my coworker is trying to manage me so she’ll get promoted, reporting my husband’s coworker, and more

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

1. My coworker is trying to manage me so she’ll get promoted

At my workplace, like at many workplaces, in order to be promoted one needs to demonstrate that they are already doing the work of the level they wish to be promoted to. A colleague with the same job title and level as me has recently made it known that she would like to be promoted. Without warning from her or from our manager, she emailed me an invite for a recurring monthly meeting for us to “discuss” my performance goals for the year and for her to “make sure I am supporting you in any way that I can.”

Am I right in thinking this is patronizing and obnoxious? I don’t have the kind of working relationship with her where we normally talk about work tasks, much less discuss individual performance goals. Is there a way I can get out of being her stepping stone to a promotion?

Yes, this is patronizing and obnoxious — and very much an overstep.

I don’t much agree with the “you need to already being doing the higher level work before we promote you” philosophy, but you’re right that it’s a common practice. But it definitely doesn’t work when you don’t have the authority or standing to take on that higher level work, as is the case with your coworker. She can’t just decide to “manage” you on her own, just like she also can’t decide to write company checks or fire the receptionist without being given the authority to do it.

I’d respond this way to her meeting invitation: “I’ve already got this covered with (manager) so am declining this invitation.” And if she pushes beyond that, say, “I’m confused. Jane is my manager. Why are you asking for this?”

And if you have a good manager who won’t mishandle it, you might also give her a heads-up about what’s happening, so your coworker doesn’t report that you’re welcoming her help or anything like that.

2. Can I report my husband’s coworker to their HR department?

My husband was friends with a coworker who became obsessed with him. While we were separated, she showed up unannounced where he was living because she needed “water” while out on a run, made numerous social media posts insinuating they were in a relationship, told people they were dating, made a Pinterest board labeled with his (unique) name with pins about love and boyfriends and such, and other alarming incidents. He has to work with this person on numerous projects and hates conflict so he wanted to just ignore everything so as not to cause problems at work.

When I asked her about her behavior, she made false claims that he had picked her up from the airport and they discussed my concerns, then used sexual innuendos to suggest they had sex numerous times. She also told me that I needed to “move on” and “let him live his life” even though we are together. She seems unbalanced and brazen. Can I anonymously report her for behavior that is stalking/harassment to their HR department? My husband would not want that, but when he once asked her “what the hell?” she claimed that she had to rush off to a meeting and has never apologized.

No, you cannot report someone to HR at a company you don’t work with. It would be wildly out of line, and it wouldn’t get you the outcome you want anyway. An anonymous report from a non-employee isn’t likely to be taken seriously, but to the extent they act on it at all, the first thing they’ll do is speak to your husband.

Your husband is the only one who has standing to address this — and you definitely don’t have standing to override his decisions about how to best manage his own work life. You can talk to him about he’ll handle it, but it’s his to deal with (both at work and with this woman directly), not yours. (I’m assuming you’ve considered the possibility that the coworker isn’t actually lying, but if not … you do need to.)

3. Can I ask someone to stop tagging me on LinkedIn?

Almost a year ago, I interviewed someone for a position and ultimately decided to hire someone else. I let this person know, kindly, and figured that would be that. However, she’s been tagging me and others in these weird public LinkedIn posts about her skillset and experiences ever since. Is there an acceptable way of asking her to stop including me?

LinkedIn does let you turn off the feature that lets people tag you, but you can only do it site-wide, not for one person, and you may not want that. You could try blocking her on the platform; I haven’t been able to find anything indicating whether that’ll stop her from tagging you or not, but you could give it a try.

But you can also just ask her to stop. I’d say it this way: “Jane, I enjoyed meeting you last year, but could I ask you to stop tagging me in your posts on LinkedIn? I get a notification every time, and it’s a lot in my already crowded in-box. Thanks for understanding.”

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Does everyone get fired at some point in their career?

I’m a long-time reader, in my 30s, great job, no issues at work. But the more I read AAM, the more I think about something I was told when I was younger. My mother’s twin sister had just been let go from a job and told me, “Everyone gets fired at least once in their life.” This hasn’t happened to me, but I’m wondering if you agree?

Nope. Lots of people have never been fired. But what is true is that being fired is very common, lots of successful people have been fired at some point in their careers, and it doesn’t indicate that you’re a failure or that you’ll be marked by it forever. I suspect that was more of what she was getting at — and, having just been fired herself, it might have been a bit of a self-pep-talk too, or even an attempt to put it in context for you.

5. My former employer says I quit, but they really laid me off

Earlier this year, I went through the hiring process at a new employer, which included a background check. As part of that background check, my former employers were contacted and my reason for leaving was verified against my application — standard stuff. I’ve gone through a similar check before, as recently as two years prior, without issue. This time, though, was different.

A couple of days into the check, a team member from my future employer called to tell me they had gotten ahold of Past Employer X and their records show I quit on Y date in 2017. But I didn’t quit; I was asked to leave and was given a payout upon leaving. My position was eliminated as a result of a merger that resulted in a full house cleaning of management six months post-merger.

I explained and all proceeded smoothly. I have now been with Current Employer for nearly 90 days. I wonder, though, if having the “quit” vs. “position eliminated” designation on my record at Past Employer X may cause issues in the future. If it is going to cause issues, do I need to just start saying that I quit? It feels disingenuous.

Don’t start saying you quit when that’s not true! Get in touch with the past employer and ask them to correct their records. This could be as simple as someone making one wrong keystroke when your departure was recorded, and it might be something you can get fixed with a single phone call.

If for some reason you’re not able to get it fixed, you can proactively explain the situation to reference checkers in the future (and I’d hold on to your separation paperwork for that reason): “I was laid out as part of a mass layout after a merger. I learned from a past background check that for some reason their records say I resigned, but I’d be happy to show you the layoff paperwork if you need it.”

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The comments on #2 turned into a trash fire so I’ve removed them all and closed comments on the post. (In the process I think I inadvertently removed some of the others as well and now can’t get them back; my apologies for that!)

  2. CatLadyLawyerEsq*

    Yeah no this would not fly in any place I’ve ever worked, from restaurant to lawyer. There is always a clear reporting structure, and it sounds like there is a clear reporting structure. Most generous reading is that the coworker is doing the right thing but the new reporting structure just wasn’t communicated to the OP for whatever reason – and exactly zero reasonable people would fault them for at least politely pushing back on SUCH an otherwise strange request.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree. If someone’s suddenly going to become my manager, fine, but someone higher up needs to communicate that to me in advance, and preferably explain the reasoning behind it.

      1. Sparrow*

        Yes, exactly. Otherwise, this behavior would get a strong internal “hell, no” from me. And even if showing you can do the work is expected at this workplace, I’d be really surprised if people were doing this kind of thing (versus seizing opportunities to lead projects, etc. where you can show leadership and managerial skills in an appropriate venue). If it was normal for people to just decide they were going to manage their coworkers without prompting, I think OP would know about it.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          That’s what I was thinking — that this is less the culture there and more a gross misunderstanding of the culture, by somebody with very little judgment. Normally, “show that you can do the work before you’ll be promoted into the job” means asking your boss for opportunities to lead projects or smaller subsets of the work and trying to excel at them when you get those opportunities. It might even involve a manager giving them somebody to pseudo-manage like a new onboard, or to actually manage without being a manager yet, like an intern. But the authority to do managerial tasks always comes from the real manager, because you don’t get to just decide that somebody else has to do what you say.

          If this coworker has blundered into the belief that she can do that, she needs to be immediately disabused of the notion (preferably by her own manager) and taught how she *should* be demonstrating managerial skills… although frankly, if I were in her boss’ shoes, this would make me seriously question whether she has enough of the right instincts to ever be coachable into becoming a good manager. She might be able to get over it, and *if* this were the only thing she’d done that was so aggressively foolish, I’d give her the chance to learn better. But I would also look into what I knew of her other behaviors and judgement calls, and think about whether there were any other red flags in there.

          Meantime, the LW does not need to put up with this, and should probably flag their manager on what’s going on. People so selfishly determined to be in charge of you rarely, in my experience, back off just because you ask them to; LW may need backup here.

          1. chris*

            I agree on looping in the manager as a CYA— something along the lines of “So-and-So sent me an invite to discuss my performance goals and I wanted to touch base since I’ve already had that discussion [or have a discussion scheduled] with you.”

