updates: the hypochrondria, the no-sharers, and more

Here are four updates from people whose letters were answered here this year.

1. My employee has hypochondria and is annoying all his coworkers (first update is here)

I have another (final) update for you. After I wrote in with my update, things did not get any better. My other employees refused to interact with Ronald unless it was necessary from work. I made sure to keep tabs on the situation to make sure he was not being bullied, but he reported no hostility or abuse just everyone avoiding him. We were already in the process of speaking to a lawyer when the situation took a turn. Ronald was involuntarily hospitalized due to his mental health. It started when he heard a news story about how the plague is happening Madagascar. One of my other employees had traveled there 3 years ago. Ronald started telling everyone she brought the plague back with her and had given it to him, even thought it had been 3 years and neither of them had symptoms. He had to be sent home because he was causing so much disruption. He stopped coming into work altogether and a few weeks went by where we were unsuccessful in contacting him.

I was later contacted by a relative of his as well as a lawyer. He told me Ronald had been committed for the time being (with proof provided by the lawyer). Ronald had gone into several hospitals claiming to have the plague. He also put up yellow caution tape around the door to his apartment and refused to listen to reason. He wouldn’t leave his apartment for fear of spreading the plague and tried to contact the government over it. We let Ronald go, after consulting with our lawyer as well as the one his relative had put us in touch with). If the time ever comes when Ronald can return to the workforce, the company will confirm his employment dates and that he left due to a health issue while being neutral on the subject of his work, as agreed to by Ronald’s lawyer. I only wish Ronald the best and hope he gets the help he needs. A replacement has been hired and everything has gone back to normal.

2. Two employees don’t want to share anything from their continuing education classes (#2 at the link)

So, after I wrote you, I went to our HR person (who is great). She agreed with you and me stating that in one of her previous positions, she had an employee who was pocketing the money and not attending the classes (as some of your readers also pointed out and I hadn’t even thought about!). Although these 2 individuals are not the biggest team players, I don’t think they would pocket the money, I truly believe they enjoy these classes/ seminars and make use out of them. Anyway, I then went to my boss to discuss the matter further and tell him that HR had our back. He sheepishly told me that while I was talking to HR, the ring leader, we’ll call her Agatha, came to him and told him that she didn’t want to present and she was happy taking a vacation day and paying for it herself. He agreed! (Head slap to forehead). (Side note- he usually doesn’t go against me, he stated that she had told him that she had simply asked me and I said that I would look into it and he took that to mean run it by him which she was now doing).

So, he and I arranged to sit the 2 of them down and find out what the real reason was they were balking at this and to see if we could come up with a solution other than them paying for it and taking a vacation day. We met with the 2nd person first, I’ll call her Nancy. Nancy stated that she didn’t care one way or the other, that Agatha had asked her about the policy, they both agreed they didn’t really care for it, but once she found out that she didn’t have to do a ‘full on’ presentation, she was fine with a 5 minute summary during morning meetings.

Then he and I met with Agatha. Agatha sat with her back towards me, her arms folded and stared out the window. Agatha stated that she didn’t have a problem public speaking, she just didn’t feel as though she should have to give up 30 minutes of her hour lunch to meet with her fellow employees. I told her that it wouldn’t be 30 minutes, she could do a brief 5 minutes during our morning meetings. She stated “I just don’t want to waste my time listening to my fellow employees rattle on about stuff.” My boss very calmly addressed her and said that since he had already agreed that she could use a vacation day and pay for the next one herself, moving forward we were going to pay for them and she was going to give a brief summary when she returned. She said fine and rolled her eyes. I then asked her ‘are you happy here?’ She sat up, finally looked at me and said “oh… well… yes. Why?” I explained that it seemed as though every time we implemented something, changed something, added something, whatever (which wasn’t that often), that she seemed to resist and it was coming off as not really being a team player. She was genuinely shocked. She stated that she very much liked her job, her team and the organization as a whole. Since that meeting she’s been a pretty good employee. She smiles more and even offered a new solution to something we’d been wrestling with. I guess she didn’t realize she was acting unhappy, or starting taking meds. Either way, its going great at the moment. Thanks so much for all your help!

3. Do I complain too much at work?

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my letter so thoughtfully. I read and reflected on your advice, and you’re right: I do think my “venting” exacerbated a culture of negativity that was not helping my mood at work. The head of our organization discussed workplace atmosphere and gossip one day in an org-wide meeting, so it’s on management’s radar as a systemic thing to fix. You were also right about venting so much making me seem like a person who deals with stress poorly. I definitely wanted to fix that (since, yes, I was dealing with stress poorly!). The project wrapped up before I got your answer, so I had to troubleshoot on my own. I had anticipated some of your advice, though, it turns out.

After noticing that I was perhaps veering from venting to gossiping, I decided that the person who should hear my complaints was the person with the power to potentially address them. I talked with our project supervisor, Sara, and afterwards, she led a couple of team meetings which got some of our communication problems out on the table. I think it helped: one day “Jane” tried to finish someone else’s task without communicating with him (a problem we’d identified before), and I was able to nicely refer back to our meeting to call her attention to it. I was anxious about doing it, but Sara had mentioned that if Jane sincerely doesn’t see herself as causing any problems and I won’t point them out to her, then I’m unlikely to see improvement. Jane took the feedback poorly at first, but I think she did later listen and try to improve. On the other hand, she also flatly refused to address some problems Sara raised, so it wasn’t perfect.

I worked hard on seeing Jane, the most difficult team member, in a rosier light, and it helped me day to day. I can see that she was motivated by genuinely loving the work and wanting it done the way she sees as best. Honestly, I still actively hated that project, but the were a bit better due to my conscious effort to improve my attitude.

At the end of the project I met with Sara again. I explained what problems I think will repeat if similar teams do similar projects in the future, based on my experiences. She was really appreciative of my feedback, and said it will likely factor in to how the supervisors lead future projects, though to what extent and how is yet to be seen. I think in general my workplace has a “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” attitude, so I wanted to show Sara that this particular team was broken and needed fixing.

I think this experience was good for me as an employee and colleague, and I’m glad to see your advice was similar to what I had concluded on my own over time. I hope I don’t need this advice again, but I’m really grateful to have it just in case. Thanks again!

4. How can I reward an exceptional employee? (#2 at the link) (the first update is here and the second update is here)

I sent in a letter asking for suggestion on how to reward my outstanding assistant departmental manager. I couldn’t give her a raise because she had just been reclassified and received a $10,000 raise a month after her hiring date. There can be no promotions as our job classifications are rigid.

Many letter writers were concerned that perhaps I was showing favoritism by singling her out with gifts like power bars, etc. (food is equal opportunity in our department). My department has the highest rating in the last engagement survey. Others were concerned that such an outstanding performer would burn out and I shouldn’t encourage her consistent outstanding behavior.

Update: She is still in place. She is still outstanding. I give her the highest ratings I can. She gets the minuscule raise. She models professional behavior and work ethic for the staff, students, and interns. I think that the best managing that I do is just stay out of her way. She is accomplished in her field. I trust her to do her work and to come to me when I can be helpful. I do run interference with difficult personalities of people who engage our department. She has access to professional development opportunities.

That’s about it.

{ 235 comments… read them below }

    1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      OP 1 said “Ronald was involuntarily hospitalized due to his mental health”. So I guess he’s getting help.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I sure hope it works. I cannot imagine for powerless and frustrated Ronald and his friends and/or family must feel, especially when it’s a mental health issue that defies ration (I suppose most mental health issues do). I feel for Ronald—he sounds emotionally trapped. Poor guy.

        1. Specialk9*

          Same here. Poor guy seemed to be trying so hard to stay afloat despite his brain messing with him. I hope for the best for him.

      2. paul*

        I’m wondering what sort of involuntary hospitalization this is; are we talking a 3 or 5 day hold or longer term? short term holds aren’t trivial but they’re not impossible to get. Longer term though is (rightfully) a pretty high bar to clear, at least in the US.

        1. That Canadian Nurse*

          I don’t know about in the states, but in Canada, if someone is ‘pinked’ (Committed under the mental health act) Then it’s usually only for the first 24 hours at which point another, different, physician must examine the patient to see if they still warrant being commited.

          At that point, unfortunately, the committal stands until the doctor looking after the patient sees fit to withdraw it. If it’s a good doctor, this will usually only be until they are deemed stable enough to function outside of the hospital.

    2. Sara M*

      Same here. I really feel for Ronald. :(

      But I’m glad the OP doesn’t have to deal with it anymore.

    3. Kathleen*

      It is sad, but I have to say (sometimes I’m just not a nice person, I guess) that the yellow caution tape detail kind of made me snort. It’s just so…you know, sit-commy. But poor Ronald.

      1. Snark*

        I was thinking more along the lines of *clank* “Bring out your dead!” *clank* “I’m not dead!”

        1. AKchic*

          *laugh* I had that thought too. Then I wondered if I could call up my fairy friend for margaritas.

          Backstory: I’m a ren fair actor. We have volunteers that collect trash from the cans around the grounds. They wheel around wooden wheelbarrows and yell out “bring out your dead” just like the sketch. My guild is right across from the Faery guild. They try to “throw” the smaller fairies into the wheelbarrow too. The leader of the fairy guild is my neighbor. I have a standing invitation to come over for margaritas. So, now whenever I watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail I want margaritas while wearing glittery fairy wings. Silly associations!

