update: our horrible HR manager tells lies, is rude and petty, and won’t do her job

Remember the letter-writer in upper management at a company whose new HR manager told lies, was rude and petty, and wouldn’t do her job, and where the CEO refused to act? Here’s the update.

The management did exactly what you suggested. Our senior execs banded together and let the boss know the problems were intolerable. Most of it, he shrugged off. The one problem the boss keyed in on was that it had taken so many months to fill a vacant position – that he said he would look into. Apparently, he came back and told the department head over the position that he had spoken to HR, looked at the resumes, and this (part-time, clerical) position was just that hard to fill! (In other words, the HR lady completely snowed him.)

Still, his having looked into it had some positive effects, because – lo and behold – suddenly the position was filled the next week! And several other positions that came open were filled rapidly, too.

As for the other issues, for a while she improved. She kept to herself, didn’t insult or offend anyone. But she’s quickly sinking back into her old habits. For example, last week, she stood in the doorway of a manager’s office where he was having a work discussion with several employees and yelled, “What are you clowns doing in here?” as though they were in trouble. She thinks this is funny. The manager wasn’t amused, especially at being disrespected within the hearing of his entire staff.

She also may have just gotten sneakier about pursuing her vendettas. And at least one member of the group that confronted the boss about the HR manager believes she is being targeted by HR. The big boss’ attitude towards this exec suddenly turned sour after a long time of working well together, and she says she has reason to believe the HR lady may be suggesting negative ideas about her. So rather than pursuing her retaliation openly, maybe she’s just running whisper campaigns. I don’t know for certain.

What I do know is that morale is at the lowest I’ve seen it, and several of us are keeping our eyes out for opportunities elsewhere.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. hiptobesquare

    I was really hoping for a happy ending on this one. Your CEO’s behavior is baffling, to say the least. You think he would be concerned about morale.

    Hopefully something good turns up soon!

    1. Ama

      Some people are really, really good at “managing up.” I have seen it in action. The problem is the CEO’s morale is just fine — because the HR person is telling them how great everything is and that people who are unhappy are just troublemakers.

      In my experience, people like this only get exposed if they mess something up to the extent that the CEO/big bosses morale actually *is* affected (i.e. they mess up a project in a way that’s embarrassing or costly to the entire business or are horrible to someone who actually has enough clout with the big boss that the big boss believes them over the up-manager )

      1. Interviewer

        Agree 100%. He’s not uncomfortable yet. He’s riding above the fray, until someone yanks him off his horse.

        1. pope suburban

          Oooh, yes, this. That’s kind of the problem with my CEO too. He’s really conflict-averse, so he doesn’t do anything about staff problems, even when he really, really should. We’ve got a couple of what Captain Awkward calls “missing stairs” here, and rather than do anything about it, he just expects us all to keep hopping over them like we always have. Since the pain from these folks never reaches the CEO, he’s insulated, and even less likely to do something. It’s a really terrible loop, and I hope OP gets out, because no one should have to work in an environment like that.

          1. ArtsNerd

            Ugh missing stairs.

            At a former employer, our department was only saved from collapse by me and my coworker, who were relatively low level and hanging on by a thread. We finally got them to hire a consultant who basically immediately sat us down and said:

            “You are doing a great job of keeping these programs afloat and successful. Stop. It. Nothing’s going to change if you don’t let some balls drop and projects fail.”

            That comment changed my whole world.

          2. ProducerGal

            I’m in the same boat. Manager is afraid of setting off a lower-level ‘manager’ who acts like a petulant teen if she isn’t in the mood to act, oh, professional. Rather than address the employee, he just shrugs and says “That’s (so-and-so)!” and we are all expected to work AROUND her. She actually makes it borderline impossible to do our own jobs (hoarding information, taking us off of email chains and then replying right to him, so he has to call us and relay the information we SHOULD HAVE HAD on the email, etc). It’s a good job, I like what I do, but he’s made it clear that he intends to do NOTHING about her problematic behavior.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        I just don’t get how that could happen when all the execs complained together. The CEO can’t think they are all crazy.

        1. OhNo

          In this case, it sounds like the fact that they all complained together may have been a mark against them. The fact that they were united means the CEO only has to dismiss one complaint one time, not a dozen over the course of several weeks/months. Having to deal with the same issue over and over again would have lowered his morale, possibly enough to actually deal with the issue.

          Obviously with most managers it would go the other way – this kind of show of solidarity would and should be setting off warning klaxons all over the place. But this CEO is apparently loony.

