my coworker turns everything into a doomsday scenario

A reader writes:

I’ve got a coworker (“Janet”) in a different department who’s senior to me in terms of ranking, but not my boss (she’s peers with my boss). I work with her on various projects from time to time, but she has this tendency that if something goes wrong, or she thinks it goes wrong, she makes it into a huge doomsday scenario and CC’s every person imaginable. She does this for things that do not matter.

For instance, the other day she needed some videos posted online. She emailed me on a Sunday to post these videos when it easily could have waited til Monday, but she’s senior to me, so I tried. Unfortunately the video files were corrupted so I couldn’t even open them, and I let her know, and that we’d figure it out when we were back in the office on Monday. She ended up CCing my boss, my boss’s boss, and two of my team members to see if anyone else could post these videos when that wasn’t possible, causing a huge email chain of people who came to the same conclusion as me — the video files were corrupted and this could wait until Monday.

Another recent example is when a tweet went out one evening by our social media manager promoting a new product. Janet was under the impression we weren’t supposed to be promoting this product yet (we were, it was fine for our social media manager to tweet this out and she’d been told to do so). Janet ended up causing mass hysteria by calling the social media manger’s boss 10 times (no exaggeration) in the evening when said boss was at home with her kids, prompting the boss to second-guess and ask her boss, who then had to loop back to the social media manager who confirmed she’d been told to tweet it out.

She does this constantly. Even if someone emails her a simple question, she makes it into a huge deal and CC’s people who don’t need to be involved. It’s exhausting and gives me a huge amount of anxiety any time I need something from her or do anything that might involve her, because I know she’s going to blow it out of proportion.

Is there anything I can do in these situations? I know I probably don’t have standing to do anything directly with Janet since she’s senior to me in ranking and in a different department, but is it worth talking to my boss about this? Or do I just need to accept that any time I interact with Janet she’s going to act like the world is ending?

Janet, sower of chaos.

I bet your boss knows. But there’s a weird thing where someone can know about a problem but isn’t moved to address it until someone else explicitly says, “This is a problem. Can we do something about it?”

Or maybe your boss only sees a fraction of it that you do, and maybe that’s true for other higher-ups as well. It sounds like Janet pulls a ton of higher-ups into her chaos-spreading, so I’d think someone would have seen enough to realize there’s a pattern and decide to address it … but if you’re in a big company and she’s spreading the behavior around, people in a position to act might have only seen it once or twice and therefore wrote it as off “odd overreaction” rather than “serious pattern that needs to be addressed.”

Who knows. But yes, it’s worth talking with your boss about it. You could say something like: “Frequently when I’m working with Janet on a project, if we run into minor hiccups that can easily be fixed, she responds the way I’d expect for a major crisis — sending panicked emails to multiple people over the weekend, cc’ing managers way up the ladder, and sometimes causing mass alarm before people look at what happened and realize it’s not a big deal. For example, that happened recently with X and Y and caused Z problems. It gives me a lot of concern about working with her, because it happens so frequently. I know I don’t have the standing to say anything about this myself, but I wondered if it’s something you’d be able to address, either with her or with (Janet’s manager)?”

Another approach is to frame it as asking your boss for advice. You’d use the same language as above, but the request at the end would be, “Do you have any insight into what’s going on or whether there’s something I can do on my end to head it off or handle it when it happens?” There’s a decent chance you’ll hear that everyone knows Janet is like this and no one thinks you’re to blame when it happens, but it’s just something you’ve got to work around. But who knows, maybe you’ll hear something that helps.

If that doesn’t get you anywhere, then yeah, you probably need to accept that Janet’s freak-outs are part of this job for now. For whatever reason, your office has decided to work around her and pretend what she’s doing isn’t disruptive and bizarre and worth putting a stop to. In that case, the more detached you can be about her, the better (and if you can detach to the point that you can see her as a comic figure, even better).

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    Janet must be exhausted being in such a state of hyperanxiety all the time.
    I kind of feel sorry for her, but sorry for you too OP. Hope chatting with your boss sorts it.

    1. Celeste*

      Whether it exhausts her or energizes her with purpose isn’t clear. I’ve worked with someone who absolutely considered it a character virtue to behave in similar ways. My feeling is that unmanaged anxiety is a real meat grinder to relationships.

      1. it's me*

        Maybe she does enjoy the adrenaline rush of drama but my first thought was a toxic workplace in her past that came down on her hard with the blame at the slightest opportunity…. I could be wrong.

        1. Antilles*

          That was my thought too, particularly given the variety of levels she’s including on the CC’s – there’s no reason to copy someone’s boss and grandboss for an issue posting a video unless you’re worried about CYA or blowback.

          1. Emily K*

            Yeah, definitely something warped/toxic in the back history – even if I’m worried about blowback for something, I am very rarely going to CC a whole bunch of managers AND the person I’m throwing under the bus and then talk about that person in the third person. Outside my own management chain I only escalate to someone’s manager if I’m being met with belligerence or radio silence.

            Within my own management chain, I’ll typically discuss mistakes directly and privately with people junior to me and if anyone senior to me needs to know, I have a separate private conversation with upper management to the effect of, “Just wanted to let you know XYZ happened earlier today and had ABC impacts. I took X action to address the immediate impact and talked to Charlotte to identify how the mistake happened and come up with a strategy to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” That’s “CYA” in a healthy environment. I’m covering myself in the sense that I don’t want to appear to be hiding anything from upper management, but it’s just an FYI to keep them in the loop – not a summoning for them to all gang up on the person who made the mistake in the email equivalent of “in front of everybody.” Praise in public, correct in private.

        2. Quill*

          I mean, I panicked a lot at lab from hell, but it usually resulted in me trying to cover up my mistake, whether that was as simple as “I made one too many samples” or “we only had one extra sample and I accidentally punctured it with the electrode.”

          … yes, these could be for the same project. I had a damned if you do, damned if you don’t boss who didn’t understand that research sometimes meant having a mistake buffer.

      2. Polaris*

        As someone whose brain defaults to hyperanxiety, I can’t imagine wanting to feel that shot of adrenaline when your brain decides that Everything Is Doomed Forever if This One Thing Doesn’t Go Right. It’s completely exhausting to bounce between those highs and lows, and it absolutely does destroy your relationships.

          1. Parenthetically*

            And/or that you think it’s the Only Right Way to Be. I volunteer with a woman who seems to think that the most appropriate response to a mistake/accident/oversight is to start rushing around to clean it up, and to look for someone or something to blame. She does it every single time, like flipping a switch, even for the most minor thing imaginable (recent example: a child at an event accidentally spilling a cup or two of water on the floor. She’s immediately charging around exasperated with a mop in her hand, looking for the child’s parents to scold for not keeping a closer eye).

            Some people’s personalities identify a breach in the routine or a deviation from the norm as something that it’s proper and appropriate to completely freak out about — like it violates some deep sense of rightness in the world for things to be out of place.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              My coworker is like that. There was a small hiccup in an event we were having, the kind that you respond to by just fixing it in a low-key, unruffled manner and it goes away. But she wanted everyone to know that she knew that it was a mistake, so she had to perform aggravation and horror and contrition so that everyone would know that she knew that a mistake had been made. And it just brought more attention to a small mistake that could have quietly gone away.

            2. Emily K*

              Ha, this kind of reminds me of one of my minor irritations in life.

              Scene: I’ve got a lot of things in my hands and/or I’m trying to do something with them at the same time, and I drop one of the items. Because I’ve still got my hands full or I’m still trying to do something with my hands, because it was not an open container and didn’t break into dangerous shards, and because the floor is not lava, I won’t bend down to pick up the item until I’m done and have shifted or put down some items and can reasonably carry the dropped item without dropping it again.

              When this scene plays out in front of another person, they almost always will bend over to pick up the item and try to hand it to me after waiting perhaps 3 or 4 seconds to see that I’m not moving to pick it up myself.

              It’s only a minor irritation because I know it’s done with the best of intentions to be helpful, but to me it’s low-key the same type of behavior as someone who flags all their emails as high-priority or freaks out over the tiniest of errors as in this letter. Like, it was fine for that to be on the floor for another minute. It wasn’t an emergency. Don’t be rushing me to pick it up again! I’ll get to it in due time!

              1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

                That IS weird. I’m likelier to offer to carry the item for you, and offer to take a couple things off your hands because OBVIOUSLY your hands are too full to put one more thing in them. WHy the fug would I hand you another thing? That makes no sense.

          2. Emily K*

            Yes, and it’s not like a dopamine-based addiction where your brain’s reward center is being stimulated. It’s a brain-state dependency where certain neural pathways become dependent on the presence of adrenaline and cortisol for optimal functioning, to the point where a person has so little “muscle memory” in their brain for how to motivate themselves without those neurochemicals, that they struggle with motivation and concentration when they’re not in that state. (State-dependent memory is a thing, too – if you learn something while you’re sleepy, or intoxicated, or stressed out, etc, you’ll have an easier time recalling the information when you’re in the same state as you learned it.)

