my coworker over-delivers and it’s causing us major problems

A reader writes:

My coworker Fergus and I are at semi-equal levels (i’m a manager and he’s a project manager) on a small team at the headquarters of a company that has branches all over the country. We handle lots of regular reports distributed to the branches and we produce ad hoc reports that go up the chain to executives.

The issue is that whenever we are asked to produce something special, Fergus always says yes and gives a very quick turnaround time. He does this by working overnight and abandoning all other projects. He will turn around something that takes eight hours to do the next morning, and our director and VPs think this is amazing. He has never outright lied, but our leaders think that the overnight turnaround means these projects are small and easily accomplished in a couple hours –they are completely unaware that he is working on them overnight.

I turn my projects in at a normal completion time, and no one has ever said anything since they assume I take longer since I have other management duties.

I have never cared about him burning the candle at both ends, except that it today has really gotten us into a pickle. He did an eight-hour project and turned it in the next morning, and the VP loved it so much he wants us to do it for six additional regions and have it done by 1 p.m. tomorrow. He believes that this is easily accomplished by Fergus and me because, after all, one region takes only two hours so between the two of us, we should be able to have it ready for review by tomorrow lunch if we hustle and work a little bit tonight. No! This is over 48 hours of work and cannot be accomplished by tomorrow close of business, let alone by 1 p.m.!

I told my director this and she looked at me like I was crazy and that it really couldn’t be all that much work and that I needed to figure it out as I am a manager. She also told me I can’t pull my employees off their normal work and I still need to get my normal tasks done. I have no idea what to do and I know that we will show up tomorrow to the meeting and not have even half of it done. I asked Fergus to tell her that it won’t be doable but he refuses. I feel like I’m going to get reamed out for not getting the task accomplished and for not bringing this to her attention a long time ago. Help!

Oh my goodness. I didn’t get this in time to help you with the 48-hour project that needed to be done by the next day’s lunchtime, but regardless, you need to talk to both your manager and Fergus.

To your manager, say this: “I think Fergus’ willingness to work overnight in order to turn things around quickly has created inaccurate expectations about how long some types of work take.  For example, something like the X project takes about eight hours. Because he worked all night on Thursday to finish it by the morning, people who didn’t know he did that thought he was able to do it in just a couple of hours. With the Y project, same thing (fill in details). It’s up to him if he wants to do that, but I’m concerned that it’s causing a lot of misunderstanding about what kind of turnaround time is reasonable.”

If she’s skeptical, then say, “Would you be willing to ask him directly? Or if that doesn’t confirm this, I’d think his computer log-out times might show what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to cast aspersions on him at all — but we need to have accurate timelines for how long these things take so that we can plan correctly. If people misunderstand the amount of work involved, it’s going to disrupt our ability to get the outcomes we need.”

And then talk to Fergus too. If you haven’t already, explain the impact of what he’s doing, and ask him to be clear with people how many person-hours are involved in the work.

It’s possible that Fergus has some kind of diabolical plan to make everyone else look bad, like they can’t keep up with him … in which case talking to him won’t get you anywhere. But it’s more likely that he’s just more interested in making himself look good or that he’s waaaayyy too invested in being helpful, and he can still do both those things by working overnight if he wants to — you’re just asking him to be clear with people that that’s what he’s doing.

Of course, ideally he would stop working those hours altogether because even if he’s totally transparent about it, he’s still setting up the rest of you to have to deal with unrealistic expectations … but that’s more a conversation for his boss to have with him. However, it’s possible that he truly doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s doing, so step one is to spell it out for him.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Alison, is there any way to highlight certain comments? I’d love to be able to easily tell with a visual cue comments from the OP. Possibly programatically by email address or manually?

  1. Myrin*

    I gotta say, as much as it sucks for you, OP, to appear (or probably have appeared by now) to this meeting with only half of the work done, this will probably resolve the issue altogether since the eagerly awaited results will not be delivered. VP and director will be wondering what’s going on, OP can refer to her previous converstaion with director, Fergus will have to come clean (since I can’t imagine he’ll be able to come up with a lie that’ll be plausible).

    I do wonder about something you haven’t touched on, Alison – had this last situation not happened, what would you’ve advised the OP to do? It doesn’t sound like she has authority over Ferugs, so she can’t just tell him to cut this out. It also doesn’t sound like Fergus is receptive to being talked to directly. Should she have brought this to her director, even if just as a heads-up?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — ideally as soon as you see that it’s impacting people’s understanding of how long things take, you’d make sure your manager knows that.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, this setup could have been a lot worse. If it was just OP on the project and management expecting her to do six regions in 12 hours, it would look like she was really inefficient compared to Fergus. As it is, Fergus won’t even be able to turn stuff in at his supposed normal rate.

      If it hadn’t come to this, I think the only possible preventative option for OP would have been for her to jump in at every opportunity to make clear what actually happened. If she’s on the group email, for example, she could say, “Glad we could turn this around for you, Jane, and thanks to Fergus for staying so late to make it happen. For future planning, this kind of project takes 6-8 hours, so we can’t promise this kind of turnaround on a regular basis.”

      It’s less preventative and more butt-covering, but maybe OP could have started a log for “efficiency purposes.” It could just be estimates, but if she had a log showing Fergus’s 55 hour weeks, maybe her director would have believed her. That’s obviously Monday morning quarterbacking, though–I never would have thought it would have been a necessary step to make my own boss believe me about something like this.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      I just hope that Fergus doesn’t throw the letter writer under the bus somehow. The concern comes from him not wanting to address the issue.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, I thought that was odd as well… Like did he somehow plan to have his half magically done? Why wouldn’t he agree to back OP up on this (assuming they’ll both look back by not having their work done the next day)?

  2. Not Tom, just Petty*

    OMG, what happened?
    But my real question is what kind of supervisor do you have that takes your statement and says no. DUDE. It’s a statement. “This takes X hours.” No, it doesn’t.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I mean if other projects have appeared to take significantly less time that this I can see why they might be really confused, especially since Fergus seems to have gained a lot of trust and respect by finishing in a “short” period of time.

      Telling the supervisor that he’s working overnight consistently should clear that up though.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I can understand the initial confusion on the director’s part given the group’s past track record but like you say, that should be cleared up by a simple “it was possible before because Fergus pulled an allnighter every time” (and it seems like the OP did explain that, although re-reading I realise that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case).

    2. Chris*

      Hah. That would be every senior manager or project manager I’ve ever worked with, that’s what kind. Your mileage may vary :)

      1. esra (also a Canadian)*

        Right? Led with my most hated phrase: “Can’t you just [insert impossible, complicated bs here]”

        1. Jubilance*

          When I was in my first lab job, I once had a frantic junior engineer stop by with a sample that needed testing. It was a 48hr test and he needed the results the next day, for the review meeting. I let him know he’d get the results in two days, and he responded with “I need it tomorrow. What if I offer you overtime to get it done?”

          Listen guy, you can otherwise all the overtime you want, but unless you can change time, you won’t have your results tomorrow. Next time don’t wait until the last minute.

          1. Antilles*

            Oh yeah, lab tests are the best for this.
            I do some lab work as part of my job and this question always, always comes up. Can’t you finish it faster? Uh no; it takes 2 full days – 48 hours. No matter how much you beg, 48 hours will still be 48 hours. If you’d like, I can tell you it’ll take 2,880 minutes or about 173,000 seconds, but that’s literally the only thing I can do.

            1. Snark*

              Yep. My old boss wanted me to get some soil samples assayed in three hours. And it’s like, dude, I will send you the protocol if you want to read it for yourself, but there is no physical way for me to complete this in less than a day. It doesn’t work that way.

          2. michelenyc*

            I have the same issue with fabric testing. My quality/compliance department drive me crazy with requests to have testing done in 3 days. Yeah, no that’s not how it works. It will take at least 3 days for the testing facility to receive the fabric if the mill even has yardage on-hand. Testing the fabric can take 7-10 days depending on what tests need to be done and no I won’t sign off on a fabric without seeing the test results. I am the one that can potentially lose my job over making a false claim not you. So stop asking me because I will tell you know every single time. Rant over!

          3. Bassoon Wielding Chemist*

            We call that the CSI effect. They can take a sample of a complete unknown, throw it on the GC, and in just a few minutes have a result that is not only perfect but also matches some obscure identification standard that solves the case. If only that were true in labs that weren’t on TV!

              1. Mananana*

                “Enhance” is our word-of-choice when describing the tv phenomena of unrealistic capabilities of either man or science. We can thank the series “Bones” for that.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Never could get into Bones, but “zoom and enhance” has been standard on every iteration of CSI I ever watched, and most iterations of Law & Order.

                2. CMart*

                  I’ve just started watching The Good Wife, and they’re actually really good about zooming in on things and having them just get blurrier and blurrier. I appreciate that detail quite a bit.

              2. This Daydreamer*

                Okay, let me adjust the color levels so it doesn’t look so green. I can also bring out the subject a bit, make her color a tiny bit brighter and more saturated. I’ll also get rid of that zit on her cheek, of course. The wires in the background are pretty distracting, so I’ll edit those out, as well. It also needs to be cropped.

              3. Gail Davidson-Durst*

                Generally I found the novel “Warcross” to be OK, not great. But I laughed out loud when a character said, “Zooming in only made it blurrier.”

            1. As Close As Breakfast*

              Ah, the CSI effect, yes. An effect that has led to conversations along the lines of “Yeah, I can’t do that for you because I don’t have an open air color SEM, because, you know, that’s not a real thing.”

            2. only acting normal*

              Ugh CSI got so bad at that. The early seasons at least showed a bit of passage of time on the lab processes, or they’d show a tech taking something away to analyse then the lead would pick up a result later, and sometimes the characters get all excited about a new database of tire patterns or something. The later seasons were all *magic result from nowhere* case solved inside a day.

          4. esra (also a Canadian)*

            I get that with printing for events all the time. At a certain point, no amount of money* you throw at it will make the printing go faster.

            *Spoiler: They also never want to spend more money.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This happened a lot at one job. The manager would threaten to pull our account at the printer and they would rush the job but then she didn’t want to pay for the rush job. I’m surprised they kept working with us at all, and it made our poor marketing guy’s eye twitch.

              1. esra (also a Canadian)*

                Right? Because it’s your rep as a marketer/designer on the line. I worked for a particularly awful small family business (I know), where my coworker was instructed to get a 30s sizzle made for 2k. Tight budget, but she called in a favour and got it done.

                Then our garbage-gifting manager said she wanted to just pay him $800, because she thought 2k was too much, after a thousand edits and a flawless finished product was delivered on time.

          5. Bookworm*

            This reminds me of Brook’s Law, especially the adage: “nine women can’t make a baby in one month”.

            Not all tasks can be sped up by throwing money and hands at them. Some things take time.

          6. the gold digger*

            I have a friend – he’s a chemist – who is developing a product that contains silicon. Someone in his finance department asked Friend if he could please use less silicon.

            Friend says, “Sure! And I’ll see you in Stockholm next year!”

      2. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, I remember having many conversations with my boss explaining that it was physically impossible to get all the “urgent” tasks he wanted done in a timely manner. His response was something along the lines of “make it happen.”

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          My old toxic boss used to say: “You’re a journalist aren’t you?”

          Yes, yes I was. I was not a freaking wizard, however.

          1. Veronica*

            Trying to explain to the editor at OldNewsroom that yes, I could do more than one assignment a day, but I could not, in fact, attend two press conferences both scheduled for 2 p.m. Maybe if I could Apparate. Definitely if I had a Time Turner.

        2. curmudgeon*

          yeah, I’m overloaded on work and there really is only so much I can do in a day. Unfortunately, I run into the “just get it done, I don’t care how many extra hours it means you have to work. Sure, you don’t – I’m salaried, you don’t pay me anything extra to work 60 hours a week but I’d kinda like to go home every now and then.

        3. MiaMia*

          “Make it happen.” “Sure, tell me how.” <- what I always want to reply to demands like that but never have the guts to.

          1. Cherith Ponsonby*

            I actually tried this once! It wasn’t a timing issue but conflicting requirements (boss #1 wants the line to be red, boss #2 wants it to be green, boss #3 doesn’t see why we need a line at all and also hates my guts).

            So I outlined the conflicting requirements to boss #1 and asked “how would you suggest I resolve this?”

            He looked at me as if I had just confessed I couldn’t find the “any” key, and said “isn’t that why we hired you?”

            There’s a reason I leave that job off my resume.

        4. Lora*

          Once, just once, I had a manager like this. The facility was surprise audited by the FDA. In their 483 (basically like getting a very expensive misdemeanor ticket) they listed “insufficient staffing for daily operational support; inadequate staff support for additional projects required to maintain the facility in a compliant state”.

          He was indeed fired shortly thereafter. I forget how much they ended up paying a contract engineering firm to do the work they should have had regular staff perform, but it was well over eight figures.

        5. babblemouth*

          I keep telling people making something a priority is easy. It’s the de-prioritizing of something else to make the new priority happen that is hard. THAT’s the bit you’re paid big bucks for.

          I asked to be taken off a project a few years ago because the bosses didn’t understand this very basic thing. My project was the new priority, and I had to go o around in our constituencies to tell them that. Except the bosses couldn’t tell them which one of the 5 other priority projects would have to take a step back. It was just one more project piled on top. It was infuriating, and basically all I got as the project lead was to be the nagging person sitting in an ivory tower demanding the impossible.

        6. Mary*

          One of the admins asked the boss in my old job which of the tasks he’d just assigned to her he would like her to prioritise, as she wouldn’t be able to do all of them in the time available. He snapped, “All of them!” And that was one of the reasons we lost one of the best and most talented admins we had. *headdesk*

      3. Not Tom, just Petty*

        Thinking about it, I realize something. I’m in a good situation because my manager used to do my job. That helps a lot.

        1. c*

          YES. This helps so much. I’ve been fortunate to be in two different roles (at two different organizations) where my manager had been promoted from my position. The institutional knowledge alone is a huge benefit, but the understanding of how much time things take is also really great.

      4. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Oh yeah!

        Also when a project manager is presented with a result they don’t like. The usual responses are:

        1. Are you sure this is right? – Yes. Yes we are. It’s reviewed and everything.
        2. Have you considered X? – Yes. We did. It doesn’t really matter if we put it in or not.
        3. What can you do to change the result? – Nothing, really. We can’t help that $component is crap. We weren’t consulted when they chose it. Other than changing $component there is nothing we can do.
        4. But that result is really horrible and will jeopardise the project! Do something! – At that point I want to shout ‘I cannae change the laws of physics!’

