I’m hearing secondhand reports of problems with an employee — but she denies them

A reader writes:

I have had a number of members on my team come to me lately with concerns about one particular employee. They say that she takes long breaks, leaves early (she’s got a job where she needs to be in the office at set times), and spends too much time socializing. This came as a surprise to me as her output is within the normal range for my team.

I’m not in my office enough to observe the exact times she is at her desk, but I was concerned that I was hearing this from so many people so I brought it forward to her for discussion. She was clearly completely blindsided, felt totally betrayed by her colleagues, and didn’t have any ideas for what may have caused the perception or how to resolve it. Because she was so upset after our initial conversation and we weren’t getting anywhere with coming up with solutions, I deferred a follow-up meeting for a couple of days, but I’m not even sure myself how to address this. I did put forward some suggestions based on my observations, and feedback from other team members, but she didn’t really seem to be taking any of them in. If I have to continue to performance manage her I will, but her surprise was so extreme that it put this niggling worry in my mind that maybe the issue is with her coworkers, not her.

Of the coworkers who have reported these problems to, I have varying degrees of trust in them. I heard from four people about this — two have my absolute highest trust, one is newer and I’m cautious but overall think they have good judgment, and one has a tendency to stir the pot a bit. The two who I trust the most brought forward concerns that were verifiable, but not as severe. The pot-stirrer brought forward the most egregious concerns and ones that were harder for me to assess (in particular, that the employee in question had a tendency to leave the office early as soon as I’m gone for the day).

Because the employee in question says that this isn’t happening and you haven’t been able to observe it firsthand, I think you’ve got to do your own observations before continuing any further.

In general, I don’t think you were wrong to ask her about it without observing it yourself since you’d heard it from multiple people, two of whom you know to be highly trustworthy. (I wouldn’t take the pot-stirrer’s word for anything that isn’t being verified by those two trustworthy others, though.) But once she told you that the reports were wrong, at that point you’ve got to put the brakes on any further action until you find out for yourself firsthand. So for now, making further suggestions to her about how to handle this is premature — at this point, you just need to find out what’s really going on.

To do that, ideally you’d alter your schedule enough for a couple of weeks that you’re able to see firsthand what’s happening. If that’s not feasible — if your work means you need to be out of your office a lot — there are other ways of checking in, like finding a few legitimate reasons to call her during the timeframes people say she’s often not there. If you’re able to look at her computer log-in/log-off times, that may give you some useful data too. If you feel awkward doing this, keep in mind that it’s potentially in her best interests because if she’s right that the complaints are groundless, this will help show that.

Also, is there someone in your office whose judgment you trust and who’s senior enough — i.e., not her peer — that you could deputize as your eyes and ears on this issue for a couple of weeks? Ideally this would be someone who isn’t close to any of the original four people who talked to you (and thus not overly influenced by them or part of any brewing coalition) and who’s either your peer, senior to you, or just a notch below you (like an assistant director or a team lead). The idea would be to discreetly explain to that person what’s going on and ask them to keep an eye on what’s happening when you’re not around so that you’re better able to sort through this.

Normally I’d also say to look at your employee’s work output, but you’ve already noted that it’s where you’d expect it to be. And actually, if she didn’t have a job that required her to be in the office at set times, her good output could be enough info to settle this. But it sounds like her job requires her to be present regardless.

But definitely don’t keep pushing the issue until you’ve gathered more data. Based on the fact that some of this is coming from two highly trusted employees, I think it’s pretty likely that there’s something going on — but if they’re off-base, you could end up really demoralizing and even pushing out a good employee who didn’t do anything wrong. (Imagine being on the receiving end of this if she genuinely hasn’t done what people are accusing her of — that would be awful. And not even just awful for her, but awful for other people on your team who see it too.)

You’ve got it in your power to dig more and find out what’s really going on, and that’s got to be the next step.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 228 comments… read them below }

  1. some1*

    Is there any chance her reaction could be due to defensiveness at getting called out vs. genuine surprise?

    1. Katie F*

      Or a mix of both – defensive because some of the concerns are legitimate, surprise/hurt because some of them aren’t.

      1. neverjaunty*

        That wouldn’t be surprising. I also wonder if there’s some deflection going on – “I’m too upset to talk about this” to cut the discussion short.

        1. Katie F*

          If there is, I doubt it’s purposeful, especially if she wasn’t expecting to be confronted about it. I think her upset was very genuine, especially if the concerns were a mix of real and fake, because now she not only knows that the things that wer e”slipping by” weren’t really, but also that at least one coworker has it out for her and is making things up to get her in trouble.

    2. Crier*

      I think that is probably the case.

      When I got called out at my first job – I had a considerable reaction. I started uncontrollably crying/shaking while trying to deny everything and then got ridiculously loud that everyone in the office heard what I was in trouble for!

      I was not expecting to get caught so I was not prepared to calmly admit my guilt and promise to do better… instead it was those ridiculous lies you tell on the spot while my face was all scrunched up with various fluids pouring out.

      The episode was my natural defensive reaction to being caught doing something wrong and was amplified because it came out of nowhere since I thought I was so sneaky. The intensity of my reaction lead my manager to believe it was an innocent mistake/misunderstanding that my behavior was somewhat acceptable in the working world – but I know it was just a defensive reaction that always worked for me when I was little.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I got called out at a job once and had a similar defensive response – emotional, angry. But they were all lies told by a “trusted” employee – we’ll call her Jane.

        In her review, Jane told the office and HR manager that I got drunk at the holiday party and spent the night with a co-worker, which violated the anti-fraternization policy (I had one drink and went home alone) and this was after other questionable professional behavior she had witnessed but couldn’t remember specifics on (seriously, but they thought her concerns were legitimate). Apparently Jane also threw some various other people in the office – a girl who was thinking of quitting, a guy who said something insanely inappropriate to her…basically she called 3-4 people out on the carpet and HR thought these were legitimate concerns.

        Since I was also in HR and essentially in charge of enforcing policy they called me in first to scold me…as they were doing this she told the people she called out that I had been gossiping behind their backs & to expect meetings with HR to address their behavior. I was hated for months in the office and I was LIVID. I stuck it out, but the only vindication was when she quit a year later I got a stream of apologies. Apparently she had ruffled quite a few feathers and her true character came out on the way out the door. Still have no idea why she had it out for me.

        1. Been There!*

          Here’s the thing, it probably wasn’t you. I have a pot stirrer that I’m having trouble managing because she’s quite manipulative. She’s also in denial about her manipulations. She honestly believes that what she’s doing is ok. At the heart of this is a profound insecurity. She targets whoever is getting praise or doing well in their personal life, it’s rarely personal. It’s more about maintaining the denial. If she’s confronted by someone else’s success it hurts her perception of her own. I would suspect that either professionally or personally you were perceived as doing better than Jane and gosh that hurt.

          I’ll suggest to you the same thing I suggest to my problem’s coworkers: don’t take it home and don’t put stock in it. You’ll never know why she went after you. You never deserved it. And if you live your best life going forward, you will have all of the revenge you could possibly hope for because you’ll show her how unimportant her actions were.

  2. Erika*

    I’m so sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this, LW. This happens to me at least once a year (the industry I work in – hospitality – is rife with gossip and people who don’t take their positions seriously). I think Alison’s advice is pretty dead-on. The one thing I would add is that if there HAS been a problem, it’s likely to stop (or at least scale back) now that you’ve spoken with the employee about it. It’s very likely that even if she was stepping out early, it may take weeks for you to see it because she may be on her best behavior for now.

    Or it may all be a tangle of nasty lies.

    Finally, the other thing to note: watch for extra gossip. Every time this happens on my staff, there’s an uptick in gossip that I don’t often hear about until way after the fact.

      1. Erika*

        Like I said, I keep going through this, and that’s been the pattern I notice. When you mention it, people shap eup and then…bad habits come back later. It’s a crappy cycle.

          1. SevenSixOne*

            Exactly. If this employee IS leaving early as soon as OP leaves for the day, it may not do the OP any good to stick around and see what happens, because even the worst employee will be on their best behavior as long as the boss is there. A better plan may be for OP to leave for the day as usual (either before she had the conversation with the employee, or several weeks later), then return to the office a little while later because she “forgot” something.

            Then the discussion can be “Hey, I came back to the office yesterday and you weren’t here. Dick and Jane said you left at noon. [Optional: We already talked about this.] What’s going on?” instead of “I heard but can’t prove that you’re leaving early, explain yourself!”

    1. INFJ*

      Another good reason why OP should deploy a trusted peer/superior/assistant to be her eyes and ears for her. Additionally, if the employee really is waiting for OP to leave until she leaves (early), then it wouldn’t do any good for OP to adjust her schedule to observe the behavior, because it won’t be happening!

  3. Katie F*

    I wouldn’t listen to anything the pot-stirrer says, really, unless it echoes the more trustworthy employees. Pot-stirrers tend to be “AND THIS” people, where it’s not enough to say, “Yes, Portia has this issue,” they have to one-up it and say, “Portia has this issue AND ALSO SHE LEAVES EARLY”. We don’t know that the pot-stirrer isn’t one of those who sees the occasional duck-out-at-4:55 and turns it into LEAVES EARLY EVERY DAY drama. I’m just very, very cautious about that because I have worked with more pot-stirrers who just flagrantly made things up than I am comfortable admitting to.

    The concerns that are shared across the board, though – those may be actionable. Deferring the meeting isn’t a bad idea, you want the employee to be as comfortable as possible and in a good frame of mind to actually address concerns. If she really was blindsided, even if she IS guilty of the issues that have been brought up, she may need a few days to realize not just that her coworkers noticed, but that they “went behind her back” to talk to you about it. Whether or not they ‘went behind her back’, I am sure that’s how she feels, and I’m sure it’s hurtful if she thought she had a good working relationship with them and they haven’t brought those concerns to HER before.

