my employee takes out her stress on coworkers

A reader writes:

A woman I manage, “Lucinda,” appears to thrive on manufactured stress. It is common for her to come off as exasperated or overwhelmed to me, her teammates, and even industry partners, especially in the face of changes or busier times of the year. Several of her colleagues have mentioned their annoyance at Lucinda being snippy, playing up her workload as much heavier than others, or being dramatic to the point of deception.

I can say unequivocally that Lucinda does not have an unmanageable workload and actually has quite a bit more flexibility than others.

At her annual review last year, we discussed that I was concerned that she was “wearing stress on her sleeve,” but I also said I found it understandable given that her department was understaffed. In a one-on-one a month later, I asked if everything was alright as colleagues said she was a bit short. She was about to go out on vacation so I said I hoped she could relax and come back refreshed.

The month after that, we had two discussions on the topic. The first was her relaying a dramatic incident between another department manager and a vendor. After further investigation, the incident was not nearly the disaster she relayed. I told her everyone does their best and to trust other manager’s decisions even when it’s not exactly what she would have done. Our second discussion was regarding her being disruptive during a staff training. I said that her behavior was unacceptable and she needs to be more flexible and handle changes with leadership and professionalism. She agreed that she did not act professionally and apologized.

We have not had attitude-related talks since, but we are halfway through our busiest two months of the year and her colleagues are irritated. I’m not sure how to effectively communicate “It’s not impressive for you to seem at the end of your rope so often and you need to be less abrasive.”

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

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. CanYallShutUp*

    Examples are ideal- please give her multiple examples of how this is affecting other peoples’ work. Feedback like “Jane thinks you are too grumpy” isn’t helpful.

    Also, ask her if there’s anything (realistic) that she thinks would help. For example, I am crabby when I’m trying to concentrate and get interrupted, so giving me a place/time to work uninterrupted for at least a few hours a week helps me be less snappish the rest of the time.

    1. tessa*

      You have control over your crankiness, though. Interruption sometimes is necessary, and people aren’t mind readers.

      1. CanYallShutUp*

        It sounds like you’re trying to disagree, but I didn’t say anything that contradicted what you said. Are you suggesting that people shouldn’t try to find ways to reduce their overall irritation level? In my experience it’s helped solve the problem the OP is working on.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          No I think Tessa was saying you are responsible for snapping rather than others being responsible for knowing when you snap.

            1. Imaginary Friend*

              I think that CanYallShutUp is saying that if she can get SOME uninterrupted time during the week, then she is not snappish during the rest of the time. And it’s easy to figure out ways to carve out that time if you are aware that you need to do so, but if you haven’t seen your own patterns it’s harder.

              1. CanYallShutUp*

                Yes, exactly, thanks Imaginary Friend. It basically took a pandemic for me to start getting uninterrupted time, but with a more supportive supervisor as the OP is trying to be, they might be able to make improvements without a huge upheaval.

                1. Rocky*

                  I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but can I point out gently that your user name does come across as a little antagonistic? That might influence how people interpret your comments.

              2. Reluctant Mezzo*

                I totally get that! Every once in a while (like every few months) I would need to put a sign on my cubicle wall ‘Please don’t talk to me till 4 pm. All the vouchers have to be posted by then.” (then I’d have a contributor *not send them to me till then* arrgh).

          1. Sweet Christmas!*

            …but why mention that at all, when nothing in the comment indicated they thought they weren’t? The solution was “give me a place/time to work uninterrupted for at least a few hours a week” in order to help me manage minimizing those emotions, not “people gotta learn to deal with my snappishness”.

      2. Kella*

        You don’t have control over whether you *feel* cranky, you have control over whether you act on it. And if I had identified “Oh, I tend to get cranky when my work is constantly getting interrupted, can we make [x changes] so that that’s less likely to happen or ask [person] to email instead of visit in person when they have a question?” that *is* taking responsibility for your own crankiness. Making those changes does not guarantee you will never be cranky but addresses the underlying problem that was resulting in those feelings and communicates the problem to the people who need to know about it. That’s the opposite of mind reading.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Yes, this. There are more (and better) options than a stiff upper lip.

          1. Ring around the Roses*

            +1000 FYI there are also medical reasons for shortness and overreaction to stress, particularly post-pandemic. Some Autoimmune disorders and specifically Adrenal Fatigue and Hashimotos. Mental health matters as well. Directly asking Are you ok? how are things going? referral to EAP or other resources to explore medical reasons physical and mental might be helpful as well as stress-reducing tools and resources. A little empathy goes a long way.

            1. Sweet Christmas!*

              I have an anxiety disorder and it takes almost all of my energy to hold it together for 8 hours a day. I specifically blocked a meeting-free day to help me manage this, because I’m cranky when I’m on video calls for 8 hours straight every day of the week.

            2. CoveredinBees*

              Yup. I cringed a bit reading the letter because I recognized some of this in how I used to act. It was a horrible combination of bad boss, generally dysfunctional company and undiagnosed/untreated depression and anxiety. Not trying to armchair diagnose Lucinda, but some of this feels familiar. In my situation, the only way to fix things was to leave. My boss would not have been able to approach this with anything approaching tact. Also, citing individual instances would have only helped with future situations like that but not the underlying issue that causes them. I know it’s not great but it might not be fixable by this boss.

    2. Ama*

      I’d also recommend to OP practicing how she’s going to phrase that request and what examples she plans to use.

      Many years ago, I was stressed out and overwhelmed in a job (although legitimately so, when I finally left they hired two people to replace me) and when my boss tried to talk to me about how my frustration and stress were starting to affect my relationships with my coworkers she made the mistake of throwing in “and some mornings you don’t even smile when I say good morning.” At that point any valid critique she’d made went out the window — all I could focus on was “oh I’m completely drowning in my workload and you are telling me I don’t SMILE enough?” It took me quite some time and processing to get my brain back to the actual work problems she’d brought up (that colleagues were starting to hesitate to come to me for assistance — my primary job function — because I was treating every new request like an imposition).

      1. Ama*

        I should add, once I got back to what she was actually saying I did make an adjustment to my behavior and I’ve also made sure I never did that again, but if she’d left that particular example out I would have gotten there faster.

      2. Beth*

        I think that pretty much any version of “Why don’t you smile more often?” can be a pitfall.

        At my Awful Old Job, one of my Terrible Pointy-Haired Bosses was haranguing us all one day about our lousy morale and poor attitudes. (Yeah, think about that for a moment . . . he never did.) At one point, he asked my co-workers why they couldn’t be more like me? “Every morning, Beth comes in and says good morning to everyone. And she says good night when she leaves!”

        I tried to melt into the floor with embarrassment. I never wished anyone at that job good morning or good night again, especially not my bosses. (At the time of this memorable staff meeting, I was already making active plans for my departure.)

        At least he didn’t tell me that I’m so pretty when I smile and should smile more often.

      3. Smithy*

        As someone who’s also been called out for “attitude” before at work, I strongly agree with this. Using concrete examples that truly impact work can help a conversation that can trigger a lot of defensive feelings (i.e. your personality isn’t working).

        And it especially helps if some of the advice is around things that would help with senior leadership/management that are more surface level or optics based. If a more senior leader wants cameras on during a once a week meeting and to see “happy and engaged faces”, that request may always be irritating and feel silly – but contextualizing it as optics that a leader finds important and not a blanket comment for all meetings is useful. Even if still irritating.

