should I re-hire an employee with a terrible attitude?

A reader writes:

I briefly worked at a terrible company, where I was brought in to help fix problems with a department that had been underperforming due mostly to incompetent leadership. Soon after I was hired, it became obvious to me that the company was a mess and that they hadn’t been honest with me about important aspects of the job, so I made the decision to move on after less than six months.

I did my best to be a good leader while I was there and for the most part succeeded. However, one person on my team – Joe – was very difficult from the day we met. He was combative, rude, and insubordinate, and our entire time working together was a game of chicken, wherein he was daring me to fire him while making it clear that, for political reasons, he was sure that I did not have the power to do so (he was basically correct). Despite his attitude, he was easily the most qualified person on my team, but nothing I did to try to connect with him worked. In his defense, this company was a nightmare and most people who had been there for a while were extremely frustrated. On the other hand, he had been there for several years, by his own admission had hated it the entire time, and yet seemed content to stay and be a thorn in the side of every manager he had rather than move on or attempt to fix the issue.

This former company (unsurprisingly) became insolvent and is now selling off the line of business that I managed, and my current company is in the process of purchasing it. It will be under my org once the transaction closes. Most other competent people from the old company have already left, and so Joe is one of the few with any institutional knowledge – and this company was so mismanaged that a lot of key information is likely missing from the documentation that we’ll receive.

Normally I’d want to hire someone from the former company to help us make sure the takeover is successful, and for various reasons, Joe is the logical option – the other people who are still there are either too junior or incompetent. Joe has made it clear that he would not accept a contractor position – it is regular full-time employment or nothing.

Several peers from my current company have been pressuring me to give Joe a shot because they are concerned that we need someone who “knows where the bodies are buried.” But none of them knew him previously, and right now he’s on good behavior because he really wants a job with us – he is the deal lead on his side and when he tries, he is capable of making a very good impression. Part of me agrees that we do need him, but I’m very hesitant to bring in someone who I know to be a chronic attitude problem and who has stated clearly in the past that he has no respect for me as a leader.

This feels like a “no win” scenario. If I refuse to hire him and the transition goes poorly (I am the primary person responsible for its success), people will say it was reckless not to have brought Joe on. But if I hire him and he’s the complete jerk that I’ve seen him to be in the past, I will be severely distracted by dealing with a nasty, disrespectful employee who is a master of toeing the line in a way that makes him very hard to fire. What should I do?

Good god, no, don’t re-hire someone who you know to be a nightmare and who has directly told you that he doesn’t respect you.

And you need to tell your colleagues at your new company why you won’t hire him so that they have context for your decision. For example: “When I worked with him in the past, Joe’s behavior was chronically toxic and disruptive. He was abrasive and alienated most colleagues, disrupted meetings, quarreled regularly with peers and those above him, and regularly refused to do assignments he didn’t care for (or whatever the specifics are). At any other company I would have fired him, except there he was protected politically. But I would never knowingly invite that disruption on to my team; the value he brought was far outweighed by the disruption he caused.”

The only exception to this is maybe if you are very, very sure that your current company would let you actually manage Joe this time — meaning that you could hold him to reasonable standards of behavior and fire him if he doesn’t meet them. If you wanted to pursue that option, though, I’d tell him very clearly beforehand what to expect. For instance: “I value the work that you do on X and Y and the knowledge that you’d bring on Z. However, as you know, I had serious concerns about your behavior when we last worked together. In my experience, you were combative and abrasive with me and other colleagues, to the point that it impacted your effectiveness in your role. I want to be very clear that that’s not something I’d allow in this job. If the same problems came up again, we would need to quickly part ways. And I want to make sure that you know that this company is much quicker to take action on those kinds of issues.”

But before even considering this, you’d need to double and triple check with your new boss and your new HR department that you’d have complete authority to fire Joe and that they wouldn’t stand in your way if it came to that. And frankly, even if they give you every assurance of support in the world, I’d still advise against it, given what you know about Joe. I’d even worry that he might poison trash-talk you to your new colleagues — after all, this is someone who told you that he doesn’t respect you.

Institutional knowledge is valuable. But people often over-value it to the point that they keep on people who they really, really shouldn’t keep on. If Joe weren’t interested in the job or if he disappeared tomorrow to live off the grid, you’d find a way to function, right? It’s hard to imagine that you shouldn’t just do that now, given the very likely price of hiring Joe.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 293 comments… read them below }

      1. Charlie*

        I had the Nope song from How I Met Your Mother: Nope, nope, nope-ity nope, nope nope nope nope-ity nope!

      2. Jadelyn*

        Oh, lord, I do her “NEWP” all the time. It’s my favorite work-appropriate “hell no!” response!

    1. Mike C.*

      I don’t think it’s all that obvious. While I don’t disagree with the advice posted, I think there are two important things to consider – toxic workplaces make people do really bad things and is this business unit where health/safety is important or is otherwise heavily regulated?

      The first isn’t meant to be an excuse Joe’s bad behavior, but I’ve seen it before, I’ve experienced it personally and it can be a huge shift going into an environment that is relatively normal. I think if you’re going to consider going through with this you need to have a sit down conversation with this dude about your expectations

      The second part is much more key in my mind. I know a lot of folks are dismissing the value of institutional knowledge, but where I am that sort of thing has a huge effect on health/safety practices and in keeping with our legal and regulatory requirements. If you decide that you don’t need any help (and don’t have the experience elsewhere) you’re going to be in for a bad time. I’ve been in the place of trying to recreate the wheel and it was incredibly expensive and the vast majority of the time the correct solution was, “do what we had been doing in the past”.

      So I guess while I generally agree here, I don’t think this is the trivial calculation that many make it out to be.

      1. Seal*

        Same here and I agree with you on this. I would also underscore the fact that the OP only managed Joe for less than 6 months in what was described as a nightmare of a company. While I don’t think Joe’s past behavior should be dismissed, I would be in favor of giving him a chance, albeit under very specific, controlled circumstances.

        1. Artemesia*

          There are not going to be very specific, controlled circumstances though. EVen if they hire him and the OP has firing power I would bet that this guy is a master manipulator who will end up weasling his way in and undercutting her. She will never be able to fire him. And the emotional toll this will take on her will be huge. And her own bosses are likely to view her as the ’emotional woman’ who can’t manage after he succeeds in undercutting her. Why invite the scorpion onto your back to cross the river when you know his nature already?

          1. Mike C.*

            I think the whole Svengali thing is a bit over the top. Why do you think he’s a master manipulator that will somehow be able to counter management’s assertions that the OP would be allowed to fire him?

            1. Artemesia*

              Because the best prediction of future behavior is past behavior. He managed to make himself unfireable at his previous job and openly attack and show disrespect to his boss — the OP who had no tools to fire him. His first steps in the new company will be to make sure he is unfireable — by bonding with sexist male bosses and painting the OP as a hysterical woman, by hoarding his information etc etc. This is more likely than that he will become a cooperative employee who shows respect to the OP. There is nothing to suggest that would occur and plenty to suggest it wouldn’t. He has shown her who he is. She should believe it and be equally devious i.e. make sure the way she presents his deficiencies to her bosses is measured and vivid about the damage he can do rather than to personalize it.

              People are who they are.

              1. AD*


                Did you have access to a longer, unedited version of OP’s letter? I see no indication that OP is female or that the executives/leaders at this organization are male and/or inherently sexist.

                I hate to sound like a grouch on my first comment of the new year, but Alison really clearly outlined recently that comments that are speculative about sexism (where there is no reference to an applicable situation in a letter) are counter-productive to this site. Your comment is tremendously speculative.

                1. Zombii*

                  Seriously. Where did any of that come from?

                  Fwiw, most of the times I’ve worked with people who were unfireable, those people were either family of, childhood friends of, or sleeping with management/HR/the owner. It also usually takes a little bit more than one new hire shouting bro culture cliches to disrupt an toxify an otherwise functioning workplace.

                  (Still think he shouldn’t be hired; don’t think it’s in any way “devious” for OP to give context to the appropriate people to prevent him from being hired.)

                2. Starbuck*

                  Op commented below, and it turns out this problem guy is already doing exactly what the above commenter described- promoting a sexist culture among op’s male colleages to undermine her.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep — I’ve asked that we not introduce gender stuff without clear reason to do it, because otherwise it will derail every discussion here. In this case, it turns out that the OP does think there’s a gender thing going on, but that just emerged late in the day and wasn’t previously know.

              2. snuck*

                I agree in principle with Artemesia (but not sure about the example she gives about hysterical women).

                The reality is that the OP and this employee have a past history of their interpersonal relationship being fraught and disrespectful.

                That history is what is ever present in the OP’s mind… and one would assume so in the employee’s mind too.

                The employee sounds like he’s highly institutionalised to that toxic work environment, not finding other work when quality employees have left, even with the writing on the wall. He’s going to come over, bring all his existing expectations and protocols and quirks, and step back into a different floor plan but essentially similar reporting structure to the one he had before that was so bad the OP decided to leave the company and move on….

                And now the employee has MORE power because he is the font of knowledge from the old place. He doesn’t need to run around destroying relationships (although he could well do this), because he has this supposedly so fantabulous knowledge that he can’t be fired, so amazeballs wonderful that even though he was a complete and utter dick to the manager in the past the manager is compelled to take him. And that behaviour in the recent past is just going to continue…

                I’d be saying to the team “This guy was institutionalised, he was difficult to manage, insubordinate, worked his way around all attempts to discipline himself, a master manipulator. I’m not having him permanently on my team. I’ll take him on as six month fixed term contract, or a 12 month probation at best, with clear expectations for what work he will be doing, the understanding that he stays under me for that time and cannot apply for jobs elsewhere in this company for a year, and that that is only under duress. Oh. And I reserve total control of firing this guy if he starts to show the previous behaviours, without recourse. ”

                And if they look shocked follow up with “Yes. He really is that bad. And I’m not letting him weasel his way in, and then jump onto one of your ships to pollute it from within. If after 12 months he is flying right then it’s fine and easy to let him stay right? If he can’t agree to this then why not? What has he got to lose? It’s a two way street – sure we want his information, but he wants a job – and we’re offering him one, but also letting him know he needs to fit the team here or he can’t stay, and that’s reasonable.”

                And if he won’t take the offer of a 12 month probation, or six month fixed term contract… walk away. He’s up to no good… or he isn’t willing to risk his chances because he knows he can’t walk the line you want… which means you don’t want him. It’s a bit brutal – normally you’d do a show of good faith and offer a nice stable role – but in his case you know his history.

                Another idea is to look at the others in the workplace, or reach out to former / recent past employees (find them on LinkedIn) and see if any of them are suitable again, you might find there’s a couple there who you have underestimated, or who moved on to other roles and could be prepared to come back and work with you away from toxic city.

                1. Zombii*

                  This is a really good point. Sure he said “No contract, full-time job or nothing,” … so reply with “Counteroffer: 6-month contract, renewable for another 6 months if necessary, while you make a process document so we can run this thing without you.”

                  I’m thinking since he didn’t jump ship earlier, he maybe just sucks at job-searching and he knows it so doesn’t want to do it, but might be willing to take the contract if it’s the only offer. Because, you know, dude’s gotta eat.

                2. Been There, Done That*

                  Zombii has a good idea–essentially taking him on on an iron-clad contract to write a manual. If he fulfills the contract to satisfaction (including providing verified full, accurate information in the process document), then the possibility of renewing/hiring would be a separate transaction.

                  And as a friend’s mother once said when faced with losing the long-time, highly valued employee who Knew Everything, “If Sara leaves, someone else will learn the job.”

          2. Jane*

            OP here – Artemesia, I appreciate that you picked up on the gender dynamic here – thank you. I am the only woman at my level or above in this company (it’s a very male-dominated industry) and I think you voiced something else that has been in the back of my mind but I hadn’t really hashed out – I already notice during the diligence process the way he is clearing trying to cultivate a bro vibe with my male colleagues – I find myself worrying he’ll continue that after I hire him and it will become one of those situations where he buddy-buddies with the guys at and above my peer level while saving his difficult side for me, until my management ability starts being questioned (like “well gosh, Joe seems like a perfectly nice guy whenever I talk to him, maybe Jane is just being too sensitive! PMS, amirite?”). That may sound paranoid, but I watched something very similar happen to a mentor of mine a couple of years ago and it did real damage to her career. I like to believe that my colleagues know me better than that and that my reputation and track record speaks for itself, but I also think that it’s a very hard battle to fight because you’re stuck arguing about perceptions instead of facts.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Aaaaaaaaagh, OP, if he’s already trying to cultivate a ‘bro vibe’ with your male peers, and you’re in a male-dominated industry… well, I had been in a “don’t hire this dude” position before, but now I am in a “DON’T HIRE THIS DUDE” position.

