update: I work from home and my coworker wants me available 24/7

Remember the letter-writer earlier this year who worked from home and had a coworker who wouldn’t leave her alone, to the point of paging her repeatedly in her own home? She updated us in February, when this coworker had interrupted the CEO with work papers at a funeral. Here’s the latest:

I just want to give everyone a wee update-to-the-update — to cut to the chase, Karen wasn’t fired.

However. This is horrible and gossipy, but I am friends with the guy who has the office next door to Karen in the brick-and-mortar building, and he mentioned that our CEO, Norman, came into the office (he has been absent lately due to stuff with his dad’s death). Norman had an hour-long closed-door meeting in Karen’s office. The walls in that building are pretty thin, but my friend said they didn’t need to be — Norman apparently got “fairly animated” (friend’s words) about being approached to sign things at his dad’s funeral, and then brought up that this isn’t the first time this has been an issue. (My friend didn’t elaborate, just said that my complaints “among all the others” had been brought up — and then he decided he didn’t want to be essentially caught with his ear to the door when Norman left, and he found a project elsewhere in the building.)

Karen went home for the rest of the day after this talking-to, and that was on Tuesday. When she came back in on Wednesday, my friend said that she stuck mostly to herself, and is almost…hiding? People are coming to her for things rather than vice-versa, and she hasn’t paged ANYONE — not just me, but anyone. (I really don’t think anyone is missing it.)

I think she is embarrassed, probably mostly by her behavior at the funeral, and is now laying low. I’m hopeful that this will be a wakeup call to her, and that she’ll understand that her need to get work done doesn’t trump EVERYTHING. My friend with the neighboring office also offered that he thinks Karen isn’t very happy at home, and that with our grandboss dying, she was probably trying to really sublimate herself in work and get through it — I can be sympathetic to that, even if I think bringing contracts to a funeral is WILDLY inappropriate.

Anyway. Cheers! Thanks for all your validation and outrage on my/Norman’s behalf! You guys are all great (especially you, Alison!)

{ 105 comments… read them below }

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

    Always amazing how things get handled when you irritate the right, or wrong, person.

    1. RJ the Newbie

      Subscriptions, more likely.

      Good update, LW! She really needed to be talked to for her outrageous behavior. I hope she remains aloof.

      1. Troutwaxer

        Subscriptions, more likely.

        I’m very amused, because my family uses the same phrasing.

    2. Armchair Analyst

      yes, although it is against the website policy to diagnose her… we are all in agreement.

      All of us: We are all in agreement.

      1. Shad

        It’s not diagnosing unless we try to put a name on those issues. Just saying issues is the equivalent of pointing out that someone’s been coughing for three months and maybe there’s something going on.

      1. Yikes Dude

        I think as a society one of the few things we agree on is that if you are bringing up anything other than condolences and offerings of support at a funeral, you have lost the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Jack Be Nimble

    This post was a journey.

    Very happy that you, Norman, and the rest of your colleagues will be able to attend funerals and make coffee without fear. I hope things improve for Karen, as well!

    1. Lance

      Yeah, I can sorta feel bad for her… but at the same time, there are hard limits she crossed, and she was just asking for that sort of talking-to. Given time, hopefully things’ll get back to a reasonable level.

      1. designbot

        I feel a bit bad because she has been asking for a talking to for a very long time, and I think it’s a disservice to her that her manager(s) let it get this far. If she’d had a proper talking to when it was issues like OP had discussed, hypothetically she would have known that the funeral caper was 100% not appropriate and not crossed that line, and the whole thing could have been handled in a much more low-key way.

        1. Observer

          You know, I think that she’s get a bit too much slack here. I do think Norman was right in not necessarily firing her on the spot. But It shouldn’t take a stern talking to by her boss to understand not to do that – it’s really a major step up from her prior intrusive behavior.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

            Seriously. Most people DON’T need to be told how shockingly inappropriate something like that is.

