my coworkers keep praising my work bully, emergency bathroom use during interviews, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can I ask my coworkers to stop praising the person who bullied me?

How reasonable is it to ask my teammates to stop praising another employee from a different department who was a bully? I am okay with speaking about this person in a working manner (“Petra suggested this on the budget issue, so let’s go with it.”), but there are two people on my own team (one is my manager) who will lavish praise on them (“Petra is a genius! She is so great at her job! This company is so much better with her around!”).

I spent a better portion of a year working with Petra, an internal client who behaved terribly to me and others assigned to her project. It was firmly bullying behavior that affected project outcomes, relationships within the project team, and my health. I’ve heard many stories of her doing interpersonal damage around the company, though I can’t deny she is strong in her realm of work.

My teammates and especially my manager know about my experiences, though it doesn’t seem like they have caught on to the extent. I feel somewhat disrespected when they speak so lavishly about Petra. They’ll add a quick acknowledgement after they’ve started because they suddenly remember whom they’re talking to: “I know you wouldn’t say this about her, but she is so amazing!” or “I know you had a bad experience, but I just love how smart she is.” That tells me they remember my experience, but choose to continue saying these things to me. It’s disheartening that her bad behavior is minimized and my experience is dismissed, especially by my manager. They can say it to others, I just don’t want to hear it myself.

Is it reasonable to say “Hey, given my history with Petra, and you may not realize the extent of the damage she did, but can I ask that we keep our talk about her to strictly business?” Or is it asking too much and I should just ignore it? I don’t expect this special consideration for any other of our clients, many of whom are difficult to work with but not bullying. Plus, I’m in the camp we shouldn’t keep jerks around just because they are good at their job.

Yeah, it’s probably asking too much. You can’t really tell people not to say positive things around you about a colleague who still works there; you’ll come across as overly precious or prima donna-ish.

At most, the next time she’s lavishly praised, you could say something like, “My experience with her was truly very different. I’d be glad to share it privately with you sometime if you think it would be useful to hear another perspective.”

But I think you’ve got to mark this down to them having legitimately positive experiences with Petra and not realizing the extent of how harmful your interactions with her were or writing it off to a personality conflict rather than something more serious. That might sound dismissive, but it’s so much more common for two people to just not get along than it is for someone to be truly monstrous that it’s understandable that people might assume that. And they might assume that even if they did hear more details, because people tend to assume there are two sides to every story, or that each person is bringing their own baggage to the situation — especially when they know and like both people involved. You don’t have to like that, but I think looking at it that way might make it feel less personal. (And to be clear, I don’t think it’s great that they’re lavishly praising her around you, but you can only control your side of it.)

2. Emergency bathroom use during interviews

About a year ago, I had a medical procedure done involving my intestines. As a result, I sometimes very suddenly have to use the restroom; waiting even a few minutes could spell disaster. I have been able to accommodate this fine in my current job, as my office is close to a restroom, but I am in the process of applying for new jobs and have had a few interviews, some lasting close to an hour.

So far it has not been an issue during the interviews — I’ve done my best to prevent it by making sure I arrive early enough that I can use the restroom either at the interview location or at a nearby gas station/coffee shop/whatever right before the interview. That said, I’m (reasonably, I think) worried that despite my best efforts, one of these days I’m going to be in the middle of an interview and experience that all-too-familiar rumbling that indicates impending doom.

On one hand, I feel like interviewers might be understanding of a bathroom emergency (we’re all human, after all), but I also feel like it could look bad for me to have to put an interview on hold for 5-10 minutes while I run to the toilet.

Anyone can have a sudden, unanticipated need for a bathroom, even without a medical condition! It might not be as urgent as your need is, but it can be urgent enough to require excusing oneself from a meeting. Because of that, you don’t need to worry too much about giving any context for it or warning your interviewer in advance. If the need strikes, you can simply say, “I’m so sorry — I need to very briefly excuse myself to use your restroom.”

That said, if you’ll feel more comfortable, you could say at the start, “I had a recent medical procedure that means I might need to pop out to the bathroom at some point while we’re talking — I’ll speak up if that happens.”

3. Our company won’t let managers suggest sick employees work from home

We have several employees who report to work ill. When I suggest letting ill people work from home, I am told our division head says no. Her exact words were “I’d like to work from home,” which makes no sense. Also, a manager states they spoke to an HR rep and the statement was along the lines of “You are not a doctor and cannot state factually that their illness is causing another worker to become ill and therefore cannot send an employee home.”

What results is other employees become ill, go to the doctor, use their PTO, their workload piles up, and when they return the germ carriers are still repeatedly deep coughing, sneezing, etc., causing relapses. Focusing on one’s work is proving difficult. Would working in our remote site be a legal alternative if one presents as a risk to another’s health and well-being?

Your division head is a bit of a jerk; just because she’d like to work from home but for some reason can’t doesn’t mean that it’s not a viable option for anyone, and she’s really behind the curve on this.

But more importantly, your HR rep is ridiculous. Letting sick people work from home isn’t about factually proving they’re definitely getting others sick; it’s about taking sensible precautions that any sixth grader could understand. Your HR rep sounds overly rigid and lacking in critical thinking skills — which is a really bad combination. Is your whole HR team like this, or is it just this one person? If the latter, try going over her head. (Although, frankly, managers shouldn’t need HR’s permission on this, and ideally could just leave HR out of it.)

To answer your question: Working from a remote site for whatever reason is perfectly legal. The law cares not one bit. The issue is an internal one with your company.

4. My partner’s last-minute work changes are wreaking havoc on my schedule

I work from a home office. My schedule has made it so that my SO can be as flexible as possible for his employer, given sufficient notice; his job involves travel and working from home at irregular intervals. I have a schedule that allows me the space and time to run my business and do elder care for his family and mine.

My SO’s employer (a large firm) has a reputation for being at least somewhat family-friendly, despite the nature of this job he does. My SO’s previous supervisor took family friendly policies seriously. My SO and I never once experienced a conflict under his leadership due to his behavior, and few things cropped up last moment.

The problem is his new supervisor, who has a management style best described as chaotic; everything is conflict-filled, urgent, and last moment and it’s causing interpersonal and scheduling difficulties between my SO and me. I did the best I could to work with this new management style and maintain my policy of never saying “no” to his professional obligations, no matter how they might impact my schedule. However, when I had to reschedule my own professional and personal obligations 10 times in the space of a month in order to support his career, I had a change of heart.

I’ve had as much as I will take of the near constant schedule changes, and my SO’s newly developed short temper, and I’m at a loss as to how to address this with him and his supervisor. How do I discuss this and bring matters about to a peaceful resolution?

You talk to him, and he talks to his manager. You shouldn’t be talking to the manager yourself, since it’s between him and your SO.

The subject line of your email to me was, “How much flexibility is too much to expect from an employee’s family?” But they’re not expecting anything from you; they deal with him, and they assume he will work out family issues himself (including speaking up if he’s being asked to do things he can’t do).

It sounds like you and he need to sit down and figure out how many last minute changes you’re willing and able to accommodate, and what kind of new boundaries you each need to draw (you with him, and him with his boss). Then he’ll need to have a conversation with his boss where he explains that because of elder care obligations, he can’t accommodate this much schedule chaos. Ideally he’d talk about how he and his former manager made it work, and see if the new manager is open to a similar set-up. But before that can happen, hash out how this will work between the two of you.

5. Client wants to make my freelance contract permanent — and I don’t want it

Recently, my long-term freelance contract came to an end. In order to make ends meet, I took up another freelance contract at a much lower rate, thinking I’ll look for something else in the interim. But it actually worked out well. The studio deals with a lot of confidential work that I’m not privy to, so I mostly help out on the overflow. My schedule is light, leaving me with time and energy to work on other contracts, as well as my long-running creative project.

They apparently liked my work, because now they’re offering a permanent position. I considered it initially, as I enjoy the work and the culture, but then I actually saw the offer. This role pays less than my freelance contract (though with benefits and leave), and I will be barred from working on outside projects. I know they don’t have much room in their budget for negotiation. As I’ll be involved in the confidential dealings, my workload will also increase significantly.

I’m definitely not going to accept this position, as it sounds like more stress at less pay. I just don’t know if there’s a way to let them down and go back to the way things were before. They presented it as a huge honor for a freelancer to be offered a permanent role, and I was also excited initially. They specifically asked me if I am dead-set on freelancing at the beginning and I said no, meaning I can’t use that excuse.

I realize I’ve been enjoying a very cushy position, but I do repeatedly hear how much my overflow work helps everyone stay on schedule with the important stuff. And of course, having this kind of steady income as a freelancer is a godsend. Can I still freelance with them without it being awkward? I feel like my friend-with-benefits suddenly wants to get married!

Absolutely, it’s really normal to consider an offer like this, decide it’s not for you, but stay on good terms and continue freelancing for the client. You can say something like, “I really appreciate you making this offer! I’ve run the numbers and it makes more financial sense for me to remain a freelancer, especially because of the bar on outside projects. But I really like working with you, and I’d love to just continue on with my freelance work for you if that still makes sense on your side.”

One thing to make sure you’re factoring in: It’s really normal for the position to pay less than you were earning as a freelancer, because as a freelancer you’re not getting benefits and you’re responsible for all your own payroll taxes. It sounds like there are other reasons this position wouldn’t be right for you, but I did want to flag that this piece of it is normal and expected.

{ 397 comments… read them below }

  1. Fortitude Jones*

    OP #3 – If you’re able to push back on your company’s insane sick leave policy, please do so. I too work at a company that’s more concerned with face time than actual productivity (one of the many reasons why I’m leaving), and it’s ridiculous. Your employees are getting each other sick, which is causing an increase in PTO usage for illness, which in turn causes the work in your division to back up – that’s a problem. Why your division head doesn’t get that is beyond me. Additionally, I used to work with someone who was severely immunocompromised due to cancer treatment – if anyone came to work sick, they were literally putting her life at risk. You all could be doing the same to one or more of your coworkers and not even know it.

    If people are sick enough to be contagious, but not too sick to work, why not let them work from the comfort of their own home? It’s incredibly disgusting (and potentially dangerous) to have sick people coming into such close quarters with others passing their germs around. Plus, sick people usually aren’t working at 100% capacity anyway, so why make them come in when they’re not going to be at their best? I really need these companies to adapt to modern times. This is sad.

    1. valentine*

      It sounds like the division head is worried people will…sue if sent home? That’s bizarre and letting them stay home in the first place would prevent it. Perhaps crunching the numbers would sway her?

    2. Inhuman Resources*

      It sounds like the HR rep has confused “allowing people to take leave when they are sick” with “company mandated leave due to illness”. At least at my company (not in US) these are different things. If you have ebola or the plague, the company can ban you from the workplace and reprimand you if you come in. But the company can’t stop you from taking time off if you choose to (it’s just a question then of managing your paid time off vs. unpaid time off and the risks involved if you don’t show up to work without it counting as some kind of leave).

      So there might certainly be limitations on a company representative “sending someone home” but that shouldn’t impact the employee’s ability to go home if they’re sick (and the supervisor should be encourage them to do so). PLUS neither of these matter if the employee is in fact working from home, not taking time off!

    3. Liane*

      “If people are sick enough to be contagious, but not too sick to work, why not let them work from the comfort of their own home?…I really need these companies to adapt to modern times. This is sad.”
      It is great when they do this. Whatever other shortcomings it has (and I know there are a few), my one friend’s company has become a lot better about WFH when you’re ill, and he really needed this the last week or so.
      We’d been to the same con a couple weeks ago, and I got pretty sick right after (still recovering). So as soon as he started feeling ill just before his vacation ended, he decided to WFH, so as not to spread his out-of-state germs. A good call as a couple days later a coworker told him there was a terrible bug going around the office. If he’d gone in, there would have been 2 illnesses going around at once.

      Thankfully, my part time job is all WFH, and no set schedule, since I was a lot sicker than my friend. I was so dragged out, it was a week before I was well enough, and had enough focus, to write or edit.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This 100%. I rarely get sick, and when I do I’m still able to work. If they have the ability to work from home, and they’re well enough to do it, there’s no good reason to refuse to let them. If I have a cold, I’d rather keep others from getting it and stay home, but I’m not sick enough to need the day off.

    5. Lepidoptera*

      The stigma against WFH is still common, and frequently irrational. I can’t wait for the dinosaurs to die out. A widely-shared post about it from Bethany Lang came up on my LinkedIn feed this week, and the few legitimate field-based criticisms are buried under a pile of nonsense. “I prefer to feel a firm handshake” (maybe seek human touch outside the workplace?) and “I just need that energy of collaborating in person” (try not being an emotional vampire?).

      1. HarperC*

        There was a Dilbert cartoon years ago where he was trying to get his boss to let him work from home and eventually, the boss admitted that he couldn’t consider it work if he wasn’t uncomfortable in some way. I really think that’s what it comes down to for a lot of people.

        1. Anonny*

          “Boss, if you enjoy ordering people about and watching them suffer because of it, there are plenty of websites where you can find people who enjoy being ordered about and suffering. But we’d prefer it if our office wasn’t some kind of plague colony.”

        2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Unfortunately, I think the “if you’re not suffering, it doesn’t count” mindset is FAR too common in America, period.

          I blame the Puritans, myself.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        My favorite is “but not everyone in this office has a job where they can work from home.”

        Yes… and? We have people in this office whose jobs require CDLs, but we don’t make everyone get a CDL. We’re pretty good at using job descriptions to identify who has to get more restrictions, we can’t use them in the other direction?

      3. Double H*

        Right? I feel like I’m made to come into work just to satisfy someone’s extroversion needs. We’re not collaborating 90% of the time, we’re getting stuff done.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That’s bogus for companies where teams are spread out across locations. For a while when I was TC’ing, I had team members in Europe, India, and California. I’m on the US East Coast.

      5. Anita Brayke*

        Yes! And frankly, if Jeff Bezos can make customer service for Amazon work-from-home, I can’t see why companies wouldn’t want to put WFH in place. Think of the cost-savings in overhead!

    6. New Job So Much Better*

      I so agree…. having spent yesterday in my cubicle coughing. All. Day. Long.

    7. Crisy*

      Not allowing or even encouraging WFH when people are too sick to be in the office but not sick enough to take a sick day drives me crazy. At some point my current boss decided that she needed to approve all WFH in advance. This policy was put in place just before this past flu season. I have preemie twins at home who couldn’t get their first flu shot until mid-December and their booster in January, so it definitely hit a nerve for me…. It just doesn’t make any sense, especially in an environment where we all have laptops and 99% of meetings are (at least in some capacity) via Zoom/WebEx anyway!!

    8. CC*

      Hopefully this isn’t too off topic–but you can also be contagious before you know you are sick. So in addition to staying home when you’re sick, be sure to get vaccinated for the flu/everything else recommended by your doctor!

  2. Fortitude Jones*

    OP #2 – you have my sympathies. I too have an uncontrollable urge to use the restroom many times a day (don’t know what brought it on and the meds prescribed to me are hit or miss), and this was my concern as I began interviewing. Luckily, most of my current interviews have been over the phone since I’m shooting for remote positions. Still, I’m always concerned I’m going to have to go at any second and won’t be able to gracefully excuse myself from the conversation since using Alison’s wording would be too time consuming for my situation (I have to go out of nowhere immediately, so no time to talk about anything). My suggestion would be to put some adult diapers or party liners/pads on an hour before your interview just in case (or carry one in your bag). That way, if you can’t make it to a restroom in time, you won’t get anything on your clothes.

    1. Annette*

      You would say Alison’s wording before the interview. So then if you had to dash out of the room. It wouldn’t = a big surprise.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        True, but that just seems so awkward to me in the event I don’t have the urge – then I’ve just let them know I have a medical issue, which would then (in my mind) lead to them possibly questioning my “fitness” for the role.

        1. Artemesia*

          I’d be afraid of that too. I’d probably wear the adult garment on interview days and ask to use the restroom if it did happen. Hope it doesn’t.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I’m dealing with my current employer (well, my manager) cutting me out of things and not giving me interesting work due to my FMLA covered illness, so I definitely wouldn’t want to chance it with strangers who are evaluating me against other seemingly healthy candidates. If someone who knows how excellent my work is doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt, I don’t know who else will.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Are you sure it’s because of your illness? It sounds like a petty attitude or politics. Or setting you up for a layoff.

        2. #2 OP here*

          That’s part of my concern — if I warn them, but then nothing comes of it (or even if it does, really), are the interviewers going to be concerned that such bathroom emergencies are frequent enough that they’d impact my work and thus they’d be reluctant to hire me?

          Some days it does impact my work, though not what I would consider substantially. If it’s a bad day, I end up leaving to work from home, though I know that’s not an option in some jobs so I’d have to take sick leave instead.

          (As an aside, how apt that my question was put at #2. Intentional? :D )

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s what I like about saying “a recent medical procedure” — it combats a bit of the “is this a chronic issue where she’s going to be constantly in the bathroom and it’ll interfere with her work?” (It of course sucks that you even have to think about that, though.)

            1. Mookie*

              I like the pre-emptive warning because I’ve seen people react really unreasonably in these situations and behave as though the person has committed a rather serious faux pas. Which is ridiculous, but it’s also useful when gauging whether an employer is worth any more of a jobseeker’s time.

              Personally—and the LW May differ from me here—I’d feel a lot more relaxed, focused, and fully engaged knowing I’d already given them advanced notice; that way I’m not running a background script in my head about what to say if/when I need to abruptly excuse myself. I’d also best less worried about how to “manage” my interviewer’s emotions. I give them a head’s up, how they react to that tells me something (one way or the other), and now the ball’s in their court. They can act weird or not. I did my due diligence, if that makes sense.

          2. Gerta*

            That was my thought as well. From what you have said, it sounds as though the likelihood of you actually needing to leave the room is low, and that you should have time to briefly excuse yourself first if necessary? I think that as an interviewer, having the warning would leave me wondering both about what might happen during the interview, and about your health situation.

            On the other hand, if your preparations aren’t sufficient at some point, I think excusing yourself politely (‘I’m so sorry to interrupt things, but I need to use the facilities. Please excuse me for a minute!’) is a reasonable thing to do and could happen to anyone occasionally. As someone else has already noted, the interviewer’s reaction may also tell you something useful here. Anyone with any manners at all would not pry into the issue. It’s still possible they may wonder about your health, but much less so than if you gave them warning. As far as they know, maybe you just ate something bad the night before. (In fact, you could even say something like ‘My insides are playing up a bit today’, which would be true without giving the whole story.)

            1. Temperance*

              I would absolutely never, ever say that sentence in a job interview. I don’t think them picturing you with an upset stomach/on the toilet is ideal.

          3. ket*

            I also think you could phrase this so the emphasis isn’t on the restroom. Why does everyone need to know this is about poop? That’s part of what makes it so fraught, right?

            So could you tweak it? “I recently had a minor medical procedure, so there’s a small chance during the interview that if I’m experiencing discomfort I might need to step out to the restroom for a moment (to deal with it); I’ll speak up.” Let them think that you’re taking a pill or readjusting an oozy or pinchy bandage. Say restroom, not bathroom.

            1. TheAwkwardInterviewer*

              I’d just leave at use the restroom. Not that they have to go into detail, but if it’s left too vague, I worry that the interviewer will assume they’re hooked on something and need a fix. There has to be a straight-forward way to explain that doesn’t go into an uncomfortable level of detail.

          4. Collarbone High*

            LW, have you asked your doctor about using OTC meds like imodium, or Rx drugs that absorb intestinal bile? I’m in the same boat – I had several inches of intestine removed and now I have liquid, unpredictable bowel movements. Two caplets of imodium per day helps me a lot, and allows me to leave my house knowing I won’t have emergencies.

            1. #2 OP here*

              I do use Immodium as needed, but it might be worth taking it on days I have interviews even if I don’t feel like I need it, just in case. Thanks!

          5. lawyer*

            A benefit of letting them know in advance is that they can also show you where the restroom is so you’re not searching for it when in need. If I were interviewing and the interviewee told me that, I would definitely say, “oh, let me show you where it is, and I can grab a glass of water while we’re up” or something similar so that you were aware of how to get there easily.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              But you’re a reasonable person. There are some people in this world, for some reason I just can not fathom, who think/would think that needing to take care of biological functions is somehow a weakness/lack of planning.

              I had a gallbladder removal surgery when I was 17. Yes, that’s way young, but it happened. It was so long ago that instead of a tiny little incision, I have a diagonal scar, because 1980 was still the dark ages. Anyway…for perspective, I am 56 now, so 39 years.

              Since the surgery when I need the restroom, I need it *right this second*(!!!!)…no negotiation. I don’t know what the cause/effect is, but I’ve talked to others who have had the surgery snd are in the same “no I can’t wait even one single second” boat, so I’m pretty sure it’s a Thing.

              It still shocks me how many people are openly almost hostile that I need to use the restroom. I can’t imagine trying to go through an interview worried about the interviewer(s) being like that.

