2 of my coworkers spend all their time together and don’t do any work

A reader writes:

I work in a training environment. One of my colleagues, who I’ll call Nikki, joined us 12 months ago. Jack works in an adjacent department a few floors down. They are both trainers but Nikki is still unqualified (this is a huge problem but not the point of this particular query) so she’s limited in what she can do. She has around four hours out of the classroom a day to complete other tasks plus 30 minutes lunch. I’m guessing Jack has similar time commitments.

Without exaggeration, Jack and Nikki spend almost all day everyday together. I’m talking disappearing for hours during the work day. They are either talking at various seating areas around the building or chatting together at their respective desks. Jack comes into our office at least twice a day and I assume Nikki is in his office as often. Nikki will leave to pick up her son at 3pm and I’ll see her talking with Jack near the car park at 4pm when I’m on my way home. Nikki takes Jack to her classes, and vice versa (on the pretence of improving their teaching) and he attends all her one-on-one meetings with managers. (In my organization anyone can take a support person to a meeting.)

Jack is married with kids and Nikki is single with a child and Jack is a family friend of Nikki’s. Many months ago Nikki requested during a staff meeting that “rumors about her relationship with Jack” cease. Turned out someone had bumped into Jack’s wife and extended sympathy assuming they’d split which infuriated Jack and Nikki, although probably not as much as it did Jack’s wife. The thing is though, this is the most intensive relationship I’ve ever come across, even if they are just friends. They are literally NEVER apart. It’s freakin’ weird. It would be weird even if they were married. What on earth do they talk about for five or more hours a day?!

The effect of this friendship is that Nikki doesn’t get any work done outside the few hours of teaching and I assume Jack doesn’t either. She complains to Jack about work (I’ve overheard these conversations) and he is privy to everything that happens in our office and at her meetings. Nobody wants to teach with Nikki as Jack is always in the room and it’s awkward. Staff are creeped out that Jack is always hanging around and Nikki’s slack attitude and lack of work is incredibly annoying. Her attitude is generally arrogant and entitled. She’s made no attempt to finish her mandatory training qualification and she’s not an outstanding trainer anyway.

I’m senior to Nikki, but don’t have any managerial responsibilities. I’ve raised these issues with two managers so far (both manage Nikki and me). I suggested they work with Jack’s manager to ensure Nikki and Jack are both teaching more often so they can’t attend each other’s classes/talk on company time and they increase their general workloads with clear deadlines and expected outputs. Nikki’s manager doesn’t sit in the office so hasn’t seen the behavior directly. Nikki cries and says she has a mental health condition if called out on anything and I think they’re scared of her. Plus Jack attends all meetings for that added layer of awkward. As someone with a mental health condition, I really do empathize and I don’t want to come across as unfeeling, but this seems ludicrous. (FYI, the mental health issue isn’t formally recorded, as in our country this an industry where if it were disclosed formally, there are medicals and all sorts … so people are loathe to disclose. In Nikki’s case she want the accommodations without the downsides of providing evidence. I believe her, but you can’t have it both ways.)

The first manager said he knew about the issue and had tasked the second manager with speaking to Nikki a few weeks prior. The second manager said he hadn’t done it but would speak to the other manager about speaking to Nikki. In short, they both said that what was happening was ridiculous, but put the responsibility for actually having the conversation onto the other and neither actually did it. Both also said that Jack’s boss needed to speak to him too, to which I agreed, but it didn’t sound like it’s been mentioned to Jack’s manager. It was almost a “it’s unfair we have to fix this and not his boss.” There is a manager above them who manages both Nikki and Jack’s managers, but not sure if he’s aware or not.

To date nothing has been done to address the issues. What next? Is there anything else I/we the colleagues could do or suggest or do we have to put up with this forever? (Or until Jack’s wife finds out.)

First and foremost, I think you’ve got to get very clear in your head about the work impact of Jack and Nikki’s behavior versus what’s just weird or annoying. That’s not to say this doesn’t sound very weird! It does. But it’s going to be more effective for you to zero in on the specific impact it’s having.

Are other people having to pick up Nikki’s work because she spends all her time socializing with Jack? Is she skipping out on meetings or projects that she should be working on? Is their constant chatting making it hard to focus on your work? Is it a problem that no one wants to teach with Nikki because Jack will be there, and if so what are those specific problems? Is Nikki’s lack of progress on finishing her training qualifications resulting in more work for other people?

If it’s none of that, and it’s really just that it’s annoying as hell to watch Nikki slacking off every day and getting away with it … well, no argument there. It sounds annoying as hell to me too. And it’s reasonable to raise that once to your management, given the impact it’s probably having on your morale. But you’ve raised it, they haven’t acted, and you think they’re afraid of her. If you can’t present specific ways it’s affecting your team’s work, there might not be a lot else you can do here … and might need to accept that you have a slacker on your team and your management doesn’t care. Will that affect the rest of the team’s motivation? Yes. Is it bad for morale? Yes. Is it crappy management? Yes. Do people eventually get fed up and leave over this kind of thing? Yes. But if you can’t point to specific impacts on the work and they don’t care about the rest of it, your options are pretty limited.

But if you can come up with a list of the specific problems Nikki and Jack’s behavior is causing, then go back and talk to the first manager, the one who said he was asking the other manager to speak with Nikki. He thought that was worth doing, so go back and let him know it hasn’t happened, and clearly lay out the problems on the list you came up with.

Don’t count on this accomplishing anything since all of the managers involved in this seem weirdly passive and uninterested in managing, but it’s an easy enough step that you might as well try it. And sometimes “it’s causing problems X, Y, and Z — how do you want me to handle that?” will move even passive managers to action.

That’s especially true if you then go back to your manager every single time Nikki’s behavior causes a problem and ask for their help in handling it. If you let your boss feel the full burden of Nikki’s impact, he may get tired of having to solve the problems she’s causing and may actually act. Right now it sounds like both managers are shielded from that (possibly because you and your colleagues absorb it all). Try moving the burden over to them and see if that changes anything.

You can also be more direct with Nikki and Jack about the things you have standing to speak to them directly on. If they’re camped out chatting where you’re trying to work, you can say, “I’m having trouble focusing with you two chatting — would you mind moving somewhere else?” (Say that often enough and they’ll probably stop doing it around you.) If the prospect of teaching with Nikki comes up and you don’t want Jack there, say, “I’d do this class with you if we can agree Jack won’t attend — it’s awkward to have him always sitting in.” If she then declines, you can decline too. If she says something rude or arrogant, laugh or say “wow, that sounded rude” or otherwise call it out.

Some of this may help. Ultimately, though, I think you’re looking for stronger management than what your company seems to have. You’re not wrong to want that! But I’d give up on expecting them to act assertively or with common sense, because they’ve shown that’s not likely.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. ZSD*

    What brought me up short in this letter is that Jack is present *while Nikki is supposed to be teaching.* That’s the part that seems utterly bizarre to me. Are the trainees external clients or employees from other departments in the same company? Either way, shouldn’t someone have noted by now that it’s really weird to have a rando sitting in on classes he’s neither taking nor teaching?

    1. LilyP*

      The comment about “improving their teaching” makes it sound like having another trainer sit in on your class to observe and learn from you and/or give you notes/suggestions is a thing that happens, although I’m sure people normally don’t do it for every single class.

