my coworker’s stress is stressing me out

A reader writes:

I have a colleague, Belinda, who’s always stressed out. We’re all busy and juggling multiple priorities, but our workloads aren’t unreasonable or excessive. Most people just get on with it and steadily, calmly get their work done — whereas there’s always a sense of chaos around Belinda. She makes a much bigger deal out of everything than necessary and takes up a lot of other people’s time talking about how busy and overloaded she is. But her own work habits are what make things more complicated and difficult, which then of course makes them take more time, putting her further behind … and then we hear all about it. She also tries to get anyone working with her to use 25 steps for something you can easily do in two.

I would like to find a way of saying something to her when this impacts me. What I wish I could say is:

• When you make a huge deal out of everything, I start to feel quite stressed. I’m not sure if you realize that it affects the people working with you. It makes the atmosphere needlessly unpleasant. I don’t want you to share your stress with me.

• Please stop telling me about how busy you are or how you’ve got lots of emails you haven’t managed to read or anything at all about your workload or how you feel about it. You always mention these things in a way that makes them seem like they’re relevant and necessary (e.g. “I can’t help to do X as I have 15 Y to deal with”) but you give too much information in too much intense detail and it feels like you’re venting at me. Please just say you can’t help as you need to focus on Y at the moment and stop there.

• Have you ever noticed that the people who spend less time talking about how busy and stressed they are also get more done and are happier and calmer and much more pleasant to work with? Have you ever logged the amount of time you spend moaning and generally being like a sort of office Dementor who sucks the joy out of anything I have the misfortune to collaborate on with you?

Are any of those things I can somehow convey (probably not the last one…!) and if so do you have any suggestions for how to say it? Or do I just need to suck it up?

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

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. OhNoYouDidn't*

    She sounds like she’s looking for validation about how busy and stressful her job is, as if she wants a response like, “Oh wow. You are really busy. I don’t know how you do it.” Or, “Wow. I’m so sorry you’re juggling so much right now.” But, when I’ve worked with people in the past, that just seems to validate their whining and moaning. I usually tend to go with, “Yep. It’s a busy place to work. In fact, I’m busy, too, so I can’t really talk about it right now. That just puts me behind.” No satisfaction = less griping to me. I also love Alison’s suggested responses about, “I don’t need details …”

    1. RS*

      I came here to say this. In my experience with colleagues who are always going on about how overloaded they are, it’s very often a bid for validation. Although I’ve also seen it used as a tactic to set (lowered) expectations or to avoid taking on extra things that they anticipate might come their way (i.e. they want their audience to think, “Belinda was three days late getting back to me about X but I’m just grateful she was able to reply at all given how busy she is!” or, “Oh Belinda is just so busy I couldn’t possibly ask her to help with X, even though she’s the expert on X and it’s one of her formal responsibilities. I’ll just try to do it myself.”)

      1. 30 Years in the Biz*

        100% agree with this exaggerated stress being used as a tactic. I have a colleague constantly doing this. They transferred into my department a year ago from an upper level tech support position which was very busy and too much for them. They commented to another colleague it was nice to be in a slower, more laid-back department without the constant stream of work. I interact with them occasionally and several responses I’ve had from them this year included phrases like “crazy busy”, “had to work all weekend”, “juggling work and my sick animal/husband/relative”. I think that eventually it will be discovered that this person isn’t really getting a lot done for all the time they say they’re investing in work. I guess it’s really not my business (they have little effect on my ability to perform my tasks), but it irks me. On the positive side I’ve noticed they mention how busy they are to everyone (we are in a lot of shared email groups at work). Mentioning it so often, when others rarely do, puts a bright light on on how hard they’re pushing this image.

        1. GreenDoor*

          My strategy with this is to respond, very sympathetically, “Oh gosh, that sounds rough! You should talk with Boss about reducing your workload.” Put it on repeat every time. If they genuinely ARE overloaded, it’s a gentle reminder that they do have the power to talk to the boss about shuffling things around. But if they’re just looking for sympathy or hoping for me to take work off their hands, it’s a pointed notice that I see through their crap. Either way, I stop it from becoming a burden on me and put it right back to them.

        2. Tenebrae*

          Agreed. I had a boss like this. She was constantly and loudly going on about how busy and stressed she was to everyone in the vicinity. Speaking as her only direct report and only other person intimately familiar with the department, she actually did very, very little.

      2. Lacey*

        Yes, or to set up how important they are. I had a coworker who made such a big fuss over doing her normal work that everyone thought she was this put-upon saint. But she refused help or offers to change things so she would have less on her plate. She just liked to be a martyr.

        1. PT*

          Yes, this. I had a boss who was “always so busy!” He would tell you he came in early, he worked late, he was swamped.

          He was dissembling. He told the morning people (who left before he did) that he worked late. He told the afternoon people (who came in after he did) that he got in early. He considered his 90 minute commute as time at work. He always took a long lunch break. He’d take regular phone/snack breaks where he’d leave, which was allowed, but he’d take two of them per day and they’d be three times as long as anyone else’s “just running out for a quick whatever.”

          A lot of his work wasn’t getting done and it was causing huge problems because balls were being dropped left and right. His boss brought a few of us in key roles together and we ended up calculating exactly how much time he wasn’t working but was claiming he was. He was maybe working half the time he was supposed to be working. He got fired.

          1. Betteauroan*

            I like outcomes like this. There’s nothing worse than a lazy, lying coworker who drags everyone else down and forces others to work harder to make up for them.

        2. OhNoYouDidn't*

          Yes. Trying to make herself a martyr seems so possible in OP’s scenario!

      3. meyer lemon*

        Yep, I’ve had this coworker as well. I know for a fact that they were less busy than me, but they would proactively complain about their extreme busyness all the time so others were reluctant to ask them for anything. Even though they probably ended up spending more time complaining than actually working.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I had a co-worker like that, and I ended up getting some of her work instead. Though she always had time to critique me on my mistakes, as if she was my supervisor.

