can I leverage a job offer to get my organization to fire my boss?

A reader writes:

I work for a nonprofit and have been there for two years. I am part of a three-person team — me, my counterpart, and our boss, who is the department director. The director is meant to be a technical expert and has an important role in guiding organizational strategy. I was involved in the hiring process for my boss (“Janet”), who was our second choice candidate. Our first choice turned down the offer. Since Janet did well enough in the interview and has a Ph.D. and almost 15 years of applicable experience, we thought it would work out.

In short, Janet has been terrible. She is impossible to work with – she has atrocious communication skills, comes in late and leaves early every day, skips out on meetings, doesn’t get work done on time (if at all), has no emotional intelligence, can’t navigate the office environment, refuses to take feedback even when she asks for it, takes everything personally, and the list goes on. Her overall team and project management skills are very poor and she lacks the ability to communicate simple concepts that have to do with our technical area.

I work well with everyone else at my organization and have had great performance reviews. I am confident and enjoy taking initiative, but Janet sees things very hierarchically and wants to be in control. I believe she is threatened by me. She has taken me off so many projects that I now have very little work to do, while she gives most projects to my counterpart “Carl” and treats them like a slave. When I do have to work with Janet, I am miserable because she is openly hostile toward me.

I have spoken directly with Janet’s boss (our COO) multiple times about her performance and how she treats me – the first time was six months ago and I have had two additional meetings with her since. Our COO is concerned and says she doesn’t want to lose me. I had been hesitant to file a formal HR complaint because I feared Janet would treat me even worse. However, after a particularly bad incident a few weeks ago where Janet raised her voice, I did file a formal complaint. Carl ended up filing a complaint the same week. I am also aware of one department manager who called a meeting with HR and Janet because her department’s working relationship with Janet had become very difficult. Janet reacted so negatively to the meeting that this department now feels that they can’t work with her anymore.

I know that HR and COO have met with Janet about these issues. COO said that “changes are coming down the pike” but I’ve received no other updates about the situation. I’m at the end of my rope. I have been job searching and have been invited to a second round interview for a job I’m not very excited about. I love my current organization and if not for Janet would not even consider the other job option. If I get a job offer, can I use it as leverage against Janet? Can I say that if she stays, I’m gone? Or that I don’t want to report to her anymore?

Don’t do it quite like that.

For one thing, no healthy organization would fire someone based on that kind of threat — so if they agreed, they’d have proved themselves to be an organization you should escape from, not one you should stay at. Plus, even if they did it, you’ll then be the person who forced their hand on a decision that wasn’t yours, which raises the risk that you’ll start to be seen as difficult or prima donna-ish, and you’ll have used up a ton of capital that will take a long time to build back up.

It’s not that they shouldn’t fire Janet. It sounds like they should. But they should do it based on everything they already know about, not as a reaction to you leaving.

And here’s the thing: You’ve already brought them ample evidence for why they need to deal with Janet. They’ve had the opportunity to do it for months, and they haven’t. Yes, they told you that “changes are coming down the pike,” whatever that means. But organizations that want to act in situations like this will act. Plus, who knows what “changes” this means — maybe it means they’re truly going to fix the situation, but maybe it just means Janet will get a stern talking-to.

What you know for sure is that your organization has allowed someone to stay in her position who can’t do the work, can’t communicate with others, has generated multiple complaints about her behavior, is openly hostile to the people who work for her, has yelled at employees, and has a whole department refusing to work with her.

It’s not that hard to handle this if they want to. The fact that it’s been allowed to drag out this long says some pretty bad things about how the organization functions. I get that you’re otherwise happy there, but what if you pressure them to get rid of Janet and someone else comes along who’s awful as well? Is it going to go any more easily or quickly the next time?

Maybe that’s not enough to counter all the things you like about working there, which would be a legitimate decision on your part. But make sure you’re clearly seeing this aspect of it too as you figure out what you want to do, because at its core this isn’t a Janet problem. Janets come and go. This is a problem with your organization’s management.

As for what you should do now, talk to your COO again (no need to wait for a job offer) and say this: “The situation with Janet is increasingly untenable to me. Can you tell me more about what you meant when you told me changes are coming, and what the timeline is for those?”

That’s not an explicit “either she goes or I do.” But your subtext will be clear. It’s likely that you won’t get a fully transparent answer (and that’s fair of them), but you should get something that helps you decide what to do. And if only get vague platitudes, try saying this: “I’m at the point where I need to understand how this is going to be handled so that I can make good decisions for myself, so I’d appreciate anything you can let me know.” If you still don’t get anything useful, that’s an answer in itself.

It might also be reasonable to ask if you could report to someone other than Janet, but whether that will make sense depends on the nature of your role and the size and structure of the organization.

Meanwhile, keep job searching. Don’t take that job you’re interviewing for if you’re not excited about it, but your choice isn’t just between that one or your current job. There are other options out there, and you should keep actively looking while you wait to see how the Janet situation is going to play out.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

    1. BRR*

      Part of me feels like the OP should be able to in a more ideal world, but if you zoom out a little this organization seems to be ok with the Janet’s behavior. Maybe the LW leaving will give them the kick in the pants they need. I’d just be careful if they counter offer that Janet will be taken care of and nothing comes of that.

      1. hadeyesp*

        Yep, I’ve seen this a few times where a company is aware of a problem manager, but for whatever reason choose not to remedy the situation quickly, that is until good people start leaving. When I’ve been in this situation, I feel sad about leaving an otherwise good company and good team, but hope that my departure may help those I’m leaving behind.

        In this case, if you give them clues that you’re ready to leave over this, you can feel better about walking away if you don’t get assurances that significant changes are imminent.

        1. Cassandra*

          Sometimes they don’t even care when good people start leaving. This is especially likely if Bad Manager was put in charge of an area precisely because none of the Powers that Be actually cares about that area.

          Been there, worked for that manager, trying not to be scarred for life over it…

          1. TardyTardis*

            It could also be that Janet is there to specifically get people miserable enough to leave, too, say, if they’re making too much money or don’t fit the Proper Profile. Seriously, this has happened.

      2. The Wonder Cootie*

        Just to play devil’s advocate, it could just be that there are issues behind the scenes that are making it difficult to fire Janet. At my organization, we have so many safeties and bureaucracies in place that it took me nearly 6 months to get through the process of firing someone, and that was when that employee stated *IN WRITING* that she had no intention of doing any of her work! It could be that Janet is claiming some sort of protected status or has made indications that she might file a lawsuit. Not that those are reasons not to fire her, but it makes it really important to document the hell out of everything. That takes time. In my situation, I know the rest of my staff was incredibly frustrated, and it was very difficult to balance keeping them happy while maintaining some confidentiality for the employee we eventually fired.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          Good lord, that alone would be enough to make me question the organization and whether I want to be part of it. There’s no way that those are reasonable bureaucracies or safeties.

          1. The Wonder Cootie*

            It’s frustrating, for sure. Supervisors don’t really have any disciplinary power. Even just a reprimand has to go through our Employee Labor Relations Office. Then, we have to put them on probation/professional improvement plan. Then ELR has to review it again. In the case I mentioned, then the employee threatened lawsuits for ADA violation, discrimination because she’s female, and a toxic workplace (none of those are true), so the lawyers had to get involved. The higher ups were terrified of a lawsuit (our organization tends to get dragged through the mud in the press with every one we get hit with-it’s a large public agency), so we have to spend weeks gathering documentation. It’s been a year since we fired her, she never did follow up on any lawsuits, and we’re still trying to clean up the mess she made. I love the rest of my job (and the organization I work for), but I really have started to hate managing!