          1. Kyrielle

            Or she’s given him a story that one or two malcontents (maybe the person now being targeted) roused the others to their ‘false story’ and etc.

          2. Ama

            Or the “oh they’re just unhappy because they don’t like change.” That one worked super well for a toxic VP I worked under who had the CEO thinking she was the greatest employee ever. It’s a great way to delegitimize mass opposition, especially in a large employer that doesn’t have a lot of turnover, as that one was.

      3. Jeanne

        I know this intellectually. It’s just hard when it’s happening to you (at any level of the organization).

    2. Annonymouse

      He’ll feel the pain when everyone leaves and tells him bluntly “it’s because the HR person has created a toxic environment”

      If a team of 20 loses 7 or more people and she is as bad at hiring as we’ve seen – well the pain train is going to stop at his desk really soon.

      1. Noobtastic

        A friend of mine once told me that his work environment was so bad, and the head boss was so bad at dealing with complaints, that an entire shift got together and agreed. At the beginning of their shift, they ALL marched into his office, and quit on the spot, leaving him floundering until the next shift came in.

        Eventually, the business got new management, but not until they got the reputation as the worst place in town, and all the customers actually drove to other towns to get the same stuff they could have gotten cheaper and more conveniently there. It just wasn’t worth it to the customers, because they never knew if the place would be staffed, or what the condition of the place would be, including hygiene. It was a mess.

        Sometimes, a wake-up call has to be downright brutal to actually work, if the boss is clueless enough.

        Also, is it just me, or did anyone else think that “she snowed him,” actually meant “she seduced him”? Seriously, this is just too hinky.

    1. Matt

      K- now I’m going to be having visions of Japanese game shows and Wile E. Coyote cartoons dancing in my head the rest of the day thinking about that! :)

  2. Lemon Zinger

    Yeah, it’s time to flee this sinking ship. The CEO is behaving abominably. I’m betting he has some kind of weird connection to the HR woman; why else would he be protecting her??

    1. LSP

      That’s what I keep thinking. Why would he be so attached to keeping someone who is driving all of his senior management (and below) batty? This is someone who sounds like could potentially put OP’s organization at risk for a lawsuit, the way she throws around insults and jibes. Why would the CEO want to risk that for someone he wasn’t emotionally close with?

      1. Honeybee

        Yeah, I don’t get it either. It’s one person vs. the entire senior management and, indirectly, everyone below them. This one person is ruining morale for the entire group. She can’t be worth that.

        1. RVA Cat

          It’s so irrational I wonder if they’re having an affair. That might explain why the CEO isn’t thinking with the brain between his ears…

  3. Jaguar

    This woman is a hilarious trainwreck. I’m sorry it’s so bleak for you, OP, but with distance, this stuff is amazing. Any other stories, perhaps?

  4. The Strand

    Crossing my fingers for all of you that you get new placements, fast as you can, and leave your big boss where he belongs – in the dust.

  5. GigglyPuff

    My guess is, if there isn’t some weird connection between the CEO and the HR woman, she’s pulling a complete 360 with him and some manipulation. Because if she previously had jobs every two years, my guess is, she knows she can stay as long as the CEO is on her side, so she’s digging in her claws.

  6. I GOTS TO KNOW!

    Man, if management could all manage to quit at the same time and tell the CEO why, maybe THAT will finally get him to act. I just cannot understand why he is protecting this woman. Are they friends? Are they sleeping together? Does she know where the bodies are buried??

    1. EddieSherbert

      I would be fantasizing about this all the time if I was the OP!

      Good luck getting out of that crazy environment, OP.

    2. AnonEMoose

      My personal “go to” thought in situations like this is that the person has pictures of the CEO (or whoever) in compromising positions with farm animals. No particular reason, except it makes me feel a little better.

      1. Caledonia

        you know, that’s funny because in the UK earlier this year or last year our now former prime minister did something with a pig a long time ago but became very public…

      2. Lily in NYC

        Ha, and I thought my theory was gross! (that she gave CEO his first BJ and he is forever grateful for it).

    3. Lana Kane

      That is my holiday wish for the OP – that they all find jobs and quit at the same time.

      It’s a fantasy I have had for myself and others many times, and how I wish I could actually see it in action someday!

  7. Lady phoenix

    10 bucks that HR lady has got something on the boss to stay /joking

    But on a serious note, a group quitting might do wonders.

    1. Is it Friday Yet?

      If it were me, I’d also leave a pretty honest review on Glassdoor, so those new employees know what they’re getting themselves into.

    2. Malibu Stacey

      Or the CEO knows something about her that makes him not want to fire her (like she’s in an abusive marriage or has a special needs child or something).