    1. 2 Cents*

      I was just thinking about “ducked out at 4:55 once” = “leaves early all the time!!!!” or “came in late once because of traffic” = “never shows up on time!!!!”

      1. Dweali*

        My managers rule of thumb is if the complaint contains the words ‘always’, ‘never’, or any variation thereof she takes it with a huge heaping spoon of salt or will dismiss the complaint entirely (not to anyone’s face or anything, we always get the response ‘I’ll look into it’)

      2. Katie F*

        Yep. I had a coworker accused of “NEVER ON TIME, ALWAYS LATE” and the manager privately asked us all for feedback, and I just shrugged and said, “I think she’s been late three times in the six months I’ve worked here, and one of those was because she had a meeting with (District Manager).”

        When one coworker takes a disliking to another, things really get blown out of proportion FAST.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          Yes! I made a long comment above but I essentially had one co-worker decide she hated me and it didn’t take long for her to spread enough un-trusts to get the entire office on board with hating me and HR questioning hiring me, because ironically, I worked in HR.

        2. Ama*

          At an old job I once defended a coworker from my boss’s claims that “she’s been out way too much.” She had been out four days in a six week span — two planned vacation, one sick day, and one to attend a funeral — but because the boss had been traveling frequently, he had only been in the office on the days she was out. I had to do some coverage for her when she was absent and kept notes in my calendar so it was easy to verify.

          He didn’t dislike my coworker, he just hadn’t thought through the fact that there was almost a month between pairs of days off. All he thought was “well the last four days I’ve been here, she hasn’t been.”

          1. Chioli*

            Sounds like both my manager AND my mother. “Not physically seeing you do something = you never do it.” -_-

            My manager used to think I always came in late because maybe 3 days, I happened to bump into her getting off the elevator a couple minutes late. I never got noticed for showing up early, but for a while, I feared for my job because my manager kept thinking I always showed up late and she’s really bad about letting me know where I stand. All she ever said was either “you did this wrong” or “here is some more work.” It was very draining and demoralizing after a while.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            At my first job at a very tiny company, the boss/ceo was a morning person. He was convinced we were all slackers; he’d wander around the building in the morning, when his software engineers (all 4 of us) were still at half-speed. Come the afternoon when we’re all busy, he’s in his office for his half-speed time.

            1. (Another) B*

              I had the opposite problem. Our boss would roll in around noon and when I would leave at 4 he would think I was taking off early. Um, I was here at 7:30am.

      3. Anonymousse*

        Yep, me too. And I have also observed how a person can get tagged with an unfair reputation they can never shake, and then everything they do is judged through that lens. At a very dysfunctional nonprofit job years ago, we offered a position to person who explained that she had a very important trip scheduled in a couple of weeks, and we were free to hire her or not if that didn’t work for us. We hired her, she took the trip (no pay of course) and from then out our director believed that she took excessive vacation time, even though she took NO other vacation time. It was so weird.

        1. SystemsLady*


          Unfortunately happened to a colleague of mine. Our job is a lot of saying no. and maybe once or twice she said no unreasonably.

          Joke’s on the company that fired her, though, because she’s in a much better position now and her former department is a mess (…because nobody says no)!

      4. Coco*

        Oh the dreaded infinitives – always and never, and the vague – lots of and a bunch, etc. I have learned the hard way to require more data and definition of those terms.

        1. AMT*

          I hate to get all grammary, but just FYI, I think you’re looking for a word like “hyperbole” rather than “infinitive.” An infinitive is a verb form like “to go” or “to hear.”

    2. Chris*

      I had one manager who worked in the office next to our workroom (it was a student job). I sat facing the doorway, and my retail training made it a reflex to look up when ever someone came into my peripheral vision. So whenever she walked past, I would glance up.

      I then got called out for “always just staring around the room”, because that’s what she thought I did all the time, apparently. Luckily, I was able to produce my work and show that I got my work done quit efficiently, but it was very demoralizing

  4. Jinx*

    Oooh, this is tricky. OP says that the two trustworthy employees brought forward verifiable but lesser issues, but didn’t corroborate the bigger issues brought forward by the pot-stirrer. I’m wondering whether the employee was shocked and upset by ALL the feedback, or just the major one, and whether that colored her reaction. I feel like OP should follow-up with the employee on the minor issues that are already verified, and go into Alison’s suggestions separately; that way the employee has a clear plan for the definite problems that isn’t getting muddied up with the “maybe” problems.

    From the employee perspective, I’d be upset if one pot-stirring coworker could make my boss doubt my schedule without verifying it for himself.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Yeah, and I admit that I have mixed feelings because I’ve been on both sides. I have one colleague who does everything OPs direct report is accused of and would definitely lie to her boss if the boss brought it up. She is shady as hell and only the other admins see it because she is so good at kissing butt. It’s really frustrating to witness and the good EA is going to quit because she’s sick of it. They are going to be floored when she gives notice.
      But I also had an evil coworker who tried to get me fired when she got promoted – she wrote me a fake performance review (I never had a performance review with her and she was never my boss) and used it to try to get rid of me. She accused me of never being in the office and of coming in late and leaving early. Little did she know that her boss hated her and knew she was lying. The boss had them run a report of my entry times (through my id badge) and it showed that I was almost always more than 30 minutes early and left late every day. Evil coworker was told to leave me alone and stop wasting boss’ time. It was my favorite thing that ever happened at work ever.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I have also had “trusted” employees as co-workers who faked their way to that status and use it to their advantage to cause a lot of trouble because managers thought they could do no wrong/would never lie. I’ve been victim and witness.

        1. Library Director*

          Oh yes. When new to this library I had a “trusted” co-worker complain about all my personal phone calls. The reality was she took twice as many. It was the norm for her, but for anyone else it was excessive. When I read cultural articles it was not work. (Entertainment Weekly has been one of my best collection development tools.) These types of complaints would come up in evaluations with our gas lighting boss.

          After I became director I realized it was a pattern for her and another “trusted” employee. Any new person’s activities would be seen as slacking, even if behaviors were exactly the same as theirs. It came to a head when I okay-ed a program and the they complained to other people and then to me about the staffer’s prep-time being “personal business”. ‘No, and why are you so busy monitoring what X is doing?’

          1. Julia*

            I have a co-worker who kisses up and kicks down, and I am sure she’d pretend to be surprised when someone asked her about her egregious behaviour towards me.
            She would also surely tell them that I never work (in fact, she has said that to me when I asked her to turn the TV because I couldn’t concentrate!), even though her cell phone rings all day, she watches the aforementioned TV, reads the newspaper and once even slept during work, not to speak of her prolonged lunch breaks. I am not going to stay here or much longer.

        2. LabMonkey*

          Same, I’m dealing with one now. According to him, I’m lazy and don’t help out. Funnily enough, that’s true about one of us! I’ve been spoken to about my “work ethic” by my boss and I was definitely upset! What can I say beyond, “I disagree, you’re welcome to check on me to verify, and he’s doing this because he dislikes me”? It’s all necessary, of course, to cover his own failures.

      2. Chinook*

        “Evil coworker was told to leave me alone and stop wasting boss’ time. It was my favorite thing that ever happened at work ever.”

        Real question – why wouldn’t someone be fired for faking a performance review in a way that could be confirmed as a lie? If it were me, I would never trust anything coming from that employee ver again.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          It’s a long complicated story and I didn’t want to write a novel. My real boss was leaving (he was also her boss) and she was taking his position. The dude that was leaving was just as bad as she was but he didn’t dislike me. However, she fed him a bunch of lies about me and told him she didn’t want me working for her. I doubt he believed the lies but he always did whatever she wanted, so he let her write a 360 evaluation that he signed on his last day and she gave it to HR on his behalf. So they didn’t exactly falsify the document but they did fill it with lies. The president’s office hated both of them (they were about to fire my boss for insubordination to our president which is why he quit) and knew they were lying. I had worked there much longer than either of them and they knew me very well and knew I was a good employee.
          They probably would have loved to fire the evil coworker but the role she was taking would have been impossible to fill with someone from outside (another long story). The only reason this woman didn’t like me is because I didn’t give her blind obedience (her exact words). She was never my supervisor but she was very high level and had everyone terrified of her. My coworker was going through chemo and tried hard to remain upbeat and got a bad review from her for smiling too much. I heard only a few people went to her goodbye party (usually 100 people go for a senior staffer).

      3. Curiouser*

        Okay — so no repercussions for creating a fake document? lol just wow.
        It’s always amazing to me the stories I hear about peoples workplace craziness and how things that are totally not okay slide past consequence under the guise of weird workplace crazy.

        She created a fake performance review and no one started to question EVERYTHING she did and maybe separate her from her job. That sort of seems fire-able. Maybe minor in scale but falsifying documents can turn into some really messed up stuff, no?? lol

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Hi, see my response above. She did a lot of things that she should have been fired for but she got away with everything. I got called twice to the Dept. of Investigations to answer questions about her shady behavior (accepting gifts, expensive “work” trips to her home town overseas, etc). It was the end of a mayoral administration, which is an impossible time to fill positions – no one wants to take a high level role that could disappear in two months when there’s a new mayor. She hightailed it out of there when we got a new president – the new president used to work here and hated evil coworker and made it clear that she would be fired if she was still here when she (new president) started. She’s China’s problem now! New president is the best – she got rid of all the dead weight and shifty bosses when she started – all very high level people who thought they were untouchable.

  5. Dan*

    I’ll take your at your word that this person needs to be in the office a set amount of time.

    The issue of leaving early aside, ask yourself how likely it is she can maintain the output necessary and still take long breaks and socialize.

    Unless those issues are interfering with others ability to get their work done (either she’s unavailable or distracting them) I’d be inclined to overlook them.