              I also work in a male-dominated industry, and I gotta say, if you are already worried that he’s trying to undermine you with your male coworkers–when he hasn’t even been HIRED yet–that is… well… a horrifying number of red flags. Because it means that not only is he in a position to pull a “you can’t fire me because I have the important knowledge, which I will tease out as slowly as possible, so ha ha, you’re right back where you were to start with” on you, he’s also in a position to pull a “bitches be crazy” on you with your male colleagues, as you say. I mean, he’s already more or less setting the groundwork for that and he hasn’t even been hired! He’s signalling pretty clearly that he plans to undermine you! And as you say, people often think that it’s paranoid until they see it happen–and it does happen, and they go, gosh, you must’ve been stupid to hire him!

              Especially with female managers of “combative, rude, and insubordinate” subordinates.

              Don’t hire him, don’t hire him, don’t hire him. I would bet you real cold hard cash that any reputation hit you might take for not hiring him–even if things go badly with this acquisition–will be far less than if you hire an actively insubordinate man in a male-dominated industry who is already attempting to use a ‘bro vibe’ to countermand your authority even before he gets hired.

              All the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck just thinking about it.

            2. Anne (with an "e")*

              “… I also think it’s a very hard battle to fight because you’re stuck arguing about perceptions instead of facts.”

              I totally agree. As the saying goes, “Perception is reality.”

              I strongly urge you not to hire this problem person. In the end, it would be a nightmare.

      2. LQ*

        To the first point here, if that is the case then I think that it would be bad for Joe to stay in this job. It will feel too much like the old one and it will be to easy to hang onto old habits. The best for Joe would also be for him to find a new job. Try to make the transition out easy for him, and wish him luck in finding something new.

        And that might be he’s on for 6 months with the understanding that he will be laid off then. Give him time, unload institutional knowledge, but Joe’s bad behavior isn’t going to change with a situation that feels pretty darn similar, working on the same thing, for a boss you’ve had and literally challenged to fire you in the past? That’s not a set up for growth and change. That’s a set up for repeating the same thing.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yep, that’s my thought. If Joe really is a potentially okay employee who was driven to extreme disrespectful obnoxiousness by a sick system, then working with the same or very similar knowledge/information, for the same manager, is probably the worst way to fix that. From that POV, it would be good not only for the LW but for Joe for him to not get a job with her. Reproducing the context isn’t good for anybody, regardless of whether Joe was an asshole (and you’re reproducing a context where he can be an asshole without fear of firing) or the system was broken (and you’re putting him a situation where he and the LW both will be reminded of the brokenness every day rather than getting a clean separation and fresh start).

        2. Mike C.*

          I strongly disagree. I would have stayed at my toxic workplace if it were sold because the source of the problem – the founder – would then be gone.

      3. Honeybee*

        Institutional knowledge is valuable, but its value is diminished when the holder is a snotty, rude, abrasive jerk who doesn’t want to work with you, is deliberately insubordinate, and doesn’t actually want to share any of the institutional knowledge. And while it might be expensive on the front end to recreate it, it will be far more expensive to replace staff that Joe runs off with his terrible attitude or to fix the culture that he ruins if he ports his toxicity over.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Ding ding ding!!!! This is exactly it. His knowledge is only valuable insofar as you can use it. It becomes even less valuable when you’re stuck continually replacing all the staff who don’t want to work with such a glassbowl.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes! I always wish managers would read The No A$$hole Rule. It’s quick and easy, and spells out the costs of keeping toxic people like Joe on board (although at last in that book, toxic people add some other value beyond information hoarding—it’s just that the cost of having them on board outweighs that value).

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m certainly a fan of this philosophy, I just don’t want folks to be so dismissive of institutional experience in general. After all, why is the first requirement for any job years of experience in the role?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You bring up a totally fair point, and I agree that it’s much harder to enforce the “no jerk” rule if there’s other institutional experience that you need to be able to access.

      4. Gaara*

        Even if his behavior was caused by the toxic work environment, and even if he will shape up in a new environment, I find it really hard to believe that he can work out here. He would need a fresh start, and I don’t think this acquisition really qualifies as a fresh enough start.

          1. Gaara*

            Because his negative behavior would be rewarded as he was “acquired” as an employee, and he’d be working for someone from the old firm that he already has this established dysfunctional relationship with.

      5. Jill*

        I came here to say this. Under Old Boss, my attitude was crap – I was grumpy, did the bare minimum, didn’t participate in office fun, etc. I hated Old Boss with a vengeance, hated the work I did, and that was in 2009 when the economy tanked so getting a new job elsewhere was near impossible. I was stuck, I knew it, and it showed in my attitude. Then New Boss with New Management Style came on and she was the breath of fresh air I needed. I’m still in the same job, love it, and have a totally new attitude just because the toxicity of Old Boss was finally gone.

        This may be why the OP’s problem employee had the crappy attitude that he had. I think before hiring him, re-interviewing him is a good idea – you need to flesh out how much of his attitude is the real him and how much of it was just the influence of the old environment.

        1. Nolan*

          But in your scenario when the new managers arrived you didn’t cause conflict and tell them you didn’t respect them or their authority, you worked with them and things improved. Joe actively worked against the OP at the old job and said those things to her, while other employees in her charge improved in her short time there. To me that indicates that the old company was only part of the problem, and that Joe was taking advantage of the dysfunction and the political gains he acquired from it, he was part of the problem, not a victim of it.

      6. JB (not in Houston)*

        I don’t see people saying it’s trivial so much as relatively easy.

        If a judge is deciding an appeal of someone who was convicted of a crime and sentenced to life imprisonment, the judge’s determination isn’t trivial by any means. But in some cases, it will be relatively easy for the judge to make a decision given the facts and the law.

        Here, it’s not a trivial calculation, but, given what the OP knows about Joe, it sounds like it’s a pretty easy decision to make–easy as in the the benefits of having him there are, absent facts we don’t have, vastly outweighed by the downside.

      7. Annonymouse*

        But I don’t think it was all toxic workplaces fault.

        A new manager was brought in (OP) without any of the baggage or taint of toxic co ….. And Joe was combative, insubordinate and dared (!) OP to fire him knowing she couldn’t.

        This doesn’t sound like someone that is going to have a sudden change of heart or become a better worker.

        He had his chance to prove to OP what he’s like and she would be a fool to hire him again or hire him without a long probation with clearly defined expectations that if he doesn’t meet he is gone.

        OP has also mentioned below that Joe is already cultivating a bro culture with her superiors so if she hires him she won’t be able to fire him.

        Don’t let him have a chance to destroy you OP.

      8. Sas*

        Agree again. “toxic workplaces make people do really bad things” They do. Not that this was addressed in the letter, but another reason why I am not all about nail it to ’em hard recommendations or lack of them. A person’s response to toxicity should not be viewed under a microscope. Second chances should not be so hard to come by. This doesn’t mean that OP needs to work with this person, however.

  1. Captain Radish*

    It’s entirely possible (however unlikely) that Joe will realize that he cannot continue his attitude and shape up under real management.

    It’s also possible that I can sprout wings and fly to the roof of my warehouse.

    1. Artemesia*

      And spare me the guy who uses ‘institutional knowledge’ as a weapon. I have had to deal with someone who hoarded knowledge of a key system and refused to facilitate cross training; the best day in that process was the day we fired him. No one is indispensable and you would be unwise to bring someone onto the team who has been not just difficult in general but actively hostile to you.

      You need to lay it out to your own bosses — don’t stress his insolence to you personally but stress how disruptive he was, how much he affected the team’s productivity, that he refused to do key tasks and was actively undermining. This is not someone to ‘give a chance’. Note also that people like this are good at lining up your bosses against you. Don’t give the scorpion a ride across this river; you know his nature.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Institutional Knowledge = ‘My Precious.’

        Joe is going to hoard knowledge the way Sméagol did the ring. Sméagol was not a team player. (Ask Frodo and Sam how they know this.) Joe will not be a team player either.

        1. Charlie*

          If Hobbits were corporate: “Smeagol, we’re concerned that you’re not a team player. We really need to leverage the sum total of our core competencies to redefine this Sauron paradigm, and we need you on board. Please sign this PIP.”


          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Naw, if Hobbits were corporate they would never get anything done in between all their meals and revelry!

            1. E, F and G*

              They unionised after those wolves at the competitors tried to do them in. Although there were some downsides for both sides the employees managed to argue in favour of a combination five meal and snack breaks per day and two more if they work late.

        2. Anne (with an "e")*

          Tom Riddle, having attended the school for seven years, had institutional knowledge about Hogwarts but Dumbledore refused to hire him. Hogwarts managed to get along without Tom, even though he did put a curse on the Defense teaching position.

          1. Julia*

            Love this! Although I guess most former students had the same knowledge, just without that one secret chamber no one really needed and that even the house elves would have barely been able to clean.

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        Preach. I wish my predecessor had left more information, but building my program my way has been great. OldJob had several Holders of the Tribal Knowledge, and without them no one thought they could function. It’s harder to function without it, but rarely impossible. Plan for things to take longer in the beginning, but once it’s established (with proper documentation materials as you go), it gets faster, easier, and it’s YOUR organization’s way without a disruptive force slowing the process of making it your own. Long term, how much do you need the “buried bodies” of an organization that no longer exists, imparted by a difficult blowhard?

        1. Parenthetically*

          That’s a really good point. I was given virtually nothing starting out here, institutional-knowledge-wise, and now I’ve got systems in place that work really well for me. Was it ideal in my first couple years working by trial and error? Obviously not, but things are fine now. I’m looking toward leaving in the next couple of years so I’m carefully documenting for a future employee, but I’m doing so fully cognizant that someone else might develop a better system than the one I’ve developed.

        2. snuck*

          I guess some of this comes down to what that institutionalised knowledge is.

          If it’s in house processes and policies then it could be cumbersome but not impossible to move on without it… it’s not mission failure time, but could be difficult.

          If it’s job role specific decision making – like a lawyer or medical practitioner – then taking them on might be a necessity – there’s a LOT of information that is rarely reflected in notes, but these people could be taken on in a consulting role.

          If it’s systems knowledge (IT and related software) then assume it’s replaceable. Even if it’s an inhouse system you can probably find a person with enough programming knowledge to carry on, or pay an exorbitant fee to the existing person to complete upgrades and tasks. You can also make it a condition of the merger of the company that certain tasks are done before handover. And unless you are buying the new company for that specific software consider merging the data and putting the new company on your existing platforms ASAP. You’d be surprised who else has deep knowledge of systems in these situations. Often the data base admin thinks they have it all, but someone who is savvy, has moved around the company in several roles and worked in other industries/companies might have what you need too.

      3. Gandalf the Nude*

        And the thing about institutional knowledge is that the pain of not having it will eventually resolve itself, but the pain of depending on a problem employee who hoards it will go on indefinitely.

      4. Old Admin*

        Oh yes, we had a guy who wrote his entire training materials in several language in a markup language in ONE huge, clunky, unwieldy file that magically created the mich needed documents – but he refused to let anybody else maintain the file, even kept it on his personal laptop only, hoarded the knowledge who to build the documents, gave other people who had been ordered to retranslate the foreign languages basically the finger… job preservation much? :-)

        It didn’t help him – when he left for greener pastures, arrogantly declaring we would never unravel his stuff, we just buckled down and fixed it (basically redid it).

        The lesson was that it’s almost impossible to hold a company truly hostage with any kind of knowledge.
        The alternative might be a lot of work, but the blackmailer can always be gotten rid of.

      5. Bibliovore*

        This. Institutional knowledge is only helpful if the person who holds it shares the information for the betterment of the team. When I entered a new management position the person who had the institutional knowledge set me up for failure in a myriad of ways. Why take this on? Document his previous behavior/attitude to your present supervisors to explain that entering an agreement with someone who has demonstrated bad/unproductive work habits is a bad idea. Do not excuse his behavior with previous bad management.

        Also…he would rather not have a job than accept a contract work? Just say no to Joe.
        oh and knowing where the bodies are buried. Not so helpful if he was the one who helped bury them.

    2. Liane*

      I think it is Caroline Hax, but it could be one of the 2 latest Prudences, has advised more than once that you don’t have to stick around/come back for the changes/shaping up. The Problem Person caused you a lot of trouble/pain, so they can just live their changed life minus you.

      Very much applies here.

      1. Lissa*

        Yes, I very much feel this way as somebody who *does* really believe people can change for the better, and has seen it. Sometimes you’ve just burned too many bridges and caused too many bad feelings that it would be better for everyone to get a fresh start.

  2. orchidsandtea*

    Give me one good reason Joe wouldn’t hold his institutional knowledge hostage long enough to preserve his job, poison your reputation, and make your life miserable.

    1. AMG*

      Exactly. Go ahead and try to get some documentation for that institutional knowledge and see how that goes over. I can see why you considered it but he isn’t truly motivated to change–he’s just faking for the short term. NOBODY is irreplaceable. Not even Joe. I have seen enough mergers & acquisitions to know that you will be fine without him, no matter how much he knows.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Although, given that he *is* on his best behavior, now would be the best time to try to get documentation. See how he responds to that. It would be a decent litmus test – although tbh I doubt I’d hire him regardless of how he responds to the request for documentation, but that’s me.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Normally I’d agree, but the point about him refusing to accept a contractor position in lieu of full employment, in light of his history with OP and that this is him on “good behavior,” makes me think there is not an ice cube’s chance in hell he’ll do anything that would undermine his “hire-ability value” vis-a-vis the acquisition.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Probably not, you’re right – but that’s why I mention it as a litmus test. I feel like his response, probably being “NOPE”, would make it pretty clear that he’s not willing to put aside his toxic behavior and put organizational needs as a priority over his own grudges, which actually might strengthen OP’s case to NOT hire him in case they get pushback from the new company about not hiring Mr Toxic.

