my coworker won’t stop complaining about our health insurance and I feel horribly guilty

A reader writes:

We hired an external contractor to join our team two years ago. Before we interviewed him, he sent me an email asking to confirm that insurance was available because his family’s insurance was through him. Knowing it was available, I said yes it’s available. (I didn’t do any research, I just knew it was available). His wife works in high-end retail with no benefits available and therefore their only access to insurance is his job. My manager also ensured that the contracting company sent him the insurance options, prices, and coverage amounts with his offer, so he should have been aware of what he was signing.

Fast forward a few months after he began working, he learns that the insurance is basically nothing after his wife’s first doctor’s appointment. Despite having the information all along, he exasperatedly admitted one day that he hadn’t even read it! Since he’s an external contractor, it’s not subsidized by the “employer” — it’s 100% paid for by him. Besides that, the coverage is very minimal and he ends up paying for almost everything 70-90% out of pocket. There’s another higher option available, but he says he cannot afford it (despite the fact that I know he’s paid very fairly for what he does and makes good money; he’s probably not swimming in it but he should be comfortable, especially since his wife also works).

Every time he is sick, he complains that he can’t go to the doctor. Every time he has a doctor’s appointment, he complains how expensive it is. He forestalls needed appointments because of the cost, and when any of our teammates DO go to the dentist/doctor, he complains that he wishes he could too. And I hear ALL of this — we are friends at work and sit right next to each other (before you suggest it, no there’s no where else to move, and yes, I do try to work from home sometimes to get space but I can’t do it all the time). He and his wife would like to try to have children soon, but he looked into it with the insurance and he’d be paying for most of the pregnancy and childbirth costs out of pocket.

Over the course of the almost-two-years this has been going on, I’ve tried to gently encourage him to look elsewhere if this isn’t the best option for his family. He is highly employable (he was employed when we interviewed with us, but talks frequently about how much he hated that company) and has some skills that companies would kill to have, and while I don’t want to lose his skills on our team, I really don’t think this is the right place for him.

We are friends at work but this is starting to really wear on me mentally. Not only do I feel incredibly guilty, but he has the ability to look elsewhere and simply just doesn’t (I’d know if he did, I promise, we talk about it A LOT — he’ll show me jobs and ask if he should apply and I’ll say yes, and then he’ll think about it until the application deadline has passed). I am a do-er, not a talker, so I don’t understand sitting there and having a pity party for yourself every day. But besides that, every time he brings it up, it makes ME feel guilty all over again. I really didn’t intend to mislead him, and if I’d known it was this bad, I am certain I would have given the caveat that it’s available but not a very comprehensive plan (though of course, there IS a comprehensive plan available).

Oh, and because I’m sure commenters will suggest it — he’s said that he cannot afford the healthcare marketplace plans available in our state. Other coworkers and I have also suggested other affordable private insurance options. He’ll say “good idea” and then when we follow up will say “I haven’t had a chance to look yet.” This also frustrates me because he drives a brand new car and has told me his monthly lease is like $700, and he always is buying his wife expensive presents, but when she had a medical procedure that cost $1500, he complained that he couldn’t afford it. I know he doesn’t have any student loan debt, nor does his wife. Basically I know way more about his situation than I ever should, because he’s an over-sharer. Essentially, he SHOULD be able to afford the higher insurance, he just chooses to prioritize other things in his life.

How I can tactfully handle this situation? I’d like to ask him to stop telling me every detail about how much appointments cost because I seriously go home and cry over my guilt about his situation (he argues with doctors’ offices and insurance right beside me on the phone), but even then I feel guilty doing so because I feel like it’s all my fault. My manager knows how guilty I feel and tells me that I have misplaced guilt here, because he ensured that the coverage of the benefits package was sent to this guy before he accepted the offer — he knew what he was getting into. I’ve tried before to gently say to him that it’s hard for me to hear about it because I feel so guilty, and he stopped for about a month, but the next time something came up he told everyone on our team all about it again.

I realize my guilt is most likely misplaced as my manager says, but no matter what you or your readers suggest, the guilt I feel isn’t going to change; what I’d like to change is how frequently it’s shoved in my face, and I just don’t know how to get that to stop.

Well, yeah, this is not your fault. I won’t dwell on that too much since you asked me not to, but it’s reasonable to expect that adults will read the benefits information they’re given before accepting an offer. This is true for anyone, but especially for external contractors since it’s not typical for them to be able to use your insurance at all (at least in my experience) and so you’d think he’d be especially interested in what he was getting.

Look at it this way: The only possible reason you could have to feel guilty is if he would have turned down this job if you had made the insurance situation even clearer to him. If he believed he might turn it down based on the details of the insurance, then it was hugely imperative that he read the details of the insurance, and it was irresponsible and reckless that he didn’t. If he wouldn’t have turned the job down if he’d fully understood the details, then the whole question is irrelevant and he’s just complaining because that’s what he would have done no matter what.

That last possibility seems likely, because the amount of complaining he’s doing is way beyond what most people would do in this situation, even if they did feel screwed over. He’s complaining at a fairly extreme and intense level. Rather than interpreting that as evidence of how much you let him down, I’d interpret it as evidence that he’s someone prone to extreme complaining. (I don’t mean to sound callous or insensitive. I’m sure his situation does suck, and I fully support him leaving over it if it’s not workable for him. I just don’t think it’s cool for him to unload it on you all the time.)

Anyway. As for how to get him to stop, this is probably well within your control as long as you’re willing to ask him to. Say this: “Fergus, can I ask you to stop complaining to me about insurance costs? It’s really distracting and it’s hard to hear a constant flow of complaints like this. And since I’m the one who originally gave you the insurance information, it makes me feel really bad. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop.”

You said that he stopped for a month the last time you asked him to, so it’s likely that he’ll stop again. And if he starts back up at some point, be direct: “Hey, I really need to ask you not to complain to me about this, for all the reasons we’ve discussed before.”

If you wanted to, you could also have this conversation with him: “It doesn’t seem like the benefits package here is the right one for you. If you think that’s true, I think you need to actively look for another job. Meanwhile, though, I think you really need to keep your frustration about it out of the office, because it’s impacting people around you.”

Hell, while we’re talking about conversations to have with him, you could also have this one: “I feel like I know way too many details about your finances and your marriage.”

But it sounds like the cost of making him stop talking to you about insurance and medical costs might just be reminding him once a month. That’s not a bad price; I’d go that route and let yourself have peace the other 29-30 days each month.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. Mena*

    If the insurance aspect of this job was SO important to him, it was his responsibility to read the information provided to him at the time of offer. The chose not to.
    Other plans are available to him; he chooses not to explore these options.
    Instead, he chooses to spend his money on other things.
    The choices belong to Fergus.
    I wonder if he’s used to complaining his way into getting his own way (e.g. the company makes an exception or the doctor’s office discounts the fee)? Or, as Alison mentions, perhaps he’s just a complainer.
    But none of this pertains to you. Ask him to stop complaining to you and when he does it again, ask him again. Complainers want/need an audience; don’t be his audience.
    (and maybe headphones at work??)

    1. Sketchee*

      Love your answer and would even move it to present tense. If this was important to him, at some point in two years he would decide to do something about it. He has made the choice to act helpless and irresponsible. Focus on not having these conversation, rather than his personal choice.

    2. junipergreen*

      Yup yup and yup. This is not your problem, it’s Fergus’s. You can’t control his actions (such as compelling him to research his options, manage his spending, or search for jobs), but you can control yours.

      Easiest things to do are to avoid (headphones) or avert (Him: “My dental bill will be outrageous!!!” You: “Mm. How’s that TPS report coming?”).

      Sounds like you’re already avoiding him if you’re arranging for work from home days JUST to get away from this guy. Practice changing the subject and don’t engage on the healthcare talk.

      1. Leeza*

        And for heavens sake, don’t tell him it makes you feel guilty! This makes him able, in his own warped mind, to shift the blame to you. AND ITS NOT YOUR FAULT. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. Even if you had completely mislead him and said, “yeah, its great insurance!”, it still wouldn’t be your fault, because what ADULT takes a job without checking out these very important points himself? I don’t understand your guilt or your tears. Not trying to be mean, but you are 0% at fault here. This man sounds like an idiot re. money matters, and he really needs to step up to the plate and sort out his financial situation. Because its his responsibility. HIS. Not yours.

    3. Kms1025*

      He absolutely CAN AFFORD insurance. He just chooses to spend his money elsewhere, and that’s his right. But it’s your right not to be bombarded every day by this negative nelly. Tell him nicely once. Then with increasing directness until he stops. Change the subject, walk away, plead busyness…anything to end subsequent “oh woe is me tales”.

  2. Bea W*

    Some people just need something to complain about. He sounds like one of them. :/ No need to feel guilty. He apparently has options (like leasing a less expensive car holy crap!) and is refusing to exercise them.

    1. Clever Name*

      I was going to say exactly this. For whatever reason, some people just complain a lot. For people who like to be helpful and who like to fix things, it can be exceedingly difficult to be exposed to constant complaints. I also understand that it’s going to be difficult to ask him to stop. I’m in a similar situation with my office mate, so I sympathize.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Agreed. While I know you feel badly, the responsibility was on him to do his research appropriately before accepting the position. He didn’t. To make it worse, there are other options available, either private plans, or even adjusting his cost of living to make insurance more affordable; and he chooses not to investigate any of these options.

        At this point, he has chosen his situation, which is to do nothing and complain. Checkout some noise canceling headphones!!

    2. ElCee*

      He basically is my mother-in-law. I just nod and make murmuring sounds until I can escape.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Ha! That’s pretty much me with my mother. We offer resources and advice and it all gets ignored because clearly she’s happier doing nothing and complaining.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        This is an acquaintance of mine, who regularly shows up for our Friday night get-togethers at my next-door neighbor’s house. She is a Constant Victim. Nothing good ever happens in her life, and whenever we all give her [simple, easy, free-to-accomplish] ideas for how to suffer less, she shoots down every single idea. I gave up years ago trying to help her and now just say, “Wow, that must suck,” before changing the subject. I finally realized that she derives her identity from being A Victim. If I take that away from her (by empowering her) then she’ll have literally nothing left and will be A Nobody. It’s sad, but that’s how she has chosen to live her life. (She’s 60, so I doubt she’ll be changing anytime soon).

        1. Kira*

          I know someone like that as well. Every time he shows up he sighs and then begins doggedly listing everything that has gone wrong (medically, financially, logistically) in his life in the last 2 days. He does not want help, or suggestions, and even sympathetic stock phrases are shot down! Very frustrating to talk to.

      1. Azul*

        That’s interesting. Why might that be? No snark here, I genuinely want to know because I have a friend who does this and since I value the relationship, I’m trying to find better ways to manage my feelings towards it. I would think that you would find any positive thing and try to focus on building a relationship off of that, no?

  3. Newby*

    I had a coworker who used to complain a lot about everything (other coworkers, her kids, her ex-husband, her health). Eventually I figured out that if I didn’t offer any sympathy and only said constructive things, she would stop. She didn’t want to change anything, she just wanted sympathy. It sounds like your coworker might be similar. It can seem harsh, but try not offering sympathy and just repeat the suggestions of how he can fix the situation until he stops. If he brings up that he can’t go to the doctor, ask if he has looked at the alternate plans yet. If he complains again, suggest he find the time to look at those plans. Or you can remind him that he is highly marketable and ask how his job search for a job with better coverage is going. You don’t have to dismiss his problems, just don’t participate in the pity party.

    1. wellywell*

      I like this suggestion. It could even be simplified:

      “What are you doing to change the situation?” Repeat.

      1. Karo*

        Ooo, I like this. Questions like “have you researched those other plans?” can easily lead to answers like “I haven’t had tiiiiiiiime!” On the other hand, this makes them admit that they’re doing nothing. Sure they can pull the “I haven’t had time” card still, but it’s not as obvious an answer.