    At some point, if the work is getting done, you’re venturing into micro manager territory. Ask yourself if that’s a place you really want to go, as you risk alienating that employee and driving her out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That may be true of some of it, but if the job requires presence in the office during certain hours (and we should indeed take the OP’s word that it does), then leaving early/not being at her desk can be an issue in and of itself.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, I really don’t understand this insistence that the OP must be a micromanaging ‘butts in seats’ person merely because she says the employee needs to be there for set amounts of time. Honest to Betsy, there really are jobs where it’s important that people be in the office for a set number of hours, or are present during business hours even if exact start and ending times are flexible.

        1. OhNo*

          I think it’s probably because they also mentioned work output. In a lot of cases, jobs either require specific hours or a certain amount of output – having both might be making people wonder if the hours are just overkill.

          I also have one of those jobs that has strict requirements for hours, and clearly measurable work output that can be judged. It tends to confuse people that I have to consider both hours and output when it comes time for performance evaluations.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Right, and then as others have noted, there are those jobs where “output” isn’t the only feature of the job. Someone who moseys in at noon is not going to catch the phone calls, putting-out-fires, meetings or dealing with questions that start up earlier in the morning when business gets started. And it sure is a lot easier for Fergus to have more “output” when he’s sticking Wakeen with handling all those little things.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, this seems like a really cut and dried case of “take the LW at their word when they describe the workplace.” Plenty of jobs genuinely do require butt-in-seat time (jobs including phone coverage are a big one, or where a desk must be manned), which may be in addition to more concrete tasks/projects. My current job is one where I can wander in and out when I want as long as my tasks get done, but none of my past ones were.

    2. Temperance*

      Alternatively, though, her colleagues found it problematic enough to approach their manager. It could very well be that this woman not being at her desk means that other people had to cover her work. So sure, her output might be fine on paper, but if part of her job includes answering phones or questions, it would be grossly unfair to push that off on others.

    3. OP*

      To clarify – the employee, and the majority of my team are in customer service roles so it is important that they be at their desk the majority of the day and available to answer calls. So excessive socialization, long breaks, etc. definitely impact the role.

      1. Katie F*

        This makes sense – also explains how she could still be hitting all her metrics even if she IS ducking out early, although the fact that the ducking-out-early thing is only coming from the one person makes me a bit cautious about giving any credence to it.

      2. Erika*

        Is there any way to give her small projects that might involve checking back in after she’s supposedly leaving so that you can contact her and “catch” any early leaving yourself? That’s a trick I’ve used when there’s issues with our housekeepers.

        1. Joseph*

          Assuming there’s a time difference (30 minutes or more?) in your work hours, you could also find out if she’s leaving early by finding a reason to stop by the office after you’ve left for the day. Forget a personal item like your phone charger, drive by the parking lot on your way home after running a quick errand near the office, printing/copying directions to a client’s office, something like that.

          1. Erika*

            My only concern is that if you do that a lot, it begins to become obvious what you’re doing, so you might want to vary that with phone calls, etc. Nothing too frequent or obvious.

      3. De Minimis*

        I know of someone who works in a similar role who has similar behavior—they have good metrics for answering calls because they don’t take time with callers and don’t really do what is necessary to provide good customer service. They look good on paper, but take excessive breaks and force coworkers to pick up the slack. It really stinks for morale.

        1. De Minimis*

          That is, they have a lot of volume for overall calls answered because they keep the calls as short as possible, forward them to other people, etc…and not really doing their job.

        2. Dan*

          As a guy who builds data metrics for a living, I actually don’t have much of a problem with the someone you refer to, my problem is with management and the metric creators.

          What gets measured becomes what’s important. Things that aren’t measured generally become less important.

          In this case, your management has decided that they are going to measure answering calls, and not measure providing good customer service. And so the gaming of the metrics commences.

          1. Product person*

            Totally agree. People not doing their jobs should not be able to “look good on paper”. The actual resolution of the customer support call should be measured along with how many calls were answered.

          2. Former Retail Manager*

            YES, Dan, YES!!! While I don’t do customer service related work, the metrics that are measured by management are the only things that anyone cares about and the “right thing” often goes by the wayside to ensure that you meet the metrics that are set.

            1. Random Citizen*

              A manager I worked with once was really ticked off because the big bosses wanted a particular checklist done at particular times each day, multiple times a day. They weren’t happy with him because some times were getting missed since they came during his team’s busy time of the day, so he basically said, “Fine then, but we’ll have to ignore some customers to get it done,” and they said, “Fine then, just get it done.” Just, aggh!

          3. Pennalynn Lott*

            Yep, I used to work in an inside sales position where, for some reason, management thought that number of outbound dials was more important than total sales.

            My preferred sales style is fewer deals with larger dollar values, so that would naturally mean less outbound dials (because I’m doing research, putting together presentations and contracts, etc.). I had actually gotten written up for a drop in dials during the month it took me to put together a $1M deal (when the average rep’s sale was under $10k). So I started dialing voice mails. Or main numbers where you have to press 1 for X, press 2 for Y, press 9 to start over. Or Time and Temperature. Or friends who knew what was up and just sat there in silence while I got the call timer to over the 2-minute mark. Whatever it took to get my dials up while attempting to work bigger deals. What a pain in the @ss. [“No, we don’t want to be super-profitable by having our reps close big deals, we just want to see you call 80 different people each day.”]

            I walked away from that job with a new truism: “Be careful what you’ll measure, because that’s exactly what you’ll get.”

            1. Product person*


              I’m glad you walked away from that job — tons of companies would be very pleased to have you, “low performer in outbound dials”, on their sales teams!

          4. Vicki*

            “management has decided that they are going to measure answering calls, and not measure providing good customer service. And so the gaming of the metrics commences.”

            As a customer, I regularly run into this. I believe it’s the decision that underlies what I call the “roulette wheel of customer support”. Open the ticket, spin the wheel, drop the marble, send back the response the marble land on. Close the ticket. Move on.

            Unfortunately, I’m one of those customers who keeps writing back to say “you didn’t read my report. Try again.” (And again. And again).

      4. LBK*

        How much visibility do you have into those call records? You could see if she’s answering calls less frequently than average, which could indicate she’s away from her desk too much. If you can see that she’s taken calls after you’ve left, that would also invalidate the complaint that she leaves right after you.

      5. Menacia*

        Is there a log on/log off history that could be pulled to find out if there is a pattern to her leaving early? Does she log off during her breaks and then log back in again, there could be a log with this information as well. Unfortunately, the people who tend to socialize can be viewed as not being as productive as those who don’t, but that’s only a problem if there is proof this is the case. In the matter of taking long breaks and leaving early, yes, that’s a problem because everyone is on the clock in that type of environment and no one wants to see anyone getting away with that. It’s a CS mentality, I can’t tell you how many calls we receive if the time on the computers is off even a minute because they are that conscious of the time. To me, no one should have to work like that, but it’s just the nature of the job, it’s all a numbers game.

      6. Curiouser*

        How is time recorded? Is there is a time-clock system? I’m guessing there isn’t because wouldn’t this be easily verifiable otherwise? I guess I’m surprised that in a role that requires butts-in-seats at specific times there isn’t a time-clock system.

    4. Erika*

      There are plenty of jobs that DO require being in the office during specific hours and not leaving early (I manage a bunch of them). Not being present can greatly impact other people, and it’s not just a matter of whether the work gets done or not – in our front desk positions people may or may not have actual work to do, but if they’re not physically in the office, it can be a big problem.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      I get the feeling this person is in an admin role, which almost always has very set hours. And I think many managers don’t realize how bad this stuff is for morale. I just wrote above how our excellent EA is going to quit because she’s tired of dealing with an admin who can’t be bothered to keep to her hours and disappears whenever the bosses aren’t around. Her bosses are non confrontational to a fault and are going to be stuck with the crappy admin and lose the good one because of it.

  6. BeverlyOne*

    I’ve seen situations like this in our office environment before. It makes me wonder why are the other employees so concerned about her work performance? It could be a style difference- in our office we have employees who are introverts and don’t want to discuss anything and extroverts who need to talk things through. If the employee’s work output is what you would expect you need to let the employee know that you support them. A gossip campaign can truly ruin a good employee.

    1. OP*

      We are in a position right now where we are under-staffed (temporarily) and so everyone on the team has had to take on extra work. While it is short-lived there has definitely been an impact on morale. So the idea that one person is not busy while everyone else is drowning under the weight of extra work is definitely concerning.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’ve had a job like that. Not in customer service but understaffed and others were expected to pitch it (no additional compensation, either).

        It really did suck that some people were not doing their share and also impacted my other work.

      2. Rebecca*

        “So the idea that one person is not busy while everyone else is drowning under the weight of extra work is definitely concerning.”

        Yes, it really is! Thank you for recognizing this and being concerned. There are several people in my office that are definitely not busy while many of us are drowning, and it’s a moral killer.

      3. Curiouser*

        Hmm… Does leaving early actually mean then that employee-in-question is leaving on her scheduled time but the other co-workers are staying longer and feel it is unfair?

  7. cncx*

    This happened to me at one job- my output was at least normal if not superior to those of the other team members, and one person on the team decided to “stretch the truth” to the boss, take some things out of context (like the day i left early for a doctors’ appointment which was in my outlook calendar and cleared with the boss turned into “she leaves early a lot”). The same person also sabotaged a report i did by destroying the copy on the network share and hiding the boss’ hard copy (i got the network team to recover it). The thing is, she had worked for the boss for something like twenty years…there was no way if it was my word against hers. For whatever reason she just didn’t like me, so she wanted me out. I think it had to do with my age at the time. Anyway.

