I didn’t know my former coworker was so disliked and now I’m worried

A reader writes:

I work for a fairly small department at a large organization. The person I worked with most often, “Chris,” recently took on a different position in another department. Unfortunately, I was a little skeptical of the move because I didn’t think Chris would like the position as much as he thought he would and I was right — he’s now actively trying to return to his former position a few weeks after starting his new job. The problem is that nobody wants him back.

Now, normally I wouldn’t make this my problem, but its got me a little worried. Even though I worked one-on-one with Chris for years before he left, it seems like everyone else, including our supervisor and department chair, wanted him out. I knew Chris had some flaws — he was unfocused, managed his time poorly, and delegated most of his tasks to other people. But I had no idea that seemingly everyone in the department is happy he’s gone, and I don’t think Chris knows either. He continues to “visit” our department, finding time to have one-on-one meetings with our former boss, even though the department he works for does not interact with ours at all. I think he’s trying to get his old job back. My direct supervisor has informed me personally that she has been telling Chris the position is filled, even though it isn’t (we haven’t had a single applicant).

This has me concerned about my own position in the department. My coworkers have kept quiet on their opinions of Chris until now, so now I’m wondering how people feel about ME! Every time someone gripes about Chris, I kind of joke that “I hope no one else talks about me like this!” My coworkers always assure me that there is no issue with me, but based on how they acted before and after Chris left, I’m a little paranoid!

So, I have two questions:
1. Do I tell Chris that our managers are intentionally being deceptive and stonewalling him?
2. Should I be concerned that my other coworkers are complaining about me behind my back? How can I address it?

If you’d said that Chris was lovely to work with and always pitched in, I’d be more concerned about what’s going on in your department. But Chris “was unfocused, managed his time poorly, and delegated most of his tasks to other people” … it’s not surprising that people don’t want him to come back!

It also doesn’t sound like your coworkers erupted into a festival of complaints about Chris as soon as he left. It sounds like they’ve been reasonably discreet about their feelings and it’s only coming out now because he’s trying to return and they have understandable qualms about that.

So I don’t see any reason to worry that your coworkers are complaining about you behind your back (unless, of course, you are a similarly difficult package of traits yourself).

The bigger problem sounds like your manager! She apparently didn’t deal with these Chris problems for years (which is awfully negligent as a manager) and now she’s lying to him about something easily disproven rather than having an honest conversation about why he can’t return. That means that you and others on your team can’t trust her to give you candid feedback about your work, and you can’t trust her to manage other people well either. She apparently just … doesn’t do it.

But I wouldn’t tell Chris that she’s lying to him. I get the impetus to say something to him because it sucks to see someone treated that way! But you don’t have standing to overrule your manager (and you wouldn’t necessarily be able to rely on Chris to keep it quiet that you were his source if you did tell him). What you can do, though, is to urge your manager to be straight with him, and point out that she’s doing Chris no favors by hiding his performance issues from him.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. The Smiling Pug*

    If it were me in this position, OP, I’d probably assume that *some* people, not all, were probably whispering about me. IMHO, gossip about one turns into gossip about everybody.

    1. AD*

      That’s not really fair or accurate. It sounds like Chris had performance issues that have understandably made his team reluctant to re-hire him. That’s not gossip.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        That’s true, AD. Maybe I’m being slightly paranoid about this based on past work experiences and people gossiping about performance issues. Because Chris has performance issues, by virtue of working with him closely, it might get interesting for LW in the future with this department.

        1. JB*

          Especially being that LW apparently didn’t see an issue with Chris ‘delegating most of his tasks to other people’.

          I’d honestly be more worried about that vs that LW worked closely with Chris.

          1. CalypsoSummer*

            If Chris was handing off his job tasks to other people, I’d wonder why those people were accepting them. If someone who was NOT my boss came over and told me — a Teapot Designer — that I needed to start keeping track of the Chocolate Teapot inventory, I’d laugh in their face. “You’re so funny! Now I’ll tell one! Have you heard the one about the rabbi and the Easter Bunny?”

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              That may be, but if you’re both Teapot Designers, he was responsible for designing the pot lid and just didn’t do it, odds are you or a colleague would have to step up. Because at the end of the day, the main thing for the whole team is making sure those teapots sell. Which is why the exit of my former office’s Chris was pretty celebrated.

              1. Littorally*


                It’s similar with our department Chris. If their stuff doesn’t get done, then someone else has to do it, because this specific item needs to be completed one way or another. Our manager has done his best to apologize and contextualize and he’s actively handling our Chris, but when I see their name on a piece of work that’s been reassigned to me, I look forward to the day they’re finally let go.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        “delegated most of his tasks to other people” People don’t want him back because it would result in more work for them, which is pretty much the opposite of having someone (re)join the team is supposed to do.

    2. Anonym*

      This isn’t gossip or whispering, though. This is people sharing legitimate professional concerns regarding a staffing decision that directly affects their work. It would be irresponsible of those folks *not* to share those concerns with management.

      If OP doesn’t do any of the problematic stuff Chris does, she has nothing to worry about. Do not worry, OP!

      1. Troxwilahar*

        This is an easy “problem” for OP to solve. Chris’ desire to return is not your circus and not your monkeys. Do not go to bat for him. Do not tell him what people are saying — that will do nothing to benefit you, and indeed is likely to hurt your reputation.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      It just sounds like they’re relieved. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve been working around someone’s limitations until the person is gone. LW didn’t hear anything before Chris was gone. I’m betting what she’s hearing now is “So glad I don’t have to deal with Chris asking me to help him because he can’t meet his deadlines.”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – I wouldn’t call this gossip, but more “airing of legitimate concerns.” I also think there is probably some additional “I didn’t realize how much time dealing with him was costing me.”

        OP, I would just concentrate on doing excellent work, and being polite and professional to all your coworkers.

    4. Dona Florinda*

      Although I agree that people that gossip to you will eventually gossip about you, this doesn’t seem to be the case here. Chris was a bad employee and his coworkers are talking about work issues and how they don’t want him back, not gossiping per se.

    5. LouLou*

      Just because you would assume this does NOT mean OP should…I hate that this is the first comment they will see if they choose to look at the comments section!

      1. BRR*

        I agree. I’ve read comments over the years that if someone wasn’t liked, it could harm your reputation to be associated with them. And while I don’t doubt that it’s happened, I’ve personally never experienced someone being thought of poorly just because they were friends with someone. And certainly nothing to the extent of costing someone their job if their own work and coworker relationships is good.

        1. LouLou*

          Yeah, especially when this person sounds like they were disliked for being kind of bad at their job, not for being a bigot or jerk or embezzler.

    6. Just J.*

      OP, why are you not Using Your Words? Instead of worrying or assuming about your reputation, why do you not ask your direct supervisor how you are viewed in the office? And if not her, then someone else in a leadership position that you trust? It’s simple as asking, as you have asked AAM, has Chris’s reputation rubbed off on me?

      1. LouLou*

        This would be a pretty unusual thing to ask! I find it very condescending that you say “why don’t you Use Your Words to do this norm-violating thing most people wouldn’t do?”

        1. JSPA*

          “am I disliked” is awkward.

          “I notice that people are retroactively cheesed off with Chris. We worked closely together, and it might be natural for people to see my work through that lens. May I ask you, do people associate me with Chris? And if so, are there concrete things I can do, to distinguish my work and my attitude from his?” is much more specific and goal-focused, and not as hard an ask.

          1. StudentA*

            I love how you worded this. That said, I’d only ask if I have a very healthy relationship with my manager and there’s little to no toxicity in the office. I’ve only ever had a couple of managers I could trust to ask this question and from whom I’d expect a caring, genuine answer.

          2. Sasha*

            She’s still not likely to get an honest answer though – this manager is pretending to Chris the post is already filled rather than giving honest feedback.

      2. pancakes*

        If someone had an ok-ish reputation (or not!) but was nonetheless disliked, would you tell them that candidly if they asked? I don’t understand why you’d expect honesty in that scenario, particularly when there’s little to be gained for the person being asked. I also wouldn’t assume that everyone in leadership has a good handle on what people in less senior roles think of one another.

      3. Coder von Frankenstein*

        The condescension is uncalled for. OP is (quite reasonably) concerned, given that the supervisor is *known to tell lies in this exact situation*, that any answer they might get can’t be trusted.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Fact is, nobody said anything before Chris left, so why would they say anything about OP?

