my employee ignores instructions

A reader writes:

I took a promotion nearly a year ago that put me in a management position over my previous peers. One of the women who reports to me has been with the company much longer, and commonly disregards requests I make of her (and the team). Recently, I asked my team to begin using our interoffice instant messaging tool to ensure the team is able to contact other team members quickly; many of us work remotely from each other, so we don’t have the option to yell over cube walls or walk over to chat.

This woman did not respond to my request and has not implemented it (it’s been a week). What can I say to her to ensure that she does it, while also letting her have a chance to share any concerns she has? What if she still just won’t implement after we’ve discussed?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employees keep socializing with their old boss
  • I offended people at a staff meeting by saying my staff works the hardest
  • Explaining how you know a coworker when you don’t want to share the real answer
  • Saying that you have to talk over a job offer with your spouse

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    “How do you know each other?”

    Shared hobby.

    You’re way too focused on the particulars, though. I met one of my boyfriends on Match dot com, which was something neither of us cared to admit, so we said we met online, and if somebody pressed we said “Facebook group for atheists who like cats”, and we never met anyone who wanted to hear more about that.

    1. JustEm*

      I think if you say “shared hobby” almost everyone will ask what it is. They would still need a follow up answer.

      As a fellow atheist who likes cats, I like your answer (though I probably would’ve just said Match since it isn’t really looked down on to online date anymore) :)

      1. Heidi*

        I agree that a lot of people would ask what the hobby was.
        Maybe, “We met at my friend’s get-together a while back” would generate fewer questions?

      2. Eva Luna*

        Many years ago (going on 20, in fact), I met someone through a personals site (not – through a local alternative paper). After a few months, my grandmother, who would have been in her 80s at the time, asked me where I had met him. I debated whether to tell her and finally decided “why not – she’s pretty open-minded.” She laughed and said “good for you – I’ve been telling your mother to do that for years!”

        1. charo*

          When I met my BF’s parents — and he was 10 years younger than I — it was awkward because we met in a bar.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      I met my husband at a rather risqué party put on by a local Pagan organization to celebrate the fertility-centered holiday of Beltane. When folks who would not want to hear that (or whom I would not want to know that) ask where we met, I just say “a party hosted by some folks we both knew.”

    3. (Woman)Engineer*

      I went to a friend’s for Thanksgiving. We had met in a mental health support group, so we had our cover story all worked out. One guest asked where we met, and I said, “oh, a meditation group”. and he proceeded to pepper me with questions — who was the guru, what type of meditation, …

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Interesting twist to think that people are shy to admit they met on a known dating site, that’s not known as a total hookup site but in turn find another “online” response! I’m not being a dick, it’s sincerely interesting. I always just say “internet dating because I’m an internet person, you knew that.” but to each their own!

      I wouldn’t say “shared hobby” though because I agree it’s too much of a lead in to “Oh and what’s that hobby?”

      I’d say “We run in the same social circles.” because honestly, they do. Nobody needs to know the social circle is related to a discussion group.

      I’m just like “I know them from the scene.” because all my friends [who happened to be online] are from what was literally called “scene kids”, lol.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “We run in the same circles” was verbatim my first thought. But even, “Oh, you know, pretty boring — we’re in the same discussion group; say, I wanted to ask you about workthing…” seems unlikely to result in follow-ups from all but the most nosy person.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Lots of these clubs tend to have generic coverups as well, which may be a thing you can do on a social sort of thing. “It’s a Book-club…very exclusive, no there’s no openings, sorry!” =X

      2. Stephen!*

        My ex didn’t like to say we met through an online dating site. We just said we me through a mutual friend, without specifying that our friend was the internet.

        1. Artemesia*

          I met my first husband at a Louis Bunuel movie shown on campus; for some reason meeting at a movie (although on campus) squicked out his very uptight conservative parents (what a slut I must have been to have picked him up at the movies) and so they always said ‘they met in a class’ when introducing us to their friends and relatives. This made me laugh because a guy I went out with once around the same time I met him I had in fact ‘known’ in classes for a couple of years — and so I was surprised to learn he was both married and had knocked up his last girlfriend and was desperately searching for an abortionist. (pre-RoeWade). Just because you are acquainted with someone in a class sure doesn’t mean he is safe, respectable or that you have a clue.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        I have used variants of “We run in the same social circles.” For about two decades nearly the entirety of my social life was via the Society for Creative Anachronism. This is how I met my wife. There is nothing shameful about this, but it leads to explanations that can be longer than I really want to get into. The “social circles” explanation covers it nicely. It is truthful and not evasive, but rather contains the appropriate amount of detail (i.e. not much).

        1. Mama Bear*

          Also, depending on the situation, you might not want it to sound like an invite to join up and stalk you if you want to keep work at work, so vague can be your friend. I think most people will just shrug and move on with a non-answer.

      4. Paris Geller*

        I think a lot of attitudes about online dating are very specific to location, age, and even which app/site! Like, I have friends who would never fess to meeting someone on match or eHarmony, because those are paid sites, and I guess the idea that paying to look for love makes you desperate? (I don’t believe that, but I have friends who are embarrassed to say they use those.) Tinder depends on how people view it–some see it exclusively as a hook-up app, some see it primarily as a hook-up app, and some as a 50/50 dating/hook-up app.