      1. Kyrielle

        But…it would actually be better for his business to pay her the same salary to stay home and _do nothing for them_….

      2. Stranger than fiction

        Oh god yeah. My BF’s emoloyer is currently protecting two completely incompetent coworkers- one has a kid who had cancer a few years ago, and one who has early (but obvious) dementia.

  8. F.

    Now THIS is a bad HR manager! On the surface, there appears to be no reason to keep her, but she may be working for far under the going wage, given her checkered employment history. Good, experienced (and especially SHRM or PHR certified) professional HR managers are expensive, as I learned when I had to replace myself in that role. We had to settle for the only even remotely qualified person who applied because they were the only one willing to take the pittance of a salary that was being offered. Many uninformed CEOs also see HR as just a paper-pushing clerk, and may not take seriously the damage she is doing to morale and the risks she is incurring for the company. I’m afraid that as long as she is in power and your conflict-averse, CEO is too afraid to do anything about her, you are in a no-win situation.

    1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

      The conflict-averse CEO is what really baffles me about this. How do you get to a position of so much responsibility and authority without being willing to do awkward, difficult, but obviously personnel-related tasks?

        1. babblemouth

          Yep. Some people build entire careers out of being Yes Men and taking the path of least resistance.

          1. The Strand

            True, and kind of counterintuitive when you see other leaders that are complete bullies. But for some people, they are just passive enough to keep failing upward.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        He doesn’t sound conflict averse; it sounds like he backs the pathological liar known as the HR officer.

    2. Malibu Stacey

      That’s what I was thinking, too. The worst HR Director I ever worked with had a background as EA/Office Manager who had done Payroll and stuff but was clearly in over her head and she would flip out on you for asking a question.

  9. Jessesgirl72

    I hope you all can find new jobs. Maybe if he loses enough top level executives, the CEO will do something. If not, the company will fail- and possibly be sued into bankruptcy!- and you’ll know that you did everything you could to stop it.

  10. Aurion

    Well, with so many of you ditching, at least you can all be references for each other and no one has to rely on this CEO or HR person, disasters they both are.

    Good luck bailing out of this sinking ship, all of you.

  11. Tangerina Warbleworth

    Has anyone just asked the CEO flat-out why he won’t address this? I’m serious:

    “Luke, why don’t you want to do anything about this issue?”

    … and then just wait for an answer.

    1. Tiny _Tiger

      I get the feeling he would either 1) BS his way through an answer and just expect people to accept it or 2) claim that he is doing something about it because the position got filled.

  12. A Noni Mouse

    At first I thought I was reading about a bank HR manager I worked with, but this woman just retired about six months ago. The woman I worked with constantly stirred the pot, pitting one employee against the other, lying, inferring and spreading malicious gossip. She even hired her own husband at a previous job. How she stayed ten years at my workplace is beyond me.

    All you can do is get out of that toxic place.

  13. Tiny _Tiger

    All I can really say is HOW?! HOW in the hell is your CEO being this passive when there was a mass movement of senior executives at his door telling him that they were beyond fed up?! The fact that he is trusting the word of this 1 woman over how many senior members of his team is just baffling to me. Either he genuinely just does not care or there is something going on behind the scenes that no one else is privy to. No matter the situation, I think a mass exodus of his best workers is called for here to smack some sense into him.

    1. Joseph

      No matter the situation, I think a mass exodus of his best workers is called for here to smack some sense into him.
      Frankly, if a mass movement of senior executives at his door hasn’t awoken him to the problem, then I think you’re well into the written-in-stone The Way It Is territory.

      1. AndersonDarling

        Ha! If all the managers left, it would take years for the incompetent HR Manager to hire the replacements.

  14. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, I am so sorry that your CEO is totally failing y’all right now. This seriously sounds on par with Pfizer for awful CEO/HR work shenanigans. (Would it be too passive-aggressive to leave copies of the FT coverage of Pfizer’s implosion around the office? I’m only 75% kidding.)

    I truly hope y’all are able to find a way to transition out. This ship is sinking, and it seems like the CEO is happy to laze about while HR keeps drilling holes in the hull.

  15. Zona the Great

    Why wouldn’t the ‘clown’ manager in the meeting challenge her? I think I understand correctly that only the CEO in this instance is above HR lady, right? If it were me being embarrassed and yelled at in front of my staff, I think I’d say “how dare you speak to me or my staff like that. You are never welcome to call names in my office. You owe us all an apology. I really don’t expect name calling from an HR professional” When someone does something like this in front of people, s/he loses the respect of being corrected in private.

