all these people eventually leave for better positions, which can also impact morale. So there’s no easy way out. If you’re restructuring, I think you just need to be prepared for significant fallout, and deal with it as it comes….it would be virtually impossible to prevent any frustration or unhappiness entirely.

            What that means for the OP is that OP probably needs to lay off the “are you OK?” line of questioning with Lucy, but can and should address the objectively unprofessional behaviour.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          one more thing employers can do is give complete disclosure on what’s happening and why.

  4. nofelix*

    Something is missing in the description of the change of work. She sounds really upset and you say you expected her to be, but why? Was it a demotion? Was she previously senior to you in some way? (even if not officially)

    If she’s normally an outgoing social type then maybe her feelings have been hurt. She may feel betrayed by people she felt were her friends. That would make it difficult for her to engage if that trust has been eroded. I’m not saying those feelings would mean you’d done something wrong or need to make it up to her, but maybe some extra friendliness would help. If her social standing has been affected, maybe involve her in party planning or something that would underline her value to the office culture. The bottom line is do you think she can excel at her new role?

    The timing of the gift return could be a coincidence, or just generally symptomatic of low mood. I’d ignore it as not your beeswax.

  5. Sarianna*

    I would also wonder if she might have something in her personal life that coincided with the changes at work. Plenty of people like to keep a firm line between work and home, specfically including not talking about when something hard is happening at home (illness, money issues, family problems, what have you). For people who are more used to maintaining an emotional Berlin Wall than sharing smaller work-appropriate tidbits, big problems at home can spill over in inappropriate ways to work behavior.

    1. Sarah Nicole*

      This is what I was thinking. I know it would be a coincidence for it to happen at the time of the change, but she may have some things going on in her life outside of work that could be altering her disposition. Also, it could be that with things in her personal life, this work change was the last straw for her in her world where she is already experiencing problems. I just know this because I’ve been there, and it did affect my job a lot. Also, I understand it could be totally possible that this change is entirely due to the work change and that she really is exhibiting a poor attitude, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that she could be going through a tough time.

    2. stillbrokenhearted*

      Several years ago we had a major departmental shakeup at OldJob, and within a month I miscarried a very much wanted and loved baby. My performance suffered at work, but it wasn’t until I had to go to the ER a few weeks later for related complications that I told anyone at work what had happened–even my ‘work best friend’. I was a high performer before and after this personal bump in the road, but between the emotional/physical drain and hormonal changes, I was no treat to be around at the office, even though I was still completing my work. Looking back I’m almost embarrassed for myself that I didn’t say anything, but it was such a personal loss that I didn’t want anyone intruding on my grief.

  6. Dangerfield*

    I don’t know if it’s the cold drugs but I’m struggling to understand. So before the post begins, Lucy is in job A, OP is in job B. The company decides that job A needs additional requirements that Lucy can’t meet so they move her to job C and OP takes job A. They then create management job D, which OP takes?

    I can see that Lucy might be resentful that her employers decide that her job, which she feels she’s been doing successfully for however long, requires new skills, swap her to something else (effectively a demotion?) and then bring in a new person to 1) do her job and 2) get promoted really quickly. Obviously it’s not fair for Lucy to behave badly as a result of this, but the resentment seems very natural.

    I’d be tempted to have a conversation like someone in the comments mentioned a few weeks ago: “Lucy, this is the requirement of your job. Can you live with that? If not, I will support you as much as I can while you look for another job.”

    1. TheLazyB*

      No, Lucy moved to job B and the OP was moved to newly-created job C which was a promotion…. that’s how I read it.

      1. Dangerfield*

        It sounded to me like the OP came in at a low position and within 6 months was promoted to management.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I read it as OP was in A, Lucy was in B…then they decided to eliminate position B and shift some of B’s duties to a newly created management position C.

        OP was promoted to this new C position, and Lucy was shifted to A.

        1. Dangerfield*

          Okay, that makes sense! But it also sounds like from the beginning the director had been planning the shuffle – so OP was brought into A with the intention of her going to C as soon as possible.

          1. Katie F*

            So here’s a secondary question – did the team in general know that OP was being brought in with a planned promotion after six months or so? Or did the team watch someone be effectively brought in from the outside and immediately promoted over others with more seniority without A. an ability to apply for the job or B. any knowledge that OP was never intended to stay in Job A in the first place?

            That could cause resentment. In fact, I’ve worked in places where that has caused a damaging amount of resentment and the poor person who was hired and promoted was never able to gain respect or goodwill from her team because they all saw her as someone who’d been promoted without ‘earning’ it.

            1. Former Retail Manager*

              YES! To all that….I’ve also been in the same situation and it rarely ends well. Typically the people who were shafted will simply leave at some point in the near future. Even if management is justified in their selection of OP and she’s a great manager, failure to communicate the plan to bring her in a lower level followed by a speedy promotion into management will breed resentment that cannot be overridden by OP’s fabulousity.

            2. Not Me*

              We are suffering from this on our team. At first, we all reported to the director. Then a management job was posted and a team-member, Jaime, was promoted. We were all happy for him and all was well. After less than a year, a fairly new team member, Marjorie, was promoted to a management position. This one wasn’t posted, so nobody had a chance to apply. Just some new person promoted to manage a bunch of us. Marjorie’s promotion came out of the blue and was a shock to the whole team. She was mad when people were slow to congratulate her. it’s been a huge mess of resentment and stress.

              1. Katie F*

                Yep. Management (as a generality – I’m not finger-pointing specific positions here in any way) and/or HR will often make decisions like this without team input or even knowledge and then be sincerely shocked when the team isn’t Mary Sunshine about being kept in the dark (or, as in the situation I alluded to, outright lied to) because “we’re above you and can just make these decisions and you don’t need to know.”

                Frankly, anything that can affect your employees’ day to day job duties, performance, and overall working environment IS something they deserve to know. I know you can’t make everyone happy, and a business decision may not be well-liked by employees and still be the best choice for the company itself, but open communication and information-sharing can really mitigate these kinds of resentment issues in a big way.

          2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Yes, it definitely does, and as Katie F points out…it may not have been transparent.

    2. LawCat*

      Lucy might be hoping to get out in light of her job being shuffled around, but she may also be feeling trapped (slow job search, having to keep secrets), which is increasing her unhappiness. She might welcome that conversation.

    3. enough*

      Lucy – Job A
      LW – Job B
      LW – promoted to job C that wasn’t open at time of hire
      Job A is eliminated and Lucy goes to now open Job B
      Job D is created that has a lot Lucy’s old duty’s (Job A) but now requires additional skills Lucy did not have.

      1. BRR*

        This is how I understood it but I’m curious if Lucy could have gained the additional skills. If this is coming off as telling her she couldn’t handle something. Its certainly possible it was a big skill other applicants would have or would take a long time to train her on. Lucy might also want advancement and either not being promoted or not being trained on the additional skill affected her.

      2. Anon Moose*

        We can also infer that Lucy never wanted Job B. Because it was open and she apparently did not apply when LW was brought on (in order to do a manager’s job later). So she would have chosen Job B as a last resort to not having a job at all. Or I suppose Lucy could have wanted Job B, didn’t get it when they hired LW and then saw LW be promoted to job C shortly afterward, which could also cause resentment.
        Maybe Lucy really just wants to do Job A and feels that she actually could do Job D. The whole “eliminating the position then recreating it with more skills” seems pretty underhanded to me. Short of schooling, it might have been possible for Lucy to learn into that position. Sure it might have taken longer, but was it really less complicated or better for the company to reshuffle all these jobs and train new people on three positions? Does the company have a history of doing weird job swaps like this-hiring a person for a junior position so they can take a senior one and eliminating/ recreating positions?
        It sounds like she wasn’t given the chance to apply for Job D and that she was told Job B was the only option and is feeling pretty burned about Job A/ D being pretty much taken out from under her. Also possible that she’s thought up her own reasons for why Job A/D was shuffled this way- if she doesn’t recognize the business reason as valid, she could think either job performance – meaning she thought she was doing well but was then demoted- or even some kind of discrimination/ favoritism (who was hired for eventual job D? Are they very unlike Lucy? Are they being paid more?)
        Yeah, any way you slice it, this SUCKS for Lucy. From her perspective, the company has communicated they don’t value her.

