my employee shouted “F*** you!” at a coworker — but he was provoked

I’m off today. Here’s a post that was originally published in 2017.

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager at my company for nearly 10 years, but only with my current team for about six months. My role is hectic, and at the insistence of my own manager I am regularly required to attend meetings and other sessions away from the office, leaving the team to fend for themselves. The team is generally pretty easy to manage, but there are a couple of personalities that cause me some issues.

Ben is innovative and dynamic, always looking to fix things and solve problems. He’s clever and creative and once he’s decided on a course of action, he goes for it with all his considerable energy. He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking, he can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions, and he also has a bit of a swearing habit in unofficial conversations (I’ve asked him to stop this and he said he’s trying).

Jane is experienced and knowledgeable but often likes to foist her work onto her colleagues in the guise of “training” (although she’s not advising or helping them, and they’re things they already know how to do). She likes to instruct her colleagues, but is less fond of actually carrying out a task herself. She’s stubborn and resistant to change, and insistent that everything is perfect as it is.

Last week, Jane was on holiday. Ben had a spare afternoon so (with my consent) spent it going through the system we use to track the team’s work and doing some general housekeeping, tidying up our records and closing off tasks that had been completed or were no longer relevant or required (including one that had inexplicably been left open for over a year). When he finished, he emailed the rest of the team outlining what he’d done, and they were fine with it. Several of them thanked him for saving them the job of each individually reviewing and closing their own tasks.

I didn’t witness the following events but they have been corroborated by the entire team and several unfortunate passers-by from other teams.

When Jane returned to work to see Ben’s email, she immediately asked him why he’d thought it was acceptable to close off tasks that were meant for her. He referred her to his email, which explained his motivation, process, and outcome. She said — in a loud, stern voice — that he was interfering in her work and that she couldn’t allow it. She told him to keep his hands out of her work, because it wasn’t up to him to decide whether it was complete or not. He told her (correctly) that we’d struggle to explain to an auditor the reason we’ve kept a request open for a year without any action, and that there’s no point leaving a task open on the system when there’s no further action required. Jane told him that it’s not right or acceptable for him to touch her work, and that he should keep his nose out of her business. When he explained that he’d closed tasks for the rest of the team too and they were grateful, she told him that that was different, she didn’t care what everyone else thought was okay, she wanted him to leave her work alone.

Apparently this went on for several minutes, getting more heated despite the attempts of the team to diffuse the situation, reaching a crescendo of them both talking over each other at the top of their voices, Jane complaining about Ben over-stepping her boundaries by messing with her work, and Ben retorting that she probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself. And on and on until Jane told Ben to get out of her sight, that she couldn’t deal with him, that he was impossible to work with, and then…

Ben shouted “F*** you, Jane!” and stormed off.

Jane immediately went to HR, and when I returned to the office I was greeted by the HR manager talking about setting up an investigation into the incident, and several panicky FYI emails from members of the team who had witnessed it.

I’m struggling to decide how to approach this. Ben was obviously in the wrong — there were multiple witnesses to the shouting and swearing, he apologized for it once he’d calmed down about 20 minutes later, and he’s freely admitted that he did it and it was wrong. He absolutely needs to learn to hold his temper, and I dread to think what the repercussions would have been if there had been external visitors in the office.

But I see the cause of the entire incident as being Jane’s out-of-proportion response to what was essentially Ben doing her a favor. Up until the point the discussion descended into shouting and accusations, Ben was in the right. I can’t condone his reaction, but I can understand it.

HR are taking the view that Ben was wrong and we now need to decide what disciplinary action to take against Ben. I agree with that as far as it goes, but I also think there are a lot of contributory factors and that I also need a plan for how to deal with Jane to get her to accept that other people might occasionally need to get involved in her work, and how to deal with the team to stop something like this happening again.

Can you advise?

Discipline them both. They were both in the wrong.

If Jane had a problem with what Ben did while she was out, she should have taken it up with you once it was clear that she couldn’t resolve it directly with him. You need to have a serious conversation with her where you tell her that’s unacceptable for her get into a verbal brawl with a colleague. Acknowledge to her that Ben was wrong as well and that you’ll be talking with him separately, but that you need her to avoid a repeat on her side. Sample language: “It’s absolutely not okay for you to raise your voice to a colleague, or get as hostile as it sounds like you got with Ben during this disagreement. I want to be clear that Ben’s behavior during that conversation wasn’t okay either, and I’ll be talking with him separately, but I need to know that you won’t do that again. If you can’t resolve a dispute with a colleague calmly and professionally, then I need you to come and talk to me. You can’t let it get to the point where you’re openly hostile to someone here.”

By the way, I’m specifically not addressing the substance of the dispute here, because it’s not clear to me whether Ben ever told Jane that you had okayed the work he did in everyone’s queues. If he didn’t explicitly tell her that, I can’t blame her for being annoyed that he messed with her work. If he did tell her that, then she was in the wrong to keep criticizing him for it, and in that case, you’d also want to say something like, “Part of working on a team means that other people might occasionally be involved with your work — whether it’s because you’re out or busy with other priorities or simply because I ask someone to. That’s part of the job, and I need you to accept that with grace when it happens.” You could add, “Of course, if you have a specific concern about how that plays out, I want to hear it — but you should take that up with me directly.”

As for Ben, you need to tell him that while you understand he felt provoked by Jane, it’s not okay to scream profanity at a coworker. Because it sounds like this is part of an ongoing pattern where he doesn’t control his emotions at work, you need to address that too. Sample language: “This was unacceptable, you can’t do it again, and I need you to figure out how to control your temper. You’re creating an environment where people will be afraid to interact with you, and it will have serious repercussions for your professional reputation, even when you leave this job. I need to see you get your temper under control from now on. If something like this happens again, your job could be in jeopardy.”

Beyond this specific incident, I wonder how clear you’ve been with both Ben and Jane about the concerns you have with how they conduct themselves at work. For all I know, you’ve given them plenty of feedback on the broader patterns you’ve described here — Ben’s lack of a filter and Jane’s resistance to change and tendency to foist work off on others — but if you haven’t, that should be a priority. When things blow up like they did here, it’s much easier to address if you’ve already been talking about the issues in play … and they’re less likely to blow up in the first place if people have already been told “hey, you need to stop this.”

{ 512 comments… read them below }

  1. Chauncy Gardener*

    I don’t know how I missed this one when it first posted, but wow, would I love to see an update on it!
    And seriously, Jane is the issue IMHO

    1. I should really pick a name*

      They both are.
      I’m very skeptical of “He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking”

      1. Elenna*

        Yeah, Jane was more in the wrong here, IMO, but they’re both definitely in the wrong. (And I’m very curious whether Ben can help himself if the person he’s angry at is someone who would be willing to fire him…)

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          In this instance, he did it to someone who was absolutely ready to take it to HR and get him disciplined (which doesn’t sound surprising – whatever Jane is, she’s clearly not a pushover), and apologized before he knew what the discipline might entail, so it seems like he still can’t help himself then.

          It’s absolutely true that some people pretend to be out of control to be manipulative, but it’s also true that some people just have universally shorter-than-ideal tempers.

          1. LMB*

            And some people have mental health or neurological issues that can cause this type of behavior but Ben really feels like he has no control over this stuff he needs to see doctor and get diagnosis and treatment.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, I have a truly terrible brain-to-mouth filter… which is (one of many reasons) why I see a social skills therapist. But while I’m getting better, it’s still definitely not up to the same caliber as everyone else’s is.

            1. Dreama*

              God, me too. My career was in the pits by the time I retired, and it’s all because my already flimsy filter stops working when I’m reacting with emotion instead of reason. Hang in there, Sister. Or Bro. At least you have AAM to guide you. I didn’t know about this resource until after retirement, dammit, or I’d have been a much better employee.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              I’ve had a stroke, and prior head injuries too. This trashed what filter I have. I still haven’t got it back, over 25 years later. When I get personally involved in stuff, my bucket mouth comes out. It’s hard for me to “not care”, but it’s the only way I can not start swearing. It doesn’t often work. But this is why I prefer text to verbal. In a text message, I can edit before I send it.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Yes! You understand me! Text lets me prevent myself from chronically devouring my own foot (also, for some reason, my verbal language processor and my written language processor are running two different programs- my ability to utilize and comprehend language is vastly different between the two).

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I have aphasia that comes out most when I am tired or stressed, too. Text is so much easier.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                There are! I love mine, she’s great. Make sure to specifically pick a practice for adults with a therapist you like, and you’re golden!

          3. Elenna*

            True, yeah, and I agree that there are people who genuinely have a short temper. (Although that’s also an issue.) Was just curious about it.

          4. Taylor*

            I can sympathize with Ben and I typically have a high tolerance for putting up with B.Sc. stuff like what Jane was doing, but this like, why Alison’s advice of relaying to a manager is so important… I find I do that all the time when someone is unhappy with something I did, or why, etc… or just in general. I also am one for liking to “know” how procedures and policies go, so when someone comes at me like “why did you do that” I can fall back on that too and say “well boss told me to, or this is the policy here, if you’re wanting to do something different, take that up with boss” and then disengage. If they publicly shame you in a reply-all email or something too, I have no qualms shaming them right back with the “correct” info in a reply all either.

      2. Littorally*

        Yeah. Not denying any of Jane’s problems here, but Ben’s mouth is also a pretty significant problem.

        As much as Jane should have taken it up with OP if she couldn’t get a quick resolution with Ben, Ben equally should have told Jane to go to OP about it if he couldn’t get a quick resolution with her.

        That’s the easiest freakin answer in the world — “Boss asked me to do this so I did it. If you don’t like that, go talk to Boss.”

        1. WindmillArms*

          This exactly! I don’t blame even him for telling her off after being yelled at for several minutes, BUT it sounds like he argued with her for those several minutes instead of saying “Boss told me to, so talk to her” and walking away.

          1. Sandiera*

            It sounds like his resentment of Jane’s passing her work to others and taking credit for it drove his side of the argument.

          2. Amaranth*

            If he did communicate that Boss approved it and Jane kept going, that’s another issue as well. But definitely they both should have taken their concerns to their supervisor. I wonder if Jane didn’t want to go to her boss because it puts a spotlight on how long some of her tickets have been left open, so some of this was defensiveness about feeling her flaws are exposed. Alison is so right that LW needs to be addressing both Jane and Ben’s day to day behaviors as well. The letter makes it sound like ‘well, Jane is well known to not do her own work’ — in what office is that okay to dismiss as a quirk?

        2. Poppyseeds*

          We say these things like profanity is the issue but words that are not profane can be almost or more than cutting. I don’t always agree that using a profane word puts someone in a category where they are the more “significant problem” simply because they use profanity. Belittling or cruel remarks may involve no cursing but they are truly a problem that I would describe as highly significant.

          Each one of these people had the option to walk away yet they chose to stay and act up.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            So much agree. I had a family member who would not cuss nor raise her voice but she had a real knack for reducing a person down to 1 inch tall. She was a wordsmith, but she used it in bad ways. She’d make other people cuss. Just like Jane here, Jane seems to be driving people to the point that cussing is all that is left.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Seems like we must be related because my mother was exactly like that. The actual words looked harmless on paper, but the pointed delivery and timing would cut you to the quick and you’d be left reeling, in a state of shock like you’d just been hit by a lorry.

          2. Mannequin*

            Right? People seem to be ignoring:

            Jane told Ben to get out of her sight, that she couldn’t deal with him, that he was impossible to work with

            all said because he did his job properly and she didn’t like it.

          3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

            Exactly. I used to do this A LOT as a kid, and it was terrible. I knew I was better at wordsmithing as a kid, as I had an extensive vocabulary as compared to other students in my class (not hard, as a voracious reader in a school system that wasn’t great at actually educating students!) and I’d be merciless about it. Often it was because I was bullied for being nerdy and not much of a fighter, and also sensitive.

            Still, it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t necessary. I’ve learned how not to be cutting and sarcastic. Out of the time as I’ve gotten older, though it isn’t easy to retrain myself to be kinder to others.

            Jen really needs to get a handle on that, especially in a professional setting.

            Ben needs to get a handle on his temper. I also have a hot temper — and if I feel my control slipping, I walk away to get myself together before continuing. Obviously, I say that I need a minute, so the other person knows I’m not trying to be dismissive.

        3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. Either of them could have stopped the argument by saying they should just bring this to OP. They both escalated the situation. Ben swore, but Jane telling him to get out of her sight was pretty hostile/aggressive, too. They are both very much in the wrong. I hope that HR’s approach shifted a bit once they got more context about how Jane and Ben each behaved and escalated the situation.

          If I was OP, I’d be really actively managing both of them for a while.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          They both had the chance to walk away but didn’t. It makes me wonder if these two have had problems with each other for a while and this was the spark not were sort of looking to to make the other less than awesome. At the very least the fact that Jane ran straight to HR means the idea of getting Ben in trouble was on her radar.

      3. TheRain'sSmallHands*

        That’s common with neurodiversity. And its really a battle to overcome. Both the “say what I’m thinking” and the “sometimes it isn’t appropriate.”

        1. Lenora Rose*

          It’s also common with a number of neurotypical people, especially in privileged groups, who can get away more with just not learning social skills.

          It’s also damaging to relations regardless. If there’s neurodiversity involved, there are accommodations that can be worked on, but they still don’t involve allowing a person to get into a multi-minute argument or telling their coworker to **** off without consequence.

        2. Xantar*

          We have been told repeatedly not to speculate on a person’s mental health conditions, especially since they have no relevance here and don’t excuse any actions.

          1. somethingchronic*

            Many of the conditions termed neurodivergent are not mental illnesses. Just saying. (But otherwise, agreed on the no speculating bit.)

      4. lex talionis*

        Frankly I’d rather know exactly what my colleagues are really thinking vs the often lengthy, circuitous crap that leaves me wondering “what is he trying to say” or “what did he really mean by that” even if it contains an f-bomb.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          But some things don’t need to be said (ex. Ben retorting that she probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself).

          He’s clearly venting, not trying to resolve the issue.

          1. Everything Bagel*

            Yeah, Ben should have said, “our manager okayed this so talk to him.” That should have been the end of it.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I missed that comment when I first read it. But that quip makes me wonder how many times that Jane has dumped work on Ben and then took the credit for it. Wonder if Ben is more prone to blowing up at Jane than any other coworker there.

          3. Mannequin*

            It’s not ideal to make sarcastic quips while I’m a disagreement with coworkers but since it’s actually true, I’d say he just got fed up with her BS & the filter didn’t engage.

        2. Silly string theory*

          Yet somehow, Jane is “getting away with” leaving things open in the system (to make her seem busier than she is?) and then, delegating to others.
          It seems like, Jane is an unexplored problem here and Ben had uncovered her scheme with his actions. I wonder why that was never explored.

          1. SixTigers*

            Someone on another site Strongly Suggested that Jane was so enraged because all those tickets having been closed out made it clear that her workload was very light indeed.

            If she went from 10 being open to 2 being open —

            And she deliberately provoked him into cursing her and then ran for HR, to get him into trouble. Did she think that was going to cover up the 2 open tickets?

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Explored? If the Jane Problem had been dealt with long ago, this would not have happened.

            OP seems very well versed in what is going on with Jane but what has OP done so far? Nothing is mentioned, I am hoping OP just didn’t include it to save space/reading time.

            OP, Jane sounds awful to work with. If you insist on retaining her as is, then get ready to start losing people. One place I worked at had two “freeloaders” we called them. The animosity toward the bosses for keeping these two do-nothings was sky high.

            1. Eukomos*

              OP is clearly Ben posing as his own manager. That’s why we’re getting everything from his perspective.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                We are supposed to take letter writers at their word. OP says she is the boss.

                But okay, let’s roll with this. To Ben I would say, “This is at least your second boss in this place. No one is going to fix Jane any time too soon. Brush off your resume and leave. All the sympathy in the world from internet stranger is not going make Jane a better person and that is reality. So you have quite a few people here understanding your perspective and *What* has changed? Nothing, right? Start your job search.”

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I wonder if the only reason they get away with it both (especially Jane’s freeloading) happens because the manager doesn’t get to spend as much time in the office as they want to – this leading to a lot of the complaints becoming he said/she said – especially if the problem employees have supporter from outside the department that keep putting the kibosh on actual consequences for bad behavior.

      5. Gingerblue*

        “Ben doesn’t feel like controlling himself, and has learned that people will let him get away with that.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Jane doesn’t have to modify her behavior either.
          I am seeing a pattern here.

      6. Elsa*

        Yeah, it sounds like Ben’s been allowed to get away with tantrums for long enough. Time for him to grow up.

      7. Falling Diphthong*

        I went into this with no sympathy for Ben, who I bet can help himself in all sorts of contexts.

        But then the specifics of the incident really spread it between both of them.

        I’d call it a clash between two people used to thinking “I’M the only one allowed to escalate here!” and being astonished to face off with their mirror image.

      8. yala*

        Yeah, that phrase kind of gets my hackles up.

        Like, on one hand, I can understand being impulsive/emotional/reactive. With ADHD, that’s something I struggle with–emotions are big and sudden, and you instinctively act on them right away. It’s something I’m trying to train myself out of, but it’s *hard*


        The words you pick? Especially insulting ones? I dunno, those aren’t usually at the front of my mind. I sort of trained myself out of swearing too blue back in high school, so it’s not the first thing I reach for. And it’s rare the first instinctive thing out of my mouth will be “exactly what I’m thinking.”

        At any rate, I empathize with him, but he and OP really shouldn’t frame it as “can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking.”

      9. Observer*

        I’m very skeptical of “He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking”

        True. But I do think that there is a chance that he could change, based on the OP’s additional information. Jane? Much worse, even without the additional information the OP posted. Once you look at that – toxic personality all around.

        As people noted then, there was a reason so many people emailed to defend Ben.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If he can’t help himself, then management can help him to the door, right after Jane.

      10. Stacy*

        Exactly. This seems like an example pf the whole “boys will be boys” mindset where we don’t hold men accountable in the same way we do for women.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Jane really is an issue. She has issues open for a year with no action, and they get audited by an outside auditor. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.

      1. Wendy*

        This! So many AAM posts essentially describe a building on fire and then ask what to do about the soot on the doormat.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Or the letter is five paragraphs about soot, and then an offhand mention of the burning building in the last line.

          1. Kit*

            “This person’s cough is really annoying me!” only it turns out that they’re coughing from smoke inhalation because of the burning building… oy.

      2. The OTHER Other*

        This raised my eyebrows also. Someone (the LW?) should be responsible for making sure work items don’t sit in queue for a year. Between this and the oddly passive wording about Ben doing this review and the LW “consenting” I am thinking the LW is not taking on management duties strongly enough.

        1. Annie Mouse*

          This is where I am too. This type of heated dispute rarely happens in a vacuum. They’ve likely had some animosity related to their separate sets of issues for some time, and it finally came to a head. LW knew about Ben’s temper and Jane’s “training” but hadn’t effectively shut them down. LW says the team is “easy to manage” and says nothing about trying to correct any of the bad behavior. By letting these things fester, LW is just throwing fuel on the fire.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I agree. LW knew there would be problems she should have handled that task herself and gone to each offender personally.

      3. Show Globe*

        As a former auditor myself, my spider senses really start tingling when someone gets angry because someone else is touching “their” work. What are you hiding, Jane?

        1. Jora Malli*

          It feels particularly iffy to me when you add in the part about how Jane frequently ropes her coworkers into doing her tasks for her. So she’s fine with giving other people access to certain parts of her work, but is being extremely possessive about this part of it. Now, that could just be an “I decide, not anybody else” mentality, or it could be that the tasks Jane doesn’t want anyone else to look at are hiding something that would cause trouble if other people knew about it.

        2. Excel-sior*

          I’m not an auditor, but my work makes us take online training every 6 months and this is exactly the sort of thing that’s talked about in the Preventing Fraud module

        3. Not So NewReader*

          It could be that all she is hiding is incompetence. But, whatever, it needs to be dealt with. I predict more outbursts from more people very soon if Jane is not given an ultimatum.

        4. Sarah M*

          Yes, that was a big red flag to me as well (though I’m a lawyer, not an auditor). When I read that, my first thought was “Whoa. Y’all better take a closer look at Jane. NOW.”

      4. Danniella Bee*

        I agree! It was wrong of Ben to curse at her, and he should have sent Jane to the manager about the issue, but to me, this uncovers serious performance and attitude issues with Jane.

