my rock star employee needs time off for health … and her coworkers are complaining

A reader writes:

I directly manage a team of eight entry-level job employees, who are part of a 175-employee company. My eight employees are the only ones who truly work with every single other employee we have — the rest are separated by departments and don’t mix with other departments very often. I am the equivalent of the vice president of the company, with only the president above me (not our actual titles, though).

I have one employee, who I’ll call Liza, who is part of my eight-person team. She has been with us for six years and is in the middle of the group seniority-wise, but is absolutely hands down the best employee on my team. She works and gets along extremely well with every other employee, her work is always top notch, she goes above and beyond almost every day, she is incredibly efficient, and she takes her role the most seriously out of everyone. And as a bonus, her personality makes her fun to work with. I know that she is a beloved employee, and others have often expressed as much to me, saying she makes their jobs easier. I feel lucky to have Liza as my employee.

The only problem with Liza is that she misses a fair amount of work — about 20 days per year. She has disclosed to me that it is due to mental health reasons, and she has actually been out for the past three months after a serious crisis but will return soon.

She hides her mental health issues well at work and very few people know what has been going on with her behind the scenes. Because no one on her team knows the real reason why she has been gone for the past three months, several of her teammates have come to me to express their frustration with me for being so tolerant of her absences and about their current workload. They feel it is extremely unfair. It should be noted that she is not super close with her team because they don’t do their jobs well, which means Liza picks up their slack every day and she has expressed some resentment regarding this to me multiple times in the past. This is a whole separate issue, I know, but the bottom line is the president doesn’t care that not everyone is doing equal work, only that all the work is getting done — thanks to Liza! — and I don’t have the ability to fire anyone despite my senior role in the company, so there’s not much I can do that I haven’t already done to try to address these problems. I’m sure that her not being close with her team is why she hasn’t shared with them the reason for her recent leave.

These past three months have been covered under FMLA so she is protected there, but her other absences do exceed company policy. However, enforcing that policy is ultimately left up to my discretion, and the president has told me he is willing to accept Liza’s absences as long as I am, and she has the type of job where an unexpected one-off absence doesn’t leave anyone else in the lurch or cause an inconvenience. Her team has never truly felt the impact of her being gone until now, when they have had to cover her work for the first time.

I am quite frankly tired of hearing these complaints about her from her team, so how do I address this and explain to them that the reason I am so willing to bend over backwards for Liza is because she out performs all of them by miles, and that the only reason they have all struggled so much with their own work for the past few months is because Liza has always covered for their shortcomings, without coming across as playing clear favorites with Liza … because I wouldn’t tolerate so many absences from just about anyone else, and certainly not from any of the other seven on her team. How should I explain that?

I’d say this:

“It’s important to us as a company to give people flexibility when they have things going on in their lives that require it — whether it’s health or a family issue or so forth. We’re also governed by laws like FMLA, which protects people’s jobs when they have health issues going on. There are of course limits on how flexible we can be, but there’s a baseline amount of support and flexibility that anyone on the team has access to if something comes up — and if someone’s a strong worker who’s gone above and beyond for our team, I’ll go to bat to get them more if they need it.

Liza is taking time away right now because she needs it and she’s earned it. Her work is top-notch, she goes above and beyond almost every day, and she regularly picks up slack for other team members. She has earned extra flexibility, and I’m willing to go to bat for extra support for anyone who performs at that level.”

You should also probably say:

“We also protect people’s privacy in situations like this, so I’m not going to talk about specifics and I ask that you not speculate. I would protect your privacy in a similar situation too.”

From there, you’ll need to keep a close eye on things when Liza returns, to ensure she’s not subjected to snarky comments or questions. If any of that happens, you’ll need to put an immediate stop to it; don’t leave her to deal with it on her own.

You have a bigger problem, though, and it’s that seven out of eight employees on this team are bad at their jobs! It’s not fair to Liza to rely on her to make up for that — ever, but especially when she’s already expressed resentment about it multiple times.

You said the president doesn’t care about the situation since Liza is picking up all the slack. But what would happen if Liza left permanently? Would he be willing to let you hold people accountable (including firing them) then, since at that point you’d have no choice in order to get the work done? Liza is going to leave at some point, and you should point out to the president that you’re much better off keeping her around as long as you can, whereas piling other people’s work on her is likely to cut her time there short. The past three months have shown what the team looks like without Liza, and it’s not good.

Meanwhile, you’ve got to stop letting Liza pick up everyone else’s slack. She’s doing it because she’s conscientious, but it’s not fair to keep letting her when you know she’s unhappy about it. Her return is a good time to reset how work gets distributed and to ensure she doesn’t step back into her role of team fixer. If other people’s work doesn’t get done without Liza stepping into save them, you probably need to let that happen if that’s what it will take for your president to finally let you act.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There’s a lot of criticism below about the idea that the OP’s team could be in entry-level jobs when they’ve been there for years. There are indeed entry-level jobs that people are content to stay in for years; that doesn’t mean the people themselves are entry-level, but the jobs are. And indeed, she specified jobs. Please lay off on that point; it’s the kind of misunderstanding that’s quite frustrating for letter writers to see the comment section get sidetracked on.

  2. Alex*

    Also, being resentful and feeling like you are the only one on the team who is conscientious about your work, and knowing that your manager relies on this from you without be able to “do anything about it” likely contributes to the decline of one’s mental health.

    Ask me how I know.

      1. Coast East*

        I remember my two supervisors telling me I was holding up the entire team….yet I had to fight for time off for therapy and threats that I couldn’t take 6 days off unless I completed a month’s worth of work in advance (because my supervisor knew the coworkers wouldnt do work if I wasn’t there). It was an awful combo that made me drop working entirely for nearly 7 months. Liza needs time off and her coworkers need thier work loads reinforced.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Exactly what I came to say – Liza’s lack of workload support is probably directly contributing to her mental health issues, and if you want Liza to be out less often, you’re going to HAVE to solve that workload issue.

      Including pointing out to the President that Liza may eventually decide to go work for someone else who doesn’t bog her down like this if things don’t change and if he wants to keep Liza, this issue NEEDS to be solved, even if that means firing other people who aren’t doing their jobs well (if at all).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Second/third/fourth this. The connection jumped out at me too. Liza’s pulling everyone else’s weight in addition to her own, gets no recognition for it from the people whose slack she’s picking up, and, in unrelated news, she’s also out of work a lot for mental health issues? Worth exploring if she’d be out of work for a fraction of that time (and have PTO days left for an actual vacation instead of using them all for medical emergencies) if the work team dynamics were healthier.

        1. Abby*

          Precisely. Someone needs to tell them to shut up about Liza and focus on their job. The job they are not doing well…..

          The job Liza does and makes them look good. Then they complain. But if Liza goes all of a sudden it will be a huge problem for management.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Seriously, speaking as one of two Liza’s on my team – you need to talk to the boss and get the power to hold the rest of the team accountable – otherwise eventually you are going to loose Liza despite the flexibility you are giving her. There is only so long that she can carry the team, and the last three months has been a preview of what will one day come to pass. You need to get the boss to understand that – hopefully before Liza decides she’s had enough and leaves.

          (For my situation, the manager that was letting me carry the whole shift was fired about a year ago, and the situation has gotten better. It’s still not where it could be, but the new manager is holding my teammates accountable, and it makes all the difference.)

      2. Lila_lou*

        This, exactly! Maybe if the letter writer actually can see what they wrote typed out in front of them, they could make this correlation that seems so obvious to a lot of us. I know that being in the middle of a situation isn’t the best place to get perspective but someone in such a senior position needs to be able to step far enough back to get that perspective. The health of the employees and the company/organization are at stake.

    2. Avril Ludgateau*

      I was about to say, if Liza wasn’t carrying the team, I’m not going to suggest it would cure her mental illness, whatever that may be, BUT she likely wouldn’t need to take 20 days spread around* plus 3 consecutive months to deal with a catastrophic decline in her mental health.

      *Honestly? Whatever. 4 weeks over a year is barely adequate annual leave. 3 months is more challenging but frankly “3 consecutive months to deal with a catastrophic decline in her mental health” has me worried for Liza, not the company.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Agree that 20 days per year really isn’t that much when you get down to it. My employer starts at a baseline of 38 paid days off annually (12 sick, 6 holidays, and the remaining 20 for vacation/personal time). That goes up with seniority. Even with everyone routinely taking off that much time we never have issues… people are much happier and more productive when they can take time for their personal lives.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          We start off at my company with 10 days vacation PTO, 9 specific-date holidays, 3 floating holidays, and 1-2 weeks sick time. We get 15 vacation days starting in our 5th year (if we don’t negotiate for it earlier, as I have done).

          The sick time policy is informal and boils down to: “Meh. If you’re a good employee and usually get your work done, we won’t ding you for sick days. But if you’re going to be out for a solid couple of weeks or more, we should probably talk about using PTO or going on short-term medical leave (our company automatically enrolls us into short-term leave insurance so our pay is covered).” But mostly we’re more concerned about getting the work load redistributed from someone who will be out to the rest of the team, and less concerned about who “pays” for the sick days.

          In the OP’s circumstances, I’d mentally put Liza in the category of “Highly paid, highly productive part-time employee,” since the company gets more out of Liza even with the mental health absences than it does from the rest of the team.

          I would also do everything in my power to keep Liza from carrying the team.

    3. 2 Cents*

      Yep. And when you leave and are replaced by multiple people (in my case, 3 full-time workers), you realize then why you suddenly don’t need as much migraine medication.

        1. Jora Malli*

          I was the Liza at my previous job. It’s amazing how quickly my digestive issues resolved once quit and I wasn’t working three people’s jobs all at once.

          1. Jam Today*

            At a previous job I had two episodes of TMJ so severe I couldn’t chew, in the first case I was pureeing all my food for an entire month before it resolved. In the second episode about a year later, I was two weeks into it and about to go to a dentist and lay out $800 for a custom bite guard when I got laid off. Within 48 hours the TMJ had resolved completely and I remain pain-free five years later.

        2. Meep*

          You joke, but I went to Urgent Care because I kept blacking out from stress and all the RN had to say was “does your left eye normally twitch like that?” It didn’t help my husband responded “yes.” lol.

      1. Alice*

        Oh my goodness- yes! I actually worried I had a brain tumor as I had such frequent migraines. Realised 2 weeks after I resigned that I hadn’t had a single episode. My workload and boss were 100% the cause of my health issues

      2. Bibliothecarial*

        I bought a jumbo bottle of pain relievers at Lastjob because I had headaches 3-4 times a week. The bottle expired, still 2/3 full, several years into current job. Agreed that Liza needs not to be pulling the weight of 8 (!) people.

    4. Important Moi*

      Total agreement.

      Also, “I don’t have the ability to fire anyone despite my senior role in the company, so there’s not much I can do that I haven’t already done to try to address these problems”

      If you can’t fire them, the solution is not “I can’t do anything” thus nothing changes for Liz and the work continues to get done by her with not enough help.

      1. Clorinda*

        Sounds like an educational environment to me. Liza steps up to cover online/evening/independent study courses that other people really should be doing, so she’s carry the equivalent of two loads, but the dept head doesn’t have the authority to fire other instructors/profs.

        1. BongoFury*

          I think you might be transferring some of your personal takes it the situation. I did the same, and immediately thought of all the times I (a non-educational employee) had to step up and cover coworker’s responsibilities.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Yeah, this is a case where the manager should start firewalling workloads. Liza and 1-2 other people* are a workgroup responsible for xyz. Then have 2-3 other small workgroups each responsible for their own, designated things. And then manage them, hold each of the groups and each of the employees responsible for doing their jobs. Deliverables, performance standards, goals, etc that are monitored, reported on, and part of their performance assessments.

        Then ID the worst problem children. ID what is driving their poor performance; are they lacking training/skills, tools/access? If so, fill the gaps. If not, dust of your PIP forms and get those people on improvement plans, with real consequences.

        And if the CEO will not give you authority to actually fire employees who aren’t doing their jobs, she’s purposely tying your hands managing this crew, giving you all the responsibility but none of the control … a recipe for things not ending well for you, or Liza or anyone who depends on this team for whatever it is that they are supposed to be doing all day.

        * making Liza part of a small work group prevents her from being isolated, targeted by others who otherwise would think she’s being singled out for special treatment, plus it allows legitimate coverage/cross training so that 2 of them can cover for whichever one of them happens to be on vacation, out sick, in training, whatever.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

          I really like this suggestion and hope the letter writer sees it.

        2. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

          Came here to say this. You can’t fire Slacker X, but you can make sure she does her work–all her work–and not let it slide over to Liza or Slacker B or whoever. Your low performers can quit or step up.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My new manager did something really similar to this – and it has really helped me and the other Liza in our group. It also made it way more evident to management who was pulling their weight and who wasn’t.

        4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I like this, too. If this isn’t an option, it would probably be very illuminating to do something that gets people to do their own work. As a general rule, collaborating and helping people out is a good thing. In this case, it seems to be obscuring problems on the team.

          I’m curious – how clear are you when assigning tasks/portfolios? Does everyone know that X is Liza’s, Y is Fergus’, and Z is Phyllis’? Could you do a “refresh” of which tasks/portfolios belong to whom, including shifting things around? You can say that you’re trying to make sure that work is divided equitably and that accountabilities are clear. This would make it easier to have the “why didn’t [task] get done, Fergus?” conversations.

        5. OlympiasEpiriot*

          I’m going to copy this into my work notebook and burn it into my brain if I am ever a manager of a consistent group (I have shifting project teams). This is a clear plan.

        6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Forgot this in my other comment in reply to this – DON’T put the worst offenders from the do nothing club on Liza’s team, because if you do they will find a way to dump all of the teams work onto her.

      3. Spoo*

        She may not be able to fire but she needs to step up and manage. It sounds like she isn’t doing anything but letting Liza take up the slack

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I wonder if the lack of ability to fire the loafers is part of the problem though. If there is no teeth to anything the manager tries (because he can’t ultimately fire people who need to be fired for lack of performance) then what else should he try*?

          * completely honest question here, because if the ultimate consequence is off the table, how much authority to manage has the President really given this VP? What else should he be trying in order to manage the workload, because letting Liza carry everything just isn’t going to continue to work.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. The employees know that they can do whatever because OP has “no teeth”, no ability to fire.

            OP, your company set you up to be walked all over. I really don’t think you did this with malice of forethought but you have passed this problem on to Liza. It’s not Liza’s problem.

            She does perfect work and gets along with everyone perfectly- she comes in and is the perfect employee every day. OP, this is going to break just about anyone, regardless of MH status.

            I have been on the other end. (Okay I did not do perfect work nor did I get along perfectly with everyone.) But I did carry the bulk of the work load for a group about the same size as yours. In the end, I simply quit. I felt used and worse, I felt awful about myself for letting myself continue on in the situation. I had no recourse but to quit. If she has a good therapist her therapist should be explaining to her that she can find a better employer.

            But before we get too involved in connecting the dots in Liza’s story, you can connect some dots in your story. Underneath all this is the fact is you have a lot of responsibility and NO authority. You have to put up with whatever employee you have no matter what. You found an easy out, named Liza. What will you do when she is not there any more? Because that one is coming sometime soon. Your problem is not “how do I keep Liza”, your problem is “how do I manage this crew when I have no real authority over them?’
            If it were me, I would go in and tell my boss that I have a number of under performing employees and I need a plan to deal with this serious problem.

            1. Erin*

              OK, this is niche, and it’s only because your syntax and language use is so strong that I thought there was a good chance you’d want to know (and I sincerely apologise if not).

              It’s “malice aforethought”

    5. Abogado Avocado*


      OP, it sounds as if your firm is relying on Lisa’s conscientiousness to the detriment of her mental health while also allowing her team members to not fully perform their jobs. Were I you, I’d be concerned that, at some point, Lisa will make a connection between your firm’s poor management and her mental health, and find a job that doesn’t make her risk her health for the sake of carrying the workload for others.

      I don’t know why your boss insists on you not being able to fire, or at least put on PIP, team members who are under-performing, but this — in addition to responding appropriately to questions about Lisa’s absences — seems necessary for you to address with your boss if you want to keep your star employee.

      1. Midwestern Scientist*

        This is what I came here for – 20 days only seems unreasonable because people have their expectations set way too low. Definitely more concerned for Liza than the under performing coworkers/conpany

    6. Hakky Chan*

      My thoughts too – how much of her mental health struggles are caused by the expectation of picking up for underperforming colleagues that no one seems to address?

      I ultimately left a long time job for this – there was no reason to be good at my job because all I got was more work, and I was one of the lowest paid positions in the org on top of it. I was also labelled a rock star.