    4. Jesca*

      It always makes me sad to see people struggle with uncontrolled mental illness. But damn I feel bad for this office as well.

        1. Mookie*

          Two bright spots, apart from having access to medical and mental care, are that there is family in the picture, looking out for him and trying to do some damage control so that his professional life is a little less derailed because of his illness, and he’s got a legal advocate. Too often people in his position fall through the cracks, experience neglect and stigma rather than support. I’m glad for Ronald, in this respect. The extent of his hypochondria sounds like it was so, so painful and confusing for him. It’s nice to hear that he might never have to experience something like that so severely.

          1. CubicleShroom#1004*


            Ronald is beyond blessed.

            His family still cares.

            He has mental health insurance that is fairly decent.

            Around here, not suidical/homicidal person will usually get only a 72 hour hold with an kick towards community mental health, if no insurance. Sometimes patients like Ronald, MAYBE get a week inpatient with no insurance.

            Worrying about the plague and caution tape gets written off as a life style choice around here.

            Ronald is lucky. Very few people can get any type of inpatient, intensive therapy anymore.

    5. RB*

      Me too – that sounds like an extremely-difficult-to-treat condition. Hopefully the hospital is actually helping him and is not just going to be a long-term boarding situation. How do you convince someone that all these maladies are in their head? That sounds harder to treat than hoarding, which is also a very-difficult-to-treat condition.

      1. blackcat*

        Yeah, I do feel bad for him. Involuntary admissions tend to not do much if anything for patient’s long term mental health. It often makes things worse. It *does* remove immediate threats (to oneself, generally), and can sometimes be a gateway to better treatment. But it’s never a good outcome, so I’m not confident he’ll get the help he needs.

        1. Anon anon anon*

          Yeah. It seems like people are often given heavy drugs and the underlying cause of the issue isn’t treated.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Sometimes the underlying cause of mental illness is a brain chemical imbalance (having played Pharmacology Roulette with my schizophrenic son has given me insight into this). The *right* meds can make a hella difference.

      2. LKW*

        Although it could be a separate facility, I just hope the poor guy isn’t in a wing of a larger medical facility. I can’t imagine he’d be comfortable knowing that a few floors away some person had MRSA.

      1. Oranges*

        I’m annoyed by him and feel pity. Because his life cannot be fun but holy carp do I not want to deal with that sort of thing. At all.

        Reminds me of therapists dealing with people with personality disorders. “If you’re not annoyed by them then they’re getting better….”

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Wow… #1 really escalated in a way I would not have expected.

    I am glad that Ronald is getting help now.

    1. Manders*

      Yeah, I didn’t expect that at all. I guess it’s the best possible outcome for a bad situation, and at least Ronald’s got a relative, a lawyer, and mental health professionals looking out for him now.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Thank goodness! He really needs them. I can’t imagine what that must be like. I’ve just never had to deal with anything like that.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yikes, yes. Poor Ronald; that sounds like a miserable place to be. I’m glad he’s getting help.

      (I also feel for the coworker he accused of being a plague-bearer; even knowing that he was sick and no one else was taking it seriously, that’d be a pretty distressing thing!)

      1. Elsadora*

        I don’t understand why they had to let him go. If he gets better, can he come back to work? I understand what the other coworkers were going through, but he wasn’t purposely being obnoxious

        1. Engineer Girl*

          You’re kidding, right? All those coworkers have horrible memories of Ronald, as well as emotional hurt from all the crazy antics. That’s especially true of the one accused as a plague carrier. These people do not want to work with Ronald.
          The best thing for Ronald is to get a fresh start with a new company. That way he won’t have the albatross of his past actions dragging him down.

          1. HannaSpanna*

            I think this just shows we haven’t got over the stigma of mental health issues. If he had been disruptive at work and then it was discovered to be caused by a physical health issue that was more serious than original realised, I wonder if he would have been welcomed back.

            1. HannaSpanna*

              But then, I’m in the UK, which has a lot more protection for people who get long term illnesses. Perhaps its typical in the US to leave/quit/get let go if you need to take significant time of work to deal with a medical situation.

                1. Jaydee*

                  So what happens in Germany (and elsewhere if others want to chime in) if someone is too ill to perform their job anymore?

                2. HannaSpanna*

                  Ooh, good question Jaydee, it made me look into it a bit more. In Uk, it is possible (but difficult) for an employee to get dismissed while on sick leave, as employers have to prove they have tried every other option to make it work. So I think, not certain, generally just fill job with a contract worker or spread responsibilities around until the person comes back or quits. Employer has to try to accommodate a change of role due to illness as well.
                  The employer has to pay Statutory Sick Pay for 6 montbs, then the person can get state benefits.
                  So, basically, UK is more difficult and expensive for employers, but employees are more protecred if they develop a physical or mental health issue.

                3. Jaydee*

                  Interesting. In the US the only federal government program is Social Security, but in order to qualify for that you have to be unable to perform basically any type of work due to a medical impairment that has lasted or will last for at least a year. Many (but certainly not all) employers offer private short-term or long-term disability insurance to their employees. Those usually have less strict criteria – usually you just need to be unable to perform your actual job, not *any* job – and shorter timeframes before you are eligible.

                4. Tau*

                  My understanding is that Germany is similar to the UK, except that your health insurance takes over paying you (at 70% of your regular salary) after six weeks of illness. That can go on for up to… one and a half years, I think? At which point, if you’re still too ill to work, you’re probably looking at some form of disability benefits.

              1. Candi*


                I was just reading today about a UK business that, directly after a worker left on maternity leave, restructured and eliminated that worker’s position to get around that they couldn’t fire her.

                The restructuring also seemed to be organized in such a way that multiple FT workers felt they were being pushed out, and not just because of the work overload. Those that left were either not replaced, or replaced with zero hour contract workers.

                The poster was just biding their time until their interviews resulted in an offer.

                UK and others’ protections may protect against managers who are lazy or the ones who don’t want to deal with the paperwork involved, or those who are always just on this side of the line. It doesn’t stop bad management who are willing to put the work in from getting rid of people in quasi- or illegal ways, as long as no one can prove it before a tribunal or otherwise.

            2. Engineer Girl*

              He hurt people. This isn’t a stigma thing so much as people remembering that he hurt them. Of course they are going to be leery of him, even if his condition is now under control. After all, he was already in treatment and he was still hurting people.

              1. HannaSpanna*

                But would it have been different if he was hurting people due to a, I don’t know, undiagnosed brain tumour, or poor reaction to prescribed meds?

                1. mrs__peel*

                  At my last job, we had a very difficult situation like that where one employee had a brain tumor and experienced significant personality changes as a result.

                  The management was supportive while he was being treated (having surgery, etc.), but the personality changes didn’t abate completely and he was still rather aggressive and combative afterwards. They ultimately had to let him go for safety reasons (with an escort out of the building), after impending layoffs were announced and he expressed some sentiments that he might become violent at work if they selected him.

                  He had two young kids and I know money was tight for his family, so I felt really terrible about the whole thing. But unfortunately I think it was the right decision.

                2. Catherine*

                  Part of your job is being able to interact with your coworkers in a civil, productive manner. It might have been possible to repair the ostracism situation if things hadn’t escalated, but they did. I don’t think he could possibly stay after accusing a coworker of giving him the plague.

                3. HannaSpanna*

                  oh, Engineer Girl, I wasn’t suggesting people weren’t allowed feel or be hurt, I’m sorry if it read this way. His behaviour was hurtful.
                  I was just concerned about the implication he was in control of it (rather than it controlling him, as a physical illness probably would be.)
                  As I said above, I think being in the UK has skewed this for me, as generally employment protection is higher, so him being dismissed jarred a bit, but probably doesn’t for everyone in at-will employment locations.

                4. Jenna*

                  For what it’s worth, I’m in the UK and I had the same reaction as you. We’ve had people go on long-term sick and you just rearrange stuff around them until they come back. I only know of one person who actually left their job in that context, and she was given ill-health retirement (in a public sector job so she won’t have been screwed over by the payout).

              2. Specialk9*

                But Ronald didn’t hurt people – Ronald tried really hard to keep things together. The mental illness he couldn’t control hurt people. It’s a pretty important distinction.

                Add me to the group that is sad that Ronald lost his job due to having a mental illness.

                1. Jule*

                  “The mental illness he couldn’t control hurt people. It’s a pretty important distinction.”

                  Good mental health support does not involve completely absolving people of the hurtful things they did while they were in periods of intense sickness.

                2. Temperance*

                  This is not a useful distinction, and in fact, I think it furthers stigma. If we’re saying that Ronald is not responsible for his actions, and thus must have no responsibility for actual damage that he caused, we can take it one step further where those he targeted with this behavior will now see all mentally ill folks as volatile, unpredictable, unstable, and never responsible for their actions.

            3. AcademiaNut*

              Looking at a physical health situation, I think the response would have been similar.

              Someone is sent home because they are disrupting things to the point that other people can’t work (for example, they’re vomiting uncontrollably in a shared office). Then they no-call, no-show for multiple days, and the company is unable to contact them. A lot of employers would fire somebody for that alone. Others would do a wellness check, and contact the next of kin to make sure they aren’t dead or incapacitated. But at some point, if an employee has dropped out of sight completely, they’re going to be replaced and listed as having quit.

