my employee wastes a huge amount of everyone’s time with “helpful” suggestions and questioning

A reader writes:

I manage four direct reports in addition to my own portfolio. For the most part this is manageable, but one of my employees, Adam, spends a lot of time pointing out inefficiencies and inconsistencies in processes or places where processes don’t exist.

Some of it is genuinely helpful feedback, but it generally requires the recipient of these suggestions (which are usually posed as questions) to spend about an hour crafting a response to show that the issue has been thought through already and explain exactly why things are the way they are. People spend this kind of time because of experience with Adam — he will badger and badger and point out any holes in an explanation. If he isn’t satisfied with an answer someone gives, he will often suggest a bigger conversation is needed and seek out higher-ups.

The issues are sometimes related to his work, but often they are about things he sees during the course of the day that don’t directly relate to his job. For example, when filling out an expense report, he believes he has a more efficient way of setting up the form, so he’ll write to Finance asking why it isn’t done the more efficient way and suggest that it is causing wider problems for people.

This is a significant drain on my time and energy, as well as the time and energy of people in other departments that he sends these questions to.

How can I make this stop? Every time I’ve spoken with him about more effective ways to give feedback or ask him to prioritize his questions, he falls back on “I’m just trying to help” or “I’m just asking a question.” I’ve tried to give him projects where he has more control, but that seems to only embolden him in trying to “fix” other things. I believe he genuinely thinks he’s helping, but I sense that a need to be right and be seen as the smartest plays a role too.

I wrote back and asked, “Have you told him directly he needs to stop? Or has it been softer messaging, like suggesting that he could approach things in a more effective way (as opposed to ‘you cannot do this anymore’)? Also, how’s his work in general?” The response:

It’s been mainly softer messaging, but at one various points over the past two years I have told him that he needs to focus on calibrating his responses to avoid using up other people’s time and to think more strategically about when to let things go because it is impacting how people see him.

Telling him outright to stop is tricky because he tends to play the victim a bit. When a different manager told him to stop sending emails to the company leadership, he went to HR to say that his bosses weren’t letting his voice be heard and he complained to me that it’s not fair to tell him to not to contact people in the company when he sees a problem that they should be aware of.

He also keeps saying it’s just his personality, and since we talk a lot about inclusion these days (in the context of DEI), he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive.

Another reason I’m reluctant to outright say “stop” is because he will then demand exact parameters and a process document that will lay out what he can or cannot do. I’ve told him to stop doing things on other projects and his response is to always ask me to ‘come up with a process’ to give him clarity. The reality is much fuzzier than that, and I’m not sure how to tell him to stop doing something if I can’t give him the exact definitions that he asks for. I haven’t yet figured out a succinct way of shutting this down, and while I try to avoid getting sucked into engaging with his questions and hypothetical scenarios, I find myself sometimes answering before I realize the path I’m going down.

As for work quality, the rigidity is definitely there in his work, but it also means that his work output is very high quality because of this kind of diligence and vigilance. The quality of the final project is usually good enough that, in our very forgiving culture, people give him a pass, but eventually I’ve seen people try to avoid working with him.

While the final product is great, it’s all of the other things that go into the work that eat up other people’s time — asking for a significant amount of direction at the outset of a project, noticing in the course of his research that there is an inconsistency somewhere in the archives and spending time tracking down how it happened — even when I’ve told him to ignore it and move on, etc.

I think you’ve got to seriously consider that Adam is not right for the job he’s in and you will need to fire him. I’m not saying you’re necessarily at that point now, but you should prepare to start going down that path.

He’s taking up enormous amounts of your time, other people’s time, and his own time on things he’s repeatedly been told aren’t priorities for him or the organization. He’s responded to your feedback by refusing to change and telling you it’s just his (utterly inflexible) personality. He’s badgering people when they answer his questions because he doesn’t find their answers satisfactory — even though he’s way outside his lane in asking. He’s escalating things that he doesn’t have the standing to escalate, and thus wasting the time of more people and higher up people. Colleagues are avoiding working with him because he makes interactions so difficult and draining. And his ability to exercise independent judgment and handle even a tiny bit of ambiguity are poor to the point of sounding disqualifying for the job.

It’s reasonable for you to say that you need someone in the role who won’t do these things. It’s reasonable to say that you need someone with the ability to prioritize correctly, exercise independent judgment, and make good decisions in circumstances that won’t always have clear, pre-set, pre-discussed parameters. Those are requirements of Adam’s job and it’s reasonable to insist on them.

If this were a minor personality issue and Adam were just annoying but relatively quick/easy to deal with, that would be one thing. But people are having to spend an hour at a time (!) crafting responses to his questions, because they’ve learned from experience with him that he’ll eat up even more of their time if he doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter that he believes he’s genuinely helping. He doesn’t get to be the final word on that assessment; that’s your call to make, and you’ve made it. He’s just refusing to listen.

It’s time to do two things:

1. Drop the softer messaging and get very, very direct. I understand why you’ve tried softening your language — you’re attempting to preemptively fend off what you know will be an exhausting response — but at this point you need to tell Adam in clear, unequivocal terms that he needs to stop what he’s doing or his job is on the line. That means using language like “you cannot do X” and “I need you to stop doing Y” and “I need to be clear that this is a condition of your job and not something we can negotiate or debate.” When he pushes back, you will need to say, “I understand that you see it differently. I am letting you know what I need from the person in your role, and what I need to see to keep you in it.”

You will need to hold a very firm line here. When he tries to test you with different scenarios, you should say, “This is an example of what I’m talking about. I need you to hear my feedback and use your judgment to figure out how to apply it across a range of scenarios. I will never be able to address every possible set of circumstances. I need the person in your role to work within broad guidelines like the ones I just gave you.”

Do not get sucked into thinking that you need to entertain every piece of pushback he throws your way! You do not, and you should not. Be ready to use language like:

  • “That’s not what we’re discussing right now. This conversation is for me to let you know what I need to see you do differently.”
  • “It’s not constructive for us to explore every what-if. I need you to hear the broad parameters I’m giving you and to function within them.”
  • “I hear you that you see it differently. Despite that, what I need from you is…”
  • “This is an example of what I’m talking about.”
  • “This is an example of what I’m talking about, and the fact that it’s continuing to happen in a meeting I called to ask you to stop doing it raises serious concerns for me about whether you’re able to do what we need from the person in this role.”

Frankly, you might also consider saying, “What I think I hear you saying is that you’re not comfortable working with the sort of parameters that are realistic in our jobs — that you want a process in place for every possible scenario. I’m not able to give you that; there will always be some amount of ambiguity where you need to use your judgment to figure things out. Knowing that’s the case, do you want to take a few days to think about whether this is the right job for you?”

2. Talk to HR ahead of time about the problem and how you plan to handle it, as well as the procedure for letting Adam go if you don’t see the changes you need. You want to get them looped in ahead of time so that if he complains that you’re “not letting his voice be heard,” they already know the situation and will be prepared to hold the line … as well as hopefully explain to him that “inclusion” doesn’t mean “anyone gets to take up any amount of anyone’s else time with anything they want, whenever they want.”

Based on his past history, though, he is going to complain. If you think he might complain to your boss or other higher-ups, loop them in too so they know what’s going on and what you need if he approaches them. (If they’re decent at their jobs, they’ll be relieved you’re handling it.) Expect he’s going to complain, prep people for it, and keep moving forward.

It’s possible that being very, very clear with him (no softening, no sugarcoating) might lead to him turning things around. If nothing else, giving him the opportunity to hear the message very clearly is the right thing to do. But if he doesn’t change, I’d argue you need to part ways. Even though his final work product is good, the disruption he’s causing to you and others along the way is significant enough that you can’t let it continue unchecked.

Read an update to this letter

{ 746 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A reminder that the commenting rules prohibit armchair-diagnosing, including around neurodiversity. We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question. Thank you.

  2. Rusty Shackelford*

    Another reason I’m reluctant to outright say “stop” is because he will then demand exact parameters and a process document that will lay out what he can or cannot do. I’ve told him to stop doing things on other projects and his response is to always ask me to ‘come up with a process’ to give him clarity.

    I wonder if “stop telling other people how to do their jobs” would be clear enough.

      1. Nea*

        $5 says that phrase would be met with a demand to explain the precise meaning of lane, the permissable colors of paint for the lane markers, and an ironclad definition of “his” lane.

        I say this because an unequivocal order to “stop contacting leadership outside your org” was taken to HR!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I worry that as you said it will lead Adam and OP down the very long discussion of just what “his lane” entails.

          I said it below – but The Adam’s if the world are exhausting to deal with. But he needs to be dealt with – he’s already very hard at work at alienating the entire department he’s a part of.

          1. Green Beans*

            But the OP doesn’t have to indulge that discussion. He has a job description. They can just refer to job description, or general duties.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          An important piece missing for me though is what happened when he went to HR? I can’t imagine that complaint was taken seriously, was it? Assuming that nothing other than major annoyance and more wasting of people’s time came out of that complaint, I think OP is giving him way too much power.

          This letter is full of “I can’t do X because then he might do Y” and in almost every case my first thought is “so what?” So what if he plays the victim? So what if he says that’s just his personality? So what if he says he doesn’t accept an explanation as for why his idea is wrong. It’s not his call to make and he needs to move on anyway. Make that very clear to him, and make it clear that if he doesn’t start taking no for an answer and focusing on his own work instead of trying to fix everyone else’s that he will not be able to stay.

          1. Florida Fan 15*

            THANK YOU for this.

            OP, you are allowing Adam to set the parameters of this entire situation. Just because he wants a response to every question doesn’t mean you or anyone else has to give one; just because he might be unhappy or complain doesn’t mean you can’t take a particular action. He’s only in charge as much as you let him be, and right now you’re letting him be fully in control.

            1. tessa*

              Yep. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

              I used to work with an Adam, and no one stopped him from his constant BS, which almost always amounted to a lot of work for other people. His being able to get away with it for years is very much a part of why I now have a new job with a boss who wouldn’t tolerate an Adam no matter what.

          2. Amtelope*

            I agree, if HR and management above the OP are agreed that what Adam is doing is not OK, I would tell coworkers to give Adam short answers — “We’ve received your suggestions, but we aren’t going to change our current process” — and let Adam escalate things above them if he wants. Upper management is likely to quickly decide that they’re tired of Adam, and he will be providing his own documentation for why it’s appropriate to fire him.

            OP should document their interactions with Adam, too — “Adam brought up his concerns about the expense report form on 1/1. I told him not to contact Finance about this issue and not to escalate the issue. He stated that unless I could provide him with a process document justifying why he shouldn’t contact other people in the company, he refused to comply with my instructions.” Etc. Prepare for firing Adam. Adam needs to go.

            1. OP*

              I love this language, thank you! Since I originally wrote to Alison (and spending time delving into the blog), I’ve gotten more firm and learned how to more quickly nip things in the bud. He now seems to realize that I will only let his questioning get so far and backs down more quickly. What’s been working is a lot of “I hear your concerns, but that’s not a priority, so please spend your time on your other work.”

          3. OP*

            Unfortunately the HR rep he went to was fairly new and did take him seriously – at first, but after several similar issues, he’s being taken less seriously in terms of HR and others jumping to resolve things for him. HR still lets my boss know of the complaints however.
            I’m also a relatively new employee there and I didn’t start off as firm as I should have — it was difficult to figure out what the organizational culture considered out of bounds vs considered worth dealing with for the solid outcome of his work.
            Now I have a better lay of the land, but still find my boss and others to be more tolerant of this than I would expect. I’ve been told a few times things to the effect of, “Yeah, he can be difficult, but we should recognize differences and he does have some real strengths.”
            Not knowing that I’d have the backing of my boss did lead me to giving him far too much power. I’ve since built up my reputation and am less worried about my boss doubting me, but that was the “so what” – not knowing that I had the backing I thought I needed.

            1. Dee Cohen-Bruno*

              OP, you’ve learned a lot over your time as his supervisor. People like Adam thrive on tormenting others. Keep standing up to him, short and sweet. you’re doing great.

          4. Spoo*

            I swear 90% of these letters can be answered by the response “so what?” People give other people too much power. If you’re the boss be THE BOSS

      2. Dust Bunny*

        No, he’ll want micro-parameters of what that means.

        My dad does stuff like this: He meddles and when you call him out he pitches a little fit by abdicating all responsibility and demanding you hand-hold him through the entire process if you want any help at all, so basically he either gets his way or he gets out of doing anything at all. It’s infuriating and yet hard to address because there’s no real way to support that you know he’s doing it on purpose.

        1. BeenThereHatedThat*

          Yes I live with someone like this too. And you know what? It’s horrible for our relationship and it’s gotten him fired from three jobs, and he STILL doesn’t understand the problem. Some people are not able to change.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Ah yes, see also: my brother does something obnoxious, I ask him to not do X or Y or please do Z, and he throws up his hands and says, “fine, I guess I just won’t bother to help!” I long ago stopped engaging and just started flat-out telling him he knows that’s not what I’m saying, to quit acting petulant, and help or don’t but either way knock it off. A modest success rate to date and I avoid playing his game.

          1. Who is the asshole*

            Yes, I think the only way to “win” wit hthis kind of person is to sidestep the way they discuss these issues. If you answer them at face value, it will go nowhere.

            Fortunately as a manager OP is even better equipped to do that.

          2. Green Beans*

            I find a very calm “if you really struggle this much understanding normal social interactions, that’s probably something you should work out in therapy,” followed by “again, these are rather normal social conventions. If you’re struggling this much to understand them, therapy would probably be quite beneficial.” to be really helpful.

            Except for when my brothers very occasionally pull this. Them I’m like “do you really expect me to believe you’re that stupid?” which is effective but only because they aren’t jerks.

        3. Zombeyonce*

          Oh, the way to fix this is to fully get on board with the handholding; really lean in like you’re excited to teach them a new skill. Tell them you’ll help them learn but they have to do it while you give them instructions. (Never just “show” them, they must do it with full handholding.) Then make them complete every step of the process while talking to them like a child.

          “To wash this dish, hold it carefully and make sure you scrub it so everything’s cleaned off of it. No, no, you need to make sure the water is nice and hot. Good job, I’m so proud of you for doing that part right! Now don’t forget to place it carefully on the drying rack. You know what a drying rack is, right? You’re so smart. Now let’s move on to this cup. You really have to get your hands in there. No, do it again, you didn’t clean it all the way. You’re really catching on! Nice work!”

          It takes doing this twice max before they get so mad they just do it themselves and cringe if you mention showing them the ropes for something else. This works particularly well for older men. If they get mad partway through and claim you’re treating them like a child, you get to say “you gave me the impression you needed help with this basic task” and watch them sputter and rage. “I’m doing exactly what you asked me to do. If you don’t need help anymore, great!”

          1. Berin*

            This is hilarious, and sounds incredibly effective. Nothing to add here except my heartfelt admiration :)

          2. Not Australian*

            I’ve lost track of the times I’ve had to say to grown adults “Cleaning something means that it starts out dirty and you remove the dirt from it, after which it is clean; waving a damp cloth in its general direction really isn’t quite enough.”

            1. SixTigers*

              “And when you wipe crumbs off the counter onto the floor, they don’t magically disappear — they just land on the floor and get tracked around the house and make the carpet nasty.”

              I couldn’t believe I had to explain that.

          3. Eastcoastanon*

            So you believe in shame and humiliation then; and if this person were to burst into tears instead of “sputter” would you tell them that they need to learn to take a joke? Asking for a friend.

            1. Eliza*

              If doing exactly what someone asks you to do leads to them feeling humiliated, isn’t that kind of on them?

              1. Eastcoastanon*

                Shaming and humiliating someone is never right. I’ve been trained thru shame and humiliation. It worked, seeing as I never suggest anything or comment on anything anymore that I see at work. Head down, don’t make eye contact. It’s still torture for me but I have bills to pay.
                If you humiliate someone, it’s on YOU. What you happen to be doing while you are humiliating them is irrelevant.

            2. Boof*

              I think this is an overread – it’s snarky perhaps but shouldn’t be humiliating unless the person on the receiving end is either sone kind of subordinate who can’t put a stop to it, or I guess if the person really gets overbearing about it.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                Right, it’s not for punching down. It’s for people that know better and are practicing learned helplessness.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              If the person claims to need more detailed instructions, what else are you supposed to do? Either they need them or they don’t, and if they don’t really they shouldn’t waste your time insisting on them. If they don’t want this much handholding they can be more proactive about figuring it out on their own.

              1. Eastcoastanon*

                So then if you decide “they have it coming, they need this, they deserve this, I’m at my wits end, it’s time this happens, I’m absolutely justified”… that makes it ok? With that kind of mindset, I can only hope for me and everyone like me that you don’t carry a firearm.
                It’s never right to harm someone, physically or mentally, no matter how frustrated you are. Never, ever. You do not live in that person’s skin. You cannot know the harm you may cause. I really hope you’ll at least consider this.

                1. mrry*

                  If someone feels humiliated by receiving exactly what they requested, that’s on the requestor not the provider.

                2. Yorick*

                  How the hell did you get from giving someone extremely basic instructions for a task to “I hope you don’t carry a firearm??????????”

            4. Zombeyonce*

              I think you’re misreading this. My response was to someone talking about a person displaying learned incompetence, where they’re claiming they can’t do a task simply because they don’t want to. It’s often displayed by older men that have had things like housework and cooking done for them their whole lives and don’t want to learn to do it, or just refuse to do something easy. It’s a response to people like fathers and husbands that say something like “you should do it, you’re so much better at it” when a woman asks them to wash dishes, when they’re perfectly capable and able to do it themselves. Often they have done it themselves when they lived on their own and there was no one else to push into babying them.

              This technique should never be used to punch down or mock someone who truly doesn’t know how to do something and wants to learn. But those are not the people we’re talking about.

              1. Eastcoastanon*

                I understand. Thank you for posting this. Your dishwashing technique caused me to remember one of the lowest times of my life. I wanted to understand, and I get that my repeated questions and requests for help would have been frustrating for someone who learns easily in a traditional environment. Imagine a trainer sitting next to you at your cubicle, in a large open room full of cubicles, speaking very loudly and very slowly, taking hours going over every minute detail (to the point of telling me to pick up my pen, open my notepad, look at her, now look at the printed page of learning material, now look back at her, now put on my listening ears)… Heads popped up, people laughed, then a few looked almost scared, then the heads disappeared back where they came from. I was panicking, freezing up and shaking like a leaf. She corrected my grammar and spelling. I couldn’t even think. Her voice never lowered to a normal tone or sped up to a normal speed. I was shocky and panicky for months after that. I second and third and fourth guessed everything I said and did. I swore I’d never insist on understanding something again.
                BTW She was never disciplined, but I was screened out of a promotion because of this. I did complain and I was told I need to learn to take a joke. This was ten years ago, almost to the day. She has since retired.

                1. Zombeyonce*

                  I am so sorry that happened to you. This technique is definitely not for that kind of situation!

                2. Rowan*

                  For what it’s worth, anyone hearing that would think “Wow, trainer is being spectacularly rude” rather than “Trainee is stupid”, if that perspective helps at all.

              2. DuskPunkZebra*

                This goes beyond learned incompetence. It’s WEAPONIZED incompetence, and it’s gross.

                I don’t know that Adam’s behavior falls into weaponized incompetence, as he seems very much to believe that he is hypercompetant – why else would he nitpick absolutely everyone’s processes and think they could be done better? But he’s absolutely using it toward a similar goal: getting everyone to do things his way. Either you do it my way, explain why it can’t or shouldn’t be done my way to my satisfaction until I can’t poke any holes in it whatsoever and then you DOCUMENT that process my way, or I don’t have to listen to you anymore.

                It’s a power play that I think every toddler going through a rules-lawyering phase has tried.

                He’s very rigid to the point of irrationality, and he either needs to have his ego removed surgically or see a therapist for a head adjustment and possible accommodations advisement. (And while we could all use some therapy, some people seem to need it to find reality.)

          4. Jessie*

            I’d do this when I worked on Helpdesk aaaaallllll the time.

            Them: “I need to report that equipment X is broken” (entirely not enough information for me to lodge a ticket)
            Me: “Great! I can send you a link to the form to fill out and that will be sent to the relevant team”
            Them: “The form doesn’t work!”
            Me: “Oh dear, that’s really concerning! If you’re at your machine now we can fill it out together”

            Me: “Ok, that first field is your employee number, you gave that to me already. Let’s see it’s …. 1…. 7….3….5…..”
            Me: “Great, now it’s asking for the location. Where did you say it was? Ok Building 6… Which floor was it? Ok, Floor 2. Which room is it in?”
            Me: “Oh, you think you can mange by yourself? Sure! But please call back if there’s anything wrong with the form”

            Helps when I use my slightly ditzy voice

        4. Tabby Baltimore*

          Your anecdote reminds me of a reader comment (kukla1) that I found in the Comment section of a Carolyn Hax column from last year:
          I too grew up with the “Would you rather I didn’t care?” Defense. A therapist helped me learn to say “I’d rather you didn’t care in such a negative, manipulative way, yes. In future please express your caring in a way that places my right to make choices ahead of your need to control.”

        5. Whimsical Gadfly*

          A subspecies of the much beloved (by certain people) beast more generally known as Weaponized Incompetence.

      3. Sloan Kittering*

        I do think this is the root cause of the issue. I sympathize because we have a new employee who sounds very similar, and he doesn’t pick up the subtext about seniority and deference … to be fair, our ED talks about “open door policy” (but doesn’t actually have time to take uninformed opinions seriously) and our culture is one of dialogue and collegiality so I completely understand how this point has whizzed over his head. OP might get better results focusing on concepts of seniority, respect for the time of people who are senior, and restricting comments to the work you directly oversee – but it might need to be spelled out more explicitly.

    1. KHB*

      This reminds me of one summer when I was a camp counsellor, and one of the rules we had for the kids was “no annoying the counsellors.” It was made clear that it was within our sole discretion to decide whether we were being annoyed or not. The idea was to fend off exactly this kind of rules-lawyering by the kids, where they just don’t understaaaaaaand what they can do and what they can’t do: If the counsellor says “You’re annoying me and you need to stop it right now,” you better well stop. Maybe Adam needs a rule like that.

      1. Beth*

        Bang on target. I remember watching a friend of mine who had decided that good parenting meant reasoning with their kid and explaining decisions, apparently expecting that this would result in buy-in. From a 4-year-old.

        Of course, it only taught the kid that decisions were something that could always be argued with and negotiated into something else. I shudder to think what the kid was like by the time they started school.

        1. quill*

          I think there was a rule in my house at some time that you only got one “because.”

          “stop doing that”
          “Because it’s dangerous.”
          “I already told you that trying to climb the bookshelf is dangerous. Now stop.”

          1. Selina Luna*

            My son is 2 and decided to have a debate with me (as only a 2-year-old can) about whether the animal was a penguin or a duck. I allowed the debate mainly because I was also pretty entertained, but I do try to avoid multiple “becauses”. I learned not to argue with children or adults who act like children a decade ago.

          2. bryeny*

            Sometimes you only have time for one “because,” but it can be worth entertaining a series of them. A small child can often figure out that she might fall off the bookcase; she’s fallen before and she knows that hurts — and she might be willing to risk that. It might genuinely not occur to her that the bookcase might fall on her, and if it does, it’s likely to injure her more seriously than a fall would, or even kill her. It feels like a rathole, but recursive whys are one of the ways kids learn about the world.

            Maybe Adam’s parents didn’t answer enough questions. (Sorry, is that diagnosing?)

          3. Zombeyonce*

            I need to start the “one because” rule, it’s a great idea! My youngest is a big “Why?”er and usually the third why is repeating the first question he asked (that I already answered). It’s so frustrating.

          4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            “how about you tell me? I’m sure you’re smart enough to work that one out”

            1. DJ Abbott*

              If you use this, make sure it’s only used as a learning tool. If the child can’t explain, explain it to them again.
              It could be used as a way of telling a child to shut up, which would discourage them from asking questions and learning in the long run. So please don’t do that.

        2. Momma Bear*

          Friend of mine’s spouse decided to teach their small child negotiation. That backfired spectacularly and they had to backtrack when the child nearly negotiated themselves out of preschool (as in, caused so many problems and refused to listen to teachers).

          1. kicking_k*

            My son was like that without any encouragement. It was exhausting (shutting it down was equally exhausting). We really feared for his teachers – and had a long chat with him about how, once you go to school, you have to do what the teacher says without arguing about whether you have to and why you shouldn’t. Amazingly, either he got it or the teacher knew how to shut it down more effectively than we did (I’m guessing the latter!)

            He’s still quite analytical five years on but now much more sensible.

        3. Boof*

          Eh, i think it’s fine to explain things to kids, just don’t expect that’s going to magically make them a fan of the decision. I usually try to explain but if I get the argumentative “why?” I ask them to try to tell me (usually if it’s something I’ve already explained). And yes, sometimes it’s just because (ie, why no candy – we’ve already talked a lot about healthy food choices etc but at a certain point i can’t declare just one candy right now would be a problem so it’s just “because today is not a treat day!)

          1. si*

            Yeah, if time permits I’m generally willing to go into the reasons behind a decision with my kids – but that doesn’t mean I’m going back on the decision, it just means I’m happy to help them understand *why* I’ve made that decision. If stuff is genuinely negotiable, I’ll ask them in the first place. I’m also not as daft as I look and I know full well when they’re just asking to try and wheedle me out of saying no.

        4. Emmy Noether*

          I think this is actually a good parenting technique, but to be used in moderation and with some thought. Giving children insight into reasons behind decisions is essential to raise them to make good decisions on their own later. And yes, one can often get buy-in from children even younger than 4, if the reason is explained in simple terms. This does not mean one has to go down why-rabbitholes or make everything a discussion. Explain once, then follow through is best.

          Children appreciate clarity and consistency (as do adults). They’ll also test what is negotiable or not, but they actually don’t want everything to turn out to be negotiable (even though it may seem that way), because that is too vague and uncertain.

          1. Who is the asshole*

            Totally agree. To this day I’m more inclined to follow rules if I understand the why.

            And I would be kind of scared to raise a child only under the principle of “because I said so” because what if another authority figure uses that argument who does NOT have my child’s best interest at heart? I’d want my child to question rules that don’t seem right.

            1. Green Beans*

              I remember being eight or so and a friend saying they didn’t want to do something because they would be punished and my first thought was “well that’s a stupid reason not to do something.”

              I know my parents were harsher disciplinarians than hers, too. Sometimes I really pity my parents.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              yeah, kids who don’t question rules make perfect henchmen for fascist dictators.

        1. La Triviata*

          Years ago, at a place I used to work, one of the people with both financial and HR power, said they were thinking of having various lower-level people report to two bosses. I looked at him and said that they’d tried that at a previous job. He asked what the results were and I said “catastrophic.” Never heard any more on the subject.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I wonder if it would help to give him one very small outlet for this. Tell him he can’t take his concerns about processes to anyone else at the company – but once a month you will meet with him for one hour, and he is allowed to bring ONE (only one, just one, one single thing) process to discuss with you. It is 100% up to him to determine which thing he finds fault with is the highest priority. If you feel it is worth it you will escalate it.

        Maybe this meeting should also go over what he’s spent his biggest chunks of time on over the last month, and calling him out if he’s been hyper focused on the wrong things. Burning a bunch of time hunting down minor inconsistencies is 100% something you can point out that he is directly doing wrong that he needs to fix. “We talked about how we need to focus on X project, but you keep spending a lot of time tracking down ‘minor thing’, you need to commit your time to X.”

        1. pancakes*

          An hour! He has the whole rest of his life as a potential outlet for his need for . . . I’m not sure what exactly you think he needs. If he wants someone’s undivided attention he can go to a therapist.

        2. Starchy*

          I had something similar with an employee who would report every single mistake she found to the person who made the error and the supervisor. It got to the point no one wanted her to talk to them. So instead I had her keep a spreadsheet of errors which she would email me once a week. I told her if I saw a pattern I would address it, but she would not be privy to the conversation that I had with the other employees or what I chose to address. Majority of errors were minor one off things which I would not say anything about. This kept her out of everyone’s hair and kept her happy because she was getting to tell someone about what she found. After about 4 weeks, she stopped sending the report and never said anything to anyone about errors anymore.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            “If it’s that important to you, you do all the work with no audience and I promise I will review and decide if it’s worth pursuing.”

            Best way to find out if it’s the errors or the audience/attention that’s actually driving this behavior.

          2. Pocket Mouse*

            This! For LW, I like the idea of having all the suggestions written in one place for the two of them to review together. And then, crucially, LW decides which few—if any—Adam may contact someone about, and which LW will handle. Handling may mean following up appropriately with the appropriate person, or it may mean leaving it to languish in the speadsheet.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            this is brilliant! you made her do more work and she didn’t like it! She just wanted to complain and perhaps bask in the glory if ever things were changed because she suggested it.

      3. quill*

        That’s a great idea and I wish that we’d had that when I was an art camp councilor: instead we got running with glue guns.

      4. Cascadia*

        I work with middle and high school youth and when I get the constant questions I will totally impose a “three questions a day” limit. As in, you get to ask me three questions a day- so make sure they are good ones! It really helps with the endless questions that are asked out of laziness “where is the trash can?” When the trash can is right in front of them.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        He goes to higher-ups if he doesn’t get the answers he wants, which makes any problem bigger and bigger…

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup – Adam’s actions as described in the letter remind me of an avalanche or the cartoon snowball that just keeps getting bigger and bigger as it gains momentum headed down the hill. The key is figuring out how to shortstop Adam’s chaos, which is quite the challenge.

        2. Anon all day*

          What I’m about to say will only work in a relatively functional company but, honestly, at my job, if a coworker did this and threatened to go to higher ups, more power to them. I’m fully secure in my position and reputation at my job that I’m certain Adam would be seen as the problem causer.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          I think letting him escalate as high as he wants once or twice would get him shut down hard in any halfway healthy company; the question is mostly if there’s any collateral damage to those who didn’t stop him, and whether he would learn from the experience.

          1. Whimsical Gadfly*

            A problem I suspect would be the higher ups wondering why he wasn’t stopped before he got to them and what it says about those who were in the middle…

    2. Clorinda*

      “When someone responds by saying any variation of ‘thanks for your input, we’ve got this covered,’ that is your signal to STOP.”
      And then make sure all his usual victims know that they are free to circular-file his helpful memoranda.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        This is something that would be helpful if OP believes that there is sometimes enough value in OP’s questioning to warrant allowing him to stray from his lane under very limited circumstances.

        Adam and the other affected folks should all be coached (individually).

        Adam should be coached on (1) the effect of taking time to answer his questions, (2) the disruptions involved from unsolicited questions/advice, (2) the further disruption and other deleterious effects of persisting when the person says they don’t wish to engage, and (3) NO means NO.

        The others should be coached on how to appropriately respond when they do or do not want to hear from Adam, and what to do if he persists.

        But none of this is worth the trouble if Adam’s questioning rarely adds much value.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Adam has enough of a track record of meddling where it’s not his business, as well as focusing on unimportant details that don’t really effect outcomes and wasting other people’s time AND running to get a second opinion when he doesn’t get a response he likes.

          He has not earned ANY leeway to approach other employees with questions/suggestions about their processes or forms out of his own volition.

          At most OP could choose to act as a virtual “Adam’s suggestion box” where he can lob his “helpful” inquiries and suggestions and OP can ignore or forward on as appropriate, and push back on when it quickly becomes obvious he’s spending way too much time focused on other people’s stuff.

        2. Empress Matilda*

          I don’t imagine it adds enough value to make any of this worthwhile. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but that’s not enough to make it valuable!

          Plus he sounds very much like a “give an inch and he’ll take ten miles” type – if OP allows him to stray from his lane under *any* circumstances, he’s going to push and push and push for more circumstances, and they’ll be right back where they started.

      2. BeenThere*

        I think in this case you are going to need people to use the exact same phrase and that way there is no room for interpretation. Everyone gets the magic words and he has to behave. It has the benefit of being low effort and easy to document for HR.

      3. Robin Ellacott*

        That’s what I thought, too. Tell Adam that when a colleague says “thanks, but we’ve taken measures to that is not an issue” he needs to take them at their word and stop following up.

        And tell his colleagues this is all they have to do, and to check in with you if that isn’t working, doesn’t feel right in some circumstances, or he won’t stop.

        I’m tired just reading about Adam.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Came here to say something similar. Adam is a missing stair. One thing to maybe do as well as conversations with him is to talk to other people about not enabling him. This is all working for him because people are giving him the time, attention, and information he wants. Including working on responses for AN HOUR to satisfy him. How about if everybody stops doing that? Make it clear to them that you will not be upset or complain if they tell him to butt out.

          They can send a reply of 2-3 sentences saying there are reasons it works this way and we’re good. And do not, under any circumstances, give him more than that when he starts badgering people – we will not be changing X. Heck, they could just ignore his random requests and only respond to things that are reasonable. At first, he will probably escalate his badgering, at which time it is even more important for people to hold their ground. Otherwise, the lesson he will take away is that if he just continues to badger, people will do what he wants.