        1. INTP*

          All these stories remind me of something this cartoonist in my industry made, saying “A project manager is someone that thinks nine women can make a baby in one month.”

      5. designbot*

        yeah, mine tend to try and argue me into something, like, well when we did X it only took 2 hours, and isn’t this more like that than like A? And I’ll say something like, well really it’s more like when we did J, and that took 10 hours… and they’ll say but can’t we MAKE it be more like X, by cutting all these corners or just doing a draft and then fleshing it out later? They always manage to talk everyone in circles, but it does actually make them right.

    3. seejay*

      I had an ex-coworker that consistently complained that another coworker and I were taking much longer than they were to do similar work. They were sneakily bitching behind our backs that we took twice the amount of time and that we were sub-par software engineers because of this.

      When I assigned this person a small task to help me on, they hammered it out in two hours to “prove” how good they were, then left on vacation. I picked it up to add back into my code and discovered it was garbage. It missed all the edge cases, error conditions, and had a bug in it. When I messaged the developer about it, I got the response “I’m on vacation”, so I had to spend 8 hours doing it myself. I shouldn’t even have bothered handing it over to them in the first place.

      So yeah, some people in my company thinks ex coworker works faster than I do. My direct manager and I know that I produce solid, tested, edge-case code that covers virtually ever nook and cranny I can think of instead of trying to show off. When I say it’ll take 8 hours, it’s because I’m padding for the extra time to cover my butt so I can make sure I get everything under the umbrella. When they tell me ex-coworker said an hour, it meant they’ll get something that does the one single thing they want and as soon as someone pokes it the wrong way, it’ll die in screaming fire.

      So yeah, people will tell you no if they heard what they want to hear and don’t understand the full ramifications of it.

      1. Oranges*

        Can I frame this? Because all of the YES. And they don’t seem to understand why code breaks all the time. PS It breaks IN PROD. And our nightly data crunch (10+ hours) fails HALF the time. It’s redonkulous.

        Head meet desk.

      2. Tau*

        You are making me feel very glad that every piece of code we write at my place goes through code review, which makes it easy to poke at the crap “die in a screaming fire” code and go “uh, I refuse to approve this until its flammability has been reduced by at least 90%.”

    4. Overworked.*

      I had a supervisor respond to my “I’ve calculated how long it should take for my office to do everything we are required to do, and it is 300 hours per week more than we have staff for” with “we’re all being asked to do more with less.” Phbbbt.

      1. Triplestep*

        I once told a director that in order to keep up, I had recently worked on my laptop while a passenger during a family vacation road trip. His response: “I brought my laptop on a work trip and used it on the plane.”

        1. Overworked.*

          Oblivious much? I’m sorry that happened! (Both that you had to work while on a family trip and that your director responded that way.)

          1. Triplestep*

            Thanks. It was a very top-heavy department. He and another senior manager were eventually fired one after the other. Not surprisingly, they lifted right out!

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        When our department of four had our workload tripled, we got a part time assistant and told that we “could work as much overtime as you want”.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          This made me laugh out loud.

          Really?! No fooling?! I can work as many extra hour as I want to finish all the extra work you assigned me? Geeee, thanks!

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I remember one day when all four of us actually had stuff going on in the evening and we all got up to leave at our scheduled end time. Manager looked at us like we were crazy and was like “where is everyone going?”

      3. Connie-Lynne*

        I once was asked why I needed more headcount for 24×7 coverage. I responded with:

        Because we are required by law to give people 1 day off out of every week, and we cannot put one person on for a single 24-hour day. Therefore at minimum we need 3 people to work five days per week, and two to cover the weekends. We are unlikely to find people who want to work 2×12 shifts on the weekend, every weekend, so a rotating schedule that spreads this across everyone is a better choice. Either plan requires at minimum five people, and realistically six for vacation and sick coverage.

        I was told to make it work with three.

        Some people don’t understand physics or math.

        1. Super Secret Squirrel*

          Too much math = static in brain = you get this so you solve it.

          My engineer spouse always wants to explain things to business people. As a business person, I always tell him to make a picture.

          If I had seen a picture of that schedule, I’d get it instantly. That math word problem though… Visions of 5th grade tears and math homework torture.

    5. Someone else*

      Lots of executives do this, even without a previous precedent giving them the wrong impression of how long something takes. If I had a dollar for every time I said “that will take two weeks” and was told “we need it in three days” and they either laughed or said “make it work” or said “no, three days should be fine” for something they’d never done before and I had years of experience with…I could buy dinner for myself and my closest friends at the most expensive restaurant in town.

      1. Mike C.*

        OMG so many “we need this weird data analysis NOW NOW NOW NOW” for some meeting they just decided to have an hour ago and then wonder why we don’t have anything ready for them.

        1. Cherith Ponsonby*

          Oh yeah. And “we need this document for review by COB TODAY or the sky will fall”, then when you follow up a week later it’s “oh, I haven’t looked at it yet”. Flames, flames on the side of my face…

  3. mf*

    Gotta say, I don’t love that your manager didn’t trust and believe your statement that this kind of project would take 8 hours instead of 1 or 2. Maybe it would help it walk him/her through your process of completing this project to explain why it takes as long as it does?

    Also, yes, please update! I’m really interested to hear what happened.

    1. Antilles*

      Breaking it down into individual steps is *absolutely* the path to take when people don’t believe how long something takes. It’s really easy to look at the overall number and think it’s too big when you don’t really think through every individual step – “oh, it’s just making a short report from some data, that’s only a couple hours, right?”. I actually recently went through a conversation with someone about this exact thing:
      Me: This will take 8 hours.
      Her: What? No way! That seems like a lot! It’s just a report right, seems pretty easy?
      Me: Well, there’s a lot to do to get from the raw data to this. Do you mind if we go step-by-step? First I’m going to need to pull the data for these areas. Here are what the files look like (show massive ugly raw data file) and here (show nice clean table) is what I need to transform it into. That usually takes an hour or so.
      Her: Oh, yeah, I could see how that could take some time.
      Me: Okay, next I’ll need to prepare a few graphs, which I think should take an hour in order to make look nice and check the data’s graphing properly.
      Her: Yeah, I guess that’s fair, we don’t want graphing errors.
      Me: Okay, now I’ll need to actually write this 4-page report. I figure about an hour per page of analysis, plus an extra hour to review for consistency, typos, etc.
      Her: Hm, yeah, that sounds good.
      Me: Okay, now I need time to print the entire document, collate it, then review to make sure there weren’t any weird printing errors. I like to figure an hour or so for that; you know how our printer is…
      Her: Haha, yeah, I do. That sounds fair.
      Me: Okay, now we add it all up, maybe add an extra hour for float time in case there’s an issue anywhere along the line…and bam! 8 hours!
      Her: (no longer argues the time projection)

      1. Volunteer Enforcer*

        +1000 I’ve learnt the hard way it’s better to overestimate how long a task will take. A nice side affect is that you feel less stressed, therefore able to do a better, often quicker job.

        1. Rainy*

          Let us never forget the Great Actuals Disaster of 2015 at my organization, when December didn’t close until March. Don’t ask when March closed. It got ugly. There was screaming and crying and vomiting. Sometimes all at once, according to a friend in another division.

    2. Cochrane*

      Gotta say, I don’t love that your manager didn’t trust and believe your statement that this kind of project would take 8 hours instead of 1 or 2.

      From a senior managers perspective, why would they believe it? Fergus ran with the request and came back with a result that was received with acclaim from the managers. OP gave them mealy-mouthed excuses instead of finished product.

      The managers reaction when they find out that Fergus worked through the night to get this done is going to speak volumes. Best case scenario, they tell him to dial it back before he burns out and re-sets expectations for these projects. Worst case, Fergus sets a new standard where you’ll be scrambling to marshal resources to deal with their unrealistic view of deliverables.

      1. mf*

        If the LW does her job well and is typically reliable, then shouldn’t her manager give her the benefit of a doubt? I would hope that if I’m generally a good employee, my manager would tend to trust me when I tell them how long something will–or would at least ask some clarifying questions instead just outright disbelieving me.

      2. Amy*

        If the person saying “This will take 8 hours” has a reputation for doing good work on reasonably fast turnaround times, then their managers should at the very least go to “That’s not what I expected based on X, can you elaborate?” It’s a good sign that there are factors in play that the manager isn’t aware of. Jumping to “I don’t believe you,” on the other hand, shows that you don’t trust your employees to be honest with you–which, when you’re doing it to a trustworthy employee, is a bad look.

      3. Super Secret Squirrel*

        Yeah, but we all know people who take a week to do 4 actual hours of work. Or a week to do no work. Managers deal with those people a lot. Sometimes they don’t realize that they’re in managing slacker mode rather than conscientious mode or superstar mode.

    3. 42*

      Seriously. Can your manager relate to how long a similar project took *before* Fergus was hired there? Or, how long it historically takes other people who are not Fergus to complete similar tasks?

      Do you have any kind of time tracking system attached to a specific project?

      My department just completed an informal audit of how long it takes to finish one particular kind of project that we routinely have to do. We involved the entire department in the responses. I can’t believe that in your case, Fergus is sticking out like a sore thumb with his completion times compared to others’, and now you’re expected to make that the norm.

  4. voyager1*

    I am confused by the term “overnight”. Are we talking a few hours or is Fergus literally staying all night and then there the next day (maybe same clothes/no shower etc.)

    If it is later I have no advice to give other then you need to explain to your manager/higher up that you can’t work upteen hours overtime. But if Fergus can get done in a few hours what takes you a day…. that is a tough conversation.

    If it is the former then you need to explain to the manager that you can’t stay awake 24 hours plus and still function… not mention food is nice too.

    Good luck either way, can’t wait for the update!

    1. voyager1*

      Also meant to say if Fergus is working off the clock then tell your management that, but if you are salaried… oh man you are in a pickle.

    2. Infinity Anon*

      Since OP says the project takes 8 hours and they think it took 2 hours, it sounds like he stays maybe 6 hours late. That’s doable. I’ve done it when necessary. He still has time to eat and sleep.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, but it sounds like it’s not necessary and no one needed the project that quick originally. Like his deadline was in a week, so when he had it done the next day… no one assumed he worked an extra 6 hours.

        So now they’re assuming they’re quick and easy, and this time do need several of them the next day?

        (But it wouldn’t matter for this request… OP can’t stay late for an extra 20-40 hours anyways)

    3. Ignis Invictus*

      ADHD. That aspect is almost a superpower. You tell me at 6PM you need an 8 hour project, polished, and ready to go the next morning, I’ll have the damn thing sparkling. Tell me 6 weeks in advance…. that 8 hour project is either very subpar or very late. Hyperfocus its weird like that. I know we’re not supposed to back-seat diagnose our fellow readers. However, for your sanity OP, and if he’s willing, Fergus may need to “fess” up.

      1. PersistentCat*

        Same. You need a fire fought, a beautiful report on the suspected root cause of the fire, and the top recommended corrective actions, plus the rework done and approved? Oh, and you didn’t even find it til EOD? I’ll have that for you by morning. You want a fully developed project with no urgency done? Hah. ADHD brain weasels forgot it after the initial project scope meeting.
        I feel you, OP, it blows, but I’m in a position where everyone knows my very specialized skillset, so it really helps that everyone knows I’m the exception, not a standard

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Let me tell you about the time I remembered I needed to write a paper on Augustine’s Confessions — which I hadn’t read — the night before it was due. In ~12 hours, I read the whole thing and wrote a credible 8-page paper.

          Well, credible except for the part where 3am Me wrote “I am so tired and I kind of want to die” in the middle of a sentence, apropos of nothing. Fortunately, my professor thought it was hilarious.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I don’t have ADHD and I have done this (except for the I’m-so-tired-and-want-to-die insertion; that’s hilarious). I tend to focus better when I’m in the weeds than when I have tons of time, but I think it’s a procrastination thing, and also that I have trouble figuring out how long something will take (a dyscalculia thing).

            1. PersistentCat*

              Time perception is a huge thing in some types of ADHD in women (not saying you have it, but mentioning it as a commonality).

              CBF, you had an awesome English professor! Mine would tear me to shreds.

            2. Kateshellybo19*

              One semester I forgot I had an online class (it was a new thing at the time and I had a heavy class-load)
              Luckily I got an email telling me I had 24 hours to “take the final and wrap up any quizzes or homework” I did one whole semester’s worth or work in those 24 ours along with all my other finals projects. (I am usually pretty conscientious so most of my other projects were finished a just needed polishing.)

              1. puzzld*

                I forgot I signed up for bowling as a PE elective. Remembered with 2 days left in the semester. Bowled 18 games. I believe my right arm is still a little longer than the left.

              2. Jessica*

                I forgot about a class and got an emphatic F (traditional classroom, no way to make it up). For the longest time, I thought it was a dream because I was going through a bunch of personal stuff at the time, and it was a summer class. And it seems like such a cliche! When I got my transcript years later…nope. There it is. Poor college-aged me. Adult me was a much better student.

      2. OhNo*

        That’s what I was thinking, too – it sounds like me when I get stuck in hyperfocus. I’ve stayed late before without even realizing it because I’m stuck headfirst in a project (and I’m hourly, so staying late can be a big problem).

        One thing you might want to clarify, OP, is whether or not someone in Fergus’ job is expected to do this kind of thing, where someone in your job might not be. Especially if he’s project-focused, working extra hours when something needs to get done might just be a part of his job, that he either doesn’t realize isn’t part of yours, or doesn’t realize causes issues elsewhere.

      3. beanie beans*

        Sorry for the sidetrack, but I temporarily supervise someone with performance like this. Probably the smartest person on the floor, but I’m struggling to help him manage his workload. He’s had huge issues finishing work that’s been on his plate for months, but if a small immediate project comes up, he’ll work all night to have it perfect. So I have a perpetually exhausted brilliant employee who doesn’t get the core of his work done.

        Do you have any suggestions for how I can help him? Keeping in mind I can’t get him out of the job that isn’t a great fit for him and I’m a temporary supervisor (i.e. probably not solving long term performance issues here).

        1. PersistentCat*

          Honestly? When I worked the floor, it was twice daily check-ins with my super. It helped that, other than those check ins, I only saw her for MAJOR issues, because I was the most capable person for judging issues, planning the next actions, and knowing when to loop in management, beyond emails saying “this happened, this is how it was resolved” after the fact.
          She and I would sit down, discuss routine things that needed to be done, and set deadlines to get steps done. This added urgency. However, it became apparent the reason that I wasn’t getting core work done was that I was literally the fire extinguisher. So then my job became that (Quality Engineer vs. Quality Technician. I blew as a tech, rock the engineer role).