              Ronald wasn’t fired even when his behaviour was generally disruptive, and no-one was willing to interact with him outside of what was strictly required for work. He was only fired when he stopped coming into work, and there was no way of telling when, or if, he’d be able to come back.

              Legally, I’m not sure if you can claim FMLA leave after the fact – if you disappear for weeks, and then retroactively claim FMLA leave due to illness.

              1. Specialk9*

                Nonsense. People DO reprimand or fire someone for being airlifted into the ICU, we had a recent letter about that situation. It’s wildly unjust though. Firing someone for having a mental illness attack and got hospitalized is really the same.

            4. Else*

              I don’t think that’s a stigma thing, really – however his coworkers feel about mental illness, they still had to experience a lot of very annoying and intrusive behavior. Knowing why it happened can change your feelings about blaming the person, but they don’t actually make the experience less annoying and disruptive. It must have been pretty bad for multiple people to leave over it – this is bad and disruptive for the company as well as for those people.

            5. Temperance*

              Hard disagree here. This has nothing to do with “stigma”, and everything to do with the fact that his actions harmed people. People quit their jobs to get away from him.

              It’s not really comparable to a physical health issue in this case, because it wasn’t mere “disruption”, but actual harassment of colleagues, to the point where he had to be sent home.

          2. Steve*

            I don’t see what is so terrible about being accused of being a plague carrier. If someone accused me of that, i would think they were crazy. It wouldn’t insult me or emotionally hurt me. I would wish him well and if he got well, there would certainly be no hard feelings on my part. I not saying it wouldn’t be annoying or bothersome at the time it was happening, just that its obvious it’s a problem ronald is having and not about me at all.

            Though I agree the best for ronald is for him to get a fresh start.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              You don’t see anything wrong with accusing someone of transmitting a deadly contagious disease? Really? You’ve never lived in a plague area, I guess.
              But it goes beyond that. Ronald had a pervasive pattern of making false statements. The plague accusation is only the last incident.
              It wasn’t a one-off.

              1. Steve*

                Certainly it wouldn’t be enjoyable. But it seems like an over the top accusation, like accusing someone of being a Martian. There were no symptoms on either ones part. There was no plague in the community, just, what seems to me to be an outlandish accusation. I got the impression no one thought the accusation credible, and people thought Ronald was crazy. If that’s so, people thought ronald was wrong and the person being accused was being mistreated. Again I wouldn’t like being accused of carrying the plague, but I wouldn’t take it personal in the situation described.

              2. Kiwi*

                I’m with Steve on this. It’s so ridiculous and unbelievable you wouldn’t be able to take it too personally. Annoyed yes, offended no.

                Even if I were in a plague heavy area, I’d be more concerned about my potential risk to others rather than the accusation affecting my reputation/ego.

            2. Anon anon anon*

              I would react the same way, but I can see how it would push some people’s buttons. Also, we don’t know how he acted around the co-worker or what he said about them. It could have been really upsetting.

              1. Else*

                That’s my assumption – that he doesn’t just say it a few times and avoid the person, but instead goes on and on about it and acts out in other ways. They likely wouldn’t have all been shunning him over a little minor germophobia.

            3. Temperance*

              I mean, sure, I would feel the same if someone levied that at me. BUT, if they ran around the office, telling everyone that I gave them the plague, and constantly harangued me and acted out publicly, I would feel attacked and want action taken.

              I would totally have hard feelings, because honestly, that kind of personal attack is really humiliating.

        2. Annabelle*

          I think the disappearing for a few weeks is probably what did it. I do wish employers were more understanding about mental health, but I think anyone would probably have been fired at that point.

          1. zora*

            Not just the few weeks, but if he is currently confined to an institution with no clear timeline of when he might be physically able to return to work, how are they supposed to hold his job? Even FMLA has limits. You can’t just keep a position empty forever if you actually need someone to do that work.

            I feel like they let him go because the medical professionals don’t know when he will be able to return to work. It’s not like something with an obvious treatment like a broken limb.

            1. Sophie*

              “I feel like they let him go because the medical professionals don’t know when he will be able to return to work. It’s not like something with an obvious treatment like a broken limb.”

              That’s pretty common, though. I’ve known people get signed off with stress, then at the date they’re supposed to come back, they’re signed off for another two weeks, then another two weeks, etc. Here in the UK, that wouldn’t get you fired. It’s no worse than covering people while they’re off for a year on maternity leave…

        3. MsMaryMary*

          He probably should have filed for FMLA and short term disability if his employer offers it. Unfortunately, given that Ronald was involuntarily committed, I would guess he was not mentally aware enough to think of FMLA.

          I’m a little surprised his lawyer and relative didn’t try to negotiate for FMLA protections, but we don’t know the full story. Maybe returning to an office enviroment is not feasible for Ronald in the short term.

        4. Millennial Lawyer*

          Assuming ADA applies, accomodations have to be reasonable and can’t be an undue burden. If he’s making everyone feel literally unsafe at work, as his behavior escalated, you can’t put other employees at risk like that.

          1. Specialk9*

            They’re not *unsafe*, that unhelpful and wild hyperbole. They weren’t told about his condition, and they had offended feelings because they thought he was in control of his actions and so mocking and belittling their difficult health situations, and those of their family members. I suspect many of them would have found a way to deal with the situation with knowledge and an action plan, and some wouldn’t have been able to do that. But they’re not unsafe, either literally or metaphorically.

            1. Temperance*

              If someone who is clearly disturbed was haranguing me, I would totally feel unsafe. That’s not unreasonable.

              You’re really taking a hard line here that Ronald has no culpability and that his coworkers didn’t feel unsafe, they weren’t bothered by him, and only if they knew about his mental illness, they would be fine.

              I disagree. In the original letter, a woman undergoing cancer treatment had to quit to get away from him. Another colleague was caregiving for a parent with dementia, and he kept telling her how HE had dementia. Yet another person who survived a heart attack had to watch Ronald have a mock heart attack at work. That’s horrifying and can be super triggering.

        5. Kimberly*

          In the US there generally isn’t a mechanism for holding a person’s job open during long-term care for any type of healthcare crisis.

          My relatives in Canada and other Commonwealth countries are often shocked because they do have a system that holds jobs (6 months or a year for maternity leave often with pay for example). Meanwhile, people who take 6 – 12 weeks here without pay under FMLA worry about losing their jobs even though it is illegal.

          My family was happily shocked when my cousin’s firm worked out a way for him to stay on payroll and keep his insurance while being treated for a brain tumor 3 hours from his home. His job allows for remote working, and he was lucky that the treatment didn’t knock him on his rear.

    3. Goya*

      agreed! I remember thinking about Ronald that he was just one of “those” people, the ones that always have to one up you and maybe a little germophobic. Shame on me for judging like that. I really hope he’s able to get the help he needs. I’m think with his condition, staying in a “hospital” setting might even be harder then usual.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, I was in the same boat – I did not realize he legitimately needed help. I hope he’s improving!

    4. LBK*

      Seriously – I would never have guessed based on the OP’s description of his behavior in the original letter. He just sounded like a run-of-the-mill annoying coworker, not someone who would eventually devolve into full-blown paranoia that included contacting the government (!!!).

      Hopefully he can truly get better, this is so sad.

        1. LBK*

          I suppose it’s just my ignorance of the full scope of hypochondria, then; it’s so often used in a colloquial sense to just mean someone who spends too much time on WebMD that it waters down the expectations for someone who has a serious diagnosis.

          1. Annabelle*

            This is actually a really good example of why we (like as a culture, not specifically the AAM commentariat) should work towards not using diagnostic terms so casually. I knew that hypochondria was a genuine mental illness, but I had no idea it could manifest in such serious ways.

            1. Liz T*

              And the thing is, psychotherapy today is way more focused on dealing with symptoms than on Official Diagnosis, so the fact that Ronald had letters from a therapist AND a physician suggested that this was a pretty serious condition that had already interfered with his functionality in some way. (Like, I could tell you that my psychopharmacologist *once* said, “it sounds like you have a mild mood disorder with a tendency towards depression,” but I don’t have any official paperwork on that, and no one’s ever tried to diagnose me more specifically than that.)

              Which is not to say that people with official diagnoses are in any way less employable–just that I could tell this was more than “I’m such a hyponchondriac lol.”

              Actually, after the first letter, I was surprised there wasn’t a suggestion to talk to Ronald about how he needed to address his hypochondria more aggressively because it was interfering with his work (since Ronald had disclosed the diagnosis). But maybe that would run afoul of ADA in some way?

              1. peachie*

                Yeah, official diagnoses for mental illnesses are really weird, at least in my experience. I’ve been taking medication and in treatment for ADHD and depression for years now, and I was surprised to learn recently that I hadn’t technically been “officially diagnosed.”

                1. Kimberly*

                  Sometimes doctors do that to avoid the dreaded pre-existing diagnoses when people are trying to get insurance. If a doctor looked at the medications I’ve been prescribed, they would be justified in assuming I had an asthma diagnoses. Nowhere in my medical records has anyone ever put down an official diagnosis of asthma.