            2. Snarktini*

              Most of the best things I learned in business school had nothing to do with the subject matter.

              A law professor’s wisdom: When welcoming anyone visiting your office, casually tell them where the restrooms are and offer them a few moments before starting the meeting. Maybe they need to pee, maybe they want to brush their hair, maybe they just need to collect themselves after the ride in. Whatever! Just give them the info, give them some space, and everyone can move forward gracefully.

              “Never make people awkwardly ask for the bathroom” is now ingrained in my head as words to live by.

          6. Happy Pineapple*

            #2 OP, we’re in the same boat, although my issue is chronic. I completely sympathize with the “what if??” stress and the potential embarrassment. I don’t know if your doctor talked about it with you, but nature’s cruel joke is that stress makes these incidents more likely! It’s part of the body’s instinctive flight or fight response to empty unnecessary cargo. Maybe useful when running from a cheetah, but not so much when facing down an interview!

            My advice is to eat very little and only bland foods leading up to an interview and take a preventative OTC medicine like Immodium. I did this before a three hour interview recently when I was starting to have a flare up, and I not only made it through the entire thing, but I also got the job! Best of luck to you.

          7. wittyrepartee*

            Since you’ve had good luck so far, I think it might be better to play the odds and excuse yourself quickly. Just take note of where the bathroom is when you come in.

        3. MommyMD*

          I’d also not bring up any medical issue. I’d eat very little before the interview and hope for the best.

          1. valentine*

            You’re probably already doing this, but find out where the nearest restroom is, in case it’s behind a security door or on the opposite end of a block-long building.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Also no coffee. If I know I’m going to have Important Thing happening I get up early so I can try to mitigate surprises before I leave the house. But I’ve had decades to learn what foods/drinks are ok/not a good idea, timing, etc. Early on there were some Very Close Calls.

          3. TardyTardis*

            I don’t take my diuretic for the day before a morning event–I can stand a little bit of high blood pressure till after noon. Conversely, if my event is in the afternoon, I take it early and get the bathroom biz done ahead of time.

    2. Psyche*

      I also have sudden urges to use the bathroom due to a medical condition. I was worried about it being a problem at my wedding and talked to my doctor who was able to give me some medication that was ok to use for a day but not ok to use long term (basically causing constipation which was a tradeoff I was willing to make). If you haven’t already, you could see if there is a short term option for the day of the interview.

    3. Not A Manager*

      I used to have abdominal migraines, which for me meant that I didn’t have any headache (or warning), but then I would get pretty serious stomach issues for a few hours/up to a few days.

      If it were me, I would just abruptly excuse myself in the interview if it happened. Just stand up (actually, as urgent as possible) and say, “please excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

      When you come back, apologize and say, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s going on. I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me.”

      I’d treat it as a one-off that’s as much a surprise to you as to anyone else. Then, by your manner, be clear that you’re not ill and everything is fine now.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Wow, I’d never heard of an abdominal migraine before. I have a decades-long history of different types of migraines, and have recently had some severe, unexplained stomach issues. Thank you for mentioning this rare-but-possible issue, as it’s something for me to look into.

  3. Approval is optional*

    Alison, wouldn’t LW1 speaking to her manager be ‘acceptable’? Her manager is aware of the bullying and in a functional company would be aware of Petra’s reputation, and further, the manager has a responsibility to protect (for want of a better word) the LW’s safety in the workplace. I’m not saying the praise is unsafe per se, but I think a good manager would want to know how it’s making the LW feel, so that she (the manager) can modify her behaviour and perhaps work at reducing the comments from her other reports.

    1. Annette*

      I would not talk to the manager. Sounds like LW is a big feelings person. But trying to make manager and others see things from her side will not work. Frankly – there really are two sides to many stories and manager may have seen something different than LW in Petra’s behavior.

      Talking to a therapist and friends about this might help. Talking to the manager = unlikely to go well.

      1. Approval is optional*

        There aren’t always two sides to every story: sometimes people are just outright bullies, or harassers, or the sort of people who demand your liver.
        The LW says Petra is ‘ an internal client who behaved terribly to me and others assigned to her project. It was firmly bullying behavior that affected project outcomes, relationships within the project team, and my health. I’ve heard many stories of her doing interpersonal damage around the company..’.
        This is more than the LW having big feelings IMHO – the LW, and others, were bullied to the extent it damaged her health and she now feels her experience is being dismissed by her manager. A good manager would want to know this: in fact a good manager would want to know this even if there was no bullying, so they could help their employee work through the experience and ‘re-brand’ what they saw initially as bullying. A good manager would be aware of the fact that the way a person behaves around them is not necessarily a true indicator of how they behave around others.
        Of course given, firstly, that the organisation seems to have done nothing about Petra’s negative impact on coworkers and project outcomes, and, secondly, her manager’s behaviour around the praise, there’s a fair chance she’s a not a particularly effective manager in a not particularly functional organisation, and won’t respond well to the LW speaking to her. So to that extent I’m not 100% on the side of talking to the manager (which is why I asked it as a question in my initial comment), but the don’t do it aspect is because of the potential dysfunction not because there are two sides to every story.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          in fact a good manager would want to know this even if there was no bullying, so they could help their employee work through the experience and ‘re-brand’ what they saw initially as bullying

          Hmmm, I’m going to disagree — that’s not really a manager’s role. A good manager would do what she could to ensure the OP didn’t have to work closely with Petra in the future, but even that might not always be possible, depending on their roles. But helping her work through it is really the job for friends or a therapist, not a manager.

          But to answer your question above: No, I would not advise that the OP try to talk to the manager about this. Saying she doesn’t want people to speak positively of a colleague around her is just too likely to come across poorly — as high maintenance, or overly thin skinned/delicate. I’m not saying that’s right; I’m saying it’s likely to come across that way. And that can impact the types of opportunities the OP is given in the future — everything from promotions where she’d need to deal with difficult personalities to desirable projects where she might have to work with Petra (which she might decide she doesn’t want, but she’d presumably want that to be her choice, not one that her manager makes for her) or even future references where the manager is asked about how she resolves conflicts or gets along with difficult people. Again, I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s just too likely.

          1. Approval is optional*

            I guess I’m coming from this from a country where workplace bullying is defined in OHS law and therefore managers are responsible for dealing with it in the same way they’d deal with any potential hazard/incident. If a manager had been told their employee was bullied and they did nothing, they could be held legally liable (and the org would be vicariously liable perhaps). So talking to an employee who says they felt bullied to work out if it was bullying as defined in law, and if not what it was, wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation of a manager.

              1. Approval is optional*

                Yes. My org has a comprehensive policy and procedure about workplace bullying/violence, and every manager/supervisor has access to a 25- ish page guide on how to prevent and respond to it (government publication – there is also an employee’s guide). It’s also covered in mandatory OHS training.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are saying and the cultural/legal norms are different in the country you are from. But a manager trying to convince an employee who complains of bullying that what they experienced is not bullying sound unethical/wrong if not outright illegal. Similar to if an employee complained to their manager about sexism/sexual harassment and the manager tried to convince the employee what they experienced was not sexist/harassment because Fergus is always like that or acts like that with everyone.

              2. Trouble*

                I once said that the sales manager bullied me while my manager was on holiday. It was true, very true but also he was generally an OK sort and got swept up in some kind of childish mentality that to this day I don’t know how he bought into. He was a forceful personality but I’d have felt comfortable telling him to back off in most situations but this one spiralled away above that. This was the person who I should have been able to turn to for help with my manager out of the business making me feel like I had no where to turn because he wasn’t a safe option for me. He was also old enough to be my father, so bullying me was a very odd choice.

                I went over his head to big boss and laid it all out, using the word bullying. Big boss took it all very seriously and said if I wanted to press forward with a complaint due to sales manager bullying me, it would be very serious and involve corporate HR coming in and could snowball into a very big deal. He was happy to take it there, but wanted to be sure it was what I wanted. So I said we could say he behaved in a very unprofessional manner and big boss put the fear into him and that was that. But in the UK alleging bullying is a whole different level than Petra is one of the world’s special people and you just need to know how to take her. Bullying can go to tribunal and turn into a very big public deal. Had I pressed ahead with bullying the spotlight of the whole company would have been on us and it could have resulted in any number of bad outcomes for a few people in the business. It would not be ‘Trouble can’t work with difficult people’ here. People kill themselves over workplace bullying. It’s not just someone who is thin skinned and needs to be less of a diva.

                1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                  Very unfortunate you went through that, especially given the sales manager was generally an OK sort. That’s great you where able to have a supportive conversation with the big boss about it. Thanks for telling that story of how you handled it. I will file it away as a potential strategy.

                  And so true about the consequences. I’m lucky to have a good support network in and outside of work to deal with Petra, however, there was definitely a larger culture in the company and in the US that I had to keep fighting against and was equally as harmful. Others did write me off as thin-skinned, even though I thought it was crazy we were all being treated the way we were (getting yelled at, withholding important project information, lying, not showing up to meetings). There seemed to be a badge of honor to knowing how to “handle” Petra and get work done, or get her to cooperate for a bit. It really made me crazy and contributed to my health issues. I can only imagine what that would have been like if I didn’t have support, like so many people of all ages and situations around the world.

            1. JSPA*

              how is “bullying” defined, when covered by law? Does it include work focused procedure that can make someone feel bad (acting like every delivery is late, “making someone feel inadequate,” “being dismissive,” “only pointing out problems in the work, never praising,” sounding startled and graceless when someone points out that the deadline won’t work because they have a life outside work, telling someone that they make mistakes in standard grammar and word use) or is it primarily focused on generally harassing behaviors, retaliation, yelling?

              There’s considerable conflation, here, of “criticism that makes people feel bad about inadequate work / inadequate skills” and “bullying.” Which may be why OP is getting a luke-warm response. If there’s yelling, harassment, personal mockery, that should be brought up with a manager in real time!

              1. Koala dreams*

                Here in Sweden the law says that the employer has a responsibility for the psychological and social work environment. This includes a responsibility to prevent bullying and organizing the workplace in a way that doesn’t contribute to mental health problems. The law doesn’t specify exact how the employer should accomplish this, that is up to the employers themselves.

              2. londonedit*

                Yes, in the UK workplace bullying can include being undermined, having duties or responsibilities taken away without good reason, being generally belittled/constantly criticised, being constantly ignored and excluded, being persistently picked on, having unfounded threats made to your job security, and any misuse of power or position to make someone feel victimised. As well as the more obvious shouting/screaming/retaliation behaviours.

                1. Busy*

                  So, ok. I will stipulate in the beginning here that I am a HUGE ADVOCATE for shutting bullying down. My son tried to commit suicide over it. He was young.

                  But trying to combat this has gotten tricky. So what happens when a bully uses the “anti-bully system” to bully others? Like someone gets direct with them that x needs to be done by y, and that person keeps twisting all interactions into hurt feelings. Because, how can you control someone’s feelings. Some people are Big Feelings people. My son is one. But in schools, and based on federal government guidelines, in order for it to be bully it has to meet a very specific definition – has to systemic, targeted, and meant to cause issues essentially. Anything outside of that is then categorized as into other categories. So, without these really firm definitions in place (and even with them), how can you stop someone who just uses this to bully. I have seen this go down, usually with a subordinate to a manager. Eventually the “bullied person” is found out to be one manipulative ass-hat, but SO MUCH DAMAGE has been done. And literally I am curious how to handle this. I have been searching in my advocacy for awhile now.

                  (PS IN case ya’ll don’t know, schools has an Entire List of incidents they are required to report every year to the state and federal government in regards to violence, threats, bully, property damage, etc in school. Those numbers go into a database and each score is rated on their safety. And FYI my son’s school was lying about the incidents. They don’t even deny it. So many people have gotten fired for what happened to my son, check your school and your state’s laws!!!)

                2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                  Busy, that was 100% my experience in school. I was bullied badly, and the bully started using the anti-bullying rules against me. “She was near me, she bothered me, etc.”

                  I spent a lot of time in detention for “fighting” after having been spat on, attacked with scissors, kicked, and thrown down the stairs.

                3. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                  Busy & Quinn’s House – wow, people are terrible. So sorry to hear these stories!

                  People who fight dirty make it so hard to keep clean. I wish I could share ways to combat these manipulative ways.

                  Busy – I didn’t know that about schools. Good to know!

              3. Roscoe*

                I was wondering this too, especially in a workplace. I feel like one person’s “bullying” may be “tough love” or just being direct for someone else. Legally, it just seems like such a hard thing to define. Hell, I don’t even know that I’d call “yelling” at someone bullying, depending on the type of work being done

                1. serenity*

                  I would be very suspicious of this. “Bullying” – as a term and as a concept – is far too subjective to be codified into any legal protections unless there was way more substance and rigor given to its interpretation.

                2. Cathy Gale*

                  “Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :

                  -Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
                  – Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
                  – Verbal abuse

                  This definition was used in the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Its national prevalence was assessed.

                  Workplace Bullying…

                  Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
                  Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
                  Is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)
                  Requires consequences for the targeted individual
                  Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
                  Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
                  Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.”

                  Workplace Bullying Institute’s definition. Not such a hard thing to define.

                  Bullying is not the same as being a jerk. I have worked with plenty of jerks in a fairly long career. The degree of bullying I witnessed and experienced (I wasn’t the main target) was something I’d never seen before.

          2. Approval is optional*

            Oh, to clarify, I’m not saying she should ask the manager to stop the praise, I’m saying she could tell the manager (assuming a reasonable manager) that she feels her experience of being bullied is being dismissed by the manager – a subtle difference perhaps but still different.

            1. valentine*

              I think there’s room to say, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t sing Petra’s praises to me.” I agree with OP1 that her first example is fine, but the others are needlessly over-the-top, especially when combined with what is essentially, “I know this bothers you, but I’m about to do it in your face, so you can suffer doubly,” which I loathe.

              1. Mookie*

                Yeah, it doesn’t sound like anybody thinks the LW needs, for some kind of work-related reason, to hear this endless praise opera but that her colleagues desire to rehabilitate her bully for her.

                I’d make this as tedious as possible for them: a blank or glazed-over look, a murmur, and either a subject change or a friendly exit and farewell from that conversation. Or a “glad to hear she’s been helpful for you, moving on” type thing.

                Eventually, I’d escalate to “I don’t need these updates, she does not report to me, thanks for understanding.”

              2. minuteye*

                LW 1: One option, rather than directly asking for the praise to stop, would be to politely query the praise when it happens. I’m not great at coming up with phrasing for these things, but the idea is asking “Why are you so invested in telling me how amazing Petra is? What are you trying to accomplish by bringing this up over and over? How are you expecting me to respond to a comment like that?” Or perhaps treating it like they’ve said something odd (Them: “I know you don’t like Petra, but she’s a genius!” You: *Pause*, “Okay? As I was saying…”)

                Even independent of the bullying issue, it’s a bit weird to harp on about what a genius a coworker is when it’s not relevant to the conversation. I have coworkers I really like, who I think do great work… and I still don’t talk about how brilliant their work is every time they come up in conversation. It’s just “Tamora”, not “Tamora, gifted accountant”. Do you have any sense of whether the people who overpraise Petra do so amongst themselves, or is it *just* to you?

                If the weirdness is (as some commenters have suggested) an attempt to “rehabilitate” Petra to the LW, a response that indicates you think they’ve said something a bit weird and awkward might reduce the incidence of them. But even reframing these comments in your own head as “an odd and uncomfortable thing that these people do but that you’re going to be polite enough to ignore” might help you to feel less powerless.

                1. MK*

                  It would be really weird if the comments were completely out of the blue, but I suspect it happens when Petra does something for one of these people.

                2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                  The people who overpraise Petra pretty much do it to anybody who is willing to listen. I just happen to be near them a lot, since we’re on the same team.

                  And yes, it tends to come up when they’ve been working with Petra, which is a lot lately. Typically it doesn’t come up out of the blue, but it is weird that it is coming up so often and enthusiastically for so long! Hence, my letter. My patience wears thin.

              3. JJ Bittenbinder*

                I agree. It really adds insult to injury to essentially say, “I know Petra treated you like shit, but it hasn’t changed my stellar opinion of her, and I’m going to make you listen to it.”

            2. Decima Dewey*

              She might also remind her manager that working *with* Petra is a different experience than working *for* her.

            3. Letter Writer #1 Here*

              Agreed, you got it exactly: that subtle difference was the tactic I was thinking of using. Like you said, not so much “stop doing this” but more, “you might not realize this, but here’s how I feel when this happens.”

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think there are a few issues that make this difficult for OP. The first is that several people, including OP’s manager, have had positive experiences with Petra that did not include bullying. That dynamic is going to lend itself to the “two sides” framework, even if there aren’t truly two sides. Second, the bullying sounds verbal and emotional, and OP is not being asked to interact with Petra, so this isn’t going to look like a safety issue—as Alison notes, it will read as a personality clash. Finally, because the issue is related to deserved praise, asking others to refrain from mentioning it risks making OP look jealous/petty or overly sensitive, which would undermine OP’s professional reputation and credibility.

          None of this is fair, but I worry that OP’s team has already mentally categorized this as an interpersonal conflict, not as bullying. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to reframe without an additional bullying or inappropriate interaction to point to. I suspect this is one of those times when OP will have to ignore the praise and just wait for Petra’s karma to pay dividends for her bullying behavior.

          1. Merryn*

            Bullies can also be really good at preemptive character assassination of their victims painting them as oversensitive or petty or jealous or whatever fits the situation and makes the bully into the good guy. Buying into the bully’s version of reality is often the easiest path, especially if you subconsciously recognise that they’re a bully and don’t want to become a target.

          2. boo bot*

            I also wonder if, in addition to having categorized it as an interpersonal conflict, the team is deliberately going out of their way to praise Petra in front of the OP as a way to try to give her a different perspective, or to urge her to give Petra a second chance.

            Obviously, the OP is condensing all this praise into one letter, which may be contributing to how over-the-top it sounds, but I feel like there’s something off about this level of effusiveness, which is what makes me think it might not just be appreciation for Petra, but actively intended as corrective for the OP (unless this team is just dripping with enthusiasm in general).

            Which sucks, but I think the action remains the same – ignore it, maybe even think of one kind thing you can stomach saying about Petra and offer it up next time the love-fest begins.

            1. snowglobe*

              I was thinking the same thing – that the praise of Petra in front of the LW may be deliberate. It seems odd to me – there are a few people at my company that I think are terrific at their job, but it would be pretty rare for me to have reason to tell my coworkers how fabulous I think this other person is. I’m not sure why LW’s coworkers are doing this, but your suggestion that they may want to give her a different perspective may be correct.

              1. Lucy*

                I agree – I’m wondering if they’re really trying to say “She has learned from what she did to you and she doesn’t do it any more”.

              2. Cathy Gale*

                I think Lucy has a good point. The problem is, the bully could be doing this to repair her reputation with various people in the company who she finds valuable, but without true contrition, plans to stop being abusive to the LW or others she bullies, etc.

                If that’s the case, they’re still gaslighting her even if they don’t mean to. (I.e. “She’s great! [Unspoken: Maybe it wasn’t really so bad…? Maybe you’re over sensitive?]”)

            2. JSPA*

              That’s a distinct possibility, especially if OP has taken care not to use the word “bullying” in the past. In which case, the team may see her being sour, and thing that they are being helpful, in providing counter-examples.

              In which case, maybe pivot to, “I freely acknowledge and appreciate that Petra is brilliant, but that does not counter the corrosive effect interacting with her has had on me, which is why I prefer not to discuss her further except as her expertise comes up in some directly relevant way.”

            3. Washi*

              Yeah, this stood out to me too. I don’t think I’ve ever called one of my coworkers a genius or made a point of saying that the company is better with them around.

              I’m wondering if:
              1. Are they this effusive about other people?
              2. Does this effusiveness about Petra pre-date the bullying?

              Because if the answer to both is “no” then it does seem like the team is trying to make a point to the OP, my guess is out of a desire to smooth everything over and make everyone like each other again. But that ultimately doesn’t change the advice, because if the OP protests, they will probably just take that as a sign that more praise is necessary to convince her!

              OP, I know this sucks, but I think you just have to mentally filter out all these comments, and hopefully they will get bored eventually.

              1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

                Washi, excellent point. If OP’s team is NOT this effusive about other people, then the next time someone on her team starts singing Petra’s praises, OP could roll her eyes and then point out that Jane/Fergus/Mary/Wakeen/all of them are very smart and have excellent ideas too. When co-worker says, “Well, yes, but what’s your point?”, OP can say, “What’s yours?” However, if they are this effusive about other people, then OP might have to just roll her eyes and get on with it. It is certainly easier to do this in a personal relationship rather than a work one. I dated a man for a while who would bring up a client of his from time to time, despite knowing that I COULDN’T STAND her. I would just say, “You know I can’t stand her, so let’s talk about something else.” You can’t really do that at work.

