my employee is alienating all her coworkers

A reader writes:

I’ve been receiving complaints from some of my employees about another employee, let’s call her Leah.

Leah is a very good employee. She meets her goals every day and is always happy to lend a hand. She’s eager to learn other parts of the job so she can help out.

According to others in her department, though, the reason she’s so eager to help is she wants to prove she can do the job all by herself and we can get rid of the other employees. Often she sneaks behind and finishes half-done tasks. These tasks may be left undone for many reasons, and there have been times when she’s caused a major snarl by shipping products that aren’t fully packaged or something akin. Some people have reported that she goes through and pulls the best products for herself, leaving others with sub-standard products. She seems to think that she can decide her own work duties, including dictating how her peers operate.

Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies, and at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments (that management only ever hears secondhand).

I have told her directly to stop doing these things. I’m concerned that it may affect her relationship with other employees, as she’s been known to take it out on other people when she gets in a foul mood.

Currently we’re in the process of hiring a new full-time position. Leah is very interested in that since she’s only part-time, and has upped her behavior to try to push out any other in-house candidates.

How can I approach her behavior? She does her job very well. She just tries to do everyone else’s as well.

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

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    She doesn’t do her job well if your other employees are quitting to avoid her and she’s causing problems with your customers. You not only need to NOT move her to full-time, you probably need to turf her entirely.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        honestly, I know it’s overdone, but upvote 9000.

        The staff doesn’t have a problem WITH a coworker, the staff has a problem coworker.
        She is actively sabotaging their work and she is harassing them.
        Why is the question, “how do I retain this person who is willing to make the company look bad by sending out incomplete orders?” and not, “How do I terminate this person who has chased off good employees and is trying to force her way into a full time position?”

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Exactly. I get the broken stair analogy, but she isn’t even full time. The company has lost FULL TIME EMPLOYEES that they’ve hired, trained, invested time and money into for this part time person who doesn’t care about the job, only about making other people look bad.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP, you’re conflating “Leah is good at the technical requirements for job-related projects” with “Leah is a good employee.” Leah is a very bad employee who happens to be good at some technical aspects of her job. She is subtracting value from your company. Treat her accordingly.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes! It’s so interesting to see this from the management perspective, because I’ve experienced this an employee and it is THE WORST. I’m so unsurprised that Leah has already driven off coworkers, but kind of shocked that it’s gotten that far (and multiple harassment issues??) with the LW still thinking Leah is a good employee.

        1. Dweali*

          Not gonna lie, I scoffed at the “managers only hear of second hand” comment. People like Leah aren’t dumb, they won’t show that negative side in front of managers (at least not unless they have been shown they can get away with absolutely everything)

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I made a rude noise over that comment, too. I’ve seen too many Leahs behave appropriately and make nice with their co-workers when management was around. Once the manager(s) left, the Leahs reverted to their normal behavior. Call it sly, canny, manipulative, self preservation, or whatever, these folks know their behavior isn’t appropriate. They also know how to play to their direct manager’s expectations – hence the delivery of expected results, but at the cost of goodwill and cooperation with their team.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Although I have to point out that Leahs don’t always know who’s on the other side of the cubicle if a manager is short (which turned out rather fun when a Leah was trying to sabotage me. Oops).

          2. straws*

            I hate this mentality. My boss was notorious about the second hand comment thing. I’d bring a serious issue to his attention, and he’d basically wave it off because he hasn’t seen it second hand and I was acting on “hear say”. Like, no dude, an employee came to me in confidence because they feel unsafe…

            1. HR Exec Popping In*

              If a manager know something like this, first hand, second hand or 1000 hand, it is still actionable! This isn’t a court of law – it is a job – and managers are responsible for assessing employees on all aspects of the job. Not just the completion of assigned tasks.

              1. Quiet Liberal*

                Yes, managers ARE responsible for assessing their reports on all aspects of the job…..unless, upper management turns a blind eye because that pain in the ass employee is a super performer. Advice to me when I was that manager was “you’ll need to work around her behavior because she is valuable as a producer. Just think of this as a management opportunity.”

                I wish Alison had been my boss at that old workplace. Probably wouldn’t have been so damn dysfunctional.

          3. DarnTheMan*

            My first ever manager was like this; she was a contract worker who kept getting hired back because she was an absolute darling of upper management, despite being a holy terror to all the staff at her level and under her. One of her biggest Janus moments was constantly getting praised for how much extra work she took on, but then deciding it was stressing her out and pushing it on to me, only to claim credit for it as soon as it was completed (I was 23 and it was my first adult job so I really didn’t know about pushing back or going over her head.)

        2. Felicia FancyBottom*

          I worked with a “Leah”. My boss lost so many employees because of her, yet kept her on because she was a “good worker”. I was long gone before “Leah” quit after my ex-boss finally put her foot down.

          I live in a small town so I still hear stories of people that currently work with her. Seems like she hasn’t changed at all, yet somehow gets away with it.

          1. Gatomon*

            It always amazes me how long these people persist despite them being the one constant in every issue. They’re like blackholes – you can see the effects orbiting around them, but you’ll never be able to observe them directly.

      2. Observer*

        Not even that.

        She is actually “completing” work that is being left for good and suffieint reason. She clearly doesn’t understand event the technical parts of the job.

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

          I’ve had this problem with a coworker before! There were several instances where he kept trying to do my job. It was frustrating, and even after talking to him about it he wouldn’t stop the behavior.

          In one instance: I was preparing to apply for a permit with the city. I had already gone to the city offices, had a a meeting with the agent in charge of that area of permitting, been given exact instructions on what to do, and the last step was to get a check written and submitted back to the city to cover the fees. Somehow my coworker thought it would make him look good if he took the check down the city and met with the agents…but I had already done that and if he had tried to step in it would have messed up all the work I had done! Not to mention, he thought it was a good idea to JUST TAKE a $15,000 check?!

          He never seemed to understand WHY we delegate certain tasks to certain people. He wanted to do it all himself thinking it would make him look good, but half the time he would mess something up.

      3. Myrin*

        FWIW, I don’t think OP is conflating these things so much as she’s using the expression as a – pretty common, at least in my experience – verbal shortcut.

