my employee is level 10 drama all the time

A reader writes:

I’m the assistant director for a very small company that provides vocational training. Our classes are heavily regulated by the state, and there are a number of additional rules in place due to Covid. We are doing the best we can overall, and thus far it looks like we may be able to survive the pandemic and come out on the other side.

My issue is one of my direct reports. She is intelligent and has good skills but is rapidly spiraling out of control. I’ve known her for years, before she came onboard, and she has always been melodramatic. Everything is TEN ALL THE TIME and she must always be the center of attention.

In the 18 months that she’s worked here, every cold has been cancer, every personal setback has been sabotage. She pushes back against every rule. Every safety step we take is a personal affront to her (the Lysol smells bad! the mask is stuffy!) There have been multiple times where her parent was at death’s door or her kid ran away from home or she got evicted or her car broke down or someone stole all her money (so she says) and she just … emotes all over the place, to anyone within earshot. It’s exhausting and I am losing what little remaining patience that I have, especially because these issues are really hard to believe when it’s every day.

I really try hard to be understanding and accommodating of my staff, especially in these uncertain times, but … it’s so much. And on top of that, I’m not able to give her feedback because she is holding me (and everyone else) emotionally hostage. Anything I point out, any mistake or correction, is met with tears and drama. Yesterday, when I was telling her something that needs to be fixed, she told me she might as well “just kill herself.” It seemed like a blatant guilt-trip, and I told her point-blank that I was concerned about her and want her to see her doctor because she’s very obviously not well, that we want her to be well, but we need to be able to discuss work things and work issues without worrying it’s going to send her off the deep end.

It’s a shitty feeling. I know I wasn’t as compassionate as I should have been, but (and this sounds so callous) there aren’t enough staff to do all the things we need to do when one is so completely out of touch with reality. What can I do?


It’s hard to say “have less drama in your life” to someone like this because they tend to believe the drama is all external and that they can’t help the string of Very Hair-Raising Events that happen to them … not realizing that much of it is about the way they respond to events and how much chaos they create around them (not all of it, of course— there are surely real emergencies too). And you don’t want to come across like you’re saying “have fewer bad things happen to you.”

Given that, I would focus on the pieces of this that directly affect your employee’s work. There are two obvious ones in the letter: her response to workplace rules and her response to feedback.

The next time she complains about a safety step, it’s absolutely reasonable to talk to her in private and say, “I don’t know if you realize that you frequently complain about safety steps, like X and Y. Not everything that’s required at work will be exactly to your tastes, but I need you to roll with it anyway because complaining so often creates an unpleasant environment for other people. Certainly if something is causing you a genuine problem that you need us to accommodate, come and speak with me or HR. But otherwise, I need you to just move forward with whatever the procedure is without negativity.”

And if it continues after that, the next conversation would be, “We talked about this before, but it’s still happening. It’s important to me that other people not have a regular stream of negativity or complaints in their work environment and if it continues, over time people will be reluctant to work with you. Is this something you’re up for working on?”

Her response to feedback is an even bigger problem, and one you need to address with urgency. You have to be able to give her regular, timely feedback, and she needs to be able to hear it — that’s a basic requirement for staying on your team. You can’t have someone work for you who refuses to talk about mistakes or things you’d like her to do better; it’s not an option. So, step #1 is that you have to continue giving her feedback despite her reaction to it. If she cries, you can say “Would you like me to give you a minute?” or “Would you rather resume this conversation later this afternoon?” — but you need to give the feedback and you need her to engage with it.

If you think it will help, you can try addressing the pattern itself — saying something like, “I’ve noticed that when I give you feedback on a project, you often become upset — you’ve cried and even told me you should harm yourself because I asked you to correct something. I will always need to give you feedback, and I need you to be able to engage constructively in those conversations. If you need a minute to compose yourself, that’s fine. If there’s a way I could handle those conversations differently that would be helpful for you, I’m glad to try to work with you on that. But in order for you to stay in this job, I need to be able to give you feedback on your work and have you receive it professionally.”

You might feel awkward having this conversation, but there’s no avoiding it, just like you’d also have to talk with her if she were, I don’t know, coming to work drunk. Plus, it’s actually kinder to address it directly than to avoid it, because what she’s doing will seriously hold her back in her career. It will harm her reputation and her relationships with coworkers, prevent her from moving up to higher-level positions, and make people not want to work with her. It might feel compassionate to endlessly accommodate it, but it’s kinder to be honest what she needs to change to meet some pretty basic professional expectations.

And if she continues to refuse to take feedback after that, that is a serious performance issue and you have an obligation as a manager to address it as one, just like if she were chronically missing deadlines or making repetitive errors.

The stuff about her personal life is harder to raise in a work context — but you can change the way you respond to it. If she has a new personal crisis every day, there’s a point where it’s reasonable to simply say, “That sounds rough, I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. I’ve got to jump on a call, but I hope things go well” and end the conversation. You don’t need to let her emote endlessly to you. If that sounds heartless … I don’t think it is! You’ve tried hard to be emotionally generous with her, but there are limits to what you can do that’s actually useful, and you’ve got to be able to focus on your job (and so does she).

The steps above won’t fully solve the problem but they should improve the most egregious aspects of it (and the part about feedback has to change or you can’t keep her on) and should get you to a better place than where you are now — or if they don’t, it’ll be clear that you have to take more serious steps to deal with it.

Ultimately you’re not asking her to change her personality, but you’re setting limits on what behavior is and isn’t okay at work.

{ 423 comments… read them below }

    1. Enby*

      No, there would only be an obligation if they are in a profession where they are mandated reporters (typically people working in health care, therapists, teachers, etc.). Even mandated reporters wouldn’t be required to report something like this unless there is clear reason to suspect the person might follow through with the statement, and from the letter it seems clear that they are prone to hyperbole and dramatic statements like this.

      1. Lexie*

        There have been too many case of people being brushed off as “dramatic’ up until they died by suicide. I worked in the mental health field for years and sometimes it is just exaggeration but you never want to take that chance. If it is exaggeration they’ll hopefully learn some more productive coping skills after they’ve been been through a few evaluations.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Whether it is or not, I would, personally, always report it. Always.

        Because (1) it might be true and god forbid I did not follow up. I feel I have a moral obligation to help if I can, and reporting is the right way to help.
        And (2) if it’s not true, if it’s just drama and exaggeration, I’ll betcha that the report and the follow up will make the exaggerator think twice about saying it again.

        1. Observer*

          Who exactly are you reporting this to? And what makes you think that this will actually end well?

          Google suicide by cop. Also, read the comments that other people have posted about what happens when you call the police for stuff like this.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Report it to who?

          Short of calling emergency services because I think someone is an immediate danger to themselves, there’s no third party I can think of who would be able to do anything with this information. I certainly don’t think calling the police is a good idea in a situation like this, where the statement was pretty clearly not something she planned to immediately act on even IF she is suicidal in general.

            1. JB*

              A suicide hotline is not a third party. I am very curious what on earth you think would happen if you called a suicide hotline and told them someone else, i.e. not you, was threatening suicide.

              I am not sure what you’re imagining but the reality is that they would tell you to either put that person on the phone or have that person call them, OR they might offer to call the cops for you. They’re a resource for suicidal people, not wizards who can remotely cure depression in someone they’re not even in contact with.

        3. CaptainMouse*

          If you are a mandated reporter you can’t be sued if the person finds out and it makes them angry. I also think this only applies if you are working in your professional/mandated reporting capacity. So, if I (as a psychologist) report a patient for suicidal ideation or abusing their child, I have some legal protection. If I report an acquaintance, I’m just like anyone else reporting and I have no protection.

          That said, I’d be tempted I be tempted to take her threats and very seriously. NOT in terms of listening, sympathy, and backing off from confronting difficult behavior though. I would refer to the EAP if you have one, help her apply for family leave (unpaid) etc. Note that her difficult situation/life events seem to be making it hard to do her work, etc.

          I suspect she is getting a lot of satisfaction from the attention. Also, it makes her job easier. So, take her work behavior seriously and address it as you would with any other employee. Also take her mental health/reported life situation seriously as far as the company can offer resources. But situation does not excuse behavior.

    2. Observer*

      Why would there be an obligation? And who would you be “reporting to”, anyway?

      Not that I think she’s really actually threatening to commit suicide.

      1. Double A*

        I don’t think it’s a legal obligation, but you can cut the conversation short and say, “I take threats of suicide and self-harm extremely seriously and I’m calling 911.”

        Ironically, she may think you’re responding dramatically.

        1. Observer*

          No. It’s never a good idea to respond to hyperbole with hyperbole. And ACTUALLY calling 911 would be a TERRIBLE idea.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Seconded so, so, hard. Threatening emergency services over every statement of wanting to harm oneself not only scares the living daylights out of people but also makes anyone who has real self harm issues within earshot realise that you’re definitely not a safe person to tell stuff too.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              I guess what is the alternative? If someone threatens it over and over for emotional manipulation, at some point you have to take it seriously, right? I know that there is a possible forced 72 holding period for someone who threatens suicide, and maybe during that period of time they get some help.
              Or if they are just saying it to say it, it may force them to reconsider that threat and not make it to manipulate people.
              It’s so incredibly inappropriate at work, I’m surprised Alison didn’t seem more concerned about it.

              1. Observer*

                It’s incredibly inappropriate at work. The problem is that calling 911 simply won’t get someone the help they need outside of very, very limited circumstances but COULD end very, very badly.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Also, yeah 911 isn’t the answer for everything. Many areas now have crisis lines that you can call or refer people to when there is a threat of suicide.

                  Also, the VA has a crisis line as well that is open for all Veterans. You can access it through the main line for the VA closest to you, and the phone tree option for the Crisis Line.

              2. ShanShan*

                The police are not the ones who are in charge of making sure people behave appropriately at work, nor should they be.

                You are talking about calling the police at a time when you know it is unnecessary, in order to scare someone into giving up a behavior that is not illegal — it’s just not something you like.

                In 2021, that is an incredibly tone-deaf thing to suggest.

            2. allathian*

              There are suicide prevention hotlines in many places. Calling one of those would be better. You can also call in situations like “my employee is threatening to kill herself, what should I do?”

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            I somewhat disagree.

            Personally, as someone who has dealt with a self-harming individual in my life, someone threatening suicide because of something I said would be deeply upsetting and something I would feel the need to take very seriously.

            My response would be to very seriously ask, “Are you truly saying you’re going to kill yourself? If so, let me know now so that I can call the appropriate people to come in and help you right now. If not, I do not appreciate your attempt at emotional manipulation, which is what that just was. If you continue to threaten suicide just because you didn’t like what I just said, I will have to reconsider your ability to take criticism, which is an important part of this job.”

            I don’t futz with fake threats of suicide. Do that on your own time away from me.

              1. SchuylerSeestra*

                Agree. Making threats like that need to be taken seriously. I don’t know of that means calling in emergency services, or escalating to HR/Upper Management.

            1. Malarkey01*

              I think this is the perfect response because a) you are asking are you serious? Because black humor joking about “kill me now”, “this is like a bullet in the brain”, or miming self harm is common just like saying “I could have killed him for embarrassing me” is not a murder threat to call the police for and then b) you’re letting the person know that self harm talk is inappropriate and not okay with you. This is a great approach and nips it in the bud.

              1. Anon4ThisOne*

                Many years ago, I was in a really bad place mentally, and didn’t really realize it. I often muttered “just shoot me now” under my breath when I was particularly overwhelmed. A kind and observant co-worker said to me one day, “Do you realize you say “just shoot me now” quite often? Are you OK? Can I help?”

                I. Was. Mortified.

                It was also what got me to follow up with a doctor for short term therapy. Happy to say I’ve been OK for 15 years. Very grateful to that co-worker who provided a wake-up moment.

            2. Tired of Covid-and People*

              I take all threats of suicide seriously, not for me to parse out if the threat is real or not. Let the professionals do that.

              1. Observer*

                What makes you think that “the professionals” will show up? The police are NOT professionals AT ALL, in this respect.

                1. Formerly Suicidal*

                  Why do you keep assuming commenters are referring to the police? There are other individuals who are trained/work with suicidal people (doctors, counselors, suicide line phone operators, etc).

                  And for the record, many police officers are trained in talking down a suicidal person. It wouldn’t be a good idea here, because she doesn’t seem to be seriously threatening to kill herself at work, but that doesn’t mean that the police are completely incapable.

                2. Observer*

                  In about 95% of the jurisdictions in the US, if you call 911 for something like this, it means the police. That’s all there is.

                  There are suicide prevention hot lines, etc. but they cannot do anything with a call placed by a third party. They certainly are not showing up.

            3. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Butterfly Counter, your approach is a great way to address what could be hyperbole but is a serious statement. I truly think people tend to speak in extremes without realizing it – I’ll kill him if he tries that again, I’m ready to shoot myself because I’m so irritated, I could wring your neck, etc. – but I’ve known people to say those things and then try to harm themselves. I’m not qualified to identify or diagnose behaviors, and I won’t assume anything benign, either.

              Call out the comment and let the person know their threats of self-harm – and worse – concern you greatly, as they should. If they brush it off with, ‘I wasn’t serious…’ call out the manipulation.

              I hope OP’s employee gets some help to manage her reactions and what’s behind them.

            4. Ejane*

              As a social work masters student, THIS. THIS IS BEAUTIFULLY SAID. brb may or may not be bookmarking it for future reference.

            5. Annony*

              I agree with this. You do not want to call 911 to call someone’s bluff. That is a waste of resources and an unnecessary escalation. This is a good way to call their attention to how serious that threat is in a safer way.

            6. Aquawoman*

              I think this is a good approach except that I would not come down so hard on the not-real aspect because that may make a person say it was real. I.e. if you’re giving them the choice between “real” and “manipulative,” they might choose real, while if you give them the choice between “real” and “hyperbole,” they are more likely to choose “hyperbole.” Also, people can have genuine suicidal ideation without having suicidal intentions.

              1. 10Isee*

                I appreciate this because there is room for nuance here. I think about suicide A LOT. I am not in current danger, I have a safety plan in place, etc. But the thoughts are constant and sometimes the words slip out. I’m not sure how I would cope if someone were insisting that the only possibilities were that I either accept the financial and physical costs of emergency “help” or agree that I’d only said it to manipulate them.

                1. A*

                  Agreed. I have several colleagues who will saying things along the lines of “I might as well shoot myself now” etc. which is not good, but more often than not is truly just meant as an expression of frustration. I think that ignorance / lack of awareness of the inappropriate nature of that comment is just as likely as it being said in a manipulative manner. I don’t think assuming it’s either real, or manipulative, is helpful or constructive.

            7. AKchic*

              I think this is an excellent response. It calls out the bullsh!t right in it’s tracks and puts her on notice that it won’t be tolerated, while also signaling that *true* threats of self-harm will be taken seriously.

              I also think that HR/upper management needs to be looped in ASAP. They need to be aware of what’s going on, and maybe even discuss everything with Legal. For me, with my personal history of people attempting and completing suicide, I would be very sensitive to a coworker casually threatening such a thing just because she doesn’t like or doesn’t want to hear feedback or constructive criticism, especially when her entire life seems to play out as a daytime soap opera as it is.

              1. Observer*

                I also think that HR/upper management needs to be looped in ASAP

                Yes, if she hadn’t quite (see the OP’s later comment) that would have been a very important thing to do.

            8. Observer*

              Personally, as someone who has dealt with a self-harming individual in my life, someone threatening suicide because of something I said would be deeply upsetting and something I would feel the need to take very seriously.

              Yes. This behavior is a MAJOR issue. It has to be upsetting even without your history. I can imagine that it’s an order of magnitude worse for you.

              And your response is great. No hyperbole, and laying it out clearly, along with a willingness to fire.

              That’s just the best you can do in a situation like this.

            9. Artemesia*

              This. You need to shut this kind of crap down and this is one good way to do it. I’d be looking for ways to fire this person.

            10. Ace in the Hole*

              This is a beautiful response. The only thing I would want to do differently is to give them time to respond to the first part (“Do you really mean that/do you need help?”) before moving on to the second part if the answer is “no.”

            11. Anon For Today*

              I was going to go with the same type of script as well. People need to know that saying this type of thing is really distressing to the recipient. I care about the people that report to me and I want them to know that threatening suicide is something I would take seriously.

            12. Blue Lion*

              I also dealt with one of these people – everything was drama, every day a new tale of pseudo-survival or trauma. It was all for attention, and it wore thin. The day she started responding to everything that was asked of her with self-harm or suicidal statements was the day my manager called her into her office and had a chat.

              However, it continued. Our manager gave us all a script similar to the one you used to combat the statements which were always made when she was asked to perform the minimum requirements of her job or correct faulty behavior…think “please answer the phone” or “you cannot leave the front lines and desk unmanned for thirty minutes, please follow protocol.”

              After a week of us holding the script of what our manager had given (which is almost word for word what you wrote), she was still keeping it up and our manager called EMS.

              She never came back after that.

            13. bluephone*

              Yes to all of this. Some of (the collective) you have never had anyone in their lives who frequently threatened suicide as a means of emotional manipulation and hoo boy, it shows. Funny how taking them at their word and calling 911 puts a stop to it right quick.

            14. GS*

              Yes, this would be a good time for OP to make sure their workplace covers comprehensive mental health services too. If uncontrollable emotion is a recurring issue for the person it requires more than an employee line counselor telling someone to take deep breaths, that can take a lot of time and money to sort out.

            15. BonzaSonza*

              Someone who is considering suicide will often be very willing to discuss it, so ask!

              “Do you have a plan?”
              And if yes, “Do you have the means to carry out your plan?”

              If they say yes to both you’re justified in calling emergency services for a welfare check.