    2. Hermione*

      Exactly. I think you’re better off searching out some of his/your former colleagues – it’s possible some/one of them may have quit without full-time employment before the ship sank and could hold some of that institutional knowledge without the horrific baggage Joe comes with.

      1. orchidsandtea*

        Even some of the ones who do have full-time jobs might be willing to do some contracting on the side.

    3. BRR*

      I was contemplating the idea of maybe he could be brought on as a short-term consultant but your comment snapped me back to reality. “wherein he was daring me to fire him while making it clear that, for political reasons, he was sure that I did not have the power to do so.” I believe he has shown his hand.

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’ve seen people who are better employees than Joe hoard institutional knowledge and refuse to share it. They’re much more subtle than I make it sound, but it’s really obvious.

    5. I WAS THERE!!*

      This comment needs to be highlighted with bright lights, a neon flash, and some loud noises. This is exactly my thoughts.

      DON’T DO IT. Operate as if Joe fell into an open manhole never to be seen again, and figure out how to make things happen without his input.

  3. Wehaf*

    If you decide not to hire him but get a lot of pushback (or are worried that if the transition goes badly you’ll be blamed), is it possible you could bring him on as a short-term contractor, just to get the knowledge transferred?

    1. Important Moi*

      While I see how a contract position for Joe would be good for OP, I’m not surprised Joe won’t accept one.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Honestly, even if he’d accept it, I wouldn’t recommend hiring him on any basis.

      1. Blossom*

        I’m sceptical it would be good for OP. No way is he just going to sit quietly for six months writing helpful and comprehensive documentation, then skip off happily into the future. He will spend those six months battling for a full-time job, and he will not spare the OP if she is the one standing in his way. As soon as OP gives him a job – contract or perm – he will feel that he’s “won”, and have even less respect for her than before.

        Please don’t do it.

    2. Squirrel*

      According to the letter, he’s said that it’s full time or nothing. He’s playing chicken again with the OP. Yes, that is a reasonable solution for reasonable people but Joe knows his institutional knowledge is his only bargaining chip and wants to exploit it. This action is consistent with his behavior described elsewhere by the OP so I’d say that the all or nothing thing is an important piece of evidence for documenting to higher-ups why he should not be hired under any circumstances.

      1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Yep, you’re right, Joe is playing chicken again. He’s betting his knowledge is a plum enough bait to get a foot in the door, but knows his bridge with the OP is too burnt to keep him around based on his personal merits.

        Don’t do it OP! He’s not going to be less toxic when his only value (“I have knowledge nobody else does”) is going to be diminishing the second he begins doing his job.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      That will never happen. Joe knows what he’s doing, and he’s trying to manipulate the situation and the OP into a full time job. There’s a reason he won’t take a contractor job.

      1. Mike C.*

        I don’t think it’s fair to call out this aspect of the negotiation as unreasonable or manipulative. I certainly refuse to work contract positions, as do many others. They’re widely abused in this country.

        1. Jadelyn*

          As someone who’s been taken advantage of by way of contract positions multiple times, I agree that they’re widely abused – however, given the specific context of this situation, I think it’s entirely fair to call out that aspect for this specific person. What would be normal negotiating from a reasonable person with a halfway decent history at the company, does not sit in the same light coming from a known toxic person who’s pretty clearly trying to run a long con on the OP/the new company’s leadership.

          1. Mike C.*

            A long con of what, cashing a paycheck every two weeks? I get that the guy acted like a complete jerk, but I think this is veering into the conspiratorial.

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              Well, at the old company he got himself into an “unfireable” position, and then taunted OP with it, daring her to fire him. This sure seems like it could end up being the same set up–get in as a full time employee, and then never actually share that industry knowledge that’s so precious and–tah dah! Lookit that, Joe’s unfireable again!

              …or not, since OP’s current management sounds like they will let her actually manage him so that won’t happen again, but I don’t think it’s conspiracy theory level to think that Joe might by trying to get himself into a similar position that he was in before. That doesn’t necessarily mean that OP shouldn’t hire him, since she can actually manage him now and should therefore be able to address his behavior if that is in fact what he’s doing.

              1. Mike C.*

                I don’t think it’s a conspiracy to be so useful to a company that they don’t want to fire you – I certainly do that and I’m sure you do as well. I go so far as to do that to the extent where I can be comfortable disagreeing with my superiors or pointing out issues I see in front of me. I also learn skills that others around me don’t have, teach those skills, am responsive with work requests and so on. These are all things that help make it more likely that I’m not fired, would you find these suspicious as well?

                I’m just having a difficult time trying to see these issues as anything other than “the dude wants a regular paycheck”. What sort of actions would be less manipulative to you?

                1. sstabeler*

                  let me explain: Joe has a history of being an asshole, and taunting his manager with the fact that he can’t be fired. As such, people think that, since Joe si tyring to insist on a permanant job, that he is hoping to be in an unfireable position- your position wasn’t unfireable, incidentally. You were a valuable employee, but not the kind of unfireable Joe was. Joe was unfireable because he was the only person with his knowledge, and I suspect ensured it stayed that way. You merely made yourself a valuable employee, and helped other employees acquire skills to make them more valuable. different scenario- you’d be a good employee to have, Joe would be a shitty one to have.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  Well, I mean, do you taunt your manager with the fact that you can’t be fired, and tell her you don’t respect her? If you don’t, then I don’t see how this is remotely a parallel situation. It’s Joe’s words and actions that make this look deliberate, not the simple fact that he knows stuff.

                3. Jadelyn*

                  It’s not just the making himself unfireable. I’m as close to unfireable as most people can get in my current role – but that’s a result of being really good at my job with specific, unusual skills that most people in my role don’t have, which are uniquely useful for what I do. There’s a huge difference between making oneself useful in hopes of keeping one’s job, versus making oneself unfireable and then leveraging that to support a campaign of terror – especially when the person specifically *goes on good behavior* when he’s trying to get hired, because in that context it starts looking an awful lot like an attempt to manipulate his way back into the unfireable position he previously had. Hence a lot of us seeing shades of manipulation or conspiracy (can it be a conspiracy when it’s just one person? I thought conspiracy was specifically people working together for covert ends).

                4. Temperance*

                  Okay, this dude used his gender to try and usurp his boss. He specifically appealed to the OBC and misogynist dudes to harm his boss in the workplace.

                  He’s not a golly-gee great worker, he’s a sexist and a jerk. It’s not that he has “skills”, it’s that he’s a conniving, misogynist snake.

                5. Mike C.*


                  The business unit is being purchased by a completely different company, so the whole idea of being immune to being fired in this new, likely larger and more sane environment doesn’t make sense to me.


                  How could I have gotten that from the letter? You’re responding six and a half hours later as if I should have known this additional information. Even the folks responding to me earlier didn’t know this.

                6. Sas*

                  To sstabeler: “You were a valuable employee, but not the kind of unfireable Joe was. Joe was unfireable because he was the only person with his knowledge, and I suspect ensured it stayed that way.” Toxic environment.

                  On another note, contract work is definitely widely abused. Been there. It was horrible.

                7. sstabeler*

                  Mike, the suspicion is that he will try to leverage the institutional knowledge to become unfireable at the new place, since he is saying ” I will ONLY agree to a full-time permanent job, not a contractor position regardless of how much is offered”- which implies, to be frank, that his aim is to establish much the same situation at the new job as at the old. ( jerkass who can’t be fired) If I had institutional knowledge, I would certainly push for a full-time job at the new company, but would accept an alternative of a reasonably lucrative contract.

        2. I WAS THERE!!*

          What if BOTH things could be true. What if he IS manipulating the situation AND refuses to contract for very legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with his absolutely toxic behavior? Both can be true. Easy.

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    I’ve heard more about the value of institutional knowledge in the past few weeks than I’d ever care to hear. It’s important but as Alison said, often over-valued. Just because he knows how it works doesn’t mean that how it works is the best way to work. Sometimes an information vacuum allows for a better process to be created.

    1. Rachel Green*

      I agree! It sounds like nothing at the other company was working, so why not take this as an opportunity to start fresh? New employees, outside perspective, fresh ideas.

    2. Mike C.*

      At the same time, you could end up making huge, costly mistakes or even getting slapped in the face from regulators. It really depends on the industry.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Or physically breaking some really expensive equipment. If Joe is the only one who knows how to properly program, use and repair the custom built, internally designed widget making machine, trying to just figure it out in a vacuum could result in very costly damage and lost time.

        I’m thinking of the “Joe” I worked with at a previous job – although in his case it wasn’t that he was a purposeful knowledge hoarder but rather that he was extremely overworked and the powers that be wouldn’t allow him the time and budget to hire assistants who he could properly train. So he worked himself to a literal heart attack (on the job). It wound up being a super costly mistake for the company, between the cost for his medical care, the lost future business when they couldn’t keep up with the widget machine’s previous schedule (it was used for prototyping and R&D, so without it they couldn’t get future contracts), and the cost to repair the equipment when a manager decided “how hard could it be?” and tried to run the machine himself, despite the warnings from the assistant that there were a lot of costly ways things could go wrong.

        It also doesn’t have to be a physical piece of equipment. If Joe is the only person that knows all the software passwords or how to edit the in-house built software, etc, that could also create problems.

        On the other hand, this doesn’t mean OP necessarily has to hire Joe. But it does mean that she should make everyone aware of the potential cost of doing without Joe’s knowledge, and/or fixing anything that gets broken either by trying to figure it out without Joe or by Joe’s sabotage on the way out the door. OP, if the deal hasn’t been finalized, is there any way of putting some kind of clause into the contract about damages, etc? My concern would be if you *didn’t* hire Joe, would there be a way for him to royally screw up a bunch of things during his last few days employed by the current owners, so that they didn’t work when you take ownership?

        1. Lora*

          Step 1: get or make detailed drawings of the widgets, with materials of composition annotated. If you do not know materials of composition, there are contract analytical labs who can figure it out.
          Step 2: if multi-component, do this for each component, with an “exploded” diagram to show final assembly
          Step 3: shop it/them out to a subcontractor to make 6 months’ worth of production
          Step 4: Use the 6 months you just bought to make good SOPs and processes.
          Step 5: Contact the Magic In House Widget-maker manufacturer if there is one, or hire a contractor to reverse-engineer it. Get an operating manual. If this is not feasible, then buy a new widget-maker that comes with a manual and sell the old one at your best guess of a depreciated value. You want your capital expenses to have a value, and in-house built stuff has effectively none.

          Software can be jailbroken. If you know the function of the software, often your better option is to archive the in-house stuff and buy new. Also, if you’re taking over the company, you’ll need to migrate everyone to your own system anyway.

          1. Mike C.*

            This is going to have a lot more steps if you are dealing with certified or otherwise regulated equipment, processes or products.

            1. Honeybee*

              Okay, but eventually more than one person is going to have to learn how to use the equipment anyway. If the processes or equipment are super-regulated it’s probably super-dangerous to have only ONE person know how to operate all of it, especially if that one person is a jerk.

              1. LQ*

                Or if you want to be a good employer and let that employee take a vacation ever. Even if that employee is the world’s best and they would never ever do anything wrong, they deserve to take a vacation and not sharing that information means they can’t without shutting things down.

              2. Mike C.*

                If the processes or equipment are super-regulated it’s probably super-dangerous to have only ONE person know how to operate all of it, especially if that one person is a jerk.

                Absolutely correct, but given that the company was poorly run, who in the heck knows how much of what you or I would consider common sense was actually implemented.

                Ultimately, my big point is that starting from scratch is not always the trivial exercise that folks make it out to be. Lots of folks here seem to understand well the risks of hiring this guy, but at the same token they’re very dismissive of the risks of not hiring him. I’m really just trying to point out that the calculation isn’t as trivial as it first appears.

                1. Lora*

                  Even though it’s not trivial, it’s still easier to do than trying to do it AND deal with a total jackhole making everyone miserable all day.

                  And I say that as a manager in a regulated industry. You will go batsh!t nuts with people in your office all day complaining about the dude. You will be in tears at the end of the day, begging your bosses to let you fire the dingbat for cause and them saying, “can’t you just wait for the next layoff/review period/twelfth of Never?” Getting him to do any work at all will be like pulling teeth. At least if you hire a contractor to do re-commissioning and qualification, you know it will actually get done.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  And as the LW has noted above, he is a man and she is a woman in a male-dominated industry, and he has already started to try to establish a ‘bro vibe’ with her male colleagues.

                  So the assessment is nontrivial institutional knowledge on one side, and known asshole + actively and visibly disrespectful + clear willingness to call on male privileges + male-dominated industry on the other. As a woman engineer… well, I guess I don’t need to finish that sentence.