    The boss was not there a lot, took her word for it, and put me on a PIP. Absolutely uncalled for. It was really demoralizing and i wound up quitting (which honestly, who really comes back from a PIP- i don’t think it happens a lot). The pot stirrer who “tattled” on me is still there, functioning at levels just good enough to stay employed and got at least two other people fired. To add insult to injury, when i quit, they made my notice period quite difficult and i wound up having to get a lawyer. Just over one person who wanted to start drama which had nothing to do with my work output.

    If i were OP I would be really penitent if this turns out to be hot air, and i would also be gracious and accomodating if this employee wound up resigning.

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t understand why the OP didn’t do some observing before talking to the employee. If someone reported to me that someone else was not in the office a lot, I’d clarify when she was leaving and then would take a few weeks to observe that behavior or as Alison suggests deputize someone I could trust as not part of the gossips.

      Now the employee is damaged regardless and if she is guilty of this, her behavior will be shaped by the feedback and make it hard to ascertain. I’d probably now, let it go for a couple of weeks, and then over the couple of months after that make the appropriate observations.

      1. OP*

        I definitely did do some observing, but maybe not my full due diligence. There are definitely some verifiable concerns that need to be addressed, but I admit that I should not have brought up the other issues prior to investigating in more depth. I am definitely planning to take a step back for at least the next couple of weeks and watch what is happening.

          1. Anon Accountant*

            Yes!! I’m a firm believer if one has time to cause drama or trouble by lying or exaggerating that theywhat plenty of time to do more work. But I’m not a manager so…

        1. teclatrans*

          Yes, I was thinking it was probably a misstep to bundle up all of the complaints and give them the same weight.

          For one thing, as other commenters have mentioned, if the egregious claim was wrong, she may have reacted so emotionally — to the unfairness, and to the threat it represents to her job — that the other issues could have gotten bundled up in her denials. If the less-egregious domains were about socializing and not pulling her weight, she might not have recognized that she was engaging in unacceptable behavior. She might have needed to hear, “Hey, this behavior is not work-appropriate, shape up,” and she might have been able to be contrite and make attempts to adjust her behavior. Bundling it with leaving early — which is much more clearly bad behavior — might have left her hearing the entire set of concerns as being about her deliberately slacking, which could lead to a genuine denial of any culpability (even though individual discussion of socialization or etc. might have yielded a different response).

      2. Seal*

        This. Like cncx, I’ve also been targeted by coworkers who didn’t like me for whatever reason and went running to my mostly absentee boss with wild accusations about my work ethic. In my case, my work had always been consistently excellent, so my boss just lectured me about getting along with my coworkers. He never asked for my side of the story and made it clear that he was going on what my coworkers told him rather than his own observations. Not only did that confirm what I’d always suspected about my coworkers, but that he was also a terrible manager. I never took him or that job seriously again.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I am sorry that you an cncx had to deal with this – I did, too and never understand how people sham others into thinking they are the good guy.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Wow. This sounds awful and exactly like our pot stirrer.

      OP please pull some “surprise” check ins with visits when unexpected to be in, etc. There may be issues or there may be a trouble maker and a friend or 2 of hers that are being taken down with drama the pot stirrer causes. Seen it happen.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Your situation is not the OP’s situation, and you seem to be asking the OP to act the way you believe your boss should have. That’s really unfair and ignores what the OP said. She is not putting the employee on a PIP or taking the word of others without first talking to the employee. Yes, there are situations where people stir up drama and where bosses are unfair, but the OP seems pretty clear on the fact that she doesn’t simply assume everything she hears is 100% true.

      1. Amy G. Golly*

        I agree! I think the LW is being far more reasonable about the situation than the boss cncx is describing, and conflating the two is not being helpful.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        I think cmcx’s point really was not that he thinks she is being unfair or that it’s the same situation. The LW was asking what to do and I think his story was meant to essentially say “please figure out a way continue to talk and observe her, don’t just take trusted colleague at word”

      3. Seal*

        Based on the OP’s original message, it looks like she talked to the employee about issues her other employees raised without having observed the actions in question herself. In fact, she states that concerns the others raised about the employee come as a surprise; that in and of itself should have been a red flag. Even if the OP isn’t just assuming everything she’s been told is 100% true, she more or less confronted her employee with “so and so told me this about you” without any substantial evidence behind it. Having been the employee in a similar situation (as I and cncx described above), I can safely say that being blindsided by your manager like that pretty much destroys any trust you had in them.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    My hunch is that the truth is probably somewhere in between what the four people are saying vs. this employee’s defense, i.e. it’s not horrifyingly bad like Ilana from Broad City but she’s not Leslie Knope either.  

    You should definitely cancel this follow up meeting and any other related conversations for now.  Like AAM said, you don’t really have any first hand knowledge so I’m not sure what the point is in continuing discussions.

    That said, I’m very skeptical.  So this woman gets her work done in the allotted time and it’s done with few mistakes?  I, too, am questioning the need for her to have her butt in her seat at all times.  Unless she’s a receptionist, is that level of physical attendance necessary?  Is it possible that she’s like my husband in that she happens to work at a faster rate than her coworkers?  Or she may not have enough to do.  You didn’t comment on that so I assume this employee has a job description proportionate to a full time job.

    I’m going to assume that these employees do have the best intentions, but…this whole situation reminds me of why I loathe 360 reviews.  Unless every employee is aware of this woman’s job description, required productivity measures, roles on projects, and daily priorities, then are they really in a position to criticize her daily activities?  To be sure, I’ve encountered plenty of brazen people who screw around all the time, annoy people, sabotage people and things, rude to customers, etc.  That absolutely should be reported to higher ups.  But this?  Too much time socializing can be also be building personal relationships and utilizing them for better productivity.  Taking long breaks and leaving early could be a result of working intensely and at a fast pace for several hours and being mentally exhausted.

    It all depends.  You’re the only person to really get a firm grasp on this, but I don’t see a major employee issue here with this person.

    1. Aurion*

      I think people on this site assume that the jobs in question are relatively independent, in that the work product may affect other teams but one person’s output doesn’t directly affect another’s. Whereas I think these types of letters are written by people on a team where everyone is equivalent: you have a team of five teapot painters on an assembly line and if one ducks out, the other four are responsible for completing all the teapot-painting in the same amount of time. Depending on the specific circumstances, it can be difficult to draw up metrics for a specific individual’s contributions vs the contributions of the team (oh hey, the teapot painters painted a huge batch of rush teapots! But we have no idea if it was Sarah or Joan or Derek who did the majority of the painting). And in those cases, the colleagues absolutely know the expectations and criticize any slacking, because they’re responsible for the exact same things. I’m willing to bet this letter is for those in a more team environment, where everyone is equivalent.

      Obviously the OP has some ability to check the output based on the letter, but if it’s a call centre, for example, the CSR can be shutting a bunch of customers down or not upselling or what have you so her metrics look great (high volume!) but they’re not actually doing what they’re supposed to.

      1. SarcasticFringehead*

        As another example – I work in an admin support department. We don’t do any client- or customer-facing work, but we support the people who do. The department’s hours are 8 AM to 6 PM; my manager gets here at 8 (or 7:30, or whatever), and I get in later & stay til 6. If someone sends an email at 5:55 and it requires an answer, the expectation is that I will be available to answer it (within reason, keeping overtime in mind, etc.). In my specific case, it’s not so important that I be at work at a specific time in the morning (I mean, it’s important to me and my manager, but not so much in terms of coverage), but it is important that I stay until 6.

        I also have some flexibility during the day, so this isn’t exactly analogous to OP’s situation – I just wanted to give another example of a professional, relatively-independent job that nonetheless has a specific butt-in-seat requirement.

    2. DM*

      Yes. The person is in a customer service position and must be available to answer calls during certain hours, as the OP said in comments. Also, Alison prefers that we take LWs at their word, which I think makes sense. They know more about the situation than we do, and even so, advice is given off the facts as presented, not speculation.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Years ago I worked in high-level telephone technical support, which meant that I had both projects (specific problems to solve, such as tracking down a bug or analyzing an error log) but also I had to do my share of covering the phones/the online chat. Even if I got all my projects done, I had to physically be there for certain hours because the customers had a reasonable expectation of being able to get through to us with questions during business hours; if I skipped out, the load would fall on the others so that customers would have to wait, would be irate at being made to wait when they got through, etc.–not good for us, not good for them. So I can easily see how someone could get their tasks done and still have it be a problem that they weren’t in their seat during the allotted times.

  9. Trout 'Waver*

    Given the hesitance most people have to tattle on co-workers, it seems to me that you either have a smear campaign against this particular worker, or this employee really is terrible.

    Two points though:

    1. Guilty people usually question how you got the information or make excuses rather than outright deny. Like “Who told you that?” or “That was a one-time thing because of XXX” or “Ceresi is out to get me.”
    2. If there is a truly problematic employee (bad enough for 4 people to approach management), the other employees are usually more united. They’ll come in together, or appoint one person from the group that speaks for everyone.

    I’m leaning towards smear campaign, but it’s far from conclusive. Definitely get more information and do some digging about how people get along on your team.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, four people feels like it was kinda-sorta coordinated. Like, maybe pot-stirrer (or someone else) just got a bee in their bonnet about this employee and now everyone is scrutinizing her work, so it’s a community BEC situation.

      1. Jeanne*

        I am also skeptical about 4 people complaining. It doesn’t appear they complained together, like strength in numbers. The complained-about employee may be doing some things wrong but I think you also have a problem with a planned smear campaign. Welcome to junior high.

    2. Erika*

      Ditto the comment on what guilty folks say. That’s my experience, too. They don’t deny it so much as they attack (what they think is) the source.

