updates: coworker gives us the silent treatment, a high coworker driving, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker gives everyone the silent treatment for weeks

Jane continued to give the silent treatment, and I took your advice and started being more direct with her, up to and including waiting at her desk for an answer while she ignored me. This upset her so much that she pulled me into a supply closet (!!!) and screamed at me for making things awkward and embarrassing (she didn’t like coworkers seeing or overhearing me pushing for answers to work questions because it highlighted how ridiculous she was being). I was stunned.

I know I said I wouldn’t leave over that, but her attitude combined with my manager’s refusal to do anything at all about it was just too toxic. The screaming at me was a bridge too far, and when my manager threw up her hands again after that, I resigned and found a new job. I wouldn’t say that was the only reason I left, but it was certainly one of the final straws. It’s too bad because I really did like my job, but I just didn’t want to deal with either silence or abuse from someone I worked with pretty closely. It was lousy for my well-being and had the expected impact on my direct reports, many who quit after interacting with her. I was working a ton of hours to cover them. Jane refused to be on call when she was scheduled to be and my manager was too afraid of her to question that. I realized I would likely continue to be pulled in to cover things she refused to do, and I was already staying very late to do parts of her job that she wouldn’t do and wouldn’t discuss with me.

I suppose the moral here is that attitude issues can be a very big deal at work, and if they aren’t dealt with, people absolutely will leave over them. My new job is great so far! Thank you and the commenters for your help.

2. My employee isn’t respected by his coworkers

We went through employee reviews and I spoke to him about the concerns that were noted. I didn’t get into specific comments, just explaining that a couple users noted that they preferred to work with “Steven”, and he acknowledged the problems. We had a candid discussion about how he felt about his job and he noted that the last 2-3 years were very difficult, with him being left feeling like he didn’t have any support from above and generally didn’t feel valued. He also said that he felt like things were turning around and getting better.

I was able to share with him that I had recently received a couple comments from users – one of them a director – that they felt “Josh” seemed generally happier, more engaging, and easier to work with. Having heard many stories from many individuals about the previous manager and his attitudes and management style, I can easily see how it would leave his reports feeling frustrated and defeated. I think that Josh has some genuine personality quirks that some could find off-putting and we have discussed strategies to help interactions with people, however both he and the coworkers he interacts with seem to be doing much better as of late.

I have high hopes for the future. Both “Josh” and “Steven” have expressed that the working environment has been much improved for them, which is encouraging to me as a new manager. I’m still learning a lot and working out how to best fit my new role, but I’m very encouraged by the comments from both inside and outside my department.

3. Letting a possibly high coworker drive (#2 at the link)

While I was looking for a chance to talk to my boss, that employee took stress leave. Afterwards he and I had a long talk about the unreasonable stress and workload he had, and I advocated for some changes on his behalf. The whole company actually shifted and restructured around then. He has a manager (he didn’t before) and extra help now. I don’t talk with him as much anymore as he’s no longer my cube neighbor, but last week I heard from HR that he had removed himself from the approved driver list for 2019. He drinks heavily at work events so it’s not like stress was his whole problem but at least he seems a bit happier and less self destructive.

I have more authority now, so if anything like this happens again I’m sure it’ll go better. With the legalization of marijuana there are also new government guidelines I can make use of. And we’re having an informational lunch meeting next month with the insurance people to discuss our benefits package, including the EAP, with everyone.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter, and thanks to the readers who commented with encouragement and suggestions. I hadn’t been in my role very long and was very uncertain and hesitant. I have built up more confidence since then.

4. My coworker has called me by the wrong name for months (#3 at the link)

Last week someone who works with the coworker who kept calling me by the wrong name mentioned a Beth in an email thread, so I asked her about this, and she said the person who does the next step after my work is named Beth! Aha! I’ve never interacted with that person, so I had no idea. So this guy is still occasionally calling me the wrong name, but at least now I understand why, so it’s less annoying!