      4. designbot*

        I would even raise that to “Leah cannibalizes other’s work in order to be seen as meeting or exceeding the technical requirements of the job.” Because that’s what’s happening.

      5. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Something that I feel many people need to learn is that the technical requirements of a job are only part of the requirement towards being a good employee. Soft skills can oftentimes trump hard skills at the end of the day, all other things being equal. If nobody wants to work with you it doesn’t matter how well you do a job.

        1. JessaB*

          I can teach you job x, but it’s far harder and often times impossible to fix an adult’s interpersonal issues. Especially when doing a full time job beside it.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Is Leah better than the two people she harassed so much that they quit? Is she better than those two plus the others who will quit in the future because of her.

      If very good employee Leah can do it all herself, why don’t fire everyone else and let Leah do it all?

      So my questions are ridiculous and sarcastic? But no more ridiculous than this letter which claims Leah is a very good employee and then describes the many ways she is a terrible employee. Honestly terrible. She doesn’t’even listen to the LW i.e. her manager.

    3. Kiki*

      Yeah, it reminds me of when people write into advice columns and say things like, “my boyfriend is great but he does this thing where he never showers and insists on living in a sewer pipe on the outskirts of town and forgets my birthday, claiming the people of the sewer do not honor birthdays. He also stole my car and crashed it in Reno.” … I do not know if your boyfriend is really great…

      1. Red Wheelbarrow*

        “Claming the people of the sewer do not honor birthdays” made me laugh pretty hard.

    4. Koalafied*

      Seriously, do NOT reward this behavior and reinforce her belief that it will make her more successful.

    5. Alice's Rabbit*

      Yes. This is not a good employee. This is an overzealous employee. There is a huge difference!

  2. Mighty Mouse*

    Leah sounds like a nightmare. The kind of employee everyone who works directly with knows is a nightmare and management will never take care of it. You’re going to lose so many more actual good employees if you keep her around. I’ve worked with a Leah and she made my life hell. Management felt sorry for her and thought she was just proactive and refused to deal with the mess. I quit.

    1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      I reported to a Leah and she regularly did things described in the letter under the guise of being “helpful”. Higher ups read her behavior as proactive and “organized” because they were too dysfunctional and disorganized to notice. The reality was that she was creating more work and by extension dysfunction for me, so she could then take on bright and shiny new projects (and a manageable workload) that would make her look good—she got the gold star for being an organized go-getter, while I looked like the incompetent who struggled to meet deadlines and fulfill the unreasonable expectations that Leah set for me. I felt like I had no choice but to quit.

      1. lemon*

        Ugh. I feel your pain. Leah reminds me a lot of my current manager. She is very close to annoying me out of my job. I’m struggling with whether or not to try to flag the issues to my grandboss. We had a convo that kinda, sorta touched on the issues, but I admit that I was trying to be diplomatic and grandboss not may realize the full extent of the issues. But I hesitate to say more my manager has been here forever and to others seems… quirky, but generally liked well enough whereas I’m the weird newbie who’s angry all the time because I have to put up with her.

        1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

          I highly encourage you to flag it, I’ve since realized that there are ways to make your boss aware without making it seem like you’re throwing your manager under the bus.

          When my manager “Leah” was out for a few days, my boss directly asked me how things were going with me and “Leah”. She even made a point to note that she hadn’t been as directly involved with my day-to-day management, because she didn’t want to overstep Leah’s role, but wanted to see if things were good on my end. That was my opportunity to say something and I choose not take it because I’d overheard my boss sing my manager’s praises on more than one occassion. In hindsight I realize she maybe suspected that while Leah was “good” at the work she might not have been not so great as a manager. I don’t know how much it would’ve changed things, but I do kind of wish I’d said something.

      2. Juneybug*

        Whoa, I am in the process of quitting my job for the same reason but hadn’t thought of it that way (so thank you for that!). Now I can see what happen, such as –
        While working on my evaluation, I felt like a loser because my projects were not completed or had no results. Then I realized that it’s impossible to have results when your boss piles on more work to a project so you are never finish or adds additional projects so you are totally overwhelmed, which of course prevents you from ever completing anything.
        My boss took it to the next level and finished my projects (which were 90% completed) so she could claim the result herself and show off to leadership.
        Lesson learned – find a boss that champions you, not their selves. The LW needs to ensure she is not championing Leah in case she ever becomes her boss or peer cause the same thing will happen to her (she will look incompetent while Leah looks like a golden star).

        1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

          Yes, precisely! See my reply to lemon above. I had an opportunity to raise concerns about my manager to my boss and didn’t take it because I’d overheard my boss sing my manager’s praises.

      3. toxic avenger*

        Are you me?? Or someone who was previously in my role? This was exactly my circumstance! I was set up to fail and ended up cracking under the pressure.

  3. CupcakeCounter*

    Leah needs to be fired or put on a PIP not promoted!
    She does one thing well and you listed about half a dozen things she has done terribly. And you need to reframe this entirely…she isn’t eager to “help out”, she is trying to take over. Your job is next if you don’t manage properly.

    1. katiekaboom*

      Good point. People who behave like this are the first ones to say “idk why boss is in that position. *I* could just the job just as well”. Even though they usually don’t have the experience or full knowledge of what boss’s job actually is. I have one of those where I work. Always trying to make others look bad to make herself look good. Half of the time it backfires and she looks like an ass, and wonders why she keeps getting passed up for better assignments.

      1. RabidChild*

        Let’s be real, she’s likely making these comments already. You need to address these problems asap, OP, before it begins to reflect on you poorly.

  4. Anonariffic*

    I’m always kind of fascinated by this sort of letter. One of these things is not like the others:

    X is a very good employee!
    [Lists multiple ways in which X sabotages others and causes problems]
    [Lists the other employees that have complained about or even quit over X’s behavior]
    [Lists multiple direct corrective instructions that X has ignored]
    [Points out that X has gotten even worse recently in an effort to get rewarded for these behaviors]

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Agreed! I can see how if they have it in their head that Leah is a good employee, then all the other things are just “small” things to work on. Hopefully seeing it listed out will help them shift mentally and act accordingly.