          This would happen in conjunction with the steps that Alison laid out.

      4. SixTigers*

        I’m surprised that his Usual Victims haven’t already told him to pound sand. Every workplace is different, but I simply boggle at the idea of a lower-level employee prancing into the office of a high-level employee, or someone working in another department, and carrying on about a process that he finds offensively undocumented and Which Must Be Remedied Immediately. Especially if the process works just fine. Okay, maybe it could be improved by a small margin, but it works, mate!

        I’m also amazed that the lower-level employee has not gotten his head bitten off by the higher-level or other-department employees for repeatedly wasting their time.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        I feel like a response to that could be “asking means accepting the answer, even if you don’t like it.”

    3. Tabasco Fiasco*

      I’ve worked with a couple of people like this. “I just need guidelines” and “just tell me what to do” is a hard thing to respond to in a job that requires the ability to read nuance and make decisions. Not every job is for every person. It’s hard to figure out when someone is being deliberately difficult (either because they’re a PITA, because they are so convinced of their rightness that they cannot possibly see another scenario, or because that’s their knee-jerk response to anything not to their liking), or if they’re someone who always needs rails on their tasks. TBH, it doesn’t sound like Adam would benefit from rails; he’d just argue with them or come up with so many edge cases that it wouldn’t matter. Anyone else think that a PIP might help things? I’m torn.

      PS: Actually, maybe he should make his own decision tree, inclusive of edge cases, and see how that goes for him.

      PPS: I know some folks are being generous and saying maybe it’s not him, it’s the workplace, but based on the OP’s description, it sounds like Adam will Adam, no matter where he is.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        It sounds like Adam is either unable or unwilling to correctly priority-weight the problems that he faces. To a certain extent that’s something I struggle with (I am a total perfectionist and will poke at the smallest things even when it’s not the best use of my time) but that doesn’t make the behavior any less aggravating to everyone around me if I don’t put in the effort to figure out what things are actually important.

        Maybe he might do OK in a QA position or somewhere that you need to be incredibly detail-oriented but even there he would likely turn into the most despised of figures – the inspector who starts failing and nitpicking the tiny problems with the same ferocity as the serious problems. And he’d be an absolute tyrant as a manager.

        I guess I’d tell him something like “This job requires you to understand the difference between a serious problem and a minor problem using broad guidelines. You may not continue to continually ask your coworkers to explain problems to you. You may not escalate minor problems to higher-ups. You may not send emails with suggestions to your coworkers or other departments. If you find a problem, I expect you to be able to make a judgement as to its severity and then either let it be, handle it yourself or escalate it to me. If you do not stop demanding unnecessary answers from your coworkers and superiors then you will likely be fired.”

        1. Ampersand*

          This is a perfect response! Conversely, they could just move straight to firing him, because dude needs to go.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I really like your point about the severity of the issue. That seems to me like a very useful metric when deciding what to escalate and what to just let go. Basically, how f***ed will we be if this doesn’t change? If the answer is “at worst, it will be a little annoying/take a little more time than it otherwise could” or “could cause some minor issues we’ll have to deal with,” that’s very different than “our whole system will collapse.”

          For a more reasonable person, it’d probably be very useful to get him thinking about that question to assess what to escalate. But I imagine with Adam, the best course is just shutting it down, rather than giving him another topic to argue about.

        3. OP*

          Thank you for this suggestion: “This job requires you to understand the difference between a serious problem and a minor problem using broad guidelines.”
          Identifying that judgment as part of his job could actually really motivate him – he genuinely seems to want to do a good job.

        4. Eliza*

          Yeah, even a QA position requires the ability to sometimes accept that a problem you’ve reported isn’t a major priority for the people who would have to fix it, even when you think that it really, really should be. I think Adam might have a hard time letting go like that.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I swear I have interacted with Adam in various online forums I’ve moderated and my BP is threatening to rise. OP, feel free to tell his that work isn’t a democracy, his title isn’t “Rules Lawyer”, and sometimes the answer to a question is, “Because that is the way it is”

        1. AnonEMoose*

          The mod hammer is so helpful when dealing with the people who want to know exactly where the line is so they know just how far they can push. And then complain when someone calls them out when they think they are Just Inside the Line or still have a toe on the line even when the rest of them is well over it. These people are a particularly exhausting type of energy vampire, because they’re always Just Trying to Be Helpful (TM).

      3. I AM a Lawyer*

        I don’t think it’s possible to make a PIP specific enough for him. He’d challenge every part of it and demand specificity for every possible hypothetical issue.

        1. inkheart*

          Yep. “Exactly what metrics will you be using to gauge my improvement blah blah blah?”

          1. Selina Luna*

            Metric 1: Does Adam try to ask for “clearer” metrics, plans, procedures, or other time-wasting things, ever?

            Metric 2: Honestly, does Adam ask any questions about anything?

            If so, Adam fails.

        2. Crumbledore*

          Been there, done that. He will challenge every aspect of the PIP and every part of the evaluation when completed.

      4. sofar*

        “I’ve worked with a couple of people like this. “I just need guidelines” and “just tell me what to do” is a hard thing to respond to in a job that requires the ability to read nuance and make decisions.”

        This! I work in a VERY collaborative environment where it’s encouraged that people point out ways things could improve, and that feedback is SUPER valued. But a few perfectionists do turn that into a time suck b/c they don’t know when to back off. One of those people report to me. I had to be very direct: “You are a perfectionist, but we are short-staffed and busy. So I’m asking you to bring something up exactly once and, if it’s not acted upon by the person you brought it up to, you can come to me about it exactly once. And I will tell you whether or not to drop it.”

        The perfectionists will often hem and haw about how somehow this issue is impacting THEIR ability to do their job (even when it isn’t). And I had to say, “OK so if I were to tell you this is not going to change, how would you proceed? [They tell me how they’d proceed]. OK good. Do that.”

        1. Properlike*

          Sometimes they’re not a perfectionist. Sometimes they’re being passive-aggressive and want to litigate every single last thing to catch you in a contradiction to prove they’re right in the first place.

          OP, at least you can fire him. Just fire him. Imagine having to deal with this Adam person as a volunteer who’s taken it upon himself to “fix” an entire public entity that does not need fixing.

          1. SwiftSunrise*

            Oof, one of my teachers in high school came up with an … interesting analogy to tell an intelligent kid with a repellent, argumentative, and extremely annoying personality why he couldn’t be on the Quiz Bowl team:

            “Yes, you are very smart. You’re like an incredibly powerful, but extremely volatile rocket fuel. In theory, you COULD get the team to Mars … but there’s a 99% chance you’ll blow the team up halfway!”

      5. kicking_k*

        True, and different places have different styles on this. I came from a “we have procedures for EVERYTHING, look it up” workplace to one which had almost none. The first was a huge institution with thousands of employees and the other had me and my boss in a shared office. These were not the same circumstances. Yes, it was a little dizzying, but I coped.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is the part that stood out most to me.
      “I have an employee that does an obnoxious thing. I want him to stop doing this obnoxious thing, but then he will do the obnoxious thing?”
      or, as I read it,
      “my employee successfully bullied his way into my allowing him to be obnoxious by being more obnoxious when I tell him to stop.”
      Tell him to stop.
      Address it. He knows what he is doing or he knows that it gets results. Either way,

      1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        Spot on. He knows what he’s doing. You appease him at the cost of everyone around him. Shut him down.

        1. inkheart*

          :You appease him at the cost of everyone around him.” This! LW may start to lose the other really good people on her small team because Adam is just too much for them to deal with, unless they see that LW is dealing with him.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        That is a really good reframe that makes it clear that OP should NOT allow themselves to be held hostage by Adam’s annoyingness.

    5. Velawciraptor*

      The exact parameters and process are really just that simple.

      Parameters–stay within your job description (attach job description).

      Process–stop telling other people how to do their jobs. Stop demanding documentation you have no authorization to demand. Just stop.

      1. Mockingjay*

        You succinctly captured what I tried to write three times. Thank you.

        I’ve worked with several Adams. They are EXHAUSTING. The most recent one caused several members of the team to transfer to other projects (one of them left two weeks after he started). Adam #2 was senior to most of us and spent a lot of time questioning our actions, work, and credentials. He demanded to follow processes; we gave him the approved processes and he questioned and ignored every single step. We all walked on eggshells for three years. He left a few months ago and there were resounding cheers across the country, until we found out that he had accomplished nothing and the project is now even more behind as a result. This was the one time I truly wanted to be a manager (I’m not cut out for it) so I could fire him. (Yes, his manager is also an ass.)

        OP, keep in mind Adam’s effect on team members and subordinates. As annoying as he is to you, he’s making their work a living hell.

    6. Remixt*

      Hello, I am an “Adam”-style worker.

      I am extremely literal and would not easily understand terms like “stay in your lane” or “that’s not in your wheelhouse” or any other hints.

      I hate the thought of annoying other people, so I usually need to remind myself stuff like:
      • Even efficiency improvements can be inefficient.
      (It’s usually more effort to change a slightly inefficient process than to stick to it, therefore it’s not efficient.)
      • Most people can live with more ambiguity than I can, therefore the issues I have are usually my problem and no-one else’s.
      • What my role is and not to go beyond it.
      • I can invent the processes I need for myself and they don’t need to affect other people.

      I think Alison’s advice to be extremely clear is spot on. Particularly “This is an example of what I’m talking about. I need you to hear my feedback and use your judgment to figure out how to apply it across a range of scenarios. I will never be able to address every possible set of circumstances. I need the person in your role to work within broad guidelines like the ones I just gave you.”

      It might be helpful to let Adam know that his approach is taking up too much of his co-workers’ time. Also that he is coming across like he thinks he knows better than other people, and it’s best to stay in his own area of work. If he’s anything like me, he might not realise this unless it’s pointed out.

      I try my hardest in everything I do, and it means a lot to me to be able to do a good job. Unfortunately, by the time I’ve worked out that people have a problem with something I’m doing, it’s often too late. Sarcasm and euphemisms are an impenetrable mystery to me – I can tell when they’re happening but I can’t tell what they mean.

      If I was in Adam’s position, my desire for clarity would be exacerbated by increasing anxiety around the ambiguous yet negative feedback it sounds like he’s getting. I’d want my coworkers to be clear about the extent and severity of the problem so I could focus my energy on solving it instead of all the little things that catch my attention.

      1. Momma Bear*

        This is a great post – especially the bullet points. I hope those help OP present something to Adam that he can work within.

      2. Jayoh*

        From the letter, I think it sound like Adam isn’t at all concerned about annoying other people. I think that’s a really critical difference that may keep him from even trying to change. He seems very deeply entrenched in his own perspective. Maybe if something shifts where he can begin to prioritize maintaining relationships at the same level he prioritizes having everything be perfectly clear to him, but it would still be a long road I think.

        1. Anon ND former manager and process improver*

          Adam doesn’t seem AWARE that he is annoying other people, and he probably IS entrenched in his own perspective (like so many people are), but since we are getting OP’s perspective, and OP doesn’t seem to have been all that clear, it’s pretty hard to know what Adam is thinking.

          1. Yorick*

            Adam is claiming that he should be able to do whatever he wants because of DEI efforts. This makes me think he is just interested in bothering people and being a contrarian.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Not only entrenched in his own perspective, but utterly convinced he is right and everyone else is wrong!
          The example of telling HR to change the expense form to make it more logical is particularly telling: yes it might be easier for him to fill it in like that, but if HR did it like that and they are happy with it because they manage to extract the information they need from it, surely that’s more important? I mean, he fills one of those in a month, and HR are dealing with all the expense notes for all employees who have expenses. If they needed it to be clearer, they could come up with a clearer form themselves. He might find it unclear, but if everyone else is just filling in their expenses without any problem, it may be that he’s the one with the problem not HR.

      3. Eastcoastanon*

        Thank you so much for saying this. I am also an Adam-style worker. Well, I was. You are so spot-on: “increasing anxiety around ambiguous yet negative feedback”, “sarcasm and euphemisms are an impenetrable mystery to me” … It is a relief to hear someone else say it quite frankly.
        I gave up trying to help a long time ago. I still find mistakes, cumbersome processes, outdated terminology, conflicting information, broken links, inaccurate translations, and a host of other assorted monstrosities. They are like an itch I can’t scratch. It’s torture. But I have learned to stay quiet and do what I am told. I really hope Adam is able to find a good place in life for himself. I apologize for venting my frustration and I wish you the very best.

        1. Anon ND former manager and process improver*

          Remixt and Eastcoastanon, just sending solidarity. I just finished a long comment about also being a somewhat Adam-style worker–in fact, I recognize my behaviors more than I would have in the past. And it’s pretty rough seeing so many people on this thread be so sure Adam is purposefully being a jerk.

          1. kicking_k*

            I feel a bit sorry for Adam too, assuming he really is uncomfortable with ambiguity. I’ve been like that earlier in my career. I don’t struggle with metaphors and am pretty articulate but this can mask the problems that I do have – one of which is generalising. When I was younger it was easy to fall into “I don’t know what to do because I’ve never done this specific task” – learning that no, you haven’t, but it’s pretty similar to many that you have done… it’s a process.

            1. Remixt*

              Hello OP and my fellow Adams!
              Glad my comment went down well.

              While it’s been a bit of a sting to read some people’s reactions to Adam, it has been useful to understand what may be behind people’s hints, and what kind of motivation they’re reading into behaviour that I relate to. So thanks everyone for a thought provoking read.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’s great to hear that you have learned to stay in your lane! This will give OP hope!!

      4. OP*

        Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I definitely sense anxiety in him and this is a good reminder that even though I thought I was using all the tools I knew about, there’s always more ways to approach a problem.

      5. Flash*

        Thank you remixt. I know Alison said not to armchair diagnose so I will leave this as a general sentiment.

        It is really disheartening how difficult it seems to be for neurodiverse people to succeed in a typical office environment. From what I can gather, being born like this means navigating the world in a way similar to how all the people are describing how the Adams of the world make them feel- completely exhausting and not feeling understood properly but rather all day and every day, rather than just during the work day,.

        It is difficult to be wired to take everything literally, and to be frustrated because you might feel something is completely Logical and Right and Correct and no one else agrees with your line of thinking or doesn’t seem to care.

        Unfortunately, the world does not operate in black and white but rather in shades of gray. Sometimes there is more than one right answer, or someone might not agree with something that makes sense to you. This is just how the world works. We are billions of people and we have to muddle our way through and find ways to work together.

        This is not to say that all of the advice is not right and that he shouldn’t be disciplined or even let go, but rather that I just have some sympathy for people that are wired a bit more rigidly than the majority.The workplace needs to either find accommodations that work or they need to decide that he impedes other in such an egregious manner that there is no possible work around. But the waffling of the upper executives is just making the situation worse,

        It sounds like the upper bosses are struggling to find the right line on how to promote inclusion in the workplace (I think to say someone is White and Male does not always describe someone one hundred percent, what if they are gay? Or handicapped? Or Neurodiverse?)

        Adam needs to find himself some good coping mechanisms or he will soon be out of a job. I think there is hope for the next few generations to find gainful employment on a large scale, but I don’t think we have reached that point yet as a society.

    7. Tullina*

      I hope we get an update letter for this one. I can’t imagine working with a person like this. It would be exhausting! I wish the writer the best of luck with this prickly problem.

    8. JSPA*

      “If it’s not in your job description, or strongly implied by your job description, if nobody assigns you the task, or if it’s not 100% required to complete your task to a reasonable standard, it’s not your job.”

      Follow up statements:

      “We pay people to troubleshoot. The criteria for that job, isn’t, “find some problem, and insist it be attended to.” Most of the relevant skills of the job involve understanding proportionality and exhibiting deep respect for other people’s time and need to concentrate on their own core jobs. Raising every issue as something that reasonably demands a response, taking away from someone else’s precious time, is the opposite of good troubleshooting. Luckily, it’s not your job!”

      “You seem to be assuming that ‘streamlining the world, based on what would work better for me’ is some sort of universal good. And that every job ought to reward, or at least accept, everyone doing exactly that. Those are both misconceptions about how the world works, and how working, works. And it’s leading you astray. If you can’t feel comfortable doing your job without spending a ridiculous amount of your own time and other people’s time on re-aligning our procedures to fit your preferences, you should consider going into business for yourself.”

      (If he then gets snitty and rules-lawyer-y and doesn’t do 90% of his job because he was not told to, in excruciating detail…then fire him. He knows what things are his legitimate work, and what things are not; he just doesn’t believe that it is none of his business.)

    9. Office Gumby*

      I’ve had to deal with someone like this before. My response: “Adam, you’re being inefficient with other people’s time. ” I then had to explicitly explain that any request, any question, any suggestion they made that would require more than three minutes of their time (and yes, I had to be precise) to deal with, was using their time inefficiently. My explanation: they were not being paid to respond/answer Adam; they were being paid by the company to do what the company told them to do.

      Needless to say, our Adam whined about how he couldn’t get his job done because he wasn’t allowed to get any help. Eventually, he quit, because he “couldn’t work under these conditions”.

  3. Ellie*

    this guy definitely watches a certain “let’s say, for the sake of argument” devil’s advocate pundit and is employing that in his professional life. He probably thinks he’s just smarter than everyone lol

    1. WindmillArms*

      Absolutely. He thinks asking for details and reasoning on Every. Single. Issue. is a demonstration of how much smarter he is, and OP, I think in a way you’re responding to that. He demands explanations and processes when challenged to distract you from getting tough with him… and it’s working fairly effectively.

      I think Alison’s advice is right on, especially telling him plainly that the ability to use professional judgement about what to fix is part of the job. If he needs a “process” to differentiate between what is in his lane and what’s not, don’t get sucked into a debate about how and when and a million hypotheticals. Not having a process for every possible scenario isn’t you failing, OP! Having some professional judgement is part of *his* job, not something he can offload to you.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I can just imagine his ‘Oh, SORRY, I didn’t realise I’m not allowed to ASK QUESTIONS, please tell me what the PROCESS is so I know what’s ALLOWED’ tone. I couldn’t work with him.

        1. Jora Malli*

          I’m already exhausted just from reading OP’s description. I can’t imagine having to interact with this guy every day for years.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Oh my word, flashbacks to early 20s Keymaster. I really got to track down my manager from back then to send him a thank you card for NOT letting me get away with it for long.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            (Reformed complete and utter nightmare to work with here. I always had a reason for why, usually medical, but my word am I thankful for the manager who clearly pointed out this could not continue.
            I was really THAT coworker. 25 years ago)

            1. kicking_k*

              I planned to get back in touch with my old boss to tell her I was doing well now… and then she died. Don’t wait around on this.

          2. Jean (just Jean)*

            Thank you, Keymaster, for proving that Yes, People Can Change. I was also That Coworker. Not saying how long ago or recently.

            May the universe help us all to offload excess self-confidence and increase our self-awareness.

            1. Chinook*

              Yet another former coworker who can’t believe how bad she must have been to work with and who can thank a manger for having an awkward but necessary “come to Jesus” conversation about how I need to change if I want to continue being employable.

              Too much self-confidence is a bad thing and needs to reigned in ASAP.

          3. Anonymous the Third*

            Was there something specific that manager did that you’d be comfortable sharing with us/the OP? It would be really helpful to hear it from the other side, so to speak

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              No problem!

              He was very firm, had a private meeting with me, laid out various instances of when I’d behaved badly and straight up said ‘this has to stop or you’re going to lose your job’

              I got angry and did my (then) usual ‘I have so many health issues, I’m allowed to cope with them how I like and if that means being a bit prickly then that’s my right!’

              He replied to say that if my health/brain issues were causing this then I should go see a professional for help but regardless of any of them the behaviour HAD to stop NOW or else firing. End of meeting and he told me to just go home early and have a think.

              And around 2am next morning after a night of angry, then fearful crying I realised he was right. Just because I’m in pain 24/7 and my brain doesn’t work well doesn’t mean I can take it out on the world.

        3. Bern Notice*

          Oh yeah. The “you’re not allowing my voice to be heard” comment indicates that he believes that his every thought is so darn valuable that everyone up and down the food chain should just be forced to hear them all. Unfortunately there’s not process OP can point to that defines “how not to be a jerk” (not that I think Adam would be interested in THAT process).
          To call him exhausting would be a huge understatement.

      2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

        This is what I commented below. The only way to deal with people who act like this, in my experience, is to stop JADEing and just refuse to discuss it.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This recalls the asshat in the HR department who starting scheduling his notes on the shared calendar in Arabic.
          “well, you didn’t tell me not to schedule in Arabic. You only said, put my schedule on the calendar.”
          His manager didn’t write in. His coworker did. Because manager said, “that’s Bob.”
          So OP, you are lightyears ahead of that person.
          Take control.
          You can do it.

          “You won’t let my voice be heard.”
          “I’m sorry you feel that way. Next.”

          1. Jean (just Jean)*

            Phew! At least that move is beyond my skillset! Finally, a blessing from being monolingual! :-D

        2. KRM*

          If I were a coworker he’d be getting “I’m done talking to you now” and my unblinking staredown, if needed. I’m happy to justify that to any higher up that somehow took his complaining seriously.
          For real OP, he’s not just making your life difficult, he’s harassing coworkers and possibly people above him because he thinks he knows best. I think you owe him ONE non-softening discussion, and then it’s PIP/termination (or improvement, but we’ve all met one…we know it’s not going to end there). He can’t be allowed to get paid to waste everyone’s time.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            I have learned that, too.
            “I am not discussing this further.”
            Him: “But…”
            Me: stare

      3. Petty Betty*

        Yep. I’m annoyed by him already and I haven’t even had the displeasure of working with him, specifically. I’ve had similar rules-lawyering co-irkers, and the best thing to do is shut them down early and often.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        “Sea lioning?” as in unwanted barking? ROFL. I’m filing this term next to Uncting, Pronouncing, and all-purpose Carrying On Like The Tasmanian Devil cartoon character (sum total: big, open mouth; gesticulating hands; and foot power sufficient to transport the entire mess.)
        Okay, I’ll show myself out.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Look up a Wondermark comic entitled “The Terrible Sealion,” by David Malki. It’s basically a form of trolling.

      2. Foila*

        I’m not sure it’s exactly sealioning since it doesn’t sound like he pops into conversations about a particular subject to derail them. I guess unless his magic topic is processes that work in spite of him…

        1. LostBoyJim*

          More like he pops into all conversations about any subject to derail them with process questions.

    2. Well...*

      Yes these are rhetorical tricks employed to distract from progress and remain in control of other people’s attention.

      This is not good-faith engagement, but an attempt at control.

    3. FlashDanceDC*

      I finally told someone who worked for me that being a devil’s advocate is not a thing. If they see a problem, I need them to actually then have a solution and or have a solution that can be done and not require us to purchase some million dollar thing that won’t actually fix the thing you complained about to me for 10 minutes.

      1. Going Up!*

        I once replied to someone who was all “I hope you don’t think I’m being a devil’s advocate here” with the comment “oh, no, I’d never think that. The Devil’s Advocate deeply understood the subject they were discussing.”

    4. ferrina*

      Not necessarily. I’ve worked with someone who had a very, very high need for processes. She was really nice and not at all “devil’s advocate pundit” but wanted a clear and efficient process for every task. That was just how she worked best

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I work with some folks like that. When those people are actually good at communicating with others, and are willing to put in the work to document processes and procedures, they can be AMAZING assets to a team. I’ve leaned on folks with that kind of process-heavy, detail-oriented mindset to create and review documentation, and it’s been very helpful. They point out the holes and suggest ways of filling them that work with the overall workflow. They help me figure out where I need to come up with policies where none exist. (It’s taken a bit longer for “we don’t need a policy for this” to be something that doesn’t make these people nervous, but we have been getting there!) When they AREN’T good with stuff like this…they are Adam, and they are EXHAUSTING. It strikes me that the Adams tend to be the people who are relatively privileged and feel entitled to have all of this stuff handed to them, rather than putting in the work of thinking.

        1. Ta*

          Thank you for this. I love defining and refining processes and when I was reading this I was like, hmmmm? Could this be me and I don’t realize it? But I read this description and thought, nope, this is me.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            If you can take “nope, we’re going to keep it like this because we’ve decided it’s best for us” as an answer, and don’t bug people about stuff that’s not in your lane, you are not Adam!

      2. Yorick*

        It doesn’t sound like he actually wants processes. It sounds like he claims a need for processes when he’s given negative feedback about trying to make others in the company change things based on his great ideas.

    5. LTR,FTP*

      My first thought was that Adam is almost certainly a huge Joe Rogan fan. “I’m just asking questions!!!”

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      “You need to understand that we don’t do anything here just for the sake of the argument. Your areas of responsibility are X, Y and Z, and you need to apply a much higher threshold for optimizing things that are outside these. They are other people’s responsibility. The other thing that is important is that if I tell you to let go of something you really need to do that. And no, we aren’t spending effort on developing an iron-clad process for you to make the decision – it’s no big deal if you occasionally bring up something slightly outside your lane, and we all certainly appreciate your attention to detail. Where you must stop is when you’re told to stop – and you also need to accept that myself and [lead A] and [manager B] have the authority to tell you so.”

  4. Dittany*

    It’s one of those statements that’s so tone-deaf that it loops around to being almost self-aware

  5. ENFP in Texas*

    “Adam spends a lot of time pointing out inefficiencies and inconsistencies in processes or places where processes don’t exist.”

    Sounds like the biggest inefficiency is Adam…

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I wonder if there would be any value in pointing that out to him. I doubt it but if that’s the language he speaks it’s possible

      1. Heidi*

        I really do wonder if Adam would recognize himself if he came across this column. Would he think that the employee being described was as officious and difficult to work with as we do? Or would he totally defend this guy and tell the OP that they’re not recognizing Adam’s genius?

        1. LN*

          This is so funny to think about. I’ve met both versions of this person, and they’re both impossible to deal with. I couldn’t imagine having to manage them in a work setting. On the one hand, it does give you the freedom to speak and act more decisively than a lot of people feel comfortable doing in their personal life, but it also means there’s a higher authority he can appeal to whenever he feels slighted.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          If he reads the letter: “wow, Adam sounds like he gets hung up on insignificant details and makes a pain of himself. I can see some of myself in his desire to make things more efficient and point out improvements where I can see them, but unlike Adam, I choose my battles and only escalate things I see as worthwhile! I push for things that are important, but I have a much better sense of the big picture and letting things go than Adam seems to.”

      2. ferrina*

        Came here to suggest this very thing. He might need some really clear guidance on how to point out inefficiency (you might say it’s a Process for Suggesting Process Improvement). Some of the rules:
        -Suggestions must be phrased as a suggestion, not a question. The person he’s sending the suggestion to must be able to respond “thanks, we’ll think about it” and not take a long time on the response. This allows them to (more efficiently) focus on other priorities
        -Suggestions must be made only once. Do not follow up. Once you’ve shared your thought, assume they know and are making the best decision for their department and business priorities. If you feel like it’s a severe need, talk to LW (the manager) to confirm. LW will be in a better position to know more about the priorities.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      “Honestly, Adam, the hours I spend having to justify not having specific processes in idiosyncratic scenarios or coming up with whole new processes for these same one-off issues is, by far, my biggest time waster. So the process I have come up with to streamline my day is to tell you just to use your professional judgment when these cases occur or else I will find someone with better professional judgment for your role.”

      1. SQL Coder Cat*

        This is perfect. Followed up with “This behavior is negatively effecting your reputation at this company. You need to start assuming that other people have the expertise needed to do their jobs and focus on your job duties.” and handing him a copy of his job description.

    3. Aggresuko*

      This sounds like the whole Maximizer thing in Strengths Finder. Problem is (and I say this as someone who tested as one), most people don’t actually WANT you to maximize and improve things. You need to keep your mouth shut and go find a job where being “the guy who comes up with solutions to fix things” is wanted.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Well, the other problem is that maximizing one thing almost always means interfering with something else. People only have so much energy to give, and sometimes processes conflict and the best solution is to balance them because if you try to maximize one, you’re bogging down something else. Like squeezing a balloon–if you squeeze it here it’s gonna swell up there, because it has to occupy the same volume no matter what you do.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Well, and the other problem is if it’s not in his functional area (or even if it is) he may not understand the process well enough to actually improve it! I see things all the time that I think might be silly or inefficient, but it’s usually because I don’t understand enough to know why it’s done the way it’s done. And of course even if I were right, that doesn’t give me the right to go around trying to fix everyone’s processes.

      3. Littorally*

        More than that, it’s a matter of knowing when and how, and being willing to be told “no” without extensive justification.

        There is a cost (time and effort) involved in evaluating a suggestion for improvement; a larger cost (time, effort, a period of decreased efficiency) to actually changing a process. Some process improvments just do not justify the cost to even consider, let alone the cost to implement, and what Adam is maximizing at the moment is the cost of consideration, not the payoff.

        1. SarahKay*

          There’s a great XKCD (1205 Is It Worth The Time) that shows just that. For a long time I had it printed out in my personal How-to folder as a reminder that some changes just weren’t worth me spending time on.

          And on the occasions I decided something was worth the implementation time because it reduced irritation rather than saving future time, I was only using my own time (salaried, so no overtime costs if I worked late on something) and fixing my own processes. I wasn’t trying to make other people change, or explain their processes in detail so I could change them, or tell someone else to change them.

      4. inkheart*

        Maybe Adam can team up with the kid just out of college who was complaining that he was an ideas man and nobody would hire him.

      5. Underrated Pear*

        Agreeing with all the responses above me. I’ll also say that while there are definitely environments where people are resistant to change, it is also very common for people to THINK they are proposing solutions, but because they’re not familiar enough/experienced enough, their proposals are not valuable for one reason or another. The LW has explicitly indicated that Adam’s solutions are NOT the fixes he thinks they are; people are spending considerable time explaining “we considered that option, but we went another way for X, Y, and Z reasons.” So I don’t think there is any environment where Adam’s suggestions would be wanted. (And he’s not just making suggestions, he’s seemingly refusing to accept that others know more about their jobs than he does.)

      6. tamarack and fireweed*

        Well, it sounds like his maximising is quite appreciated in the area that *are* his job. But in an organization of any kind of non-minuscule size there *will* be areas that *aren’t*. And he needs to respect that those other areas are someone else’s job. Maybe he needs a job as the only Mr. Fixit where he’s indispensable – which would have its own inherent downsides.

    4. Salymander*

      My dad was like this. He was the biggest inefficiency in his office, but was convinced that the others were just not intelligent enough to recognize his genius. The eventually fired him, and I’m pretty sure their corporate office was pleased that efficiency in their branch improved so much and so quickly.

      I went camping with my dad when I was a teenager, and he spent about an hour pontificating about the exact right way to find a campsite, set up camp and cook dinner. I listened to him for about a minute before I just got to work. I had found a campsite, set up my tent and belongings, cooked my dinner, and ate it before my dad was done. Then, I wandered off to chat with the very cute boys on the other side of the campground. When I got back, my dad was sitting at the picnic table in the dark and waiting for me to set up his tent and fix his dinner, in compliance with his directives. I just went to bed and giggled to myself a little as I heard him stomping around trying to get set up in the dark. He complained about it in the morning, so I had breakfast with the cute boys. One of the boys knew how to cook, and he made the best pancakes ever.

      If you don’t have a very serious talk with an employee like this, he will be tormenting people for years to come. It doesn’t get better without some kind of intervention. He probably thinks he really is helpful, and it won’t be fun getting him to recognize his obnoxiousness for what it is, but it has to be done.

        1. Salymander*

          Yup. You called it. Tons of theory and “wisdom” and zero action.

          The only thing to do with my dad was to pretend you couldn’t hear him and just get on with things. Then, when he saw that he was the only one with his tasks unfinished he would try to get someone else to do them. I would either ignore him, leave while ignoring him, or tell him to stop talking at me and do his own work. It was exhausting, but it did help to make my dad stop trying to control me or put his responsibilities on my plate quite so much. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually change his basic personality, and I had to periodically repeat my “I am not your vassal” talk. I think if I were my dad’s manager I would just fire him because he was convinced until the day he died that he was the smartest person in the room despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It was especially bad if the person he was focused on was a woman, a POC, was not a fundamentalist christian, wasn’t a republican, or was from what my dad perceived as a lower social class. If anyone has the patience to retrain someone like that, I would be really impressed because there is no way I could do it without getting really stressed out or super angry.

