3 of my employees are having a conflict … and I can’t tell who’s right or wrong

A reader writes:

I am currently the executive director of a small organization, dealing with an intense conflict related to three employees I’ll call Maggie, Sarah, and Lisa.

Maggie was hired primarily for a technical role. She’s absolutely excellent at it. In part because she’s unusually quick, we don’t always produce enough work to keep her fully occupied. But to take on any other responsibilities, she needs a lot of training and experience that she currently lacks.

I’ve been up-front with her about this — to move forward in her career, she can either a) continue growing her skills in this technical area (which would likely mean leaving the organization one day if she wants to keep progressing) or b) train in other areas. She’s expressed a preference for b. So I’ve sent her to trainings, and she’s taken on tasks here and there outside her technical area as she continues to learn.

In 2020, Sarah got a promotion. Shortly afterward, she came to me, pretty upset, and said that Maggie was undermining her behind the scenes, criticizing her work and generally making her feel terrible. I spoke to Maggie and told her that this behavior was unacceptable and that it could not happen again. I also moved things around so that they didn’t have to work together as closely.

Eighteen months pass. Things seem basically OK. Maggie is continuing to learn and progress. She and Sarah aren’t friends, but they collaborate occasionally without problems.

Then Lisa gets a promotion. Shortly afterwards, Lisa tells me that Maggie isn’t meeting deadlines for her projects and that it feels like a sign of disrespect. Maggie has missed some deadlines, but Lisa is also being somewhat unreasonable in her expectations. I talk with Maggie about meeting deadlines, with Lisa about reasonable expectations, and with both of them about being respectful and assuming best intentions.

Three weeks pass. Maggie is getting all of Lisa’s projects done early and seems to be going way out of her way to be a helpful, effective coworker.

Then Lisa comes to me, sobbing, and says that Maggie is undermining her behind the scenes, criticizing her and making her feel terrible — basically a more intense version of what Sarah told me in 2020. When I ask for specific examples, she says that Maggie messaged her the day before and told her that her work wasn’t good enough and that she was letting the organization down, and that Maggie then deleted the message to avoid accountability.

I set up a meeting with Maggie right away. I say that undermining and criticizing people isn’t tolerated, that this is the second time it’s happened, and that she is going to be put on a performance improvement plan around this issue.

Maggie, very upset, shows me a screenshot of the message from the day before … and it’s, frankly, innocuous. It’s Maggie asking a question and proposing some work she’d like to take on, in pretty gentle, positive language. Maggie says that Sarah and Lisa have been the ones undermining her this whole time, criticizing her harshly, telling her that her ideas are bad, and then coming to me with unjustified complaints.

At this point, I have no idea what to think. The whole time, in the spaces where I’m present, Maggie, Lisa and Sarah have appeared to be respectful and supportive of each other, so all of this is based on second-hand reports about what’s going on behind my back. How do I move forward from here?

It sounds like your instinct has been to take everyone at their word, so the first person who reported anything to you got believed and the person they accused got reprimanded … without any real questions. That can’t be how you handle complaints from employees. For one thing, sometimes people lie! And even if someone isn’t lying, their perspective can be skewed in ways that really matter. Or they could be getting the facts exactly right but leaving out important context or they might be unaware of extenuating circumstances.

Your job as a manager is to be aware of all of those possibilities and not rush in to condemn anyone. Instead, you need to ask questions. It sounds like that didn’t happen here, and it’s led to a mess — one where you might have been awfully unfair to Maggie. If so, this is the kind of thing that can severely demoralize the person in Maggie’s shoes, destroy their trust in you, and cause them to leave. It’s a big deal!

Ideally when Sarah first complained to you about Maggie, you would have asked for specifics and then met with Maggie — not to scold her but to inquire into her perspective. That means asking questions rather than jumping to any conclusions — questions about her relationship with Sarah, whether she had any insight into why Sarah might feel that way, and how she herself felt things were going. If you didn’t get clarity from that conversation and felt like you were in an unresolvable she said/she said situation, then at that point you could address it with both of them in a way that didn’t draw conclusions but laid out principles for how you want them each operating and what they should each do if they encounter a problem in the future. For example, you could have said to Maggie, “I’m having a hard time unraveling what’s been going on. I’m going to talk with Sarah as well, but for now I want to make it clear to both of you that if you have concerns about Sarah’s work, you should bring those to me rather than trying to address them with her directly. If there continue to be problems of any kind between you, please loop me in early on so I know what’s happening and can help resolve it.” And you could have said to Sarah, “I’m having a hard time unraveling what’s been going on, but I’ve told Maggie that if she has concerns about your work, she should bring those to me rather than to you. If there continue to be problems of any kind between you, please loop me in early on so I can help resolve it.”

It sounds like you did do a version of this when the third employee, Lisa, told you Maggie was missing deadlines, which is good!

But then when she came back to you with the same complaints Sarah had, it sounds like you jumped straight to chastising Maggie and threatening her with an improvement plan without stopping to get her perspective. I realize at that point it likely looked like a pattern — these were the same complaints Sarah had too, after all! — but in both cases of the “pattern,” you had skipped the crucial step of getting Maggie’s perspective on what was happening.

Fortunately Maggie had that screenshot of the innocuous message she had sent Lisa. But what if she hadn’t? Would she be on a performance improvement plan right now? Or what if, like a lot of people, she hadn’t felt comfortable telling you that you’d gotten it wrong?

Of course, before things go further, you need to make sure that’s the same message Lisa is referring to! Maybe it’s not.

Speaking of which, is most of their communication in writing? If so, you can probably solve this right now by reviewing a bunch of it (in some cases even if messages have been deleted on their end). But if there’s not much in writing, keep reading.

It’s possible that by questioning each of these three — starting with no assumptions and not taking anyone’s word as gospel — you’ll be able to piece together a clearer understanding of what’s been going on. But it’s also possible that you won’t be; if one side is deliberately trying to obfuscate, it might still end up as one person’s word against another. If that happens, it’s legitimate to factor in what you know of each person; if one person has a strong track record of integrity and honesty and the other doesn’t, that’s relevant.

Ultimately, if you can’t sort it out, you would need to sit down with each of them and say, “I’m hearing different things from each person, and I haven’t been able to get to the bottom of it. So I am going to lay out principles for how things need to work going forward, and I am going to check in with each of you regularly to make sure that’s happening. I’m also going to be more involved with your joint projects for a while so that I can see firsthand how things are working. If you or anyone on this team is being mistreated, I have a zero-tolerance policy for that, so I’m going to stay involved enough that I can understand what’s been happening.”

And then you’ve got to do that. What that looks like will depend on the details of their work, but it could mean that you sit in on their project meetings for a while, or all their communication needs to take place in a Slack channel you can monitor, or you’re cc’d on emails.

Who knows what’s really going on. Maybe Maggie really is trying to undermine Sarah and Lisa. Maybe Lisa and Sarah are trying to undermine Maggie. Maybe it’s neither of those and Lisa and Sarah are way too sensitive to perfectly normal things Maggie is saying. Who knows. But in a situation where you genuinely can’t sort out what’s happening, all you can do is lay out very clear expectations of behavior to each person involved, stay present enough so that you can see for yourself whether those expectations are adhered to, and check in regularly with each person about anything that might be happening that you’re not seeing.

But if it does turn out that anyone is outright lying — like sending cruel messages and then deleting them so they can deny sending them or falsely accusing someone else of that — that’s a serious enough offense that you’d need to let that person go. It’s beyond PIP territory. But make sure you know for sure what happened before you go that route; don’t assume or blindly trust any one person in a situation like this.

{ 546 comments… read them below }

  1. Littorally*

    What program are you using that someone can delete a message not only from their own computer but also from the other person’s? That is a larger issue than this immediate personal conflict, but it also just seems like a bad practice for an office.

    1. merry*

      Yeah I’m not aware of a messaging system that allows that, which makes me side-eye the LW a little harder, in all honesty. There’s taking someone at their word, and there’s accepting fiction as reality.

      1. Mona*

        You can delete a message for everyone on whatsapp, but there’s a time limit to it. So yes, the possibility does exist.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yikes, I would not want my office to communicate mostly via whatsapp. I wonder how common that is? I was thinking it was via text (which I also don’t love, but perhaps if one or more role is often out in the field it makes sense).

          1. Dutchie*

            In some European countries (at least in the Netherlands) it’s pretty common for employees to communicate via WhatsApp about work. I don’t like it, because it mixes personal and professional communication, it makes it impossible to check out for the day (because you will probably want to check out messages from your friends and family in the evening so you will have to open the app) and because of the deleting problem that’s highlighted here, but if everyone is using it (including managers to make announcements) it’s impossible to avoid, sadly.

            1. Kim*

              But at least you will see that a message has been deleted, so there is ‘evidence’ that a message had been there.

              Also: gezellig to see a fellow Dutch person!

          2. Loulou*

            Curious why you think communicating by WhatsApp is a yikes but text would be potentially okay? For me, since you can use WhatsApp as a computer application, I’d feel somewhat more comfortable with that at work.

            1. Beany*

              I’m with you. If it’s work-related, it should be using work resources, and backed up on work servers.

            2. As per Elaine*

              If the phone is employer-provided, or having a phone with a textable number is a requirement of the job, that’s more okay to me than WhatsApp. I prefer a messaging platform that’s internal to the company and employer-controlled, but I can see instances where text would be the most practical option (if you need to text clients/customers, say, or work in areas where there’s some cell service but not cellular data).

            3. Candi*

              For me, the yikes factor with WhatsApp is the deletion factor.

              For a business, especially one in a highly regulated industry, you need to keep All The Records. Using a system where messages can be deliberately and permanently removed for everyone is risky at best and can be legally problematic -you can’t prove what wasn’t said.

            1. somanyquestions*

              It’s kind of weird to use WhatsApp for work. It’s like a friend of mine who uses Facebook messenger at work (not for working with social media- just office communication)- it just seems unprofessional & like it’s mixing work into your social media. There are plenty of more appropriate programs.

              1. Loulou*

                I agree, but I also feel the same about text and find that many people here don’t seem to share my aversion. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

              2. quill*

                It’s also potentially less secure, but I don’t know too much about whatsapp, so IDK if, say, you can copy and paste info from one conversation to another, or if there’s a potential for the company that owns the app to read your stuff. Anybody seen Keymaster of Gozer? She potentially knows more.

                1. Churlish Gambino*

                  I work in IT. In general, you don’t want people using a platform that isn’t fully managed by the company. Slack and Teams are perfectly fine communication apps build specifically for work that you can use to connect with employees overseas. WhatsApp has its uses, but mostly personal and you want to keep work and personal apps as separate as possible.

                  And yes, you should assume that any work communication can be read by anyone in the company with the means to do so at any time. That doesn’t mean that they are, but they can. But trying to circumvent that by using an outside platform that isn’t managed by the company creates huge security issues. Someone linked an article above about govt employees using WhatsApp with pretty disastrous results.

                2. Candi*

                  Where does Discord fit into that?

                  Keymaster is in Britain, so it might be a bit before she comes by.

                3. Chalk Dusted Facsimile*

                  Whatsapp is… in a grey area.

                  Some of its competitors like Signal or Keybase are truly end-to-end, so the company can’t decrypt messages, and open source, so the client can be audited to make sure the company is following the same end-to-end protocol they claim to be.

                  Whatsapp supports end-to-end encryption, but isn’t open source, and there’s been talk of it having law-enforcement access implemented by instructing clients to add an extra decryption key to “private” conversations. Of course, once this exists, there’s no way of knowing for sure from the outside that it really is only law enforcement using that process, that it really does happen only after a valid search warrant is received, etc.

                  So from a security perspective, Whatsapp is better than text messages (where your cell carrier can read everything in the clear), but worse than the most secure alternatives. I wouldn’t use it for anything where the company is supposed to be able to retain an audit log or hand off access from one employee to another on departure or so forth regardless.

              3. Momma Bear*

                If you delete a message in FB, it will also show “message unsent” or something similar so it would be clear that the message was deleted in that conversation.

                I would also look at the kinds of messages they typically send to anyone – if there’s a pattern of snark, it’s probably not aimed at just one person. Text communication is hard for some people to decipher, especially with tone. If Maggie is a techie, she may be coming off as blunt vs people who use softer language. Is it that Maggie is being rude or just not as flowery as the others want? (Though LW did say that the message shown by Maggie seemed fine.) I have had jobs where I was viewed very differently than other jobs when I don’t think I behaved fundamentally differently. It was just the office/audience.

                Additionally, I think it’s interesting that these undermining concerns pop up after they are promoted. Could it be a little of “don’t know how to manage at that level yet”? At least one of them needed to be guided on deadlines so is it Maggie or is she the brunt of their lagging skills? Is any amount of pushback seen as undermining when Maggie, who is described as very good at her job, might be standing up for herself as the SME? Again, another question that LW didn’t get answered yet.

                Either way, it sounds like there’s not enough to warrant a PIP. If I were Maggie I’d be pretty upset.

                1. Murph*

                  Especially with *18 months* between incidents. Without something truly egregious (and we don’t have specifics from the LW – is ‘making someone feel terrible’ making them aware of repeated mistakes at work and they’re feeling defensive? Telling them they’re a bad person and they deserve to suffer?). If I were snippy to a coworker a year and a half apart and someone calls it a pattern that I need a PIP for, I would take issue with that.

              4. Anonymous Hippo*

                WhatsApp is really commonly used outside the U.S. Everyone I know overseas uses it for work as well as personal.

                1. allathian*

                  Yes, but usually on employer-provided platforms. I have Whatsapp on my work phone, we use it to communicate within the team when email and Teams are down, but not otherwise.

                2. londonedit*

                  I’m in the UK and I’ve never heard of anyone using WhatsApp for work correspondence – my line manager and I use it occasionally but that’s for more personal stuff like messaging to say I won’t be at work because I’m ill, or for getting in touch if the internet is down/we’re out and about. I’ve never seen it used as an official work messaging platform.

              5. Sleepless KJ*

                I have clients in Dubai that use WhatsApp exclusively for communicating. It’s a thing in many overseas business cultures.

          3. Amaranth*

            Does it seem odd to anyone that Maggie apparently had a screenshot but the others did NOT keep something that offended them? I don’t understand why Maggie would have deleted it if it was innocuous, but also don’t get why people who are claiming ongoing issues wouldn’t be keeping all evidence they could.

            1. PaxThulcandran*

              Initially, I thought so too. But if Maggie has been scolded twice for undermining and being unprofessionally rude to her colleagues with no evidence, after they attacked her? In her shoes, I’d be screenshotting messages from those coworkers too. I’ve definitely seen people accused of lying/making things up/disobeying managers’ orders get very, very insistent on paper trails of what was said to them/what they said back, and I get it.

              1. Amaranth*

                Oh that makes perfect sense to me, I just don’t know why she’d delete it, unless it wasn’t actually deleted on her end, and LW just never confirmed that part either.

                1. The Rules are Made Up*

                  She probably didn’t delete it. LW never followed up on that claim from the accuser, asked to see messages or anything. The other employee (if Maggie is right and they’re ganging up on her) could have just said “She said this really rude thing but she deleted it so that’s why I can’t show it to you or I’d totally show it to you” and LW just said oh okie dokie and took her at her word.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                Yeah, I started on “She happened to screenshot this innocuous message?” which could be building a cover story after the mysterious message deleter… But I then realized that “Maggie now screenshots all interactions with Lisa and puts them in a folder” was more likely.

                I would be really interested in company IT’s recreation of any message strings, regardless of personal deletions.

                1. ferrina*

                  Exactly. I had a coworker go after me with some extreme accusations. I started screenshotting every IM conversation I had with her, and refused to talk with her unless a third party could witness the conversation. We used Slack, so she could delete messages (and did).

                2. Salymander*

                  In this situation, I would screenshot or otherwise document everything from my coworker too. I have, in fact. I am dealing with a case of retaliation against me for reporting sexual assault, and I have to save everything because the person I am dealing with is really slippery and manipulative. She isn’t the one who assaulted me, she is just trying to make things harder for me because I reported it. It is weird, and seemingly random, and if I don’t document everything then it is hard to understand what is going on. Fortunately, because I have documentation, it is all pretty darn clear.

                  It is super weird to me that Sarah said there was a message from Maggie that was bad, and that it was deleted. She and Lisa think Maggie is targeting them, but they didn’t save any of the evidence? That, plus the huge amount of time between the supposed incidents make me think that Sarah is just bad at her job and resents Maggie for trying to help with the things she is not good at. Taking constructive criticism well is not always easy, and sometimes people can get really defensive. Or, Sarah is just one of those people who try to get ahead at work by tearing others down. I mean, Maggie could be too, but it sounds more like Sarah is trying to get rid of Maggie, while Maggie is just trying to deal with Sarah and do the job.

                  OP needs to take a more active role in all this, and needs to check people’s stories. Believing the first person who arrives in your office to the detriment of everyone who comes afterward is a terrible way to do things.

              3. Jolene Carl Dean*

                If Sara and Lisa are in on this together, then I bet they are friends/clique-ish, in which case Maggie is I’m sure aware that she has already been to this rodeo once, and is taking appropriate precautions. Makes total sense to me, and totally what I would do – diligently keep a folder of screen grabs as a “just in case” if I knew I was dealing with drama queens and/or liars.

            2. Eat Dirt, Jim*

              Honestly, I was wondering if Maggie had deleted the harsh message, then sent the softer message and screenshotted that?

              But without knowing what system is used, I don’t even know if that’s possible. Definitely needs some thorough investigating to get to the bottom of this one.

              1. sofar*

                I thought the same thing. I agree with the other commenter above that Maggie might have sent it, overthought it and then deleted it. But it seems really weird that she’d then screenshot it as well. Something is afoot.

                1. Amaranth*

                  Regardless, LW needs to be a bit more thorough when dealing with accusations between employees. It sounds like the other two are coordinating their complaints, which LW takes as ‘evidence’ but really isn’t in itself.

            3. MPH Researcher*

              I think you are over-thinking the screenshot – she could have taken the shot AFTER boss came to talk with her. In every messaging system I’ve used for work, you can just scroll back up in a conversation to a specific time period to see what was written. She could have been accused of sending something, gone and found that interaction, and screenshotted it then.

          4. Hekko*

            At my work we can use Whatsapp BUT we all have business smartphones so there is no mixing it with personal life; we can set our business phones to mute outside of business hours.

            And you can also delete messages from Slack, which is a platform that my husband’s work uses for quick text communication. Not sure about other platforms.

          5. Lady Danbury*

            It’s super common in many places outside of the US, where whatsapp is the main texting service by far. It’s also really common to have work whatsapp groups. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve sent a text message.

      2. Mouse*

        We use a program that allows this. It does cause problems sometimes but mostly just confusion–in general, at least from what I’ve seen, people tend to use it in good faith.

      3. Wintermute*

        I think it would be hard to find a messenger that DOESN’T allow that functionality.

        Teams, Whatsapp, Slack, Discord, any social media platform messenger, etc.

        1. Littorally*

          Our office Slack does not have that capability, and deliberately so. What a freaking compliance nightmare.

          1. Rose*

            Funny, our office slack deletes all messages after 24 hours for compliance reasons. It’s a logistical nightmare and I hate it.

        2. sofar*

          Yeah, I came here to say that Slack lets you delete messages (I had no IDEA companies could set it up to NOT block deletes). I’ve accidentally Slacked person A something meant for Person B. I know it’s not a great look to send someone something and then delete it (and it’s possible they already saw it!). But it’s nice to have the option for those situations you realize your mistake the moment you hit “send.”

      4. Van Wilder*

        You can do it in MS Teams. Or also edit it to say something else. (It says “edited” above.)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          You can do it in MS Teams. Or also edit it to say something else. (It says “edited” above.)

          I can’t tell you how many typos this has squished.

      5. Mica*

        You can do this in teams (I do it if I accidentally send before I’m done typing a message or I don’t get a response from someone and no longer need them to respond).

        1. Ginny Weasley*

          I’m a librarian and we use this function all the time–specifically when we scan a barcode, and don’t remember that the cursor was over in our Teams chat instead of our check-in software. Easier to just delete the barcode “message” rather than have it sit there cluttering up the chat.

          1. Evelyn Carnahan*

            Also a librarian! I didn’t know you could delete a message in Teams until now. My colleagues will be so happy to stop getting barcodes in Teams (although it seems like it’s become a fun game for my department to be the first one to look up what I was scanning).

            1. KLS*

              I’m so glad that other librarians have that specific problem too :) It is super common to have barcodes show up in chats during our long staff meetings – we can always tell who is multitasking.

              1. savagesociety*

                This makes me laugh. I’m always chatting with friends while checking books in and constantly have to apologize for the long strings of numbers I’m sending because I wasn’t in the right box when I scanned a book.

                “That’s not a secret code, sorry, it’s just The Silent Patient”.

          2. Kaybee*

            I believe corporate policy within MS Teams determines whether Teams will allow deletion of chat messages. My company was acquired by another company last year. The Legacy organization had enabled deletion of chat messages. The acquiring organization has not enabled that functionality.

      6. Rose*

        This sounds pretty rude considering you’re awareness seems to be very, very limited here. This is extremely common functionality that most of the big programs (Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, etc.) have.

      7. TechWorker*

        Webex also supports it. I use it if I ping someone then get the answer another way;
        or if I was pinging to see if they’re free to talk & theyve not seen it before the point that I myself am no longer free :p

      8. Meg*

        You can delete a message on Slack if your company allows (mine does in certain types of discussions like 1 to 1 chats) and it disappears on the other person’s screen too. (I was grateful for this when I accidentally typed my password to a coworker instead of into the pop up box I meant to. Yikes!) but all messages are also saved so it could be retrieved if needed. That might be this situation.