  7. AnotherFed*

    Nothing you’ve described sounds egregious. OP, you mentioned that you are stopping by her desk nearly every day just to chat, and most of what you list as problems are just short answers. Maybe the tone of those answers is the real problem for you, but my first read of it was that she has a new job and has to spend more time learning/doing it and less chatting, so she’s shutting down chatter.

    For what it’s worth, if anyone, even someone I really liked, kept stopping by to ask if I was okay with a semi-demotion and how it was going, I’d be a lot less polite than Lucy!

      1. fposte*

        I do think it’s worth the OP making sure that she isn’t just wanting Lucy to reassure her.

        But passive-aggressive comments are a problem. If that’s an accurate assessment, it’s worth talking about those.

          1. AnotherFed*

            I’m not reading the chair thing as a problem – that’s after the conversation has ended. “When she’s done answering my question, she’ll abruptly end the conversation and will turn her chair towards her computer so that her back is to me.” If she’s in a cube and has finished answering the work question, what else should she do? Sit there and stare at the OP?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If she were doing it in the way you describe, I doubt it would register as weird for the OP. It sounds like she’s doing it in a pointed “I have nothing to say to you” way.

              1. AnotherFed*

                Okay, I can sort of see that then. And because OP is her boss now, she should err on the side of extra respect anyway instead of how she might have ended a conversation when they were essentially peers.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  I was confused by that too, because I was imagining “answer question, then turn around and get back to work immediately without continuing to chat” as what was going on, which struck me as perhaps a change after being chatty but not itself rude. If it’s actually turning her back before the interaction is complete, though, that’s a very different thing (and distinctly rude).

            2. neverjaunty*

              Turning your back on a person is a pretty clear dismissal, and it’s also rude.

              1. nonegiven*

                If your work is directly behind you, you are learning something new that you have to use headphones for cutting out distractions, and you’ve finished answering the question you were interrupted and had to turn all the way around to answer why wouldn’t you turn back to your work?

            3. LBK*

              I think you can feel out whether a conversation has actually ended or not; not all exchanges are just one question and one answer, and it’s a bit dismissive to turn your chair back around if there’s still more that might be said (even if it’s just the person saying “thanks”). I think we can trust the OP’s judgment that these conversations feel like they’re being cut off before they’re done; it’s something purely nonverbal so it’s hard to describe if you’re not seeing and sensing it in person.

        1. dancer*

          I think the chair thing could be taken either way. In the comments, we’ve advocated turning back to your work to get rid of coworkers who are distracting you, which is how I interpreted it it. Obviously if Lucy is doing during a work related discussion, it wouldn’t be acceptable. Also she probably should be more diplomatic to her boss…

          1. Cassie*

            I’ve done it to one of my bosses. He goes on and on about personal, non-work-related stuff. I have no interest in hearing him wax eloquent on how thrifty he is or hear about a new restaurant he visited.

            I wouldn’t recommend doing it in most situations but it’s the best way to get him to go elsewhere so I can get back to work (although he ends up at someone else’s desk, waxing eloquent there).

        2. AnotherFed*

          I missed the passive aggressive comments on the first read – agree those are a problem, but probably should first be addressed as ‘you may not be aware of it, but statements like X and Y come across as passive aggressive’ instead of jumping to the worst case assumption that it’s deliberate and malicious.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think there is an assumption that it’s malicious. But it’s also not appropriate, and it’s not isolated.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      This was my read as well. She may just need time to adjust, or she may choose to not socialize with her coworkers moving forward. But trying to force the relationship is just going to make everything worse.

    2. Bwmn*

      There is nothing worse then people constantly asking you if you’re ok – especially when the context of that conversation feels like it has the subtext of “I want to be reassured that you’re fine with this situation”.

      I was recently in a situation at work a number of staff left and changes were in flux. It quickly became clear that no matter how hard I tried to keep things afloat, that none of that work would result in a promotion or department changes that I wanted. Fair enough – but to then have someone asking me all the time if I’m ok – made the experience worse because my genuine answer “I feel that given XYZ situation and the work I’ve done, ABC should happen” – that wasn’t going to happen. And since that wasn’t going to happen, it was entirely on me to adjust to what was happening.

      If there is serious rudeness at play, then it may be worth addressing that specifically – but if it’s a case of someone previously being very social and engaged at work and then being more quiet and withdrawn – I’m not so inclined to make a huge deal out of that.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think that could be brought to the table in this situation. I also don’t know how long this has been going on–it has to be pretty recent if the OP has only been there six months–and I’d be prepared to give a month or so for adjustment before I intervened.

        But I also think intervention is legitimate, even if Lucy was hard done by, if she really is stonewalling her manager and dropping passive-aggressive comments. The OP is her manager, and it’s the manager’s job to ensure employees stay approachable and civil. That’s a basic expectation whether what happened to Lucy is fair or unfair, or whether Lucy understands it or not.

        1. the_scientist*

          Right, to me it’s the “sh*t or get off the pot” thing. At a certain point, you either have to accept the situation as it is or take action to move yourself to a better situation. Passive-aggression, eye-rolling, half-assing work, stonewalling managers or employees — none of these things are actions that will result in things improving for Lucy. While it’s reasonable to allow an adjustment period, at a certain point the OP may need to sit Lucy down and say “this is what your new role looks like; we can’t change it. If you aren’t happy, we can talk about a plan for you to transition out, but if you plan to continue in this job the passive-aggressive behaviour must stop.”

          1. TCO*

            I’m not so sure–I don’t see anyone endorsing her stonewalling and passive-aggressive comments. Some commenters are more bothered than others about Lucy’s other behaviors (being less chatty, keeping her head down, not seeming to go above and beyond).

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I agree. As a manager, it’s sad to see people disengage, but I also know that I can’t force it. I hate it when someone is sulky after being passed over for a promotion, but I’m not going to continually stop by their desk and force them to put a smile on.

          2. C*

            That may be so, but some non-managers may have some useful experience on situations they’ve encountered similar to “Lucy” and it may be helpful to be open to their input too.
            Basically what I’m hoping you’re not saying here is, “non-managers don’t get it and their input is less valuable as the manager’s perspective is the only valid one”. I know that’s not your M.O. but it’s kind of what this thread feels like at this point.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No, I’m definitely not saying that. I’m saying that I think managers’ perspectives are often different because you necessarily end up seeing things from a different angle. Both are valuable.

          3. AnotherFed*

            Maybe not so clearcut – I’m a manager and the only thing I’d be talking to her about is the passive aggressive comments. But then, I’m about as subtle as a freight train, so it’s possible I’d never have noticed some of the things the OP mentioned in her letter.

          4. neverjaunty*

            Eh, I get the sense that there’s also a divide between people who identify with Lucy’s job situation, and people who have had to deal with Lucy-type behavior.

    3. aebhel*

      Yeah, it kind of seems less like OP is stopping by with real work issues and more that she’s trying to maintain a friendly relationship with Lucy, which… if someone is already miserable with a semi-demotion and resents you because of it, it’s not really kind to insist that they act like a chatty Cathy. She’s being rude, absolutely, and she should knock it off (and OP should tell her to knock it off), but maybe just lay off the friendly chatting for a while? My read of that is that she feels like OP is rubbing her nose in what happened.