      5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – Ben is the big, loud, really visible problem – and the one that takes all the attention. But ultimately, I think really only Ben gets in trouble from Ben’s antics.

        But Jane is the sneaky problem that will blow audits to smitheerines and get everybody in trouble, not just Jane.

    3. Software Dev (she/her)*

      Eh, I’m not sure about that.

      The letter says Ben was provoked but also “ Ben retorting that she probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself.” That’s pretty provocative language.

      Also the letter writer has a clear Ben bias. Allison’s take is right, both of these people messed up and let the emotions get the better of them about a work thing.

      1. Don*

        If I was a manager of two difficult people, one of whom was difficult in a not-getting-shit-done and resistant-to-guidance way where the other one was highly productive and responding to guidance, I’d probably have that bias too.

        Not that I’d assess it as a slam dunk; men all too often get significantly more slack for being loud/abrasive/pushy than women do and I’ve got no time for letting bad behavior go because of “top performer” excuses. But an argument predicated on territorial nonsense over a task someone was assigned to to by the boss? I’m not real inclined to pick a side just because one person knows they can be a jerk at a lower volume for longer.

        1. WindmillArms*

          I’m very surprised how much slack Jane is getting from both Alison and the commenters. She started the entire thing! She yelled at a colleague for several minutes over him doing work assigned by their boss. They were BOTH “loud and heated” for several minutes. He swore first, so it’s a Ben problem? Wha?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yeah, I’m perplexed that everything about this incident was fine with HR and management, right up until one of the seven words you can’t say on television passed one person’s lips.

            If he’d yelled “Drat you Jane!” or “Fark you Jane!” would this all have been written off as “Thursday”?

            1. BurnBabyBurn*

              In my swearing experience, it’s not atypical for people to get worked up about a swear word to the point that they ignore the rest of what’s said. It always strikes me as very fourth grade. Oooooh you said a swear word I’m telling.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                This. It’s so annoying. People can sit there and insult me and belittle me for hours, plus tossing nasty barbs my way for days, but the moment I tell them to f* off I’m suddenly the bad guy? If ?I were Ben I would be job hunting just to get away from Jane and her passive-aggressive garbage.

            2. Rosie*

              Right it’s the yelling that’s the issue, on both their sides. The curse word is pretty incidental

          2. Rich*

            Yeah but it doesn’t seem clear that Jane was told that the task was assigned by the boss by either Ben or the boss. A good manager would realize that having one employee go into another employees work flow and start changing stuff without forewarning the other employee would be an issue. The manager should have sent out an email to the team letting them all know what Ben was doing before he did it.

            1. WindmillArms*

              OP came back with a comment on the original post saying that Ben’s email said explicitly that [manager] asked him to do the work. Jane knew, but decided to start a fight and then complain when her victim stood up to her.

          3. KRM*

            Plus with Jane’s track record of avoiding work and foisting things off onto other people–I’d be SERIOUSLY looking at everything she’s done and is doing. She’s either worried that there isn’t enough in there that she has actually done, or those open things in the system were there so she could SEEM busy while she wasn’t. Her reaction is 100% over the top.

          4. Danniella Bee*

            I 100% agree with you! Jane is the real issue here and somehow Ben’s use of a curse word is what is being focused on not the very real attitude and performance issues with Jane.

          5. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, I am surprised by how much slack Jane is getting here also. I have zero patience for people who pawn off their work. I would have told Jane that if I get one more report of her pawning off work, she is done and gone. If she has too much work she would have to come tell me and *I* will reassign it. We will also be keeping closer track of workloads to see where the bottlenecks are. I’d be watching Jane to make sure she is meeting deadlines and properly closing out work.

            My take is this is not a Jane Problem, it’s a Boss Problem. Jane should have been gone long before now and Ben should have had his final warning long before now.

          6. Gothic Bee*

            This! I don’t think what Ben did was okay, but Jane was equally a jerk and I don’t think the fact that she didn’t use any swears while doing it makes her any better. They’re both in the wrong and LW should be managing them properly.

          7. MM*

            Thank you. I’m truly surprised how much everyone is focusing on Ben. If Jane had written in on her own behalf I’d expect the commentariat and Alison to be coming down on her pretty hard, not unlike that LW who wrote in about having been rude to her trainer and then surprised when her trainer eventually reacted (the “needs to grow a backbone” letter). Like, Ben saying “you’d probably just get someone else to do it and then take credit” is not some unmotivated bit of meanness! It’s common sense on this site that we need to be aware of how our colleagues might perceive us at work and manage those perceptions! I’m not saying Ben is a poor uwu angel here, but I don’t really see how or why he’s emerging as #1 Villain in these comments. I don’t understand why OP as the manager is letting Jane carry on like this; it’s obviously breeding resentment.

          8. JamminOnMyPlanner*

            Yeah, I expected Allison and the comments to come down much harder on Jane. Also it sounds like it wouldn’t have even been an issue if JANE hadn’t brought it up to HR, so sounds like she’s allowed to do what she wants, push people around, and belittle them, as long as she doesn’t use curse words.

            What she said to him is so much worse than “f you,” in my opinion. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial but I just don’t get that worked up over cursing. It’s obviously unprofessional and I’m not saying it’s fine and dandy and that no one should say anything to Ben… but Jane started it and escalated it.

    4. anonymous73*

      They’re both the issue. It doesn’t matter how much of an ass someone is being, you don’t yell obscenities at a colleague…EVER. You walk away and bring it to management. OP states she’s told Ben to stop cursing and he said he’s “trying”. That’s not good enough. OP needs to be clear about what she needs from both of them and what the consequences will be if neither follow through on improving.

      I was once yelled at by a manager when I explained to her (for the second time) that there was a deadline and we couldn’t accommodate her request to take over someone else’s meeting time. She screamed at me that I was a “fucking bitch” and to “go to hell”. There was a witness (who was an outside consultant) and nothing was ever done outside of a forced apology note on my desk a few weeks later. Screaming at someone you work with is NEVER okay. Period.

      1. Cait*

        I used to work in an industry where screaming and cursing was part of the culture. I’d have colleagues in different offices tell me to go F myself on a weekly basis and screaming matches and slamming doors in my own office were par for the course. My boss was in an office on the other side of the country and, given that this was the culture, no amount of complaining would change it. I didn’t mind the casual cursing but when it was hostile that was another story.
        I had one horrible colleague (Boss Lady) in another office who was feared by everyone in the industry. But the person she would berate the most was her assistant. Boss Lady constantly called her every mean name in the book and I’d hear her screaming at her while she was on the phone with me. Mind you, this assistant was holding the whole operation together. I had no idea how she was able to stand it until, one day, she snapped. I didn’t get to witness it but, word is, Boss Lady called her assistant an idiot (fairly mild considering all the other names she used) and her assistant went off the deep end. She laid into Boss Lady about how she was an evil, soul-sucking witch who made her life miserable and she was quitting on the spot. Boss Lady ran to Big Boss who, in turn, ask the assistant to stay. Apparently Boss Lady had plenty of crocodile tears to shed about losing her assistant and Big Boss even offered her a raise but the assistant said she’d rather jump off a building than keep working for Boss Lady. The assistant didn’t have another job lined up but didn’t care. Of course Boss Lady’s reputation preceded her and no one in the industry wanted to fill the assistant position. If newcomers took the job they were gone within weeks or months.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I disagree. Screaming at someone you work with is okay in exactly one circumstance: when they are about to seriously endanger someone and screaming at them is the only way to get their attention/compliance. For example, I have screamed at a colleague to “take your fucking hand off that valve right now” when he was ignoring instructions and opening the valve could have caused an explosion. I have only seen such situations a few times, and I work in a notoriously dangerous industry. So generally speaking I’m inclined to assume people are not justified in screaming at colleagues.

        On the other hand, I think shouting obscenities at a coworker is no worse than many other forms of verbal abuse…. including what Jane was doing. From my perspective, this was the verbal equivalent of punching someone who punched him first. Appropriate? No. But neither should the circumstances be ignored when deciding how to handle his behavior.

        1. anonymous73*

          Your example of a dangerous situation is completely different. Of course if someone is about to do something that will endanger themselves or others yelling is appropriate. But outside of that, yelling is never okay. And I never said one was worse than the other. I specifically said they both need to be disciplined.

    5. Esmeralda*

      Nah, as Alison says, Ben is also in the wrong here. He was pretty nasty to Jane. Easy way for him to have avoided this brawl: “Jane, OP/boss directed me to do it. I’m sorry you’re upset [even if he isn’t, because, he needs to make nice in the office], but you’ll need to take it up with boss.” And then stop talking, instead of insulting Jane [even if accurate!].

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        To borrow a phrase from elseweb, ESH: everyone sucks here.
        It is entirely possible to repeat “It was Fergus’s decision, not mine. So let’s meet with him” at increasing volume levels. I’ve had to do it. It felt really weird & rude. Thankfully they got the message before I got to my stage voice.

        1. Anonym*

          And walk away! You can just walk away. Ideally you say something along the lines of “this is inappropriate, if you have an issue talk to Boss” as you go, but really, just leave. And if they go shouting after you, the high road is all yours. You’re golden.

    6. SJP xo*

      Agree and actually this manager isn’t helping his team by allowing Jane to just shrug off work on her harder working colleagues. I’d be keeping a far closer eye on Jane after this and making sure he was actually doing her own work and not just fobbing it off on her colleagues.

      Don’t get me wrong Ben was wrong here too but for Jane to say to Ben to “Get out of her sight!” that’s also terrible language to say to a colleague and if she was so bothered by him she should have backed down and left.
      Jane sucks

    7. Darsynia*

      It seems incredibly rich of Jane to constantly foist her work on others until it makes her look bad to have someone else complete them. I’d be pretty upset at her too.

    8. Sara without an H*

      I noticed that the OP said they had only been in charge of this team for six months, but I still think that the whole team sounds undermanaged. That Ben can’t help himself is a crock — this is learned behavior and he’d been allowed to get away with it. Jane’s jolly habit of dumping work on her colleagues in the name of “training” should have been stopped as soon as noticed. I’d also recommend that the OP set clear expectations with the team about closing out jobs in the system and reviewing the database on a regular basis to identify problems faster.

      Hey, OP — if you’re out there, can you give us an update?

      1. Observer*

        At the time of the letter the team was definitely under-managed – something that the OP confirmed in the comments.

      2. Anonym*

        Yeah, the fact that OP as manager is aware of Jane’s pattern of behavior and she’s not on a PIP or being actively moved to the door is a bad sign.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Ben can’t help himself, Jane can’t help herself…. OP, you need employees who CAN do things.

    9. marvin*

      I got the vibe that the LW is willing to cut Ben a lot more slack than Jane and finds Jane a bit aggravating, but to my mind, anyone who lets themselves get this riled up over a routine work conversation needs to be watched closely. Why didn’t he just tell Jane that he cleared it with the LW and call it a day? It seems like there is some dysfunction at large on this team and they may need closer supervision than the LW has been able to provide.

      1. Observer*

        Well, considering that the information about the OP clearing was in the email he sent, it does make sense that he didn’t use that argument.

        I do agree that Ben’s behavior was still a problem. But in my experience, Jane is DEFINITELY a toxic influence, and may not be salvageable. Ben, on the other hand, could be salvageable, although he definitely needs better management as well.

    10. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      Uhhhhhhh… look, I am definitely not excusing Jane’s behavior, but no. No she is not the (only) issue here. You have to be able to manage your emotions and interactions at work. Also, in general.

      1. Dain*

        True but I am willing to bet that Jane chose her words specifically because she knew it would have this effect on Ben. “You need to get out of my sight because you’re impossible to deal with” it’s not a statement any more appropriate to a work environment than fu.

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Okay, but that wasn’t happening in a vaccuum, there was a lot of back and forth before that which also included gems from Ben like how Jane “wouldn’t have done it anyway,” and how she would have “just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself.” Like, sure, Jane may suck, but Jane sucking in no way negates Ben’s behaviors and it’s really alarming to see people immediately dismissing Ben’s behavior.

    11. Observer*

      wow, would I love to see an update on it! And seriously, Jane is the issue IMHO

      Yes, to both.

    12. Curmudgeon in California*

      Hard agree. I am surprised that anyone is casing on Ben after Jane went all schoolteacher and territorial on him when he was just doing something that you had okayed and that was essentially a help to the entire team.

      Sure, sure, you shouldn’t cuss at coworkers. But your coworkers shouldn’t be petty jerks, either.

      Jane needs to get over herself with her territorial BS and then shoving things off onto others but taking the credit.

      I’d rather work with Ben than Jane, personally.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah, while I agree that they both need urgent disciplining, I can see why OP veers towards preferring Ben. If you remove Jane from the equation, Ben is fine. If you remove Ben from the equation then Jane is still bossy, lazy, hostile and shady as fuck.

  2. Gracely*

    I know the letter says OP has only been managing this team for six months, but if that little time has passed and they already know this much about Ben and Jane, they need to actually manage the issues. Allison is right–this might never have blown up if OP was already actively handling those issues.
    Jane would’ve driven me up the wall, but Ben not being able to control his emotions and words…that’s not good either.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      I totally agree with this. I rescind my “it’s all Jane’s fault” comment above!

    2. Mockingjay*

      Agree. OP is managing around both Ben and Jane’s problems. There’s so much to pick apart here.

      Let’s start with work tasks: Jane doesn’t complete her work much of the time, foisting it on others. As a result, Jane has open tasks that needed to be closed for accuracy. Jane needs to be held accountable: “You need to complete your own work as assigned; tasks must be closed promptly when completed.” (I get that tracking systems are occasionally a little out of date, but this one sounds consistently behind.)

      Now, Ben’s verbal outbursts are an issue, which to her credit, OP has addressed somewhat. But he also needs to be held accountable to follow process and make sure that the “problems” he solves exist. I’ve worked with ‘Ben’ and he’s the type that ‘improves’ continually, whether needed or approved. Since this is an older letter, I’m going to speculate a little that OP doesn’t realize enthusiasm for something doesn’t always equal need. It’s nice that Ben cleaned up the system, but why not ensure all employees close their own tasks?

      I could go on, but in short, OP is addressing results of the altercation, not the cause, which is employees are not managed up front with clear tasks and responsibilities, and held accountable by consequences that are actually carried out.

      1. KRM*

        I just want to say that sometimes it’s MUCH easier to get everyone to keep up on tasks like closing things out when they aren’t facing a huge backlog of things they didn’t do. So in that way I think Ben did them a big favor, IF the OP then says to everyone “okay, you MUST be on top of closing out tasks when done, I’ll be checking them [insert time that makes sense here] and asking you about them if you don’t. This way it can be built into the process, where before I promise there would be a probably large subset of people who would just not be able to will themselves into doing it. Not great, but you know it would happen.

      2. Correlated Canary*

        I’m left wondering how much intention OP had when giving Ben that task specifically while Jane was away. Consciously or subconsciously, OP likely considered it easier to get the job done behind Jane’s back and deal with the fall out rather than managing Jane proactively.

  3. L-squared*

    You know, maybe its just the places I’ve worked, but I don’t know that “F*** you” from a colleague, when we were both yelling at each other, would make me feel the need to go to HR. But, my guess is the way Jane framed it was that it was out of nowhere and Ben was the big bad guy just harassing her as she was trying to do her work.

    That said, while I personally wouldn’t go to HR, I also completely understand why both parties need to be disciplined here.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I mean, you hopefully wouldn’t feel the need to do anything Jane did in this situation! But going to HR is probably the most reasonable out of all the things she did.

      1. SixTigers*

        Reasonable? I’m thinking that she deliberately provoked him, jabbing at him until he blew up — as she knew he’d do.

        Her approach of “here, you do my work for me,” when combined with her “don’t you DARE touch my stuff!! Don’t you EVER interfere with my work!” reaction, is ridiculous, as was her screaming insults at him. I think she set him up to get in trouble in this situation, as payback for having the gall to close out tasks that she’d left open FOR A YEAR.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          That is a huge leap that really isn’t supported by the letter. Can we please not get into advice column fanfic territory?

        2. Me (I think)*

          Yeah, it does seem like Jane was amping it up on purpose to get the blowup, which she could then take to HR. Reminds me of when my on-the-spectrum kid was in middle school and the other kids would quietly push her buttons until she blew up. Then the teacher would go after my kid.

          1. Dasein9*

            Yep. This is an abusive tactic. It’s manipulative pushing buttons and pushing buttons until the target does something that the button-pusher can point to and say, “See all the irrationality I have to put up with?”

            1. Don’t press me*

              Oooh my ex did that to me. He KNEW that certain things he could say would set me off, then when they did, he played the “poor me” card about how awful I was.

              I’ve never blown up on my current husband. He doesn’t feel a need to push my buttons. And he’s just an all around better person.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            I hate that this is such a common experience among autistic folks. I had the same issue. I got really into immediate, massive retaliation in the school environment because that was the only way I could keep people from playing that game, and since I was going to get into trouble anyways…

            But it’s a pretty maladaptive reaction in a work environment, which is why I’m seeing a therapist.

          3. TastefullyFreckled*

            This was my sister’s favourite tactic when we were kids, too. My favourite babysitter was the only person who didn’t fall for it.

          4. SnappinTerrapin*

            Looks to me like both employees were employing abusive tactics, and both kept escalating. They both engaged in the same type of behavior, and the description of the event supports a reasonable inference that they both display abusive tendencies. Doesn’t benefit anybody, especially the colleagues and the company, to get bogged down in parsing the details when both were this far out of line.

            Alison gave sound advice. Both employees need to face corrective action, and LW needs to follow up to ensure they both behave more professionally moving forward.

            This had to be incredibly uncomfortable for all the other employees – as evidenced by the multiple emails LW received from Jane’s and Ben’s colleagues.

          5. Curmudgeon in California*

            This was me, with ADD and a TBI as a kid. Hell, even my own little sister would wind me up with constant pestering, then go whining to mom when I (predictably) blew up. It’s a thing that gets done to neurodivergent folks All. The. Time. It only got slightly less when I grew up and started working.

            At least now, at age 60, I can finally spot it when they start it and get away, disengage, before the same old triggers and tape start running. But it still ticks me off when people act like a pack of feral dogs hunting a rabbit.

        3. Susie Q*

          “Reasonable? I’m thinking that she deliberately provoked him, jabbing at him until he blew up — as she knew he’d do.”

          This is what abusers say to justify their abuse. The only person responsible for your actions is you.

          1. Mannequin*

            Abusers LOVE provoking their victims into acting in a seemingly unreasonable manner so they can point the finger & say “See? I’m fine. It’s THEM who are angry/abusive/unreasonable/etc!”

            Exactly as Jane has done here to Ben.

            1. Karia*

              A far, far, more common tactic of abusers is to claim that they ‘can’t help’ their behaviour, that it’s a bad ‘habit’ and that their victim ‘provoked’ or ‘antagonised’ them.

        4. Karia*

          Ben is responsible for Ben blowing up, and it’s a thing he shouldn’t be doing at work frequently, if ever.

        5. aebhel*

          I have ADHD and a pretty foul mouth outside of work and I have worked with some really infuriating people in my time, and not once in any job I have ever held since I was a teenager have I ever yelled ‘F*ck you’ at a coworker. Because I’d get fired.

          1. Kacihall*

            Same here. I will occasionally curse at my computer out loud. Sometimes I will curse via text with one of my coworkers because our supervisor is unreasonable and we need to vent. (Always personal phones, never work chat. There are SO MANY bees here. )

            I still can’t imagine cursing at someone directly like that.

      2. L-squared*

        I don’t know that I find that reasonable. But again, I also understand that different people have different tolerance for that type of thing.

        Again, if someone said that to me, I wouldn’t think I needed to go to HR, ESPECIALLY if it was during a fight I escalated.

    2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Yeah, Ben definitely needs to learn to control his emotions. (I get it, though, I can have some pretty severe anger issues when I’m pushed like Ben was). However, maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, but I just don’t think cursing is THAT big of a deal.

      Also I can’t help but notice that no one would’ve even talked to Jane about her behavior if she hadn’t gone to HR…. Sounds like she’s been allowed to run all over everyone.

  4. Fed Employee*

    Perhaps this is unpopular, but I don’t see the problem with cursing in the office, with some caveats. It can’t be directed at people. Folks should be comfortable with it. It shouldn’t be disruptive.

