our weird and incompetent temp keeps getting rehired

A reader writes:

I changed jobs about a year ago to escape a toxic workplace. While I feel valued at my new job by my coworkers and manager, I still have that “I’m new, I don’t want to make waves” mentality. A few weeks after I started here, they hired a temp to catch up on the workload, since my post had been vacant for almost a year.

The temp is WEIRD and incompetent (incompotemp?). And yet, they keep re-hiring her for chunks of 2-3 months at a time.

Here are a few examples of the weird things she does:

• Says the government creates natural disasters to “cull the herd.”
• Talks about sexual things during group lunches, such as the consistency of, uh, male fluids pre-and-post vasectomy.
• Claims she was an army spy in an era when she would have been a toddler.

And examples of what I perceive as incompetence:

• Is extremely slow. For example, dossiers that take pros about 30 minutes and newbies about 60 minutes will take her an entire day, despite all the practice.
• Claims to be a “details girl,” misses a LOT of details. For example, the table of contents on multiple projects she’s worked on doesn’t work because she never bothered checking the links.
• Writes very strangely and not concisely. This example is made up, but I swear, I’m in NO WAY exaggerating: “Secondly, I identified a discrepancy in how the spelling of AnimalCrackers was written in the bottom-right corner of the footer of the Animal Crackers page, whereby the ‘c’ in crackers is lowercase whereas it should be modified to reflect an uppercase ‘C’.” Instead of just saying, “In the footer of page (link) Animalcrackers should be AnimalCrackers.”
• Sends long emails correcting others on inconsequential stuff, cc’s everyone. For example, lists all the typos in an internal process document sent to us by IT (in the same way as detailed above), cc’ing the team, the IT guy, our manager, the IT manager.
• Asks questions and will go to someone else if you don’t hand-hold her. For example she couldn’t see the lion crackers folder. I explained it was a permissions problem and she had to open a ticket with IT because they have a dedicated team that works on the animal crackers folders. I sent her the link. She said okay. Minutes later, I heard her asking another temp about it. When he couldn’t help, I heard her pulling her friend from IT to her desk and asking him to fix it. He explained the same thing (about having to open a ticket & the dedicated animal crackers team separate from them). SHE ASKED HIM WHERE TO FIND THE IT TICKETING SYSTEM. You know, the link I sent her.
• Constantly calls me over to help her with things she should know how to fix. It’s not that I mind helping, but it’s always dumb stuff like “The animal crackers statistics aren’t working!” I pull up a chair and see she forgot to plug in the animal tail sizes. Over. And over. And over again.

I’m not in a position where I’m her supervisor, although I often QA her work, and in the absence of the team lead, I’m in charge. I don’t know if it’s my place to say something. What do you think?

Also: she applied for a year-long assignment that might become a permanent position, and boy howdy I’m not sure I can handle her as a permanent fixture on the team. What do I do?

I get so many questions that are a variation of “should I tell my boss about serious problems with a coworker’s work?” but yours is by far the most interesting and entertaining, so thank you for that.

The answer to the basic question of whether to share this kind of thing with a manager is nearly always: You absolutely, 100% can give your boss a discreet heads-up about serious problems that you are noticing in a coworker’s work.

I know that the conventional wisdom is “if it doesn’t affect you or your work, stay out of it” … but that’s really about things like “Jane is five minutes late every day” or “Bob has a nest of old soda cans under his desk” or “Cecil has a different style with clients than I do.”

When someone has serious performance issues, that’s something your manager would want to know about. Not in a “Jane sucks!” kind of way, but a professionally delivered, discreet, one-time heads-up about something that appears serious to you and that she might not have noticed. (And yes, it’s odd that your manager hasn’t picked up on this yet, but maybe she has much less contact with the temp than you do … or figures being weird is no crime and doesn’t realize there are actual performance issues too.)

Here’s how I’d say it: “I’m not sure if this is something I should mention to you or not, but I think it’s having enough work impact that I should. I’ve noticed some concerning things about Jane’s work. Dossiers that would normally take 30-60 minutes are taking all day, and she’s regularly missing details like X and Y. It seems like she’s not retaining pretty fundamental information — she’s asked me to help her fix the same problem over and over. I know she was brought on as a temp to help catch up on the workload after my position had been open for so long, and I’m not sure what the plan is for whether we’ll continue to renew that contract, but these seem like serious enough concerns that I wanted to bring them to your attention.”

(In fact, you have extra standing to bring this up because she was brought on to help catch up on your workload. I assume that means you have particular insight into how helpful she is or isn’t being.)

Now, in this language, note that I’m leaving out the interpersonal weirdness. That doesn’t rise to the level of a manager needing to know the way the rest does. (Although if she’s talking about semen at lunch, you have every right to tell her to stop and to escalate it if she continues to talk sex at work.)

And then from there, it’s up to your manager what to do. If she’s a weak manager, she may not address it, and there’s not much else you can do at that point. It’s reasonable and appropriate to raise the work issues once, but it’s not something you should harp on after that, as long as you think you covered the full scope of the problems. (The exception to that is if your manager seems very concerned and says she’ll address it and you don’t see any changes. Sometimes a manager thinks she’s addressed something, doesn’t realize the problem is continuing, and appreciates a heads-up that it’s still ongoing. This can be tricky though; you have to be able to tell the difference between “truly wanted to address it, thinks she did, and would very much want to know what’s happening now” and “did the minimum and doesn’t want to deal with it again.”)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 412 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    (Although if she’s talking about semen at lunch, you have every right to tell her to stop and to escalate it if she continues to talk sex at work.)

    This is a thing that had to be said! I cannot.

    The writing strangely and not concisely might not be a big deal, but if the idea is that she’s helping you get caught up and her work takes 2, 3, 4x as long as it should (and it’s sloppy to boot), I definitely think that’s worth raising. Does she have a special skill set that’s hard to find in your area? I wonder if that’s why she keeps getting hired.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, sex talk is a work no-no, but you can be a conspiracy-theory nutjob who makes up a spy past if you want to. Heck, it beat Brenda’s constant nattering about her battle to make her 4-year-old eat greens, or whatever.

      1. Mike C.*

        Personally I can’t tolerate conspiracy theorists either. That sort of lack of critical thinking has far ranging problems.

            1. Snark*

              It’s not lack of education. Many conspiratorial thinkers are very knowledgeable. It’s perceived lack of agency and autonomy in the world, combined with lack of durable social connections, leading to embracing a worldview were one is part of a small, enlightened community in possession of the real truth that explains why everything sucks.

              1. fposte*

                I also think that there’s a bit of a wiring thing–it’s finding patterns, which we’re built to do. There’s an interesting-looking British book about the psychology of conspiracy theory called “Suspicious Minds,” and the tagline is “We’re all conspiracy theorists. Some of us just hide it better than others.”

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll check it out. I’ve always been fascinated by the obsessions folks think up since I have a few of my own (music and art, fairly normal, but still) and wonder when I start getting too hardcore with it because I can be incredibly stubborn. And perhaps bored. Gah. Soon maybe I’ll think Bach was an alien, who knows!

              2. Busy*

                Yes! Fun Fact:

                Before Alex Jones became some kind spokes person for the far right, he was just … well … a spokes person for conspiracy theories. But the interesting part was that NONE of his theories were based on anything made up. He actually knew a lot more about history, government activity, and documented cover-up more than anyone. So he was well educated, but it was his INTERPRETATION of those facts that has always been suspect.

                1. GreenDoor*

                  It’s also the way the media presents information today. There must be a side for every issue. . The media guy will interview, say a scientist, who has studied the issue for decades, had papers published, did numerous experiments, etc. then they’ll turn to some loudmouth who spent their professional life as, say, a dental hygenist, who throws out a few one liners to contradict actual science so we can get their “side” and then it’s up to the viewer to choose which “side” they believe. Which is the exact opposite of what critical thinking is aobut.

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  +1000 to GreenDoor

                  I’m a fairly knowledgeable person (I think…) with not a lot of social connections and not much of a sense that I have much effect on the world, but I’m not ranting about the government making natural disasters to cull the herd or .as shootings being false flags or anything like that. I think some people are just overly fond of being contrarian and being one of the few sooper speshul people who Knows What’s Going On.

              3. Pippa*

                Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics is a classic from the 60s that describes this really well, too. (Sorry if this is a bit off topic!)

              4. MattKnifeNinja*

                The biggest Flat Earther/Conspiracy Theorist I know is a a internist who has a practice just down the street from me.

                Go figure…

                1. AnnaBananna*


                  Actually, I’m not surprised. I just watched a youtube video this morning about the President of the Pediatrics Society (an uber peds md) who said all of society was simply enabling trans people, who are just victims of mental illness. I had hoped the comments would be shaming her bigotry, but alas a lot of folks commended her, and a few mentioned being flat-earthers. *eyeroll*

                2. S.Wench*

                  This is to AnnaBananna, but unfortunately I cannot nest further.

                  Re: “I just watched a youtube video this morning about the President of the Pediatrics Society (an uber peds md) who said all of society was simply enabling trans people, who are just victims of mental illness. ”

                  Do you mean the American College of Pediatricians? That’s an extreme right wingnut organization, and its president is not an “uber peds md” — just another wingnut.

                  They are very much **not affiliated with or anything similar to** the American Academy of Pediatrics. Totally different levels of respectability. As a side note, the AAP at its very origin deliberately chose to be an organization dedicated to “pediatrics,” not pediatricians. The split from the AMA occurred after the AMA led a movement to crush universal healthcare, back in the late 1920s.

                  Some links:

                  1. “Speaking of bad science, never trust the American College of Pediatricians.” https://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/03/28/speaking-of-bad-science-never-trust-the-american-college-of-pediatricians

                  2. “Hate group masquerading as pediatricians attacks transgender youth.” https://thinkprogress.org/hate-group-masquerading-as-pediatricians-attacks-transgender-youth-544e755c6a20/

              5. SavannahMiranda*

                Agreed. So much. There’s also a comfort level thing about conspiracy theories.

                The complex, modern world operates on the edge of chaos on a daily basis. That’s horrifying to really perceive. Some retreat into the comfort of believing there is a cabal, a secret cohort, a Big Group of Somebody In Charge.

                Because even though the secret cabal is evil, at least someone is running the show. Someone is responsible for things. We can track down the ennui, alienation, surveillance, and disenfranchisement to someone and lay it at their feet. Instead of the truth of the matter that no one person or group is in charge of the whole show.

                Conspiracy theories, for all of their appearance of belief in destabilization, are actually a retreat to a sort of deep comfort.

                1. Jennifer Juniper*

                  OP, your co-worker sounds horrifying. However, I was actually relieved to read that she believes that the government creates natural disasters to cull the herd. On the first reading, I thought the co-worker welcomed natural disasters as a way to cull the herd and thought she was an Ayn Rand clone.

              6. ThatGirl*

                Yep, my uncle is a very intelligent lawyer and a real conspiracy nut, apparently being a straight white guy makes him oppressed.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Straight white men are often treated badly by employers, society, etc. I think *everyone* has felt used and abused by an employer, for example.
                  The problem is with the culture itself. Some groups are more oppressed than others, but everyone is feeling it.

              7. Bee*

                A lot of it feels like ego feeding, they feel special for ‘knowing the truth’ versus the other people who don’t. There was a great doco dispelling the Ancient Aliens one that made me laugh, especially about the medieval paintings supposedly of spacecraft that were actually just symbols of the sun and moon, as was popular at that time :P

          1. Zombeyonce*

            I mean, if I don’t warn everyone about the lizard people im the government, how can I call myself patriotic and a real American?

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Agreed, also the “I was a spy,” is either a red-flag that the temp is delusional or a compulsive liar, both traits are problematic going forward at work.

