my employee accused me of favoring her coworker

A reader writes:

I recently expanded my team from one direct report to two. “Tammy,” my original staffer, is proficient but not great and can get confused by complicated projects. “Carrie,” the new hire, is still learning but is a superstar. She picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses, even though Tammy has been in the role three years. Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected. I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position. Based on Carrie’s current learning curve, I expect within the next three months Carrie and Tammy will be directing projects at the same level of difficulty.

Tammy is very insecure about Carrie and has repeatedly told me that she feels that I favor Carrie. She mentioned that we spend a lot of time together, and I pointed out that I’m still training Carrie, not socializing. I said that I trust Tammy to do her work without my oversight, and it’s not favoritism. I asked if there were any examples of times when I treated them differently. Tammy could not provide any, simply saying others outside the department had made comments to her about it. I told her that others might perceive it that way because Carrie and I eat lunch together in the cafeteria every day, but Tammy chooses not to eat lunch with us because she goes to the gym. Tammy replied in an angry way that it was her lunch hour and she could do whatever she wanted. I told her that I agree and was not upset that she goes to the gym.

Since Carrie was hired, Tammy has been terse and almost rude. Recently, Carrie forgot to invite Tammy to a meeting involving multiple teams. Tammy was very upset that she had not been on the invite and exclaimed, “I need more lead time than a few minutes to attend a meeting! You can’t expect me to drop everything!” I snapped and said, “Then don’t go” and walked away. It was not professional and I have no excuse, I’ve just become so tired of this childish situation! She did not attend the meeting, and when we spoke later, I apologized for my angry response, but told her that if she speaks in a rude way to others, others may respond in a similar manner. Two days later, she slipped me a note as she left for the day. In the note, she said that I favor Carrie and that I don’t have to like her, but I do have to respect her.

I am at a loss about what to do. Tammy keeps bringing up “favoritism” and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback. Please help!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. Rusty Shackelford*

    I feel bad for everyone involved in this scenario. And if I were Tammy, and Carrie forgot to invite me to a meeting, I’d suspect she “forgot” on purpose. I’m not saying Carrie did this AT ALL, I’m just saying, that’s where my mind would have gone. So I see why she’s freaking out. I know this is an old letter – I wish I knew how it played out!

    1. Czhorat*

      Yes, and while “I need more than four minutes notice” is far from an ideal and professional response, it’s also not wrong.

      It’s something which should be treated with an apology, not lowering oneself to her level and return anger with anger. The apology coupled with an admonition to not be rude is likewise not ideal; it can be read as “I’m sorry, but you’re really the one wrong”. If she’s already feeling mistreated then that adds fuel to the fire.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Sure, but LW says she “exclaimed” it – which I read to mean she was shouting at Carrie and being aggressive about it. The LW’s response was wrong, but even if notice is needed, screaming about it isn’t professional behaviour.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, it’s very hard not to react with anger when you’re being screamed at. Doesn’t make it okay, but “then don’t go” isn’t exactly reading her the riot act.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is true, but managers are also typically held to a higher standard of conduct and expected to restrain emotional responses. Particularly in a situation where OP is aware of the feeling of discrepancy, it is really in her best interest not to provide fuel to that feeling.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          “Exclaimed” could also be “raised her voice in a frustrated way.” It could be no louder than me saying “REALLY?” when my computer crashes.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          Looking back at the original post comments, Tammy had been escalating for at least several weeks with passive aggressive muttering, complaints, and snapping.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        The apology coupled with an admonition to not be rude is likewise not ideal; it can be read as “I’m sorry, but you’re really the one wrong”.

        It does sound very much like “I’m sorry you made me do that,” doesn’t it?

        1. Sally*

          Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Manager can’t do that – the power dynamic makes it really not OK.

    2. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I was also wondering if there was an update from the LW.

      While anyone would likely read favoritism from the lunches, if Tammy had anxiety, that acts like a little conspiracy theorist in your own brain. It would be telling her how awful she is and how no one likes her and how much better Carrie is at everything.

      I hope the LW was able to smooth things over.

      1. Mobuy*

        Please, let’s not always armchair diagnose people. We always go to, “But what if they have this [insert anything from anxiety and depression to misphonia here]!” Well, then they have to figure out a way to deal, which can include asking for accommodations. Until and unless we know they have something, how about we keep to the actual letter?

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          I wasn’t armchair diagnosing. As someone with anxiety, I was pointing out that it can make bad situations worse. That wasn’t clear, obviously. But I was not saying the letter in any way implied Tammy had anxiety.

          1. Yorick*

            It is armchair diagnosing, even when you use the word “if.” It’s not helpful to speculate.

            The LW didn’t have any knowledge of Tammy’s mental heatlh, and it wouldn’t change the advice anyway.

            1. PlainJane*

              I’d actually read it another way–the fact that you DON’T know if someone is suffering from clinical anxiety in itself is a reason to be careful of things likely to trigger it, including what does strike me as exclusionary behavior… and you don’t exactly have to be at a clinical level to read “forgot to tell me about a meeting” as “tried to undermine me and make me look bad,” which explains the emotional outburst. When you have someone who really seems to be reading the situation in a threatening way, then for God’s sake, make an effort to not make the problem worse. That doesn’t take armchair diagnosis. It just takes observable behavior and common sense.

              1. Avasarala*

                I don’t think it’s helpful to be extra careful of someone’s feelings because they might have a health issue making it worse. Adding the possibility of an anxiety disorder doesn’t make Tammy’s problems more relateable or sympathetic–this situation would make anyone anxious but her behaviors are still a problem.

                I’m not going to go around life trying not to trigger other people’s anxiety that I don’t know if they have.

                1. PlainJane*

                  But if you have a pattern of behavior that’s unusual (as we have here), it’s a strong possibility that you’re dealing with a thought pattern that you’re not taking into account.

              2. Yorick*

                Sure, we should be kind to people so they don’t feel bad, but that’s not because they might have a mental illness.

              3. Sleeplesskj*

                Sorry but it’s ridiculous to tiptoe around people because of what they “might” have. That’s no way to go through life and it’s exhausting.

                1. PlainJane*

                  I’m not talking about tiptoeing. I’m talking about NOTICING that something you’re doing is causing a strange response and adjusting accordingly.

        2. Ellen N.*

          I agree with you 100%. We should not diagnose letter writers or the people they discuss in their letters. Diagnosis be performed by medical professionals who have met the patient.

          Also, “diagnosing” Tammy detracts from the facts of the letter. It’s crystal clear that the letter writer favors Carrie.

        3. Gay Tridentine Catholic Rastafarian*

          This social ban on armchair diagnosing is for the birds. Done respectfully, there’s nothing or offensive about it. This is am internet column. We’re not going to run out of space or time. And in any event, ultimately I think I’ll let me decide what thoughts I wish to shar and how I wish to share them, instead of letting others decide that for me.

          1. Sarah in Boston*

            You may be doing that elsewhere then since armchair diagnosing is explicitly against AAM’s commenting rules. Alison has asked us not to do so and it’s her site!

      2. Sharkie*

        LW engaged with the comments on the original letter. From what I remember the ” lunches ” were OP and a bunch of other people sitting at the same table in the lunchroom. Tammy was apart of the group until she started going to the gym instead.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Ya I just read the original comments, and the lunches seem a little less problematic knowing there were several other colleagues there, including the LW’s boss.

        2. Jennifer*

          Exactly. It’s just a bunch of people at one big table, eating. It seems a little weird for the OP to go to the other side of the room and eat alone. Tammy is behaving as though the OP and Carrie had a little mean girl table to themselves off to the side, lol.

        3. ContentWrangler*

          Yes, this was definitely a letter where the comments from OP actually added much needed context. OP comes off much worse in their original letter because of details they left out. Like the lunches being in the public free lunch room with a lot of the other employees or that Tammy has been snapping and grumbling at people for months since Carrie was hired or that Tammy was on FB when she claimed she didn’t have time to go to a meeting suddenly.

          The OP’s additional comments made me understand their frustration (though snapping still isn’t okay) and made it clear that the management issue wasn’t favoritism but that OP was treading waaaay too softly with Tammy.

    3. Amber Rose*

      Yeah seriously, especially with the way OP reacted to Tammy being upset about it. Like, it’s a pretty legitimate thing to be upset that you have no time to prepare for a huge meeting because the rockstar new employee who picks up everything so fast somehow forgot to invite you. Then having your boss snap at you and tell you not to go for being upset about it? Poor Tammy probably felt like both her boss and Carrie were conspiring against her.

      Which isn’t to say that’s what was happening, but I bet it felt that way.

      1. Jennifer*

        I also think Tammy was being a bit melodramatic. The OP said pop up meetings are common and expected there. She really didn’t need to prepare. She could have attended. Even if she didn’t have anything to add she could have learned something. She’s shooting herself in the foot.

        1. Yorick*

          Yeah, in most cases if someone forgot to put you on the meeting invite, you probably weren’t expected to do anything for the meeting

          1. Jennifer*

            Exactly! She wasn’t an essential part of the meeting. She was being invited to listen and learn. If she were essential, she would have probably known about it in advance anyway.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Well, she was supposed to know about it in advance — that’s what the invite was for, right?

              1. Jennifer*

                I mean in advance as in before it was even scheduled. She would know that it was in the works because she was involved in whatever issue the meeting was scheduled to discuss.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  Ah, right. Still, though, I can imagine a situation of “wait, we’ve scheduled that meeting? Last I heard it was still TBA” — something similar has happened to me before, though for more obviously-innocent reasons.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I did have a boss who favored a new employee to the extent that *her* boss put a stop to it (it did not help that the new employee decided she was my supervisor to the extent that I had to take on extra work because the new employee felt obliged to slack off on hers to check up on me). It was ugly…

    4. Jennifer*

      I think it’s possible she did it accidentally on purpose. Of all the people to mistakenly leave off, it’s the person she has conflict with? Of course, mistakes happen, but it’s just too coincidental. I think it’s possible Carrie was a Tracy Flick type. Kissing up to the boss and pretending to be sweet as pie but she may have a hand in stirring the pot with these rumors of favoritism also.

