my coworker keeps bringing me “problems” that aren’t problems … and they’re definitely not HER problems

A reader writes:

Is there a polite way to say, “It’s not your problem anymore?”

I’ve been dealing with the worst coworker I’ve ever had (I’ll call her Emily) for the past two months, and last week, she turned in her letter of resignation. Emily had a very spotty work history, but my manager thought she might just need a chance, so I went in with a positive mindset. To make a very, very long story short, she was awful from day one. Literally. On her first day, Emily told a coworker that he seemed “sensitive” after he tried to gently shut down her lengthy complaints about another coworker she’d just met. On her second day, she said that our organization is “poorly run.” She invented huge problems out of every single thing, and then spent massive amounts of time trying to solve these nonexistent problems. At one point, she narrated an entire harrowing email journey to me. This email should have taken no more than five minutes to write. She felt like she needed to deeply research several non-consequential parts of the email, and it took her 1.5 hours to actually complete the three-sentence reply.

I had to speak to my manager about serious issues with Emily weekly, and my manager completely agreed that her attitude and work habits needed much improvement. I was fielding complaints about her from staff and customers often, and a few customers even changed appointments to avoid being helped by Emily. In short, no one felt like this was working out.

She wants to stay until the end of April, and my manager agreed to this. However, Emily’s constant “problems” have always slowed down my productivity drastically, and she is still inventing problems every hour of every day. These are things that truly drain my time, and are absolutely not issues.

With her departure in sight, I’m wondering if there is any polite language I can use to say, “You don’t have to worry about that, because you won’t be here.” So far, I’ve been trying phrases like, “Oh, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!” or “I will look into that if it proves to be an issue” but it hasn’t even made a dent in the number of issues she creates daily.

When I have told her directly that something isn’t a problem in the past, she has complained that she isn’t taken seriously, so I’m not sure what will be the most effective at this point. Do I try to tell her again that these aren’t actual problems and the complaints waste my limited time? Do I just keep brushing it off for another month? Is there a way to remind her that she’s not actually going to be dealing with most of the things she complains about?

Emily doesn’t sound like someone who will be thwarted by being reminded that she’s leaving soon. She’s inventing “problems” because it makes her feel productive or important, or because she genuinely doesn’t understand your work, or who knows why — but telling her that she won’t have to worry about any of it once she leaves doesn’t sound likely to stop it, especially since she has already complained she’s not being taken seriously.

Since it sounds like you don’t have the authority to shut Emily down completely, how about telling her that she should keep a running list of issues she finds and give it to you at the end of the month? You could frame it as, “I’m really slammed this month and don’t have the time to think about that right now, but can you put this and anything else that comes up on a list and Jane and I will look at it once we’re through this busy period?”

And then when she mentions another problem half an hour later, you can say, “I can’t talk right now — I’m on deadline — but you should add it to the list so we don’t lose track of it.”

To be clear, this is a workaround that you shouldn’t need to use! Your boss should have already shut this down. I’m not sure why she’s letting Emily stay another full month (and it sounds like she might not be a particularly assertive manager in general, based on how things were going with Emily before she decided to leave on her own), but at a minimum she should tell Emily that she should focus only on XYZ during her final weeks there and not disrupt coworkers with anything else. If you haven’t asked her to do that, you could attempt it — but reading between the lines of your letter, I’m guessing your manager doesn’t manage very much and you’re probably going to be left to deal with this on your own.

In fact, if the “put it on the list” approach doesn’t work, unless it would be politically unwise in your office there might be some value in making Emily more your boss’s problem than yours, by directing her to your manager with and every problem she brings you: “That’s something you should talk to Jane about” … “You should ask Jane how she wants you to handle that” … etc.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Lobsterman*

    I mean, refer all comments and questions to the manager who is keeping her on, yes?

    1. Melicious*

      Jeepers, yes. This sounds like it would be better for all if they just pay her for the month and tell her to stop coming in.

    2. MistOrMister*

      That’s what I would do! No point wasting time with her. She’s not bringing up anything that is actually a problem and she isn’t stay. Deflect and keep on deflecting!! Or at the very least, tell her you’ll look into whatever it is and then put it out of mind and go about your business.

      1. PinaColada*

        Agree! Actually, I would probably start to just look at her and simply say “Okay!”’ every time she gives her pointless negative feedback (alternating with “Thank you!” and “Gotcha”!) Suggesting a list for her to write and reminding her about it every time sounds exhausting to me.

        1. Medusa*

          It depends. If she will actually write a list and add to it instead of bothering OP, then it’s probably the way to go. There’s a chance that greyrocking her will only make her angrier.

          Either way, I want an update on how OP deals with this and the spectacular show that Emily will put on when she leaves.