    5. Marny*

      My husband and I met on Match and we’re atheists who like cats, so if you have a link to that FB group, please provide it.

    6. Jostling*

      I take some small joy in shutting down nosy people who ask that question that I met my partner on Tinder. For some reason, specifying the app gets SUCH a different reaction than a vague, “we met online.” I’m not ashamed to say that I was an avid Tinder user and met my partner on there, so if you [nosy questioner] feel weird about the answer, maybe you shouldn’t have asked the question.

      1. allathian*

        I love this! For the record, I would never use Tinder myself, mainly because it’s so focused on looks, but if you use it and have found more than just a hookup, own it. Nothing wrong in returning the awkward if someone judges you because you used Tinder. Tinder’s not for me, but it wouldn’t occur to me to judge others for using it, even if they use it to hook up. Nothing wrong with wanting to just hook up, either, as long as you’re not misleading people who’re looking for a relationship and who’ve been honest about that.

        I’ve been in a relationship with my husband for 15 years, married for 11, so it’s been a while since I last dated (we met through my BFF’s husband who worked with one of my husband’s friends). Casual dating has never been my thing, I don’t have the emotional resources to be romantically interested in more than one person at a time. I’m basically exclusive from the first date and I expect the same from a potential partner. I can’t deal with knowing a guy’s dating me and dating someone else the next day and comparing us to decide who he wants to go on a second date with, etc. Just as well I’m off the market, really…

      2. Lucien Nova*

        I absolutely love this. One of my closest friends met his girlfriend on Tinder in fact – she is the sweetest thing ever and absolutely perfect for him.

    7. DataGirl*

      I have run into people at work who I know from a 12 step program a few times over the years, so far “We have mutual friends” or “oh, we’ve known each other a long time”… has always worked. Maybe the people I know just aren’t as nosy?

    8. Jennifer Juniper*

      That would backfire with me! I am a genuine, certified, born crazy cat lady. And I’ve always been interested in atheism. So, if we ever meet, I’d ask for more details on the Facebook group!

    9. an infinite number of monkeys*

      I have to laugh at being embarrassed to admit meeting on a dating site. My husband and I probably met in the most embarrassing possible way as far as this particular community goes – we worked together in a small work group, reporting to the same manager!

      He swears he came across me on OKCupid at some point, when we were just coworkers, a few years before we started dating, though.

  2. Margaret Mitchell*

    “How do you know each other?”

    I’d be suspicious that the other person told your co-worker or at least hinted about how you and the person knew each other. Why would the co-worker ask you and not the other person?

    1. Anon for this one*

      I could see how that might not come up in the first conversation (that your colleague had with your kink group friend), and then the colleague thought about it when they were talking with you. I have also been involved with kink groups, and I never mentioned that I knew someone from there unless I had a plausible (and pre-agreed on) reason to give other people. Otherwise, just don’t mention it. I would be annoyed with the kink group friend for saying anything in the first place.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, I’m surprised nobody else has brought this up. I wouldn’t ever admit to knowing somebody if I didn’t want to explain where I knew them from. I’d be mortified to think that maybe the colleague got the whole story from the acquaintance and is just asking me to see if I squirm. And so squirm I certainly would if I thought that!

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I don’t think the question is really that out of line. They might have been wondering in what work context they knew each other. That’s where my head would go at first.

      For an answer though (especially if you don’t know if the other guy gave a specific cover story like the OP’s ‘university’ I’d go with the old vague “around” answer.

    3. Smalltalker*

      I was the questioner-coworker in this exact situation once.

      Me: “I have to get New Employee Jane in Accounting to look up some numbers for me. Does anyone know her?”
      Fellow Colleague in the teapot manufacturing department: “No, but when I was having coffee with Our Favorite Teapot Painter Freelancer Marie, she mentioned that she knows New Jane socially. Small world!”

      Me later, making chit-chat with New Jane as she looks up the numbers: “Oh, I hear you know Freelancer Marie, our department works with her all the time. Small world! How do you know her?”
      New Jane: “From . . . around.” Followed by a prim none-of-your-business-nosy-Nancy look.

      I get along fine with New Jane and don’t think either better or worse of her for the exchange, but it was such a not-casual answer to a casual question that I do remember it every single time I see her, and I find myself wondering what was up with that. Bad breakup? Illegal arms exchange on the dark web? Beetle Bailey cosplay?

      In short, the more offhand and unruffled you can be when you toss off your vague answer, the better.

        1. Artemesia*

          When getting training for working with people living with HIV there was a lot of stress on never acknowledging them in public unless they greeted us. No one wants some person to have to explain to their mother how they know you when you run into them at the mall.

        2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          Nah, accountants are supposed to add, no treatment required (unless the power to multiply becomes too odd, so they might need some division to get at the root of the problem. )
          Sorry, couldn’t resist…

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I am intrigued by Beetle Bailey cosplay. Are there any openings available? I don’t insist on being Sergeant Snorkel, at least not at first.