          1. AKchic*

            Yeah, there are a *lot* of issues at play here… but the spy thing when she would have been a toddler screams Bigger Problems Than We Can Tackle Here.

            Example: My 1st ex-husband claimed he was army. I have absolutely no verifiable proof of this because of our age differences (he would have been in the service while I was in kindergarten). He claimed he was in Panama. Problem is, when you do the math, he would have been 17, and when he was called out on it, he deflected and dropped the subject. He had many reasons for why he has no memorabilia from his service (an ex burned everything), why he doesn’t get his DD-214 from the VA so he can get any kind of help.
            Now he tells people he served in Vietnam. He would have been 5 when it ended. When he’s called out on that, he claims head injuries have him confused.

            1. Not Australian*

              My uncle used to tell people he’d been in the SAS. He made the mistake of doing this in a pub full of real SAS people and it wasn’t pretty.

              1. AKchic*

                In the US, stolen valor is supposed to be A Thing, but really, unless the liar is accepting financial help, there’s not much anyone can do, unless someone takes it upon themselves to dole out some street justice.

            2. Cactus*

              One of my ex’s friends claimed he was in the Army. (He claimed A LOT of things.) I don’t think he ever mentioned having served in a specific war. But he claimed to have served at age…13. And that he was blind from birth but the Army gave him bionic eyes.

              All kinds of weirdos out there.

      2. Jennifer*

        I agree, if you entertain me, lie away in the breakroom if you want. My husband had a coworker who claimed to be royalty and the ex-husband of celebrity that was popular in the 80’s. It was hilarious. Just do your job properly and let me do mine in peace.

        1. Kevin*

          My wife has a co-worker who tells elaborate talltales daily. She’s married to a Navy SEAL who also has done underwear modeling (we live thousand of miles away from the nearest Navy base), she has a medical degree (job is not healthcare related and she makes substantially less than a doctor would), she lives in a huge Victorian mansion she inherited but it’s in the ghetto (no such place exists in our city), she owns a fleet of luxury cars but drives a beat up old Ford to work because it’s cheap on gas and the kicker, her family has billions in generational wealth in European trust funds they can’t access because her mother changed her last name when she got married.

          It drives my wife crazy but the office mostly tolerates her as amusing. People have tried to pin down her stories and try to point fallacies and she just gets upset and complaints with HR over harassment (a waste of time for all) so everybody lets her be.

          1. Jennifer*

            I’m going to go driving through the ghetto to find me one of those Victorian mansions. Sounds like a steal.

          2. Artemesia*

            years ago I was at a conference of political scientists and met this interesting middle aged guy who had interesting stories about working with the Kennedys and various important involvements in important well known events and issues. It was not impossible to believe. As I got to know him it became clear he was delusional and as a tenured faculty member who was mild mannered he was tolerated and steered out of important work in the department. What did they assign him? Why advising students and teaching intro classes. I was gobsmacked as this is the way to attract students into your dying major — strong advising and engaging intro classes. Maybe he was engaging in the classroom; tall tales can be.

            1. Pippa*

              er…I think I actually worked with this chap! Or, depressingly, there’s more than one of him. It came to a bit of a head in our department when a job candidate mentioned over lunch “the faculty member here who handled the .” Um, that’s not someone in this department…. “No, I’m sure it is; he was telling me about his work for the UN and how he’s called in on major conflicts.” Moment of silence at the table while we all wondered how to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s Dr. X. He’s a loon. None of that is true.”

              Eventually I just said, “Oh, yeah, that’s Dr. X. He’s a loon. None of that is true.” Academia has its share of eccentrics; might as well acknowledge it.

              1. Pippa*

                oops, forgot about punctuation reading as html tags. That should be “faculty member who handled the (specific major international peace agreement).

          3. AnnaBananna*

            Maybe she ought to have been a writer. Some of those lies would make exceptional romance tropes. Juuuust sayin’.

        2. SavannahMiranda*

          A friend of mine dated the eldest son of a Duke. Of a long since disenfranchised European family. I think the dad, the Duke himself, was a small business owner or something. The young future duke was in college, as any American kid would be. They were any typical middle-class American family. Who happened to have an obsolete Italian title. It was hilarious. And true, I think. Royalty, they really are just like us!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I knew a guy once who claimed to have descended from Dukes. He was from Georgia (the country in Europe, not the US state), and my understanding is that the country did indeed have a rather huge number of Dukes, so he was probably not making it up. We did not date, because I had a fiance, which was one of the first things I’d told him when we met. My roommate and I had him over for tea once. I went to his place with a return visit, and it turned out that his dukeship (or whatever the term is) was expecting more than tea; despite knowing that I was less than a year away from getting married. He was very angry about being told no. Must be a duke thing! /s I never saw him again.

        3. Chickflix*

          I used to work overnights at a newspaper, 9pm to 5am sending out the newspapers to the delivery tucks. I had a coworker who constantly talked about her “day job” where she supposedly earned $100,000+ a year (we earned slightly above minimum wage). The said only reason she worked with us is because she liked to keep busy. She would never tell us what that job was, just that she worked 9am-5pm there. Her car was barely driveable and saying she didn’t look like a professional is putting it mildly.

          Anytime a supervisor asked her to do something she didn’t want to do, she would threaten to quit on the spot because she “didn’t need this job.” Eventually the bosses would call her bluff, but she never did quit.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Of course, when there really is a day job someone won’t get specific about, it may not be legal…

    2. Anon for this*

      We had a coworker who did that at a joint team lunch.

      None of the teams at the lunch were his. He’d crashed it.

      HR was notified immediately and the guy stayed with us for another year, because why not?!

    3. Liane*

      Yes. At least everything (but the sex/semen stuff) has novelty–unlike anyone babbling about all the things someone, of any age, will/won’t eat.

      However, Mike C, I do share your annoyance at conspiracy theorists for exactly those reasons. Plus–borrrrrrring. Now I might give some credit, and maybe even 1 breaktime worth of tolerance, if it’s one I haven’t heard before… like please tell me more about how yellow-bellied seasnake populations are being manipulated to illegally increase chocolate production and how this is tied into random Famous Crime with Political Overtones.

    4. incompetemp's colleague*

      One of my big problems with the way she writes is that I’m sure it takes her forever to write that, and it takes us that much longer to figure out what she means and what she wants fixed.

      …when he ACTUAL work is waiting for her.

      She doesn’t have a specific skillset. In fact, for a special project we were working on a few months back, we “borrowed” a few non-techy people from the official writing QA team to do some techy stuff for us. All three got an hour-long crash course on how to do the techy thing. All three were able to do it in 40-to-60 minutes whereas incompetemp takes a whole day. It’s mind-boggling.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          She has no writing/editing side tasks. For anything visible to the “public”, we have a dedicated QA and editing team that go over things with a fine tooth comb. She points out mistakes in internal stuff, such as, say, a process document on how to use the printer.

          I -think- she does it because she wants to make herself appear more valuable, but that’s just an assumption on my part, though it would explain why she CCs the bosses.

      1. Longwinded*

        I have a bad tendency to be longwinded and since it’s my natural style, it’s the quickest way for me to write. If I try to make something shorter, it can take me hours and then sometimes it ends up longer when I’m done. I’m working hard on it, and I have a text file called “how to be concise.txt” which is a saved comment with instructions from a comment on an askamanager post that I read some years ago that I refer to now and then.

        I think it’s likely that this person cannot write in a more concise way, or can’t do it easily. This probably means that writing isn’t the right job for them.

    5. AKchic*

      Yes. When she brings up explicit topics, you have every right (in the moment) to say “that is inappropriate and *not* something I want to hear while eating/on the job/at the office/whatever, so please stop.” (feel free to leave out “please”)

    6. From That Guy*

      Alison, you are a dear however I respectfully disagree with your wording to the manager.

      Don’t waffle or apologize. Simply state “I want to bring this to your attention regarding Tempo#1’s work, here are the issues:

      1. Turns in material 5 times longer that required.
      2. Is consistently sloppy.
      3. Etc.. Just state the facts and that it is causing disruption in the workflow.

      The more you can state what it is costing the company the better. As far as personal matters, I fully agree with Alison, not an issue to bring up. Good luck.


  2. SpiderLadyCEO*

    Talking about sex at work is weird, but the level of specificity OP mentions is…weirder.

    Also, saying that the government is engineering natural disasters is bizarre and scary, and that sort of comment alone would warrant talking to her boss, I would think?

    I don’t know if the intern just likes to say offensive things, but that sounds like something that needs to be addressed.

    1. Sunny*

      It’s serious enough to mention, IMO, because how can you trust the judgment of a person who says the government engineers natural disasters?

      1. Snark*

        It’s already clear that her judgement is off in ways that directly affects the functioning of the office, so why not lean in on those?

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I think it totally depends what her job is. You probably don’t want a client-facing engineer saying this, but perhaps it’s not a big deal if it’s your document filing clerk.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          We’re web developers. So the crazy theories don’t affect the work directly, it’s still…just so darn weird.

          1. it's me*

            A web developer who doesn’t understand the concepts of permissions or opening a support ticket seems wildly unskilled to me.

            1. bluephone*

              It reminds me of later-season Kimmy Schmidt episodes when her coworkers at Giztoob realize how little Kimmy knows about the internet

      3. Zillah*

        I think that there are a lot of people with wacky beliefs, though – anti-vaxxers, UFO conspiracy theorists, etc, etc. Reporting them to your boss is generally going to come across as petty.

        1. Amber T*

          Agreed – if she were a good worker, I don’t think these things would warrant talking to your/her boss (maybe the sex stuff). Talking about weird stuff would just mean I’d try to avoid her non-work conversations, which isn’t necessarily the best thing, but I think we all have people in our offices we don’t want to get stuck on an elevator with. But coupled with the weird stuff + she can’t do her job… that just makes her incompetence seem worse.

        2. Busy*

          Yeah there are varying levels of conspiracy belief systems. I mean there is a thought that, with some semblance of “proof”, turns into a belief. And then there are full on delusions. You can’t really tell the difference just by these quotes alone. Heck, I once had a friend who for years everyone thought she was just making up stories about being abducted by aliens repeatedly. Turns out, these abductions were just the early manifestations of a serious mental health issue. I also once worked with a guy who was convinced he could suddenly speak German one day (he couldn’t) because he had ancestors who were from Germany. Otherwise, he could do his job just fine. So really it is dependent on a lot of things how big of a deal to make that to your boss and almost every single one is dependent upon how it affects her job performance anyway. Right now, she is not saying it in front of clients and hasn’t been told to stop by the OP (for the sex talk), so it is really not a “go tell ASAP” situation.

          And btw I work as an analyst and manage teams and people and work on many cross functional teams – and I totally believe in the existence of Aliens. Governments are releasing too much info these days to deny it!!!!!! LMAO

          1. incompetemp's colleague*

            “I also once worked with a guy who was convinced he could suddenly speak German one day (he couldn’t)”

            Thanks for that. I nearly spat out my water. LOL

            1. Clay on my apron*

              So, was not-German coming out of his mouth? A different language? Just random sounds? The mind boggles!

              1. Busy*

                Here’s the thing. You could tell by his expression and demeanor that some part of him at least desperately wanted to believe this was true. That one day he just woke up and BAM – German coming out. But at the same time, it was like his mind knew enough not to actually TRY to speak this German in front of other people less he failed to produce the miracle. And honestly, everyone was so mixed in feeling after his proclamation (during lunch), that no one even bothered to challenge him. It was like everyone made a collective note of “That is not how that works. Avoid talking about languages from now on” and just went one with eating.

                The human mind is such a complex place.

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Unless they have a belief that could be detrimental to their job somehow, I agree.

          Like, I don’t think a vocal anti-vaxxer should be working in a pediatrician’s office. Or in public health policy. And maybe no UFO conspiracy theorists at NASA.