        What I find strange is why OP thinks her colleagues might be saying things about her. Do they have genuine reasons to gripe about her? They certainly did for Chris, yet they didn’t badmouth him before and just don’t want him back now, that really doesn’t sound like a toxic environment. Maybe OP is simply assuming the worst because she’s never known anything else?
        And I find it even stranger that she wants to stick up for him despite admitting that he was lousy at his job.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        And REALLY safe to assume that if you start making awkward jokes to people about them talking about you behind your back… they will start talking about you behind your back if they weren’t already.

  2. Colette*

    I’m not at all surprised no one wants Chris back – by the OP’s own description, he was unfocused, managed his time poorly, and delegated most of his tasks to other people.

    But yeah, you can’t tell Chris that – that’s for his manager to do, and even though she’s not doing her job, you can’t overrule her.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      And it doesn’t sound like the complaints have a personal edge to them at all. Unless the LW left out some major details, it seems like the other people in the department are talking about how unreliable Chris was as a coworker, not insulting his personality traits or anything like that.

      LW, you’ve asked coworkers if they think of you the way they think of Chris and they’ve assured you that they don’t, so I’d take them at their word. As long as you remain a cooperative and helpful coworker, that’s probably not going to be an issue for you.

      It sucks that nobody’s willing to tell Chris the truth about why he’s not going to be able to transfer back to his old position, but it’s really not your place to do that.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        It’s entirely possible that the OP’s coworkers liked Chris as a person AND are happy he’s gone because he didn’t pull his own weight. I know that the two are often muddled and overlapping, but you can like someone personally but not want to work with them.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Very true! I’ve certainly worked with a couple of people who I thought were absolutely lovely as human beings, but not as co-workers (at least in the role they occupied when I knew them).

        2. Kippy*

          This is how I feel about the prior administrative assistant of our department. She was a lovely person but had a very narrow view of her job duties. Anything that was outside of straight typing, filing, or preparing bills/expense reports was not something she was willing to do.

          She was eventually let go after Big Boss retired. Everyone genuinely liked her as a person and, if she had a reputation as a hard worker, or even a competent worker, she probably would have been picked up by a different department. But no one else wanted to take her on in their departments because she had a reputation for only doing about a third of the job.

        3. Green Beans*

          Yup. At OldJob there was a very nice person who was completely incompetent to do her job at the level she was at.

          She was really nice, but 95% of institute was very open about their dislike of her, and the other 5% all had work-friend relationships with her pre-dating her promotion/role expansion to something she was completely unable to do.

        4. Hats Are Great*

          I think it’s also possible that OP is just a nice, easygoing person who gets along with everybody! Or that OP and Chris had compatible personalities/work styles.

          More than once I’ve been startled to find out that someone I really liked working with was considered intolerable by my coworkers, and vice versa. So often it’s just about personality fit.

          1. Green Beans*

            I’ve definitely had my opinion of people drop if they’re defending or oblivious to someone who is not at all good at their job. (That they have interacted with professionally.)
            I don’t think of them as easy-going or nice at that point, I think of them as someone so invested in keeping the peace/afraid of conflict that they’re actively working against our standards.
            Not that I want people to rally a crusade, but I do want people to be open and honest, especially with leadership, when someone is not doing their job and it’s impacting others.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I suspect his new manager may be holding him to a higher standard than the previous one (which wouldn’t be hard to do!). His new colleagues might be less willing to take on his tasks than OP’s colleagues too, which would add up to why he wants back to his old place and old ways now.

      None of this reflects on OP directly, other than OP being more okay with Chris’ lack of work ethic than the others. But even there, if the manager allowed this to go on for a long time, it’s not surprising that OP didn’t see it as a big thing (even though others clearly did). The only thing I think OP has to worry about is whether they’ll ever get honest feedback from their manager.

      1. TreeFrogEditor*

        Oh, this is a great insight! If true, it’s in keeping with Alison’s framing that this is, ultimately, more of a manager problem than anything else. The too-passive manager may have inaccurately calibrated Chris’s expectations for what acceptable/unacceptable performance looks like. (Obviously Chris’s performance is ultimately on him, but this kind of dynamic really highlights the impact a manager can have!)

    3. Anonym*

      Yeah, the complaints seem extremely legitimate and professionally focused. That’s not gossip. And I wouldn’t want to work with Chris either!

      OP, you don’t have to do much here – just be a supportive but uninformative friend (if you do consider him a friend) and be a good professional by not divulging things that belong to management (his performance issues). You’re off the hook!

    4. AnonForThis*

      Yes – my team is going to lose one member who is similar (though rather than that person delegating their own work, it’s more that managers have had to redistribute that person’s workload among the rest of us), and we’re relieved they’re going. This is a nice person but not a good coworker because they can’t be relied upon to do their work well, and their mistakes/oversights even after years in the role is causing significant problems for us.

  3. CatCat*

    It’s bugging me here also that there may be an expectation from the manager for OP to lie to Chris. Chris could very well be curious about and have some innocuous questions about the new person who isn’t real! Why wouldn’t he ask OP who he worked often with?

    So if Chris asks question about his old position and the non-existent new person (e.g., who is the person, when do they start, when was the position advertised), deflect that back to the manager: “I haven’t been involved in the hiring process. You’d have to ask Manager.”

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Agreed. LW needs to keep her head down. Don’t participate in the lie, but don’t share any information. Stay completely out of it.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I have to admit, I am wondering how this manager is planning to handle it if the hiring process does go on for a while without a suitable applicant being found and Chris wonders why no one has started…made up stories about why this non existent new person decided not to take up the post?

      1. CmdrShepard*

        You guys are missing the obvious and easy solution.

        The boss goes to IT has them setup an email account for Wakeen Joaquin this “person” works 90% from home. The boss can direct Chris to email any questions to that Wakeen, but really it is the boss using that email account.

        Then when Chris requests an in person meeting. The boss can hire a local actor to be a stand in for Wakeen during the meeting. The boss can tell the actor that they need full commitment to this role and the actor needs to learn how to actually do the job to be a true dedicated actor.

        Eventually the boss will have just actually filled the spot with a new employee that can do the job.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – send questions about the new person in the role back to the Manager. Don’t ding your reputation by lying for a manager.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      They can always say they’ve re-evaluated the position or something and it’s no longer the same job… because they want someone who ACTUALLY files their TPS reports instead of delegating them to someone else could remain unspoken I guess :-)

  4. Roscoe*

    This may be unpopular, but I kind of disagree here.

    If you know for a fact that your manager is lying to him, I think telling him is fine. If she is mad that her lies are coming to light, that is on her. This isn’t like keeping some big industry secret, it is you knowing that she is blatantly lying to someone about something more people know. If she doesn’t want him back, she needs to be an adult and say that. But the idea that you are wrong for telling facts because she is being dishonest, I just can’t get behind. I don’t see it as overruling her, its giving factual information

    1. Lance*

      But then the question is, what conclusion are you going for by telling him? Then he’s mad at the manager, then the manager might be upset at OP when almost inevitably hearing that it was OP that told him… then there’s a possible mess on several people’s hands. I don’t see any of it ending well; certainly not better than OP suggesting to the manager that they come clean themselves. Sure, it would still undoubtedly end in some upset, but far less so than OP opening this can of worms directly.

      1. Smithy*

        I’m with this….depending on what the OP wants longer term, I don’t necessarily see the value.

        To me the biggest take away from this is, is not the gossip but rather that the OP’s department/manager or organization prefers to push people out/up rather than actively managing/discipling/terminating them. Personally what that means is that if you know that after X time you should expect a certain kind of raise, promotion, opportunity or similar and you’re not getting it – it’s worth being more suspicious and looking out for more red flags.

        If you see those red flags, it may likely mean that your manager will give you a very hearty recommendation for either an internal role or external positions. All while being wishy washy about advancement on the current team.

        None of this is ideal, but being aware of this and trying to confirm this can at least help the OP figure out how to operate with their boss and when to make future moves. But I think that telling Chris, while the move of a good friend – depending on how well the OP knows Chris, could jeopardize the relationship with their department/manager if that information gets back. Sure, lying to Chris isn’t the height of professionalism – but the OP opting for radical honesty is a choice that should be made carefully.

    2. Koalafied*

      It depends on what you mean by “fine.” LW would certainly be morally in the clear to tell him – but doing so could harm their own relationship with their manager or their future at the company. I think that’s why Alison framed it as “overruling” the manager – the manager made a decision that this lie is how she’s going to handle the situation. It’s the wrong decision, but she did make it.

      The chain of command means that going against a decision your manager made always comes at a cost and with some risk associated with it. So it comes down to whether this is important enough to LW to pay that cost and take on that risk. I would personally not want to initiate a conflict with my manager over this – there’d be no benefit to me or the team I work on, and it doesn’t even really benefit Chris in more than a superficial way! It’s not like learning he’s being lied to would somehow help him get his job back.