            2. Myrin*

              I actually did know that – and am surprised by people’s surprise; this update is basically exactly what I assumed would happen sooner or later – but I have absolutely no idea why! I don’t know anyone with hypochondria and I don’t remember ever seeing or reading anything about it in depth or being really curious about it or anything. My brain work in mysterious ways.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Things very seldom stay the same. They either get better or they get worse. Ronald was crying out for help in the ways he knew how or that made sense to him.

              2. Oranges*

                I blame it on “What About Bob” because Bob couldn’t handle day to day life even though he was trying. Also on seeing parallels between his previous behavior and paranoia because really hypochondria is paranoia about illness.

              3. oranges & lemons*

                I was pretty dismayed by the reactions to this and the bird phobia letter. I appreciate that in both cases significant harm was done to others as a result of someone’s mental illness, but I think it’s possible to acknowledge those people’s pain without being so harsh toward people with mental health conditions. There were a lot of assumptions made and in particular a lot of judgement about whether they were receiving adequate treatment (according to a bunch of internet strangers) based on very limited information. No one has to be a villain in these scenarios–sometimes a situation is crappy for everyone involved.

                1. Jaguar*

                  Yeah, I was pretty shocked by the comments in the first update (“maybe he’s just a jerk”) and posted to the effect. It’s really disheartening to see the way people dismiss people with mental illness the way they never would someone with a phsyical illness – who would ever say, “Maybe that guy in a wheelchair is just lazy”?

                2. Julie Noted*

                  Replying to Jaguar because where has nesting gone?

                  Unfortunately a not insignificant number of people *do* say that someone is just lazy if the someone uses a motor scooter, cane or other mobility aids and happens to be fat.

                  But yeah, people tend to be even more ignorant about mental illness than they are about physical disabilities.

                3. Specialk9*

                  I was and am dismayed as well. It seems callous, and like a double standard for physical vs mental issues. It’s not like he didn’t have medical documentation of his issue.

          2. Anon anon anon*

            I agree! It’s used way too loosely. These days anyone who gets sick often or googles their symptoms when they get sick is called a hypochondriac. It trivializes the actual illness.

    5. Alton*

      I’m not really surprised, to be honest. He had an existing hypochondria diagnosis, and the fact that he was talking about his serious self-diagnoses so openly and was so quick to diagnose himself based on conditions other people had suggested to me that it might be pretty serious. I’ve struggled with milder health anxiety, and I can’t even imagine telling co-workers that I had cancer or the Plague, even if I was sincerely afraid that I did, because I still have enough control over my thoughts that I realize there’s a difference between feeling convinced I’m sick and having an actual diagnosis, and enough control to maintain some boundaries with regards to how much I talk about it. Ronald doesn’t seem to have that control or awareness.

      I think people need to be aware of how severe conditions like anxiety and OCD (which hypochondria can be adjacent to) can be. This is why I dislike how hypochondria is used colloquially–it creates the impression that it’s something people can easily control or that it’s just a personality quirk when for some people, it can be a major mental health problem.

      1. Annabelle*

        I think this is a super important point. I was just talking to someone IRL about how frustrating I find it when poeople throw around words like “sociopath” or “narcissist” or other diagnoses so casually.

        1. Gabriela*

          Not to derail, but I was listening to a podcast the other day about sociopaths and one of the hosts mentioned that this diagnosis is probably one we will look back on one day and be really ashamed at how we treated with such stigma.

          1. Annabelle*

            Yeah, the term is actually considered a slur by a lot mental health activists. The actual diagnosis is anti-social personality disorder, and it’s in the same cluster (basically a sub group) as the other commonly maligned PD. It’s really gross how society has made the terms like sociopath/psychopath shorthand slang for evil.

            1. blackcat*

              It’s true. I have had PTSD, which lead to psychosis for a short while after a poorly timed sports injury caused a concussion on top of my existing issues. Colloquial use of the word “psychotic” makes it much harder to deal with being actually diagnosed with a mental or physical illness for which psychosis is a symptom.

              Yeah, I lost touch with reality. Yeah, I had hallucinations. But from the outside, I was just curled up in a ball on the floor. I wasn’t dangerous or mean or anything like that. And it is TERRIFYING to experience psychotic episodes. At least for me, I was with it enough to process the gravity of how ill I was. My brain was broken, and I knew it.

              But I basically never use the word “psychosis” to describe what it’s like to have severe PTSD to people. Fortunately, it was a very short time in my life and it got under control. I liken PTSD to traumatic physical injuries, in contrast to something like depression which is chronic (which I often describe as like diabetes or something. Can be very well managed, can be fatal, lots of in between). Sometimes people fully get better from PTSD and sometimes it leaves permanent marks of varying severity. I’m lucky to be in the first category. But it means I have tremendous sympathy for those who suffer chronic, severe mental illness. It’s no fun, and very few conditions can be “healed.”

              1. Mel*

                Virtual hugs! I totally understand not wanting to use the clinical terms due to the colloquial use. I have PTSD as well, although it’s been very calm for the past few years. Last summer I was back in that city for a convention for an organization I volunteer for, and was triggered by a specific location. Full on anxiety attack, sick to my stomach, missed several convention sessions I had wanted to attend, and took me the rest of the day to really recover, and I was still a bit shaky. I felt so embarrassed to say “I was triggered” because of the ire the colloquial use of “triggered” has gotten, but it was true. And it really described my experience. At the time I told the people with whom I was attending the convention that “there was an incident,” but they were still confused. I did later go into more detail, but even said I was embarrassed to have to say I was triggered.

            2. LKW*

              True – psychopaths aren’t inherently evil, they simply have no concern about the consequences of their actions, in particular no concern if anyone is hurt as a result of their actions. I’m using the clinical definition as I understand it. Psychopaths who have also committed violent crimes are what we think of when people say “Psychopath” but there are actually a lot of people who meet the criteria. Many of them in politics and c-suite positions too. Mostly because they are able to make decisions that are focused on non-emotional criteria.

              There are several diagnostic tests to confirm psychopaths and they’ve even found that a particular MRI can demonstrate inactivity in the parts of the brain that usually light up when a person feels empathy.

            3. Specialk9*

              Yeah, I thought those terms had now left the lexicon of diagnoses, so was exclusively a colloquial description of pathological behavior.

      2. Gabriela*

        Thank you for that perspective and very well said. There is so much complexity with mental health and so much variance of “control” some people with severe mental illnesses have over their behavior.

      3. Elizabeth H.*

        I’m not surprised either. It sounded like he had an extremely serious condition, was essentially unable to control his speech and actions about his beliefs about his health, and this confirms it.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I, too, dislike the use of the word hypochondria. I think it lets people/docs/others off the hook. Oh it’s just hypochondria we don’t have to dig deeper and see if anything is going on inside this person’s body or mind.
        Wrong, wrong, wrong.
        No. This is a person who needs on-going help. Their actions and thoughts indicate that they agree, they are saying, “Something is going on here, something is going on here.” A person should not be ignored simply because they express their problem in a manner that others do not understand.

        I see less of it now but growing up I saw a lot of people assessing others as having hypochondria or being a cry baby. The person who was the target of their remarks later turned out to have a massive untreated health issue. I cannot put into words the contempt I felt for these people who glossed over the person’s difficulties.
        We don’t get to pick how people ask for help.

        1. Agnodike*

          This is why I resent so much the phrase “Oh, s/he’s just doing it for the attention” or “It’s just a cry for help.” If someone cries for help, we should help them. If someone needs attention so badly that they’re harming themselves or others, we should pay attention to that need. We obviously don’t have an obligation to help those who hurt us, but it’s always seemed to me like a huge injustice to completely dismiss their pain.

          1. Mookie*

            Exactly. Rarely something so outwardly painful and destructive is a choice, a matter of will or self-control, an example of someone’s desire for attention. It’s torture; no one wants or revels in something like this.

            Where mental health is concerned, there’s this gigantic catch-22: if the symptoms become obvious, and especially inconvenient to strangers, there’s pressure to treat the symptoms and not the disease, as if the person is being deliberately uncooperative for continuing to be unwell, whereas if the symptoms are subtle or invisible to less discerning observers, there’s a reluctance to accept there’s anything wrong at all when the person asserts that it is, and if that changes, it’s because the person isn’t being “strong” enough or has sabotaged themselves.

        2. Anon anon anon*

          One winter, I had something like a really bad cold with severe back pain and cold intolerance. I started wearing sweaters when other people were wearing t-shirts, then couldn’t eat more than about one bite of food at a time, lost twenty pounds in a week, and then woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. My boyfriend laughed at me for making a doctor’s appointment. He told me I was being a hypochondriac. It turned out I had pneumonia and could have died if I hadn’t sought treatment. People can be so weird.

      5. Anon anon anon*

        I googled severe hypochondria after reading this. About half of the top results used the trivializing definition of it.

    6. oranges & lemons*

      As someone who has a milder version of health anxiety, I really felt for Ronald after reading the first letter and I feel for him even more now. I also feel for his colleagues, and understand why his behaviour upset them, but it sounds like he was in profound distress.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right. We are talking the amount of stress equilvant to being trapped in a burning building. I spent over a decade working with folks who had numerous problems. Their stress loads were off the charts.