        1. Jennifer*

          Tammy has been rude and passive-aggressive about Carrie’s stellar performance for months now.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        This is not supported by OP’s comments in the original letter.

        I actually wish that since Alison edited the letter to take out the ‘my boss isn’t helping!’ red herring, she had included some of the additional info from the OP’s comments. I think this edit really underplays Tammy’s behavior – OP said it went on for weeks.

        And also – I think what the lunch is like (half dozen team members including OP’s boss regularly eat together, which Tammy used to go to until Tammy chose to switch to going to the gym) is really important, and should change the advice. Why should OP cut herself off from her team and manager?

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I am extremely skeptical that Carrie doesn’t know how Tammy feels about her so, yeah, I find this slightly suspicious. Usually, the people I know are already on edge with me are the ones I’m the least likely to overlook.

    5. voyager1*

      I found the original letter. I skimmed the comments and didn’t see a post from the LW.

      But this part was left off from the original posting:

      [i] “I have kept my manager appraised about the situation. At first, he said that it was “team growing pains” that would work itself out. As time has gone on, he has gotten frustrated, finally telling me that he is tired of the “gossip.” I told him I’m not gossiping, I’m telling him about problems on my team that I need guidance on. He replied that it’s not seriously impacting our output, so it’s not a problem. It is not impacting the level or quality of our work, but it is making life miserable.

      The HR dept is only one woman, who won’t get involved unless it’s a lawsuit in the making. My boss has said I should not bother HR over “interpersonal problems.”

      I am at a loss about what to do. Even though I’ve addressed this a few times, Tammy keeps bringing it up and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback. Sometimes I question whether this is actually a problem or if it’s just normal team differences that I am blowing out of proportion. Other times I’m sure there’s something I should be doing as a manager to remedy this. Please help!”[/i]

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, just FYI, I sometimes need to cut letters down for Inc. since if they’re especially long, I can’t use them there. I thought that part was its own separate issue so excised it.

      2. Close Bracket*

        The “gossip” label is definitely gendered. I wonder if big boss would have used that word if all parties were male.

        It doesn’t seem like the issues are affecting the work, at any rate, OP didn’t say anyone’s work was slipping, but I wonder if the “interpersonal issues” labeling is also gendered? Conflicts between women are frequently labeled as interpersonal even when the conflict is over work. Hard to say from what we’ve been given, but when you are at a pond with lots of weeds and you hear something that sounds like quacking …

        1. AKchic*

          If you hear quacking at the office, you should use Clorox wipes on the copy machine before using it.

        2. Ro*


          I once raised a similar concern at my company. In an email exchange where my boss, grand boss and HR were on the thread, grand boss replied to all that my manager “had too many women on her team”.

          And absolutely nothing was done to resolve the original issue, let alone the sexist comment from grand boss.

    6. Artemesia*

      Yeah — the OP obviously favors Carrie — probably for good reason, but that means she needs to stop doing the obvious things that create ill will like lunching every day and feeling that leaving Tammy out of a key meetings is ‘just an oversight.’ Because Carrie is likely to be promoted ahead etc etc, the OP needs to be a lot less buddy buddy with her and pay attention to the appearance of fairness here.

      1. AKchic*

        After reading the original letter and comments, it sounds like Tammy would prefer if Carrie were ostracized from the entire group’s lunch table.

        Tammy is doing the bare minimum for her paycheck. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but let’s be honest, if you are going to promote someone, who would it be: the person doing the bare minimum or the person who catches on quickly, works quickly and efficiently and seeks out more and new work when they have no other work to do? We all know who would be more profitable and provides more bang for the buck.
        One could even say that had Tammy done more than the bare minimum, Carrie might not even have needed to be hired on, or only needed as a part time employee.

        Tammy’s territorial attitudes are hers to manage.

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I have no doubt the Nosy, Negative Nancies that exist at every workplace were in Tammy’s ear about the lunches.

      Even without the N3s, the lunches were a bad look and had to go. But I agree that people were absolutely stirring the pot with Tammy about it.

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      Totally agree. The daily lunches was a managerial red flag. When you step into a manager’s shoes, your direct reports watch everything you do. So if you have coffee with Carrie one-on-one, you need to have coffee with Tammy one-on-one, and Sid, Bruce, Amanda, and Guacamole Bob too. And it’s really not fair to Tammy for the OP to say that Tammy could give up her lunch hour at the gym and eat lunch with them. That’s a sacrifice Carrie isn’t being asked to make.

        1. valentine*

          if you have coffee with Carrie one-on-one, you need to have coffee with Tammy one-on-one, and Sid, Bruce, Amanda, and Guacamole Bob too. And it’s really not fair to Tammy for the OP to say that Tammy could give up her lunch hour at the gym and eat lunch with them.
          Giving everyone one of the same thing doesn’t necessarily address, much less redress, any imbalance. As an employee, I would hate to be conscripted out of false fairness or to be blamed for everyone’s loss because I refused. I think OP would cancel the lunches if Tammy went because Tammy’s a killjoy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with OP lunching with Carrie. They probably have a lot to say about her meteoric rise and, since OP doesn’t require more of Tammy, who hasn’t indicated she wants any changes, there’s no reason for OP to spend more time with her. I’m sure OP prefers Carrie, but I don’t see what she is giving Carrie that Tammy both wants and is lacking.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Go to 7-11 where the creamers are for “free”, you just pay the base rate for the cup of coffee.

          Now I’m imagining Guacamole Bob finding out that someone dared to ask for an extra shot. Because don’t you know that’s extra!

      1. banzo_bean*

        I guess my take on this is that it really depends on the office/set up. At my office my team has to take lunch for the one hour the office is closed 12-1. You can of course leave the office to take your lunch offsite, but if you want to stay and eat there is only 1 lunchroom and 2 tables. So sometimes you end up eating lunch with your team every day even if you’re not trying to. There simply isn’t anywhere else to sit, and if don’t want to leave to go out to lunch you don’t have a choice.

        I do read on my lunch while my coworkers chat, but there is no way to avoid eating with them unless I physically leave the office (and aside from 1-2 fast food joints even that is a limited).

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Nah, you don’t have to be the same to be equal. OP’s only got 2 reports. If she has lunch with Carrie, then a walk with Tammy is a good way to balance the face time opportunities.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I agree – OP’s manager joined them 1 – 2 days / week, there’s lots of different team members. I could see maybe stepping out one day / week for a read or a walk, but with that structure, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Managers have to eat too.

        1. designbot*

          The OP’s manager has the right of it then—this is a group they sometimes eat with, not their daily habit. OP would do well to cultivate a similar schedule and expectation.

      2. Artemesia*

        This — if it is a big table in the break room okay — it read here like one on one lunches.

    3. Chili*

      It’s also possible the daily lunches with the LW are contributing to Carrie’s higher performance level and ability to pick up on the nuance of assignments. My boss played video games with coworkers in the off-hours and I genuinely don’t think anyone involved realized how often work stuff was coming up. I felt very out of the loop, even though I’m generally very conscientious and good at listening and picking up on nuances. My boss took a break from video games entirely for a couple months and my relative performance picked up dramatically. I think that made him realize he had been inadvertently setting me up for failure, which is an especially bad look since I was the only woman and person of color on the engineering team.

      1. valentine*

        It’s also possible the daily lunches with the LW are contributing to Carrie’s higher performance level and ability to pick up on the nuance of assignments.
        Tammy chose to stop attending the lunches, denied offers to learn new skills, and hasn’t asked for anything equivalent. She’s operating like they’re all crabs in a bucket.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Tammy shouldn’t be held hostage to lunches, though, to get unspoken insight into her manager’s needs. This is exactly why managers shouldn’t eat with subordinates on a regular basis.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Several comments here have pointed out it is a large table of people, and Tammy had only recently dropped herself out of the group. It is a social group thing, not a one-on-one with the manager.

            1. voyager1*

              That was in the original posted letter though, in the comments by the LW.

              This one is edited and one whole section about the manager going to her boss and looking to HR for help was removed.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Actually, if the boss is eating with a group of subordinates, they should continue.

            Why, you ask?

            Cohesion, team building, making sure that you are accessible to your reports, and fostering communications.

            Lunch with your reports is much better than “happy hour”, or golfing, or strippers on the weekend. It is not gendered, is optional, and doesn’t require and special talents or abilities. Sure, I might not make it every day, but it is valuable for your team.

            The fact that Tammy self-selected out of lunch when Carrie started, then expects you to stop lunching with the rest of your team means that this is a power play on Tammy’s part. Don’t give in.

            1. Julia*

              I don’t know. I find occasional team lunches fine, but I often need my lunch hour to rest my brain (our jobs are highly demanding and often in very loud environments) and I’d hate to be told I missed out on work information because I had chosen to use my unpaid lunch break to give myself the rest I need.

              1. Allonge*

                I am an introvert so I can symphatise but what is the solution here? Should there be a ban on discussing work at lunch? For colleagues to have lunch together? For managers to have lunch with employees, ever? If I go on leave, can my team still sit together at lunch?

          3. Senor Montoya*

            Carrie and the OP are not eating one on one. It’s a group lunch, all sorts of people eat together there, including OP’s own boss. Tammy doesn’t have to go, but she doesn’t get to complain that Carrie does go. Also, Tammy could ask to meet with OP one on one if she feels she needs that, but OP explained that Tammy is not actually interested in doing anything above the minimum.

        2. J*

          Yep. It’s Tammy’s lunch hour and she can do whatever she wants. And she wants to get lost and stop participating. That’s on her.

          1. CMart*

            That is exactly how systemic exclusion gets rationalized. “They chose this, not our fault!”

            She can do whatever she wants on weekends, if she doesn’t want to go on the golf outing with the managing partners and get lost, that’s on her. He chose to go home to his family instead of all the happy hours, if he misses out that’s on him. Women can work or not work, and many choose to stop working after having kids and creating a lifetime earnings gap, that’s on them.

            This is just lunch and much lower stakes, and the actual situation in the OP doesn’t necessarily seem that dire, but the attitude expressed in this comment is really not okay.

      2. Qwerty*

        This! It so true and managers often don’t realize that is happening.

