my employee complains that her coworker has too much flexibility

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of four technical staff. Three of them have very similar jobs operating specialized equipment. The job — and the institution in general — is quite flexible. For example, people can come in at different hours each day and leave at different times as long as they put in the time and the work gets done.

I have one employee who is rigid with rules, Jane, and another who is the opposite, Carrie. For the past several years, Jane has come to me at least once a month with a complaint about Carrie. Some complaints include Carrie leaving communal spaces untidy when she leaves and coming in later when there is bad weather to avoid bad driving conditions. I address the issues as they come up. Regarding the messy communal spaces, I addressed this with Carrie, in spite of the fact that the area wasn’t left egregiously messy in my opinion. With the bad weather, I reminded the Jane about my and our institution’s flexible work hours policy and that it also applied to her.

Some complaints, like the bad weather one, have a common thread of “unfairness” that has come up several times. All of my employees are treated fairly, but not equally, because they are different people with different needs. Carrie also deals with anxiety that has afforded her greater flexibility from me when she needs it. However, Jane seems to greatly struggle with any differences in treatment, and would probably be much more comfortable with a highly enforced set of rules that was equally applied to all with few exceptions.

I have always patiently dealt with Jane’s complaints. Some of them affect her (the untidy area) and some of them do not (bad weather, flexible start times). She is otherwise an exceptional employee — hard-working, reliable, and meticulous. But she cannot seem to deal with Carrie’s more flexible approach, and her complaints are starting to accumulate aggravation in me. To be honest, I would like for the complaints about things that do not directly affect her to stop, but she’s a good employee so I also don’t want to quit because she’s harboring pent-up resentments about fairness and equality. Any advice?

I think you’re being too patient with Jane’s complaints and too accommodating of behavior that has become disruptive.

In fact, it’s likely that by patiently listening when Jane complains to you, you’ve signaled that what she’s doing is okay, maybe even welcome. You’re actually doing her a disservice by handling it that way — not only because you’re letting her go on unknowingly aggravating you, but also because you’re training her that this is acceptable, which will cause her major problems if she does it her next job (which she almost certainly will if you continue to allow it). It’s kinder to set clear boundaries and tell her to stop.

It’s also really important that you not act on complaints that you don’t think are warranted. It sounds like at least once you addressed something with Carrie (a messy communal space) that you didn’t think really needed to be addressed. That’s giving Jane too much power, and it’s really unfair to Carrie if you didn’t think she had done anything wrong. I’m guessing you did it to keep the peace with Jane — but you can’t do that at other people’s expense.

The next time Jane comes to you with a complaint about Carrie, you’ve got to say something like, “I’m not sure if you realize how often you bring me complaints about Carrie, and it’s at the point that it’s becoming disruptive. Carrie is an excellent employee and I have no concerns about her work or her schedule. My sense is that you would prefer to see everyone held to a more rigid set of rules, but that is not how we operate here. Giving employees flexibility is an important part of our culture, and we will continue to do that. Going forward, I don’t want to receive complaints about the flexibility afforded to your colleagues unless something directly affects your work.”

If she brings you more complaints after that, you should simply ask, “How is this affecting your work?” … and then, unless she has an answer that actually does make it her business, shut it down. (For example: “We talked last month about this, and I asked you not to bring me complaints that don’t affect your work. Is there anything else you needed me for?”)

If she keeps it up even after that, you’ll probably need to say, “You’ve made it clear that you think I’m too flexible with your coworkers. I’ve explained why we operate this way. We can’t continue to debate it, so where do you want to go from here? Are you able to move forward knowing that this isn’t up for continual discussion?”

I know you don’t want Jane to quit over this … but if she quits because she can no longer shower you with unfounded complaints about Carrie, the situation was never salvageable anyway. (Also, everyone quits! She’s going to quit at some point; that part is preordained.) It would be really unfair to Carrie for your Jane retention strategy to be “let her keep making unjust complaints about Carrie.”

{ 343 comments… read them below }

  1. BatManDan*

    Some people have personalities that are more comfortable with rigidity, and some are more comfortable with flexibility. Jane needs to figure out how to let other people be themselves, which in and of itself is a degree of flexibility, and therefore may be beyond Jane’s grasp. W0uld love to see an update, and how long it takes for Jane to make changes.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’ve worked with and managed rigid, rule-following sorts who are not comfortable with any deviations, so much so that they would get visibly stressed about any deviations to (their interpretation of) codes of conduct and office norms. It got tiresome.

      I don’t think OP can ever make Jane comfortable with co-worker decisions she wouldn’t have made, or about individual flexibility at work, so I hope that isn’t a goal here. I tried and failed; my Jane eventually had to be let go. But OP can definitely help change Jane’s ongoing dialogue about it.

      Would also love to see an update, OP.

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        I am a somewhat rigid person naturally, and having a previous manager discuss my rigidity, and how it was affecting my co-workers really made a difference. I am still really rigid in my own work, despite now working in a flexible workplace, but I have learned to accept others’ acceptance of the lovely flexible workplace.
        It really took being told that pushing rigidity onto my co-workers was unacceptable for me to grow in this way. OP, I hope that you can help Jane to make this personal growth, but don’t hold yourself responsible if she is not receptive.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Thank you for this, and I wish I had worded my comment differently: Jane may never be 100% okay with co-worker decisions she wouldn’t have made but I don’t think that should be the OP’s primary goal. I think changing her behavior and ongoing reaction about it is the primary goal. And yes, supporting Jane’s personal growth is also a goal, as it would be for any manager.

          Here’s hoping Jane will experience the awareness and growth you did, RR.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’m a fairly rigid individual, too, if I understand the terminology right, but the rules are so complex and arcane that my coworkers don’t see the irony when I quote Indiana Jones and claim “I don’t know; I’m making this up as I go.”

          I’m lucky that I was raised with a strong “live and let live” streak. So in those scenarios, I might be unwilling to come in late due to the weather or leave the break room less tidy than I think is appropriate, but others doing it might draw a shrug, or an insincere “O mores! O tempora!” at worst.

          A freeing thought might be that Jane can be more rigid if she chooses to, but Carrie’s exercising of the flexibility is the minimum or above the minimum standard. (and I’m glad I caught I had the names backwards lest I attempt a really confusing addition to the conversation…)

          1. Observer*

            I’m lucky that I was raised with a strong “live and let live” streak. So in those scenarios, I might be unwilling to come in late due to the weather or leave the break room less tidy than I think is appropriate, but others doing it might draw a shrug,

            Yes, this is a key issue here. It’s not just that she is rigid. It’s that’s also acting like a real butinsky. It can get infuriating.

            1. Michelle*

              There’s a Hank Williams song I sing to my children when they are complaining about things that have nothing to do with them:

              Why don’t you mind your own business?
              (Mind your own business)
              ‘Cause if you mind your business,
              Then you won’t be mindin’ mine.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                We often said “MYOB!” in fifth grade.

                I’m also fond of saying “If you worry about yourself half as much you worry about everyone else, you’ll be twice as happy!” If what your co worker is or is not doing has no impact on your work, why waste the bandwidth thinking about it?

            2. Banana*

              yesssss. I, too, am managing a buttinsky and it is super annoying and time consuming. I’ve had several conversations about the inappropriate nature of her complaints and have discussed that all of our work is getting done, the other employee’s work should be none of her concern, and we have had zero complaints (except hers). I realize that I’m working pretty hard to get her to stop making everything her business – and it I am starting to dislike her. I’ll admit that a part of me resents her for not trusting me to manage my team.
              If you want my job so bad, apply for it.

              1. Observer*

                I think that Alison’s advice to the OP is relevant here. Have that big picture conversation with her and then STOP discussing and explaining. You can call out that this is what you were talking about. But unless and until she can bring you concrete ways in which her work is being affected you are not going to respond to her complaint, you are not going to “look into it” and you ARE going to note that she is wasting your time and hers and that she’s failing to follow instructions.

              2. MissBaudelaire*

                Your last line is the real sticker, here.

                I did have a manager who said that. “If you think you can do so much better at my job, you’re welcome to try.”

                Shockingly, no one took her up on that.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Another freeing thought I’ve had is “if I inherit it, I’ll fix it. If I don’t, it doesn’t effect me” when I see coworkers do things in ways I don’t agree with, not up to my standards.

            I hope the right framing finds Jane. This road ends in ways parting if it doesn’t.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think this is fair – the key is to get Jane to understand that she is not Carlie, and she is not allowed to nitpick and complain until she pushes Carlie into being a copy of herself.

          Even if she doesn’t make major changes in her behavior, if she stops nagging her coworkers that is an acceptable outcome.

    2. Hazel*

      I used to be much more inflexible, and I think it was a combination of untreated anxiety and my not being able to trust my own judgement. I’ve been doing therapy, and I’m now on very helpful medication, and I feel light years away from those issues now, but there was one incident that jolted me and made me realize I had a problem. About once a month, I was in charge of closing up at my non-profit, and they were really strict about the closing rules. One time, a higher-up showed up a few minutes after closing and rang to be let in, and I wouldn’t let her in because RULES. In a meeting the next day, I was told that what I did was NOT okay and that it was also ridiculous that I didn’t use my brain to decide what to do. I was so embarrassed! But from then on, it made me start thinking before just doing the rigid, rule-following thing. All this is to say that maybe Jane can also be jolted out of being so rigid if her boss tells her it’s seriously not acceptable.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, I was thinking her distress might be related to anxiety; I suffer from it too and routine (not necessarily rigidity) does help. Regardless, it’s her responsibility to deal with it, not Carrie’s or the OP’s.

        If Jane discloses an untreated mental health issue during this discussion, then OP can perhaps steer her to an EAP, if the company has one.

      2. Caliente*

        That’s so great! Congratulations! For me, I had to learn to tighten up a bit- how will this affect someone else even if “I don’t care” or it doesn’t bother me.

    3. JustaTech*

      I’m towards the “rule” end of the flexibility/rule spectrum, and I learned to just deal with my coworker who had both a lot of sick days and a lot of spontaneous WFH days. I always asked myself “is this impacting my work? Can this work be re-scheduled?” and as long as I could do my work I didn’t say anything. I might not have liked re-arranging my schedule, but there just wasn’t any point in complaining so I kept my thoughts to myself.

      Jane needs to learn to let it go. It can be done.

      1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

        I think Berts and Ernies can and should accommodate each other in the office in order to co-exist. However, I do think there’s an assumption that Ernies are somehow shirking responsibility through their lack of rigidity (similar to the early bird/night owl moral unfairness).

        However, Berts and Ernies can both shirk responsibilities. It just looks different, and in our workplace cultures, we assign many positive qualities to Berts simply for being rigid and therefore don’t see performance issues as easily. Right now, my org is uncovering tons and tons of issues months after letting a Bert go because she was able to hide her poor performance through the performance of an ideal employee.

        1. Lacey*

          Yup. At a previous workplace I had two coworkers who seemed like power-workers. And, in some ways they were, but they were actually causing the the company problems by being so rigid about their work that no one could help them with it because they wouldn’t do it right.

          But, that employer had a FAR bigger problem with people milling about and doing nothing, so they weren’t about to deal with people causing problems by being too focused on how things should be done.

        2. Artemesia*

          Lots of people who love flexibility abuse it to in fact shirk a lot of work and lots of weak bosses allow that. Apparently not the issue in the OP’s situation but it can be pretty frustrating to work with someone who manages to not pull their oar and justify it as just flexibility.

          1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

            I think we agree, then? Both workstyles can be exploited to hide poor performance. The Bert I sat next to for a year worked 7-3 everyday, was never late, and complained constantly about my flexible schedule even though it never impacted her work (we rarely collaborated). I also listened to her talk on the phone at least 1hr/day to her (adult) kids and watched her online shop. I’ve also seen Berts who use “rules” to not do their job. The head of IT at my workplace refused to buy a grant-funded second monitor for 100% remote staff who are working 90% of the day providing Zoom services in group settings. He gave me some weird reason around our “IT policy” but really it’s an excuse for him to do less work.

            I’m a super high-achieving Ernie. I also work with a low-achieving Ernie and I have no fricken idea when she’s actually “working” and she’s super unreliable.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              Right, I worked with a Bert who stood at her station, every single day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health. She did exactly what was her job and not one drop more, but very often a few cupfuls less. And when that was point out to her, she’d try and rules lawyer and it was so frustrating and she was such a butt nugget about it, my boss threw up his hands and let her do whatever she wanted.

              We couldn’t accuse her of not working, because she did work, and she did her job–just super shitty and full of cut corners and not up to standards. And no one would have cared really, that would have been between her and the boss, only she passed the buck onto the rest of us. For example, her refusing to do certain parts meant the next person down the line had to do their jobs plus extra. But Bert thought this was fine, because she was happy.

          2. Green Beans*

            There are also people who use rigidity to shirk work. One of our teams really struggles with anything that isn’t by a defined system of rules. New intiatives take months or years (and hours of meetings) to get started. They’re buried under work that can’t get done efficiently enough because they never updated their systems from when we were a third of our current size. And they often actively avoid tasks for months citing the “need to get a better understanding,” and then never responding to emails or (my favorite) offering one single option, a month out, for a meeting, because the thought of any new system is so stressful for them. It’s a huge problem, and at this point, it’s turned into a problem they can’t actually fix alone.

        3. JustaTech*

          Oh, that’s such a good way to describe it, and I am *such* a Bert! (I’ve also heard it as “order Muppet/chaos Muppet”, but Bert/Ernie is milder.)

          I had a coworker once who looked (from a distance) like a great employee. He came in every weekend, worked long days, etc. Then I learned that he only came in on the weekends because if he went in to work his wife would pack him lunch, but if he stayed home he was on his own and apparently couldn’t make food. And that while he might have been in the lab all the time, his work was pretty crap, and on one occasion required me to come in on a day off to re-do something he had ruined and couldn’t be trusted to fix.
          I’m not sure that he was deliberately deceptive, or just accidentally effective in camouflaging his incompetence.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I had a college professor who used muppets, but broke it down a bit more – into four groups. Those groups were:

            Chaos Muppets (who are all chaos all the time, these would be the people who are constant drama lamas and who knows what’s really going on under the chaos. Prof used Harry Karrie who always blew things up here.)

            chaos muppets (who have some structure they impose on themselves, but it is more flexible than others so at times it may look disorganized, prof would put Ernie from Sesame Street here)

            order muppets (by and large they like structure, but can understand that maybe others work differently. Prof put Scooter or Kermit in this group)

            Order Muppets (these are the rules are the rules and no one can ever deviate from the rules and not get in trouble. Prof used Sam the Eagle to represent this group)

            Oh – and Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets also was one of the creators of Sesame Street, so all those puppets are Muppets as well (and so are the Fraggles from Fraggle Rock.)

            1. Dara*

              Though in-universe, the Muppets refer to Big Bird and co as “the Sesame Street gang, ” and the Sesame Street bunch refer to Kermit and co as “the Muppets,” and the Fraggles are yet another distinct group when they have crossover specials with the other two (like the Christmas special when Doc was going to house sit for Fozzie’s mom while she went off on vacation, unaware that Fozzie had invited everyone to her place, and then the Sesame Street bunch wound up there, too, and they all got snowed in together, and there was a Fraggle hole in the house), so while they’re all puppets from the same creator, only one specific group of them are Muppets.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Yes – that Christmas one is “Muppet Family Christmas” from the late 80’s/early 90’s and is a staple every year in my house. Spouse found me a DVD of the British Edit about 8 years back, it’s not the holidays till we’ve watched it as a family.

            2. BubbleTea*

              Wait. I didn’t realise the Muppets weren’t in Sesame Street. (I didn’t have a TV as a child.) Today I learned.

              1. Dahlia*

                Only Kermit is!

                They’re not actually owned by the same company anymore, since Jim Henson’s death, which is why you never see crossovers like the Muppet Family Christmas.