          2. annony*

            Yep. I can’t think of anywhere where it is appropriate to declare yourself someone else’s manager. Become a team lead or mentor someone new, but don’t try to schedule feedback meetings with a peer. It sounds like the coworker want the promoter but doesn’t know how to appropriately demonstrate leadership.

          3. KayDeeAye*

            I agree with Working Hypothesis. Showing leadership through the management of projects – even of glomming on to projects in a sneaky way – is totally normal, though not always effective. Showing leadership by suddenly pretending to be The Leader is just weird and unpleasant, and I don’t believe it would work in even moderately functional workplaces.

          4. WorkIsADarkComedy*

            I had a situation, while not quite like this, was related. In my organization, when a supervisor is out for a day or longer they ask for someone on staff to act. Typically whoever is acting merely fills in, attending meetings, addressing emergencies, etc.

            One fellow, when he would act, actually tried to manage us during that period. It struck me as presumptuous and a sign of too much ambition.

            Sure enough, he eventually got promoted to be a real manager. And to my great surprise, he’s actually a pretty good one! So you never know.

            1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              I also had a similar situation, as a manager. I worked 5 days a week, and I needed a manager-on-duty for the days I physically wasn’t in, to make small judgment calls and manage workflow. The person I appointed went rogue pretty quickly. I had individual chats with everyone working those days, then gave my rogue MOD a strong talking to and gave the MOD job to someone else.

      2. Allison*

        Absolutely agree. If someone who wasn’t my manager suddenly started managing me, like scheduling meetings about my goals and performance, or even telling me how late they think I should stay in the office or how early I should come in, or giving me feedback on how to talk to my colleagues, it would definitely rub me the wrong way UNLESS someone met with me first and said “okay Allison, you’ll be reporting to so-and-so” or “so-and-so is being put in a leadership position and will be doing X, Y, and Z where your work is concerned,” then I’d at least know it’s supposed to be happening.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve never heard of such culture, either. This is a ridiculous demand on OP1’s teammate’s end. Monthly meetings to monitor your teammate’s performance, I have no words! I’ll bet money that coworker mentioned it to their manager that she wanted to move up, the manager responded with the usual advice like “learn to lead”, “prove yourself”, and “take initiative”, and the coworker just ran with it. I’d definitely check with the manager and decline the invite unless the manager says otherwise. Among other things, these meetings are a waste of OP’s and coworker’s work time if they were not authorized.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        I work for a small construction company – the owner, project coordinator (me), two site supervisors, and a controller. The hierarchy here is that the owner manages us, but everyone else is on the same rung of the ladder. My duties overlap somewhat with the site supers, but for the most part it’s pretty clear what I handle and the responsibilities they have. However, they get overwhelmed sometimes on days when there’s a lot of activity on-site, which is totally understandable. I can step in to help, but at times they start dictating to me in a way that I do NOT like. It’s usually when they’re both busy and they start one-upping each other with their requests, which then become demands of my time. Seriously, they seem like kids sometimes. “Oh, you had D get you a lollipop? I want a bigger lollipop! D, you need to stop getting them a lollipop and get mine instead!” I have had to tell them on multiple occasions, 1: I’m not your secretary, 2: I have responsibilities of my own, 3: Being busy is not an excuse to make me do your job for you. Luckily I have the support of the owner who puts them back in line when they get this way, and they’ve always apologized and let me know it was their stress talking.

        KayDeeAye, I completely agree with you that domination is not a great way to show leadership. It’s a great way to make your coworkers want to pour salt in your coffee.

    3. Arctic*

      I’m surprised you’ve never encountered this as a lawyer, to be honest. I’ve both had peers manage me in a similar way as above and have been asked to do so to others lower on the totem pole (always resisted though.)

      Is it a terrible management practice? Yes. But lawyers are often terrible managers. But it definitely happens.

    4. Ama*

      Yup, I had an issue like this with a coworker once (she was not angling for a promotion, she just thought anyone who didn’t do things her way was wrong). She was our budget manager and thought that gave her the right to tell me I was doing one of my projects “wrong” since she could see how I was spending the funds — I was not overbudget or doing anything outside of our financial policies, she just didn’t like the way I had decided to execute the project. She would not let it go, even though I tried many Alison-inspired scripts to tell her politely that I had it handled and she should back off. At one point she told me verbatim “it is my job to manage you on this.”

      This was a pretty dysfunctional workplace that was bad at communication so there was a non-zero chance that she HAD in fact been made my manager, so I went straight to our mutual boss and asked for clarification. Yeah, no, coworker had totally assumed authority that she did not have, and our boss set her straight (and then circled back to me to tell me that I should let her know immediately if coworker tried anything like that again).

    5. sofar*

      Right, I can’t think of ANY place I’ve worked at that this would fly in.

      And I think OP should loop in their manager before or concurrent with talking to their coworker. If I were managing someone who pulled this, I’d want to know so I could explain that this is NOT OK. Because, if OP pushes back, this coworker will probably just move on to another more amiable coworker who may not speak up. Imagine being a manager and finding out one of your direct reports had appointed themselves as another’s pseudo-manager and had been pseudo managing them for weeks without your knowledge.

      It’s also possible that the actual manager asked LW’s coworker to “take the lead” on a specific project. Or to seed a specific meeting where she and LW collaborate on joint goals. and coworker wildly misinterpreted that. Either way, manager needs to set the record straight.

  3. namelesscommentator*

    It’d be pretty out of the norm for the culture of “do the higher level of work” to include literally managing people who you do not manage. You show by doing next level analysis, providing thoughtful feedback and suggestions, and other items. You don’t literally start to do other people’s jobs (in this case OP’s manager’s job).

    1. TexasThunder*

      No, in many companies you are expected to be able to control (let’s not sugarcoat it) others without any actual authority.
      In one case it was pretty frustrating as the guy I was supposed to be guiding didn’t have the background to understand that I knew more on a particular topic, and my manager was disinclined to give me any authority to tell him what to do even he didn’t understand why.

      1. N.L.*

        that’s not the same thing. sure, some companies expect you to manage without formal authority but that doesn’t mean you just appoint yourself someone’s boss.

        1. TexasThunder*

          Perhaps she was privately told she should be informally managing people in her group and they didn’t trouble to explain that to the rest of group.
          She overstepped, sure by making her attempt explicit but they often don’t make the boundaries clear.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “Informally managing” typically means getting work from people on a specific project or broad responsibility you’re in charge of — not meeting with them to discuss their annual goals. This is just incredibly weird and out of line, even in environments with hazy boundaries.

            1. The bad guy*

              I wonder if this is industry dependent. I have never known anything but a world where this type of unofficial management is the reality. Obviously the non manager manager is not the one hitting submit on the yearly review but that person has a meeting to discuss yearly ratings with your actual manager.

              1. Mike C.*

                So what happens when you have multiple secret bosses demanding your time but it’s totally unclear who gets the priority and everyone just thinks you’re “not a team player”?

                This doesn’t make any sense. Someone signs the paychecks, someone prioritizes resources, you can’t just have a free for all, especially one where no one tells anyone how the group is organized.

              2. SS Express*

                I’ve had many jobs where the person who assigned me tasks, oversaw my work on a day-to-day basis or gave me ongoing feedback wasn’t the official manager who hit submit on my yearly review or approved my payrise. I’ve never had one where it was normal for a peer who didn’t oversee me in any capacity to just decide they were in charge of my performance goals now.

              3. londonedit*

                SS Express – exactly that. There’s a junior member of staff in my department, and part of my job involves delegating certain tasks to them, checking up on the status of things they’re doing that directly affect my role, and answering any queries they have about processes and whatnot. But I’m not their manager, and it would be hugely inappropriate for me to say ‘OK, Sarah, I’d like to schedule a meeting with you so that we can go over your workload and your goals for the next few months’. That’s completely out of my wheelhouse, and something for my boss to do. There’s absolutely no way I could take that decision unilaterally.

              4. Mel_05*

                I’m an in-house graphic designer, which means people across the company can assign me projects and they are managing those projects and, as it relates to the project, me.

                But it would be bizarre if they wanted to discuss my work goals. They might check in about my work load if they had something big they wanted me to take on, but that always ends up being a discussion where my actual manager is included.

              5. EinJungerLudendorff*

                I feel like we’re hitting on the difference between project management and people management?

                But while it’s not unusual to have an improvised project management structure, the people management is often much more defined and strict. And thats what coworker is trying to take over.

              6. Corey*

                No. That is just bonkers.

