new employee keeps complaining about missing her kids

A reader writes:

I have a staff member who I hired recently, and she’s been out of the workforce for five or so years while she was a stay at home mother. I have been conscious of the adjustment for her being back in an office, and overall she’s been quite enthusiastic about working again.

The problem is that she regularly complains about missing her children, and acts quite often as if work is a hardship or an imposition standing in her family’s way.

It feels to me very unprofessional, and especially seems odd to complain about the timing of tasks that are the point of her role. She is the key worker who processes payroll and the entire office depends on payroll being processed on a fixed and regular timetable, in order to get paid. So complaining about how you didn’t really want to come to work and then launching into a long story about your children and how your kids asked you not to come to work because you should be with them, every single time she has to do payroll doesn’t make any sense.

At school holidays, she’ll work the bare minimum and talk often and bitterly about how she’s not with them. She’s not the only one with small children but everyone else seems to enjoy their work or at least realize that work is a necessary part of life. She also likes to tell long rambling stories about her kids, but that is more acceptable workmate behavior.

I’m her supervisor. Should I tell her that she is coming across very unprofessionally and this makes her look bad, or am I overreacting?

Yes, you should say something to her.

This isn’t about whether or not she misses her kids; it’s about the constant negativity around having to come to work and do her job.

You could say this: “Jane, I’m sympathetic that you miss being at home. But while you’re here, we need you to be focused on work and not giving colleagues the impression that you’re here under duress. If you genuinely don’t want to be here, that’s absolutely your call — but then let’s talk about moving you out of the role. If you want to stay in the role, I need you to stop giving the office the impression that you resent your job and things like the need to get people paid on time. Do you want to take a few days and think about whether you realistically can do that or not?”

The key here is that you should be genuinely okay with her coming back to you and saying, “you know what, I thought about it and it isn’t for me” — and your tone should reflect that it’s really okay for her to say that. That way, you’re much more likely to get an honest answer from her, if the honest answer is “yeah, I shouldn’t be here.”

And to be clear, this isn’t about requiring her to feel a certain way about her job; she can feel any way she wants. But while she’s at work, it’s reasonable to expect her to behave as if she’s okay with being there and not to ooze resentment about routine job expectations or to create an unpleasant environment for other people.

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. self employed*

    Definitely say something. It’s also possible that she doesn’t realize how unprofessional this seems– she is basically saying she doesn’t want to be there and that looks bad! But to her, she may seeing it as “I love my kids and miss them,” not “I hate this job.” She needs a nudge here.

    1. ButFirstCoffee*

      I agree. She probably just genuinely misses her kids, and could just want an excuse to bring them up, talk to other parents, etc.

      1. Charlie*

        But even if it’s just that, it’s noxious. Everybody has someone or something they would rather be spending time with than going to work. Genuine or not, there’s zero excuse to dwell on it.

        1. INTP*

          Yep, and negativity can be so toxic, even when it’s seemingly minor like one person not wanting to be at work. It makes other people feel annoyed with her for complaining, makes them think about the things they’d rather be doing than working, just spreads a negative mindset.

        2. mm*

          And it may seem hostile to any child-free employees. Plus if employee is ever allowed to leave early because of her children could open OP up to accusations of favoring employees with children

      2. Mephyle*

        My internet diagnosis for the most likely case is that she comes from circles where staying at home with the children is valued higher than working and she feels she has to defend herself, having made the less-valued choice, by building a case that she really would rather be at home, not realizing that her fellow employees are not such a circle by far. She may herself also wish (or not) that she were not working.

    2. neverjaunty*

      This. She may not even be aware how negative this sounds – I’d bet she just thinks she’s thinking out loud.

      1. Temperance*

        She could very well be overcompensating and trying to show how dedicated she is to this job because of how much she has given up. I’ve met women who do this. It doesn’t work, and just makes them look bad and offends women who use childcare.

        1. OhNo*

          This is definitely a possibility. I had a coworker a few years ago who did something similar – it wasn’t until a customer said something about how much she must hate her job that she finally seemed to realize how it was actually coming across.

          1. self employed*

            Yeah, we are all living a polite fiction in which we ignore the fact that we don’t want to do the mundane things that must be done.

            1. Koko*

              I’m living a polite fiction that having to wake up at 7 am isn’t horribly out of sync with my body’s natural rhythms. I expect to be forced to live it for at least another decade, if not several more decades, depending on whether I can ever take my freelance work full-time.

              1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                I hear ya. When I was in my late teens and early 20s people would tell me all the time that I would get used to getting up early. Almost 40 now, and no. My body does not like the morning. Nor does it want to sleep during hours that would make getting up early easier.

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  Most of the advice people gave me from my childhood through my early 20s turned out to be BS. I wish I could go back in time and tell me younger self that I shouldn’t believe most of it.

                2. Jen S. 2.0*

                  This, all freaking day. No, I don’t want to get up early. No, I don’t want to go to bed early. No, it doesn’t get easier, and no, just because you told me 15 years ago that it would (along with many other things that are now lies and damn lies) doesn’t make it true.

              2. TheLazyB*

                My husband and I are night people. Our five year old wakes up at antisocial-o-clock EVERY DAY. And he’s always in a good mood so you feel awful even just wanting to go back to bed. I mis sleep so bad.

                1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                  As a fellow night person, I understand. It really, really won’t be too much longer and you’ll be able to trust them enough to be up for a few hours while you sleep in. Mine are in their early teens and now sleep later than I do on weekends, but we had a few years of them getting up and fixing themselves some cereal and allowing us to sleep. They quickly realized that if we were asleep, that we weren’t going to give them chores or put a damper on their video games. :)

                2. Koko*

                  7:00 AM Me is like, the worst possible version of myself. Fully-Awakened Me is appalled by the choices 7:00 AM Me makes. Things that were, last night, Very Important to get done in the morning before work suddenly at 7:00 am seem like something I could do later, some other time. And who cares about being late to work? Nothing matters to 7:00 AM Me, nothing so much as going back to sleep.

                3. SebbyGrrl*

                  Oh MY PEOPLE!

                  Thanks for saying this.

                  DON’T get me started on daylight savings time!
                  Hillary must undertake this in first term! We have clocks that can make the shift incremental and no one needs to suffer 5 months out the year out of sync with Nature!

                4. Anion*

                  Is your five-year-old the type that can quietly sit and watch TV or play without breaking stuff?

                  I’m not a morning person either (and I’m a chronic insomniac, sigh) and when I was pregnant with my second I was, like many pregnant women, exhausted for the first four months. I learned I could put up baby gates and set my toddler down in the living room with kiddie TV (Thank you, Noggin channel!) and some safe toys and doze on the couch for a while; I’d hear if anything happened, but I could close my eyes and rest. (It backfired once, when she decided to wake me up by picking up a hardcover book and hitting me on the head with it, lol, but in general it worked just fine. Sometimes she’d come and cuddle with me, too, which was nice.)

                  By the time she was five, they could both basically amuse themselves until my husband or I woke up (my husband is an earlier riser, so this was only an hour or two); I started leaving no-cook breakfast things, like brioche rolls or Pop-Tarts on the table for them so they could eat if they were hungry, and we would fill their cups with water before bed and leave them in the fridge so they could grab them if they were thirsty.