      1. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

        Pre-qualification it was normal for me to have a senior instructor sit in on every class I delivered to ensure consistency and to help me address any queries I hadn’t yet covered in my own learning environment. This was adult non-academic learning (think first aid, IT, woodwork etc. Very much not compulsory education). In my case it was one of two senior instructors, and whoever wasn’t auditing me would then mentor me for the next session.
        Not sure if OP is describing the same environment, but I would say the friendly relationship outside of work would impact Jack’s ability to effectively audit Nikki if their trainees are external clients.

        1. kbeers0su*

          I agree with this. If their relationship is so close (close enough that Jack is her support person for any management meetings) how can he provide unbiased feedback to her about her training?

          I also have to wonder at the dynamics of that relationship. Did he help get her hired? Why is he going to every management meeting with her? And why does she need someone at every management meeting? Is he as willing a participant in all this as she is? Or does he feel stuck because of their outside work relationship? I would be really interested to hear the conversation between Jack and his supervisor if the supervisor ever sat down and asked about all this.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I wonder if part of the reason she’s dilly-dallying on finishing her certification is that as long as she’s not done with it, she has a reason for him to be there. But once she completes it, that’d no longer be cool.

    2. singularity*

      Although this is the education field directly, it might help if Jack and Nikki’s managers start making *them* document these things. Make them justify themselves in having to spent their time that way. What did you learn from observing this class? What was different from the previous class? If they can’t justify needing to sit in every single one of each other’s classes, it can give the managers something specific to point to as a reason for not letting it continue.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think that approaching it from a resources expended (why are we always needing to spend this much employee time with just these two trainers) may be a more productive approach. It may not have sunk in to management how much it is costing them to always have Jack in Every Single Training that Nikki conducts (even when there is another trainer in the class co-teaching with Nikki).

    3. WellRed*

      He’s not a rando though, he’s another trainer and those in the class may think this is normal.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Oh agreed, shadowing the trainer is a very good idea. However, I think it’s also important to shadow more than just one trainer so that you can see multiple different ways of handling issues.

          1. GreenDoor*

            Shadowing is helpful, sure. But it sounds like this has been going on for a while, now and she’s not advanced as a trainer. So is he really there to mentor and give feedback….or is he just there so they remain glued at the hip?

            OP….are there benchmarks trainers in your org are expected to meet? If, after 12 months, most trainers are capable of doing X, Y, and Z….but she’s still only at a U-V level, maybe that’s worth pointing out. I mean, shouldn’t all this “mentoring and shadowing” be resulting in a path of clear improvement and increasing duties? If not, why not?

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Agreed – it sounds from OP’s posts that Nikki should be able to handle more than she is. It also sounds like to two use “shadowing classes” as an excuse for spending as much time together as they do. Hence my comment about shadowing more than one trainer, as it’s a way to acknowledge the reasonable while also correcting the unreasonable.

          2. OP*

            OP here, thanks for your responses. Jack doesn’t work in the same dept as Nikki. They teach different subjects. There was an idea we should all be able to teach each other’s subjects so that’s the excuse they’re using to attend each other’s classes. Normally two people facilitate a class and there might be another observer from the other Dept. In Nikki’s limited classes the observer is always Jack.

            1. Spero*

              I’ve worked in a nonprofit that had this model for new trainers, and it was explicitly in our policy that you couldn’t have the same observer multiple times or a BFF observer to keep your style from being too influenced by theirs. Changing observers is best practice because each observer notices something different in your teaching.

    4. AKchic*

      “Train the Trainer” kind of thing I get. I’ve had that happen. I’ve been way underqualified for a *lot* of things, but I was skilled enough in one thing and was teaching the entire company in That Specific Thing for years. We’d get a few people who would refuse to learn from me because “she’s the program assistant and doesn’t even have a degree”, so our c-suite Records/Training/Education person would sit in as auditor/overseer for those trainings. She didn’t say a word unless someone attempted to undermine my authority and I couldn’t handle it (it happened once, and then I learned I was allowed to be less nice about things).

      If these trainings are happening daily, I would expect them to be a set series. After 12 months, Nikki should be familiar enough with them that she no longer needs Jack as a crutch in the room. If they are always a pair, then the company isn’t getting the full benefit they are paying for (two instructors running two training sessions at the same time, or two different people running training sessions at varying times so there is always someone running a session while someone else is doing the paperwork associated with the trainings).

      As Alison noted, putting the burden back on the managers will be the best way to settle things. Managers like the ones described generally don’t want to manage when they aren’t the ones feeling the brunt of the problem.

      1. OP*

        OP here. Nikki has been here over a year. She just takes Jack because they’re always together, she doesn’t need him in the class. They say he’s there as an observer to learn her content and vice versa. But he’s never taught a class delivered by our Dept sooooo….?

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          Would that be an option? Like “Hey Jack, you must be super familiar with this material by now, how about you run a training session on it?”
          That might at least make it clear that he isn’t really there to learn. Or maybe he does well, in which case he evidently knows the content and therefore doesn’t need to observe Nikki’s classes anymore.

          1. AKchic*

            I like that. They inadvertently cross-trained each other and now, seeing as how their slacking has made two of them seem kind of too many people, it seems like a good idea to revisit the idea of even having two of them at all!

            How serendipitous!

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yup. No need to even keep Nikki on now. No need to make her get her certificate, since Jack can do her job. Why pay two people to work together? One can easily do all the work, and more, because not chatting with Nikki would free up a lot of Jack’s time.

  2. Cobol*

    As a related aside, assuming somebody is separated based on anything other than them or their spouse saying they are separated, then offering sympathy to the non-coworker spouse is so widely inappropriate that it’s hard for me to see it as anything other than vindictive behavior against a coworker (I know it wasn’t you that did that letter writer).

    1. Atlantic Toast Conference*

      I agree. Even if it wasn’t maliciously-intentioned, I hope the person who said that to the wife realizes how big of a faux pas that was!

      1. NyaChan*

        My first thought was actually that they may have said it on purpose to give the wife a heads up. Imagine you think those two were cheating and you want the wife to know but don’t want to say it directly. Coworker may have said it to indicate that those two are super super close without having to outright say, “hey I think your husband is cheating on you”

          1. Artemesia*

            This and that person was probably right. (about the affair that is, not necessarily about tipping off the wife.)

        1. Cobol*

          I’m sure* they said it on purpose, but that speaks to the dysfunction of the company.

          *Sure being of course I don’t really know, but not really seeing another plausible explanation.

        2. Georgina Fredrika*

          Yeah – it’s also possible the co-worker is privy to something LW was not. This is, of course, wild speculation solely for the comment section, but we only have the word of two *very oddly-behaving individuals* that the coworker told her that based on them innocently hanging out – rather than, perhaps, overseeing something (like them publicly kissing) which could explain why coworker would leap to a conclusion.

    2. BT*

      This is the part that gets me. This has spiteful/petty/vindictive written all over it. How do you decide to “extend sympathies” about a split based on your “assumptions”?? Bonkers. This sounds like a seriously dysfunctional workplace.

      1. Caradom*

        Even if somehow, after 5 hours a day, they are not physically cheating it is one of the worst examples of an emotional affair I’ve seen. Do you really believe Jack is telling his wife that he spends more time with her every single day than her (the wife)?