          1. the cat's ass*

            Totally, she sounds excruciating. Though our Emily campaigned for a big potluck for her last day, and then called out. We had an even better celebration without her!

    3. MassMatt*

      Perhaps if this tactic had been liberally employed from the get-go it would not have wound up as a 3 month time sink.

      OP’s boss is terrible at hiring, and worse at managing. Having other people deal with the resulting mess makes it very easy for the boss to say “give it a try!” etc. Boss has caused significant damage to the company, both in employee morale and productivity and in driving customers away. I bet if the employee hadn’t resigned she’d be working there until she either retired or ran the business into the ground, unless the boss were fired.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      seriously! Although the manager will likely just direct her back to OP, so who knows. It is still worth a shot!

  2. Cajun seafood boil*

    I am exhausted an annoyed just reading about Emily. Honestly if I had to work with her for more than a day I would be looking for a new job.

    1. B*

      I worked with an Emily.

      He was excruciatingly focused on being “right” to the point where it interfered with his actual work. If someone said they didn’t get a fax for example he’d spend 45 minutes writing up an absurdly formal email complete with scans of the fax receipt and screenshots of the relevant contract proving that he had faxed it, it was to the correct number, etc, instead of just spending one minute refaxing it.

      Similarly he took a task over from me that took about an hour, sometimes a little more if there were issues, and turned it into a four+ hour ordeal every day.

      He worked a lot of hours but didn’t get all that much done and when he started to piss off internal clients with his attitude we eventually let him go.

  3. Mental Lentil*

    The manager is the a problem here.

    An obviously bad employee asks to stay another month and they agree to it? Le no.

    At the very least, find something useless she can do in a back room where she will be alone and not bothering anybody.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – this is a manager problem with the visible system being Emily and her issues.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        That was supposed to say “visible symptom.”

        I hate mobile autocorrect.

    2. madge*

      Exactly on both statements. Why has no one assigned “inventory, clean and organize supply room” to her?

      1. SixTigers*

        Because she’d be running out of the supply room every hour on the hour with a new Issue she Just Found and which OMG HAS TO BE ADDRESSED IMMEDIATELY yadda yadda yadda. Only way they could keep her *in* the supply room is to lock the door on her, which I don’t think HR would like.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          HR might find merit in the idea, but the fire marshal would probably object.

        2. OP Here*

          Yep, I tried this. I was working a service desk about 40 feet away from a supply cabinet I needed inventoried, and I think she spent the majority of the time that day walking back and forth from the supply cabinet to show me things that were “definitely going to cause problems down the road” (shockingly, none of these were actual problems). With one item specifically, I explained 4 times exactly how to inventory it, and she kept coming up with problems on why it was actually an issue to keep it in the closet at all because *other employee she hates* put it there.

          I hesitate to give her more work, out of fear that suddenly there will be 500 issues with the work I give her. (to clarify: I am not her manager, but I coordinate the area in which she mainly works, so our manager and I work collaboratively on work to give her).

          1. paxfelis*

            I wonder what would happen if you asked Emily to inform you, in written format, how she would deal with someone with the same sets of behaviors she’s presenting. It might be enlightening.

            It might also be enraging, but I’m honestly curious about how self-aware she is.

    3. Garriga*

      That is horrible advice and any manager who treats an employee like this should not be in management. Managers are supposed to be leaders and do not manipulate employees they hire. Instead of insulting Emily’s intelligence, why not try actually giving her instruction and encouragement.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Did you not read the letter? Emily was a problem employee from the get go, and she’s now on her way out the door. (Also, nobody ever insulted Emily’s intelligence in the first place.)

        Honestly, your comment sounds like a response to a completely different scenario from the one LW described.

        Giving an employee encouragement and instruction sounds good in theory, but in this case, the time for that has passed.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        She is leaving in a month. They already tried the rest of it.

    4. Yikes*

      “You know what, Emily, I think you should produce a detailed process on how we should fix that and present it to boss before you leave!” Repeated ad nauseam.

    5. Princesss Sparklepony*

      Seems like it would be smarter to pay her for the month but tell her to stay home. Less aggravation and the money at this point is negligible compared with the lost productivity of everyone around her.

  4. Mockingjay*

    Redirect to the boss. Repeat. and Repeat.

    I have the feeling you’d be drawn into endless discussions about the list itself. Don’t give Emily another second of your time.

    1. Data Analyst*

      Yep. The satisfaction for her comes from dumping this on people and getting a reaction, so she might make a list but she’s going to want to walk through everything on it. Manager should not have accepted her staying that long of a notice period since it sounds like she doesn’t do anything helpful, so she can deal with the complaints.