      4. Not my usual account*

        I got that criticism on the day of my grandmother’s funeral. I had asked off and was denied (I didn’t realize I could have pushed back on that, I was young). I have never forgotten that cruelty.

  2. Limotruck87*

    Oof. I worked with a Lucinda and would have really appreciated any of the managers treating her snippiness and manufactured stress like the performance issue it was, rather than brushing it off because “she’s good at her job.” We were all good at our jobs, we all got stressed, but only one of us regularly took it out on others.

    Our Lucinda ended up driving multiple coworkers away between her rudeness, dumping stress on others, and investment in appearing The Hardest Worker Ever To Work Here. The only reason I didn’t quit directly because of her is that I already had an escape route in place as I was leaving to go back to professional school. At that point I felt I could deal with it a few more months in order to keep the job security and reach the cutoff for my pension, but it was very frustrating to watch her unprofessional behavior go unaddressed for years.

    The OP will likely find that she has employees start leaving if she doesn’t address Lucinda’s issues directly and quickly, which will end up costing the company/department more in the short and long run.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I’m no longer a manager, but when I was I was adamant that rudeness in high performers made them… not be high performers. The hard skills of a role are not the only skills that are important and IMO, to be a high performer you have to also have soft skills (it’s not about being the most popular extrovert, it’s about basics of respect and professionalism). If you are a rock star at your job duties but alienate people, then you’re not performing at the highest levels. And that’s on top of the collateral damage you’re taking by keeping that kind of person around – employee losses, decrease in reputation of the dept or team, etc.

      1. Nopetopus*

        > to be a high performer you have to also have soft skills (it’s not about being the most popular extrovert, it’s about basics of respect and professionalism)

        Would someone be willing to talk to my boss about this? Sighs in introvert…

        1. Lana Kane*

          This is hard because there are personality types who interpret quiet (respectful and professional, but quiet) as snobbish, standoffish, etc. If they can’t read that person then it becomes a problem for them, but in their mind it’s the other person who is the problem. I speak from experience, myself! Early in my career I had someone ask me “Why do you act so professional?” – I was always friendly since they were a customer, but not like ‘WOO PARTY” like she was. That made her uncomfortable – my theory was that she thought I was acting like I was better than her? It’s a problem when it’s a manager who has that kind of personality, for sure.

          1. Middle School Managment*

            This is a very solid point. I work where people shout “Good morning” or greetings down the hall, across a room, or into a general area of offices. I, however, am only comfortable greeting people at normal speaking distance. Because of this, a coworker complained to a boss that I was unfriendly and unprofessional. In reality, I just am generally a quiet person and don’t think shouting is professional or necessary.

            1. Critical Rolls*

              Oh, this is taking me back to a job I had in a retail-ish environment not long after college. There was a much older woman who worked there, and we just totally rubbed each other the wrong way, so I did my best to keep interactions short. And she complained to our manager that I was being cold, unfriendly, and disrespectful! Luckily I had a sensible manager who understood that I was trying to avoid conflict, but I was absolutely flabbergasted. I annoy the daylights out of you, coworker! Why are you fighting to prolong our interactions?!

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Co-worker couldn’t understand why you weren’t like her. There are all sorts of people out there who are unable to see things from anyone’s point of view but their own. She thought it was up to you to respond to her properly, not avoid her!

    2. Gnome*

      I also have worked with this person. It’s one thing for coworkers to vent a little to each other, but constantly being around negativity sucks and makes people tired and unhappy.

      I am at the place in my life that I’ll tolerate some drama (life has drama) but if someone is going to be negative – snippy, rude, or emoting on me – on a regular basis, I will leave. I’m just done with it. Mind, I DID just leave because of that. And I gave management more than enough time to deal with it. People with choices will exercise them. And those are usually the folks you want most to keep.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is one of the things I learned from AAM. A good employee =/= good at their job.
      “I have a great employee who gets everything done on time with no mistakes:
      S/he takes other people’s work and finishes it without telling them, so they are recreating things that are completed.”
      S/he comes in early, stays late, works through lunch. When other people offer to help, s/he snaps at them and insists on finishing everything alone.”
      S/he will bad mouth other departments and not collaborate with certain people in them.”
      S/he will give anyone who “interrupts” meaning work-related talk/email/call/message without getting a two minute lecture about wasting time.”
      Spoiler alert: You don’t have a great employee.

    4. YoungsterHAHAHA*

      I also work with a Lucinda. In fact, I was hired because Lucinda kept complaining that she was overworked and too busy during the day. So they hired me to help. Except Lucina didn’t like that at all. She didn’t want HELP. She wanted to complain.

      I had literally nothing to do for over a year because Lucinda was deeply, deeply invested in making sure everyone knew how overworked and undervalued she was. Every time she’d bring up how busy she was, our boss would say “Well we can help! What can we take off your plate?” but it never led to me being assigned work. She either didn’t want to give up control or she made a mountain out of the molehill of work she had to do, and didn’t want anyone to know.

      To make it worse I am in my late 30s, and Lucinda is in her 60s. So I was the Youngster (HA! no one is calling me young) out to show her up and force her into retirement. She told me point blank that she’d only give away some of her responsibilities to someone in her age range. It was so demoralizing.

      I switched jobs as quickly as I could, and now Lucinda is back to saying how she never works less than 60 hours a week.

      1. allathian*

        Some people are never happy unless they’re miserable, your Lucinda sounds like that. But she also sounds like a broken stair. Her boss should tell her to stop complaining, but for some reason they don’t seem to want to do that.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Your manager should have, you know–managed that. Lucinda was a problem, but the real problem was that nobody made her stop.

    5. Kal*

      My partner works with 2 Lucindas. The first has been around for a long time and the manager refuses to do anything about it, so good employees keep leaving until they finally found someone willing to stay around – another Lucinda, where they both get to complain endlessly about each other never doing any work and about how overworked they are (while both regularly blow off doing any actual work). The manager’s refusal to deal with any of it has made the entire place go down the toilet quite quickly.

      My partner only manages to stay there because they only work there once a week and are the sort who can ignore both of the Kucindas and focus on their job. Plus it helps that my partner is in school right now to become a higher level professional and will be able to leave the place in the dust in the near future. This is not a situation that a good manager should want to let happen.

  3. EPLawyer*

    I checked the link just to see if Alison’s response was what I thought it would be. It was.

    Tap dancing around and hoping indirect hints work does not help anyone. It doesn’t change the behavior and leaves the coworkers frustrated that her behavior is allowed to continue with apparently nothing being done about it.

    Lucinda needs to be told directly to cut the drama and stop being rude to her coworkers. She also needs to be told her job is on line. Unless she is the unicorniest of unicorns, you can probably find someone else who can do her job WITHOUT causes stress and drama.

  4. tessa*

    I see you have met my co-worker.

    Everything is an emergency all the time. I think she just doesn’t know how to prioritize, so she constantly overwhelms herself. Our passive manager is no help whatsoever, in that for the past several years she doesn’t do anything to guide and coach prioritization. Meanwhile, co-worker is petty and mean-spirited, and wants the work to herself, as she doesn’t trust anyone else.

    Wish me well at my new job, which starts in April! :)

  5. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oof I’ve worked with a Lucinda and let me tell you, it is draining. On top of it, she’s essentially crying wolf so if she ever truly was overworked, would anyone believe her/be willing to help?