                If a random peer who is definitely not your manager came up to you and said “I am the one who reviews your performance goals now” you would just be like “Okay!”?? What industry is this? What happens if each of two peers decides that they are going to manage the other?

            2. Tinker*

              I had an experience like this a bit ago — of being put under what I guess could be called an informal manager who wasn’t officially in a management position and finding about this by the person just showing up at my desk and doing some or another management task (I don’t think it was about yearly goals, but it was something akin to that).

              I said vaguely agreeable things because I was afraid of looking foolish or impertinent if I asked what the heck was going on (not a great moment on my part, but that’s nonetheless what I did) then I went to the person I thought was my manager, asked “so Wakeen just started doing management things with me all of a sudden, what’s up with that” and the answer was “oh yeah, you got moved in last week’s reorg, so Wakeen is sort of your manager although you’ll officially be under Karen”. Organizational communication: a known weak point XD

              I recognized it as weird and not great at the time (also it ended up… not going well), and you saying “incredibly weird and out of line” causes me to further rethink some things, but it did happen (in a large company that has been around for a bit — not an adolescent startup sort of situation) and it was a thing put in place by the actual management team rather than a spontaneous fancy on that guy’s part alone.

              So not to say it’s not messed up, but I could believe it might happen.

              1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                Which means at least part of the advice still stands – talk to (who you think is still) your manager to find out the situation.
                Yes, it’s probable that co-worker was told they’d be *given* informal managerial responsibilities. It’s also possible that she’s done exactly what OP surmises and just took it up on herself to *take* informal managerial reponsibilities, with OP as her target.
                OP needs clarification.

              2. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

                That actually happened to me once: “Oh, yeah. There was a shuffle of people and reporting structure, and now you’re under this guy. Sorry, we forgot to tell you.” Honestly, it was a sign of my impending lay off but at the time, it was odd and frustrating. I’m just a pawn not worthy of being told who my new manager is?

            3. Lilo*

              I also think there are privacy concerns here. When I was managing people I had access to confidential performance files. I was not supposed to share performance data with random coworkers, just the employee and relevant management above me.

              This is bizarre and completely inappropriate.

            4. Tisiphone*

              Informal leadership at my company tends to be a light touch – things like being responsive to questions outside the department and things like that, but nothing to call a manager at home about. Or potentially having to make judgement calls – do I call someone at home or can this wait for the next shift when the regularly scheduled person is available?

              For us night shifters, this kind of informal leadership is a need. People who need close supervision or who call the manager for everything really need to be working days when the official leaders are around.

              Anybody trying to discuss performance or goals beyond “Could we get together and make sure we all know how to…” is way out of line.

          2. Mockingjay*

            In my industry, we have team leads who disseminate and track work assignments, and managers who supervise employee performance. The task lead is usually a peer among the team; all report to the manager. I can see where the lines could get crossed.

      2. alienor*

        I’ve been in that position multiple times before, sometimes with more than one person at a time, and wow is it awkward. At least the last time it happened, the next-level-up manager told the affected people to “consider [my name] your day-to-day manager” but handled their career development discussions himself.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’ve seen leaders emerge from out of nowhere throughout the years. It is doable and I’m not surprised it’s expected in some places.

        However that doesn’t mean everyone can do it. The OPs coworker is failing at her attempt. You don’t just start setting up meetings about performance goals and becoming a random colleagues boss like that.

        You have to be more subtle and thoughtful to get at the end goal by making people report to you on their own. You establish your authority carefully without making yourself just look like a bull running full force into a china shop.

          1. Mookie*

            Also, the kind of culture the LW describes about mastering the next level up’s skills in order to land promotion are helpful here, because dollars to donuts there are better examples of both hard and soft skills this colleague could be demonstrating during her campaign to climb the rungs. Performance reviews/mentoring are great, but they’re unlikely to be the meat and potatoes of the role she’s seeking.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              This exactly. My initial reaction to the letter was that the coworker severely misinterpreted something she was told to do by her manager. You demonstrate leadership qualities–that’s what they mean by saying showing you can do the next level job. It doesn’t mean literally trying to do your boss’s job. You don’t try to set performance goals for people, for crying out loud. If this coworker can’t figure out ways to demonstrate that she’s a leader beyond what she’s trying to do with the OP, then yup, she is definitely proving she’s not ready for management.

              1. OtterB*

                My reaction was the same as Another Alison – that the coworker had probably misunderstood something and that talking to the actual manager should help OP1 clear it up.

        1. Pear*

          This sort of happened where I work. Our team had an intern, who theoretically reported to the same boss we did, who is always fairly hands-off, which is fine for most of us but hard for someone new to the working world.

          One of my peers just sort of casually took over managing the intern. Nobody assigned her to do it, but nobody else wanted to step in, and intern was fine with it–her work got done, she was learning and happy. Successful or not, I can see it very much rubbing certain personalities the wrong way, though.

          1. Rainbow Roses*

            Teaching an intern the ropes is far different than setting up meetings to discuss goals. I’m a lowly worker and even I’ve taught new hires about our systems and how I do certain tasks. I’ve even put together instruction manuals and learned other coworker’s jobs. However I don’t expect anyone to report to me and it’s not my place to discuss their goals and future with the company.

      4. MK*

        Even when you are expected to manage without authority, it’s not done in secret; they usually give a title like “supervisor” “team lead” “senior X” or at least tell the employees something vague, like “coworker X was asked to “help” the manager with some of is duties”. In any case, I don’t think the OP should be afraid to even mention the situation, but they don’t need to be confrontational either. My suggestion would be to go directly to the OP’s manager and ask about the invitation in a confused tone; that will likely clarify the situation one way or the other.

        1. Elenna*

          This. I have a day-to-day manager (Fergus) who assigns tasks to me and such, who is not the same as my official manager (Wakeen) on company paperwork. (I’ve only been here a few months and I’m not 100% sure which of them does performance review-type stuff, but I assume it would be a collaborative thing). But the difference is I was told this in advance, with clear communication. Also, yeah, they have different titles – Fergus’ job title includes “Associate Director”, and Wakeen’s includes “Director”.

          BTW, is this not a normal structure? I assumed it was more common than it seems to be based on the above discussion. But now that I think about it, all the jobs where I’ve had a structure like that have been actuarial analyst positions, so maybe it’s an (entry-level) insurance thing?

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Nah, I’ve had dotted line management before – in my current position in fact and it’s not entry level or insurance. But like you said – dotted line relationships are usually spelled out to the reports in advance so there would be no confusion.

    2. Mike C.*

      “Hey folks I want to be promoted to aerospace engineer, so I’ve taken it upon myself to draw up plans for a whole new airplane that we’re going to start building right now! Got to demonstrate that experience and if you don’t help you’re not a team player!”

      Seriously, it sounds ridiculous in all sorts of professions and job positions. Maybe someone here wants to become a diplomat or brain surgeon or an admiral in the Navy?

      1. Zip Silver*

        That might actually work if you came up with something for the NMA to replace the 757/767. It’s been 20 years…

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        You said it. I was shocked at manager-wannabe’s chutzpah, but reading the comments I wonder if I’m being naïve. I’ve worked with bossy people before who thought they were bosses or supervisors when they weren’t any such thing, but they didn’t get away with it unless they were the boss’s fave. And even then, they didn’t get away with this much.

    3. Media Monkey*

      exactly what i was about to say – it should be taking on bigger projects, asking to do work that might not normally be in your role, suggesting to your manager things you would like to work on improving and so on. not managing people that you don’t!

  4. Zip Silver*

    Idk, I had a comment about brown nosing deleted yesterday, but this definitely seems like that. If I had a coworker whose not in my reporting structure schedule a performance review, I would have some choice words in my reply email and copy both mine and their manager.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I wouldn’t have choice words, but I would definitely decline the meeting invite using Alison’s script (or something similar) and copy my manager on the response. This coworker has seriously misapplied the axiom about doing the higher level work first to get promoted and needs the manager to step in and put her back on track – which is her own job track, not the manager’s.

    2. Lilo*

      I would definitely forward it to my manager with a ???. This would not even kind of fly at my workplace. At my job there are work projects you can apply for and do that demonstrate skills, like helping train new employees or taking on the job for someone in leave. You absolutely cannot just start acting as a manager. You wouldn’t have access to the data you needed.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Choice words give this sort of thing more import than it should have. It’s an absurd request, and a simple no puts it to bed quietly without indulging the coworker’s crazytown. I’d forward it to my boss as an FYI, but I’m also opposed to getting caught up in anyone else’s crazy at work.