        2. That Work from Home Life

          I feel a tiny bit bad for her, but only because I absorb other people’s awkwardness like a sponge and just reading all this makes me embarrassed for her. You definitely shouldn’t need a manager’s input to know not to bring up work stuff at the funeral of your CEO’s father. Lordy. That level of cluelessness is cringe-y to say the least. It belies deeper issues that are better addressed in a therapist’s office than in a meeting with your manager.

        3. I Took A Mint

          I agree, I definitely think she crossed a line but I think all of this could have been avoided if someone had stepped in when it was just OP being annoyed.

    2. Red

      Yes, I feel bad for Karen, but if you have home stuff to work out (and access to benefits, as most office employees do) *get a therapist.* I am not always a great person but I try to take my not-great stuff to my therapist/the gym/my spiritual practices, not inflict it on unsuspecting colleagues.

  3. Knork

    I admire that friend-coworker’s restraint. I don’t know if I could have stopped myself from full-on eavesdropping…

    1. Antilles

      Me neither, especially since I read the situation as unintentional eavesdropping. Not that he was leaning against the door trying to listen in or sitting with a cup against a wall like a sitcom, but just sitting at his desk normally and loud voices carried through the paper-thin walls.

    2. Burned Out Supervisor

      OMG, I would have been sucked to that wall like a “Baby on Board” sign.

      *I have no shame…*

        1. AKchic

          Does nobody keep professional listening devices in their offices anymore? Where’s my National Lampoon / SNL sketch scenario when you need it?

              1. Chilly Delta Life

                Have we heard from Hellmouth recently? I was scanning last Friday’s open thread but didn’t see anything.

    3. anon24

      Assuming the office is headphone friendly I totally would have popped earbuds in and not turned anything on so when Norman stormed out I could *look* innocent and naive like oh my music was too loud to hear a thing did something happen?

  4. Celeste

    Bad day for Karen, but a good day for everyone else. I hope it got through to her; I wonder if she damaged all of her personal relationships with that kind of behavior, too.

    1. SignalLost

      I would distance myself from someone capable of such a shocking breach of decency, honestly. It does sound like Karen has problems of her own that she’s trying to use work to solve, but just because you’re hurting doesn’t give you the right to hurt others.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

        Nor does it give you the right to be oblivious to the rules of basic decency and common respect.

      2. The Original K.

        Me too. And I’m not sure what it would take for me to stop thinking of her as The Woman Who Brought Work to a Funeral for the Bereaved to Sign.

  5. JackLondon

    Whenever I meet someone like Karen, I like to imagine the look on their face the day they decide to piss off someone who could seriously mess with their career/life.

    1. whingedrinking

      On some level at least it shows that Karen is clueless rather than malicious – someone who’s inappropriate with everyone, even when it’s to their own detriment, probably legitimately doesn’t know they’re doing anything wrong. It’s kind of the flip side of “if they’re nice to you but not nice to the waiter” test.

      1. Queen of the File

        This is really interesting and I’m going to be thinking about other versions of the “if they’re nice to you but not nice to the waiter” tests all the way home.

        If she *does* know she’s doing something wrong on some level (in the same way someone who is rude to wait staff might), it shows that her internal motivation to act in this way runs way deeper than her sense of the damage it is doing.

        1. I Took A Mint

          I agree. It sounds like her sense of what is appropriate is really out of whack, but she’s not being *malicious* about it… Man I feel awful for her because it sucks to be told everything you’re doing is wrong, but at the same time, if everything you’re doing is wrong, someone’s gotta tell ya…

  6. NotAnotherManager!

    I cannot agree with Norman more and admire his restraint as I would have been tempted to fire her on the spot at the funeral. I am glad he addressed that with her directly because it was so, so over the line. And, if it’s not the first time something like that has happened? Definitely feedback Karen needs.

    1. Tom

      Yup.
      Norman is a better person than I am.
      To me – the ‘funeral thing’ alone would be enough to eject this person from my office/company.