    My Lucinda constantly mentions that she had to work late for something or how hard it was to do X, when there was literally no need to do so. Rarely does our work require anything to be done after hours, so every time she does this I’m internally rolling my eyes. I have honestly just run out of sympathy for her various plights, because there is always something burdening her, and she is always putting herself out (for no reason). So if she ever truly did go above and beyond for something, my first thought probably wouldn’t be “wow it’s great that she was able to get that done”, it would be “this again, did she actually need to do that?”. And that’s not great for anybody.

    1. Anon for This*

      I have a sort of Lucinda. Sort of because she absolutely is doing the work she’s complaining about, but she’s doing it because she’s coming in on Saturday to finish something I said I’d get on Sunday because she thinks if I burn out I’ll quit. Which is silly because I’m already burned out, I’m already quitting, I’m just waiting for a small flurry of doctors appointments I need to have to be over before I start looking, and all this is doing is making her exhausted before I’ve even left.

      1. 1LFTW*

        Oh gods, you have all my sympathies.

        I would tell my own Lucinda that I would complete a task early on Monday, only to arrive and find it completed. Then she’d flounce in and lecture me because when she’d come on on Friday to find the task undone, she’d had NO CHOICE but to come down off the cross to DO IT HERSELF because obviously it would NEVER GET DONE otherwise.

        Eventually it got to the point where she stayed several hours late one day to do something that didn’t need to be done, that in fact, the rest of the team (including our manager) asked her specifically *not* to do… only to limp into work the next day, having screwed up her knees standing for too long, barely able to open her water bottle because she’d strained her wrist overworking the night before. It was like she was under some sort of compulsion to martyr herself.

        Fortunately, the nature of our work made it easy for my boss to encourage her to “take a break” from our next project, and then COVID happened, so we avoided any unnecessary workers’ comp claims. If he hadn’t done that, I would have quit long ago and run screaming into the abyss.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “she’s essentially crying wolf so if she ever truly was overworked, would anyone believe her/be willing to help?”
      This. And an additional, SHE doesn’t know herself, so something CAN get fudged up, because she doesn’t actually believe she isn’t capable of doing it all. She just wants to hear it from the crowd. So she will be whining away not even realizing that she really is behind.

  6. learnedthehardway*

    I think it’s time to have a “this is for your benefit” serious discussion with Lucinda.

    Point out the pattern – consistently over-dramatizing of minor incidents, making problems seem bigger than they are, raising the stress level of the entire team, etc. etc.

    Make it clear to her that her work load and flexibility are – if anything – lighter than her colleagues’, or at least on par with them.

    Then point out that her habit of over-dramatization has become a performance issue, and put her on a performance plan. Explain that her reactions make clients and management believe she is unable to manage her workload or stress levels, that people can’t rely on her to provide an accurate assessment of situations, and that all of this is affecting how clients perceive the business (and it’s ability to deliver), it’s affecting her personal credibility within the company, and it is limiting her career potential because she is seen as unreliable. You can point out that while she may be delivering on her workload, that her over-dramatization means that management perceives that she is not delivering or that she is severely struggling to deliver. I would also include that co-workers perceive her behaviour negatively as well – either that she can’t pull her own weight on the team, or that she doesn’t want to and is using histrionics to get out of workload.

    I’d also outline expectations of how she is to behave / handle issues – eg. before she reacts, she needs to take a minute to ask herself how her reaction will be perceived. Before she raises an issue, she has to write out what the issue is, why it is worth raising, and what the pros and cons are – or something like that.

    Some people ARE more dramatic than others, but your employee has gotten into a very bad habit and it’s one that she needs to break out of – for her own sake as well as the company’s.

    1. Rocky*

      “Explain that her reactions make clients and management believe she is unable to manage her workload or stress levels, that people can’t rely on her to provide an accurate assessment of situations, and that all of this is affecting how clients perceive the business (and it’s ability to deliver), it’s affecting her personal credibility within the company, and it is limiting her career potential because she is seen as unreliable”. These scripts are great – I can think of a “Lucinda” who really will only take feedback on board if it’s couched in terms of the benefit TO HER.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I had a convo like this. With almost all those components
      -you’re making yourself look bad
      -you’re damaging your credibility
      -you don’t either have more work to do than anyone else
      -you absolutely should be able to get it done in a normal work week unless you’re incompetent
      -your staying late and whining is making me, and our whole department, look bad
      -you’re burdening other employees unfairly by whining at them or by pressuring them into helping you
      -You need to stop.

      Then I had to expend a lot more energy to stand by her desk and make her go home. And I had to issue corrective statements in the moment. It faded away, so I don’t think it was a permanent thing. But I had to be quite direct.

      I agree with Alison: direct is kind.

  7. 3DogNight*

    I think we all have a Lucinda in our workplace. It is affecting work. People are finding ways to work around her, in order to not deal with it. It’s stressful to talk to them and not get sucked in. And, some people are getting sucked into that drama, which makes the problem larger.
    I hope that you do talk to her, very directly, about this.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I recently joined a team that had a Lucinda leave a few months before I started. As I started training I noticed some processes/rules that seemed weird overkill to me, and it was explained that they were implemented in order to “Lucinda-proof” the team. It reminded me of having to work through the effects of toxic workplaces, but in the reverse – working through the effects of toxic team members.

  8. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    It sounds as if the LW has tried to be supportive and positive, but it also sounds as if Lucinda isn’t getting the message. LW, have you given Lucinda observable behaviorally-phrased goals and objectives that you need her to meet? Can you and she both say exactly what she needs to do in order to meet those goals? How do you want her to behave in order to succeed?

    Finally, are there any consequences attached to her NOT changing her behavior? If not, then what incentive does she have to really change anything she’s doing? (And make no mistake; changing how you handle stress and how you relate to others is NOT easy! It’s possible, of course, but it’s also very challenging to do and it seldom happens overnight.) Introducing more structure into your supervision of Lucinda may be just what’s needed to yield the results you want.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “LW has tried to be supportive and positive, but it also sounds as if Lucinda isn’t getting the message”
      She gets the response from LW, which is what she wants. Constant acknowledgement.
      At least the woman who wanted balloons and a victory dance at the end of every completed task was honest about her wants.

  9. Stress Monkey*

    Hey, I used to be like this!

    Part of the issue was not knowing how to prioritize my work or having a sense of perspective.
    Part was needing to be given time to concentrate and freedom to organize my processes.
    Part was living in a culture that fallaciously equates being busy with being important and I wanted to be important. This mindset rewards stress; it was almost like the high from a caffeine jolt.

    Thank goodness I had patient supervisors who taught me how to manage my time, trusted me with projects, and showed me how to be productive without being stressed!

    1. Goldenrod*

      Good for you for figuring it out and changing!! Well done.

      I have found it to be the case that most of the time, in offices where I’ve worked, the people who complained the most about being the most busy….Usually weren’t. It was usually more about the reasons Stress Monkey articulated so well – wanting to feel important/get attention and not having efficient work processes. And time management / prioritization – that is huge. People who don’t prioritize well are usually stressed.

    2. Anonym*

      Well done you!

      I always find the “I used to be this person” comments to be the most enlightening. Thanks for sharing.

      1. tessa*

        Same here, Anonym! I find those kinds of comments particularly insightful. Thank you, Stress Monkey.

    3. Lana Kane*

      I’m glad you had support, and the awareness to take that support. We all have something that needs to be improved on – half the battle is accepting the feedback!