      I’ve had to tell people they’re not their coworker’s supervisor before and to draw appropriate boundary lines for people who couldn’t see them themselves. The less fanfare you give it, the quicker it dies down.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      Yeah I’m not familiar with the “already be doing the job you want” philosophy but I doubt it means that aspiring CEOs should just walk into the boardroom and take a seat and start pontificating. Although I’d like to see what would happen if OP sent coworker an identical invite and decided to start managing her work as well!

      1. londonedit*

        I get it in the sense that if you’re going for a promotion, your bosses are going to want to see that you have a reasonable amount of experience in your current role, you’ve developed and grown in the things you’re doing, you’re already taking on some – some! – of the responsibilities of a more senior position, and you’re ready for the next challenge. But not in the sense that you should literally take it upon yourself to start doing the more senior job.

  5. Drag0nfly*

    Being a team player doesn’t mean indulging delusions. OP’s coworker isn’t her manager, nor is she the “team leader.” Can OP “serve two masters”? If there’s a conflict, whose directives should OP follow? The one who’s actually in charge, right? Not the delusional coworker who wants to be in charge?

    I’ve never encountered an environment where the coworker isn’t bonkers for what she’s doing. It’s ridiculous on its face. OP, tell her that she can “manage you” when she becomes your manager, but in the meantime, she can run requests by your actual manager.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      In the alternative, reply to her email by saying you were planning to set up regular meetings with her to evaluate her performance and take over management of her.

      1. Mookie*

        Remember the LW last year whose direct report tried to sternly manage her by expressing his disappointment when she did not meet his expectations? Invaluable lesson, there.

        1. Legally a Vacuum*

          “It’s my expectation that you will do…”

          I loved the follow-up to that post.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            That LW handled that (incredibly bizarre) situation beautifully. That was one of my favorite 2019 updates.

      2. Julia*

        That’s what I was gonna suggest. Like, what happens when two people try to play this bizarre game?

      3. EPLawyer*

        This would be funny. Wrong. Do not do this. But funny if you could actually do this in the real world.

    1. TexasThunder*

      Eh. I had two jobs in consulting where that was the case.
      It’s not uncommon in an “up or out” environment.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        My point was, this isn’t universal and without knowing what industry this is and what kind of environment this is, OP’s coworker is being weird. (And considering the fact that OP is taken aback by this behavior, I would be surprised if this was the kind of industry where this kind of proactive unofficial leadership is A Thing.)

        1. TexasThunder*

          Well we don’t know.
          I can say definitely that it is A Thing in some industries.
          And sometimes someone gets the wrong end of the stick about how to approach it.

    2. The bad guy*

      I am not a manager and managing employees is written into my goals as a 25% factor for my yearly bonus.

      1. N.L.*

        OK but that’s probably not a secret from your coworkers so that’s not the O.P.’s situation. And if it IS hidden from your coworkers, you’re working somewhere toxic and dysfunctional.

      2. Allonge*

        How does that work, though? Are you supposed to just grab random people and bully them until they do what you say, even though they are not reporting to you? (I am not saying you are a bully, but is the system set up so the loudest gets to manage?)

        We have projects where the lead / PM is not officially anyone’s boss, this is normal. But people are part of the project because they were assigned to it by their own bosses. They do what the project lead says.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      And even if a coworker was suddenly given a bit more authority as a sort of test, it seems extremely unlikely that the first thing they would start with is taking over their coworkers goals. That would be super weird!

  6. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m skeptical that’s what’s happening, but if it is, then asking the coworker or the manager what’s going on will reveal that. Under no circumstances should the LW just go along with it without first pushing back and finding out what’s behind it.

    But we also just had an update from a LW who found out that the person she thought was her boss was self-appointed and not actually her boss in any real way.

    1. The bad guy*

      You’re right, “pretty good chance” was not a good way to put it. My point is that this system definitely exists in some places and the employee is not always aware because telling an employee that their manager is not going to manage them day to day is very confusing, screwed up, and uncomfortable.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Why is it difficult to tell your report, “Jane is going to be leading X project, so you’ll be getting your workflow and feedback from her on tasks related to that?” It happens all the time. Delegating authority is a key part of holding it at all. Most managers I know — and all good ones — know how to do this and are very comfortable with it.

        My boss, Lucinda, is the manager at the clinic I work at. Wakeen is our team lead. He doesn’t manage me, but he has some specific, limited managerial roles in addition to his IC role, and I was explicitly informed during onboarding about exactly what I could take to Wakeen and what I should reserve for Lucinda herself. It was all very explicit and totally normal… not uncomfortable or screwed up at all.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s not hard at all, and it would be impossible, in my industry, to get anything done without this sort of delegation – but we tell people that explicitly what the structure is. I have someone who has a supervisory but not managerial role, and we tell people when they interview (with both the manager and the project supervisor) about how the group is structured and that the supervisor will be assigning them work and providing assistance with and feedback on that work on a regular basis. The manager runs the whole floor deals with bigger things than showing the new person how to use the copier or how to file a document with the relevant jurisdiction. As people develop skills, they are also given the opportunity to lead smaller projects and also to participate in projects their peers lead. It works well and has for years.

      2. Antilles*

        telling an employee that their manager is not going to manage them day to day is very confusing, screwed up, and uncomfortable.
        Not really. This is a script I literally wrote up in five minutes that seems pretty straightforward and simple:
        Andy, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been swamped with trying to grow our teapot department and am often out of office for client calls and marketing. Therefore, I’m appointing Bob to be my informal deputy. While I will still serve as your formal manager for purposes of reviews, raises, discipline and so forth, I’d like you to start reporting to Bob on a day to day basis with minor issues. If you talk with Bob and don’t feel like an issue is getting resolved or if it’s something that is really major, I am still always available, but as a general rule, I’d like you to go to him first and only bring me in as a next step. I know this might be an adjustment, but I just need to get out of some of the day to day small items so I can really focus on bringing in these new accounts so we can continue to grow and provide opportunities for everyone to develop.

  7. Mike C.*

    Why does everyone in this sort of culture forget to tell everyone else what is going on? What happens when multiple people are secretly told this and they work at cross-purposes?

    1. The bad guy*

      I think under a half competent manager they’re only assigning this duty to one employee at a time.

    2. Cheap @ss Rolls*

      Cream rises to the top, baby.

      As myself and other poasters have said, this is very much A Thing in some office cultures. Obviously it won’t fly everywhere, which points up the importance of knowing your culture. But I’ve seen it done, and it can work well with the right team. Let folks self-select into the best workplace roles for them.

      To use a metaphor, it’s the employer’s job to get the right people on the bus. But allow the employees to figure out the best seat on the bus for each person.

      1. N.L.*

        So can I just decide I’m in charge of running payroll now? Giving out raises? Can I fire my coworker who I don’t like? Put my other coworker on a PIP? Tell my boss he can’t take the week of vacation he wants? This sounds wonderful.

        1. Cheap @ss Rolls*

          Sure. Keep in mind those things will only be effective if the person doing them has credibility with their coworkers.

          For example, at Old Job it wasn’t unheard of for one employee to write the other one up, despite the lack of a formal superior-subordinate relationship. But if the employee who issued the write-up isn’t respected, then it’s a pretty hollow gesture.

          1. Cara S.*

            You worked in one hell of a dysfunctional environment, then! And as AAM warns against in other posts, that has clearly seriously warped your sense of what’s normal/reasonable/acceptable.

            I’m so sorry. Hopefully with time you’ll recover from this. In the meantime, you should probably refrain from using that experience to support any advice you give to others. It’s making you less credible and less helpful than you think.

          2. Lilo*

            I’m sorry but that is completely crazy pants and basically a recipe for a toxic environment.

            There is a lot about management that requires judgment and confidentiality. I oversaw an employee with a disability, for instance, and it was my job to make sure he had his equipment. But his personal medical information was also confidential. I also oversaw a PIP which was also confidential.

            Completely insane to not have very crucial and what should be confidential tasks not clearly delineated.

          3. doreen*

            This doesn’t make any sense, not unless “writing up” refers to memos from Employee A to Employee B that go nowhere else and have no real effect or to memos . ( which is what it seems like if it’s sometime a “hollow gesture” ) For example, where I work, Employee A can write any memo he or she wants to Employee B. It’s not likely to result in anything other than a memo war .