          2. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

            I use Bert and Ernie to describe my relationship…so why not work?! I like it because Bert and Ernie aren’t diametrically opposed or purely antagonists. Instead, they complement each other, but sometimes complementary characteristics lead to mismatches. I definitely drive my GF/Bert bonkers with my Ernie energy, but the dynamic makes our relationship more enjoyable than if we were both overly-logical low-energy, order-driven engineer-types. And we’re definitely more successful than if we were both spontaneous, big-idea, big-feeling Ernie types.

        4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          As in, how much time is Jane spending each day monitoring Carrie, preparing meeting notes on Carrie, going to boss to talk about Carrie?
          OP: maybe you can tell your excellent employee that her hobby is wasting three hours a week of her work time (and x hour is yours) complaining about her coworker’s productivity.

      2. Midwestern Scientist*

        That has been a very helpful way to reframe many issues at my work re: flexibility and other office drama. “Is this affecting my science?” If the answer is no, there is no need to escalate or perpetuate any drama surrounding the issue.

    4. Aquawoman*

      I believe that each person’s strengths and weaknesses tend to be the same (or that people have traits and it’s the environment that determines whether they’re strengths or weaknesses). So, it’s not surprising that inflexible Jane is also “reliable” and especially that she is “meticulous.”

    5. secret commenter*

      There are pros and cons with both. Oftentimes the people who are comfortable with flexibility are only comfortable with it for themselves, and someone ends up having to pick up the slack and be the responsible one. Then when the responsible one wants flexibility, no one is willing to help them out. Rigidity has its own obvious problems but everyone knowing exactly what’s expected of them is a huge relief in many ways.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Oh, I feel this. I have the reputation in my family as being the accommodating one and sometimes it’s hard to get other people to commit when I really do need them to commit.

  2. Lurker*

    I worked with a Jane, and it was so demoralizing and frustrating that it got me searching for a new job, even though everything else about my position was wonderful. My boss worked hard behind the scenes to coach, and then let go of our Jane, but if it had continued I would have left.

    1. High Score!*

      I’ve been in this exact position. I’ve even left positions bc managers refused to address things with difficult coworkers. I hope managers read this BC as a manager, if you find someone difficult or annoying, others who have to work more closely with them, do as well and they are making their coworkers an order of magnitude more miserable than they are you.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Sometimes, you have to choose which employee to lose: the cause, or the effect.

        Only one will make you keep making that choice over and over.

          1. Observer*

            That’s true. But in a case like this, it’s pretty clear. Someone who complains about someone not following the rules that the complainer made up is the cause.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Oh, agreed. In this case it’s pretty simple. I was just going down a mental rabbit hole of all the situations that aren’t so clear-cut.

    2. Amaranth*

      That’s a good point, and in a small team Carrie is probably well aware of Jane’s complaints – and that LW doesn’t do much to squash them.

    3. Silence Will Fall*

      I worked with a Jane. It was miserable. Then there was a restructuring and Jane became the boss. I last 6 months, frantically job searching the whole time. Within a year everyone in the department except Jane had left.

    4. MacGillicuddy*

      I also worked with a Jane, and I was the Carrie. She was intolerable. She’d make comments to me like “ gee, you came in late today” and “I don’t see how you can get all your work done”.
      She didn’t know about the times I came in on Saturdays, or stayed until 10 pm, because I had kids and the boss and the company were ok with flexibility. I know she complained to my boss (my boss told me) Jane said to boss “I don’t know how Carrie can get her work done” and my boss replied to her “I have no problem with Carrie not getting her work done”

      What Boss meant: “Carrie gets her work done, there’s no problem”.
      What Jane heard: “Carrie doesn’t get her work done. I have no problem with that”.

      I didn’t tell Jane when I worked late or came in on Saturdays, because it was none of her business. And I didn’t want to give her more ammunition , because I’m sure she would have kept a list. Besides, I wanted to bust her chops.

      Jane never changed. She later became a terrible manager, micromanaged her reports, required schedules and rigidity that no other managers in the company required. And she generally threw boulders in the paths of her reports by interfering in their work, because she didn’t trust anybody.

      1. Kella*

        To be fair, your boss responded in the worst possible way to Carrie’s complaint. Carrie heard “Carrie doesn’t get her work done and I have no problem with that” because that’s what your boss *said*. I had to read it multiple times before I could find a way to interpret it as what your boss meant. Even “Carrie not getting her work done hasn’t been a problem” would be somewhat unclear. All they needed to say was “Carrie does get her work done.”

        1. comityoferrors*

          I can definitely see this perspective, I read it this way at first too. But I can also see the other side: Carrie’s work is none of Jane’s business. I’m willing to entertain my employees complaining about each other’s workloads a few times because it might be legitimate, but as someone managing a Jane right now, when she’s at the point of telling her coworker “you came in late today” or “I don’t know how you can get all your work done”, chances are pretty good that she’s already complained to management repeatedly. It doesn’t help to reward that behavior by giving a real answer – you need to go grey rock and repeat “Carrie and I manage her workload together, just like you and I manage yours” or something along those lines, because if you don’t, the Jane will feel entitled to ask about it any time she thinks Carrie is slacking somewhere.

          I agree that Mac’s boss didn’t give a great answer and probably fueled her Jane’s questioning. But I don’t think the alternative is to give real status updates on your other employees. It’s not their problem.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I see two comments on this thread about two different Janes getting promoted to management, and that terrifies and mystifies me all at once. How does this happen? Who decides it’s a good idea? “Hey, Jane is driving her teammates batty by keeping tabs on them, monitoring their comings and goings while ignoring their actual output, complaining about their perceived poor attendance all the way up her reporting chain, etc. I know, let’s put Jane in charge of them all, that should improve things!” Like, I don’t care how excellent a Jane is. Nobody’s more excellent than an entire team put together; the team that will all eventually leave if Jane is the one managing them.

      1. alienor*

        My first thought is that it’s because there’s someone up above who has Jane-ish tendencies and sees flexibility as employees taking advantage of the company. They say, “These people are getting away with murder! Jane’s always on top of these things; she’ll whip them into shape” and now Jane is the boss.

        (I used to work for a company where the individual managers were fine with flexibility, remote work, etc, but there was one VP who would get upset if they walked through our floor at 3 pm and didn’t see enough people at desks. Every time we suddenly got a new edict related to being in the office/at your desk, we knew it was because this VP had said something to someone. Luckily they didn’t do all the hiring, or we’d have had a Jane in charge of every team.)

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          This reminds me of the story an AAM commenter shared about a new hire with “elegant eyebrows.” I promise it’s relevant, but I don’t want to spoil the story.

        2. banoffee pie*

          They get promoted because some people higher up are easily fooled, and are impressed with their ‘rules, rules, rules’ spiel

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Here’s number three, but my Jane acted like Carrie for herself only – every oddly else had to toe the Jane Rules line. It was miserable, because the Jane Act covered how incompetent she actually was at her job….and it eventually got her pushed out, but not before pushing out 85% of the team she managed……..

      3. sb51*

        No one likes complaining, but a group of rigid thinkers who are in agreement on “the rules” can find it a very pleasant way to work together.

        Also, when the work isn’t getting done, the failure modes of a rigid group/manager are different from the ones with a flexible group/manager. Neither is better/worse but people tend to prefer one or the other.

      4. Silence Will Fall*

        We had a power vacuum. Both the boss and the grand boss retired in the same timeframe. When the new grand boss came in, Jane ran right into their office with her extensive notes and reports on every (perceived) wrong doing the rest of the staff had done. New grand boss was immediately poisoned against the rest of the staff because of Jane’s reports. They were also impressed by her detail-oriented record keeping and prompted her to boss.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Instead of pointing out that she must not have been too busy with work if she had all this time to write CoIntel reports about her peers.

  3. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    I know this isn’t an exact 1:1 comparison, but once in college I was taken to task because my teammate reported me for missing practice while I was sick, then going to visit my sibling in a neighboring city during the same time period. It was an extremely upsetting situation because a) at that time of year, my absence did not affect my teammates’ ability to practice, b) I had already checked out the exact plan with the powers that be, and c) I would not have been able to exercise anyways because I was ill, so why not go see my family? Adding insult to injury, while I was visiting my sibling, we found out that a close family member was gravely ill. I ended up having to send out an email explaining all of this and basically telling my nosy teammates to mind their own business. The whole ordeal was really insulting to my autonomy and dignity.

    This sort of taking complaints from one person to another should be really, really heavily considered if it ever happens because it is liable to cause a huge breach of trust and make the person who is being complained about question their colleagues’ AND manager’s judgement. None of us can know what others are going through, and it’s obviously very sensible for people to take flexibility that is available to them when they need it. Others’ inflexibility should not be anyone else’s problem.

    1. RC Rascal*

      The last paragraph. IMO a certain amount of work related complaint/criticism is driven by personal opinion and not how it affects the complainer’s work. If an employee has behaviors that negatively affect how others can work, it needs to be addressed. If it doesn’t affect how others can work or the overall performance of the business, it doesn’t need to be addressed in the work environment.

      As you note, for the person who is complained about, it causes a breach of trust and causes them to question every one else’s judgement. Things alike this also affect loyalty, interfere with team cohesion, and can lead to attrition.

      1. Bostonian*

        IMO a certain amount of work related complaint/criticism is driven by personal opinion and not how it affects the complainer’s work.

        Yes! People have these unspoken rules in their head about how people are “supposed” to act and/or project their own personal values onto other people.

      2. Lady Diania*

        I’m having a similar issue with a coworker right now. I’ve been in this position maybe 7 years longer than her. Coming in, she was familiar with the job needs, just not at the level we work. We’ve recently added Teams to how things are done, communicating with each other, checking in that someone is in office at a specific time, etc. It’s not a huge deal, but it drives ,e NUTS that I do as we’re told, come in and leave reasonably close to the appropriate times (we are both hourly), check in on Teams, fill out report’s timely, and so forth.

        She never uses Teams in our group setting (which is where the check in stuff is), she comes in early, works late (for example on a day that was supposed to be 8 am to noon, she was in the office working at 6 am, and at 2 pm, and the hours in between. This is NOT a flex time job, just the opposite), often doing things well over and above what’s required, such as needing to verify a report was correct, the system is down, she waits in office sometimes hours to see if the report is available, rather than contacting our boss and letting her know, and leaving on time, as we’re instructed to do.

        As far as I’ve seen, she’s not claiming this time as work hours (which is a whole other problem for the office!) but at the same time, the stuff she’s supposed to do, such as updating a simple spreadsheet with that days information, which takes 5 minutes max, she doesn’t bother to do.

        I was in another location and noticed she hadn’t updated the spreadsheet for several days, (I’m senior to her and the boss was out) and even offered to do it myself if she’d send me the numbers. She just laughed and said she’d get to it later. I don’t know if the boss noticed it wasn’t completed, but I was annoyed and checked a week later while doing my own part of it, and it still wasn’t done. I wasn’t going to do it for her at that point. It was her days to do it, and the boss wouldn’t hold it against me that it wasn’t done. None of our duties are optional, or even supposed to be delayed a day.

        I don’t feel like I’m inflexible or rigid, but it annoys the crap out of me that I do my part how and when I should, and she doesn’t. For all I know, the boss sees her extra hours as a reflection of her dedication to the team *eyeroll* rather than breaking labor laws.

        I’ve always felt if I work, I want paid for it. I turned down my bosses role a few years ago-it’s a salary position, and anyone I’ve seen doing it generally puts in 5 or 6 12 hour days a week, sometimes working 7 days; mostly on stuff that is VITALLY IMPORTANT to the next level up bosses, but really could wait if you wanted to preserve some sort of work life balance, rather than sucking up to them (I’ve been told by multiple folks in our org that that is how the 6-7 day weeks are seen by most.)

        Ok. Rant over lol.

        I can kind of see it from Jane’s point of view though, that it feels like others are treated differently.

        1. Lady Diania*

          Sorry folks, I didn’t realize I’d written a book there! I guess my coworker bugs me more than I thought.

        2. Kella*

          I’ve had similar issues in past jobs where I was noticing all the things that other employees were slacking on and the manager wasn’t, so even though it wasn’t my job to monitor their performance, it *felt* like it was because they were being treated just the same as I was, when I was a high performer. I actually had a manager ask me to stop complaining about a terrible employee once, not because my complaints weren’t legitimate, they were, but because he was tired of having to talk to this employee about his performance problems over and over when he wasn’t given the authority to fire him.

          I think the difference between what we’ve dealt with and what Jane is doing is that the things we get frustrated with are actual performance problems. It may not affect *our* work directly but it affects the *collective* work. And figuring out if a manager is going to notice the issue on their own or if you should flag it for them can be difficult, especially if you’re used to managers that don’t pay attention.

          But at least in the examples given, Jane *isn’t* being treated differently. She also has the ability to come in late on days when there is bad weather and she chooses not to because she values following rules to the letter. She’s not upset that Carrie isn’t following the job’s expectations, she’s upset that Carrie isn’t following her own personal set of standards that she enforces on herself.

          That said, if your coworker is delaying inputting the numbers into the spreadsheet by a week or whatever, but then doing them, and this isn’t actually affecting anyone else’s work… it’s probably fine to let it go. If it has a negative impact or if she’s just not doing it, then that’s a legit performance problem that does need to be corrected.

          1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

            Your experience vibes a little with my struggles with work life post-Adderall. (I was diagnosed with ADHD in December at age 34.) I now am a super performer at work, and it’s awesome. For the first time in my life, it feels like my performance at work reflects my intelligence and capabilities. It’s super awesome. BUT, one skill I’m still learning and one that I thought I’d never have to learn is managing my frustration that my coworkers just aren’t as good at their job as I am. (Yes, I know that sounds arrogant, but I’m too lazy for nuance.)

            I’ve had to learn to be okay with the fact that my coworkers are doing their jobs well, and sometimes that’s good enough. Not everyone can or needs to perform at my level. I think of it like school. B-level work is more than satisfactory in most settings, and some people are B students (by choice or by skill) and some people are A students (by choice or by skill).

            So, my mind is like, “Bill’s FB copy isn’t very good, and it’s super annoying to me…oh wait, we don’t want or need a particularly robust social media presence and Bill is working on x, y, and z projects right now that are more critical, so I guess it’s fine.” I also have an excellent boss, which makes this kind of thinking easier.

          2. Lady Diania*

            Coworker actually has never input anything to my knowledge. We JUST got teams a couple months ago and I’m not that familiar with it, but I found a listing attached to the spreadsheet of who had made changes and her name wasn’t on it.

        3. RetailEscapee*

          But the situation you’re describing is antithetical to the letter writers: Carrie is great at her job, Jane isn’t her superior, and the company DOES offer flexibility in scheduling.
          So yeah your coworker sounds frustrating but she’s not a Carrie.

    2. Evonon*

      This is 1:1 because in both scenarios (which I’m sorry that happened to you) you have basically someone tattling to the person in charge on their teammate for…fairness??

      Jane may feel jealous that her coworker gets a perk because,while it may not affect her work, it impacts how she feels the organization values her less. Even though she does not require the same flexibility. Regardless, it’s the principle (a silly one) that Jane is trying to rectify.

      The only other jealousy I can thank of occuring is Jane would like a type of flexibility not being currently offered but instead of asking if she can IDK have office slippers because her feet hurt she would rather remove all flexibility if she can’t get what she wants. Just a theory!

      Contrapoints did an amazing video about envy and a phrase she would weave in an out as a joke was a babyish “but that’s not fair”.

      1. Wisteria*

        I don’t think being valued equally is a silly principle. We can’t get into Jane’s head, so we’re veering into complete speculation here, but if Jane really does perceive the flexibility that Carrie uses as a comment on their relative value to the organization, that’s a huge problem with management and not babyish at all. Feeling unvalued leads to burnout and turn over. Fortunately, it is something management can address, but it does take more curiosity in the manager’s approach than Alison’s scripts allow for.