        1. SophieChotek*

          And then I suppose you can follow up with “what can you do to make time?” and “What do you need to NOT do, to make time, if it is that important to you?” and yes, I get, it’s totally not fun to be working FT and then instead of having time to relax on the weekends, you have to spend the weekend researching insurances, or job-searching for a new job, or a host of other not-fun things…but I guess sometimes if this that important to him (better insurance) a few weekends of research would solve the problem…

          But it sounds like he just likes to complain

          1. Anonamoose*

            Actually, that sounds an awful lot like Reality. Or Adulthood.

            Ya, he just likes to bitch. I would not be able to bite my tongue with this guy.

          2. LD*

            Love all these suggestions for putting it back on the complainer. Yes. If it’s not enough of a priority for him to actually take action to address it, then it’s not a priority, no matter how much he complains. It sounds like complaining is his priority.

    2. BRR*

      Definitely a possibility. My husband used to be like this to a degree. A response of do something about it or stop complaining really works wonders (in situations where there are options).

    3. Aim Away From Face*

      These people never actually want help or constructive advice.

      They just want asspats.

    4. irritable vowel*

      Absolutely. And you could also just ask, “what is the outcome you’re hoping for here?” He may not have an answer, in which case he’s just complaining because it’s such an ingrained habit, or he may say something like “the company should offer better insurance,” in which case you could respond with something like, “maybe they should, but that’s not something that’s likely to change in the near future,” and then you’re having a conversation about that rather than his personal situation.

  4. fposte*

    I think this is basically a slightly different brand of “My coworker keeps asking if I hate him.” This guy may have a real problem to deal with or may not, but none of it needs to intrude into your work day the way it does.

    1. OhNo*

      That’s a good point. Even if it is a real problem, and even if it were the OP’s fault for some reason (it’s not, of course), there’s no reason to keep interfering with work and professional relationships by bringing it up every other sentence.

  5. Joseph*

    First off, since when do external contractors get on your insurance? This must be industry specific, but I always thought the standard was that independent contractors always deal with that themselves – It’s part of the reason why an IC will charge 2-3 times what a normal “employee” rate would be, since you’re passing off the insurance, payroll taxes, etc.

    Secondly, it always amazes me how people don’t take responsibility for their own financial decisions – particularly people who actually have options. You want to drive a $700 per month car? That’s your choice; I’ll bet it’s nice to drive a new luxury car! But don’t complain about the fact that you’re struggling to pay health insurance when you could easily be driving a Honda Civic for like $150/month and pocketing an extra $550/month.

    I know this isn’t really solving OP’s issue, but really, OP’s manager is right – there’s no reason for anybody at the company to feel guilty. The contractor (1) made his own choices about how to spend his money, (2) didn’t review the insurance documents prior to starting, (3) ignored advice on how to apply for private insurance, and (4) apparently won’t consider switching jobs. I mean, at some point, the old adage about leading a horse to water has to apply here, right?

    1. OP*

      Hi I left a clarification below – it’s not our company’s offered insurance plan, it’s one that’s available to him through his contracting company.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I don’t really understand why you told him it was available then. That should have been between him and his company?

        Is this whole issue something you can address with his company? When I have issues with contractors I raise it with their company.

        1. Petronella*

          “I don’t really understand why you told him it was available then. That should have been between him and his company?”
          This is my question too. Was there confusion initially over whether he would be joining you as a contractor or a regular employee?
          I also agree with the commenter downthread who points out how very invested you are in this guy’s problems. Staying up crying?
          If you want to do something about it and feel better, you could investigate and get involved in the movement to bring the U.S. in line with every other First World nation and implement a single-payer health care system, then you would not be dealing with this stark contrast between insurance haves and insurance have-nots. (Sorry Alison, I know that’s a complete red herring for this thread…)

          1. OP*

            I said something along the the lines of ‘we have many contractors here and they say that insurance is available, but you’ll want to discuss with your contracting company for the details,’ and our manager made a point of making sure that the contracting company sent said details with the offer.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh my gosh, this is even less on you then! I mean, it never was to begin with, but there is nothing here that should have made him think “OP is the expert on this.”

              1. The IT Manager*

                I don’t think the complainer thinks it’s the OP’s fault. He’ll complain to anyone and argueing with his doctors office about payment over the phone at work near the OP is certainly not blaming the OP.

                The OP seems to be the only one blaming herself.

            2. ThatGirl*

              Seriously, this is Really Not Your Fault at all! Don’t let this guy get to you at ALL.

              (I say this as the wife of a therapist, but if you find yourself having significant anxiety or guilt over situations like this that you have little or no control over, you might want to consider seeing a therapist for a few sessions to figure out why.)

            3. Katie the Fed*

              Oooooooh yeah. Definitely not on you.

              I think you really should have a chat with his company.

              1. Anonamoose*

                Wait – why should SHE talk to his company? She needs to get herself out of his business entirely. In fact, she’s done more than enough for both her role and her friendship.

                (or maybe I am misunderstanding you?)

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  You are misunderstanding me. She should talk to his company about his behavior. He works for his company, not her. This should be on them to deal with. One of the benefits of hiring contractors is their companies deal with this stuff.

    2. Michelle*

      SO true. I’d love to wheel around in a brand new luxury car but I would not like having to give up the other things I enjoy to make that happen. I’ll drive my 2000 Honda Civic until the wheels fall off! It’s a great car, but by no means luxurious, but it’s dependable. I can fill up an drive for 2 weeks.

      1. Joseph*

        If you’re waiting till the wheels fall off, you’ll be waiting a long time. If you do even just basic maintenance (oil changes, tires, etc), Civics basically run forever – it’s not unheard of to go 200,000 miles or more without many major repairs.

        1. Callietwo (no longer Calliope~)*

          I kept my 2000 VW passat turbo until it had 220,000 miles on it and hubby’s 2001 Civic lasted till some dude in a Ford Explorer decided he didn’t need to yield on a left.

          When I was reading the letter all I could think of is how dare someone whine about not affording insurance/health care when they’re spending that on a car!

          I have an acquaintance that had gastric bypass and moans about how she cannot afford the vitamins required which are slightly more costly than standard vits but then she has to have the newest macbook pro and ipad air, and iphone 6sPlus out. No, sorry, you do not get to complain to me, I will not be your audience any longer. I was very clear I did not want to hear anymore complaining. She’s free to buy what she wants, and I’m free to not listen. Every time she started up about how she can’t afford x,y or z for her health, I shut it down and I was immediate with it, and she eventually learned I wasn’t going to listen and stopped complaining to me.

          1. Anonamoose*

            I’m going through this with my mom, actually. I am just DONE of the constant complaining as a source of conversation topic. It’s not like ‘the weather’. It actually affects the other person’s mental health, and I wish Professional Complainers would realize that. Or at least care about it, if they do realize it.

          2. Observer*

            I’m with you.

            My husband put 250k miles on his Toyota Corolla over 11 years. And he only decided to buy a new car when something failed that was going to cost $1,500 to fix. The mechanic who would have done it told him that as much as he’d love the job, it was time for a new car.

            The thing is that even when the car was new and we were paying off the loan, we weren’t close to $700 per month. And, because we paid it off in 3 years, we were payment free for 8 years. Now, we’re paying again and we’re not close to $700 per month either.

            In short, he’s blowing money then complaining about the results. In my head I’d be saying “so get rid of the luxury car and get insurance.”

            1. Honeybee*

              Yeah, that’s my thing. I have a 2014 Nissan Sentra; I bought it when it was brand-brand-new; I didn’t put a whole lot down on it; my monthly payment is still nowhere NEAR $700 a month. Even if you include the car note + insurance + maintenance it still doesn’t approach costing me $700 a month.

        2. Mental Health Day*

          Yes, indeed. I got 257K miles out of my first civic. The only reason I had to trade it in was the interior was worn out and the many of the electronics were starting to go. Drive train seemed to still be running like a top though.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          I thought the same thing about Accords, but apparently the year I had, 98, and the v6 had problems. I bought that car about three times with all the repairs I made. Finally dumped it a few years ago when the transmission was going out for the second time, and the engine mounts were breaking again.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        We’re also subscribing to the drive-it-till-it-drops car ownership philosophy. My son has a 1998 Toyota 4runner with 230,000 miles. My father still drives the biggest pos 1998 GMC Sonoma, too. (My car is only 8 years old with 120k miles). You can get a lot of life out of cars these days. (Or rather, those days 20 years ago, I guess). I’m cool with you buying or leasing a new car for $700 a month if that’s what you want to do, but don’t complain about not being able to afford NECESSITIES.

        1. Overeducated*

          But necessities are just so unsatisfying. Money’s no fun if you don’t get to spend it on fun!

        2. MashaKasha*

          So envious of all of you guys on this thread. We also subscribe to the same philosophy in my family. But we live in the snow belt, so with all the rust, the proverbial wheels fall off a lot sooner than they would’ve otherwise. I ran my 2000 Altima into the ground in twelve years/161K miles. Now driving a 5-yo Forester with 87K miles on it, which is known in my family as “the new car”. My son drove my late dad’s car until it died on the freeway and he somehow made it home by pulling over and adding coolant (I think?) to it every few minutes; and we were then told that the repairs would be close to 1K, and were like, forget it. But the car had less than 100K on it at that point (though it was 15 years old). Both cars were completely rusted out by the time we got rid of them. I’d love to be able to take a car to 20 years/250K miles.

          No, a luxury car does not take priority over your family’s medical bills. WTH is wrong with that guy? And why is he trying to make it look like it’s OP’s fault that he cannot manage his finances?

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          Yeah, I always say there’s car people and house people, because I used to observe that there were some of the nicest cars at the apartment complexes I lived at and I used to say to myself ‘why? you could be paying a mortgage or renting a much nicer place for what that car payment is’ (or two expensive car payments)

          1. DMented Kitty*

            It’s just all about priorities – some people think that it’s easier take your car around to show off versus the few people you can invite to your house to show off. It’s an odd logic…

        4. Dot Warner*

          +1. I’d probably still be driving my ’04 Prius with 200,000+ miles if it hadn’t been totaled in an accident.

        5. Chinook*

          “You can get a lot of life out of cars these days. (Or rather, those days 20 years ago, I guess).”

          Things have definitely changed. I had been a lease girl for the last 15 years and everyone of those vehicles (except for my cherry red pickup which I couldn’t afford to buy out due to pending layoffs) were on their last legs when I returned them at the end of their 3 year leases. Different makes, different models, same results. I was convinced to buy my current one when I turned in my Soul (due to shoddy repair of sun-roof after hail storm that caused it to leak water on my foot every time I turned left) because that was the only issue it ever had. My current, sun-roofless Soul will be driven into the ground and I will celebrate when the car payments end and put the money into savings!

      3. Random Citizen*

        I just bought a 2004 Honda CR-V with 170,000 miles on it – fell in love at the dealer and hated it within about 24 hours because the stereo system sounded like crap – and all y’all loving your Hondas makes me feel a lot better about it. It should be a good little truck. :)

      4. Adlib*

        Woo! 2004 Honda Accord owner here. Got it 4 years ago (it was already 8 years old) after it was just time to trade in my 1997!! They will go forever. Pretty comfortable cars too.

      1. Elle*

        Fellow Civic driver! And I’m saving $30/month because it’s a stick. Very grateful to my dad for insisting we knew how to drive one all those years ago.

        1. Andrea*

          Haha I always drive a stick! My dad insisted we learn and I love it. Lots of car thefts in my area lately (juvenile delinquents joyriding, actually), but mine is never touched and I just bet that manual transmission is the reason why. I loved my 2001 Civic until an old lady hit me and totaled it several months ago. I got an awesome deal on an almost-brand new Honda Fit, though—with a stick. Compared to my old Civic, it is a luxury car; definitely the nicest one I’ve ever driven, anyway.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Manual is getting so hard to find, though! I have a 15-year-old Accord and had a terrible time finding an Accord or Civic with a stick back then. I plan to drive it until it does, if for no other reason than I’m not sure i could find another stick-shift.