      1. Former Child*

        It’s tempting to ask her questions, like, “Have you read that book on How to Have Better Time Management”? Because she wastes time doing her work and then wastes time talking about it.
        But asking a question doesn’t TELL her she’s has bad time mgmt., it just hints at the idea. And it derails her. If she gets extreme in reply, then you can ask if she’s talked to a career or life coach.
        She might start avoiding you if you keep asking tough questions.

        1. Raida*

          this is what I was thinking – “just being helpful” by directly asking about her issues.
          And then probably suggesting to her with her manager around that she look into training for time management, stress management, talk to her manager about the workload….

    2. JelloStapler*

      Yes, I worked with someone like this, kicker was she was not busy since we all got her work dumped on us because she was incompetent. I started to just nod and ignore her, she stopped coming to gripe and whine. She finally retired after being put on a long overdue PIP.

  2. Lana Kane*

    You could do what I did a few years ago, which was to run anway and ask for a desk change to the other side of the office.

    What I’ve done more recently with someone similar was to stop them as gently as I could and say something like “Belinda, this is a lot. Let’s take one thing at a time.” After a few times of doing that, I was able to smile and say “Belinda…you know what I’m going to say!” Fortunately my Belinda had a bit of a sense of humor by then and say “I know, I know.” She still has her tendencies but she has learned what my usual response will be and it’s toned down some. Just know that you can’t change people, you can only change how you react to them.

    That approach takes some time and knowing your audience. If you don’t want to do either, gray rocking is a good way to preserve your own state of mind. Become unresponsive to her energy and complaints, and eventually she will peter out, or more likely, look for someone else.

    1. HotCryptographer*

      I wish my “office Dementor” had that kind of sense of humor! Mine has somehow gotten the idea that we are bff’s and whenever I try to push back on the stress spirals, it turns into a “why do hate me and not want to be my friend anymore???” spiral which is just as (if not more) exhausting.
      Love the “gray rocking” approach suggestion – I’ve never heard that term before but that’s exactly the approach I landed on and it really worked well for me.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Some Office Dementors will take gray rocking as proof positive that you do hate them! But at that point, you just can’t do anything about that. All you can do is decide that it isn’t going to get to you.

      2. irene adler*

        My “office Dementor” will dissolve into tears if she’s asked to curb her chatter. Then the real drama starts (“I thought we were sisters!!! Now look what you’ve done to me!!” Then big sobs.).

        So I try to make a lot of noise (turn on lab equipment) while she’s complaining.

        1. blackcatlady*

          Now I have visions of you running an empty table top centrifuge for 30 minutes at a time.

          1. quill*

            It’s one of the noisier ones, so yeah, I would totally do that too.

            I used to avoid office drama by doing lab inventory. I did lab inventory for a full week once.

        2. Raida*

          “Well I already have two sisters and I certainly don’t accept this kind of drama from either of them. You want to be my sister? Alrighty, well then here’s a designated amount of time for chatting and then we get back to work – that’s how we avoid wasting copious amounts of time as sisters in my family.”

          And if you don’t like it, keep the volume of your crying down.

      3. anonymouse*

        “I don’t hate you. I just realize that I am not helping you. If you are coming to me with the exact issue every time. I’m not the person to solve it. I suggested X and that didn’t work. I don’t have anything else. It works for me. I guess we are just different.”

  3. Ginger*

    “office Dementor” is such a fantastic description.

    I might consider sayings something like “If it’s too much for you, maybe you should talk to management” but she’ll probably pull a martyr act.

    1. Blackcat girl*

      Office Dementor! I’ve unfortunately worked with some. There are just people who aren’t happy unless everyone else knows how miserable they are.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Our Office Dementor straight up did it for attention and sympathy. She would spend literal hours complaining if not about work/work load then about her extended family. If you offered advice or solutions she would have 100 excuses for why that wouldn’t work. She didn’t want her problems solved. She wanted problems to be able to complain about so she could be the center of attention and sympathy whilst bemoaning her life. Several of us got noise canceling headphones and started refusing to make eye contact with her. We also learned to say things like “Yes, you’ve mentioned that before, so what are you going to do about it?”

    2. alicesrestauraunt*

      It makes me think of the energy vampire from What We Do In The Shadows

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Colin Robinson! I love how whenever they refer to or speak to him, they say his entire name.
        The best Colin episode was where he started dating an emotional vampire and she was too much even for him, lol.

    3. Bloopmaster*

      +1 possibly with escalating degrees of snark:

      “That’s definitely not my experience.”
      “Huh. No one else seems to have that issue.”
      “Sounds like you’re having some trouble managing your priorities.”
      “Maybe you don’t have the temperament for this line of work.”
      “Hmm…well, simple tasks do seem to take you a weirdly long time.”

    4. JelloStapler*

      OUrs would ask us to help and when we would point them towards our supervisor they would beg off (she didn’t want the supervisor knowing how much she was struggling).

  4. Dust Bunny*

    We had an intern who did this and I started suggesting that she go back to my coworker who was her supervisor and find out if she should be prioritizing differently, or if she needed more training on X thing to make it less intimidating. When the “solution” was to be sent back to someone who would hold her accountable for her tasks and time usage, she stopped doing it (and also got a lot more done).

    Intern knew I was not responsible for her–I think she was doing this so she could blow off steam with somebody whom she assumed wouldn’t call her on it. Technically, I didn’t call her on it, but I didn’t let her waste my time and energy, either.

    1. OhNo*

      I think it’s important to point out who coworkers like this are complaining to. If they wanted to see real change, they’d be complaining to their supervisor, or a manager. If they’re only complaining to their peers, then change probably isn’t what they’re looking for.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Exactly. Intern was only complaining to me. Coworker/Supervisor, while she is not someone who will ignore legitimate concerns or training gaps, is also not somebody who will coddle grousers.