              If they have no specific plan and no means to carry it out then it’s less likely to be an immediate risk. I have been on that situation before and transferred the person to Lifeline, a suicide prevention non-profit organisation with free counselling services.

              Either they will appreciate the mental health support, or they were dramatising and won’t try it again on someone who was willing to call their bluff

          3. Double A*

            Excuse me, but this is not hyperbole. I do take threats of self harm extremely seriously and I will stop everything and find out if you are serious. It is NEVER something to just assume someone is being dramatic about. EVER,. I am concerned that you think it is. If they are indeed being dramatic, they can explain that when I stop everything and deal with this potential life threatening issue.

            And the threatener is not serious, you will get a serious talking to about how absolutely out of line you are to be throwing around threats of self harm and suicide casually.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “It is NEVER something to just assume someone is being dramatic about. EVER.”

              Nah, it is sometimes. In fact, with some people it’s essential. Depends on the person and how well you know them.

              1. Drama Level Ten's Manager*

                I felt pretty confident in my assessment that it was just another instance of Extreme Overreaction. Likely my response would have been totally different for another employee. Perhaps that makes me terrible.

                1. Amaranth*

                  Still, Butterfly Counter’s response might shake some sense into your Drama Llama, that just talking off the cuff and dramatizing everything can have consequences.

                2. HazardousIncident*

                  It does not make you terrible. It makes you someone who has dealt with “Threat-level Midnight” long enough to recognize the overreaction to all situations.

            2. Cat Tree*

              Hard agree. I would rather over-react to a person who isn’t serious, than to under react to someone who truly might try to hurt themselves. The risk of someone dying far outweighs the risk of a hyperbolic person being inconvenienced.

            3. Observer*

              Excuse me, but this is not hyperbole.

              Well, that’s a problem right there. The bottom line is that if you call the police on someone who is suicidal, you just might be helping them to actually complete their suicide attempt.

              Google “suicide by cop”. And also realize that even if the person is serious, but not ACTUALLY trying to commit suicide RIGHT NOW, the situation could escalate very badly, very quickly.

              It’s not that the police are evil – but generally the BEST you get is people who are untrained in dealing with mental health issues, but conditioned to respond very powerfully to perceived threats. The outcomes tend to be very, very bad.

                1. Observer*

                  Unfortunately, this is a total outlier. I don’t think that at this point there are even 10 jurisdictions that have this available.

                2. Mustang76*

                  While it is phenomenal that more jurisdictions are beginning to do this, it is a very, very small minority of jurisdictions that have a dedicated mental health team that is dispatched to this kind of call. Operating under the assumption that a dedicated mental health team will be dispatched upon calling 911, in this scenario, is most likely an incorrect assumption which could lead to additional trauma, or in the worst case scenario, death.

                  Unless you know you’re in such a jurisdiction with certainty, you shouldn’t assume the respondents are equipped to handle this.

                3. Self Employed*

                  They still manage to escalate things just by being there and looking like cops. And if the person makes a sudden move, especially if they have a knife or something, they still have cop training to shoot when surprised.

                  I don’t remember which city it was, maybe SF, but the “mental health trained police” STILL end up shooting agitated or suicidal people in mental health crises.

              1. CSmithy*

                Yep. Someone called the cops on my friend who was having a manic episode (they thought she was suicidal) and it traumatized her. 911/cops is not the answer for this stuff because they do not send medical responders, they send untrained police.

                1. Nonny today*

                  Trying to retrain police to respond to mental health calls doesn’t work. They are still likely to shoot if the person spooks them.

                  My city is very proud of their Crisis Team with actual medical responders… but the first contact with the subject is by police. Who sometimes shoot them or at least physically restrain them abusively for failure to comply with orders. Apparently the purpose of the medical responders is to give referrals to the Crisis Line if the person is chill enough the police think they won’t be a danger to the medical responders.

        2. Crisis Clinician*

          My job is evaluating risk for people who are at risk of harming themselves or others! Some things to know: it is ok to directly ask about suicidality if you suspect it or if someone has said something about it. “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” “How would you kill yourself?” “What is your plan to end your life?” are all questions to ask- there is a common misperception that asking about suicide might make someone more likely to do it, when the research actually shows when asked directly people are more likely to be honest and responsive to help. Also if you are in the US, Google your region/state/county + “mental health crisis” and you will hopefully find a hotline number for your local crisis services. You can also call 211 to find this information or 911 in an emergency, or call the national suicide prevention hotline (even if you are just unsure and have questions) at 800-273-8255. It is worth taking every threat of suicide seriously to promote a culture that makes it clear that those kind of statements will be followed up on; both to get people the help they need and reduce people making statements for secondary gain (ulterior motives). Like with child abuse you don’t have to have it all figured out, if you are unsure, call!

      2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        I think if the organization is in a medical field or teaching field and OP qualifies as someone I’ve read termed as “mandated reporter.”
        I think if OP has a legal obligation to report through proper channels, it would be a benefit.
        I also think it touches on malicious compliance, but only, because employee maybe hyperbolic when she speaks of self harm, combined with other responses and her general demeanor, a mental health examination might be a good thing.

        1. Anononon*

          In my state, even if one is a mandated reporter for adults, and I doubt OP is, the mandated reporting is for “vulnerable adults”, who are those who lack capacity (a strict legal term) to make decisions for their well-being.

          I think it’s concerning that you would promote malicious compliance in this case to force a mental health examination. This is NOT OP’s call to make, and I think it would be entirely inappropriate.

          1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

            I am not promoting it. I was actually trying, unsuccessfully, to make your point.
            It “touches on” meaning, it may look like malicious compliance, (employee threatened self harm, so I called 911) instead of an act of human concern and caring (employee threatened self harm. I recommended our EAP, offered time to schedule and attend medical appointments).

            OP doesn’t want to check off a box “contacted medical authorities” without realizing/accepting that there are consequences good and bad for both parties.

        2. anone*

          “Malicious” is right; calling emergency services on someone for a mental health crisis can be quite dangerous. It *shouldn’t* be, but it absolutely can be. Institutional mental health interventions can be used to override people’s agency and can be a starting point for further negative interactions. It can become a traumatizing incident. If she’s Black or another extremely discriminated against racial group member, it can become violent or deadly. It can also be a waste of emergency service responders’ time.

          People love to come up with ‘cute’ strategies like this, but it’s not cute. Don’t go there. Don’t joke about it.

          1. Double A*

            It’s not cute. If someone is threatening self-harm or suicide, you assume they are serious. You don’t just brush it aside because they have a history of “being dramatic.”

            Calling 911 might not be the right solution. But you deal with it. Right then, right there, you don’t let anything else happen until it’s dealt with. People don’t get to just joke around or casually throw out that they’re going to self-harm or kill themselves.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “You don’t just brush it aside because they have a history of “being dramatic.””

              I would sometimes. If I knew the history, and there as no escalation over that time – the same drama we’d heard over and over before – I’d certainly brush it aside. People can’t impose their drama on me. No.

            2. Mimi Me*

              100% agreed. My son used to use self harm as a threat when he was younger. My husband and I knew that it was a dramatic threat, but his teachers didn’t. In 5th grade we had to take him to have an emergency evaluation with a mental health professional because the school told him that this is how they handled self harm threats. He’s in 9th grade now and no longer uses that as a threat when he’s angry. He still gets upset, but he now knows the appropriate ways to vocalize his frustration instead of just resorting to “well, fine, I’ll just kill myself!”

              And just in case someone is worried…he has semi-regular check-in’s with professionals just to make sure he’s not harboring any real (but silent) plans to hurt himself..

              1. Simonthegreywarden*

                This whole idea that even if it were hyperbole is tough for me to think about because I grew up with a person who would say this, as well as “you’d be happier if I was dead/if I killed myself” on a not-infrequent basis. And then tried to prove themself right.

                Hearing someone say it in this manner would be deeply upsetting and I would probably immediately tell that person they needed to do X (whether that’s call the EAP, call their counselor, speak with a counselor, bring HR into this conversation, whatever) because if they are using it to deflect or manipulate that is so incredibly wrong, but if it is a cry for help I am absolutely NOT equipped in any way to assist them due to my past.

            3. pony tailed wonder*

              I worked with someone who threatened suicide, let’s call her Sue. I asked if she was serious and she said yes. It was on a day where all the management were at another location for a day long retreat. I took it seriously and notified my bosses. Two of my bosses came back from the retreat to deal with her and I was not told what happened. The next day Sue came to me and told me that I had overreacted and I was wrong to tell people that she had threatened suicide. The thing is, suicide is common in my family and I do not joke around about it. I told her that I had had several relatives die by suicide and that I would always take the threat of it seriously. Sue tried to get me to promise to never tell people when she did this and I told her that I would always tell.

              She threatened suicide again a few months later when my boss was at another event. I reported it again. Same thing happened. I spoke with my boss and reiterated that I would always let him know when a co-worker threatens suicide and mentioned my family history.

              A year or so later, she actually attempted suicide. I think she was waiving flags the entire time and each time she would try to walk it back by saying she was joking about it until she wasn’t.

            4. anone*

              To be clear, the “cute” strategy I am referring to is, “oh ho ho, call their bluff and call 911!” for someone who is confident that it’s NOT actually a 911- necessary event but wants to engage in “malicious compliance”. That is what I am responding to.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Do you REALLY think that this kind of emotional manipulation, obnoxious as it is, is deserving of **capital punishment**?!? Because death is what may actually happen to somebody on whom you call the police for this kind of thing.

          2. Here we go again*

            When I worked at a call center one of the clients was CPS. One of the people reporting their neighbors teenagers for playing basketball in 50 degrees without coats. Or the ex son in law let little Timmy eat ice cream for dinner once. I still had to contact the on call social worker for that.
            Please don’t call those lines unless someone is in genuine harms way.

      3. Lady Heather*

        Why: because of a legal or contractual duty, or because of not wanting to get sued if employee does hurt themselves.
        Who: depends on what organization or agency you call for this thing where OP lives, but basically the service that has a psychiatrist evaluate whether or not someone is safe. I think in the US that is generally done in emergency rooms but don’t quote me on that.

        1. Lexie*

          Some areas have Community Service Boards where you can walk in during business hours for an evaluation and if they determine inpatient care is needed they can track down a bed. Emergency Rooms are an option but if there’s a psychiatric hospital or other acute psychiatric facility in the area go there rather than a regular ER.

          1. Jackalope*

            There are also suicide prevention hotlines, which can (if I’ve understood correctly) help both the possibly suicidal person and the person who’s heard the threat and is trying to suss out the best response.

        2. Observer*

          because of a legal or contractual duty,

          We’re talking about a (legally) competent adult there. There is no way that such a duty exists.

          or because of not wanting to get sued if employee does hurt themselves.

          You can get sued for anything. But such a lawsuit could never win.

          depends on what organization or agency you call for this thing where OP lives,
          No such thing exists – at least not one that can come in and to an evaluation without the instigation of the person you are “reporting”.

        3. Sylvan*

          In many places, there’s no specific agency for this. At least in my part of the US, you could try calling 911? The most likely response would be:

          A) Police – Dangerous.
          B) Ambulance – Expensive.
          C) Police and ambulance – Dangerous, expensive.

          I don’t know what I would do in OP’s shoes. I would probably run screaming to HR. But as a mentally ill person, please don’t call 911 unless someone is a danger to themselves or others*, because the risks outweigh the benefits.

          *Please research “suicide risk assessment” or (ideally and) ask a professional about this! I’m an Internet stranger, don’t let me tell you how to risk assess!

          1. Esmeralda*

            I myself would call in my own supervisor for assistance. I’d do that for someone reporting to me, and I’d do it with a coworker. If it was my own supervisor saying that, I’d call my grandboss.

            (I work at a university that has an online reporting system for concerning behavior, so I’d also use that after doing the above. Obviously most workplaces don’t have the advantage of having such a system.)

            “Report” does not have to mean massive escalation to 911, ER, police. It does mean that it goes to someone appropriately responsible. As an assistant director, OP is probably not that person, but OP’s boss likely is. Or OP’s boss knows who to bring in to make a decision about it.

            1. Amaranth*

              I would probably call HR or the manager at the very least if it is clearly hyperbole, and then it can be documented internally and they can require her to go get a checkup or whatever is in their toolbox. I was thinking of this as everyone being remote so if someone said they were going to kill themselves and I’m not present, 911 doesn’t seem like a poor choice to me if the alternative is futzing around trying to get hold of management to make a decision.

        4. hillia*

          Would there be any use in contacting a hotline or the company’s EAP (if there is one, and they have a crisis response unit)? Certainly you can’t force someone to talk to a counselor, but it could be the first step in getting a professional assessment and mental health assistance if needed.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I don’t think it’s a legal obligation except for a few types of jobs, but it would make me concerned. I doubt something of this level would result in an involuntary psychiatric hold, but it does make me wonder where that line would be for me to act on it. And I don’t have an answer for that. It’s not something I would do lightly, but at the same time this employee’s comment is really concerning.

      Unfortunately for anyone who isn’t the person threatening suicide, there really isn’t any option between the extremes of recommending getting help from a professional and involuntary commitment.

      1. Lady Heather*

        You (you, generic civillian, you) don’t have the power to have someone committed anyway. What you can do is call someone who does have that power – and should have the expertise to judge whether it’s necessary – and that person will then evaluate whether it’s necessary/meets the legal criteria.

        Ideally there’s a low treshhold for you, the caller, to call, and then a higher threshhold for the evaluator to commit. We don’t live in an ideal world though – in some jurisdictions persons without psychiatric expertise have the power to commit, or mentally ill people get routinely killed when emergency services show up. That latter thing isn’t something I’d be very worried about if the ill person is calm and coherent though.

        1. Observer*

          That latter thing isn’t something I’d be very worried about if the ill person is calm and coherent though.

          Well, the facts are not with you. And someone like this is also likely to go from being relatively calm to high drama very quickly. And with untrained police being the ones who are likely responding – is anyone shows up at all – that could lead to very, very bad outcomes.

        2. Lexie*

          While you can’t just sign a competent adult into a mental health facility because you want to the decision to involuntary commit can be made based on the statements you give to those making the evaluation. I’ve done it both as a “generic civilian” and as a professional (worked in mental health but wasn’t in a position where I could order the commitment myself).

          1. Jessen*

            I always wondered what the checks on this are. Because I’ve absolutely endured mental health treatment that was based on what someone else said about me, and all it did was cause even more trauma and reinforce that the mental health system is not a safe place to turn to for help. Not that that sounds like what’s happening here. But it’s absolutely a problem that certain people will often deliberately lie about what happened in order to get someone committed, as a way of maintaining control or just punishing someone.

            Frankly, all I learned from the experience was that if I was actually in distress I should never, ever talk to a mental health professional, because it’ll just make everything 10x worse and you get to walk away with extra problems on top of whatever you were dealing with in the first place. And from what I’ve seen professionals are often even worse than the average person at spotting manipulation.

        3. Cat Tree*

          That’s a fair point that I can’t make the final decision anyway. That might lower the bar to prompt me to contact the correct person. There are still a lot of factors to weigh because we don’t live in an ideal society, but it is an option worth considering.

          I’m still not sure if I’d do it for a single comment about suicide. Fortunately I have never heard that in a work context. I used to hear it somewhat frequently from guys I rejected and one abusive family member, but I never thought to do anything about it. Fortunately time has drastically slowed the rate that I have to reject guys, and I haven’t talked to that family member in a decade. So I haven’t heard it in a long time, but wow that can really mess with your head.

    4. Enby*

      There is no legal obligation unless the OP is a mandated reporter (usually doctors, therapists, teachers, etc.). Even if they were a mandated reporter, there would be no obligation to report unless they have reason to suspect that this person is truly at risk of serious harm – and it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here, given their history of hyperbolic statements and dramatic response to feedback.

      Reporting someone for anything less than a legally mandated reason puts them at risk of trauma and harm through things like wellness checks by police (who have a history of hurting or killing BIPOC folks, those with disabilities, autism, mental illness, etc.) or involuntary commitment to a psych ward, which can be legitimately traumatic under some circumstances. So it is critical that even mandated reporters think through their obligation to report, rather than jumping to that option every time they feel worried or hear something that sounds scary.

    5. Green Mug*

      I thought about this too. If this person is at level 10 all the time and vocalizes suicide as an option, then OP is put in a position where they need to act. Unless OP is a trained mental professional, who are they to judge the employee’s intentions? OP heard the employee threaten suicide. If the company is small and doesn’t have an EAP, the OP can contact the police. The police can send out someone who is trained for the situation. I write that knowing that calling the police is a risk, but so is having an employee is talks about that level of violence. When someone mentions killing themself, they should be taken at their word. Stable adults don’t throw that language around.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        The problem with that idea is that “the police can send someone who is trained for the situation” is patently false. The police are trained to deal with CRIMINAL matters, not mental health support or intervention, and typically are trained to protect themselves first. Individuals struggling with mental health crises often end up being the victims of police violence when the police are called to ostensibly help the individual; this risk goes up exponentially if the individual is a POC or other marginalized identity.

        1. Sabina*

          So true. In my small city in the last year at least 5 citizens have ended up dead at the hands of the police from mental health calls for service gone wrong.

      2. Drama Level Ten's Manager*

        OP here. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t call anyone. I said something along the lines of “go call your doctor and I will cover your hours because if you mean what you said, this is a serious problem”. She did not. I think I made the right decision.

        1. Chriama*

          That was a great response! If she tries it again, I like what someone else said along the lines of “if you’re serious then I’ll put you in touch with the proper resources but if not, then stop with these comments because they’re tantamount to emotional manipulation”.

        2. Anon for this*

          Speaking as the partner of someone who has ongoing chronic mental health problems including suicidal ideation, I think that’s a great response.