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “Changes are coming down the pike.”

    I’ve been in the workforce since 1999, and I can count on one hand how many times that actually happened versus the zillions of times it was said to me. (1.5? I say 0.5 because the firings came a year or so after I quit. The one full time it occurred was not due to well-known toxic behavior but egregious fiscal mismanagement.)

    AAM is right. This is an *organizational* problem, not a Janet problem. It’s easy to work at an employer when times are good, but it’s times like these that will truly show you who your employer is. Trust me, you don’t want them kicking Janet out the door because you asked them to; you want them doing it because it’s the right thing to do independent of your actions.

    Which is why if you do find another job and you give resignation, you need to stick with that even if they decide they want to fire Janet. Similar to the logic of a counteroffer, you gave them time and information so they can’t say they didn’t know. They don’t get to make your life easier for you when you’ve had enough and now they’re inconvenienced.

    P.S. I’m in a similar position where I wasn’t treated well but now that there are organizational changes coming, I’m in line for something bigger than my bosses. Ever since they’ve learned this, my bosses have been EXTREMELY nice to me without making any substantive changes. I have no idea how to respond.

    1. Malibu Stacey*

      Or if it IS a change, they won’t fire Janet, they will demote her and you’ll stick have to work with her. At one company I was at they would send out out a memo about “Janet is stepping down from her supervisor role to spend more time with her family” like it’s voluntary.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Every time I see that “spend more time with family” BS line, I channel Chris Farley in Tommy Boy and say, “What’d ya doooooooo?”

        1. MashaKasha*

          (off-topic, kind of) The city where I live had a mayor “step down to spend more time with family”, with the complete explanation about how his kids are young teenagers, and that is the exact age when they need their father the most, and also there’s an ongoing investigation against him on the charges of corruption and accepting bribes. But mostly, it’s for the children. And they then assigned some random guy to take his place. That was when I stopped voting in my city’s local elections.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            That is how it works here, too. If someone steps down midterm, the board will plug in someone that they feel is the most qualified. (Hopefully, this is the thinking behind it.) Then the replacement has to run for election at the point where the original would have run for re-election. This is done in part to keep things flowing; keep the municipality running. Not only are elections expensive but they are also very disruptive. I started on a board this way. I ran for election when the person I replaced would have been up for re-election. After getting elected on my own, I felt official. Up to that point I felt like a lame duck or place holder so they could have a quorum for their meetings.

            Done correctly, this works okay. A respected, thinking person is chosen as a fill-in and the municipality can continue going about it’s regular routines.

            1. MK*

              When you say someone you mean anyone at all? In my country you don’t elect a mayor, you elect the city council, and then the members elect the mayor (realistically that means that the front man/woman of the majority party is elected). If someone steps down, a runner up fills the spot; if the mayor steps down, a runner up fills the spot and the council voted for a new mayor; if there is no runner up, there is a mini-election to fill the spot.

        2. Mike C.*

          I do the same thing (I read a ton of political news) but just be careful – once in a while I find out a spouse has terminal cancer or something.

    2. Kathleen*

      My experience is that usually “changes coming down the pike” means “(fairly minor) changes coming down the pike.” And unless the company considers firing a director “fairly minor,” and most of them do not, this will not help the OP at all.

      Still, the OP knows these people and we don’t, so she’s the one in the best position to decide if these changes are likely to be minor or substantive.

      1. Snark*

        My experience is that changes never come down the pike. A change might wake up, stretch its little arms, and wander down the pike randomly, at some time after changes are asserted to be coming down the pike, and that little change will be surprised and delighted when everyone goes “YAY ITS THE CHANGE” and play along. But changes are never coming down the pike when they are rumored to be. That’s code for “please don’t quit.”

        1. MashaKasha*

          Only kind of change I’ve ever seen come down the pike is a fed-up employee leaving the company and starting a competing business. No internal changes of any value ever come down the pike. A small, change-looking thing (like the one you described) might. But nothing real.

        2. Anon Accountant*

          Yes! It’s a carrot dangling to you. But I’ve never seen changes actually happen but wringing of hands and pointing fingers.

          1. MerciMe*

            I’ve seen assurances followed by meaningful action before. Problem is that not all change is for the better. I always try to keep in mind that the same people will probably be choosing the boss’s replacement. They may not choose better in the second round.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, my old boss used to make so many vague promises like this (which were probably made to him and he was just passing on) that the words became meaningless. It was enough to make me hang on – things are going to get better! Any day now! – but was definitely a sign of disfunction.

      OP, unless you get a legit, concrete answer, you’re right to be skeptical of these claims. The longer they keep making these promises, and the longer they keep not actually doing anything about the many complaints they’ve received, the more dysfunctional they are proving themselves to be.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s times like these that will truly show you who your employer is.

      This is a good point. I am really loyal to companies where something went wrong, and they immediately figured out how to fix it and did so. That counts over all the times it just worked the first time. While working just fine for years, then driving me mad when something did go wrong–then I’m looking for other options.

      For this company, I suspect changes coming translates loosely as “We are hoping for a small meteor strike.”

      1. TCO*

        Nothing earns my loyalty more than an employer who actually fires people who need to be fired, especially when it’s a compassionate “transitioning out” of someone who’s a good person but not a fit for the role after repeated attempts to make it work. Be willing to fire when it’s the only solution, and deal well with other crises, and I’ll be loyal to you for a long time. Keep bad employees around and I’ll never fully respect you.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In hindsight, the one time I was mad enough about customer service at my (usually adored*) grocery store to call and complain, it was clear that I wasn’t the first person to complain about her, and she was gone.

          But they could have kept her on, because firing people is tough, as customers decided that it just was not worth this kind of aggravation when there was another grocery store a block away that would also sell them cereal.

          *For example, Halloween morning my kindergartener–a high-strung perfectionist–cannot find her pumpkin to decorate in class. We race to the grocery store, which has put away all their pumpkins. They look in back, there are none, and then they find one decorating the fish counter and give her that one so she can decorate it in class.**

          **Two months later, an orange sphere of goo was found at the back of the art supplies shelf.

    5. sap*

      Yep, my husband was recently in a very similar situation to this with a different division’s head that his department was having to work with on one particular project. After a year of him, the head of the peer department within his division that was also working on the project, and his own division head talking to the CEO about the other division head being impossible to work with and needing to change for their continued job satisfaction (and telling the CEO when departures were due to the bad division head), my husband, the other department head, and a couple of months later most of their employees work for a different company that was looking to start its own Teapot Fancification division (there wasn’t any inappropriate poaching; the former employees reached out to see about following).

      1. sap*

        Sorry, left out the most relevant to LW part–fellow department head actually had an offer for a Director of Teacup Fanciness at a competitor, gave the CEO a last chance to fix the problem before she took it, and he said he would. He didn’t. Luckily, she and the other people in this story have an extremely in demand skillset and were in a position where they weren’t worried about finding a different offer if they stayed and things didn’t change; she only stayed on for another 2 months before taking a new offer without giving the company any chance to keep her.

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      To be fair, I’ve also seen where “some changes are coming down the pike” means “oh btw next week we’re announcing mass layoffs and a giant restructuring.”

    7. JulieBulie*

      What scares me when I hear “changes are coming down the pike” is that, even if there really is a change coming, and even if it’s non-trivial, it might not fix the problem. It might even make it worse.