                3. Mike C.*

                  @ Turtle Candle

                  And that was several hours after I had posted, so you can’t claim that this was something I should have taken into account. That’s an incredibly unfair standard to his anyone to and if you’ve seen my posts in the past you’ll well know that I’m well aware of these issues in general.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Mike, people don’t always pay attention to time stamps (I’d guess most people don’t), and I don’t think Turtle Candle is taking you to task for not taking that into account — just pointing it out as part of continuing the conversation.

                5. Turtle Candle*

                  @Mike C. — AAM is exactly right, but also, I’m trying to provide useful advice to the LW, not win an abstract debate, so I’m taking later information into account rather than considering it out of bounds because it wasn’t entered into evidence by some deadline.

                  I get the strong sense that for you this has turned into a hypothetical about whether institutional knowledge is useful (and in fact, I agree with you that it is), but all of my advice has been specifically about whether this LW should hire their specific institutional knowledge-bearer, and thus whether they’re not just an asshole but a sexist asshole is extremely relevant. Or in other words: I’m not so much interested in debating you as in providing useful feedback (and “as a woman in engineering, I can say that your concerns about how this will be perceived in a male-dominated industry are valid” is IMHO useful feedback).

            2. Lora*

              If it’s certified/regulated, then you already have all the documentation for it, plus the service and calibration records. Every quality system, including the relatively lax ISO standards (compared to cGXP and Department of Energy requirements, ISO is easy-peasy) require it.

              1. Lora*

                And, if the documentation isn’t there, then you need to create it in order to keep the certification. So you’d have to do all the work regardless.

                Like I said…been there.

              2. Mike C.*

                I’ve done nothing but work but with quality in cGXP and AS9100 environments my entire professional career. I’ve seen good practices and I’ve seen terrible practices. I can’t go into a lot of details, but let’s just say food safety testing is a bit of a joke and lots of fun things happen when you have two private certification organizations that compete against each other.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      While there are certainly risks, I also have to wonder if a company that was so poorly run that it became toxic and insolvent is going to have the kind of documentation and other inside-information OP’s company needs, anyway. I imagine what IS documented is a minefield, and what’s not documented is probably worse. In this specific context, I can’t imagine having someone who facilitated or contributed to that minefield on staff will be good for the acquiring company.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        When I took over my team, there was knowledge-hoarding and selective documentation that was done for a variety of understandable reasons (overworked) and ill-intentioned reasons (undermining the new boss, making themselves indispensable).

        Well, when I put my cards on the table that not only were we going to have a manual that everyone could reference and use, but that I was going to have an outside department help assess our needs and processes, what came to light was that the documentation was bad/out of date and the undocumented processes were convoluted messes.

        The supposed “knowledge keeper” became more of a hindrance than a help because everything was an argument. It definitely made me question the importance of institutional knowledge.

    4. Lemon*

      I was going to say this exact same thing! This is an opportunity to create better processes and /or products in the absence of what was there before. Honestly, this sounds like a golden opportunity to take on this new business unit, put your stamp on it, AND not take on a rotten employee.

    5. NoMoreMrFixit*

      I loathe the term institutional knowledge after seeing how many prima donnas have used that excuse to get away with amazingly bad behaviour. This guy will not change. The fact he is pulling this card even with no guarantee of getting a job shows he will continue to play games. As other posters have stated it’s sometimes worth the short term pain of reinventing the wheel to prevent what is pretty much guaranteed to become a huge problem in all too short a time frame.

      Forget about this guy and hire someone who can learn the job.

  5. ceiswyn*

    If Joe fell under a bus tomorrow, would you a) be completely stuffed or b) find a way to cope without him?

    It’s my experience that no matter how much institutional knowledge someone has, when they leave or something happens to them… things turn out to be a lot less bad than everyone thought, and they wonder why they let themselves be held to ransom for so long.

    Note: this should probably not be taken as advice to push Joe under a bus.

  6. Lora*

    I have been in this position. Do not hire Joe. Nobody is that valuable.

    You can do due diligence on the company and find things out without Joe. I’ve been places where even the Joes have quit and all you have is a few prototypes and a sales catalog: you use the prototypes and sales models to re-create engineering drawings and technical documents. If the place was terribly managed, it’s probably not even worth keeping anything other than the bare bones intellectual property anyway: you’d have to re-invent their processes to resemble sanity regardless. It will add a few months to the implementation, but that’s a lot better than the several months to years of delay you’d face dealing with Joe and the people who would rather quit than work with him.

    Joe is going to hoard that institutional information and not give it up for anything, because he knows it’s the only way he can hang onto his job. He’s going to INSIST that he has all kinds of super-secret decoder rings even when he doesn’t have crap, and unless you’ve done due diligence, you won’t know the difference – so you have to do the due diligence anyway.

    Not sure what it’s called in your field, but in my field we have a tool called a Traceability Matrix that identifies requirements along one axis and lists the existing documentation and which of those requirements are fulfilled by it on the other axis, and then you have a nice visual representation of what’s missing. And if Joe can’t identify immediately where you will find the information in the gaps, see if you have an existing solution in your company to fill it, or if you could buy one or hire a contractor to make something for you quickly. How long this takes you is largely dependent on how good you are at searching shared drives and servers; some things will probably be arcanely named, but non-Joe employees should be able to tell you at least the basic navigation and file naming conventions. What’s your timeline like for integrating the new company?

    1. LBK*

      Agreed. I joined a team that was in the midst of dealing with this situation, wherein all the knowledge was institutional and it was all housed by people with terrible attitudes. We got rid of all of them, and you know what? The department has survived, we’ve figured out how to get the work done, and the other departments we work with have hugely appreciated not having to deal with a bunch of bitter curmudgeons anymore.

      No one is so knowledgeable that it balances out being a terrible employee. They picked up that knowledge somehow. You can do the same.

    2. Bonky*

      And why do some managers think “We cannot let Toxic Person go – they are too valuable!” without considering all the other valuable people they’ll likely lose as a direct result of poisoning the culture with Toxic Person?

      1. Lora*

        Various reasons I have seen over the years:

        -Lazy, counting the days till retirement, don’t care, in exit mode. Letting the person go would require a lot of work on their part to re-distribute projects and re-create work that the person had been hoarding. They don’t wanna do that work.

        -They’re the kind of asshole who kisses up and kicks down and does not do confrontation with someone they perceive (rightly or wrongly) to hold power over them.

        -Toxic Person really does have naked pictures of someone. Or goes way back with the CEO. Or is someone’s nephew.

        -Toxic Person is a world-champion-level ratfucker and will take other people down with them.

        -They generally suck at managing and have no spine to confront anyone, much less someone who is going to be especially difficult to confront.

        There’s probably more, those are just the ones I’ve seen most often.

  7. Emmie*

    Even if you brought him on, do you trust him enough to convey his historical knowledge? Do you trust him enough to memorialize his knowledge? Those things will also be critical to the transition.

    1. Gaara*

      This is a very important point. And if his secret, private, institutional knowledge gives him this power, he has all the incentive in the world to keep hoarding that information!

    2. JanetInSC*

      Exactly! And who’s to say he won’t use his perceived power to undermine the letter writer and even steal her job…..he’s not to be trusted. In her position, I would reach out to others who worked there (yes, I know, they moved on) and build from there. Maybe she can find a work-around.

  8. Naomi*

    This one is a lesson in why you shouldn’t burn bridges with coworkers. (A lesson for Joe, not OP.) Sure, the earlier job may have been terrible, but if Joe had made an effort to work with OP then, OP would probably hire him now without question. As it is, OP, proceed with caution.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      It also makes me wonder what Joe is thinking? Does he believe the OP forgot about all the stuff he did??

      1. LBK*

        Oh, I’m sure Joe knows and doesn’t care, because he knows he has the OP trapped. He’s betting that he’ll be seen as too valuable to give up, and based on what the OP is saying that sounds like a safe bet.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And this attitude is totally consistent with how Joe has operated in the past–it’s exactly what he did before.

          And in fact, it’s clear that this is the only way he knows how to operate–it’s the only way he has to feel powerful. He holds his confidence in the power or leverage he has.
          He was powerful enough to make life unpleasant, and not get fired; he didn’t quit, because this leverage was so important to him. And now he’s turning to leverage again.

          It’s how his brain works. It’s how he sees the world.

          Other people held their confidence in their skills–that’s why they LEFT that old job, taking their skills with them. Joe didn’t, and that’s a significant indicator of how he deals w/ people.

          1. Honeybee*

            And this is exactly WHY OP shouldn’t hire him, because aside from the immediate effect of having a toxic person on your team, there’s the longer-term of effect of Joe being continually rewarded for operating this way – and learning that he can continue to operate this way for as long as he wants and still get his way.

        2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

          Yeah, if at the previous job Joe had “just” displayed a bad attitude, been grumpy or snarky, slacked off—I might come down on the side of “have a candid discussion with him about LW’s concerns, see if you can start over with a blank slate” but he specifically said he didn’t respect the LW. I’m sure his knowledge is important and I don’t want to be cavalier about going without it, but my feeling is Joe is operating at a level of vindictive toxicity that likely outweighs the potential benefits of hiring him.

        1. Gaara*

          Yup, and if he thinks it protects him (and LW might prove that it does), why would he turn over a new leaf? He’ll keep engaging in the same ad behavior.

      2. Mike C.*

        Given my experience in toxic workplaces, they make people do some really messed up things. I’m not trying to excuse Joe’s bad behavior, but it’s like walking into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

          1. Mike C.*

            I think I’ve pinned down bothers me about this response (you’re certainly not the first, but it came to me now) – a business should be hiring or firing based on the needs of the business. This idea that, “well they hated it there before, therefore they need to move on” has nothing to do with the needs of the business.

            If you don’t want to hire him there are plenty of business reasons not to, this just seems weirdly personal.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But it’s perfectly reasonable to not want someone around who’s unhappy and toxic. In fact, you pretty much have an obligation to move out someone who’s behaving that way. People can FEEL however they want, but how they ACT (including acting like you hate it there) is very much a employer’s business.

            2. Lora*

              Being disruptive, rude, disrespectful of colleagues, insubordinate and not doing his job is pertinent to the business.

            3. Jersey's Mom*

              Mike C. I think you’re right, there is some personal reasons underlying this situation. In this case Joe and the OP worked directly together and his bad work behavior was directed at OP with direct consequences for OP (and others). Could Joe rehabilitate from toxic to normal co-worker in a good work environment? Possibly. But I think it’s less likely that he’ll rehabilitate if he gets a job in the OP’s new company. Reminders of the toxic workplace will be part of his daily routine (working with OP daily on the toxic workplace documentation). I think that even in a normal company, there is significant risk of the toxicity flaring back up due to those reminders. I don’t blame OP for wanting to avoid it.

            4. Turtle Candle*

              But I think the point that a lot of us are trying to make is that someone who is combative, rude, and tells you directly–directly! not just implies it!–that they have no respect for you and that they are going to continue to act in combative and rude ways because they have no fear of being fired… is not a good bet for getting the needs of the business met. Because someone who is combative and rude and doesn’t respect their manager (and has no problem being an obstruction unless you have a creditable threat with firing) is not as a general rule someone who is going to turn on a dime to become helpful and informative to the exact same manager. My point has never been that institutional knowledge isn’t valuable–it is–but that I don’t think that this LW is likely to get the benefit of that institutional knowledge anyway, because Joe has proved that he is willing to be obstructive and difficult, and this time his ostensible job security is hinged on other people not having that knowledge.

              Might he? Would he maybe go, “Gosh, I see now that my rudeness to you was simply because I was being so poorly treated at the old place! I am a changed man!” and then be a model employee who is unfailingly helpful in the transition? It could happen. But I think it is a huge stretch to say that that’s the way that the LW should bet. If I was the LW, if nothing else, I’d be pretty concerned about the impact on the rest of my team; I’d be pretty steamed if my boss hired someone who they knew to be rude and difficult and subjected the rest of us to them because maybe things could change.

              (Forgive me if I’m misrepresenting your arguments throughout this thread, but it sounds to me like you’re saying, basically, that since the last job was toxic, nothing Joe did there should be held against him or ‘count,’ except of course for having the knowledge in the first place, which is inherently valuable. But I think that human actions do, and should, have consequences, and I am okay with the consequence of his responding to toxicity by being a jackass being that he doesn’t get a job offer here.)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Right, exactly. It is possible, I suppose, that Joe could have that kind of turnaround, but the OP would be irresponsible for betting on it. The OP needs to go on what she knows of Joe’s behavior, not speculation about how things might or might not change. Joe’s behavior has been egregious enough that this is not a situation where the OP should go looking for what-ifs.

              2. Mike C.*

                I said very explicitly that the toxic environment should not excuse his behavior – if you missed that, no big deal. I only bring that up to say that it might explain some things, and could serve as a mitigating factor. It’s easy to see the very worst of people in such environments – whether that is forgivable or not is still a judgement call. I even agree that it’s likely the best decision not to rehire this guy.

                I’m more concerned about the absolute dismissal of experience. I’ve seen times where that was a good thing, and I’ve seen times where it cost hundreds of millions of dollars and then they reverted to doing things the old way anyway.