          I worry myself about being the person who always seems to have family drama/misfortunes that affect work (well, see above). Sometimes I’m tempted to vent to colleagues but unless they VERY directly affect it (like I’m going to have to take a day of working from home or familial leave because of it) I try not to. My boss knows because I filled her in, but I would totally understand if she ever said she didn’t need/have time to hear detail of what happened.

        3. cedarthea*

          Sounds like you made the right choice! For future you may want to consider taking a Mental Health First Aid Course. I work in summer camps and have had staff say similar things before and taking that course, just like a regular first aid course, teaches you how to do first aid on someone who is unwell. It’s all about knowing what they need in the moment and what steps you should take to get them help.

          I felt so much more empowered and confident after the course and frequently suggest it for other.

          1. Stella*

            Seconding a Mental Health First Aid course. What I appreciated the most about the training was the description of when/when not to call 911 (and who to call instead of 911).

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              That’s the thing right there. If we can’t call 911, who do we call? I see a lot of people saying don’t call the police/911, but not offering any alternatives.
              Last year someone posted a card with alternative numbers, one of which was mental health services, and I put them in my phone. These are for only the city I live in. What are people in other places supposed to do?
              I suppose you all should track down the mental health services numbers in your towns and save them. If your town has this. And what if it’s needed outside of business hours, or in the middle of the night? Does mental health services answer their phone then?
              There should be a better way for people to get this information quickly and easily when they need it, and who to call in the middle of the night.

              1. Metadata minion*

                Suicide hotlines are generally also trained to help people deal with a friend/coworker/etc. who may be suicidal and can be a good option if you don’t know who to call.

                1. Nonny today*

                  I have tried calling the crisis line to ask what to do about a very distraught stranger across the street (who had been cursing at me earlier that day so I didn’t think I should go ask if she were OK). They didn’t have any suggestions except to call 911 so the police can intervene, or to go commit MYSELF because “you must be very paranoid if you don’t trust the police to handle the situation.”

                  I had just been to a vigil for 12 people killed by our police department on mental health calls. Why the eff didn’t the crisis line staff know about that?

                2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Nonny that is horrible. I’m so sorry that was the response you received, especially given the context.

        4. Tree*

          That’s a really good response. If she was serious after all, then you haven’t taken away her agency by escalating the situation for her, instead you’ve encouraged her to take care of herself. If she wasn’t serious, then you showed her that this isn’t a joking matter and you take it seriously.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “When someone mentions killing themself, they should be taken at their word.”
        No. It depends.

        “Stable adults don’t throw that language around.”
        Some do.

        “contact the police. ”
        Bad idea because this “The police can send out someone who is trained for the situation” is simply not true.

    6. HR Exec Popping In*

      If the OP has EAP resources available, she can require the employee to seek help and speak to a licensed therapist a few times. If an individual has said something related to self harm or harm to others, this is permissible and encouraged.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        I’m pretty sure she can’t “require” treatment – and even if she can, she shouldn’t. Mentally ill people deserve agency too. Not to mention the fact that an unwilling participant in treatment isn’t likely to be very successful.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. You can advise people of the EAP but you can’t oblige them to see them or have treatment. People have agency and the right to decide for themselves whether they want treatment.

          I have recommended the EAP to my staff before but it’s for them to decide if it’s helpful.

        2. Cj*

          Apparently you can require it, but can run afoul of the ADA is you are “treating the person as if they have a disability”. The requirement also must be “consistent with a business necessity”.

          1. Burr... it's cold in here*

            I have had to require a subordinate get medical clearance that they were safe to be at work, bc of their mental illness impacting the way they engaged with clients and coworkers. It turned out that they were not safe to be at work and needed therapeutic interventions (meds adjustment and therapy — I am only aware off this because they chose to disclose this to me after) in her life before they were stable enough to return. Thankfully, my workplace is incredibly understanding and supports employee’s taking care of their own health as a priority over work (my work gave them fully paid leave for the entire four months they were unable to work, and they were able to return to their same position with no negative consiquences).
            This was all vetted through HR, with lawyers involved to make sure that we were within our legal rights to take the action that was taken, and to ensure that the employee’s rights were fully protected. They’ve now been with us for six years, with no other incidences, AND this is the longest time they have been able to work in one workplace due to similar incidences.

        3. allathian*

          Yes, this is true. But in some cases it can be warranted for an employer to require documentation from the employee to the effect that they’re fit to work and to suspend them (hopefully with at least some pay) until they are.

          In any case, I think the OP should make it clear that the drama queen’s behavior is unacceptable at work. The first requirement of any employee is to be able to take critical feedback and to implement it, as long as the feedback is given in a businesslike rather than abusive manner (nobody should have to put up with abuse at work either, that’s not a part of any reasonable job description). If they can’t, steps must be taken, up to and including managing the person out if necessary. Alison’s advice was spot on.

    7. NYCProducer*

      We have a person at my work who expresses themselves often by saying “I should just k*ll myself” or “No one would care if I d*ed,” and when I told my (male) boss about it, he said I should speak to them because we are “friends.” What!? I have no training, I was not management. I didn’t know then that I could say “I’m not comfortable doing that.” The workers she supervised were just out of college and visibly uncomfortable with these expressions. I don’t know what they should have done, but ignoring it was the wrong move overall. (That person is now a manager, btw) So much energy is expended on not ‘upsetting’ this person, and it has contributed to an overall toxic environment. Everyone else has to tiptoe around this in a so-called professional environment.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I apologize in advance for the tangent, but why the asterisks in those two words? I’ve seen people do it in similar words before, but never had a chance to ask what the purpose was. It doesn’t match with how I’m used to censoring things and doesn’t do anything to obscure the word (for me at least)… I’d appreciate learning the reasoning so I can use appropriate etiquette when discussing sensitive topics.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think sometimes people have (usually wrong, as in this case) ideas about what words will send something to moderation and are trying to avoid that. I would actually ask people to stop doing that, because (a) the guesses are often wrong and just confuse people, as happened here and (b) if a word does send something to moderation, there’s a reason for that and I don’t want people trying to find strategies to get around that. Thanks.

          1. tinyhipsterboy*

            To add to this, it can also be helpful to actually spell out the word. It’s one thing if you’re trying to make sure that your posts don’t show up in social media searches (like censoring in a tweet when you don’t want randos to respond to your tweet), but using asterisks to censor words can actually cause trouble with content blockers.

            For example, I have a friend that really, really, really can’t handle looking at fish. If she were to use a browser extension that blurs out or otherwise removes any mention of “fish,” “grouper,” “salmon,” or “aquarium,” that filter wouldn’t pick up “f*sh,” “group*r,” “sa*mon,” or “aquar*um,” potentially exposing her to upsetting content. Obviously that’s a personal thing, not something particularly common, but the same goes for potentially traumatic subject matter as well.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          The asterisk is also used in words that might be triggering for people to read, which may be why NYCProducer used it given that quite a lot of the commentary today has been about self harm.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Ah, gotcha. In that case I think it’s a misplaced attempt… speaking from my own experience, the asterisk does nothing to reduce the impact of the censored word and in fact draws more attention to it.

            If the goal is to avoid triggering language, I think a better route is to not use the words at all and instead describe the general content without using the trigger words. Or alternatively, censor the entire word (**** vs k*ll).

            1. Emma*

              Agreed, and in general – if it’s a context where someone might not be expecting those terms, like a post on social media, it’s a good thing to put a content note at the top so people can choose to skip that post if needed. (Ideally, do that and then don’t star out the words, in case someone is using a browser plugin to block posts that contain those terms which might be accidentally circumvented by masking)

              But in the middle of a long comment thread about suicide and self-harm, anyone who is going to be harmed by seeing this stuff will have already stopped reading.

            2. BatManDan*

              Trigger warnings have been shown to increase the level of emotional distress. Counter-intuitive, but then, so is much of human behavior.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                You know, somehow this seems intuitively likely to me, now that I look at it. I couldn’t exactly say why — maybe something about prepping the mind to be distressed by pre-informing it that the material is distressing? But it just *feels* likely. Even though it still doesn’t make sense exactly.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Any links to back that up?

                I don’t doubt that it’s true, but I think they can also be helpful — I always appreciate knowing that something is going to include mention of harm to children or sexual violence, for example, so I can self select out of reading that post before getting hit with that halfway through.

        3. dealing with dragons*

          it can sometimes also be to avoid searches (like on twitter) and the poster might have done it out of habit. it’s sometimes why you’ll see people do it with peoples names – yes everyone knows who B*yonce is, for instance, but sometimes you want to bemoan something or someone without fans or otherwise coming after you.

    8. JelloStapler*

      Unless you are a mandated reporter, no- but I would respond by saying “I hear you are threatening to kill or harm yourself. I take that seriously and need to ask you some more questions to see what resources we need to contact.”

    9. Hannah*

      For all the debate on who to call or if you should call 911, there is a compromise solution. In the US, call 800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)* and talk to the experts at the Suicide Hotline. Then you don’t have to make the decision on your own but you are not escalating to a situation that may be harmful.

      In other countries, try Googling Country + Suicide (or Crisis) Hotline to find your number.

      *988 will work like 911, to connect you to these experts, no later than July 2022. But it isn’t fully active across the country yet while the full number is.

    10. Ms Frizzle*

      I’m seeing several comments about mandated reporting. Mandated reporting laws vary by state, but in my experience they only cover children and “vulnerable adults,” which as someone pointed out is a specific legal term that probably doesn’t apply. My only experience is in education, not healthcare, so those rules may be different. In this situation, there is nothing I could or would do as a mandated reporter. No one is being abused, neglected, or exploited.

    11. Hannah*

      I’ve tried this a few times so hopefully it’s not stuck in moderation or something and will post multiples at once.

      But there is a compromise solution here, at least in the US – Google Suicide Hotline (I’m not adding the number because maybe that’s what the problem is?) and call them. They are a group of nationally recognized experts available 24/7 to talk to somebody who is considering suicide or knows somebody who may be considering it. They can talk through specific details and offer you the best solution so you don’t have to make the choice on your own.

      For other counties, you may have similar options, Google it and see!

  1. Bagpuss*

    She sounds exhausting, and I think all of Alison’s suggestions are great.

    In terms of the constant drama I think the other thing you can do is treat it as a work query (e.g if she says the child has run off / hamster has exploded / whatever then respond with something like “OK, do you need to leave to deal with that? If so, that’s fine, we can log it as PTO / Sickness / Unpaid Time off (or as appropriate)”

    You can also say something like, “From what you’ve been saying, you have a lot going on in your life at present and I understand that it is stressful. I encourage you to talk to your doctor so you can get appropriate support, but unfortunately I’m not qualified to give you that”

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      She sounds absolutely miserable to have around! You have my sympathy, LW… I sure couldn’t have tolerated her for so long.

      I like Bagpuss’s idea a lot, about treating her personal-life emotion-vomiting as if it were an implied work-related request. It models for her the way the way you want her to talk about such things if at all (i.e. professionally), and it doesn’t give her anything to latch onto to keep rambling about it. Hopefully, she winds down after that, but if necessary you can tell her that if there’s nothing she needs from you in order to get back to work, you need to get back to your own.

    2. H2*

      I think this is the right approach. I work with college students, and this happens…a lot. Regularly. I get super frustrated with it because young adults in particular often have no perspective–a friend breaking up with her boyfriend is The Worst Thing Ever and merits an absence from class. I’ve found that being very firm with my guidelines helps (you can skip class to hug your friend but you can’t make up your quiz). I try to always assume that the trouble is real (because it is, to them) and to be accordingly kind, but I hold them to the rules that are in place. The thing that I have learned over the years is that it never, ever helps for me to be less compassionate–it just give another reason for drama. I know it’s hard. I really, really do. But I think you have to assume that her trials are real (because, again, to her they are, no matter how you feel about it), and then deal with how it impacts her work. (I’m so sorry that you’re having such a hard time. You haven’t been able to get your work done properly. Would it help to take a few days of PTO so that you can regroup?) Focus on specific things that she hasn’t gotten done instead of her drama. I don’t know that this is something that would work in a workplace, but I also try to help students with a strategy to focus and to stay on track. Many years ago I stopped trying to navigate decisions around what excuses were valid and what weren’t and now I handle almost everything the same way (with the exception of really big things, which legitimately warrant different handling).
      I think that part of the problem may be that at least right now, everyone is at the limit of their emotional bandwidth. I totally lost it the other day because a friend invited me to do something and I had to say no because I will have to work. It was ridiculously childish and unreasonable, but I’m totally tapped out emotionally. And some of the things that you mention sound legitimately terrible (and the important thing to remember, that is sooooo hard in practice, is that it’s not up to you to investigate whether someone stole her money or not, if she thinks they did, that’s a real problem), so it’s possible that she’s had a string of unfortunate, real problems, on top of everything else, and at some point minor things just start to feel like more piling on and it’s hard to have perspective. But I think that most people realize that if their problems impact their work, that will only add to their drama. I think that you could even say that explicitly.

      1. many bells down*

        It’s very true about emotional bandwidth. I know little things that I’d normally laugh off have become Level 10 Drama because I just don’t have the capacity.

        1. char*

          Too true. The other day I ended up almost literally crying over spilled milk. My cat knocked my bowl of cereal onto the ground and I had a meltdown because I just couldn’t even deal.

          In my experience, the “spilled milk” is never the real issue. It’s all of the other stresses of life building up, and the spilled milk is just the final thing that tips you over the edge.

          1. Nonny today*


            Or that was the last milk, and now you have to figure something else out to eat AND clean the floor before the cat makes sticky footprints all over, and you will be late to work/Zoom…

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I think “exploding hamsters” should be the AAM site example for drama llama behavior. “When she says her hamster exploded, you can try…” Add it to the chocolate teapots and the llama grooming.

    3. Saberise*

      OP posted below that the employee quit on the spot when she tried to address it with her shortly after writing the letter.

    1. Me*

      Agreed. Though they often can give the appearance of being very very pushy and working very very hard. OP should probably take a critical look at her true output. I have a hunch things are not what they appear.

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      My brother is a drama llama who’s constantly having very intense interpersonal conflicts everywhere he goes. All of his classmates are idiots, his coworkers are all jerks, all of his bosses and professors are out to get him. He’s charming enough that he makes friends very quickly, but he’s unpleasant enough that he loses them just as quickly.

      Unsurprisingly, he gets very angry and cruel if you point out that he’s the common denominator.

      1. allathian*

        Ouch, I’m sorry. I have a very low tolerance for drama and am grateful that I don’t have to deal with a person like your brother. I feel sorry for anyone who gets close to him or people like him.

    3. Tuesday*

      Probably uncommon, but I did know someone like that. When she had it together enough to get work done, she was amazing — but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case very often.

      1. Anon Bipolar*

        (Going anon for this one)

        This is how I discovered I was Bipolar. And have ADD. Throughout both manic and depressive phases, I was able to somewhat compensate by using my long-honed ADD hyperfocus to get large volumes of work done in very short bursts of time if I could manage to focus on something and want to do it.

        It’s not an excuse at all to have a mental illness, but your comment is basically every report card and parent critique I ever got during my whole life. “If you would just apply yourself more and try harder, you could do this every time!” Nope, not possible. At least, not without very strong antipsychotics doing some of the heavy lifting, but then, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35, so…

    4. fposte*

      The OP says she’s intelligent and has good skills, so she may not be a high performer so much as somebody who clearly has the capacity to be. I will say I know a few highly strung thoroughbred types who are super-achievy but also super-reactive. The question is how much that reactivity impairs their value, and that’ll depend on the balance and the job.

    5. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      [raises hand]

      I had one. It was *something*, I’ll tell you. It’s way worse. AND she was otherwise likeable which really throws a wrench.

      I’ve been at the work game a long time, and low or mediocre performing drama llamas are pretty easy to deal with, once you get the hang of it. You focus on the effect on performance and they either remediate or don’t, in which case you move to termination.

      High performer? HOW did she have all of the time for all of the drama and also the time to be productive and effective at her job, no idea. So much trouble she caused. It was like having a precocious pre teen with zero impulse control.

      I did try “things” but the only thing that really worked was her getting the impulse to move across the country and me regrettfully telling her that she would be able to work for us remotely (lotta tears with that).

      1. Cat Tree*

        I think I kind of used to be one? Or maybe just the high-performing office complainer. A few different things were going on. Some of the issues on were on my end, and I have mostly dealt with those. But I also felt over qualified, or that I didn’t have enough mentally challenging work to do, or that I wasn’t getting sufficient recognition for my work. This was during the recession, so it also helped that things have picked up so I had more opportunities and found a job that is the right fit.

        As a manager there’s not much you can do for the high-performing employee’s internal factors. But externally, you could try offering her more challenging work so she’s less bored, and reward that in some way. Sometimes a promotion or raise isn’t an option, but even recognizing her as the go-to expert or implementing her ideas could go a long way. I realize this was in the past for you, but I’m mentioning this in case you have someone like that again.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” springs to mind :)

          I think that’s a great observation. I had a recent situation where a lower level lower performing employee I’d totally written off began turning in *amazing* work. She was previously quite the malcontent, for years, and when COVID hit, changed circumstances put us all in changed roles. Not only did she step up dramatically, she showed capabilities I had never seen before AND stopped complaining. So there’s a lesson in there for me.

          In the case of of the employee in my story, she was High Drama All The Time, more than she was a complainer. The sort crying in her cube because she was being hunted by payday loan collectors and I’m sitting with her, soothing her and explaining her legal rights (and no they aren’t showing up to arrest her like the guy on the phone said they were), and then next week rescuing dogs and the month after that returning the dogs she rescued. Literally always something and taking everyone with her voluntarily or not. (good lord the WEDDING DRAMA I CANNOT) All while doing good work at a good volume, when she was rushing out because her wedding dress studio caught on fire the day after she took out her third loan on the house to pay for the dress.