      Imagine if they fix the problem by getting rid of Janet, but replacing her with someone who is even worse than Janet.

      Or if they keep Janet and hire a new person to manage her, and they become BFFs.

      Hopefully none of this will happen. I think it’s more likely that nothing will happen at all. But it would be really nice if they could tell you, “things will be different in January,” and then when January comes, Janet is somewhere else.

        1. Windchime*

          That was my thought. I had a manager that was so terrible she drove me to quit. Then she was promoted to Director and then fired a couple of months later for still being terrible; apparently the promotion didn’t make her as awesome as they had hoped…..??

        2. Cassandra*

          Yep. This has happened to not-great people I worked with/for.

          Twice. Both times the endgame was me leaving.

          You’d think I’d learn.

  2. Artemesia*

    Changes aren’t coming down the pike; if they were going to deal with this, they would have done, months ago. And don’t underestimate the extent to which a very good worker can still be irritating by bringing up the incompetence of administration so that they are glad to see them go too. I would not be surprised if the boss would not breath a sigh of relief if you left since you keep pointing out the mismanagement. When a place is run this badly, they have a vested interested in keeping the losers and getting rid of those who see what is going on.

    Run. Or at least keep looking until you find something better.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      “I would not be surprised if the boss would not breath a sigh of relief if you left since you keep pointing out the mismanagement. When a place is run this badly, they have a vested interested in keeping the losers and getting rid of those who see what is going on.” Ugh, this really hit home regarding the mess that is my place of employment.

    2. Mona Lisa*

      “And don’t underestimate the extent to which a very good worker can still be irritating by bringing up the incompetence of administration so that they are glad to see them go too. I would not be surprised if the boss would not breath a sigh of relief if you left since you keep pointing out the mismanagement.”

      +100. I co-sign this from life experience.

      1. Snark*

        Not to throw any shade at people who advocate for change and improvement in their workplaces, but I’ve noticed that there’s a subset of those people who advocate so often and at such length that they begin to be viewed as a mouthy pain in the ass rather than a good employee bringing problems that need solving. Not saying OP is that at all, necessarily, but if you bang the drum long enough, people get tired of the dance.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So important. Know your work place. If others are not suggesting a lot of ideas, that is a clue. I have worked for places who wanted to fail. I did not get that they wanted to fail. What happened next was painful for me.
          OP, when it starts to hurt, get out.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      At least get your running shoes on, clear any obstacles between you and the door, and do some jumping jacks.

    4. JulieBulie*

      This is true, and it’s important to keep in mind at any workplace.

      However, it does sound as though they’ve taken OP’s complaints seriously, especially since Carl and a whole other department have complained as well. If OP, Carl, and the other department don’t routinely make complaints about their other coworkers, then I doubt that they will be seen as the problem employees.

      Hopefully this just means that the org isn’t very nimble about terminations (maybe they haven’t had much practice) and are being excruciatingly careful about getting Janet’s farewell paperwork right.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Agreeing totally with Artemesia. At some point these problems shift, it stops being a bad boss problem and starts being a bad upper management problem.
      OP they can fire this woman to appease you and I can almost promise you that the next jerk they hire, you will go through the same long drawn out process again.

    6. Letter Writer*

      I had this realization soon after I wrote. Things with Janet kept getting worse and worse in front of everyone’s eyes. HR even said that our team was complaining too much and to lay off (at that point, I don’t think they were able to share the info about Janet’s PIP – see my post below). Even though she’s quitting, I can’t say that I think they would have fired her. Major red flag about my organization that wasn’t there before this whole ordeal.

      1. Observer*

        You know, I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around this. Things were so bad that they were working on a PIP and instead of letting you know that “We’ve brought it to the Board and they ARE dealing with this” they tell you that you are complaining too much?! That just makes no sense.

    7. Nonprofit Director*

      Yes, I work with a “Janet”. I am the co-worker who brings up the incompetence of “Janet” and I feel like I may have gone too far, as it seems my boss tries to avoid me. Problem is, there is something every day … sometimes multiple somethings. And like the OP’s situation, my organization’s failure to do something about “Janet” is really a management problem, which I keep pointing out.

      I am thinking long and hard about whether I can stay here.

      1. mugsy523*

        I had a terrible boss at OldJob, similar to “Janet.” I spent the better part of 18 months in the HR office, “department workshops,” creating 30-60-90 day plans. HR had the entire team take personality tests to try to figure out why we all were having so many problems together. They sent ToxicBoss to every one-day management workshop, class, time management coach, etc. that they could find to “help make changes.”

        After one particularly bad day, when I was screamed at, called terrible names, and had things thrown at me, the HR manager said that we needed to talk to the CEO and his response was that I needed to toughen up because he was sick and tired of hearing me point out all of these problems and wasting HR’s time. That’s when it dawned on me that ToxicBoss was a huge problem, but it was the dysfunctional organization that allowed him to spiral out of control and that I wanted to cut ties with the whole place. And I quit the following Monday morning. HR told me they didn’t blame me. I think HR wanted to do more, but the executive team was holding HR back from doing the right thing.

        LW keep job searching. There are better organizations out there!

        1. Michelle*

          You had things thrown at you and the CEO’s response was you need to toughen up??? My God, I’m so sorry that happened and I am SO glad to hear you left.

          1. mugsy523*

            Yep! The CEO was so exasperated with me. He was like, “I’m so sick of your tattling. You need to grow a thicker skin.”

            It was a learning experience! I will never allow a situation to get that bad again. I tried to participate in the remedies that HR was suggesting, trying to be a “good employee,” and it was so toxic there I couldn’t recognize that there was NOTHING I could do to salvage the situation. I quit with no notice the day after having that conversation with the CEO.

            The best part was, after walking out, the HR manager called me and asked me to reconsider. I said there’s nothing to reconsider, I no longer felt safe there. The HR manager’s reply was “The CEO is very disappointed in your behavior. You should have given a notice period.” LOL! Yes, please let me stick around for two weeks so my ToxicBoss can practice his curveball!

            1. Former Employee*

              I know the instinct is to duck, but if I were in that situation and had time to think it over, I woould have been tempted to stay long enough for the ToxicBoss to fly into a rage and start throwing things at me and let myself get hit. At that point, I would document what happened, have pictures taken of m injury(ies) and either call the police (assault), bring a lawsuit or both.

  3. MuseumChick*

    Yeeeeaaaaah, in my experience. 98% of the time “changes are coming down the pike” = “We know this is a problem but for *reasons* we don’t want to deal with it but we are *totally* going to do something about it…eventually”

    OP, keep job hunting, continue to document/bring incidents to the COO and HR. I hope they are planning on doing something soon. You might also ask, if they won’t give you details, “I know you can’t tell me everything but is there a time frame for these changes that are coming?” If they are vague, see that as a red flag.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This was what it meant for me. Ultimately I told our ED I was going to have to quit if they changed my supervision structure (they wanted to make Janet my supervisor, and Janet had a prior history of being abusive with me and did a bunch of shady things, generally). I am not proud that I made a threat like that, but I was a new attorney and felt boxed into a corner and was just not very professional. Despite everyone knowing Janet was awful, and despite 7 other staff naming Janet as the reason they had quit, and despite the ED saying she’d implement “changes” to cabin Janet’s influence, they made Janet my boss. Within 2 weeks Janet started Janet-ing. So I quit.