      1. LPUK*

        Yes My Dad has a lot of this – his nickname among his friend group in ‘the world’s policeman; because he knows a better way to do EVERYTHING in life and is not short of letting complete strangers know it. It helps to be out of his house so that when he starts this on the phone, I can just pick up a book at tune out for 20 mins at a time. Sometimes he asks me a question about what I thing of a subject – I now know this for a trap, because what he wants is not an alternative perspective but a way in which he can deconstruct every idea I have to its constituent parts and prove every element of my thinking wrong – so now I just say’ Dad, I know you dont genuinely want my opinion and I haven’t got the energy for your process’. What range true for me was an article I read on the difference between optimisers and satisficers – optimisers will rarely make a final decision, because there is always another option or piece of information they could feed into the process that might make your choice infinitesimally better. when they are forced to make a decision – because they’ve run out of time – then they are never really happy with it. Satisficers are more comfortable with the ‘good enough’ option – they are only prepared to pay a certain amount of time and attention to an issue, will go with the best option they find in the time they’ve allocated, and then put that decision aside and move on with their lives. they don’t go well together – especially ( in my experience) when you are trying to book a holiday together. My friend and I wanted to go to Luxor on holiday. There are about 7 hotels in Luxor. Quickly I ruled out 4 and would be happy with any of the other three. But my friend wanted to research them on every different platform –, tripadvisor,, Thomas cook etc etc. I think we had about 4 sessions on it over the space of three weeks and i certainly needed a holiday- alone’ by the time we finally pressed ‘confirm’

        1. kicking_k*

          I’m trying to move house with my optimiser husband right now. It’s exhausting being an optimiser and not rewarding. The most common outcome of him trying to buy something less expensive than a house is that he decides he doesn’t need it after all, so I am not confident this move will actually happen.

    5. Veronica Sawyer*

      Oh my goodness, I work closely with someone like this and it drives me up the wall. I have no seniority over him and have no desire to fall into the role of supervising and managing his behaviour and holding his hand through every little thing. But we currently don’t have a team manager so there is nobody really to deal with it. He’s genuinely a nice guy but so exhausting. I try to cut short the nit picking by refusing to engage him after one or two responses. but he just keeps coming back with more questions on other things, asking for further explanations, over and over again. He really sees each issue as different and not the same as the last little issues I shut down.

  6. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I swear this is written about a friend, a neurodivergent engineer who delivers incredible results but wants to quality control every aspect of the company from the welders to the accountants. Can OP give this guy more work? He’s got way too much time on his hands. Every aspect of life is a game for my friend, a problem to be solved and he feels compelled to hold everyone to his standards in problem solving. He said at one point that everyone has a duty to God to fix anything that is broken. But his deliverables are so valuable, he’s just often sent on business trips for in-field quality control so the office doesn’t have to deal with him. I agree with Alison, he needs time to consider if this environment is right for him.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      “Can OP give this guy more work? He’s got way too much time on his hands.”

      Good catch, albeit basic. Maybe he needs to get preoccupied with problems he’s actually assigned!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Actually I like this solution because that is a simple correction for OP to offer. “Adam, I don’t want you to focus on anything other than [big tricky project].” Particularly if it’s a reach project that will take all of his attention.

        1. ferrina*

          Combined with “You need to trust that other departments have reasons for their decisions. They are privy to information that we are not, and will make the best decision based on that.”

        2. LN*

          Conceptually it’s good, but if the project requires any interaction with other departments, it sounds like Adam will find a way to do his thing anyway. This is a guy who can’t fill out an expense report without getting sidetracked onto “improving processes” that he knows very little about.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        This is a go-to classroom management tactic — boredom/understimulation is a main reason kids act out and giving them extra responsibilities or structured leadership opportunities is a fantastic way to channel that energy. Might as well give it a shot!

    2. RagingADHD*

      Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is a beautiful thing. It’s also not…whatever this guy is doing.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      That’s a good point for the OP.

      “We are not duty bound to fix everything that is broken. You may only fix things that are under your watch and that you can fix on your own without involving other people.”

      My setting was not as extreme as this guy, but I had no idea how much obligation I had at my first couple jobs. Part of this happened because the boss was never around, but the rest was totally on me to learn where my job ended and someone else’s job began.

      This could also work into saying, “This is your job description. These are the limits under your watch.”

      I have seen work places where all questions meant for outside of the department had to be channeled through the boss. No one could go on their own and ask. Suggestions could be written up and dropped in a suggestion box- which was probably just a black hole. I never saw anyone drop anything in and I never saw anyone check to see if there was anything in there.

      OP, until he knows that company does not want him fixing everything in sight he will probably continue on this way. Worse, he is in for a real shock because this is how most companies function.

  7. Eldritch Office Worker*

    This sounds like an absolute cultural mismatch to me. There are jobs that people like Adam thrive in, so Adam is not fundamentally broken (this point can be argued but I’m going with that premise for this point). And to me your forgiving culture that grants people autonomy and the ability to use their judgement sounds lovely. But those two things are not compatible and I agree with Alison you need to come to terms with the point that this is a fireable issue. That level of disruption is not canceled out by high work quality. I hope he gets the point and turns things around but I think it’s more likely he needs to be managed out, whatever that looks like within your systems.

    1. Retro*

      I’m not sure Adam could succeed in a different workplace culture. Adam thinking that he is smarter and knows how to do other people’s jobs better than those people will forever rankle his coworkers/boss/team no matter where he goes. He doesn’t choose his battles and fights everyone. It’s important to be likable and easy to work with. Every team he’s on will look for an opportunity to get rid of him whether it’s managing him out/terminating his employment or him being on the first chopping block for layoffs.

      1. MsM*

        I mean, if you can find Adam a niche where he *is* in fact the expert, and doesn’t have to spend a lot of time interacting with other people or their components of the work outside of very specifically defined processes where he reports out on that expertise, he may be fine. But that may not be possible at OP’s company, and it’s not their job to find or create the opportunity for him.

        1. Aggresuko*

          Agreed. Adam would need a “special” fit somewhere where he can do his thing without annoying everyone.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          Cuckoo-clock repair person, maybe?

          Tinkering with all those little wheels and springs, getting them just so, in balance and optimized, that seems a essential element of that job.

          1. Just Another Librarian*

            He could do well at certain kinds of government auditing, or other auditing where there are super specific regulations.

            1. JustaTech*

              Auditor was my first thought. Adam sounds a lot like the kind of people who thrive on auditing, digging through every single file and database to find even the tiniest error. It’s a needful job, and one most people aren’t well suited to.

            2. Trillian Astra*

              I actually disagree with this – as an auditor myself, the skillset to have is to find the error between the policy and the execution. It is absolutely not in our auditor’s purview to re-write the policy, or to suggest a different execution. Perhaps there’s other auditing that would work for him, but the biggest strengths in my position are: understanding what is being asked of the team (the policy) at face value, finding out if the team is executing against the policy, and politely discussing the discrepancies with the team in order to have them react favorably and implement the missing actions.

              I would assume Adam would come in like a bull in a china shop trying to update the policy! “This is inefficient” – great, Adam. Take that up with the regulators.

          2. pancakes*

            Used bookshop owner / cuckoo clock repair person, sole proprietor. I love used bookshops but let’s just say that someone who’s a bit of a crank could probably blend in among them. Not a problem to have well-kept books and well-researched prices though – it could be great if he went in that direction.

        3. Sloan Kittering*

          I have a friend like this who does well as a self-employed individual contributor of technical services. They seem to avoid wasting time when it’s their own money on the line, and they can fully control their own processes. It seems to work well for them, as they always had issues being argumentative with bosses.

      2. Csw*

        I think it might work. This happened to a coworker in my ex-company.

        The company was was one of those places where you had to conform to their way of doing things, even though they were a bit old fashioned. My ex-colleague came in as a fresh graduate who’d gotten a scholarship and was bonded for a few years, and he was absolutely INSUFFERABLE. He questioned all the inefficient practices, and decided because he wasn’t wrong he could go above everyone’s head to the upper management. One time we heard him being borderline aggressive with someone on the phone because he was unhappy with a policy. We thought he was complaining to HR, but when he ended the call and said goodbye, we realised it was the head of the department (!!) . Absolutely no respect for the chain of conmand, and got tossed around a couple of departments because no one liked him but they couldn’t fire him due to his bond.

        In the end, he resigned early and moved to a company with a more flexible culture and flatter hierarchy. He seems to be thriving there, and has gotten a promotion in less than a year. Happy for him, though the experience left a bad such taste in my mouth that I never want to work with him again.

      3. Smithy*

        In general that is 100% correct, but I do think there are workplaces with more rigidity in seniority and bureaucratic hierarchy that are a lot less supportive of input flowing up or laterally.

        I’m not limiting this to just military-esque style workplaces, but when you have that level of rigidity and deference to hierarchy there’s often a lot less room and interest for those conversations/questions to ever start. So Adam asks Finance Officer why X is done, and the answer is “because”. Adam pokes holes/asks follow-ups – Officer’s reply is still “those are the directives and it’s beyond my level”. Adam can certainly escalate, but very often that escalation would be inappropriate based on seniority issues.

        Some Adam’s may hate that their voice isn’t heard and they can’t pursue these issues. But for others, often that level of rigidity can be comforting. Essentially, they see a problem/inefficiency but know why the structure won’t allow the change.

      4. Dinwar*

        So he’d be a great fit for a quality auditor or health and safety auditor. It would be his job to inspect every aspect of the process, compare it against specific detailed specs, and question everything. And he wouldn’t have to be likeable or easy to work with as far as those he’s auditing are concerned, because the auditor is supposed to be apart from, not a part of, the group (conflict of interest avoidance). And if he tries to audit the auditors….well, that’s how they all think, so they’re all doing it too.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’d hate to be audited by this guy. But I acknowledge that there’s a place for more aggressive/hostile auditing styles. It’s useful to have someone on hand where merely assigning them to the task signals “I’m done playing now, you need to behave or I make your life miserable.”

        1. Just Another Librarian*

          I know someone kinda like this guy, but he’s a home inspector. And while he says some realtors groan when they see him, his actual clients (the buyers) like that he’s Like That.

        2. quill*

          If he was a lab auditor we’d be thrilled that everything was covered (especially if we passed) and VERY glad to see him leave.

          1. JustaTech*

            It would also give a final answer to the “but why do you do X this way?” questions, when the answer is “federal regulation”. Or even better, “federal regulation with the possibility of jail time for failure to comply”.

      5. Anony*

        There’s two sides to every story – remember that we’re exclusively seeing LW’s POV. Without Adam’s side of the story, it’s really not right to make judgments about who Adam is as a person or whether he’d be fit in any workplace as a result of his personality. We’re assuming that the LW gives sufficient instructions, that most of these issues don’t actually affect Adam’s job or cause major problems, and that Adam is in fact badgering instead of discussing. Some or all of those could be not necessarily true and/or could be lacking important context the LW isn’t aware of. Not important in giving general workplace advice, but very necessary to make statements about someone on a personal level.

      6. Anon1337*

        I understand your doubts, but I’m pretty sure that ten years ago, I was pretty much Adam. I was lucky to end up in a company where technical skills are highly valued and lack of social skills is forgivable. I’ve learned a lot from both managers and peers who respected my drive to improve things and gently (and consistently) provided course corrections when I was spending my energy on the wrong things. (There were also some ‘soft skills courses.) Eventually, it sunk in to the point that I *want* to stay in my own lane, because I’m confident that that works out best for everyone.

        Since I’m still working at the same company and have made some progress in my career, I guess you could say that I’m succeeding.

      7. kicking_k*

        That actually describes what I do rather well. I work in a heavily regulated area in which I am the only specialist in the company and work largely on my own. But I also advise other departments on best practice and dealing with regulatory breaches, so I do, literally, tell them how to fix things that went wrong.

        So jobs like that do exist.

    2. Observer*

      I agree with @Retro that some of this is not just cultural. Wanting very specific instructions with processes and procedure for every possible contingency? Maybe. Continuing to do something after your boss told you to knock it off? Not so much.

    3. North Wind*

      I agree with this. I wouldn’t want to work with Adam in some random office, but would love for this type of person to be, say, an independent forensic accountant investigating corporations and billionaires. If he will not or cannot change, then managing him out might be best for all concerned – even Adam.

      I can be obsessive with quality and perfection in my own work, but recognize it and am careful to read the room, not inflict my way of being on others. I’ve been asked to step into management many times in my career and this is *one* reason I never obliged – I know that I don’t know how to oversee someone’s work to what is good enough. I would be bathed in anxiety over it every day and would be gutted if my management style was making other people miserable. Changing would be working too hard against my innate tendencies.

      I now freelance and take on projects where a very high quality output is needed. Perfect fit for me – I can let my quality quirk run wild in situations where it is needed.

    4. Irritated worker drone*

      The LW’s inclusion of him using their workplace’s promotion of DEI work also seems to indicate some mixed messaging. My workplace and type of work in general is all about promoting DEI work on the surface, but the implementation of it is mixed.

      I just saw several individuals in the field who portray themselves as EDI/DEI “experts” and were complaining on twitter recently how they can’t keep a job in the field and job hop. One has been an independent scholar for over two years now, which is a way to save face for them, and another has had a string of contract positions that haven’t lead to another permanent job. It’s really telling that they are the ones who present and attend conferences, while those who are employed and trying to do their jobs cannot take advantage of those networking opportunities. Of course, with them, that networking and self promotion seems to be less beneficial. According to them, it’s because their workplaces hired them because of their reputation for DEI work and their employers and colleagues were resistant to their DEI efforts. The reality is that they probably weren’t a good fit because they thought their side work doing DEI took precedence over their main job and they pissed off their colleagues who had to do more to cover for them. They chose to forget that labor equity is as much a part of DEI work as is racial equity.

      1. ASW*

        I took the mention of DEI not to be that he actually supported DEI but that he’s weaponizing it to say “you can’t discriminate against me, this is just who I am!”

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I agree. Granted, even people who are perceived as white males can be included in several minorities that face discrimination in the workplace (sexuality, gender identity, disability). I’m not armchair diagnosing here, but even if he had a diagnosis of some sort, it wouldn’t be an excuse to behave like a jerk with no consequences. Even if he had a diagnosis and requested accommodation under the ADA (or similar legislation outside the US), I’m pretty sure that the request to be allowed to question everyone else’s work processes and waste as much of their time as he wants on this would not be a reasonable accommodation.

          1. SixTigers*

            I’m pretty sure the request to be allowed to question everyone else’s work processes and waste as much of their time as he wants on this would not be a reasonable accommodation.

            I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to forward this to a friend who works EEO. He’s been having a hard time lately and this would cheer him up no end!

    5. Apollos Torso*

      Perhaps he’d be a fit as a consultant who’s there to help figure out process issues. It’s a whole field and he sounds persistent enough to find clients in a situation where it could be his job

  8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    This is a type of person I’ve encountered in every IT job I’ve ever worked in – right up to the ‘you can’t tell me what I can’t do, it’s just my personality, you’re being discriminatory’ statements.

    And ye goddess of server racks it’s frustrating. Also it gives a really bad impression of the department to other departments – ‘oh great it’s HIM again, why don’t they do anything?’ every time his memos of how he totally knows how to do their job better come in.

    Sadly, I’ve never been able to manage one of these types (shape up or get out, I honestly don’t think there’s any reasonable accommodation of ‘being a total berk’) and o ly had the misfortune to work alongside them. Or, well at least try in between the ‘you could do this better if you just’ ARGG get yer nose outta my code.

    A member of staff who’s been told to cut out disruptive behaviour and refuses to is a problem. I very much agree with Alison’s post.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Btw something I’ve had to learn myself as well as explain to staff: there’s a difference between ‘quirky IT technician’ (which some of us are) and ‘really annoying pillock’.

      Just because you see yourself as different, or have different brain chemistry, or whatever doesn’t give one license to just act up.

      And yeah, believe me I learnt that lesson myself the hard way.

      1. BeenThere*

        Me too, and quite a few friends as well. We are trained in optimization and it’s really hard to switch it off sometimes. I’m glad my spouse is an a software engineer too because at least at home, we can optimize all the things.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Husband works in software testing and QA – for our sanity we really try to leave the work habits at work! Mostly because we’ve both got highly nonstandard brains and stepping on each other’s toes was causing meltdowns.

          So there’s the kitchen which is entirely his domain to operate/optimise how he likes, the car which is mine to do with and the computer room where you do only touch your computer and leave the spouse’s alone.

          (Of course the cat ignores all of this. His idea of process improvement is ‘whatever he wants and we will yowl for hours if he doesn’t get his way’. Hang on…sounds like the guy in the letter….)

    2. Quinalla*

      I’ve worked with someone like this too, not as bad as what OP is describing, but very much wanted to give EVERYONE feedback, had a hard time with broad instructions, etc. I had to get what felt extremely and rudely direct with him to get through to him. I was able to do so and like OP coworker, mine was really great at a lot of his job, I just had to work hard to channel his energy. So yeah, I agree that being super direct, you will feel RUDE as hell, is the only way to go here. Either it will work and you’ll be able to channel his tendencies in a way that will work for your company or you’ll end up having to fire him which is still a win for everyone at your company and probably for him too eventually as yeah he could really thrive somewhere else most likely.

      While some speculate on neurodivergence and that is possible, I also think part of the deal with folks like this who are very privileged is they don’t know how to sit with fear and discomfort. They are not used to it and haven’t been forced by society to deal with this like women and minorities, so they just blurt out everything they see. They also have been taught all their lives that their opinions matters more than all those other people. Again, same thing, blurt out everything and feel oh so helpful. It isn’t conscious, but think about how if you are a woman/minority, you tend to keep quiet, err on the side of not bothering people, deal with your emotions internally or at least with your friends outside of work. Then think how you might act if you had not only zero of those tendencies, but been encouraged to speak out and never deal with your emotions yourself. Yeah, this is the extreme of what you get.

  9. Varthema*

    Being extremely explicit and succinct will be doing him a favor – even the more explicit wording here is still kind of a lot to interpret for those of us whose brains are wired a certain way. “Thanks for the feedback. We’ll take it on board, but we don’t have the bandwidth to address it now.” is also all anyone needs to say to him when he makes suggestions.

    1. Rachel*

      I got the same vibes. I dated (for a very short time) someone very much like this and even after all of my accommodating for him, if everything was not done his way, it was me making a slight against him because he was ND.

      It really seams like the job does not fit him at all since it does require to work under general parameters. It would have been one thing so far if all they’ve tried to soft messaging since that really would not have gotten through. But when a manager told him to stop and his response was to go to HR about it, he’s not only not in his own lane, he’s on the wrong side of the highway. Definitely time to say this is what we need out of the role, please take the time to consider if you’re able to.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        ND here: NDs can absolutely be self-centered little spoiled twits. People are frustratingly eager to attribute this to someone’s being ND. Sorry, but it’s not a pass to be a jerk. If he can’t self-propel enough to function in this job then nobody owes it to him to stay here.

        1. NoiShin*

          As an ND myself, I try to stick with the mantra “It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.” As in, I’ll sometimes be inadvertently rude or off-putting, and it may be because I just didn’t read the room right or misinterpreted something due to being ND, but that doesn’t make it OK, just says why it happened.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I am 100% ok with saying up front that I’m not always great with cues, so do you [other person] mean x thing or y thing? Thanks! Just wanted to make sure I had that right.

        2. Leela*

          also ND here and yes, ND people are like any other group. But what’s never accounted for is up through my parent’s generation you could be institutionalized,s trapped to radiators, and worse (and you still can) for being visibly Autistic and a lot of us suffered extreme abuse as our parents attempted to stop us from being visibly Autistic so we wouldn’t get taken away.

          That means any Autistic people, otherwise ND people who would have become managers don’t – they can’t succeed being visibly Autistic. Processes and work flows ARE NOT SET UP TO WORK WITH US and we are often shut down for asking for clarification because we get smacked down by not knowing what a neurotypical person would do, because it’s assumed that that’s normal, default, and correct, and not neurotypical specifically, in the way that structures have to be changed if it’s going to be meaningful for POC, white women, disabled people, and everyone else who’s been traditionally kept out of or kept small in the workforce to come in. I can’t tell you the amount of times i’ve been “the woman” on a team that changes nothing to deal with the horrible rates of attrition or complaints from women who have came on and left the team, or been fired for what pretty clearly amounts to having been a woman and not a man, and especially if she talks about the problems it causes. It needs to be talked about and it really isn’t. And if you try, just watch people show up to freak out about how I’m saying any ND person can do whatever they want regardless of how it impacts people when that’s not what I’m saying at all, it’s so exhausting and Autistics keep losing jobs, the kind of incomes that allow us to be independent, the ability to impact the workforce so the workplace looks like something that we can actually thrive in, etc.

          It’s so shocking to me that I’m allowed to come into the comments here and talk about how being a woman makes an OP’s letter about a woman seem different or that there should be more they should consider, or the same for being disabled, or queer, but there’s so much aversion to doing the same thing as an Autistic person even though our eugenics is SOUGHT AFTER by the public and we are literally having to fight that too, it’s unbelievable.

          1. Littorally*

            When have you been told that you can’t talk about your own challenges as an autistic person?

            1. Anon1337*

              The request not to armchair-diagnose can be read that way. If one’s first thought in response to this letter is that it’s all related to autism, trying to reply without mentioning neurodiversity is like trying to ignore the elephant in the room. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of extra work, and people might opt not to respond because of it.

              I do get that the request is not intended keep people out of the discussion, but to some extent, it will have that effect.

              1. Leela*

                This exactly thank you!

                And Littorally it’s come up before in other posts on AAM but it is necessary for us to talk about “if this person is Neurodivergent, as a neurodivergent person, you NEED to understand that this could be about X, Y or Z” in the same way I would find it extremely necessary to talk to men saying a woman is too emotional or not enough this or that and it’s pretty clear they haven’t considered how being a woman would make a situation different for someone.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            I think you’re missing the obvious difference:
            We typically know the gender and/or sexuality of the person being talked about.

            We do not know if they’re neurodivergent or not, and speculation that they are almost exclusively only comes up in negative contexts.

            It’s comparable to if commenters always asked if an underperforming employee was black.

            1. Leela*

              I’m not missing that at all and it’s beyond insulting to imply it is. Since I’m ND and female, I do actually know how to weight them.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                But what you don’t know is whether Adam is ND. There are things he does and says that makes us wonder whether it’s the case, sure, but the fact remains that whether or not he is ND, he needs to stop meddling with other people’s jobs, and get on with his own job. If he feels that he’s like that because of being ND, he can ask for accommodation, but the accommodation is not gonna be “let Adam continue being a right pain”.
                It may not have occurred to OP that Adam might be on the autistic spectrum, and she may now be considering it, but even if he is, it’s not up to OP to do or say anything to factor that in, unless Adam specifically tells her that “the way he is” is because of ND. So the speculation is really not very useful at all.

            2. Leela*

              It’s not comparable to commenters always asking if an underperforming employee was Black, why would even make that claim? If anything it would be comparable to Black people specifically recognizing something someone does as behavior a Black person might due in response to racism because they recognize it from personal experience, and then calling it out after someone acted like said employee acted the way they did for reasons of moral failure when they know there could be more to the story, and just like that example, I’m not claiming Adam *is* neurodivergent, just that that exact behavior is what I would expect from a specific neurodivergent person in specific circumstances that are not ever considered by workplaces who assess everyone as if they were neurotypical and totally fail to make policies or processes that account for it.

        3. Trawna*

          As a non-ND, but self-identified spoiled little twit — keeping a lid on it at work is such a time-saver. That’s my process.

          1. Leela*

            So what you’re referring to is called masking and it starts being mandatory usually in elementary school or earlier and is responsible for extremely high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in our population. We don’t get the luxury of keeping a lid on being a “spoiled little twit” we have to cover all signs of neurodiversity because of centuries of institutionalization and marginalization so this is advice I would *strongly* urge you to never say to a neurodivergent person again.


            1. Eastcoastanon*

              That is VERY informative; I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. It should feel good now that I know this is recognized and yet I’m conflicted. Kind of sad and glad at the same time. Thank you for posting this.

    2. Antilles*

      That phrasing implies you’re open to his feedback, implies that you’re open to changing the procedure at some point, and likely leads to him both (a) continuing to offer unwanted suggestions and (b) following up on his previous suggestions to see if you’re ready to act.
      It seems like in a lot of cases (e.g., changing the expense report process), the message should be much closer to “we’re not changing this, we’re wasting both of our times discussing this, stay in your lane”.
      Also, even if you did try this, OP specifically says that if he isn’t satisfied with an answer, he will suggest a bigger conversation and seek out higher ups. So I don’t buy that he’s going to just accept being pushed off with this sort of vague answer – especially when it becomes clear that you’re not actually intending to do anything about it.

    3. reject187*

      I have a student EXACTLY like this, and he is INSUFFERABLE. He does good work but I need to tell him exactly what I expect or else he goes off the rails. He often finds things to nitpick about school rules and tries to find loopholes for things clearly stated, and has said before that he needs to know what all the rules are. Well, sorry bud, you don’t have to know what the teacher handbook says in order to do what the student handbook says.
      As far as peer interactions go, his neurotypical classmates find him irritating because he’s so insistent on being right. He pushes his viewpoint and doesn’t think about other perspectives. And if someone doesn’t like his opinion (or him), he’ll argue with them about it. (!!!!)
      I honestly fear that he’ll end up like the employee in the letter.
      What have I done to try to help him? I’m direct, I don’t let him argue with me (easier said than done), and my go-to statements trend along the lines of: “Because I said so” ; “That’s the way things are done” ; “Decades of scholars tend to disagree” ; “You’re disrupting your classmates’ education to hear yourself talk.” I’ll encourage him to write down his thoughts instead of interrupting the class and allow him to hand it to me at the end of the period. He often forgets about it.
      And you can just refuse to discuss things. “I will not spend time telling you how to do your job. You know what needs to get done. Do it.” It feels rude but he’s being rude by not respecting your jobsite, peers, or you in his insistence on doing this his way.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I also have this student — several of them, in fact. It’s one factor in how close I am to leaving higher ed.

      2. Properlike*

        My higher-ed students who self-identified with autism most often appreciated my directness. I was direct with everyone, but they liked it. “That’s not okay.” “We don’t do that in a college class.” “We need to hear from others.” Warning them when they were going off the guardrails (privately whenever possible, until we worked out a code word.)

        The students who didn’t like it fell into the “entitled jerk” category. Often from backgrounds where rules didn’t apply to them. Neurodivergence was not in play in those cases. :)

    4. Nea*

      I cannot agree with any script that suggests 1) your suggestions are helpful or 2) they will be actually addressed. It leaves far too much wiggle room for the problem employee to stop making unwanted suggestions and start asking “have you addressed it NOW? How about next Tuesday, can I set a meeting for next Tuesday? Why haven’t you addressed this yet?”

      Problem Employee’s problem is that he is telling other people how to do their jobs – and pushing back when they tell him. This has to be met with a clear, direct, shutdown script. If you want to be nice you can preface it with “We understand you want to help” but the meat of the comment must be “You do not understand the parameters of this work/the needs of this tasking. Taking comments and questions that show your misunderstanding up the command chain only wastes everyone’s time and goodwill.”

    5. anonymous73*

      I wouldn’t recommend that. This will give him the impression that you’re taking his suggestions into consideration when it’s clear that the majority of his suggestions are without merit.

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        One solution if OP doesn’t want to fire him is to have him create a spreadsheet of his feedback (without contacting anyone) and then review it with him. Then determine what he can pursue. I had success with this method with a guy who was incapable of prioritizing issues he found – he treated everything as urgent which drove everyone crazy. But he was other very productive.

        Adam sounds like someone who appears to give the value of 1.25 or 1.5 people but when you dig down, the problems he causes really means he gives the value of .5 or 0. You see this with so called superstars sometimes- their value looks like a 2 but they make three people quit so it’s really -1. Anyone who isn’t giving the value of 1 is someone you may need to part ways with it. I think what I am saying is you can’t disconnect his other performance from his issues.

  10. socks*

    i came here to say the same thing! he’s trying to argue that being a know-it-all blowhard is…what, a white male cultural value??

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Just when I thought I couldn’t adore your comments any more than I already did you knock this one out of the park (that’s the right metaphor yes? Sorry, not American!)

      2. SarahKay*

        And now my keyboard is splattered with little bits of the apple I was eating! Apparently explosive laughter and chewing don’t go well together… who knew?

  11. Marie*

    Oh man OP, honestly, I think this guy has gotta go. I promise you he’s bringing down morale for everyone and getting on most people’s nerves! Having ideas for improvement is great, IF they’re asked for and IF they’re part of an overall process improvement project.

    I know you said this guy does good work but how much work can he be doing in a day if he’s spending all this time and brainpower trying to go over your whole business with a fine toothed comb?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yup, worked alongside quite a few of these in my career and they can really make you dread coming into work.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I’m sort of fascinated by the split in the comments here. I feel some are greatly catastrophizing it. This is so very much not near firing level! As I wrote in a longer comment below, it’s common in employees with good ideas to be bad at communicating them and bringing up at bad times. It’s our ideas to manage that without getting shutting down ideas.

      I would ask you, have you ever worked with the opposite? In my opinion that can be much worse. A bunch of people looking busy but metaphorically pushing paper from one box to another without knowing why they are doing it or if they work even needs to get done? That’s my nightmare as a manager

      1. Observer*

        I would ask you, have you ever worked with the opposite? In my opinion that can be much worse.

        I disagree. One is not worse than the other. They are both bad, just in different ways.

        Keep in mind that even good idea are a problem if they pushed too hard, at the wrong time or at the expense of higher priorities. When the idea are not necessarily even all that good or relevant, it is actually a major problem and can cause some significant issues. As can be seen by what the OP describes. Any time you have a situation where people try to avoid working with someone, you know you have a problem. “Badgering” people is not just “poor communications.” It’s actively and actually toxic misbehavior and needs to STOP asap.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        There’s a vast difference between ‘process improvement presented in an appropriate manner’ and ‘annoying the heck out of everyone by telling multiple departments how to do things better and *refusing to stop the behaviour when told to*’

        The first is appropriate, in small doses in my opinion, the second is a real problem.

        And I work in a field where we have to update our knowledge and processes all the time.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Exactly. We have a process improvement committee (Motto: “Where Good Ideas Go To Die”) and a ticket system to collect suggestions. So the Adams in our org can submit feedback morning, noon, and night. Each ticket gets reviewed by the committee, but even a good idea may not be implemented due to priorities, staffing, cost… It’s not personal, Adam, it’s BUSINESS. Let go…

      3. BuildMeUp*

        I mean, he’s badgering people to the point that they don’t want to work with him, and he’s gotten feedback about this multiple times. I do think the OP needs to have a really blunt talk with him, but so far he hasn’t shown signs he’s going to take the feedback.

        It seems like you’re framing this as “good ideas communicated badly.” It sounds like most of the things Adam is suggesting aren’t good ideas, though. Not that they’re bad necessarily, but he doesn’t have the context or history to understand why things work the way they do.

        It’s not like the only two options are Adam or paper pushers, though. There’s a lot of middle ground!

        1. Clorinda*

          Not everything that’s a little bit inefficient needs to be fixed, even. Some things are perfectly fine just muddling along, because the effort to fix them isn’t worth the effort to change (looking at you, QWERTY keyboard).

          1. Dust Bunny*

            He’s not a little bit inefficient. He’s very, very, inefficient. And annoying. Letting one person annoy the Hell out of the rest of your staff is not efficient.

            1. Clorinda*

              I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean that everyone should tolerate Adam; I meant that even if Adam’s observations are true, they’re probably still not worth anyone’s time!

          2. Observer*


            I was just thinking about the intern who got fired for messing with someone’s keyboard.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          A huge middle ground! I mean, I hire for high level technical support. This is a role that requires a lot of independent thought, finding a problem and solving it – often inventively (stuff you can’t google a fix for).

          Someone who won’t do anything unless there’s a written process and will never think outside the box can’t do the job.

          Someone who questions absolutely everything, even non-IT stuff, will not shut up and annoys everyone around them also cannot do the job.

          There’s not just technical skills, there’s being able to get along with the other staff too. Both are equally important.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I think I said a variant of this on a comment thread yesterday: “you aren’t a rockstar employee if nobody else wants to work with you. Part of being the rockstar is an ability to work with the rest of the team.”

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Very well put.

              Not only have I encountered enough of the ‘I’m so brilliant I can behave how I like’ types here in IT – but I used to be one!

          2. kiki*

            Yes! Being self-aware and attuned to the needs of entities outside yourself are incredibly important skills. Being a natural Adam (always looking for improvements) doesn’t preclude the ability to monitor yourself and stop pushing when folks tell you they don’t want your ideas right now.

      4. Just Another Zebra*

        I’ve worked with Adams and anti-Adams, and I would take Anti-Adam any day. After Adam has ping-ponged himself between OP, OP’s boss, HR, and higher ups, I’d wager his “simple question” will have eaten up at least 8 hours across the board. If this is a routine phenomenon (and it sounds like it is), they could fire Adam and have the same output, because his needless “help” is taking up too much time.

        It’s one thing to have ideas, but quite another to have ideas about inefficiency and actionable solutions that don’t take up as much time/ energy as the inefficiency itself.

      5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        But it doesn’t sound like his ideas ARE good. The coworkers and bosses are getting sucked into explaining why his bad ideas are bad because he won’t take a, “No that isn’t the case and here is why…” answer from anyone and is just a giant time suck.