          Idk I never solved it.

          P.S. i am actually connected to her facebook, years now since I worked with her, and she is a delight. as a facebook friend!

        2. Alternative Person*

          I’ve been in a similar situation where I was positioned as the Drama Llama by colleagues and management for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of doing the minimum acceptable level of work. I certainly didn’t always go about it in the nicest possible way, sure, but I resented the implication that I was the problem and that the solution was for me to compromise my principles.

          The end result was I didn’t speak to anyone except for necessary conversations while they trashed me behind my back. Any mention of my results being better would be met by the response of ‘It’s not a competition’. I ended up leaving.

          1. Julia*

            Yeah, an old boss thought I was dramatic because I didn’t want to be yelled at or touched by coworkers. Boy was he surprised when I left…

    6. Nanani*

      IKR? In my experience they spend more time being dramatic about how much work they are doing/have to do/thought about doing for a minute, than they do actually working.

  2. Bopper*

    “You seem very unhappy here. Everytime I let you know about safety rules or feedback on your work you get very upset. Is this the right environment for you?”
    “I would like you to talk to the Employee Assistant Plan people… you seem to be having a very hard time.”
    If she says she will kill herself multiple times…Consider calling 911 for her having suicidal thoughts. She will either get the help she needs or cut it out.

    1. Enby*

      Please don’t call 911 on people unless absolutely necessary. People who are not white, have disabilities or mental illnesses, etc are at risk of harm when police are called for wellness checks, and being sectioned in a psych hospital (involuntarily committed) can be traumatic under some circumstances. This is not a good way to teach someone a lesson… it’s not even always a safe and effective way to protect someone who truly is at risk of self-harm or suicide.

      1. irene adler*

        Can one call the local (city, county) social services department? Let them know there’s someone who may need their mental health services.

        I did that regarding a neighbor that clearly needed mental health services.
        They came out, assessed him/his situation, offered him a host of helpful services (at no cost to him). I remained anonymous.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Some areas have an emergency hotline and a mobile response team. My area does, and I keep the phone number handy in case I need it for a customer in a dangerous situation, because it’s a safer option for the person in distress than 911. But not every area is set up for that. Anyone reading this who thinks they may need this in the future should do some research on their city/county and make a note of what phone numbers exist that could be helpful.

      2. Wintermute*

        the risks are greatly over-reported, and the risk of NOT calling could be tragic. Obviously you need to exercise some discretion, I agree with you that it’s never to be used to “teach someone a lesson” but if someone seems at all serious and it’s not clearly a joke, mental health intervention is the only appropriate solution appropriate. Unless you are a qualified professional in a clinical setting you are not qualified to help.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          The police are also not “qualified professionals in a clinical setting” – they are trained to respond to criminal matters, not provide mental health support or intervention, and in many cases they are trained to protect themselves first. There are other avenues to get people help than calling 911.

          1. Wintermute*

            That is true, and that’s why in many jurisdictions police bring help for a suicide threat call or send EMS. 911 is not JUST for police it’s the central clearinghouse for all emergency services. If you think it’s a realistic and imminent threat they’re the best route.

            That said, I agree entirely that it’s not to be used to try to “scare someone straight” or if they’re being hyperbolic… it’s for when there’s a realistic and plausible threat not jokes or figures of speech.

            1. Nonny today*

              In my city, they send police to all psych calls–even when they are also sending a psych crisis team. The police won’t let the crisis team folks talk to the subject until they have decided the person won’t be a danger to the experts, even though SEEING police is going to escalate a lot of situations. They’ve shot people, they’ve opted not even to talk to the crisis team even though they were available and then shot the person… yeah, unless the person is brandishing weapons and threatening YOU and the risk of them being shot by police is acceptable as self-defense, 911 is not a good option in my city.

        2. Ashley*

          In the US I do not believe the risks of calling 911 on someone for a mental wealth check are over reported. I believe they are under-reported given how often the news report stories from events that happened months ago or a year ago. Also as others have pointed out if you are a minority or disabled the risk of harm at the hands of the police who are frequently not trained to handle meant health issues increases dramatically.
          I honestly don’t know who you are supposed to call if you do think someone is threatening suicide but the police isn’t it for a vast majority of the population.

        3. Amaranth*

          My brother called 911 when his roommate took too many of his prescribed meds and just the fire department came out, I guess I hadn’t thought police would come unless you were reporting behavior dangerous to others.

          1. Nonny today*

            If someone is unconscious or at least groggy and non-threatening, yeah, EMS will come out without police. (Unless you live at my apartment complex or others where the tenants have threatened EMS/Fire responders. Fun times.)

        4. PollyQ*

          I found one source that says that people with untreated mental illness are 16x more likely to be killed by law enforcement. And while POC are certainly at higher risk, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk for white people. I’m not sure what steps I would take if I were concerned about an employee being a suicide risk, but I would definitely not call 911.

          1. Wintermute*

            16 times higher than a fractional percentage is still a very low number. It’s very easy to forget in the midst of all the media attention that the number of deaths of unarmed people by police is a few dozen at most. We can’t let fear of the thing that almost never happens stop us from taking the proper steps for the thing that happens every day.

            1. Emma*

              Here’s a study based on media reports (because police records are incomplete) which estimates ~150 fatal police shootings of unarmed people by US police, per year, since 2015. That’s just shootings, so won’t include other methods of killing, such as suffocation (e.g. Eric Garner or Daniel Prude).


              On top of that, though – death isn’t the only harmful outcome of calling police to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. When someone is vulnerable, being approached and potentially detained by police officers who are neither qualified nor equipped to deal with the situation is often traumatic. That trauma can worsen the person’s mental health and increase the risk of future crises, which then compounds the original problem.

            2. pleaset cheap rolls*

              A few dozen at most? Not, it’s much higher. And that’s the one who are dead. Beaten and imprisoned it’s many many more.

              “that almost never happens”


        5. Observer*

          , mental health intervention is the only appropriate solution appropriate</i<

          Except that calling 911 is highly unlikely to actually result in that. Below you claim that a lot of jurisdictions police bring "help". It's not true. That would be the ideal, but it is very much NOT the norm.

          And even when EMS gets dispatched rather than the police, it often doesn't work or help. Because EMS is generally not actually composed of trained mental health professionals. Yes, outcomes are generally not as life threatening as if the police show up, but it's still a significant risk.

      3. Sylvan*

        Thank you. Please don’t risk someone having a violent interaction with police or having their finances ruined by an ambulance ride and hospital visit unless you’re certain that the benefits outweigh the risks.

      4. Cassidy*

        >People who are not white, have disabilities or mental illnesses, etc are at risk of harm when police are called for wellness checks

        That’s really offensive. Most police do right by their jobs.

        1. AGD*

          I’m much more offended by how my Black/POC and disabled/neuroatypical friends in the U.S. are treated by police there. African-American English has a well established term, “the talk” (i.e. when parents sit their kids down and discuss how to minimize the chances of being harmed by cops), but for some reason, mainstream white American English doesn’t.

        2. TassieTiger*

          The most offensive thing is that it’s true.

          Forbes article “No Justice, No Speech: Autism a Deadly Hazard When Dealing with Police”

          1. Nonny today*

            thank you
            BIPOC disabled people are at the highest risk–partly because people see them as “threatening” when they’re not doing anything wrong, just because of the color of their skin, and if you add “unstable” then the odds of death or excessive force go WAY up.

            Disability Day of Mourning is coming up on March 1st and most of them are BIPOC and many are killed by police.

        3. Observer*

          That’s not the issue. Police simply do not have the training to handle mental health calls. So even when they are well meaning and are trying to do the right thing, and no one ends up dead, significant harm often gets done.

          Police will tell you this themselves. In fact many resent being put in this position. And I honestly don’t blame them.

        4. Roci*

          Even if it’s just “a few bad apples”, how does the rest of that saying go?… “A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

        5. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “That’s really offensive. Most police do right by their jobs.”

          Enough are terrible that the text you quoted is very very true.

    2. Anononon*

      This is not an appropriate use of 911. Along with the extremely valid points that Enby brought up about the dangers of any potential response, 911 should not be used to teach a dramatic employee a lesson.

    3. Observer*

      Consider calling 911 for her having suicidal thoughts. She will either get the help she needs or cut it out.

      Do NOT do that! 911 does not have the resources to deal with mental health issues, on the one hand. On the other hand, if the police get involved the outcome is likely to be bad (even if she’s white and looks “typically” feminine. If she’s a POC then the potential for trouble goes WAAAAY up.) And even in the very few jurisdictions where the proper resources are actually in place, there is very little anyone could do in a case like this. She’s not actually threatening anyone directly, not even herself. If she were ACTUALLY trying to hard herself that wouls be different.

      In general, 911 should be used for EMERGENCIES. Someone emoting all over the place and making hyperbolic statements is NOT an emergency.

      1. Cassidy*

        >On the other hand, if the police get involved the outcome is likely to be bad (even if she’s white and looks “typically” feminine. If she’s a POC then the potential for trouble goes WAAAAY up.)

        Credible, verifiable data that this outcome is of a statistical significance?

        1. AGD*

          Yes! Look up, for instance, “What data on 20 million traffic stops can tell us about ‘driving while black’.”

    4. CheeryO*

      At my workplace (state government), you can’t require someone to seek out EAP resources. I don’t know if that’s true everywhere, but the LW might want to be careful of their phrasing. It’s a good suggestion, though.

      1. irene adler*

        Where I am, a supervisor cannot make a comment that their report should see a doctor, given they are complaining about something. They can provide the EAP literature, but cannot ask their report to get in touch with EAP.
        I’ve had some reports with issues (marital infidelity, depression) and I was sympathetic. But cautioned by my manager not to suggest counseling or seeing a physician or going to EAP.

        1. Nonny today*

          My bosses DID require me to go to EAP to keep my job. (Undiagnosed Autistic person not coping well after the boss I liked quit and the new one didn’t like me.) The EAP psych concluded that I was not intelligent enough to do the work so I should just quit (even though I’d been a high performer with the previous boss). When I protested that I had done well with OldBoss, the job didn’t even require a BA, and I was taking classes to finish my degree, he said I was delusional because I clearly was not intelligent enough to have been accepted to university. I offered to bring a transcript–and he said he knew I thought I had a transcript, but when I brought it in, it would be a utility bill.

          This was decades before Glassdoor, so I didn’t find out until later that this company would avoid going through the legal hassles of official layoffs by harassing employees until they quit. (I don’t remember if the red tape was because they were a government contractor or related to labor regulations about notifications of layoffs.)

          No, I am not interested in going to EAP.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      You can’t do this, as everyone has said. What you CAN do is TELL the person that if they talk about killing themselves, you have to treat it as a genuine threat, so please don’t use those words.

  3. Washi*

    You can also address the “emotes to anyone within earshot.” You can’t tell her to stop talking about her personal life, but if she’s distracting others and engaging in an excessive amount of non-work chatting, you can talk to her about that. If I were a staff member, I would really appreciate a manger cutting down on what sounds like an exhausting drama recital every day.

  4. KRM*

    We had a drama llama at my old job. Even objectively hard things (she lost gas service in the issues in MA in 2018) just got so Over The Top Drama I Have Problems You Can’t Imagine that you couldn’t take her seriously about anything. And everything was an excuse to not get work done. Drove me crazy that my boss erred on the side of being nice and giving her tons of slack (yes, some slack, but if she chooses to go live in her ME house with a 2 1/2 hr commute, you can’t use that to excuse her never getting her stuff done), but the layoffs made it moot.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, that’s a point I wanted to make but didn’t — the OP needs compassion for the rest of her staff too, which means she’s got to rein this person in.

      1. Wintermute*

        I think this is a really, really, super important point. WAY too often in the pages of AAM here we have seen managers with boundless patience for someone behaving badly but little thought to the rest of the poor team.

        1. irene adler*

          We, the other members of the team, take our cues from the manager. Cuz we are just as troubled by all the drama-spewing. We want it curtailed. Only we don’t know what we can say/do to make that happen.

          And if the manager is letting the drama continue unabated, then we figure there’s got to be a better manager to work for.

        2. SaintLucysEyes*

          Yes, exactly. And it’s very likely that other team members are dealing with problems that are just serious and doing everything they can to keep it from affecting their work.

    2. AskJeeves*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking. There are soooo many versions of this letter, where the manager is putting enormous time and energy into greasing the squeaky wheel, while the competent, no-drama employees quietly bear the fallout. Having been there, I can say that it is poisonous to a work culture, and it’s almost never worth the cost to keep that squeaky wheel even if they’re otherwise a high performer. And, as Alison always points out, you have to factor their behavior into your assessment of them professionally: a “good” employee who causes constant drama, friction, and stress for their manager and coworkers is not actually a good employee.

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      Your coworker and OP’s employee sound just like my old coworker. Everything was an emergency/ catastrophe/ DEFCON 1 scenario. It was exhausting to be around, and made everyone crazy. When he finally left of his own volition, it was like the air cleared. Compassion to a point is crucial, but going to far is frustrating to everyone.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      This. I have a coworker much like this where every single little thing is a whole production (with the huffing and puffing and eye rolling and snapping at people and slamming her phone/mouse/keyboard and the “I’m too busy for this!” etc etc) and it makes basic work interactions so difficult. Every time you need something from her you end up thinking, how badly do I need X? Do I need it badly enough to tolerate the whole routine or can I just do it myself?

      Like your drama llama, I suspect that she does it because she knows that if she kicks up enough of a fuss about every little thing then eventually people will just stop asking. I don’t know if that was what was going on with OP’s drama llama but I think that a lot of people like this do it because (consciously or not) they know it gets results.

    5. ggg*

      I managed this person for a few months. Insanely long commute, unreliable car, family issues, house issues, health issues, relationship issues… A lot of it was crummy luck but so much of it was due to the person making dumb decisions and setting so many aspects of their life on “hard” for reasons that did not make sense to me. None of that was my business, but every day I had to hear about the struggle it had taken to get to work at all that day.

      At some point I said, your work time is valuable, please do not spend any more of it apologizing to me about XYZ, just go get stuff done (FWIW, their work was actually good). I left the company soon after and I wonder if they are still there, or if the next manager just got sick of them.

  5. oh no*

    Ohhh nooooooo. She definitely needs to see a medical professional. I am *very* familiar with the impulse to think/say “well I’ll just kill myself!” in response to feedback, having been on both ends (I’m doing better, hooray for therapy and meds), and that is not a good place to be. I’m extending the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s a genuine feeling and not a brazen manipulation attempt (could be both!)

    Hopefully you putting your foot down will be the external motivation she needs to realise “wait, this isn’t a healthy way to feel”. Good luck, OP.

    1. Cat Tree*

      I’m glad you’re doing better. If you’re comfortable sharing, what prompted you to get help? I often feel like external motivation isn’t very effective.

      I know that for my own mental health issues, my motivation to seek treatment came from within. I was super good at hiding it so I don’t remember anyone suggesting to get treatment. But if someone did, I doubt I would have been receptive to it.

      If there is a way for an outsider to help someone get treatment, even if it’s just a chance, I would love to know it. I have two family members who are struggling and it’s heartbreaking that I can’t convince them to get help.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I don’t know your exact situation, but I was able to convince my partner to get help when she was at the worst point in her depression. What worked was making it about me – which felt horrible and selfish at the time, but at that point she wasn’t capable of valuing herself enough to do it for her own sake. I’d tried convincing her to seek treatment for her own good many times without success. I finally told her (honestly) that no matter how much I wanted to be there for her I wasn’t strong enough to be her only support, that the effects of her mental state were crushing me whether she meant to or not, and that *I* needed her to get help because *I* was suffering. She took it to heart and started seeing a therapist that month, and is doing much better now.

        For obvious reasons this is not an approach I recommend in general… but I think it’s worth considering that someone may be willing to get help because they love you even if they’re not in a place where they can love themselves.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I used a similar idea on my husband who was in his final illness.
          One night he informed me he was out of aspirin at 10:30 pm. I drove from store to store until I found one that was open. I came home, I was tired and super stressed because he was alone that whole time. I said, “I need you to help me. If I do too much of these late night runs then *I* will be in the next hospital bed over from you. I really need you to let me know if you need anything before dinner time so I can go get it before it gets late in the evening.”
          With that explanation he understood the problem and we never revisited that conversation again.
          This is an approach that might work when nothing else is clicking in.

          1. lailaaaaah*

            And if it doesn’t, then you know it’s time to start considering exit strategies. I told my ex that while I appreciated their mental health was at an all time low, if their behaviour towards me didn’t improve, I’d be checking in to the psych ward they’d just left. There was a temporary improvement- and then back to normal, at which point I left.

        2. Same*

          Same here. I was so stuck in my own head that I didn’t realize how bad it was until my partner told me how it was affecting him. I got help.

    2. Not playing your game anymore*

      I had a friend who in moments of stress would either do the finger gun to the temple, the throat slash gesture or the hang self … or say “I could kill [myself, her, etc.]”

      We finally managed to convince her that these are not well received, to say the least.
      Now she’ll say go [eat worms, suck on a sock, or kick rocks] and the various hand gestures have evolved into a Picardian face palm. Still dramatic, but less triggering.

  6. Jack Be Nimble*

    What are the “more serious steps” if the employee can’t or won’t curb her behavior at work? I’ve never had much luck getting people like the OP describes to recognize the pattern or change their own behavior — in my experience, pushing back on this kind of thing has always just contributed to the drama-haver’s perception that the world is out to get them!