      I just hope that Karen realizes that she has been incredibly, unbelievably stupid (not to mention heartless, out of touch with common human decency etc.) – and she takes this second chance to clean up her act, get help if she needs it – and when all has settled a bit – appologize to the people she hurt or inconvenienced. (even if it just “i`m sorry i have been so difficult”)

  7. Arctic

    Norman seems like a really good boss! Kept his composure at the time. Approached Karen in private (well… almost private) to address the issues. Didn’t fire her but made expectations clear. (I think not firing was the correct call unless she keeps this up.)
    It’s always nice to have someone good in charge.

  8. Jennifer

    I’m glad Karen finally got the telling off she had coming to her, but feel frustrated that it took some this horrible happening before someone did anything about it. I hope Karen gets help for whatever’s bothering her at home.

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

      That was my point. Far too often the people with power will do nothing about bad behavior because it doesn’t directly affect THEM. This time it did.

      1. Jennifer

        Exactly! And I feel awful for him. I know he’s hurting. I just wish that ALL the other complaints had been handled beforehand so he didn’t have to deal with this at his dad’s funeral. When people aren’t corrected the first time they misbehave, they keep escalating until they do something so awful they HAVE to be dealt with.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood

        What I’m now speculating … Norman has only just inherited the business from his father. Could it be that his father was letting Karen get away with over-the-top behavior because of the length of time she’d been with the (small family-owned) company?

        1. Erin (OP)

          Hey! I was coming here to clarify — you hit the nail on the head. Norman’s dad was Karen’s direct manager, and this is effectively his first action with her as his direct report. I don’t think Norman really realized it had gotten so bad — the impression I got (via coworker-friend) was that after the funeral, he did a little investigating and amassed the various complaints from myself and others so he could address it as a big-picture issue with her.

          Norman’s dad was a touch past retirement age and very much willing to let lots of things slide or pretend he was ignorant of them for convenience; Norman, not so much.

          1. Jennifer

            That does make things clearer. It’s more understandable why this was allowed to go on for so long when you consider Norman’s dad’s management style.

          2. designbot

            oh, now I agree that Norman is excellent. I was thinking he’d let it get this bad before addressing it, but if this is basically one of his first acts as manager, bravo to him!

      3. Observer

        It’s also possible that he didn’t realize the extent of her behavior. So, if he got some complaints here and there, he might not have put the pattern together. But once something so crazy happens, you look at the bigger pattern.

        Also, in some cases what winds up happening is the boss does a reality check with some staff and discovers that what just happened is part of this bigger problem not a one off. Or some people come to him in the aftermath saying “That crazy thing Karen did? It was surreal and no one knew what to say in the moment. But it was really shocking coming from her.”

        1. Parenthetically

          Totally. Especially because, with behavior like Karen’s, it is really easy to convince yourself that it’s somehow within the range of normal, or that it’s just annoying but you should suck it up, or whatever. But a big, line-crossing screwup like Karen’s can bring a lot of other behaviors into sharper focus. “Oh, this is all of a piece — boundary-crossing, presumptuousness, control issues, hubris, aggressive cluelessness about propriety — and The Funeral Thing was just all that writ large.”

        2. Jennifer

          In cases like that, it’s still frustrating. If you’re getting multiple complaints about the same employee, you should put the pattern together. That’s how people get away with bad behavior.

          1. Observer

            Well, according to the OP, Norman (the current boss) actually hadn’t gotten all of those complaints.

            Overall, I do agree that if you’re getting a lot of complaints, you need to look at the pattern. I do think, though, that sometimes it’s more of just not seeing the forest for the trees rather than not caring about how others are affected. Still not great because really good leadership requires recognizing patterns. But not as bad from a human pov.

  9. Amber Rose

    It seems maybe she copes like I do, only with no common sense.

    If you want to work through whatever is troubling you, you use a personal project. You don’t pester literally everyone around you. Yeesh. Hopefully she got that message now.