                  I totally, totally don’t mean this in a “Well, MY children were mature and responsible at that age, I don’t know what sort of hooligan you’re raising,” kind of way, honest, so please don’t think that’s what it is–all kids are different etc., as are all parents and houses. I’m just making a suggestion of some things that really helped me, or actually just letting you know that other parents do this so if you wanted to try it there are people who’ll agree it’s fine and not some sort of hideous neglect, heh. (If it helps, you can think of it not as “I’m doing this so I can sleep,” but as “I’m doing this so my child learns independence,” which genuinely was a big part of my thinking there.)

                  They’re fifteen and almost-twelve now, and they’ve been getting their own breakfast and getting themselves ready for school for about six years. I still get up to drive them in and braid Youngest’s hair and everything, but they can handle their own wake-up routines. (I’m really hoping that in the next year or two they can start walking themselves to school once or twice a week.) I basically roll out of bed twenty minutes before we have to leave. They make their sandwiches for lunch the night before, pack up their backpacks, and lay out their school clothes etc.–they wear uniforms so it’s easier–so it’s pretty simple to get everything together.

                  Point is, Mommy can nap on the couch if Little One has a safe place to quietly play. ;-)

                  @SebbyGrrl: Daylight Savings Time is absolutely horrible. I hate it so much. It’s nothing but dangerous nonsense–the rate of auto accidents and work-related accidents skyrockets in the weeks following, every year–and does absolutely nothing to conserve energy or provide any other benefit. I have no idea why so many governments insist on foisting this hooey on people, but every year I hope they will finally see the light (heh) and put that garbage to bed (heh) once and for all. (I also consider, every year, moving to Arizona,but that’s probably not going to happen, either. Sigh.)

              3. Rey*

                I’m attempting to live that polite fiction right now, but my body unfortunately is running amok and screaming that it wants to lead it’s authentic life and stay up until 2 am. It’s…an ongoing battle.

        2. EddieSherbert*

          I’ve had coworkers that seem to do that too.

          At one point, I said something to one coworker (“Joe, if you’re so unhappy, maybe it’s time to start job hunting”), and he was genuinely surprised that I thought he hated his job.

          Guess he just liked letting people know how busy and tough his job was?

          1. Rob Lowe can't read*

            I said something like this to a coworker once too! “Wakeen, if you don’t want to attend Essential and Required Meeting or think you were misled during hiring about having to attend, maybe you should talk to Boss about resigning. I’m sure there are other jobs out there that would be more suitable.”

            The last part was a lie, Wakeen was the worst and hated all people, and it’s definitely possible that no suitable job exists for him. But, you know, gotta end it with a positive spin.

        3. INTP*

          Yep. Or she’s just deeply unhappy and has no idea how negative she sounds because in her mind, she’s already filtering out most of the negative stuff she wants to say. I’ve been there before, and was surprised and confused when the people I was venting to accused me of despising my coworkers (I was venting to a group of third parties, not my coworkers). I genuinely only disliked one, who happened to be the CEO, but I was so unhappy in the job that just venting a little when I was really annoyed with something, like basically everyone does, gave the impression that I was seething with hate.

    3. Isabel C.*

      Right, or a personalized form of the “ugh, Monday *agaaaain*” routine that everyone does. Just a shift in perspective might help a lot.

      1. Kai*

        This was my thought–that she might be doing a version of the light grumping about work that many people do. Plenty of us do the “blerg, I hate Mondays,” or “TGIF!” or “sooooo glad we have a long weekend coming up!” and she may think that her talk about her kids is the same sort of thing.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, maybe she’s just seeking sympathy and doesn’t realize how it’s coming across.

  2. B*

    Definitely say something to her regarding this. If not for her sake, for your other employees as I am sure hearing this brings down morale. As Alison said you need to be ok with her coming back and saying this isn’t right for her but you can also be doing her a huge favor. She may not be seeing this in the same light that everyone else is so it would be helpful for her to hear how it is being projected.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      I am sure hearing this brings down morale.

      It is. I’ve never worked anywhere where people complained and it didn’t instantly make the non-complainers miserable or annoyed by having to hear the same griping all day every day.

  3. sparklealways*

    Definitely say something. I would also refer her to your company’s EAP if there is one, as she may just need to talk to a professional about emotionally transitioning back to work.

    1. starsaphire*

      The EAP is a good idea, if you have one.

      Seriously — I would way rather be curled up under a down comforter with a pile of fluffy kitties, or tending my roses, or laying on a beach somewhere sipping a pina colada. And, adjusting for nouns of preference, so would nearly all the rest of us. It’s totally normal to want that; it’s not acceptable to talk about it incessantly.

      I hope you’re able to help her figure it out, OP. Best of luck!

  4. Bonky*

    Please say something. Negativity can be absolutely toxic within a team – recently, I’ve had to let someone go after a PIP, where one of the main concerns was appalling negativity about the role and the job that was visibly affecting the person’s co-workers. The change in the atmosphere, in the team’s productivity and the day-to-day happiness of junior members of the team in particular has been marked.

    Disciplining reports – and especially letting them go – is emphatically the worst part of my job. I’m sure it’s the worst part of yours too. It’s important to look forwards: the morale, productivity and stress-reduction benefits of doing so for *everybody on your team* are often much greater than you’ll have considered.

    1. LW #4*

      We had a team lead that absolutely nearly devastated our team with her constant negativity. If it wasn’t about the job, it was about the company. If it wasn’t about the company, it was about everyone in the company. If it wasn’t about coworkers, it was about how terrible her entire life was. Even her direct teammates (US!) weren’t immune to her negativity and backstabbing and she’d selectively gossip about each one of us. We lost two admins because they couldn’t deal with working directly under her and one other admin had to go to counselling just to handle the emotional stress of dealing with her.

      When she finally got another job and told us “so long suckers!” we nearly wept with joy. Yet she still considered us friends for awhile… and couldn’t understand why we would get angry when she wanted to gossip and talk shit about the company and people still in it or revel when bad things would happen.

      A toxic team member is devastating and can destroy your team. Even if it’s just griping, talk to them, get them to knock it off, or get them out of there.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Even run of the mill affable grizzling can build up to be really toxic and damaging to a work environment. Up until last year I worked with a guy who really should have retired about 3 years ago when he still enjoyed his job. Once his kids were out of the house, he was 1000% ready to be done working and it SHOWED. He was a nice enough guy, but just kept up a stream of those sort of cheery complaints everyone complains about — internet’s down, these kids and their homework problems/disorganization/sassiness, how about this terrible weather, etc. etc. etc. — but so constantly that it was like a dripping faucet. By the end of the school year, everyone was thrilled to see the back of him!

      2. Bonky*

        Interesting what you say about the admins – it was the people at entry-level (who weren’t working under this person, but pretty closely with them) who were the worst affected in our case. One of the very young people who I saw reduced to tears by the anxiety this person was producing was part of the prod I needed to get the PIP in place. That very junior person is really high-calibre, and I can see them progressing in our organisation and doing fantastically well – they’re doing amazingly now, and I’m so pleased things worked out the way they did.