5. Coworkers are ranking the attractiveness of women in the office (#2 at the link, first update here)

I sent in ages ago about the coworkers who ranked the attractiveness of the young women employees in the office. I sent in an update a couple of weeks later, and thought about sending in another update once everything died down, but it got away from me. I also don’t think that the update itself is /super/ exciting, but given that I always love it when people send updates, I probably should send one in.

In the weeks after I sent in the update, our de-facto head (at the time) called in me and the other junior women each individually. He said that he had heard of the incredibly sexist list. He apologized that something so gross had happened, that I (and the others) was a great employee and that he hoped that what had happened wasn’t going to make me (and the others) feel like we had to leave over it. It was a very nice gesture and I appreciated it!

As for the two sexist chuckleheads, the seniors in the office lost respect for them. As I mentioned in the comments in the original post, we worked in the Federal government. We couldn’t afford to lose anyone since a lot of people left when the administration changed over. Senior employees would mention that they couldn’t believe that 1. It had happened in the first place, and 2. they would do it in such a way that it could cause people to accelerate job searches and grad school applications to get away from it. One of the two had been under consideration for hire as a senior employee once he finished his PhD. The consideration was completely dropped.

So, both of them left when their year was up. One went back to his grad program, and the other decided he couldn’t stand working under “new management” and technically left before his scheduled year. As far as I can tell, nobody put up a fuss about that.

I’ve actually left government too, but I stayed about a year longer than those two. My boss was trying to get me a huge raise and a promotion in recognition of all the work I did during the transition. He got me the raise, but unfortunately due to the government and our component being what it is, he wasn’t able to get it to come through. He did give me a fantastic reference though and encouraged me to find another position where I could continue to grow and develop. I’m in a very different field now, but I love it! I get to use my foreign language skills now and I’m solving new puzzles every day. Plus, I’m now in the same state as my fiancé(!!).

{ 47 comments… read them below }

    1. The Original K.*

      Right! What is the manager’s deal? Why is she afraid of Jane? Does Jane do a highly specialized thing that no one else in their area can do? WTF?

      1. Chriama*

        My favorite reason for managers refusing to manage is that the problem employee has “pictures of [manager] doing something unspeakable with a goat.” Hopefully the thought adds a little levity to those stuck in frustrating situations.

    2. BRR*

      I think some manager have to learn the hard way (if they learn at all), that failing to act on something because it’s hard results in more work. Replace Jane or replace a lot of other people?

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Interesting how many updates are “I realized that that bee was actually one of a swarm.”

    4. Emily K*

      LW, I hope you were able to convey to management that Jane was the reason you were leaving! I’m so glad you’re out of that situation but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Jane get her godsmacks.

  1. RG*

    I wonder how long it’ll take before someone notices the turnover for #1. OP I hope you had a chance to do an exit interview! I’d definitely let them know what was going on there. I can only imagine the light bulb moment when an HR person realizes that’s why that department is struggling with staffing.

    1. Observer*

      That’s what I was coming to say. If you had an exit interview, I hope you let whoever it is know why you are leaving.

      1. RG*

        Yeah, I think this is pretty much going to require an exit interview for HR to find out – otherwise who would actually expect a coworker to give people the silent treatment?

      2. Cheesehead*

        Ditto. As I was reading this, I was so hoping that the OP had an exit interview (with someone other than her excuse for a manager) and very specifically outlined that working in an environment where Jane’s moody whims were left unchecked was untenable. And THAT is why there was so much turnover, including the OP.

  2. animaniactoo*

    Hmmmm. I’d have been very tempted to refuse to be on call or contactable on Jane’s on-call weekend. Or to cover the other duties she refused to do. I’d become the *reasonable* problem child in every possible way to make it manager’s issue that Jane is shirking.

    OP, I’m sad to say that you’d have had to have a lot more experience with unreasonable people to know that the moment Jane pulled you into that supply closet, you needed to get out as soon as possible and refuse to discuss anything privately with her.