    2. MassMatt*

      …and lists ways Leah has exposed company to lawsuits due to her harassment of other employees!

    3. Ominous Adversary*

      It’s so weird! I wonder whether the bosses are kind of scared of X, or just can’t bring themselves to think badly of X because X sucks up to them.

    4. BRR*

      It reminds me of other advice columns where the letter writer goes “I’m in a great relationship with a wonderful person. There’s just one small thing. *Names a huge thing that is a massive red flag*”

      1. high school teacher*

        Beat me to it as well! I was just about to post this. I read a lot of advice columns and one of my favorite tropes is the ol’ “I am married to an extremely kind, thoughtful, loving, and compassionate person. However, they…” and then it is something objectively terrible!

      2. Nopenopenope*

        These are the letters I always want to grip the writers by the shoulders over, look them straight in the eye, and mildly shake them while I yell HOW DID YOU MASTER THE POWER OF WRITING DOWN WORDS WITHOUT COMPREHENDING THE WORDZ YOU ARE WRITING????

        Seriously though, how do you write “excellent employee” under the pros and literally every other trait in that post under the cons of any employee’s name and NOT have your brain mutter “hey, hang on a second…” and go back for a second look???

        1. Camel*

          Lots of people just kind of ramble when they write and don’t take a second look to see if the end result makes sense. I know I’ve made posts like that.

          In situations like these there also often seems to be a cognitive dissonance/rationalisation thing going on. Like, *something* is blocking the LW from firing Leah or dumping Larry, and thus from fully admitting to herself that Leah is a horrible employee or Larry is a horrible boyfriend.

    5. Jaybeetee*

      A lot of people perceive “soft skills” as… not really part of the job. Kind of like Dr. House syndrome. Like if you’re good at the hard skills, it’s okay to behave in otherwise off-putting ways. It sounds like OP is in that trap of thinking that “Leah isn’t here to make friends.” Which, she’s not. But alienating everyone isn’t okay either.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Which, even if that was the case, she’s shipping out half-finished goods and making a mess of things due to ignorance. So soft skills aside, her hard skills are also lacking.

      2. Chriama*

        I actually had to stop watching House because the misogyny and sheer assholery just became too unbearable. Shows like that are why people end up thinking toxic work environments are normal.

          1. Tax Nerd*

            I’m also adopting “Dr. House Syndrome” as a synonym for “Brilliant jerk syndrome”. Thanks Jaybeetee! The people guilty of this are rarely as fantastic technically as they think they are.

            I’ve seen this sometimes, but not quite egregiously as Leah. We’ll have someone that is good at tax returns, but when it comes to managing people they are downright dreadful. Usually they are a senior associate or manager (but could be any level) so managing staff is part of their job. They’ll make things much more difficult generally, and sometimes even drive away people on the team, and yet leadership will put up with it because they are “good at their job” and “knows the client(s)”. Drives me nuts.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My mom loved the show – I noped out of it after not even a full episode – he was just such a massive jerk (and from what I’ve seen of the actor outside the role he’s not a jerk in real life).

        2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

          Me, too! House was a real jerk. The weekly break-ins at patients’ homes was also a bit over the top.

      3. Admiral Thrawn is Still Blue*

        House only got away with it because he was world class. Very few of those in any field.

        1. Ominous Adversary*

          But he wasn’t. He screwed up, subjected patients to unnecessary and invasive tests, caused all kinds of problems among the medical team…

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It’s quite prevalent in the IT field at least in my experience. Yes, Dave is a brilliant programmer, but he’s also a howling racist and needs to go. Regardless of how much of the code he wrote.

    6. cmcinnyc*

      Truly. I’ve worked with Leahs, too. In places with a measurable bottom-line type approach, if Leah makes money, good. If Leah costs money, bad. Workplaces/managers like this rarely decide Leah is bad until a raft of people quit and HR points out they have a costly turnover problem. That’s when they wake up to Leah.

      1. Windchime*

        Yep. My “Leah” bullied out and fired over half of her team before the company finally woke up and realized that Leah could cost them big bucks in the form of a lawsuit if they didn’t do something. Only then did they fire her, and it was HR that insisted. Leah’s managers still thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    7. Niniel*

      Exactly!! I don’t understand why companies keep people who are horrible to work with around. It’s so grating. You can have an employee who does a good job AND people like having around. The two are not mutually exclusive, but far too many employers fail to understand that.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Precisely what I came here to say.

      Even if – and it’s unlikely – she’d better than *any*body else, nobody’s better than *every*body else. This is a toxic employee who will destroy everything she touches – on purpose.

    2. RozGrunwald*

      I worked in a company with this attitude – an employee can still be “great” and “high-performing” even if they are completely toxic and make everyone around them miserable. Employees were almost never put on PIPs for interpersonal issues or behavior; only if they missed deadlines or didn’t meet work goals. We had turnover issues and morale issues and recruitment issues and upper leadership was mystified as to how that could possibly be. Well, I’ve got some ideas…

      1. dogmom*

        Ok I know you probably won’t see this because it’s hours after your original comment, but: Is your username like the character Roz Grunwald in The Robber Bride? I love that book!

    3. irene adler*

      Leah cannot be managed.
      There is an expectation that employees will follow directions (Example: abide by the harassment policies) and that they will not do things that are unexpected (Example: shipping incomplete orders).

      There is a lack of predictableness that is untenable. Can’t have that.

      (never mind the anti-social attitude she displays to co-workers)

      PIP won’t fix this as she will just go back to the old behaviors.

  5. Annony*

    Wow. Anytime you are afraid to give negative feedback an employee because they may take it out on their coworkers, it is time to let them go.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Seriously, that’s the easiest way to determine they’re a bad employee.

      Retaliation should be reason 1 to terminate someone. It’s the brightest red flag of all the flags.

    1. Esmeralda*

      No, because Tracy Flick was actually competent and she didn’t do other people’s work.