          4. Antilles*

            “Question: So can I just decide I’m in charge of running payroll now? Giving out raises?
            Answer: Sure. Keep in mind those things will only be effective if the person doing them has credibility with their coworkers.”
            Wait, what? The idea of NL deciding on a whim “hey I’m now doing payroll, cutting checks, and changing people’s salaries” just because NL is liked by coworkers and can sound confident while claiming the role…that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen – both from an obvious fiscal perspective but also from a legal perspective.

          5. NotAnotherManager!*

            I am trying to picture exactly how red my general counsel’s face would get if peers started writing each other up. So, so many potential issues with that, so little time.

          6. NerdyKris*

            I’m sorry, are you seriously saying that you worked in a place where someone could just take over payroll and firing people? That’s not really a matter of credibility, you’re talking unfiltered access to the company bank accounts and network access. What happens if everyone’s log in is disabled and all the money given to one person as a paycheck? That’s not really something that credibility is going to affect, it would destroy the business.

          7. Allonge*

            Was this an experimental colony in preparation for travelling to Mars or some kind of commune though? What does a write-up mean in this case? Can someone well liked get anyone fired?

            I am not doubting you, it’s just that the whole principle is way too alien compared to anything I have seen.

          8. Angela*

            I had a co-worker rise in the ranks that way. He just started working on whatever projects he wanted, ignoring his manager, and placing himself in meetings and decisions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t actually qualified for any of it- and half the office noticed. He was just wasting time and BSing things he googled 5 minutes beforehand.

            But his boss just saw confidence, and saw him doing seemingly a lot of things, so he was promoted. So now he can manage and oversee things he has no experience or qualifications, and has even less oversight. It’s bad for morale, quality of work, and productivity. And people have to give him respect because of his title even if he didn’t actually earn it. Things didn’t get better from there.

      2. Approval is optional*

        Cream doesn’t rise to the top by usurping its manager’s authority. Cream gets itself booted from the fridge for that in a functional workplace. And in a dysfunctional workplace it isn’t actually cream that’s rising- the cream will have selected out of the organisation.
        Self-selecting *might* work in a 100% functional team (one staffed by unicorns) , when it comes to selecting project allocation, case load distribution or the like, but I’d argue strongly that a system that allows people to simply self-select into a management role is not going to help an organisation meet its business goals in the medium to long term (and possibly even not in the short term).

      3. Impy*

        Other things rise to the top too. And no, allowing employees to figure out the best seat is absurd. In my experience, arrogance and competence are negatively correlated.

      4. JSPA*

        Ah yes. Jo Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness” as a management principle. That’s not going to lead to abuse and entrenched dysfunction and back- slapping bro-ism and someone eventually cooking the books; how could it?

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      I could see a scenario where the actual manager told annoying coworker that in order to get promoted, she should “show she could be a team leader” or something to that effect and she interpreted that to mean she had to forcibly wrest a leadership position from her coworkers. I think it’s worth taking Alison’s advice AND asking the boss whether or not there is some circumstance that makes the coworker an informal “team lead” of sorts.

  8. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I was fired from my first job after repeatedly rolling in over an hour late because my BF at the time told me that being on time for work wasn’t important. (it is!) Also, here being fired vs laid off makes a difference for unemployment insurance claims.

  9. Diamond*

    ??? I’m sure “perform at the level you want to be at” is not intended to include “randomly start trying to manage co-workers you are in no way superior to.” Being a team player doesn’t mean going along with someone pretending to be your boss.

  10. JJ*

    Wow OP #1, that is a WAY more direct attempt at “managing a co-worker” than I was expecting! Fortunately, it should also be easier to shut down.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Yes. A decline with a simple, “Not interested” or “no thank you” should work fine for most.

  11. Massmatt*

    I worked in a couple places where taking initiative and additional duties gave you a definite leg up in getting a promotion to that job. But it was more about taking on additional responsibilities, seeing what needed to get done and taking the initiative to do it without being assigned the task, etc. what the LW is describing is more like someone taking on the trappings of management, not doing the actual work.

    In most workplaces there are tons of things to do that fall through the cracks, it doesn’t sound as though LW’s coworker is doing any of this less glamorous work, and is instead jumping to putting herself in a supervisory role she hasn’t earned. If she were a really good worker worthy of promotion she would already know what the LW needs and doing the work to help her. Instead she is scheduling meetings to make herself look good.

    She should be taking up slack in the workplace so that coworkers wonder “why aren’t you a manager!?” Vs: trying to get the glamor while her coworkers wonder “WTF are you trying to pull here?”

    1. MsSolo*

      The obvious way to get demonstrable management experience is to lead on a discreet project or complex task that requires you to manage other employees within the context of that project only – something where you’re writing business cases, setting budgets, managing work flow and so on, where you have to manage performance within the requirements of the project, but don’t have responsibility for managing their work outside of that. The stuff that actually gives you relevant experience, including in how to handle it when stuff goes wrong (and how to performance manage when you don’t have hiring/firing ability!), not have pleasant chats about someone’s career goals.

    2. londonedit*

      Yes, exactly. There’s taking initiative/doing more senior work within the boundaries of your current role – maybe stepping up to lead a project, or starting to contribute more in meetings, or your boss suggesting you have a go at drafting a report that they’d usually be responsible for. And then there’s ‘taking initiative’ in a ‘gumption!!’ sort of way, which usually involves someone deciding to try to muscle in on something that shouldn’t be their job, or take over something that they don’t have the experience to do. The first option is exactly the sort of thing that you can point to as evidence of ‘doing the job already’ when you’re going for a promotion. It’s totally reasonable to say that as you’ve already been drafting the reports that the Lead Banana Peeler is responsible for compiling, you feel you’d be more than comfortable stepping up to do that in the Lead Banana Peeler role. But I’d say that – absent any evidence that this person was actually asked to start managing the OP – the situation in this letter falls under the second definition of ‘taking initiative’. And in most reasonable workplaces, people can’t just decide to start acting like they’re line-managing their peers.

    3. JustaTech*

      Just make sure that those tasks are the kind of thing that upper management cares about. There’s nothing quite like busting your tail on important projects that *had* to get done only to find out that upper management thought that all that work could have been done by the EA (no, not even if she cloned herself), or that the other project should only take a few days (a few days of everyone in the building working flat out on that and not all their other work).

      Long-term or ongoing activities are (probably) a better way to show leadership/advancement than one-off projects outside your wheelhouse.

  12. Avasarala*

    I think “fired” also technically covers situations Alison describes as ideal, where an employee is not working out, they’re put on a plan to improve but they can’t meet it despite being a kind and hard-working person, so they and employer agree on a transition-out period. That’s more of a “let-go” but that’s technically the same thing.

    It also doesn’t cover common situations like “grossball CEO decides to retire one day after scandals hit the press” or “Avasarala decides to leave a job she was wholly unfit for and only lasted so long because everyone was too awkward to fire her”.

    It’s kind of like “everyone gets dumped at some point” which is a similar truthism. Lots of people get rejected even when they really wanted to keep going. And lots of people don’t get technically rejected but slowly and painfully realize that the situation isn’t working out. I think almost everyone has been in either of those situations. Making mistakes and not getting what you want is a frequent (and I argue essential and fascinating) part of the human condition.

    1. Mookie*

      I agree and I do think people routinely characterize this as “firing”/“sacking” and correctly so, because it functionally is. Legally, this is distinct from constructive dismissal, but the outcomes are similar, where the employer intends to terminate but would prefer poor performers leave voluntarily and wants to build a strong and documented case for termination (eg PIP) if that doesn’t happen. Demotions, changing the nature of or duties to a role, eliminating that individual position, and limiting access to promotion work just as well, but resigning under these conditions can still feel like you’re being fired, even if it’s not unfairly so.

  13. Massmatt*

    Is it illegal for an employer to deliberately Describe a lay-off as a resignation? It is certainly potentially damaging to the former employee.

    I am skeptical that this was an accidental mixup by the former employer.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      It depends on the context, for:

      – unemployment the company can’t claim a person resigned when they were fired or laid-off
      – reference checks, it is not really illegal to say someone quit vs being laid off. The company might think they are doing the person a favor by saying resigned vs laid off. The one way it might be illegal is if in the OP’s situation the new company decided to rescind the job offer because OP “lied” claimed lay-off when they resigned. If that happened someone could try to bring a defamation claim, but it would probably be a stretch.

  14. fish*

    I think there are some regional differences too — here in the UK where we have stronger worker protections than in the US it’s much more unusual to be fired (I think I only know a couple of people who have been) and my perception is definitely that it reflects very badly on someone and their ability to get hired again.