      1. Ama*

        Eh, when I was told that people had complained that I “didn’t seem like I wanted to help them” at a previous job, I did ask who had complained because I was honestly blindsided and trying to rack my brain for any incident in which there might have been a miscommunication (I was never told who, but the issue turned out to be that I was outwardly showing how overwhelmed and frustrated I was by my workload and it was reading as being directed at coworkers).

    3. neverjaunty*

      I see it exactly the other way around – if this were a clique of gossips out to get Jane, then they’d appoint their leader to go talk to the OP with an “Everybody hates Jane” thing, and they’d have a single consistent story they’d developed (either deliberately, or that they developed through gossiping with each other). Four different employees coming separately to the OP suggests to me that there is some kind of problem that OP needs to sort out.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Not necessarily. I had this with some of my reports. Three of them got together to file a complaint. In this case it was a pot stirrer, her BF, and work friend.
        The thing that exposed them was that their stories were inconsistent. Also when I stated what really happened the BF admitted, in front of my manager, that was exactly how it went down.
        The underlying issue was that I was holding the pot stirrer and her friend accountable for underperforming and for not following process (resulting in multiple mistakes).

    4. Mike C.*

      Given the hesitance most people have to tattle on co-workers

      Really? This feels like a really questionable assumption to me.

      1. Mike C.*

        Also, I really have to object to the whole “guilty people usually do X”. Guilty people say the exact same thing innocent people say – they didn’t do it, who would accuse them of this and they do so for the exact same reasons. Both the innocent and the guilty wish to find out why someone else is causing them harm. This also discounts the natural variation that occurs within people.

        It’s like when people say, “oh the wife wasn’t grieving about her late husband enough on camera, she must have killed her husband”.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          That’s what a guilty person would say…..

          Just kidding. :) I’m simply speaking from my own experience and from discussions with others. I haven’t seen any actual scientific data on the subject.

        2. Brogrammer*

          Yeah, people grossly overestimate their ability to determine whether someone is lying based on behavioral “tells.” Most alleged cues that a person is lying are just cues that the person is nervous. And yes, the average person gets nervous when lying, but they also get nervous when they’re put in a position of having to deny a spurious accusation!

        3. Glen*

          Smacks of Lindy Chamberlain – Baby taken by a wild animal, convicted of infanticide at least partly on the basis that she didn’t look upset enough – turns out, of course, that maintaining her dignity in public was an important coping strategy for her.

      2. LBK*

        I think there’s extremes on both sides – there’s a lot of people who will run to management with every little issue and then there’s people who are terrified to ever say anything. We hear from both on AAM pretty often.

      3. Jeanne*

        There are actually quite a few people, in my experience, who love to run to the boss about everything.

    5. LBK*

      Totally agree with point #1 – the OP’s description of how the employee reacted does not sound like someone who’s been caught to me.

    6. Julia*

      I’m not sure I agree. My co-worker has lied to my face before (“I did not answer your phone and then hide the call from you!”) until I told her I had proof. I could totally see her saying the same to our Boss without batting an eye.

  10. Ihmmy*

    I second confirming if this is a real issue first off

    But after that you could ask her to send you a quick note when she arrives, leaves for lunch, gets back, or leaves for the end of the day (depending on which, if any, are legit issues). One of my coworkers was late a few days in a row and ended up having to Skype our boss when she arrives in the morning to ensure she’s on time. I recommend only setting this for a specific period of time.

    1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

      Or if there is any way to pull the employee’s computer log on/log off times from the past few weeks/month from IT, then that would settle the matter.

      1. Erika*

        Exactly. We have a time clock, which means I can estimate whether the amount of work people are doing realistically fits into their day.

    2. Rogferdunt*

      Noooooooo. This is hugely infantalizing.

      Had a boss do this to me once. I needed pt after a car accident and was scheduling it for 7am so it wouldn’t interfere with work. Some days I got in a bit late.

      My response to treating me like an errant child instead of discussing concerns was to pull way back on all the overtime I was putting in by scheduling my pt for 5 30.

      Old times 815 to 700.
      New times 800 to 500.

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed, this is way too far in the other direction. It might make sense as a step if this was an ongoing and obvious problem that the OP had addressed several times already, but outside of a PIP/you’re-about-to-be-fired situation, this is way too strict for most people to put up with.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Although if it’s an ongoing and obvious problem that the OP had addressed several times already, the solution is likely removing the person from the job.

          1. OhNo*

            That’s true. I was assuming an environment where removing them requires all sorts of documentation and proof that the boss has tried every last thing (can you tell what kind of environment I work in?), but you’re absolutely right that by the time it gets to that point the employee probably should have been shown the door already.

        2. fposte*

          It also doesn’t solve the underlying problem of whether this is an employee you can trust or not.

          1. OhNo*

            Very true. If you’ve lost so much trust in an employee that you’ve resorted to requiring notifications every time they stand up from their desk, there’s probably no way to come back from that.

      2. Camellia*

        I love this. A simple solution that meets ‘the letter of the law’. I think I would probably have to have PT for a looooooong time after that!

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      Nope, nope nope that type of bullshit would have been running for the door I’m not an errant child that needs someone to check my attendance.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      Ugh. No. Don’t.

      I had someone mention to my boss that I was leaving early when instead I was visiting another site (and working late). My boss made me send him an e-mail every time I was visiting the site in the future and even checked up on me once, even though he doesn’t have any business at this other site. It was a blow to my morale for sure.

      1. Katie F*

        As a working adult, it’s ALWAYS going to be a blow to your morale to suddenly be treated like an eight year old tardy for second grade. It’s hard to re-establish a good relationship with management after that, especially when you weren’t actually doing anything wrong and the problem is their lack of trust.

      2. Kai*

        Once at my former job, my boss got frustrated with not being able to get in touch with a few of his staff (who were on site visits, etc.) and suggested to me that I keep a log of everyone’s comings and goings throughout the day–like, even to the bathroom and back. I was relieved that he didn’t follow through on it. It would have been terrible for a dozen reasons.

    5. Observer*

      That kind of check in should only be done when you have no other choice. It stinks for the person who has to check in, and it can be a pain in the neck for the person who needs to be checked with.

      If you are a good manager you don’t do that to people unless you have to.

    6. Jeanne*

      This is only for after you have determined a worker is working a very shortened day and you are giving a second or third chance. It is not ok to do it on the report of her coworkers.

  11. Dana*

    I also wonder if the pot stirrer could be poisoning the well against this other employee. Once pot-stirrer has complained about the employee, suddenly others start noticing things too.

    I’d guess the truth is somewhere in the middle here.

    1. Erika*

      I had this question as well, hence my question above about gossip. The OP said that this is a customer service position, and I run a hospitality business that has frequent issues with this.

      There may be something to the pot-stirrer either pointing out issues, or it may be that they are poisoning the well. It could go either way.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Exactly what I was thinking! If morale is dropping, one bad apple can have a lot of influence.

    3. nicolefromqueens*

      This is also what I was thinking, as I’ve been in the same situation twice (at the same job!).

      OP, can you go back to each of the other 3 level-headed employees individually, and make sure they’re not getting this information second- or third-hand?

    4. Pot stirrers in tow*

      This this this. I have two pot stirrers who have managed to rile up animosity against colleagues. I fell for it the first time, and was cautious the second. The last time, though, the primary pot-stirrer was convincing colleagues that her manager was incompetent and unfair through manipulations of the truth that were very obvious. Talking with some of the more trustworthy complainers revealed that they did not have first hand knowledge, but had been convinced of the validity of the complaint by the knowledge given to them by the pot-stirrer.

      Go back to the people on your staff that you trust and get detailed information about what they actually know and who they have talked about it with. Figure out if they are being influenced. Pot-stirring is so hard stop, because no one will complain directly about the pot-stirrer. Pot-stirrers tend to be really skilled manipulators.

      Good luck!

    5. SystemsLady*

      I’ve definitely found myself stuck (through work situations not choice) with cliques of people who dislike somebody and found it coloring my interactions with that person.

      Only after leaving the clique do you find just how off-base the pot-stirrers are, and wow can it feel pretty embarrassing. “Thank goodness Eddard didn’t know what I thought of him, because he’s actually pretty great” kind of thing.

      That is to say you may not begin a pot-stirrer yourself, but it’s pretty easy to get elbowed into the pot by people like that.

    6. Beezus*

      Yep! I’ve seen pot stirrers who have lost credibility switch from directly stirring the pot to manipulating others into doing it for them.

  12. Addie Bundren*

    I’d be curious to know the context in which your employees brought forth concerns about the potential problem employee. Did the two most trustworthy employees happen to bring her up during regular work discussion, or did they both drop by your office specifically to address these (as you put it) non-severe issues? Did they frame it as something that’s affecting their work performance strongly?

    1. OP*

      They brought it in the context of annual review discussions. I had been asking them about workplace culture and anything they would like to change/improve at work and that’s when their concerns came forward. They indicated that it was impacting both performance and morale because their workloads were excessive and damaging their ability to provide good customer service and they perceived that other co-worker had capacity to take on extra work.

  13. GertietheDino*

    I had a busy-body co-worker who would comment and report my comings and goings to our manager. Thing was, I had made all my schedule arrangements with said manager and hadn’t ever discussed them with the co-worker. Her busy-bodiness got her let go. I wasn’t her only target.

    1. Katie F*

      I think we’ve all had that coworker, ugh. In my case, the manager eventually sat him down and asked him if he was neglecting his own work, as he seemed to spend so much time supervising employees despite that not being in his job description. It got the message across, but that guy STILL tracked us… he just didn’t complain tot he manager about it any longer.

    2. Erika*

      That’s terrible! While those people sometimes get away with it the first time, they tend to overreach and start doing it to anyone they perceive as a threat and that ends up drawing attention to themselves (eventually…).