      It’s been 7 years, and they’re just now “transitioning” their Janet out of the organization. I cannot fathom where I would be emotionally, etc., if I had stayed and waited for the ED’s promised “changes” to come into fruition.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, at ToxicJob, my horrible grandboss caused a lot of great employees to leave and no one would do anything about it because he was the owner’s son-in-law and had anger-management issues (imagine a very large muscular man red-faced with a prominent forehead vein screaming).

        Last I heard, he moved across the country (literally! Literally! The company is in northern Michigan and he moved to southern Texas) and is working remotely… still as a department manager.

        Bug change is probably not coming :/

    2. Snark*

      Yeah, it’s decision-maker code for “I know I need to solve this problem, and the decision I have to make is very simple, but this is a very complicated simple problem because reasons, and what do?”

      1. OhNo*

        More like, “I know I need to solve this problem, and the decision I have to make is very simple, but I don’t want to.”

        (Optional addition: “… because it might be hard for me for two seconds, rather than hard for everyone else forever.”)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Or, “because I don’t like ‘conflict’ and am so averse that I would rather everyone suffer than I suck it up for the 1-2 hours it will take to do my job properly.”

          1. Snark*

            Yup. It’s astonishing how many people are willing to let institutional knowledge and human capital walk out the door in disgust because the prospect of an awkward conversation is just too hard to tackle.

  4. Future Homesteader*

    Yup yup yup, keep looking! A year into NewJob, I’m still occasionally hit with bouts of annoyance at myself for staying at OldJob for two whole years after a new manager came in and made things awful. In fact, she was so like Janet I just sent this to an ex-coworker. Sure, upper management was sympathetic to me, but despite their good listening and murmurs of agreement and understanding when I spoke to them about the issues (always very politely and professionally, until I actually broke down crying in my exit interview because I was so frustrated and mad), it’s a year later, things have actually gotten worse, there’s been more turnover, and still nothing has been done.

    1. Kittyfish 76*

      Wow did you work where I did? I had a Janet at Oldjob also, but she was the owner’s daughter so there wasn’t a thing you could do about it!

  5. LBK*

    Completely agreed with Alison. I think phrasing it like an ultimatum can be too aggressive and burn a lot of capital but a smart leader will read between the lines if you say “This isn’t a situation I can continue to work in long term – I need a more concrete understanding of what’s being done to address Janet’s issues in order to have confidence things are going to improve in the near future.”

    I think the key is going to be whether it seems like they genuinely have things in the works when you pose this statement or whether they seem to scramble to make things right when they realize they’re probably going to lose you. If it seems like the latter, I’m with Alison that you should probably leave anyway – you don’t want to work somewhere that’s going to require you making veiled threats to deal with serious personnel issues. That sounds completely emotionally exhausting.

    1. Fiennes*

      True. And using another offer as an ultimatum locks LW into that second job offer, which she sounds ambivalent about at best. But just firing a shot across the bow, as per Alison’s advice, means LW can hang on for something better (if she can take Janet any longer).

      1. LBK*

        Yes – as people said on the “work is forcing me to give up my car” letter, don’t make a bluff you aren’t willing to have called.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I probably would have taken this suggestion if Janet hadn’t quit by now (hope you saw my update post). I also didn’t get the job offer – or at least, it’s been almost a month and I haven’t heard. They also must have had the PIP in the works, but I guess I’ll never know if that would have led to firing if Janet couldn’t improve.

      1. LBK*

        Just read the follow up – that’s exactly where I was going with the “does it sound like something was in the works” angle. Sometimes the bureaucracy of getting someone out can be extensive and management can genuinely be working to get someone on a PIP/fired but it can take forever depending on your company’s procedures. It’s good to hear that it sounds like they were taking it seriously.

  6. Magenta Sky*

    It’s far more professional to tell them why you *have* given notice than why you’re going to.

    If they fire her because you threatened to quit, they have effectively put you in charge, and hamstrung her replacement, because everyone will know who is *really* in charge. It’s guaranteed to make the next manager worse, not better.

  7. Observer*

    OP, id your sector male dominated? Are the higher ups (Aside from the COO) / board men? Is Janet from a group that is different than the group of the higher ups / board, and that has been traditionally discriminated against?

    I ask because I wonder if part of the foot dragging might be about someone worrying that they “can’t” fire her without evidence of objective performance issues or it will be seen as discrimination.

    Another thought – is there any outside involvement in the hiring process for this position, especially from a government entity? My experience is that sometime that can create real roadblocks to effective hiring and / or firing.

    Neither of there really changes the problem per se, but it may make a difference in how you view the organization, assuming they get rid of Janet before you give notice. And, I do agree that job searching is a good move. Regardless of the reason for the inaction, it’s a problem and it’s not something you should have to deal with.

    1. Letter Writer*

      My sector and organization are both female dominated and quite diverse- there may be more males on the board. But you bring up a good point. I was thinking that they may have been worrying that they shouldn’t fire someone so high up. This position used to be a part of the senior team but was removed before Janet was hired and I’m not sure why.

  8. voyager1*

    AAM is 100% right, but I would also add because you don’t have a job offer.

    If you have a job offer, then sure go ahead and pull the she goes or I go… just expect them to tell you to go.

    The only thing that will change this dynamic is when work doesn’t get done. Maybe then Janet will go maybe they will escapegoat you and your teammate .

    I would double up the job searching! Good luck!

  9. J.*

    I mean, Janet sounds like a nightmare, but I’d be threatened by a subordinate who was actively advocating to get me fired, too.

    Does Janet know that she was a second choice and that you were on the search committee? It seems like you may have gotten off on the wrong foot from the get-go. I’m not saying her behavior is ok. Yelling at employees, poor communication skills, constantly coming in late and leaving early, those are all not great things, and it sounds like your relationship with her is not really salvageable. But it might be helpful to take a step back and try to identify where things went wrong with Janet, what might have gone awry in your process of dealing with her (what would have been better/different strategies), since you’re likely to encounter difficult people again in your career.

    1. Snark*

      I feel like “I pissed off my boss by undermining them with upper management and now they’re being mean to me” is kiiiiiinda a theme today. And does OP have any illusions that COO was going to keep that feedback and its source secret from Janet?

    2. Delphine*

      It sounds like other people in the organization have problems with Janet too–Carl has also complained. Why is it difficult to believe that Janet is wholly the issue here? Sometimes bosses are terrible, and no amount of patience (or, possibly in this case, deference) can fix that.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. It’s not just Carl, either. Her peers are also not happy – to the point that one department doesn’t want to work with her!

        That’s telling.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Janet doesn’t know she was the second choice and I was involved in interviewing her. COO made the final decision to hire her. I actually did a lot of thinking about whether my issues with Janet were due to personality mismatch, different communication styles, etc. and employed some strategies to try to make things better, to no avail. Which is why I ended up going to COO. Others have had serious issues with Janet as well, including my counterpart and other departments.

  10. Someone else*

    In my experience, and this depends a bit on the tone in which it was said, and your relationship with the COO, but “changes are coming down the pike” has often meant “we know, and your feedback has been helpful in building the case, and we’re going through whatever steps required to get rid of her but they’re not quite done yet, but it would be inappropriate to say something more specific about her being on a PIP to you.”
    The letter says LW has been there two years but it’s not clear to me how long Janet has? If Janet’s been around the same amount of time or less, depending on the tone of the “changes coming” comment, I might take it as I indicated above. Especially if COO seemed in sincere agreement that the complaints lodged were reasonable and Janet in the wrong.
    If Janet’s been there forever, and none of the staff’s objections to Janet are new, and COO for some reason doesn’t seem to agree about the egregiousness of Janet’s behaviour, then I’d be more inclined to interpret the “changes” comment as a thing said to make LW stop asking.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      I’m kind of with you on this… From the timeline presented in the letter it seems like it might be a bit too soon to tell that the COO is not actually in the process of doing something about this.

