my employee keeps freaking out that lower-paid coworkers aren’t as productive as he is

A reader writes:

I have an employee, Tim, who is a highly focused, highly productive member of the team. He frequently has personality clashes with others on the team that usually, but not always, stem from an imbalance of work. Tim has been our “old reliable” in his role, while many others have come and gone over the last three years. As a result of his stability, high productivity, and professionalism, he has been given multiple pay raises that are higher than others in the same role, as well a “senior” in his title, denoting his experience and rank. He also receives regular shout-outs from varied teams, showering him with praise for his good work. Lastly, he was granted permission to work at home full time, while his counterparts (newer hires) are required to work physically in the office five days a week.

All of this said, Tim routinely gets aggravated because it’s very noticeable that he’s more productive than other members of the team. He claims to be so stressed about his work that it affects his home life.

But the thing is, he’s not working any overtime. He’s not working any more hours than his coworkers. Some work more hours than he does. He works 40 hours a week on the dot, but gets twice as much done as his coworkers. He has never been put under pressure to “get it all done” and we have reiterated to him many times that he is welcome to step away from his work when he needs a break, and allow other, less experienced people on the team to pick up the slack. But he won’t. It’s like he is compelled to do everything he can, as quickly as he can, all day long, and if others can’t keep up, he considers them totally incompetent and worthless. He makes a big stink about it every few months and threatens to quit.

How do I get him to realize that:
a. He is compensated more because he is more productive.
b. His good work earns him more public praise and the “senior” title he holds.
c. If others are held to the same standard, for less pay and less praise and a lesser title, how fair would that be?
d. He is not working any overtime, nor is he pressured to work overtime.
e. He has remote work privileges that his coworkers (at lesser pay rates) do not.

He is not, in any way, getting the short end of the stick … but considers himself to be taken advantage of. How do I tactfully reset his perspective without telling him he’s being spoiled and self-centered?

I wrote back and asked, “When he has these freak-outs, what is he asking for? Or what is your sense of what he wants/what he’s looking for?”

It seems he wants us to push his coworkers to be more productive. I generally will outline my tactics to do so, and then check in with him again a couple weeks later to see if he feels they’ve made a difference.

Sometimes I think he’s feeling for other opportunities within the company, which is okay, but he’s concerned that if he’s too good at his current role and his direct coworkers aren’t carrying their weight, he won’t be able to get promoted or do more project based work as opposed to the transactional stuff he does now.

So … I think you might be making a similar mistake as the manager in yesterday’s letter who asked an employee to act on a complaint that she didn’t actually agree with.

If you don’t agree with Tim that the rest of the team needs to be more productive, it doesn’t make sense to tell him that you’ll push them to do that. If you do agree with him, then you need to be actively managing the others yourself, not waiting for Tim to raise concerns about them. But it sounds like this is just Tim’s opinion and you don’t share it — in which case you need to tell him more clearly, “I am happy with the rest of the team’s work. They are producing at the level I expect from them and for which they’re paid.”

It sounds like time to consider whether Tim has outgrown his role and whether the best thing you can do as his manager is to help him find a higher-level position that he’ll be happier in. That doesn’t mean pushing him out if he doesn’t want to go — but it could mean explicitly naming for him that you think this might be the situation, helping him explore other positions, and helping him get considered for other roles within your organization.

Big caveat: That assumes you can wholeheartedly recommend him for those other roles! If Tim’s colleagues can tell that he considers them “totally incompetent and worthless,” you’d need to really think about how strongly you can recommend him for other jobs, especially ones in your own organization. Alienating his coworkers is a big deal and, depending on the specifics of how that’s played out, might be something that should be a significant worry — both currently and for any future job.

Beyond that, I don’t think you need to try this hard to find a way to convince Tim to see the situation the way you do. You definitely should spell out everything from your letter if you haven’t already — that he’s paid more, gets more public recognition and more perks, and has a higher title because he’s more productive and that he isn’t expected to work any overtime — but you can’t force him to see things the way you want him to. Explain it clearly and calmly and hear him out to make sure there’s not a piece of his perspective that you’re overlooking, but from there it’s not your responsibility to cajole him into seeing things differently.

It is your responsibility to ensure he doesn’t disrupt your team or alienate his colleagues. One big piece of that: when he threatens to quit, you don’t need to soothe him and woo him back. The better move might be to say, “I understand if that’s what you’d like to do. Let me know if that’s what you decide.”

I assume you’ve been hesitant to do that because Tim does great work and you want to keep him. But you’re never going to keep anyone forever — he’s going to leave at some point because everyone does — and things might be at the point that all you can or should do is clearly lay out the situation, offer him help in changing jobs if he wants it, and let him decide how he wants to respond (as long as that response doesn’t involve being disruptive or awful to his coworkers).

{ 423 comments… read them below }

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think the “you may also like” box should have included the “brilliant jerk” letters, because it sounds to me like Tim and the OP may have Brilliant Jerk Syndrome.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        See my comment below. I find it weird you’re calling out “brilliant jerks.” At least there is the brilliant part to work with, no? I’ve managed people who were difficult and had mediocre performance. Especially when the difficult parts aren’t visible to other people. That is so many times more difficult and stressful

        1. KayDeeAye*

          There is a hierarchy in these things. Obviously the worst is “Jerk Who Is Bad At Their Job,” but that doesn’t mean “Jerk Who Is Otherwise Good At Their Job” isn’t very, very trying and exhausting. What we all want, of course, is “Good Person Who Is Also Good At Their Job.”

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            And the horrible to manage “really great person who is bad at their job” – because you KNOW they are trying and you feel bad, but its just a bad fit.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I had a roommate in college like that: A total grind, never doing anything fun because he was always studying, and pulling down Cs. It was really quite sad.

          2. Prospect Gone Bad*

            True, I think their comment stuck out to me because I consistently see certain types getting called out online when there are other prevalent personality types that are harder to manage, that I never see a peep about

            1. pancakes*

              Do you see the same in your day to day life? What you happen to see online is going to hugely depend on where you choose to go.

              1. Prospect Gone Bad*

                No, that’s why it’s notable. I will see a personality type that is 1 in 50 and yet the internet makes it sound like it’s 1/2 of people or something. Hence my comment

                1. Cordelia Sasquatch*

                  This is just a guess, but I imagine that “bad person who is bad at their job” is a scenario that most managers would find fairly straightforward. You put this person on a performance improvement plan or directly address the “bad at their job” component of the equation. You don’t need to write into an advice column or a subreddit about this – there are clearer guidelines for low performance, even if in the grans scheme, this is a “harder personality type” to manage.
                  The “bad person who is good at their job” is a scenario that more folks would be conflicted about, thus reach out to the wider internet world for advice. They’re trying to balance two things, and there are fewer clear business strategies for bad personalities – they don’t always fall under the rubric of a PIP the way that “bad at the job” would.

                2. Tyler Rowe Price*

                  You might just be a little sensitive about this personality type. I haven’t seen this.

            2. TechWorker*

              Maybe there’s also more to discuss about ‘brilliant jerks’? Including some cases where the business call is made to get over the jerkiness because of other value being brought.

              Jerks who are bad at their job just get fired or managed out *shrugs*

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              That is the type getting called out in this particular thread because that is the type that this particular letter is about.

        2. BEC*

          There’s a study that showed brilliant jerks were actually worse, and cost more money in employee turnover and productivity, than mediocre non-jerks.

          Quoting it:
          “Toxic behavior in the workplace can cause loss of productivity, high turnover, high absenteeism, poor employee health, discrimination or harassment lawsuits, and damaged reputation.”

          1. starfox*

            I also think it’s easier to manage mediocre jerks because if they want to quit, okay, go for it! Whereas managers feel like they have to coddle their brilliant jerks to retain them.

          2. Clobberin' Time*

            Can we also please admit that many “brilliant jerks” are not all that brilliant?

            1. ferrina*

              Yuuup. OldJob had several favorites that were labelled Brilliant. One was a total Incompetent Jerk. He was a team lead that had to fully restaff every 18-24 months because everyone would quit. He wouldn’t hit his goals because [other person’s fault]/[newer shinier idea]. He used a ton of jargon to make himself sound incomprehensively smart. One woman on another team had incredible lexicon skills; she would talk to him and translate all his jargon into regular-people-language. Turns out he was just using fancy, jargony words for really basic concepts.

            2. WindmillArms*

              YES. The “brilliant jerk” I sat near at a former office job was an awful person, but he’d been working at that campus of Giant Military Contractor since it was built. People talked like he was the keystone to the whole place, but it was very obvious to those of us who sat in his section that he rarely even turned up.

              I figure he must have either worked hard back in the early days and was coasting on the reputation, or had some dirt on someone.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Thank you. There are different types of intelligence, “people smarts” is required on some level in workplaces. If they do not understand this then their so-called brilliance is very limited. I have to go back to what my first boss said, “We are being compensated, in part, for our willingness to get along with others.”

              This guy definitely should not manage people because his contempt for those “below” him is a detriment to the company. Once this type of anger/hate steps in it is very difficult to get rid of it. Heaven forbid he should end up in charge of the people he has so much animosity for.

            4. TheAG*

              FACT. Previous boss was considered brilliant due to being overly confident, boisterous, and bullying, when in fact something like half the stuff he said was just scientifically dead wrong. But if you disagreed with him, he’d try to talk down to you as if you didn’t understand what he was saying. I finally had to say I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t agree that it’s correct.

          3. ecnaseener*

            Mike Schur (tv creator) has talked about how it’s never worth hiring (or casting) the extremely-talented jerk because their jerkiness stifles all the other talented people you hired.

            1. KatieP*

              This was my first thought on reading the letter. How much of the other team members’ mediocrity is the result of Tim behaving like a jerk? If I had to work on a team with Tim, I don’t think they’d get my best performance.

              1. Rosie*

                Yup I’ve definitely been like whelp Tim thinks he’s the only one who can do it right and it’s not worth dealing with Tim so whatever he can do it

            2. Fran Fine*

              That too. And then the other brilliant people who don’t want to be bothered with the jerk’s behavior will quickly go and find something else, leaving the organization and taking their particular skill set with them, which may or may not be able to be replaced. Companies take a huge gamble keeping problematic employees around, no matter how good they are on paper.