            1. Polaris*

              I mean, yes. That is how my brain works, and it’s something I take medication for. But if Janet thinks this is the best or most emotionally satisfying way to work, of course she’s not going to see any reason to try and ameliorate it.

      3. a1*

        It sounds like she doesn’t believe what people tell her.

        “The files are corrupted, we can’t fix it until we get into the office on Monday” = Janet asking several other people to try.

        “The tweet was requested and approved” = Janet asking everyone she can to verify what is true, is it approved or not.

        1. Pommette!*

          Good catch, and good point.

          I’m a Janet. My brain is always hard at work puzzling out the different ways in which things could go horribly wrong, and finding the errors and oversights that could throw things off course. My instinct is to doubt myself, to recheck my own work multiple times, to see emergencies everywhere. Adapting to office and group work was really hard. I wanted (I still want!) to double check others’ work the same way that I double check mine. So I sympathize.

          But at some point, early on, it became obvious that the Janet approach approach was insulting, disrespectful, and would undermine any attempt at building real working relationships. I could either decide to continue working with other people, which would mean at least acting as if I believed them, while living with my anxiety, or I could accept that wasn’t fit to work with other people. Dealing with the anxiety wasn’t fun, but it sure beat the alternative. And in time, trusting other people (and even myself!) got easier.

          1. Okay, Great!*

            I don’t want to derail the thread, just wanted to give a quick acknowledgment to the hard work you must have done to get to where you are with your anxiety. It’s not easy, but so rewarding, to learn how to balance relationships around (outside?) of it.

        2. iglwif*

          Yes, I was thinking the same thing.

          Spouse has some people like this in his office (ask him a question, don’t like the answer they get, go around asking everyone else) and they are exhausting.

        3. Oranges*

          I need to see things with my own eyes sometimes. I know it’s annoying as anything but… for some odd reason my brain will insist that I double check. Even when I trust that person so much that I know I’ll find exactly what they told me.

          I actually think it might have a genetic component since my mom and sister are the exact same way. We all do this annoying thing. I’ve gotten used to saying “I know you looked into [issue], I trust you’re right but I just need to see for myself/double check because we’re all human”

      4. Just Elle*

        Yes, my workplace often conflates ‘hyperanxiety’ with ‘passion’.
        People who are constantly running around like Chicken Little yelling about how they’re single-handedly holding up the sky are seen as heroes and rewarded accordingly. People who just quietly resolve issues before they become capital-I-issues get no such recognition.
        And if you think 1 Jane, sower of chaos, is bad… imagine working with 4 of them who feed off of each other.

        All of which is kind of a tangent, but mostly I wanted to say: none of these people are actually anxious. They’re quite thrilled when they identify disasters to spread and then miraculously handle.

        1. STX*

          Ughhh, flashbacks to my former boss who was never happier than when there was an emergency and he could save the day. Never mind that we had been trying to have meetings for weeks to prevent that very same emergency that he never attended, or if he did attend he was glued to his laptop and did not participate, and sometimes even complained that we were wasting our time.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Yes, I had a boss just like that! Constantly putting out fires that never should have started to begin with, sometimes fires that she actively started! Ugh…

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I have absolutely worked with people who are energized by crisis. We actually fired a woman from one of my jobs (at a veterinarian’s office) for exaggerating and scaring the bejesus out of coworkers, vets, and pet owners. She didn’t physically harm any animals (and I do not believe she would have) but the buzz she seemed to get from the drama totally reminded me of stuff you read about Munchhausen by proxy. We were working 14-hour days and everyone was exhausted and she would get the biggest second wind when some ungodly emergency/something she could make sound like an ungodly emergency came through the door. But our boss caught her in just too big a fib and decided he was done with her creative interpretations. Thank goodness. Nobody needs that kind of extra stress in a job like that.

      1. 867-5309*

        I am energized by crisis – but by real crisis situations that require me to think smartly and act quickly. What you’re describing – and what Janet does – sounds more anxiety or attention-driven. Though, it also sounds like your coworker was lying, the drama and exaggerations were so extreme.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          She was . . . exaggerating. There were grains of truth but she’d blow them way out of proportion.

        2. the_scientist*

          I’m a volunteer EMT, and I find I respond similarily to crises — they sharpen my focus and my decision making skills and I think and act quickly and smartly in them. I find I am energized during, but drained after. What Janet does definitely sounds either attention or anxiety driven to me. If it is anxiety or the ramifications of a previous dysfunctional workplace I have sympathy for Janet (because unmanaged anxiety is exhausting) and also her coworkers (because unmanaged anxiety is also exhausting to the people around you).

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Oh, this was me at the vet’s. I was the one all the vets wanted in an emergency. But I look forward to it. I was proud, I guess, that I was so good under pressure but I didn’t relish it, and of course it was a relief when the animal was out of the woods. Our Janet was way too into it; she would look for ways to make the “excitement” bigger and last longer.

        3. Irinam*

          Yeah to the attention part of it. I used to have a friend that seemed similar to ‘Janet’. She still many years later, calls another woman, whom she refers to as a friend also, a cheater. Janet set up some people. It didn’t work out and after that, the friend dated him. There wasn’t cheating. Janet tells anyone who’s listening that the friend is ‘insults’. Janet doesn’t understand, she doesn’t care, she ‘isnt wrong.’ Long story, if she’s been doing that behavior for a while, 1- be careful how you get involved in it. Janet could turn on you as well. 2- Janet probably won’t give a damn.

        4. AKchic*

          Having worked with a variety of panickers, it kind of sounds like Janet has been trained to understand that *if* she panics, she gets the request she wanted done on the timeline she originally wanted. I.e.; the video posted during non-work hours. She also gets “to the bottom of” why it was corrupted and gets a lot of higher-ups to do that leg-work of figuring it out for her and absolves her from any potential blame while getting to play the martyr.

          Breaking her of her habit of panicking and everyone else of their habit to react / respond in the way she wants is going to be extremely difficult. Everyone reacts appropriately to panic because they truly do think panic means “emergency”. Janet is unwittingly training everyone to question other people’s panic and urgency (crying wolf) and could hurt someone down the line when a manager doesn’t respond to panic appropriately.
          Janet herself is crying wolf and will eventually have a valid reason to panic and enough people will be so sick of her panic routine that she won’t be believed and it will cost her.

          How to get Janet to stop her dramatic acts is going to be tough. Everyone needs to be on the same page. OP isn’t a manager, so there’s really nothing OP can do for that. All OP can do is manage how OP responds to her in the moment.

          1. Funfetti*

            THIS – I’ve dubbed the use of “panickers” to coworkers who want to get things done fast and/or question every decision. If they escalate to this level, they get what they want because people are giving them the benefit of the doubt behind said panic.

            1. valentine*

              Janet herself is crying wolf
              I am surprised people still trust her, like the social media manager’s manager. It’s possible Janet enjoys the flurry. Her reasons don’t matter. I wonder if OP and their manager can create a Chicken Brittle containment strategy.

      2. Filosofickle*

        I had a creative director — also the owner/founder — who was always throwing us into chaos. She’d sign off on a direction, then 24 hours before the client presentation, she’d say “You know…I think that other idea was better. Let’s do that instead.” (That “other” idea was invariably one of hers, one that wasn’t very good and didn’t meet the brief to begin with.) We’d scramble to redo a week’s work in a day. I thought maybe she was oblivious to the impact on us. Then, one day, she walked in and saw us running around like headless chickens and said “Oh I just love all this energy!” And I realized she LIKED chaos. She knew what she was doing. 0_O

    3. MissGirl*

      One of my coworkers was complaining about our Jane. He said something about how nice it would be that your biggest problem in life is a missing hyphen. I said she probably has the same problems as everyone else. If she sets everything on fire for a missing hyphen, how high her anxiety must be every moment.

      Our Jane was an external client so we couldn’t control her freak outs. I just learned to expect them and not freak out because she freaked out.

    4. GooseTracks*

      I worked with a Janet type and she thrived off the drama and attention of creating crises. It was a high-stress job where *actual* urgent matters often came up, so dealing with her manufactured emergencies was exhausting and immensely frustrating.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I have a close relative (like by-blood-close, not relationship-close) who seems to thrive off manufacturing drama. The result pretty much is that we all try to limit our time spent around her (she’s exhausting) and we don’t take her seriously at all (“boy who cried wolf” style). She can tell you something very serious (my kid might have cancer!!!!) and we all kind of monotone go “ohhh nooo…. so what EXACTLY did the doctor say and is the situation?” (spoiler: he has a mole, it’s not cancerous and was not even recommended to have it removed).

        But, something I think occasionally with my relative… What happens when everyone is numb to Janet’s messages and something serious DOES happen?

          1. Ewpp*

            The prob obviously comes in when it isn’t that (my kid might have cancer!!!!) , but did you know my son’s partner knew the grandchild had cancer!!!!) And didn’t do anything I told her to do. I told her it was serious!! Relationships don’t survive that and the drama queen knows that.