    2. Anon4This*

      OMG this is so important! I absolutely loathe my job, and part of my loathing is due to the negativity of several colleagues.

  5. caryatis*

    She may not be ready to return to work. Or she may simply be out of touch with workplace norms. As a parent, you get to complain about your kids, because a) you don’t have a boss to impress and b) everyone knows you’re the best qualified for the job and you’re not going to quit. As an employee, you need to compartmentalize a bit more and not verbalize it every time you realize you’d rather be somewhere else. Not only does it make this employee look bad, it brings everyone else down too.

    1. misspiggy*

      I’m a little off-topic, but I don’t think anyone gets to complain about a task they’ve accepted, within earshot of the people they’re doing it for. I grew up with a lot of guilt about existing because I regularly overheard my mother’s complaints about how hard it was looking after us.

      1. Fiona the Lurker*

        This, 100%! My mother constantly complained about “the worry of you kids” and all the hard work she had to do – most of which was, on reflection, ‘make work’ so that she felt she was doing something useful with her day. When I got old enough, I asked her why on earth she’d had children since she didn’t seem to enjoy them; the answer was that she’d had to leave work when she got married (that was the policy then, married women didn’t work) and what else was she supposed to do?

        1. Non E Moose*

          That was all too common, and I worry that we’re headed back to a version of that, depending on the ‘values’ of whomever wins the elections.

      2. Allison*

        Yes, I agree! You don’t complain about work at work, you don’t complain about your kids within earshot of them, you don’t complain about housework within earshot of anyone you live with, and you don’t complain about a favor you’ve elected to do for someone where they can hear it. No one wants to feel like a burden.

      3. Observer*

        Yes. And, by the way, the kids may NOT that “you’re not going to quit”. Besides guilt doing any significant amount of complaining about your kids around them is a good recipe for making them HUGELY insecure.

      4. Emlen*

        Yup. Before I even made it kindergarten, I was fully aware of what a horrific burden I was to my mother. I’m 36 now and have trouble accepting that it’s okay for me to even take up space in a room.

        1. Anion*

          Yep. 43 here, and remember well not only what a horrific burden I was to my mother, but how much she actively disliked me most of the time (and still does, to be honest). There is no reason in the world, ever, to call your two- or three-year-old (or fifteen-year-old, or thirty-year-old) daughter a spoiled, selfish little bitch, or to threaten to leave or to kill yourself. Kids don’t understand the “I was just venting” thing, and even if/when they do it’s not appropriate in any way, ever.

          I may not be the best mother in the world, but at least I can comfort myself that I have never, ever said anything like that to my girls. Not once, not ever, and never will.

          @Fiona the Lurker: Was your mom a flight attendant? That’s the only industry I’m aware of where women had to resign when they got married.

          1. LD*

            Or her mother is older and worked when it was very common in many roles to expect women to quit when they got married. It might not have been forced, or it may have been, but it was too often strongly encouraged for women to quit when they got married.

      5. Marillenbaum*

        That’s a fair point. When I was a kid, I tried grumbling about having to wash the dishes in front of my mother, who had just asked me to do them. Turns out, that sort of thing has very negative consequences in regards to your weekly book allowance at the library…

    2. lokilaufeysanon*

      I’m going to be honest, not all parents are actually the best qualified people to be parents (unfortunately for their kids).

  6. animaniactoo*

    I miss my bed. Every morning it tells me how unfair it is that I have to get up and go to work, but I do it anyway.

    1. animaniactoo*

      In all seriousness, yes – please do say something to her. I’m the primary breadwinner for my family and I can’t tell you how it would grind hearing somebody constantly complaining about having to work instead of being home with their kids – because I too would rather be home with my husband (and at the time kids), but I come to work because I need to be here.

      I do genuinely enjoy most of the functions of my job – but the primary reason I show up is that I need to get paid. If I can do it, you can do it and all that… and please let’s not complain about having to support A) ourselves, and B) the responsibilities that we have chosen to take on in the form of partners and kids. A is not fair to lay as a burden on anyone else if we’re not willing to do it ourselves, and B is something we need to accept responsibility for choosing – which means we give up the right to constantly complain about what doing it entails. And that is why it would grind hard to hear such a constant stream of complaints – about something that I am *also* dealing with. I’d be miserable if I focused on the drawbacks, and I really need to not be miserable.

      1. the gold digger*

        the primary reason I show up is that I need to get paid

        I was helping set up for a volunteer thingy at the home of a woman married to a very rich man. I commented how organized she was and she answered that she had a corporate mind and missed working but her husband liked her to travel with him when he went overseas.

        I wanted to answer, “Yeah, I work as a hobby, just to keep my corporate mind sharp.”

    2. CMT*

      You should see how much my cat whines when I leave every morning! It’s totally unfair to her that I go to work. But somebody’s got to bring home the Meow Mix. And nobody seems to like my idea of a Bring Your Cat to Work Day ;)

      1. the gold digger*

        I like the idea of a Bring Your Cat To Work Day! (Or, even better, Take Work Home to Your Cat.)(My cat likes to sit next to the fan on my computer. And on my computer.)

        1. Formica Dinette*

          Between the computer fan to lie in front of and the paper to lie upon, my cats support Take Your Work Home to Your Cat 100%!

        2. sam*

          My cat hates when I leave for work, to the point of latching herself to my ankle when I try to go out the door (it’s less cute than it sounds – there are claws and teeth involved), but she doesn’t let me work from home either.

          Any time I have been forced to work from home (which happens rarely – office renovations, Hurricane Irene), if I have to get on a conference call, she proceeds to meow/scream at the top of her lungs for the duration of the call. It sounds like I’m torturing her, and I have had to apologize to others for the noise.

          She’s completely aloof and wants zero attention from me the rest of the time, but god forbid I actually try to focus on “not-her”. Everyone else thinks this is hilarious.

          1. Formica Dinette*

            I was on a conference call just last week where someone’s cat would Not. Shut. Up. No one said anything about it, but I was giggling hysterically inside.

      2. Sophia Brooks*

        I brought my cat to work in a theatrical costume shop a few times, but it was not worth the trouble. He climbed into the prop closet and I couldn’t get him out!

  7. Elle*

    I would also add that she is not doing herself any favors by constantly thinking and talking about how much she misses her kids. Yes, it’s hard to leave them. Yes, you think about them a lot. I can certainly relate, having been a working mom for the past 20 years. BUT…no one wants to hear about your kids constantly. No one finds them even remotely as interesting as you do. Plus, her children will take their cues from her, in a huge way. If she is constantly bemoaning the fact that she has to leave them, they will pick up on that and miss her even more. There’s an attitude adjustment that’s needed here. Hopefully if/when the OP speaks with her she will realize what she needs to do, whatever that may be.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Absolutely. An ex used to do this when it was time to take his young daughter back to her mum’s. He would get upset, then SHE would get upset, and it made the whole thing rather traumatic. I pointed this out to him one time when she wasn’t there, and suggested he be matter-of-fact about it until he dropped her off (“Time to go back to Mum’s–I’ll see you on [visitation day]!”), and then he could be sad if he wanted to. He did try it and it improved the situation immensely.