    4. Ring around the Roses*

      So pleased for you, the right tool and guidance can make all the difference

  10. Jill*

    Lucinda sounds like me when I wanted my parents attention. They would never give me attention unless something awful was going on.

    I hope Lucinda sees that this isn’t helpful to anyone.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I feel this aligns more with Lucinda than the comment from Stress Monkey above who admits to failings in his/her abilities. I don’t think Lucinda doesn’t know what she’s doing…in both the sense of her job and in manipulating her team and manager.

  11. Anonymous4*

    I worked with a woman who would flip out every time a big project came in, and she’d be on the phone whining and moaning and carrying on to all her friends about HOW MUCH WORK WE HAD TO DO, while I was doing it.

    She was the boss’s pet, so there wasn’t much I could do by way of balancing the load — I’d suggest we split the work and she do this report while I did that one, and she’d rush into P’s office and whine, moan, and carry on in there. While I was doing the work.

    It was a good company overall and I liked what we were doing, but I just landed in a department run by a really crappy boss. (I was so glad to leave!)

  12. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m not sure how to effectively communicate “It’s not impressive for you to seem at the end of your rope so often and you need to be less abrasive.”

    Be wary of using the word “abrasive.” It’s got a reputation for being used only on women, and only when they’re doing things that would be called “assertive” if men did them. You might end up sending a message that you do not mean to send.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Thank you, yes, beat me to it. A bit of soul-searching might be called for here, OP; this isn’t by any means the worst gendered thing ever, but it is notoriously gendered and you might want to consider how unconscious biases might be operating here.

      1. Observer*

        That line is problematic, but the behavior describes is a problem regardless of the gender of the person doing it. What’s more, I don’t even think that “abrasive” is the right word to describe the problem anyway.

        So, yes, it behooves the OP to think about why they chose a word that tends to have gendered connotations. But I think it’s more important to focus on specific behaviors rather than general terms. And when more general terms really ARE needed, stick to stuff that is more accurate, less “personality” focused and more behavior focused.

    2. Generic Name*

      I agree. OP, please think about specific behaviors that makes her seem abrasive, and have a few examples of what you mean. If you can point to specific conversations you’ve had where she acts in a harsh or grating manner, that will be a big help. Otherwise, it can just feel like a gendered personal attack at worst, or it will feel confusing and unclear at best.

  13. Esmeralda*

    Yep, we have a Lucinda. Complains about everything — but especially about a key function that just about everyone in the office has to do. Always working sooooo harrrrrddd, especially on key function, which is sooooo harddd.

    What’s sad is that our Lucinda is early career. There are jobs in our office require a lot less of key function, and jobs around campus that don’t require it at all. Lucinda will not be getting those jobs. Her reputation as a complainer (who is not in fact working any harder than anyone else) means people don’t want to work with her, don’t want to offer her opportunities, and have no problem telling search committee chairs in other offices why no one wants to work with her or give her opportunities (when the chair calls over to say, Lucinda hasn’t listed you as a reference, but I trust your judgment, so what do you think?).

    Our supervisor has been working with her on this…it’s not progressing well.

  14. Bosslady*

    I call this George Costanza-ing when someone acts annoyed and overwhelmed all the time so that people will think they are working hard and too busy to be bothered. It was an actual technique he used to keep from getting fired and it was effective for awhile in the show!

  15. H.Regalis*

    I work with someone who is a human mood ring. They don’t take stress out on other people, and I still feel comfortable asking them questions when I need help; but if they’re in a bad mood, you will know, and often I am thinking to myself, “If you’re like this now, you must have been absolutely insufferable as a teenager” or “How on earth does your spouse deal your moody ass?”

  16. higeredadmin*

    OP, let’s hope that your Lucinda is the type noted above who is incorrectly interpreting “busy” as “important”. I managed a Lucinda for several years who was of the manipulative, attention seeking plus lazy type. She had worked out that if she fussed enough she would get less work and be able to pick the work she wanted to do more easily. (When I took over as manager first thing I realized was that she had two projects for two leaders in our office who never really spoke to each other, and she was telling each one how slammed she was with the other one’s work, and was basically doing nothing. I stopped that immediately.) It was constant PIPs, calls with HR, meetings to address behaviour, her team HATED her and she just killed morale. She took twice the time to do anything than anyone else in the team. She was also very good at buttering up senior people in our office. (Why she wasn’t fired – she had long service in the office by the time I took over, which always makes it harder. Also, in UK higher ed I think you would basically need to punch someone in the office to be fired.) Well, eventually our office was restructured and she applied for a new job in another part of the Uni after being the only member of the team not internally promoted. She transferred there, and was gone by the end of her probation period. I cannot describe the feeling of relief. So all of this is to say – if you think she isn’t going to change her ways and there are some deeper issues there, reach out to HR ASAP to see what you need to document/do and get that process going. It might have the intended effect of snapping her out of it, and if not the sooner Lucinda is out of your life the better for everyone.

  17. anonymous73*

    How many more times are you going to have the same conversation before you provide her with consequences for her actions? A “talking to” is not a consequence and you’ve already had 4 talks with her about her attitude. The next time you speak to her, you need to be clear about what you expect from her and what will happen if things don’t change up to and including losing her job. Everyone has stress, and there are occasions where one may take it out on someone else. But this attitude/issue has been repeated over and over, and it’s not fair to your other employees to have to deal with someone like her.

    1. Not_Me*

      Yeah, it’s so frustrating when management won’t really address these types of employees and just keeps having “talks” with them. This type of issue should be treated as any other performance problem. Why is she able to get away with being rude to other employees? If she was that way to management, I bet it would be stopped immediately.

      LW, you don’t know what your other employees are going thru at home but they manage to come to work and not snap at their coworkers. It’s not right that you are allowing this to continue. If the rest of them are able to come to work and be professional, why can’t this one? You are going to lose staff if you allow this to continue. This woman is not the only one in the entire world with stress. Maybe she needs EAP. But you need to address it and tell her she cannot act this way to her coworkers. You are the manager.

      I used to work with a woman like this. Management had no backbone at all and let it continue because she would cry anytime they tried to speak to her. As a result, no one spoke to her unless they had to. She had no work friends. No one went to lunch with her, she had to sit by herself. She had no one to hang out with at company events. People always say they don’t care and they don’t go to work to make friends. But let’s be real, most of us do want to be liked at work and have someone to talk to at events. No one would collaborate with her unless they absolutely had to. People also started quitting eventually because the spineless manager wouldn’t do anything. So our dept lost a lot of great staff but got to keep the rude, whining, complaining, slacker who didn’t really get work done and kept missing deadlines.

  18. LMB*

    The letter seems to conflate a few different things (1) that she always seems stressed and overwhelmed (2) that she has a tendency to be over dramatic (3) that she has a tendency to act impulsively (disrupting a meeting, talking to a partner about an internal issue) and (4) being “short with” (I guess rude?) to colleagues. Taken altogether, with the exception of the unprofessional impulsivity, these all just sound like complaints about her personality. The letter also doesn’t say whether this is new behavior or has always been the case. I think there could be a lot of different possibilities for why she’s like this and a lot of different reasons to press it/not press it and exactly what to press/not press. I think the manager has to start with the most tangible things that have actually impacted the business. Then think through the stuff that’s more about having a personality others just tend to find annoying and what is appropriate and worth while to address. Some people are annoying and/or mildly rude! Also I have to point out that Lucinda is a woman and most likely biologically female— she may be pregnant, going through menopause, having fertility treatments, or even just dealing with “normal” hormone fluctuations. Any hormonal change can make a person STRESSED and make them come off as “short,” and reduce their tolerance for BS, and these things affect some people more than others.

