an employee keeps complaining to me about her boss, who I manage

A reader writes:

I’ve been the director of my library for about two years now, and there’s one employee who I’m having a really hard time understanding how to manage.

Cynthia is managed by Jessica, and I manage Jessica. Cynthia is very type A and holds people to incredibly high standards. This sometimes makes her difficult to work with, as she is very meticulous and gets upset when others don’t work in the same manner as she.

Cynthia most frequently complains about her manager, Jessica, who takes a much more right-brained approach to her job. Jessica’s management style is loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow. I believe in a busy public library where flexibility is key, Jessica’s approach is beneficial.

When Cynthia complains to me about Jessica, I have tried to redirect her to work it out with Jessica herself, and to be more adaptable to different management styles. But she continues to complain about Jessica to others and to me, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve asked her not to do this, but it seems like she feels I’m not doing my job if I don’t discipline Jessica in some way.

I believe she wants me to agree with her and hold her manager accountable in a way she doesn’t believe I am currently doing. I feel like she wants me to put the same kind of pressure on Jessica that she puts on herself, and I’m not interested in being that kind of supervisor. I am happy with Jessica’s performance. If I don’t take the action Cynthia believes I should take, she sulks and complains to the other employees.

In all honesty, Jessica is much easier to work with than Cynthia is because she doesn’t get so worked up about everything. In my opinion, I’ll take a team player who moves at her own pace over a hard worker who complains about everything. Do you have any words of advice for dealing with Cynthia?

Ooooh, you need to shut this down.

It’s not okay for Cynthia to be constantly complaining about Jessica to you or others. It’s not a good use of your time to field the same complaints over and over again, and by not shutting it down more assertively, you’re inadvertently signaling to her that it’s okay for her to keep bringing it up. That’s really undermining to Jessica! And by allowing Cynthia to sulk and complain about Jessica to others, you’re letting her create a toxic environment for other employees … and again letting her undermine Jessica.

It’s not clear to me if Jessica knows this is happening, but if she does, she’s probably pretty frustrated with you for not handling this more assertively.

If your main response to Cynthia has been to tell her to work it out with Jessica directly and to be more adaptable, that’s not enough. That might have been fine the first time Cynthia complained to you, but it sounds like for a while now she has needed to hear a clear statement that you are happy with Jessica’s work and disagree with her complaints. If you haven’t said that straight-out, she probably thinks you don’t feel strongly about the situation either way and are just being passive about getting involved. And she probably thinks she should keep advocating for change because you haven’t clearly told her that you don’t agree with her take. (She may even think you’re sympathetic to her case.)

You need to tell her much, much more clearly that you are happy with Jessica’s work, and you need to shut down the chronic complaining.

The next time Cynthia complains to you about Jessica, say this: “We’ve talked about this a number of times, and I don’t agree with your assessment. I’m happy with Jessica’s work, and think she’s doing an excellent job. I hear that you have concerns, but Jessica and I both need you to figure out on your own if you’re able to be reasonably happy in your job, knowing that the things you dislike aren’t going to change. This is not a conversation that you and I can keep having; it’s becoming disruptive to our work.”

From there, if she brings it up again, cut it off right away: “We’ve talked about this in the past, and it’s not a discussion we’re going to continue to have. I’m concerned that you’re not hearing that message.”

Frankly, someone also needs to address the sulking, but that should really be Jessica, as her boss. So if you haven’t already, you need to loop Jessica into what’s been going on and tell her explicitly that you have her back in shutting down the sulking the next time it happens. If she doesn’t have experience dealing with Cynthia types, you may need to coach her through what that looks like. You can suggest language like, “I understand you’re frustrated about X, and I’ve heard your concerns. X isn’t going to change so I need you to decide if you can work here knowing that.” And, “While I understand you’re frustrated, you can’t take that out on your coworkers — I need you to engage in real discussion when people ask you questions and not turn your back when people are talking with you (or fill in whatever specific behaviors are reading as sulking). If you think about it and realize that you’re too unhappy here to do what I’m asking, let’s talk and we’ll figure out what to do from here.”

Right now it sounds like you’re staying too neutral, and that’s what’s letting this continue. Get in there and manage the situation more proactively — and support Jessica in doing that too!

(I do want to note that in general, managers need to be open to hearing concerns about the managers below them. You don’t want to reflexively send people back to their managers to work things out when there might be serious problems you’d miss otherwise. But it sounds like you’ve considered Cynthia’s concerns and are confident in your assessment of the situation.)

{ 306 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. No Mercy Percy

    Alison is spot on, this needs to be shut down. You risk losing Jessica if this keeps going on, which it sounds like you don’t want to happen.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer

    ” If you haven’t said that straight-out, she probably thinks you don’t feel strongly about the situation either way and are just being passive about getting involved. And she probably thinks she should keep advocating for change because you haven’t clearly told her that you don’t agree with her take. (She may even think you’re sympathetic to her case.)” This exactly. I hope you make the needed changes, OP. And I agree with you, I’d take a Jessica over a Cynthia any day.

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  3. Observer

    Also if you actually hear her complaining about you or Jessica to other workers, SHUT IT DOWN IMMEDIATELY! That’s just unacceptable in this context.

    You do need to be careful here, as she has a legal right to discuss her conditions of employment with others. Which means that if your library or library system has an HR function, reach out to them on how to do this.

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    1. roisin54

      This, so much.

      There was a very similar situation at my library. The main differences were that no one was really sure why our Cynthia hated our Jessica so much, and Jessica hated Cynthia right back. Jessica was just much better at hiding it and didn’t snipe about Cynthia to anyone who’d listen. Cynthia though would try to draw all and sundry into the feud and try to get us agree with her about how awful Jessica was. Jessica basically could not manage Cynthia and pretty much left it up to the next highest ranking person in the department to deal with her. It wasn’t an issue most of the time but any flare-ups of this feud (always caused by Cynthia) made the work environment incredibly awkward for the rest of us.

      In the end, Cynthia tried the same crap with our new department head after a reorganization and it backfired spectacularly. The new department head is much more hard-line and does not tolerate Cynthia’s brand of shenanigans. Cynthia was on her way to getting suspended for insubordination six months after the reorg and decided to retire early instead. Jessica, meanwhile, is still here several years later. And no one really misses Cynthia.

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    2. serenity

      Do “conditions of employment” include constant belittling and complaining about manager to others? That seems like an over broad reading of employment law.

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      1. Observer

        Well, it can apparently get tricky – look at some rulings and you’ll see what I mean. (Where, for instance, use of extremely foul language about a boss and their family was protected under the law on these grounds.) Which is why I suggested talking to HR if they have someone good in that role.

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      2. Drago Cucina

        This is something that’s covered under our Corrective Action Procedures. It wouldn’t be employment law, but insubordination is something that we counsel for and would be included in personnel records. If it continued it could be used as grounds for dismissal. While I’m in a right to work state I always document, document, document. It saved me from an age discrimination suit after a year of documenting performance problems.

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  4. Going anon

    This is eerily close to the situation at my old employer (also a library). In that case, Cynthia was my peer, and we both reported to Jessica. When Cynthia didn’t get what she wanted from Jessica’s boss, she started going to HR and the boss’s boss, over and over, trying to get someone to do what she wanted. It got very ugly, and our whole department ended up getting coaching by the ombudsperson.

    Cynthia’s constant negativity created a really unpleasant work environment, and was a major factor in my leaving when I did. I let them know this in my exit evaluation. I think it’s likely that other employees are picking up on this dynamic, and it’s leading to a less happy workplace for them.

    I hope you’ll follow Alison’s advice. If my former boss’s boss had taken this approach, it would have benefited everyone involved.

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    1. Another library anon

      I actually first found AAM when I was dealing with a similar situation, in a library, and I was the Jessica! I almost think you’re my former report except that we didn’t do the ombuds coaching, so I guess it’s just another eerie similarity. In our case, my boss was kind of taken aback by the whole thing and wanted to seem fair even though he supported me… so for a while he patiently heard her out… eventually we figured out that he just had to shut it down. That caused our Cynthia to flail around complaining to HR, her great-grandboss, etc. before getting put on a PIP for the original problem, her unpleasant and disrespectful behavior towards a coworker. (Her beef with me was that I was supporting the coworker/valuing work approaches over sheer results.)

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    2. yet another library anon

      ain’t no drama like a library drama.

      our situation isn’t exactly like this, but it could be another verse, I suppose.

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  5. Lance

    I’d have a hard time imagining Jessica doesn’t know this is happening… or, at the very least, that something is happening with Cynthia, given how much she apparently keeps going to OP. So along with addressing it with Cynthia, I might suggest addressing it with Jessica just as well, and working out a plan together for how to move forward (though that doesn’t change the fact that you need to be shutting Cynthia down at this point, since the shut-down won’t be as meaningful to her if it comes from Jessica… even if she is Cynthia’s direct manager).

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    1. JustAClarifier

      +1 I want to second this comment. Jessica probably knows this is happening, as well, and may also be wondering why something hasn’t been done about the situation. If it has not already happened yet, having that conversation with Jessica and with HR, as mentioned in another comment above, is a good plan. I’m honestly shocked that the behavior has been allowed to continue as long as it has.

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    2. LiveAndLetDie

      I think OP and Jessica need to come together to both use language to make it very clear that it is not okay to escalate past your direct supervisor for issues that do not merit escalation. OP needs to make it clear that “a difference in personal styles between the two of you is not worth escalating to management,” and Jessica needs to make it clear that if she determines that something is not worth addressing, her choice needs to be respected, and that constantly escalating things to OP just because she doesn’t like the answer is cause for concern.

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      1. Observer

        You do have to be careful there, though. Telling someone that that can’t escalate past their manager is a common tactic for keeping people from reporting actual and significant problems. So, you need to be really clear about what you mean when you say that she can’t escalate.

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        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

          Exactly. If Cynthia’s problems are due to/with Jessica, it’s hard to say ‘Don’t skip chain of command’ because the next in the chain is the problem.

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        2. LiveAndLetDie

          Well, yes, of course, that’s why I said “for issues that do not merit escalation.” OP of course needs to set the expectation that they are available for serious issues with Jessica’s management, but if Cynthia doesn’t have anything concrete to show her indicating there is a cause for concern (and thus far OP’s letter does not seem to indicate that there is), she needs to figure that out with Jessica, because it is Jessica’s job to manage her.

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          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

            I don’t know–scheduling and feedback are important. If Jessica isn’t scheduling fairly or timely, that’s an issue. And if she’s not giving feedback, that’s an issue. It depends what the complaints are here.

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            1. Pomona Sprout

              “I don’t know–scheduling and feedback are important. If Jessica isn’t scheduling fairly or timely, that’s an issue. And if she’s not giving feedback, that’s an issue.”

              I don’t see anything in the o.p.’s letter that says or even implies that this has anything to do with either scheduling or feedback, so the above seems kind of out of left field to me. Did I miss something?

              “It depends what the complaints are here.”

              Well, yes, it certainly does. But I think it sounds like this situation is past that point. Tthe o.p. says she has considered the complaints, whatever thay are, and has decided that she is satisfied with the way Jessica is managing and sees no reason or need to change whatever it is that Cynthia wants to change. The o.p. is asking how to handle things
              moving forward, and I personally don’t see any compelling reason to say, “Hey, back up, maybe Cynthia has a valid point after all,” instead of giving o.p. the advice she’s asked for, as Alison has so ably done. Especially since this sounds like a basic clash of personalities more than anything else.

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              1. Patty Mayonnaise

                The LW has said in the comments below that Cynthia has complained about a wide variety of things, including scheduling and feedback, but didn’t get into specifics about what the complaints were.

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  6. Akcipitrokulo

    Jessica really needs you to have her back on this one! If there were valid complaints that Cynthia is raising, then by all means deal with them – but this is just moaning about she doesn’t like her manager’s style (which you DO like!).

    If I were Jessica I might also have impression you agree with Cynthia’s assessment of her performance. It would be a good thing to let her know that you don’t.

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  7. KEG

    I agree you should shut down her constant complaining, but…are her complaints valid? The way you described Jessica doesn’t sound ideal either.

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      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

        I thin it’s laid back, go with the flow, fun part. That can be alarming. How fun is fun? How laid back is laid back? Is Jessica stepping up and working with her reports or blowing them off? I got nervous at that description of her style as well. It can be great but I’ve had a “fun” manager who absolutely showed favortism, didn’t care about work until it came back to bite us all, etc.

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        1. Jennifer

          She said she’s pleased with her work and that her management style fits with that kind of workplace. I’m going to take the OP’s word for that. It doesn’t sound like anyone else is complaining about this but Cynthia. It sounds like in this job you have to go with the flow instead of being completely rigid, like Cynthia.

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        2. Tiny Soprano

          There are workplaces where these are necessary qualities though, where a more traditional and rigid style would be vastly out of step – the inverse of how a fun, relaxed style would be completely wrong for most office contexts. Back in the mists of time I worked at a pop culture library where the culture was extremely laid-back and friendly, but yet all of the work still got done. A fun approach =/= automatic inefficiency. If OP finds Jessica’s work satisfactory and her demeanour appropriate for their work environment, I am inclined to believe that.