            3. All Monkeys are French*

              It’s funny you should mention Mike Schur. In reading this letter I immediately pictured Billy Eichner’s character from the later seasons of Parks and Rec.

          4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            So true. I wonder how many possibly amazing when fully trained employees Tim has driven off? I know that some people will read the writing on the wall and do what they can to transfer away from Tim at their first opportunity.

            1. Heck, darn, and other salty expressions*

              Especially if it looks like management is coddling Tim. OP needs to do a serious investigation with Tim’s co-workers and find out if he driving people away. I don’t know what kind of work this is, but how is Tim even able to know how productive his co-workers are? Maybe removing his access to that information will help.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                OP chimed in below that it’s a ticket based work system, and the tickets never stop coming in. So it sounds like it’s less Tim can see how much work his coworkers are doing, and more Tim doesn’t like that they never reach the bottom of the workflow. The ticket based nature of things, especially if Tim is anxious about the work never being finished, would make me worry that he’s pushing that anxiety onto coworkers.

                But I absolutely think a low key checkin with the rest of the team with regards to how they are being treated, what they think of workflow distribution, and just culture in general is probably a good idea.

                1. allathian*

                  Yeah. My work is never done, and I like it that way. There’s always something waiting to be done when I’ve completed one task, but some people get anxious if they can never empty their inbox. That said, I’m not sure if Tim’s one of those, because OTOH he never seems to work more than 40 hours per week.

        3. biobotb*

          It seems like Sloanicota mentioned “brilliant jerks” because Tim could definitely be one. Why would they mention mediocre jerks when Tim’s work product is not mediocre?

          1. nobody*

            +1. Talking about mediocre or bad at their job jerks has nothing to do with this question

        4. Warrior Princess Xena*

          So I had the experience of growing up with a ‘brilliant jerk’ as a parent. They were extremely, extremely smart – and also quite socially inept. If you couldn’t keep up with them intellectually, or provide full support for your opinions (especially those opinions that differed from theirs) they’d get angry at your stumbling. And they’re never, ever, willing to admit that they’re wrong.

          They make for bad coworkers and worse managers. You have to have a truly irreplaceable skill before it makes sense to work around them, and then they get called ‘eccentric’. You see it a lot in surgeons and in the C-suite. Musk is a great example. The man has vision in spades and enough backbone to see his projects get done, but I’d rather work as a fast food cashier than as an employee at Tesla or SpaceX.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            “enough backbone to see his projects get done”

            Hmm. The recent Twitter Follies suggests this is not consistently the case.

              1. pancakes*

                He is trying to get out from under the obligations of his 2018 settlement with the SEC and his behavior during this deal predictably resulted in more rather than less scrutiny from them. Baffling to think that’s intentional.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Theory I’ve seen is that Musk never wanted Twitter, he wanted big cash.

              Musk cashed out $8Bn of Tesla stock to pay for Twitter. He has to pay maybe $1B in penalties if he defaults on the Twitter deal. If he’d just sold $8B for no visible reason, Tesla stock would have plummeted. So he pays $1B penalty in order not to lose $100B valuation but still gets the cash.

              Still have to work to remember we’re talking $B for all this, not $M.

          2. Marcia*

            vision and backbone, is that what we’re calling being born to rich parents and then suing to demand you be able to call yourself a company founder these days?

            1. Lydia*

              Rich parents who made their money off of apartheid. Elon Musk is a garbage human and the sooner people stop being dazzled by the fairytale that he innovated his way to the top, the better. He was born at the top and wants to be congratulated for it.

          3. Irish Teacher*

            I had a teacher like this when I was 12/13. I used to feel literally sick before her classes. She’d yell at us that if we made the mistakes we were making in the Junior Cert., we’d fail. The Junior Cert. is taken at 15. Obviously, if your standard of language (she taught a second language) was that of a student two years younger than you, you would fail.

            Another teacher told us once in passing that that teacher had had all As when SHE was at school and I don’t think it occurred to her that not everybody else could necessarily get those grades. She saw any mistakes as laziness and not paying attention rather than considering that maybe some students needed a little extra help.

            She later became principal and literally told us when it was announced about what SHE was going to change once she did, essentially implying to a bunch of teenagers that the outgoing principal was not running the school properly and another time gave us a careers talk, telling us about how somebody had applied for a teaching job in the school on a piece of A4 paper and “I think even YE’D know better than that.”

            Yeah, she may have been brilliant, but I think I would have failed my Junior Cert. if I’d had her for the three years because I was so afraid of making a mistake that I ended up making them. “Am I sure I read that right? She’ll go mad if I didn’t. Maybe I read it wrong and it really means x instead. Maybe I should answer it as if it means x.”

            My mum thought I was exaggerating until she went in to the parent-teacher meeting!

            Sorry to hear you had a parent like that.

            1. Books and Cooks*

              “Your children call me MISTER Tedesco. I think that you should, too.”

              That teacher sounds like a nightmare, wow! I’m glad your mum finally realized you were telling the truth.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                ” And Mr. Tedesco, you can call me Ms. Smith as my tax dollars go to paying salaries here and keeping the doors open.”

          4. Flash Packet*

            I thought that what Musk had (has) is enough money to buy other people’s visions-made-real.

          5. Autumnheart*

            I wouldn’t say Musk has vision either. He certainly doesn’t have the sense to keep his mouth shut when it would benefit him and others. He has money, that’s what he has. Wealth is not a meritocracy.

          6. OrigCassandra*

            Also have a brilliant jerk as a parent. It did not do much for my parents’ marriage. BJ is now an elderly conversation-monopolizer know-it-all. I interact with BJ as little as possible.

            I learned a lot about How To Workplace from BJ… and had to painfully unlearn almost all of it. (BJ did legitimately have classroom charisma that’s been passed down to me.)

            I’m less brilliant but (after a lot of work on myself) also a lot less jerkish, and I’ll take that.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There are higher levels of brilliance, such as guiding a group to understand what we are saying. The intelligence here is patience and the ability to see how people are understanding/misunderstanding what one is saying. On this level also is the ability to see when someone else’s idea is better than our
              own and being able to set aside our “best idea” for an even better idea.

              I had a know-it-all neighbor. I have very funny stories about how his way backfired on him so many times. He never did figure it out.

        5. starfox*

          I think a mediocre jerk would be easier to manage because you don’t have to coddle them to make sure they don’t leave. If a mediocre jerk threatens to quit, well, there’s the door….

        6. pancakes*

          It’s not weird at all. The brilliant part isn’t always going to be worth the annoying jerk parts. In my personal experience it hasn’t ever been, because the people I’ve seen behave this way tend to have a pretty warped sense of brilliance and are in fact entirely replaceable.

          1. Generic Name*

            Yeah, the “brilliant jerks” I’ve known weren’t actually all that brilliant. People were just afraid to question them or look more closely at their work because they would react badly to any of that.

          2. Anon all day*

            Yeah, I think there are “brilliant jerks” out there but it’s extremely rare because they’re, like you said, not actually that brilliant and/or they’re succeeding due to nepotism, other privileges, etc.

            1. ferrina*

              There’s also not a lot of jobs you can do in isolation. Most jobs require teamwork in some form or fashion, even if it’s just making sure that other teams give you the resources that you need

              1. Irish Teacher*

                You’ve made me think of one of Ireland’s historical figures – well, two actually. Parnell was a campaigner for Irish independence back in the 19th century and probably THE most brilliant politician Ireland has ever known. He got fair rent and other rights for Irish tenants (eventually setting in process what would lead to Irish people getting back their land), got his party to a point where it held the balance of power in the British parliament and converted a British party to support Home Rule for Ireland.

                And THEN, it came out he was having an affair with a married woman and the British party were afraid that remaining in partnership with his would damage their reputation, so he was asked to step down. All anybody wanted was a token indication he was sorry. He was telegraphed with a message “resign, marry, return.” But he declared, “if I go, I go forever,” set off on tour of Ireland, denouncing the leader of the British party (who to be fair, had repeatedly stuck his neck on the line for Ireland and had lost power more than once over his support for Irish issues), DEMANDED his party retain him as leader even if it meant losing everything they had fought for over the past twenty years and eventually split the party down the middle, as just over half voted to basically fire him and the remainder stuck by him. The party never fully recovered and eventually receeded into a byword in Irish politics.

                So yeah, brilliant jerks may do a good job for a while, and what he achieved is actually just stunning, but…just as he was on the cusp of getting all he had worked for, he torpedoed it all, by…being a jerk. He is often portrayed in history as a martyr whose great career was destroyed by self-righteous people who judged his personal life, but honestly…he could have weathered that if he just hadn’t been a jerk about it.

                I think you regularly have that danger with brilliant jerks. No matter how brilliant they are, there is always the risk they will storm out in a rage or alienate somebody important or otherwise mess up everything they’ve achieved or just fail to bring it to fruition because they have a great idea, but can’t get those they need on board. (The other brilliant jerk of Irish history had a habit of having great ideas, but if anybody so much as said, “hey, maybe we should adapt x instead” or “I need more convincing that this would actually work,” storming out and bringing the whole thing to an end. He was a member of about four different political parties because he kept disagreeing with the leaders and storming out.)

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I can name a few names of people who did not have a friend anywhere, yet their names are almost household words, they are that well-known.

              I can laugh now. At the time, I was furious. There was a doctor taking care of my father who was so obnoxious that nurses used to hide when they saw him coming down the hallway. It did not take long for them to figure out there were certain rooms he would never, ever go into. They kept a list and informed each other so they could get away from him. That doctor was The Most obnoxious doctor I have ever met.

        7. Irish Teacher*

          Honestly, in a way, I think really difficult people who are bad at their job are easier than really difficult people who are good at their job or really awesome people who are bad at their job. In the first case, you manage them out or at least don’t promote them/give them important projects, etc. I think we don’t see so many discussions about them here because most managers don’t NEED to ask Alison what to do. They know.