      In an ideal world sure, you could just tell him and he’d be glad to learn the truth and could maybe save some small amount of face by ceasing inquiring about the role, and management would never find out you told him and there’d be no problem. But it could also go down that Chris flies off the handle and confronts your boss in front of the whole department, tells her he has it on your authority that she’s lying, management brands you as “not suited for a management role” because you circumvented the chain of command and went “off message” when you didn’t like your boss’s decision, and/or your boss starts to see you as less trustworthy with confidential information or just plain resent you for embarrassing her by exposing her bad behavior and LW starts getting fewer stretch assignments, less professional development/mentorship, lower or no bonus for the year…etc. Is it really worth that risk for most people?

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Manager’s years of non-managing a clearly problem employee indicates that she is not quality manager material. OP has to deal with someone who is so conflict averse, she waited for problem employee to leave, (probably) didn’t give a heads up to new department and is now lying to him.
        OP, worry about yourself with this person. Chris has a job. He may not like it, but he’s employed. You can’t save him from himself. You can protect yourself from your manager by staying out of it.

      2. Littorally*

        Well put. The manager has created a shitty situation but OP doesn’t need to wade into the middle of it by exposing the lie.

        OP, Chris’ employment situation and job performance are very much not your monkeys, not your circus.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      This advice is a one-way street for OP to be dumped on by the manager. And calling it factual information won’t keep OP from being dumped on after OP makes the manager look bad. I couldn’t disagree more with this comment.

      We already know this manager has issues–poor communication, passively addresses or doesn’t address at all performance issues, and has no qualms lying to her team. What do you think will happen to OP when OP tells Chris? Do you think Chris is going to say “oh, I didn’t know. Thanks! I’ll just move on to my new role.” Nope! I can pretty much guarantee Chris is going to escalate it and he’s absolutely going to name OP. I’ve managed several employees like Chris. It’s not hard to see what Chris is going to do.

      What will happen to OP when executive management calls out the manager for lying about an open position being filled? The same manager who is responsible for OP’s vacation requests, raises, bonuses if applicable, etc. Is the manager now going to be fair, a good communicator, and appreciative? Even if executive management doesn’t name OP to the manager, it won’t be difficult for the manager to put two and two together. Everyone hates Chris except for OP. Someone told Chris the manager was lying. Hmmm …

      What happens if executive management makes OP’s team take Chris back? How is the team going to treat OP going forward? Sure, maybe they don’t know for a while, but Chris is more than likely to say something.

      Chris is a terrible employee. The OP shouldn’t take any knocks to their job or their career for someone who is a terrible employee.

    4. CatCat*

      It’s not that it’s wrong in a moral sense for OP to disclose the facts, it’s just that OP has to work there for now and work for that manager. So it’s more about what OP can realistically do while working for that manager without retaliation from the manager. Advice would be different for the manager than for OP, but the manager isn’t the one who wrote in. OP doesn’t have to lie either though. If I were OP, I’d deflect any questions or speculation from Chris back to the manager.

    5. Observer*

      The question is not is the OP is “allowed” to tell Chris. The question is whether they SHOULD. And I see no reason why they should. The fact that the manager is not doing her job doesn’t change that.

      There is no actionable information here – Chris is not getting his job back, regardless. Nor SHOULD he get his job back. It would be actively wrong of the OP to try to over-rule their manager. Both because it’s not their place. But also because Chris is a lousy employee, and it would be inappropriate of the OP to (help) inflict that on the rest of the department.

      The only thing the OP would accomplish by telling Chris the full truth is to create drama. And it could come back to bite the OP.

      I’m not saying that the OP should actually lie. But they should not be the one dealing with this – deflecting back to the manager is just fine.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I’m wondering how the OP reacted when the manager revealed they were deliberately lying to Chris. That may have been a good time to raise some questions or concerns.

        I agree that there’s little to be gained by going around the manager now – too much risk for the OP’s relationship with the manager, risk of ruining the relationship with Chris if he doesn’t belief OP, and/or burning bridges to the ground.

        The OP doesn’t have to lie, just keep directing Chris back to the manager.

    6. anonymous73*

      Not her circus, not her monkeys.

      If Chris asks her a direct question, she doesn’t need to lie, but needs to refer him to the manager. Getting involved will only come back to bite her in the butt.

    7. Sparkles McFadden*

      What would the LW accomplish by telling Chris? It won’t get him his job back. It won’t improve his job performance. It will hurt him and potentially lead to bad feelings between Chris and the manager, or maybe some odd confrontation.

      I agree that it’s crappy of the manager to lie to Chris and to tell the LW “Oh we will never hire Chris back ever!” But we can never know the whole story about anyone at work (or anywhere else). When confronted with some work gossip, it’s best to bounce it back to the gossiper: “Well boss, I am not comfortable talking about Chris. I think you need to have a frank discussion with him about why you don’t want him back.” If LW doesn’t want to do that (or doesn’t have the political capital to do so), then butting out is the best plan.

    8. Tuesday*

      I don’t see the point though. One way or another, Chris is going to get the message that he’s not being hired back.
      I don’t think the OP needs to do anything at all about this.

      1. Heffalump*

        You’d think Chris would get the message that he’s not being hired back, but people can be really obtuse.

    9. blood orange*

      OP would be risking a rift with their manager if they do this. If a team member calls out their manager’s perceived lie behind the manager’s back like that, it’s just not going to reflect well on that team member. You can feel like that’s wrong, but that doesn’t really change the reality of office politics.

    10. Beth*

      It could blow up in the OP’s face and do them major professional harm — and for what? To tell a former colleague, who was a lousy worker, that he’s being brushed off? I don’t see that the OP owes Chris anything — certainly not a potential self-inflicted job crash-and-burn, which would help nobody.

      1. pancakes*

        I agree. It isn’t actionable for him. I suppose the best case scenario would be that he realizes it was a big mistake to be difficult to work with in the particular ways he was difficult and resolves to do better, but even then it wouldn’t make sense to hire him back, instead of a new person without a history of managing their time poorly, etc.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    I think that as long as you are performing well, pulling your weight, being team-oriented, and a reasonably pleasant coworker, that you don’t have to worry about your coworkers’ opinion of you. They may have not said anything to you because you were apparently friends with Chris, or they may simply be discreet people who don’t gossip (which is a good thing), but your work will stand on its own merits. And while Chris apparently wasn’t a great employee, it’s not like he was so hellacious that your reputation would be tarnished by close association with him.

    If anything, I’m guessing your coworkers thought you were getting saddled with some of the work he liked to off-load, and you should probably consider whether that was in fact happening. If yes, it would be a good idea to focus on becoming a bit more relationship-savvy so that you don’t get taken advantage of, and so that you are more consciously aware of the general team dynamics around you.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Oh, and I would NOT tell Chris anything about his role not being filled. Refer him to the manager for answers and say you don’t know. There’s no reason for you to jeopardize your relationship with your manager. Yes, your manager should be managing the situation better, but for whatever reason, they didn’t. Perhaps they are conflict-avoidant, perhaps Chris is connected to senior people in the company and they can’t afford to offend him. Whatever the situation is, you don’t owe Chris answers, and you should look after your own best interests – which in this case is to maintain your good relationship with your manager by NOT interfering in how they are handling Chris.

    2. anonymous73*

      OP also needs to realize that no matter how awesome you are at your job, and how well you treat everyone, not everyone will like you, and you need to make peace with that.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        Right. People seem to think that it’s either “like” or “dislike” but “don’t dislike” is also a thing. Feeling neutral about colleagues is okay.

      2. Cassie*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily about being “liked” or not, but whether people will act like everything is *super fine!* when they’re griping about you in the next breath. Most of us are not that perceptive about our own flaws and if his manager seemed perfectly fine with his work in the past, how would he know that he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing?

        That’s the part that would worry me. Tell me what your complaints are so I can work on fixing them. (Or if they are a bunch of hooey, I can at least be aware of it).

  6. OrigCassandra*

    Of course Chris wants to come back. Y’all have a slack manager. I strongly suspect Chris’s new manager is actually… expecting Chris to do his work.

    You can probably confirm this with Chris, if you care enough (and you likely should not care enough to do this). “Tell me about your new department!” is innocuous enough.

    In your shoes, OP, I’d also wonder why the position isn’t getting applicants, and if any of the reasons it’s not spill over onto you. Is the position underpaid? If it is, are you underpaid also? Does your department have a bad odor (possibly because of Chris or your manager)?

    1. CatCat*

      Y’all have a slack manager.

