my coworker sucks at her job and my manager won’t address it

A while back, I encouraged people to record shorter questions for the Ask a Manager podcast on the show voicemail — questions that wouldn’t take a whole show to answer. I ended up receiving so many of them that we’re moving the show to two episodes a week. Starting today, you’ll be able to listen every Monday and Wednesday. The Monday show will be similar to the “short answer” posts that I do here every day — a mix of shorter questions and answers. The Wednesday show will continue to be the usual format, where I talk with a guest more in-depth about a question.

Today’s questions are:

  • My coworker sucks at her job and my manager won’t address it (read an update here)
  • My intern is constantly apologizing (read an update here)
  • Are employers really scouring your social media?
  • My employee is angry after he was passed over for a promotion
  • How do I explain I have no ambition?

The show is 27 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I was so excited to find this in my podcast feed this morning!

    I definitely relate to the “no ambition” LW though. I have no desire to manage people. I definitely prefer to provide value through individual contributions. Treat me well and pay me enough and I’ll be a workhorse.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, I hate that “I don’t want to manage people” somehow means “I have no ambition.

    2. Bea*

      I loath managing. I do it because I want more money but the actual dealing with petty dramas and such has taken a toll.

      If management was only dealing with workflow and keeping everything going smoothly work wise, I wouldn’t be as crotchety by this somewhat young age. Grumble grumble.

      I don’t think poorly of anyone who wants no part of management.

      1. The Original K.*

        I can name a bunch of people off the top of my head who say that managing people is the part of their job they like the least, and a bunch more who deliberately turn down offers to manage people because they have no interest in it, at all.

      2. Erstwhile lurker*

        I can relate to this, my last job was managing a small but very good team. We outperformed everyone else and streamlined processes to the point of finishing our work and assisting other teams with their daily workload. It was great in that regards, but even though my team was good, the (very) small amount of jostling, pettiness etc that I had to deal within the team, compounded by the huge amount of jostling, politics and pettiness from other teams was enough to sour me for good.

        1. Bea*

          We had a killer crew at my last job. It was amazing. I only dealt with approvals and override kind of things. We were all on top of all our duties and they were excited because I was happy to give them more support than previous managers had.

          Then my #1 gave notice. She was tired of busting her hump for a bleh wage. She also had a couple issues that I was happy to accommodate but the ownership pushed back, so made her life not nearly as easy as it should have been. I was devastated but kept positive.

          They gave me essentially minimum wage to work with to find her replacement. In a multifaceted role. LOL LOL LOL so I couldn’t get anyone to fill her shoes needless to say. Then the drama was introduced, good workers with stress and new members who couldn’t catch onto the details needed to do their job.

          It can be perfect and simple but all it takes is one of the people to move and a bad hiring climate. Then it’s utter hell.

          I stepped out of the management game for awhile to recoup after that disaster needless to say. Now I manage myself, people view me as an advisor but I don’t deal with the actual humans…it’s heavenly.

    3. Seifer*

      Yes, same! I used to work in a kitchen where… I wasn’t managing per say, but a lot of my job was basically the delegation and conflict management part of managing. I’m so very ill-suited for that part that I can’t imagine that any other parts of management would balance it out.

    4. Elizabeth W.*

      Me too; managing is a whole other set of skills. I just want to get really good at whatever I do.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yeah, short answers are a lot longer when they are verbal instead of written.

      (I finally broke down and subscribed, instead of reading the transcripts later. But since I’m usually about 3 months behind on my podcasts, I’ll have to not do that with these ones.)

  2. dorothy zbornak*

    regarding the first question, I had the exact problem at my last job and then when my boss was FINALLY ready to address the issue, HR basically wouldn’t let him, so at that point I knew I couldn’t stay there.

    1. all the candycorn*

      I have had this happen several times at jobs. I had subordinates who were underperforming, and I was told unequivocally that as manager it was not my job to discipline staff because that would cause ill will, it was my job to compensate for their inadequacies by either doing their job for them, reassigning their tasks, or convincing everyone to go along to get along.

      This caused ill will among the top performing employees who left, myself included. I’m not going to jump out of the dentist’s chair with half a filling because someone turned up late because you wouldn’t let me tell them they have to be on time unless there are rare, serious, extenuating circumstances.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > it was my job to compensate for their inadequacies by either doing their job for them, reassigning their tasks, or convincing everyone to go along to get along.