      I’m sorry that happened to you. :(

    3. Christine*

      Busy bodies do not have enough work to do if they are worrying about what their co-workers are doing and feel the need to tattle.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, sometimes yes, sometimes no. There are some situations where something is genuinely impacting other people, and that’s appropriate to raise (and, I’d argue, isn’t tattling).

      2. nicolefromqueens*

        In my unit (4 people, all hourly) we all take from the same pool of work. Up until a few months ago we were almost always backlogged. So while it doesn’t impact “my work” if someone is slacking off, it’s a morale killer. I’m busting my rear end while someone else is literally on personal calls half the day in front of my boss. And as team lead, one of my responsibilities are to find and rectify errors, including those that others make. Because, you know, they’re busy chatting it up.

        Long stories short, we had three consecutive slackers and/or busy bodies. Two got moved to customer service type roles, and continued their slacking and busybody ways. The other finally got fired for complaining about me to my boss’s boss (her complaint: I take all the work. My boss told his boss she was on loud personal calls half the day and not working, and I contribute the most quantity and very few errors.)

        Thankfully they’re all totally gone now.

        Now that everyone has time to work, we’re caught up and fighting over who gets the next “delivery”! Funny how that works.

        1. nicolefromqueens*

          Duh: so my point was that it’s not the work or lack thereof, it’s the employee. Most level-headed people would find a way to seek out more work if they didn’t have enough (assuming it’s not a breach of protocol.)

  14. LiveAndLetDie*

    Just based on the letter and what’s written in here, it sounds like what may be happening is that the employee in question has a few legitimate issues that need to be addressed, but that the office may have a gossip problem that is turning it into a pile-on. I would absolutely do some observation of your own, LW, so that you can get a feel for what’s actually going on.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I really don’t think any of us can say with anything even approaching certainty — I suspect people are projecting their own experiences on to this one :)

        1. Erika*

          Absolutely I am – no argument from me. That said, if it’s a customer service position as the OP mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case. And I’m certainly not saying address it that way, but to maybe be aware that it COULD be happening and pay closer attention to the situation to see how it pans out.

        2. neverjaunty*

          People are explicitly projecting their own experiences on this one and it’s kinda weird :/

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Well, this is a quite common and very vague situation where the facts aren’t known. It’s essentially a Rorschach test.

          2. Jeanne*

            Why? Don’t we tend to interpret a lot of letters through our own experience? The earlier letter about weight loss at work certainly had a lot of it.

        3. Lissa*

          Yeah, and I sort of get why. I mean, for me my first thought was “the complaints are justified” because I was one of the complainers in a situation where an actually-terrible employee dragged down morale etc. and acted very much like this when confronted. It was awful. But I do realize that’s my bias. It could go the other way as well.

        4. LiveAndLetDie*

          This is why I echoed your suggestion to OP that they should observe for themselves and see what’s really going on. It could be a number of things, and OP needs to see it first hand so they aren’t relying on “he said, she said” stuff.

        5. Mustache Cat*

          As a gossip aficionado I am LOVING all the salty stories in this thread. At the same time, some of them don’t make much sense as advice :P

  15. Employment Lawyer*

    One possible explanation: If people collectively dislike her then they will selectively perceive only the bad stuff. In other words, if Disliked goes out for 10 minutes they are “slacking” but if Liked does the same thing they are “probably in the bathroom.”

    So it may be that everyone dislikes her, and you might keep an ear open for that. What you would do if so is a more complex question.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      Yes. Very much this. I have a coworker who has reached “Can’t eat crackers right” stage. I often need to remind myself that I exhibit similar behaviors and cut her slack. It’s hard, and I’m not great at it, but it is on my mind.

    2. Argh!*

      Yes. The tattlers may be doing all the same things and merely have decided to try to get rid of a coworker they don’t like.

  16. Adam V*

    > in particular, that the employee in question had a tendency to leave the office early as soon as I’m gone for the day

    This would have been the easiest to verify – be sure to park near her, leave a bit earlier and go sit in your car for 20 extra minutes before leaving.

    However, as pointed out above, it’s entirely possible that even if she was doing this before, she’s going to be on her best behavior now.

    The other thing is – if you went to her and told her “multiple people are telling me things”, then I’m wondering if she may take it out of your hands by finding another job before you’ve got a chance to do any further discovery – if she’s a bad employee, it’s “I better leave before anything goes on my permanent record here and gets relayed in future reference calls”, and if she’s a good employee, it’s “if I’m busting my butt around here but my coworkers are going to tell my boss I’m a slacker every time I take 5 minutes for myself, I don’t want to work in a place like this anymore”.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      If this is somewhere busy and dense urban with public transit, it might be trickier than waiting in the parking lot. Ditto if there are multiple exits from a building.

    2. Not Me*

      Yeah, there is no way to fight against the “people are telling me xxx” thing. I’m in the middle of it right now and am on a PIP. I’ve got 15 years of excellent, top-notch annual reviews and one that’s full of “people are saying [bad things]”. No concrete examples, mind you; just a lot of “people are saying”.

      So yeah, people can say whatever they want but I’m not planning to stick around to listen to it.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’ve had a boss who says, “Multiple people have told me that….” when he’s lying and nobody has actually said anything. I would avoid even saying it.

        1. Jeanne*

          My boss did that too. I caught on and started saying that I would really love to meet with those people and apologize and find a way to make things right. It really surprised her at first and she never did come up with a good answer. But it’s a really dirty manager trick.

    3. Jack the Treacle Eater*

      If the employee is the sort who sneaks off early wouldn’t they realise the OP’s car was still in the car park and not do so?

  17. Purest Green*

    I’m confused by this line:
    I did put forward some suggestions based on my observations, and feedback from other team members, but she didn’t really seem to be taking any of them in.

    You’re saying you’ve actually witnessed things and given her feedback on them, but she isn’t taking your suggestions? Because that seems like a problem.

    But on another note, I’ve been in your employee’s shoes before. For about two weeks, a coworker either tried to call or come by my office to discuss a mutual project just as soon as I was in the restroom. At the risk of TMI, I’m not a frequent or lengthy restroom user, but this happened so many times during those two weeks that she decided I was “never in my office” and “out goofing off” despite doing my work promptly and doing it well. I know this is only my experience, but I wonder if something similar isn’t going on with your employees.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think OP meant that the employee was very upset about the accusations so wasn’t really listening at that time, which is why OP scheduled another meeting for a few days after.

      1. Jeanne*

        Yes. I thought it meant she was so upset she most likely wouldn’t remember all that was said.

  18. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    OP, keep an eye on the complainers as much as you do on the “problem” employee. If they have an agenda, their behavior in the next few weeks/months may give it away.

  19. TheBeetsMotel*

    It seems all too common that an office will have some who becomes the self-appointed Equality Police. I don’t mean in the sense of making sure that people aren’t been legitimately discriminated against; I mean in the sense of “this person left 5 minutes early while I SLAVED AWAY until 5:00pm, whaaaaa!”

    I’ve been that person, and it got me nowhere. Now, unless someone’s poor behavior directly affects my ability to work, I let it go. I suspect Pot Stirrer is among the crowd who sees a TINY inequality and comes running to the manager – or, as has been previously said, there are a few real, smaller concerns, and Pot Stirrer is hellbent on tacking on other issues and blowing things out of all proportion.

    As others have said, it sounds like a few surprise check-ins with this employee will get to the truth of things.

    1. Important Moi*

      I’m curious, not in a mean way. I love a story :-)

      What happened or did not happen that made you realize being the Equality Police got you nowhere?

      1. TheBeetsMotel*

        Essentially, the favored individual was most likely dealing with some mental health issues that were causing a lot of lateness and generally sloppy attitudes toward work. From the outside it looked like laziness, and as this person was our longest-lived employee, the leap to favoritism wasn’t too difficult.

        I realized that, whatever was happening with them, it didn’t directly affect my workload and that monitoring what they were doing was making me look like a busybody. So I let it go.

    2. Curiouser*

      What happens to the people who brought forth issues that were unfounded? Do they get to slide? How is this typically handled in office culture? I’m independent and don’t deal with these types of workplace things and so they intrigue me.

  20. OP*

    Thanks so much for all of the feedback thus far. I was actually scheduled to have a brief check-in with the employee in question today and the responses helped me frame my conversation more effectively. I had done some additional investigation since our conversation and had found evidence to corroborate that the most extreme examples brought forward were not true. When I met with her, I apologized for not doing this thorough investigation prior to our conversation – I was concerned about the issue and so didn’t want to delay bringing it up with her, but I rushed it too much. I did reiterate that there were some smaller issues to correct and she was open and on-board with this. I am going to continue to observe things for the next little while, both on the part of this employee as well as the employees who brought the issue forward to make sure that there is not something deeper going on since I know this could be indicative of a much bigger issue with workplace culture.

    The conversation ended on a positive note, and I hope we will be able to move past this. As some commenters noted, though if she does choose to look for work elsewhere as a result of this I will understand and be respectful in accepting it.

    1. neverjaunty*

      That’s great news, OP!

      But honestly, I think you’re being a little too hard on yourself with that last. There are performance issues, even if they aren’t the terrible ones the pot-stirrer raised, and you handled them appropriately – raising them with this employee to get feedback from her, continuing to fairly investigate what was actually happening, and not being invested in a particular outcome. You’ve also shown that you’re willing to listen to concerns your trusted employees bring you. There’s sort of a vibe of how dare you question this employee or listen to others and therefore you should be justly punished if she quits, which frankly is nonsense. (And really, shouldn’t we all be respectful of an employee who chooses to work elsewhere?)

      1. AD*

        I think the OP was saying “I’d understand if this employee decided to look elsewhere if she feels that coworkers are throwing her under the bus in her job here”. That’s a perfectly valid feeling, and I don’t think OP is beating herself up over it.