      Right? New manager probably isn’t let Chris delegate his work to other people! It’s just bananas to me that that was happening.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        It’s also bananas to me that Chris the Slacker’s fellow employees were accepting those tasks. If I’m hired to do a specific job — say, Teapot Designer — sure, I’ll help out in a pinch if my colleagues are having troubles. But I’m not going to pick up a colleague’s job tasks unless I’m getting paid for doing his job AND mine.

    2. Heidi*

      Agree with this. I don’t think that Chris is as unaware of his shortcomings as an employee as OP believes he is. He just needs a place where he gets away with it. I’m a little surprised at how unbothered the OP was about working with someone who was clearly not doing their job. Perhaps this incident has caused OP to realize that things she thought were minor foibles are actually serious problems.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Oh yeah…that is probably it. Chris is being held accountable and does not like it. I hate to read things into letters, but that may very well be what’s going on.

  7. MK*

    No offense, OP, but the biggest issue I see is that your judgment seems to be out of order. Someone who delegates most of his work to other people isn’t someone who has a “flaw”, like we all do, they are a serious problem, even if they were a positive saint in all other ways. You are all there to do the work, and if someone isn’t doing that and offload it to coworkers, their are failing you at their primary duty, not only to the company but to you.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      True, but if we’re ranking issues, i’d say the biggest one is the manager let that all happen and is now asking OP to lie to coworkers for them

      1. anonymous73*

        Yes the manager is the biggest problem, but I wonder if the team was making manager aware of these issues at the time they were happening, or if they waited until Chris left to unload. Sure a manager needs to be aware of the going on within their team, but if he was covering well and others were covering for him, the manager isn’t a mind reader. Not making excuses for manager, just a thought considering the OP thinks the major problems with Chris are only minor flaws.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Other possibility: the department tried at first to let manager know what was happening, and gave up after Chris was never held accountable for offloading his work to others.
          I really more think this is a manager problem, than a Chris problem (but Chris didn’t exactly cover himself with glory before either).

    2. urguncle*

      I have a delegating coworker who unfortunately works under a different boss than me and I wish I could figure out how to give that feedback to their manager because it’s infuriating to feel like someone’s assistant.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        This sounds like a classic “ask your own manager for advice” issue. Especially if you can bring up that your plate is too full because you’re getting work from them that you shouldn’t be. (Especially if your manager doesn’t know about that part! Because how can they help you manage your workload if part of it is invisible to them?)

  8. TimeTravlR*

    We had a Chris. We all breathed such a sigh of relief when he left. He made noise about coming back but fortunately he could read the signs a little better and either didn’t try or just didn’t get selected again and he has since stopped coming around. I hate to admit that I actually hid from him at times because I just didn’t want to talk to him. He was extremely focused on his favorite subject all the time.. himself.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We also had a Chris. Our Chris also tried to return, and was told no. He was a nightmare to work with, and an awful person, disliked by many. Not gonna lie, the day he gave notice, I went home and had a drink to celebrate. We were all on 24/7 support and Chris was the worst to get stuck on rotation with. OP’s situation seems similar. I’ve worked in some cliquey, gossipy groups as well, where there were cool and uncool kids in the group, people would gossip about and be mean to an uncool kid etc, but in OP’s case, sounds like they just don’t want to work with Chris again.

    2. Littorally*

      We have a Chris who is currently in the process of getting managed out (on a PIP that is nearing its end). We cannot wait for them to be gone! Having a lazy coworker who pushes work off on others makes things worse for everyone else.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      After our Chris left, we had a “Ding, dong, the witch is gone” party outside of work.

      When she wanted to come back, and management said no, she came directly to us to try to get us to campaign for her return. (Management had been dealing with her, which is why she left.) We politely said “You’ve moved on so let it go.” She persisted and said “You don’t understand. The new people hate me!” One guy replied “I guarantee we hate you more. Please just go on and try to be a better person.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Hah, I can think of one occasion where people were singing “Ding, dong” after a firing. It was a CEO. Among his many missteps: randomly banned jeans in all buildings on the office campus, via an email that said, in closing: “Jeans are only appropriate when getting on or off a horse. When I see horses in the hallways of Llamas, Inc, I will bring the jeans back.” Guess what everyone wore to work the next day after he was let go?

        She persisted and said “You don’t understand. The new people hate me!” One guy replied “I guarantee we hate you more. Please just go on and try to be a better person.”

        I love this. Hope she heeded the advice.

      2. Jen in Oregon*

        “I guarantee we hate you more. Please just go on and try to be a better person.”

        That first sentence made me snort. Perfect example of “cruel to be kind.”

  9. mlem*

    | “Every time someone gripes about Chris, I kind of joke that “I hope no one else talks about me like this!””

    OP, you sound like you’re spiraling. Try to take a step back. It sounds like people don’t want Chris back because he wasn’t doing a good job, but you seem to be hearing that they don’t like him as a person, even though you yourself cite ways he wasn’t doing a good job. (You don’t say what their specific complaints are, though.) And you seem to worry that if they don’t like him as a person but didn’t say so until he was gone, they might not like you as a person, either, and simply don’t say so because you’re still there.

    It’s a workplace. Listen to what their complaints about his work are; don’t take them as complaints about his personality (unless you’ve omitted that they are). Make sure you’re doing your own job well and not imposing it on others. DON’T give that stock response you cite; it makes you sound like you’re craving “oh, no, we really like you!” reassurance, which you then wouldn’t be able to trust. Instead, encourage people to let you know if you aren’t meeting work expectations, so you can fix the situation, and then DROP IT.

    There is a social element to work, yes, but try to view your coworkers’ reactions through a work-first lens.

    1. Forgot My Name Again*

      I’d possibly add to this – if you keep saying that, even jokingly, people might begin to associate his poor work ethic and yours. “Why would OP worry about being talked about like this?…unless they are also a slacker?”. I’d try and take it as read that you’ve said it once, they’ve reassured you, end of matter.

      1. anonymouse*

        My thought was a variation of this. They won’t think OP is a slacker, but that OP has bad judgment.
        “Why is OP so concerned about us talking about Chris’ work? Can s/he not tell that we are making valid, factual comments? Does s/he think that we are being petty and personal about this?”
        I’m coming from a place where a woman in my group would make meowing sounds anytime another woman would make a critical statement about someone’s work.
        In a staff meeting, to manager, Me: “Can you send a reminder to the group to do X?Every single time Mallory sends this document, she forgets X and I have to fix it. ”
        CW: meow. (with pawing gesture)
        So yes, depending on someone’s baggage, they might think that this is a really weird hill
        to die on.

        1. Smithy*

          I deeply agree on the judgement piece.

          My last job was my first job where I was on a very large team with a large number of people who did similar work but where we didn’t necessarily work together enough in a way where I could tell you whether or not they did a good job. I knew a number of them well enough to give platitudes in conversation, but in a situation where someone was looking for my professional opinion – are they a good manager? Do they do the job well? I’d be far weaker in what I could say.

          There would be far more moments where I could observe someone’s professional judgement and views through interactions like this. How did they view current department processes? How did they assess the work of someone I felt was missing the mark? And if we were really far apart or talking past one another, it wasn’t that I wrote them off – but it was a reminder that I didn’t really know how well they did their job and that we might not share a similar professional vision.

          No reason to be nasty or unprofessional, but also someone I might not share a more personal opinion about a work situation or development with.

          1. anonymouse*

            Catwoman, thank goodness has since left the company. Credit where it’s due to our manager who did make every effort to shut this woman down. Because this was not a lone incident. She was intentionally obtuse about lots of things:
            She would raise up the “wait a minute” one finger to the boss to finish her own personal chat.
            She would blow raspberries during a meeting if she thought the idea was bad.
            The boss would tell her to cut it out. But she’d play the “you said don’t X not don’t x”
            But manager tried.

      2. KateM*

        Yes. OP’s coworkers may also start thinking they are mooching compliments about their work if this happens every. single. time. I’m surprised if coworkers are not tired of it yet.

    2. PT*

      This is an important distinction. I’ve worked with people who can’t separate work criticism from personal criticism- one of them was our Grandboss- and it is hugely counterproductive.

      For example, we had someone in a coverage based position who was always late by 30 minutes or more. Emergency coverage for that gap inconvenienced at least 3 people on our team. But our Grandboss wouldn’t let us discuss it with that person or put him on a PIP, because that meant we didn’t like the person and were being mean to them and we weren’t getting along! She placed a huge emphasis on “getting along” so any manager who put someone on corrective action/PIP risked ending up on corrective action/PIP themselves for “not getting along” with their staff.

      Needless to say we had TONS of missing stairs there, just because managers were afraid to tell Fergus to show up on time and Lucinda that we had switched operations manuals so stop training new hires on the old one and Sansa that she can’t text her boss at 3 am and delegate her work upwards because she’s taking the day off.