    1. Link*

      While there are stronger legal protections in the UK, getting fired in the US is still really uncommon. I also only know a couple of people who have ever been fired. We see letters here all the time about crappy employees that should be fired but are not because management doesn’t feel that there is a strong enough reason for it. Legal protections are not the only thing that stop employers from firing people. Employers don’t want to risk a fired employee hurting their reputation or filing a discrimination claim, so they do have an incentive to keep firing to a minimum.

      1. Mel_05*

        Eh, it’s uncommon in that most people leave most of their jobs for some other reason. But it’s common enough that many people will be fired at some point in their careers.

    2. Daisy*

      It’s likely you know more than you think. I was basically fired once, but we ‘mutually agreed’ a leaving date and I’ve never told anyone, so if you asked my family if I’d ever been fired they would say no.

      Also, it seems common in the UK (maybe US too, i wouldn’t know) to get round this by giving temporary contracts (usually a year). So when it’s not renewed it’s often unclear from the outside whether this was more like getting fired or more like a lay-off. Sometimes even from the inside – my friend’s contract wasn’t renewed recently, and she was speculating about whether they were really changing the position substantially or just getting rid of her. But on the CV it’ll just say ‘temp contract’.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Agree with this. Even in the situation I described above, we agreed that I could resign (which is what I told future employers), although the three of us in the room knew I was being fired.

        I suspect this happens a fair bit. A lot of paperwork and resumes and verbal admissions reflect a resignation or layoff, even though in about five minutes the employee would not have had that choice. The people who actually get all the way to being fired often are the ones who are unrealistic about how things are going, or who have just been caught in duck-club-level misconduct.

      2. londonedit*

        I agree. It’s true that in the UK, the only way you can really actually ‘get fired’ is if you either do something serious enough to rise to the level of ‘gross misconduct’ (which usually results in immediate termination) or you have a record of poor performance/problematic behaviour that can be demonstrated with a record of escalating verbal and written warnings. And employers are certainly very wary of the threat of unfair dismissal and constructive dismissal cases.

        But of course, it’s not unheard of for people to ‘mutually agree’ with their employer that a job isn’t working out. It happened to me in one of my jobs years ago. The whole thing was a very bad fit and we agreed that I’d give my notice and they’d pay me a month’s salary as a gesture of goodwill. I wasn’t technically fired, and as far as most of my friends and family know, I left that job because I wasn’t enjoying it. They don’t know about the discussions with my employer where they suggested that the job wasn’t working out for me.

        However, we do hear a lot on the comments here about people ‘being brought into their boss’s office and let go’, and that would be very unlikely to happen in the UK.

      3. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I think most European countries have a similar system. In Finland we have a trial period for new employees (maximum 6 months) and during that time it’s OK to quit without notice or fire without warning for pretty much any reason, but after that it becomes very regulated and firing requires a serious reason. This means that if someone is fired after the trial period, it’s definitely a big deal and quite uncommon. Firing during the trial period is much less of a problem to have in your work history because everybody knows that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad employee in general. But it’s not very common either, at least not if the employer isn’t some shady telemarketing company. Using temporary contracts is much more common.

        1. Link*

          This is actually very similar to my experience in the US. Trial periods seem to be becoming more common here. Every job that I have started in the past 10 years has included a 3-6 month trial period, after which it becomes much more difficult to fire someone. The difference is that in the US, the trial period and the disciplinary process are internal policies of the employer rather than something layout in a contract or required by law. 

        2. londonedit*

          Yep, we also routinely have probation periods (usually 3 months) where the notice period is two weeks on either side. After that, the employee needs to give a longer notice (usually one month, but three months or longer isn’t uncommon for more senior employees) and the employer needs to have a serious reason to fire someone and needs to go through the proper legal processes to do so.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I’m in the UK and I can think of at least 4 employees of ours who would have been fired but weren’t, technically (over a period of about 15 years, it’s not a common occurrence)

        1. Resigned in response to us giving them the date for a disciplinary meeting. (this one *might* not have been fired, they were fairly junior and we might have been willing to make it a formal warning , but perhaps they had a guilty conscience !)

        2. they were already working their notice and we decided that while they deserved to be fired, and we had grounds to do so summarily, it was actually better for us for them to work the remaining week of their notice (they were not customer facing and were closely enough supervised that they couldn’t sabotage anything)

        3. We agreed to allow them to resign, and to give them a neutral reference limited to stating the dates of their employment. This meant they didn’t risk having us state that they had been fired or that they had resigned while under investigation, and we didn’t have to go through all the time-consuming process of disciplinary meetings, nor run the risk of them trying to make an unfair dismissal claim (they would have lost, but it would have been expensive to fight, and you don’t get costs awarded in the employment tribunal even if you win)

        4. Resigned when we started to move into our formal process in relation to performance issues – we were at an early stage and would probably have been looking at a PIP. They also were also on the brink of disciplinary procedures as a result of their behaviour towards another staff member, which we suspended when they gave their notice. We agreed to allow them to shorten their notice period and that we would give a limited reference detailing dates employed only, without mentioning their attendance record, performance or the pending disciplinary. Again, from our perspective this was risk reduction – their behaviour wasn’t bad enough to justify immediate dismissal but we didn’t want them around, and it saved us having to put them on gardening leave, and pay them for their notice period., or have to go through formal disciplinary proceedings in order to be able to dismiss them

        I can only think of one time we actually fired someone, and that was a situation where the employee was accused of a serious criminal offence, and lied to us about it. They had only been with us a few weeks so we could dismiss them for any reason, but the nature and circumstances of their lies put it into gross misconduct territory anyway.

        1. londonedit*

          I can only think of one instance where someone in the company I worked for was actually fired, and that’s because they were taking company property and selling it on.

      5. Spreadsheets and Books*

        Yeah, I kind of had a mutual “this isn’t working” firing in 2014 but I don’t frame it as such when asked and I’m not even sure my family knows.

        Contracts like that are only common in the US for people classified as contractors, so not like an exempt or non-exempt employee as is frequently discussed here. Contractors are usually short-term roles brought on during specific time periods (to increase coverage during busy periods, to work on a project with a finite end, to cover evolving business needs that may not necessitate a full employee, etc.) and are far less common than a standard hourly or salaried job. You see it more in tech and government-adjacent roles.

        I have a friend in the Netherlands and everything she encountered working there was on a contract basis. She was given a six month contract when she started her most recent job and it wasn’t renewed, so she didn’t work there anymore. Like firing, but somehow nicer? From a US perspective, that’s an interesting system, but I think evokes more anxiety than the US norms. Like, yes, you can be fired at any point, but there’s not a semi-annual contract renewal to worry about.

    3. Rewe*

      Here in Northern europe it is difficult to get fired and I don’t know anyone who has (ther than big bosses where it’s announced in the news but that’s very different from a regular worker getting fired). Getting fired would be a red flag since it either means that you royally f-ed up or you had issues for years. So here people that are laid off often feel like they have been fired, since getting fired is not really a thing.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I’m in the US, and getting fired isn’t all that common here either. There are some industries that are notorious for firing a lot, and some particularly bad employers, but otherwise most companies would really rather not fire people. At my current job I can tell you the reasons people have been fired in the last 6 years:

        – Getting drunk on the job (as a heavy equipment operator)
        – Missing a huge amount of work time because he was arrested… repeatedly
        – Vandalizing a forklift and driving it around until it caught fire
        – Stealing a customer’s property (after already being on a disciplinary plan)
        – Literally disappeared. There was a police search and everything. We still don’t know what happened to him, and I think he might technically be listed as having resigned without notice.

        We also have employees who have been let go before the end of their 6 month trial period, but once someone is past their 6 months they’re not likely to be fired without doing something really really bad.

  15. Snuck*

    This wouldn’t wash in ANY place I have EVER worked.

    In fact… this is so off base I would be a bit ‘sneaky’ and send it to my manager saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that CoWorker was promoted and I was now reporting to her, can you please confirm this is the new reporting structure?”

    And sit back and watch the monkeys fly.

    That’s how annoyed I’d be. That’s how out of step it is to me.

    By ‘next level up skills’ they don’t mean taking over someone’s calendar without permission… They mean things like being able to help and ask for help appropriately, doing extra assigned tasks (like helping build schedules or organise team meetings or manage agendas etc) or mentoring staff (who are linked by management) and generally being a technical and people skilled person. Not buying yourself a manager badge and setting yourself up in a fiefdom.