          Whereas it’s more difficult if the person is doing a really good job and you want to keep them and feel they deserve recognition for the really awesome job they are doing, but…you are NOT going to promote them in case they bully their reports and honestly, if somebody else were behaving like that, you’d be thinking about firing them, but…does it really make sense to fire your best performer? I think those are the things people need help with. Along with, this employee is a lovely person and all his/her colleagues love him/her but they just can’t do the job and I know I should get rid of them but I’m going to look so much like the bad guy.

          I don’t think it’s that people don’t complain about mediocre jerks, more that they don’t write into advice columns asking what to do, because the answer is likely to be simply “get rid of them” and most managers can probably figure that one out by themselves. Cases like this are trickier.

        8. Dust Bunny*

          These aren’t actually related things, though. You manage them differently but they still need to be managed.

        9. Crumbledore*

          I was all set to argue with you, but when I think about the brilliant jerk I worked with as a peer, the problem was our manager’s refusal to manage her, not that she was more or less difficult to manage. I think managers often do find it more difficult to manage the brilliant jerk because in general, people are more comfortable quantifying and articulating productivity performance issues. When I fired a brilliant jerk years later, it was because I had spelled out the problematic behaviors to her, stated expectations, and documented her (lack of) progress thereafter. It was difficult in the sense that it was emotionally draining and very, very uncomfortable, but the process was actually a lot more straightforward than managing out the mediocre moderate-jerk who kept bringing his performance and behavior up to par and then falling back as soon as I shifted focus away from him.

        10. Unaccountably*

          I’ve managed “difficult and not good at their job” and it is so. much. emotional. labor for everyone who interacts with them. Brilliant jerks are every bit as draining, but in different ways. So are people who are brilliant at something, but it’s sure not the thing you’re paying them to do, which they suck at.

          I don’t think it’s a competition. Difficult people are difficult. Which one is more difficult and taxing for you depends on your work, what kind of management skills you have, and where your interpersonal strengths lie.

      2. MsM*

        Also maybe the letters about the employees who explicitly need to be told that not only is not working yourself past your breaking point not part of the job description, you’re not doing your job properly if that happens on a regular basis and need to make a conscious effort to stop doing it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Bingo. This is great.
          He put himself in this position.
          You are making me think. I think that OP has the option of telling him to slow down his pacing or it will be insubordination. No one is asking him to work at this pace. He has been told he does not have to. Yet he persists and the misery follows. NO. You can’t take on more and more work and use that to justify being mean to people.

          OP, tell him to do less work and quit his complaining. Tell him his is making his own problems. If he does not stop the cycle of taking on too much work then complaining about others there will be a write up for his lack of cooperation.

      3. Cait*

        Some people are just hard workers who believe that every second of every day needs to be productive. And that’s fine! But you cannot expect everyone to live up to the same standard. I firmly believe that people should be paid what their work is worth. If they aren’t being paid to work harder, work faster, take on more tasks, etc. they shouldn’t be expected to live up to those standards. It needs to be made clear to Tim that he is a very hard worker and being paid/rewarded as such, but that he cannot expect his coworkers to meet him at his level. If he can’t wrap his head around the fact that some people are happy to just check the box and be compensated less, he needs to learn to just keep his opinions to himself.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      uh, that’s part of being a a manager? Every personality has their annoying part. I am realizing it’s probably impossible to find a perfect person, so am being more accepting with who I have and who is available. Even if you find someone with a perfectly nice demeanor and personality, they’re still going to have parts that require “emotional labor,” such as getting them out of their comfort zone to change when the company is changing. I think most managers have stories of ridiculous and petty complaints and whining they’ve had to listen to. TBH I’d rather hear from someone about something like this than some of the “soft” complaints I’ve had that are more or less personal gripes, which I can’t do anything about. For me, the hardest person to manage is someone who is completely mediocre and not bad enough to fire, but really hard to get motivated. I’d much rather have a Tim

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Yup. This is why it’s so ironic that in our society, it’s more common for women to be denied opportunities to move into management while men are granted them. After all, thanks to many of the same sexist attitudes, we’re the ones who are usually raised to provide emotional labor all the time.

          1. Prospect Gone Bad*

            Men deal with and go through the “emotional labor” as well? Not sure exactly what you’re trying to say here but I think I know what you’re insinuating, so I will pre-emptively say I disagree.

            1. Gander of Geese*

              Interestingly, “emotional labor” was first a term used to describe customer-service positions, but it has since expanded to talk about the ways women are socialized. This expansion of meaning has made it sort of harder to pin down and explain, but it is often used as a shorthand for the way women feel pressured to act in the world. Semi-related, I recommend reading up on its original meaning, I think it’s an excellent analysis on why customer-facing positions are so exhausting and should be valued more highly (and if you’ve been in a position like that, it’s an interesting read!).

            2. Hrodvitnir*

              Unlikely anyone will see this, but I assume WSS is saying what I often think: emotional labour is overwhelmingly viewed as the purview of women. It’s expected, and invisible unless not done. The emotional labour of service jobs is completely ignored while the work is devalued.

              So it feels really ironic that [good] people management is so obviously emotional labour, yet is so heavily gendered male a lot of the time. I often speculate that that’s why so many managers are absolutely terrible, regardless of gender, because the emotional labour aspect is ignored. Plus, unless THEIR manager is good, it can feel like a lot of work with little to show for it. Reporting systems often actively discourage good people and process management IMO.

            3. Irish Teacher*

              I don’t think WantonSeedStitch is saying men don’t have to deal with emotional labour. I think they are saying that there’s a tendency to deny women management opportunities due to an assumption that women are better at “emotional labour” and men are more detached. It’s not true, of course; men can be good at emotional labour, women can be bad at it. Women can be logical and unemotional, men can be the opposite. But if it WERE true, it would surely be an argument for MORE women in management, not less.

              I agree that it is ironic that there is a sort of implication that “women aren’t suited to management, they are better at emotional labour,” when…management has quite a bit of that. And I know nobody says that openly, but…there ARE apparently people who say they prefer a male boss because they are “less emotional,” “better able to make the ‘hard’ decisions.”

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Right. It’s not like it’s unpaid emotional labor, like service workers who are making minimum wage and are forced to do so with a constant smile deal with. It’s a fundamental element of any people management role, like it’s literally what you’re signing up for.

      2. Critical Rolls*

        Some amount of it is part of being a manager. Clearly Tim is requiring an excessive amount, between the repeated dramatic “talk me down from quitting” scenes to the contempt for his coworkers, which I can’t imagine isn’t poisoning his interactions with them.

      3. Princess D*

        Yes but this is an excessive amount. Tim hasn’t listened to what he’s been told, repeatedly.

      4. Antares*

        I’m of two minds on that. We had an extremely productive guy on our team, but he would do things like corner people at lunch and ask them to rate the female employees. Then all of a sudden the boss had an entire upset team, not just the one person. And then it becomes a he-said/she-said game and nothing ever happened. Thank goodness he’s another company’s problem now.

    3. Toodle*

      And this is why I’m NEVER going to be a manager again. Managing the work is fun. Managing the people … ugggh.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        +100 to that, Toodle! I’d definitely be better at it after having read AAM for several years, but I’m completely happy to never be in that position again. I’ll leave it to the people who have a better sense for other people, and I’ll keep my head happily buried in the numbers.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        This is EXACTLY why I turned down an offer to be an advising examiner this year, basically leading a team of those correcting the state exams. I would have enjoyed taking part in deciding the marking scheme and so on, but…having people phoning and texting at all hours when they ran into difficulties (correcting is done from home, on people’s own schedules and some are working around say caring for their children, so might be correcting late at night after their children are in bed), being responsible for ensuring everybody met their deadlines, having to have difficult conversations with people who were not following the marking scheme and possibly took offence at the idea that their correcting should be challenged…nope, not taking that on.

      3. Unaccountably*

        When I leave my current job I am never going to manage another human being again if there’s any way at all to avoid it. I love managing the work; I hate managing people.

  1. TLC*

    Does Tim’s workload get personally affected in any way if the rest of the team does not keep pace? Does it leave more work for him? Does he have to correct other team member’s mistakes should they occur? Or are the work queues completely siloed and unrelated to each other?

    1. Lynca*

      That’s the one unanswered question I have even if it’s unlikely.

      I’ve been in Tim’s position where I was in constant crisis mode fixing mistakes for co-workers. I could handle people not working at my pace/production level but it was the constant stream of errors (often the same ones over and over!) in the work I needed that got under my skin.

      But the way Tim is handling his stress is terrible and isn’t justified! In my case I was proactive to bring up training and solutions to prevent repeated errors. You also have to learn when to let things go or move on. Tim seems to expect things to change for him rather than finding solutions if there is a legitimate issue.

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        “In my case I was proactive to bring up training and solutions to prevent repeated errors.”

        I think this is the biggest thing I see wrong here. Tim is just complaining, he’s not offering solutions. He could make all kinds of recommendations on how to solve the problem, or even better offer to *help* solve the problem by coaching his junior coworkers. He is in a “senior” role after all. Instead he’s just making OPs life more difficult both by forcing her to deal with his frustration, and forcing her to deal with the demoralization of his coworkers he creates.

        I’m going to make a wild suggestion: next time he does this, assign him to coach his coworkers to help improve their output. To be clear, this needs to be *carefully* monitored, but I think it has the potential to be really helpful. In the best case Tim turns out to be a really good coach, overall productivity improves and Tim gets some empathy for his fellow employees. Plus he’s proven that he might be a good fit for advancement. In the worst case, obviously, he’s a jerk and bully and you nip the whole thing in the bud early on to prevent the situation getting worse. At least now when he complains you have something to lean on when telling him to get over himself.

        Even if he turns out to be a bad coach, there’s some potential benefits here:

        OP can make note of anything he says which might be useful. For instance maybe it turns out that Tim does the gewgaws *before* the doodads, and that makes the final assembly of the whatsit much faster. That’s useful info that OP can take to the rest of the team, even if it was delivered in a jerky condescending tone that she would never use.