    I’m from the Northeast, so swearing is part of my vernacular. I also work with/for the military, so swearing is basically the norm. Perhaps my perspective is skewed.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It’s something that’s specific to the particular office’s culture. I don’t think there’s a really a should or shouldn’t about it.

    2. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I also don’t see it as an issue. I’ve never worked in an office where swearing wasn’t allowed, so I acknowledge that I’m pretty biased here, but I feel bad that his swearing is being used to build up a case against him.

      Obviously, there is a difference between casually swearing and swearing *at* someone, but the fact that the manager felt that casual swearing was relevant is bothering me.

      1. Asenath*

        I’ve never worked in a place where swearing wasn’t allowed, but I’ve also never worked in a place in which swearing happened, other than very rarely, maybe in anger at a machine that wasn’t working right, and then followed by an apology to anyone in earshot. And at least some of these people swear like sailors on their own time. It’s a cultural thing, and not even, I suspect, entirely regional (not from the US myself, northeastern or otherwise). It’s tied to the culture of the worksite, and I’m reasonable sure that even in workplaces where swearing among staff is fine, they don’t do it when customers are within earshot.

        I did wonder if rules stating “swearing wasn’t allowed” would be covered in respectful workplace policies, but I checked one at a place I worked fairly recently, and it didn’t forbid swearing. It covered things like harassment and discrimination.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. I make a very concerted effort not to swear *at* someone, but I’ve worked in several places were it was perfectly fine to swear *about* the work, equipment that didn’t work, and all of the Murphy’s law stuff that happens.

        1. 3co*

          I think this distinction between swearing at people/about things an important one—I swear a lot (though not usually while at work), but I virtually always avoid swearing AT people directly.

          IMO “fuck you” feels way more hostile and offensive than “this weather is fucking awful” or “oh fuck! the website is down”

    3. Health Insurance Nerd*

      I think it really depends on the culture and environment, and even at a more granular level, based on what particular area of a company you work- I know this is the case for where I work. Swearing happens on a fairly regular basis in the two main areas where I’ve spent most of my career (sales and contracting), but it’s not as widespread in some of the servicing departments. As long as it’s not excessive F-bombs or, as you noted, directed at someone, I really don’t see the issue. I’m also in the Northeast, so maybe we’re just more accustomed to it…

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I’ve worked with seniors in retirement homes, with absolutely no swearing or raised voices. Both can get you fired especially if directed at a resident. I’ve worked with university-aged kids. There are swearing and bad words. One time I had to erase “bros before hoes” from a whiteboard and explain why it wasn’t even a good joke and unacceptable.

        1. SixTigers*

          “Jimmy, this is an example of what we call ‘misogyny.’ It’s not good. We don’t like this.”

          Really?? You had to explain — oh. Of course you did. I know some idiot guys who would think that was the funniest, most bro-some phrase in the world. Never mind . . .

          1. AnonPi*

            Yeah reminds me of explaining to a coworker that hanging a tie on your door to signal you are out of the office is not appropriate, especially when our office area has lots of visitor traffic.

            1. Metadata minion*

              I don’t wear ties and so am never likely to do this, but — why is that bad? Is it more than just “putting up a printed out-of-office sign is more professional”?

              1. Entertaining*

                I believe it’s because a similar signal is used when one bro is “entertaining” and doesn’t want a roommate to come in and interrupt.

              2. CBD*

                I think people used to put ties on doors in dorm rooms to indicate they were “entertaining” and weren’t to be disturbed. Maybe shown in the movie Love Story.

              3. Loredena*

                Probably because it originally was the signal to ward off roommates when having sex in your dorm room

      2. BurnBabyBurn*

        Those of us in the Midwest/Bible Belt might be experiencing this differently. I have never not worked with Christians who take the mildest swear word as a Major Offense to their Morality.

      3. Rolly*

        I think there should be less swearing in general, but a little little tiny bit of swearing in exceptionally bad circumstance is appropriate and even healthy in most office environments. Reserved for major conflicts, which should not a common either. (Low-level conflict and then resolution is a normal thing in work.)

    4. Mental Lentil*

      Can you imagine being in the bank, depositing a check at the teller’s window, or at the doctor’s office having blood drawn, when you hear someone in the back office shout “F*** you, Jane!”?

      I’ve worked a lot of places where profanity is the norm, and a lot of places where it isn’t. I can assure you, there a lot of workplaces where this is very much NOT okay.

      1. middlemgmt*

        but i also couldn’t imagine hearing someone in the back office yell “get out of my sight, i can’t deal with you.” it’s not he cursing. it’s the yelling and the contempt that is the problem.

        1. WindmillArms*

          Exactly! Ben swore first, so he’s as culpable as someone who came up and started shouting at him for several minutes about the work his boss assigned him? Someone who screamed “Get out of my sight!” at him? I don’t understand how Ben is equally wrong here.

          1. Boof*

            Maybe not “equally wrong” but it takes two to tango and Ben should have walked away rather than continuing to engage/escalate.

            1. MarsJenkar*

              “It takes two to tango” has never sat well with me as a metaphor for conflict. To me, a tango would better represent peace than war, since it’s a cooperative dance.

              In my experience, it takes both sides to make peace… but only one side has to want war for there to be one.

        2. L-squared*

          Yep, exactly. The fact that one is cursing doesn’t really matter to me. If the other person is yelling, I find it harder to be upset just because someone yelled different words that some people decided are “bad” words

        3. Not So NewReader*

          In some ways I find the “get out my sight” thing harder to blow off than the FU thing. I think it’s in part because my go-to for FU is “get a better vocabulary, will ya?”. But get out of my sight shows forethought, thinking, and intent. People can roll off an FU and not even realize that they said it until after. But
          “get out of my sight, I can’t deal with you” shows the person has actually thought about what to say and they said it.

          1. Velocipastor*

            This is my feeling exactly, especially considering SHE approached HIM! I’m trying to imagine how I would react if someone who instigated a confrontation with me told me I needed to get out of THEIR sight. I think I would probably laugh in their face which would probably go over about as well as Ben’s FU

      2. Less Bread More Taxes*

        No one is saying that swearing at someone is every okay. It’s not.

        However, a lot of people won’t be bothered by the occasional f-word. If I personally was at the bank and heard someone drop an f-bomb, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I know that that’s not the case for everyone, so generally customer-facing people are expected to not swear. But it’s still nowhere near the same as swearing at someone.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Yep. A muttered/exasperated “Oh F- me, not again [Insurance Company Website]!” at the doctor’s office or muttered/exasperated “F- you, drawer, open!” at the bank wouldn’t phase me. It is the shouting in anger ad swearing.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          Yep. There’s a difference between dropping an f-bomb and hurling one at someone.

        3. pancakes*

          Yes. And there are many workplaces where clients, customers, etc., are rarely or never present.

          1. londonedit*

            Yep. I’d never swear (or shout) *at* someone at work, and I’d never swear in a meeting with an author or a higher-up boss. But in general office conversation? It’s not like we’re all effing and jeffing in every sentence, but the odd swear word here and there isn’t going to be a problem.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        I dunno, hearing a postal worker say “oh, you rat bastard” about a package that fell over in a resigned yet still disappointed tone of voice was one of the highlights of my last post office visit.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          LOL! Yeah, to me swearing at things is normal.

          I work with computers. I swear at computers a lot. They really can be obnoxious pieces of junk.

    5. Gracely*

      I’m in the South and generally don’t have a problem with it either, but there are plenty of workplaces that are client-facing or what have you where it can’t happen. It really shouldn’t be your default in a workplace until/unless you know it’s okay. And certainly, if someone is told it’s unacceptable in their workplace, they should be able to control themselves enough to avoid it.

      Also some people–aren’t great with differentiating the difference between “no cursing around others” and “no cursing AT others”–they just lump all cursing into the same boat.

    6. FG*

      Yeah, your perspective is skewed. There are definitely offices that are more rough-and-tumble, but in your typical white collar environment a shouting match ending in FU would give folks pause. That’s different than Colorful Coworker saying F as an interjection, too. It’s a combination where obvs that’s not the norm in this office plus it was directed AT someone, plus it was the punctuation mark to a loud disruptive argument.

      1. A*

        Concur… I work with lawyers and while it’s not unusual to hear salty language, not all language is created equal. There is a big difference between describing something as F-ed up, or even an opponent not present in sweary terms, but aggressive/hostile language like FU is totally outside the norm in most professional situations.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Unless you are talking to software or office equipment. “F- you, [Program/Equipment], work!” said at conversation level or quieter is only human.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yep. I can mutter “what the f-ing f is wrong with you” at my computer. I can not mutter it at my coworker, even when they’re equally frustrating.

            1. allathian*

              So true! I guess I’m very lucky to have decent coworkers. I’m extremely rarely even tempted to swear at any of them.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          Yes, this absolutely. Swearing at someone is a whole different ball of wax. It’s generally pretty threatening and sometimes the next step beyond that is actually physical violence. I wouldn’t expect that in an office, and I wouldn’t automatically think that Ben’s next step is that, but once you reach that point, it can get difficult to back down by either party, and that is definitely disruptive to the office.

          1. quill*

            Precisely. Swearing at a colleague is a huge escalation from swearing at the printer or the file box you just stubbed your toe on.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah. Swearing at things you hurt yourself on has actually been shown to lessen the pain significantly, and the worse the word, the more it helps, as long as you aren’t peppering all your sentences with swears. But swearing at things is one thing, swearing at people is something else. I don’t think swearing at people is worse than yelling, but certainly it’s just as bad.

        3. Rolly*

          I think I said it before, but fuck you and fuck off are very different. Jane could have said “Stay the F out of my work” and Ben could have said “It’s my fucking business to close things” and both would be “appropriate uses” of the word in a salty environment. Whereas “Fuck you” is perhaps beyond the pale to a coworker even in a disagreement.

      2. Dinwar*

        Depends on the relationship between the people involved. I’ve got a few coworkers where if they shouted that at me, I’d flick them off, and we’d never think twice about it. Not in an office, but on a job site ten miles from the nearest human being, certainly.

        I agree that it’s generally a really bad idea to do this, and quite obviously the two workers in this situation aren’t on those sorts of terms. But counter-signaling is a thing and needs to be accounted for.

        As I said below, it’s not the words that are the issue. It’s the concepts. The concept being conveyed here was deep contempt and disrespect, coupled with a near-total loss of control. THAT is a bad thing, whether the person uses salty language or perfect grammar.

    7. Elenna*

      It’s a culture thing. I personally don’t see anything wrong with cursing that’s not directed at other people, e.g. “this F-ing printer is broken again” but someone saying that in my office would definitely get side-eyed.

      That being said, not sure how relevant this is to the letter as IMO (and it sounds like you agree) cursing *at* people, like yelling “F you Jane”, is certainly not acceptable.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, people occasionally swear in my office (just yesterday someone told me I really “knew my shit”) but swearing AT someone is different.

      2. Fed Employee*

        “he also has a bit of a swearing habit in unofficial conversations (I’ve asked him to stop this and he said he’s trying).”

        Also, I specifically said that swearing at people is unacceptable.

        1. Elenna*

          Ah, I did miss that line, in that case I see why it’s relevant.

          (And I did see that you said swearing at people was unacceptable – that’s why I included the parenthetical about “and it sounds like you agree”.)

    8. Jenna Webster*

      There is definitely a difference between swearing and swearing at someone, especially in the course of a loud argument. It seems really unprofessional to me, and if there is any change customers/clients are around, I think it would reflect on the organization, as would the temper tantrums from both of them.

      1. Rolly*

        “Fuck off” is not as bad as “Fuck you” BTW.

        Frankly, and I know people here will disagree, but a screaming match every several years – say once or twice a decade by any particular person – is no big deal to me if it’s about something truly hot in substance. I had something like that about five years ago – didn’t quite get to this level of swearing, but I was yelling or close to it. And a “fuck off” to total clown about 15 years ago. I have a reputation as a super nice, chill guy among most colleagues, so it hasn’t hurt my rep. If I had a reputation as obnoxious already, it would be more problematic.

    9. Smithy*

      I would say that even with your perspective that Ben still made a boo boo, as the cursing was directed at Jane and was disruptive.

      As someone who also doesn’t have a blanket “you can’t ever swear in the office” philosophy – I do think that when cursing is coupled with anger then the potential impact is a lot more aggressive. Someone working at their desk who makes or sees a mistake, and mutters/grumbles an expletive with a sigh or facepalm is very different than a manager receiving news from a direct report and yelling a curse word. Even if the swearing isn’t directed at the person delivering the news.

      Ultimately, all cursing in the office is going to be at risk of qualitative consideration and that’s where I think inevitably some people will just try to avoid it. If my cube was next to someone muttering assorted expletives under their breath for hours every day, that might have a different impact than an overall very even keeled boss shouting once after hearing uniquely poor news.

      1. As per Elaine*

        Yeah, the degree of anger/vehemence/volume involved also plays a factor, even if it’s not directed at someone. I used to have a colleague who would not-quite-yell (but definitely a good bit louder than normal conversational tone), “FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUUUUUUUUCK” at his computer, oh, multiple times a week. It was never directed at someone, I didn’t ever feel threatened by him, and I don’t think anyone ever talked to him about it, but hoo boy it was a disconcerting thing to hear from the next office over on the regular.

    10. Littorally*

      Oh yeah, the military is very much its own culture vs most office environments.

      There’s also a huge difference between generally swearing, which in most offices is sort of ok if done in moderation, and swearing at people, which is significantly less likely to be even sort of ok.

      In my career, most places I’ve worked wouldn’t get too bent out of shape for me muttering ‘work, you piece of shit’ at my computer, but saying ‘fuck you’ directly to someone’s face is a whole other issue and very far outside of the expectation of professional restraint.

      1. SixTigers*

        I occasionally work with military personnel, and it’s the airmen who curse like sailors. And the wanna-be civvies, who wish THEY were rough ‘n’ tough ‘n’ wearing cool camouflage ‘n’ suede boots and who swear in an effort to fit in. That part is really quite comical.

        My favorite curser was a pilot who could not say an entire sentence without embellishing it with *ucks. When he was talking, he sounded like a chicken clucking — *UCK *uck *uck *uck *uck. I always got the giggles whenever he was around.

    11. anonymous73*

      I personally don’t have a problem with cursing and have a potty mouth myself, but I filter myself in mixed company until I get to know people better. You need to respect the fact that others may not like hearing it, and filter accordingly.

    12. londonedit*

      Swearing is broadly acceptable in my culture/workplace/industry too, and I certainly wouldn’t bat an eyelid at someone generally swearing in the office. But there’s a big difference between ‘Oh FFS, that agent from yesterday still doesn’t understand my question’, or ‘the f***ing photocopier’s jammed again, why can’t the bloody thing just work’, and ‘F*** you, Jane’. Raised voices and swearing at people is never acceptable in a decent workplace. I don’t think it’s the fact that Ben swore that’s being held against him, it’s the fact that he got into a top-of-his-voice shouting match with a colleague and then swore directly at that colleague. It would have been the same if he’d told Jane to go and jump off a building or screamed that he hated her and she was useless at her job.

    13. Dust Bunny*

      This very much depends on the office. You could not do this at mine. We’re not actually that conservative, but there is definitely an expectation that you won’t provoke your coworkers, fly off the handle, or swear at anyone. I don’t think this would get you an actual write-up if it only happened once or twice on rare occasions, but it would definitely get you advice not to do that again, and probably a formal reprimand if you didn’t learn to manage it. It’s not the kind of behavior that our patrons want to see.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Clarification: An occasion swear when there are definitely no patrons around would be no big deal. Swearing at somebody or in front of patrons would be a problem.

      2. londonedit*

        Back in the day I used to be a referee for Sunday league football. 22 or so (if both sides could get a full team together…) men in their thirties and forties who had inevitably spent Saturday night in the pub, turning up for a 10am kick-off and thinking they were playing in the FA Cup final every week. There was a lot of swearing (half the time there was a constant stream of ‘Steve! F*** sake, mate, pass the ball! F***ing get back! Man on! Get up the f***ing wing! Mark him!’ coming from just about every player). Officially the Laws of the Game list ‘foul and abusive language’ as a straight red card offence, so theoretically if a player swore I was supposed to send them off. In practice, you can’t continue the match if one team has fewer than seven players on the pitch, and we wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. So I’d get the players together before kick-off and say look, you can swear at yourself, you can swear at your team-mates if they cock something up. But you can’t swear at the opposition and you can’t swear at me. Do either of those things and you’re off, no arguments.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Did they ever pay any attention to you, or did they just carry on swearing at the opposition?

          1. londonedit*

            I had to send a few off for continuing to swear at anyone and anything, but most of the time it seemed to work (with more than a couple of ‘Say that again and you’re off!’ warnings here and there!)

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I think it is, though, because the cursing is being weighted more heavily than the equally contemptuous “get out of my sight,” and the yelling that both people were doing.

      2. Fed Employee*

        OP says “he also has a bit of a swearing habit in unofficial conversations (I’ve asked him to stop this and he said he’s trying).”

        It is germane to the topic, though not the main thrust of the topic.

    14. Dinwar*

      I agree. I’m perfectly willing to die on the hill “Concepts matter, specific words don’t”. I’ve got a sister that’s a professor of British literature who can say the foulest things imaginable in the most perfect and prim and proper verbage you’ve ever experienced–truly a glorious experience if you’re not the victim! We have had extensive discussion of swearing, in terms of history, etymology, poetry (see G. K. Chesterton’s essays on the subject!), physiology, and more. Swearing is actually really interesting from an academic/linguistic/philosophical perspective. I’m firmly in the Descriptivist camp, whereas those who object to swearing are necessarily Prescriptivists (and therefore by definition wrong!).

      I’ve also made a constructed language (made-up language like Klingon, Elvish, or the like; yes, I’m a huge nerd), which gives one a very unique perspective on just how little the physical sounds matter in communication.

      That said, screaming obscenities at a coworker is another thing entirely. The obscenities aren’t the issue here, the screaming is. I’d have an equally big problem with this altercation if both parties avoided swearing. The situation was out of control, and both parties were out of control. THAT’S the issue. The only time I’ve seen where screaming at a coworker was appropriate was in actual life-and-death situations, and this wasn’t one.

    15. ENFP in Texas*

      Oh, no. Sorry, can’t agree with you here. Swearing is not professional and does not belong in a professional work environment.

      1. londonedit*

        I mean, plenty of work environments are professional and involve swearing (I work in one and it’s been the same in every company I’ve worked for – you really can’t tell Brits, or Australians, not to swear unless it’s an obvious no-no like they’re a teacher or a judge or working in customer service or something). But I totally agree that there’s no place for shouting or swearing *at* people in a professional workplace.

        1. ENFP in Texas*

          So why is it an “obvious no no” for a teacher or a judge or customer service, but is acceptable in other professional settings?

          Part of it may be the fact that in my role, my co-workers are my “customers”, and swearing around them would be an “obvious no no”. I want to maintain a professional demeanor and be perceived as such.

          1. generic_username*

            So why is it an “obvious no no” for a teacher or a judge or customer service, but is acceptable in other professional settings?

            All of those professions can curse at work, but not in front of the general public. Teachers can curse in the breakroom or around one another after school, judges can curse amongst themselves in their offices, and customer service reps can curse around one another when customers are out of earshot as well….

            1. Le Sigh*

              Yeah, I curse all the time at work but 1) never AT my colleagues and certainly not in a hostile way and 2) never in front of donors/board members, or public-facing events, etc. It’s one thing to be working through a challenging work issue or discussing planning with a few colleagues and swear in the course of conversation. In that case, I know my office culture and I know my audience (and even then I’m not gonna be really vulgar, just the usual cadre of swears); if I have a colleague who I know doesn’t care for swearing I might even moderate myself out of courtesy. It’s quite another if I was in a meeting with a board chair or at a public event — I’m serving as a rep for my company and the brand, working with people we don’t know as well and are making large requests of. I don’t know their preferences; rather than risk offending someone unintentionally, better to just not swear.

        2. Liz*

          I’m Australian, and for the record, the most foul-mouthed boss I’ve ever had is now a judge, soooooooooo…
          (In my office we draw the line at “referring to specific individuals as C-words”. We have a painting with the C-word in the title on display, so we can’t actually ban it all together.)