  8. Not Karen*

    Whatever you do, do not ask if there’s anything you can do to make her happier in her job if you’re not prepared to actually make any changes. If you’re just going to reply to her suggestions with “Too bad, suck it up and deal, and pretend to be happy anyway” then it’s better not to ask in the first place.

    (true story)

  9. B*

    I can sympathize with Lucy as the exact thing happened to me. A restructuring was done and I was pretty much told here is your position. I hated the new position but felt I had no other option but to take it. I would never have applied for it, was not able to interact with others as much, and felt demoralized. What did I do…I withdrew from interacting with colleagues, tried to get ahead by learning this new position which was a lot of stress, stayed quiet because I didn’t want to be a “complainer”, and just did what I had to do without going the extra mile.

    Have you spoken to Lucy and explained why the change? Also, I would cut her some slack because she is probably very stressed trying to learn this new role she was thrown into. Sure you can talk to her about her change in attitude but I would give her a slight benefit of the doubt having been put in this really hard spot.

    1. JaneB*

      When similar stuff happened to me, having an office with a door was essential in letting me handle it professionally, because it meant I could choose to not be as exposed to general chat (or seeing the people who, through no fault of their own, were in new positions they loved which were symptomatic of the change that had upset me) unless I was actually feeling OK and in control. For the first month or so I found myself on the verge of tears (or cursing/snapping/otherwise being unpleasant) unpredictably, because of both the stress and the disappointment, and being able to shut the door and compose myself (or have a weep) was SO helpful. In a cubicle setting, sometimes all you can do to get a little privacy is end a conversation and turn your back… and if Lucy is usually open with her emotions, trying to contain negative ones and coming off a little abrupt is probably a much better solution than leaking all over the office, literally or metaphorically!

  10. Ashley the Paralegal*

    To me, Lucy sounds disappointed and is trying to keep those feelings to herself. I think OP continuing to approach her and trying to pry this information out of her isn’t going to end well. If Lucy opens up to OP about how she’s really feeling and OP’s reaction is “well then I don’t think this is a good job for you”, what is Lucy’s incentive to be truthful with OP? In Lucy’s position, I’d keep my mouth shut too. If she’s doing her work and isn’t keeping anyone else from doing their work, just leave her alone. She’ll either come around or she’ll find a new job on her own.

    1. Avalanche Lake*

      I agree with this. I think there is also an option 3, which is that there is something else entirely in Lucy’s life that is making it difficult for her to be as engaged at work.

      That said, I think OP should address only those aspects of the behavior that are necessary for Lucy to work with with the rest of the team. Non-work related chatting with her colleagues is not necessary for her to do her job; depending on OP’s office, wearing her headphones all the time may get in the way and have to be addressed.

      1. Ashley the Paralegal*

        Agreed. I know that I have a difficult time being social when my depression is bad or when things are really stressful.

  11. Mockingjay*

    Lucy wasn’t doing everything in her old position that they needed someone to be able to do.

    Were these needs identified before or after Lucy was hired? Did the company hire her knowing she didn’t fit 100% (who does)? If the needs came up after she was hired, was she offered training? Either way, she was in a position in which she couldn’t do everything that the company wanted. It can be frustrating to be asked to do something when you don’t have the skills or experience to deliver.

    Then, her position was eliminated and the company created a new one, the same as her old position plus some extras. Sounds like an expanded position, not a new one. I can see where she would resent what happened. She might be nervous that such a thing could happen again, especially if the transition wasn’t explained.

    Moving on, does Lucy have the skills to perform her current job? Is she doing so satisfactorily? I agree with Alison that you should hold her accountable for her abrupt work interactions. But make sure she has a good work environment that she feels secure in, especially since she’s in your former position. Is she doing things a little differently than you would have? Does that matter?

    Also, please take those personality assessments with a grain of salt. You’ve slotted her as an Extrovert and are holding her accountable when she doesn’t act like one. Again, not to excuse rudeness. But she’s not happy right now and you want Mary Sunshine. And now you are her manager. So yeah, she’s not going to interact with you at a team level anymore.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      Double yes on the personality assessments. Especially since it was “discovered” that Lucy has a ‘short fuse.’ If I was placed in a “is this a demotion?” situation, then being told I had a short fuse, I would do everything in my power to not say more than I needed.

      1. Jennifer*

        Me too. It’s very weird that Lucy’s now getting in trouble for being quiet here, though.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I tried to stress this in the post — it’s not about being quiet! It’s about being rude — passive-aggressive comments, etc. I even stressed it twice because I knew people would ignore it and say this.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            From the post: “Again, I want to be really clear that isn’t about her not chit-chatting with people or going from being gregarious to withdrawn; she’s allowed to do those things. “

            1. Quieten Down*

              You’re not saying she SHOULD get in trouble for being quiet, but the letter clearly indicates that she IS. There’s more to it, obviously, but the OP definitely has a problem, with her being quiet. And that’s why people are commenting about the quiet thing.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Then either people are reading it wrong or I communicated poorly. Lucy not being social should be off the table as an issue. The OP should only concern herself with the rudeness (the turning her back before a conversation ends and the passive-aggressive comments).

                1. A Cita*

                  This chain of responses made me giggle.

                  Becoming adamant and reiterating your point and then…OooooooooooOoooh wait….never mind! = story of my life. :)

              2. LBK*

                I read the OP’s issues with that as more a flag that something bigger is going wrong; true, Lucy isn’t under any obligation to socialize if she doesn’t want to, but a change in demeanor that’s that noticeable can be a useful data point in determining if there’s an issue that you need to investigate. That applies to the OP’s solution, too; while it may seem like the solution is just to make Lucy talk more, I think what that really means is getting to the source of the underlying issue and resolving that so that Lucy’s old personality returns and she feels comfortable engaging the way she used to.

    2. Katie F*

      “Now you are her manager. She’s not going to interact with you at a team level anymore.”

      You know, I kind of skimmed that aspect of the letter at first, but you’ve got a point. I am definitely more distant and professional with my boss than the rest of my coworkers, even in our small, jovial, friendly office. To me, the emotional distance is a requirement in order to maintain the reality of our very different hierarchical positions.

      A boss trying to be overly friendly with me or keep up a “we’re just buddies in this together” attitude would be kind of off-putting.

      1. JaneB*

        It totally is! And the boss was one of the people who ‘won’ in my equivalent situation, so sometimes just seeing him made me feel all the feels and start to lose control of the snap/snark/cry reflex – silence and short answers are sometimes a useful control mechanism, since if you start talking you never know what might sneak out.

        The downside of coming across as overly chatty and cheerful and all that is that people assume it’s because you ARE cheerful etc. I know I come across that way, even get reprimanded for being too chatty and extraverted, but I’m an intravert depressive with anxiety disorder and (I suspect) adult ADD. I talk when nervous, I ‘blurt’ (suspected ADD), and I struggle to control where my talking goes or to sit on my thoughts anyway – so when things aren’t so good, my ‘natural’ presentation would be to continue to talk but to vent, whine, grumble and rant around people (escaping words), leave as soon as possible, then cry, eat All The Things and go to bed for a month in silence once I was alone – but the venting etc. is SO unprofessional, and leads to crying/anger-manifestations if it gets away from me, so very short controlled answers and cut off interactions (which come off as passive aggressive even if not meant that way) are the safe, more professional route.

        Especially with a boss who was once a peer (true in my case), where you have to learn new ground rules anyway – boss = Not A Peer, which means gets left out of much of the chit-chat anyway…

    3. Meg Murry*

      And another thing on the personality assessments – was there any chance that after Lucy was rated as an Extrovert, she was given some kind of feedback so that she interpreted it to be a negative thing? Or was part of the training about communication styles, and did it imply or say that you should shift your style to match your boss?