        1. Foila*

          Right. It’s not a question of sorting the good ideas from the bad ones. It’s a question of getting him to listen to people when they tell him they’re all bad ideas.

      6. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        I’ve managed an Adam, and an anti-Adam. (Adam made themselves especially busy trying to “fix” the anti-Adam.) After several rounds of perfornance talks from me that progressed from soft coaching to flat-out exasperated, Adam left.

        Soon after, the anti-Adam’s work started to improve! So did the work of the team as a whole! And our work with other teams! Everyone had agreed Adam was a great technician and sometimes had good fixes, but honestly the best process improvement they made was leaving. It was a big lesson to me as a manager.

        1. SwiftSunrise*

          Hmmm, there’s a reason why UNC basketball fans like my dad were campaigning to name Larry Drew II as Player of the Year back in 2011 … after he abruptly transferred to UCLA in February of that season without saying a word to anyone!

      7. Elizabeth West*

        This right here, though:

        he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive

        It made me instantly roll my eyes. It sounds to me like he’s trying to leverage the company DEI initiative in a way it isn’t intended.

        Part of working is being able to collaborate and get along with your teammates and coworkers and take feedback from your manager. Adam is not doing that. As other commenters have pointed out, regardless of his neurological status (of which we have no indication from OP), he still has to incorporate the feedback and stop wasting time on unnecessary process improvement side quests. I think Alison and some commenters are right that this isn’t the right job for him, or maybe not the right work culture.

        My comment comes from a place of loving process improvement but recognizing that it isn’t always the best choice to expand it outside my own procedures.

      8. Salymander*

        There are more choices than being an Adam and being a paper pusher. Adam is not efficient and he is distracting and annoying for others, making them less efficient. When this is pointed out to him, he gets argumentative and manipulative and he resists making any kind of change. It isn’t catastrophizing to say that people like Adam who nitpick and harass their coworkers bring morale down and lessen productivity. Even when someone really is the smartest person in the room they still need to know when and where they should share their knowledge.

    2. Jora Malli*

      I think it’s important to keep in mind that Adam’s work isn’t just the projects he’s been assigned. Interacting well with his coworkers is also a job duty, and one that he’s failing spectacularly.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    “I will never be able to address every possible set of circumstances. I need the person in your role to work within broad guidelines like the ones I just gave you.”
    I really like this part of the suggested advice, as it makes it clear what the job expectation is–and that’s not to dazzle everyone with how you just thought of a thing.

    1. hamsterpants*

      A phrasing I especially like is “resolve ambiguity.” It sounds a little bit more action-based than “work within broad guidelines” and seems to appeal more to people who are used to a culture of strict rules.

    2. Well...*

      I’ve had to use similar wording before. People who don’t want to act appropriately will sometimes demand complete lists of inappropriate behavior because they want something they can wiggle out of.

      It’s an absurd request. Such a list is obviously impossible to compile, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to act appropriately/professionally! Also I’m not your Mom, you’re an adult, holy hell what an emotional labor request.

  13. Xavier Desmond*

    It sounds like OP has fallen into the trap of believing there is some magic words that will make Adam understand and change his behaviour. The problem is that Adam doesn’t want to change, as he believes the whole world should change it’s behaviour to suit what he wants.

    1. EPLawyer*

      EXACTLY. LW you are desperate to find words that he won’t push back on or he won’t complain about. You need to accept that is NOT going to happen. Your job is to manage, not make sure Adam never complains or pushes back.

      You need to be strong and firm. Adam, you cannot continue with what you are doing. This is non-negotiable. Then REFUSE to give him parameters. Because if you, he will just test those parameters to push the boundaries anyway. You need to be firm and hold the line. You need to be clear that the WHOLE company will not change just to suit him. Make it clear his job is on the line. Betcha if firing is on the table he will suddenly understand what you mean without “clear parameters.”

      Remember you manage more than this guy. The others are paying attention to how you handle this disruptive person. If you are seen as going soft to avoid confrontation, the others will wonder if you have their back when they need it.

    2. hamsterpants*


      I’m worried about this workplace where it seems everyone feels compelled to satisfy Adam rather than just telling him to buzz off.

    3. Myrin*

      I think that OP (and various others at her company, including HR) has also fallen into the trap of believing that Adam speaks magic words. Like, I know this is easier said than done, but really, if he demands a lengthy explanation or complicated parametres from you, you are not compelled to actually go along with his demands – you can tell him that no, you are not going to do that.

      (As a bit of an aside, I’m willing to bet that Adam will be like a past OP’s sister’s employee who behaved outrageously for a long time and the – very satisfying – update told us that as soon as the sister set one (1) firm boundary, the employee promptly resigned. I can very much imagine Adam going down that same road, provided everyone in this company changes their indulgent behaviour towards him.)

      1. librarianmom*

        I think OP should make sure that HR is looped in —- because this guy is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

      2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I need to read this, can you remember any more of the details so I can search it?

        1. Myrin*

          Yes, the title is “managing an employee with inappropriate emotional outbursts”, the link to the update is included in the end.

    4. Well...*

      Adam has in fact laid that trap deliberate by training everyone that if they don’t do exactly what he wants he’ll cause a ton of friction, so everyone’s playing the “say what Adam wants to hear so he’ll comply” game.

    5. SciDiver*

      Yep, the nitpicking and taking up huge swaths of coworkers time with “just asking questions” and “giving suggestions” is the secondary problem. The primary problem is that he will not take feedback.

  14. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Adam sounds exhausting for all the people around him, and I hope OP is able to get himself turned around. But I think you need to be very brief and explicit with him about he needs to stop all of the pestering yesterday.
    And yes, please get with HR and the managers above you to get everybody on the same page so that Adam can’t weasel other people into doing what he’s wanting and the whole crazy dancing monkeys routine he’s currently enjoying.

    1. Why isn't it Friday?*

      Seriously though. I felt like I needed to lie down after OP’s letter. Adam sounds so exhausting!

    2. Yes Please*

      Showing them Alison’s column and advice would probably be very helpful. Then everyone can be on board with a united front when he complains.

  15. Prospect Gone Bad*

    No this is not the stance to take. I’m about to leave a more detailed response below, but this isn’t the route you want ago since many people make suggestions in less than stellar ways.

    1. X*

      Be that as it may this man is indeed claiming his identity as a white man is being threatened by people responding appropriately to ridiculous behavior. That’s what this comment was about.

      1. Emi*

        I don’t think he is — he’s saying that his personality is being excluded and the LW is noting that he’s a white man, but it doesn’t say that Adam has made any connection to his race or sex.

        1. X*

          I see what you’re saying, using terms like “inclusion” to cover just being a PIA seems like a bad faith interpretation of practices meant to include historically marginalized people, to me.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        I guess a$$hole is a personality type.
        Like all personality types, it is not limited to while males.

    2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

      bennie’s comment isn’t about how Adam makes suggestions in inelegant ways, it’s about how he’s claiming reverse discrimination in the response to it, which is ridiculous.

  16. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

    LW, look up the principle of JADEing. I think that giving him any explanations for why he can’t do things is backfiring. I would try to just tell him that you aren’t going to answer the question (or correct the “inefficiency”), and then refuse to discuss it.

    1. Leslie*

      Trying to find JADE and getting no where. Can someone give a link or something to add to search terms? I appreciate it, thanks!

      1. ShysterB*

        JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain. As in, don’t do any of these. It’s a way to set and maintain boundaries and enforce a decision. Think of “No is a complete sentence” — no reason to justify, argue about, defend or explain WHY you decided X, because the other person will use anything you say by way of justification, argument, defense or explanation as a why to try to wear you down to get a different result.

      2. EmmaPoet*

        JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain. If you’re dealing with someone who isn’t being reasonable and won’t listen, then don’t do any of these because it just leaves you with a circular argument that goes on forever and gets nowhere.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      Yeah, this. The response from people receiving his inout should be along the lines of, “Your input/feedback is noted. Please trust we work on improving efficiency in our processes as we are able.” Rinse and repeat. Some of his suggestions may genuinely be helpful—let’s not overlook that possibility!—so the goal from their end is to minimize the time it takes to interact with Adam over it.

    3. OP*

      I had never heard of JADE before, and sounds exactly like what I need. Thank you for raising it.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I can see that he might be a good fit for a process driven company and/or QC.

      I’m anal enough for being decent at QC, but not process driven. (think aerospace as one example)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      A role where he had to stay strictly within the guidelines and everything had a process document would probably be heaven for him and way less annoying to everyone around him.

      (Unless he efficiently knocked that stuff out and then wandered the company looking for things to correct.)

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        eh, wouldn’t it be the opposite? I do process improvement as part of my job and employees who are good at it are precisely the type of people who think outside the box and don’t blindly follow processes. People who blindly follow processes are usually resistant to the change because they can’t think beyond the current way of doing something, even if it’s pointless

        1. Littorally*

          Nah. Process improvement requires a lot more judgment and people skills than Adam is demonstrating. It isn’t enough to come up with a process that might be better on paper, you have to be able to evaluate whether it is actually worthwhile and also be able to get on board with it.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          I think you’re making an incorrect assumption here–that Adam is good at process improvement.

      2. Filosofickle*

        I’m not sure about that! I worked in a place that had a process for everything — pages of instructions about how to name and color code files and craft subject lines — but the processes were so rigid and detailed they were massively inefficient. He’d have had all the clarity in the world there but would have wanted to make the processes better. My read is he wants to fix/change/challenge things more than he actually wants process.

  17. Hills to Die On*

    I hate Adam and I don’t even work with this guy. I don’t believe that he doesn’t know what the parameters are – I think he just wants to not pick and argue so that he can say that you technically didn’t say that he couldn’t blah blah.
    Worked with guys like him before and just giving a ‘No’ and then refusing to give him loose threads to pick at helped the most.
    I agree with Rusty Shackleford that ‘stop telling other people how to do their jobs’ with a side of ‘it must be focused DIRECTLY on the project goals that you are working on’ and significantly scaling back his projects where he has more control. I would also tell him that if he wants to escalate anything to any higher ups he must do it through you. You will escalate it on his behalf if you deem it necessary.
    Tell him that he is the inefficiency.
    “I am just asking a question’: stop asking questions about others’ job and do your own.
    ‘I am just trying to help’: You are not helping; you are causing delays and wasting others’ time. If you want to help, focus on your own job.
    Shut it down hard and let him know that he can have more responsibilities when he learns how to be a team member and not a burden.
    He is dying to contribute in a meaningful way so steer him toward how to get his gold stars.
    Maybe soften the language I have used here though…

    1. hamsterpants*

      Your penultimate sentence is golden.

      OP, if for some reason you can’t fire him yet, a last-ditch effort (in addition to Alison’s language) is to channel is Adam-ness into a role where he gets to obsess about details AND shoulder the burden of managing all the details. It would be extra work for you and frankly I don’t think Adam deserves it at this point, but it miiiiiight help a bit.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I agree with the “steer him toward how to get his gold stars” advice. OP, the letter Alison linked to under the “hold a very firm line” text has an update. That letter writer’s problem employee improved when the manager took this tack. Quote from the update:

        Because of the advice I received, I try to frame issues with performance in a better way. Not so much “You need to do this because I said so”, but more along the lines of “If you want to be promoted, I need to see this from you” which seems to be more effective. It really is almost a night and day difference from where we were in May.

    2. IndustriousLabRat*

      I agree with all of this- and I don’t think the language necessarily needs to be softened after the first conversation, if he keeps pushing the boundaries that LW sets. It’s exhausting behavior and your blunt examples may be just the language he needs to get it through his stubborn head, since softness hasn’t worked!

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      At this point I wouldn’t soften the language at all. I agree with Alison that this guy needs to be fired if he doesn’t shape up, and sooner rather than later as he sounds both exhausting and aggravating. Extremely blunt language is the best way I can think of to get across the idea of ‘if you do not knock this off you are going to get fired’.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      Since Adam so badly wants to solve a problem, maybe the solution is to lay out just how inefficient he is.
      “An employee is eating up valuable time and resources investigating issues of his own fabrication. Cumulative loss of man-hours across the company is roughly 40hrs per week, when factoring in the employee’s own time, as well as the time of his coworkers. How would you solve this?”

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Require him to submit his proposal in writing. Give him a time limit. Don’t entertain questions.

  18. Littorally*

    If he gives you the personality line again, I suggest a response like this:

    “This is not about your personality. This is about your behavior, which is under your conscious control and which you can and must change. I am telling you explicitly that this behavior is disruptive and inefficient, and is seriously damaging your reputation and standing in this company.”

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “This is not about your personality. This is about your behavior.”

      HUGELY seconded.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Intentions don’t matter – the impact does. ‘But I’m trying to be helpful!’, ‘but the impact is the exact opposite’.

      Even with the best intentions (and yeah, I got pulled upon this kind of behaviour earlier in my career because hey I’m IT I’m supposed to fix everything right? Right? Ah) one can still be wrong.

      1. ferrina*

        Agree so much. Intentions only matter insofar as they align with impact. It’s a simple formula: Intention>Action>Impact. If the Impact doesn’t match what was intended, you’ll see a change in action until the intended impact is achieved.

    3. Observer*

      Yes, this is one of the things I cam here to say.

      OP, this is one of your mantras “This is not about your personality. This about behavior.”

    4. mreasy*

      Yeah this isn’t his personality! This is literally his behavior. BIPOC workers, women, and LGBTQIA+ people ARE actually punished & denied opportunities for their personalities. This is…not that! It’s simply not.

    5. NYWeasel*

      My manager taught me to use the phrase “Its the *HOW* you are doing things that’s the problem, not the *WHAT* you are doing.” Questioning inefficient practices, speaking with higher ups, etc isn’t the problem. It’s that Adam isn’t recognizing what an appropriate level of that type of inquiry would be, so his questioning becomes disruptive and aggressive. I would want alignment behind the scenes on whether he needs to cut it out completely or if toning it waaay down will be enough but I’d lean towards cutting it all out for a while and focusing on how to repair his network (ie stop challenging coworkers)

    6. Petty Betty*

      It already *has* damaged his reputation and standing in the company. Coworkers avoid working with him. Management knows who he is, and not necessarily in a good way. He has negatively impacted himself in multiple ways all by trying to be Mr. Helpy Helperton and proving that he was indispensable, when really all he’s doing is showing that he is poorly utilized, doesn’t focus on the right tasks, can’t stay in his own lane/department, has no understanding of organizational hierarchy, can’t prioritize, rules lawyers, cannot hear or understand the word “no” or anything remotely like it, and is quick to co-opt key words and phrases meant for POGM, femme and LGBTQIA+ equity and to ensure fair and safe working environments while playing the victim he most assuredly isn’t.

    7. SpatulaCity*

      Just noting that the behavior of asking questions looking for evidence that’s just to waste people’s time, as it sounds like with this employee, has a name called “sealioning” based on a 2014 Wondermark webcomic with an intrusive questioning sea lion.

  19. Person from the Resume*

    You’re his manager. “You need to take one for the team.” by which I mean you need to manage Adam and quite possibly manage him out. You need to stop Adam from needlessly bothering others, wasting their time and draining their energy and take that work on yourself becuase it’s your job as Adam’s manager. That may make it much more obvious that Adam needs to be managed out when you are not distributing the burden of managing him and his reactions to other people.

    You need to let people know that anything like this from Adam in the future needs to be sent to you to deal with i.e. you tell Adam this is an example of what I told you needed to stop. And just keep doing it until he gets it, he’s fired, or he quits.

    And definately loop anyone in who he goes to up the chain of command in advance that this is happening so they understand and can redirect or shut Adam down themselves.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes. If one of his coworkers had written it, the advice probably would have been “make it your manager’s problem.”

    2. Trawna*

      Reading the letter, I was wondering if the LW’s question was going to be should they be worried about being fired…

    3. Rescue Dog*

      Yes, I work with an Adam and she drains the lifeblood out of all of us. No one gets fired from our org and she has been passed around until she landed on our team. She sets up meetings of her own accord on our calendars to talk about the “issues” she uncovers. She runs reports that are not her bailywick and sends out general slack messages about them and what changes should be made. She will never be told to knock it off; everyone just silently finds her behavior annoying, disrespectful and a time sink. Mostly I just watch with bemusement at the dysfunction of the org.

  20. Fed Up*

    Oh man, send him to the government. NO incentive to be effective or efficient here. I’ve brought up dozens of ways we could make processes more efficient over the years and been totally ignored. It would definitely wring this habit right out of him!

    1. Wildcat*

      Please don’t. I’m a government employee and yes, we’re bound by the APA and so have to go through Notice and Comment to fix things. Being bound by those laws can make things slow. (At my own job we’re also bound by a specific treatment and so ceetain things can only be fixed once a year at a multinational meeting). That doesn’t mean we’re both working as hard as we can.

      But I know my own sub organization has managed to pivot significantly despite some huge changes in the past ten years.

      1. Stevie*

        Yes, in all seriousness, I’d actually leave my federal job if I had to deal with an Adam (who refused to attempt to modify his behavior) more than occasionally. He wouldn’t endear himself to federal employees who are frustrated by constraints, but working hard within those constraints, either.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

      I have an Adam in my state government job. I would not like another, thank you.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Co-signed in another state government job. We have plenty of Adams around here already.

    3. Economist*

      Yes, government agencies have a lot of inertia. Also, in the federal government changing a form is a major endeavor–several agencies may have to review the change in additional to review by organizational physiologists, survey specialists, and diversity and civil rights offices, and then there are software and database changes. Early in my federal career I made the decision to make the bureaucracy work for me–instead of questioning or complaining, I saw it as a puzzle to be solved instead of a problem to be fixed. If I had to fill out 6 forms to get what I needed, just tell me what forms and I’d fill out the 6 forms. It made everything go smoothly for me, and while my colleagues were whining about a form they had to fill out, I was getting things done. This decision I made to accept the bureaucracy saved me so much time and energy that I could then apply to my projects. Also, I got some really nice travel by taking the time to fill out all the forms, in particular, trips to Brussels, Vancouver, and Lisbon. All of these trips required multiple forms for approval.

    4. Eastcoastanon*

      Fellow public servant here, I completely agree with your assessment. It wrung the habit out of me years ago. Feels kind of cruel to wish the same fate on someone else though. Chin up, at least we have benefits.

  21. Retro*

    As always, Allison is on point. I think getting HR and higher-ups in the loop will empower OP to hold firm to her feedback and manage pushback from Adam. It’s important for Adam to hear the same messaging from every avenue he goes down. And it will raise awareness to how disruptive Adam is being. If a higher-up is briefed on the situation, then she may realize “hey, Adam has come to me twice this month about Issue 1 and 2, but OP has filled me in that Issue 1 and 2 are under Bob’s purview. It’s strange that Adam is being so intense and not letting go of these issues and being so intrusive on Bob’s work.”

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Agree. It’s highly possible that upper management thinks of Adam as a quirky, slightly annoying guy based on what they see.

  22. Writer Claire*

    It is. I am both amused and horrified by that claim.

    Sadly, this seems to be a new trend–straight white people, especially straight white men, twisting the language of social justice against minorities and women.

  23. No Thanks in Advance*

    This sounds similar to sealioning (,point%20where%20they%20appear%20unreasonable), but harder to escape because people can’t just walk away from work like they can a non-work discussion. For the sake of everyone else there (and the work itself), this guy must be dealt with in such a way that he stops this or he must be gotten rid of. He does not sound like a person acting in good faith.

    This is exhausting to everyone beyond just the time wasted, and they shouldn’t have to deal with it.

    1. FG*

      This may not be sealioning exactly – sealions are usually trolls, arguing for argument’s sake. But it is definitely a relative. “I’m just asking questions,” is a favorite statement in the sealion’s playbook.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I was at the edge of a large group of people dealing with serious sealioning for years. Most of us thought that the culprit was sincere about what he was advocating–but he could not accept, ever, that he was wrong, or that what he was bringing up was irrelevant, or that something might not be his business, or that arguing for world socialism in a discussion of teapot handle colors would not advance the cause, even if we all said “you’re right about capitalism, now can our workers’ collective get back to thinking about glaze?”

        His posts were an endless stream of “yes, but…” and “you clearly don’t understand, or you would agree with me” and “but have you considered the effects of the War of the Spanish Succession?”

        In the end, it didn’t matter whether he was sincere — it cost him friends, it led to people very carefully not using his name anywhere a google robot might see it, and I suspect it hurt his career.

    2. Robin Ellacott*

      That was what I thought of too. Same type, and equally painful to deal with.

      Nobody owes you a debate.

  24. Don't be long-suffering*

    Your other employees are going to be soooo relieved when Adam leaves. Productivity will sky rocket from the relaxation. I hope you can convince your bosses that the rest of the people in the business are worth more than this one. Good luck.

  25. I should really pick a name*

    It really seems like you’ve forgotten that you’re the one with the power in this situation.

    He’s not in a position to demand things from you.
    You’re spending an hour to craft an email to avoid him badgering you. Instead, if he starts badgering you, you can just let him know that this isn’t something that’s up for discussion.

    What happens when he seeks out higher ups? It sounds like a lot of people in your company aren’t willing to stand up to him, so he has no reason to stop.

    I feel like what’s missing from your letter is what happens when he plays the victim. Do people cave to what he wants? Is he told that regardless of what he thinks is fair, his actions are hurting workflow, not improving it?

  26. Evvie*

    I was Adam. But you know why? Our lack of systems resulted in great miscommunications and even lower tier workers being screamed at. I even had other employees talking to me in tears because the lack of communication was resulting in them getting blamed for things that had literally nothing to do with them, as the supervisors could easily claim it wasn’t their fault but the faults of those beneath them. I wasn’t a supervisor, but I had to become the unofficial spokesperson for everyone at my level and even *one level above me* because they were all terrified. (You should see this company’s NextDoor reviews…)

    When I brought this up in a formal meeting with our big boss (he did this once a quarter; I didn’t call it), his response was “wait…we don’t do that already? They told me we did that.” HR said the same. That’s how poor the communication was. No one was on the same page. No one knew what anyone else was doing. I had been in supervisory positions before and had seen this before…and fixed it. They refused to admit anything needed to change after becoming a 200 person company vs. 20 person company.

    Since I wasn’t at the highest tier, they made such an effort to avoid my suggestions that they refused to click a button and instead created an entire computer program. It was literally a button.

    Maybe instead of spending an hour crafting a response to Adam, the folks in charge should reflect on WHY he’s asking. Also, was he encouraged to do this at some point, as I was? And is there a chance he’s become the unofficial spokesperson, as I had to?

    As soon as I was offered a job elsewhere, I left…and they implemented my ideas. All of them.

    1. Retro*

      Evvie, I think there is a big difference between being a squeaky wheel, which sounds like what you were, and a grade A A-hole which sounds like what Adam is. I think the key difference is you had coworkers coming to you about all the issues and lack of communication. The organization was dysfunctional but your work relationships with coworkers aren’t.
      In Adam’s case, his coworkers are scared of being badgered by him. They’re drafting long emails and long explanations to avoid being questioned over and over again by Adam. It doesn’t sounds like Adam is bringing up these process deficiencies to help his team. It sounds like he’s doing it because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone and knows better all the time. That is a HUGE difference to what you went through.

      1. Littorally*

        Yeah, the fact that Adam is trashing all his relationships is a really important part of this letter. What he is doing is not a necessity by any stretch of the imagination.

      2. AD*

        Yeah, I was just coming here to say this. Adam does not sound like an innovator whose good ideas are being ignored. OP specifically said he badgers people to demand answers for why certain processes aren’t more (in his eyes) efficient…for processes that do not exist. He takes up his time and the valuable time of managers and peers to hector and browbeat people to give him answers on things outside and beyond the scope of his job.

        Looking at this guy’s behavior as stifled creativity is not right. At all.

    2. Gracely*

      I don’t think you sound like you’re the Adam in this scenario. People ARE entertaining and answering his suggestions, and they’re wasting their time because he’s making suggestions that aren’t relevant/useful. People are spending hours responding with how “the issue has been thought through already and explain exactly why things are the way they are”.
      This is not a problem of miscommunication or lack of communication or lack of giving Adam a chance to ask questions. Unlike at your previous company, they’re listening.

    3. mreasy*

      You weren’t Adam. You were someone who was bringing up actual issues with impact on you and other colleagues. Adam is questioning things just for the sake of it and because he thinks he knows better than everyone. I have an Adam at my work and I only deal with him occasionally and still he makes me crazy. (Yes, he is the unvaccinated colleague I have mentioned on weekend threads…)

    4. MsM*

      No, no, I don’t think you are Adam. There is not a horde of desperate employees coming to him for help in navigating broken processes and lines of communication. There are no misinformed managers who think very important things are being done that aren’t. What we have here is a relatively functional system that Adam keeps trying to break and re-optimize, without pausing to consider whether that’s really necessary or the work hasn’t already been done and this was in fact the best solution.

    5. Trex*

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but you cannot superimpose that very different scenario onto this one. I know it’s tempting to see yourself in these letters and respond from that perspective, but it’s not actually relevant, appropriate or helpful.

      I hope you have found a better situation and will be able to move on mentally as well soon.

  27. Cataclysm*

    I’ll admit Adam reminds me a bit of myself at times, but the big difference between me and Adam is that I am able to take “we’ve already thought this through and there is a good reason it is the way it is” as an answer.

    My advice to the LW would be to give him that as a clear, direct goal – the ability to take “we’ve already thought this through and there’s a good reason for it” as an answer if that’s what’s given to him. That’s not a vague goal, which makes it easier to obey and enforce, it should cut off the major “Adam demands deeper explanations that he then tries to poke holes into” issue while preserving most of the genuine utility some of his questions have, and it’s relatively easy to tell if he’s actually doing it. The LW can tell others they’ve instructed Adam to learn to accept that as an answer and ask his coworkers to report it if Adam doesn’t. If Adam genuinely has an issue with lack of clear guidelines and lack of structure rather than being the type who just wants to loophole things, this should help.

    1. Forrest*

      Yeah, I see a bit of myself in my last job here too. I’d taken a step down in autonomy for step up in pay, although I didn’t know about the step down in autonomy until I actually started the job. I was so frustrated in that job. And I can see how much of it was just that my wheels were spinning: I would see a problem, come up with a solution, think it all through, mentally prepare a powerpoint presentation on the better process, but … obviously I couldn’t do anything about it, so it would just sit there niggling at me. And then I would see something else.

      Now I’m in a role where I actually have the power, and I see a problem, consult with the relevant stakeholders, research, test two or three possible solutions, prepare the powerpoint, strategise how to get it past the relevant committees, introduce it to the people who will deal with it, plan a training course, set milestones, design an evaluation strategy– and all that takes MONTHS. And I see another problem, and I mentally add it to the list for maybe November? Because the actual problem that I am actually dealing with right now, and the one I’ve already mentally prioritised for after that, will take until at least then. The whole spotting problems everywhere and coming up with solutions was absolutely a problem caused by just not having enough power to actually act on any of it, so it was pretty much all fantasy football league with no actual stakes.

      I think there are two likely things here– Adam is terminally unsuited to the type of role he is in, because he cannot handle the (probably normal!) levels of inefficiency or autonomy that he sees around him, or he is not in the wrong role, but he is ready to move up into something where he can do that systems thinking and the frequency and irrelevancy of his suggestions will slow down when he’s actually got something to get his teeth into.

      However, neither of these are problems his manager can solve– Adam needs to figure that stuff out for himself. What his manager CAN do is make it absolutely clear what Adam needs to do to stay in this role, and if that means Adam concludes it’s not the right role for him, that’s OK! But the more direct, the better.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Unfortunately I think it’s too late. That would’ve been fine before he cemented his reputation as a pesterer so thoroughly. People aren’t giving him short answers like “we’ve already thought this through” anymore because they’ve learned he won’t accept that. So at this point he really can’t ask these types of questions without being disruptive.

      1. Cataclysm*

        That’s the point of telling the others that he’s been instructed to start accepting that as an answer – to reset things and get them to try the short answers again.

        1. ecnaseener*

          It sounds like that would be a lot of people to tell. They can’t exactly send out a company-wide announcement about it.

  28. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I’m seeing negativity in the comments so far, and am sort of surprised at that. As a manager, I find it extremely common that people communicate good ideas poorly or awkwardly and I’m always seeking a balance between what I allow since I’d be turning off some really good suggestions if I prioritized the method and timing of communication over the actual content of the communication.

    There is one caveat here, if something completely has nothing to do with their job and their improvement isn’t substantial enough, then they do not comment on it anymore, and that is made clear. The “burden of improvement” needs to be much higher when it comes to external departments.

    But internally, it seems like the bigger issue is that this is by email and interrupting people at random points throughout the day – not the actual content of the messaging. I would schedule monthly one on ones to discuss process improvement. If he still sends emails this is area for coaching. A lot of green employees don’t know what they don’t know and don’t realize they should be screening their ideas of having them prioritized in some way. For example, if someone’s job is to bring in sales, it’s probably not a priority to automate a force they “waste” an hour on once per week.

    But overall this is somewhat common in good employees. I disagree with the comments so far that this is a huge issue. I find that many really smart and potentially good employees come off as bulls in a porcelain shop, and it’s our job to reign that aspect in. But it’s a heck of a lot better than someone who keeps their head down and then you realize they haven’t done a whole lot!

    It would also help if you pointed out what role Adam is in, becuase his attitude can be a net positive in many roles, including my department, which is why I don’t think the goal is to shut him up.

    1. Littorally*

      I think you’re really ignoring a lot of the content of the OP’s letter if this is your takeaway.

      Yes, not everyone communicates their fundamentally solid feedback in ideal ways, but there is a world of difference between an inelegant or someone impolitic delivery, and the details the OP provides about Adam’s time-wasting behavior, and his refusal to receive in turn any feedback about how he can winnow his ideas down or about how he is delivering his feedback very poorly.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        Right but people are also catastrophizing this to the other extreme and acting like it’s a “worst employee ever” situation and it’s not. There are a myriad of other issues that make employees nightmare employees. I sort of feel like everyone is taking this letter as being the be all end all of how one evaluates people. It’s not. This is one of a hundred things on the checklist. Frankly, and this is my preference, people who blindly go through motions and never change anything because their brains don’t think outside the box are more common and harder to manage because I find it easier to reign in communication thank to train people to think. I’ll also add in a caveat that 70% of people have annoying communication quirks. If we fired all of them, the workforce would be alot smaller.

        1. Littorally*

          Because many of us have worked with guys like Adam and hate them with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns.

          So, let’s recap:

          – Adam is wasting enormous amounts of both his own working time and other people’s
          – Adam is refusing to take feedback from his direct manager and managers in other areas
          – Adam is raising a ruckus all the way up to the executive level when people decline to engage in his time-wasting behavior

          How do you look at all this and reach a conclusion of “annoying communication quirk”?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          It’s not just his behaviour, it’s the fact he’s been told to stop and refuses to – up to saying it’s discriminating against him as a white male?!

          That is the bit that makes me go ‘oh this may not be solveable’. Just letting him carry on with his behaviour isn’t an option in this letter – it’s just not acceptable.

          So how would you manage him? Tell him to restrict his ideas to once a month maybe?

        3. Myrin*

          I sort of feel like everyone is taking this letter as being the be all end all of how one evaluates people.

          I don’t know about others but I personally don’t get that feeling from the comments at all. Everyone seems to agree that he sounds annoying and like a pain to deal with but that’s the consensus on at least two letters every day; I don’t think there’s a particularly strong reaction to this situation.

        4. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

          Speaking only for myself, Adam reminds me of one of my most annoying, draining, difficult-to-work-with coworkers. He’s also insubordinate when told to change his behavior, which is a big deal. Is he the worst employee EVER? No, probably not, but he’s certainly a drain on productivity and morale, and if he can’t turn it around, he needs to go.

        5. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

          This is far more than an “annoying communication quirk.” You have to ignore a lot of what’s in the letter to reach that conclusion.

        6. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I don’t think people are catastrophizing, there are details here that make this more than what you’re outlining. People spending an hour crafting emails because he’ll tear apart their reasoning. Going over people’s heads. Claiming he’s being discriminated against. These are not minor communication quirks.

          Look a huge part of my job is picking apart processes, I know how much it annoys people and my default is to be defensive of people who have good reason for doing it. This is bigger than that.

        7. anonymous73*

          Adam is wasting an inordinate amount of his own and his co-worker’s time, trying to change processes that he has no business changing, and refusing to accept feedback when told no, then playing the victim that he’s being attacked for his personality, when it’s his behavior that’s the issue. I’m not sure what you read, but it’s clearly not the same letter the rest of us read because he IS the worst employee ever.

        8. FlashDanceDC*

          Of course it’s not the worst employee ever. But some of us are managers who have had an Adam (I did) that take up about 50 percent of our day to manage because they keep doing things such as this and ignore any type of feedback. As Alison said though, the OP went wrong because she has been soft messaging because she’s afraid of his reactions and how he will report her to HR. And as Alison pointed out she has to be upfront, firm, and not back down and keep saying, I have told you when you do X, Y happens and that you are not to do X. Other groups/teams not wanting to work with him is going to cause a productivity issue eventually. If this is a small organization the OP can’t “hide” Adam after a while.