      2. pancakes*

        The number of high stakes, urgent, complicated things that can go wrong or take people by surprise in a law firm, I think it’s simply not realistic to expect people to never swear. I’m sure there are many jobs like that – IT, probably, healthcare, transportation, media, PR, event planning, even. I could go on but will try not to! If it’s not directed at people individually and not weirdly sexual or something, I think it’s fine.

      3. SixTigers*

        Sorry, can’t agree with YOU here. Different professional work environments have different rules and different expectations.

        What you’re saying is that it doesn’t belong in YOUR work environment. And that’s fine. That’s where you work and those are the expectations there. But I’m afraid that your work environment’s expectations and mores aren’t universal.

      4. Dinwar*

        Depends on the site, as others have pointed out. I’ve never found a negative correlation between swearing and capacity to do a job–or, for that matter, with respect, tolerance, or the like. If anything, I’ve seen (qualitative, informal, so you know, grain of salt) a slight positive correlation with swearing and those traits. Yes, this includes white-collar positions. It may be a cultural thing; it seems to be a way of signaling that you’re an equal in my experience. That you don’t need treated gently, that folks can speak their minds to/around you.

        (To be clear, derogatory, racist, sexist, homophobic, and other types of language are NOT tolerated. There’s a difference.)

        That said, as Just Your Everyday Crone said, the discussion of swearing is overshadowing the flagrant disrespect from Jane merely because Jane didn’t use “bad” words. Telling someone “Get out of my sight!” is just as disrespectful as swearing at someone. Ultimately it’s that disrespect that’s the issue, not the specific means of expressing it.

      5. JustaTech*

        I’m glad you’ve never had the experience of it being 3am and the counting machine suddenly deciding that it doesn’t want to count anymore and your samples are going bad and the system reset will add another hour to an already overlong day.

        I mean, what’s more unprofessional: swearing, crying, or walking out the door?

        Obscenities exist in language for many reasons, but one of those reasons is to vent feelings. Sometimes “You have got to be kidding me!” is enough. Sometimes “Oh for F sake!” is more effective.

        Obviously everything is context dependent, and there are workplaces where swearing in not acceptable. But to say that anyone who swears, ever, under any circumstances is unprofessional is incompatible with human existence.

      6. Rolly*

        It belongs more than many many things professional organizations do in substance.

        “Can we foreclose on an old lady who missed a mortgage payment? I think that’s fucked up, but it’s my ass on the line if we don’t” – cursing is the least of the issues…..

    16. Bagpuss*

      I think there is a difference between curing in the office and cursing *at* someone.
      Where I work, then a certain amount of foul language (out of earshot of clients) is acceptable – e.g. after you have been dealing with a particularly difficult client, or when the photocopier needs a good kicking, but swearing at a co-worker would be completely unacceptable.

    17. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      It depends on where you work. It’s certainly not professional. But in an argument like this at most places it would only garner a mild rebuke and talking to for getting angry enough to drop an F-bomb.

      But my guess is that Jane decided she would also MAKE dropping an F-bomb a BIG HUGE DEAL.
      I hate Jane.

      1. SixTigers*

        I also see Jane as deliberately provoking Ben to say something like that. Provoked him into it and ran straight to HR with, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT BEN JUST DID??”

        I despise Jane.

        I disliked her when OP told us about her handing off parts of her job under the guise of “training coworkers.” But now I despise her. I hope OP can get her calibrated and useful to the company, but that sort of conniving behavior doesn’t bode well for that sort of integration.

        1. Mercie*

          Y’all “hate” and “despise” Jane? Goodness. You don’t even know her, and you’re making assumptions about her intentions and what happened when even the LW who wrote in wasn’t there to witness it and is giving a second-hand account. Let’s chill out a bit.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Jane had a dozen ways of saying FU to Ben without using the term FU.
          It’s predictable that it will rain on Ben. I learned early on that when someone cusses like this everything else becomes irrelevant and it’s all about the cussing. Ben needs to learn this.

          Ben would have gained far more ground by reporting FACTS. “Jane had 100 open items and everyone else had between 3 and 5.” This would be more damaging than any FU.
          Ben might actually learn this at some point.

          I seriously doubt that Jane will never learn not to pawn off work given her self-righteousness. Some one just finished off a crap ton of my work, my answer is “thank you so very much!” NOT “keep your paws off my work!”.

    18. Hannah Lee*

      “Swearing in the office” may not be the norm in a particular workplace.

      But I’m having a hard time imagining a *functional* workplace where yelling F YOU! at a colleague you disagree with is something that’s done without it being way out of bounds.

      (And I once worked somewhere a VP budgeted for and got approval and had Facilities install sound proofing in a director’s office so people working nearby weren’t distracted by his tirades at his resellers and suppliers … so I’m not some naive pearl clutcher about decorum in offices)

    19. generic_username*

      I sort of agree, and personally curse all of the time, but also never at somebody, which I think is a big difference. “F*** you” vs “This F***sucks” is very different while both upset. The exchange in this letter was a issue way before the F-bomb was dropped

    20. Raboot*

      Saying that some software is f-ing annoying is something that I will occasionally do. Yelling “F you” at a coworker is not like that at all, it’s absolutely unacceptable.

    21. MCMonkeyBean*

      “It can’t be directed at people.”

      But this was directed at someone? I think occasional swearing at the office that isn’t directed at anyone is in fact something I have often seen many people around here say they have no issue with. “Fuck you” does not meet those qualifications.

    22. Junior Dev*

      There’s a pretty huge difference between *using* curse words descriptively (“we didn’t update the software in time and now the server is fucked”, “this is kind of a shitty widget but we don’t have the budget to upgrade it til next quarter”) versus using it to insult someone (“fuck you,” “you’re full of shit”). The latter would also be bad without specific bad words being used.

  5. NYC Taxi*

    It seems like OP knew Jane was an issue before this, but never addressed it and it boiled over into this mess. Both Jane and Ben need to be disciplined, Jane for all the issues OP outlined plus her hounding of Ben for closing out tickets and Ben for telling her to F off, but I cut Ben a lot of slack here.

    1. ecnaseener*

      It is interesting that OP had already talked with Ben about swearing (although seemingly not his overall filter issues) but doesn’t mention ever having talked to Jane about her bad behavior. Maybe they just forgot to mention it, or maybe they’re generally too hands-off and only step in when it comes to simple enforceable rules like “no profanity.”

    2. HB*

      I’m actually wondering about timing. All the context that OP provides could be context that only became clear after this incident. If there were multiple witnesses – and she refers to several panicky emails from staff – they could be painting a picture of Jane’s overall behavior in defense of Ben that was somewhat new to her, but explains other things that the OP has seen from Jane.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If I were OP I’d be thinking about what steps I could have taken and what steps I should be taking now in light of all this.’

      OP knew there was a problem with Jane and she sent Ben in anyway. smh.

    4. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Yes… it seems like nothing would’ve been done about this situation had Jane not gone to HR. Sounds like Jane gets away with running all over everyone and doesn’t get reprimanded.

  6. Jenna Webster*

    I am curious why Ben didn’t just tell her that the project was approved by their manager (the OP) and refer Jane to her if she wanted to discuss further. While both of them behaved childishly, it’s apparent that both of these people have known issues that hadn’t been appropriately addressed by the manager before it came to this.

    1. Lab Boss*

      We don’t know he didn’t- OP isn’t clear. Assuming he didn’t it sounds like he assumed she would be unreasonable no matter what he said, so he jumped straight to arguing with her. Ben should know that if Jane won’t play ball with an approved initiative he can go to OP for support- OP needs to do some reflection and figure out how much of the problem is Ben getting emotional rather than professional, and how much is OP letting Jane get away with things to the point that people don’t trust OP to keep Jane in line.

      1. Jenna Webster*

        I agree, and the jumping straight to arguing with her is definitely the problem, probably facilitated by a lack of management of both of them.

    2. Jo in OKC*

      Yes. It feels like the whole argument could have been side stepped if Ben said “Manager approved the work. You have an issue, you talk to her.” Repeat. Walk away if necessary.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yes, this. It sounds like Jane’s objections were stated in an unprofessional way to start with, but Ben could have kept his response to “Boss approved my going in to do that for everyone, so I was under the impression it was OK. If it’s a problem, please take it up with her.” Or even “why don’t we go to her together and figure out the best way to resolve this?” Both of these people clearly have issues communicating in a professional way, and need to be coached on that.

      1. SixTigers*

        I hope he’s asking himself how badly he needs Jane. Okay, she has a lot of expertise, but she has a lot of OTHER stuff, too. That foot-dragging and I’m-too-busy crap about meetings? Insubordinate. Uncooperative. Hostile.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            ha. Right on.
            What is the point if you are driving the other employees right out the door?

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Reading that comment made me realize that in addition to the OPs issues with their employees and need to manage them better, the company has issues with its approach to change management and employee engagement.

        Both Ben and Jane were out of line, but I can see why things blew up.

        When you’ve got a person SME or institutional knowledge expert who is digging in their heels and nope-ing out of everything during process or system changes, to the point they are ignoring direct requests from their boss or refusing to even talk? You DO NOT just let that slide. The 2nd time Jane trotted out the “the old ways are the only ways” nonsense OP should have pulled her aside to address it or gone to their manager to strategize on how to get experienced staff on board.

        Then OP has the opposite change management issue with Ben, he’s got no use for any existing ways of doing things which can create its own minefield during change when critical institutional knowledge gets tossed overboard in the name of progress… and again OP and management did nothing to redirect it.

        So OP has 2 people pushing in completely opposite directions WRT changes, each disrespecting, refusing to consider there is value in a different way, and each seeing the other allowed to steamroll over everyone else. As my friend the public school teacher said “kids know when there’s a power vacuum” ie anytime he had a weak ineffective principal, there would be a ramp up in students misbehaving. OP has a variation of that playing out.

        1. Jora Malli*

          Yeah, at the very least, Jane needed to hear “You cannot refuse to attend meetings with me. If a meeting I schedule with you conflicts with something else on your schedule, you cannot simply cancel our meeting, you must find a time to reschedule. You and I will meet together (every week, every other week, every month, whatever the meeting schedule should be), and that is not negotiable.”

          It’s a huge problem in my point of view that the OP was assigned as the manager of this team that was already experiencing troubles and in need of serious intervention, and then given so many other tasks to accomplish that they had no time to manage in the way that this team clearly needed. This whole company sounds full of bees, and I hope whatever changes they were in the process of implementing were able to get to the bottom of it.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          All the complaints about Jane.

          OP, everyone is going to be screaming pretty soon. No wonder the attitude on the team is horrible. They are stuck with a leg trap named Jane and they can’t get out of it.

          It’s very interesting to watch, if you remove the bad apple, everyone else changes. I hope the OP takes everything listed here that Jane does wrong and turn it into a PIP. I laughed when it said that the company can’t figure out the productivity problems. wtaf. This is a really sad thing. The problem is right under OP’s nose.

      3. Velocipastor*

        Oof. That update really moves Jane’s whole side of this into “the Iranian yogurt is not the problem” territory

      4. Koala dreams*

        Thanks for the link.

        When reading this, I thought perhaps that the underlying issue was that the manager is perceived as being unavailable or too hands-off, so it’s interesting that the manager also feels that they have too little time to manage the way they would want to.

  7. Lab Boss*

    I could have been Ben earlier in my career- technical minded, pursuing solutions aggressively, and wearing my emotions on my sleeve while struggling to hide my frustrations with people I saw as being in the way of things running smoothly. OP, you’ll be doing him a kindness to lay out exactly what sort of reputation he can be building for himself. Someone took the time to do it for me and it made a huge difference.

    One insight- it sounds like Ben might be feeling powerless, or struggling to know what kind of authority he has. You ID him as someone who’s always problem solving and looking for fixes. That can be a sign of someone who feels that a lot is expected of them and that they have to be creative to stay on top of everything- and it can lead to anger at people who get in the way, because “they’re keeping me from getting my job done right!” Helping Ben understand what is and isn’t his responsibility to deal with and what to do when people aren’t on board with his initiatives could help him feel more in control and less like he needs to lash out to clear the roadblocks.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      What did they say to you that helped? I know it’s not correct, but I can tend to see personalities like Ben’s (explosive) and Jane’s (rigid) as more fixed an less likely to change than other people.

      1. Lab Boss*

        In my case I was being considered for a promotion and had to interview with various upper-level people that I’d be working with. One of them said he had reservations after my “explosion” at a meeting. I asked him what he meant (I genuinely didn’t know)- it turned out to have been about a disagreement in a meeting that got pretty heated. No yelling, but some very blunt/artless statements on both sides. The manager I was actually talking said something along the lines of “it sounds like (meeting guy) exaggerated how bad it was- but you HAVE to think about how you talk. You can’t be at a high level and say things that could be taken like that, or you’re going to have that reputation forever.”

        For context I’m also north of 6′ tall with a large body and big, deep voice, so I know that someone else’s “firm uncompromising tone” is “hostile and threatening” from me just because of physical presence. I’m no less emotional about things internally but I just started making a conscious effort to bite my tongue and not glare daggers in the moment, then go yell my head off about it in the car on the way home. It’s arguably “not fair” that I have to beat around the bush so people don’t decide I’m being mean, but I realized I could worry about the fairness of it or I could change my behavior to get the job reputation I wanted.

        1. Darsynia*

          I’ve noticed this comes across in typing speed too, sometimes things you don’t see as personally threatening can come across as threatening (being tall and loud, typing quickly as a matter of course when others only type quickly when angry, etc.) to others without your context. It’s unfair most of the time, but very helpful to know about, at least!

        2. SixTigers*

          I worked with a guy who was both tall and broad, with a big, deep voice and a shaved head (due to a bad case of male pattern baldness), and he was especially careful to be soft-spoken and gentle with language. He knew he was physically intimidating, and he knew it would rebound poorly on him if he didn’t do what he could to dial it back. He was an absolute sweetheart — very sweet-natured, cheerful, friendly, kind, patient, and so on — but he had this extremely imposing physical presence.

          He was also smart and capable, so I expect he’s doing very well at whatever he put his hand to. And when we first started working together, he explained that he had to be careful how he interacted with others, and why. Learn something new all the time!

      2. D*

        I’ve been the explosive person before, and what really helped is being told people…noticed. Being noticed and being told that people are actually associating yo with being an angry, explosive mess no one wants to touch can embarrass someone enough to do something about it.

        I eventually needed medication for depression that really smoothed out the mood swings, and I definitely never swore at a coworker, but I can be very straightforward now while being calm about it and not overly dogged on it.

        1. io lightning*

          I was like Ben, the “explosive” person: I had super-skewed norms about verbal communication because of my family of origin as well as untreated cPTSD. It took mentors and peers alike — the ones who had my trust, the ones who recognized I would hear them better if they were gentle — aligning me to how I was being perceived and what were normal professional standards. Anything too harsh or critical about my “behavior” would just get my hackles up (because cPTSD, yay). It took YEARS of painful work in therapy to finally be within professional bounds of reactivity.

          Large-imposing-looking-guys are making the right choice to tone it down, but anger/intimidation isn’t a good look on anyone in a professional environment. I am not a physically-imposing person (understatement) and yet multiple coworkers have said they’re afraid of me: these are the ones saying it after the fact, usually joking-yet-conveying-some-information. I cringe about the coworkers I’ve directed my anger towards who didn’t say anything about it later (no surprise they were frosty). Not to mention the number of way-way higher ups I’ve “stood up to” — that’s what it felt like to me with cPTSD running the show, but in hindsight my tone was wildly inappropriate and occasionally insubordinate.

          Because I’m competent and team-oriented when I’m not triggered, I’ve had good relationships with the coworkers who “get me” or could at least put up with me, however I’ve definitely (sadly) been hampered in my career progression.

          I still have my triggers/moments, but I now recognize them, try to steer flares of anger away from people and towards situations, try to get myself out of human interaction asap until I calm down, and do my best to smooth things over/apologize sincerely. I don’t know what words a manager could use to suggest it to Ben, but anyone who recognizes a speck of Ben in themselves should seek out therapy.

    2. consultinerd*

      Great comment. I wasn’t Ben but I was well on my way to being him a few years ago, and similarly benefited from a senior person pulling me aside and saying “hey, you’re showing up as really stressed out and frustrated and if you want to keep progressing that’s not going to do you any favors.” I knew I was stressed out but it was a tough time for our team and I figured we were all in the same boat–it took someone saying I was visibly struggling with it more than others to see the problem and figure out how, basically, to not make my stress someone else’s problem.

      1. Former Ben*

        Apologies for contradicting yourself and Lab Boss but I was a bit of a former Ben and got this advice from a boss. It made the situation worse. BUT I think the key difference here would be that that boss was a really dismissive manager (think “Hey, I’m getting really stressed out about my workload because I’m trying to fit 12 hours work into an 8-hour day”, “Ugh. You’re always so stressed out about everything – you’ll never be promoted if you behave like that”) I’m not using that as an excuse for how I behaved but my boss here didn’t help. What would have helped was, erm, fixing my unreasonable workload!

        Not saying OP behaves like that but I noticed in their comment on the original post that they’re not always available to manage the team as much as is needed (and not entirely through their own fault). I kind of understand how that could lead to a situation where tensions run high and people boil over because the person who should be there to remove the heat isn’t around. I’m not saying that to excuse Ben (or Jane) but just to say I can see how we ended up here.

        Being told I shouldn’t be stressed when I absolutely had something to be stressed about was not helpful. In fact, it made me feel so awful I ended up going to therapy (there were other underlying mental health issues but rubbish work situation was part of why I went). There, I got given the message of you can’t control your emotions but you can control your reactions – so, it’s ok to be stressed when a situation is stressful, but it’s not acceptable to snap at other people about it. Kind of a validate the emotion but don’t excuse, justify, allow or condone the behaviour approach. That really helped.

        1. Lab Boss*

          No need to apologize! I think our talkings-to were subtly different. From how you describe it, you were told “don’t be stressed.” That’s an instruction not to feel a feeling, which is basically asking you to do the impossible and is dismissing the cause of the stress. What I got told was “you have to watch how you act, even when you’re stressed.” I didn’t recreate the whole situation but he acknowledged that I was probably even right in the contentious meeting, his advice focused 100% on what I COULD control- how I expressed myself, and how that would make people perceive me.

          1. Former Ben*

            Exactly! It was very much a “feeling that emotion you’re feeling is not very professional” message I got from our conversation. What really needed to be said was closer to “I appreciate this is a stressful situation but you’ve been being very snappy with people. That’s not ok and it can’t continue.” (And then bonus points for “Let’s discuss what you’re working on at the moment so we can prioritise”).

            I do wonder if OP has fallen into that trap a bit here – “Ben can’t help what he did – he was provoked!” – obviously, I wasn’t there but Ben probably had several opportunities to shut the conversation down. Alison’s advice on this (“you need to tell him that while you understand he felt provoked by Jane, it’s not okay to scream profanity at a coworker”) is spot on.

            1. Lab Boss*

              I said something like this in a different thread, but it would be worth it for OP to dig deeper into the idea that Ben “can’t help himself” from emotional outbursts. At least some of it is certainly a Ben problem and needs to be corrected, but it sounds like OP is an overly hands-off manager. If problems aren’t managed properly you can create the mindset that “there’s no point in calmly taking this to my boss, she won’t do anything, if I want this to stop I have to just yell at the person myself.” Yelling profanity still isn’t OK but a good manager should still reflect on if they’re creating an environment where it seems like the only way to get results.

  8. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Wow. Talk about a mess. Ben needs to stop steamrolling people. Jane needs to stop foisting her work off on others and be more flexible. Both of them need to stop screaming at coworkers. Honestly, I don’t want to work with either of them.

    1. anonymous73*

      How is Ben steamrolling anyone? The changes Ben made were approved by OP. He didn’t need Jane’s permission.

    2. JelloStapler*

      I don’t see Ben steamrolling people. I actually see Jane steamrolling Ben for doing something the OP approved.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Re steamrolling – I was referring to the description of him:
      “Ben is innovative and dynamic, always looking to fix things and solve problems. He’s clever and creative and once he’s decided on a course of action, he goes for it with all his considerable energy. He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking, he can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions…”

      He was correct in this instance of doing things, but it sounds like he’s got a habit of steamrolling in general.

    4. MissMeghan*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who read this as Ben steamrolling. I found it a bit convenient that Ben had a free day to dig through and close out items while Jane was out of town. I would not be surprised if he was annoyed by the lingering projects and took her being gone as an opportunity to do something he knew she wouldn’t like when she couldn’t fight him on it.

