my employee has been sulking since her job changed

A reader asks:

I’m managing an employee, Lucy, who was recently moved to a different position on our team. Her old position was eliminated because it had evolved to require skills she didn’t have, and so she moved to this job.

Initially, Lucy said she was a “team player” and ready to do whatever may be asked of her. Overall, the quality of her work has been OK. She’s not getting everything right, but I think that’s due to her learning curve and this being a new job.

But since the change has happened, she barely interacts with coworkers, keeps responses as short as possible, wears her headphones most of the time, and occasionally makes passive-aggressive comments. Last week, she gave my boss (whom she used to directly report to) a present back that was gifted to her six months ago and said, “I won’t ever use this, so you can have it back.”

When the change occurred, I took Lucy to lunch and expressed that I understood this must be hard for her, I was grateful for her being open to the change, I thought she was going to be a big benefit for our team in this position, and I wanted to keep communication open between us. At that lunch, I asked for her input and she said she was fine. She would only respond with yes or no or keep the answers as short as possible.

Before the change to her role, she was much more engaged. She would chat with her team members (myself included) and people from other teams who sit nearby. Now she might say a couple of sentences a day unless someone has to work with her on a task or project. During our department meeting last week, she didn’t say a word, whereas in the past she always asked questions and would crack a joke or two (our team is pretty jovial). I have made it a point to stop by her desk almost every day, but she will only answer with short answers and won’t engage. When she’s done answering my question, she’ll abruptly end the conversation and will pointedly turn her chair toward her computer so that her back is to me. She used to come over to my desk to chat every couple of days and that has ceased.

Our entire team did a personality assessment at one point, and one of her biggest things was that she likes to be social and feel included. She scored high on the extrovert/outgoing section, as well as had the shortest fuse out of everyone in our group.

What’s the best way to approach this? This behavior isn’t completely unexpected, because prior to this change she’s had difficult interactions with almost everyone on our team. What is the best way to proceed?

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.

{ 227 comments… read them below }

      1. designbot*

        yep. Or at least like her boss basically informed her that they have no faith she could pick up new skills needed to keep pace with her job. LW could you think about what this person’s path forward ideally looks like to you? Have you shared that with her? She’s likely feeling trapped doing exactly what she’s doing indefinitely and like her growth and energy is not something the company has any use for. Try to help her see the light there, assuming there is one.

      2. Sasha*

        I mean, it sounds like she has? She used to be LWs colleague, and now she’s reporting to her while her old boss is now her grandboss. So that sounds like a pretty clear demotion to me.

        My heart went out to her honestly, she must be feeling pretty humiliated and upset. I’d be looking to leave in her boots, and would find it really hard to come into work acting chipper every morning.

        1. Jessica Fletcher*

          Right. Sounds like OP is weirdly upset that this person isn’t stoked about her demotion.

          OP also doesn’t say she was a superstar/better than OK before the demotion. So her work quality is the same, but she’s not fun anymore.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          My heart went out to her also.
          OP, mentioned that she was not familiar with the work at her former level so she could not change over to it, YET she has a learning curve for this job too.

          Employees can quickly smell something burning on the stove. This is not an unfamiliar scenario. “NO, you can’t have X job because it would be too much to train you. You can take this job over here instead.” Then you find out that you need training for that also. So what IS really going on here? What’s the real reason for the demotion?

          I am wondering what OP is actively doing to get this person trained. Is OP having periodic check-ins or Q and A sessions? How easy is it to find OP and ask a question on an ordinary day? Who is in charge of getting this person up to speed? Does she have and is she aware of all the resources she needs to do her job? I’d definitely do a check to see if all the basics are in place.

          Just my opinion but having one lunch together does not make everything fine. Matter of fact, that lunch could feel like torture to me under certain conditions. It’s how the boss treats me on a daily basis that is the only thing that matters to me. To me it sounds like the point of the lunch was for the boss to get the employee to say everything was fine. She gave you the answer you were looking for, OP. The real answer lies in how things go week after week. That’s the real answer.

          She’s acting like an employee who has had her trust broken. I would be very surprised if this was fixable.

          1. mf*

            Yeah, good point about the lunch. I can think of few things more torturous than having a one-on-one lunch with the boss who just demoted me. (And who, to make matters worse is now pressuring me to act more update and cheerful.)

            1. Koalafied*

              I don’t think LW is the one who demoted her, just her new manager. They were formerly peers and their boss moved her to his reporting line.

              To the larger question, I agree. It’s possible but not likely that this wasn’t a demotion – I’ve seen reorgs where the senior leader moves all their direct reports under a single person reporting to them so they can spend less time on people management (and other similar circumstances), but that doesn’t sound like what happened here.

            2. Hey Nonnie*

              Also, what’s the most likely outcome if she didn’t say “this is fine” during that lunch? She loses her job and her income, which she almost certainly couldn’t afford to do. She doesn’t have the power to push back and say “No, I want my job here to look like this.” I’d bet that she was ultimately playing along so she could still have a paycheck while looking for another job.

              I’d resent the hell out of not only getting demoted, but being forced into this pretense.

          2. LJay*

            I mean, not all training needs are the same, at all.

            It makes complete sense that anyone would need some training and have a learning curve for any role they step into – even if you’ve done the same exact job in a previous organization you still need to know how that organization does things.

            But there are larger skill sets and aptitudes that are difficult and/or unreasonable to train on the job. If someone has never used Excel before, getting them to a level where they’re comfortable using VBA is probably not a reasonable expectation for on-the-job training.

            And there are other sorts of intangibles that might not ever be trainable. If the new position needs a high degree of polish, or excellent people skills, and the employee doesn’t have those traits it’ll be very difficult or impossible to get them to fit that role.

            So I’m assuming for the OP’s role the training is something that they believe she has the background and aptitude to ultimately do, while her original position is not.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Not to mention training for certifications or skills that have lengthy (sometimes legally defined) prerequisites. For example, if my position changed so that they needed me to have industrial hygienist credentials or the necessary certification to manage certain specific programs, I wouldn’t be able to get certified without getting a bachelor’s degree, several more years of experience, AND sitting for the exams. No matter how skilled I am or how much support they give me in training, it’s still going to take me several years to get the degree… so they’d really have no choice but to replace me.

    1. mourning mammoths*

      She reminds me of me, minus the chilly demeanour, the time I was told I was getting a promotion and then instead was informed of criticisms that management had about me but had never been communicated in any the frequent reviews or 1:1s previously. So yeah. Demoralised, I sat down, shut up, stayed out of the way, did my work.

      1. Kat*

        This was me, too. When things got too much during the day, I’d go out to the car and cry. The only thing that helped me was when a colleague reminded me that I could still be the master of my destiny, and that I had to get uncomfortable with asking for a change. The change happened, I no longer felt so stuck and sad, and life moved on!

      2. Koalafied*

        I’ve been mistreated badly enough to reach levels of bitterness where my in-the-moment reaction to bad news for the company is to laugh involuntarily, even if it causes more work for me. Some other part of me can’t help but be gleeful to see my abuser forced to take a punch or two.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I kind of wondered if there wasn’t something else going on where the timing just lined up with this. Or it was the last thing that kinda sunk her into a depression. It’s possible it’s not entirely her job and she’s in a funk for other reasons.

    3. mf*

      Yes, the job she wanted and had was eliminated, and now she’s been pushed into a job she doesn’t want. *Of course* she’s unhappy.

      You can try to ask her what’s going on, like Allison advised, but to be honest, I don’t think that will work. From Lucy’s point of view, *you* are the reason she’s unhappy. She probably doesn’t want to talk about it with you. If Lucy is being professional and her work is “meets expectations” or better, then just leave her be. She’s obviously demoralized but you’re not paying her to be jovial and extroverted. (Unless this is a customer-facing job.)

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I’ve been there. Of course she’s gonna say she’s a team player because she doesn’t want to be unemployed, but it’s hard to be happy about being transferred into something you just don’t like as much or fit as well. It’s probably better that she stays quiet rather than being openly upset, though.

    4. BasicWitch*

      Yeah, honestly I get where the advice to get this employee shaped up is coming from, but if she was switched to a new job she didn’t actually want I actually don’t blame her for doing the bare minimum now. If she was enthusiastic before and this was the result, why should she put more energy into her job? It doesn’t sound like she had performance issues before, so in essence she did satisfactory work and got demoted anyways. I don’t know if I’d be this passive aggressive, but I sure wouldn’t have much patience for pleasantries or trust in my employer.

      My guess is she’s looking but hasn’t found anything she can move to yet. And since her landlord’s job can’t be eliminated, she’s doing what she has to do to earn a paycheck, not giving her all, until she can move on. Of course someone in a position of needing to pay rent is going to be a “team player” and not tell her boss she hates her job – really, what choice does she have? Not all of us are natural actors. I wish her luck in her job search.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I second this. It’s hard to fake happiness at work and she can’t be honest about what she feels about it.

      2. frontliner*

        Amen. The thought of this writer taking the time to look up personality tests and compare this worker’s extraversion with her new reserve post-demotion says so much more about OP than the object of complaint. Geez, what a control freak. After what happened, why shouldn’t Lucy be a little more reserved and save the sugar for her coffee?

        Good for her refusing to perform unnecessary emotional labor. Hope she finds a new post.

        1. Koalafied*

          I doubt he looked up her results but rather just remembered them. I’ve gone through a few of these team work styles/personality assessment workshops and it’s a full day of activities where people are broken into 4 or 5 groups based on their style/personality so everyone can learn what people who don’t share their personality needs to feel appreciated, the best way to communicate with other personality types, etc. I remember all of my 15 or so department members results from 5+ years ago because they want you to remember what you learned.

    1. tinybutfierce*

      Yeah, my first thought reading this was that the employee’s behavior felt very similar to mine when I hit hard burnout at my last terrible job while also dealing with depression.

  1. 'nother prof*

    In fairness to the employee here, if my boss noticed that I was needing a little more space than I had used to and responded by intentionally stopping by my desk every single day, I would find it much harder to fake gregariousness. I would also start looking for a job where my boss didn’t police me to ensure that I’m unusually outgoing because some personality test said I should be.