        9. Karia*

          For me, as well as him wasting time, rules lawyering, sealioning and escalating every time he’s asked to stop, this guy is appropriating the language of diversity and inclusion.

          Every minority has met this guy, online, at work, in community meetings. Choosing to behave badly is not a protected characteristic.

        10. Observer*

          Right but people are also catastrophizing this to the other extreme

          That’s actually not what’s happening. Here are some of the things that OP describes that people are reacting to – I can’t blame them for strong reactions:

          * He badgers people. That’s bad on its own. It’s even worse because he’s doing this to people he has not authority over regarding issues he as no standing to raise.

          * He repeatedly stick his nose into areas that he has no business in and knows little to nothing about. And he doesn’t just ask questions about how things are done. He states what’s wrong and demands justification for why it’s being done the way he thinks it should be done. Even though he generally does not have the background knowledge to make these types of judgements. So he’s being rude about stuff he’s also wrong about

          * He’s causing people to waste a significant amount of time.

          * He won’t act on his manager’s instructions.

          Yeah, he’s a really bad employee. He needs to change or go.

          I find it easier to reign in communication thank to train people to think.

          Except that there are two problems here. One is that this is not a matter of poor communications. It’s a matter of insubordination, seriously high levels of over confidence, ignorance, and flat out rudeness – and that’s on a good day.

          Secondly, he actually doesn’t apparently know how to think. The OP says that whenever the try to give him guidelines about his behavior etc. he demands a ridiculous level of detail about what he can and cannot do. While that could just be a tactic to keep the OP from coming down on him, the fact that he also needs significantly more direction on his projects than others and that he clearly doesn’t know how to prioritize says that he actually is not the kind of guy who has really good thinking skills.

        11. Anony*

          Hundred percent agree. As I said above: there are two sides to every story. If every single thing in the letter is a complete and accurate representation of the situation then yes, Adam is a PIA. That being said, I find it a little hard to believe that LW isn’t viewing Adam through a B**** Eating Crackers Lens and that their letter doesn’t reflect that at all. Obviously Adam doesn’t see things this way; what would his perspective look like if he were reading this letter? Some people are completely insufferable, but a majority are not when considering context.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            That being said, I find it a little hard to believe that LW isn’t viewing Adam through a B**** Eating Crackers Lens and that their letter doesn’t reflect that at all.

            Why do you find that hard to believe? We’re supposed to take the letter writers at their word.

          2. OP*

            Hi! OP here. I’ll fully admit to having had moments of that feeling, but I’ve tried to recognize that and force myself to evaluate the behaviors from a “would I still find this wrong if X person did it instead of Adam?”
            I’m also not a direct witness to all of these behaviors, I’m often looped into an email thread later or a colleague mentions something to me, so I’m really not out there looking for things to be irritated by.

        12. Anon ND former manager and process improver*

          I agree that it’s easier to reign in communication (though not easy!) than train people to think, and I also think people are being super negative about Adam. I’ve worked with lots of people who were sloppy, hated having mistakes pointed out, and didn’t see the point in fixing things, and that also impacted morale and efficiency of many colleagues.
          As I said in a shorter comment down thread, I’m neurodivergent and sometimes exhibit behaviors like Adam. I have also managed and worked with people with those behaviors–sometimes they were great employees.
          Like Eastcoastanon, I’m feeling pretty bad reading the level of vitriol in this thread and the confident assumptions that Adam is intentionally being an asshole–people have said some similar stuff to my face, but now I have a better sense of what people secretly think about me. Adam is doing some totally unacceptable things, but the communication from OP and others hasn’t conveyed that well enough, and I think OP is ambivalent. OP said “Some of it is genuinely helpful feedback” and “The issues are sometimes related to his work” and “his work output is very high quality because of this kind of diligence and vigilance”–in my experience, if people are really spending all their time on useless suggestions, their work is not “very high quality”! So it isn’t clear to me that Adam is just a time-wasting jerk, or that he is doing this because he’s entitled.
          When I worked in a place where horrible processes–or complete lack of processes–wasted many people’s time but the culture encouraged people to just shrug it off, I also found myself spending “a lot of time pointing out inefficiencies and inconsistencies in processes or places where processes don’t exist” and eventually process improvement became part of my job.
          Thinking about others I worked with who had similar tendencies, they all made important contributions–I’m pretty sure some were neurodivergent and some were neurotypical. They all sometimes wasted time on the wrong things and created work for others, and needed to be told multiple times, in multiple ways, how to be more strategic about when/how/whether to share their suggestions. When I wasn’t firm enough with my employees, I realized I needed to be firmer, and that usually made a difference, and they became more thoughtful. The people not managed by me, well, some were always a mixed bag, and some who were not managed well or consistently ended up really causing problems.
          OP says “I believe he genuinely thinks he’s helping, but I sense that a need to be right and be seen as the smartest plays a role too.” Yup, it might play a role…but also people assume this all the time because they can’t imagine what it is like having a brain that can’t stop trying to fix stuff. I didn’t always have great judgment about when to not suggest stuff or what was worth taking time to fix–especially when I sometimes got rewarded for fixing things, even if they were just processes I used and not in my area. I wouldn’t email the finance director, but I sure might suggest a new expense form if I was frustrated by it and did the math on how much time it must be wasting for everyone.
          I agree that often, people who do this stuff should know better and know they are being obnoxious, but not always. Part of why I’m not as bad as Adam is that I had clear bosses and patient mentors who were willing to coach me on how to give more effective input. I wouldn’t have demanded a new process be created for me…but also? All the unwritten rules are much less clear than neurotypicals think they are.

          1. Karia*

            As a woman who is possibly ND, I’m personally sick to death of the “we can’t hold this white male accountable, he *might* be neurodivergent,” trope.

            I’m sick of it; it associates deliberate bad behaviour with being ND, and isn’t it telling that women and BIPOC never get this excuse made for them?

          2. Eastcoastanon*

            Very well said. I especially appreciate your last sentence. First time in a long time that I’ve felt a little better about myself and I am pushing 60. I still catch myself believing I deserve everything I got. ND doesn’t mean non-destrucable.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

      You don’t find the constant insubordination and playing the victim when he’s told to modify his behavior to be a huge issue? Also, LW says the issues Adam wants to have a long-winded discussion about are only “sometimes” related to his own work and “often” involve processes that aren’t his job to improve.

      1. Karia*

        To me that’s the main issue. I have enormous sympathy for well meaning cluelessness, and very little for the faux version.

    3. Wants Green Things*

      People have to spend upwards of an hour crafting a precise email to Adam because he’ll otherwise harp on, needle, and complain that they 1) didn’t listen to him and 2) didn’t *exactly* explain everything to the level of detail *he* wants. And when called out on it, Adam claims to be discriminated against for his personality.

      That is not a positive. That is not a morale booster. That is not an asset. He is a drain on coworkers and projects, and either he goes or everyone else does. And it’s a lot cheaper to replace one person than 4.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        And it’s a lot cheaper to replace one person than 4.

        I would love to know if that’s true or not but we have no clue whether this is the case or not. The OP might come back in and say “we work in operations and are tasks with improving company systems” in which case this is OK. Or they might say he’s a paper pusher fresh out of school, in which case, not great.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I really, really doubt that in all the detail OP provided, they somehow forgot to mention that improving systems is Adam’s job. They were in fact super clear that most of his suggestions are not within his purview, so let’s take them at their word.

    4. londonedit*

      Could you seriously work with someone who nitpicks every process, even ones that don’t directly relate to their job, who won’t accept a simple explanation and instead carries on nitpicking and demanding more and more information (again about things that don’t directly relate to their job), and who responds to their manager saying ‘Adam, please, can you leave Finance alone’ by saying they need some kind of in-depth process document so they know what they’re allowed to ask questions about? And who also claims any attempt to shut down their ridiculous nitpicking and rules lawyering constitutes some sort of discrimination based on their personality? I certainly couldn’t and I’m not surprised Adam’s co-workers are exasperated.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I have worked with people who let problems fester for a decade or so because they put zero effort into investigating whether something is possible to fix or change. And on top of it, think they were stellar employees. So yes, Adam sounds annoying when you hyper focus on him, but when you compare him to other employees’ issues? Not so bad.

        And I do think he needs to not bring up race, yes, that one is true. But the above point is separate from that and stands.

        1. londonedit*

          But it isn’t Adam’s job to go around the company finding ‘solutions’ and ‘pointing out inefficiencies’ or whatever else it is he thinks he’s doing. It’s Adam’s job to do his actual job and leave everyone to do theirs. ONE query on ‘I find the expenses form really unwieldy, is there a reason Finance make us do it that way?’ is fine, but he needs to accept ‘Yeah, unfortunately that comes from the auditors’ as an explanation and not fire off ten million ‘but but but but but but what if what if’ follow-ups. And when his manager says listen, Adam, I understand you find some things about our processes annoying, but that’s the way they are, they’re not going to change and I can’t have you harassing people about them, he also needs to accept that. He doesn’t need to start saying that he needs a ‘process’ to understand what the OP is asking of him. If he can’t do that then I completely agree with Alison that he isn’t right for the job. His co-workers can’t be expected to put up with his behaviour – it’s a complete waste of everyone’s time.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            I actually worked in a department where our whole purpose was to go around the company finding “solutions” and “pointing out inefficiences”

            If any person in that department behaved anywhere close to how Adam’s acting, they would get one serious sit down telling them to stop and if they did it again, they’d be out. Because acting like you’re the SME on everything, peppering others with questions, nitpicking their processes … particularly when nobody ASKED you to is a great way to annoy the post-its out of people, make them shut down to ANY of your suggestions, even good ones. And if you happen to hit on the one weak link who will fold to your badgering and try to explain stuff or entertain your comments, that person will likely wind up with issues because they wasted time on something that didn’t matter or shared details they weren’t at liberty to share.
            Adam: “Your form is poorly designed and it would take 2 days to automate the input … why haven’t you done that? Why are things the way they are?”
            WeakLink: “oh, we’re not putting any resources into redesigning forms or processes for that because that project will probably be ending soon”
            WeakLink’s grandboss: “WeakLink said what?!? to who?!? …. that hasn’t been finalized or announced yet and now that whole project team is having a melt down”

            1. Littorally*


              We have a dedicated team whose job is to receive process improvement feedback from across our firm and evaluate it in partnership with the affected area(s). The biggest and most important skill listed on their last job post was RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. How to approach an SME with “here is some feedback about your process” in a way that gets their buy-in and brings them onboard as a partner rather than putting hackles up.

        2. Gracely*

          But…we don’t actually know that those employees HAVE those problems. You’re imagining/assuming that they do; we have zero evidence for that in this letter. This is a completely different problem from what the letter is about.

          Just because one employee has one problem doesn’t mean the others have the opposite problem.

        3. Myrin*

          I mean, both kinds of employees can be annoying/bad coworkers/less-than-stellar workers? They aren’t mutually exclusive and I don’t understand why they need to be compared to each other.

        4. Karam*

          It seems that you are letting your own personal bugbears color your take here. I don’t think you are acting in good faith.

        5. Eastcoastanon*

          May I please thank you for being willing to entertain the possibility that Adam isn’t the employee from hell? I see a lot of myself in OPs description. After reading Allison’s response and the level of vitriol in the comments, I’m afraid to so much as make eye contact with anyone around me. I think I would really like to work for someone like you.

          1. Nameless in Customer Service*

            Well, when you say to people, “your process is inefficient you should do it this other way” have you first made sure you have the full picture of why the process is the way it is? When they tell you why, do you accept their answers or cross-examine them? And do you regularly go over your bosses’ heads whenever they try to rein you in? If not, you’re probably better at implementing your desire for improvement and thus probably not as annoying and disruptive to work with as Adam is.

            1. Eastcoastanon*

              I’m “probably not as annoying and disruptive”…? Umm… I’m also not often speechless, I guess you win.

              1. Nameless in Customer Service*

                I apologize — I phrased that badly. How’s this: “If not, you’re probably better at implementing your desire for improvement and thus probably not annoying and disruptive to work with the way Adam is.”

          2. Unaccountably*

            If you read this letter and thought “Oh wow, Adam is totally me,” then consider that maybe your response should be “Holy cow, I never realized what a huge deal this is and how many problems it causes for other people” rather than “I wish I worked for someone who doesn’t care if other employees don’t want to work with me.”

          3. LN*

            Hey, I just want to say that I’m sorry some of these comments have been distressing for you to read. I can also empathize with some of Adam’s thought processes, I think a lot of us who’ve been in inefficient workplaces can! That’s not unusual, and it’s not unusual to have the experience of being shut down when you try to bring issues to people’s attention. And it’s no great sin to be the kind of person who prefers to have very clear processes outlined rather than being expected to apply their own judgment to every situation. The world needs both kinds of people.

            The biggest takeaway here, I think, is that Adam is making himself a problem that’s larger than any of the problems he is trying to solve. It’s okay to ask questions and get clarification on procedures, but you do have to keep it within the scope of your job. Unless you’re being paid specifically to audit procedures, it is enough to simply bring the issue to someone’s attention whose job it IS to deal with those procedures, and let them handle it. If you find that the procedures are broken enough that they’re interfering with your job, that’s an issue to discuss with your manager – but in the scope of “here’s how it’s affecting my work, and xyz are examples of things that happened because of it.” At that point, a decent manager will either tell you that xyz is expected and normal, OR they will give you other solutions to work with, OR they will agree that the procedures need changing and take action towards that. If management sucks, or if the procedures vex you for reasons unrelated to the work-related consequences, then it becomes an issue of “is this buy-in worth the benefits I get from this job?” The way that Adam is approaching these issues isn’t helpful or productive, but that doesn’t mean any form of questioning the procedures has to be that way.

        6. Lance*

          This isn’t a competition, though. It’s not a matter of ‘how bad is this compared to something else’, it’s just ‘how bad is this’. And the (understandable) consensus is that it’s pretty bad, there’s no context to suggest that he’s actually being helpful with the majority of this, and he needs to cut it out when he’s already been asked/told several times to.

        7. Kevin Sours*

          Adam sounds like a problem that is festering. I don’t think his feedback is even particularly useful. People are spending time in tedious detail why the processes he thinks are inefficient are actually necessary. Sounds a like he’s sticking his nose in things he doesn’t understand and isn’t actually helping anything.

        8. Observer*

          I have worked with people who let problems fester for a decade or so because they put zero effort into investigating whether something is possible to fix or change. And on top of it, think they were stellar employees. So yes, Adam sounds annoying when you hyper focus on him, but when you compare him to other employees’ issues? Not so bad.

          People like Adam empower the folks who never think about change. Because Adam sucks all of the air out of the room. And he’s so obnoxious that someone who doesn’t rock the boat is so soothing. That’s not a good way to handle things, of course.

          But it’s worthwhile keeping in mind that allowing any extreme to fester can mess with your sense of what’s reasonable. Which means that people are not DELIBERATELY protecting the people who just won’t think about change. It’s just that you sense of what the right level should look like.

          In general, if the strongest defense you can come up with is “Well X other thing on the other extreme is terrible”, that generally a good sign that what you are looking at is a problem. Because it means that there really is no redeeming quality here, it’s just that it’s clearly NOT this other bad thing. But that doesn’t make it good, or even acceptable.

        9. Dinwar*

          The issue is, both are bad for different reasons.

          Complacency is bad because it allows substandard practices to continue and prevents innovation, dragging the company behind its competition. The world changes, and companies that don’t change with it go under. In addition, you don’t attract new talent. No one wants to work for a stodgy old-school dinosaur of a firm; the changes in dress codes are visible indicators of this.

          On the flip side, nit-picking takes resources away from useful, profitable activities and diverts them to “make Adam go away” activities. This leaves fewer resources to do the rest of the work. Rushing and Frustration are trigger states, meaning that almost all incidents that result in loss can be traced back to them. And believe me, wasting time dealing with someone second-guessing every decision you, your boss, your client, and your subcontractors made on a project makes you frustrated and makes you rush! You also have issues of morale and losing your best people (I’m vary curious about the turnover in this department), and the quality issues that result (changes are risks and must be managed appropriately since they are a major source of loss incidents, which Adam isn’t doing).

          Change is obviously sometimes necessary, but again, it carries with it inherent risks and costs. Having someone change things willy-nilly without any sort of control is absolutely going to bite you. Having someone waste time pushing for change in an uncontrolled manner, by definition, is a waste.

          1. SnappinTerrapin*

            I’ve long believed that two of the worst mindsets an organization can have are seeking change for the sake of change and insisting on doing things the way they’ve always been done. Sometimes there are good reasons to change, and the right change can lead to good results. There are also times when changes that aren’t thought through cause more problems than they solve.

            The first time I worked for a State agency, I spent a lot of time having polite, respectful conversations with people who had experience I didn’t have, and asked a lot of questions about why we do things the way we do. I was ensuring that I understood the lay of the land.

            Over a period of several years, I recommended a number of changes that were implemented. I had established my relationships with my peers in management, with those senior to me, and to the lower-ranking employees who were implementing processes. Being a heavy-handed know-it-all would not have worked so well.

            The second time I worked for that agency, we experienced a legal and political crisis over some of the longstanding practices. This was where my patience in understanding what we do and why we do it became really valuable. We practically shut down operations for several days while I rewrote the procedures. After I wrote my first draft, I met with stakeholders and incorporated suggestions from them. Then we had a meeting with our governing board, with all stakeholders participating, and went through my draft line by line to discuss the effects of the proposed changes, with a particular concern for unintended consequences.

            I’ve had a few highlights in my career, but I’m particularly proud of successfully steering those reforms. A few years after I left, they had another crisis that resulted in a statutory reorganization of the department. They subsequently modified the procedures I had drafted in order to meet the requirements of the new law.

            Process improvement is an art. Practitioners should take the time to understand existing procedures and the reasons behind them. They should also approach stakeholders respectfully and give due consideration to their perspectives. They should also be alert for unintended consequences and costs, and be prepared to weigh costs against benefits, as well as to articulate the reasons for recommending each change and the impact each provision has on the overall process.

            I bragged a little more than I intended to, but what I describe is a very different situation from what LW says Adam is doing. Based on her description, it doesn’t look like he is anywhere near ready to shepherd a significant process change. And it’s not what he’s supposed to be doing, anyway. He needs to focus on doing his job and repairing his credibility so he can effectively do what he’s being paid to do.

        10. Anon ND former manager and process improver*

          As someone else noted, OP specified that Adam is a white male but OP did NOT say Adam brought up race, only that he “keeps saying it’s just his personality”. To me, this sounds like Adam might be trying to communicate something important about the way he thinks–and the fact that he’s communicating it poorly might also be about the way he thinks.

          I’m neurodivergent and sometimes exhibit behaviors like Adam. I have also managed and worked with people with those behaviors, and I agree with Prospect Gone Bad that some commenters are too willing to see the problem as 100% Adam and minimize other issues…but I guess I will put the rest of my comment up thread.

    5. Keller*

      I don’t think that poor communication is the problem here. The problem is that he’s communicating about things that are not part of his job to communicate about. Unless he works in the finance department (which it doesn’t sound like he does) it’s not his job to try to fix inefficiencies in the process of submitting expense reports.

      It’s one thing if he has recommendations about how to improve things that are directly within the scope of his role, but trying to change how other departments operate isn’t appropriate.

    6. Antilles*

      To me, here’s the problem, right here:
      it generally requires the recipient of these suggestions (which are usually posed as questions) to spend about an hour crafting a response to show that the issue has been thought through already and explain exactly why things are the way they are. People spend this kind of time because of experience with Adam — he will badger and badger and point out any holes in an explanation. If he isn’t satisfied with an answer someone gives, he will often suggest a bigger conversation is needed” and seek out higher-ups.
      If he would bring up up ideas and accept a brief “thanks, but we’re not doing it”, then it’d be a good thing for him to raise issues. But he’s not – instead, he’s wasting an hour of people’s time, badgering people about their reasons, and elevating issues thereby wasting even more time.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        This is actually a good point. OP need to manage this area hard. I do think separate one on ones for process improvement are needed and they need to train him to stop annoying people whenever it suits him, and save all of this feedback for those meetings. Only then do you think about anything disciplinary

        1. Keller*

          I don’t think it would be a good idea to schedule one on ones for him to give him input on process improvement. OP wants him to stop this behavior and those meetings would just encourage him and make it harder for him to accept “no” as an answer when there is a legitimate reason for things working the way they do.

        2. AD*

          I think you’re fundamentally missing the point that Adam is *already* wasting his time and the time of his manager, senior leaders, and peers on long-winded cross-examination of things outside and beyond the scope of his job. Why would giving him encouragement to air these grievances in individual settings help this situation at all?

          1. FlashDanceDC*

            I feel bad for the OP. The chief of staff at my agency had an employee like this. She had regular one on one meetings where she allowed this employee to vent/complain about things she saw as an issue within their group, with the director above her and also with other teams. She eventually left because the fit wasn’t there. She pretty much decided that everyone should just do what she said without thinking of there’s reasons why we can’t do X even though you think we really need it.

        3. Wants Green Things*

          You seem to have missed where Adam cried to HR over discrimination for his personality when he was told to stop before. What, exactly, do you think the outcome of these one-on-one sessions will be when Adam has proven, time and again, that he will not listen and will go over his manager’s head to continue his complaints?

        4. Kevin Sours*

          Except he doesn’t want to change that because it’s just his personality. He needs to stop. Period.

    7. Nea*

      “people communicate good ideas poorly or awkwardly”

      Counterargument: people who do not work in a department probably do not have the expertise to have actually good ideas about how that department does its work.

      I am currently working with a lot of people who have no clue how I actually do my job. Telling me how I can be more efficient if the job in reality is how it worked in their heads is not a good idea and cannot be rephrased into a good idea.

      1. KRM*

        We had a ‘fresh out of school’ contractor who told his boss on D2 that he could do her whole job and make it more efficient. Child, you don’t even know why things are they way they are. Yeah, we COULD make it more efficient by getting 3 different automation stations. And where is the money coming from to buy them? Do they need a dedicated person to run them? How much are the consumables? How do you know it’s not first thing on the wishlist when we get actual money coming in? Your ideas are unlikely to be new or groundbreaking, and you need to learn the job we hired you for.
        Note: we did not hire him full time and he went to work for Large Company A because they had a lot of automation (good on him, automation was what he wanted to work with). BUT. He also hilariously told me that “from what they told me, I’ll be THE automation guy there”. Oh no no no. You’ll probably be THE automation guy for ONE department, when you’re up to speed on things. But thinking that you’ll be THE GUY in a large company with a lot of automation, when you’re 23 and it’s your first full time job??

    8. ferrina*

      This was my first response! Adam seemed like he needed a lot more direction; some people are just very process oriented and need some coaching on how to let things go and trust others. I definitely see an approach issue.

      However…the “it’s just my personality” had me worried. I had an Adam who was much more likable- she turned all of her “process improvements” inward, so other departments liked her. But she always wanted hard and fast rules for our very dynamic department. When we could have hard and fast rules, I turned to her to write the process, because she was very good at it. But ultimately she got really mad at me for not prioritizing processes, and she decided that I was bullying her by saying no. She didn’t argue with me, but did go to my boss to accuse me of verbal abuse and bullying. Despite literal years of positive 360 reviews on my management, my boss raked me over the coals until I could prove that the accusation was retaliatory. In the end it wasn’t the love of efficiency, but the refusal to accept the circumstances.

    9. Kevin Sours*

      I am unable to see any role in which his attitude is a net positive. He’s doesn’t pick his battles. He is absolutely unwilling to let anything go and demands that every single thing is explained to *his* satisfaction without regards to other people’s time an priorities. He’s aggressively pushed back on any suggestion that his taking up other people’s time is a problem. His attitude is *bad*.

      It’s not just the timing of communications. He needs to take “this isn’t a priority right now” for an answer as well as “this isn’t your lane, let the people responsible worry about it”. He needs to be willing to change.

      And if that doesn’t happen, he needs to be somebody else’s problem.

  29. Beth*

    Oh good Bob, manage this guy. Manage him out if that’s what it takes. The employees he’s been tormenting are more important than he is, and the LW needs to make it stop.

  30. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

    Good lord. “Inclusivity” doesn’t mean you have to include every annoying personality; moreover, these are behaviors – you’re not telling him to change his personality. Adam’s obnoxious, exhausting behavior has been reinforced at every turn. It is going to be hard to rein him in now. I do hope you can follow AAM’s advice and either manage to rein him in or fire him – he’s got to be terrible for everyone’s morale.

  31. bee*

    I feel like this will not help Adam, because I get the sense that he enjoys being a jerk, but if he genuinely is just obtuse and needs A Rule, one I personally use when things seem inefficient/frustrating is “Start with the assumption that your coworkers are competent professionals who have more context than you do.” It really does help me to just let things go, and it maybe could help to re-focus Adam?

    1. Jennifleurs*

      Yesss I agree. It is worryingly easy to fall into the thought pattern that coworkers in different departments, who you only connect in with relation to the intersection of your roles, are sat twiddling their thumbs and waiting for you. Everyone has a job and everyone is doing it, and can’t attend to you all the time!

    2. mreasy*

      This feels like the crux. Adam believes he’s the only competent person who has given any thought to these things. That’s…not a good coworker.

    3. Loulou*

      I love this comment. It’s often really easy to tell who is coming from the starting point that others have good intentions and are trying their best, versus who thinks they’re the only competent person in their organization. It sounds like Adam needs a major reframing.

    4. EmmaPoet*

      This is a really good rule, I think. The circulation staff at a library don’t need to know exactly how interlibrary loan does everything, because their job is to focus on circulation and circulation-related issues. If there’s an ILL question, it gets passed to them. Working on the presumption that your coworkers have a reason for what they’re doing saves everyone time.

  32. Pescadero*

    ““What I think I hear you saying is that you’re not comfortable working with the sort of parameters that are realistic in our jobs — that you want a process in place for every possible scenario. I’m not able to give you that; there will always be some amount of ambiguity where you need to use your judgment to figure things out. Knowing that’s the case, do you want to take a few days to think about whether this the right job for you?””

    This is perfect… but then don’t punish him for using his judgement differently than you.

    IME – there are two types of people who act this way:

    1) Folks who can’t work independently on their own judgement
    2) Folks who can, but have been punished for doing so

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I’ve seen a third type of co-worker do this:

      Folks who use their own judgement, selectively when they want to, but who have a pattern of trying to deflect blame for their actions, lack of action, or not bothering to think through the implications of their actions beyond whatever they personally care about. They are often employees who try to work every edge to their advantage, doing things like taking all the new hire t-shirts because no one *explicitly* told them they were only entitled to one.

      Unless something is documented in minute detail they claim can ignorance “the manual says employees should park in the employee lot, but it doesn’t say we can’t park on the grass or walkways that are in the lot, so I just park as close as I can”. or “the procedure says to print a receipt but it didn’t say to keep it, so it’s not my fault I just tossed them instead of putting them in the drawer labeled “printed receipts”.

      1. hamsterpants*

        Yes seems a fair Case 3 would be “Capable of exercising judgement but their judgement is awful.”

  33. Forrest*

    LW, alongside Alison’s excellent advice, can you let some of Adam’s most frequent victims know that they DO NOT have to answer his emails? Delete. Delete the follow-up. Delete the other follow-up and set him to mute on Slack for 24 hours.

    There’s two things here– firstly, people should just not be wasting their time doing this, and secondly, it’s really rewarding Adam’s disruptive behaviour. Every time someone spends an hour writing an email with a Reason Why We Don’t Do That, he thinks he’s in a conversation and getting more grist to his I Can Do Stuff Better mill.

    1. Frances*

      Yes! Agree 100% here. Adam sounds exhausting to work with. Give people permission to get their stuff done without his distractions.

    2. Morticia(she/her)*

      This. Just because he demands his coworkers waste a lot of time on him, doesn’t mean they have to do it. They can be like Sarah in Labyrinth: “My will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great — you have no power over me.”

    3. Observer*

      Alison’s excellent advice, can you let some of Adam’s most frequent victims know that they DO NOT have to answer his emails? Delete. Delete the follow-up. Delete the other follow-up and set him to mute on Slack for 24 hours.

      I was thinking about this. If you can do this, I think it would save everyone a lot of time and aggravation. And it would tell your colleagues that you are aware of the scope of the problem and are actively trying to reduce the impact. It also winds up teaching Adam a really important lesson – Just because he asks a question, doesn’t mean he’s going to get and answer, he wants to “understand something” doesn’t mean he’ll get the clarity he wants, he wants to “be helpful” people are going to accept his help.

      Let your boss, grandboss and HR know that you are doing this and ask them to NOT intervene on his behalf when he comes to them to complain that he’s not getting the answers he’s demanding. Explain that you are trying to reign him in and reduce the time he’s causing other people to waste.

    4. OP*

      Yes, thank you! I will do this. When I first started managing him, he had a much more extensive network within the company, but now that I’ve been there a bit longer, I know a lot of these people better and can let them know.

  34. another Hero*

    either way, being clear helps (and in this case, part of being clear is saying they don’t have a flowchart for everything and can’t spend the time to explain it all, not creating a flowchart for everything and taking the time to explain it all). if he’s nd, being clear is appropriate and may be helpful. if he’s not nd, being clear is appropriate and may be helpful.

  35. Rosie*

    Oh my — I just realized that this will be what my kiddo is like in the workplace if he can’t learn to let things go that aren’t his business! Right now, in middle school, it shows up as not being able to deal with other kids breaking the rules, and the need to report the new graffiti in the bathroom Right! Now! to Every! Available! Adult! He sees something that he registers as a problem, and Needs it to Be Fixed.

    I’m not sure whether this extrapolation to the workplace is helpful, or panic-inducing in terms of how to continue working with kiddo on this…

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I think that’s a normal stage of child development, though it’s more pronounced in some kids.

      1. LizB*

        My thoughts exactly – middle school is exactly the right time for this behavior to show up, and with conscientious parenting (like it sounds Rosie is doing) it should be grown out of.

      2. China Doll*

        I have seen this trait play out in the workplace. I was an admin in the internal audit dept of a Fortune 500 company. Most of the auditors were just out of college. They hired a young woman with auditing experience for sort of a quasi-office manager role. Scheduling the other auditors was her main function (travel & logistics with satellite offices were involved). While she was competent, a big part of her job turned into tattling on people for leaving early, socializing too much, etc. perhaps upper mgmt appreciated this (I don’t know that she reported anything formally) but it was a real morale killer. I found her very hard to like, despite her friendly overtures. IMO this trait does seem to show up in the children of authority figures (her father was the Principal of a large high school). I know I eventually left the department to get away from her.

    2. Miel*

      I think I was kinda like that as a kid. I was REALLY uptight, and in retrospect, I was probably really annoying!

      I’ve grown up a little since middle school. Now I (very occasionally) email higher-ups or a different department with a comment or suggestion. It’s usually worked out well.

      A couple years ago I got Facilities to switch the single-stall bathrooms to be all-gender, just by asking!

      1. UKDancer*

        Likewise I was probably very annoying as a child and my parents remember with laughter my campaign to get working sanitary machines in the toilets at school and the petition I pulled together to ask for better quality toilet paper. But I grew out of it.

        I still make suggestions but only when they’re asked for or when things don’t work. For example my office facility people did a survey on the food in the restaurant so I asked for a wider range of jacket potato fillings. Another time I put a comment in their suggestion box and asked if they could put the copier paper on a lower shelf as at the moment anyone under 6 foot can’t reach it. I was more successful with the copier paper than with the jacket potato filling options.

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          What’s wrong or laughable about wanting working sanitary machines and better toilet paper?

    3. DisneyChannelThis*

      For your kid – try focusing in on “is it hurting someone” as a filter for what needs to be tattled on. Even explicitly – “is someone bleeding or going to bleed”. New bathroom graffiti – no. Johnny being dated to jump 3 flights of stairs – yes.

      1. Rosie*

        Yeah, we’re working with the school on this since it shows up in a number of ways. We have various professionals helping with strategies :)

    4. Gracely*

      One thing that might help–get him to ask himself “is someone being hurt or put in danger”? If yes, then “right now”! is the correct response. If not, it can wait.

      1. Formerly Ella Vader*

        That would fit the graffiti question, because my thought-experiment there would involve whether or not the graffiti included any personal insults or hate-speech words or symbols. I mean, maybe it’s still not the same level of urgency as “there is broken glass in the primary kids’ bathroom”, but I’m thinking maybe the principal would want to know right away if there was slut-shaming language about a kid, or hateful racist epithets, in a space where kids are about to see it unsupervised.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      This was me at that age and, yeah, I learned to deal. I still cringe internally but I can rein it in in the real world without stressing myself too much.