      If the OP only filed their first formal complaint against Janet weeks ago (and weeks ago was also when Carl filed their complaint), that’s not a lot of time for things to be set in motion. OP does say they first spoke to the COO 6 months ago, but how long ago did Janet start? If Janet started 8 months ago, then the OP first complained two months after Janet started – perhaps the COO wanted to give her some time to get aclimated to the office and provide coaching. I’m just using this timeline as an example, that we all might be jumping to some conclusions here because we don’t have the full timeline presented to us.

      This is why I really like Alison’s advice of pressing the issue with the CCO on trying to get a better sense of their timeline. If they can give you something slightly more specific “I can’t go into detail, but hang in there for 2-3months, ok?” I’d feel pretty confident that this was actually being handled. I’d also think about your org/COO in general. Are they generally transparent? In that case – their lack of specificty in addressing the Janet problem is an issue. However if they are generally not transparent – well, who knows what’s going on behind closed-doors.

    2. SarahKay*

      I have to say, that’s my reading of the situation too. Certainly in my company it’s not considered acceptable to tell other staff that someone is on a PIP, or facing disciplinary action, etc.
      I definitely second Alison’s advice to ask for a rough time-frame of when these changes are coming, and see what is said. If you get a definite answer along the lines of “I think you’ll see them within the next month”, then great, there’s a good chance that they really are just ticking the last box and dotting the last i that will let them get rid of Janet.
      If you get waffle and evasive answers – time to seriously start the search for a new job.

      1. Janey Jane*

        If they make hints that Janet is being placed on a PIP and things are Progressing, that’s certainly good news. But don’t assume it’s going to actually pan out — keep job searching and thinking about where you want to go from here, because even them Taking Steps is no guarantee that she’s going to be gone at the end of those steps.

        At OldJob we had a project coordinator who refused to coordinate projects, took everything personally, would make HR complaints against people if they so much as looked at her funny (god forbid they corrected her if she make a mistake — even a spelling mistake), was utterly inflexible and would yell at people to get her way (including, once, a VP!). When grandboss sat her down to talk about what was happening (our boss was on maternity leave at the time), coworker stormed out of the meeting and was out of the office the rest of the day. The next day she stormed into grandboss’s office and said she had spoken to a lawyer, and if grandboss ever spoke to her again — at all — she’d sue the company for harassment.

        She was eventually put on a PIP, I found out on the down-low, and I was told “Just be patient, things are happening.” But ultimately it never went anywhere, and we suffered her for another year before she finally left for another job (and deleted a bunch of projects from our system on her way out the door, which screwed us over in all sorts of ways). Thankfully her replacement took the giant mess she had left and, with time, transformed it into an actual, functioning project management system with far greater capacity than her predecessor ever managed to support. But. The problem coworker had spent three years alienating the entire department, and even with a PIP and a huge volume of legitimate complaints and some really freaking egregious behavior, the company chose to wait it out rather than risk firing her.

    3. JulieBulie*

      That’s what I’m hoping this is – waiting for a PIP to burn down.

      If OP likes everything about the place except for Janet, I think OP should wait Janet out unless something happens that makes it crystal clear that Janet is under some kind of special protection.

      Also, if there’s a PIP, and if Janet can tell that nobody likes her, plus it sounds like she’s pretty unhappy anyway, she might get out a new job on her own.

      Nightmare scenario: OP gets a new job, then a few months later, Janet gets hired as her boss. Probably wouldn’t happen to OP, but search the AAM archives because I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with that idea on my own.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      It’s also possible, depending on how high up the ladder Janet is, that the organization is negotiating a “go away” package that includes a gag order (since they are non-profit and bad press, whether true or not, can have a big effect) rather than a PIP.

    5. Letter Writer*

      Janet came on board about 13 months after me. Turns out that they were planning to put her on a PIP and couldn’t tell me yet (I have to say I really was impatient) so you were right!

    6. Letter Writer*

      Hope you saw my update! Janet had been with our org for 6 months when I first approached COO and almost a year when I submitted the formal complaint, for some context.

  11. Shadow*

    How weird that a subordinate would be a major factor in the hiring decision of her manager. Is that the reason why op seems to be evaluating his managers overall performance instead of just the issues that impact him?

    1. KHB*

      It’s not that weird. I was part of a committee that interviewed candidates for my boss’s position. The issue is that my grandboss (and most of the other various higher-ups) lacks specific expertise in the operations of my department (he knows a lot about teapot sales, say, but little about teapot design and manufacture, which is what we do), so several of my peers and I were involved in the process in case we spotted anything that he didn’t. I don’t think we had any actual power in the final decision, but we were asked our opinions, and I think he took them on board.

      1. Letter Writer*

        That’s exactly why I was included in the hiring process. COO manages Janet’s position but doesn’t have the expertise and wanted the team there to give opinions.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think it’s weird at all. As the senior member of my team, I interviewed candidates when they were hiring my manager’s replacement. They weren’t going to hire someone I didn’t approve, it would be shooting themselves in the foot.

      1. Shadow*

        It definitely can make sense to meet a prospective boss to make sure you click, but it rarely makes sense to evaluate their qualifications. There’s a conflict of interest. You’ll likely default to the person who will do what you want them to do which may not always the best for the org

        And it’s super weird to manage someone who thought someone else was better qualified.

        1. LBK*

          I mean, I evaluated my current manager’s qualifications as they related to the aspects of the job that would apply to me, eg did I get the sense he understood how to work with the kind of data we have, did he have similar philosophies about working with our clients, did I think he would effectively manage some of the strong personalities we have on our team, etc.

          As for managing someone who thought you weren’t the best choice – this is a moot point because I genuinely don’t think my grandboss would have hired someone I said no to. I am much less expendable that someone who doesn’t work here yet.

    3. Maple*

      This actually happened to me at a recent interview and it kind of threw me (it was also a videoconference and it was difficult to see and hear the interviewers). The panel was comprised of people who: if they hired me, would be my: supervisor, director reports (2), and indirect report (reporting to a direct report whose position was vacant at the time of the interview).

    4. SallytooShort*

      I’ve had to do that. And it made sense since we have a small department and very few outside of it would have been able to give good feedback on whether this was a good fit. But, honestly, it also is kind of weird. And it does kind of skew our dynamic.

  12. Cassie*

    I would not threaten to leave unless X happened, but in the past when leaving I have blamed Y and/or Z during my outboarding. I did it not because I thought it was change my situation, but to try to help coworkers stuck behind who still had to deal with those problems.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I did say at one exit interview that things might have been different if the company had been willing to address my boss’s “anger management issues.” Little did I know, I was the third person to tell them that (I had thought I was the second), and the other two hadn’t said it far more emphatically (and bitterly) than I did.

      Result: Third time was the charm, apparently. Exboss was double-demoted, reporting to someone who until then had reported to him.

      But no, I didn’t threaten. And wouldn’t have. If that’s the only way to get things done, then there’s something seriously wrong that’s much worse than a wimpy HR department. If they bag Janet so they can keep you, you now know that you’re working at a very dysfunctional place – the kind you should get out of ASAP. That’s not the kind of prize you want to win.

      Also remember that if they’ll bag Janet in order to keep you, they’ll probably bag you in order to keep someone else. Do you want to work in that kind of place?