      2. Jess*

        This is what’s happening at my job right now. My manager is completely overworked because she will not actually tell underperforming/insubordinate employees to step it up/cut it out. One of my colleagues (under her supervision) yelled at her the other day in their meeting and we could all hear it and she just capitulated. Another employee takes up hours of her time every day needing hand holding, to the point where she needed to significantly extend her hours just to get her own work done. I don’t know if she doesn’t want to set boundaries or is being directed not to set boundaries, but I know of several people looking to get out, because the problem employees have been given so much leeway that they are making work miserable for everyone actually doing their jobs.

    2. wayward*

      Has anyone else been in a situation with an underperforming coworker where it eventually became hard to keep up your own motivation?

      1. Ellen*

        Motivation? I have none left, at this point. I just finished spending half an hour of correcting others’ mistakes and outright doing their job. They were too busy gossiping, within line of sight.

      2. metzengerstein*

        Oh yes! Our underperformers got promotions and raises, even though both were to be fired. Why bother?

      3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Yes indeed. At my last job I was regularly asked to stay late to do the work of the co-worker who was busy texting and/or staring at the wall. I started to refuse to and left the job. That was 2 years ago. Recently I ran into a co-worker who stayed behind. The texter is still there and still holding up the wall. There is a high turn-over in my old job as each new person gets tired of doing the work of two.

      4. Julia*

        I left my last job because my underperforming co-worker got away with everything, including sabotaging me to look less like an incompetent slacker, and our boss just told me he wasn’t there to solve my “personal” problems. I complained several times, he did nothing (well, we had mediation once where I was told I had to change!), and he still acted surprised when I left. Apparently she was really pissed off, too, because she had to work after I was gone.

      5. Former coworker*

        Oh yes.

        My under-performing co-worker was substantially older, and nobody wanted to let her go so close to retirement – but she was seriously dragging back performance. She openly ignored requests, would be gone for entire workdays with no warning (to her peers, or managers), talked about me *working too hard* openly in the office while on the phone to family, took phone calls from family on speaker during team meetings, falsified activity reports about youth programs (they hadn’t done enough to meet program requirements), and generally slowed things down when anything involved with tech came up – she had training in “media education”, but in the 80s, and she had not kept current though she continued to expect to be the lead point on tech items. One particularly egregious example – she was counting a very complicated set of items by hand. I made an excel sheet to speed up the work. She refused to share it, tried to make her own version of the excel sheet, and failed. Two days later, she got an excel sheet (that did exactly what mine did) mailed to her from a different branch of the organization and insisted we all use that one.

        I quit because my managers had no interest in trying to get her performance up, and I was getting sick of running on a hamster wheel – anything I did, if she didn’t have interest in contributing, didn’t matter anyway. It was hurting my resume, because I had no accomplishments or wins to speak of from my time there.

        I learned later that new managers came in, tried to fire her, and she simply refused to leave. They were at the point where they had called security try to escort her out, when they got a call from higher up in the organization saying, because of her proximity to retirement, they couldn’t fire her after all.

        1. Aspiring Academic*

          This is my exact situation. One of my coworkers is known to just spend all day on his phone or wandering around talking to people. Managers are aware but no one will do anything about it, I’m assuming because of his age and length of employment. It’s a morale killer and will be the reason I leave this job. It’s too bad because I do love what I do, but I’m not an adult babysitter.

          1. Former coworker*

            I hope you find work that is as equally satisfying but without the co-worker weight! It’s been a year and change since I left and I’m sometimes still surprised at how effectively my new team moves forward.

    3. Beatrice*

      One situation I’ve seen before is that Boss is ready to address the issue, but has absolutely zero documentation or botched documentation, and HR insists on starting the documentation process from scratch. Lots of managers aren’t trained to document performance issues properly.

      1. Anon for this*

        It’s been a while since I was involved on assisting HR (we were a contractor based on the client’s premises so HR was remotely managed) , but often someone who should have been dismissed for performance issues found themselves being let go for persistent lateness or exceeding ‘trigger periods’ of sick leave (anymore than 10 days a year on odd days or 3 days on the bounce was deemed excessive in the absence of a doctor’s note or underlying chronic health condition which was previously documented).