    Or take advantage of the fact that SHE had just given you the opportunity to threaten her privately. “Don’t ever put your hands on me again – you will NOT like the results. If you don’t want things to look bad, answer people when they talk to you because I promise you I’m not going to stop. Get used to it.” – coolly, firmly, and exit as fast as you can – and if she’s blocking the exit start calling for help. Loudly. She thought it was awkward before? Wait until she hits the unintended consequences of someone willing to escalate an issue rather than try to deflate it.

    ———————-

    (hmmm, between Jane and your former manager, you guys seem to have tripped my “stubborn determined to stand up for myself even if it means playing a little low” trigger…)

    1. The Original K.*

      As we discussed in the recent letter about the staff who knew they’d have to work holidays but refused, leaving the childless staff holding the bag: why isn’t refusing to be on call when you’re supposed to be a fireable offense? Jane’s manager sucks.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Right? Refusing to do your job, refusing to show up for scheduled hours/take an on call rotation when you know it’s your turn… You aren’t doing what they are paying you for and should be terminated.

      2. MassMatt*

        At the very least, the manager should have worked the shifts where someone n her team (i.e. Jane) is a no show. Yet another reason the manager stinks.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      This is more or less pretty much the exact same thing I was thinking. Put your hands on me? Oh hell no. Don’t like being embarrassed? Do your GD job!

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      “I’d have been very tempted to refuse to be on call or contactable on Jane’s on-call weekend.”

      And this. “Sorry but it’s not my on call weekend. I’ve made other plans for my *personal time.”*

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Pulled you into the supply closet?! That’s insane. I know hindsight is 20/20 but if anyone ever corners you again, push them if you must and leave! You are not a prisoner. Go to HR and write them up before they can start talking about how you shoved them. NOBODY is allowed to detain you unless you’re under arrest. My God, I’m relieved you left.

    1. Gumby*

      It doesn’t come up often, but someone pulling you into a supply closet against your will merits stranger-danger type behavior even at work. I mean, not “this isn’t my mommy” but a loud “let me go” or “take your hands off of me” wouldn’t be out of line IMO. Ugh. Jane is awful.

      I hope OP knows that *Jane* is the one making things weird.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      1. Touching me.
      2. Moving (“pulling”) me against my will/suddenly.
      3. Keeping me hostage.
      4. Yelling at me.
      5. Claustrophobia.

      The last one she wouldn’t be responsible for but would still be a factor. I would pretty much go medieval on her ass.

  4. Observer*

    #1 – I hope you never need this advice. But the others are right – if this kind of stuff ever happens again, and you have a boss that won’t act, go to HR or your Boss’ boss. Competent HR in a reasonably functional company will recognize that this is a legitimate problem and try to deal with it.

  5. Observer*

    #5-

    One of the two had been under consideration for hire as a senior employee once he finished his PhD. The consideration was completely dropped.

    That’s good to hear. Does this idiot realize the penalty he paid for this gross behavior?

    1. The Imperfect Hellebore*

      Let us hope so! Just going by my personal experience though, idiots like this tend to stick to the ‘it’s always someone else’s fault’ line of thinking. They gradually alienate people throughout their lives, and then wonder why they can’t keep friends, or why their careers aren’t progressing as well as they ‘should’ be.

      Obviously there are exceptions, but the really egregious ones seem to be as stubborn as they are obnoxious.

      1. OhNo*

        In my experience, folks like these misogynists will just claim it’s the women’s fault their career prospect dried up, just because they “couldn’t take a joke”. They’re wrong, of course, but like you say – to them, it’s always someone else’s fault.

        1. The Imperfect Hellebore*

          Ha, if I’ve heard “can’t you take a joke?” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. In my twenties, I was too shy and awkward to counter that stale and annoying phrase effectively, or indeed at all. In my thirties, I’m still shy and awkward sometimes, but at least now I have the confidence to respond. My favourite reply is “Yes, I can. Let me know when you tell one”.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            “Can’t you take a joke?”

            “Well…if you think about it, that face/hair/clothes/car/insert whatever here of yours that I have to look at every single day is *obviously* a joke, so yeah of course I can.”

            *Don’t actually say this. *I* would say it, but I’m not a nice person. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Possibly you are IN the Hellmouth and just got a peek at the security cameras?