      9. Done*

        Teams let’s you delete a message but it still exists in the conversation of the person that deleted it. So if someone saw something in a conversation that disappeared you could go to the deleting user and still see it.

      10. Alex M*

        You do that on Microsoft Teams, but it will show that a message has been deleted, even if that actual message isn’t accessible.

    2. UKgreen*

      I kind of assumed they’d deleted it from WhatsApp (which shows up as ‘deleted message’ on the timeline).

      Unless this is primary school and they’re using Snapchat… :)

      1. AFK for 5 minutes getting tea*

        My team has worked deleting messages into our Teams process. We say when we step away from a meeting for a minute, and then delete the message when we get back, just so these temporary messages don’t clutter recurring meetings’ chat history.

      1. Reba*

        Yes, depending on your organization’s compliance settings, an admin may be able to recover deleted Teams messages and/or chats.

      2. Artemesia*

        At this point I’d be working with IT to recover the last months or two of messages between all these people with a focus on deleted messages. My gut reaction is that Sarah and Lisa are trying to sandbag the newcomer who is ‘out of her lane’ and encroaching on what they see as their turf. (of course, she has been instructed to train and do this — but Lisa and Sarah may see it as a threat). Maybe Maggie is undermining people — but the other scenario seems more likely. This is why I am sort of astounded that the OP would go straight to disciplining Maggie without getting some real evidence. If she can recover all messages between these folks for the last couple months, she should do that and read them all to get a feel for what is going on.

        If I were Maggie and being disciplined on the word of mean girls, I’d be gone by now. (and surely if Maggie is the loose canon here, that can be determined by monitoring her communications without letting her know you are doing it)

          1. Amaranth*

            I wonder why LW can’t just pay Maggie FT for being a superstar and let her spend all her free time doing training or allow her to go home when the work is done. Maybe its more of an on-call position that requires her throughout the day?

            1. Combinatorialist*

              The LW did seem fine with that. But that that path wouldn’t lead to growth. Which seems fair to me

        1. Free Meerkats*

          This. ^^^^

          Maggie came in and is excelling in her job so well you’ve given her more to do that was historically Sarah and Lisa’s turf and they are feeling threatened. Now we have a turf war going on.

          Review the last few months of their messages (all messages from/to all three) and you’ll see a pattern emerge. We don’t know what that pattern will be, but I have suspicions.

          1. The Starsong Princess*

            Not sure about this. I’ve had people who look like superstars on the surface but their value is minimized because they can’t get along with others and alienate people wherever they go. They do the work of 2 people but make 3 people quit. Really, they are not a net benefit. OP needs to do more digging – right now, it’s all speculation.

            1. Windchime*

              Yep, I used to work with someone like this. He is/was a brilliant software dev, had tons of good ideas, and was charismatic with the end users. He worked night and day and got a lot done. He was also moody, had a sharp tongue, and had a habit of refusing to cooperate with project managers. Ultimately I moved on from that job but he made life hell for a lot of people, despite his “superstar” reputation.

              1. Free Meerkats*

                That’s why I say to look at all the messages to see the pattern. As I said, “We don’t know what that pattern will be,.” But given (at least according to the LW), they used essentially the same language in their complaints, my suspicions stand.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Absolutely my thoughts.

          There are VERY few systems that don’t store logs somewhere that IT can get to them. If this is done on work machines I can guarantee we could find it. Might take a while if it’s an unfamiliar system to us or we have to reconstruct data but trust me: we’ll get it.

          If this is being done between personal phones using some other system then…okay yeah we probably can’t get to that.

          I’ve been the IT bod investigating a few ‘but X sent a rude message to me’ issues that HR have called me in on and I’d say maybe 70% of the time it’s unfounded. 30% of the time we have found the aforementioned nasty email/blackberry message/teams message etc.

          My personal opinion on this is that without proof I wouldn’t put a member of staff on a disciplinary.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Jabber didn’t, at least when we used it. I had a coworker whose messages I wished I had screenshotted because over time, they got creepy.

        3. MEH Squared*

          This was my gut feeling as well, especially as Lisa and Sarah’s stories dovetail so neatly. I, too, if I were Maggie and not the antagonist, would be out of there as soon as possible.

          The real issue is as Alison pointed out that the OP took everyone at their word and didn’t dig deeper into what was actually happening before issuing chastisements and warnings. Hopefully, the OP will do their due diligence from now on.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            It stood out to me that Lisa And Sarah’s complaints used the exact same wording. And not just describing the behavior, like “criticized my work and asked questions about whether I am really suitable for my role.” But very specific words describing Maggie’s intent (undermining) and effect (making me feel terrible).

              1. TootsNYC*

                I wonder as well.
                Did Sara discover that she got Maggie in trouble, and so Lisa’s going to use the same tactic?

                It could be that Maggie’s treating them similarly, and that Maggie’s the problem. But it’s also possible that the second complainant heard that the first one got results and it using the same tactics against Maggie.

              2. Evelyn Carnahan*

                This was my first thought. Maybe they both have conflicts with Maggie that are more personality based than anything else, and Sarah coaches Lisa on what to say to LW. Or maybe Maggie is just very blunt or not a people person, and Lisa vents to Sarah about Maggie, then Sarah tries to support Lisa by saying “wow Maggie is so undermining!”

            1. Koalafied*

              It’s especially striking that they both cited specifically, “undermining behind the scenes,” which doesn’t even seem to accurately describe their own examples – in order for Person A to undermine Person B, there has to be a third person or group of people who are receiving messages from Person A that undermine Person B in their eyes. In whose eyes are Sarah and Lisa alleging that Maggie has undermined them?

              Person A criticizing Person B in a direct/1:1 conversation, even if we grant benefit of doubt that the criticism was unacceptably rude and unprofessionally delivered, it nonetheless doesn’t meet the definition of “undermining,” and the use of it does send up my “magical incantation” spidey sense – the one where people select words they believe will prompt their listener to take stronger/more decisive action because they’ll trigger an association with hot button social issues or serious legal issues, like, “hostile environment,” “bullying,” “formal notice,” “material harm,” etc.

              Plenty of people use these “magical incantations” in good faith and for valid reasons, which is what makes them such effective words – but it’s also important to be aware that they are loaded words which encourage a particular conclusion to be drawn, and make sure you aren’t rushing to pass judgment with less due diligence, or mount a harsher response, simply because one person’s calculated deployment of “misappropriated grant funds” made you break into a slight cold sweat in a way that someone else’s, “claimed reimbursement for a bottle of wine at a client dinner even though alcohol is not reimbursable under this particular grant,” description of the same problem may not have.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              Well, that’s the LW’s summary of what they said, at least. We don’t know what their actual words were, since she’s not purporting to quote them.

              1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

                That’s fair and a thought that had occurred to me as well. I specifically noticed how LW said Lisa’s complaints were “basically a more intense version of what Sarah told me in 2020” but the (descriptions) of the complaints were word-for-word identical and so no more or less intense, from what little we know of them.

              2. ferrina*

                Even if they did use the same words, it could be possible that they experienced the same behavior from Maggie, Lisa went to Sara for advice, and Sara shared her experience. Since Lisa was having trouble articulating her experience, she borrowed Sara’s language for her complaint.

                This scenario might occur if Lisa and Sara are close, and Lisa has trouble communicating about interpersonal situations or when emotionally stressed.

        4. AnonEMoose*

          This is where I land, too. It looks to me like Lisa and Sarah are threatened by Maggie and are ganging up to make her look like the bad guy in your eyes.

          I think Alison’s advice is spot on, here. In a volunteer position, I was essentially a manager, and when someone came to me with an issue about someone else/another department, I quickly learned to approach it with the other person by saying something like “Tell me about X,” or “What’s going on with X?” Or on occasion “So I’m hearing X…can you tell me what’s happening from your perspective?” It was really helpful and led to better solutions than taking the first person completely at their word – even if they’re not deliberately lying, people will often default to telling the story that makes them look best.

          1. PT*

            I used to do this when I was a manager, and you’d be shocked at the number of times I got punished by my boss for it, because “they’re just going to lie to you so why bother asking.”

            His department had way higher turnover than mine, oddly enough. Can’t imagine why.

        5. Elle*

          I think you hit the nail on the head in both the assessment and solution. The last thing I’d want to do is hit up IT for the logs and then spend time going through the damn things but it seems like the best source of objective information here.

        6. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Seriously. I’m amazed OP didn’t even consider that Lisa and Sarah are ganging up on Maggie, but it’s such an easy out to think if two people are complaining, the one they’re complaining about must be at fault. Reminds me of my previous manager. My Sarah treated me as if I had no business joining the team where she’d been queen bee for 10 years, and my Lisa came later as a temp, got close with Sarah and my boss, and was clearly after my job when it looked like staff reductions were coming. I got so beaten up on that “team.” I tried to keep my head down, stay out of everyone else’s lane, and do my job. Whenever anyone complained about me–and there were lots of petty complaints that she would not have tolerated from me about someone else–Boss would go thru the motions of hearing my side, but with an attitude of “Here’s your chance to clear your name.”

          1. Salymander*

            That sounds terrible! I hope you have a much better situation now. Working with people like that causes so much anxiety and stress.

            I worked for a boss like this for a short time when I was a teenager. He hired me to be the assistant manager of an ice cream store, but did not train me to manage. The employees were all people at my school. We hired one girl who was a really manipulative bully, and she convinced the owner to hire several of her friends. They worked for months to get me out, and the boss did nothing because he said it was just a bunch of girls sniping at each other. I saved all the mean notes and the fake secret admirer letters, documented their behavior, kept the clothing items they had deliberately ruined, and kept track of the use of the whipped cream canisters (they used them to get high at work). They did one final, cruel, obnoxious prank at work, at the end of my shift at midnight on a school night, and I was fed up. I cleaned the store but left the results of their prank as they were and went home. I left a voicemail message for Boss, telling him what happened. Boss
            called me the next day to come in for a meeting. He said he was having final talk with me so I could clear my name. Clear it of what?!? I told him what happened and he acknowledged that they had been behaving badly for months, but he still fired me because he said that a truly superior person should have been able to put a stop to the bullying through force of character. The bullies were not fired.

            The business closed down a couple of years later. Teenage me felt very mature that I felt only the tiniest bit of schadenfreude.

            1. shooflee*

              Literally I watched this same scenario happen to my superior last year-she had an issue with an employee who was consistently fudging her sales #s to earn extra commission and constantly calling out of work/no show-ing-and the owner would not let her fire her, saying that a good manager would be able to manage the employee. He also said that any time we had a conflict with another employee was “a bunch of girls sniping at each other.” Nobody I worked with works there anymore and last I heard, he apparently hemorrhages employees.

    3. Tech Worker*

      Slack? It’s not inherently a bad thing. I often delete messages because I accidentally send them before I finished, the final message isn’t formatted the way I expected once I hit send so I go back to the drawing board, etc.

      For truly egregious messages people will often take screenshots.

      1. Rainy*

        Yeah, I sometimes poke around at something, realize I need some information, ask a question of someone on Teams, realize that there’s a different way to get that info that doesn’t involve bugging someone else, and delete the question. I’m not doing it to be mean, I’m trying to keep them from having to see pointless questions.

      2. Slack Hater*

        I absolutely hate this “feature”. If you send a message in error and I start working off of that message but you then delete your message while you “fix” it, I’m the one that takes the hit for any mistake, even though it was your mistake. I have one coworker that does this (or edits her messages) and I’ve started taking screenshots of everything she sends me.

      3. fifteen minutes of indiscriminate screeching*

        lol i had to delete a message in slack the other day because i’d accidentally typed my password into the slack window and hit enter instead of the vpn login pop up that i THOUGHT i was typing into

        1. As per Elaine*

          Please tell me that you then changed your password, too. (I know it’s annoying, but you really should.)

      4. TootsNYC*

        I delete things on Slack when I’ve figured out my own answer, and the person hasn’t seeni t yet. Or if I wrote in the wrong channel.

      5. Koalafied*

        We have enterprise-grade security encryption on our company’s Slack workspace, so it’s one of a small number of approved ways we’re permitted to share certain sensitive information – the department purchase card number, login credentials, CSV files containing customer names or addresses, etc. – with the stipulation that those kinds of messages be deleted once the person on the receiving end confirms they’ve saved/recorded the information locally, or after 30 minutes if no confirmation is sent in that time. The other sanctioned ways involve our VPN/internal servers/intranet resources, but our network is Windows-based and a handful of creative staff who are issued Mac computers are unable to access those resources, so when sharing information with those users a self-destructing Slack message is the only approved secure transmission method, and even for the rest of us on our Windows machines, Slack is simply much faster and easier than logging into the server/intranet.

        1. DataSci*

          Similar situation here. The official way infosec wants us to share credentials is to send the less-sensitive piece (like a username) via email, and the more-sensitive piece (like a password) via Slack once you’ve made sure the recipient is paying attention and ready to receive it, then immediately deleting the message after confirmation.

          There are very good reasons for actual we-mean-it deletion to be allowed. Accidentally exposing sensitive information can have very serious consequences.

    4. Traveling Nerd*

      Slack and Teams both allow this, so that’s the two most commonly used business chat tools right there!

      1. Littorally*

        Right. Even if you can delete it out of the immediate chat window or edit it for sent too soon/sent to the wrong recipient/formatting goof reasons, having it archive as a record seems to me like it would be incredibly important for compliance/legal/etc reasons.

    5. urguncle*

      Flor Slack at least (I’m sure with Teams as well), you can 1) see that a user deleted a message and 2) as long as you’re paying for the license, an admin can view the deleted message. So it would be very easy to see that someone deleted the message and then prove what that deleted message said with a few assists from IT.

    6. Valkyrie*

      Teams allows this – I’ve done it but for pretty onoccuous reasons (e.g., if I was consulting my colleagues but feel the message was unclear or had details I realized I didn’t need cause I was in a rush)

    7. Software Dev (she/her)*

      I mean, Slack allows this. I don’t think there’s a way for a regular user to see that a message was deleted (but maybe an admin could).

      1. TootsNYC*

        In Slack, you can see the message before it’s deleted, and then realize it has vanished, and conclude that the person deleted it.

        I don’t think they get labeled “deleted” the way posts in Reddit do, for example.
        But if you know it was there and it’s gone, it’s pretty clear that it was deleted by the person themselves. Because no one else, not even administrators, can delete (or if they can, it’s very involved and not often done).

        1. Zombeyonce*

          In Slack, it will only show as “deleted” if it’s the parent message in a thread.

    8. Damn it, Hardison!*

      As far as I can tell, Teams lets you delete the chats that you send, but not the ones that others send to you. So if you are in a chat with a coworker, you can delete your messages but the messages of the person you were chatting with will still be visible. I don’t think the end user can delete the entire conversation. (YMMV; this could be a back end setting in Teams and therefore dependent on how Teams is set up in your organization).

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is true of Slack. Only the sender can delete. We once wanted to delete an entire thread in a channel, and each person who replied had to delete their own response before we could delete it all. Deleting the top comment wasn’t enough.

    9. I'm just here for the cats.*

      You can delete messages on teams. Just happened today I had an alert that someone had posted on our teams channel and I go and there’s a black message bar saying that the message has been deleted.

      1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

        Teams allows you to delete messages, but they are pretty easy to retrieve. I had to do so when I deleted something that I found out I did not want to delete-and retrieving it was easy, once I knew how.

    10. BRR*

      My work uses gmail and gchat lets you delete messages. (Not sure what IT’s resources are.)

      1. SchlubbiestBithc*

        Yeah, we use gchat and messages can be deleted. They also expire after 24 hours. I suspect IT can retrieve them as well, but we’ve always said to get a screenshot if things are going awry in gchat.

        1. Loulou*

          Same, our Gchat messages are deleted. It’s a pain because I can’t search my own chat history, and I assume they are stored SOMEWHERE and could be subpoenaed so the privacy argument feels a little hollow. But anyway, I agree with you and others that the disappearing message is totally plausible.

          1. Midwest is Best*

            You can turn history on in Gchat, FYI. It’s in the chat box for each conversation. My team mostly has ours on for search purposes, but will turn it off for more gossipy type conversations.

    11. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      This happens in Teams, at least with the setting my org has in place. Once a message is deleted, you can see it’s been deleted but not what it said. You can also edit messages without the ability to view previous edits or the original message.

    12. Panda (she/her)*

      Microsoft Teams has this functionality. It just changes the message to say “Message has been deleted”. It has been very helpful when I accidentally typed my password into the chat window instead of the dialog box…. :)

    13. Tigger*

      My roommate’s company uses Facebook messenger, mostly because it’s free. Terrible idea in my opinion, but could be another option where you delete a message and it’s removed for everyone. And no way to recover as it’s not something the company would have access to.

    14. ArtK*

      The workaround is to tell Lisa and Sarah that if Maggie sends another nastygram, they need to screenshot it.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        To tell ALL of them to bring you screenshots showing examples of what you believe inappropriate behavior by the other person.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            If Maggie isn’t actually deleting messages, all she would need to do is go to the existing chat and screenshot the messages that are still there.

            1. ArtK*

              She did that:

              Maggie, very upset, shows me a screenshot of the message from the day before … and it’s, frankly, innocuous. It’s Maggie asking a question and proposing some work she’d like to take on, in pretty gentle, positive language.

    15. CB212*

      This is totally normal. I consult/contract and it’s almost always Slack, occasionally Teams. I edit messages all the time – that leaves a note that the post was edited, but a regular user can’t see the history – and a lot of agencies have a culture of deleting posts/threads so that the channel isn’t cluttered up.

    16. Lu*

      Google Chat will let you do this, which my large company uses for work. I believe it’s because the chat is online rather than computer-to-computer.

    17. WFH is all I Want*

      Webex allows you to unsend messages and so does MS teams. There may be administrative privileges to change that but it’s really easy to unsend stuff.

    18. Chronic Lurker*

      You can do this in Teams. The text box remains and says “This message has been deleted.”

    19. Lego Leia*

      Teams let you delete your comment from the thread so that no one can view it, BUT, there is a [Deleted] message, and still a copy in audit trails. So, if I respond to a group message an answer to a question from a private chat, I can delete it from the group chat, but everyone knows that I deleted something, and there is a copy that can be tracked.

    20. This is a name, I guess*

      The new version of Gchat has a mode where messages disappear after 24 hours, too. Unsure exactly how it works, but a lot of companies use Google for business.

    21. Rach*

      I can delete messages on TEAMS and it disappears from the thread so my coworkers can no longer see them. I love the feature, especially if there’s a typo that could lead to confusion. I’m sure it is not deleted on the company’s end, tho.

    22. Hosta*

      Google chat allows you to delete or edit messages. I assume they’re still on the server for IT to look at if need. I use this feature a couple times a month when I go off on a tangent and notice after the fact.

      Telegram lets you as well, and is used outside the US a fair amount, but maybe not for work.

    23. DataSci*

      Slack lets you delete messages. We use this on occasion at work to share credentials, at the request of infosec – we’ll send a username via email, then send the password via slack and immediately delete it once the other person has it. (We used to write passwords down on a physical piece of paper for shared accounts like this, but with everyone WFH this was the most secure way to do it.) There are many reasons why actual we-mean-it deletion needs to be possible in a work setting – inadvertently exposing sensitive or private information being the most obvious one. (HIPAA, for instance, has nasty sharp pointy teeth. If someone accidentally shared something they shouldn’t, it’s important that they can completely delete it.

    24. Nina*

      Teams lets you do that. I think there’s a time limit for deletion, but after a day or so it doesn’t show there was ever a message there.

    25. TWB*

      Our corporate Teams account is like this. I can delete a message from a single chat or a group chat and everyone will see “message deleted,” Having said that, if I were to leave and my manager requested access to me email/One Drive etc, they could re-expand/undelete them, so they aren’t truly “gone” forever, as is the case for most things in the digital realm…

    26. IT Manager*

      Microsoft Teams allows this.

      I’m sure there’s a version kept on an audit server somewhere but in a large company, a random manager isn’t going to be allowed to see it- only HR or Legal etc usually can access deleted or historical data.

    27. Xaraja*

      My office uses RingCentral for phones, video meetings and chat, and you can edit and delete messages, and it changes on both your side and the other person’s side. One of my coworkers is forever editing her most recent message, for clarity or spelling, and it’s often confusing to me, but we’re close and she has good intentions so i don’t complain. She just wants to say things clearly. But it could definitely be used for ill. I don’t know if there are records anywhere of what was changed.

    28. ByTheBay*

      You can delete a message on Teams. It shows a message that says “this message has been deleted”, but unless you also have email alerts set up, you won’t see what was written.

  2. animaniactoo*

    I would also ask other people what they have heard Maggie say about other people in general and Lisa and Sara in specific. And what they have heard Lisa and Sara say about other people in general and Maggie in specific.

    Because I doubt that any of them are limiting what they say to saying it to each other, and someone here is showing you one face and others another. So go see if you can get a read on the face that they are showing to others.

    1. Valkyrie*

      Also are Sarah and Lisa friends? That’s what I am wondering. I have seen some pretty toxic workplace “friends” get up to some pretty bizarre shit to “get back” at someone who offended maybe one or both of them.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah, I think I’d ask some folks who work with Sarah and Lisa how they are to work with, do they seem like they’re unusually friendly, etc. I wouldn’t by stirring up drama, just getting a lay of the land from some third parties who presumably don’t have stake in the game.

      2. Esmae*

        Or even just reinforce each other. It’s easy to become convinced that all your complaints are completely valid and reasonable and not petty at all when you’ve got a friend encouraging you.