        1. Evonon*

          Oh no! I agree that feeling valued isn’t silly at all! I meant more how Jane is going about and perceiving the situation.

        2. hbc*

          But the flexibility that Carrie uses is available to Jane, and it’s not like there’s a high bar to use it. You just ask for it. If Jane has a *personal* hangup about, say, asking to take a sick day when she’s not deathly ill, that is Jane’s choice to have things uneven. You might as well complain that Carrie is favored because the business supplies a water cooler and Jane trudges in with her own water from home.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            This reminds me of the person who was trying to save their employer every penny they could by opting out of health insurance, walking miles with heavy equipment instead of taking a cab, etc., and resented their coworkers because they were eating pizza provided by the office.

          2. Divergent*

            Sometimes the type of flexibility matters and can even exacerbate the issue. For instance, my organization allowed unlimited sick time off to deal with kids’ illnessess. I don’t have kids, but I do have a farm and a mental illness and I’d love to be able to take sick time for the vet or for therapy (not a medical appointment, so not covered by our policy).

            So when I see that flexibility afforded to parents only, I definitely feel unhappy about it (don’t derail this by talking about the value of kids vs other things, please, it’s about how I can get bitter about a coworker taking an offered perk and how their flexibility may not apply to me).

      2. Free Meerkats*

        But Jane has that flexibility.

        With the bad weather, I reminded the Jane about my and our institution’s flexible work hours policy and that it also applied to her.

        She chooses not to use it.

        1. banoffee pie*

          And she doesn’t want Carrie to be allowed to use it either for some reason. Why does she care so much?

  4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    “How exactly is this affecting *your* work?” is an excellent question to give back to her.

    There was a coworker who complained to management, frequently, about everything I got that he didn’t need – free parking spot outside the office, flexible time due to doctors appointments and health issues, a quite expensive and special chair etc.etc.

    In the end management pretty much told them that a) all this complaining was disruptive, b) his work was in no way affected by anything I had/did and c) if he wanted to get all the stuff I did he could go break his spine to look just like mine.

    There’s some people who believe everyone, no matter their situation, should be held to a rigid set of rules with absolutely no deviation. I used to be that person. The best thing to do for them is tell them that actually, no, things can’t work like that and adapting to different situations is a very valuable life skill.

    1. irene adler*

      Yes- excellent question. That’s how Jane’s mindset ought to be.

      I can identify with how Jane feels when seeing Carrie get “special treatment”. And then I remember: Carrie is dealing with things I may not know about. Or, things that I would need similar “special treatment” if I were dealing with them.
      It’s good to know that the employer allows “special treatment” for their employees who are dealing with things outside of work. Down the line, this “special treatment” might end up being a Godsend for me. Cuz you never know what will happen to you in the future.

      (I’m using special treatment in quotes because it really isn’t special; it’s needed treatment to get the work done.)

      1. Nanani*

        But unlike Keymaster, Carrie isn’t getting special treatment (needed or otherwise). The job is flexible, the whole institution is flexible as per OP’s opening lines.

        Jane just doesn’t like it and thinks no one should use it for some weird reason

        1. JB*

          This isn’t exactly true. Per the letter – “Carrie also deals with anxiety that has afforded her greater flexibility from me when she needs it.”

    2. Magenta Sky*

      “How exactly is this affecting *your* work?”

      I think a better question is “Why do you think that monitoring my people’s performance is your job? That’s a management function, and you are not a manager. And if you’re trying to do *my* job, you’re not doing *your* job.”

      But it would be best to find a more polite way to say it.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        IMO, that completely shuts down your reports, and what if this was causing an issue with their work you didn’t know about? How are you going to deal with it if you don’t know about it?

        1. serenity*

          What does that have to do with this letter?

          One of the main examples OP gives is that Jane complained about a one-time slightly messy food/communal area. As in, made an official complaint to her manager. A complaint that the manager did not think was warranted at all, yet seems to have “addressed” with the employee.

          Does that sound like “causing an issue with their work you didn’t know about”?

          1. Anonymous Hippo*

            It has to do with the, IMO, rather aggressive shutdown suggested above. IE saying “I’m the boss, mind your business” versus “how does this affect you.” Just because this instance is about messy cabinets or flexible schedules doesn’t mean that every employee to employee complaint is equally empty, if you don’t keep a dialogue open you wouldn’t know. My assumption is this forum is not only to deal with the particular instance on hand, but also to broadly speak of similar instances.

            1. serenity*

              Alison’s suggested language is “You’ve made it clear that you think I’m too flexible with your coworkers. I’ve explained why we operate this way. We can’t continue to debate it, so where do you want to go from here? Are you able to move forward knowing that this isn’t up for continual discussion?”

              That very dexterously but tactfully sets quite clear manager/employee boundaries. “Dialogue” with this particular person doesn’t seem wise at this point.

            2. onco fonco*

              I agree – there are situations where one employee’s performance could affect another’s ability to do their work, and you’d WANT your staff to feel they could come to you in that instance. It’s not that employees should never bring issues to you, it’s that the things Jane keeps bringing up aren’t real issues. The messages Jane needs to take away are that a) if it’s not affecting her work, she needs to mind her own business and b) this flexibility is available to everyone and it’s fine for people to use it, Jane included.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          Believe it or not, it is quite possible, acceptable, and even preferable to handle each situation on its own merits. Which is to say, you can respond to whiny, pointless complaints one way, and real complaints a different way. You can even be known by your direct reports for doing so.

          It’s called “management.”

      2. FisherCat*

        I fully agree that Jane is not being reasonable, but I’m bristling a little at this.

        Could be my own personal situation shading my reaction, but sometimes calling something out is not trying to manage from a non-management position. What else is someone supposed to do when they believe a colleague is not doing their job besides bring it to their mutual manager?

        1. Susana*

          Except that it’s not Jane’s role to tell LW a co-worker is not doing her job, UNLESS it affects Jane’s job. Jane is not a manager; she doesn’t get to impose some community standard of work habits just so they are similar to hers. Clearly, Jane would not allow flexible schedules if she were the manager. But she is not one.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I think the point a lot of people are trying to make is that the proposed “shutdown” doesn’t leave room for complaints that ARE warranted, affect your work, pose a danger, etc.

            1. Anoni*

              Precisely. The point isn’t that Jane shouldn’t come to management at all, it’s that Jane shouldn’t come to management with the particular complaints she has. Shutting her down entirely might actually do more harm to the department running smoothly in the long run .

              1. FisherCat*

                Yeah this part ^^ Jane is seriously out of her lane here, but that doesn’t mean there is not good times to loop a manager in about something going on with a coworker.

                The other day, I had an Accounts Payable Associate tell me “oh, I’m not doing that” when I asked him to please follow up on an outstanding account, since it had been directed to me but I am not involved in finance at all. So yes, I brought that to management. I don’t think that makes me an unreasonable Jane.

              1. ecnaseener*

                I do think if you respond to even one complaint with “why are you managing my people?” it’s going to be taken as a shutdown of all complaints about people.

                1. onco fonco*

                  Yeah. This shouldn’t come from a principle of never being concerned about what your colleagues are doing. If I knew a colleague was doing something genuinely terrible and I didn’t give my manager a heads-up, I’d be at fault. So if there are times when you do want employees to bring concerns to their manager, you can’t tell them it’s never their place to do that! Jane is massively overstepping here, but you can convey that without making blanket statements that you wouldn’t actually apply in every situation.

          2. Colette*

            I disagree that Jane shouldn’t talk to her manager about concerns because “it’s not her role”. In this case, her concerns appear unwarranted, but there could be other things she’s aware of that the OP would want to know. She shouldn’t raise these concerns because her coworker is taking advantage of flexibility the company offers and is not out of line in doing so – but if she sees a coworker take a handful of money out of the till and put it in her pocket or sexually harassing someone or walking around without a mask in a workplace where they are required, she can speak up even though she’s not a manager.

            So the messaging to Jane needs to be “you’re raising things that are not issues and are not affecting you” and not “you’re not a manager, so sit down and shut up”.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              The messaging to Jane also has to be “You keep bringing me the same concerns over and over, which I’ve answered, and my answer will not change.”

        2. Observer*

          What else is someone supposed to do when they believe a colleague is not doing their job besides bring it to their mutual manager?

          If it’s not affecting your job, safety or legality, why should you be doing anything? What is the ethical imperative here? ESPECIALLY when it’s something that the boss can know about if they choose to do so.

        3. WellRed*

          If it impacts Janes own work, sure. Complaining about stuff that doesn’t is just irritating to all involved.

      3. MsClaw*

        The reason the ask it as ‘how does this impact you?’ is to actually get them to self-reflect and uncover if there actually *is* something legit in these complaints. And if there isn’t, then it really just highlights back to Jane that she is complaining for no good reason.

        Is Carrie coming in late due to snow causing Jane to have to move a meeting with Carrie, reschedule a phone call with a client because she’s waiting on something from Carrie, etc. Or is she just fussing and/or making a point about how *she* got there on time despite the weather. I suspect based on LW’s wording that it’s the latter in which case, Jane does need a blunt reminder that wasting LW’s time reporting infractions that aren’t infractions is not okay.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Eh, personally I wouldn’t use that angle on any of my direct reports because it’ll make me seem like I’m really possessive of my work – and I rely on them sometimes to actually *do* some of my job when I’m unavailable.

        (I also cover theirs – joys of being an IT manager who worked her way up the ranks – I know just as much as my techies do)

      5. Lady Diania*

        Yikes *smile* after my long post above, seems like that’s something my boss ought to be addressing with ME.

        The only thing my coworker does that actually affects my work is neglect to do a piece of hers. Ever. So when I have to do it I’m annoyed, even though it’s a small task that doesn’t take long.

      6. Observer*

        think a better question is “Why do you think that monitoring my people’s performance is your job? That’s a management function, and you are not a manager. And if you’re trying to do *my* job, you’re not doing *your* job.”

        Why? It doesn’t matter why she thinks it’s her job. It doesn’t matter if this is a management function or not. It DOES matter if it’s affecting her job. If it’s affecting her ability to to her job, she has standing to bring it up, regardless of whether it’s technically her job. If it doesn’t affect her job then she has no standing – even if she were in management, because she is NOT Carrie’s manager.

    3. Nanani*

      Yes! I wonder if Jane thinks rigid hours are inherently better and thinks she’s going above and beyond by sticking to her imaginary, self-imposed schedule.
      It needs to be be made clear that the opposite is true – bugging management about how other people manage their time -within the flexible hours of the institution- is not good, actually.

    4. Nom*

      I’m sorry… he was annoyed that you got an assigned parking spot… because you BROKE YOUR SPINE? Sounds like a horrible person.

      1. WellRed*

        Probably got his start on the intern team who wanted to change the dress code because an amputee could wear comfortable shoes.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        Possibly Keymaster and supervisor had kept the medical issues private. Coworker didn’t read between the lines and figure there could be a reason why Keymaster got a disabled parking spot, a special chair, and whatever the other thing was.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Nah, I’m pretty open about my spinal injury (although you need a strong stomach to see my MRI) – he didn’t know the extent of it but he knew I was disabled. His whole argument was ‘it’s not fair, everyone should have the same things’.

  5. LizB*

    Have you ever seen the illustration with three people of three different heights all trying to watch a sports game from outside the fence? The tallest person can see over the fence by just standing on the ground; if you give everyone one box to stand on (fairness/equality), the tallest and middle person can see, but the shortest one is still too low; if you give the middle person one box and the shortest person two, everyone can see (equity). Maybe something like that would help Jane understand the approach you’re going for. To some extent it doesn’t matter how much she understands, you just need her to stop complaining, but if you haven’t framed it this way, maybe it would help her see things a little less rigidly?

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’ve seen it a few times. The last time, they had another visual with the fence removed. I get what they were going for, but my first thought was that the fence was there for safety. Now one of the kids is more likely to get hit by a baseball!

      But treating people fairly does not mean treating them the same. That’s why men’s rooms don’t have tampon/sanitary pad dispensers

      1. Zephy*

        I’ve seen this visual where the last panel, instead of removing the opaque wooden fence, it was replaced with a chain-link one, so everyone can see the game without needing to stand on boxes AND the fence can still do its job, illustrating the concept of justice (as distinct from equality and equity, as described above). The metaphor gets a little tortured at that point, but the basic idea is that just like you can have policies that are “equal” (everyone gets the same support) or “equitable” (everyone gets the support they need), it is possible to have regulations/policies that are “just,” which means they serve necessary functions without also being unnecessary barriers for disadvantaged groups.

      2. SJ*

        Your overall point is great but as another commenter just noted, please do exorcise that bathroom example from your vocabulary! Plenty of people who use men’s restrooms require sanitary products.

      3. Susana*

        And why post-menopausal women don’t (or shouldn’t) complain that the company makes available free tampons they can’t use – even thought they are RIGHT THERE in the ladies’ room.

      4. Dahlia*

        It’s a chain link fence, actually, in the third image. It’s actually taller, and they’re all being shielded by it instead of looking over it. You’re a lot more likely to get hit by a baseball leaning over a wooden fence than standing behind a chain link fence!

        Also men’s room should have tampon dispensers as well, and some do. Some men have periods. Some nonbinary people who have periods use the mens’ room.

    2. Hex Code*

      Mmm, I wouldn’t do that. It invites further speculation on why Carrie might need or be afforded flexibility, when that’s not the issue an we actually want Jane to stop focusing on Carrie. it sounds like that flexibility is actually available to everyone in this workplace and Jane is just not using it (and therefore thinks no one else should either).

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        Agreed – It’s very sad to say, but Jane might be thinking of herself as a better employee than Carrie because she doesn’t need special accommodations or rule bending. OP needs to focus on the fact that what Jane thinks is a hard-and-fast rule is actually not, and that flexibility is allowed and encouraged. Perhaps OP can bring up situations where Jane would also benefit from similar flexibility and show that it’s acceptable (ie, if Jane has a dentist appointment, or needs to make a personal phone call during the day, or wants to leave early to go to a special occasion) – flexibility should be normalized for all employees, not just for people with “special circumstances”.

        1. Amaranth*

          It sounds like the flexibility is a well known perk and I wonder if Carrie is really the only one on the team who ever uses it or if she is the only one Jane ever notices.

      2. LizB*

        That is a good point, that Jane could have the same flexibility if she wants, she’s just choosing to set different standards for herself. That might be a better angle to take, if the OP wants to try to change Jane’s perspective. But ultimately, like you said, Jane just needs to mind her own business. It doesn’t matter if she actually changes her thinking.

    3. Evonon*

      That illustration actually demonstrates the difference between equality and equity.

      Equality is everyone has the same height box (not all can see over fence though) while equity is everyone has an appropriate sized box to see over the fence.

      While this is a great graphic, I don’t think sharing with Jane would help as she may speculate why Carrie needs more assistance (and may be be daft enough to confront her about it) or argue that this proves the office is unequal since not everyone uses the flexibility.

    4. ecnaseener*

      The key in this letter though is that Jane HAS access to the same flexibility as Carrie. Jane just chooses not to use it.

      So within the metaphor, it’s like Jane getting mad that Carrie’s standing on a box when there are plenty of extra boxes available!

      1. Beth*

        Yes — Carrie is standing on a box of the height she needs, and Jane is complaining about the creaking sound the box makes when Carrie stands on it. Jane isn’t even thinking about whether she would be able to see better if she used one of the other available boxes.

  6. lost academic*

    I would also pay a little attention to how Jane might start focusing on Carrie directly when you start shutting her down. You don’t want Jane driving her off because of her rigidity. I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot you can do to head it off other than giving specific direction when you’re doing the shut down about how you want her to handle it personally, but just be aware that there’s some degree of risk given these complaints and personalities.

    1. Camellia*

      This is an excellent point! And it might be subtle, but still there, so please keep a sharp eye out for it. At that point it would be harassment or retaliation which, again, might have to be addressed by letting Jane go.