    1. Anonym*

      Right, but none of those potential causes excuse treating coworkers poorly/rudely, complaining about her stress when everyone else is in the same boat or being unprofessional / making bad judgement calls (#3). I’m in one of your listed buckets now; it’s not an excuse for any of that.

      Plus, people deserve the chance to improve. Some may not be open to it, but many others would like to know how they’re screwing up or being a crappy colleague so they can fix it. I would certainly want to know, ego bruising as that would be. Better than being the missing stair.

    2. Observer*

      NONE of what the OP describes is a matter of personality per se. All of it comes down to specific behavior. And none of it is behavior that a decent boss should allow to continue. There is simply no good reason to allow someone to be “mildly rude” on a regular basis. An adult in reasonably functional environment who cannot avoid being rude (even mildly) on a regular basis is the one with the problem and I see no reason why the OP and the rest of the staff and partners need to be subject to that.

      And could we please stop maligning women under the guise of “excusing” bad behavior. What the OP is describing is not just “reduced tolerance for BS” for one thing. For another there are a LOT of things that can make a person STRESSED, as you put it. But that doesn’t make it OK to take it out on others in the workplace. Most women are quite cognizant of this.

      1. Cj*

        I totally agree with what you said about maligning women. But if LMB insists on going there, what about Lucinda’s coworkers who might be going through some of these things and have a reduced tolerance to *her* BS?

      2. I Ship It*

        Agreed. I work with a Lucinda, and have worked with Lucinda’s in the past. The behavior pattern is almost predictable (I work in a moderately stressful field which often has last minute issues that need resolving, prime time for Lucinda breakdowns). I also happen to have a small handful of medical conditions that are exacerbated by stress. Yet, I still manage to maintain a professional front with coworkers and outside vendors/contractors, even when I really want to curl up and die until the flare stops. There is a bare minimum level of respect that all functioning adults should be capable of demonstrating, and after having worked with several Lucinda’s, not taking one’s stress out on one’s coworkers is part of that. A coworker should never feel the need to qualify requests or helpful suggestions for fear of setting off or offending another coworker because the recipient will assume the action was meant to overstep or undermine. And that’s where most Lucindas I have worked with end up- that isn’t excusable, that they get away with creating an environment where coworkers are more concerned about their reaction to a suggestion than anything else, all because they might be hormonal or stressed. As I tell my kids, people need to feel the consequences of their actions. Shielding them out of a desire to excuse them (and by attempting to set the behavior down as “being female” that is really an attempt to excuse and shield) or maintain status quo does the people a disservice by robbing them of an opportunity to learn and correct their behavior before it becomes permanently damaging.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      There’s some pretty nasty sexism wrapped up in saying that people should have lower expectations for women to behave professionally on the basis that we may be losing our tempers because of hormone fluctuations. That’s a milder version of the same rhetoric that’s been used for centuries to exclude women from positions of power, authority, and prestige on the basis that women are irrational, moody, prone to hysterics, and unable to handle stress.

      It’s the individual’s responsibility to behave appropriately towards others, and if she’s unable to do that it’s not her coworker’s job to put up with her poor behavior. The overwhelming majority of women are civil and respectful around the people they work with. If Lucinda can’t manage to behave appropriately at work, that’s a LUCINDA problem, not a WOMAN problem.

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly. And should we excuse men who rage and throw things because we all know so many men are constantly overcome with rage due to their testosterone and their inability to control themselves?

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Good grief, this.

        The fact that some snippy drama llamas happen to also be women doesn’t mean that they aren’t still snippy drama llamas, or that they don’t need to be managed.

    4. Rocket*

      WTF? You’re seriously going the hysterical woman route with this? Can’t expect the women to be professional cause they’ve got to deal with all those hormones!

      1. Cj*

        Yep. Good thing we don’t have a woman president or she would have nuked to Russia this past week if she had PMS or is going through menopause.

    5. AcademiaNut*

      At a fundamental level, it doesn’t matter what the root cause is. What matters is that Lucinda needs to stop dumping her negative emotions on her coworkers.

      If it’s truly a case where she cannot help it – medical reasons, a fundamentally unpleasant personality, massive and long lasting personal stress – “gets to be rude to coworkers and constantly complain” is not a reasonable accommodation. An ADA situation would be most difficult – you’d need to talk to a lawyer to figure that one out. If it’s just her personality and she can’t change, she needs a new job, one that minimizes interactions with others. If it’s a temporary situation, a short term change of job responsibilities might be appropriate, to less stressful work, or a workspace that was separate from other people, or being asked to only send work communications through her boss, rather than her coworkers.

    6. For the Moment*

      “I have to be rude to my colleagues” isn’t an indelible or excusable personality trait. If she wants to treat her friends poorly, she can, they have choices, but its her manager’s job to maintain a collegial atmosphere and her colleagues have to be there. So its part of basic job responsibilities to control your own behaviors (caused by stress or hormones or emotions) from degrading the productivity of the team.

      Disrupting meetings, being unavailable (because no one wants to try to bring things to her), being rude, all of these are behaviors that are not okay as a routine course of action.

      If there is an ADA reason, they can work on ADA accommodations – protected quiet times to not overload sensory issues, work schedules that allow for additional rest, whatever is needed. What isn’t an accommodation is blocking productivity or using other colleagues as an emotional dumping ground or punching bag. There’s literal courses for small children on how to identify when your emotions are going off the rails and getting between you and your goals. There are functional tools for this, and being expected to use them by your management is not unreasonable.

  19. Blonde Spiders*

    I fear I have been a Lucinda in some of my past jobs. Part of it was immaturity: needing attention and broadcasting every emotion on my face and out loud (something with which I still struggle.)
    After many years of service based, front line jobs, I am now in an office job. It still has it’s share of headaches, overwork and stress, but thankfully I’m working from home. I can gasp out my frustration in the privacy of my home in the moment, and paste on a smile when it’s time for a meeting.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I’m not prone to drama or exaggerating my work, but i have similar issues broadcasting my emotions nd generally being too transparent about my anxiety and frustrations. Constantly have to remind myself to put on a more professional game face. Sometimes I succeed.

  20. Pikachu*

    OP says Lucinda has more flexibility… is it possible possible that Lucinda is overworked because she is taking on things that she should not be taking on and OP doesn’t know about it? Favors, extra tasks outside of the established process, etc. I guess an example would be if she were an IT person, she could be getting bogged down in people coming to her desk to get a non-urgent problem solved immediately rather than putting in a support ticket. It doesn’t fix the attitude problem, but it could be a source.

  21. Observer*

    I’m not sure how to effectively communicate “It’s not impressive for you to seem at the end of your rope so often and you need to be less abrasive.”

    I don’t think that this is really the message you need to give her. What you do need to get across is that she needs to stop certain behavior. So, no disrupting trainings and meeting, no being rude to people, no being curt with clients and industry partners, no exaggerating events, etc.

    Don’t get into WHY she is doing these things, unless she is asking for an accommodation or she’s bringing you actionable information that you need to deal with. That will just take you down a rabbit hole.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      This – it can even be more granular. No eye rolling, no sighs, don’t raise your voice, etc.