      3. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

        This exact thing happened at my last workplace. Our “Sarah and Lisa” were probably fine on their own, but together, they were toxic and encouraged each other’s worst behaviors. Eventually, “Lisa” was laid off, and when we hired someone else, “Sarah” clamped onto her and turned her into another “Lisa.” Some people are just bad.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          We had a Sarah come in and create a Lisa out of a previously unassuming coworker. Sarah transferred out. Lisa was left. She tried picking up where she’d left off five years earlier. Was heard making comments like, Just Petty doesn’t talk to me anymore.
          That’s right. After 6 years of trying to get me in trouble, I don’t. I am definitely Petty. But not stupid.

      4. Lacey*

        Yes, I was wondering about that too.

        I’ve often consulted a coworker on how to handle someone who’s prickly, but I know that can easily turn into a vent session and if people aren’t mature, I can also see that turning into “let’s sabotage this person”

    2. ecnaseener*

      I would just be very very careful about who you ask — the last thing you want is for the gossip to spread and the whole office taking sides.

      1. Nesprin*

        Sounds like that cat is so far out of the bag it’s left the building. I’d really appreciate knowing that management wanted to get to the bottom of a bizarre and ugly work triangle.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Where do you get that? I didn’t notice any mention of other people seeming to be aware of what’s going on.

      2. fantomina*

        I think as a manager you’d want to make it clear that this conversation is just between the two of you and not to discuss it with coworkers?

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Asking what people “have heard” anyone say is playing into and encouraging gossip, pure and simple. All it’s going to do is inflame the situation.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Not if you are asking them what they have heard themselves.

        And if you think that you can’t ask because otherwise you’re just encouraging gossip, not only are you going to end up screwing yourself out of the ability to obtain information, your unwillingness to dig into a situation is going to be noticed and held against you. Rightfully so.

        The situation is already bad. It would be hard to do much more damage than is already being done right now… except by taking the wrong side/action because you don’t have the info that other people probably think is common knowledge.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It’s all about choosing the right way to ask the question.

          I had a situation at a previous job with a coworker who bullying and being rude and hurtful to other staff. My manager and HR spent a day quietly calling us in to the office one at a time and asking general things like “have you seen or heard any of your coworkers being rude or hurtful to one another?” along with specific things like “have you ever heard anyone in this workplace say this phrase to someone else?” They asked the questions in a way that didn’t make it seem like they were targeting anyone in particular, but for people who had witnessed what was happening, it was pretty clear what they were doing.

      2. Cold Fish*

        I don’t think a manager going to a third party coworker and saying something like “I’m hearing some rumbling and just checking in with people. Are you experiencing any problems with coworkers? Is there something you think I should know about?” is playing into gossip. There is already an on-going interpersonal conflict going on in the office. A manager should know if it is isolated, spreading, or causing other problems. How else are they going to address it accurately if they don’t?

      3. tessa*

        Yeah, I don’t get the “ask around for more info.” approach at all. I’d feel super weird if my boss did that. I’d want to know that I go to my boss about tension with another coworker, but to be consulted for insight into a situation in which I’m not involved is kind of lazy on the boss’s part. It’s up to the boss to get to know their employees’ habits and demeanors so as to manage these things. It is not employees’ responsibility keep the boss informed.

    4. LadyProg*

      This!! Ask around for sure, this seems to be getting out of control and it’s best to nip it in the bud

    5. ferrina*

      This. Ideally you should be listening to feedback from your teams regularly (“hey, I know Lisa was working with you on that project. How did that go?”) If you want to make it formal, can you do a full 360 review for your whole department? Maybe you want to set some team goals or something.

      I wouldn’t ask specifically about the conflict. I’d ask about their performance in general. What are they good at? Where could they use more coaching? What should they do more of? Less of? etc.

    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      It doesn’t sound like “drama” to me so much as two employees targeting a third.

      1. supertoasty*

        Whatever it is, I’m going to pop some popcorn and set up a lawn chair. You want anything while I’m out?

        1. They Called Me....Skeletor*

          I wasn’t the one you asked, but could you please get me some Milk Duds? And a super huge iced tea?

          1. All Hail Queen Sally*

            Mmmmmmmm! I love Milk Duds. They were always my go-to snack at movie theaters.

          2. Salymander*

            Yum! Milk duds!
            I’m bringing cookies if anyone wants some. Milk chocolate chip! And some really good tea!

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Glad you brought those up! I actually tried Kings Hawaiian last week. I got the original, although I noticed they also came in Savory Butter Rolls and Bite-Site Pretzel Rolls. DEFINITELY superior to cheap ass rolls, yet inexpensive.

            Here, take my Starbucks card and get a latte and a vanilla mini-scone all around.

        1. Bug*

          I’ve been Maggie in this situation in a former job. That’s a big reason it’s why it’s a former job. This requires investigation, not “she said she said.”

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            AND a manager who is truly objective and open to all information. Two sources telling the same story could be revealing a problem, or it could be the old playground dynamic of two against one.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Sounds dramatic to me!

        I also wouldn’t rule out any of the possibilities Alison raised. All of which would constitute drama.

      3. Avril Ludgateau*

        I’m inclined to interpret it this way, as well, but wouldn’t it be a trip if Maggie is actually the problem? Or maybe they are all terrible but Maggie is an evil mastermind who is one step ahead of Lisa and Sarah?

        This could most certainly be drama.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I did wonder if Maggie deleted a really mean message, then made up a really innocent one to show the boss. Also – is Maggie the IT person?

          1. ByTheBay*

            Yeah I mean… if Lisa and Sarah are lying, they are both really good actors, one of whom was able to SOB on cue even though nothing bad had really happened?

            Maggie meanwhile just happened to screenshot an innocuous message? Who screenshots innocuous messages that they send to people? Except someone who first sent something else.

            Basically both scenarios are crazy, but I’m more inclined to believe there’s one person who’s capable of pulling off a bald-faced lie than that there are two.

            It also seems easier to make the Maggie mistake by accident — be a bit rude, realize you’ve crossed the line, backtrack and try to cover. The Sarah and Lisa version would be all out conspiracy, which seems less likely.

            1. fleapot*

              I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences with toxic workplaces, and believe me: keeping these kinds of records is a totally understandable response.

              Imagine that you’re Maggie, you haven’t done anything to intentionally undermine anyone, and your manager sits you down to talk about Sarah’s first, apparently vague, complaint. You’d be confused, right? And you’d probably start wondering if Sarah is undermining *you*, or if you’d actually done something that she could reasonably construe as insulting.

              Either way: you might keep records to protect yourself. Or you might keep records simply in a good-faith effort to better understand why you’d been perceived as less than collegial. LW is having trouble figuring out what’s happening here; Maggie might well be confused too. (Especially if the complaints were as vague as they sound!)

              I’d also suggest that it’s possible that *nobody* is telling bald-faced lies here. Sarah could be reading innocuous comments or behaviours as hostile because of a simple personality clash or because she feels threatened by Maggie’s technical mastery—and it wouldn’t necessarily be conscious on her part. (Crappy, but not conscious.) IMO, Lisa’s complaint is probably less about intentional collusion than simple confirmation bias; Sarah says, “hmm, Maggie can be a little difficult,” and Lisa starts interpreting Maggie’s communication very differently. This scenario seems especially likely given that LW seems to have validated Sarah’s initial complaint by taking it at face value.

              It could be something more nefarious on one side or another! But in my experience, the person keeping the records isn’t the person who’s manipulating the situation; it’s the person who’s got the least power.

        2. ferrina*

          I could definitely see it going either way. Are Lisa and Sara bouncing off each other to misconstrue Maggie’s normal communications? Does Maggie feel threatened whenever someone gets a promotion and try to undermine them? Are Lisa and Sara receiving radically different messages than Maggie about what Maggie’s role is, so Maggie’s attempts to take initiative as she’s been told to do end up looking like muscling into someone else’s job? (Yep, had that one happen to me- the big boss told me to take over and make changes, but she didn’t tell the team that that was my job, so I ended up looking bossy and catty).

          My two biggest questions:
          1. Are Lisa and Sara friends?
          2. What are the three of them like individually outside of this weird triangle?

          1. Very Social*

            Yeah, agreed. My first thought was that Lisa and Sarah are at fault here, but the more I think about it, the more the other possibilities seem strong, as well. (If Lisa and Sarah are making up stuff about Maggie, why does it only start once they get promoted?) The LW needs to dig more and maybe not be so credulous.

  3. OperaArt*

    Why did Maggie even have a screen shot of the previous day’s message? Does she routinely screenshot her messages? If so, does she feel there’s a need to do so to protect herself? Or was it even a screenshot, maybe it was the original message?

    1. Lab Boss*

      Starting from the assumption that Maggie is 100% in the right and acting in good faith: If I had been burned in the past because I made a polite request of a coworker and they ran to my boss and accused me of undermining and criticizing them, and the boss had just taken them at their word and chastised me, I’m just paranoid enough that I might find a way to save the receipts of whatever messages I sent that could possibly be construed that way so I’d be protected if it happened again.

          1. Protectyourself*

            I used to to write myself journal entries and email them to myself and keep them in a folder. That way any incident that happened I could write my in the moment information and it would be dated and time stamped if I ever needed it in the future. That way details and dates and information didn’t get jumbled up in the human brain over time.

        1. Golden French Fry*

          My spouse did this at their old job which had both a Sarah and a boss who just took her word for absolutely everything. Sarah almost always edited her messages, so unfortunately it was a necessity.

    2. Pony Puff*

      On the flip side, why does her accuser not have a screenshot? If someone sent me a nasty message I would probably screenshot it right away.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        Yeah, it would seem to require superhuman ability for Maggie to send the nasty undermining message, make sure her victim read it, and then delete it before the recipient could document it.

        I’m not sure Maggie saved an actual screenshot, though that’s what the LW said, they might have just meant they had the Slack or Teams messages on their phone.

          1. Jacey*

            Yes, thank you, this is what was bothering me. LW has believed Lisa and Sarah without proof, but isn’t sure what to think when Maggie shows them proof.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I read it as Maggie went back and got the message from her history and sent a screenshot but it could be the case that she already had it. If it’s the former, then someone else is lying because if Maggie still has it, it’s not deleted…or it’s not the same message.

        2. ferrina*

          I’ve actually had this happen. The office Supervillian sent me an unhinged message. I was shocked and didn’t know how to react, especially since I was in a meeting (which she knew because she was in the exact same meeting). 20 minutes later she deleted it, before I could screengrab it.

      2. Your local password resetter*

        They may not have realized they could, forgotten it, or planned to but it got deleted first.
        It’s all murky enough that I wouldn’t want to draw conclusions.

    3. Be kind, rewind*

      I had the same thought. If Maggie is taking screenshots of innocuous messages, that means she has reason to not trust the others.

      I was at that point with my last job: taking screenshots of routine Teams chats and messages as CYA.

      1. Clorinda*

        Or the other person deleted it but Maggie still had access on her end, so she was able to take a screen shot AFTER the complaint was made.

      2. tangerineRose*

        If she isn’t in the wrong, she does have reason to distrust the others. Still, screenshotting an innocuous message – does she do this all the time?

    4. Out of office*

      That was my first thought too. I wonder if Maggie feels so gaslit that she is screenshotting every conversation with Lisa and Sarah in case false accusations are made so she has objective proof to defend herself…or if it’s an intra-office messaging platform like Teams where your chat history is automatically saved and she’s able to screenshot stuff retrospectively if needed.

    5. animaniactoo*

      I had this thought also – but then took a step back to what I think is more likely:

      When Maggie was alerted to the issue by the OP, she opened up her messages, scrolled up to yesterday’s message and took a screenshot at that moment so that she could send it to the OP.

      1. ecnaseener*

        That doesn’t work if Lisa was telling the truth about Maggie having already deleted the mean message.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I think we shouldn’t immediately assume Lisa is (or maybe any of them are) telling the truth.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I’m not assuming…notice the word “if.” All I’m saying is that when OP alerted Maggie, the message was supposed to have been long-deleted.

        2. Panda (she/her)*

          Unless Lisa was lying about there being a mean message at all – in which case there would have been nothing to delete, and the innocuous message would still exist.

        3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          It works in this office, because OP had proven to Lisa and Sarah that s/he takes their word. They don’t need to have proof.
          They said Maggie deleted it. OP said, Maggie why did you delete this message? (Not, how could Maggie delete a message that was sent to someone else and read?) And expected Maggie to say, “I deleted it because…”
          So finding out that Maggie had a message that Lisa said was deleted threw OP for a loop. And then reading the message and noting it was harmless finally awakened in OP the possibility that EVERYONE IS LYING!
          Which is a start. It’s better than assuming only Maggie is the problem, which has been the working theory for THREE YEARS.
          Baby steps.

      2. Blueberry*

        I think that is just it- we can’t assume that she was sitting down with OP and whipped out a screenshot, the proof would have been on her computer/device and emailed to OP.

      3. ferrina*

        Or Maggie could innocently be looking at a different message. Lisa might have been referring to Message A, and Maggie could have thought she meant Message B.

    6. Valkyrie*

      I had 2 coworkers like this.
      The first really was being targeted by a manager who wanted to clean house and implement all these changes where there weren’t really problems that would require such drastic action (e.g., someone might be to chatty at work but never coached about why to stop, some people were slow but always got their work done even if they had to work late – which wasn’t a financial problem since we were exempt).
      The second person was just ALWAYS trying to start conflict and would try to use my requests for help and stuff against me – which she’d explicitly been told to help me with. It was completely bonkers because I just felt like she was trying to start problems and didn’t understand why she took everything (e.g. requests for help) as, idk, a direct afront against her existence.
      It definitely takes exploration, question asking, getting to know staff, etc. to know what’s what, given that there are such varied explanations here.

    7. lunchtime caller*

      I’ve mentioning this elsewhere but idk why this screenshot thing is throwing off so many people–they are probably working from home and she took the screenshot right then and there when her manager asked about it because that was the only way to show the chat.

      1. Analyst Editor*

        I think you are correct. She probably scrolled down into her message history and made the screen-shot just then, and not AT THE TIME of the message – at least that’s my impression.

    8. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      I’m willing to bet that the LW might be misusing the term “screenshot” here. It’s possible Maggie just showed them the message in the app, and LW is using “screenshot” as a catch-all phrase. Maybe not. But maybe!

    9. BayCay*

      Not a red flag to me. I’ve screenshotted messages from both coworkers and bosses in the past when something they said came across as rude. Not to mention, if Maggie has felt targeted before and not backed by her boss, it makes prefect sense that she would be more wary with her communications and recording it.

      1. Rach*

        Just a couple of days ago, I took a screen shot of a particularly nasty exchange with a coworker I’ve had issues with before. My manager didn’t ask to see it since this is a known pattern with my coworker (who I’m pretty sure is on an IP at this point) with multiple people. Anyway, I take so many screen shots as a cya with this guy.

    10. Batgirl*

      Because Maggie knows which people are unfriendly to her, and that her boss has a habit of believing whatever they say.

    11. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      She might have taken the screen shot after she heard from LW–i.e., she did message SarLisah but never actually deleted the message. The deleted message was made up.

    12. Regina Phalange*

      I’m currently in a job that is so toxic, in which I have been lied to/given contradictory messages so many times, I audio record all meetings with leadership. (I live in a one-party consent state.) (And yes, I am frantically job searching.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        people who want to record things at work should be aware that a company may very well have a policy that you are not to record things. So it could be legal for you to record, but there might be employment consequences if the company finds out. You. might be very vulnerable if you tell HR you have recordings of your boss being a jerk or doing something illegal; they might fire you along with whatever other solution they come up with. Even if they think you’re right, and are sympathetic–if you record in violation of company policy, you should expect them to fire you.

        You’re off the hook for legal trouble, but you’re also not eligible for rehire (which they may tell a future employer when verifying emplooyment) or for unemployment.

        1. Regina Phalange*

          I have no plans to tell HR, it’s just so that in the event I am fired I can use it in a wrongful termination suit. I’d never use it for anything else.

      2. Girl boss, gaslight, gate keep*

        Lol did I write this comment? Because I spent 3 years recording my boss and finally deleted the files after being in a new job for a month. Best of luck in your job search!

    13. turquoisecow*

      I read it as:

      Accuser: I got this terrible message from Maggie!
      Boss: oh? Let me see.
      A: oh, she deleted it. But it was terrible!

      Boss: Maggie, I heard you sent a terrible message and deleted it!
      Maggie: what? No, I don’t think so. Here’s the messages I sent yesterday.
      Boss: hmm, that does look innocuous.

      1. Holey Hobby*

        Yeah – if I was put on a PIP because a coworker claimed I sent a mean text that they can’t show anyone because it was deleted but trust me guys it was super mean… I’d be gone. With technical skills in the current job market, Maggie does not need to put up with that.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Yeah – if I was put on a PIP because a coworker claimed I sent a mean text that they can’t show anyone because it was deleted but trust me guys it was super mean… I’d be gone. With technical skills in the current job market, Maggie does not need to put up with that.

          I wouldn’t have made it that far. I probably would have noped out after the original incident with Sarah.

    14. Cake or Death?*

      Well, considering that both times Lisa and Sarah went to OP with vague, non-specific complaints with no evidence to back it up, Maggie was immediately reprimanded, maybe Maggie was doing what we tell OP’s on here all the time:

      “Document, document, document.”

      Funny how Lisa, who is being SO terrorized by Maggie that she’s sobbing in OP’s office, has never thought to document anything.

    15. Leela*

      I’ve absolutely taken screenshots of messages before because I had something similar. The person in question didn’t say I was undermining the but they were CONSTANTLY lying about they’d told me, meaning that my work looked like something completely different than what they were telling everyone they’d asked of me even though I’d done what they asked, and I had to take screenshots so that I wouldn’t keep getting blamed for performance issues that weren’t performance issues

    16. kanzeon88*

      Yeah, I don’t understand the situation where Maggie sends a message, screenshots it, and then deletes it. I don’t think most programs allow the recipient to delete it- only Maggie (who sent it). So either the message didn’t actually get deleted (Lisa lied), or Maggie sent it + screenshot + deleted (why, if she’s already trying to document it and it’s innocuous?), or Maggie actually edited it to an innoculous message rather than truly deleting it (which should show an “Edited” label on the message).

    17. moonstone*

      Most chat conversations are saved, and if Maggie felt like she was being lied about, it makes sense she would send a screenshot to her manager. Idk why this would be suspicious.

    18. marvin*

      This thread is so interesting to me because it really illustrates the temptation to draw conclusions when someone acts in a way that just feels a little “off” to us. Since Maggie’s innocence has been called into question, her attempts to protect herself can be read as self-serving or a sign of dishonesty. But if she hadn’t done it, she would be on a PIP.

  4. Nobody Needs to Know I Was This Stupid*

    While I agree with this in theory, the fact that one exists saved me last week. We have GMail Workspace, and I accidentally chatted something to my manager that was meant for a co-worker. Was it something I should have been using work chat for? No. Am I old enough to know better? Yes. But I had an idiot moment and did it anyway. After some moments of EXTREME panic, I realized in Workspace, you can delete a chat (my manager hadn’t seen it yet, so it was gone as though it never existed).

    So yes, such a thing exists, and yes, that’s probably bad practice for office work…but it saved me from my own stupidity for which I will be eternally grateful.

    1. Nobody Needs to Know I Was This Stupid*

      Whoops, this was meant to be a reply to Littorally’s comment above.

      1. supertoasty*

        You should delete this whole comment chain and repost it where it was meant to be, I don’t think anyone will notice and alert Alison before it’s too late

    2. Keyboard Cowboy*

      I hate to say it, but if your manager has Chat on her phone, she might still have been able to read your message in the push notification she received there…

        1. lunchtime caller*

          nope–imagine you get a notification on your phone screen that says “so and so on Teams: wow Mary is a real BIT–…”; if you read that on your lock screen without opening the app, it doesn’t mark it as “read” but you certainly did read it (and know it got deleted since when you go to the chat itself, the message is no longer there)

  5. MisterForkbeard*

    Something to note here: Maggie showed OP an innocuous message. That does not mean it’s the same message Lisa complained about.

    But overall, OP needs to follow the advice here – this needs more investigation.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yes, and that’s something that should be easy to confirm … or if Maggie says it is and Lisa says it isn’t then defintely worth asking IT if they can retrieve the message and you’ll have some strong indication of who’s lying.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      That was what I was wondering too. If it was deleted why does Maggie have a copy? Yes, there could be two mean girls here, but there could also be just the one.

      1. Oryx*

        Well, OP was told that Maggie deleted it. That’s not the same thing as Maggie actually deleting something. And if Maggie doesn’t trust Sarah or Lisa, I could see her screenshotting things in case it comes up again.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Right, but there may not have been an actual message that Lisa was complaining bout.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      I took it as something like…Lisa did tell OP the nature or topic of the supposed mean message. When OP raised it with Maggie, Maggie said “this is the only thing I said to Lisa about that yesterday.” So, sure that might not be the message Lisa was complaining about, but Maggie either: did delete it and decided to show this other innocuous message instead OR that message was the only thing that fit the description of what Lisa complained about – besides the lack of inappropriateness.

    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      Yes! With bullies and bad management, I definitely would if I were her!

    2. LadyPomona*

      Yes, this is sounding unsettlingly like the AAM letter “My employee gave me an “it’s her or me” ultimatum” (the link to it is in “You may also like”). The LW has had no problems with Maggie, but all of a sudden Sarah and Lisa want to get rid of this high-performing employee and are doing their best to manipulate the LW into firing her…hmm.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        We can’t know for sure but I thought the same, it’s telling that the star employee is expanding her role into work the 2 complainers are doing, perhaps they are trying to protect their jobs or “turf”. And they are both brought to tears by this supposedly awful employee, but have nothing specific to back it up? Strange.