                The case I’m thinking of involved a very complex product where the conventional wisdom was, “only change one or two things with each new product, as each characteristic is highly interconnected”. Instead, new management ignored all of that institutional knowledge, and changed just about everything about the latest product. We’re talking about materials, engineering, production, suppliers, assembly and so on. This led to huge cost overruns, incredible delays and so on. Stuff that is taking years to bounce back from.

                So when I hear so many talking about how institutional knowledge isn’t that big of deal, I really have to protest. It can go either way, but it should be considered with care rather than dismissed easily.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you in this thread that institutional knowledge is useful. It’s just that to me (possibly only to me?) you seemed to be focusing on that (especially since it is clearly something that is very important to you and your industry), plus on how much toxic workplaces can make people go nuts, to an extent that I genuinely was confused as to what you thought this particular letter writer should do. Especially as the vibe that Alison encourages is generally to provide advice to the person in front of you, who in this case was the woman considering the possibility of having to deal with a deliberately obstructive asshole.

                  In that context, it sincerely read to me that you thought she should hire the guy, which is why I kept arguing. Not because I disagree with you on a theoretical basis that institutional knowledge has value, but because I think that this particular letter writer, as an individual and not as a representation of abstract hiring managers, would be doing both her own career and her business a disservice by hiring the guy.

                2. sstabeler*

                  Mike, I think it’s worth hashing out what we mean, because I think we’re making the same point from different points of view.
                  POV 1: institutional knowledge is irrelevant- I think we all agree it’s not true ( and if it is, why buy the failing company? you could just start from scratch.)
                  POV 2: Institutional knowledge is good to have, but if someone’s trying to hold you over a barrel, tell them to expletive off- this is my own POV. ( basically, that while it’s good to have, it doesn’t justify a jerkass
                  POV 3: that someone could literally be actively preventing people from doing their job, but their institutional knowledge means they should be kept. I DOUBT anyone truly has that opinion, but then again, that was toxic workplace’s opinion, so…

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. It has served him so well in the current company, after all. She left and he stayed!

        People in toxic environments often don’t realize that healthy environments work differently.

        1. LBK*

          The last bit is so key, and I think it relates to Mike C.’s comment above – hoarding knowledge and playing politics may have been a legitimate and necessary strategy to survive in the old company. If that’s all he knows/has known for many years, it can be really hard to adjust to a place where those qualities are viewed as huge negatives rather than survival tactics.

          That being said, I think the way for Joe to “rehab” so to speak is to go somewhere else and get a completely fresh start. Half-working for the same company he used to and working under the same boss isn’t going to do it.

          1. Tuxedo Cat*

            I’ve seen people who work in toxic environments bring the survival skills they developed to their next job… The one situation I’m thinking of, my team was so small it was really a case of one bad apple ruining the whole bunch. While I didn’t stoop anything ridiculous, it did hurt morale and I felt like I couldn’t trust this person.

            People can certainly change and move on, but it’s a gamble especially when the letter writer has a bad history with this person.

          1. Someone*

            Joe is not powerless in this situation. If Joe really wants to change or recognizes that there might be problems, Joe could also ask to speak to the OP and have a frank talk, where he acknowledges his previous obstructionism and says he really wants to make this work. Yes, that would be hard, and people are reluctant to be honest in that way because of the perceived power differential, but Joe is only going to change when Joe is ready to change, and part of that is Joe’s willingness to be open about his shortcomings and listening to how to change them.

      4. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’ve known people who think they have special knowledge and have the hubris to think they have all the power in the situation. Sometimes, they think what they did wasn’t that bad.

    2. Saucy Minx*

      Just what I was thinking.

      Joe reckoned that he was unfireable in his job — & perhaps he was. What he failed to take into account was that his company might go down, & that he would have made it clear to the OP that he was unhireable.

      He has no power here. And his price is too high by far to be worthwhile.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s a very common problem people miss when wrongly valuing institutional knowledge.

    I work for the government, and there is a good chunk of people who have been there since the 1970s. And they are uniquely terrible. The only reason they remain is described in AAM’s last paragraph.

    In a moment of exasperation after hearing that excuse, I honestly wanted to know what was the point in knowing how we did things in 1974. I also pointed out that not only is it not the way any other government entity does things but that those people are actively and openly working to keep us in the 1970s because they personally don’t want to change how they do things lest someone else learn it! They want to retain job security that way. There’s a reason our state ranks the lowest in progress and service delivery! It’s 2016, and we still have people who refuse to carry mobile devices, don’t understand why a website designed in 1999 needs to be redone, and oppose putting data in a centralized computer system.

    If there’s only one person who knows how to do something, that’s a problem that needs to be immediately remedied. That’s not an advantage.

    1. LSP*

      I literally just had a conversation about this two hours ago. I am currently in the midst of attempting to get disability for three weeks I needed to recover from a car accident back in October. I am currently in the private sector, but spent the six out of the previous eight years in state government.

      Keeping people just because they are warm bodies sitting at desks is a terrible (perhaps the worst) reason for retaining someone. Even if they have institutional knowledge, that doesn’t mean their knowledge is so indispensable that they should not be let go if they are not productive workers.

      Please OP, for your own sake and for the sake of your coworkers, do not let this guy into your company.

    2. Artemesia*

      LOL I did some consulting one time for a place that was doing data entry on terminals and made the transition to desk top computers and a new system of data entry. The old curmudgeons went around the director who had stipulated they needed to learn the new system and had IT design a program to go on the PCs that emulated the old terminals so they didn’t have to learn the new data management system. And the leadership let this happen. These people had pretty good civil service protection but with firm management this would still have not happened as ‘not doing your job’ was not an option.

    3. Myrin*

      I’m dying to find out how your higher-ups (or whomever you asked that honest question) responded!

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Funny you ask! It’s a mixed answer.

        At the time, I got the same old excuses about invaluable expertise trumping everything else.

        Later on, I realized this uniquely terrible group presented yet another obstacle to dismissal: age discrimination. Even if my boss wanted to, he’d have to dismiss them one at a time, once a year. His appointed term would end way too soon for that.

    4. Mike C.*

      I honestly wanted to know what was the point in knowing how we did things in 1974.

      I think this is a fair question, but at the same time, you could have easily gotten an answer that would have completely justified it.

      In my industry, I can certainly point out several events that have happened decades ago that still shape how we do design, engineering and so on to prevent dangerous problems. Think of something like, “you wear a radio while inside of an enclosed space because in the 70s someone had a medical emergency and no one else knew” or “don’t use asbestos everywhere because it’s a carcinogen when inhaled”. If it’s not common knowledge, just going out there and remaking everything could be incredibly costly or risk health, safety or legal issues.

        1. Mike C.*

          Likely not. I think I said it better elsewhere, but my main point here is that there are a lot of industries where this sort of knowledge isn’t something you can just hash out in a weekend and the calculation isn’t as trivial as folks are making it out to be.

      1. Observer*

        So, that information should be somewhere other than the heads of a few people who were actually there. Keep in mind that if they were working there in the 70’s, they are going to be retiring sooner rather than later.

        1. Myrin*

          I was just thinking that. I can’t believe that over the course of 40 (!) years, not a single “knowledge point” has ever been told to someone outside of the core veterans or been written down somewhere.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            One guy started in 1972, and his entire job is drafting a specific set of documents for outside entities. Since 1972, he has been asked to produce his work. In 2016, via a Freedom of Information Act request, this was done for the first time.

            The guy never flat out refused to hand over his stuff. He’d ask for a reason why, who wants to know, why s/he wants to know, what’s it for, when, how, etc. The entire time, he’s unrelentingly nice. When I pressed him, he told me it was too complicated to just hand over and I wouldn’t understand. I said, “I can’t understand what’s written down on a dozen sheets of paper? I don’t know if that’s true until I read them.”

            So yes it happens.

            1. Important Moi*

              Sounds like he’s not updated anything since 1974 and doesn’t want to show it! Being nice allows him to get away with that?

            2. Myrin*

              I am utterly fascinated by all of this! Did he eventually hand over the papers? And if so, did you understand what was written down? I’m sorry for the many questions but this little story has me completely captivated, it’s like a strangely compelling commercial.

              1. Snarkus Aurelius*

                He did but not to me. They were turned over to the person who filed the FOIA request – a representative from a regulatory body.

                Not only did I and everyone else understand them, but the FOIA requestor is going to make changes with my boss’s input.

                Responding to the previous comment, yes, it appears the base document hadn’t changed since the 1970s but the guy was unilaterally adding things over the years and not telling anyone. Not illegal or horrible but not okay either.

                He’s now upset that people “who don’t understand these documents” will come in and change everything! He is also upset that the general public will have input as well because they don’t “understand the context.” (We’re the government. It’s a public system.)

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  That is so deeply embarrassing on so many levels, not least of which his abject cluelessness about why everything he has done is crazy/unacceptable. How did he get away with never giving you or anyone else copies of “these documents,” and how has he not gotten fired? And I can’t even start on the public input part, which is its own unique basket of horrors.

                2. Snarkus Aurelius*

                  Political appointees as bosses. Every new boss is hitting the reset button. By the time the boss figures out the system, starts making the requests for the documents, and starts getting frustrated, her term is over.

          2. Seattle Writer Gal*

            Ha! Check out the movie “Space Cowboys” with Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood.

            It’s about a group of retired NASA engineers who are called back to space (in their 70s) to fix a broken Russian nuclear satellite that was still operating on stolen 50-year-old technology only these engineers were capable of fixing. Pretty spot on to this situation if you ask me.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But also, aren’t those provisions now captured in legal regulations/laws and in your industry’s internal guidelines/code requirements, Mike? Today, if you send people into an asbestos work zone without proper safety attire, you’re going to get sued. But that’s not because someone in the 70s told you asbestos is carcinogenic—it’s because lessons learned from that time are now part of your standard operating procedures, industry standards, OSHA regs, etc.

        I guess my point is that it’s not a person’s knowledge from the 70s that’s valuable, it’s how that information is integrated into an organization’s processes. And from OP’s letter, it sounds like whatever institutional knowledge Joe may have is completely non-integrated, and I’d bet he intends to keep it that way for as long as he can hold it as some kind of bargaining chip.

        1. Mike C.*

          I’ve found that regulations and processes tend to be separate issues. I hope I’m not telling you something you already understand, but often times the regulation in question will be along the lines of, “produce your product in a manner that ensures X, where X is something really general like, “no cross-contamination” or “this structure can support the force of 150% of the expected force at maximum rated speed”. Then the company comes up with a process to do X, the process is tested and certified and folks go on their way. So when you look at these processes, you need specialist knowledge to understand how they go back to specific regulations or audit findings or whatever.

          The risk I see (and it’s a risk, so I mean that it should be part of the overall calculation, not something that decides the decision all on it’s own) is that new folks like to step in and do things the way that make sense to them. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. Sure, adapt to those new technologies and speed things along, automate where appropriate and so on.

          At the same time, I also see situations where there is a process someone believes is too onerous for some reason or another – it takes too long, it’s expensive, whatever. The new folks in charge without that specialist knowledge don’t fully understand why it’s there and then you either go through a huge fight about it, or it’s removed and the huge mistakes the process was designed to deal with are being made again.

          I totally accept that in the OP’s industry this might not be an issue, but I’ve seen first hand what happens when say new management decide to overrule the folks who actually have decades of experience in designing, building and testing your product. It can be a huge, huge mistake.

          1. LQ*

            Sometimes “institutional knowledge” is that the guy is skimming off thousands of dollars. Not all “institutional knowledge” is a golden nugget, sometimes it is a spray painted turd and the company is insolvent. I’ve seen that first hand too. Lost by job because people like you were super worried about institutional knowledge.

            And I’ll come back to what happens when someone gets hit by a bus (as is how we found out) and well look at that, now someone else has to pick up the pieces.

            1. Mike C.*

              Lost by job because people like you were super worried about institutional knowledge.

              This is getting weirdly personal and I really don’t like this tone. Did you miss the part where I said that this is simply something you have to include in your risk calculation and that change can either be good or bad? That current processes can be good or bad?

              I’m sorry you lost your job, but it certainly wasn’t because of “people like me”.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is so helpful, and thanks for taking time to spell it out. In my head, regulations and processes ideally go together, but it’s a good reality-check to remember that that’s not always the case.

          3. Observer*

            What you describe is not really a failure of institutional knowledge, though. It’s a failure of basic documentation and / or failure to pay attention to the relevant subject matter experts. When a new administration comes in and says “Why are we using this process that takes 3 weeks, when we could be using that process that takes 4 days”, you shouldn’t need “institutional knowledge” to answer.

            Relevant regulations and requirements should be documented, and the expertise to know that the new process won’t be likely to work with those regulations should be heeded. But, if all of the people who have been working with these processes disappear, you should STILL be able to figure this out, even without any “institutional knowledge”. You get someone with the relevant expertise, who should be able to at least figure out what the potential issues are and test for them. If that doesn’t happen, or someone decides to ignore the experts who say “Process x doesn’t test for condition Y” (or whatever it is), that’s an issue that’s going to come to bite you no matter who is talking.