      It got to the point that I was so burned out that I was bursting into tears in the middle of the day, suffering constant nausea from the stress, and expressing that I took sick days because of this was only met with a “well, take care of yourself” and no discussion on how to fix the work-related issues I raised.

      (I am much happier now in my new role!)

      1. Two Chairs, One to Go*

        Ugh I feel this. I think “rock star” is corporate code for “overworked and underpaid.”

        1. Wendy*

          And this is why there needs to be balance

          Without balance problems like this happen

        2. Liz*

          Yup. And ask me what being a rock star is doing to my health, and why I am interviewing for other jobs.

          1. Been There*

            I’m a very siloed person within a larger department and my job is actually 3 jobs. And I really really like my job, but I’m in the same boat. I’m not applying, but I’m TIRED and burnt out and I really just need a break…

          2. Loredena Frisealach*

            This. I’ve been at my new job for less than a year, and my project manager talks about how I’ve been going above and beyond and that he’s putting me in for recognition. Which is nice and all – but I was burnt out before I started this project, and the only reason I haven’t quit without a job lined up is I want to take advantage of the insurance first. I’m tired and angry all. the. damn. time. Terrible for my mental health, and frankly not great for my marriage.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          It is. One of the reasons I’ve stayed with my current job is it’s the only place I’ve ever worked where the rock stars are acknowledged with money, promotions, and managers who have the power to step in if they are overworked. They actually expect *everyone* to do their damn jobs and have a a clear interview through evaluation set of expectations/job requirements. I have a lot of grumbles, as I would with any job that involves people, I’m sure, but I work with excellent people and am well-compensated for my efforts.

        4. Just a different redhead*

          I guess I wonder where the line is between “being paid more would help anymore” (unless said payment is in the form of more pto) and “the job needs to change to be doable by a living human who wants to remain living”.

          1. Boof*

            See that letter from the investment/finance program coordinator (who was finding it a struggle to keep people working 80+ hrs a week for scads of money )

            1. Just a different redhead*

              Ah n’yah, that one was bonkers. Don’t think they’d found the right line either. XD

    7. Elizabeth West*

      Absolutely. The only way for me to get through something similar was to literally stop caring. It didn’t stop me from doing my job, but I never went above and beyond after that.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This. Sometimes the only way to survive is to check out emotionally, do what you can during work hours, and let people deal with their own feelings about that.

    8. The Original K.*

      I had exactly this thought. I would bet that carrying the team has a direct and negative impact on her mental health. Liza will and should jump ship when she makes that connection, and then what will you do? There’s a difference between going above and beyond and doing the work of eight people, including people who are senior to her – and I doubt she’s paid the most since she’s in the middle in terms of seniority. There… doesn’t seem to be much benefit to Liza to carry on this way.

    9. Monday Monday*

      YES YES YES.
      I finally had to leave my job because I was one of those top performers and as a result, I would get rewarded with more “opportunities” that other’s flat out refused to do but was part of their job. I brought these issues to my manager and I was told I needed to accommodate my team mate’s shortcomings and unwillingness to work.
      I was a mess mentally. I knew I had to leave when I wasn’t going to be promoted for doing more and next-level work and the bad behavior was being allowed by management.

      Managers/companies may not be able to give these top performers raises, but don’t continue to dump on them and not hold the rest of the team accountable for the job they were hired to do.

      1. ferrina*

        Ugh, the “opportunities”. Especially the “professional development opportunities”, aka, above your pay grade but they’re going to make you do it anyways (without the pay, of course).

        One boss tried to offload part of her job onto me by calling it a “professional development opportunity”- which I then pointed out that I had plenty of experience in, since I’d been doing it for my team for the last three years (Boss was supposed to do this responsibility for the sister team, but Boss had been promoted above her competence and had no idea what she was doing). I left six months later, and half of the remaining team had quit within another 6 months (they were good people-I had been shielding them from a lot and doing Boss’ job for her. When I was gone, no one else had the skills to pick up the pieces)

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        So you have to accommodate your teammates’ shortcomings and unwillingness to work, but your unwillingness to do their jobs is unacceptable. Awesome.

    10. OrigCassandra*

      Yep. I am my department’s Liza and I am leaving as soon as I land something suitable. First-round interview this afternoon.

      They’re, no false modesty, hosed when I go, but they made their bed by overloading and underrespecting me.

      1. Poffertjies!*

        I’m a Liza too. I’m going to start job searching in the next month or two.

      2. Petty Betty*

        I was the Liza before. The person who *wanted* to replace me was denied because she did not have the same personality. She took it hard. They redistributed my work back to the c-suite and board members who’d had the majority of my work, gave the basics to a very green admin assistant, and the CEO retired a year later. My institutional knowledge and skills couldn’t be replicated, they couldn’t afford to keep me, and they weren’t doing anything to keep me interested or elevate my career.

    11. Dragon_Dreamer*

      And there’s the risk that the president will blame Liza if she stops taking up the slack. Ask me how *I* know.

    12. GenericBurnerName*

      This. This is why I left my last job. Being told regularly that you’re more or less one-manning all of the junior and senior level department work that your boss doesn’t handle at junior level title and pay, then getting “maybe when [moving goal posts]” in response to asking about raises and promotions is demeaning and dehumanizing enough to kick off mental health episodes, especially if you’re already prone to them.

    13. Empress Matilda*

      Just adding my voice to the chorus here. OP says Liza’s resentment at being asked to pick up everyone else’s slack is a separate issue from her mental health concerns – but I wouldn’t be so sure about that! On the contrary, I would imagine they’re pretty tightly linked, and if you can solve the workload issue it will directly lead to a huge improvement in her mental health.

    14. Lacey*


      It’s not like the mental health issues go away when you’re not carrying the team.
      But are they lessened? Absolutely.

      1. Koalafied*

        Yep! My doctor once used the metaphor that migraine triggers are like pouring a bit of liquid into a cup. Your cup has some inherent capacity to hold the liquid, but if too much gets poured in, it overflows. The overflow is the migraine. That’s why often people can have migraine triggers that don’t reliably produce a migraine 100% of the time they encounter the trigger. It’s when it’s a particular severe instance of a trigger, or more commonly, several triggers being stacked together at the same time (you didn’t get enough sleep AND someone is wearing perfume AND there’s a low pressure weather system rapidly moving into the area) that results in the migraine.

        It’s the same with most kinds of stressors and traumas that are associated with poor mental or physical health outcomes. We have some inherent capacity to weather a few stressors, but the more of them you stack up, the more reliably you’re going to get the overflow outcome. If a “good day” is the liquid being 1/8″ below the brim, it’s not going to take a day significantly worse than usual to produce the overflow outcome.

    15. quill*

      How much more often would Liza be able to come in if her team were better at their jobs?

    16. Random Bystander*

      Just going to park my +1 here.

      The situation undoubtedly exacerbates (if not itself a major contributing causal factor) Liza’s mental health issues.

      I mentioned before about my job, in one of the prior situations, we had a goal of completing 200 widgets/week or 40 per day. It was well known that no one would be put on a PIP if 80% of the expectation was met. So there were several co-workers who, by God were *not* going to work a 33rd account on any day. At one time, we had a worklist generator (everyone got an individual list) with a departmental goal of hitting 0 in all lists at end of week. So, needless to say, those never exceeding 80% were carried by a couple of us who were pushing 150+% of expectations … and it was the same darn people every week who needed to be ‘helped’ at the end of the week. Resentment–check. Prolonged resentment without relief will lead to mental health issues.

    17. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      I would ask you how you know, but I think I know, because I know too.

    18. Spoo*

      My guess is OP is very close to losing Liza altogether. OP needs to take this as a wake up call to start managing her team and not LETTING Liza take up the slack anymore

      1. Dinwar*

        Or has already lost Liza–either via Liza getting another job, or burning out to the point where she can no longer operate at even a “good employee” level. I’ve seen both happen.

        A former manager would always ask me “What would happen if you died on your way to work tomorrow morning?” Morbid, but he saw it happen once (and we all have a dark sense of humor anyway). Accidents happen. And what happened was, a whole team of people spent years figuring out what was going on, and still couldn’t. We lost clients, we lost revenue, we lost employees. It was a real wake-up call for him, and he carried that over to the rest of us. Part of our job is to not be like that guy.

        If the entire project/program/department/office/whatever is resting on one person, and you’re not a brand-new business with 4 employees, you’re failing as a business, you just don’t know it yet. Resiliency is an absolute necessity. Life WILL happen. Accidents WILL occur. People WILL leave. Entropy and the Law of Large Numbers ensure this, if nothing else. If your business can’t handle that, it’s doomed.

    19. CeeKee*

      Right? This basically made my brain explode. I don’t care how much (legally required!) FMLA they extend her, there’s no way this company can ask one employee to do the work of EIGHT and still claim to be supportive of her mental health.

    20. TypeAWithaTBI*

      OP, I do hope you realize that your underperforming staff are all bullying Liza, right? Gaslighting her about her medical stuff and asking inappropriate, discriminatory, and intrusive questions?

      And that your not shutting that shiat down this second opens you up to a lawsuit, right?

      Ask me how I know.

    21. Meep*

      That was my first thought. I am coming on the first anniversary of when I was diagnosed with work-related c-PSTD due to my manager making my (personal and professional) life a living hell for her own amusement. Even getting the help was fraught with its own stress, because I had to still do 150% of the work while hiding my mental health struggles from her as she would just further weaponize it.

      If her coworkers are complaining because they now have to do their jobs and OP cannot make them that is an extra stressor. Liza is probably fretting as we speak about how she is letting the whole team down. It doesn’t matter the team is deadweight.

    22. anonymouse*

      I came to this letter late and was prepared to scroll through to find the thread about “yeah, no kidding she’s burning out.” I see I didn’t have to go far.
      If Liza were writing in, I think the commentariat would be united in saying, “This isn’t going to change. You need to decide if you want to stay.”
      And I would add to that: “maybe set a limit on the number of multi month mental health episodes you have as a guide. Like, I will start looking for a new job when I hit my third breakdown.” /s

    23. Solana*

      (Nods) I have chronic illnesses (physical and mental) and was doing my job and pretty much half a supervisor’s job with being so understaffed. People would come to me instead of the supervisors when they weren’t available, and I would jump in and put out fires (not literal) all the time.

      Thankfully, I applied for and got a job in the same department but a different type of work. (Figure painting teapots instead of building them.) My stress level has dropped so much that my doctor has suggested I try lowering my pain medication levels for the first time in YEARS.

    24. TG*

      Liza is protected plain and simple and you need to shut down the snark and questions. I love the script provided.

      Also you should work hard to keep Liza and probably promote her if she is mid seniority but yet out performs the rest of the team – old make her a Lead over everyone else’s part do that I’d have Liza train up folks so they can do their jobs better.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – Liza retraining these folks isn’t going to work – they are going to resent the hades out of Liza if she gets promoted, or blame every single one of their problems and failures on her for leaving when she justifiably does leave. And sounds like company president set everything up to be that way……

        Hope Liza gets out and up (because this doesn’t sound like a change is possible situation), and also that OP doesn’t get blamed when everything falls apart because Liza left.

    25. Emotional support capybara*

      Yep. I was the Liza at my previous job and didn’t connect the dots between it and my mental health until I went back to work after taking a week off to bury my dad and one of the admins (who knew damn well why I’d been off) asked me if I enjoyed my vacation. I put in my notice a week later. I’m told they didn’t hire anyone to replace me and just expected the remaining teapot spout reattachers to close the gap. I’m also told that did not go the way they hoped. I doubt it’s going to go much better for Liza’s boss if she connects those dots and bails.

    26. Scarlet2*

      When LW says ” It should be noted that she is not super close with her team because they don’t do their jobs well, which means Liza picks up their slack every day and she has expressed some resentment regarding this to me multiple times in the past. This is a whole separate issue”

      It is not, in fact, a separate issue at all.

    27. Kit*

      Yet another former Liza chiming in – my ‘indispensability’ drove me to a nervous breakdown and quitting because my anxiety got so out of control. Before that point, my manager had complained about the increasing frequency of my sick days, a significant number of which were of the ‘panic attack and/or vomiting from the mere thought of having to go to work soon’ variety, and unsurprisingly that did not actually help fix the problem. I’ve since gotten meds and therapy, but almost a decade later I still occasionally have nightmares about having to go back to that office.

      OP, I really hope that you can enforce some workflow distribution fixes so that Liza isn’t driven away – and I would address the President as if her leaving was a certainty, since it seems like it will be unless the issues are addressed.

    28. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Yes, sometimes Happy Cat runs out of Happy (and then people jump down her throat. Guess how I know that one!).

  3. WantonSeedStitch*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this situation is making Liza’s mental health issues more difficult to deal with. If I were the only good employee on a team and had to do extra work to pick up the slack for others, and NOTHING was being done about it, I would have a hard time coping with that WITHOUT mental health issues.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yup, if she’s getting burned out by constantly having to pick up the slack for everyone else, that’s not going to do her mental health any good whatsoever.

    2. Can Can Cannot*

      Liza needs to apply for intermittent FMLA for the random time off (e.g., the 20 days). She doesn’t have to take FMLA off in one big chunk, it can be spread out as necessary for her health. That would protect her from the potential risk that OP mentions.

      1. Jora Malli*

        Well, she’s already used her 12 weeks, so that’s a moot point. We’re not giving advice to Liza, we’re giving advice to Liza’s boss.

        1. Can Can Cannot*

          Liza’s boss might want to mention intermittent FMLA to Liza, since she is concerned about repercussions from random days off.

    3. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, and it’s definitely not cool that the other team members are complaining about “letting” someone be off for so long, like, it should be obvious that she’s not at Disney World for that long and that something serious is going on in her personal life.

      1. Koalafied*

        Same here! To see anyone be out for that long and decide it must be because they’ve been granted a “come to work whenever the fancy strikes you” card is a really strange conclusion to jump to.

    4. Katie*

      Seriously, I haaaaaated my previous job because my coworkers were incompetent and I along with a few other had to drag them to the finish line. It was so stressful even though the work was successful each month.
      My current job has lots and lots of issues but aren’t because of coworker incompetence. They are are all working to fix said issues that we inherited. I don’t hate this job and don’t find it nearly as stressful.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    I directly manage a team of eight entry-level job employees

    Not enough, you don’t, if

    they don’t do their jobs well.

    You’re their manager; you have leverage here. Even if your superiors don’t care, you should be stepping in here, both to get your 88% slacker rate down and in not letting Liza burn herself out doing everyone else’s work and/or asking too much of herself in general (because I slightly wonder if her overachievement isn’t a symptom of her mental health concerns, depending on what they are).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      A symptom or a cause, frankly. That level of being consistently overburdened can certainly exacerbate underlying issues.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t think it matters at the end of the day because she still needs her manager to not let her burn out, and that’s not happening here, but if she’s already struggling with bipolar disorder or perfectionism or some other thing, that could be an underlying factor. Or it could be some of both–the slacking coworkers reinforce the overachievement, which lets the coworkers slack off, etc. But she might also overwork herself even if her coworkers were pulling their weight, and her manager needs to make it clear when it’s important to max out and when it’s not necessary and the energy is better spent elsewhere.

        (I get a lot of assignments where I could easily go down rabbit holes and over-research things but our supervisors are clear that some projects don’t need more than X amount of time and whatever we come up with by then is sufficient, so don’t go nuts trying to dig out all the details.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I think it does matter. If your highest performing team member is so stressed they have to take FMLA, that’s a real workplace issue. If it’s completely unrelated to work, that’s something else. The workplace issue might be the need for uniform workloads regardless of willingness to pick up slack, it might be your culture, it might be something unrelated. But saying at the end of the day it doesn’t matter is missing a big component of what’s happening here.

      2. 2Legit*

        “It’s the victim’s fault they were the victim. They did their job so well, we gave them the job of 2 other people, too”
        My last workplace- toxic

    2. not a fan*

      Yeah, time for the manager to manage the slackers. Step it up if you can’t fire them. Spend your time mentoring them into decent work and document everything.

    3. GythaOgden*

      I think it might be prudent to stick to the question here rather than laying into OP. Thing is, people may be working on that sort of stuff behind the scenes and taking care of the easier stuff. They come here for help with the /difficult/ issues, and instead get people hounding them about stuff they may well be working on in another way.

      Maybe putting yourself in the LW’s shoes might help. I’m not a manager offline, but I’m a moderator of an online forum. I ask my mum, who has been senior management in her company, how to address issues on my team and how to respond when things go south. I don’t ask her about the stuff I can figure out.

      Part of the site rules is to assume LWs know the ins and outs of their own situation. I’d extend that to assuming they’re competent enough to address part of a problem and have written to Alison to ask help on the other part, not to have someone in the comments be a jerk based on the ‘negative space’ you see in their letter.

      Besides which, if everyone always knew how to handle everything about their situation, we wouldn’t have a site and we would all be a lot worse off.