    1. OP_here

      I’m assuming this person didn’t respond for fear of retaliation. Challenging the HR lady about her behavior has not gone well in the past for us.

  16. AMG

    Some people just cannot be helped, and your CEO is one of them. Nothing you can do at this point but leave.

  17. TJ

    I’m wondering if something could be done legally. Wouldn’t this be considered a hostile work environment? This is totally nuts OP. Hoping you find a job soon.

    1. Mananana

      Hostile work environment has a very specific legal definition relating to protected classes. In other words, it’s perfectly legal to be a jerk, as long as you’re not being a jerk towards someone BECAUSE they’re in a protected class(es).

    2. Candi

      From the original letter:

      “She saw two employees leaving for lunch and called after them, “Don’t make it a liquid lunch!” One of those employees was a recovering alcoholic and, assuming she knew that from the FMLA paperwork in his file, was deeply humiliated by the suggestion. When the employee’s manager went to speak to her about it, she first claimed it never happened (there were multiple witnesses), then said she didn’t remember but would apologize. Instead, she refused to speak to the employee for over a month and repeatedly made snide comments about him to others.”

      If she ain’t there yet, she’s headed that way with the steam engine wiiiiide open.

  18. wealhtheow

    This lady sounds SO MUCH like the woman who was the HR department head for several months at my work (borderline illiterate, dishonest, obnoxious, just generally baffling) after the long-standing previous person retired. Fortunately for all of us here, our CEO, although he has plenty of his own issues, did take action eventually. It was a really difficult six months, though, and I’m convinced that I and a number of other people were stiffed on promotional raises through her influence.

  19. Christine

    OP — what state do you live in? Is it one where you can tape a conversation and it’s legal, as long as you are participating in it? If it is, you guys need to tape your conversations and play back what she said when she denies it.

    I do wonder about dead bodies buried under the conference room. I’m keeping the Interviewer’s comment ” He’s not uncomfortable yet. He’s riding above the fray, until someone yanks him off his horse” for future reference. Love it!

    I truly wonder about managers avoiding conflict, rolling over and playing dead when it comes to dealing with personnel issues. I see it here, and the bullies just run all over them. The comment regarding the liquid lunch as terrible. Makes me wonder what else she runs her mouth about outside the office. You guys should look at her social media sites, if you’re lucky, she’s been stupid enough to post something ugly for the public to see about her employer, or co-workers. Even if it’s something that she cannot be terminated for (employee handbooks do not necessarily address social media & employers PR). If it conflicts with what she’s said, or her postings show her personality …. it might help boost your complaints.

    It’s a huge difference when something is made available to the public that reflects poorly on the employer.

    1. OP_here

      Thank you for the suggestion. I looked it up and in our state “an exception for in-person communications when the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversation, such as when they are engaged in conversation in a public place where they might reasonably be overheard.” So I think if we aren’t behind closed doors, we’d be safe to record her.

  20. Christine

    We had an employee that posted some awful stuff about her manager and the college on u-tube. She was stupid, told everyone at work about it than wondered why she got fired.

    I’m leaning towards the PR department if they have one. If an individual’s social media conflicts with the message of the employer or shows hate, ugliness for the company they work for and/or their co-workers & they list who is their current employer is …. couldn’t they be terminated depending on how bad it is …. it’s besides the point here, but I am saying if her social medial supports her personality that the CEO isn’t seeing, it can be physical proof that the CEO cannot ignore.

  21. INFJ

    This is the most depressing update week.

    If even the senior execs couldn’t help the situation, CEO and HR lady are a lost cause

      1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

        I have Thursday and Friday off from work, and happy AAM updates will make my mini-vacation even better!

        1. paul

          It’s the liver boss! He was fired, his relative recovered and is A-OK, and the company gave all his direct reports bonuses as an apology.

          *please*, I need happy news. We lost a client (as in dead, not discharged) this week, I need happy things.

  22. NW Mossy

    While I think looking for another place to work is the right Plan A, OP, one thing your senior management might try is seeking to understand what your CEO cares about more than anything else at work and leverage that in an effort to get him to see sense.

    Loves profits? She’s costing the company money.
    Hates conflict? She’s causing it.
    Very lazy? She’s making more work for him in creating complaints for him to deal with.

    Not knowing your CEO, I can’t say what would work, but the key is to find the thing that gets him more worked up than anything else and point out how she’s either preventing more of a good thing or causing more of a bad thing.

    1. Gaara

      The problem is if it’s “hates conflict,” she’s not causing conflict with the CEO. Not as far as the CEO is concerned.