          Hope this helps!

          1. beanie beans*

            Yes, that’s helpful! We’ve been doing weekly one-on-one’s but I’ve had the idea to do really brief daily check-ins, but have been worried it would seem like micro-managing.

            People do come to him with fire extinguishing jobs because he is so smart and will crank something out (by working all night), which creates a vicious cycle of people going to him because he’ll get it done, not realizing the hours he is putting in to do it. I’d like to steer people away from going to him for these things, especially since other people on the floor can handle it within the 40 hour workweek, but I think he truly likes being the fire fighter and would resent me for taking away the part that he actually likes.

            Sigh. This is why I don’t want to be the permanent supervisor.

            1. Beancounter Eric*

              Then issue a directive that emergency projects are to come to you to be assigned out, and enforce said directive. Tell your employee to direct emergency project requests to you, under penalty of whatever company policy deem appropriate.

              Not to sound too cranky, but if you are the leader, lead.

              1. beanie beans*

                So as a self-identified Fergus, would you have been pissed to have had this type of work taken away from you?

                I think it’s what I need to do for everyone’s sake, so I know I’m looking weak here, just sucks when I go back to being coworker instead of supervisor that I’ll be the one who took the interesting part of his job away from him.

                Thanks for the perspective – appreciate the help!

                1. Beancounter Eric*

                  Again, part of the leadership thing, but you probably need to counsel Fergus that he has routine work which needs to come first. Probably won’t be a fun conversation, but it’s one you need to have.

                  As for being pissed at having the “fun” projects taken away – meh. I’m being paid to do X, ranging from interesting to very boring – it’s part of the job, and if I don’t like it, I can either deal with it or I can go find another job. I’ve been fortunate to have worked for managers who could communicate the “why” and didn’t just default to “because I said so”…..hopefully, Fergus is someone who can accept orders and carry on without getting emotional.

                  Sounds to me like once things are settled down in your department re. managers, there needs to be a review of assignments and job descriptions – if Fergus is better at special projects, and if demand is adequate, perhaps he should migrate into that role. Otherwise, the appropriate manager needs to keep Fergus on task and ensure projects are being completed.

                2. Mike C.*

                  I just had a manager that enforced this sort of rule and as an ADHD person as well it was a huge relief. I didn’t have to worry about constantly switching my focus and trying to decide which manager got their request done first.

                3. Jenny Next*

                  As a former Fergus, I would have been happy to have my manager protect me from all the short-term emergencies.

                  Here’s the thing: Before I quit my job due to serious burnout, it wasn’t unusual for me to have about 10 tasks I needed to do on any given day. Maybe 2 or 3 would involve large, long-term projects that didn’t necessarily need to be done immediately. The rest would involve short items which would take maybe an hour or two, and usually involved giving someone a key item to help them get their job done.

                  If I have 10 things to do, my inclination is to do the ones that take the least time first. That way, I will have fewer items on my to-do list, and people won’t be waiting for weeks to get the small ones done.

                  In practice, though, I could never get time to focus on the large items, because new short-term items would be coming in all the time.

                  It would have been really helpful to have a supervisor who laid down the law with people who kept handing work to me, or filtered the requests.

                  (My previous supervisor had made it clear to me and everyone in our group that my number one priority was working on his projects. It made for some uncomfortable moments, but it took pressure off me, and people were grateful when I could spare them some time.)

                4. SusanIvanova*

                  This can work: “Fun” projects that are on the “nice to have but not essential” list can only be worked on when it’s Friday afternoon and there’s not time enough to make any real progress on an essential project. And if they turn out to be too big for that Friday, they have to be set aside till the next Friday. No “oh, it’ll just take a few minutes on Monday to finish it off”.

            2. PersistentCat*

              I love being the firefighter, too. I mean, I’m projecting, but the reason folks tend to end up being the go-to for that kind of work is that they enjoy it on some level, and thus, would never say no. There wasn’t room for that in my old organization, but that supervisor was the one that helped me shore up my skills so I could move into that kind of work on a full-time basis. I now have direct reports, too, and it’s awesome/stressful learning their unique skill-sets, and coaching them to lean into them.

              Sounds like you care a lot; that’s more in your favor than some folks that are simply not okay with this level of coaching. Regarding micro-managing: it never felt like that to me, because we only talked about what needed to be done, and on what timeline (hers was more real vs. mine being hyper-optimistic). At the end of the day, we just discussed what timelines got met, which didn’t, and how to course-correct in the future. Honestly, totaled into her day at least 15 min per meeting. You may not have that, and so a lesser schedule might be best.

              1. beanie beans*

                I feel like I’ve got a plan now and not just ideas – thanks you guys for your insight! (and everyone else for letting me sidetrack!)

              2. PersistentCat*

                (Also, hells yes, you take away the fun part of my job, with nothing that makes a job different or better? I’m job hunting within 6 months, especially if the rest of the job makes me bored to tears & there are no redeeming people)

            3. Nolan*

              Break up his projects into smaller tasks. So, instead of Project A being due next Friday, he has deliverable A due tomorrow, deliverable B due Monday, etc. That will hopefully make it easier for him to focus and help stave off procrastination.

              As for putting out fires… maybe ask that people not approach him for help after a certain time? So if people routinely come to him at 3 or 4 and he then spends several hours after the normal EOB working on them, if nobody approaches him after 2, it may help to get him out the door at a reasonable hour.

        2. Cherith Ponsonby*

          I am a person like this, so thank you for the sidetrack :)

          One thing that’s helped me is scoping out my tasks – I have a project that I’ve sort of procrastinated on, and now it’s crunch time and I have to buckle down and get it done. My manager asked me to scope it out so I made a spreadsheet with lots of details, and now I have a better idea of the scale of the project, and also a document that I can look at whenever I need it to help get me back on track. I don’t know if your projects lend themselves to this sort of planning, but I definitely recommend it if they do.

          I get a lot of short-term emergencies too, but they’re not fires so much as… let’s say wrapping presents; I’m the only one who can wrap them professionally and do all the ribbons, but if a low-priority present gets sent out in plain brown paper it’s not the end of the world, and while I enjoy making presents look lovely I sometimes kind of resent having to do them all. If you have a few wrappers on the team, maybe you could mandate that all requests for wrapping must go through you, and then give Fergus enough presents to wrap that he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out, while spreading the load so he’s not overwhelmed.

  5. a1*

    Yes, I, too, would love an update. Did you and Fergus manage to pull it off? I actually think that would make things worse, in the long run. Or did you both have to go in that day with less than complete work? Hopefully, that would prove what you were saying.

  6. Clever Name*

    When I read the headline I was thinking that OP was an average employee who was mad at a superstar coworker for making her “look bad”, but all I can say is wow. Constantly pulling all-nighters for internal status reports is a short path to burnout. What happens when there is a legit crunch? I’m working on a project that basically boils down to “because the Governor wants it done this fast”, and it’s all hands on deck. People are working a lot of hours, but nobody is pulling all-nighters. That’s just insane.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      I think your assumption has to do with industry/background/experience.

      I’ve worked mostly customer service—and most of that in call centers (fml)—so I’m extremely familiar with “helpful” coworkers who go against policy “for good customer service,” which hurts everyone else who follows policy because “the last person I talked to did it, so I know you can” and there’s no leeway on those customer surveys for following policy: if they rate us 8/10 or lower, that’s considered a fail whether they said they wanted something we weren’t supposed to do or not. This is probably less common in real jobs, or at least I hope so.

  7. Beancounter Eric*

    I am Fergus. More accurately, I used to be Fergus….thought nothing of 80-90 hour weeks, working 8am until 10pm weekdays along with shorter days on weekends……had I not had a heart attack and stroke at 40, I probably would still be working those hours.

    Why did I do it? Because there was work to be done. Because if I didn’t do it, they very easily could find someone else. And because being the Go-To Guy felt pretty darn good.

    I’ll second AAM’s response, with this warning – Fergus probably won’t change.

      1. Cherith Ponsonby*


        When Mr P and I were living together I’d leave at 5.30 on the dot most days (in line with company culture) and still be sufficiently productive. Now we’re 5 hours apart for a while, and my flat sucks and my commute is painful and I’m terrible at putting my own needs first (big ups to my therapist for pointing that one out), and I’ve fantasised more than once about “accidentally” getting locked in the building overnight so I could keep on solving this one thorny problem because it’s much more interesting than anything else I could be doing.

        I think this thread was a wake-up call I didn’t know I needed. Thanks, all.

    1. Kj*

      I was Fergus at my last job- I was the superstar who could make clients happy by going the extra mile in 1000 ways, everyday. When I had to leave (loved the clients, the job as a whole not so much), I realized how much it was going to SUCK to be my replacement. I was replaced by two people and both struggled in the transition to set expectations- and they were being reasonable. I feel bad about leaving them in a tough spot, but, then I had been encouraged to do all the super-star stuff from my supervisor and it helped cement my reputation in the field. I don’t honestly know if I could have acted differently in that role- the super-star stuff came natural. But I do regret the impact it had on folks when I left. I sometimes wonder if my supervisor should have set some firmer boundaries with my work. But hindsight is 20/20 and all….

      1. Abbey Road*

        I’m similar. A coworker friend from my last job told me it took three people to replace me. That job overworked me like crazy so I’m not surprised.

        1. Adlib*

          I transferred within my company 3 years ago. Before my old department let me go, I had to train my 3 replacements. I’m still not sure how they got approval for all that budget. How was it they survived with just me that whole time?

      2. Basiorana*

        Eh, I wasn’t even Fergus (in the working late, killing yourself sense) and it took two people to replace me in a previous role– after 3 people were transferred out of it for not cutting it. Supervisors need to understand that not everyone will work at the same pace, and you can’t plan timetables based on fast workers.

        1. boop the first*

          Ack! I hate when management hires new people, and then immediately transfers them out after a week or two because “they’re just not as good and you guys!” So impatient.

          (especially when they’re young hires because it’s minimum wage, and they only got a single day of training, but that’s a different kind of situation)

      3. AcademiaNut*

        It doesn’t even take a Fergus.

        Take someone who is merely quite good who is hired to do X and Y. When they master X and Y, and as the business is growing, A, B and C are gradually added, and X and Y become more complex. Then they leave, and management realizes that they don’t have five years to grow someone into the current position, so they need to hire more people to ensure the work continues to get done.

    2. Antilles*

      More precisely, Fergus probably won’t change *voluntarily*. He absolutely will change eventually at some point; it’ll just be something unexpected – due to a health issue or having a family or leaving the company or burnout or a dozen other reasons.

    3. RVA Cat*

      That’s why I nickname this kind of overwork “John Henry Syndrome” – sure he beat the machine, but he *died*.

    4. Triplestep*

      I used to be Fergus, but not by choice. I was an individual contributor in a very top-heavy department. Too many “decision-makers”, not enough people to carry out their great ideas, and a very punitive culture. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing one of them leave her laptop on her desk when she left for 10 days off. As if!

    5. Rainy*

      Yeah. This is why my first husband is also my late husband. Stroke and heart attack at 45, after over a year of 99% travel and 80-90 hour work weeks. He lasted longer after the stroke than was medically likely (and his neuro conferenced with his case), but he still died basically of overwork. He would have been 62 a few days ago.

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Terribly sorry for your loss.

        I was single when I had my heart attack….now married, and have a wife who expresses her extreme displeasure when I work more than she is happy with. Fortunately, current job allows me to work “normal” business hours – late once in a while, but not outrageously often.

        1. Rainy*

          Thanks–I am so glad you are okay and could return to work. Keep listening to your wife. She’s smart. :)

          1. Beancounter Eric*

            No kidding…smartest person I know….She keeps me sane, relatively well balanced, and quite frankly, properly fed – she is a consulting chef in healthcare food service, and was the Executive Chef at the hospital where I was treated.

              1. Beancounter Eric*

                We met about six months later through eHarmony.

                When she first met my mother, she remarked that she thinks they chatted in the cafeteria while I was hospitalized.

    6. Amadeo*

      Yes, this basically happened to my dad (minus the stroke). He had a heart attack at 46. He owns his own service station and for the longest time was open (or at least there) 12 hours a day, six days a week. His official hours were 7-6, Mon-Sat for nearly 30 years. Closing for Labor Day, Memorial Day, Christmas, New Year’s Day (we did inventory for our New Year’s Eve party, great times for a kid) and Thanksgiving. And if Christmas and New Year’s were on Sundays? Oh well. Shortly before the 27 year mark is when it got him.

      Afterward he dialed back his hours some through the week, closing at 5:30 instead and closing at noon on Saturdays. He’s maintained there for a while, but he’s nearly 63 at this point (as a related side note, know anyone that wants to buy a small-town service and fuel station?)

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        Is it in the middle of nowhere on the way to an oddly popular cabin, lake, or other such destination? I have quite the collection of cryptic, vaguely threatening sayings I have no use for at the moment.

        1. Snorks*

          The creepy sayings are the easy part, the hard part is the way you have to let the shop run down, the timing you need to jump scare pretty sorority girls…

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    Oh man, OP, I deal with this all the time. The difference is that I am Fergus — not really, I’m way lazier than Fergus. But I’m a really fast writer so sometimes I’m able to knock something out for a client in half an hour that would take half a day if one of my direct reports did it. I’m very aware of it though and will often sit on work that I’ve finished for hours after I’m done before I hand it over (so that my account team doesn’t get the idea that they can always ask for something 30 minutes before they need it), or I will turn it over to get it off my plate and say, “Please don’t send it to the client until the time we agreed upon.” And we’ll decide on a case-by-case basis what’s more important: pleasing the client extra today, or making sure that they don’t develop insane expectations over time?

    So…I think you need to get Fergus on your side. What happened with this particular situation, OP? If it didn’t end well, I’d start there. “Fergus, I want to make sure the Six-Region Debacle of 2017 doesn’t repeat itself. I’m concerned that the bosses are starting to think we can work miracles because they don’t realize you’re burning the midnight oil to get things done. It’s awesome that you’re so motivated, but if the bosses don’t realize that you’re a hard worker and not a miracle worker, you can see that they think this stuff is easy. And then we get in trouble because it seems like we should be able to do even more because it’s so easy!”

    In fact, I think you might do well to butter Fergus up and make him feel like the bosses need to appreciate just how much work he puts in to get things done. If he’s burning the midnight oil and that just means the big boss thinks the work is easy, then he sure hasn’t furthered his career by working all those extra hours!