      1. Churlish Gambino*

        I would actually argue that the opposite is happening here: I think the LW is asking a simple question because it’s easier to solve that than the overall problem(s) that got them there in the first place.

        This specific situation has a fairly simple answer: you tell them to knock it off, that people are entitled to time off when they need it for personal or medical reasons, and that exemplary employees producing consistently great work are able to get additional leeway when necessary. You set expectations on how Liza’s workload is to be managed by the rest and hold them to it. Alison is right that this can and should be used as a department culture reset.

        But, as Alison also pointed out, this is only part of the problem. Seven of her eight employees are bad. The LW has no authority on firing/hiring and feels her hands are tied. This is the important issue and how the situation LW wrote in about came to be in the first place. True, if the LW is doing other things not mentioned in the letter to mitigate the larger problem, they chose not to mention it and it doesn’t do any good to speculate. But this situation didn’t happen in a vacuum and it isn’t imprudent to point out that this situation is the result of a much larger issue and that more/better management is needed.

    4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Could you manage a nice raise for Liza along with a promotion to Assistant OP Title?

    5. OhBehave*

      This rests solely on OP’s shoulders. Liza should not be working 80% more than her teammates! You need to have a frank talk with the other members. This should have been managed well before now. Liza was giving you hints all along. Don’t be shocked that part of her time was spent job searching.

    6. linger*

      It is not very clear from the letter how much of the description comes from OP’s direct observations of the team, and how much comes from (the account of) Liza’s perception of the team dynamic. We also don’t know (and should not speculate on) Liza’s exact mental issues, which while possibly heightened by this work environment, are “separate” from it at least in the sense that they were preexisting. Without wanting to victim-blame, we should be prepared to consider the possibility that Liza’s perception may be distorted in some way, and think about how the other seven team members might describe the situation. The combination of “Liza is saving the team from their collective laziness and incompetence” and “the rest of the team don’t appreciate this, and just complain about her absences” suggests that, in the course of stepping in to “save the day” in the short term, in the longer term Liza has been denying the team opportunities to develop, resulting in an accumulation of mutual resentment. To be clear, this is not necessarily anything that Liza is consciously responsible for. But it is incredibly easy (mental issues or not) to fall into a dynamic of (i) getting your sense of self-worth from your ability to “help” others at work; (ii) “helping” by just doing the work instead of trying to explain how to do it properly or efficiently, because it’s quicker that way; (iii) in effect, hoarding information and skills and so preventing cross-training. If this is (partly) what is happening, it is something OP needs to manage going forward, by redirecting HOW Liza helps her coworkers.

  5. Marie*

    If Lisa is a lynchpin of your entire team, and if Lisa is unhappy that she’s being relied on so heavily while her co-workers are just skating by, and if Lisa is already having a health issue that’s requiring her to take a leave of absence….

    Honestly, OP, if you don’t do something about this NOW, Lisa is going to leave. It’s great that you’ve been flexible with her needs, but you need to address the other half of the equation, which are the SEVEN OTHER PEOPLE who are underperforming and dumping all of their stuff on Lisa!

    1. After 33 years ...*

      If you tell one of the other employees that Liza “regularly picks up slack for other team members”, that could be interpreted as “has to pick up for you because you are slacking off”. That might draw a reaction, which you need to be ready for. Hopefully, the reaction won’t be increased resentment of Liza by the others, but that unfortunately might happen.

    2. Seal*

      Agreed. Right now, I’m the Liza at my workplace and am planning on leaving ASAP. Last straw for me was my boss saying they like working with me and think my work is excellent, but refusing to address the fact that I’ve been doing the work of two people for the past four years because other people can’t or won’t do theirs. My physical and mental health is far more important than my job ever will be.

    3. EPLawyer*

      This so reminds me of the letter from the manager whose best employee quit because she couldn’t take time off for her graduation. She was the GO TO person by everyone but when SHE needed some accomodation everyone else was like, naw.

      OP, you aren’t that manager – YET. You at least give her the time off she needs. But this situation is unsustainable in the long run. Lisa IS going to look at the situation and go “I do NOT need this in my life” and be Gone Baby Gone. Then what will you do? You need to tell the others to KNOCK IT OFF. Let them know if they ever need time off, you plan on being just as accomodating. But they need to KNOCK IT OFF and stop relying on Lisa to do their jobs. She’s been gone 3 months, how is the work getting done? Either it isn’t, in which case the Boss should care and let you fire the slackers. Or it is and they are PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF DOING THEIR JOBS WHEN THEY HAVE TO. If it is the latter make it EXTREMELY CLEAR they have to do their jobs even after Lisa returns. The Lisa option is no more.

      1. Mockingjay*

        This reminds me of an open thread letter (link in reply) in which an employee whose workload had been doubled couldn’t keep up and asked for a week off to recoup. The manager refused on grounds that things would get too far behind without overtired rock star employee. Overtired employee threatened to leave. Manager finally gave her the week off, but wanted to know how she could get her formerly perky employee “back.”

        The manager couldn’t hire additional staff, but refused nearly every suggestion to prioritize or lighten overtired employee’s load, or have coworkers pitch in. The manager wrote back a few weeks later and nothing had changed, which was really sad to hear.

        OP, my point is that you have to go to bat for your employee. You may not be able to fire anyone, but there are many, many things you can do: assign work swim lanes, tell Liza not to pick up any coworker’s slack and to refer all requests immediately to you, use a tracking system for tasks so you have hard metrics on each employee’s performance (that you can take to the big boss), provide training so everyone knows how to do everything…Can you give Liza a raise or a nicer workspace? Reward and acknowledge her hard work? Think of all the things you’ve wished a boss would do for you, then do those for Liza.

    4. not a fan*

      The OP is dumping the workload of 7 people on Liza by not managing the slackers appropriately.

    5. mf*


      “the SEVEN OTHER PEOPLE who are underperforming and dumping all of their stuff on Lisa!” –> OP, not only are these seven people exploiting Liza’s conscientiousness and work ethic, so are *you* as long as you do nothing to fix this situation!

      If you truly appreciate Liza, you will have a tough conversation with your boss about this and will stop having Liza pick up the slack from her coworkers.

  6. Up in Arms*

    I’m confused as to how someone can have worked there six years and still be considered “entry level.” Maybe Liza needs a bit more recognition for her performance – a raise, a title change?

    1. DarthVelma*

      I was wondering this same thing.

      And I bet she’s getting “entry-level” pay while having to put up with this nonsense.

    2. Blarg*

      Thank you! And she’s in the middle of the group by seniority?? They’ve got people with MORE than six years experience and they are “entry level” but also crucial to the company’s ability to function?

      That sounds like a great job.


      Get out, Liza! There are better options, and now that you’ve burned your annual FMLA at this job anyway, may as well start somewhere that respects your skill, expertise and six years of carrying the water for a team of 8!

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      That is my question too. Maybe Lisa should have moved on some time ago! OP needs to do the things others pointed out to address the inequity on the team of 8.

    4. LDN Layabout*

      Entry level jobs vs. the people themselves being entry level, it happens. Sometimes a company needs/works better with a skill in-house but they don’t need people at higher levels of that job. Good places make peace with the fact that people will look at leave if they’re ambitious.

      1. not a fan*

        Sometimes people just want a solid steady job that leaves headspace for non-work life. That doesn’t mean we/they don’t have ambition or skills. It means a job is just one element in our recipes for life, and if an employer can’t grasp that, sucks to be them.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          I don’t think saying someone isn’t ambitious at work is an insult or saying they don’t have skills.

          I don’t have much ambition to rise much higher in my current place of work or connected organisations because it would involve being management and not doing the work I enjoy doing.

          1. Koalafied*

            Agreed. Level of ambition is purely about level of desire to advance to a higher level in your career. It’s not an inherently good or bad trait for an employee to have and isn’t connected to how well they do the job they currently have.

            We have entry-level roles at our company for which there isn’t a “next step up” to promote them into, or where the only next step up is the singular manager who leads the team they’re on, and obviously that job is not going to have enough regular openings to be a viable option for most people who cycle through the team. There’s room for them to get salary increases within the market range for the work established by HR. They will eventually hit the ceiling if they stick around too long, but there’s a lot of room for several consecutive annual merit increases before they’ll get there. New hires understand that they’re likely going to have to leave the company to progress in their careers, and we understand that after 2-3 years it’s increasingly likely that we’ll lose the ones who are ready to move on. If a strong performer doesn’t aspire to a higher level role, we’re happy to keep them around as long as they’re happy to stay in the role.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yup. 80% of my team wants to clock in, make good widgets for 8 hours, and clock out to enjoy the rest of their lives. A few of them have told me they feel bad about that, like maybe they should be more ambitious, and I’m like “Seriously, if doing what you’re doing now to the best of your ability is what you want to do until you retire, roll with it, it’s FINE that not everybody wants to be management or whatever because we don’t have that many management spots anyway.” We’re working on a plan to designate specifics for a “senior widget maker” type role, for the folks who do want some opportunities for advancement beyond “widget maker,” and we’re giving those folks some extra projects and opportunities in the meantime, but overall that’s just not a thing that most of my team is particularly looking for.

        3. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, this. I’m eight years into a job as a receptionist and the only reason I’m thinking of leaving is to get somewhere closer to home. I’m fortunate to have other means of support and a house that’s paid off, but as I have severe neurological issues and autism, I am not interested in moving upwards.

          So long as I get out of the house every morning, I am happy to work to live and pursue creative/intellectual pursuits outside of work. I’ve found things stressful over the past few years, and been Liza through no fault of my employer, and tbh this line of comments feels like people are interrogating the LW for want of anything to add to the advice given here.

    5. CatCat*

      Yes, I was shocked at this being “entry level.” I wonder if lack of a clear path/milestones for promotion are having an impact on team morale.

      This could be manifesting in not only people not willing to excel/doing the bare minimum (because what’s the point of that if you’re just going to be stuck at entry level into perpetuity), but also in the team taking out frustration with someone who isn’t there.

      This issue with Liza is possibly a symptom (that absolutely needs to be addressed), but I really wonder if there are bigger problems that are not being addressed. It could be worth OP taking a “big picture” step back on how this “entry level” team is situated.

      1. NNN222*

        Yes, in addition to too much being heaped upon Liza, maybe no one else is even trying to meet expectations because they recognize that it makes no difference either way. I left my last job after it became clear that I would continue to get more duties piled upon me and words of recognition but never a promotion or meaningful raise. I definitely stopped doing extras that I had previously taken on happily.

    6. Morgan Proctor*

      This is what I came here to say. Give Liza a raise and promotion! Her SEVEN lackluster coworkers are clearly dragging her down. If it were Liza writing in instead of LW, I’m sure the consensus here would be that she should find a new job that reflects her experience and ability.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this plus the seemingly powerless manager and checked-out bosses sound like a go-nowhere company.

    8. Meow*

      “The only department that works with everyone in the company” makes me think help desk/T1 tech support, which is usually considered entry level just because it doesn’t require a lot of experience, and there often aren’t a lot of paths for promotion.

      A good help desk should still have tiers for salary and experience, but these days companies seem more than glad to let their experienced techs with great customer service go so they can replace them with college aged kids at minimum wage.

    9. mf*

      Yes, this is a red flag for me. If she is by far the best employee, she should not be in the middle of the pack in terms of seniority. She should be promoted and it should be clear she’s the leader on the team. (The fact that this hasn’t happened is making me seriously side-eyeing OP’s management choices and.)

      1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

        Seniority is a simple measure of time. It doesn’t flex based on skill or performance.

    10. Bee*

      I noticed that too. From the description of how the team interacts with the rest of the company, it sounds like a support department where the positions themselves are considered entry level but employees could stay in the role if they like that particular work. I use to manage a customer service department and we had people who had worked in the role for 10+ years.

    11. Free Meerkats*

      Many jobs don’t have a distinct path for advancement, many people don’t desire to be the King of All They Survey, and some job types are simply very flat – I’ll use mine as an example. In my field there are essentially 3 levels; techs, inspectors, and managers. Many programs are a single person; we’re considered a mid-size program with 4 FTEs (3 inspectors and a manager.) Yes, some of the larger programs will have levels within the levels, but they are essentially doing the same job; Senior Inspectors will just do the same job on the more complex accounts.

      Depending on the program, entry level will be tech or inspector. I started as an entry level inspector for a large SW city, moved to start a new 0ne-person program for a city in the SF Bay Area, and moved to this program in the PNW in 1991. Here I was an inspector (entry level here) for 29 years; now I’m the manager after the previous manager retired.

      For the last 20 years, I have been considered a nationally known expert in the field, but I’m in an entry level position. Entry level does not mean inexperienced!

      1. Kia*

        I feel that those roles should still have levels though. Why can’t there be a tech II?

        It’s just weird if someone with 1 day of exp has the same role as someone who excels and has 20 years.

        It seems like you said that might be a thing but then tech II isn’t entry level so the point seems moot to me?

        1. Free Meerkats*

          The same entry level position, but not the same role. The new people here would be handling the simplest accounts, such as restaurants or a small shop that hardly discharges and has a good history of compliance (we regulate what businesses put into the sewer.) And before I was promoted, I had the most complex accounts; places that discharge lots and lots of water (you’ve may have eaten food produced here), have lots of compliance problems, or are politically sensitive (you’ve probably flown on their planes.)

          This is the life a a public employee. It has its plusses and minuses.

        2. Koalafied*

          Eh, I don’t think it’s hugely consequential what the role is called. As long as there’s room to compensate more experienced and skilled workers, they don’t necessarily need to get a brand new job title out of it.

          My company has gone to great effort to create equity across the organization by dividing all jobs, of any kind, into a 12-tier system that corresponds to our job titles. Each tier has a clearly defined level of responsibility associated with it in terms of how much autonomy people in these roles have to make decisions independently, how many staff this level role typically supervises and what level roles they can supervise, the size of the budget this level role typically manages, and so forth. If somebody gets really great at their job, but there isn’t a version of their job we can create with more autonomy and with increased responsibility for managing staff and budgets, HR doesn’t us give out a higher level title than the job description warrants just because they’re extremely good at the lower level job. That’s what we have merit raises, cash bonuses, and employee awards for.

          We’re a very large organization, so being able to classify different kinds of jobs, which report in to a bunch of different managers in different departments, based on a common understanding of what a Level 1 or Level 2 job entails, is really important for equity. It’s how we make sure that Gregarious Greg in Digital Marketing doesn’t inflate the titles and salaries of all his staff because he’s a people pleaser, while Stingy Sally in Direct Response Marketing expects her employees to do equally high-level work but keeps them stuck in lower level roles because she’s a hardass, so all the marketers who get hired by Sally are SOL purely because of their manager’s personality type.

    12. Dinwar*

      I was at my job for five years and still considered to be in an entry-level position. It’s a description of the rank. And it really does take five years–or more!!–to get a handle on my work. It’s not just me saying that; there are certain types of training, certain regulations governing who can do what, that require 5+ years of experience to start in.

      I’d certainly talk to Liza about a raise or title change; however, she may not want it. I know a lot of people who are happy at their jobs and don’t want the stress of moving up the ladder. A shift in departments may be better for Liza. Transfer her to a group that works well, where everyone is performing at the level they should be.

      Along with that (and to be clear, Liza has earned far more recognition than allowing her needed and legally-mandated medical care!) there needs to be a very, very serious talk with the rest of the employees. Ultimately Liza isn’t the problem; the fact that 7/8 of the team is operating at reduced capacity is.

  7. Nell*

    The poor woman is picking up the slack for SEVEN incompetent co-workers, all of whom are bitching about her? No wonder she’s having mental health issues

    1. 2 Cents*

      Yeah, I’m sure she’s “not close with the team” because it’s evident she’s the best worker and everyone knows it. Even the president, who is fine letting Liza work herself to death instead of taking a hard look at the 7 slackers on the team.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I wonder if there’s something else going on that Liza hasn’t brought up to OP. I don’t want to derail on this, but the fact that they’re bitching about her to their boss now that she’s gone is telling. What are they bitching about *to Liza* when she’s there? (I realize I’m probably writing AAM fanfic about bullying etc; I am aware that OP didn’t write anything that hints at that, but that’s where my mind went.)

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I think they’re “bitching about her” because in their mind, they’re having to pick up HER slack because she’s out…

    3. sloanicota*

      Plot twist: she is Snow White and they are Sleepy, Grumpy etc. She’s so efficient because birds and small forest creatures help her file the TPS reports.

  8. Susan Calvin*

    Not really the point, but if a six year tenure only puts you in the middle of the field, seniority-wise, how is this an entry level team? I’m not one for “up or out” mentality, but it does make me worry about development opportunities for Liza, come to think for it.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I couldn’t have said it better. When someone says an “entry level team,” a six year tenure should raise eyebrows about why they haven’t been promoted yet. Not be middle of the pack seniority.