        I say this as the rockstar employee who had the advantage of facetime with managers and executives! Not only does work come up a lot while socializing, but the general comfort around each other plays out in normal office interactions. There’s a better rapport between those employees and managers, so it becomes easier to teach the employees during work time. The employees are more comfortable asking questions and not afraid to look dumb. The managers tend to be a little more forgiving of those employees mistakes.

        A lot of people are bringing up that Tammy could give up going to the gym, but that is essentially pressure to give up her breaks. In the comments of the original post, the OP mentions a couple times how the company allows for breaks which Tammy makes use of but Carrie chooses to work instead. What this is slowly turning into is a culture of not being able to mentally break away.

        Usually when we judge groups of employees being treated differently, we look at the effect, not the intentions. This isn’t that different from the golf scenario, where business ends up being done on the golf course, which gets called out for helping mens’ careers while not giving those opportunity to women (obviously some women can and do like golf). The defense the guys always use when picking a guy-orientated activity is that the women are choosing not to come, which this site generally shoots down.

        I’ve been Carrie. It was awesome. But I also noticed that I had to push my managers to give alternate opportunities to the rest of my team who weren’t part of the social activities. To learn new skills like Carrie is doing, Tammy would have to work late or give up her walking breaks. To get unofficial mentorship from the manager and others, Tammy would have to give up her lunch break. Tammy is basically being denigrated in the comments for taking care of herself.

        *Since Tammy suddenly stopped eating lunch with the team, it’s also worth checking if something happened there. When people have suddenly found another excuse for lunchtime, sometimes its because the group lunch got too rowdy and started going past the line. There’s often been advice on this site about coming up with an alternate plan for lunch breaks as a “safe” way of exiting an uncomfortable lunch situation. Or it could be health related, since both her breaks are exercise-based.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          “To learn new skills like Carrie is doing, Tammy would have to work late or give up her walking breaks. To get unofficial mentorship from the manager and others, Tammy would have to give up her lunch break”

          Which is a scarcity mindset, which OP and Alison also bought into. OP actually might be able to shuffle Tammy’s work so that she could do both the gym and a lunch once in a while, and OP certainly should be able to shuffle workload so that Tammy can get new skills.

          Now that they have a 3rd person, OP really needs to look at workload and talk through options / goals with Tammy. They’ve been overworked for a while (it sounds like from the original comments) and I think OP hasn’t thought through all the opportunities the third person brings for the team.

          Oh, one thing I hadn’t thought of – could OP do a double lunch once a week and go to the gym with Tammy?

          1. PlainJane*

            All of this strikes me as contributing to a major problem, though, which is that the social set-up is affecting the work dynamic. It is the golf problem. One group of employees is developing a clique that gives it an advantage. That doesn’t mean that the person who’s not in the clique should be catered to by deigning to give her a walk once a week.

          2. Allonge*

            “OP actually might be able to shuffle Tammy’s work so that she could do both the gym and a lunch once in a while.”

            I am not quite sure how OP can do this in ways that Tammy cannot. If Tammy would be willing to go home an hour later to cover both gym and lunch and her work, she would be doing that already, by going to the gym right after work. OP may be able to arrange for her to take a two hour lunch break, but all that does is shuffle the tasks around. Should Tammy get to work an hour less?

  2. Czhorat*

    Easy script:

    “Why can’t you be more like Carrie? SHE’S never accused me of favoritism”.

    That should solve it.

  3. Kes*

    I mean, give how OP talks about Carrie, it is likely that she is favouring Carrie. However, if she’s doing that because Carrie is performing better, that is okay – but OP should stop denying it to Tammy because that probably just makes her look disingenuous, and instead talk to Tammy about where she sees her performance at, what she’s doing well, what she could stand to improve on, etc (but don’t use Carrie as examples of what to do well because that really won’t help). Also, as Alison said OP should stop eating lunch with Carrie because that will definitely reinforce the impression of favouritism and that it’s because they’re friends rather than because of Carrie’s performance. And finally, regardless if OP is frustrated, snapping at employees is not okay, and even OP’s apology is pretty self-excusing.

    Did we ever get an update on this one?

      1. BradC*

        Thanks for that tip about including the asterisk! Searching for just “OP” in almost any thread is not very useful.

        1. nonymous*

          for context, my understanding is that feature was rolled out fairly recently (last week, I think?).

            1. Devil Fish*

              No, the asterisk thing is new. Searching “op” will bring up every comment with a word that includes the letters “op” in that order. It’s less than useful on very long comment threads.

    1. J*

      Whenever I hear about something like this, my first impulse is to say: “No duh. I favor good employees and I don’t favor bad ones. That’s how it’s supposed to work.” And I’m kind of baffled that anyone would think otherwise.

      BUT… I suspect the real problem is the extent to which friendliness colors the person’s perceptions of what happens. If the boss gets it into her head that ‘Carrie is great and Tammy sucks,’ then confirmation bias kicks in and the problem starts to spiral. It is very easy to get to the point at which Carrie’s mistakes are immediately forgiven because she’s Carrie and we know she’s a high performer, while Tammy’s mistakes are automatically taken as proof of how much Tammy sucks.

    2. pamplemousse*

      “Favoring” seems to be used to mean a few different things here.

      If “favoring” means giving better evaluations and bigger raises to your best performers, making sure you support their development and career goals, offering them the first opportunity to take on a project you think they’d be good at, etc, that’s not really favoritism; it’s just being a good manager.

      If “favoring” means that, deep in your heart, you really prefer working with Carrie, and you’d be perfectly happy if Tammy found a job somewhere else, well, that’s normal human behavior, and it’s your responsibility to not let it show at the office.

      It is actually not OK to favor employees over the other if it comes through in how you treat them interpersonally, and if you can’t explain a clear reason for the difference. If you let Carrie take more PTO than Tammy, for example, because Carrie is ahead on her workload, you need to also tell Tammy what she needs to do to meet that bar, and offer her the same treatment when she does. Or if you avoid checking in with Tammy because she’s kind of a pain, while swinging by Carrie’s desk every day to see what she’s up to. A team where there is an obvious “manager’s pet” — not one where everyone is treated with respect, and where the criteria for perks or leniency are clear to everyone — is not a team that’s happy and healthy in the long run.

  4. Fibchopkin*

    Did we ever get an update on this one? I remember thinking I wish we’d hear from OP, but don’t remember if we got an updates in the comments or otherwise.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      OP engaged in the comments, google “ask a manager tammy favoritism” and search the 2015 page for OP* (which is working great, thank you Alison!)

    1. Still Here*

      Completely uncalled for.

      Tammy is completely justified in feeling upset. Her boss has a new rock-star favorite who gets special attention, including one-on-one time during lunch.

      1. Neon*

        Sometimes new team members steal your thunder, it’s a fact of life in the working world. Carrie isn’t excelling *at* Tammy.

        Tammy may be justified in feeling upset about it, but she’s not justified in behaving the way she is. Adult professionals should be able to deal with a talented new colleague without being rude or accusatory.

        Tammy is clearly welcome to join the group for lunch and opts not to. She has every right to spend her lunch the way she wants, but not to complain about how Carrie and the LW spend theirs.

        1. FestiveMango*

          Except that time Carrie “forgot” to invite Tammy to a very important meeting and the boss snapped at Tammy, who was the wronged party. This office smells very fish and Tammy seems like the least offensive party.

          1. Jennifer*

            I find that suspect too (the meeting invite) but this is after months of Tammy being rude and passive-aggressive to the OP and Carrie.

          2. valentine*

            Carrie “forgot” to invite Tammy to a very important meeting and the boss snapped at Tammy, who was the wronged party.
            It was important to Carrie, not Tammy, OP did not think Tammy needed prep, and Tammy has suffered only for her response. That said, OP did a lot of “I’m fine with where Tammy is but she could do more but it’s against the culture for me to say so because that would mean less Facebook or walks,” so I think OP would be served by checking whether she really is resentful that Tammy won’t trade downtime for advancement, but this is also the reverse of the letter about “How can I keep this great guy when I can’t pay him more or give him the senior position because xyz?” where the great guy left.

            The Tammy/Carrie dynamic is a nice complement to the letter about the junior employee with the senior title.

          3. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But Tammy snapped at OP first. Not to excuse the OP for snapping at Tammy, but OP realized they made a mistake and apologized to Tammy for snapping, and Carrie also apologized to Tammy for forgetting to invite her to the meeting.

            If OP showing favoritism yes, but it is fair/justified because OP is a much better employee.

            I think Tammy is feeling self-conscious because they realize that Carrie is a better employee and looking for signs of unfair favoritism.

        2. VeryAnon*

          Eh, not all favouritism is performance related though. It can be related to nepotism or kissing up or personal liking.

          1. Neon*

            Even if the favoritism is related to nepotism etc the correct response is still not “act like a big rude baby”.

            Not only is that unprofessional, it’s the wrong move *tactically* as well.

            Let’s say that Manager A prefers Employee B to Employee C due to “kissing up”. In this case, Employee C throwing a tantrum about it will only make Manager A prefer Employee B that much more.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        That’s a bit of a stretch from the letter. It doesn’t sound like she’s getting special attention, and if you get upset because a new employee is a rockstar and you are not, that’s not reasonable. From the letter, the lunch thing sounds more problematic, I agree–but the OP’s comments on the original letter show that it’s not one-on-one time, it’s a group of people eating together, a group Tammy was once a part of but chose to start skipping to go to the gym instead (which is of course totally fine). I still think the OP shouldn’t join that group every day, but it’s not nearly as problematic as an every day one-on-one lunch.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Except that if you look at the original comments, it’s not one-on-one time, they’re part of a larger group, including OP’s boss sometimes. Tammy used to eat with them, but chose to switch to the gym. I don’t think Tammy’s justified – if your choice (gym at lunchtime) causes you to lose something you value (lunch w/ mgmt chain), then:
        1) You have made that choice, you need to deal with your emotional fallout
        2) The constructive way to deal with the loss is to find a substitute that replaces it (eg, once a week, ask to walk with your manager one on one)

        There’s no reason why OP (or Carrie) should have to lose something valuable (easy, convenient lunch with larger team and sometimes OP’s boss) because Tammy decided something else was more important.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          I heard a really great summary of this recently: “Saying yes to something means saying no to something else.”