            1. AKchic*

              Oh, my monster-in-law won’t make up stories about her precious grandchildren (she’s not allowed to see them). Everything is about her. Always and forever. And the evil daughters-in-law who keep her darling sons away from her because we are so evil and trying to steal everything from her. The family money (there has never been any), the family property (not hers, never will be hers, and thanks to her, never will be her sons’ either), we’re emasculating, stealing their money (in my case, he didn’t have any and still doesn’t – ah, the joys of Millennial-hood) and she is the doting, put-upon grandmother who is being denied her sweet babies.

              The stories I have of that woman would fill up a library. No woman in the family enjoys her, other than her sister, and even her sister does it more out of duty than actual enjoyment. I went completely No Contact nearly 2 years ago. I should have done it a decade ago.

        1. Wing Leader*

          Oh, boy, do I have this too. It’s actually a family member’s fiance. Ditto on the cancer scares. “So-so wasn’t feeling well this morning so I rushed him to the ER, and he might not make it!” Eyeroll.

  2. HailRobonia*

    I like the sign that says “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      That’s one of my faves too. I also like the one that says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Janet needs something more along the lines of “your inability to make a decision does not require a referendum from the entire company.”
      Janet wants the videos up on Sunday. They can’t go up on Sunday. Instead of saying, “whoa, that sucks. Let’s hold off then, she wants everyone involved so that someone else has to say, nope. Not doing it.” She thinks the tweet went out prematurely (Premature Tweeting is my next user name after Hilda Dyonne). She won’t ask the media manager who posted it about the status. She asks everyone else so that she is not the one to say, take it down.

        1. valentine*

          She thinks the tweet went out prematurely […] She won’t ask the media manager who posted it about the status. She asks everyone else so that she is not the one to say, take it down.
          But she can just mind her own business. No one will be mad at her if the tweet was in error. I wish she could face off with Tiger Mike.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I think Tiger Mike would take the wind out of her sails real quick; he wouldn’t have time to put up with her shenanigans and no compunction about telling her so (or having his secretary type up a memo telling her so . . . )

        2. GreenDoor*

          I’d be irritated if I was the social media manager, too. Hasn’t any of her peers told her to “stay in her lane?” I wonder if this is all about her wanting to look like the Best, Most On-Top-Of-Things Manager in the Whole Wide World so she jumps on every little thing to show off how great she is at handling all of The Problems?

          Were I her colleague, I’d put a stop to this in a hot minute. But the OP isn’t a peer. I agree with Alison’s advice – frame this as a “help me solve this problem” question and see where it goes.

      1. Nikara*

        Same. Emergency Management for the win. Everyone else’s lack of planning is literally our problem…

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m personally a fan of its close cousin “failure to plan on your part does not create an emergency on my part.”

      Yup, used to use this frequently at a former job (and my boss was well aware I was using it with this particular co-worker). He just never was willing to invest any time in planning, and hated that I wouldn’t drop support things for other people for him. I supported a whole department, not just him.

  3. Chaotic Neutral*

    Janet sounds like a pill and a drama queen. I’d stick to being as factual and calm as possible when she does this stuff, much the way you would handle a toddler freaking out.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, without hearing the sound of Janet’s voice to see if she has actual FEAR that the sky is falling, she sure does seem to derive some sort of pleasure in yanking everyone’s strings to make them dance to her tune exactly when she wants. I wonder if there is ever a smooth project with Janet. If the video had been fine and uploaded perfectly, would that have been sufficient, or would Janet have found SOMETHING to call all the people? She could have anxiety, but she could also just be bored or lonely and loves the attention or burst of activity.

  4. Squeeble*

    I wonder if it would make a difference if any time you need something from Janet, you call her or go to her in person to ask for it. It won’t solve her tendency to overreact, but I’m thinking that at least it won’t be as easy for her to pull other people in.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I don’t think that’s going to change her MO.
      OP schedules a meeting to discuss a project. OP provides a list of resources, goals and a schedule.
      Meeting ends.
      Jane emails her boss, OP’s boss and on to state that the schedule is now set and what if we can’t meet the deadline. Awww, oh no!

    1. Shhhh*

      My former boss was a Janet–he didn’t involve our hire ups most of the time (thank goodness), but he treated everything like a level 10 crisis. So to detach myself from his catastrophizing, I turned off the push notifications for my work email on my phone and checked my email only sparingly in the evenings or on weekends. I never felt entirely comfortable not checking at all, but limiting it like that at least helped me manage my own anxiety.

    2. san junipero*

      Literally what I came to the comments to say. I work from home, but on the weekends I close my work inbox, Slack, any work-related sites until Monday, unless there’s a very significant reason to do otherwise.

    3. Aquawoman*

      Except I’d be concerned that it’d be a bad look to not be responding to emails involving higher-ups on the weekends. Even if Bigger Boss eventually realizes that the “crisis” is a faux crisis, there might be an initial concern and not having the knowledgable person answer their emails may give an initial impression of not being on top of things.

      1. pleaset*

        “Except I’d be concerned that it’d be a bad look to not be responding to emails involving higher-ups on the weekends. ”

        Maybe that’s a good look. Depends on the job and expectations.

        Also, what AdAgencyChick said below.

  5. MD*

    For things like weekend or after hours “emergencies”, is it possible to pretend like you never saw the emails/got the phone calls and address them next business day? Maybe Janet will tire herself out if no one responds to her crises.

    1. mark132*

      I quite literally DO NOT. I don’t check my emails outside of business hours unless I have a specific reason too. Sometimes I don’t get the phone calls. I like to spend my time on weekends often in places that don’t have cell receptions. Fortunately most of my coworkers aren’t so “nervous/twitchy” as Janet.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I was gonna say. OP, I know you were nervous about ignoring Janet since she’s senior to you. I’d suggest giving your boss a heads up: “Given that Janet can tend to get worked up about minor situations, I’m going to try not responding to her emails on weekends and after hours.”

      If you have a good boss, she’ll have your back, and Janet will either annoy someone else or tire herself out trying to get a response from you. If she complains to your boss, then (again, assuming you have a good boss), your boss will say, “Yes, I think it’s perfectly reasonable that OP waited to address Nonemergency until normal business hours and that’s how she’s going to continue to operate.”

    3. Arya Snark*

      This is what worked for the Janet I’ve dealt with. I first asked my boss just how important Janet was and if she behaved this way with everyone. Boss told me she wasn’t a big deal and loves a crisis. From there on, I instructed my team to ignore her escalation efforts in circumventing our processes to get what she wanted when she wanted it (not needed it, to be clear). It didn’t stop her from the drama but we stopped reacting to it and were much happier.

    4. vlookup*

      OP might want to confirm expectations with her boss around responding to after hours requests. Getting a video posted absolutely seems like something that could wait until Monday, but it’s nice to know that your boss will back you up if you ignore a request until business hours.

  6. Feline*

    We have a Janet, too. I got 7 emails in 37 minutes from her recently, followed the next day by 6 emails in 14 minutes. I have learned to work on my Janet’s urgent items at a reasonable pace for a human to accomplish things rather than freaking out about the additional items piling up. She can cry wolf all she wants, either I can get it done or there’s no time.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      See, this to me seems like the problem with LW’s company. If everyone acknowledges Janet’s penchant for melodrama, they would just ignore it or treat her requests with the priority they deserve, but it doesn’t sound like they do that. It sounds like when she goes bananas people feel compelled to respond to her and perpetuate the cycle.

      My company has a similar dynamic with some of our sales reps–they do a similar thing. If a customer has an issue or question, instead of contacting the team responsible for addressing it, they email all the senior leaders with URGENT! and ALL CAPS! and THE SKY IS FALLING! and the leaders, who have seen this dog & pony show before and should know better, pass along that unneeded urgency to the team. So, we end up setting aside possibly real issues from people who direct them through proper channels to spend an unnecessary amount of time calming ruffled feathers and fixing things that may or may not be actual customer problems, just disastering on the part of the rep or a minor issue that the customer’s not even that upset about.

  7. mf*

    I would avoid responding to Janet’s emails after hours. Or, if you can’t avoid it, respond with something like: “This doesn’t sound urgent so I’ll take care of it on Monday morning.” That won’t soothe Janet’s anxiety but at least you’ll only have to deal with it at the office!

    1. Hedgehug*

      I would not recommend this because Janet is OP’s senior and this will come off as insubordination.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        It really depends. Janet isn’t LW’s boss. And if it doesn’t need to be done over the weekend LW’s boss shouldn’t be upset about the LW making the call to wait until normal work hours.

      2. Jadelyn*

        It’s only “insubordination” if you were told to do something by someone who has the authority to tell you, and you refuse to do it after being told. Gently pushing back on someone who’s senior but you don’t directly report to them isn’t “insubordination” except at the most dysfunctional, rigidly-hierarchical companies.