  10. Hope

    Am I the only one getting a massive sense of deja vu? I could’ve sworn I read this update before.

      1. Hope

        Yeah, but I could swear I read this *second* update before. I started to scroll through the comments to that one to see if the OP had posted this update there originally, but there’s a lot to scroll through.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The OP posted it in an open thread a few weeks ago and I asked her if I could use it as a standalone update so that more people would see it, since her original letter was one that got a lot of interest. (In general, letter-writers, send updates in to me rather than open threads!)

      1. Yvette

        THANK YOU!!!! Please do this with other updates like that as well? It is so easy to miss something like this in the open threads due to the sheer volume involved.

        1. Pomona Sprout

          I secomd this sentiment! I actually don’t usually even try to read the open threads because of the overwhelming volume, so this update was much appreciated.

  11. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

    OMG how in the world did I miss the February update?????? Just…..wow.

  12. Smithy

    In a weird way I feel a little bad for Karen?

    She was completely out of line going back to the OP’s original letter – but I also feel that this kind of behavior is a little inevitable when you let boundary crossing behavior like Karen’s go unchecked in a meaningful way for so long.

    While saying “you don’t do that at a funeral” seems obvious – I think the reality is that when folks are already crossing boundaries it’s not as far of a leap. So yeah – just another plus for managers managing problems.

    1. Jennifer

      I felt kind of bad for her up until the funeral incident. There is simply no excuse for that. Any adult knows that you attend a funeral to pay your respects and/or offer condolences. Not to work. Going up to someone while they are standing next to their father’s casket and asking them to sign a work contract is just awful.

      The other behavior could be excused as extremely annoying but due to just a complete lack of social skills.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Truly ironic now that we’ve had an update from “Erin (OP)”. Karen’s manager was the recently deceased, and her new manager is the recently deceased’s son…who quickly let her know he would not put up with behavior his father overlooked.

        1. Smithy

          It also read to me like it was behavior that the recently passed cultivated. Aka get results ASAP regardless of boundaries or contexts.

          It brings to mind one of the worrisome realities of what can happen to you when you work for a dysfunctional place for a while. When the abnormal and inappropriate become normal then it can be hard to always recognize what’s a “this bad place survival mechanism” and “not ok everywhere”.

          1. Jennifer

            I just think there are times when your personal morals and values should override any dysfunctional habits you’ve picked up in the office. I’ve worked for dysfunctional people before and still can’t imagine ever doing that.

  13. Erin (OP)

    Hey everyone, OP here! As Alison mentioned, I originally posted this in an open thread about a month ago — to give you all a little idea of the timeframe, my grandboss’ funeral was in mid-February, and this incident was in early March.

    I think Karen is doing a bit better. She has totally, 100% let up on the paging, which is AMAZING. She also references my away messages (ie, “I was going to buzz you earlier, but I saw you had an away message up,”) so I’m over the moon about that. To those who say Norman is a great boss — yes, he is. The company culture is changing drastically under him, and it’s actually been fairly exciting (while also sad), and we’re now working on establishing a new set of norms. Grandboss was very much the type to expect long hours/working weekends/etc until the job is done, and I think that that probably contributed to a lot of Karen’s…Karen-ness, since she worked under him for about twelve years. And, now that she’s not actively stomping boundaries and annoying me personally, I’m having an easier time being compassionate towards her, and I hope things continue to improve for her.

    Anyway, long story short — I think everything is changing for the better, and Karen’s behavior looks like it was somewhat symptomatic of working for a boss who expected her to bother people until she got what she wanted. Time will tell if it sticks, but for right now, yay!

    1. starsaphire

      This is the best possible outcome, IMHO.

      Thank you so much for checking in and for giving us updates! Updates are awesome.