      1. OP*

        OP here. Yes weird right! I don’t know who told Jack’s wife but I believe it happened outside work. The first I heard was wen it was raised in a team meeting and I hadn’t got a clue what was going on. I also feel it was a probably a tip off.

      2. sunny-dee*

        I don’t see why the OP couldn’t trust that person. Jake and Nikki are at least having an emotional affair. If the coworker knew Jake’s wife, they probably just wanted to let her know what was up. Someone has the right to know if their spouse is cheating; what they do with that information is up to them, but for their own health and safety, they have a right to know. And it’s a really hard thing to bring up.

        1. Caradom*

          I posted my comment before seeing yours. A very very intense emotional affair. Which the wife does not know about.

    3. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Exactly.

      This type of bananacrackers behavior is why, in 2021, I still make an effort to befriend the wives of my coworkers…because I’m a woman in a very male dominated field, even going to lunch with a coworker can start all sorts of stupid rumors. Its frustrating. It wouldn’t even raise an eyeball if I were a guy, as I see pairs of male coworkers go to lunch together frequently, and guess what? No rumors. I shouldn’t have to give my husband a head’s up that I’m out for lunch with so-and-so and I ran into a known gossip monger.

      And if a coworker did that? Oye. That’s a special sort of bad behavior.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Yeah. Same. I was once given an extra coffee on my order by mistake and ended up giving it to a female colleague in another department because offering it to any of the men I worked closely with felt like a disaster waiting to happen.

        It’s frustrating. I waver back and forth between wanting to avoid any rumors (because I just CAN’T, ugh) vs doing whatever the men do because damn if I’ll let sexist jerks control what I do.

    4. hbc*

      Yeah. I know there are valid issues here, but everyone seeming to be like “Well, it’s a man and a woman, this must be an affair” would make a good manager *less* inclined to intervene. It takes more effort to sort out the unsubstantiated pot-stirring from the actual issues, and I trust the reporter less if they’ve got that all mixed up together.

      I mean, anyone who jumps from “They spend a lot of time together” to “He must be divorced, I’ll mention it to his (assumed) ex” is not getting the benefit of the doubt on anything. I’d be concerned that “They spent all day together” meant “I saw them together at 8:00 and then at 4:00 and never saw them apart.”

    5. Roscoe*

      Yep. This caught my eye too. Like, if I saw 2 people at my job spending time together, I wouldn’t approach the partner of one of them to give my condolences. Like how does that go? “Oh, I’m So SORRY that you are separated, it must be AWFUL that he is with Nikki now”

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, but they’re spending a huge amount of time together in such a way that it looks really odd. I don’t think this was the right way to tell the wife, but I can understand someone might want to let her know about it.

    6. Observer*

      Well, this is clearly a fairly dysfunctional place.

      What Nikki and Jack are doing is the tip of an iceberg, it seems to me. Using a staff meeting to address the rumors is weird enough. But the fact that no one seems to be managing either of them is a clear management failure. All of the finger pointing that the OP describes sounds more in line with a group of kindergarten children than a group of professional managers.

      Which is to say, OP, that while you have a legitimate issue here, you also have a dysfunctional workplace. Please don’t let your sense of norms get too skewed.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        “Dysfunctional” is right.

        A couple rules to live by:

        1) Never ask, “When are you due?” w/o being told she’s pregnant.

        2) Never say, “Sorry to see you’re separated” w/o her telling you she is.

        1. NyaChan*

          Maybe it is just me, but I thought the comment to the wife wasn’t said with an actual belief that they’d separated, I thought it was a sly or roundabout way of letting her know that the coworker thought Jeff is cheating

          1. Cobol*

            Right. It’s pointing out to the letter writer that it’s not fully a Nikki and Jack thing. If somebody at the company is willing to do that, this is an organization that had lost all sense of how companies function, and while Nikki and Jack very much seem to be doing something wrong, there is also ample evidence that they are being attacked. It dovetails with Alison’s advice to the letter writer to only focus on how this impacts their (LW’s) actual work, which it may not be doing.

            1. Nia*

              I don’t understand how a person attempting(and admittedly failing due to not being direct enough) to do a kind thing reflects poorly on the company. But then I’ve never understood the ridiculous belief that its a bad thing actually to tell people when their partners are cheating on them.

              1. Observer*

                This is not about whether or not anyone should tell someone that their spouse is cheating when you have actual knowledge. Because that’s not what happened here.

                What this coworker did is garbage. Even if they didn’t want to say straight out that Jeff is cheating or that they THINK Jeff is cheating because of hos behavior, there are a lot of ways they could have approached it. Instead they chose to play stupid mind games with Jess’s wife. It’s just nasty.

                Now, if this coworker’s behavior were the only ridiculous thing here, then I wouldn’t say that this is a reflection on the company. But Nikki chose to address it in a staff meeting, no one seemed to think that either the co-worker’s behavior or Nikki’s choice of venue to address it was strange. But, according to the OP, they DO think that the coworker made a “reasonable” and expect-able mistake. Which is nonsense. Because even if you know 100% that someone is cheating, what makes you jump to the conclusion that the couple MUST be separated? That’s just weird, at best.

                Add that to the nonsense with the managers, and yes, I would say that this is a ridiculously dysfunctional place.

                1. OP*

                  Op here, Nikki wasn’t even in the team meeting where it was raised. She asked the manager to raise it on her behalf in the meeting, which they did. At the time I thought it was a bit odd but from these comments I now see it was bonkers.

    7. LifeBeforeCorona*

      We had a joined at the hip but married to other people couple at an OldWorkplace. They maintained it was just a friendship until the spouse met the work couple at the airport upon their return from a work trip and served him with papers. Turned out they were more than friends after all.

      1. BT*

        Ohh my thirst for second-hand (third-hand?) drama is peaking at the moment. Did they continue to work with you all?

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          He managed a reconciliation and a transfer to another location and left with his family. She stayed in the office and pretended it never happened. This was years ago so I don’t know if anyone lived happily ever after. But for a while, it was popcorn worthy drama.

        1. Temperance*

          There’s a saying that I find appropriate in these situations. “Don’t sh*t where you eat.”

          It became the coworkers’ business when they started hooking up on company time, in an obvious, weird way.

      2. another_scientist*

        Of course this happens in some amount of cases. But does it happen in enough cases that it’s a safe assumption that two colleagues of the opposite sex must be involved romantically? Should our assumptions change if they are partnered or single? Does it make a difference if it’s two gay men or two men and I am speculating that they might be gay? Focusing on work and collegial relationship is so much easier.

        1. sunny-dee*

          This isn’t “Jake bought Nikki a Starbucks that one time.” They are neglecting work to spend every single second of a work day together, including sitting in on each other’s meetings. That is so far outside the realm of normal work behavior (or acceptable personal behavior) that it’s not the fault of other people for noticing.

    8. Teapot Tía*

      Yep. I’m sure there’s legit workplace issues here, but that detail makes it very hard for me to see where the gossip ends.