  13. Lora*

    Agree 100% with Alison. The problem isn’t Janet, it’s the COO who is sitting on his thumbs. Until you get a new COO, this problem will repeat itself: whomever he hires will be truly luck of the draw, and you’ll be expected to deal with it.

    Saw exactly two places where the threatened changes actually came: one, because the company was in the middle of a takeover and so yeah, it wasn’t hard to put someone difficult at the top of the planned layoff list. The other, the changes came about six months after I left, but the manager I actually liked also retired and the SVP who was the real root cause wasn’t any different.

    I do understand why senior managers drag their feet on this stuff, and it’s a lot of reasons (day to day firefighting, hard to hire a replacement, not the #1 priority on any given day, doesn’t affect them personally so it goes to the back of their minds, hired this person cheap and it would cost a lot more to get a replacement in the current market, this person has experience with some odd niche technology, person is friends with/in the same country club as the head honcho, etc) but really they need to focus on the Very Big Picture of high turnover and getting a crummy reputation where they won’t be able to hire anyone good ever.

  14. Kittyfish 76*

    What a shame that this happens so often. OP has been plugging along at a job she enjoys, and now he/she has to be the one to possibly leave or deal with this aggravation. There is always a proverbial fly in the ointment.

  15. Snark*

    So, OP, I have Thoughts about your predicament.

    1) Your employer sucks at hiring people. If your candidate pool was so shallow that the second-ranked candidate for a management position had no relevant management experience but everyone just shrugged and went “she’ll do fine I guess,” that’s a problem. That person should have gotten a form email three weeks ago. They shouldn’t have been your single fallback. Ideally, there’s at least 2-3 candidates you feel decent about and would be willing to hire because they’re fully experienced and qualified.

    2) Your employer sucks at firing people. Your COO has a very simple decision to make and keeps punting the can down the road. This tells me they’re more invested in the status quo than they are in actually managing operations.

    3) Your employer sucks. Glad you like the work and the mission, but it’s full of bees and it’s time for you to go.

    4) When you badmouth your boss to your grandboss, be very sure that is a hill you are willing to die on. Because you do know, don’t you, that you’re signing up to die on it? That you have no reasonable expectation that your feedback won’t make it back to your boss, likely within a day, attached to your name? And that you might die on that hill even if you attack with a superior military force and a fantastic plan? And that you, in point of fact, did die on that hill?

    5) Do not attempt to blackmail them. Yeah, you’re good at your job and they like you. That’s nice. “It’s me or her” burns all that capital in a flash. Someone who blackmails me is even less valuable to me than a bad manager who learned everything she needed to know about bossing in middle school.

    1. SarahKay*

      Snark, I couldn’t agree more on point 5.
      Years ago I worked in a Department Store. By chance, all but one person in a department left, within about two weeks of one another. The remaining person marched into the Store Manager’s office and basically said “I’m irreplaceable right now – if you won’t give me a 20% rise then I quit”.
      The Store Manager’s response was “No-one’s irreplaceable. Let me have your resignation in writing, will you. Shut the door behind you on your way out.”
      OP, please don’t do this, or be this person.

      1. K.*

        My coworker did this. Told her boss she needed x, y, and z or she’d quit. Her boss was like “We’re not going to be able to give you any of that.” Coworker was like “ … Oh.” She’s still here. She might be looking, but she’s definitely still here and she’s lost a lot of face as a result.

      1. Snark*

        Useful thing to keep in mind going forward, if nothing else, and a good explanation for why Janet has been starving her out.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s wise because Big Boss can be all sympathetic and supportive, then you find out that every single word you said went back to Immediate Boss. And now your Immediate Boss is going to do everything possible to make your life a living hell.
        Some people have NO discretion. They don’t try to watch from one side to see what is going on. They have no idea or do not care that it will RAIN in the Reporting Employee’s World. They use the Bull in the China Shop Method of telling the Problem Boss directly what has been said about them. This is because “We are open here and we discuss our problems regardless of the nature of the complaint. So we will tell your boss that you said she is an epic fail.”

        My rule of thumb has become that if I need to go to the big boss then I need to be looking for a new job. About half the bosses I have had would either be reasonable or they would at least have some good days where you could have a serious discussion. (Mostly the latter.) Because of the very high quantity of problems here, OP, I would be wary.

    2. LBK*

      Strongly disagree on point #4, I really don’t think it’s categorically true across the board that bringing feedback against your boss is signing your death warrant. Good upper management will want to know about it, just like your direct manager will want to know about things your coworkers are doing that they’re not positioned well to see.

      1. Snark*

        Figured you’d find something to disagree with me about.

        But I didn’t precisely say that bringing feedback to your boss is categorically a death warrant. What I did say is that you’re exposing yourself to a significant amount of professional risk doing so, that you have no guarantee or reasonable expectation of confidentiality or protection, and that you need to factor that into the decision to do it. Some hills are absolutely worth that risk. I’ve been right there. Even though my upper management was good and they did want to know about it and did act on it promptly and appropriately, there was blowback from the supervisor I was passing on information about, and it got nasty. If my upper management hadn’t been good, I might have died on that hill. So it goes.

        1. Snark*

          Sorry, that first line was overly passive-aggressive. It does seem that you find things to disagree with me about, and I suspect how I eat crackers is beginning to wear on your nerves, but you generally do so civilly and constructively, so you don’t merit the snark.

          1. LBK*

            I think we’re both just high-volume commenters who tend to have strong but differing opinions. I swear I don’t look for your comments specifically to argue with them, although I’m sure it feels like that sometimes (I have actually considered just not replying to some of your recent comments I disagreed with because I didn’t want you to feel like I was harassing you). On the flipside, I do try to comment explicitly to agree with you on occasions when I do, just to balance it out :)

            Back to the issue at hand – I certainly agree it can be a sensitive action to take, and blowback is always a possibility (probably even a likelihood) but I think that’s also something strong upper management can be prepared to address. I think some of this is coming from my own experience where I’ve probably had atypically strong upper management; my last manager was fired a few months after being hired and since then my grandboss has been very clear with me that as the senior member of the team, she expects and trusts me to promptly bring any problems I have with the management layer between us to her attention.

      2. NW Mossy*

        I think it’s something that’s riskier if any of the following aren’t already in place:

        * You’ve already tried to address the issue with your boss directly more than once, and can speak confidently to when/how you did and the results (or lack thereof).
        * You have independent verification that the problematic behavior(s) affect others as well, particularly others of a clout level equal to or greater than your own.
        * You have a strong relationship with the skip-level leader you’re planning to talk to.
        * You trust the skip-level leader’s judgment and ability/willingness to mitigate retaliation from your boss.
        * You have directly observed evidence of the senior leader’s ability to send tough messages and take decisive but difficult action.

        It’s a hard set of requirements to meet, because to Alison’s point, situations where all of these criteria are met tend to be ones where Janets don’t survive very long in the first place. While my company is generally well-run and my boss happens to be great, I can’t tick all the items on this list.

        1. LBK*

          I agree – I definitely think you need to evaluate and be aware of your relationship with upper management and these are great criteria to do it with. I think my only contention here would be that I think you use the first 4 criteria to judge whether you think the last will be true. Most people haven’t had a chance to observe how their senior leadership deals with tough situations like this because they just don’t come up that often, so unless you’ve been working somewhere for years you might not have anything to go on there. But if the first 4 points are in place, I think that can give you confidence that point 5 will be followed through on.

