my two employees don’t like each other

A reader writes:

I’m a manager in a small, privately owned company. We do not have an HR department. I have two employees who just cannot get along. They are constantly coming to me to complain about one another over the most minor things. (Example: Sarah thinks Kate speaks too loudly on the phone.) If it helps to know, Kate is fairly high performing. She tends towards the dramatics, but is a solid employee. Sarah is pretty new and still in training to a degree, but is not performing as well as I would like. My gut tells me that Sarah is the problem, but now is not an opportune time to replace anyone (two of my six-person staff have been asked to cover different positions while new staff are trained).

They have now started trying to recruit other team members into this battle. I have tried speaking to everyone individually to address and correct all these concerns, but it has not seemed to help. Bottom line: these two just do not like one another. I am not super concerned about them not liking one another; this is a place of business, not kindergarten. But it has definitely affected morale. Any advice, short of firing them?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • New hire can’t work the schedule she agreed to
  • My references are being asked to provide more references
  • I was laid off and now my manager wants my help
  • Multiple names changes due to marriage

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. EPLawyer*

    Did we ever get an update to the second one. I remember reading the original letter. I hope LW fired that person. No point in pussyfooting around anymore. THe employee made it clear they will say whatever to keep the job but won’t work those shifts. Why keep someone like that?

    As for Kate and Sarah, it needs to be shut down yesterday. With serious consequences up to and including termination if they don’t knock it off.

    1. Artemesia*

      Wow yeah this. I’d be seriously thinking about firing Sarah too. If a problem emerges with a new employee and one who is not doing fabulous work then time to cut your losses. So a CTJ meeting with Sarah about her work first and then her interpersonal relationships in the office and either a PIP if you do them in that office or a very clear set of expectations about her work quality and productivity followed by clear expectations about her interpersonal relationships in the office.

      1. RC Rascal*

        This was my thought as well. If she’s that new she might still be on probation. In that case this is a “ get out of jail free “ card.

      2. Julia*

        I was the Sarah once to an established employee, and ended up quitting after two years of being belittled and sabotaged. Sometimes the new employee is not the issue, but the symptom. In my case, the other person hated having someone new there who didn’t take over all her work, just half of it.

        1. Snuck*

          Yes… I was thinking something along the lines of “Not just Sarah” when I read Artemesia’s comment.

          Even if Sarah IS the issue… Kate needs to step up and be professional too. Kate has to improve her behaviour as well.

          And while it might be a personality clash, and Sarah might be the clash because she’s the ‘new element in the equation’, it takes two to tango. Usually where there’s a passionate clash with someone both parties will clash with someone else as well. Kate is going to clash with others too… Because she’s also got a behaviour issue.

        2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I thought of that too, as I’ve also been the Sarah. The letter left me with a lot of questions to understand the whole situation: Who is training Sarah, and who manages the trainer? Sometimes the trainer starts acting like a supervisor. Or trainers who were good at the job but not at explaining it, or who outright held back important information needed to do the job because they didn’t want to share their fiefdom. YOu need to be sure Sarah is getting what she needs to learn the job.

          How long has it been since the last Sarah? Some workplaces are very resistant to new faces.

          If Kate and Sarah are contributing equally to the problem, firing Sarah might now be the solution if it gives Kate the idea that she can get away with her own bad behavior.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, no kidding. That’s someone who took the “don’t ask permission, ask for forgiveness” tack and I hope it backfired for her. Clearly she thought once she was hired the LW would just have to deal with it.

  2. lost academic*

    I could have sworn we just had this same set of old letters in this same format as a very recent post…. am I wrong?

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Me either. I wasn’t sure if it was my computer or something with Inc, but it sounds like the latter. The question is there, about multiple previous names due to marriages; but no answer.

            1. Booksnbooks*

              I came here to ask that, too. When I tried to reload the page (per the note below) it didn’t work.

        2. I Go OnAnonAnonAnon*

          I had the same issue but then re-loaded the page and got the rest of the answer. No idea why.

        3. 'Tis Me*

          The answers all show for me but some of the questions don’t (e.g. The first one only shows the question title)!

      1. VanLH*

        Did you ever get an update on LW2? I would love to know if the person agreed to work the hours or was let go.

      2. RevDr*

        The first letter was answered in Dear Prudence recently, so it’s interesting to contrast the advice. In my opinion, you are spot on!

  3. NotAnotherManager!*

    As for Kate and Sarah, it needs to be shut down yesterday. With serious consequences up to and including termination if they don’t knock it off.

    This. Solid performers can manage civility to even their difficult coworkers without turning it into an office Team Sarah/Team Kate standoff. I would be agog if members of my team regularly came to me with petty complaints about their coworkers – I want to hear about larger issues or issues that impact work; I do not want to hear that Sarah wore red today, which is clearly a personal affront because she KNOWS Kate hates red or that Kate stole my orange highlighter or whatever. I assume OP#1 did not sign up to mediate middle school squabbles and needs to have a final word on it.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I had this very same situation and that’s how I handled it. I sat them down together to talk – that helped minimally, but what did end up helping was letting them know this was absolutely a performance issue, and I would pursue it if it continued. It didn’t help them get along, but it did help get them to stop the gossiping and stonewalling each other at work.

      1. Erstwhile Lurker*

        Yeah, that’s the only part of Alison’s advice that I thought differently on, I’d sit them down together and explain what each party needed to do to resolve the situation.

        I think a lot of the time its a lack of open communication that adds fuel to the fire, so by getting it all out in the open there’s no way that Sarah or Kate could misinterpret what was being said to both themselves and the other person.