    2. Danniella Bee*

      Agreed. When you have an ineffective manager, I think there is room to get more assertive about “stop wasting my time and bothering me.”

      1. Khlovia*

        THANK YOU, Daniella Bee. Until this point I have been wondering why nobody was suggesting that OP just say: “Stop wasting my time with all these boring little irrelevancies that we both now you are just manufacturing as problems as a means of demanding attention. Of course, I suppose there’s a risk she might just think “Challenge accepted” and create a genuine problem that was (unfortunately) not boring and really required attention, time, and effort.

  5. CatCat*

    Emily sounds exhausting. Do you have an office door you can close, or headphones you can put on, or a “I’m very busy right now” facial expression you can master? (Sounds like she may not pick on on these cues though given her comment to the colleague.)

    Since it takes her a ridiculously long time to write emails, if the “add it to the list” strategy doesn’t work, you could ask her to just email with any problems, and then set up an email inbox rule that automatically dumps her emails into a folder you don’t have to look at until you feel like it. That gives her some busy work that is time consuming for her while you don’t have to actually look at it.

    I also wouldn’t worry about her complaining that no one is taking her seriously. I mean, so what if she does? Is there an obligation to take her seriously as she is on her way out the door of a job where she’s been a very poor fit?

    I am a big fan of making this the manager’s problems if Emily persists in disrupting your work day with problems.

    1. Why isn’t it Friday?*

      Exactly. No one takes Emily seriously because Emily has no credibility at this point. It’s an earned reputation.

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      “Well, Emily you do have a point there, but I’m afraid I can’t help you with it. Maybe your next job will be a better fit.”

      I’m pretty patient, but after a lot of Emily being Emily, I’m afraid something like that might slip past my filter. Especially since the manager isn’t managing.

    3. pancakes*

      “I also wouldn’t worry about her complaining that no one is taking her seriously.”

      Exactly. What is she going to do, leave in a huff? Bye Emily!

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I suppose the OP could say, “I’m taking medication that unfortunately leaves me deaf at intermittent intervals. Just write me a note and leave it on my desk”. (Sulfa drugs actually do this to 4% of the people who take them, guess how I found out…). Sadly, it would be all too easy for this scheme to fail. Alas.

  6. Amber Rose*

    “When I have told her directly that something isn’t a problem in the past, she has complained that she isn’t taken seriously”

    I mean, she’s right. Nobody takes her seriously because… why would they?

    I dunno, if she’s leaving anyway I’d be thinking about the brutal honesty method.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Emily sounds a bit like the story about the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The boy wanted attention, so he kept crying wolf to get the attention he wanted. Unfortunately what ended up happening is when there really was a wolf nobody believed him or came to help because he’d cried wolf falsely too many times.

      I doubt what she sees as problems are – but what will happen if she ever really does find a problem? At any rate – you’ve got three weeks left with her, count that as a blessing.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I’d be brutally honest too.
      Grey rock and short, honest sentences.
      No, I am not taking that statement seriously, it is not a problem.
      I have work to do and do not want to talk about that with you or talk about anything, I am working.
      This conversation is causing me a problem, I need to work.

    3. Darra*

      The OP is operating on an assumption that you can’t be both polite and honest/direct. But you can, without even resorting to brutal honesty.

      “I’m sorry Emily, but this isn’t a priority and I don’t have time to deal with it.”

      “No one takes me seriously!”

      “If that’s the case then it’s probably because you have a very different way of working. What you’re complaining about just isn’t on anyone else’s radar. This isn’t something I can help with.”

      1. As per Elaine*

        Rather than “isn’t on anyone else’s radar” (which could be interpreted as “we’re ignoring the problem you’re so concerned about”) I would go with something as explicit as possible, maybe “isn’t a problem to anyone else.”

        But yes, shutting her down with polite honesty would at least be worth trying. (Given Emily as described, I have no confidence it would work, but I don’t see that it could really make her worse.)

    4. JSPA*

      Yes! Couch it as “explanation of norms.”

      Tell her it’s not specific to her, that you’re not spending time on her feedback; it’s completely normal to prioritize feedback from people who are staying, over feedback from someone who’s leaving. Nothing personal.

      Tell her likewise normal to prioritize one piece of feedback from anyone who finds a situation broadly tolerable, over multiple pieces of feedback from anyone who finds multiple issues per day to be dangerous, difficult, or fraught. Nothing personal.

      Tell her that once people have significant job experience to back up their gut reactions, and a track record of flagging only truly key issues, then their gut reactions become feedback, and they get paid for providing that feedback. But that until someone has the experience and the track record, it’s not categorized as feedback, it’s categorized as distraction. Nothing personal.