      I could see this being the perfect storm of her feeling like:
      -her position was eliminated, and she has no say in her new position other than take it or leave it (feeling as if she’s being told “screw you, here’s what’s happening”
      -oh look, her position is back. Except now it has a new requirement, and she is told she isn’t qualified so she’s stuck. (Basically, feeling as if she’s told “you s*ck”)
      -Being told she’s an extrovert and has a short fuse. Except everyone else in the company/department/role is an introvert, so being an extrovert must be bad and she needs to tone it down – again, a “you s*ck, you don’t fit in, you need to change” message

      Plus, any time I’ve been in a “your job is changing, here’s the new position, you can take it or be fired”, I’ve been in the “I’m a team player, I’ll do whatever it takes, just let me keep a job, any job” role. But after 3-6 months, the “I’m just grateful to have a job, even if it isn’t what I wanted” wears off, and I started to see exactly how much I disliked all the things that had changed (and weren’t going to change back). It sounds like Lucy has hit that point.

      Honestly, OP, I think you’ve gotten some good advice here, especially to make sure Lucy knows everything you mentioned (it’s possible she didn’t get the whole story) and also that it’s ok for her to be her extroverted self. But I don’t know if there is any saving this situation entirely – I think Lucy may have retreated into a “put my head down and just do the work until I can get out of here” mode – and you may only be able to address the “it’s not ok to be rude” aspect and then ride it out until she’s gone – I don’t think she’ll ever bounce into happy Mary Sunshine ideal employee in this role.

      Was the lacking skill something she could have been trained on, but wasn’t? Or was there some big part of her previous role that she really enjoyed that was taken from her? To me, I think the kindest thing you could do for Lucy is help her get some training to move out of this role and into one she would be happy in. Not in a “pawn the crappy employee off on another department” way, but in a “this role isn’t a great fit for you, so lets concentrate on keeping things from falling apart and try to work on finding a way to make you less miserable, while working on training so you’ll be eligible if a better suited role comes open.”

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I think this is a very good analysis. OP, definitely speak to her about the rudeness, but hold onto some compassion for her!

    4. nonegiven*

      It would drive me up the wall to have people walk up behind me so that I have to turn my chair around to talk to them. Did she have to move her desk?

      Is she mad at you?

  12. Erin*

    I’m a little confused by the “difficult interactions with almost everyone on our team” part. It sort of contradicts her being social and chit chatty before the job change, or am I reading this wrong?

  13. Episkey*

    Unfortunately, when I was in my first real job and younger than I am now, I acted very similarly. Hard to admit, but I was totally in the wrong. It’s a long story and there were many ways in which I felt that I had been “wronged” but I also clammed up, was visibly unhappy, kept my head down and just tried to do my work without engaging with anyone.

    Ultimately, I was laid off. Of course, the outcome could have been worse and I could have been outright fired, but my company had a long history of “laying off” people who they didn’t feel were good cultural fits or doing a good enough job.

    I like to think I learned from that situation and even in jobs I’ve had since where I’ve been unhappy, I’ve taken great pains to not show it. You might have to begin working to push her out. In my case, I don’t think much could have been done to make me “happy” again by the point I was at.

  14. Allison*

    I was Lucy, once upon a time. My job didn’t change but I was moved to a new manager, and I went from working for someone who trusted me and thought I was doing a good job, to someone who was up my butt all the time about my numbers, watching me like a hawk, expecting me to follow a rigid daily schedule, and often telling me I needed to ask coworkers for help on stuff; it was clear he didn’t trust me and nothing I did was ever good enough. So ask yourself, is your management style different from what she’s used to? It’s not necessarily bad if it is, especially if you really find it necessary, but that might be a change she’s having a tough time adjusting to.

    You mentioned she’s having a tough time learning some new parts of her job. Have you been mostly encouraging, or has it been a lot of you getting frustrated and telling her she’s doing things wrong? She might be feeling like you’re making her do all these new things and then getting mad at her when she doesn’t immediately pick up on them. I’d be cranky too, in that situation.

    Also, if someone replaced me with someone with more skills and responsibilities, without ever telling me I needed to develop my own skills to take on those extra responsibilities myself, I might be frustrated, feeling like the whole time I did my job people felt I was inadequate but didn’t have the decency to give me any honest feedback or direction to help me improve.

  15. Terra*

    Is it possible Lucy thinks that her talking/chit-chatting/etc. contributed to her job change? You don’t seem to think it did but if Lucy doesn’t know why her job was changed suddenly or has reason to believe that the story she was told wasn’t the whole story for whatever reason she may be trying to keep her head down so to speak which could account for a lot of the terseness and unwillingness to engage.

    1. Manders*

      That’s a great point. OP, is it possible that Lucy got the impression that she was moved out of her previous job because she was too chatty? Are you sure that no one else involved in deciding to move her would have told her that or implied that?

  16. Lora*

    Oh nooooooo. I’ve been in Lucy’s situation twice, and both times it was awful especially because there was no way of anticipating it or doing anything about it. I felt so betrayed – I had done my homework about the job, I had done some “hey is this guy cool or a jerk?” background checking about my potential management, I had been very specific about the projects the job involved and what I would be working on in the job description and in the interviews. Then there was a re-org and I was stuck with a new manager whom I never would have agreed to work for: in the first instance, I had been specifically looking to work with someone who had a lot of experience and connections in the industry and they stuck me with a newbie who had had exactly one job in his entire life; in the second, I went from working with someone with excellent management skills to someone with notoriously awful management skills who was about to be fired with extreme prejudice from his previous job.

    In both instances the re-assignment of “you will be doing XYZ for Jerkface from now on” came via a company-wide announcement. In both cases I privately sat down the next day with the senior management and laid out the reasons I was unhappy with the situation (including how it was communicated) and asked what other options were available to me, noting that I would be interested in transferring to another department if possible, because this was 1000 miles from what I signed up for. In both cases I was told, “too bad, deal with it.” And in both instances the senior managers were shocked, shocked! by the turnover and disengagement from staff.

    The thing is, I’ve had jobs where my role changed substantially and been moved to a different part of the organization, moved to different managers, and it was FINE, but in all those instances our group was forewarned about the upcoming changes many months in advance, we were offered severance or early retirement if we volunteered for it, and it was really more like being asked, “is this something you would be willing to do?” than “from now on, you will be doing this, I am the king and I say so”. And many people volunteered for severance or early retirement, many didn’t, but the people who stayed on were still engaged. They’d made a choice rather than having a choice made for them. It makes a big difference.

    Finally, you didn’t mention if you have ever been a manager before, but it sounds like the management role might be new to you – there’s some things you will mess up without knowing that you’re messing up. People aren’t going to be as friendly with you, or talk the same way with you as they would a peer. That’s just how it is, and you are onstage the whole time – things which were normal joking around before now are incredibly significant. It’s very different to have risque language, f-bombs or even visible anger coming from a manager than coming from a peer. When the guy in the cubicle next to you yells “this effing POS!” at the top of his lungs, it’s vaguely amusing but not necessarily threatening. When your boss does it, you think, “I guess today is a bad day to ask for vacation time…or tell him about Problem XYZ I need help with…” People rely on their bosses for help and training and support, and if they suspect that they won’t get any, or that you’re not reliable for that depending on whether you’re having server connection troubles or whatever, then they will just withdraw. And you won’t necessarily know why, because from your perspective, you’re the same as ever.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Good point about how as LW went from being Lucy’s coworker to being Lucy’s boss, it makes sense that Lucy’s behavior toward her will have shifted (especially since LW is fairly new at the company and Lucy hasn’t known her that long). Rereading the original letter, I’m not sure that I see anything that Lucy is doing as beyond the pale – frustrating for the LW (and maybe making her feel a little guilty, honestly) but not something that needs to be addressed formally. My advice for the LW would be to ease up a little. Manage Lucy’s performance/tasks just like you would anyone else, address any actual incivility if it happens, and give her a little space. Let her keep her head down, learn her new job, and emotionally process what has happened. Stop asking her if she’s OK all the time, because as another commenter said, all you’re accomplishing there is either forcing her to lie to make nice, or pushing her to confess her anger/disappointment and possibly getting fired/in trouble for it.