        1. Mel_05*

          Eh. I’ve been a part of those kinds of meetings. It really didn’t help the underlying problem. Faced with clear communication, the instigator would say, “Oh no! I didn’t realize your normal comment was just normal!” And then proceeded to be offended by another normal comment the next week.

          The only thing that fixed it was when she quit her job in a blaze of glory, telling off the entire office for once and for all.

          1. Lana Kane*

            Getting them together is mostly meant to make sure each party hears what the other is saying, to eliminate all the he said/she said that these situations can bring up. No one could say they didn’t know this was A Problem, as they were both there.

            Also, it was eye opening for me to see them interact together because I saw some behaviors come out that weren’t immediately visible to me in the day to day, but had been reported to me.

            1. Snuck*

              I’m not a fan of being the mediator/counsellor in these situations. It’s not my job to teach five year olds to play nice.

              I agree with both sitting down to talk, but this is in addition to a one on one talk. The reason is for consistent, no doubts messaging. You WILL get along, you BOTH are on notice, and the message is clear – professional behaviour ONLY moving forward. Any questions?

              Then one can’t go away and assume or grudge about it all over the other. When you are dealing with this level of immaturity that is common, and people even if they are super star performers in their technical job roles can still be immature in their office relationships (I’d look closer at Kate and see if this is true).

              And then in a one on one with each discuss their work performance, and reiterate and allow conversation about their behavioural performance too, allowing ‘privacy’ to discuss it more.

              I would NOT get into a ‘she said/she said’ or “I didn’t mean it THAT way” conversation in my office with them both. That is just more unprofessional behaviour being given a stage.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I have too. One of the parties was my report so I was there, but my manager facilitated the meeting. He clearly took one party’s side and discouraged the other party from speaking out. It was just going through the motions and very uncomfortable. It didn’t resolve anything

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Is it weird that I immediately decided that Kate was the real problem? Maybe I just read ‘High preforming but dramatic’ as ‘Managers are willing to put up with bad behavior because they do well at certain things’ because of my own experiences, or maybe it feels like when managers write in about two problem employees usually their judgement of where the real problem is seems wrong?

      1. Teacher's wife*

        I also felt the same way as you regarding Kate. I also feel the OP is being dismissive of Sarah’s complaint that Kate is too loud on the phone. I have to share an office with someone who is very loud on the phone (I almost wrote in to here asking for advice, but I was able to negotiate a job transfer, which means I am moving to a new office). It is incredibly distracting and difficult for me to focus on my work when she is talking to her husband or anyone else on the phone. She isn’t loud in normal conversation, but put her on the phone and she gets loud.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          One of the most delightful people I work with is an incredibly loud phone talker, and we’ve got signals worked out with her (the Friends keep it down gesture, mostly). She is not that loud in person but on the phone, you can hear her clearly down the hall. Not that she has not make an effort to tone it down, too – she really has, she just has one of those voices that carries very clearly and tends to amp up gradually over the call. The department head ended up moving her to a location that was less distracting for everyone and, I suspect, less embarrassing for her.

          It is incredibly distracting, and I’d hate sharing an office (or even being in close proximity) with even the nicest of coworkers with no volume control.

        2. Julia*

          My Kate was loud as well. She had the nerve to once tell me to keep my voice down, but then practically yelled into the phone herself every time she had a call.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes! I had a bully boss with a foghorn voice who actually made a CLIENT cry by shouting at him.
          Hearing this and realising I needed to act fast to clean up the mess he had made, I got on the phone to the client’s boss (who was a professional acquaintance of mine) to apologise. At one point, we both just stopped talking: my boss was in the process of calling the phone company to ask how to turn the volume down on his phone. He claimed that it had to be the phone at fault because nobody ever complained about volume when his employees used their phones (even though he only employed soft-spoken women who were easy to bully). The woman I was talking to on the phone overheard everything he was saying, he was that loud. Next thing we were both laughing hysterically, after which we found a solution to the problem whereby the boss would eat humble pie and they would continue to send us well-paid, interesting work. A great moment.

      2. Mel_05*

        Not weird. I think most of us have had managers who dismissed any problems caused by their favorites or who weirdly overvalued their work – to the point of not noticing when they aren’t doing any!

        Of course, there are plenty of contentious slackers too, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be Kate who is the issue. But the other way around always sticks in my head more.

      3. Karia*

        Yeah, I had the same thought. To me dramatic read as ‘she yells at people / hits her desk / winds people up all day’.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Dramatic could mean enthusiastic and loud – emoting and projecting – rather than generating actual drama…

      4. Snuck*

        Yup. By the time you are calling someone “dramatic” on an international advice column, the person is … dramatic. And where there’s drama, there’s usually a flock of llamas too. Kate is a problem in this too.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes I think she needs to be reined in a bit.
          This reminds me of the letter from a person replacing someone who had died, everyone was shitty with her. They may have been good workers, doesn’t absolve them entirely.

    1. STONKS*

      It doesn’t show for me either. The article cuts off after “this doesn’t account for jobs that will only know me by my first husband’s last name.”

    2. spock*

      When I reload the page, I can see the answer briefly appearing then disappearing again. I thought it was my adblock somehow but happens without it as well… Very weird.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Same problem here, and I tried it in Chrome on two different Andoid devices. Reloading has no effect.

    3. Hiring Mgr*

      I believe Alison purposely left it ambiguous, just like identity itself…. Who are any of us really? An old name? A new name? Just like life, there’s not always a nice and tidy answer.

  4. RabbitRabbit*

    One of my concerns for #1 was whether Kate might actually be the problem, but be a “broken stair” type that the few other employees were just tiptoeing around because Kate is a high performer. The comment about “dramatics” made me consider this. If Sarah is a newbie, she could just be having issues with Kate’s problems and creating tension by mentioning them.