      1. OP*

        OP here. All points raised are very valid. The relationship is more intense than any regular friendship, like when you first meet someone and are with them 24/7. I don’t actually think they’re romantically involved and have been careful not to imply this in my meetings. If this was a same gender friendship it would be equally weirdly intense and disruptive and I’d have written in. Why they are always together concerns me far less than the workplace impact. Everyone is right that the gossip needs separating from the impact of the behaviour, that’s great advice thank you. Not least because they’re using the gossip as a kind of shield as well.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          OP –

          Sounds like the whole thing is weird, but keeping the focus on work impacts in a very dry, fact based presentation is the way to go. Also, I’d aim for a tone of voice of “reporting that the printer needs toner” for all future conversations with management.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          They remind the of that couple from the comic strip Zits- Richandamy – who have merged into one intertwined being. Annoying in high schoolers, immature in adults, bizzonkers in coworkers!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I miss that comic strip. I was in high school when I first saw it and it was soooo very on point for what high school was like.

  3. Amber Rose*

    We had this exact scenario in 2018 except they worked together/under the same boss. What helped was numerous people complaining about how uncomfortable their behavior was making everyone nearby. Multiple people pushing management may get more done than you alone doing it, if you can convince other people to speak up with their concerns.

    We ultimately got rid of our Jack, and things have been a lot calmer and more pleasant around here as a result.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Yes, that stuck out to me as well.

      While it might be easier to bring up more concrete task-based issues, I think it’s reasonable to ask that a relationship this inappropriate be kept out of the workplace. I don’t care if they’re dating or really close friends or secret siblings… their behavior sounds extremely uncomfortable to be around and it IS inappropriate for work.

  4. A Poster Has No Name*

    I know it’s a pandemic and all, but I really hope you’re applying elsewhere, OP, because your workplace is dyfunctional AF.

    Two managers whose skills seem to be limited to passing the buck to the other one? Letting an employee skate for A YEAR before being able to fully do her job? Allowing SUPPORT PEOPLE to be present for meetings with their managers?

    I mean, WTF. Get your work done the best you can, let go of the Nikki/Jack situation as best you can and get serious about looking for a new job. That place sucks.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      The support people thing may be tied to a union. When I worked in a unionized workplace, it was in our contract that we could have support (colleague, union rep, etc., so long as they were also an employee, we got to choose who) with us in *any* meeting with our management, and that it was specifically prohibited to have one-on-one meetings without support or representation if that meeting might include discussions of disciplinary action. Any disciplinary action stemming from a meeting that did not include support/representation was deemed to be invalid until such time as representation could be present.

      1. londonedit*

        I’m not sure where the OP is based, but in the UK everyone is entitled to bring another person to a disciplinary meeting or a meeting about redundancy etc – it can be a colleague or a union rep if there is one at your workplace.

        1. Malarkey01*

          I’ve never worked in a job with support people- I do get the ability to have your union rep in any meeting, that totally makes sense, but how does it work having another coworker with you? Is it normally someone that can also provide a rebuttal on performance or to document the conversation? Can someone used to this explain how this is normally used?

          1. OP*

            Op here. It’s a union thing although most people don’t take this option unless it’s a disciplinary.

            1. Malarkey01*

              But what exactly does the support person do? Are they there to listen so there’s a “witness” to a conversation or do they speak and add their thoughts to the discussion? Do managers just ignore them are do they direct conversation to them? Really appreciate your explanation- it’s interesting!

              1. Union Maid*

                as I understand it, it is so people who are not union members have the ability to have someone in the meeting with them. In meetings with a union rep it can vary from the union rep being there and saying almost nothing and the union rep doing almost all of the talking. I can’t imagine the latter if the support person was not a union rep.

      2. Elsie S. Duble-Yoo*

        Would the rules ever have any conditions? If Jack Is part of the reason they need to speak to Nikki, could management ever say “you can bring any support person BUT Jack to this meeting”?

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Said to say I have to agree with you. I’ve seen when it’s blatantly obvious a staff member or two is slacking off hardcore, but management won’t do anything or just pass the buck and it’s a situation that’s unlikely to be resolved.

      Basically it’s what Alison calls ‘your boss sucks and isn’t going to change’ but applied across several people.

      I’ve had good results in out-performing the slackers to a very noticeable degree though. Getting a company award and a pay rise right in front of the lazy whiny 0% calls closed all year person in our department is a memory I’ll always treasure.

      (Note: not a guaranteed ending, and I don’t work for that firm anymore anyway. I left because of bad management ironically)

    3. Observer*

      I know it’s a pandemic and all, but I really hope you’re applying elsewhere, OP, because your workplace is dyfunctional AF.

      This is true.

      Allowing SUPPORT PEOPLE to be present for meetings with their managers?

      That’s actually not that out of line. I’m not going to say it’s common, but it does happen. And lots of people think it should me a lot more common than it is.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. I work for the government in Finland and the option exists to include a union rep in disciplinary meetings. I’m not sure how often this happens, but I assume that it can make the meeting a bit easier on an employee who doesn’t want to meet with their manager without a witness. I would assume that it lets the employee avoid at least some verbal abuse. With the employee’s consent, the minutes of the meeting can also be sent to the grandboss.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Chiming in with my agreement. There have been plenty of meetings with bully bosses when I could have done with some moral support.

        When you slack off all day every day, you might get the impression your boss is a bully for expecting you to actually get work done and get your certificate.
        Even if Nikki is in the wrong, she is entitled to moral support.

    4. K in Boston*

      I’ll add that if this is happening now/during the pandemic (which obviously I have no idea when this letter was originally written, or if LW is in a country that’s been minimally impacted by Covid), a lot of normal training/onboarding processes went out the door. My coworker had to wait for the governing training body for her certification to get online classes together and modify their requirements (usually this place requires a certain number of hours of physical presence on their campus, which I’ve always thought was really weird since all you do when you go there is sit at computers — there are no physical hands-on tasks, like, I don’t know, karate or CPR, but they’re pretty big on culture, so I guess they just want people to…see it?). My brother’s also been waiting for training in his office for quite a long time now that they had planned to do in-person, and can’t fulfill all of his role’s obligations until that gets sorted out.
      But yeah, assuming it’s training that can be done within in a year and that Nikki has plenty of opportunities to complete it…that’s a long time.

    5. Amlan Gupta*

      Totally agree that the whole idea of having a support person for meetings tells one a lot about this place. Even if unionized, all this does is keep perpetuating the seriously bad idea that employment is some type of feudal relationship between master and serf instead of a win-win trade between two adults. Of course this basic premise is far broader than just the workplace and infects all of our culture but at least in the workplace, we more or less have the ability to improve how we deal with each other.

      1. OP*

        This is exactly what it is. I’d say half the staff in my Dept hate their job (why I don’t know because it’s literally a dream job for many) and view managers and the org as an enemy. The support person is like saying “you can’t call me out on my behaviour because I’ve got a witness” The Union is called anytime someone dislikes something. It’s exhausting.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, that’s not how it should work. Having a support person in the meeting can be a good idea if the employee is afraid of a boss who has a history of being abusive, or of setting goals that merely set the employee up for failure.

          Good luck OP, I definitely recommend looking for another job. I know it’s tough now, but unless you’re in a high-visibility role where you can be headhunted, new jobs won’t come looking for you…

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes I have been in plenty of meetings where a support person could have helped prevent bullying (in the form of being wrongly accused of not meeting my productivity goals).