      3. mf*

        It’s not insubordination to say, “My read on the situation is that this is not an emergency, and therefore my plan is to wait until Monday to complete the task.” That’s called *communication.*

    2. it's me*

      But it sounds like this is what not only the LW but several other people replied with and Janet’s response was to escalate.

      1. mf*

        Well, I think it’s fine if Janet escalates it–if Janet’s boss decides it is an emergency, then that person will tell the OP the video must be posted over the weekend. But let Janet worry about that–there’s no reason OP should have to manage the escalation process during her free/non-work time.

      2. Librarian1*

        If Janet escalates, it’s no really the OPs problem, though. It doesn’t sound like the OP is getting in trouble for anything.

  8. Theelephantintheroom*

    Omg, I work with a Janet and she makes me NUTS. The majority of her freak-outs come from her not understanding technology very well and not trusting those who do. It is SO frustrating and I try very hard to just keep her out of the loop as much as possible (because she doesn’t actually need to be in it normally, but sometimes people CC her without thinking and then…chaos).

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Our Janet retired about five years ago. She and I got along fine but I do not miss her at all as a coworker.

    2. MsSolo*

      My mum does this – the technophobia coupled with low key anxiety she doesn’t acknowledge is anxiety means she thinks she’s being completely rational about not trusting the GPS and we’re all the fools for trying to tell her that when it says left just turn left, and then we spend an hour going round in circles and as far as she’s concerned it’s more evidence the GPS is the problem and she was right not to listen to it. Because she doesn’t understand it, it can’t be her fault when it something goes wrong, so like Janet attaching corrupted videos the issue is clearly something big and huge and needs everyone’s eyes on it, rather than “don’t hit send before the attachment has finished loading”.

      I do wonder if individuals like this used to have an understanding of all the tools at their command, and part of the flailing is about the fact that understanding has failed to keep up with innovation. Not being able to tell what’s a small blip compared with a sign of imminent system collapse means everything has to be treated like an imminent system collapse (and, cynically, if you make a big enough fuss maybe the old systems you did understand will get reinstated because they’re nice and trustworthy).

      1. BethDH*

        This is great suddenly explains some of the things I’ve seen at my work. How did I not notice that every instance had a technology component to it?

    3. Lora*

      Seconded. I actually am mired in a huge project which is plagued with Janets, as they have transferred from another part of the company into this project and have no experience with this specific technology, but are experienced enough in their old division’s technology that they *think* they know what they are doing and you can’t tell them anything about needing training to learn the new things or else let the experts who have been doing this 20+ years just do our jobs, please.

    4. Sophia Brooks*

      I have a combination of technology Janets, and IT who is not responsive and doesn’t give advice in real words. I am the middle, mediating this. It is very frustrating, but people do panic about technology on the regular.

  9. Minocho, blasé about Chaos*

    The boy who cried wolf scenario is a big problem here. I would naturally start to roll my eyes and ignore Janet, and someday she could appropriately freak out, and I wouldn’t notice because of all the noise.

    If I were even just a peer with her, I might try to address it with her once I realized it was happening. But man, now exhausting.

    I have friends with issues like this, and I’ve had to detach to maintain even an acquaintance level relationship. Ugh.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That was exactly my first thought. One day, there will be a genuinely serious problem and everyone will ignore it, assuming Janet is just freaking out again. Maybe that’s something OP can point out to her boss as well.

      Good luck, OP. I was exhausted and irritated just reading this letter, can’t imagine how this must be to live with.

    2. juliebulie*

      My first thought as well. When you have a solid track record of raising alarms that turn out to be false alarms, people will stop paying attention to you.

      I’m surprised people still pay attention to Janet.

    3. AKchic*

      That is my main concern too.

      I would have already implemented (in)actions to minimize Janet’s “noise”. I’ve worked with many Janets over the years. A few have been my supervisors. I’m even related to a few Janets (by blood and by marriage). When at all possible, I stop associating with them. I don’t get paid enough to handle your drama, so I won’t. I will do the work, certainly, but I’m not going to wade through the rest of it.

  10. blink14*

    Don’t check emails outside of work hours, unless you absolutely have to. This is creating part of the problematic cycle – and that’s not just on you, that’s to everyone checking and responding to emails in off hours. It creates an expectation that you and/or your co-workers will respond no matter the time and day. She needs rules in place – create some by limiting your off hour interactions with her.

    If your job does require you to be online outside of business hours, don’t respond to Janet’s emails unless you know it is a true work emergency. If you feel like you must respond, to stay in line with the office culture, say something like “Janet, thank you for bringing this to our attention, I will attend to the matter first thing Monday morning” or something along those lines and cc your boss.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      Yep, I don’t have my work email on my personal phone. If my company wants me to check email on weekend, they have the option of buying me a phone.

      Also, my phone automatically goes into privacy mode at 8:00 every night. Unless you’re on my family list, the audible notification does not sound. (I figured out how to do this after getting a string of rage texts from my boss that started at 7:00 and ended well after midnight.)

      1. rayray*

        I agree.

        And, in addition to purchasing a phone for me or reimbursing the costs, I should also be paid for on-call hours if I am expected to be available to work on a whim like that.

          1. Jadelyn*

            First of all, that was weirdly combative and aggressive. Maybe rein that in a bit?

            And secondly, did you mean that’s not how it works for exempt employees? Since exempt employees are paid on a salaried basis regardless of specific hours worked?

            Because non-exempt employees must be paid for all time worked, and would need to be paid for any time worked outside of regular business hours, including any time where they’re truly on-call – meaning, expected to keep themselves available for any work task that might arise during their on-call time, which means they can’t use their time entirely as they might prefer since they need to stay available. Being expected to occasionally respond to work emails after hours might or might not rise to the level of being considered on-call, depending on the specifics, but being paid for on-call time is in fact how it works for non-exempt employees.

          2. rayray*

            Maybe depends on the organization. I’m non exempt and I will not check emails or answer any calls if they try to get me outside work hours. It hasn’t happened, and I suppose if it does and they don’t like it, I can just find a different job. Work-life balance is important to me, and if I’m not a CEO or upper manager of any kind, and especially if I don’t receive fair compensation, I don’t need to put up with it. There are other jobs.

      2. blink14*

        Totally agree as well. If I have to, I will check my work email through a browser on my phone, but it is not loaded in my phone email app. There are a couple of dates during the year that I will offer to check email – having to do with a program cycle – but that’s more to save myself the hassle of a billion phone calls in the morning when I can respond to 10-12 emails within 30 minutes.

        Otherwise – no work of any kind outside of my business hours.

      3. Liz*

        This 100%. thankfully its not a requirement of my job that i be “tuned in” at all hours of the day and night, and any time I’ve had to do things after hours its been well communicated before hand, and happens once in a blue moon. But I agree; if it suddenly becomes a requirement, they can buy me aphone or pay for the difference in service i might need.

      4. Jadelyn*

        I used to have my work email on my phone, then they decided to really pare down who was eligible for cell phone reimbursement and I didn’t make the cut. So I removed the app from my phone. I’m not donating my data or tech if they’re not willing to chip in on it.

        I have an “approved list” of maybe half a dozen folks from work who I will answer texts or calls from outside of work hours, all of whom have good judgment about what’s urgent and what’s not and are knowledgeable about the things they might need from me so I know I’m not going to wind up chasing shadows on their behalf. I know if I hear from one of them, it’s both important and urgent and they’ve already tried to handle it themselves, so I’ll answer them. Everyone else goes to voicemail/gets marked as read, and I’ll deal with it on the next working day.

        (I’m really morbidly curious about what kind of string of rage texts can take over a 5 hour period?)

      5. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Rage texts from your boss until midnight?!
        Please tell me the missing word in that sentence is “former”!

        People, this can’t be repeated often enough – unless you are *paid* to work out of normal business hours, you shouldn’t *work* out of business hours. Workplace culture needs to change because employees need true downtime. We’re human beings, not robots, and we need to rest between shifts in order to perform at our best during the times we are exchanging our labour for money.
        OP doesn’t specify, but unless Sunday is a normal working day (it could be, not everyone does M-F 9-5), you shouldn’t be checking work email on any day starting with an S!

    2. san junipero*

      If OP genuinely has to be on email during non-business hours, one idea might be to funnel Janet’s emails into a separate folder that OP can check maybe once or twice a day. That way they don’t have to put up with the constant barrage of irrelevant panic emails.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      Agreed. This sounds like a work-cultural problem that is bigger than just Janet. She can’t get the feeding frenzy going on her own. That takes multiple people willing to chase their tails on a Sunday evening because OMG THE VIDEO WON’T UPLOAD.

      If we had a Janet at my workplace, I would be pushing for a clearer definition across the organization of what is worth escalating on the weekend for. Burnout is real, and it is not a joke.

      People like this sometimes justify it to themselves by thinking “well, they can always ignore it if it’s really not that urgent.” But the people it is done to assume you wouldn’t have taken the extraordinary step of poking them on the weekend if it wasn’t.