    2. Ari*

      There may not be opportunities to move up, which is pretty common and means good people will eventually leave if they can’t move up. Or it may be that people are happy doing what they do and have no desire to move up. I managed a team of 12 for several years, and they were in entry level positions for our company. Over half the team had been in those roles for 25+ years and didn’t want to do anything else, and most of the newer employees didn’t want to either. I asked each person every single year because I never wanted to hold people back, but only one person out of the whole team ever expressed interest in either a lateral or upward move. It was very interesting to me.

      1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

        I can actually understand it quite well. If you like the work, get barely stressed at it, have a good work-life-balance due to that little stress, and the pay is adequate… then why change into a more demanding role, with probably higher pay but also definitely more stress? It probably helps to live in an area with low COL or/and have a partner with whom you pool your financial resources or/and have little material needs/wishes… but it’s quite a reasonable approach to work, in my mind.

        1. kiki*

          There was a team at my last job that was “entry-level” but benefitted from a lot of long-time employees who didn’t want to be promoted. It was a customer support engineering team. They were working with different clients and different issues, so their day-to-day work was rarely the same while their wealth of institutional knowledge brought a lot to each project. There were lots of opportunities given for advancement, either leadership roles or in other technical development roles outside the customer support engineering team, but a lot of folks turned the offers down. They had really solid work-life balance and genuinely enjoyed their jobs– honestly, these were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree with both the script and the real issue that you have 7/8 workers who aren’t good at their jobs.

    The only thing I wonder about in terms of the messaging is the top performer part – presumably all the FMLA, privacy etc stuff would apply for mediocre workers too… (you don’t want to make it seem like you’re saying “unless you’re doing awesome at the job don’t come to me with any medical issues” )

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think the messaging refers more to “her other absences do exceed company policy. However, enforcing that policy is ultimately left up to my discretion, and the president has told me he is willing to accept Liza’s absences as long as I am”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From the script: “there’s a baseline amount of support and flexibility that anyone on the team has access to if something comes up — and if someone’s a strong worker who’s gone above and beyond for our team, I’ll go to bat to get them more if they need it.”

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes that was the part I meant.. Totally get your explanation, I think for me as a manager , particularly when it comes to mental/physical health I want to convey that we are here to assist you (both the baseline and the above/beyond) regardless of your sales numbers last quarter (or whatever).

        But yeah there are lots of other issues here for sure.

    3. Loulou*

      I had the same reaction. I know Alison replied to you below and her explanation makes sense, but the idea of someone “earning” their FMLA and sick time bothers me. FMLA is a right afforded to employees, rock star or not!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Again, no one needs to earn their FMLA (except by being there long enough for the law to come into play). There’s the baseline everyone gets, and she’ll go to bat for even more if someone earns that.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I have a slightly different concern with Alison’s script, which is that it references FMLA and health issues so much that it kind of says without saying that Liz is taking so much time off because she has health problems.

      Would it be possible to leave FMLA and health out of it entirely? Something like, “The CEO and I are of course aware of the amount of time Liz has taken off work; after all, we approved it. For privacy reasons, we can’t talk about why. We’re sure you’d want the same consideration if you were in a similar position. As for the amount of time, if someone’s a strong worker who’s gone above and beyond for our team, I’ll go to bat to get them more if they need it. [insert the rest of Alison’s script, without FMLA or health references, here].”

      1. JoleneCarlDean*

        I had the same concern. I was of the impression that an employer cannot disclose that you are on leave for medical reasons. You are just on “leave.”

  10. Rayray*

    People need to mind their own business. It’s between Liza and management. Unexpected things like this happen all the time. It could be anything, birth of a child, personal tragedy, a bad accident, or even death. It’s too bad they feel inconvenienced that Liza is a human being.

    It’s also sad that missing 20 days a year is considered a lot. I am all for using our allotted PTO. We are entitled to use it and no one is a hero for forfeiting it or letting it pile up.

    1. Meow*

      Yeah, we had a similar situation with a coworker a few years ago who was very talented but was out a lot for medical treatments, even to the point where they surely were out of PTO.

      It was frustrating sometimes, but like, even if I weren’t sympathetic to their situation, what would be the point of complaining? It’s one thing if they are sneaking out or something, but if management is fully aware of how much time they are taking off, then obviously they are either OK with it or are dealing with it somehow.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Yeah, as a co-worker of that person, the ONLY thing you should be raising is that you don’t have enough staff to cover the workload while the person is on leave/out and be asking for additional people or assistance prioritizing what gets done.

        Any time your stepping over into trying to dictate how a co-worker is being managed, you are out of your lane.
        The play isn’t “why aren’t you punishing Liza for being out so much?” it’s “with Liza out so much, the workload is piling up … can you bring in some temp help to cover? If not, I’m planning on focusing on X and Y and will get to Z later if I have time. Let me know if you need me to reprioritize. K -thx”
        Though in this case, the manager should be saying “you need to focus on doing your own jobs and let me worry about picking up the slack for Liza’s absence. Say what? Liza’s been doing your job for you for the last 5 years? Well that ends today.”

    2. LilyP*

      My read is that the 20 days is short-notice unplanned sick leave *on top* of regular holidays and vacation time, which I think is borderline reasonable to be concerned about. That’s being out sick almost every other week.

  11. Eldritch Office Worker*

    “There’s not much I can do that I haven’t already done to try to address these problems.”

    Let them fail. Now’s the time to do it, without Liza there. The president doesn’t care as long as the work is getting done, so let the natural consequences follow the natural inaction if it doesn’t.

    I know that’s counterintuitive from a management standpoint, but what you need is firing power and it sounds like that might be the only way to get it. You need to be able to tell people “this is the work I hired you to do, and if you can’t do it then this isn’t going to work out”, and that needs to have teeth. I don’t recommend firing as a punitive action for resolvable issues, but you can’t use any other tools (PIPs, training, etc) if they know at the end of the day they don’t actually have to do the work and nothing will happen if they don’t.

    It sounds like you also need to have a really direct come to Jesus talk with your president, because neither of you are actually running the company right now.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      If LW is the equivalent of the vice president of the company, I’d hope they had some hiring and firing power …

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        They explicitly say in the letter they don’t have firing power.

        1. I Don’t Know It All*

          The OP should look for another job. I’ve been in an organization where you get the responsibility of management, but you can’t fire anyone or even out them on a PIP. It’s a recipe for disaster. Because Liza will quit. Or, she will come back and sensibly put some boundaries up and refuse to continue picking up the slack. Then the work won’t get done, and the President will blame the OP.

          And, I’d also argue that any company that feels like 20 days off a year is a lot doesn’t have realistic expectations of what employees need. So I’d encourage both Liza and the OP to start looking because the entire organization seems to be a mess.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I agree, at the end of the day. But someone’s gonna be in charge of this mess, and my advice stands to them – someone needs to be sailing this ship or it’s going to hit the rocks. Hitting the rocks might be the only way they figure it out.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, seems like maybe the president is not such a great president if he won’t even allow his own VP to fire lousy employees. A VP should definitely have that kind of power.

    2. Ruby*

      This is exactly why they’re complaining, isn’t it? They’ve had to do their entire jobs for 3 whole months without dumping on Liza.

  12. name goes here*

    Extended absences from a team member are much easier to deal with if adequate support is provided from an alternative source, which could include hiring a temporary employee, hiring a permanent employee, and/or training the underperforming employees and holding them accountable to do good work. I know from personal experience that even when you know why a colleague is taking leave and you sympathize / support them in that leave, it can be really hard to feel like you’re shouldering all the extra burdens on your own. Supporting strong leave policies isn’t just about providing the opportunity to the leave-taking person, it’s also about ensuring the remaining people have what they need, so they don’t come to resent the person on leave or mistrust the administration for playing favorites.

    1. Susie Q*

      “Extended absences from a team member are much easier to deal with if adequate support is provided from an alternative source, which could include hiring a temporary employee”

      I agree with this take 100000%

    2. anonymous73*

      While I generally agree, not having enough support is not the issue here. 1 person is picking up the slack for the 7 others on the team and now that she’s been out, those slacker employees can’t handle it. They need to start being held responsible for their lack of productivity and replaced if necessary. If they were doing their jobs well, 7 employees should not feel a heavy burden of 1 employee being out.

      1. Jora Malli*

        Exactly this.

        If the work had been equally distributed between the 8 employees before Liza left for her medical leave, then dividing up her portion of the work between the rest of the team wouldn’t be a big addition to their workloads at all. The problem is that Liza is doing substantially more than 1/8 of the work, and that’s something OP *has* to address.

        OP, you need to tell your boss that you will no longer be allowing Liza to work at burnout levels. You will be actively controlling the amount of work that can be put on her plate and her coworkers will either need to take on their fair share or be replaced.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        “and/or training the underperforming employees and holding them accountable to do good work.”

    3. Tirving*

      Exactly. OP doesn’t indicated who’s been doing Liza’s job these last 3 months. Aside from her opinion that Liza picks up the slack for the others, they’ve been picking up the slack for her missing almost 2 days a month and now an extended leave of 3 months. Her team is rightly resentful. OP has some managing to do.

    4. Budgie Buddy*

      This is a good point to bring up. OP knows that Liza is the one carrying the team, but if her coworkers have gotten used to Liza picking up the slack they might even consider themselves as the ones who have to constantly be extending themselves to cover for her absences, not really grokking that Liza has been covering for them all along because that division of labor has become so normalized in the department. A mess all around.

    5. Observer*

      All of this is true. But at the same time, the coworkers are being jerks. Because it’s one thing to complain that “the work is too much”. It’s another to complain about “tolerating” her absences!

    6. Worldwalker*

      It’s not that they have to do Liza’s work — it’s that she’s not doing THEIR work.

  13. cwhf*

    I have to imagine that having to make up the slack of 7 coworkers and being the only conscientious worker is having a mental toll on Liza. Honestly, resetting her responsibilities (and not making her be the team fixer) may be one important step to helping her mental health. The other which is to your long term benefit as pointed out by Allison is to improve your team and hold them to account. If you don’t when Liza leaves (it’s a wonder she hasn’t already honestly), you will be an untruly untenable position. Improving the team now, makes for a stronger less stressful workplace for all, including Liza and would go along way toward supporting her.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      But that’s a hypothetical that’s not at issue here. The coworkers ARE underperforming so it still needs to be addressed. If it does turn out that she overperforms even when the team is meeting minimum standards, then that’s a separate issue.

  14. Purple Cat*

    Sorry OP, you don’t have an “entry-level employee” issue. You have a “manager” issue. Good news is since YOU’RE the manager, you have the power to fix things. I can’t imagine any scenario where being a rock-star employee who picks up everyone else’s slack isn’t contributing to Liza’s mental health issues. That’s an unfair burden on anybody. OP you need to 1) promote Liza so that she’s publicly given the recognition she deserves since she’s better than everybody else. with a commensurate raise to go along with it. 2) Start setting performance expectations with appropriate consequences for the rest of your team.

    1. Velocipastor*

      Seconding all of this very good actionable advice! I was the Liza at my last job, though on a team small enough that while I was covering for everyone else I was never able to take any time off to recharge. I left after several mid-week breakdowns, months of promises for a promotion or additional staff, and finally a title/pay bump that was so far below market rate for the work I was doing it was actually insulting.
      So the best way you can support Liza is to actually support her. Not just by letting her take the PTO you agree she is entitled to or the FMLA leave that you are required to allow (and honestly, may not have been needed if she wasn’t so burnt out!) That’s the bare minimum. You admit your team can’t fully function without her. Make them learn because unless something changes, they will be without her permanently.

  15. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I feel like there are lots of options in between “letting my bad employees continue to be bad” and “firing them” if you are in fact not allowed to fire them. Maybe LW has tried managing them more than what is suggested in this letter, but if not I’d start there.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “there’s not much I can do that I haven’t already done to try to address these problems” implies to me that other things have been tried, but without the teeth to actually fire someone nothing has gotten better. People know they can phone it in an nothing is going to happen. That’s a HARD situation to manage your way out of.

      That said, I could be reading too much into it, and if you haven’t tried actively managing this is where to start.

        1. NNN222*

          But if LW can’t fire someone and Liza is in the middle of the pack for seniority on this entry-level team after six years, what are the consequences? It sounds like people on this team can’t underperform to the level of being fired or shine to the point of promotion so what difference does performance make?

        2. KHB*

          We’re asked to be kind to the LWs here. She wrote in asking for advice. Berating her for not already knowing the answer doesn’t help.

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      I agree that there are many things LW can and has likely done to try to improve the performance of the team members. One thing I want to point out is that the LW can make it very clear to the underperformers that they are not meeting her expectations and continue providing that feedback strongly during every single one on one session. In my experience, most people do not want to be an underperformer. Best case scenario they step it up. Second best, they leave as they don’t like being told repeatedly how they are not doing a good job.

      Obviously, LW should have the power to make termination decisions. But if she does not, that doesn’t mean she can not encourage poor performers to look externally. Conversations where she asks things like, “as you know, you are not meeting performance expectations and that has not changed over the past XX period of time. I have to ask you, are you happy here? Are you happy in this job?”

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes, I would love to know what specific things the OP has tried. The thing is that it sort of surprises me that this a team of SEVEN people who are all apparently significantly underperforming and relying on this one person to keep everything together. That’s a lot of underperformers! Like, a lot a lot! We can all joke about terrible teams, but I would say that most teams I’ve been on have had a fairly even spread – maybe a couple of truly dire underperformers, a couple of rockstars and a load of decent workers somewhere in the middle. If EVERYONE on this team except one unicorn employee is doing “well I guess I’m not allowed to fire them” levels of badly, that strikes me as a workload problem, a training problem or a management problem.

  16. Jean*

    Chiming in to amplify the other commenters here: This is not sustainable, even beyond explaining the situation to the rest of the team/shutting down their complaints. If nothing changes, you are going to lose Liza permanently and then be stuck with an underperforming team who can’t keep up. The past 3 months would have been an ideal time to start correcting expectations for the rest of the team around what is and is not acceptable performance, and the specific consequences of continued poor performance/bad results. It is beyond unfair to Liza that this has been allowed to continue for so long. Fix it. Start now.

  17. learnedthehardway*

    I would consider whether Lisa’s mental health challenges are exacerbated by the fact that she is basically carrying your department. I think there is a real risk that Lisa might decide that she needs to move out of the company, unless you can make the President understand that you need to have real authority to hire and fire employees, and to hold them accountable for their performance (which you really can’t do without hiring/firing authority). That seems to me to be the crux of the whole issue. It’s pretty nervy that your under-performing employees are complaining that Lisa is (basically) not available to pick up the slack from them. I mean, that’s really what is happening here, isn’t it?

    I would come up with an assessment of your current team – look at their strengths, weaknesses, attitude, and motivations. Is this an issue of willingness to do the job, abilities, lack of training, or lack of tools? Figure out what they need to do to be successful, and whether being successful is within their control. If it isn’t, then you need to fix that – could be a training need, could be systems or equipment. If their performance IS within their control, then I would look at capabilities and attitudes, identify the worst performers and whether you think they can be turned around. Then talk to the President about the need to put those employees on a PIP and to dismiss them if necessary. Have a recruitment strategy in hand to show how you will replace them. The President might be more amenable to one or two dismissals (that serve to give notice to the rest of the team), rather than wholesale replacing them. They might also be more likely to let you do this if they realize that Lisa might not return, if steps aren’t taken to make her colleagues do their jobs.

    1. mf*

      “I think there is a real risk that Lisa might decide that she needs to move out of the company”

      Well, *I* certainly think Liza needs to move out of this company. This business is exploiting her, so why should she prioritize this job over her mental health?

  18. KHB*

    It’s interesting that both Liza and all the not-Lizas are feeling resentful about having to do a (perceived) outsized share of the work. Is there any way you can quantify what’s really going on? E.g., “Liza has made 26 rice sculptures this year, and the rest of you range from 9 to 15”?

    And is there anything you can do to turn one or more of the not-Lizas into another Liza? I.e., could it be done with more mentoring/training/development, or is the problem more that the not-Lizas just don’t care?

    1. Ari*

      These are both excellent ideas! I actually started doing the first one twice a year at formal review times with everyone on my team. Creating a spreadsheet helped me see each person’s productivity and (hopefully) helped remove some of the subjectivity of rating employee performance. It was also a tool I used to show them where they fell compared to their peers (names were hidden to protect everyone’s privacy). I had a couple of people who felt they were doing more than their share until they could see it all lined out like that. I did my best to coach my whole team, though some didn’t care about being rock stars. But they all knew what their responsibilities were and got them done. Occasionally someone needed a little help, and I was fortunate to have a group of people who were always willing to chip in if they could do so without putting an undue burden on themselves.