          1. many bells down*

            Yeah my brother’s an anti-vaxxer (and he has kids, ugh) but it doesn’t affect his work as a very competent auto mechanic.

        4. Mazzy*

          Yes, especially since there are bigger fish to fry, and even in the list you just gave, there are wildly different levels, from crazy to non crazy. For example, you include UFOs on the list when there are hundreds of not thousands of unexplained sitings and adbductions. So if someone came to me with UFOs as proof someone was crazy, I probably wouldn’t even understand why they were bringing it up. Then there’s the whole “conspiracy theories that turned out to be true” thing, with documents being declassified decades after the idea was seen as crazy. Not sure the man made disasters falls into this bucket, but it’s definitely subjective and not where I’d start.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            As I mentioned below, it could be twisting of reports about govt. or national policies contributing to natural disasters like the Dust Bowl.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Or government inaction on climate change leading to escalating frequency and severity of natural disasters?

          2. Busy*

            Haha actually where it comes from is based on weather modification (cloud seeding) and the belief that the technology the government shows you is far behind the technology they actually have. So manipulating weather is an actual “thing” that currently is done on some scale. Those who believe the government controls the weather are going off the assumption stated above. Also, the government has performed some well known experiments for things like storm control. So yeah, I mean when you look at it like that, it is not hard to see how people make the leap. It is like when people here read way more into a letter than what is actually there.

    2. Snark*

      I really don’t think so. I mean, it’s bizarre and paranoid and bespeaks a seriously nonconsensus understanding of the world, but it’s not like she’s threatening violence.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I don’t think that the comments about natural disasters are something you raise with the boss, unless you work in field such as disaster relief where it would be work related.
      I mean, yes, it is bizarre, but not relevant to her work.
      I would be more likely to raise the issue of her discussing sexual issues as that may get into sexual harassment, particularly if she continues after being asked not to.

      1. incompetemp's colleague*

        That’s a good point. And even the inappropriate talk, I suppose ins’t THAT much of an issue considering it was during lunch as opposed to, like, in a board room meeting.

        1. Doodle*

          At lunch is just as much of an issue. It’s inappropriate and potentially harassing / contributing to a hostile work environment. That one has to stop immediately.

          1. RUKidding*

            Yup. That would bother me…a lot. Much more so than thinking the government controls the weather.

            It’s sexual in nature, therefore a Big Deal and never, ever appropriate. She needs to be told (told, not requested) to cease immediately.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s still not appropriate for the workplace. Even if the coworker she was talking with is her BFF from childhood, I’m sure nobody else in the lunchroom wants to hear it.

          Btw, I’m dying over “incompotemp.”

        3. Parenthetically*

          Nah, it’s incredibly inappropriate no matter when or where it’s happening. “Whoa, no! Why would you think that’s an appropriate subject for conversation at work? I do not want to hear anything about that again, ever.”

        4. Indie*

          I think that’s particularly gross. So much so I wouldn’t even feel awkward saying ‘Hey can we not talk about semen at lunch?’ because I would so clearly be right. In the boardroom you’d be more inclined to think she just shot herself in the head but you’d have to defer to whoever was leading the meeting.

      2. Sara without an H*

        True. You want to avoid giving the impression that your comments about her work are fed by bias. Always stick to the stuff that impacts the job.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Conspiracy theories about the weather still blow my mind and I had those people who believe the government controls how much rain their region gets :( Thankfully they’re all hermits and nobody has to work with them.

      1. Positive Reframer*

        Is it really any different than the pervasive understanding that some sort of spirit controls the weather (who can usually be appeased/manipulated in some way that will result in more favorable conditions)? The government is just the latest manifestation of that tendency.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          The government has done things like seeding clouds to help it rain… take that and run with it…

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Yeah, but doing that is essentially like… speeding up a fruit ripening by putting it in a paper bag. You can slightly change when the apple is edible, you can’t turn an apple into an orange though.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Yes… to a person who wants to believe in conspiracies about the weather, it’s a seed…

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Idk why you had to bring up spirituality which bleeds into religion but it’s grossly inappropriate to start traveling down that path.

          Now you’re steering it into conspiracy theorists being a protected class, so now there’s nothing to complain about though…

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Eh, every time there’s a major national disaster, there’s some religious figure claiming immorality is the root cause and it’s God’s righteous wrath that punished… mostly people who just happen to be too poor to evacuate, so I can see the connection.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Although these figures never seem to blame immorality when such a disaster occurs in a Red state. Funny, that.

        3. pleaset*

          “Is it really any different than the pervasive understanding that some sort of spirit controls the weather (who can usually be appeased/manipulated in some way that will result in more favorable conditions)?”


    5. Yet another Sara*

      I disagree that that part is serious enough to mention. I definitely think that people who believe that kind of thing are not quite in touch with reality, but unless their work is directly related to natural disasters (or whatever other topics she believes conspiracy theories about), I don’t see how it affects her work or how bringing it up along with LW’s more relevant complaints would help.

    6. pentamom*

      While the government conspiracy stuff is definitely weird, I don’t think it’s actually dangerous. Unfortunately large numbers of people walk around believing stuff like that but would never take any violent action based on it. I think it’s often excuse-making for a sense of helplessness about life.

      Saying incredible things about her past, though, would be more of a yellow flag to me. If she wants everybody around her to believe impossible things about herself, how unlikely is it that she is in the habit of lying about all manner of things to make herself look good, in a way that could affect her work, or might relate to the job qualifications she reported before being hired?

    7. Labradoodle Daddy*

      I disagree with everyone above, that lack of basic common sense and judgement would make me extremely wary to trust this person with…. anything. I’d never keep a conspiracy nut on my payroll.

      1. JSPA*

        I’d focus on the unkindness, frankly. Whether it’s believing that someone’s mom could have cured their cancer if only they’d visualized hard enough, or that a deity brought flooding down on a region to punish the sinful, or that the government is causing the polar vortex to deviate by pushing a button so as to get rid of the weak…those are all terribly unkind statement to make, out loud, at work.

        IMHO, there are nuanced versions of “the government is causing.” Decades of world bank policies have encouraged and continue to encourage dam building that leads to silting upstream and drought downstream. Global warming is affected by our choice of fuels, which in turn is partially controlled and certainly affected by public policies. The Army Corps of Engineers similarly spent decades turning rivers with floodplains into narrow channels (which now have to be remediated to deal with greater floods). People use the land differently when fish stocks are depleted, or when fish are killed by nitrogen run-off creating giant dead zones. Trade laws do affect which products reach which countries (and thus, what plants and animals live or die, with all the ecological implications). Many countries are quietly helping people relocate from some of the lowest-lying islands in the world, having decided that we will not, in fact, reverse climate change in time to save that land. Local, State and Federal governments have indeed designated land for [isotope enrichment / chemical processing plants / etc] in areas they considered either “low value” or “places where people need(ed) the jobs.” There’s a real difference in intention between “a cull” and “valuing some communities more than others”–but if your community is on the receiving end of atomic testing (Bikini Atoll) or a hexavalent chromium groundwater plume, or downwind from Hanford or from the Salton Sea dust plume or (the list goes on and on)…it can look much the same.

    8. Michaela Westen*

      It sounds like she may have twisted reports that government/national policies sometimes contribute to natural disasters, like the Dust Bowl.

    9. Shirley Keeldar*

      Yeah, the natural disasters thing would upset me, and I’m kind of surprised at how many people here would shrug it off. (Not saying y’all are wrong, just that I didn’t expect it.) If I’m watching footage of horrible tsunamis or earthquakes somewhere and she’s nattering on about “cull the herd” as if all those poor people who died were just not strong or smart or well-evolved enough to survive and sure, it’s sad, but the rest of us (the herd, I guess) are really all better off now—I really don’t want to work next to that. Ugh.

      1. Novellaidea*

        I once asked my boss how to handle a situation where my co-workers (I did not name names) were spending work time talking about how Sandy Hook was fake and they were laughing about dead kids and it was just really upsetting. I just wanted some advice from someone who knows the employees. She just told me to do what I’d already done (ask them to stop) and then went around and told everyone I was complaining about them.

        Coupled with the HRC sticker on my car and the fact that I turned in a trainer for telling a black man he couldn’t sit in the front but had to “sit in the back of the bus,” I was labeled a troublemaker and they tried to keep me from getting hired at my next job (I don’t know why considering they didn’t want me with them!). My boss at my new job (this was years ago) told me not to trust one of my co-workers because she came to my boss with concerns about me being a troublemaker and about my perceived sexuality. Ugh.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I didn’t know there are people who believe Sandy Hook was fake. That explains a lot!
          It sounds like they were trying to punish you for not following their lead by interfering with your next job. It really sucks there are people like that.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Busy above mentions Alex Jones in re: conspiracy theorists. He was the primary peddler of that particularly heinous “theory.”

          2. SavannahMiranda*

            Parents of the children who died at Sandy Hook have sued Alex Jones for peddling this abusive, horrifying, deeply disturbed misinformation. Especially because his followers will and do harass and abuse the targets he identifies. It damages my slight bit of remaining faith in people.

          3. C Baker*

            Oh, yes, quite a lot of people.

            I read this very interesting (and sad) article in The Guardian a year back about a man whose son died at Sandy Hook and who has spent the past several years trying to take down the conspiracy theorists (many of whom have threatened his life). Interestingly, he used to be really big into conspiracy theories before all this happened. There was a very telling quote where he said that even though he KNEW it was garbage, every once in a while he found himself wondering if, in fact, his son was the only one who had died. It’s almost like thinking in conspiracy theory terms is an addiction, not that he or the writer framed it that way

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Yes, I can see that. Sort of like pretending to be a detective, following a conspiracy theory can be exciting. It could be addictive like other exciting things are.

          4. TardyTardis*

            We had a sheriff in Roseburg, Oregon who believed Sandy Hook was fake–till he attended the funerals of his friends after the Umpqua Community College shooting.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Wow. I’m sorry you worked with scum. Sandy Hook “truthers” are the lowest of the low, and that racist comment on the bus is shockingly disgusting.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Or implying those poor people were murdered. Either one is… not helpful and distressing.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        I work for a public-facing government department. I was once helping a customer file some paperwork and she treated me to a delightful monologue about how the federal government is plotting to give the entire country cancer by forcing us to get documents notarized, because the notary will take your fingerprint with an inkpad that’s laced with mercury. So when I read the OP’s description of incompetemp’s weather conspiracy theory, my brain basically just went “yup, that’s a thing a conspiracy theorist would believe.” But I can see how it would be more upsetting for a person who doesn’t interact with conspiracy theorists regularly.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          What, no chemtrails? I mean, when the conspiracy theorists go in for secret chemicals that are supposed to do X, Y, and Z to us, they typically go straight to the trails of exhaust dumped off the back of commercial jets and military planes crisscrossing America. It’s daft AF but a thing.

      4. Observer*

        Well, maybe she thinks that “culling the herd” is a terrible thing to do.

        In any case, people say a lot of very unkind things – that’s not something that you bring to your boss unless they are saying this to clients.

        And, given the work issues that the OP describes, you also REALLY don’t want to get sidetracked by the things you really can’t tune out.

    10. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I once saw an application from someone who actually said that most of the human race should die for environmental reasons and she hoped for a pandemic of some sort (no, not that people should have fewer children so the human population becomes smaller for environmental reasons, which I’d actually agree with). I was seriously disturbed, and this kind of reminds me of that.

      I also once worked for a vocal, proselytizing 9/11 truther. His conspiracy rants probably drove off most of the business’s respectable clients, which probably contributed to us not getting paid. So being a conspiracy theorist can really interfere with your job duties. It’s also just a big red flag for me that says “this person has awful judgment, and is probably just outright bad.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve actually been editing teapot references out of letters a lot because people have started putting them in when they don’t even need a placeholder at all, and I think it’s confusing to newer readers. Often you really don’t need a placeholder. But when you do, I’d be grateful for a break from the teapots!