      Both escalated the fight way too far, and Jane definitely needs managing for her “delegation”, etc., but I feel like a lot of commenters are letting Ben’s behavior off the hook because he’s productive, and that will only exacerbate his attempts to control the work of others around him in my opinion.

      1. Gothic Bee*

        I mean, I think a big part of why people are letting Ben off the hook for closing out the projects is because it was approved by the OP, so it’s not like he was going rogue. In my experience, having one person go through a system like this and clean up old requests/tasks or whatever is fairly normal and I wouldn’t count it as Ben trying to control his colleagues’ work.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Heck, I see it as a useful thing that should probably be on a schedule every quarter or six months.

      2. I'm A Little Teapot*

        In this instance, Ben wasn’t steamrolling. He had manager instruction/approval. But it sounds like he has a bigger pattern, beyond this instance, and that’s my objection.

        I get the periodic clean up. I’ve done it myself. What I don’t like is Ben’s overall behavior pattern. I don’t like Jane’s overall behavior pattern either.

  9. Aggresuko*

    Not to bring up The Slap, but this reminds me of it? In a “both of you were wrong” sort of way.

    Anyway, agreeing with Alison’s advice here.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Yes. Sometimes the answer to the question “Who is in the wrong?” is “Both.”

  10. middlemgmt*

    i mean… beyond the start of the argument… if what prompted his response is that she told him to “get out of her sight…” that’s its own brand of being unable to control emotions and spectacularly rude to say to a colleague. I don’t know why that is considered less bad than his response, other than people prudishly clutching their pearls over “curse” words.

    1. oranges*

      I’m much more of a Ben than Jane, but yes, they were both at the same level by the end of that fight. Everyone involved seems to be unfairly hung up on the swear word, but IMO, whatever happened to Ben (discipline, written up, etc.) hopefully to happen to Jane too.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t get the feeling that it is? People mostly seem to agree that both employees are out of control here.

      1. ecnaseener*

        HR only wanted to discipline Ben though, so clearly they considered the F-you to be more offensive than the “get out of my sight.”

        1. Darsynia*

          Yes, it does read to me like no matter what Jane did to deliberately provoke Ben (wording like ‘you are impossible to work with’ ‘get out of my sight’) the fact that he used a ‘swear’ erases everything she did which is also inappropriate for the workplace, and that is extremely frustrating. Is it me or is that also infantilizing, too? I mean, I could write out an insult sequence that didn’t violate most conduct standards but which would be more blistering and ‘makes someone see red’ inducing than a string of swear words. The idea that there’s no level of word choice that could possibly rise to a single F word at work is treating employees like children.
          (yes, there are other nuances, but honestly)

          1. WindmillArms*

            This is where I’m stuck too! They were screaming *at each other*. In a conflict Jane started. When Ben had done nothing wrong. I’m very surprised at how intensely people are reacting to a swear word in a two-sided, several-minutes-long argument.

          2. SixTigers*

            Ben is being seen by HR as The Bad Guy because Jane got there first.

            She provoked a fight, she provoked him into cursing at her, and she ran to HR to get him in trouble.

            1. WindmillArms*

              Normally Alison sees through these kinds of manipulations by the Janes of the world! I’m very surprised by her answer.

              1. ecnaseener*

                You’re surprised she thinks they should both be disciplined? She didn’t say they shared the blame, but Ben had options other than engaging in a several-minutes-long yelling match.

                1. WindmillArms*

                  Kind of, yes! I don’t see where Ben was that much in the wrong. I *guess* he could have had the presence of mind to walk away from a colleague who stormed up and started yelling, but that’s asking a lot from someone who (in my view) was the victim. He did nothing wrong! He did work approved by his manager and informed his colleagues by email. Days later, Jane decides to pick a fight over it out of nowhere. She caused it. 100% of it.

                2. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Yeah, honestly the most baffling thing to me about this conversation is how on earth it went on for so long. If he asked the boss first and got approval that’s all he needs to say. I would agree that given the information as presented it sounds like the issue is coming mostly from Jane, but Ben definitely contributed to by continuing to engage on a very straightforward matter. I don’t know if he felt like he needed to get the last word in because he felt like he was so clearly right (which again it sounds like he was before the screaming started!) but there is no reason to keep arguing with someone saying “you shouldn’t have done that” about something that can’t be undone anyway.

          3. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, it’s like Jane deliberately hurled “fighting words” at Ben, then went whining to HR when Ben, predictably, responded in his customary fashion.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Or alternatively they took the (misguided, in ny view) position that because Jane was the one who complained, they are limited to dealing with the immediate issue she presented to them . Which is not great, but could be possible. It doesn’t sound as though Ben made any formal complaint to HR.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      For me, it makes some difference whether it was a shouted, aggressive “F you, Jane!” versus a frustrated snapping of “Oh, F you, Jane” while walking away. In the second scenario, it’s more of a placeholder for telling her to get out of his face, too, versus a sign of escalating aggression or intimidation. Wholly inappropriate either way, but nuanced enough that I think it calls for slightly different conversations….although, I’ll admit I might not be comfortable making that fine of a distinction unless I witnessed it myself or otherwise had strong evidence.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think Jane’s Get out of my sight” and Ben’s “Fuck You” are equally inappropriate – the vocabulary is different and a lot of people do react more strongly when there are swearwords in the mx, but I agree with Alison that they should both be being told, in very clear terms, that their behaviour was unacceptable and must not be repeated.

      I also think that OP needs to work on managing both of them better – and addressing each of them about their behaviors. It sounds like they haven’t have much effective management in the past and OP as a relatively new manger is probably going to have an uphill struggle, but that seems to be the underlying problem.

      (I think any office where people escalate to a shouting match, regardless of whether foul language is involved, is an office with problems)

      1. oranges*

        Yes, these employees BOTH need more management and coaching for very different reasons. Jane’s day to day actions may be less disruptive than Ben’s, but she’s not less toxic to the team.

    5. hbc*

      I totally agree. I remember from the first time this was posted, the “get out of my sight” hit me as so much worse than a simple “F*** you!” The cursing is just an expression of anger. Deciding that an argument is over and ordering someone out of a common space like they’re beneath you? Major, major escalation and completely uncalled for.

      1. WindmillArms*

        It’s so unbelievably rude an inappropriate! She picked a fight where she was 100% in the wrong, and then decided she was tired of it when her victim didn’t back down? Jane is the problem.

  11. Metadata minion*

    Wow, when I saw “but he was provoked” I was expecting something much more serious. I would have a lot of sympathy if Jane had been, say, making repeated racist remarks. It still wouldn’t be a great way to respond, but understandable and if anything the blame would be one the manager for not shutting Jane down before Ben reached a shouting-profanity level of upset.

    This is shouting profanity at a coworker because of a — frustrating to both people, I’m sure — normal workplace conflict. That’s really not something that should ever happen.

    1. Elenna*

      Eh, I see what you mean, but I don’t think Jane yelling “get out of my sight” is at all acceptable or part of a normal workplace conflict, either. Clearly they both escalated to an unacceptable level of anger.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Yeah, I missed that in my first readthrough. I agree they’re both over the line.

    2. K*

      Agreed. Ben should have walked away from the conversation before it got to that point. It definitely takes two to tango, but someone has to de-escalate at some point. And IMO the first person to “cross the line” is more at fault.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Than Jane is at fault, because she imperiously ordered Ben to “Get out of (her) sight”.

        IMO, the fact that she started ranting and belittling Ben for doing something useful that he even sent email out to explain put her far across the line even before she ordered him to get out of her sight.

    3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Really? Telling him that “it’s not right or acceptable for him to touch her work, and that he should keep his nose out of her business” when he was doing what he was told to do and “get out of my sight” are VERY aggressive things to say.

  12. Mental Lentil*

    There was no update, but someone in the comments in the original post described Jane as a missing stair, and I think that’s exactly the problem here. Jane should have been managed more effectively from the beginning.

    1. Koli*

      Completely agree. The description of how it’s well known in the office that Jane foists tasks off on other people in the guise of training was a record-scratch moment for me. That’s not ok, and the fact that OP rolled right over it as if it’s just the way things are shows how ineffective OP is as a manager, unfortunately.

    2. Esmeralda*

      I’d say Ben is, too. He’s arrogant, he’s mouthy, he has an explosive temper which he seems not to be trying very hard to get under control.

      I’ve worked with both Jane and Ben. Jane is a PITA. Ben is potentially scary. I know the letter doesn’t say anything about that, but the poorly controlled temper IS scary. I don’t want to work with either one of them, but only Ben would make me fear for my safety.

      1. Karia*

        Agreed. I worked with a woman who acted like Ben and her constant shouting and hitting of furniture kept me in a state of anxiety until she was fired. I seriously considered quitting over it. Annoyance is easier to deal with than fear.

      2. Mannequin*

        I find the quiet manipulators & missing stairs to be MUCH scarier than people who are overtly loud or aggressive.

        People who are obviously problematic are easier to get rid of or get away from, and cause FAR less damage than sneaky missing stairs.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I would much rather work with Ben.

          I had a grand boss one time who intimidated a lot of the women we worked with because he swore, a lot. Not at people, but about the work. He wasn’t accustomed to female appearing people not being phased by it.

          The first time he did it around me, it was like “This s*** is pretty f***ed up. It f***ing sucks!” He expected me to respond by getting all antsy and flustered. I responded “Damn, you’re right. It f***ing sucks. How the f*** are we going to fix it?” He was silent for a three count. We then went on to fix the problem, and got along extremely well after that. I worked there for seven years before I became disabled and couldn’t do the work any more, and I still miss it.

          1. Karia*

            I don’t know why people keep bringing up the swearing or intimating that women who object to Ben are delicate little flowers who can’t handle an F-Bomb. The issue is his aggression. I’ve worked with multiple people with aggression issues. It has affected my physical and mental health, badly.

          2. NNN222*

            Yep. I worked with a Ben and a Jane. Ben and I got along just fine because we worked similarly outside of his occasionally blowing up, something I didn’t do. We both cared more about getting the work done in the best way possible and weren’t obsessed with appearing busy or important. Our Jane would stretch out tasks and try to make some things tasks things only she could do and then often end up having to hand things over to others because she had too many things on her plate at once because she wasn’t finishing things. If anyone tried to step into a task that she “owned” because it was easy to get done and would clear up the queue, she would get infuriated and alternate between dressing the person down for daring to do “her” work or giving them the silent treatment. I’d work with the Ben forever and I was happy the day I turned in my notice knowing the countdown to never having to work with the Jane again had started. She wasn’t the only reason I left that job but she was a factor.

    3. anonymous73*

      They both need to be managed in different ways. OP told Ben to stop all the cursing and he’s “trying”. That’s not good enough. When employees display unprofessional behavior, they need to be made aware CLEARLY of what needs to change, how long they will be given to make those changes and consequences of not making them. None of that was done for either one of them.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Totally agree. Jane is an anchor around everyone’s neck. A cross to bear in life. She’s not that special, she can be removed.

  13. Tara*

    Well I’ve talked to some people about what would happen if your coworker insulted your wife at a work event and then you slapped him a la Will Smith and I guess this is going in that direction

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      While about to announce an award for another coworker!

      Let’s all acknowledge that this whole thing has overshadowed Questlove’s win for Best Documentary.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Also Riz Ahmed’s win for Best Live Action Short Film, and the fact that the same role performed brilliantly won two different women the same Oscar for Best Supporting Actress fifty years apart.

  14. Brains or Bust*

    UGH this post is so good! I work in HR and this response is the exact counsel I’d give a manager.

  15. A Kate*

    Oof, these people. A pox on both their houses.

    Agreed with Allison that both need to be disciplined, AND that both need to be coached about the preexisting shortcomings that led to this. I don’t envy the OP. Being a manager sucks when your reports can’t behave like adults.

  16. Becky S.*

    I once told one of my reports, who was a great employee but left his post for what HE thought was a good reason, but it was’t….. “if you do that again, I won’t be able to protect you.” He understood and never did anything again that required addressing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have had that said to me and I have said it myself. It’s very effective.

  17. MOTN*

    Ha I had coworker scream “F*ck you” at me. During a meeting/picnic with clients. This person had only been working at my office for about 4 months.

    Though I can’t take blame for it. They got drunk (there was an open bar) and started eating my food. I took it away from them (I’m a bit of a germaphobe and I was 5 months pregnant at the time) and they just let it out right in front of our boss and about 10 other people who work in other agencies.

    Suffice it to say, they were put on notice. If it happened again, they’d be fired. Happened about 5 years ago and they have not drank at work events since. And we only talk when absolutely necessary.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I am definitely not a germaphobe and have never been pregnant and I would 100% take my food back, too. Hands off my nachos!

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’m not a germaphobe, but nobody eats my food without my permission.

      Drunk or not, that alone would put a coworker on my bad side.

      1. MOTN*

        Oh this person has done nothing to get on my good side. No apology. Nothing. We just stopped communicating. We back each other up, work-wise, when necessary. But otherwise, nope.

        This person is sort of the black sheep of the office. I’m surprised they’ve stayed this long. Though they’ve done nothing since then to provoke termination.

        1. Observer*

          This person is sort of the black sheep of the office.

          Well, it’s pretty obvious why.

          Though they’ve done nothing since then to provoke termination.

          Well, that’s the kind of endorsement that would have me reconsidering hiring someone, if I heard it.

      2. Mental Lentil*

        I saw your comment and my mind immediately went to “JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD!”

        I might share food with an SO or one of the kids, but a coworker? Yeah, that is a definite no in my book as well.

    3. CoveredinBees*

      Even if it weren’t gross to take food off your plate (which it usually is), it is definitely RUDE to take it. I don’t care if it came from a free, overflowing buffet 5 feet away. Get your own food!

    4. Observer*

      That’s a totally different situation that what the OP described, even if you leave aside the added information that the OP provided in the comments.

      The other guy got drunk, started eating your food and blew up in response to a very mild reaction. Each one of these things is a problem on it’s own – especially the last item. In combination? He’s lucky he wasn’t fired on the spot.

      Ben was out of line, no doubt. But it was a situation that is very, very different. Enough that I would not put him on notice for it. Although I *do* agree that he needs to be on notice about his general lack of self-regulation.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      Oh, eww. I’m not a germaphobe, but if someone starts eating my food, especially without even asking my permission, I really want to never, ever deal with them again. I have an acquaintance that does that, and it dropped my regard for them waaaaay down.

  18. Dust Bunny*

    So, what’s up with Jane? Is she padding her perceived workload by not closing out tasks? Maybe she was mad because she got caught, sorta, and she’ll have to take on more actual work now that the projects she had open to placehold have been closed.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t close things out if I think I missed something or there is an error that needs correcting.

      Maybe Jane worries excessively about mistakes and she can’t bring herself to declare something as finished.

    2. Yes Yes Yes*

      I think you nailed it! If I had to choose either Ben or Jane for my team, I would choose Ben in a heartbeat. Jane sounds awful!

  19. Lady_Lessa*

    Honest question. Since the LW knows that Jane can be difficult, why didn’t they just tell Ben not to touch her projects.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Why don’t they tell Jane that she needs to accept having tasks that are no longer in play, closed out?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Then there’s, “Learn to close out projects upon completion or look for work elsewhere.”

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Presumably, getting Jane’s projects closed out so an auditor doesn’t have questions is more important than keeping Jane happy.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yes, this. A lot of people are not picking up on the auditing issue, I suppose because they’ve never worked in that sort of environment. Failing audits is not like failing a math test in high school. Failing audits can shut you down.

    3. LolaBugg*

      Play when I read this my alarm bells went off about Jane’s work. If she’s regularly pawning her tasks off on others and also super secretive about tasks on her computer or whatever, it makes me think that she is been getting away with barely doing any work all this time and is afraid of being caught.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Exactly this. Closing out her tasks means she’ll get handed new ones and have to do actual work.

    4. ecnaseener*

      Talk about a missing stair – if OP felt the need to warn reports away from totally benign things, it would be way past time to get rid of Jane.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      …or let everyone know that she was having Ben do this. A good manager doesn’t assign something like this without first telling everyone “I’m having Ben go through and vet all of the records in our tracking system.”

    6. hbc*

      Because once you consider making that request, you realize that you’re caving to one employee’s inability to deal with normal office operations, and you realize you’ve taken too many steps beyond flexibility into business-harming contortions.

      Though you’ve made me wonder if this helpful project only got accomplished *because* Jane was away and she (actively or passively) sabotages improvements while she’s around.

    7. Observer*

      Since the LW knows that Jane can be difficult, why didn’t they just tell Ben not to touch her projects

      Really? Someone is being difficult, so you just humor them? Even when what they are doing actually is likely to cause problems for the group?

      The problem is not that the OP allowed Ben to “touch” her projects. The problem is that the OP let Jane get away with so much nonsense that she thought she could over-ride the OP’s instructions about these items.

  20. animaniactoo*

    This was a very thorough and complete answer by Alison, but I would also place a lot of emphasis on cleaning up the overall Jane problem. Specifically… empower and encourage the co-workers that Jane is foisting her work off on to come to you to get approval for that.

    This is how I handle it with someone I can’t say no to directly: “I just need to let (my boss) know about this, because she manages my workload.”

    Then, if there’s a problem, boss is the one who says “No, she is not available to help you with that.”

    Separately, I have 5 bucks down, okay, screw it, a whole paycheck down that the reason that Jane wants those items open is so that she can point to her “workload” with all these open (but probably resolved) items to take care of. She’s pissed because Ben just blew all of her cover for shoving her stuff off onto other people.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes , I thought that she might be deliberately not closing things so she looked busy. I’ve come across people like that.
      I had to expressly instruct my Jane to follow procedures and close files promptly when they were finished, and also pointed out to her that we have other, much more accurate ways of seeing how busy she was (not at all) .
      It wasn’t very effective – she remained the laziest person I have ever had to deal with and while she would change briefly when directly forced, it was never sustained. She also made a formal complaint accusing me of bullying her , when I actively managed her, which was interesting. Happily I am meticulous about documenting and so that came to “No, your manager expecting you to do your job and checking that you have followed instructions isn’t bullying, nor is checking on you more often than on others who don’t have a track record of ignoring procedures and not carrying out instructions…”

  21. Rich*

    The manager here is at fault for not telling the team that she had instructed Ben to clean up their work orders. She phrases it as being done with her “consent” but even if he was the one who came up with the idea, her giving him “consent” to do it makes her responsible for it. As a manager if you’re going to have one employee do something to another employees work or workspace or whatever, you need to tell them in advance.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      It seems like Jane was on holiday and thus did not see the email about Ben cleaning up the work orders.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        But certainly when she returned from holiday, she could’ve read the e-mail that indicated Ben was following the direction of their manager.
        Or when confronted, Ben could’ve made it clear that the manager consented and the evidence was in the e-mail.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I don’t necessarily agree. In a well functioning workplace, I am perfectly happy to believe a coworker when they say they’ve done a task with the managers knowledge and approval. I it sounds like this task was Ben’s idea, so there’s really no reason for him to frame it as something he was assigned to do rather than something he took initiative on.

      1. Heffalump*

        Even if he took initiative on it, “Got his manager’s OK to do it” is to all intents and purposes equivalent to “was assigned to do it.”

      2. Rich*

        Yeah I just don’t agree with that. Ben’s initiative doesn’t matter because he didn’t have the authority to make changes to his coworkers work flows without his supervisor approving that initiative and assigning him to do it. There’s also very big difference between a coworker “doing a task” as you phrase it and what actually happened here which is that one coworker made changes to another coworkers work without their input. Nobody likes a coworker who goes around acting like their supervisor when they aren’t and nobody likes a manager who makes them manage their coworkers because they’re too spineless to do it themselves.

        1. ecnaseener*

          But his supervisor did approve it…and (per OP’s follow-up comment on the original letter) Ben clearly stated that OP approved it. So it was made clear that he had been given this authority. I don’t see why that announcement needs to come from the manager.

          1. Heffalump*

            If Jane saw the forwarded email, then she had no excuse. If she didn’t see it, she should have given Ben the benefit of the doubt.

    3. SnappinTerrapin*

      OK. Jane was out of the office when Ben and LW discussed cleaning up the files. LW was out of the office when Jane pitched her fit, and Jane and Ben both escalated their argument.

      Sure, there are some things LW could’ve done better in the past, and Alison offered her a solid action plan to move forward from where they are. But it’s a bit extreme to suggest it’s her fault that two adults behaved like children in the office.