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      2. Antennapedia

        To me, “Jessica’s management style is loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow” could mean that Jessica does not provide enough managerial structure for an employee who prefers a more goal-directed work environment. It’s also absolutely possible that the OP is happy with Jessica’s work in spite of and not because of this approach. I’ve had the manager who is “fun” and insists everything works out in the end but fails to see that that a team of “type A” employees are busting their butts to ensure the success she thinks just magically happens.

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        1. Team Cynthia

          Exactly, Cynthia should find a new job that is more suitable for a go-getter and leave these two humdrum colleagues behind.

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              1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

                But it’s like Frankie and Grace. The easygoing, non detail oriented can be a horrible person to work for simply because they can’t manage. And the rigid people can be horrible to work for because they’re too black and white. OP needs to determine if Jessica is a good manager and good for her team and then have Jessica guide Cynthia in how to relax and flex more.

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                1. Jules the 3rd

                  y’all realize this is a library, right? The ability to flexibly and cheerfully respond to the insanity that happens in public libraries is priceless.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch

            As a “go-getter”, I’m rolling my eyes so hard at this comment. It’s funny you take her side when the letter shows nothing but the fact she’s complaining about things that don’t need to be changed. It’s a personality conflict, there’s no reason to take sides so vigorously.

            I do think she needs a new job because when you don’t vibe with your manager, that’s miserable and I don’t think anyone should be miserable day in and day out. If I’m constantly sulking at work, I’m looking for a way out, I don’t expect everything to change to just fit for what I prefer.

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            1. That Girl From Quinn's House

              “the fact she’s complaining about things that don’t need to be changed”

              Do they, though? I’ve been in the position of being the Difficult Cynthia, telling people things need to be changed. I once handed someone a safety compliance manual to show them the specific rules that needed to be changed, and they *threw the manual at me.*

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              1. That Girl From Quinn's House

                Followed, not changed. We were massively out of compliance with core safety standards.

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              2. OhBehave

                The fact that Cynthia’s grandboss (OP) is fine with Jessica’s work tells me that Cynthia needs to find a different job.

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            2. Michaela Westen

              Or it could be that Cynthia is uptight and anxious and would be about the same at any job. In that case, she needs to work on this.

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          2. Jennifer

            I think that’s a little harsh. And being loose and go with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t a go-getter.

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            1. Lynca

              Agreed. Going with the flow is more like adapting to the situation around you, not extreme passivity about it. If you need to change in order to succeed in the situation you do and that’s not mutually exclusive from being a go-getter as well.

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              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Yeah, some people here seem to be reading “laid-back” and “go with the flow” to mean Jessica is not doing her job, which is not indicated anywhere in the letter, and is honestly a bad-faith reading of the letter.

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                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

                  But there’s no indication of the exact complaints and if they have merit. OP may be great with Jessica and Jessica can be a good worker and lousy manager.

                2. GradStudent

                  What happened to the rule of believing the letter writer? You’re adding all this speculation that simply doesn’t have evidence to support it.

          3. wittyrepartee

            Sure, a different job that’s a better fit with what she brings to the table. There’s probably a lot of library environments that aren’t a “busy public library, where flexibility is valuable”.

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          4. Boobookitty

            What do you mean? The definition of humdrum, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is “lacking excitement or variety; boringly monotonous” which makes it an antonym of “fun”.

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        2. Jennifer

          Maybe that particular busy public library isn’t a structured, goal-directed work environment in general? I haven’t worked in one, so I’m not sure. It also seems that Cynthia is the only type A person on the team. Maybe the job just isn’t a good fit. According to the OP, flexibility is needed, not rigidity.

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          1. Percysowner

            I worked in a small, but busy special library. Loose, and go with the flow was practically a job requirement. In forward facing positions you have to be ready to drop whatever project you are working on and be prepared to answer a reference question, or just a question in general. In libraries, you are dealing with people and people throw you curve balls all the time. Maybe Cynthia is not in a forward facing department and can expect less interruption of work, but in other departments you need to be able to wear many hats and change them at the drop of a dime.

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            1. wittyrepartee

              It’s like retail work, only with people from a much wider range of income brackets and a lot more diversity of tasks.

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        3. Dust Bunny

          Confess this was a tiny red flag for me, too, especially the “works at her own pace” line later one.

          I’m not 100% convinced that the OP being pleased with Jessica’s work doesn’t mean they couldn’t *both* stand to be a little bit more exacting. I work in a library and know a lot of librarians by extension, and . . . flexibility is necessary, but it’s a profession that seems to harbor a lot of eccentrics, too.

          At the very least, it suggests that Jessica isn’t managing Cynthia effectively. And it does sound like Cynthia is over-the-top and possibly ill-suited to this job, but if I were the OP I wouldn’t let this go without ascertaining that Jessica is truly as effective in her role as she is “fun”. I’ve had “fun” bosses who were mostly just out of touch and, while they weren’t awful, would have done all of us better to be a little more focused. (And I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Type B personality.)

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          1. designbot

            I wondered about that in particular too, because ‘works at her own pace’ can be fine for an individual contributor but can make for a terrible boss.
            I confess I am a bit of a Cynthia who works for a bit of a Jessica, so I’m totally admitting to bringing my own baggage to this! In my case, the rub is that the Jessica isn’t good at being responsive to her employees and giving them what they need to do their jobs. So while I hear the OP that she’s happy with Jessica’s work, I’d encourage her to look at that in two different buckets—her individual work, and her management work. It could be that one is great and the other is where the issues lie.

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            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

              This is what I thought. Jessica is a fun person, OP likes her, but Jessica may be a not so good manager.

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              1. yasmara

                I wondered this too. But even taking the OP at her word that Jessica is a good manager, why isn’t the OP meeting directly with Jessica on a regular basis I as well? Maybe it was just left out of the letter, but it seems like no one is talking directly to each other, it’s all between third parties…

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            2. Tupac Coachella

              This comment made me wonder if maybe it’s Cynthia, not (or maybe in addition to) Jessica, that OP needs to give some coaching in this situation. It’s easier to manage incompatible personalities when the person making the complaints knows how to ask for what they actually want rather than just making enough noise that people know they’re unhappy. My guess from the letter is that Cynthia’s complaints are pretty vague and not very actionable, which is why she’s not getting the response she wants from Jessica or OP.

              If I’m right, then everyone might get some peace if OP helped Cynthia figure out what’s really bothering her and HOW to adapt before sending her back to Jessica to solve it. Cynthia may not know how to turn “Jessica doesn’t know how to get things done, OP!” into “Jessica, I’m concerned that the dinosaur display design isn’t on track to go up by the 1st. We had the same issue with the Pinkalicious display last month. Would it be possible to set an earlier deadline to order display materials in the future?” And if it really is just Cynthia hates Jessica and has a case of b*tch eating crackers without being able to articulate a work issue, OP can shut it down with Alison’s “this isn’t going to change, can you be happy in this job” wording.

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          2. TardyTardis

            I had a fun boss at the local library who was sweet as pie–and would spend over an hour chatting with one worker, her friend, while the rest of us did the work and made up for the lack of the employee and the manager being on board (like the time half of a local high school came down to get new library cards). Yeah, Jessica was fun, and so was the co-worker–but we resented the hell out of both of them at times.

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        4. MarfisaTheLibrarian

          What I got is that for that workplace it’s more important to be able to maybe roll with the punches, go off-script if that’s what needs to happen, etc, whereas Cynthia may want to go more by the book, these are the rules and the way things are done, which…sometimes doesn’t work in a public library. As an extrapolated example, say, Cynthia’s upset that, say, Jessica isn’t keeping meticulous paperwork, or always following protocol, but the LW prioritizes Jessica’s ability to, say, create rapport with patrons and juggle seventeen different patron needs at once. Obviously that’s a level of detail we don’t get in the letter, but it’s that kind of situation that I interpreted it as.

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        5. PMP

          I had the same thought, it sounds like OP is happy with Jessica’s “go with the flow” but, ironically, Allison is telling OP to be more active/pro-active…which if Jessica knows about all this complaining (I bet she does) she needs to be a little less go with the flow, and more direct as well. Just sayin’.

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        6. Confused

          This. I feel like I am the Cynthia at my job. My boss and coworkers think that they’re go with the flow, but they will freak out when things don’t happen and still not discipline people. I and my competent coworkers are left picking up the slack of the go with the flow people. It’s unfair and shitty and we want to quit. It’s not cool or fun to not provide your employees solid and concrete structure and guidance on a day to day basis. I bet Jessica is the first one to act like there’s a fire when something doesn’t happen.

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            1. TardyTardis

              Not in my experience–fun, go with the flow people always have their buddies, and their buddies aren’t held to as high as standard as us stick in the muds, who have to make up the work that the buddies don’t get done.

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          1. Ginger ale for all

            I work in a library and align with Jessica but I thoroughly love love love the Cynthia that I work with. She is the engine that gets things done in our library. Our library would fall apart without a person like Cynthia who balances us out so completely. So, Confused, please do not underestimate your value. It takes a variety of mindsets, backgrounds, personalities, etc. to have a well rounded library staff.

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            1. ginger ale for all

              Also, I have read this letter not as being a Type A and a Type B personality having a clash, I read it as a Type A personality who is being a horse’s ass.

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        7. wittyrepartee

          It depends, but not all positions benefit from super type A personalities. Like- no one needs a time cop as the children’s section’s librarian.
          “We close and lock the doors at exactly 10AM for circle time. Be there or be square!”

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          1. emmelemm

            That’s kind of how I saw it. Cynthia is a “lock the doors at 10:00” person, and if the doors don’t get locked at 10:00 am, she complains.

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            1. Jennifer

              Why didn’t you lock that toddler and his mom out of the kids’ reading room?! They got here at 10:01!

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          2. Tiny Soprano

            Type A personalities realllllly struggle in libraries, unless they are in a specifically finance/accounting/buying related back-office position. I am definitely not a Type A and I still found it a bit frustrating when I’d tidy and alphabetise the comics and manga room and come back ten minutes later to find it a mess. But that’s simply part of the job. Someone upthread pointed out it’s similar to retail, and I agree absolutely. Cynthia doesn’t sound like someone who is particularly suited to library work to me.

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          3. chi_type

            Just another random public librarian weighing in to agree with wittyrepartee, et al.
            I would far rather work for a Jessica than a Cynthia. Unfortunately my current boss is more Cynthia and it is not to the benefit of our patrons. She is far more concerned with enforcing the rules than she is with meeting the public’s needs.
            And having “fun” is about the only way anyone survives this job without becoming bitter.

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            1. yet another library anon

              Back in my public library days, our boys was a Cynthia with us, and a Jessica with the patrons. As in “What are you doing sitting down when you’re sick and all the work is done and your shift lead said you could!” but oooooh, the patrons could walk all over us, and we were just supposed to take it and smile.

              “Resolve it to the patron’s satisfaction” *sounds* like a nice enough motto in theory, but when it practice it means “No, you can’t put a note on that patron’s account saying she threw a book at an employee’s head. It upsets her to have a note on her account!” or infamously…apologizing to patrons who were upset at there being a deaf employee at the check-out (not for doing anything wrong. Just…because she was deaf).

              Hands down, that branch was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever worked.

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        8. Burned Out Supervisor

          Being laid back and go with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean Jessica is unsupportive or ineffectual. If everyone is doing their work, meeting goals, and having their needs met, it could mean that the culture of the office is this way and doesn’t need a hard nosed supervisor. If Cynthia is really the only one complaining, it’s just not a culture fit. From how I read the letter, Jessica may be more forgiving of errors, more collaborative in her feedback style, and lets the team figure out processes that work for them as long as targets are met rather than being dictatorial. It seems as if Cynthia either is gunning for Jessica’s job because she feels her standards are better, or just feels that people aren’t being held accountable. If it’s the former, it’s a culture fit and should be nipped in the bud. If it’s the latter, well, I think it’s more of a matter that Cynthia feels as if she’s entitled to have input on how the whole team is managed…and that also needs to be nipped in the bud.

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            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

              OP has commented she needs to review the team. Jessica may very well (probably is, at least partially) at fault here.

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              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Wow, you are really digging in here. OP has also explained some of Cynthia’s baseless complaining (re: teen volunteers), and you continue to knee-jerk take Cynthia’s side here and assume the worst of Jessica. I think you need to step back and examine your own biases. By all of OP’s accounts (Manager in comments), I have yet to see anything that would indicate Jessica is failing to do her job, but plenty to show that Cynthia is a high-maintenance employee.

                Reply
        9. Tarra

          Sometimes though all that type A stuff isn’t needed. It’s just easier to think it is if you’re the type A type.

          Reply
      3. The Supreme Troll

        Exactly. I mean, I could read something else into “loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow”, and maybe in my interpretation, a manager with that style would not by successful in all kinds of environments. But there is absolutely nothing indicated by the OP that she is displeased with Jessica’s leadership methods.

        Reply
    1. Lynca

      I take the OP’s word they are happy with Jessica’s performance and they indicate there is only one employee (out of multiple) that has an issue with Jessica.