    2. Katie F*

      I think the fact that you apologized for not investigating the different accusations first is seriously a great step. It’s going to help her trust that you really aren’t just listening to gossip. Everyone makes a mistake now and then, and it’s a good manager who can say, “You know what, I didn’t do teh right thing here, I’m sorry to have put that on you. Let’s focus on what we can work on.”

      If she job hunts, it’s almost certainly not going to be because of management.

      1. animaniactoo*

        This is about what I was going to say. If jobhunting was her first thought, the apology will go a long way to dialing that back.

      2. OhNo*

        Agreed! This is a great response to the situation. You’d be amazed what a difference it makes to hear a boss say, “I messed up and I’m sorry”. That kind of honesty can do wonders for someone’s view of the situation, and their view of you as a manager.

      3. Jeanne*

        I’ve never had a boss apologize. I think the employee understands you want to work with her and that should make it easier to make suggestions for improvement.

    3. Lora*

      Oh, well done for apologizing! That undoubtedly goes a long way. And for apologizing quickly, too, because it is so much less effective to turn around three months later and say, “yeah, it turns out you were right all along, sorry…” Apologies that come too late and usually more than a day late and several dollars short.

      Have you decided how you are going to deal with the pot-stirrer? I tend to speak to them the same way you’d speak to a grade schooler who can’t stop babbling about their toys and farts and which kid on the playground was doing whatever. “Hmmm,” “Really?” “How about that,” ” Wow,” “Is that so?” “Thank you for sharing,” “Thank you for using your words to tell us,” etc. By the time I get around to “thank you for using your words” and “I see, is there anything else?” they usually get the hint. I am dreading the day that I work my way up to, “this sounds like a personal problem to me”. I have, however, had to use “are you bored? If you’re bored I’ve got some chores for you to do.”

      1. neverjaunty*

        Usually the way to deal with a pot-stirrer who exaggerates (rather than outright lies) is mild cross-examination.

        “Oh, Wakeen leaves early? How often does this happen? Is this something you’ve observed? Can you be more specific about the last time you saw this?”

        1. Jeanne*

          I think the better thing is to say “Thank you but everything is under control.” and say you have to get back to work.

    4. LeRainDrop*

      Since it turned out that the most extreme accusations were not true, do you have any plans to address the exaggerations/lies with the person who brought them to you? Because it’s also a problem for you and your team if you have an employee who is willing to lie about and falsely denigrate other employees.

      1. OP*

        This is a very good point, and one that I hadn’t considered yet since I was so concerned about what I initially perceived to be the main issue. I think this is likely more a case of exaggeration vs. outright lying as a commenter above described (e.g. one long lunch turned into she takes long lunches everyday). I’m not sure if I should be proactively going back to her and saying something about my investigation, or leaving unless she brings it up again.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think there’s value in going back to her and saying “I looked into this and I found X wasn’t in fact the case. Do you know what happened that led you to think that?” There’s value in clearly signaling to her that you will verify things before acting on them.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes. And it also signals to the trusted employees that you’re willing to listen to them if they bring you valid concerns – you’re just not interested in reports that are exaggerated or untrue.

    5. Mimmy*

      Thank you for the update!

      I think this scenario is, unfortunately, not uncommon and how managers handle such incidents can really make or break someone’s experience in a job, imho. Bravo to you for being open and honest about how you handled this particular situation and how you will handle it going forward. I’m sure it really helped your employee in lowering her defenses and genuinely listen to your legitimate concerns.

      Good luck!

    6. Observer*

      I think you’ve handled it fairly well.

      Just one thing – you need to keep a very close eye on the pot stirrer. I’m not even going to try to guess motivation, but clearly this tendency has reached a point of passing on inaccurate information that could really hurt someone. That takes it from the “annoying, but possibly not something I need to take on” to “this needs to stop.”

  21. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I’m glad that your conversation ended on a positive note. I’ve been on the receiving end of coworker complaints before and I understand her reaction completely. I had one person tell my boss (ages ago, mind you) that I did nothing but socialize all day. The thing is, at the time, it was my job to make small talk with people – I was a receptionist! I would make small talk with people who called or came in but then I would get right back to work. Even my boss at the time thought his complaints were ridiculous but for some reason she felt the need to bring them to my attention – though I wish she hadn’t because it made me paranoid to talk to anyone for a few weeks – until I decided to just not care what he thought anymore.

  22. LQ*

    It is important to account for biases here. If Busybody brings up that Sally is leaving early then everyone else is going to start paying attention and noticing. She might be doing it as much as TrustedJoe or TrustedAnn but if your brain isn’t set to notice it you might not notice it for others, or dismiss it when someone else leaves but seeing Sally leave reinforces it, even if that isn’t what they were thinking.

    Even if you figure out that it isn’t true you’ll have to deal with the perception and readjust that. It can be really hard to get people to come back around without a thoughtful effort, and it can be really easy to get people to start noticing things. (Like I can’t stop hearing each time someone says “my” or “staff” or “team” etc today.)

    1. Alton*

      I agree. Sometimes people start to see patterns that might not really exist. If someone happens to be at lunch when you have a question for them, and then you go on break and an hour later they’re still nowhere to be seen, it can be easy to see that as them taking a long break or disappearing even though they might have taken a perfectly acceptable break, got back when you were gone, but then had to run a work-related errand. Perceptions can get skewed easily, especially when people are frustrated.

      I did let my boss know once about an employee who seemed to be falsifying her time and leaving early. I was conflicted about it since I usually try to mind my own business. I only did it after she’d been caught in a lie about having manager approval to leave early one day, and I carefully considered whether I was actually seeing a pattern.

  23. Christine*

    I had an experience years ago as a contract employee for a company that caused me the job because I was too naïve at that time to see what was going on. I got a call from my employer stating that my position was being terminated because they had complaints that I was taking long lunches and too many breaks. I was doing data entry with two other women that were permanent employees. I was being sent on errands for them in the building and to pick up lunch for them, etc. I would go the bathroom & get a soda from the break room … maybe away from my station 5 minutes at the most 2 – 3 times a day. I did notice that the two women never left there work station. I had a higher volume of data entry with high accuracy during my 8 hours them both of them and I took an hour lunch per day, working 8 – 5. They never left for lunch; worked through it. I have no idea what was going on, resentment, felt threatened, they were incredibly unfriendly and I was in my mid 20’s at that time. But it was a position that could have gone permanent. Their false complaints cost me a job. I told my recruiter at the agency and she said that she would pass it along to her contact but it was still my last day on the job. I’ve always viewed them as sour pusses, but it was a learning experience.

    The letter writer needs to look to see if there is age gap between the new employee and the pot sitter, and other complainers (especially if they follow the lead of the pot stirrer). This individual could be social and still put out the standard volume of work. Is the new hire producing the average in a short time? once they gain more experience could they cause the performance expectation to increase if they before at a higher rate than the other employees. You can be looking at envy, employees feeling threatened, did they want you to hire a friend, if that was the case they may not like anyone else you hire. Some people are ready to go at the start of the day; and close their computer down at 5:00 for example. Is the person working at 8:00 a.m. or walking in the door at 8:00? Starts closing everything out 10 – 15 minutes early & runs out the door at 4:59? It could be an issue of perception.

    You should look at the log in & log out on her computer before asking someone else to watch over her. That could answer your question before asking someone to keep an eye on the situation in your absence.

    1. Alton*

      Something similar happened to me at my first job as a teenager. The three other employees in the department were tasked with helping train me, and there were long periods where the managers weren’t around. One of the managers and two of the employees seemed kind of cold toward me, but I brushed it off. I know I made a couple mistakes, but I listened to any constructive criticism I received and had no indication that I was doing poorly. One of the managers would occasionally ask me how I thought things were going, but offered little feedback.

      Then, one day after about a month, I got called into the office and was told it wasn’t working out. They said that they’d received reports that I wasn’t keeping busy during downtime and had just been hanging out (it was retail, so there was a lot of pressure to always look busy). I knew that one of the employees had lied about me–one time when it was completely dead, I asked her if she knew of anything I could be working on and she said that no, sometimes there was nothing to do but hang out in the back and do nothing (which was what she was doing). I wanted to keep busy, so I tried to straighten things up around the department even though there wasn’t much to do. I really wish I’d had the maturity and assertiveness to bring this up, but I was totally new to the working world and was shocked by this. And I didn’t really want to work with those people anymore.

  24. seashell*

    My coworker who is hourly has recently started coming in 20-30 minutes late and leaving before me, which is frustrating because I thought hourly/non-exempt means you stick around. I know I can’t say anything but when things get busy I’d like to be able to say hey, can you stick around when there are still things left to do? I wonder when it would be appropriate to bring that to my boss, who does not notice at all.

    1. Joseph*

      Hourly means, yes, you are paid by the hour, so showing up 30 minutes late (!) is a Big Deal. I mean, if you imagine it’s a total of 45 minutes each day (call it 20-30 minutes in morning and a similar amount in the evening), that adds up to almost four full hours skipped over the course of the week. Presumably it would be a huge issue if she just decided to never work Friday afternoons, but still get paid for them…but that’s what’s going on here.
      I would disagree with your “I can’t say anything” statement though because it’s affecting your work. The key is to approach your boss in a polite, non-accusatory way – she may have an agreement with him on the hours that you don’t know about, so you want to present it professionally. It’s a “Hey, just wanted to bring to your attention that John has been coming in about 30 minutes early and leaving a little early. So as a result, I often struggle to finish my work because I have to help cover X. Can we talk about this?” If your boss knows about it, he’ll say he approved John’s schedule and figure out a way to help you. If your boss doesn’t know, he’ll address it. And you don’t look like a tattletale, just someone who’s helping the company.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Hourly means that you only get paid for the hours you work. So that means if you want to get paid for 40 hours in a week, you need to work 4o hours that week (unless he takes PTO). Is your co-worker getting paid for a full day or not? If he’s getting paid for time he doesn’t work(falsifying time sheets), then I’d say he’s cheating the company.