    2. braindump*

      I’d frame it as “we need 20 rice sculptures per month/person” instead of relative performance which is likely to deepen the resentment. Liza deserves the same benchmark as the other employees so she can modulate her output accordingly.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        This! Along with regular check-ins (daily, weekly) with Lisa to help reinforce that she only needs to do HER metric, not anyone else’s. Have a frank conversation with her about what kind of support she needs from you to stop from picking up everyone else’s slack.
        Is there a special project she can take on that will use up a lot of the time she used to spend fixing everyone else’s work? Does the entire company except for Lisa march out for regular breaks (smokes or otherwise), then remined Lisa to take 5 extra in the breakroom or restroom. Help and support Lisa enforce boundaries with her coworkers.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Yeah, agreed. Are the underperformers actually under performing or is it just in comparison to one rock star? Is Liza actually over performing or is it that her coworkers are actually terrible? What should an average employee be accomplishing in this job? That should be the standard you hold both Liza and everyone else to. Do you really need ten people doing this job but Liza is killing it, or do you need five and some people are slacking?

        Once you have quantifiable metrics, you’ll be able to give people a goal to work towards and you’ll be able to make the case to the president that certain people aren’t meeting the bare minimum and should be given extra coaching or gotten rid of entirely.

  19. Autumnheart*

    Like…are you REALLY going to penalize your best worker, the one who does everyone else’s work that they’re not doing, because she has more absences that are, no doubt, directly related to the fact that she has to CYA for 7 other people? Are you REALLY REALLY going to cater to the complaints of those same 7 people who aren’t even pulling their own weight on a day-to-day basis?

    If Liza’s smart, she’ll look for another job that doesn’t make her do so much, to her own detriment, and then wants to penalize her for her absences in the spirit of “fairness”. If the spirit of “fairness” is so important, it’s time to make sure those other 7 people are doing their share so that Liza isn’t so overburdened. The next time these people complain about how much work they have to do because Liza is out, maybe it’s time to remind them that “This is how Liza feels every single day when she has to cover YOUR work.”

    1. KSharpie*

      I was a Liza. If she’s got ANY energy she’s looking for a new company right now. Sure this one’s been “flexible” with her absences for now, and “she might not find that elsewhere” but if she doesn’t have to carry the work of 8 people AND gets fully recognized for the work she’s already doing, that’d definitely help her mental health.

      OP needs to manage it, even if it’s showing the full metrics of “Liza does THIS much, the next best out of all of you does THIS.” As a graph. I’ve worked in companies that have the work tracker actually show it to the whole team of who’s doing what.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Huh? OP is clearly not going to penalize Liza, where are you getting that? They seem very clearly to want to support her and are asking for ways to shut down other people’s complaints…

  20. BongoFury*

    I have to question if Liza and LW are friends?
    I want to give LW the benefit of the doubt but I’ve had several managers (thankfully years ago) that had BFFs as their employees and everyone else on the team wasn’t “as good” as the BFF SuperStar who really spent half the day gossiping with the boss. It definitely led to some resentment from all sides.
    Maybe my spidysense is off on this one, I’d be happy to be wrong.

    1. Important Moi*

      I think that’s a fair question. Considering other perspectives should be done.

      I commented above, LW’s stated inability to do anything but let things continue as they are make me uncomfortable.

      1. KHB*

        I agree that this is a question worth asking: Is OP’s assessment that Liza is a rock star and the not-Lizas are all incompetent slackers based on objective facts, or is it colored at all by her personal feelings? Who knows, maybe it is. But the fact that (as I said above) everybody in this story seems to feel like the overworked, underappreciated victim makes me think that it might be worth taking a second look.

    2. name goes here*

      This would explain the fact that early in the letter, OP describes Liza as a “beloved employee” who “gets along with everyone well,” then a few paragraphs later says that Liza is “not super close” with the team. Which, if Liza is carrying the slack for the rest of the team, is understandable, but it might be worth exploring the tension between these two statements to tease out how OP’s relationship with the various people involved in the letter colors their view of the situation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The LW explains at the start of the letter that Liza works with every employee in the 175-person company; I assume that means she’s beloved by the rest of the company but not close to her team.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I read the “[Liza] gets along extremely well with every other employee” as referring to all of the employees on other teams whom she works with as part of her job. I don’t see any inherent tension in noting that Liza gets along with her non-teammate coworkers while not being particularly close to her direct teammates.

        That said, it may still be worthwhile for the OP to look at how their relationships with the people involve are impacting their view of the situation, as you suggest.

      3. JB (not in Houston)*

        I don’t really see a tension between those two statements. There are coworkers at my office who I would put in the category of “beloved” who I’m not super close with. These are people who are great at their jobs, friendly and easy to interact with, never create drama, and always happy to help out and go above and beyond, and I really enjoy chatting them in the break room or at work functions. But that doesn’t mean that I’m close to them personally. I would be very sad to see any of them go because they are a dream to work with and exactly what I want in a coworker, but I am not close to them.

    3. Waterbird*

      This was my hunch as well. It seems unlikely that every employee but Liza is truly that terrible and nothing has been done about it. (And honestly, I’d be demoralized as well if I figured out that my boss only liked my one coworker and saw the rest of us as slackers.)

      1. BongoFury*

        If it was phrased as “2 or 3 coworkers,” I think we can all agree 2-3 people out of team of 8 are probably not the most motivated or best employees. But 7 out of 8? Only one is good?

      2. turquoisecow*

        It does seem a slight exaggeration to say that seven people on an eight person team are useless slackers. I feel like OP might be not giving some of them the benefit of the doubt, or is letting some people color the perception of the rest of the team.

    4. Olive Hornby*

      Yes, I felt the same way–also, while I want to be careful not to suggest a diagnosis for Liza, there are some mental health problems that can look for a time like superhuman levels of productivity, gregariousness and fun, intense attention to detail, or a variety of other seemingly positive attributes. If that’s the case, it’s pretty unreasonable to expect something similar from her colleagues.

    5. Very Social*

      Yes, I wondered if that might be playing a role as well–the LW notes that Liza’s “personality” makes her “fun to work with.” That may very well simply be true, but LW should take a hard look at whether they are perceiving Liza as a better worker because they and the rest of the company like her so much.

  21. BigHairNoHeart*

    OP, it’s interesting to me that you don’t have the authority to fire low performers, but you do have the authority to work around company attendance policies for good employees. What’s going on with that? I think Alison is right that the biggest issue here is the team as a whole, which means you need to have the authority to better manage (and fire/replace, if needed) team members who aren’t pulling their weight. If it’s at all possible to petition your president for more authority there, that will be the most impactful thing you can do. Hopefully it is possible since the president has given you some more flexibility with how you enforce attendance policies?

    1. BugHuntress*

      Yeah, I hope there’s nothing shady going on, but I worked at a university where certain teams were like this— nobody could be fired, people were burning out.

      Turned out the reason nobody could be fired was a mixture of bad politics up top – nepotism, corruption, quid pro quo power arrangements, etc – and plain bad management all around.

  22. Rosemary*

    I hope for Liza’s sake she leaves and goes to a company where her manager is…actually able/allowed to manage.

  23. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Can’t comment from a managerial perspective on this one, but can as the ‘rock star’ employee with major mental illness. This has entailed some substantially long periods off work (and annoyingly I can’t predict when it’s gonna go pfftt) and the one where I was off for nearly a month did have some resentment from others when I got back.

    What I appreciated my boss doing was telling me to stop covering for others so much (I was picking up a lot of work) and just do *my* job. He knew that I’d been in a seriously bad place brain wise but I definitely didn’t want others to know that.

    I am not sure what he said to the rest of the team, although I suspect it was something similar to Alison’s words with a ‘so wind your neck in’ appended. I know others really resented not having me pick up their call queues when they slacked off – there were a few ‘we’ll look who’s too good to help now’ comments but I ignored them.

    Did leave that job about a year after but that was due to there being no promotion/pay rise opportunities.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      And yah, the overwork was definitely not helping things. Memories of dreading going back to work because I thought I’d get in trouble because the whole department had floundered without me.

      Some of my then coworkers did end up with less than stellar reviews after it became clearer that they were not pulling their weight at all. I can’t recall if any were fired though.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          A few people have suggested that LW must be biased in favor of Liza, and that the rest of the team couldn’t possibly be ALL slackers.

          Keymaster has offered a data point indicating that LW’s description might be accurate, and that Alison’s advice might be useful to LW in addressing the problem, even if there is no guarantee that it will suddenly turn around.

  24. animaniactoo*

    Of course they’re bitching. They have to actually do their own jobs and/or rely on each other.

    I suggest a discussion might be in order about why they feel that her absence… when the work should be able to easily absorbed by others… is such an issue for them. And that you don’t want to hear more complaints about this unless there is an actual workload issue where their workload has become more than she generally handles on a regular basis.

    Shut. It. Down.

  25. Frank01*

    I would recommend the OP reach out to other department heads, or read up, on how to get the most out of your employees. If 7/8 aren’t performing well, the onus is on the manager to get them up to speed. It sounds like everybody in the entire department is miserable.

  26. CatNap*

    So you have seven people who, knowing that a colleague of theirs must be struggling with some pretty serious issues in her life (even if they don’t know what issues specifically), do nothing but complain about having to cover for her? No empathy, no “I hope she’s okay” no, “should we send her a get-well basket,” nothing? Honestly, they sound like a bunch of assholes, and Liza would do well to find another gig.

    And OP, if you’re genuinely not permitted to manage your team (which includes disciplining and/or firing them), then it seems like you might do well to find another gig too. But failing that, Alison is spot-on — you need to make them each carry their own weight, and stop them bitching about stepping in for a colleague who’s bailed them out for years.

    1. Elbe*

      These people can’t even manage their own workloads, and now they’re having to manage their own AND splitting the work of the best, most efficient member of the team. They’re probably working long hours, and have been doing it for months now.

      It doesn’t surprise me that they’re upset and complaining. This isn’t a tenable solution. The company needs to figure out how to provide their employees with reasonable workloads, whether that means hiring more people or letting go of people who don’t perform well. Chronically overloading workers isn’t a reasonable solution.

    2. Colette*

      It’s not clear that they know she’s off on medical leave – just that she’s not there a lot.

      1. metadata minion*

        Unless they’re either impressively oblivious or jerks, I would think they would have guessed by now — assuming we’re in the US there’s usually nothing other than serious medical problems that will let someone have that much time off.

  27. Emily*

    Are the seven other people really all bad at their jobs, or is Liza just really good at hers? Like, if you actually were able to replace them, would you be able to find better people at the same salaries? Because if you wouldn’t, then you have a level of workload which is only manageable with Liza and which you need to scale down in her absence (and maybe even when she comes back.) I don’t think they should be complaining about her absence specifically, but if the issue here is that you’re assigning people more work than is reasonable for that role, that’s a real problem.

    1. Nanani*

      Oh that’s a good point – perhaps Liza is doing 4 people’s work and the better solution would not be to make everyone else start doing 1.5 people’s work apiece, but to add a few more people to the team?
      Or if that’s not feasible, adjust schedules and deadlines so people (including Liza!) can accomplish what needs doing in a more reasonable time frame.

    2. Kesnit*

      I had a similar thought, but you put it better than me.

      Is Liza really doing the job of 8 people, or is she picking up intermittent slack when others sometimes drop the ball? Not to belittle Liza’s work, but the department has kept itself running for 3 months without her. That indicates to me that the other 7 can and do work, just not as much as Liza. (If they were all slackers, I would imagine it would have blown up before now.)

      1. evens*

        Yes, agreed. Plus, of course a team of 8 is having a hard time when one of them is gone for 3 months! Even if Liza was an average or below-average employee, covering an extra 1/8 of your job is tough long-term. I feel like people are kind of missing this. Liza is a superstar who can (and does) do more than others, but I don’t feel like the evidence shows that the rest of the team is really terrible. They’re just…not as good as her. That’s what happens when you are a superstar! No one is as good as you!

    3. alienor*

      To be honest, I find it kind of suspicious that everyone else is supposedly that bad. I guess you could somehow end up with seven terrible employees and one great one, but the vast, vast majority of teams that size I’ve worked on have been a bell curve with a rock star (or two), an egregious slacker (or two) and a bunch of people who were in the middle, just doing a solid job. I have to wonder whether they’re really that terrible, or whether Liza has somehow been giving LW the impression that they are–it doesn’t sound like they haven’t been able to do their work or have been doing it badly while she’s been away recuperating, just that they aren’t thrilled with the current workload.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I have seen some groups where the group dynamic leads to what LW’s seeing.
        Those have been cases where the low performers have some social pull, the mid performers see no consequences coming down on the low performers and wind up slacking off with them. And the conscientious high performers get resentful of being left carrying an unfair amount of the dept workload PLUS getting flack from their slacker co-workers for being a good worker bee/making them look bad. In one case it was just an unfortunate mix of people. But in the other 2 it was an issue caused and allowed to continue by egregiously bad management. In one case the department was blown up by a new manager who came in and saw the dysfunction and decided to just start over. In the other two, the ‘rock stars’ bailed, with predictable results for the department.

      2. braindump*


        I mentioned upthread LW should set a metric for ALL employees, not just “Liza is able to make 26 widgets so you all should too.”

        Reminds me of the letter a few days ago where people had to count 10 minute breaks. What if Liza got to 26 widgets because she never took a break? A real process overview is needed to see if Liza’s output is realistic.

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        Or just some kind of anchoring bias. Like if in the alternate world where Liza never worked there, the other employees’ level would have been thought of as “yup, that’s the level of work you can get out of a Teapot Spout Tech”, but since Liza *is* there, and she’s unusually good, management is comparing them to her and thinking “wow, everyone except Liza is terrible!” I’ve been in situations like that (on both sides), so that was the possibility that I thought of.

  28. Joanna*

    I’m going to pretend that Liza wrote in and want to comment on that letter, which is in my mind.

    Liza – In addition to taking care of your current mental health situation, if you can look for another job as well, that would be time well spent. In other words….RUN! This company is going to chew you up and spit you out.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      It’s possible it’s just this team and its fangless manager, in which case another strategy for Liza might be to leverage her good relationships across the company into a position on a different team.

  29. Ellena*

    I can’t imagine picking up everybody’s slack and as a “thank you” feeling their resentment when absent is help Liza’s mental health. LW has a team of subpar jerks (with all due respect). When one out of 8 is absent and they all (or some) become resentful for overload – that’s the actual problem, not how to explain to them why the one is absent. They are the problem and not Liza.

  30. The OTHER Other*

    Several comments on how can people with 6 or more years of tenure be considered entry-level, but there are lots of jobs like this. You make teapots, there are very few openings to supervise those making the teapots and maybe you like teapot making, or at least, dislike it less than a management job. Some people have a job and are fine with continuing it pretty much indefinitely, which is great if they like it and do it well.

    The issue to me is they aren’t doing it well, and it sounds as though the LW, even though they report directly to the president, doesn’t have much ability to do anything about it given they cannot fire anyone. I suppose you could train people and put them on PIP’s, but what’s the point if, when they don’t improve, you can’t enforce consequences? The employees are probably aware of this, and regard this “job security” as a perk.

    I shouldn’t be surprised about this anymore as a long-time reader of the site, but it’s remarkable how frequently we see situations where supervisors and managers are held responsible for people’s work, yet have no real power to hold their reports responsible.

    How did this recipe for dysfunction get so widely shared? So many organizations are cooking it, all around the world.

    1. Loulou*

      Yes! The type of job where you are a “senior blah blah” by age 24 is really not the only kind. Your working life is long and 6 years is in fact a small portion of it, and absolutely on the edge of “early career” in my field.

    2. metadata minion*

      Yeah, libraries tend to be like that. There are some places that will have cataloger level 1, 2, 3, etc., but for a lot of libraries, there’s just one level before you get to management and plenty of people don’t even *want* to be managers. If you’re in a smaller library, it’s even harder to advance in technical roles since there just isn’t anywhere to go when your entire department is a manager and two part-time technicians.

      1. Louise*

        OldJob #1 had three levels of administrative assistant and you could start with no experience at each level depending on whether you had a HS diploma, 2 year degree, or 4 year degree and if you started at I or II you could get promoted – but once you hit III there was nothing higher. OldJob #2 had only one level, same as Current Job, and the basic qualifications are “entry level” ie no experience required (though if you don’t have an associates degree you need to have at least 3 yrs work experience).

    3. Scarlet2*

      Agreed and it’s really annoying when people think that being professionally successful means you should want to “climb the ladder”. I’ve been doing the same job for 25 years and have no desire whatsoever to become a manager. I like what I do and I do it well.
      I would hope though that her extra work is compensated properly, but based on what LW says about the organisation, I doubt it.