    2. Fluttervale*

      I have a relatively firm policy of turning complaints back on the complainer. If something is happening with my subordinates, it’s either because I want it that way, or it’s a problem I’m working on. Everything that happens is because I want it that way. This cuts down on the complaining (which kills morale of the whole team) and means that they work together to solve problems instead of turning on each other. By turning it on the complainer, they only come to me with real problems because it’s too uncomfortable to complain about minor things. So if someone says so and so was late, I’ll say “well that’s why you got a eight hour shift instead of a six hour shift, so we can make sure the work gets done no matter whose car broke down!” Suddenly the “problem” turns into a perk AND I already expected the problem. If it’s a real problem that I was unaware of, I just handle it and move on. It creates trust in me as a leader AND they work better together in resolving the minor annoyances of working with people you wouldn’t choose as friends.

    3. JustaClarifier*

      This is a great point, and I hope LW sees this. It might be worth proactively having a discussion with Carrie so that she knows she can come to the manager if there is some kind of escalation from Jane. I have a friend who is a manager who experienced this recently with a Jane equivalent that was behaving this way toward a group of her coworkers; she decided to sit with the team members individually and discuss with them her expectations for handling things if the Jane equivalent escalated after being managed. There was an incident of escalation already with at least one person, who immediately went to my manager friend as directed and she was able to handle the situation before things grew worse.

      1. WellRed*

        Jane Equivalent should not have been in a position to escalate, surely? Your friend sat with everyone else instead?

        1. froodle*

          I read this as “escalated” meaning the Jane started retaliating directly against her co-workers after no longer being allowed to use their mutual manager as a stick to beat them with. Not escalating as in, pushing it up the chain of command; escalation as in ramping up her had behaviour.

  7. ursula*

    I feel like so much unnecessary office pain could be avoided if everyone internalized the idea that everybody quits. This has been one of the most helpful paradigm shifts I have gotten from reading AAM. Create institutional memory! Be flexible where you can but no further! Be clear about what you need and don’t be afraid to acknowledge incompatability! Value people but don’t cling to them or insulate them from discomfort! Respect the transactional nature of your relationship and have good boundaries! What a concept!

    1. MistOrMister*

      Yes, there are so many stories where an employee is not great or is causing problems buuuuuut can’t be let go because only they know X, Y and Z. It’s just dumb. Even if someone plans to work somewhere forever, life happens! You can have a long illness, have to become a caretaker, get run over by a bus…there’s never any good reason for only one person knowing things.

    2. Meg Murry*

      I think the best workplaces have a balance of “everyone quits/leaves/takes vacation at some point, so have a plan besides relying on one person” AND “hiring and training new employees is a time consuming process, making a reasonable effort to treat your employees well to retain them is worth making an effort”.

      Because the “everyone quits eventually” mentality can be taken too far and evolves into: “employees are disposable and interchangable” which is NOT the case, as all the lower paying “low skill” jobs are finding now that it’s becoming a job seeker’s market.

      1. ursula*

        Absolutely. I’m definitely coming to this conclusion from a place that leans WAY too far in the “retain everyone forever and keep the peace at all costs and never communicate that someone’s behaviour is not acceptable” direction. But of course you’re right – there must be as many places or more that treat people as disposable, or have some toxic mix of the two attitudes.

      2. Lady Diania*

        I had a previous job where my boss and I were the only ones who knew how to do our department’s job. Small department! It was a fairly small company who grew, and while growing added an HR department. HR decided I was expendable and lobbied the OWNER to get rid of me-after all, my boss could do everything in one day, so why have two salaries?

        Thankfully the owner understood when my boss went to him and said, listen, yes, it’s not a heavy workload, but when I’m on vacation, there is literally no one but Diania who knows how to keep the department running. If you get rid of her, when I’m at a conference, on vacation (or hit by a bus!) no one will know how to do the day to day stuff, much less how to handle emergencies.

        He got it and was fine. HR on the other hand, haunted our office (different building from hers, even) and tried to catch me “goofing off”. My boss didn’t care at all what I did when we weren’t busy. She shopped online and I generally had a book handy. She told me, well, HR can’t actually do anything, but if you see her coming, look busy. I had a stack of paperwork whose sole reason for existence was to make me look busy when HR showed up.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      IMO, the biggest hurdle for this attitude, is that is almost requires additional headcount, as you need the built in space for cross training and documentation and the like. And everybody seems to want to barebones staff, so that the tiniest little hiccup turns into a mega issue. It’s like living paycheck to paycheck, but for a company.

  8. Anonymous Koala*

    OP, you might want to have a 1:1 with Jane about her workload in general. Sometimes people are more apt to complain about other’s flexibility when they’re overworked. I also wonder if Carrie’s flexible schedule is somehow creating more work for Jane, and Jane’s not communicating that well to you. When I worked in labs, setting up and breaking down the equipment properly took tons of time but often wasn’t counted as ‘work’ because the company metrics looked at results, not hours put in. We had one coworker who was always asking people to cover them by getting the machine started/put away at the beginning/ends of shifts so they could leave early. People really resented that guy.

    1. Meep*

      This is a very good point!

      I found myself most grumpy at my (former) wayward boss that she would work from home while I was drowning in work because that extra 90 minutes from commuting would’ve been nice to use for other things. In my case, she would flaunt it with unsolicited long diatribes about how she “needed” to work from home because she was “already set up here” while I knew she was just seeing her boyfriend. And, of course, because she was “socializing” with me by refusing to let me off the phone for sometimes up to two hours, I couldn’t get my work done. So it was a double whammy of “wasting” time.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      Excellent point. There is sometimes ”invisible” labour that happens, and if it gets unfairly divvied up, over time, even the most easygoing person becomes irritated and doesn’t always express quite precisely why that is, because it sounds petty.

      This is why ”how is Carrie’s schedule affecting your own work or workload” is a great and genuine question. It probably isn’t at all, but if it is, Jane may feel able to say what / how, which would be ideal.

    3. Sara without an H*

      This is a good suggestion. Is the workload between the two employees equitable? (Note: I said “equitable,” not “identical.”) This should be part of any conversation with Jane about flexible scheduling impacts her own work.

      During this conversation, be aware of the possibility that Jane may be arbitrarily picking up some of Carrie’s tasks and adding them to her workload. It may be fine for those tasks to wait until Carrie gets in, but Jane may be doing them herself to reinforce her sense of being put-upon.

      I’ve spent 35 years working in libraries and, trust me — this happens.

    4. kiwidg1*

      It took me a long, long time to stop watching other people’s “work clocks.” Why was I always still here at 4:30 when everyone else left at 4? That came from a previous job where there was no flexibility in when you came and when you went as long as the work got done. Even now I occasionally get resentful when I’m the last one to leave at 4:45pm. :) (Office job – not client facing.) Then I have to remember that it’s just not important – and remind myself that I, too, can leave earlier if necessary.

      But, I do have issues when my coworkers are consistently late to the first meeting of the morning, or tell me they didn’t finish XYZ task because they had to leave early the day before. That’s when it affects my work and to me, that’s what Jane should be able to verbalize to OP (if it’s happening).

    5. Unkempt Flatware*

      IME, the Janes of the world have not nearly enough to do or are not great at their jobs and need to throw up some smoke screens.

    6. In the corner*

      Yes! I was Jane at one point. While it looked like Carrie was doing a good job and keeping up, in reality I was the one who had to pick up the slack for Carrie. She was very good at covering up her lack of work and taking credit for things she had little to no involvement in. In the meantime, I was drowning trying to meet deadlines because I cared about the project. I theoretically had the same flexibility, but I couldn’t use it because I was so overworked. In the end, boss didn’t care because the work was getting done (because I was doing it), so I asked for a transfer. Carrie still works there, but no longer my problem (unfortunately still causing headaches for others).

      1. Nom*

        Yes, this! I wouldn’t say I’ve acted quite like Jane but I totally feel for her. Even if she’s not picking up Carrie’s work per se, she may feel (rightly or wrongly) that everything will fall apart if she comes in late. I often feel like this and I have to consciously remind myself that it’s not true.

        1. In the corner*

          Yeah, I wasn’t quite a Jane either. I wasn’t always good at articulating how Carrie was impacting me, but even when I was clear about it, it was received as “whining”. And Carrie coming in late and leaving early absolutely did impact my workload and ability to have flexibility myself. Boss used to joke about it (BAD idea), and didn’t take it seriously until I was ready to leave.

    7. Elemele*

      That’s a great point. Nowadays, flexibility seems to be synonymous wwith creativity and innovation and any kind of rules are associated with boomers, and it’s not a good extreme either. Had an example at my work recently: each project team member had a flexible schedule; individually, they all delivered work on time, but putting everything together took more time this way, and it was the boring, rigid Jane that had to deal with it. Janes of this world are being seen as boring corpo-drones, while Carries are considered colorful unicorn. Not always true, not always fair.

      OP, your letter shows you prefer Carrie, be it as a worker, be it as a person. While you need to protect her from possible bullying, you need to take care of the whole team. And the question “how does Carrie’s flexiblity affect your work” needs to be asked with genuine interest and willingness to introduce some rules if necessary, not to shut her mouth.

  9. MistOrMister*

    I wonder if Carrie is aware when OP is talking to her, that the complaints are coming from Jane and if she knows how much Jane is complaining about her. I would feel very frustrated if I was in her situation and knew someone was constantly complaining about me for things that didn’t impact them and the boss didn’t shut it down. I’m not sure I would want to keep working under someone like that…

    1. Crabby Patty*

      In this situation right now and looking for an exit. My boss *tells me* about the complaints a co-worker has about me and others that don’t impact co-worker’s work, but when I ask if there is anything actionable for me, it’s “*sigh* No…” Then why tell me?

      What Alison says above is exactly what’s going on in my situation, i.e. boss is choosing her personal comfort at everyone’s expense, and it’s beyond demoralizing. Someday soon, she’ll be standing there, blinking and bewildered, wondering why she’s losing good people. It’s just sad.

      1. froodle*

        Your boss is yet another verse in that most unlovely of songs, “The Ballad of the Manager Who Would Not Manage.” Fistbump of frustrated solidarity.

    2. froodle*

      Yup. I had a Jane – actually a departmental Jane, because she did it to anyone she thought she could get away with pulling it on, and because her supervisor and manager indulged her behaviour to a ridiculous degree, that list of people was LONG – and I would get pulled aside and told “you’re not doing anything wrong but (insert latest nonsense from the Helen Lovejoyest person in the planet), so… ”

      And I would be sitting there trying to get my boss and my boss’s boss to actually articulate if they wanted me to change something or approach something differently, and they couldn’t do it. But they were more invested in appeasing this entitled twit than actually managing and shutting her down.

      It was incredibly frustrating and it soured me on both of them as bosses and people. And of course Jane continued to Jane it up like an absolute Jane who gets paid by the Janery.

  10. Gracely*

    We had a Jane. She finally retired, and work has been so, so much better since then. She wasted so much of our boss’s time worrying over other people’s flexible schedules.

    Keep in mind, LW, that odds are your employees overhear Jane’s complaints, and it is probably wearing them down, too.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I also worked with a Jane who was nearing retirement and loved to complain. She was the office manager/receptionist and was expected to be in the office on a normal M-F 8-5 schedule (with a full hour lunch). My role in the company was very different from hers and often took me to job sites. I worked similar hours, but had more flexibility because I would sometimes be at a site until 6:00 pm. I might leave at 4:00 the next day to make up for working extra time the day before, but to her it just looked like I was cutting out early. Our boss finally had to tell her she didn’t need to worry about what I was doing because it didn’t affect her in any way. I was doing my job and they were happy with my performance, so she needed to mind her own business. She apologized to me and admitted that she was just SO ready to retire and hadn’t realized how much she was channeling her frustrating into worrying about my schedule. We were better after that, but I was so relieved when she finally did retire.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker (Ann) who regularly complained that another coworker (Bob) was “never working”, because Bob often didn’t come into the office until after noon. Ann already didn’t like Bob for other reasons, and or work didn’t overlap with Bob’s very much, so we had very little visibility on his work.

        After one too many times hearing Ann complain that Bob never worked I said “Ann, you leave at 3. Should Bob assume you only put in quarter days, because he doesn’t know you get here at 6? Bob stays until after 6pm, he’s working a full day.”
        Ann just kind of blinked at me and said that it had never occurred to her that Bob might work a later shift like she worked an early shift. Ann never did like Bob, but at least she stopped complaining about other people’s hours.

        1. Zephy*

          I wonder if Ann somehow went her whole life without, like, encountering a teacher at the grocery store, and thus never had that grade-school revelation that other people have lives and continue to live them when she isn’t there to observe them doing so.

          1. JustaTech*

            I will say that Ann had a TBI that sometimes impacted the way she reacted to situations, but in this case it was mostly a deep and abiding dislike of Bob (soon after he started he missed a timepoint he had volunteered for, and while it wasn’t a big deal Ann was mad that he hadn’t gotten in by noon), other assorted unhappiness about stuff and a tendency to snap judgement.
            At that time we also had a pretty strong (but inconsistently enforced) “no WFH” policy, so Ann didn’t realize that Bob was WFH many mornings, and coming in late to avoid traffic.

          2. Ori*

            Honestly, I had a boss like this. I got in a full hour and a half earlier than her, but when I left at the regular time she always acted like I was cutting out early.

    2. irene adler*

      Odds are that Jane is also complaining -directly-to other co-workers about Carrie. And you are right; its wears everybody down before long.

      We’ve got a Jane. And she doesn’t bother with management regarding her complaints. She already knows they won’t do anything about them. Instead, she complains in the lab and to all that will listen about whatever is on her mind at the time.
      Gets old.

    3. hbc*

      My Jane was complaining yesterday that someone who got in a car accident during lunch didn’t hop into an Uber and come right back. Because he would* have, so I guess she needed to as well. He objectively gets more done, but everyone else works a little better when he’s out.

      *Believes he would have. Probable real outcome: intend to come back to work, realize that arrangements around car accident require his presence, call a dozen times with updates and repeating his intention to come back in asap, and come back to the office the next day feeling he deserves credit for trying even though his outcome is the same as the other person, with the exception of wasting everyone’s time with calls.

  11. Jean*

    People like this drive me up a wall. You don’t have to like your workplace’s reasonable policies, FFS, but your grousing is going to change nothing except people’s view of you and your professionalism. I mean, honestly. Who complains about flexible start times? WHO?

    Anyway, this kind of negative attitude is going to eventually have a terrible effect on morale, if it hasn’t already. Shut it down. Alison’s scripts are perfect, as always.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      You’d be surprised at who complains about flexibility. They usually think that everyone should use the flexibility in the exact same way they do.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      Some people are so wedded to the idea of “fairness” that they can’t cope with flexibility because it makes it impossible for them to figure out who is “winning”.

      1. Slipping The Leash*

        God, yes — this! I have this guy in my office. Every time someone walks in after 9am you can see him hunched over scribbling in a little notebook. Douche bag. WFH has to be killing him – how’s he supposed to be the self-appointed hall monitor?

        1. froodle*

          Oh my gosh I don’t even know this man and I hate him! Hunched over scribbling in a little notebook? Is he Randall from Recess?!

  12. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Is Jane also an excellent employee? Aside from this issue, I mean. Or is it possible she’s jealous of Carrie’s success because she knows that she doesn’t measure up?

    1. Myrin*

      Jane is the excellent employee: “I have always patiently dealt with Jane’s complaints. […] She is otherwise an exceptional employee — hard-working, reliable, and meticulous. But she cannot seem to deal with Carrie’s more flexible approach”.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My eyes skipped right over that. I was going by the headline which implies that Carrie is an excellent employee. It’s possible they are both excellent aside from this issue.

        Still makes me wonder if Jane is the competitive type.

    2. neeko*

      OP says “She is otherwise an exceptional employee — hard-working, reliable, and meticulous.”