              2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                Generally, the team members are not that effusive about other people – with Petra, it’s sort of to a ridiculous degree. I’ve sat in on meetings with them and Petra, and even if I were a Petra fan, it’s nauseating to see them behave like this. It’s surprising to me, which is one of the reasons I wrote in.

                And yes, the effusiveness started before I was assigned to that project. When I was assigned, my manager told me how smart she was and I was eager to hear her good ideas.

                It does suck, andI think you’re right it just needs to be ignored.

                1. Gah*

                  Sounds like they are participating by being part of her entourage of conspirators. Their comments undercut your actual experience, thus being in the vein of gaslighting.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  I wonder if they’re sucking up to Petra? Maybe it helps them get along with her? Maybe they think she can help them get promotions or something?
                  It sounds really disgusting. :p

            4. Someone Else*

              Maybe, but even if not. It sounds to me like from the letter OP worked with Petra and had a bad experience. She talked the manager about it then? I think. And now these other people are working with Petra and she is not. These other people appear to be having a positive experience. That’s their experience. It also sounds like OP is no longer being asked to work with Petra. So she can’t really speak to her current behavior. From a management perspective, if Petra treated OP dismissively and rudely, manager probably told Petra to not do that to coworkers. It sounds like she’s currently NOT doing that to current coworkers. And if it were just about OP, OP’s not working with her right now. So there’s really no grounds to go to the manager about anything. “She was horrible before so don’t say anything good about her now” doesn’t fly. It is understandable that OP wants entirely off the Petra train and is bugged by hearing what she feels is misplaced praise, but she also acknowledged Petra is good at her job. So other people not being tormented by Petra are not doing anything odd by saying outloud she’s good at her job. It doesn’t make what Petra did before OK, but it sounds like there’s nothing actionable right now.

              1. DaffyDuck*

                The Petra’s I have known are very nice to people they perceive as higher up in the hierarchy than themselves, they are only vicious and toxic to those “below” them and are careful to never let it show in front of higher power people. They also tend to be information controllers and excellent at skewing perceptions to their advantage.
                There is really no advantage to mentioning it more than once. You could try to get together a group of people who have been treated badly by Petra to complain, but I doubt it would do anything but make the group look petty.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  That’s what I meant by my comment above that working *with* Petra (that is, she’s doing a higher up a favor) is different from working *for* Petra (that is, it’s her project and she feels she can treat those helping her any way she wants to).

                2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                  Hmmm, Petra is director level and I am an individual contributor. I haven’t thought about it from that angle, of her being vicious to people “below” her. It’s something to consider. I think I’ve seen her be vicious to pretty much everyone (including calling higher ups “idiots” and new hires “lame”), so seems she might be equal opportunity.

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  Did she call higher ups “idiots” to their face, or behind their backs?
                  If it wasn’t to their face, she might be doing what Daffy Duck describes.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          The LW, and others, were bullied.

          I wanted to pull this out and note that there may be confirmation bias at work–other people may have viewed this as dealing with Petra’s quirks and let it roll off their backs, or just effortlessly shrugged off behavior that cuts LW to the quick. And when LW complained about her, said “Mm. Uh huh. Hmm.” Which everyone in earshot took to read as agreeing with their own take on the situation.

          1. Approval is optional*

            I was applying the site rules of taking the LW’s at their word – the letter says that Petra behaved terribly to her and others and that it was ‘firmly’ bullying behaviour, so my comments are based on that being the truth. The LW already feels that her experience with Petra is being dismissed by her manager and coworkers – perhaps we should make sure we don’t add to that feeling.

            1. fposte*

              But bullying, as noted upthread, is about the feelings of the recipient, not just behavior. The OP says that Petra behaved the same way to others as she did to the OP, but we don’t have the take of the others on that behavior either. We can’t claim them as victims without their consent just to swell the ranks. (And I note the OP didn’t specifically say they were bullied either, which I believe is FD’s point–she just notes that Petra’s behavior wasn’t focused solely on her.)

              I think that national culture on this is issue makes a huge difference here. You’re coming from a framework where bullying is specific and forbidden and actionable, and it’s not an approach that really works in the U.S. Whether it should or not is another question.

              1. Busy*

                I agree. And I am huge involved in anti-bullying advocacy. Anyone with a child in this country is aware of the bullying behaviors in schools these day and all the effects on it. I am thinking as these kids become adults, they will institute bullying prevention practices in the work place. But bullying at the same time, and without being defined, can be in the eyes of the beholder. Our state, and the federal government have a very specific definition of bullying that some people struggle with. Getting punched once isn’t bullying – it is categorized as something else. Bullying is defined as being systemic.

                With all that said, me as a woman who has ran projects, managed people, and managed processes, I have been called a bullied before by men who did not like to work for women. Usually low performers who were never prepared and slowed processes down and “acted out” for attention. They kind of reversed it, ya see, and weaponized bullying by accusing others of it. Most people didn’t fall for their crap and they were always either eventually fired or demoted (thinking back on this, I cannot believe how many times this had happened), But at the time, a lot of their coworkers would just appease them about how awful all the women were just to shut them up.

                The rate in which this happens to women by insecure men is pretty large. And that is where I cringe. Bullying, without understand the actual definition, is really really subjective. And I have seen this play out in other ways too by all kinds of people.

                But with all that said, what actually stands out to me the most in OPs letter, is why is the person’s name coming up so regularly? I don’t think I talk about one person this much in a month’s time. In that vein, maybe OP can look at it like regardless of whether the bullying is systemic with this coworker or not, the other coworkers including the boss are sending a message on how they feel about it all by not shutting up about this person. I think OP needs to do what works for them given that information.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Honestly, reading it, it seems like the OP’s department interacts a lot with Petra’s department and Petra directly. If Petra is really and truly a rock star, that’s going to be apparent on the other projects.

                  I don’t want to call out the OP, but one possibility here is that the “bullying” from Petra was critical feedback. I was on a project once, and one contributor straight-up, flat-out lied about her progress on critical work. I had in emails, in our tracking system, and in meeting notes that she had completed some core tasks and would finish the rest before she went on a 3-week leave (at a critical time in the project). Within 2 days of her starting her leave, I found out that not a SINGLE item had been completed, and that she had been emailing stakeholders that those aspects of the project had been dropped. I only found out because one of them emailed me to ask why I (as lead) had unilaterally decided to drop some critical aspects of the project. So I went back over her actual files and discovered that she hadn’t done any work and had been lying about her progress. I emailed her manager and asked, at the least, that she be removed from my team and that I needed another resource to take up her slack. They not only did not remove her … they accused me of bullying her for actually checking up on the status of her work because that showed a lack of trust.

                  From her perspective, though? Her story would look almost exactly like the OP’s — mean-spirited high performer who “attacked” and “bullied” her to the point it affected her health and affected the project deliverables. It’s just in my case, it’s because there was a junior employee who was in way over her head.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  There has always been bullying in schools. What’s new is that something is being done about it.

                3. Cathy Gale*


                  What you’re saying about the experience really adds another dimension – as the comments before do.

                  But we’re asked as participants here to take the posters at their word. We are not supposed to “call out” letter writers, period. They are doing us a favor by sharing their experiences with us.

                  She wrote that the bullying “…affected project outcomes, relationships within the project team, and my health. I’ve heard many stories of her doing interpersonal damage around the company[.]” That sounds too specific for this to be complaining about “critical feedback”.

                  Your experience is really vital, but as Approval posted above, “The LW already feels that her experience with Petra is being dismissed by her manager and coworkers – perhaps we should make sure we don’t add to that feeling.”

            2. Okay, great!*

              I agree Aprroval, and thank you for bringing this up. I’ve been in OP’s position, and realized that most people want to remain out of a conflict, especially if they need to have a positive relationship with the offender to get work done. So, even if they know severly negative things happened between people, they will try to remain out of it. They were not a part of it and it hasn’t affected them, so they don’t think about what they’re saying until they see you, and then oddly try to clarify. I really do feel for the OP, and if they read this, here is what I did:
              I went to the coworkers that I was closest with, and told them detail for detail what happened between myself and the other person. After that, I told them I completely understand that they would still want to have good working relations with the other person and I wasn’t trying to change that, I just didn’t want to hear about anything non work related (good or bad) about this person and hopefully this put in perspective why. For any other coworkers, I just smiled and let it drop. The coworkers I did tell completely understood and respected my wishes, as they knew I wasn’t making them choose sides.

              1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                Thank you for sharing this! It sounds like you tried exactly what I was thinking about, in approaching just my closest coworkers to ask them of this favor. I agree in that. like you, I don’t expect them to change their opinions of Petra or ask them to treat her differently. And that I wouldn’t think differently of them if they have a great working relationship (that would be great, actually, I don’t others to go through what I went through). We keep the talk neutral and work-related. Glad to hear that this worked for you!

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  I read where you said she is director level, so I get it if you just ignore me here (or for any reason that’s not that she’s higher in the food chain)…

                  People are not allowed to yell at me, full stop. I will refuse to interact with them if that is their MO. When someone yells at me, I say “you are not permitted to yell at me.”

                  Yes, I’ve done it with bosses, without being fired even, but I understand hesitation when someone is a higher up.

                  You might want to think if there is some way you can get it across to her safely though. Ex: “You know I’m standing right here, I can hear you, no need to shout…”


                  Wish I was better help.

                2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                  If I can think fast enough on my feet next time I get yelled at, I might try it! I think I’ve read elsewhere on this site that saying something like “Please stop yelling” is enough to make people realize what they are doing and stop. It’s worth a try. Thanks!

          2. HeyAnonanonnie*

            Something worth pointing out: responding negatively or asking people not to praise Petra could actually get *you* accused of bullying. Letting it go is 100% the right course of action here.

      2. The elephant in the room*

        I think therapy is a good idea. LW didn’t go into details about the bullying behavior, which leaves me wondering what happened exactly. I’ve worked with plenty of people who were just very sensitive to negative feedback. So they would hear, “I need you to redo this because you didn’t do it right the first time” and say that it was “mean” or “bullying.”

        1. Artemesia*

          I have seen this too e.g. employees who claimed management was ‘yelling at them’ if they made the gentlest of corrections and who felt they were being bullied when their work was judged poor and required to be redone. So many people praising Petra if it is really a frequent occurrence may be their way of trying to smooth over or suggest a different perspective to the OP.

        2. HeyAnonanonnie*

          I know we are supposed to take LWs at their word, but I have had something similar happen. I have trained about 20 people but had one insist I was mean, every other person I trained gave me good ratings. He was upset I didn’t rate him an “Outstanding”, when it is very hard to get that rating based on the defined standards and his work just didn’t merit it (the rating, like all ratings, was made in conjunction with other trainers but I was the person who signed off on it). The funny thing was his other trainer really wanted to rate him lower, yet I was the one who got complained about.

          I am just saying, if everyone else loves Petra OP may need to examine the situation.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Many, many times bullies have *one* target and to everyone else they are just “the greatest, most wonderful, salt of the earth, loveliest person *ever*!!!”

        3. Spongebob WorkPants*

          Yes, this. I manage a team of 12 people. One woman on my team cannot take any type of critique or negative feedback and goes over my head to my boss, saying I’m bullying her. My boss tells her that giving negative feedback is not bullying, and she needs to listen. It’s really frustrating when someone wields the “B word” like a weapon. It takes away credibility from the people who are indeed experiencing bullying behavior and making a legitimate complaint about it.

    2. Beth*

      The problem with that is that this situation doesn’t actually sound like it’s threatening OP’s safety in the workplace. The comments are definitely uncomfortable and disheartening for OP1 to hear given what happened, but that isn’t the same thing as ‘unsafe’. And telling people what they can and can’t talk about is generally a bad move; if managers went around shutting down every topic that one of their team members found unpleasant, that would get uncomfortably restrictive very quickly. As long as people are being professional and civil in their conversations, I think the rest is probably less a managerial issue and more an interpersonal thing.

      If OP1’s manager is unaware of the bullying that happened, or of its full scope, that’s maybe a different story. They should be aware of those things, which do constitute a safety issue for OP1 and possibly others that Petra works with, so they can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But from there, I think Alison’s advice is pretty spot on.

      1. Cathy Gale*

        Have to disagree with you on the first sentence, though. Bullying *is* an unsafe phenomenon. The OP just stated that her health has been impacted.

        On my team of 6 that was reorganized under a bully, all but one person began taking high blood pressure medication and/or drugs for anxiety and depression, and that person was aligned with the bully and frequently became threatening and belligerent in meetings. This is not at all unusual.

        There’s tons of evidence (studies, not anecdotal) that issues like obesity, heart disease, stroke, are tied to bullying. In some cases, bullied targets hurt themselves or others. Unfortunately, a member of my extended family killed himself, and we discovered he had been bullied at work by his bosses. The Kevin Morrissey suicide also comes to mind.

        It’s totally legitimate to want to be careful about accusing people, when it could be something that isn’t bullying. But when it is bullying – it’s threatening by definition and it causes all kinds of problems from absenteeism to risky behaviors.

    3. Beatrice*

      If the behavior wasn’t taken seriously enough to get Petra fired or reassigned to a place where she and LW’s paths would never cross, I’d assume LW is expected to exist and work in the same space as Petra and deal with the resulting feelings related to past behavior. The manager and her coworkers are aware of the feelings, they acknowledge them, and say nice things about Petra anyway. I’m not sure belaboring a point about the feelings they’re already aware of is going to do the LW any favors.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yes, this. Fair or not, LW has to work with Petra. Even if not directly *with* her, their departments come into contact often enough that even if LW never personally sees or speaks to her again, she’ll come across Petra’s work and hear people talk about Petra and her work and she has to deal with Petra’s existence. It’s not reasonable to ask people to not speak about someone they deal with frequently in positive terms, especially when Petra’s work seems to be worthy of positive feedback like this.

        LW may have been treated horribly by Petra, and the company may be doing the wrong thing by not reacting to Petra’s bad behavior. But if LW wants to stay in her role, she needs to accept that this is what that role requires: working with or near Petra and listening to other people praise Petra’s work. Is that fair? Probably not. But she’s not going to win the battle, and she’s not going to be able to do the job. The company has decided Petra is good enough at her job to overlook bad behavior, and LW has to either deal with this or leave.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yes, OP, take a hard look here. Your discomfort/upset might be misplaced. The cohorts singing her praise is pretty tame compared to a company that APPROVES of her behavior. That is the bigger problem here.

          According to your letter here, it’s known by more than few people that this woman is NASTY. And the company is choosing to ignore that. (Typically if these people get called on the carpet for their behavior everyone hears about it. “I didn’t do nothin’ wrong!” or “Not my fault!” or “The boss is picking on me!” So if she had been spoken to, probably people would know because she told them herself.) It’s not a huge leap in logic to realize at best management ignores these types of problems and therefore is okay with this type of behavior.

          One thing you might consider is speaking to someone who actually understands the severity of the situation and ask them how they are coping with the praises they hear. This person would have to be someone who 1) actually understands the extent of the problem and 2) can be trusted to keep a private conversation, private. If you are unsure about any of this – then do not do this.

          1. Cathy Gale*

            Bingo! The big picture is the environment. There are probably other “Petras” at the company or have been in the past.

            Great advice too about seeking out others who have survived and can be trusted. Just getting that other perspective or knowing you’re not alone may be helpful while you look for another job.

    4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      My firm has a written policy against bullying, but so what? My manager also finds it easy to brush it off as “personality conflict” even when you can describe specific incidents that are clearly bullying. It doesn’t help that the bully is an expert kiss-up to everyone who can do her some good, including the manager. My Petra left, thank God. But there have been a couple of times since then when I just couldn’t keep still while someone was singing her praises. The kind of treatment I received from her shouldn’t be ignored anywhere.

      1. ragazza*

        Yes, this is beyond the scope of the letter, but bullying can have far-reaching effects beyond the individuals involved, including a lack of trust and motivation among employees, which affects productivity, turnover, culture, etc. Companies would be wise to pay attention to these kinds of dynamics, but in my experience they rarely do, because the bullies are so good at covering their tracks.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I think that companies also rarely pay attention to the issue because, legally, they don’t have to unless it becomes harassment (i.e., bullying because of someone’s protected status). Now, one can say that companies are trading short-term compliance for long-term benefits such as employee engagement and productivity and loyalty, but some employers really only care about the short term. It’s like the builder who makes their ADA-accessible bathroom exactly to code and no more—yes, they may have saved money in the short-term by only modifying things to the point where they meet exactly the number of inches a wheelchair-accessible doorway needs to be, but they’re not looking at the longer-term benefits of giving wheelchair users an extra few inches of navigating room.

          In the absence of Federal requirements to address workplace bullying, some state legislators have introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill, but adoption is far from consistent or widespread and, again, a lot of employers only care when someone’s behavior becomes legally actionable .

          1. ragazza*

            Too true. Companies usually only change things when they absolutely must or they see a clear benefit.

            1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              I’m more and more inclined to compare the issue of bullying to sexual harassment in decades gone by, when women were expected to “handle it” and “suck it up.” It took a lot of women making a lot of noise to get the issue the attention it deserved. Things aren’t perfect now, but I think the same kind of noise is needed for workplace bullying. Especially when it’s well known that bullies pick their targets and are often terrific people to everyone else. So the target is a lone voice in the wilderness with everyone else telling them to pipe down. And bullies, like sexual harassers, don’t exactly pull their stunts in front of witnesses.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I hate that term personality conflict.
        Boss: “Oh it’s a personality conflict. There, see, all fixed now.”

        The expression can be a crutch to avoid digging in and finding out what is going on.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I spent all of second grade being bullied by my teacher. Apparently that was ok in 1970/71 because *everyone* knew about it and called it a “personality conflict.”

          I mean just screw the fact that I was literally a child and in her care 6-ish hours a day…

          Mrs. Hatfield from Alexander Rose elementary school in Milpitas, California if you are still alive I still hate you. Actually I hate you regardless…

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Me too! I had asthma and coughed in class. When I coughed she stopped and gave me a dirty look. She made all the kids in class hate me. And I had to go to school with them for the next 10 years.
            Ms. Ballinger of College Hill grade school in Wichita, KS, I doubt you’re still alive because you were gray-haired then, but I wish I’d had the words and courage to tell you off before I left there.

            1. Gumby*


              A family member who is in early elementary school gets very frequent nose bleeds. It’s particularly bad at the moment because of weather (or whatever – that is our best guess). Yes, he’s seen a doctor. No, there’s nothing they can do. No, the frequency is *not* an excuse for not allowing the poor kid to go to the nurse when he gets one! He doesn’t ask every time. He can stop a lot of them relatively quickly. But if he says he needs to go to the nurse, LET HIM! (I am so incensed over this.) Not naming names since he’s still in the class.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Want to hear a story of instant karma? A friend’s nosebleeds got so bad his doctor banned sports, PE, and heavy lifting until he had surgery. Gym teacher was hearing none of it and *REFUSED* the doctor’s note. Because a strong burly kid like that isn’t unhealthy. Kid had to do the day’s activity– and his nose burst ONTO the gym teacher.
                They were both bloody messes, my friend was sent home for the day, and the gym teacher got in deep kimchi with school admin.

        2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I attended an elementary school named after one of the founding fathers. A few years ago I learned they’d renamed the school after my old principal. If she were alive today, I’d be sorely tempted to spit on her. She had no business being around children.

    5. Artemesia*

      The management didn’t do anything about the bully so presumably they don’t see it as actionable. I see no good that can come from the OP making an issue of this. This is the classic kind of case where sucking it up is the only real choice if you don’t want to damage yourself in the workplace. The OP is not complaining about the bully bullying her which would be a different issue; she no longer works for her. She is complaining that someone else says nice things about her. (which if all that frequent is very weird). Whining about someone complimenting someone else has no up side for her. Her only behavior that won’t get her in trouble or get her a reputation is to ignore it and move on in the conversation. To complain makes her look jealous, like sour grapes, or hateful. Yes if it is bullying do something about it; but saying something nice about someone who bullies you? How can making an issue of this do anything but damage the LW. Be bored not upset when it happens and change the subject.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I wouldn’t speak to the manager – I would however, think up a specific script about “affected project outcomes” to use as a shield when someone is effusively praising Petra. Without knowing the specific project effects, I’m inventing something : “I’m having trouble seeing it, I guess. It’s hard to reconcile that with the way her behavior delayed the release of Teapots2018. Half her team left the company or requested transfers. That’s high turnover for senior staff. But listen, I have to get back to my Saucer Reports, are we done with Handle review?”
      Whatever the statement, OP1 must practice it enough to say it casually and without reference to Petra’s behavior towards OP in particular. Nothing that could be read as “she was mean to me.”
      I for one want an update.

      1. AKchic*

        That is how I would handle it too. Emotionless as humanly possible, droll, and factually stating information that is opposite of whatever praise is being shoveled on the dung heap that is Petra.
        “Oh, she’s so wonderful at X and is a genius at Y? Marvelous. It suppose the company feels it balances out the cost of replacing 3 talented staff members during the Smith Project.”