    1. EPLawyer*

      Firing them. If they continue to be disruptive and affect the team, you put them on notice to either knock it off or they will be fired. You have to be willing to fire people. Regardless if they feel you are out to get them. It’s not YOUR job to manage their feelings. Your job is to get the work done.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I’d guess you treat it like any other performance issue – address it in terms of the disruption it causes to other staff and to the manager, with the feedback look for patterns – are the things where she needs feedback the same things (i.e. is she taking in / acting on it) etc.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Same as with any other performance or conduct issue — a clear warning and a willingness to fire them if they don’t meet the standards that are necessary for your team.

  7. Observer*

    OP, you sound like a compassionate person. Your response to your employee was NOT callous at all.

    I would add a couple of things to Alison’s excellent advice.

    Firstly, have that talk with her ASAP. And after that, please shut her down in the moment when she complains and pushes back over rules. “I understand that this is unpleasant for you, but this is what we need to do.” Then pivot to whatever it is. If she tries to continue EXPLICITLY call it out “This is not up for discussion.” And of course, the follow up conversation that Alison laid out.

    It’s REALLY important that you get used to her emotional over-reaction and NOT let it keep you hostage. You can be sure that when you talk to her about her complaining she IS going to start emoting all over you and making hyperbolic statements. Do NOT let that stop you. Say what you need to say without softening it and with absolute clarity. Not “It would be nice” or “I would like” but “You need to”.

    Also, in addition to what Alison says about reacting to her crying, realize that she’s almost certainly going to make some more over the top comments. Do NOT respond to her. Your response last time was actually very kind, but you don’t need to – and actually SHOULD not go through that on a regular basis. If she makes comments like that you can just tell her “I’m sorry you feel that way. If you are seriously feeling like harming yourself, please seek medical help.” Point her to your EAP if you have one. And then just continue with what you are discussing.

    Lots of luck with this.

    1. lailaaaaah*

      Yes! Also, it’s worth looking into getting some kind of support for yourself if this continues- threats of self harm are emotional abuse, and the reason why your responses maybe aren’t always ‘as compassionate as they could be’ is probably because you’re way exceeding your emotional bandwidth.

  8. EPLawyer*

    You need to shut this down IMMEDIATELY. You are trying so hard to make ONE person happy — who will never BE happy — that it is affecting you and the rest of the team. You have a choice, rein her in or lose the rest of your team.

    You have to have the conversations Alison said. Regardless of her melodramatics. When she starts the personal stuff, you are NOT being a bad boss by not letting her emote all over you, you are being a PROFESSIONAL. And you are demonstrating professional behavior in the work place. She does not have the right to drag her personal drama into the workplace and expect you all to add it to your own emotional state ever. Being in a pandemic when everyone else is stressed but she expects to be catered is incredibly selfish on her part.

    Do you NEED this person on your team if she continues this way? Not sure if she has such specialized skills you can’t do without her. but if she isn’t that special, have the Alison conversations. Then make it clear its stop this behavior in the workplace or she will be terminated. Then DO IT. Even if you find someone NOT as perfect for the job as she is (and I doubt she is perfect for the job) just the lowering of the drama level in the office will more than make up for it.

  9. LDN Layabout*

    One thing to remember is that behaviour like this is inherently manipulative, whether or not the person doing it intends it to be.

    The reason I say this is because I have dealt with people like this before and it’s exhausting, but a big part of the exhaustion is that decent human beings do not want to hurt others. Just fundamentally.

    So when you’re being manipulated, there’s that big ‘oh I really don’t want to hurt them’ going on in your head and it just makes you feel worse. So feel free to set a lot of that manipulation-enhanced guilt aside. Like Alison is outlined, you can be kind and firm in setting those boundaries.

    Your employee might react badly, but that’s not on you.

    1. AllTheBirds*

      So true. Drama Llama is getting exactly what she wants: chaos and attention. Stop providing it. Your other reports will thank you.

    2. Lacey*

      Yes, people like this use other people’s compassion against them. And they generally won’t admit to themselves that, that’s what they’re doing and get pretty frustrated with you if you point it out, but if you know that’s what’s happening, maybe it’s easier to respond to it in an appropriate way without feeling horrible.

    3. ThePear8*

      +1. Have dealt with people like this, who weren’t necessarily trying to be manipulative but had me constantly walking on eggshells not wanting to hurt them and sacrificing a lot of my own well-being as a result. You’re not obligated to manage her feelings.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        I had this happen in a very close friendship and the worst part of it was that the person was truly suffering. It was very hard for her. She very much believed her point of view was correct and we were all being hurtful.

        But she was also being incredibly unreasonable and manipulating people around her and I wasn’t going to allow it to keep affecting me no matter how much I cared.

        (Luckily with space and time everyone involved is close again, but it was touch and go for a while)

        1. lailaaaaah*

          I’ve been in a similar position with an ex, who genuinely was having a truly awful time and had many reasons why their mental health was a wreck, but their coping strategies were to constantly vent about how awful they were feeling and how everyone was out to get them on every possible level. I genuinely believe they weren’t trying to be manipulative and that it was a very sincere expression of pain, but in the end I had to leave and I haven’t seen or spoken to them since.

    4. Elle Woods*

      +1. A relative of mine acts very much like the one the LW described and it was exhausting. Once I started kindly and firmly setting boundaries–and reinforced them as needed–things improved dramatically.

  10. Sara without an H*

    OP, you have my sympathy. I have nothing to add to Alison’s excellent advice about the work issues. But I have managed a few people who, shall we say, were emotionally intense. Be very careful about how you respond when they want to tell you about what’s going on in their lives. While you want to be compassionate, you don’t want to become their audience; that will only feed the emotional display.

    So, when your employee comes to you with their latest episode, keep your response very short and to the point: “Gee, that sounds tough. Let me know if you need anything. Where are we with the Jabberwocky Project?”

    I know this sounds callous, and it’s hard not to be as compassionate as one would like to be. But if you engage too much, you will just be feeding energy into the situation.

    1. Wintermute*

      Yup, it’s sad but an “awkwardness return to sender” often feels abrupt and rude, but the alternative is to let the emotional leech get its teeth in you. Do not dispense ego kibble, do not shift attention to them, keep it neutral, make some noncomittal sympathy noises and go back to work, eventually they’ll learn they’re not getting their hit off you and move on, and it really is remarkable that they can be emotionally continent if they want to be– it’s usually that it’s getting them a psychological reward that keeps them flinging emotional debris around.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Wintermute, you have a flair for language. I may have to borrow “ego kibble” for future use.

        1. Wintermute*

          Thank you! Being fair to the source I got that from a blog about cheaters, who uses it to describe what narcissists (I am not saying that anyone here is a narcissist, but that’s what the blog originally referred to) get out of their relationships– they don’t want companionship or even real “love” they want their ego flattered and attention paid to them (which feeds their ego). They value people only insofar as they are providers or potential providers of ego kibbles.

          I am using it in a slightly different sense here but the core idea is the same, it’s the little endorphin rushes of having captured someone’s attention and extracted their sympathy that are the goal of the interaction.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Sometimes I will encounter things with a friend, that are just really off base.

      Friend: “I had to PAY into the IRS this year! Can you imagine?! I don’t understand why *I* have to pay!”

      Me: [very flat voice] “Yes, this happens sometimes. Many people have had to pay into taxes because they did not have enough withheld.”

      Friend: [suddenly downshifts in tone] oooohhhhh……

      I did not do this for the longest time because although my example here is silly, it’s typical of the types of explanations I offered. I thought it was condescending of me. However, my friend honestly never thought about X or Y being normal and other people going through it also. Once I approached the situation in a dry/unemotional tone, the situation was over. We never revisited it again. I began to realize that my friend never experienced X or Y before and actually did want and did USE the reassurance I offered.

      Recently Friend was concerned that they did not receive the stimulus check #2. I asked if they checked their bank account lately. Noooo. So I told my friend to check and if it’s not there let me know and we’d look at the situation together. I have to believe that having a back up plan helped Friend to work on their concern rather than sit and worry over it. (Neither one of us could remember if Friend was getting direct deposit or not.)

      Here the key is my friend actually wants relief from the worry. Consolable people will allow us to help build an action plan.

      In an extreme example, my aunt had a boss say that she wanted to end her life. This was a very toxic boss and my aunt was beside herself. “Now what do I do?!!! I have a very poor relationship with this person!” (This was over 40 years ago, and resources were not widely known.) My aunt located some phone numbers. With her heart in her throat she went in and talked to her boss. “I am concerned about you. I found some phone numbers you can call and ask for help.” She gently explained what the phone numbers were and how they would help.
      My aunt was totally surprised when the boss accepted the slip of paper and simply said, “thank you”. This boss never said thank you for ANYTHING. The boss actually called a number and asked for help. For many years after that, this formerly toxic, unlikeable person showed deference and respect to my aunt, all because of my aunt’s single gesture of help. My aunt concluded, “We just don’t know how we are impacting other people.” I have to think that it hit the boss between the eyes that my aunt did not have to do this, given the way the boss had treated her.

      There are instances where one person is not enough for a given setting. Sometimes a team of professionals is necessary to get the individual effective help. I like the idea of redirecting toward professional resources, if possible.

  11. AllTheBirds*

    That’s the kind of person that I’d leave a job over. I don’t want to hear all about your problems EVERY DAY. Knock it off.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      Right? I tend to be overly private perhaps and don’t share my personal drama at all. One time I was rear ended at a traffic light on the way to work. Had to wait for the police but because I am a little crazy when it comes to being on time, I still wasn’t late for work. I never even mentioned it. My boss just happened to notice the back of my (drivable) car was crunched, so that’s the only way it even came up. LOL

    2. MistOrMister*

      I always hope I’m not this person. I have a tendency to be melodramatic but it’s more for amusement than anything else. When I come in saying my house fell into a sinkhole (when I really have a big puddle outside) it’s only for the entertainment value and people know I’m not serious. :)

  12. OhNoYouDidn't*

    I agree with everything AMA says here. If the OP actually starts addressing her ability to accept feedback and her need to stop her complaining, I don’t see the employee lasting much longer at this workplace.

  13. KHB*

    On the self-harm talk: She’s threatening to commit an act of violence if you don’t give her what she wants. Just because the violence would be against herself doesn’t make it any less inappropriate.

    When it comes to people like ex-partners threatening self-harm, the advice I’ve seen is “Do not pass Go, dial 911.” If they’re seriously in need of help, they’ll get the help they need; if they’re not, they’ll learn not to play games like that. I don’t know how best to adapt that advice to a workplace environment. Do you by any chance have an existing policy for how to handle employees who threaten violence?

    1. Enby*

      I wrote this above but will copy it here… Please don’t call 911 on people unless absolutely necessary. People who are not white, have disabilities or mental illnesses, etc are at risk of harm when police are called for wellness checks, and being sectioned in a psych hospital (involuntarily committed) can be traumatic under some circumstances. This is not a good way to teach someone a lesson… it’s not even always a safe and effective way to protect someone who truly is at risk of self-harm or suicide.

      1. KHB*

        You’ll note that I’m not advising the OP to call 911 – just that that’s the advice that I’ve heard, and that’s the reasoning I’ve heard for it.

        Yes, being involuntarily sent to a psych hospital is a big deal…but threatening violence in the workplace is kind of a big deal too, you know? What if, instead of threatening to harm herself, the employee were threatening to harm OP, or another one of her coworkers? Sure, she probably doesn’t really intend to go through with it, but that’s not a call that I, as a manager, would really want to make.

        I agree with Allypopx that the first step should be to loop in HR. The second, I guess, would be to have a very stern conversation that threats of self harm are incredibly serious and aren’t something to throw around lightly – and that if the threats continue, you’ll escalate as appropriate.

        1. Colette*

          I agree with that. If the OP is sure that the employee isn’t serious, she should not call 911. But … threatening to kill yourself is pretty serious, and well out of the norm, and it’s cause for concern. And if the best way to get the employee help is to call 911, the OP should do so. (And how 911 will handle that is not universal – some places have different training/services than others.)

    2. Working Hypothesis*

      It’s not a good idea, unfortunately. It *should* be possible to call for a wellness check on somebody who is acting in a way that suggests their health is at great risk, but the practical reality is that police have killed people (especially, though not exclusively, BIPOC) during these wellness checks. It’s a real risk to her safety… especially if she’s Black, but to some extent even if she’s not. Don’t go there. Keep it professional and move along in the conversation without letting yourself be blackmailed.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      You can do a hard stop when the self-harm starts. Ask directly “Do you mean that seriously? Do you have an intent to harm yourself?” Strive for a firm, compassionate tone. Then stop talking until you get a response.
      Odds are, you’ll have interrupted the drama and the person will step back and now you can get back to business. OR – it’s more real, at which time you can ask if it’s an intent that is immediate. “Do you intend to hurt yourself now/today?” and a follow up “Do you have a plan about how that would happen?” If the answers are yes on those, then ask how you can help the person get assistance – do they have a health provider or other support person you can contact for them? would the EAP be suitable? Do they want you to call 911? Again, firm and compassionate, without leaning into the panic and letting the person define the help they need.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        Spotted the QPR person :)

        Also excellent advice – ASK THE PERSON if they want you to call 911. Allow them to have agency over their own life and their own care. Mentally ill people so often are not given that agency.

      2. KHB*

        That’s a very compassionate response. But for an employee who thrives on being the center of attention, I’d worry that this would teach her that she can derail any conversation she doesn’t like (e.g., about feedback on her work) into one that’s all about her and the help that she needs.

        1. kt*

          Interestingly, I think it won’t work that way — from the people I have known who’ve done this, either it’s a cry for help and they actually do sort of appreciate the serious focus on getting them *help* from *someone else* (not *attention* from *you*) or it’s a different sort of cry and they really resent the focus on getting help from someone else and decide you’re not worth the trouble of complaining to, because you’ll push them to focus on an uncomfortable issue rather than giving them the attention they want. When it’s sort of an emotional vampirism, the reward is attention/discomfort/a rise in the emotional temperature. A calm discussion about getting intervention from someone else — focusing on the risk of self-harm rather than on the drama — is not the desired reward.

        2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

          That’s why I didn’t say to provide the help then and there. It’s an assessment of urgency. If she doesn’t need medical professionals to carry her off in the moment, then it’s an assessment about whether she is capable of being at work and functional at the task at hand (e.g., getting feedback) or whether she needs to take 5 or take some PTO for the rest of the day to address her crisis. This boss is not there to provide mental health support, and really shouldn’t be part of the details of that. So boss just needs to know if is this a tantrum, or a medical emergency, and then address accordingly.

        3. boo bot*

          I guess that’s a risk, but I think it’s worth doing once for a couple of reasons: first, I think people who threaten suicide are usually expressing a genuine feeling of unbearable distress. When someone acts like this with such frequency, people around them tend to start dismissing them as just attention-seeking (understandably) but that doesn’t mean they don’t really need help. Assuming that she’s serious isn’t playing into her game – it’s allowing her a chance to step out of the realm of “drama llama” and into the realm of “I seriously need some help.”

          The second reason is, if she *is* acting purely manipulatively, it stops the game: a calm, serious response to suicidal threats is the opposite of drama (as boop the first mentions below, just interrupting the drama has a lot of effect).

          The other thing is, I’m not looking at this as a long-term plan – the solution can’t be that everything stays the way it is, plus they have a serious conversation every time; the whole dynamic needs to change. I just think it’s usually good to start with the most compassionate approach and work from there.

        4. EventPlannerGal*

          I think that for people who say these things as hyperbole or as manipulation, it’s actually quite embarrassing to be taken seriously. Manipulators want you to sort of take it seriously (by giving them whatever they want) and not-seriously (don’t actually question their mental stability) at the same time. They don’t want to be perceived as needing help.

          The effect they’re trying to achieve is “I am very important and all my outsize emotional responses are VERY important and must be catered to at all times or else you are a terrible person”, not “I am severely mentally unwell and desperately need help”. I think that if someone is doing these things for that reason you don’t need to worry about giving them attention because it isn’t the kind of attention they want.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Hard agree.
            It’s not up to the boss to “doctor” this person. We are responsible for our words, period. The boss or cohorts can respond to the sentence as stated.
            Attention seekers do not like being held responsible for their words. Some one at the end of their rope is probably more inclined to just accept help.

            I have worked with subordinates who would spend half the day telling me their arm/whatever hurts. When I finally said, “Would you like to leave so you can get to a walk-in med center?”, all of the sudden the arm/whatever is better and I did not hear about it again. It’s okay to respond to what is actually being said.

      3. boop the first*

        I like this. Just interrupting (good word for it) the drama is WEIRDLY effective.

        Totally different situation, but I once had a neighbor who regularly begged for cash (for drugs) in the middle of the night. He went on a circuitous, well-used rant about how his car is so broken he can’t go pick up his kids, but never got to the actual request.

        I blurted out: Oh, I don’t have a car.
        He blinked and said, huh?
        I said, You said you can’t pick up your kids from school, but I don’t have a car, so I really can’t help you with that one, sorry.
        Got to the point fast after that, but he was so dumbfounded hearing his own speech for the first time (???), that for every night after that, he would refuse to talk to me and just say, Is your husband home? LOL!

    4. Observer*

      When it comes to people like ex-partners threatening self-harm, the advice I’ve seen is “Do not pass Go, dial 911.” If they’re seriously in need of help, they’ll get the help they need; if they’re not, they’ll learn not to play games like that.

      Nope. It does not work this way. The odds that they will get the help they need is actually low. The odds that they will learn a lesson? Not so good either – more likely they will NOT learn a lesson OR they will suffer serious harm.