      1. A Person*

        “She is otherwise really good at doing the tasks that are part of her job”. I think that’s what OP should have said.

  13. Cait*

    The most important lesson I learned was taught to me in pre-school. Worry about yourself. Katie left her muddy shoes on the floor? Nick took two blue crayons instead of one? Not your problem. Keep it to yourself.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’m positive you don’t mean it this way but I’ve only encountered this phrase in a sexist context (most recently by a male member in a situation where a female staff announced a company equity plan to stakeholders). Again, I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, just an FYI to mindful about using it in situations where it could be misconstrued.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            My mother learned to drive later in life. After she learned, she’d spend so much time critiquing every other driver on the road (to the point where she’d sail past the correct exit or turn) that I’d end up saying “just drive your own car, not everyone else’s!”

        1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

          I know many people who went to Waldorf School, where all students learn to knit. I like to whimsically imagine “mind your knitting” being a Waldorf idiom. :)

    1. COBOL Dinosaur*

      I learned how this fits into a workplace environment when I was right out of college and at my first ‘real’ job. I said to another employee… ‘Gee, Harry has been missing a lot of work and has been late, leaving early etc.’ The other employee looked at me with disbelieve and says ‘His wife has terminal cancer’. After that I’ve tried super hard not to ever be concerned with other people at work.

      1. Cait*

        I agree with one caveat. It’s okay to go to your boss and say something like, “I’ve noticed Harry has been missing a lot of work, leaving early and coming in late. It’s none of my business why he’s doing this but I need to let you know it’s affecting my ability to do my job.” I’m not saying this was your situation but I do think it’s okay to point out when someone else’s behavior is affecting your work, even if it’s no one’s fault.

        1. Filosofickle*

          But even in this case, it’s better to say “I’m not getting what I need from Harry to do my job” and avoid any commentary on his absences or hours. Focus on the work impact.

    2. Ms Frizzle*

      While I was reading the letter I came up with about 5 different ways I usually teach my kindergarteners how to deal with things “not being fair.”

  14. bananab*

    I once had a coworker like this, and she was also of the sort that tried to protect her position by complaining about others all the time, which made it very hard to tell day-to-day if she was actually pleading for more rigidity or was just feeling insecure that day in general. She too was very good at her job, but was so exhausting that it really was a net negative and drain on everyone else’s productivity.

  15. Meep*

    I used to be like that. It was actually annoying for me too. It didn’t help my (horrible) ex-boss would constantly call me to lecture me about how “someone needed to be in the office at all times for clients” (our clients are all out-of-state and we use Grasshopper for calls) while she was sitting comfortably at home, goofing off. It justified my annoyance that I was being treated “unfairly”.

    In the above case, I was. I had her projecting her issues and insecurities onto me. (She had another hang-up that if I was in the office that meant “she” was in the office.) But expecting me to be in the office was not me being treated unfairly. Now I can get in early and leave early as I like. It annoys my other coworkers I am sure, but they get in at 9 AM, and I get in at 7:30 AM.

    It might be helpful to remind someone like this that if you stop accommodating Carrie, you will have to stop accommodating Jane to be fair.

    (As for the mess thing – I actually think it is reasonable to expect someone to pick up after themselves, as an FYI.)

    1. Stop whining*

      The OP mentioned that they didn’t feel the common space was left in an unreasonable state, and they didn’t give any indication one person was just sitting at home while the other was always in the office. It sounds as if this was an entirely different situation. Jane isn’t taking advantage of the flexibility offered because it doesn’t suit her, but that does not give Jane the right to demand anyone else give up that aspect of the company culture.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I used to be like this too and it was partly because I had a boss like yours: one who governed by making sure things were “equal” but not “equitable”, i.e. rigid rules for everyone no matter what so they could say everyone was being treated equally. But that’s no way to manage your staff or to think of your colleagues, and thankfully AAM helped me see that years ago.

    3. Nanani*

      What? It sounds like your job was nothing like OPs at all. OP says the whole institution is flexible. Jane is just not a fan of that flexibility.

    4. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I feel like this is where the ‘how does it impact you’ question helps. Because the flexibility that others were given did in fact impact you because you got stuck being the one there every morning to support the calls and you were not in fact able to leverage the supposed ‘flexibility’ that existed.

      Sometimes managers do not realize that there is an impact, so Jane needs to be more forthcoming, about why it bothers her to see if there is an actual issue that needs to be resolved or if she’s just complaining to complain.

  16. RJ*

    I would love to believe that the Janes of the office world would change and adapt to include those who work with less rigidity, but having worked with one for about seven years I’m very torn. Alison’s script is excellent towards pivoting Jane to focus internally on her own work and her own performance, but sadly it might have the opposite of that intended effect. OP, definitely make it clear that the flexibility shown isn’t up for discussion or else it will become an endless exercise in futility.

  17. I should really pick a name*

    The OP mentions that “All of my employees are treated fairly, but not equally”, but Jane seems to be complaining about things where everyone IS treated equally (ex. flexible hours).

    1. Brusque*

      Except that OP says Carrie gets extra flexibility due to anxiety. So that’s not equal treatment.

      If Jane is as exceptional as OP says, what is the company doing to recognize that? Some positive reinforcement could help Jane focus more on her work and less on her coworkers.

      1. Pants*

        If they’re in the US, I’d think the anxiety could be considered an accommodation. Jane can piss right off.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        Yes, but there’s no mention in the examples of Jane’s complaints.
        This doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, but it makes me suspect that Jane has an idea about how a “good” employee is supposed to operate, regardless of this organizations particular rules (ex. even though they have flex hours, Jane seems to think everyone should be coming in at the same time anyway)

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Well no, OP says Carrie *takes* the flexibility due to anxiety. She also says the flexible schedule is available to Jane.

      4. Saberise*

        Yeah I thought that part was a bit unclear. If the flexibility she’s talking in that sentence isn’t just related to work hours than what is it? And is it something that Jane doesn’t feel she is able to also get and does whatever it is affect her in some way? Very vague. For example, does Carrie call off at a moments notice and Jane never is allowed to and she has to pick up the slack while Carrie is out?

        1. pamela voorhees*

          I think this is an important part of it – you can say that Jane and Carrie have access to the same level of flexibility, but it’s important to make sure that’s actually playing out. If Jane is the one who sets up something in the office when she comes in, and when she doesn’t do it other coworkers complain (“why isn’t the coffee ready? where’s the mail? why wasn’t XYZ prepped?”) or if when Carrie shows up late, everyone asks Jane to do her work until then, then she’s not really getting the flexible accommodations that Carrie’s getting because when she tries to use them, there’s pushback. Jane’s main problem seems to be “it’s not fair Carrie can do this” but it’s worth checking to make sure that the next part of that sentence isn’t “and you telling me the company would do the same for me makes me more frustrated because I can’t in practice”.

          1. Observer*

            Jane’s main problem seems to be “it’s not fair Carrie can do this” but it’s worth checking to make sure that the next part of that sentence isn’t “and you telling me the company would do the same for me makes me more frustrated because I can’t in practice”.

            Except that the OP actually DOES give Jane a chance to articulate that. Like the time she complained that Carrie came in late to avoid bad weather, the OP reminded her that she could have some in late, too. Jane is not an inarticulate child. If the reason she feels like she can’t actually do that is because she runs into specific problems then she should SAY SO. Like “I know that you say that, but if I don’t get in on time and make the coffee I get tins of complaints about it”.

            There comes a point where if someone doesn’t bring you something, that’s on them. It’s not reasonable to expect people to read minds, on the one hand. And on the other, if you wind up guessing wrong in your attempts to mind read, you end up allowing bad behavior that hurts others.

            1. pamela voorhees*

              I know?… That’s why Alison’s wording is good, because it invites her to actually speak about what’s going on as opposed to just saying “you have flexibility too” and expecting the conversation to end there, when that clearly isn’t solving the problem.

      5. Mango Is Not For You*

        I would think that flexibility would fall under the heading of reasonable accommodations.

      6. Observer*

        Except that OP says Carrie gets extra flexibility due to anxiety. So that’s not equal treatment.

        But that’s not even what Jane is complaining about. The OP’s example is about a situation where Jane would have been able to do the EXACT same thing had she CHOSEN to! That’s just not acceptable.

        “I don’t choose to take advantage of the flexibility on offer so no one should be allowed to, either” is not acceptable, and the OP needs to shut it down, not look for ways to reward it.

    2. LilyP*

      Yeah I wondered about that too! I also wonder why OP mentioned that three employees work with certain equipment…is Jane the fourth? Is there some difference in her job duties that leads to different flexibility or conditions for her? It may need to be that OP needs to talk to Jane about *why* any “fair but not equal” differences exist (which could be reasonable based on job duties, seniority, past performance, medical accommodations, etc).

  18. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    My father tells the story of when he was 18 and working in a tool and die shop (this is just after WWII). He was a smart guy and was always paying attention to what was going on, and learning how to use different equipment.

    When the owners needed to make a prototype part in order to bid on a contract, they’d bring him in for a Saturday when he had free run of the shop, and he’d move from machine to machine to make the part. His coworkers complained that he got all the overtime. The owners said “Alton’s dad knows how to use every machine. I only have to pay him 8 hours of overtime to have him build the part. If I had to call in a half-dozen of you, I’d be paying 48 hours of overtime, and most of you would just be sitting around waiting for somebody else to finish their piece. If any of you guys knew how to run every machine in this place, you’d be eligible for that overtime too.”

    Ie, if they don’t want to change their behavior, they can shut up and deal with it.

    Those are the two options to present to Jane. It’s not a matter of cosmic ‘fairness’.

  19. TootsNYC*

    I once “reprimanded” someone who was working for me because she wasn’t turning things over quickly enough. (I used quotes because it was more “This is not going the way I want, I think you should be done by now, why is this not happening, and I want it to happen faster in the future so how can you and I make that happen?” and not “you’re messing up! You’re bad!”)

    Her immediate response was, “Jon leaves at 3!” (Jon was the other person doing that task.)
    My response was, “It does not make you look good to immediately point fingers at someone else.” I went on to say, I had divided up the work evenly and the amount of work she’d been given had seemed sensible to me, and that if it wasn’t, she should have been bringing that to me, or bringing it up now. Oh, and that Jon didn’t charge me for the hours he didn’t work (they were freelance), and again, pointing fingers at Jon had nothing to do with her and made her look bad.

    We were able to move forward and sort out a few things, and she got more focused and more effective at bringing things to a close instead of sitting on them.

    But I’ve used that “We’re not here to talk about other people, and it makes you look bad for you to focus on them” thought a couple of times since.

    1. mcfizzle*

      Not quite “workplace” related, but I was president of my HOA for a number of years and often had to talk to people about barking dogs, parties, etc. It was incredible how many times I’d bring up their dog is barking, and they’d immediately go “but so-and-so’s dog barks!” like somehow that negated their own pet’s barking (and usually whatever they were talking about was a one-off from 8 months ago). I’d stop long enough to confirm which property they were talking about, take a note and say “I’ll talk to them next. However, we still haven’t addressed YOUR dog”.

  20. teatime*

    I feel like librarianship can attract a LOT of Jane-types. “How is this affecting your work?” is a good one. Sometimes the Janes try to say “it’s demoralizing” or “setting a bad example.” A reminder of norms can be helpful, like Alison said. I’ve also had circumstances where Carries have accommodations due to FMLA or other personal matters, so I’ve learned to say something like, “When we’re deviating from our usual norms, there’s usually more to the story than you can see. Just as I don’t share confidential information about you, I wouldn’t talk about your co-workers.”

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I work in a library. A coworker was asked to stop waving to coworkers down the hall because one person felt they were not waved at equally and others got more waving.

      No one in management here has ever heard of the concept of “how does this affect your work.” Or they are not willing to use the idea.

      1. JustaClarifier*

        I……………..what?? That is flabbergasting. I’ve never been able to understand the type of managers who take action on things as trivial as this – or the kind of petty minded people that CARE about things as trivial as that.

      2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

        A-HA HAAAA! That is so typical of library folks. I used to work for a Circulation Manager who was frenemies with the Reserves Manager. These women had worked together for 20 years, and in the few years I worked there, they had multiple falling-outs over sh*t like whether or not one of them said “good morning” that morning. If they were fighting, they expected their staff members to stop being friendly with the other manager’s staff members, and they would treat the other manager’s staff members and students coldly – and these teams shared a service desk and had to frequently communicate and work directly alongside one another! It was absolutely ridiculous behavior.

        Libraries are full of this crap. Which is why I gladly don’t work in that industry anymore!

    2. pamela voorhees*

      Read a great article somewhere about how certain types of professions are supposed to be “callings”, teachers and librarians among them. Like a religious calling, in order to do the job right, you’re expected to willingly sacrifice (eg. not taking flex time, staying late, etc. etc. etc). Makes sense that when you’re “sacrificing” and someone else isn’t, it feels unfair, even though it’s just your conception of what People Who Do Your Job Should Be that’s making you do that and not, you know, reality.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          That’s the one! Thank you for finding this, it didn’t even occur to me to actually post a link to what I was talking about (d’oh).

  21. The Other Dawn*

    Speaking from my experience in dealing with a Jane of my own at a previous job, Jane is not likely to stop complaining even if you tell her bluntly several times. This is their way of thinking and they’re always going to see the “unfairness” no matter how many logical reasons you throw at them.

    The Jane I had at previous job, Mary, wasn’t my direct report (two different departments), but I was a manager and managed her work at times. Mary constantly complained that someone, Sally, in an unrelated department was allowed to come in late, leave early, and work from home a few times a month. Sally arranged this with her own manager and her work was such that she didn’t need to be at her desk at a certain or for a certain number of hours–she just needed to get her work done. Different departments have different needs, as do managers. Everytime Mary complained I would explain this. I finally got so fed up with it I told her it’s none of her business what people arrange with their manager, to stay in her own lane, and if she wants the same arrangement she should talk to her own manager. She said her manager would never approve it. *shrug*

    1. Julia*

      Most people do stop a behavior if bluntly told by their direct manager to stop it, so it seems like a stretch to assume that because bluntness didn’t work with someone who wasn’t your direct reports, it won’t work in this case.

  22. Richard Hershberger*

    Jane doesn’t understand the concept of fairness. If I bring in a plate of cookies for anyone who wants them, but Jane doesn’t like cookies, it is not unfair to her if others enjoy them.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes but I think it goes one step further to “Jane doesn’t think cookies are appropriate for the workplace”. Which is such a philosophical difference…I’m not positive this will ever be truly reconciled.

      1. Nanani*

        And once everyone sees that cookies are Unprofessional and stops Wasting Time on Cookies they were surely thank Jane!

        When in fact what will happen is people who appreciate cookies, including people who picked this job over another offer because of the cookies, will leave because they’re tired of being whined at by someone who doesn’t like the cookies.

        1. A Person*

          Right? I remember a bumper sticker from years ago that said, “If you don’t like it, you can’t have any”. (It’s just another say to say “stay in your lane”, right?)

  23. Julia*

    Alison, I might be missing something, but your title and response both refer to Carrie as an “excellent employee” and I don’t see where LW said she was an excellent employee. She referred to Jane as an “exceptional employee”, but didn’t say anything about Carrie. It may matter very little, but I feel like it slightly alters the situation.

    1. Lance*

      Alters in what way? I wouldn’t personally see much of an argument for treating this any differently if Carrie wasn’t an exceptional employee; it’s still not (likely) affecting Jane, and if there’s work concerns, those should be the focus one way or another.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Perhaps in the sense that Jane’s complaints are more founded. But it doesn’t sound like OP feels that way.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, you’re right — I don’t know where I pulled that from for the title! But it doesn’t change my answer at all since the OP doesn’t agree with Jane’s complaints about Carrie. (If Carrie were a *bad* employee, I’d suggest dealing with that for a bunch of reasons, but assuming she’s generally fine, it doesn’t change my answer.)