  5. EPLawyer*

    Be the squeaky wheel. Right now, Nikki is the squeaky wheel because she cries when given any negative feedback. So the managers avoid the problem. Make it so they can’t avoid it. Don’t do Nikki’s work. Let the deadlines pass. Go to your manager frequently “I have to teach Nikki’s class again because she is not certified, that is interfering with my ability to do X, Y , and Z for my own classes.” Keep going back each time so the boss knows you have to reprioritze.

    Oh and document, document, document, every time you have to pick up the slack. Do not document every time you see them chatting and for how long. That is BEC stage. You want to make Nikki the manager’s problem, not you becoming the problem.

    1. singularity*

      +1000 Make this more of a problem for your managers and their bosses, OP. Once it starts effecting them more directly with missed deadlines and negative feedback, they’ll take more notice. You have to let Nikki and Jack fail hard enough to get the attention of higher ups who are willing to do something about it.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Yes! And if several of you complain separately every time, it makes the point better here.

        I’d even act surprised if told others made complaints — in this case, a lot of separate ones are more effective I think.

        1. RoseDark*

          Hearing the same complaint 27 times from one person has the same psychological impact as hearing the same complaint one time each from 27 different people. It’s a weird bias our brains have. So yes, PLEASE complain separately every time.

      2. Abogado Avocado*

        Agree!

        OP, my sense is that you’re squicked out by what might be happening personally between Jack and Nikki — and I’m with you. Their behavior raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions. However, focusing on that with the two managers emphasizes the wrong issue (that is, a potential affair) rather than the workplace tasks either or both of them are ignoring. Managers are much better at addressing what’s not getting done and it sounds like you have a list of undone tasks, so document that — in writing — and present it to those managers. An extramarital relationship isn’t something a manager ordinarily can police unless that relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate, in which case there are sexual harassment issues to be considered, or you’re working in a religious institution. Therefore, in order to make this management’s problem, give them the written list of undone work and other work delays Jack and/or Nikki are causing.

        And please let us know what happens.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree with this. Since Nikki is on your team, talk to her managers about her – let them know about the work that she’s missed (or couldn’t do because of the lack of qualifications) and how it affected you. Don’t mention Jack at all, unless the manager specifically asks what she was doing all day rather than doing the work you’re talking to the manager about.

  6. SomebodyElse*

    Am I the only one disappointed that the LW didn’t name them Jack and Dianne? You know… two American kids doin’ the best they can.

    On a serious note: LW needs this to be the managers’ problem. As in, don’t take on extra work, instead push it back to the manager to figure out. This is usually the most successful strategy when these dynamics (and levels of management/seniority) are at play.

  7. Julia*

    “FYI, the mental health issue isn’t formally recorded, as in our country this an industry where if it were disclosed formally, there are medicals and all sorts … so people are loathe to disclose.”

    Can someone explain what this means? What are “medicals and all sorts”? Sorry, ignorant American here.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      “Medicals” means medical examinations. I’m guessing “all sorts” means extensive documentation or perhaps even meetings/interviews. It adds up to “it is an extensive multi-step process to disclose a condition for accommodation purposes.”

    2. Elenna*

      Yeah, my understanding of that phrase was “there are medical examinations and all sort of other annoying/time-consuming steps”

      1. OP*

        Op here. You’re correct and if you disclose there’s a formal process to follow. We have our own medical officer and one of the potential outcomes is being medically retired so it’s a big deal to disclose. You can be made to visit the medical officer by a manager though.

  8. Jessie J*

    We had this problem in my office with two women. A very small office group and the two women wouldn’t separate nor get most of their work done (it seemed very odd). A lot of people were confused but no one complained (that I knew of). Finally one of them was fired. So the bosses did take note and action. Also, it turned out that one had a huge crush on the other and that was why she wouldn’t separate from her. She told everyone after the other was fired about her feelings and continued to check in on her at the new job…

    1. kbeers0su*

      Right. I almost have to wonder if there is some weird one-sided dynamic between these two. The way OP is presenting it, it’s hard to not assume that both parties are equally involved/invested. But it could be that this is mostly one-sided but the other party can’t get out…

      1. Jessie J*

        True and it might be really tough to know this if one of the people are not separately sharing this info. The best thing would be for management to speak with each separately about why they are together soo much. This would give one of them the chance to ask for the other to be managed more properly (if needed).

  9. Jaybeetee*

    Jack and Nikki sound like some kind of weird two-headed monster, but I see what Alison is saying: if they’re both getting their work done, adhering to policies, and no one’s bothered by Nikki’s lack of progress… there’s not much to be done except deal with the parts that affect you directly. That probably mostly means punting them out of your work area when they’re talking there.

    But ultimately, if TPTB are cool with them sitting in a break room for half the day and attending each other’s meetings and lessons, guess they lucked out.

  10. juliebulie*

    It might be helpful to see this not as a one-person problem (Nikki) but as a two-person problem (Nikki and Jack). It sounds like your bosses are a little squeamish about approaching Jack’s manager, but there is probably not a way to deal with this without involving Jack’s manager. OP can’t control this, but maybe there is a way to get someone in Jack’s group to raise the issue with Jack’s manager.

    It’s clear that Nikki isn’t a very good employee. Is Jack a good employee? (I’m not sure how he can be if he’s spending all of his time around Nikki.) Was Jack a better employee before Nikki showed up? Even if only one of them is the “instigator,” they both need to be dealt with in some way.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, this is not a problem with Nikki but with Nikki AND Jack. And if you want to get anything done, you need to frame it that way. Or better yet, not frame is a a X Person problem but as Y Behavior problem.

    2. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      Yes! Jack is part of this equation, too. And I think this also strengthens the business case part of this if it’s raised as an infrastructure and work issue vs. “I don’t like Nikki.”

      FWIW, I experienced something similar at my workplace, except Nikki reported to Jack. People kept speculating about an affair, but that wasn’t the salient point, nor was it anyone’s business. The issue was that Nikki got special treatment and was sheltered/defended from any criticism by Jack. What started as a missing stair became a missing staircase. It took about 5 years of staff just deciding to stay on the first floor before management resolved.

    3. Yorick*

      There is a problem with both Nikki and Jack, but Jack isn’t on OP’s team. So, OP should focus on Nikki, unless Jack’s behavior is causing specific work problems (distracting Nikki so she can’t do her work doesn’t count). It doesn’t sound like OP’s job is being affected by Jack – OP thinks he can’t be getting much work done, but doesn’t say that he’s causing delays for them.

      OP should talk to management again, focusing on the impacts caused by Nikki not getting all her work done. If there are similar problems for OP from Jack, that can be a separate conversation. That way management won’t fail to act because they think OP is upset about this weird interpersonal relationship (they might still fail to act, but not because they misconstrued the situation in that way).

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Yes, it seems like OP very much agrees this is a Nikki AND Jack issue but that they only shares managers with Nikki, so talking to them about the Nikki side of things makes sense as a first step. Unfortunately I’m not sure whether they would have the standing to talk to Jack’s manager themselves or if all they can really do is suggest that their managers do so.

        1. Yorick*

          If Jack is causing work problems, it’s probably better for OP to talk to their own manager about it and let them go to Jack’s manager. And if that conversation needs to happen, focus on what Jack is missing instead of his friendship with Nikki.

  11. Observer*

    OP, the nature of the relationship between Nikki and Jack is really none of your business. Yes, it’s weird, but still none of your business.

    Most of the work related slacking is not really your business, either, even though I do get how frustrating it is.