      And the issue is that they don’t like how Jessica manages or performs the work. Not that Jessica is doing anything wrong with the way she does it. To me Jessica sounds fine, but Cynthia needs to be more flexible.

      Reply
    2. Genny

      Personally, as someone who is also pretty type A, I’d really struggle under Jessica’s style of management. There’s being loose, fun, and flexible and then there’s having no plan or strategic vision for the team. Cynthia sounds completely out of line, but it might be a good idea to keep an ear out for similar complaints/frustrations from the other staff. Jessica may be doing a great job and be beloved by staff and clients alike or her style may be causing frustrations for her staff and Cynthia’s just the loudest, most obnoxious voice in the room pointing out the problem. I don’t think LW needs to start an in-depth investigation or anything, just keep her ears open.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        It doesn’t say that there’s no strategic vision for the team. I think people are making a lot of assumptions about Jessica without any detail in the OP to back it up.

        Reply
        1. Genny

          I didn’t say that Jessica doesn’t have a strategic vision, just that the description LW provided could be interpreted another way from someone with a different POV (like a direct report instead of a boss). Cynthia could be the proverbial canary in the coal mine who is also obnoxious or she could just be a PITA. It’s easy to dismiss complaints when they come from generally obnoxious people or are made in the wrong way, so I’m merely encouraging LW not to immediately discard the message because the messenger is obnoxious.

          Reply
        2. Close Bracket

          > I think people are making a lot of assumptions about Jessica without any detail in the OP to back it up.

          To be fair, you are among them. OP doesn’t say that there *is* a strategic vision for the team. Alison gave advice assuming that everything with Jessica is hunky dory, which it just might be! But we don’t know that.

          Everything just might not be hunky dory, and it’s fair enough to suggest to the OP that she reflect on whether Cynthia might have a point about certain things.

          Reply
          1. Jennifer

            I didn’t say there was a strategic vision or that there wasn’t. There’s nothing to indicate that everything isn’t hunky dory. I am more of a Jessica than a Cynthia, Cynthias tend to drive me up the wall, so that may play a role in my opinion, but I’m not just making things up out of thin air.

            Reply
              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Same here. Some folks are really projecting, it seems. Nothing OP has said has indicated that Jessica is a problem and it’s really telling how many folks are more willing to insist that the problem is there than it is with Cynthia.

                Reply
      2. Confused

        Jessica may be good at certain things that are important to the library but also not be an appropriate manager for Cynthia.

        Reply
      3. Burned Out Supervisor

        Frankly, sometimes individual contributors have a pretty narrow view of the strategic vision of the department. They also have no idea about how their manager is or isn’t managing their co-workers. Jessica may have a laid-back persona for her team so that she can be seen as approachable to her reports. If Cynthia has a beef with mistakes being made, she should bring that to Jessica and then trust that Jessica is working with that employee to improve. Just because she may not see how the sausage is being made, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.

        Reply
        1. LiveAndLetDie

          +1000! People higher up the chain often do not provide their direct reports with every nitty-gritty detail and that is normal in a workplace.

          Reply
      4. Someone Else

        I think in this situation though it’s not a matter of Cynthia being “right” or Jessica being “right”. If OP is cool with Jessica’s work, that’s her prerogative because she’s in charge. We have no details about the nature of the disagreement really, other than laid-back vs type A, so taking that at face value, it’s totally reasonable for OP to tell Cynthia she’s been heard, but they disagree and to drop it. If Cynthia can’t stand that after being told directly, it’s the definition of bad cultural fit. There’s no accusations of malfeasance, or lack of security, or chaos and complete disorganization or anything else that suggests it’s problematic to simply disagree with Cynthia about whether her issues are actual issues. It sounds like nobody’s falling down on the job here, they just want to work in very different ways, either of which could get the job done, and absent Cynthia’s complaining this could’ve been fine.

        Reply
    3. Lissa

      It sounds like a style mismatch. Jessica’s approach might not be ideal for Cynthia, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong – same thing if it was flipped. If Jessica was a more easygoing, go with the flow employee but Cynthia was a manager who preferred a different way, then Jessica would have to deal or leave. I think sometimes someone can be a bad fit without anyone needing to be “bad”.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        This is where I keep falling.

        It sounds like Cynthia will never be pleased because she’ll never get whatever she wants from Jessica in terms of what she needs for a manager. It happens, it’s not because either Cynthia or Jessica are bad at their jobs or as humans, they just don’t have the ability to work well together. One will have to go at some point or they’ll have to learn to live with each other, such is life.

        Reply
      2. Legal Beagle

        Spot on. Jessica’s management style sounds like my nightmare – but for some people it would be great. Cynthia and Jessica seem like they are just not a good match, and Cynthia is handling that fact very poorly. Maybe she can be moved under a different manager, or maybe she should find a new job. Either way, OP needs to intervene much more strongly, or this will create morale problems for all the employees who are exposed to it.

        Reply
        1. wittyrepartee

          It may also be that Jessica’s management and personality are perfect for her job too. She might be good at wearing a lot of hats, working with patrons with different needs and personalities, and dealing with a shifting task structure.

          Reply
          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

            But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a good manager. Being flexible is awesome but Jessica may be great at what you mention and lousy at handling direct reports and giving feedback. It sucks being the report wanting to know how they’re doing and you boss doesn’t do feedback, is too vague, and/or says you’re doing fine and then you’re blindsided by a list of mistakes.

            Reply
            1. Burned Out Supervisor

              From the letter, it actually sounds as if Cynthia is upset that others aren’t doing the work according to her standards and that Jessica isn’t enforcing Cynthia’s standards, for whatever reason. From the tone of OP’s letter, it doesn’t sound as if those standards are necessary for this library (akin to over/under debate for the toilet paper roll).

              Reply
              1. LiveAndLetDie

                I get the impression that Jessica isn’t enforcing Cynthia’s standards because they weren’t her standards to set, really. The OP indicated that the new trainer is doing a perfectly good job with less rigorous standards.

                Reply
        2. Tiny Soprano

          Also, even if Jessica’s management style were a nightmare, Cynthia is handling it extremely unprofessionally by sulking and making herself a nuisance to the team.

          Reply
      3. BRR

        This is the one thing that I think was left out of Alison’s response. That people have different working styles. I’m not sure if LW or Jessica should convey that message though.

        Reply
    4. dumblewald

      As someone who doesnt always, ahem, agree with management at my company, it’s possible that both the OP and Jessica are flawed, but it still doesn’t justify Cynthia’s behavior.

      Reply
      1. serenity

        I agree, and also note that this thread has been full of speculation about Jessica’s competence based on the few words OP devoted to her in the letter.

        Reply
        1. Anoncorporate

          It can go either way but we have zero evidence. In my experience, employees can have valid complaints about management but only so much power to do anything about it. Outside of politely bringing them up, there isn’t much to do. I personally have decided that while I don’t always love my managers, my love for getting paid exceeds my need to see them fixed, and I keep my protestations to a minimum.

          Reply
  8. Sara without an H

    OP, take Alison’s advice and do this. Now. Yesterday.

    You are rewarding Cynthia’s behavior by providing her with an audience for her griping. Tell her point blank that you’re pleased with Jessica’s performance and that you expect Cynthia to work with her in a respectful and professional manner.

    You need to talk with Jessica, too. I think she knows that Cynthia is trying to undermine her, and she needs your support in her efforts to manage her. You need to make sure that Jessica knows you have her back.

    After that, it depends on whether Cynthia is acting out, as well as griping. You may want to consult HR on this, since you said that you manage a public library, and there may be union factors that need to be considered. But quit giving Cynthia an audience.

    Reply
  9. Batgirl

    I don’t know that I’d describe her as ‘type A with high standards’. I’m thinking the description is more ‘highly insubordinate and acts like a sulky child who plays one parent off against the other in ways that make the jaw gape’. I don’t care if she has amazing skills, not sulking at work and reapecting the hierarchy is too basic to not know how!

    If Jessica wants to handle this herself with you out of the way that’s her call but I’d be tempted to have a tag team sit down with the two of you making it very clear to her you are united, unimpressed and questioning her professional judgement.

    The phrase “There’s a hierarchy here and you’re at the bottom” is usually too harsh but not in this case.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Totally agree.
      I would have no problem saying, “This is your boss. You have to decide for once and for all, if you can work for her. The next time you bring me a complaint I will be asking you for your decision.”

      I see other people questioning Jessica’s leadership. My thinking is this is a two part problem. First deal with the attention-seeking, sulky child and fix that. Then take a look at Jessica’s leadership. I def think that OP needs to be more supportive of Jessica, I mean “put your foot down supportive”.

      It sounds like in general you don’t want type A behaviors going on in your workplace,OP. That is your call and that is fine. So you can say, “This is how we work here: We accept authority, we work where we are needed, etc.”

      Has Jessica asked you for advice even once about dealing with this person? If not, you can work with her on when she should come to you with a personnel issue. Remember if we see something three times, it’s a pattern and patterns need to be addressed. You can show her these types of things.
      Do you have regular check-ins with Jessica? Do you discuss personnel and managing people during those check ins? Even a person who is doing a fine job still needs inputs from their boss.
      FWIW, you may think Jessica is laid back and go with the flow but employees around her think the workplace has lots of drama and drama is okay by you. This is not just about these two employees.

      Reply
  10. LaDeeDa

    I would involve Jessica and have a performance conversation right now…
    I would ask Cynthia questions along the lines of
    “how do you think you can better work with Jessica, knowing this is her style?”
    “Do you think complaining and sulking is the appropriate way to handle things when you are unhappy? Then what is a more constructive way to deal with this? ”
    “How do you think you are perceived by your colleagues and leaders when you complain and sulk?”
    “How do you think you can better handle your frustrations?”
    Clearly lay out expectations:
    Complaining has to stop to coworkers
    Have discussions directly with Jessica when she doesn’t agree with Jessica
    Work on her interactions and come up with alternative ways to communicate and accepting different styles of leadership…
    And finally– that from here on out Jessica will be managing all of that on a day to day/weekly/monthly basis, and in 3 months the OP, Jessica and Cynthia will sit down to discuss the progress.

    Reply
    1. Emmie

      I also recommend addressing the Type A aspects of her personality which are helpful, and those which are harmful or disruptive to the work environment. Does she over-enforce rules with patrons? How does she manage conflict when something is not done her way? Is she slow to submit things? How does this manifest at work? It would be helpful to have her focus her energy on those aspects of her personality that allow good job performance.

      Reply
      1. wittyrepartee

        That’s what I’m imagining.
        Scene: library empty except for a high school aged study group who occasionally laugh louder than would be appropriate normally.
        Jessica: “no one’s here, whatever”
        Cynthia: *standing there with a decibel meter*

        Reply
      2. LaDeeDa

        I learned a long time ago that my Type A personality can come across as rigid, inflexible, and curt- it was an area I had to work really hard on, and when I am stressed I can come across like that still. Self-awareness is something I teach to my future leaders and leaders. I need them to know how they are perceived based on their personality and communication style, and if people are made aware of that perception and style they can work to adjust. In any given team there are a variety of styles and personalities- what makes an exceptional employee is one who is self-aware of their own style and adjust it to work with all types of styles.
        Often with a Type A personality they perceive their way as the right way, and to grow they need to understand that is THEIR way, there are lots of right ways.
        This is an opportunity for OP and Jessica to coach and develop her, which ultimately is what sets a leader apart from just a manager.
        Develop your people! Help them grow!

        Reply
        1. Burned Out Supervisor

          Exactly, just because my way is the correct way of doing a task, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only correct way (unless you’re building a nuclear reactor or performing brain surgery, I suppose).

          Reply
            1. Burned Out Supervisor

              Lol, sure! My way makes the most sense! The world would be a better place if everyone just did it my way, dontcha know! ;-)

              Reply
  11. IL JimP

    This part I disagree with, it’s not an employee’s responsibility to adapt to their manager, the manager should adapt to the employee but everything else that was said I agree with especially the complaining. It just sounds like you have some work to do with Jessica too.

    Reply
    1. IL JimP

      some reason it deleted the part I copied and pasted from the note:

      When Cynthia complains to me about Jessica, I have tried to redirect her to work it out with Jessica herself, and to be more adaptable to different management styles.

      Reply
      1. Confused

        Hi are you OP? Has Jessica adjusted to Cynthia in any way? It’s one thing if Cynthia gripes on about non-important things, but having clear structures and guidance is important for people. Has Jessica given Cynthia everything SHE needs? She is the manager – it’s one thing if Cynthia’s complaints are baseless, but having been in her position, I have a feeling they have merit.

        Reply
    2. Sloan Kittering

      I dunno man, I’ve been the loosey-goosey employee with the super-strict boss, and the result was that I needed to shape up or ship out. I think it would still be the case if the tendencies were reversed. If Jessica is senior and OP is happy with Jessica, it’s up to the subordinate employee to adapt to that work style IMO.

      Reply
      1. Lance

        Yeah; ideally, I’d say managers should indeed adapt to their employees in some ways… but the end fact is, the managers are the ones higher up on the totem pole. They’re the ones with more power, so they’re ultimately the ones that decide what goes in the given workplace.