      I really don’t get the whole Tracy Flick is horrible thing — a high school student with an outrageously overbearing mother, without much economic means, smart, hard working, her teacher has sex with her (how is this not wrong?). I dunno, is Matthew Broderick so appealing that we’re ok with him taking his skeevy teacher friend’s side and exacting revenge on a high school girl and getting overinvested in high school students’ lives? Really? I’ve always liked the movie because it SEEMS like Tracy Flick is the “villain,” and then surprise surprise, it’s actually Mr Nice Guy who behaves badly and who gets exactly what he deserves. Very satisfying.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        You’re right in that Tracy Flick isn’t really the “villain” of the movie given the BS that almost all the adults (actually, no, really everyone) around her pull.

        Be that as it may, would you think of Tracy as a good colleague? Sure, she’s competent, but to some degree she seems to view the people around her as competitors rather than teammates, and it’s hard to have much patience for that even if one is sympathetic to where that behaviour comes from.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        The adults in Election are horrible people and not the good guys. Tracy is still annoying and would be a nightmare coworker. She’s overly serious about everything, has terrible people skills (likely why she seeks connections with/approval from adults/authority figures), and is judgmental about people without her own level of commitment and drive. She’s so baldly ambitious that it’s impossible not to wonder if she’s using you for her own gain or actually wants to help you. It’s clear from her interactions with her mother why she’s that way, but it wouldn’t make her any more pleasant a coworker.

        (No characters that are good enough people that you root for them tend to be a theme throughout Tom Perrotta’s works, actually. Sometimes, it makes a great story, like Election or The Leftovers, sometimes, it fails miserably like Joe College.)

  6. MassMatt*

    OMG Leah sounds awful! OP, you need to seriously reconsider your sense of who is a good or poor employee. The things you mention in her favor pale in comparison to the many MANY awful things you list.

    In particular, this is very disturbing:

    “ Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies, and at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments (that management only ever hears secondhand).”

    She is harassing and driving employees to quit, and management only hears about it secondhand? This is a liability time bomb waiting to explode, you are just asking for an enormous lawsuit. Any attorney would seize on this as evidence of management Inaction.

    Change your mindset immediately, I doubt you will be able to get Leah under control given how far amok she has already been allowed to run, but at least you can try as you do what needs to be done to get rid of her.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      That also suggests that LW thinks the company can’t take action unless a manager directly witnesses Leah saying something offensive / harassing a coworker, which is just…no. Get HR involved like, yesterday.

      1. Helena1*

        I mean, how out of control would she have to be if she was harassing other employees directly in front of you?

        Surely that would be a “security walks her out of the building” moment, not “the only time we can possibly start to address this”.

    2. Usagi*

      The secondhand thing also caused me to pause. Is management not looking into why people are leaving when they hand in their resignation? Or does management not have the relationship with the employees that would allow those people leaving to speak openly?

      Either way, that sounds like a huge problem to me, on top of Leah harassing people.

    3. TootsNYC*

      also, management needs to review what the think about “second hand”
      What “second hand”–from the person who had these harrassing things said to them?

      These are probably the same people who say, “well, I wasn’t there, so how do I know he didn’t have her consent?”
      Or the ones who say, “there isn’t any evidence,” when the evidence is someone’s verbal testimony.

  7. Seeking Second Childhood*

    If OP sees this old letter…. I’d be very interested to read an update.
    I half expect to hear that Leah quit in a huff when disciplined.

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            Holy heck, that update is even worse than the original letter. Leah sounds like an absolute nightmare, and upper management not much better. Glad OP is out of there!

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            And management really shot themselves in the foot, too! They refused to fire Leah because having to replace an employee would impact their budget, so they kept her… and lost OP, which presumably impacted their budget.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              Yep, plus now Leah knows she really can get away with basically anything if she’s willing to sit through a lecture every once and a while.

              I’m glad OP got out of that situation, it isn’t worth being a manager if you aren’t actually allowed to manage.

          3. WantonSeedStitch*

            That doesn’t surprise me. Leah sounds like EXACTLY the kind of person who results-oriented upper management LOVE because unless you’re down in the trenches, all you can see is that they’re getting so much stuff accomplished. And they’re usually super nice with those upper management types too, of course. So to upper management, Leah is a rockstar whose lazy coworkers are jealous of because she makes them look bad. To everyone who can actually see what’s going on, she’s a terror.

            1. Smithy*

              Unfortunately – I think this happens far more often than not. Performance evaluations have long focused on tangible achievements, and if there’s one colleague who has a large number of top achievements even if there are some mistakes and friction between colleagues it can get very “there are two sides of the story”. And the “improve relations with colleagues” get tossed into goals for next year.

              When this is done by more savvy/less truly awful coworkers, the “improved relationships” always happy to be those just about to be promoted or secure high profile projects.

        1. SQL Coder Cat*

          This was not the update I was hoping for. However, it led me to the original post, which started with this sentence that Alison didn’t include in the revisit:

          “My direct manager recently resigned and, until I hear an answer from higher up, I am the acting manager.”

          I think this makes the OP much more sympathetic, as it appears that this situation was dropped in her lap. I’m also very curious as to whether OP’s former manager resigned because she wasn’t able to do anything about Leah.

          1. Saturn*

            How many “because Leah” resignations is it suppose to take for upper management to finally get a clue?!?

        2. BRR*

          Wow. LW’s manager should have seen that keeping Leah was more likely to sink the department, not losing her, because it’s driving others away (not to mention that Leah was messing up others’ work).

        3. Jaybeetee*

          Huh, that same link has an update to the letter that spawned the “not everyone can eat sandwiches” rule.

        4. AKchic*

          That sounds so typical of retail to me that I’m not surprised at the outcome. I just feel bad for the LW.

          I can almost guarantee that Leah is still there, and probably in a fulltime position now, harassing other people and causing continued problems for the store, but since she has “seniority” and has been there “forever” (or so it seems), and the way upper management is so dysfunctional, she’ll have a job until the store restructures or upper management has some serious personnel changes.

          Oh, hey… hi covid!

        5. Bob*

          I can never understand how horrible people are allowed to get away with their actions in perpetuity.
          Actually i do understand, i just don’t want to accept it, that some luck out and end up in a spineless environment where their evil is enabled in perpetuity for various reasons, no matter the escalating cost to the employer who chooses to sweep the problem under the rug and plug their ears with their fingers.