        1. NNN222*

          And something like this was my biggest problem with my last job. One employee took even the hint of criticism as a personal attack and suddenly I’d be brought into meetings about how I needed to be nicer even though I had been attempting to do process improvement I had been told to do. The easily offended employee took anyone trying to do something that overlapped with “her” job as an attack. Of course, she’d also wonder why she was never promoted. It was because she only worked on a very narrow part of the business, always allowing tasks to expand and contract so she’d have exactly the right amount of work and never leaving time to be crosstrained or do process improvement herself. Our boss’s boss was never happy that she had been allowed to entrench herself so well but he also should have been the one doing something about it and never would.

    3. staceyizme*

      I tend to agree. While there’s not enough information to say who the troublemaker is with real certainty, my “money” is on the two reporting Maggie to LW.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        I feel that way too, but I also wonder a little bit how much the whole “tattletales are the real problem” is sneaking into my thought process. It’s important to really do more research before coming to a conclusion.

    4. Unaccountably*

      Yes, she is. And she should. One of the worst things you can do as a manager* is accuse an employee of doing something wrong – especially PIP-level wrong – without cast-iron proof.

      LW, an honest question: how do *you* feel about Maggie? Because you were awfully quick to believe that an excellent, high-performing worker had suddenly turned into a backstabbing snake on the unsupported say-so of two other employees – to the point that Maggie came to that second meeting armed with receipts because she couldn’t trust you to take her word the same way you take Lisa’s and Sara’s. Why does Maggie have to provide screenshots to be believed but the other two don’t?

      *Aside from not letting them go to their college graduation or making them drive you home or bringing cheap-ass rolls to the potluck. I mean in the normal range of managerial behavior.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        If Maggie is as good as LW believes, she will have another job in a heartbeat in today’s market.
        I *might* be able to put up with one, maybe two, falsely-accusing coworkers, but not if I had a manager that took their accusations at face value as quickly and thoroughly as LW.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. What OP has witnessed doesn’t match with what’s being reported, yet OP is willing to put Maggie on a PIP over it when nobody seems to have proof? Maggie will have another job quickly if she starts looking.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        This reminds me of the time when SOMEONE (let’s just say I 99% know who it probably was) was trying to get me fired by sending an anonymous letter with accusations against me. No name, no evidence submitted–but I still got “in trouble” and written up for it ANYWAY. I note that my boss probably would not have done that if left to his own devices and indicated as much and he tried to investigate as much as one can, but it sounded like his supervisor decided I was guilty and wanted me written up and punished anyway because of my bad reputation.

        Immediately telling Maggie she was wrong and bad? Several times? Without even checking on this? Makes me so mad at OP. She makes my situation look good and fair. I’m surprised Maggie is still there. If she has options, she should leave because two people want her fired and you don’t have her back either.

      3. ferrina*

        Yes! OP has been working with these people for several years- why do they not know anything about their track record and reputation? Even if one of them was somehow hiding their true personality from their manager for years, does the OP not actually talk to anyone else to see how their reports are doing? Has no other manager mentioned anything to them?

        I had a manager accuse me on a single complaint that I was a toxic team leader who led by yelling and fear. The complainer: someone who had just been denied a promotion (a decision that I made and my manager agreed with). Counterpoint: literal years of praise from my team (including the now complainer) and others that I was a great team leader. And my manager had seen me take some nasty abuse from other departments and handle it with grace and poise (and no yelling). It was….odd. Six months later I was at a totally new job (I’ve heard that within a year of my leaving that team had 70% turn over)

      4. Very Social*

        Yup. Even if Maggie is the real troublemaker (which I think is a possibility, though not the most likely one), she’s been treated so poorly that I bet she’s job searching now.

    5. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      I hope so! Aside from this whole drama, not having enough to do, and then doing work outside the scope of your role with no additional compensation, is, in my mind, grounds for quitting.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        She chose to do the additional work, and there is no reason to provide additional compensation for a 40-hour work week just because it’s split between different duties.

    6. Pounce de Leon*

      and yet when given the chance for advance training in her field that would lead to moving up in her career at other firms, Maggie chose instead to train in other tasks in the same company. We don’t know why—maybe the benefits are stunning—but Maggie has already decided to stay put.

      1. TransmascJourno*

        Training to have expand her skill set and gain a wider knowledge base in order to move up within the organization isn’t really staying put, though.

    7. Not_Me*

      I hope she does. Of course, there’s always a chance that Maggie is doing these things, but most likely the other 2 are trying to cause trouble and OP is believing it. OP, why are you taking the word of these 2 over the Maggie? You should be a fair manager and find out what’s going on instead of believing those 2. Just wondering, are they your favorites or something?

      A long time ago, I had a manager similar to OP who believed her favorite kiss up staff over others. There were 3 ladies I worked with who were very brown nosing types and gossipy. They kept telling me things about the manager and other employees, finally I told them I don’t really like to gossip I just want to get my work done and get along with everyone. Well, they didn’t like that. They started telling the manager that I was being rude to them, I wasn’t answering their questions when they needed help, I wasn’t coming back from my break on time (we were salaried and didn’t punch in/out). Instead of the manager asking me or investigating on her own, she kept writing me up, accusing me, putting me on PIPs. Finally, I had to leave because I was just so frustrated that I was being treated this way. All this because I didn’t want to gossip about my manager and coworkers with the boss’ favorites. Don’t be that bad boss.

  6. Little Red Fox*

    Just a quick take, but from the initial way you described Maggie, sounds like she’s a high performer for her job. Does it well enough that she has time to train in other areas. Is it possible both Lisa and Sara are feeling threatened by Maggie? Even though they have been given promotions, they could still possibly be feeling threatened by Maggie’s work ethic/competence etc. Of course, maybe Maggie is gunning for their jobs. But maybe not.

    I’ve been in a similar situation before where there was X work that needed to get done while coworker 1 was out on maternity leave and our boss had a medical emergency. No one – LITERALLY – no one else on the team would take on the X work. So I, the youngest, least experienced, brand new person said I would do it. Coworker 1 came back from maternity leave, found out and suddenly I was public enemy #1. So you never know, gotta do more digging.

    1. MustardPillow*

      I was thinking the same thing, by the way Maggie was described, the other two, see her as a threat.

      1. Pounce de Leon*

        It’s just the timing of it that makes me wonder what else is going on. These complaints came right after Sarah and then Lisa got promoted.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think the other two see Maggie as the boss’ pet. Since they can’t strike out at OP they are striking out at Maggie.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Yeah, I’ve been the Maggie before, with a similarly oblivious boss and I quit.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, I’ve been Maggie too, except Lisa was the boss’s friend (yeah I know Alison would have a field day at that toxic place) and his name was Franck. I didn’t even get a chance to defend myself to the boss in a private conversation. I was hauled into his office with Franck sitting looking smug, having filled the boss in over the weekend.
        I simply showed a printout of our email conversation, explained that Franck had not produced any proof of sending a PO to the contractor, which is why they didn’t do the work. I also showed a printout of an email that the contractor sent me, in which she asked “who IS this person and why does he think I should work for him when he’s rude and doesn’t send a PO?” (She’d done tons of small jobs for me without a PO because I was always very nice to her and she trusted me and knew I’d send it before she needed to bill for it).
        Conclusion: the boss said Franck and I needed to iron out our issues by going out for lunch together. We walked out of his office and I told Franck, no way am I having lunch with you, just keep out of my hair from now on.
        I was looking for another job and failing miserably because I really needed to work part-time, so I got to see the whole thing crashing down later. When the boss finally cottoned on that Franck was a totally incompetent worker yet a truly accomplished liar, Franck took him to the labour court over some trumped up accusation. I really wasn’t sure who I wanted to win since I hated both of them. Apparently the boss kept trying to interject the whole time Franck was making false statements under oath, and the judge ruled in Franck’s favour and fined the boss for contempt of court into the bargain.

    3. Jessica Fletcher*

      I thought the same. This also reminds me of the letter where three employees who were all friends each made separate complaints about a stellar fourth employee, eventually driving her out and destroying the business.

      1. Jessica Ganschen*

        I remember that one, but not enough keywords to find it! Does anybody have a link?

          1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            I didn’t realize there was an update!

            How does that person still have the gall to say Miranda was being “unprofessional” for resigning? Talk about out of touch!

            At least she learned her lesson in the end, but lost her business over it.

        1. ECHM*

          It’s called “My employee gave me an ‘it’s her or me’ ultimatum” and appeared on August 25. The update is linked to from that letter.

    4. Anonymous Hippo*

      They also both reported immediately after promotions. It seems unlikely that Maggie would use a promotion to start pushing in on their work, seems more likely that they don’t feel they get enough deference or respect.

      But receipts are needed here desperately.

      1. ferrina*

        Or Maggie saw their promotions as a threat to her, and she started trying to undermine them.

        There just isn’t enough info!

        1. MelissaH1982*

          This is a possibility. Or…not even a threat but a slight. Maggie doing her job and training to take on work and these two girls both got promoted over her. I can see where some hostility (bossiness, complaining, put downs, passive-aggressiveness) from Maggie might result if she thinks she should have gotten a promotion over the others.

          That being said, I tend to be on Maggie’s side a little more here as I have been in her shoes. But there’s no way to know the full story when OP doesn’t do any real investigating and chooses sides with the first person to complain.

        2. MustardPillow*

          Maybe, however, based on experience some people get caught up on titles and higharchy rather than respecting that everyone in the organization is working towards the same goal. I feel like there is a high likelihood that Maggie was seen as a threat and newly promoted person got miffed when their promotion didn’t intimidate or impress her.

          1. MelissaH1982*

            definitely. This is such an interesting story for me because I feel I can clearly see both sides here and wish there was more information, lol. I really hope there’s an eventual update here. I wanna get to the bottom of the story so bad.

    5. Lacey*

      I thought that too. I know that a coworker regularly complains about another coworker and I being mean to her – but all of our communication is readable by anyone and the first coworker is such an under-achiever that it’s obvious to anyone that we’re being “mean” by asking her to please, please do her job.

  7. Don*

    This is an excellent example of why institutions shouldn’t just let messaging systems happen organically that end up being entirely beyond their review. Never even mind potential issues if you’re in an organization subject to FOI laws or might fall under the possibility of legal discovery.

    I say that as someone who haaaaaattttteeeeeeees employer surveillance as a substitute for simpler ACTUAL MANAGING and performance metrics. But there are some places where all these ad hoc back-channel methods of communication can be a huge pain. There should always be a good reason for folks to be using resources to do work that you didn’t provide or compensate them for, whether it be messaging or printer ink.

    1. JJ*

      Id say it’s well within his power to review he just doesn’t know he can. You can delete messages on teams for example, and the message will be gone for everyone, however, IT can pull it back up again.

  8. Cohen.*

    Unfortunately; it seems like there is so much envy and competition for promotions in your team. I think that this will just create such a toxic environment; that one if not all of those employees will be looking to leave soon.

    1. Presea*

      And if OP doesn’t take protective action soon, it will be whoever has the most integrity and honesty – not a great thing to lose!

      1. Catosaur*

        I wish the OP the best but I suspect it’s already too late. The second Maggie was threatened with a PIP she probably started applying elsewhere.

        1. MelissaH1982*

          100% PIPs should be an absolute last resort after all ‘Ts’ are crossed and ‘Is’ are dotted. If I was Maggie, and I have been in her shoes, I’d be out if my story came to that.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Also – None of them felt comfortable coming to the LW when the problems started – no matter who the true drama lama was, someone here was getting bullied or felt uncomfortable at their job and it took until the entire situation imploded for her to be aware of it. Something about the LW or office culture is stopping minor issues from being discussed before there is a whole giant problem.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        OP! PLEASE don’t overlook this. Addressing your own accessibility might be a reason to have the general conversations with other people in the office that was suggested earlier in this comments section.

  9. Mockingjay*

    One thing Alison didn’t address is that OP should look at everyone’s workload. OP, when you give Maggie work, are you taking that same work away from Lisa and Sarah?

    As a high performer who completes her technical assignments quickly, Maggie’s always looking for more to do. So OP gives her tasks in areas ‘belonging’ to Lisa and Sarah. This sets up conflicting perceptions with Lisa and Sarah – is Maggie now on our team? Is she temporary or permanent? What, exactly is her role in our task? What does this mean for my role and performance? What happens if Maggie gets pulled back to her primary task and she hasn’t finished extra task? Etc.

    I recommend OP look at swim lanes for tasks. Be very specific about who is tasked to do exactly what and at what step in the process, identify duration of support (1 week? life of project?), and identify who reports to whom on each step, task, and the overall project.

    1. Mama Llama*

      This is something I was thinking of too. Regardless of the whole she said/she said/she said situation I can see that being a point of contention/confusion. How is Maggie taking on these extra tasks? Is she meant to reach out to people to find out if there’s anything to work on? Or just find stuff to do? Are people supposed to be giving them things to do? Maybe there is some piece to this where Maggie is bored and can seem pushy to find stuff to do or creeping into other peoples workflows. And also how is Maggie feeling/acting about knowing that they are considered an excellent employee? Did that change how they acted with other employees? Did their demeanor change at all? Did their attitude toward work change at all? For example if they felt like they could put a task on pause till tomorrow and go back to doing the technical tasks at the end of the day with the idea that “well the boss thinks I’m great so I can wait to finish it up tomorrow” mentality. I’m sure that attitude/mentality might rub Sarah and Lisa the wrong way.

      And I’m wondering about all these promotions going on. So Maggie is doing extra work but these other non technical people are getting promoted left and right? How does that shake up the hierarchy/favoritism/etc. (And how do these two promotions affect Sarah and Lisa? Are they working side by side now? Managing each other? Share duties? Splitting duties? Maybe they are both frustrated and the easiest target is to take out the “problem” aka Maggie.) Maybe everyone knows Maggie (including Maggie) is at the bottom of the ladder and training (which means that someone is actually training them too) and there are others above them with more non-technical experience who would be more eligible for promotions but it’s possible that with Maggie “training” and picking up work the job duties are all muddied and also that the process for promotion and/or the process for Maggie to move into a non technical role isn’t clear (or at what level is their non technical training complete/peaked – at least at this company). Along with the interpersonal issues to sort out there also needs to be more clarity in this area – job duties and expectations – as well.

      1. Mama Llama*

        And also to add: I wonder how OP is treating/acting/working with the three employees. Even if I got promoted but the boss was essentially mentoring this technical person, I can see how Lisa or Sarah may be salty about that. And on top of that mentoring the boss is letting this technical person push in on my non technical duties? Extra salt please.

        Not to condone the saltiness – people can be irrational especially when attention and authority is involved. If they feel they aren’t getting the same attention as other employees they may be unhappy and if they feel like they don’t have any authority or they feel that their small amount of authority (like, these are the accounts that I oversee!) is being lost they may also be unhappy.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes! I’ve had quite a few situations where I was assigned work but the boss didn’t tell the person who the work would usually belong to anything about it. I learned how to protect myself against that situation, but it’s awful! You think that you’re doing exactly what the boss told you to do, and the other person thinks that you’re being pushy and bossy.

      Transparency and clear communication is key.

    3. Jacey*

      This is an excellent point! It’s possible that Sarah and Lisa’s feeling of being disrespected or undermined by Maggie comes from suddenly having her take some work they would historically do. (Whether they’re being too sensitive about her words because of that or deliberately spinning tales about her is beyond my ability to pronounce.)

    4. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Yes, this is interesting to me…. Maggie gets in trouble for “undermining,” so she cuts back on her work load. Then she gets in trouble for not meeting deadlines, so she amps up her work load again. Aaaaand then she’s told she’s “undermining” again.

  10. Abigail*

    If Lisa was genuinely concerned about Maggie’s treatment, she wouldn’t have deleted the message in the first place.

    If I was a betting woman, I would put $100 on Lisa having a problem with Maggie and instigating this whole thing.

      1. Abigail*

        Right, but Maggie provided a screenshot, right? If Maggie is willing to provide evidence of the exchange, then it’s unlikely that she deleted it.

        I am side eyeing Lisa.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          Unless that evidence is misleading. Why would she screenshot a message before deleting it if it can be easily shown to be innocuous? If the message was really harmless, she should have just left it so Lisa could show OP exactly how much she overreacted. Deleting while saving a screenshot gives her a paper trail but not Lisa, which I think is very odd

              1. Presea*

                It says in the letter that Lisa claimed Maggie deleted the message, but it does not say that Maggie admitted to deleting the message. OP seems to believe Lisa’s claims, but that’s not evidence of anything. I’m not trying to overly-nitpick but that level and type of accuracy can be very important when trying to untangle he-said-she-said type drama. I agree that there’s a very real possibility that Lisa deleted the message, and I think OP would benefit from having IT dig deeper into this incident if at all possible.

                1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

                  Well, to back up a step, Lisa claimed that there WAS a message and that it was deleted. AFAIK, there’s not evidence for either of those assertions.

                2. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

                  Lisa very likely claimed that Maggie deleted the message to ensure OP couldn’t ask to see it.

            1. Ginger Dynamo*

              And if Lisa did delete the message, how would Maggie have known to save a screenshot of a message she wouldn’t expect Lisa to delete? Does Lisa routinely delete messages from Maggie? If so, why didn’t Maggie say Lisa deleted it?

                1. Ginger Dynamo*

                  Unless Lisa is an admin on the chat program, which she presumably isn’t, she likely shouldn’t be able to delete chats anyone else sends from the whole chat log. So a current screenshot from Maggie would show she’s lying, except OP is still uncertain, which suggests to me that Maggie did delete it.

              1. Theories*

                The most likely situation is that the “nasty message” in question never existed and the conversation went as Maggie’s screenshot shows. This would explain why Maggie was able to take a screenshot after the fact of the conversation but Lisa couldn’t provide any evidence of her claim.

                It’s not possible for Maggie to delete messages off of Lisa’s device (unless Lisa is also claiming Maggie physically went on her device/logged in under Lisa’s username to do it.) Lisa, however, may not realize this and may have thought deleting the conversation with Maggie on her own device deleted it for both of them.

            2. Petty Patty*

              Are there apps where people can delete OTHER people’s messages? On my Teams, I can only delete my own.

              I actually think the description of what happened, including the screen shot of the ‘deleted’ message makes Maggie look suspicious.

              1. lunchtime caller*

                In nearly every chat system though you can just lie about there being a message there that was then deleted (because they don’t leave any sort of “there was a deleted message here” log). Lisa didn’t show anything in her chat log to the OP, just said “oh I would show you this MEAN message but I can’t because it’s deleted now.”

                1. Ginger Dynamo*

                  Not in Teams. Deleting a message leaves a black bar over where the deleted chat was, if I remember correctly. I believe Slack also leaves a “deleted message” log. And IT should have access as well

                2. Abigail*

                  Right. Lisa is like “Maggie is mean but I can’t prove it, now I’m going to cry a lot.”

                  I cannot unsee this very rudimentary manipulation tactic.

                3. Ginger Dynamo*

                  @Abigail, It may be a very rudimentary manipulation tactic, but if we go from what information is in the letter, we cannot know for sure who’s at fault without jumping to conclusions. The OP has already gotten into hot water as a result of making assumptions of fault, so OP really needs to have the proof to back them up on their read of the situation. From how OP describes it, they don’t feel like they have that yet from the information we’ve been given. There could be details OP missed, but without those we’re in no better shape to reach conclusions.

          1. lunchtime caller*

            I believe the idea behind Maggie’s side of the story is that 1. there never was a deleted message, Lisa is just claiming there was one and 2. she didn’t screenshot anything in advance of this meeting–it was presumably over Zoom or something so when asked about the conversation she went over to her messenger app, took a screenshot right then and there, and sent it over to say “see! it was a normal message!”

            1. Ginger Dynamo*

              Then it should have been clear Maggie didn’t delete it, because you would have a time stamp for the screenshot. OP, was it clear that Maggie did or didn’t delete the message?

        2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          It’s definitely not clear that what Maggie has is the same message Lisa is upset about.

    1. Ginger Dynamo*

      Lisa didn’t delete Maggie’s message though. Maggie deleted her own message. I’ve never used the feature on Teams or Slack, but I’m not sure you can delete a message for all parties that you didn’t send yourself. I find it odd that Maggie would delete an innocuous message while screenshotting it so she has a paper trail but not Lisa, honestly. If the message really weren’t harmful, Maggie would have been better off not deleting it in the first place, confidant that she was not undermining Lisa. If I were OP, I’d be trying to get confirmation that that was really the message that upset Lisa.

      1. Abigail*

        I guess I would start by figuring out if there was a way to determine who deleted the message.

        I read it as Lisa reading into Maggie’s message, deleting it, blaming the deletion on Maggie, and crying to their manager because she didn’t think Maggie screenshot it.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          Even if that happened, Maggie wouldn’t need a screenshot, because most IM systems would only delete someone else’s chat for the user who chose to delete it if they allow users to delete chats they didn’t sent at all. Maggie’s record of the conversation should have still been intact on her chat log, so why screenshot?

          1. lunchtime caller*

            because it was presumably a meeting happening over Zoom! How else would you show your chat log to your boss if not snapping a quick screenshot on the spot?

        2. Emmy Noether*

          I don’t think any messaging systems would let someone delete other people’s messages, or if they do, it would only be on the deleter’s device and not the sender’s device (imagine someone deleting your messages from your device without trace! That would be crazy-making and a bad idea in soooo many ways). Most systems I am familiar with also keep some kind of record that a message did exist and was deleted, so that should be proveable.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          If Lisa said it and it weren’t true, why didn’t Maggie correct the record then? That’s a very easy thing to check in the back records of most corporate IM systems

            1. Ginger Dynamo*

              If the screenshot shows the message still exists so Maggie didn’t delete it, it would, but we don’t have information from the letter on when the screenshot happened. It’s such a weird thing to lie about either way, saying someone else deleted a message when they can easily prove that’s not true by just showing you the message that they still have

              1. Ayla*

                If the manager has a pattern of punishing Maggie with no questions asked, you might assume she’s unlikely to be given the chance to disprove your statements. Or that you’ll have more opportunities to spin the situation if she is.