  23. Imaginary Number

    To be fair, “What are you clowns doing in here?” sounds more like an awkward attempt to be sociable than an intentional insult. But the rest is ridiculous.

    1. OP_here

      We all agree that the comment was just her terrible sense of humor, but so was the “don’t make it a liquid lunch” comment. The problem is that it’s not super appropriate from HR to make those kinds of jokes, and that she can’t be talked to about it without fear of retribution.

  24. Venus Supreme

    I am at a complete loss. I wouldn’t know what to do about this other than quitting. Alison, what say you?

  25. Aglaia761

    Has the suggestion to paperwork her to death via email been made?

    Email 1: Hello Jane, attached is the job description for the Teapot Designer position. If you could please let me know when it’s posted on the website, I would appreciate it. I plan on sharing the link with my professional network to promote it.

    Email 2: Hello Jane, I never received a response regarding the open position that was to be posted last week and I do not see it on the website. Can you give me an update on the status by X date.

    Email 3: Hello Jane, I’m following up again regarding the open position that was to be posted 2 weeks ago. As this is a critical need for our team I’m a bit concerned that it has not been posted. I also have several people interested in applying and they need the link to do so. Can you please give me an update on the status of this job posting by X Date.

    Email 4: Hello Jane, what’s the status on posting the Teapot designer position to our website? It’s now been 3 weeks since you received it, with no update.

    Email 5: To: Feargus
    CC: Jane
    Hello Feargus, I’d like to sit down with you and Jane to discuss the Teapot designer position that we’re hiring for. As you can see in the included emails, the position has not been posted and there have been no updates. I have several candidates who are interested in the position through my network and want to make sure we don’t lose them. I want to sit down with the three of us to discuss next steps and how we make sure we’re on the same page regarding posting jobs going forward.

    You get the gist, but basically she gets a week between emails to update you. If she does her job, you say great and then start following up with updates on the next steps. If not, then you loop in the CEO after her third strike. You should also do it when there is a verbal conversation as well.

    Jane: “look you idiot, I’ll post that job when I get to it, stop bothering me about it!”

    You: Hello Jane, I just wanted to confirm based on our chat in the hallway that you’ll be posting the job by the end of the week. I’ll follow up with you next week for an update.

    Even better if there is a formal hiring policy, since your CEO likes them so much. Then you can point out when she’s not following the written policy in each email as well.

    Its a pain in the ass to start doing it, but Jane is really going to start to hate seeing “Hello Jane,” in her message previews. And keeping the tone light will help if her crazy starts to come out.

    1. The Strand

      This is great advice, especially coupled with the “journaling” advice given to the manager who updated yesterday, who is being sexually harassed by her colleague, and has a boss who insulted her mother. Because this gives people independent means to point out to the boss, “A wasn’t done for me,” while Colleague #2 and #3 can say, “Z was never posted,” “We still don’t have the paperwork allowing us to move forward on Project 44.”

      Absolutely agree to keep the tone light, professional and persistent, but never snarky.

    2. OP_here

      Sadly, one of the managers got in big trouble for trying this. The boss was overheard shouting “enough with your damn emails!” It’s just time to leave, I think.

  26. Soupspoon McGee

    You can’t change the CEO’s mind, in my experience, and if you push it, you’re the bad guy.

    I worked at a place where the CEO had horrifically bad judgement about people. She brought in this guy who promised to make the organization gazillions of dollars, then screamed at my grantwriter that it wasn’t his job to come up with the details. She hired a fundraiser who referred to a group of our students as “the illegals” and committed various kinds of fraud and stupidity before the board finally forced her to let him go a year later. In both cases, I was probably too vocal about my concerns. I was pushed out before she left to go screw up another place.

  27. Less anonymous than before

    HR loony has CEO in her pocket somehow.

    But I really hope several staff leave all within a short period of time to one another… that’s gonna be a wake up call to CEO. But thankfully will no longer be affected staffs problem.

  28. OlympiasEpiriot

    Ya know, I’m *almost* tempted to ask ‘Is this HR manager insert particular, real name here?’ because that “What are are you clowns doing in there?” line sounds so familiar.

    >immediately sits on hands<

    1. OlympiasEpiriot

      That bit saying

      insert particular, real name here

      was meant to be underlined. I now know that the html for that doesn’t work here.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot

          Whoops! I never said thank you for that. Consider it said now, please.

          :-)

          Also, I wish there was another update to this story…even just learning that OP_here got another job that isn’t toxic would be fantastic.

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