        Tim might learn some empathy for his coworkers even if he turns out to be not very helpful from a productivity standpoint. Getting to know them and their personal workflow might allow him to see them as people instead of cogs that aren’t cogging as quickly as he’d like. He may wind up being a bad coach, but still learn to be a better coworker/employee

        Tim might actually find real, easily solvable problems. Hey, it turns out that Gina’s old laptop takes twice as long to process the doodad spreadsheet! No wonder she works so slowly!

        I’d start him with a coworker that I felt could take a little bit of poor behavior on his part without either losing their own shit or being emotionally wrecked. Warn that coworker in advance that this experience could go either way, but that you’ll be monitoring for problems. Then attend the first few sessions. If things go well praise everyone, and you can be a bit more hands off as time goes one. If they go poorly, but in a manageable way, give Tim feedback and try again. If they go *really* poorly, stop the whole exercise , and give Tim feedback that this isn’t working out. Go back to status quo and hopefully be at least learned some humility.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “It seems he wants us to push his coworkers to be more productive. I generally will outline my tactics to do so, and then check in with him again a couple weeks later to see if he feels they’ve made a difference.”

          I think OP is already doing this and it’s not working. Well, people know this guy to be mean spirited, so how effective is he going to be giving them pointers on their own work? I’d also like to see his delivery of the message, is he saying things in a manner where people will absorb it and use it? Or is he just barking at them?

          I would not be surprised if he felt he was doing management’s job coaching these people and his is ticked about that, too. He told OP that they did not work fast and OP told him how to fix it. He was probably looking for OP to fix it.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            If any thing a person like this would slow me down because I’d be rattled and that would interfere with my productivity.

    2. Nanani*

      I’m not sure it matters since Tim doesn’t and is not expected to work overtime. I don’t get the impression Tim is in a supervisory role like LW, he’s just a more productive, more experienced, better paid teapot maker.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        And also, as productive as Tim is, he’s spending at least *part* of his workdays monitoring what his co-workers are doing, somehow. Because how else would he know how busy or productive they are compared to him

        So if he’s feeling overworked and pressed for time, LW should make clear that monitoring other people’s productivity is NOT part of his job duties, so he can take and *should* take that off his plate.

        (unless Tim’s co-workers’ work flow, work quality is creating bottlenecks for him … in which case there are other, non-Tim issues at play which LW should be addressing)

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          And honestly, if his workflow to a degree depends on his coworkers getting things done, he’s not helping the situation by insulting them. Tim, as described here, needs some major improvements in his “soft skills” in order to get promoted out of an individual contributor role.

        2. Mockingjay*

          This. Why is Tim ‘managing’ his coworkers?

          I think the LW made a mistake: “he wants us to push his coworkers to be more productive. I generally will outline my tactics to do so, and then check in with him again a couple weeks later to see if he feels they’ve made a difference.”

          That needs to stop. Unless Tim is designated as a lead who distributes and monitors work assignments, he doesn’t need to know how you manage them. Respectfully, LW, you may have (unintentionally) handed off some of your responsibility, and Tim ran with it.

          There’s a lot of good advice about how to handle Tim here, but I urge you to talk with the rest of the team and find out how things are for them. Tim may be driving them up a tree, but given his ‘star’ status, they may not feel comfortable bringing issues with him to your attention.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I wonder if they are less productive because they are fixing all of HIS mistakes.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          Meh. They could have a dashboard that shows, for example, how many tickets they’ve each closed today, or avg time per close, or whatever. Not saying this is necessarily a ticket-based role, but I can think of plenty of roles where glancing at the thing that shows how productive you are would also show the rest of your team. So it’d be obvious without any extra effort.

      2. TLC*

        He’s been given the title of “Senior” which may have some team lead responsibilities, either implicitly or explicitly, which is why I asked.

        1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

          Yes, this. I don’t manage anyone but I do handle integrating multiple people’s work and defining tasks for others to do, as well as being the general first contact for confused coworkers, and being expected to help with tough work. I don’t know if this is engineering work, but engineering being broken into tasks and not having coworkers see what each other does is the way you get fatal systems design errors, so I even know exactly what other teams do, my coworkers I see their work product daily.

      3. Lacey*

        It could matter a little. For example – I don’t manage anyone, but if people make mistakes on their work, I end up spending part of my day redoing things.

        Do I get paid the same and work the same amount of hours? Sure.
        But that work is MUCH more frustrating and draining than when people do their work correctly.

        On the other hand, it doesn’t sound Tim IS complaining that people are making mistakes. It sounds more like if I were complaining that my counterpart doesn’t finish as many widgets in a day as I do. Something which rarely matters for me and which I would never even think to check.

    3. Vox de Causa*

      Are we 100% sure, since Tim is working from home, that he’s not working extra time that he’s not reporting?

      1. ecnaseener*

        Obviously we’re not 100% sure, but he’s been told not to and told he can take a step back. If he’s secretly taking on extra work after being told not to, and he doesn’t want to, then…he should stop doing it.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I do think it’s worth a quick gut check on whether you’re sending mixed messages though. I’ve been on the receiving end of “no one asked you to work overtime” and then the next day “why isn’t xyz done yet?”

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            This is where I’m landing with a lot of this letter. “You can take a step back” in private, followed by “we need to complete 25 tickets by end of day” in a team meeting.

            1. pancakes*

              Where does the letter indicate that? And why wouldn’t the answer at the team meeting be a simple, straightforward “That isn’t realistic unless you want to authorize overtime”?

              1. ecnaseener*

                Right. The letter actually specifically says he has NOT been put under pressure to get it all done. Can we rule out the possibility LW is wrong or lying about that, or that Tim has lied about not feeling pressured? No, but for goodness’s sake where does it end?

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        He might be, but it sounds like that would be 100% his choice if he’s been told explicitly that he doesn’t need to work overtime and he can let more of his workload fall on the other staff.

    4. My Useless 2 Cents*

      Also, does the way the work is distributed mean that Tim is left with the crappy jobs nobody wants while coworkers take the easy ones.

      Ex. I worked in a department where all jobs were put in a queue and when you finished the one you were working on, you were to grab the next one on the top. I regularly had 1.5-2X the output of my coworkers which was fine. Until I learned that coworkers were cherry picking the easier jobs from the queue instead of taking the next one. So not only was I doing more work, I was doing the harder more complicated jobs. This didn’t sit right with me and it was hard not to start feeling some resentment. After completing a hard complicated job sometimes you just want an easy one to recharge!

      1. Jora Malli*

        I think that’s a really important question for OP to address when they meet with Tim. It’s possible that his coworkers’ work habits impact him more than they realize, and he may be satisfied with OP investigating those circumstances and making some changes.

      2. Fran Fine*

        Also, does the way the work is distributed mean that Tim is left with the crappy jobs nobody wants while coworkers take the easy ones.

        It sounds like it from what the OP says. She mentioned that Tim brought up wanting to be involved/promoted into doing more project-based work rather than the more transactional work he’s doing now, so this may really be the source of his frustration. He said he feels concerned that if he’s too good at his current job and the others don’t get to his level, he won’t get promoted and…at some places, he wouldn’t be wrong. That’s happened to me a couple times in my career, and I’ve had to quit and go to another company to get the promotion I should have gotten at my previous employer, and it’s happening to my mother at her company.

        1. Overeducated*

          This seems like the crux of it to me – but then the issue isn’t how OP manages the others, it’s how OP manages Tim. It sounds like to stay happy in his job, he maybe needs some professional development opportunities to dip his toes into project-based, promotable work, instead of just doing more of the same stuff faster. Clearly, it’s not an issue that he won’t get enough done if he spends a small portion of his time on developmental assignments.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            He has to be able to follow instructions and work along with others first. He hasn’t nailed that part down yet.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      He’s been invited to downshift but won’t do it.

      This sounds like a guy who can’t self-regulate, doesn’t want to learn to self-regulate because it makes him feel superior, but is also stressed and angry as a result and is dealing with it by lashing out at other people.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Argh! I’ve known people like that in my personal/family life. The martyrs who knock themselves out doing stuff no one asked them to do, more and faster, and then complain about all they have to do, how no one appreciates it, etc etc.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I had a friend who did this (well, I’ve known a lot of people who do this, but this one in particular) and I finally asked her one day why she didn’t just . . . stop doing all that? She was horrified. But, seriously, if she felt nobody appreciated it, anyway, why was she still killing herself doing it all?

          Because she wouldn’t have been able to hold it over their heads any more.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            So you have met my mother, I see? Love her to death, but this drives me nuts.

          2. Lacey*

            YES. I’ve worked with a couple people like that. They keep complaining that no one appreciates what they do – but it’s because no one wants them to do it!

    6. Not A Girl Boss*

      I thought this too. I have been Tim, with a job that absolutely thrashed my mental health and left me exhausted and beat down at the end of the day, even when I only worked 8 hours.
      I think that to a really invested, really productive person, their 8 hour day can feel like someone else’s 12 hour day – same mental energy expenditure, shorter duration. Which is in some ways worse, because it’s a sprint and not a marathon.

      What it basically came down to was that I felt an unreasonable level of responsibility to the company. They paid me well and treated me well, and in return I wanted to do prevent alllll the problems for them. Stuff that was my responsibility, but also all the stuff that wasn’t really my responsibility, but I knew my coworkers would let fall on the floor. I spent much of my days preventing things from happening because I knew no one else would.
      Ultimately, I do feel like 99% of my feelings/behaviors were a me problem, although my boss could have helped me out a lot by creating clearer boundaries around my responsibilities so that my scope wasn’t as murky and unwinable.
      But so mply put, I didn’t have healthy boundaries and my coworkers did. I valued being a hero more than I valued my mental health, and my coworkers had the opposite values. Their values weren’t wrong, they just weren’t aligned with mine. And it’s tough when people on the same team have different values.