  2. I'm A Little TeaPot*

    #4 – sometimes the best thing you can do for exceptional employees is staying out of their way and helping smooth the annoying stuff, while being willing and able to jump in and help if they ask. The best manager I ever had did that with me, and it’s exactly what I needed.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      There’s so much more to a gratifying job than a paycheck—especially like being appreciated and respected! The way you treat her counts for a lot.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #2 – Your employee was definitely acting weird about this, but I have to say that your off hand “maybe she started taking meds” remark doesn’t really sit well with me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I almost edited that out of the update because I didn’t want it to derail the comments. Let’s consider it called out now and not get sidetracked on it.

      1. Noah*

        I don’t think it’s derailing at all — it speaks to how #2 views Agatha (and maybe anybody who doesn’t interact with her exactly as she would like) and likely plays a critical role in how Agatha has related to OP #2 and thus in OP #2’s resulting perception Agatha.

    2. KimberlyR*

      Agree with both points. The employee was out of line and I think you handled that wonderfully. But then you mentioned the meds…and you lost me. Medications for mental illness are not something to be flippant over. It’s like calling someone crazy-just don’t do it. An action can be crazy, but whether a person is “crazy” or not is between them and their health professional.

    3. MommyMD*

      Me either. And I don’t think meds cures intentional insubordination such as rolling your eyes at your manager and sitting in a hostile position with your back towards them. I think the meds thing didn’t add to the letter.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Well yes. The intentional insubordination and eye rolling are passive aggressive behaviors. That’s a personality issue, which means that drugs won’t make a difference.

      2. Anita*

        I totally disagree with EngineerGirl. I had an abusive supervisor who I had trouble controlling my reactions to until I took medication to treat the anxiety that the situation was causing. I was able to keep going for another year as a result. While I agree the initial comment wasn’t necessary, it is VERY possible for medications to “cure” a “personality issue.” (My reactions to the bad supervisor weren’t as over-the-top as this, but I don’t want someone who’s considering medication to read this and think that it’s not possible to have the immediate results described here.)

        1. Anon anon anon*

          Yeah, it depends on what the underlying issue is. But the underlying issue could be addressed in a lot of different ways.

      3. Specialk9*

        Yeah, I was surprised that meeting didn’t turn into a “tell me why I shouldn’t fire you for insubordination” meeting right there.

  4. Sara*

    #1 is so sad. I hope he gets the help he needs.

    #2 is just baffling to me. I wonder what Agatha was thinking prior to being called out for her behavior? But good job OP2 for being so rational and calm with her!

  5. Cap Hiller*

    #2 – I still think it’s silly to require the employees to accept the company paying for CE and then being forced to present. Totally on board with that being an option, but it feels very controlling to require it

      1. Antilles*

        It’s a five minute overview on company time.
        And that five minute overview is describing stuff you did on company time while spending company money.

    1. Jesca*

      This is actually really common. A lot of times people are sent to learn something to help the team and not just themselves.

      1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

        This. It’s super common, and it’s not a meaningless hoop to jump through; there’s a purpose to it (ie, to educate the rest of the team as well as just the one employee).

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Plus it’s really useful to know if the course someone has taken is at the “I would recommend this to everyone” level, “such a waste of time”, or “this would be useful to XYZ people” – and it’s so much quicker and easier to pass this message in a staff meeting than anything else.

      2. Mookie*

        Exactly. It’s an actual strategy; you pay for the courses not for the singular and private enrichment of the employee, but so that everyone can benefit at a lower cost and without losing too much staff during the training periods. Company expenses towards professional development is not usually sustainable if everyone takes the outside course; it’s either done in-house or done the way this organization does it.

    2. Middle School Teacher*

      I don’t. If the company is paying for it, they should know they’re getting something for their money (even if it’s just knowledge the training is relevant and worthwhile). And I don’t think chatting for five minutes in a meeting is unreasonable. It’s not like they require a half-day seminar with handouts.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        But I think a half-day seminar with handouts would be a fair request. As you said, it’s bringing knowledge to the company.

      2. Leslie NOPE*

        Agreed. Once I was sent to a three day training course on teapots and when I got back I had to do a full blown presentation with a powerpoint, outlook invites, book a conference room, answer questions, the whole bit. I didn’t second guess for a second that it was unreasonable to ask me that.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          I agree, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. But all the company was asking for was 5 minutes, and Agatha was acting like it was a huge deal. I’m saying her reaction was way out of line with the company’s extremely reasonable request. (I think the way my comment nested made it look like I was agreeing with Cap Hiller but I was disagreeing.)

          1. Cracked Light*

            To be fair to Agatha, she wasn’t disagreeing with a 5 min talk in a meeting; she was disagreeing with the other option the LW had suggested: a lunch and learn session.

            Agatha specifically said she didn’t want to give up 30 mins of her lunch hour, which is reasonable. Especially as lunchtime is personal time, and usually unpaid.

            It sounds like LW was unclear, and Agatha didn’t understand that there were other options available, which is a failure on LW’s part, not Agatha’s.

        2. Mookie*

          Right. Presumably, the employees are still on the clock when they attend the courses and prepare presentations on their content for their colleagues. It’s absurd to try to hoard the very thing the company is mandating that you share and that they paid for. This is not their intellectual property and the point is not just to help make their individual jobs easier. I kind of think it’s absurd this has to be explained to them.

    3. Kathleen*

      It’s really common – so common I’d be surprised if I worked somewhere where it wasn’t a requirement.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      The whole point of the company paying for CE is for the whole team to benefit from the knowledge.

      Knowledge-hoarding is a team-killer.

      1. Agatha_31*

        Heck, it’s a YOU-killer. I share my knowledge aaaaaaall over the place. It drives me NUTS when people come to me asking me about something they can/should know/be able to figure out themselves (because that’s how I did it!). I’m lucky though, I’ve been working for years on a team where knowledge-sharing is super enthusiastic. “OHMYGODHOWDIDYOUDOTHATTHINGYOUJUSTDIDTHATISMAGIC” “OHMYGODYESITISMAGICHERELETMESHOWYOUSOYOUCANBEMAGICTOO” is a very, very common script in our office.

    5. Hills to Die on*

      To me, it feels so rude to make a fuss over a 5-minute summary. I would send other people who were more collaborative and team players, and take away the privilege from the truculent ones. This would be very off-putting to me. Especially when Agatha sat facing the window with her arms crossed. She’s being extremely immature.

      1. Academic Addie*

        Yeah, I’ve never, ever seen an employee act that way, and I work extensively with undergraduate students for whom this is their first job. I hope her acting less childish isn’t just temporary.

        1. nonegiven*

          I’ve seen cats do that. If their nose is out of joint at you they’ll sit with their back to you.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Haha my husband’s cat used to do that to me when we were dating. She’d wait until I got out of bed, then lay down on my, I mean, HER pillow with her back to me. There was no ambiguity about her feelings.

      2. Turkletina*

        It doesn’t sound like going is a privilege, but rather a requirement for these employees (and many others) to maintain their professional licenses.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I suppose not, but in my industry it’s a reward / retention thing. We value you enough to invest in you and increase your value—that sort of thing.

          1. Mookie*

            In my industry, supervisors and managers are the licensed and certified members of staff. They maintain their credentials in order for us to work legally and to be bonded, and at least one of these people must be present at every active work-site. Their continuing education credits and company-paid tickets to conferences and field training are integral to their roles. My industry would never allow a person to attend a professional event if they weren’t going to use it for training. There’s simply no way to certify everyone in my field, and there’s no real reason to, either, under the current system. This is pretty standard stuff.

    6. Snark*

      I think it’s silly to expect to NOT have to present. That’s not controlling, that’s how PD opportunities work, particularly in budget-constrained offices where it’s often only feasible to send one or two people. If you go to PD, you should be astonished if you don’t have to present, not resentful when it’s required.

    7. WeevilWobble*

      When I’ve had to do this I’ve had to write up a memo with highlights and main takeaways.

      While that memo seems more valuable than a 5 minute talk for everyone else it is definitely more time consuming than speaking for 5 minutes. So, she’s lucky.

    8. LawBee*

      That’s exactly why the company is willing to pay for it, though. And an employer telling an employee what to do is – well, it’s kind of the definition of work, right? Something you do to benefit something/someone else for which you receive compensation. All this was on company time, with company funds. Of course they’ll have to present on it.

    9. Antilles*

      For all intents and purposes spending 5-10 minutes giving a quick summary on what you learned is basically no different than requiring you to fill out a written Expense Report. It’s just a standard required step if you want the company to pay for things.

    10. QContrary*

      I kind of agree! I always feel like that expectation puts on too much pressure. I enjoy taking classes, am always an active participant and take notes, but I’m primarily there for myself and synthesizing the info for myself. If something seems more broadly interesting, I’m happy to share, but going in with the expectation I’ll have to report something back to the group makes me anxious.

      1. Information Appreciater*

        Additionally, when I worked at a company that allowed people to attend seminars (and paid for them), rose opportunities were open to everyone but most people couldn’t be bothered to take advantage of them. In fact, they were generally so uninterested in improving and educating themselves that eventually even the quarterly brown bags were canceled since most people couldn’t be bothered to attend. Interestingly, it was this same bunch that would complain about the few of us that could get our work done more quickly than they could. They thought we were slackers. No, just more efficient and, frankly, harder working. There are, unfortunately, work situations where it makes perfect sense to push back on the requirement to present about seminars and other educational opportunities. If employees won’t take advantage of the opportunities that are offered them, they’re not going to be an appreciative audience for a summary of those same opportunities.