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            It would appear that Maggie did attempt to correct the record by showing her screen shot of the conversation.

            OP is clearly not checking anything. That’s the whole problem. They have established a pattern of when people complain about Maggie they are believed 100% without the OP doing any kind of due diligence.

            Given that, it’s very easy to see where there is potential for people who are routinely believed without evidence to lie, and the individual who keeps getting in trouble to CYA.

            You seem to be arguing hard against Maggie but the thing is we don’t know who the actual problem is – and neither does the OP. But we do know the OP has created a very problematic dynamic.

        2. Abigail*

          Right, that was my read, too.

          One person is willing to provide evidence of the exchange and the other person isn’t. I know who I would listen to more.

          1. Hermione Danger*

            This is an excellent point. However, I’m side-eying everybody here because the “proof” Maggie provided might not actually be of the message Lisa claims was deleted.

      2. CB212*

        On Slack you can delete or edit your own message and it vanishes/changes for everyone – it’s live storage (not like email where each person has their own copy). But only an admin can delete someone else’s message.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          So if Maggie did show a screenshot of a still extant message in her screenshot from the current moment, the OP should already know that Lisa lied about Maggie deleting it. Which would mean OP wouldn’t need advice about who’s causing the issue—they would already know Lisa was not being honest. That wrinkle is why I’m uncertain that Maggie did show a current screenshot, and not a screenshot of a message before she deleted it

          1. CB212*

            Right. Because also, if I sent a message that was “Hi, hope I can help out with this project, really looking forward to it!” and then another that was “Because everyone says you’re so incompetent you really need the help, so your team doesn’t look so bad lol”, and I deleted that second one, both the recipient and I would have the display of the first message, afaik neither of us would have anything showing a deleted one. (That’s on Slack. I think Teams might show a ‘deleted message’ line, but I’m not in any active Teams project to check that.)

        2. Abigail*

          I think it’s worthwhile to explore who deleted the message, if that can be determined.

      3. hbc*

        The only way I can imagine this happening is that
        1) Maggie sends her message
        2) Lisa tells her how horribly offended she is at having received such a thing
        3) Maggie screenshots the message, then offers to delete the message to keep it out of view since it was so devastating to Lisa.

  11. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    It would be useful to know if Lisa and Sarah are close friends; if they are, they may have teamed up to undermine Maggie (all of which is middle-school mean girl stuff, of course, but some people never outgrow that!) But yes, the LW’s willingness to take everyone at their word without even asking further or interviewing all people concerned struck me too; it suggests a naivete that can too easily be exploited by unscrupulous employees.

    1. Rainy*

      We had a middle-school mean girl in my office for a while. Apparently when she did actually do her job it was great, but she was so busy triangulating and gossiping that she didn’t do her job very often, and it was also extremely confusing to her that the rest of us talked to each other, so when she’d come to me and say “confidentially, Jane told me she has a problem with how you handled X”, she didn’t expect me to hear her out, thank her for the info, and then go straight down the hall and chat with Jane (who said “what??? uh, no, but Regina told me yesterday that you said it was embarrassing how I didn’t understand the new Pirate Initiative”–which, needless to say, I hadn’t done).

      If you have someone like this on your staff, the best thing you can do is get rid of them before everyone who actually does their work and isn’t a jerk leaves rather than deal with them.

  12. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    This gets me so angry! OP, it seems like, as Alison said, you are jumping to conclusions instead of investigating for facts. It sounds to me like Maggie is being targeted by two bullies. Having the exact same complaint years apart? And saying Maggie “deleted the message” to avoid accountability–that’s impossible right there–you can’t delete messages from someone else’s account.

    The bullying is bad enough, but the fact that you jumped straight into lecturing Maggie without asking her side of the story would be enough for me to leave if I was her.

    1. ecnaseener*

      “Having the exact same complaint years apart” is hardly a smoking gun in and of itself…I assume LW paraphrased the complaints and not that they actually used the same wording. I’d expect an office bully to have a fairly consistent MO. (I’m not saying Maggie *is* the villain with any certainty, just don’t see how you take this as evidence one way or the other.)

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, there are a few potentially suspicious things here, but I agree that that isn’t one of them. Similar complaints could just be a sign of a similar behavior.

      2. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

        I meant that the wording of the “complaint” was the same, which I think is suspicious.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It’s possible that OP, in her letter to Alison, sort of compiled the language used by Lisa and Sarah, and that their actual complaints didn’t use all that similar phrasings. I have no idea whether it’s true, but I think it’s possible.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Oh, I fully assumed OP paraphrased. No quotation marks, no “I thought it was weird that they used almost the exact same wording”

  13. Narise*

    When you investigate an instance of mistreatment or sabotage it’s helpful to speak to the parties involved more than once. You’d be surprised how many people cannot keep their story straight when questioned on different days and times and this will assist you. I would also speak to anyone else involved in these programs if you can to see their take on all three involved.

    1. AD*

      I would tend to agree with this. If (and this is a big if) one or more of OP’s staff is deliberately obfuscating or misrepresenting what’s going on, likely there are things they won’t be consistent about when re-telling their stories.

    2. Jacey*

      Yes, but also make allowances for people with poor memories! I do my best to be truthful but I’ve got Brain Things (TM) that make it hard to remember events in their exact sequence.

  14. staceyizme*

    It’s insane that there’s no version of “so, exactly what are we dealing with here?”. How do you correct something as general as “undermining behind the scenes”? It’s all very soap opera-ish at this point. Get down to specifics and don’t accept emotions as a substitute for facts. It will save a lot of grief and prevent a lot of harm.

    1. V. Anon*

      This times 100. Granted, I am old, and work in a tough environment, but this whole thing strikes me as a lot of boo-hoo. Undermining, to me, means specific actions that cause reputational harm and usually also cause discernible business problems: so-and-so becomes a micromanager all of a sudden, so-and-so won’t show up to meetings called by another so-and-so, deadlines get missed by Team A to cause a pile up on Team B, which is waiting for A’s work product… If that stuff isn’t happening, meaning, if this “undermining” is having no measurable business effect, you got whiners running to the teacher on the playground. Real undermining = real problems. Boo hoo means your team is immature.

  15. Goldenrod*

    Ugh, this pushes all my buttons. I have been in toxic workplaces where co-workers make up all kinds of crazy stories and then tattle to a manager….who just believes it, unquestioningly.

    If I were Maggie, I’d be definitely looking for other jobs right about now! Even if those other two sincerely THINK they are telling the truth, it’s gross that Maggie wasn’t given the chance to give her side of the story.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Right? As I was reading and OP went straight to coaching Maggie I was thinking, “No no no no no no no… abort, redirect, ask her questions, ask Sarah questions, get specific examples.”

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        I’m left wondering why Maggie didn’t SAY SOMETHING. (Well, she finally did, when the LW said that she’d put Maggie on a PIP. But before that?)

        1. Jacey*

          Possibly because she was fairly new to the office and her boss had just chastised her? She might have felt nervous or ashamed, plus confused if the accusations are false.

  16. Jessie J*

    It seems clear that Sarah and Lisa are bullying Maggie. I wouldn’t easily take their word without proof.

  17. lunchtime caller*

    Honestly I’m on Maggie’s side here. It sounds like she’s excellent at her work and quick too, almost never complains (until told she’s going to be put on a PIP!), and I wouldn’t not be surprised if the “undermining” those two are complaining about is simply just her existing and being good at her job, which makes them feel insecure. This was the biggest red flag in the world to me: “Lisa tells me that Maggie isn’t meeting deadlines for her projects and that it feels like a sign of disrespect.” You’re telling me that one of your quickest, most excellent at the technical work employees is suddenly failing to meet deadlines (very out of character for her, it seems!) and Lisa just assumed it was disrespect instead of having a normal conversation with a coworker where she goes “hey, what’s up? You seem super overloaded lately, are you okay to keep taking these tight deadline tasks? If not, please let me know ahead of time” or something? Honestly it sounds like various members of this team treat Maggie like crap for no other reason than she’s good at her job.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      The disrespect line made my eyebrows go up. If I were to go to my manager to tell her my coworker wasn’t completing work on time, I would be focusing on all the ways that’s bad for the project and company. The fact that Lisa chose to make it personal instead of focusing on the professional ramifications feels like it should have been a warning sign.

      1. lunchtime caller*

        Right? It would just be “hey the client is pissed here but I can’t get Maggie to send her stuff on time, can you push for me?” Maybe I’m biased by past experiences, but anyone who leaps to “this is disrespect” over stuff like this in the workplace is often fully unreasonable about other things too.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        “Disrespect” is a red flag to me, because although it can be used in legitimate complaints, it also tends to be used by people who have no legitimate complaint at all, because it’s so weasely and hard to prove. I mean, missing deadlines is a clear, objective issue. Why add the “disrespect?”

        1. MelissaH1982*

          agree. and it’s hard to assume the work practices of any company but if ‘missing deadlines’ is an issue, why isn’t it being brought up in meetings? What is the hierarchy here? does OP follow along with any of the projects the 3 of them are working on? How many projects is this high performer missing and if they are missing them, why is the problem not being brought up sooner before tears and ‘disrespect’ is involved?

    2. I'm just here for the cats.*

      Yes I’m on Team Maggie too! I really want to know how Lisa and Sarah describe her “undermining” Or did they just say that and not give any evidence. The OP really screwed up here because they didn’t ask questions of Lisa and Sarah.

    3. MsSolo UK*

      I think that’s one plausible scenario, but it’s equally possible that Maggie feels that after her sterling work and the additional training she was entitled to a promotion, and /is/ being disrespectful to Lisa and Sarah (something we’ve seen so many times on this blog) until being called out for it, at which point she knuckles down again. Without more information, we just can’t know which way around it is, or if everyone is ‘telling their own truth’ and making a lot of assumptions about the intention behind other people’s actions and messages. LW believing whoever comes to her first means she’s acting on way too little information to actually know what’s going on (and therefore so are we!)

      1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        Right. Lisa and Sarah could be Mean Girls, or Maggie could be a Rick Sanchez type who thinks that high performance = untouchable job security and the right to look down on others. Or it could be a situation where everyone’s being a bit of a jerk, or where they all assume/bring out the worst in each other and everyone would be fine in a different context. That’s why real investigation is needed and not just First Report Wins.

        1. MelissaH1982*

          100% there are so many scenarios that could be a possibility. OP only taking the word of the first person without proper investigation is a real hinderance to the growth of the group.

          Was Maggie being undermined by Sarah and Lisa because they got the promotion and then suddenly felt the need to lord it over Maggie? Was she asked to change her way of doing things? Causing Maggie to then, in turn, “undermine” and “disrespect” Lisa and Sarah by saying ‘no, this is the way I was taught to do it, you’re way is harder/longer/inconvenient.’ Power trips could be the reason for any one of these three women.

    4. Imaginary Number*

      Yep. I’m totally getting the impression that Maggie is picking things up above her limited-scope technical skillset (with manager approval) and folks are feeling threatened by that.

    5. Dasein9*

      Yes. “Disrespectful” isn’t a thing that missing deadlines is. When it happens, there’s a cause and should only rarely be a surprise to the person supervising.

    6. Nom*

      I agree. I think we don’t have enough information to know for sure but my spidey sense was tingling that this was the case. it feels very similar to bullying i’ve experience in the past for simply being good at my job. my skills in getting work done were characterized as undermining… I would be really surprised if that’s not what’s happening here.

    7. Karia*

      Yeah. Taking that personally is really quite odd. My first assumption would be workload / personal issues and a chat to get back on track.

  18. Clorinda*

    Step one: Show Lisa the screenshot of the message from Maggie and ask her, is this the one you meant?
    Because, as of right now, Maggie has receipts and Lisa and Sarah don’t.

    1. Nicki Name*

      This!!! And if Lisa says that isn’t the one, go to IT, because they should have the missing receipts if there are any.

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      I’d probably first ask Lisa to recap what the now-deleted message said before showing her anything.

      Then again, if OP considers sharing the screenshot, they should keep in mind that Lisa learning that Maggie keeps and shares the receipts –or on the flip side is willing to share something innocuous to cover her tracks — is going to change the dynamic.

    3. Kay*

      I wouldn’t show her the message, I would ask her what exactly the message said and how the conversation went. I would ask for, as much as could be recalled, the exact verbiage of the message in question as well as how the conversation transpired – was it an ongoing conversation throughout the day, was it short, what time did this happen, was there surrounding conversation, that kind of thing. This will give you a better idea as to whether there “may” be additional messages or language not presented by Maggie, or whether Lisa is just full of it or just has an overly sensitive read on things. Unless you have a way to get a full log you will never know either way, but I’m guessing what Maggie showed you was the extent of things.

      The OP has already dropped the ball on investigating things, no need to go showing all parties the few cards she does have while she tries to catch up on evidence gathering.

      1. MelissaH1982*

        I would ask Lisa for a screen shot of the conversation SHE is complaining about. Then take the two and see if it is, first, the same conversation in questions. And 2, see if either one looks doctored. Going to IT may also be a good idea. Nothing is ever truly deleted; especially at work. Yea, it takes a little effort but when jobs and reputation and office culture are on the line; it’s worth the extra steps to be right.

  19. Ruth*

    I’m honestly surprised that everyone here is so sure that Maggie is the one being bullied- there’s no evidence either way and honestly the screenshot of the message is weird (may be the same message, but if she was showing it on her phone to the manager – which I may be misunderstanding- why didn’t she just show the original message chain? Why does she have a saved screenshot of this at all? Why is she commenting on the standard of work on a colleague she is not in a team in and an area of work she is not experienced in? Either way OP really needs to do investigating, starting with IT to see if there are actually deleted messages

    1. lunchtime caller*

      I’m not sure why there’s so much confusion about the screenshot here, but presumably they’re all working from home (like just about everyone I know with a regular office job these days) and sending a screenshot of the message is the only way to share it short of sharing her screen. This isn’t some pre-meditated “she took a screenshot as evidence!!” move, she probably took it right there on the spot and sent it over.

      1. Soup of the Day*

        See, I interpreted it as being “she had a screenshot already saved,” because Lisa claimed the message had been deleted. Taking a screenshot of the chat log now wouldn’t prove anything either way, because it wouldn’t show the deleted message. Possibly there was an innocuous message and Lisa deleted it to make Maggie look bad, and Maggie had a screenshot of what the message really said, but why?? I have so many questions.

        1. lunchtime caller*

          Well that’s the beauty about lying about there being a deleted message, isn’t it? You can claim it said anything in the world you want, but alas no one can know for sure because “it was deleted.”

          1. Soup of the Day*

            Sure, and maybe there was no deleted message at all, but either way Maggie’s screenshot doesn’t prove anything on its own. If her screenshot was the purported deleted message, OP would also need a screenshot of what the chat log looks like now in order to confirm that it was the deleted message. If the chat log looks the same, then the screenshot Maggie showed her wasn’t the message Lisa is claiming to be upset about, whether Lisa made the message up or not.

            1. Batgirl*

              There’s no proof of who’s lying, but it does prove some *is* lying. Maggie says she has a screenshot of exactly what was said, her co-worker claims there is no existing record, it’s been altered. One of them is lying. That’s why it was so valuable for Maggie to share the screenshot. Previously the OP was working from a standpoint of “my employees don’t lie”; it was only after seeing the screenshot that OP has realised the folly of that stance.

        2. TransmascJourno*

          I mean, Lisa probably would’ve mentioned something about how Maggie had sent another message to cover up for the mean message when she first reported the incident (which I don’t believe actually happened in the first place). Presumably, the whole conversation is also time-stamped. Which leads me to think that Lisa, not Maggie, is the bad actor here. (I also agree that the screenshot was probably taken in the moment and sent to the boss via Zoom; no red flags there.)

    2. Anon all day*

      I fully agree. I think it’s definitely a post where, if someone else had written in or even if OP had worded it differently, there would be a lot more comments defending Lisa and Sarah. But, because OP is second guessing themself, commenters are jumping past just second guessing and straight up assuming that she was initially wrong.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      Part of the problem is that the LW NEVER reported talking to Maggie about the problems before jumping to the conclusion that she is the problem, the one in the wrong.

      If her background is more technical, then she may approach things differently than the other women. That can cause confusion as well. Personal example, I had just started working for a woman, and shared a book about women in leadership that I thought was good and helpful. Her reaction was that I was going after her job.

      1. lunchtime caller*

        yeah I do think it’s totally likely that the way Maggie requests things or notes corrections or whatever is harmless on her end but maybe feels abrupt or less warm than the usual workplace communications and so the other two are taking them as scoldings or something. But that’s something that a manager can discover simply by asking more questions!

      2. Anon all day*

        Yeah, OP didn’t handle it correctly, but that doesn’t mean that Maggie is the one in the right. It just means that there’s less information for us to know to judge either side at this time.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is it. It’s true that we don’t have enough information to say whether or not Maggie’s done anything wrong. But it really concerns me that 1) OP never asked Maggie for her side of the story before deciding she was the problem, and 2) Sarah and Lisa’s complaints rely on subjective and emotional wording rather than a recounting of words and behaviors. “Undermining” and “disrespect” are words that convey malevolent intent while being incredibly nonspecific. OP needs to dig a whole lot deeper to find out what’s really going on.

        Back when I worked with a newly promoted supervisor, she was almost always worked up that someone or other was not conveying adequate respect for her authority and she was really upset about it. But when I would ask for examples of what people were saying and doing, it was all totally normal behavior that she was taking out of proportion.

        Until OP does a real investigation, there’s no way for them to know if Maggie’s out of line or if Lisa and Sarah are overreacting.

        1. Lily*

          Yep. I also was irritated that the complaints about Maggie were so bad yet so unspecific. I have a supervisor who is toxic but you bet that we all have the stories to back up those claims of toxicity. We don’t walk around saying “that guy is really terrible” without going into specific incidents of him doing terrible things to other persons.

    4. CatCat*

      Yeah, there’s definitely a “Team Maggie” vibe to the comments. Commenters doing exactly what the OP has done: reaching a conclusion without sufficient evidence to support it.

    5. Cake or Death?*

      “Then Lisa comes to me, sobbing”

      I haven’t seen this mentioned in any of the comments yet, but frankly, this gets my suspicions up, in context with the other complaints Lisa and Sarah have been making.

      An employee coming to you SOBBING about a work complaint, for anything other than horrible harassment or if they are a literal teenager, is beyond inappropriate. And immediately makes me suspect they’re using emotion to sway things their way. And the ONLY example she can give is a mean message that just happens to have been deleted?

      I don’t know. If an employee were to come to me literally sobbing over bullying at work, I’d expect them to be able to give me many specific examples of the bullying. And frankly, if you were being bullied so bad by a coworker that it got to the point where you would end up sobbing to your boss over it, wouldn’t YOU be keeping screenshots and keeping notes to prove it? I mean, “document, document, document” is pretty well known advice to anyone that’s being harassed in any way, in any situation. Somehow both Lisa and Sarah have both never heard of this/had it occur to them?

      Then you have Maggie, who DOES have a screenshot…who is a high performer and has taken on other tasks to help out and seemingly has had no other complaints from any other coworker besides Lisa and Sarah… and these complaints have also been addressed with Maggie. She’d be pretty brazen to have continued her “undermining” even when she knew that she was under scrutiny and that any more complaints would put her in hot water. Meanwhile, Lisa and Sarah have had their word taken as 1000% gospel with almost no proof, so that might embolden them to take their campaign up a notch.

      Because it does seem like a campaign. To me it seems like Maggie is the one in the target sight of Lisa and Sarah.

      1. Anon all day*

        I think you’re reading into this/projecting a lot. People have different levels of emotional reactions to things, and especially if it’s a subtle campaign of bullying, it’s hard to know how to react (do I ignore it, address it, am I just making it up and it’s not really happening??) until things boil over.

        You honestly have no idea who’s running the campaign. If Lisa or Sarah wrote in, I’m sure the comment section would be up in arms against Maggie.

        1. Batgirl*

          We don’t have any idea who’s at fault (if indeed anyone, it could simply be as they claim that Lisa and Sarah “feel disrespected” without any disrespect actually happening). However it’s certainly true that OP’s handling would definitely have validated and emboldened one side more than other.

        2. Cake or Death?*

          Given the context of the letter, I don’t think I am at all. The way OP has handled this situation, there are some possible situations:

          If Maggie is indeed bullying Lisa and Sarah, she hasn’t been given an inch by OP to get away with her behavior. She has been told that her behavior is being reported and that OP is, and will, act.

          If Lisa and Sarah are sabotaging Maggie, they have been given carte blanch by the OP to continue. Their word has been taken as fact, and they’ve not had to produce any sort of specific or substantial evidence to support their accusations.

          What’s more likely?

          That Maggie, who has always been a high performer and who has willingly trained to take on other unrelated tasks to keep a full plate of work, continues to bully her coworkers even though she knows she’s being reported and will punished/likely fired for it?

          Or that Sarah and Lisa, who seem disproportionately concerned with personal slights to their egos by being “undermined” and “disrespected” by Maggie than anything else, are friends and don’t like Maggie for whatever reason, and are going to OP with BS complaints, getting their complaints taken as gospel, seeing that Maggie is getting in trouble and upping the ante to try to get her fired?

          Sorry, but the logical part of me can only paint Maggie as the villian here if she’s a either sociopath or a complete and total idiot. Because given how OP has come down on Maggie from the start about these complaints, she’d have to be one of those to continue with her behavior.