          In Tammy’s case, saying “yes” to going to the gym at lunchtime means saying “no” to eating lunch with her boss and co-workers.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Especially your lunch break. That’s your personal time, the majority of people aren’t getting paid to be on lunch.

              This is why we always make “social” stuff paid around here. If we’re going to do a BBQ, everyone takes their lunch time as usual. They don’t always eat because they’re ready to eat at the BBQ. But they take their time off to do whatever they want, including just going and running around screaming at birds if they chose to. Then we close down the whole place for an hour and have our BBQ, on company time. So we’re being paid to socialize. Breaks and lunches are sacred business in production.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  If someone tried to “fight” me about it, I’d give them a run down of how it is pretty “grey” and could be construed as “not being relieved of all duties” so therefore, we are “legally obligated to pay them for this time.”

                  But I also don’t work for dick weasels who would ever make me go that far, we have working ownership that actually knows and respects their crew on a human level!

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              But that’s not what’s happening here. Tammy is succeeding at work – manager says she’s doing fine outside of this concern about Carrie and OP. It just happens that Carrie likes / wants less breaks because she gets bored easily. If OP tries to trim Carrie down to Tammy’s performance, Carrie will get bored and leave.

              So, yes, Carrie’s preferences match up to what jobs reward, which means she’ll probably get promotions and more raises. But if Tammy gets reasonable raises (eg, COLA + 1 – 3%) and gets what she values (gym time and breaks), then, well, Tammy’s kinda cutting her nose off to spite her face with this comparison and campaign.

              If Tammy wants to do more than succeed at work, if she wants to excel, she has to decide that she values the money more than the free time. But she does have to pick one and not get mad about the path she’s not taking.

              Which is why I am *not* on the mgmt path at my employer, and why I’m ok with that. I like my time more than the extra $$.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m glad people remember this letter and the OP’s comments to add more depth to it!

          Yeah, that’s how I imagined originally hearing they ate together in a cafeteria. It’s not like they’re taking their lunches and sitting in the bosses car during lunch or something crazypants segregating themselves from all the “others”.

          I get the feeling reading more about it that Tammy really is just sour and that’s sad. I feel bad for her. As a boss, you have to keep in mind that there’s a power struggle and you still have to be “nice” and watch yourself when someone is pushing all those buttons at once. Responsibility of others comes with a higher salary because you’re also in charge of yanking back on your own emotions when they’re being pulled on by a Tammy.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            To me it sounds like Tammy was doing an average job and now regrets not applying herself more. These learning experiences happen. I had it happen early on where I saw if I don’t act like I wanted my job then someone else WILL act like they want my job.

            As a supervisor I saw it up close, there were folks who kept coming to me and asking for more work. I totally understand how that looked to others. I made announcements to the group, “If you run out, come see me I will set you up with the next thing to do.” There were people who asked for specific tasks and sometimes, but not always, I was able to okay that request also.

            It wasn’t until I supervised that I actually saw that some people just KNOW how to push themselves to the rock star spot.Other people did not realize they could do these things. And a few people had no desire to do one extra thing, ever. I can remember times where I asked for volunteers and I said, “Someone who has not volunteered lately.” Then I would tell overachiever Jane that she had done her turn at a volunteer task and it was time for someone else to do it. This works well with groups larger than two people.

        3. DJ*

          I mean, I do still feel like there is a bit of an optics issue with regularly eating with one of your reports and not the other one, even if it’s within a larger group. And not everyone who sees the OP having lunch with Carrie is going to know that Tammy chose not to join. So even though it was Tammy’s decision not to join them, there could still be merit in the OP considering whether they should cut back on the number of lunches they have with a group that includes Carrie. I think that it’s important to note that OP’s boss isn’t eating with the group every day and it could be that this is why (of course it could be something else entirely too).

          Plus, even in a larger group, you can still favor having conversation with one person, so it could be that it’s obvious the OP and Carrie are having lunch together and not just having lunch in a large group of people that they both happen to be a part of (hopefully that makes sense). I’m not saying the OP should have to give it up entirely, but it’s something they should be aware of and consider when they decide how often to do so.

          And I think Alison’s note about the fact that Carrie could feel like she can’t decline (or could feel that way in the future) is important too and is not negated by the fact that they’re eating in a group that includes others.

      4. Jennifer*

        Read the OP’s responses to the original post. This is months of Tammy being passive-aggressive, muttering rude comments under her breath, complaining about Carrie and OP “eating together” when they are just sitting at a table with a bunch of other people, plus she used to eat with them and chose to go to the gym at lunch instead. It’s not “one on one” time. Carrie is simply better at the job than she is. We all have different talents. I stand behind my comment. Her behavior is immature.

      5. FD*

        Yeah, that’s not really what’s going on here, though. The original poster responded in the original. Tammy was doing fine and doing all her required duties. She was offered the opportunity to take on stretch duties to grow her resume/position her for future opportunities, and she turned them down. That was fine, she had no obligation to do so.

        The new hire was learning fast and did decide to opt into some of those stretch duties. (Again, available to everyone, but Tammy chose not to pursue them.)

        (It’s not discussed in the post here, but apparently, it was a larger lunch available for anyone to join–it wasn’t 1-on-1 time and multiple employees and managers attended.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think this is a key point. Tammy turned down something and then regretted it. The only way I know of to get out of this one is as a supervisor, I would “forget” that I asked the first time and just ask again. This gives Tammy a means to salvage her situation without the meltdowns. It’s a win for me because now I have more people working on this task that needs to be done.

      6. paperpusher*

        There’s nothing that suggests the lunches are one-on-one, and in fact the OP clarified in the original post that everyone who ate lunch together was eating at big tables in the lunchroom.

      7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        What others said – like everyone else, I had been giving Tammy the benefit of the doubt, until I read what those lunches really were like.

        It’s not like OP can opt out of them or eat them at another time if these lunches are company-provided and served (I assume) at a certain hour. Tammy was being unreasonable in interpreting these lunches as “OP and Carrie eating lunch together every day” yes, OP and Carrie and everybody else.

        Now she finally stumbled upon a real thing to complain about (the missing/late meeting invite) and, granted we do not have an update, but I suspect she never let that one go. “Remember the one time when she left me off a meeting invite?” Basically, I agree with Jennifer.

        1. yala*

          I dunno… I wonder why Tammy chose to stop going to those lunches? Because the boss clearly DOES favor Carrie over Tammy, and I’m thinking it’s pretty likely that’s obvious to Tammy even in a technically-not-work-related setting.

          I’ve been frozen out of social settings at work before. It’s not fun.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            There are multiple other people, including OP’s manager at the lunches. If all those people are freezing Tammy out, then there’s a bigger problem. And I don’t see any evidence that everyone’s freezing Tammy – her focus on OP / Carrie kinda implies that’s the only place she sees a problem.

            I think Tammy is having to face up to one of the hardest choices Americans make: what’s the right work / life balance for you, factoring in money / time / health / advancement, and Tammy doesn’t want to have to deal with it. But Carrie is showing her the path not taken, and Tammy resents that.

            1. yala*

              If it’s just the three of them in a department, I can understand not wanting to go to a daily lunch where she feels like the odd one out in her own department, tho, even if there are other people around.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                If I feel discomfort or unhappiness, I go look for solutions, not blame. Tammy needs to ask for concrete things that will help her feel more included, not just dump a lot of passive aggressive responses on OP.

                OP certainly can help with patience, offering options, and making sure she keeps raises going for Tammy, but OP can’t manage Tammy’s feelings for her.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Because, unlike my workplace, Tammy’s gives her an option of spending her lunch hour at the gym, and that was where she chose to go.

            I probably have been frozen out of work social settings, and haven’t cared enough to notice, so there’s that. My previous workplace was ridiculously cliquey, I did not care if I wasn’t getting invited to all the parties, as long as my professional input was being valued. (Granted, Tammy does not believe that hers is.)

            If Tammy thinks that OP undervalues her professionally, believes that Tammy hit the ceiling and will soon be surpassed by Carrie, etc, then these group lunches (would not even have to be every day – 2-3 times a week would be enough) to me would seem like the perfect opportunity to establish relationships with people from other teams, as well as with Tammy’s grandboss, who also comes to those lunches, and prove otherwise. Unless all Tammy wants to do is complain, then she’s in a perfect place as it is and does not need to change a thing.

      8. Ra94*

        It’s not one-on-one. In the original post, OP clarified that it was the entire team, including OP’s boss, all eating together at a big table.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Boss still should not be eating daily with a group. It’s bad optics. Like carpooling with a group of colleagues, including one of your direct reports. OP should eat with a table of managers or her rank. Not all the time but certainly do not share in the lunch with Carrie daily. It leads to bad feeling and a clique.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            The group includes other managers, including OP’s boss, so she’s eating with people her rank. How that looks is really a case of office culture.

            In my company, it would be SUPER weird for managers to segregate themselves from their teams at lunch and go over to an All Manager table. Alone / in their office would be less weird, but there is a strong expectation that they’ll eat in the cafeteria with their same-site reports at least once a week.

      9. Seeking Second Childhood*

        No it’s not one-on-one. It’s a GROUP lunch. And Tammy just recently had stopped coming.

      10. Senor Montoya*

        Rockstar is not getting one on one lunches; OP explained in comments on the original that they are group lunches open to anybody.

  5. Buttons*

    One of the hardest things to come to terms within our careers is that at some point we all reach our potential. We are all in a position that is aligned with our capabilities, skills, engagement, and effort. It can be a hard pill to swallow to see the Carries enter into our position and surpass us. There is nothing wrong with having reached your potential. Those are the people who usually do good solid reliable work and don’t leave. They are usually the backbone of the company.
    It is hard to watch the Carries pick everything up faster, get development and special project opportunities, and to advance right over you. But it happens. As an employee what we have to do is be self-aware of our own capabilities and aspirations.
    As managers, we have to give fair feedback and develop people in a way that is matched with their capabilities, engagement, and aspirations. Those aren’t always the easiest conversations, but when they are had it helps avoid a lot of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, fighting, and turn over.