    1. Snuck*

      Oh… and next level up skills …. being wildly inappropriate like this does NOT make manager material.

      And if by some small remote chance this is an uncommunicated reorg and task hand out and the OP is meant to be doing this with that co worker… the co worker has shot herself in the foot still because she hasn’t explained a breath of that to the OP. There is no “Hi OP, BossPerson has asked me to meet with you to discuss career goals and performance metrics for the year”… so there’s no context. This is a very solid lack of interpersonal insight by the coworker if it’s the case. Even if the coworker thinks that BossPerson has told the OP what’s happening, you smooth the waters … you know? You play a little soft and nice and reiterate the reason you are acting so intrusively…

  16. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    #1 you need to have a conversation with your (real) manager first imo.

    Is it possible that your co-worker has actually been given this responsibility / authority but it’s been forgotten (or ‘forgotten’) to be communicated to you?

  17. Harper the Other One*

    I worked in a specialty retail shop that did the “show is work at a higher level” thing to test people for promotions, and it really doesn’t work like that. In my case, I’d become the most senior person in a department, and they were considering involving me with purchasing or store management. So, I got assigned some product research to do in slow times, and employees at other branches were told they could call me with product questions, to see how I handled purchasing responsibilities. And when they hired new staff, they got me to train them and provide feedback to the new manager to assess how I handled people management. Everyone was informed so there was clarity about my role.

    The key thing is that everyone knew I was doing these things. I didn’t just submit a potential order to the purchaser, and I didn’t just grab new employees to train them.

    I would bet this is coworker showing “initiative” (gumption?) and the actual manager has no idea its going on.

  18. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    I’d do what Alison suggests; however, I would give a heads-up to the manager anyway. As a manager, I’d want to know if someone on my team was trying to do something like this; it’s not OK.

    1. Allonge*

      Fully agree. Plus, if this happens to be ‘normal’ at this workplace, you want to hear about it as soon as possible, and from someone you know is in a position of authority.

  19. JSPA*

    Coworker is doing it wrong, though. You don’t “level up” by asserting your right to manage others! You might ASK if you can take them for coffee or lunch and discuss their part of the job, because you’re trying to get a higher – level sense of the scale and scope of the department’s work, and how projects are developed, assigned, resources distributed.

    Or, put put in effort identifying possible procedural improvements, and then ask for feedback from someone at same level, incorporate that feedback, demonstrate in writing you’ve done both those things, get written support, then if no approval is needed, do it and document the effect / get approval to try it and document the effect.

    Being intrusive and bossy and pushing someone down to make yourself feel big is the OPPOSITE of acting like a (decent) manager, and should be nipped in the bud.

  20. Lynca*

    I work in a place where you have to have “supervisory” experience to move up into a supervisor classed role. It’s extremely tone-deaf of the wannabe manager co-worker to do this on their own. If someone tried that here they would get hauled into a meeting with the actual managers for a chewing out. It’s a power play and that’s also not how you show that you have managerial skills. The OP is right to push back. Especially since it’s a critical area like performance goals and this person doesn’t have any actual authority over them.

    Where I work any supervisor-like delegation happens officially. The bosses tell the workers what’s going on and what the limited role of the person is. Like assigning/managing a team’s workload in a specialized area (something I do for co-workers) for example. If the co-worker wants that promotion they need to be talking with their manager about what their options are to build experience.

    And imo, any place that would intentionally allow a co-worker try to manage performance goals with other co-workers TO GET EXPERIENCE is pretty questionable.

  21. SlenderFluid*

    Actually, I don’t think coworker would get promoted. In thinking this is the way to demonstrate management skills they are showing they don’t really have much of a clue about what those skills really are. In a well-functioning office environment, I’d hope they were at least taken to one side and gently reminded that there’s much, much more to being a manager than just telling people what to do (especially when another manager has already told the poor managee what to do…)

    1. Allonge*

      Exactly. I mean, discuss career goals? THAT is where Coworker starts managing? What on earth can they do about it, what can they contribute to the discussion at all???

      1. BWooster*

        Tell me your career goals, Allonge. I want to get promoted and I can do at least as much to make them a reality as OP’s co-worker can do for OP.

  22. LKW*

    No, this is not normal. I work in a company with such a culture and the expectation is that you own work of the next level and you reach out and perform other tasks. But at no point would this fly. Ever. You do not decide that you’re going to guide someone’s career and then just do it. She has minimal ability to help someone else achieve their goals, not when they are at the same level. The co-worker has a clear lack of understanding of how to actually demonstrate her capabilities and this, in my eyes, shows she’s likely not ready for the next level.

    Now, if she approached the OP with “hey, I wanted us to collaborate and touch base to make sure each of us is getting the support they need and we’re using one another to best address tasks” – then I’d be impressed.

  23. BRR*

    I’ve worked places where more experienced employees unofficially manage but this letter feels more like the coworker is way overstepping and just declaring herself the lw’s manager. Like in the office when Pam makes herself office manager.

  24. BethDH*

    I’ve heard “I lost my job” for both but not “fired” when they meant laid off. I can imagine situations where it would be pretty similar (like laying off the x number of people with the lowest metrics) and maybe it’s more common in some industries or regions?

  25. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    OP 1, please forward this request to your manager ASAP, just in case this coworker is planning to overthrow them.

  26. NotAQuitter*

    OP5 here – thank you so much for the answer! I will definitely be asking my past employer about changing their indicator and keep the mitigating line in my back pocket for future interviews in case it backfires. Something so simple ended up being incredibly frustrating during an otherwise amazing hiring process, so I am glad I know how to handle it better in the future!

  27. Working Hypothesis*

    That’s not establishing “leadership”. It’s establishing DOMINANCE. A leader is followed voluntarily; a dominator forces or coerces others into following.

    Some companies do think that a leader need to be able to dominate — usually because they can’t conceive of what having someone voluntarily follow you might even look like — and therefore look at who already dominates others and anoints them leaders. It works about as badly as one might imagine, in my experience.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Yes! You’re saying everything I couldn’t find the words for, and perfectly explain why this whole situation made me a little nauseous.

      Besides, what does this have to do with being a team player? Being a team player means putting the team’s success before individual success – not putting another person’s individual success before your own individual success.

      And OP’s coworker doesn’t seem to be taking on responsibility. Taking on responsibility means: if you do it wrong, you suffer. This at most is taking on influence – which means: if you do it wrong, another person suffers.
      Confusing a coworker by discussing career goals (presumably without the authority to do anything at all to make the career goals come true) and deciding you have standing to do a coworker’s performance evaluations is NOT taking on responsibility.

      Oh, this makes me mad, and a little bit scared and nauseous and meh.

  28. HarperC*

    I would 100% talk to my manager if I were LW1 and make sure, first of all, that this wasn’t a direction from the actual manager. Then, if it is not, decline the meetings, etc. I hope things go well for LW1 because this is super obnoxious. Hoping for a good update at some point!

  29. PretzelGirl*

    I wonder if OP is in a sales role. I worked in sales roles and this would frequently happen with people who were high performers, wanting to move up to managerial roles. Still though I feel as though her manager should have said something explaining where she would be meeting with her co-worker.

  30. Hiring Manager/Mentor*

    OP1, if you haven’t already acted on Alison’s advice, let me offer an alternative. Here’s what I might do. I would take the meeting. But instead of accepting the premise, I’d reframe it as, “OK, co-worker, we both want to get promoted. Your idea seems to be that by climbing over me, you can get to the top, and you don’t have the juice to persuade me to submit to that. But what if we work TOGETHER on something that will get us BOTH promoted? Wanna try that?”

  31. NotAnotherManager!*

    My spouse has been laid off twice, and the toughest part, psychologically, is the lack of control and the fact that neither his hard work nor the fact that he was more productive than coworkers could overcome the fact that he had shorter tenure (both companies did last-in-first-out layoffs).

    Usually (though certainly not always), your performance had something to do with being fired. Being laid off is more often out of your control and there is nothing one can personally do to avoid it.

  32. NJAnonymous*

    I work in management consulting (so this may or may not be applicable for LW1) and this is 100% normal and expected with a few qualifiers:
    A – If these two work on the same client/internal project, it’s normal for there to be one ‘lead’ person who manages both direct peers and lower level team members. This is often the case if one person has direct functional knowledge/experience.
    B – Though they may have the same job title, it could be that LW actually is ‘senior associate level 1’ and the other is ‘senior associate level 3’. They wouldn’t know which level each other is one, particularly because project teams utilize people from all over the firm who don’t normally work together. There’s no way of looking at another person in the company to see which ‘level’ in the same role they might be in my firm.
    C – Though uncommon, management may not have time to tell all project team members what the team structure is up front, so a heads up wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question.