      1. Boof*

        It doesn’t, but it makes the letter slightly confusing – I was sort of expecting Jane to be complaining about a rockstar’s flexibility and instead just sounds like jane is complaining about silly stuff enough to aggravate the OP but not to a dealbreaker level.

  24. Here we go again*

    I worked with a Jane. She was actually a really lovely person and did excellent work, but she was so rigid and obsessed with “rules” that only existed in her mind. She disliked me for not following her “rules,” though leaders had always been fine with my actions. I worked with her for many years and she always resented me for getting ahead when she did not. But, she actually was holding herself back with her limited way of thinking and lack of creative problem solving. I don’t think she ever warmed to me, which is a shame. But mostly I just felt sorry for her that she wasted so much headspace and energy worrying about such trivial things.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      This is a good observation, and offers another way to address the situation with Jane – ie. that in order to progress her own career, she needs to learn how to be more flexible about how other people approach their work. It’s highly likely that her rigidity extends beyond her concern about how her colleague manages her time, to how colleagues and potential subordinates to their jobs. If there is any future prospect for Jane to be in a supervisory / management position, she needs to learn that people have different working styles, and that successful managers let their teams figure out how to get the the required outcome rather than dictating everything to them.

      Anyway, perhaps looking at this as a developmental area for Jane might be an incentive for her to really work on this aspect of herself, beyond the “if this doesn’t directly affect your work, don’t bring it up” approach.

  25. BuildMeUp*

    I agree that the complaints about flexible scheduling are frustrating and should be addressed. But it would annoy the heck out of me if a coworker was repeatedly leaving any sort of mess in a communal area, even if it wasn’t “egregious.” Carrie should be cleaning up after herself and not leaving anything for her coworkers to deal with.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think we need more to go on. Was it an actual mess, or did Carrie just not put things back in the order Jane prefers?

      1. Bostonian*

        Bingo. I thought the same thing. If OP didn’t think it warranted a discussion, it was probably more of the latter.

      2. aebhel*

        MTE. LW didn’t seem to think it was really a problem.

        I had a coworker who is fixated on the cleanliness of the break room to the point that she had weekly meltdowns about hard water buildup in the sink. She would on more than one occasion spend literal hours rearranging the tea and coffee selection and labeling it to her liking. The ‘mess’ that other people were leaving was entirely in her own head, but that didn’t prevent her from tracking people down to lecture them furiously for doing things like rinsing their coffee cups out in the sink without scrubbing it afterward.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, it definitely depends on the details. The way the LW phrases it – “wasn’t left egregiously messy” – makes it sound like there was still some mess, though. Carrie not throwing away her trash, or leaving her dishes for someone else to wash, for example, wouldn’t rise to the level of “egregious” to me, but it would still be frustrating to deal with as a coworker.

    2. Allonge*

      It’s not that I disagree, but there is also a limit to the number of times you can discuss ‘please shut the coffee creamer drawer all the way’ or similar smaller things with an otherwise reasonably performing employee. So the level of mess makes a huge difference.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, even a non-egregious mess probably warrants a “hey, just make sure to pick up after yourself.” In my opinion, work communal spaces should always be left exactly how you found them!

  26. Orange You Glad*

    I like the response of “How does this affect your work?” but would also follow up with reminding Jane she is offered the same flexibility. She seems to be coming at the issue from the fact that it is “unfair” but it’s not, she is just choosing a different schedule than her co-worker.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes. It should be noted that Carrie isn’t getting “special treatment,” she’s just using the flexible schedule component that the organization already has in place. Unless her schedule somehow impacts Jane’s work, she really has no sound basis for complaint.

  27. Delta Delta*

    OP may want to bear in mind that it’s possible these things *do* have an impact on Jane’s work but that’s not known because Jane’s issues are being phrased as complaints. Maybe the common area was untidy, and when Jane needed to meet a client in that area she needed to clean it first. And maybe this happens more often than Jane had mentioned. Or Carrie’s responsibility is to do X first thing and by coming in late it holds up Jane’s work because Jane can’t do Y until X is done. Who knows. If there are legitimate issues, OP should know that and what those issues are because otherwise it plays like Jane is just complaining for the sake of complaining. And, of course, maybe Jane complains for the sake of it, and if that’s the case, tell her to knock it off.

    I’ll share a weather story, for how badly this can land. Several years ago in my area there was a significant rain event that washed out lots of roads. I emailed my boss and said I might be late, as I knew the roads were bad. His snotty response was, “I got here just fine.” Turns out the jerk had lost power at his house and the road between his house and work was fine. But because he had lost power he hadn’t seen the news and had no idea most of the county was washed out. I was able to navigate secret back roads to avoid washouts, got there on time and showed him pictures of the storm and he apologized, not realizing it was so bad. Just… don’t be that guy.

    1. JustaTech*

      I had a boss (back in the beginning of my career) who told me that it didn’t matter that the buses were all canceled and the city had basically shut down because of snow, I still had to figure out how to get in and do my experiment.
      (Thankfully I had a 4-wheel drive car and experience driving in the snow, but I resented the *heck* out of the fact that he didn’t come in, or acknowledge that actually a 1 day delay would have been fine.)

    2. Observer*


      Jane complained that Carrie came in late to avoid bad weather. OP told Jane that she could have come in late, too. Jane just stews. Jane is not a toddler, she’s an apparently competent adult. If the problem was was that Carrie coming late that day actually had an effect on her she should have SAID SO. She CHOSE not to!

      Let’s not try to justify toxic behavior by making up stories or drawing parallels to situations that are totally different.

      But in case there really is something ACTUAL that DOES affect her, asking her how this affects her work is all she needs.

  28. PJH*

    For the past several years, Jane has come to me at least once a month…

    I see this (a) not stopping any time soon, regardless of what’s said and/or (b) Jane quitting because she’s being constantly ‘told off’/because of the massive change in her job.

    1. froodle*

      Or Carrie quits, because Jane is constantly running to their shared manager over made-up nonsense and that. gets. tiring.

      1. L'etrangere*

        Precisely what I was going to say. OP is worried about Jane quitting, while Jane is getting her jollies by her constant complaints, and hopes to push the OP in time to correct The Situation. But Carrie is being harrassed here, and not properly protected by her manager. OP has no idea what she may be subjected to in private, and not being told about because they so obviously favor Jane. I don’t even have any anxiety issues, but I can guarantee you I’d be the first one out the door. I’d advise a conversation with Carrie also, along the lines of “I’m worried Jane may be coming to you with trivial issues around the flexibility that we’re happy to provide you with. I have addressed this with her directly, and hope to get her to see in time what a plus flexibility is in a workplace. Please let me know if you experience any difficulty on this topic with her.”.

  29. VanLH*

    Jane has been coming to you “once a month” with complaints that have no merit and has been doing this “for several years”? You are way late in addressing this. This is completely over the top and needs to stop now.

  30. Joie*

    I had a Jane who complained about me so much that my manager told him Enough Already (and this manager was conflict avoidant, so it was a lot of complaining before he finally put a stop to it). This resulted in my coworker complaining directly to me, including abusive text messages, so that was… cool. I would hope it’s not necessary, but I would recommend watching for signs of the complaints being directly delivered after the conversation with Jane.

  31. NYC Taxi*

    Perspective is everything. Whenever I’ve seen co-workers getting “special treatment” I always think ‘wow that’s great the company is allowing that accomodation. I or someone on my team might need it too some day’

    1. Nom*

      This reminds me of some advice I saw on tiktok. instead of judging someone think “good for them”. i hear it will retrain your mind but i haven’t gotten there yet :)

    2. Sylvan*


      When you see your company do something nice for someone else, it means you might expect the same if you ever need accommodations. It’s a good thing!

  32. Sparkles McFadden*

    I think Alison’s response to this question should be required reading by every manager everywhere.

    Every workplace has a Jane. Jane is exhausting.

  33. Mayor of Llamatown*

    I was a Carrie, working in a company like this, with a Jane down the hall. We both worked in the same team, with different managers who reported to the same director. Jane would come to my manager with minor, nitpicky complaints and my manager felt like she had to address all of them with my office mate and I. It was a very eye-roll, “Can’t believe Jane is complaining about this, sorry to have to bring this up” but it definitely wore down morale.

    She watched our comings and goings, kept track of our lunch breaks and when we arrived and when we left. The highlight was getting an email from my manager that we had left a desk fan on in our office overnight, that it had been noticed and complained about, and that we shouldn’t do that. I left the company shortly after that, in part because of the loss of morale related to this. It felt like being in middle school, being tattled on.

    So be very careful about allowing this to happen, as you can lose good people over it.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Very true. Accommodating Jane will drive off everyone else. A manager who worries about upsetting Jane will likely overlook that acknowledging Jane’s complaints as valid and worthy of action will alienate everyone else.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I think what you had here was less a “Jane” problem than a manager problem. Your manager should have buffered you from Jane’s whining.

  34. NewYork*

    About the messy communal areas, I have seen a few problems. 1. Once it gets a little messy, it degenerates into very messy. 2. Somehow, only women are expected to clean it up. I would need to know more about how messy.

    As to flexibility, as long as OP is absolutely certain that it does not dump more work on Jane, OP should just emphasize company’s flexibility policy. That is part of being a manager.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah I’m a messy person by nature but with communal work spaces I try to make it seem like I was never there – otherwise someone else will be cleaning up after me.

  35. Addle*

    I don’t think the speech to Jane needs to be so harsh, it just needs to be framed in a way that makes sense to her. I, too, am a “rule follower”, and it helps me sometimes to think of flexibility itself as a rule. So maybe instead of saying it’s work “culture”, say that part of the rules of working at your workplace include a mandate for flexibility as long as it doesn’t affect work product. I know it’s basically the same thing, but “culture” seems so nebulous whereas framing flexibility in terms of a “rule” might appeal to those of us who love to follow rules.

    1. Nanani*

      Good point. The rules say Carrie’s flexible hours are ok. Jane does not get to change the rules.

  36. Sam*

    I worked in a situation where I was Carrie. My co-worker worked more traditional hours. I would often work 10-6 or whatever suited me. I don’t sleep well and get anxious at weird times. I know she complained to our manager and would often comment to me. I eventually quit and found another job that also had flex time. Careful that your concern about retaining Jane doesn’t drive Carrie away.

  37. FD*

    I think the thing that jumps out at me is that if I’m reading this correctly, Jane has the same flexibility, right? She’s just choosing not to use it *and* is complaining about another employee who is?

    Unless there’s some reason that she can’t use it, it’s a little weird to complain that another employee is using a perk that she also has!

  38. ShortT*

    Too much flexibility compared to what?

    In one way, I can feel for Jane. I’ve been in a position where my Carrie frequently requested flexibility and received it at the last minute and it added to my workload without my consent.

    IMO, people ought to clean up after themselves and put things back where they belong. Even the toddlers at the school where I work reliably do that.

    I have anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, ASC. I did my damndest to schedule my appointments with at least enough time for mitigating or eliminating and potentially negative effect on a colleague or any child in our care. (We’re preschool teachers.) I also have a heart condition and have been treated for pesky fibroids.

    I have accommodations, for which I have I have never had to bring up the ADA, for which I am incredibly grateful. I make a point to acknowledge and express appreciation for the flexibility granted to me, not just to my boss, but to my colleagues.

    If Jane’s work isn’t being affected, then, all bets are off and you need to tell her to knock it off, or, as I sing to my kids: “I hear kvetching, so much kvetching…”

    1. Hawkeye is in the details*

      Is that sing to the tune of I Feel Pretty? Because that’s immediately how I read it!

  39. Uh huh*

    Unless there’s an actual problem here that Jane is not sharing with you – such as Carrie’s flexibility is somehow actually impacting upon Jane’s work or workflow that Jane has not communicated to you – you definitely need to shut her down over this.

    It really is a pity that there can’t be some sort of swap-meet, where good bosses and good employees can be matched, and all the bad bosses and bad employees can be sectioned off with each other.

      1. Observer*

        That’s not actually what the OP says. The OP doesn’t mention that Carrie is a poor employee. They just say that despite the complaining Jane is a good employee, which is why the don’t want to do anything that might make her quit.

        And I think that there is an argument to be made that despite Jane’s undeniably good qualities she may not be a great employee – at least not in this environment. Employees that spend this much time stewing over what other people are doing are not necessarily really goo d employees.

      2. L'etrangere*

        Oh no Firecat! Petty troublemakers, with a side dash of tattletale, are not even good, never mind excellent.

  40. Nanani*

    OP says “The job and the institution are flexible”

    Jane doesn’t get to rework the job around her preference. She doesn’t have the authority (I’m not sure LW does either) and even if she did, taking away flexibility would be taking away a huge perk of the job. I would be willing to bet Carrie is not the only one who is there -because- it’s so flexible, at least in part.
    Jane doesn’t get to change that flexibility just because she would prefer something more structured. Jane can structure HER hours, she cannot go around demanding that her peers implement her personal preference.

    Stop passing on Jane’s complaints or acting on them in any way unless they -actually- matter. Always bring it back to actual impact on work, and shut it down when it’s clear there isn’t any, which it sounds like is most of the time.

    Jane might be a bad fit. Better for her to figure that out on her own than rearrange your workplace around one person.

  41. LadyByTheLake*

    Don’t accept invalid complaints from someone without telling them that they are invalid and you aren’t going to do anything. Also, don’t pass along complaints that you don’t think are valid. Years ago I worked at a company, and someone in Sales, Fergus, was always angry with me for doing my job (Compliance/Legal role). Fergus would go to my boss and complain constantly and my boss would tell him, “I’ll talk to LadyBy.” Boss would then come to me and say “Fergus complained about X, Y and Z, but you’re doing what I want you to do, so keep on doing it.” It infuriated Fergus and made our relationship even worse because Fergus was under the impression that I’d been told to stop and yet I kept doing what made him mad. It infuriated me because I really didn’t need my boss to add to my stress by telling me about Fergus’s complaints when my boss didn’t think they were valid. If my boss had just shut it down with Fergus once and for all my boss’s job would have been easier, Fergus would have known what the deal was, and I wouldn’t have had the added stress.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I think that some managers believe that “hearing someone out” is a good thing because it makes the person feel better to express themselves (or some such thing). Others just hate conflict so they just agree with anyone who is in front of them to make them go away.

      Your boss should have told Fergus “The compliance job exists to do exactly what you are describing. There’s no problem here.” You never should have heard about that happening.

    2. JustaTech*

      The sooner everyone learns that some departments (Legal/Compliance/Regulatory/Quality) *exist* to say “no” to save everyone down the line, the better the world will be.

      We’re not saying “no” to be mean, we’re saying “no” because there are rules, laws, and forces of nature that won’t let that happen.

    3. pamela voorhees*

      I’m absolutely losing my mind over what a bad solution this is. I just stared at this post for a full minute trying to wrap my head around it. I am so sorry you had to deal with this!

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Yeah. That boss was a not a good boss. Nice guy, but one of the most ineffectual managers in the history of ever. Funny story — he was so bad at managing that they hired a new person and there was a meeting where it was announced: “As you all know, Boss is a terrible manager, so we hired NewGuy to take over the management part of the job.” And Boss just had to sit there, nodding along that he agreed that he was a terrible manager.
        That would have been bad enough, but they never actually removed him from managing people!

  42. Slinky*

    I’ve been the Carrie in this situation. My “Jane” would go through my work and nitpick every little detail (which was not even remotely part of her job), among other things. My boss understood that Jane was being difficult, but let it continue and sometimes forwarded the issues to me, while acknowledging that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong.

    I left. Jane is still there. My boss is very sad about that. If you do nothing about Jane, you may lose Carrie. This situation isn’t tenable or fair.

  43. Watry*

    I’ve recently been Carrie, and I can say there’s a pretty good chance Carrie knows Jane is complaining about her. My management handled it in a way I was satisfied with*, but had they continued to listen to her complaints I probably would have started looking. It sounds like you don’t want to lose Carrie even more, so don’t accidentally drive her away to keep Jane.