  11. Detective Amy Santiago*

    If that doesn’t get you anywhere, then yeah, you probably just need to accept that Janet’s freak-outs are part of this job for now. For whatever reason, your workplace has decided to work around her and pretend like what she’s doing isn’t disruptive and bizarre and worth putting a stop to. In that case, the more detached you can be about her, the better (and if you can detach to the point that you can see her as a comic figure, even better).

    If you get to this point, might I suggest Janet Bingo? You make a card containing a mixture of scenarios and actions and tick them off when they occur. When you get a bingo, you can buy yourself a nice present.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      LOL! Love this idea. I should totally do that with the Mean Girls style clique we have in our office.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Don’t write it down or print it out, and if you do, don’t take it to work. Someone will see it and then *you* will be the problem.

  12. Zephy*

    Man, I don’t know what Janet’s problem is, but I bet it’s hard to pronounce.

    The best-case scenario here really is that everyone who matters already knows that Jane just be like that sometimes, and for their own inscrutable reasons, they have decided to work around her rather than try to address it. If TPTB somehow aren’t aware that there’s a problem, I imagine Janet will hit DEFCON 1 when they start looking into it.

    1. EPLawyer*

      IF the Powers That Be know she is like this, they are generally ignoring her. Which means you can safely do so also. It’s just how she is. You stay calm in the face of chaos. It won’t reflect on YOU that she has a freak out over minor things.

      1. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, the best thing to do is respond calmly and reasonably. More than once, I’ve reacted calmly to someone trying to start something, took the wind right out of their sales. Didn’t necessarily solve the bigger problem, but it got them off my back.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    I sometimes wonder if higher-ups don’t (fail to) respond to people like this because, well, they’re used to subordinates absorbing the impact for them. It’s the LW and her peers that are sent into a frenzy, not their bosses (or at least, not their bosses at first). So, yes, I think the LW should go to her own boss and tell her that this is a problem and see if it’s advisable to carry on, or if the LW can have permission to ignore Janet’s histrionics until Monday.

    I rather wonder if deadening the response here might dial back Janet’s Chicken-Littling, if they don’t set off the commotion she’s used to. Sometimes the best way to respond to attention-mongers is to respond absolutely as little as possible.

    1. P peace*

      It might or not. Sometimes the deadening response makes that type more amped up. They aren’t getting the attention they need!!!! From you and sense that in a big way you don’t care. They don’t care why that is.

      1. san junipero*

        This is actually a known behavioral psychology thing called an “extinction burst.” It’s exactly like you said: the person doesn’t get the reinforcement they want, so they ramp up their efforts. Most of the time, if you stick to your guns and simply and calmly refuse to engage, they’ll eventually get the message and either get over it or storm off to try it with someone else.

        I was a special ed teacher for many years, and this is one of the tactics we use with kids who act out for attention. With kids, we try to be gentle about it (such as offering lots of positive attention when they’re not acting out); with adults, I think you can be a lot firmer and cooler.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I was just thinking that sounded like classic extinction burst behaviour…
          Exasperating in my own kids, and it would be utterly infuriating from an adult! But persevering really is the right course.

    2. Bostonian*

      Yeah, the right (or wrong?) people haven’t been inconvenienced by her yet. I can think of a few choice members of upper management at my company who would totally shut that down if they got an “urgent” call on a weekend while with family about something that wasn’t actually a problem.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I am one of those people, and I do not respond to such emails for several reasons.

      1) the more people who are copied, the less likely I will respond because I know someone else will do it before I have the time.

      2) if I have no idea what the email is in reference to (program, tweet, product, etc.), then I figure the sender is like Janet and panicking for help from anyone, not me in particular. I couldn’t help even if I wanted to.

      3) usually the sender is a well-known Janet so I don’t bother reading beyond the first two sentences. Reading those lines is my bare minimum effort to make sure there’s no real emergency.

      I was raised by someone like this so I’m more likely to write them off and not let it affect me.

  14. DarthVelma*

    I see a lot of folks suggesting the OP just not check email outside of work hours, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea when Janet has shown she will email the OP’s boss, boss’ boss, etc. That’s what would have Janet’s butt in my office explaining herself – if I told her a file was corrupt and it could wait until tomorrow to upload when we were actually at work and she went over my head that way – well, it would not be pretty. And if I didn’t like her answers, we’d be in her boss’ office. It was enormously disrespectful and I don’t think the OP should put up with it.

    Seriously, at this point I would expect upper management to tell Janet she’s no longer allowed to call or email anyone outside of work hours. She’s proven that she doesn’t have the judgement to determine what is actually a work “emergency”.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would have a conversation with my manager first, relay the details and ask if they trust me to determine if something is urgent, and are on board with me either ignoring the message or responding with a simple “This can wait until -next business day-, then ignoring any further communication. But OP and others need to find a way to stop responding and set some boundaries. That’s the only way this is going to change.

    2. WellRed*

      “Janet has shown she will email the OP’s boss, boss’ boss, etc.” Eh, so what if she does? In the case of the videos, she did this and the end result was the same. I guess I think of it as, assuming the OP has a fairly normal work schedule, it’s Sunday, maybe he’s hiking in the mountains and out of range of everything etc. He has the right to the day off and those videos will get posted on Monday.

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        I think the OP should answer once to cover herself. Show the bosses she’s not ignoring Janet and on top of the work. In this case, the video can wait until Monday which is the correct and reasonable answer.

        After that, let Janet freak out without the OP’s involvement.

      2. hbc*

        But the thing is, if I get a freakout email because OP didn’t get back to Janet about a (perceived) emergency, one of my first thoughts is, “Shouldn’t OP be taking care of this?” Maybe I even know it’s not actually an emergency, but if OP is supposed to be taking care of emergencies, then a failure to respond is a problem.

        If I get a freakout email after OP has said, “Janet, this can’t work, and these videos can wait until tomorrow,” then I’m pretty ticked off that Janet is wasting my time. *Then* I might tell Janet that she’s lost the privilege of declaring emergencies.

    3. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

      I agree with you; Janet will just freak out if the LW doesn’t respond. At least this way the LW has a written record of attempting to help her.

      1. san junipero*

        The way I see it, LW already has a demonstrated backlog of trying to help and getting no results. It’s reasonable at this point to stop responding, especially since Janet’s made it clear that she’ll escalate in most situations anyway. If she’s CC’ing multiple people every time, the bosses might not even notice that LW, specifically, isn’t joining the conversation on the weekends.

    4. Keg Party*

      No way. Let that shitstorm of emails pile up and keep piling up. The boss’ boss’ boss’ boss won’t see them until Monday morning either, when OP can say, “I wasn’t working yesterday either so I saw all of them this morning too. Turns out that Janet was worried about nothing; Project X is fine.”

      1. san junipero*

        Yes, I think this is exactly the way to go. It’s a gentle way of reminding everyone that Janet’s expectations are unreasonable, while also giving yourself the freedom to not get sucked in.

      2. pleaset*

        I had a board member ragging all over me on email in a storm over a weekend. And I didn’t know. And actually, I didn’t care. I cared about the ragging, but not missing the storm. I came in on Monday, read the whole thread, and was able to make one strong reply plus a separate private reply to my boss.

        If you choose to engage in this sort of shitstorm, consider slowing the pace down. You don’t have to respond to every little thing. Or at least, if you do, your work environment is poor.

        “I wasn’t working yesterday either so I saw all of them this morning too. Turns out that Janet was worried about nothing; Project X is fine.”

  15. Buttons*

    Why is everyone jumping when Janet says they need to jump? Do you have to check email outside of work hours? If that isn’t a requirement, stop doing it. If she stops getting people to react to her 24/7, maybe she will calm down, even just a bit.
    I would also call her on it. In the example about the video, I would reply to her and say “When you cc’d my boss and colleagues it sends the message that you do not trust my opinion and expertise. This was not an emergency and didn’t need to be escalated.”
    Even if you aren’t in a position of authority, you can say the above. That is your opinion, and it holds true, as every single other person said the same thing you said.
    People need to stop playing into her fears. I would talk to my manager about it, and maybe together make a plan that your team at least will not respond to her after hours, will not get sucked into the escalation chain, etc. If she cc’s someone higher, the highest person on the chain should be the one to handle her.
    She is annoying and a trouble maker.

  16. Kiwiii*

    I worked with a Janet when I was at old job. I was at one regional office and she was at another and if something needed to be changed or she felt slighted at all on a project, she’d cc everyone working on the project, our supervisors, and their bosses. It wasn’t an office we frequently worked with, so it only took 2 or 3 times of my manger seeing this over the course of a couple weeks to say something to her manager and get her to knock it off. Say something, even if it’s just to make sure they know you’re noticing it and think it’s out of line, too. She’s wasting people’s time.

    1. Kiwiii*

      Oh, and it turned out our Janet had thought her behavior was …advocating for herself somehow, instead of making a terrible impression on all of us.