    6. anonymous73*

      I wouldn’t panic yet, but it is something that you should work on with him. Unless it’s hurting someone, it doesn’t need to be reported immediately. I’m an only child and as a kid I would argue until I was blue in the face because I always thought I was right. But I matured and realized that I’m not always right, and even if I am, sometimes it’s not worth it to argue.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I have a magnet on my fridge that reads:

        pick your battles
        not that many
        put some battles back
        pick fewer battles

      2. UKDancer*

        Also an only child. I grew up in a household where we debated things a lot in a calm manner and my vote and voice was listened to and weighed against my parents. I really struggled at school where I was expected to do as I was told and where my peers tended to act in a less rational manner and sometimes shouted.

        By the time I hit adulthood and was working I had learnt to pick my battles and to be more constructive with my interventions. I still like giving my opinion but I’ve learnt better ways of doing it that yield more effective outcomes.

    7. Observer*

      I’m not sure whether this extrapolation to the workplace is helpful, or panic-inducing in terms of how to continue working with kiddo on this…

      Probably a bit of both. It’s easy to see something our kid does as just a harmless, if annoying quirk, so a reminder of how things can go sideways is helpful. On the other hand it’s also easy to catastrophize from not great behavior to “OMG this is the end of the world. So, take the reminder but don’t panic. Your kid definitely needs to learn how to deal with this stuff, but he’s also very normal.

  36. Hannah Lee*

    Amazing that this guy who claims to need direct instructions and parameters and is unable to exercise independent judgment on things that ARE his job responsibilities has ZERO problem exercising independent judgement over where he sticks his nose into other peoples’ jobs.

    He seems to be cultivating an obnoxious personality to give himself a wide berth to be even more obnoxious… using his imagined superiority and pushiness to insert himself everywhere and be a nuisance and yeah a bully.

    Time to manage him out the door because it seems there is no chance he turns around. Even if his deliverables are stellar, he’s wasting time and effort, defying authority plus he’s disrupting everyone else’s ability to do their jobs.

    1. Mercie*

      Yep, it’s almost funny that he demands a document telling him what to do but he’s somehow able to figure out how to make bad suggestions and hassle other employees all by himself. How much money is the company spending on the time it takes all these other employees to handle Adam? It sounds like he’s making things incredibly inefficient.

  37. a tester, not a developer*

    There are definitely jobs where questioning everything and tracking down discrepancies/missing information is an asset (I’m thinking of QA or testing work), but it sounds like this is not that type of role. I wonder if there’s somewhere else in the company where Adam’s… attributes would be a good thing?

    1. Ayla*

      There are jobs where questioning is good, but are there really any where pestering and steamrolling people once they’ve assured you they already considered your questions/suggestions is good? If this were just about Adam firing off a “You should try ____” and accepting a response of either “We’ll consider that, thanks” or “We already looked into that but it’s just not efficient for our team,” I don’t think it’d be as big a deal. But he’s not dropping it. That’s the problem, in my opinion.

    2. anonymous73*

      I’ve worked with testers who couldn’t stay in their lane too. The requirement says this, but they would test other things because they thought it would work better their way. I was constantly telling them to stop doing more than what was required of them, and to submit suggested changes to the PM to review.

    3. quill*

      I’m in QA and it’s about 50% process driven things and 50% how do we make this process work?

      I’d be swatting Adam with my clipboard within a week.

    4. Just a different redhead*

      He might still need info even then. When I started out QA, I needed some flat-out boundaries because when told “Write up whatever you find that’s not working as expected”, I… did. I mean, probably to the level of the malicious compliance suggestions folks gleefully comment on sometimes, but with all earnest and good intentions. Not that I was… confident enough to make suggestions to as wide a variety of colleagues on as wide a variety of items as Adam, but someone had to tell me “You should actually only report the things preventing it from functioning, first; it’s great that you catch the cosmetic and would-it-be-better-if things, but you should only put those in once the most important things are fixed.”
      I was very successful after that, but oh man, without that really direct conversation….

  38. lee*

    Alison’s well-thought out and expressed response is why I so love and appreciate this website. Thank you Alison.

  39. animaniactoo*

    When he brings up personality issues as a question of diversity, I suggest that you need to be direct and clear with him about this:

    This is not the kind of inclusion that can be accommodated here. You do not get to inflict your personality on others and create massive amounts of time spent managing it for you. That is putting the problem in someone else’s court. You need to learn how to take “no” for an answer without people needing to explain it to you in every last detail… and figuring out how to do that is your responsibility. Because needing everything explained to this extent is your problem, your issue, your personality thing. And that means you need to own managing it so that it is not a problem for other people.

  40. Nameless in Customer Service*

    “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
    Soon that attitude may be your doom!”

    1. wendelenn*

      Talks for six hours, the convention is listless. Bright young man, yo, who the eff is this?!

      1. Aggresuko*

        Love this.

        I was the smartest person in a room once and it was horrifying because those other people were really, really stupid!

  41. Small houseplant*

    Yikes on bikes. I kind of want to tell him that he is not the arbiter of all efficiency, the One True God of Doing Things Right.

  42. calvin blick*

    I had a former co-worker who was a little bit like this, in that he would only do things in a very strict, inefficient way and refuse to deviate at all. He only emailed upper management once, when he emailed his manager, the company CEO, and the division president to say that the change from “Easter” to “Spring Holiday” on the company holiday calendar was wrong because religion is essential to a well-functioning society and that HR should be “reprimanded” or “fired” for not knowing that, and that this was a good example of National Socialism, which he pointed out America had fought against very hard in the past, which, again, made it necessary to fire or reprimand HR. I can’t remember how he made the leap to National Socialism, but it was a long email so he managed.

    To the best of my knowledge, nothing happened to him, but his manager (who showed me the email as he was in disbelief) did get reprimanded for showing it to me. The holiday name was not changed.

    Due to his extremely rigid way of working, this guy worked very slowly, and his quality of work was somehow also very poor. He literally did less than half of the average amount of work, about at least 75% less of the best workers in his division. Somehow, no one ever seemed too worried about it. He was extremely intelligent and well educated; just kind of a strange guy.

  43. nobadcats*

    My goodness, Adam sounds just… exhausting. He’s one of those “just asking questions” guys, aka JAQing off, as we say.

    If I had him as a freelancer (I run a herd of freelancers), he’d have been cut loose ages ago. Nobody has time for this ish.

  44. middle name danger*

    Why on Earth are people spending an hour replying to him? Maybe there needs to be communication with others, not just Adam, to stop giving into his requests and badgering. “I’ve already discussed this with [appropriate person], so we do not need to go over it again since it’s not directly relevant to your job,” is a complete response.

    1. Calibri Hater*

      I second this, and to any sane person that response means “Leave it the f*** alone and stay in your lane.”

    2. Casper Lives*

      Well, people have experienced the pushback, incessant communication, and badgering from Adam if they don’t. OP isn’t managing Adam. It’s unknown if other bosses are but I suspect not because he’s being catered to. That’s a sign the coworkers know management won’t do anything. So far they’re correct.

    3. Julia*

      I suspect they’ve tried that response and Adam won’t go away. It’s exhausting and disruptive to keep on fielding questions in email or in person. They’re spending an hour on an email to avoid two hours of pestering follow ups.

  45. This is My Happy Face*

    Ughhhh I hate the Adams of the workforce. You just know deep down he dreams of being the founder of a silicon valley start up and truly won’t be happy in any role where he has to accept other people’s ways of doing things.

  46. mreasy*

    As a woman who was told I was “intolerable,” “difficult,” and “impossible to work with” and denied raises at a former job despite measurable success metrics AND ALL MY COLLEAGUES DISAGREEING with my boss who said it, this bro citing DE&I as the reason he gets to question everyone else’s judgment is pretty special! Pretty Special.

  47. What is worthy of the EAP?*

    I understand the need to not armchair diagnose. Here, or in the workplace. But that leads me to a question. And I am not being snarky – I am truly asking. What if he is not mansplaining? What if it were a different circumstance, and he seemed to have undiagnosed depression, that manifested in him doing his work, but barely, and having trouble providing necessary work to others on his team because he could barely manage his own workload? What if he seemed to have potential alcoholism, which is quite treatable, but often undiagnosed? Say, he was missing every Friday and Monday, coming in hungover, or drinking at lunch in an industry in which that is not the norm? Would the suggestions be that he be referred to the employers EAP, if they had one? Would that suggestion (referral to EAP) be allowed as a comment here?

    In other words, when someone presents with classic symptoms of a particular illness that is known to impact work, but is undiagnosed, whether it is alcoholism, depression, or what have you, is there never a time to refer to the EAP as opposed to managing him out? If the EAP is to be useful, when is the time to refer to the EAP? How do you, or does one ever, refer someone to the EAP without saying “I think these behaviors might be indicative of something you can get help with. Please consider contacting the EAP? If that is ever appropriate, does one ever mention the particular problem one suspects, or does one just leave it vague as above? And when, if ever, is it an appropriate comment here?

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I think this is far enough off topic from the letter that it would be better to ask in the Friday open thread!

    2. Littorally*

      “What if this letter was about a different person with different problems?” There would be a different solution, duh.

      1. Anony*

        These aren’t different problems, they’re parallel problems. The parallel problem is being posed to make you recontextualize your opinion. If an employee (potentially) had a condition with less irritating symptoms, the comments would overwhelmingly urge the LW to have an empathetic response and refer the employee to help. But when it comes to a potential problem with less socially acceptable symptoms and beyond basic depression or anxiety, the empathy quickly disappears and it’s written off as a personality flaw.

        It’s a huge problem across society, not just in these comments.

    3. DisneyChannelThis*

      It’s not the place of the workforce to diagnose and refer people for issues. You have to take personal responsibility for your life.

      1. What is worthy of the EAP? again*

        Maybe it is more appropriate for the friday thread. I thought it was related to this letter for reasons I describe below, but I could be wrong. As to this:

        “It’s not the place of the workforce to diagnose and refer people for issues. You have to take personal responsibility for your life.”

        I know so many people who got sober because their boss referred them to the EAP and it was get treatment or you are fired, not just, you are fired. So if this guy is neurodivergent, would it not be discriminating against him to not do so? Maybe he is telling the truth when he says he thinks it is his personality – maybe he just does not know yet that these behaviors are sort of classic, and he can get help to not do them, but turn his problem solving into more productive channels.

        My question then is, when is armchair diagnosing and referral to the EAP inappropriate, both here and on the job? As a neurodivergent sober person, I was lucky to get sober early, and did not have to be forced into treatment. But my annoying behaviors that tuned out to be from neurodivergence were never addressed, and I had to find out very late. This guy reminds me of some of those behaviors, including the wrong idea that these behavior are baked into his personality and not something he can address. When you have help to address them, they can be turned into assets.

        So I am wondering, when does one, in a management capacity on the job, or here on this comment page, have to refrain from armchair diagnosis or offers of help? What is the EAP for, if not referring people who seem to be exhibiting issues that can be helped? And if neurodivergence is not one of those issues, why not? And how does one phrase that referral?

        I don’t see it as any more insulting to say that someone who is very literal minded, needs a process for everything, including for how to tell when they are interfering in others’ work, might possibly be neurodivergent, and referring them to the EAP as part of their being coached, than to tell someone coming in with alcohol on their breath that they might be helped by the EAP, or giving someone who seems rather obviously depressed (to a layperson manager) that they might consider going to the EAP.

        And to ward off potential comments on that, I am not ashamed of being a sober alcoholic, any more than I am ashamed of being neurodivergent, so I do not consider it comparing apples and oranges – my sobriety is a good thing, and my getting help with interacting in the neurotypical world was a good thing. I just think that if the issue were drinking or depression, he might be referred out for help before being fired. (or not.) But if yes, why not the same solution here? And can we mention in these comments that gee, it sounds like someone might be depressed or an alcoholic, maybe HR should get involved and refer them for help before pushing them out the door, or not? If yes, why exclude that about neurodivergence, because it is armchair diagnosing and insulting? If it is potential neurodivergence, should the OP not consider referring him to the EAP?

        But maybe it is a better topic for the Friday thread – though I think it is related to this letter.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          The EAP is there for employees to take advantage of it. It’s not on the employer to direct them.

          An employer really is not equipped to diagnose issues, medical or mental.
          At the end of the day, the employer needs the behavioural issues to stop. That can be by the employee changing their behaviour, or my replacing the employee. While it may be in the employee’s best interest to be referred, it’s not actually the employer’s responsibility.

        2. Not a cat*

          No one owes anyone a job or the patience of a saint. The analysis needs to be about the value that Adam creates versus the negative impact of his behavior. And that’s it.

        3. lost academic*

          You are essentially suggesting that problems that may be of a neurodivergent nature are those that should be handled by an EAP. I would be very surprised if the majority of EAPs are designed to handle that.

          I also think conflating alcoholism that is directly impacting work in your example with the problems described in the letter is a bad take.

          Managers are not social workers for their staff.

        4. DisneyChannelThis*

          >”My question then is, when is armchair diagnosing and referral to the EAP inappropriate, both here and on the job?”

          Armchair diagnosing is banned here and is never appropriate at work. (Unless you’re a therapist. Then armchair diagnose away at work!)

          >”What is the EAP for, if not referring people who seem to be exhibiting issues that can be helped?”
          For employees to seek out assistance as needed. And I’ve never seen one for whatever mental disorder you’re implying this LW’s employee has, they’re usually about drugs, debt, abuse, or other addictions.

          You seem to be stirring the pot looking for a specific answer I don’t think you’re going to get. Work is not your therapist/social worker/financial advisor/parental figure/savior. You’ve got to personally manage your life, including knowing when/how to seek help on your own.

        5. Observer*

          So if this guy is neurodivergent, would it not be discriminating against him to not do so?

          You’re doing a LOT of stretching here. How is it “discriminating” the Boss to NOT decide that the person is neurodivergent and sending them to the EAP. Now, if the Boss tried to prevent them from accessing the EAP or tried to HIDE its existence, that would be one thing. But since when does non-discrimination include a duty to provide unsolicited referrals to mental health resources?

          And can we mention in these comments that gee, it sounds like someone might be depressed or an alcoholic, maybe HR should get involved and refer them for help before pushing them out the door, or not?

          Because, by and large, it’s irrelevant. If the OP’s company has an EAP, the OP could refer him to it without having to get into the possible fact of nuerodivergence (or not). Because the OP needs to say “I don’t care about your personality, but I DO care about your behavior” regardless. If they have an EAP, they could add “We have an EAP. Perhaps they could be helpful to you in navigating the difference between the two.” Which would be appropriate whether or not Adam is neurodivergent.

          Alison does not ban ALL talk of potential diagnosis. But she is Adamant that the idea needs to be actionable or have some actionable impact on the advice. And in this case nothing you say really makes a difference to the advice to the OP.

          The bottom line is that the OP needs to shut this down. And they CAN recommend the company EAP if such a thing exists. We don’t need to speculate on his mental / emotional health or his neuro-status.

        6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Okay, speaking as someone with more mental illnesses than limbs who nearly did get kicked out the door because my behaviour was that shockingly bad (one of the illnesses was in fact undiagnosed) this is my opinion on what my employer owed me in accommodating my behaviour:


          Zip, zilch, nada. They told me straight up to act better and IF there was an underlying reason for all this that I should go get professional help but the company wasn’t going to stand me behaving like this any longer. ‘If you can’t stop, or can’t change then we’ll have to look into letting you go’

      2. Littorally*

        Seriously. And if they’re in the US, it’s possible that there would be legal concerns involved — the ADA kicks in when someone is perceived to have a disability, so if the OP suggests to him that they are perceiving him as suffering from a mental health issue, that is going to become a concern. And I would not trust Adam not to be the kind of person who would immediately exploit that, given that he is already hijacking DEI language to argue that “roaring pain in the ass” is a marginalized identity.

    4. OyHiOh*

      Of course there are many situations in which it is entirely appropriate to refer an employee to an EAP or similar resources.

      Mansplanning, JAQing off, and sea-lioning are unfortunately such common behaviors among certain demographics (ye gods, even my brothers behaved like this for a solid decade or more into their adult lives, though they’ve fortunately grown up/out of the behaviors!!) that it’s frequently better to assume this is simply privileged white male behavior rather than symptomatic of illness worthy of referral to an EAP. Now, if the person with problematic behavior were to suddenly develop a few brain cells of self awareness and ask about resources to work on/change their workplace behavior and perception, then I’d be happy to suggest calling the EAP about therapeutic resources!

    5. Anne Elliot*

      We manage behaviors, not diagnoses. If you suspect that an underlying condition (diagnosed or otherwise) may be contributing to the unacceptable behavior, then the time to refer to the EAP is right then. It is not a binary choice: either refer to EAP or “manage out.” You can both refer and manage, and you can manage without the goal being to “manage out.” You can say “I’m not sure if you’ve got something going on that is impacting [behavior], but I want to remind you of our EAP . . .” And then you continue to manage the behavior unless or until you receive more information from the employee that the underlying condition, if any, is relevant.

    6. Forrest*

      I have a couple of situations with people I manage where there’s a very murky crossover between (known, diagnosed, disclosed) health problems which sometimes impact their attitude or performance at work, and I think quite a lot about how to manage those conversations without straying into territory where I have no business being. So for me the process is something like:

      1. Clarifying for myself (with my managers and in terms of my own understanding of their work) what the required parameters of the role are. Making sure I have a very strong sense of what *has to be done*, and specifically what *has to be done this way*, and what *has to be done but how/when/where it gets done is flexible*.
      2. Laying that out for the staff member, and then focussing on the flexible areas. I try to have some suggestions about how the flexible areas could work, but again be clear on what’s up to them, and making sure there is space for their suggestions, and time for htem to think about what they need.
      3. Signposting to external sources of support and advice or asking if they want me to loop in or seek advice from experts (HR, occupational health, the EAP), but also, trying to do that regularly even when we’re not discussing a Major Issue, so it feels like that’s there as extra support rather than an indicator that something is broken.

      If I felt like there was something going on that we couldn’t resolve between us– the workplace needs and the employee’s needs did seem to be incompatible, or they were compatible but we both felt it might be better to have that documented as a formal accommodation rather than just a 1-1 agreement– that’s when I would definitely have to go to HR. If I thought there was something happening that the employee wasn’t being honest about, or didn’t have insight into (eg. I felt strongly that there was a chance the employee was neurodiverse, but it wasn’t coming up in our conversations), then I would refer them to HR for an occupational health review. Occupational Health has far more expertise than I do at negotiating the conjunctions of health, neurodiversity and workload, so I would rely on them to identify if there was something that needed to be taken further, and to raise it sensitively with the employee.

    7. fantome*

      I think such a comment would overstep the mark a lot.

      Even when it comes to relationships outside the workplace, if someone is behaving badly in ways that suggest they have some sort of bigger problem going on, the conversations about “You are behaving badly and you need to stop it” vs. “I, as your friend, am concerned about you” MUST be two different conversations if the friendship is to be saved.

      Within the workplace that’s even more crucial. If Adam’s displaying extremely obvious distress signals of some sort and the company has an EAP, the conversation about that needs to happen separately from the conversation where he’s being disciplined, and should include NO speculation on the part of the manager that initiates the conversation. “I have observed [behavior]. Are you having a hard time lately? If you are, you have access to [XYZ] through our EAP” is about as far as it should go, and that’s IF the company has an EAP. And this should be a totally different conversation from the active disciplinary conversation of “Stop mansplaining to your coworkers and stay in your lane.”

      I would argue that mansplaining and an inability to stay in one’s lane is not a distress signal (as coming in hungover would be) and is just plain old being a jerk.

    8. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

      1. Of course if the letter were about an entirely different issue, the answer would be different.

      2. As a neurodivergent person and a former clinician for individuals with a range of neurological, psychiatric, and developmental diagnoses, I don’t think the behavior described in this letter is particularly characteristic of any such diagnosis compared to neurotypical white men.

      3. this is totally off-subject, seems to be roundabout armchair diagnosing, and is totally not within commenting rules.

    9. anonymous73*

      Suggesting the OP needs to offer them help because it seems to be a bigger issue that may require a diagnosis is one thing. Pretending to know the underlying problem is another…and not helpful. Because at the end of the day if someone has an undiagnosed problem, it’s up to THEM to figure it out and find a way to manage it. A manager can suggest they seek help because their behavior is problematic, and support them in taking time to get the help they may need, but the same diagnosis can affect a bunch of people in different ways, and it’s not our place (or a manager’s place) to try and determine the underlying cause.

    10. Web Crawler*

      I know this is a bit off topic, but I want to answer the unspoken question that connects your comment to the post.

      Mansplaining is about the behavior’s affect on the listener, not the splainer’s intent. Meaning that Adam could have a brain chemistry thing that drives his behavior, but it’s still mansplaining if the listeners are feeling pressure to justify that they know how to do their own jobs.

    11. RagingADHD*

      You refer someone to the EAP when they are in distress or obviously struggling with personal issues that they can’t control.

      Adam is not in distress. He is just doing whatever the hell he wants and making no attempt to control it. Requiring him to change his behavior is step 1.

      If Adam were to make the attempt and say for example, start having panic attacks because holding back the impulse to demand answers put him into a state of extreme inner conflict, then he would be in distress.

      Right now, there is no indication that Adam has problems that he needs help with, or that he is incapable of change. He’s just behaving badly and refusing to follow instructions.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        Yes — absolutely.

        If he is negatively affected by the management of his behaviors which have been causing problems in his workplace, then he can turn to the EAP for guidance for coping.

        If that leads to him getting a diagnosis that would be helpful, that’s a bonus but can’t be the purpose of the EAP referral.

    12. Observer*

      In other words, when someone presents with classic symptoms of a particular illness that is known to impact work, but is undiagnosed, whether it is alcoholism, depression, or what have you, is there never a time to refer to the EAP as opposed to managing him out? If the EAP is to be useful, when is the time to refer to the EAP?

      What exactly are you asking? Do you have any SPECIFIC reason to consider that an EAP referral might be appropriate here? If so, say so. If not nothing is relevant to the discussion at hand.

      As the others noted if this were a different question, there would be a different answer and different discussion.

    13. Give me a break*

      They have the same internet you do. If they were interested in fixing a (perceived by you) issue, they would have Googled it by now.

  48. Calibri Hater*

    So, this guy is clearly an insufferable ass and should probably be let go. However, before I got into the details of the letter concerning what a pain in the butt he is, I recognized the problem solver in him that is trying to get out.

    I’m also a big problem solver. I tend to see roadblocks and solutions that could help departments and companies. I also have ADHD and my brain jumps around from topic to topic. I had a manager once who recognized this and asked me to make a Wish List to share with her during 1:1 meetings instead of word-vomiting ideas that were valid but needed to be further discussed. This was a great method both to help me organize my ideas and solutions and also to learn a greater respect for others’ time. There is a time and place for process implementation, and it isn’t when others are trying to meet deadlines and focus.

    But in this case, I would get rid of Adam because he doesn’t really seem open to solutions. He cannot deal with ambiguity nor show flexibility and respect for others’ time. That just sucks.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah there’s a version of this where Adam is the person writing in and my response is more along the lines of “dude I FEEL you but this is not it” – however that would require Adam being self aware to write in and ehhh I think the unlikelihood of that is part of the problem.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      He’s not really problem-solving, though, if he’s only focusing on one part of the problem and ignoring all the other related parts of the problem. He’s tree-problem solving, not forest-problem solving. If his “problem solving” is causing other problems elsewhere–and it is–then he’s not actually reducing the overall number of problems and his behavior is still out of line.

      1. Calibri Hater*

        Sure, but sometimes that’s how people start out. He certainly doesn’t have a mature and effective, big-picture way of solving problems, but few of us do without experience and training. He needs some molding and trial and error.

        1. buttercups*

          Except it is explicitly not his job to be solving these problems, so it would be a waste of company time for management to “mold” him for that task. OP doesn’t need advice for how to make a better problem-solver out of Adam, because problem-solving (for these issues) isn’t his job! (Like, I know you’re in agreement that he needs to go, but “here’s how to indulge a problematic problem-solver to make them more efficient” just isn’t actionable in OP’s case because Adam being a more efficient problem-solver isn’t even the end goal here; the end goal here is Adam staying in his own damn lane.)

        2. Dust Bunny*


          In this instance, this guy needs to learn to stay in his lane, not be rewarded with training in an area that he’s not supposed to be in in the first place. Staying in one’s lane is also a legitimate job skill.

  49. oh no*

    Oh no, I dated this man. Probably not exactly him (which is a terrifying reminder that there may be dozens of them), but the only solution I found was to leave. The business equivalent of that would be letting him go, I suppose. I understand that it’s hard to settle on firing somebody like this because they genuinely do seem motivated to improve the business, but it likely doesn’t make business sense to sacrifice your own sanity and the sanity and productivity of every employee this man encounters.
    I also get the, “Well, maybe he does just need a process document and then he’ll understand. Maybe once Lucinda explains well enough why she uses this process, he’ll leave her alone. Maybe once, maybe once, maybe once.” Maybe there is something that will satisfy him and end the chain, but in my experience there isn’t, even after several years.

    1. anonymous73*

      I agree that letting him go is most likely the overall solution, but OP hasn’t provided him any sort of clear and explicit expectations about his behaviors. That’s step 1.

    2. H.Regalis*

      I also dated someone like this. We drove cross-country once and the entire 10+ hour drive was a one long monologue about how literally every other person on the road was a terrible driver, and why, and how my ex was such a better driver. It only stopped when I was asleep. My ex basically thought he was on a mission from god to instruct everyone in the entire world on the proper way to do everything. He would get angry when people didn’t want his “help.”

  50. BigHairNoHeart*

    Hey OP, can I offer you a different perspective on this? Right now, I get the feeling you see Adam as a good employee with one very bad habit that you can’t seem to fix. I don’t think you’re wrong if that’s your outlook, but I can almost guarantee that Adam’s co-workers don’t see it that way. They see him as a huge burden and time-suck. They spend hours trying to placate him every time he has a question because he will not give up. Even worse, he’s implying that they don’t know how to do their jobs and that he has the right to insert himself in their processes. If this isn’t causing morale issues with the staff already, it’s going to soon. Also, you’ve experienced him going to HR and higher-ups when he doesn’t get his way? And they apparently validate that (or at least don’t do a good enough job squashing it so he continues)? He even acts this way towards you, his own manager? This is bad! You and possibly HR and other managers on the team need to take care of this, because his peers can’t. And if you don’t do something about it, the situation will change in the eyes of your staff from “why is Adam like this” to “why does our company let Adam get away with this.” The first outlook is annoying, but the second one is what causes people to get upset and leave.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. OP, Adam is not only consuming your time, he’s taking up time in other departments. Your own reputation as manager is going to suffer if you don’t take steps to contain Adam soon.

      Be as explicit as you can with Adam — Alison’s scripts are good. Do NOT entertain endless questions once you’ve explained your expectations. You’ll just have to steel yourself to say “What you’re doing right now is an example of the kind of behavior you need to stop.”

      After that, document. Save email and other communications. Tell colleagues that they are under no obligations to craft lengthy replies to his emails. (And consider asking them to forward egregious examples to you.)

      You also need to talk with HR and your own managers. It’s possible that they know Adam is “quirky,” but are not aware of the scale of the problem.

      Someone upstream suggested that Adam has too much time on his hands. Have you looked at his workload lately? See if it helps to keep him really, really busy.

      Good luck, and please update us.

    2. WhoKnows*

      I would also argue, OP, that as his manager, there are tons more “questions” going straight to his coworkers that you aren’t aware of. People will leave over it if you don’t jump in and really manage or manage him out.

  51. Nnn*

    I know we’re not supposed to arm chair diagnose, etc, but I was hoping to contribute my own experience as a neurodivergent person myself, because I recognize some of these patterns of behavior in myself before I learned better work norms (and got a lot of help from a therapist.)

    I myself have issues with non-verbal cues, which means this soft messaging is just confusing. For me it would feel like a rule book that everyone understands but me…and it’s really frustrating. What would have worked better with me is a very clear cut, direct, and to the point conversation on what is acceptable versus what is not. Obviously you can’t lay down rules for every situation but clear cut rules would help. And be absolutely direct-“you CANNOT help with things that are not directly related to your job. You CANNOT go over your manager’s head. If you continue to do so your job is in jeopardy. No matter what your opinion is on this, this is how things are done and you have to conform like everyone else.”

    For me, soft messaging just made me confused. Honestly one of the most helpful things was when a friend yelled “STOP HELPING” to me. Somehow that made it click for me.

    Anyway, I hope my personal experience helps a little.

    1. Forrest*

      I think the key thing about stuff like this is that yes, very direct messaging is helpful to neurodivergent staff– but it’s helpful to all the neurotypical people too! The reason people don’t do it is because it feels rude or unkind, but when you’re managing people, you’ve got to push through that barrier because it is better for people to have a clear understanding of what their job is than to think you are a nice person they’d like to be friends with.

      It is one thing that our social lives consist of tons of unspoken norms and rules and soft forms of communication, and there is a true penalty of being “too direct” with neurotypical people and being thought of as rude, brusque, inappropriate or whatever. But at work, especially when it comes to matters of job performance, that doesn’t apply! The clearer, the better.

  52. Anne Elliot*

    “That is not your job.” Full stop. You find out he reached out to Finance to improve a form, you check him: “That’s not your job.” You hear he’s suggested a meeting on process improvement with Higher-Ups, you check him: “That’s not your job.” “I was only trying to help!” “That’s not your job.” “I’m just asking a question!” “Is it critical to receive an answer in order to do your job? No? Then it’s not your job.”

    This is kind of weird for me to say because I am 100% the person who supports cr0ss-collaboration and who appreciates employees who will pick in with any task to advance business goals. I hate hearing someone decline to help by saying “That’s not my job.” But a person who makes it his business to be up in everyone else’s business needs to be explicitly told to stay in his own lane.

    I would also reach out to the people or other divisions he does this to and make sure that they know that you know this is a problem, and that they are fully empowered to just respond to him, “Thanks for the suggestion, we will consider it” and forget about it. And then if he comes back or keeps pressing, to let you know that, and you’ll revisit with him again THAT’S NOT YOUR JOB.

    1. anonymous73*

      I was with you until “thanks for your suggestion, we will consider it”. That is NOT the way to respond to someone like this. They need to refer him back to OP, because they need to MANAGE Adam.

  53. Katie*

    I would tell my other team members at the least that they under no obligation to respond to any of this nonsense. If they don’t have time they should not waste their time looking into it.
    Him badgering other people to respond to his project is not okay.

  54. NeutralJanet*

    Right? I wonder if Adam heard a diversity presentation saying that white men have a tendency to assume expertise on topics that they don’t actually know much about and then try to “correct” the actual experts, particularly when those experts are women and/or people of color, and instead of taking that as a criticism, he decided that that was his culture?

  55. Bernice Clifton*

    I worked with an Adam and it was exhausting and embarrassing. Every time a higher up visited our branch office and we had a group meeting he would ask questions in such a confrontational, condescending manner I had to think “Poker face, poker face” to myself to keep from rolling my eyes out of my head.

  56. Parenthesis Dude*

    The issue is boundaries.

    It’s crazy that all of these teams are so afraid of him that they spend hours answering his questions. The higher-ups, especially on other teams, need to start shooting him down when he requests meetings to discuss things or requests for why things are done a certain way. Depending on how small the company is, you can maybe tell some of them that they should go through you if he brings up an issue and demands a meeting.

    I do think Allison has it right that you need to talk with your higher-ups and make sure that they’re on your side. If your boss and bosses’ boss will kick things back to you, then that can make your life easier. But again, boundaries is an issue here — and you have to make sure that your are respected.

    I would try to stay away from firing this employee except as a last resort. For starters, I don’t think firing him is necessary as long as enough of you can stonewall him and stop spending so much energy on his requests. He’s not the boss and you can make him aware of that.

    But also, it sounds like he’s more than willing to reach out to HR when he has issues, and that may indicate he won’t be afraid to reach out to a lawyer if he’s fired due to personality issues. Better to encourage him to leave on his own than face a lawsuit.

    1. Morticia(she/her)*

      It might be better, but it reminds me of a story from long ago when I was just starting out in my previous career. Our manager at the time was not technical, she was hired because of her managerial skills, so it was understood that I would advise her on the technical suitability of hires. I rejected one out of hand for not having the talent we need, but she “had a feeling,” so she hired him. During his probation, we reported problem after problem to her. He was lying to clients, and making us all look incompetent. She had been sued for wrongful dismissal, and so would not dismiss him. The amount of damage he did, before finally quitting when she told him at the end of his probation that he would not, in fact be getting a major promotion and substantial raise (IKR?), was inestimable. Managers should never be afraid to fire someone who is damaging to an organisation. Lawyers can be cheaper than the consequences of keeping bad employees.

      1. Parenthesis Dude*

        I’ve worked with people like that. Agree completely.

        This guy, however, is producing excellent work. The issue is that he’s a nuisance. The question is whether he can be productive without driving people crazy. If so, he has the potential to be an actual asset.