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      I was wondering that myself. It felt like OP1 was excusing Kate’s behavior to some degree- “She tends towards the dramatics, but is a solid employee.” It’s great that she is a good employee but the office isn’t a place for dramatics.

      It felt like OP1 wants Sarah to be the problem b/c Kate is “high performing” and Sarah “is not performing as well as [OP1] would like.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I wondered this, too, and if maybe the LW is just so used to Kate that she’s not seeing it as clearly, and if Sarah’s meh job performance so far is making it easier to be annoyed with Sarah instead.

      I’d like to know what their seating arrangement is. Stuff like “talks too loudly on the phone” sounds petty but if you’re next to each other all day and the other person is loud, man, does that get exhausting. My mother tends to raise her voice on the phone–she’s not literally shouting but the volume is there–and I got in trouble more than once for telling her to dial it back because she was carrying through two walls and keeping me up late on school nights. But she’s also suuuuuper touchy about being called on it.

      1. Erstwhile Lurker*

        This is exactly how I read the situation as well.

        I’ve worked with high performance, high drama people before and to be honest its always ended up being a bit of a nightmare. One colleague used to routinely stamp her feet when things didn’t go her way, talk super loudly on the phone and generally behave like a 5 year old when she felt like protecting her territory. Of course this was never in front of the boss, so he just didn’t see the full picture.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I sat behind someone in a cube farm who talked EXTREMELY loudly on the phone. She also laughed at high volume. And she was getting married, so half her conversations were about wedding stuff. She was a very nice person, but boy, was I happy when she moved on.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          When our office building at an old job got flooded and we were temporarily moved to another building, I ended up in a corner cube between a wall, a window, and a guy who TALKED SO DAMN LOUD on the phone – and his job required him to always be on the phone. A teammate that stopped by my new cube, later described it to the rest of our team as “a sound chamber”. Trying to block out his echoing, booming voice all day, every day, while also trying to do my work, was exhausting. I, too, was so happy when the repairs were finally finished on our flooded building and we could move back into it. The day I was packing up for the move back, Loud Talker asked if I’d miss him. I said “I’m sure I’ll still be able to hear you from Other Building, Fergus!” So, yeah. It may be a minor reason to be upset about, or it may be a GD nightmare (like Fergus was for me).

    3. sunny-dee*

      Dramatics could also just mean that Kate is hyperbolic or has dramatic mannerisms, not that she’s a diva. That could play in if Kate’s personality just rubs Sarah the wrong way — but that’s largely on Sarah to deal with.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        It’s hard to tell, and since I don’t think we got an update, we may not ever know. I was just thinking that moving to the “fire Sarah” option may not be the best plan. Sarah is new, so that could play into her job performance, or it could be a combination, that Sarah may not be the best worker but Kate might be an actual problem.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is possible but those of us with these dramatic personalities can and do tone it down when it’s brought to our attention that it’s an issue. I reel it waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay in for certain people and others get full speed. [I have had to remind myself that not everyone grew up learning how to communicate and speak to others via professional wrestling promos…]

        So it’s still important to revisit Kate’s “dramatics” and requesting she take it down a notch or seven.

        1. Snuck*

          A valid point. Part of being a super star professional is knowing your audience and responding appropriately… and that includes when to use hyperbole, emotive vs factual language, diplomacy vs brutal feedback etc. Kate’s people skills may well not extend as far as her other technical skills.

          Or if they do… she isn’t professional enough to use them on her colleagues?

    4. Lala*

      Yeah. It doesn’t change that Sarah isn’t handling this situation well, at all. Handling difficult co-workers without going to your boss over every little thing (like call volume) is an essential working skill. BUT Kate isn’t handling it well either. And, clearly, she’s been “dramatic” for awhile.

    5. Beatrice*

      It could be both. I had one of those last year. My Kate was a bully and my Sarah liked to play victim and also didn’t perform well. I wound up managing Sarah out but also had some direct, documented performance conversations with Kate about treating people with kindness and respect in the workplace even if they’re annoying and aren’t good at their jobs.

    6. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I’ve known plenty of people in a non-work context that could be called ‘dramatic’ that I like very well, but the thought of someone at work being called ‘dramatic’ makes me cringe. Part of it is that I would actually not want to work with those people that I like otherwise, and part of it is that a boss actually calling someone ‘dramatic’ seems like it is a big big problem they are trying to brush off.

      1. stiveee*

        It bugged me because men usually aren’t described as dramatic, but women quite often are.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, calling someone “dramatic” sounds a little gendered to me. If it was Tom and Dave, would it be described the same way?

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        “Dramatic” could be another way to say “obnoxious.” But if you’ve been getting a pass on it for a while…

  5. boop the first*

    Of course Sarah isn’t performing as well as you’d like, she’s still in training? Not sure that should sway judgement in any meaningful way.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Not necessarily. There are definitely tasks that I would expect someone to be competent in, even if they were in training. If they don’t know where to file the TPS reports or it takes them awhile to go through a custom program, that’s a training / experience thing. If they don’t respond to email or have poor customer skills, that’s a performance issue.

    2. bubbleon*

      You can still miss benchmarks and under perform during training, but “to a degree” makes it sound like she’s been trained and should probably be relying on less help than she was.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends on the role, honestly.

      Our training period is 90 days, so if you’re still in training and on day 30, you’re still not answering the phones or struggling to the basics up, that’s a huge sign you aren’t going to work out.

      I was brought in after someone was let go after a couple of weeks of training, the person wouldn’t answer the phones…even to just take a message. It makes sense you can’t answer all the questions but you can sure the heck take a message and call them back after you research it! [Lots of things were literally something so basic as “what’s your turn around time right now?” and “Can i get a quote for one of those thingies?” which even after 2 weeks, you knew what to do because it was the very minimum.]