          1. MommaCat*

            I got a manual just two years ago; I had to call around a number of dealerships, but I got my base-model Kia Rio for super cheap.

          2. Dangerfield*

            We need to swap! I prefer driving an automatic and am super-limited in the secondhand cars I can get because manual is so much more common here. My car is 12 years old but has less than 70,000 on the clock. I’m hoping I’ll get several more years out of it before anything catastrophic happens.

        3. Chinook*

          “Very grateful to my dad for insisting we knew how to drive one all those years ago.”

          I was never taught until I realized how much I could save by buying a stick and I really wanted that cherry red pickup. A very nice, and patient, salesman taught me on a sunny, slow day with one of those new fancy vehicles with the light that tells you when to shift. Unfortunately, he didn’t sell cherry red pickups nor did he get a date out of the deal (though he did get to get out of the office for a few hours).

    3. Michelenyc*

      I am a contractor/freelance and the company that I work through offer everything. Medical, dental, vision, and 401(k). The insurance is actually good, my co-pays are a bit higher than I would like but other than that they are all great plans. It just depends what kind of contractor you are. If you are 1099 you are on your own but if you go through a company depending on the state they will offer something.

      1. Honeybee*

        Yeah, we have lots of contractors at my job who go through a contracting company and they have full benefits.

  6. themmases*

    Lots of people need a reminder or two to stop doing something annoying. Especially if it is something like complaining that probably felt cathartic. That doesn’t mean that the person won’t change or that asking them to stop won’t work– it clearly did work before, so just ask again.

    I hope this OP can look at their letter (the length, the details, the insistence that a lot of reasonable approaches just won’t work) eventually and see that they are way, way too personally invested in this coworker’s problems. The fact that he shared this information doesn’t obligate you to feel their problems as keenly as they do, and be up crying and fretting about it on your own time. Frankly someone would have to be my real friend, in a life or death situation, for this to sound reasonable to me… Not just some guy who didn’t read over his own insurance information. The OP can and should set stricter boundaries with coworkers generally, not just with this guy.

    1. OP*

      That could be true, but I’m not really very close with any of my coworkers. We are in the same pod space in our open floor plan office. Others are close by, too, but not this close.
      FWIW I’ve been working for a while and I’ve always had a very good segmentation between work life and private life, but it’s really hard to resist when you’re … SUCKED IN like this. He doesn’t know nearly as much about me as I do about him though.

      1. Jamie*

        There are a lot of oversharers in this world and this totally works when people start talking about things oddly personal in the context of the relationship.

        “My that’s a lot of information!” Said while smiling and slightly surprised look…picture a face that’s not at all angry but just barely suppressing a “wow, this is awkward!” laugh.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          I really like this line. I might have to use it if my co-worker starts chattering again about the state of her marriage and how her husband told her SIL over the phone on their anniversary that he had considered an affair once. Mostly I’ve completely shut her down by never asking questions about her life (I’m even keeping “how was your weekend” to a minimum), but every once in a while she gives it the good ol’ college try again.

      2. themmases*

        I can relate! I used to have a classmate who would do this and share very personal information… I totally got sucked in. Looking back, although I made some feeble attempts to change the subject, he took our conversations as an indication that I was interested in his continued oversharing.

        Take it from someone who used to vent at work… It does *not* mean that he wants your advice or for you to feel guilty. It only means that venting feels good and you are right there and usually listen. I get that you are concerned and feel guilty because you are a nice person, but your concern does not benefit him and he probably wouldn’t appreciate it if he knew– he might even feel like it was an overstep even though he’s the one who shared in the first place!

        It’s OK to let it go– primarily because this isn’t your fault, but also because your feeling bad won’t fix it. If it helps, maybe try to identify what you would do differently in the future. Then you can repeat the lesson to yourself, e.g. “Yes, that was bad and I’m going to direct colleagues straight to HR in the future” rather than re-start the guilt spiral. That helps me a lot when I feel like I screwed up.

    2. Willis*

      I agree on there being too much investment in this guy’s situation. I like being friendly with people at work, but if it’s having this much of an affect the OP, I’d say it’s time to walk it back. Requesting that he stop complaining sounds like a good approach if it’s worked in the past. I’d also refrain from giving him more advice/encouragement to change, insurance-wise and career-wise. It sounds like he just uses it as an opening to tell you why all those ideas won’t work. You can’t change his spending habits or willingness to take initiative, but you may have some luck with minimizing the conversation about it. Good luck!

      1. LD*

        Such a good point! People who complain this much aren’t really interested in solving the problem, just in continuing to complain. The OP has no responsibility in this at all and it’s actually something OP should learn…that you didn’t control anything that happened in this situation; you couldn’t have. You didn’t recommend anything and even if you did, Fergus made his own choices and continues to do so. His complaining is not AT you or ABOUT you, it’s “next to you.” There is a big difference. Work on letting it go.

        1. MommaTRex*

          Let it go, let it go
          Turn away and slam the door
          I don’t care
          what they’re going to say
          Let the storm rage on.
          The cold never bothered me anyway

  7. afiendishthingy*

    Alison- typo in the last paragraph, “piece” should be “peace”.

    And agreed, it is 100% reasonable to ask a complainer to stop complaining so much to you, especially one who isn’t actively trying to address the underlying issues. (I don’t know that I’ve ever actually been bold enough to say this to a complainer in my life, but maybe next time!)

  8. OP*

    To clarify – the contractor is not on our company’s insurance. He’s on his contracting company’s offered insurance plan.

    1. Joseph*

      Ahhh, that makes more sense. Though it still doesn’t really justify the rest of his behavior.

      1. OP*

        No because he openly admitted that he didn’t after his wife’s first doctor’s appointment.

  9. Chicken and Broccoli*

    It sounds like he’d rather complain than do something proactive. He’s getting a payoff from doing it: someone to listen to him and sympathize that life is so rough. Maybe he feels that he IS being proactive just by voicing his complaints. (My FIL does exactly this all the time.) Maybe once the OP speaks up about the constant complaining, he’ll decide to stop since there’s no one to enable it. It also sounds like he’s probably swimming in debt because of poor financial choices (I can’t tell, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a matter of being in debt with student loans, unexpected medical bills, etc.). He’s taking care of the “wants” first and the “needs” second, if at all.

  10. addlady*

    He didn’t like his last job, he doesn’t like this one, and something tells me he won’t like any future jobs either.

    1. BeautifulVoid*

      And something tells me that even if he did have a better health insurance plan, he’d still find something to complain about. “How dare they charge me a copay! I don’t have time to get a referral! It’s not fair that the doctor I want to see isn’t in-network!” and so on. Some people just feel an emptiness in their lives if they don’t have anything to complain about.

  11. Cafe au Lait*

    Uggg, what a pain to deal with.

    I have dealt with a similar situation. My coworker wanted to see her dying aunt. But there was a hitch; coworker’s sick cat. Coworker went on and on about wanting to see her aunt, but she couldn’t because of the cat. Coworker lined someone up to take care of the cat, and that fell through.

    Finally, after much angst, Coworker and her husband decided to drive up for the day. On the way there, her aunt died.

    I felt bad for my coworker, but not too horrible. See, she could’ve driven up for the day anytime she wanted, but she choose not to make shorter trips more often. She was stuck on the concept of a multi-day trip, and anything else than what she pictured in her mind wasn’t acceptable.

    Part of being an adult is choosing between two crappy situations and trying to make the best of your decision. That’s where your coworker is at, and where he’s failing. He could make another choice, like find another job, but he’s choosing not to because it takes effort and work. It’s easier for him to complain than to fix it.

    For my coworker, I often respond “Hmmmm, that stinks” as I move about my work. Usually she stops complaining after a few minutes and typically never brings up the problem to me again.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        I’ve done that in the past.

        I often write, then delete, Friday open-question posts, about my coworker ALL. THE. TIME. In fact, I have an open draft of an email I’m composing to Alison.

        1. irritable vowel*

          Ha – glad to know I’m not the only one who drafts letters to Alison without sending them! It’s kind of cathartic.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I think that’s a completely valid course of action. Vagueness, bland sympathy, don’t break your stride.

      3. Artemesia*

        “It is all part of life’s rich pageant” is our family go to phrase for anything like this.

        1. Chinook*

          I had a friend who would listen to me complain and follow up with “Sucks to be you.” Ironically, it made me feel better.

  12. Petronella*

    Is there any chance of him being hired as a regular employee of your company, and thus eligible for the better insurance that you have available to you?

    1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

      Doesn’t sound like a good cultural fit though. The complaining types are exhausting to be around.

    2. OP*

      No, they’re really weird about that and it rarely happens.
      And yes to FBAWL below, I’m not sure I’d recommend him for another job and I know I’d be asked about it. I like him, but I don’t really like working with him anymore…

      1. Meg Murry*

        But was that clear to him when he was hired, or was he lead to believe it was a temp-to-perm type of deal? Not necessarily by OP, but by the job ad or the temp contracting company or HR or another employee? I felt sucker-punched after I was led to believe I was in a job that was temp to perm after 90 days, only to later find out that they used (probably deliberately) misleading language – and I was *eligible* to be hired as a permanent employee after 90 days, but that the it rarely happened, and there were employees that had been there for years and were still perma-temps.

        I also learned the hard way to ask about the details of the insurance costs, after moving from one company to another and finding out that I would be paying significantly more each paycheck for significantly worse/more expensive/higher deductible coverage. I know there are a lot of people out there with generous employer coverage that don’t realize to (at least in my state) coverage for a 25 year old couple could be $700 a month and up (and that’s with a $4000 deductible) , and it only goes up from there. For comparison, my MIL is at a union job where she pays under $200 a month for a really good medical plan for her and her husband with a $500 deductible – she was horrified when she found out that a high deductible plan would cost her and her husband (in their early 60s) thousands of dollars a month if they bought it on their own, and a low deductible plan like her current one would be thousands more.

        That said, I do think it’s a valid concern to bring to management that the insurance costs for contractors are very high, and therefore it will be difficult to keep good ones on board – but that is typically a known trade off for using contractors instead of hiring permanent employees, much higher turnover.

        1. OP*

          It was made clear that THIS position would always be external but if he did well and other positions became available he could possibly progress after a few years of excellent performance. That’s what I mean by I don’t think I’d recommend him for another one at this point, so I don’t think he’d progress. From what he says though he’s always saying things like If Only I Were A Direct Employee and I’m just like…. STAHP ALREADY

          1. Lauren*

            This guy is an incredible bore. He complains, he whines, he has a million excuses, nothing he tries works …

            How long do you intend to listen to this, OP? Channel your inner cat and remind yourself “Guilt’ I don’t have any stinkin’ guilt!”

            Seriously, though, I am not nearly as nice as Alison so I’d cut him off completely. Permanently. Now. He’d not get even a “good morning” from me.

  13. Gene*

    Ask nicely once. When he starts back up again, remind him less nicely. Third time, “Dude, STFU; I don’t want to hear it.” Repeat pro re nata.

  14. hayling*

    OP, you sound like you’re a very sensitive, empathetic person. I am too! I end up taking on *way* too much of other peoples’ emotions and feeling guilty all the damn time for things that aren’t actually my fault or under my control. I’m going to add to the chorus those saying that this is 100% not your fault/problem/concern. It’s this guy’s fault that he didn’t read the benefits. If he’s “highly employable” and he continues to work at a place that he feels doesn’t give him good benefits, that’s all on him.

  15. LQ*

    I have a lot of sympathy for insurance being really hard to understand. It really can be a huge challenge to understand what it means, what it means for you, what the potential situations are, what would work best, all of that.