      Offer to send her a “you were right” card in a year, if something serious has happened in the office, due to the office continuing to operate in its normal manner, despite her warnings.

      Tell her that when she has her own company, she can micromanage everything from the staging of the staplers to the writing of the job descriptions, if it still feels important, once she has broader job experience.

      But until then, you need her to focus only on llama hooves and tails, not on comparative vicuña protocols. Furthermore, you need her to do llama hooves and tails the same way the other junior llama groomers do it, not with improvements, troubleshooting, and feedback. Pull up the job description; point out that there are other descriptions that include collaborative feedback, but hers isn’t one of them, because it’s intended for people who are too new to have informed feedback. Nothing personal.

      Because it sounds like the background issues here are, “conflates feelings and facts” and “mistakes general procedures for personal interactions.”

      Life in the office is hard, when you don’t have a mental compartment for “non-personalized interactions, and stuff that’s about using one’s brain only to help produce described outcomes, not give feedback.”

      It may be that nobody has ever explained that this is what most jobs are, when you start out, and that she’s never figured it out.

      The one caveat–not for OP, but for anyone dealing with a squeaky new wheel in the office, and has decided it’s automatically correct to ignore more than one piece of feedback per person, per month: some workplaces clearly are desperately dysfunctional.

      If people in your worplace are indeed storing the bowling balls on a high shelf, writing out people’s full credit card information on slips of paper, filming sex videos in the office, punching coworkers, and demanding internal organs from the staff, then sure, even the greenest intern may see and may say that all these things are, objectively, bad.

  7. Bernice Clifton*

    I can be like the LW in that I have a hard time feeling like I am being “rude” by shutting down people who are being rude to me. And Emily IS being rude if she continues to monopolize you with made-up problems while you are trying to work, and you are not rude to tell her that you don’t have time to talk with her about it and turn back to your work and ignore her if she keeps talking.

    1. Batgirl*

      While Emily is definitely being rude, it may be she just doesn’t have the skill not to be; to differentiate between the things she needs to flag, and what she doesn’t. OP can ignore her, but I imagine she will just get more panicky about all the ignored emergencies. Having a place to put everything, like a list or suggestion box takes it off Emily’s plate and de-escalates her.

  8. Antilles*

    Since we’re only talking about another three weeks, is there any way to just “run out the clock” so to speak by being extra unavailable for Emily?
    WFH more often than normal. Close your office door regularly. Schedule a bunch of extra ‘meetings’ to be unavailable. Put on headphones and just ignore her. Things of that nature.
    These might not be viable long-term strategies, but you’re literally counting days at this point, so just to get through the next 19 days.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My only concern is that wouldn’t only impact Emily, it would also make OP less available to other people who are in theory approaching her time respectfully and might need that access.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is my only concern too. How to throttle back Emily access without cutting it off for others who legitimately need OP’s help.

      2. Batgirl*

        She could schedule those meetings for the rest of the team as Emily-safe spaces. To Emily I would say “Emily, you don’t need to be in this meeting, as it’s future-stuff. I would continue wrapping up x and y and leaving handover notes instead.”

  9. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I got nothing.
    She’s complaining about complaining.
    I’d use this as an opportunity to find out exactly what her plan is.
    “Yes, I hear what you are saying. I hope you have better luck/opportunities in your next position. Are you taking a break before you start?”
    Because although I don’t want you to borrow trouble, I do think you need to know wtf her plan is. What if she tells manager after a month that she doesn’t have a job and wants to stay?

    1. just unsubscribe from the emily newsletter*

      While I see where you’re coming from, I strongly disagree. OP doesn’t need to be any more involved in Emily-land than they already are–they want to be less involved! Nor do they need to know whether she’s gotten a new job, she’s going to take a break, go on unemployment, or move to Mars to raise heirloom tomatoes. This seems to me like she’s going to read it as an invitation to tell OP allllllll about her job search and the ‘problems’ she’s having with that, rather than to back off from what she’s doing already.

      If OP is concerned that Emily won’t leave at the end of the month, it seems like that would be an issue to raise with the manager, not with Emily, who probably isn’t a reliable source anyway.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I was leaning toward this first, but again, it’s like how do you talk about a coworker? It’s not OP’s business, like everything about Emily. Is there a way to phrase it that isn’t “are you sure she’s leaving?! You won’t let her stay if she shows up in May, right? RIGHT?”
        I’m only joking about the phrasing. How can OP diplomatically ask, because I think she should.

        1. As per Elaine*

          I think I would go with a position of assertively assuming that Emily’s last day WILL be her last day, quite possibly to the point of handling offboarding conversations with IT and HR and whoever, if that were reasonable within the org structure. One could perhaps also arrange some sort of farewell something for her last day (if people do that), though that’s complicated by COVID logistics and also I’m not sure I personally could actually bring myself to do it.