        1. Flash Bristow*

          At least people have heard of teapots, though. When there are references to characters from films or TV programmes, particularly if it’s US-centric, I’ll miss the point :(

          A break from teapots is cool, but can any alternative placeholder please be just as simple to understand, not requiring knowledge of any particular fiction? Please? I hate feeling stupid and excluded from in-jokes.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Just so you know, when TV character names are used, they’re just names. They never have meaning beyond that (they’re not intended to convey characteristics of that character, or so forth).

  3. Snark*

    This person sounds like a marvel and I would be lobbying to keep her around for the sheer entertainmetn value, but I enjoy awkwardness the way some people love horror movies, so.

    1. kittymommy*

      Oh she definitely sounds hysterically entertaining, but I can see how having someone discussing semen in the lunch room and being a 3 year old Army spy can be ….unsettling.

      1. Snark*

        I would be like, “haaaaay anybody want some popcorn” and settling in with my notepad like an anthropologist for a solid Weirdos in the Mist session.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I am now 100% going to think of interactions with over-sharey customers as “Weirdos in the Mist” sessions, so thanks for that.

          1. Armchair Analyst*

            Thinking of myself as a dispassionate, objective anthropologist definitely changed my relationship with my in-laws for the better!

        2. the_scientist*

          There was a guy in my undergrad program who was like this and the rest of us would TOTALLY just wind him up and egg him on in his lies, then settle in for an observational session. The guy was fundamentally harmless but completely bizarre.

          1. Me*

            There’s something kind of mean spirited in this.

            Being amused by someones weirdness is one thing, but actively encouraging it to be entertained is another.

            I hope you would rethink this in the future.

            1. Flash Bristow*

              I was about to say similar.

              It isn’t really fair to say “wind ’em up and let ’em go!’ for the sake of your own entertainment.

          2. LJay*

            I’ve done this before. Though it wasn’t so much winding them up and egging them on, as listening and giving them the raptly attentive audience they crave.

            “So you were a sniper, you say? That sounds fascinating. What types of weaponry did you work with?”

            And just accept absolutely everything at face value and see how far the story went.

            1. The New Wanderer*

              I dated that guy. Apparently he was one of the top snipers out of Quantico back in his (extremely brief) Marine career. His explanation when I outshot him at an arcade shooting gallery was that his rifle pulled to the right. We used the same rifle. :-)

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Me too, in my grad program. He was very charming and funny, and everyone in the class thought he was awesome. I’ve never heard such thumping lies–and after class one day, I engaged him in conversation as though I believed him. I called him out on it by acting like I wanted to know more, and like a true narcissist, he totally avoided me after that. His in-class braggadocio never stopped, but it did deescalate.

        3. CarolynM*

          Weirdos in the Mist

          Snark, I often admire your turns of phrase, but this? This right here? You have outdone yourself!

          (When people get strange I do try to think of myself as an anthropologist so I feel closer to “this is fascinating!” than “this is infuriating!!!!” And now I have a name for that! LOLOLOLOL)

          1. Snark*

            It’s a thing, especially working with, but not of, a weird little subculture. Sometimes I just imagine Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall crouched in the corner, lips slightly pursed, brow furrowed, taking notes – “these beautiful, gentle creatures seem to have accepted me as one of their own now. As I have learned their many acronyms, their conversations and emails make increasing sense to me. Their social hierarchy is becoming clear.”

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              We’ve had such turnover of staff that I can’t help feeling like one of the Weirdos – I can’t wait to meet our new Dian Fossey (she’s starting tomorrow, heaven help her!)

        4. Parenthetically*

          I just spit ACTUAL TEA on my ACTUAL COMPUTER, Snark, dammit!! Weirdos in the Mist *laughs uproariously*

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            I had the best mental image of slightly disheveled folks in hand-printed t-shirts peeping shyly out of the shrubbery!

        5. Zombeyonce*

          I don’t think I’d be able to stop myself from goading her on, asking questions about her “service” to get her to build up more and more elaborate and insane stories about her “past”.

      2. JSPA*

        Wondering if someone is a (really crappy) pathological liar or from a super-dysfunctional family where she was brought up believing a bunch of someone else’s lies or delusional? That’s all on the sad / worrisome spectrum for me. Sure, incongruity is a big part of humor–but that doesn’t turn all incongruity into entertainment.

        1. Honoria Glossop*

          Thanks for pointing out that some “liars” might be from super-dysfunctional places where they believed someone else’s lies. 15 yrs later, I’m still cringing to find things that I parroted as truth are 100% not so.

          1. JSPA*

            On all levels, helping kids (and helping ourselves) unlearn received “wisdom” is actually recognized as probably the toughest core factor in effective science teaching (and learning). Pretty sure the same is true for any other field where people have a pre-existing opinion or reaction. If more people could handle the “stomach dropping” sensation, and hold out for the wonderful moment of increased clarity that shortly follows, we’d probably be a lot healthier both individually and as a society.

    2. incompetemp's colleague*

      Haha yes. At least our workload isn’t SO big that it impacts me. If anything, it just guarantees I have a steady flow of work. But oof.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, she sounds like a whole hell of a lot, but….I dunno, get your Jane Goodall on while you can, because if nothing else, a good stash of amusing stories is never a bad thing to have.

        1. valentine*

          it just guarantees I have a steady flow of work
          incompetemp’s colleague/OP: This could backfire on you if it’s lowering your numbers, especially if you’re boosting hers by fixing her work, especially if the fixes mean no one else (including Temp?) takes note of the errors you found.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I wish she was just awkward, talking about weird stuff without the incompetence! I’ve had zany colleagues over the years, they were fun because I got to hear them talk like pirates and not have to clean up their mistakes.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If it was just the weirdness, I’d land here too.

      But the incompetence would drive me bonkers.

      1. The Original K.*

        Exactly! The fluids discussion is gross but the conspiracy theories and “I Was a Toddler Spy” stories could be funny, especially the latter. I’ve worked with plenty of weirdos whose weirdness had no impact on their work product. But this person is weird (maybe OK, minus the fluids talk) and incompetent (not OK), and it’s the latter than needs resolution.

    5. Tyche*

      I was friend once with someone who liked to talk about conspiracies and a lot of weird things and I’d like to add that, while a short story o two can be amusing, in the long term it can be quite stressful and irritating.
      The “sheer entertainment value” decreases very quickly when you have to listen to these stories every day.
      I’d be quite aggravated to be subjected to this drivel at work while I’m trying to do my job…

  4. Bagpuss*

    If the manager doesn’t address the issue once you have raised it, could you start referring the temp to your manager with her questions, rather than helping her yourself? That way, the manager may see more of the issue, and less of your time will be wasted.
    Hopefu;y that won’t be necessary.

    I also think that if the new roe she has applied for is one you will have to work with a lot, it would be e valid for you to ask your boss whether it is possible for you to be involved in the process of selecting someone, possibly (depending on how receptive your boss seems to be) to say to your boss “I raised it because Temp mentioned to me that she has applied for [job] – I would be very concerned about her ability to do that job / learn the processes needed for that job, given how much she struggles with [relevant examples of her current role]”

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      Our manager wouldn’t be able to help her because he’s in a completely different field (managing people), but I can definitely reroute her to our team lead. I think she goes to him first when he’s around though and only asks me for help when he’s off.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          Oh, yeah, for sure. I’ll mention it to him as well. I just mean he wouldn’t be able to help in the work itself.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, by all means, make the team lead do all the clean up. If he’s off, claim ignorance and tell her to wait until team lead gets back.

    2. myswtghst*

      Bagpuss’s second paragraph raises a good point, OP – if the new role will be directly linked to your job, it’s reasonable for you to want to be involved in some way in the hiring process. And honestly, even if it’s not, it would be another way to open / re-open the conversation with your boss, by mentioning “y’know, incompetemp mentioned she was applying for the new role, and based on my experiences working with her, I’d be really concerned about her ability to do the job effectively because of A, B, and C…”

  5. ArtK*

    Absolutely bring up how this impacts your work! All of those “little things” add up very quickly. If you want to document, write a one line entry in a log every time she asks you for help. That’ll also help demonstrate that she doesn’t learn. Plus, stop helping her. “Sorry Jane, I’m busy now. You worked a similar problem yesterday, please look at what you did on the TPS report” and then disconnect. You’re enabling her right now — rewarding her for not doing her job. Stop rewarding her.

    I’m terrible backlogged right now, due to bad staffing and increased demand. My boss keeps offering me a resource to help, but it’s always very junior. I don’t have the time to do my job and train/mentor someone. I need a person who is a self starter, but the company won’t pay for that. It’s a no-win situation.

    Lunch conversation: Blecccchhhhh!

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      And don’t just log her issues, but how much of your time she’s taking up with them. “I spent about 5 hours helping Temp with [thing temp should know how to do] this week, and it’s impacting my productivity.”

      1. ArtK*

        The point is to make it clear how much this person is impacting the business. Her odd personality is not something (in general) that the business cares about. But they do care about spending money and not getting value for it. This is how you make the problem your manager’s problem and not yours.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          It does kind of impact the business when she spends like 15-20 minutes of her time talking about these things to people, but fortunately she doesn’t do it as often anymore. (Or maybe I’ve just been wearing headphones more than usual?)

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Also try saying “I think we’ve covered this before. Why don’t you write it down as I show you so you have a record for next time.” Then if she asks you again tell her “Last time we reviewed this you wrote down some instructions – I need you to check them before you come to me”.

  6. Sara without an H*

    She sounds fascinating…

    OP, I agree with Alison that you need to make a distinction between the temps personal weirdness and her performance. The weirdness is not really anyone’s business (and could be entertaining). The performance issues are serious and you need to give your manager a head’s up — depending on the size of your unit, she may well not be aware of the full extent of the situation.

    Describe the problem behaviors as specifically as possible and how they impact your/your team’s work. Do not — repeat, do not — get seduced into speculation about the temp’s motives/thinking patterns/IQ or lack thereof.
    (This will be tempting, but unproductive.) Be brief, blunt, and specific about the issues she’s causing.

    Can you start limiting the number of questions you answer? As in, “Oh, we discussed that on Tuesday, you can approach this problem the same way.” Are you cleaning up after her? If so, stop. You are not responsible for this woman’s performance — do not be lured into coaching her.

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      I do tend to clean up after her, if only because we have a VERY high standard here and I’ve been tasked to QA her work. But I should really stop QAing, fixing, and finishing things for her, and instead QA, mark down what the problems are, and have HER fix it. That’s on me, and that stops today.

      1. SarahKay*

        Just make sure you have documentation that you told her to fix it! Maybe I’m doing Incompetemp a disservice, but the last thing you want is her submitting the work as finished when actually you’ve sent it back to her for fixing…and then saying “Oh, Colleague approved it” when questioned as to why it was below standard.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Wait, you’re fixing her work?? As you noted, stop! Once you mark it up and send it to her to fix, it will become easier to document what an absolute time and productivity suck she is (which bolsters your concerns that she’s not adding value or even meaningfully helping catch up on backlog—literally her only purpose for being there).

      3. Totally Minnie*

        Let your manager and/or team lead know that you’ve been making the fixes when you QA her work, but that it’s taking up too much of your time. That way, they’ll know what’s going on if she just doesn’t actually make the fixes you point out and the projects all suddenly start to turn out weird.

      4. Tisiphone*

        Good plan! This puts it on record that you’re having to rework her output.

        I’ve run into something similar when I was temping as a team lead, but it was almost everyone on the team making the same error multiple times. I called a meeting, went over the correct procedure, then told them if I saw that error, they were getting the work unit back. Fix the error I spotted, and double check everything else. Eventually the team improved overall, and I was finding fewer errors of all types, not just the one I focused on.