        1. Smalltalker*

          :D New Jane wouldn’t say, but Freelancer Marie says they’re in the market for a new Otto (apparently the current one misses too many events because of conflicts with Furry meetups).

  3. OtherSide*

    So many interesting post.
    For #1. There are so many really cool option for IM now that are good for people who don’t want to be interrupted constantly but still need to stay connected. But this employee has to be addressed for other reasons, per Alison’s suggestions.

    For #3. It’s infuriating that people are getting bent out of shape over this. This isn’t 2nd grade reading groups…but even if it was, you love and respect the people who you know best. Perhaps THEIR managers are not as behind them as you are behind your group? While I agree with Alison that giving them praise may help hurt feelings, I think the person who is not speaking to OP3 needs to be told to cut the crap and not be childish over what was a well intended misspeak.

    For #5. Even when I worked retail in a college and hired minimum wage, part time/seasonal I expected people to not accept on the spot. Everyone has a life, everyone has options. If an employer recoils at hearing that a potential new hire wants to discuss with roommate/mom/significant other/child….whatever the situation should be a red flag.

  4. Alexis Rose*

    Regarding talking over a job offer with a spouse, I agree that its one of those “goes without saying” kind of things, most people in a relationship with another adult in that way are going to need to talk about the logistics of a new job (commute is longer/shorter, daycare is now not on the route to work, won’t be getting paid lunches any more, hours are different. etc). I think applicants are potentially introducing new information into the hiring process that doesn’t need to be there and could be used against them (e.g. a man saying he wants to talk to his husband first could be discriminated against because of a homophobic hiring manager, even though its not relevant to the job at all). When I’m an applicant i just ask for a couple of days to sleep on it. That said, it should not at all factor into a hiring manager’s decision making whatsoever. Even if someone jokingly says they want to discuss with their cat, its not relevant to their ability to do a job. Talking something over with a spouse is a totally normal thing, even if it would probably be a little safer for the applicant to not bring up marital status at all.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      I also think that this is one of those things that people unfamiliar with the professional workplace need to be told explicitly: That “I’d like a few days to think this over. Is it ok if I get back to you by [2 days out]?” often *means* I want to talk this over with spouse/family.

      Because what are you gonna do during the 2 days? Walk along the riverbanks and stare into the distance while visualizing your future life? Well maybe, but usually it’s something really concrete, like “this job is a great opportunity professionally, but it would mean I could never take off July again and we would not be able to [participate in long-standing family activity that takes place in July” or “this job is less money than we expected out of it but there are reasons to accept it anyway such as X and Y” or “this job is a LOT of money for us but we might have to move in a year and then [child] would lose the therapist who has made a huge improvement to her disability” … or 100 other things that are way TMI for your interviewer.

      1. Undine*

        Exactly that. I have a rule I always sleep on an offer (at least), not because I need to sit down with a spreadsheet, but my unconscious needs time to catch up. Long walks while letting it spin around in my mind is what is required.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yup. I don’t care if you’re writing a cost/benefit program, praying over it, talking to your parents/spouse/pet – job offers can be kind of complicated and impact other people. Giving people a few days to think it over is mutually beneficial and leads to fewer backouts, too.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Does it need to be said? No.
      Is it a problem to say? Also no. If someone is important enough in your life for you to marry them, you had better not make major life choices without consulting them.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I think the worry is that it might come across as “asking for permission” rather than needing someone you trust to act as a sounding board or checking whether they’d be OK with you travelling more than you’d originally understood.

  5. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    OP 3, I’ll bet people were reacting to more than just the remark about who works hardest. There is probably a pattern of you not interacting very well with the staff of other departments that was confirmed for them by this remark.

    To be honest, your statement, “Obviously, I will never try to praise my staff in staff meetings anymore since people are highly sensitive” demonstrates that you have some maturing to do in your role. A seasoned manager will try to figure out what went wrong rather than just taking their toys home and locking their bedroom door. A good manager will consider the feelings of those others, not just their own staff.

    Try on a little empathy sometime. It will make your own job easier.

    1. Former call centre worker*

      I also thought there was possibly more going on there and that LW may not the telling the full story. As they said that multiple people were offended, it seems more likely that LW did more to upset them than they said, than a whole bunch of people all overreacting in the same way.

      1. Bostonian*

        Yeah, based on OP’s retelling of the whole thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if people didn’t accept OP’s apology because it was actually a non-apology (“sorry you got offended!”).

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, there has to be more behind this. We had someone do a presentation that was supposed to be about how the organization worked, and it was pretty cut and dry except for the bit about his group, where he went on and on about How Much Work they all did. And while it’s true they do a lot of behind the scenes work that’s not appreciated, everyone already knew how he had little respect for those outside his group. Also, the audience was mostly blue collar making half of what his white collar group made, so….

      Or maybe they’re a group of overly-sensitive snowflakes, but then: know your audience. You don’t joke about your superiority to people with an inferiority complex.

    3. JSPA*

      That’s reading a lot into the spaces of a letter.

      Idiomatically, some people used “the -est” as a praise focused, general superlative, while others stick to the usage that it’s a literal comparative superlative.

      If OP had said, “I’d like to give a shout out to my team, they’re just the best!” nobody would have gotten bent out of shape. OP was intending to use “hardest working” in that sense.