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          My former lazy co-worker also had a habit of regularly calling in “sick” on paydays. Since it was only one day, he never had to produce a doctor’s note.

  3. Coleen*

    Re: coworker who sucks at their job but the manager won’t address it
    How do you strike a balance between addressing this directly w/ your manager vs. a company ‘culture’ of direct feedback? I work remotely and I have a coworker in a different time zone (about 7 hours’ difference from mine). I don’t know how to feel comfortable giving this coworker direct feedback when we spend so little time together.

    1. Ellex*

      I used to work in a job where a lot of people worked remotely or telecommuted the majority of the time. I really preferred being able to communicate problems via email, both for specific problems or more general issues with the quality of their work. As most of us needed to be at least within driving distance of the office, I was able to ask two people whose work was extremely poor to come in for some one-on-one instruction, but that’s the kind of thing I find very stressful.

      Basically I prefer remote correspondence and feedback because it gives me an opportunity to condense and organize my thoughts, and think about how to word it in a way that won’t come across as overly accusatory or defensive, which is a problem for me in in-person feedback. My advice is to keep it as impersonal as possible, and write it out over the course of a couple of days with time for editing and organizing. In your case, it sounds like you might actually want to consult your manager on the etiquette and appropriateness of giving feedback directly to someone you’ve seldom actually met. On the plus side, probably most of your criticism will be about fairly concrete issues rather than attitude problems.

  4. BRR*

    This was such an awesome surprise to find this morning :). I love the quick fire format. I really enjoyed that when you did it with evilhrlady so I’m thrilled to see it continue.

  5. Bookworm*

    I just wanted to send my sympathy to the co-worker who still sucks. Been there. Was going to wonder if perhaps the co-worker (CW) was someone who had been perhaps pampered all her life and never needed to learn any of these types of skills and was going to give her some leeway. But it also sounds like she just doesn’t get it, and some people don’t.

    This could be a long-shot, but do any of these customers have a lot of business or are close to you in any way? When I experienced a variation of this my other co-workers and I were told that it wasn’t enough that WE had to deal with the aftermath–management would only really listen if customers complained. I tried hinting to a few customers they were certainly free to talk to the manager but none wanted to take it that far. Management also might be unhappy if you do that and customers might not want to get involved either but I thought this might be an option for you.

    Good luck!

  6. WillowSunstar*

    Had same issue at old job, for several years. It was a major reason why I left old job. It was to the point where I couldn’t be gone for more than 1 day because coworker would mess up ever and I would have to stay late to fix stuff.

  7. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note to say that the timing of transcripts is no longer up for debate, having been discussed over and over at this point. If you’re interested in reading previous discussions of it, here are two (1, 2) that I can refer you to, although for a while they were weekly so there are plenty more in the archives. I’m no longer hosting debate on it (which means that comments on transcription will not be released from moderation because they derail from the topic of the letters and it’s been thoroughly discussed in the past), but I have indeed heard the feedback and am sorry I can’t do more.

    1. Lady Kelvin*

      Honestly Alison you already go above and beyond and I hope you don’t take a few bad apples personally. Some people will always find something to complain about. Thanks for all you do. I enjoy the advice, the podcast, and the community of people who want to genuinely help others succeed in the workplace and in life.

    2. Dance-y Reagan*

      Maybe a top-level comment banner would help? You mentioned that you have a lot of new folks trickling in, so while regulars will (hopefully) respect this, there are folks who may unknowingly rehash.

    3. Bea*

      You’re forever a better person than I’ll be. My response to all the squabbling would have been to stop providing them. I’m the type to throw toys into the trash if there’s fighting over them though.

      Thank you for curbing the debates.

    4. Courageous cat*

      Ooh that last discussion got me feeling so heated. Some people have a very solid sense of entitlement.

    5. Sleepy Librarian*

      Thank you for providing transcripts at all! I use them and am thankful for them. Some people don’t realize how much work it is (enough that it’s outsourced). Thanks for everything you do, I’m always learning something new from AAM and I recommend it to other people every chance I get.

  8. Wes*

    “We’re moving the show to two episodes a week”

    I’ve never read more beautiful words in my life.

    1. Elizabeth W.*

      I feel like I’m going to get even more behind, but that’s cool because then I can binge them while doing boring housework. :)

  9. Guy Incognito*

    I want to throw in my two cents that I like this format a lot better than the long-form one. Not that the other one was bad, but I just like this better.