      (I didn’t see one. Since they autopost to give Alison a holiday break, it could be that something popped up out of turn and was clawed back into the abyss of pending.)

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It posted out of order or something at first. It was before this morning’s short answers and I was like “omg how did I miss this until now” and then I realized there were only like 10 comments on it.

  6. MassMatt*

    #1 this additional info about Jane refusing to do her work (and your having to do it!) makes it clear the situation there was far far worse than simply Jane being immature. And your manager was an ineffectual coward. Sad that this could go on so blatantly and be ignored. Your old boss deserves Jane!

  7. That One Person*

    I can understand not feeling chummy with someone cause of an infraction or what have you, but given how she was dealing with it I’ll bet that anything anybody did was ridiculously minor. “Beth coughed/sniffed in an obnoxious manner. Time to give her the silent treatment!” “Joe sipped his coffee a little too loud, silent treatment time!” Though honestly at this point it just sounds like everything was a reason to shirk her duties. But I have one question: why on EARTH wasn’t it already awkward when she’d ignore people at meetings?! I keep imagining at least a handful or more of people, but maybe it was just the three – LW, Jane, and the manager. If there were more though this would’ve already looked awkward…no?

    Oh well, hopefully at some point someone realizes there’s an issue when it’s just Jane and she goes AWOL while on call.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Yup. Although it sucks they couldn’t be fired, I am still glad management STILL hit them where it hirt by denying them a promotion.

      Especially with our… current members of the government, I think more organizations should not be associated with sexual harassment.

  8. Preggers*

    Wow reading #5 made me have an OMG moment. I’ve seen commentators often say when you are in a toxic environment you don’t really realize how crazy things are. In college I worked at a place that was fueled with sexism. I was threatened by HR for bringing up a harassment claim, to give you an idea of the workplace.

    One summer we had a bunch of young male seasonal employees. My co-worker decided we should create a top 10 hottie list. This was known by all staff. And our manager actually sucked up to us hoping he would make the list. I totally forgot about this until now. Eeek I’d never even consider doing anything like this at any of my other jobs. But there, it was just a normal thing.

  9. I’m actually a squid*

    Related to #3, I just got a Christmas present from the couple who own my favorite cafe next door to my work. I really thought the husband’s name was Mark. It’s not…

    1. It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon!*

      I misread your comment as “I just got a Christmas present FOR the couple” and really REALLY hoped you didn’t get them something with their names on it!

  10. JB*

    #1 – Why would you let her pull you aside and scream at you in private? If she wants to scream at you, she can do it in front of everyone.

  11. Corby*

    It legitimately concerns me sometimes how this site handles some of these stories about hard-to-deal-with coworkers.
    Not one single person brings up the possibility of an untreated personality disorder? Your coworker could be legitimately suffering. A lot of the advice given (incl. by Allison) could actually exacerbate matters.
    You might want to think twice if you really know what you’re dealing with here.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Not only are we not supposed to armchair diagnose people, but it kind of doesn’t matter. If your untreated personality disorder is causing you to stand on my foot, you still need to get off my foot. I’m in favor of considering root causes and being empathetic when asking a person to get off my foot rather than just shoving them off, but still- the end result needs to be that you and your untreated personality disorder get off my foot.

    2. Observer*

      So, firstly, as mentioned Allison asks that we don’t armchair diagnose. Aside from the fact that this is her site and she gets to set the rules, making these diagnosis based just on what we get from a posting is unethical and unwise.

      Now, assuming you actually know that this person has some sort of personality disorder, what exactly are you expecting the co-workers to do? People cannot be expected to accept abuse or to accept the burden of other people’s work. It’s just not reasonable or realistic. So, what are the options?

  12. Close Bracket*

    OP #4:

    Yeah, lol, another case of women being conflated into some kind of borg woman. I’m sorry.

  13. Chriama*

    #3 – I re-read the first short answer question in the original link and now I wish we had an update for that. Employer was suing an employee’s daughter and making the employee miserable so he’d quit and they wouldn’t have to pay unemployment — I wish there was an update for that.

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