        1. ThatConsultant*

          I mean, IIRC, OP says that he produces good work but it takes a really long time – which is not, a priori, good performance. If he were producing excellent work on time or ahead of time, that would be a different story.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      If the only way to make him function is for everyone to perpetually manage him, firing needs to not be off the table. He has to be able and/or willing to manage himself.

      And document, document, document so when/if he runs to a lawyer, you can support the decision. The fact that he’s a litigious PITA is absolutely not reason to placate him with continued employment.

    3. Observer*

      But also, it sounds like he’s more than willing to reach out to HR when he has issues, and that may indicate he won’t be afraid to reach out to a lawyer if he’s fired due to personality issues. Better to encourage him to leave on his own than face a lawsuit.

      That’s all good an fine, but there is a limit to what you should to to avoid a lawsuit. Also, I REALLY doubt that any good lawyer is going to take the case on contingency, which means that he’s going to need to find the money to pay a lawyer. That does make a difference.

      But, OP document what’s going on.

  57. elise*

    It’s interesting to me how divided the comments are between thinking Adam is voluntarily being difficult vs genuinely not understanding!

    I do like Alison’s more explicit scripts, and as someone who does often need things spelled out more explicitly for me, I also offer the following:

    Adam, it is not your job to identify and fix inefficiencies in other departments’ or coworkers’ processes. Your job is to [brief summary of job duties]. When you notice problems in others’ processes, or have questions about why someone else does things a certain way, what I need from you is for you to ignore those issues. No matter how frustrating it is to think that other parts of the company could be running better, you were hired to do X, and I need you to do the job you were hired to do.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Commentariat will always come at things from different points of view, but I think at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what Adam’s point of view is. The behavior needs to change and OP needs to stop soft pedaling that fact. I like your script.

    2. Anon thanx*

      The Adams I’ve worked with have fallen into two categories: they’ve been blamed unfairly for not following procedures in a previous role and they understandably don’t want to get caught in that trap again, or they’re neurodiverse (as I am).

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        There is definitely a third category of “self-important jerk who wants everyone to know they are smarter than other people”. I have worked with all three. I get more that one from the facts in the letter. Coming from someone who is also neurodiverse.

    3. buzzkill*

      +1. I’m a little surprised (and as an autistic person, dispirited) by the high ratio of immediate vitriol, ‘I hate Adam on principle’, and speculation about his political opinions, compared to actually constructive comments that focus on addressing the behavioural problem.

      While it’s not productive to discuss whether Adam is neurodivergent, I think there’s a broader point here about the strong negative reaction to traits that are common in neurodivergence, rather than considering how those traits can be dealt with in a constructive or sympathetic way.

      Even if the most appropriate response is that Adam can’t continue in this job, I’m a little alarmed by how many people in this typically inclusive comments section felt the impulse to assume malice and respond in kind, an attitude which is responsible for a lot of (often unintentional) ableism against autistic people.

  58. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Dollars to donuts hes playing you.
    Just trying to help, just asking questions then playing the victim suggests this very strongly. Then when you give him projects he is emboldened. Then he thinks your hypocritical and non inclusive.

    Follow Alison’s recommendations to the letter and dot your I’s and cross your T’s to make sure he cannot successfully sue for wrongful termination as he will be ready for you.

  59. anonymous73*

    Yes to everything Alison has recommended. You’re allowing him to control everyone and then play the “poor me” card when you try and correct it. Be clear and specific about expectations, and in addition to letting him know that his job is in jeopardy if he doesn’t change his ways, give him a timeline for improvement. It doesn’t need to be an official PIP, but he needs to know how long you’re giving him to make changes or be let go.

  60. Mek*

    Adam’s description exactly matches that of a toddler. Thus he needs to managed as such. “I am not going to argue about this” is a very useful sentence.

  61. This is a name, I guess*

    The challenge here, of course, is if this were a hostile workplace…you know, the type that gets a longform article, a podcast, a book, and then a Netflix show…then he’d be a totally justified whistleblower.

    So, what we’re seeing is behavior that we’d all laud the Problem Employee for if this were, say, Uber (or, any other messed up company, the likes of which we see on this site all the time). What if the processes he’s critiquing are hiding corrupt finance practices? What if he were in a protected class who had been systematically discriminated against by mid-level managers? I don’t say this to suggest he’s right. There’s a 1% chance this is happening.

    All of the recent discussions of whistleblowers and all the True Scam context puts this situation in an ethical gray area in a way, because the way he’s behaving would be totally acceptable in an environment where actual corporate malfeasance was happening. So, context becomes incredibly important. And, this dude seems to struggle with context for whatever reason.

    I have no solutions. This dude is the wrong, but I’m can see why it’s complicated to deal with.

    1. Littorally*

      I don’t think his behavior would be particularly productive if he were trying to report actual malfeasance. He’s got problems both of scope and of strategy.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        I agree! But, there’s a definitely push to protect whistleblower speech these days, and the general halo around that is likely making it hard for OP to most effectively deal with this AND it’s likely egging on the Problem Employee. I know this seems like a weird, tiny detail, but I keep thinking about his use invocation of Diversity and Inclusion policies. I don’t think he’s 100% malicious. I think there’s some level of cluelessness happening here, and I think he feels justified in going to the higher-ups in part because he’s doing something to make the business better and he likely connects inefficiency with malfeasance in some way.

    2. Too cool for names*

      1% chance seems pretty overrated here. There’s nothing in OP’s letter to suggest that Adam is trying to expose corruption, abuse, or any illegal behaviors. In the example OP gives, Adam wants Finance to change their expense report form because he thinks it could be more efficient. Inefficient forms ≠ corrupt finance practices.

      The letter strongly implies that the bulk of Adam’s suggestions are in the same vein of “I want to fix a process I personally find less than optimal.” Let’s take OP at their word and not imagine an entirely different scenario.

    3. Observer*

      All of the recent discussions of whistleblowers and all the True Scam context puts this situation in an ethical gray area in a way, because the way he’s behaving would be totally acceptable in an environment where actual corporate malfeasance was happening.

      No, it’s not in a grey area. Because he is clearly NOT dealing with true misbehavior or malfeasance.

      What you are suggesting is akin to say that shoving someone to the ground is in an ethical grey area because it’s actually ok to do that if you’re doing it to get them out of the path of a speeding car.

  62. Hiring Mgr*

    Why is the rest of the group spending all this time trying to cater to Adam? The LW says it’s because he badgers and says he’ll go to the higher ups.. Does he actually do that, and the higher ups entertain his suggestions? Because if so that may be the bigger issue..

    1. anonymous73*

      This. If I were his co-worker I wouldn’t allow him to badger me. OP is allowing him to control everyone and they need to manage him. And let everyone else off the hook by telling them that they can ignore his emails/messages and to refer them to OP if he pushes back.

      1. Dinwar*

        That works–right up until Adam goes to the higher ups with a suggestion they like, and they tell everyone to do it. At that point what Adam learns is that he’s right, his manager is wrong, and he’s got pull to protect himself.

        1. anonymous73*

          It’s all about boundaries. Yes there is a bigger issue at hand if nobody will stand up to this guy but hell if I’m going to let a co-worker push me around, waste my time and badger me until he gets the answer he wants. Nope.

          1. Dinwar*

            Again, that works really well–right up until you get a call from upper management or an executive saying “Why didn’t you implement Adam’s suggestion? He came to me with it and I thought it was fantastic!” The explanation “It’s not his job” and “I don’t let people push me around” usually won’t fly in those situations. And Adam’s probably not stupid enough to send a bad suggestion over the head of his manager–he’s going to make himself look as good as possible. It’s very easy to make the person setting firm boundaries look like the aggressor. It’s very easy to make someone who says “That’s not your job” look like they’re simply unwilling to listen to helpful advice. That’s why the manager’s actions are so important: they’re the only ones with authority to act and a clear picture of what’s going on.

            1. anonymous73*

              You’re taking my comments and assuming I would say those literal things to upper management. I said what I said. People need to stop being afraid to stand up for themselves, and if they try and get no support from management, then they know it’s time to start looking for a new job. If you allow people to take advantage of you, they learn they can take advantage of you and continue to do so.

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Well, if he’s coming up with suggestions that the higher-ups like, for the purposes of workplace politics he *is* in the right at least until those suggestions fail.

    2. Aggresuko*

      Yeah, I’m guessing that the higher-ups aren’t shutting Adam down for wasting everyone’s time, and therefore he feels quite comfortable sounding the alarms.

  63. LKW*

    No criticism or challenge to Alison’s advice or everyone else’s contributions. But if you think it worthwhile here’s some guidance on “how to determine if you should shut up or raise this issue”:

    1. Does it impact your ability to get your work done?
    2. Do you have complete knowledge of why the process is done this way? Are you knowledgeable about the regulations and business policies that may guide this work? If not, are you sure your change won’t negatively impact those rules?
    3. How many people would this change impact? There is a cost to making a change. Making a change that impacts everyone versus a few people has a higher cost? If it only impacts a few people – is it really so inefficient that those few people can’t just manage how they see fit?
    4. Will making the change cost more than the inefficiency? If everyone wastes 10 seconds filling out a form once a month, that’s 2 minutes per year per person. If I send everyone to training for 1/2 hour – that’s 28 minutes of cost versus 2 minutes of savings. It would take me another 15 years to break even.

    But really, if he answers No to #1 then he should just shut it. I mean, he should stop doing it regardless, but if the answer is that it doesn’t impact him, then he should just walk on by.

    1. Anony*

      Honestly, this sounds like exactly what the LW needs to sit down and discuss with Adam. Not everyone understands these things intuitively. If Adam is someone that needs rigid guidelines and is a black and white thinker, LW will be speaking his language with structured “Feedback Procedures and Guidelines”

  64. Greycat*

    I have an impact vs effort matrix posted by my desk for just this kind of conversation. Sometimes people really want to focus on “it needs to be fixed” when it would take a lot of effort to fix and have a very low impact on anything. Tie impact to strategic priorities.

    1. A Feast of Fools*

      I’m in audit because I like finding and helping fix mistakes / gaps / risks.

      I am so grateful that we not only poke around in the dark corners of the company looking for problems but that we do so through the lens of materiality.

      Sure, in a vacuum the fact that expense reports for less than $50 can be approved by a manager without the manager looking at the [online] receipts for the expense is a risk because the company could be paying for $49 lap dances BUT… in a multibillion dollar company, you’re going to need tens of thousands of lap dances before that risk becomes material.

      I imagine that Adam would be clamoring for the company to spend $100,000 in order to close a $5000 gap.

      1. kiki*

        Yes! Adam reminds me a bit of Guacamole Bob, an accountant from a letter several years back who nitpicked expenses to a ridiculous degree (iconically criticizing somebody getting extra guac at Chipotle). It doesn’t sound like Adam is displaying the exact same behaviors as Guacamole Bob, but I see some similarities in the rigidity and failure to recognize that their behavior is costing the company more than it may be saving. Morale is just as important a resource as time and money.

      2. Dinwar*

        The issue is, if you spend $100,000 to close a $5,000 gap, but there are 30 such gaps, you’ve saved $10,000. It’s the basic principle behind the assembly line–an extra step, repeated enough times, becomes a significant loss.

        The key is to know when that’s appropriate and when it isn’t. And that’s not something someone on the front lines can determine, at least beyond a certain scale. It’s something that requires large-scale studies and complicated cost/benefit analyses. Unfortunately, Adam can’t tell the difference and is using his occasional success as proof that he’s being helpful. And at this point it’s an open question whether he can be re-trained.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          Sorry, I should have been more clear: In my scenario it’s a maximum lifetime gap of $5000.

  65. Cheap Ass Rolls>King's Hawaiian Rolls*

    OP, thank you for this question. I worked in an organization a few years ago and we had multiple people who were like this guy. They would feed off of each other and it just heightened the drama. I don’t think anyone knew how to handle the situation, and I really appreciate Alison’s response. We ended up letting those people go in lay-offs, but I always kind of wondered if we did the right thing. I can see from Alison’s response that their managers should have had more direct conversations with them. OP, I hope you send in an update after you have this difficult conversation!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think an important takeaway from this column in general is that if you haven’t had a really blunt conversation about the issue, you haven’t addressed it yet.

  66. OhGee*

    I really appreciate Alison’s response because a) I’ve worked with people like this, they make everyone’s work harder for no reason and b) by the time we hit the ‘DEI means white men too’ section, I was ready to call Whole Man Disposal Services

    1. Writer Claire*

      There’s a trend where those with privilege have taken to using the language of social justice against minorities and women. At best, it’s annoying. At worst, it derails honest discussion.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Yeah, not only that, but in the long run it makes it harder for those of us with invisible marginalized identities to speak up. It creates both internal fear of being percieved as That Person and external pushback because a person using social justice language who doesn’t “look oppressed” is inherently a bit suspicious.

  67. Dinwar*

    I work with an Adam. He comments on everything, work-related or not–everything from how to write a tracking sheet to how to raise children (he’s not married and has no kids). I set aside time in my daily schedule for what I refer to as the Interrogation.

    Dealing with folks like this is a cost/benefit analysis. In the case of my coworker, he’s worth keeping around, by a pretty wide margin–he’s not always like that, and he saves the company a lot of money, far more than he costs in annoyance and lost time. If the scale shifted the other way, the person would be a liability to the organization and would need to be put on a PIP or let go.

    From the perspective of an employee working with someone like Adam, it’s extremely frustrating. Folks like Adam, in my experience, fail to recognize that what they know isn’t the whole of the situation. In practice, this means that I basically need to go over the entire scope of the project, whether he’s involved or not. Again, sometimes this is useful! I’ve learned to use my coworker as a sounding board and a check to make sure I’m not missing anything. But other times? The fourth or fifth time I tell someone “I can’t do anything about that” for the same non-issue it becomes a waste of time, and makes me feel like I have to push through an extra barrier to do my job.

    A lot of people are suggesting “Stay in your lane” or asking why people respond. Well, in my case the reason is that our jobs aren’t clearly defined. There is no lane to stay in; there’s a group of us with overlapping responsibilities that basically amount to “Keep the site running, figure it out amongst yourselves.” (It sounds bad, but honestly it’s necessary, and having someone outside push us into predefined roles would make things 100x worse.) If I told my coworker to stay in his lane, he’d be very confused; he’s doing his job, after all! And there are company policies and they are pushing a culture where questioning processes is encouraged–if I were to take that stance I’d have to explain to folks way up the ladder why I did, and “It’s inconvenient and frustrating” would not be a sufficient explanation. Were I to push back the assumption would be that I was in the wrong, unless someone was actually bleeding on the jobsite. So I’m left dealing with it.

    I have no advice. Just offering my perspective, for what it’s worth.

    1. Aggresuko*

      I’m glad you’ve found some use for the guy, but I’m still horrified that you have to schedule DAILY time in for him to interrogate you! Every DAY?!?

    2. lost academic*

      I remember a comment recently about this kind of thing that essentially said “as your manager, if I found out you were using your time that way for a single person and it was that much of a time suck/distraction from your regular job, we’d have a serious conversation about your managerial abilities and priorities”. And… that’s true. That time you spend on that kind of thing is time you’re supposed to spend on other work. It’s a waste because it’s not changing the problem, it’s just hiding it and essentially allowing it to grow or at least not shrink/go away. Sometimes people need a little handholding in various respects to get them through something – I’m doing that with someone right now – but it can’t be a permanent solution because it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing with my time and I need that time to do other important things.

      1. Dinwar*

        This isn’t hand holding. This is more, getting into the weeds as a manager (we both manage field teams). If this was someone junior to me, yeah, I’d have stopped it a long time ago. You really do need a certain amount of experience to have an opinion on my type of work.

        If I went to my manager and complained, I’d be informed that it IS our job to do this. I think it’s our job to do it within specific limits, but those limits have blurred. As I said, this person has made measurable improvements to projects–in the hundreds of thousands of dollars–so management is rather on their side. My manager is completely fine with me being a bit annoyed in order to save multiple times my salary.

        And honestly, things are getting better. He’s had to deal with a few things that I routinely do, and I’ve shown that where I can I’m more than happy to revise procedures to be better/faster/cheaper. So it’s become less of an interrogation and more of what it started out as: a meeting where we discuss the day’s planned activities and make sure we have sufficient resources for everything, before the crews come in.

    3. Veronica Sawyer*

      Thank you for your perspective. I also work closely with an Adam, and while he does annoy me it’s just another timesuck in the week like pointless meetings or IT problems. There’s not much I can do anyways, as a colleague and not his manager.

  68. LMB*

    I don’t think this is a really personality or neurological issue. No one is criticizing his personality or the way he thinks, they are criticizing his actions. It’s ok to think “man this expense process is awful, if I had my way I would do things a lot differently.” It’s not ok to badger people incessantly about why you are right and they are wrong and go over their heads to upper management for every minor annoyance. There’s a big sense of entitlement involved in what he is doing. While it’s important to feel like your voice is heard in your organization he feels he is entitled to access to others and a lot of their time on minor issues. I do wonder if this person is younger and new to the professional world because it seems like an extreme example of some elements of immaturity. In any case I think the LW should follow Alison’s advice and perhaps also clearly and directly explain WHY what he is *doing* is a problem and is not professional behavior. It seems like he sees himself as a person of principle, so give him principles.

  69. Purple Jello*

    Sounds like Adam should consider finding work with a company that provides independent audits. Or lean when to tell himself “that’s not my problem to solve”.

  70. Joyce To the World*

    I have a coworker from another department much like this. She gets on every call I lead and sets out to bully me with her questions and suggestions. The questions are not even valid. Meanwhile, everyone else from her team is squeaking in the background trying to get their legitimate questions answered. It is designed to undermine me and make it look like I am trying to foist extra work on their team. It has gotten so bad that my manager has escalated to her VP several times with next steps to be with the next level of VP with HR. Then… the other shoe dropped yesterday. She got a new job…… in my department!!!!!! I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt that she will now be nice since we are on the same “side”. I somehow doubt things will change.

  71. just a thought*

    He also keeps saying it’s just his personality, and since we talk a lot about inclusion these days (in the context of DEI), he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive

    The irony of this made me laugh.
    For someone that wants to fix problems, this is a pretty gross misunderstanding of what the inclusivity problem *actually* is.

  72. A Feast of Fools*

    Can we back up to the part where a white man says the company is being hypocritical about commitment to diversity because they won’t let him do whatever he wants?

    Because. . . yikes.

    1. Eliza*

      Not the first time I’ve seen that, unfortunately. “Psychological diversity” has become something of a dog whistle among certain circles, effectively meaning “if you won’t let your employees act like jerks, you’re a bigot, because some people are just naturally jerks and shouldn’t be discriminated against for that”.

  73. NeutralJanet*

    For clarification, when Adam refers to this as an inclusivity issue, is he saying that because his behavior is culturally related to his being a white man, or is it that he’s saying it’s not inclusive of his personality and OP is the one mentioning that he is a white man so as to preempt any suggestions from the commentariat that this is a cultural issue? I initially read it as the former, which would be absolutely ridiculous to the point of self-parody, but I’m now thinking it might be the latter, in which case Adam is just misunderstanding what inclusion means (think of the people who think “it’s my opinion” is an ironclad justification against any argument). It sounds like Adam might be a lost cause, so I don’t necessarily suggest explaining what DEI means and why this isn’t a DEI issue to him, but it might be worth making sure that your DEI initiatives are coherent and make sense.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I do think it’s the latter, but my head spins at trying to explain DEI to someone with this level of hostility and dismissiveness towards points of view he doesn’t agree with.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

      I think it’s the latter, but it’s still an incredible misunderstanding of “inclusivity”, not to mention that your “personality” doesn’t mean you get to behave however you want without repercussions.

  74. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    The spite-monster in me would be so tempted to hold a meeting with Adam in which I lay out the data quantifying the inefficiencies he’s introducing to the company with his antics, and then ask him to design a process for reducing these inefficiencies — a process that involves no one else but Adam.

    1. Regular Human Accountant*

      I love this idea. “Adam, we have a company-wide problem and I think you are the best person to design a solution. The problem is you. Design and implement a solution within five business days.”

  75. Ray Gillette*

    My company had an Adam. He didn’t last long. In our case, it was really a culture mismatch. Our Adam was used to working at large orgs where processes and tools were well-established. He would regularly say things like “But I don’t understand why we can’t just [solution that would require spending time and money to purchase and configure a new product]!” Our manager got really tired of saying “We don’t have the resources to implement that kind of solution, in the short term it’s less work for everyone to keep doing this task manually.”

    1. Aggresuko*

      Hahahah, sounds like here. We have long lists of “if we had the money to fix X, which we do not.” Literally 95% of our chronic problems would be solved if we could throw money at them.

      Adam would lose his MIND at my job.

  76. Rich*

    To me, the two key points Adam needs driven home are:
    1. The point of this is that the job requires judgement, and not just process. You need him to use judgement about how to calibrate his interactions and recommendations — in exactly the same way that the people he targets are doing their job fine by using their judgement absent a rigorous process.

    2. It’s not about his personality, it’s about his behavior. His “personality” isn’t disruptive, his behavior is. Behavior is ALWAYS in scope for management decisions.

  77. El l*

    Yeah, you’re going to have to fire him.

    First, he needs to learn the lesson that to keep your job you have to make a net contribution to a group – rather than take everyone’s time. He also needs to learn that it’s his job to focus on the tasks that are appointed to him rather than audit every process.

    Second, Adam sounds like the type of person who needs a role with zero ambiguity, in which all priorities are clearly set for him and he cannot deviate. There are roles that can provide something close to this, but they clearly aren’t what he’s in. You’re doing him a favor by letting him go.

    I just hope he never gets anywhere near management.

    1. Anon thanx*

      Frankly, I hope you don’t get anywhere near management, either, with an attitude like that! None of this is a fireable offence.

      1. J.B.*

        We had someone who was like Adam who was let go. That was such a relief to the remaining employees and suddenly we stopped losing money on Adam-like’s project.

      2. lost academic*

        I somewhat disagree. It’s maybe not firable without warning, but firing someone because they are not working out is a perfectly good reason for doing so and if you have to spend too much time getting the minimum out of that person for the role they are in and they are not progressing in the necessary goals (independence, judgment, trust from colleagues, whatever) then it is important for the organization to find someone better suited to the role. Staying employed at a lot of places is more than just not breaking egregious conduct rules.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        “People spend this kind of time because of experience with Adam — he will badger and badger and point out any holes in an explanation. If he isn’t satisfied with an answer someone gives, he will often suggest a bigger conversation is needed and seek out higher-ups.”

        This absolutely is.

  78. nnn*

    There was a AAM letter a while back where LW’s employee went, like, months without checking their email, and LW sent an update where they had written extremely clear and specific guidelines about when people need to check their email (and other basic office standards), that frequently included something like “Your supervisor has final say in how frequently you need to check your email.”

    I’m not saying OP in today’s letter necessarily should be doing the labour of writing out comprehensive processes for Adam, but the “your supervisor has final say…” language – or something with a comparable balance of reflecting the flexibility of real life while also being codified – might sometimes be useful in getting through to Adam.

  79. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    Ugh, I had to deal with this guy in one of my extracurriculars in college and it got to be so bad that we made a whole bunch of rules and then had to force him out. (Yes, I know now that’s a bad thing, but we actually did need those rules – we were trying to move from “Group of friends who get together to do ” to “actual serious group that does really well, almost professionally”. He was great at , but he was an glassbowl in this exact way plus a couple of others.) I’m pretty sure he thinks I specifically had it out for him (I was president at the time), but the whole eboard hated his guts, including the director, who he was friends with until this point. I think both the director and I would have handled the whole thing in a similar way to what Alison is advising now that we are both older and more mature.

  80. Just Another Zebra*

    I work with an Adam. I deal with material requests from a dozen technicians; 80% of my phone calls are Adam. And every one of them starts with him saying, “Yo, let me ask you a question.” I have, on occasion, just put him on speaker phone and made infrequent hmms so that I might get some work done. These calls average 45 minutes each; they can all be answered in three ways:
    1. Every location for [customer] is spec’d the same. You cannot change it because you want to.
    2. Call tech support.
    3. We talked about this yesterday/ last week/ before. The answer hasn’t changed.
    When Adam was on vacation for a week, I got SO MUCH DONE. The needlessly frequent and lengthy conversations meant I could actually do other parts of my job. When I explained as much to my manager, I got an answer about unemployment and how hard it is to find good techs. OP, you need to set boundaries and manage this guy. Do as Alison says and get everyone on board with not entertaining his questions.

    And please update us.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Can you just NOT answer his calls? Let it go to voice mail, then provide the response?

      Or, my favorite trick, make it REALLY BORING to complain — like having him write out a form with a detailed description of the problem, and the suggested solutions – including a list of the impacted parties/departments/supervisors that will then be reviewed and responded to in a time period just beyond his attention span?

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Unfortunately, my job is to answer his calls. I would LOVE to let him roll to voicemail, but then I get scolded for not being immediately available. Sometimes the calls are legitimate – he needs materials ordered, needs a supply house location, needs approval to complete work on site.

        Management is aware he’s a PITA. They just want a tech on the road doing calls, even if we need to send someone behind him to fix the work.

        1. LN*

          Given that you need to answer calls for the job, could you at least use that to cut him short? “Sorry, I have another call coming in, is there something you need from me right now?” might help.

  81. Josephine*

    Ugh. I’m sorry OP has to deal with this. I worked with a colleague like this and it was awful. I’d try to respond to his two page email as best as I could, then I’d get 6 pages in response. Try to respond to that, get 8 pages back… it never ended. He would get frustrated when he felt my staff were making bad decisions or not being comprehensive enought (despite leadership thinking my team and our work product was stellar). One day he got so frustrated that he made inappropriate comments to me and my staff and I went to my boss, who went to his boss. That resulted in all four us having a meeting to “clear the air” where he accused me of bullying him. Luckily I wasn’t the only one he was causing problems with, and I had some of his vitriol in writing, but even though his boss knew the situation, she just told him he wasn’t allowed to email my team anymore if he couldn’t keep it civil. I later found out that she gave him a glowing review just so she didn’t have to deal with him. Did I mention we worked for government? I ended up leaving to get away from him. That was 6 years ago – he’s still there, doing the same thing.

  82. FlashDanceDC*

    I am having such bad flashbacks to a former report of mine. She did the exact same thing (she’s a white female and I am a black female) and to be told by her that I was being stifling and at times acted as if I was bullying her by reminding her she wasn’t getting her actual job done in order for her to go around and tell others that they need to be better was draining.

    I agree with Alison. You have to be firm. Do not back down. I had to do the same. I just had a one on one conversation with her and then she said that maybe we should get our director involved because I just didn’t understand her process. Things did not go well for her.

  83. Justin*

    “he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive.”

    (my eyes rolled so hard they rolled away and I can’t find them)

  84. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Adam reminds me a lot of the LW who thought Sally needed a backbone. That person also required step by step processes and procedures for every little eventuality and didn’t fit with the culture at their new company. OP, Adam isn’t a good fit for this job and if he doesn’t change, you’ll need to manage him out.

  85. I Am Like Adam*

    I am like an Adam…there is a niche for our kind of thinking, everything is an input and an output into something else with processes and systems occurring and changing and if the organization does not own them they will own you. In my case, we are highly regulated with CRIMINAL (not just civil) charges/liabilities for the processes being incorrect.

    The organization basically leaves me alone to do my systems thinking and document all the things that are wrong with business processes; far far away from anyone else; and I feed all this to an anti-Adam who will communicate my critiques, recommendations, assessments, etc. to the resources that own the process in more relatable terms.

    I also moonlight my systems thinking skillset to companies that might need my skillset for a one-off project would not want me around them for too long around their teams lol.

  86. BlueBelle*

    Ugh. When I get questions from people about a process my team has put into place, and they don’t know why it is done a certain way, I don’t explain myself.
    “I hear your feedback. This process was developed due to information that isn’t part of your usage and with specific outcomes and reporting matrix identified.”

    I am not explaining myself, my processes, or my team to anyone who doesn’t need that information. Giving them an inch makes it seem like they have the right to question and offer input.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      This! LW does not owe Adam an explanation, unless she chooses to and feels it is warranted by work needs.
      Peers on his level similarly do not need to explain themselves.

  87. Brain the Brian*

    I feel for Adam, as bad as that may sound. My own manager constantly tells me to “find efficiencies” and “stop asking people so many questions,” only to turn around after reviewing the final product I’ve compiled and ask *me* the exact questions I would have loved to ask others during development but opted to forgo in the name of efficiency. It’s exhausting to be in a job where you constantly feel gaslit like this; the one time I when I said something to the effect of “I didn’t ask that question because we needed to turn this around quickly and I was trying to keep the process efficient,” my manager informed me that it sounded like I was chiding her and that she would consider future such chiding a fireable offense. Sigh.

  88. Leela*

    AAM, a question – you have a reminder at the top that armchair diagnosing is not allowed. As an Autistic person, I can see that this situation does actually call for some advocacy because regardless of whether Adam is or isn’t, this situation is a meat grinder for Autistic people that is constantly costing us our livelihoods, and we are frequently shut up when we talk about it or why it’s happening, so the only lenses on the stories are 2nd hand guesses about what we’re doing. Can I ask if the comment sections are places that I am not allowed to advocate for myself as an Autistic person in the way that I am frequently allowed to do so as a woman or queer person? It’s exactly as necessary.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re very welcome to say, “As an autistic person, in a situation like this what would be effective is…”

      What the rule bans is diagnosing of others, and it asks for actionable advice. Don’t diagnose others and do make actionable suggestions, and you’re well within the rules.

    2. AthenaC*

      I agree with you that it makes sense to comment on whether or not a particular condition is potentially involved as it really just makes the advice effective. For example –

      If condition A is present, option X might be most effective, based on my experience with people with condition A.
      If condition A is NOT present, option Y might be most effective.

      It has nothing to do with diagnosing, treating, or otherwise standing in for actual medical professionals – it’s just about people sharing their experiences about the best way to get the result you need.

      That being said, despite what Alison said above, I’ve had a few situations where my “If condition A, then I advise X” comments get deleted, which is unfortunate because it really limits how generally applicable this blog is. Its Alison’s choice, of course, but if the tradeoff is worth it to her, then she’s free to choose to run a work blog where we only talk in detail about how to work with neurotypical people. The issue of course is that there’s a LOT of overlap between neurodivergent people and weird behavior at work, so it seems rather silly to me to ban “If condition A, then I advise X” type comments.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s in the framing — “it sounds like X so you should do Y” is armchair diagnosing and will be removed if I see it. “I have X and Y would be helpful for me” is fine. “I worked with someone with X and Y was helpful” is also fine. The last two don’t contain a diagnosis of a stranger; the first one does, and it’s the one I’d remove.

        The vast majority of the time, what I see is diagnosing and with nothing actionable attached. (It’s also worth noting that if your comment was a reply to a comment like that and I remove the parent comment, the replies can disappear with it.)

        1. AthenaC*

          Probably getting too far into the weeds, but the only reason anyone would suggest “I have X and Y would be helpful for me” is if what’s being described in the letter sounds like X to the commenter. So allowing “I have X and Y would be helpful” but not allowing “Sounds like X and if that’s the case, Y has been effective for me in that circumstance” … sounds like a distinction without a difference to me. If what’s being described in the letter doesn’t sound like X, then a comment of “I have X and Y would be helpful” is nonsensical.

          But I acknowledge it’s not my blog, not my monkeys.

          1. Littorally*

            There’s a few really huge differences —

            Number one, the “sounds like X” comes from both neurodivergent and neurotypical people, and NTs tend to have really shitty understanding of what an actual neurodivergence looks like. So when “sounds like X” is allowed, the vast majority of comments offering that armchair diagnosis are going to come from people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. “I have X that results in similar behaviors and Y is helpful for me” is far, far less likely to come from some NT who, say, understands autism symptoms entirely on the basis of what’s on The Big Bang Theory.

            Number two, someone can have behaviors that are similar to a given neurodivergence without actually having that neurodivergence, and as someone who is in that position, the difference between “it sounds like you have X” and “I have X and it causes me similar behaviors, maybe Y that helps me will also help you?” is immense. There is nothing that will piss me off faster than someone throwing a lazy label on me on the basis of one or two behaviors, where pretty much any diagnosable issue requires a far broader view.

            Number three, in cases like this where it is not the person with the problem behavior writing in but a coworker, employee, or manager of theirs, the actual diagnosis is none of their business. If Adam is neurodivergent, it is 110% his prerogative to bring up with the OP, and 0% OP’s prerogative to bring up with him. Mentally diagnosing someone is far more likely to lead to discrimination against them than needed support being offered.

  89. LN*

    I don’t know if Adam has the (internal) tools to recognize that he’s doing the same thing over and over again. I suspect each scenario feels like “the one exception” because his input is just SO CRUCIAL and that’s why he can’t seem to internalize things and keeps asking for processes and documentation. I point this out because I think OP should prepare for a scenario where Adam seems to understand their postmortems on past behavior but can’t seem to apply it to actually change his behavior. IME it’s way too easy to get stuck in an endless loop with people who can only analyze their own behavior in retrospect but fail to apply the same standards going forward.