        And yes, I’d let your boss know what you’re doing, so that it gets on record.

      5. Zombeyonce*

        Yes, definitely stop fixing her mistakes! I am in charge of a lot of QA at work and I’ve found that, while it takes longer to explain what someone did wrong than just fix it, if I do that they just keep making the same mistakes. If I instead give them a lot of what they need to fix and why (where appropriate), it reduces them coming to me.

        When I see the see mistakes over and over again, I record my responses in a “copy and paste” document. Then when they make the same mistake again, I just paste in what I told them last time. It honestly saves me a huge amount of time in the long run, even if they don’t ever learn.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          “I’ve found that, while it takes longer to explain what someone did wrong than just fix it, if I do that they just keep making the same mistakes.”

          Ugh, this is SO true, it hurts. I have a tendency to just want to get stuff done and off my plate so I fix it because it’s quicker, but in the long run, I do have to keep fixing these things.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Short term gain, long term pain. You will spend a lot of time initially documenting her errors, and making her correct them, but unless you want to be working with this person forever, you have to do it.

      6. M from NY*

        If you’re responsible for the work I wouldn’t stop QA the task but add to your log (&/or bcc your boss on the truly egregious errors). It’s a no win situation when you’re responsible for the work but not technically the supervisor. Use the next example to open conversation (I hesitated to bring this up but….) with your supervisor and her supervisor. The purpose of meeting is to document concern and get you all on same page. Somewhere along the line no one is documenting her actual performance and that’s why she keeps being rehired. Nice or quirky isn’t a substitute for competent.

  7. Justin*

    Michael just keeps hiring Ryan back, I guess.

    Yes, tell your boss, explicitly but politely and discreetly.

  8. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    When you talk to your boss, and you must, have marked up copies of her work showing typical/constant errors. Also have prints of emails that are particularly wordy and confusing. Show how deciphering the mystic tomes of the temp wastes time and creates confusion.
    When you tell your boss that temp is just not getting it, you don’t want to have a conversation where your boss discusses how you pick up things more quickly, you have a better handle on the software, you have a better understanding of the whole process, blah blah blah.
    It’s not about that. It’s about temp making the same quality mistakes each time. Requiring hand holding each time. Creating confusing emails each time. Show the pattern of how her work is not sustainable long term.

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      Ohh yes, yes that’s a great idea. Thank you!

      I probably still have a bunch of her older emails that exemplify this.

  9. revueller*

    Not sure if you’re a regular on this site, OP, but every Friday there’s an open comment thread that goes live around 11am EST. if you ever want to vent about stuff that this Terrible Temp has done since this letter has been published, you will definitely have an audience (of at least one—and I’d bring popcorn.)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I read the Hellmouth saga on my lunch break every Friday. Part of me needs the ride to end but the other part doesn’t want the story to end :”(

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      OH BOY I can’t wait. xD Next time she does something vent-worthy, I’ll let y’all know.

      1. Aurion*

        From the sounds of it she has quite a backlog entertaining stories built up, no need to wait for further stories to update us!

        That’s to say, I’m adding my voice to the others awaiting more stories.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          WELL THEN. See y’all Friday where I can tell you how she was hired to decipher secret morse code on television broadcasts!

          (That, uh, that’s really all there is to the story. She claimed she did this back in her army days.)

          1. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

            Well, toddlers DO watch a lot of TV, don’t they?

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                I thought it was “Paul is dead.” :-)

                Backwards praise of Satan is another classic of that genre.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        “Incompetemp” has to be my new favourite workplace descriptor! I’ll be following on Fridays with interest!

    2. Mimi Me*

      +1 on this. I look forward to the occasional update / vent from the person who wrote the hellmouth letter. I’d welcome other crazy stories too. My job tends to be a bit quiet – which is good – but also dull.

      1. incompetemp's colleague*

        Oh boy, I wish I’d known about these open letter threads back in my old job. If this sounds crazy, boy howdy it was 100x worse at my old job.

        (Think 5 out of 12 employees going off on burn-out leave in the span of 12 months. 11 out of 12 employees filing a formal complaint with HR against a manager, and HR just going *Shrug*, etc. Like I said- toxic as hell)

          1. Zombeyonce*

            “Today at lunch I told a trusted colleague about my history as a young boy in the war. She looked at me oddly and now I dear she’s really a Russian agent sent to watch me. I’m encoding a fake war secret in my next email to her to see if she deciphers it and compromises her true identity.”

  10. AnotherAlison*

    What’s red-flaggy to me is that the temp sounds outright terrible and the manager 1.) hasn’t noticed, and 2.) keeps rehiring her.

    I wasn’t a huge fan our last department admin. She was weird in a different way from this temp, and while not completely incompetent, she didn’t do her job correctly. Some examples of her weirdness were emailing the entire department to get us to sponsor her walkathon and including details of her bowel resection, and including “groovy” in all her emails. Rumor has it that her career here ended when she was supposed to go on a PIP for egregious examples of not following processes, thought she was going to get fired instead and ran around the building hiding, and then did get fired that day because people were exasperated.

    I tell this whole story because it was just another example of how my former department manager didn’t manage anyone, ever, and had people in the wrong roles. The other examples weren’t as entertaining but had much greater business consequences. He was reassigned(!) about 4 months before the admin assistant was let go. I think the OP should really worry about being alert to other red flags even more than she should be worried about this temp. WHEN it is raised to the manager, see what their response is and react accordingly.

    1. incompetemp's colleague*


      I guess I’m so used to absentee managers that my manager not being aware of this issue doesn’t seem that odd to me. But in hindsight, yeah, it is kind of weird he never asked the team how well she performed. It’s possible her old team lead (currently on assignment elsewhere for a year) told him she was doing great.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Going back to my original post, I think a lot of issues are waved away by managers because “she’s a temp, so catching back up to speed takes time.”
        So like Alison said, offer specifics.
        “It takes her 6 hours to do this.”
        “She asked me how to X and I sent her this. She asked Bob and Jane the same thing. She brought in IT. She had IT show her the ticket process I’d sent her.”
        “She makes this mistake every time.”

        1. valentine*

          incompetemp’s colleague, consider whether you fixing her work is making her appear competent.

      2. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Has there ever been any discussion about renewing her contract or whether a contractor is still needed?

        Just thinking, they might keep her on to the end of the contract term. I’d bring the issues up again close to contract renewal time to remind them not to sign her on again.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          Our original team lead’s on assignment right now, so we’re one lady down and the powers that be want to create a new job within the organization, so there are two spots to fill at the moment and she’s being put into one of those.

      3. Blue*

        He might also be of the “no one has said anything, so everything must be fine” mindset, especially if he’s busy with other projects/isn’t particularly invested in the specific work the temp is doing.

    2. AKchic*

      Some managers are just lousy.

      We had a temp working here that was hired at the same time I was. For her first 3 month stint, she had no computer (neither did I, they were on order). So, we did nothing. Literally. We were paid to come in and sit for 8 hours doing absolutely nothing. I brought in a laptop and watched movies, I knitted/crocheted. I read books. Some days I dusted. Once a week I got to file. Once in a blue moon, I was allowed to use a company computer for a 10 minute project that the boss thought would take longer. The temp was occasionally called to the warehouse to help with filing.
      She was extended for another 3 month hitch. We got our computers. She was trained for a few things. She was extended another 3 months. Then our hiring manager quit suddenly. New manager starts and extends her another 3 months. Coworkers are complaining that they don’t know what she does, and the few tasks she’s asked to do are always late on delivery. Her door was always closed. My office was right next to hers and our walls were paper-thin. I could hear her talking on her phone all day (personal calls), but that was it.
      She started getting an attitude whenever the new managers tried to find out what she was doing with her door closed all the time. She said she was cold, but it wasn’t cold, she got a space heater, still kept her door closed, she wasn’t allowed to close the door anymore, no work was being done. They didn’t extend her contract.
      Come to find out, she was doing nothing but continue to watch videos all day after she got her company computer. We never did fill her position, as her position wasn’t needed.

  11. Jennifer*

    I think I used to work with incompotemp. She really thought the word specific was spelled pacific. Once someone told her they were looking for a specific account number and from that for some reason she assumed all of our account numbers were called Pacific accounts and would use that term in emails. She couldn’t copy/paste or attach documents to emails or use Windows. She asked the same questions over and over. She called our poor boss to her desk over and over to ask them. The sound of his name now gives me an eye twitch. She knew someone.

    Does incompotemp know someone at your company too, OP? Is there a way you can ask discreetly? If she does, you are stuck with her. It’s worth talking to your boss about but be prepared for nothing to change.

    You may have to talk to incompotemp directly and hope others follow your lead and stop coddling her. Best wishes. You’re gonna need them.

    1. Creamsiclecati*

      Well now if you work with someone incompetent like that again, you know exactly how to correct him or her:

      “I identified a discrepancy in how the spelling of specific was written in the bottom-right corner of the footer of the Animal Crackers page, whereby the word was replaced with ‘pacific’ whereas it should be modified to reflect the correct diction insofar as we are not referencing oceans but rather particular Animal Cracker files”. Maybe throw in a few “whereupons” in there too.

    2. incompetemp's colleague*

      Incompotemp and our old team lead used to go to the same highschool, but they only realized this a few months into her contract, and now that team lead’s away on assignment. I think this is a case of “oh we already trained her so let’s keep her”. It’s a logical fallacy, because if we’d taken the time to train someone instead of her, we could have accomplished a lot.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        THIS. She’ll catch up. She already knows the ropes.
        No, but you assume she does and will catch up.
        She never started the race.

      2. myswtghst*

        I think you’re dead on – it’s part sunk cost fallacy, and part not knowing what we don’t know. If boss isn’t being directly confronted with the issues (and it sounds like they’re not, if you’re correcting the temp’s work and all her questions are being answered [over and over and over again] out of the boss’s hearing), the path of least resistance for the boss is just to keep the weird temp on, because firing and hiring can be a lot of work.

    3. A tester, not a developer*

      We had someone like that – but the mixup was a bit easier to understand. We often talk about pulling data from the SBEN tables; this person understood in as pulling something(?) off of aspen tables. He was then very confused about where these mythical tables were, since every place he had looked had laminate tabletops.

    4. Chip*

      “I think I used to work with incompotemp. She really thought the word specific was spelled pacific.”

      Hopefully amusing sidetrack: when I watched The Newlywed Game as a kid I always wondered why Bob Eubanks would sometimes ask a contestant to “be pacific.” I knew about the Pacific Ocean but I had never heard the word “pacific” be used as a verb.

      (I also thought his name was Bob “Yuban” and I thought he had something to do with Yuban coffee but that’s neither here nor there.)

  12. CupcakeCounter*

    Also point out that her placement is having the opposite effect they intended – that your backlog is getting longer because of her not shorter.

    1. Even Steven*

      And without asking about her billable temp rate, you can certainly point out that any project that others could do in 2 hours, that takes her 8 hours, is 8 BILLABLE hours that are costing OP’s company a fortune. Temps are expensive! In my last job we hired on an accounting’finance temp in a role that if we had hired full time, would be about $37K a year, or about $17.75 per hour. Her temp agency billed us $58.00 per hour, which covered the agency’s employer match for Soc Sec & Medicare, her pay and paid for the temp agency staff & their support.

      Temps are meant to be a short-term solution, but they are also meant to give decent value for their cost. OP’s bosses surely know her temp rate, and can do a quick cost-benefit analysis to make a decision. They can also contact the agency to ask for a replacement and switch her out for a higher, lower cost performer. That’s what temps are for. Temp agency managers want to know if the folks they send out are a bad fit. They’ll fix that fast.

      Just be sure to get as many spy stories as possible out of her before she moves on….