          Meanwhile, a couple of mean girls who’ve decided they don’t like/are threatened by their coworker and start of campaign of sabotage to either get coworker fired or drive them to quit, is pretty logical and unfortunately common. I mean, those types of letters have to represent a pretty large percentage of the letters AAM receives, we see them all the time; the “it’s me or her letter” linked at the bottom of this one is a perfect example. And not just of an employee actively sabotaging another, but of a boss just blindly accepting what one employee says about the other without doing one iota of due diligence. And frankly, like that OP, I think this OP is going to get bit in the butt over their handling of this situation.

          1. Anon all day*

            Yeah, the fact that you’re saying that Maggie could only be the villain if she’s an idiot or sociopath just means to me that we’re not going to agree on this.

            For me, the whole point of this letter/the answer is that it doesn’t matter who’s the villain or victim – the crux of the issue is that OP handled it wrong, and, because of that mishandling, we simply don’t have enough information to know who’s right.

            Here’s another scenario for how Maggie could not be the fully innocent party that you’re claiming she is. I work with someone who’s absolutely fine in person/on the phone, but she’s awful in emails. Like, she’s very abrupt and curt in a very upsetting way. (She’s made people cry before when she’s gotten upset at them.) However, she’s also great at her job and is, honestly, more valuable to the company than the people she’s upset, so she has a lot of capital stored up protecting her despite her personality flaws (and it helps that, again, on the phone/in person, she’s fine). I could see her being a Maggie here – she’s been talked to about this, but she hasn’t really changed.

            1. Cake or Death?*

              But in your scenario, your “Maggie” is like this to everyone. And also, your Maggie gets talked to but it seems she’s in no real danger as far as her job goes.

              But here, this is only happening with 2 employees; apparently with everyone else Maggie is fine. OP mentions literally no other issues that Maggie has ever had with any other coworkers. And also, every complaint against Maggie is being addressed immediately and OP was all set to put her on a PIP.

              So the scenarios aren’t the same. Because in yours, “Maggie” has the all power and even if she’s being “talked to”, her job is apparently safe even despite her “personality flaws”. In your scenario, there is literal actual proof that people can show that “Maggie” is mean to them and those people have been shown by your management that they will pay lipservice to complaints about “Maggie”, but that she’s not going anywhere. Your scenario demoralizes the complainers, their documentation is overlooked and “Maggie” is emboldened to continue being abrasive.
              In the scenario in the letter, Maggie has no power, despite her high performing status and and she’s being lectured and warned about every complaint brought to OP by only 2 specific people despite no proof the behavior is occurring, and having her job threatened to were she almost ended up on a PIP without management even once trying to to find out the validity of it. This scenario emboldens the complainers, they know they don’t need any documentation or proof of their complaints and that no matter what they say, Maggie will get in trouble, possibly even fired.

              If your “Maggie” was in this letter’s scenario, she would have been fired. I mean, OP was about to put Maggie on a PIP with literally no proof and only ONE “specific example” of “bad behavior” ( I say this in quotes, because the saying she got a mean message that got deleted isn’t really specific or proof). Imagine if Lisa and Sarah had walked into OP’s office with literal written proof, in the form of emails, of Maggie’s bullying; she would have been out the door already.

        3. Karia*

          If Lisa or Sarah wrote in saying they were being undermined / disrespected by a coworker, but couldn’t give a single concrete example, I’m not sure we would be?

          It’s too subjective, and tbh, the fact that a person *feels* disrespected doesn’t always mean they’ve *been* disrespected.

      2. Karia*

        Yeah. I was bullied at work a few years back. It was bad. I can cite multiple, very specific examples, most of which happened in front of other people. I find the lack of detail pretty telling.

        1. Cake or Death?*

          Exactly! Especially if the bullying was so bad that you ended up sobbing in your boss’ office.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          We don’t know that OP doesn’t have specifics. We only know she didn’t provide them in her letter to this site. It’s possible the complaints were very specific, but she summarized for the purposes of the letter. We know nothing of the existence of specifics. We do know she seems to have been very quick to take everything Sarah and Lisa said at face value, which is problematic. But we have no idea if they were super vague.

    6. Anon for this one*

      For me, it’s the language choices used, that don’t seem to reflect the situation – “undermining”? “Disrespecting?” I don’t see how someone being critical of your work in a private chat conversation is “undermining” in any way. “Undermining” and “Disrespectful” are words that, to me, imply nefarious intent. How does Maggie even have the power to undermine in her position, when it seems like both Sarah and Lisa are above her in rank, based on their promotions?

      1. Batgirl*

        I have to agree. I have colleagues who would never do anything for me unless I can actually wrangle someone senior to make them do it, and it would never occur to me to take that personally, and make it an issue of emotions, much less actually go sobbing to my boss.

      2. Paris Geller*

        Completely agree.

        None of us have the full situation, for sure, so we don’t know who’s in the wrong–BUT I think a lot of us are leaning toward Maggie not being the problem because we’ve seen manipulation like this from others in our own lives before. It is possible (though in my opinion, not probable) that Sarah and Lisa are completely telling the truth, but there are a lot of warning signs and red flags in the version of events the OP is sharing. These are the kind of things that are difficult to outright prove, but if you’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of manipulation, you start to learn the subtleties.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          This. It takes some mental gymnastics to decide Maggie must be the culprit. It takes less (at least for me) to think it’s probably Sarah and Lisa.

    7. Yorick*

      The screenshot Maggie showed may be the original message chain, and may be the current view because nothing was deleted. Just because OP says Maggie showed a screenshot of the message doesn’t mean it only showed that one message.

      My guess is Lisa lied about there being a message that was deleted, unless she was very sensitive about the message OP saw from Maggie and is wrong about it having been deleted.

      OP needs to work with IT to see all communications between the 3, including deleted messages. That way she can know for sure whether there are mean deleted messages. This is going to be an important step in this process.

    8. anonymous73*

      Why is everyone so hung up on the fact that Maggie “saved” a screenshot? Many message platforms create a history of conversations. And if someone treats me poorly, you bet your ass I’m going to keep any documented proof it in a file for the future if it’s needed, or someone tries to lay blame at my feet.

    9. Hrodvitnir*

      I agree obviously that the OP needs to investigate, but we have zero proof Maggie was commenting on the standard of work of a colleague, and if you felt bullied damn right you’d be taking screenshots of messaging to CYA.

      The reason I lean toward Maggie being in the right is that to me it seems the simplest option. Established employees being threatened by Maggie and escalating from exaggerating to outright lying vs Maggie being nefarious enough to send nasty messages, delete them then send an innocuous one to screenshot, the latter just seems a lot more over the top. Not impossible, but less likely.

    10. MelissaH1982*

      I definitely tend to lean a little more towards Maggie’s side A. because she’s the one being accused of things with no real evidence so there’s an underdog element and B. Because I have been there. I have experienced the fact I know I am a good worker and people have gone to bosses about me over complete nonsense. You saw the jealously and there’s nothing you can do about it. That being said, my overall complaint is against OP for not doing the due diligence to find out the truth. Though I lean towards Maggie, I can also think of times where I found myself being a little too high and mighty, thinking I have a right to push against newer managers or getting ahead of myself so I can see where Lisa and Sarah are coming from. But, I am putting in business and professional actions from my experience into the story with makes me question why and how things got to this point if the supervisors, leads, managers were doing their job appropriately. All of that leading to Maggie becoming this sort of ‘fall guy’ and that rubs me the wrong way.

      As for the screen shots, as many have said, when you are accused of things for no reason or see the writing on the wall, you become more cautious and start documenting things to save your own skin. Doesn’t matter what the screenshot is, how it is, when it is. She had it while Lisa did not and that action may just save Maggie’s neck and reputation.

      But yes. OP needs to do the work because no one knows who is in the wrong/right here with the information we are given.

  20. Amethystmoon*

    That e-mail is why I document everything. I’ve had people (and one was a manager, though not mine), outright lie about me to try and get me in trouble (and that manager was the one who was actually bullying me and I had one witness on my side). I’ve had too many managers just assume everyone involved was telling the truth without looking into any details or documentation.

    Had one lecture me on making a minor typo and try to get me to promise to never make typos again. I’m a 10+ year employee who gets at least solid meets expectations ratings most years with one or two goes above and beyond on each review, and above and beyond on whole review last year. Told him I double-check everything I do, but as I’m human, I cannot guarantee I’ll never make a typo again. (This was a couple of managers ago).

    Luckily, the current manager is a good one who actually looks at details. But not every manager will do that, so it is best to document everything, especially any disputes with coworkers.

  21. Peon1*

    Wow, this hits very close to home. I ran into something very similar in my first year of managing a small team. In my case, there was plenty of vague-posting on social media, gossiping behind each other’s back, alliances, one-on-one talks that ended in tears, etc.
    I tried to handle the situation as best as I could, but I had to get my manager involved as both employees were too stubborn to listen. One of them ended up not getting their contract renewed for lack of judgment, while the other one stayed for a bit but left shortly after. Most of the peripheral characters in this story have also moved on.
    It was exhausting, honestly, and greatly contributed to a loooooong period of burnout. It was a great shock to the system and made me rethink what I really wanted out of work, i.e. whether I wanted to continue moving up the ranks. I am still in the same position but now have a better sense of my responsibilities and when to loop in my managers for these workplace spats.

  22. cbh*

    I feel like this is very similar to the “It’s Her or Me Ultimatum” Post back in August 2021. Miranda and Laura had conflicting views and Laura was skewing things to look in her benefit; while Miranda had it and quit; the boss needed to do some more research. (To the OP of this post please know I saw you owning up to you actions in the update and am not using your example in a negative light. I sincerely hope you have found peace and are moving forward bettering yourself).

    I almost feel like it’s the same thing. As Alison said everyone could be giving their own version of the stories to put themselves in a more positive light. However I just kept thinking of the ultimatum story. No one seems to have concrete proof. I feel like Maggie is Miranda equivalent and will just leave. If she is as strong as an employee as you are saying, she will have no problem getting another job and you will have lost a valuable employee. While I see the side that Lisa and Sarah might feel threatened, as a manager you need to work to organize the department for what’s best for the business and showcase everyone’s strengths. I feel like Lisa and Sarah might not realize that means shifting responsibilities around to best suit everyone.

    Is there anyway for IT to pull up previous emails and chat messages. I think this would help in seeing history behind the behavior. I would take Alison’s advice to heart… and proceed with caution

    1. moonstone*

      I definitely recommend that this LW reads that letter and the updates as a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t verify facts!

  23. Soup of the Day*

    This is tough. It seems like most people are on Maggie’s side, but I can see a situation in which Maggie sent Lisa a nasty message, deleted it, then showed OP a screenshot of a different message to make it look like Lisa was overreacting. But this would mean that Maggie was at like, super-villain levels of gaslighting and manipulation. I also think it’s a weird tactic because if she did send a message like that, surely she would know that Lisa might tell OP?

    It’s all so strange! We’re missing a lot of background that might change the situation. Are Sarah and Lisa close? How did Maggie react to being told not to criticize Sarah in 2020? If she was really innocent this whole time, wouldn’t she have been upset then, as well? Is Maggie jealous because she’s doing all of this extra training to excel at the company, but she’s not the one getting these promotions? I would love an update on this one!

    1. Esmae*

      I could also see a situation where the message itself was innocuous, but previous bad interactions had Lisa primed to interpret it more harshly. If Maggie is constantly criticizing and undermining Lisa, even a nicely-phrased critique could feel like an attack. (I’m more inclined to believe Maggie’s side based on what’s here, though).

      1. Soup of the Day*

        Very true. The fact that Lisa was crying suggests a history of her feeling some type of way about Maggie’s communication style (unless she was fake crying for attention.)

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Eh. There’s a whole thing about women weaponizing tears. Some people cry under stress or out of frustration or when they’re mad. And of course people cry because they are very upset and hurt. But the fact that Lisa was crying means in and of itself nothing.

    2. CanYallShutUp*

      I wonder if she was innocent before, but couldn’t prove anything, and is now pushing back because she has textual evidence that she didn’t do what she’s being accused of.

      I was in a similar situation where my boss accused me of something I definitely didn’t do, blindly believed the person who told them that, then brought it up to me much later (at my annual review). There was absolutely no way for me to defend myself other than to say “I would never do that” which doesn’t really fly as evidence when your boss already believes the opposite.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Been there. You can’t prove evidence without receipts, I didn’t have any, so I had no defense.

        I would bet money that Lisa and Sarah are harassing Maggie enough behind the scenes enough that Maggie’s learned to save evidence.

  24. BayCay*

    Honestly have no idea what’s going on here, but I will say, as somebody who has been bullied by another woman in the office and had nothing to back it up except random bits my coworkers overheard, I weigh on the side of feeling for “Maggie.” I told my boss about it but my bully was a hard worker and was very sneaky in making sure other people weren’t around when she said nasty things. I was made to feel like a crazy person because my coworkers didn’t overhear the worst of it and my boss had a separate office far from us so he never saw anything but her “nice mask.”

    A large reason for me leaving that job was not being taken seriously with my complaints and being made to feel like the problem child, which sounds like what OP is potentially doing to Maggie. I wouldn’t be surprised if she quits soon.

    1. PT*

      A lot of bosses, especially male ones, fail to correctly recognize relational aggression in the workplace. Or they wipe their hands clean of all involved parties, the bully(ies) and the victim(s) by saying “You all need to get along!” or something pat like that. Or perhaps they do listen to the first person who showed up to complain, often the bully, and decide the victim is a difficult troublemaker.

  25. Elle*

    What an unpleasant mess to deal with. OP has my genuine sympathy. I’m leaning towards believing that Maggie is the victim here, but I wonder why Maggie didn’t come to OP herself if she has been bullied by the other two this whole time- if she’s at the point where she’s screenshotting messages for CYA reasons, you’d think she’d have a fair bit of evidence by now? Then again, it’s entirely possible she’s too busy doing actual work and/or didn’t trust it to be handled well (not a dig on you, OP- I wouldn’t automatically assume my own management would deal with it if someone were giving me a hard time and I genuinely like/respect them, but these things can get hairy). I really hope it gets figured out and is quickly and fairly dealt with- this is the kind of thing that can leave a really bad taste in people’s mouths. ☹️

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Why would she. After the problems with Sarah, and there is NO indication that she was heard then, why run into the same problem.

    2. I'm just here for the cats.*

      Why should she? After the first instance with Sarah, and getting scolded without asking her side of things I can understand why she would not feel safe to go to the OP with any problems

      1. Elle*

        Oh yeah, I can definitely see why she wouldn’t assume the OP would handle it well. I can see her either being a “keep your head down” type that just figured she’d focus on actual work and finally felt like she HAD to say something when threatened with a performance plan or maybe she’s actually the issue here. The latter just sounds so unlikely to me but I’m trying to stay open to it. I have been absolutely shocked by an update here before!

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I didn’t out myself as having a bully to my supervisor until she literally started screaming at me in public and I really didn’t have a choice about it. I didn’t think it would go well if I outed the situation and would only make her worse. If OP is obviously Not On Maggie’s Side, why would Maggie tell her?

      Fortunately for me, my boss had been bullied before at work and SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN. Upper management didn’t support me (see above posts) but he did the best he could and was allowed to do.

  26. Shelly*

    It’s the Lisa immediately leaping from missed deadlines to “disrespect” that makes me suspicious of her. If I had a colleague who wasn’t meeting my deadlines, I’d assume they were too busy, had personal issues going on, maybe didn’t know what they were doing, or even just lazy. But disrespectful as a first thought?? I’m definitely inclined to believe Maggie here.

    1. I'm just here for the cats.*

      yes exactly. Especially since Maggie has more of a technical role and does the other stuff when she has time. It may have been that she couldn’t get her technical stuff done and the other stuff done on Lisa’s deadline. It also sounds like the deadline was unreasonable.

    2. KRM*

      For sure. And Maggie is disinclined to complain because she’s already been chastised once without even being asked to share her perspective on things. So she’s coming from a place of “why should I bother, clearly nobody cares what I see happening”. And Lisa and Sara have the experience of “hmmm, if I strike first, Maggie gets in trouble, no questions asked!”. Not a good situation all around. OP, you need to sit down with everyone here individually, don’t try to sort out the past because that ship has sailed, but you have to do better in the future.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      It seems pretty clear that Lisa set unreasonable deadlines on purpose to be able to complain about Maggie.
      And claiming disrespect was the problem is a serious red flag.

      In fact, I wish Alison had said something about that. The OP should have asked Lisa if the missed deadlines caused any work-related problems and told Lisa to keep the focus on work, not on feeling disrespected.

  27. Taylor*

    This definitely sounds like it needs a larger intervention, like what Allison is talking about. I would also, if able, bring in any IT people outside of these three to get official records of their emails and communication if possible. Maggie may be right, but she could also not be showing you the screenshot of what she actually said, but something else, and Lisa is actually right, or both Sarah and Lisa are out of line with what they’re doing to Maggie, or it’s something else entirely. This is where you as a manager have to wear your investigative hat!

  28. lunchtime caller*

    I will say it’s amazing to me how even in the comment section people are forgetting that other people just lie sometimes? Of course we don’t know what’s true yet, but there’s a lot of “well if this person deleted this message on this chat program but then these other people took screenshots beforehand, but if the OTHER person deleted the message then–” etc when it’s like–Lisa may have just lied about there ever being a message! Sometimes shit doesn’t make sense because it’s not true. Again, I am not the IT person who has to handle this so who really knows, but it’s just interesting since the OP also seems to have missed this simple fact repeatedly: people lie.

  29. Kate*

    I’m wondering if Maggie’s a member of a minoritized group where majority group members tend to hold biases toward viewing communication from the minoritized group as aggressive. Having two different people complain “sobbing,” and in at least one case it appears to be over an innocuous communication, is what that suggested to me.

    1. urguncle*

      Just Maggie being described as technical made me think that. I’m not especially technical, but I work with a lot of technical people and feedback isn’t usually nearly as personal. If something doesn’t work or it’s simply not enough, I’m not attacking their idea by saying why something doesn’t work. Some people can see that as “shooting it down.”

  30. Anon 3.16*

    I’ve got something similar – A complains that B undermines them and can’t be trusted. B complains that A micromanages in areas they don’t understand and shuts B out.

    B can be blunt ( but in my experience NOT) rude or backstabbing). A has reacted in similar extreme / not logical ways with C, D, and E.

    Trying to untangle all of this is very difficult. I would suggest OP talk to others who interact with Maggie, Sarah, and Lisa. Chances are good that there is a pattern to provide content.

  31. Nethwen*

    Oof. I’ve seen a lot of variations on this at small public libraries. The reasons are varied and how things ended up in a mess are often out of the control of the person in charge who now has to clean things up, but I would also suggest that there is more in the control of the person in charge that it often feels like.

    For the OP, yes, you messed up. There’s a lot to learn from Alison’s response. At the same time, you tried to handle a problem, which is better than ignoring it, and you’re seeking more experienced advice. Those are good things and suggest that you are willing to learn and are trying to do your job well.

    Not knowing the surrounding factors, I’ll throw out some questions from my experience with similar situations that may help you sort through some of this. Of course, I don’t want answers in the comments, these are just to think about.

    – Why are you letting the two employees who have been there the longest have the most influence over you?

    – What evidence do you have for the integrity of each person? Who do you trust? Why? Where’s the evidence?

    – What is your goal as a manager in this situation? Is it to remove conflict as quickly as possible? To demonstrate what kind of behavior will be rewarded? To re-calibrate boundaries and expectations around each person’s power over you? Something else?

    – Who are you most sympathetic towards, most likely to believe or chat with or give opportunities to? Why?

    – Are there other behaviors that need to be addressed and this situation is a natural result of those?

    – What kind of power do you actually have to make change? Are you sure? What level of risk are you willing to take to do your job?

    – Is the natural desire to avoid discomfort getting in the way of you doing your job properly?

    – Are your primary values compatible with being a manager who makes the necessary hard decisions, sometimes even initiating what might feel like conflict?

    1. Crumbledore*

      These are excellent questions for self-reflection, and as a former manager who experienced something similar (hired several high performers who almost immediately became contentious with each other, with accusations of bullying coming from/against all of them and multiple attempts to manipulate each other and me), I agree they will help you improve your approach to this situation and your job. In line with Alison’s advice, if I had it to do over again, as soon as I heard the first report, I would clear my schedule as much as possible and prioritize attention to my team, increase my physical presence with them where possible, and maybe increase the length or frequency of 1-1s to allow time to focus on this issue specifically. I was too reactive and wasted time hoping behavior would improve on its own. Since so much of the behavior happened when I wasn’t around, I also wish I had asked a trusted colleague to observe and let me know if they witnessed anything (not relevant in a remote work environment, of course). Best of luck to you, OP, as you work to right the ship.

  32. Been There*

    Hopefully you don’t lose Maggie if you can’t sort out the drama from the other two. Sometimes people can be terrible towards the new employee if they feel threatened, or if their “turf” is infringed upon. If I was Maggie, I’d be fed up with you all personally.

  33. Cake or Death?*

    “Then Lisa comes to me, sobbing”

    I haven’t seen this mentioned in any of the comments yet, but frankly, this gets my suspicions up, in context with the other complaints Lisa and Sarah have been making.

    An employee coming to you SOBBING about a work complaint, for anything other than horrible harassment or if they are a literal teenager, is beyond inappropriate. And immediately makes me suspect they’re using emotion to sway things their way. And the ONLY example she can give is a mean message that just happens to have been deleted?

    I don’t know. If an employee were to come to me literally sobbing over bullying at work, I’d expect them to be able to give me many specific examples of the bullying. And frankly, if you were being bullied so bad by a coworker that it got to the point where you would end up sobbing to your boss over it, wouldn’t YOU be keeping screenshots and keeping notes to prove it? I mean, “document, document, document” is pretty well known advice to anyone that’s being harassed in any way, in any situation. Somehow both Lisa and Sarah have both never heard of this/had it occur to them?