    It might be useful to point him to someone to better understand his actual benefits if your work has that. If he has that opportunity and chooses not to engage that is NOT your responsibility.

    BUT you are 10978907.2% not responsible for him understanding it. You are not responsible for him making the choice. You are not responsible for him not finding a new job with better insurance. You are absolutely completely not responsible for his lack of comprehension. You aren’t even a little to blame. You could consider that the people who wrote the actual documents might be a little to blame. The people who pick the insurer might be a little bit to blame. You could come up with some other tangential people. But I could make a list of 100 people and you would be no where on that list.

    This is not your fault, this was never your responsibility.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Exactly. Also, the company that contracts him out probably has either a dedicated HR department or at least some group assigned to handle employee benefits; if you’re having a hard time understanding how it works, this is exactly the sort of situation where should be having a meeting with them.

    2. AthenaC*

      “I have a lot of sympathy for insurance being really hard to understand. It really can be a huge challenge to understand what it means, what it means for you, what the potential situations are, what would work best, all of that.”

      Yes. I was about to say just this. And I say this as someone reasonably fluent in the highly technical insurance jargon. I have DONE the exercise where I read ALL the benefit information, consult the glossaries available, order the 100+ page detail policy document (which is only available AFTER you purchase the plan, by the way and can STILL have some nasty surprises). And even after you do that – once you actually go to the doctor the first or second time and get a nasty bill, you call the doctor AND the insurance company only to have them tell you that the completely reasonable common-sense, plain-language interpretation of the jargon you found is … not right. Turns out, they interpret it differently – and NOT in your favor, of course.

      So after all that – I think it’s at least reasonably possible that the gentleman in question did read his insurance information and did his best to make an informed choice.

      None of that makes what he’s doing okay. Stress-complaining at you doesn’t solve his problem. It’s not helping him and it’s making your life more difficult.

      Back when I was in a similar situation, I at least complained to someone who had the power to set some things in motion to fix the horrible insurance. But he didn’t. Eventually I realized that as much as I liked working at that place, I needed to go somewhere else. For this and other reasons. At my new job my salary is $3k less but with the difference in insurance premiums is the equivalent to a $7k raise and with much better insurance to boot.

      Also, with regard to his lifestyle choices (ex. luxury car, etc.) – yes, ideally he would make some adjustments to afford insurance or medical procedures if he values this job. But I can see why he wouldn’t – medical insurance and medical bills are essentially flushing money down the toilet every month, while on the other hand I assume he receives some enjoyment from his luxury car and other lifestyle choices. Once you get used to a certain level of utility from your money, it can be hard to adjust to getting a significantly lower level of utility for the same money. Put it this way – I didn’t sell my house when I was at the job with terrible insurance because I like my house and I enjoy living in it. (Okay – putting my undergrad economics textbook back on the shelf now.)

      Bottom line – we’re not advising him. We’re advising OP. And hopefully one or more of the behavior-changing and boundary-setting suggestions work on him. Good luck, OP!

      1. TL -*

        Medical bills are not flushing money down the toilet. Without good health, it’s really hard to enjoy nice cars or vacations or even houses.

        1. AthenaC*

          In any case, it’s not as simple as medical bills = good health. People much smarter than I have written at great length about our fee-for-service system and how it drives up health care costs unnecessarily. So yes, to a great degree, medical bills are flushing money down the toilet.

  16. Jamie*

    I realize my guilt is most likely misplaced as my manager says, but no matter what you or your readers suggest, the guilt I feel isn’t going to change; what I’d like to change is how frequently it’s shoved in my face, and I just don’t know how to get that to stop.

    He should stop doing this because it’s obnoxious, but not because you feel guilty. It’s not his responsibility to keep you from crying about his situation when you go home because, frankly, that’s a really extreme reaction to you not doing more research into it …when he didn’t even bother to read what he was given.

    That said he needs to either fish or cut bait with the job because I’m sure the constant complaining is annoying everyone who has to hear it. He needs to do something about it or shut up…and even if he’s doing something about it he needs to stop the complaint loop.

    Pet peeve, but this kind of thinking bothers me and it’s soooo prevalent…

    There’s another higher option available, but he says he cannot afford it (despite the fact that I know he’s paid very fairly for what he does and makes good money; he’s probably not swimming in it but he should be comfortable, especially since his wife also works).

    Most people have no idea what other people have going on financially but still do this kind of thing all the time and assume someone is comfortable or better based on salary. People can make what seems like a lot and still have less disposable income than someone who makes much less because of a difference in obligations. They could be helping support parents, or other family members, have kids in school, medical bills…anything.

    I know OP clarified later in the letter that she knows about his personal finances and what looks (based on what’s here) like a problem with financial priorities…I can see being kinda judgy on that if you have to hear the whining but his income and the fact that his wife works alone have nothing to do with whether or not he can afford a higher plan.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      that’s a really extreme reaction to you not doing more research into it …when he didn’t even bother to read what he was given.

      This is such a good point! The person impacted by this didn’t bother to read it over, and the person not impacted is racked with guilt that she didn’t spend more time on it. OP, calibrate your guilt accordingly!

      1. burnout*

        “Calibrate your guilt accordingly”…. should be embroidered on a pillow or something.


      2. INTP*

        And even if someone in OP’s position had done more research, that wouldn’t necessarily protect him from being in the same position. It’s pretty normal for different levels of insurance to be offered, with the lowest being preventive and catastrophic coverage only. Even if I knew the details it wouldn’t have occurred to me to warn him that the cheapest plan has poor coverage, that seems obvious.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I will say this about not reading the policy, if a person can only afford one option, then it is what it is. I have never read my policy. It’s the one I can begin to afford, so it is what I am stuck with. I always say, it covers anything that happens on Thursdays between 1:00 PM and 1:05 PM. Everything else is not covered until I spend my bizillion dollar deductible. Hey, but I am following the law.

        If a person believes they can truly not afford anything else, then there really is no point to looking at the nitty-gritty. OP, I would tell this man, that perhaps he needs to sit with a financial adviser to help him with his concerns. Then I would go on to add, “I am really not qualified to help you look for solutions.”
        There. Now you have laid the ground work. From then on you can say, that you lack the quals to discuss his finances and his insurances with him and he needs to go find a qualified person to help him.

        This is kind of snarky, but I know a lot of people who feel their insurance is screwing them over, I am unclear why he feels he should be the exception. You could point out that a lot of people are struggling with insurance now and since you can’t help, you’d really rather discuss other things.

        And, work on learning not to carry other people’s emotions for them. I can almost promise you that once you decide to stop feeling guilty this guy will make some changes. I know this sounds really weird, but I am amazed by the numbers of time we can help people remain stuck in a rut because we are too connected to something that is NOT ours to connect to.

        I have a mantra for you, OP, “This is NOT my insurance, my company, my job, my family, my medical bills, my budget NOR is it my worry.” Say it often, until it you are bored/yawning or ready to scream from the tedium.

        Happily, learning to disconnect from problems that you cannot fix is a good life skill, so you are not wasting your time here. And I know it’s rough, sometimes people tell me something and my heart goes to the bottom of my feet. All we can do is keep learning what is reasonably ours and what is NOT reasonably ours.

    2. OP*

      I am sure I am being quite Judgy here, which is another part of my guilt. Like every time I hear a new story about how something went wrong I’m like… well you shouldn’t have done the thing that led to that something in the first place (of course I don’t say that). But like… yea. It’s judgey. I’m big enough to admit that. And still feel Sh**y about it.

      1. burnout*

        He opens himself up to your judgment by complaining to you about circumstances that he has 100% control over. No need to guilt yourself over what you think of his situation.

      2. Cindobux*

        Your guilt is coming from the fact that you’re participating in his codependency by taking on some of the responsibility for him not ‘knowing’ what was in the plan – you have ZERO responsibility here. And for everything that follows as well – you need to strengthen your boundaries as well, NONE of this is your issue whatsoever.

      3. Jamie*

        I think being judgy is the natural reaction to this, imo.

        If someone sat down on a bunch of thumbtacks and complained all day every day how much it hurt, who wouldn’t think “Get another chair and next time check it for thumbtacks before you sit down, dumbass.”

        We all have the right to do stupid things and other people have the right to think the things we’re doing are stupid. That’s freedom. :)

        There are complainers like this everywhere and I hear about it from the people subjected to it…but no one ever does this to me. I’m wondering if my inability to pretend to care about other people’s self created problems for more than a few seconds at a time has been some kind of shield against this type of thing.

        In your shoes every time he’d complain I would ask him why he wasn’t looking elsewhere while letting my quizzical face tack “dumbass” on to the end of every sentence. But I’m not nearly as compassionate as you are.

      4. peanut butter kisses*

        Perhaps you can try a variation of this –

        When my niece was a terrible two, she would throw a tantrum over anything. Her parents would stand over with neutral expressions on their faces and wait for her to finish and they just watched her until she was done. Once she was done, one of them would ask her questions – how did that tantrum work out for you? Did that change anything? She would look at the confused and say that she still wasn’t going to get her way or whatever.

        Then next time he talks about a job and doesn’t apply then ask him how that worked out for him. Just say that if he had applied he would have had a shot but since he didn’t, then he has zero chances. Just ask him how doing X or not doing x worked out for him.

        Draw the line connecting his actions with his consequences.

      5. 2 Cents*

        I am a judgey type too (I like to believe that’s really what the “J” means in INTJ), and when dealing with these aggravating chronic complainer types, I have to repeat to myself, “Herbert is an adult capable of making his own decisions. It’s not my job to tell him what to do or referee if something goes wrong.” (Usually gets shortened to just “Herbert is an adult.”)

      6. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        Your coworker brings out my Judge Monster, bigtime. I for one am glad that this dude doesn’t (allegedly) have the financial resources to pay medical expenses for a birth. That poor kid would carry such an emotional and financial burden throughout her life, having this guy for a dad!

      7. Kittens*

        OP, I really empathize with your judgment guilt. BUT you’re not “being judgy” – there’s nothing wrong with looking at the facts of a situation and realizing that what Fergus is saying about his situation and what his situation actually is are not in line. There’s a difference between making a judgment call and being judgy!

      8. Not So NewReader*

        We cause a lot of the crap that happens to us, OP. We all do it. So you are actually correct that he is causing some of his problems. You can frame it as judgey or you can frame it as common sense.

        There is a twist on your setting, though. It sounds like your sympathy is fatigued or out to lunch. Probably because of a drowning sensation? It sounds like talking to him is a lot like drowning. I had people like this in my life and…. well it did not go well for them. But, you can’t move away from this dude, so you will need to set boundaries with him.

        Double check your thinking, just because you gave him a tip about insurance does not make you responsible for his health care for the rest of his life. You assumed he was a thinking adult and would take responsibility for his own actions. That is where the wheels fell off in this story. Compounding that he has been dumping on you for way too long. I may be a little hard-hearted, but this is how I got this way, from people dumping. So now my response is “what steps have you taken so far to fix this problem?” They either go away or they tell me the steps they have done and why they are currently stuck.
        By listening to him whine, in a way you are enabling him to continue to do nothing. As I mentioned above, if you stop listening to the whining and get off the emotional roller coaster, he will probably change what he is doing. You could tell him, “you mention insurance problems often, it feels like I am enabling you to do nothing because I listen to your concerns. Going forward we will just discuss the steps you are taking to change your situation [or whatever discussion limit you want to set].”

      9. Stranger than fiction*

        Well, even though you don’t know his whole situation, I’m pretty sure it was a choice to lease a $700/mo car and it was his choice to buy whatever fancy things for his wife. It was also his choice to ignore the advice others gave. So don’t feel too guilty “judging” based on that. A friend of mine always says “your best thinking got you here”.

      10. AnotherAnon*

        Is it possible that the guilt and feeling shitty is because that judgy part of your brain is judging *you* for not having magically known this guy hadn’t bothered reading about the insurance? or for not going back in time and changing it?