    2. LawBee*

      “No one finds them even remotely as interesting as you do.”

      Copy/paste “your wedding”, “your vacation”, “your partner”, “your love life”, “your pets”, etc. It’s interesting to the degree that I am interested in you as a person, but even my bff got on my nerves with boyfriend talk. Read the room.

    3. SG*

      I also can’t imagine how hard her complaining like that must be on other parents who didn’t have the ability to be stay at home parents. She had 5 whole years home with them! That’s so much more than so many millions of parents get here in the USA.

      Both my parents worked full time (and still do) and my mom had TERRIBLE guilt about not being home with us, and they both worked late so we never had weeknight dinners together. Which, having not realized that was a thing, I never cared about, but she grew up with it and it was really hard for her to not do that. If I were only able to take the bare minimum maternity leave and then had to go right back, I would imagine this woman would make me feel pretty awful.

    4. Marillenbaum*

      That’s an excellent point. My mother worked throughout my childhood (she was raising us solo), and she brought such a great attitude to it for us. I’m sure it sucked for her (some, I was kind of a jerk as a kid!), but she always made it clear that as a family, we were part of a team, and her part included working to take care of us. My part was going to school and doing my part to keep the house clean. It made me feel really proud that I was contributing to help the people I loved.

  8. crazy8s*

    definitely tell her. I recognize that this is hard, but she needs to show up focused on work. I worked with a stay at home mom who had returned to work after 20 years out of the workforce due to a divorce. she had previously been coaching her child’s tennis team and every afternoon at about 3:00 she would start sighing and be almost in tears because she couldn’t be at tennis practice (they got a new coach I guess). It was so annoying–we all started avoiding her starting at around 2:50.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      I wonder how much of that is truly “I miss my kids” vs. “I miss my old life.” I’m not saying it has to be one or the other but that grief isn’t just about when someone dies. The 3pm tennis coaching thing was probably just the trigger for all the things she hadn’t dealt with. Something to tell your therapist and not burden your workmates, to be sure but she probably wasn’t totally aware of what she was doing.

  9. Menacia*

    Yup, Alison said it all, you need to address the negativity in such a way that you give her an opportunity to first understand that it’s a problem and that it needs to stop, and secondly giving her an out if she needs one. This is especially critical due to her position, everyone in the company depends on her to be paid on time. If she cannot focus on the work, in the work environment, then yes, perhaps it was too soon for her to go back to work (full-time or at all). I’ve never had to deal with a coworker complaining about missing their kids, but I’ve worked (and still work) with someone who comes to work with a chip on his shoulder and a cloud over his head, I never know whether or not to say hi to him or just ignore him. Makes for a very *interesting* workplace especially since we are on the same small team of people who have to rely on one another and cover for each other when necessary.

  10. Temperance*

    I’ve worked with women like her in the past, and I’m going to say that it’s time to nip this in the bud before everyone starts avoiding her. Presumably there’s a reason she’s back at work, so it’s time to act like an intelligent professional and not a freaking Cathy cartoon. She must have some good qualities to have been able to land an important job after not having one for 5 years, and she needs to focus on those qualities and her skills and not her wish that she could not work.

    As an aside, I had a mom who never wanted to work, and she would claim that we wanted her home with us. We didn’t. We never asked her to stay home, because she was just as lazy and grumpy at home as she was at work.

    1. SG*

      Ha. My mom once said to us that she was going to maybe take a break from working when I was in 4th grade and my sister in 2nd (she didn’t). My sister was like YES STAY WITH US ALWAYS and I responded with horror, as I was worried my mom would become one of the Upper East Side moms who wore leopard print and I thought of as lazy.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      Whoa, are you me? My mom is one of the laziest people I know. Her guilt-trips were ridiculous and we were all happier when she got a part-time job. Unfortunately now she’s back to doing nothing… but with the added bonus of being an empty-nester! I don’t know what she does all day.

  11. AnonEMoose*

    Please say something to her. Because I would be in serious danger of straining a muscle rolling my eyes at this woman. That, or I’d be chewing the inside of my lips bloody biting back the sarcastic response about how much I miss my cats and would rather be at home snuggled up with them.

    I don’t mind hearing the occasional story involving someone’s kids (although nothing involving body fluids, please!), and will commiserate with an exhausted new parent dealing with new baby + returning to work. Because I know it’s hard. Or if a coworker needs to vent a bit occasionally, I can be a sympathetic ear.

    But hearing what you’re describing would definitely diminish my respect for her as a professional and probably as a person. And eventually, I’d be sorely tempted to say something like “We ALL have things we’d rather be doing. Get over it.” Which…while satisfying in the moment…probably not the best for long-term workplace harmony.

    1. Fortitude Jones (formerly Christopher Tracy)*

      “We ALL have things we’d rather be doing. Get over it.”

      YES! I’d rather be at the spa getting a deep tissue massage right now – we all have our crosses to bear.

    2. Edith*

      Yeah, I’m afraid when OP has the talk with her all she’ll hear is “I can never mention my children at work again.” Or even worse, “My manager believes acknowledging the existence of my children is unprofessional,” of course neither of which are the case.

  12. all aboard the anon train*

    She also likes to tell long rambling stories about her kids, but that is more acceptable workmate behavior.

    Maybe. I’m fine with a story about kids here or there, but if someone is consistently telling long, rambling stories about their kids, it’s going to get annoying real quick. Especially if they’re telling those stories instead of doing their job, while complaining about not being at work because they miss their kids, or telling them to people who are clearly busy or not interested.

    No one wants to hear about someone else’s kids/pets/hobbies/whatever constantly. Even if you enjoyed the subject of discussion initially, it gets grating and tiring to have to hear about it ALL THE TIME. Because at the end of the day, no one is going to find it as engaging as the person speaking, and other coworkers are going to start to avoid the speaker because they don’t want to ask for X report and receive a story about their personal life instead.

    1. Lauren*

      I for one don’t want to hear about the kids at all–I have none and never wanted any–but for politeness’ sake I listen with an interested manner when co-workers bring up their childrens’ plays or new adventures. I might ask a question or two but I definitely don’t let anyone go on after a couple of minutes. If that woman tried that with me I admit I would cut her off quickly and avoid her as much as was professionally possible. So, OP, please don’t think “long rambling stories” are acceptable. They are not to everyone.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, but I don’t necessarily think that’s something the OP needs to address.

        If the employee’s coworkers like chatting with her about these things, they should be able to (assuming work is getting down still!). If they don’t, they should be able to shut it down themselves.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Yeah. Kid stories are up there with cat stories. I’ll listen and ask out of politeness, but there’s only so many stories I can take before they all start to sound the same to me. Though, I’d rather take a story than the people who whip out their phones to show me 875656 pictures. That’s usually when I’m like, “Cute. Now, about X report….”

        Honestly, I think it’s pretty easy to tell when someone isn’t interested in your topic of conversation. People who don’t pick up on that either have trouble with social interactions or are too involved in their story to notice or care.