    1. Lola Banks*

      Yeah…from Lucy’s perspective it seems like, “I was effectively demoted, and now my new boss is policing my enthusiasm level because I don’t feel like being the office jester anymore.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I mean, to be fair, she should not have returned the gift (whatever it was. Was the gift something that she needed in her old role, but not in the new?) But otherwise, her behavior, as described, sounds pretty normal. We should be allowed not to crack the required 2-3 jokes per staff meeting.

        1. Artemesia*

          Terse snotty responses about work questions; turning her back on co-workers mid conversation; returning a gift to a boss given months previous? None of that sounds like performative snit to you?

          1. Ethyl*

            From the letter:

            “When she’s done answering my question, she’ll abruptly end the conversation and will pointedly turn her chair toward her computer so that her back is to me.”

            1) Not at all in the “middle” of the conversation, which it doesn’t say is work related anyway, and

            2) pretty similar to advice I’ve seen here for when people are chitchatting too much and you’re trying to get back to work.

            I suppose it could be “performatively snitty,” but it seems just as likely to me that she got demoted and now doesn’t feel like being chatty and friendly to the former peer who is now her boss.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Agree. And adding, there is nothing stopping OP from firing her. She’s snitty, out the door she goes. Reasons don’t have to matter.

              UNLESS, of course, you want to be a good and fair boss.

              I will say, I do not see very many demotions go that well. There is usually lingering resentment. I worked with a person who was demoted. The daily anger coming off of her was almost unbearable for those who had to work with her. She was miserable. She backstabbed everyone constantly. This went on for years and years. Finally the company did some little thing and that proved to be the last straw. She finally left the company.

              The only time I have seen demotions work is where the boss took the time to get the buy-in from the employee. Over several conversations the employee would finally agree that it would be a relief not to be in over their head any more and the employee would be happy to go back to their old position.

            2. Hosta*

              Or she’s trying to knuckle down and focus on a new job she finds difficult, and prove that she’s not some chatty Cathy wasting time. If I were her, I’d be terribly disheartened, but also desperate to learn the new job and prove myself.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Yeah, she just got told she did not have the skills for the changes in her old job. I am betting she does not want to hear that one again.

                This is like, “We told my employee that her skills weren’t useful any more and now she has her nose in her work all the time. It’s so annoying, why can’t she just be like she was?”

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  And OP also states that her performance is not all there yet at her new job, either! That’d make me concentrate on my work to the exclusion of everything else, for sure! She probably feels an axe hanging over her head on top of everything else. And, if she’s in the US, if your job goes, so does your and your family’s healthcare. Gee, why isn’t she cracking jokes in staff meetings while under that kind of pressure? We’ll never know!

            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of creative fiction on this thread – people commenting about Lucy “stomping off”, “turning her back on her teammates while they are talking to her”, when the original letter does not say any such things. Come on, people. When in doubt, scroll up and check the letter. Also, I now REALLY want to know what the gift was. Maybe it was a book on how to be an efficient manager of llama groomers, that Lucy was given when she did manage a team of llama groomers, but she is now a llama groomer herself with no reports. Something that was applicable to her old role, but not to the new.

          2. Karia*

            No, it sounds like deep distress. I think (having been one in the past) it’s important for managers to remember that their employees are people, and that not every emotional reaction is about them or at them.

    2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Same here- I think some managers take those personality tests too seriously and brand their employees according to results that might not be accurate- they might just be based on the frame of mind the employee was in at the time they took the test or what the employee thought they had to answer in order to keep their job. I also agree that employees don’t have to dance on the tables and be loud and “fun” in order to be effective.

      On one hand, I can see how Lucy might feel as though something (her previous role) was taken away from her, even though she might rationally understand that the needs of the business evolved. On the other hand, a lot of people would be glad the company put them in another role instead of laying them off, which they could have done. While Lucy might not live the duties of her new role, sulking (if that’s what she is doing) isn’t the answer.

      I also wonder whether Lucy might have something going on in her life outside of work that might be affecting her demeanor. Maybe she is going through something in addition to her changed role that is weighing upon her. And the current situation in the world is stressful for all of us and affects people differently.

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Ah- I didn’t realize this was an old letter either, so the part of my comment about the current world situation doesn’t apply here. :)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Well in this case, the personality test said that Lucy needs to feel included.
        So the next thing that happened was they disincluded her by removing her options to fix her own setting.
        And surprise! she is mad about it.

        So what was the point of the personality test? To find her weak spots and make sure to hit those spots harder?

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, of all the corporate insanity I’ve encountered in my 20 years at large corporations, at least I’m thankful that I was never given the MBT by a manager, and then had the manager’s treatment of me adjusted to my test results. One manager at an OldJob tried getting it administered to us, but the test isn’t free, and he was let go for performance reasons before he could get around to getting it approved.

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

      Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s specifically because “level of gregariousness has changed” (the extrovert police!) vs “something has changed”.

      I’m definitely guilty of noticing that ‘something has changed’ and then pushing to find out why… because I am curious… and insecure in some ways… and like to get to the bottom of a mystery… but even if it was specifically “level of gregariousness has changed” I might be inclined to try to get to the bottom of why, rather than just give space. As I think a lot of other people would be!

          1. yala*

            My guess is: the reason really could be one related to mental (or even physical) health, and while asking isn’t a bad thing, “trying to get to the bottom of why” could wind up being invasive? Employees don’t have to disclose mental health issues.

            (If Lucy’s non-neurotypical, it could be she just stopped putting the effort into masking. Masking is useful, but very draining. So there’s that too.)

          2. Autistic AF*

            What yala said. If someone’s performance is slipping due to a health issue – and that includes anxiety/depression – then you really do need to prioritize their privacy over your curiosity. There are also many ways for you to make things worse by continuing to push it:

            -It’s easy to make suggestions that have already been tried to no effect. It may seem like common sense to tell someone they should see a doctor, but there’s a well-documented bias against women and IBPOC in the medical community and it could take years to find a doctor who looks past said bias.
            -You may be drawing attention to an issue that someone is trying to minimize during work hours. Say someone stops eating in the lunch room (outside of pandemic times of course) because they have a new diabetes diagnosis or an eating disorder flareup. Trying to dig into the issue could easily cause them to withdraw further.
            -Someone is losing weight due to cancer.

            I feel like you have good intentions here – just remember that impact matters over intent.

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

              Thanks for these responses! I see you are right, and I’m definitely not driven by being intrusive… I will make an effort to be consciously aware of this tendency and avoid acting on it in future.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I would not. That is none of your business as long as she is polite, professional, and reasonably nice to people. Your curiosity does not outweigh people need to have space.
        And I would really not appreciate people who are not close friends or family demanding to know why I am not happy or perky or gregarious anymore.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I agree that gregariousness stuff is getting close to that smile! stuff that we all know as problematic.

        People do have to maintain working relationships with each other. This means they have to be approachable. If a cohort snarls at me when I ask a question, I am going to do as much as I can to avoid that person. They are not approachable.
        I love what my first boss said, “Part of what you are being compensated for is your willingness to get along with others.” Lucy is driving others away at every opportunity.

    4. yala*

      oooooh, HARD yes.

      And then if you seem visibly annoyed, that’s ANOTHER mark against.

      I’m not even sure I’d hold it against her for turning her back. Is OP interrupting her in the middle of something? (For me, it’s really hard to say “I don’t want to chat right now” to just about anyone. I’m not great at modulating my tone, and when I’m irritated it’s usually better for me to say as little as possible and keep interaction short.)

      Like…OP keeps trying to engage her? Daily? And she clearly doesn’t want to be engaged socially? Stop that!

      She needs to be pleasant in regards to work conversations, etc., but constantly trying to socially engage someone who is clearly sending “I do not want to talk” signals just seems exhausting for both parties. (No one wants to feel you’re talking to them out of obligation either)

      OP mentions headphones like it’s A Bad Thing, and maybe it is in their work culture, but it seems to be allowed if she’s wearing them. Headphones are a pretty polite “not open for chatting” signals.

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

        I think OP must be another extrovert who, like me, has the unfortunate tendency to push and push like “you seem quiet? Are you mad? What’s going on?” etc..

        I think it would be great if, like in the Sims, everyone had their ‘stats’ in a bubble over their head where you would be able to see how happy, content, fulfilled, socially engaged etc etc they are … that would definitely be my superpower.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I am a middle on the extrovert/introvert scale, but “you seem quiet” and “are you mad?” would get you a death glare from me.
          I am not a performance monkey.
          *sorry, I HATE these kinds of questions with a passion

        2. Bundle*

          Extrovert is different from annoying and intrusive. I’m extroverted. Extroverts are very much able to take cues from people who clearly are not in the mood for a chat or a joke. No need to go asking why a person is quiet.

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

            I understand, I probably misspoke in ‘conflating’ them like that. Although I do think that the annoying, intrusive types do tend to be the extroverts on the whole so I meant more like I think OP is a fellow (to Lucy) extrovert, and (like me but not all extroverts, but I can speak from my own experience) she has this tendency.

      2. Autistic AF*

        This was so much me at a past job… I faced the wall and literally had to turn around to speak to people. I also cannot work without the ability to block out all of the little sounds that most people don’t hear. I love to help people and I am happy to answer questions, but I’d rather do it via IM or email.

    5. Theory of Eeveelution*

      Yeah, this sounds like run-of-the-mill harassment (not the illegal kind, but the “I want this person to leave me alone and they know that and are purposefully NOT leaving me alone” kind).

  2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I wish there was more detail about what the old vs new roles entail.

    Her old position was eliminated because it had evolved to require skills she didn’t have, and so she moved to this job.

    So, did it evolve, or was it eliminated? Who is working in this role now? Why couldn’t Lucy be trained to learn “the skills she didn’t have” that her old role had evolved to require? Asking because, if I were moved or demoted (as Lucy appears to thing she was) or if my position was eliminated anytime it evolved to require skills I didn’t have, I would’ve probably only had a job for the first couple of years out of college, and then I’d be out of work forever.; which obviously is not the case, so I need help understanding what happened to Lucy’s old role.

    1. Jill*

      This is what stuck out to me. If her job was gaining more responsibilities it’s reasonable to think for a while her role at the company was evolving upwards as well. If they were trying to teach her the new responsibilities and for whatever reason it didn’t work out, she’s probably unhappy doing the new job and trying to find something else. Or maybe she’s not looking for anything else and is fine just not having social relationships with people at work especially during a pandemic. Obviously she needs to engage in work conversation, but if my manager was coming by to ask personal questions almost every day when I was wearing headphones I’d go nuts.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Yeah. If I got moved to a different job because leadership decided I wasn’t capable of doing the job I was already doing, I would deduce that leadership had no confidence in my ability to grow with the job.