  8. All the cats 4 me*

    I like this wording a bit better:

    “Can you do that and are you *willing* to make the changes I have just described to you?”

    Because “Can you” and “Will you” are different questions.

    I would also assume that, in her script, Alison has left it unsaid, as it should not need to be explained to OP, that OP will be telling Leah close observation will be the norm going forward and there will be some kind of quantifiable formal followup on a specified timeline between OP and Leah to ensure Leah is making the behavioural changes.

    Otherwise…. Leah will likely ‘behave’ until things settle down, and resume her normal behavoir thereafter.

  9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    The problem here (besides the fact the Leah is NOT a good employee) is that the discussions you have with her don’t seem to involve consequences. You tell her to stop doing things, but do you tell her what will happen if she doesn’t stop? That’s where you need to start. It’s sad that you’ve allowed others to leave because of one person’s bad behavior that could have been easily corrected by enforcing real consequences.

  10. Heidi*

    I’m amazed by this letter. Leah is great. She does all of these terrible, terrible things, like harassing other employees and sabotaging the work. But really, she’s great. If the OP was saying that Leah’s work is so mission critical that they feel they can’t fire her, this would be a somewhat understandable conflict. But it actually seems like the OP doesn’t seem to think that Leah’s behavior is that bad, and if that is true, this workplace doesn’t have just a Leah problem, it has an OP problem too.

  11. Rachel in NYC*

    A good employee who is eager to help out would be saying to their co-workers/managers: I’m finished with my assigned work for the day, is there something I can help you with?

    Not “sneaks behind and finishes half-done tasks…[that] may be left undone for many reasons…”

    That’s not a good employee who is eager. That’s either a bad employee or optimistically a potentially good employee who needs guidance and maybe a PIP.

    But either she’s causing a morale problem and if you let it continue, it’ll be more then 2 employees that the company will lose.

  12. Cj*

    Why is *anybody* left with substandard products? If you are manufacturing them, you need to up your quality control. If you are purchases them, you need to look at new vendors if your current one can’t rectify the situation.

    1. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

      I was curious about that as well. Having items necessary to do your job vary noticeably in quality is creating a scarcity problem of its own. Couldn’t but wonder if people hoard the “good supplies” the moment they come in. My only thought was that maybe the work doesn’t always require higher end supplies, but Leah is only using those.

      I paint with acrylics and have roughly 3 levels of paint “niceness” that I use, depending on the project. There’s no point in doing a big wash wish something that is $15+ per 8mL tube, but they’re great for certain details.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      Honestly, my head went to the ‘tape gun wars of ought-five’

      Apparently we had 2 really good tape guns and one crappy one. (Before you ask, I had no idea we had a wonky tape gun since no one bothered to tell me) Anyway, from the reports I got and the near fist fight I had almost had to break up, people would hide the good tape guns so that they could use them the next day. One person got mad that they were always left with the crappy one, and pulled the switcharoo mid day so they could hide it and continue to use it. Obviously this didn’t go over well with the first person, so shouting soon followed.

      I asked them how long this had been going on and apparently it was months. Nobody had a great answer for me when I asked why they didn’t let someone know we had a crappy one so we could replace it. Nobody could remember a time when anyone had gotten in trouble for asking for replacement equipment. Nobody could point to an example of a time when we didn’t try new or different equipment from their suggestions to make their jobs easier and better. UGGGGHHHH!!!!

      The other thing I can think of that could be referring to substandard is if you have parts that come pre kitted and others that you have to have to kit before sending. I could see that as being looked at as substandard.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m screaming inside! I can see this happening one day to us because people are so WEIRD about flagging faulty equipment, even though I swear that nobody has ever gotten in trouble for doing so. It’s simply that nobody THINKS to bring it to the attention of purchasing/management most days, they don’t want to “make a fuss” or whatever.

        I have drilled it into so many heads that “I’m cheap but if it’s broken, I’m going to replace it!” I’m cheap in that “can we get a super deluxe something or other that does too much stuff we don’t even need” is a “Nice try though!”. But “I need a new tape gun” is “Oh okay, I’ll order it today.” *face desk*

      2. Pilcrow*

        At my workplace it’s handheld barcode scanners that get swiped and hidden. My mom was a nurse in a hospital and stethoscopes were the hot item. (It was worse with the stethoscopes because those were bought by the nurses, not hospital-supplied.)

      3. Pilcrow*

        Dug through the comments on the original letter and found and explanation from the OP.

        February 22, 2016 at 11:41 am
        (OP) We work with a well known company that deals with donations, in the book department. From what I understand she’s pulling boxes of books for herself and hoarding them on her desk, or going through them before other employees arrive to make sure she gets the choice items to list for sale (we’re in eCommerce). I have no proof of her going through boxes, just hearsay, but I’ve seen how she loads down her desk before she leaves so no one else can have her products to list.

    3. Absurda*

      Yeah, this caught my attention, too. It’s not clear if the products are stuff sent to customers or stuff used in house, but if anyone is (let alone several people) are “stuck” with substandard stuff, the problems in this company probably run deeper than just one bad employee. Sounds like no one is being held to account at this company.

  13. Ali G*

    I guarantee you that if you make Leah full time, you will lose even more employees. You need to show your loyalty to your employees that are actually good ones and either figure out how to significantly rein in Leah or fire her.

    1. Artemesia*

      yeah check out the update — Leah drove out the OP and the person hired into the full time position.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – from the update it sounds like it was an upper management problem, not really a Leah problem (because upper management wasn’t willing to actually hold Leah accountable for her bad behavior).

  14. Ashley*

    Just a guess but what is the office like when Leah isn’t there for a week or even when she isn’t work since she is part time? I bet attitudes are better and overall work quality has improved for the rest of the people in the office.

    We have our own version of Leah who has convinced management they don’t need to hire for the second full time position because they can handle it all themselves. Meanwhile they work crazy hours, are always stressed out, and we can’t change anything because they are so overwhelmed just trying to maintain the pace. When they have tried to hire help for our Leah in the past, they never last because the person doesn’t think they need help, resents the help, and fail to adequately train. (They fail into the category they can’t teach anyone anything but sometimes I wonder if they could teach someone some stuff if they tried a little more.)