    *Long story short, I don’t know exact details but I do know it was addressed with her and told to stop.

  44. cactus lady*

    Oh I can relate, OP! I have an employee who is the same way, she complains a LOT about people being kind of lax and expects me to do stuff about it… when I don’t actually care. She’s a good employee, too, and an expert in her field. But she’ll get wildly upset if someone joins a zoom call right on time instead of 5 minutes early. To me it’s like, who cares? They’re here on time. I have spent a LOT of time dealing with her various particularities. This answer is super helpful in seeing that I need to not address things that I don’t think are problems, even if she does.

  45. skeezix*

    As someone who was the target of the Office Jane…. You need to shut her down and shut her down HARD. And if she quits, the quits. You are allowing her to potentially drive away a good employee.

    The Jane in my office could always find SOMETING to complain about. If I rinsed my coffee mug while on the clock I was “avoiding work”, but if I set my coffee mug by the sink to clean later over lunch I was “making a mess”. She had been there 5 years more than me, and the supervisor was too concerned about her quitting and taking her institutional knowledge with her, that Jane could just bring up anything and everything and get that “sympathy attention” and would get told each time that management would “address the issue”.

    Ask yourself, what really is Jane adding to your office. And what do you stand to potentially lose because of her. AND, how much of her own time and your time is she wasting bringing up these petty and baseless accusations.

    You need to tell her “This is the way our office works. If you still have a problem with it, it might be time for you to consider looking elsewhere.”

  46. I edit everything*

    I’d be willing to bet Jane’s meticulousness (part of why she’s an exceptional employee) and her desire for firm rules evenly applied are related. She would be happier (as would OP) if she could learn to turn that part of her approach down in certain situations.

  47. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

    Oh man. I am a Carrie, and knowing this, I negotiated a flexible work arrangement with my supervisor when I started my job 2 years ago. My work is very different than most work at my org, so having a flexible work schedule makes sense both with my job description and my workstyle.

    My boss also supervised a Jane, who made comments constantly about my excessive use of vacation time, about my variable start times, and about my more “nontraditional” life choices (not her words, but I’m a queer, childfree, unmarried-in-my-30s, city-dwelling transplant in our suburban office, and you could tell that my “flexibility” in my life choices bothered her even though she wasn’t particularly politically conservative). My supervisor told me it was partially jealousy – Jane wanted to work-from-home but she was an executive assistant and the “executive” was skeptical of remote work.

    WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS? It’s not impacting my ability to do my work or my coworkers’ work! Jane eventually got laid off during the early pandemic (not for performance reasons), but the switch to remote work really changed the culture around rigidity and unspoken rules in our workplace.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I think there are just some people who need constant extrinsic validation. They derive no intrinsic joy in anything. People like this are constantly looking around at everyone else and doing accounting and comparison. “That person is coming in late but I never come in late, so I’d better tell the boss so she knows that I am better than that person.” or “If that person gets something I’m not getting, it means the boss values her more and I need to be sure the boss acknowledges that I am the best.” It’s as if they think there’s one bowl full of “boss praise” in the room and they have to get everything in the bowl.

      I don’t think the people who do that are conscious of why they do what they do. All I know is that when I’ve worked with those sorts of people, the thing that upsets them most is when they realize their coworkers don’t pay any attention to what’s going on with anyone else, and that the boss doesn’t care that Carrie came in at 11:00 am instead of 9:00.

      It’s sad, really. (Unless they’re making your work life a living hell, in which case it’s infuriating.)

      1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

        Thinking about my blue collar boomer parents, I wonder if part of this is generational. My parents have much more rigid ideas about work and “responsibility” than I do, and I’m certain its a vestige of life without computers. There’s always a lot of “kids these days don’t work hard!” from them even though their Millennial kids and nieces/nephews/niblings all work extremely hard. It just looks different.

        1. JustaTech*

          Oh man, my in-laws were hyper-unreasonable about this early in the pandemic. Their office staff was WFH, and they were just convinced that nothing was getting done. And then a delivery truck accidentally damaged their fence, and they were just convinced that if the office staff had been working on site it wouldn’t have happened. (Except the delivery truck had come to the next building on the weekend, so no one would have been there anyway.)
          My in-laws were also convinced that we were just sitting around bored, rather than working out tails off at home. (My parents had done WFH before, so they understood.)

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          I am closing in on 60 and I have to say the tattling thing isn’t generational. I’ve seen summer interns tattle on long-term employees…which is crazy. Maybe the “computer work isn’t hard work” mentality is generational (and/or socioeconomic), but actually going to the boss and complaining about your coworker is another thing entirely.

          I think remote work gets a bad rap because it exposes managerial issues. Bad managers always think people are trying to get away with something and somehow think being in a place where they can be “watched” is all that keeps people working.

          I had one direct report that I had to check in with a lot when he worked remotely, but I had to do the same amount of checking when he was physically in the office. The issue wasn’t his location, it was his disorganization and we worked on that. The rest of the staff? No difference. In fact, some worked too many hours because they’d get wrapped up in something and figured they’d just finish that same day. They were salary (no OT) and not used to tracking hours but I wanted them to watch the clock a bit so they wouldn’t burn themselves out.

          I think the “you don’t know what hard work is” thing comes from fear. I could continue to work at my computer-related job even if I broke my leg. A stone mason, roofer or garbage collector cannot. I think that reality (that a physical injury can be a career-ending event) could be what’s behind the “you kids don’t know what hard work is” bluster. That said, feel free to ignore those relatives when they ask for help with their iPad or phone.

          1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

            I mean, if it’s a managerial problem (which sounds right), then older people are more likely to be managers simply because of their longer tenures. Therefore, age correlates but isn’t the cause. (Look at me using fake science terms :) )

            The class thing is something my partner and I both think about. (We’re both first gen college students with stable, portable white collar jobs.) My family is especially combative/defensive about class because most are what I semi-jokingly like to call “blue collar elite.” They have the most skilled, best paid careers in blue collar work (specialized nursing, high skill construction, complex machining, electrical/plumbing). They are better paid than I am right now. They are also really dismissive of my schooling. (Eg: Why would I pay so much money for school when I make less than they do?????? Stupid liberal elites and their useless underwater basket weaving degrees!)

            What they don’t understand or want to publicly acknowledge (and I don’t bring it up because I think it’s punching down to some degree) is that they are – like you said – one bad knee or back injury away from losing their high-wage job.

            I also don’t think they understand people in high skill physical jobs hit an early pay ceiling that’s hard to overcome without more schooling. My stepfather tried to move into a management role and really struggled because he didn’t have the professional skills to succeed in that context and ended up asking for a demotion. I see this a lot at my social service agency too – many amazing direct support professionals struggle in managerial roles without intensive professional development training. My sister is a teacher and makes a great salary (more than me!), but she has maxed out her opportunities to move up steps in her pay scale. Her only opportunity to earn more money would be to leave the classroom and do admin.

            On the other hand, I am early-mid career and have tons of opportunities for growth and for leadership roles in the future. I can also move into adjacent industries or entire other industries with my skillset. So, while I have student loans, a “useless” degree, and make less than a union electrician who’s my age, I have more opportunities for growth. I think this will become more evident to all in, say, 5-10 years, but 30s is when my family members hit their earnings peak (minus cost of living adjustments and small raises) and I’m still moving up.

  48. HereKittyKitty*

    I barely care enough to complain about things that DO affect my work, let alone things that don’t affect my work. It sounds exhausting to be so aware of everyone’s business and I would kindly suggest she focus on her own work.

  49. Sara without an H*

    OP, you really need to deal with this. I’m a librarian, and I’ve worked with many, many Janes. As several upstream commenters have pointed out, Jane’s continual complaining/tattling is already using up way too much of your time and will start to affect morale, if it hasn’t already. (Btw, Carrie knows all about Jane’s complaints. Trust me on this.)

    When you talk with Jane, be firm, but kind. I think it would also be a good idea to probe for any real impact Carrie’s schedule may be having on her own work. The Janes of this world think in general terms of fairness, rather than specific details. It’s one thing to say, “Carrie comes in whenever she wants, and it isn’t fair!” It’s another to say: “I’m supposed to have the jabberwocky data delivered to Marketing by 5:00 p.m. every day. Carrie needs two hours to complete her part of it. When she comes in later than 10:00 a.m., it means I won’t be able to complete my section by the deadline. How can we solve this?” I suspect Jane has never learned that difference.

    Good luck, and please send us an update.

  50. Nope*

    OP, have you checked in with Jane to see if she fully understands that the same flexibility is actually available to her? You noted Carrie’s anxiety but I’m picking up on some subtle clues able Jane that you may want to check out. Jane deserves to be treated equally as Carrie and she’s clearly feeling like she isn’t, maybe Jane is feeling like there is some favouritism coming out too.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      It’s easy to dislike Jane. Heck, I dislike her just from your short letter.
      However, if you show that you like Carrie more than you like Jane, even by subtle signs, it will only make Jane more vocally unhappy.

    2. Cafe au Lait*

      Yes, this. I’m Carrie at work and very comfortable working within the flexible work options available. My Jane, not so much. Part of it is Jane’s rigidity but part of it is not a clear explanation of how the flexible options worked. I’m comfortable asking questions, but Jane was penalized by prior supervisors for seeking clarification.

    3. fueled by coffee*


      I also wonder whether part of Jane’s difficulty in communicating that her work is being affected (if it is) is that Carrie meets her deadlines and produces on time, so it’s not that the quantity of work is being shifted to Jane, but the flexible schedule interferes with Jane’s ability to work at her own preferred hours.

      My work has firm deadlines but extremely flexible hours, so I run into this sort of issue frequently. I tend to stick pretty close to a 9-5 schedule, but work with people who keep other schedules. Great!

      But sometimes I’ll be working on Project X, which is due at 9am Friday, and by 5pm on Thursday my “Carrie” coworker still hasn’t completed their part of the project. When Carrie sends me their completed part of X at 8pm, they’ve met the deadline and completed all they’re work, but now I’m stuck working on my part of X late at night to finish it on time.

      I wonder whether this is part of what’s happening to Jane: yes, technically she can work the same flexible schedule as Carrie, but if she *prefers* to work set hours but relies on Carrie’s work for some of her own work, she might get stuck working dispreferred hours when Carrie shows up late due to the weather, etc. The problem here is that this a communication issue, not a fairness issue. The solution isn’t “Jane could also show up late” but rather “Jane prefers to work 8-5 (or whatever), so when Carrie arrives at 10am, some of Jane’s work might need to wait until tomorrow to be completed.”

  51. Uncle Bob*

    Treating every employee exactly the same is the absolute best way to lose high performer/low maintenance employees.

  52. Lucy P*

    I was a Jane because I had been trained to be a Jane (without the constant complaining). Early in this job we had an employee who had a paper route before office hours that would occasionally make them late for work. If they tried to make up time after the official closing time, I was told to deduct those hours from their timesheet. Several times when I wanted to take a day off, I was told I couldn’t because my manager’s kids were out of school that day and it would conflict with the manager’s schedule.
    As the company grew, there were employees that were required, on occasion, to work late. The company declared that they were exempt and would not receive overtime. In those cases the employees would take off an hour or so in the following days to get back the time that they had to work late. Per the company, whatever time they missed had to be made up using PTO, despite the fact that they had worked late. The company declared that salaried individuals were expected to work late and couldn’t just take off to compensate. Basically all of this inflexibility made me develop an inflexible attitude because I thought it was supposed to be that way.
    Then the company grew larger and I became part of a team of 5 instead of a team of me. My coworkers, who were fantastic at their jobs, frequently took off due to personal obligations. I asked for a day off once and was told that I could only take off if Carrie would be in the office that day. It felt like one of those promos for new customers only. New employees got to be flexible, but old employees had to be subjected to an archaic system. Of course I was livid, but silently.
    The only time I’ve ever complained, but it was phrased as needing a recommendation on how to proceed, was after I had made repeated requests to a team member to stop playing Candy Crush and do the work actually assigned to them. This coworker was in the office, on average, 6 hours a day, but was paid for 8. Instead of getting advice, I got a lecture on how Google allows its employees to take breaks during the day.
    What I’m getting at is that while Jane needs to be dealt with, please understand that she may come from a background that turned her into the pillar of rigidity that she is.

    1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

      Jeez, that’s actual unfairness there. It’s like offering $1000 hiring bonuses and then not paying your existing staff a retention bonus (suuuuuper common right now, and I’m so thankful my company did *not* do that).

  53. CommanderBanana*

    Honestly, if I were being reprimanded needlessly because a coworker couldn’t stop tattling about imaginary problems and my manager couldn’t muster the spine to shut it down, that would be a factor in considering quitting!

  54. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    It sounds to me that you’ll either lose Jane or lose Carrie, the way things are going now.

  55. JustaClarifier*

    Alison, just want to say – LOVE your dialogue in this one. I don’t normally comment just to say that, but couldn’t resist. It’s strong, gets to the point, and is unequivocal in its message.

  56. New Mom*

    I worked with a Jane once as a student worker. I was doing data entry in an empty office before a staff meeting, after the staff meeting I got up to leave and Jane said, “New Mom, before you leave please make sure the office is back the way is was before you were in there.” Which was a little embarrassing and truly confusing to me because it was an empty office with only a chair, a computer and a cup of pens. I remember looking in the room and feeling stressed that I didn’t know what she was talking about.
    I did the data entry job for a few more months and then without any warning, Jane cut all my hours and hired another one of my coworkers to do the work without ever telling me why. I tried to ask her about it but she was pretty gas-light-y “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted to keep doing it, oh well!” What? So I just assumed it had something to do with me being “messy” in an office that seemed impossible to mess up.

  57. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Ugh, I was the target of a clique of Janes once, and unfortunately had a manager who had ALL the time in the world for their complaints about me, and made it my sole responsibility to “repair my relationship” with them. Like, there’s nothing for me to “repair” – they’re just a clique who hated me because I set normal boundaries and expectations with them, which is what I was specifically hired to do. It turned out my boss just didn’t have the backbone to back me up. God, once the Janes learned they could get traction with my boss, they literally made a game of complaining about me and trying to get me fired. It was the most miserable, psychologically damaging work experience I have ever had in 30 years of working, and I left because of it.

    BACK CARRIE UP. This is NOT her problem to fix, this is JANE’s problem–and YOURS.

  58. A Person*

    > she’s a good employee

    I want to pull this out. Jane may be good at the specific tasks that are her job, but being an employee is larger than just the specific work, and it doesn’t sound like she’s such an good employee. There’s only 4 people on your team. How does Jane get along with her teammates? Do they hear these complaints too?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      One of our annual review metrics is “citizenship”. I don’t think Jane would score very well.

  59. TG*

    I admit I was similar to this person in a previous role but the person who was coming and going etc. would tell me work we were to BOTH do she did not have time for.
    So I told my manager at the time that I didn’t care about her schedule except when it impacted me which it did.
    He blew me off even when I provided specific examples and she also did it to another coworker who also complained.
    So I then said I could do my share of the work and that was it and it became apparent pretty quickly to my manager stuff was not getting done and he finally stepped in. Problem solved.

    I’ve tried to also become very flexible and I DO see the need for that and that others have different needs especially after COVID.

    So I’d say the advice is spot on except when someone’s schedule is impacting your ability to get things done.

    1. Observer*

      So I’d say the advice is spot on except when someone’s schedule is impacting your ability to get things done

      Which is why the question “How is this affecting your work?” is so good. If that’s really what is going on, this presents a perfect opening. And if not, it draws the line quite clearly.

  60. Heffalump*

    I wonder if Jane is one of those people who just like to demean others (I’ve known a few), and Carrie’s perceived infractions are pretextual.

  61. AnonInCanada*

    I used to be a Jane – a rigid stickler to the rules and complainer whenever I saw a coworker come in late, take breaks when unscheduled etc. Then I learned to stop sweating the small stuff.