      But unlike “just the best!” where the default is to hear the idiomatic usage, the default for many people is still to hear the literal usage in other superlatives. (The “just” and the “shout out” also help the framing. If OP had said, “they’re just the hardest working team ever, and I am so glad to have them,” it would have been clearly a shout-out, not slagging the other teams.)

      In comparison, if OP including a comparison-focused term–“they’re the hardest working team here!”–which is a really common sports diction (hardest working team in the league!) and thus something someone could drop in thoughtlessly–it’s going to land as a literal comparison.

      1. Batgirl*

        I agree. Maybe they are ridiculously sensitive all the time. Maybe this is the only time they’ve overreacted. The OP is likely to know that better than we.

      2. OtherSide*

        I agree. The OP is just as likely to work in an overall toxic environment as they are to be tone deaf. While there have been some managers that come here in need of anything from a gentle heart-to-heart all the way to a swift kick in the hind end, the vast majority of posters Alison selects are in the right AND she has warned against trying to find fault with invented narratives.

      3. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I think that the op meant my team is the hardest working team I’ve had. That’s what I would have taken away, not that the other teams were bad in any way

      4. fhgwhgads*

        True, also a reason why vague compliments aren’t particularly great. If I’m on the team being complimented, this is no more useful a compliment than “good”. If I’m on the other teams, I could react the way the others did (although I probably wouldn’t unless, say, I knew my team and had been working their asses off and regularly held up by the other team in question, or they had a reputation for lollygagging or whatever – so it’s not the comparison to my own team that’s the real rub, it’s the comparison to my perception of the team being praised.). Or I might just roll my eyes. Or I might not care at all and just think “manager is pleased with their own team”. But the person doing the complimenting hasn’t really communicated anything.
        It makes me think of the criteria for performance reviews: the stuff has to be specific (and measurable). It wouldn’t fly for my manager to write “hard-working” (hardest or not). They’d have to cite something I actually did to make them think that. To me this LW’s scenario is really not at all about the people who got offended or by how much, or whether their wording was dismissive of the others. It just wasn’t a great compliment to begin with.

      5. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

        Agreed. And I’d add that tone of voice makes all the difference between conveying light-hearted hyperbole vs. literally “No one here works as hard as my team.” It seems that OP#3 intended the former, but others in the room heard the latter (for whatever reason).

        Past behavior could certainly play a role in how people reacted. I once worked with someone, Cersei, who repeatedly put down her peers’ work not only internally (irritating, but whatever) but also when speaking with people outside our unit (truly damaging). For example, a unit that was looking at bringing in an outside consultant to teach tea cultivation asked Cersei about an internal training program in tea cultivation taught by a peer. In a meeting that included this peer, Cersei told us how she had explained that our internal tea cultivation program was taught with a very traditional approach, so the other unit should go with the consultant if they wanted a more innovative approach. I mean–Cersei’s role was breeding llamas. She had never sat in on her peer’s tea cultivation training, had never been involved with it in any capacity–she truly had no informational basis for trying to answer this question. A few years down the road, she burst out one day about how disappointed and hurt she felt that all her colleagues seemed to have closer working relationships with each other than with her. Surprise!!

    4. OtherSide*

      I think you’re reading way too much into the spaces between the words.

      In what workplace is it ever ok to freeze out a coworker because you don’t care for what they said? I’m not talking about blocking out a coworker because of hate speech (which would be something for HR) but because of pure bluster?

      It could just as easily be a sign of a highly toxic workplace where OP3 and his team are the only functioning ones. Reacting by wanting not to praise his staff in front of the other teams could just as much be self-preservation, maturity and watching out for what he can control, than immaturity. A good, seasoned manager WILL isolate their team from toxicity when they cannot be an agent of change.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I think it does signify deeper issues within the company or at least these departments. OP’s statement, “obviously, I’ll never praise my team again,” without a qualifier like “in this manner” or “during this type of meeting” tells me that people are on edge there.

      2. Andy*

        You can praise your team without putting them in direct competition with other teams. In fact, when you are about to praise your team in front of other teams, it is generally sign of good social skills to praise what they did/achieved without comparing other teams.

        Like, aren’t managers supposed to be the ones with good social skill? Imo, both “I will never try to praise my staff in staff meetings anymore” and “everybody needs to receive a trophy” comments show that OP has own attributions toward toxic communication – OP does communicates in a toxic way.

    5. The Vulture*

      Yes, agreed – that statement plus “the more I think about it is, this is like “Everyone needs a trophy”. Like, OK Boomer, but those are not the statements of someone who has honestly reflected on whether they said something hurtful or context or how they reacted may have made things worse.

      I’m not saying everyone in this situation is definitely reasonable, but if you are so contemptuous of people for wanting praise – at least if they aren’t in your group – it’s going to come across. As it did, even in writing, so I can only imagine how it sounded in person. “The rest of you don’t work hard – and now, on top of it, you are unreasonable and want unearned praise – your bosses could’ve chimed in but they didn’t!” I think they heard you loud and clear, you just think they shouldn’t be mad at you. Well maybe they shouldn’t, but you don’t get a “didn’t intend to be rude” trophy, either.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Agreed. I don’t want to say that OP has actually created the situation, or that there is more here than they told us, there might not be. However, there are plenty of clues that indicate it would at least be a good idea for OP to take a look at the bigger picture and see if they have a habit of alienating their coworkers and this was the proverbial back breaking straw for a few of them.