    Then you have Maggie, who DOES have a screenshot…who is a high performer and has taken on other tasks to help out and seemingly has had no other complaints from any other coworker besides Lisa and Sarah… and these complaints have also been addressed with Maggie. She’d be pretty brazen to have continued her “undermining” even when she knew that she was under scrutiny and that any more complaints would put her in hot water. Meanwhile, Lisa and Sarah have had their word taken as 1000% gospel with almost no proof, so that might embolden them to take their campaign up a notch.

    Because it does seem like a campaign. To me it seems like Maggie is the one in the target sight of Lisa and Sarah.

    1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I don’t think LW put Maggie (or Sarah) under very much scrutiny at all. Just took Sarah’s word for it and reprimanded Maggie.

      1. Cake or Death?*

        Oh for sure! She just believed both Lisa and Sarah.
        But by scrutiny, I meant that Maggie had been scolded a couple time by OP about “criticizing” her coworkers, so she was on OP’s radar, behavior-wise. If your boss had already reprimanded you about your behavior towards your coworkers, it be clear to you they were reporting you, so you’d have to be pretty bold to continue the behavior, knowing you’d be reported again.

    2. Kate R*

      I’ve been really grappling with this because I am a woman who cries when I’m really stressed out (though I’d try my hardest to not cry in front of colleagues or bosses), so I don’t want to be too critical of people for feeling emotional around work conflict, but the way all of their complaints are framed around their feelings was making my spidey senses tingle (and I realize that OP was paraphrasing, so maybe their message wasn’t delivered this way). But both Sarah and Lisa said that Maggie was undermining and criticizing them, which is bad because it can damage their authority with employees, customers, or whoever, but the concern there seemed to be that it was making them feel bad. Also, Lisa said Maggie was missing deadlines, which is bad because deadlines need to be met (probably), but the concern there was that it was disrespectful. And since OP did jump to reprimand Maggie seemingly without asking many questions at all, I also felt like both Sarah and Lisa felt that going to OP with hurt feelings would automatically put OP on their side. Honestly, if I was Maggie, at this point, I’d quit. She’s a high performer. She’s completed additional training so that she can take on more work in other areas, yet despite that, she has Sarah, Lisa, and OP assuming the worse of her when she asks questions, provides feedback, or offers to take on additional work. I’m not saying OP should have assumed Maggie was in the right just based on her work performance, but the fact that they didn’t seem to investigate further would already make me feel like I didn’t have the credibility or respect from my managers that I thought I did and that I’m not sure there’s any way to get it.

      1. Cake or Death?*

        I completely agree with you.

        I am also a woman that can just get emotional without helping it (for me, it’s frustration that makes me cry). And it sucks when you start crying when you’re in a situation when you shouldn’t, because you feel like people think you’re trying to emotionally manipulate them, when really, you just can’t help it! I’m also someone who cries at any sort of emotional moment in tv shows, movies, heck, even commercials!

        But even when that happens to me, (and I wonder if it’s the same for you), I’m not SOBBING. I will have tears running down my face and my chin will be wobbling and my voice will crack, but no one would ever describe me as sobbing, unless they were grossly exaggerating the response (and it doesn’t seem like OP is doing that here.)
        To me, sobbing is hard crying, shoulders shaking, cry noises, snot, not being able to breathe well, and basically being in real distress.

        Even as a woman who cries over math tutoring commercials (really) and has cried at work due to frustration, if I had an employee I manage come to me with that extreme of a emotional reaction, I would expect something pretty major or intense. If I got the vague explanations and “reasons” that OP got, I would first, be completely flabbergasted at their response, and second, immediately view their complaints with a sense of mistrust. Because sobbing is just way too much of a response given the context. I mean, unless Maggie is a sociopath who extremely successful in her malicious subterfuge.

        1. AutolycusinExile*

          This – I have a close friend who cries at the drop of a hat, but never once have I seen her *sob*. To me, that implies a level of emotional reaction which is out of control; you cry at a sad commercial, you sob because you found out your spouse cheated on you. Now, it may be that OP uses a different definition of the word, but I would definitely be raising an eyebrow at someone who sobs to me about work issue but then refuses to provide any details or evidence of an issue they claim has been ongoing.

          That said, this is just my first instinct – OP still needs to do due diligence and go in with an open mind. Maybe they’re all lying, maybe there was a misunderstanding and no one is. Like Alison said, it’s up to OP to start doing some investigating before drawing any actionable conclusions.

          1. Cake or Death?*

            Yeah that’s exactly it. Sobbing is just too intense of a reaction when you can’t even give any clear examples of why you’re upset.
            Maybe I’m just biased because I am just getting out of the toddler stage with my youngest child, but my immediate thought when I read that was, “oh, she’s turning on the crocodile tears now to get her way”. Too many times I’ve had a kid running to me, wailing, about how “they hit me!” But unlike OP, I actually find out what happened and usually, the truth is that the wailer either started it, or was the only one in the wrong.
            What bothers me so much about this letter is that OP DID act, without ever investigating. To the point where she was about to put someone on a PIP without ever even once doing any digging to find out if the complaints were valid. It baffles me that OP never gave a high performing non-problem employee the benefit of the doubt. Like, no, “hmm that doesn’t sound like Maggie”? Just straight to punishing her?

        2. Calpurrnia*

          YES. It’s SUCH an overreaction! And I am the QUEEN of overreaction, I would know!

          I’m sort of kidding, but I am also extremely prone to tears; it’s my body’s default reaction to basically every strong emotion, positive or negative. My eyes well up when I’m frustrated or stressed or anxious, but also when I’m feeling especially grateful or sympathetic, or taking in a very beautiful view, or reminiscing about a happy memory, or sometimes just looking at my cat when she’s sleeping. Every feeling other than “neutral” has the ability to make me cry if it has sufficient intensity. I’m not choosing to cry and it’s not something I can control – I’ve tried to work on it with several therapists, but it’s mostly just a physiological reaction rather than a psychological thing, so there’s only so much I can do to stop it from happening.

          However. When I cry at work – which most often happens when I have to have a difficult conversation with my manager, usually either expressing frustration or requesting help with a situation/customer/coworker or receiving strong feedback (it doesn’t matter if it’s very good or very bad, the same thing happens!) – my eyes well up, my nose runs, and I have an extremely hard time keeping my voice level and even. I often need a couple of tissues. But the entire time I’m very apologetic, trying to continue the conversation however possible, and doing everything I can to control the reaction and make it stop.

          There are only a couple of times in my entire work history that I have been reduced to a level of crying that could be described as “sobbing” at work, and all of them were due to extremely specific acute triggers; I was sick and in a lot of pain, or my ex said something very cruel to me, or I’d just heard that my friend’s dog died. None of them were because of some vague, chronic frustrating problem – chronic issues are much more likely to lead to the base-level crying while trying to explain it to somebody than they are to push me over the edge into full sobbing mode. And also, as soon as one of those WHAM moments happened, I removed myself from coworkers’ presence immediately and only returned when the sobbing calmed down and I had composed myself again.

          Sobbing is not for other (non-family) people to witness, and if my manager ever saw me sobbing I might melt into the ground from embarrassment. I’d definitely, definitely not be GOING to my manager WHILE in that state to demo it for her. That makes me think this is actually manipulation and not real true emotional pain… because people who are actually emotionally devastated enough to *sob* are also likely to be completely mortified if anyone else sees them in that state.

    3. moonstone*

      I admit I overlooked this on my first read, but Lisa and Sarah’s complaints are very…odd for the reasons you described. Sobbing? Not normal or professional. And why are two people who are higher ranked than Maggie complaining about her “undermining” them? Normally, when a supervisor has legitimate complaints about performance, they are specific. Missing deadlines does qualify under this, but it seems Maggie corrected the issue after OP talked to her about them. (But I have to point out that OP contradicted herself by telling a supervisor to have better expectations around deadlines while disciplining Maggie about deadlines…what?)

      I was willing to give credibility to their complaints because they aligned, but if they’re allies it could simply be scheming. And so far, there isn’t any evidence from the OP’s POV that Maggie actually did anything wrong besides missing deadlines, which she corrected and the OP says were unreasonable to begin with. Another point in favor of Maggie is that she was a high performer until now, and seems to be continuing to be one according to the OP. And she actually showed proof that she was telling the truth while Lisa and Sarah didn’t.

      OP is really dropping the ball here.

  34. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I think the whole question of who deleted the message and why and why did Maggie have a screenshot is putting the cart before the horse. Lisa claims there was a mean message and that it was deleted. Asking “who deleted the message” falls under the “when did you stop beating your wife” type question, or what we refer to in law as lack of foundation. Lisa has not proven there was a deleted message. It’s not fair to make any assumptions about Maggie based on the alleged deletion when it hasn’t been proved that there WAS a deletion.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      All this is the exact reason why OP has bungled this so much. She’s just taken anything Lisa and Sarah have said without ever trying to verify what they are telling her.

    2. Kay*

      Yes! Especially when this “deleted message” in question was goose egg enough to bring an employee sobbing to the boss’s office it was so horribly mean, warranting an immediate PIP! How the PIP got in front of the deleted message is just another mystery in the sea of carts impeding the path of the lonely horse.

  35. Raboot*

    For the latest “accusation”, OP you 100% need to find this alleged mean deleted message. If they say it’s not the one Maggie showed you then they need to say when it was sent and IT should be able to help you if your company is using appropriate tools. Right now you are coming down on Maggie based on nothing.

  36. Fluffy Fish*

    Without getting in the weeds of who I think is probably in the right (because it matters absolutely not) heres the deal OP.

    You have created an environment where you unquestioningly believe the person who comes to you with a “problem” and immediately take action against the accused party without doing ANY due diligence or investigation.

    So here’s what that does. That creates an environment where people can pretty much say/do whatever about someone else because you have shown you unquestioningly take them at their word. That creates an environment where employees are afraid because they know you don’t want to hear their side of anything.

    You’ve, unwittingly I’m sure, created a pretty awful work environment. You have to do some serious work to demonstrate to your employees that you are fair and impartial when complaints arise. Frankly I don’t know if this whole mess can be salvaged.

    1. PrincessClutter*

      100%, this.

      It sounds like there may be a culture of “Do not question the boss”. As these women have been promoted, having questions asked seems to have put them on the defensive and out for attack….hence, going up the chain.

      It’s never good to discipline someone on the feedback of someone else, especially without looking into the issue at hand first.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      This is a big part of why I left my last job. Managers created a toxic workspace by not doing any due diligence and believing the first to complain. It is so toxic. I really hope the OP (and all managers!) follow Alison’s advice!

    3. Jacey*

      Totally agree with this take, especially your first line. LW won’t be helped by our speculations on who’s the bully or if there even is a deliberate bully or whatever. The important thing for them is to reconsider how they approach reported problems. That’s true no matter if the LW gets phenomenally lucky and Lisa and Sarah turn out to have been in the right all along.

    4. Tiger Snake*

      It has also set up a situation where people can accuse each other of being the blocker that is stopping business.

      And that’s awful. Once the exec get the idea that someone or some function is a ‘blocker’, it never goes away. Once team gets the idea that someone else is a ‘blocker’, it never goes away.

      It turns the entire company into us-vs-them, with the them being a scapegoat. Even when there are delays that have absolutely nothing to do with them, it doesn’t matter. They’re the blocker.

      And beyond how it impacts people and how it turns’ the scapegoat’s job into a potential lawsuit waiting to happen, it creates more delays for business because the actual problems are being ignored.

      (And it usually also introduces enormous financial risk, because areas that commonly get accused of being blockers are the areas that need to say “we can’t do that because its against the law *and we will be fined*”. But instead of people listening to them, people say ‘I need to bypass the blocker and disregard those actual concerns altogether. But I don’t know how much this applies this time)

  37. Lady_Lessa*

    All of this is bringing back memories/understanding of what happened to me at my last job. (I’m at a much better one now.) I was the Maggie, technical and new to the company. I never have learned how to play the social games that are often played. And the things that I had used, successfully before in breaking into a new company fell like lead balloons.

    I worked with a technician in a locked lab. BUT, I was never involved with the selection process of new ones. There were problems with keeping them, so of course, the solution was to send me to management courses. I had no power to put what I had learned into use.

    I was actually glad when I was terminated. I could see it coming, with an impossible PIP, losing my office, etc.

  38. Pounce de Leon*

    Alternate take: Everything is going smoothly until Sarah or Lisa gets a promotion. Then there’s drama involving Maggie—who did not get a promotion.

    It’s worth considering that maybe Maggie is a bored underachiever who can’t change jobs for some reason and is acting out.
    & I agree the OP must verify the screenshot. A true gaslighter would send a nasty message but screenshot a sweet one to show the boss.

    1. TransmascJourno*

      The OP describes Maggie as a high performer who has taken on additional training with an aim of moving forward within the organization. The only issue she’s had have been meeting deadlines set by Lisa, which the OP admitted were unreasonable to begin with. Per the OP, there’s nothing to indicate Maggie is an “underachiever.”

    2. Cake or Death?*

      …did you miss the beginning of the letter?

      “Maggie was hired primarily for a technical role. She’s absolutely excellent at it. In part because she’s unusually quick, we don’t always produce enough work to keep her fully occupied. But to take on any other responsibilities, she needs a lot of training and experience that she currently lacks.

      I’ve been up-front with her about this — to move forward in her career, she can either a) continue growing her skills in this technical area (which would likely mean leaving the organization one day if she wants to keep progressing) or b) train in other areas. She’s expressed a preference for b. So I’ve sent her to trainings, and she’s taken on tasks here and there outside her technical area as she continues to learn.”

      Being so good at your job that you get offered training to take on unrelated tasks is not at all how I would describe a “bored underachiever”.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Except for not getting a promotion, there’s nothing to indicate that Maggie’s an underachiever. In some respects, Maggie not being promoted doesn’t seem like something that can be held against her on its own, because the additional work that she’s doing is outside of the scope she was hired for. That’s a pretty typical profile of someone who’s an overachiever without an obvious career path to promotion.

  39. Cake or Death?*

    This part bothers me:

    “Shortly afterwards, Lisa tells me that Maggie isn’t meeting deadlines for her projects and that it feels like a sign of disrespect. Maggie has missed some deadlines, but Lisa is also being somewhat unreasonable in her expectations. I talk with Maggie about meeting deadlines, with Lisa about reasonable expectations,”

    First of all, the “it feels like a sign of disrespect” line about missing deadlines should have set off your “there’s-more-to-this-than-meets-the-eye” radar, because her issue with Magie missing deadlines should be that it’s causing work issues, not her ego taking a hit.

    Then you say, “Maggie has missed some deadlines, but Lisa is also being somewhat unreasonable in her expectations.”

    You should have taken a hard look at that. Was it that Lisa was setting a deadline of 1 hour for something that would be 2 hours of work and Maggie was taking 4 hours to do it? Or was Lisa setting a deadline of 1 hour for something that would be 3 hours of work and Maggie was taking 2 hours to do it? Because that matters. You say that Maggie is a high performer and that she completes her work very quickly, so you should have taken the time to figure out if Maggie was ACTUALLY not getting the work done in a timely manner, or if she just wasn’t meeting deadlines Lisa set. Because unless you could determine that Maggie wasn’t actually completing the work as quickly as she usually did (specifically before Lisa was promoted), then you should have ONLY talked to Lisa about setting reasonable deadlines and not talked to Maggie at all.

    Also, if you determined that Maggie was actually completing work more slowly and missing legitimate deadlines, it would have been a good idea to try to talk to Maggie about why…specifically, is Lisa making more demands/changes that make it harder to complete the work in the same amount of time? You say you talked with Maggie about meeting deadlines, but did you try to sort out why? Was this a two way conversation or was it you just lecturing Maggie about how important deadlines are yadda yadda yadda without getting any info?

    I don’t want to sound mean, but it’s sounds like you’ve just sort of phoned it on this whole situation and never once had the inclination that you should dig a little deeper into the situation. You seem to be completely comfortable with just totally writing off and punishing one seemingly good employee based off of vague, unsubstantiated complaints by two other coworkers…and even after one of them comes into your office SOBBING, you still didn’t get suspicious?

    It seems like you’ve never even tried to get Maggie’s side of things and frankly, that’s just really bad management behavior.

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      Also, didn’t OP say that Maggie is a very quick worker? That doesn’t really square with her missing deadlines. Is everybody just so used to Maggie’s work pace that they assume she can just crank it out like that all the time?

      1. Cake or Death?*

        Yes, OP said she was so quick at completing her work, that they gave her the opportunity to train in other unrelated tasks so they could keep her “plate” full.

        And it didn’t occur to OP that that was odd, that the super fast worker suddenly wasn’t meeting deadlines? You’d think that alone would have given OP pause, without all the other context.

        1. DJ*

          Good point. And if it was completely left field work for Maggie it would take her a little more time to get on top of it

  40. 867-5309*

    No new advice or POV to add. Just coming to say that I very much want an update on this one!

  41. AcademicChick*

    I think I have been in OPs position and completely blind sighted by what was going on in my team. It created a horrible toxic mix despite all of my best intentions. So if you need to, OP, get some help involved from HR or other as appropriate. Sure, you need to focus on the fact, but sometimes it can be hard to separate the real issue from everything else going on when you work together closely with everyone involved. The situation you’re currently in might be called bad management and yes, you most likely contributed, but sometimes good management is just really hard. Good luck OP!

  42. Leela*

    OP if I was Maggie and was telling the truth, you’d be out a good employee. The situation as you’ve laid it out means that both people who are starting problems with their coworkers and people who aren’t and are being falsely accused of doing so will be treated exactly the same! Of course I can’t say what’s actually going on for sure but you have set up a system that would unfairly punish someone and if Maggie’s as good as you say she is, she can definitely find another job.

    If there’s even a chance that this isn’t all Maggie’s fault, you’re risking being left with the two employees who are going to drive away whoever you hire to replace Maggie when she leaves too

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, the update is going to be (a) Maggie left within a week, and (b) a year later, Lisa and Sarah are targeting Karen, Maggie’s replacement and the same thing is going on again.

      1. Leela*

        Unless there’s something about this job that Maggie really needs and can’t get elsewhere (flexibility for Daycare that’s otherwise really hard to come by, benefits she can’t seem to find anywhere else, etc) I’d expect her to be gone, especially with her apparently being so technically strong

  43. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    “3 of my employees are having a conflict … and I can’t tell who’s right or wrong.”

    It’s you, OP. You’re the one who’s wrong.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I don’t want to pile on the OP but I have been Maggie (and it is painful) and if the OP did what Alison said (and it is not that hard to do?), this could be resolved much more fairly.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Yep. I’ve also been a Maggie in the same year as I got an overall rating of exceeds expectations on my review. People get real weird when you try to learn new things. They feel threatened instead of grateful.

  44. Language Lover*

    You’re getting a lot of advice about who people think is telling the truth but they have even less information than you do.

    I do think you should take Alison’s advice. See if you can recover the messages. Interview them both. Ask them to keep you in touch more about work issues. Have them document the best they can when they feel things have crossed a line.

    Good luck.

  45. Violet*

    Wow! It’s almost like siblings. Or how I used to try and sort things out after recess when I taught second grade. There, I generally had to go with what I knew of the people. And if you think a second-grader can’t lie well, think again.

    Alison’s advice is dead-on here. Personally, it’s weird that they both had the exact same complaint and that Maggie felt a need to screenshot anything. Also, there is the 18 months of . . . nothing. That’s weird too.

    I’m going to need an update on this one!

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      But I bet when you sorted things out after recess in the second grade, you asked both sides to tell you what was going on and listened to both! The OP did not ask or listen.

  46. TootsNYC*

    When I was an intern, I sat outside the office of the managing editor. I would watch all his interactions when the art department or an editor would come to ask him to settle a difference of opinion. Whichever it was (let’s say Julie, an editor) would come in all full of their own sense of rightness and ask him to decide in their favor.
    He’d say, “Let’s go see,” and take Julie into the art department to look at the actual layout. Because I could also see into the art department, I saw what he did. (I’d often seen the disagreement develop; it wasn’t particularly contentious, but they’d feel they couldn’t come ot an agreement themselves.) He’d come in and say, “Julie says there’s a problem with the photo choice. Julie, can you explain what the issue is?”
    Julie would restate the problem, but often she’d choose less confrontational or absolutist language. Then the managing editor would turn to Pedro the designer and wait. Then Pedro would explain why he didn’t agree. The managing editor would turn to Julie and wait. At most, the M.E. would restate someone’s opinion or argument. TBH, I don’t remember him actually proposing a solution. He’d ask a question that opened the door to one, but he didn’t say, “Oh, do this.”
    Suddenly Julie and Pedro would be saying, “Oh, I see what you mean, but that picture you want to use doesn’t have the right exposure. Can we use this other one?” “If you give me a longer caption, I can explain it more clearly with that photo.”
    They’d solve it. And the M.E. would say, “Ok, that sounds good. Let’s do that. Thanks, all.” and go back to his desk.

    A year later I came back for a short-term gig and sat outside the NEW managing editor’s office, this time not outside the art dept. The dynamic was SO different!
    Pedro would come in, angry and righteous: “Julie won’t let me do X!” And the New M.E. would get up, angry, and say, “Well, we’ll see about that. Julie!” he’d bellow down the hall. I could hear the convo all the way down the hall, because it always ended up being loud. Julie would raise her voice, of course. And then they’d argue (instead of explain) back and forth, and sometimes (often, actually) it would turn out that Julie was actually right, and then M.E. would have to back down.
    So much strife. Whoever got to him first, he was angry on their behalf. They believed that all they had to do to win the argument was to get to him first. (Oddly enough, the person who was most likely to actually be right wasn’t the one who came down the hall; it was the person who secretly knew their argument was weakest.) Those who were less likely to “tattle”
    ended up being quicker to run to the M.E., simply out of self-defense.