  31. Nanani*

    I can’t imagine the stress of carrying the team is doing any good to Liza’s mental health, totally aside from the issues she is dealing with in her time off.

    Do everyone a favour and hold your other employees to a higher standard!

  32. Gnome*

    I know this isn’t the point of the letter, but you have 8 people described as “entry level” and Liza has been there six years. That’s not entry level. And she’s in the middle seniority wise. I’m concerned that there hasn’t been promotion or recognition going on! Even if it’s the same work, presumably after six years it’s more efficient than year one. If people get recognition for good work, even if it’s just a title change, it may give you ways to help make it transparent who is where, and that clarity can reduce friction in the long run.

    But really, why can’t you fire people? Or give them poor reviews? I get it, I couldn’t fire a bad employee once, but this behavior can be brought up to your own boss as it’s probably about to get really toxic if you don’t do anything.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      I directly manage a team of eight entry-level job employees.

      The OP may be doing a fair amount of things wrong, but they’re not doing what you an unfortunately a lot of commenters are accusing them of.

      1. Gnome*

        I’ll be first to admit I didn’t word my thought well (please blame the 2AM leak in my roof) AND for whatever reason it took ages for my thing to post so it came out after the request by Alison despite it not being there when I submitted. Sorry!

        I meant more to covey that that some of the messaging might be clearer if there was a way, over all that time, to distinguish beyond tenure, who is really performing well. Job titles was one idea. Like data entry can be a pretty entry level job, but you could still call someone a senior data entry professional or something. But the big point is that if it’s easy to see that Joe is a rock star and Jim is mid-level, in my experience, that leads to less snarkiness and grumbling. That could be an employee of the year recognition or whatever.

        Again, my bad on how it came out. Definitely need a nap.

    2. Laney Boggs*

      When I started on this team, everyone had the exact same job title and the next-least-senior rep had been here 12 years. Most others had been here over 20.

      Not every job is an “up up up” position.

    3. Gnome*

      Alison, my apologies. Your notice wasn’t up when I submitted… And apparently I had a LOT of lag going on!

  33. Celestine*

    OP, the fact that Liza is having to pick up the slack for seven other people *isn’t* a whole other issue. As someone who also has mental health concerns, I can promise you that their slacking off and her sense of responsibility to pick up that slack is contributing to already present mental health concerns. Any kind of stress like that will contribute and while there are tools people can use to manage stress, this is a situation that’s out of her hands and stress management can only go so far. She needs you to figure out something else, whether it’s to convince the president that he *should* be concerned with who does what amount of work because of how it affects one of his BEST employees. He has a responsibility to her, just like you do.

  34. JSRN*

    Poor, poor Liza. I feel so bad for her. I’ve been in her situation before…not with mental health issues but with having to take care of a dying parent and having complaining slacker coworkers with a manager who wouldn’t address it. She allowed my coworkers to openly complain that I took my 3 day bereavement leave when my mom died because it was our busy period and they had extra cases to do in my absence.

    I truly hope someone close to Liza can advise her to quit that place for her own good. You may be supportive of the time off that she needs, but you are not managing the other employees. Even if you can’t fire them, you can be a manager and lay out what the expectations of that department are. You can issue PIP/write ups. You can hold others accountable for their lack of work. You can shut down their complaining right away.

    Writing into AAM is good as it shows you want to make a change on your team. Now please do something about this. If you really value Liza and feel she’s a rockstar, start managing the others and make them pull their weight. And shut down their complaining! You don’t have to allow them to complain and vent. And also, what would happen if you didn’t allow Liza to pick up these slackers’ work? That’s really not fair this one woman is being dumped on/being allowed to work like this and no one cares since the work is getting done. But this type of attitude is typical of a company, just work the good employees until there’s nothing left, allow the bad ones to do whatever, when the good ones burn out fire them/push them out then find a new robot to take their place.

  35. TiredAmoeba*

    Anyone else think that holding down the fort for everyone is why Liza is struggling with her mental health?
    It’s incredibly telling that the quality of work has dropped without her there and the first thing her coworkers are doing is complaining about it.

  36. Just stoppin' by to chat*

    This seems like an untenable position for the LW, and I’m wondering if they are considering looking for a new job elsewhere. To be so senior in the company, but not be able to properly manage (including terminating employees) sounds very frustrating.

  37. Saberise*

    We wouldn’t even say that much where I work (major university) It would be considered a violation of their privacy to say they are out on FMLA when discussing it with co-workers. All we would be told is they are going to be out for 3 months. If they want to share more information than that they can.

    1. Loulou*

      I’m just baffled because obviously if someone is out for 3 months it’s for a medical reason, outside of some VERY narrow exceptions. I can barely think of another reason a colleague would allowed to be away from work and still keep their job. Do the coworkers seriously not read between the lines enough to get that, or do they know it’s medical and not care?

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        It could be someone else’s health issues, though: the F in FMLA stands for “family,” and it includes things like needing to fly to another country because your mother has been hospitalized, or caring for a sick child.

    2. evens*

      Yes, but Alison’s script says “We’re also governed by laws like FMLA, which protects people’s jobs when they have health issues going on.” That doesn’t specifically say that Liza is on FMLA. I agree that would be a problem, but phrased as it is, I think it’s okay.

  38. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    I’d bet her mental health issues are being exacerbated by doing all the extra work. And the snark from her colleagues I’m sure she’s heard. I know mine would be.

  39. Gooba*

    Alternative suggestion would be to promote her to a senior role on the team, where “fixing” or getting involved in the more complicated scenarios is majority of her job. Ideally it would be better to bring everyone up to her level, but sometimes that’s hard with entry level jobs and skill sets. Of course anyone truly acting in bad faith should be addressed though

  40. M2*

    And why is Liza in the middle seniority wise when you say she is the best on the team. Promote her! Giver her a better title, and money!

    If I were Liza’s friend I would tell her to leave the company. She has been there 6 years is the best at her job goes above and beyond and you call it “entry level”?

    1. Elbe*

      Yes! “Seniority” is worthless if it’s only measured by the time one has spent in the role.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Why do people have this assumption that every workplace can just hand out promotions on a whim? Why the assumption that there’s even an open position that the employee would be qualified for?

      Why do people assume that someone automatically wants a promotion?

      Someone performing a job well does not just automatically translate into a promotion.

      1. Chickaletta*

        Of course, there are employees who don’t want a promotion, especially if that promotion moves them into management or other responsibilities that take them away from the work they actually enjoy doing. I also completely agree that workplaces can’t just hand out promotions and more money like they’re being stocked in the supply cabinet. However, if they want to keep good employees, they usually have to figure out a way to compensate them monetarily. A good manager will look at where budgets can be adjusted, positions created or rewritten, and sit down with HR (if they have one), to see how they can retain the good employee. It’s rare for a star employee to stick around for years without a raise or bonus or other recognition (ahem, money) for their work. Management loves to come up with non-monetary forms of “recognition” to help increase retention, but at the end of the day, money talks.

  41. Camelid coordinator*

    I appreciate the points that everyone has made about how Lisa shouldn’t have to pick up others’ slack, but I do want to acknowledge that 20 days off for health reasons each year is a lot and would be disruptive even if everyone was great at their jobs. I am intrigued by Alison’s script since I have an employee who is out significantly more than the average amount and has extra WFH days each week as an accommodation. HR has been very clear that I can’t say this person has special medical circumstances when the rest of the staff comment, and the higher-ups have been clear that commuting and family reasons (which might be implied by the mention of family issues in Alison’s script) are not appropriate justifications for more WFH days.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds like her time off hasn’t caused a problem for anyone until this extended leave.

      she has the type of job where an unexpected one-off absence doesn’t leave anyone else in the lurch or cause an inconvenience. Her team has never truly felt the impact of her being gone until now, when they have had to cover her work for the first time

    2. FridayFriyay*

      I do agree with you about the script. However, while I know a lot of industries have woefully inadequate PTO, saying 20 days is a lot and disruptive seems pretty skewed. That’s fewer than 2 days per month. Plenty of people need that much or more just for regular illness, not even adding dependent family members’ illness, chronic health conditions and disabilities that could require additional time off and… covid. 20 days just seems like life for many people, and not something that should prevent someone from being able to hold down a job. If someone taking that small a percentage of their working days off when they need to for their health and it’s causing major disruption to the team then it’s likely that team is understaffed and the ire should be directed at management instead.

  42. Clorinda*

    Be very very clear with Liza herself on her return: she is not to take up anyone’s slack, and if anyone asks, she is to refer them to you, OP. Be the bad guy on her behalf.

  43. Observer*

    OP, is the workload reasonable, if all of your staff were working to an appropriate level. Not “rockstar” level, but doing a full days work each day? (And before anyone jumps at me, “full day” does not necessarily mean that every single second is 100% focused on work. But that you are actually working not goofing off.)

    If the workload requires everyone to be a rockstar all of the time, see if you can convince your boss to let you expand the team.

  44. Pickle Pizza*

    I’m still stuck on the fact that Liza has been there for 6 years and is still in an entry level position. Time for Liza to find a new job!

    1. londonedit*

      Not everyone wants to climb the ladder, though. It absolutely sounds like Lisa is having an unfair burden of work placed on her, and that isn’t right at all and is definitely something the OP needs to address ASAP. But maybe leaving those issues aside she enjoys the work she does and she doesn’t want to move up into a different sort of job. On paper someone might say my job is below the level I ‘should be’ working at, because society says that by the age of 40 we should all be aiming to be running our own departments or managing a load of people or we should be CEO or whatever, but not everyone wants that and not everyone is suited to it. My job would probably be described as mid-level, but that doesn’t mean I’m mid-level in terms of expertise, or that I can’t be happy excelling at a job I enjoy doing rather than being pushed into management or something else I wouldn’t enjoy as much.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I imagine a better choice of words would have been “line-level” or “individual contributor level” – there are a lot of roles out there that are not meant to have career growth, but are rather perfectly suited for worker-bees who aren’t looking for career progression.

  45. Elbe*

    Do the other team members know that the LW considers them bad at their job? If they don’t, there is a significant problem here. It’s one thing to say that Lisa is a amazing while everyone else is merely average. It’s quite another to say that everyone else on the team is bad at what they do. I find it a bit hard to believe that all 8 people are staying in a role where they’re being given consistent feedback that they’re below average and need to improve.

    If the rest of the team is actually decent at what they do, but just not as good as Lisa, then I think this is a separate issue. If Lisa can do the job of 3 decent workers and she is absent… then the LW needs to hire more people to cover that. It’s the employer’s job to cover absences, not the employees’. If you have one employee doing proportionally more than one person in the role should be doing, you’re always going to be in a lurch when that person is out (or quits).

    It sounds like she needs to take this up the chain and advocate for:
    1) More recognition/pay/promotions for Lisa
    2) Either more staff for her department or the ability to let poor performers go

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      Sounds like LW is already advocating for the authority she needs. Maybe she also needs to do a better job of communicating expectations to her team, and she definitely needs better tools to hold them accountable.

      For both good reasons and bad ones, some organizations choose to centralize control of the power to suspend, demote or terminate employees. (Obviously, demotion isn’t an option with this business’s structure, since all on the team other than LW are peer-level individual contributors.)

      Maybe the grandboss will come around. One way or another, his support would go a long way toward addressing the underlying problem with this team.

  46. Mehitabel*

    Hoo-boy, there is a *lot* to unpack here, but much of it (6 years in an “entry level” job? A VP has no authority to fire deadbeat employees? One person has been allowed/forced to pick up the slack for the rest of her team for how long now?) has been addressed already in other comments. AFAIC, based on this letter, this manager is only doing one thing right here, and that’s giving Liza the time off she needs.

    I just came here to say that the reasons for Liza’s absences are nobody’s concern but hers, her boss’s, and HR’s. And her teammates need to be told that in no uncertain terms. They don’t need to be told that she is having health issues or that she is on FMLA leave – that is none of their bloody business. What they do need to be told is this: “I have approved Liza’s time off, which is within my authority to do.” If they ask why, the answer is “That is not your concern.” And then for petesake, LW, start managing their performance, but IMO you do so as a separate issue that is entirely unrelated to Liza and her absences. Her absences have nothing whatsoever to do with them being bad at their jobs (but I’ll bet a week’s pay that them being bad at their jobs has something to do with her absences).

    1. Mehitabel*

      I decided I’m not done here. LW, if your other 7 deadbeat employees are complaining about having to carry their fair share of the load while she is out, that tells me that none of them have any idea that they are bad at their jobs – because you have said and done nothing other than to count on Liza to pick up the slack. I see no indication that you have communicated or managed expectations, or held anyone accountable for their job performance. And that, LW, is one hundred percent on you.

  47. Don’t Pay Me Less Because of Body Parts*

    You have a bigger problem if somebody using 20 days a year is beyond your overall allotted PTO (particularly in her case, she’s probably combining sick and vacation). How many days do employees get?

    Increasing your PTO will lower the resentment – both the resentment you know about and that which you don’t.

    1. Moos*

      Agreed. Considering that 20 days is only 8% of a worker’s total time spent working (assuming 260 business days per year), its really not a lot, especially when you’re taking only one or two days at a time.

  48. Sparkles McFadden*

    With all due respect LW, you are trying to solve the wrong problem. You want a solution to the superficial problem that is annoying you personally right now. You aren’t terribly concerned about the actual state of things. The problem is that you are not holding your direct reports accountable and you need to try to change that.

    What will you be able to do when Liza realizes she’d be better off elsewhere and you are left with the other seven people who are underperforming? It’s likely that will eventually happen.

    As someone who has been in Liza’s position, my managers also declared themselves powerless when it came to managing the department workload and distributing work assignments equitably. This powerlessness magically ended when I left for another position. Suddenly, they’d have the power to hire three or four people to replace me and they’d start to hold the other employees accountable. At least one of those managers told me that he could now address the ongoing issues and he was sorry the timing didn’t work out so he could address things while I was still there. But, the “timing” issue was that he didn’t want to make any waves or burn any political capital while I was there to carry the workload. He just kept ignoring things and telling me he felt bad, and to “hang in there because I really appreciate all you do.” When I left, the work stopped getting done, and he had no choice but to address the actual underlying issues.

    If you truly don’t have the ability to deal with the other employees, you need to discuss THAT with your boss and work on a way to fix the real problems.

  49. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    This past 3 months should have been the time when processes/expectations could have been re-evaluated and reset to accommodate for a team without a rock star, just 7 “regular” employees doing the tasks of 8.

    If 7 can’t do the tasks of 8 without major gaps, then there’s a staffing issue.

    If 7 can do the tasks of 8, more or less, and are bitching that the 8th isn’t around, then they need the “give your colleague some grace” speech. And when Lisa comes back, they need to do at least their 1/8th of the work.

    And Lisa should be given some time to ramp up, rather than get a pile of undone crap on her desk.

  50. IT Anon*

    OP, if Liza has been out for 3 months on FMLA, your team should be prepared for her to come back with significant restrictions to her workload. Support her, of course, but also see if you can use this opportunity to redistribute work in preparation for her return. (In a more permanent way, not just covering for her absence.) Hopefully that will also set you up to expose problems to the president, and allow you to replace a few people before she returns.

  51. Art3mis*

    I would be surprised if Liza hasn’t been using some of her FMLA time to do some job searching.

  52. Public Sector Manager*

    What I don’t like about Alison’s script is making references to FMLA and privacy because it’s implying that Liza does have a medical issue and for Liza’s coworkers, it’s irrelevant whether Liza is out on vacation or out for medical leave.

    Instead, I would focus on the work your other workers aren’t doing. OP, you must have some metrics in place to measure productivity and “rock star” status. So if your team is making teapot lids, then I would show your team the numbers. “Let’s see, last year Liza made 3,217 teapot lids. Sam was in second place with 1,723. Everyone else was less than 1,500. You all need to step up!”

    Also, I think you need to look in the mirror. I’m in a similar position as you–the head of our public agency doesn’t like to fire people. But rather than throw my hands up and say “I did all I could,” I address the situation with setting expectations, remedial training, PIPs, and I keep pushing relentlessly on our agency head to get rid of people who need to be fired. You’ve given up because Liza is letting you hit all your production numbers. You need to keep fighting with your boss to get rid of your dead weight. And guess what? Eventually my agency head says yes to getting rid of people who aren’t pulling their own weight in the office.

    OP, if you are doing absolutely everything you could and your boss still won’t fire someone, it makes me question why you are still there. I love being a manager, and if my agency head was like that, I would have moved on years ago.