    1. Alldogsarepuppies*

      Its so great we can have both! I was a fan of the Wednesday way, but i adore this Monday way.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s great to hear! This new format is actually much faster/easier for me to produce, so it’s great news that people like it.

      Can I ask for more feedback about what you prefer about this format? I was concerned people wouldn’t like it because it doesn’t have the back and forth with the callers, and I worried it was too similar to the blog format.

      1. Dance-y Reagan*

        I like that I can pause after one caller and come back, whereas the back-and-forth with one person feels more like a “consume at once” type of thing. Stopping an audio file to do something else and then re-starting it is somehow more mentally disruptive than pausing while reading.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          This exactly. The longer ones are great, but this makes it a little simpler to just digest one at a time without needing to pause mid podcast to do stuff and then come back to ry to find where I was, maybe re-start it because I have the memory of a goldfish…

      2. Er...Ec*

        I personally like both formats for the podcast.

        For the longer format, the back and forth is really great and adds more nuance and description that most of even the longer blog answers with an involved OP in the comments get.

        For the short format, yes it’s similar to the blog format but given how important tone is for so many of the questions/answers, hearing it still offers something more.
        Plus you have a wonderful voice so it’s soothing to listen to on the drive home from work haha

      3. Wes*

        I think most of us just like the content you produce, no matter what it is.

        But maybe also, sometimes I don’t relate to the callers on the longer show. For instance, the mansplaining show or the one where the lady couldn’t control her anger at work. No offense to those people at all, but I can’t relate to that at all and I had to stop listening.

        With these smaller segments, if I don’t relate to one person, it’s just a few minutes before the next person comes on.

      4. Future Homesteader*

        I like this format, too! I think what I like is that it *is* more like the blog, but with the added bonus of hearing voices and therefore tone and nuance. I’m also biased because I’m currently home on maternity leave and it’s easier for me to listen to a podcast as I take care of the baby – but that would go for anyone whose schedule makes podcasts more accessible. I wish I’d had your podcasts back when I had my long commute!

      5. Sue*

        I agree with Er Ec and it’s much easier to get my steps in (Yes, addicted to fitness band) with a podcast. Reading and walking is more hazardous!

      6. GlitsyGus*

        This is totally a personal preference for me, so please don’t take it as a note to change or anything, but I am not really a huge fan of the back and forth. I like the “just the facts” style of just getting the question followed by your answer without a lot of back and forth.

        I know I am probably in the minority, but with the longer form podcasts I tend to wait for the transcripts so I can skim over the parts that are a bit more conversational. I get a little frustrated with “um..s, So…s” and “yeah, OKs…” plus I read faster than people speak, which I think is part of it too, I’m a very impatient listener. Please know that is not at all a dis on your callers, it’s totally my own issue! :)

        1. Courageous cat*

          I don’t think you need to leave disclaimers! This is totally valid and I’m sure she knows it’s personal preference – I feel exactly the same way as you do. I’m just very impatient when it comes to listening. Something I like about NPR is that it’s not very fluffy and it gets right down to it, so I can tolerate that much better than lots of podcasts.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            Funny you should mention NPR – one of their shows did a “how we do this” segment that discussed how they clip out the “ums”, because the sort of thing you don’t notice when you can see the person thinking about their answer gets really annoying when it’s audio only.

        2. the gold digger*

          I have been making podcasts at work – interviewing people about new products and strategies – and even though the interview takes less than 30 minutes, to edit that into a ten to 15 minute podcast takes forever! It would take less time if I didn’t try to cut the “ummms” and the “so, anyways”, but I don’t want listeners to get frustrated in the way you are!

      7. Courageous cat*

        I get restless listening to people talk, especially about one issue, for a very long time. I’m much more likely to listen to shorter ones because I just prefer brevity and getting to the point of the matter. I don’t know that I feel like the back-and-forth has a ton of value in a lot of situations.

      8. nnn*

        This format could be enhanced by indicating in the blog post what time in the podcast each letter starts at, for readers who are only interested in some of the letters.


        – My coworker sucks at her job and my manager won’t address it (0:00)
        – My intern is constantly apologizing (7:30)

      9. smoke tree*

        For what it’s worth, I think the back-and-forth approach makes more sense for a podcast than just answering questions out loud, but I like this format as well, because I can listen to it at times when I wouldn’t be able to read a column.