      Reorgs presented as fait accompli have happened to me on several jobs, and it is disorienting and frustrating. (My favorite was the place I worked for for less than 18 months and had 4 different managers. Oh, and we completely changed our business plan and planned products at least twice. Ah, startups.) You interview for a particular job working with a particular manager and set of coworkers, and although you know that any of those things could change, you’re assuming that you’re going to have some warning, like when coworkers give notice or go on leave, or when you decide to look for another job. When it’s completely out of your control and not communicated ahead of time, especially if you are essentially demoted or shifted to a position that you wouldn’t normally choose to do, it only reminds you how blatantly the company has almost all of the power in the situation, and all you can do is either suck it up or decide to leave and have to find another job.

  17. Robin*

    I can totally empathize with Lucy. I work at a job now where I am miserable with a capital “M”! My office is around the corner and totally removed from anyone else. No one stops by and no one speaks to me. That’s ok, but when they also leave me out of important work communications that can impact my ability to do my job well, it’s NOT ok. I know I must appear visibly unhappy and I just can’t hide it. Prior to this job, I was a very social co-worker and well liked by everyone. In this new position, I have been ignored since my very first day and that culture has continued and has compounded by unhappiness. So, I too am professional and polite (when spoken to, which is basically NEVER) but am a shell of my former self and I leave depressed and exhausted.

    1. Jennifer*

      I’ll trade you: I can’t get people to stop talking to me and looking for me and asking me things I don’t know the answer to. And then I get in trouble all the time for not knowing.

      I never knew how introvert-y I was before this job.

    2. Collingwood21*

      I’m in a similar position, physically removed from the rest of my team and I also hate it, Robin. I find I miss out on important work things because they are sometimes discussed in the main office and people forget to let me know too. We are about to restructure and honestly it is coming as a relief, because I know that whatever happens I won’t be in this situation for very much longer.

  18. Roscoe*

    OP, I think there may be a few legitimate concerns here, but for the most part it seems she had kind of decided to come to work, do her job, and stay out of everything else. Even if that is a change from how she was, there is nothing “wrong” with that. Your trying to overcompensate and be over friendly and checking up every day is probably making it worse. I had a phase like that a while ago at my job (turns out it was due to bad communication on my bosses part more than anything). But I just wanted to be left alone. My work didn’t suffer, I just stopped being social and going above and beyond. It passed. It may pass with her, it may not. But when you demote someone, which you eseentially did, its not really fair to expect them to acct like nothing happened

    1. Jennifer*

      Seconded! Yes, she’s no longer a happy puppy, but at least she’s not trying to make everyone else miserable–she’s just keeping to herself more so that she doesn’t spread her unhappy.

      1. Allison*

        There have been days where, rightly or wrongly, I’ve wanted to work from home simply because I was feeling sad, or cranky, and wanted to keep that negativity contained.

  19. neverjaunty*

    I think it’s awesome that people are brainstorming here about reasons Lucy might feel legitimately upset about the work environment or have personal life issues, but seriously – it doesn’t matter. Lucy is sulking like an eight-year-old who has to do chores, and she’s being actively and openly rude to her own boss (and to others – the dramatic gift-return thing is pathetic). That’s not appropriate behavior no matter what.

    OP, Senior Blogger Green is right that all you can do is address the behavior, and make it clear that your door is open if she has work issues she needs to discuss. Don’t keep anxiously asking her what’s wrong or if she’s okay. To someone of goodwill, that gets annoying. To someone who is a drama llama, that’s just a signal that their childish behavior is working because it keeps your focus on meeting their emotional needs and worrying about them.

    If she’s unwilling to get her act together, then get rid of her. As you say, she’s only an okay employee, and her attitude is rotten. The rest of your team will thank you.

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      People keep coming up with reasons why she might be acting this way, but it’s not OP’s business. OP can only address the behavior, not the reason for it.

    2. C*

      This seems like an over-dramatic and not necessarily accurate reporting of the OP’s post. The chair behavior and gift-returning may be construed as passive-aggressive, but we don’t know the full story or whether the intent was actually to be rude. It doesn’t really help the situation to advocate for this employee’s dismissal, from the info we’re given.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        As far as I’m concerned, there is no context – professional or personal – where one can return a gift six months later because they won’t ever use the item. And to a former boss? And after a demotion/change in position? I’d bet my shirt the intent was not innocent. She would have re-gifted the item – but she didn’t, because she knows exactly what she is doing. The OP should not engage, only intervene to address the negative change in Lucy’s attitude. Lucy has options, they may not be immediate, but they exist nonetheless and she needs to decide what she wants to do. Sulking and being passive-aggressive is not a great strategy to get through this.

      2. neverjaunty*

        On advocating for dismissal, you may want to go back and re-read the last paragraph of AAM’s answer.

        I don’t see where I have been inaccurate in reading OP’s post; she’s describing ongoing, inappropriate behavior. More importantly, if Lucy really didn’t mean to be rude, and has no clue that it’s rude to abruptly turn her back on her boss to end a conversation, and doesn’t understand that ‘here, former boss, take this gift from six months ago back because I’ll never use it again’ is dramatic and childish – then she’s seriously lacking in some important soft skills and workplace norms, and the OP would be doing her an enormous, long-term favor by educating her.

        1. C*

          I wasn’t referring to AAM’s response, I was referring to yours. This is clearly a polarizing topic, and with any other approach on AAM it makes sense to take the needs and considerations of all parties into consideration and not wildly over-interpret one party’s behavior versus another’s.
          Lucy has demonstrated some behaviors which may indicate she is inappropriately personalizing the re-org and her new position. However, as others have pointed out, the OP may be a new manager and also may be underestimating the impact of this re-org on Lucy (who, from the sounds of it, may certainly not be anyone’s idea of a star employee).
          Your posts are usually very reasonable and thoughtful, and I just wanted to comment that this particular issue may be stirring up some experiences of your own that are bringing a different context than what’s in this post.

          1. neverjaunty*

            They’re not, and while I appreciate the kind remarks, if your intent is to steer away from a polarized situation, throwing in remarks like ‘wildly over-interpret’ or ‘over-dramatic’, while ignoring any substance, isn’t particularly furthering the conversation?

            1. C*

              Suggesting that we ALL have balance in our approach is actually furthering the conversation, thanks!

            2. C*

              “sulking like an eight-year-old who has to do chores”, “drama llama”, and “her attitude is rotten” are somewhat over-dramatic statements, don’t you think?

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Okay, let’s move on from this. (Lots of different people here with lots of different ways of speaking, some more colorful than others. As long as people aren’t openly rude to other people here, I don’t want to police it.)

    3. BuildMeUp*


      I’m seeing a lot of “I was Lucy” comments, and people giving possible reasons for Lucy’s behavior. It’s definitely valuable for the OP to take those things into account, but no interpretation of the situation makes it okay for Lucy to turn her chair away in the middle of a conversation or return a gift.

  20. Mary Morston*

    I was Lucy last year, for a bit. Some of it had to do with my personal life. I lost a beloved pet, followed by another pet three weeks later. I dropped out of my master’s degree program and had a mini-meltdown about it. Also, a co-worker that neither the boss nor the rest of us are crazy about was made permanent in our dept. The year before, the boss made no bones about how much he hated this guy, making comments about how he should be sweeping the floors or working the mailroom, or just stay at home and collect instead of working. Then, he did a 180 and began being super-friendly to the guy, just because the boss loves to talk about himself and this dude will listen. It really lowered my morale.

    The kicker came when the boss did my review, and slammed me for being unsocial. He never once tried to approach me ahead of that review to ask if anything was wrong. Instead he watched it for six months and gave me a bad review.