    I would couple this with speaking to your manager about how X task takes Y hours — even for Fergus. And again, it’s awesome that he’s so motivated and hearts his work so much, but you yourself are not able to sustain that kind of a pace, so here’s what YOU can do in normal working hours.

    1. a1*

      I’m able to knock something out for a client in half an hour that would take half a day if one of my direct reports did it. I’m very aware of it though and will often sit on work that I’ve finished for hours after I’m done before I hand it over (so that my account team doesn’t get the idea that they can always ask for something 30 minutes before they need it), or I will turn it over to get it off my plate and say, “Please don’t send it to the client until the time we agreed upon.” And we’ll decide on a case-by-case basis what’s more important: pleasing the client extra today, or making sure that they don’t develop insane expectations over time?

      This is/was me, too. There are certain things that I am just that fast with. Doesn’t make me better or worse than others. AND since I’ve had a lot of client facing jobs (me being on the vendor side) learned very early on not to always turn things over that fast. You don’t want to set that expectation that things can always get done that fast; and you don’t want the rest of your team, whether a team of peers or direct reports, to be unfairly thought of as not as fast/not as good. At that time, I mostly worked with people that I would call the best in the field and I learned a lot from them, so they deserved and got all the respect in the world.

    2. JD*

      Oh this is me. I refuse to ever admit to anyone how fast I type anymore because I will be constantly asked to type every last thing, regardless of my management position, just to have it done faster.

    3. Kiki*

      After ending up in situations like OP’s before, I’ve also learned to sit on my work if I get it done quickly. Not for unreasonable amounts of time, but for the amount of time it would take to get that task done during a busy period. My boss loves throwing mission critical stuff at me without much lead time and if I’m already busy then it definitely takes at least a day to turn around, so I want him to have that expectation and not think an anomaly not-busy-time turnaround is the norm.

    4. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      “Fergus, I want to make sure the Six-Region Debacle of 2017 doesn’t repeat itself. I’m concerned that the bosses are starting to think we can work miracles because they don’t realize you’re burning the midnight oil to get things done. It’s awesome that you’re so motivated, but if the bosses don’t realize that you’re a hard worker and not a miracle worker, you can see that they think this stuff is easy. And then we get in trouble because it seems like we should be able to do even more because it’s so easy!”

      In fact, I think you might do well to butter Fergus up and make him feel like the bosses need to appreciate just how much work he puts in to get things done. If he’s burning the midnight oil and that just means the big boss thinks the work is easy, then he sure hasn’t furthered his career by working all those extra hours!

      I think this is the key to reaching Fergus. He is That Guy. Whether it is maliciously intentional or simply overhelpful, he is doing a disservice to himself.

    5. only acting normal*

      I actually did this today. Finished creating some presentation slides from a batch of documents much quicker than I’d estimated… but damned if I’m sending it out before tomorrow.

  9. Brett*

    Can I just add that this is particularly awful behavior out of a project manager? Part of their job is to set reasonable expectations for work completion, and this is a distinct failure to do that!

    1. bookartist*

      YES! This is the comment I was going to make. A project manager should be all about setting expectations that are reasonable. Part of our job is to make sure we don;t burn out or make staff burn out.

    2. GG*

      As a project manager, if I bend over backwards for someone by sacrificing my own time or other projects, I make sure the involved parties know it. (And I really only do this when the situation meets 3 criteria: I’m able to do the task in the requested amount of time without burning down all of my other work to the ground, the person truly needs it done or the business depends on it, and the person asked nicely and will appreciate the effort.) “I’m glad I was able to get this done for you so the client won’t be made aware of the scheduling error. However, I had to delay 13 other important projects today to get this done, and I cannot commit to doing that for you on a regular basis so please plan accordingly for our other projects.” or “I know you were in a pinch yesterday so I stayed late to do this because I had a rare evening without committments, and I know how important it was to you, however, I will not be able to do this for you going forward and I need you to plan on 3 business days for this type of task in the future.” It generally works out ok for me!

  10. MiaMia*

    God, I really hate people like Fergus. I know that’s at least somewhat unfair, but the Ferguses I’ve met don’t seem to realize or care that they’re making things harder on everyone else – their attitude always seems to be some combo of smug at being the “rockstar” and bewildered that not everyone is willing to drop everything, including things like sleep, just to go “above and beyond” on work stuff.

    But I’m a firm believer in general that unless there’s a legitimate crisis, even salaried people should have a reasonable end to the workday and be able to just leave work there for the next day. The whole attitude of “work comes first above everything, dedicate everything to the job” and the like just seem exploitative to me. Expecting people to regularly stay after hours or respond like everything is a crisis is unsustainable for most people and just wrong.

    1. MiaMia*

      Also, it creates the unrealistic expectation that everyone should be able to pull a Fergus, and when most people can’t, that ends up creating problems down the line. It also teaches employers that they can push boundaries with other employees – that it’s reasonable to ask people to constantly pull all-nighters for things that in saner workplaces should take a couple days, say – and also punishes employees who aren’t willing to put up with that nonsense or have commitments beyond work.

      I wish there were ways for Ferguses to get the recognition they want in ways that didn’t have such bad repercussions for other people. It’s hard to say to a Fergus (or a boss who expects a Fergus) “you need to stop going above and beyond,” though, because we are so used to thinking of that as an unalloyed good.

      1. MiaMia*

        (I wish there were an edit function.)

        To clarify, I don’t think that going above and beyond is necessarily always terrible, either, but I do think it needs to be done in ways that don’t unfairly harm others, whether that’s other current employees, people hired on to replace you, or clients/bosses who discover at some point that their estimates have been warped by too-high expectations. I think my big pet peeve with Ferguses/bosses who expect Ferguses is that going above and beyond becomes linked with time, when it doesn’t have to be. It could be linked to other markers of quality.

      2. It's Spelt "Raymond Luxury Yacht" But Pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove"*

        …everyone should be able to pull a Fergus…

        That needs to become an established colloquialism.

          1. It's Spelt "Raymond Luxury Yacht" But Pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove"*

            Great. Thanks a lot. Now I’ve got coffee to clean out of the keyboard.

    2. Snark*

      In my experience “the rockstar” is managerese for “has no concept of work-life balance and looks better than the rest largely because they consent to being worked like a rented mule, as apparently kudos are more important to them than sleep, food, leisure, and other aspects of being a functional human being.”

      1. MiaMia*

        Yup. I’ve become really hypersensitive to anything that even suggests work should be my overriding priority, including all the ridiculous cultural nonsense about how one is lazy or entitled for wanting something of a social or private life.

        It also doesn’t help that a lot of people are really invested in the idea that everyone could be a rockstar if they just tried hard enough. Not everyone can – in fact, I really don’t think most people can, especially not long-term. So most people who try to be a Fergus will burn out, but I guess that doesn’t matter to some bosses if they can milk them for all they’re worth first. It’s a stupid and wasteful way to manage, though.

      2. Green*

        Some people are just really efficient/fast workers and still maintain high quality. I do the work of 2-3 people in my current role, and I like being busy. I still knock off by 5 most days, have a life, and will work late to finish an important project if needed.

        Don’t hate the Ferguses!

        1. MiaMia*

          I certainly hope your managers are smart enough to recognize not everyone can pull that off, both for your sake and your coworkers/successors.

          I know I started off this thread saying I hate Ferguses, but really I hate the ones who either make problems for everyone else (like the LW’s Fergus) or swan about lording their superiority over the rest of us. If you aren’t doing either, that’s great! I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that doing your job well or efficiently is necessarily bad. For me, there’s some nebulous border between “good, efficient Not Fergus” and a Fergus, but I couldn’t pinpoint where one crosses into the other, and I suspect it varies by job. I do expect my fellow coworkers to do their jobs well and reasonably quickly, and I’m not too keen on Fergus’ mirror-universe slacker twin, either.

          What I really hate are the managers who wind up setting their baseline expectations to Fergus, and who refuse to listen to how unrealistic that is. Though I will cop to having a much stronger emotional reaction to Ferguses and not their bosses, because all the Fergus-types I’ve personally known have been jackasses.

          I do think there is some value in not stepping way outside your job or inflating expectations too much, just on general principle, and also because bad managers who expect everyone to be like Fergus also tend to take Fergus’ overachieving for granted, and not see it as above-and-beyond like a Fergus might expect. All that just results in everyone’s work being devalued, Fergus’ included.

          1. MiaMia*

            Thinking on this more, I think what gets my hackles up about Fergus is the promising of unrealistic deadlines, especially if they don’t involve just him, or if the work might be expected of others at another point, and also meeting those deadlines by working a ridiculously late night. It would be one thing if those deadlines were just reflecting on Fergus, I think, and also if he were accomplishing this to spec within standard working hours. It also doesn’t help that it seems like he not only dumped all the other work that he needed to do on the back burner, but that he doesn’t actually prioritize well – I got from the LW that this work wasn’t a crisis thing that needed to be done that fast.

        2. Snark*

          I’m pretty obviously not directing my sentiments at people who work efficiently and quickly, so I’d argue you’re more of a Wakeen than a Fergus. And even then, I think there’s a certain amount of managing up that needs to be done to avoid a) you getting loaded up with more than even you can handle or b) your bosses developing unrealistic expectations of your coworkers.

          1. Green*

            I don’t really think the efficient worker has an obligation to manage up so that the boss doesn’t develop unrealistic expectations of coworkers.

            I let my bosses know when I have too much on my plate, and ask them to prioritize, but I think it’s up to everyone else to tell the boss when they’re at capacity. I don’t know their workloads, work speed, what else comes up in the day to distract them or what’s going on at home that keeps them from staying the extra hour if necessary to get the project done on deadline.

            I just don’t see how that managing up goes without making the Wakeen look like a douche. “HEY, I did this super fast, but you should know that this takes everyone else 3 hours!” “HEY, I got everything done on deadline, but I stayed in the office until 8:46 p.m.!”

            Where Fergus screwed up here is that he didn’t take accountability with colleague to push back against the unreasonable deadline. The number one rule of deadlines is that if you’re going to miss the deadline, you have to set that expectation. Here he left coworker under the bus instead of going with her to say that they won’t be done until Monday.

    3. Shellesbelles*

      I also hate Ferguses. I work with one and it makes every single second at this job unbearable. Constantly talking about how they worked for 12+ hours, came in at 6:00am, worked all weekend (even when they had no pressing deadlines), etc. I try to maintain perspective – this person has no life outside of the job, is chronically unwell because of the amount of hours they put in, and basically is a martyr for the cause. And they get off on all of that. Sometimes remembering that helps, but when they make some passive aggressive/martyry remark for the twentieth time, I start to lose it.

  11. Letter Writer*

    LW here.

    HOO BOY. My director was NOT happy on Friday with me or with Fergus. The VP ended up rescheduling the meeting for Monday. Fergus and I ended up working on the project over the weekend to get it done for Monday and it all turned out ok from that angle. We had a meeting together and then separately with our director and I laid out why the projects take so long to do and she seemed understanding. She’s not happy I didn’t bring it up sooner, but she understood why it might not have seemed relevant before. I have no idea what she said to Fergus, but he has seemed pretty depressed so I’m thinking it was not a happy conversation.

    To clarify a few things: Fergus is probably marginally better than I am at this task, but these tasks simply just take a long time and there is limited skill advantage as far as time goes. He might be able to complete it in 7.5 hours to my 8 (but he’s terrible at checking his work so he has to redo stuff enough that in the long run, I am likely faster). I believe he was doing it overnight to be helpful and I think he thought he was doing a good job by providing them the projects literally ASAP. By overnight, I do mean he is staying up until 3-4 in the morning and then coming in at 8 to work some more. We are all salaried so that part is irrelevant.

    1. Helpful*

      Wow. It seems like this was ironed out for the most part. I hope it doesn’t create any ill will between any of you, and good thing it’s out in the open.

      1. Snark*

        I still think LW needs to have a conversation with Fergus along the lines of, “Dude, you created some expectations on the part of management about how long this stuff takes, and it screwed you and me both into missing a deadline that was too early by days. Is it clear yet that this is not sustainable? If you pull all-nighters, that’s your business, but you need to at least communicate to management that you’re doing that so they know what they can commit us to. Or I will.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It sounds though like the manager made that clear to him, and this would be kind of berating him about it if he already gets it. I’d wait and see if he keeps doing it.

          1. Snark*

            True. And you don’t want to pile on. But I screwed up once right before I went on vacation, and ended up saddling two coworkers with an emergency redo. The talking-to from the boss was definitely an eye-opener, but I didn’t realize how much it had affected my coworkers until one of them, as you say, berated me about it.

          2. Green*

            I don’t think Fergus needs to tell the bosses proactively when he works late. Or that Fergus needs to take accountability (proactively) for the manager’s assumption that it doesn’t take that long to do the project.

            However, where Fergus failed here is by not joining LW to set expectations about when the managers should expect the reports. If you’re going to miss a deadline, you have to tell your managers as soon as you realize that you’re going to miss it. (In part because they may have promised the deliverable to THEIR managers too.)

            If I were the colleague, I wouldn’t focus on the unreasonable expectations or the all-nighters. I would just say, “Hey, when I’m not going to make a deadline, I think it’s really important to let them know as early as possible and explain what’s going on. Next time we have a tight project together, would you join me in helping to manage expectations? I think my efforts would have been more successful if we’d both been involved.”

            1. Kate 2*

              Um, the whole reason they missed the deadline is because it was set based on wildly unrealistic expectations. Because Fergus was spending 6 to 8 hours, the equivalent of entire workdays, at night when the office was closed working on these projects, and not telling the boss about it. And when the unrealistic deadline was set, he refused to be honest with the boss.

              1. Amy*

                Yeah, but having an original misconception on how long this takes wasn’t the big deal–if Fergus had been willing to say “Yeah, I did spend 8 hours on that. I worked late because you said it was needed ASAP, but I didn’t mean to give the impression it could be done in 2 hours, that’s not possible,” it would have been easily corrected. Misconceptions happen, clarification generally fixes them. The biggest problem with Fergus’ behavior was when he refused to correct that misconception and let their boss continue to think the new deadline was doable, putting both himself and the LW in an impossible situation.

                1. MiaMia*

                  The biggest problem with Fergus’ behavior was when he refused to correct that misconception and let their boss continue to think the new deadline was doable

                  This, yes. This is why I am side-eyeing the comments about how Fergus might just be so efficient and so much better at doing the job – that’s not the issue.

                2. Cubicles*

                  What bothers me is that Fergus didn’t want to talk to their bosses about how unrealistic their timeline expectations were. What was he going to do? How did he expect to deal with it when he and LW couldn’t deliver in the expected time? He left the LW to try to explain it to the higher-ups and deal with their surprise and perhaps skepticism.