    1. PB Bunny Watson*

      Yes, that was my concern about the script as well. It’s hard to point out that managers may know more about the situation and may know what they are doing without it sounding like something is going on. I like your idea of focusing on the work. Instead of “what’s Liza doing,” it can be… “Well, I’m sure you’re aware of times when Liza has covered work for all of us… now I need you to focus on completing your own tasks and, yes, giving Liza the same courtesy she’s given everyone else right now.”

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – both that if Lisa is on a disability leave, that’s not her co-workers’ business, and also that the OP should be putting in place metrics to demonstrate what the performance expectations are of the team. That should solve the issue that Lisa is being complained about, once her coworkers realize that a) Lisa was doing FAR more than they were, and b) that management knows it.

  53. Free Meerkats*

    Liza, if you’re reading this, when (if) you return, do your own job and let the rest of them survive or fail on their own. Stop covering for the incompetents and management incompetence, and prioritize your metal health. It’s reached the point where it’s not your problem anymore.

  54. sdog*

    I agree with all the comments re: not letting Liza pick up the slack for others when she returns. And honestly, in the script above, I’d make it even more apparent that Liza has specifically picked up the slack on a number of occasions for each member of the team.

    One thing I wanted to add is that if you are in the U.S., Liza may well be entitled to more leave or other accommodations under the ADA if she has a qualifying medical impairment. So if you haven’t talked to her about reasonable accommodation, you should. There are times when unpaid leave – when it’s intended to help manage medical conditions and ultimately help her return to work – can be a necessary accommodation, and if that’s the case, it’s actually not dependent on your flexibility but required.

  55. PB Bunny Watson*

    I’ve often wondered about this, but I was worried that even mentioning FMLA leave might imply that that’s what going on with an employee…. and would that be a violation of their privacy? I had the issue a lot with COVID last year–we obviously can’t divulge health issues, but how hard do employers have to work to prevent others from doing the math on their own? For instance, I would never say X was out with COVID, but it can be inferred when last minute leave is taken with the tentative plan of them returning on a specific date.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think there’s an issue with saying she’s on FMLA leave (or medicalleave). The existence of the leave is not private, and otherwise she’ll come back to people who resent her or ask how her vacation was. If people don’t have facts, they’ll invent them, and not always in the most charitable way.

      That being said, there is no reason for them to share why she’s on FMLA leave. That would be inappropriate.

      1. PB Bunny Watson*

        She could still come back to people who resent her. I definitely wouldn’t say medical leave since FMLA is at least broader and could mean a host of things from personal medical issues to being a caretaker for a loved one. You also have the issue with people knowing it’s medical leave (or even FMLA) still making up stories. So I’m not sure it helps all that much.

        1. Colette*

          People are a lot less likely to resent someone who is sick as opposed to someone who just gets tons of vacation they don’t get.

          Personally, I don’t think that the fact that someone is on medical leave is a secret. The reason why should be kept private unless someone needs to know.

          1. Jora Malli*

            That’s how it’s been handled everywhere I’ve worked. It’s usually okay to say “Jora’s out on medical leave until (x date), here’s how we’ll be distributing her responsibilities while she’s away.” It’s not okay to say “Jora’s out on medical leave because she has (description of medical condition).”

    2. JimmyJab*

      All Alison’s script says is we offer a baseline level of flexibility to all employees, and also have FMLA and other similar laws to abide by for certain situations. I’m not sure why everyone is reading that as suggesting that OP tell everyone Liza is on FMLA leave?

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        After all, the other employees are aware of the “general” policies for leave. They see Liza getting more than is customary.

        A gentle, tactful reminder that there *may* be factors in play that they would want kept private if applied to them, and that there *may* be legal issues involved, is a pretty clear signal that they need to stop speculating about Liza’s privacy, and that they need to stop complaining, especially if they expect any discretionary grace if they ever need it.

  56. kanej*

    I bet ten bucks Liza wouldn’t need to have so many absences if she didn’t have to cover for everyone else that OP are letting do bad jobs.

  57. burnout*

    I wonder how much “picking up everyone’s slack” is contributing to her current mental health state. I know that 6 years of that would decimate mine.

    At the end of the day though, it is the LW’s responsibility to ensure the work is getting done equally even if they don’t have the power to fire. You’ve got to protect your good talent!

    1. Anon for this*

      I was recently out of work for 6 days, that I had planned for in advance. While I was out, *3* of my colleagues were supposed to be covering for me, and all of them put together couldn’t cover my workload. That was pretty eye-opening to me; no wonder I’ve been feeling so burned out. A serious conversation with my manager is long overdue.

  58. kilo*

    I’m curious as to what people think about linking sick leave to performance. On the one hand, I totally understand that Liza has earned some flexibility on leave, and from a management position it makes sense to judge the whole package – even with her taking more sick leave than is officially granted she contributes more than here peers, so it make sense to look the other way on the >20 days leave a year. On the other hand, adequate sick leave should be something everyone has access to, and absolutely should not be tied to performance. Particularly if you think about the ways that depression and anxiety can impact job performance.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think generous sick leave should be in place from the start. But the business case is that when you hire someone and communicate your PTO policy, the expectation being set is that you’re hiring them for working days in a year – PTO. That’s the agreement you two are making.

      Now, obviously life happens, and when big events occur companies should absolutely be flexible on letting people borrow time or forgiving a few extra days or helping them get FMLA or whatever might be appropriate. But this is an employee with ongoing mental health issues who may regularly need extra time, so borrowing time isn’t an adequate solution, and ignoring time on a regular basis isn’t really fair to the other employees. So then the conversation becomes “is this person bringing enough value that the time they are here is still worth a whole person’s salary by the standards of our original agreement”.

      For a lower performing employee in this situation, I might recommend seeing if they can work part time instead, or having a conversation about what supports they need that aren’t just time off, or having a conversation about whether the job is right for them. Ultimately managers can be as flexible as they can be, but they also have an obligation to keep the business running and be fair to their other workers, which is why it’s not as cut and dry as we’d like it to be sometimes.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think that saying that Lisa is on a “leave of absence for personal reasons” is as much as should be said about her situation. That covers everything from FMLA to a family member needing her support to a meteor strike on her residence.

  59. Decidedly Me*

    OP – you mentioned that they are now covering for her pieces, is that correct? It could be helpful to acknowledge that yes, they are covering Liza’s pieces X, Y, and Z, but all the rest of it has always been part of their jobs that Liza was nice enough to help with.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        To add: and also “these pieces will not go away when Liza gets back”

  60. Almost Empty Nester*

    OP, if you don’t already have baseline productivity measurements, you should really begin there to be able to quantify the contributions of your team. I suspect once you’re able to see on paper where the issues are, it will be much easier to manage the folks out who shouldn’t be there. Start goal setting, manage to those goals, and it will become painfully obvious what your next steps should be, the first of which would appear to be assuming leadership of your team in more than just name. You truly can’t effectively manage them if you can’t effect change with them. Also going to second other commenters that Liza’s stress from being the sole rock star contributor on the team is no doubt adding to her mental health issues.

    1. braindump*

      +1, and don’t make “Liza can do 26 widgets so you should too” as your goal either.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And having some data might help convince OP’s boss that the other 7 are underperforming. It’s one thing to say that, it’s another thing to be able to demonstrate it with metrics.

  61. Rav*

    I agree with Alison.

    Thinking a bit long term, the LW needs to pick and choose their next battles. Part of protecting Liza is reducing the slack she’s picking up. It would be “easier” if there’s a common thread that joins the slacking.

  62. So not shocked*

    Allowing underperforming employees to get away with their poor work, while piling the weight of carrying the department on a competent employee is managing neither the situation or the team. If Liza decides she’s had enough and leaves the problem will persist unless steps are taken to improve the team’s performance.

    Reminding the rest of the team of their responsibilities, along with monitoring and coaching them to ensure they are completing their tasks well, is the first step to fixing the problem. If they still don’t perform, having documented performance data is a key tool to assist in getting your boss to listen and respond.

    As for Liza, you need to make sure her duties are also clear, that she isn’t picking up work that should fall to others, and that she really understands that the team’s performance is your responsibility not hers.

  63. evens*

    Wow. I don’t always love Alison’s scripts, but this one is top-notch. It tells employees what they need to know, tells them in reasonable way that they don’t need to know more, reminds them that Liza is an amazing employee, and assures them that if they need and deserve it (which is left to their imagination), they will get similar consideration.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve used a very similar script, with the caveat it was to deal with frustration that an underperforming employee was out on FMLA after a lot of absences (though not more than he was entitled to). I think reminding people they’d get the same consideration is the biggest part. People get frustrated when something feels unfair. Sometimes they need a nudge to remember that life isn’t always fair and circumstances aren’t always the same, and when life is unfair to them they’ll want to be similarly taken care of.

      1. evens*

        > People get frustrated when something feels unfair.

        This is so true! I guess I like the script because it reminds employees that LIFE isn’t fair, and when life is unfair for them, they will get similar consideration.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        And it sounds like in this case, their perception is that it’s unfair is inaccurate. They would get the same consideration if they ever need it. So this is a great reminder to them of that.

  64. Bunny Girl*

    This is exactly the situation I’m in. I’ve been constantly told I’m a rockstar employee, I do half the teams work because the team I work on is lazy AF and yep they’ve been complaining about me taking a lot of time off because I have health issues and I got to say, I resent the hell out of it and I’m actively plaining to leave. This situation has basically been a pattern with every hard working person I know. Your “reward” for being a hard worker is you get to do everyone else’s work. WOW. Thanks. Managers – you need to stop this. Like right now. Your lazy employees do not deserve to keep their employment privileges at the expense of the people who are working hard. We will leave. And you will be left with a bunch of DNB and that will be on you.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      SERIOUSLY. How could someone not be resentful if they’re killing themselves working while everyone else is f***ing around? And add in that they’re complaining about having to do their actual jobs because someone is taking time off they’re entitled to.

      1. Froodle*

        Right? Do the work of two, three, four, SEVEN employees, in perpetuity, and also get to deal with shitty people making shitty comments at you? Awesome. A delightful reward for hard work and competence. Totally fair.

  65. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m confused as to how missing 2 days a month over the course of a year (24 absences) is construed as a lot. I’m in higher ed and our sick leave is amazing. We just accrue indefinitely. Being out for a couple months solid would certainly need different messaging but I still don’t see how she’s really missing all that much work. And given she’s a rockstar employee, the actual impact to work is probably less than 20 actual days.
    What should OP do:
    1. Sort out your leave policies so that there is enough leave to accommodate this kind of thing and so people don’t feel the need to work sick.
    2. Tell the slacker crew to do their job. and you keep a very close eye on their productivity. These folks need managing because as other’s said, Liza has picked up for that.
    3. Make sure Liza is supported and recognized for her contributions because she sounds like someone I’d be happy to hire.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      10 days of sick leave is pretty standard. Not saying that’s right or fair, but I’d look at it through that lens to help with the framing.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I get it. Sick leave in the US sucks, in most situations. But aside from the number of days given, I’m still saying that 20 isn’t “alot”. Maybe she had 3 days one month for bronchitis and then skipped a couple months and then got that horrible cold that’s going around. Out for another 2 days. Or all the sudden her kid couldn’t go to school because of COVID.

        Her company does need to look at their policies. Maybe it’s still 10 days paid but you can take LWOP up to a point without needing to invoke FMLA. And maybe it’s just a mindset shift that needs to happen.

        1. Lapis Lazuli*

          That tipping point for unpaid leave prior to FMLA is typically going to be about 3-4 days since a major and common set of serious health conditions under FMLA involves being out of work for more than 3 full consecutive calendar days. By consecutive day 4, an employer should be providing FMLA paperwork to the employee and starting the process because “notice” of the need for leave can be verbal, written, or via an employee’s pattern of absences.

          The ~20 days that Liza has been using intermittently? That’s likely covered under FMLA and should be disclosed to whomever handles OP’s FMLA admin (HR or a third party admin company). Even if OP and their boss aren’t bothered by it now, they may in the future and FMLA will protect her if that should ever happen. Additionally, employers need to remain consistent in applying their leave policies and as a manager, OP should be letting the leave admin know that Liza disclosed these dates as being related to her FMLA condition. While it might impact when she exhausts FMLA during her 3-month continuous leave and cut it short, it provides federal protection to her intermittent days and may also positively affect her eligibility.

          1. Need More Sunshine*

            Exactly what I came here to say – if this is all related to the same health issue, those random days can and should be classified as FMLA – even if she’s also using PTO, so it counts as job-protected leave as well.

            Even if this 3 month FMLA use takes all her time now, if the company does FMLA on a rolling 12 months basis, she’ll have more FMLA available next year and should be able to use it intermittently.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Your sick leave is far outside the norm for a typical office job.
      5-10 days/year is pretty common. (I’m not saying it should be the norm, but that’s the lens that most people are seeing this through)

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I’m well aware. One of the bigger reasons why I won’t leave higher ed without really good reasons. Maybe it’s just a mindset shift, as I said above. Looking at 20 days as “a lot”. However, this does present a good opportunity to look at the policies, if not the actual leave given.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          So I guess I don’t get why you’re confused that 2 days a month is considered a lot.
          It’s not unusual for someone to think that taking significantly more days than what’s been allocated is a lot.

          You can definitely make the argument that the allocation should be higher, but I don’t think there’s anything confusing about the situation.

    3. Decidedly Me*

      2 days a month is about 10% of time off sick – which feels like a lot for a reasonably healthy person with no chronic issues. I can’t think of a single year where I was sick for that long even in those where I was sick more often. However, people often won’t know if you’re a reasonably healthy person or someone with chronic issues or a string of bad luck, as it’s not their business.

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      I’m also in higher ed, and while people in salaried positions here have kind of infinite sick days, if you need to take more than five sick days together at once, you do have to fill out FMLA paperwork. And if you were taking a couple of days a month sick, you would probably be encouraged to set up intermittent FMLA. Because of the indefinite number of sick days, we do get paid during this time.

  66. Abby*

    I don’t know what the issue is. No colleagues have the right to know why someone is off sick. My understanding is that even the workplace doesn’t need a specific reason as long as they know it is a health issue singed off by a Dr. If they come up to you simply state it is none of their business. Just like it is no one else’s business when they are off sick.

    Competence is a different issue. However, the question is are you comparing them to Liza or is there performace sub-par for the role? If it is number 1 forger about it. If it is the latter option it is time to have reviews with your staff and highlight areas of improves. Once this is implemented if they can’t perform at their level it is time for a PIP.
    Stop merging the 2 issues. I can honestly say if someone is a rock start AND performs better than everyone else I wouldn’t give a crap if they were off for 3 weeks per year. In fact, if I were you I would push to be promoted in a role where it states she can have a lot of flexibility (I’m an acadmic and we work from home all the time).

  67. FormerLiza*

    Another former Liza chiming in here. I was at my old job for 7 years. I did get a tiny promotion, once, though – that was the ceiling for me. But I was the one who all the extra work fell to and because I cared so much and was a “rock star,” I did the equivalent of 3 jobs. I would ask if we would ever get someone, even an intern, to help me out and I was constantly told “nope.” I rarely took time off. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I was miserable, but I thought that’s just how jobs are and I need to suck it up.

    Ultimately I was so stressed that my vision started failing. That’s when I knew I needed to get out. I got a new job a month after I started seeing neurologists for my vision issues (because no doctor could figure out what was wrong). When I gave notice, my boss even said “I’m surprised you didn’t leave earlier.” Which was a punch in the stomach. Because she knew that things were fubar’d and did N O T H I N G about it.

    Two weeks into my new job my vision came back. I didn’t have to go get a CT scan to find out if I had a tumor. It was literally job stress. I’ve now been working somewhere for a year where I’m valued and my leader actually cares about my workload and makes efforts to reduce it when it’s unsustainable.

    OP, Liza is going to leave because of your/your company’s inaction to make her work life better. Full stop. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next month.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Agree with your last paragraph. I can definitely imagine a scenario where Liza comes back, things go to hell again immediately, and she decides she can’t deal with this nonsense anymore.

  68. Dinwar*

    If I were you I would take a hard look at Liza’s performance. One specific question to ask is: Is she following company policies and guidelines? Is she cutting corners? I’m not saying that Liza’s a bad person; she’s not. If she is it’s an indication that Liza is overwhelmed–she’s got too much to be able to do things properly. You can use this to reign her in if needed: “I know you want to help out, but I need you to follow these policies and only take on the amount of work you can do in 40 hours following these policies.” Here’s the thing: If Liza is like me, trying to get her to not do so much and let the team fail is going to add much more stress to her already-stressful life. Give her a reason why she needs to pull back–why it’s in fact part of her job to do so–and she’ll be more willing to comply. It’ll give her the ammunition to silence the little voice in her head (again, if she’s like me) saying “If this fails it’s YOU that failed; this is all YOUR fault.”