    2. kelly white

      If you feel comfortable, it might be worth mentioning something to Karen about how you see she’s made some changes- maybe not in a, I don’t know, accusing way (I’m not sure how to phrase that exactly)- but a casual, “hey, it feels like our communication has gotten better over the past few weeks”

      I’m sure she’s probably out of her comfort zone and a little positive reinforcement could go a long way-

      1. designbot

        or even just thanking her in the moment when she mentions holding off due to your away message, just a brief “Thanks, I really appreciate that” gives her reinforcement that she’s on the right track.

      2. JJ Bittenbinder

        That’s a very excellent suggestion, and you’re a good person for making it.

      3. I Took A Mint

        This. It sounds like Karen was so mired in toxicity she became toxic herself, but she’s really turning things around. Good for her, it’s hard to change your work habits of 12 years, especially after you’ve damaged your reputation and relationships so severely!

    3. smoke tree

      Thanks for the update! I admire how compassionate you’ve been to Karen in this update, considering how annoying she must be to work with. Hopefully she is able to get to a better place (and stops driving you crazy).

    4. That_guy

      You come across as an incredibly kind and compassionate person. Even in your initial question about Karen, you only were bothered by Karen’s behavior toward you, and not ascribing malicious intent to her. You even seemed to be looking for ways to see her behavior as rational. I’m so glad that this work place seems to be improving around you.

    5. AnonLife2

      Oh, geez, this changes my entire opinion of Karen. I worked with a Karen once – it was a Jan. Jan also worked for a do-or-die boss – long hours, every weekend, no going home if there was still stuff to be done, so Jan was working 6:30a-7:30p M-F and going in Saturday and Sunday, only to be yelled at because things weren’t done perfectly, or Jan hadn’t anticipated some small need, etc. Jan pushed boundaries, appeared to have no social skills, appeared to disrespect anyone who wasn’t her immediate boss, interrupted us no matter what, refused to do anything we needed her to do, got incredibly rude and pushy if she needed something from me/the rest of us and didn’t get it RIGHT AWAY, etc. That is how Jan had learned to survive in an impossible environment with an impossible boss.

      Once we all realized it (this was my first post-college job, and I just hadn’t caught on quickly; everyone else was very young, too), we stopped getting mad at Jan and started helping her out. We’d run the mail for her; we’d stay late and do our own clerical stuff instead of asking her to; we’d drop what we were doing and help her out if she needed info on our caseload; etc. We were all on the awful boat together, only she was the one being expected to row faster, harder, and longer than anyone.

      Just putting that out there.

  14. Kat

    I don’t feel bad for Karen at all. I mean it’s one thing to be clueless and pester your coworkers. But to think you and your work are so important that it’s ok to treat your boss like that is a level of cluelessness that goes beyond acceptable. Because I think most people understand hierarchies and the importance of not angering your boss.
    But then to have the gall to take something to the funeral other than sincere condolences is just…..I mean…..like what on earth was going through her head that she thought that was ok? Like I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around that thought process.
    So even if Norman’s Dad never spoke to Karen, I feel like there is a basic level of decency that all people are required to have and shouldn’t need to be told because you know, you’re human, you live on earth, and you should be able to absorb this over the course of your life and dealing with all kinds of people.

    I’m glad she was spoken to. And I’m glad she’s had the good sense to keep to herself. I hope it lasts!

    1. Important Moi

      “But to think you and your work are so important that it’s ok to treat your boss like that is a level of cluelessness that goes beyond acceptable.”

      This will probably be lost in the comments, but +1000000.

      You and your work so important….NOPE.

    2. Beatrice

      I have a Karen, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she inappropriately interrupted her boss. (Maybe not at a funeral.) She does deal with a lot of time-sensitive stuff and needs to interrupt people when they would normally expect to be uninterrupted, to get her job done, and I think that’s just hard to turn off.