    So focus on the issues that ARE your business. Whether it’s that your projects are being held up, you (or anyone you manage) are being disturbed by their conversations, or you are being expected to pick up the slack for Nikki in some way.

    Be willing to go to your Grand Boss, because that person has the authority to deal with both Nikki and Jack. Keep the focus on the work impacts and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by all the weirdness or the issue of possible mental illness.

    1. Yvette*

      This. Alison’s advice “First and foremost, I think you’ve got to get very clear in your head about the work impact of Jack and Nikki’s behavior versus what’s just weird or annoying. ” seems to apply to a lot of the situations written in about here. “Coworker always wears purple, talks to the copier, and when alone in her office closes the door and works on the floor humming show tunes while blowing bubbles with her gum.” Is that weird, yes, annoying, yes, but if her responsibilities are getting done and it does not prevent anyone else from getting their work done then you need to let it go.

  12. LilyP*

    But only do this for the *actual work problems* this causes for *your* work which, weirdly, were not specifically described in the letter. I think OP is at BEC stage here and she also sounds a bit caught up in the drama mill with all this and into some really irrelevant personal stuff. Do not talk to your boss about your opinions about Nikki’s mental health disclosures, or Jack’s relationship with his wife or how often you see them together or how “weird” you think their behavior is. If it’s not causing more work or inconvenience for you or making you personally feel unsafe, I think you’re better off learning to ignore it and saying “not my circus not my monkeys” to it all. You’re not their boss, nobody’s holding you accountable for whether they actually teach effective classes or not.

    1. WellRed*

      Agreed. Lot’s of comments about making it the boss’s problem by not picking up Nikki’s slack, but I don’t see where that’s happening. Still annoying and frustrating, though!

    2. RC Rascal*

      LilyP has an excellent point here. OP needs to take care to avoid becoming the problem by virtue of complaining. Then, the solution becomes easy–get rid of OP. As long as OP sticks to issues as outlined by LilyP, she should be OK.

      Dysfunctional environments have a way of sucking people into the drama. OP needs to consciously draw boundaries between what affects her work and what bothers her personally.

      1. Observer*

        Dysfunctional environments have a way of sucking people into the drama. OP needs to consciously draw boundaries between what affects her work and what bothers her personally.

        Very much this – this is most definitely a dysfunctional environment. It would be very much to the OP’s benefit to recognize this and draw those boundaries.

    3. Cal B*

      LilyP – can you please explain “BEC stage” for me as I’m not familiar with this term and I’ve seen it a few times. Thanks

      1. Observer*

        BEC = “B** Eating Crackers. It’s a meme about how you can get when you are on your last nerve with a person. The typical one is a picture of someone saying “Just LOOK at that B*** eating crackers! Like she OWNS the place!” with another picture of someone sitting at their desk with some crackers.

        In other words, you get to a point of annoyance that ANYTHING the other person does becomes yet another thing to stew about.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Bitch Eating Crackers – basically that point where you are already so annoyed by someone that something as prosaic as the sound of them eating a snack irritates you beyond measure.

        It’s an unreasonable response, but one we all experience it (hence this site, lol).

      3. OolieGirl*

        BEC = B*tch Eating Crackers, as in, “Look at that b*tch over there eating crackers like she owns the place.” In other words, someone whose very existence annoys you, even (on the rare occasion) when they’re not actively doing anything legitimately annoying.

        1. OP*

          Ha ha! Yes I might be at BEC stage. But yes it affects my work directly, indirectly and has created a toxic work environment where motivation amongst other staff has tanked which again affects me. That said I could just tell my managers not to bother allocating work that impacts me to Nikki and distance myself from everything else?

          1. Observer*

            I could just tell my managers not to bother allocating work that impacts me to Nikki and distance myself from everything else?

            That’s not a bad idea at all. It’s solution oriented and focused on work impact.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. I think the focus in any future conversations with the manager need to be very cut and dried work impact in content.

      “Nikki asked me to teach class “Xyz” because she is not yet certified to do it. How would you like to to reprioritize my workload to make that happen?”

      “I am slated to teach class “ABC” with Nikki, but do not feel comfortable doing that with Jack in the room for the whole class. Is there a work related reason that he needs to be present for the whole time we are teaching?”

      Keep it cut and dried and fact based, and make your manager actually make a decision, don’t let them push finding a solution to the problem back onto you.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I said it elsewhere, aim for a vocal tone of “the printer is out of toner, can I have the supply closet key to get a new cartridge.” That should help make it less about you being party to the gossip wall that you mentioned they are using a a defense.

  13. Karo*

    I had some people like this at my previous job and it impacted me and my outlook on the job way too much. Once I eventually took a “not my monkeys” approach I was a lot better, but there were still days when it was damn hard. I’ve found that writing a note to myself, and subsequently destroying the note! could be really cathartic. Otherwise the thoughts just kept swirling around my head, but once I got them down on paper I was able to move past it.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yup. I’ve had people similar to this at two different jobs and at the first I just had to decide it wasn’t my problem and content myself to rolling my eyes and telling the stories to my friends. At the other one, things were so dysfunctional that I didn’t even blame them.

    2. Batgirl*

      To me the most annoying behaviour sounds like Nikki’s dramatic responses to being called out. But you can always flip “super annoying” into “hysterical non work people anecdote”. Just so long as it doesn’t affect OPs own work and reputation she can just view it all as a sideshow.

  14. Roscoe*

    This sounds annoying, but thats it. I agree with Alison. Figure out if it ACTUALLY impacts your work, or you just don’t like it.

    Also, it sounds like you don’t work with Jack directly. So stop speculating on what he may or may not be doing when you don’t see him. If him chatting around you is an issue, fine, raise that. Otherwise, his behavior and work output isn’t really your concern. But, you also seem to be spending a lot of time paying attention to what both of them are doing instead of just focusing on your work.

  15. Just Here for the Cake*

    LW, I really think you need to sit down and think about how their actions are actually effecting you vs. being annoying things that happen around you. To me, your letter comes off as very judgmental and you are assuming a lot about why Jack and Nicki are acting this way. I get it! Its super annoying to try to be professional around people who are doing the opposite. But, you are not her manager. You have done your duty of bringing it up to the right people. You now need to find a way to let it go!

  16. Mel_05*

    This is super obnoxious. I have had similar coworkers. I think if they’re not dropping the ball on things that directly impact your work, you can at least focus on how distracting it is to have them around you and make that bit go away.

    At my old job there were a lot of slackers, but I couldn’t see most of them and unless they were wandering around the office playing guitar (true story) it was easier to ignore than the people who were chatting relentlessly right next to me.

  17. EvilQueenRegina*

    Please, however you do handle it, avoid the example set by my ex-boss Umbridge – admittedly the situation here wasn’t quite the same – in my case, Nikki had a crush on Jack and was always talking to him. Jack wasn’t interested, he enjoyed the attention up to a point but there were times when he was trying to do something and could do without Nikki wandering over to ask something like who left the bag of conkers in the kitchen, or one of his friends saying “Watch out, mate, here comes your girlfriend” every time she walked over.