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      Energy vampires and time burglars are the worst! I like this approach!

    3. anonymouse*

      That’s the key. If you are using me an emotional depository, sorry, the inn is full and the waiting list is booked solid.

  5. Lizochka*

    Sometimes this type of person “kicks up a lot of dust” around their activity to make them seem busier, more important, more indispensable. Or they ask a million low-stakes questions to demonstrate just how focused they are on the project at hand. Ugh!

    1. Heidi*

      I also had a colleague who made a big show of how busy they were. She created a lot of work for herself by adding unnecessary steps to a really simple process and then would complain about all the things she had to do. No one bought it, but it’s not a great attitude to have around.

      1. The Salmon of Doubt*

        I refer to that as “performative productivity.” Always heavy on the performance, light on the productivity.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        25-step processes and 10 hour work days and OMG so busy! was the method of my predecessor for YEARS and she was convinced it showed loyalty above all else.

        Shocker – I work 7 hours a day and get way more actually done. And have build relationships all over the company with departments she said refused to work with our department.

    2. Chairman of the Bored*

      I’ve generally seen this behavior from people in low-stakes jobs who were trying to make those jobs appear more important and critical than they actually were.

      The people doing it seemed to think that always being in a stressful panic would convince their colleagues that they were Serious Professionals.

      That’s not really how it works.

      1. Raida*

        I also see this with people in low-stakes jobs but clearly cannot handle *any* stakes.

        They get flustered trying to figure out how to move three items with two hands – FFS I’ll carry the third item, put it DOWN Sarah! There’s no deadline, they’re going 50 metres, it’s not even your specific job, why stress out dude?!?!?
        Some are Mums, which I think makes it worse where they’ve ‘learnt’ that they are responsible for everything, everyone can’t do things on their own, they have to *be* helpful, they must try to think of everything that needs doing… I always get blunt with them, simply “You do not have to do everything, just pick one thing and someone else will do the rest. What are you doing? Right. Do that and if there’s a problem later we’ll deal with it, not stress now.”

        1. Leslie*

          I have to tell you that I’m one of those Mums, and I’m so used to doing too much at home it never occurred to me that that may also be bleeding over into work. I’ve also worked from home since March 2020, and I don’t think that has helped. Thanks so much for posting this response, you have really helped me.

        2. AntsOnMyTable*

          There is this one nurse who is known for always being flustered. I actually had her in clinicals when I was a student and the first thing she said to me that day was “I am too busy I can’t explain anything.” We joke that anything more than zero patients stresses her out. She spends so much of her time fluttering around saying how busy things are instead of just getting things done.

    3. anonymouse*

      Alison, we need a like button.
      I LIKE THIS.
      “I’m all over this project. I had three emails this morning, and sorted the documents and confirmed with Bob that (something that was never debated) and omg, the questions! So, should we keep the emails in a single thread per subproject? Should I make an mailing list?
      Do I have an F to give? No, no I do not.

  6. SMH*

    We had an employee and he would complain about his work taking 20 minutes to do for a 30 minute job. His supervisor addressed with him but he was always full of drama.

  7. Jill C.*

    There are people in the world who need to process everything going on in their heads out loud. I don’t get it. I kinda hate it. But I also think it’s a neurological setting. It’s common with ADHD, for sure. One thing I learned as a teacher is that my students like this needed regular reminders. Do not expect to get this woman to put a sock in it after just one request. If she is at all self-aware, she already knows she tends to blather, and won’t take offense when you follow this excellent advice. But one correction will not be enough. I tell you this so you can be patient about it. Also, consult your Southern friends on various ways to politely shut people up.

    1. Almost Empty Nester*

      “All right then. I’m going to go and let you get back to work. Sounds like you have a lot of it!”

    2. AnotherLadyGrey*

      I agree with your point that it may take multiple reminders for it to ‘sink in’ and that one correction may not be enough.

      But there is no reason to bring up the possibility of people needing to process everything out loud as being neurological or related to ADHD. This tendency is common both in people with ADHD and people without ADHD. It is common in people who are neurotypical and in people who are neurodivergent. In this case by mentioning ADHD I feel that you are adding to stereotypes and stigma about ADHD. (Especially when you mention it a few sentences after saying you ‘kinda hate it’.) The advice you are offering is the same either way, so why mention it?

      I have ADHD so this hits a nerve for me. I definitely don’t blather on to people but if I did it wouldn’t be “because I’m ADHD.” It’s so common for “bad” behaviors to be attributed to people without much thought or consideration of how stigmatizing it can be. I am sure it is not your intention to add to the stigma around ADHD and other types of neurodivergence. I kindly ask that you consider this when deciding whether or not to identify something as ADHD related or “common with ADHD”, unless it is truly relevant to the discussion.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        I think the talking, if not a ploy to get out of work, could be a sign of a person who has a history of not being listened to or receiving the “i hear you” verbal or nonverbal affirmations from important people in their lives. I notice it as much in myself, a neurotypical, as I do in my ADHD spouse and other in-laws. I don’t link it is ADHD linked at all.

        1. AnotherLadyGrey*

          +1. Thank you for sharing your experience as a neurotypical person, that is especially nice for me to hear today.

    3. ADHSquirrelWhat*

      ADHD DOES have a lack of filter issue – but that doesn’t mean talking /to other people/ about something.

      I tend to mumble to myself, sure. I don’t realize I’m doing it out loud all the time. That part is ADHD.

      Venting on other people is a behavioral choice.

      Conflating the two makes it sound like all us squirrel folks are jerks – and our jerk percentage is pretty much the same as the overall population, thanks.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Fellow ADHD person here. Thank you for saying this. I’m losing patience with all the armchair-diagnosing in these comments.

        1. quill*

          This week’s either been more full of this than usual, or I’m suffering from recency bias.

          1. anonymous 5*

            I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but…I agree with your observation of this week.