    3. I Took A Mint

      I don’t know if it’s a sense of ego that drove this… the compassionate side of me is wondering how many times over the years she was asked to get something from someone even though they were sick, busy, on leave, caring for someone, in the bathroom, and all sorts of other boundary-crossing situations. OP says that Norman’s dad expected you to work until the job was done, and in that environment I can see her pushiness being a survival skill–literally the only way she would be allowed to go home every day. So the wrong instincts were rewarded and she became a toxic employee herself, until the day when the environment changed and those boundary-crossing tactics were not rewarded but punished. Now she has to come back down to normality and it’s going to be awkward but good for her in the long run.

  15. Clementine

    I would tend to think this situation is so unique that everyone at the company will know it’s about them. That tends to stop me from posting various interesting anecdotes gathered from decades of working. But a great story nonetheless.

  16. AlwaysAnOutlier

    I really appreciate updates like this! AAM is so full of interesting stories. I could write a novel about yours. :-) I do hope that Karen takes this to heart, is able to change her behavior, and that you all live happily ever after.

  17. OhBehave

    I LOVE updates! Especially those that work out like this one.
    OP, you were able to avoid addressing this with her thanks to Norman but I hope that if she goes back to her old ways, you will speak up to her. Karen was shown the wrong way to work. Hopefully she can continue with her new habits. As someone suggested, do thank her for not bugging you. As she looks back on her trained behavior, I’m guessing that she now understands why people may be icy towards her and is chagrined. I would be!

  18. MissDisplaced

    Well, I do hope it is a huge wakeup call for her, because man she had issues and no boundaries. But it seems maybe she isn’t truly a horrible person, just a very misguided one. I hope Karen settles down and learns from her errors in judgment and people can be kind to her in spite of it.

  19. Kenneth

    Norman’s restraint likely stems from him recognizing failures on both sides of the divide.

    Given how much she’d been crossing boundaries in the past, there were managerial failures along the way since she was seemingly never reined in. As such, while any decent person would recognize that Karen’s boundary crossing was unacceptable, this was likely something that happened more and more gradually over the years – the “frog in boiling water” analogy comes to mind. I doubt highly this was something that just started happening. It was something that started small and grew, with no one really doing anything to keep it in check.

    And it was something Norman likely personally never saw, so it wasn’t until it arrived directly at his door – or, rather, at the funeral home – that it needed to be directly addressed.

    And the dressing down Karen received was the way to handle it. That he did not demand her resignation on the spot is definitely surprising, but his restraint at the funeral home shows he’s willing to think beyond the immediate reflex – especially since an immediate reflex to the situation likely would’ve been emotionally-driven, and therefore irrational.

    I would love to know if Norman’s restraint is ingrained, or something he developed over the years…

    1. Ginger

      He was definitely aware there was a problem since he had a handful of examples to give to her. It sounds like he heard the complaints but didn’t really *feel* the pain himself until she crossed the boundary is big way. Then maybe he realized how out of line she has been.

      It’s unfortunate that addressing her behavior didn’t happen until she approached him at the funeral (still can’t wrap my head around that one) but I wonder if he would have talked to her if it had happened to anyone else beside him directly.

      1. That_guy

        I’m not sure the complaints came to Norman. See the upthread comment where the OP states that Karen reported to Norman’s father.

  20. AnonLife2

    When I was an admin, my boss once forgot to have important grant papers signed by his boss. (His boss was one step down from Company President.) The papers were due to be in the mail within two hours. He ordered me to walk across our company’s campus to find his boss, so his boss could sign the papers ASAP. I did that and found the boss: at an on-site memorial service for an individual who had passed away. I lurked outside the memorial service for a bit, then realized it was going to be a while, and went back across campus. My boss was outraged I hadn’t interrupted the memorial service and ordered me to go back over, go in, and have his boss sign the papers. I told my boss “no, that’s inappropriate, and I’m not doing it. Are you seriously asking me to interrupt a memorial service to have papers signed?” Defeated, my boss understood that, in his anxiety, he’d made a really, really, really bad judgment call. (My boss was usually pretty awesome, but, when he got flustered, his brain short-circuited.)

    So, like. WTF was Karen thinking?

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