  6. Dust Bunny*

    LW2: Ugh. We had this happen: Woman was hired with the repeatedly-stated-and-agreed-to understanding that our shifts were staggered at certain times and that everyone who was full-time worked two weekends a month, no exceptions (supervisors included). As soon as she started she had childcare problems and started complaining that it wasn’t fair that she had to work weekends.

    The problem resolved itself when she called us an hour into her shift one Monday, from a city four hours away, to see if it was OK if she missed work today (it was also her responsibility to find a sub, which I think is a BS policy but it was what we had and, yes, she’d agreed to that, too). She got a job with the department of corrections, realized she hated it, and called us to ask for her job back. Some people.

    1. VanLH*

      Since this appears to be an older letter, does anyone know if there is an update anywhere on LW2?

    2. allathian*

      Well, to be fair, do you know if she had any childcare problems when she accepted the job? Of course, she could have taken the job with the expectation that her mom, MIL, SO or someone else would provide “free” childcare and it fell through. She sounds like a person that isn’t very good at planning things. But even if that’s the case, you don’t start by complaining to your employer that the terms you’ve accepted are unfair.

      1. WS*

        I had an employee start on a difficult to fill shift and her MIL had promised childcare…but after the first day, her MIL decided she didn’t want to do it any more and that was that. The new employee apologised and we tried to work around it but there was just no option for her to be able to work the day required. But because she approached this directly, she left on good terms, and has come back two years later in a different shift where her husband can cover childcare.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    The inability to work the hours required hits so close to home, I have had this happen before. We were hiring for X shift and the dude was all super stoked on it, then when we offered it it was like “Actually, I’d like the Y shift instead…any way that could happen? Otherwise I can’t take the job.” [The manager, who wasn’t me thank God, nearly had his head explode over the audacity.]

    Fun twist, if he had made it work, the other shift had opened up within a month of his request, he would have easily moved. *face palm*

    You can’t sniff these people out, they live in their own worlds where they can assume absurd things and think that everyone is going to just fall in line for them.

    1. Super Anon*

      We’ve had something similar with travel. Many of our positions require travel, and we are very clear about that during the interview process (and we include it in the ad). We also indicate how much travel is required for each type of position. However, we’ve still had two people that we’ve hired who upon being asked to make flight reservations (which the company pays for up front) a few months into their tenure suddenly couldn’t travel at all.

      1. allathian*

        Did they quit without notice or were they fired? This sort of behavior is really baffling to me…
        That said, it’s all too common for employers to switch job descriptions on people who accept a job, especially if the person has work experience in a certain area. This can be really infuriating if you’re looking to move away from those tasks, but maybe don’t have enough work experience to leave it off your resume. Say you’ve been working as a llama groomer for 10 years and want to do llama wrangling instead. You get a job as a llama wrangler but are stuck with grooming tasks because you’re so good at it. Even if you hate it.

    2. Minocho*

      I’ve run into these people in non-work situations, and I just cannot grasp their mindset – or their frustration / anger when the people around them cannot or will not reorder the universe to their desires. It’s bizarre when you run into someone like this. I’ve never found any defense. The only thing you can do is not give in, because it will never be enough.

      1. Super Anon*

        I think some of it is because it probably worked for them in the past, or they don’t think the company is being serious.

        1. Al*

          My husband works at an academic library and has a coworker who got this to happen. Shortly after being trained, she said that she didn’t want to work the shift for which she was hired, and if they didn’t move her, she would quit. SO THEY LET HER MOVE SHIFTS! Even though the one for which she was originally hired desperately needed staff, and the one she preferred did not. She was new, low ranked, and had no special skills, so this caused major discontent amongst the other employees.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Ah, yes, librarianship…The “helping” profession.

            My only response to threats to quit has always been “Well, you must do what you think best.” I recommend it highly.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I honestly just laugh at them to myself because I find it so hilariously out of touch! It must be nice to think people are just goofing when they lay out expectations.

        I think some people really think of “schedules” and “duties” as something that’s always negotiable. The time to negotiate that is up front because you’re not the only person in this world.

        I say this as someone who took a full time position and then had to go back on it because of changes in my life. I outright said “I cannot do full time after all, I’m sorry I just flaked on you. Would you like me to work part time until you can find someone to work full time?” and was fully waiting for them to say “Dammit, no that’s not enough, GTFO bye.” [They did actually accept it and I ended up being able to work there full time after I exited my other situation but that was a wild scenario I don’t ever imagine playing out again, unless it’s a very specific circumstance involved like that one was!]

        1. Mrs_helm*

          “must be nice to think people are just goofing when they lay out expectations”…
          Unfortunately this is reinforced when people are kids, by certain parenting styles. (I.e. says no 5 times, then says oh, all right) But the employee here threw in an extra layer of psychopathy here by trying to make it sound like LW is in the wrong because “I know how you do new people”. Nope. Byee. AAM nailed it – cut this one loose right now, as it only gets worse.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I don’t blame parenting though. These are adults and tricks we learned as kids, shouldn’t apply after you’ve developed social skills outside of your family structure. That’s a lazy excuse, in my opinion.

            My parents rarely said no, my mom still doesn’t really say no. I can still do a “But I wannaaaaaaaaa.” and she’ll go “Sigh, fine, let’s do it.” ;) [This is usually me badgering her into going on road trips or visits as adults, that I pay for, just so nobody thinks I’d ever use my mother!]

            BUT I know the difference between my mama and my boss. Or my mama and my boyfriend. Or my mama and a police officer, lol. I never pulled that junk on a teacher growing up, even kid minded me knew =/= the mama.