        I would also consider brushing up that resume, because Petra isn’t going anywhere. She’s found her perfect home, where she is allowed to bully with impunity.

      2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        These are all good points and the tactic I would have used if I wanted to bring up the situation with people in the organization. I agree that if I wanted something done about Petra, the affected project outcomes and the cost to the company was pretty good evidence.

        It took me a long time to finally use the word bullying, precisely because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me not working well with Petra and too focused on feelings.

        I wrote a longer response further down the thread, if you want to see! :)

    7. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Thanks for bringing up this point, Approval is optional. One of the reasons I wrote in was because I was curious what role my manager should take in this situation, especially since she is also one of the “offenders.” I’m glad you asked the question! Interesting to see what some of the laws are around the world on this subject.

  4. Response to LW1*

    I’m also on the side of ignoring the praise of Petra. You don’t have to go along with the gushing and you can definitely share your experiences if asked, but pushing back against someone who is offering enthusiastic and justifiable praise for a coworker is just not a good look. It’s easy for people to interpret that as a jealous sort of resentment, even though it’s not. I would also add that tyrants and bullies eventually do all the work of burning their bridges themselves without our help. If it doesn’t affect your work, let people come to their own conclusions about Petra.

    1. Annette*

      Yes response. I would be very skeptical of a coworker who tried to stop me from praising another. Especially if my perception of Petra was more positive. It’s hard when life is unfair and unkind people succeed. But it’s also life.

      1. boo bot*

        Just to provide an opposing perspective: I wouldn’t necessarily be skeptical, if I knew the coworker telling me about the bullying to be credible in general.

        In this case I think you’re right, as it sounds like everyone either knows what Petra did and doesn’t consider it to be a big deal, or isn’t interested in hearing what she did, but I’ve had my perspective on people change completely when I found out that while they were being nice to *me*, they were showing a very different face to someone else.

        1. Perpal*

          It sounds like people are starting to praise Petra, realize OP doesn’t like her, but can’t quite reroute properly. But that’s just a guess. I think at most OP could say something in the moment when they acknowledge the bad experience but go on anyway “as allison outlines

      2. JJ Bittenbinder*

        It’s hard when life is unfair and unkind people succeed. But it’s also life.

        Yes, in a stunning example of “karma doesn’t always catch up with people, despite the popular notion of ‘s/he will gets it in the end'”, the guy who was fired for sexually harassing me (after an investigation by the state because he was a state employee), got a much, much better job elsewhere.


    2. I Took A Mint*

      I totally agree. I really feel for you OP, but I think you have two battles here: Petra actually seeing consequences for her bullying, and your relationships with other coworkers. I hope Petra does get punished, but it sounds like from your letter that part is finished/off the table? If so all you can do is manage your expectations about what is in your control. And if I heard from a coworker that Talented Tipanga was actually a huge bully and jerk to you, I’d have to think about if I just never saw that side of her, or if you were really delicate/a bully/whatever.

    3. DaffyDuck*

      I have met Petra’s type before. They tend to treat anyone above them in the hierarchy or people they perceive as powerful/helpful to them wonderfully but “punch down” and can be downright vicious to those without power. Those she treats nicely never believe she can be nasty, you just come off looking poorly. Your best option is to mention it *once* and then just keep your mouth shut.
      FWIW about 1.5 years after I left old job I got a call from old supervisor. My Petra had finally unleashed at him and he called to apologise for not believing me. She was a huge reason I left old job (which I otherwise loved).

      1. AKchic*

        I always love watching the Petras of the world getting their comeuppance. I also enjoy watching those who “don’t see [it]” actually be on the receiving end of the Petras of the world and have the tables turned on them.
        Karma can be slow, but she is glorious when she gets where she needs to be.

    4. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      You’re right, that was a worry of mine, that it would look like a jealous sort of resentment. I wouldn’t want to put my teammates in that position, of always worrying what to say to me.

      I got the sense that Petra ended up at my company because she was let go from her last, so you may be right that comeuppance is on its way!

    5. JayNay*

      I want to offer a counterpoint here because I’ve been in a similar scenario to LW 1. We’re discussing this situation as if “Petra the coworker” and “Petra the bully” are separate, but they’re not. Petra is not “a great coworker” if she bullies people on her team so frequently that she has a reputation for it already. Being able to work well with others is not an add-on, it’s essential to most jobs, and Petra is failing here.
      So instead of saying “Petra does a great job, it’s just too bad that she bullied me”, frame it as “Petra does good work in aspects of her job, but she has a habit of bullying others that makes her a difficult coworker”. That’s the framing I would use if you want to push back on your colleagues praising her. This is not a personal issue, it’s a work issue.
      Frankly, I think your company is not handling this well at all. I mean, they have an employee who bullies others, so much so that people are talking about it. At least one manager (yours) knows about this, and instead of adressing it, he and other employees are siding with the bully by praising her? That’s not a great look.
      I think you’re well justified in pushing back here, at the very least with your manager. I’m not sure if it’s an option, but if there are multiple people who have been targeted by Petra, it could be work going one level above and adressing it. It creates a bad work envrionment to leave bullying unadressed.
      On a personal level I just want to add: please take care of yourself. Bullying, and others siding with your bully, can have a severe mental health impact. If you chose to “suck it up”, as others have suggested here, make sure you really are ok with that and that you can feel safe in your work environment. You are not in the wrong here! These people are glossing over some seriously bad behavior. If you bring that up, you are not the one creating problems.

  5. Annette*

    LW 4 – I’m worried you don’t realize this is SO’s problem to solve. Tell him your problem. And let him fix it with his boss. Men can solve their own work problems without having their wife play go between.

    1. Artemesia*

      so this. This is 100% husband’s problem to deal with — husband is the OP’s problem to deal with. It already suggests some marital dysfunction if he has allowed this to happen so often and not dealt with it already. Elder care is an understandable reason for needing a stable schedule; he should be pushing back hard to reduce the number of last minute issues. Letting it all fall on the spouse is not stepping up.

      1. valentine*

        It could be the employer encourages family contact.

        OP4: What stood out for me is multiple elders. Even if SO can return to his previous schedule, you may need to rework logistics, especially if: the two of you are alone in this, there are more than two elders, and/or you all live together and you work from home. What if you prioritize your business, as it’s the one that makes care possible, or at least treat is as equal to SO’s job? Given the multiple stressors, is it time for family (and/or solo) counseling?

        1. Aveline*

          Most companies that encourage family care do so with the expectation that it won’t be ongoing or too demanding for the job function.

          They expect that you need to take off a ½ day to go take little Muffy to her dentist appointment. Leave early Friday to see Biff’s school play.

          What they don’t want and don’t expect is you to need to take off a lot of time to care for Grandpa Clarence whose needs are constant, ever increasing, and draining.

          I know of no fortune 100 company that really, really means it when they say they support elder care. If you work for one, please let me know.

        2. Artemesia*

          I don’t know what ‘encourages family contact’ means but there is no situation in which a spouse contacting the boss about their partner’s schedule is appropriate unless the spouse is in the hospital and literally cannot do it.

          1. valentine*

            I meant it’s not necessarily all on OP4, that maybe, whether appropriate or not, like the military, the employer encourages employees’ family members to contact them about how the job impacts their family life.

      2. Aveline*

        I think the line about marital dysfunction is waaaay unkind. And not rooted in the reality of the demands of elder care in the USA.

        AS someone who spends a lot of time in those trenches, the only issue I see is that husband is not dealing with his work and letting that burden fall on his wife.

        However, expecting her to help and provide direct care? That’s not at all unusual.

        Providing elder care is far, far more intensive than most people realize. It’s way, way worse than child care. Children, generally, go from being totally dependent, but unable to sass back to totally independent. Elders it’s a very, very different dynamic.

        Letting it all fall on the spouse is not ok. But he is stepping up and providing care for his parents/elders. You likely have no idea, no idea, how rare it is for men to take on the responsibility of elder care in the USA. You might not be so quick to cite dysfunction.

        Personally, I’ve seen women do this to their sisters, wives to it to husbands, mothers to daughters.

        I don’t know that it’s internalized sexism v. Just frustration and burnout. This is coming from a woman who was very firmly in the camp that the comment the other day regarding the knowledge of fossils was inherently sexist.

        Yes, it’s husband’s job to work it out with his bosses. But I don’t see his shirking as anything inherently deeper. He could just feel like Atlas taking time to shrug.

        Also, we can all agree that husband needs to speak to his boss. That’s clearly his job.

        But that’s not really, truly going to help this couple. Because the demands on both their schedules are only going to get worse. Caring for elders becomes more than a full time job at some point.

        What they need to do, truly, is go speak to experts on how to manage the care.

        And husband needs some outside counseling on dealing with the emotions and the stress.

        1. caryatis*

          OP didn’t say her SO was doing *any* elder care. She said, “I have a schedule that allows me the space and time to run my business *and do elder care for his family and mine*.” She’s doing most (or all) of the elder care.

          If it were me, no way would I be rearranging my business or personal life to take care of someone else’s relatives.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I have to agree. Right now you are enabling this new behavior by accommodating it.
      When you push back your spouse feels the pain too. Then he has incentive to push back against the boss (or make better accommodations).

      1. Aveline*

        Normally, I’d agree.

        However, I don’t think hard push back is going to have the desired result.

        Husband is not doing normal responsibility shirking here. Elder care is so much more demanding than most people realize. It’s emotional, physical, etc. in ways that most Americans cannot begin to fathom until they provide it to someone.

        If the elders are dementia/Alzheimer’s and physically incapacitated, it’s worse.

        I don’t think resolving all this takes a much more delicate, nuanced, and honest approach. They need a comprehensive plan. The overall issue is not husband’s schedule. That’s a symptom. The overall issue is the demands of care are not something that someone with a full time (or even substantial part time) job can accomplish over time. It’s just not.

        They need to sit down together with some professionals and come up with a plan.

        She shouldn’t approach this as “your boss, your problem” or even “your parents, your problem.” She needs to sit down with him and say “This isn’t working for either of us. It is endangering both our jobs. It’s hurting our marriage at a time you need it more than ever. So let’s go talk to some professionals about how to manage this.”

        1. Lepidoptera*

          Hard agree, particularly on the dementia issue. Sometimes you need to make the employer aware of just how incredibly difficult things are to blow out their romanticized views. It isn’t just sitting next to grammy in matching brocade chairs and knitting together.

          Example: my husband’s boss was being difficult about him needing a lot of flexibility to care for his dad with Alzheimers. The boss pushed back, saying that I should be the one doing it because I had a remote job at the time. My husband responded that his dad was uncontrollably violent and had already punched me in the face once (true) and he wasn’t inclined to put me at further risk. Suddenly, the blinders came off.

          1. Anonym*

            Lack of systemic support and affordable care options compared to many other countries. Costs and burdens are brutal here.

            1. Yikes*

              Truly, the issues Americans face in elder care, there are other developed countries where those issues don’t exist at all.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, the husband needs to be able to fight his own battles here, on behalf of himself, his wife, and the person they’re providing elder care for. If he hasn’t made his scheduling needs clear to the boss, he needs to do that. He needs to be okay with saying to others that his schedule is set in stone at certain times or on certain days and then prioritizing his other duties and sticking to that plan.

      (If he’s in a field where last minute fire drills are common, he needs to be frank with his wife that this is the case (but I’m guessing it’s not if his previous job was less chaotic).)

      1. Marthooh*

        It sounds like the husband is still in the same job, but has a new supervisor. I think he needs to make clear that, while he can be flexible, he can’t be infinitely flexible.

        1. BadWolf*

          Yes, I personally think it’s good to draw some boundaries. Otherwise everyone starts to feel like they have to be always available which is not healthy for anyone.

          I had a coworker who was always available and while it was useful, it did seem like pressure for the rest of us. He was working the day after a surgery and I remember telling my manager, “I can’t be like Fergus, I’m having something done and I will need time off.” My manager seemed like, “Oh, of course, Fergus is just like that.” Which was reassuring, but a little late for my general concerns.

    4. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup. This right here? “I did the best I could to work with this new management style and maintain my policy of never saying “no” to his professional obligations, no matter how they might impact my schedule.” This is bad. You aren’t inferior to him, and neither is your career. You need to sit him down and tell him that you need him to support you and your work just like you support him and his. It’s not fair for him to demand that his work life gets to cannibalize yours – you’re willing to make adjustments in your schedule, but you need him to step up as well.

    5. Liane*

      “Men can solve their own work problems without having their wife play go between.”
      Oddly, most of the previous questions I recall were from a man considering talking to a female partner’s boss, or actually doing so. The man who resigned for his wife and the one who wanted to tell his girlfriend’s boss not to keep her out late drinking (both sexist jerkiness). Then the kindhearted man who wanted to know how/if he could complain that his fiancee’s boss had disrupted a funeral for the woman’s close relative.

      So maybe, “Spouses/partners, and other relatives can solve their own work problems without you playing go between”?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        There have been plenty of letters from women wanting to directly address issues at the husband’s workplace, or in trouble because they had. That the hussy be kept away from him, that Something Be Done about the attractive young woman who talked to other employees at after work events with alcohol, etc.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Those first two examples aren’t men solving work problems for their S.O.s but rather men trying to control their wives/girlfriends. There’s a difference.

    6. Aveline*

      It’s SO’s problem to solve with respect to work. With respect to the inter-workings of their relationship, in most cases, we still view family care as a woman’s responsibility.

      The fact that her husband, the son/male relative of the elder(s), is stepping up at all is far, far too rare. Most elder care falls on daughters, daugheters-in-law, and sisters. Still. In 2019. (Source: My Legal practice involves elder care. This is a known issue by everyone in the area).

      I’m going to ask commenters to BE KIND. Because this type of situation is enough of a stressor on marriages. Healthy marriages fail under the strain of decades of care. There might be nothing wrong with her marriage at all. This is normal. Very normal. Because we have no scripts for it socially, it’s hidden socially, and our (US) government does a very poor job doing the basics.

      Some practical advice, with the standard disclaimer I’m not giving legal advice to a specific client. Just general advice to people in this situation.

      (1) Make sure the elders have their wills, powers of attorney, health care docs/ADRS/Living Will in order. Also forgotten things like beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirements/pensions, investments, IRAs, stocks, bonds. Anything with a title or contract.
      (2) Make sure the power of attorney lets the husband/someone else sell real estate/make trusts/etc. If it’s a two page document. It’s not enough. It should be at least five pages for anyone elderly. There are many states where “any power I could do myself under state law” is the norm for a POA. This isn’t enough if one is elderly or disabled.
      (3) Talk to an elder care advisor. Make sure they are an attorney who has experience and/or extensive training in the area. I recommend finding a member of NAELA or Elder Counsel. They generally know what they are doing. Yes, there will be a cost. It’s expensive. But it’s less than one month in a nursing home. In most cases, they can create a plan that transitions elders into care and preserves the house and other assets. (If desired).
      (4) Have a care manager/planner come in and do an evaluation of what the current needs are and what they might be in future. Try and find a care manager company that has social workers, former Medicaid workers, and nurses on the staff.
      (5) Find backup/respite care workers. Burnout is serious.
      (6) Find out what services are in your area. Several of my remote, low-services area clients get meals in their home, transportation to doctor’s visits, someone to pick up/deliver their groceries. All at low or no cost.
      (7) Talk to some type of counselor (be it a psychologist or priest) about the mental toll. You both need mental health care. Self-care is critical. Don’t burn out.

      Finally, realize that keeping someone in their home to preserve their assets is not worth it. The assets will get depleted and you will burn out.

      Lastly, some specific things to investigate:

      Are they a Veteran eligible for Aid and Attendance?
      Are there Meals on Wheels programs around?
      Is there an elder day care program where the elders can drop in and be safe?
      Are there programs where you can sign up and have someone run errands?
      Can you arrange for some services to be done for pay? (E.g., grocery delivery)

        1. Aveline*

          Thanks. I think that all this advice on just this one discrete work/marital issue is missing something. That this isn’t a discrete problem. It’s one root growing out of a tree that is going to get larger. Address the tree and the root will take care of itself.

        1. LilyP*

          Yeah! This is a lot of praise for someone who is not actually even doing the bare minimum right now.

          1. valentine*

            People were mad that I told the accountant OP not to walk the dog, yet this guy requires kid gloves when the entire weight of the situation is falling on OP4.

        2. Aveline*

          We don’t know how much he’s stepping up overall. Only that he’s being disrespectful to his SO wrt to foisting off things.

          He might be working 30 hours a week taking care of the elders but still could be unreasonably shifting 5 hours over to the SO.

          It’s not clear to me that’s that he’s either stepping up or treating SO unfairly. Both things can be true. He can be stepping up generally and also treating spouse unfairly.

      1. fposte*

        Wow, Aveline, this is an incredibly helpful list. I hope lots of people see it. This is a huge contemporary challenge even when you do have your paperwork ducks in a row.

      2. caryatis*

        That does sound like a lot of work! So glad I don’t care about my parents. It’s great to know I can just walk away and never have to deal with their problems again–and, by the way, everyone has that option. Just opt out of the “elder care” if you don’t want to do it. The old people had 60+ years to make plans for their care that did not involve making slaves out of their children.

    7. VlookupsAreMyLife*

      Just an observation: I’m not seeing anything in OP’s post to suggest they are married or that the OP is even female.

      1. Aveline*

        I agree. Jumping to the man dumping care on woman isn’t in the letter. It might be true. But it may also just be a case of an over-worked care-giver with emotional burnout is dumping his responsibilities on his partner.

        This happens all the time between sibling care-givers and members of familial care giving teams.

        I have no idea if it’s a typical man dumping this on his wife or the latter scenario.

        What we do know is that two people with full career demands are not able at present – and won’t likely be able in future – to meet the demands of their jobs and the elders they are caring for. If you can’t change the demands of the jobs, then the way in which the care of the elders is met will have to change.

      2. MommyMD*

        I doubt they are married. And true, gender is not evident. Either way OP has no standing to talk to partner’s boss.

      3. Aveline*

        Also, it’s not atypical for someone with a boss to dump the work on the person without a boss.

        I know of a gay male couple where one is a corporate exec and the other is an attorney in private practice. Corporate exec, let’s call him Chad, is constantly dumping elder care work on the attorney, whom we will call Brock.

        Chad’s POV is that Brock can arrange his work a lot more easily than he can. Brock’s his own boss, so if he has to reschedule something, no harm, no foul in Chad’s mind. The issue is that judges and clients don’t see it that way.

        The behavior that LW is reporting would exist even without the potential gender issues. They may be there if SO is male and LW is female. May not.

        I apologize to all my non-cis-het paired commentariat compadres for assuming it was.

    8. Psyche*

      I can sympathize a bit with the husband in this case. I changed jobs and my new job quickly became terrible. I was working long hours and burning out fast. My fiancé felt I wasn’t spending enough time with him and was letting my boss take advantage of me. He wanted me to push back more on my boss’s expectations which I was unwilling to do since I needed her as a reference to get another job (it was a small field and she could have tanked my applications). What worked for us was setting up a timeline for things to change. I actively applied for other jobs and had a deadline where I would quit with nothing lined up if necessary. It really helped that my fiancé and I were on the same page about quitting with nothing at the deadline.

      What didn’t work was when he kept trying to tell me how to handle my boss. He didn’t have the full picture and wasn’t in the same field so I was frustrated and feeling defensive. The OP should tell her husband the status quo isn’t working any more and tell him what she is and is not willing to do. Then let him figure out how to handle his manager (or if it is time to find a new job) or have him offer some other alternatives to make the situation tenable again.

      1. Lepidoptera*

        Agree with managing the partner’s expectations, particularly if they aren’t realistic for the field. My spouse has worked in a union environment his whole life, and loves to give me tons of advice that is completely useless. No, I can’t “file a grievance” over having to stay an extra twenty minutes last Tuesday.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        That’s a good point. However, I think it should be noted that there’s quite a difference between your situation (not enough quality time with your S.O.) and the LW’s (sabotaging her own career to support her S.O. and care for his elderly relatives while “never saying no”).

  6. Annette*

    When did WFH become the new sick days. Unless there’s a plague at your company with many more sick than normal – people should be able to not work when they’re sick. Without putting everyone in the weeds. Rethink your workload distribution and why people need to use vacation or work instead of just staying home sick. Done with this trend.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Right. Totally agree, but again, a lot of companies are bassackword about these things. I had a colleague that recently experienced this nonsense. She was legitimately ill, took what she thought was a sick day, and then her boss (my grandboss) ended up calling her all day and having her run reports and follow-up on things that she could have done when she came back the next day. He also still made her use a sick day (and we only get five) when she was working the entire day – it was utter nonsense. That’s not a sick day if she’s still working eight hours.