    3. Tuesday*

      Yes, OP, I’d really try to resist the urge to ask for reassurance like this. It seems like people are just responding to the things that you also noticed about Chris. From what you described, it’s not surprising people would rather have someone else in his position.

      But it doesn’t make your coworkers two-faced sneaks. They were just being professional in not complaining about a coworker. And it doesn’t sound like they hated him, just that his work ethic wasn’t great. There’s no reason to think that they’re harboring negative feelings about you as well.

    4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      So glad someone said this! Please, LW, don’t keep saying this for all the reasons mentioned. My reaction to that being said more than once is not positive and it may actually ignite and fuel the very gossip you’re worried about.

      1. pancakes*

        Same. I can’t quite imagine finding it interesting enough to gossip about, but I would think less of someone who repeatedly asks a question like that in hopes of being reassured they’re liked. It doesn’t reflect good judgment or a realistic sense of perspective.

  10. Observer*

    I don’t understand why you think you should tell Chris anything. Your boss doesn’t want him back and telling him that she’s lying is not going to change anything. It might force her into actually acknowledging it, but it will NOT force her to give him the job back. And even if it did, that is totally not your place. You have no standing to over-ride her decision. This would be true, even if she were 100% wrong.

    But in fact, she is completely correct in her assessment. Why on earth would she want someone who “was unfocused, managed his time poorly, and delegated most of his tasks to other people“? That’s a really bad employee, and she should have managed him out a long time ago.

    Which leads to a second question. Why do YOU want to help him push his way back in? I get that he must have been reasonably pleasant to work with in fact to face interactions. But what you describe can’t have made him a good COWORKER. There is a reason no one wants him back! This reads a surprisingly dismissive of a real and significant set of problems.

    Which leads to my last point. When people talk about him, I could see changing the subject. Gossip fests are not cool and it’s good to spike that if you can. But “I hope you’re not saying these things about ME” is a very, very bad approach. It implies that you think that the behavior you describe was ok. And it comes off rather oddly. I mean WHY do you think everyone is saying this about you? While the gossip is not good, it’s not like they are just spending time ripping someone to shreds for wearing the wrong clothes or something like that. “It doesn’t look like he’s coming back, so let’s move on” is a far more effective approach and looks much better as well.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      I’m not seeing in the letter where the OP wants Chris to get his job back, just that she doesn’t appreciate being asked to lie about it.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Well, either the manager wants OP to tell Chris or not, or maybe she doesn’t care and would rather OP do it if she doesn’t want to deal with it herself

          But if the manager isn’t asking OP to keep up the lie, then what would be the problem with telling him?

        2. Imaginary Friend*

          OP says: “My direct supervisor has informed me personally that she has been telling Chris the position is filled, even though it isn’t”. So it’s clear that if Chris asks about the new co-worker, OP is expected to keep mum that there isn’t one.

          1. Tuesday*

            Sure, but it doesn’t sound like she even needs to say anything. She’s just wondering if she should seek Chris out to tell him what’s going on. To me, it sounds like her main concern is how other people view her.

    2. blood orange*

      I don’t think OP is advocating for Chris to get his job back. I’m reading that they just feel a moral obligation to let the truth be known, and maybe feels it would be a kindness to make Chris aware.

      1. Just J.*

        Yes, but I am seeing this as a loyalty to Chris that may be misplaced. So instead of asking why is she advocating for Chris, the question may be why are you being loyal to him?

    3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      “I hope you’re not saying things about me!” sounds like a general-use talking-about-other-people deflection tactic that might have been drilled into the LW as a child or teen, for use in less nuanced/justified social situations. Definitely not having the desired effect here.

  11. LGC*

    Is your boss the LW that wrote in about how she was annoyed that her employee wouldn’t lie for her?

    …okay, she’s not quite that bad, but yeah. I’d be concerned about your direct supervisor. Is she like this in other areas?

    I’d urge you to put as much pressure on your boss as reasonable, though. She trusts you somewhat, although her judgment is not great), so you likely have her ear.

    1. Observer*

      I’d urge you to put as much pressure on your boss as reasonable, though.

      What is the OP supposed to pressure her to do? Not to take Chris back, I hope!

    2. CalypsoSummer*

      Pressure the boss to . . . what? Quit telling Chris that someone’s already been hired? Start telling Chris that he’s not getting hired back no matter what? Shave her head and join the Hare Krishnas?

      It’s not OP’s place to “pressure” his boss to do anything. That would get OP into trouble.

      1. LGC*

        I rushed. I meant to say that she should tell her boss to be honest. I’ll take my drubbing for using bad wording.

        Also to go into it, the boss has quite a few issues that I glossed over. She’s telling LW (her subordinate) that she’s lying to Chris (LW’s peer, it sounds like) about why he can’t come back. This isn’t quite LW’s business, but her boss made it her business. So that’s why I said what I said.

  12. ThinMint*

    Others in your department may have been more impacted by Chris’ work ethic than you were, or they were worn down by your manager not doing anything about it. It doesn’t have to mean that these same coworkers are harboring secret resentments about you as well, unless you have the same work ethic as Chris.
    They also might not have realized how much they didn’t enjoy having to work with Chris until he left, as sometimes it takes the issue leaving for you to realize ‘ah that was actually problematic and I don’t wish to go back to it.’

  13. animaniactoo*

    I knew Chris had some flaws — he was unfocused, managed his time poorly, and delegated most of his tasks to other people. But I had no idea that seemingly everyone in the department is happy he’s gone…

    LW, I would be concerned here about your own inability to read this situation and make reasonable deductions.

    Chris had some flaws… and the ones you describe make him a disaster of a coworker to work with. Even if they personally like him or think he’s got redeeming qualities, the fact that you wouldn’t expect that everyone in the department is happy he’s gone seems… unreasonable. In terms of your own ability to read situations and what the natural results of those situations tend to be.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Which is to say that it might be worth working with a therapist to help develop a better sense of judgment about this sort of thing, particularly if it’s not the only place you’ve been this surprised about the reaction of people.

    2. JB*

      Yes. LW, are you worried about other people talking about your shortcomings because you also engage in some of the same behaviors as Chris? It sounds almost as if you thought this was an okay way to operate at work and are now distressed to realize that it’s not?

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      OP, were directly affected by his work? Did you pick up his slack (I mean, accept work that was delegated to you by a peer)? Did you have to wait for work from him? Correct work from him? Do the work yourself, essentially work around him?*
      Or did you just see him chatting, not doing work, asking people to do things for him, hear him explaining why he didn’t do something or did it wrong?

      ** I work with someone who does this with everyone. She thinks nobody else can do anything right. But that is awholenother letter.

    4. Nanani*

      I do wonder if maybe LW was exempt from having Chris’ work dumped on them, either because they were friendly and Chris exempted LW, or because their roles naturally didn’t make sense for that kind of delegation, or whatever may be.

      If Chris’ “flaws” were having a much bigger impact on others, maybe LW should take stock of that and weigh it for what it is instead of trying to frame it as gossip. It’s not gossip.

    5. Just J.*

      Reading between the line and extrapolating (perhaps incorrectly), but I am curious how young LW is and if this is her first real job. She may not have the experience to know or recognize Chris’s behavior as bad behavior, may have tolerated it because she didn’t know any different, and now is confused by what is going on.

      1. pancakes*

        It really doesn’t matter. Aging doesn’t invariably bring any of us freedom from confusion, and there’s no points for guessing at LWs’ ages.

    6. RagingADHD*

      Yeah, I’m not sure why it was a surprise that nobody else wants Chris back. Or why LW thought he was a good colleague in the first place.

      It does make me wonder if LW is getting away with stuff too, and thinks it’s all fine because Chris got away with stuff. That’s one of the problens with lax management — you can’t rely on feedback because the standards are so low or nonexistent.

  14. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, you seem to be taking all of this really personally, and I’m not sure why? It seems like you like Chris as a person, but that’s different than liking him as a coworker. We had our own Chris who was great as a human, but the literal worst as a coworker. Everything he touched went from being a minor, routine task to a monumental problem (mostly his own doing). From what you describe, even if Chris was a cool guy to sit and have lunch with, what you call flaws are major work performance issues. If any of the coworkers griping were the recipients of his “delegated” work, they have reason to complain. You seem overly anxious about your own position on the staff when there are very legitimate reasons your coworkers don’t want Chris on the team.

    Alison is right – your manager is handling this poorly. If you say anything to anyone, it should be to your manager, encouraging her to tell Chris the truth.