          I can think of scenarios where a role would change to require an Official Certified Person instead of a learned-on-the-job person, and yeah, it’s easier to hire someone with the degree than send someone back to school for another bachelor’s or certificate. But it would still be very demotivating, and it would be hard for me not to see it as a comment on my own competence.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Agree, and besides, the OP didn’t say the old role required a certificate or a degree that Lucy did not have. The word they used was “skills”. I would’ve maybe understood if it were a certificate.

        2. fposte*

          It’s not likely to improve the work morale of Lucy. But it can improve the work morale of others to have actual experts handle your legal, graphic, editing, whatever work when you’ve been struggling with somebody who’s trying to make do but doesn’t have the background.

          There are a multitude of duties expansions that require more expertise than mere short-term training can provide. No idea if this is one of them or not, but it’s a pretty common thing.

          1. ShanShan*

            I’ve literally never worked somewhere where increased outsourcing made employees feel more comfortable.

            I suppose it’s possible, but a much more common reaction is to wonder who’s next on the chopping block.

            1. moql*

              Our graphic designer is currently begging for some artwork to be outsourced for an upcoming project. It’s beyond his experience and he doesn’t want to do a mediocre job on such a high visibility project.

          2. kt*

            Yeah, I’m with you. I agree that outsourcing doesn’t make employees more comfortable…

            …but if I’m a business owner and I’d previously hired a college grad to put together a Wix site for me, but business had grown a lot and I now needed a full online shopping cart solution with tax collection integration and inventory tracking, and it had to be 24/7 reliable with on-call support…

            … I wouldn’t say, hey, Wix-website-employee, watch some online videos and get this together! That would be a poor decision.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          You can’t retrain every person for every job change. We had a similar situation to Lucy’s a couple years ago and ended up letting go a long-time employee (with generous notice and severance, resume help, and networked them into a position that was a good fit with their skills – but let them go nonetheless) because they had excellent technical skills but poor consultative skills, and the advancement of technology automated a lot of tasks that rapidly changed the required skill set for the position (simultaneously eliminating our ability to charge for the manual tech work and increasing the need for consulting on doing the work with new automations). It became a people/process job rather than a back-office IT job. Other staff members were overburdened and could not pass work to them because they didn’t have the skills, and they didn’t have enough purely technical work to stay busy. We offered feedback and coaching but the change occurred really quickly and we had to get someone in to immediately take the work on so we didn’t hemorrhage other staff with the right skills from burnout.

          None of this involved certification or education, but the former employee couldn’t do the job in its evolved state.

    2. MK*

      Hmm, maybe? Sometimes a job evolves in such a way that you find yourself having to hire someone with specific credentials (e.g. if a business transforms from legal entity A, where anyone can do bookkeeping, to B, that requires by law a chartered accountant, or when the higher-ups resist change for so long that they keep an under qualified person in the job for far too long). Or business needs change and you need an experienced person to handle the workload, not someone who learns on the job.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Or business needs change and you need an experienced person to handle the workload, not someone who learns on the job.

        Does anyone ever go through their whole career without learning anything on the job? I get it that my field is rather unique in that it is an expectation, but won’t any job change over the 30-40 years an average person spends in the workforce? Even cleaning houses or washing dishes, I imagine the equipment and the techniques have changed a lot since the 70s or 80s.

        Also… she’s experienced? As in she had work experience in that job with that company? I certainly hope she wasn’t told that she was being transferred because they needed someone experienced instead, now that really would’ve stung.

        1. TL -*

          There is a difference between “things I can learn on the job” and “things we should hire for.”

          ie, I have a bit of graphic design training and I do it in my job and I’ve learned a bit more from it but there is a point where we should hire an actual graphic designer. That being said, I don’t like graphic design and would be ecstatic if we hired someone to do it and the vast, vast majority of my job would remain the same.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            To me it would be more like, you learned graphic design in college ten years ago, and now a new graphic design app came out, so out the door you go, shoo shoo.

            In my job it is literally a requirement to always be learning, maybe this is why the situation with Lucy is so baffling to me.

            1. TL -*

              It’s a requirement in my job too! But I cannot be an expert writer, subject matter expert, expert social media person, and expert graphic designer. There isn’t enough time in the day or room in my brain. So I grow and learn constantly in the areas I care most about and the other ones, my skills are (honestly) pretty stagnate. If we want professional instead of good enough, we’ll have to hire a professional.

              There’s also some places where the leap from good-enough to professional are substantial or need certificates/degrees/etc… to make it legal. (bookkeeping to accounting.) So not sure what the case was here, but there’s lots of reasons this could have happened.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, I think this is one of those situations where people tend to identify with Lucy, and yes, it sucks to have your job redirected and limited. But leaving somebody without the skills in a position that needs them is how you get that person in HR who’s never heard of FMLA, or the person who handles the budget who’s scared of the financial database, and those other people we have to deal with on the regular who are stuck in jobs that don’t fit them.

                Not everybody can do every job. That’s still true even if they could do what the job used to be.

                1. BasicWitch*

                  What I don’t get is it says that job was eliminated. So they needed the skills so badly they… didn’t need them at all? My guess is like others have said, it was outsourced. But that still burns when clearly she was capable of whatever the job originally needed, so why not outsource just the bits that got added? Something isn’t clicking for me.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Jobs are eliminated when they deprecate and replaced with positions that match current business needs. We had a statistician role that was recently replaced by a data science role – there is software to do the statistical work now, and we need someone who is more conversant in database work (reporting, programing, visualization) than pure statistical work. We need someone who can work with the data and produce reports and recommendations to the client, but the nature and volume of the data are such that it requires a different skillset to do the same projects now.

            2. MK*

              But that scenario might not be what happened, and it probably isn’t. Keeping up with new developments in your role is a normal part of most jobs, but most jobs certainly do not outgrow the person doing them. “The job evolved to require skills she doesn’t have” could mean that the job now includes duties she has no experience with at all or that she has never dealt with at a high level.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Just another example of how this could happen. . .
          Going back to pre-2010, we had a particular CRM system for my division. Then corporate implemented a new CRM system ~2010. At first, the reporting out of this system had to be pulled manually and required a lot of manipulation in Excel. We had a marketing coordinator do this, and it took a lot of their time. It became an automated report and maintenance of the reports and tools are done by a centralized data analytics group. The right marketing coordinator could be interested in becoming a data analyst, but it isn’t a skill set that all marketing coordinators would want to shift their focus to. The other part of this person’s job was proposal writing. Since my example was ~8 years ago, they probably would have had to move to HQ, too. (Probably not now due to remote work options.) I think it would have been a reasonable job evolution, but it would require more than obvious regular career progression type of training.

          1. Grapey*

            This is what happened to me. I thankfully work with a team of engineers that are more than happy to show me increasingly technical ropes in exchange for a subject matter expert sharing their office.

        3. MK*

          She is experienced in what she was doing before. The job changed, so she might not have any experience at what is required now.

        4. Kd3618*

          I feel for Lucy and while I think she needs to be professional, none of this should really be a surprise. Earlier this year a senior position became available on my team, and I asked about moving into that role. My manager basically said we will see, depends who we get to apply, and the next thing I knew she was announcing a new hire. I withdrew all the “personality” I brought to work before and am just here to do my job. I answer questions directly but all the small talk is not where I want to spend my energy, and I started actively looking for a new job. Can’t crush someone’s spirit and then be mad they aren’t the same, even if it was a “just” business reason.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            This is it, really. Lucy’s been dealt a real blow here. To expect her to remain exactly the same on an emotional level really isn’t fair. OP needs to let Lucy grieve for what she’s lost and find her footing in her new position.

          2. Avi*

            Yeah, I think this is the real core of the situation. Lucy isn’t ‘sulking’, she’s actively disinvested herself from this job because she doesn’t see a future for herself there anymore. Op comes off as both weirdly intrusive in the way they’re policing her enthusiasm levels and more than a bit clueless for not seeing what’s going on here. They’re going to have a real Surprised Pikachu face when Lucy quits.

    3. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Why couldn’t she be trained? Here’s an example: Pina was doing okay in her job. Nice outgoing personality but had a tendency to cut corners, not proofread her work thoroughly and her work was only okay. It was good enough. More was never really expected of her. Mild corrections were given but never really stick. She goes on a long leave.

      While she is gone, her replacement Zelda revamps the systems (now more efficient), is a better proofreader and reviewer of work, has more advanced mastery of the software systems we use, is attentive to detail and thinks outside the box. Things get done faster but also better.

      Pina returns to an almost new job in terms of skills and expectations. She tries…and it’s very clear that she’s not retaining the training (because she is being coached repeatedly on the changes), not paying attention when things are explained, and still only doing her work at the “old” good enough level: rushed, poor review before submitting, no eye for detail. And the work pressures have changed and there’s little time for the her slower learning curve as this impacts deadlines.

      Pina is moved to a new job. Her old job is either redesigned…or “eliminated” to avoid firing her. (This happened at my workplace. Lovely person, Magda, terrible work results, her job was eliminated in her dept but recreated elsewhere in another department but she doesn’t qualify to apply for it.) Is this demoralizing? Absolutely. Is it the right decision? Probably.

      I feel bad for Lucy but a new job would likely do her a world of good.

      For me, though, I’m stuck handholding Pina because we’re a union shop; Zelda left. Pina’s trying SO hard but the reality is, she just doesn’t have what it takes to keep up.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Honestly, this falls on your management more than Pina. No one works with her, they’re happy with what she did (Or never really conveyed their unhappiness), she takes leave and comes back to an entirely new job, new features, and probably someone with very little experience or patience in training. Her learning the new system takes time. That should have been expected and planned for and it’s unfair to come to her now and say “Hey, work we were happy with before? Whelp, up your game because it’s no longer acceptable.” Add in I bet she had no say in the matter and she’s frustrated, you’re frustrated when proper communication and training may have taken care of all of this. And also, perhaps seeing where Pina’s strong skills are.