    That guy was an asshole in other ways as well.

    It was a powerful lesson in conflict resolution.

  47. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    LW, if they use a company provided communications, go talk to your IT department, and get them to pull logs. If they tell you it can’t be done, they need to turn on that function ASAP, because clearly, not creating log files is a problem for your organization.

  48. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    OP, I don’t want to pile on here or excuse possible bullying, but I wonder how well you set these three up to work together effectively.

    Feeling threatened, for better or worse, can come from a lack of role/scope clarity. The OP supports Maggie expanding her scope, but it’s not 100% clear that Lisa and Sarah (or even Maggie) ever shared the OP’s understanding of what that’s supposed to look like. We’re not even talking about buy-in yet, but if you started out with little shared understanding of how Maggie is supposed to get involved, that alone may have set the stage for an implosion.

    It’s also not really clear at all whether Lisa and Sarah’s org chart relationship to Maggie is meant to play out in the context of the work she does for them. Are they supervising her? Are they her project managers? Or is Maggie basically pinch-hitting for tasks they would otherwise do themselves? Those details really have an impact on what might be going on. Back to the clarity piece, newly-promoted employees sometimes need those lines drawn a lot more explicitly until they start to feel secure in their new roles. It’s probably not a coincidence that this drama started in the wake of Sarah and Lisa’s promotions.

    All this to say that there’s a devil in the details you probably need to address before you can really even identify who’s right or wrong.

    1. Minerva*

      I see this too. Maybe multiple people think they are empowered to make the same choices, and especially if this is a low communication workplace, you are bound to get conflicts.

      New leaders also have trouble distinguishing between “I do all of this, and you all help me as directed” and “We do this together, and I lead us”. This can lead to one person spinning their wheels while their leader curses them for their lack of telepathy, or insists on making all technical decisions and rejects their efforts out of hand

  49. anonymous73*

    Here is what we know…
    1. Maggie is a high performer. When told she need to learn new things to advance, she took on that challenge.
    2. Sarah got promoted and started complaining about Maggie.
    3. Lisa got promoted and started complaining about Maggie over the same issues Sarah mentioned.

    There are 2 possibilities here. Maggie is behaving in exactly the way described by both Sarah and Lisa OR
    Sarah and Lisa are bullies, have some issue with Maggie and are working together to get her out. My money is on the second one.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      Also, if you throw in the fact that the complaints were vague and non-specific, with no proof and centered around them feeling undermined and disrespected, plus with Lisa upping the ante by sobbing in OP’s office, I’d say putting your money on the second one is a safe bet.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I’m also team Sarah and Lisa are managing up to get the OP to push out Maggie.

      2. anonymous73*

        Exactly. And even if they aren’t ganging up on Maggie to push her out, based on the language being used by Sarah and Lisa, it sounds like they live on drama.

  50. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    This sounds like an episode of The Bachelor. I’ll get the popcorn.

  51. Imaginary Friend*

    But what does “undermining” mean? Clearly, the OP has an idea of what must have happened, for this word to be employed, but they apparently never asked Sarah or Lisa what *actually* happened. (I mean, it could have been a case of “you said tuesday the 17th but this month tuesday is the 16th so do you mean tuesday or do you mean the 17th?” or something equally innocuous, or nothing at all.)

  52. pcake*

    I would make sure that all three of the employees only communicate via some email or chat where none of them have the power to delete anything. That way, there will be no question of whether something was deleted, and the manager can see every interaction when/if one is called into question. If I were that manager, I’d take a minute to check their interactions regularly for a while.

  53. Minerva*

    I am surprised the discussion is about who is right and wrong, where I wonder, given the weak management, if it’s a cultural issue – team culture, that is.

    Is there unclear ownership of decisions and relationships? Is there a history of leaders not developing more junior people? Do we have disorganization and tasks falling through the cracks?

    You can easily have two people convinced they are doing the right thing. Maggie says, to Lisa, that she should let Alice and Betty handle the llama on their own. Lisa hears her decisions being challenged. Maggie takes it on herself to do an analysis of the yaks, because it’s the most high priority task that hasn’t been done, and it’s listed as not started on the project list. Sarah thinks Maggie should have asked because she wanted Charlie to do it, and told him so. Maggie speaks up in a meeting and says that David should look over Lisa’s task, because he is the local expert despite being lower level. Lisa hears “you are incompetent”, Maggie means “you should make sure everyone’s work is reviewed, no exception for the boss, and Daniel had great comments for me”

    Add in not having a clear division of responsibilities, maybe Maggie thinks Lisa should be tracking the sheep, and Lisa thinks they should push back and ask the pastoral division to do so.

    Nobody has to be fully wrong. Lisa can be over sensitive and Maggie abrasive and written comments make most things worse. Maggie can be being underused and Sarah can be legitimately annoyed that Maggie is making it harder to organize things.

    This is why managing well is hard.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      “This is why managing well is hard”

      Managing well is a lot harder when you are managing like OP; taking any complaints as gospel and punishing someone without spending even one second doing any investigating yourself.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        What Cake or Death said – it is very hard to manage well when you manage like the OP.

        1. Cake or Death?*

          It just really blows my mind that it never occurred to OP that they need to look into this more. Like, you have a really high performer who has taken on other tasks and has apparently never had any sort of behavioral issues, and you hear this and you don’t at least think, “hmm this doesn’t sound like something Maggie would do”? You’re just like, “yep, Maggie is a bully, let me pull her into my office for a lecture”.
          Like, WOW. It would be a nightmare to work for someone like that. All it takes is for one person to make some vague complaint about you and your boss automatically assumes you’re wrong and punishes you, even though they have no reason to believe you would act that way. How demoralizing.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          Speaking as someone who had a manager that this letter very much reminded me of (her habit of failing to investigate anything brought to her, forming her own conclusions, acting on that and then only realising those were wrong when the evidence eventually stared her in the face was very much like Cornelius Fudge’s reaction to Voldemort’s return, hence Fudge becoming her nickname) I couldn’t agree more with both of you. It’s a very long story but it ended up in Fudge being removed from her managerial post and the next manager after her trying so hard to avoid making her mistakes that she went too far in the other direction, becoming a micromanager and causing upset in a different way.

  54. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    This situation absolutely reeks of Lisa and Sarah teaming up against Maggie. I was a Maggie with my own “Lisa and Sarah” *and* with a manager who was like OP and just took their word for everything because they’d been there for 10+ years, and I was a new hire. Totally normal, professional emails I sent to them would be immediately forwarded to my boss with claims that I was bullying them. I busted my ass trying to win those women over, but they would act one way with me, then run to my boss and straight up LIE.

    Example: I was supposed to partner with one of these women on a project, but she would accept my calendar requests, then cancel at the last minute, sometimes after the meeting started, leaving me sitting there by myself until I tracked her down – every, single, time. I tried everything I could to get her to work with me (“What time would be better for you? Let’s meet at the cafe, I’ll treat you to coffee while we work on this. Can I help you find coverage?” etc.) until I was forced to complete the work myself (which I communicated to her as the deadline bore down, trying to give her every chance to contribute something) because it needed to be presented at a committee meeting with leadership. I sent her a copy of the work, and on meeting day, when I began to present (I presented it as “our” work in a pathetic attempt to avoid more drama with this woman. And I’d done a great job, so it would have been free kudos to her for doing nothing), Bully interrupted me and said in front of everyone in this really pouty, sad tone, “I don’t know what this is about since you didn’t want to work with me on it. I *really* wanted to work with you, but you never responded to me. Why didn’t you want to work with me, Blinded . . . ???” That is some diabolical shit.

    I learned to keep “receipts” too, but my documenting things was seen as contributing to the drama. My boss just refused to believe that these women would lie–it MUST have been a “me” problem since they could back each other up. Once they knew they had my boss in their pocket and could get me in trouble, it became a game for them.

    Maggie will bail like I did as soon as she can. Having your integrity and professionalism constantly in question because your boss is choosing to believe liars is MISERABLE.

    1. TessNYC*

      I relate so much to what you are saying. I was in an almost identical situation with 2 women who claimed I sent ‘harassing or annoying emails’ to them, which once my boss looked at them, determined they were perfectly fine, innocuous and normal requests. I always felt like I was stepping on eggshells, spending so much extra time trying to make my work emails worded in such way that they could never be misinterpreted, but it didn’t work, they continually complained, until my boss told me to never email them, to only talk to them. So much for me keeping a paper trail of them ignoring my requests. It was truly unbearable and I quit before even finding another job.

    2. Cake or Death?*

      I’m so sorry you went through that. What you described is exactly how I view the situation in the letter. OP has given Lisa and Sarah carte blanc to just run Maggie right out of there.

  55. No Tribble At All*

    I would bet money that:
    – Tasks/priorities are not tracked well, and Maggie jumps on whichever tasks she can regardless of who those tasks “belong to”
    – Maggie has been a little blunt about “task X didn’t include Y feature last time” which leads Lisa/Sarah, who did task X last time, to feel undermined
    – Sarah and Lisa want Maggie to stay in her (Maggie’s) lane

      1. Tiger Snake*

        Based on that’s just what the tech field looks like a huge amount of the time, I would imagine.

        Project management, task tracking, and communication of task assignment is a consistent issue in the industry. That’s why there’s so many new ‘project management frameworks’, PM styles, and new tools that come out all the time.

        Technical roles are also very well known to often – not always, but very often – tend to attract a particular type of person, and some of their qualities include being straight forward and direct. That makes them good at the technical role, and often great at communicating with the other techs for problem-solving. But the same here-is-the-problem-now-let’s-fix-it directness is a weakness in other forums. To people of different personality types, this can come across as harsh. (Especially if Maggie is a woman and the genders were not flipped; unfortunately, “women are nurturers and need to be more attuned to people’s feelings” strikes hard on this type of personal issue)

        1. Cake or Death?*

          Where does it say this is the tech field?
          It says that Maggie’s job is technical, but that doesn’t mean they are in the tech industry.

  56. moonstone*

    Agree with Alison’s answer – stop taking everyone at their word! I was really surprised to see the OP was doing that. You need to get actual evidence (ideally written) before drawing conclusions. Ask for chat and email history. It’s possible all 3 of them are being some level of unreasonable or misinterpreting something.

    I was also surprised that the OP didn’t mention whether Lisa and Sarah’s complaints were consistent with OP’s own experiences with Maggie. People definitely behave differently to their boss than to coworkers, but this context would have been helpful. However, it is a flag that multiple people have had the same complaints about Maggie.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Not necessarily. I was told the same thing when I couldn’t keep technicians, whom I had NO input into hiring, and was powerless to encourage or discourage bad behavior, like attendance.

    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      “It’s a flag that multiple people have had the same complaints about Maggie” is EXACTLY the assumption that bullies use to dog-pile their targets, and it works when managers like OP don’t actually investigate and just believe whoever complains first.

      If it’s a flag for anything, it’s that the situation needs some serious fact-gathering by OP so they can make their own determination based on actual evidence.

      1. moonstone*

        To be clear, by “flag” I mean “worth looking into/investigating”. So I agree. The advice is the same, the OP needs to verify details before jumping to conclusions.

    3. DyneinWalking*

      “it is a flag that multiple people have had the same complaints about Maggie”

      Depends on the relationship between these people. Multiple people from the same tight-knit group complaining about something is barely any better than one complaint by a single person. On the other hand, multiple people from completely different backgrounds and with usually completely different opinions complaining about the same thing is a a pretty good indicator that the problem is real and major.

  57. DJ*

    What is the relationship between Sara and Lisa? Maybe they are good friends.
    Is Maggie different in some way to the other 2? Ie different personality type, culture, family type, geographical location etc etc. for example I worked in a section that was very family orientated but I was separated and had no family and kids. I also have a low key softly spoken personality that gets mistaken for not being very social when I am social and amazingly some have such an issue with “quiet”’people! Yet I communicate respectfully and listen well!
    Maggie is also doing work that isn’t what’s she been trained for (good on her for wanting to and being willing to retrain). This could mean she has a different approach to the work and pose unique ideas (not a bad thing) that the others don’t get!

  58. big striped cat*

    Oh man, I’ve been in the Maggie seat — accused of being a bully by people who outranked me. The boss above them said “where there’s smoke there’s fire” even though they didn’t have any specific examples of me mistreating them. It messed with my head for years.

    Hope Maggie finds a new job!

  59. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Would every manager out there and everyone who might possibly someday become a manager PLEASE save Alison’s advice and use it!!

    This is such amazing (and simple really!) advice about how to manage interpersonal things with employees!

    IDK why but managers at my old place never ever asked the accused for their take on things. When I pointed this out, the managers said, well, you could always just tell me. Luckily, I read AAM and I DID tell them! But they always just seemed to believe the first to complain. Guess what they were training some employees to do — to complain ALL. THE. TIME.

    On one occasion, the manager told me if I had done x and said y, it would be perfectly fine but I had totally crossed a line by doing z. I literally had done x and said y, word for word, and told her. Oh, she said, never mind.

    When I left, I was able to point to multiple occasions when they told me what I was feeling, told me what I had done, or told me what needed to happen (but was what I had actually done). It was a big part of why I left.

  60. Tiger Snake*

    “Maggie was hired primarily for a technical role”
    “criticizing her work “

    I will fully admit to seeing this through my own lens, of being someone who I think is probably similiar to Maggie.

    But a lot of technical jobs lend themselves to encouraging a type of person who is very direct in their statements.
    This is especially true if you’re reviewing someone’s work or giving feedback on technical work. You want to be as straight-forward as possible. The more explicitly clear you can be about the problem, the easier it is to resolve. That’s the point.

    When you’re with other like-minded techies it works great. Everyone understands its not a criticism of someone’s actions or personality, or even of their general skill. Its a straightforward “here is problem -> problem is solved -> Great job guys. Now onto the next task”. Its not intended to be seen as finger pointing – errors and misjudgements happen, that’s life; the point of a review is to find them before they go live.

    But outside of those like-minded, a lot of people find that style of communication to be very confronting or hard to hear. Different types of people ‘hear’ the feedback differently, and find it harsh instead of straightforward.
    And a lot of people who are newly promoted are just out of their depth enough to hear that sort of technical about-this-output criticism as something that hits them personally and feels personal.

    Changing feedback style is hard. Its something that can be coached. But feedback is also approached this way for a fair reason. But as PMs, I think Sarah and Lisa need to learn how to recieve criticism in all its forms gracefully.
    Its something both sides need to be aware of, not just one. But I’m also noting that only Sarah and Lisa have said anything about Maggie, not anyone else she works with.

  61. Heidi*

    If I were an overachieving employee known for my fast work speed, and my new manager set unrealistic deadlines and then complained that I didn’t meet them, I would probably kick it into overdrive and focus all of my abilities on making sure I’m handing in my work early. I might further highlight my productivity by offering to take on more tasks. I also might start keeping my receipts around this new manager. Now, if I’m a new manager and was told that my expectations were unreasonable right away, I might start feeling somewhat insecure about my new role. If my coworker then started to drastically ramp up their productivity in my department, I might feel a bit threatened. I might even perceive offers to take on more work as questioning my ability to do them. But mischaracterizing those offers as mistreatment to my boss feels retaliatory and really crosses a line, especially if I know that the boss doesn’t probe complaints at all before reprimanding people.

  62. Jacey*

    I think this letter is one where a lot of people are projecting their own experiences onto the situation and taking “sides” or trying to do the LW’s work and pick apart the (highly abridged and distorted) three employees’ stories. I don’t know if it’s exactly ironic that this is happening in the comments for a letter where the advice is to think through your assumptions, but I think it’s something to note.

    In terms of actionable advice for the LW:

    First of all, hey, good for you that you reached out for help when you realized you needed it. And your instinct to address these interpersonal problems is a good one—way better than the anecdotally more common instinct to bury your head in the sand :)

    Secondly, I think Alison’s very right. You do need to take a step back and remember that not everything said to you is the gospel truth. That’s true even if no one is maliciously lying! People read situations differently. People have their own baggage behind their readings. Some people (like me) have cruddy memories and can’t always narrate reliably.

    Third, I’d get to the root of this issue quickly, and then address the fact that you initially mishandled it with all three parties. If someone was wronged here, they need to hear that you see your part in the wronging and you’re changing behavior moving forward. If someone intentionally lied to you to get someone in trouble, they need to know that trick won’t work again. And your whole team needs to know that you recognize your failings and are working to improve.

    Good luck!

  63. Kathy*

    Sounds like way too much involvement in what should be resolved by the employees themselves. Managers can’t referee. It also sounds like they are all immature. Tell them to go back and work out their differences fairly and with respect like professionals; and stop tattling on each other.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Is it really tattling when you’re dealing with a group of people who, for better or worse:
      (1) Can’t or won’t communicate effectively enough with each other to resolve conflicts?
      (2) Have no clear accountabilities to each other that they’re in a position to enforce?
      (3) Seem to not be certain of what’s expected of them or each other?

      You’re right that managers can’t referee, but it’s also not clear that the OP even gave their team the playbook.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      No, managers do need to referee. This is part of the job, to resolve internal conflicts. OP can’t just throw her hands up and say, “Save the drama for your mama!” That’s how lousy behavior doesn’t get checked, in an office or on the playground. It’s not ‘tattling’ if it actually affects the work environment.
      And I’m not sure what Maggie’s done to make you think she’s immature.

    3. moonstone*

      Disagree, conflict resolution is part of a manager’s duties. It’s no fun, but when it’s necessary, it’s necessary.

  64. TransmascJourno*

    From all of the comments, my only definitive takeaway is this: the birth of “Schrödinger’s Slack DM.”

  65. Oui oui*

    Something that may be an issue is the nature of the work that Maggie is taking over from the other two. Is Maggie getting to take on some of their more interesting work while the others are left with the undesirable tasks? That would be a huge issue for most workers!

  66. lucky-star*

    LW, please don’t manage based purely on second-hand and third-hand information, especially with no actual evidentiary support for what is being claimed. That’s the equivalent of basing decisions on gossip.

    Especially don’t reprimand or decide to put people on PIPs (or any other sort of performance management plan or system) based on this sort of stuff. Perform your own, thorough, evidence-based investigations and speak calmly, privately and compassionately to everyone involved. Do not jump to conclusions, or make any decisions, before the investigation has been concluded, and do not make hasty decisions in the heat of the moment, either.

    This style of mismanagement is not just dumb, it’s also extremely damaging: I had a manager try to put me on a PIP once because a colleague, Bob, had blamed me for an error that Bob was actually responsible for, and that I very clearly had absolutely nothing to do with. (Bob and I had completely different jobs, with zero crossover. It would be like blaming your plumber if your pharmacist gives your the wrong prescription at the chemist: utterly stupid.)

    My manager was completely incapable of fixing his very clear screw-up and just kept digging a deeper hole, which put my job and livelihood at risk. I ended up having to go to HR over this debacle, which is something I hadn’t done ever in 15 years in the workforce, and that thankfully helped.

    Please don’t be that sort of manager.

    There is very clearly something more to this situation. If Sarah and Lisa perceive the high-performing Maggie to be a threat (which they probably do), they could be teaming up to get rid of Maggie, especially if they are already friends or allies.

    If there is bullying going on here (which I strongly suspect there is; Lisa’s unrealistic deadlines are an obvious example), and Lisa and Sarah outrank Maggie, then 99% of the time, studies show the perpetrator is going to be the boss or higher-ranked person or people, not the other way around. If Maggie has taken to screen-shotting basic communication, then she is obviously concerned and is trying to protect herself, especially as you have already shown yourself to be untrustworthy, based on how you handled the issue with Sarah.

    You, Lisa and Sarah all need to go to management training. Now.

  67. GenXisReal!*

    I do NOT miss being a team manager. OP, good luck sorting this out and please provide all of the updates.

  68. Soup*

    Thank you OP and Allison so much for this letter.

    About 15 or so years ago, I was Maggie. I had a boss who refused to meet with me regularly and a staff who would go around me and complain directly to her. It was horrible. The people who were complaining about me were poisoning the rest of the staff, and I had no idea until a few of the junior members of my staff realized that I was not doing the things everyone said I was and clued me in.

    It all started with one guy who felt I was promoted “too quickly” and told everyone that even my most innocuous directions, such as “we haven’t met our goals this month, so let’s email instead of doing a direct mail piece,” and “you can’t just send every lead in our database a group email, even if you use bcc” were just me “throwing my weight around.” By the end of my time there, half my staff was reading newspapers at their desks instead of working and I was staying late to complete all their work because any complaint from them would lead to me being blindsided with a meeting to discuss how I was abusing my staff. When I would present my side, my boss would say “I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but if everyone is saying this, the problem is you.”

    While all this sounds like I could have been the problem (and sure, I wasn’t perfect), the “abuses” I was getting called out for were things like going into someone’s cube multiple times a day and telling him to “wake up.” Of course, he left out the part where he was sleeping. Even after explaining to my boss that during these times, his feet were on the desk, his head was dangling off the back of his chair and he was SNORING, her only response was “he says he wasn’t, and other people have mentioned hearing you say that, but no one said he was sleeping.” Did I mention that it was well known that this guy worked a night job as a bartender and didn’t get home until 4 am? Did I mention that his response to me not just letting him get paid to sleep all day was to come into my cubicle and show me how he could do tricks with a switchblade? To which my boss said I needed to work with him to get him used to office life. That was the worst of it, but the same type of thing went on daily.

    Long story short, I have never, ever gotten over this. This kind of gaslighting was too much. After quitting I was treated for PTSD, and I changed the career I had spent a decade working on. I will never manage anyone again. I think it all could have been avoided if my manager had just asked me my side before making a decision on what was happening.

Comments are closed.