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Temps are meant to circumvent the cost of hiring a person for the role. Either it’s not a permanent position and project based or it is a real spot and they’re looking to test drive a potential employee. You can remove them from your roster without dealing with termination of employment or benefits. You also buy yourself more time with a potential hire before their benefits kick in if you go through the contracted labor route.

        So it’s really not expensive, it’s just separating out the costs of labor differently. People see the billing rate and say it’s sooooo expensive without knowing how much an employee costs over all. You pay 37k a year in salary…you’re not crunching the cost of multiple insurance, taxes, benefits and cost of termination if it comes down to it.

        Also you’re kind to give agencies so much respect…there are a ton out there that don’t care about the person actually doing a good job. I’ve had bad temp after bad temp at multiple companies, multiple agencies. It’s all plug and play for most of them.

        1. Even Steven*

          Many good points, yes of course, and all totally correct. It’s the immediate ‘sticker price’ for a temp that I wanted to talk about because it’s so visible and is often one that many execs can’t see past. In this case it might give some leverage.

          My experience with temp agencies was always positive – the ones I dealt with always called for progress reports every couple of weeks and immediately switched out staff if they didn’t meet the prescribed needs. I am sorry to hear that my experience was unusual!

          But the magic words, “You can remove them from your roster without dealing with termination of employment or benefits.” Sounds like OP’s bosses should really think about that.

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      Yes, maybe she’s older than she looks, that’s possible.

      But she claimed she was a Canadian spy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think she’s in her 50s. Even if I’m generous and she’s in her 60s (she definitely isn’t), she would have been a teenager back then?

      1. serenity*

        The Cuban Missile Crisis came to a head in 1962, she would have been a small child. That’s crazy.

        1. Ophelia*

          Mine is incredibly stealthy, but generally only at 3am when with no warning, BAM! she’s suddenly in my bed.

          1. Snark*

            I feel this real hard. Toddlers: terrible at humint, masters of covert insertion. (Usually, inserting their ice-cold little feet under your legs or back to warm them up.”

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              I learned a cool word. Thanks!
              Although, I think you underestimate your competition. My friend’s two year old twins, one found the secret lollipop pocket in my purse, now they go on distract and pilfer missions!

    1. Jennifer*

      Maybe it’s like the book 1984. The kids spying on parents and turning them in. Maybe she grew up in a book?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Or many different cartoons and kids’ movies. I mean, if a platypus can be a spy, why not a baby? I don’t think there were toddlers in Spy Kids, but they were kids.

        1. Jennifer*

          Good point! So many possibilities…

          Maybe she was sent from the future to save our planet. Maybe she’s Recyclops.

      1. Jennifer*

        Kids these days, I tell ya. I was undercover for the CIA when I was in pampers. What is happening to this world?

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Silly, Murphy. Toddler spies are planted in to houses to watch over their criminal faux parents enterprises! Nobody knows their secrets, not even the other Toddler agents!

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s why kids always ask to go to the playground. That’s where they meet their handlers to debrief.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      I knew a guy who’d swiss-cheesed his memory with recreational drugs and had this great story about hitchhiking to Woodstock. He was born in 1962, so it was less than convincing.

    3. kittymommy*

      It’s a pretty darn good cover. Who’s really going to be looking hard at a little dude who’s just trying to find where he put his binky (AKA super secret pacifier).

  13. Lady Phoenix*

    During the conversations, you need to be firm. “I do NOT want to discuss this.”
    “This discussion is not appropriate for the workplace. Stop.”
    “This conversation is veering towards unconfortable subjects. Let’s change topics.”

    Also, headphones.

  14. Creamsiclecati*

    Haha if she really IS a government spy, maybe she got the job with documents stating the wrong age and the incompetence is part of her alter ego…

      1. Not Australian*

        I’d watch the hell out of that movie, especially if Incompetemp was played by Olivia Colman…

  15. Need a Beach*

    I had a colleague a lot like this, including lying about bizarre things (like the army spy example).

    Because it was a serving job, there was little to no accountability when she messed things up or flat-out ignored her side work. I was communicating with management, but they couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.

    What finally worked was calling her out on all the outrageous made-up stories, but doing so in a way that appeared to show concern. For example, she claimed to have severely torn her kneecap on a cruise, but was completely fine when she came back a week later. I expressed camaraderie due to a knee injury I suffered in college, and asked her questions about the type of tear, the recovery, the PT, etc. She got frustrated and embarrassed when she couldn’t keep up the details. Rehash and repeat for every BS thing she came up with–when it was something I knew nothing about, I went home and did research so I’d be prepared for the next shift. She finally quit.

    About a month after she left, I served an elderly couple who asked how she was, because they hadn’t seen her in a while. Turns out, she’d told them that she had stage-four stomach cancer. I felt awful having to tell them she was just a chronic liar.

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Chronic liars are kind of fascinating. I find it’s too much work to keep up with all the effort of maintaining even small-ish lies, so I wonder where chronic liars find the energy for that. My mother tells me her first husband was a chronic liar; she said he would lie about the color of the sky if there was nothing better to lie about.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        They’re like people who live for drama and chaos. They get more energy from their lies!!

    2. Anon for this*

      I managed a chronic liar once. Turns out, she wasn’t only lying about random, mundane personal details, she was also lying about her work. When you can’t trust a person, you can’t trust their work either. When she inevitably went on a PIP, it was pretty easy to shine a light on her lies with a coupe follow up questions. She would exaggerate the outcome of her work to avoid giving concrete facts, so I would ask for specific, concrete facts. Like, “what does massively increase teapot sales mean in numbers? What’s the increase percentage?” And, “you tested the logic before it went to production? Show me the steps you took to test it because I don’t see it in the logs.” Yes, the latter is micromanaging, but she was on a PIP and that was part of the deal.

    3. JM in England*

      She sounds like a female version of a character in Viz (a British adult humour comic, I think it’s exported to the USA) called Aldridge Prior the Hopeless Liar.

    4. AKchic*

      My MIL is a chronic liar. We are not on speaking terms anymore. When I allowed her on my friend list on social media, calling her out on her BS was glorious. She’d make a post about having a stroke and being released from the hospital (not even 2 hours after supposed arrival) and there I was to start asking her what tests they ran, why were they releasing her so soon, who was driving her home, why was she announcing on facebook before contacting her sons, what medications were they giving her, etc.
      She’d get so mad that she’d tell my husband I was stressing her out and was going to cause her a heart attack. She did not appreciate my concern.

      It’s been a glorious 13 months without having to deal with her.

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      Makes me think of the woman I once worked with who claimed to have broken her foot dropping something on it (the guy she sat next to had done something similar earlier in the year) and then was running along on the foot faster than was medically possible.

      This woman was an alcoholic and had lots of implausible explanations for her absences. Boss went along with them however implausible they were. (Boss believed that she couldn’t take any action as Coworker’s alcoholism covered her under the Disability Discrimination act in the UK.)

  16. AnotherAlison*

    I’m also wondering, is there a polite way to tell anyone their writing style stinks, and a way to train them how to basically write everything differently from how they do it now?

    I believe the temp’s writing style is also known as “Inexperience Consulting Engineer – Fancy Report Option A”. I’ve rewritten every paragraph of a couple of those reports. I’ve given feedback, but the next report was only slightly better. The worst offender has moved on to a different role.

    1. Jennifer*

      It doesn’t sound like she can take a hint. Maybe respond and say this is a bit unclear and see how she reacts? She may simplify her writing or she may ramp it up and add even more unnecessary detail.

    2. fposte*

      There is, but it’s not likely that a co-worker would have the time and authority. It may also be something that could be retrained within a writing class but really not within a work setting where she and her manager have other demands on their time.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yeah I’ve worked with people who write that way too – they have the idea that more and bigger words make it sound more serious or something. Our field has plenty of jargon too, but the ideal for professional writing is to use jargon when you need it to say something specific, and use clear, plain language when you don’t!

      1. Aurion*

        Yeah, I think generally jargon should make writing shorter–more incomprehensible to the layperson, perhaps, but shorter and more succinct to those in the field because all that jargon have very specific meanings!

        If your work is filled with jargon and terrible grammar, that’s just bad writing.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        I see this a lot with people at my agency were promoted through the operations chain. They start at field jobs that don’t require anything in the way of writing ability, and when they get a desk job or one that requires more written communication some of them adopt writing styles that are what they *think* professional writing should sound like, without any training in how to write everyday emails among coworkers. So everything comes out stilted and overly formal and has no instances of the word “use” when “utilize” will do. I can see some of them writing emails like the example here.

        The difference is, in our agency these folks were usually promoted because they’re pretty strong in other areas, and their practical experience and other skills balance out the writing.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          “Utilize” is one of my pet peeves. Another one is using “impact” instead of “effect” or “affect” because they don’t know which one to use.

          Sometimes I suspect that people here get really wordy because they don’t fully understand what they’re trying to say (i.e. they can’t interpret their own results of the analysis they did).

          1. Artemesia*

            Utilize is one of my hot buttons too because the word has a meaning that is slightly different from use and when people misuse subtle words the language loses subtlety.

            1. Hrovitnir*

              Ahhhh, thank you. I hate the popularity of the anti-utelise camp, because of course it’s used inappropriately, but “utelise” has its use!

          2. Kit-Kat*

            I’m in the US. Mine is “amongst”. I have never heard someone here say that out loud, but for one reason a lot of people think “among” is too casual for professional writing! Yet they do not adopt any other -st endings. I studied abroad in the U.K. and used -st forms there because they are the norm but not back home.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              The only time I’ve ever heard it out loud in the US was from Parker Posey’s pretentious lawyer character in Best In Show, “We are so lucky to have been raised amongst catalogs.” The “amongst” turned that sentence into comedy gold!

    4. Blue*

      I think so, but the temp may just get resentful if OP doesn’t have the necessary authority. Also, there’s no reason to believe temp would remember the corrections from incident to incident…

      If OP does decide to give feedback on her writing style, she needs to provide specific examples of how the sentence *should* look because I sincerely doubt the temp can figure out what “more concise and direct” looks like on her own.

    5. Autumnheart*

      I don’t know about a polite way to tell them, but there’s definitely a way to train them: technical writing courses!

      1. Sarah*

        The way I explain it to people is that the goal of writing anything is to get the result you want as quickly as possible. So when I’m writing fiction, if I want an emotional response, I have to invest time in character development/plot/etc. but not so much time that the reader loses focus. But when I’m writing instructions or giving feedback, the goal is for the person I’m writing to to make the change I’m requesting without needing to ask me more questions. So “Make sure the first C in ‘Animal Crackers’ is always capitalized,” will yield a faster result than, “In any instance where you see that we are using the formal Animal Crackers in an internal or external document, you must ensure that the proper formatting conditions are adhered to: that is, when using the formal terms, you must substitute a capitalized version of the letters A and C in the first instance of their appearance for a lower-case version. This will ensure we are meeting all previously agreed-upon standards and representing our collective unit in the best possible light.”

        But then, regardless of my level in the company, I’m the one with the Masters in Creative Writing working in a financial field, so I am the closest thing to an authority in the field that we’ve got.

        1. Kit-Kat*

          Yep, I’m in a field where technical writing is important but not the main goal of the job. As a writer outside of work I had to learn a new (more concise) style. This is usually how I coach others. Sometimes I also encourage them to explain what they are trying to say out loud, and usually end up encouraging them to write it THAT way, to help them find a more direct voice (to avoid the “overly formal” tendency some have).

    6. Richard*

      Most people think that they’re excellent writers because they write the way that they want to communicate and want to be communicated to, they never look closely at their own writing, and other people’s writing, by comparison, stinks. You are a far worse writer than lots of people, including a lot of people in your field and maybe in your office. What would be the most polite and, more importantly, effective way for someone to tell you that your writing stinks and train you how to basically write everything differently from how you do it now? Feedback’s always easy to give and much harder to take.