    After an office move where Jack and Nikki were no longer sitting together, Nikki was observed using the photocopier closer to where Jack had moved to so she could talk to him, and someone made a joke about it in front of Umbridge. Umbridge chose to say “Nikki, all your coworkers are laughing at you because you went over to flirt with Jack at the copier!” Nice way to handle it, Umbridge. Nikki wasn’t happy.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        In the immediate week after that she was off anyway, but came back for a leaving dinner and Umbridge embarrassed her in front of everyone again. I did wonder if she had said something privately to her at some point because I do remember Nikki saying a couple of times “I’m not allowed to talk to Jack in the office any more”.

        But it didn’t last. She started taking her mobile phone into the bathroom to message him from there, and then did start going over to talk to him all the time. She can bring Jack into just about any conversation. The only thing that did stop it in the end was us all being asked to work from home in the pandemic, and there were a lot of jokes at the time that Jack probably appreciated the social distancing.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah. If the genders were reversed I have no doubt it would be flagged as such in any functional organization. I think it’s sad that men are expected to see any attention from younger female employees as flattering. Even if Jack was bothered by it, he probably would not have been comfortable going to his manager and asking her to intervene (did Jack and Nikki both work for Umbridge?). That said, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea for a manager to humiliate a report in front of other employees. She should have had a 1:1 and told her that her interest in Jack is public knowledge among her coworkers and a distraction, and asked her to tone it down. But given that you call your former boss is Umbridge, I bet there were other issues with her management…

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              Jack was part of a separate team managed by someone else. And yes there were a lot of issues with Umbridge’s management – she was a first time manager who had previously been managed by a “Cornelius Fudge” hands-off, acted on her own conclusions without investigating things and would then realise weeks later she was wrong, didn’t spend enough time with her teams to know what they actually did type. Umbridge was trying to avoid making her mistakes, but went too far in the other direction and became a micromanaging bully.

            2. EvilQueenRegina*

              (Forgot to add, Jack was managed by someone based at a different site who wouldn’t have personally witnessed a lot of Nikki going over to chat to him, so unless he or any other member of his team did choose to raise it she wouldn’t have been aware.)

  18. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I sympathize. I think every job I’ve had there’s been a lazy arrogant slacker who sits around all fricking day doing absolutely nothing & getting paid for it, while everyone around them busts their ass to do their actual jobs. Yes it’s demoralizing & incredibly frustrating but it’s correct that it’s primarily a bad management problem that allow the slackers to persist. Bad managers don’t magically change into good managers, in my experience. If anything, they get worse over time. I’ve left more jobs because of bad managers than for any other reason.

  19. pyewacket*

    OP, I agree with a lot of what has been said in the comments but I want to add that the next time you talk about this coworker do it with both managers. Mainly to avoid the back and forth you already experienced. This way nothing can get translated differently. Can’t wait for the update on this!

  20. ILOVEHR*

    As a long time HR manager, I’ve encountered the same situations and we call them “sexual harassment”. OP, another thing to consider is how the other employees are uncomfortable with their behavior. This is a key issue too. Sexual harassment definition doesn’t just impact the 2 employees but also their co-workers. Of course this applies in the U.S. This can also trigger a full investigation. It was my pleasure to pull these employees and tell them to knock it off. Often I get smiles from the other employees. Ahh, what fun times.
    Good luck!

    1. iliketoknit*

      I may be being obtuse, but what about this is sexual harassment? There’s no confirmation that Jack and Nikki actually have a sexual relationship, or are engaging in sexual behavior at work. They do appear to be making other employees uncomfortable, but slacking off and general favoritism of each other in such a way that interferes with others’ work isn’t inherently sexual.

      1. Batgirl*

        It depends on Jack’s seniority and clout but if she continues to get a free ride unqualified so long as she is someone’s girlfriend, other female employees are going to be creeped out by that message. I don’t know if it rises to legal definitions, but I’ve worked somewhere where the only female promotions involved following a guy around and giving him constant non-work attentiveness. Non of us judged the women in question, but the fact that friendships and flirting were women’s only goal was a lousy set up designed to make women feel like quitting.

    2. Anonanonanon*

      The only thing that **might** be sexual harassment in this letter is the other employees starting rumors about the two of them. But there is zero that is described here that is sexual harassment for anyone else, and if you have described it as sexual harassment on other situations those should probably be re-investigated.

    3. Teapot Tía*

      How is this sexual harassment? It doesn’t seem like they’re overtly flirting, even, just spending a lot of time together. A mixed-gender pair being close friends in itself isn’t exposing unwilling witnesses to a sexualized situation. I’d think that Nikki, whatever her failings, would have a better argument that she’s being inappropriately sexualized by gossips assuming that they’re sleeping together.

      1. OP*

        Op here. Yep there’s nothing sexual, just all day together and lots of giggling and whispering.

  21. Elbe*

    If anyone has a good working relationship with Nikki, it would be good to give her the heads up that this sort of thing hurts her professional credibility. Needing another coworker to constantly sit in on your trainings – for a year – while you fail to get a certification would really raise concerns about her abilities. Needing full time support at your job is not normal, not efficient, and not something that most managers would be willing to accept because most people don’t want to pay two people to do one job.

  22. Eric the Red*

    So I had a very similar problem on a team I managed once. New hire (Becky) comes in, starts a friendship with a worker from another unit, Pete, (both married) and pretty soon they are spending three to four hours a day in the lunchroom together. Work is not getting done. People on my team are not happy. I tell Becky to prioritize her duties (without getting into the mess of the optics of the relationship).

    A month goes by. One of my employees (Sara) comes in to speak privately, clearly is tense, and finally unloads that she can’t handle the situation anymore. Apparently Becky has been confessing to Sara that she and Pete are having an affair and she loves Pete and doesn’t feel like working when she can just hang out all day. Sara didn’t want to “snitch” but finally the situation got to be to much.

    I escalate. We were in a weird spot where we would normally have a manager above me (with hire/fire power) but that spot had been empty for months. So I went up a level, and apparently my grand boss (think Director/CEO) had a huge soft spot for Becky because he told me to drop it in no uncertain terms. I bring it up again a month or two later and he again tells me to drop it.

    Another six months goes by. I document time sheets, get written statements from my team, the works. Everyone is furious with Becky. But I screwed up. Becky had asked me why I was colder with her (I was probably too friendly at first, because I pulled back to a “professional” level that was amicable but not warm, necessarily.)

    I told her that I didn’t think her relationship was appropriate but that as long as the work was done I didn’t care. She went to the grand boss to complain, although I didn’t learn about this until later.

    When I took all the documentation, grand boss accused me of being “obsessed” with Becky, and even asked if I had a crush on her. I got chewed out in a big way and he trashed all my documentation. Basically I compromised my own position by making a moral comment on Becky’s relationship. Don’t do what I did :(

    Things continued to deteriorate. I ended up quitting a few months later. I’ve heard from members of my old team that Pete and Becky left their spouses and are together. The work has apparently improved, so everyone is still employed. It was a tough lesson but I’m glad I learned it- my moral compass doesn’t matter in a corporate environment, and I needed to be more objective-focused (improving the work). Ugh.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Thanks for your story. A few thoughts:

      Becky likely has an inappropriate relationship with grandboss. IME when wacko things are afoot at the office frequently a clandestine, professional boundary violating relationship is afoot.

      Always keep a copy of documentation presented to management in an ethics type situation. If it’s inconvenient, it will disappear or be destroyed.