    1. FD*

      And it’s okay to have other priorities! It’s fine that Tammy wants to use her lunch for gym instead of hanging out at work. It’s fine that Tammy didn’t want to take on extra duties for the sake of potential future advantages.

      It’s not fine to get grumpy at someone who wants to prioritize professional advancement.

      1. Buttons*

        Absolutely. That is why potential isn’t just capabilities (skills, talents) it also includes engagement and aspiration. Someone can have all the talent in the world but is content doing their 8-5, and values their home life more. Some people can aspire to be the CEO but their capabilities just aren’t there. And someone can aspire and have capabilities to be promoted, but they have lackluster engagement or negative engagement (relationships/attitudes) .
        It is the magic combination of all those things. None of that is really wrong or bad, but as managers, we have to be able to assess those things and to have honest conversations with employees. If someone is aspiring to something but they don’t have the capabilities- then tell them what they need to do to gain those skills and help them.

    2. VeryAnon*

      This is beautiful, profound and true.

      However, sometimes ‘Carrie’ is favoured because she goes to the same nail salon, or watches the same tv show, etc. I wouldn’t have believed it until a couple of jobs ago. I don’t have political nous and I’m not diplomatic but up until then i’d done well by working hard and achieving good results. It’s hard when your boss keeps insisting that you are Tammy even though you bring in the same revenue in a month that Carrie does in six.

      1. Yorick*

        Sure, sometimes things are different from the letter, but we’re commenting on this letter. Carrie isn’t getting favored. She’s being given opportunities that Tammy previously turned down. She’s having a company-provided lunch that OP is also at.

        1. VeryAnon*

          We actually don’t know that Carrie isn’t being favoured – the letter at exhorted the lw to check her biases and examine whether or not favouritism was going on.

          1. Yorick*

            OP should definitely think about whether she’s showing favoritism. But it doesn’t sound like Carrie is getting anything that Tammy doesn’t have the opportunity to get.

    3. 1234*

      But what happens when you end up at a company or industry where there is an “up or out” culture? There is no way to say “but I’m happy being The Thing and don’t want to be The Senior Thing or Manager of Things.”

      1. Buttons*

        Then that company is misguided and they aren’t the right place for you. You want to work for a company that values its people and develops people according to their skills and aspirations and the people who have the skills and aspiration that aligns with the long term vision of the company.
        Only about 5% of any company’s employee population is what is considered High-potential. If a company has an up or out attitude what often happens is that people who really shouldn’t be moved up get moved up for sake of appearances or being in the in-crowd, high-potential employees are pitted against each other in a cutthroat environment and burn out quickly, and those who do stay through the stress are often not great leaders. And the good solid people working at their potential get stepped on and discarding.

        PS. I am right in the middle of high-potential assessments and selections for the high-po development program at my company, so I have been having this conversation over and over again for weeks :)

        1. 1234*

          I no longer work at that company but yes, “visibility” to senior leadership was something you needed to get if you wanted to move up. And yes, many people ended up leaving because moving up meant Senior Thing which really meant “Thing who’s been here too long” with no real added responsibilities. One coworker was promoted from “Thing” to “Manager of Things” and earned the reputation of “still in the weeds, not really managing much” because nobody taught her how to manage, they just promoted her.

          Funny you should mention that the people who stay aren’t effective leaders. One guy in senior leadership had been there a few decades and his reputation was “not a great leader, doesn’t have any new ideas, focuses on the wrong things.”

          1. Buttons*

            That is why my job, Organizational and Talent Development, exists. I guide the culture and leaders to try to prevent that as much as possible. I also try to make sure future leaders have leadership skills before they get promoted. It has to be part of the culture, and sadly not enough companies care enough, or trust in people like me enough to do it.

            1. 1234*

              We barely had an HR person. It was rolled into the accountant’s job duties and involved mainly providing us information about health care, retirement plans, etc. and not much else. Managers hired their own direct reports and were the ones doing all the posting of the jobs, interviewing and reference checking. HR’s role was processing new hire paperwork.

              Forget about any specific Organizational and Talent Development roles there, that was left to the mid and upper level managers and only them.

              PS – Thank you for your insight! I wish I knew you IRL :)

            2. VeryAnon*

              People like you are so valuable. So many people – including myself, in the past! – have been promoted because they’re good at a particular task rather than having skills at people wrangling.

    4. Mike C.*

      within our careers is that at some point we all reach our potential

      This isn’t true in the slightest. There are tons and tons of underemployed folks looking for decent paying, meaningful work that actually utilizes their skills and talents.

      1. Buttons*

        Fair enough. if we are a lucky, at some point in our careers we all reach our potential and do work that is meaningful that utilizes our skills and talents.
        The POINT is still the same, at some point- people reach their potential. Potential doesn’t just mean skills and talent, it also means engagement and aspiration. At some point someone may have skills to do something different, but they are content and do not aspire to do more.

    5. Jennifer*

      Yes, Carrie likely has already been promoted or has moved on to another company. Tammy is likely still there. There’s nothing wrong with either path.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Probably the latter, because even in the original letter, OP mentioned how Carrie had started to keep a low profile, and to avoid volunteering for extra work assignments, because she did not want to anger Tammy. Life is too short to work with a teammate that has it out for you.

        1. VeryAnon*

          The problem I have with this is that while we are told to take LW’s at their word, it’s possible for LW’s to be unreliable narrators. “I’m going to stop excelling because it annoys a more mediocre coworker,” strikes me as even more ridiculous than getting mad at a higher performing coworker.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Very much agree here.
      Unfortunately, it looks to me that it’s not a case of Tammy reaching her potential. It’s a case of Tammy refusing to take on extra tasks and then being jealous because New Hire does it willingly.

      I have seen so much of this. I have been the hated new hire. I have also been the established employee who explained to the new hire that X is not our job. We do not have to do that. I remember refusing to learn to drive a forklift because I drew my line, I felt I did enough. That one bit me because I could not apply for later jobs that included driving a forklift. Drawing that line works well in the short run, but the long run can prove otherwise. Tammy is learning this.

      1. VeryAnon*

        I wonder if it could also be a sign of dissatisfaction or burnout. I’ve drifted from a Carrie to a Tammy before when a job demonstrated that my reward for all that extra work was… nada.

  6. JSPA*

    It also happens that a manager will pigeonhole an employee based on their level of ability in their first six months or a year; give them the training that they can absorb at that time; and then expect most other learning to happen on an ad-hoc, in-the-moment basis.

    That’s not inherently unreasonable!

    But some people learn better than they self-teach. If a “Tammy” has grown to the point where she COULD learn more if only it were presented in a structured way, it may make good sense to offer a brief, focused, “advanced skills check-in and update” every so often.

    Doing a tolerably passable job with the skills they were given upon being hired while hoping that promotion or recognition will fall in their laps isn’t a great strategy. Fair enough. If Tammy wants to rise /shine, Tammy should ask for more training, advanced training, meta-level skills training. Or, of course, be proactive about sussing out and acquiring those skills themselves, from observation, outside training, outside reading! Sure, that would be ideal. But that may not be something Tammy can do.

    In a non-ideal world, it’s possible that, within the bounds of being Tammy, Tammy can be a better employee–or at least, a contented and competent employee–if the manager periodically puts some structured time and effort (an hour every month or half-day per quarter?) into training Tammy further. If Tammy has insight from a “two levels up” perspective of why “X” matters, Tammy is more likely to be fully mindful when doing X.

    1. Work with a Favorite*

      I have a Tammy at my work, who is coincidentally the favorite unlike this letter, who could absolutely learn/do more and refuses. We are moving to a new reporting platform and she is resisting like we are trying to steal her kid. Refuses to get any training or even log in.
      Boss’ response was “OK – keep doing it exactly like you have been and W (me) can load it to the new platform with their stuff.”
      Two days later…
      Boss: “W – why isn’t your XYZ project complete?”
      Me:”Because I am still loading Favorite’s reports into reporting platform.”
      Boss: “What is taking so long????”
      Me: “You told favorite to keep doing it exactly as they have always done which doesn’t work with the new formatting requirements of platform. I told them I needed it in a different format but they said you told them they didn’t have to change anything. I have to either reformat everything every week or take some time now create a formatting template to drop their reports into to save time each week.”
      Boss: “Well hurry up, this is taking too long and I need XYZ.”
      Me: “Favorite also knows how to do that report so ask and see if she can get it for you since I still have several hours on this.”
      Boss: “Favorite says no it is W’s job so just get it done.”
      Me: “Shouldn’t it be Favorite’s job to publish their own reports onto new platform? Everyone else has to do their own.”
      Boss: “Just do it.”

  7. Neon*

    “I don’t have to like her, but I do have to respect her.”

    Eh, not really.

    The LW should *behave respectfully* towards Tammy, but LW is under no obligation to *actually respect* her.

    Tammy seems to be insecure, conspiratorial, rude, and marginally proficient at her job. If I worked with her I doubt I’d have much respect for her, although I’d try to not let it show.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think it’s just part of being human to find some subordinates more likable. I worked in a fast paced environment and I had to make decisions on the fly. I developed some go-tos for stuff that would come up and blindside me.

      In this Tammy situation, the first thing I would ask myself is how would I react if Rock Star said the same thing? I’d use this type of balancing question to get myself to a middle ground where I was setting standards that applied to everyone.

      BUT! Fair is fair! If I would correct Tammy for speaking in a certain manner then I have to correct Rock Star should they also say/do a similar thing. You can’t have one set of rules for one person and another set of rules for another person.
      You CAN change the level of response to the level of need that the situation or particular employee requires. Some people do great with, “Hey, let’s not do this again.”And the problem is over/gone. However, others need to hear, “You do this again and it will be a write up.” This is because you know you will have to address the same problem again very soon. Differences in people.

      If this extra work was actually mandatory then the onus would be on me to explain that to Tammy. I can’t blame Tammy for saying NO if I ask her if she is willing to take on extra. I should have told her that she needed to learn and do A, B and C also.
      At this point, I would probably reopen the conversation with Tammy. I’d back track by saying I realized I had given her a choice on this work and I now know that I can’t offer people choices any more. It has to get done and it’s part of the job. (If this is true.)
      If the work still remains optional, then I would just offer the option to Tammy again and see if there is an improvement in attitude.