            That’s still on a person to remember to remember their audience.

            1. Fikly*

              Sure, having 18 years of exposure as your brain is forming as to what norms are is definitely something everyone is able to overcome.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                That’s what therapy is for, and I say this as an autistic who spent lower-middle school being outright bullied by teachers and school administration. My brain weasels will not go away if I inflict them on everyone else.

              2. D'Arcy*

                Yes, people *are* able to overcome socialization. It’s not necessarily *easy* to do so, but the ability to learn and adapt is one of the fundamental characteristics that make us sentient + sapient beings.

              3. allathian*

                If you can’t overcome it, you may need some therapy to help you on the way. And learning is possible until we die. Or as my dad put it, “it’s never too late to learn to live with a bad childhood”. My gran was a great grandmother to me, but from what I understand, an awful parent to my dad.

        2. SweetestCin*

          Right. And I’ve also seen where “day shift” can mean very different things. I was offered a position in a very different field when I was between jobs – and day shift there meant noon to seven, NOT what I was used to, which is roughly 7-3:30. Once that was made clear (because right, wrong, or otherwise, it was never clarified before the offer was made), I declined the offer because it had to do with staffing levels.

    3. Chili*

      I feel like sometimes it comes from a “it never hurts to ask” mentality mixed with a misreading of some article they found about negotiating.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I agree, it does seem to stem from that concept and then mixed with someone who isn’t told “No” very often in their life!

        I wonder if they’re taking the “wait until you get an offer” advice lots of people will rightfully give. Then not understanding “You may still be told no.”

        Just like you should indeed negotiate a salary but sometimes the answer is “This is what we’ve got, take it or leave it.” and they can’t just leave it!

    4. Washi*

      I think some people are in a financial bind and maybe just like the feeling of having a job offer and feeling like they have options? I’ve never really been able to figure out why people do this but it used to happen to me too in situations where I would have thought it would be obvious that the hours were not negotiable (and where I explicitly so). Like if we hired you for an afterschool program, you have to be available after school!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think that it’s also part of the “competition” factor in interviewing as well. They got an interview, they think they need to get that job offer or they’ve failed. They don’t stop to think about actually fitting into that job role and all the things that come with it.

        I’ve had people beg and plead and literally cry to get a job. Given the job [no experience necessarily, high turn over, crappy crappy crappy job], we just said “Sure, try it out.” suddenly, they seriously no-show on the first day! So much for they needed this job!

    5. Rainy*

      I sort of wondered, given that the LW said they have a rather brusque interviewing style, if the candidate assumed that the “no, really, we are only hiring for the Worst Shift” was a tactic rather than the truth, and was shocked to discover it wasn’t a “you’ll get no favours for being new” but instead just the truth. Not that that means the interviewer did anything wrong–I mean, how can you spot a game-player until something like this happens?–but I’ve definitely seen the assumption for servers and retail that the newest person gets the worst shifts, and also that something could be done about it if the manager were so inclined.

      1. Annony*

        Often it is true that the new person gets the worst shifts. A business is going to be far more invested in keeping good existing employees than keeping a job applicant who still needs training and has no track record yet.

    6. oopsie*

      I did the less-bad version of this where I got an offer for the office in City A and then told them that actually I had decided I could only take the position if I could work in the office in City B. It was not something I was planning on doing all along, though, as I was desperate for a career-track job and didn’t actually think about what the move meant until I got the offer. (I was young.) They let me do it, but it was a mistake for everyone involved because the hiring manager didn’t really want to manage remote so I ended up with an unclear chain of command and over time really stagnated, but the economy was bad and there was nowhere to go for a few years. I often wonder if I would have had a better time of that job if I’d just moved to the city I didn’t want to move to.

    7. ArtsyGirl*

      I actually had the opposite happen to me last summer. I am getting my PhD full time but my university stipend does not cover summers so I wanted to get a part time job to fill in the May through August months. I applied for and was hired at a large book store at the beginning of May. Two weeks after being told I hired I gave in and called them up asking when they were going to send me the paperwork. The manager said he had sent it to my email, I double checked and eventually found an email with a link. The sender address was not the name of the company that hired me, the subject line mentioned nothing about the company or my hiring, and the text in the body of the email just said to click on the link. It was completely bizarre and I had assumed it was spam. I filled it all out and then waited another week with no word so I called again. Apparently they mis-coded my job and needed me to reapply and then fill out the paperwork again which took another week or so. Finally they get it all straightened out, but they then they were doing annual inventory for the next two weeks and that couldn’t train me during that time. I told them thanks but no thanks – I had already blown through half of the summer and was completely put off by how disorganized they were.

  8. many bells down*

    The problem I had with the multiple-married- names thing was that jobs were calling my previous employers – before asking me for references – and only using the name on my resume. So they were hearing that I’d never worked there. I hadn’t even gotten to the “asking for references” stage.

    1. remizidae*

      It’s probably a good idea to give your references a heads up about your name change.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, certainly. But Many Bells Down was saying that the problem occurred before any references were contacted? Unless by “references,” you don’t mean references but HR at former employers?

  9. Johanna*

    Just a note for those with name changes. Let your references know if you hadn’t been in touch for a bit. Even if they know you’ve gotten married, they might not remember the name…

    1. Artemesia*

      It is always a good idea to prep references in writing with information like name changes but also highlighting things you hope they will mention. If you were a major grant getter let them know you hope they will mention that; or if you are proud of a publication or an event you managed or your efficiency at getting accounts paid — whatever it was, remind them of a specific thing you hope they can speak to.

      I know I was always grateful for that as often people I needed to give references for were a somewhat vague memory — generally positive but I couldn’t always come up with specifics years later.