  33. CM*

    #1 — Yeah, this is a weird request.

    By the time I became a manager, I’d been doing parts of the manager’s job for a couple of years — so it’s true that sometimes you do part of the job before it becomes official — but I wasn’t doing the parts that involved treating people as direct reports, because my teammates WEREN’T my direct reports, and it would have been disrespectful to pretend otherwise.

    The stuff I did instead was partly the administrative side of management (someone has to fill out the quarterly reports), partly the diplomatic side (negotiating with other departments, trying to get resources for the team), and partly problem-solving (no one knows what to do about X, so I lead a meeting where we all try to find a solution).

    It’s possible that in some workplaces your boss might assign you to supervise a junior staff member to prepare for a move into management, but that’s not something that should just come out of nowhere or be a surprise to the person being supervised. So, even if this is legit, it’s a bad sign if the OP’s coworker doesn’t realize that’s it’s going to seem weird or have good enough social skills to say, “Hey, so I don’t know if Manager talked to you, but we had discussed changing the reporting structure, blah, blah, blah” before making demands.

  34. ellex42*

    This kind of thing has happened to me more than once. New people came in, I was asked to train them/”help out” with training them, and before I knew it, I was doing the day-to-day management of them – including organizing projects, assigning tasks, and being asked to contribute my opinion on their performance – without ever being formally given any management responsibility. I’ve also taken over tasks that weren’t assigned to any single person (the old “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” situation). This is especially common when the person who is supposed to be in charge is regularly unavailable or unapproachable. So when new people were hired, they just assumed I had some kind of managerial position.

  35. NotAnotherManager!*

    Leadership and management are two different things. I have a number of people that are good at leading others, either because they develop competence in subject matter more quickly and help others out on an ad hoc basis or because they have really good organizational skills and aren’t intimidated by large projects or because people just enjoy working with them and they fall into a natural project leadership role. The people who are successful at it aren’t trying to dominate, they’re trying to get stuff done and help their peers succeed, too. Those people are more likely to end up in a management role, but they are not responsible for performance management, overall work allocation, or all the other fun things that come along with people management.

  36. Dust Bunny*

    I’m American and everyone I know knows the difference and makes the distinction when it matters (pretty much everywhere outside of the most casual of conversations). I mean, it almost always sucks to lose your job, but I’ve only heard “fired” used in reference to a layoff when somebody was being either kind of flippant or deliberately misleading to make their former employer sound worse than they were.

  37. irene adler*

    OP#1: I’d love to find out just how co-worker intends to “make sure” she’s supporting me ” in any way that she can.”
    And what would possibly be her input re: my performance goals?

    Major overstep. Don’t play into this at all.

    I guess I’m just one of those people who likes to watch as someone takes all the rope they want and ends up hanging themselves.

  38. J!*

    There’s a huge difference between a team’s manager shifting a person into a “team lead” type position and giving them more responsibility like leading meetings and setting up project progress check-ins because they’re grooming them for a promotion, and a person deciding that they’re going to start doing it themselves without any indication that it’s endorsed by their manager (which is what seems to be happening here).

  39. Arctic*

    I’ve worked in organizations where co-workers were expected to manage each other as described here. I’ve both been “managed” and been expected to do so (I did not feel comfortable, which means I’m not management material, I guess.)
    It’s a terrible, terrible system. No functional workplace operates this way. But it does exist out there in the world. I’d get the temp of whether or not this is happening elsewhere in the organization and check with others before pushing back too hard.

    1. irene adler*

      So what sort of protocol is there for these kinds of organizations? Does someone just walk up to you and just start in with “let’s talk performance goals” and “I’m here to support you”? Is it project specific or general?

      I myself would be lost trying to deal with this sort of thing.

      1. Arctic*

        It’s usually people with slightly more experience (although not necessarily more years) and, in my case, was encouraged by management but not in the sense of management letting everyone know about the set-up.

        I can’t emphasize enough that I’m not remotely condoning it or suggesting it is normal. Just that it happens out there in the world. And doing some sniffing around might be helpful.

    2. Roza*

      Same here re: “managing” and “being managed.” This always comes WITHOUT the actual manager explaining that this is part of a person being a team lead for a project. It also comes with a healthy serving of people stepping on each other’s toes and (often inadvertently) taking over each other’s work in an effort to “show initiative.” It’s…fun…

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s the cheap way to avoid having actual management in place. They have them chasing ghosts of the idea of promotion by doing the job first…without the pay, title or the training.

  40. vampire physicist*

    There’s definitely a real difference and you should answer correctly when applying for new jobs, but it’s absolutely true that colloquially, lots of people will say “fired” even if they were laid off (and some job applications will clarify that they’re asking if you were fired for cause).

  41. Drax*

    I have seen “do the job before you get the job” and maybe it’s a regional thing but this has always translated to preforming at a higher level and being a go to for your coworkers, not scheduling performance reviews and standing meetings to manage them.

    I’d be rightly annoyed if my coworker just stepped in to try and manage me. I work very closely with my manager, the controller, and the CEO through my projects and my coworker who is on the same team as me would honestly have zero idea on what I am doing as we have completely different functions.

    The LW said that they don’t talk work tasks, which to me means this is either an overstep or there’s missing context that should have come before the meeting request. I’d talk to my manager about it. Odds are she doesn’t know, but on the off chance she did ask CW to do this I’d be able to get the context on why that would make sense. Maybe there is some context I am missing like they want me to start taking on X role from CW or there’s a concern on how I handle Y and CW is a rock-star at Y.

  42. Lives in a Shoe*

    LW1 just drop by your bosses office and ask if there’s a new “team building initiative or mentorship ‘thing'” going on because you received a very confusing e-mail from Jane. Then show her the email or explain the contents. Keep it light and off-hand. If you have a good boss they’ll either apologize for failing to loop you in on the new structure and explain, or they’ll deal with Jane. Trust me a good boss wants to know these things. If someone is suddenly attempting to overtly manage others (as opposed to leading) when they don’t have the authority it’s a very clear sign that they definitely are not ready to take that management step. If you have a bad boss…… at least you’ll know.

    LW2 you don’t have a co-worker problem, you have a husband problem. Wether he did or didn’t have an affair or serious flirtation is beyond the ability of anyone here to answer. What we CAN tell you is that he’s refusing to address the issue and that’s the problem. You need to sit down with him and calmly tell him that this is taking an emotional toll on you and your marriage and that if she contacts you directly again you will file a police report for harassment and then seek legal advice regarding a cease and desist or other available options. This is his problem to manage. His company is not engaged in the business of managing his personal life and marriage problems. Yes, they can step in if she is harassing or stalking him but ONLY if HE is willing to report it. If he’s not, you need to decide if you can live with that.

  43. Leslie Knope*

    I had a situation once that was so frustrating, but I chose to think of it as my “oh yeah, I was fired/let go” situation and just take it as one of those things that will probably happen to you at least once. It helped me be less angry about it.

    I was working as a bartender between after college graduation and looking for full-time work. Once I got a regular 8-5 job I had to cut back on hours at the bar, but kept working some weeknights and weekends. I was a broke kid at that time and the extra cash was much-needed, but the hours were killing me. I eventually gave my notice at the bar because I could not sustain working 60 hours a week and having a horrible sleep schedule. One of the managers came to me to propose I stay “on call” for other workers needing shifts picked up. I might work one night a week or maybe none at all. Or I could have the option to say I wanted shifts if I was needing cash. It would help others when they were in a pinch and also help me if I was in a pinch. Perfect! I accepted! The other manager, who apparently hated the first manager, didn’t like that suggestion. They went to the owner and told them they needed to fire me, and the a**hat did! He came to me one night and told me I wasn’t allowed to work there anymore at all, even to help others. It really hurt my feelings, especially considering I worked so hard while I was there and had great rapport with everyone at the bar – coworkers, managers, regular customers.

    Technically I had quit before they fired me…but still, it really sucked and made me feel helpless and that my hard work didn’t matter. Luckily it’s not like I was out of work, I just put all my energy into my full-time job and went on to be a successful salesperson there for 4 years before moving on to another position elsewhere. Life goes on!

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