  15. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, I truly believe nobody is talking about you behind your back. They are saying that they didn’t like to work with Chris because X, Y, Z. They are not including you because you clearly are friendly with him.
    These things come up organically.
    “I have the llama count ready.”
    Oh, you’re early with that.
    “Yes, I didn’t have to wait for Chris/correct his numbers/do X for Chris before getting to this.”
    Oh, me, too.
    Since they know you are friendly with him, they will just say yes, or I’ve found a quicker way (and leave out, “now that Chris is gone.)

  16. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Oh paranoia, my old friend, here to visit again.

    Disregard the Chris situation- just, walk away and ignore it. It’s up to your manager to tell him that as he was a poor worker they don’t want him back. If you think your manager will be open to hearing ‘look, can you just tell Chris he’s never coming back? Stop him coming in all hopeful’ then do so.

    The paranoia about people talking behind your back about you? Freaking expert in paranoia here and I get this all the time. A good coping strategy that I use and might be helpful to you is to try and logic your mind out of it. Example: I start worrying that people are calling me a fat lazy git behind my back – logic brain reminds me that a) I’m good at my job and I know I am b) who gives an eff what some random coworker thinks about my weight c) they’re just jealous because I’m freaking awesome.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      (Btw am expert with my particular brand of paranoia which is schizophrenia, not all paranoia! Sorry for bad writing)

  17. Celestine*

    Hmm. “Unfocused” and “poor time management” sound like potentially ADHD-related symptoms to me, while “delegating most of his tasks to others” could be an attempt at coping with said symptoms. Would it be the right way? No, but if he isn’t diagnosed and doesn’t suspect he might have ADHD, then all he would really know is that it helps.

    Am I saying 100% for sure that Chris has ADHD? No, absolutely not. I’m not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.

    What I’m saying is that these are some traits of people who do and to automatically treat someone who may have some neurological or other disorder that could be helped with diagnosis and treatment like they’re a burden or unwelcomed is unkind and ultimately skirts pretty close to discrimination (no, not by the letter of the law, but in my opinion, by the spirit of it). Honestly, this comment isn’t even necessarily for OP, but for anyone who might treat this situation as “because he does these things, Chris is automatically a bad employee and his former co-workers and supervisors are right to not want him back without examining other potential explanations for his behavior.”

    As a Masters student in IO Psych, I’m a big advocate of managerial styles that try to get to the root of employee behavior and offer help and accommodations where possible, even if not necessarily required to by law. While I understand that managers may feel like they don’t have the time or the patience or resources to approach management this way, employees don’t have the resources or many times the means or the knowledge to advocate for themselves. And many of them under traditional management structures already feel like there’s an “us vs. them” dynamic between managers and employees when there doesn’t have to be. But it starts with managers, because in that power dynamic, they’re the ones with the power.

    What I’m saying is… be more thoughtful and compassionate about employee behavior because often the root of it isn’t just laziness (I don’t believe in laziness, just in demotivated people). As a manager you have at the very least the power to show them you actually care about getting to know them as a person and not a cog in a wheel that isn’t allowed to have feelings, or problems, or needs.

    1. Littorally*

      Oh my god, can we not bring the armchair diagnosing into this? It is so entirely none of the OP’s business if Chris has something diagnosable going on, and in no way, shape, or form should they make it their business.

      1. londonedit*

        Agreed; this is not even really about Chris. The OP isn’t asking how to help Chris or how to deal with Chris, they’re asking for advice because they’ve discovered how people talk about Chris and they’re now a) questioning their own judgement because they thought Chris was an OK guy but apparently no one else did, and b) paranoid that if their co-workers are slagging Chris off, what’s stopping them slagging off OP too? It has nothing to do with Chris himself and absolutely nothing to do with whether he may possibly have ADHD.

      2. Retired (but not really)*

        I took the comment from Celestine as a general comment on possible reasons for Chris’s behavior and thought she might possibly also be wondering if OP might consider asking Chris in a friendly way if this might be what’s going on as a way to be helpful to him.
        I could also be processing the intent of the comment all wrong.

        1. Observer*

          Well, the commentary on why Chris might be doing this is inappropriate.

          And the rest of it was basically addressed to management and that’s also entirely off base. But even if you were completely correct, it’s waaay off base. It would be a major overstep for the OP to ask Chris anything the sort.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      But none of this is a manager’s business. I appreciate you wanting to advocate for a more dynamic managerial approach, but managers aren’t therapists, they aren’t doctors, and they aren’t in a position to examine the root cause of an employee’s issues. Alison has commented on multiple occasions against managers engaging in the exact behavior you seem to be encouraging. Managers can address tangible issues – passing off work to colleagues, poor time management, unfocused work style and product. But it’s so far out of their scope to tell an employee, “you have XYZ issues – do you have ADHD? Have you been tested? Do you need resources?” If my manager said that to me, I’d be LIVID.

      Also, people can be bad employees without some kind of neurodivergence.

    3. Caraway*

      Okay, I hear what you’re saying, and in general I agree that workplaces and managers should be compassionate and flexible with employees where possible. But at some point, the job is the job, and it needs to get done. I worked with someone who sounds a bit like Chris, and I know for a fact it was rooted in ADHD, because he told me, and he was, frankly, a terrible colleague. He was a super nice guy who could not be counted on to do his work, which in turn made my work life much harder. It was compassionate to me (and his other coworkers) that my manager at the time was taking steps to hold him accountable.

    4. Ferret*

      This is against commenting rules on armchair diagnosis and on keeping comments focussed on advice for the letter writer

    5. Heidi*

      Does this mean that you think they should hire Chris back into his old job? Then implement accommodations for a disability he hasn’t told them he has? Or would you make him go to a psychiatrist to get an ADHD diagnosis? No doubt if we all got into the time machine and gave Chris a better manager from the beginning, things might have been very different, but I’m not sure how this advice applies to the situation that the OP is describing.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think this is quite armchair diagnosing — you’re not saying “it sounds like Chris has X” but rather “managers should be open to the possibilities that the causes of issues like this aren’t laziness and should look for ways to support employees who may have disabilities affecting them” — but it’s not actionable advice for the LW or her coworkers. It could be advice for the manager — although managers are extremely limited, both legally and otherwise, in how much they can probe into this kind of thing, and I’d argue that’s a good thing (especially given what it looks like when someone incompetent or overstepping decides it’s their place to probe into it). But the LW and her coworkers don’t have any standing to do anything with this anyway.

      Also, quite a few people are just crappy coworkers, without any disability in play, and we’ve got to acknowledge that too.

      1. JSPA*

        Exactly. Celestine explicitly does not diagnose. Nor does anything that Celestine says, imply the outcomes others are suggesting must thereby follow.

        Perhaps there should also be a ban on ham-handed Reductio ad absurdum on this site?

        There are an increasing number of posts where someone says,

        “situation A can exist and can look like this. So–even though it does not change the functional outcome here–it’s worth allowing for the possibility, insofar as we’re passing hard judgements on the people involved. It’s also useful for others who may be reading this post while dealing with other situations that have some material overlap.”

        Then people pile on to say some combination

        “you’re claiming this is situation A / You’re clearly biased against people in situation A / You are clearly expecting infinite, unreasonable accommodations for people in Situation A / You are an absolutist apologist for horrible people who get away with being horrible because people presume situation A / I’m glad you’re not my coworker / people like you are the problem / You probably hate puppies.” It gets old.

        We absolutely CAN separate “you are not doing the job in the way that it needs to be done, and if the problem can’t be fixed, you need to leave” from, “you’re clearly a bad human being.”

        We can allow for the possibility–both the same time, Schrödinger’s cat-wise–that Chris could be an opportunistic jagoff, AND that Chris could be doing their level best, and failing to meet the bar, due to any of many circumstances we’re not privy to.

        It’s only fair to allow for both of these similarly non-rare situations, if we feel a need to assign moral blame (as opposed to assigning causality).

        Reminding people to be charitable to this extent–because we don’t all operate from identical hardware, and we don’t all have equal transparency and support in noticing our own quirks–that frankly shouldn’t even be necessary…because it should be the DEFAULT.

      2. I wish I wasn't posting this anonymously*

        The problem with this sort of “armchair diagnosing with politically correct caveats” is that it’s always applied to people with negative characteristics. If I write in and mention my boss has lots of great ideas, boundless energy and enthusiasm, high standards, and a very well structured organisational system I won’t get several comment threads speculating that she has ADHD. It is extremely rare to find anyone speculating in the comments that Jane’s hardest worker might have ADHD, and their good work ethic could be due to hyperfocus. Alison I know you and Celestine mean well; but you’re perpetuating the negative stereotypes that result in me having to hide my diagnosis at work, and people passing laws saying I can’t pick up my medication one day early if the pharmacy is shutting for a public holiday. Only 5% of adult men have ADHD. Chris is far more likely to be just a jerk. Please stop.