          None of which guarantees that she won’t come crying to the boss two days before she’s supposed to be gone and get an extension. The only thing I can think of for that is to direct enough of the awkwardness to the boss that even a wimpy manager would be unwilling to keep her any longer.

    2. Observer*

      Because although I don’t want you to borrow trouble, I do think you need to know wtf her plan is. What if she tells manager after a month that she doesn’t have a job and wants to stay?

      So? It’s not like the OP is going to be able to make any plans based on what Emily tells them.

  10. Boof*

    I have to ask; so what if emily says she isn’t being taken seriously? What’s the problem for lw if they reply to that with something like “there is seriously no problem here: focus on (x)”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I agree. When one coworker tried to tell her to stop bad mouthing people, she started criticizing him. Although, if I were OP, and it was a choice between Emily calling me a name and NOT talking to me and NOT calling me a name and talking to me, I’d rip that band aid off like like it was the paper on the one present I was allowed to open on Christmas Eve.

      2. Boof*

        Still, Emily’s already wasting a ton of lw’s time, not sure how a tantrum would be worse. Maybe Emily will be so outraged they walk off in a huff or give lw the silent treatment!

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        “Well, my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.”

        (Ok I love that quote but actually probably don’t really say that at work to someone you don’t have a really good relationship with lol.)

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I wonder if Emily would even process the words. She hears “no, you are wrong.” and “yes, you are right” depending on how much of a reaction she gets. She doesn’t actually listen to other people’s words.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        To bad it’s not a an epic saga about the boy who cried wolf, that would kill some time.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Well – there are a few different versions, and depending on how long it takes Emily to find the story…..

  11. Trek*

    I managed this exact person and when it blew up it really blew up. She left because we had to pull her off of an account and she couldn’t accept it. She had serious performance issues and yet thought was the SME on her client. I too asked for a list multiple times and she never could provide it so finally I said the matter was closed and she couldn’t accept that leadership and HR were not going to change their entire way of handling clients and business because of her. She literally could not come to work and not create drama internally or with the client and it was never going to work because of it. She wanted to drag everything from a 15 min job to a an hour long process; everything an hour to a day and so forth to where everything would come to halt.
    My only concern with referring her to your boss is if there is any chance that your boss may put stock in what she has to say or would try to convince Emily to stay. Hopefully not but I would be concerned with the way your boss is not handling the situation.

    1. Six Degrees of Separation*

      This 100 percent. Try not to redirect it to your boss if there’s a chance you’re going to end up asked about it anyway. She could convince your boss there’s an issue, and suddenly you have a mountain instead of a molehill.

    2. OP Here*

      So this is something that has very much been on my mind. As many other commenters (and Alison) have picked up, my manger is not.. wonderfully skilled. I probably should have included this in the letter, but I wanted to keep it brief: when Emily resigned, my manger called me into her office to let me know that Emily found me “difficult to get information from.” My manager explicitly said that she has never had any complaints or issues with this, aside from Emily’s comment. I didn’t even miss a beat: I told her very clearly that Emily likely feels that way because I often attempt to tell her that her “problems” can wait until higher-priority tasks have been completed; I also try to set boundaries when she tries to contact me outside of my hours (one time she actually called me while I was home sick with a migraine. Really.). My manager said that she agreed, and then brushed it off and said she “had no interest in a he-said-she-said.” I was appalled, because to me, this was not a he-said-she-said. Someone complained about working with me, and I very much wanted to clarify that it was not a valid complaint.
      Anyway, this is why I am a little hesitant to continually refer her to our boss.

      1. Nanani*

        Yikes!
        Is there a higher level or another interested department that you can deflect to instead?

      2. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

        Wow, your boss is even worse than I assumed she is. I have a feeling you’ve thought about this but are you considering getting out of there yourself? As Alison often says, this probably isn’t the only way she is a bad manager. I’m sorry. This really sucks for you.

        1. OP Here*

          Thank you! Yep, I’ve been job hunting. I’m hoping to make a bit of a career shift, so it hasn’t been easy, but I’m starting to feel like anything will likely be better than this place.

  12. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Emily sounds beyond exhausting. I would recommend a multi-pronged approach.
    1) please make a “problem list” Emily, that you (manager) look at at the end of the day
    2) please send me the issue in an email, I will look at it when I have finished this deadline
    3) that sounds like something you need to discuss with “big manager” (so that you can keep working)

    Honestly, maybe number three will get big manager who hired Emily in the first place to make that last day sooner. Taking a chance on an employee hoping they can grow into a job isn’t always bad – but you have to have metrics to evaluate with so that you know when it’s working out and when it’s unfortunately time to cut your losses.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Sometimes it is helpful to write a summary of conversations and email it back to them, cc’ing their boss. It’s not going to fix Emily, but it might give the boss a head’s up on things that are truly important pre-exit.