        1. LD*

          “Honestly, I think it’s pretty easy to tell when someone isn’t interested in your topic of conversation. People who don’t pick up on that either have trouble with social interactions or are too involved in their story to notice or care.” So much this….and on occasion we are all so fascinated by something that it can be easy to ignore the signs when our listeners are fidgeting or becoming glassy-eyed.

      3. Novocastriart*

        I am in the same boat, I think – but for entirely different reasons. I want children desperately – absolutely, positively, so enormously badly, that I at times, find myself feeling distinctly sorry for myself (and my clucky husband) about it all BUT, work has always been a place where my childlessness doesn’t really factor in, so I felt it was alright to have the occasional chat about peoples kids (I love hearing about other peoples kids, when I am not feeling maudlin!!) and just divert discussion back to work topics when I’d ‘had enough’…

        I recently took over the management of a team made up entirely of women. All mothers, some grandmothers (and soon to be g’mas) and boy is it rough managing this lot sensitively!! I manage to tread a bit of a line between polite interest and…okay get-back-to-workness, but I have NO stomach for complaints centred around kids. None.

        In fact, i should probably write in my own queries, to make sure I’m doing th right thing here…

        1. Anion*

          Oh, I am so sorry you’re dealing with that–the wanting-a-child thing, I mean. That’s rough. I’ve been there (I wanted a third, my husband didn’t) and one of my closest friends is dealing with it right now.

          I’m sorry I don’t have any advice, but I wanted to let you know that I understand, and sympathize. {{{hug}}}

    2. Sadsack*

      I can totally relate to this. I had a coworker for a couple if years who regularly talked about every aspect of her kids’ lives. It got to the point where I would just get up and walk away when she started in. Every one we worked with felt the same. I don’t know if there is a nice way that OP can address this though.

    3. TheBeetsMotel*

      I worked with a woman once whose only topic of conversation was her kid. I had to hear about exactly what she ate, what new words she’d learned, how potty training was going… one day, I realized that she essentially had a very small, and rather lonely life. Work, home, work, home. She never changed the record because there was no other record to put on.

      I hope she found some friendships, hobbies or interests to make her life a little fuller.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I had a former coworker who was like this with her cat. I felt guilty for being annoyed something, but at the same time, there are so many other things to talk about! Something you watched, something you read, a new thing you noticed on the way into the office.

  13. MashaKasha*

    I’m conflicted TBH. I don’t know of a single person who gets out of bed every morning deliriously happy that they can finally go to work again. Everyone would rather be somewhere else, but the bills aren’t going to pay themselves.

    The kids stories fall under chatty coworkers in general. I’m not a huge fan, but I’m a workplace Grinch and don’t thrive on social interactions with coworkers. And frankly, I’d rather listen to kid stories than some of what I had to listen to from some of my coworkers over the years – cat stories, stories about their health, stories about their aging parents’ health, ex stories, sports, politics, religion, just random ramblings about nothing because they liked the sound of their voice, you name it, I’ve heard it.

    Now the barely doing any work part is the only one I’d really have a problem with in this situation. You can miss your kids and still get stuff done.

  14. designbot*

    What if she comes back and says that she genuinely doesn’t want to be there, but she needs to for the money? I feel like that’s a possibility that OP needs to be prepared to handle as well…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then you say that you empathize but you still need her to stop giving colleagues the impression that she resents being there because it’s creating an unpleasant environment for other people.

    2. Fortitude Jones (formerly Christopher Tracy)*

      OP would still need to tell her to knock it off with the endless complaining and make it very clear that if she doesn’t, she’ll be let go.

    3. LQ*

      That feels pretty semantic to me. She wants to be there to be able to feed and house her family. She can focus on wanting to feed, clothe, house those people she loves and that is why she’s there. Complaining about it won’t help. She still can’t complain endlessly just because she is like most people and wouldn’t work for free.

      1. designbot*

        I’m not saying she can/should, I just wanted to make sure that possibility got addressed directly for the OP. Alison’s answer seemed to assume that one explanation would force a choice for this employee to stay and get in line or leave, but from her tone I suspected that she might try to double down on the “I don’t really want to be here but I’m going to keep showing up” attitude. Just wanted to make sure OP was prepared for that possibility!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, I meant it to be inherent in the “If you want to stay in the role, I need you to stop giving the office the impression that you resent your job and things like the need to get people paid on time.”

    4. Observer*

      The answer is “Can yo hack it or not? If you need to be here, then you need to do the job. And part of doing the job is NOT laying a guilt trip on people for expecting to get paid on time.”

      The negativity is enough to be a problem. That she’s acting like this about payroll is just a huge additional problem.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      We all need the money. It’s not license to make our coworker’s work lives miserable with endless kvetching.

      Needing the money is a private matter that needs to be resolved at home. If her husband can/is willing to find a different or a second job to make enough to let her stay home, that’s fine, but that’s not an issue to be brought up at her workplace–that’s between them. If he can’t, then she has to work, and the grown-up reaction to that is to accept that this is a fact of life and one might as well do it with as positive an attitude as possible and leave the martyr bit at home. Most women have to work at some point. Some want to, some don’t, but her burden in this regard isn’t special and whining about it makes her seem unprofessional and immature.

    6. Kittymommy*

      She can absolutely loathe being there, but if she needs the paycheck she needs to find a way you desk with it. I had a coworker at an old job who did this, and after being down to a couple of times, by peers and a manager continued to do it. Finally the boss told her flat out to shut it down or missing her kids would no longer be an issue.

    7. LawBee*

      That’s not really the employer’s problem. She was hired to do a job, she needs to do the job, and if she can’t do the job AND maintain the required level of professionalism, then that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. If it ultimately ends up in terminating her employment, that would suck but she did it to herself.

    8. OhBehave*

      I wonder if she’s a Negative Nellie in other parts of her life? Complaining about her job at work is a sure way out the door. It will surely bring morale down in the office and make her someone to avoid.
      OP really needs to have a talk with her.
      If she had to get a job to bump up the family income due to life, then yes, she is probably mad at this life change. The fact that her kids are asking her to stay home with them doesn’t help. But my guess is that she’s kvetching to them that she doesn’t want to work and misses them. This helps nothing!

  15. LQ*

    I really thought this was going to end with the LW being the coworker, that it was the boss writing in, very much surprised me. Yes! You are the boss! You get to say things about this. Please. It can make the workplace much harder to deal with when you have a coworker like this. Definitely think about the other staff who have to listen to this.

  16. Marcy*

    Agree that you should say something to her. She might just be looking for commiseration and doesn’t realize how unprofessional this looks. On the other spectrum, when I returned to work from maternity leave, I had a lot of female coworkers sympathetically telling me stories of how much they hated returning to work and telling me that part time was an option. I was deliriously happy at being able to drink a coffee in relative silence and go to the bathroom by myself, so I just nodded and made vague commiserating noises, but nobody really seemed to believe that I was fine being back until about a year later.

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      One of the women in my department outright told people that she was grateful to be back at work and leaving her kids each morning wasn’t that hard. You would have thought she’d confessed to murder by the way some people reacted.