      911 is for EMERGENCIES. Someone making comments about “I should just kill myself” may be in need of serious help, but they are not presenting an active threat and the police will either not do anything or wind up doing something that’s waaaay out of proportion and downright dangerous to that person. And there is a real chance that the person could wind up hurt or even dead.

    5. Sylvan*

      Please don’t do this. Also, please don’t conflate suicide and self-harm. They’re very different things. Lumping the two in together doesn’t help people dealing with either problem (or both of them).

      1. KHB*

        I said “self harm” because I wasn’t sure if “suicide” would auto-flag my comment for moderation. (I guess it doesn’t?)

  14. Wintermute*

    I admit, I’m 110% out of patience with people that complain about safety, by this point I tend to snap back. I can’t recommend it, especially for a manager, but at the same time sometimes a sharp dose of reality can help put things in perspective. If she complains about the smell of lysol, I, personally would say something like “If you hate the smell of disinfectant you should be happy we’re trying to keep you out of the hospital.” Complaints about masks being stuffy or claustrophobic are met with comments about how much they’d hate having an endotracheal tube taped to their face.

    1. Allypopx*

      I bristled at that too. “My mask is stuffy” I’d have such a hard time not snapping back “if you’re worried about not breathing you really don’t want COVID” and “if I can deal with it as a chronic asthmatic you’ll be fine”.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I like asking people what they would suggest as a solution for their complaint that would allow them to comply.
      “Would a fan help with the lysol smell?” “What other types of masks have you tried?”

      Conversations about reasonable accommodations are ok if the complainer participates in solution finding. Whining is boring and pointless and can be responded to with indifference.

    3. Sandangel*

      I’ve been working essential retail throughout the pandemic (CA and my store are good about masking), and I’ve been double masking with an N95 since Christmas. I am so done with people complaining how they can’t breathe or spreading conspiracy theories while I’m hauling boxes and bags of dog food while properly masked all year. Definitely a sign I’m not ready for management.

      1. Julia*

        Right? I used to wear construction site masks (very solid and thick to protect you from chemicals) and interpreted for hours while going up and down scaffolding. And my 98-year-old grandma with asthma wears a mask when going out (which is almost never, but she sometimes has to see a doctor). I also teach four-year-olds who wear masks all day long without complaining. I don’t have any patience for people who complain.

        1. inspector parker*

          I’m asthmatic and actually find the mask rather helpful on cold, dry days – my lungs appreciate having the air warmed up before it hits!

  15. Arya Snark*

    If I didn’t know any better, OP, I’d think you’d hired my former drama llama. What Alison says here is fantastic – I used her advice as well. In my case, it helped but the drama never truly stopped – it just manifested itself in different ways (pouting, brooding & uncomfortable silence) or came back eventually. My llama didn’t directly threaten self-harm but did talk more vaguely of “just going away”. On they day we would’ve initiated their 2nd PIP that would’ve undoubtedly led to termination, they quit. It was a relief and it’s a much more pleasant environment for all since they’ve been gone. MUCH. MORE.
    I wish you luck and much patience – llama wrangling is hard work!

  16. Allypopx*

    In addition to how you respond to it, you might also want to be prepared to interfere if she’s hindering other people’s work. You can do this both by modeling how to respond to her and by interrupting when you see her trapping people, and pulling either them or her away with work related business. I’m sure you’re not the only one feeling drained.

    1. AllTheBirds*

      “and by interrupting when you see her trapping people, and pulling either them or her away”

      Better yet, pull her away and reiterate what you’ve already discussed: “We talked about this. I need you to stop distracting your coworkers with personal chatter.”

  17. Double A*

    After reading many of these comments, I recommend you watch “What We do in the Shadows,” particularly the episode with Evie Russell, the Emotional Vampire (even worse than Colin Robinson, the Energy Vampire). First off, it’s hilarious. Second off, it may put you in a different frame of mind thinking about the effect this employee is having on your workplace, which is not so hilarious.

    1. fposte*

      It is the best visualization of a real-life type that I’ve ever seen, and it is, as you say, hilarious. (I also like that it’s not simply gendered as something women do with emotions–Colin Robinson will suck the life out of you without a single moment of drama.)

      1. Wintermute*

        It’s the scene that got me hooked on that show, especially Colin’s slow realization and facial expression like “oh… she’s good.. she’s dangerous… but she’s good at what she does”.

    2. Damn it, Hardison!*

      The episode in which Colin gets a promotion is one of my favorites. I think we have all worked with a Colin (and or an Evie).

    3. Dr Rat*

      I got to meet Mark Protsch (the actor who portrays Colin Robinson) very briefly a couple of years ago and I had to tell him how he’s one of the few people who can actually make me laugh out loud. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. I personally love the part where Colin Robinson is being called into the office and he thinks he’s going to be fired because “I don’t even know what the hell this company does.” Of course, they promote him to management.

  18. Emily*

    The only thing I would add to Alison’s wonderful advice is to make sure your other staff know how they can respond when your employee is emoting all over them. I’ve worked with drama llamas in the past and it can be hard to know how to gently extract yourself when they go on and on. Letting your other staff know how they can handle this “that sounds really rough. I need to jump on this call, work on this report, I’m on a deadline,” etc would probably be really helpful.

    1. Wintermute*

      This is a brilliant point. They need to know you have their back and you recognize this is not okay. She is not to be tiptoed around and if she’s behaving unacceptably they can go to the manager and the manager will intervene.

  19. Lacey*

    I’ve had a few super dramatic people in my life and I have found it super effective to say, “I can’t talk about this while you’re so upset. I’m leaving now and we’ll talk about it later when you’re calm.”

    Obviously that was in a personal capacity and I think Allison’s script is the work version of that. But, when people who feed off drama realize that you’re not going to engage with it, they figure out other ways to communicate with you.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      That’ll probably help in some circumstances, but the fact is that the Drama Llama is actually using this behavior to *avoid* some topics, such as having to receive feedback on her work. I’m afraid going away under those conditions gives her exactly what she wants and reinforces the behavior.

  20. EKB*

    A couple comments suggesting calling 911… do not do this. 1) Police response to any mental health crisis is really bad; and 2) Having known the trauma often inflicted upon people who are involuntarily hospitalized for suicidality, it is often extremely harmful and the source of significant, long-term trauma and even PTSD. You don’t know people’s situations, and threatening to call 911 in a situation like this is inappropriate for a number of reasons in my opinion.

    That said, threatening self-harm is not an acceptable response to criticism, and is a very harmful thing to do to someone! I’d say even one instance of this most definitely calls for a serious sit-down discussing 1) are you okay and do you need help and 2) we most definitely want to support you if you are experiencing suicidal ideation, but it is not acceptable to threaten self-harm in response to feedback from co-workers and this actively causes harm to those co-workers.

    1. EKB*

      To be clear, there are situations where you would call 911 as a response to threats of suicide, but I would argue that pretty much the only time that is the best course of action is if you have reason to believe they are in IMMINENT danger and cannot be reached by other means.

    2. Wintermute*

      I’m a big fan of naming it what it is. Suicide threats are abusive, you are not allowed to abuse your coworkers.

      1. Ryn*

        I agree with you that suicide threats can be used as a form of manipulation and abuse, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to blanket call all suicide threats abuse. Sometimes people threaten suicide because they are contemplating suicide and are desperate for someone to intervene.

        I do however agree that these suicide threats seem, from the story here, to be a form of emotional manipulation that is clearly causing distress for LW and preventing LW from giving feedback — which is, I imagine, the intent.

        1. Wintermute*

          That’s fair, I should clarify that a statement of suicidality is not a “threat”, a threat is “if you X I will Y” or “if you don’t stop I’m going to hurt myself”, whether that’s said explicitly or implicitly

      2. A*

        I don’t think it’s that black & white. For example, the phrase “oh jeez, just shoot me now” is not that uncommon. It’s not a good thing, and something that should not be socially acceptable – but it is still a part of some people’s vocabulary. If I called the cops everytime I heard a colleague say that… I’d be on the phone with 911 for the rest of my working life.

        Again, I’m not supporting those statements or encouraging lighthearted comments about suicide – but it is a thing that exists.

  21. Free Meerkats*

    “Piglet and the String of Very Hair-Raising Events”

    You also need to tell the other employees that they have your permission so shut down the emoting and “poor me”ness; either immediately after your discussion with her, or even proactively. Because as soon as you shut her down, she’s going to just add the amount she can’t whinge to you to the other people around her.

  22. metrazol*

    This feels familiar. Hired someone last year who my boss, 3 months in asks, “Is she someone who drama happens to, or does she make the drama?” She was a mild example, and sadly left for family drama, but fixing drama factories is tough. I’ve found that if they don’t implode, they explode, and piss off the team and, in one spectacular case, the clients… It’s unfortunate, and one of the tougher personnel issues to deal with. This is great advice.

  23. Firecat*

    I think OP will have more success if you focus on one improvement at a time. Personally I’d start with the recieving feedback, then the rules complaints, and frankly I wouldn’t worry about tackling the personal chit chat until next year as it will likely take a lot of effort to achieve the first two on the list.

    It’s clear OP has let themselves get to BEC mode with this employee, and while their behavior is frustrating!, It’s also true that the behavior was acceptable as far as drama employee knows. Having been someone who (to a much more minor extent) was pushing buttons and didn’t know it, it’s extremely unhelpful and hurtful to wait until you blow up to address these things. As a manager you have to do better and address it as you go. However now that you have a backlog of tasks – like with any work that’s liked up – you’ll need to focus and prioritize. It’s unreasonable to expect this will all get better in a few talks when it’s been years in the making.

    I also recommend assuming positive intent – that goes really far in these situations. The self harm response for example – assume the employee really feels that way and isn’t just trying to deflect. Discuss EAP with them but then redirect to the conversation at hand like Alison suggested.

    Good luck! I hope drama employee improves for your team.

    1. Wintermute*

      woah, A YEAR? to solve something that is probably causing problems for her coworkers and may cause good people to leave the company? ALL THE NO.

      You give them clear feedback, “this is a requirement of your job, can you do it?” and if they cannot you fire them. Her co-workers deserve better than to put up with this behavior for another minute, she stops now or she starts job searching.

      1. Firecat*

        That’s a great sentiment for simple changes, but this can be pretty murky.

        Jane’s water heater bursts – does she need to be cagey when she calls out? If she is having a bad day can she not say anything? What happens when coworkers start to complain that Jane is too aloof and closed off (because it’s likely that she may over correct after the shock of finding out that apparently everyone’s been pissed about this for a year!).

        And really how much effort do you want her to spend on not complaining about life to coworkers and figuring this balance out when ideally she would be focusing on getting better at taking feedback and rolling with rule changes?

        I also wouldn’t be surprised to find out the life complaints aren’t a big deal but OP waiting until they were in BEC mode to start course correcting Jane on feedback and rules is playing a role in her perception of everything Jane does.

        That’s really cruel and unfair to Jane to essentially blow up on her and drop a lot of changes at once. Unless OP has a few recent, concrete examples to coach on, bringing up really old stuff Jane may not even remember (because why would she remember a non issue at the time) doesn’t help Jane do better.

        1. Wintermute*

          It’s more cruel and unfair to make her coworkers put up with an emotional vampire. The stuff that impacts coworkers needs to stop today, or she has to be fired– they deserve better out of their workplace.

  24. myliobatis*

    I agree with Alison’s advice and want to add urgency, because this can and will drive your other staff away. I left a job last year in large part because I had a complaining, constant-drama coworker, and listening to her was so unbearable it made me not want to go to work.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yup. I got myself transferred to another department because my boss would just not address our office drama llama’s behavior. Instead, the boss dropped the drama llama’s work on me because the llama “has too much stress in life right now and I don’t want to add to it.”

  25. Clydesdales and Coconuts*

    Find out immediately what your company’s policy is regarding how to document and handle employees who are in crisis in the workplace and start documenting. The next time she makes a statement about needing to “kill herself” you need to stop what you are doing, look her in the eye and ask her if she is considering self harm and do you need to contact someone- law enforcement or a mental health professional- if your company offers an EAP, provide her with those resources. Tell her you will be needing to document the conversation and that she states she does not need to have you call someone. People like this are attention seekers, but when it doesnt play out the way they want they usually will stop. If she continues to say things that indicate self harm, then honestly it might be worth the call to EMS to have them come when she makes a threat of self harm at work and let them assess her. Make it clear to all that employee mental health is important and will be taken seriously. You are not a trained psychiatrist and are not equipped to handle the level of assistance she needs. If the police show up to assess her at work , it might be the wake up call she needs to stop making false claims of suicide.

    1. mf*

      Yes, this is a great course of action: “Tell her you will be needing to document the conversation and that she states she does not need to have you call someone.” If she’s bluffing in a bid for sympathy and attention, then your documentation of the incident will scare the bejesus out of her. And if she’s not, then this is a route to getting her the help she needs.

  26. Drastic Drama Drastic Solutions*

    Honestly OP, if she threatens to harm herself during feedback, get her Baker Acted/5150’ed and make her someone else’s problem for 72 hours.

    Drastic but hopefully she’ll either 1) change or 2) leave.

    1. fposte*

      I think completely screwing up somebody’s life and leaving them with a massive medical bill is a disproportionate response to the situation, though. The OP needs to manage the situation, not blow the woman up.

      1. PolarVortex*

        Exactly. While you should take any suicide threat seriously, there’s a difference between immediate harm and a threat.

        1. Amaranth*

          The problem is, how many people are trained to make that determination? If someone says they should kill themselves then they leave the room/zoom, its tough for a layman to recognize if they are blowing hot air or this was their last straw. That’s why its intolerable manipulation to me. I[‘m not sure what the answer is though, do you go to your boss and let them make the call on whether to take action or just make an internal log of the matter?

          1. fposte*

            I can totally understand and support calling assistance, including 911, if you believe a suicide threat is imminent. Calling them to punish somebody by institutionalizing them is another matter.

    2. Sylvan*

      Please don’t do this and please don’t conflate suicide with self-harm. It’s dangerous, it’s not an appropriate use of emergency resources, and it’s going to worsen the problem you’re trying to solve.

    3. JelloStapler*

      Waaaaay too drastic. OP can simply point out what was said, indicate how seriously she takes this, clarify intent, offer resources and document.

    4. anon for this*

      The other problem with this proposal is that it doesn’t work. I know a young person who has been through a lot of psychotic episodes and police calls; it took running through traffic on a very busy street not-fully-clothed to get a commitment, after about 17 police encounters for reasons that were judged not a serious enough threat to herself or others. She’s white; the police got to know her well and were solicitous but couldn’t do anything. Family was advised by social workers to continue making the police calls in the interim in order to build a case/demonstrate a need for commitment. Many, many encounters with the system were needed to get her the treatment she needed.

      There seems to be a misconception in the comments that if you just call 911 and say, “She threatened to kill herself!” the authorities will magically sweep away the person and put them on a 72-hour hold. In my metro area there are no beds for that most days, so commitment is really capped by capacity, not need.

      1. Delphine*

        For what it’s worth, this was not my experience (living in eastern Massachusetts). My sibling was asked to comply with “voluntary” commitment (instead of being sectioned) three times, twice in the space of a couple of weeks (they had a stay, they were released into a day program, day program said they’d been released too early and they were forced to go back). It was monumentally traumatizing and, while I can’t think of what other option there was, also felt completely ineffective. It seemed almost impossible for my sibling to avoid being sectioned and yet the facility never seemed to be able to stabilize my sibling to their satisfaction.

  27. Mollinator*

    Oof. An employee threatening suicide in response to workplace feedback? Yikes. I agree that it’s manipulation, whether she means it or not. She doesn’t like or doesn’t want to hear what you’re saying, and her response is to derail the discussion with threats of self-harm. Not cool. I’d take a real serious look at her performance, and I’d also check in with other members of the team about projects they’ve worked on with her. Are they doing all the work while she chit-chats about all of her problems? Is she like this with them–like, if they ask her to do something or work on a part of a project, or do something in a different way, does she throw the same kind of tantrums? Are there outside people you can check in with to see what her work’s been like? My office had someone who used to seem super busy, always filing objections to Teapot Detailing with the Teapot Court, and when he left it turns out he was just churning stuff and not actually getting anything done. Then I’d also, like others have suggested, have a discussion with her about the workplace fact that you (and possibly others) have to give her feedback and she can’t react by threatening suicide. Maybe frame it as “this is a professional norm and it will hurt your professional advancement (and kind of already is) and if I don’t see improvement by [next review/next month/tomorrow] then [this will become part of your permanent record/will be grounds for termination/will put you on a PIP/etc.]. This kind of behavior is absolutely creating a morale issue with the rest of the team, and she can’t hold the entire office hostage with this sort of thing. As with the comments on yesterday’s group of complainers, the issue isn’t the feels she’s feeling, it’s that she’s Feeling Them All Over the Office and that’s not appropriate workplace behavior.

  28. Drama Level Ten's Manager*

    OP here, so excited to see this posted!

    I appreciate everyone’s input. Drama Level Ten actually had a Very Dramatic Meltdown and quit on the spot when I tried to address these issues once and for all, a few days after I wrote the above letter back in the fall. Her replacement is all I could have dreamed she would be.

    1. Tracy*

      Sadly, that seems to be the regular course of action for people that behave in that manner. I wonder if DLT actually learned anything or gave a moments consideration that it was their issue! (Probably not.)

      Thanks for the update!

      1. Empress Matilda*

        100% she did not, and she’s now out there causing mayhem in some other workplace and complaining bitterly about the OP.

        But the thing is, she is officially Someone Else’s Problem now! Congrats, OP – I hope you’re still enjoying your new employee and your drama-free workplace.

    2. Myrin*

      Oh my, immediate update and a satisfying one at that! And why am I not surprised that her reaction to your calling out her drama was to… create more drama?