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          Well and theoretically their expertise and experience is more valuable in that their time is literally worth more. In practice, can you replace lower people easier than more senior people? I find it depends on the skillset. I hope Cynthia has some killer in demand librarian skills because she sounds like a pain.

          Reply
        2. Justme, The OG

          Imagine as a manager having to change yourself for EVERY PERSON that you manage. Instead, imagine being ONE PERSON changing yourself for the manager. Which makes more sense?

          Reply
          1. OhBehave

            Exactly Justme. It’s up to the employee to understand their boss and work accordingly. The world does not revolve around the employee.

            Reply
          2. IL JimP

            good managers are able to adapt their style to the people on their teams, each person needs different things, often needs different communication styles and different focuses.

            Reply
            1. LiveAndLetDie

              Yes, but a manager isn’t going to bend over backwards to be a completely different person for each employee. They are still at their core themselves, and if they understand “Leon needs very clear outlines of what I expect and Mary may need a little more sugar-coating or she takes things personally and becomes a stormcloud for a day,” that’s one thing, but they aren’t going to adapt so wildly that they’re ultimately being unfair to the team. Each report on a manager’s team should reasonably be able to expect that they all report to the same person in judgment, reasoning, and general professionalism. But it’s up to the people reporting to that manager to find a way to work with said manager, at the end of the day.

              Reply
            2. Library supervisor

              On some level, yes, a supervisor should take the needs of her staff into account. But if you’re supervising a department of 8 or 9 people, you absolutely cannot tailor every single procedure to the individual preferences of your employees. You just can’t. Especially when you work in a fast-paced and changeable place like a public library, and you’ve got duties other than supervisory concerns on your plate that need to be attended to. It’s just not realistic. At some point, a supervisor has to be able to say “This is the way we do things here” and have her employees follow the procedure.

              Reply
            3. Not So NewReader

              I so agree. Jessica cannot be laid back with this person and neither can OP (you?). This is one of the parts of management that sucks, when we have to be firm if firmness is not in our personality. This can lead to constant questioning, “what is fair here, what is fair here?” The constant questioning is a trap and we can’t fall for it. Make a decision and work on the steps of that decision.

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            4. Tiny Soprano

              What I took from the letter is not just that Cynthia wants Jessica’s style to adapt to her, but for Jessica to change the entire way she works. Which is completely unreasonable.

              Reply
            5. kneadmeseymour

              I think it comes down to details that aren’t explicitly included in this letter. If Cynthia has issues with specific elements of Jessica’s management style, such as wanting a more structured time to check in about her work, I think that’s a reasonable thing to bring up (although obviously she should take that to Jessica directly). But from the LW’s tone here, I’m guessing Cynthia just takes issue with Jessica’s general approach and doesn’t have any concrete issues to address or suggestions for how they could work together more effectively. Since she just seems to be perennially complaining and sulking about the same stuff, it sounds like she’s the one who is being unreasonable here.

              Reply
        3. JustAClarifier

          Concur. I have absolutely never heard of a manager being expected to adapt to every single employee in terms of their style. I’ve heard about learning about different methods of communication for various people, but completely changing an approach? No.

          Reply
    3. Tammy

      The relationship between manager and employee is a relationship and as such, there’s usually going to be some give and take, in my experience. For example, if I have a team member who has a very direct communication style, I’ll try to communicate with them in the way they can best hear me. But, at the end of the day, if Jessica’s management style is more laid back and that’s not a problem for OP, Cynthia’s really got a choice ahead of her: Figure out how to work effectively with Jessica, or decide that this issue is a dealbreaker for her and find work elsewhere. Complaining and sulking isn’t an effective or (at this point) acceptable alternative.

      Reply
    4. TootsNYC

      A good manager WILL adapt to their employees to some degree. But only to some degree. And they will do it because it is effective, not because they must.

      But in terms of MUST adapt–that’s on the person lower in rank.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        Right – there’s only some degree because some management stuff isn’t stuff you CAN adapt to every employee, so it isn’t even possible to satisfy every employee. If Manager is doing things ABC and changes it for an employee who prefers XYZ, then the employees who were happy with ABC will be unhappy.

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Respectfully pointing out a manager who is so ridged that everyone eventually quits needs to adapt or get out of management. Conversely a laid back manager cannot allow themselves to be walked all over like a door mat.

        While your point is valid the subordinate does need to flex first and foremost, if the manager wants to have a career of any length they have to do some flexing also.

        The problem comes in when you have a middle ground situation like this, the manager is doing a good job except for dealing with a certain person. This person is different from the rest of the people and does not respond in a similar manner as the rest of the group. So yes, the laid back manager does need to change what they are doing in order to retain or discharge this person. And she has to do it for the sake of the rest of the group. They need her to do that.

        Reply
    5. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It needs to be a “meet in the middle” compromise in the end to work out in the end. Both have to adjust in some way.

      I’ll just fire someone in the end if they are constantly complaining and not taking “This is how we do it, we aren’t changing it” for the answer, it turns into a waste of time and toxic atmosphere. Then again I’ll fire a manager who refuses to bend to their employees just the same if it’s a reasonable request.

      I do agree that Jessica needs to probably adjust as well. I’m the naturally “outgoing, fun and laid back” person who will give someone more structure and attention whenever it’s necessary, unless it’s an absolutely inefficient option depending on the jobs involved.

      Reply
    6. LiveAndLetDie

      No, an employee needs to adapt to their manager. The manager should take care to respect all of their employees equally and ensure they’re providing a good work environment for their reports, but it is on the employees to be a good fit for the team. It’s the manager’s job to determine if that is the case. It sounds like in this letter, Cynthia is not a good fit for Jessica’s team.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I don’t think it’s possible to treat all employees equally. I do think it’s possible to treat all employees fairly. This means finding out what is of high value to an employee. My boss kicked me out of work when she found out I left a sick dog at home. (My friend was checking on him during the day.) If she had ten employees all with sick dogs she probably could not do this. If I had an excuse every other day to leave early, again, she could not do this.
        But at this point in the story, I had years of history with my boss of working extra time, taking on projects that were really not my job and so on. She also knew that I am doing life on my own and my dog is what I have. Yes, I place a high value on leaving early to get my dog to a doc. (The vet fixed him right up. She was thrilled that she had told me to leave.)
        Good bosses are aware of what is of high value to their employees and they try to help when they can. And they do this with all their employees.

        Reply
        1. LiveAndLetDie

          Well yes, of course — I said *respect* their employees equally, not treat them equally. I think that goes hand-in-hand with what you are saying here.

          Reply
    7. Annastasia von Beaverhausen

      Meh. The reason for at least 50% of my success at work (and I’m pretty successful, have a job I love, get paid well, etc) is because I’m flexible enough to work with any manager. Flighty? I’ll be on point. Rigid? I’ll deliver the TSP reports on time. Grouchy? I’ll let it roll of my back.

      In a ideal world everyone is professional and kind and works with their coworkers/bosses in exactly the way each person needs. In the real world, if you’re known as someone who can get along with ANYONE, you can get ahead. At least in my case. :)

      Reply
    8. Mellow

      >it’s not an employee’s responsibility to adapt to their manager, the manager should adapt to the employee

      That doesn’t make an ounce of sense. Managers typically embody and promote a particular vision. Employees either are on board with that vision, or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, they should go elsewhere. Imagine the chaos if managers adapted to every single employee. Nothing would ever be accomplished.

      Reply
  12. Engineer Girl

    I’m not saying this is you, but I’m concerned about some of the wording.
    I have a different take. Is it possible that Cynthia is bearing the burden of most of the work? Perhaps Jessica isn’t as competent as she should be? Maybe the only reason the work is getting done is due to Cynthia’s due diligence?
    Work should be “fun” but it also has goals. I’ve found that managers that often focus on making work “fun” often miss their targets or force the more competent worker-bees to compensate for the less competent workers.
    At some point the compentent worker bee will get burned out and leave. Then the whole thing collapses and they blame the competent one because she had the nerve to leave.
    You really need to make sure that Cynthia isn’t bearing all the work and being forced to rescue others.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      It’s true, but if Cynthia is a pain and spreading bad morale around, it may be that the library is better without her even if she never mis-shelves the fiction section. It’s true that if they get rid of Cynthia they’ll probably find things they miss about her, but OP sounds ready to find out.

      Reply
    2. Manager

      I agree- I’m the one who submitted this question and I appreciate your reply. The reason I haven’t taken a hard line with Cynthia before is because I’ve been trying to suss out if she IS bearing the weight of the department. I think your point is important and I’ll keep it in mind as I plan how to move forward.

      Reply
      1. Sara without an H

        That’s a possibility, but you need to find out if she’s bearing the weight of the department or creating unnecessary make-work. I’ve seen this happen in library jobs, which often attract people who like detail for it’s own sake.

        Reply
        1. Manager

          I think you nailed it. I keep asking myself, if Cynthia were not here anymore, how would the department suffer. I think the department would suffer only in arbitrary ways that Cynthia has invented for herself. Example: Cynthia has created a very intensive training for teen volunteers. When we tried to offload teen volunteer training to someone else, who has a completely different approach, Cynthia complained that the new trainer was taking the easy road by not utilizing her method. When in my opinion, the new person just didn’t think it needed to be so intense!

          Reply
          1. JustAClarifier

            Manager – you might also find it of value to look at a few prior letters Alison has addressed from people who were in Jessica’s position regarding how to handle employees that keep circumventing them and going to Grand Boss and examples of dialogues to provide them when handling a Cynthia-type employee. Those might be insightful as you potentially prepare to speak with Jessica.

            Also – motivations might be worth considering. If Cynthia is the problem factor, and is not actually having genuine issues with Jessica (as others have very eloquently pointed out), what is her potential motivation for constantly going around her boss to you? I used to work with a Cynthia before transferring departments and we all found out that the end goal of all of her behaviors was to become the mid-manager.

            Reply
          2. Lance

            Hmm. On that point, what were the results like before and after Cynthia had been in charge of that (assuming you’d been there long enough to see it; also predicated on the assumption that, from the sound of things, it hasn’t been away from her long enough to really see current results under the newer trainer. or by ‘tried’ do you mean it ultimately went back to Cynthia?)? I think even that one point of data could be quite telling to look at in terms of what her style of approach might be getting done (though obviously it’s not the full picture).

            Reply
            1. Manager

              The training remains with the new trainer, and Cynthia has moved on to complaining about other things. Things are going fine with the new trainer.. but the second something goes wrong with a teen volunteer Cynthia will jump on it to point out a supposed “failing” of the new system.

              Reply
                1. Lance

                  Yeah, between the constant complaining, the intense training, fixating on things no longer within her purview, and a few other factors you’ve pointed out here… I feel like she may just not be a very good fit for your library.

              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Wow, Cynthia sounds like a major piece of work. The intense training for teen volunteers sounds like it was completely unnecessary (and probably awful for those teens!), and the fact that it goes fine with the more laid-back trainer seems to be proof that it was excessive and overbearing. The fact that she wants to high-horse it whenever the opportunity arises, plus the constant complaining to coworkers about Jessica that you mentioned in your original letter, sounds to me like she’s just an excessively negative person and you’re going to continue to have problems stemming from her attitude if you don’t do something to address it ASAP.

                Reply
              2. Yorick

                I don’t know, if teen volunteers are now sometimes messing up in a way that they weren’t before because that was covered in training, maybe Cynthia is right

                Reply
          3. Lynca

            Yeah I see where you are coming from with that. I’ve had multiple co-workers have training reassigned (which is common because it’s a development opportunity) and then complain about how other people were doing it.

            I generally look at outcomes with evaluating these types of complaints. Are the volunteers adequately trained with the new training module? I.E. not making mistakes or errors they’d know not to with the previous training, getting accurate information, etc. If it’s producing the same results? Great and it sounds like that’s the case.

            I had many co-workers “try to make themselves indispensable” when really they just made normal job tasks way too convoluted than they had to be. And were things that any of us were able to do. We just often didn’t do it their way.

            Reply
          4. RUKiddingMe

            If she survives the time it takes to get there, Cynthia will some day make an entire team/office send letters to Alison about their micromanaging boss who just invents unnecessary work for them.

            Reply
          5. Jennifer

            Good lord. Intense training for “teen volunteers”?! Did she incorporate the whistle method from The Sound of Music? It sounds like she is just not a fit.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Yeah, you really don’t want a high bar for teen library volunteers. They’re not building the space shuttle, and you’re better off with broader reach than you are intensive training.

              Reply
              1. wittyrepartee

                Yeah, I had this same reaction- to a degree, having teen volunteers at your library is a public service, not something you expect to gain beau-coup value from.

                Reply
            2. RUKiddingMe

              Yeah when I read “intense training” coupled with *”teen volunteers”* my shoulders went up around my ears.

              Reply
              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Honestly this part made me wonder if those teen volunteers went to Jessica and complained that Cynthia was overbearing and intense, and if that’s part of Cynthia’s “Jessica sucks at feedback” complaint — i.e. she got feedback she didn’t like and Jessica attempted to address it, and instead of hearing said feedback, she got upset and went to OP complaining about Jessica.