      “Per our discussion today the llama grooming process is not fully detailed in the section on painting hooves. I’m cc’ing the boss so they know this SOP needs review and to add it to the training for the incoming person.”

      And if it’s ranting just to rant, “I’m sorry, I have another meeting/deadline/need to scream. I can only talk for 5 minutes,” and then cut her off after 5 minutes.

  13. Don*

    This reminds me of the time I told a coworker “I promise you that I’m going to give this all the attention it deserves.”

      1. Wine Not Whine*

        I’ve been known to use “thank you for your input! I’ll be certain to give it due consideration.” When the amount of consideration due is, of course exactly zero.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Kind of like in Ever After where the princess asks the king and queen to give her stepmother the same treatment she gave the princess.

    2. Daily Reader*

      After listening to a LOT of complaints for months and trying to be empathetic, take them seriously, etc., I finally just said “noted!” to a direct complaint about how I handled something. It brought the person up short and closed the conversation. Not sure it would work for Emily, though.

    3. Colette*

      One of my former managers used to use “That’s good information”. It’s positive, it acknowledges the info, and it doesn’t commit to doing anything with it.

    4. Nesprin*

      My naval captain grandfather was outstanding at shutting this sort of thing down. His favorite was “That’s certainly an idea”

  14. Sparkles McFadden*

    It would be great to point Emily back to your manager so the manager can learn why it is you don’t want to keep someone who isn’t working out an extra month just to be nice or accommodating. Someone who is problematic enough to be let go from a job will only be worse during this lame duck period.

    You may not be able to do that, so I will add that I have tried the “Why don’t you make us a list?” method. It had a moderate success rate. Not sure how it will work with someone who took 90 minutes to write a three sentence mail. Here’s hoping it will keep her busy like a dog with a Kong toy.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I worked with someone who had crippling anxiety.

    She asked for my help on a brief email response. That took me 30 seconds. Six hours later, she was still working on the five sentence response. She’d been doing it all day.

    During a legislative session, this same coworker worked on a single bill that we already knew was going to die in committee anyway. She mentally couldn’t let it go and wasted three weeks and literally did nothing else.

    Typically this behavior is in direct response to not knowing how to do one’s job or being terrified of doing it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I agree – but one would hope that having one foot out the door would mitigate that at least a little.

    2. anonymous73*

      It doesn’t matter why it’s happening. If she does have crippling anxiety, it’s up to her to figure out how to manage it, and that doesn’t include disrupting OP’s work 20 times a day. OP has a bigger problem than Emily. They have a manager who won’t deal with Emily properly. You have a problem employee and you allow them to stay a full month after their notice? You allow Emily to continuously bother OP with non-problems? Manager needs to step up and MANAGE.

  16. Starbuck*

    Does Emily have any authority to assign or delegate work to OP? If not (as I assume) whatever simple phrase that works to brush her off seems best. The list idea is nice in case there does turn out to be anything of merit, but I’d just do whatever I could to ignore her. Does it matter anymore if she complains about not being taken seriously when she’s about to leave anyway? It sounds like you and your manager are of the same mind about her complaints so I wouldn’t worry about that.

  17. AnonInCanada*

    And Emily is still there because… why? Why hasn’t that manager got rid of Emily sooner? OP has made many complaints about her, as now doubt has everyone who has (had) to deal with her, be it colleagues or customers. What dirt does Emily have on the boss that OP doesn’t know of? But I do like Alison’s suggestion of deflecting Emily and all her nagging and complaining right back at the manager. Not your circus, not your monkey, OP!

  18. Nanani*

    I think LW should stop addressing the content of the complaints, and reclaim their time by shutting it down/redirecting to the boss.
    “I’m busy, this will have to wait”
    “Can’t talk right now”
    etc.

    The issue isn’t really what Emily is complaining about, it’s how much of LW’s time is being drained away listening to it, after all.

    1. TPS reporter*

      Agree, just ignore the message. This technique worked well with a woman who recently left my company who was very much an Emily. When I saw an email from her I just moved it to an archive. Even looking at it would rile me up. Don’t give her the oxygen she’s looking for.

  19. John Smith*

    I don’t suppose getting the co worker to sign individual mini contracts threatening being fired each time she raises a complaint would do the trick would it?

  20. sofar*

    We had an Emily. She saw herself as “brand police” until the bitter, bitter end. Her four-week notice was agonizing.