        I’ve got a really nasty judgy voice in my head that just *loves* to spew verbal abuse at me for things like literally failing to predict dice rolls, or for not going back in time to fix some mistake that happened years ago. It’s throwing some awful tantrums lately because I *dared* to think about the possibility that maybe I don’t need it in my life. :)

        I don’t have a time machine, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a time machine; that guilt isn’t fair or reasonable at all. Be very skeptical of what that part of your brain tells you.

  17. Ife*

    OP, I mean this kindly — I don’t understand why you feel guilty here. He asked if you offered insurance; you said yes and provided details. He didn’t even ask if you have “good” insurance or something like that. No misleading occurred on your part.

    And I’m sorry that you have to listen to his complaining all the time, it would be frustrating for anyone and it’s not appropriate for the office. I agree that being direct is the best way to go here. Hopefully with a few repetitions it will sink in.

  18. Jubilance*

    I’d stop indulging this guy – he doesn’t want to really fix the problem, he just wants to complain.

    Either way, none of it is your fault. You gave him the info, and it’s his responsibility to read it and make an informed decision. You’ve gone above and beyond by giving him other resources and he chooses not to pursue them. He just wants to complain but it doesn’t have to be to you.

  19. Cindobux*

    I have years of of personal experience with a person very similar to this guy. From where I’m sitting, this guy’s boundaries (lack of them) is the core issue. He doesn’t understand boundaries, and he’s trying to make his problem(s) someone else’s problem. When you continue to participate in discussions about his personal life and decisions, it’s like you’re taking some of it on by playing ‘counselor’ to him. In my experience with people like this guy, the best option is to be somewhat stand-offish – they take the smallest amount of sympathy and suck you in to a conversation where you end up trying to solve their problem for them. Then they don’t take the advice, because that would be holding themselves accountable for their own choices – and this person’s goal is to make everything someone else’s fault! (it’s called codependency) (Sadly, the owner of our company has this tendency and it sucks. Thank goodness I’m starting a new job next week!)

    You have spent the last two years offering suggestions and advice, which he will not take. That is seriously all you can do for him. If it were me, from this point forward my responses would be non-participatory, but still empathetic. – something like “oh no, that’s too bad” or “wow, I can see how that’s difficult for you” and then promptly get back to work and not let the conversation go much further. Of course this will probably have to be repeated many times per day, day after day, and of course I can’t say for sure that he’ll stop – but my experience has been like one other commenter said above: if he’s not getting what he wants (sympathy, codependency) he will probably slow down a bit.

  20. Anon Moose*

    Yeah, you are in no way at fault here. He has a problem due to his choices. He has suffered consequences due to those choices. Yet he will not put the work in to change those choices though it is in his power. Dude, go on the exchange if its available in your state.
    In addition to telling him to stop, one thing I have found helpful with over-sharers is to find a topic they can ALSO talk endlessly about but that is less annoying. So, for example, when friend would complain about her boyfriend but bite my head off when I tried to suggest things or “interfere” as she characterized it (I’m more of a try-to-fix problem person than a passive listener by nature), eventually I just always changed the topic to a different interest we share, like books. Or sometimes one we don’t share, but I would rather hear about/ she’d be less likely to rant about. What did you think about that current event? Sometimes she’d start to talk about boyfriend and I’d say “Look, I’m going to give you 5 minutes to rant, but I won’t be commenting because my advice isn’t relevant to your relationship. And then I’m changing the subject.” I learned from experience not to say anything even semi-accusatory like “you don’t actually want to hear my feedback.” She talked about it less after that once I set boundaries, though sometimes she just did want to rant but didn’t want any pushback (which is annoying at times, but at times I need that too I’m just more upfront about it). Eventually the boyfriend was ditched and I kept the friend, though I still limit personal topics with her sometimes when I sense she’d get defensive about feedback. Or say “Do you want my opinion on this or are you just ranting? Just ranting? Ok, then let’s talk about something else.” I’ve done a similar thing with coworkers who talk about uncomfortable medical things- “Oh, sorry to hear that. By the way, how was your kid’s recital?”

  21. Cam*

    Health insurance is really difficult to understand, so I don’t blame him for not knowing what exactly he was getting into. Even if he read the plan through entirely, he might not have understood it. But the thing is, he’s had two whole years to try to find an alternative. If he really is making as little money as he claims, he may be eligible for a subsidy through the marketplace, and he’s had two open enrollment times in which to sign up. It doesn’t sound like he’s even researched it at all. It sucks for him, but this is a situation entirely of his own doing.

    1. AthenaC*

      There are other options for insurance – I used to be on an open market plan for my family, but the unfortunate reality is that there really is no substitute for good employer-sponsored insurance. I’m sorry, but there’s really not.

      He really needs to just find another job already.

  22. Pwyll*

    I feel for you OP, but I also really don’t understand the guilt. As you say, he has no student debt, an outrageously expensive car, and apparently buys expensive things for his wife. He is making the CHOICE not to adequately fund his family’s healthcare, and not based on anything you did or could have done.

  23. YRH*

    As someone who knows the health insurance marketplace fairly well and who’s been in a similar position, I would be shocked if there wasn’t an option he could afford on the marketplace and you might be able to get a sense of rates for him (though he won’t be able to enroll until November and the coverage won’t start until January). Also, since he is declining company insurance, he probably won’t be eligible for a subsidy unless insurance premiums for the company insurance cost him more than about 10% of his income out of pocket (his wife may qualify for a subsidy though depending on their income). When I was a contractor, the contractor company offered two fairly expensive health insurance plans, the cheaper of which was $100 a week out of pocket for me. I initially chose a silver plan that cost about $200 a month without a subsidy and then switched to a bronze plan that cost $160 a month without a subsidy. The coverage has been fine (though I am pretty healthy).

    1. periwinkle*

      Except… OP should not be doing the research. Complaining Guy is an adult and is responsible for his own life. OP has spent more than enough time (oh so much more) fretting about her coworker’s self-imposed situation.

      OP, when you feel the urge to help this guy, stop. You are 100% not responsible for his financial priorities. Go look at photos of quokkas instead.

  24. The Expendable Redshirt*

    Is suggesting that your friend/coworker visit a nonprofit financial counseling organization an option? (Given their track record, them actually following up with the idea is probably minimal….but hey). Where I am, we have places like options Money Mentors and the Credit Counseling Society who can teach people how to make a budget/show them that they have more money than they think.

    It could also be useful as a complaining shutdown strategy.

    Coworker: I cannot afford XYZ! Terrible complaining – Ness!

    You: Have you followed up with Useful Idea? …..No? …..Maybe that’s a good place to start. Now, how about that quarterly report.

    Echoing the other commenters here, it sounds like this guy just likes complaining and you have no responsibility here.

  25. Always Anon*

    There are some people who always find something to complain about. if this guy wasn’t complaining about the insurance related costs, then he would find something else (potentially work related) to complain about. He’d be talking about how unfair it is he has to pay his own FICA as a contractor, or how the dress code is a burden, or how he should receive compensation for driving to work. I don’t know what it would be, but he would find something else.

  26. INTP*

    This sounds like potentially he just has zero financial sense or knowledge, and lacks the inclination to seek it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of someone believing the car dealership that told them “with your income, you can afford $X,” not knowing the difference between types of health insurance or that the cheapest option is usually a bare bones plan for people who barely need medical care, or lacking the ability to draw up a practicable budget.

    Of course, even if this lack of knowledge comes from his background, he could have decided to seek help when he started having problems affording things instead of complaining endlessly. The situation is all on him, not remotely on the OP and not really on his employer either.

    I’m kind of wondering if he signed up for an HMO and could have things covered but doesn’t know the basics of getting treatment in network.

    1. SL #2*

      For me it was the opposite! I grew up having an HMO plan and knowing about them and knowing how to stay in-network even if it meant switching docs, so it was so strange to me when my college only offered PPOs and suddenly I couldn’t even find information on who was “in-network” and who wasn’t.

  27. Mags*

    “…he’s said that he cannot afford the healthcare marketplace plans available in our state.”

    That is very VERY unlikely. If he truly can not afford insurance plans available to him then he would qualify for assistance. I am really doubting he looked at all.

    1. Lindsay (Not a Temp Anymore)*

      When the Marketplace was my only option, as a single, young, healthy person, making just over $30,000/year, with the lowest possible plan, it would have cost me over $200/month with a $6000 deductible, and that was WITH the subsidy. In other words, it would have cost me over $8000/year before I was effectively able to use my healthcare.

      It’s really not reasonably affordable at all. As far as I’m concerned, “Affordable” Health Care was one of the biggest mis-steps of the past decade (I say that being generally extremely pleased with the current POTUS). It was really disappointing to come to have to make the decision that it would be more responsible of me to forgo healthcare and pay the tax penalty.

    2. peanut butter kisses*

      I have heard you get different results depending on if your state opted in or out.

  28. Stephanie*

    Yeah, saying “Have you looked around for another job?” (or some variant thereof) really shuts the Office Complainer down since you’re not actively engaging his complaints. My coworker always complains about our hours (to be fair, he works a lot 0f them at weird times), our Big Bosses, just kind of everything. After a while, I (nicely) was like “I mean, despite their claims, this isn’t the only decent company in [Large City]. I’m sure you’ve got marketable skills.” He then got defensive.

    I mean, I get job market might not be great and hopping to a new job is the easiest. But I sense people like this guy just need to complain. Your best bet is not to engage.

  29. JMegan*

    I’m going to gently challenge you on this part:

    no matter what you or your readers suggest, the guilt I feel isn’t going to change;

    because I think that’s the only thing about the situation that you really can change. His behaviour is wildly out of line, but you can’t control what he does or says. You can try all the tactics and all the scripts and all the advice in this thread, but at the end of the day, you can’t make him stop if he doesn’t want to. The only thing you can change is how you react to it.

    I love Alison’s line above about “calibrate your guilt accordingly.” You told him there was insurance available, and directed him back to his agency for more information. This was the right thing to do, since you don’t work for the agency, don’t have any authority for the plan, and probably don’t even know anything about the plan. (Or rather, you didn’t know anything about it at the time. I’m sure you know more than you want to, now!)

    Everything that happened after that was his responsibility. He chose not to read the documents, he chose to sign on to the plan anyway, he chooses to spend his money elsewhere, he chooses to complain about it to you, and he chooses to do nothing at all to change the situation. That is all on him. All of it.

    I don’t know if therapy is an option for you, but if it is, I hope you’ll look into it. You’re carrying an awful lot of guilt over something that is in no way your responsibility. You don’t need to do that, and you deserve to be able to let go of this. Please take good care of yourself, and I hope you’ll come back and update us once the situation is more settled.

    1. Christy*

      Right–this is like writing in about a horrible marriage but tacking on at the very end “but I won’t leave.” Well, if you take away the one obvious solution, what are you leaving for the advice columnist?

      And this is even more straightforward than that. Literally nothing you did relates to him being a complainer and having crappy insurance. I mean, seriously, he could have made about 10000 different choices along the way to get good insurance, including not working as a contractor! Or reading his paperwork!

    2. VivaL*

      +1000 and exactly what I was coming here to say.

      Shutting down changing your reaction to it really isnt fair – it’s not other people’s responsibility to walk on eggshells around you because of your extreme emotions. (Granted this guy is being a jerk, but regardless of whether he’s being reasonable or not, your extreme reactions are not his responsibility to manage).

      I would agree with JMegan about re-considering this aspect of the problem, as it will free up a ton of mental and emotional space for you. Imagine what it would be like if someone starts complaining, and you can simply agree it’s a bad situation for him, and then then turn around and go back to work?

      Just like yours are not his to manage, his are certainly not yours. So you are free to ignore his extreme reactions to the insurance situation, as well as use the words that others have suggested here to shut it down. Think about it this way – you’re seeing a direct cause and effect between your actions and his response, but the truth is that there are 100 other variables impacting this situation. It’s bigger than him and you, and both of you combined. I really hope for your sake you’re able to process that.