      1. NW Mossy*

        It’s nice to know I’m not the only one! I came back from maternity leave in August and it’s been pretty darn smooth at both work and home. It always makes me feel a bit on the spot when someone says, “Oh, you must be missing the littlest Mossy – I cried when I had to leave mine at daycare!” and I’m all “Um, yeah!” when inside I’m thinking “But we both like this arrangement and no one is crying. Are we missing a gene or something?”

        1. Government Worker*

          You are far from the only one. The thing that really cured my PPD was going back to work and feeling like I still had a life outside of my kids.

          I sometimes felt guilty that my feelings didn’t match what the culture expected of me. And then I noticed that male colleagues don’t get these sorts of reactions because it’s assumed that men are capable of both loving their kids and enjoying their jobs, and this is all part of the sexist crap loaded on working mothers in our society.

          1. SG*

            Ugh I hate the culture that guilts moms about it. I had a mom who went back to work, I had a baby nurse and then babysitter.

            I talk to my mom almost everyday even though I’m nearly 30 and we have a lovely relationship. Going back to work is not something people need to be guilt tripped about.

      2. LawBee*

        I’ve got a couple of friends who were LIVING for the end of maternity leave so they could go back to work. They love their kids, but they also love their jobs. Shocking that the job-love didn’t stop the minute they became parents.

      3. Formica Dinette*

        Yep, I have a coworker who clearly adores her kids, but has told me she’s generally happy to leave them and come to work every day.

      4. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I couldn’t wait to go back. Being at home all day drives me nuts. I’ve told people there’s no way I could afford to stay at home because we’d spend a fortune in therapy bills to help me cope with not going to work.

      5. Marillenbaum*

        It reminds me of when I went off to college (last child), and my mom’s friend said “Oh, you must miss them so much when they’re away,” and my mom just shrugged and said “Not really”.

    2. MashaKasha*

      Oh my god, yes! My kids are my closest friends (hey, they’re 21 and 23, so I’m finally allowed to say this out loud and not get stares), but, when they were a toddler and a preschooler, I really enjoyed being able to sit down for longer than five minutes at a time while at work. Going to the bathroom by myself seemed a benefit right up there with medical and dental!

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’m sometimes happy to be able to go to the bathroom by myself – and in my case, the ones barging in on me have four feet and purr. Of course, I constantly have marks on my knee because they insist on putting their front paws up on my knee so I can properly adore them while I’m sitting there.

        1. MashaKasha*

          I hear you. It was the kids, then it was the dog, then one of the kids got two cats and the cats do this whenever they stay at my house. Then it’ll be the grandkids. It never ends.

          1. Liane*

            I saw a list of 10 Dog Rules on Facebook the other day. #10: You will never pee alone again.
            Definitely true with my Bear. (Bathroom door is hard to latch in a hurry)

            1. SG*

              I love opening the door to a very expectant friend outside the bathroom. Like hello, yes, I survived the trip.

    3. E*

      And here I was debating whether to chime in that I love my 9 month old dearly and miss him during the work day but it’s nice to know he’s enjoying daycare and that I can focus on work and go to the bathroom without a shadow.

    4. swingbattabatta*

      I was so happy to go back to work, and I think my daughter has had a ton of benefits from socializing with other kids during the day. I live in Canada now (moved from the US) and I’ve had a few people ask me about the US maternity leave policies and gasp about how horrible it is that they force parents back to work so early. I told them that I was very lucky to have 3 months of maternity leave, but man was I happy to get back to work. I can’t wrap my mind around a full year.

  17. OhNo*

    OP, I think it would be a great idea for you to use some variation of Alison’s last paragraph in the conversation with this person. There are unfortunately a significant number of people who will take this conversation to mean that you are telling them how to feel about being at work (and who will be quite incensed about that). But if you make the distinction that it’s not about feelings, it’s about behavior, that may help the whole thing go over more smoothly.

    As a side note: don’t let it devolve into a game of “But Jane complained about X one time! Why aren’t you talking to her?” I’m currently working with a someone who reacts like this to every single criticism or suggestion, and once the conversation goes off on those rails there’s just no getting it back.

    1. Red Reader*

      “Lucinda, how I address Jane’s behavior is not your concern. Right now we’re discussing your behavior.”

      Usually voiced in my house as “Puppy, you don’t need to yell at the cat for putting her paws on the table. You keep your paws where they’re supposed to be, and I’ll handle the cat.”

      And then universally followed by “God, I sound like my mother.” Because this was her method of handling her bratty children. (Not me. The other two. I swear.)

  18. Lissa*

    I worked with somebody like this at a cafe/coffee shop, where my coworker had to go back to work part time around the time of the recession. She worked 9-3 M-F, and both her kids were in school, so she wasn’t really missing any time with them, but would still complain constantly about how she wanted to still be a stay-at-home mom. The negativity was especially bad because she would never take any extra shifts but would constantly ask people to take hers and get really irate if a) someone asked her to take a shift or b) someone didn’t take one of hers. She had kids didn’t you know?? And yes, she’d say some of this around customers. Luckily she’d take it fairly well when I’d counter with “yeah I know, I would like to be at home with my video games” and didn’t get offended, but still really acted like she was the Most Miserable. That environment became *so* toxic and negative. I feel like you can acknowledge that something isn’t anybody’s dream job without having to constantly bring it up — negativity spirals so fast and can draw everyone else in, too, even if they don’t mean to.

  19. DCompliance*

    It doesn’t really matter what she is complaining about, something does need to be said to her. It just brings down the morale of everyone else.

  20. Dust Bunny*

    Yes, say something. One, it’s very unprofessional, and two, it’s not fair to other employees to have to listen to a constant-complainer who drags his or her feet on the job. Most of us would rather be somewhere else, in a perfect world, but we have to eat, so we focus on the better aspects of work and keep the venting under control.

  21. Observer*

    Please do say something to her. People have covered the general issue pretty well. There is another thing, here that makes this worse that the usual negative effects on morale. She’s responsible for payroll and people get really, really upset if you try to make them feel bad about wanting to get paid on time. Which means, that for her, it’s not just about appearing professional, it’s about her relationships with coworkers. If she keeps it up, people won’t cut her ANY slack whatsoever, no matter what. For you, it means a spillover effect. Even if something really out of your control happens, if payroll gets delayed people are going to be far less reasonable than if they felt that everyone involved with payroll was really doing their best and trying to do the right thing. It’s a spillover, just because you’re in the way, but also because you are allowing it to continue.

    Lots of luck.

    1. Joseph*

      This is an excellent point. Since she does payroll, this is a far bigger issue than it would be with a typical staff member. Because for the rest of the staff, there is never any legitimate reason for not getting paid on time. Never. And even if you tried to fix it ASAP, your employees would likely still blame you for letting the issue fester.

    2. pomme de terre*

      That stuck out to me too. Payroll is an essential business function! Her mean co-workers and bosses are dragging her away from her precious babies because they have the audacity to want to get paid on time, boo hoo.