  17. Where’s my coffee?*

    Bring the performance stuff up with your boss but FIRST get more stories about her work as a toddler spy…

    “There I was, about to infiltrate the Kremlin before nap time, but alas, my pull-ups needed changed.”

      1. Where’s my coffee?*

        Yes, yes there was. That was how I deduced that the iocaine powder was in BOTH sippy cup!

    1. incompetemp's colleague*

      For the record, she never said she was a toddler spy, just that she was a spy during the Cuban missile crisis…which if my math is correct, IF she was born, she would have been a spy. She’s a bit younger than my parents, and my parents were born in 1960.

      1. boo bot*

        I mean, she could have been the baby of a deep-cover spy family, a la “The Americans,” and therefore, technically, a spy-in-training herself.

        OR she could be an immortal being who never ages.

        OR she could have a TARDIS or other time-traveldevice.

        OR she could be referring to a second, hitherto unknown, super secret, spies’-eyes-only Cuban missile crisis that took place 40 years after the first one.

        OR she could, I guess, just be lying, but what are the chances of that?

  18. irene adler*

    Learned this lesson.

    We had brought in 3 temps with chemistry backgrounds to help out with lab work. They weren’t really needed but we were told to find work for them to do. So we did.

    One temp, Gloria, was completely incompetent. Every day she was asked to prepare a different molarity solution for the day’s experiments. And every day she would ask me how to do the calculations. So I would write them out and show where the different molarity figure would go into the calculation. This way she could save the sheet, plug in the new figure and have the amounts for that day’s solution. Simple.

    Only, she couldn’t grasp this. I asked her to save the sheet. She never did. After a week of this, I asked her where yesterday’s sheet was. “Oh, I threw it away”, she explained. So I emphasized that she must keep today’s sheet for tomorrow’s work. I went through this exercise almost every day for 3 months.

    Unfortunately, Gloria was making herself known in the offices of upper management. She would check with my Grand boss weekly and ask if she was going to be hired on. Grand boss, not knowing anything was amiss, would tell her that, he didn’t see why not as he’d had no negative reports about her. Every week she would relate this conversation to all in the lab, excited that she would be hired on when her temp contract ended. Hearing this made me tolerate her ignorance with the daily solutions prep. Hey, they were going to hire her on, so that means they are okay with her incompetence.

    We soon realized just how incompetent Gloria was when she poured left-over saturated ammonium sulfate into our liquid biohazard bucket. Said bucket contained chlorine bleach. Yes ammonia + chlorine. Gassed us out of the lab. One guy had asthma and he exited so fast from the lab he was merely a blur as he passed by me. He refused to re-enter the lab until the next day. Can’t blame him for that.

    Turned out, Gloria had been indiscriminately discarding EVERYTHING into the biohazard. She reasoned that everything was harmful, hence, put it into the biohazard. We have other avenues for discarding chemical solutions and the like.

    Shortly after this incident, management announced layoffs. All three temps had to go (plus other employees from other depts.).

    I got to talking with Grand boss after this. Apparently he had brought in the temps, anticipating a layoff. These three would be our dept.’s layoffs to spare the rest of the lab employees from losing their jobs. Interesting tactic.

    So I asked him about his conversations with Gloria. Why did he give her an indication that he would likely hire her? I told him about her exploits. He was shocked. No one had said a word to him about her incompetence. He told me that, from now on, I was to not hesitate to bring my concerns to him about employee competence.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, yes, yes! Many people just assume that senior management knows everything. Trust me, the farther you get from the floor (or in your case, the bench), the less managers know about what goes on day to day.

      1. Blue*

        Yeah, in my last office, my grandboss (our director) explicitly told me to leapfrog my boss and talk to him directly if I had concerns, because he was completely out of the loop on day-to-day operations and it became clear that the people who reported to him were perhaps too choosy about what they’d pass up the ladder. It caused some extremely serious problems, actually, and those of us in the trenches assumed that he was being told about said issues and just didn’t care that much. Meanwhile, he assumed that everything was under control because no one told him otherwise. Once he realized how very far from the truth that was, he wanted to be sure he wouldn’t get that out of touch again.

        1. AMPG*

          My boss does this (encourages leapfrogging) and it causes all sorts of problems because he ends up undermining his direct reports who are trying to manage with the concerns of the entire team (and not just one complaining employee) in mind. Of course, part of the problem is that he tends to act without getting the whole story, and if he would just do that things wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      The hiring temps to prevent layoffs of regular employees was utter strategic brilliance on the part of Grandboss though. Props to him.

    3. MCsAngel2*

      I only had high school and college 100 level chemistry, and I know more than Gloria did. I do not believe she had a chemistry background.

      1. Artemesia*

        pretty much every housewife has to know about chorine bleach and amonia if she doesn’t want to wipe out the family.

      2. MattKnifeNinja*

        Anyone that didn’t sleepwalk through 100 level university freshmen chem class would know the difference between biohazard and other waste containers.

        You are so lucky she didn’t blow something up.

        High five to grand boss. He’s a gem.

    4. Foxy Hedgehog*

      “Apparently he had brought in the temps, anticipating a layoff. These three would be our dept.’s layoffs to spare the rest of the lab employees from losing their jobs. Interesting tactic.”

      I…have no words for what to call this. Was this benevolent? Was it evil? Could it be both at the same time? He hired 3 people just because he knew he was going to have to fire 3 people. “I’d like to introduce you to your new sacrificial la–uh, colleagues…”

      1. Artemesia*

        I can’t believe that would work. Surely management would notice they are temps and not rehiring temps is not laying people off. but kudos to him for pulling it off.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My thought as well.

          If layoffs are looming, that’s also usually a hiring freeze setup to avoid this kind of shenanigans!

          1. irene adler*

            Small company (less than 50 people).
            My boss is very well respected for his knowledge. And extremely intelligent. Most people make no attempt to question whatever he wants to do. Not from fear, but from sheer brilliance on his part. He makes things so incomprehensible that they go along with his plans. They are unable to question them.

  19. iglwif*

    This person sounds like a composite of several different people I’ve had the misfortune to work with over the years. People who in retrospect make hilarious stories, but at the time were skin-crawlingly annoying and productivity-killing. If it helps at all, LW, one day Incompetemp will be nothing to you but some amazingly hilarious stories to tell at parties!

    Definitely tell your manager about the ways in which Incompetemp is slowing you down, making you do extra work, etc. Tell them with documentation. Do you have time-tracking software? If so, can you Mcgyver it to help you document exactly how much of your time is being spent on correcting Incompetemp’s errors?

  20. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    One workaround if you can’t get rid of her: every time you give her an answer, tell her to write it down. Hand her a pen and a piece of paper then and there if you need to. And then the next time it comes up, say “it should be in your notes from the last time we talked about this.”

    1. irene adler*

      Know what?
      This is a very good suggestion.
      For normal people.

      But I’m betting she’ll be forced to eat those notes to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.

      Being a spy, and all, means one has to do some very unsavory things at times.

      1. Even Steven*

        Irene adler, you made my day! I have an unexpected snow day here in Seattle (which is already hilarious by itself). It’s a treat to be on AAM during the day, as I can’t read it at work. I have been chuckling away at everyone’s comments here, but you just made me snort tea all over my keyboard.

        I agree with the brain trust – try to save as many great anecdotes as possible from this temp’s beautiful mind, but also gently report her inefficiencies (temps are EXPENSIVE!) to her manager.

        Oh, and I am in my 50s, and Canadian, and even though the joke is “Oh, you’re from Winnipeg, you must know Joe”, and the thing is that you actually do because yes, Canada is pretty small, I am pretty sure that the Canadian govt didn’t recruit toddler spies for the Cuban missile crisis. If they had, I’m pretty sure my Mom would have volunteered me. :)

    2. incompetemp's colleague*

      She actually does have notes of EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING.

      She prints out every single email she gets and keeps them in a binder. She prints out our process docs and scribbles all over them when I help her out with stuff.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I was about to say—this is what my Silent Generation grandparents do. (My Boomer parents are savvier than incompetemp.)

        2. MattKnifeNinja*

          My Boomer boss does this. He’s murdered more trees than an Emerald Ash bore.

          25 emails? 25 five prints. If he can’t find an email, he makes me hunt through his binder.

          This is #1 in you drive me insane lis.

      1. irene adler*

        This note-taking makes her look so competent, so busy, keeping track of all the information. But in reality it’s just a show.
        She can’t find the information she needs when she needs it. And that’s a problem.

        I take notes too (though not nearly as much as incompetemp seems to). But then I can locate said notes when I need them.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        “She prints out every single email she gets and keeps them in a binder.”

        I am equal parts not surprised and gaping like a shocked goldfish at this revelation. And I have so many questions. How is this binder organized? In the order they were received? Alphabetically by sender? By topic? Are there tabs? In what way is a binder of printouts more useful than just never deleting anything and using the inbox’s search function? Where is incompetemp? Who is incompotemp? Why is incompotemp?

        I think my brain is broken now.

        1. incompetemp's colleague*

          I’m honestly not sure. But one time, I got to work after a day off and I had a bunch of printed out emails from her about a topic she wanted to keep me in the loop in.

          I was CCed on every single email.

          1. iglwif*


            And yet, this is not the first time I’ve heard of something like this? In Old!Job we had a departing contact at a customer who turned out to be like this. As in, she had a binder in which she kept printouts of emails from us, and another binder in which she kept printouts from the granting agency, and on and on … I SAW THE BINDERS.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        I briefly managed a temp who was Queen of All Notewriters, and yet could never do her job by referencing them. She was supposed to generate formatted reports from raw data. It was someone else’s job (not mine), but somehow I got to train and manage the temp on this. I had typed up the process ahead of time, yet as we went through training, she insisted on taking her own line-by-line, full-sentence notes (okay, fine). This made the whole process much longer. She never got the hang of it in the 3 months she was there, in spite of claiming intermediate Excel knowledge and being a quick learner who would proactively look for YouTube videos if she wasn’t sure how to do something. Nope, she asked me everything, and I’m not sure if the notes did her any good at all. I replaced her with an Excel macro, and now it’s all automated in Tableau.

      4. Blarg*

        The more extra work a person creates, the more overwhelmed they feel by their job in my experience.

        I inherited a filing system based on whether something was paper clipped or stapled. Now there’s no filing cause there’s no paper. Not only was her system redundant and ridiculous, everything she was keeping on paper exists in electronic formats with clear retention policies. My predecessor retire after many years at our agency. She felt beyond her depth as her job evolved that she kept doing more and more to try to keep track. We emptied out entire file cabinets full of crap that was never needed in the first place.

  21. Wendy*

    We once had a temp that sounds very similar. She was originally hired to help catch up on backlog and to cover a couple of duties while people were on vacation.

    By the time we’ve finished the training and realised how bad she was (both work-related and her interpersonal skills) it was too late to have someone else sent from the agency and trained before the various vacations started. We told management our concerns, but it basically came down to her or no one because of the time crunch. They finally listened after four or five months, when we all said we’d rather deal with the extra work than deal with her.

  22. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    It’s so difficult to not have any authority or control over this type of situation. Something similar happened to me once with, and I was spending a significant amount of time fixing the temp’s work, answering too-basic questions, etc. I finally went to the temp’s manager and said that I had certain urgent high priority projects and didn’t have time to invest in the temp on a daily basis for the time being. I then proposed to direct all the temp’s questions and work product to the manager for a three week period (to enable me to focus on the urgent projects), and surprisingly, the manager agreed. And 3 weeks later, the manager had had enough (being forced to deal with the temp directly), and the temp was replaced.