      Ultimately, I had to make a choice. I had to go work somewhere that everyone shared my workaholic values and I could continue to self-destruct along with the rest of my team…. Or I could do the really, really hard work of changing my values and the habits of thought and behavior that went along with it.
      In my case, I did also change jobs because I needed the mental reset and a slightly different team structure that was less likely to bring out the worst in me.

      1. J*

        I could have written this exact comment. Part of feeling the burden was that I often returned from leave to a backup of work, I didn’t have coverage when I left, and managers higher than my supervisor put a lot of focus on our mission, which I internalized and felt personally responsible for.

        Ultimately 2 things happened for me: I lost my job in the pandemic and I also lost someone very close to me in the pandemic. The first made me realize my loyalty to my job was one-way, they dumped me the minute things got rocky. The second involved someone who dedicated his life to his work, to the point where he was infected on the job and spent his final days trying to give out PPE to his coworkers and he died in the end. Sure people came to his funeral from his employer but he was replaced by the following Wednesday. I had to do the work of changing my values and it’s an ongoing struggle. I still want to obsess over being the best for my employer but like you, finding a structure that doesn’t bring out the worst in me is a good check and balance while I continue to grow and adapt to my updated priorities.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I’m sorry for your loss. I had a similar wake up call, my stepdad worked very hard his whole life, and passed away a few years short of the retirement he was so looking forward to.

          One thing that really helped me was the “drama triangle” – basically I saw all of my relationships in terms of victim/villain/hero. I loved being the hero, but in order to be that everyone I worked with had to be a victim or a villain, and that’s not great. It’s disrespectful to think of full grown qualified adults as incompetent victims, and disagreeing with me does not a villain make. I now try to rephrase those roles as “creator/critic/coach”. Which means it’s my job to coach creators into being able to do things for themselves, and to win over the critics by considering and implementing their feedback.

          1. J*

            Oh I love that reframing. And you’re so right, if I need that hero archetype then I am looking for others to fill those roles. I think as I’m starting to show more kindness to myself I’m also less likely to put people into those boxes. I had a rough encounter with a coworker a couple of weeks ago and then realized all the pressure she was facing and I approached the next check in with more empathy and I saw her doing the same thing and immediately I realized we’d been pitted against each other by external forces when we both had the same goal. I think even a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to find the solution we did and one side just would have conceded and shown resentment later, fulfilling the prophecy of those roles.

      2. KatieP*

        If a system is damaging employees who are just trying to keep it going, maybe it needs to be allowed to fail. Maybe even spectacularly, so that there’s a chance to build something better from the pieces.

        Of course, this all depends on management being willing to hear that their system has a problem.

        1. Migraine Month*

          I worked at a company that had an explicit “no heroes” policy to push back against this. The logic was:

          If you’re the only person who knows process X, better to find out when you go on vacation for a week than when you leave the company. If you’re putting in serious overtime to get a project done faster, you’re screwing up timeline estimates for future projects. In general, it’s better to miss deadlines than to lose employees to burnout.

    7. SoloKid*

      I agree this is probably a large part of it, but Tim needs to give examples.

      Instead of “they are inefficient!” it would be better to say “the widget form was not correct so the system errored out. I fixed it because it is quicker than me asking and waiting for them to do it.” Maybe OP would prefer Tim to let the juniors fix the mistake, which might reduce throughput.

      Lots of maybes…but Alison is mostly right that if OP doesn’t agree with Tim’s assessment, they probably shouldn’t make action items without concrete evidence.

    8. OP*

      Hi. OP here. Work is handled like a ticket system – all team-members go in and grab a few tasks, work them to completion, and come back for more. There is enough coming in that there’s new work coming in each hour, and the queue is never empty.

      Tim does not have to correct other team-members work. There is a supervisor in place for that.

      Cherry picking has taken place in the past, but when it’s seen it’s addressed and training refreshers are provided so there’s no excuses for it to happen again. Naturally, with turnover, this is a never-ending battle.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Is it possible that Tim has a bit of “Clean Plate Syndrome” when it comes to work? In this case the fact that there is always something in the queue that needs to be worked is what the problem is, not his coworkers productivity?

        1. OP*

          I do think that’s a factor here. I don’t know how to help coach him on something like that. The nature of the work is such that there is never going to be a “clean plate.”

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            I think sometimes it’s about adding a project they can win at, not necessarily removing the unclean plate. I think it’s really normal for employees to get burned out when their work is 100% transactional – they can feel like a mouse on a wheel.
            Can you give him a project to focus on for 4-8 hours a week that is more strategic and feels more like a needle-moving accomplishment? With so much experience, he must have some ideas he’s dying to implement – improvements to the ticket system, training manuals for new hires, or fixing something that’s causing the tickets in the first place.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Let me add: an FAQ section to the ticket entering system to maybe help prevent some really simple tickets?

              I don’t know if there’s a different way to split up tickets to distribute them though…if the never reaching the bottom is stressing him out, maybe if he can’t see the fact there is no bottom would help?

            2. Observer*

              Can you give him a project to focus on for 4-8 hours a week that is more strategic and feels more like a needle-moving accomplishment?

              The OP is going to need to be very care with that, though. Based on what they are describing, if they do that they need to find something that does not involve other people. Because what he is doing and saying at this point is unacceptable, and will cause (even more) problems for the people he needs to work with.

          2. Observer*

            I don’t know how to help coach him on something like that. The nature of the work is such that there is never going to be a “clean plate.”

            I don’t think you can coach him on this. What you may be able to do is to be really really clear about the nature of the work. And point out to him that not only is this the way things are, this is not a reflection on anyone – not on him and not on his coworkers. Nor is it an indication of any underlying problems.

            It’s like most kinds of housework – you cook meals and then you have to do it again the next day. You wash laundry, take out the trash, wash dishes, etc. Then you have to do it again, sometimes multiple times a day. That is just the nature of the work. Sometime just naming and acknowledging that can be helpful.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Clean plates don’t exist: Tell him that. Say it point blank, there will always be more work in the que.

            THEN, tell him that you are not worried about the que being empty that is not something that is on your radar. Then tell him what is on your radar such as cherry picking or long delays or attitudes such as his.

            Reiterate that it is NOT up to him to randomly decide that the que needs to be empty every day or every hour or whatever random goal he has created in his mind. He needs to stick to company requirements and not create his own.

            Move on to tell him that the fact that his attitude and behavior IS of concern to you and if he cannot make peace with the idea that tickets will be waiting then maybe this is not the right job for him.

            My husband repaired office equipment. The amount of people having problems with their machines is staggering. Here’s how large a number it is- we had food on our table for 30 YEARS because of all the broken machines out there. My husband was never out of work. Ever. And that’s where I went to. My husband complained about the hamster wheel for a while. I kept pointing out, “Yes, and we get to eat, day in, day out year round because machines break.”

    9. Sharon*

      If Tim isn’t the manager of these other people, he doesn’t need to worry about them. Sometimes it is enlightening to point out that most workplaces pay employees to achieve a “good enough” standard not a “perfect” or “exceptional” standard, because usually the benefit of getting that last 5% perfect doesn’t justify the cost.

      Your discussions with Tim should focus on his workload, his compensation, and problems that affect his work. He should have clear goals and know whether he is meeting them. If he’s producing 150% of goal and that’s stressing him out, have a discussion about how some of that can be taken off his plate. If he’s redoing other people’s work, clarify whether or not that is his responsibility and how he should escalate problems.

  2. Sloanicota*

    Hmm, I wonder if Tim’s questionable “soft skills” make him a good fit for any more senior roles, and if OP has been explicit with him about this. He is hard to manage, rude, and arrogant, so I don’t know how far he could get beyond a strong individual contributor, if his goal is to advance. To be fair, if OP explains that she finds Tim to be a pain in the neck and wouldn’t put in a good word to get Tim promoted, he may rightfully decide he should leave this job and find somewhere else he thinks he can advance. But the current situation does not sound sustainable.

    1. Observer*

      Hmm, I wonder if Tim’s questionable “soft skills” make him a good fit for any more senior roles, and if OP has been explicit with him about this.

      Yes. This is a key point.

      OP, you need to be clear about two things. One – being good at his current position is not going to block him from promotions. Two- higher level work requires higher level behavior. Meltdowns, casting others as “incompetent and worthless” etc. are not acceptable behaviors and WILL block him from higher level work. Not only is he being a jerk, he’s also showing lack of judgement and discernment.

    2. Miss Muffet*

      So much Yes to this — especially if higher-level roles would include people management. This type of behavior is completely unsuited to that. I also once had an employee who was steller in their role, but the way they interacted with the team made it clear they wouldn’t get promoted into leadership roles, and it was hard having to deliver that message when they clearly thought they were just so amazing.

    3. This is Artemesia*

      He reminds me of an employee I had who was always aggrieved about how hard he worked and how much more important he was than everyone else. He had very clear social skills issues and was the last person you would want managing anyone else. There are lots of people who can be productive in particular niches but would be disastrous in management.

      I think the OP needs to be frank with this guy letting him know that he is comparatively well compensated precisely because they value his excellent work; he is doing excellent work and is being acknowledged for it, has been promoted to ‘senior’ because of it and has received raises because of it. The OP needs to spell out that she doesn’t expect overtime and that she knows what good work he does and he is well compensated for it.

      When he whines to her again, she needs to ask him if he is being asked to do overtime? If not, what exactly is the problem? He is getting paid for his good work.

      People like this do not do subtle nor hints or subtext; they need to be told. And for this guy he needs to be told that he is excellent at X but also being rewarded for that compared to his co-workers. That you consider this fair.

    4. My Useless 2 Cents*

      But does Tim even want to be promoted to management? If Tim is feeling stressed out and overworked where he is, he may not wish to advance. Promotion was just OP’s speculation on why he was behaving that way. I think OP needs to speak with Tim about where he sees himself going in the company. Then if Tim does want to move into management she can look into leadership seminars or some such that focus on developing soft skills.

      1. Fran Fine*

        But does Tim even want to be promoted to management? If Tim is feeling stressed out and overworked where he is, he may not wish to advance. Promotion was just OP’s speculation on why he was behaving that way.