  22. Anna Marie*

    This letter is giving me flashbacks of my previous job and the mombie coworker that drove me out the door because of this exact situation – she hated being away from her kids and everyone had to know about it. I wanted to get away from her so bad that I actually quit before I had a new job lined up; sooo much complaining!!!

    For the sake of everyone’s sanity, OP, say something!

  23. AW*

    it’s about the constant negativity around having to come to work and do her job.

    Please know that this kind of thing can snowball.

    I think I’ve told this story before but I once had a job where a co-worker would loudly complain about other teams: they didn’t know what they were doing, they were messing up his numbers, etc. It made everyone miserable to hear it everyday. The team started taking breaks en mass to get away from him, then insults started getting traded in the office.

    Had I been able to change jobs, I would have. (He left before I did.)

  24. Christine*

    It was an eye opener at work when I had the EA state that she doesn’t want to hear me complain about my boss until after I had did a mediation. She was one of those “horrible” bosses, still is but the mediation did work in many ways … the screaming fits & vindictive behavior quit. I could have filed a grievance against her, but all that would have done was make it hard to transfer to another department. At the university it’s well known, file a grievance you’re not getting a chance to interview for something else. Part of that is because faculty are notoriously known to behave improperly at work because they have never been held accountable as they would in a commercial setting. There is a fear factor, that you’ll do it again.

    You would be doing her a big favor if she’s notified about the appearance she’s giving. She’ll never get a promotion if looks like she doesn’t want to be there and I would get sick of hearing it.

    OP — does your company offer EAP counseling? We get 4 a year … if she is having a hard time with the transition from being at home to work, talking to someone that is outside work & marriage might be a huge help. You also may not know the story behind her returning to work, her husband might have pushed it, that might be playing a role in the resentment. She does need to put a muffler on it though.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      I was thinking about suggesting counselling, if it’s something the employee is genuinely suffering with, rather than just griping about. The ideal scenario is the OP explains, and there’s a lightbulb moment, and she changes – but if not, coaching for strategies to change negative patterns of thought, or counselling (or online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programmes) could be what she needs. BUT, I know it can be hard to say “have you thought about counselling?” to some people.

  25. Former Retail Manager*

    This is by far one of the touchiest (read, rage inducing) types of people I have ever dealt with. In my experience, all of the people like this that I managed (and there were only a few) fell into one of the following categories:

    1. Martyr – Look at all I’ve given up to be here with “you people” instead of my children whom I worship
    —-> I have no words of wisdom here

    2. Tone Deaf Transition Challenged Individual – These types seem to have been out of the workforce for so long that they don’t know what else to talk about besides their kids (kid’s activities, how much they miss their kids, what their kids are doing, kids sports, kids academics, and on and on)
    —-> I always used these opportunities to transition the conversation away from their kids. If they mentioned kids sports, I might transition to a recent ball game or their favorite team. If they mentioned how much they missed their kids, I’d say I miss my cat (I do have a kid but I miss my cat more oftentimes) and then switch to what their weekend plans are. It took a while, but I just kept doing it. On a few occasions if there was no transition, I’d just acknowledge their statement and move to a totally different topic. The person never seemed to mind too much and just went with it. Turns out that she thought that she wasn’t a very interesting person and had rather low self-esteem. I assure you she was far more interesting than anything she had to say about her kids.

    Alison’s advice is great. The negative comments should cease immediately. I would have made a mean comment or 5 by now.

  26. Moonsaults*

    I wonder if she hates working in general or just hates the job she’s doing, to be honest. So many people just take a job that they can do but in reality they hate for all the wrong reasons, then it starts to show by their lashing out at their coworkers like that. I know that dealing with payroll deadlines is not for everyone, I was burnt out quickly after dealing with it in a company that had super high turnover. So if she hates the position, thinking she was going to be doing something else or imaginging something else, I can sympathize. However still not an excuse for being so onoxious about it.

    So yes, I say that talking to her would be the kindest for everyone involved.

    1. Letter writer*

      It’s a weird situation, she’d been doing a different job in our organisation and specifically applied for this one, making a big deal about wanting to get back into accounting and payroll. You might be right that it hasn’t worked out as she’d hoped?

      1. pomme de terre*

        I agree with Allison’s advice, but if you wanted to be really nice (and/or avoid the hassle of hiring her replacement), it might be worth asking her if there’s anything about the job that can be adjusted to make it better.

        Could her start time be 9:30 instead of 9am if that works better for her fam? Is there a process that could be be tweaked to make sure she gets out the door in a timely fashion? Is there a way to prepare for school holidays so her lighter work schedule less disruptive? It’s not your responsibility to coddle her and the core functions of the job have to get done, but it might turn her mind toward problem-solving instead of complaining.

  27. Joseph*

    “At school holidays, she’ll work the bare minimum and talk often and bitterly about how she’s not with them. ”
    Since the general concept has been addressed by the other comments, can we talk about this part in particular? This is a ton of days that she’s doing “bare minimum”:
    >Federal holidays like Columbus Day or MLK Day where schools are closed but most companies are not.
    >State holidays – if applicable
    >Winter break – schools usually get a couple weeks off, whereas most companies only close for one week or only for the holidays themselves
    >Spring break – one week in spring, which companies don’t do
    >Teacher work days – usually a couple per semester?
    So you’re easily talking about 30 or more days a year that this could be an issue (and this isn’t counting summer break where her kids get three solid months off). That’s a heck of a lot of time annually to let someone slide by with “bare minimum” work quality and “bitter complaints”.

    1. SG*

      Also, I have no idea what the policy at the office is, but my former boss would often have his wonderful girls come in and hang out on school holidays. I’d play with them, we’d chat about what they were working on, then they would all head out together after work to get dinner and maybe go to a gallery or two. Although you might need an admin who loves the kids to actually make that work…

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Woah, this sounds super-specific to you. In pretty much every other situation, admin staff should never, ever be asked to look after the boss’ children. It’s one thing to, eg, have a 12 year old reading/playing games in a corner, but admin staff should absolutely not be expected to be babysitters.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        It depends. My sister and I typically had a sitter, but occasionally my mom would need to bring us to work with her, and that meant we were under very strict rules to play quietly and stay out of the way. Basically, we brought our books/homework/coloring, sat in the corner, and did that thing until it was time to leave. I usually came carrying an ungodly amount of books, because I was terrified of being bored.

  28. Dulcinea*

    When I was around 12 or 13 I went on a long hike with my campmates at summer camp. I was pretty out of shape and moaned and groaned about ow my feet hurt, how heavy, my pack was, etc,. for the first couple hours until someone pointed out that having to listen to me gripe was annoying and unpleasant for others, especially since they were hot and tired too. Now, maybe some of you will say I should have been mature enough at that age to know that already, but I wasn’t. However, I learned my lesson that day and have tried to be mindful of this ever since. Maybe she thinks she is connecting with people by commiserating rather than annoying them. Make it clear to her it’s the second one (even if you are the only person being annoyed, which i doubt).

    1. Karanda Baywood*

      It doesn’t sound like commiseration though, it’s just complaining about how awful her work life is and she wishes she were somewhere else.