    4. PlainJane*

      That very much stuck out to me. It sounded like, “We decided she was too old to hold a position like that and couldn’t be taught what she needed to know”… it’s certainly how I’d feel in her position, especially if the person they brought in to do the new things was of “young and cool and trendy” variety, especially if it was made clear that it was because her boss believed this of her after many years of service. As outsider looking in, I’m side-eyeing in a big way, because these sort of shifts almost always signal, “We wanted to fire you in favor of someone else, but decided that was probably illegal, so we’re just going to make you miserable until you leave on your own and we can happily have a ‘fresh face’.”

      1. BRR*

        Except there’s nothing in the letter about age and the LW seems to be very king to Lucy. The stopping by the desk every day isn’t great because Lucy is definitely allowed to sulk, but the company could have easily laid her off.

        1. PlainJane*

          All I’m saying is that’s what it feels like from the outside. It may not be, but the reference to working there many years and not being able to learn new skills… those are little red flags that go up on the issue.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Adding why didn’t her old boss alert her that the job was evolving so she would have the opportunity to take classes and learn the new material?
      As fposte says maybe it was too much to take on in too short a time. In that case, the boss could have said they expected the job to be changing and she was encouraging Lucy to apply for other jobs in the company if she chose to.
      A heads up is so simple, yet how many bother to do it?

      It probably explains why Lucy returned the gift. The gift was only 6 months old. Lucy probably assumes the boss knew when she gave Lucy the gift that Lucy was history. If there were prior gifts we don’t know, but we do know that only this gift was returned. Next time, Lucy, do what I do, drop it in the donation box on the way home from work. Done/over. (This is one way that brand new items end up in thrift stores.)

    6. ReganSahaya*

      What might have happened is that this employer “eliminated” the position as it was originally structured due to a “change” in business needs, then created a “new” position to replace it. I’d bet that the new position was really similar to the old position with some additional skills/duties, and possibly at a slightly higher level in terms of title and/or pay. If that’s the case, no wonder this person would be upset.

    7. Chaordic One*

      I previously had a couple of different jobs at the same place where the position evolved, but not to require skills I didn’t have, only to require additional skills and a greatly increased workload.

  3. DrGirlfriend*

    I mean, their job changed without any choice from them and there’s a global pandemic so they probably feel stuck in a job they don’t want and can’t leave with no recourse. Being less cherry seems entirely reasonable. I don’t see any info there on them doing their job worse, just not being happy. People are allowed to be unhappy, especially after a forced work change. As long as the short answers are correct, I think this sounds like a managerial problem of bait and switch.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This letter’s from 2016… I have to hope for an update now that OP sees the situation is still relevant.

      2. Database Developer Dude*

        True, and we’re -supposed- to take letter writers at their word….but that doesn’t mean LWs don’t exaggerate or outrightly fabricate. Take it with a grain of salt.

    1. Yorick*

      This letter is from before the pandemic. If it were happening now, we probably would assume some of this was due to 2020 and take it a little less seriously.

  4. Can Can Cannot*

    Lucy has probably checked out and is looking for another job. If she had written in, some comments might have suggested that she focus on her job search and not put any extra effort into a job she no longer likes. Don’t take it personally OP, its just that the job is no longer one that she wants.

    1. JessB*

      In the situation you describe, some commenters might have advised Lucy to not put in ‘any extra effort’, as you say, but I bet Alison would have advised Lucy to stay professional and engaged, so as to leave on good terms, with the possibility of a good reference.
      The OP says Lucy is literally turning away from people as they’re speaking to her. Asking her to stop that isn’t demanding ‘extra effort’, that’s the bare minimum to stay employed!

      1. Can Can Cannot*

        I read it a bit differently. She didn’t turn away as people were speaking, but she did turn away after the conversation ended: “When she’s done answering my question, she’ll abruptly end the conversation and will pointedly turn her chair toward her computer so that her back is to me.” She’s definitely not engaged, she’s doing her job but not doing anything more than required. She’s unwilling to invest in the relationship beyond the minimum.

        Since this letter was originally published a while ago, it would be interesting to see what happened. My feeling is that Lucy was looking to leave, and really didn’t care about her employer. That’s not surprising given the demotion. But did she leave? Did she stay, and if she stayed, did her attitude change?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, she’s not turning away in the middle of the conversation. She’s ending the conversation. Someone else pointed out that pretty much exactly what she was doing is what has been recommended to people in the past when people come talk to them a lot–and it sounds like OP had significantly increased the number of times that she was popping by her cube for a chat so she was probably trying to signal that she didn’t want to chat that much.

  5. pbnj*

    I imagine she said she was OK with it since she didn’t really have any options. If your position is being eliminated, usually you can either accept the new role or be let go.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep. You’ve got to put food on the table somehow. She was OK with it in that sense.

    2. lawerj*

      Nah. What the question is more about is the new role. Are you OK with working for X, or doing Y? I have answered these honestly. If she didn’t want the role she was moving to, she should have said so. Maybe there was nothing to be done about it, but maybe there were more options – working in a different department or another role. She could have said “I’d rather not do X, if that’s an option. If not I can accept this.” But to just say “Yeah, this is cool” if it’s not is on her.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “She could have said “I’d rather not do X, if that’s an option. If not I can accept this.” ”

        But at a lot of places, that’s still painting a target on your back. “Who should we lay off? Oh, let’s add Lucy to the list. When I talked to her last year before her job change, she said she’d rather not do the work she’s now doing. We don’t need this kind of negativity in our lives.”

        1. lawerj*

          Why always assume the worst, though? Yes, I’ve worked for a horribly toxic boss. I’d rather go jobless than work for him again. But that doesn’t mean I expect every interaction to be the way it was with him. And if you have no evidence of this in your current job/role/department it really makes no sense to think this. If you don’t ask, or speak up, how will anyone know what you want? And especially with a boss like this LW that has tried reaching out. This employee is just shooting herself in her foot, imo.

          1. Annony*

            I think the timing matters here. She wasn’t asked before the decision was made. She had no input into that. She was told after the decision as made and asked if she was ok with it. Most people are going to see that as a take it or leave it type of situation.

          2. tinybutfierce*

            Not everyone is as fortunate as it seems you’ve been. For many, if not most people, deciding to be jobless instead of deal with a toxic employer isn’t an option if they want to actually pay rent/eat/etc..

      2. TL -*

        But if your boss moved you over without any prior consultation (we’re eliminating job X and you’re moving to job Y) and then comes back a few weeks/months later, clearly unhappy that you’re unhappy, and asks if you’re happy with the changes – not a lot of trust built in any of that process.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          I was moved roles while I was on holiday. This was about 2002. Went to Lanzarote as a Data Coordinator and came back ten days later to find all my stuff moved to a different desk, on a new team (old one had been dissolved – everyone was reassigned) and I was now an Admin Assistant.
          Yeah, I wasnt happy. No, no one knew about it before it happened – no one in the team anyway.

        2. squidarms*

          Yeah, this reminds me of the time an incompetent manager assigned me a new job role without my input, told me she didn’t want to force me to do something I didn’t want to do, then responded to me saying “I don’t want this role and would have told you that if you had involved me in this decision at any point” by telling me I still had to do it.

      3. RussianInTexas*

        I would 100% not answer this honestly, not ever. Because the option of me not wanting to be in this role is not not to be employed. They didn’t have the role she had anymore, what would they do with her now?
        I would absolutely say “yes, it’s cool” and start looking for a new job.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If you hold my paycheck and perhaps my health insurance in YOUR hand, chances are very good I will hold back what I actually think. Just saying….

      I don’t love these conversations that go, “Are we good here?” then “Yeah, great!”. It’s not a conversation of any meaning.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        This reminds me of how I got forcibly transferred the last time in my job and my assistant went with me and he got forced to be a phone answerer all day. He got another job within a month after that and I don’t blame him! Gave him a good review the last time he was job hunting too.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My and my dependents’ health insurance.

        Of course I’d say I’m okay with the change that is already a done deal.

        1. Mr. Tyzik*

          Been through layoffs twice because my role was eliminated. When the choice is some other role and staying employed vs. taking your chances on a depricated role elsewhere? Take the job offered. That’s exactly what Lucy was asked. Given the choice of a revised job or no job, which would she prefer. THAT was the real question.

  6. Elenia35*

    I actually had a wonderful employee who slowly began to devolve into bitterness. I pulled her aside and told her it was showing, and while I understood her frustration, she should bring it to me. She has a wonderfully positive attitude, and her negativity was feeding people the same way her positivity would.

    A good team player will listen to you and make changes. The changes may be “Holy crap, I am so unhappy here everyone knows about it, I will look for a new job,” Or it may be “I had better rein in my unhappiness, I hadn’t realized everyone was being affected by it.” But you MUST talk to her, it’s not fair to not be direct.

    I always take into heart Alison’s advice that it’s literally mean and unfair not to directly tell an employee what is happening and how it’s affecting their perception and their jobs. Then it’s up to them. But I can’t sneak around the issue and expect them to read my minds. Not even if they’re good mindreaders other days.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, I had a boss have that talk with me in a previous job. I was stressed out and overwhelmed, which she knew (she was my only ally in a fruitless argument with our big bosses about how my workload was out of control), but I guess I had begun to project my frustration and stress at my coworkers more openly than I realized, and she had to take me aside and give me some corrections. I was really embarrassed, and I did make some changes so I wasn’t taking my stress out on coworkers who were just trying to do their own jobs. I did ultimately realize I needed to leave shortly after that, but at least I ended up leaving on good terms instead of sulking my way out the door.

      I think especially when you are stressed out and unhappy you tend to start feeling like no one notices or cares what you do and it’s easy to develop some bad habits.

    2. Mr. Tyzik*

      I don’t know that you can label it as a team player or non-team player when circumstances are outside your control.

      Because I was such a strong PM, I was given problem children during my career. No easy or normal projects for me, they all had to be odd or enmeshed in politics or some other headache. After hearing a DB server is going to be delayed – again – six weeks running, it’s easy to get discouraged. My sucky manager at the time told me I had to show the same passion across all my projects – that the enthusiasm I showed for web development had to be applied to databases and server projects.

      I’m sorry, but server projects aren’t sexy, they aren’t passionate, and they were completely outside of my control since I didn’t manage the environment. Yet when a DB server deployment got delayed it was my throat to choke. Screw that. That’s a definition of “team player” I do not want.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I feel your pain on this one. I’m the lone DBA in my office now, and getting pushback on removing sysadmin access from accounts that do not need it.