                3. K, Esq.*

                  But OP did talk to the director to give her accurate information and she blew him off. This is on the director.

            2. Kate 2*

              Um, the whole reason they missed the deadline is because it was set based on wildly unrealistic expectations. Because Fergus was spending 6 to 8 hours, the equivalent of entire workdays, at night when the office was closed working on these projects, and not telling the boss about it. And when the unrealistic deadline was set, he refused to be honest with the boss.

    2. a1*

      Thanks for the update! I’m glad your director seemed understanding. Hopefully it’ll all be better from here on out, now.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I was kind of annoyed with the director for not getting it the first time OP told her. Director kinda got what she deserved when the work wasn’t done for the initial meeting. Glad Fergus finally is getting things figured out too!

        Thank you for the awesomely fast update!

    3. neverjaunty*

      Glad to hear this update, LW! I admit I was worried that Fergus would continue to be deceptive and you would get blamed for being “slow” – but it seems like your managers get the picture now.

    4. hbc*

      I don’t think there’s anything your director could have said that would have made Fergus happy, based on my experience with that kind of overachiever. He either wanted to fake that he could do everything in 1/4 of the time and was upset to be exposed, or he gets off on being the hero and failed in this case. So even if she was all, “Wow, you’ve been putting in so much work, you’re such an asset to the company, and it’s okay that this time it wasn’t an ideal outcome,” he’d have been mopey.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Eh, I think there’s a third option, and that’s just that he wants to be helpful but doesn’t think about the big picture of the expectations he’s creating. I have a coworker who, if she were exempt, I know would do this kind of thing because she puts pressure on herself to get things done as fast as possible. She doesn’t want to fake how long things take her or be any kind of hero, she just gets stressed by having stuff hanging over her head and worries that people will think she’s not good at her job if she’s not fast (she’s actually great at her job).

        1. Anlyn*

          I have a co-worker like that too, only we all know she’s like that. Shoot, she went in for surgery once and asked for her laptop IN RECOVERY so she could complete some tickets. Our manager refused.

          1. RL*

            I did that earlier this year. :( I was being rolled into the OR to have emergency surgery, on morphine, crying because my work wasn’t getting done and I thought I was going to get fired, refusing to give up my laptop until they made me.

            I had a boss who had very unrealistic expectations of me. What she said was “take all the time you need” but what she really meant was “I get that I HAVE to let you have surgery right now but if your work doesn’t get done or something slips while you’re out, I’m going to RIP YOU A NEW ONE when you’re back in the office and I’m also calling you “unreliable” in your performance review, where I’m recommending that you don’t get a raise this year because nothing you do is good enough for me.” I don’t have that boss anymore, so I’m learning to set much more appropriate boundaries. :)

            1. Noobtastic*

              So what you are saying is that although you were hopped up on morphine, you were still very rational in your fear of being fired for being out of action because of an emergency surgery.

              It’s not “unreliable” to have a body that has medical emergencies from time to time.

              I hate your old boss. Thank God you don’t have that boss anymore. And I hope you fought that “unreliable” performance review, stating that the boss was penalizing you for having emergency surgery, and not being able to work while ACTUALLY IN THE OPERATING ROOM.

              Also, I hope that boss gets a permanently itchy ass. 24/7, for LIFE!

          2. Valkyrie Ice Queen*

            When I was getting my epidural in preparation for an emergency c-section, I recognized my anesthesiologist as someone who was expecting a report from me. I apologized, tried to verbally give her the report, as well as set a timeline for getting the physical report to her on Monday (it was Sunday afternoon, I’d been in labor for HOURS and was, at the time, going into emergency surgery). For some reason, she wasn’t that interested in the report at that time.

            I can’t even blame the drugs, because I hadn’t had any yet. :)

        2. Bryce*

          That definitely resonates, I get tunnel vision very easily. “But he’s terrible at checking his work so he has to redo stuff enough that in the long run, I am likely faster” is what makes me think he may be the same way, it’s something I struggle with a lot. If something needs to be done, I have a lot of difficulty switching gears and so everything else loses priority.

          Not that this means “oh you need to rearrange things to accomodate his habits”, just that his disruption could very easily come from a place of ignorance rather than malice or sycophancy.

    5. bookartist*

      Fergus should suck it up and be glad he had this converstaion now, when his efforts didn’t lose the company a client or significant revenue.

      1. Snark*

        This is a great point. It’s all well and good to pull all-nighters and impress the bosses with how quick you manage to do big projects, right up until you mislead them into a deadline commitment you cannot possibly meet.

        1. Noobtastic*

          Yeah. And pulling all-nighters to meet unrealistic goals is something you do specifically for emergencies (because someone promised a deadline commitment without checking with anyone, or because someone high up decided “I want this done in June, not October, because the launch date will better fit into my vacation plans and I’m not shifting my vacation plans to accommodate a launch date that has been in place for three years), not as regular, day-to-day routine.

          Yeah, I’ve seen what happens when a higher-up decided to move up a deliverable by several months. All-nighters DO become the day-to-day routine, for that one project. But then, the higher-up brags about how effective and efficient “his people” are, and furthermore, after making everyone else expect the same quick turn-around, he continues to insist on the same quick turn-around for himself, as well, because “Well, you did it before. You can do it again.”

          “No, we can’t do it again, because two people are out on mental health hospitalizations, another is in the hospital with a concussion from hitting her head as she passed out at 8 in the morning, after working three all-nighters in a row, and four more quit after you didn’t even say THANK YOU to them, during your launch speech, although you thanked everyone else. No, we can’t do it again, because we have even less man-power now than we did then.”

          “Oh, well, I guess you’ll just have to work smarter from now on. By the way, there’s a hiring freeze, and in order to save the company money, no non-exempt employees are allowed to work any overtime, under any circumstances. Now, about that launch date in January… I want to move that to October. You see, my vacation plans changed after all, and…”


          This is what happens when you work in a department that routinely goes above and beyond, working through holidays, long nights, and stress-illness. They stop thinking this is “above and beyond,” but actually start accusing you of padding the time when you give a low-priority project the actual reasonable deadline that assumes a mere 8-hour day on full staffing. You know, the timeline that was once standard for high-priority jobs? That one? Yeah, that’s “padding the time” because it’s low-priority.

          Can you tell I am still ticked off about this. I get very ticked off at seeing people I work with and like actually needing to be hospitalized because of work expectations, and not even getting a proper thank you for it, let alone having those work expectations “relaxed” back to their original reasonable level.

          In short, if you go above and beyond, make jolly well sure that everyone knows full well that this is a once-off above and beyond, really expensive, emergency thing, and also make sure that your staff are well rewarded for it, with recognition, at the very least, if you can’t do actual bonuses or extra time off after such a push.

          Also, if you don’t want to lose half of your fully-trained staff, because people start quitting in droves, and the trend continues until the ones who are left are only there for the year left until retirement, and don’t even worry about getting fired for not doing their jobs, because they are prepared for “early retirement,” and so you have a bunch of lame ducks and noobs who need training, and the lame ducks have no interest in training them.

          Sorry, rant over.

    6. Anonymous Educator*

      Thanks for the update. Sounds as if it’s not cool now, but things may get better soon.

    7. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m glad to hear that you didn’t get penalized in any way for Fergus’s behavior.

    8. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      It’s unfortunate that Fergus’ actions have had a negative effect on your standing with your boss. It seems like boss should have been more aware of what Fergus was doing and she should have been managing him better. You shouldn’t be blamed for not bringing it up sooner; as soon as you were given an unrealistic deadline, you notified her and she blew you off.

      I hope you follow up in a few weeks and let us know how/if things have changed. I suspect Fergus will be right back at his overachieving/overhelping ways, but maybe your boss will monitor his login/logouts more.

    9. Althea*

      I think this was a pretty good outcome! I don’t think it was likely to end well for Fergus. It’s his responsibility to let his manager know how long something will take, and what other priorities would need to balanced against this new item. What would have happened if he dropped something that was actually more important just so he could pull this stunt? He never checked with his manager, but his manager is the one in a position to know how the priorities should be ordered.

      Also, I don’t see why your manager was upset with you for not telling her sooner. You had zero responsibility in it. Both Fergus and your manager are the ones who failed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, I think there are situations where it’s reasonable for a manager to expect a heads-up about something you’re seeing that will affect the work and which you’re pretty sure she’s unaware of.

        1. Althea*

          I don’t really get it, though. I work on a team with 2 others who do the same thing as me, but on different projects. It would never occur to me to butt into how they manage their time on their work, until and unless it affected mine.

          It doesn’t sound like that happened here until this situation came up – Fergus’s work never affected OP’s work before. So going to the manager about it just looks like complaining about something that doesn’t affect your own work.

          1. Anna*

            I think what the OP was saying is that she was concerned it would cause an unreasonable expectation and that’s exactly what happened. He does this by working overnight and abandoning all other projects. He will turn around something that takes eight hours to do the next morning, and our director and VPs think this is amazing. He has never outright lied, but our leaders think that the overnight turnaround means these projects are small and easily accomplished in a couple hours –they are completely unaware that he is working on them overnight.
            The OP predicted this might become a problem because it had set up an unrealistic idea that the projects were easy to do, not understanding that the only reason they were getting done so quickly is because Fergus wasn’t being transparent about how he was getting them done so quickly. It’s not that it became an issue once for the OP; it’s that the OP could see the writing on the wall and was worried this exact thing would happen.

            1. Starbuck*

              Yeah, but it’s not surprising they didn’t bring it up ahead of time- if there hadn’t been a problem like this yet, who knows how the manager would react. Well, OP might know, but based on how much explaining they had to do to the boss and others to get them to understand the current issue, seems like they probably wouldn’t have been successful earlier.

    10. Lady Blerd*

      LW: Hopefully Fergus has learned his lesson. As I keept telling my colleagues, when you create unrealistic expectations from the bosses, it becomes the new normal and it’s hard to walk it back. It was hurting not just his colleagues but mostly himself by putting more stress and killing his personal life.

      1. Former Usher*

        Experienced this myself. The reward for our hard work meeting unrealistic deadlines was more work with even less realistic deadlines.

        1. Snazzy Hat*

          Eons ago, when I was in an art class, we had an assignment where we were supposed to spend a total of twelve hours on a drawing. The end goal was intricate detail. If I recall correctly, we were assigned this on a wednesday morning and it was to be turned in the following monday. Mine looked pretty good; I spent a little under 11 hours on it and could have stretched that to over 12.

          Come monday morning, we brought our drawings in for critique. The professor & assistants felt it looked as though the majority of us didn’t spend anywhere near 12 hours on it, so they assigned us another 12-hour drawing to be completed by that wednesday, 48 hours later. I was so mad, I did my second drawing in under four hours, and it looked like garbage. My first drawing is framed on display in my living room.

          1. Noobtastic*

            Twelve hours within forty-eight hours? Did they think you had absolutely no life outside of this class? That’s fully one quarter of your life between the assignment and the due date, and it’s for ONE CLASS.

            Arglebargle. There is no other appropriate word.

            If they felt the majority of people didn’t spend the whole twelve hours, they should have docked their grades, not assigned a practical impossibility.

        2. Noobtastic*

          Yep. The unrealistic expectation becomes the new normal, and then they want you to “improve” on that.

          See my flip-out rant above.

          I don’t work there, anymore. In fact, most of my former work friends don’t anymore, either. And warnings don’t work on people who will NOT see that “emergency all-hands-on-deck” efforts are not sustainable. Yes, the higher-ups were warned. No, they did not listen.

          OP did try to warn the director, about this one case, at least, but the director did not listen. Not surprising, although it is teeth-grindingly annoying.

    11. AdAgencyChick*

      Thanks for the update!

      It’s good that your boss now has an idea of what’s been going on and why.

    12. RVA Cat*

      LW, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you may be faster than Fergus due to his need to fix mistakes. Plus I can only imagine how many more mistakes he makes when he’s operating on >4 hours of sleep.

    13. Phoenix Programmer*

      That’s a tough pill to swallow for Furgus. I know it was a harsh lesson for me to realize that going above and beyond can be met with a boss chewing you out. Cured me of starting late. Ironically I get better reviews now too.

    14. Lora*

      Director is seriously asking “why didn’t you tell me?” Hey Director, you’re the boss – why weren’t you supervising Fergus??

      Ugh, have worked with Ferguses before. Have managed Ferguses. It’s easiest to see it when Fergus suddenly has to do something much more quality-intensive than quantity, such as tech writing, where eight hours can produce one very nicely done page of a report or eight half-baked pages. Also when the process involves a lot of analysis and nuanced thought. Anyone can have an extra pot of coffee and turn the crank, but if that’s what you want, there’s software that will generate reports for you: any SQL database or set of spreadsheets can be queried to generate reports very quickly, once you set up the template. Understanding the logic and limitations and thought process of how to design next steps and projections is hard and cannot be done well if your brain is tired. Training this bad habit out is not easy, and it definitely challenges HR to learn the real meaning of Multicultural and Diversity when it turns out that in (resource-limited country/region, I include the US in this) they simply throw more humans at the problem instead of automating it with software and expecting humans to do the thinking part.

    15. M-C*

      It might be helpful if everyone kept in mind that when Fergus pulls an all-nighter like this, he’s likely useless the following day. Lack of sleep has never made for good work, and the sloppiness of this work is probably due at least in part to this.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        That’s a really good point. Those all nighters become less and less helpful the more you look at them.

      2. Decimus*

        Fergus may also be one of those odd people who genuinely only seem to need 4 hours or 6 hours of sleep, so working until 3, sleeping until 8, and returning to work might not actually cause him much of a problem. Although I admit it’s more likely his work product suffers.

        1. boop the first*

          It’s even worse than that, considering he has to get home after 3am, then wind down enough to fall asleep, and then get up early enough to make it back to work at 8am! When does he eat? Wash up? Read a newspaper? Could be 3 hours of sleep or less even :O

          But yeah… I often can’t get to sleep until midnight or 2am, and then get up again for work at 5am. I’m probably a heck of a lot slower the next day than I can perceive myself to be.

  12. Not Tom, just Petty*

    This seems like a pleasant resolution, except:
    “I told my director this and she looked at me like I was crazy and that it really couldn’t be all that much work and that I needed to figure it out as I am a manager.”
    Good job bossing bossly after the getting hit in the face with facts.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Then she wondered why OP didn’t tell her? I don’t get this. OP did tell her. I hope this is a one-off for this boss and she is otherwise reasonable.