      I really hate this company, lol.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        That was going to happen to a coworker of mine. He took a WFH day because he was ill enough to stay home, but not ill enough not to work (this way, he’d still get paid for the day) — and then our mini-boss (our manager, for all intents and purposes) called him and said “The bosses above just said they’re not going to pay you for today; as far as I’m concerned, take it off as a sick day and rest and don’t worry about the rest.”

        Knowing that, the one or two sick days I took during my time there were time off; I didn’t bother replying to emails and stuff because they were not going to pay me, and I was not about to give away 10 hours of work (that was our schedule) for free.

        1. valentine*

          ill enough to stay home, but not ill enough not to work
          It sounds like this is the case, at least after a few days, so working from home makes sense.

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          That is…so gross. I just spent a week working from home because I caught some nasty cold-type thing that’s going around and didn’t want to give it to my entire office. I was able to work just fine – WFH just meant everyone else was protected. Thank goodness my boss is reasonable about (in fact, insistent upon) that. Yours are not.

      2. MommyMD*

        That is terrible. Next call off: I’m calling in sick and I’m not going to be able to do any work today. I’ll be available tomorrow.

        And then don’t answer the phone.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Unfortunately, lots of people don’t have the kind of sick leave that allows for that. My company technically has the three days prescribed by California law – but they roll it up into our PTO, which for the first two years is only 10 days. There’s no separate sick leave, so especially if you’re newish, you’d pretty much have to choose between a third of your vacation or sick time. It’s total BS.

          I once brought this up with our HR lady. Her canned response made it sound like they were sooo generous for actually giving us leave *beyond* the three days mandated by California law.

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      Most of us in the US don’t get a lot of sick time to start with. I get 5 days a year. My vacation days are also very slim.

      That being said; there are times when I’d not want to be in the office (which is an open floor plan) but could still work if I was allowed to. Thankfully I have the type of employer that I think if I asked for a doctor’s note I could probably be allowed to work from home in those instances.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      That said, it’s nice to work from home if you are feeling under the weather. I can work 4–6 hours from home when I’m sick. I just can’t do the full 9 hours.
      That way I don’t fall too far behind.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      I hear you, but I also think that often people WFH when they’re starting to come down with something – like a bit sluggish, have the sniffles – but not so sick that they want to spend the day in bed.

      To my mind, this is actually an ideal use of WFH, since it helps stop the virus in its tracks, whereas otherwise people would come in (since they don’t yet feel truely terrible) and infect others.

      1. Kat in VA*

        This is what I use it for – the days where I”m feeling punk enough that the thought of getting up at 05:00AM, putting on makeup, doing the 1.5 hour commute, and being “on” in the office are more than I can handle. My neck is wrecked from years of chasing the adrenaline dragon through sports, and some days I can definitely work remotely but I’m also doing it on muscle relaxers while baking on a heating pad. I have a lot of PTO (25 days a year use or lose) but I have never used it for being sick. Even if I was sick to the point I couldn’t work, my company would just wave it off and tell me to come back in when I was up to par.

        I was more or less not working for nearly a full business week when my husband decided to go into DKA and nearly die on me. Those days in the critical care unit are a blur and while he was mostly sleeping, I tried to work – but it’s hard to deconflict someone’s schedule when you’re actively watching your spouse’s chest to make sure he’s breathing. When I returned, I pinged our HR director (who’s a doll) and asked if I should go ahead and put in PTO for X days because I definitely didn’t work those days. Her response was a cheerful, profanity-laden version of “Are you serious, you were taking care of your family, we’re so glad he’s okay!” and a stern command to not use ANY of my PTO.

        The flipside – my work ethic which is objectively ridiculous has me working, right now, at 7:40PM…when I got to the office at 07:30AM, worked through lunch…you get the idea. I’m pretty sure the company has the upper hand with hours of my time put in, but at least their generous attitude makes me feel like the extra time I put in at home (unpaid, I’m salaried) is fairly recompensed for days when I’m really sick, kinda sick, or have a bad case of The I Really Don’t Want To Adult Today.

    5. Exceler*

      I don’t think WFH has become the new sick days. Its just another option when you’re feeling under the weather, but not sick enough to justify taking the day off. I really like having that option.

      1. LaurenB*

        Yes, I agree that no dedicated sick leave or ~5 days per year is terrible, but people on this site are also very adamant about not coming to work when you’re even a bit contagious. Working from home, maybe following an actual sick day, seems like the only way to get through even a mild cold without taking a week off.

      2. Washi*

        I like it too! Sometimes I’m not super sick, but just on the tail end of a cold and need to loudly blow my nose or cough frequently. It’s nice to be able to stay away from other people but still get my work done and save my sick time for when I’m truly too sick to work.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Exactly! Or you’re at the beginning of one and want to keep it from spreading. Between the distracting noise of constant coughing, #theoptics of being The Person Who Brings It Into The Office, and the risk of knocking out half your coworkers for a week (happened in my office two years ago), companies should be begging people to WFH if they feel themselves coming down with a virus.

      3. StressedButOkay*

        Same! When I’m under the weather and don’t feel like putting up with my commute or being at my desk all day but know I can be mostly productive, I WFH. I don’t have vacation and sick, just PTO, so taking a day because I’m not feeling great but can still work hurts.

        Honestly, having a company with that kind of flexibility is nice. They don’t make me work when I’m sick, they give me the option of being remote if needed and encourage me to take PTO when I feel I need it.

      4. ThatGirl*

        Same, there are some days where I am perfectly capable of working on projects or answering emails but I’m just not quite up to putting on real clothes and/or don’t want to infect others and/or want to blow my nose excessively in peace.

      5. RandomU...*

        Agreed, and it’s a really nice option to have.

        Reasons I’ve used a WFH/Sick Day…

        Strained back muscle. Would have been misery to haul myself to the office and sit at a desk all day, but no big deal to sit in the recliner on a heating pad while attending conference calls.

        No sleep nights… Nights for whatever reason I got very little sleep. I’m able to sleep in a little longer because there’s no getting ready time or commute and be more productive during the day. If my only choice was to go into the office. I would have most likely called in.

        Sniffly nose day… You know those days where someone turns the faucet on and snot is pouring out of your nose all day. Usually allergies, but miserable and gross to be around

        Fighting a migraine day… hasn’t hit but imminent or will pass. These are the days that it’s either going to be caught with meds before it becomes full blown and pass or will hit like a freight train. Either way I can work mostly effectively until it decides what to do.

        Even with plenty of sick time to use, this is a nice option to have so I don’t get behind or have to last minute reschedule a lot of things.

      6. DAMitsDevon*

        Yeah, my office is fairly generous with sick days and PTO in general, but I had a pretty significant medical emergency in February that I’m still recovering from, and being able to work from home since getting out of the hospital in March has been really helpful so that I don’t burn through all my PTO just sitting around the house and going to doctor’s appointments/can still get paid. I’m well enough now to do my work, but I’m not yet at the point where I can handle my regular commute (I will hopefully be in the next few weeks though), and some of the medication I’m taking suppresses my immune system, so I’m glad I have the option to work from home and can leave my sick days for days when I truly can’t work.

    6. JSPA*

      It’s possible to be functional but contagious, and want to work. It’s likewise possible to be nonfunctional but non-contagious. This question is about people who want to work, but probably shouldn’t, for the sake of others.

      To be clear, people can cough, snort and snork for weeks, non-infectiously, after a flu. Manager may be right, that OP is presuming a risk where none exists, every time someone comes in sounding bad. That’s where the “not a doctor” bit comes in.

      “If you are in the highly communicable phase of any easily commuinicable disease, we support you in working from home, if you want to work rather than take sick days” is probably the best goal.

    7. Liz*

      yes, thank you! i have a boss who WILL WFH when she’s “sick” so as not to spread her germs. Ok fine, if that’s what you want to do. We also have a generous WFH policy generally, so its really not an issue. What IS an issue, is kind of the expectation she has that if she does that, we all should.

      I generally am healthy, i very rarely get contagious sick, although I do have really bad allergies that can mimic a cold or knock me down a bit. So I almost never need to be out of the office for actual illness, but I told my direct boss IF i ever call out sick, it means I am sick, and will not be working. Period.

      I also remember one time having some issues with my shoulder, and another CW being out for having shoulder surgery. I kind of joked to both of them they better nope I don’t need surgery on MINE. Her response was “well you can just work from home!” Right, nope. It never came to that, but if it had I would have followed my Dr’s instructions about how long to be out etc. NOT hers.

    8. Mynona*

      My current co-workers are extremely quick to shame anyone who comes in with a mild cough or runny nose. There is no reasoning with them about allergies: all symptoms = communicable disease. Since our manager is flexible about WFH, it’s easier to stay home than hear audible huffing every time you blow your nose.

      1. Artemesia*

        As a mother whose children were constantly infected by other people’s children whose coughs and snot were ‘just allergies’. I am always dubious about the ‘allergy’ excuse for inflicting bad colds on everyone else. And I have allergies too. But people who come in with raging colds that then run through the office and sometimes flu that does the same, always seem to say ‘oh it is just allergies’ when people react in horror on their arrival.

        1. ScienceTeacher*

          I have bad allergies and will be sniffling, sneezing, and fatigued for weeks at a time every spring and fall. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a cold coming on and my normal, everyday symptoms, but I generally get a clue when my Zyrtec/Benadryl/Sudafed cocktail stops working.
          I can’t just not come in during allergy season,, though.

    9. Aveline*

      “People should be able not to work when they’re sick”

      How about this: people should be able to decide if they are too sick to come in, but could work at home or if they are too sick to work at all.

      Just yesterday I worked from home while sick. I am contagious and really gross to look at right now. Seriously gross. But I had a hearing that I needed to attend. The opposing counsel is a jerk who has pushed out the hearing for over six months because he’s stalling (to rack up bills to a client who will lose).

      Rather than push this out further, I emailed the judge. He called me and I appeared telephonically.

      Not all type os work are the type that can be put off for weeks, days, or even hours. Not all workplaces are corporate.

      Yes, in a corporate environment, this should be the case.

      But I think the argument should be for flexibility and humane treatment based on facts and circumstances.

    10. Environmental Compliance*

      That’s a very black and white way to look at this.

      Some examples for you – I will 100% take a sick day if I have the flu. I am nonfunctional with the flu. However, when I had a minor surgery, and was feeling fine apart from very itchy stitches, which (due to the placement) I couldn’t wear normal work pants, I worked from home.

      I get what you’re saying about workload, but that’s not really a feasible thing to suggest for many places (whether by culture change, or financially, or specialty positions, etc, etc, etc). Many of us really like the flexibility with a WFH allowance. If you had two of me at my facility (I’m a department of one), and unlimited sick time let’s say, yes, I shouldn’t need to work from home. But we would have not nearly enough to do 95% of the time. The other 5%? Yeah, we could cover for each other. Or, alternatively, I take a sick day because I’ve the flu, but then the next couple days I can WFH to make sure that when I return I don’t get overwhelmed, and at that point I’m feeling decent, just still coughing, and I don’t want to cough on my coworkers. Plus it then has the side benefit of not having to wear real pants.

    11. Emily K*

      Speaking personally, I love being able to work from home when I have a minor head cold or a bad allergies day instead of having to choose between going to the office and using PTO/falling behind on work. A lot of times “sick” can mean “I’m definitely contagious or I’m going through a box of Kleenex every 2 hours making disgusting body noises that nobody else wants to have to hear, but other than that I feel fine.” Minor contagions affect some of us multiple times a year for a couple of days at a time. By not using sick leave on those minor contagions, I have plenty left for pre-planned appointments, mental health days, and serious illness/injury without ever worrying that I’ll run out.

      It’s also just a reality that unplanned last-minute absences are disruptive to the team in general and can pile up work for the person who’s out. That doesn’t mean people should never use sick leave – obviously there are times it’s very much needed and the right thing to do. Some employers are way too stingy with sick leave. But we don’t need to swing to the opposite end and declare that everyone reduce their workloads by 25-30% so missing a day has no real impact on workloads or deadlines and we can use sick leave for the sniffles. I like to be reasonably busy at work, I like to see my projects come to fruition. I’d truly rather work from home sometimes and keep everything moving than take the day off when I’m not feeling 100% office-ready.

    12. Earthwalker*

      My company was so certain that people working from home weren’t actually working that anyone sick enough not to come in had to take PTO. That was not considered an excuse for letting work responsibilities slide, though, so people on unplanned PTO – people who were out sick – were expected to answer emails and phone in for meetings and meet work deadlines. Whether the person had a strained back or a feverish flu or was in the hospital, if there was no notice for PTO, work was expected. When I saw this manager’s answer – “I’d like to work from home!” – I didn’t see it as jerky. It reminded me of my own boss, who said something similar, meaning, “Even I can’t even work from home when I’m sick because it’s our company’s policy. I don’t like it either but I am required to uphold it.”

    13. Someone Else*

      I think the point wasn’t that you can’t use sick days. The point was sometimes someone is sick, and contagious, but doesn’t feel too bad and would rather work than use up their PTO. In that case, barring security reasons if the job can be done from home, why not? It’s not saying “never take sick time just wfh instead”.

    14. pcake*

      If people are contagious but willing to work – and many was the time at bad old job where I was required to come into work with a fever, a few times over 101 – wouldn’t it make more sense to let them work from home?

      What you call a trend can be sick people continuing to keep up with their workload for the good of the company while not causing an outbreak. If the sick people are just as productive at home, what’s the problem?

    15. SOAS (NA)*

      ha and I had the opposite problem where I was “sick” in the morning and would have preferred to come in a little late and make up my hours than to take a day off. I argued with my manager about this and won out in the end I guess lol. I n my case I actually wanted to work and not take a day off.

  7. Beth*

    OP1: Do people keep saying these comments specifically to you? Or just in general?

    If they’re specifically telling you how much they love Petra, I think it’s OK to cut them off with “Yes, Petra’s great at X, but my experiences with her have been pretty negative overall. Anyways, how about that weather?” This will feel awkward; that’s good, because it will remind people that you’re really not the right person to bring Petra-praise to, and their feeling awkward about it will help them think twice about doing so in the future.

    If it’s just in general, and you happen to be in the room or within hearing distance…I think you’re going to need to find a way to deal, as painful as that is. There isn’t really a good way to ask your entire team to never praise Petra again–especially since, as you acknowledge, there are areas where she is genuinely strong.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      “Yes, Petra’s great at X, but my experiences with her have been pretty negative overall. Anyways, how about that weather?”

      I wouldn’t say this at all. You run the risk of having the person you say this to either tell Petra directly or they’ll tell someone else in the office you said it, and then it becomes part of the office gossip mill. It’s better to just smile or give a noncommittal nod and change the subject.

      1. Beth*

        It sounds like people are generally already aware that OP has had bad experiences with Petra, considering their team members are doing the “I know you had a bad experience, but I just love how smart she is” thing. I think the ship has probably sailed on keeping that out of the office gossip mill.

      2. MK*

        I wouldn’t actually see this as a negative result. Apparently it is known how bad Petra is, people know the OP had had issues with her, so I am not sure what it would add to a rumor mill. Smiling and nodding is tacit agreement, but if the OP can calmly register disagreement, or more accurately qualifications about the praise, it will get the message across that she is not the right audience for Petra fanning.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          As stated above by others, the coworkers may know that the two don’t get along, but by verbalizing this to others when they’re talking about Petra’s good work, it makes OP look petty. She should just change the subject whenever Petra is the topic since no one else seems to have experienced what she has with her.

      3. Sandy*

        Agreed. I get it must be incredibly vexing for the LW to hear coworkers praising someone who was horrible to her. From her account, however, it seems that her company and coworkers have collectively decided that Petra’s skills outweigh her bad behavior. Swimming against that tide is likely futile and LW will become the bad guy if she continues to comment on the situation.

    2. Candle light*

      I was thinking that, with her manager, she could say, “Yes her results are great, but getting them by running roughshod over people is not.” With others I’d advise ignoring it or she’s going to look like she’s spreading negativity, which will reflect badly on her.

      In my own experience with a bully, I am discreetly candid with the people who are considering working in their team, otherwise I keep tight lipped about my experience working for them.

    3. MK*

      I was going to say this, especially with people who acknowledge the OP’s bad experience with Petra: ” You are right, I wouldn’t say this; she is certainly great at her work, but her behaviour leaves a lot to be desired” “Admittedly she is very smart, I just wish she was easier to work with”. Basically, a polite version is “You realise you are singing the praises of an asshole, right?”

      I agree that you can’t really ask people not to speak positively of Petra in your hearing, but you can probably make it unrewarding for them to say these things to you.

      1. Mockingbird*

        Yeah, I think this is fine if it’s a case of them targeting OP. Or you could just totally ignore it and make it boring for them to bring up Petra (they may be saying that wanting to get a reaction/create drama). I love “okay” as a catch all for (potential) rudeness I don’t want to directly call out.

        As someone with a disability, I have had the experience of being straight up mocked by a staff member at work in front of colleagues… twice. The first time I was brand new to the workplace, didn’t know how to professionally stand up for myself, and nobody else did either — in fact they spent a lot of time after praising this person. It SUCKED and soured my opinion of those coworkers (especially the more senior ones who theoretically would have more capital to tell this dude to knock it off). The second time I was more experienced, was already handling it but a senior coworker stepped in to defend me too and it felt awesome that someone else actually acknowledged what was happening. Idk what OP’s coworkers’ motivations are but I definitely understand how this can feel even if it’s not malicious.

      2. Lucy*

        I agree that you can’t really ask people not to speak positively of Petra in your hearing, but you can probably make it unrewarding for them to say these things to you.

        This is great framing. I do have to wonder what they are trying to achieve by praising Petra to LW, but if they get nothing from LW the behaviour is likely to reduce.

        1. not the llama mama*

          In relation to once being badly bullied in an office, I think the non-bullied get a reward out of the continued drama.

          I disagree with Alision’s advice here I think. These co-workers praising Petra to the OP, the question is why are they doing that? I really think it’s not a neutral office talk if it’s specifically to the OP, specifically about how great Petra is, and they are pointing out themselves that they already know OP’s opinion of Petra is not positive. If they are aware enough to know that, they can know the audience, the OP they work with daily, and not sing Petra’s praises to her.

          Bullying is insidious, in that it makes the bullied question their view on being good enough or right about anything, and when co-workers constantly question or defend the bully, because it’s easier to get someone who doesn’t want to have a problem to try to a change than the person who wants that conflict, it erodes a functional office trust.

          I think it’s perfectly fine to say respectfully you are not interested in hearing about Petra or trying to be convinced her good attributes outweigh your negative experience and you’d just rather not talk about her unless needed. And to remind your co-workers of that if they continue to bring her up.

          “Petra is so and so”
          “I have no interest in discussing Petra. Now about project X…”

    4. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      The two team members in question say these comments about Petra to pretty much anyone who will listen. I happen to share the same cube space, and they are currently working with her, so I hear it a lot simply by being there. If it’s with a group, then I keep quiet. It’s those times they are talking to me directly, alone, that I get disheartened.

      In regards to not rewarding them with a reaction, I think that is a genuinely good strategy. The issue I am running into (and I didn’t mention in my letter due to keeping it short) is that it’s not working. They seem to be impervious to my lack of response and it’s surprising to me how long they keep up the effusiveness. I can certainly just keep ignoring, which I agree with everyone seems to be the best course of action; but I can tell I am sometimes being snippy because it’s been going on so long and that’s not a good look either.

      1. Batgirl*

        I’m not entirely sure if they’re jerks, or co-bullies but they’re definitely boring as fuck.

        I would try to make this as entertaining as I could for myself. Mentally playing Petra bingo. Scoring each comment on the brown nosing scale. Possibly by fancying myself the superior judge of character and looking down on them fondly and thinking “Ah, you’ll learn!”

        But they just sound enamoured, in one of those baffling phases like when a prone-to-evangelism co-worker discovers a new interest or a new diet and can talk of nothing else.

        Mentally sub out the word Petra for ‘baffling obsession’ and use your sense of humour whenever possible to reflect on the absurdity.

      2. not the llama mama*

        Well, reading more of the thread and your responses there in, I think you may have ot learn to appear neutral and tune them out then. It sounds as if you don’t have the same social and work standing that Petra does. Either by her being directoral, her work product, or her behaviour inviting a queen bee mentality for the others to go along with.

        If it seriously start’s to affect your mental work health, Get Out. It’s not worth a warped view of yourself or a what good work conditions look like.