      In fact, I’ll assume a step further and say that I bet she has no empathy for anyone else’s minor grumps/complaints except her own.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I think the larger point is still valid – this may just be a lack of self awareness on the complainer’s part.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      Heh, this reminds me of the time I was stuck on a hot, crowded, slow bus in horrific traffic. I was coming from the main university campus back to the office with some signed forms I needed for that afternoon’s grant deadline and was getting a bit stressed about how long the trip was taking. This student standing next to me moaned non-stop for half an hour about how crowded it was, how horrible it was that she had to stand, how hot it was, how bad the traffic was, over and over on an endless loop. When the seat next to us finally opened up, she looked at it then looked at me. I said “oh, please, take the seat. I’d rather stand all the way to Calgary than listen to another minute of your whining”. I got a round of applause from some of the other passengers, and one fist bump. I still feel a little bit bad for letting her get to me enough that I was so rude, but I’m kinda proud too :)

    3. vivace*

      That’s great you learned that at 13, because I know plenty of people over age 30 who still have not clued into this. I wish I had the guts to call out a particular person in my life. Impossible to have a conversation with her that doesn’t devolve into her complaining about every aspect of her life. Always the victim. And don’t ever try to commiserate with her because she will just try to one up your hardship.

  29. Lady Blerd*

    Oh this is perfect. I think I wrote about one of my reports in the Friday threads who loudly complains about work s hates. I’ve been wanting to have a chat with her about that because it can be draining and unprofessional as she does it in front of other employees. Now I know how to handle that chat.

  30. AFB*

    I had this situation and it took me a long time to finally put a stop to it. I think because I don’t have kids I was worried about being overly harsh or appearing like i couldn’t empathise with a working mother, so to begin with I would just listen to her vent about how unhappy she was being away from her kids. We work weekends and evenings but she has the most desirable shift pattern to work around her kids. She didn’t complain in front of other staff members but our 1-2-1s were basically an opportunity for her to express how much she hates the shifts, how her children CRY when she has to go to work at the weekend, and constantly discussing the possibility of reducing her hours so she can be at home more, which always ended with her choosing not to as she didn’t want to lose any money. I tried to be empathetic but also kept reminding her that I couldn’t change the role requirements and it was down to her to decide if it was right for her. I thought i was doing enough but I was still spending so much time discussing this with her.

    Eventually I sat her down and just spelled it out; the hours were what they were, she had to take it or leave it. If she decides that is not for her then we could work with her towards moving into a different role/job with more suitable hours. Or if she SERIOUSLY wants to reduce her hours then she can come to me with a plan of what she wants to do. However I also told her it’s a personal decision she needs to make with her family, I help make that decision for her and we won’t be discussing it any further in her 1-2-1s. It’s been several months now and she doesn’t bring it up anymore. We still talk about her kids in a more social way. She was actually fine with it and now we can use her 1-2-1s to discuss her development and projects. I wish i’d shut it down more firmly months ago

  31. Jill*

    As a newer mom I read a lot of mom blogs and, on a great many of them, there is a lot of shaming of women who work outside the home, as though being a stay at home mom is the highest calling and if you work, you’re putting career above your children. This mom may be vocalizing how much she misses her kids as a way of “proving” that her kids are the most important thing.

    Not that you owe her a psychoanalysis…or a pass. I agree with every one else that she needs to be spoken too. Perhaps pointing out how many other working moms are in the organization will help her realize that you can love your kids fiercely AND be a professional – the two aren’t mutually exclusive!

  32. Mortorph*

    What about the April NLRB ruling that said employers can’t force their employees to be positive? I hate a negative workplace, but can requiring employees to supress their reeling run afoul or that decision?

    1. HRish Dude*

      I don’t think it’s illegal to tell your employee to stop complaining about how much they hate being at work.

        1. Emmie*

          It wouldn’t apply here. The NLRB prohibited negativity in Hills b/c the policy impacted Section 7 activities like discussing working conditions, and unionizing. Here, the manager is counseling the employee that her comments about leaving children are negatively impacting the workplace, and are unprofessional. It’s not the Hills blanket company policy that prohibits every kind of negativity . The counseling here also doesn’t impact Section 7/8 activity.

    2. Liane*

      One of Liane’s Handy Dandy Customer Service Tips is applicable, with a couple word changes:
      “It is quite easy to smile sweetly and talk pleasantly while thinking, ‘You are the rudest, neediest person I have seen in the last 30 minutes.'” I am a major snark and I can do this for 8+ hour shifts. It didn’t affect my feelings *one bit*.

      Just switch out what’s in the single quotes with whatever workplace annoyances drag you down.

      1. Sarah*

        Thanks, I’m stealing this tip for my difficult to work with boss (who thinks I should be totally on top of the job after a 2 day handover and if I’m not the CEO is going to hold him to account). And this is for a two week temping assignment…..

  33. Letter writer*

    Hi, I’m the letter writer and I appreciate this and your responses so much. I was worried my own low tolerance for other people’s parenting / child related issues was clouding my judgment here. Thank you very much>

  34. Liane*

    Yeah, this is going to result in Morale Issues. Plus Perfect Mommy has no idea what other parents (or non-parents) might be going through with their familes, if only because she probably doesn’t shut up long enough to hear what they say.
    Twenty years ago this month, my then-infant son was in the hospital recovering from major surgery. I couldn’t afford to take off my job except for some of the diagnostic tests that led to surgery and the day of, even though I have no doubt Job would have let me. It was a temp position and my husband had been laid off the previous month. So Daddy could stay with him, pretty much 24/7.

    Everyone at job was very supportive and helpful, from the moment one of them asked me what was wrong & I told her, “I just got off phone with Husband & we agreed he was to sign surgery consents for tomorrow.” Because the company made ostomy products, which he would need for a couple months, it was colleagues, from Admin to Sales/Education to R&D who provided us with a lot of education & free products.

    Now, if instead, I had I had to listen to this, um, woman, every day–I don’t know what I would have done. At the very least it would have involved me screaming a “Count your blessings, Silly B–h” sermon at her until I either damaged my vocal chords or someone gagged me.

  35. boop*

    This story, and the parallel someone pointed out about the effect of openly unappreciating a child, reminds me to be a bit more bottled up at work. Complaining doesn’t actually help, it just brings everyone down.

    I think we just do it because we want others to feel bad like we do. Then it’s more “fair”, I guess.

    I’ve got no advice to offer, but working does suck. It sucks to read all of these letters and see that capitalism is still chipping away at all the rights past generations worked so hard to achieve. Work-life balance is the enemy of the Master. But we have to be happy, so that the rich CEOs don’t have to be aware of how they mold the world to their liking. We have to be happy so our coworkers don’t have to be aware of how meaningless life is, and so they can also fit the mold set out for them. We’re happy for the benefit of that one person at the top of the pyramid, yet pretend we’re doing it for our own well being.

    Strike that. Obey. Smile. Disappear.

    1. LD*

      Many people find their work meaningful…not everyone thinks work sucks. Some work does suck. Some days doing meaningful work that you enjoy sucks. But when it’s so bad for you that you can’t allow other people to enjoy their day, then it’s time to get help.

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