    It will depend on what type of person Emily is. But with our Emily, I found that dramatically saying, “Oh wow thank you SO MUCH for bringing this to my attention! I’m grateful.” And then saying something about her leaving “Big shoes to fill” usually turned what could have been a lengthy interaction into a 30-second one that left her feeling self-satisfied and smug (and free to move on to another victim). … We were also still remote at the time so I largely ignored her on Slack and checked once/day, assured her I was “documenting all of these, thank you SO MUCH for flagging + heart emoji” and that was that.

  21. Just Me*

    I like Alison’s idea–I think I would *highly* suggest that Emily create a “training manual” or hand-off document with all the issues she has, and every time she brings up a new problem OP can say, “I am so glad you brought that up. You should research that and put it in your manual.”

  22. Mrs. Pince*

    Goodness. Have her make the list of issues but also ask that, in addition, she research best practices to ‘fix’ the problem. Submit weekly by email. From the sounds of it, that might keep her quite happily occupied.

  23. RJ*

    “To ensure that information does not get lost, let’s reduce frequency of communication so that updates are only provided once more details have been established.”
    “I do not have the capacity to take this on in addition to my own workload but I’m happy to support where it makes sense.”

    Those are the scripts I’ve used in the past with my own Emily.

  24. RunShaker*

    What about ignoring her emails? It doesn’t sound like anything that needs to be addressed plus manager seems to realize they’re not true complaints. By acknowledging the emails, it gives Emily the attention she is seeking. I also realize this isn’t a strategy that should be used often but I’m wondering if this would be the case here.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      That works if they’re remote.
      I got the impression from the letter that this group is currently back in the office, so Emily is able to go park themselves in the OP’s work area to disrupt the flow with her “issues.”

      1. RunShaker*

        True, ignoring emails does work better when remote. I’ve done it on occasion when in the office as well. Sometimes I was asked in email and/or in person why I didn’t respond. I defaulted to commenters responses above, something to the effect of Manager asked me to complete other tasks & to Emily, if you have concerns, you’re to send them to manager.

        1. RunShaker*

          and of course in civil, professional tone of voice. I also excuse myself & say working on X task & have to get back to meeting my deadline.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The one “wannabe Emily” I worked with would literally park themselves in your workspace until you dealt with whatever their latest concern was. I worked around them for four hours once….what they wanted me to do wasn’t something I could do – and they didn’t want to hear “No.”

          They literally sat in the corner of my desk for four hours – and were still there when I left for the day.

          1. STAT!*

            Say what?? Extraordinary. I wonder how long after you left before they took off themselves?

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              They apparently left a few after I did – there was no longer any point, I was gone.

  25. anonymous73*

    You don’t need to be polite, you just need to be civil. And with someone like this you need to be direct.

    “I need you to stop interrupting me so often because it’s affecting my ability to complete my work. Make a list of issues if you’d like, but you need to stop bringing them to me multiple times of day, every day.”

    If she’s continues, “I’ve asked you to stop disrupting my day” and then turn around, ignore her and keep working.

  26. Moonlight*

    I wonder if it would be worth it to just tell her she’s being incredibly disruptive and causing problems and that she should cut it out. I mean, Emily is leaving, so it’s not like OP will have to sit in that s**t for long. It could be framed as “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but you do things like X, Y and Z and it’s causing problems like AB and C. I’m assuming you’re unaware of the impact of your behaviour and thought you’d like to know so that it doesn’t follow you to your next job”. It sounds like no one has ever tried to coach her. It might not be OPs problem, which is fine too. I’m just naming an option.

  27. Not Australian*

    “She invented huge problems out of every single thing, and then spent massive amounts of time trying to solve these nonexistent problems.”

    I know someone like this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that she just likes to be the star of her own drama. It’s her way of feeling valuable/valued, IMHO, and presumably she doesn’t get that validation in other areas of her life – which is really very sad.

  28. What She Said*

    Smart mouth me would simply reply. “that’s nice” and then proceed to ignore her. She’s leaving. Why are you trying to be professional when she isn’t. I’m not saying be outright rude but at some point you can and should just ignore her.

  29. NorthBayTeky*

    OK, I’ll admit it, I’m totally curious about what these” problems” are that Emily keeps finding. Complaining about co-workers, poor grasp of writing language so takes 1.5 hours to craft a 3 sentence reply, not particularly out of the ordinary, as co-workers go. So what things did she identify were “problems?”

  30. bratschegirl*

    “Emily, one of the major reasons you’re leaving us at the end of the month is because you wouldn’t stop making mountains out of molehills, like you’re doing right here. Yes, I agree I’m not taking you seriously, because this doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. It’s not a problem that needs solving at all, and even if it was, it’s not your problem. So please take this up with Boss or someone else.”