      1. Batgirl*

        It could certainly be that or equally it could be that they’re friends because its a meeting of minds on issues like this. If grandboss thinks affairs are ok, or has had his own and thinks workplace fall out is reasonable price for one, he might have felt judged.

      2. Eric the Red*

        I’ve literally never seen someone physically tear a document up in anger before. It’s not that I didn’t have copies… the sheer spectacle was amazing though. In a bad way.

    2. LJay*

      It sounds like you screwed up by not actively managing her and communicating with her, rather than by going to your grandboss. He should have had your back.

      But his reaction and the position above you being open for months and Pete being allowed to sit in the lunch room for hours as well all scream to me that this was a poorly managed company.

      Looking for red flags in the companies you interview a/work for and more actively managing situations from the beginning should be your takeaway, not that you’re not allowed to manage things like that.

      (By more actively managing I mean speaking to her and setting expectations and enacting disciplinary action rather than just gathering tons of documentation.)

      (Though the best approach would be to write up people spending excessive time not doing work and talking to HR regarding fraternization and nepotism policies and how those are managed. Making moral comments like “cheating is wrong” is a mistake. Making statements like, “I need you to be focused on work at work,” or “The dynamics of having two people in a relationship working closely together is not something we can handle on this team and in this workspace” or even, “The nonwork related and romantic conversations you are having are making people on the team very uncomfortable and I need you to stop discussing your relationship with a coworker here at work. Is that something you think you can do?”)

      But your grandboss sounds unhinged so even if you had approached this perfectly I think he would still have gone nuts and things would have ended badly. I don’t think that’s a reflection on you, but on the terrible environment you were working in.

      (And for all I know your company has a bad or no HR department and you weren’t empowered to do any disciplinary action whatsoever so my comments may be moot. You being a manager but not having hiring and firing power gives me pause as well in terms of the place being terribly run.)

  23. Batgirl*

    Yeah, I diagnosed “affair” before getting to the third paragraph! People who are romantically involved don’t spend all day together, to the extent of risking their job security, if simply hanging out after work is an option. I’ve also seen this strangely awkward reaction to an affair on work time from managers. Because they don’t want to say the word infidelity, they don’t say anything. Really, though all that’s required are the words “knock off the all day socialising” and “stop slacking”. It’s also ridiculous to suggest they can’t address it while Jack’s there in a meeting. They can ask if she wants privacy before getting some work feedback. Ask him the same. If they both say no; “Well, actually, I have the same feedback for you both anyway…”
    OP this doesn’t seem to be either your circus or monkeys. You warned them! Since their managers are giving them lots of rope there will probably be a highly entertaining conclusion (firing usually) linked to stupidity and having a brass neck. I’d just sit back and let that play out.

  24. Yes Ma'am*

    I once had coworkers like this. They were having an affair and aside from all the other issues OP mentions, the rest of our small office was miserable and uncomfortable because we all felt complicit in their actions. You have my sympathies OP, even if Jack and Nikki aren’t anything more than friends.

    1. Batgirl*

      I don’t know if it helps, but you really weren’t complicit! My ex had a super obvious, blatant affair that everyone knew about and it never occurred to me to judge his colleagues for.. working near an affair he’d inflicted on them. Close friends who turned a blind eye? Sure, that’s a different story. At work though, its not reasonable for people to feel like they’re making a social decision. I get why you did feel that way, but it’s just another person you wouldn’t have chosen to have in your life, but who you have to work with.

  25. louise*

    Jack functions more like an emotional support animal than a colleague, except a support animal would help the handler be at their best, not enable them to continue subpar work. Also sounds like Jack could accomplish virtually all of Nikki’s role at the level she currently works. I’d be beyond demoralized if I were a co-worker.

  26. OP*

    Hi all, OP here. Many lessons for me in this thread thank you.
    I agree I’ve probably been judgemental as the situation makes me uncomfortable. I haven’t gossiped/talked to anyone at work about this except the managers as not gossiping is something I pride myself on, but inside I’m like wtf?!
    Nikki’s lack of work directly affects me but it’s hard to explain without giving away the specific niche I’m in, however I can continue to state the impact in a calm way and easily ask managers not to allocate her to assist me as she doesn’t produce the output I need. I can definitely tune out the ick factor of the situation more than I have been.
    It’s been great to have it affirmed that this is indeed dysfunctional and I’m not overreacting. The manager turnover is massive in my Dept and there’s a host of issues outside this one with insubordination, slacking and incompetence. The atmosphere in the office is thick with tension all the time and it’s a horrible environment. My great and valued colleagues are job hunting leaving the deadwood behind yet again.
    Time to leave i think however I absolutely LOVE my job and it’s a dream role for me so this makes me really sad. Hence writing in to see if it’s salvageable rather than just starting to job search.
    I’ll update on how things pan out. Thanks to everyone for your comments and advice.

    1. Observer*

      My great and valued colleagues are job hunting leaving the deadwood behind yet again.

      I think it’s time for you to join them. This place seems like a total mess. It reads like a spoof, which is funny in fantasy, but not in real life.

    2. Malarkey01*

      Honestly, if this is the only thorn in a job you otherwise LOVE, I’d think about different ways to make this work.
      1) all the suggestions of making Nikkis problems not your problems- having your manager re-prioritize work, not covering her, and bringing it to management.
      2) Finding ways to reframe the aggregation. This is really hard, but it’s so freeing to get to a place where you can rename behavior as not your monkey, not your circus, not our problem. Or having a mantra that Nikki is ridiculous but I should ignore all drama, Or Nikkis annoyance doesn’t deserve any space in my head. Focus on things that are positive about the job. Again it SUCKS but it’s one way to help yourself if that’s the more beneficial thing for you.
      3) Finally, if you really are leaving and have something lined up, you can carefully point out to managers that they are going to lose you over the lack of action. You need to do this delicately and it can’t be a “it’s either her or me”, but it can be done to say I love it here and really want to stay but unfortunately the way things are going aren’t tenable for me. It may not result in anything, BUT if it’s a job you hate to leave and you are fully ready to leave, it’s an option.
      Good luck!

    3. WonkyTonk*

      This sucks, OP. Based on the widespread issues you mentioned, and the valued colleagues leaving, it sounds like you should start looking for other jobs. I was in a dream job that was utterly ruined by terrible management, and eventually the stress way outweighed the satisfaction I got from the work. Turnover was incredibly high, and it was really hard to watch people I worked closely with leave one after the other while I was still stuck there. Once I found a new job and left, it was a huge weight off my shoulders and I felt happier than I had in months. I didn’t know even how much stress and anxiety I’d been carrying until I was gone. I still miss the old job because I truly loved the work and the people I helped, but it wasn’t worth my mental health.

  27. TechWorker*

    We had a similar pair at my workplace, although not quite as intense… he’s 10 years older and married. They would go out drinking together and post selfies of them hanging out sat in bed (?!) afterwards, and went through a phase where any excuse was made to be in the same room at work.

    I think it all calmed down but my company also decided to set up their team so she now reports to him… based on their still very close friendship this seems bizarre to me!

    1. TechWorker*

      (To be fair I don’t think they were or are having an affair, the photos in bed were taken in her flat where she had roommates and possibly no living room. BUT STILL)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Sure, you sit on the bed when you don’t have a chair. That’s ON the bed. Not IN the bed.

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