  7. Artemesia*

    I had an employee like that — I was not her supervisor but she did a lot of work for me and others in my position. Her primary work disappeared because it was basically to be typist for a very productive writer who didn’t use a computer; not many slots like that and when he left, we needed her to do some other things well within her talents. But she decided they were not in her job descriptions and then began complaining about her new ‘higher’ workload. I tried to counsel her about how to make herself indispensable since we had a hiring freeze and a desperate need for X and Y to be done which were easily in her range. But no — she was put upon and wanted more money. She ended up losing her job.

    The OP’s employee needs to understand that her job was gone because she didn’t have the computer skills, or whatever the skills needed were — and that she needs to understand that she is making her place now and must do XYZ to succeed in this role.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Making one’s self indispensable is not an obvious thing to some people. I almost think it was in me at birth for [reasons]. However some people just do not see it. I worked one place where the mindset was really bad, people who were adaptable were rare. And those adaptable people were called brown nosers or worse.

      1. Don't It Always Seem to Go...*

        Although this does not probably apply to Artemesia’s situation, there have often been cases where an employee’s indispensability isn’t always readily apparent and you don’t always realize what all that person did until after they’re gone. Then the first replacement (or maybe several replacements) quit within a short period of time and it turns out that you have to hire 2, or maybe 3, people to do the work that the surly overworked and over-stressed employee did.

  8. Esmeralda*

    I know this is an old letter, but…

    OP should not assume the job change is the reason for Lucy’s behavior, because that’s not the problem. The problem is the behavior.

    She could be ill. A family member could be ill. She could be facing financial problems. She could be having difficulties with a partner. Someone at work could be hassling her, or harassing her. Or a lot of other things that have nothing to do with the job change.

    Or she could be angry about the job change.

    Alison’s suggested scripts are good — they focus on the behvior, rather than on possible causes.

    The cause is important only to the extent that the OP could reasonably do something about it.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Excellent point – I thought that too!

      This letter made me so sad for poor Lucy who’s about to be fired for lack of workplace cheer. Hope things worked out for her in the end.

    2. sharon g*

      I agree. I was that employee at an old job. My boss thought I was in a bad mood because I didn’t get a promotion. What she didn’t know was the week I didn’t get the promotion, my mom and a good friend both were diagnosed with cancer. It was a crappy week, and I was in a crappy mood. I tend to be quiet about my personal life, so no one knew the whole story.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Not work-related, but I think my one relationship ended partly because of that. He liked going out a lot and going to shows, concerts, traveling, entertaining, throwing parties for his intellectual circle of friends. He wanted a partner to do those things with. (Mind you, he was in his 50s and I in my 40s. I know my description sounds like one of a college kid, well he wasn’t.) Then my dad passed away from cancer, much earlier and more quickly than we’d expected, mom had a hard time adjusting to it, I changed jobs around the same time so there was all the stress that comes with being new on a job, plus not enough vacation days to travel. Suddenly, I could no longer keep being my cheery self around him and his snobby friends, and, well, I got dumped. (One of the best things to have ever happened to me.)

        Sorry about your mom and your good friend – I do hope they are both well now.

  9. Forrest*

    OP, when you speak to her, also keep open the possibility that whatever’s going on is nothing to do with work. I mean, global pandemic, obviously, but even without that people have lives. It seems quite likely that Lucy’s change of behaviour is down to her job, but if it’s actually because she’s super super stressed about her mother being ill or not having seen her friends for six months or missing her stepkids since her ex left or her or whatever, then going in with the assumption that she’s sulking about the job will not help her or you.

  10. MK*

    No offense , OP, but part of what your behaviour sounds focused on making yourself not feel bad about what happened to Lucy, or at least it might be coming across that way to her. This woman was told that she is no longer qualified for the position she applied and was hired for and that she had to either take a different or lose her job. She probably had little choice but to accept, she almost certainly felt it as a demotion, even if it wasn’t one technically. Of course she isn’t happy, and her boss constantly asking how it’s going is bound to grate, especially since, let’s be frank, you don’t really want to be told she feels disheartened and humiliated, do you?

    That being said, of course she has to be neutrally pleasant to her colleagues and co-oporate civilly when it comes to work. Focus on that, and leave her extroversion out of it, she won’t be in the mood for cracking jokes soon.

    1. KRM*

      Just as one defense of the OP–it seems like the job changed over time to something Lucy wasn’t qualified to do. It was NOT actually the position she applied/was hired for. I’m not saying that doesn’t suck for Lucy, but sometimes jobs in companies evolve and the person you hired 3 years ago suddenly isn’t the right fit.

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly. I saw this happen to several people over the course of my career particularly when positions evolved to require computer competence — not exceptional competence but the ability to manage a simple data base, do mailings etc. We had a receptionist who wanted to just greet people — well we didn’t really need that, we needed her to be able to manage a client data base — not create it, but be able to enter information or produce material for those working with the clients. There was plenty of opportunity for her to train to do this as most people did as the world changed from the 60s to the 2000s — but she would be a receptionist and when the person who protected her sinecure left she was soon replaced by someone who could do the job as it exists now.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This is exactly what happened to me, and I was Lucy-ish about it, with the result that I lost my job.

        OP definitely needs to talk to Lucy about her behavior. If it’s affecting her work, it has to change. I would ease up on checking in with her every day; as others have said, that probably feels oppressive.

        But also make sure you are and have been forthright about the changes and the new responsibilities. One of the most frustrating things in my case was a sudden lack of communication when the departmental changes happened. My boss was vague for months about where things were going, and it made everything worse.

    2. HerGirlFriday*

      “Lucy said she was a “team player” and ready to do whatever may be asked of her.”
      Well what was the alternative? A layoff? If I were in Lucy’s shoes, I’d feel like it was a demotion as well.
      It’s HARD to stay cheery and upbeat when your jobs gets turned upside down without your control. It’s extremely disheartening too.
      I’m also curious – why couldn’t she be trained for the new duties? Wouldn’t advancing/expanding her skill set be perfect for professional development? Did her previous position have her interacting with people more frequently, but this new role has her more isolated? Isolation and separation of any kind can be really hard on the office extrovert (personal experience).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP could spend more time looking at Lucy’s side of the story:

      Dear Alison,
      I don’t know what to do. I had a decent job with a boss I really enjoyed. Until one day I didn’t. Suddenly I was told my job had morphed into something else and I needed to take a lesser job (with lesser pay?) in a different department. If things couldn’t get worse, my former peer is now my boss. I expressed interest in the new job at my former level but they said they could not bother to train me. Confusingly, they have to train me for the job they asked me to take anyway.

      I am slowly adjusting to my new job. My new boss took me out to lunch to ask me if we were okay here. What was I going to tell her? I was trapped. I had to say we were okay. Alison, I am not okay. My old boss, who I enjoyed and trusted, gave me a present a while ago. I probably shouldn’t have but I returned it to her. To me that present represented a professional bond. I found out that professional bond was fake. She could have warned me about the upcoming change so I could prepare. She chose not to warn me. I thought she had my back the way I had hers and she did not.

      I feel gullible and foolish. I cry to and from work each day. My new boss knows I am miserable and she is starting to get on me for it. I can’t seem to trust anyone here. Now what do I do?

  11. Claudia*

    Poor Lucy. I would hate be policed by my new manager for not being as overly cheerful as I once was or because of some objective personality assessment. I know this is an old letter, but I hope Lucy landed on her feet and the LW took some accountability for her poor management of the situation.

    1. Zona the Great*

      And that it’s being called Sulking instead of a more gracious and adult descriptor is really bothering me. The behavior isn’t sulking, it’s simply no longer jovial. I don’t use words I wouldn’t also use to describe an adult man so sulking us what got me here.

      1. Artemesia*

        Someone who is terse with people trying to work with them and who turns their back on people and stomps off — this is not being ‘less cheery’ — this is sulking. What is the very professional term you would use?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          It didn’t say that she stomped off from anywhere. And I admit I do the turning back to my computer thing (though probably wouldn’t with my boss) when a person stops to chat and appears to never want to leave, and I’ve got work to do (as do they). I’d say “ok, this was fun, back to work” and then back to work I go. I did have one lonely/chatty coworker who still continued to stand next to me after I did that. I asked him if he wanted me to get him coffee or tea, and he got the message and disappeared… heh heh.

          1. Yorick*

            LW is describing someone who doesn’t engage in work-related conversations and pointedly turns their back after giving only a short answer. This isn’t about trying not to let the Chatty Cathy steal too much of your time. This is way past “less cheery.”

        2. Qest*

          Please, if I were in a new job that I needed to focus on, the least thing I needed would be a manager blablabla ming on me. + not that manager who put me there.

        3. Avi*

          Disinvested. Lucy clearly no longer has any motivation for more than the barest minimum engagement with this company. And I can’t help but wonder if some of this is her not liking her new boss specifically.

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

        I wrote, but then deleted before I submitted it, questioning the use of the word ‘sulking’ (as I thought it may be just nit-picking language in the context I wrote it) – whether OP or AAM had initiated the word since it wasn’t used in the main text.

        But – I would, and have done, absolutely use the term ‘sulking’ (where it applied) to describe an adult man! Does it have a gendered implication? Maybe, but I think all genders are probably equally as ‘guilty’ of sulking sometimes.

        Regardless of genders/ages of people involved, I could see OP perceiving it as ‘sulking’ even though (as I elaborated on in a comment below) that might not actually be Lucy’s motivation …. of course perception does count for a lot, though.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think we got a new one here: “bricked by Alison”.

          That’s funny, because Alison is not very heavy handed, it’s more like she is throwing cotton balls. But some how a cotton ball from Alison would sting more than a brick from a jerk boss. Alison’s opinion actually means something.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I use “brick’d” to mean everything from “public disapproval because I used the word ‘glockodile'” to “actually having a brick hucked at my head” and I think that’s very valid of me.

  12. Ellie May*

    One thing to consider, OP, is that perhaps something else is going on in her life that is over-shadowing her former personality. This may or may not be about the job change. Perhaps using Alison’s script this may come out in conversation.

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

      It’s possible, but OP linked it in time like “since the change” which I thought implied causality.