    3. Observer*

      I admit I laughed when I read this. I know it’s not funny though. And I’m glad that you now have someone you can actually work with.

      I feel bad for your former employee, but clearly there was nothing you could do for her.

      Allison, would you consider putting a note with the update up top or attached to the actual letter?

    4. Working Hypothesis*

      Hooray! I’m so glad that you have somebody in the position who isn’t driving you and your other staff crazy now. :)

    5. Sara without an H*

      Of course, she quit as soon as you started to impose boundaries. Why am I not surprised?

      You may want to have a chat with your HR person about what kind of reference you and your firm are prepared to give if/when DL10 uses you as a reference. My recommendation would be just to give job title and dates of employment, but your HR may have other ideas.

        1. Jane METZGER*

          If someone does call in for a reference – I also would add that she is not eligible for re-hire.

        1. Rectilinear Propagation*

          I could see the employee spinning anything critical about her performance into the employer not being supportive when she was having a crisis. I don’t think they want a reputation as a business that doesn’t believe employees when they say their parent is dying (during a pandemic no less) or is unsympathetic about a missing child.

          And it won’t matter if the reference is 100% true and solely about the work. “Couldn’t handle feedback” is going to get countered with, “Of course I was emotional, my kid was missing! You’d think they could cut me a little slack!”. The employer in general and the OP in specific will end up having people think they’re horrid to work for.

    6. SentientAmoeba*

      Yasssss!! This is like instant immediate update!!

      Just out of curiosity, did she try to come back claiming that she didn’t really mean to quit? Or claim that you forced her into it against her will? Or something equally dramatic and ridiculous?

      1. Chriama*

        I suspect that she had such overinflated sense of her own worth that she truly believed they would regret not having her there. So there’d be no reason to come back.

    7. Not A Manager*

      This reminds me of the “changes her appearance in the middle of the workday” employee who (IIRC) eventually quit via the time-honored method of removing her shirt and flashing a supervisor.

    8. JelloStapler*

      Oh yay! So happy to hear this update!! We had a Drama 10 and when someone finally spoke up and called her on the carpet she finally retired (after whining about it not being possible for years, but refusing to actually talk to HR or her financial advisor).

    9. Sparkles McFadden*

      Real time exciting feedback!

      This update really supports Alison’s advice. People like your former employee will leave if they are not allowed to perform for an audience.

    10. Not So NewReader*

      Of course she did. You implied you were not going to give her the attention she wanted and she would have to work at her problems. The concept was an overload and out the door she went.

      Sadly, no matter how far she runs she won’t be able to outrun her own self-defeating ways.

      I am glad you are in a different spot now, OP. We can’t save them all. The best we can do is be as fair and as helpful as we can be within the confines of our roles.

    11. Dr Rat*

      Many congratulations! And not at all unexpected. Now she can add this to her life list of Very Dramatic Complaints – I’m sure in her sobbing renditions to anyone who will listen (and random people on public transportation who can’t escape) that you are the Manager From the Black Lagoon who relentlessly bullied her into quitting. In my experience, there is hope for the Drama Level Tens under the age of 25. If it’s still going on after that – there is no cure. Mazel tov!

  29. AmosBurton*

    If she has been this way for years, and it has been getting continuously worse, it is highly unlikely that anything can change. Some individuals suffer from histrionic or borderline personality disorders, and this kind of constant turmoil is just how they live their lives. It’s a diagnosable, long-term pattern of behavior, and you’re highly unlikely to be able to do anything about it.

    As callous as it sounds, it may well be the best thing for you, your organization, your clients and the rest of the staff to let her go. I have had to deal with folks like this in the past (more than once, since they are attracted to the field I was in previously), and it never turned out well.

    If it was me? I’d document everything, with the intention of firing her sooner rather than later. And while this may sound heartless, it is *her* behavior that is the problem. if she cannot live up to professional norms, then as sorry as you might feel for her, that is not your fault.

  30. Theory of Eeveelution*

    “Yesterday, when I was telling her something that needs to be fixed, she told me she might as well “just kill herself.””

    No. You need to fire this person. If she says this type of stuff to her supervisor, imagine what she’s saying to her co-workers. This line is so blatantly manipulative and abusive that I can’t imagine working with this person. I feel so enormously sorry for her co-workers.

    1. Theory of Eeveelution*

      Ok whew, just saw the update that she quit! But for anyone else out there who has this employee: They are driving the rest of your team crazy. Don’t let them do this!

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      This. If the threat to kill themself is real, they need medical attention. If not real, they should be fired.

  31. SentientAmoeba*

    This sounds incredibly exhausting and Allison made some excellent points about handling the work stuff.
    I’d also look into putting her on some kind of notice that while she is allowed to have feelings about changes, being disruptive by arguing about every single detail or refusing any kind of reasonable feedback may lead to evaluating if this job is right for her. Present it as, “since this job seems to be causing you such distress, to the point that it may lead you to hurt yourself, we may need to determine if going separate ways may be better for your well being.”
    Rephrase it in your way, whatever would work best for the situation.

  32. Penny Parker*

    Just as FYI for one small piece of this. Lysol does smell bad. I am extremely allergic to it. At one job I had in the 80s we were required to use it every day. I refused and got in trouble even with medical documentation. Now (and probably then, too) there are sanitizers without the harsh odors. Use them. Do not use Lysol in a work place because it is an allergen.

    1. Tracy*

      It’s probably much easier on you and everyone else if you ask for an accommodation instead of threating to hurt yourself though.

      1. Penny Parker*

        But of course. However I am only addressing one small part. There have been articles on this blog about perfumes and allergens in the workplace and to not use them. Lysol is a heavy allergen. That is ALL I am saying here.

    2. PT*

      I agree, and there are plenty of other low-odor disinfectants that smell better. We used hospital-grade peroxide disinfectants at one job and they barely have any odor. They don’t stain or leave a greasy residue. They’re quite fantastic.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Lysol is documented to kill Covid. Not all disinfectants do. I like the Lysol smell myself, guess I’m weird.

        1. Nonny today*

          Peroxide disinfectants are documented to eliminate COVID and are safe enough you can use them on food contact surfaces too because they break down to nontoxic substances, unlike Lysol. I just got some but haven’t used it yet.

          COVID is relatively easy to eliminate because the virus has a lipid shell–basically a layer of grease that any soap or detergent would break down. The peroxide would also damage the viral DNA. Also, the amount of virus shed on office surfaces if someone came in sick (especially if they were masked) would be a lot less than you’d get in a COVID ward in a hospital.

    3. SentientAmoeba*

      I have coworkers with comparatively unusual allergies such as onions, tomato, coconut. Once they make it known, we have accommodated for it. But it wouldn’t make sense to insist that no workplace ever could have any of those common items around without specific cause.

      1. A*

        Yup. Especially because it can be industry dependent. My office will never, and can never, be fragrance free. We are literally in the business of fragrance, and accommodations that would be reasonable (or feasible) in most industries are not in ours.

        Lysol we could do without, but fragrance in general? Nope.

  33. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Okay, dunno if this’ll be helpful, but I’m a person with a lot of mental issues (depression, schizophrenia etc.) who has, in the long ago past BEEN this woman – right up to the crying, threatening to kill myself, inventing drama..etc.

    What stopped it once and for all was 2 things: diagnosis and medication AND a person in authority telling me straight up that my behaviour wasn’t appropriate and I had better take whatever steps were needed to help me be more professional.

    (I am NOT saying this lady has anything mental illness related. This is only my experience I’m relating here).

    I was told that threatening suicide/harm every time someone told me off, complaining about everything, making every day into the ‘what’s wrong with Keymaster’ show etc. were going to get me booted out. ‘It’s not big, and it’s not clever, and frankly you’re draining any sympathy you once had’ were, I think the words used. It was decades ago. ‘You need professional help’ was definitely said.

    In conclusion: from my experience it’s far, far better to be straight up and honest that this can’t continue. ‘Get whatever help you need, but this behaviour has to stop’ was an ice cold wake up call for me.

    (Diagnosed as clinically depressed in 1996. Diagnosed as schizophrenic 2000)

    1. Sara without an H*

      Hello, Keymaster —
      Your post confirms that being endlessly compassionate may actually not be good for the person it’s intended to help. That is something that can be tough for kind-hearted people to grasp.

      Hope life is going better for you now.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I haven’t seen too many people objecting to a firm explanation to drama llamas that their behavior is unacceptable and is going to get them in trouble. Or even blowing right past the statement — since something very like it has been said multiple times already — and going directly to the actual trouble. The uniform response so far to the OP’s update about the drama llama quitting because OP lay down the law to her has been “Good for you, and hooray that she’s gone!!”

        The only thing I’ve heard objections to is calling the police, and that’s got specific reasons for it. I’m not seeing where you’re getting the theory that this thread is filled with “overly compassionate” people who insist on tiptoeing around drama llamas at all times. It’s just not in the comments I’ve been reading.

        1. Nonny today*

          Well, OP’s company has been tiptoeing around Drama Llama for a year because they don’t want to be mean…

        2. Who is the asshole*

          I don’t think Keymaster of Gozer is addressing the comments though, but the fact that a lot of people feel like they are “being mean” if they lay out a problem like it is. Be it at OP’s workplace or in case OP feels bad themselves to address it like that.
          Like it’s a really wide-spread sentiment to feel like direct is mean.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s a really important thing for people to see. I am sorry that life has shown you this first hand, though. I wish you many good things to come.

    3. Bipolar*

      I’m Bipolar and don’t behave like this, never. I think it is because I actively confronted my mom’s abuse and my life history. I didn’t want to be like my mom and abuse is my one big issue. So I thought hard about the type of person I want to be and decided I could not have any type of manipulative/ abusive person in my life.

  34. Scannells*

    This reminds me of a drama llama I used to work with. Management was so scared of upsetting her they just let us all be subjected to her constant “crisis” situations. Unfortunately, one of our not-so-tactful employees snapped one day and said an equivalent of “I don’t care, just shut up and do your work.” This of course prompted drama llama to sit and sob at her desk all afternoon. The employee got a strong talking to about his behavior and the llama got tons of attention and sympathy. Honestly, it was rude but I couldn’t blame him since I thought the same thing in my head at least weekly.
    Don’t forget the impact this has on your teams morale! They are probably as exhausted by it as you are and may not be so nice if it continues for too long.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Disagree that he was rude at all. She is beyond rude and it makes me mad that this went down that way. I wish everyone would have risen and slow-clapped.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If a person cannot continue their work day for whatever reason, sobbing included, then they should go home.

        The fact that someone had to “be rude” shows an absence of a manager, you know, actually managing. I am not so sure that was rude, I think it’s to be expected if the boss does not step in.

  35. LooToo2018*

    I would add make sure you document EVERYTHING with this person. Your company sounds like it’s small so not sure if this is an option, but if she is making suicidal comments you can refer her to the EAP. If there is one, you can make that mandatory that she participate as a requirement of her job.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      You absolutely cannot have that kind of treatment mandatory as part of a requirement of a job.

      You can make it clear that those types of comments are off limits, but you cannot make someone seek treatment to keep their job.

      1. Wintermute*

        I can’t see why it would not be legal, the ADA only applies to people with a perceived or actual disability, not just poor behavior and chronic poor life choices, and at-will employment would make it permissible in general, if the ADA doesn’t apply.

        if she came back saying she was diagnosed BPD or HPD and wanted accommodation then you couldn’t necessarily make treatment required but you could STILL set requirements for her collegial behavior towards coworkers, the ADA requires accommodations be made to allow you to perform the core job requirements, it is not a magic shield.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          Mental health issues in many cases are protected by the ADA, so it would indeed apply here. And even if it is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s advisable. Mentally ill people deserve agency too, and an unwilling participant in treatment isn’t likely to be very successful anyway. The supervisor needs to focus on the work issues, not what the direct report does or doesn’t do for treatment in their own time. In a situation like this, they can certainly ENCOURAGE treatment, to improve both the report’s quality of life and to improve the work issues, but they can’t/shouldn’t require it.

          1. Wintermute*

            I agree with you, I was simply saying that it WOULD probably be legal. For all the reasons you state it would be a bad idea, and it would be overstepping, but in the US employers are allowed to overstep, in most cases. People get an impression the law is way more expansive than it is, when in reality virtually nothing is protected or banned.

          2. Working Hypothesis*

            You’re certainly, however, free to make radically improved behavior a requirement for keeping their job, and let them know that *if* they cannot improve their behavior by any means short of medical treatment then they’ll need to get treatment if they want to remain employed, because the requirement stands. If they prefer to change their behavior by simple act of will, and can pull it off, that is of course their business.

  36. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’d just recommend a hard cost-benefit analysis. What does this employee bring to your organization that 100M former/potential employees displaced by the pandemic can’t or wouldn’t?

  37. Sled dog mama*

    I have such sympathy for the LW, I once worked with someone who had drama like this. Once after 2 weeks of complaints about the same safety rule (which was common sense but her supervisor had decided to make a policy because of her arguing) I snapped. I told her that work “is a dictatorship not a democracy and her supervisor had dictated the policy. She didn’t have to like it but she did have to follow it.”
    Not my proudest moment but it did get her to quit complaining to me and shut down that particular argument.

    The particular policy she wanted to argue? Who controlled the level of light in one of the treatment rooms, the person who was sitting with their hand on the kill switch watching the patient or the actual patient. She was ….interesting. I sincerely hope everyone who reads here knows what policy the supervisor put in place.

  38. Analysis Paralysis*

    OP’s situation is resolved, but I’m curious how legal protections for discussion of work conditions might impact the “complains about COVID precautions” aspect of this.

    Obviously this is hypothetical, but I wonder how one might address this while avoiding running foul of the NLRA. Does anyone have insight on that?

    1. Wintermute*

      You can’t stop people from talking to their coworkers about working conditions generally, or bringing, as a group, concerns to management. but you certainly can set limits around their ability to harangue their managers and derail meetings. You are also allowed to set expectations around professional communication and acceptable work interruptions.

      1. Analysis Paralysis*

        Oh, of course limits need to be set, that’s not in question.

        I was just looking at the script in Allison’s answer about safety step complaints. She says, loosely, “Don’t complain to your coworkers, tell me or HR.” That doesn’t, on its face, leave a lot of room for workers discussing conditions among themselves.

        Obviously to interpret that as “you can’t discuss conditions with coworkers” would be an ungenerous read, but sometimes unreasonable people are ungenerous. I’m just having trouble coming up with safer language for that piece (since “ew, I hate safety precautions” is sadly a common complaint these days).

        1. Analysis Paralysis*

          Also, I know that ethical managers would not want to give (even to unreasonable people) a false impression about their legal rights as workers. As Alison has written about before, a lot of people are ill-informed about them to begin with, so I’d think extra caution is warranted there. I’m just stumped on coming up with a better script.

  39. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, this was me. I SO feel your pain, LW.

    I had one of these, except I wasn’t manager but a mere coworker and daily viewer of this drama. And everything was drama. And shared with whoever was willing to listen. She was her own worst enemy. It was absolutely exhausting. I changed departments and could now deal with her at arms’ length.

    I call it attention seeking, because that’s what it is. There’s probably self-esteem issues at play as well.

    You forgot to say hi? Oh, crap, someone is mad at her, or has something wrong, or…fill in the blank.

    The minimum interaction was what kept me sane. Stay out of her drama.

    1. JelloStapler*

      Same! I started shutting her down when she tried to whine or complain, and while I was polite and professional- I did the bare minimum and avoided her, and stopped being shy about pointing out issues, inconsistencies or hypocrisy. She stopped coming to me, and then finally got called out on the carpet for her performance issues and retired. It was such a relief to not have to deal with her anymore.

      1. irene adler*

        Her counterpart is here- at my place of employment.
        Am employing similar tactics as you did.
        So tedious.
        How can one person complain soooo much about things?

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I succeeded in driving away a drama llama co-worker from trying to complain at me by simply saying, deadpan, “I find complaints really boring to listen to, Jeanne; please take it someplace else.” She was furious with me, but she sulked her way off someplace else because she didn’t want to speak to me anymore anyhow. This suited me perfectly.

          1. irene adler*

            I’m (somewhat) ashamed to admit, but there are times when I’ve said something to the drama llama that resulted in tears on her part. I simply asked her to leave me alone but didn’t realize that would trigger such upset for her.

  40. SaintLucysEyes*

    I have dealt with this so many times over the last year, with multiple employees. Here’s what I would add to Alison’s advice: when you are dealing with her, center in your mind that you are her employer, and are not responsible for the myriad issues in her personal life. Your job is to address how these issues affect her work and her colleagues, and to be very clear with her on what support your organization can offer her and what accommodations you can and cannot make. I would be shocked if she did not develop additional serious performance issues within a year, and while you should treat her with kindness and respect, you cannot allow her to underperform to a degree that affects your team’s work. It might help you to mentally give her the benefit of the doubt that this has really been an unusually awful year, and while that might result in her not being able to perform in her job, it doesn’t mean she won’t be able to recover if she ends of being fired or quitting. Good luck, and I hope things take a turn for the better for her.

  41. MyNameIsNotJane*

    I just wanted to say thank you for taking the initiative to deal with this behavior. I worked with a person like this and it was absolutely horrible. We were the only two admin employees and shared an office so I got ALL of the drama every day. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I cried on my commute home because of the emotional exhaustion. While I had sympathy for her because she did actually have some difficulties in her life, the constant complaining, mood swings, over-the-top stories, and flat-out lies made the work environment so toxic. After she started talking about attempts of self-harm (she was seeing a psychiatrist and I kept telling her that I wasn’t equipped to deal with this and she needed to talk to him), I tried to talk to our boss about it but he just rolled his eyes and said “She’s just doing it for attention, ignore her and she’ll stop”. She wasn’t the sole reason I quit that job, but it was definitely a factor.