                Reply
          6. Confused

            OK – this context is important. I thought I was the Cynthia, but I’ve worked with people like her and they are insufferable. Only keep her if you need her. Our Cynthia just quit and I am so glad.

            Reply
          7. Burned Out Supervisor

            I think it’s valid to compare both methods. Do the volunteers perform more or less the same when trained by either Cynthia or the other employee? Does the volunteer feel that their training was beneficial to their work when you ask them for feedback after they’ve been volunteering for a few weeks/months? If the results are the same regardless of the method, it sounds as if the problem is that Cynthia is creating work for herself that isn’t completely necessary (but probably valuable) and needs to be told to let it go and move on.

            Reply
            1. LiveAndLetDie

              I would even wager a guess that Cynthia *was* told to let it go and move on, and part of her complaints about Jessica stem from that.

              Reply
              1. Burned Out Supervisor

                Oh, good point. I could imagine that someone with a Type A personality would not like hearing that type of feedback. I know a lot of people that have a lot of difficulty letting go of processes that they no longer manage.

                Reply
      2. Engineer Girl

        I think the only way you’ll get the information is to get specifics. Is Cynthia being asked to stay extra time when others are allowed to leave? What is the mistake rate for Cynthia Vs the others? If Cynthia is a great employee is her compensation higher? Or does she get the exact same pay and privileges as other employees? Is Cynthia being held to a higher standard just because she is a high performer?
        Ask specific questions when Cynthia complains with general complaints.
        Also talk to Jessica. Because Jessica should be able to be very specific about Cynthia’s performance relative to others. Jessica should also be specific about goals and schedules. If there is a lot of hand waving then Jessica is a bad manager.

        Reply
        1. wittyrepartee

          And was she making the teen volunteers miserable. Like- library volunteer is “baby’s first job”, and is as much for the teens as it is for the library.

          Reply
      3. I'm A Little Teapot

        One way to figure out who’s bearing the weight is what happens when they get the flu? Not a planned vacation, but the unplanned time. If everything gets dropped, then that’s valuable to know.

        Reply
      4. Ask a Manager Post author

        Ah! I had read your letter as indicating that you were sure the problems weren’t with Jessica. If you’re uncertain, then you need to prioritize finding out exactly what’s going on very quickly — like this week — so that you can then proceed with more authority. You can’t stay in a limbo “investigating” mode for much longer.

        Reply
      5. BRR

        You sound like a great director (are you hiring?). It’s definitely a point to consider. One of my colleagues is like Cynthia though and while my colleague is great at their job, their negativity is frustrating. It’s not so bad as to cause people to leave but it’s annoying. My point being that one employee can cause others to leave sometimes. Getting along with your coworkers is part of your job.

        Reply
    3. LiveAndLetDie

      If this situation began with a legitimate work based complaint it has long since escalated to a place where Cynthia is now complaining to her coworkers about her boss. This is unprofessional no matter the reason. It still needs addressing.

      Reply
    4. Mrs Mary Smiling

      Nope. Many years in libraries of all sorts. I think the type-A is a flattering way to say fussy. I’m picturing Cynthia is the kind who keeps doing things the 15 step way with the typewriter because that’s how it has always been done, who insists that the middle-schoolers who come in to study after school are too disruptive to the “real” patrons, doesn’t want to give up on chasing that $5 fine for another 6 months on principle, whereas what is required is more along the lines of letting the computer keep track of that task, welcome patrons of all ages and give them something to enjoy, and stop wasting their salary chasing $5 and making people feel bad about the library.

      She might be busy, but it’s busy putting energy into doing work or fighting battles that don’t need it. And she has decided that she knows better than her supervisor what is important. She may do good work (or, she may just do mediocre work very reliably), but she needs to be told to either widen her vision or stay in her lane.

      Ha–I’m projecting now, but I bet I’m pretty close to the mark.

      Reply
      1. lasslisa

        “widen your vision” is worth a try (once, anyway), though I admit I’m projecting. I am ever grateful for the managers who’ve helped me do that.

        I used to come to managers a lot with Important! Issues! All sorts of things that could have been being done better than they were! All sorts of bugs in our product that were being IGNORED.

        One of them started explaining his thinking to me. “Ok, you’ve found a big bug and we’re supposed to ship in a week. How big is this bug? Do we need to delay our product launch?” Being asked to make that scope of decision – or at least to think through it – really gave me a new sense of perspective (…this bug is not that big). I always wanted my piece of the project to be done as well as possible, but never really thought about the bigger picture tradeoffs until I was asked to, and it changed a lot about my work for the better.

        Reply
      2. Burned Out Supervisor

        I get this a lot too. “So and So is making ALL THESES ERRORS and I have to spend a LOT of time fixing them!” When I kindly ask for examples, I end up with one or two after waiting for a month for those examples. These are staff who generally spend a lot of time on steps that aren’t necessary to complete the work because they are married to a particular process and/or want to appear very busy and indispensable. Sometimes people who have been doing their job for a very long time develop a very narrow view of what the organization is responsible for and don’t have a lot of perspective of what’s involved outside of their particular purview.

        Reply
        1. LiveAndLetDie

          Yeah, this happened to me more than a few times when I was managing a department. Someone would insist that their coworker was THE WORST, ruining EVERYTHING, and I would ask for concrete examples and get… one or two examples from months apart. It’s important for a manager to understand the difference between a personal conflict and a professional one, and honestly this Cynthia v. Jessica thing sounds like the former.

          Reply
    5. kneadmeseymour

      I may be projecting here, but Cynthia sounds like the type of person who has deeply entrenched ideas about The Way Things Must Be Done and can’t resist any opportunity to point out instances of someone who is Doing Things Wrong. It’s hard to say for sure without more concrete examples, but the pattern of futile complaints and bitter sulking suggest that Cynthia is not an entirely reasonable person.

      Reply
  13. Manager

    Thank you- I needed to hear this! What I’m going to need to remember is that every time Cynthia complains, it’s always about something slightly different than before (schedule, communication, feedback etc.) so I think my answer needs to be firm across the board. I can’t entertain a complaint about one thing and then shut down another. She has made it known she is a complainer so that makes it hard to take anything seriously.

    Reply
    1. Lily Rowan

      I think the line to walk is to shut down complaining and still be open to feedback. So if the issue is “My boss doesn’t give me information I need to do my job,” that’s different from “I don’t like my boss’s style!!”

      Reply
      1. valentine

        I can’t entertain a complaint about one thing and then shut down another.
        You can. Whether you redirect her to Jessica should depend on the complaint.

        She has made it known she is a complainer so that makes it hard to take anything seriously.
        Take care not to paint her with a broad brush. You can tell her what type of thing she needs to say to Jessica and what it’s okay to bring to you, and how.

        Reply
    2. Sloan Kittering

      I’d say after you have the bigger picture conversation that Alison suggests, you can also say that you’re going to ask her to take all such concerns to Jessica, and that you’ll check in with Jessica about scheduling etc later. So each new time she comes to you, you can remind her she needs to take it up with Jessica first.

      Reply
    3. Lance

      I’m curious, then… is there any sort of consistency to what she complains about/when she complains? Can you find any sort of pattern in it, or really anything that might allow you to cut some of it off before it comes? Because if there is some point of consistency, that might be something you can grab onto, and see if you can shift things at all to cut off a lot of the complaining at the source.

      Even with that said, though, constant complainers can be… tiring.

      Reply
    4. Sara without an H

      Hi, Manager,
      Thanks for supplying some general background. It sounds as though Cynthia just plain doesn’t like working for Jessica. Try taking yourself out of the middle and make sure that Cynthia understands that, if she has an issue about one of Jessica’s decisions, she needs to take it up with Jessica.

      Reply
    5. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Something I didn’t get out of your letter — what exactly are Cynthia’s complaints? “Schedule, communication, feedback, etc,” covers an awful lot of ground, and I still don’t feel like I have a good sense of what exactly is going on here.

      I don’t disagree with Alison’s stance that you need to get this handled ASAP, but I’m not clear whether Cynthia is actually just being a complainer or whether her concerns are valid. Are we talking about complaints like “Jessica buys colored staples and I think they’re unprofessional” or are they complaints like “Jessica is being sketchy with the petty cash”?

      In other words, if you were to take Cynthia 100% at her word and presume that everything she says is true, would the things she’s saying be things an employee should validly bring to your attention? That’s not the be-all end-all of the discussion, of course, since you still have to determine if they are true, but that was the part I felt was missing from your letter.

      Reply
      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        “Schedule, communication, feedback” gives me a flashback to a situation we had at my last job. We had a poor manager who was doing maybe 25% of his job, and just not doing the rest. He wouldn’t send the schedule out on time, he couldn’t keep track of whose days off he’d approved and would forget to cover them, he messed up everyone’s pay. He came in late, took a long lunch, and cut out early, leaving employees without breaks and in some situations short-staffed. Essential paperwork was missing and it made it impossible to organize programs or keep track of revenue. If we were working with partners, he’d never confirm with them, so we had situations where we’d show up and nothing was ready, or we’d be ready and no one would come, because he hadn’t confirmed.

        We also had a total Drama Llama on staff. She took each and every single one of these faults of his- and they were significant- as a personal slight against herself and others. She’d dig her heels into the ground over the Mistake Du Jour, constantly complaining/ruminating over every error he made, started dropping her performance to match his (if he won’t do X then I won’t do Y!) It made the workplace unpleasant, toxic, and exhausting.

        Reply
          1. That Girl From Quinn's House

            It did get resolved! Poor Manager got terminated before the one year mark, and I think Drama Llama found a new job right around that time as well.

            Drama Llama had some extenuating personal circumstances that made navigating her situation a little tricky, and we’d really been having a lot of conversations about where the Line was between giving her some extra slack and coming down on the dysfunction she was spreading.

            Reply
        1. Rebecca1

          Oh god, did we work together? I had that exact boss, plus a Cynthia working for me at the same time. It was a miracle anything ever got done, anywhere.

          Reply
      2. yet another library anon

        Similarly, in my experience, when you have valid complaints about a coworker (or especially a manager) that just continue to not get addressed or fixed, after a while they just become a Fool Eating Crackers, and it’s easy to start complaining about every little thing.

        Reply
    6. Not All

      I’d emphasize that you should take a look at the “type” of complaints to see if there is a problem with Jessica in certain areas that Cynthia is frequently left holding the bag over. For example, is it organization/advance planning? Scenario from my office with a manager who is terrible about this type of stuff. Week 1 his staff complain to grandboss that meeting rooms are never reserved in time by boss (though he doesn’t want anyone else doing it either). Grandboss speaks to boss, problem resolved. Week 2 staff complain to grandboss that their leave requests are being lost/ignored. Grandboss speaks to boss, problem resolved. Week 3 it’s another something similar. And on. And on. And on. Sure, from grandboss’s perspective, staff is complaining constantly about different things. But the core issue that boss is a seat-of-the-pants person and balls are CONSTANTLY dropped because of it never gets resolved. Staff is constantly left holding the bag, and looking bad in front of other divisions, while Fun Manager has a reputation for being flexible. Sure he’s flexible…because he never has anything planned in the first place.

      [end rant. goes back to banging head on wall…]

      Reply
    7. animaniactoo

      Schedule complaints are possible to be a simple dislike of how it’s handled where other people would be fine with it.

      Communication and feedback – is this a question of how it’s done, or that there’s not enough of it?

      Because other people may be fine with not getting much and shrugging that off – but that is still problematic because it means that things are likely slipping through cracks and going unaddressed, etc. and sure you can catch up on them later – probably. But that’s no substitute for being on top of it from the beginning with transparency and enough accountability to make that a rare occasion rather than a regular occasion.

      You can still be loose, fun, go-with-the-flow AND on top of an overall schedule/program/goals.

      Reply
      1. RUKiddingMe

        I am very much a type B or maybe even C person, but you better believe I’m on top of my stuff.

        If someone I manage doesn’t like that I don’t have a **30 point plan with a color coded flochart for X, then they can just suck it up.

        They can also not try to re-do my way of getting stuff done. Suggestions? Questions? Clarification, etc.? Sure, but the buck stops with me.

        **I probably do have one tbh. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Reply
    8. Turquoisecow

      I guess where I fall is – are these complaints legitimate concerns or just stylistic things? Is Cynthia unhappy because the schedule is printed in pink ink instead of black, or is there substance and legitimacy to her complaints? Is she complaining that she gets no feedback or communication, or is she complaining about the way the feedback and communication are presented?

      Some of these are just “that’s the way we do things here and you’ll have to deal” and others are “information is not being presented in a way that Cynthia can use it, and this is hurting the workplace in general.” Just because you as the boss don’t see a problem doesn’t mean that Jessica’s reports don’t. But, if the problem is unique to Cynthia and the others are okay with it, it’s a thing Cynthia may have to deal with. So if I were you, I’d dive into the substance of her complaints and see if they’re legit complaints or just Cynthia’s preferences.

      Reply
    9. LiveAndLetDie

      At the very least you need to put your foot down that she can’t just come to you every time she dislikes the answer she gets from her supervisor. Appealing to a higher authority makes sense for serious issues, but it sounds like she’s doing it for anything and everything, and that is a waste of your time, not to mention disrespectful of Jessica.