    1. PSB*

      Yes, exactly. Much earlier in my career, I had to choose between a demotion and unemployment because my position was being relocated and I wasn’t in a position to move. I accepted the demotion because unemployment just wasn’t an option, but I found it very hard to be engaged in the reduced role. It was hard to muster enthusiasm for the job when I knew I could do more, and feeling like I’d been treated unjustly ate at me. I should have left ASAP but stayed a miserable four more years.

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

    My read on this (as a fellow extrovert type, see the ‘ENTP’ in my name, and a similarly short fuse in some ways… I blow up quickly, but also forgive and move on quickly!) is Lucy probably feels some combination of: pressure to perform in the new role which she now may feel she is only ‘ok’ at / ‘exposed’ by having had her old role eliminated as she didn’t have the skills (see below) / resentful / backed into a corner / forced into ‘uninteresting’ work or that doesn’t contribute to her expected career path / feels guilty for having had a position ‘created’ for her tailored to her (perceived) ‘lesser’ abilities / still feels some job insecurity like ‘will this one fizzle out as well?’ / has generally ‘checked out’ (and of course, there are any number of possibilities for being checked out).

    I’ve found in general I’m much more likely to be sociable and outgoing, make jokes in team meetings etc etc – when coming from a place of stability and confidence rather than uncertainty and defensiveness.

    … I thought it was interesting that her old position was “eliminated” because it changed to the extent that she didn’t have the skills. I was under the impression that positions, rather than people, are “eliminated” (as OP states); surely the role still needs to be done since it had some new required skills, so who is carrying that out now? Wouldn’t it have made sense to invest time and energy into getting Lucy “up-skilled” for that role rather than the company just throw up their hands and say “oh well, the role is evolving and Lucy doesn’t fit it any more so we will have to eliminate it”! … it doesn’t seem to make sense, but I think if I were Lucy in this position I’d also be resentful at not even being given the opportunity to prove myself, it sounds like.

    1. Yorick*

      It’s possible the work evolved to the point that it needed to be moved out of the department. I could imagine some process that Lucy used to handle becoming so specific/technical/whatever that it makes sense to have the legal/financial/IT/whatever team handle it now. But if there’s still work to do in LW’s and Lucy’s department, she could stay in a different role there.

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

        Thanks — that does make sense as a possibility now that you say it!

        If that’s the case I’d hope it was explained in rational terms (like you described) to Lucy.

        I’m waiting for the follow-up letter from Lucy: “my role was eliminated due to evolving to a level of technical knowledge I didn’t have, so I was de-facto demoted and have continued to work there but without the enthusiasm from before, but now I’ve been asked to help out on the TTP project due to my residual knowledge of system X” … !

  14. Introvert girl*

    As a person whose team was liquidated a couple of months ago, I can relate to this. Working in a stable environment where you like your job and have wonderful colleagues makes you happy, especially in these uncertain times. When all of this is taken away from you, it has a huge impact on your wellbeing, especially when you’re doing something you don’t really like.
    * Don’t expect her to be as cheerful and chatty as she was before.
    * Also, don’t expect her to be happy with the changes she had to endure.
    * The bond she had with the other team can’t just be replaced by the new team. (I like the people in my new team but don’t want to spend my free time with them after work)
    * And yes, she probably is on the brink of a burnout and she just doesn’t have the energy to hide it anymore. (Can she WFH for a day or two a week?)

    I don’t see a positive ending here. Can’t she be schooled in the job she was hired for? I mean, if she was a good team player, loved her job en is willing, I would consider that. You can’t force her to be happy about this.

    1. Fellow Introvert*

      I’m currently in situation where my job duties have changed due to Covid and had been assigned to work on a different project- not asked, but assigned. I bring this up because, due to the nature of the project and the people involved, I wasn’t interested in it. I tried to make the situation work but couldn’t. My bosses were gracious about making a change to better suit the project, but I feel like a failure. To make matters worse, there seems to be a lot of miscommunication going on and lack of communication in general about overall work expectations and projects. I was also moved from a personal space to an open floor plan office and yeah, between the bad project, poor communication, and the move, I feel awful. My boss is overjoyed about having me in a different location and it’s literally everything I can do not to burst into tears when he walks into the room. I try to converse with people pleasantly, but it’s rough. I know that there is a base line of doing my job and not being rude or obnoxious to people, but I can’t see making jokes or even having general chit chat at this point. This isn’t the best time to be job hunting and I’ve only been in this job a little over two years, so between the short length of employment and the current state of the economy, the thought of even looking for a new position at a different company is depressing, which doesn’t make the situation any better.

      1. Banana Naan*

        Me too. I almost thought that this letter was from my current supervisor, because so many of the details are the same.

        The person above me did work that overlapped with mine, and she had left prior to the restructure to pursue a different career. I expressed interest in her role, but was told that I didn’t have the required experience for it, and it was critical enough that they needed to hire a specialist for it. Which I totally understand, but also can’t help but feel like I could have stepped up to the plate.

        Then there was a restructure, and I was told my position was on the chopping block. My supervisor suggested that I take a different open position that wasn’t going away and advocated for me, and I got it. It pays about $4,000 more than my old position and equal to the position my old coworker had… but the work is totally different and dreadfully dull. To boot, this is my third position before my two year anniversary.
        My old supervisor tells me all the time that my work was great and I’ve had the promotions to believe her, but I’ve also had a difficult time with one of the members on my old team, the remoteness of the work has disrupted the process and balls are being dropped by everyone, and I don’t know how to judge my work this year, especially since I was only in the old role for 4 months before we all started working from home. And now we’re back in the office and the fear of COVID-19 is awful. AND I can’t go for lunch walks anymore because the traffic around my workplace sucks! AND they disconnected the coffee machine.

        I took a mental health day today and feel better, but I think the major changes needed to make me fully comfortable in my role are out of my control. I’ve set a savings goal and have started looking for outside remote work.

      2. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

        I feel this so hard. My job title has not changed, but the part I like least about my job has increased a lot. I used to do mostly chocolate teapot design, and spending maybe 5% of my day gluing on chocolate teapot handles. I hate gluing on handles, but it’s just something that is part of this field. However, since the pandemic, the handle gluing division is so overwhelmed that I now spend most, if not all of my day gluing on handles. I want to cry all the time. I am so stressed out. I don’t think I’m suking or taking it out on my coworkers, but it’s made me really hate a job that I used to love. I am the only Chocolate Teapot Designer, so I don’t want to leave because I feel really secure right now, and some amount of handle gluing will always be part of my job no matter where I go. But this change in my duties has been really stressful, and if my boss came and said that I was going to be a handle gluing guru as my job, I’d be looking for a new job.

  15. JP*

    Something about this letter is just rubbing me the wrong way. Maybe I’m identifying with “Lucy” too much. I’d like to know more about the difficult interactions she had previously had with members of her team.

    1. KEG*

      I also relate to Lucy. It sounds like OP stopping by her desk everyday is purely social, since she doesn’t seem to appreciate that why not stop, or only do it once a week or something? She’s not being insubordinate, just distant. Just give her some space.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I definitely think before having a talk about changing her behavior, the first step would be to cut back on trying to force more socialization and see if that helps. It sounds like she wanted to chat less which is fine, but OP was trying to encourage her to chat more thinking it would help but it probably just made her more annoyed and frustrated which then caused her to be even more abrupt trying to bring the chatting to an end. So it’s possible that everyone pulling back would allow her to be less cheery and social than before but otherwise perfectly polite. If that doesn’t happen and she remains more curt with coworkers than can be allowed, *then* move forward with a conversation about it.

        I also wonder though how much time passed between the job change and when the letter was written. I feel like there should be a grace period where you just ignore her being sullen and see if she bounces back on her own. She was grieving the loss of her old job and maybe even feeling embarrassed around coworkers if she felt like the change was a demotion. Let her process her feelings and give her time to accept the new situation.

    2. mf*

      I’m having the same reaction. Lucy is sending out strong “please leave me alone” vibes by trying to create distance between herself and others at work. But the manager isn’t respecting Lucy’s unspoken request.

      I get that the manager needs Lucy to be professional with her coworkers, but I don’t think that’s the thing that’s bothering the OP. I think the OP is upset that Lucy is no longer “fun”, and he/she is trying to get Lucy to be more extraverted again so he/she can feel better about demoting Lucy.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I am identifying with Lucy also.
      I think OP would have done well to do a self-check on how she handled Lucy’s transition and how she launched Lucy in her new position.

      Did OP welcome her? “Lucy, I am so sorry about your old position but I am so glad you are here with me!”
      So simple but you can cover a lot of ground by remembering to say things like this.

  16. learnedthehardway*

    What strikes me is that there’s no mention of whether the management tried to provide training for Lucy so that she could take on the additional responsibilities that evolved within her role. Also, how was the role eliminated? (I don’t see how the functions could actually be simply gone, if they were important. My guess is that when Lucy was moved to a different position, either her prior responsibilities were reallocated to other staff, or someone new was hired into the role).

    I guess the question is – was the transition handled as well as possible or was it handled badly? That could really inform the expectations of the employee. Of course, they should be expected to be polite and collaborative. But I wouldn’t expect Lucy to be or act happy about the situation. She’s going to need time to more or less grieve what she lost.

    In addition to a heart to heart conversation that Alison suggested, I would lay off stopping by her desk all the time to check on her (that’s just salt in the wound, and as someone above mentioned, more about you assuaging your feelings of guilt than anything). The other thing I would do is to find opportunities to provide recognition and praise for things that Lucy is doing well in her new role. Be careful not to be patronizing, but if she is making a difference to the business, recognize it and make sure others recognize her value. eg. if she has gotten up to speed on something in good time, recognize it. When she’s at full productivity in her new role, point out that she’s performing at the expected volume. Recognition that she is providing value may go a long way to helping her realize that she’s still a valued team member. Otherwise, she may feel that she’s being forced out.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      There are so many possibilities — this is old enough it could be similar to one I saw. Our “Lucy” in corporate communications started the company’s small website on a standard provider (ie patreon, wordpress, godaddy). When the site outgrew the provider, management decided to build a custom site from the ground up. They brought everything in-house and the IT department hired an experienced web developer. In my case, “Lucy” lost a section of her job not the whole thing, which may have made it easier to swallow.