    It’s also an opportunity to identify unnecessary friction in the organization. If someone can be a rockstar without following proper procedures, are those procedures really necessary? Sometimes they are–and if so, you need people to comply with them! Sometimes, though, you find that they’re outdated, or the product of fief-building or political maneuvering that doesn’t add anything but stress.

    I would also look at the workload of the team as a whole. If the team is doing the work of 14 people, and Liza is doing the work of 4, that means that the other 7 are doing the work of 10 people–meaning they’re still overloaded. Rockstars skew statistics and royally mess up intuitive understanding of group performance. I’m not saying that you’re wrong about the others slacking off; I’m just saying it’s worth checking, because there are known, well-documented biases at play here.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      As a former Liza, if my boss started picking holes in my work and telling me not to cut corners when I’m picking up the slack for seven colleagues, I’d be touting my CV to find an employer that will promote the best employees instead of nitpicking.

  69. Dona Florinda*

    Good grief OP, at first I thought the other employees were overworked having to cover for Lisa, which is bad enough. But they’re actually slackers complaining the person picking up their slack is not available to do so?
    You and your boss have a lot of work to do, from the workload to the accountability of your employees.

    1. Veryanon*

      That really stood out to me, too. What an entitled group! Poor Liza. I hope she finds a better job where they don’t work her to death.

    2. Pam Poovey*


      Sorry, that’s my real name so I’m hyper aware of it being misspelled.

  70. Veryanon*

    I have to disagree with Alison’s recommended verbiage to the other employees. They don’t have a need to know why Liza is out, and frankly it’s a violation of Liza’s privacy to share anything with them beyond the fact that she’s out. All they need to know is that Liza is out on a leave of absence.

    1. Pam Poovey*

      I agree with this. LW simply needs to say that the absence is in fact approved and that this employee has earned her trust and support (quiet part: unlike the rest of you). Also that any hint of disrespect toward her upon her return will not be tolerated.

    2. Lapis Lazuli*

      I would even say that the OP redirect the complaining coworker to discuss their own performance issues rather than focus on the fact that Liza isn’t there to fix everything. If your job performance depends on someone else picking up the slack and doing it for you (as opposed to everyone collaborating and providing separate but necessary pieces) AND you’re only mediocre in the best of times, you might not be in the right role.

    3. Velocipastor*

      I agree. I would also leave out any reference to her picking up the slack. That’s a separate conversation that needs to happen with each of the 7 about their individual performance. You don’t want there to be any miscommunication that she “deserves” leave and privacy and they don’t because they’re underperforming.

    4. JimmyJab*

      Alison’s script does not mention why Liza is out, it says “we offer a certain baseline amount of flexibility, and also have laws like FMLA to follow in addition to that.” (etc.). The script doesn’t say, “Liza is out on FMLA leave.”

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The very mention of FMLA rather points to the possibility of Liza being away for health issues though?

  71. Pam Poovey*

    If you set limits with Liza, and stopped allowing her to pick up the slack for everyone else, what would happen? Maybe your boss would finally wake the hell up and let you deal with the other 7 people who are slacking off.

    It might also help Liza’s mental health to not constantly be doing other people’s work.

  72. Solitary Daughter*

    Sweet fancy Moses. You need to start working on getting the authority you need to actually deal with your problematic employees. That is priority one, my friend. This is not sustainable in any way!

  73. Observer*

    OP, you say that it’s “a whole different issue” that Liza is resentful and that your boss won’t let you manage effectively. But actually those ARE the issue.

    She’s resentful because she’s picking up the slack for people who not only won’t thank her but are stupid, petty and mean enough to try to get her in trouble for trying to take care of her health. And it’s being made worse by a management who just DOES. NOT. CARE.

    I realize that you can’t fire. But you need to connect the dots for your boss. Allow Liza to pick up SOME of the slack – that gives you the capital to continue to give her the protection she deserves. But you need to limit it.This way either the others are going to be forced to step up their game, or your boss will finally be forced to deal with it. And I suspect that it will help Liza’s mental health, both because it will relieve some of the burden AND because she’ll at last see that SOMEONE does care.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And say to Liza, clearly, that she is not obligated to (and should not) be picking up everyone’s slack. She is encouraged to say no to unreasonable requests/demands from her colleagues and you will back her up when she says no and tell the others to do their own damn work.

      Now, I know you’re probably going to say that you can’t do that because your team won’t finish all the work that needs to happen. I mean, yes, that is probably going to happen. But it sounds like your boss needs to understand that one person doing her job and 7 people not performing well is not a good situation. (And the status quo of Liza doing everybody’s job is not an option anymore). The organization needs to either get those 7 up to standards, hire more people to meet the workload, or both. Because like Alison said, you’ve now seen what 3 Liza-less months is like and unless something changes, y’all might be Liza-less for a lot longer than that.

      1. Observer*

        Now, I know you’re probably going to say that you can’t do that because your team won’t finish all the work that needs to happen. I mean, yes, that is probably going to happen.

        Exactly. Your boss doesn’t care as long as all of the work gets done. So, allow all the work to not be done. And point out that this is only a fraction of what will happen when Liza leaves. Which will happen sooner rather later if something doesn’t change.

  74. Lapis Lazuli*

    An FMLA topic on my 7-year FMLA anniversary? I’m positively ecstatic (it’s the paperwork anniversary).

  75. Leela*

    I can’t stop thinking about Liza writing in going “I’m on an 8 person team and I’m expected to pick up SEVEN PEOPLES’ SLACK and my mental health is tanking because of it” OP I wonder if the company realizes that resolving this many problems for other people on top of her own work might very well be what’s at least partially causing her absences, that sounds awful and not sustainable!

    Any shot training or rearranging tasks would help share the load better or is this purely an issue of people not stepping up? I’m wondering if unclear objectives, little in the way of somewhere to turn with questions or something else like that could be interfering for other people in a way that it wouldn’t for Liza, it does seem like you’re in a rough spot with little in the way of company support and I’ve definitely managed in that situation, it’s hard to manage your way out of!

    1. Kesnit*

      We don’t know if that is what is happening. We know Liza is better at her job than the other 7. However, clearly the other 7 can do their jobs because they have done them for 3 months without Liza.

      As someone above said, if the 7 people are doing the work of 14 and Liza is doing the work of 4, that still leaves 7 people to do the work of 10.

      It is possible that the other 7 are slackers and are leaning on Liza to get everything done. It’s also possible that they are competent, but not as competent as Liza and so look bad in comparison.

  76. CalT*

    If seven people out of eight are doing a bad job then they’re badly managed. If, on top, the one outlier is an absolute rockstar, bad management and favoritism are even more obvious. Even in this letter, where she has full control how to spin the story, LW openly says she’s not doing anything with the allegedly poor workers and that her golden child is and will be getting special treatment. LW is a bad manager and any solution should start from there.

  77. pcake*

    Since Liza does 100% of her own work plus 25% of seven other peoples’ work, I hope she’s being compensated accordingly. But I’ve never seen that happen in any company with a similar situation.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      And promoted to a position where she can shine without picking up slackers’ slack! It would already have happened if she were a guy.

  78. Petty Betty*

    I should read the other comments (I will, promise), but I want to point out that even though Liza has disclosed a mental health issue, I would bet dollars to donuts that the work situation (feeling the need to carry the weight of SEVEN people not pulling their own weight!) has probably contributed to her extended absence and may be the very reason why she takes 20+ days a year in leave.

    The job as described can’t be good for her mental health, regardless of anything else. If I were LW, I’d really be concerned with Liza deciding her own well-being is more important than carrying 7 peoples’ slack and just not coming back (and maybe job hunting while on leave). Your boss needs to have it impressed upon him that 7 slackers aren’t worth keeping around when you could have Liza and 6-7 other decent employees (maybe even another 1-3 Lizas).

  79. Bookworm*

    Thank you for supporting Liza at this time but do have to echo some of the other comments–I wonder if it might help if other people actually did their jobs so she didn’t have to pick the slack. It sounds like the problem is with the team as a whole–including you, OP.

  80. Ann Perkins Knope*

    “playing clear favorites with Liza … because I wouldn’t tolerate so many absences from just about anyone else, and certainly not from any of the other seven on her team”

    “I don’t have the ability to fire anyone despite my senior role in the company, so there’s not much I can do that I haven’t already done to try to address these problems.”

    I came here to say that you ARE playing clear favorites with Liza. Which may very well make sense. I manage a tennis team, my favorites are the ones who are most available for matches. They make things easy for me. It’s amazing if they are good at tennis AND available. But also, seven out of eight is a lot of people that you manage that you don’t have respect for. I very much second everyone above to 1. check how you know she is so much better than them, in terms of numbers or clear metrics, which will help everyone, including Liza 2. think about if you could truly replace them at this salary for better people, are they are fine and she’s outstanding, and you should normalize the workload across the board. and 3. how are you interacting with them? it kind of seems like you’ve written them off, which, maybe you have tried everything within your power and they are just 7 whole humans who just don’t and won’t care (though personally I’d guess the company sets it up so they have a comfortable job but absolutely no incentive to do better, and then is surprised when they don’t do better)

    My other point, is why I highlighted those two statements: you say you would not tolerate anyone else taking this much sick leave. You also say you cannot fire or do anything more than you’ve done. What would you do when you “would not tolerate” extra absences? and why is that not an option now?

  81. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    She picks up the slack for 7 people!

    No wonder she is burned out, this is insane and ridiculous.
    Frankly she needs a huge raise, a huge amount of backpay, a glowing reference and a new job.

    She will likely only get one of these. Maybe two.

    1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

      Then the other 7 need to be dealt with, they want you to bring her back so they can keep slacking.
      You need to nuke that right now.

      Hold them to normal person standards, that they do the amount of work that a reasonable human employee would be expected to do. When they push back don’t fall for it and let them off the hook.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I’d say a huge pay rise, and a glorious promotion to a position where picking up slackers’ slack won’t give her burnout.

  82. Ladycrim*

    I can relate to Liza. I too was the “go-to” person to pick up slack at work – not because my colleagues were slackers like the ones described here, but because I had a reputation for turning the work around the fastest. So, if someone was out sick/on vacation or just overloaded, their work was passed to me. There were times I was covering five desks.

    Then people got so used to me doing the work that they assigned it to me directly, even when it was supposed to go to my colleagues. When I spoke up about that, the response I got was that my colleagues “didn’t mind”. I started fast-tracking towards burnout. Before I got there, I found a new job and got out of that stressful situation. OP, stress to your boss that the situation needs to change before Liza does the same.

  83. M.W.*

    You are second in authority to the president of the company, but you don’t have the authority to fire people in entry-level roles. So am I correct in understanding that in a 175-person company, only the president has the authority to fire people? That seems like an ODD bottleneck.

  84. Beth*

    I know you said that you can’t fire the underperforming coworkers, but OP, I think there’s a clear need here for you to find SOME way to manage them more thoroughly.

    It sounds like these seven are mad about Liza being out for so long because they think they’re being asked to pick up her slack–when in reality, they’re mostly just getting the parts of their own jobs that they’ve been pushing onto her back. That shouldn’t be possible. Even if you can’t fire them for poor performance, you can give clear work assignments, and you can give clear feedback. The full scope of their jobs should not be a surprise to them! Being told to keep up with that scope shouldn’t feel like ‘covering for Liza while she’s out’! They should have been fully aware this whole time that their job description included all these tasks and that they were performing below expectations. That they aren’t is on you. I know it’s hard to keep giving that feedback and have it feel serious when you have limited ability to enforce consequences, but it’s your job to keep giving the feedback anyways.

    When Liza comes back, you need to assign Liza one person’s work–not a Liza person level, but an average person level, the same as you’re assigning to everyone else. When others fall behind, you need to document it as a serious performance issue, every single time. When this causes performance issues for your team as a whole (which seems likely, with 7/8 of your team members being long term slackers), you need to handle that not by asking Liza to fix it, but by bringing all the documented performance issues to whoever does have power to fire people in your company and figuring out a plan with them. Don’t let them tell you to give the work to Liza. Viable solutions include hiring more people to cover for the slackers, replacing the slackers, cutting your team’s workload to accommodate the slackers’ level of productivity, etc.; asking one person to do several people’s worth of work is not viable.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah and push back on being able to fire, and get Liza a bonus each time she does pick up slack.

  85. Lysine*

    It’s so weird to me that you manage 8 people and only respect one of them (the “rockstar” as you put it). Any chance the others have picked up on this favoritism and respond accordingly? I’d lose motivation too if I wasn’t as liked as someone who’s willing to kill themselves for a job. I’ve definitely worked with people who did so much work and worked on weekends and after hours which only made my boss think of them as the ideal the rest of us needed to be like even though it took probably 60 plus hours a week to produce like they did. It absolutely created resentment when I was seen as a slacker for only working the 40 hours I was paid to work. Obviously I don’t know these people. Maybe they truly are slackers. But I think it’s worth reflecting on whether these 7 people are truly slackers or are just your average worker who isn’t willing to kill themselves for their job.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah there could be something in that. ToxicBoss1 got it into his head that my colleague was the Golden Girl because she was ultra conscientious. Never late, but would stay late to get the job done. Hardly ever any complaints about her work, always had a good reason for doing things the way she did them.

      Now, I’ve always been considered conscientious and I’ve always been ready to do what it takes to get the job done. Not necessarily always on time in the morning but more than capable of working quickly to make up for it. More inclined to have a chat on the phone with a contractor, and digress into discussions only remotely related to work, but again, more than capable of catching up afterwards. It so happened that I started working there after being a SAHM for six years, and there was no way I was going to sacrifice my children for my job, so I always left on the dot.

      And the nature of my work (translating stuff into English for French clients) meant that if a client didn’t like what I had done, they had to call me to ask about it, whereas for my colleague (translating stuff into French for French clients), they could just change it by themselves. So there were more clients calling with “problems” over my work (which mostly were down to the fact that their English wasn’t good enough to understand).

      Then one day, the boss compiled stats and saw that actually, I was twice as productive as my colleague, despite working far fewer hours.
      I didn’t get any kind of pay rise or bonus or even a “congratulations”. I found out only because Golden Girl got hauled over the coals for not being as productive as me, and the boss had such a foghorn voice I could hear every word he was saying despite the door being shut.

      OP should perhaps take a better look at the productivity, factoring in Liza’s absences, since they seem to be part of the package of employing her. Just for a reality check, not to come down on Liza in any way.

  86. Lobsterman*

    OP, fire the 7 heartless complainers and hire 3 people who would like to do a good job and learn from your actually effective employee.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP specifically says they don’t have the power to do so, but it’s maybe time to demand that power. I’d give them all a chance, give them two months to bring their game up so that they can keep on top of the work without Liza doing anything more than them, or indeed without Liza on the team at all, since she is clearly destined for promotion to a role that will develop her talents without stressing her out.

  87. Ehun*

    This is a little to the side of the question, but we’ve been able to have an employee with a chronic illness take intermittent FMLA-a day or two when needed. Might be a nice thing for Liza when she is such a rockstar

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Or even just down-size her hours without down-sizing her pay. Hell she even deserves a pay rise! and promotion!

  88. EngineerDE*

    In my experience, trying to let someone fail visibly when they can’t do their job well can backfire and get blamed on the person that used to cover for them and/or the supervisor, especially if expectations of the employee have dropped due to their incompetence. It sounds like your staff has become complacent and is losing engagement. I’m not sure that you’ll be able to fix the team until each individual understands how you rate their productivity. Once employees start perceiving that a situation is “unfair” they disengage and performance drops further. I’d recommend a one-on-one performance discussion with each person, as disconnected from the absences as possible. If you happen to anger someone other than Liza, hopefully they get angry enough to quit!

  89. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Why hasn’t Lisa been promoted already, to a place where she could develop her talents and go all out and be compensated properly for her talent without having to take up the slack from lazy colleagues?
    If she’d been a man she’d have been promoted, since she’s a woman she’s left to do everyone else’s work. No wonder she gets burnout from time to time.
    (Happened to me too – I outperformed all my colleagues but the boss could never see his way to giving me any other responsibilities, despite me pointing out that I had plenty of other talents that were not being used by the company despite them needing such talents badly)

  90. Teapot Wrangler*

    Having been the person who picked up the slack while the rest of the team made errors and/or did less work, that resentment does build up to the point that you start looking for a job where you’re not having to do this. At least, could you tweak her title / increase pay / give her a bonus / take most of the slack off her? Do you think that her having to do her work plus some of the work of another seven people might have an impact on her mental health?

  91. Anoni*

    Currently off of work on FMLA. My manager always sings my praises and gives me the highest raise possible at my annual reviews, and yet, when I asked him to decrease my workload (twice) he declined. The only reason I’m out on FMLA is because my workload gave me such anxiety. So, you definitely want to fix the problem with that employee picking up other people’s slack. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a contributing factor as to why she is out.

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