        If that isn’t the case, yeah, they are really unreasonable. That really sucks and if they are making it hard to get work done because of it, you can address that. But as Allison said, you have learned here that in your office you need to watch how you phrase things, whether the reason is because they are overly sensitive or you are a little aggressive it ends up the same on that front. Don’t just petulantly decide you aren’t going to every say anything nice about your team again.

    6. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yeah, that rubbed me the wrong way as well. It made me think of guys who, when called out on creepy behavior towards women, say, “well I guess I can never talk to women again without an engraved invitation, GEEZ.”

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, so much this. I have rarely seen that sort of phrasing using in a context that wasn’t in a bad faith manner. If nothing else it makes it clear that they have not even remotely understood why other people were upset (even if it does sound like other people were overreacting) which makes it seem unlikely that any attempt at apology came across as genuine.

    7. CastIrony*

      +1 Anyone who says I’m too sensitive about something is someone I would hate working with. If OP 3 is looking for a new job, I know a workplace where their attitude would be a PERFECT culture fit.

  6. Threeve*

    I know so many awful people who try to be the lone holdout on new things just because they can. They always decide “I’m independent and I think for myself” when the reality is more “I’m an uncooperative jerk.”

    1. Anonymous at a University*

      +1 One of my colleagues advocated for a change long before COVID (livestreaming faculty meetings for people who couldn’t be there due to teaching or other duties) and then when it was implemented, said that it shouldn’t have been because “What if some people would prefer not to attend but also not to livestream?” When I said the livestream was archived so people could watch it later, she just said, “That’s not a good idea either.” Turning against every option, including one she wanted in the first place, for no real reason came across as, “I’m contrary because.”

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Can confirm behavioral pattern! There is a small subset of people (often, but not always faculty) at universities who are opposed to whatever it is the majority wants to do (usually some combination of logistical, philosophical, or procedural grounds). If they suddenly find themselves in the majority opinion, they pivot because they’re uncomfortable in that role.

        1. OtherSide*

          Can also confirm this pattern.
          I worked at the bookstore. We developed several strategies for getting book orders in order to help the school comply with supplies and materials laws.
          One tenured professor (head of his department) was emphatic that bookstore staff should just visit the individual offices rather than email. (I believe his exact words were something along the lines of “real people communicate face to face”). Don’t expect department leads to help, etc. He also stated we should drop the “prize” (coffee from dunks) for the department who got in 95% of their book orders first because we were infantalizing them.

          Well, next term we implemented this procedure. We went to his office and he proceeded to ream out the poor student worker “for something he could have done over email”…..then when he did send his department’s book orders in (because that was what good leaders do?) and thus getting him at 100% compliance he complained to the president of the university that “the bookstore had a grudge against him because we didn’t get them free coffee”

          My manager and I just sat in the office and stared at each other for a good 10 minutes.

    2. Teammates suck!*

      Totally agree. I am an unofficial team leader of my little group, which is a problem in itself, I am aware. Our division has lost a ton of people to retirement and my manager is stretched thin so I often relay (with their permission) information from big picture projects that I am involved in and the rest of the team is not.

      Nearly everything I have implemented has been met with roadblocks with one person, nothing is good, change is bad, he always wants to be the one implementing changes HE finds, never what anyone else does. He’s also the most junior in our team!

      We needed to track projects.. this format is too confusing, there are too many buttons, I need simpler things, I want to just write things down instead.. Great can you provide the written notes.. no I don’t want to share that. *sigh* So we have no idea what he is doing. We implemented IM software..”I cant keep up with the text, so I’m not even going to bother”. Followed by “Why didn’t I know about XYZ??” immediately after an hour long discussion on it via IM, and demands that I cc him on emails to the big project leads (NO!).

      Repeatedly, he goes over my head to the person who I work with directly on the big picture projects asking for updates or “clarification” she often replies.. why isn’t “Teammates Suck!” telling you about these things?
      “oh I don’t know, I guess he doesn’t want me to know about it”


  7. laughingrachel*

    For the first LW, I hope you actually have the authority to manage your former peer. Lots of times, newer/first level managers aren’t given the authority to fire/manage people out. Would that change the advice much though? Just instead of managing them out yourself, you have to go to someone above you and make the case that this employee is too disruptive to stay. If that’s the case, then I recommend documenting everything!! Good practice anyway, but I would start noting every little minutia, like eye-rolls, or attitude.

    For 4 and 5, vague is the way to go for sure.