      2. Mookie*

        But that’s what most courses are for: spreading industry knowledge, innovation, and research through a small handful of conduits (the attendees). When the company purchases you a seat or ticket, they’re not doing so to pad your individual resumé.

    11. Yorick*

      I disagree, and I also think it’s bizarre that Agatha would rather use a vacation day and pay for it than give a short presentation, even if it were 30 minutes instead of 5!

  6. Knitting Cat Lady*


    Whelp, that escalated quickly!

    I really hope Ronald finds a better mental health team than the one he had once he is released.

    And the kind of environment you end up in if you’re involuntary hospitalized must be hell on earth if you suffer from hypochondria.

    1. Plague of frogs*

      I dunno, it could go either way. It might make him feel better to be in a hospital, with daily medical care. Also, the environment will hopefully be quite soothing. I visited one involuntarily committed friend and the hospital was clean, quiet, and really pleasantly warm. And they were doing art projects…I was almost jealous.

      I visited a friend at a different hospital and the place felt much more prison-like, and some of the other patients were a little scary. I would think it depends on the level of funding and the type of illnesses they’re treating.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Yeah, it depends on the hospital.

        I voluntarily committed myself in spring.

        The closed ward I spent the first few days due to lack of beds anywhere else* was anything but soothing. And some of the other patients were rather scary.

        *If you commit yourself or are committed they’ll put you wherever they can fit you in. I ended up in a general psychiatric ward. Others ended up in various geriatric wards or in drug or alcohol rehab until a more suitable bed could be found.

    2. Specialk9*

      I’d spend a lot of time obsessing over HVAC and air filters. You figure if the CDC and other BSL4 (scary pathogen containment level) labs have vented out instead of in on several occasions (Atlanta, Ft Collins, Sverdlovsk) and then deliberately covered it up, well, no way hospitals are doing better.

  7. KimberlyR*

    I do feel for Ronald but I’m happy for the workplace that he is not there to affect them with his disease. I have mental illnesses and I think it’s important to minimize the impact on your coworkers. I didn’t get the feeling that Ronald cared to do that. I hope he is able to get the help he needs to get back into the workforce someday.

    1. Observer*

      Based on this update, it’s possible that he was in no mental place to do that. It’s not that he didn’t care about him impact – he simply didn’t see it. Think about it – he was so worried about being a plague bearer that he wouldn’t go out of his apartment or let anyone approach him. This is not the behavior of someone who thinks that everyone can just go jump in the lake, it’s the behavior of someone who is totally pathologically out of touch with reality. I feel bad for him, although it’s just as well he’s away from his employer.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. I do think folks should take responsibility for how they manage their health, but we also should not ascribe blame to people who are not in a position to control the impacts (unless proven otherwise). I don’t think it’s that he “didn’t care” to minimize the effects, but rather, that he was (and remains) in no condition to capable of minimizing those effects. Hopefully Ronald is getting the kind of intensive support he needs to manage his illness.

      2. paul*

        If it was bad enough to get a long term hospitalization I’d agree (assuming they’re in the US–IDK how it works elsewhere).

        That doesn’t mean the workplace should have allowed it to continue, but damn I feel bad for the guy.

      3. FD*

        Yeah. Imagine you suddenly see a fire starting. You grab the fire extinguisher to spray the fire down, but it starts spreading. You yell and pull the fire alarm, but instead of reacting like they should, everyone freaks out at you for making a disturbance. They seem crazy and unreasonable, right?

        Except the fire isn’t really there. So from their point of view, they have a coworker who’s just randomly yelling, spraying a fire extinguisher around, and pulling the fire alarm. Which is a problem.

        Both sides are trying to do the right thing! You see a fire and you want to put it out or get everyone out. They just want a quiet work environment. It’s just that one person happens to have a problem that leads to them reacting to stimuli that aren’t actually there.

    2. WeevilWobble*

      Well he cared enough to not infect anyone else with the plague!

      It seems like although he knows on some level he suffers from hypochondria/severe anxiety whenever he thought he had an illness be believed that was real with 100% certainty. So, he wasn’t thinking of it being his mental illness impacting work. He was thinking he was sick and needs help (which is true in a broad sense.)

      I otherwise agree with you that he clearly couldn’t remain in this situation. I just don’t think he didn’t care to minimize impact. He genuinely was at a place where he couldn’t.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, health anxiety is rough because what you’re afraid of isn’t imaginary–it’s just not likely to be occurring to you. And, like most anxieties, it makes you desperate for certainty in a world that will never give you any.

        1. Scubacat*

          I’m going to memorize this statement. Someone close to me has OCD related health anxiety.

          The condition (plauge) is real. The mental health experience (anxiety) is real. But it’s very very unlikely that Ronald had the plauge. And yet Ronald is a human with a physical body that will eventually get sick. Hopefully hospitalization will help him recover.

          1. fposte*

            Probably some people here already know this, but John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down is an excellent portrayal of a teen with just this.

            1. QuiteContrary*

              It is a fantastic book, and Green is a fantastic man. He is also open about his own struggles with OCD and health anxiety (if you follow his podcast or his Vlogbrothers on YouTube, the subject does come up sometimes and he tries to be frank about his struggles). Scubacat, as you very nicely explained, his situation is also exacerbated because a few years ago he came down with meningitis and was extremely ill. I’m a big fangirl of Green’s and really appreciate his willingness to discuss his illness as well as his work toward de-stigmatizing mental illness and encouraging others to seek help (therapy, medication, hospitalization, what have you). Listening to him discuss how his anxiety goes back to his childhood was so incredibly touching and sad.

              Reading about Ronald here is extremely sad. I hope he gets the help he needs and can live a better life. He is surely suffering.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah. Health anxieties, contamination anxieties, and food anxieties are especially hard to deal with IME because it’s absolutely true that germs/diseases, dirt/contaminants, and foods (healthy, unhealthy, plentiful, and scarce) are nigh-constantly present. Unlike many other anxieties, phobias, and triggers, you can’t try to arrange your life to avoid exposure, without upending your life utterly in the process.

          1. Anon Just This Once...*

            I totally see that. I have a young adult foster son living with me who has health anxieties that were exacerbated by him having two medical emergencies. Now every time he has symptoms that remind him of that, he think he’s having those medical emergencies again. I really feel for him, but I don’t want to go to urgent care because he has one minor symptom. When I point out that the one minor symptom isn’t behaving the way it would if it was this same emergency (e.g., you’re feeling mild pain for two days but if it was the real thing it would be rapidly increasing in a few hours) he looks at me so doubtfully, like I’m making it up. He doesn’t believe it until he’s at the ER and a doctor is looking at an x-ray or some blood work. Then you can see his whole body relax.

            Food is an issue for him too since he experienced spoiled food with his biological family. A few cups of milk left and the expiration date is tomorrow? Too risky.

            I feel so bad for him (and we’re working on this issue with a psychiatrist) but it’s also very hard for the rest of us to live with. And frankly, it’s making it harder to take his legitimate complaints seriously. It just sucks.

    3. Temperance*

      FWIW, I totally agree with you and think that too often, the impact of serious mental health issues on bystanders is not included. It sounds like Ronald might have crossed from hypochrondria into full-blown psychosis, though, to the point of harassing a colleague, contacting the government, and demanding to be hospitalized.

      1. LBK*

        To me, this is just a case of the pendulum swinging in one direction as far as it was in the other direction – for the vast majority of our history (as in, like, until the last 5-10 years), discussions of mental health were almost exclusively about its impact on bystanders. It’s only been very recently that it’s really started to gain traction as something to be treated as a serious medical condition and not something you fix by just sending someone to an asylum so you never have to see them again.

        Has it gone too far? Maybe, but again, this is still a very fresh development. It will even out over time, and I think it’s already happening – there’s already more debate even from people with mental illness about what the level of responsibility and appropriate expectations are for someone who’s mentally ill.

        IIRC you have personal experience with someone who has borderline personality disorder, which is definitely a volatile condition and one that can have a huge affect on bystanders, but I don’t know if that’s a good benchmark for mental illness as a whole, which I think on average is dramatically more mild in its impact to others.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I’m going to disagree with you for one reason. Most psychologists expect the family of the BPD patient to be loving and supportive to help the person get better. The problem is that the family is most often the target of the behavior. That means that mental health professionals are expecting family to place themselves in harms way for the sake of the BPD patient. They don’t give two hoots for the family members mental health as that person isn’t the patient.
          Only recently has there been discussion of Well sibling syndrome.
          TLDR; Many times mental health professionals are so focused on the patient that they ignore the collateral damage to the bystanders. Only when they focus on both will you get the right level of treatment.