      3. LCL*

        …and, sometimes there is legacy equipment that hasn’t changed since 1974. I run into difficulties sometimes convincing certain employees to read old technical bulletins for equipment that is still in service. ‘I’m not gonna read that, it hasn’t been revised since it was written!’ Well, neither has the equipment.

        1. sstabeler*

          which is an excellent opportunity to see if the equipment can be replaced with something newer.

  10. Mazzy*

    If you get someone with good analytical skills you can recreate (or create) the institutional knowledge. You may have to do this work anyway to double check what Joe is saying, or just get the data intact and formatted to combine into your joint system.

    I recreated a bunch of what you’re calling institutional knowledge when I took over my current department. Whole events and catastrophes happened that they weren’t even aware of because they happened on the side of the business that is supposed to be automated (I know, sounds crazy but it happens). Because I found so many events that people who had been here at the time didn’t know about, we basically ended up re-running all past processes as they should have been done then analyzing the difference between what actually happened. There were a few things I found and had to ask about, but no mysteries remained unsolved.

    So having long term employees involved didn’t actually help recreate the institutional knowledge.

  11. Workfromhome*

    Joe we require someone to document x y and z for the acquisition. We are offering you a contract position to do x y and z for 6 months. If that is not something you are interested in then today will be your last day and you will be given xxx (legally required severance if any).


    He either needs to help you in a contract basis (so you can get exactly what is needed) or he needs to be gone before he can do any damage. Bob may not even be a bad guy but based on my own experience people who have worked in a dysfunctional environment for so long that it becomes the norm can’t change. While ownership may change Bob is still going to see it as the same dysfunctional place. He might bring some knowledge but it will be far outweighed by bad habits and bad attitude.

    This company needs a fresh start and the only way to do it is to eliminate anything. That can continue the prior disfunction.

    1. Artemesia*

      Bob may not be a bad guy but Joe is. Hiring Joe is likely to end the OP’s job or make it impossible. Manipulators, they do manipulate. She couldn’t manage him before; she won’t be able to manage him now and no matter what her bosses say about having firing authority I wouldn’t bet on it.

    2. HR Pro*

      I was going to suggest a contract, too. Just a brief period in order to get some of the crucial knowledge handed over, and then you can be done with him.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Except OP says they offered a contract, and he refuses to consider anything other than full employment. I agree that she can use the language Workfromhome provided, but I think it might be better to just be done with him than to let him linger.

  12. Rocket Scientist*

    I worked for a horribly dysfunctional toxic company that rehired people – in our case retired consultants – all the time.

    Spoiler alert – it didn’t go well. At all.

    Don’t do this to yourself.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    I wonder if you can offer him a term/contract position for 4 months to help with the transition?

      1. Blossom*

        Exactly. His first thought: “She couldn’t stop me getting the contract – she won’t stop me taking her job”.

    1. LBK*

      The OP addressed that:

      Joe has made it clear that he would not accept a contractor position – it is regular full-time employment or nothing.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Thanks – sometimes I miss details on these letters when I’m trying to check in at work :/

  14. Jesmlet*

    It’s not worth the inevitable headache. Unless you think he’s so desperate to stay on that his behavior will permanently change (snowball’s chance in hell) or if there’s a very clearly outlined process for firing someone that is entirely in your hands (unlikely), there’s no reason to invite that much trouble. What would they do if no one wanted to stay on? They’d make it work… so that’s what they need to do now.

  15. Mabel*

    My company has a “no jerks” policy (which we instituted after this book came out:, and I think it’s our most important hiring/general policy item. Even if the “jerk” is the best worker on earth in all other aspects, the damage s/he does to the rest of the team cancels out everything else. Please don’t hire this jerk. I agree with others that you’ll be able to get by (and succeed) without him.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I love that book. It was so helpful as I started to build my own team.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I just cited this upthread! When I first read it, I literally bought copies for everyone I know. I’m so glad that your company adopted the “no jerks” policy :)

    3. AnonyMeow*

      I love that policy. How do you spot jerks in your hiring process? I haven’t (luckily) had the experience of hiring a jerk just yet, but I’d love to know how you avoid that!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ask them anything about how they work in teams, a time they disagreed with a coworker and how they resolved it (and ask the same thing but about a time they disagreed with a manager, including a manager to whom they didn’t report), or what accomplishment they’re the most proud of at their past job. If you’re doing panels, it can help to have someone on the interview panel who they don’t see as their future supervisor so you can gauge how they interact with people outside their chain of command.

        I find if you give a jerk enough rope…

  16. LBK*

    The only possible way I would allow this is if Joe were willing to give me a massive info dump of as much institutional knowledge as he can share right now, during the transition. Procedures, best practices, contact lists, whatever he can create to make this information available to the rest of your team. That would prove that he’s actually willing to provide the value that the rest of your team insists he has, rather than what he’s more likely to do, which is use it to hold the company hostage in order to keep his job.

  17. A Person*

    Don’t hire Joe. If the company you’re taking over is as much of a mess as it seems to be from your letter, you’re going to have to re-do/reverse engineer most everything anyway so taking on Joe would be a waste of time anyway. I’d take a look and see if someone who has already jumped ship could help you bridge the gap or take another look at the junior staff. You might not get much but you might at least know which field the bodies are buried in. With Joe he’ll take you round all the fields and say he ‘might’ have buried the bodies in that one but he can’t really remember without another serving of fast food.

    1. Liane*

      Yup. That’s what Gary Ridgeway (Green River Killer) did. Ted Bundy wanted to do that, but had to settle for “Stay my execution–again–and I might be able to recall a few more names or places,” and no one took him up on it.

  18. Colorado*

    Don’t do it! Let him tread that river because he burned the bridge.
    “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
    – Maya Angelou
    Or another favorite.. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

  19. Brett*

    Has to be a huge red flag that Joe will not take a contractor position.
    He is already trying to make it more difficult to fire him before he is even hired.

    1. sometimeswhy*



      Hold your ground. If there is ANYONE else who can contract through the transition, great. If not, you’re still better off sorting it all out anew and unguided than you would be with someone inclined toward being actively disruptive with all the chips. I’d even advocate dropping the contractor option entirely. He turned it down. Take him at his word. Take it off the table and consider it a bullet dodged.

    2. Beezus*

      I don’t think wanting to protect oneself from being fired in an acquisition is a red flag. I agree hiring Joe is not a good move, but I wouldn’t tar anyone else with the same brush just for trying to leverage themselves into a perm position instead of a contract position during a buyout.

  20. MC*

    I would not hire him. I would however see if I could finagle a bonus based on delivery of approved deliverables at the end of a specified time.

    Documented processes, contacts, whatever that are delivered to an agreed to schedule, reviewed by the team and approved by you or someone before that $$ is handed out. Consider it a non-contractor contract option.

    1. J.B.*

      Good one. That way you’re making him put his money where his mouth is, and I’m doubtful he’ll find another job that quickly.

    2. LQ*

      I think a bonus at the end of the time before the layoff would be a great way to do it. Assuming you check the information and it is good, you are rewarding him for that information and letting him move on in his life to a hopefully better, fresh start.

  21. Myrin*

    Good lord, what a hassle about something that really doesn’t need to be a situation at all. I’m exhausted just reading this.

  22. Myrin*

    Also, isn’t it possible to just wait and see through the acquisition if there even is institutional knowledge that is both important and hard to obtain yourself and then contact one of your old colleagues who isn’t Joe?

  23. Ann Furthermore*

    Yeah, this has bad idea written all over it. I would want to give him a second chance, because a toxic workplace really can affect your behavior, and make you act in ways you normally wouldn’t. However, this guy has proven himself to be so over-the-top terrible that it’s more likely to be someone who believes himself to be indispensable and therefore can behave any way he pleases.

    He says he’ll only consider full-time employment or nothing. He’s probably relying on management to be so afraid of losing him that they’ll give him whatever he wants. So call his bluff. Offer him a contract role, with the opportunity to convert to FTE after 6 months if his performance and behavior have been acceptable, and tell him he can take it or leave it. This lets the OP show their management that they’re making an effort to retain Joe, and his tribal knowledge, but still leaves an easy out once he shows his true colors. 6 months is a very, very long time to be on your absolute best behavior all the time, and if Joe’s going to slip up, he’ll likely do it in that time frame.

    1. TootsNYC*

      It is indeed possible that Joe has learned some bad behaviors.

      But I wouldn’t want to be his “rebound” employer. Let him “detox” on someone else’s time.

      1. Liane*

        “Let him ‘detox’ on someone else’s time”
        That’s a better way of putting the advice I mentioned above that Carolyn Hax or one of the Prudences had given out before.

    2. Nolan*

      If Joe’s previous behavior was normal “disgruntled employee in toxic environment” I could see a case for giving him another shot. But I agree with you that what he exhibited was a totally different, over the top personality. This is a guy who creates and/or actively contributes to toxic environments. I’ve worked with toned down versions of Joe in petty normal environments, and when left unchecked they could drag the whole team’s morale down over minor process changes. Taking a ramped up version of that and inserting it into the already tense scenario of an acquisition? Hard. Pass. Thanks.

  24. Turtle Candle*

    Yeah, dollars to doughnuts Joe will do the opposite of what your current peers are hoping–rather than expedite the transition/information handoff, he’ll deliberately impede it, for the very simple reason that having the info you want is his “job security.” You’ll be right back to playing chicken.

    Alison’s advice is good: be blunt with your peers about how and why he was a terrible employee. They may be thinking “well sure maybe he’s a little annoying but we can deal with some quirks to expedite this transition,” so you need to make it clear that this is well beyond the quirks and foibles of an otherwise functional employee, and might actually accomplish the opposite of what they want. (And yeah, definitely don’t hire him!)

    1. Beezus*

      Agreed that this is just another extension of the chicken game. You win chicken by not flinching, so don’t flinch, OP!

  25. Jenn*

    Major red flags — Joe is refusing contract work and his value is entirely based on “institutional knowledge”. I echo the advice to be as clear as possible with your current company as to why hiring him is not in their best interests. Joe will only continue to withhold information (if he really has any to begin with) if he believes that it will preserve his job with your company.

  26. BridgetJ*

    Please please have confidence in your instincts as a manager. You are obviously a qualified person or you wouldn’t have been brought in to fix the first company. But you have let both Joe and your current management sow doubt in your abilities. Be confident and assert your knowledge and experience with the previous company when stating your case with your current company. And then stand by the results, no matter the outcome. Demand recognition for success and accept responsibility for any problems. I hate to assume gender here, but I hate to see qualified female manages undermined by their male colleagues. Please forgive me if I assumed incorrectly.

  27. NW Mossy*

    Since we generally seem to agree that hiring Joe would be a terrible idea, I’ll throw out a suggestion for how to message this to the people at OP’s company who are advocating for hiring him based on his institutional knowledge:

    “Joe is aware of how it used to work at Bankrupt Co., but as we’ve seen, their processes weren’t enough to keep them solvent – that’s why we were able to acquire them. For this business line to succeed, we need a new way/to bring new volume into our existing way, not methods that have proven ineffective. Based on what I’ve seen in managing Joe and what he’s presenting to us now, he’s selling us the value of what he did in the past, not what he can do for us in the future, in an environment that’s likely going to be very different from what he knows. That’s not a fit for where we’re trying to go. Instead, I recommend that we look for other ways to smooth the transition.”

    1. LBK*

      I don’t know if I’d include the bit about bad processes being part of the reason the company went down; it’s rare that the operational-level processes Joe would likely to be handling would be that much of a factor in the company’s success. That’s generally a result of higher-level business strategies, and I doubt that’s the kind of thing Joe is bringing to the table based on the way his role is described here (ie not an executive one).

    2. Artemesia*

      You need to get at his seriously toxic undermining behavior. This is all vague and buzz wordy. The OP needs to discuss that he isn’t just not a team player, he actively undermined the work, refused the work, bragged that he was protected by management and couldn’t be fired and brought down the morale of the team. This isn’t about ‘processes that need to change.’ This is about a particular destructive human who can hardly wait to get hired and make the OP’s life miserable.

  28. hbc*

    Joe’s already playing games with you again, and he’s not yet on your team! Maybe this seems like no-win to you, but there are different levels of loss, and you’re talking about hiring in a guy who uses leverage against you…because he has leverage. How quickly do you think he’ll be claiming to your superiors that it’s your fault things aren’t going right because he’s holding back key information?

    If the optics of a straight “no” are too problematic, draft a contract for a fixed term with measurable outputs. Let him be the one who turns down a perfectly reasonable offer, and you can believe he’ll be squirming when you don’t come crawling back after him.

    Also, do your best to impress on your colleagues and superiors that you fully understand just how hard a transition without institutional knowledge can be, and let that be a window into how awful an employee Joe has been and will be.

  29. Myrin*

    Also, as a bit of trivia: We have a saying in my country that translates to “putting a louse into your own fur” – it means knowingly bringing someone into a group and they, like expected, go on to wreak havoc and weaken the whole institution and it was your own doing because you knew what was coming but did it anyway. I’ve had that saying on repeat in my head since reading this letter and all I can say is OP, do not put the louse into your fur!