    1. JanetM*

      Not until you mentioned it, no. I’ve just been quietly twitching, because my name is Janet. But I’m not a manager and I don’t work for a non-profit, so I’m pretty sure this isn’t about me….

    2. JulieBulie*

      I’m thinking about Janet from “The Good Place.” I love that Janet. This one must be her evil twin.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I keep thinking there needs to be a crossover between “The Good Place” and “Lucifer”. Say, Michael’s annual review conducted by Guess Who.

  16. Anon D*

    The only time you should make the “do X or I’m leaving” is when you really are prepared to leave, because chances are they’re going to do X anyhow.

    A relative of mine was in a similar-ish situation. He worked for a university. There was a reshuffling and a guy he did not get along with was made assistant department chair. Relative told the department chair “If you want me to go along with this, I need to report directly to you, not the assistant chair, or I’ll have a letter of resignation on your desk.” He was told he could report directly to the department chairman. A week later they came back and said “we’ve thought about it and you’re going to report to the assistant chair.”

    Within an hour he had that letter of resignation and resigned (He’d had a fully vested pension and was at retirement age but was enjoying the work before this). Apparently they were SHOCKED he’d carried through on his threat.

    Pretty much right after he left the department collapsed, as he’d been keeping more in check than the admin realized.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Anon D – happens in the IS/IT business as well — quite often, a guy or gal wants an advancement – but is held back, or passed over. Said person finds another job and resigns.

      The counter-offer is difficult – they might offer a raise, or even a title change. But if they know they passed over someone that is truly needed – and the place will, as you say, fall apart if he/she goes — they knew that when they did the pass-over — most places do super-duper-top-secret-double-probation risk assessments. A series of “what-ifs”.

      A place is truly STUPID if they don’t.

      Bigshot1 = “Billy wants the Teapot Architecture Lead position.”
      Bigshot2 = “Ya, but.”
      Bigshot1 – “Ya, but what?”
      Bigshot2 = “Well if we give it to Billy we have two problems, one – no one’s left to do Billy’s job. And Bigshot3 is interviewing candidates for the lead, and giving Billy the job may upset Bigshot3.”
      Bigshot1 = “OK, what if Billy leaves?”
      Bigshot2 = “ho ho. Ha ha, you really think that’s gonna happen? You gotta be kidding!”
      Bigshot1 = “and what if Billy balks at training the person he was passed over for?”
      Bigshot2 = “We’ll show him, by gum, if he doesn’t – he’ll be sorry!!!”
      Bigshot1 = “no, he’ll get another job, quit, and give us the ZZ Top ‘she’s got legs’ wave on his way out the door.”

      Bigshot2 = “STOP IT. You’re making sense. I don’t wanna hear it.”

    2. KTM*

      My partner was in a semi-similar situation. He talked to his boss about a number of things that had been making him unhappy at his job and they basically said they couldn’t do anything about it. So he informed them he likely wouldn’t stay at the job if that was the case. Within a month or so he gave them notice that he was leaving and they didn’t believe him (!). He told them when his last day was and they kept saying he wasn’t actually going to leave. They had to scramble his last couple days there when they realized he was ‘serious’. I don’t get some people.

  17. Nora*

    This same thing happened in my office many years ago, and our manager was literally named Janet! In addition to everything mentioned above, she also repeatedly wrote on my computer screen with a pen! We had several people quit, stating explicitly that they were leaving because of her. Once she even grabbed one of my coworkers by the shoulders and shook her.

    In the end, the only thing that got our company to wake up was to completely lose our contract – all 9 of our positions – due to her behavior.

  18. YarnOwl*

    This is giving me flashbacks to the old boss I had who was fired earlier this year! So many people in our organization wanted nothing to do with our department because she was so difficult and mean and hard to work with, and she made all of our lives miserable. She made me want to leave what has otherwise been an incredible job and a company that is amazing to work for.

    Luckily for us though, after all four of her direct reports brought concerns to her boss they got rid of her! I hope they deal with this in a real and meaningful way, OP.

  19. Al Iverson*

    I don’t know. I think nice people don’t necessarily want to fire somebody, even if that person is a total tool. I’ve been there, and you know that firing this person means it could screw their life up badly. Even if you recognize they really are a huge problem and need to go. So you might drag your feet about getting rid of that person. So in that regard, I think Alison might be wrong — it might not be indicative of a bigger problem with this organization. It might just be normal human nature, from a perspective of not wanting to move fast when it comes to something that could screw somebody’s life up.

    That being said, I’d quit if I found a good replacement job. Because you can’t live on empty promises and hope. Then on the way out, I might even tell HR or boss’s boss, look, I’m leaving because I can’t work with Janet any more. If something changes there and you have any interest in working together again, feel free to reach out and let’s talk. It’s not a commitment, and the company is not suddenly horrible if they finally let Janet go.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If it’s banal to not want to fire someone terrible because firing is mean, it’s equally banal to have a terrible employee who is driving off customers and valued employees. From the point of view of those stuck with Janet, there’s no functional difference between:
      a) We don’t want to fire Janet because it will make her life difficult.
      b) We don’t want to fire Janet because we are totally fine with what she’s doing.
      c) We don’t want to fire Janet because maybe a meteor will strike the office and it won’t matter.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      Not wanting firing someone for being so incompetent and toxic that and entire *department* won’t work with them *is* a bigger problem.

    3. Plague of frogs*

      I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter. I was the leader for a group of volunteers. I had to fire one of those volunteers because she was rude to our clients and to other volunteers. It is deeply awkward to tell someone you are dispensing with their free service, but I did it because is was my job (though unpaid). She resigned before I could say the words, which was awesome. But…yeah. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of being a nice person. Lucky for me, I’m not a nice person anyway, so it wasn’t such a stretch :)

  20. Maple*

    Good question and good answer. Not to take things off track, but I would like to point out that this is one of the reasons that companies shouldn’t be so insistent about requiring applicants to have many years of experience doing the exact same thing (not necessarily the case here; OP said “applicable”) they would be doing in their new role. Most great employees don’t want to do the same thing over and over at the same level forever; most great employees look for growth, either a higher level of responsibility or responsibilities of greater interest in a slightly different area. Those with tons of prior experience in that role may know what they’re doing but not be very good at it, or just not very good employees in general (e.g., because they lack professionalism and interpersonal skills).

  21. designbot*

    I guess I would have taken the “we’d hate to lose you” as an opening. Couldn’t OP go back to the COO and say something like: I know you’ve mentioned that you’d hate to lose me, and back when you said that I appreciated the sentiment but didn’t think it would get to that point. Since that time was so very long ago now, my thinking on that matter has shifted and I wanted to give you a heads up that that is a serious possibility if this does not get resolved in the near term.

    1. designbot*

      to be clear, I’m trying to make the distinction between a direct “she goes or I go” and giving fair warning and a chance to know you’re serious. I’ve quit an organization and then the boss was fired a week after I left. If we’d communicated better before that point, I might still be there.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Mmmm…. Or it might have been that your actually quitting was what set it in motion, or a final straw. That they would reflect back at you “I hear you saying Janet is a problem and you’re really frustrated” for untold years, while “I hear you’re saying you quit–wait, what?” prompted someone, somewhere to have an awkward conversation.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        It still sets up a power dynamic that puts the subordinate in charge, and sabotages the replacement supervisor.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ugh. Not really sure about this wording. OP, you don’t want to make any kind of a threat.
      Perhaps you could try something like, “I feel like my hands are tied here and I really cannot do the job you hired me for.” Then stop right there.