          1. Annabelle*

            This isn’t necessarily true. While BPD can indeed be hard on family members, a lot of psychologists do a really poor job of supporting patients with cluster b disorders. It’s not uncommon for patients to get “fired” by their doctors post-diagnosis. And the resources for BPD specifically are generally written for partners, friends, or family members, rather than patients.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            I think that’s LBK’s point. They were saying that it *used to be* the case that we only worried about the effect on others, and that’s why we locked up people with mental illnesses in asylums and left them there indefinitely. Now it’s swung the other way where the focus is on the effect on the person with the mental illness, but that is a relatively recent thing.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              I’m saying it’s swung so far the other way that the rights of the mentally ill person trumps that of the well person. In a perfect world the rights would be equal.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                And that’s pretty much exactly what LBK was saying? At least that’s how I read it, and that’s what I tried to say in my comment. You said you disagreed with LBK, but it sounds like you agree with them.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                This is true, I saw it in my own job. The pendulum has to swing out before it comes back to rest in the middle somewhere. What we (society) did in the past was horrible. But now we are damaging people’s lives in new ways. Hopefully, that is something that will settle soon.

              3. LBK*

                That is exactly what I’m saying. We’re not disagreeing.

                The only point I’d disagree on is whether a therapist has any kind of responsibility to protect the family from someone with a volatile condition like BPD, and there I’m not really sure only insofar as the therapist can’t treat people that aren’t their patients. If the family members aren’t coming in for sessions, what is the therapist supposed to do to help them, beyond trying to help the person with BPD themselves as they’re already presumably doing? Is mitigating the person’s risk of being a danger to themselves and others not already a big part of treatment?

          3. Competent Commenter*

            I agree with you Engineer Girl. I remember calling my (now ex-) husband’s psychiatrist on a weekend to say he was having manic symptoms, not his usual MO as someone with BPII. It was like, yep, better take him off that medication. See you next week. And then I hung up and was all alone with this person who was half out of his mind. I felt so very, very alone while being a caregiver in that situation.

            1. LBK*

              But at the same time, you’re not the psychiatrist’s patient, and a psychiatrist isn’t an EMT. They’re not really trained to mitigate situations like that beyond making recommendations for treating the patient.

    4. Elsadora*

      Kimberlyr. But what if you are so sick that you don’t know you are sick. I once dated a guy who I am positive , in hindsight, suffered from schizophrenia. Trust me there was no convincing him he needed to take his meds. In his mind, the abnormal was the norm.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The way our systems work now, we cannot act until we have basis to act. This means the person has to do something that hurts himself or hurts others. But randomly institutionalizing people is not right/ethical/legal either. I have no idea what the answers are.
        For myself all I can figure to do is be a little more generous and be a little more thoughtful of others. We just have no idea how much burden a person is carrying.

    5. Else*

      I don’t know about that – I would find his comments and behavior disruptive and upsetting, but I don’t think that he was ignoring the impact on others deliberately. I think he was just in so much panic and upset that he couldn’t see that he wasn’t behaving rationally. He probably thought that everyone else was failing to take care by bringing their diseases in to work. I hope he’s doing better, and I don’t think he belongs in the workplace until he IS doing better, but for this one I think he really couldn’t do anything to minimize it.

  8. SusanIvanova*

    “I just don’t want to waste my time listening to my fellow employees rattle on about stuff.”

    That’s pretty dismissive of her co-workers; it’s pretty unlikely that none of that “stuff” is relevant to her. Nobody likes meetings, but we deal with it.

    1. LBK*

      What’s confusing to me about that comment is that she’s the one being expected to present, she’s not being expected to listen to other people…unless she’s trying to say that from the perspective of her coworkers, she doesn’t think they would be happy about having to listen to her talk about the class?

      1. All the Words*

        I think it was more a “this is a stupid policy and if I have to present at some point, so will my peers and I don’t want to talk or listen.” OP suggested that Agatha shows her displeasure at changes, so I assumed this policy was a part of that displeasure.

      2. Candi*

        I think it might be because, unless it’s one of those quick meetings with the acronyms, a meeting can last about half an hour or more? So she doesn’t want to give a five-minute presentation and not be able to leave afterwards, or duck in, talk, and leave. Instead, she has to listen to people coming after, and possibly before, her.

        Which, you know, is just something you have to do once in a while. As long as the meetings don’t get bizarrely out of hand, you put up with them.

      3. Perse's Mom*

        Or they might want to discuss it in more detail or ask questions about it and she doesn’t want to deal with that, perhaps.

    2. LadyL*

      As someone who is an external processor, and who learns best by talking/conversation, I actually kind of love meetings. And it always bums me out to hear how much everyone else “hates” them, and hates people who ask questions/talk (aka they definitely hate me). The only times I hated meeting were when I had other responsibilities that needed to get done in that time, and I knew my boss wasn’t going to accept “but you kept me in a 3 hour meeting!” as an answer.

      But otherwise, I think meetings are pretty awesome. Some things are just not well suited for emails, particularly anything that needs to be brainstormed or debated. Or, like a presentation where people might have questions or comments for the presenter. I think if Angela is going into meetings with the assumption that her coworkers have nothing of value to share, or that no one hears the things she has to share, it’s no wonder she’s frustrated. But that attitude can come from within, or come from evidence from previous experience.

      1. Liz T*

        I just wish people prepared for meetings in a way that made them more productive. Especially in my freelance work, where I have to travel 45-60 minutes for any meeting, I wish more people would 1. set and agenda 2. think, “what can we discuss in this meeting that can’t be discussed via email?” and 3. spent time thinking about the meeting topic BEFORE the meeting instead of going, “oh good, I don’t have to think about that until the meeting.”

        (I have an Artistic Director friend who is fond of calling “community” meetings without having any idea what he wants to do in the meeting. At the first one of these I went to, we were at least an hour in when I said, “Can we all go around and introduce ourselves?” It was one of the worst meetings I’ve ever been to in my life.)

        1. AKchic*

          I used to run multiple meetings a week and my biggest pet peeve with meetings is lack of organization. Especially for set-schedule, ongoing meetings. You know it’s going to happen, get your ish together.
          Every meeting needs an agenda. It’s not hard to whip one together. If you’re following up from a previous meeting, have notes from the previous meeting. If you are referencing specific topics, have hand-outs (and if you’re organized, note that there are hand-outs in the agenda). If people are calling in – make sure everyone knows the call-in number (in case some people get caught in traffic and need to call in short-notice). Email everyone copies just in case.
          I also had extra notepads and writing tools available so people could take notes if they wanted to. And I always provided coffee and water (however, that was a company thing).

          A well-organized meeting is worth a lot in some circles. It’s almost always appreciated.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Precisely! I was in a practicum this semester, and our professor required us to have a meeting agenda for every meeting with our clients, and it made SUCH a difference to how they went.

      2. MeowThai*

        You meetings sound great. Meetings at my company involve a lot of hypothetical “well what if we did this? or this?” but a decision never gets made and it makes my life impossible down the road. Sigh.

    3. Mookie*

      “I just don’t want to waste my time listening to my fellow employees rattle on about stuff.”

      That’s her job. If she feels like her job is a waste of time, go find another one some place else, where listening and collaborating and respecting other people’s thoughts and inquiries are not required.

  9. Amyyyy*

    #3 that’s really interesting. There’s a woman at my previous organization that complained all the time, and she wasn’t promoted twice in the last year. I’ve found the more stressed out you seem, the more people think you’re working hard. Glad to know that’s not always the case.

    1. Jesca*

      I think its more like the people you don’t work directly with (or with even sometimes!) who are not in management that usually see chronic complainers as productive.

      It has been in my experience that management always notices and never advances the negatives ones who they see as killing moral.

      I one had the pleasure of supervising a recently demoted chronic complainer who had certain people convinced he was super hard working. The issue was that he spent all of his time convincing those people how hard of a worker he was, that he forgot to actually get any of his own work completed!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, that’s fascinating! I’ve never seen chronic complainers treated as productive, but I have seen folks who talk extensively about how “busy” they are or how hard they’re working be seen as productive by outside departments. In my experience, chronic complainers burn up good will very quickly.

        1. HigherEd on Toast*

          I work with one of these! People are always talking about how busy she is and how they heard about a project she’s doing and it’s fantastic…but they don’t work closely enough with her to know that she misses deadlines constantly/didn’t actually complete the project/is always saying she’s too busy to come to meetings of the teams and committees that she chose to be on. It irritates the hell out of me, since I know one of the reasons she’s always “busy” is that she’ll spend huge chunks of time chit-chatting and then abruptly get up and start running around screaming (literally) about how busy she is and she doesn’t have enough time to do things she had weeks or months to work on.

          I wish people who want to do a lot would learn to prioritize and stop overcommitting themselves.

  10. Jessica*

    #1 – Oof. I feel a little sorry for Ronald. And for everyone who had to work around the emotional fallout his hypochondria was creating. I think LW did as much as it was within their power to do. I’m glad it resolved in such a way that now Ronald is getting help and the other coworkers are not subjected to his behavior anymore. Crappy situation.

    #2 and #3 are both good examples about how having a negative attitude toward ordinary job evolution can really lower morale, even for oneself. I had to break that habit in myself several years back, after I realized that it just made me dread things that almost always turned out to be no big deal, and made me look like a negative Nellie to anyone who asked me to take on a new thing. Instead, I consciously chose to be like, “Sure, let’s give it a shot” and then see how it turned out first before passing judgment. Another person who has the same role still does the negative Nellie thing and, unsurprisingly, when they need to tap someone’s expertise for process improvement or work with other teams, they come to me and not her, even though she’s been in the job longer than I have.