        OP said Tim expressed an interest in being promoted to handle project-based work instead of transactional work. Management of people wasn’t mentioned in this letter.

    5. Smithy*

      I also have to wonder if this is a forest for the trees situation.

      There are aspects of my job where aiming for the A+ is of value, and putting in B+ work instead of A+ work is fine but an area for improvement. And then there are areas of my job where evaluation is more akin to pass/fail and putting in an A+ effort is great but ultimately has similar results to someone putting in C- minus effort. While that A+ effort is seen and recognized, in a larger business functioning sense it’s not needed across the board and isn’t truly a key business function.

      While this fits under the larger soft skills conversation, when I’ve seen this happen the biggest impact is that it clouds someone’s judgement in how to seek advancement or next steps from a job that they’ve outgrown. Someone may think the next job they should be chasing is a vertical promotion, but because their top skills are actually in an area somewhat less valued in their current area – making a lateral switch would be better.

      Part of my job requires submitting reports. Overall, this is more of a pass/fail task where things like basic grammar, following requirements, and being submitted on time are more important than beautiful images, excellent writing and professional graphics. Someone submitting a B- report on time, 99 times out of 100 is more important to me than an A+ report submitted a week late. If, however, that is your strength and what you care about – let’s chat about a better professional fit.

      1. OP*

        OP here – I very much like this analogy and will use this in my future conversations with this employee. Thank you for the suggestion.

        1. Smithy*

          Happy this helps!

          I’ve seen this a lot with mid-junior staff who’ve become very good at part of a job that isn’t necessarily the most strategic or high level aspect of our overall department or industry. And because they’ve maxed out on their current title/job and also reached a level of expertise and readiness to move onto something else, it comes out as anger and frustration as opposed to more focused energy on what the next steps might look like.

          To stick with reports and communications assets – they’re part of my sector, but they fit into a larger puzzle. So, you’ll see a meeting go very well with a PowerPoint that looked like someone made it in thirty minutes after learning how to use Microsoft Office a week ago. In the debrief, we may mention “for a C-Suite meeting, let’s make sure we have time for a more professional PowerPoint or choose not to use one” – but that’s not the same as saying it was trash and a mistake to use it.

          Someone who’s getting angry/frustrated by the simplistic/childish and ugly PowerPoints being created by their colleagues for external meetings is missing how that external meeting is evaluated overall. And they’re also missing which departments/employers might value their strengths and A+ efforts most.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, he sounds like the “I get angry when my coworkers make mistakes” person from a couple of years ago.

    7. stefanielaine*

      I envy whatever industry you work in where being “hard to manage, rude, and arrogant” makes a man unfit for a leadership position :)

  3. Kevin*

    I have to wonder if the manager may be saying one thing to you, and saying another thing to Tim, when it comes to expectations and productivity.

    I also wonder how much more Tim is getting paid, considering he “gets twice as much done as his coworkers.”

    1. Ames*

      They have clearly stated to him he does not need to do that much work. If someone does that anyway, that is their business. He was repeatedly given a pay rise, a senior title and permanent work from home privileges. He still wants to dictate what colleagues do and that is not on as it is not their manager.

      Many years ago a colleague kept hassling me about something and they were not my manager. I told them that. I said ‘I’ve addressed this issue, but if you are not happy you can talk to MY MANGER’. That clearly stated ‘duck off, you are not my manager so leave me alone’.

      That was a fact and he left me alone after that.

    2. Nanani*

      Depends on how they measure productivity, but this is a key reason why “pay by the hour” or fixed salaries aren’t always the best idea.

      In my work, now that I’m freelance, I charge by the size of the project. My personal improvements, whether it’s from getting to know a particular client’s needs better or just accumulating experience, mean I can make more money per unit time since the projects take less of my time and I could do more of them.
      When I worked in house and was paid a flat salary, then that wasn’t the case and my getting better at my job didn’t improve my income unless/until I got a raise – and you can guess how often that happened from the fact that I’m freelance now.

      So in Tim’s case, if this is a job with a similar structure, he may be frustrated at hitting an effective ceiling on how much is personal productivity can affect his pay/status/etc.
      LW says he’s well compensated, but Tim may still outgrow the role and be unhappy with what an in-house environment can provide.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        From how Tim is bringing this up, it seems less an “It’s not fair, I do so much more than everyone I should be valued more! (in perks, recognition, compensation)” thing and more a “It’s not fair, I do so much more than everyone … they should have to do more just like me! How come you’re letting them get away with slacking?!” situation. It seems less of a case that he thinks he should get … something? from LW and more of a case of him trying to police what everyone else is doing.

        He’s like employees who work in customer facing roles who complain about back office folks having a more lenient dress code, or someone whose work schedule is M-F 9-5 getting in a snit about a co-worker who leaves at 3:45 … which is their normal end time because they only work (and get paid for) a 32-hour work week. Folks like that make me feel like I’m back in grade school, wishing that Mrs Lancaster would walk by, rap on their desk with a rule and say “eyes on your own work Dennis”

        1. Kayem*

          I have one of those in my office. Complains endlessly that a coworker leaves at 4 and since we’re remote, she “can’t” have any sort of excuse about needing to catch a bus. She’s one time zone ahead of us, of course she’s leaving ahead of us. Same kind of mentality like former coworkers who complained that I never got in trouble for coming in late every day, when I was scheduled to come in late so I could stay late and lock up. This kind of thing has nothing to do with reality, only a skewed perception of productivity and morality.

        2. Unaccountably*

          That’s a good point. Some people are much less concerned about the perks they’re getting than they are with the idea that someone might be getting away with something or getting more than they “deserve.” If Tim is one of them, no amount of pointing out how well compensated he is will ever make him less angry about other people he thinks are doing an immorally small amount of work and being rewarded with a paycheck anyway.

    3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I mean sure, both of those things are something to consider, but we only have the information in the letter to go on. She says she doesn’t push him to do more, so we have to go with that. A more pertinent might be, “Does Tim feel like he’s being pushed to do more, even though you don’t actually expect that?” Because that’s something OP could possibly do something about. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case, but it’s at least worth looking at.

      As for pay, I highly doubt Tim makes twice what his coworkers do, but would you really expect that? Unless you’re doing piece work, it’d be pretty unusual. And I think very few people would prefer to be doing piece work. Sure if the pay differential is very small, he might have a case to ask for more money, but if it’s anything over about 20% that seems like it would accurately reflect the difference in seniority. Since Tim has gotten “multiple pay raises,” that seems likely.

      Regardless of any of the above though, Tim is going about this the wrong way. If he feels pressured to do more than his peers, or if he feels like his compensation doesn’t reflect how *much* more he does than his peers, he should advocate for himself on those things. He clearly doesn’t have a problem speaking his mind. If he said “I do a lot around here you should pay me better” or “I do so much around here and I still feel like you want more”. That would be reasonable. That’s not what he’s doing though. He’s turning it around and saying “Why aren’t you forcing everyone to do as much as I do naturally”.

      Worse he’s making his distain for other people’s contributions well known. So he’s making LW’s life harder in two distinct ways. He’s burdening her with his displeasure and frustration that everyone isn’t him, and he’s demoralizing his coworkers by letting them know he considers them worthless and weak. He’s also doing all of this without offering any solutions or help.

      He could earn that “senior” in his title by offering to coach his teammates. Sure his individual productivity might suffer a little, but if he could increase everyone’s efficiency by 25% while decreasing his own by 25%, that’s a net gain. Plus it would highlight his soft skills and mangement potential, rather than making him look like a jerk no one wants to work with.

      1. Migraine Month*

        Ugh, that reminds me of being on a team with someone who was an awesome teammate. She acted as a lubricant for the entire department, since she did so much mentoring, teaching and collaborative work.

        The grand-manager looked at her personal productivity numbers and decided to let her go, and the manager didn’t push back strongly enough. Immediately after she was let go, everyone else’s work dropped in quality and quantity.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          “Glue work” is a phrase not-uncommonly used in engineering and computing circles for this. There’s been organizational-behavior research that completely supports the view that refusing to value glue work and the people who do it is a Really Really Bad Idea but a lot of places do anyway and suffer for it.

          1. 1LFTW*

            That’s fascinating! I’ve often thought of certain people as being “glue people”, as in, the ones who are the “glue” that holds human communities/workplaces/civilizations together. I’m glad to know that the work they do is being identified, studied, and (sometimes, at least) valued… because I know I’m not one of them.

  4. EPLawyer*

    The only caveat I have to Alison’s advice is — are you dumping more work on Tim because he CAN get more done? Like does he have 18 projects to everyone else’s 9? Even if he is not working overtime he might feel overwhelmed.

    But other than that, Tim cannot manage other people’s productivity. It’s not his job to do so.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      I have 100% been the person who has everything dumped on them because I’m “so reliable.” I’ve mentioned it to my current manager and she admits it happens because it’s sometimes just easier to give things to someone that you know will get the work done instead of making an effort to make things are evenly matched. I know some people see it as more responsibility but sometimes its really not. Having 10 entry level data entry projects doesn’t give someone more responsibility, just more busy work.

      That being said, it sounds like that might not be the case here since the LW says there isn’t pressure for Tim to take on more work. But without knowing the dynamics of how work is divided in this office, it’s something to consider.

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        She means it’s “sometimes just easier” for her to dump work on you than to do her actual job, which is managing her team so that others do their work too.

    2. lost academic*

      That would be hard to sort out from the fact that he is not on the same level and wouldn’t have the same expectations as the other staff in the first place per the letter. This guy performs better, he is compensated accordingly – that’s what you want to see!

      But he could still easily FEEL overwhelmed because their productivity/efficiency/quality could impact him either materially or just mentally. I see some obvious situations and responses: if they’re adding to his job (I’m specifically not saying making his job harder) then it either is or isn’t part of his role to handle that. If it’s really not, then you DO address it with them. If it IS, you need to coach him on how to handle it. If they’re not actually impacting him but the existence of the difference in work is that grating, it’s a him-problem. Different kind of coaching. Different kind of team management.