  17. Heidi*

    I haven’t encountered anything quite like this, but I do know people who have a hard time triaging disasters from minor inconveniences. The crux of the problem for me is that it creates unnecessary work for other people and wastes their time. If you can point out that 5 people spent a weekend afternoon sorting out a completely imaginary problem, the impact become a lot more obvious. The bosses may do nothing about it, in which case, you’ll have to budget more time and have a stress-relief plan in place (face masks, calm music, meditation, whatever) for the days you have to work with her.

    Fantasy response: Send an email to her that says “Urgent problem: you’re catastrophizing everything Janet!” and see what she does with it.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Under react to their face as much as possible, say whatever is appropriate, ask the questions you need, tell them you’ll do what you can and walk away. Drama needs air, take as much of it away as possible.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I’ve learned over the years to phrase things so that it sounds like I made a bigger deal out of it than I actually did.

      “Steve, Susan and I assessed the video files, and determined that they were corrupted. The links to the videos are currently still in build status, so this has no impact on customers. At 9am tomorrow, we will upload and test new versions of the videos, and will send out an email once the new links are live.”

      Actual effort: “We talked about it and decided to take care of it tomorrow.”

    3. Lady Blerd*

      My sympathies. I have a boss who behaves like Janet when he’s stressed out and I’m the type of person who shuts down when facing panicky people. It doesn’t always mix well.

  18. PMgr*

    I’d handle this by assessing the business impact of the request (i.e. can this wait until
    Monday?) and responding accordingly AND also warning my boss about possible escalations. “FYI, Janet emailed and I told her I’d tackle it Monday morning, giving you a heads-up in case she decides to escalate.”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Or reply and copy your boss yourself. Might take the wind out of Janet’s sails a bit.

    2. Witchy Human*

      I think “giving you a heads-up in case she decides to escalate” would be very helpful, and LW’s boss might be in her corner a bit more once it’s been explicitly pointed out what she’s doing a few times.

      I might also add a brief explanation of why it’s not urgent or worth escalating so the boss can get a sense of just how minor/nonexistent some of Janet’s “emergencies” are.

    3. hbc*

      Yes, anticipate the overreaction and spread the information. I’d also explicitly ask Janet what will occur if this doesn’t work out. As in, “What will happen if these videos go up on Monday instead of tonight?” If I pass that along, then at least maybe the next person in line can squash it with, “I don’t think we need to panic about losing 12 hours of a 6 month campaign, they can go up tomorrow.”

  19. mark132*

    I also “like” the other habit of people like this. The overly broad cc list, in particular when I’ve made a mistake and having it pointed out to couple dozen of my coworkers. I’m willing to own up to my mistakes, but seriously give me a chance to address them without it being shared with bunches of people whom it doesn’t impact.

  20. Lucia Pacciola*

    Allison, is there a good way to apply an “above my pay grade” strategy? In my line of work, it’s often the case where I can respond to someone else’s chaos by promptly saying something along the lines of, “yes, I can definitely work on this. I’ll need to re-prioritize, so please let my boss know and I’ll get started as soon as they give me the green light.” And then I blissfully ignore the issue unless/until my boss puts it at the top of my priority list. This tends to ensure that only real issues get escalated, and it ensures that a lot of the chaos is smoothed out or soaked up by my boss, rather than spilling onto me. And half the time, I never hear another thing about it.

  21. Kes*

    I think beyond talking to your boss, the best approach might be to ignore Janet’s drama where possible (ignore her weekend email to you) and where not possible or other people have been CCed in, send one calm response “Yes, I will look into this on Monday”/”Yes, I have looked into this and the files are corrupted, I will look into this on Monday”/”Actually, Mark confirmed this is approved” and then continue to ignore as much as possible – don’t let yourself get sucked into her drama spiral but respond in proportion to the situation, not to her reaction.

    1. AKchic*

      When at all possible, attach emails where you’ve told her so.

      “As per my previous email (see attached), this has already been approved/handled/whatever”

      I mean… might as well, right?

  22. CommanderBanana*

    Oof. I have worked with people this before and I don’t know if this is the case with your Janet, but with my Janet(s) it was them spraying their uncontrollable anxiety all over everyone all the time.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    The one thing I might add is knowing that she does this, do not reply to her weekend emails… At least save the drama for the workdday

  24. LaurelBee*

    I’m a lot less charitable about Janet’s behavior. The reason being when something goes wrong – she CCs your boss and boss’s boss. To me, that is an aggressive move. She’s no longer trying to work something out or expressing anxiety, she’s now trying to get ME in trouble with my boss. She’s making ME look bad in front of higher ups. Does anyone else feel that way, too? I can’t stand people who immediately go to my boss if they’re unhappy with something I’ve worked on, instead of working on it with me. I view them as people who are trying to derail my career – because they are. It might not be their intention, but it’s still the case. I think Alison’s advice works in this case, too (talking to your boss), but I would take this more seriously than just her causing chaos.

    1. LaurelBee*

      Maybe be really, really clear in emails addressing her freak-outs that SHE is the one to blame for the issue? For example, in the corrupted video file example, reply back (to all the people she cc-ed) – “Janet, the files you sent me are corrupted. I am happy to post non-corrupted files tonight if you send them to me. Otherwise, we can address this Monday.” Make sure everyone knows that SHE is the problem. Maybe that will stop her from cc-ing the world on things, if she knows SHE will end up looking bad to higher-ups? Has to be done very delicately though.

      For her “early” release freakout – maybe someone respond – “Janet, I was given permission to release this from xyz. Do you need me to resend you the meeting minutes when this was decided?” Make her seem disorganized and out-of-the-loop. Of course, you may be making an enemy of her!

    2. WellRed*

      Right? Look at all the drama around the social media post, when she basically talked to everyone BUT the SM mgr.

    3. Artemesia*

      Absolutely which is why someone like this calls for pre-emptive moves, preferably by several people affected. Those above her need to understand that she is driving everyone crazy so give them words like ‘catastrophize’, ‘constantly cries wolf’, ‘turns every minor issue into a doomsday scenario’, and discuss its consequences of getting everyone upset, wasting huge amounts of time and making it likely that important priorities will get pushed aside while dealing with exaggerated pseudo crises. Get a list of recent fiascos like this and ask for advice about how to avoid future kerfuffles; let them know that you are not going to respond to weekend and evening messages like this as one response, but what else should/can be done to lessen the impact of this?

    4. AKchic*

      I think you are on to something.
      CC’ing a manager isn’t necessarily a tattle. It can be a “loop in” thing, depending on context. But CC’ing the grandboss, great-grandboss, the cousin-boss, uncle/aunt-boss, great-uncle/aunt-boss, and the whole fam-damily of bosses and their pets and you have to wonder what the point is. Especially when some of the things are outside her purview / scope of work. I would say that some of the things she’s getting worked up about are her being a busy-body under the guise of being helpful (I call this the “Troll Concern” act when they aren’t in panic mode). But what’s the endgame? I’m not interested in her mental health. I’m interested in how this benefits her. She’s not getting accolades. She’s not getting a pat on the back or a cookie for any of this. She’s not about to get a promotion for the constant stress she puts everyone under, or the illusion of barely controlled chaos she manifests to upper management.

  25. animaniactoo*

    Hmmm. It sounds like a good chunk of the issue is that Janet is doing this outside of normal work hours.

    A suggestion: Coordinate with your boss so that she has to go through him first to contact you outside of normal work hours and explain why something is urgent enough that it needs to be done then. If you do this, will he have your back and go to bat with those higher up for you that it’s not urgent enough to have happen right then?

    That could easily cascade into a batch of e-mails escalated above his head…. but it will start pushing people to look at the actual urgency of some of these situations and give a frame work to push back and not just go ahead and give her what she wants. The less success she has, OR the more annoyed people get by her continuing to pursue stuff after being told no, the more things might start to move into a saner direction – whether by her voluntarily reigning herself in, or becoming annoying enough to those higher up to tell her to reign it in and start to address her urgent Chicken Little process as an actual problem.

    I have a question btw: The tweet that she was mistaken about — how involved in that product/process was she? From over here, it sounds like she wasn’t that involved if she wasn’t aware that there was go ahead and it was okay for the social media person to put out the tweet. So, is she operating outside her lane to be raising that much panic about it? Maybe not something you could address, but something to discuss with your boss or those whose lane it is in terms of pushing back on hitting the panic button like that.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        100% would buy a mug that said “Sower of Chaos” for my husband. He’s a pretty solid chaotic good.

        1. Blueberry*

          You can print one up at Vistaprint for not that much money. Vistaprint will let you put nearly anything on a wide range of products! The mug of your dreams can be yours. :)

      1. AKchic*

        I have a t-shirt that I’ve wanted to get made for tech week that says “Chaos Control” or “Chaos Manager”, “Chaos Wrangler”, or even “Chaos Tamer”, but I haven’t done it yet. This will probably be the year I do it, though. It’s a necessity.