      Reply
    10. BRR

      I’m having a tough time figuring out what percentage of the problem is Cynthia and what percentage is Jessica (it sounds like you are too!). I’m wondering how much Cynthia is approaching Jessica about any problems? There are so many letters about how to talk to your manager when you have an issue and I’m not sure if Cynthia is doing that at all.

      Reply
    11. nonymous

      When Cynthia complains, does she tell you what troubleshooting she has done to solve it? Like in the scheduling issue, is she trying to find swaps repeatedly or identified what will be de-prioritized? There is a difference between Cynthia expressing a dislike that the schedule involves working a weekend day vs having to find her own coverage on sick days.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        and even in the latter case, it’s not worth bringing up to grandboss unless Cynthia has been reprimanded for not finding that replacement when she was out sick.

        Reply
    12. Pilcrow

      “I can’t entertain a complaint about one thing and then shut down another. She has made it known she is a complainer so that makes it hard to take anything seriously.”

      Just a word of caution about taking a totalitarian stance. Some of her complaints may have merit and you need to weigh them individually. Remember, there really was a wolf at the end of the fable.

      As others have noted, make sure you’ve done your due diligence before dismissing things out of hand.

      Reply
    13. Drago Cucina

      Another library director here. This was one of the hardest issues I had to deal with when I began. It’s not unusual in library world and is often encouraged by some directors. Getting people to respect and not attempt to circumvent their direct supervisors is hard. About a month ago I had to have serious conversations with a few staff members who had fallen back into this habit.

      “The Head of Circulation told me to do this but isn’t telling anyone else. Make her stop.”
      ‘No, Circulation told everyone this because I asked her to reinforce it. It is a much more serious conversation if I have to tell you. You need to follow procedure.’

      I had to remind them that according to our corrective action procedure they were being insubordinate. Unless it was illegal or unethical they needed to follow the supervisor’s instructions. If it was one of the latter they were free to come to me. Otherwise they would be having a counseling session with me.

      Reply
    14. Perpal

      Depending on what your investigations turn up and whether you really want to keep Cynthia, if all the complaints are fairly minor maybe you can schedule a check in (once a week, once a month; whatever frequency makes sense; considering you are grandboss rather than boss maybe Jessica can do the weekly check ins and you can do monthly) where she goes over the list of complaints. You can address them then (or maybe she sends them in the day before, then you go over them.. whatever works for you) and then make it clear that is that until the next check in. No spreading negativity around, save it all up for the check ins.

      Reply
    15. Close Bracket

      > I can’t entertain a complaint about one thing and then shut down another.

      Sure, you can. You can entertain complaints that have a point, and you can shut down complaints that are stylistic differences. If Cynthia has a point, though, the thing you need to be addressing is not the complaint itself, but how Jessica handles complaints when Cynthia has a point.

      Reply
  14. Stuff

    I would probably arrange a sit down with both of them to have a sort of meeting of minds. Have Cynthia express exactly, with specifics, what her issues are and let Jessica speak her piece. Then shut down the complaining. Say that is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated any more. Just shutting her down with “stop the complaining” without both sides in the room doesn’t go far enough I believe.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I wouldn’t do this if I were OP. It’s rewarding Cynthia by making her believe that now she’s really got your attention and you’re calling Jessica to task. I would have a one on one sit down with just Jessica and ask her perspective on the situation.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        I agree. Cynthia has made it clear she’s a complainer, even if her complaints ARE valid.

        So I’d first go to Jessica to discuss, and make it clear that the goal is to gather info, and to deal with any conclusions behind the scenes, where Cynthia can’t hear.

        Even if the complaint is that Jessica doesn’t do the schedule soon enough, or post it clearly enough, and you realize after talking with Jessica that it’s true, don’t ever go back to Cynthia about it–just have Jessica start being clearer or quicker, and don’t go back to Cynthia.

        Cynthia sounds like a person with whom it would be a mistake for her to think she “got results.”

        Another option is to have that convo w/ Jessica, then YOU go to Cynthia and say, “Did you ever take your concern to Jessica? I need you to do that.” And then after that convo w/ Cynthia, Jessica can say, “I see your point–let me see what I can do.”

        Reply
        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Oh I like that! Setting it up so direct communication gets immediate results is a great way to reward the behavior you want to see.

          Reply
      2. LiveAndLetDie

        Exactly. Setting it up in a way that elevates Cynthia to ‘peer status’ with Jessica when Jessica is, in fact, her superior is only going to muddy the water.

        Reply
    2. Sara without an H

      Stuff, I’ve tried this and it just doesn’t work. The Complainer/Cynthia just takes it as validation that her boss (Jessica) is always, always wrong, “and Grandboss agrees with me!”

      It would be better to have a meeting with Jessica, make sure she’s clear on what’s going on (including any valid points you think Cynthia may have) and assure her you have her back. Then when Cynthia comes in with complaints, insist that she work them out with Jessica.

      Of course, if Cynthia claims to have evidence of grand-scale embezzlement, that’s another matter. But nothing OP has mentioned so far rises to that level.

      Reply
  15. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

    I think that venting should be expected in any job. Cynthia has a right to vent to her co workers–if it’s causing a huge issue, then Jessica should be stepping up. But are the complaints valid? If Jessica is okay with putting off Project A and Cynthia is gung ho to start now because ‘last time we were slammed at the end’, Cynthia has a point. And define sulking–is Cynthia scowling, rolling her eyes, etc. or simply not talking to Jessica unless needed? Is she civil? And if she’s complaining to co worker Betty, are you overhearing it? Because, again, people vent and complain. If done loudly and out in the open, that’s an issue but blowing off steam with co-workers about boss is as old as work itself.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Sure there’s venting and complaining but there’s a secret limit for everyone.

      Then we get the letters that say “My coworker is always negative and it’s making me so miserable, I love my job but hate working with all the constant negativity!”

      I shut down and refuse to communicate with anyone unless it’s a requirement when someone is constantly venting about colleagues. It puts you in this weird situation where Cynthia is venting about Jessica all the time but you may like Jessica’s management style and have no problem with them.

      I get this all the time with people venting about my boss to me. My eyes just gloss over, I’m on the bosses side most of the time. Yes, he’s cheap, so am I, next problem? Oh, you’re still salty that he asked me to buy the envelopes that you have to seal with moisture…cool…again, next problem?

      Reply
        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Yes. And buying Costco branded items instead of the whatever luxury toilet paper they use at home.

          If it were 1ply or horrid scratchy quality facial tissues, I get it. But yes, down to the generic post-its lol

          Reply
      1. Drago Cucina

        The envelope complaint! Yikes. I’ve gotten that.

        The waste of cleaning supplies. I replaced expensive Lysol wipes with cleaning vinegar and paper towels for a while because the staff were going through a container of wipes a day cleaning little smudges off books. One smudge. Another wipe. Sorry, we cannot afford to buy books because the cleaning supply budget took over.

        Reply
    2. LiveAndLetDie

      Constant complainers can suck the joy out of a workplace for the people around them. Cynthia going to other coworkers to talk trash about Jessica and sulking when she doesn’t get her way is beyond the limit of the type of venting that will occasionally happen in any job, it’s unprofessional and toxic.

      Reply
  16. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

    OP, you also mentioned Cynthia complained about feedback. Is Jessica not giving feedback? If there’s something Jessica wants done, it she not telling her reports in a clear manner or does she spring stuff on them? Does she give feedback when asked? Way too many managers spring stuff on their reports at reviews.

    Reply
    1. GigglyPuff

      This. I’ve partially been Cynthia, in a library field. My manager was a decent worker, would totally be classified as easy going, but honestly wasn’t made to be a manager. Their communication was awful, we would ask for check-ins all the time, deadlines, better communication, never did it. Got one meeting in four years that contained real feedback negative or positive. They’ve left, I thought about applying to their job but because they didn’t communicate or give me feedback, I’ve been doing something wrong for years (which I admit I probably should’ve realized but no one ever took three minutes to point out it was impacting my career, or that I’d been passed over on projects because of it), now I’m told there’s no chance of advancement.

      Please OP make sure there aren’t truths in the complaints. My boss’s manager had assumed they’d told me my issues. Just because you think Jessica’s a good worker, and does her work great, doesn’t mean she does the manager portion of her work great.

      Reply
      1. Troutwaxer

        Agreed completely. Make sure that while you’re sighing over the drama that you’re not missing something important. Hardworking, detail oriented people sometimes have important points to make. You might say, “I don’t want you to complain to other people, because that’s completely inappropriate, but you are welcome to come to me on an issue of substance (and I’d like you to stop complaining over issues of style.)” You may need to give coaching over the difference between issues of style and issues of substance.

        Reply
  17. Lobsterman

    Start documenting, fire Cynthia, watch as everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the new person, selected for being a team player who manages his/her own emotions, comes on board.

    Reply
    1. The Supreme Troll

      Given the new info that Manager provided, I think that Manager should be just a little more patient and use Alison’s direction first.

      Reply
  18. I Speak for the Trees

    I totally agree with Alison here. And I also wonder if there is not a different way to frame this for Cynthia, which might make her feel better about her role. I work at a small non-profit that is led by an amazingly caring, charismatic, well-spoken, charming Exec Dir who is not particularly detail oriented. She’s a fabulous manager and good with people, but it is up to the rest of us to pick up the slack in the “get ‘her done” department. We know this and it works. She is the face of our mission and other people do the detail work. And we’re proud of our detail work! Maybe this could be framed to Cynthia that, yes, she does X, Y, and Z very well and Jessica doesn’t, but Jessica is exceptional at A, B, and C, so that’s why they make a great team.

    Reply
  19. Elbe

    It would have been really helpful if the LW had included some examples of the things Cynthia feels should change. Ultimately, the LW is going to have to follow Alison’s advice to re-set Cynthia’s expectations.

    If her complaints are very practical, it will be easier. For example, if Cynthia is complaining that the books haven’t been shelved since yesterday, the LW could state that books can be left for, say, three days under normal circumstances. She could also mention that because Jessica wasn’t shelving books, she was able to handle XYZ that came up unexpectedly and that’s why flexibility is desired over strict book shelving.

    If the complaints are more nebulous, though, it could be harder to explain. It seems like they would have to have a more general conversation about how everyone has their own pace and priorities and that Cynthia can’t expect everyone’s to always be in line with her own.

    Reply
  20. FairfieldJen

    I may be biased, as my partner is going through something similar at work, but I can understand Cynthia’s frustration. Sure, maybe she is an annoyance and a complainer who’s hard to work with — but maybe she’s got valid points.

    A few things in OP’s letter and follow-up comments give me pause. A “loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow” management style might mean Jessica is all over the map, forgetful, and disorganized. “Moves at her own pace” might mean Jessica misses deadlines or isn’t on top of things. Concerns about “schedule, communication, feedback etc” might mean that Jessica is being unfair in scheduling or not providing adequate information. Maybe Cynthia isn’t creating “arbitrary” busy-work, but rather adding some much-needed structure to the office.

    It’s pretty clear that, on a personal level, the OP prefers dealing with Jessica (which is fine). But that could be clouding OP’s judgement on this issue, and it might be unfair to paint Cynthia as the whole problem simply because she’s frustrated that her very real complaints aren’t being addressed by her boss or grandboss.

    Reply
    1. Delphine

      It’s a little extreme to be assuming that LW is just completely blind to Jessica’s apparent faults. Sometimes it is what it is: a person creating problems where there aren’t any because she’s inflexible and controlling.

      Reply
      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

        And sometime people overlook faults in the people they like and nail the people they dislike even though the complainer may be right. Again, each complaint needs to be taken on its merits. Is Jessica a good manager–not fun, not flexible but a good manager (she give good, regular feedback, fights for her team, listens to her team, does her work promptly, etc. ) Or does she have poor follow through, ignores requests for feedback, training, etc.?

        Reply
    2. virago

      I don’t think that’s the issue in this case. OP has responded (their screen name is “Manager”) and they actually said they’ve been reluctant to push back on Cynthia’s complaining because they want to give her the benefit of the doubt about the validity of her complaints.

      Reply
  21. LiveAndLetDie

    I think OP and Jessica need to get together first and come up with a plan of attack here, but generally speaking the following need to be addressed:

    1) Figure out which issues are “just complaining” and which are valid issues. Cynthia has made it clear she is a complainer, so I think it’s just a matter of touching base with Jessica and assessing if you think what she is doing in the areas of complaint (scheduling, communication, feedback) is enough.
    2) Make it clear to Cynthia that you take things seriously and that you want to address her (valid) concerns.
    3) Make it clear to Cynthia that her complaining to her coworkers is unprofessional and unacceptable.
    4) Make it clear to Cynthia that the chain of command exists for a reason, and “I don’t like the answer I got” is not sufficient reason to go over a supervisor’s head.
    5) Actually address any issues that were brought up in her complaints, if valid.
    6) Make it extremely clear to Cynthia that further complaining will result in disciplinary action. Morale is a for real serious issue in offices, and constant complainers of Cynthia’s type can turn an entire workplace toxic. Nip that in the bud immediately.