        Bullying is not just small disagreements about work styles or personal styles that happen in life. It’s the way someone treats conflicts and uses them as attacks. And I now abore people who allow it to go on because it doesn’t affect them, even as a conflict avoidant person myself. My experience started with what I thought was a disagreement of website design ideas. It morphed into my bully giving me work advice on details of my job, and editing my work without my knowledge, despite clear instructions from the boss not too. Stuff like I wanted correct spelling and font layout, that she wouldn’t comply with. Then criticizing me. Then more and more. By the end she’d make sure to loudly complain within my earshot to others that she was writing to the board of directors to get me fired. Refusing to speak to me about anything, including work tasks. Watching my breaks by the minute and noting it. Telling me I didn’t deserve my job. Throwing a potted plant across the room in a fit of anger (not actually directed at me at the time but scary as hell to witness) and finally the straw I’m confidently able to rest my mental health on her being 100% off and wrong, she went to my co-workers and boss and the town and said I’d attempted to sabotaged her 5 yr old daughter’s birthday cake order. That still makes me cry to think someone may have believed her, to think she could think to think that, that someone could be so awful or petty, to worry and hope to god her kid never overheard or was told.

        All this, and I had to write a detailed summary and timeline of it for my boss, and their investigation did jack and lingered on and on. She only left/got fired because she later turned on the boss as well. Yet they pat themselves on the back for me coming to them and how they handled it, and I can say nothing even having left because of how small town inter-connected employment is here, and god it burns to even type this because it still makes me think I should have been better or better able to manage or live with it. I still want to find good things to say about my work or this person.

        Workplace bullying is hell.

        1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

          That’s terrible! I’m sorry you had to endure that. One of the worst parts is how you crazy you feel while it’s going on and how, when it starts, it just seems like a small conflict that can be resolved with a discussion or something similar (and professional) as that. Throwing something across the room is over the line; being near that kind of rage is no good for anybody.

      3. Beth*

        I wonder if you could use other strategies to ask them to shut up. “Please stop talking about how great Petra is” isn’t a good one here…but “I really need to focus on this, so I can’t talk right now” combined with a good pair of headphones might go a long way towards keeping their talk away from your ears.

  8. nnn*

    For #1, is there someone else who has the same function as Petra who also does praiseworthy things from time to time? If yes, there’s nothing stopping you from praising Petra’s “competition”.

    Praising colleagues is a far better look on you than asking people not to praise colleagues, and if you can boost someone else’s reputation in your team’s eyes, that might increase the chances of your team working with someone other than Petra. (Your boss suddenly finds herself thinking “I’ve been hearing good things about Jane lately!”)

    Also, depending on how things are set up, you might be able to leverage your colleagues’ praise of Petra into not working with her. “Maybe Wakeen should take point on this – he’s been a great admirer of Petra’s work so maybe he’d like the opportunity to work with her.” (Practice saying this in a way that’s sincere and devoid of snark!)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      ha! Great stuff, nnn.

      “Oh I just LOVE working with Jane! She is so very pleasant to work with!”

      If possible point out the things that Jane gets right and where Petra absolutely falls down.

      “I went over to ask Jane for xyz and she stopped everything and got it for me right away! I was so impressed!”
      This would be useful if Petra constantly gripes and moans when asked the simplest things. Notice how you don’t mention Petra at all.
      You will probably be able to find numerous situations that just about anyone else does it better than Petra.

    2. L. S. Cooper*

      I like this! It redirects, and nobody can claim that you’re being negative or thin-skinned.

    3. Nessun*

      I like the idea of leveraging others’ support of Petra so they can work with her and LW doesn’t have to. It doesn’t stop the praise (and really, I agree there’s no easy way to stop it anyway), but it can build others up, shows a positive attitude, and the optics are good – LW is a team player, illustrating they understand group dynamics and relationship building.

  9. nnn*

    The wording of #3 seems to suggest that they don’t want people working from home in the specific circumstances when they’re sick, but not that they have absolutely zero working from home at all ever. (I came away with the impression that it’s possible, but discouraged)

    If this is the case, could you work around with “I’m going to need to work from home today”, with no mention of being sick.

    1. Liane*

      “… could you work around with “I’m going to need to work from home today”, with no mention of being sick.”
      Considering it’s the *Department Head*, not Random Annoying Coworker, is the one replying, “I wish I could WFH,” I doubt that a different reason, or no given reason, is going to make WFH okay. The Big(ger) Boss doesn’t want WFH (in this case, apparently because she can’t/won’t WFH), so it’s not going to happen, unless the head is persuaded to change their mind, or someone higher decides to intervene.

    2. Antilles*

      I doubt it. The VP’s quote of “I wish I could work from home” doesn’t sound like it’s about the reason, it’s simply a petty “well, if I’m not allowed to work from home, then nobody else is allowed either! By golly, we’re all going to be equally forced to drag ourselves into the office!”

      1. Flat Penny*

        Misery loves company. Misery also loves being a petty workplace tyrant. Misery is just generally not the best person to work for.

  10. MommyMD*

    No, you can’t ask coworkers to censor themselves from positive statements about other employees. You had an unpleasant experience with her; they didn’t. I also advise against telling anyone your side of the story at this point. You will be the one to look badly like a complainer. The time to report colleagues for their bad behavior is when they are doing it. If new problems start, by all means report it. But if not I’d just move on.

    1. Lucy*

      I think part of what will be suggesting to coworkers that Petra “wasn’t that bad” is the fact that she’s still employed there. In the ideal functioning workplace her behaviour would have been stopped and/or she would have been terminated and/or there would have been a wider training/information drive to address workplace bullying. It sounds though as if LW suffered in silence, or didn’t escalate the issues to a high enough level (no judgement, as that is a difficult thing to do); or perhaps that management did take disciplinary action but it wasn’t publicised, so coworkers didn’t know that steps had been taken.

      For all we know, Petra has genuinely changed her ways. I can see why LW wouldn’t want to have to work with her any more, but it doesn’t mean that Petra hasn’t learned from what happened and changed her professional behaviour, in which case the coworkers would be justified in pointing out that she is good at everything now.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s also possible that the behavior OP considered completely unreasonable struck other people as unremarkable. Or as a personality clash. Not to offer any opinion on which description of their interactions would be considered ‘right’ to a completely neutral outside observer, but this reminds me of letters from young people asking if X is normal at work, to which the answer is often “no, that’s insane/illegal/odd” but sometimes “yes, totally normal” and others “only if your workplace is full of bees, but you say it’s an apiary, so…?”

        I agree with MMD et al that at this point LW’s coworkers and manager know how she feels, and belaboring the point is going to damage her, not Petra.

        1. Roscoe*

          Honestly, this was kind of my read. I know some people just internalize things much more than others. So Petra’s behavior may be “bullying” in OPs mind, and truly felt that way. Whereas to an outside observe its “eh, not nice, but its not that big of a deal”

        2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

          It’s certainly reasonable to wonder if I was just being sensitive to behavior that others would think is harsh but not bullying, especially with not much info in my letter to go by. If I may, I’ll add that qualifier here – it took me a long time to get to the word bullying, precisely because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just my feelings or perspective. I know I didn’t go into precisely what Petra did, as I wanted to keep the letter short, but it’s stuff that people have talked about on this site before about bullying. When her behavior affected our project and, to me, it seemed like deliberate (and even gleeful) sabotage, that’s when I knew it was crossing the line.

          But! You could probably ask another person on the same project team and they would disagree with me. It’s all very subjective, I agree.

      2. Jessthepig*

        What if LW is not an “ideally functioning workplace?” I mean, most of us are, right?

  11. Stuff*

    #3 I wish more countries would adopt the standard procedure in many Asian countries where if you are sick – at all- YOU wear a mask. We could also adopt the thing at hospitals where there are masks available at entrances of businesses and signs advising to wear them if you are sick. It is still better to stay home but if someone is sick they need to take precautions to not spread the ick.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      At least when I lived in the US, my local hospital did ask people to wear masks! So it might be ticking up in popularity.

      I was in for a persistant cough and asked to wear a mask because that can be a sign of an infection. Although in my case, it turned out to be heartburn. :-/

      1. only acting normal*

        A persistent cough can be heartburn? That’s very interesting. I know someone suffering both and I wonder if they’ve made the connection. (A chest x-ray was clear, so nothing too serious has been missed).

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Yes, it can. I think a tip-off would be when the cough is worst. For me, it was awful at night (when I was lying down) and in the mid-afternoon (about an hour after lunch). Those were the two big clues that it was a heartburn related cough.

          Change of diet then helped fix the symptoms.

          1. valentine*

            Oddly, people are offended by masks/gloves on others. They take is as a personal insult that they, the non-PPE-ed person, is infectious.

        2. JSPA*

          One of the most common “tells” of GERD. Which can be / become serious, in a variety of ways.

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yup, and shortness of breath — I’m dealing with that right now and given my medical history it was *way* more likely to be something cardiopulmonary so we went through all sorts of tests before a friend suggested checking for GERD.

      2. KPP*

        Persistent cough can also be from certain high blood pressure medication. This happened to both my husband and my friend. Everyone in my husband’s office avoided him for weeks because they thought he was sick. His doctor changed his medication brand, and the cough stopped within a few days.

        1. Liz*

          I have a persistent cough and mine is allergies and asthma. I have very bad post nasal drip, and cough a lot when I first wake up. Usually within a couple of hours it subsides, and will only linger if the pollen is really bad, and its aggravating my asthma. But i’ve been to doctors, and there reallly is nothing that can be done for it. But i’m not contagious. not one bit.

          1. JudyInDisguise*

            Same here. I’ve been through many years of allergy/asthma shots and therapies which have reduced the number of times I have a flare-up. Now, the cold-like symptoms usually happen in the fall, triggered by ragweed, mold and mildew, and it’s almost always misconstrued by coworkers as contagious.

          2. Not sick*

            Same here. I stay home when I’m contagious but will often have lingering coughs due to my allergies and asthma. Wearing a mask would just exasperate the situation. If I could scream without coughing I would scream I know how to behave now mind your own business.

        2. OrigCassandra*

          Yes. If you’re on one of the class of drugs called “ACE inhibitors,” watch out for dry unproductive coughing that’s hard to suppress. Harmless to others, thankfully, but go back to your doc and get on a different kind of drug.

        3. Artemesia*

          I coughed constantly for 7 years with the docs saying ‘it wasn’t like the cough from blood pressure med’. Finally it got so bad I went to a different doc who did a chest work up which led to CT scan (because when you are old you will have some weird scarring in the lungs) and the whole process scared me to death. And then he suggested just stopping the blood pressure med and using something different. The cough was gone in 5 days and has never returned. I am still pretty annoyed I had to disrupt concerts and hack away at social events for years when it was so easy to fix. On a vacation trip to Russia, I actually met the guy who discovered the blood pressure med that works well for most but not for those for whom it creates a chronic cough; HE gets the cough on it too and is on the alternative med I use now. WE were both on the same cruise from Moscow to Petersburg.

    2. Japananon*

      Hear hear! It keeps your face nice and humid, catches your sneezes and coughs, and warns everyone else to stay 10 feet away from you.

      1. JSPA*

        last month I wore one for 2-1/2 days past what I figured to be the probable end date of being contagious. I had that lingering, bubbling cough interacting with asthma, and (rather than being disgusting inside) the mask was (strangely) soothing and calming, in that every breath to be similarly slightly warm and slightly moist, and all outside allergens were also being screened out. (Went on a steroid inhaler eventually, anyway, as I wasn’t going to mask for the next two months, which kicked the problem in 8 days, per usual.)

    3. Jamie*

      I worked for a Japanese owned company in the US and the matter of fact way of using masks was wonderful. I don’t know how this isn’t a universal practice.

    4. Indigo a la mode*

      Agreed. I so appreciate that kind of public courtesy. I really admire the tradition in said countries of being mindful of how their actions affect the group and honoring the people and space around them. Growing up in the U.S., I’ve often wished our culture focused on that a little more and on individualism a little less. The latter is good for ambition/invention but not as sustainable/healthy in the long term.

    5. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Don’t they get soggy around the nose? Every time I get a cold, I have at least one day when I’m feeling pretty perky but the faucet is just leaking. And even on drier days I don’t know if I want all my sneeze juice pressed against my face.

  12. Mr Mybug*

    I actually find it meaningful in itself that LW1’s coworkers are effusively praising her bully a lot. When do we normally just chit chat about how fabulous one particular person is repeatedly?

    The thing to recognise is that bullies need systems to support them so they can perpetuate their behaviours. They are good at exploiting weak or low EQ people to create layers between them and consequences for their actions, making it appear that overall they are more good than bad, look at all these enthusiastic fans!

    I suspect what LW1 is experiencing here is not just a bully but a whole bullying system and that is what is so troubling.

    I’m afraid I don’t have any advice for you but sometimes recognising that people are weak or stupid rather than powerful and insightful when they praise a bully can take the sting out of what they are saying. The next time someone praises the bully, you can privately say to yourself “well they are a few pickles short of a full jar” and move on with your day, patting yourself on the back for not buying in to the bullying system.

    1. Liv Jong*

      This was along the lines of what I was thinking.

      I worked in a dysfunctional place where the male boss would never admit it, but he enjoyed watching the women fight.

      His longest employee was the worst and would throw away other employee belongings and never faced a consequence in fourteen years, because she was the best at her job. I was told, “That’s Helen, she’s here at 4am every day, seven days a week for more than ten years and until you do that, don’t complain.”

      I didn’t handle it well, and stayed much longer than I should have because of health insurance, but it cost me. I became bitter, and mouthy, and generally unpleasant when she was around or when someone brought her up. When I couldn’t get my weight back over 108 lbs I finally allowed myself to see how bad it was and I got out without another job lined up.

      I can’t help but wonder if Petra, like Helen always has to have a target and its become accepted as part of her personality and not someone to be managed.

      1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        Yikes, it’s bad when the health is affected. I’m glad you got out of there, though it sounds like it wasn’t an easy decision.

    2. Labradoodle Daddy*

      Agreed 100%. OP, this workplace is full of bees, and you deserve a better job and better coworkers than this. I would recommend you start up a job search.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think this is true. Either it’s a place that supports bullying, or it’s a place that LW will always feel supports other people bullying her, and in either case removing herself from the situation is the way to change it.

    3. Roscoe*

      Calling people weak or stupid because they have had a different experience than someone else seems awfully extreme. Sometimes people interact with others in a very different way. And often, there really ARE 2 sides to a story. The co-workers may have heard OPs side and Petras side, and decided that they like both people and don’t want to be involved. That doesn’t make them weak, or stupid, or low EQ. It just means people have different perceptions

      1. Bostonian*

        I agree, Roscoe. It’s not weak or stupid to not have all the facts. In fact, I don’t see anything unreasonable about “I don’t have all the facts here, and a lot of this information is second hand, so I’m going to continue to base my reactions and beliefs on what I’ve personally seen.”

      2. Mr Mybug*

        I don’t understand why people are defending the coworkers so much.

        People can quietly come to whatever conclusion they like about someone but to openly praise a bully in the victims hearing smacks of some kind of limitation in my mind. Being unaware of the basic feelings of others and the social dynamics of bullying is a sign of ignorance or insensitivity or slowness.

        Recognising this will help LW1 put things in a better perspective and move on.

    4. lazuli*

      That was my thought, too. I had a horrible workplace bully, and she did the Queen Bee/Mean Girls thing of gathering up her little clique who thought she was wonderful and being passive-aggressive and nasty to anyone not in her clique. So in her case, the people singing her praises were contributing to the dynamic, which is partly why it would bother me so much. But I had become her supervisor in the meantime (directed her work, but had no HR authority to fire/reprimand her), which also complicated matters and made it so that I didn’t want to say anything publicly about her (though I tried to work with our manager about it). My manager and I are no longer on that team, and the bully is apparently terrorizing the new manager now.

      1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        Oof, it’s the worst when they fight dirty. It’s hard to keep yourself clean!

    5. neeko*

      I realize that we are asked to believe the writer at their word but perhaps they are perceiving it as being constant praise because they are so sensitive to that person and are hyper-aware of their name. Like when you get a new car and then see the car everywhere.

    6. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      You are right that Petra was backed up by a company who time and time again showed me that they look the other way when people behave this way. In this sense, it does feel like a whole bullying system.

      I know there’s a lot of cultural controversy around “genius jerks” and how companies should or shouldn’t keep them. A star player who makes everyone miserable but generates a lot of money… I don’t have an answer for that, but I do know that the fact that I wrote this letter in and we are all having this discussion shows the insidious ways this behavior can manifest.

  13. JSPA*

    Persimmons, including dried persimmons, can temporarily, and for some people rather dramatically, slow down the peristaltic process as they pass through. YMMV, but maybe try it out ahead of time, unless (what’s basically induced constipation) is medically contra indicated.

  14. stump*

    Re: #3:

    “You are not a doctor and cannot state factually that their illness is causing another worker to become ill and therefore cannot send an employee home.”

    Jeeze, with a response like that, I’d almost think OP3 was working retail or food service.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Imagine if this standard was applied to cruise ships with norovirus outbreaks. “Not a doctor? Then kindly don’t suggest that Fergus stop prepping the shrimp.”

  15. Klingons and Cylons and Daleks, Oh My!*

    OP1: “That tells me they remember my experience, but choose to continue saying these things to me. It’s disheartening that her bad behavior is minimized and my experience is dismissed, especially by my manager. ”

    It tells me that they’re saying those things BECAUSE OF your experience with Petra. Your co-workers and your own manager are explicitly siding with your bully when speaking to you, which means that they are actively JOINING HER in bullying you. They have taken sides and the numbers are clearly against you. Please start job-searching and find a company that will actually appreciate you and your talents.

      1. Roscoe*

        I know. This is just an absurd take. Its very possible they think OP is being overly dramatic. That doesn’t make them bullys. Just means that they don’t agree with her.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      You’ve put into words what was bothering me about that letter!

      Having been the victim of work place bullying I totally relate how soul destroying it can be.

      Unfortunately in my case the bully was also my manager. She often screamed at me (and others), insulted me, made death threats,…

      The only thing that helped was getting out of there.

    2. JSPA*

      Your logic is flawed.

      It is very possible

      a) for someone to bully only a few people, and in ways that are effectively invisible to third parties

      b) for people to feel bullied, because the person criticizing their work does not have good skills, in how to properly launch constructive criticism

      c) for people to feel bullied, because the workplace is generally criticism-averse, and they’ve never learned how to land the constructive criticism launched in their direction

      d) for both parties in an interaction between equals to feel bullied and judged by the other

      e) for people to talk past each other / perceive general sarcasm or flippancy or negativity as personally-directed sarcasm or flippancy or negativity

      f) for people to be systematically “snowed” by a bully

      g) for other people to feel (rightly or wrongly) that the bad actions were a defensive mechanism, and that they could be defused or at least diffused by giving praise where praise is due

      h) for people to feel an absolute duty to give praise, where (and insofar) as praise is due.

      Perhaps it was cut from the letter, but we have zero insight into what’s being labeled “bullying behavior” here. Could be anything from off the deep end of egregious, like “called me at 2 AM to berate me” or tacks on a chair (past letters, both) to general brusqueness, or (as per recent past letter) someone who makes faces “out loud” as she thinks. We don’t know how much the coworkers saw or knew (at the time). We don’t know how vocal OP has been about Petra, then or since. We don’t, for that matter, know if anyone has complained, if Petra might have gotten feedback, and if Petra might have changed.

      Jumping to, “it’s a conspiracy and network of bullies” is arguing way, way beyond the data. Could be! Could also be that OP’s understandably a bit fragile and reactive around the topic of Petra, and that the team are being…totally normal.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Seconding. There could be a lot of different dynamics in play here.

        If the dynamics make the OP miserable, she should look for another job. Because this job is signaling it isn’t going to change.

        (This is not to say that a follow-up might not say “A month after my letter, Petra vanished! And more people talked about how they had experiences like mine! And my stress is way down!” I am playing the odds that she’s said something, stasis continued, stasis will continue doing that.)

        1. pentamom*

          Not snowed on, snowed. It means deceived by another person’s attempts to have others get a certain impression. So the suggestion is that Petra is good at making other people see her as something she’s not, without those other people being culpable for not seeing through her.

    3. Flat Penny*

      Even in the most dysfunctional workplaces, there isn’t usually a cabal of people who secretly hate you.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      As a former jr high jerkwad, this is how we tortured other girls at that age. Nancy was evil to Peggy. Then everyone told Peggy how wonderful Nancy was. It drove home the “Nancy is not the problem here, you are.”

      We grew out of it and still feel awful about how childhood behavior. Many others however never grow up or out of child like psychological games.

    5. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I agree. It was my first thought. I’ve seen this before and been on the receiving end. These people know what they’re doing.

      Find a better workplace, OP. You deserve it.

    6. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      That’s an interesting thing to point out, and I hadn’t thought of it that way. I do think my teammates mean well, and are just carried away when they talk, but I do think this point you are making is worth making in general. From the other commenters who have experienced it, it seems like a thing that does happen and worth pointing out.

  16. Lucy*

    LW4, I feel you. My spouse changed jobs recently and now 100% of the caring responsibilities during the working week fall to me. It totally sucks.