      And “ownership” of work is a nebulous concept. What applies in one workplace isn’t necessarily universal, and what an individual employee “expects” is not binding on management.

  22. Heffalump*

    I’d apportion blame as follows: Jane 95%, Ben 5%. Sounds like Jane didn’t say, “Ben, you closed out my tasks—what’s up with that?” She lit into him and was not amenable to reason and logic. Ben didn’t “feel” provoked by Jane; he was provoked by Jane.

    As for the argument that Ben wouldn’t yell, “Fuck you!” at his boss, I’d say this: If Ben’s boss were as combative and unreasonable as Jane, he’d be morally justified in yelling, “Fuck you!” at them. It wouldn’t be a good career move, but he’d be justified in doing it. It may well be that Ben needs to clean up his language in general, but this situation is different. I would agree that people shouldn’t lose it with coworkers at the slightest provocation. But to say that they should never lose it, no matter the provocation, is just unrealistic.

    My message to them would be as follows:

    To Ben: “This can’t happen again, absent severe provocation.”

    To Jane: “This can’t happen again, full stop.”

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I strongly disagree.
      If one person is escalating the argument, the other person doesn’t need to escalate it further. They can leave, the discussion doesn’t have to continue.
      This should have been cut off long before it got as far as it did.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, as Alison says, neither of them look great after this. Jane shouldn’t have reacted aggressively and escalated the argument, but all Ben needed to do was say ‘Look, Jane, Sally and I agreed that I’d go through and tidy up all the outstanding records. That’s what I’ve done. If you have a problem, please talk to Sally’. And then he should have walked away. I know it can be difficult in the moment but Ben let himself get dragged into a screaming match and that didn’t need to happen.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I’d apportin blame at closer to 50/50. Maybe 60/40 with Jane being more at fault.

      Ben could have told her once that he was instructed / authorised by their mutual boss, and after that could and should have walked away (if necessary going to his boss or HR in the moment)
      Also about 2-5% to the rest of the team, none of whom seem to have through to go to fetch someone more senior

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I’d say 51/49.
        Jane obviously shouldn’t have started it, and it sounds like she pretty much pushed and pushed. But Ben could have walked away at any time, or let her know that the manager okay’d it, or done any number of things that would have prevented it from being escalated. And he definitely could have withheld the F-bomb back at her at the end of the conversation.
        So both should get the:
        To Ben: “This can’t happen again, full stop.”
        To Jane: “This can’t happen again, full stop.”

        As Heffalump mentioned.

    3. anonymous73*

      Nope. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. If someone is escalating a situation and won’t listen to reason, you walk away. Screaming at colleagues, employees, managers, ANYONE in the office is NEVER okay unless a piano is about to fall on their head and you’re screaming for them to run.

    4. BuildMeUp*

      Oh my gosh, no. Morally justified?? No, no, no. There is no situation in which Ben should be given permission to swear at a colleague, which is what the manager would be doing if they used your phrasing.

  23. CoveredinBees*

    The petty pot stirrer in me wants to require them to attend anger management classes together. Preferably during work hours so I can sit nearby, eating popcorn like Bill Hader in the ‘Dateline’ sketches. Yes, I know this is horribly unprofessional but it’s nice to dream, especially since I hope this has been resolved one way or another in the past 5 years. I get that OP was only asking about responding to this incident, but it seems like there is a lot of work to be done in getting both of these people working effectively *within* the team. Also, Jane, if you’re going to foist your work onto other people you should work on being more flexible or you might find it bounced back to you.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Oh gosh, that comment is golden; thank you for that link. Ben is manageable and trainable, and Jane is an absolute nightmare who needs to go. Le wow.

      1. Karia*

        Huh? “Ben. He’s not particularly easy to manage – he does get emotional, frustrated and impatient… can be tiring to manage…”

        Don’t get me wrong, Jane sounds like an insubordinate nightmare, but I’m not getting why everyone is so sympathetic to Ben. Screaming at a colleague is a serious issue, and it’s clear his lack of self control is partly responsible for the ‘atmosphere’ OP mentions.

        1. AD*

          “Everyone” isn’t sympathetic to Ben but as even OP said, Jane’s actions escalated this situation into what it ended up becoming:

          “In my professional opinion, Ben’s actions up to the start of the argument weren’t wrong. He had completely sound reasons for doing what he did, and I gave the authorisation to do it. If Jane wasn’t happy with the situation, she should have raised it with me…”

          1. Karia*

            ‘Everyone’ may have been hyperbole, but I’m seeing a lot of ‘Jane escalated’ / ‘Jane’s the problem’/ ‘she provoked him’ regarding a person that even OP describes as:

            “He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking, he can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions, and he also has a bit of a swearing habit…”

            I think they’re *both* in the wrong and need to be disciplined. I also think OP prefers Ben as a person and that that is why she portrays him in a more sympathetic light. See, for example, that Ben apparently ‘can’t help himself’ and ‘lets himself be ruled by his emotions’.

            Why doesn’t that excuse apply to Jane?

                1. AD*

                  I’m not sure if patriarchy applies here but it seems like a choice to ignore this part:

                  “On the other hand, I have struggled to connect with Jane as her manager. Right from when I became her manager, I’ve been reaching out and trying to involve her in the direction the team is taking, but she doesn’t seem interested. She’s very loyal to my predecessor, and openly compares all of my actions negatively with the actions of her previous manager. Every time I try to arrange a meeting or catch-up with her, she tries to decline the request due to being “too busy”. I thought maybe I wasn’t giving enough notice, so I’ve started booking our meetings a long way in advance to allow her to plan her time – sometimes she still makes excuses, and on other occasions she begrudgingly agrees to come along, but I get very little engagement out of her. She insists that how everything works right now is the ideal solution, and refuses to even entertain the idea of even slight process changes. I ask her what aspects of any proposed changes are causing her concerns and try to talk the ideas through with her – she has many years of experience and it’s perfectly possible that her objections are based on real issues that no-one else has raised. I want her to get involved in the improvements that the team are being asked to deliver, because I want everyone to feel invested in the way the team works, so that the whole team understands and is comfortable with the new processes that are being put in place. But she refuses to engage, provide constructive feedback on suggestions or offer any alternative other than keeping things the same. The rest of the team tell me that this has always been the case – whenever they want to do something a new way, they’ve always been met by a flat out “no” from Jane. When I try to get her involved in change, she avoids me, ignores me or refuses to accept the need for change. When I try to implement change as an order rather than a suggestion, it takes a long time to get her to make the transition, she drags her heels the whole way, and the atmosphere in the team plummets further when she complains, her colleagues try to convince her of the benefits of the change, and then she sulks.”

                2. AD*

                  Also, this. Ben’s swearing may be a larger issue for you than for other people, and that’s fine, but Jane as described is an insubordinate and unengaged employee. This is the “atmosphere” you referred to:

                  “My other very experienced member of staff has advised me he’s expecting to have to take on all of the training of the new people himself rather than sharing the responsibility with Jane as he has done before, because last time Jane trained anyone (this was before I joined the team), apparently she had them picking up her administrative tasks for her and learning very little about the actual role. This is particularly galling as I have heard her use the example of that particular member of staff in meetings with my boss to explain why she thinks it takes years for someone to become competent at the role, and thus why her own expertise is so valuable.”

                3. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                  Actually responding to AD here:

                  None of that invalidates anything I’ve said or even pulls anything away from it. Jane’s issues are completely separate from what is going on with Ben. Ben can’t manage his emotions. Ben keeps getting a pass for not managing his emotions. Not being able to manage your anger is not okay. Anger is an emotion. Ben is often emotional at work. If Ben were Benjamina, the odds are very good that his behavior and inability to manage his emotions at work would not be getting a pass.

                4. Colette*

                  @AD – it’s not that Jane isn’t a problem – she clearly is. But a man who is governed by his emotions and uses them as an excuse to ignore others’ feedback and intimidate/act aggressively towards women is also a problem.

                5. AD*

                  I think Alison’s advice in 2017 was perfectly fair and balanced. And I think these interpretations of the situation diverge from what OP described, respectfully.

                6. AD*

                  And Colette, I usually find your comments insightful but Jane was not giving Ben “feedback” when she told him to get out of her sight. Come on.

                  This letter is divisive and it’s clear that Ben’s obscenities are not acceptable but seeing this through a gendered lens only or downplaying Jane’s role in this or her poor performance attitude is not the solution.

                7. Karia*

                  @AD – I didn’t ignore it at all. I’ve said multiple times that Jane has performance issues and needs to be disciplined. And I don’t find swearing to be the issue (I never said that, so I’m confused about why you mention that at all).

                  The issue is that *both* Ben and Jane were loud and aggressive, but OP is choosing to give (only) her male member of staff a pass on that, and is using extremely gendered language in doing so.

                  Additionally, you cannot say that our ‘interpretations’ of Ben’s behaviour diverge from OP’s when we are directly quoting OP.

                8. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                  Who on earth said Alison’s advice wasn’t fair or was imbalanced in some way? What do you think people are saying here, and what do you think you are arguing?

                9. Colette*

                  @AD I agree Jane wasn’t giving Ben feedback – but the OP says “He’s clever and creative and once he’s decided on a course of action, he goes for it with all his considerable energy.” How do you think that plays out if someone disagrees with his chosen course of action?

                  I don’t think the altercation with Jane was the only example of troubling behaviour from Ben.

            1. Observer*

              Why doesn’t that excuse apply to Jane?

              Firstly, because *JANE* is the one who assigns *her*work to other people, won’t help anyone, won’t share information, won’t make any changes, NEVER acknowledges that she may have made a mistake, and is openly insubordinate. It’s utterly toxic.

              Ben may need to be let go, but at least for now, he puts in effort, is mostly willing to listen (at least to his boss!), acknowledges errors and is willing to work with others.

              We had someone who was pretty similar to Ben, but she (yes, it was a woman) but she was widely beloved because she really worked hard and was always willing to pitch in. And she was never mean.

              Our Jane, on the other hand? Even her friends who were not affected by her office misbehavior did not say boo when she finally got herself fired.

              1. Karia*

                I agree that Jane has performance issues that need to be addressed and have said so. I said below that if I were managing them, they’d both be on their last chance.

                That is completely irrelevant to the the fact that Ben is getting a free pass on being aggressive and Jane is not.

                And that the language OP is using to excuse Ben’s aggression is extremely gendered.

                1. Observer*

                  Ben isn’t getting a free pass- do remember that he IS being disciplined. (Or that was what HR was planning at the time that the OP wrote in.)

                  I don’t think most people think that Ben’s overall behavior is OK. But the reason they are cutting him some slack vs Jane is because OVERALL Jane is the person who is toxic for sure and has already done things that would have either been stopped or gotten her fired in a better managed team (regardless of gender.) It’s not so clear that that’s the case with Ben, although if he is regularly blowing his stack the way he did with Jane, I would say that he also needs to go.

                2. Karia*

                  @Observer – and I repeat that Ben is also extremely toxic. Perhaps more than Jane, whom OP admits has very positive relationships with people in the company. Even with her excuses, he has no filter, often ‘gives in to his emotions’ and swears a lot – and before yet another person pretends I’m a fainting Victorian, the issue is the first two. It translates as him being rude to his colleagues and losing his temper a lot. They both need discipline but I’m actually astonished that people think a set in their ways and lazy employee is worse than someone who is aggressive and rude.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Ben emotes that seems to be the only problem that is mentioned in regard to Ben. Ben said he would try to fix his problems.

              Jane has many problems and she refuses to do better.

              As a supervisor of the two people, I would see Ben as perhaps salvageable. For example, perhaps I could tell him the next time he loses his cool he will be having a couple days off with no pay and a written, formal warning. I would expect that to be enough and probably close the situation. Yes, I could be wrong.

              Jane won’t even acknowledge there is a problem. This is a major PITA because a supervisor can spend hours arguing why something is a problem, if that supervisor is caught off guard. If the boss says X is a problem and it needs to be fixed, the correct answer is “Okay, I will work on it.” A person who is doing all the things Jane is doing is not likely to be cooperative at all. It’s kind of a predictable pattern that I have seen over the years.

              In a recent example of this type of person, Carrie was told she needed to learn X, Y and Z and she needed to start doing tasks A and B. What happened next was, “Oh I forgot!” and “Can you show me how to do that [for the 27th time]?” And “I lost the notes you gave me on how to do it, will you do it again while I watch?”

              I’d give Jane a short window to change her attitude and then that’s it. Over.

              A supervisor can’t treat everyone the same because everyone is different. Ben seems to indicate some cooperative spirit but Jane does not. The company is concerned about workflows and Jane is clearly slowing workflows. It’s up to OP to follow up on what the company says is their concern at the moment.

              1. Karia*

                Saying that you will ‘try’ to fix the fact that your routinely lose your temper is unacceptable. It’s meaningless. Both of them are exhibiting unacceptable behaviour and OP is making gendered excuses for Ben’s *choice* not to control himself. He can develop a filter, he can refrain from giving into his emotions and he can choose not to swear. He is not doing so because OP – and society – are bending over backwards to excuse his poor behaviour and immaturity.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I feel like Ben only seems manageable because the LW is somehow happier to manage him. He sounds like a rather spoiled little pain in the neck to me.

          They both need to be managed, like, for real, though.

          1. Observer*

            They both need to be managed, like, for real, though

            I totally agree with this. The OP did seem to realize this as well, and mentioned talking to their boss about making changes that would make it practical to do that.

            If the OP sees this, I’d love to know what wound up happening.

    2. irene adler*

      Thanks for tracking this down!
      To me, Jane is an even bigger issue than I thought.

      Side note: I’m like Jane in the way that I would prefer to wrap up my own tasks. In fact, my former boss is much like Ben. He’s always completing tasks that he believes are open too long. He doesn’t delve into whether there’s reason for the task to be open; he just closes everything. Oftentimes I find gibberish in the conclusions (poor auditor who has to try and understand what he wrote!).

      In my case- lesson learned. Endeavor to wrap-up and close all my tasks so that boss can’t mess with my work. Problem solved.

    3. Heffalump*

      I remember the original post but hadn’t drilled down to this comment. Jane is even worse than I thought.

      OP’s spelling of “authorisation” leads me to wonder if they’re in the UK or the British commonwealth.

  24. Brett*

    “Jane told him that it’s not right or acceptable for him to touch her work, and that he should keep his nose out of her business.”
    When I read through this, this line right here was the epitome of the problem.
    Jane draws a hard line between her work and the team’s work. Her work belongs to her, and not the team. And that’s the crux of the rest of the problem IMO.

    1. Rick T*

      Jane is the problem. She completely fails to understand the tasks she was assigned are the Company’s tasks and they can be reassigned or closed at her manager’s discretion. Ben was working on general task status with his (and her) manager’s approval but Jane knew she couldn’t blow up and yell at her manager without consequences. Ben was the convenient target.

      Jane can’t be allowed to foist her work off on other team members in the future, nor should she have sole authority to determine the status of tasks assigned to her.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think it’s also partly that she thinks she has more authority that she actually has – it sounds as though she is not a manager or more senior than others, but seems to think that she has the authority to assign or delegate work to others, to decide people need “training” and that she isn’t part of the team and other team members don’t have any right to do anything relating to her work.

      I thin OP would have needed to address that and be very clear with Jane about the limited of her role and authority – possibly simply by telling her that she can’t assign or delegate work, or provide ‘training’ to any other team members without OPS express authority, and that if Jane is away or if OP or another manager has authorised it that they can absolutely access, reassign or authorise another member of the team to deal with work which was assigned to Jane

  25. Cranberry*

    How could Jane be told? She was on holiday! She will have only seen the email when she got back (likely only after she found out about the task)! You think Ben rescued the day because you would struggle to explain to auditors why the task was not done. Why is there no overseeing going on? (your job OP)! You’re basically saying ‘we would have been in trouble if not by chance Ben offered to do this task’. That is realllllly bad. You don’t have a system in place for when tasks should be complete? You don’t have anything in place to indicate why a task has not been completed because it requires more time? This mess would not have happened if the basics were being taken care of.

    Now, if they were and you haven’t started then why isn’t Jane being pulled up for non-completed work? Ben is not her manager. You don’t have to be awkward to not want someone managing you who is just a co-worker. I am not siding with anyone (most comments will do that). I just think you have some serious organisational and management issues going on.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Jane was told, the same way everybody else was told: via a forwarded email.

      But you’re right; there are serious management issues going on here, especially with Jane. You work in an industry which is audited by outside agencies, and you come aboard and find a lot of open tickets with no action on them? That’s one of the first things I’d address. Audits are serious business.

  26. George Pig*

    Jane berated a coworker for doing something his boss told him to. And it sounds like this is a repeat performance. In 2017, I’d have been starting Jane on a path toward being fired.

    If this was Ben’s first argument like this, I think it’s just a warning about behavior even with the swearing. OP put Ben in this position by allowing a coworker to believe this behavior is ok. His response is not ok, but the company has to take responsibility for putting him in that position and part that is only warning him. This time.

    1. anonymous73*

      He was told about the swearing before this incident. And while it wouldn’t offend me personally, swearing AT someone is way worse than swearing in general. Jane was wrong, but Ben was not justified in what he did either.

  27. Joan Clayton*

    Ben said the quiet part out loud!
    There have been some office situations where I wanted to drop the F-bomb!

  28. lost academic*

    We need a little more nuance here. Or a lot. Each person involved here needs to have a type and level of discipline that is specific to the matter at hand and the goal that needs to be achieved by said discipline. That’s where trying to make a short work of it ends up with fairness bias. I’m glad Alison is pointing out that they’re both wrong, but sometimes people use that kind of statement to try to equate actions or worse, suggest they cancel each other out but in real life, fouls do not offset.

    The immediate event at hand needs to be dealt with specifically for Ben and Jane by the OP (direct manager), and the problems preceding it also need to be dealt with again for Ben and Jane. The 4 situations do not merit similar or equal treatment – they need to be handled in such a way as to address the problems at hand specifically. The OP probably also needs to have a conversation with his or her manager on addressing all of this and his or her role in it.

  29. Morticia*

    I’m really hoping the OP will come back, and give us an update. Preferably one where Jane was put on a PIP, and forced to do her job properly and allow her manager to manage her. I love a happy ending.

  30. Bagpuss*

    One thing which struck me was that OP clearly likes Ben a lot more than Jane – she makes excuses for his behaviour and sees him and being ‘unable to help himself’ rather than identifying that he behaves inappropriately and hasn’t changed his behaviour . I suspect that Ben is easier to deal with but I thin she needs to make sure that she is addressing the problems with his behaviour as well as Jane’s

    1. anonymous73*

      I wouldn’t assume that she likes him more, but it’s clear that she doesn’t think his behavior is as problematic as Jane’s.

    2. oranges*

      Like or dislike, if my choices are managing Bens or managing Janes, I’m picking the Bens. He’s exhausting, requires the right team, and burns a lot of management bandwidth, but at the end of the day, he’s fighting for good and does the work.

      Jane sounds like a terrible teammate with a terrible attitude.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. What Jane is doing is actually a threat to the company. Her biggest offense is refusing to change course.

        Ben said he would try- I’d rather hear that because I could say, “Okay, you have to do more than try. You have to actually successfully do this and sustain it.” We’d talk about options when he starts to lose his cool. And I’d tell him that he can use these options or develop a better option on his own, but he cannot lose his cool.

        The old saying about leading a horse to water. If neither one of these people improve then they both can be fired. Just because one is granted more space atm does not mean the chances of being fired for lack of improvement are any less.

  31. When In Rome*

    IMHO – Jane is in the wrong here. I think people are putting too much stock into Ben saying exactly what he’s thinking. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying exactly what you’re thinking AS LONG AS you do so in a respectful manner. Either way, I don’t think saying exactly what you think is relevant to the issue at hand: Jane was picking a fight and antagonized him until he burst. If Ben hadn’t had a temper, I wonder if Jane wouldn’t have just tried to exploit another weakness of his instead to provoke a reaction.

    Take my comment with a grain of salt: I’m also the type to say exactly I think. I’m not out here verbally destroying anyone but I also don’t try to skirt around an issue unless I know I’m talking to a very sensitive/anxious person. I would like people to talk to me that way as well, for what it’s worth. I have never told a coworker “F*** you” though.