    So my advice to OP is: don’t let it sit and fester. Address it now. Also, Lucy may be undergoing personal problems that happen to coincide with the changes in her job.

    I still hate my job and I really dislike my boss now for being a d*ckhead, but I’m doing the best fake job I can muster, pretending I want to be here everyday.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Excellent point about not waiting until evaluation time to address this. If you were writing Lucy’s annual performance review, would her behavior be enough of a problem that you would mention it? If so, then you have an obligation as a manager to address it with her now, so that she has the opportunity to course correct before it becomes something that goes in her personnel file and potentially affects any raise she might be eligible for. She needs to know that it’s something serious, if in fact it is.

    2. Manders*

      I had a long comment typed out about being a Lucy too, and I realized I was doing a lot of projecting of my own problems onto this sulky employee. OP, Lucy might be going through personal stuff, or she might not mesh with your management style, or she might have genuine reason to be miffed about job changes, or she might be taking her frustration out on you unfairly. Whatever’s going on with her, the best thing to do is address it quickly (while also doing some soul-searching about how much chattiness it’s reasonable to expect from your employees as a manager).

  21. animaniactoo*

    A few years back, I was placed in a situation where what was said to me was partly right, a lot wrong, and how it was said was completely insulting. Seriously insulting.

    I shut down for a few days. I went from being somebody who is generally social and talks all the time, to somebody who didn’t even say hello to her coworkers. I was (as somebody put it at the time) “pissed off to the highest level of pissedivity”.

    My co-workers gave me side-eye, and left me alone. The “managers” who had talked to me during my boss’ maternity leave stayed out of my way. I never said anything out of line, but I radiated cold. It was a good solid year before the manager who remained (the other one left) and I were on anything more than basic civil terms. Those 2 also left me alone for the next week or so.

    What I got out of that – room to recover. And I did. With everybody except the 2 managers, I was myself again inside of a week.

    I’m telling this here, because I’m reading your handling of this and I’m not reading any space where Lucy got to recover from what looks like a finagling of demoting her by eliminating her old position, only to bring it back after she was moved – with new skills that either look *to her* like an addition just so the company can defend that it’s not actually the same position, or an opportunity to develop those skills that she wasn’t given in order to keep that position. Or just something that stings some even if she recognizes that she couldn’t have developed the skills in time, etc. It may be that your “checking in every other day” is actually detrimental to this situation, rather than leaving her alone and recognizing that she needs some space to adjust on her own.

    1. Katie F*

      Yeah, unless Lucy’s attitude is -actively affecting the rest of the team or her current job performance-, I would back off and give her some space to breathe. The checking-in-every-single-day thing is only going to make the issue worse, not better. Lucy will just feel like her emotions and thoughts are being policed by a former coworker throwing her weight around as a new manager, and it won’t help the situation.

      She may just need a week, or two, to breathe and have some space and have time to really think about what the last few weeks have been like.

    2. animaniactoo*

      For chits and giggles, not only did my manager agree that was said was *mostly* wrong and severely insulting, the same guy managed to make a comment to her about her maternity leave when she returned that a) violated some discrimination laws there and she could have sued rather than looking at him and saying “You seriously did not just say that to me just now.” and b) pissed her off as bad I had been. Coldly furious. Just furious. As she put it to me: “Now I know how you felt. I didn’t know it was possible for me to get this mad.”

      *There is a piece that was true and I did not then nor now deny it. It was just blown way out of proportion, reductio ad absurdum style.

  22. Not Quite Lucy*

    I was turned for a promotion and had a period of adjustment and depression that I just needed to work through, mostly on my own. I don’t think I’m like Lucy in that I think I kept things very professional (except for one off-hand complaint I made to one person that I wished I could take back as soon as I said it), but I’m sure that it was very noticeable that I wasn’t my usual, bubbly self.

    I did have a good discussion with my manager before my new supervisor started (the job I didn’t get), and we did make some changes to my job duties to increase the variety (and I even got a bump in pay scale). Also, my new supervisor is fantastic and very appreciative of my skills and work, which really helped the transition. But I am very grateful that I was mostly just given the space I needed to work through it.

    The big difference here is that I did keep it professional and did some really awesome work during that time, helping to counteract my noticeable lack of enthusiasm. So my general advice is to consider that sometimes people need a little space for a while. Maybe the conversation with Lucy shouldn’t focus too much on the job change right away, just about the particular behaviors that are unacceptable for now.

      1. Been There, Done That*

        Which says a lot about how much seriously bad management there is out there.

        My “Lucy” story: A coworker (the “Lucy”) was moved up, w/ time and opportunity to learn new skills but didn’t achieve them. So she was moved back to her old job and a few months later I was moved up (I already had the skills). For a whole year people remarked on how angry she was (which I saw for myself and took the brunt of). I’m not her supervisor, but my position is higher level and ostensibly oversees hers. However, our manager coddled her nasty behavior, rudeness, and attitude by essentially
        expecting me to function as Lucy’s peer or even her subordinate.

  23. Former Retail Manager*

    Slightly off topic….but who really takes a personality assessment at work, after you’re already on the job? I can see doing it before hiring someone, but what’s to really be gained after people are there for a period of time and know their jobs. What legitimate reasons exist for doing this seemingly out of the blue. Is this a thing that companies are doing now? I’ve never experienced it firsthand….just curious.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Apparently – and this is based on hearsay – companies want to use these to figure out how to help their employees work better together. They may be part of a “team building” exercise, for example. I wouldn’t want to take one – I consider the results rather questionable – but if I thought my job depended on being seen as a “team player” and this was required to be seen as a team player? Well then.

    2. Anon Moose*

      Some managers I’ve had do it as a team building activity. Possibly this new manager wanted to do it in order to understand her new team better.

    3. AnotherFed*

      We’ve occasionally done them as unofficial team-building – all self-driven, not mandated. Nobody takes it too seriously, but there are sometimes lightbulb moments when people realize just why something drives someone else nuts, or that communicating something a little differently will make things much easier for other groups. I think it works best when it’s a group that already work together fairly well (not that they don’t have friction points, just that they know where those are) and everyone recognizes that it’s a tool to explain general style and preferences, not a set of parameters that completely describe all interactions/thoughts/feelings a person has or what work they are and are not capable of doing.

    4. TCO*

      My office (and others I’ve worked in) has used them to help promote understanding of everyone’s strengths and work/communication styles. Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder are the two big ones we’ve used. I can see why they feel invasive to some people but our office seems to embrace it (I can’t be sure that’s true of every individual here, though). I personally find them helpful and they’ve provided insight on how to work more effectively with colleagues whose styles are really different from mine. But it’s important that the results are discussed in a true “these styles/strengths are all equally good and important in the workplace” kind of way.

    5. Jeanne*

      I find this appalling. And now she’s being judged based on this assessment. It’s so disrespectful to employees.

    6. Been There, Done That*

      I think some places (not all) use such assessments as a handy, easy way to label and pigeonhole people so “decisions” are easier. (You got this assessment, you get promoted. You got that assessment, you’re a worker bee.) No independent thinking required!

  24. C Average*

    Oh, gosh. I have been Lucy. It was awful.

    I accepted a new role (in my case a promotion) and knew immediately it was a mistake. Behind the scenes, I was doing everything humanly possible to extricate myself: applying for other jobs, taking online classes in aspects of my new job that were proving more challenging than anticipated, even begging my old manager to let me pursue a role similar to the one I’d vacated. I hung in with that job for three years, and it got better, but not much.

    I spent a lot of time with the lights dimmed in my cube (I claimed they have me a headache), crying over how overwhelmed and helpless I felt.

    Some other factors (a new manager who wanted to be besties with her direct reports, a peer who excelled at all the things I struggled at and who DID want to be besties with the manager, my recent marriage to a man with two challenging children from a previous marriage) exacerbated the situation. I’m sure I was awful to be around. In retrospect, I’m sure my behavior was passive-aggressive. I was so miserable and felt so helpless to change anything that I lacked any self-awareness at the time.