  8. Zombeyonce*

    “My employees keep socializing with their old boss”

    I had to laugh at the list of complaints OP had here, it was such a “one of these things is not like the other” list. It all sounded like a new boss jealous of time spent w/an old boss, but then they dropped the bomb that the staff let him look a computer in the office?! First of all, why is that even happening? Secondly, that’s a very different thing than hanging out socially. I hope OP doesn’t bring up the social engagements when they tell the staff they can’t let old boss look at current work, like “I don’t care that you spend time with him outside of work but he can’t be in the office” because that could muddy the waters and make them sound pouty when they should only be addressing this important confidentiality issue.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think the social stuff was context for why (on earth) they let him look at the computer. It’s because they’re friends and both things are linked, but OP wants to criticise one thing without criticising the other.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I agree that the much bigger issue is lack of boundaries between them and this old boss and the office. I would discuss that with them/IT immediately. This is why some companies implement very strict visitor rules. If they let him see/work on their computers, what other professional lines have they crossed?

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I agree with this. My former boss retired, I replaced them. Former boss stayed in touch with others in the company and got word of changes I was making, etc. Next thing I know, former boss is emailing me photos of documents she has seen, and information on our website that she thinks won’t work, is an idea she tried before but couldn’t get approved so I shouldn’t try, etc. It stopped after about 12 months but if there is an inkling of that happening here I can see where new manager is frustrated.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, I agree here, keep it to a blanket, “former coworkers can’t look at our stuff, guys. That’s a big security issue.” That’s the best route to take. It also covers any future situations that may come up. One would hope there aren’t future issues, but, well, based on this situation I don’t think you can assume that.

      If the team says, “oh, but he’s cool, we’re friends!” Then you can go to the, “that’s great, I’m glad you all still get along, but it isn’t about that. The once anyone stops working here we can no longer share business related stuff with them. It’s a security thing, and it applies to all former coworkers.”

  9. Reality Check*

    #1 I wonder if your direct report is just resentful about being managed by a former peer. I agree with the advice though.

    1. Ama*

      That could be it, but some people are also just resistant to change. I do wonder if the OP should look at the language they have been using and make sure that it’s very clear that all employees on the team are expected to implement these changes — it could be that the announcement says “we’re implementing chat to better communicate with the remote employees” and employee thinks “well, I don’t really talk to them so I don’t need to do this.”

      It could also be true that the employee is intentionally picking on any vagueness in the OP’s words to pretend they don’t think they have to change (I had a coworker who used to do this and it was highly annoying — all our policies were twice as long as they needed to be because if a situation wasn’t explicitly spelled out in the policy he would claim he didn’t know he was violating policy even if any reasonable person would have at least asked for clarification).

  10. Heidi*

    It sounds like OP2 is the serious boss that was brought in to replace an ineffectual but “fun” boss. It’s possible that having to get a staff to be productive and observe boundaries will generate resentment if that’s not what they’re used to. I had a friend who had to do this, and in the end, the employees were glad to have a manager who gave them accurate information about their benefits and had realistic expectations for project timelines and such.

    1. Batgirl*

      I mean, this legitimately would drive anyone batshit, wouldnt it? Youre the one who gets the job done, but everyone still wants fun dad.

    2. Andy*

      I mean, we had new ineffective new manager coming and she would bad-mount the person she replaced all the time. The old manager had good relationships with us while the new one had very rocky ones. But, it was not because she would be good effective manager replacing fun ineffective one, really.

  11. Observer*

    #5 – If you are the employee, I don’t think it matters either way. If you are the employer, please do NOT make this an issue. Normal people have commitments to others and it’s perfectly reasonable to take that into consideration. And a significant other is someone who DOES have standing to have input into whether or not someone takes a job on the one hand and having a SO is common enough that it should not be notable. So, mentioning that someone wants to discuss the offer with someone who has standing to have input on the matter is perfectly reasonable.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Especially since the job will affect the other person. If they have to move, or if there is a commute they may have to talk about logistics ( like I get the car and you take bus since it’s only a 30 minute ride for you but it would be 1 hour 30 minute ride for me. Or talking about child care).

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Moreover, if you are the employee and this is a problem, it’s a red flag about whether you should accept the job at all. Even if you thought all along you likely would accept the job if offered, it’s common to get final details at the time of the offer that could influence whether or not you end up accepting.

      You SHOULD need and want to discuss changes in salary, benefits, retirement, hours, time commitment, commute, location, child care, vacation, leave, et cetera with the other people who are affected.

  12. That Girl from Marketing*

    LW3: Whenever I get a compliment about my team’s work, I always say, “Best team in the league.” It comes off as a sports reference, and I still get to brag on my team.

  13. Wintergreen*

    Regarding #1. This happens regularly with my boss with a coworker at another branch that she oversees. But she won’t address it! It drives me nuts because she will insist that I implement whatever process it is, coworker refuses to use it, the new process breaks down because it’s not being used properly, then then I have to change course (again and again) because we are going try something new the boss implements in the hopes that coworker will actually change. The biggest problem is coworker acts all enthusiastic and go-go-go when new processes are suggested but refuses to change. This is one of the biggest frustrations I have with my job.

  14. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “Obviously, I will never try to praise my staff in staff meetings anymore ”

    Figure out how to praise your staff in moderate amounts, in ways that do not imply anything about other people. It’s not that hard. “I want to thank my team for the hard work on project X last week>”

    1. Autumnheart*

      And, NOT praising one’s team about their work is, at best, a morale-killer, and at worst a career-killer for the members of that team. They bust their butts on all kinds of initiatives, but nobody ever knows it because LW offended people in a meeting once? Like…y’all need to hug it out for the sake of your reports and your productivity.