    The job is more then just completing tasks x, y, and z.

  15. Artemesia*

    The update on this was horrific — Leah was allowed to run off another good employee who was hired into the full time position and upper management refused to allow her to be fired and so the OP left for another job as well. This is a classic of what happens when management doesn’t manage.

    1. esra*

      I love that the reason they didn’t want to fire her was to not lose another warm body. Well, now you lost two?

    2. irene adler*

      And Leah learns that her abusive ways result in a payoff for her.
      We don’t know if she was made full-time, but she knows she won’t be terminated for her actions. So now there’s nothing to stop her. Hope management grows a spine and axes Leah.

  16. Zephy*

    Ooh, I would hate working with Leah. I can’t stand having other people yank my tasks out from under me, especially if they’re “just trying to help.” Undermining my professional competence and also screwing up whatever system(s) I have in place for handling my work isn’t helping. I don’t know if I would immediately assume Leah is trying to steal my job or push me out or whatever, but I would for sure be annoyed if I came in to work every day and nothing was how I left it because Leah decided to “help.” I’d definitely want to ask my boss if this was something she asked Leah to do or if Leah was acting on her own, and if it was that second thing, I’d want my boss to ask her to cut that shit out, like, yesterday.

    I’m also almost 100% sure that when you sit down and have this talk with Leah, OP, she’s going to start making noises about “just trying to help.” It sounds like you get a lot of information about what Leah does and why she does it secondhand; how well do you know her? Do you get the sense that she is intentionally trying to undermine her coworkers/”eliminate the competition,” or is that something you’ve heard from people who are annoyed by her behavior? You seem very willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, so do you think she might be genuinely clueless about how her behavior looks from the outside? This seems like a good opportunity for a discussion of intent vs impact, if you want to take the time and energy to coach her. In addition to the business impact of Leah’s impulsive “helping” (sending out half-filled orders!!, that kind of thing), you might actually need to spell out the interpersonal impact she’s having (annoying coworkers and making them feel undermined and disrespected).

    1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      I can’t stand having other people yank my tasks out from under me, especially if they’re “just trying to help.” Undermining my professional competence and also screwing up whatever system(s) I have in place for handling my work isn’t helping.

      Phew, this part, right here. If you’re truly trying to help, others should generally be aware of it and consent to it where applicable.

  17. TiredMama*

    Leah great, except she is terrible…harassment policy? shipping issues? making other people’s jobs more difficult to try to get promoted? You have told her to stop and she hasn’t? Not great. Not great at all. Like when a friend says, my boyfriend is amazing and we are so good together except this one issue that we fight about all the time.

  18. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ll take someone who isn’t that ambitious and just gets the job done, over a Leah any day. You can’t only do the “job” part well, you have to do the “internal customer service” part right too. I’m a person who hated group projects and likes to do stuff myself but holy-shit Leah is a disaster. Team work is crucial for just about all jobs on some level and is a requirement to be deemed a “good employee”. You’ve got someone forcing turnover because of their attitude, that’s huge, yikes.

  19. LGC*

    I remember when this first showed up here!

    One of the things I’ve had to learn – and that I’ve had to explain repeatedly to employees – is that there’s a difference between being a good worker and being a good employee. In this case, it sounds like Leah was a good worker in some respects – she met her productivity goals! She was also a jerk, which makes her a bad employee.

    It’s a common mistake and one that I wish I was more aware of beforehand.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      This comment should also be at the front of the ‘Manager’s Handbook’ It’s a simple sentence, but it’s deceptively hard to discern in the wild for most (including myself in that most).

      Here are some signs you might have a Leah on your hands.

      -After hearing something they bad they did you respond with “yeah, but” and cover it with a good thing.
      -They usually fill some critical hard to replace role that would cause pain for you, the manager, if that person wasn’t filled.
      -You’re getting signs or statements from the rest of the team that the aforementioned role isn’t all that critical or even with extra pain they are willing to cover it
      -You as a manager are also avoiding ‘Leah’ and actively (if subconsciously) avoid confrontation

  20. Paris Geller*

    Haven’t even read the whole article yet but I can clearly say she is NOT a good employee if she’s sabotaging her coworkers. Two employees quit (!!) over her remarks. Leah is a missing stair and she needs to go, not be around more often.

  21. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [“I need you to stop doing work that hasn’t been assigned to you. That’s not making you more valuable; it’s causing real problems for our work. I also need you to change the way you interact with coworkers. Having pleasant, cooperative relationships with coworkers is as much a part of your job expectations as any work I assign you. That means (specifics of what you need her to stop doing). Can you do that?”]

    I would edit two sentences:
    “YOU need to stop doing work that hasn’t been assigned to you.”
    “YOU need to change the way you interact with coworkers.”

    I would also add: “YOUR specific duties are Winking, Blinking, and Nodding, with additional tasks As Assigned. If I haven’t assigned a task to you, then don’t do that task. Do you understand?”

  22. Pigeon*

    Having worked with toxic individuals, a lot of times the rest of the team (management included!) alter their behavior and boundaries around the problem employee, because it’s easier than getting them to change or out of fear of their retaliation. Often this is completely subconscious and escalates slowly, so by the time you reach OP’s point, these completely unreasonable accommodations feel natural. Or in other words, you can look at someone like Leah and honestly believe they are an asset. It’s like developing a limp because you don’t want to walk on a sore ankle, and the early pain didn’t seem to warrant a doctor’s intervention.

    1. narwhal of a tale*

      This is such a great explanation. I worked with a co-worker who was nice on a personal level, but she was an awful co-worker. She would try to do other team members’ tasks, throw fits if things were completed without her input, go above and beyond in critiquing work, etc. We reported to the same manager and even the manager would admit she needed to work on improving her intra-communication skills and ability take feedback. The co-worker alienated so many people within the department due to her micromanagement as well as drove several people to quit. Yet manager insisted she was one of the best employees in the department.


      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Ugh. My former team had someone like this but they weren’t kept around because they were seen as a top employee – it was always a matter of them having more institutional knowledge than most people around.