    3. Senses*

      Totally agreed.

      This may sound really harsh but there’s quite a bit of parallel between the coworker and OP. The coworker is indulging himself in his feeling of being cheated while OP is indulging himself in his feeling of guilt. The coworker is refusing to pursue all options that would improve his healthcare situation, but OP, you’re also doing the exact same thing – completely shutting down the most viable option that’s within your control. (I get that you can’t just change how you feel overnight, but to outright say that’s not an option is different.)

  30. Not American*

    :( I feel so sorry for him and all Americans who have what is truly a uniquely American issue. I can’t think of any other developed country that treats sick people this way. It’s definitely not the OPs fault, but it’s not the employee’s fault either. It’s just bad to be in a country that doesn’t have a good healthcare system. I have family members who are constantly sick, but fortunately they live in Canada, England, and Norway so they’re not bankrupt. This whole thing just makes me so sad and confused. What an awful situation. :'(

    1. Jamie*

      It’s the employee’s fault that he keeps complaining about it to people who aren’t in the position to do anything about it.

      1. Badlands*

        +1 If the employee didn’t have the healthcare costs to complain about, he would be complaining about what he has to pay in taxes and the time it takes to get in to see a doctor.

        It’s not like he couldn’t have planned for these contingencies, he choose not to.

    2. Kobayashi*

      I get where you’re coming from, but I am getting a little tired of these comments on this site from readers in other countries. There are positives and negatives to every system and every country and I don’t throw barbs at other countries or cultures. Right now everything is so negative on the T.V. and Internet, I guess I’m getting negativity-fatigued! :)

      1. Petronella*

        Usually I am 100% on this team, I have no interest in reading the shock and consternation from European/Aussie/Canadian/whatever readers when they learn again, seemingly for the first time again, that no, Americans don’t generally have government health care or 12 months of mat leave or unlimited sick leave or whatever it is. But somehow the situation described in this letter gets to me. Or maybe it’s the general tone of the responses that gets to me: this guy is really getting no sympathy at all and is being told to suck it up and plan ahead, as though any amount of planning from any non-wealthy individual could ever really cover catastrophic medical bills.

        1. Observer*

          The lack of sympathy comes from the fact that this guy is being a jerk.

          Here is the deal- he makes decent money and has made it clear that he spends a good deal of that on luxuries. He has also been given some very good advice by his coworkers on ways to improve the situation and has refused to try any of them. This is not about the US health care system. This is about someone who wants what he wants and doesn’t want to pay for it in time, effort or money.

        2. MaggiePi*

          But he *does have* health insurance. As someone with chronic health problems, who just very recently got non-catastrophic coverage for the first time in my adult life, yes, he can plan for this, if he chose to and tried to.
          I could never ever afford a $700/mo car payment, because I have spent years paying $200/mo for catastrophic coverage and the ensuing medical bills completely out of pocket. Even then, the max out of pocket for the year is $6600 under the ACA, which would be $550 a month over the course of a year. If he got a cheaper car, he could save that up every year just in case he actually had that much medical need.
          It sounds like he’s just bad with money and likes to complain.

      2. Marisol*

        Over the years, I have heard Europeans traveling in the US make unsolicited criticisms about this country, as though they were policy experts, or, more to the point, as though I cared to hear their opinion. Yet I personally would never make a comment like this to a complete stranger. If people are friends, if people are in the mood to debate–sure, I’ll gladly hear someone out. But just some random comment out of the blue? No thanks. “Not American” – you feel sorry for Americans. Well, I feel sorry for people with bad manners.

        1. Mags*

          Not only do the majority of us have the manners to not make such comments. But in the rare occasions I seem someone doing so, they are often lambasted for being ignorant. It’s a really odd double standard.

          1. Marisol*

            I wasn’t trying to insinuate that all Europeans have bad manners; that would be an absurd thing to say. Sorry if you got that impression. Also, I don’t understand what you mean about a double standard.

      3. Misc*

        ” There are positives and negatives to every system and every country and I don’t throw barbs at other countries or cultures.”

        There’s a difference between ‘this country sucks’ and ‘this specific system is objectively terrible, how could it be real?’.

        I’ve never seen a single measurable positive thing about the American healthcare system, other than, maybe, ‘if you have an awfully ridiculous amount of money, the quality of care is pretty good’, and every single international study on costs, healthcare outcomes, mortality, etc has ranked it terribly. That’s not because it’s *American*, it’s because the system just happens to occur *in* America. Nobody’s saying ‘oh those Americans, clearly this system says X and Y about them’.

        Saying people can’t react to a thing just because it only occurs specifically inside a certain country isn’t the same thing as saying people can’t throw stones at *that country*.

        1. TL -*

          …that’s not actually true. There are plenty of people (and studies) that have found positive and neutral aspects to the American healthcare systems and we don’t have some of the problems that other countries experience. (Yes in return for the problems we do experience.)
          And the healthcare profits/potential in America drive a great deal of medical research and innovation.
          Which is not to say our problems aren’t real and serious but it’s disingenuous to imply it’s all bad with no good aspects.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are obviously huge issues with the health care system here, but it’s certainly not true that there’s nothing positive about it. Regardless, though, this kind of thing is not a constructive contribution to the discussion about the OP’s situation (and it gets exhausting to hear “omg your system is awful” over and over here).

        1. Petronella*

          +1 and that’s what I’m seeing in this thread. “There’s NOTHING to complain about, any insurance gaps are the person’s own fault for not striving hard enough and annoying those around him!”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Come on, no one is saying that. They’re saying that this particular person is making financial decisions that indicate he’s prioritizing other things.

    3. The Expendable Redshirt*

      The American health care system baffles me as well. Though in this case, it sounds like the coworker is Somebody Who Just Loves to Complain.

    4. Observer*

      With relatives in three different Western countries, I’ll tell you that for all the problems in the US healthcare system, there are equally significant, although different, problems in those other countries.

      Furthermore, this guy’s problem is NOT the healthcare system. He has options, but he chooses not to exercise them. He has disposable income that he chooses to spend elsewhere. He has marketable skills that he chooses not to market. He chose to to look into what his company was offering, and he continues to choose not to investigate other options. The only thing he chooses to do is to complain about his problems and try to make others feel guilty about having decent coverage. (I mean WHAT on earth is up with complaining when others mention their doctor’s visits?!)

  31. wellywell*

    I wouldn’t include this sentence : “And since I’m the one who originally gave you the insurance information, it makes me feel really bad.” That’s just inviting him to continue to complain and opens the door for him to blame the OP, when he’s the one who screwed up.

    If he didn’t read the fine print before accepting the offer, that’s was his (bad) decision and the conseuqences are now his problem.

    If he chooses not to do anything to change his situation for two years and continues to choose to do nothing, that is also his decidion and his problem.

  32. TL -*

    Oh, OP, may I suggest the practical, “you choose what you spend your money on” approach?
    When he complains, try very matter of fact, non-sympathetic approaches. From least to most harsh.
    “Mmm-hmmm, a lot of people struggle with budgeting for health care/insurance costs. I’ve got to finish my teapot report, though.”
    “There are other options out there that I certainly encourage you to look at. I think we’ve discussed them before, but right now I need to finish my teapot analysis.”
    “I certainly don’t understand your finances but it doesn’t seem like healthcare is a priority in your budget. I need to finish my teapot proposal.”

    1. Ashloo*

      It might lead to defensiveness, but I agree. It would be difficult for me to not leave a trail of snarky comments from the “must be nice” category (and yes, I remember the question we just had on the topic!).

      “Must be nice to have such a fancy car, though…”
      “Must be nice to give that /item/ to your wife…”
      “I’ve wanted to try that restaurant. Must be nice to be able to afford it…”

      That would be my internal monologue anyway. Seriously, do not feel guilty for someone else’s poor decisions.

    1. Annoying Girl*

      Exactly! Sounds like they are getting away with hiring people as contractors that could technically be considered employees. Then he would have all the same benefits. Since he has been there 2 years this might be the case.

      1. Petronella*

        +2 that this guy sounds like an employee not a contractor. It is bound to lead to resentment to literally sit beside someone every day at work and they are an employee, with full benefits, and you are not. Especially in America where your employment situation determines your health insurance situation. I just can’t find it in me to be that mad at this guy.

        1. sparklealways*

          It sounds like he works for a contracting company, not that he is an independent contractor.

        2. A.J.*

          Exactly. I am in the exact same boat as the guy, so I feel for him. I am a W2 (not independent) contractor, so I am employed through a worldwide staffing company, and located on site at a large tech company. I’ve been here almost 3 years. I literally sit right beside 5 full-time employees and do the *exact* same work as they do all day long, but my pay is 50% of theirs, and they get some of the best benefits in the country. You could say I’m a bit jealous and resentful. Unfortunately I’m working at one of the wealthiest companies in the world, and clearly they dont have enough money to spend hiring their contractors full time. But seriously though, if you’re not a software engineer, then they dont want you full time here, and its one of the most difficult places to get hired– its their policy not to convert contractors.

          This practice is unfortunately super common in my field (IT). I think a lot of people hear “contractor” and they think independent contractor, aka someone who is likely paid a lot more for their work to compensate for their expenses, healthcare, etc. But as W2 contractors, we are quite underpaid salary-wise, with no paid sick/maternity/vacation leave, and very poor health care plans that are just excuses by the staffing companies just to say they have it for legal reasons. I actually opted out of my company’s health coverage because it was so poor. I have my own plan that costs $200/mo and is only catastrophic coverage, so all basic stuff is full price for me.

          I definitely think that W2 contracting through staffing companies is a huge problem that doesn’t get enough attention.

          1. Petronella*

            Oh AJ, you’re just being a complainer. If it bothers you so much, just budget better and also go find another job! \sarcasm

          2. OP*

            This is the situation he is in. Which is why I feel guilty! Now that I know HOW bad it is, I truly hate the system that my company has. I do!

            But yes to answer above he’s not a 1099 he’s basically an employee of a company who works on site for us. We are his company’s client and he is the product essentially.

            And I know that he is actually not underpaid compared to comparable direct employees.

            1. A.J.*

              Its definitely the company’s fault. Here in my office I know that the permanent employees feel bad, but ultimately their hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do. The team desperately needs help, but due to company policy they have no headcount for permanent hires so contractors are their only option.

              And Petronella, you’re actually quite right– I need to get out of the area I’m in, because its mostly large tech companies in Silicon Valley that have this W2 contractor practice. There’s a much larger issue here that probably isn’t going to be changing any time soon, so I need to move elsewhere or change fields.

              1. Chinook*

                “The team desperately needs help, but due to company policy they have no headcount for permanent hires so contractors are their only option.”

                That is my situation too. I know every year they submit a budget for new staff positions and roughly 10% of those get approved.

                On the plus side, a bunch of us have been enjoying the gong show with A/P over the invoicing of all these contractors when head office decided to “simplify things” by requiring all contractors to work for one staffing company. No one in negotiations understood a) how many of us there are b) the number of independent contractors we employed (vs. just agency people) or c) how complicated the invoicing was going to be. We have been rejecting their unsatisfactory invoices all month and enjoying the headaches this is causing everybody who thought this would be a simplification of the process while ignoring everyone who said it wouldn’t work.