    Could you come to Lucy in a spirit of sincere empathy and kindness? It feels to me like you’ve been approaching her as a problem to be solved–“how do I get Lucy to stop being a brat?” For me, when a colleague took me to lunch and let me air my grievances and then helped me brainstorm about how to find a new job, it was as though the sun came out for the first time in months.

    Another thing I’d add: when you aren’t excelling at your job and you know it, and when you aren’t getting along well with your manager and know it, you may feel that a new job is out of reach because you’re a hopeless incompetent who won’t get a good reference. Could you make it explicit to Lucy that despite current conditions, you know her to be capable and would support her in a job search if she simply can’t adjust to where she now finds herself?

    1. nonegiven*

      She took her to lunch and gave her a chance to say something and she obviously didn’t feel safe doing so.

      1. JustALurker*

        Agreed! Key words “feel safe”. I have never been a Lucy, but the “job shuffle” that Lucy’s job handed her would give most employees pause. The “job shuffle” would also make it hard for many people to trust “management”. I wouldn’t be able to “engage” very well after all that. I do think Lucy’s giving the gift back is absolutely ridiculous and she has not been professional in her interactions with staff, I absolutely get why she is no longer engaging and friendly, it’s not right, but I get it and it needs to be addressed. I think the best OP can hope for at this point is for Lucy to get her act together and at least be professional. Whenever I want a co-worker or supervisor to move along, I smile and ask “Can I help (you) with anything else?”

        1. Dot Warner*

          +1 to all of this.

          OP, I think civility is all you can reasonably expect from Lucy. Her behavior is definitely wrong, but she’s just been demoted and she may think you were behind it. If she’s refusing to tell you what’s wrong, it might be because she thinks you’re looking for an excuse to fire her. (That was the reason I avoided my boss in a similar situation.)

  25. Jill*

    I was Lucy once after four years of not being allowed to do the type of work I was lead to believe I was hired for. Again and again I was told, “pretty soon we’ll have you working to your full potential” and yet time went on and all I did was monkey work.

    If they would have just been direct and said, “We thought we’d use you for X but the needs of the role are now Y AND WE DON’T SEE YOUR ROLE CHANGING ANYTIME SOON” then I would have lost the attitude and accepted my new role. So I second AAM’s advice to make sure she’s been properly briefed on what these new changes mean for her role.

  26. Student*

    From her point of view, this is pretty demoralizing. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision, but I could see her being pretty unhappy.

    You could try to approach it with her from the point of figuring out what it’d take to raise her morale or enable her to get past this – does she need more transparency about why this happened? More idea of whether you keep her because you actually think she’ll succeed in this role moreso than her past role? More training? An idea of what career options are still open to her? Opportunity to learn things important for the role she wants?

    I’d also encourage you to focus on only the parts that impact her job and not her overall mannerism of being less social. AAM had great advice for that aspect of it. There is an often unconscious expectation that women present as happy and social all the time, and people often try to police women’s emotions in inappropriate ways. Make sure you’re sticking to the right side of that line – business impacts, engagement with work are legitimate issues; how she isn’t smiling enough for you or making you feel good by chatting socially with you are not legitimate.

  27. iconica*

    My guess is that Lucy feels she was demoted and is humiliated. She is embarrassed in front of you, does not trust that her workplace is stable anymore, and has checked out emotionally. Telling you she’s unhappy would have zero reward (unless you could say, “Oh, we went back and looked at all of your old work, and we mixed you up with someone else. It turns out you ARE good enough for the job and we’re giving it back to you”). This doesn’t mean she can’t do her job. She’s just probably looking for a new one.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. It sounds like the OP should set expectations re: professionalism, then back off and give Lucy some space.

  28. Not My Usual Name*

    Can I join the list of Lucies?

    I can empathise with the not wanting to talk to co-workers. When your role has been changed and you disengage, you get to the point of going to work to get paid. (Who cares about job satisfaction? Give me the cash!)

    Also there is the whole being a friendly team, but no, you must be professional since these people are senior to you. By the end, I decided it was safer not to say anything. And then received complaints for only talking about work. (Since I couldn’t care less about your private life, I fail to see why you should care about mine).

  29. One of the Sarahs*

    I’ve been in a Lucy situation, next to colleagues like Lucy and I’ve managed two Lucies, and while, like so many people in the thread, I have empathy for Lucy, having someone be obviously unhappy can really upset team morale. That’s not to say people can’t feel their feelings, but if someone is deliberately projecting their unhappiness (as a couple of people in the thread said they did themselves), it’s draining to be around, and affects the work of so many more people than just Lucy.

    OP, my first managing scenario was like yours – I was hired into a team, into a role where part of the work had been done by Lucy, but she wasn’t doing it well, and management decided it needed to be managed by a more senior member of staff with different skills, so as part of a restructure it was changed, with more duties added. I came in and ended up managing Lucy, whose role was changed, and she never stopped making it clear that she resented this. It was so hard to deal with, but my manager held a really firm line with Lucy when she complained to him about the scenario. I was friendly with Lucy, and I just had to hold my line, and keep a professional standard, and try to help her get the skills she needed to progress. It was very hard, as she was not good at hiding how much she resented me, and there wasn’t a happy ending, sadly.

    My second Lucy was restructured into my line, when his role was erased in one of the periodical restructures. He came with a terrible reputation, and warnings, and wasn’t especially happy about my manager and me being women who were younger than him. I had to have some hard conversations with him about how he was coming across to the team, but I also found ways to connect him to the work, and feel like he was a valuable member of staff, not just someone shunted around. That one ended up much more happily – but it was easier because he was coming into something new.

    One thing that helped me a lot in both cases was my managers both being empathetic about understanding why the Lucies were feeling how they felt, and having my back – especially about giving them some time to get over their disappointments – but also stressing that *I* should not feel guilty, especially with my first Lucy, and that while they had an absolute right to feel unhappy, they also needed to present a professional face in the office. It’s a hard line to walk – and if there are workplace resources like counselling on offer, I’d definitely put them on the table if she will admit to being unhappy about this – but no amount of disappointment should be allowed to affect the team, long-term.

  30. A Cita*

    Sounds like Lucy thinks she’s been demoted (partially, true, or not true).

    Address the actual incidents of rude behavior, giver her feedback/transparency about the process on the re-org (if you haven’t already), treat her like a report and not a team mate (less casual chit chat), give her training (if applicable), and then give her some time.

  31. Mustache Cat*

    I sympathize with all the Lucies in this thread; I’m sure it must truly suck. But working with a Lucy is incredibly demoralizing. I don’t care about socializing, but a bad attitude is contagious.

    1. Aurion*

      As one of the former Lucies, I absolutely agree with you. But that’s with the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of regrettable experience.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Definitely true, but in some places in these comments there’s a sense of “she’s justified in being upset, so let the bad behavior go” — which is not the right move to make.

  32. Rob Lowe can't read*

    Thanks for running this letter, it’s very timely for me! I’ve been in my current position about a year, but due to some company-wide scheduling issues and a crazy number of upcoming maternity/paternity leaves, my position is slated to change slightly in a few months. There are definitely some aspects of the change that I’m excited about, but also some that have been very difficult to swallow. I’m trying to keep up a positive attitude about it, but I do feel the negativity creeping up at times.

  33. SJP*

    I really hope that OP reads these comments, it may help her truely understand Lucy’s position, why she doesn’t want to talk to people and be open. And like Alison said, hopefully someone actually truely explained to her why her she can’t do her old position, and perhaps maybe instead of making a new position that’s basically Lucys old position but with stipulations that prevent her from doing that job they could have actually taught her so she could still do a job she enjoys.
    I’ve found companies are so throw away with staff now, what happened to growing and teaching your staff..?!