      I have junior staff who work on projects with and alongside me who are slower and less efficient. They are JUNIOR staff. I have a higher role, I am compensated more, I have different expectations, and I understand how they should be performing according to their roles and coach them accordingly.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      But even if he does have more work, he also has a different title and different pay, so he’s getting compensated for it, and he gets to work from home. This isn’t like a situation with two employees with the same perks and pay and one is forced to pick up the slack of the other. He may feel overwhelmed, but it’s on him to specify if that’s the case, not to complain about the productivity of other works who make less and don’t have his perks. It doesn’t sound like he thinks he has too much to do, just that others aren’t doing as much as he is.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, most of the time when a letter like this comes in it does sound like things are pretty unfair for the complaining employee.

        But this particular case really sounds pretty clear-cut. No overtime, higher pay, significant perk allowed solely due to his track record of productivity. That all sounds pretty fair to me.

        Honestly I’d leave out the praise bit but otherwise just lay those things out very clearly. “I know you are by far the most productive member of our team and I believe that is reflected in your title and salary and the fact that you are able to work from home. If you have a problem with your workload please let me know, but the rest of the staff is operating at a level I expect from them and their productivity is not your concern.”

        (I do believe that praise at work is important, but I would not include it on the list of objective reasons that he needs to get over the productivity disparity.)

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      That’s what it sounds like. He wants less work. Even if he’s more productive and doesn’t work overtime (I hope he’s just not reporting it) he wants to be able to take breaks, eat lunch, take a day off, maybe just spend less time being rushed. It sounds like so much is expected of him, he’s burning out. More money and a title don’t make someone a robot. The OP is comparing his compensation and workload to his coworkers, but what about comparing it to the industry or other departments in the org. What if the workload is unreasonable even for the extra money and title?

      1. AD*

        The letter writer explicitly mentions that Tim rushes to step in to complete projects that would otherwise be assigned or worked on by more junior staff. How does “he wants less work” square with that?

        It doesn’t sound like this is a “Tim is overworked and overwhelmed” situation, and more like “Tim is more productive, and consequently paid more than his colleagues, and he is complaining for the sake of it”, from what it appears to me.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        It could also be that Tim is feeling like the entire department workload is on him so even though OP says he is not pressured to take on more work, Tim still feels like it is implied when the rest of the team doesn’t step up to take a greater portion of the work. So for instance, he feels like he can’t take a vacation because then work backs up and the entire department gets yelled at. The increased pay and title would actually add to the stress Tim feels, not make up for the additional work output he does.

      3. OP*

        Hi. OP here. He does take breaks, lunches, and days off. In fact, because he’s been around for a few years, he takes days off when the more junior people are not able to because they haven’t been with the company long enough.

        In all honesty, compared to other departments and teams in the organization, his workload and hours are a dream. Most other teams are overworked and work lots of overtime.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Have you brought this point up to him during his rant sessions with you? Maybe he’s unaware of this?

        2. Observer*

          While I wouldn’t focus on this, I agree that it’s worth mentioning this to him.

          And then you might want to point out to him that “we’re happy to do this for you because you are really good at what you do. But that doesn’t mean we’re ok with you putting down your coworkers etc.”

        3. Salt*

          Late to the discussion: but really it all sounds like Tim has outgrown his position. He probably thinks he’s happy with the pay raises and other perks but if he’s a driven person he needs some form of growth. Driven people won’t be happy to trade away their drive or growth. Not long term. I’m speaking from personal experience. When I was dissatisfied about my former role in the org. I’d focus on the time off/ ease of knowing what I did/ praise from management as perks and then frustration about what management could do better/ what the new comers were failing to do/ how it could all be done better as negatives. I deluded myself I was happy but somehow this ‘cushy’ job drained and stressed me. It wasn’t until I left and grew in a managerial role and was pushed hard with learning a more demanding job that I realized all that free time/vacation/ pay…. stressed me out and made me unhappy because in the end I spent most of my waking hours in a job I had very much outgrown and deep down I felt like I was wasting away.

  5. Ames*

    Tell Tim it is time to choose.

    1 )He can do less work (which you have repeatedly pointed out to him). If he has a personality issue that makes it difficult for him direct him to help.
    2) If he chooses A he needs to give up his pay rise, senior title and working from home. That is a heck of a lot and now Tim is being an obnoxious jerk.
    3) He is not a manager and does not get to force anyone to make a team work like him when it is deemed they are productive enough for the job.

    Sit him down and clearly explain his colleagues’ output has duck all to do with him. If he doesn’t like it then it is time for another job. The fact you’ve let Tim dictate to the point that you are going to tell the team off for being great at their job shows a serious lack of professionalism on your part. Once you’ve dealt with Tim I would seriously consider whether you are the right person to manage.

    1. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      That’s really harsh and a huge leap. This is literally an advice column for people to ask for help managing.

      1. Ames*

        The manager discussed employees’ performance with Tim more than once. That is an awful thing to do to all other employees (and it is not allowed. As in against the rules). It is enough to warrant a major complaint and a PIP. If you are a regular reader of AAM you will have noticed Allison telling OPs that they cannot discuss an employee’s performance with other colleagues. Even if someone does something serious Allison clearly states that it is an issue that how it is being dealt with by HR and management and cannot be shared with other employees.

        To be fair, If I was being harsh I would have said he should be fired.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whoa, no, this is an extreme overreaction! Tim is raising concerns about more junior colleagues’ work habits impacting his own. The OP isn’t sharing details of someone else’s PIP with him, she’s talking about concerns he’s raising about the team’s workflow. There’s nothing here to indicate she’s overstepped.

          1. Ames*

            But the OP says in his own words:

            ‘He frequently has personality clashes with others on the team that usually, but not always, stem from an imbalance of work.’

            That indicates he is harassing the team. Otherwise, the OP would say ‘he comes to me with his concerns but doesn’t talk to colleagues about it’. The OP says the team are fine at their job so why is he even discussing colleagues with him?

            I don’t know why it is an overreaction. My main recommendation is that the manager should have training. It is highly unlikely Tim is not having a go at colleagues.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But that’s a different point entirely. Saying that a manager can never talk about someone’s concerns about other team members is just not accurate (and you’d been attributing that to me above so I wanted to clear it up).

          2. Ames*

            I wasn’t saying a team member being on PIP. I was saying if the manager did all these things and it is extreme then the manager should be on PIP.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Alison’s point is that nothing the manager did would warrant them being on a PIP.

        2. Lab Boss*

          I’m not sure why you think it’s “not allowed” to discuss one employee with another? There are certainly some things that are confidential, it’s not some universal rule. Tim came to OP with concerns about his coworkers. That means OP has to either explain to Tim that the coworkers are performing just fine, or acknowledge his concerns. Either of those things is going to involve some level of “discussing their performance.” The alternative is either never letting an employee come to you with issues (bad idea), or letting them come to you with issues and then sending them away without giving them feedback about the issue they just brought (also a bad idea).

          1. Ames*

            When someone has been with you for over 3 years and they

            ‘Make a big stink about it every few months and threaten to quit’ it says it all.

            That means he has caused a big issue about 12 times if I am being generous.

            1. Lab Boss*

              That’s not responsive to my comment about discussing one employee with another. You have been very insistent over multiple replies that the OP somehow “broke the rules” in her discussions with Tim about his coworkers, but when commenters pointed out that there’s no such rule you’ve suddenly pivoted to emphasizing how terrible Tim’s behavior is (including the assumption that a “personality clash” means that Tim is unilaterally harassing his coworkers).

              There’s a lot of agressive conclusory statements here about how Tim is bad and OP is worse for not smacking him down, but it doesn’t hold up.

      2. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I so agree. I’ve disagrees with so many of the “harsh” and “unkind” comments here but boy, this one is indeed “harsh” and also unrealistic. I feel like some people have clearly never managed. People complain about this stuff sometimes. People complain about more petty stuff. One fact is that Tim is stressed and doing 2X his coworkers, so that is not to be taken lightly. He may have fodder for a grievance. As long as it’s not all he talks about, it’s really not so egregious.

    2. AnotherLadyGrey*

      Yikes, what? This is an extreme reaction to a pretty normal type of management issue. The LW is not showing “a serious lack of professionalism” and they definitely shouldn’t be considering whether they are “the right person” to manage their team. They are looking for coaching and advice for this situation; that’s why they wrote to Alison.

      We are asked not to be unkind to LWs here – I think your comment is very unkind.

        1. Observer*

          And see the responses to that.

          You’ve made some good points, but then you went off the deep end. And your response above is even worse. To some extent you are doing something very similar to Tim. He’s going from “not as productive as I am” to “worthless incompetent” and you are going from “Not great management” to “Not fit to manage, and breaking (non existent) rules.”

    3. Migraine Month*

      That seems like a stretch to me. LW never says that they told anyone else off; for that matter, they don’t say the rest of the team are great at their jobs. Finding ways to make other team members more productive is absolutely within a manager’s scope and something they should be doing even without Tim’s complaints, as long as they aren’t framing it as performance problems if the current performance is acceptable.

      I think that the LW made a mistake in treating Tim’s complaints as automatically valid and doing too much emotional labor for him, but that’s a common pattern for managers who are trying to hold onto a productive but disgruntled employee.

          1. Prospect Gone Bad*

            Now I agree with you. Where is this rule book I missed? People say all sorts of nonsense. Sometimes part of managing is filtering through it and only calling out stuff that is hypocritical or comes up too often

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          No, she said she gave a general outline of what her tactics would be. That might be, “I’ll bring it up in tomorrow’s standup, offer a small incentive to whoever increases their productivity the most, and check in with Mary about that specific thing you mentioned.”

          Nothing much about other employees, and certainly nothing out of line.

        2. Observer*

          “Not allowed” according to what rules?

          One characteristics of good management is not making stuff up. You can’t hold people to non-existent rules.

        3. Migraine Month*

          Maybe it’s time to step away from this? You think the manager shouldn’t have talked with Tim about coworkers’ performance and are worried Tim is being rude and hostile to coworkers. We all generally agree that those are valid concerns, we just don’t think they’re cardinal sins of management.