  30. rubyrose*

    Obviously, do not hire. I would also say do not bring him on as a contractor. My concern would be 1. when would you be telling him that he has no future with your company and 2. will he sabotage the work he is doing before the cut-over? Any way you can postpone until the very last minute telling him?

    1. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious*

      I’m also concerned that Joe will actively work to sabotage future efforts. I would not involve Joe in anything, not give him any IT access that he doesn’t already have, not loop him on on the organization’s current or future plans, not give him any opportunities to sweet-talk or bully any other employees into divulging information or otherwise helping him stay eligible for Meanest and Most Manipulative Employee of the Year award.

      In a perfect world I would handle his eventual departure from the company by escorting him off the premises as soon as he’s been told about his termination. His severance pay can be mailed to whatever street address he provides. No point in having him staying around as not only a lame duck but an evil-minded lame duck!

      Grr. I do not approve of people who manipulate others, stir up situations, spread falsehoods and otherwise dish out anguish for their own selfish benefit.

    2. Cheesehead*

      Exactly what I was thinking/wondering/worried about. He thinks he has you backed into a corner now, with his ultimatum of “full time employee or nothing”. He’s banking on the fact that you’ll think his knowledge is too valuable and you’ll hire him. So when you don’t, be really prepared to escort him out immediately and change those passwords pretty darn fast. Because based on Joe’s past behavior, he’s going to do whatever he can to have the last word and make you look bad. If that means sabotaging things somehow so it will look SO BAD for you because you didn’t hire him, then I’m sure that’s what he’d do.

      So act really cheery with him and be vague about the future. Heck, even give the vague impression that he might be hired! Lull him into thinking things are peachy for him, but work behind the scenes to get your ducks in a row and show him the door as soon as you can.

    3. Electric Hedgehog*

      That would kinda suck for Joe, though. I recognize that he’s a bad employees from the OP’s perspective and appears to be quite the jerk, but this is a guy’s livelihood. If at all possible, give him some forewarning that he won’t be invited to continue at the new company, and perhaps make a bonus and good reference available to him based on satisfactory completion of transition goals, including documentation of institutional knowledge.

      1. rubyrose*

        It does suck for Joe, but he made his own bed. Giving him forewarning increases the chance of sabotage. Perhaps a bonus for meeting transition goals, paid a month or so after he is gone, so someone has the opportunity to make sure his documentation is solid. Good reference – no way, unless it is just to document that he met transition goals. Nothing about his years with the company.

      2. TootsNYC*

        rubyrose is right!

        If Joe is unintelligent enough not to realize that making an ally of the OP would be a good move in the industry, then he’s chosen a particular outlook on the world.

        He deserves to live with that.

        And the “reward for good behavior through the transition” is a basic offering in most situations like this anyway.

  31. Joe in Frederick*

    One might suggest that the former company’s insolvency is evidence of a lack of institutional knowledge, or that there was some knowledge, but it was terrible.

    You don’t need to import that, even from a pleasant person. (I’m a real Joe, and we’re all awesome. Just ask me!)

  32. Ed*

    Depending on the organization, employees with political protection can be major headaches. I’ve had applicants go out of their way to mention their connection to a manager at our company to the point they just sort of blurt it out in the middle of the interview. It’s ironic that they think it almost guarantees them the job when it often rules them out.

    I remember a management candidate years ago who was incredibly confident the job was his after he told us about his close relationship with the director of another department. Little did he know, that director was a bitter enemy of my director.

  33. Interviewer*

    About 5 years ago, a large portion of my office left to work for another company (and took me with them). It was a good-sized group of professionals, and a smaller group of qualified staff, and the rest were left behind.

    It was an awkward, upsetting time – but at no point was anyone considered for employment with the new company solely due to institutional knowledge. Staffing choices for the new company had been made based on past performance and good attitudes, and we created a wonderful team. The new place had different systems and progressive leadership, and they were incredibly supportive whenever we needed help.

    By the way, the institutional knowledge of a prior company was not going to be helpful for very long in the new setting. Everyone was starting fresh with the new company, including our clients. It occurred to me pretty quickly, and I’ll admit it took about 4-6 months for everyone to realize this, but it did happen.

    I tell you this story to say that with each passing minute, Joe’s value will diminish exponentially. Make everyone else see that upcoming finish line, and you’ll have your decision in no time.

    Personally, I’d figure out a way to pivot. You could make the argument that the department wasn’t profitable, and the entire process needs to updated, or incorporated into your current company’s strategic plan, or some other sleight of hand. Trying to do business as usual or using Joe’s institutional knowledge to keep up the status quo will land that department right back into the mess it was in.

    Good luck.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Just repeating for emphasis:

      “with each passing minute, Joe’s value will diminish exponentially. Make everyone else see that upcoming finish line, and you’ll have your decision in no time.”

    2. AD*

      Everything you said I agree with, and I would only advise OP to add in clear, direct references to Joe’s past poor attitude.
      You can certainly make the argument that Joe’s “institutional knowledge” is overrated, but leading with his quarrelsome, combative attitude needs to be the deal-breaker on why he should not be hired.

  34. MashaKasha*

    Am I the only one thinking things don’t quite add in the Joe picture? Specifically:

    – Joe is very good at what he does, and possesses institutional knowledge
    – Joe has a terrible relationship with the OP and knows it
    – Joe has hated his current job the entire time he’s worked here
    – Joe knows he’s going to report to the OP soon unless he leaves
    – All other teammates of Joe’s who were more or less competent have already left

    If Joe is as good as he says he is, then why is he still working for a company he hates, after everyone else of his level has left, waiting to be acquired and moved under the supervision of the OP that he disliked working for? May I suggest that Joe is overrated, and that OP’s new company does NOT need Joe for the merger to succeed?

    1. LBK*

      It sounds like Joe had been able to position himself in a way where the company viewed him as indispensable. No matter how much he hated the job, there’s no way he was ever going to leave it and risk going to another company that wouldn’t put up with his bullshit.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yep. Some people respond to dysfunction by trying to make the dysfunction work for them. Have a boss who plays favorites in legitimately bad ways? Become a favorite, get the perks. Management doesn’t manage or even pay attention to what’s going on? Great, you can get away with doing little or no work! Gossipy, backstab-y workplace where there is lots of drama and no trust? See if you can stir the pot or play one side off another to your benefit. Manager don’t have a clear idea of anything that goes on? Great opportunity to throw peers under the bus. Etc.

        It can be REALLY tempting, because it kind of feels like, well, the company is awful, so now they’re just getting what they deserve. But if you get used to the dysfunction allowing you to shirk, bully, get perks you aren’t entitled to, whatever, it can make it hard to consider less toxic jobs where you can’t game the system, or at least not as easily. Or tempting to try to reproduce the negative environment so as to replay the game.

    2. TootsNYC*

      At the very least, *Joe* does not consider himself to be good enough -unless- he also has leverage.

  35. Jules*

    I say ‘No’ to that Joe.

    When I was part of a new team brought into a new department, the old team all quit close to each other, we had to build the knowledge base from scratch. They literally left with minimal documentation. We reached out to other departments, vendors etc in order to rebuild everything, while still running the department. Some of the things they were doing were not industry best practice. But we did it. We created process improvements as we went. Institutional knowledge is great but not if it’s used as a hostage. During this transition process, get all the standard SOPs for the department and anything you don’t have consider incorporating your current SOP into the acquired org. Transition period is the best to do all the changes up front. That way the pain is expected by all stakeholders.

  36. Jane*

    OP here. Thanks so much for the response, Allison, and for the comments. It has been my instinct all along not to hire him because I also have a “no jerks” rule and Joe is not my first experience with a toxic employee.
    The only hesitation – one of the other comments was astute in noting that some industries are more heavily regulated that others and in those, the cost of a slip if it relates to regulatory matters can be high. That applies to my situation – the cost of a miss on certain compliance items can be disproportionate and while Joe is not a good employee overall, he knows his stuff, is diligent about compliance matters, and I believe would be able to help us avoid a serious penalty. But yes, I agree with other commenters that he would hold this knowledge hostage and seek to find ways to discredit me or make it seem impossible to fire him even after the transition was long complete.
    The only other reason I’ve been considering giving him a chance is that the old company truly was the worst place I’ve ever worked and if there was ever a place where you could possibly blame bad behavior on the miserable environment, this was it. Most people I worked with there were kind of awful and bitter, and even I caught myself behaving in dysfunctional ways by the time I left.
    At this point I’m holding firm on telling my colleagues that no matter the risk, he can’t be offered a permanent position. I am honestly not even sure about hiring him as a contractor (assuming that I am successful at calling him bluff and getting him to consider it) – my gut is that even then he’d be a lot of work to manage and would still try to find some way of sabotaging me.
    I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts, it has helped me think through my approach and feel more confident that I’m making a good decision.

    1. Lemon*

      How do you feel about another commentator’s suggestion to seek out other former employees to see if one of them would want to contract for the length of the transition? That way, you solve the problem of regulatory slip-ups without having to hire Joe.

      1. Jane*

        OP here. I am looking at it. The ones who come to mind as being the strongest unfortunately (for me) landed in pretty good situations so the price of getting them on board is going to be high, maybe too high given their actual qualifications and long term value once the transition is complete. But I’ve been putting out feelers and agree that if I could pick someone else up who has similar knowledge that would be the best possible option.

        1. A Person*

          If the cost for the term of transition is too high, then what about contracting them for a couple of evenings and weekends?

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      If regulation and compliance are a concern, is there a third-party consultant group that could be useful? It’d cost more, but may address those issues.

      1. Jane*

        Also a very good idea, I have been looking at this as well.
        The problem is that I’m still getting pressure that hiring Joe would be good “belts and suspenders” measure to make sure we don’t miss something. My team’s attitude is, bring him on as cheap insurance, if he’s not working out, fire him, what’s the big deal? But I think others are underestimating how much of a drain on other priorities it can be to get rid of this kind of employee and how many problems he could create on his way out the door.

        1. LA*

          That’s like trying to buy fire insurance with money meant for a flood policy when you live next to a levee and a hurricane is bearing down. Sure, you might need fire insurance someday, but you already *know* it’s about to flood.

        2. Someone*

          It’s also actually not fair to Joe. If you bring someone on, you should be bringing them on for the long term. Joe has already made it clear he doesn’t want a contractor position, so taking the attitude that, meh, you’ll say it’s a permanent job and then fire him — that’s really underhanded.

        3. Trillian*

          It might be a good political as well as practical move to seek out recommendations for a consultant from the new management. They will have their preferred people and using one of those might protect you. Also consider that your own uncertainty and your team’s insistence that Only Joe Knows is a symptom of the toxic reliance on his knowledge. The sooner that is disproved, the better.

      2. Jessie*

        +1. Highly regulated industries always have a related consulting industry to help out. Find a consultant. That person will not only help you through the transition, but will actually train whichever employees you designate to be compliance people.

    3. J.B.*

      That’s a tough one. I can say that a dramatic person in my office has superiors and the outside world convinced his institutional knowledge is INDESPENSIBLE. We worker bees are pretty sure we could reinvent many of the processes and be ok.

      I think that another option to consider would be someone now with compliance knowledge in the area but not specific to the item you’re acquiring, and with that attention to detail. Then let that person loose on everything. Let him or her ask specific questions to help with understanding and develop documentation.

    4. Persephone*

      OP, I understand your concern about compliance and it’s obviously a real one. However, I think looking for someone who is detail oriented and diligent (and is not Joe) is your best bet. Consider sending Joe an email today that says nothing more than “No, thank you” and move on. That will drive Joe completely up a wall to be dismissed without (apparently) a second thought.

      If he’s ignored, and he’s desperate enough, he will put himself in the supplicant position and, I predict, beg you for a chance at even a contractor position. I still wouldn’t do it as the risk factor is too high but oh, the satisfaction you could feel!

    5. Cassandra*

      Thanks for ‘fessing up to what the old workplace did to your behavior. As a former “Joe” myself — attitudinally-wise-speaking — I’ve been wincing at the “no way, no day, Joe will never change” comments here.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been in my “rebound job” five and a half years, I am respected and valued here, I love the place and its people tremendously, and I have lost most if not all of my Joe-ish behaviors.

      Some of us Joes do get better. This Joe, though, the vibes I get are that he doesn’t want to get better, but rather re-create the situation that made him Joe in the first place. Which does not make him a real safe hire to my mind. Me, I knew full well I needed a change!

      1. LQ*

        I think it is entirely possible to change, but I’m not sure it is possible to change with no internal pressure (we don’t know one way or another) or with no external change (this sounds like it wouldn’t be a lot, he’s working on the same work for a former boss? not enough change).

        I think that Joes can (and do!) change. I think we read quite a few of them here. They are fine people in bad situations. But doing it without motivators/other factors is really hard, monumentally. It is hard when you DO have internal motivation AND external change. If you have neither? That’s setting someone up for failure.