        1. Shark Lady*

          I recently needed a new mousepad for work, and bought one that says “Chaos Coordinator”. It’s utterly perfect.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I call myself a chaos magnet because folks like this tend to find me. You shoulda seen the drama I had blowing up around me last night…

      Anyway, “and if you can detach to the point that you can see her as a comic figure, even better” is about the only way to go about a situation you can’t do anything about. Make lots of fun of it.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        So, yes to detach, but no to ‘make lots of fun of it’. That is the way to get a bad rep, a la the new coworkers who embarrassed a LW in the last post. And with Jane as your superior, whew – playing with fire.

        Do not ever make fun of your coworkers. It’s not worth it.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I sometimes wish we had an AAM version of a deck of cards (or perhaps pseudo-tarot cards?). Fergus, Wakeen, Janet, the GOT cast–it would be a source of endless entertainment.

        1. Not A Manager*

          All the horrible bosses! The kidney-donation boss, the won’t-let-you-attend-graduation boss, the interrupt-a-wedding-or-a-funeral boss…

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            For suits:
            Coworkers (nosy, pregnant-belly touching, PoC hair touching, conference calls on speaker phone)
            Situations? (medical leave – normal is ‘relieves stress’, reversed is ‘costs you promotions’, vacation/ vacation scheduling, corporate culture – normal is.. normal, reversed is bro culture, lunches – normal is ‘order in from multiple preferred restaurants, reversed is ‘one person orders pork bbq w/cheese for every lunch’)
            Resume / Interview advice

            Major Arcana: Famous letters, like Duck Club, Bird phobic pushed coworker in front of car during panic run, ‘I did a prank on a coworker and it ended badly’, organ donor boss (bcs srsly, holy shit that guy). Not sure that they would have a ‘normal’ and ‘reversed’ readings…

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              oooh, yeah, as merp suggests, the standard careers should be mentioned – maybe as major arcana, there’s not enough to be a suit. Resume / interview advice would have to include Gumption as a card; normal = fail to get the job, reversed = get it.

              We could google spreadsheet something with suggestions and links, maybe, so you don’t have to look everything up. You set structure, we fill in suggestions, you edit / decide finals. Seems like a good Friday thread…

        2. Triumphant Fox*

          Could you have certain wild cards for the most famous letters? Funeral letter boss, fiery-tongued lunch thief, ornithophobe, etc.

          Also, I think the archetypes work too: gaslighter, mansplainer, lunch thief, popcorn burner, etc.

          I suppose you could also have positive ones.

        3. merp*

          Can we have the types of careers these people tend to have too? Of course the tea pots and llama grooming, but there was also I think a University of Oatmeal with a porridge major at some point?

        4. Eloise*

          The Plant Pooper, The Lunch Stealer …
          We’ll need some animals, too — llamas and ducks at the very least.

        5. juliebulie*

          Need extra-special card(s) for vast topics like “restroom problems” and “family-style managing.”

        6. Sleve McDichael*

          This would work absolutely perfectly as a card game like sopio, where every card does something different, the effects are written on the cards, and the aim of the game is very simple (in sopio it’s get 1000 points). Also you could add in new cards when new letters come in without changing the rules at all. That way JediSquirrel doesn’t have to invent a whole new game and set of rules, just the funny effects of the cards.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m trying to decide whether it would work better as a CCG (a la MTG) or an oracle deck, but either way, I adore this idea.

          1. JediSquirrel*

            That definitely works as Instant. “Cast Microwaved Fish and clear all employees in a 35 foot radius.”

  26. Jessica Fletcher*

    I lol’d at ‘Janet, sower of chaos’!

    We have a Janet, though he sows chaos by going around to talk to everyone about the what ifs he’s come up with. I think he purposely does it that way so there’s not a paper trail when it turns out to be no big deal.

    At first, our Janet made me very anxious, because I like things to be orderly and I was very worried that people would blame me when Janet was wrong, or they would think I was involved because I work with him.

    I’ve learned that everyone knows Janet is like this, but he has a very good relationship with the VP, so he’s not going anywhere or changing. Everyone works around it. That used to mean excluding our team when we should have been included, but as they’ve learned I’m not like that at all, it’s meant including either both of us, and going more with what I say, or including only me and maybe we don’t tell Janet at all. Which I realize is not great, but it’s how to get things done.

  27. Keg Party*

    Oh, I have a Janet. She’s the kind of person you dread being in meetings with, hangs out in your office for hours on end whirling up the drama of the day, doesn’t get hints when a conversation is over, and the one person you go out of your way to avoid running into on the way in so as to not be bombarded with whatever emergency she’s concocted while she arrives an hour before anyone else.

    Gray rock works kind of well on my Janet – a short comment, followed by a quick turn back to whatever I was doing, or a get up and leave the room. “I see.” “Okay, thanks.” “Interesting. See you later.”

    And I absolutely do not check emails when I’m not working.

    1. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

      Ugh, yes, the meetings. The coworker I had who was similar to Janet was also That Guy in the meeting who makes overly confrontational and patronizing remarks disguised as questions. It was so obnoxious.

  28. LlamaMomma*

    I work with a Janet…I refer to him as Chicken Little. It took a few months but eventually everyone stopped taking him seriously and he became somewhat of a joke. However, it was miserable until that status changed. I don’t have any advice but I hope Chicken Little made you laugh OP!

  29. LisaD*

    This sounds EXTREMELY familiar. The Janet I worked with caused the failure of at least three startups that I know of, by succeeding in creating an environment of such constant anxiety that it ultimately permeated through the entire culture and everyone started behaving like a Janet. It was tragic because she really thought she was helping. I still get messages on LinkedIn from her current coworkers checking to see if anyone else has had similar experiences with her. She is so irrational it makes people question their own sanity and look for reality-checks from her past coworkers.

  30. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

    I have worked with a couple of Janets. Interestingly, they freak out over the small things and throw up their hands when something is actually a Big Deal.

    One I worked with was the type who would respond to emails after returning from PTO without reading them all or turning on conversations. So he’d respond to a first email about an issue demanding it get straightened out when the other people in the email thread took care of it 4 days ago and already forgot about it. The punchline is that there was usually an external client in the thread, so we all looked ridiculous.

  31. Shirley Keeldar*

    One thing I think OP should bring up to her boss is the harm Janet is doing to her professional reputation. She doesn’t need the higher-ups getting the idea that things she’s supposed to be handling are plagued with all sorts of problems and crises (that only exist in Janet’s imagination). That’s really unfair to her.

    (I’m still bitter, fifteen years later, about the coworker in another department who went to my boss’s boss to complain that I was doing X. I wasn’t, I was doing Y, which I would have been happy to explain had he asked me or even my boss. I swear, my boss’s boss forever vaguely thought I must be doing X. These impressions can linger.)

    1. Dot*

      The professional reputation part is what really gets me. My last contract was at a company with too much work and zero organization or process, so there were genuinely multiple crises going on at the same time with no need for a Janet, and the go-to way of getting someone else to prioritize a particular task was to cc other people like crazy and make them look bad whether they were responsible for the task or not. They even did this in front of outside vendors. Of course it happened to me as well and I’ve never experienced that at any other job.

      It was INFURIATING. So many people left while I was there. After it ended, I had to take a break from working just to remind myself that I’m a capable professional with a fair amount of experience in my field, and to recover some mental equilibrium. But there’s no way I could ask anyone at that company for a reference or reach out to them for future work–I’m sure they see me as incompetent. And to be honest, I see most of them the same way, if not as downright toxic. No good came out of it, except that the pay was decent.

      People who weaponize going to the higher ups truly should be avoided at all costs. It doesn’t need to be that way. Also, why can’t people just follow the process and wait to get a response during normal business hours? Unless you’re working in an emergency room there’s no excuse for this “now, now, now” mentality.

    2. it's me*

      Yeah, I feel like we don’t really know how seriously Janet is taken when she does this—seems like people dismiss it, but I’d personally be annoyed every time Janet made it seem she didn’t trust me or thought she had to loop in other people, even if she’s not doing it about very important things.

  32. NW Mossy*

    OP, you could so easily be one of my directs – they work with a good number of Janets, and every so often the Janets want to pull me into their maelstrom of their own making. I’m also sometimes in your shoes, because Janets sometimes come to me directly to ask if they can set my hair on fire too.

    The single biggest breakthrough I’ve had with Janets is to understand that this behavior is maybe 3% about you and 97% about Janet, and everyone around her understands that very well. If your boss is reasonable (and many are), they’ll likely back you up when you say “Janet tends to escalate too fast about things that aren’t emergencies. I’m going to tackle her stuff on a more reasonable timetable so that I can stay focused on the priorities you and I agreed on.” You aren’t causing her to behave this way – she is. You can continue to have appropriate professional boundaries, delivered with pleasantness, and feel secure that you’re still doing right by the organization.

    And from the manager’s side of this: keep giving the feedback to your boss, even if you’re not seeing change right away. In my organization, managers calibrate their teams against other level peers a couple of times a year, and we get together to talk through people’s strengths and weaknesses. Feedback like this always comes up in those sessions, and it’s often the deciding factor in changing where someone is positioned in our performance framework. In turn, those positions help us talent-spot on who’s ready to move up and call out where we need to step up our coaching to bring someone up to par.