    2. Fish Microwaver*

      This phenomenon is known as the missing stair, where everyone else inconveniences themselves rather than replacing the missing stair.

  23. YoungTen*

    What you discribe is an invasive weed that’s choking all the other plants. Pretty soon, you wont have anything but the good-for-nothing weed.

  24. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    I know this is an old letter, but I’m always amazed when managers write in and say their employee is a great employee and then list all the ways in which the employee is truly terrible! It reminds me of watching Intervention, and they show the person in active addiction abandoning / ignoring their children and the people around them say, “He’s actually a good dad!” or “She’s a great mom!” Maybe the person is loving, but it takes more than just love to be a good parent. Similarly, maybe these employees are adept at carrying out tasks, but there is more to being a good employee than just doing tasks well.

    1. LizM*

      It’s hard to admit that an employee is failing, especially if you hired them. Sometimes it feels like you’re failing them as a manager. I’ve had a couple of conversations with employees that I’ve looked back on, and thought “Maybe I just didn’t explain our anti-bullying policy well enough! What can I say to help them understand they can’t call their coworkers names and swear?” In hindsight, no, that employee was not going to change, and it was in the organization’s interest to manage them out. But getting to that point with an employee feels like a failure. So you tell yourself that “They’d really be a great employee if we could fix this one flaw.” It’s something that I think is missing from a lot of leadership and manager training – you can do everything right, you can have all the Crucial Conversations(TM) in the world, and your employee is still just not a good fit.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Sometimes the very simplicity of the issue makes you think it’s fixable. “Surely they wouldn’t jeopardize a good job over their ‘right’ to swear at co-workers? No one would do that! I must not be explaining it well!” But people do really pick some strange and stupid hills to die on.

        We had a housemate like that once. We had a long, skinny driveway, and everyone needed to park on the right side so that everyone could get their car in and out when they needed to. But he was totally stuck on his ‘need’ or ‘right’ or something to park behind our cars, in the middle of the driveway. So I was constantly having to wake him up in the morning and make him move his stupid car so I could leave for work. In those days, I was *also* dropping off my boys at daycare on the way. So getting them all ready and then being delayed while we shuffled the cars for the millionth time was a real drag.

        It got to the point where we were drawing chalk outlines of parking spaces on the driveway. “No one would screw up this sweet living situation over parking in the middle of the stupid driveway! He must not understand what we want!” But no. He was just that stubborn about this stupid issue.

    2. H.C.*

      It’s a theme I see more often in relationship-focused advice columns, “I love my SO, who’s compatible with me in everywhere except…” [record scratch-inducing GTFO red flag]

    3. LGC*

      Honestly, it’s the AAM equivalent of the “My SO is a good man, but…” line in most other advice columns. Usually you see that in situations where the LW knows that they’re being harmed by someone they care about, but because they care about the jerk they have difficulty calling them a jerk.

  25. Dagny*

    She scoops up half-done work, causes problems, ships out packages that are packed incorrectly, undermines coworkers, and chases people off the job. After you’re done putting her on a PIP, you need to have a complete overhaul of the way you assess employee performance.

  26. PleaseVoteInLocalElections*

    OP, Leah is a liability to your company and your job. Multiple people quitting over harassment is a pretty good indicator your company is at risk for a hostile workplace lawsuit. If your company gets sued over her behavior, do you think you will not be blamed? Do you think you will keep your job?

    Do you think this is fair to the other employees?

    Firing her and apologizing to your employees is the only fair outcome I can see.

  27. Autumnheart*

    Leah undermines other employees, causes products to be shipped with errors because she screws them up, and harasses people to the point that they quit.

    If this person has already had to have two conversations about harassment, that’s a pretty good sign that you shouldn’t let this situation continue before there’s a third one. How many times does someone get to harass people before they get fired at your company? Ideally the answer would be “zero”. Not two and counting.

    Even if you replaced Leah with someone who wasn’t as “good” at her actual job duties, it would be a net positive because you wouldn’t be shipping buggy product, and you’d be keeping your other good employees. As it is, you’re looking at sacrificing your whole team and your company’s reputation for competence, just to placate one part-timer. Come on.

  28. MS*

    Just remember that just because management hears about harassing comments second hand does not mean management is not on notice. If management is on notice and fails to take appropriate corrective action your company can be held liable for Leah creating a hostile work environment. The fact that you only heard second hand isn’t an excuse.

  29. Rockin Takin*

    I managed an employee very similar to Leah. I was the new supervisor and she’d been at the company for years. When I warned her about her behaviors she did NOT take it well. It ended in me giving her a poor performance review and she found a job in another dept.

    I don’t understand managers who allow employees to act like this.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        She wasn’t though. Sure she was the fastest/most efficient employee but she also achieved this by cutting corners. My field is serious about quality control and her quality was poor.

  30. mcfizzle*

    This might have nothing to do with anything, but I instantly saw the “compliment sandwich” technique here in how the manager wrote in.

  31. LMM*

    Why are these always the types of people bad management thinks are good employees? Oh right, reminds them of themselves.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s rarely that. It usually is because they are short sighted and aren’t looking at the big-picture. They’re often assessing the person on how they do the job at hand and soft-skills be damned.

  32. Jenny*

    “Twice now we’ve had to go over the harassment policies, and at least one if not two employees have quit over some of her comments (that management only ever hears secondhand).”

    And she’s sent out unfinished products?

    You should have fired her ages ago. This is NOT a good employee at all.

  33. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    My first thought after reading this was, “Leah needs to be FIRED.”

    Obviously, it’d be best to give her some explicit warnings about thus possibility, but her actions are egregious at best. She absolutely shouldn’t be considered for any position other than the one she currently has, and she should really be on a PIP at this point. Yikes.

  34. LizM*

    I’m assuming your statement that management only hears about people quitting over her statements second hand means that theses people aren’t telling you why they’re quitting, you’re hearing it from their peers.

    OP, you need to look at why your employees aren’t willing to bring these issues to you or HR. I’m guessing it’s because they understand (implicitly or explicitly) that you think Leah is a good employee despite these issues, and they don’t think anything will be done. You not only need to look at the impact Leah is having on your employees, but look at how you are managing the situation and see how that’s impacting your team.