      1. first time caller*

        Yeah, honestly I blame the manager for this whole situation more than either OP (obviously) or even Fergus. It sort of seems like you should be able to see reason the first time someone lays out all the hours of work that it will take to get a project finished and adds it up to explain that the deadline won’t make sense.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Right—that part really annoyed me. No mulligans on facts, boss. Now go do your job and manage your employees. Duh. Hope the VP had a chat with her, too.

    3. Ego Chamber*

      To be fair to the director, Fergus has a track record of completing these projects by the next morning—because of this, the director assumes Fergus is doing the work the day before and then going home at a reasonable time (this is what a typical worker would do, and Fergus isn’t making any noise about it to indicate he’s doing anything extra). In comparison, LW is taking longer to complete these projects and the director is assuming that’s because of LW’s other tasks, no because these projects take longer—because no one has walked the director through the process (why would they?) and Fergus isn’t making any noise about it to indicate he’s doing anything extra.

      From the director’s point of view, the person who usually takes longer to do the task is telling her the task takes a long time, and the person who does the task quickly isn’t agreeing with the longer timeline. Defaulting to “you figure it out” isn’t a good response though. A better response would have been to tell LW to ask Fergus for tips, then LW would have had to out Fergus’s strategy and it could have been a real conversation sooner.

      The fact that this whole thing was so difficult to resolve when talking honestly would have done it makes me think there’s some underlying dysfunction, but I’m primed to expect that kind of garbage based on my employment history, so I could be way off.

      1. Noobtastic*

        “Ask Fergus for tips on how to complete the project overnight.”

        “I already know his tips, and as a parents, I simply cannot work through the night. Sorry. Fergus, do you have any other tips to help me get a project that takes you eight hours to complete completed in two? No? How about a Time Turner?”

        You know, there’s actually is a definite advantage to being non-exempt. We CANNOT hide our hours like this. and if they approve the overtime, we rake in the money. Usually, though, they’d rather delay the project and not pay time and a half.

  13. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    Also chiming in to say I’d really love to hear how this played out!

    As for actionable advice… Well, I’ve been in a sort of similar situation, but reversed, where no one believed that I was able to do things much quicker than my predecessor. Predecessor worked 11-12hr days almost everday to keep up with work load, but I was able to do it all in 8 hrs (once I got the hang of things – which was a whole battle onto itself – this predecessor was also my sole trainer and an absolute terrible one at that). Predecessor and I just had almost completely opposite strengths and weaknesses. My strengths (that she lacked) made me able to do most of the the lower level work that she had previously been doing (she was promoted within the dept) much more quickly than she could, whereas her strengths would have made her much better suited for some of the higher level work she was supposed to be moving into. We could have been the dream team of the junior end of the dept (I in the lowest level, she is in the second lowest level).

    Except she was obsessed with how I did things (particularly how quickly I could get through things) and was convinced that there was absolutely no way I could get through things as quickly as I could (I mostly just automated a bunch of reports that she had been preparing manually – in excel with very pretty basic formulas and a few basic macros, nothing crazy advanced here – and routinized some processes/procedures that happened regularly). She just could not wrap her head aroud the idea that people have different strengths/weaknesses and that there ARE different, but equally effective, ways to get things done.

    So where I’m going with this is: OP – I don’t mean to distrust your words here, but I’m just asking you to ask yourself – are you 100% sure Fergus is truly working as late as and as long as you believe he is on these reports? Is there anyway possible that Fergus is just somehow well-suited to these sorts of reports and while I’m sure he needs to put in some extra hours to get them done, is it all possible that he is doing these in less time that you are thinking he is? I’m not saying this is the case here (sounds like it is not!)but it never hurts to re-examine our assumptions.

    Next, is there anyway to rearrange responsibilities a bit so that Fergus is more often responsible for these types of reports? Whether he’s good at them (unlikely, I know) or just likes over-delivering/doesn’t mind working late – sounds like he might be better suited to taking on the bulk of these reports. Maybe that’s not an option – but just suggesting it as something to think about.

    Finally, I second the other advice already given about breaking down the timelines with your boss and speaking to Fergus explicitly about the problems this causes.

    1. MiaMia*

      are you 100% sure Fergus is truly working as late as and as long as you believe he is on these reports?

      That might be a reasonable thing to look into if Fergus were doing it in, say, an hour or two less than estimate, but not if he made it look like it took a quarter of the time. And even if he really did do it without staying late (which we know isn’t true), my first reaction wouldn’t be “wow, Fergus is just way better at this” but “let’s see what corners Fergus cut and make sure this really is up to standard,” because there is often (not always, but often enough) a tradeoff between speed and quality.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Actually my record is reducing the time to prepare a report from 24 hrs to 30 minutes. This was just using Excel formulas. No coding at all.

      2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        That’s kind of a hostile response to a colleague – to assume they must be cutting corners (and assuming there’s not other past precedent for corner cutting behavior).

        It’s also exactly what my predecessor was assuming of me and I absolutely was not. If anything my work was more accurate than hers, b/c I was removing a lot of possibilities for human calculation errors.

    2. MicroManagered*

      I’ve been that person before …

      I mostly just automated a bunch of reports that she had been preparing manually – in excel with very pretty basic formulas and a few basic macros, nothing crazy advanced here

      1) It’s amazing what a game-changer it is to be able to use excel efficiently. I think people like you and I are the reason managers sometimes say “no it doesn’t” when people quite hours, days, or weeks to do something that can literally be done in minutes if you know how to do a vlookup or set a filter…

      2) I don’t really think that’s what OP is describing. She says Fergus works till 4am, then comes right back in at 8… it sounds like he legitimately just is overperforming (and not doing that great at it, since OP says a lot of his work requires correction).

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        Totally fair to #2 – I started writing this before OP sent in the update. Completely agree that it doesn’t sound like this is a case where Fergus is particularly good at these reports (especially given the additional details in the update). Never hurts to do a quick re-examination of our assumptions though :-)

    3. Lora*

      Not just Excel – when you learn how to do Power BI dashboards and format SQL reports from whatever database you’re using, all of a sudden MUAHAHAHAHA I AM A WIZARD OVER YOU PUNY HUMANS!

      My predecessor and his mentor did everything by hand. Everything. They had neither of them ever worked in a fully automated environment, or even really seen one, so they had no idea why anyone would ever do such a thing, and it’s one of those things that are sooooo different it’s hard to even explain. It’s like you’re trying to explain a modern fully-loaded John Deere 9620R track series with 3-point hitch controls to someone who has always plowed their back 40 with a couple of Eastern European grandmothers and a donkey. There’s such a huge gap that “hey, you can plow 10,000 acres in a few days using about $200 worth of gas with this thing!” and they are like, “wow, you must have a really great horsewhip arm!”

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I was the second Mac engineer hired on a cross-platform product, before the Mac supported command-line makefiles. It was a very new product so the list of files to build changed daily. Windows & Unix devs just had to remember to update the makefiles for both platforms. However, the first day I started, I was told to _visually compare_ those makefiles to what was in the visual IDE and update it to match. For a couple of dozen different IDE projects. My co-worker spent an hour a day on this, every day. I not only found a way to script that on the Mac, I refactored out the file lists on Windows and Unix so that everyone had a single place to add files.

        1. Lora*

          Oh my god. I have visions of the time I was told to do a control system validation by checking lines of code which was a horrible Frankensystem of Visual Basic scripts, 2002-era SQL, and some hard-coded IL in the PLCs. At the time, my education consisted of a Bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry, and I could just about do a half-decent HTML website that wasn’t any worse than the Angelfire / Geocities things in 2001. We also had a system that drove a Staubli arm to do some of the more hazardous operations, and it had an HMI of, I swear I am not making this up, csv files that you had to write in Excel and then upload to a computer so unstable that it was deemed unworthy of being connected to the main server lest the whole server crash. One day all the cables broke because the arm had been commanded to twist the same direction 20 times without a re-set sequence. We fixed it with electrical tape and a badge-holder string that held the cables out of the way of the main arm and the other end of the badge holder was duck-taped to the ceiling of the room… The day a real automation engineer showed me how to do a validation matrix comparison script, I nearly wept with relief.

  14. TC*

    I used to work with a software engineer who would do client work once he got home because, as he would freely admit, “didn’t have anything else to do.” He didn’t tell anyone this because he figured it didn’t matter until the team grew larger and account managers didn’t understand why we weren’t as fast as him. Took a long time for it to come out! The fallout coincided with his growing disinterest in the work overall and the results of that, so he was never really formally pulled up on it.

  15. Anonymous Educator*

    This is a problem that will solve itself. Unfortunately, in the meantime, it will suck for everyone (including Fergus), because everyone else will look bad for “under”-delivering, and Fergus will just be tired from working so much uncompensated overtime. At a certain point, though, if the OP’s assessment is correct, this just won’t be sustainable for Fergus, and he will slow down from exhaustion, and management will see that the OP was right and that Fergus was overworking to meet unreasonable expectations he helped create.

    Another thing… not trying to gaslight the OP, because I believe the problem is real (Fergus is overdelivering and working extra in a way that’s detrimental to the whole team): the OP says Fergus did an 8-hour project, not that he spent 8 hours on it. Now, I don’t know what kind of projects they’re working on over there, but I will say people have different speeds they work at (even without sacrificing quality). Fergus should not be working at night to get it done by the next morning, but it’s also possible that he didn’t spend 8 hours on it—maybe only 5 hours, which is still 5 hours too many to rush to get it done when there’s no rush.

    When you work on a team, whether you’re more efficient or not, you need to take the other team members into account, and Fergus is not doing that.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      “… and Fergus will just be tired from working so much uncompensated overtime.”

      Uncompensated has very little to do with it. When I was hourly at a call center, I worked 12-hour days (with a 30 minute lunch) for 6 weeks and they still tried to hit me up to do more overtime. I refused to work more than 6 days per week—for my own sanity—and when they claimed I was being unreasonable, I stopped signing up for any overtime, because the expectations they were trying to survive on were just untenable.

      Tl;dr: Whether you’re being compensated or not, extra hours are hard. (To clarify, I know there are industries where 50-60 hour weeks are common, but then that’s your baseline expectation, it isn’t extra. If you’re used to working 20 hours a week but you have to do 30 next week because you’re in food service and a group of people just quit, that’s still hard.)

  16. Been there*

    I remember having to go to bat for one of my employees to my boss. The boss had, in a different office, previously worked with a Fergus and felt that my employee wasn’t good.

    I will admit I shut that down pretty quickly by asking the boss on what planet did he live on that he could compare a 15 year veteran who worked 12 hours a day with my 6+month employee who was the caregiver for a small child?!

    In this case I knew the Fergus and I knew the hours he put in (in his case he really didn’t have a lot going on outside of work so it wasn’t an intentional hot shot move) he was very capable and he knew a lot.

    I can happily report my boss saw the error in his thinking and calmed down. I will also say he was normally a good boss and we got on well, but he had some crazy expectations.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      And that’s also a case where during review time, Fergus gets outstanding reviews by the boss and you are told you need to improve. And THAT is why I think that sometimes a co-worker knows more about the work that is happening than the boss does. In this case, you were a boss and made sure it was a level playing field, but sometimes those things are not visible to the boss, and your superstar isn’t as super as the boss thinks, nor is co-worker so lousy.

      1. Been there*

        My boss actually agreed with me about his old Fergus, he had just forgotten. In reality my boss was a good guy as shown that I could actually call him a loon for his expectations.

        I agree with you though, but on the other hand, barring the great region report debacle of 2017. Why shouldn’t a Fergus get recognition for their work. I see it both ways really.

        1. nonegiven*

          As long as he’s getting recognition for pulling all nighters and not for doing 8 hours work in 2 hours.

  17. Middle School Teacher*

    According to OP, Fergus abandons other projects to jump on the new project. Just out of curiosity, what happens to those abandoned projects? Are they never resolved? Because I kind of think those projects would take longer to finish if Fergus keeps dumping them to work on the new stuff.

    I saw the update thought, and I’m glad it seems to be resolved!

  18. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    I was glad to see LW’s update. It sounds like the issue was resolved and that LW’s director now realizes that her timeline wasn’t realistic.

    Unfortunately, there are crappy bosses out there who would expect everyone else to be like their “Fergus” and pull all-nighters, etc. if that’s what it takes to make a normally unrealistic turnaround happen. It’s good that LW’s boss doesn’t appear to be that way!

  19. Esme Squalor*

    I could totally see myself being a Fergus when I was just starting out after college. I loved the idea of being super efficient in my tasks and finding workarounds. At the time, I didn’t have the experience needed to value process and big picture thinking. I hope Fergus is just young and a little over eager. This is a good lesson to learn now.

    1. MiaMia*

      I suspect part of the problem with recent college grads pulling this stuff in particular is that school can reinforce the idea that all-nighters and unrealistically fast turnaround times are expected. I can’t be the only one who had professors who had no idea how long their assignments took, or who assumed that working on their class was literally the only thing I had to do during my day. Most of them also preemptively told you that asking for extensions for anything short of a death in the family was not going to happen, and also if you didn’t make the deadline it was often an automatic fail.

      None of that instills a particularly healthy work-life balance. It was somewhat shocking to discover I had more recourse and flexibility as an entry-level worker than I did as a student.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh yeah. “In the Real World(tm) you can’t get away with that!” Well…a lot of times in the Real World(tm), you can get away with much more.

        1. MiaMia*

          I’m actually going back to college next semester to pursue a master’s, and I am honestly worried I am not going to react well to those kinds of workload-overloading and unrealistic deadlines. Which maybe means I shouldn’t go back, I don’t know. I’m hoping that a program geared towards working adults would have professors with more realistic expectations, but who knows.

          1. M is for Mulder*

            The main problem I have had with my master’s is group projects. Professors can be realistic about estimates of “this will take you all X hours”, but that doesn’t speak to the reality of coordinating multiple adult lives. If we need to meet twice in a week before a draft is due, and Jane will be out of town for a conference until Thursday while Wakeen is only available on Tuesday, the entire week is basically shot.

          2. synchrojo*

            as a recent masters grad who spent a few years in the working world before going back to school, I can tell you that my experience is that a program with lots of working adults or people with “real world” work experience is *much* better than undergrad, or programs that draw people straight from undergrad. The professors’ expectations aren’t always more realistic, but there are far fewer Ferguses willing to pull all-nighters to accomplish school assignments, and much more are willing to push back on deadlines (which, in my experience, also become a LOT more flexible in grad school). People in my program had a lot better perspective to weigh the costs and benefits of all-nighters, since the stakes were almost never as high as they would be in the “real world,” people had substantial personal commitments outside of school, and the benefits of hard work in grad school were chiefly personal professional development.