  10. Delta Delta*

    #4 – I think it’s incredibly smart for an employer to ask a reference who else to talk to about a potential hire. chances are good someone’s not going to give references who are going to say bad things about them. However, reaching beyond that list can sometimes yield really important information. I’ve been an off-list call before, and have been able to give a great reference, and I’ve also not been able to give a great reference. In the latter situation I diplomatically said something to the effect that I worked with that person and that’s about all I could say.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If I gave someone permission to use me as a reference, and the company asked me for an additional reference, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving them that information. I wouldn’t want to be cold called to be a reference, and I’m not about to give out people names and numbers that have gotten no heads up, especially when I’m not the one job searching.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. I always inform my references that I’m applying and ask if I can still use them.

        It would be unethical, IMO, for them to give out information of other people without asking those other people first. Same as it would be unethical for me, if called as a reference, to give another party’s info out.

        Not that others shouldn’t be called, but they should be asked give their permission for their data to be handed out in the first place.

  11. old curmudgeon*

    Re: #3, I work for a state agency, and gathering unofficial references about applicants is SOP in hiring. Many people tend to stay in state government for their entire careers, just moving from one position to another (because that is the only way you can get a salary increase in our state), and as a result, people get known for both their good traits and their not-so-good ones. It is very, very typical for the hiring manager to call the official references to ask the official questions, and then go through their own list of personal contacts at each agency where the applicant has worked saying “hey, So-and-So applied for X position here, is there anything in particular that I should know about them?”

    This is partly due to the fact that it takes at least a year, sometimes longer, to terminate anyone in my state. I know of one person who was caught red-handed carrying out state-owned property late at night to load in their personal vehicle, who was on the payroll for over a year before they got all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed to terminate them. There was another who just “retired” (as an alternative to firing) whose manager had started the process back in 2018. There are ample reasons in our case why the hiring managers want to be as diligent as possible in gathering all relevant information.

    So I would not find it at all unusual or surprising if a reference call included a question about who else might be able to speak to the person’s skills and work ethic. To be honest, it would puzzle me more if such a call did not include that kind of question.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That happened to a friend’s ex. She worked for a city-run facility, and one older woman in her department was a total terror. They were just waiting for her to retire instead of going to the bother of firing her. Meanwhile, she drove new employees out and made the remaining ones miserable. Sometimes it seems like it’s too hard to fire government / municipal employees.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        It’s a balancing act.

        The reason civil service protections are in place is to prevent every new batch of politicians from firing the whole staff top to bottom in order to hand out patronage jobs to their supporters, which is what used to happen a century or so ago. Appointed positions (agency secretaries) are still replaced every time the politician changes, but the rank and file who actually do the work are protected from losing their jobs just because the new guy in charge wants to hand them out to his friends.

        Does it go too far in some cases? Absolutely. We have a “problem child” in my work unit who would have been PIP’d out the door years ago in private industry. But returning to the old days of all government jobs being patronage plums distributed to political cronies just doesn’t seem like a good idea, either.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Plenty of private industry have any number of problem children–high performers who are sexual predators, people kept around only because they are related to someone, etc. Honestly, all companies hould have a hard time firing someone unles it’s outright criminal acts. No one should lose their livihood because of a whim. And many do.

  12. Lizabeth*

    Digging down into references happens! My old firm gave stellar references for a prestigious job bid BUT the reference checkers drilled down lower (GRIN) and found out enough dirt to not move them to the next level of review. Karma bites. The firm head ranted for about two weeks after about that one. And he’s the one that caused most of the bad reveiws.

  13. LunaLena*

    The rudeness of “I know how you do new people, that ain’t gonna be me” is so staggering. Basically you’re telling your new employer that you think they’re scumbags! Not the best way to make a good first impression. It reminds me of the time I was playing a co-op game online where each person picks a character (there are several, and each has different weapons and skills) and the two of you have to survive together against a zombie horde. I teamed up with one person, picked my character… and was immediately kicked out by the other person. They sent me a message saying they don’t play with people who pick Character, because those people are douchebags, and then invited me back to play as long as I didn’t pick Character. I refused – I actually picked Character because I happen to be very good with her, but I’m pretty adept with all of the characters – because I didn’t feel like playing with someone who assumed off the bat that I’m a douchebag and didn’t even give me a chance. I’m sure my refusal affirmed that I am indeed one of those douchebags, but at that point I wasn’t interested in proving myself to the other person.

  14. MicroManagered*

    OP5 A lot of large employers use a Big-Brother-like service for employment verification now. These companies track last name changes, so you may not even need to get into it with your potential employer. (I’ve been married & divorced twice and, while I’m not ashamed of it, it’s not my favorite thing to discuss with people I don’t know.)

    I think, when/if you’re at the reference-check stage, you could let your references know they may be contacted (which is just a good idea anyway) and throw in “Oh and I’m Sally Jones now btw.”

  15. Free Meerkats*

    I know it’s old, but the language I’d use with #2 would be, “Here’s your schedule. You can work it or you don’t work anymore. What’s your choice?” She’s given up any right to more civil language.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was thinking the same thing. I wouldn’t even modify the first part to remind them “this is the schedule you agreed to, TWICE.”

  16. Boomerang Girl*

    I wonder if the new employee who could not work the necessary hours received and followed bad advice from a friend about standing up for herself.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I think it’s a variation. Received “advice” from someone who said, “promise them anything. once You’re hired, what can they do?”

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        I was thinking it was something like that. People get some really bad advice sometimes.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Very possible. We hired a person who’s job was opening up in the morning and setting things up for day. After the third day they went to the manager and said they couldn’t work early hours because it was too hard to get up. To their credit, the manager said “This is the shift we hired you for and it’s the only shift available. If you can’t work it, tell me now.” The person literally smirked and said, “Then you’ll have no one.” My manager responded by letting them go and working the shift themselves for a week until we got a replacement.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Big Woo Hoo for that manager for taking the responsibility for the extra stuff himself instead of pushing it down the line.