          2. AnotherLadyGrey*

            I feel the same way. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the case I agree that it is getting very old. I don’t have my usual supply of patience this week.

  8. some dude*

    I had a boss tell me to stop stressing her out and it helped me be less vocal about my stress.

    I worked with a person who would always complain about how busy they were, and I noticed that for the most part if they had worked instead of complain about the amount of work they had, they would have completed most of their stressful work.

    At that same job I had a colleague who trained me and had a 50 step process that I soon realized was all about her own neurosis and lack of technological expertise. I was always reminded of Phil Hartman’s old SNL Skit “The Anal Retentive Chef.” I just let her do her, and then did it my own way.

    1. Grace*

      OMG, the colleague with 50 steps…I had one of those train me once. Once I was on my own, I found so many shortcuts (literal keyboard shortcuts, in some cases) that saved so.much.time (and I was very careful to make sure I wasn’t skipping anything that had to be done, but most things were on the level of “you don’t need to individually click each box when you have a way to click them all simultaneously” or using the barcode scanner to scan both ID barcodes AND prices, instead of typing the numbers in the price individually) , but whenever I tried to show them, they just couldn’t do it. They were like “this is the only way I know how to do it” so…yeah.

      1. Liz*

        Ugh. I inherited two separate tasks when two co-workers retired. Both of them came with pages of very detailed instructions. Which I initially followed, then realized that I didn’t need to do every step they mentioned to get it done. SO much easier, and takes a lot less time now that I do it MY way.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My thing is process improvement. If I can find a way to do something with less repetition and less steps, thus incurring less cost while still preserving quality, I’m gonna do it.

          I actually based a project on this at OldExjob and it’s something I talk about in interviews because it saved so much effort (and paper!).

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            And fewer errors. Anything that can be scanned or copied should not be rekeyed!!!

      2. Tupac Coachella*

        I AM the Colleague With 50 Steps on a lot of processes…but I know that, so I’m always careful to point out the whys of what I’m doing when I’m training someone. That usually separates out the “this must happen or it all falls apart” steps from the “I do it this way because it makes sense to me and keeps me from forgetting things, you can skip it if you don’t need it” steps.

      3. quill*

        Sorry but my last two jobs have been making processes work better, and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH

    2. Cathie from Canada*

      Whenever I started a new position, I always looked for the 5 to 10 per cent of the job that didn’t actually need to be done – the extra steps that weren’t actually important, the stuff nobody would miss if it never got done, the accumulated trivial irrelevancies – so then I could spend my time instead doing a better job of the things the organization actually needed me to do.
      When I worked with The Destructor, she was the type of project manager who would DEMAND that a meeting could only be set to accommodate her TERRIBLY BUSY schedule, and then in the end she would usually miss the meeting anyway, saying she didn’t understand why anyone had ever expected her to be there because she was just SO BUSY!
      The only solution I came up with was to first get two or three possible meeting times with the higher-status person (a VP, say, or a Committee Chair) and then email these possible dates to The Destructor and tell her she had to pick one. Just knowing that the higher-status person was waiting on her did seem to help getting her to stop complaining and focus on the task at hand. She would, in the end, usually miss the meeting anyway, but at least setting it up wasn’t as stressful to me.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      In one of my temp jobs, I was asked to update the CV of a senior medical researcher whose executive assistant might as well have been Belinda.
      She was very upset that I put automated headers and footers into the CV and added new publication at the front …in about 30 minutes. And she spent the rest of the day redoing the changes “the right way”. O gentle readers, she needed those headers and footers typed manually, which meant moving one publication to the next page for each of 25 pages.
      Our Belinda…
      If you are still around dear original poster comma I would love to know how this turned out and get a years later update

    4. TardyTardis*

      I know, I knew someone who would add things up on a calculator to make sure the spreadsheet was right…then I discovered an easy standard totaling Excel thing and she finally stopped doing that (she was an older woman who wasn’t really happy with Excel).

  9. Stressed*

    I mean, I could probably be Belinda. Stressing out out loud is a way of managing. I think of the Doctor on Star Trek Voyager: “I like to complain. It makes me feel better.”

    I would appreciate having someone say that they don’t really have the spoons to listen to me stress / please could you go stress somewhere else. I would not appreciate being compared to the Office Dementor or having somebody insist that I would be “happier and calmer” if I stopped complaining, which feels a bit patronizing. What works for you is not necessarily what works for other people.

    1. introverted af*

      Yeah same. I would definitely prefer you give me a couple chances to stop with comments like what Alison described in the moment, and then tell me you see a pattern if you don’t pick up on it by then. I will find another outlet if you aren’t the right person (or even just not the right person today).

    2. Jean*

      Everyone is stressed. Yours isn’t unique or special. Your complaining might make you feel better, but it just makes everyone else’s stress worse.

      1. EmbracesTrees*

        I don’t want to be mean but this is exactly what I thought. Punching a wall may make a person feel better by relieving their stress, but it would most certainly cause anxiety for those around them.

        Likewise, spewing complaints and negativity may relieve a person of it but they are being really self-centered by not considering that it effects whoever has to hear it. “Everyone is different; do what works for you” is not okay *when it’s happening at the expense of anyone else.* I can see how being called “the office dementor” would not feel good, but it is a pretty apt description — since being on the receiving end of the complaints also doe snot feel good.

        Perhaps the complainers need to find each other and mutually vent? Then they can be sure that the person they’re complaining to is (apparently) okay with that type of expression.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Funny you mention that because I actually know two people who did each actually punch a wall. Both of ’em broke the hand in the process.

      2. Stressed*

        I mean fine, just tell me that. I can handle that.

        It’s all the extra stuff about “you’re the office Dementor” that’s kind of hurtful and fails to recognize the ways that people are different.

        1. Kella*

          The coping mechanism isn’t the problem. If someone is prioritizing their use of this coping mechanism over the needs of other people, then that’s a problem, and that’s what’s being criticized here.