    1. anonymous73*

      How is yelling “fuck you” at a colleague respectful? I had a co-worker who used to be a good friend (emphasis on used to be), who used the “brutal honesty” excuse when she offered her opinion. That’s just an excuse to be mean. So no, saying what you’re thinking is not always okay, even in a respectful manner.

      1. When in Rome*

        It’s not – but I also don’t think the outburst has anything to do with being the type to say what you think, it sounds like it’s related to to his difficulty controlling his emotions. That’s a whole different topic.

        Being cruel under the guise of brutal honesty isn’t respectful nor would be sharing an opinion when it wasn’t asked for. That’s just being a jerk. Saying what you think would look like “That idea isn’t going to work – we’ve already tried it twice.” instead of “That idea has a lot of merit. I can see strong elements in parts of it and why you’re passionate about giving it another go. That being said, I want you to give another solution a chance to shine.”

        Both ways of saying the same thing have their place but there’s nothing wrong with respectfully being matter of fact.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      Jane was picking a fight and antagonized him until he burst

      It seems like you’re giving Jane all the agency in this situation and Ben none at all. Ben is in control of his own actions. He was right there with Jane raising his voice, talking over her, and swearing at her. There isn’t some magic switch Jane can pull that forces Ben to react the way he did – that’s on him.

      1. Just Me*

        I think you’re right. They’re clearly both at fault, but I think we all jumped to Ben’s defense in part because it appears that HR is investigating and taking action against Ben, but not Jane, when both need to be talked to and where Jane especially needs to understand that her work basically belong to the company and the company can have a colleague go in and look at the tasks if they need to.

    3. ecnaseener*

      If what you’re thinking isn’t respectful, then professional communication means you say something else. Directness is great, but respect has to come first in a work environment. Ben could’ve said any number of direct, respectful variants of “you need to take this up with OP and not speak to me that way” and instead he yelled. (Obviously Jane was also super disrespectful! I notice you’re not defending her right to say exactly what she thinks.)

      1. When in Rome*

        It’s got nothing to do about having the right to do anything. It’s about doing something on purpose vs doing something unintentionally.

        If she was unintentionally upsetting Ben by being blunt it would have been a totally different situation BUT I’m getting the vibe that she was intentionally trying to push buttons. I definitely don’t get the vibes that she was trying to have a respectful conversation. Yelling at someone to get out of your sight and going off about their personal attributes is in the territory of being as unprofessional as telling someone “F*** You” and walking away IMO. Then again, that probably varies quite a bit by location and industry. A financial services firm in Alabama is going to haves very different opinion on that than respond different than a construction company in New York.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I noticed this long ago, the person who cusses is the one who gets hammered and many people think that ANY surrounding context is irrelevant.

      I used this at one time. My boss said Ugly Thing to me. I reported it. HR wanted to know if I cussed. I did not say one word because I KNEW that question would be asked. Because I did not cuss and because I did not say one word, my boss got into boiling hot water for what he said. Additionally, family members said that I should not point my boss out to them, if I see him in public because they wanted to put him into next Tuesday for what he said.

      I’d want to know what happened that caused the cussing and the outburst. That does not make the outburst right, but I would want to know what else is going on here. As it turns out Jane is actually a detriment to her company and needs immediate action. Ben can be informed that this is the last time he will do this because the next steps are X, Y and Z.

  32. Rich*

    The manager here is at fault for not telling the team that she had instructed Ben to clean up their work orders. She phrases it as being done with her “consent” but even if he was the one who came up with the idea, her giving him “consent” to do it makes her responsible for it. As a manager if you’re going to have one employee do something to another employees work or workspace or whatever, you need to tell them in advance. I once had a manager tell my coworker that she could pack up and move my desk while I was away for a week. Needless to say when I came back and saw that my coworker had gone through all of my stuff and put it in boxes I was livid at both of them. Not because I would have minded moving to a different desk but because they way they did it was disrespectful.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      yup, here’s what I wanted to say. The whole team should have been given a heads up by the manager, and then Jane would have been able to raise her concerns (or scurry over to resolve them herself) before it got too far.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        yup, here’s what I wanted to say. The whole team should have been given a heads up by the manager, and then Jane would have been able to raise her concerns (or scurry over to resolve them herself) before it got too far.

        I agree; Manager didn’t manage the situation to prevent it from blowing up.

        I could work around a Jane, but Ben would give me nightmares as to what I’d come back to when I’m forced to take PTO.

    2. Sarah*

      My boss tells me all the time to work on stuff that could be seen as in my colleagues’s area. I’m usually the one to tell my colleague, “hey, boss said I should help out on XYZ.” We each generally only talk to our boss 1x a week so it’s often faster that way. Not a problem.

  33. Dona Florinda*

    Although I agree with Alison that they both were in the wrong, I think there’s more to this story than OP tells. Ben seems to get a lot more leeway than Jane (I got the impression that OP was making excuses for his behavior throughout the letter), and the argument escalated in a way that just seems unlikely to be the first time, for both of them.
    Now I’m fanfic-ing here, but maybe Jane’s outburst was the last straw in a troubled history with Ben? If indeed he gets more slack for his behavior, I could see her response as en extreme reaction to some long standing resentment. She’s still wrong, obviously, but maybe there’s reason for it.

    1. Karia*

      In the original post, OP talks about an ‘atmosphere’ and how she’s hiring with a mind to the new employees being resilient in that atmosphere. While it sounds as though Jane does have performance issues, OP also acknowledged that Jane has ‘positive relationships’ internally and externally, and that Ben ‘can’t help’ giving in to his emotions.

        1. Karia*

          It is an accurate picture, solely composed of direct quotes from OP, and I’m happy that you linked to OP’s comments so that other commenters can see that my interpretation is accurate.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Yeah, your interpretation is accurate. Also, in what world do we want to make it okay for people to get a pass on behavioral issues because they repeatedly “can’t help” giving into their emotions? TF they can’t.

            1. AD*

              Ok, I’m stepping away because this doesn’t feel honest anymore. OP’s comments on the original post painted a picture which seems to be hard to fit into the narrative you want it to. Ben’s shouting and obscenities are unacceptable but Jane sounds like a terrible employee.

              It’s telling here that her shouting at Ben repeatedly to not touch “her work” and telling Ben to get out of her sight is not being referenced at all. Interesting.

              1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                It’s not being referenced because WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT JANE. Again, no one is saying that Jane isn’t terrible. No one is saying that Jane shouldn’t face disciplinary consequences. We are talking about BEN.

                Like, I also don’t talk about strawberry milk when I’m talking about how chocolate milk gave me heartburn, friend.

                I wouldn’t say something feels dishonest, but I would say that, when taken in their totality, a lot of your posts add up to some pretty bad faith attempts at derailing and obfuscating.

              2. Karia*

                I verbatim said Jane had performance issues. I’ve also repeatedly said that the issue is that the two employees are being judged on a double standard, where Ben’s aggression is being excused but Jane’s isn’t. I haven’t been dishonest in any fashion.

            2. Karia*

              I agree – most of the time it’s a choice. The classic is the man who ‘can’t help’ but scream at his spouse but can mysteriously control himself around the CEO.

              Outside of that, there are a minority of people who genuinely can’t control their emotions. The solution isn’t to let them keep doing it, it’s to help them, direct them to appropriate resources, and if necessary, impose consequences.

  34. SwampWitch85*

    To quote a Queen from RuPaul’s Drag Race:

    “Everyone is telling me how to react, nobody’s telling her how to act.”

    It needs to be equal across the board, whatever punitive decision is made. I’ve been in Ben’s shoes, granted I usually just burst into tears instead of Fbombing the person but honestly Jane needs the same repercussions.

  35. LMB*

    As Alison says, both of these people acted immaturely and unprofessionally. Jane should have approached the issue in calm manner and Ben never should have escalated—he should have just said “ok I hear you. Manager asked me to do it so let’s talk to her about your concerns when she gets back.” That would have been the end of that *particular* incident. He had already provided the reasoning in the email so he didn’t need to get defensive when Jane confronted him. It sounds like, however, there is some underlining tensions on this team that may have reached a boiling point with this one incident. I think the manager needs to address that in some way by going through the work plan with team on a weekly basis, establishing clear ownership and redundancy roles for each task and team member, etc. She needs to find out why Jane got SO upset here and identify whether this is just a Jane personality thing, whether Ben is repeatedly jumping into other people’s work, etc, and think hard about ways to manage the underlying conflict. Both Jane and Ben definitely need training on conflict resolution and stakeholder engagement as well.

  36. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    I rarely feel the need to say this in here, but geez, y’all–not reading some of the comments in here is self care. I can not compute how, in this specific scenario, so many people are solely villifying Jane here. And giving a partial or total pass to the dude who is aggressive and can’t manage his emotions at work and yells “FUCK YOU” at a coworker. Or the people giving the manager a pass for giving the aggressive and emotional mess that is Ben a pass and loading total responsibility and blame on Jane. WTF. And I can’t help but feel that (at least in some cases here) if you switched the genders of Ben and Jane you would suddenly see everyone blaming Ben for not being able to control all of his emotions.

    It’s just… really disappointing in here today.

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      And giving a partial or total pass to the dude who is aggressive and can’t manage his emotions at work and yells “FUCK YOU” at a coworker.

      Yes, this.

    2. WindmillArms*

      Did we read the same letter? Jane picked the fight. She approached Ben in anger, went toe-to-toe with him for several minutes, and also yelled “Get out of my sight!” at him. I think Ben controlled himself pretty well for such intentional and unexpected aggression.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        No, he really didn’t. And that’s from somebody who cusses all the time when she’s not at work.

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Right? I also love how “he said he’s trying” somehow makes the fact that his boss asked him to stop swearing and he’s still doing it a non-issue. Ugh.

      2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Did we read the same letter? I am in no way defending Jane. I am saying that “He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking,” and “he can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions,” and “and he also has a bit of a swearing habit in unofficial conversations (I’ve asked him to stop this and he said he’s trying)” is an issue. If I am obnoxious and unlikable, I’m obnoxious and unlikeable. That doesn’t mean that the office emotional mess gets a pass for not being able to control their emotions at work. And you also don’t get a pass on actively escalating a situation with your unpleasant coworker. And their other coworkers also documented the fact that HE was “shouting and swearing.” But because Jane sucks (something no one disputes!), it’s totally apparently totally okay that the bar for Ben is so low it’s a tavern in Hades. Sure. Sure. That’s not exhausting and disappointing at all.

        1. WindmillArms*

          If someone who is *completely in the wrong* steams up to me and starts yelling, the rest of the argument is on them. Period. Even if their victim uses A Swear.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Well… if you’re escalating arguments and screaming at work because you’re right, you might be someone who doesn’t manage their emotions or themselves at work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    3. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s disappointing how people will insist on making someone the villain and the other person the “hero”. Sometimes, the entire situation is bad and there are no good guys.

      1. Karia*

        Precisely. Nobody should be having screaming matches at work. They are both in the wrong, they both need to be disciplined and if I were in OP’s shoes it’d be penultimate chance time, for both of them. The concern for me is that while both employees were inappropriately and needlessly aggressive, both OP and a lot of commenters are giving Ben a free pass.

        I really thought, in 2022, we might be past the idea that men can’t help themselves, are prey to their emotions, and can’t possibly be expected not to scream at other people. (It’s incredibly insulting to men, apart from anything else).

        I’d *really* hoped that we were past the regressive idea that if men *do* lose control, it’s the fault of a woman ‘pushing his buttons’, ‘provoking’ him, ‘antagonising’ him, or ‘escalating’.

        1. Mannequin*

          We aren’t “giving Ben a free pass”, we are simply able to clearly see that Jane is a toxic personality.

          It’s very typical of abusers to push another person’s buttons until they react, then point the finger saying “look how irrational/unreasonable they are!”

          Jane foists her work off onto others, and refuses to close out her finished tickets so she looks busier. She’s mad that Ben caught her out & closed all the open tickets, spoiling the cover that allows her to work less than others.
          Of course she’s going to manipulate the situation to make BEN look worse.

          Ben absolutely should get warmed to not say FU to people, and to bring it up the chain when someone is trying to provoke him.

          But Jane? Needs a PIP until she does ALL her own work & closes out tickets properly, and fired if she can’t.

          1. Karia*

            Ben is also a toxic personality. And it is *extremely* common, textbook in fact, for abusers to lose their temper and then claim they ‘can’t help it’, are ‘prey to their emotions’ and were ‘provoked’ by their victims.

            In this specific situation, I have had *much* worse done and said to me in the workplace, and yet I mysteriously managed to keep my temper. Because I’m an adult, and a woman, and no one was going to pretend I was unable to control my emotions, or make excuses for me.

            I have also said several times that I think both of them should be on their last chance and that they are *equally* culpable.

            1. Mannequin*

              This is how OP describes Ben in a follow up comment to the original post:

              “ My first day managing this team, approximately 6 months ago, was also Ben’s first day back at work following a leave of absence as the result of a family bereavement. Almost my first action in the role was to have a meeting with Ben to check up on his welfare and advise him of changes within the team (i.e. that I was am now his manager). It may be that that first, rather sensitive and emotionally charged, conversation resulted in adding an extra layer of sympathy when I’m dealing with Ben. He’s not particularly easy to manage – he does get emotional, frustrated and impatient. He often uses our meetings as an excuse to have a bit of a rant about all of the things that are bothering him – I allow him the space to express himself, then try to work through solutions with him. He gives the impression of feeling restricted by established practices, and that can be tiring to manage, especially in cases where the restrictions are outside my control. But he works hard and he delivers very good results, and in a team that’s in a period of transition, it’s helpful to have someone who embraces change. He’s open, honest and committed to helping the team. For what it’s worth, I’ve never previously seen his swearing in a context that was aggressive or aimed at anyone – it’s always been casual, like a habit. We’ve discussed it and it has improved, although obviously not enough (perhaps I’ve been overly lenient due to being something of a habitual swearer in my own personal life). In the general course of things, he can deal with differences of opinion fairly well – I myself have on many occasions disagreed with a suggestion or opinion of his, we’ve debated both sides of the issue and in every instance either we’ve agreed on a compromise, or he’s respectfully gone along with what I told him to do.”

              He is opinionated & impatient, but also open, honest, committed, embraces change, happy to compromise or follow orders he disagrees with. Does not swear aggressively or (normally) at people.

              Sounds like someone I’d enjoy working with.

              Unlike Jane.

              “ Right from when I became her manager, I’ve been reaching out and trying to involve her in the direction the team is taking, but she doesn’t seem interested. She’s very loyal to my predecessor, and openly compares all of my actions negatively with the actions of her previous manager. Every time I try to arrange a meeting or catch-up with her, she tries to decline the request due to being “too busy”. I thought maybe I wasn’t giving enough notice, so I’ve started booking our meetings a long way in advance to allow her to plan her time – sometimes she still makes excuses, and on other occasions she begrudgingly agrees to come along, but I get very little engagement out of her. She insists that how everything works right now is the ideal solution, and refuses to even entertain the idea of even slight process changes. I ask her what aspects of any proposed changes are causing her concerns and try to talk the ideas through with her – she has many years of experience and it’s perfectly possible that her objections are based on real issues that no-one else has raised. I want her to get involved in the improvements that the team are being asked to deliver, because I want everyone to feel invested in the way the team works, so that the whole team understands and is comfortable with the new processes that are being put in place. But she refuses to engage, provide constructive feedback on suggestions or offer any alternative other than keeping things the same. The rest of the team tell me that this has always been the case – whenever they want to do something a new way, they’ve always been met by a flat out “no” from Jane. When I try to get her involved in change, she avoids me, ignores me or refuses to accept the need for change. When I try to implement change as an order rather than a suggestion, it takes a long time to get her to make the transition, she drags her heels the whole way, and the atmosphere in the team plummets further when she complains, her colleagues try to convince her of the benefits of the change, and then she sulks.”

              “ To add another layer of concern, we’re currently in the process of recruiting two new members of staff, and I’m having to look at applicants in terms of whether they have the resilience to deal with the team being like this. My other very experienced member of staff has advised me he’s expecting to have to take on all of the training of the new people himself rather than sharing the responsibility with Jane as he has done before, because last time Jane trained anyone (this was before I joined the team), apparently she had them picking up her administrative tasks for her and learning very little about the actual role. This is particularly galling as I have heard her use the example of that particular member of staff in meetings with my boss to explain why she thinks it takes years for someone to become competent at the role, and thus why her own expertise is so valuable.”

              Jane should have been PIPed out of there a LONG time ago.

              1. Karia*

                *shrug*. OP was actually pretty even handed in her comments. You’ve chosen to share her criticism of Jane and her praise of Ben. I get it; you’d prefer to work with an aggressive, rude man than a lazy and insubordinate woman. I think both behaviours are unacceptable, you think a man who routinely loses his temper is a good employee.

                I disagree. I’ve worked with a bunch of aggressive bosses and colleagues and it’s miserable. I’m glad you’ve led the sort of life where you can brush off screaming in the workplace.

    4. BuildMeUp*

      Yeah, there are so many comments saying Jane is 100% to blame, Jane clearly instigated the whole thing on purpose, etc. I’m baffled. And a lot of fanfic writing going on as well!

    5. Mannequin*

      Because Jane’s past behavior indicates that she is the Missing Stair in this office, not Ben.

      She’s a crap worker who foists her duties onto others and refuses to close out her tickets so she can look busier. She’s Big Mad that Ben caught her out, so she purposely picked a pointless fight until she provoked him enough to lose his temper, at which point SHE gets to be the aggrieved one. She ran to tattle on him as soon as she had.

      Sorry but I have a missing stair relative, and I’ve seen this kind of crap play out over & over again. These patterns are just WAY too familiar to me not to recognize Jane’s toxicity.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Sooooo… maybe OP should try actually managing her? Just like OP should try managing Ben? Again, no one one is arguing that Jane isn’t toxic or a missing stair. WE ALL THINK JANE SUCKS. This is not an issue. We can talk about Ben and Ben’s behavior without in any way letting Jane off of the hook for her behavior.

        And I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in environments where people got a pass on managing their emotions at work, so that kind of behavior is way too familiar to ME to not recognize and comment on it.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          ESH in ranked order:
          1. Ben for shouting at a coworker to “F- off!” It is never OK to say this at work to another human. I don’t care how mad you are or how short your temper is, walk the f- away before this happens. Jane threw down and you picked up. You could have walked away saying, “Whatever Jane, talk to OP. She signed off on it and is copied on the e-mail I sent out”
          2. Jane for pushing her work on everyone else and being an overall unpleasant PITA. Pull your head out of your ass, quit setting up potential audit violations, and DO YOUR OWN DAMNED WORK
          3. The OP for letting both of these employees behave like this for 6 months. I get it, you are busy, but is it so hard to give Ben a “quit swearing in areas where you can be overheard and rein in your emotions at work or [consequence]” talk and Jane a “Do your own work and if you push it off on others [consequence] will happen” talk and then monitor closely?

          1. Rocket*

            It’s also not okay for Jane to be shouting at her coworker or to tell them to “get out of her sight.” She also should have taken your advice to walk the f away before that happened. Instead of yelling at Ben, she could have simply gone to their manager to discuss the issue.

          2. Tom*

            Wait, hold it, how on earth is blowing up at a coworker who is flipping out at you for no good reason *worse* than said coworker not only refusing to do their job, but foisting their work on other people to the point where they have an office-wide rep for doing so?

            Your priorities are skewed.

            1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

              Who said it was worse? “We can talk about Ben and Ben’s behavior without in any way letting Jane off of the hook for her behavior,” “ESH” (Everybody Sucks Here), etc, etc, ad nauseum…

              Like… what exactly are your priorities here? Are you deliberately throwing out chunks of what people are saying or are you just reading through really fast and missing things or…?

      2. Colette*

        It sounds like leaving tickets open too long is a common problem, not Jane is doing to make herself look busier. Ben closed tickets from everyone, not just Jane.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        It seems like you’re putting a lot of personal stuff onto this letter, and it’s leading you to make some assumptions about Jane’s motivations. Things like, “refuses to close out her tickets so she can look better,” “mad that Ben caught her out,” “purposefully picked a pointless fight,” “provoked him,” “ran to tattle” – we do not know why Jane did any of these things.