          Sometimes the shift is the shift and for any variety of reasons it can’t be changed. It sounded like the OP who was hiring was very abundantly clear about the hours, and in the end that job wasn’t going to be a good fit for the employee because they didn’t want to believe the person who hired them.

  17. Lala*

    I think every manager who has ever had to hire for shift work has run into that employee (and most managers who don’t hire for shift work has seen a different version.) People think they just need to get their foot in the door. And they know that once hired it can be a pain to have to do it all over again.
    Most people don’t blatantly lie like that in interviews. But there are enough of that slim majority that do that many have encountered them. There is no level of managing that enables you to see through them.

  18. Steveo*

    The correct reply when asked for help after a perp walk is “I’d be willing to discuss my support on a contract basis. My hourly rate is (2x rate on salary).”.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Unless I really liked the manager, that would be my answer. Especially when they don’t even let you pack your desk.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      Oh, far more than that. You’re a contractor, you’ve got more expenses than you think.

      This happened to our New College Grad when my entire team got laid off. He was the only person who knew how to do a yearly task that took about half a day to do, but changed just enough each year that documenting it completely would take three days. So they had to hire him back as a contractor for those three days, and being a NCG he was ready to take the first offer, but caved in on the proper amount that we told him to ask for.

  19. Mazzy*

    I looked at all of the letters and am creeped out by the “perp walk” one because does that mean you can’t even get your coat? Or wallet?

    But I want to comment on the two not getting along. My advice is to be 100% sure there is nothing that isn’t personal not going on here, or you’ll lose credibility and authority. Let me explain. I used to work with someone who’d drop the ball all of the time and he also did some annoying personal things like come in a little late or chew with his mouth open or humble brag all of the time. Management thought for the longest time that I was bringing him up in one-on-ones because I had a personal vendetta against him. It wasn’t true; he annoyed me personally but also dropped the ball on work. I tried not to bring up the personal stuff but they picked up on it. It took him to drop the ball on some serious stuff over many years for them to start believing me. In the meantime he got away with telling them stuff wasn’t possible so he wouldn’t have to do work (and I was the only one who would then find out and know the thing was possible) or pulling a Christina Applegate in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead move of delegating mad amounts of work to other people because he couldn’t do it, even though he had no authority to do it.

    TLDR make sure no concrete work related issues have happened before handling this like a personality conflict

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Re. “perp walk”: Apparently some will walk you to the desk and let you collect some/all personal possessions, while others hand you a box with your stuff, then you get walked to the door.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Generally, a perp walk means you can get your personal items like a purse, coat, mug, etc., and then someone escorts you out of the building to make sure you leave. They will often lock your computer while you’re in the layoff meeting so you can’t sabotage anything. Not all companies allow this, however. A friend got laid off and they booted him immediately, packed up his personal crap, and FedExed it to him.

      When I was laid off at OldExjob and fired at Exjob, I politely told them I would like to take my things right then. Both supervisors waited with me while I packed up. I really didn’t want someone else to go through my stuff.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        At one place they sent me back to my desk where I was still logged in and everything (I cleaned my slashdot history); I went out to lunch with my shocked co-workers, and only after that did they have me gather stuff up and be walked out.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was escorted back to my desk, allowed to grab what I was able to grab, and walked out of the building by security. It sucks but it’s understandable. A lot of people have access to internal systems and if they were allowed to go back to their desk without supervision, there are plenty of people who could (and would) sabotage something before they left if they were mad enough.

      1. LunaLena*

        Yes, this was what I was thinking too. After I left a job, I heard that the guy they hired to replace me didn’t work out, and he deleted all the files off his computer when he left. Some people really are that petty.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        There are degrees.

        The most common is “You’re laid off/terminated, we’ll go with you to pack your stuff”, which means that after they hand you paper, the manager or security goes with you back to your desk and watches you box up your stuff.

        The curt and crass version just lets you grab your glasses, coat and backpack, then jumbles all your stuff into a box and ships it to you; it arrives with stuff bent and broken, with any good pens you had gone.

        The nastiest degree doesn’t even let you collect your glasses and coat before escorting you out the door. You get your stuff in a jumbled, broken mess, missing all the good stuff, with your PBJ lunch from that day just shoved in the box to rot with everything else. I’ve only had that done once, from one of the most dysfunctional companies I’ve ever worked for.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I once worked at a place that laid people off early in the week and offered them the option of working through the end of the week to wrap things up, and pack things up, and clean out their email. Or you could leave right away; you still go paid through Friday.

      interestingly, almost everyone worked at least a few hours, and a lot of them worked mostly a whole week. there wasn’t any evidence of sabotage.

      The message was: “we are really sorry we can’t afford to keep paying you; you’re great, and we’ve loved having you. You can leave today, and we’d understand, but if you’d be willing to stay and wrap things up for your colleague, we’d appreciate it. Then you can also pack up the giveaway items we’ve all been stashing under our desk, and your spare shoes, and get some stuff out of your email.”

      It was very heartening for those of us who were left, to see our valued colleagues treated like professionals instead of hoodlums.

  20. Been There*

    I’m glad to see other people seeing Sarah’s side of this.
    Alison wrote: “…make sure you’re not penalizing Kate for problems being mainly caused by Sarah” but as someone who has suffered workplace bullying, please make sure not to do the other way around either.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yeah, while OP#1’s “gut” may be telling her that Sarah is the problem, she really needs to verify that before making any irrevocable decisions. Some people are really, really good at baiting other people into bad behavior, while making themselves look innocent.