  22. Coyote Tango*

    I do find it quite interesting that “I can say unequivocally that Lucinda does not have an unmanageable workload and actually has quite a bit more flexibility than others” yet describes Lucinda’s department as being understaffed. I don’t see how these two things can exist at the same time. Lucinda may be dramatic but I don’t often see “reasonable workload” and “understaffed department” as roomates.

    1. Faceless Old Woman*

      Oh I had this coworker. They did have quite a bit more flexibility than any of the rest of us, were able to just opt out of a task that everyone else had to do to the point of us all having to take on their portion of said task, and ran around acting like the entire place would fall apart if it weren’t for them holding it all together.
      We were understaffed but their workload was infinitely more manageable than ours at our busiest times by nature of the way management structured the workload.

      1. Em*

        Ah yes, and I’ve recently had the version where someone complains they always get stuck with tasks because they’re the only one who knows how to do them–implying the rest of us who have not been there as long are absolutely useless. It’s certainly an…interesting way to talk about your coworkers to their faces.

    2. Avril Ludgateau*

      I just came to make the exact same comment. I was disappointed that it wasn’t one of the first observations to be made, but I’m glad you at least said it. Understaffing necessarily implies an undue burden on existing staff. Either the department is not understaffed and therefore Lucinda’s workload is entirely fair, or it IS understaffed and therefore some disproportionate measure is indeed falling on her.

      Her attitude may be the immediate symptom but it’s hard to determine from the letter if the cause is personality or morale.

      1. Coyote Tango*

        Since the OP found it “understandable” that Lucinda was stressed due to the understaffing, that does not seem to be the case.

        1. Rocket*

          The OP also said she knows for a fact that Lucinda doesn’t have an unmanageable workload and has more flexibility than others.

          1. Coyote Tango*

            My manager would tell you currently that she knows for a fact I do not have an unmanageable workload. Prior to the pandemic, my job was covered by three people and I’ve had to start anti-anxiety medication.
            She would also characterize my job as flexible since she often receives emails from me at all hours of the night as I put out various fires. Luckily they ran metrics and according to the graph we have plenty of people so there is that.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      No, they can easily be true at the same time. The burden of being understaffed may not fall as heavily on some people because of their skill set, for example.

      I’m in a chronically understaffed department where we’re really short on Llama Groomers. Most of our Llama Trainers had okay grooming skills to begin with, and most strengthened their grooming skills to fill in the gap. The one Llama Trainer who either can’t or won’t get into grooming, or who’d rather focus on llama wrangling, has a far lighter workload than anyone else because their skill set doesn’t do much for our pain points.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      If everyone else is even more overworked, yes, she could have a manageable workload.

      My department is technically understaffed but we just do things more slowly most of the time than we would if we had one more person–we’re not frantic all the time. The outlet is timing, not workload.

  23. No name*

    This is my kid. We have been working for years and years with our kid to Reduce The Drama. I don’t want my kid to be that coworker. I wish they were interested in theater because Everything is “to the max” happiness, sadness, anger, you name it. It is exhausting when it’s a negative emotion, but so bubbly when it’s happiness. Their emotions are contagious, you can’t NOT be impacted.

    So, from experience, this is hard, but it IS controllable. If my 12 yo can go ten days without using a “tone” at school, then a grown adult can manage to be professional at work and keep the drama down.

  24. Kella*

    I am a pretty anxious person and so I tend to be very vulnerable to catastrophic thinking. It’s taken me some time to learn that certain people I know are not only anxious people but they throw their anxiety around and talk about the catastrophic version of events as if they are definitely the real ones, and that maybe if I’m getting worried about something they said, I should check with a different source before acting on those worries. Lucinda sounds like one of those people.

    One of the biggest things I noticed after reading OP’s letter was that I was not at all clear on what the central problem was with Lucinda’s performance. It was kind of all over the place. So I think Alison’s advice was likely exactly correct. If OP could not summarize for us what the problem was in a concise, measurable way, then they likely have not offered that kind of feedback to Lucinda and so Lucinda has likely had very little useful information given to her about what to change.

  25. Anima*

    I was a Lucinda in my last job.
    That was because I *was* stressed an overwhelmed constantly. I had accepted the job in the assumption I would do X 80% and Y 20% and that I would receive training in addition to the knowledge I already had. It was more 40/60% and I never even got really trained at all. Also, we were extremely understaffed and to top it off had regular customers who were just difficult for no reason. I was out of my depth from the morning to the evening and saw no way out. So I complained to my colleagues and was really a downer all the time. I also made mistakes constantly and asked *so many* questions even after months being there. I suspect some of my colleagues eventually only took my calls when reeeaaally nothing else was going on, which was rare, or hid from me in the warehouse – I also was often alone in the break room. I can’t blame them, I was no fun to be around. Is there a small, small chance Lucinda is having a hard time as I did back then? The workload was the same for all of us, all of us experienced the understaffed-ness first hand, it was just me not handling it well or professionally. Is there any way to find out if Lucinda is feeling like she really is overwhelmed?

  26. ecnaseener*

    I’m curious why Alison frames this part: “If you have concerns about your workload, I need you to bring those to me, not complain to your coworkers and definitely not to industry partners [etc]” as being the thing to say only if you don’t think she really is overwhelmed. To me it makes sense to say this to her regardless — it’s true, even if she’s really overwhelmed.

    1. Jaydee*

      I agree, although I do see a little more wiggle room for coworkers complaining to each other. Employers have to be careful not to be too restrictive about their employees talking to each other about working conditions, compensation, etc. Those conversations may be part of activity that is protected under the National Labor Relations Act, such as union organizing or taking action with one or more co-workers to improve working conditions by complaining to the employer or a government agency.

      With industry partners, I think in general complaining is very poor form and LW should put a stop to that quickly as it reflects poorly on both Lucinda and her employer (potentially…unless the industry partners know that’s just how Lucinda is).

      It would be different if she were just trying to present them with information to explain delays, price increases, changes in services offered, etc. There’s a difference between “Ugh, must be nice to work in a functional workplace, Fergus. We’re still SO understaffed we’re up to our eyeballs in teapots to ship out and the orders just keep coming in! ” and “Oh, I should let you know that we’re short-staffed right now so it’s taking a little longer for teapot orders to ship. Normally we try to get them out within 3-5 days after the order is placed, but lately it’s more like 7-10 days. If you’re placing a large order or a custom order, you probably want to get that in at least a couple weeks before you’ll need them just to be sure they can be delivered on time.”

  27. Person*

    Quick note to the OP and other managers here: don’t say things that may sound ominous to people heading off on vacation like ” I hoped she could relax and come back refreshed” in the context of being disciplined for exactly that. It feels threatening and can 100% ruin a vacation. Leave the vacation out of it. Leave space for employees to truly disconnect. :)

  28. Freelance Anything*

    Haven’t read Alison’s answer yet but it sounds like you might have only asked her to *stop* a behaviour once. And not the overdramatising behaviour at that.

    You’ve named it to her and you’ve empathised but it doesn’t sound like you’ve laid out that she needs to get a handle on it.

  29. JR*

    When I was about 26, I worked at a job with a real busy season, and it was the first full-time office job I had that existed for more than 6 months. There was one other person whose job was to be a policy expert and (among other things) answer a bunch of questions from me and other people in my role. Every time I came to him, he took a break from what he was doing, smiled, and cheerfully and patiently answered. We were all under a lot of pressure during that season, but I appreciated so much that he never made me feel like part of his burden even though I actually was (despite not doing anything wrong). 15 years on and I try to keep him in mind every time I’m interacting with coworkers. Makes things much more pleasant.