        2. Joielle*

          Ok, but most people aren’t going to say something really blunt and risk pissing you off, they’ll just silently resent you. If you’re ok with that, then fine, but don’t assume that everyone likes hearing you venting just because they haven’t said otherwise. If it helps you, go ahead and vent to your friends, your partner, your therapist. But not your coworkers.

          People are different in a lot of ways that they don’t bring to the office. Personally, I often eat broccoli for lunch and at home, I heat it up in the microwave. But I know the smell of microwaved broccoli bugs a lot of people. So I’m not going to microwave broccoli in the office and assume everyone’s fine with it just because they haven’t said otherwise.

        3. Lana Kane*

          Ideally, people shouldn’t be put in the awkward position of having to tell you that you’re stressing them out. If someone is self-aware enough to know that their stressing out loud causes other people stress, they should then work on curbing the behavior.

      3. Ori*

        Why is everyone stressed? Ideally no one should be stressed. Suffering from clinical stress should not be the office default.

    3. Chairman of the Bored*

      I recommend proactively asking people for their consent to stress out loud at them *before* you do it; rather than putting the burden on the audience to tell you that they don’t want it after the fact.

    4. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      True. I admit that I have to make myself stop complaining when I’m upset and remember to write down the complaints to protect others from my stress. I’m not laughing saying ha ha ha I seem so important. I’m just a big pile of stress.

    5. Joielle*

      It can definitely be true that talking about stress is a way of managing that stress, but your coworkers are not an appropriate audience. The person to tell is your boss, so they can help you prioritize or take things off your plate – or if that’s not possible, a therapist who can help you figure out coping mechanisms that don’t negatively affect other people.

      1. Raida*

        we had a meeting room for lunch times booked out and there was a line on the floor – no work beyond this line. Anyone who broke that rule paid fine into the jar.
        a few people started going to lunch 5 minutes early so they could explode in a set time about whatever thye needed to vent bout – it was really popular. Only the people who wanted to got there early, only the people who were willing to listen went, and nobody monopolised it every day.

        such a relief for the rest of us

    6. Kella*

      There is no shame in knowing that talking out loud about your stress makes you feel better, but I think it’s pretty common knowledge that it makes lots of other people feel worse and that it requires extra energy on their part for you to manage stress this way. Like, it’s not my job as your coworker to help you manage your emotions. If you need someone else to listen to you to help you de-stress, it seems like it’s on you to ask for that rather than on them to say “Hey, this is bothering me, could you stop?”

      I think the term “office dementor” is specifically referencing the fact that these people aren’t thinking about how their behavior is affecting people around them and just taking the energy that *they* want. If you are being considerate of people around you and asking first, then the term doesn’t apply to you.

      And of course, there are going to be people who genuinely are happier and calmer if they stress out loud. But it sounds like when Belinda does it, *it doesn’t work*. She’s still stressed, she’s still behind, she’s still constantly busy. People aren’t judging the strategy. They are judging using a strategy that’s visibly keeping that person, and everyone around them, unhappy.

      1. Kella*

        Also, a lot of the people in the comments referring to their “office dementor” are specifically talking about people who, when told to stop, get upset and create more drama. Which sounds like is not you.

      2. HotCryptographer*

        “it’s not my job as your coworker to help you manage your emotions.”

        This is exactly it! Talking about stress can help manage it, but your coworkers are not the right people for that job.

      3. TardyTardis*

        I was a complainer until I start reading self-help books and realized that I needed to stop. (I ended up amusing myself by writing novels and delivering Evil Fates to fairly well disguised characters, but I also got a lot more work done by not whining so much).

        1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          This! Life does come with instructions. You just have to find the right books at the local library. I used to vent to coworkers and friends. It was a form of validation and also made me feel better. I worked on developing a more positive mind frame and nice side affect- there was less to complain about, what there was seemed more easily handled then complained about, and I was more likely to just deal internally with what was left to complain about. I’m not saying I never have a good vent story for a friend, but it’s once in a blue moon nowadays. And I try to spread it around so the same friends aren’t always the ones getting vented too. I was the default ventee for 1 person and it got so that when I saw them coming I got a pit in the bottom of my stomach. So when and if I do feel the need to vent I don’t want to over burden anyone.

    7. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I can also be like this. I don’t want to be the person that others are annoyed with. It is on ME to change my behavior. It’s not on other people to tell me to STFU. If someone has to tell you, then you messed up.

    8. calonkat*

      Stressed, I think the big key is to realize that venting on others doesn’t generally help them at all.

      If you ask “can I vent for a bit”, and get an affirmative, then STOP after a bit and listen to your co-worker vent or comment (or just go away), then that’s not what was being discussed.

      The issue is when people only seem to come to work to complain, regardless of what others are doing (or trying to do), and they ignore all hints/comments/direct requests to stop.

      We all have known people like this, it’s different than having the occasional need to vent or having legitimate concerns about something.

    9. Free Meerkats*

      With most people like this, I ask, “Are you looking for solutions, or do you just want to vent/complain?” If it’s the former, I offer assistance. For the latter, I tune them out and throw in an occasional “Mm-Hmm” or “Huh” while paying enough attention to tell if they actually require a response until they run out of gas.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        I’m of the opinion that if somebody is unloading their problems on me then it’s fair for me to start pitching solutions.

        Don’t want to hear my solutions? That’s very understandable, but then you shouldn’t drop a bag of problems on my doorstep.

  10. Yellow*

    I could have written this about a woman I worked with at my old job. It got to the point where she stressed me out so badly, I ended up leaving. There was no other way around it.

  11. Kesnit*

    There have been times where I could have been Belinda. Not because I have so much work (though that was part of it). It’s because I have anxiety, and when I start to feel overwhelmed, my anxiety kicks in and a downward spiral starts. I make a point of not taking my stress to others, but that doesn’t mean the stress isn’t there.