        You are assuming that you know her reasons, but you don’t. None of us do. Ben closed out many coworkers’ tickets – were they all trying to look busier? How do you know that Jane wasn’t legitimately upset about what Ben did and overreacted/didn’t handle her emotions well (the exact same problem Ben has)? How do you know she was provoking him? If I want to write some advice column fanfiction too, I can say that Ben knew how upset Jane would be at having her work messed with by a coworker and purposefully asked the manager if he could do it while she was gone so she would be blindsided. Why is my version any less likely than yours?

        1. Mannequin*

          Because mine actually fits the facts in the letter.

          I don’t doubt that he purposely did it while Jane was out because he knew that she would kick up an unnecessary fuss over him doing work that was 1. OK’d by the boss and 2. REQUIRED for them to be in compliance with any audit.

          Ben already knows she’s a missing stair and was trying to lessen the impact of it on his necessary work. In fact, it sounds like Ben went *out of his way* to be reasonable with her and explain what happened.

          If Jane wants her work “left alone”, she needs to talk to the BOSS who told Ben to do this for *everyone*, not Ben for refusing to give her a special exception.

          “When Jane returned to work to see Ben’s email, she immediately asked him why he’d thought it was acceptable to close off tasks that were meant for her. He referred her to his email, which explained his motivation, process, and outcome. She said — in a loud, stern voice — that he was interfering in her work and that she couldn’t allow it. She told him to keep his hands out of her work, because it wasn’t up to him to decide whether it was complete or not. He told her (correctly) that we’d struggle to explain to an auditor the reason we’ve kept a request open for a year without any action, and that there’s no point leaving a task open on the system when there’s no further action required. Jane told him that it’s not right or acceptable for him to touch her work, and that he should keep his nose out of her business. When he explained that he’d closed tasks for the rest of the team too and they were grateful, she told him that that was different, she didn’t care what everyone else thought was okay, she wanted him to leave her work alone.”

          We already know Jane is a problem coworker who shirks her work because OP lays it out in detail “ Jane is experienced and knowledgeable but often likes to foist her work onto her colleagues in the guise of “training” (although she’s not advising or helping them, and they’re things they already know how to do). She likes to instruct her colleagues, but is less fond of actually carrying out a task herself. She’s stubborn and resistant to change, and insistent that everything is perfect as it is.”

          That is a great description of a Missing Stair.

          “Jane complaining about Ben over-stepping her boundaries by messing with her work, and Ben retorting that she probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself.”

          Jane complains that Ben did his job correctly & thoroughly, Ben responds with a sarcastic but entirely truthful retort. Jane gets mad and escalates.

          “And on and on until Jane told Ben to get out of her sight, that she couldn’t deal with him, that he was impossible to work with”

          Toxic AF and FU in so many words.

          Yes, Ben should have walked away before he responded with FU, but toxic manipulators are REALLY GOOD at exploiting peoples weaknesses.

          But look at what Jane got out of it! Management is now focusing on Ben’s FU, not the fact that he was SUPPOSED TO close her tickets, or that they SHOULDN’T have been open for a year, or that she foists her work on others, that she should actually be on a PIP, and so on.

          This is CLASSIC toxic manipulator behavior, and this is why people are fixating on it, and not Ben’s behavior.

          Even if Ben IS a toxic mansplaining jackhole, a the behavior of a toxic manipulative narcissistic like is Jane is STILL objectively worse. People like that are poisonous to healthy workplaces & relationships, and they affect everyone around them in a negative way.

          1. BuildMeUp*

            I assume you are not a psychiatrist, and you definitely have never even met Jane, and yet you feel comfortable stating that she is a “manipulative narcissist.”

            I’m not even going to bother responding to the rest of this. Have fun writing your fanfiction.

          2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            1) Nothing anyone has said in this subthread fails to “fit the facts” of the letter
            2) You are obviously very upset. I am sorry for whatever horrible stuff you are dealing with due to your family member.
            3)That doesn’t factor in to the discussion of Ben, Ben’s behavior, and the fact that he is being assigned less accountability for his issues.
            4) It does not matter who is worse. Who is worse is not being debated. If you have two turd sandwiches, one does not cease to be a turd sandwich because the other one has double turds.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Hey, you come off as being pretty upset a couple of times in this thread, too.

              1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                Well, yeah, but not at an external situation that’s causing me to fixate on all of the reasons why Jane is actually the One True Source of Evil and therefore anyone trying to talk about Ben’s separate and exclusive-to-him issues and accountabiliea needs to hear everything terrible about Jane including a breakdown on all of her suspected personality disorders and a 5,000 word essay on how her feet probably stink. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          3. Karia*

            It doesn’t fit the facts at all. It doesn’t even fit what you just quoted. It fits your preconceptions and assumptions. A bit like above, where the quote you shared to ‘prove’ that Jane was 100% in the wrong had colleagues talking about an ‘atmosphere’ created by both Jane and Ben.

      4. Macapito*

        Ben just blows the stairs up. This pattern is way too familiar to me to not recognize Ben’s toxicity.

    6. J.B.*

      I would like them to both be gone. I agree with the balance of Alison’s answer and am really glad to no longer work with either a screamer or a manipulator.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Are you the OP? Because if so, 1) Congrats on your escape! and 2) Thank you for confirming that they both suck. And that Ben is a screamer. And that being a screamer is not okay. A lot more people in here apparently need to hear that than I would have originally thought.

        1. Rocket*

          Sounds like Jane is just as much of a screamer, she just didn’t use the same vocabulary.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*


            Jesus. This ish is why I am exhausted. And disappointed. And at this point, feeling reeeaaaally depressed by some of this.

              1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                You’re not wrong. Darn my ability to read and my inability to realize that I can just let people be wrong/obtuse/makers of bad faith arguments/etc. Although a nap will probably help more than grass, which is itchy and often contains bugs.

          2. Karia*

            Well yeah. They were both aggressive. The issue is that OP is making excuses for Ben, and is pretending that he ‘can’t help’ himself, is ‘prey to his emotions’ etc. The reality is that angry men get a pass and angry women don’t.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Oh my god. Are you kidding me. What does this have to do with the price of tea? No one is refuting how much Jane sucks. What we’re discussing here is the fact that the OP excuses things like how Ben “ often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking” and how Ben “can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions” and also how Ben “ has a bit of a swearing habit” that the OP has asked him to stop, and instead of actually stopping Ben has told the OP that “he’s trying” while continuing the behavior. And we’re looking at all of that, and at the description on the incident, and we’re talking about how BEN is being given a pass which, and I would say that I can not stress this enough but I honestly feel like I’ve already had to stress it so many times in this subthread that I feel like I’m taking crazy pills, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW MUCH JANE SUCKS. It is a completely separate thing.

        Please. I beg of you. This is already so exhausting.

        1. Mannequin*

          Because the OP’s detailed description of Ben in there describes a good, honest, helpful employee and not the toxic masculinity boogeyman that y’all are insisting that he MUST be?

          1. BuildMeUp*

            I’m beginning to think you must be a troll because this is baffling. You have repeatedly described Jane as some sort of nefarious boogeyman and other people are merely pointing out that many of your comments on Jane’s motivations are unfounded and that Ben shares some of the blame. The link you posted above literally includes the following:

            He’s not particularly easy to manage – he does get emotional, frustrated and impatient. He often uses our meetings as an excuse to have a bit of a rant about all of the things that are bothering him – I allow him the space to express himself, then try to work through solutions with him. He gives the impression of feeling restricted by established practices, and that can be tiring to manage, especially in cases where the restrictions are outside my control.

            That is not a perfect amazing employee. That is an employee who has some good qualities and some negative ones. Your all or nothing approach to this makes zero sense. I would suggest you go back to AITA, but even they have an ESH option.

            1. Mannequin*

              No one says he is a “perfect amazing employee”. But the evidence that he is always some kind of toxic a-hole who is aggressive screams at his coworkers is not there. Y’all are jumping to conclusions about Ben that aren’t supported by OPs words.

              1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

                Okay. So you disagree with Alison, and you see no shades of grey or possibility that more than one person can be generally flawed. Your position is clear.

          2. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            This is a remarkably strange take. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

          3. Karia*

            What? We think he’s an aggressive, unpleasant and rude employee because even his boss who clearly likes him says so. Being good at your job and being a toxic employee are not mutually exclusive.

    7. SnappinTerrapin*

      Honestly, I wish the scenario had been presented without reference to gender. It might cut back on some of the speculation about LW’s motivation in assessing her reports’ strengths and weaknesses, and allowed all of us to focus on the behaviors instead of the factor that should bear the least weight.

      Personally, I wouldn’t “punish” either employee, in the sense of suspending them without pay, reducing their wages, or imposing some similar sanction.

      Each would have a private counseling session, in which the manager acknowledges that both employees are being required to address their own specific shortcomings, but that neither has any need to be privy to the details of the other’s corrective action plan.

      I would explain to each exactly where s/he went wrong in this disgraceful episode, and I would explain to each exactly what corrections they are required to make. I would warn each that failure to comply would put their jobs at risk, after telling them that they should consider themselves fortunate to have the opportunity to avoid termination this time.

      The details of the corrective action plans would address all the issues with that employee’s future job security, and the corrective action would be tailored to the changes required for that employee to remain employed.If either refused to commit to correcting their behavior, I’d escort him/her out. And I would follow up with regular 1:1 meetings to monitor their progress.

      Unfortunately, some people have side-tracked on “comparative guilt.” They both behaved unacceptably, and disrupted the office. Some people have tried to parse out who provoked whom. They both escalated the conflict instead of walking away, cooling off, and asking their manager to manage the situation. I’m not naive enough to believe that bias never plays a role in business decisions, but it’s not helpful for anyone to propose taking gender into account in developing a corrective action plan. That’s no more helpful than trying to figure out which abusive employee was more abusive than the other. They are both wrong, and both need to straighten up and fly right. Neither deserves a pass on their misbehavior just because they both misbehaved. LW needs to focus on the specific behaviors that interfere with getting the job done, and the specific changes each employee needs to make in order to preserve his/her specific job.

      1. Karia*

        I don’t, because gender is extremely important here. The reality is that a woman who had no filter and was ruled by her emotions would get fired rapidly. No one would have accused Jane of provoking or antagonising Ben if she had been a man. The reason gender is being brought up is that the excuses OP made for Ben, and the interpretations of Jane’s behaviour are both *extremely* gendered.

        (I agree that they both need help and discipline btw).

        1. STG*

          Except that’s exactly what Jane did. She let her emotions get the best of her and was just as aggressive as Ben.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Yes. No one is arguing that she didn’t. But they ARE arguing that Jane is being perceived far more harshly for the same thing by his boss and by many people in the comments.

            1. STG*

              Jane is being perceived far more harshly because she did the same thing as Ben AND more.

    8. KoiFeeder*

      Ben’s already been punished, presumably. Jane went to HR, HR said you can’t do that, and are discussing disciplinary action. Meanwhile, nothing happened to Jane. I think that’s (at least part of) what’s fueling the disparity.

      And speaking solely for myself, I can relate very much to having my buttons deliberately mashed and then being punished for it. But Jane’s actions are something I would be frightened of doing with a coworker I knew to be volatile and aggressive- I’d be afraid of them escalating to physical aggression rather than just verbal! The only way I can rationalize Jane’s actions is that either she equally lacks the ability to regulate her emotions… or she was deliberately antagonizing Ben.

  37. Chris*

    Honestly, I’m really thrown by the OP starting by saying the team is “left to their own devices” when OP is in a meeting. Hopefully they are capable adults, I personally would be looking for another job if that was my manager’s attitude about how a team functions. And, yeah, I agree with Alison’s response.

  38. Hosta*

    Both are wrong. Both need to learn we don’t raise our voices at work.

    One of the skills I learned from my mother is to stay utterly calm and quiet and steadfast as someone is throwing a fit at you. She used it with teenagers. I use it when someone is throwing a tantrum at work. I don’t acquiesce. I don’t clam up. I just refuse to raise my volume and sometimes I’ll even take my pitch and volume down a bit.

    I’ve had a couple co-workers raise their voice at me in my 20 year career. Usually they just were not let something go. It escalated to name calling in at least one case. I should have walked away in most of those cases, but since I didn’t raise my voice or resort to name calling or swear words I got a “are you okay, maybe walk away next time?” talking to not a “you have to apologize now” talking to.

    BTW, it is maddening to be the one losing your cool when the other party just. won’t. engage. emotionally. I hated it as a teenager. I hate it as an adult. And it is VERY effective.

  39. Mannequin*

    Missing Stair, thy name is Jane.

    Jane made a huge stink about a non-problem, pushed Ben until he reacted, then gleefully & immediately ran to tattle on him.

    Missing Stairs *love* provoking people into behavior they can point at and say “well THEY did ___!” as a way of justifying, deflecting from, or minimizing their own crappy behavior.

    No one’s talking about Jane’s failure to do her job properly anymore, now it’s all about the FU.

    Ben needs a warning to bring issues up the chain before he gets that angry.

    Jane needs to be fired for not doing her job.

    1. Dinwar*

      That’s probably the best take.

      Ben’s error was not following the proper procedures. That’s fixable. “Ben, what you did was inappropriate. If it happens again, we will need to take disciplinary action. I understand your frustration, but you NEED to follow proper protocols BEFORE it gets this far in the future. That said, I acknowledge that I am partially to blame for this–I obviously haven’t provided sufficient information on how to handle workplace conflict. I will be setting up a team-wide class on this in the next few weeks.” Something like that would 1) put Ben on notice, 2) be an active step to resolving the root cause of Ben’s outburst, and 3) show some spine as a manager.

      Jane’s errors boil down to manipulation. She manipulates others to do her work, manipulates the higher-ups to convince them she’s worth employing, and manipulated Ben into an outburst that has, as you said, overshadowed her egregious, repeated, and ongoing issues. That’s not really fixable. I’m not even sure what to say to Jane. Maybe “You need to understand that this is not YOUR work. This is the TEAM’S work, and I’m in charge of the team. If I assign something to someone else there are reasons, and no, this is not open to discussion. You put us all at risk by your actions. I will be auditing your projects thoroughly starting now, and I expect full compliance or your resignation.” Ultimately I don’t care what the root cause of Jane’s issues is–it’s not work-related, so it’s not her manager’s job to fix.

      1. Karia*

        Ben’s error was being routinely rude and being ‘ruled by his emotions’ (please). She didn’t ‘manipulate’ him into an outburst. He pretends he has no self control and his boss (and society) coddles his aggression and immaturity instead of requiring him to behave like an adult.

        1. Dinwar*

          “Ben’s error was being routinely rude and being ‘ruled by his emotions’ (please).”

          It’s a problem, sure. But again, it’s relatively easy to address. He didn’t follow proper procedure; he needs to do that.

          “She didn’t ‘manipulate’ him into an outburst.”

          I quite strongly disagree with this. I’ve seen this sort of manipulation often enough that I’ve made a specific rule in my life for dealing with them: I don’t play the “I’m not touching you!” game. What I mean is, there are a large number of people who go right up to the edge, fully intending to push you over it and then claiming to be the victim. I don’t tolerate that.

          Unfortunately, it’s effective. Most people are focused on Ben because he used a specific sequence of sounds that some find offensive. Few people are noting that Jane’s outburst was just as emotionally driven and uncontrolled–she just used different sounds to express the idea. If two words–seven letters–were added to Jane’s statement, we would be having a somewhat different conversation, without changing the intent of Jane’s statement at all. She’s played the I’m Not Touching You game.

  40. Koala dreams*

    It’s tempting to focus on how Ben and Jane are awful employees, but the underlying cause of this incident seems to be that the manager is perceived as being too hands-off or unavailable.

    In the absence of effective management, Jane and Ben are caught up in a tug of war about who will be the informal leader of the team.

    In a functional team, it wouldn’t be a big deal to give an employee the task of cleaning up other people’s work, but as there already was a lot of tension, it isn’t surprising that there would be an argument.

  41. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Was it ever established that there was no good reason for Jane to still have her tickets open? I see where Ben made the assumption and LW went along with it, but am I missing where that assumption was validated?

    1. Mannequin*

      Yes, OP specifically stated this.

      “Ben had a spare afternoon so (with my consent) spent it going through the system we use to track the team’s work and doing some general housekeeping, tidying up our records and closing off tasks that had been completed or were no longer relevant or required (including one that had inexplicably been left open for over a year).”

      “She told him to keep his hands out of her work, because it wasn’t up to him to decide whether it was complete or not. He told her (correctly) that we’d struggle to explain to an auditor the reason we’ve kept a request open for a year without any action, and that there’s no point leaving a task open on the system when there’s no further action required.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That conclusion isn’t as obvious to me.

        I’ve seen tickets remain open legitimately for a year or longer–it’s not obvious from the letter what kind of tickets and what environment this is. LW strikes me as a hands-off, distant supervisor (I’m guessing there’s more on her plate than one person can attend to reasonably, but it could just be these personalities). Just because she couldn’t explain it to the auditors doesn’t mean there was not a legit reason, hence my question about verification. I have a good grasp on the story being told and her PoV.

        I wouldn’t want to work around any of the three of them.

  42. Anxious one*

    I’d be a little concerned with Jane’s overreaction to someone being in “her” work. When I’ve seen this in the past there were some improprieties with billing/accounting etc that were being hidden by projects left open far beyond when they were complete. Just a thought.

    1. Rick T*

      That’s a very interesting perspective on why Jane was so protective of ‘her’ tasks and why she got so aggressive with Ben after receiving the same email as the rest of the team members.

  43. Macapito*

    “My employee shouted “F*** you!” at a coworker” and stop right there. Anytime you have to add a “but” in there, you’re rationalizing. Yelling that at a coworker should not be rationalized, no matter how annoying the other employee was about the situation. Sure, they’re both wrong, yet neither appeared to have a manager involved in an issue that appeared to require managerial oversight/correction/feedback and ended up in a peer-managing-a-peer situation that neither could handle. ESH.

  44. Curmudgeon in California*

    IMO, when looking at this, I do a little mental exercise and switch up the genders. What if it was two women, two men, or the genders were switched? Would that change my reaction?

    Personally, I rather work with Ben than Jane.

    YMMV, of course.

  45. Heffalump*

    What line of business might they be in that there’s this concern about auditors? I’ve never worked in such an environment.

    1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      It sounds like they are maybe in the UK, but if it were the States I would probably guess state government. Every agency that I’ve worked at has had auditing for pretty much everything every few years. Are files being processed timely, are we following civil service procedures correctly, etc, etc.

  46. Sarah*

    Both employees need to have a reprimand. However, as I read the description of Jane’s work style…and reaction to someone touching her work without her being present…it raises a red flag to me.
    I would suggest taking a good look at Jane’s work and/or computer files to see if there is actually something there she does not want someone else looking at.

  47. Anonymous Bosch*

    Jane sounds like an agent provocateur. Her MO of dumping her work on others is acknowledged by the boss and yet she appears to have never been put on any kind of improvement plan to change that behavior, unlike the way that Ben has been given counseling and expectations have been set for him to react more appropriately. I think a lot of her overreaction was along the lines of, “How dare you call me out for what I’ve been able to get away with for so long?”

  48. Don't kneel in front of me*

    I absolutely, 100% support Ben. Jane sucks.
    Think back to gradeschool: Jane is like the annoying kid that pokes their hands all around your face while saying “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you” and then cries to the teacher when you push them.

  49. Sarah*

    My working style is a lot like Ben, so I feel for him. But I’m a lot less emotional, probably because as a woman, I’ve had to be.

    As soon as the conversation got heated, I’d have just said, “Boss told me to. If you don’t like it, take it up with them” and then left.

  50. Evvie*

    “Boss said it was fine. Take it up with them if you don’t like it.”

    End of conversation.

    I know this is a few years old, but…

    I’m glad to work in a place where light cursing is acceptable after years of strict language monitoring, but AT someone isn’t okay even here.

    That said…even if Ben has a history of bluntness and a bit of a temper, the flurry of frantic emails explaining what REALLY happened as soon as Jane went to HR tells me that a) this was extremely out of character even for him and b) Jane was likely hoping for something like this to happen to reassert dominance. I’ve worked with “Jane.” Jane makes life hell and makes others leave. She is primarily why I left my last job.

    They should both be disciplined, but boss needs to be more actively involved in the day-to-day since they know there are issues and haven’t been consistently addressing them. This is escalation.

  51. Repton*

    In my org, everyone has to take two weeks contiguous leave per year, specifically so that someone else can do your job. Partly this is to guard against single person dependencies, but it’s also to guard against internal fraud. The way Jane freaked out about someone touching “her stuff” is … concerning.

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