  33. Kobayashi*

    I have a friend who is very much like the coworker here — complains about her life. She is always the victim. When I would give constructive ideas, she’d shoot them down, one by one. She’d make choices that would lead to bad things, and then repeat those choices, and repeat them, and repeat them, and continue to complain and play the victim. And I mean the EXACT SAME CHOICES. I stopped giving any kind of suggestions and have basically just resigned myself to “uh-uh. Wow. That sucks.” I realized about a year or so ago that she just wants someone to complain to. She doesn’t want suggestions. I’m willing to be the ear (not so much a sympathetic one, but a neutral one). Your coworker reminds me of her, so I’m guessing there’s not much you can do to get him to stop other than keep telling him to stop. And though you said you know you shouldn’t feel guilty and cannot help it, I’ll just reaffirm — this isn’t on YOU. It’s on him. He accepted the job after having been given the information (if he chose not to read it, that’s his fault). He has stayed for TWO YEARS even though he’s marketable. It is all his choice. He can complain about it all he wants, but he’s choosing to continue in the situation, so don’t feel guilty. The power to change things rests with him, not you, and he’s apparently content enough with how things are to stay.

  34. AstroDeco*

    OP, I think a lot of people understand your guilt and are correct about how you shouldn’t feel guilty. You were trying to help someone and that is always a good thing. I understand your guilt and frustration and I’ve been there many times myself.

    *This situation is on him, not you.*

    You replied to your colleague’s question and I have the impression that your guilt isn’t as much that you think you gave him wrone information as from the lack of qualifiers in your reply.
    ie: “Yes, there is insurance that is available *however* I’m not certain of the coverage.”

    Please don’t let that qualifier trip you up. If insurance was so important to him then he should have clarified the terms himself instead of simply accepting an affirmative reply from someone at the company. In other words, someone shouldn’t accept a one-word reply from someone else and base an important decision on that alone. From what you wrote, there were several steps in this process where he was given the information he needed and it was his responsibility to understand the details.
    Perhaps it would help if you know how to answer something like this in the future. If someone asks you about insurance (or whatever), just say “I think so, yes, although you should talk with X for more information.”

    “Calibrate your guilt.”
    Love this!!

    I don’t agree with Alison’s advice that you should tell him it makes it hard for *you* to concentrate or anything that conveys how he is affecting your work or emotions. Usually those phrases should be used although from my experience this guy would not even process them or care how you are affected by his complaining.

    Act, don’t react!

    Try something more direct. Often I’ve shut people like him down by saying something like “It’s obvious that this is a big issue for you and I’ve given you advice on how to resolve it. Please don’t keep talking about it because I really don’t have anything more to add to this situation. If this is such a dilemma, why are you continuing to talk about it and make excuses as to why you can’t follow through?”
    or: “You were given all of the literature on insurance and should have asked about the terms when you signed up. I’m sorry this is not working out for you and I’ve tried to be supportive and listen. I really have no more patience, especially because all you do is talk about it and you don’t do anything to actually help your insurance needs.”

    Or be even more direct: “If this was an important factor in your employment, then why didn’t you clarify the details before you accepted the offer?”

    You can set boundaries and you’d need to be prepared to enforce them. If necessary, then be a broken record.
    Prepare a few phrases to shut him down and a few escape routes for if you need them.
    “I only have 2 minutes. What’s up?”
    “Excuse me, I need to take this report to X.”
    “Yes, you’ve mentioned this before. What I’d like to know is how Fergus here managed to get tickets to that sold-out concert!”
    “I’m sorry that this is so difficult for you and your wife.”

    If you were up to the challenge you could offer to review the insurance information with him, although for several reasons I wouldn’t go there. It’s personal and it would only get you more involved. As for the other reasons, they’re too many to list here.

    As for his financials, this is easy to judge although try not to let this factor into your frustration (I totally get why it does!). You know his income from your work and you know his expenditures from what he’s told you. There are always expenditures that are not shared with others, such as various debts.

    Please don’t feed this energy vampire and know that you are not responsible for creating it in the first place.
    (If this sounds harsh, I’m sorry; that isn’t my intent.)

    Good luck, OP!

    1. KR*

      To add to your first point, good insurance is different for everyone. I’m on my dad’s until I’m married or I’m 26 and it is excellent – state employee benefits, basically everything is covered with low copays and the network is huge (at a minimal cost to the employee). I’m sure whatever insurance I get in the future through a job or the exchange will pale in comparison to this, so for now I’m just trying to enjoy it.

  35. Perpetuum Mobile*

    While the guy in question can and should fix some serious issues in his “I-am-a-responsible-adult” department, I would still like to point out that being able to afford having a baby (hopefully, a healthy singleton otherwise multiply the costs by…) without the insurance in the US is daunting, to say the least. I had a baby 5 weeks ago and ended up having emergency c-section. My bills from the hospital and independent providers for 12 hours of labor followed by the c-section and three days of hospital stay have so far amounted to over $38,000. Thirty. Eight. Thousand. Frigging. Dollars. Seriously. My insurance company negotiated down their rates AND I am on the great plan with low deductible that I chose on purpose while planning for the pregnancy. Still, my out of pocket costs are already up to $1,500. So without any insurance whatsoever and God forbid if something goes wrong during the delivery…I can understand how people may feel very frightened about the whole idea of having a baby.

    1. Petronella*

      Yes, the part about he and his wife would like to have a baby but can’t afford the medical costs, made me very sad.

        1. Perpetuum Mobile*

          If I were him, I’d be looking for other opportunities like there’s no tomorrow…and would have started long time ago.

    2. orchidsandtea*

      Congratulations on your new little one! I hope you’re all doing well.

      Yes, it is very expensive, but hospitals typically will work with you to get the bill down to something manageable, and then set up a payment plan for the decreased amount. And if one desires a child, one plans. Unexpected children can also be blessings, and I’ll never blame someone for not being “prepared” — but the coworker and his wife know that they want to have kids soon, and they are making life-choices that directly contradict that goal.

      If he traded in his car for a beater, he could probably afford to get his wife a decent marketplace plan and short-term disability. He could be making different choices. He isn’t. This tells me that what he really values is either A) his current lifestyle B) the ability to complain or C) both.

  36. april*

    This is silly. This is a man that just wants to complain.

    I know health care is expensive and I know health insurance is expensive, but between his employer provided, even with the costlier comprehensive plan, or the state marketplace there must be at least one option that allows him to SEE a doctor. For heavens sake, the stuff he’s stating barely makes sense.

    I have very little patience for people who whine just to whine and don’t do anything to better their situations. He seems like a prime example of that type of person.

  37. Jennifer Brooks*

    I have seen a sympathetic question used well in this situation:

    Complainer: “Blah blah blah complain complain complain”
    Listener: “That sounds difficult. What are you going to do about it?” And then silence until they answer you. Or don’t answer you. Either one is fine, because this reply can be used again instantly, if needed.

    (Honestly, the time I saw it used in a friend setting, it shocked the person into realizing that really, they wanted to divorce their then-spouse. And then they did. But it can also just shock someone into silence, and sometimes that’s what you want.)

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m chiming in years later (bcs I know people read the archives) to underline this.

      Someone used it on me once, and it WAS the thing that made me go do something about it. And it works even now, decades later.

      I kept complaining about how fat I was. Finally my colleague said, in a very interested tone, “What are you going to do about it?” I realized two things: (1) if anything was going to happen, I was doing to have to DO something; and (2) I’d been talking about it way too long.
      I shut up and went on a diet and started running to burn off calories.

      The tone is the important part–use a tone that implies of course he has a plans, and you’re mildly interested to hear what it is. Like, “What are you going to see while you’re in London?”

      1. TootsNYC*

        It’s far more effective than the scolding suggested below. Be interested in the answer; expect there to BE an answer.

  38. animaniactoo*

    “Fergus, I don’t want to hear anything else about this until you’re willing to DO something about it. You have several options. None of them may be your preferred ideal, but they’re there and if this isn’t working for you then you need to choose one of them. In the meantime, please stop talking to me about it.”

    And the next time he starts up again, look him dead in the eye. “How about them Yankees?” (or whatever other obvious conversation redirect you want to use).

  39. Annoying Girl*

    OP -why is he considered a contractor and not an employee? If he works in your office every day and for two years it sounds like he should be classified as an employee with all the same benefits that you have. I can understand his confusion. I bet he thought he was getting the same benefits as you and then realized it wasn’t the same. Typically employers that manage contract employees provide insurance because its required due to ACA but they don’t cover any costs of the premiums like being an employee of company does. It can be quite expensive.

    1. JPlummer*

      Great observation about contractor vs employee. If a contractor is receiving health insurance, even if it’s not great, from his contracting employer, how is he different from being a full-time employee? I also understand his confusion but don’t understand why he sent a generic “got insurance?” email to the OP, who wasn’t apparently in a position to give more than a generic answer. Anyone accepting a long-term contract assignment deserves a thorough discussion about health ins. and any other bennies that go along with the job before he or she accepts the assignment. Mailing this information wasn’t adequate. Several years ago several Microsoft contractors sued Microsoft,claiming that the length of time they worked there should give them employee status. They won the case and there are now laws about who is, and isn’t, a contractor. I am not a lawyer so won’t comment further. But this situation could be more complicated than the OP and contractor realize.

      1. OP*

        As I mentioned above, he’s an employee through a staffing agency. His benefits are through them. When he came to the on site interview he asked in advance if benefits were offered and I said that we have multiple contract employees who say that there are benefits but you’d need to get the details from your contracting company.

        He’s not a 1099. He has an account manager who meets with him occasionally and stuff.

        1. JPlummer*

          Well then there’s your solution–if his insurance is issued through his staffing agency, it doesn’t involve you or your company at all. End of story.

          The whining would be easily solvable with a phone call to his account manager. That person is responsible for communicating any work-related problems with him and could easily do so at their next sit-down. But the acct mgr can’t address a problem he or she doesn’t know about. You don’t have any authority over the guy. So let HIS manager deal with this. I completely understand what an energy suck it is to work with someone who’s so verbal about being unhappy. But the thing is. don’t get so involved with this that you hate going to work. Let the appropriate people deal with it.

  40. orchidsandtea*

    OP, I want to point out something: Right now, your coworker has no incentive to change things. He gets a great car, a decent job, to impress his wife with highly-visible treats, and he doesn’t even have to worry about it — because you’re doing all the worrying for him. You’re feeling all his guilt and carrying that emotional burden for him, and he has never even had to take responsibility for the fact that he didn’t bother to do his homework. He has created and is creating this mess. I am not impressed with him at all.

    OP, don’t ever apologize to him again for misleading him. You didn’t. You provided perfectly accurate information.

    And don’t keep making sympathetic noises when he complains about the problems he created. He’s using you as an emotional crutch, and it is not appropriate in the workplace. It’s a weird crappy pattern and you are being used. “Oh, geez, I wish we could afford children!” “Well, that’s interesting Stanley, but I have to work on the TPS report.”
    “Oh, I felt so burdened driving back from my $75 doctor visit in my Cadillac SUV.” “Mm. Stanley, I’m afraid you’re distracting me from my work.”
    “Why didn’t anyone TELL me how bad this insurance was!” “Oh, they did. You didn’t read the paperwork. Speaking of paperwork, where’s the file I requested?”

  41. Chaordic One*

    I once turned down a job offer because after investigating the benefits package it turned out that, in spite of nice raise in pay, the more expensive health insurance offered by the employer ate up all that raise and the job would have been a wash in terms of overall pay. They job didn’t really have anything else to recommend it, so I turned it down. It wasn’t a terrible job, no real promotion and no opportunities to learn new things. It was just kind of “meh.”

    I suppose it might have looked good on an application down the road to say that I earned more money, but I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead.

  42. Marisol*

    I have no sympathy for this person. Someone who can’t afford basic necessities like healthcare yet spends $700 a month on a car is an irresponsible fool. Yep, that’s my opinion. I have no problem “piling on” to this guy. If he tried that complaining nonsense with me, I’d say something like, “I guess you should have read the plan details; I don’t know what else to tell you” and maybe I’d suggest he lease a less expensive car. Call it contempt; call it tough love…I don’t know. But I hope the OP does begin to stand her ground because she’s entitled to do it.

    1. KR*

      The car thing really stood out to me too. I pay 250 a month for a nice-but-not-extravagent car that is MINE and will last me forever if I’m kind to it.