  17. Exhausted Trope*

    “Her old position was eliminated because it had evolved to require skills she didn’t have, and so she moved to this job.”
    Wondering if it was possible for Lucy to be trained in the new skills and if so, why she wasn’t?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I also cannot get past the fact that Lucy couldn’t be trained for her old role, but it is somehow ok for her to be trained for her new role anyway.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Because some lacking skills are not a simple matter of sending people to a software class or seminar or new rules/regulations/laws to catch up. Automation is is turning pure technical roles into more consultative/advisory roles; increased computer skills of professionals, online booking sites, and digital calendars and organizers are eliminating the need for traditional secretarial skills in favor of executive assistants; communications/marketing roles have been entirely transformed by social media – and all of this means that the people in these roles can’t simply be sent to a learning annex class to make up the delta. If an organization has time and money to retrain for those changes, good on them, but some, especially smaller or low-margin companies, simply do not.

      My organization’s head of marketing five years ago was still stuck in brochure and marketing slick land, hadn’t updated the style of the organization’s website in years (still looked like it was coded in HTML tables from 1995), and was doing nothing with search engine optimization, website metrics, or social media beyond tweeting links to press releases. They were the first one out the door when we got a new CEO because you can’t take the time to retrain someone in that critical a role, particularly when you’re way behind on modern marketing strategy.

      One of my teams had to make a hard turn from doing hands-on, highly technical work to doing process consulting and project management work in a very short time. Most of the team made the turn and adapted, one simply could not do it. They didn’t have the people, communication, or writing skills to do what the job morphed into and they insisted on doing processes the long, tedious, manual way. No amount of direct, specific feedback or suggestion from their manager made a dent, and, bottom line, no one wanted to work with them because they were slow, couldn’t communicate clearly, and had trouble responding to any problem that was off the standard checklist, which then overburdened those who’d made the turn successfully.

      I get why Lucy’s unhappy. That is never a good situation, and it might almost have been better for her to have looked for a new position rather than take a demotion. I think her boss needs to lay off on the check-ins and “why isn’t she cheerful?” thing. But I also don’t think that there’s enough information on whether or not she should/could have been retrained to assert that her employer was unreasonable not to purse that and should expect her to be terse with coworkers because she was treated unfairly.

  18. Black Horse Dancing*

    I really feel for Lucy and have so many questions. Why/how did her role ‘evolve’? Did the company try training her or simply outsource and/or change the role so it no longer ‘fit’? Why should Lucy be happy? It doesn’t sound like she is being cruel, nasty, or rude, just work oriented and ignoring others. Why suddenly include the fact she’s had ‘difficult interactions’ at letter’s end and not explain it? And personality assessments, OP? Really? Might as well use a horoscope.

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

      It doesn’t sound like she is being cruel, nasty, or rude, just work oriented and ignoring others.

      That’s exactly it! OP is contrasting it with how Lucy was before, so it’s an obvious (and understandable if you ask me) change. But … there are any number of people out there who normally operate in the way Lucy is: keep themselves to themselves, focus on work only, answer with just the facts and no “chit chat”, etc.

      e.g.: My partner is an introvert type (INTJ for those following along) and he works with someone who he describes as “extremely introverted” and who behaves in some of the ways OP describes. Gives short answers, focuses on just the facts, seems mortified and suddenly has something else to focus on if anyone wants to drag out the conversation… but his co-worker is one of the most learned and respected people in the company, like if you don’t know what to do then “John” knows everything type of thing.

      It seems like OP is perceiving the change to being more ‘inward’ focused and task-oriented to be some kind of social slur on the company, but maybe Lucy is just retreating into herself at this moment?

      It is natural, I think, when something changes to think “why? how? was it something I did? what’s different?” etc.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh my god a lightbulb just went off in my head. She is work-oriented because she needs to become acclimated in, and learn, a whole new job! Duh! Of course she’d be more concentrated on work than usual! OP said “She’s not getting everything right, but I think that’s due to her learning curve and this being a new job.” So Lucy is supposed to just be all sunshine and roses knowing that, according to her boss, her work needs improvement, and that she better learn the new job fast for that improvement to appear. Bingo, that’s it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. If I know I am not doing well on the job, I am not going to be Chatty Cathy. There’s too much at stake.

    2. mf*

      “It doesn’t sound like she is being cruel, nasty, or rude, just work oriented and ignoring others.”

      Yes, this is my take as well. Lucy is being professional but distant. OP reacting poorly to the change because they know that Lucy is unhappy.

  19. RussianInTexas*

    “Our entire team did a personality assessment at one point, and one of her biggest things was that she likes to be social and feel included. She scored high on the extrovert/outgoing section, as well as had the shortest fuse out of everyone in our group.”
    Yes, and I am INTJ and Aquarius. Neither, just like the personality assessment, have anything to do with Lucy being unhappy at being effectively demoted.

    1. Bundle*

      Yes, the results of my personality quizzes are usually highly dependent on my mood. I’d side-eye a boss who put too much stock on one.

      Plus, im pretty sure unhappiness trumps any outgoing personality.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I am not a fan of personality assessments.

      OP, the company demoted her. It appears that there was some kind of cover up about not being able to train her but she had to be trained for the lower job anyway. Where-oh-where do you see inclusion going on here? There is NONE.
      By your own definition (again, not a fan of these tests) the company has NOT been inclusive of Lucy at all but she is supposed to remain her extrovert self?? really?

      For me, this just this personality assessment stuff would have me heading toward the door. And this story here is a prime example of why. The answer to the question is already there: She likes to feel included. The company FAILED to include her.

      I would like to know why no one at your company sees the answer that is already in front of them, OP. I don’t think the company should bother with personality tests if they are not going to use them.

  20. My2Cents*

    Quite a few commenters are recommending that Lucy should’ve been trained for the new “evolved” role, but I think that assumes someone was available in the organization to train her. Which we don’t know. Depending on what the missing skills were, it’s possible the best solution was to hire someone to bring that new skill to the org. Not great for moral, but if they needed the skill set and needed it soon, perhaps it was a justified call. Also if I’m understanding correctly, the OP is Lucy’s new manager, so it wasn’t her call anyway. She just inherited a new direct report as a result of someone else’s management decision.

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

      Maybe it wasn’t OPs call but surely she still needs to understand the context? Without being held to account for “things previous managers should have done differently”… the situation as it stands is a given at this point and OP sadly doesn’t get the option to say “well, if I were the manager I would have…..”, she has to deal with the situation as it is.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I’m kind of surprised by some of them – not all job changes are like, “Well, we need to start doing our mailings using Word’s mail merge function, and Wakeen can’t use mail merge. I guess we’ll have to demote him and hire someone else rather than giving him training on mail merge.” There are a lot of roles that have been disrupted (and on a much faster schedule) by technology, social media, automation, etc. New roles are created, but old ones are no longer needed – and the skills delta isn’t a quick software class and you’re ready.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Also, we don’t know how long Lucy was in the role as and after it “evolved,” or what kind of training or resources were available to her during that time — there may well have been a long enough period of the role needing this particular skill, and Lucy trying but not being able to perform that skill, for the employer to reasonably conclude that it wasn’t gonna happen.

  21. DrSalty*

    I will say that I have been on the Lucy’s side of this to a certain degree. I was very unhappy with some things at work and it was manifesting as a very bad attitude. It ended up being a large part of my annual review in that it was an aspect of my performance (which was otherwise very strong) that needed improvement. It was very uncomfortable feedback to hear and it made me feel really bad – I didn’t know my attitude was having that much of an impact on others and making a difficult atmosphere for the rest of the team. Ultimately I’m grateful my boss was willing to work with me on this because it gave me a lot of clarity on how my actions were being perceived and affecting others, not to mention motivation to adjust my behavior. I think it was extremely helpful for my professional development in the long run.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      I have such mixed feelings about this. Myself and 6 other team members once got reassigned in a week due to some corporate shuffling above our heads, and it was really hard. My new boss had all the personality of sand, so I don’t think he noticed/minded that I was not my former cheerful self but it was a rough transition. It eventually became the new normal and smoothed out. My mixed feelings come from the gendered need to be perky on top of doing a good job. Yes, being pleasant, approachable, and collegial are part of professionalism. Being warm, upbeat, and cracking jokes on Monday morning–while valued by my team–are not in fact part of my job. But if I stop acting that way I know I’ll hear a “what’s wrong.” If Lucy isn’t answering those queries above a momosylable, my take is: *she doesn’t trust you, OP.* Should she? I’m not sure from this letter.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        The damn jokes were the last straw to me. For the love of dog, even professional standup comedians are not able to be cracking jokes all the time. Why on earth is this being expected of Lucy. I’m baffled.

  22. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder what “recently” means. Did these changes happen last week, last month? My sympathy would dry up the longer this went on.

  23. Theory of Eeveelution*

    What’s the mystery here? OP hired Lucy to do one job that she enjoyed doing, then something happened and Lucy was basically demoted, and now she’s unhappy in her new role, AKA the role she was not hired to do. And about that “something happened” …

    “Her old position was eliminated because it had evolved to require skills she didn’t have…”

    So which was it? Was it eliminated, or did it evolve and Lucy was replaced Why did OP decide that Lucy wasn’t worth training?

    I really feel for Lucy here. I absolutely doubt that being chatty and “jovial” is in her job description, and I also doubt that Lucy’s introverted coworkers are getting this same emotional micromanagement from OP. It really seems like Lucy is unhappy and OP is doing everything they can to exacerbate the issue. Unintentionally perhaps, but again, there’s zero mystery to what’s going on in this situation.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with any of this:

    “But since the change has happened, she barely interacts with coworkers, keeps responses as short as possible, wears her headphones most of the time, and occasionally makes passive-aggressive comments.”

    Good lord, if she’s only occasionally making passive-aggressive comments, that makes her several times more tolerable to most of the coworkers I’ve ever had. In fact, all of this sentence makes her sound like an ideal coworker.

  24. buzzbuzzbeepbeep*

    I have been through this exact thing myself! I was suddenly relocated to a new department when a job that I LOVED left the company. The new department was fine, the people were nice, but I was in mourning. I had a terrible time trying to be happy and interactive while going through a depression and all the levels of grief over the job I lost. I did end up leaving the company because I just wasn’t happy even after coming to terms with the loss. I feel for the employee. I’ve been in her shoes. It’s terrible!