    Yet another similar situation happened with a new employee who was several levels above me, and with whom I shared a manager. I had been charged with initial training and work product oversight for this new employee, despite my junior status. For several months, I told my manager that the employee didn’t have the skills or experience to do the work, and that the work product was quite awful. It wasn’t until months later, when I went on vacation for two weeks, and the employee had to go to our manager for help, that our manager realized how awful the work product was (when forced to review it). Eventually the employee was fired, although it took too long, in my opinion.

    Managers can conveniently ignore things that don’t directly impact them, but put the problem on their plate, and they might take notice.

    1. zora*

      ooo, I love the short-term proposal as a way for the manager to see the scope of the problem! That is so great. And yet more likely for them to accept than if you made it seem like a new workflow moving forward permanently.

  23. KayEss*

    I laughed at “Bob has a nest of old soda cans under his desk,” because… I literally have a nest of old soda cans under my desk right at this moment. My office building doesn’t offer recycling (what?) and I have a 2-a-day Diet Coke habit, so I corral my cans in a bag and take them home to recycle when it’s full.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I had mine in a cabinet for years but not due to recycling, I’m originally from a state with deposits. I’m not just recycling 10c a day!

  24. Guacamole Bob*

    This sort of letter reminds me of discussions we have here sometimes about how much capital you have at work, and why it’s important. If you’re constantly in your manager’s office complaining about colleagues and nitpicking others’ work and whatnot, it makes it much harder to be effective in reporting something like this. If you’re known as someone who does good work and wants to see the organization succeed and who is generally able to get along with coworkers, then a manager is much more likely to take it seriously when you feel that something like this warrants their attention.

  25. Ginger*

    You know you have a real problem on your hands when Alison says your letter is the most interesting and entertaining :)

  26. Data Miner*

    If your manager says they’ll address it, you can ask them if they’d like you to follow up, say in a month, if you still see the same things happening…

  27. Doodle*

    At lunch is just as much of an issue. It’s inappropriate and potentially harassing / contributing to a hostile work environment. That one has to stop immediately.

  28. Nanani*

    Is this temp related to someone higher up in the organization, or perhaps to an important client/donor/other person with “pull”?

    Because I can’t help but associate that level of unprofessionalism paired with staggering incompetence with the profile of someone who doesn’t actually have to worry about merit.

  29. JSPA*

    The weird, circular writing worries me quite a bit, in the context of other statements of non-fact.

    Conspiracy theories and playing fast-and-loose with facts can be a lot of things. But delusions coupled with paranoia coupled with inappropriateness coupled with a certain set of language processing oddities (including over-constructed sentences that read like a spiderweb of referents that circle the subject)…I’ve seen that before, and it ended very badly.

    I’d first like to say that schizophrenia–even uncontrolled schizophrenia–does not make someone dangerous. (Delusional people in general and schizophrenics in particular are not statistically more dangerous than people who don’t have mental issues. There are many coping, high-functioning people with schizophrenia in the world. I’ve worked with some that I know of, presumably also some that I didn’t know of, and I’d be happy to work with more.) But delusional, paranoid thinking does make someone harder to predict–someone whose brain follows “common reality” generally is easier to read, if they’re getting upset enough to do something drastic–and it does ramp up the possibility that they will see highly disproportionate actions as reasonable.

    I overlapped at work with someone fairly new who became increasingly reality-compromised and problematic (though no direct threats in our workplace) who ended up shooting up a facility and being killed by the cops after killing others. The department cut him slack and tried to provide helpful direction for several months under the heading of, “maybe it’s a spectrum thing” and “focus on the actions not the person.” (This was a few years ago; read consider it in that context.)

    Stilted diction (occasionally verging on word salad), perseveration, growing inability to focus on and complete tasks, and odd topics of conversation and general inappropriateness with subordinates and coworkers were all well-in-evidence. He was let go primarily for general “date me? C’mon, why not?” inappropriateness with younger women (luckily for us, I suppose) about six months before the final incident. Turned out afterwards that he’d had several involuntary commitments in other states, prior (where the rules for such commitment require that someone be a current, active threat to themselves or others).

    If the person were a fully-integrated part of the team, and if some of you had personal standing to encourage the person to get help, or if, at minimum, they had access to health care through the job, I’d be encouraging OP to find a way to have a, “you really don’t seem like yourself lately, and I’m worried about you” talk. Helping people get the support they need is a win, all around.

    But I’m not sure there’s a basis to offer that sort of help, here, if that’s indeed what’s needed. (I tried to sit with the problem guy at break a couple of times, to figure out if maybe we had anything in common that could be used as a springboard for that talk. Didn’t work.) Following a very strange “cc to all” message I sent an email to the department head, explaining how worrisome the situation was. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to do so. I’m sorry other people are dead! But I’m (in part, selfishly) really, really glad he was banned from our grounds–or I and a few dozen other people might not be here today.

    I only wish there had been enough of a smoking gun (before, you know, the actual gun…and the booby traps and bombs in his apartment) to bring him more firmly to the attention of psychological social services.

    All of this to say, people have a right to weird beliefs. People also have a right to medical accommodations. People also have a right not to be stereotyped. But if someone has a bunch of really troubling issues that are problematic in their own right and, taken together, raise the likelihood that significant intervention would be needed to fix an underlying problem, it’s probably better for all concerned if they are required to seek effective treatment and/or leave.

    It tears me up to say this in a country where people often have to go off needed meds due to cost, or are unable to get a diagnosis because their health care doesn’t include psych visits. I’ve seen friends stuck in that bind. It’s ugly. The results are ugly. But a high stress, slow motion melt down with no exit path isn’t necessarily kinder than a quick exit.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Thanks for this post. Mental illness of any sort never entered my mind. Definitely enlightening information here.

    2. Slartibartfast*

      You might be on to something. I have shizophrenics in my close family, no indication of violent tendencies thankfully but the disconnect here is something… familiar? I didn’t want to read into it more than was there but it did remind me of family’s behavior.

  30. The elephant in the room*

    1. “Imcompotemp” hahahahahahaha

    2. I work in the healthcare industry, so at first I was like, “What’s wrong with talking about bodily fluids at lunch?” But then I remembered this isn’t a normal thing in other offices…. (Never OUR OWN, though. That would be inappropriate. It’s always in a medical capacity.)

    3. I read the bit about being an army spy to one of my coworkers and he just looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

    I didn’t come here today to be helpful, I was just very much entertained by this question. Allison’s advice is good and thanks for the laughs, OP.

    1. Mym*

      …former Peace Corps volunteer. Poop is always acceptable mealtime conversation when three or more of us get together. I feel you on the “oh yeah, that’s not normal in OTHER offices” moment.

    2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      So very true, and can happen in homes as well. When I was growing up my parents were a night shift nurse and a chemical engineer who specialized in waste water treatment. Oh the random (and I’m sure gross to outsiders) conversations that would happen at our dinner table. Took about two weeks in college to realize that wasn’t the norm.
      Mom was always very careful about patient privacy though for anyone who is wondering.

  31. Former Retail Manager*

    Sadly, the work related impact of her incompetence cannot be overlooked to enable you to keep her around solely for future entertaining updates about the nonsensical (and gross, like who discusses that stuff, really??? ick) stuff that she talks about. You’re gonna have to pass this on to the boss. Alison’s advice is excellent.

  32. Parenthetically*

    I am going to be skeeved out for DAYS about someone talking about semen at work, holy hell, I’m just here to say SHUT IT DOWN, OP, you do not have to listen to that!

  33. Lucille2*

    I used to work with incompotemp. Her legend lived on in my office long after she was fired. She was bat-shit crazy and completely incompetent, but there was never a dull moment during her tenure. Honestly, I believe the crazy and the incompetence were both symptoms of the same problem. Alison is right, you kind of have to focus on the performance issues, but this person is clearly living in her own alternate universe. And in that universe, she is a stellar employee.

    1. Avalon Angel*

      I’m kinda hoping Alison will do an “Incompotemp” post…these comments have been true gems!

  34. Former Help Desk Peon*

    Can you call them an incompetemp if they’re permanent? Incompeperm? Doesn’t ring the same note. But we worked with a guy on help desk that was as bad. His only good quality was that he would actually answer the phone. Didn’t solve the problem OR take good notes, but hey. Warm body. Similar to “George” as documented at ChroniclesOfGeorge (I’d link but not sure if that’s frowned on here)

  35. Indie*

    I think incompotemp was my predecessor at one role. God those people loved me. They used to tell stories about how she had taken the job as a provincial reporter as a rather unlikely stepping stone to soap opera fame. She used to tell stories about her work as a police detective even though she was barely out of her teens and couldn’t converse at all with our police contacts. She asked one sergeant if he had ever been a celebrity bodyguard in the style of Kevin Costner. At work she liked to divide her time between sleeping in her car and making noisy slimmer shakes with her own archaic blender. Her copy was badly spelled, in the style of a breathy pre-teen and consisting of totally invented untruths. I think she knew someone.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      …so she was a “journalist” who fabricated her stories?!

      Whoa. That’s a good way to permanently end your career, and I’m shocked and disheartened that she was actually kept on despite her flagrantly unethical work because she “knew someone.”

      1. Indie*

        I wasn’t there but it was more that she was batshit than unethical. She was made to rewrite everything correctly and she was genuinely shocked that she couldn’t dramatise and bullshit everything. My boss said he was constantly waiting for her to have a ‘road to Damascus’ moment as to what the job was all about. She was given the heave-ho pretty swiftly; but it was such a competitive field I wonder how she got a shot at all.

  36. Avalon Angel*

    Am I the only one reminded of “The Larry Sanders Show” episode with Jerry Seinfeld?

    Jerry: Our weird intern found Hank asleep on the set couch.
    Larry: You have a weird intern, too?!? What does he do?
    Jerry: He’s just weird.
    Larry: That’s what ours does!

  37. gleiw*

    My one vicious “cc all” moment also happened early in my career, although I was no longer an intern. I had to jump in to rescue a neglected project deliverable. The person responsible for it left the company and neither the overall project manager (i.e. the boss of my immediate superior) nor anyone else on the team realized that bit of work was never done until the deadline was right upon us.
    Since I was pretty good with the area the deliverable dealt with, my boss and the project manager assigned me to it full time in a Hail Mary shot to make it on time. We set an internal deadline and if I couldn’t make it by then they’d have to inform the client about the delay and negotiate for extending the project deadline.
    So I worked my butt off like only a young person with something to prove who just got entrusted with an Very Important Mission would. Two weeks of hyper focused work (peppered with a few quick meals and naps) later the job was done, a couple of days before our internal deadline. The project manager just made a few minor changes to my draft report and sent it to my boss and me to run them by us before sending it on to the client.
    One of the changes he made was adding a list of authors, which included my name – or rather, a horribly misspelled rendition of it. I replied with the same document with my name corrected, cc’ing the entire project team (fourteen people, only four of whom were cc’ed in the manager’s e-mail that I was replying it).
    In hindsight (which came to me as soon as five minutes after I sent the e-mail) it was very unprofessional even if it felt right the moment I hit “Send”, though the only reaction I got was a “Sorry about that Gleiw” in the next e-mail from the manager.

  38. SamanthaCrafty*

    OP, I have worked with this same woman in a similar situation! I really feel for you. I did not hire her and could not fire her, but either informally or eventually formally, I had to manage her. She’s actually pretty smart, but very poorly matched with the job – can’t follow directions, can’t remember details, can’t read social cues, engages in bizarre conspiracy theorizing… It may help you to put directions in writing if you find verbally explaining things is not “sticking.” You have to force her to check in with you step-by-step on anything of consequence, or risk her going down a timesuck rabbit hole of correcting typos in other departments’ memos. I don’t want to play armchair psychologist, but these symptoms are unique and strangely similar enough to my former colleague that I strongly suggest you Google “Aspergers in women” or “undiagnosed aspergers in adult women.” It will be eye opening to you and help you learn to communicate with her better in the short term, whether or not your boss takes action.

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