    Of course, this is assuming they can even get him to a place where he starts to acknowledge his behavior is a problem at all. Is his presence in this workplace worth all the effort?

  90. Veryanon*

    “Adam” sounds exhausting and reminds me very much of someone who used to work for my current employer, right down to the “inclusion means that all voices need to be heard, especially mine” (yes, he was also a white male). He would engage in endless debates with everyone over whether a process or policy was correct or not, even if he wasn’t responsible for the process/policy in question. He wanted exact parameters laid out for every conceivable situation, which of course isn’t always possible. When he was told to stop and that he needed to focus on the work that was within his scope, he made a complaint directly to the CEO (!). The manager was at his wit’s end in dealing with this person after all their key stakeholders just flatly refused to work with him anymore. I worked with the manager on setting clear performance expectations and coached him through conversations with this employee to make sure he stayed on track and wasn’t lulled down the rabbit holes. The employee eventually became so frustrated that no one would engage with him anymore that he left the company for another job, which was a huge relief to all of us as we would probably have fired him had he stayed.

  91. Decidedly Me*

    It sounds like you got my ex-employee! We had many similar issues with someone:
    – he thought he was smarter than everyone else and treated people like that
    – wouldn’t take feedback (he’d constantly ask for it, but then fight everything that was said to him; if anything wasn’t incredibly specific, he’d badger for more and more specifics, determining the feedback invalid without those)
    – would point out process changes and not accept the reasoning behind current processes
    – so much more!

    We ended up having to let him go. While he was good at his tasks, it wasn’t worth the stress and time from all the issues he caused teammates and management. We tried many coaching and feedback sessions, but nothing ever changed.

    I’d try a more direct approach, but really consider whether Adam is a good fit.

    1. FlashDanceDC*

      It’s the smarter than everyone else thing. Maybe you are, but you are going about it in such a way no one wants to work with you which becomes a management issue.

  92. Mimmy*

    Oh goodness this post makes me cringe because there is a little devil inside of me who wants to be exactly like Adam, at least at my current job. For me, it comes from frustration with the various processes and sometimes not feeling like my opinions and suggestions matter. To be clear, he is absolutely crossing the line in handling it.

    I know you’ve spoken with Adam before, but I wonder if it’d be worth talking to him about why he gets like this. I agree 1000% about being very firm that this behavior needs to stop, but I also believe in getting to the heart of certain behaviors. I do NOT mean diagnosing–I promise. Getting his perspective might bring something important to light.

  93. lizzay*

    This sounds like the kind of guy who wants to exactly what kind of activity is and isn’t sexual harassment. “Well, nobody told me I couldn’t comment on on how that skirt glides over her hips perfectly! What’s wrong with that??” Be your own sherpa, dude.

  94. Anon thanx*

    This is disappointing advice. This is not a fireable offence. OP will hopefully be able to knock it on the head with more direct messaging, both to Adam and to other staff that are spending an hour at a time crafting documentation etc.

    And, if Adam is truly a bad fit for his current role, have him redeployed if at all possible, not fired. I’ve worked with, and managed, Adams before, and they are an excellent resource when their strengths can be harnessed effectively. They can also be a pain in the neck. But you need to harness and direct the energy, rather than making threats or ultimatums (which won’t work); even if you can give him examples of when his contributions were great or helpful, and why they were great or helpful can significantly work toward a positive redirection of Adam’s skills and energy.

    1. Delphine*

      Not sure it’s LW’s responsibility to devote even more of her time to redirecting Adam or finding a better role for him when he has already wasted colossal amounts of LW’s time, his coworkers’ time, and his own time, and seems unable or unwilling to accept feedback.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Blatant insubordination is absolutely a fireable offense, which Adam has certainly danced around if not fully committed. That said, the advice doesn’t jump to firing him, it’s to prepare for the possibility that might be necessary. The conversation to be had is about the requirements for the role and whether Adam is willing or able to meet them – if not, and there’s not another place for him, that’s that. It would be great if there was a place in the organization where Adam was a better fit but I’m not confident, given the bridges he seems to be burning.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      The first part *is* the advice. Knock it into his head with more direct messaging. Part of that messaging is “if your behavior doesn’t change then we need to talk about your future in this role”. And, frankly, you aren’t going to do anybody any favors by trying to find a new role for somebody who deliberately makes himself a pain in the ass when you try to manage him, is unwilling to change “because it’s just his personality”, and won’t shape up even when faced with the prospect of dismissal.

      It’s really not on OP to find an appropriate outlet for Adam’s “energy”. It’s on him to make productive use of it.

    4. Dr. Rebecca*

      In much of the US there’s not a need for something to be a “fireable offense” because a lot of US states are “at-will.” As long as it’s not discriminatory against a protected class (sex, gender, race, religion, ADA protected health issues) then you can be fired for whatever. Your shoe color. The boss said you looked at them funny. Ten minutes late. Two minutes late. Whatever. Wasting the time of the rest of the department with what-aboutism and nitpicky badgering…definitely falls into the more legit end of the “whatever” category.

      Now, your point on redeployment is a good one, but getting him out of this role is paramount, and if he can’t be redeployed, it’s reasonable of the OP to relieve him of the role, because they need to refocus the department on productivity, not catering to Adam’s quirks.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Redeploying him is just foisting a problem employee on a different manager. Either he clues into the fact that he needs to change or he doesn’t. Moving him somewhere else is unlikely to help.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          I think that’d really depend on the department. For example, put him in Quality Control, and watch as the output gets WAY better. Yeah, things are going to slow down for a while, and for a while the company will lose money, but QC’s job is to be nitpicky glassbowls about process vs end product, sooooo…

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            Though, really, my overall point was that the OP is completely justified in, legally able to, and very definitely *should be* firing Adam.

          2. Kevin Sours*

            Honestly, I think this dude would be a *disaster* in a QA role. Reading between the lines I don’t think he’s doing his homework. A lot of the “problems” he’s bringing up don’t seem to actually be problems. Which makes me think he’s approaching it from a “this is inconvenient for me” not “we can make this better for everybody”. There are a lot of things that I do that are a pain in my ass because it saves other people work.

            And while QA requires attention to detail and being a hard ass, it also requires a great deal of diplomacy and a willingness to work with people to meet priorities and business requirements. One of the failure states of QA is people tuning you about because you are too much of a pain to work with and things need to get done.

            The problem isn’t that he’s asking questions or suggesting improvements. The problem is that he’s not moderating his behavior to something sustainable or taking “this isn’t a priority” for an answer. The extent to which people are walking on eggshells around him to avoid passive aggressive badgering is telling.

            If he can’t fix that … it’s not a role mismatch it’s just a problem.

            1. Dr. Rebecca*

              Okay. I’ve stated twice now that firing *is* the answer. Why are you arguing with me, out of all people in this thread/elsewhere?

    5. Amtelope*

      I would absolutely fire Adam. The point at which he was told to stop escalating day-to-day issues to company leadership and complained instead of changing his behavior would have been the dealbreaker for me. If an employee can’t follow the proper chain to escalate issues (obviously short of criminal or abusive behavior), they are failing at an essential part of their job. Sure, Adam should go to the big boss or HR for “Bob is embezzling funds” or “Bob is sexually harassing me,” but “Bob has inefficient forms, and I think my boss will tell me that it’s not my problem and to leave Bob alone, so I’m emailing the CEO”? Adam should be on a PIP, and more complaints being addressed to people who aren’t his direct supervisor should result in termination.

  95. Spouse*

    Any suggestions for being married to this guy?

    Or the coworker with no authority?

    He’s absolutely brilliant, loving, caring, not to mention awesome at pretty much any task he applies himself to. But, sometimes perfect is the enemy of Done, and it’s exhausting to weigh up every purchase, every household process, every decision with this much thought and effort.

    Of course I don’t want to manage him out, lol, nor do I have the authority to tell him what to do/not do, only how it affects me when we spend X time to decide what kind of sponge to buy.

    1. DisneyChannelThis*

      Divorce? Setting clear personal boundaries = I have 10 minutes I can talk through sponge options with you after that I am going to need to step away and you can decide solo but if you haven’t by tomorrow I am buying XYZ sponge. Sounds exhausting. “Babe add sponges to the grocery list, thanks” is so much easier.

    2. Delphine*

      “When you’ve decided on the perfect vacuum, let me know, but I don’t want to be involved in the process.”

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Separate your finances and let him buy his own sponges, for starters. Best decision my husband and I ever made was not combining our finances so we can both make these decisions on our own, unless they’re big ones.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      So my husband can be like this. It can be… exhausting.
      What worked for us is having a hard boundary. He’ll get himself wrapped around the axel about any and everything. So I set limits. “What ONE thing do you want to handle, and what TWO things will you let me handle?” Usually he picks something large (we’re redoing our house, so lots of projects) and I can handle the little stuff. Because I want stuff DONE. I don’t need to debate the efficacy of toilet bowl cleaner.

    5. pancakes*

      “He’s absolutely brilliant, loving, caring, not to mention awesome at pretty much any task he applies himself to.”

      These are all nice qualities to admire in a friend but where is the imperative to be married, or stay married? If deep attraction isn’t there – and I would really struggle to maintain an attraction to someone who behaves this way — why not be friends instead of a married couple?

  96. 1-800BrownCow*

    Oh my goodness, I work with the female version of Adam (Eve, I guess?). My problem is, I have no authority over her, except I am a manager and can tell her no when she tells me or my direct report what we “have to do”. But going to her manager, a company director, falls on deaf ears. He expects us to find a way to “work with Eve” and states she’s just trying to make things better. Same problems too, she creates a lot more work for everyone else, but the quality of her work keeps her in her role. It’s hard because all the “polite” ways to deal with her that I was taught growing up, and have a hard time going against, doesn’t work with her. But neither does being direct and sharp. If you tell her no and that the issue/idea/suggestions isn’t open for further discussion, she stops at the moment, but she comes back around full circle to the situation a couple weeks later and often won’t drop it until eventually someone gives in and does what she wants. Honestly, many of us wonder how she’s still employed, but sadly it’s because she reports to a high-up who allows the behavior and avoids confrontation.

    OP, PLEASE give an update in hopes I may learn something to help me in my situation.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Honestly, your only real option is to channel communications with “Eve” so that you can manage them. Tell her to email, set up an email rule to put them in a folder and review them when you have spoons. Ignore the one’s you don’t need to respond to. If she doesn’t comply, start blocking other lines of communication. Let her go to voicemail and ignore them. If her manager complains, tell him that you need to manage it this way to avoid overwhelming your team.

      If your management doesn’t back you, then accept that you situation sucks and isn’t going change.

      1. Qest*

        Good, so far. I had this problem 30 years ago and somehow ;-) lost Adam`s mails.
        Who worked on the other side of the building and should not intervene with my work.
        One day the guy shows up and refuses to leave while I`m on the phone with a client.
        If that was not enough, he laid on the floor in front of my cubicle and would not leave.
        People would nearly trample over him, telling me: He does that sometimes.
        Well, he was removed.
        True, and funnier now than it was when I was younger and scared.
        People like this drive away good employees.

  97. TiredMama*

    I agree that this does not sound like the right fit for him. Until you or he can find the right fit, perhaps ask him to collect his ideas and send them to you first and you will take on the responsibility of sending out the ones you think warrant follow-up. Add that due to time constraints, you are unable to follow-up with him on each individual idea and why you decided to forward or not.

  98. AllOrNothing*

    Ok, I’m a person who doesn’t do exactly this, but I do have a really hard time when I encounter things at work that are a behavior gray area and I can’t get more specific guidance. I would be inclined to believe that his confusion is actually in good faith. It sounds like from his perspective, “improving” things is always good, and since he hasn’t heard a compelling reason why not, not continuing to question things would be contradicting his values and just not compute. At least, that’s where I’ve been! It also may be that he keeps pushing because he thinks that the person disagreeing with him has just not understood his point. I’ve been there too! What would get through to me would be something like, “When it comes to that particular form, I see what you’re saying that some changes might help avoid errors. However, the department in charge of that form is happy with its performance, and changing it is not a priority right now.” When it comes to the larger issue, I think stating what you’ve observed and that it is a problem is important, as Alison suggests. What helps me in this situation is someone explaining the value system they are applying. Under a value system of “every process should be as streamlined as possible,” him making constant suggestions would be the right move, so if he’s operating under this framework, his ideas being put down is not going to make sense to him. However, operating under a value system of, “managers need to be comfortable with the systems in place,” or valuing consistency as long as goals are being met, or “people need to be able to have ownership of their own processes to have job satisfaction,” different actions would be preferred. I think naming what you see his value system for work as, acknowledging that that makes sense sometimes, and then stating that actually different systems and priorities are used here sometimes in a large organization with many moving parts, might go a long way towards coming to an understanding. As for guidelines, what would be most helpful to me would be someone stating that these are case-by-case judgement calls and you will not be able to give a procedure that applies all the time, BUT then giving some bare bones actual guidance. For example, “Unless there is a major imminent safety or legal issue (emphasis on major), it is important to trust the leaders of individual teams instead of raising things to a higher level.” Or, “offering your observations and ideas on an issue is fine, but I need you to be able to drop it if the people knowledgable and in charge of that area are not interested in pursuing it, as they know their work best. If they do not have time to explain their reasoning to you, I need you to be able to let it go unless you need the information to do your work. General feedback is welcome when HR solicits it.” Basically, I don’t think this employee is a lost cause, but may have a thinking style different than yours and may or may not be self-aware about that thinking style. In general, showing that you understand how what he’s saying might make sense, stating that there are other lenses through which to view the issue (not necessarily enumerating them) then laying out clear boundaries and what you need going forward might do the trick!

  99. the cat's ass*

    Adams are energy vampires and colossal time sucks. Fortunately, the Adam at my job retired just as the pandemic got underway, and funny, nobody misses him AT ALL. Giving him his job description (again, i’m sure) and telling him to say in his lane is all well and good, but that implies that he’s interested in changing his behavior, when he has demonstrated that he’s completely disinterested in that. Loop HR in and start managing him out.

  100. A Kate*

    I am a HUGE fan of processes, but demanding a process for “how to stop bothering your colleagues with stuff that isn’t a priority” is a new level. Adam sounds like as much of a nightmare to work with as he is to manage; I agree with Alison that “shape up or ship out” is the right course of action, here.

  101. Delphine*

    I’ve worked with two or three Adams and they are exhausting and time-consuming. Luckily, my work with them is generally temporary, but that bit about them producing good work but being a pain to interact with on a human level really rings true.

  102. DD*

    First of all Adam sounds exhausting and obnoxious. I enjoy a good discussion about how to improve something (process, product, project, lunch order) but this is wacko behavior.

    I’m curious why the other employees feel like they owe him detailed lengthy e-mails to defend their position. Is he intimidating or bullying them that they feel like they have to defend themselves?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Because it’s faster to just do it rather than respond to the inevitable nick picking. Or try to explain to grandboss what’s going on when Adam inevitably presents a one sided account of people “not responding to his questions”. Basically preempting all of the stuff that should have been shut down a long time ago but wasn’t.

  103. Slow Gin Lizz*

    All I could think, while reading this letter, was “No is a complete sentence.” Not sure you can say that to someone you’re managing, but other responses here seem to be more appropriate wording of the same sentence.

  104. London Calling*

    No advice to offer but Adam sounds a royal pain in the @rse. I have worked with an Adam and because he couldn’t EVER mind his own damned business and concentrate on his own job someone was fired from theirs.

  105. Just Me*

    Oh this is hard. My suggestion would have been to give him some pet projects or put him on some committees but OP mentions that just “emboldens” him. I do think OP needs to sit down with him and say, “You are paid to do this thing and this thing only. You must only do this thing. We do not pay you to do other things. I need you to put all of your focus on energy on the thing you were hired to do.” Might even be worth going over his job description and being explicit from the get-go about what he does and doesn’t do and then using Alison’s language from there.

  106. MD*

    I faced this problem with a colleague in my job, neurodivergence came up as a possibility but I felt that it muddled the issues more than anything else.

    We are software engineers and in the company, both feedback and questioning are encouraged. I was a senior engineer on the project and “Adam” joined with an expectation that I will train him up and he will relieve some of my workload, which was already too high at that point. Instead, Adam accomplished nothing at all and my own output decreased significantly. This is because I had to spend so much time debating with him over inconsequential details.

    For me a major red flag was that Adam never hesitated to tell other people that their solution was bad – “premature optimization”, “outdated and not fitting the 21st century tools” etc. But when I offered coaching – both directly and referring him to relevant trainings on how certain decisions are made – he consistently rejected the feedback and complained that “he was being judged for the difference in his work style and approach”.

    I also quickly discovered that Adam had past history of issues, failing to complete important work because he focused on irrelevant details and taking large amounts of people’s time by questioning.

    Unfortunately it proved difficult to resolve. I had seniority but not managerial authority. When I went to my manager with this some of the things I heard back were “but Adam is extremely smart!” and “Adam shows some behaviours typical of autism spectrum, part of our jobs is to figure out how to work with him”

    I found the whole discussion of Adam as neurodivergent person hard to take there. My understanding was that it wasn’t an official diagnosis, it was just speculation because there’s a stereotype that software engineers are often neurodivergent. But Adam was absolutely exhausting me with questions, damaging important relationships I built with other teams by badgering them and reducing my productivity – we were going slower overall with him on board than without him. So I was generally unsympathetic to saying that we should “find a way to work with him”. Accommodations for disability are important, I actually benefit from that because I have a physical disability, but if the accommodation comes at a large productivity or stress cost to someone else than I don’t think it’s a reasonable accommodation to make.

    Ultimately I reached the point I could not tolerate working with Adam anymore. The last straw was when he made some obnoxious comments about DEI in a team meeting and caused a big derailment around “no, we are not discriminating against white men and we are not hiring because of gender, we are just trying to make sure we have a diverse candidate pool before making a hiring decision”. I flat out told my manager that I am not willing to work with Adam on my team and spend large amounts of time and emotional energy on someone so repeating stereotypes that have been thrown at me for all my career. I was pretty upset by that point, plus I had a trail of raising issues around Adam’s behavior, so he was moved off to a different project. Shortly after that he went on leave and then left the company.

    I don’t know what went behind the scenes but I would say that Adam was the wrong fit for the job and hopefully he will find a better niche elsewhere where he can be productive without draining everyone aorund him.

  107. Observer*

    OP, I just want to highlight something. *YOU* are the manager here, not Adam. That means that he can “demand” all he wants. But that ALSO means that you don’t have to respond to his “demands” the way he wants you to.

  108. Curmudgeon in California*

    He also keeps saying it’s just his personality, and since we talk a lot about inclusion these days (in the context of DEI), he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive.

    This is a red flag to me. IMO, it means that he thinks his opinions and needs matter more than others.

    The pushing of unsolicited opinions, even up the food chain, is a mark of thinking they are superior, and can be really hostile in a truly diverse workplace.

    I wouldn’t want to work with this person, and I’m a process oriented perfectionist.

  109. NewBoss2016*

    I managed an employee like Adam, but they were a lot more hateful with their critiques lol. It was a fairly routine job, but required problem solving and critical thinking skills in some situation. And I could not outline a process for every single random situation that could come up. That was super frustrating for them. I ended up entertaining some of the complaints, and asked THEM to outline processes/best practices and I would help finalize or assist along the way. They were never willing to put in the work to research or work on efficiencies themselves. I was willing to try and work things out for a while, but the constant complaining and/or wanting a freaking flowchart for the simplest tasks, coupled with a determined unwillingness do any of that work themselves shortened our working relationship. So, does Adam just request others to do these things, or is he willing to actually build efficiencies on things that relate to your department?

  110. Serin*

    We’ve got some commenters saying “I’m like Adam” or “guy’s annoying but he’s got a point” but y’all are missing the power assumptions underlying Adam’s behavior.

    Who has the right to question everyone’s processes? Who has the right to demand that everybody stop what they’re doing and explain themselves? Who has the right to protest right up the hierarchy if people won’t give him what he wants? Who has the right to argue with his manager when told to change his behavior?

    We’re not proposing that Adam should be stifled because people object to problem-solving. We’re proposing that Adam should not be permitted to decide that he’s the one who dictates everyone’s priorities.

  111. Buni*

    In my experience when people say “You’re not listening to me!” what they actually mean is “You CAN’T be listening to me, because if you were then OBVIOUSLY you’d agree with me!”. They can’t believe that their opinion is not the correct one and therefore it must be a comprehension fail on your part.

    I find it useful to absolutely clarify “I am listening to you, you said [exact repeat of their words], and I still disagree.”.

  112. Buni*

    In my experience when people say “You’re not listening to me!” what they actually mean is “You CAN’T be listening to me, because if you were then OBVIOUSLY you’d agree with me!”. They can’t believe that their opinion is not the correct one and therefore it must be a comprehension fail on your part.

    I find it useful to absolutely clarify “I am listening to you, you said *exact repeat of their words*, and I still disagree.”.

  113. SnappinTerrapin*

    In a job that requires the exercise of discretion to address inherent ambiguities, it can be really helpful to have some detailed conversations with other employees, including those in other departments whose work may be impacted by his decisions, so he can have a clearer view of the big picture. That can provide the needed context for prudent exercise of discretion. Those conversations can legitimately include some of the “what-if” scenarios, and maybe even the “why not” questions. With some seasoning, an employee equipped with that knowledge might even make some useful suggestions about processes other people use.

    What I just described, though, is different from what LW described. Her employee isn’t listening to and accepting the explanations of why things are done and adapting to them; he is getting way “out of his lane” to interfere with other people’s work. He needs to be clearly told, as Alison said, that his conduct indicates he is not fitting the role he was hired for. He needs to understand that there is a hard boundary against trying to run other people’s processes. He needs to do his own job, as it fits together with the jobs other people are doing, and stop trying to manage his peers, his bosses, and corporate management. He has pretty well destroyed any possibility of being taken seriously if he ever does come up with a useful suggestion about improving processes, since no one really wants to listen to him any more after having their time continually wasted.

  114. LN*

    Oh, another thought – it’s totally reasonable to set boundaries with Adam that you wouldn’t normally set with other employees. Unless he is truly the only person who comes into practical contact with the procedures and policies that he’s questioning, there is simply no need for him to play auditor. You don’t need to just limit his outlets for it. You can tell him to stop, completely. You can make that a condition of his employment. You can put him on a PIP where the entire thing is that he’s not allowed to do this anymore. He’s being disruptive and it’s not only reasonable to do this, it’s UNreasonable to expect everyone else to keep dealing with him like this.

    This is definitely something you’ll need the buy-in from HR and higher ups to do, because you know from experience he’ll complain to them. But once you have their backing, you can set firm boundaries with him. The fact is – and you can articulate this to him – NO ONE is allowed to monopolize everyone’s time and demand explanations for procedures that aren’t part of their job. No one! He was never being excluded or discriminated against because of his personality. In fact, he was getting special treatment that no one else was getting in the form of people that don’t answer to him, and don’t owe him an explanation for anything, spending hours explaining things to him so he wouldn’t tattle to management. That special treatment is now ending. He can accept that or not, but he can’t continue wasting everyone’s time.

    1. The Crowening*

      This is such a great point. Having Strong Opinions And Ideas about anything – processes, inefficiencies, improvements, the Green Bay Packers, pineapple on pizza – is not a pass to back coworkers or managers into a corner and take up tons of time with discussions about the Strong Opinions And Ideas. It is totally OK to have those opinions and ideas! A workplace can certainly benefit from a wide range of people, including those who are super-detailed and process-oriented to the point of rigidity. The issue isn’t Who Adam Is. The issue is that this behavior, when taken to a “no boundaries” extreme, becomes detrimental to the workplace. Learning to read the room, be mindful of priorities, not turn ideas into battlegrounds, etc., is a reasonable expectation in a workplace.

  115. raida7*

    as someone who thrives on detail, parameters, clear processes, and problem solving may I suggest:

    Here’s the parameters:
    Once a week/fortnight/month you and I will have a meeting and you bring all these enquiries to me. I will contact other teams to get the answers, and we’ll tick these things off as the answers come in.
    You will provide these in a succinct format, and clearly delineate between “I’d like to know” and “I have a concern”, where “concerns” will have a short explanation of the negative slow-on impacts you think may be an issue to a lessor or greater extent.
    You will not bring questions or concerns to the meeting that are simply part of your job. “What HR form do I use for this?” is, and I know you understand the difference, not the same thing as “Why does the system require two logins for HR forms?”. And neither is “Joe, can we meet on Thursday to work on our actions from the meeting?”. I am not moderating your email use, I am giving you the clear process that you requested.
    There will be no expectation that the answers are given a priority by the other teams, they have work to do.
    There will be no prodding other teams to answer your manager’s questions unless I specifically allocate that task to anyone other than myself.
    You will trust that I am not incompetent, stupid or ignorant and that when I am satisfied by the response that it is reasonable and closed.
    You can discuss with me concerns that weren’t covered in a response and if in that discussion we agree that it is an outstanding point then it will stay on the list.

    Reasons for this: as you’re a part of my team you are representing me to the business.
    I, in turn, represent you to the business.
    I have been approached several times about your approach to these questions, and the honest fact is this is not doing you any favours. I know of staff that would rather avoid working with you not because you ask questions but because you refuse to accept the subject matter expert’s short answers and escalate.
    That is not the appropriate, respectful or professional behaviour I want our section to be sending out to the business as a whole.

    So, the concept is that you will trust me to guide you on when to let something go, help your reputation, and also find you training on how to ask questions in an effective, collaborative, non-combative way.

    Funnelling this into a clearly defined section of your work week/fortnight/month will help manage the time spent instead of reacting to it. Getting your head around the volume of this stuff will help you manage his expectations of co-workers and other teams – if he’s spending a few hours a week on this, and each one causes at least an hour on the other end, he can start to quantify the impacts and if it’s a good use of work time. Having him not just shoot off a question but write it down, reflect on it, discuss it with you can help minimise the number of questions at all by teaching him how to think through a question. Having a record of them can give you data to say “a lot of your questions are about systems/team/process/finance, is this a subject you’re interested in learning more about, since you’re not an expert?” or to say “you never accept Joe’s first response, even when I’ve argued in favour of doing so – I know it’s not how Joe commuicates since all responses are by me, so is there an incident in the past I’m nota aware of?”

    1. Anonymiss*

      Why does the manager need to entertain these questions? It’s creating more work for OP and signaling to Adam that it is ok to have feedback on other peoples work, when it isn’t his responsibility or business.

  116. GelieFish*

    This is perfect as I have an employee that always gets out of their lane and has opinions on everything. They are great at their job and will reign in some, but often plays the “this is who I am”. Great phrases from A that I can see myself using.

  117. Anonymiss*

    Having just left a company who’s impression of inclusion was “let everyone have an opinion about everyone else’s job and process to the exclusion of doing their own” if HR and the Big Bosses see his questions and input as including him, you have culture problem.

  118. Hg*

    I would seriously make him a very straightforward algorithm.
    You may ask one person, one time, one question
    If you don’t like the answer, you may not ask them again, you may not ask anyone else.
    You may email me a copy of the correspondence and ask if you can ask anything else. If I say no, you do not ask anyone again or bring it up again. You do not argue with me or try to add more details.

    More polished than this of course! Some people with very very Rigid personalities actually respond well to having written rules like this. This actually covers most scenarios pretty well! OP could tweak as necessary and appropriate (maybe could add that they can forward emails to hr too, but may not engage beyond that or a very, very specific process)
    You could also make it so he must forward the question to you before he’s allowed to ask anyone else, although this may take up more time. You could require all questions in email form so you don’t get caught up.

  119. Karak*

    OP, I’m one of these people (to some extent). I see a problem, try to fix it, and I do not respond to being brushed off, which I view as saying my argument is “bad”. I just need to make a better one!

    You have to be double-direct with Adam. In other words, “Adam, we don’t care enough to dig into this problem to either fix it or prove you wrong. We’re not doing it. That’s all you get. And if you keep annoying us about it, we will fire you.”

    Parameters for his work reporting going forward:
    The problem must directly cause delays or inaccuracies in HIS work/project—not an annoyance, but affect productivity and output.


    Get the company sued. Like, criminally sued.


    Be solved in less then two minutes (broken link, misspelled word, etc)

    He can run 0ne (1) thing outside this by you every 2-4 weeks (or whatever makes sense) as his hill to die on, and you will genuinely and sincerely look at it and chase it down.

    And, as a person who gets ruffled: I want to ask you if he’s really consistently wrong, or it’s just annoying he demands from everyone else what he gives out. You admit his work is good and he’s obsessively conscientious. He has excellent evidence to argue he is knowledgeable. You admit it takes you hours to even figure out what he’s noticed off the cuff and responded to it. Just asking.

  120. Junior Assistant Peon*

    The problem is going to fix itself when this guy annoys the higher-ups too many times.

  121. Yellow*

    OP you also need to look at what you/the company say to Adam about putting forward ideas and identifying inefficiencies. If you are telling him you value feedback and want to hear ideas for improving efficiency – then you are giving mixed messages that he isn’t capable of unraveling.

    In one of my hobbies we train recruits that their captains want their opinion and want to discuss their ideas and they should ask questions and make sure they understand everything. We train captains to give orders not discuss. The reality is somewhere in between – but we cause a lot of the problems we have by the disconnect between what we say and what we want. We expect people to infer what we really want, which is not really fair.

  122. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

    He also keeps saying it’s just his personality, and since we talk a lot about inclusion these days (in the context of DEI), he believes we’re being hypocritical if we tell him to tone down his personality (he is a white male) since that’s not being inclusive.

    I’m not going to diagnose Adam, but I would not be surprised if Adam diagnosed Adam to HR at some point to try and claim he’s not being treated fairly.

    1. Wella*

      As a 42-year-old newly diagnosed autistic person I find that attitude problematic. It is incredibly ableist to insinuate that the only possible situation is that Adam invented a diagnosis to excuse his behavior/get away with something. Am I overrelating to this? Possibly… I see a lot of myself and the how way I function in my workplace is externally perceived in this Adam issue. I’m not in any way trying to diagnose an imaginary stranger on the internet, but I will absolutely push back against the idea that the only reason this is happening is because this person is a jerk and that it is fully the responsibility of Adam to shape up or ship out rather than the workplace itself to learn how to understand and collaboratively work with Adam to his best and fullest potential.

      I’m also very curious to know if Adam’s coworkers have ever tried to have a direct conversation with him about their concerns and what does or doesn’t work specifically for them in terms of communication.

  123. Cheezmouser*

    For once, I disagree with Alison. I’m not Adam, but I’m very similar to Adam. I have high attention to detail, am very process oriented, and am very structured in my approach. This allows me to deliver extremely high-quality work, but it also means that I see a lot of problems/issues that others don’t see. I suspect Adam is the same, and that’s why he’s raising all these issues in all these different areas. Depending on how you handle this, Adam could be an asset for identifying inefficiencies, process gaps, solutions to perennial problems, etc. for the company. Or he can be a loose cannon/time suck.

    The key issues for a detail-oriented person like me are 1) focus & role clarity, and 2) trusting other teams to solve the problems that fall outside my role. These two go hand in hand. Think of it this way: if you hire me to go digging, then I’m going to find every single scrap of gold in whatever area you designate for me. But if you aren’t clear, if you don’t provide me with a clearly marked area in which to dig, then I’m just going to go dig wherever I find a problem, and I notice a LOT of problems (because I’m detail oriented). And once I find something and start digging, it’s hard for me to stop, because I care deeply about the quality of my work. I hate half-assing things or leaving things unfinished. It’s morally offensive to me to not be doing my best. (This is why my work is so high quality.) In order for me to stop, I need to have either a) confidence that someone is going to take over for me, or b) someone tells me that this isn’t a priority/has already been dug and redirects me back to my clearly defined area.

    Telling me to stop digging but refusing to tell me where my designated area to dig is not going to work; it’s going to cause distress. You can’t hire me to go digging but not tell me where. And if the problem is that I’m not digging in my designated area, then I need to know exactly where the boundaries are so I CAN stay within my designated area (hence Adam’s demand for exact parameters). I may ask questions to test my understanding of where those boundaries are exactly (hence the probing scenarios)–again, so that I can stay within my area. Telling me to stop digging altogether is not going to work because you hired me to dig.

    Tl;dr: provide Adam with clear boundaries of where he should focus his time and attention and set him loose in those areas. If he uncovers problems in areas outside his role, tell him to come to you instead of directly to the other team/person. Then you can vet whether this is a real issue that requires investigation by the other team/person, the issue isn’t actually an issue, or that it is an issue but it’s not a priority. He just needs some way to escalate the problems he notices and know that it doesn’t need to be on his plate. You want him to be able to raise issues without needing to personally solve them.

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