  17. YouCanBrewIt!*

    #5 be careful. People can be irrational. I once had a temp job where during the interview they said it would just be 3-6 months, and I said that sounded great- I wanted to focus on my mba full time after the assignment. Near the end of my assignment they asked me if I’d like to become permanent, and I declined.No big deal right? They said it was temp, I said it was great, no hurt feelings right?? Wrong / the boss and grandboss spent the remaining time hurt and upset I wouldn’t take the job.

    Obviously, I’m not telling the op to take the job. Just be prepared that they may act irrational.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Agreed. But it may not just be hurt feelings. If they created a job specifically to hire someone permanently, they usually have gone through a lot of trouble to budget and set up benefits for that position. They may just tell the OP that they’re intention is to hire another full-time employee — either the OP or someone else. I think that this freelance job is going to go away if she declines.

  18. T*

    #1 I had a similar experience, I worked with a woman that was pretty horrible to my boss and I at old job. Over the course of 5 years, departments were changed and both my boss and I were promoted multiple times, to where this woman was now reporting to my boss. Talk about karma. You have to be careful that it doesn’t come across as a personal issue with this person, and perhaps examine if the company culture is not toxic for seeing someone that doesn’t treat others well in such a positive light.

  19. Washi*

    Question about #2: What if the OP gets to the interview and finds that the bathrooms are a bit of a walk away from the interview location? Is there a good way to phrase that question/request?

    My old office was one of those hipster converted warehouses ,and the bathrooms were at the other end of the building, so to get to them quickly you would be running past a bunch of other offices with glass walls. If an interviewee had used Alison’s script, I would of course have been happy to accommodate bathroom breaks, but it wouldn’t have necessarily made me think to move the interview location closer to the bathrooms.

    1. HR Ninja*

      I was just going to bring this up! I’m sure it has crossed the OP’s mind but verifying where the bathroom is prior to the start of the interview would be very helpful. Quite often rooms where interviews are conducted in weird, out-of-the-way rooms.

      I would tie it into Alison’s script of, “Hey, I may need to use the bathroom unexpectedly.” script. “I just had a recent medical procedure that may have me using the bathroom. Would you be able to point it out to me before we get started just in case that happens?”

    2. Librarianne*

      Depending on how the company handles interview set-ups, OP might ask the HR rep about scheduling the interview in a room close to a bathroom. My former job was in a large building with multiple meeting spaces, so it would have been easy for us to accommodate a request like that, and we’d all just assume the other spaces were previously booked.

      Either way, OP should definitely inquire about the location of the bathroom before the interview begins. I always like to do a last-minute hair and bladder check before interviews, so that wouldn’t raise any suspicion.

  20. Evergreen*

    LW5 The only other risk to turning the offer down is that they hire someone else into the permanent role, and your contract work dries up with this client. Hopefully this isn’t what happens, but it should factor into the decision too.

    1. Flat Penny*

      People feel stung when they’re rejected, even when it’s not rational. It would probably be a good idea to at least appear to agonize over the decision a bit.

  21. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    #5 One thing to add to the last paragraph about how salary + benefits can look like less than freelancing: Sometimes the benefits can be negotiated to add more tangible and useful things that can make a big difference. If the LW would like to pursue a relevant-to-the-job degree they might ask the company to pay for it, by the semester as need be, as a benefit. If there are conferences in their field that would bring knowledge back to the company, they might be able to negotiate attending one or two conferences a year, with all expenses paid for by the company. There are probably other things along this line that could be added as a potential benefit, if the company is willing.

  22. Amy*

    It’s hard to evaluate # 4 without some examples. Is he hearing on Sunday night that he needs to travel that week? I agree, that’s unreasonable. But I’ve also seen my own schedule, which includes irregular travel and working from home, repeatedly be referred to as unreasonable. And despite not knowing what I’m doing from one day to the next, I don’t think it is unreasonable.

    In my case, the challenge is that I can work from home sometimes. Also I can be finished with work by 4pm about 70% of the time.

    But often my family members assume that I’m always available for the 12pm plumber visit or 4pm is standard end time and after that, it’s a “late day.” I’ve seen this with colleagues too where the care giving schedules are built around the narrowest interpretation of our work schedule, not the full reality.

    To combat this, I’ve tried to establish 8-6pm as my “core hours” to others. I get home by 4pm, that’s a bonus, not the baseline.

    But I’ve found lots of people have a hard time understanding this and have referred to my boss as unreasonable because I can’t be sure at 9am if I will be done at 3pm or 5pm. My manager is definitely of the school that if a client calls and wants you in later that day, you go if you can. It’s not chaos, it’s responsiveness.

    The spouse’s workplace is probably terribly chaotic and unplanned but I’ve had such an issue with outside perceptions of my schedule that this was my first thought.

    1. valentine*

      I expect SO used to take over at a certain time. If they live with the elders, OP4 is working nearly 24/7 and housebound because prioritizing SO’s job means he’s probably not on night duty. It’s unsustainable with even one elder, so I would expect an ad hoc schedule to have crumbled long ago.

  23. Me*

    Bathroom breaks – I know in our hiring letters, we ask people to contact us if they require any accommodations. I would absolutely consider this a medical accommodation and ensure that the interview space was located near a restroom and that the interviewers were aware of your need.

    I understand you may not be comfortable disclosing it, but I just wanted to throw out there that there’s a good chance the hiring manager or scheduler is used to and understands making accommodations. I know for me, I feel better have things addressed in advance.

    1. Librarianne*

      Exactly. This would also give the interviewers a chance to write a schedule that included extra bathroom breaks, for example.

      There are lots of reasons why someone would prefer to be close to a bathroom! Even though I don’t have regular digestive issues, I get “nervous tummy” during interviews and feel a lot more relaxed when I know the bathroom is nearby.

  24. agnes*

    LW #1 I understand your situation. Let it go. check your motives–why do you want to share this information? Will sharing this information improve the workplace and the team? Will it help you and her have a better working relationship? Will it improve work quality?

    I agree with Alison–I don’t think disclosing information will change anyone’s opinion of Petra–but it will change their opinion of you–and probably not in a positive manner.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Your questions are valid… I think I was looking at it as not so much changing anybody’s opinion of Petra, but just trying to keep things neutral when we talk about her (meaning the two people on my team who praise her). But I agree that asking people to police themselves around me is a pretty big thing to ask.

  25. Not So NewReader*

    I tend to go in a different direction on these things sometime. This may or may not help.
    I separate out the parts I agree on. “That is true Petra is good at X.” Then I say nothing further. Some how that silence is bigger than any words I can think of to say.

    Here is a coping tool I think about. There are numerous examples in history of people who were well-liked but they were a destructive force equal to 12 on the Richter scale. People often focus on the wrong personal attribute and sometimes it is to their own detriment. This has been going on for all of time. It’s not personal against you, OP. Some folks are very short sighted and their myopia is very annoying. Which brings me to coping tool number 2.

    I have my own myopia. I think X is a great idea. NONE of my cohorts think so. This happens also. My cohorts wonder why I can’t see a bigger picture going on. I annoy them.

    Sometimes the best we get in life is know where the potholes are in the road. (Yes, potholes is a hint at another word….). And that is the best we get. You can still protect YOU from this pothole. It’s up to everyone else to make their own way.

    I developed a baseline that my goal was to lessen my contact with the offender. If someone was talking about the offender, that had zero impact on me, because my goal was JUST regarding contact with the offender.

    Last. There have been times when people have explained to me how great someone was at this or that. I started to realize, that perhaps they were not explaining it to me, but rather they needed to hear themselves say it out loud in order to convince themselves that there was something good about this person. “Who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?” I often said that in my head as they spoke.
    I found that if I simply agreed that Offensive Person was good at X, the speaker more quickly came to the conclusion that there were a lot of problems with that person. Well placed silence can speed up the learning curve.

    1. Bostonian*

      “You can still protect YOU from this pothole. It’s up to everyone else to make their own way.”

      I like this a lot, and I think the thing that’s going to help OP the most is coming to terms with what is within their control or not. If other people aren’t personally impacted by Petra’s toxic behavior now, it may just be a matter of time.

    2. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      All good advice! In the grand scheme of things, the pothole is not really a big one, so I can cope.

      Glad to hear that lessening contact with the offender is a goal you suggest. I sometimes wonder if my doing so makes me weak or petty. I don’t let it impact the work; just for my own sanity. But then I question if that is a good enough reason, which I suppose is an effect of bullying?

      I am hoping we can become a society where destructive forces are not acceptable and not something that has to be debated. But people will be people, I suppose.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I get what you mean about looking petty or weak. Some may read it that way. But at some point our self-preservation becomes more important than what other people think. So the biggest question is do YOU feel petty/weak by minimizing contact?

        I think of it as my baseline for everyone is that I can approach them and talk about the work itself that we are doing. And if you start to think about it that way, aren’t there some people that you tend to think are a delight to go talk to and others are so-so? I have found that. Then there is a third group, which is usually pretty small in numbers that are just a PITA to go talk to.

        Going the opposite way, what do you think would make you look strong? You know, if you go at her like a bulldozer, you will be the one out the job, not her. It’s satisfying to tell someone off in spades but the satisfaction only lasts a moment. These people are usually dense enough that they will just keep doing what they are doing.

        I go for that subtle strength. This is the strength where I show up for work each day and do a great job day after day. To me this is true strength. Her strength will fade, but true strength does not fade.
        There are surprises. I found that once I weathered one of these people the next one impacted me less. For one thing, I had gained some coping tools. And for another thing, I finally figured that this person would have problems in life that I will NEVER face.

        And if you get wind that someone put in a complaint, you can back them up if you chose. “Yes, a similar thing happened to me when I worked with Petra.”

        1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

          You’ve given me some good things to think about. Particularly about what strong looks like… you may be right that I’m going by what I think others consider “strong” and I would be better served in doing what works for me to cope.

          Subtle strength – I like it and very much my style! Thank you!

  26. Governmint Condition*

    It sounds like #3 is in a government office. We have to follow the “you’re not a doctor” to the letter, and can’t send anybody home unless they ask to leave. Nor can we offer an aspirin to somebody who appears sick. They have to ask, unprompted, then we can give it.

  27. Roscoe*

    #1 . Yes, you can’t say anything about this. You had a bad situation with this person, which is unfortunate. That doesn’t mean they can’t praise her for good things she is doing. And there probably IS 2 sides to the story, as much as you don’t want to hear that. In any conflict, their are 3 sides. Your side, their side, and the truth. Its actually very professional of them NOT to want to pick sides here.

  28. TheAwkwardInterviewer*

    @ OP#2 (Pun Intended?)

    Depending on the job market in your field/area, it’s probably fine. I interviewed with a broken foot and got around with a knee scooter. It was horribly awkward. One interview required the interviewer to carry my knee scooter up a flight of stairs (no elevator) while I hopped up each step on one foot. That company made me an offer.

    Another interview I was late for because their handicap entrance required scooting all the way around the building from the parking lot (horrible design flaw) and after I checked in, I realized my car’s tailgate was wide open on a city street because the crutch I used to get to the back of the car slid down and prevented the power tailgate from closing. So I had to scoot all the way around and back. That company moved me to the next round of interviewing (I declined because I got an offer from somewhere else (not the company listed above).

    Sadly, that’s not the end of my awkward knee scooter interview stories. But my point is, it’s only a hang-up if you make it a hang-up. Just be honest but vague. Crack a joke about it if you can. If it’s temporary, make that clear. If they’re jerks about it, consider it a bullet dodged. In all actuality, this helps you more than you know because you can get a better read on the interviewers as human beings.

    Good luck and I hope you fast healing.

    1. LGC*

      I like how Alison has been making the bathroom related letters #2 in the quick answers this week.

      But man, yeah! Like…I read that and immediately got the sense it was one of those letters where the LW was making a huge deal out of something most reasonable people would understand. (I mean, there are certainly fields where LW#2 (tee-hee) would be penalized for having to (horrors!) poop at an inconvenient time, and I hope LW#2 doesn’t work in one of those.)

      1. TheAwkwardInterviewer*

        Exactly. I mean if the job is a call-center or retail and constant coverage is going to be an issue, well, that could be a problem, but most roles aren’t that rigid. It sounds like the bases are covered, and if they can take something before as some posters (who are sincerely clearly geniuses) have thought of, they’ll probably make it through the interview fine. Although, I could see nerves exasperating the conditions.

        Fortunately and unfortunately, interviewers are going crazy with the numbers of meetings now. But for #2 (here hee), that means the whole situation could be healed by the next meeting.

  29. LGC*

    So, I agree with the answer to Letter 3, but…

    Also, a manager states they spoke to an HR rep and the statement was along the lines of “You are not a doctor and cannot state factually that their illness is causing another worker to become ill and therefore cannot send an employee home.”

    From what it sounds like, the HR rep (or that manager) misunderstood LW3’s request. (The division head just sounds like a jerk.) LW3 is asking if WFH could be an option for sick employees, while the answer given seems to be for whether sick employees should be sent home. (I’m of the opinion that you should be hands off with an employee unless they’re obviously unable to work safely and effectively. So…in a limited circumstance, I agree with the HR rep.)

    Would it be worth getting clarity from the HR rep, since it seems like they misunderstood the question?

  30. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

    I’m annoyed on your behalf, OP1. It’s disheartening that the best advice is to just deal with the effusive praise of Petra, even though your coworkers are showing full awareness of your negative experience with her, but I see everyone’s point that saying something probably wouldn’t be helpful and that you can only control your own actions.

    However, depending on the spaces in which they conversations happen, you don’t have to be held hostage in them. If it’s in a break room, you most certainly don’t have to stick around indefinitely while everyone else talks, and even if it’s at your desk or in a work space, if it goes on for any decent length of time, you can always get up to go to the bathroom or something. Obviously, don’t huff and puff on your way out or make a show of it, but there could be situations you could naturally take yourself out of to avoid hearing it at least a little less. It might even help get the point across, though you might want to be cautious of doing it every time she comes up in case it makes you, rightly or wrongly, look petty to your co-workers that you’re incapable of hearing ANYTHING about her. However, if there’s a clear opening to leaving the space, you can definitely go for it.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Thanks for saying this. I agree, it’s the sucky road, but the right one to take.

  31. CM*

    #1 — Don’t explicitly ask them to stop praising the bully. Instead, when they do it — especially when they talk about her being an asset to the company, say “I would rather work with someone nice.” Or, “I think the company benefits more from people who are kind” and, if you have an example of someone kind, that’s a great time to mention that person and what they did.

    However, I think what you’re also noticing is that, when they say these things, knowing how your coworker behaved toward you, they’re signalling that they don’t place a very high value on how she treats people, as long as her technical work is on point. That might not be a culture you want to be a part of.

    Either way, don’t try to change their minds about her — just try to assert your own values in the conversation. For you, her being good at task X doesn’t make up for her being an asshole. That’s a totally legitimate assessment, whether or not they agree with it.

    1. Jamie*

      I think that’s a very nice sentiment, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      I’ve known a lot of very kind people that I’ve dreaded working with and some jerks I didn’t mind working with at all because their competence is what matters.

      Kind and competent is ideal, but in this either/or hypothetical for many projects kindness isn’t as useful.

      Bullying should never be tolerated, but using verbiage that indicates being pleasant always trumps harder skills could hurt one in the workplace.

      1. Anonthistime*

        They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s not at all hard to be kind. At minimum, it is not hard to NOT expend your energy towards bullying others, which requires intent. There are plenty of people who are respectful as well as competent. In the end of the day, people with your outlook are the ones who enable bullies, which contributes to toxic workplace culture.

        1. Jamie*

          I was referring to this wording making it sound like nice/competent is an either/or thing.

          Saying you prefer to work with someone who is kind rather than someone who is competent and kind signals your estimation of people has more to do with their character than their abilities as it pertains to the work.

          I don’t think bullying should be tolerated, but I don’t think kindness trumps skill either.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      OP#1 don’t do this. It not only points out that you are petty, but also makes you look like you don’t understand how offices run (because being nice is not as important as being good ever at work, being nice isn’t ever a qualification only a perk). Smile or go sit down when they praise the bully.

  32. TootsNYC*

    It sounds like you and he need to sit down and figure out how many last minute changes you’re willing and able to accommodate, and what kind of new boundaries you each need to draw (you with him, and him with his boss). Then he’ll need to have a conversation with his boss where he explains that because of elder care obligations, he can’t accommodate this much schedule chaos. Ideally he’d talk about how he and his former manager made it work, and see if the new manager is open to a similar set-up. But before that can happen, hash out how this will work between the two of you.

    I think you need to take the OUTSIDE the two of you, and not focus on BOUNDARIES.

    Focus on solutions.

    It sounds as though the ONLY solution you two have ever needed to accommodate his highly variable schedule is for YOU to flex.

    You can’t–so sure, that’s a boundary.
    But then what is the SOLUTION?
    Assume that his job is not going to change–what else can you do?
    Can you hire a babysitter? A mother’s helper type person?

    1. LilyP*

      I wouldn’t jump straight to assuming his job can’t change though, since his previous manager made a stable schedule work. The first solution to try should be pushing back on his chaotic new boss. Honestly, if the job doesn’t have the flexibility their family needs it to anymore a near-the-top-of-the-list solution to consider should be him job-hunting for something more stable.

  33. Not A Manager*

    LW1 – “I know you wouldn’t say this about her, but she is so amazing!” or “I know you had a bad experience, but I just love how smart she is.”

    I think you can keep a very neutral expression and repeat their words back to them. “You’re right, I wouldn’t say that about her.” “Yes, I did have a bad experience.” Pause. “So, those reports should be ready next week.”

    Thinking about the thread regarding facial expression and signaling your internal thoughts – I think what you want to convey here is that, yes, you had a very bad experience with Petra; no, you don’t want to hear about her; and that you are not going to put any extra energy into Petra or into this conversation about Petra.

  34. Laura the Lecturer*

    #1: You do not get to decide that others cannot like the person you don’t. You didn’t get along with this person; others did. It is not your place to tell them they are not allowed to praise her work.

  35. Anonthistime*

    Ugh #1 is difficult. I dealt with a bully in grad school – my first experience with bullying actually – and the thing about bullies is they are very good at isolating their targets. In particular, they isolate targets who they know don’t have much social/political capital, so that if the victim complained of their bullying, less people would side with them than they would with the bully. They ALSO tend to be very intelligent/capable people, so they also navigate the professional world very well due to competence alone.

    LW1 – I don’t think you can change people’s behavior and opinions of Petra. If it is at all possible, I would try an search for a different job in a company with better work culture. This is ultimately a culture issue for you. You are in a work environment that validates people like Petra and is not empathetic to people like you. If someone like Petra worked at my place (and we do have some unpleasant people here), I know for a fact no one on my team would be praising her. You can’t always guarantee that unpleasant people don’t work where you work, but ideally you would be surrounded by people who were like-minded in recognizing their behavior as negative and unkind.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Sorry you had to go through that in grad school. I can see how that can happen quite easily in the grad school structure with the unbalanced power dynamics. And very true about intelligent and capable people being bullies… that is part of the Petra love, in that she is doing things the organization needs (though she is, IMHO, bulldozing over people to get it done).

      It’s comforting to know there are places to work where people truly do embody the values they espouse. Gives me hope, thank you! I have really been thinking they don’t exist…

      1. Anonthistime*

        When I was in grad school, I was afraid everyone in my industry was like my classmates! Fortunately, they aren’t. Wishing you the best!

  36. Suzy*

    Re: Letter #3
    The only issue I can see with working from home while ill is that this could be abused by employees who don’t want to take a sick day, but really are too ill to do any productive work from home. It’s not really “working from home” if you’re not accomplishing any work – it’s cheating the system by not taking a sick day when you should. This has been an issue at my company.

    1. Bostonian*

      The same could be said for calling out sick when you’re not really sick (assuming sick days are paid time off). The potential issue isn’t the system, it’s bad players in the system. Just like employers should treat their employees like adults and trust them when they call out sick, that should extend to working from home/sick.

      1. Suzy*

        If you’re calling in sick when not really sick, whatever – you’re just choosing to use a PTO day, and it doesn’t really matter why.

        On the other hand, you’re trying to both be too sick to come to work but also not use up any of your PTO…that’s really different.

    2. Me*

      At some point you just have to trust adults to be adults, and handle those who are unable to do so on an individual basis.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This becomes a manager issue — be able to identify what ‘productive’ means, and hold people to the same standard at home or work. If they’re not able to meet a half day goal by middle of the workday, have them log off & take a half day off!

  37. AdAgencyChick*

    OP5, you can turn them down, but do be prepared that they *won’t* want you to freelance with them any longer. My old boss described a similar situation in romantic-relationship terms, too — “they told me we had to break up or get married, so we got married.”

    If the company in your situation is like the one with my old boss, they have started to realize how much money they’re spending on your services and they’re hoping to save some money by bringing you on as staff. If you won’t offer them a discount in this way, they may try to find one in another way — trying to find a cheaper freelancer, asking you to reduce your rate, or hiring someone else on staff who would then do what you’ve been doing for them.