    Overall, if Cynthia and Jessica can’t figure out a way to work together, it’s a matter of Cynthia deciding if this is the right work environment for her.

    Reply
      1. LiveAndLetDie

        Thanks! I have some experience with this kind of thing, having been a manager of a team with leads myself.

        Reply
    1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

      The problem with 6 is you’re going to shut off possible serious concerns. If a manager told me “Don’t complain/bring up issues any more”, I wouldn’t bring up any issue and when that blows up–the managers have only themselves to blame. Why should the lower tier people care when managers ignore them or worse, punish them?

      Reply
      1. Kathlynn (Canada)

        yeah, that’s where I’m at with a coworker. I’ve worked for the company for almost 3 years, and this one coworker couldn’t get his work done in his shift, show up on time, or deal with talking (even to say “excuse me I need to get into the drawer”) coworkers or customers. I pointed this out to all my managers. He recently got promoted, and his bad behaviors excused and enabled. (not to mention a completely botched sexual harassment complaint by the first manager who was nice but incompetent. She automatically assumed he didn’t do it, and got angry at the other person for making a complaint.)

        Reply
      2. LiveAndLetDie

        “Don’t complain” does not mean “don’t bring up issues,” it means be professional about it. Someone can bring up concerns they have at work without also going to their coworkers to talk crap about their supervisor (OP’s words: “But she continues to complain about Jessica to others and to me”). I would never tell an employee not to come to their supervisor with legitimate concerns about their job, or to me with legitimate concerns about their supervisor. But being a gossip is toxic and immature, and it’s absolutely inside OP’s power to tell her to cut it out.

        Reply
        1. technwine

          Absolutely 1000% this. There is a huge world of difference between “don’t complain” and “don’t bring up issues”. Complaining and gossiping is incredibly toxic and immature and can cause so many problems on a team.

          Reply
        2. Kathlynn (Canada)

          Thing is the deffinition of a complaint (or rather, if something qualifies as a complaint), concern or other label lies with the person telling the story, so it’s very easy to have conflicting deffinitions. And the OP (Manager in the comments) has said they are considering drawing the line at no complaints at all. Which gets people to stop caring, and let things just fall a part.

          Reply
          1. LiveAndLetDie

            Yeah, and I understand that, but I do think that even if your complaint is considered “not important” you can present it professionally. The way OP described Cynthia is that she is negative, that she complains to multiple people about Jessica, and that she sulks. The overall image is of someone who does not know how to effectively present their case when they have a concern or how to handle a response they do not like to said case.

            I’ve seen OP’s further comments and they shed a lot of light on Cynthia’s behavior as an employee — creating excessively rigorous training for teen volunteers and then getting snippy when the next trainer doesn’t use the same methods, on top of everything from the letter… she sounds like quite a piece of work, if I’m being honest.

            Reply
            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

              But overly rigourous again is a matter of definition. Of course most people get protective of the work/program they created–OP did say Cynthia designed and implemented the program. What do the volunteers say? If X makes a program they’re really proud of and Y waters it down, sure, X will feel testy about it. And while everyone here is saying complaining is wrong, there’s not a workplace anywhere where someone is not venting.

              Reply
              1. LiveAndLetDie

                Yes, a bit of venting is normal because we are human, but using “real people vent in a workplace” to completely dismiss that there is a HUGE difference between being a toxic whiner who sulks when they don’t get their way and someone who has legitimate concerns to bring to a superior is really tiring, will you please stop?

                Reply
                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

                  OP has not detailed the complaints and has not said they are “just whining”. OP has stated Cynthia is a driven, hard worker. Cynthia may be a PITA but Cynthia may also be correct, as other commenters has pointed out.

                2. LiveAndLetDie

                  OP gave specific examples about teen training that you yourself have referenced in these comments. I do not understand your continued insistence to cherry-pick which parts of OP’s response you want to absorb.

      3. Kathlynn (Canada)

        Yeah, I’m currently in this situation, and after almost 3 years, I’ve just stopped mentioning it to my bosses. Because if they won’t fire the guy for being unable to show up on time after all this time (even after having our shifts switched so I start first), and constantly enable his bad behaviors and refusal to be a team player, what will it take? IDK, but as soon as I get some (big) personal stuff dealt with I’m out of there.

        Reply
          1. Kathlynn (Canada)

            It is, but for some reason my current manager has a habit of picking horrible workers as favorites (I worked under her at a different job, and while she has vastly improved, this is still an issue). She and another manager tried to fob his refusal to help out or communicate as an interpersonal issue and my job to fix. And also minimizing/misconstruing the communication issue with “oh he just doesn’t like small chat”.

            Reply
            1. LiveAndLetDie

              Ughhhh I’ve worked under someone who played favorites based entirely not on their work performance and that can be such a morale-killer. I hope you are able to get your personal stuff dealt with so you can find a healthier workplace!

              Reply
  22. OhBehave

    Exactly Justme. It’s up to the employee to understand their boss and work accordingly. The world does not revolve around the employee.

    Reply
  23. RandomU...

    Like others, I’m really not sure on this one. After reading the letter and the later comments by the OP, the whole situation seems fuzzy.

    I won’t dissect the description of Jessica, but I think that this paints a picture that can be troubling.

    Cynthia’s example of complaining about the training not being followed, is also a tough one. She could have gone overboard or the new trainer could be cutting corners and being a slacker. But I will mention that it sounds like there’s a consistency problem at the core of this. If a training plan is developed and agreed to, then everyone should use it. If that plan isn’t needed or the team wants to change or update it, then great, do that. But if there’s a training plan that’s being ignored and not used or used inconsistently, then I can see problems with how the department is being run.

    I’ve been on both sides of this dynamic one where the employee was just being over critical and the other where the manager was not all that great. Not to mention the one time where I had an overly critical employee complaining about her not so great manager.

    Here’s the most troubling out of all of this. The manager (OP) doesn’t really know what or who is right in this situation. I’m not saying that a manager should know all the gory details of the team being managed by their employee, but there should be a pretty good basis to know the what’s going on in the team and have a good pulse as to the performance of those working for them even 2 layers down.

    So my advice is this… Manager(OP) you need to plug in more to the team and make regular informal check ins a priority. The next time you wander past a student volunteer ask them how things are going, ask them what they thought of the training and what they wish they had known coming into the position or if they felt prepared. Talk to other members of the team (not Cynthia or Jessica) find out how things are going. Do this in a casual and approachable way (I’d be concerned if you aren’t already doing this type of thing). You’ll soon get a good idea what’s going on.

    If you are happy with Jessica’s performance, then you reinforce with Cynthia that Jessica is the one setting the expectations directing the work. If you aren’t happy with Jessica’s performance and find that she’s not effective, then you manage that.

    You could have a situation like I described where Cynthia is overly critical of Jessica while at the same time Jessica is not the greatest manager. I’ve had this and it’s a pain to manage. Basically you have to reinforce the chain of command with Cynthia while coaching Jessica. You also have to be close enough and cognizant of what Jessica needs to be coached in.

    Reply
    1. AliV

      This is a good reply. Thanks. I’d love to hear more from the OP about the type of complaints and if she has investigated them for substance.

      Reply
  24. Adela

    If this isn’t already a thing, would it be possible to give Cynthia a small area of the library to reign over and direct her energies towards, something that would benefit from a more…detailed..approach (say, periodicals/newspapers or cataloging on a daily basis or signage or documenting workflows as on-going projects)? Maybe if she had something like that to control, she’d be less likely to go looking for other things to nitpick? Because I’ve dealt with Cynthias in libraries before. The criticism is unlikely to stop now that Jessica is her BEC, but you might be able to redirect some of that energy into more structured projects if you don’t want to fire her.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      I think that’s a good suggestion if it’s framed in a “this is your strength” way and not a rewarding poor behavior way. I think that’s also a very good point that Jessica is her BEC and I don’t know what to suggest about that. Maybe Cynthia is just a complainer but if this started with legitimate things, I’m not sure how you roll it back.

      Reply
  25. Seeking Second Childhood

    I see disagreement over the type of training. Please remember that these are part-time teen aged helpers, not young professionals. I worked my way through college in libraries. One library taught me the basics of how the LC numbering system was organizedin their building and where to look up specifics. One summer I landed a coveted job at the central campus library. There I was trained by someone who wanted me to memorize the location of every type of material in the building. All 8 floors. After summer, I went back to the less convenient library.
    If that’s Cynthia’s intense training, OP would need to decide which they need more: memorization or retention?

    Reply
    1. Library supervisor

      Right. We’re talking about 15 year olds who come in for 2-4 hours a week to shelve books or wipe down tables or clean the storytime toys. They don’t need the sort of intensive new employee orientation that you would give to a new employee. And part of the reason libraries offer volunteer opportunities to teenagers is to give them some sort of work experience before they have a “for real” high stakes job. You want to make sure they’re getting adequate training, but if you make the training too hard or too long, you risk them not paying attention or not remembering the important bits that they’ll need in their work because there was too much information to sort through.

      Reply
      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

        Teens can do sports, show up for classes, etc. Think any player is telling their coach. “I don’t want to work so hard.” volunteers can be structured, trained, etc. I worked in a non profit where the backbone was our volunteers. They did get training–and had set hours/schedules etc. Sure, they had much more leeway than employees but they were depended on and still had training to adhere to!

        Reply
    2. technwine

      I’m confused, where are you seeing that any of the people in the letter are part-time teenagers volunteers? From the letter it was clear to me that these are all employees, not volunteers.

      Sure, some libraries may have teenager volunteers, but this doesn’t seem to be the case here.

      Reply
      1. Beaded Librarian

        The OP posted further up that Cynthia was doing intensive training for the teenage volunteers and then complaining when the job was moved to someone else that the other person wasn’t using her intensive method.

        Reply
        1. LiveAndLetDie

          Looks like the comments didn’t thread properly so it got separated. It’s easy to miss in a busy comments section!

          Reply
  26. voyager1

    LW,
    After reading your update. I get the impression that Cynthia is a hard working driven person. If you start not taking Cynthia seriously at all about anything she will either get worse about complaining or go completely the other way and stop caring about things you want her to care about. Jessica really need s to sit down with her and either work this out and explain the reality of the job and work environment. The answer may be that Cynthia just isn’t a good fit. But I am troubled by your ease at blowing off someone you describe as a “hard worker.” Seems a bit passive aggressive to me.

    Reply
    1. RandomU...

      You touched on something that I was having a really hard time putting my finger on and I think it is part of what is making this situation hard for me to figure out.

      “Jessica really need s to sit down with her and either work this out and explain the reality of the job and work environment.”

      I know everything can’t be covered in a letter, but there was no mention of interactions between Jessica and Cynthia. It’s like the description of the situation is of two separate things, Jessica and Cynthia. But what about the overlapping parts. How does Jessica manage Cynthia, is she setting expectations and exercising appropriate levels of authority? Is Cynthia taking concerns to Jessica and answer shopping if she doesn’t like the answers? Or is Jessica not providing feedback and guidance?

      Usually when there’s an employee/manager question, there is some indication of the interaction between the two. I reread the letter to make sure I didn’t miss it, but there is no mention of the two of them and how they interact.

      Reply
  27. Annie

    But isn’t it possible Cynthia has valid concerns that are being ignored just because Jessica and the LW are friends and kindred spirits?

    I would not want to be managed by someone whose management style would be best described as “loose and fun.”

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      There’s nothing to suggest they’re friends. That’s a catty thing to toss at a letter writer.

      Reply
      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

        I definitely get the impression OP likes Jessica because Jessica is easy going and fun. Maybe not fiends but she certainly seems to like Jessica more than Cynthia who is a driven, hard worker. And that leans to a bias because the vast majority of people cut a lot of slack for people they like.

        Reply
        1. LiveAndLetDie

          Reading “OP likes this person better than that person and therefore this entire letter is favoritism at work” is a bad-faith reading of the letter. There is no indication in this letter that OP is “picking sides,” they were simply describing the differences between the two people.

          Reply
          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

            OP has stated she needs to review the team to see if Cynthia’s complaints have merit. Also, she definitely portrays Cynthia as the problem–which may be the case. Notice she isn’t crticizing Jessica at all–which may be correct but also may indicate simply she’s tired of Cynthia’s complaining. That’s fine but do the complaints actually have merit?

            Reply
            1. LiveAndLetDie

              Whatever happened to taking OP for their word? You’re so determined to read between the lines and pick out a problem with Jessica. OP didn’t criticize Jessica because this letter is not about Jessica’s management. It’s that simple.

              Reply
    2. Batgirl

      If you didn’t fit in with someone loose and fun then presumably you’d leave for something more your speed or culture.

      What you hopefully would not do, is go to your grandboss and make out that they are lousy at hiring and management of their report (your boss!) just because you individually had a problem with their personality and style of management. Because that would be awfully close to overstepping.