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

    Even if the new position wasn’t a demotion, people are allowed to have their own career goals and not be enthusiastic when an employer shuffles them around like a gear in a machine rather than a human. My job is starting to evolve and some of the changes I’m happy about and some aren’t in my plan. I know that if the job deviates from my career goals, I should leave, but I’m always on the look-out for being shifted to responsibilities that are more stereotypical due to my age, gender, etc etc rather than real business needs.

  26. Jh*

    I’d be pretty upset too if my boss thought I was untrainable and had no further use. Op… Look at what you’re doing here. Your employee feels worthless and has shut down. Employees have goals and career dreams that deserve to be fostered over time. Employees deserve a chance to apply themselves and learn new things to help their company.

    Could you not send her to training? Or was this skill she was lacking something more personality based?

    She probably thinks you’re going to lay her off.

  27. staceyizme*

    It sounds like LW is legitimately off kilter with the change in her employee’s persona. But- this feels like a more “logic-ified” version of “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled more”. Don’t manage the attitudes. Don’t even try to suss out her motives. Stick to business. Manage work product, quality, timelines and follow through. If she’s STILL short and quiet after 90 days in the role, then I’d say that it falls under “stuff that needs adjusting because we work here, too, and need more info/ better participation etc…”. But now? Maybe not. (Unless it’s been 90 days? If I missed that, sorry.)

  28. Lily*

    I’d be worried that she might be suicidal. She sounds miserable and giving back presents sounds alarming in this context.

  29. Karia*

    I had a boss reassign me because she disliked me. She assigned me work I’d specifically told her I hated, was glad to have left behind five years ago and never wanted to do again. After the reassignment I found a new job in a week and a half. I can imagine my former boss writing this letter.

    And I agree with other posters; it worries me that you’re looking at this from a work context, because this is screaming mental health crisis, and you’re characterising it as sulking.

  30. Chocolate Teapot*

    For some reason, access to the website was on the blink yesterday.

    Anyway, I have been Lucy as well. In my case, the team was being re-organised, and I was moved to become assistant to one of the Directors, which is what I wanted to move into. In this company, all the administrative staff were on the same level.

    But nothing turned out as expected. I was not allowed to attend certain meetings. I asked for projects and was told to be patient, but none were forthcoming.

    Then I was told there was not enough work for me, so I was to be moved back onto a team. As you might imagine, I was upset, even more so when several weeks later, a communication went out to say one of the employees in HR was taking over the Director’s assistant role*. So I tried to be enthusiastic, but couldn’t, especially when I was given a tedious task to complete.

    Fortunately, I then got a much better paid job somewhere else.

    *It turned out the HR employee was in the same position, but it was difficult to feel sympathy for the person who I felt had taken my job.

  31. Avi*

    Lucy got screwed over by the company and forced into a position she didn’t want. (No one ever uses the ‘team player’ line for something they’re enthusiastic about.) Lucy has already quit mentally and is probably just waiting for the opportunity to physically bail. Meanwhile she’s stuck working for someone who’s playing the Cheer Police and obsessing over personality scores.

    I’m not going to blame her for being a bit demonstrative with her discontent in this situation.

  32. PugsAndPandas*

    I can sort of relate to Lucy, although my circumstances a tad different.
    Myself and a few others were hired by the local council to work in Mental Health Services, due the the Government providing a package to the Mental Health Sector in the midst of COVID (I am in Australia)

    We were placed to work in a Mental Health Clinic and the council were lead to believe that us workers were very much needed and that staff were anticipating our arrival. Our roles were to liase with clinicans and psych nurses and also to converse with clients/patients via phone and provide mental health resources.

    Much to my surprise, the week we arrived, staff at the workplace did not know who we were, what our roles were, and Management were completely unprepared.
    Management also did not give us roles in accordance to our job descriptions, nor have they trained us, but have instead made given us roles as Temperature Checkers for patients coming into the clinic. It has been a month already and we have not been able to do our jobs properly.
    My manager at the local council was shocked by the incompetence to say the least.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oooh, so there was a federal aid package, and new job openings that it was supposed to pay for, but the jobs turned out to be the Temp Checkers and the staff did not even know that there were going to be new hires? My mind immediately went off to something shady happening. Someone is skimming off that federal money.

  33. Bridge to somewhere*

    Taking your employee to lunch is intimidating and not the best way to get them to talk!
    With regard to Lucy returning the presents, I’ve done this only once, and that was when I felt seriously betrayed by a person I looked up to and respected. They were someone I trusted, and it hurt when they let me down. Giving a present back is a huge deal, and my best guess is it relates to her not being trained with the skills she needed for her evolving job (evolving implies that the job changed over a period of time, so why could Lucy not be taught the skills as she went along and evolve with the job?).
    I feel for Lucy!

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

      Yeah, the “giving back a present” part struck me especially, although it wasn’t really touched on in the official answer or most of the comments other than yours. Like you, I think that is a huge statement, especially in a work context! to her (now) grandboss!

      And the comment about “I won’t ever use this” when returning the gift… Was it just something that she’d never have a use for (like if she only ever wears green t-shirts and the boss gave her an orange formal shirt, sort of thing) or something that she potentially would have used *in the course of the job* which she now won’t have the opportunity to, due to the de facto ‘demotion’. Which one of these it is would be quite telling about what’s going on in her mind.

      This was only mentioned in passing but I think a few more details about that could actually be enlightening. I realise it’s an old letter though, so at this point I’d just be speculating.

  34. The answer is (probably) 42*

    I’m so relieved to see that most of the comments here are sympathetic to Lucy. I was worried I’d be an outlier. Granted, returning the gift sounds out of line, but other than that it seems like she’s not behaving so egregiously as to interfere with her actual duties.

    I’ve been in a similar situation to Lucy- not demoted, but had my trust severely broken by management and was expected to act like everything was hunky dory anyway. I didn’t get snappy, but I did get quiet and distant. I remained polite and exactly as sociable as needed to be effective at my job, and not an iota more. Ironically, it’s very difficult to maintain that precisely calibrated chilliness, but I felt it was necessary to protect myself and easier than the alternative. I’m skipping a lot of detail here, but ultimately that broken trust was a large part of why I ended up leaving that job with nothing else lined up, and I’m now taking a few months to manage the mental and physical health repercussions that were exacerbated by the job.

    I hope Lucy’s situation worked out better than mine did! If OP is anything like my manager was, I’d take any update from them with a large grain of salt, but I sincerely hope that they manage to work things out for everyone.

  35. inoffensive nickname*

    I was Lucy. My 11-year high-ranking Administrative Assistant position was eliminated and my employer liked my work enough to transfer me into a position that was unfilled because the selected candidate could not pass a background check. It was two pay grades lower, but they did not cut my pay. However, that put me at the top of my pay grade, which essentially gave me nowhere to go – no raises for six years. Between that and a couple of nutjobs in my office and my attitude was that I was going to do the work of the pay grade I was put into. I had the worst attitude for a couple of years…yes YEARS. My grandboss (now my direct boss) noticed almost right away (our departments were ten miles apart) and started holding team building meetings. I was either quiet or a little snarky during these meetings. TBH, I’m lucky I didn’t get fired for having a bad attitude, but I did the job and I did it very well. My grandboss finally sat me down one day for a meeting (after I had applied for two positions in her department, working directly for her and someone else “better suited for the job” was chosen both times) when my boss was gone and asked me what was going on, because she realized I was looking to leave and she didn’t want the team to lose me. She got an hour long earful of just what an idiot my then-boss was (he was – she inherited him), as well as the office manager who is one of the most boundaries-crossing people in the world. She was horrified at some of the extreme boundary-crossing things OM had said/asked, and she basically started using me to be the voice of reason in the office because then-boss and OM were not good at getting the administrative side of the job done. She let my boss “run” the department in his own way and I became the person who circumvented him to get things done. I suppose you could call me a suck-up, but the thing is, I genuinely like my current boss, and we’re both on the same page as far as getting the necessary paperwork done, and expanding the program, so I’m 100% happier than I was before my former boss retired.

    I guess what I’m trying to say to the OP who’s working with Lucy is to sit her down and talk to her. Work with her and find out if there’s anything you can do to help her along or find out if there’s someone on that team or something about the team that makes her uncomfortable. For me, I had it coming from two directions with a boss who believed that South America was built by aliens (from outer space) and had to tell me about every new conspiracy theory and how the world is coming to an end every morning, and an office manager who asked detailed questions of an intimate nature. (FWIW I didn’t feel harassed by her…just squitched out by her questions.)

  36. mike_b*

    Lucy’s material working conditions got worse. Her job sucks now and she’s unhappy. Is there a way to improve them in any way?

  37. PugsAndPandas*

    We were led to believe that our roles were to assist Clinicians, Psych doctors and Nurses. They are indeed overworked, however, management seem very reluctant to let myself and the other mental health workers shadow them as we are not from clinical or medical backgrounds, (myself and the others recently hired are from Community based backgrounds).
    We arent even allowed to do case notes or phone patients to connect them with resources due to the complex nature of the patients and issues with confidentiality.
    They are not even the ones paying us (the council are) so its incredibly baffling as to why they needed us in the first place, and now my supervisor at the council is furious at them.

  38. spiders*

    I just feel like it should be said somewhere that this might be a trauma response to something that happened in the workplace. When I was assaulted by a coworker, it took months to process that. When I told HR, they didn’t have enough to move forward at that time and I would get paired to work with this person. To be honest, I probably seemed a lot like this at this job: just kind of empty, without the resources to quit, and coping with too much to really put in a search for something else. This person did get fired after four more people (!!!) reported, but working with that and in that environment absolutely took it out of me.

    If OP hasn’t already, I hope they direct the employee to talk to HR or remind them that HR is there. This type of situation is more common than it should be.

  39. Chaordic One*

    I just hope that the OP will have a serious talk with Lucy about her performance and Lucy’s options. At a time like this, the OP might consider letting Lucy know that she (Lucy) should probably start looking for another another job and offer to give Lucy a positive reference. If things don’t get better, then the OP needs to start providing Lucy with some written warnings and perhaps a PIP. If Lucy gets let go, I do hope the OP will provide her with a reason, unlike that employer that that one manager wrote in about in today’s other questions.

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