  22. gargamel*

    I have a similar situation, but with a difficult co-worker who has upset most of our team at some point. In private, my manager has described my co-worker as prickly, says she has a hard time working with her, and that she’s treated people on our team “horribly.”

    It took a long time, but I finally figured out the problem is our manager. The problematic employee is someone with a high technical skill level and a lot of domain knowledge, and who is basically holding our team hostage. I think our manager decided that replacing her is more painful than keeping her.

    I’ve seen this at one other job with an engineer in an obscure field who was brilliant. He also openly bullied people, openly criticized his manager, and was not shy with racist and sexist comments. When I left, he was still there.

    It’s a management problem, and Allison’s right, it speaks to how your management team will handle future Janets. I’m so sorry that you have to deal with someone who treats you in a hostile way. That’s horrible and stressful, and not something you should have to deal with.

  23. Femme d'Afrique*

    Long time lurker here.. ;) But I wanted to add something here that hasn’t been addressed yet (I think/hope). Since OP says she works for a non profit, getting rid of Janet may not be that straight forward. In my experience, nonprofits all have to have boards and, given Janet’s seniority, maybe the board has to sign off on her dismissal? Maybe *that’s* what the “change is coming down the pike” comment was alluding to. Sometimes the bureaucracy slows things down.

    If that’s the case then it’s no wonder the COO can’t share more details.

    1. Observer*

      Yes. That’s why I asked about the composition of the Board – Director of a department often requires the Board for hiring and firing.

      1. Femme d'Afrique*

        I just did and… wow. Janet sounds amazingly strange. Can’t say I’m too surprised though. Having worked at my fair share of nonprofits, there’s always that one person whose rise to senior management is questionable. Glad the board took action because so, so many times they don’t. Hope this keeps your workplace drama free from now on too. Good luck!

  24. Doyouthinkanyonesaurus*

    I’ve been there. My old boss left, I knew the CEO had had exit interviews where the reason for leaving was explicitly given as ‘New Boss is a terrible manager’. New Boss does have some things she did very well (managing people is not anywhere near the list of things she did well, probably not even in the same zip code as that list), and I knew that the CEO would not fire her and moving to another boss was not an option. Complaining would have gotten back to her and made things worse.

    I tried for 6 months before leaving, but I started looking just in case after a very short time. By the time a great fit for me came along, I felt like I’d given her a fair chance and also felt like she’d set that chance on fire and then spit on it to put the fire out.

    Truly, having her a boss put an end to any chance I might have had at advancing, even if she was gone. Can you be sure that Janet hasn’t poisoned your reputation even if you stay?

  25. Letter Writer*

    Hey all, appreciate AAM’s response and your comments. A ton has changed since I wrote in November. I pretty much gave up on any “changes coming down the pike” and because other issues with Janet popped up (won’t get into it because it has to do with my coworker, but some really bad stuff) I really revved up my job search and decided I just needed to get out ASAP. I wasn’t sure if I would still try to leverage the job offer if I received it (as of today, haven’t heard back). However… two weeks ago, HR let me know that Janet would be starting a PIP the following week! It took so long to give an update because higher ups had to approve. As part of the terms, Carl and I would have to meet with HR to give updates on Janet’s progress. Well, a few days after my meeting with HR, I received an email from COO saying that Janet quit!!! I’m thinking that she refused the terms of the PIP. Such a relief, but the saga continues- Janet hasn’t acknowledged her resignation to the team and has awkwardly kept on with business as usual. We’re not even sure when her last day is. But that aside, she is definitely resigning and hopefully things will look up from here. I have learned a ton from this whole ordeal that I know I’ll be able to use as I go on in my career.

        1. Bogdan*

          Despite the OP seemingly disregarding all advice? “I wasn’t sure if I would still try to leverage the job offer if I received”

          1. Victor*

            LW only got the advice today. This thought was from before the advice was received, so no advice has been ignored.

    1. Snark*

      “Such a relief, but the saga continues- Janet hasn’t acknowledged her resignation to the team and has awkwardly kept on with business as usual.”

      Can I just come and sit in the corner and eat popcorn? Because as a connoisseur and keen observer of awkwardness, this sounds DELIGHTFUL. I’d even pay you to nonchalantly ask, “So, when’s the last day, Janet?”

      Glad to hear things are looking up. This is maybe the best possible way things could have gone for you.

      1. designbot*

        yeah there’s a certain personality that could get away with, “oh Janet! I heard you were leaving us, best of luck on your next adventure.” and just ignore that she’s pretending it didn’t happen.

        1. RB*

          OOOOHHH, please bring this up in front of others or in a meeting in some cleverly-worded way that causes public embarrassment for Janet.

    2. Rick Tq*

      If Janet has resigned why does she still have access to the building and your computer systems? HR should have notified IT to disable her account the same day….

      1. Observer*

        You would think, but it’s not always possible. However, if the COO and IT are smart, they are taking precautions (some of which are things they should be doing anyway.)

      2. LBK*

        I’m assuming she gave notice, not that she quit on the spot – I misread it that way as well at first, but the OP says she hasn’t acknowledged her resignation to the team, ie hasn’t told them herself that she quit, the OP just heard about it from HR. It doesn’t sound like she’s continuing to show up for a job she doesn’t have anymore.

    3. beanie beans*

      Ooh, so interesting! And how weird that she hasn’t acknowledged the resignation! I hope things DO get better soon and the organization does some better reference checking next round! :)

    4. Windchime*

      Hmmmm, color me skeptical. She hasn’t acknowledged her resignation to anyone on the team and she’s doing business as usual? Are you sure she is really leaving?

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yes – I mentioned to COO that she hadn’t acknowledged the resignation (over a week after I learned of it) and COO reaffirmed that she is quitting and will “share” that with us in a few days. I think this is just more bizarre Janet behavior.

    5. SarahKay*

      Great to hear that your company was working on it. And even better that Janet is on her way out. Best of luck for a great new manager to replace her!


    My little four-person department got our boss fired one time. Three of us complained individually and together for several months to her manager, to HR, to union representatives, and to the department director. The fourth person in our team was new and was her “pet” so they didn’t participate in the complaining. Of us three complainers, we had a combined 35+ years with the agency so that may have lent some credence to our stories. At first we thought it was all our complaining that got her fired but later we heard that it was because she made our director look bad in a meeting because of misquoted financial data, and an inability to answer basic financial questions about the performance of the department.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      BUT ….

      a) you had a union. The equation is different when that’s a factor *and*

      b) she also messed up on her own. That was the catalyst.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
    At my company we had 4 people quit due to a bad hire of a VP of Finance. ONLY then did the company wake up to the problem and fire the person, but of course by then it was too late to get any of those very good people back.

  28. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    It appears that upper management is backing Janet. They know there are problems, but she’s still there. If you were to resign, you MIGHT receive a counter-offer – but that counter-offer will likely be working for Janet. Same role, same s**t. Probably more money.

    A corporate structure will almost always support a manager, as bad as she/he is. To a point.

    – if the manager is making moves that financially cost the company a fortune in losses, they’ll step in

    – if the manager is taking actions that could result in lawsuits/litigation (example – engaging in sexual harassment, pestering a disabled employee) they will make a change

    But don’t expect a counter-offer where “we’ll dump Janet and keep you. We’ll make you the boss.” History has shown, by their actions, or, NON-action, that they have Janet’s back.

    Good luck. I’ve been in situations like that. I bailed.

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