  34. nonegiven*

    I’m wondering if Lucy thinks LW is sleeping with old manager? Brand new employee starts and gets promoted to be her supervisor within 6 months. She doesn’t want anything to do with either of them. It would explain why she gave a gift back to old manager. Now she misses some things she likes about old job and hates some things about new job plus has to report to old manager’s mistress. I might not speak to you, either.

    1. Green*


  35. Undine*

    Ever since things went south with OldJob, I have trouble with the phrase “passive-aggressive”. It’s judgmental but actually very subjective. It’s possible to be passive-aggressive without wanting to (that’s what I did at OldJob) — it’s an manifestation of being in a bind and not knowing what to do about it.

    Say you have the boss mentioned above who says “why can’t you be better at what I’m thinking?” Suppose boss gives you some (incomplete) instructions and asks “Is that clear?” “No” is (by experience) unacceptable to the boss, “Yes” is a lie, and “No, but I’m going to have to do it anyway” is true but passive-aggressive. Sure, SuperSubordinate knows how to have the conversation that clears it all up, but without those special powers, it’s easy to fall prey to the passive-aggressive trap.

    1. Petronella*

      Agreed, “passive-aggressive” is up there with “bad attitude” as an all-purpose criticism that is impossible to defend or argue against.

  36. stevenz*

    When a co-worker suddenly becomes your manager, the dynamic changes *a lot*. It’s no longer possible to be chummy and every conversation is a potential source of stress. Lucy may feel resentment that OP got the job, or that she – Lucy – lost a friend/supporter, she may feel that he role at the company is now uncertain which is uncomfortable for a lot of people, she may feel more exposed because OP knows her on a personal level and now has power over her.

    Then when OP goes to Lucy and says the things she has been advised to say it will only underscore the change in hierarchy that puts her below her former friend, and make OP look very manager-y. That won’t be pleasant for her. It wouldn’t be for me, though I think I would have handled the change better than she did. But maybe not. I’m pretty insecure…. (Insecure people never have a nice day.)

  37. NicoleK*

    Reasons why Lucy is no longer super friendly:

    1. OP went from Lucy’s peer to her boss
    2. Lucy may have been demoted or felt that she was demoted
    3. Lucy may have felt that the demotion was unwarranted or never clearly explained to her
    4. Lucy may perceive unfair favoritism as OP was promoted quickly
    5. Lucy may feel embarrassed about the demotion
    6. Lucy may feel singled out if OP is stopping by her desk every single day
    7. Lucy may be dealing with personal issue outside of work
    8. Lucy may be struggling in her role
    9. Lucy does not feel valued

    This still doesn’t excuse the rudeness

  38. Monica*

    This happened to me. I went from a job I liked to a job they created and couldn’t even quite tell me what it was or what my responsibilities were. Basically, I just got in trouble if something went wrong, without knowing (or being told after the fact, even) what I should have done to prevent it. I hated it with a passion. I was laid off (for the third time in a 5 year period from that same company) after less than a year. So glad I’m out of that disfunctional place for good!

  39. BillBobThorton*

    So LW showed up, worked a few months, passed Lucy up and became her boss, nixed the job she liked and put her in a crap job, took her out to lunch to pretend kiss ass, and now shows up at her desk every day asking stupid questions? And then gets offended by Lucy wearing headphones and getting back to work? Come down off thy high horse madame. If you want to talk about the gift being given back, certainly do so, though I think the person who received it back probably should have dealt with it at the time. If you think she is making passive aggressive comments then deal with it directly but don’t put on every perceived slight you clearly feel back on her as “passive aggressive”. She is probably pissed, probably rightly so, and probably looking for a new job so just let her be until she finds it.

  40. Techfool*

    This reads to me as very trivial stuff.
    When a team has clear goals, plenty to do and a sense of purpose, neither managers or Lucies have time for this.
    The devil makes work for idle hands, and thoughts for idle minds.

  41. Jerry Blank*

    I’m wondering if there’s something going on in her personal life as well. There are times I’ve been quiet and antisocial at work due to a death in the family or something similar. It’s possible she’s just in a bad place all around.

    1. CanadianKat*

      Just what I was going to post. For the past 6 months, I haven’t been jumping at every opportunity to socialize in the office: my husband and I have separated, and I still haven’t figured out how to process this. I haven’t told my co-workers (and almost nobody else) as I don’t want to have to answer questions such as what happened? and who left whom? (no easy answers) It doesn’t help that (a) most of them are happily married and will talk about their family activities (and expect me to do the same); and (b) hubby and I were living a non-traditional lifestyle that my coworkers were (probably) skeptical about and which did, in fact, contribute to the break-up.

  42. I'm Lucy*

    I’m a Lucy. I’m none too proud of it.

    I’m glad I came across this post and its comments, as they’ve given me some clarity. When I’m in the thick of things every day, it’s really easy to lose sight of what makes sense.

    When I first started out, I was young and enthusiastic, albeit naive. Once I was promoted, I hardened up (and had my own Lucys to handle), but was still friendly and willing to socialize. In the last year, I had really begun to hit a ceiling and was becoming flustered. And, without going into too much detail, I was ultimately demoted. I understood the reasons for it, and I was partially to blame, but I also wish management was more transparent with me. I felt like so much was going on and I wasn’t made privy to it all until the bomb had been dropped in a matter of a short phone call. It’s their prerogative, I suppose.

    The adjustment has been difficult. For the most part, I only talk when spoken to, but will participate in banter every now and then. (Although I feel like it’s not well-received like it once was because I’m a “former” nice girl. So I don’t put forth the effort too often. ) I don’t go out of my way to socialize with the office – besides a lack of enthusiasm/feeling of shame, the distance is too much and my personal life has become increasingly busy (in a good way – it’s great to have friends and hobbies).

    The quality of my work hasn’t suffered – that I know of, anyway. I still try because I take pride in my work. Maybe I won’t go that extra mile like I used to, although that apparently hasn’t stopped me from volunteering to cover undesirable shifts. (Oh, guilt!)

    While I’m not as blatantly rude as Lucy (giving back a gift like that is baaaaaad form, for starters), I’m on the cold side of things. I’ll be polite, or at the minimum, civil. Overall, I just want to put my head down and work because in my mind, that’s all they should get from me from now on.

    OP certainly means well. I’ve been in her spot a few times before. As a Current Lucy, however, repeatedly being asked if I’m okay just reinforces that she’s not. She lost her position (plus other external factors OP may not know about) – of course she’s not okay. People process this stuff differently. Unfortunately, for people like Lucy and myself, shutting down and forgoing niceties is the way to cope.

    I wish things could go back to the way they were, and I do miss being my default self at work (friendly), but I think I’m caught in a situation where I’ve been there too long and the damage has been done. I’ve been looking, but don’t even know where to begin because having to explain a demotion makes me feel like a loser. I’m stuck. Maybe Lucy feels the same way.

    If her bad attitude is affecting overall morale and others are coming to you about it, definitely do so without suggesting that it’s due to her new role at work. (Let her be the one to bring that up, if so. ) If your HR department is unlike mine and competent, reach out to them for advice on how to approach the situation. Whatever you do, don’t wait until her evaluation to address it. Letting a problem go until “designatated professional talk time” is one of the worst things a manager can do. Allow her time to redeem herself, if she so chooses.

  43. BTDT*

    Had a similar change happen to me – moved from the job I enjoyed to a job where it was set up to be impossible to affect the changes needed to (a) keep things running smoothly, (b) comply with existing federal and state laws that were being violated as a matter of course, (c) Do a job I had no training for whatsoever in any fashion, and (d) work three sites simultaneously.

    I’m convinced it was the new CFO’s way to turn over the department to her own people,

    Me, I left. Life is too short to work for assholes.

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