    2. JessaB*

      I would add a caveat that $700 is outrageous for a car unless it has add ons or something else that is necessary. A car made accessible for a handicapped driver, could easily run that. On the other hand if we’re just talking “OMG expensive lease/purchase car,” then just no.

      1. Marisol*

        It IS outrageous–what is he leasing, a Maserati? I have a beater, commuter car myself, but I think a lease on a nice BMW or entry-level Mercedes is 4 or 5 hundred dollars, no? (Which would still be too expensive if you can’t pay your medical bills of course…)

        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

          Yeah, $700 is obscene. I’m currently leasing an entry-level Audi* in a very expensive market and paying something like $450/month. $700/month would be like a top of the line BMW, a mid-level Benz, or an entry level Porsche.

          *Cars are important to me, and something I choose to spend my money on. I can afford my healthcare and rent and student loan payments etc.

          1. Marisol*

            No caveat needed, haha! You’re certainly entitled to a fancy car if you want. For some people, it really contributes to their quality of life. My indulgence is clothes…

    3. Grapey*

      Agreed. I might have some sympathy in the way of pointing him to a budgeting website like Mint, but there certainly would be no guilt on my part, especially outside of work hours.

  43. Observer*

    Your boss is completely correct that this is TOTALLY not your fault. To allow this jerk (and he is a jerk) to make you feel so guilty that you actually cry at home is just not healthy. So, while I agree with Alison’s advice, I would also suggest that you look at this as well. I’d be willing to bet that this is not the only place where you are carrying misplaced guilt. On the other hand, even without the guilt this whole situations extremely annoying and distracting. Way, way, way TMI.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. Some times it is easier to view our problems as if the problem belonged to a friend. So, OP, pretend your friend wrote this letter. What would you tell your friend? Don’t answer here, but just mull it over.

  44. alex*

    To the OP: your idea that the guilt can’t go away rings a bit off to me. This whole situation is so clearly not your fault, and guilt is NOT a congruent response. AND it’s harming you: you cry after work over this guy’s problems?? I’m so sorry for your pain, and that doesn’t have to be how it is!! I’m a recovering guilt-addict, so to say, and therapy has been immensely helpful for me, just for what it’s worth.
    Deflect his complaining and take care of yourself!

  45. Kittens*

    Confession: I used to be this person. I spent $$$ like it was going out of style and was constantly broke even though I made great money for someone so young (23). I knew my situation wasn’t sustainable but I honestly truly couldn’t see my spending habits as a problem, I just didn’t get it and believed I was doing the opposite of what I was (OP if you ask your friend the question “are you good with money” I bet you anything he will honestly believe he is fine)

    I had a moment of clarity one morning: I was driving into work with my then-boyfriend (now fiance) – we were talking about our savings goals for moving to a new city together. He was doing way better than I was even though I made more money and my silly response was “I just don’t know where all the money is going.” His response: “you’re spending it.” He was kind but didn’t coddle me, and it finally clicked. I think the point I’m trying to make is that of course you empathize with this guy, I would too! But the people who saw how dumb I was with money, heard my unreasonable complaints, and didn’t call me out on it weren’t doing me any favors.

    1. Marisol*

      Good point and nice to hear a different perspective. Your fiance sounds like a definite keeper too.

  46. Yet another Allison*

    This co-worker is outsourcing his emotional labor to you, LW! Very similarly to yesterday’s letter where the co-worker was constantly asking if the LW hated him. I read the entire metafilter thread about unpaid emotional labor linked in the comments regarding that letter and it was eye-opening, and it jumped out to me in this situation too.

    Perhaps I’ve mis-gendered you as a woman, and if so, my apologies, but it seems like this guy wants you to feel his stress for him and reassure him it’s going to be all right and apologize for something that isn’t your fault, isn’t yours to control, and in fact is HIS fault and in HIS control. It’s a major mindset shift that probably won’t change overnight, but please realize this, and take the burden off your own shoulders and put it right back onto his, where it belongs!

    1. KR*

      +1 OP, it’s not your responsibility to be a sounding board for him. Please don’t feel obligated to listen to him vhent and make him feel better. You didn’t sign up for this. He needs to be talking with his friends, his wife, his therapist, his accountant, but not you.

  47. Whichsister*

    In a nutshell, this is not your circus these are not your monkeys. This mantra has kept me from crossing over into the wrong side of sanity the past few years.

  48. MissDisplaced*

    Yes… OP you need to shut him down politely but firmly, even if you have to be blunt. If he persists, you can always say something like “I’m really sorry to hear that X, but it’s been two years and by now you know nothing is going to change on the insurance front, unless you make a move to change it.” and then walk away.
    And I’m with you on the being a “doer” part. I complain too, but I also take steps pretty quick to change things if I don’t like them, usually by finding another job (but that’s a whole other kettle of fish!).

  49. Product Person*

    Another thing to keep in mind, OP (something I learned early in life by watching this happen over and over with my mother):

    If you give the impression, either by your words or attitude when he is complaining, that you feel guilty and responsible for the problem, he will start to internalize that and use as self-justification. “No, my situation has nothing to do with the fact that I chose to drive an expensive car / didn’t read the insurance plan carefully / am not applying to other jobs! Jane obviously agrees with me that this is totally unfair and that she should have been more careful in her response when I asked if the job offered health care!”.

    I’ve seen my mother get into this trap, listening to complaints from various people in a way that made it look like it was her fault or her job to fix the problem, which only created a vicious cycle of the person continuing to come complain to her. So I learned to do the opposite. When someone complains about something to me, even if I was somehow involved in the situation like the OP feels she is, I (using a kind voice) immediately shift the responsibility back to them:

    “Oh, don’t tell me you didn’t readily the details of the health care before taking the job! I can’t imagine not looking very carefully and confirming the terms before accepting an offer. Oh, well, I hope you’ll be more careful next time. Have you been looking at job boards to see if you can find something more suitable to your needs?”

    Now that ship has sailed, but the best you can do OP, is to take the advice given by Alison and other commenters. Getting him to stop complaining will be the kindest thing you can do for your friend, because you said yourself that you don’t want to have him become a full time employee at your company because you no longer like to work with him. I bet other colleagues are feeling the same way (more strongly even, if they don’t have a prior friendship). By continuing to complain he is doing himself a disservice, as his colleagues will be unwilling to recommend him for jobs in the same company or other companies when they leave and need someone with his skill set.

  50. Gaia*

    Oh man, is my employee moonlighting as your contractor? Because he sounds exactly like my worst.hire.ever.

  51. stevenz*

    I feel kinda bad for the guy. Health of one’s family, and self, is very emotional for a lot of people. That’s one reason why health *insurance* is so emotional. How old is he? He seems to have a lot of regular need for health care for someone who is at an age when visits to the doctor are only occasional.

    (Almost analogous to parking. Nobody like to pay to park their car, and a lot of people go to great lengths to avoid paying for parking. So somebody with an $80,000 BMW will complain that she has to pay $5 to park it near the Michelin star restaurant she’s going to, but not about the $50/oz foie gras.)

    There could be a lot of things going on in his life. Maybe there are serious health problems, maybe his wife’s job is not what it was supposed to be. (High end retail with no benefits? Not sure what that means.) So it could be that health insurance is a real hot button issue for him. Or an obsession. If he’s a hypochondriac, then I fully understand his issue. But failing that, if this has been going on for two years and he hasn’t figured it out yet, he isn’t very good at sorting out basic life needs. I wouldn’t want to scratch the surface of this one too deep, so best to get him to keep it to himself if possible. OR, say something like “Hey, Ralph. There’s something you’re not telling me here. This insurance thing seems to be taking up an inordinate amount of your energy. What gives?”

    1. OP*

      Well I think he’s really dissatisfied with the job, which manifests physically. He always ‘doesn’t feel well.’ There’s literally never a whole week where he doesn’t say he might not make it through the whole day because he’s not feeling super good. His job isn’t one that can be done remotely very effectively (mine is) so he complains about that too.

  52. Unegen*

    OK, I’m severely undercaffeinated, so this is going to be a lot harsher than it probably ought to be…but here goes:
    For someone who claims to be a “doer” and not a “talker”, you’re doing an awful lot of ruminating on your coworker’s issues and talking about them, and not doing much. It does not matter if he complains. It does not matter if he talks on the phone and you can hear him. It does not matter if he overshares. These are HIS, Fergus’s, issues. If you do not want to deal with it then you will find a way not to deal with it. Headphones. Ask him to stop (as others have suggested). Dismiss him when he’s not talking to you, instead of hanging on everything you hear. These are things you can DO. Apply your own philosophy to yourself.

    And now…coffee.

    1. OP*

      Agreed, which is why I wrote in to figure out what I can DO about this situation. I’ve asked him to stop and it didn’t work – but part of it is that my guilt has precluded me from being too harsh with that. I think I need to just bite the bullet and be harsh.

      1. AthenaC*

        I agree with that. No matter how legitimate his problems may (or may not) be, they are not yours. He is trying to make them yours.

        Good luck!

  53. Bob*

    Without knowing any of the players involved, I always assume people are pushing for a rate increase when they repeatedly talk about trouble with their expenses. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks your company might increase his rate enough to cover his benefits. I’ve bluntly told contractors before that “I have nothing to do with setting rates so you’re complaining to the wrong guy”.

    On another note, this is why new contractors are often given the advice to charge 1.5-to-2 times the rate of what an employee would make for the same work. Benefits are often undervalued until you don’t have them. When I was a contractor, I had to pay for 100% of my benefits and had no 401K, no sick days, no vacation days and didn’t get paid holidays (company was closed so I just didn’t get paid). Just the sick days, vacation and holidays add up to about a month of paid days off I didn’t get as a contractor. Doubling your rate seems a little high but I think 60-70% higher than the employee rate is very reasonable for a contractor.

    1. Bob*

      I’ll add that I have heard co-workers say about contractors “well, I make $75K and I know she makes $90K which doesn’t seem fair”. If you’re making $75K, the contractor should be making easily over $100K for the same work.

      I also think the piece of mind of having a steady job vs. a contract is worth something too. When times get tough for a company, contracts are often easy to cancel. I know during the recession, I always saw contractors let go first (and then middle managers).

  54. Yeah I'm commenting!*

    I’m not sure that the complaints are actually about the insurance. After you clarified that he is essentially a temp with a notoriously expensive and low coverage benefits package from his staffing agency, I think he’s more complaining about being a temp, and hoping foolishly that his complaints of bad insurance will make the decision makers more apt to hire him on permanently. That could explain why he doesn’t follow through with suggestions from coworkers, and just seems to keep complaining about the same thing all the time.

  55. Advice for OP*

    OP, you said in your letter:
    “I realize my guilt is most likely misplaced as my manager says, but no matter what you or your readers suggest, the guilt I feel isn’t going to change”
    Actually, the guilt you feel CAN change. Our words won’t do that, but you can work on this.

    I’m a psychotherapist, and I really think you would benefit from speaking to a professional. I’m not saying this with any sort of diagnosis or pathologizing mentality- I don’t know you, so I can only go off what I see here.

    I see someone who has an external circumstance, and an emotional reaction to that circumstance, that is greatly impacting them in a negative way. Yes the complaining is upsetting you, but your guilt over the complaining seems to be upsetting you the most. As others have mentioned, you need to recalibrate your guilt. But you don’t have to do that alone and may not be able to! If this is affecting you so much, I’d bet you’ve had excessive guilt and unnecessary emotional suffering over it before, and might again in the future, if you don’t try to get professional assistance with recalibrating. You don’t have to suffer like this!

    1. Advice for OP*

      Lol thanks avatar for blowing up my spot- I forgot it’s tied to the email! I feel like I’ve left an Easter egg about my identity haha. Oh well :)

  56. Aca-Believe It*

    I’m British and it confuses me so much that your employment package can determine whether you can go to the doctor.

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