    2. Wintergreen*

      I don’t think the OP was that out of line. Yes, she could have worded her comment a little better but the “offended” people are WAY too sensitive if they are taking it to the point of not even talking to OP. To such a degree that I wouldn’t have even volunteered an apology as it’s almost a deliberate attempt to be offended, which offends me!

      Your comment about “It’s not that hard.” is just as, if not more, offensive than an ill worded, light-hearted, off-hand praising of her team at a company meeting.

      I will say that the entire workplace sounds toxic by the way the OP described it. The fact that no other manager or director there would volunteer a good word about their team ?!?

      1. Annony*

        I don’t think the other managers not chiming in was a sign of toxicity. What were they supposed to do? Yell “No, my team is the hardest working here!” It seems like anything they said short of that would feel lukewarm, especially since they didn’t have a shout out prepared. I think the OP created an awkward situation and then people overreacted to that. The OP was insulting to the other people in the room, intentionally or not. People have every right to feel miffed. Not talking to the OP is going too far though.

    3. Joielle*

      Yep. Just say “They work really hard” instead of “they work the hardest.” The whole thing is silly, but the easiest way to avoid it in the future is for the OP to make a tiny modification to their behavior.

  15. Lolly and the Adverbs*

    #1. This reminded me of a scenario in the office for the last week. We have a long-term employee who frequently likes to march to his own drummer. Last week his manager asked him to take a box of llamas that we received and sort them. The manager specifically said to only take out the llamas with the green vests on. He stated that he had to ship out the green vested llamas to Betty Lou in our satellite office by the end of the day. (I work down the hall from manager and heard the whole conversation. There was no doubt about what the manager wanted.) Half an hour later, employee comes back to manager. He wants to know about the pink vested llamas. He thought that the specific shade of pink would conflict with the other color tones that we are using in our ad campaign. Manager starts to lose her cool, but says please do not worry about the pink vested llamas right now, your focus should be solely on the green vested llamas. This pattern continues for most of the day. Manager totally loses it and starts shouting orders at employee. Employee has hearing issues so the volume of manager’s instructions don’t affect the employee, but the rest of us hear them quite well. Grand boss steps in towards the end of the day and reiterates to employee what the manager needed done, happily goes back to manager and says, “I’ve set him straight.” That was Thursday of last week, the green vested llamas didn’t get sent to Betty Lou until Monday.

    2. Company has strict policies about former employees. Anyone that comes for a visit gets escorted to the conference room and is never allowed to linger around the office (out of concern that they might get llama ideas from what we’re currently working on).

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      This sounds like someone I work with. I’m our team lead, so I am not her manager, but I organize our work, assign tasks, follow up, provide feedback, etc. She honestly makes me question my own sanity sometimes. Things that seem so clear to me end up turning into issues. “I’ll take care of X; you take care of Y.” Next thing I know, she tells me she finished X and wants to know what to do next.

      1. winter*

        I have one of those. It really grates. (Only that he won’t have finished X Or Y, but Z or nothing and then ask what he can do next.)

  16. SomebodyElse*

    #3’s coworkers/other teams managers sound real fun to work with.

    Honestly, I’d let it go and continue to praise your team when appropriate. I’ve been known to say “I was lucky enough to be able to manage the best team in the company”

    It’s about 50/50 eyeroll to agreement in response.

    1. Nopenopenope*

      “It’s about 50/50 eyeroll to agreement in response.”

      …do you think that enforces your idea as a good one? There are SO many other ways of complimenting someone/a group of someones without phrasing it as a backhanded insult to others I’d have to wonder about the people skills of anyone who dug in their heels on such an easy fix.

  17. Dandy it is*

    Ugh. The “how do you two know each other” question led me into a bad spot. A former coworker/friend reached out to me and asked if I knew a particular person (co-worker) with no context. Well, I got pretty excited and asked the person they were asking about how they knew them. Yeah, they applied for a job at my old workplace. It ended up being a whole thing. I thought it was a same softball league kind of thing not an on the DL check. I didn’t have a good time working at my prior place of an employment though I loved the people which my former coworker knew. There wouldn’t be anyway I would have encouraged anyone to work there at that time.
    Also there was the time that my cousin brought a date to a family member’s wedding. I asked them how they met. They froze and looked at each other in panic. My response laughing: “Soooo, Grinder? You really need to come up with something like meeting via mutual friends if this is how you are going to react to this easily expected question.” About three minutes later, my uncle called across the table and asked how they met. I looked at them and then my uncle and responded “They met via mutual friends.” The three of us couldn’t stop laughing.

  18. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP 5, talking over a job offer with your spouse or SO doesn’t – and shouldn’t! – raise eyebrows. Job changes affect more than the new hire: new work schedule, new benefits plans, maybe even a new region to live. It’s not an unusual request, and you’re fine if you mention it.

    And you’re fine if you don’t! Taking a day or so to consider the final offer is fairly normal, too.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Even if it won’t affect the SO at all, you’re entitled to discuss the job with someone, use them as a sounding board.