    You’re probably awesome at your job, which is why they’ve been throwing you so much work and want you on staff — but the question is whether you’re awesome enough that they won’t still try to find another way to get the same work (or work that’s not as good as yours, but good enough) for less money. The answer might be “they’ll still try, and I’m okay with losing this client,” but if you’re NOT okay with losing them, I’d start trying to diversify your client base until it is okay.

  38. Jennifer*

    #3 Sorry if someone has already said this but this is something I hated about having remote access. If I’m sick, I don’t want to work period. If I’m home, no I can’t get anyone else sick, so that’s part of the reason why a sick person should stay home, but beyond that, sick people need rest. If I’m in pain, feverish, and my head is so congested I can barely sit up, why would I want to work? I remember needing to take a sick day and my boss asking if I could log in remotely. No!!! I. Am. Sick!!!

  39. Letter Writer #1 Here*

    Wow, thanks so much, Alison and everyone, for your thoughtful replies. I wrote in hoping for nuanced discussion of the issue and that is exactly what I got. So thank you! Many of you spotted some of the small details that made this such a gray area for me and ultimately prompted me to write, so I appreciate the insight and you giving the benefit of the doubt to an internet stranger.

    Firstly, what I’m walking away with: You confirmed for me that it is indeed too much to ask. Many of you suggested to keep a neutral face, focus on the facts, and generally let it go – I’m happy to report that’s what I’ve been doing and what I will continue to do.

    My coworker and manager are good people and I don’t think they have any intent other than that Petra makes them excited to work for our company. I don’t ever want to interfere with that. This is simply a rare situation where they are fangirling over a person who also happens to be Not My Favorite Person.

    Which brings me to a few details I want to clarify based on some of the comments and questions.

    It’s because our team functions so well that I thought it might be worth it to say something. I think the co-worker and my manager would be open to it because they are empathetic people. When they are being effusive about Petra, it’s typically because they are carried away with their thoughts and absolutely do not mean me harm or trying to persuade me to think about it differently (though not to say that it’s not possible, maybe that was the point and I missed it).

    This is also why it kind of bugs me. Sometimes they interrupt me at my desk to say these things, not because it is project related, but because they are excited and I am there in my open cube with nowhere to hide. However, I tend to not want to make things about me and be a killjoy, so I go along with it in a polite way.

    And it’s been going on for so long! I really thought it would have died down by now, but it hasn’t. It’s actually been kind of bizarre how much they love her; I have not seen them love another colleague this much. I’ve sat in meetings where they are so gushing that, even if I too were a Petra fan, it’s nauseating. My patience is wearing thin, and that’s another reason I wrote this letter. I actually found myself getting snippy with my manager last week in another round of “Petra knows what she’s doing and that’s why she’s like that.” This is not a good look either.

    But, I’m not in the habit of asking people to police their words to me. People outside of our team, I definitely do not expect this. I do not talk about Petra generally. My letter specifically pertained to my co-worker and more so my manager when they are speaking to me alone, directly. In fact, when I do hear others in the org talk about Petra, I use it as data gathering: Is Petra working on her behaviors? Is she still the same? Let me gauge their reactions, compare them to mine and see what I should work on or what I can expect.

    Some of you suggested responding in ways that would discourage my team members subtly from saying these things to me. It’s good advice and I’ve tried that a number times, but I feel like I’ve used that strategy up by now. Again, it feels like I’m pulling their enthusiasm down by making it about me and I don’t want to do that too much.

    In that sense, my line of thinking was wouldn’t it be better to just straightforward say what bothers me about it rather than subtly trying to divert the conversation or deflect? That way, they know what the issue is rather than walking away wondering why I’m such a downer. They already sort of police themselves when they suddenly remember they’re talking to me, so why not just build on that a little? One-time favor!

    All in all, even though it kinda sucks, I agree with you all that the best route is just to continue ignoring it.

    Petra has gotten better. I do not know if it was because she was disciplined or of her own accord. I did provide constructive feedback when she asked for it via our performance management system, so maybe that helped. In a cruel twist of life, I am back on the project. I left it a year ago with my manager’s support, and it made no progress despite my role being filled by others. I basically had to pick up where I left off. Petra is easier to work with but I am wary and sometimes a little physically ill. The good news is that there’s an end in sight, which is why I agreed to it.

    Yes, my company is one that has demonstrated time and time again that they look the other way when people behave like this. What’s actually kept me going is that my team is a strong one, despite this quirk!

    Thanks again, everyone! I want to respond to individual comments as well, so see you in there.

    1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

      Sounds like a positive outcome overall! I think you’re handling it the best you can.

      Granted, the fact that they go to you specifically makes it even weirder, but that at least would give you a very easy opening to tell them you’re busy if they go to you specifically.

      Also, I’m with you in that going on and on about the same topic can be frustrating, regardless if you loved her too. And even with co-workers I’ve adored in the past, it’s strange to obsess over someone that much, but whatever the case, it’s good they’ve at last benefited from working with her and that she’s improved, so best of luck on the project!

      1. Anonthistime*

        I second that this is unusual. I can see why it’s annoying, even if Petra weren’t a jerk.

    2. Not A Manager*

      Now that you’ve added that context, I think that at least with your coworker, you could say something like, “I’m sorry, Melissa, I just don’t share your enthusiasm.” Say it kindly and matter-of-factly.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They’re truly bizarre and it’s not normal to wax-poetic about a colleague like that unless they’re saving orphans and kittens from certain death on a daily basis. This sounds kind of like a weird hero-worshiping thing that is going on.

      It’s a Queen Bee issue which is why it’s bothersome to you or anyone else who has been treated poorly by this Queen of all others.

    4. Not A Manager*

      Another thought. Can you reframe this? “Some of you suggested responding in ways that would discourage my team members subtly from saying these things to me.”

      Obviously they are not being discouraged. But you could continue to be neutral and unresponsive as a way to signal to YOURSELF that you are not going to allow Petra to take up space in your mind.

      1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        I was writing quickly to round up a lot of thoughts into one sentence, so I can see how this summary comes across harsher than people meant it (the sentence about discouraging). However, some of the suggestions do read to me as subtly saying something similar to the effect of these comments are not welcome here, or at the very least not giving encouragement. I understand that this is a sort of polite approach where you hope the receiver will get the message, but if this is the intent, then why not go one step further towards full honest and say, “I know you mean well, but those comments will typically get a neutral look from me because of my history with Petra. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you or your experience. If it’s all right with you, can we keep our talk strictly business when it’s about her?”

        Or am I missing your point? Just playing devil’s advocate here… I’m still going to stick with everyone’s advice.

        Your second point about signaling to myself is a good idea! I think I struggle because when people talk to me, I like to give them some sort of reaction to simply say I understand. It’s tougher to do that when it’s praise about Petra, and I worry I am making them feel disregarded or that I’m not listening, or the opposite – that they walk away feeling like I am a downer who squashed their enthusiasm if I don’t react at all or just do a slight nod (or whatever it means to stay neutral and unresponsive).

        1. Ruthie*

          I think that next step does cross a subtle line. To broaden the example, if I declare that I’m not going to watch Game of Thrones, that’s well within my rights. However, if I start asking other people not to talk about Game of Thrones around me, that is officious. Because I don’t have the authority to make them do that and to ask it over-reaches the boundaries of polite behavior. In other words, they don’t have to take that from me. It would be a bigger social disaster than Edmure Tully’s wedding.

          1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

            I like GoT analogies! Using your example, what I mean is I think some people are suggesting I should give people a neutral look when they are talking about last night’s episode, hoping that they pick up the hint that I don’t want to talk about GoT. And I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be more proactive by gently saying I haven’t watched last night’s episode yet so I’m gonna hightail it out of here if you start talking about it – please don’t take offense!

            Something like that…

            1. I Took A Mint*

              I think the difference is that if you are neutral or deflective about GoT/Petra, then you’re still doing the work to manage your own problems with her, you’re taking on that responsibility rather than ask others to manage it or remember it for you. Whereas if you say “hey I haven’t seen GoT yet, please don’t talk about it around me” you’re asking them to remember where you are in GoT, be aware of where you are when they decide to talk about it, and share some of the work of making sure you don’t hear about GoT.

              Sometimes that’s acceptable! But it does mean you have to weigh whether this is a topic you can ask them to manage and if you have enough personal capital with them to do that. For example, I’ll remember that my friend has a tomato allergy and help make sure she doesn’t eat tomatoes. But I’m not going to waste brain space making sure two coworkers who don’t get along don’t have to interact with each other, or that I don’t talk about one in front of the other.

              1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                Hmm, okay, yes that is how I was understanding this too, and thank you for elaborating. I think where I have trouble with the first approach is that being neutral/deflective seems passive aggressive to me. Others may disagree (and I can see why), but to me, neutral/deflecting seems like it would have potential to send an incorrect, negative message to the recipient and they may be hurt or annoyed. In this instance with my two teammates, being honest and using my personal capital seemed like the less of two evils.

                However, that is not to say I’m right. Everyone’s comments have helped me debate through this gray area, so it is much appreciated! To be honest, whether or not I ever do anything about the situation, I am very relieved simply by reading everyone’s thoughts and see that you all had the same debate I did in my head! Thank you!

        2. Not A Manager*

          I was also writing on my phone, which is limiting. What I meant was, you could still stick to the neutral tone/lack of encouragement, not because it will send any signal to your listener (clearly it won’t), but because it will send a signal TO YOU. It’s like a form of self-talk. “Petra doesn’t matter enough to me to discuss her at all, for good or ill, because I am so over Petra.”

          1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

            Gotcha, then you were being clear before as that is how I was understanding it. I think I actually disagree with one aspect so that is why I was struggling with your response (rather than you not typing it clearly, the problem laid with me).

            I think where I disagree is that a neutral/deflective response would actually have a negative affect, as though I were being passive aggressive. This is where I have trouble with it. I would rather be honest with why I am behaving this way than being passive aggressive.

            I’m guessing many people don’t think this behavior is passive aggressive, but I do. I’m not saying a non-neutral expression has to agree/disagree with the speaker, but by not reacting, I think that sends an incorrect message on my behalf that has potential to hurt their feelings. I’d rather be clear with the two people why I am actively listening in all other areas of conversation, but with Petra talk, I’m suddenly mum. It may be that the recipient wouldn’t even notice, and in many cases they may not read it is as passive aggressive, but the risk is there, in my mind, and that seems worse than asking someone to manage their conversations with me.

            But in thinking over this last night (and thanks to everyone’s great comments!), I think I came to a strategy that might work!

            Rather than ask them not to praise Petra, the next time it comes up, I might say, gently, “I want you to know that, when you speak about Petra, I will be sticking mostly to business. That doesn’t mean I’m not listening or that you can’t talk about her in the manner you just did, but that I may not acknowledge anything that isn’t about business.” This way, they can keep speaking however they like and I don’t have to seem like I’m giving them the cold shoulder.

            Again, I’m not really going to do this – I’m going to ignore it. But this seems to hit both of the issues – that I don’t want to burden others with my problems/preferences, and I still want to be able to react in a way that doesn’t make me feel worse. What do y’all think of this?

            1. Ruthie*

              I can see why the neutral response to praise (as opposed to agreement) will seem kind of like a wet blanket/passive aggressive. Kind of like not laughing at someone’s joke seems passive aggressive. I worry that the alternate script of preemptive full honesty is going too far the other way and will come across as active aggressive. It calls a lot of attention to how much you dislike Petra and it would be difficult to not sound like you’re judging them for liking Petra also. But tone will matter a lot as to how this comes across.

              1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

                That’s a good point too. I’ll keep that in mind. It certainly wouldn’t help to make a Petra issue into a team issue!

    5. Heidi*

      Thanks for the additional detail. The excessive enthusiasm for Petra sounds barf-inducing (I mean, if she’s as clever as everyone thinks, she should be able to think up a way to get stuff done without stooping to bullying tactics), but it’s also all the more reason to avoid pushing back. People who are that emotionally invested might double down on the devotion and defend their Petra worship more strongly when challenged. And then you have a problem with your coworkers, not just Petra. Enjoy the view from the high road.

    6. Jenny Next*

      Just curious, if Petra is so wonderful and so smart, why didn’t the project make any progress when you weren’t on it?

      (You may find allies among the person or people who were supposed to take on your role.)

      1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        That’s a really good point about potential allies. As far as I can tell, one of the reasons for the delay is that the person who took over was too busy to work on it right away. Then they left the org (for reasons not related to Petra – can’t blame everything on her!). I also noticed that all the work I did on that phase (when I left) had been scrapped and they decided to start over with a redesign, so that may have contributed to it.

    7. AKchic*

      Wow… the fan club seems… I dunno, just… icky somehow? I’m mid-flair up (thanks snow!) so articulating things isn’t the greatest right now, and I apologize for that in advance.
      I just… ack. I know your cubemates aren’t doing this fan club thing *at* you, but it really does seem over-the-top. It reminds me of mom group cliques. You get that queen bee in there who will stir the pot and inexplicably act mean girl to random people and get her groupies and sub-groupies. The sub-groupies will have their own friend circles while still kind of hanging on to the queen bee, but wax rhapsodically about the queen bee to any and everyone they can, including the ones who’ve been burned by the queen bee.
      I really feel like you’re dealing with sub-groupies to a queen bee.

    8. Lehigh*

      I wonder if the previous person in Petra’s position, or the last person that your manager and coworker collaborated with in a similar capacity, was somewhat incompetent? Usually that’s when I hear more excessive praise in the workplace–when someone is just so relieved to finally be getting good work/cooperation/etc from a coworker’s role.

      1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

        Yes, you really nailed it here. Part of the reason they love her so much is that Petra is making changes to the org that are really needed and where we lacked leadership before.

    9. cheluzal*

      My takes:
      1. That crap would annoy me even if I had no problem with her! It’s nauseating and weird.
      2. Everyone wants you to be so careful and tread lightly, but your co-worker doesn’t have to? Bump that.
      3. They know how you feel. They know show she treated you. IF they know the physical sick response to bullying, them doing it TO you (around you is fine) is just truly bizarre….I would never gush about a coworker so much, but definitely not repeatedly around someone they mistreated. Sorry, but you give your coworker and boss more credit than I will!

    10. Cathy Gale*

      Really thoughtful and helpful for context. I posted the “Workplace Bullying Institute” definition upthread. I just want to say that having that as a resource really, really helped at my last position.

      {Our team was reorganized under a bully who had been with the company many years: I learned that she had bullied the previous person in my position and men and women on other teams. She had three main punching bags, my supervisor was one of them. She has somehow survived at least two internal investigations for discrimination – it’s obvious that she dislikes one specific group of people. I had to stay on for a while when my husband lost his job.}

      The reason I recommend Workplace Bullying Institute, and Robert Sutton’s books on working with “as*holes”, is because cultural change in these companies is usually pretty glacial. You can only control your immediate circumstances. WBI basically argues that you just have to take a proactive approach once you’re targeted, because reporting doesn’t usually help – and when it does, it’s generally because the person being abused is part of a protected group. Their materials are very helpful as far as preparing yourself mentally, and I think I would have been in much worse shape, and bullied more, if I didn’t use some of the strategies WBI listed, and read Sutton’s books to counteract the “gaslighting”.

  40. Roker Moose*

    Re: #1 I had a similar situation in my old job, where I was harassed and mocked constantly (for things like my hair, weight, clothing— never to do with my work) by my manager’s two superstars. It frustrated me to no end that everyone heaped praise on them for their excellent work. But their work was excellent. Just because they were awful humans, it does not invalidate their office skills. I completely understand how you feel, OP, but you’ll never win this. You need to either compartmentalise Petra— that is, try to forget the hurt she caused you and focus on her work acumen— or search for a new job. For what it’s worth, I got a new job and am much happier for it. Best of luck to you.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Thanks for sharing your story! Stinks that you had to go through that though.

  41. Anonny*

    LW1 – I’m inclined to say “ignore it for now and go job-searching”. Like, wow, these bosses have an employee who was bullied by Petra, even acknowledge this somewhat (“I know you wouldn’t say this…”) and still go on to effusively praise her in that employee’s presence? Have they heard of the concepts of tact and sensitivity?

    If I thought the boss was the kind of person who gives a flying about their employees, I’d say mention something, but I feel they’ve made it abundantly clear that they do not.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      The lack of tact and sensitivity is kind of what drives me batty, because my boss is normally quite good at being mindful. You hit a part of this that I’m trying to get across for sure. Petra has her under a spell of some sort!

  42. Remote workers can create tax issues for companies*

    Alison – are you aware that having remote workers is creating tax nexus issues for companies? For some states this can be a little as having someone work from home 1 day a week or a certain # of days in a year. This is a growing area of tax revenue for states – and HR may need to work with legal/accounting before allowing staff to work from home if home is in another state.

  43. Crowpocolypse*

    #1: Those people, including your manager, who know that Petra is a bully and praise her work anyway are telling you something about themselves. They are telling you that they value her brains and the work she produces more than they value you being treated appropriately in the workplace. They do not have your back and it’s good that you know that about them. You know what your company values and what it doesn’t. Very few companies are going to ding a high-performer for being a bully. You can’t change this dynamic so you need to adjust to it.

    As you probably know about bullies, they don’t bully everyone. They select targets they think they can get away with mistreating. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people who aren’t the target of a bully are happy to become passive observers, but not much changes from elementary school to adulthood in this regard.

    You cannot ask them not to speak positively about her around you. This would mark you as overly-sensitive, if you haven’t already been marked that way. Marking a bullying victim as over-reacting or over-sensitive lets everyone else off the hook because it means there is no bullying problems.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      You’re so right that few companies will ding the Petras of the world. That part is super frustrating! Do we think the tides are turning any time soon?

      Moving on is a good idea, since, as you said, the company has shown me what they truly value.

  44. Luna*

    RE: OP #1 — “Hm, perhaps Petra has improved since she worked with me.” and leave it at that. It makes it clear that things were not working out so well, professionally, when you two worked together. Maybe she *has* changed and improved her behavior and attitude at work since, which is why your manager is so impressed by her.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      That’d be great if she has! I have no issue with others having a good experience with Petra. In fact, I’d be happy that she’s moving in that direction.

  45. Helen*

    OP #5, you might not be able to negotiate much for salary or benefits, but it might be possible to negotiate to be allowed to still take on freelance projects (and if that doesn’t work, at least you’re making them say no instead of turning them down, which could preserve your current status, as other commenters are worried about). At my research job, we’re allowed to freelance but have to clear the work with our managers, to prevent conflict of interest/working for competitors, but it is possible. Possibly they’d be okay with a compromise like that?

  46. NicoleK*

    #1 As annoying and frustrating as it is, you can’t control or change people’s opinion of her. My BEC coworker is incompetent as hell. But she’s charming, outgoing, and gregarious. And people LOVE her and think she’s the best thing ever. That really gets on my nerves, but nothing I can do about it.

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      Ha, incompetent but likable people are sort of the same problem but reversed, isn’t it?!

      To be clear, I’m not asking anyone to change their opinions about Petra (I think it’s great if Petra is indeed more of a team player and an asset to the company), I’m asking for something like less effusiveness or simply neutrality. (But not really asking, since I agree with everyone that it’s best to just leave it alone.)

  47. Bryeny*

    Letter 5: Alison, if I’m reading this right, OP is contracting part-time for this outfit, which is why she has time both for other contracts and her own project — and she’s working for them at a lower rate than she made previously. Under those circs their full-time salary offer might really be a low-ball.

  48. Bulldog*

    LW1 – I would suggest beating these two co-workers at their own game. Since, by your own admission, Petra is very good at her job, when they say something that you TRULY agree with, join in the compliment.

    Them: “Petra did an outstanding job on Project X.”
    You: “Yes, Project X turned out well.”

    Them: “Petra is great at teapot design.”
    You: “Yes, I’ve always thought highly of her design work.”

    You’ll notice that responses like these focus on her work and not the person herself. If your co-worker comments are innocent, they will barely notice and you will have appeared to take the high road by adding something positive to the conversation. If your co-workers are being malicious, you will throw them off guard and they likely won’t know how to react.

    However, if they say something you find to be categorically false, then I would suggest you just go with a stone cold blank stare:

    Them: “Petra is a genuinely nice person.”
    You: ***Crickets***

    1. Letter Writer #1 Here*

      The crickets moment would feel quite satisfying!

      Those are good suggestions and I’ve done that from time to time, reacting to things I truly do agree with or at least can react positively to. I just hope it doesn’t encourage them to talk more.

  49. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1, please, please, please do not ask others to not praise Petra in your presence! At worst, your request will get back to her and she will use it as ammo against you and recruit others to bully you as well. At best, you will be seen as difficult to work with, unprofessional, thin-skinned and whole lot of other negative things.

    You’re making yourself way, way, way too vulnerable to her.

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