  8. FestiveMango*

    LW is in the wrong here. It’s clear from the first sentence that s/he likes Tammy more. S/he should not even be comparing the two to begin with. And Carrie was totally right to be upset that she wasn’t notified of an important meeting. It’s clear that Carrie was doing just fine, if not amazing, before Tammy was hired, so she should not be suddenly treated poorly because someone new and shiny came along. LW needs to seriously take a look at his or her management style.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But I don’t think that Tammy is being treated poorly, but rather that Carrie is being treated better because Carrie is doing a much better job.

        Theoretically Tammy’s treatment could stay the same, but because Carrie is getting better treatment is might seem to Tammy like she is getting worse treatment.

        For example lets say that Tammy is doing a good job that merits the company providing her with a Lexus to drive in and she is happy with it, Tammy could do more/better work and be given a Porsche, but she chooses not to.

        But then Carrie starts working at the company and doing more/better work so the company gives Carrie a Porsche. Now Tammy wants a Porsche too because she thinks it is unfair. Tammy has the same opportunity to work for a Porsche but she chooses not to. It is not OP or Carrie’s fault.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      meh – if you read the original and OP’s comments there, it doesn’t look that way – Tammy’s behavior was not just once about the meeting, it was weeks of rude, grumpy, passive aggressive behavior (a note? really?) with little provocation other than training time and a large group lunch that Tammy chose to leave. Tammy wasn’t being treated badly, until after Tammy spent a long time treating others badly.

      I know, OP bias, but the default is believe the OP.

    2. lost academic*

      Why do you think she should not be comparing them in the first place? As a manager it is your job to constantly evaluate strengths and weaknesses of your team members and that includes a comparative sense. When work needs to be assigned, all of that needs to be taken into account for various short and long term goals. Being treated just fine for acceptable work is also not going to feel the same when you have no point of comparison to observing how a new colleague is handled when she is a higher performer. She will need different types of support, feedback and coaching because she will have different goals. All of that seems to be supported by what OP wrote in about. But when you do have that situation as a manager, which in my experience is pretty common, it’s best to be clear a and open about why you are doing what you are doing.

      1. pamplemousse*

        I think it’s better to compare them each against the requirements of the job, rather than comparing them to each other.

    3. Yorick*

      But what has happened to Tammy that constitutes poor treatment? She was left off a meeting invite (by someone other than OP)? That when she complained that the meeting was too inconvenient, OP told her she didn’t have to go? (Sure, it was stated more rudely than that, but OP was basically saying Tammy didn’t have to go if it wasn’t enough lead time)

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        OP eats daily with rockstar Carrie (even in a group, that looks bad, OP’s letter frankly told a tale of how she is irritated with Tammy, and I bet Tammy knows it. Carrie is boss’ pet and OP shows it. Tammy had been doing fine before Carrie and when Carrie screws up, Tammy gets yelled at. That’s BS. OP is being unprofessional–she should have corrected Carrie, apologized to Tammy and gotten a different manager perspective on her managerial skills. If outsiders are picking up the favoritism vibe, odds are OP is favoring Carrie.

        1. Yorick*

          Sooooooo…………I didn’t see anything in your answer that indicates Tammy is treated poorly.

          I don’t even really see any special treatment for Carrie in the letter. Sure, she’s got a job with nice perks – they give out free lunch for employees who want it and they have opportunities for employees to grow and learn. But Carrie’s not getting anything that hasn’t been made available to Tammy.

          Sure, Tammy has every right to do something else on her lunch hour. But did she think that meant her boss and coworker would also stop having the company-provided lunch? That’s not reasonable.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Well, if it happened as Faceless characterized it, she’d be right.

            But I think that ‘Tammy made a series of unprofessional and escalating responses (terse and rude; snapped; angry) that I patiently fielded until I finally lost patience’ is a more accurate take than ‘when Carrie screws up, Tammy gets yelled at.’

            Tammy got yelled at because she made yet another unprofessional response. Yelling was not ok, but it wasn’t because of Carrie.

            It’s seriously fascinating how reasonable people can read the same thing and come up with different views.

            1. Bridget G*

              Was it actually unprofessional or was it unprofessional because it was directed at OP’s new bff? Given OP’s favoritism I’m not sure they’re the most reliable narrator.

            2. Close Bracket*

              You haven’t asked enough whys. Carrie screwed up. Tammy is increasingly frustrated bc she’s been increasingly excluded to the point that others have noticed. Then she is excluded one more time, this time by the new favorite, and she has an unprofessional response. Mind you, her response was not wrong. She probably really can’t interrupt what she is doing and go to a meeting in 5 min. Most people can’t. It was her delivery that was the problem. The response she got was actually wrong. “Just don’t go” is not just a problem with tone or volume, it is the wrong response. “When Carrie screws up, Tammie gets yelled at” misses a lot of steps in between, but is not inaccurate. OP never acknowledged that Carrie screwed up, she just yelled at OP.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                To me OP sounds tired of managing Tammy’s emotions. This is pretty normal for bosses to experience. However, we have to be aware of this pitfall and work to avoid it.

                It’s easy to read into this story line that Tammy assumes Carrie deliberately forgot to tell her about the meeting. I can see the boss saying, “Let people up for air, it was a one time mistake.” So that was probably driving the tone of voice. I am not saying it’s right,no-no-no. And as a boss, if I did that I would have to reflect on that moment and figure out how not to do that again. I would start by apologizing for my tone immediately.

                However, Tammy is exhausting with her inflexibility. She can’t learn new stuff, she can’t attend a meeting. Who knows what else she can’t do. I worked with a person like this and they were a real road block. So here I would have to figure out a way to tell Tammy that I need her to add to what she is already doing. I would save that conversation for a different day.

              2. Yorick*

                But what has Tammy actually been excluded from? The lunch that she chose to stop going to? The training that she doesn’t need anymore?

                1. Yorick*

                  Yes, there was the meeting that Carrie didn’t add her name to, but she was still able to go if she could make it.

    4. MsSolo*

      I agree. I think the original comments really show that LW is a bit starry-eyed about their new rockstar, and even though they are attempting to treat them the same it’s hard to imagine that’s not bleeding through in their interactions with their reports. Tammy hasn’t responded professionally to the issue, getting sulkier and sulkier, but LW’s snapping back because they’re at BEC stage with Tammy suggests they aren’t holding that line either. I have to be honest, if I’d raised issues of favouritism with my manager repeatedly over several months and didn’t see anything changing, I’d be struggling to remain professional as well. That Tammy can’t name the manager’s problematic behaviours might be difficulty in articulating them (especially when each example on its own doesn’t sound egregious – “you smile whenever Carrie’s name pops up in your inbox” can be soul destroying without being actionable) or it might be a culture that views those issues as too personal to put to your higher ups. We’re talking about an office culture where other staff members are actively telling Tammy that LW likes her other report better, and where LW publically lost her temper with Tammy. If my manager had snapped at me when I responded grumpily to what appears to be another microaggression in a long list from my immediate team, I wouldn’t want to try and explain why “you like her better than me and everyone in the office can tell” is a professional problem as well as an interpersonal one.

      There’s just something all a bit high school about it that LW is complaining about while also participating in, and I don’t buy LW as an entirely reliable narrator. It sounds like the office culture is, if not toxic, than certainly more caustic than you’d want to spend a lot of time in, especially if you’re only average.

  9. Work with a Favorite*

    Own it.
    “Yes, I do favor Carrie because I know I can count on her to step up when our team needs something extra. I’ve asked you repeatedly to get X training or help with Y project but you have always turned it down, even before Carrie came on board. Many of those items are the reason we hired Carrie. You produce good work and I am happy with your performance in your current role but these comments about Carrie have to stop. I’ve explained the extra time we spend together is a result of training, which you have repeatedly turned down, and the coincidence of both eating in the company break room while you prefer going to the gym. It is your lunch hour to do whatever you want with and I have no problems with you going to the gym and zero expectations that your will change that practice. However, you are correct about the optics so I will be changing my lunch plans to avoid eating with Carrie as much as possible going forward. Now…do you have any questions about YOUR projects/schedule/training I can help you with?”

    There is a favored employee at my work and it is obvious to everyone but the boss – 5 of us could go to him and say “X project won’t work because of Y”, she will pipe in and say “I’m never encountered that issue before so I’m sure its doable” and the project goes forward. She usually isn’t involved in the project and is nearly always wrong but if she says it can be done, we’re all going to have to waste 3 weeks working on it until we inevitably get yanked off that project for another one. I was nearly written up in a meeting a few months back for responding to her “I’m sure it could be done” that unless she is going to do the work to butt out. Luckily I had the documentation to back up several previous assertions that it could be done with hard facts that it couldn’t so the write up was down graded to a stern talking to about respecting coworkers. We call her “little miss perfect” behind her back (petty I know but she has never admitted to being wrong on anything even when it causes serious extra work for others and then gets huffy when we “blame” her) and have chips on our shoulders because in our case WE are the Carries and SHE is Tammy. We are newer and are the ones volunteering for additional projects or duties that align with our interests and she flat out refuses to do anything outside her bubble of tasks. This has caused some issues because she refuses to document her processes so when she is out things have to wait until she comes back to get entered/corrected. She also “forgets” or flat out refuses to do the cross-training/backup tasks assigned to her when the normal person is on vacation. A coworker who was out for surgery was absolutely reamed out by Boss when they got back because LMP didn’t do a task they were supposed to cover and a client was very unhappy they didn’t get their weekly file. Coworker even had email confirmation from LMP that yes, she would do it and yes, she remembers how and has the process docs just in case. LMP told Boss that they’d never discussed being backup for coworker and Boss did nothing even when shown proof that LMP lied.

    1. Nous allons, vous allez, ils vont*

      I don’t think this response would go over well at ALL, to be honest.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah that’s a bad way to approach this.

      If it came back to us that a manager ever spoke to their reports like this, they’d be sent to training and put on notice that it’s unacceptable to speak to someone this way.

      Despite your backup to your “butt out” comment, we would have went through with a disciplinary action for you too though because that’s not acceptable to speak to others that way. Even when they wear out your last nerve. We’re adults and professionals. So snapping and losing your cool isn’t okay in most instances.