      2. Natalie*

        I think it’s also just plain easier for younger people to function on less sleep, or at least it was for me. And I didn’t have pets or a property I owned and had to keep up with.

        1. Gingerblue*

          Yeah, for a lot of students, he workload is basically something taken on in exchange for having cooking, cleaning, home maintenance, grocery shopping, etc. outsourced.

      3. Kate 2*

        This! The administrators in our school had a big whole class meeting at the beginning of the year and told us that all year long we were expected to pull 60 hour weeks with classes and classwork. Honestly I think it was sometimes more than that, like the prof who wanted us to read 100 pages of very dense, complex philosophy in less than 48 hours. Never mind all our other classwork!

      4. Yorick*

        I don’t think this is true. In all my classes (as a student and a professor), there were/are not many unrealistic deadlines. Most assignments are known on the first day of class, which means students can begin working on them as early as they’d like. Of course, students do get in the habit of working quickly by pulling all-nighters because they don’t plan well, and many justify this by telling themselves that they do their best work while facing a tight deadline (I’ve heard so many people say this, but it’s never true).

        It is true that extensions aren’t usually given, but for me that’s because they’ve known about this assignment for 3 months and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have been able to get it done.

  20. sam*

    I used to work with a Fergus (not regularly, but still). The biggest problem was that he was a partner at my old firm, while I was an associate. A client would need something in a week, and he would go out of his (our) way to get it done in a day, including pulling all-nighters. Which would just serve to exhaust us for no reason. I mean, we all worked somewhat crazy law firm hours already, and there was plenty of work that required that kind of time commitment without the self-imposed deadlines, so why would you make it worse for yourself?

    And then, of course, you’ve now set up a completely unrealistic expectation on behalf of the client so that the next time they come to you, they truly do want a week’s worth of work in a day.

    It’s fair to underpromise and overdeliver, but don’t hurt yourself in the process.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Personally, I’d be suspicious of the quality of the work with such a fast turn around time. Did they even proofread or edit the work? It’s not a reflection on the work you’ve done but I’d wonder how much due diligence went into something that came back in 24 hours when the normal processing time is a week.

  21. MommyMD*

    I’m glad Fergus was spoken to. I’d kind of be of the mind to say if he wants to work all night and gets us into this fix, then he can handle it. It’s kind of a jerk thing for him to do to cast you in that light.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am glad that I am not the only one who thinks this way. If nothing worked, I would just tell Fergus that I would be working my regular hours and he could do as he wished. Let him figure it out.

      I have been on the other side of this story where people were milking a job for OT and I streamlined things to get it done in a regular work day. People lost their cash cow and were upset. Shrug. I am not going to do make believe work on OT. I want to go home.

  22. Jake*

    I genuinely feel bad for Fergus. He is definitely not trying to sabotage his coworkers. He is simply doing what he believes is best for the company by turning stuff around quickly. It’s not like he went to that VP and said, “Sure thing boss, I can do this in 2 hours!” His refusal to step forward and tell the boss that it couldn’t be done is definitely obnoxious and harmful, but beyond that, the rest of his behavior seems like that of a dedicated employee.

    I understand this situation blew up in everybodys’ faces, but is it really that bad that when a boss asks for something ASAP, he actually does it ASAP?

    1. MiaMia*

      He is definitely not trying to sabotage his coworkers.

      Eh, you don’t know that for certain. It’s not likely that he’s deliberately trying to screw over his coworkers, but he could be subconsciously (“I will stand out as awesome if I do this” actually does implicitly throw coworkers under the bus), and there are plenty of people who behave exactly like Fergus and are definitely deliberate underminers. I’ve had the misfortune of working with one (and another where it was likely).

      The LW’s update doesn’t make me think malice, but it’s not an option that can be conclusively ruled out, sadly.

      is it really that bad that when a boss asks for something ASAP, he actually does it ASAP?

      Yes, and others’ responses in this post point out the many ways why that can, in fact, be bad. It sets unrealistic expectations – not just for Fergus, but for any other workers, both current and future, and those can lead to unrealistic pressure, unhappy clients, and burnt-out workers, with all the attendant problems.

      It also suggests that either management needs to get a better grip on what is and is not an actual priority, or Fergus does.

      I’d also like to push back a bit on the “dedicated worker” comment. Linking unrealistic turnarounds and excessive overtime with being dedicated is one of my pet peeves, because it ends up framing the concept of work-life balance as not being dedicated. That’s unhealthy and frankly kind of cruel – employees are humans with lives outside of work, not robots or slaves. Being a good, dedicated worker should mean doing your actual job in a reasonable working day to a high (but not unrealistic) standard, not sacrificing every waking hour (and some that should be spent sleeping) to the job.

      1. Visit Minutia Mission*


        I’d also like to push back a bit on the “dedicated worker” comment. Linking unrealistic turnarounds and excessive overtime with being dedicated is one of my pet peeves, because it ends up framing the concept of work-life balance as not being dedicated. That’s unhealthy and frankly kind of cruel – employees are humans with lives outside of work, not robots or slaves. Being a good, dedicated worker should mean doing your actual job in a reasonable working day to a high (but not unrealistic) standard, not sacrificing every waking hour (and some that should be spent sleeping) to the job.

        So much this!

    2. seejay*

      See my comment above. He could very well be deliberately be trying to undermine his coworkers by making himself look like a superstar and them look like slackers. I had a coworker that did it by always trying to show how quickly they could do something compared to how I and another engineer could do it.

      And yes, it’s extremely damaging because it sets hugely unrealistic expectations. It’s great when someone can always meet them, but the minute someone can’t and drops the ball, all hell breaks loose. It’s always better to set realistic expectations and meet them and occasionally exceed them instead of always setting unrealistic ones and struggle to reach them in order to look like a superstar because the latter isn’t sustainable in the long-run and when it fails, it’ll fail spectacularly.

    3. JN*

      It can depend. If the work truly can be done quickly–and accurately–while not severely compromising other work that needs to be done, then sure, go ahead and accommodate the boss’s retasking. But I’m betting that Fergus didn’t tell the boss that he stayed at work until 4 AM and then was back at 8 in order to get that amount of work done so quickly. And he likely didn’t tell them “Sure, I can get that done by __ PM, but to do that I will have to postpone working on X and Y. Is that okay?” If that other work that he totally shelved in order to get the special assignment done so fast was also important and time-sensitive, then that could have caused further ripples of inconvenience for other people.

      It doesn’t sound like his overnight work caused (major) problems before this incident, but it did create the unreasonable expectation from the higher up VP that the work involved in creating the reports for all the regions would take much less time that it actually would/did. So it was bad in that it was physically impossible for Fergus and LW to get the work done by the deadline the VP set, which caused friction between LW and their boss, and probably between that boss and the VP, and resulted in the VP having to reschedule the meeting (which had been the reason for the deadline) because the reports justifiably couldn’t be completed in time.

    4. Tealeaves*

      “ASAP” means during reasonable working hours. And not dropping all your other responsibilities (at work and life) for it. What happens when you treat every task as an emergency? Work 24/7 with an IV drip?

    5. Layla*

      It’s bad for Fergus. I know because I’ve been there, and made similar mistakes. The body can only take so much. Inevitably, he will burn out, perhaps get really ill, and his bosses won’t have any sympathy or even understand. They won’t think, “Oh Fergus used to do things in 2 hours, and now it’s 4, that’s still way better than 8.” They’ll chastise him for taking twice as long as he used to.

  23. LKW*

    I hate this kind of behavior. I worked on a project where one of my peers would talk to the client at 4 pm, come back into the team room and say to his team “OK, so this is what we need to have done by 9 am” and then they’d work until 2 am. I asked him why they couldn’t just say “So it’s 4 pm. We can have this to you by 4 pm tomorrow.” and he looked at me like he hadn’t even considered asking for a more reasonable turn around time.

    That kind of hero culture was toxic. I couldn’t wait to move onto a new project where we had normal hours and you’d just say to the client “It will take me x hours to do this, so I’ll have it to you on Friday.”

  24. Lies, damn lies and...*

    Oof. As a manager, I’d hope to believe my employees over something like this, but it would not be their place to suggest checking when someone was logged in to their machine. Two: that sets a terrible precedent of micromanaging that could end very badly in the long run. AAM tends to err on the side of trust your employees to be good employees and I think that particular piece of advice oversteps.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would normally totally agree, but the manager didn’t believe the OP when she first said it.

      Or at least, that’s how I originally read this part: “I told my director this and she looked at me like I was crazy.” Now I wonder if that just refers to her assessment of the turnaround time.

      1. CM*

        I read it as “I told my director it would take way longer than she expected, and she looked at me like I was crazy.” It’s unclear to me from the original letter whether the OP told the director “this will take 48 hours” or “this will take 48 hours; the original project took 8 hours and Fergus worked overnight on it.”

        My guess is that the director was feeling pretty defensive for not listening to the OP about the turnaround time or realizing that the previous turnaround times had been unrealistic, and that the director put some blame on the OP as a result.

        I agree it seems like overstepping to me to suggest that the director check Fergus’ login/logout times. It’s not the OP’s job to encourage the director to investigate Fergus. If you say, “Fergus is working overnight and I’m telling you so that you don’t have unrealistic expectations,” then the director can choose whether to believe you, ignore you, or look for more facts. To me, suggesting that the director check Fergus’ login/logout times is a lot like saying, “Fergus is out sick a lot but I don’t think he’s really sick. Look at his Facebook feed to see if he’s posting pictures of himself having fun.”

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Your sick/Facebook example is overreaching because Facebook isn’t a company system, checking company systems isn’t overreaching and I don’t understand that perspective. It isn’t overstepping to use systems you own to fact-check a valid concern. (I wouldn’t proactively suggest checking the login/logout times, but if the director claimed there was no way to prove what I was saying, that’s the first place I’d go.)

          Storytime. At one of my jobs, we had security badges and badge-readers to get in and out of the building, including onto the smoke deck. There was an issue with people not being at their desks when scheduled (this mattered) and the company decided to put up stupid, passive-aggressive signs over the badge-readers that said “SHOULD YOU BE WORKING?!” instead of reviewing the logs on the badge-readers and talking to the people who were scheduled to be at their desks. When people asked why they didn’t do the thing that made more sense, they cited privacy concerns.

  25. C*

    Maybe Fergus will make less mistakes & have higher quality work if he is sleeping on a regular basis instead of pulling all nighters, especially if the item in question is not a true emergency!

  26. ThursdaysGeek*

    I worked with someone kind of like Fergus, but he didn’t work extra hours. He just didn’t do any of the job that he didn’t want to do. We wrote software, and his documentation was non-existent, his tests were superficial, his communication was overlooked, his implementations were buggy. He could throw out a bunch of code and it would mostly work, and that’s what he liked to do. The rest of that stuff could be left to others. So I looked pretty bad when I worked on projects with him – he’d get all this work done and all I managed to do was some testing and documentation. Except, I was doing his work, and never had time to do the fun stuff myself.

    He tried to get me to do his work on projects where we weren’t working together, and that I wouldn’t do. Until he left that job and it wasn’t done and it was still a requirement. That’s when it became obvious how much he hadn’t done.

  27. Veronica*

    Alyson, forgive me if this is too far off topic, but does anyone have advice for managing a team with an employee who achieves Fergus-like results without actually staying up all night? One of my employees consistently produces 40-50 percent more than her coworkers. She will work slightly different hours than the rest of us because she’s managing a chronic health condition and often needs to leave for doctor’s appointments during our core hours, but it’s still only 38-40 hours a week. Her work is extremely high quality, and she’s constantly coming up with and executing new ideas. My guess is she’s just extremely efficient with her time and makes good use of the quiet hour she gets before everyone else arrives. But her output has a few people in our office convinced she’s somehow cutting corners or cheating, if not secretly putting in a lot of hours then lying about it.

    1. MiaMia*

      I’ve never been stuck managing this kind of situation, but I’ve been stuck in the coworker position before, and my biggest worry was that my boss would start expecting me to pull off what Fergus could, when I couldn’t. If that’s the case, clearly communicating to the other employees that they’re not expected to pull off the same work in the same time frame might help. I’d also suggest looking at how you’re coming across – if your expectations for the other employees are reasonable, and if you are somehow leaving them with the impression you really don’t value them, even if you say their work is acceptable. I’ve worked two places as a direct coworker with a Fergus type, and in one the boss never explicitly told us to act like Fergus and gave us decent reviews, but Fergus was always the one publicly praised and given top priority for everything.

      And for the record, I’m not saying you shouldn’t value good work or a hard, efficient worker, but you don’t want to send mixed messages, and it can be really vexing to be stuck in the not-Fergus category, where you wind up feeling like you’d be getting recognition and days off if only you were Superman. If the other employees are actually doing decent work, even if not to the stellar one’s level, make sure you recognize that! Especially if it’s work you’d be very happy with if you took the stellar employee’s work out of the picture.

      For what it’s worth, though, I’d also suggest making sure that she isn’t working more hours, because the bad Fergus types I ran into absolutely would if it meant looking better. I’m not saying she definitely is, but it is something worth discreetly checking into, and while the reactions of her coworkers could be simple jealousy, it’s also possible they’ve noticed something you haven’t.

      1. Veronica*

        One of the challenges we have right now is we kind of do have a situation where it’s rock stars and slackers. Let’s say we expect someone to produce 2 teapots and 8 teacups per month, which having done that job for many, many years before moving into my current role, is really reasonable (other shops would probably expect 2.5 teapots and 10 teacups).

        My employee with the chronic condition reliably produces 2.5 teapots and 18 teacups. I have another employee who’s usually good for 3 teapots and 6 teacups. Another dislikes making teacups, but the nature of his job means he has fewer teacups to make anyway. He gets me 4 teapots a month and only makes teacups occasionally.

        Then there are the employees who deliver good work, but it’s more like 1.5 teapots and 3-4 teacups a month, and I absolutely think they could pick up the pace.

    2. Natalie*

      Is there any way you can let your other employees flex their hours so they can have some quiet time in the office, too?

      1. Veronica*

        We all have the option to flex our hours (a lot of employees work a shift that coincides with their child’s daycare schedule, for instance). This employee just has to flex hers more often to accommodate her medical appointments. I have noticed this employee *starts* working much faster than her peers. If she gets here at 7:30, she’s working at 7:35. A lot of her peers come in at 7:30 or 8, wander down to the break room for a cup of coffee, stop to chat with people who have offices in the hallway, etc. That’s totally OK in our office culture! But I do think it adds up over weeks and months.