  30. raida7*

    the cruel part of my brain says “Find someone mean to just tell her that nobody believes her nobody likes her stories everyone wishes she’d stop whinging, she doesn’t care about other people and they know it, her drama will stop her ever getting promoted, she’s going to miss out on training and nobody will feel bad about it because nobody likes her stupid fake drama.”

    but don’t do that! Because “Nobody likes you” is really really crushing

  31. staceyizme*

    It sounds like she thrives on drama: maybe she has a disordered personality? Not necessarily at a clinical level, but there’s some kind of payoff for her in keeping the drama going and being defensive/ disruptive. You’ve possibly made the message too soft. She might need to hear something much more firm. “You CANNOT be so pronounced in your irritation.” “You CANNOT inflate the severity of the behaviors of your colleagues and managers.” (That incident that wasn’t serious? That she made to sound disastrous? You should have circled right back to that as part of your ongoing feedback.) “You CANNOT disrupt ANY meeting or training… we don’t have the resources to reschedule time to deliver it.” I don’t like your odds of being able to get her on the right track. But you’re going to have to stop drawing the boundaries in chalk and start drawing them in wide-tipped permanent marker. And hold her accountable for each and every violation. Each and every time.

  32. PT*

    I worked with someone who had a reactive personality like this, and I also suspected she had underlying mental health issues. Based on what she shared with me about her personal life, which was rife with actual trauma that she’d just mention offhand as if it was nothing and then go back to venting about someone misfiling papers AT her. Several of us were concerned, but there was nothing we could do about it.

    1. Cherie*

      I also have traumas I’ve been working through in therapy for a long time. It’s been really difficult to find the right level of honesty and vulnerability at work. Some bosses have 100% held it against me.

      I know I have to suppress most of what I’m feeling to be professional, but I also have to pinpoint when to loop my boss in when I’m actually overwhelmed. I usually get that part wrong and either express stress too early or too late. It’s an exhausting effort daily, on top of being a working mom to a toddler in a pandemic.

  33. Massive Dynamic*

    One of the best phrases I’ve learned here at AAM: you have an OFFICE DEMENTOR. I’ve worked with them before too, and boy is it exhausting.

  34. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I would refer to one of Alison’s old posts: (If this link doesn’t work, just type “super duper right” into the search function, it’s the first link.)

    The employee’s behavior isn’t quite the same, but the manager handled it well: you can’t just be good at your job. You must be able to work well with others, and take feedback. If it were me, I’d prep myself to face the Tornado of Drama, put her on a PIP with crystal clear language, then sit back and see what she does.

  35. I Feel Like I'm Rambling . . .*

    -> At her annual review ***last year***, we discussed that I was concerned that she was “wearing stress on her sleeve,” but I also said ***I found it understandable*** given that ***her department was understaffed***.

    – >we are halfway through our ***busiest two months of the year*** and ***her colleagues are irritated***. I’m not sure how to effectively communicate “It’s not impressive for you to ***seem at the end of your rope so often*** and you need to be less abrasive.”

    Having been in a situation where I was, let’s say, sub-optimally supported by my supervisor while the unit was understaffed for years, there were days when it was exhausting and very, very difficult to stay optimistic. If I had had any kind of trouble at home or in my personal life, I don’t know how I would have made it through those years. After diplomatically and repeatedly laying out the case for additional resources, we were eventually able to hire additional staff. We had to hire a new team member and add a shared staff member to the team before we had enough space to breathe a little and actually step away to eat lunch or go home on time from time to time. Our busy periods were still high-stress, and the internal customers we served were high-level, so the work was always intense. I had been doing the work of 2.5 people essentially for years – and my supervisor never once thought we were understaffed or thought there was an issue with my skipping lunches and bathroom breaks and working nights and weekends. Which was so, so discouraging. I would never act the way Lucinda acts at work and jeopardize my good standing (I was lavished with praise, awards, great raises, and promotions within the group), but I can absolutely see and understand how someone dealing any kind of stress at home, a private health issue, etc. might struggle to keep it together if they truly feel overwhelmed at work, and especially if those concerns were treated as a personality flaw at the office. It strikes me that OP never mentions – unless I missed it – adding additional staff to eliminate the understaffing issue. And so much about the tone of the OP sounds off to my Spidey sense. It sounds like Lucinda is struggling and she isn’t coping well. The OP admitted that the department is understaffed – why would a manager say that if they believed Lucinda’s workload was fair? How long has the group been understaffed? Are there plans to rectify the situation? Telling someone you know their department is understaffed implies that you believe they are being asked to do more than they should be. And, perhaps if it seems someone is at the end of their rope, they truly are?? What could OP and other team members be doing or not doing that might be adding to Lucinda’s struggle? If her co-workers are irritated with her, are they making things more difficult for Lucinda intentionally or subconsciously? I know I am wearing my Something Like This Happened to Me glasses here, but I can absolutely see how this might feel like a toxic environment for Lucinda, and she might be doing the best she can under the circumstances.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      If the department is understaffed and they all have the same-ish workload, but Lucinda is the only one shooting sparks, Lucinda is still a problem. The rest of the department is dealing without biting each other.

      1. ABitTired*

        Lucinda may totally have an attitude issue and it is not acceptable.

        However if the workload is actually overwhelming, if by chance the management did nothing about it after a while and everyone is just supposed to “take it”, well it is also a possibility that she may start phase of burnout or has other issues.
        For instance in my actual job we have been understaffed since I started (soon two years) and the responsibilities keep pilling up, without reward or significant recognition of that (no more budget to hire more people).
        Well at some point you just stop trusting your manager because you do not feel really listened to or really supported.
        It is unprofessional but yes you start to vent to your colleagues or make understand the customer that you are sorry you cannot not provide the best care, there is a sense of powerlessness.
        There is also a point where it even gets difficult to handle totally rational feedback because you just feel so under the water and detached from the work.
        The person before me was a 100% Lucinda and when I saw her she did seem very dramatic and umprofessional, but now that I understand a bit more the issues she faced I have more compassion (I have met her recently and she looks much more relaxed).
        I am actually looking out for better opportunities before I start to become like her. Meanwhile it is a daily struggle to stop complaining because there is genuine suffering. Some companies do tend to work understaffed and expect people to just roll with it on a long-term basis.

  36. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

    This worker could have been me.

    Between COVID, a sense of isolation, and some personal issues, I was taking my stress out on co-workers without realizing it — even shouting at them — to the point where management and HR intervened and told me I was required to get counseling.

    In all honesty, that intervention was the best thing that could have happened to me. I took the stress management counseling, which helped me get to the root of my issues. I have formally apologized to the co-workers in question, and am keeping a much more even keel.

    The letter writer here should bring this to the attention of HR (if it already hasn’t), and the company should ask/require that Lucinda get help.

    1. Cherie*

      See, I over suppress and end up exhausted with migraines that force me to take time to recover. I’ve learned that “migraine” is a lot more socially acceptable than “mental health flare up”. The stigmas remain very real.

  37. meagain*

    Ugh we have a Lucinda and it’s ridiculous. She also relays dramatic incidents that turn out to be completely misleading or were not an issue at all. I’ve had executives come to me and ask, “What happened with x??” and I get so concerned thinking something happened. Nope, it’s always just based on secondhand knowledge from her, where she made everything is dire and everyone was upset, when literally everything was fine. She’s a total unreliable narrator who is constantly stirring the pot. Then she gets all irked and snippy because she isn’t given prime opportunities that go to others, and the reason is because she is unreliable, a loose cannon, and inappropriately vocal with no discretion in front of clients and vendors. She’s a hard worker, but her moods and yes, dramatic to the point of deception, undermine her credibility.