      Reply
  28. Sara without an H

    A lot of comments so far are based on divergent interpretations of the OP’s descriptions of the protagonists:
    Cynthia is very type A and holds people to incredibly high standards. This sometimes makes her difficult to work with, as she is very meticulous and gets upset when others don’t work in the same manner as she.
    and:
    Jessica, who takes a much more right-brained approach to her job. Jessica’s management style is loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow

    In my experience, two types of people get drawn into library work: rule-makers, who like to build systems and enforce standards, and people-oriented, I’ll-do-anything-to-make-the-patron-happy relationship-builders. I suspect that Cynthia is of the first type and Jessica is the second.

    Problem is, libraries are changing, there’s a greater emphasis on customer-service, and building relationships with the community. Librarians like Cynthia sometimes have trouble adjusting.

    As for the immediate problem, I stand by the advice I’ve posted above. For the longer-term, OP, you and Jessica may want to see if there are jobs that would use Cynthia’s strengths (ordering? cataloging? shelf-processing?) If her “high standards” make her take her frustrations out on the public, that’s going to be a serious problem for her — and for you.

    Reply
    1. Three Dogs in a Trenchcoat

      Nooo, don’t send her to cataloging! Then children’s librarians like me have to deal with someone who can’t make an exception so that (for example) all the tiny Disney books can be together on the shelf instead of scattered all over like wee princessy treasures to be carefully uncovered over the course of 15 minutes as a two year old wails about Elsa.

      I kid (not really).

      Reply
      1. Sara without an H

        I stand corrected! And your comment just illustrates that flexibility is needed even in technical services!

        Reply
      2. Light37

        I am lolsobbing because my library actually collected all the Daniel Tiger/Paw Patrol/Marvel books into one area so we didn’t have to chase around a very large floor hoping desperately that we have one last copy of Disney Bedtime Stories.

        Reply
  29. StaceyIzMe

    I think that you have to be willing to have almost any conversation ONCE, as a manager, mentor, teacher or parent. After that, you’ve heard and responded to whatever concern has been brought up (and hopefully concluded correctly that no further action was needed/ it’s basically a non-issue except to the complainer). Any repetition should be shut down. It sounds like your perfectionist employee is lacking in her ability to “read the room” and to relate in accordance with your institution’s cultural norms. I’d also put the problem back into the complainer’s lap: “I’ve listened to you and don’t agree your conclusions. Some things are a question of right and wrong, and some are a question of style. You might manage differently, but you’re not in that role yet. In order to remain in your role and succeed, I need you to focus on your own work and stop trying to manage up inappropriately.” Really, it seems as if her manager should have been looped in a long time ago. By not already doing that, your complainer apparently feels that she can run to you any time she’s unhappy with something and you’ve undermined her boss. At the least, I’d give a side-eye to someone who accepted multiple complaints from my direct report without looping me in, particularly since you’ve concluded that they’re groundless.

    Reply
    1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

      But OP in the comments mentioned she needs to investigate more, that she is not sure. Cynthia’s complaints may have a lot of merit. Jessica may be a poor manager, Cynthia may be too fussy. Most likely, it’s a little of both. Jessica probably needs management help/training and Cynthia needs direct, consistent feedback (as do all the reports).

      Reply
    2. Kathlynn (Canada)

      This really depends on the issue. If I’m continuing to complain to my boss it’s because the issue hasn’t been resolved, and the other coworker has continued with the bad/dangerous behavior. Or because my boss hasn’t communicated to me that she has no problem with the situation/complaint.

      Reply
  30. Carbovore

    I’m sure this was covered in other comments but it could be worth figuring out if the things Cynthia complains about are things directly impacting her work–then it would make sense to address some of this with Jessica.

    On another tangent, I wanted to chime in as someone whose boss had to tell her to “knock it off” when it came to certain complaints about an employee and their manager–it made me frustrated at the time and I still feel unsupported here and there when it comes to the subject but I DID ultimately appreciate my supervisor telling me with absolution, “I need you to get to a place where you are happy in YOUR realm and are not concerned with others.”

    That might have been a subtle remark to others but coming from my supervisor, I was able to really read between the lines. It was definitely, “I don’t want to hear this line of reasoning from you anymore and I need you to get on board.”

    It might not be what Cynthia wants to HEAR but… it is a kindness to let them know this kind of complaining is a) not useful, b) not going to result in a change they are wanting, and c) needs to stop coming up. It will save them a lot of useless hope that you’re going to deal with the “problem.” If–like me–Cynthia realizes she needs allies in her workplace, she’ll knock it off. If in spite of herself she gets off a passive aggressive comment or two (as I have done…), give her a good look or say, “Hey–we talked about this…” Ought to do the trick to snap her back to reality.

    Reply
    1. Three Dogs in a Trenchcoat

      I agree with this. As someone who has also been told to knock it off after repeatedly bringing up a serious issue that it was clear my manager was not going to address, I’m glad she told me straight out. It didn’t fix the underlying problem but it let me save face, and also gave me a pretty clear signal that I needed to find another job (for my own sanity– I wasn’t in any danger of being disciplined or fired).

      Reply
      1. Carbovore

        Oh yeah–it definitely hasn’t fixed the issues but I know now I don’t have welcoming ears on the subject… and like you say, it gave me the ability to stop trying for change in that arena. (In a sense, it allowed me to mentally say, “I did all I can here/I advocated for myself as much as possible and now it’s time to move on because this isn’t working.”) It HAS given me serious pause about staying at this job but in the meantime, I just keep my opinions to myself…! lol

        Reply
  31. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a good manager. Being flexible is awesome but Jessica may be great at what you mention and lousy at handling direct reports and giving feedback. It sucks being the report wanting to know how they’re doing and you boss doesn’t do feedback, is too vague, and/or says you’re doing fine and then you’re blindsided by a list of mistakes.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Yeah, I’m a little suspicious that this easy-going report may be a little too easy-going. Being easy to supervise is a good way to gain your supervisor’s favor.

      Reply
  32. Three Dogs in a Trenchcoat

    Just want to flag that a lot of libraries are union environments, so that might affect how closely you could follow Alison’s recommendations.

    I can see both sides of where folks are coming from on this one. I’ve met overly controlling, rules-oriented librarians who are unbearable to work with, and I’ve also met complainers who make whole libraries toxic. You can’t let that kind of behavior fly.

    At the same time, Cynthia might just be at her wits’ end not knowing what she’s supposed to be doing or how, not receiving feedback, and trying to do her job the best she can without it. That kind of dysfunction wouldn’t necessarily be visible from above if Jessica finds her work satisfactory despite Cynthia’s frustration. So it’s hard for me to tell you to just ignore her concerns and focus on shutting down the behavior, even though the excessive complaining absolutely needs to stop.

    Also, FWIW I’m a really flexible children’s librarian who is totally on board with user-focused service, and my own personal hell is a “go-with-the-flow” kind of manager. It’s not just stick-in-the-mud old-school folks who value structure, timely feedback, and consistency. I would absolutely leave a workplace over it (and maybe Cynthia should!)

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      I work in the archives within an academic library. My former department head was here for years, built the department from scratch, and was a beloved and highly-valued employee. She was super personable with patrons and donors and did a wonderful job in a lot of ways. But when she retired we discovered that her favorite method of record-keeping was “in her head”, so we lacked a lot of documentation that we really should have had, and that she had been slow to adopt new technology, and her successor had a long haul getting us caught up, and we lost some digital material that just could not be updated because the format was so outdated. She was excellent at day-to-day processes but not great at all on long-term changes. Or on feedback, really. Or on training. So she was in many ways a great employee but in some other ways a really deficient one. It’s possible to be both, in different areas.

      The LW needs to make sure that Jessica isn’t an incarnation of my former boss. The fact that things are running as well as they always have doesn’t mean that they’re running as well as they should be.

      Reply
  33. Argh!

    I disagree with the “shut down” sentiment. I would rather say “worked with” or “worked on.” A lot of people who have Asperger’s or OCPD would have a hard time in this environment. A little patience and understanding of that kind of trait would go a long way toward making their relationship work better.

    I prefer to say to people (in my case I’ve had to address complaints about what seemed to be favoritism in assignments) “I value diversity in this workplace, and each of you bring a different and valuable viewpoint to the team. I value accuracy, and this is your strong point. But I also value a relaxed, congenial atmosphere, and your supervisor brings that to her job. I don’t want either of you to change. I want you to respect your differences, as I do. The most that I can do is talk to her about finding you assignments that may be more in line with your inclinations. You may also want to talk to H.R. about transferring to a unit that’s more in line with your work style.”

    “Shut down” sounds disrespectful & censoring. I prefer coaching.

    Reply
  34. Candy

    I was in the similar scenario but the employee complained about me to the lower level manager and I tried to talk to the about it with no success Guess who doesn’t have a job anymore – the employee.

    Reply
  35. Former Employee

    I wasn’t sure until the OP made the following comment:

    “I keep asking myself, if Cynthia were not here anymore, how would the department suffer. I think the department would suffer only in arbitrary ways that Cynthia has invented for herself. Example: Cynthia has created a very intensive training for teen volunteers. When we tried to offload teen volunteer training to someone else, who has a completely different approach, Cynthia complained that the new trainer was taking the easy road by not utilizing her method. When in my opinion, the new person just didn’t think it needed to be so intense!”

    It makes it sound as if Cynthia is attempting to train teen volunteers in a library in a way that a different sort of organization that gets a lot of teen volunteers trains them. It’s known as the military.

    Reply
    1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

      Or sports or hospitals or animal shelters or any place. Most volunteers have rules. Amazingly, teens can follow them and be trained.

      Reply
      1. LaurenB

        Why on earth do you think that the new approach is to not train volunteers or have any rules? Maybe Cynthia’s approach is a full-day training session on the Dewey Decimal System, complete with extensive testing. That’s a great way to end up with very few volunteers and is completely unnecessary. Animal shelters can have rules about how to treat animals but they shouldn’t require volunteers to pass multi-stage dogwalking exams.

        Reply
      2. technwine

        No one is saying that the teens aren’t being trained. And no one is saying that the teens don’t have rules. From what the OP said upthread, the teen volunteers are being trained and are doing their jobs as expected, Cynthia is just angry that her intensive way of training isn’t being used.

        I volunteered in a library as a teen and my training was short and to the point and I was encouraged to ask whenever I had any questions or needed clarification on something. We didn’t need an extensive and intensive training for me to be able to shelve books, straighten the library, and help keep things organized.

        Reply
      3. Observer

        And most of those places have TRAINING *not* INTENSE training.

        To be honest, any job that requires “intense” training should probably not be done by teen volunteers. I can’t imagine any job in a library that would require that kind of training but could also be done by a volunteer, much less a teen.

        Reply
        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

          Do you think teen sports aren’t intense? What’s with thinking teenagers can’t handle strong training? Yes, I knew plenty of teens who volunteered at places that had intense training–because it had to be done a certain way. Some were handling wildlife such as raptors,some volunteered with the elderly,some worked with abused animals, etc. Yes, they were supervised and the teens had fun but the training to work certain places or do certain things were rigorous.

          Reply
          1. LaurenB

            I notice you ignored all comments above about how intense training isn’t necessary in a library. Treating library work as working with raptors (seriously!) is a great example of the kind of inability to put things in perspective that I suspect Cynthia shows.

            Library workers can deal with intense situations, but those should be done by paid staff, because they are PAID. If a hospital was suggesting an intensive training program to new volunteers because otherwise patients could die, I’d suggest they hire a damn nurse.

            Reply
  36. Amethystmoon

    One should only vent about managers with people who you don’t work with and aren’t in the industry. Otherwise, doing so can and will get back to them.

    Reply
  37. Lily in NYC

    Regardless of this specific situation – to me, it is bad management to tell employees having an issue to “work it out themselves”. Our HR team is currently handing an issue with our CEO’s two assistants like this and it’s maddening to witness (because one assistant is bullying the other and getting away with it because no one wants to deal with her).

    Reply
  38. mmppgh

    Oh my! This happened to me. Only I was Jessica. All I can say is I wish my boss had my back in the same way the writer has Jessica’s. In my case, it was my direct report who was not performing well, so I tried to rein things in and she chafed at the additional oversight. She complained to my boss. Repeatedly. We have no HR department so I felt lost on how to deal her performance. (In truth, she should have been fired. It was that bad.) Ended up with me getting thrown under the bus that I should just be more understanding of her and should adapt to her work style. It was awful. I had been in my position for 12 years at this point with multiple reports before her…and yet *I* was the problem. Luckily she quit soon after a big meeting with the three of us when I received the brunt of the criticism, but not before she made my life a living hell and damaged my reputation. This absolutely has to be shut down. It undermines a good employee. If Cynthia is unhappy then she needs to decide if this workplace is the right one for her.

    Reply
  39. navi neet

    thanks for this post .As a human resources professional, you may wonder how to respond to employee complaints, especially if you get one or two every day either in person or delivered on an employee complaint form .pending on the gravity of the situation, you may be able to address the complaint then and there or you may find it necessary to get others involved.

    Reply
  40. Phoebe

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments, but from a training point of view, it might be that Jessica needs the chance to learn some skills which will help her manage Cynthia more effectively / communicate better with her. It is not what you think you have said that is important, but rather what the person you are trying to communicate with has heard. Maybe Cynthia’s complaints are her way of saying that she doesn’t understand what Jessica is saying to her and what she is supposed to be doing.

    Reply

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