  19. Aquawoman*

    I see the point about LW1 but the example she uses seems super picky. I would generally not dictate how my staff communicate with one another, and it seems a little micromanagery to do so. I would suggest it — hey, we’re finding it really useful to use Slack, I think y’all should try it, but if they’d rather call someone or email them, why is that my concern? So if every request the person is resisting is about HOW to do the job in ways that aren’t impactful, I kind of get the passive resistance.

    1. Wintergreen*

      I don’t think it sounds picky. Sometimes it’s best that everyone use the same program to make sure things don’t get missed. I would think that the way people communicate would be even more important when there are some remote workers and some office workers on the same team. If the team uses IM to communicate except for Sue who insists on using email, than Sue is going to miss information, slow things down and cause problems for the rest of the team. I would think that would fall under the manager’s purview to say everyone needs to use IM, including Sue.

    2. Observer*

      Not picky at all. There are a lot of good reasons to dictate what communications tools people use. Do you need records? Interoperability and IT support are another pair of issues.

      If I like Slack, and you like text, and Suzy down the hall likes WhatsApp and Jim upstairs likes yet a different tool you might as well revert to smoke signals and conversation by appointment only.

    3. Talk to them*

      +1. The employee may have had a good reason for not wanting to use it. (Or they may not have… or, they have a reason they thought was good, but might not have been). The point is- talk to the employee.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah. I was that employee at my previous job. We were supposed to use an IM system amongst ourselves. However, project managers would see me online, and ping a quick message “hey Rebel are you free?”. Quick for them, loaded for me. If I say yes they might try to palm something off on me that I don’t want to do, or can’t do easily. And mostly, I had work to do but could probably fit something else in, so the answer was usually “it depends”. I would then have to ask them how long the project was, what the subject matter was, was the deadline was, before I’d be willing to admit that I could fit it in. Getting this info from them was, as the French put it, like pulling worms out of their nose.
        Thing is, before anything was official, they had to send me an email giving details such as subject matter, length of project and deadline, which I would have to formally reply to, as per the ISO process.
        So I decided to not bother with the IM system at all, and I’d get the official email straight off, with all the info I needed right there, and I could assess feasibility much more efficiently.
        I explained this to my manager when he accused me of being bolshie during an annual review, and he didn’t make me use the IM after all (although the “bolshie” blot remained on my file).

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          Oh, my pet peeve!
          We use Teams a lot, and I tend to IM people like “Wakeen, do you have 5 minutes for me to talk about rescheduling the llama trail meet. Urgent, unfortunately-can we do it by 1500 today?”
          This way we can be both prepared and efficient.
          When I get “Kuddel, do you have time?” I have no idea if I need to plan for 5 minutes or a week…

    4. Nopenopenope*

      Nah, one person insisting on communicate a different way means everyone has to, and defeat the purpose of programs like that. I’ve worked in offices where people wouldn’t read their emails where everyone else was using emails. It was disruptive and annoying and frankly, was sheer laziness on their part which caused extra work for us.

  20. cubone*

    LW #3 is such a fascinating case one. I don’t disagree with Allison that there’s some intensity in the reactions that seems unwarranted, but there’s a HUGE difference between “my team works incredibly hard!” And “my team works the hardest!”. Preferring the first one isn’t “everyone deserves a trophy”, it means the second one is being heard as you stating your team deserves the biggest trophy.

    This is also so dependent on the context of your workplace. Is it highly competitive? Is recognition good across the board or varied from team to team? Is collaboration and teamwork across teams a clear expectation? LW doesn’t need to tiptoe every time they compliment their team, but understanding some of these factors would greatly impact the context of why this was received the way it was.

    Lastly, as a manager of managers I would absolutely be discussing with my managers if they said something like this in front of other teams. I’m in non-profit and I find this to be a VERY big problem. I wouldn’t assume ill intent but I would be stamping it out the moment I see it. I’ve sat in staff meetings where a fundraising staff member asked for applause following a big grant announcement since “our team is the reason you have jobs”. And then at another time had a service provider (same NFP) say “well, our department does the REAL work.”

    Was this a toxic environment much greater than what LW 3 described? Absolutely ….. but those behaviours and beliefs grew from managers who encouraged/allowed them. Just saying.

  21. Colin R.*

    #5 I found that “I have to discuss this with my wife” is a great final negotiating tactic. It’s like Columbo’s “my Captain needs this form filled out”. I say, “I’m good with this, but my wife is a little nervous. “

  22. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    LW3 I don’t think there was anything wrong with what you said, so there must be something weird in your office culture, or your tone made it sound like you were serious instead of light-hearted. Your comment was no different than how everybody’s dog is “the best dog in the world!” or everybody’s Dad is “#1 Dad” on Father’s Day or every newborn baby is “the most beautiful baby in the world” to it’s parents. This is a convention in our society that is understood to be a personal expression of one’s personal feelings, not an objective judgment. It should have been taken as your personal appreciation of your team and not an objective comparison or criticism of other teams. That fact that people took it that way is odd. Maybe you could send out an email explaining that and apologizing?

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