    Jane has to learn to stop sweating the small stuff. If it’s none of her business and complains, then let her stew in her own misery. Ignore her petty concerns unless her gripes are legitimate.

  62. Workerbee*

    Let Jane quit. If she is so hyped up on her personal version of rules and rightness that she’d rather people drive in unsafe conditions and risk never arriving at all (or worse) versus still coming in and getting the work done, just at a later timescale, then she would be much better off in a job that has no other people to deal with at all.

  63. Observer*

    OP, please realize that if you keep this up you are going to probably lose Carrie. Worse, you may lose other staff – your best people, in fact. And you’re going to allow this one person to poison the culture of your team. Also, I want to emphasize what Alison said about keeping one person comfortable at the expense of other people.

    The fundamental problem here is not the Jane is rigid, but that she believes that she has the standing to monitor other people’s work. Worse, she not only monitors their work and behavior, she attempts to MANAGE it. Yes, it’s indirect, but she is still trying to enforce HER rules on other people who she has no standing to manage.

    You absolutely need to shut this down. I like Alison’s scripts. And whatever happens, you’ll be doing everyone – probably even Jane – a favor. Because Jane is probably alienating everyone in the place, even people who are not so into the flexibility, because of her consonantly getting into other people’s business. It’s something that people REALLY don’t like.

    1. Spicy Nonprofit Iconoclast*

      This is especially true because, more so than ever, flexibility is a premium benefit for many employees. Having a truly flexible work policy will attract a lot of candidates in this marketplace, especially in a technician role (which is what you’re describing). However, promising flexibility and then essentially allowing Jane to police it – if she is, in fact, saying stuff to Carrie and others – is going to be extremely off-putting.

  64. Irish girl*

    We have flexible hours in the since that you can come in between 7:30 and 9 and leave after your hours based on when you started. No big deal for most people. But we had someone that didnt show up until 10 and had no clue what time she left. She might have been staying and doing work. She also took long lunches.

    None of us said anything since it had no impact on us but the issue got bigger when it did start impacting 2 people. Since no one reported this to her manager, they had no clue what was going on until she fell asleep at work after her boss was gone for the day and we had to go to our manager and tell her about it. That is when everything she had done came out. No one sweated the small stuff but when all the small stuff added up it was a big problem.

    Come to find out a week later she was in drug rehab. Her boss wanted to fire her but HR said that they had to give her a second chance and document all the late arrivals and long lunches before they could fire her. If we had said something before, there woul have been documentation sooner.

    1. Observer*

      If we had said something before, there woul have been documentation sooner.

      That’s not your problem. How her manager didn’t realize there was a problem is an important question here. It’s not your job or the job of any of her coworkers to deal with that, though, nor the lack of documentation.

      However: but the issue got bigger when it did start impacting 2 people.

      This is a different story. Why did no one go to their manager about this? That’s the key issue here. According to the OP, Jane is actually not being affected, she just thinks “It’s not fair”. That is totally different than it actually affecting someone.

  65. Tostito*

    Pretty sure I’m a Carrie with some Jane tendencies. I work in a field where there are certain things that give better results if done in a very specific way, and I guess the only thing that doesn’t affect me (directly) but makes me a bit anxious or annoyed is when I see people cut corners in a way that might affect their results.

    But if Carrie is as above and has anxiety, well, I don’t want to project too much. But meaningless things like when I get in late because of the weather (I don’t start work late – I simply work from home, then at some point when the outdoor apocalypse dies down, I cycle into the office, which is absolutely permitted) stress me out because I imagine there being loads of Janes all around, secretly judging me for my actions that don’t affect them or the quality of my work. I assume there probably aren’t that many Janes in real life, but it gives an extra reason to talk this Jane into reason.

  66. kitty*

    Unpopular opinion but maybe Jane feels overlooked or like she’s not as appreciated as the other teammates. Sometimes when a worker complains about one issue, it’s a gateway into a host of other challenges and concerns. Jane definitely isn’t helping herself here but I wonder where the empathy towards her is. Maybe something else is going on?

    A few years ago, I was on a team where I was labelled the “difficult one.” This was a team where the rules were not applied consistently across the board. For instance, we were initially told that nobody could work from hone. Over the years, I noticed that some teammates were in fact, working from home. When I asked my manager for a clarification, she snipped “Well, would you actually get any work done?”

    At that point, I had never had an issue with productivity or time management. I was the most senior member of the team under our leader. I had managed direct-reports. The fact that junior-level staff who had not built up the same track record of responsible work habits were allowed so much flexibility when I wasn’t contributed to a serious morale problem.

    So what I suspect with Jane is that she’s feeling a little undervalued and that her peers are getting perks when she isn’t. Perhaps Jane doesn’t need the same perks and flexibility but maybe there is something Jane needs that she’s not getting. In my experience, most people aren’t difficult for the sake of being so, they’re feeling frustrated and undervalued and having a hard time communicating about it effectively. Maybe Jane deserves a little benefit of the doubt?

    1. Observer*

      I wonder where the empathy towards her is.

      You’re right that people should be empathetic. But it’s hard to have empathy for someone who is acting this way, because it is petty and negative.

      So what I suspect with Jane is that she’s feeling a little undervalued and that her peers are getting perks when she isn’t.

      Not only is there no evidence of this, what the OP writes indicates the reverse. She came to the OP complaining that Carrie came in late to avoid bad traffic and the OP told her that she (Jane) is free to do the same thing. That’s hardly “not being allowed the same flexibility” that someone else is getting. Nor is it asking for something she wants – it’s asking for something to be taken away from someone else. And if the OP had said that but in fact it’s not realistic for Jane to do that because of something at work (eg Jane is expected to set up a shared workspace at the beginning of the day) then this would have been the time to bring it up. But she didn’t.

      At this point, the person I have empathy for is Carrie.

      1. Thrive*

        I don’t think that kitty is advocating who or what to have empathy for; this isn’t about providing a judgment. She is just providing advice and suggesting that the LW may want to make sure that there is nothing that has escaped her radar, e.g., perhaps Jane is picking up what is called ‘invisible work’ because she is seen as being more available than her peers, but is expressing this in a poor way. I think it’s really nice that kitty is sharing her experiences and suggestions in a non-judgmental way to give OP some ideas about how to move forward.

    2. Run mad; don't faint*

      I think it’s worthwhile considering. I know I was more of a Jane than I like to think about at a job where I felt undervalued and unheard in many ways. I eventually realized that while I needed and wanted to work, I didn’t have to work at that particular place. (It took me longer than it should to realize that!) I found a new job and very quickly let go of my Jane tendencies.

  67. HelenB*

    At least Jane is saying these things out loud. In the before time, there were one or two people who would print off portions of the employee handbook, highlight sections, and leave it on people’s desks. Things like “if you don’t come in and don’t call your supervisor for 3 consecutive days, we’ll assume you’ve quit” (paraphrased) on the desk of someone who had been out for a few days with a known illness. They also didn’t like it that people could come in as late as 10am. They were there at 6:30am dangit! Everyone who comes in later is a slacker.

    I wish I had thought to print off something about not using the printers for personal reasons to leave on their desks.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That sounds like a nightmare. I might have left a roll of toilet paper on their desk if I knew who was doing it.

  68. Dan F*

    Since Jane seems to need rigid rules to follow, you can give her this one: “No complaining about co-workers or any flexibility afforded to them.”

    That’s it. That’s the rule. Be rigid about enforcing it. Everyone’s happy.

  69. Tofu Pie*

    I wamt to print this in size 42 font and leave it plastered all over my boss’s office.

    I worked with a Jane. What was more stressful than Jane was my boss’s undying willingness to listen to Jane’s complaints and give her an explanation over and over. And his insistence that I accommodate her and do my best to minimize aggravating Jane when he acknowledged I wasn’t the one doing anything wrong.

  70. Powercycle*

    I use to work with a “Jane”. Their shift started around 06:30-07:00 and would complain about having to do “all the work” that came in overnight until the time I, and another co-worker arrived around 09:00-09:30. Even though only the handful of urgent requests would absolutely need to be actioned first, they’d insist on trying to get everything done. Sometimes I’d come in to find they’d have actioned 50+ tickets in 3 hours and I’d barely have anything to do the rest of the morning. I told the bosses about it and they already knew. They had told “Jane” they didn’t have to do all the tickets ASAP but it didn’t change anything. “Jane” was rigid and stuck in their ways.
    Despite being a hard worker who was usually pretty good, they didn’t understand fully how our ticketing system worked. Because I was assigned to a different group in the system due to my other job duties, when I assigned myself tickets they’d disappear from their queue. “Jane” obviously thought I wasn’t doing my job because they didn’t see the tickets that were assigned to me. One day I came in early to check in on something and they complained out loud about me not doing enough work, and I replied out loud. “I’m here and I already grabbed 12 tickets.” Never heard them complain about that again.
    Not long after that, I filled in as team lead for a few months and “Jane” was probably my best employee. As much as they grabbed a lot of work in the morning, they did a pretty good job, and they weren’t afraid to escalate tickets to senior techs or to myself when necessary.

    1. KatieP*

      I’m having a similar problem with our Jane. We have a ticketing system that she works, and part-time staff that start at 9 or 10 AM who are fully capable of working 98% of the tickets. And she’s constantly complaining about the number of tickets she has to work. By the time the part time staff arrive (they can’t arrive any earlier), Jane has worked all the tickets. So, the part-time staff move on to Llama Fluffing and Teapot Decorating.
      We’ve discussed it in the one-on-ones (Jane keeps scheduling medical appointments and other things on top of our weekly one-on-ones – red flag?) that she can let those tickets wait up to 6 hours. She says it makes her look bad, so she’s going to work them, and then complains that she doesn’t have time for things like cross-training, professional development, etc.

  71. MicroManagered*

    “All of my employees are treated fairly, but not equally, because they are different people with different needs.”

    OP Can you please be my boss?

  72. Raida*

    I would modify the advice from “How is this affecting your work?”
    to “How is that negatively impacting others?” and if it’s just Jane’s emotional response, point out that just-not-liking something is not a reason to complain to the manager. Would she want people complaining over her car choice? Her hair cut? Her lunch?
    or “Are you suggesting this shows Carrie is not completing her work?” and then run through how as her manager you are the one that sets Carries’ workload and checks it’s been completed.

    because “affecting your work” suggests that as long as Carrie doesn’t interfere with Jane she’s got free reign to do as she pleases. Hell, she could be stealing, breaching the code of conduct, slandering coworkers on social media but if it doesn’t affect Jane’s work? Don’t want to hear about it.

  73. Alan*

    I had a supervisor that sounded just like that in regards to one particular employee who was given “slack” because we just didn’t know what she had going on and “she was getting everything done”. Half the team left. 2 years later they are still recovering from the chaos that took place after because she had to step up and do her work. The new hires weren’t knowledgeable enough to handle our jobs and hers. She never mentioned the flexibility she gives Jane and only defended why Carrie gets it.

    No one wants to hear complaints but don’t discredit them you may end up in a mess.

  74. iglwif*

    Several jobs ago, I used to have a Jane on my team. She spent so much time kvetching about other people’s bending of rules that existed only in her head that she wasn’t getting her own work done, the more so because her behaviour irritated her coworkers to the point where they stopped wanting to help her.

    Fortunately my manager, having tried and failed to change the behaviour, started the process of letting her go, and then she found another job (or said she had) and quit. But the few months she was there were … not great for the rest of us.

  75. wordswords*

    It sounds like Jane isn’t just rigid about following rules; she’s also come up with her own idea of what those rules are. For instance, it sounds like the actual rule is “if you get your work done and your manager aren’t concerned, you have flexibility to make your own hours,” or maybe “work for X hours a week and try to stay within this general window, but you’ve got a lot of flexibility for moving around within that and making exceptions,” or “you have flexibility to make your own schedule until and unless your manager has concerns about your work,” or something along those lines. But Jane has unilaterally and incorrectly decided that the rule is more like “show up at 8:30, leave at 5:00, take no more than 30 minutes for lunch,” despite being clearly told that that’s not the case.

    Policing her coworkers’ strict adherence to rules that don’t affect her own work, when she has neither managerial power nor even a managerial request to keep them informed, would be obnoxious in any case. But it’s that extra step across the line when what she’s policing aren’t even the rules that the team in question is expected (by anyone but Jane) to follow!

  76. Happy to be noticed*

    I once had a boss who kind of wasn’t that amazing, but did one thing that made her incredible.

    We had two employees in our team who consistently took sick leave, were late, had dramas, were depressed in the job, didn’t contribute that much – generally just a bit of a drag on the team.

    Our boss would occasionally take us aside and say “you can leave two hours early today”, “take a long lunch and go for a walk”. We had flexible working times, and the two employees didn’t know. We felt simultaneously naughty and recognized. Everyone was happy.

    1. Happy to be noticed*

      I’ve come back to clarify that we were Jane, and the others were Carrie. The comment “Carrie also deals with anxiety that has afforded her greater flexibility from me when she needs it.” makes clear that Carrie is receiving special treatment. Recognize that and show your appreciation of the excellent employee who doesn’t require such flexibility from you.

      1. onco fonco*

        Special treatment and accommodation aren’t really the same thing. I mean, would you take that flexibility if it also meant having the anxiety issues?

        1. Happy to be noticed*

          I meant special treatment in the very literal sense of the words. Not everyone has it, so it’s special. It’s great, and should be encouraged amongst all employees/workplaces.

          All people, though, are different. I’m suggesting that Jane may have issues too, and chief amongst those may be that’s she’s uncomfortable asserting her own flexibility in the workplace. That can happen, and in the interests of embracing diversity, it could be really useful to help Jane with that flexibility that others are comfortable to exhibit on their own. For example, saying “You’ve done a great job this week, why don’t you leave at 3 on Friday?” – or whatever: presumably her manager, who truly appreciates her, will come up with something that she might be comfortable with.

          Her manager could approach her with a conversation around this: “We’re in a flexible workplace but would it be true to say you’re not comfortable with taking advantage of it? Can I help, in this way?”

  77. Thrive*

    LW, I am wondering whether Carrie’s flexibility is affecting Jane’s work, or team morale in general. Does Jane rely on Carrie for anything? Is Jane having to do more work because Carrie is doing less? Are you sure that there is no favoritism coming into play and that you are applying the flexibility fairly?

    To give some context to the above questions, I once worked on a team where there was one set of rules for a ‘Carrie’, and another set of rules for the rest of us – think of things like ‘Carrie’ coming in at 10:00 each day yet leaving at the same time as the rest of the team; delegating work to her equal peers because she had something come up; whenever time-consuming and difficult items came up, the manager would need us to be flexible as ‘Carrie’ suddenly couldn’t help out…

  78. JelloStapler*

    Alison’s advice is spot in how to say in a very nice professional and comprehensive way: ‘Worry about yourself”. :)

  79. KatieP*

    About three years ago, I started a job and got a co-worker like Jane. We had a co-worker (Kathy) and a boss (Diane) with flexible schedules, and Jane was extremely vocal about her disapproval. Diane’s boss had already approved the flexible schedules, and Diane knew that Jane was complaining about it.
    Then one day, Jane started yelling at Kathy for arriving ten minutes after 8. Kathy’s flexible schedule allowed her to arrive 10-15 minutes after 8, and leave around 4:45. Since my cubicle was between theirs, I could hear Kathy sobbing.
    I don’t know if Diane gave Jane a verbal warning. If she didn’t, she made my life more difficult, and I wish I’d raised a stink about it when it happened. In looking through Jane’s performance reviews, I don’t see anything to indicate she’d been tasked with eliminating this behavior.
    Diane retired during COVID, and I was promoted into her position. Jane flexed half a workday without talking to me first (her position is such that it does need coverage from 8-5, it just doesn’t have to be Jane covering it), and pitched an unholy fit when I told her she’d need to use her PTO for those hours. I guess we have to be flexible for her, and no one else?

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