    To the point she called me once on a weekend, claiming the rest rooms were out of order, leaking, etc. EMERGENCY. I of course immediately arranged for a plumber to come out. There was seriously a splash of water on the floor by the sink. All the toilets were in working order. There was no leak. There was no plumbing problem. She was being alarmist on purpose. And it fits the pattern. The worst part is how she immediately brings her made up dramas or issues to high level people and they react appropriately based on how she conveys the issue, they think there’s a serious issue and get involved, everyone gets rattled because how you have top executives asking what’s going on, and it ends up being some non-issue that never was an issue in the first place, but something she framed as serious. It’s really irksome and makes everyone watch anything they tell her or keep her out of the loop or off projects because she’s a loose cannon with her moods or passive aggressive need for drama.

  38. French anonymous*

    I used to work with someone who seemed to strive when everything looked stressful and we were all running aroudn like headless chickens. It seemed to be that she could not actually perform at her job unless she was in a situation of urgency and stress of some kind, and as a result, if the atmosphere was not that in the workplace she… tried to provoke it, by making incidents a lot bigger than they actually were, by triggering conflicts between people, and by escalating situations that could have been solved with simple communciation.

    Meanwhile, I need calm and quiet to focus on my work, and react extremely badly to stress and urgency (plus this was my first full time job in my industry and I had a host of other unresolved issues unrelated to work), and I ended up being out six months on medical leave due to burnout because of her behavior.

    Following that, and a lot of therapy that helped me set some healthy boudnaries both in my personal and professional life, I learned to not let her attitude infect me… and it became almost funny how she kept trying to rile me up, and I would just answer calmly with a smile and absolutely no urgency and she would deflate like a balloon.

    And then a year later, she was fired because management found out that while she was doing all this plus spying on her coworkers, she wasn’t actually doing the job she was being paid for.

    All this to say, having someone like that on a team can really poison the atmosphere and have serious consequences on her coworkers, so it’s important to try and curtail it as soon as possible, or you might risk losing good workers because they keep gettign steamrolled by her negativity and need for drama and stress.

    1. Erica*

      Yes. My “Lucienda” also thought she was monitoring her coworkers.

      “Steve never responds to emails.”
      “Sarah is on her cell phone all day.”
      “John didn’t do anything today. I did everything.”

      So I would have to remind her, I am the supervisor – I will monitor those things.

      Since she was a senior on the team, any time I asked her what she has done to alleviate the situation, she had nothing for me.

      “We had EIGHTY voicemails!” Wow Lucienda.. that is a lot. Here is what I would have done: I would have split up the voicemails and given everyone a list. This would have shown initiative.

      “I did show initiative! I showed up at 7am and didn’t even clock in, and went through ALL the voicemails!”

      1) don’t ever work off the clock again, and 2) you were not asked to come here at 7am.

      So many conversations I had like this with her. It was ridiculous. When the new manager took over my role I had to give him the heads up that she would sneak into the office and then act like she “did everything.”

  39. director of herding cats*

    Oh boy. I have a Lucinda variant in the office. She would constantly complain about her workload and how broad her responsibilities are, so we took more than half her workload off her plate …and she STILL finds ways to be a martyr about how much work she has to do. Any basic work question from anyone is answered with a rundown of SO MANY THINGS SHE HAS TO DO before she can get to your work question. It definitely has created a situation where people are reluctant to ask her about things because they don’t want to get a laundry list of everything on her plate, and I and others she works with have no way of knowing now when she’s ACTUALLY too busy or when she’s just doing a performance about her workload. I’ve tried to talk to her manager about it (we’re peers, both in senior management) but he is, frankly, really clueless at management and so doesn’t seem able or willing to articulate that in an actionable way to her.

  40. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I used to be Lucinda. Only worse.

    Good god my 20s we’re a learning experience. And by that I mean my boss saying ‘will you stop taking out your issues on everyone else?’

    Yeah, I was in serious pain and with some untreated mental stuff but it did not excuse what I was doing or thinking (“hey if my life is rubbish then everyone else has no right to be happy”). Or the lies I made up, or how often I lost my temper…

    Thankfully I’m far older now. And wiser.

  41. TootsNYC*

    I have literally said something much like this:
    “It’s not impressive for you to seem at the end of your rope so often, and you need to be less abrasive.”

    I was talking to someone about them not getting things done in the time frame needed, and trying to see if I was incorrect in expecting things to come through as quickly as I did. And she immediately started complaining about the other person doing similar tasks. She said he would leave earlier, and she said that she had a higher workload (she didn’t–and he was extraordinarily quick, and he didn’t charge me for the hours he didn’t work; they were freelancers, so it wasn’t a matter of full-time, full-day staff being treated diferently).

    I literally said, “it does not make you look good to answer any questions of mine by complaining about someone else. I’m open to the idea of learning how my expectations might not be accurate, but your immediate switch to complaining about someone else destroys some of your credibility with me. And I absolutely have divided the tasks between you with an eye to how much work they ought to take, and he doesn’t have all the short ones or the easy ones. You have short and easy ones too.

    “and I need you to focus on whether your tasks can be done in the timing needed, and you need to come to me to tell me if you are having trouble, and you haven’t.”

    it ended up being productive, and she did step up her pace. ‘

    But I decided to just be direct: “you’re making yourself look bad.” I’ve done that a couple of times. It feels fair to me, because it’s the truth, and I think it should be out in the open.

    1. Erica*

      I wish I handled this the way you did. More than once I had to have a discussion with “lucinda” and she would then deflect to how she does more than Steve; or that She did more than Sandra. I would have to tell her something along the lines of

      “We are NOT here because of Steve. We are here to discuss X.”

      “If you feel that Sandra is not pulling her weight, then I needed you to express this to me earlier. As a senior member of the team, I would have expected you to take initiative by doing X, Y, and Z.”

      Her idea of initiative was to do everything and act stretched. Not to seek help or delegate tasks. It was frustrating

  42. Erica*

    I had an employee like this. She would treat people poorly and would deflect criticism with “but look at my numbers. Look at all the world I do.” She would also pour her heart and soul into one customer, which would lead to wonderful comments to management – but this usually meant that for the next 5-10 customers she barely paid attention to them, or would make errors that cost us money, because she was practically putting her life on the line for that ONE customer who she would then use as an example for why she should be praised and not reprimanded

    Essentially, the same things that made her good at some elements of her job, were the same things that made her difficult to manage, combative, and had performance issues.

    The mood swings were something else. When she was happy, she was a delight. She was all jokes, happy, fun. But when something annoyed her (or when she stressed herself out with an unnecessary amount of work she create herself), oh man she was difficult. Would antagonize and alienate her coworkers, would yell, would make derogatory comments, would make loud complaints in front of trainees. there was one incident in particular where she went out of her way to be inappropriate in front of a trainee, and making them feel uncomfortable. Another incident involved her calling her coworker a b*tch, thinking she would get away with it because I wasn’t in the room

    HR always gave me reasons for why she can’t be fired so all we could do was pull her to the side and tell her she was being out of line, write her up. She was a truly awful person to deal with.

Comments are closed.