  10. animaniactoo*

    I’ve got 5 bucks down that the reason the passed-over employee is randomly disappearing is because he’s on a job hunt and is doing phone screening interviews and thinks nobody is noticing that he’s not around for 15 or 20 minutes.

    1. GlitsyGus*

      That was my first thought too.

      I also kind of wondered if he had given any indication as to why he felt he couldn’t work with Bessy or why he could only be “civil.” I may be reading in, but if she is truly qualified and they don’t have any past bad blood between them or anything like that I may have to just ask him point blank if it was a gender or age issue he is having. Being a little raw when you have just been passed over is understandable, just flat out deciding you won’t get along with them is not OK.

  11. T*

    Great advice on my coworker sucks. I was in this situation when my boss hired a friend of hers. She did NOTHING all day and handled a completely separate line of products than me. She was rude to coworkers, customers, basically everyone but our boss. Customers and department heads started coming to me to do her work, which I did at first to be helpful. I got sick of it and pulled back and made people go to my lame coworker instead. I then got spoken to by my boss that I wasn’t being a team player…..because I wouldn’t do my coworker’s job. When I pointed out people were coming to me because she wasn’t doing her job, my boss’s response was just do it. I ended up leaving and I found out there were several HR complaints about my boss from former coworker’s. Such incredibly bad management.

    1. WellRed*

      It’s neither here nor there at this point, but I wonder if directing people to the boss instead of co-worker would have had a different outcome.

  12. Lauren*

    Are there show notes or a transcript for the podcast? I, for the life of me, cannot get into podcasts, period, and I just want to read the content, which sounds really interesting!

  13. LiptonTea4Me*

    I don’t care for the podcasts at all, but then too, I am deaf. I wish the podcasts were like close captioned TV, so I could participate in the here and now. But as a blog progresses forward into other media, people get left behind; I just wish it wasn’t always me.

  14. AccidentalGardener*

    This is so me!! I’ve tried management and I didn’t like it though I can say that may have been because of the positions/ companies I was in. It’s hard as an engineer – you reach a certain level of technical expertise and then they tell you to stop touching the stuff you’re good at and sit behind a desk and let other ppl touch things. *ugh* Fortunately, some companies have realized the need for a continued technical track parallel to the management track.
    I want to use my technical skill to do the best job that I can on my assigned task(s),get my check and go the hell home. I’m only at work so I can afford to live/do the stuff I like outside of work

  15. Sleepy Librarian*

    I think for some roles managers will be glad to hear someone doesn’t want to move up. I was on a committee to hire someone who stated that really clearly: that the job (which was lower-level) was her dream job, she has side things she does, and she had no intentions of leaving anytime soon if she got the role. Having filled the role several times to people who had moved up quickly, I think the hiring manager was glad to find this candidate–very qualified, passionate about the work, but not looking to leave.

  16. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

    The interesting thing to me about “Carl” being passed over for the promotion was that it sounds like the reason he wasn’t chosen was a personality issue in the first place (something about Bessie displaying more passion and warmth). Making an effort to observe Carl’s specific behaviors and detail how they’re unacceptable is useful not only for having the conversation with him, as Alison said, but also to make sure there’s no confirmation bias going on. If Carl was already “less warm” even before this decision was made, it’s probably worth reflecting on whether his behavior really has changed, or if the LW is just noticing it more because the issue has come up recently.

    I also wonder if Carl was told that that was the reason — if so, it’s hard not to take that information, at least privately, as “they’re telling me my personality sucks.”

      1. Slanted & Enchanted*

        Thank you so much for the transcripts — love them! When you post them, can you link back to the blog entry for the original podcast? I love to read the podcast comments after I read the transcript, and a link would be really helpful! Thanks for all this fabulous content!

  17. anonymous government official*

    Another thing about social media is that what you need to keep private professionally might evolve over time. For example, I am currently in a position where I have to be politically neutral, so if anyone could dig up any expression of political opinions on the internet and associate them with my name, I’d be in trouble. However, I didn’t even know this was a thing when I was young, so if I’d been posting under my real name back then (I’m from the olden days when everyone used fake names on the internet) it could really come back and bite me.

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