  33. Sharrbe*

    I worked with a woman who did the same thing. It was exhausting. We didn’t work in a high pressure job, but you would have thought we were responsible for guarding the nuclear missles. She documented the craziest things, like the the address history of the suppliers that we used. No, we don’t need to know that this particular company was based in East of Nowhere, USA in 1992 so stop insisting that we keep a record. No, we don’t need to periodically call the suppliers to make sure their phone numbers are still valid, we’ll do that if we actually NEED to talk to them. Besides, thats what the internet is for!

    1. juliebulie*

      Holy cow, can you imagine getting a phone call like that? “Um, yes, that’s still our number, nice to hear from you?”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        That’s like when I have to call a place to see if they are open because, eg, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. So I make the call call and by answering the phone they have answered my question. But I can’t just hang up on them! And it’s dumb to ask … so I tend to go with, “Thank you, I was just calling to see if you’re open” and that gives them a chance to say that actually, they’re working but not open to the public if that’s the case.

        But to ask if their phone number in my records is still accurate? Yeah, that would feel pretty unprofessional to me.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          When I do that, I usually ask what their hours are today, which gives them a chance to say they’re about to close or they aren’t yet open to the public.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I work in a regulated industry and we have to validate our vendors every two years. Technically, I do need to make those calls. In reality, of course, it’s more me calling up and saying, “Hi there, we’re doing our biannual validation. Any changes I need to be aware of?” 99% of the time the answer is no, but every once and a while, “oh, do you have the current central office address? It moved last year. We also upgraded our fire suppression.” or something along those lines pops up. When I fill out the report I check “Yes” for current phone number because, well, I know it’s current because they answered.

  34. Jellybean*

    I’m guessing the root of Jane’s actions are related to her own anxiety. This is not normal, at all, and very much seems rooted in catastrophizing things.

    When I encounter someone like this, I treat inaction as an action. I will not respond on a Sunday (burner phone!), even if I see a text/email, I will pretend I didn’t – until it is addressed at the appropriate time. I do not care if it is a senior or not (although most senior management have long learned to do this themselves).
    You CANNOT feed into the anxiety and placate it while expecting anything to change. You simply can’t. It only gets worse. By feeding it on a Sunday or at other inappropriate times, you reinforce that it really WAS a catastrophe that needed urgent attention.

  35. Blueberry Girl*

    I actually also have a coworker whose similar and I really appreciate Alison’s advice. I am going to try to do that more and think of it as a sort of a strange ritual. It’s very stressful to be around. I feel for you OP.

  36. Schnapps*

    I call people like Janet “10s” – as in “Everything is a 10. Even things that should be at most a 1 or a 2.”

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in the vast majority of cases, Janet’s issues are not 10s to regular people. In fact, most the day to day stuff isn’t a 10 and probably barely deserves ranking. I would ignore Janet’s evening and weekend missives – I ignore most of those, unless from the boss, the grandboss, or it’s one of my reportees saying they’re sick or dead or something urgent like that.

  37. Ex-Janet*

    I have been a version of Janet – there are many possible explanations for her behavior, but in my case it was erroneously feeling overly responsible for everyone and everything, that I was a bad person if something went wrong and I hadn’t done everything in my power to stop it. The only thing that helped me was a lot of therapy, and I only realized how bad off I was when I started having frequent panic attacks.

    With this kind of interaction, what would have gotten me to stop would have been a clear, firm “I’ve got this. The ball is in my court (or the pizza is on my plate, whatever). It’s not yours to worry about any more.” Otherwise I would have kept at it until I was sure it was handled. If your Janet has other causes of the behavior this of course won’t work, but if you’re trying various Janet containment options it might be worth a try.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yeah. I’m NOWHERE in Janet’s league — for one, CCing up the chain is right out — but I take responsibility for everyone and everything, and have a brain that’s amazing at thinking 15 steps ahead. That can lead me to fretting and triple-checking and worrying about worst case scenarios. I am aware of it and actively manage it because I’m aware how exhausting (and inappropriate) it is.

  38. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have had a few users over my IT career that were Janets. A Janet is the app support staff’s worst nightmare. When we get a priority 1, critical production issue and the description of the issue is some variation of “Nothing works, we are losing millions of dollars by the minute, fix it now” and the person who called the issue in is nowhere to be found and no one else knows what “nothing works” means – that’s the work of a Janet. I have no advice on how to deal with someone like that, I just wanted to say that from my experience, this is a serious problem, because not only does she waste her own team’s time, she makes the whole team look bad and lose credibility with the other teams, vendors, clients, and so on. I would like an update on this, because I’d really like to know if there’s a way to get Janet to stop being a Janet.

    1. J.B.*

      I can tell you what slowly, somewhat improved a powerful Janet where I was. It requires knowing your boss is on your side. Calmly patiently do a post mortem “I’d like to understand” then go through a slow and detailed training on the level of detail you need. If there’s digression cut t off. Stay calm, lather, rinse, repeat.

  39. NicoleK*

    I work with a “Janet”. She runs around like a chicken with her head cut off, creates chaos, and drags people into the chaos. She’s been known to cc multiple people (who are not vital to the discussion), email multiple times, if you don’t respond right away, she starts copying the supervisor, will text and email you repeatedly over the weekend. If Janet’s boss won’t deal with it, you’re kind of stuck dealing with her. And it does not get better.

  40. voyager1*

    Gonna disagree with AAM here a bit. If you have a good standing with your manager I would just point blank as if you need to take Janet seriously when she emails everyone in the organization. You might get answer that nobody takes her seriously hence why nobody does anything about it. This is probably the approach I would go with.

    If you want to use one of AAM’s scripts, use the first one but leave out “I know I don’t have the standing to say anything about this myself, but” part. You do have some standing to ask about Janet.

    I would not ask for advice on how to handle Janet. Makes you sound weak and passive IMHO.

    The other option is to just ask Janet why she emails everyone under the Moon when there is a problem.

    Honestly I am betting nobody pays attention to Janet and her crazy emails. The question is really go to your boss vs. source of your issue.

  41. Gumby*

    I might start ending the email chain with a “To summarize, we decided to handle this on Monday because the video files are corrupted. This is the solution which was suggested at [timestamp of first email].” I mean, maybe in slightly less confrontational language, but the point is to highlight the fact that the whole thing was a waste of time and energy. I wouldn’t even call Janet out by name. But it serves two purposes – it might make patterns more visible (use very similar construction for the summary emails) and it draws attention to the correct actions/decisions of whoever first responded to Janet’s drama so that they are not seen as the source of the problems.

  42. Dana B.S.*

    I had a Janet. We became friends more-or-less (only at work). In my case, I learned a lot about her personal life and her anxiety issues. It helped me see her a little bit more as a human. It also helped me learn that I’m not going to fix her because she had the same reactions to everything in life – it was her default state. I can only control my reaction to her.

    Just keep in mind that she does not designate what you work is or when you get it done. Your boss’s expectations do. If you know your boss would not expect you to try to solve a non-problem outside of business hours, then don’t. In general, respond with the truth and don’t sugarcoat it when she approaches you with an “emergency”. During a freak-out, be neutral or even avoid acknowledging it.

    We had the same boss and I know he did a lot of formal and informal coaching with her.

  43. Yvette*

    “Janet, sower of chaos.” I originally read this as “Janet SEWER of chaos.” I think my version is more appropriate.

  44. LGC*


    Much like everyone else in the comments, I also work with Janet. (Janet exists everywhere, it seems.)

    In my case, Janet…has had noted performance issues in the past (mainly with interacting with direct reports), and still struggles with it. (My Janet has the same position as I do – supervisor – and in fact we used to work on the same project. It was…stressful.) Plus, my job is fairly dysfunctional and our boss – we have the same boss – encourages us to report every single issue with our hundreds of direct reports to her and the rest of upper management in our division. Janet gleefully obliges. Whether it’s a real issue or not.

    And it’s frustrating to deal with – I think she knows that she’s not doing great and is flailing around, but I’m not sure if she knows why. And I’m not in a position to say anything because she only really listens to upper management, it seems. But I can’t help but…you know, feel sorry for her a bit? It’s weird. Fortunately, I can minimize the crossover of our jobs now, which is nice – but I still get a jolt of anxiety every time she’s asked to cover my room.

  45. CM*

    What we’ve learned is that Janet’s level of intensity is not a good indicator of whether something that’s happening is an emergency, so you need to come up with another way to assess whether something is an emergency or not, and let your boss know what that method is. Assuming the two of you are on the same page about how to actually assess whether something’s an emergency or not, that leaves you free to make the assessment without factoring Janet’s panic into it, and say, “Thanks Janet, we’ll look into it,” or something similar.

    (FWIW, Janet’s freaking out about stuff is a problem, but the way the rest of you jump whenever she does it is ALSO a problem, and one you guys can solve even if she never changes).

Comments are closed.