    3. misspiggy*

      How is she when you’re processing tasks and information as a group? If she’s frequently ahead of the pace there, that’s a good indication.

      I’m one of these people. If I wasn’t managing a chronic condition, I would probably be working at a higher level where my rapid output would be the norm.

      1. Veronica*

        She’s often the person in meetings who “translates” what upper management is saying into terms the rest of the group seems to understand. She’s extremely smart. I know that when we interviewed her three years ago, we all remarked that she would easily be the most intelligent person in the office.

    4. Oilpress*

      My advice: Hang on to that star employee and cut any dead weight if they really are delivering output less than what you could get from a replacement. Keep you stars happy.

      1. MiaMia*

        Not being a star employee doesn’t make you dead weight, though. It’s not like the world is only composed of impressive overachievers and lazy slackers.

        1. Veronica*

          I think we have a couple of “slackers” that could certainly step up their output, but we work in a somewhat creative industry where we do want people to take the time they need (within reason) to produce high quality work. The people whose output is lower are for the most part heavy hitters who eventually produce top notch work.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Ask her to show you what makes her so efficient. Some of her ideas might become SOPs for everyone- but you should decide on procedure changes across the board.

      My old boss would have said a similar thing about me. One thing I did was stay out of the negativity. I found that if I stopped complaining (the norm for our group) my thinking cleared up and I was actually able to get through stuff faster.
      Other things:
      I made sure I knew where my starting point was for each morning. This saved time because I wasn’t trying to remember where I left off at.
      I organized my materials and resources. I had a place to keep things that would predictably get lost.
      I looked for ways to streamline things , if a form always needed my name/title, I made copies of the form with that part already filled in. But I had a dozen such ideas and as a group the ideas saved time.

      Overall, it was not any one thing that made me more productive, it was just that I kept looking at what I was doing and tried to find ways to make it less work and still raise the accuracy of the work. I made a plan for preventing common mistakes and I used double checks on finished stuff.

      1. Veronica*

        I’ve actually adopted one strategy of hers, which is to make a to-do list of everything I need to do during the day down to its component parts. It really helps me stay on task, but it’s not something I can necessarily force her coworkers today because our work is pretty individualized. To me, telling them, “You need to send me a list every morning after our 9:30 meeting of everything you plan to do today” feels a lot like micromanaging.

    6. Layla*

      She may feel she *has* to overachieve because she has a chronic health condition and is being accommodated.

      1. sap*

        Yep, this.

        Also, as a person with a chronic health condition that I’ve had since I was extremely young, people with chronic health conditions often have developed working and coping strategies that allow them to do work faster, but probably only work for them because they have been doing it that way for so long/because chronic health thing [x] makes [y] thing that everyone else has trouble with much easier/less unpleasant than the typical method. I have a chronic health condition that makes it really hard for me to work at a desk due to physical problems with the seated position, but (luckily) my job requires a lot of travel and concentration in weird environments, i.e. pull out your laptop in the hallway and bang it out sitting on the floor in 3 hours. My boss once asked me how I could focus like tha since I was so much more efficient than everyone else in that context, and I just had to shrug–spreading out and working in what others would call bad environments is a coping mechanism I’ve used all of my life, and there’s just no advice I can give someone who hasn’t been doing it for 30 years that will let that person do it really well.

        1. sap*

          The other thing is that people with serious chronic health stuff usually had to learn to be twice as efficient to produce high quality work given a particular deadline from a young age. In college, if I was supposed to get a long paper done in 3 weeks, I already knew knew if I wanted to both socialize and give myself 1-2 days of “sick in bed, can’t deal with paper today,” I was going to have to get the paper done putting in 50-75% less actual time spent gathering research and writing the paper than my peers. That forced me to be good at running my brain on the paper in the background, like, all the time, being really good at search querying, and creating first drafts that most of the time only need copy editing. It’s not that I’m any smarter than my peers, just that I’ve always only actually had 50-75% of the available time, so I work faster. My tip for managing super efficient super sick employee is to not pile up her workload to match her efficiency, because her efficiency is the way she makes sure she can handle the same workload as her peers, with the subconscious knowledge that she’ll need more sick time but doesn’t want to be any less productive.

          1. Veronica*

            Layla, sap, I absolutely agree this is some sort of coping mechanism for her chronic condition (one of the reasons why I mentioned it in my comment).

            I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I don’t actually think she’s taking that more sick time than her coworkers. She might actually be taking less. We get 12 days a year, and off the top of my head, I think she’s called out only once since she was hospitalized last year. That month, despite missing 6 work days of 21 (and working one week of 5 or fewer hour days, at our insistence), she still had the second highest numbers in the office.

    7. sap*

      And also, take a look at your team that thinks that someone with a chronic health condition is “cheating” because she’s putting in 40 hours and producing more work than they are. I would want to get away from that work environment if I were that employee–that would sure feel like my coworkers resent me for getting accommodations as to my working hours and are accusing me of lying about how much I work just because because they don’t see me working. People who have chronic health problems have usually been called “lazy” or “overdramatic” or “sensitive” because of how often they are sick many, many times. It’s totally possible that your employees would suspect someone who was super efficient and also not away from the office on medical business of “cheating” to get a lot of work done in a short period of time, as well… But it kindof sounds like they are treating chronic health employee like she’s lying about her work product and her work hours, and I can’t imagine that there isn’t at least a side of “there’s no way you got that done, you didn’t even come in until noon” in that criticism buffet. It is exhausting to have a chronic health problem that requires weekly doctor appointments, and I would be looking to leave as soon as possible if I had to deal with coworkers who think I lie about my work (and probably how sick I am) on top of the hassle of managing a chronic health problem. Being efficient because I have to devote 30% of my time to making sure my
      body functions isn’t something I’m doing or lying about to make you look bad, it’s something I’m doing because there are less hours in my day than there are hours in yours, and I don’t want to have to convince my co-workers that I’m not out to get them as a barrier to entry into the normal working world.

      1. Veronica*

        Unfortunately (fortunately?) the complainers aren’t my direct reports, they’re on an adjacent team we work closely with. I also get the sense that someone, probably my manager or her manager, has used my employee with the chronic condition as an example of a great work ethic. FWIW, I don’t think this is appropriate, but we have had problems in the past six months of people taking advantage of our flex time policy by taking off core hours but not actually making them up, so their output ends up reflecting it.

        We have to track output for reasons that don’t have anything to do with employee performance, and those numbers are discussed in our weekly meetings. My employee is always No. 1 or No. 2, and you hear people grumbling about it.

  28. Kelly L.*

    I still grumble when I remember my Fergus. Fergus, Pete, and I were all in the running for a manager position at the restaurant where we worked. Each of us got to act as manager during a couple of closing shifts so the big boss could see how we handled it. Fergus? Stayed late into the wee hours every time it was his turn to manage, off the clock, so that he got a crap-ton of extra side work done in what looked like an hour but was really more like 6. Fergus, of course, got the promotion, since he was obviously the most efficient of the three of us (heh), and then immediately dropped back to a normal level of work. Sure, anyone can pull that off for a few weeks, especially when they’re young, but it screws things up for everyone else, and it’s not sustainable. Or, in our particular case, legal, since he clocked out to do it.

  29. Taylor Swift*

    One small quibble: I think telling your boss to look at his computer log in and log out times is going too far. That to me starts getting into overly defensive and honestly kind of immature territory. Sure you could bring it up if there’s push back, but I’d find it weird if one of my employees wanted me to do that. It’s just not something I’d expect an experienced professional to say.

    1. MiaMia*

      I told my director this and she looked at me like I was crazy and that it really couldn’t be all that much work . . . I asked Fergus to tell her that it won’t be doable but he refuses.

      There has been pushback, and Fergus is refusing to cop to his overtime. At that point, yeah, asking the boss to actually check the concrete figures on how long Fergus worked is justified.

      1. Layla*

        As another factor, if he’s doing the work in the office, is that even safe? Most companies have lone worker policies to protect their staff. In certain places you’re legally supposed to have CCTV and a personal alarm if you’re in the office alone.

    2. LKW*

      I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest ways of confirming one’s statements. It’s data that could be verified, if they wanted to do so. It wasn’t a command, more like “Hey, I know it’s hard to believe, but here’s how you could verify what I’m saying pretty easily.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. And I have said it. A reasonable boss is going to want to see for themselves. I don’t mind making sure they know how they can see for themselves.

        The other half of the story is that if the boss says I am under performing then I have to stand up for myself. And if that means saying, “here is how you can verify what I am saying” then I will do that. I am not going to put up with false accusations in silence.

    3. Green*

      I think asking the boss to look at someone’s computer log-in and log-out times is bizarre and would come off the same way to me as well. This isn’t a fraud issue or a crime, and most companies don’t look at log-in/log-out times, especially without fraud allegations. This is just an allegation that somebody works really hard and tries to deliver projects on tight deadlines…

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I ‘d agree with you except Fergus is allowing the boss to think that he did 8 hours of work in 2 hours. He is not correcting the boss and informing him of the truth. The reason someone might do this is to make themselves look good in the eyes of the boss at the expense of other people.
        It takes Fergus just as long as everyone else to do that work.

        1. MiaMia*

          It takes Fergus just as long as everyone else to do that work.

          This is what’s bothering me with all the talk about high achievers and superstars and doing work efficiently. Fergus isn’t doing that. It’s all an illusion. The only thing Fergus is doing is staying up super-late to do the work – and he wasn’t coming clean on that when asked.

          He’s not actually a superstar, he’s just lying by omission. He knew exactly how it appeared to the bosses, who apparently weren’t aware of his late nights.

  30. Shadow*

    This happens at just about every professional office albeit on a smaller scale. If an exec works long hours ( and lots do) then subordinates tend to play this unspoken game of who stays later to get more done. It usually results in people not leaving until someone else leaves. Few people are okay with being the only one who always leaves on time or the first to leavers

    1. Boötes*

      I had a supervisor who was keenly aware of that dynamic so he made a point of announcing a friendly “Goodnight, everyone!” to the open office when he left at 5 pm, sometimes followed by “Go home!”

  31. Boötes*

    Oh those wacky unrealistic expectations.

    When someone I knew was bemoaning the cost of cars compared to the one he recently got super-cheap (and somehow totalled), I turned to him and said “Hey, don’t let the exception become the standard.”

    I learned that the hard way: as a child in athletics, I understood personal bests to be the latest standard to beat at every opportunity, which, it turns out, can be a disastrous approach to time-management.

  32. stebuu*

    I worked with a Fergus variant once. Her job was her entire life, and she would regularly spend the majority of her weekends doing “catch up work”. The sad/odd part is that the weekend work was really not needed at all. She would also spend all of her air and hotel points on company travel.

  33. Christine*

    I am wondering about his working overnight. Am wondering if he has nothing to go home to, or is avoiding a situation at home by staying late & working these odd hours. It’s something that his manager should try to see if it’s playing a role in his long hours. My father told me years ago that when someone is working a lot of OT that isn’t required, they are avoiding a situation at home most of the time. My boss is a Fergus, but I’m an non exempt. When I first started working here she expected OT without pay, and resented it when I refused to come in on the weekends, etc. I’m an administrative assistant, the only time I would require OT is if we holding a conference or the end of the budget season. I had to go to HR a few times to deal with the situation, and finally asked for a mediation. She holds so much resentment against the rest of the faculty and myself that are not there 7 days a week, that our interactions with her were terrible. A great deal of passive aggressiveness.

    The manager may never be able to find out if that is the situation. But the manager does need to make sure that Fergus is not building up resentment against fellow employees that aren’t willing to kill themselves.

  34. Lauren R*

    I’m glad things worked out for OP, aside from the boss being kind of unreasonable about the whole thing. OP told her the timeline wasn’t realistic when she gave the deadline so getting mad at OP for the fact that no one told her sooner is pretty ridiculous – OP was actually the ONLY one to try to tell her!

    I honestly feel pretty bad for Fergus, in the sense that it seems like a sad way to live your life. Going to work during the day, staying up at night to do more work, catching a few hours sleep, and then starting all over. That would be awful if he was forced to do it but the fact that he chooses it just makes it truly depressing. He definitely messed up here but whatever his reasons are for doing this (innocent or not) I really hope he gets help because this approach to life just cannot be healthy at all. He will definitely burn out at some point (some people can run on little sleep, but little sleep and no life outside of work isn’t doable) and then what? If so much of him is tied up in this never-stop-working mindset it likely won’t be pretty when he can’t keep it up anymore. I’ve been there, not with work but just in the sense of isolating myself and focusing all my energy into things that were ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and I really hope this whole situation was a wake up call for him. People aren’t machines and trying to act like one will definitely do a number on his overall health.

  35. Solo*

    Anyone got some advice for folks recognizing themselves in Fergus? I don’t work overnight on projects but I will pull extra hours to meet a deadline (sometimes a self-imposed one). I maintain a good social life but I live alone and don’t have a lot of the family obligations that my coworkers do, so I have more time available. On top of that, I manage chronic health conditions that have meant that I tapped all of my sick leave for the year by June and have made arrangements with my boss to work from home as needed.

    I constantly feel like I’m underperforming relative to my coworkers, both because I have less experience and because I’ve had to take more time out of the office. But my manager has consistently praised me for high performance, as have other stakeholders when I’m working with other teams.

    Part of my anxiety is a holdover from grad school and other dysfunctional workplaces, where I was penalized for needing time off even when my performance goals were met or exceeded. Part of it is that I switched industries about two years ago when I took this job, which meant switching from contract-based work that had longer lulls (5-15 days mostly off with a maybe 2-3 hours each day for emails, planning, and the occasional meeting) and then intense periods of activity (12-16 hr workdays), to a 40-hour-a-week, holidays-and-weekends-off, type job. My usual response to managing anxiety is to overperform, even when it comes at a cost in terms of physical and mental distress. But I really, really don’t want to put my life into the repetitive cycle of work-illness-chores, and I feel like in the last couple of months that’s where I’ve been veering into, especially as my team has taken on some new projects. Any tips? (FWIW I’m an IC who serves as a technical lead on small project teams but with no direct supervisory responsibilities.)

    1. Solo*

      Oh, FWIW: I’m exempt and US-based. Most weeks I work 40 hours (which is the office expectation). In crunch or travel weeks I might put in something more like 45-50 hours, but that’s been probably… 4-5 times in the last year? So not really deviating much from the norm I’ve seen in previous AAM threads.

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