    I have no doubt dealing with her is stressful, but it is very possible there is something else going on. Take Alison’s advice, but cut her a little slack.

    1. ShowTime*

      I have GAD so I get it, but it sounds like LW has already cut Belinda an enormous amount of slack. At some point, you run through the reserves of other people’s patience and have to face the consequences of your own behavior. What is causing the behavior is not LW’s problem to manage; that’s for Belinda to address.

    2. quill*

      Anxiety can be contagious like this, but setting a boundary and sticking to it is usually the first remedy for dealing with other people’s problems suddenly becoming your problems.

    3. allathian*

      Even if Belinda’s suffering from some form of anxiety, and we don’t know from the letter that she is and we aren’t supposed to armchair diagnose, she still has no right to spread that anxiety around her. It’s not her coworkers’ responsibility to manage her anxiety for her.

  12. blink14*

    My experience with this mainly comes from managing up both of my direct supervisors in my two long term jobs, both of which were very small offices/departments within a larger organization.

    With my old boss, I learned that her pattern is to freak about everything. The smallest thing that would take less time to solve than to talk about in fine detail would set her off. Major problems would set her off to the same degree. If it was something small, I started ignoring her tirade, and eventually she would tire herself out and go away. If it was something bigger, I’d interrupt the tirade, directly ask what the problem was, and come up with a quick plan to start addressing the situation. After awhile, she learned that I wouldn’t engage at the same level, and would back off. Not to say she wasn’t still a terrible manager, which she was, but she just realized that I learned her moves and wouldn’t participate. This became a huge learning experience for me.

    My current supervisor I have a much closer and far more positive relationship with. When I started, it was just her and I, and many people would ask me how I would deal with her “freak outs”. It was a piece of cake compared to where I came from! In this case, I learned that the best way to deal with her stress was to listen to the problem, acknowledge the stress (and this is real, true stress she has both at work and at home), and offer ways to help. By proactively offering solutions, even something small like saying “I’ll send out this set of emails to take it off your plate”, her stress is reduced and therefore mine is reduced.

    For co-worker to co-worker, usually acknowledging their stress, giving some words of encouragement, and ending it with “I hope your day gets better! I’m off to do X and Y tasks” has worked for me. And doing that consistently should validate their feelings, maybe make their day a little better, but also gets you out of major conversations about stress. If I know a better way to do something and someone is asking for my help, I’ll say “have you ever tried this approach? I find that it’s more direct, less time consuming, etc for me, let’s how it works for you?” . I think really it’s about having a consistent response. When people know they can get a rise out of you, they will do it.

    1. allathian*

      I really like your constructive approach to this. I don’t think I’d have the patience to be as effective at it as you are.

  13. Canadian Librarian #72*

    I had a coworker like this. Some people seem to think Belinda is looking for validation about how hard her job is, but I don’t know that we have any evidence to that effect… my coworker was genuinely just very stressed and overburdened, and I suspect she had anxiety, which made her feel like anything she didn’t know how to handle or needed support with was a big emergency. This manifested in panicky emails with multiple exclamation points in the subject line AND in the body, sometimes with the word URGENT as well. It was indeed very stressful and annoying to deal with her, and I began to dislike her a fair bit.

    What ultimately helped was her getting sufficient support from her supervisor, and getting more training (from me) on how to do specific tasks that she kept coming to me and my team with. I did have to send her a couple emails to ask her bluntly to stop doing certain things, copying other people outside our team on intra-team emails because she thought it was relevant to them. Sometimes it was relevant, but it wasn’t appropriate to copy people outside the team, because these were internal discussions about workflow and process.

    Anyway, OP, you will need to be blunt, but you must stop yourself from making the kind of snide comments that ripple through your letter. I know full well how aggravating this is, but you can’t get Belinda off your back by insulting her, unfortunately, and she will notice your cutting remarks even if you think you’ve been subtle. Just tell her in simple terms what you need, without elaboration, insult, or apology.

    1. Mannequin*

      “Belinda works well on more absorbing tasks that she can focus on for a long time, but struggles with switching between tasks or dealing with more time-dependent, comparatively urgent issues”

      NGL, as someone who was late diagnosed in middle age with ADHD, this sounds veeeerrrrry familiar.

    2. BellaTulip*

      I was coming here to say the same! I did this (after doing the quiz to check I was printing off the right animal) and it strangely really helped. I focused on the cute otter picture and it helped to quieten the moaning, for example about how if had taken her all morning to manually find and replace as the z’s in a document to change it from American to English. Then another 10 minutes of why using ‘find and replace’ feature would have taken more time and now she didn’t have time for lunch after explaining this to me! This suggestion and the lovely Otter saved my sanity

  14. Nanani*

    Would changing the avenue help? Email instead of voice so she doesn’t have time to offload stress in the “how are you” opening, for examples. And if she includes a stress dump, well you can skip it in text but you can’t fast-forward live voice.

    I suspect being specific won’t help because I doubt Belinda is going into it intending to dump stress and waste your time. Intent doesn’t matter though, effects do, so see if you can make it natural to just get the answer and not the blather.

  15. RagingADHD*

    She’s not going to stop just because you ask her to. She will “forget”. She will do it “without meaning to.” If you want to stop absorbing this nonsense, you need to use some kind of deflector shield. When she stops getting what she wants (a captive-audience stress sponge), she will stop doing it.

    You can really address this the same way you’d address any issue where someone is taking up too much of your time and being disruptive by talking to much about irrelevant things. Be busy. Spend less time talking to her. Give her less air to suck out of the room.

    “I really can’t talk right now, I have stuff to do.”

    If you don’t want to cut her off, another helpful way to deal with people who chronically complain about the same thing while not actually doing anything to address it (like get their freaking work done), is to ask them about taking action:

    “Yeah, you do sound stressed. What have you tried to manage your workload better?”
    “Sounds like the work we’re all doing is getting out of hand for you. Have you talked to our manager about changes you could make to get some breathing room?”
    “Yup. Sounds like a lot. What are you going to do first?”