      That said, both Sarah and Kate probably need The Talk, i.e. “you don’t have to like her, but you have to work with her.”

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        and I think a lot of us are probably either seeing ourselves in Sarah OR making assumptions about Sarah and Kate- assuming things like one is older/working longer then the other and building in expectations accordingly.

        Though I agree- this behavior is definitely not work appropriate and needs to be nipped in the bud.

  21. Retail not Retail*

    I was a newer employee who still can’t stand one with more seniority but we still functioned as a team so I had to work one-on-one with him for months because him and the other woman on our schedule outright refused.

    Due to the chaos of the last month, we’ve not had to work together alone and I’m always like “welp! Not gonna ride with anyone, social distancing and all” to escape time with him.

    All I’ve learned is my org does the move the complaining employee to another department and everyone has reported his behavior in one way or another.

    I don’t know what happens once someone escalates to writing down what has happened, but I wonder if bringing in a third party (not that that’s possible for op1) would help since one employee is a high performer and one is not, are you the manager filtering your interactions in a way that excuses bad behavior?

  22. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    #1 (personality conflict between reports) – I realize that this is an old letter, so the “you” is really addressed to the generic manager who might find themself in the similar situation:

    > My gut tells me that Sarah is the problem

    As someone who has been in the position of “one of the reports” in a somewhat similar situation — it’s pretty disheartening to have the boss take one person’s “side” without fully looking into it, albeit that that probably gives information about that boss regarding how ready they are to take in contrasting viewpoints or information that conflicts with their worldview in general. (Hello Mick!)

    In my case there was a “conflict” of some sort… I don’t really define it as a conflict myself, but to our mutual boss it was, because CoWorker and I had different points of view about something. :eyeroll: CoWorker wanted to know how to do “whatever the thing was”, for which we had a written “Standard Operating Procedure” which was maintained up-to-date and was also subject to twice yearly auditing by an external party to check that that was a good procedure for that process (Among many other procedures, as part of the audit, obviously.)

    So CoWorker needed to do “whatever the thing was” and asked me how to do it as I was the ‘expert’ in that. So I said to CW… ok, so do you have the “Standard Operating Procedure”? Have you tried to follow it? Where did you get stuck and I can elaborate on any parts that aren’t obvious, and later add them back into the Procedure.

    Well, she went crying to our mutual boss saying that I had been “unhelpful”; he took her side, called me in to a meeting, ‘told’ me to be more helpful as she just needs the information, and that if I can’t co-operate with coworkers they always have the option of taking the HR, disciplinary route.

    He didn’t recognize that she felt overwhelmed by the information (which would have been accessible to anyone with any aptitude for the role) and so sought to blame it off onto the person “inflicting” this “injustice” on her. Because it was easier.

    What’s easier? To trust your “gut” (a thing I am in favour of in general, but it still needs to be validated) or to ensure that justice is done by people?

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Reading this, I’m suddenly wondering if Kate might be a symptom of a toxic workplace, complete with boss who goes by her “gut” and maybe not so inclined to look into hard facts on both sides of the issue?

  23. Karia*

    While Sarah sounds petty, Kate is complaining as well – and ‘tendency towards dramatics’ is ringing some bells. Do you mean she occasionally sighs heavily? That she stirs up her colleagues? That she throws things across the room?

  24. Madame Zeroni*

    What advice would you give to the coworkers who are being recruited in #1? I have two colleagues who despise each other and it is very well known. Luckily they don’t work together too often. Our manager is very new and he doesn’t really shut it down that well.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      How do you all read the Inc articles. I have to register to read them and that is not gonna happen.

  25. MissDisplaced*

    #2 is a really strong about-face on the work schedule.
    I wonder if something else happened–because it seems like the hours were gone over in the interview?
    So either they a) agreed to whatever to get a foot in the door, or b) had a change in life that made them unable to do, or c) somebody said and/or did something to indicate they’d get crap shifts forever?

    Most likely answer is they agreed to whatever shifts to get foot in the door… now ass out the door. LOL! It’s kinda weird, but best not to waste time on people like that.

    1. schnauzerfan*

      We get this a lot. We have two positions specifically called “Evening Supervisor” the hours are listed in the job announcement, the application has qualification questions, one of which is did you graduate from high school and the other repeats the hours and “are you willing and able to work this schedule” if your answer to either question is “no” that’s it. Your ap does not move forward. And yet. We have had a handful of people accept the job and then go thru at least the first four of the five stages of grief:

  26. Mayflower*

    RE: my references are being asked to provide more references

    Are you certain it’s the employer and not the recruiter that’s doing this? Unethical recruiters are known for going on fishing expeditions to expand their prospects list. They often frame it as “checking up on references” but what they really want is to establish themselves as a vendor with your previous employers.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      I had that experience once. The lady kept pushing and pushing to the point that she was transparent as glass. I wasn’t about to provide her with free prospects

  27. Courageous cat*

    Damn, I would hate that references thing and don’t know how I feel about how ethical it is personally. There are typically people in any company who are difficult to work with and overly critical, and I would hate for them to be consulted by a reference checker. I dunno, it’s hard to phrase how I feel about this, but I don’t like people getting carte blanche access to anyone I’ve ever worked with because invariably some of them will not have nice things to say, even if it’s not fair or rational.

  28. Crass*

    Yeah, I worked with a super loud phone talker. All of us were on the phone all the time, doing sales and relationship management style work. She was so loud, people I was on the phone with could not hear my voice over hers and it made it literally impossible to do my job. She appeared to be a high performer, but that was because she was busy stealing credit for other people’s work and making it hard for her colleagues to get anything done at all.

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