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m concerned about the “forgot to invite Tammy” part. Tammy had every right to be frustrated with the situation, what was your conversation with Carrie like when addressing her forgetfulness? Why were you the one in turn letting Tammy know about the meeting and where was Carrie there? Mistakes happen but this is pretty big and will cause waves like the ones you got caught in.

    The appropriate way to handle it would have been to say “I’m sorry that you weren’t told further in advance, I understand if you can’t drop everything and come to the meeting. I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Instead you boiled over because you are letting emotions get in the way.

    I find the lunch thing interesting but that’s because it’s a cafeteria setting, I assume that you take breaks at the same time because it’s how things are structured, it is around here. So it’s weird if our managers decide to not engage with the others, including their reports. But if you’re sitting off to the side with just Carrie, talking to each other, that’s the biggest problem. If it’s a big group of people and it happens to be Carrie is included, then I don’t see the issue there. It sounds like that it’s not like that though, that it’s the two of you having lunch together and that’s sticky icky. Our managers want to be friendly with everyone and therefore make the effort to eat in the group settings but not with just a person or two, that would set everyone’s teeth on edge.

    You should have asked Tammy to have coffee with you on a coffee break to make up for the fact she uses her lunch time for gym time, so you look like you’re actively trying to give her that face time that she clearly craves and deserves.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      From the original posts comments, OPs says it’s a big group of people that included Tammy until Tammy chose to go to the gym instead. OP’s boss goes 1 – 2 times / week, for example. It’s not just the two.

      If I were Tammy, I’d go to the lunch at least once a week, preferably on a day when grandboss was there, to get max use of the facetime.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, I saw your response up thread after I made my comment! Just responded to it =)

        So that clears all that weird stuff up. I really don’t think lunch is an issue knowing that it’s a big group style thing!

        Tammy is pulling away because of her own damaged feelings, which stinks. She needs to grow up for sure but at the same time, her boss needs to rise above her tantrums and not snap at her when she’s rightfully upset over things [not the lunch thing but the meeting issues specifically]. For the lunch thing, it still should have been addressed only because it shouldn’t be the only time Tammy gets to have that facetime with the boss. She should be able to choose to use her lunch time in another way.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      I really like this script for handling the missed meeting. I suspect OP lashed out because she was frustrated by her inability to manage the situation/feelings.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I completely understand why the OP would have snapped, I know years ago I was a lot less…polished in my approach to poor reactions coming from an employee as well. It took me working with much more diverse personalities [I was stuck with the same crew for so long, we all just talked to each other the way we talked to each other…like family, lol]. When I moved on I realized that others aren’t like that and I don’t naturally set out to hurt other people’s feelings and want to try to keep everything as harmonious as possible [which the bigger the place starts to get, the harder it is of course!]

    3. Not So NewReader*

      There is a solution here.

      I had a situation where my Carrie said, “Oh hahhaa- you have to go to Boring Meeting next Wednesday. hahaha. Sucks to be you. hahaha.”
      I was new at the job and because she was laughing I thought it was a joke.
      It WASN’T!
      I did not go to the meeting. yikes.
      I found out it was not a joke when the boss came over and told me I was going to get written up. I was totally shocked and it showed. I explained about all the laughter and how there was no mention of time and place so I sincerely believed it was a joke. I thought if I actually had to go she would have been sure to mention time and place.
      I profusely apologized. I asked going forward that only she- the boss- notify me of meetings where my attendance was required.
      Amazingly, my boss backed down. To her credit she never sent a messenger again. She spoke to me directly and I wrote down the place and time. I never missed another meeting.

      Applying that to my own group, I also never sent a messenger. I spoke directly to the people who were required to go to the meeting. There are some things that are too important and we have to do it ourselves. Sending a peer to tell another peer about a meeting really is not a great idea, that should come from the boss where possible.

      1. Yorick*

        In the letter, it sounds more like an Outlook calendar invitation, and it’s reasonable that your employee might be the one to organize the meeting and send the announcement to the participants. It’s also very reasonable (imo) that you might forget to add one person if it’s a pretty big meeting. And you could mess up in other ways – someone recently didn’t include me on a meeting invite because she mispelled my name (my last name is a somewhat common name with many possible spellings).

  11. The One with the Unpopular Opinions*

    It’s been my experience that favoritism is insidious. I’m seeing this play out right now in my office. It starts out as a professional boss/subordinate relationship. Then over time as circumstances throw them together personal friendships are forged and closeness grows. All well and good, even understandable at the beginning. But then Subordinate sneaks out the back door to meet Boss who exits out the front door to meet up to go get coffee or lunch. Then they are seen dinners out, sometimes with their spouses, sometimes without. No one believes anything is romantic going on, but the appearance is just bad bad bad. I could go on with other examples. Now people are gossiping hardcore. This week, Boss, Subordinate, Boss’s Professional Peer, and all their spouses are vacationing together. Employees put two and two together and figured things out but no one would ever dare confront Boss about it. He’s a good, decent Boss in every other respect. But before they leave, Boss tries to convince me that there’s nothing wrong with this scenario (he brought it up – not me), which he really wants to believes because now of course everyone is Good Pals and are close. He doesn’t see the how this colors peoples’ opinions of him and Subordinate. It definitely does not help that Subordinate sometimes behaves in not so friendly manner to nearly everyone that is not Boss and one or two other people. She has the boss’s ear and doesn’t always use her position for good, I think. My point is, just be careful.

      1. The One with the Unpopular Opinions*

        My point for the LW is that this is a slippery slope sometimes and no matter how innocent he/she feels about her behaviors, others may not.

    1. Nous allons, vous allez, ils vont*

      I mean, yeah, you shouldn’t have affairs with your coworkers but I don’t see how that’s relevant to this letter.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        yeah, no sneaking out the door for lunch, just a big ol’ group right in the company cafeteria…

  12. Jamie*

    Maybe due to my own pet peeve about getting invited to meetings where I’m not needed but if it was okay for Tammy to just not go, why was she invited to begin with?

    It does read to me like there is some understandable favoritism happening, not just due to performance but it’s human nature to prefer the people with whom you have pleasant interactions than the Tammy’s of the world but it shouldn’t be blatant.

    I agree with just focusing on making sure Tammy is getting what she needs from the OP and hopefully she’ll realize her contributions are valued regardless of how successful Carrie may be.

    1. Close Bracket*

      It wasn’t ok for Tammy to just not go. OP was not constructively addressing Tammy’s reaction by saying that.

      it’s human nature to prefer the people with whom you have pleasant interactions than the Tammy’s of the world

      Tammy’s behaviors are a direct result of OP’s favoritism. The solution is not for OP to keep showing favoritism. The solution is for OP to address any performance concerns at a performance level, find ways to show Tammy that she is valued, and to back off some of the behaviors which the rest of the workplace is noticing and commenting on.

      1. Jamie*

        Tammy’s behaviors are a result of her dealing with her feelings in a passive aggressive way by being rude at work for weeks leading up to that. OP’s response was still wrong, I’m not condoning sniping back nor showing favoritism…I’m saying it’s human nature to like people more when they aren’t a pain in the ass.

        But even when they are they still deserve to be treated with professional respect and have their work issues addressed, but that doesn’t include having your complaints about feeling left out at lunch taken seriously when you opt out and it’s a big lunchroom thing with many other people.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I’m saying it’s human nature to be a pain in the ass when you are neglected in favor of the new person. Don’t like the pain in the ass behavior? Don’t neglect people.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I can’t help but imagine two kids fighting for their parents attention and the accusations of favoritism that come along with it. “Why does he get to go and I don’t though?” “You have swimming after school…so of course I took Dickie to do something, you weren’t available to go with us. It’s not because I love Dickie more than you, Timmy.”

      It’s all about the approach. Sure yeah, you may enjoy spending time with one person more than the other. It’s natural in that sense. I have to spread out my time so that everyone is equally taken care of as well, I get it. I would really want to find out how to make someone feel better about the situation instead of assuming that I like Billy more than Johnny because Billy and I are both chuckleheads and Johnny is reserved. I bring everyone treats. I spread my attention around to everyone, even if it’s just popping in on Tammy and saying “How are things going in here, you have everything you need?”

      Sure you need to spend more time with Carrie since she’s learning but you cannot still excuse leaving Tammy out in the cold so to speak. That’s when favoritism is really going to push people into that passive aggressive behavior even when they’re full grown!

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        You brought this up and I smile because the most recent studies show over 70% of parents have a favored child and yes, the kids know it.

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            No, just at the irony. Parents and bosses claim “There are no favorites!” But oh, yes, there are and it sucks. (guess who wasn’t a favored child in my huge family?) So when OP states she’s not showing favoritism and Tammy says she is, I’m betting on Tammy’s instincts. OP sounds like way too many parents stating “I love you equally, kids!” when they give one child a car and shiny new phone and the other child a pair of running shoes.

            1. MsSolo*

              It doesn’t even have to be that obvious though, does it? I am willing to bet, from the OP’s comments on the original post, that OP talks more about Carrie to other people (including Tammy) and she’s smiling more/has more positive body language when she talks about Carrie. She’s very clearly wowed by the new rock star herself, and the rest of the office can tell, because they’re telling Tammy about it.

              It’s one thing to wonder if you’re not the favourite. It’s another when your peers are pointing it out to you. OP is showing favouritsm.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is why therapist offices are full on any given day.

          I’ve seen it in full force and the damage being the “least favored” one causes. So it’s still really ugly that it’s so high and people can’t separate themselves from that kind of thing. But again, people aren’t perfect and there are some really bad “parents” out there walking around.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I consider myself so lucky that the thought to pick a favorite child (I have two close in age) never even entered my head. I have heard that many parents struggle with it, but I swear that the idea is foreign to me.

          I absolutely do have a favorite cat though. (My one son’s two cats live with me.) One cuddles with me when I watch TV, and the other one runs around and howls at all hours of night. It was an easy choice. I regret nothing. They both get equal amounts of food and treats. (Trying to make this on-topic.) But judging by the hungry howls of Less-Favorite Cat, I can guarantee you that, if he could write notes, he’d slip one in my pocket every day, saying that I give him a fraction of the treats that I give Favorite Cat.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          My sister and I were sure that our mom had a favored child. I thought it was me. My sister thought it was her.