  11. Elsadora*

    Kimberlyr. But what if you are so sick that you don’t know you are sick. I once dated a guy who I am positive , in hindsight, suffered from schizophrenia. Trust me there was no convincing him he needed to take his meds. In his mind, the abnormal was the norm.

  12. Delphine*

    Involuntary hospitalization can be a traumatic and demoralizing experience. Wishing Ronald the best.

  13. Argh!*

    I once worked with a hypochondriac who was not quite that bad, but he was afraid to eat a chicken or turkey sandwich for fear of getting bird flu. Educating him on how diseases are spread was of no use. He wound up getting sick from not washing his vegetables due to fear that his tap water was toxic. He’d apparently never been to a farm! I think I “fixed” that one by saying “You know that vegetables are grown with fertilizer, don’t you? Do you know what fertilizer is made from?”

    Irrational fears are a true sickness. I hope LW 1’s colleague can get disability benefits for this.

  14. Lady Phoenix*

    #1: Oooooooof. Unless the guy could keep it together, I figured this wouldn’t have a happy ending. But claiming he and a coworker had the plague is a whole new level of wtf. I am glad the office is back to normal and I hope the dude gets all the help he needs to get better.

  15. Girasol*

    #2 My grandboss used to send my boss and team to educational events in other cities. The boss and several of the men would skip the training and go off golfing. Grandboss knew it and did not usually call them on it so they knew it was okay. Is it possible that the reluctant employee here perceived the education offer as a perk or a boondoggle, and is taken aback now at being asked to explain training that she did not attend?

    1. Madame X*

      The LW did not mention how long the Agatha had been working for the company, but I assume that if she had been a relatively new employee (less than a year) that would have been mentioned. However, I still don’t think that explains her flat out hostile behavior. If she is a long-time employee then she would quite familiar with the company culture and policies. It would make even less sense that she would do the opposite of what was asked of her and then continue to resist a relatively low effort request.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    #4. Good call on the exceptional employee. I have the best boss. I work my core hours and I tack on hours before or after, she never says a word. Except, of course, when she thinks I have been there too long that day, then she says, “Go home!” She gives me areas to make my own decisions. And there are times where she will say, “Take this one and decide for us what we should do.”
    I have told the story before about my dog. I left for work knowing a friend would check on my little guy. Friend called and said, “There is nothing good going on here.” The dog could not stand up, could not walk around. I had figured out that the dog had thrown a joint out of alignment. It was one of those horrible days where I HAD to go to work, so my friend volunteered to check on the dog mid-day. I turned to my boss and said, “Something is wrong with my dog…”. I never finished the sentence. She interrupted to say, “Get out of here. NOW. Go take care of him.” She never got involved in the details or questioned my judgement.

    This is one story, I have a bunch more. Yeah, I’d walk across burning coals barefoot for this woman if I had to. Not all of our compensation comes in our paychecks. Being able to walk out of work when I need to with no questions is absolutely priceless. The way she treats me makes me into a more thinking and generous employee. It’s a circle that keeps perpetuating itself.

    The dog is fine. I found a vet/chiro who fixed him right up that same day.

  17. Agatha_31*

    #4. “Update: She is still in place. She is still outstanding. I give her the highest ratings I can. She gets the minuscule raise. She models professional behavior and work ethic for the staff, students, and interns. I think that the best managing that I do is just stay out of her way. She is accomplished in her field. I trust her to do her work and to come to me when I can be helpful. I do run interference with difficult personalities of people who engage our department. She has access to professional development opportunities.”

    “That’s about it,” said the superhero.

    Seriously though, a trusting boss doing whatever they can for you is a gift in a *bad* organization, but it sounds like your organization is (at least?) pretty good, too? In which case this employee is in employee heaven and I hereby ask how many Hail Miltons one has to say to get to employee heaven.

    1. Letter Writer #4*

      Letter writer #4 here.
      We are aware of how extremely lucky we are to have work that we love in a supportive environment. I was surprised to see my update today. It doesn’t seem very interesting to me.

      If you look at update #2, I did have a very rocky road when I arrived with an employee who struggled to meet expectations. Although HR supported me in the PIP, it was still a really awful year and half.

      And yes, it was very a very competitive field for the “exceptional employee” hire. We had over 100 qualified applicants. When we got that down to the eight face to face interviews, any one of them would have been a good fit.
      I do know that the work we do is challenging and interesting. I do know that not every department is as happy and engaged as we are.

      Thanks for calling me a super hero. I am bursting with pride.

    2. Mookie*

      I aspire to be LW4’s employee, basically. (In both senses: I want to be that great and I’d love to have someone appreciate me so effusively.)

      1. Government Lackey*

        I’d wager that a reason many readers react negativity and with suspicion to LW4 is that we’re far more used to bosses that don’t value us (or show us we’re valued). Perhaps because they feel that way, too. I’d LOVE to have a boss who values me and shows it like you. Thanks for giving me hope that you exist.

  18. depizan*

    Re #2

    Agatha stated that she didn’t have a problem public speaking, she just didn’t feel as though she should have to give up 30 minutes of her hour lunch to meet with her fellow employees.

    What. Nothing like that appears to have ever been mentioned (even looking back at the original letter). It makes me wonder a little bit if someone gave Agatha really bad information regarding the whole “report on your training” thing. Or if she’d previously worked somewhere that expected that. Or…something. It just struck me as odd.

    (Then again, the whole thing was odd.)

  19. BarkusOrlyus*

    “She smiles more…I guess she started taking meds”

    YIKES! Goodness gracious. I’m not a particularly cheerful person, and this kind of stuff really freaks me out. Granted, I’d never behave the way Agatha is described to act (pouting in a meeting? As an adult?!), but still. I don’t know if a lack of smiles was really the problem here, and speculating about “meds” just grosses me out.

      1. Meredith*

        Lol yeah same. Not sure why it’d be controversial though, they seem to give out meds like candy in the US, and in fact any time anyone here raises a health complaint there’s almost always suggestions to take meds.

        1. FD*

          One reason some people find it hurtful is that a lot of people struggle with anxiety/depression/other mental health disorders, and overcoming it generally requires not just medication (which usually takes 4-6 weeks to kick in and often requires several different types before you find one that works), but extremely hard work, and sometimes therapy to literally teach your brain to literally think and feel a different way than it was ‘programmed’ to. When people act like ‘taking medication’ instantly fixes everything, it can be very hurtful and frustrating to people who are in or have been going through this process.

          The other reason some people find it hurtful is more general. People sometimes assume that people acting like a jerk have a mental health condition. For example, if someone is being a boundary-crosser, you often see speculation that the person is autistic. This probably comes from a certain place of compassion–isn’t it better to assume a person is ill rather than callous? However, one side effect of that is that it can make things even harder for people who have that condition, because they not only have the actual effects of their condition, but the (often incorrect) stereotypes people have about it.

  20. Goya*

    #2 – I’m not a fan of public speaking and I really don’t like sharing information that I self-taught myself, but this was a company paid session in which you should be held accountable for a) attending and b) sharing the info with co-workers who were not able to go and might benefit from what was learned.

  21. CubicleShroom#1004*

    You literally can not get a psychiatrist to see a person with a BPD diagnosis where I live. Private pay psychiatrist will absolutely not see them. The ones that take insurance have a 5+ month wait list.

    Reason being, patients with BPD have a horrible rep, and the only real treatment for it is DBT. No one wants to fiddle with personality disorders. Insurance won’t pay for talk therapy (usually), and medications aren’t always indicated.

    My cousin with BPD took 6 months to find any help. When she did, the therapist made her sign a patient behavioral contract that was 4 pages long (front and back). End story of that was, you screw up, you’re dismissed from the practice.

  22. Linzava*

    I really feel for Ronald. I too have hypochondria, though my case is not nearly as bad as Ronald’s case. In my situation, I came to the realization that I have it on my own and my doctor confirmed it. I remember that feeling of dread when my news feed told me the plague is back. In a funny coincidence, I haven’t told anyone at my current job about my condition, and a coworker is coming back from Tanzania in a couple weeks, lol. My brain is already trying to convince me I’m going to get it, but I’m not letting it win. I’m just focusing on how happy I will be to see her. In the mean time, I’m researching the plague, because finding out the truth about transmission and such saved me from freaking out about the Ebola scare. The news really does exaggerate and causes harm to people like Ronald an me.

    1. Else*

      It causes harm to people like y’all, and to everyone else too by giving such an inaccurate picture of actual risk by trying to spark interest through drama. Maybe this will be reassuring – the plague epidemic is in Madagascar, not Tanzania – there is a whole big wide stretch of ocean in between, and the two most active travel points are more than 1000 miles apart. The WHO says that it is also declining – there are reducing numbers of new cases.

      1. Linzava*

        Thank you Else,

        That does make me feel safe. Facts are really the only reason I’ve been getting better. I have noticed that most of the triggering causes for my illness fears come from the news. It might be time for me to cut news from my life for a while.

  23. Grant*

    #2 – can someone explain how it would be possible to “pocket the money” for this? Wouldn’t they have to produce an expense report with, like, receipts?

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