  31. SaffyTaffy*

    I’ve shut down more than one Emily by asking, “Why do you care?” It might take repetition, because she’ll probably just keep going, so I’d stop her and say, “No, Emily, for real: why do you care?”

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I’m not sure that would shut her down. Might just open up the “I’m just trying to help!” box. Maybe the “Excuse me for caring about the best interest of the company!” bag,as well.

  32. Goldenrod*

    Once again, Alison’s advice is spot on.

    If I had to pick the ONE MOST ANNOYING mistake that otherwise well-meaning managers consistently make, it would be this – tolerating a low-performer WAY past the point where this is useful or kind or helpful at all.

    All it does is make everyone else miserable and create an intolerable working environment for EVERYONE, under the guise of being “nice.” Managers, please don’t do this!

  33. Sara without an H*

    While I agree that Emily sounds like a pain in whatever body part you’d care to name, I think the real issue is the manager, who can’t hire and won’t manage.

    Did anybody check references before hiring Emily? Because I’ll bet dollars to donuts that this kind of behavior is why her job history is “spotty.”

  34. T. James*

    Tell her to stay home for the rest of the month. Tell her that you have all her work covered so she doesn’t need to come in anymore, but she’ll get paid for the time anyway. Then ignore her emails, phone calls, etc. Yes, you’re paying her to do nothing, but that sounds like a good investment.

  35. learnedthehardway*

    Have her put down her concerns in writing for you. That will a) take up her time, b) make her think about whether something is really a problem worth writing down, and c) hopefully keep her out of your hair. Might also serve as good evidence of exactly why she is being let go.

  36. Workerbee*

    It’s beyond past time to stop enabling Emily. Ignore her where you can, be brusque where you have to, but stop giving her your time, space, and energy. I really can’t see where you need her for anything or where you owe her anything.

  37. just a thought*

    I would recommend something like “you don’t need to worry about this stuff anymore, we’ve got it handled” every time she mentions a problem. But you shouldn’t discount everything she says. I have a feeling she has some deeply personal issues going on, but surely all of her complaints about your workplace are not incorrect? Try to find the helpful complaints in her last month in your office.

    1. Nah*

      But someone can be “not incorrect” with a complaint, but still be causing more problems by making that complaint. For example, imagine an employee complaining at length that there are no pink pens. The one she had ran out of ink and the replacement pen with red ink doesn’t look exactly the same. That may be true, but it is almost certainly not an issue worth prioritizing in most, if not all, workplaces. While this may appear to be a silly example, the principle could be the same in OP’s workplace. OP should be trusted to know what her work priorities are, and we should take her word that Emily has been creating problems.

  38. Quake Johnson*

    Be sure to update us next month OP! This feels like a guaranteed “juicy update” letter haha, though I hope for your sanity it isn’t.

  39. Amy*

    I would just literally ignore her and pick up the phone and tell her you’re busy. Or start working and ignore her. Silent treatment. Maybe just the thing that she will get lol.

    “Sore throat, please stay 6 feet from me.”

  40. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    Were you involved with training her or did your manager ever tell her she was supposed to go to you with questions? Or are you just unlucky enough to sit near her? If there’s no official reason she should be asking you, it would be a lot easier for you to turn it down. It’s certainly harder to change because a lot of time has gone by, but if you’re not her manager or trainer, or anything it’s not your job. Easier said than done I understand. Either way, you don’t have to be her receptacle for all her complaints and negativity. Next time she complains about something, maybe you could ask her what she wants you to do about it or if she expects you to take some action? When she sputters or says no, you can tell her you don’t have time to listen to her complaints.

  41. Dust Bunny*

    We had an intern years ago who did have legitimate mental health issues but also had a lousy work ethic (constantly watching YouTube videos); was low-key (and I think largely cluelessly, through having been incredibly sheltered all her life) biased in several ways; and had only ever been “successfully” employed at her dad’s business where endless accommodations would be made for her. Her parents begged us to hire her so she’d have a “real” job on her resume, but everyone else in our organization begged us not to because she’d annoyed them all or made inappropriate comments around them. One might argue that she needed the stimulation of the videos and that much accommodation, but the upshot was that she didn’t get much work done and didn’t demonstrate that she was capable of working in our discipline if she needed that much assistance to do even 20% of the job.

    So maybe Emily is on the spectrum or has anxiety or some other legitimate complication, but maybe she doesn’t, and that’s not the OP’s to solve. It’s also entirely possible for people who have legitimate disabilities or mental health concerns to also be spoiled or annoying.

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