  35. DapperDev*

    I worked with a colleague like this once, and it drove me crazy. She was charismatic enough with the right people, but treated anyone she could like garbage. People like Leah see their colleagues as competitors, not teammates. They want to be seen as a ‘one stop shop’, i.e. ‘essential’. But part of why that department is understaffed is because Leah has systematically driven people away through her toxic behavior. If Leah were held accountable it would retain employees since they would have more confidence in upper management.

  36. Dream Jobbed*

    She known for harassing people to the point where they quit? Not only is she a bad employee, she is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  37. narwhal of a tale*

    I worked with a Leah and we had the same boss. There were a number of colleagues in my department who refused to work with her, our clients also did not care for her, and my team’s work was constantly suffering because she would purposely withhold information. My team spoke to our boss and our boss’ boss about her behavior and how it was impacting the quality of work, team morale, and the relationship with the client. They did not care. In their minds, Leah was a star and a go-getter.

    I was the third person in 2 years to have my position; I ended up leaving the role around the two-year mark. I am still baffled how someone can be so toxic to their co-workers, yet be so beloved (and protected!) by upper management.

    1. irene adler*

      Management doesn’t have to interact with your Leah.
      So for them, replacing Leah is more trouble than ignoring your complaints about Leah.

      Been there. It’s not any fun.

      1. Windchime*

        Yeah. Leah’s know how to behave in front of management versus with their co-workers. They don’t see how she is day to day; they only see her when she is smiling and acting nice around the managers.

  38. CW*

    Leah is NOT a good employee. She has a really bad attitude and toxic behavior. She may do her job well, but the way she acts is not okay. At all. Doing one’s job well is one thing, but having a bad attitude often negates all of it. An employee who does the job well but has a toxic behavior is just as bad as an employee who constantly messes up but has a pleasant demeanor.

    To put it in perspective, I had a coworker like Leah. It is worse than it sounds. In my case, I was under such emotional distress that I felt like I was going to cry more times than I can count. There is a lot more details, but I will stop here since this isn’t about me.

    Be clear to Leah. If her attitude and behavior continues, she needs to go. It doesn’t matter if she does her job well with minimal mistakes. Her bad attitude is not okay, and if she doesn’t change her ways, she should be fired. Especially if employees have quit already because of her – And it has already happened based on your question. It is as simple as that.

  39. Christmas*

    OP introduces: “Leah is a good employee.”

    No, she is not! For all of the reasons you described!

  40. LifeBeforeCorona*

    We had a Leah. When she was in line for a promotion that she didn’t deserve, I decided that I would quit rather than work for her. She got the promotion and I left. Within a month several other people left as well. The sad thing was the people who left were really good at their jobs and quickly found new ones. Management could see that they were losing people but refused to admit they had made a mistake.

    1. CW*


      That drives me crazy to no end. I worked with two Leahs in the past with two different employers. None of whom were pleasant. And like you said, both companies refuse to admit their mistakes.

      The first Leah was with a commercial public space company I worked for a few years ago in a large city. It was a really toxic environment. She only managed one employee and that was the assistant job. The lady I replaced lasted 8 months there, I was there only a month and a half. “Leah” was a narcissistic bully and acted like a 12-year old. At least thirteen people, including myself, quit that position in 2 years. And she got promoted to a higher position a couple months after I left. They didn’t even fire her until THIS year. And until this point, the damage had been done. That company has an average of a 1-star review on Glassdoor.

      The second Leah was last year. This was for a software security company. She was not as bad but was really territorial, overstepped her boundaries, acted like she was the boss (she was not the boss), and talked down whenever you asked her a question or even spoke a simple “hello” to her. It got to the point that couldn’t even look at her in the eye. I was under such emotional distress that I ended up quitting on the spot last summer. Two others quit, and one got promoted and retaliated by throwing “Leah” under the bus at every chance she got. And my boss’s response to my resignation: “We can’t change anything so we are just going to accept your resignation.” BS. You should have never hired “Leah” in the first place.

      Many companies are so blind and refuse to do anything about these situations. And at what cost? High turnover, hiring, recruitment, training, and onboarding costs. And to take into account the lost productivity while the position remains vacant and with the new hire from initial reduced productivity while he/she gets up to speed.

      All that money down the drain when you could have just fired that one employee and be done with it. It’s just sad that many companies don’t see it this way.

  41. Ariadne Oliver*

    Whoa, this employee sounds like a nightmare. I know I’m probably harsh but I think this is beyond fixing and employee needs to be terminated. To be fair, OP, you sound like you urgently need to take some management classes since you still don’t recognize the level of toxicity your employee is generating and I am positive that your other employees are not looking fondly on your tolerance of this very bad behavior.

  42. Jennifer*

    How in the world is she a very good employee?

    This reminds me of those letters to Dear Prudence that start off with the person saying how great their spouse is, then proceeding to go into a story about something absolutely horrible that they’ve done.

    You need to reframe this in your mind. She is not a good employee. Even if she usually hits her goals, she isn’t doing anything your other employees couldn’t do if they weren’t being actively sabotaged and harassed. I’d give her a very stern final warning to cut it out before letting her go. You don’t get to behave the way she does just because you hit your goals most days.

  43. Jo*

    Yeah, there’s a difference between being over eager and trying to sabotage your coworkers! I’m a timid sort of person so Leah would be just the sort of person that would manage to push me around and I’d find it hard to stand up to her. So if she is alienating coworkers and picking up tasks she’s not been assigned , and particularly if she is trying to push out the competition, then that does need to be addressed. The way to get ahead is to do a great job of her own work and learn about/help out other areas without overstepping.

  44. Ralph the Wonder Llama*

    Leah is not “a very good employee”. Leah is a crappy employee, and Leah needs to make some major changes effectively immediately or be shown the door. Frankly she sounds like a t ightmarr to work with, and if I were her coworker and saw all this behavior and attitude being ignored, I would be looking for another position. Leah is a toxic employee, OP. Do something about it. It’s your responsibility to do so.

Comments are closed.