    7. Omnivalent*

      “Delegating his most of his tasks to others” is most consistent with being a lazy, crappy co-worker.

      Imagine being the person with ADD/ADHD, trying to manage your own workload, and then having someone like Chris dump his own work on you.

      1. Jacey*

        Thank you for this! Whenever someone says “what if the jerk is neurodivergent,” it implies that they’re the only neurodivergent person in the room and their needs are most important.

    8. Jacey*

      I appreciate the kind intent behind your comment, but it’s really bothering me as someone with ADHD. I do agree that managers being aware and, more importantly, accepting of neurodiversity would be a wonderful thing! However, I’d really rather not have people without ADHD (I’m assuming—apologies if I’m wrong) bringing it up as a possibility whenever someone displays cruddy behavior. Not only does it imply that people with ADHD behavior poorly to others, it also reduces the ADHD person to just their diagnosis. I am a full person who makes choices about how I act in the world, and not every choice I make is due to ADHD. Obviously, the way my brain is wired affects how I make decisions, but that’s true of everyone, and yet you never see someone saying “she just did that because she’s neurotypical.”

      1. Littorally*

        Someone else with ADHD here, and you’ve articulated it very well.

        There’s enough stigma already with ADHD being the “you weren’t disciplined enough as a child” diagnosis. Jumping up to toss the disorder out there by name any time someone is described as being a lackluster employee just reinforces the stigma. If all you’re saying is that a manager in this situation should consider the possibility of neurodivergence, there’s no reason to bring up a specific, stigmatized diagnosis.

      2. Former Young Lady*

        As another person who has ADHD, I second this, heartily. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.

    9. Observer*

      What I’m saying is that these are some traits of people who do and to automatically treat someone who may have some neurological or other disorder that could be helped with diagnosis and treatment like they’re a burden or unwelcomed is unkind and ultimately skirts pretty close to discrimination

      This is SO wrong, on so many counts, I don’t even know where to start.

      For one thing, dumping your work on others is NOT necessarily typical of people with neurological issues. These folks have enough trouble without being also painted with the brush of being the coworker who gets to slough their work off on other people.

      Expecting people to DO THEIR JOB is not “discrimination” in any way, shape or form. Not anywhere CLOSE to it. This is not about managers having nit-picky or unreasonable expectations. This is about BASIC job performance.

      Expecting managers to try to “get to the root” of their employee’s performance issues is the thing that REALLY scares me though. Managers have neither the training nor the standing to even TRY to do this. It would be unethical and almost certainly ILLEGAL for managers to even try.

      It’s one thing for Chris to come to his manager and ask for accommodations – accommodations that are not “let me not do my job and assign all my work to other people”. In such a case, yes even if it’s not required by law, a manager should try to work with the employee. It’s another, and utterly unacceptable for a manager to respond to an employee’s performance and behavior issues by trying to diagnose them and / or try to manage their medical care.

  18. Sparkles McFadden*

    No, do not tell Chris. It’s never a good idea to carry anything back to anyone. You need to deal directly with the person giving you the information that is troubling you.

    If you have the standing with your manager, tell her to be straightforward with Chris because your manager’s feedback could, potentially, help Chris. As Alison said, your manager has been negligent. She should have been addressing this all along. It’s possible she did, because some people just don’t seem to hear things they don’t want to hear as in “She said I was unfocused and my coworkers have been having to pick up the slack, but we all help each other so that’s OK!” But…the lying makes it seem more likely that your manager is just taking the easy way out.

    Focus on your own relationship with your manager as you’d want to make sure you’re getting accurate feedback. Don’t worry about your coworkers. They are just relieved they don’t have to pick up Chris’ work anymore.

  19. HeavensToBetsy*

    My first thought while reading this is, “Why was he kept around? Why did no one address Chris’ issues? Why was the company letting this poor performer continue to work like this?” But then after reading Allison’s reply, I was glad she addressed the same issues as well. If people tell you that you’re doing a good job, then I really wouldn’t worry about your own job. Is there something that you’re not doing correctly or doing something that you’re not supposed to be doing that you are not that has you worried? Guilty conscience? I also wouldn’t ask your coworkers if you’re liked. It might make you seem desperate and some people might use that to their advantage. I mean, I don’t know your coworkers personally but just being cautious. And also your manager not addressing these issues is not good for management. Transparency is key.

    1. eisa*

      LW: I understand your desire for reassurance; however I’m seconding “do not ask your coworkers if you are liked”. Whatever their opinion about you may currently be, that question will not improve it.

      You are not wrong to feel that something is off with your coworkers though.
      Some commenters have critiziced you not denouncing Chris for his failures; however: all those people who now come out of the woodwork to complain about how terrible Chris was were not exactly vocal about it while he was still there and it was still a problem, right ?
      No kvetching around the water cooler, let alone trying to address the issue in a productive way ?
      It seems sort of … immature or passive-agressive of them to start the water cooler talk now.

      What you should take away from this :
      Your coworkers are somehow .. unusual
      Yes, they might talk shit about you after you have stopped working there (if that ever happens) but you won’t know it, so ..
      If they have a problem with your work and keep shtum about it, it’s on them, not you.

      Roll your eyes, try to be less invested in their opinion of you, and maybe trust them a little less than you previously did.

  20. Cold Fish*

    There have been a few coworkers over the years that I didn’t like at all. In most cases, I believe the feelings were reciprocated. I didn’t seek these people out at lunch or at the company Christmas party but I was professional and somewhat friendly in the office. There have even been a few I wouldn’t want to work with again but would have no problems socializing with outside of work. They were very nice people, just not very good at the job they were hired to do.

    You do what you can to maintain the status quo. I’ve just kind of assumed that is how most people approach office life. No way in hell would I want to work with these people again, even the nice ones. However, unless I hear about them trying to come back to work here, there is no reason to ever bring it up. The feelings may take a few people by surprise but it’s never been a big closely held secret.

    Some people will like you, some won’t. A little self-reflection to determine if you treat coworkers poorly isn’t a bad thing but don’t assume everyone is gossiping behind your back because they are upset at the idea of Chris getting his old job back. He may be a very sociable guy but by your own admission he wasn’t a very good coworker.

  21. Goody*

    It doesn’t sound to me like OP has a friendly relationship with Chris outside of the workplace. So talking to him about what others are saying feels wrong to me. It would require seeking him out, rather than being an organic shift in an ongoing conversation.

  22. Littorally*

    OP, I wonder why you’re identifying so closely with Chris. Do you feel like your own work is sub-par, or that you don’t have a good sense of what makes someone a good or a bad employee? If so, those are actionable things to take to your manager. Chris, it sounds like, was a pain in the ass to work with, at least for your coworkers. I currently have a coworker who is infamous for dumping her work on other people. The rest of us on the team do occasionally bellyache about her, because we’re overworked and she’s piling more work on our plates instead of stepping up. The griping is specifically related to her being a bad coworker! Them’s the breaks of behaving badly: you get a bad reputation and people don’t like you. Look to your own work, be someone who steps up and does their portion and works well with others, and then hold your head up with the confidence that if people do gripe about you, it’s baseless.

  23. J.B.*

    I have worked two places with a Chris. The place where management let the problem fester had lots of gossip and the place where management dealt with it did not. So I think that gossip may be a problem but more a symptom of the management problem. Keep your head down.

  24. Always say less*

    Please stop saying to your coworkers anything about them talking behind your back. If you do this enough your coworkers will start to wonder why you keep saying it and they will start to focus on you. As much as you’re feeling right now, this really has nothing to do with you. Please keep quiet about Chris. Don’t say anything to Chris. Keep quiet about yourself.

  25. StacyPC*

    I get OP’s concern. My current boss talks badly about others who aren’t doing their jobs well, and my boss complains about others to others’ peers quite a bit. I’ve never heard my boss complain about me or trash me to others, but I’d be a fool to think I was safe from it. It’s one thing when coworkers don’t like a person, but it can be alarming when the manager is vocally “in on it” and part of the fray. You can’t control the behavior of others, so either learn to not care or start to job hunt. With that said, Chris sounds like a nightmare.

    Similarly, I worked with a Chris (peer to me) who burned everyone he managed and was a terrible, terrible employee; Chris knew how to manage up, make excuses for all the things he should have been fired for, and stay relatively safe, until he came after me and ended up losing his job. People who didn’t work with him all the time, or who worked with him in a limited capacity, were a little like you, OP. They weren’t affected by his behavior or didn’t see the behavior, so they were baffled and/or very upset by how he was “treated” by HR. Last I heard, he still talks to a few of his allies and tries to stir up sympathy and “get people on his side,” and they play right into it and feed the drama. Don’t be them. Keep your head down and stay out of it, IMO. My other advice is to not make excuses for people; that one line about the problems with Chris is enough to tell you why he was managed out, and everything else is noise.