    None of this will endear you to Belinda and give her warm fuzzies. But that’s okay, because she’s certainly not endearing herself to you. She is happy unloading her stress onto you. It makes her feel better. She won’t be excited about changing that dynamic.

    You can’t make her change, because she’s not the one who perceives a problem. You have to stop being the solution to her stress.

    1. mf*

      “You have to stop being the solution to her stress.”

      This x1000. It’s gonna be awkward but you gotta tell her “This conversation is stressing me out, so let’s change the topic.” You’ve got to make her uncomfortable so she stops seeking you out to vent.

  16. retired*

    I am a very organized person. I had a boss like this (director level in large state agency) and recently a co-volunteer coordinator in one of my activities (volunteer positions). I learned from the first one just to walk away from the second. These are people who create chaos in order to feel in control. Any efforts to be organized, pleasant, direct, what have you just increases the chaos. If this is what she is doing, nothing you say will affect it. Gray rock, distancing, whatever you call it is the only choice.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Agreed! I think internally distancing yourself from it is the only thing you can do.

      Allison’s suggestions are great – and optimistic! – but ultimately, I don’t think you can do anything to affect a coworker like this. I’ve had so many like this! Nothing stops them.

      Ultimately all you can do is play the “don’t care” card, in your own head.

  17. Jessie J*

    Ok. This resonates with my work experience strongly. A coworker of mine does this, we basically have the same role but I have more accounts and two additional roles to maintain. I didn’t even think of it until reading the responses but now I see she may be doing it to avoid doing much more work. Thank you to the other people who posted this as a possibility.

    1. pagooey*

      I was just coming in here to note that Alison and I are long-lost sisters, who knew? And you too, apparently, @stopmom! Cheers to us all, since lord knows we probably need it. :|

  18. Ori*

    It’s not always a validation tactic. Sometimes it can be a way of reinforcing your own boundaries. I recently handed my notice in to a company where I said multiple times that I was at capacity (and kept being given more work) and had previously agreed to stay specifically on the basis that I was not assigned a particular type of work.

    They kept giving me more work and kept assigning me the type of work they had specifically promised not to assign me. I’m sure to my co-workers I looked crazy or attention seeking, but when I said “I can’t take on X and Y, because I have the rest of the alphabet to handle by Friday,” I wasn’t looking for validation.

    I was reiterating that I was above capacity and hoping my superiors would actually listen to me. They did not, I had to leave, they were shocked.

    1. TV*

      I had a similar experience at my old job, though I rarely spoke up about it. 2 of my colleagues were extremely vocal about having too much on their plate, etc, to everyone with ears, including their supervisor. I was in the exact same boat but saw how management treated them like whiners and told them to buck up, so I guess I was seen as the example of strength and grace with the crazy amount of work they dumped on us because I didn’t complain. Thing is, I absorb other peoples anxieties and stressors so I can operate better at a high level of anxiety than others (sounds good but is exhausting). I still feel it, I just don’t need to talk about it, especially when I see others get no relief. When I saw my boss was retiring and their thought I would carry the ship until they found a replacement for her (I made half her wage and she was unable to train me on higher tasks due to health reasons), I started looking elsewhere. People were shocked when I turned in my notice and left for a job with slightly less responsibility and 30% pay hike.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        This does not apply to my present job (meaning I’m not underpaid and overworked), but it gives me vicarious satisfaction to see people resigning and the supervisors being “shocked, shocked” (hat tip to Louis character in movie “Casablanca”) that their long-suffering employee would finally decline the honor of being overloaded and underpaid. It’s nice to see another meek office drone (besides Spiderman and Superman) transform into a confident, assertive, effective Avenger for Justice. Tights and cape optional.

    2. Nanani*

      That really doesn’t sound like the same type of situation.
      I suppose an outside observer could conflate them, but a good-faith actor would not think someone clearly stating they don’t have time for X and Y is the same as someone kicking up dust about how their normal amount of Q and Z is sooooooo exhausting, you know?

    3. Julie*

      I’m really glad you said this. My team had to close intake and I basically said “If we do this, I have my own job to do so a manager is going to need to draft the response plan. I am too busy and I can’t take this on.” 4 weeks later, I’m no longer too busy but no one has committed to doing it and I won’t. I am the lowest level employee but also the best at managing workload and my stress comes from their process failures. Inevitably they’ll come to me in a panic soon and I need the capacity to deal with that. I won’t take on additional burdens brought about by the ongoing lack of planning. Someone who has the power to ensure follow through should be drafting the plan instead.

  19. StellaBella*

    I really like the OP’s first reply idea and Alison’s advice. OP you have my sympathy. I work with a verbal diarrhea person similar to the guy noted in yesterday’s letter who also does this extreme sport of hyper complaining in emails (and all emails are like 7 paragraphs on why she is right, etc on some issue or why it must be done this exact way etc) and meetings and cannot manage time. I wish you luck. I may use your wording or Alison’s to adress this soon.

  20. Junior Dev*

    “you give too much information in too much intense detail and it feels like you’re venting at me”

    I had a roommate who would answer every question like this, and it was exhausting. I got limited success with saying “I have a question that needs a yes or no answer,” asking the question, and then when they went on for more than 20 seconds, saying “remember how I said ‘yes or no’?” But that was a relationship where we were able to be really blunt with each other.

    A slightly less blunt version might be to cut them off after 20 seconds and say “it sounds like you’re saying xyz, is that right?” If that still results in a monologue, you can switch to “it sounds like you’re saying xyz, so I’m going to do ABC. Thanks! Talk to you later!”

    The advice here, I guess, is just to anticipate that you will have to cut her off, and practice doing it once you have the info you need. It will feel rude at first but what she’s doing is also very rude and you’re protecting your boundaries.