      Non-exempt means that you get paid for any overtime you work.

      1. BRR*

        I hate to be this person but isn’t hourly technically they have to pay you for the hours worked. An employer could pay for hours not worked if they wanted (like company holidays). But I doubt that is the case here.

    3. Katie F*

      Because it’s affecting your worktime, I think you can easily bring this up to management. Just emphasize the effect the problem is having on the workplace and overall productivity/time management, rather than making it all about the coworker himself, if that makes sense. Like, instead of “Coworker is leaving early and coming in late!”, maybe phrase it as a discussion of concerns about busy times that aren’t covered due to understaffing, and ask about ensuring everyone is where they need to be when they’re scheduled to be there.

      Because, yeah, this Coworker, if they are being paid when they’re not there due to late/early factors, is essentially stealing four hours a week from the company.

    4. LCL*

      One way to play this is to ask your boss what the leave policy is, and if you can have the same leeway as coworker. That calls it to your manager’s attention, what happens after that is up to the manager.
      The best I can do for my group of people, who are all hourly employees, is insist they use their own accumulated leave time for coming in late/leaving early. It was a fight with the other manager of group to get that in place, he believed in just looking the other way because he always got whistle bit and assumed every one else was as devoted as he was. They weren’t.
      Also, the person who most minded everyone’s business with regards to their hours was the worst at getting to work on time…

    5. Moonsaults*

      Are they clocking in late?

      When you’re hourly, you should be recording all hours and submitting them. If they don’t have a formal clock, they could be using a spreadsheet or sign in sheet.

      This is a time thief issue if they are not logging their hours properly and are being paid 40 hours a week but are technically only there even 39.50 hours. Most places who round hours use increments of 15 minutes but that varies. He could be exploiting a round up method or he could just be clocking those hours properly, only getting paid for the time he’s working.

      If he’s clocking in properly, the management can look and see that immediately and then it’s on them if it’s okay to be arriving late/leaving early.

      I’ve had so much timeclock drama lately that I’m on the edge. Someone was clocking in for others and adjusting their own time when they arrived late. Originally with the adjustments, I thought maybe he was told that was OK by the boss, it’s been going on since I got here and given his level in the company, I didn’t think to really question it. Until the big boss was here and complaining about late arrivals and such. I brought it up in a casual way of “Hey so I noticed this happens…” “WHAT!!! RAAAAAAH Explosions of bosses scorned scale tipped over and lava is spilling out of his nose.” kind of reaction there.

      1. DoDah*

        I worked with a guy who would log-in and punch in from home. He would then drive to work (he lived about 60 miles away). He’d wait until he got home for the evening to punch out. This was a desk job–so there were no client, partner visits or errands. We all watched him do it for a year–and then told his boss. Boss did nothing–so we told the CTO–and it stopped.

        Honestly–I’m still conflicted over reporting this guy–years later. Odd.

        1. Jeanne*

          I don’t know if it’s odd to feel conflicted. A lot of things in life fall in the gray area. You could have gone with reporting or with not reporting.

    6. Curiouser*

      Hourly simply means you are paid by the hours you work. Do you know for sure that co-worker doesn’t have a special arrangement with management to come in later/leave earlier right now? If you don’t know, I don’t think its fair to assume. If you use a time clock system, and co-worker is punching in and out properly, then they aren’t hiding anything.

      Now, if they’re fudging their punches or time card or what not to pretend to be in earlier/stay later then they are stealing, because they are being paid for hours not worked.

      I dont think it could hurt to ask, at the end of the day if their leaving impacts your work for them to stay to help. They might inform you they are actually only working reduced hours right now per an agreement with the boss or they might start sticking around….

      If nothing comes of it and it is impacting your work, then and only then do I think you should say something to boss. You could just ask, without being accusatory, about having help towards end of day when there is work remaining and coworker has already left for the day. Boss might then inform you that right now coworker has a reduced schedule (could be personal health reasons, family reasons, performance reasons, or a myriad of things privately worked out with them) and that you’ll have to adjust for now, or maybe he will realize coworker has been sneaking off, or maybe he will inform you that they are planning to bring in a third part-timer to help cover things… etc.

  25. Hello Felicia*

    I had a team member who I suspected was not on time on the weekends. I was able to confirm by checking what time the phone forwarding was turned off. Turns out she had routinely been 3 *hours* late. It was a slow period for us, that’s why it wasn’t identified sooner, but there were side projects with non-priority deadlines that I assumed she had been working on.

    1. my two cents*

      Whoa! My first job during highschool was for an inward-bound call center, and we’d never dream of not logging our phones in at start or letting them be ‘busy’ for longer than a bathroom break during the day. 3 HOURS?! Good on you for catching it, though!

  26. Mel*

    I’m not clear on how it’s not affecting her output/performance if she’s required to be there at certain times and isn’t there. If there is work to do for her at specific times I would imagine someone else is having to pick up the slack or stuffs not getting done when she’s not there. That’s what I would focus on- going back to the source and asking if it impacted their work or customers. Because if it doesn’t then I would question if it’s really a problem.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      It sounds like they need phone coverage for a customer service role, so ducking out early can either mean that the phones don’t get covered for some period of time or the other employees have to pick up the slack. (In the latter case, it can be easy to say “well, if they could handle the load, what’s the big deal?”, but in my experience even if you can manage to cover the phones when short-staffed, the whole thing is more hectic, there’s more pressure to get issues resolved in a hurry, customers get irritated if they have to wait and irritated if they feel rushed… it’s hard to quantify since technically the calls all got covered, but it’s still bad for coworkers and bad for customers.)

    2. neverjaunty*

      Or maybe we could take the OP at her word (and as clarified in comments above) that is is a problem if the employee is leaving early/taking long lunches?

      1. Mel*

        employees like this a lot of times don’t understand why attendance is required when they’re getting mixed messages that their performance is fine. If the op can explain that those attendance issues have an impact on customers or co workers the employee is more likely to fix it.

  27. Anon Guy*

    The two things that matter the most are:

    a) is this employee getting their job done satisfactorily
    b) are they getting their job done without foisting their work on their co-workers

    If the answer to these questions is “yes,” I would take things like hours in the office with a grain of salt. I say this because I, with my boss’ consent, work unusual hours and a couple people have complained to her that they saw me leaving at 3:30 which was true–I came in at 6 a.m. on those days. Unless employees HAVE TO be in the office specific hours for specific things, I would say that being flexible with time is one of the BEST morale building tools AND the cheapest, i.e. it doesn’t cost the company anything.

    Now, if this employee has to greet clients, or drive a bus at 5 a.m. or some such, then this advice doesn’t apply.

    1. LQ*

      The OP mentions above this is a customer service job. Some jobs really do require actually showing up and being there, customer service is often one of them. It is actually part of the job to be there, if you aren’t there when you need to be you aren’t doing the job.

  28. Argh!*

    Trust but verify.

    “Mobbing” is a thing and could be the cause here, so I agree about the skepticism. Without proof, it’s just accusations. Even if you feel you can trust two of these people doesn’t mean they can be trusted 100%

  29. stevenz*

    If you do give her the benefit of the doubt and she performs well, you can fend off any grumbles from other staff by saying “Jane is my responsibility to manage, and I take many things into account as I manage each of you. No need for you to be concerned.”

  30. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    From personal experience I’d be careful about phoning in to check on an alleged slacker’s whereabouts.

    I had an incident once where I was put on a disciplinary for persistent late arrival. In fact what was happening was that I would come in slightly early and go straight to my desk and start work. My co-workers would come in and go to the kitchen for a breakfast coffee and a chat. If the boss called in, a co-worker would pick the call up in the kitchen; if he asked for me, they’d say they hadn’t seen me yet (which of course they hadn’t, as I was downstairs working). The assumption was made that I wasn’t in.

    If the phone’s normally answered by one person and that person has it in for the employee under suspicion, you’re also open to that person lying about the suspect employee’s whereabouts.

  31. Curiouser*

    What happens when you find out that none of this was happening and instead employee was being targeted because she inadvertently offended one of the conspirators? any consequences for them?

  32. TL17*

    I got reamed out once during an internship when the manager couldn’t find me 3 times. Rather than asking, she yelled. Our project was located on the top floor of a government building. 4 people worked there: a judicial clerk who split her time between 3 offices and had nothing to do with our project, my manager, the other intern on my project, and me. We two interns shared an office but for some reason could not check the voicemail on our phone. Our schedule was such that other intern arrived at 7 and left at 3:30. I arrived at 8:30 and worked til 5. This put me alone on the floor several times if the manager was off-site in the afternoon.

    Manager yelled at me, believing I ducked out early during the 3:30-5 block because she could not reach me by phone. Here’s where I was: 1. In the bathroom, and couldn’t hear the phone. 2. Organizing a huge project on a conference table in another room and couldn’t hear the phone. 3. On the phone with someone else, and couldn’t answer her call.

    I had to suggest she look at my badge swipes and she saw that, in fact, I was where I was supposed to be. No apology given. So glad it was only 8 weeks.

  33. Geneva*

    This happened to me! My coworkers/manager accused me of taking long lunches and leaving early during my annual review. But the truth was I used my lunch break to run job-related errands to fulfill their requests. For example, I’d grab a sandwich and drive out to a vendor to pick up 2,000 custom envelopes that a staff member needed ASAP. And I left the office on-time to get a head start on the hour-long commute home (where I’d often keep working), instead of hanging out in my bosses office like the rest of my team did.

    Long story short, I felt undervalued, completely misunderstood, and left quickly. Things aren’t always as they seem.

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