    1. JustaTech*

      Some day I would love to meet the people who are successfully able to “just ignore” someone who is actively after your attention.

      Or maybe it’s that people who want attention are really good at identifying the people who have a hard time ignoring the people around them. (My parents said this to me constantly about my younger brother, and between my attention disorder and his intense drive to get a reaction out of me it was something I never mastered.)

  42. Ejane*

    For perspective on the emotional intensity (This was a threaded comment but I decided to pull it out):

    It’s not inaccurate to think of what she’s doing as changing the lexicon for addressing crisis. Most people use threatening self-harm as the absolute highest intensity response, and if she’s throwing it around casually the way someone with more moderate emotional expression would say “I hate this” or “I’m gonna quit [jokingly]”, then it loses its impact.
    If anything, you could add the phrase “My critique of your work isn’t a reflection on your worth as a person”, in case this behavior is rooted in a hypersensitivity to rejection, but anything more than that puts the weight for managing her emotional responses on you, which isn’t your obligation.
    I’m also only recommending possibly adding that phrase to your toolbox because you knew her personally prior, and ostensibly the relationship is at least 5% more complicated as a result.

  43. TheUnknown1*

    First time commenting here but have been reading for years: this is how alarming some of the comments are to me.

    Calling 911 over a statement like “I might as well just kill myself” is both an overreaction and potentially dangerous for the person being reported. Yes, we have a social (not necessarily professional, unfortunately) responsibility to care for others, especially we mandated reporters, but that responsibility includes knowing the appropriate places to refer such behavior. A one-off comment, or a history of such comments made flippantly? Do as an earlier poster said: “Should I be concerned about your wellbeing, or is that a joking or manipulative statement? If you mean it, I need to let someone know. If it’s the latter, I don’t appreciate it and insist you don’t make such comments again unless you’re serious, when I will take it seriously.”

    Some people are incredibly high strung; I hate using “dramatic” but it can be a totally fair descriptor. For some people this is truly a symptom of undiagnosed – or unmanaged – mental health issues, for others it’s just about being the center of attention or not wanting to do work. But a psychiatric hold, which is a likely result of an emergency call, is absolutely dangerous and traumatic even when it’s necessary. Others have noted how it’s particularly dangerous for BIPOC and some in the LGBTQ+ community, and I have firsthand witnessed the longterm effects this has had on white women, who aren’t even particularly at risk for mistreatment. To whit: a friend of mine is very emotive (as in, it doesn’t take much to move her to tears, but she is very functional and can get work done well and efficiently) but not at all dramatic. She was having a catch-up conversation at the end of a stressful day with a neighbor and started crying but didn’t express any desire to harm herself or her family. Her neighbor called 911, and the resulting police presence alarmed her small children, which made her stress-cry. The police took her into involuntary psychiatric hold and she was kept for 72 hours until her husband could get help from her doctor to get her out. She *now* deals with PTSD from the experience. This is a mild outcome.

    Situations like this are not a “fight fire with fire” situation, and in a real suicide emergency, while 911 is appropriate while/after suicidal action has been taken, the National Suicide Hotline or an EAP is even moreso for a threat. There are definitely cases where it makes sense to escalate your concerns to mental health professionals, but calling 911 isn’t it. You shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff at work, but not dealing with it means directing it to the right resources.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      That is awful. I mean, how much of an android does someone have to be to think that calling 911 in response to someone stress-crying is a reasonable or productive action?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think that people are more disconnected from each other than ever. And I thought this before Covid. Now it’s even worse. We are even coming up with terms for these disconnected people, such as “Karen”.

        On a tamer level here, we see commenters very upset over someone crying at work or crying themselves at work. For some reason, our society is very scared of a crying person. We treat them the same way we treat a raging person. s/Oddly, we are not getting good results either way./s
        We have a ways to go yet to recognize each other as fellow human being.

      2. Nonny today*

        Someone called 911 on me when I was crying in my parked car in front of their house (in response to an email with bad news). Apparently the dispatcher told them that this didn’t need a response, because they escalated it to “she’s driving recklessly” and next thing I know there’s a police car pulling up and two officers demanding to know why I was in their city (visiting a friend who helps with my car), who was the person I had been visiting (they don’t like him because he has an Acura Integra), had I been drinking or taking drugs (no, and I didn’t drive recklessly, though another driver definitely threw some attitude when they turned around at the corner). They ran my license and registration and nothing was amiss, so they let me go–but followed me all the way to the freeway. (Yes, I’m white.)

  44. Cake or Death?*

    “Anything I point out, any mistake or correction, is met with tears and drama.”

    I’m sorry, but I would have a REALLY hard time not reacting to this with a look of disgust and a “You need to get a hold of yourself and act like a professional in the workplace”.

    1. Drama Level Ten's Manager*

      I have a terrible poker face, but having a mask helped.

      And truly, I want to be compassionate, as the past year has been tough on everyone. But there were so many times I wanted to do exactly that!

      1. LKW*

        I’ve been in a similar situation and the first time it happened my reaction was “Oh no! You’re crying!” and the fifth, sixth, etc. time my reaction was more “OK, you seem upset. Do you want to take a moment to calm down before we continue?”

        It was the same feedback each time so a known issue – she just didn’t like being called out.

    2. Tracy*

      I am guilty of telling someone to get a grip this year. I did not feel good about it and I tried to cushion what I said but still. In the end I still feel like it was necessary.

  45. Bunny Watson*

    Our workplace recently offered a mental health first aid training by the National Council for Behavioral Health. One take away was to put the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in your phone contacts. This was to allow you to have quick access to the number in a situation where you find yourself in a situation where you might want to connect someone to this resource. They also covered when to call 911 (only in the case of imminent harm to self or others). I know not everyone will want to be a mental health first aider, but the training was useful if for no other reason than raising awareness about certain mental health issues and possible responses. The training was free due to a grant that the trainers received. While this thread sounds more like drama llama than a true mental health emergency, this could be useful info regardless.

    1. TheUnknown1*

      That’s a great resource – what a cool and important training for your company to host! I might bring it up at my workplace. Thanks for the tip!

  46. Rebecca1*

    Oh god, I had the same person as a direct report (in the same profession, so it might be literally the same person). I had no authority to enforce any feedback, and my boss did nothing because she contributed well in a different area which he considered a higher priority. Eventually I moved on to a different job— rumor has it things became even worse with her and her clique after that.

  47. AKchic*

    OP, I think you need to recognize that this person is only somewhat happy when her life is Daytime Soap Opera Chaos and everyone is focused (even for a second) on her. That’s why all of her stories are so grandiose. That’s why she has the reactions she does and says the things she says. She has learned that any attention is good attention and she likes attention, and in order to get attention, she needs to do and say outrageous things, or give off the appearance that outrageous things happen to her. She is merely the star of her own show. Y’all are supporting bit characters, scenery and yes, audience.

    In the meantime, she is making everyone else miserable. Everyone else will get tired of her one-woman Soap Opera and will eventually leave (if they haven’t already). Everyone else has given advice on how to handle her antics. I am going to recommend that you loop in HR and upper management about the situation. Now that she is openly talking about suicide on property, it may be time to ask Legal how to handle things. They may want to have things documented in a specific way, or have her PIP outlined just so in order to cover any potential lawsuit. They may also want to coordinate with HR about mental health and sensitivity training(s). Who knows. What I do know is this: Your employee cannot keep riding her drama llama into a one-sided battle every day and brow-beating everyone into an emotional stranglehold. I’m exhausted just reading about her. I’d hate to have to actually work with her.

  48. Manana*

    I would take your employee’s threats of self harm very seriously. If she is only speaking out of anxiety, it may be embarrassing for her, but the alternative is too heartbreaking to consider. Perhaps intervention in those cases will spur her to seek further counseling, maybe not, but it should not be on you or her coworkers to decide if she’s serious and I will bet she has said similar disturbing things to your other employees. As she has escalated her “drama”, it’s time to take her very seriously, as it seems she is spinning out and things could get much worse than merely annoying.

  49. staceyizme*

    “I’m not able to give her feedback because she is holding me and everyone else emotionally hostage”. Not true. You’re able to get out of that hostage situation at will. I’d go so far as to say that you need to do it with some urgency! Her behavior could tank morale, productivity and impact the company’s image. You can acknowledge every single thing she says without making it your job to “fix”. She doesn’t have to agree with any safety protocol, professional standard or directive. She just has to DO them. Stop dancing with her on the emotional side. She has all the power there. It’s subjective and (because you’re allowing it), it’s a show stopper. Not even! Get with the facts and work with those. That way, you’re not policing her reactions. Your not debating the merits of them. You’re just holding up the standards required by the job. (You can be as sympathetic as you want while you do this! Even go overkill on kindness. But- don’t apologize or modify one single thing required for her to do her job. And if she continues NOT to do her job well (including relating well to people, processes and standards in the office), escalate the disciplinary process (or corrective process) until she does. Or until she’s fired. Either way, the problem will be solved.

  50. Renee Remains the Same*

    I have a drama llama. She does like to indirectly reference her mental health challenges (she’s never explicitly said as much, but I believe she’s suffering from depression and anxiety). The most frustrating moments are when something difficult happens at work and if she is not praised or validated, she either gets defensive or spirals down. I’ve shot down her defensive tactics before (they usually are not well thought out… i.e. other departments don’t have to do X) and I typically try to give her unemotional guidance when she starts to have an emotional spiral. But, I have to say, it happens regularly enough that I’m starting to lose sympathy for it. I honestly don’t believe she’s trying to be emotionally manipulative, but it almost doesn’t matter, because she IS being emotionally manipulative. And I’m in a headspace now, with COVID and other losses I suffered last year, that my bandwidth is limited. I can’t take on the emotional personal baggage of people I work with… basically, if someone needs help, they need to say so, I am not able to intuit the need for a mental health day.)

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      I would be *so* tempted to respond to this BS by saying coldly, “Sorry, Jane, but I don’t get paid to manage your emotions for you. You’re going to need to find your own way out of that. Later,” and going away. Return the problem to sender… it’s hers to handle anyway.

    2. Autism Dad*

      Has your employee directly said or alluded to responding better to positive feedback?

      You said you believe that she’s suffering from anxiety and depression, yet you also describe her as “defensive”, “manipulative”, and having “emotional personal baggage” that you can’t take on.

      Depression and anxiety are all-caps awful. They trick your mind into being unhappy, and make you defensive and emotional. If she feels comfortable even touching on this with you, she respects you — which is probably why you not praising or validating her hurts her the way it does.

      What I didn’t see in your post is any kind of compassion or understanding for what she’s going through. You say, “If someone needs help, they need to say so, I am not able to intuit the need for a mental health day.” Have you told her this? Or have you just decided that even though you recognize she needs help, you’re not going to ask if she could benefit from a mental health day?

      Instead of being angry about her going through this, have you thought how much it would mean to her if you said on Thursday, “Hey Jane, I want to make sure you know we care about you as a person, not just what you can produce for the company. You seem stressed lately. Take tomorrow off, and get back to kicking butt on Monday”?

  51. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    Everything that this employee was doing in terms of her reactions to work issues were completely unreasonable, and everyone’s covered that pretty well. Something to consider around the optics of personal life drama, though, is whether the employee in question lives alone. What I mean is that a person who’s living alone will be the only person available to deal with whatever’s going on in their home/personal life, whereas people with partners and/or adult children can share some of that burden. Even without trying to be a drama llama, they will likely have personal emergencies that pre-empt their work more often than people who have another adult around to deal with things. It’s a helpful gut check to make sure that that’s not playing too much into perceiving her differently than you would someone whose family status is different.

    Some single people will be really discreet about even the most minor things in their lives in order to avoid this perception, but not all will. Just something to keep in mind.

    1. fposte*

      Interesting; this doesn’t jibe at all with my experience of living alone, and I’ve certainly never worried about any perception. While it does mean I’m always the one who has to be home to let the workers in, it seems to even out when co-workers have to be home with the sick kid or go to the hospital with a spouse. It sucks that that seems to have been something you’ve faced.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yeah, my experience is probably coloured by having been the only person on my team who lived alone, working with people who never have. In that kind of environment, needing to be home to let the workers in is perceived a lot differently from staying home with a sick child or something like that and there’s a chance that people will have a blind spot for how it’s possible that you don’t have anyone to help you out. I’m generally very cautious about keeping quiet about life stuff and scheduling vacation days to take care of as much as possible to not draw attention to my circumstances.

  52. Paralegal Part Deux*

    We had one of these, and she was exhausting. She lost her stuff the day I had to help one of her attorneys with a tech problem and *gasp* waited until he was back in the office to explain the problem rather than explaining it twice. I mean she was slamming drawers, doors, and showing her butt to be dramatic because she wasn’t the one getting to give the info to the attorney, I guess.

    These types of people are absolutely exhausting.

  53. middle manager*

    I once had an employee talk about killing themselves after receiving critical feedback, in a similarly ambiguous way but where the implication was clear that work was the reason they were expressing the thought. It was really traumatic for me, because I lost one of my best friends to suicide. I responded by reaching out to my manager and HR, because I didn’t know what else to do, and HR gave me some talking points about available mental health resources to pass on and asked to speak with them privately. In response, they got extremely angry at me for sharing their personal information. In retrospect, I wish I’d felt more comfortable handling it myself, and had spent more time getting to the bottom of how serious they were before talking to HR, but it was literally days away from the anniversary of my friend’s death and I couldn’t handle it. I wish people wouldn’t do this.

    1. Observer*

      I wish I’d felt more comfortable handling it myself, and had spent more time getting to the bottom of how serious they were before talking to HR,

      Do NOT beat yourself up about this. You actually handled this perfectly correctly. It’s not on you to do this kind of investigation. She had no right to give you a hard time- she had no right to “privacy” in this context. And you DID have a right to not have to take on someone else’s mental health challenges.

      1. Formerly Suicidal*

        Exactly this. That employee had no right to emotionally manipulate you by threatening suicide (and that’s exactly what it was, regardless of whether or not they were actually suicidal), and no right to expect “privacy” when they didn’t share any private information. You did the best possible thing here, and you should not feel ashamed of it.

    2. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I have lost a family member to suicide. No way were you at any fault nor should you be expected to discuss that kind of thing. You don’t need to figure out how serious it is. You aren’t trained to do that.

  54. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I told her point-blank that I was concerned about her and want her to see her doctor because she’s very obviously not well, that we want her to be well, but we need to be able to discuss work things and work issues without worrying it’s going to send her off the deep end.

    I’ll trust OP when they say they could have been more compassionate but aside from tone, this seems like a reasonable response to me. I don’t think telling people to go to the doctor should be a thing that happens in the workplace in general, but casually suggesting suicide is serious suggestion. She might not be anywhere near serious about it but the fact that it’s the first thing that pops out is a bad sign.

  55. justabot*

    Oh man, I’m sorry. I have one of those and it’s EXHAUSTING. I could make a BINGO board that every breathless story, every day, is going to be about an ailment, someone dead, mortgage, car, a dead body she found, another dead body she found, a person across the hall who shot someone, a neighbor upstairs who was keeping someone enslaved, an ailment with her dog, another issue with another neighbor, her sister, her dog’s groomer, her ex-boss, money, someone who hit her car… and the first few things you fall for it and think omg that’s horrible. And then you realize it’s an every day thing and she thrives on it, and doesn’t notice that you stop even giving polite smiles while she’s on her latest emoting thing while you’re simply trying to eat your lunch. I don’t have any advice. One of my coworkers told her to her face that she needs to find other people outside of work to talk about her life to. Ouch. That sounds harsh and to me it was, but she wasn’t wrong….the only problem is she just mostly started avoiding that coworker and still bombards the rest of us. So maybe blunt was good.

  56. randomskittles*

    Ok, so I used to be like that. Not at the level of “why don’t I kill myself”, but I was pretty bad. It took some drastic life changes and a therapist for me to see the pattern. I feel very bad for everyone that has to deal with me when I was like that. Is there a way you can bring up that you’re concerned for her mental health? Esp since she talks about suicide so readily. That’s a huge concern

  57. Petunia*

    This is a bit of a late reply. One of the best pieces of advise for dealing with someone threatening suicide as a manipulation tactic in a break up is to treat it seriously and call emergancy services. If it real, they will get professional help from paramedics. If it is fake, it is extremely embarressing for them to explain to emergancy services that they were trying to make their ex feel bad. But is not the ex’s job to determine how serious the danger is. I think the principle is applicable here.

    If she brings up killing herself, treat it as though she is serious. Don’t try to ascertain how serious she is, tell her the company has the following resources to assist with suicide and list them all. Offer to print them out as well. If not, suggest some helplines to call and tell her if she needs time off to for appointments to get help, you will absolutely approve them. Be sincere – even drama llamas can have genuine suicidal thoughts. Then continue the feedback. At the end of the meeting, reiterate that there is no shame getting help and you are happy to assist in getting access to company resources.

    If she says she was being dramatic, I would look at her appalled and tell her that was a horrible thing to joke about as suicidal thoughts are serious. If she ever does need access to the company resources you are here to help but it is completely unnacceptable to say that if she doesn’t mean it. Document your conversation and keep the record. Hopefully though, she won’t do it again.

    If she says it again in another meeting, take it seriously and start going over company resources again. If she said she didn’t mean it, once again be appalled but escalate your response to a formal warning and lay out the consequences if she does it again.

    The thing is, you are not a therapist or doctor. It is not on you to determine how serious she is. You can only make it easy for her to access resources to get help, approve sick leave for appointments, reallocate work etc. But you can not allow her to hold you hostage with vague threats.

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