          My mom is amazing.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Love this.
            Us grandkids felt this way about our grandmother. We were privately sure that each one of us was her fav. It was a wonderful thing.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Agree, both of these stories are amazing.

              Sadly, with my parents in the role of grandparents, there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind about who the favorite grandson was. At least they alternated the roles over the years (i.e, the youngest started out as their favorite, then when they became teenagers it was the oldest.) I’d been regretting being an only child through most of my childhood, teens, and 20s, until I saw how my parents treated my kids. They were really great grandparents, but there was always a favorite. I was suddenly relieved that I never had a sibling.

  13. The One with the Unpopular Opinions*

    I wanted to caution the LW and others about how this type of situation can become a slippery slope.

  14. 1234*

    I skimmed through the comments but didn’t see this brought up. Is there a sense that Tammy is thinking that she could lose her own job? Is Tammy thinking “OP really likes Carrie. What if OP decides to replace me with another Carrie?”

    If that were the case, I think it’s more important that OP conveys the message that “I am happy with your work, you are performing at a level that is to my satisfaction.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have to wonder what’s going to happen if Carrie is promoted over Tammy, despite being “newer”. Since Carrie is out preforming. You think that Tammy is sour right now…yikes.

      So I agree, it could be that she feels threatened.

      I’ve been there, done that. It’s just the start to ugliness if Tammy isn’t treated better ASAP.

  15. Tipcat*

    Why is Alison telling the OP to lie to Carrie about the reason they can’t eat lunch together anymore? Everywhere I’ve worked, the rules about who can eat lunch together are openly referenced. It’s not personal, just business.

    1. Yorick*

      I can’t imagine a workplace having rules about who can eat lunch together, so it must not be common (or at least not in all fields)

  16. yala*

    “Carrie and I eat lunch together in the cafeteria every day, but Tammy chooses not to eat lunch with us because she goes to the gym.”

    haha, hey cool, my manager does the exact same thing with the other two people in our department, and lemme tell you… it makes me feel like crap. It makes me feel very much like an outsider in my own department, and tbh…it makes me kind of twitchy too.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      What if you only went to the gym 4 days / week, or asked for an extra long lunch once in a while, so you could join them sometimes? Or make sure you walk with them when they go for coffee? Or walk with them to the lunch place and peel off at the entrance?

      If something makes you unhappy or feel like an outsider, are you looking for things you can do to fix how you feel? Join sometimes, or join at another time? Tammy is not – she’s putting all the work of ‘fixing how this change makes me feel’ on her manager, and both of them are approaching this from a scarcity mindset.

      It can suck to be the person doing something different, but you’re getting value from whatever that is, hold on to that too!

      I am assuming your situation is *exactly* the same – that you’re going to the gym and would be welcome if you chose to go to lunch. If you would not be welcome at lunch, it’s really a different problem. Tammy would be welcome, based on comments in the earlier letter.

  17. in a fog*

    I’m really curious about the relationship between Tammy and Carrie — and whether Carrie gets what’s happening here.

    This particular situation may be too far gone, but in general, what about some team-building time? Going off campus for lunch and an afternoon doing something fun — potentially something that Tammy really likes — might yield results that make up for the lost productivity. I’ve been on teams that have gone bowling, done scavenger hunts, etc. It’s not enough to solve the whole problem, of course, but it could be a good investment.

  18. Jules the 3rd*

    So, here’s a thing: Alison focused on optics (stop eating lunch w/ Carrie so much), but I think she’s missed something important: Tammy wants more from her manager and job without having to give up the perks of the job. I think this is a valid thing to want!

    Alison has bought into OP’s framing that Tammy wants to bring Carrie down (reduce access to OP, etc) and hasn’t gotten very creative about trying to bring Tammy up instead. People have mentioned get coffee with Tammy, OP mentioned in the original that the company culture includes walking breaks. What if OP offered Tammy a double lunch break once a month, so she could gym *and* eat with the team (and maybe coordinate with OP’s boss for maximum impact)?

    I’d also ask if Tammy wants to move some of her workload off so that she can join in the training and / or get some new training of her own without having to cut into her break time. Either delay projects, automate reports, or see what Carrie can take. But having Carrie almost up to speed should give OP some breathing room, and OP should use that to find ways to give Tammy more to value in her job and role.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      My script:
      “Tammy, I hear your frustration. It’s been hard to manage people at different skill levels, so I have spent a lot of time bringing Carrie up to speed, so that we can both hand off some of our workload to her. Now that we have the three people that our workload really needs, let’s sit down and talk through your goals and priorities, and see how we can make them work.

      The department tasks tend to fall into X, Y, Z. You’ve always done X, Y well. Do you want to stay with X, Y or get more practice in Z? (Listen listen listen listen)

      If we move X1 and Y1 to Carrie, you should have 4 free hours / week – do you want to use them to train with me 2hrs/ week for the next month on building risk management into your projects? Also, I think social face time once in a while with our managers might be useful – could you take a double lunch once a month and eat with the team?”

      I would not mention cutting down on the group lunches, I’d just do whatever I decided was appropriate without commentary. The decision should be based on company norms, not Tammy’s fears.

      1. Close Bracket*

        I like your script. I am less of a “command and control” person and more of a “find out what’s driving this and see if we can address it” person. When root cause analysis fails, then start issuing verdicts on behaviors.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree fully with you that Tammy needs someone to step up to the plate and address her bigger problems. She’s acting out presumably because she’s not getting what she needs or perhaps she’s fearful of Carrie being competition instead of a team member.

      Since we really don’t know enough about Tammy, other than she’s a decent enough employee and is being passive aggressive, wearing out the OP’s patience with her attitude, etc.

      This is part of managing different personalities and not letting someone slip through the cracks.

    3. Yorick*

      Based on the letter and comments on the original, it sounds like Tammy doesn’t want anything more (she doesn’t want to start working on different projects, etc.). It seems like she wants Carrie to stay at her same level instead of trying to grow and learn. That’s just not something that she can have.

  19. nonymous*

    I’m wondering if the OP did any 1-1s with Tammy? While I think that Tammy is handling feelings of resentment unprofessionally, I think that needs to be a place/time that Tammy can interact with her supervisor without a peer listening in. With the addition of a new person, Tammy may be missing the interaction and rapport she previously experienced with her supervisor?

    The other thing is that 1:1 type coaching leaves space for OP to give feedback on professionalism and big picture comments about her overall work, but also for Tammy to express concerns in a private space. This is a change in the interpersonal dynamics (going from 2 to 3 people), and there are going to be some growing pains. That does need to be acknowledged; and it may be that Tammy needs changes spelled out explicitly.

  20. Former call centre worker*

    I find the idea of two people who work together having to sit on opposite sides of the canteen and not talk to each other, because it might upset someone who is not there, to be insane and also kind of hilarious. Won’t everyone think that they’ve fallen out? They work together, why should they be avoiding each other at lunch?

    I agree with the rest of the advice but I cannot imagine the suggested lies for getting out of lunch being remotely believable, or any other way to stop having lunch with a colleague without making them feel weird and all your other colleagues also thinking it’s weird.

    1. Allonge*

      Plus, if this is a group lounch, it is also an opportunity for OP to meet her peers and higher-ups. Saying that they should not participate because Tammy decided not to has an impact on more than Carrie. And certainly we cannot expect Carrie to be sent out of the lunchrom whenever Tammy does not join, right?

  21. NicoleK*

    How can you tell a sucky boss from a boss who play favorites? Are there key traits, behaviors to look for? I already know my boss is sucky. She doesn’t manage, doesn’t hold people accountable. Sometimes it feels like she play favorites. My BEC incompetent coworker seems to get away with everything, gets help if she doesn’t complete her tasks on time, and our boss has been propping her up for the past 6 years. But she doesn’t get the skill developing projects (cause she’s incompetent). Our boss use to go for walks with her, but that hasn’t happened in quite a while.

  22. Mediocre Employees*

    Has anyone else noticed that marginal mediocre employees like Tammy tend to be much higher maintenance than the superstars?

  23. Luna*

    I agree with Tammy on the ‘you don’t have to like me’ aspect because that is correct. You don’t have to like every person you meet, let alone those you work with. But if you do work with them, you do have to be able to work professionally with them.

    But I disagree with her on the ‘you have to respect me’ thing. I consider respect something earned. Merely reading about her behavior is making me lose respect for her. That doesn’t mean I’d be rude to her, I would treat her with the common decency and politeness that I was raised to give to people by default. But that wouldn’t change that I have no respect for her.

  24. IStealPens*

    As someone who just left a position (with nothing lined up) for this exact reason, I wish my manager had read Alison’s response, although I doubt anything would change. But in my case, my manager WAS favoring employees he hired himself (as opposed to myself and one other whom he acquied as part of a re-org). This one person in general was promoted to a lead position without the position being competed, nor was her promo announced. Someone noticed her global grade changed and it spread within the HR department like wildfire, and yet my manager STILL didn’t respond. I was personally offended because I had expressed interest in upward mobility, and had a ton more experience over this person. My manager also spoke to people whom he hired casually, where as with me he only spoke to me when necessary. And of course I raised concerns, but they were dismissed since HR is typically the ones investigating these complaints, but they refuse they themeslves could possibly be behaving in the same manner that we admonsih for others. That was my breaking point – I am not a hypocrite. This whole experience is giving me pause about my discipline. But I digress, and thanks for allowing me to vent.

    BUT while I am not excusing Tammy’s behavior, there is a lot of research on the effects of inequities within the workplace, even perceived inequities. If she was otherwise performing decently (which admittedly i think she wasn’t), feeling like you are second to someone in the workplace in this manner is detrimental to any success or performance in a role. It causes you to be angry and resentful, which isn’t the proper or professional way to respond, but it is human nature to respond in this manner. Quite frankly it is more of sociological response as well. Oppressed people (whether actually oppressed or just feel oppressed) act out in similar manners.

    But this is just another reason why being a people manager is such a tough position to be in. I hope things improve for both the OP and Tammy. its not a great position to be in for either of them.

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