  21. Mr. Dobalina*

    I guess I am a Belinda, at least for the last few weeks. And after reading the OP’s letter, I feel guilty about my Belinda-ing, and will try to be more mindful of my co-workers and the impact of my venting.

    When I became completely overloaded with work a few weeks ago, to the tune of 2 -3 times what I could handle even working 60 hours per week, I vented to a few co-workers. Then I started telling people that, due to the extreme spike in the workload, staff vacations and competing priorities, I wouldn’t be able handle their requests right away and they would have to wait. And then most of the work ground to halt while I tried futilely to choose the highest priorities (with my manager’s input). And then the crap the hit the fan at the management level, when the higher-ups realized the majority of the work wasn’t moving forward. So I have been failing and my inner Belinda appeared in multiple conversations. But I am not a drama queen, and there is truly an unmanageable workload. Please forgive the occasional Belinda-ing from us burnouts who are truly overwhelmed. It can really feel like no one cares when the workload crisis unfolding, even when you warn the right people and reach out for help–even when you use the word “crisis” to describe what is starting to happen. Then the organization finally feels the pain, and everyone is looking at you accusingly, like you should have magic fairy dust to immediately solve this problem. *Sigh* Now I have Belinda-ed all over his blog. LOL.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      Sympathies! I hope you can find, or become, a Transforming Avenger, and then get yourself a calmer workplace, a vacation, a hug (if welcome), and outta there to a new, not-overloaded job. Or whatever combination works best for you.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I think you’re selling yourself short. Being honestly over scheduled and backlogged and working with a manager to prioritize tasks is not what our OP’s co-worker was doing. Your manager should take the heat on your situation — I’m in an overbooked boat myself, and my manager is bluntly running interference for my group. “Send them to me” was the response when someone started hammering me for a deliverable that was nowhere near the top priorities for our group.
      Belinda was complaining more than doing work, doing less work than other in the same role, and refusing help when offered. Since you identified with her, you may want to go back and read the original letter and its update to understand why I say what you describe is reasonable. Your upper management however…they sound UNreasonable.

  22. Anonymous Today*

    It seems as if the OP may have some opportunity to help Belinda become less stressed if the OP were to show her how she could get something done in 2 steps versus 25 steps.

    Maybe there’s more to it than that….

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      In the original, longer letters, OP tried that. Belinda insisted the shorter method to get the same results was all wrong.
      Letter and update for both in 2017. I am so hoping OP thinks to send us another update now, even if it’s just to say they moved on to a blissfully Belinda-less job

  23. Raida*

    Oh my god, that last one – I would go with the Energy Vampires in What We Do In The Shadows!

  24. Not-That-Belinda*

    As someone with the same name, who is massively overworked and works on very intensive, detail work, I admit this post has me paranoid.

    The only other thing I feel like I need to point out to the LW is; are you sure?
    Are you sure that all the extra steps she’s trying to get people to do isn’t necessary?

    As I said above, my work is very detail oriented. There’s a lot of double-checks and references that need to happen, and a lot of standards that need to be followed.
    If you didn’t do those things, you can definitely turn the 25-step process into 2-steps. From the outside looking in, it may very look like I’m taking steps that don’t add value.

    But; they do add value, even if it only comes up once in a blue moon. And more importantly; I need to follow all 25-steps in order in order to align with industry standard, and if I don’t then the rest of the work everyone else in the entire work-area does becomes invalidated.
    The 25 steps are auditable. The fact that I can – and have – proven that all 25 steps were exactly followed in multiple specific cases as saved us from massive fines from external audit and legal investigation.

    That’s not necessarily because our managers are doing anything wrong. Its that that is the nature of the job. My job is the catch-all that allow exceptions to be made. But because that’s the function, and because the work we do is so heavily scrutinised, if there is any room for doubt in the exception process I run, literally everything falls down like a house of cards.

    (I’ll put it this way. Someone much respected in this speciality once declared, in a public conference on the matter, that our job allows business to break the law. We all laughed and squirmed in our seats simultaneously, because we know that if we skip a certain set of steps that is in fact what happens)

    Sometimes it seems like someone is making their work harder for themselves, because they aren’t able to explain why the extra work is necessary. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

  25. twocents*

    Re LW2: Since this wasn’t explicitly answered: You can absolutely carry around hand sanitizer for your own use, but if someone extends their hand for a handshake, no, you cannot squirt hand sanitizer in their palm instead.

  26. ellex42*

    “I am your coworker, not your life coach or therapist.”

    Words I have actually had to say to more coworkers than I like to count. I don’t talk a lot, so I’m perceived as a “good listener”, so people like to vent at me.

    Also, “I’m too busy to talk to you about how busy you are.”

  27. Meep*

    1. Now I feel bad for even jokingly complaining about a task I don’t want to do or when I get stuck.

    2. I have a coworker like that who constantly talks about how she “woke up at 4AM” and has been working since “8PM” (loose because I don’t believe it) like it is everyone else’s problem. 9/10 times it is her just sitting on her phone texting her boyfriend for hours. Always busy, but can never meet a deadline to save her life.

    Don’t give her the satisfaction of acknowledging it. Or if you are feeling feisty, commiserate with her about your own extreme workload and watch her head spin.

  28. Chickaletta*

    Ugh, secondhand stress. It’s the theme of my personal life right now. My boyfriend gets stressed easily (he claims it’s “realistic concern” not “stress”. I say tomato tomahto), and we are planning to move in together in the next year which requires him to changes cities and jobs. Stressful, I get it! But boy is every other conversation we have about all the things he is concerned about, and nothing I can say seems to help. I want to be supportive but it’s affecting my own mood and personality. It’s a hard balance for sure.

  29. L*

    Ooof. When I was like this my boss intervened and I was actually generously given some time off to cope with my stress and see a doctor.

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