        1. Feeling Christmasy*

          The thing is though that is Joe has to change to suit what LW needs. If he will only take the role if he can be a FT employee, and is not flexible about it, that’s a red flag.

        2. halpful*

          This! :) Thank you, LQ and Cassandra. Joe doesn’t have to be pure evil for it to be a bad idea to hire him. Thinking that he is might make it easier for OP to keep her defenses up, but it’s not all that constructive here in the comments. The same goes for the comments about choice – it alienates people who don’t feel like they have a choice, and discourages them from trying to fix the problem. Sometimes choice comes in the form of a little orange pill…

      2. TootsNYC*

        I think the fact that the OP is a link to the previous place doesn’t bode well. Plus, the acquisition is also a link to the previous place. There’s not enough of a change, and it’s also a change happening TO Joe, not one he is seeking out of his own initiative.

        And it also doesn’t bode well that Joe is pulling the “leverage” trick.

    6. MC*

      Regulated industries understand the complexities of mergers & acquisitions and staff turnover. Yes, there is the risk that something gets dropped, but that’s something that should have been properly documented and managed in the first place. You can often work with your inspectors to say “Hey, this was delivered as a mess, but here are the steps we are taking to remediate, here is our timeline and progress so far” and most regulators will work with you.

      If Joe didn’t document it because he was hoarding the info, that indicates that he didn’t do his job properly. He may know his stuff, but knowing and documenting are two separate activities.

    7. sstabeler*

      if it’s a highly regulated industry, wouldn’t the REGULATOR be able to tell you what to do to at least avoid the penalty? Once you know that, you can build the rest of the knowledge from scratch, With the advantage you might even figure out a better way to do it.

    8. snuck*

      I’ve worked in highly regulated industries (banking, telecommunications, superannuation) as a business change specialist.

      In knowing these industries I can understand the allure of bringing on board existing knowledge – particularly if the company has been using it’s own software.

      As an alternative – is is possible to do a data migration, to move the existing clientele over to your own software and processes as soon as possible (hire a team of business analysts to do this on a contract basis – not just the software migration, but to identify and mirror processes and identify any mis connects and synergies)?

      And then also make it a condition of the merger that the existing clients are grandfathered in, I assume you will have industry protection for a period of time for any hiccups that were a result of the actions of the previous company management – make sure there’s a fighting/fix it fund for that allocated for it, with a reasonable handover back. And then use that team of business analysts you hired to dig through and make sure that those clients are compliant (as you transfer them into your system is a good time to do it, when you can data analyse en masse)?

      But yes. Having a person who was warm on the floor of the prior company is a good idea, but that person needs to be a carefully selected person too – I think your peers are not realising the importance of the personality of this carry in person – you REALLY need a person who will be honest and upfront, has a problem solving attitude, is open and available to work with, has ‘oil on troubled waters’ approach, is calm and unflappable. The issue isn’t bringing someone in, it’s bringing someone in who can actually solve the issues that arise. While your guy might have attention to detail and industry knowledge – does he have a wide enough system knowledge to help those business analysts break down their in house software? A deep enough understanding of the regulatory conditions BEYOND the basics and how the decisions were made in his original company when things were not going to standard process? And was he a person others would wait for at meetings because he was liked, relevant and helpful?

      I was involved in a few departmental mergers (in a VERY large company, we’re talking hundreds of staff and more than ten offices being shut down), and in another industry the large scale transition of clients from one system to another with a complete rebuild of processes (millions and millions of dollars and thousands of clients) and in both situations we went to the business analysts and systems analysts in each space and used them as our primary information source – these guys build up a massive wealth of knowledge in their fields, more than the project managers, line managers etc, and what they don’t know they know how to find out. When business analysts weren’t available we brought in consulting ones who were able to ask the questions, break it down etc – absolutely worth every penny for good ones. If you ask your two companies (the past and present) who they’ve used for this stuff you might find there’s people with knowledge in consulting companies around the place also.

  37. Trout 'Waver*

    I’ve worked with guys like Joe before. His first moves would be to try to build enough political capital so that he’s unfireable (again) and then revert back to his old ways.

    Also, institutional knowledge (I prefer the term lore) is often flat out wrong. Especially at toxic companies. There is great value, if you have time for it, in building and documenting the institutional knowledge yourself. Your team gets to learn the processes from first principles rather than get handed a black box.

  38. Ive BeenThere*

    Don’t hire Joe!! Bad behavior due to toxic environments are things like missed deadlines and long lunches. Those can be fixed, but serious character flaws like Joe has, cannot. Don’t Do It!

  39. Troutwaxer*

    Or you could be sneaky if your legal situation allows it… hire Joe and anyone else you want from the old place, then have an IT team come in over the weekend and grab all the documents off Joe’s computer (the IT team will have to be VERY careful and thorough! *) then on Monday Joe can be laid off.

    * Mount his drive “read only” on another computer, then copy it and carefully check all the places he might have hidden a file. The level of care would need to be near-forensic.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No, don’t do that! It’s dishonest and lends legitimacy to the grievances of the Joes.

    2. Someone*

      That’s unfair to Joe. I don’t think the best way to treat a toxic person is to sink to their level and prove to them that the world is as toxic and hostile as they think it is. And your other employees, who don’t think Joe is that bad, will see this, and think “Could this happen to me?”

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think you can get those IT assets without linking it in any way to the employment status of anyone.

      You purchased the company; you’re entitled to those assets. Just go copy them now.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. And do it before telling Joe he isn’t going to be hired, but get that computer confiscated or downloaded immediately.

  40. Jake*

    If I learned anything from the last two folks I had to hire, it is that I had previously overrated industry knowledge quite a bit. This leads me to think the same way about institutional knowledge. I’d never hire a person with a known bad attitude just for some institutional knowledge, even if I was given 100% free reign to handle it the way I wanted. How much value is there in the institutional knowledge if you know there is a reasonably large chance you have to fire him eventually anyway?

  41. Althea*

    I’m don’t see why the institutional knowledge of a *failed* institution is so important. If knowledge critical to this unit, it should be purchased explicitly and provided on the closing of the deal; but the processes of a business failure really shouldn’t be duplicated…

  42. sstabeler*

    1) I can pretty much guarantee that he sin’t going to share his institutional knowledge anyway,
    2) I suspect, from what you’ve said, that Joe might well be the reason the company failed.
    3) you’re likely going to need to bring in someone like a system analyst anyway to figure out how to incorporate whatever they were doing with your business- and speaking as someone who is learning it, it’s part of our job to uncover the institutional knowledge,
    4) related to 3, it’s actually a good time to bring in a systems analyst ANYWAY, since the disruption of making any changes recommended would be absorbed by the disruption of moving to your org.
    5) Considering the company failed, the institutional knowledge would be of how to do it the way that clearly doesn’t work. As such, you may well be better pretty much starting from scratch anyway.

    in short, DO NOT HIRE HIM.

  43. AngtheSA*

    I will say as a co worker of one of these “invaluable” employees, please don’t hire Joe. I was brought on to work in a small office of a large company. It was me and a coworker alone in the office most of the time. She was a horrible co worker. She was passive aggressive and condescending. Every one did not want to work with her but for whatever reason she had been there 10 years when I left. The reason, because she knew how to work a system for a particularly difficult but large client. My manager really wanted to let her go a year after I started but her manager would not let her because she was too valuable. I have been gone for almost a year and she has already chased off 2 other staff members because of her bad attitude.

    Don’t do it OP

  44. TootsNYC*

    I still remember the complain-y guy we had who did one function, and we all thought it was such a difficult thing to do, and that he’d be SO hard to replace. And then he left, and the next guy we hired cut wasteful steps, spent zero time complaining, and trimmed the time (and expenses) by two-thirds.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. the indispensable guy that I fired had everyone believing that what he did was incredibly arcane. When he dazzled me with ‘it is unreasonable to expect our staff to have to deal with complex matters like boolean algebra’, I laughed looked him in the eye and said ‘you mean ‘and’ and ‘or’? The systems he had created were cumbersome and amateurish and the ones we installed when we fired him were more efficient and everyone was able to use them easily. I would have been happy for him to have retrained with new systems or to support his development; I did appreciate he had created a system that worked, if inefficiently. But his unwillingness to work well with others made that no longer an option.

  45. sstabeler*

    I actually thought of something. The OP had worked alongside Joe- wuldn’t the OP have at least some knowledge of how things needed to be done?

    I will admit that my opinion- that you should take the pain now, and not hire Joe- is coloured by the fact i’m studying Computer Science- in programming/systems analysis, refusing to document your code properly is- at most places- reason to terminate you, not reason to keep you on. ( basically, if another programmer that knows the language cannot come in, look at your program and figure out fairly easily what’s going on, then they’ll get rid of you and hire a programmer that will produce properly documented code. I do specify knows the language because there are some programming languages that do make someone hard to fire, but that’s because the languages are rare these days.)

  46. Rebecca*

    I vote for hiring a consultant in your field to make sure you’re compliant, and let Joe go. Joe’s coworkers who stay after the merger will be grateful, and you won’t have to worry about him sabotaging things. I have to think that his current coworkers have probably had it with his nonsense.

  47. VivaL*

    Id like to just quickly point out that Joe is already being difficult – he’s already tried to define the terms of employment – no contractor position, full time ONLY.

    Granted, this is his right to do so, but the impression I get is that he’s making it the OP’s problem “FTE or else NO institutional knowledge” (and this is a little on the OP too – she can also define the terms of employment that work for HER – ie “Contractor position, or no position” he is then free to accept or decline as he sees fit – but it puts the “problem” back on him.

    OP I would encourage you to take that stand as a manager (“I’ve worked with him and there aren’t many circumstances I would re-hire him under. I gave him the option/circumstances that I would, and he declined. That’s how business goes sometimes.”) It is your prerogative, trust your instincts – just because others are questioning or disagreeing, doesn’t mean you are wrong.

  48. Serendipity*

    My husband works in a field where his job, if done right, is completely invisible to an outside observer. He is constantly working behind the scenes to make sure that all systems and processes have multiple layers of redundancy, problems are anticipated and resolved before they occur and the end user has no idea what’s going on behind the scenes to make sure the customer experience is faultless.

    However, there is another type of worker who isn’t so rigorous about preventing problems, procrastinates essential maintenance and then fixes problems as they arise.
    He has often struggled with the fact that the cowboys with sloppy work appear more valuable (OMG what would we do without Joe who always fixes our teapot spray painter for us!!!!) than those whose work is entirely invisible behind the scenes making sure nothing goes wrong (what do you do all day???).

    My point is, the people who are the most vocal about their value to the business aren’t actually the best employees. The best employees know that anyone’s replaceable and put the needs of the business first to ensure that there is continuity should the unexpected occur.

    Joe’s a cowboy. Don’t hire him

  49. LadyPhoenix*

    You know Joe hated the last job and wanted nothing to do with ya. You also know you company went under while he was working there.

    I would tell him (in a way I’m sure managers know how) to take his offer and shove it where the sun don’t shine. You need a new start and he sure as hell ain’t gonna get you there.

  50. ArtsNerd*

    I gotta echo the other posters about institutional knowledge of a messed up institution being of little-to-no value. A few *years* after I resigned from Super Dysfunctional ExJob, and old coworker messaged me on FB to ask where the profit/loss reports for XYZ program were kept. They had the ones I did when I ran the program, but where could they find the prior ones?

    There were no prior ones. So far as I know, I was the first one to directly compare the program’s revenue and expenses. Really. So what good was my “institutional knowledge” there? I was happy to help where I could but… that was essentially nowhere. They needed to start fresh.

    “How did y’all do this in the past?” “A horribly ineffective way.” “Great! Can you give us the step-by-step so we can replicate it?”

  51. Newt*

    A year ago my boss moved me to a new role, so I could create process documents and a knowledge base regarding a new, messy, troublesome piece of work. The client (who we were still negotiating with to expand the work into a proper team so we could actually do it right) had lost the entire team of people actually experienced and qualified in the work, and we had a single person who had been managing it as best they could for a few months, and no documentation.

    That single person could, honestly, have written their own ticket in the company I work for if they’d played their cards right. Instead they decided to do exactly what I suspect OP’s potential hire will if given the chance. They decided the best way to ensure job security would be to make sure that their exclusive knowledge *remained exclusive*. Which meant obfuscating data, failing to follow through on repeated requests for documents, actively making my work more difficult, giving impossibly low estimate for how long each task should take to do and then finding endless excuses for why he himself took 5 times longer than that to do them, and answering every questions with some vague nonsense. After a month of working under him I didn’t know anything I hadn’t figured out for myself, and even that was enough for me to know how bad a job he was doing.

    He didn’t actually get the job security he thought his behaviour would guarantee. And, although it was not easy, within 6 months of his being let go, myself and a co-worker had figured out the work and the systems ourselves, created work processes and the notes to go with them, drafted training documents and evidenced our estimates of the size of team required to complete the work to spec, and all without his help. Of course, we were able to do it that way because he was only taken on under a fixed-term contract.

    If this ex-employee retired tomorrow, you’d find a way to cope. No one is so essential to their role that the work can’t survive without them, and it’s only worth carrying people over if they will actually add value.

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