    1. Meep*

      My Former Toxic Manager/Current Toxic Coworker is a lot like that too. I was never deluded into thinking just because she was talking shit about my coworkers to me, it didn’t mean she wasn’t doing the same about me. It really only helped though, because she doesn’t know her front from her rear and was never actually commenting on people’s performance because she couldn’t. Didn’t make it kinder it was about physical traits half the time, of course. But it made it easier to see this was a deeply miserable person.

      In this case, I think it is more venting/relief and if OP wants to “fix” themselves because it makes them feel better, they are better off just making sure that they are a conscientious coworker (so long as they also don’t make themselves a doormat).

      1. StacyPC*

        “In this case, I think it is more venting/relief and if OP wants to “fix” themselves because it makes them feel better, they are better off just making sure that they are a conscientious coworker ” – I don’t know if I agree with this or not. When people start changing themselves to impress others or be who they think others want them to be, they end up in trouble. There doesn’t appear to be a job performance issue or a need for OP to be more conscientious at work, at least from what OP has said, right? Chris got managed out (and up), and now OP is spiraling. OP sounds anxious and freaked out, with a perception that they are hated, with a need for reassurance from others, and that’s not the time for a glow-up. That’s the time to be reading some self-help books, seeking other methods of help, and figuring out how and why this whole thing with Chris has managed to completely kick down OP’s doors.

        With my Chris, I didn’t realize how much I had changed myself to meet his needs…as a PEER…until I was through an HR nightmare and my boss was curious why my high opinion of the dude changed 180 degrees in the space of two seconds. I wanted his approval, and I torn myself apart to get it. I hope the OP doesn’t do that in their situation here. It sounds like a fairly oddball work environment to start with.

        1. Meep*

          No. I totally get it. My Chris is a lot like that. I let her get away with saying the most vulgar things because I wanted her to like me and therefore, not try to actively get me fired.

          That is why I don’t want OP being a doormat. But if say, OP is always running late to meetings, it might be worth reevaluating. I am not talking about changing who you are as a person. Just making sure you aren’t inconveniencing your coworkers and impeding them from doing their job. Hence “conscientious coworker”.

  26. idwtpaun*

    OP, I hope I’m saying this sensitively, but the issue seems to be not anything to do with your colleague’s opinions about an ex-colleague but your own anxiety and insecurity. Because your letter went from “my colleagues turned out to be relieved to be rid of an unreliable and burdensome coworker” to “they must hate me” with no connective tissue in-between.

    The thing is, some people you know may dislike you. That’s true of every one of us! What matters is whether your colleagues are professionally cordial and appropriate in their behaviour to you, because we all owe each other a baseline standard of civility, particularly when we’re forced to be together like at school or work.

    You need to find a way to get past your anxiety about what people may or may not secretly think of you. This is not something you can ever know or control.

  27. Meep*

    Honestly, the best thing I did for myself as someone with severe anxiety is realizing that everyone is not going to like everything about me, and that is OK. I don’t like everything about my loved ones. God knows how I hate how my husband runs hot because I run cold. I hate being freezing and if he could stop changing the temperature to 70 that would be divine.

    My point is to accept that you are not perfect and that Chris being not perfect does not affect your level of perfectness. I am sure if you looked at your other coworkers you would find some of their habits slightly annoying in a professional or even petty sort of way too. It doesn’t make them bad people either. It makes them people.

  28. JSPA*

    people who are really problematic get talked about while they are there. People who are mixed–nice but sloppy, well meaning but leave people hanging / pawn off core duties or for that matter, entirely competent but severe–often escape much complaint while there, but there’s a collective sigh of relief that pours out in an upwelling once they’re gone.

    That’s doubly true if turn out to function nearly as well with a person missing, as with that person there. “Wow, I still have too much work, but nobody is schmoozing me and wasting my time, while foisting their work on me, and getting paid for it” is one of those belated recognitions that really registers! So is, “at least now, when I do the work that shouldn’t be mine in the first place, nobody then shelves it until it becomes irrelevant, or adds large titles in Comic Sans.”

    That can reach the point of personally disliking someone retroactively, without actually having disliked them that much, while they were there. It’s probably compounded by Chris stopping by to be social (i.e., again being not only unproductive, but reducing the productivity of others, in ways that say, “I care more about my own social experience and professional contacts than I care about your time and your job.”)

    If OP is doing their own work and being respectful of the work of others (including credit where credit is due), that’s very unlikely to hold true.

    If OP wants to split the difference, OP could probably say something like, “Chris, while I enjoy catching up with you on occasion, the chatter around the office has made it clear that your visits are coming across as an unwelcome time-suck. Even though people are too polite to say it to your face, those visits are not doing you any favors, professionally. If you’d like to grab a coffee every month or so outside the office, I’m happy to do that, instead.” You can follow up with, “I’ll let you know if that changes.”

    If Chris doesn’t hear, “your good points are no longer being appreciated here” and “best to look elsewhere,” then someone whose job it is to say that, will need to take the hit.

  29. HasslebackPotato*

    My brother had a former coworker who was affable and charming, but as a worker he was just plain lazy, incompetent, would arrive to work late, take long smoke breaks, disappear for hours, and then leave work early. New employees adored his friendly and generous nature, but people who worked with him long enough dreaded his presence.

    In a somewhat conservative corporate environment he was behaved unprofessionally, frequently shouting and bouncing around acting like he was at a rock concert mosh pit. He’d also been known to erupt at Team Leaders and have verbal spats when things did not go his way.
    Its a mystery how he managed to land a position at the organisation in the first place. But my brother suspected that his then-Team leader had a soft spot for this disruptive coworker and she may have had a crush on him as well, given how good looking he was.
    In the end it came to a point where he’d verbally threatened and intimidated his peers and team leaders, and knowing he was on his last legs, he decided to quit before he got fired.

    My brother recently updated me that this former coworker was now trying to look for similar jobs in the industry, but no one was willing to become his referee or help him out due to all the bridges he burnt.

    1. StacyPC*

      A general comment inspired by yours: Beware those who get by on charm, and especially those who rely on flattery and/or try to garner the pity of others. It’s a thing, or so I’ve heard. Your guy sounds like my guy with the same outcome, except my guy is now at his last company in the area before he’ll need to find a new career or move to his third region of the state. When I saw him for who he had always been, it was like getting hit by a semi. Anyway, it also crossed my mind how Chris was toward the OP compared to other coworkers, given that OP was so blindsided by the dislike and, even in the letter, a little hand-wavy of the qualities that make Chris a poor coworker. Whether Chris is bad news or Bad News, I’m hoping OP grey-rocks and focuses on their career and less on his, and also tries to avoid seeing their coworkers as possible enemies. OP also sounds fairly isolated aside from Chris, which…yeah. Red flags all around.

  30. Jennifer Juniper*

    Gah! I already dislike Chris just from reading this letter! I wouldn’t want him back either.

  31. BabaYaga*

    The more you make every single mention about Chris about you, the more likely it is they WILL start commenting behind your back how exhausting you are. Your behavior looks very much like fishing for compliments, they feel obliged to say “on no OP, you’re awesome!” Chris gave your coworkers reasons not to like him, you re giving them reasons too. Deal with your insecurity without engaging your coworkers.

  32. DireRaven*

    I find myself identifying with Chris. I had developed a poor reputation at work due to being lazy, disorganized, and having poor time management (and it didn’t help that I didn’t really know what I was doing and was not given help because I was expected to know it, although I had never done that particular job and deadlines and priorities were always shifting.) I made so many mistakes they started giving me “busy work” – tasks that really were meant to take my time but had no impact on the department and give the real stuff to my coworkers. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and treated for those (nice, vicious cycle there) but nothing improved and I was still being constantly criticized. I end up moving out of that position and between leaving there and starting the new position, I am diagnosed with ADHD, medicated and treated (which is an ongoing, constant thing – and my current colleagues know and will tell me early on if my performance is declining, as that usually entails a medication and/or accommodation and/or coping mechanism adjustment). However, the job I had right after diagnosis was excellent until someone from my old job arrived in a supervisory position over me – and suddenly I went from being a top performer to being on a PIP which was used to justify terminating me (I fought back in a way but knew there was no hope of keeping the job, accepted the termination under different terms from what they wanted – straight out firing, I got the company to medically retire me, which kept my medical insurance eligibility for life)

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