          (You may be responding to what feels like a pile-on, but that’s actually just due to how popular this site is; the two previous commenters and I wrote our comments simultaneously but independently. Similarly, you don’t have to comment on every comment; I think most people read the first few branches in a comment tree, so that’s not necessary.)

        4. Unaccountably*

          You know, it’s never fun to realize that the reason other people aren’t playing by the rules is that you made up the rules in the privacy of your own head, and no one else knows about them. Regardless, having that realization is better than living your life angry because people do things you’re convinced are “not allowed,” full stop, no gradients or nuance or context necessary.

          It sounds like you and Tim are an awful lot alike in not having had that realization yet.

    4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Nope – The pay raises were earned for past performance, as were the perks. Tim is under no obligation to give them up; his only obligation is to continue to meet the defined expectations of someone in that role, and that pay bracket. Key to this statement is that those expectations should be defined for the ROLE, not the PERSON – if Tim is the only Senior Llama Hair-counter on staff, the company should still have defined what they consider an expected level of performance, IRRESPECTIVE of Tim’s current or past performance – otherwise they place Tim in the impossible situation of having to constantly beat his own records, which inevitably results in burnout and

      I question whether the OP has ever been clear about what the expectations of these roles are, both to Tim and to themselves/the company/the team – “Meeting expectations for a senior specialist in this role means being able to handle 14 cases a week. Exceeding expectations is handling 18. Tim routinely handles 22, which is wonderful and great for the company, and which we’ve rewarded him for For a (junior/regular) specialist in this role, we consider meets expectations to be 10 cases a week, and exceeding to be 16. Most/all of your are meeting our expectations for their role, but promotions and raises are only available for those who consistently exceed expectations.” Of course, if they do this, they need to think about what actually is available for someone at Tim’s level, who is consistently exceeding expectations at the (presumably) highest level that is sensible for that role.

      The downside about doing this is that Tim may decide to reduce his work to only doing 18 cases a week – but if he does that, the company has frankly no ethical way to request he give up the rewards he has earned, nor the perks they’ve offered, as he is still exceeding their expectations. This is especially likely to happen if there are no more rewards available for Tim – no promotion track, a cap to what the company thinks is reasonable to pay any individual contributor in this role, etc. – but that’s actually alright, because eventually the company will need to replace Tim (due to infirmity or departure or something else), and they shouldn’t be holding whoever his replacement is to the standards of “not as good as Tim”; they should be holding that replacement to the standards of “our reasonable expectations for this role.”

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Bonuses are for past performance, ongoing salary is definitely part of expected continuation of performance.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          (Not that I agree OP should tell him he can work less for less salary. It sounds like OP has already told him he can just work less and he is choosing not to do so.)

  6. Heidi*

    Since he says that he’s stressed out about the amount of work he has to do, is there any way that the OP can just empirically reassign some of his work? The OP says that they’ve told Tim he can step away as needed, but perhaps the separation needs to be more formalized so that he doesn’t have it hanging over him (i.e. “Tim is no longer involved at all in X, Y, and Z.”)

    1. Ferris*

      I came here to say something similar — I think there’s probably a solution available by re-configuring the team. Make a role where he is *not* part of the team, and has no visibility into what they are doing (and how much), and he doesn’t even need to attend meetings with them.
      You control the work assigned to him — so you can do that on a daily basis or whatever, so that he doesn’t feel like he has more to do (i.e., don’t give him a large todo list). That way, if he finishes a day after 6 hours, then he will realize he can slow down or take breaks, or, it just sounds like he has an anxiety thing so he will realize he *can* get done by the end of the day and be okay with it.
      Obviously you may not be able to do exactly this based on the work situation, but there is probably some version of this that is doable.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        But that seems like a lot of missing stair work, everyone works to avoid the stair, putting up signs, reminding people about the missing stair etc… instead of just fixing the stair in this case Tim (employee name might be wrong) is the one that needs to work on himself to be better and not care what others are doing.

        Sure OP and other employees can do all this work to keep Tim unaware but that puts the burden on them rather than Tim.

        1. Unaccountably*

          I think you have that analogy backward. The whole missing-stair issue is really centered around whether you have a functional staircase. In this case, I’d argue that the stair isn’t Tim needing to work on himself; just like in the original context, fixing the stair means not subjecting other people to Tim’s behavior and judgment whether he chooses to work on himself or not. Fixing the stair in the analogy means fixing the negative impact the person is having on other people – not fixing the person. Sometimes you do that by supporting the person in managing interpersonal relationships; sometimes you do it by telling the person they aren’t allowed to be in your friend group/work on your team anymore.

          The burden of removing Tim from a position where he can monitor his co-worker’s performance only has to be performed once. The burden of trying to remediate Tim’s thoughts, emotions, and “better”ness is neverending.

    2. Santiago*

      I had the *same* thought. Even if they are working through caseloads – say, once you hit X caseloads you are just on call. If he finishes an hour earlier and 1.5-1.75 times the work, then he finishes an hour earlier. Now he has a concrete stopping point. (Obviously the details must be sorted, given the situation.)

    3. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Such a good point. It’s always interesting to see where the comments go, and I see many have latched onto the “Brilliant Jerk” narrative. But the unequal distribution of work is also a fact and the stress is also real, and they are legitimate problems and should be discussed. Also it’s fine if some of his work gets reassigned and he keeps high pay because of his general expertise.

      People here are really dismissing the stress of always having loads of pending projects and requests and feeling like nothing is complete and you’re disappointing people despite working hard

      1. Fran Fine*

        Also it’s fine if some of his work gets reassigned and he keeps high pay because of his general expertise.

        This I agree with. There’s no reason to cut his pay even if he gets less work because he’s presumably being paid more money not just due to the volume of work he completes, but the quality of it as well. If his quality and general output doesn’t change, then that’s needlessly punitive.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think you are over-relating.

        This is a ticket system and he is the one assigning himself more cases than anyone else. He has been told he does not need to, that he can take a break and let others pick up some slack. He does not do so, continues to complete his own chosen amount of tickets and complains that other people are working at a normal speed instead of at his unusually fast speed. That is not reasonable.

        If he feels stress due to the nature of a neverending list of tickets then that is his own issue and something he needs to work on himself, not something he can take out on his coworkers.

  7. A Poster Has No Name*

    So, this stood out to me; “he is welcome to step away from his work when he needs a break, and allow other, less experienced people on the team to pick up the slack.”

    This is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, no? How can they get more productive if he’s not willing to leave anything for them to do? Tim may be more productive, but I’d argue he’s at least partially creating that dynamic himself by not allowing others on the team to do more. He may also be actively harming coworkers by taking work that would allow them to develop their skills further. And this? “while many others have come and gone over the last three years” I would be willing to bet Tim is a big part of that reason why, and LW should ask herself whether having to continually hire for this role means the team is less productive overall, and would be better off without Tim.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Some solid points here. Real insight in that. I remember training under someone who waved me off when I asked for help with something and said “It will be quicker to do it myself” and I said “Yes, but if you do that I’ll never learn how to do it.” and he popped right back up out of the chair and explained it.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        This is actually THE primary thing I am trying to get better about, since I’ve been the one saying “I’ll just do it myself”, and boxed myself into being a Single Point of Failure with a side of Impending Burnout as a result. So I’m practicing stepping back a few paces to get a little more perspective of, “is this a task / skill that would mesh with another technician’s learning path?”, and if the answer is yes, actively seeking them out and showing them what’s going on- even if I don’t expect them to take it over soon. Even repeated informal exposure to a process is, in and of itself, valuable training time!

        Knowing that the alternative is risking the possibility of ending up like Tim: Adequately compensated and quite useful, but grumpy with a chance of burnout. Which isn’t healthy or helpful. And leaves the company vulnerable if the Tim character exits stage left.

        Looked at from the way you and A Poster Has No Name suggest, I’ll fully agree and say that if a Tim on the team isn’t willing to share/teach tasks with/to junior colleagues, that’s as much, if not more, a problem as is him making a stink about their productivity. His insistence on full-remote, to me, is another tell with regards to the fact that he sees himself as Team Tim, not Team Teapot Co. And with an attitude like that, I can see how a manager would have hesitations even allowing him to train the potted philodendron in the foyer, much less an actual colleague!

    2. Ames*

      In my career, it is simply the norm covering work (some courses set by management require the most work when people are on holiday)! That means sometimes I have to cover things because I lead a course. This is not my colleague’s fault and I am not going to complain about them. If they don’t have a chance to do it then why should I kick off about them not being available to do it? (by available I mean they need a bit of notice).

    3. Observer*

      And this? “while many others have come and gone over the last three years” I would be willing to bet Tim is a big part of that reason why,

      Good point.

      And I think there are two pieces to this. One is the issue you present, that he’s essentially hogging all the work and not giving others a chance. But the second is the “meltdowns”, “personality clashes”, and acting in ways that make you say that he sounds “spoiled and self-centered” are pushing people out.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        And he is promoted and gets kudos for what his coworkers see as “hogging all the work” and “having meltdowns” and “personality clashes.” One of the OP’s employees writing into AAM would write about a toxic work environment where the manager continually rewards Tim who is very productive, but treats everyone else poorly and doesn’t give other people an opportunity to grow.

    4. Greymalkin*

      This! I was managing a high-performing member of my team who was doing a lion’s share of the work, but was constantly complaining that she was outperforming the other two team members. I had to patiently explain to her that if she doesn’t leave any work for others to do, how can she expect them to be more productive, or gain the necessary experience to improve their performance??
      The solution for us was to break up the workload into assigned accounts, as opposed to a big pool of first-come, first-serve work. It gave everyone enough work to manage, and allowed good visibility into performance against objectives. Not sure if that’s a viable option for OP, but possibly something to consider, if they haven’t done so yet.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        I did an analysis project for something like this for help desk employees. One of the staff had numbers that blew everyone else out of the water – they closed like twice as many calls as the next person – and they closed all their calls faster with less delay (time when the ticket would just sit waiting without being worked on). My task was to figure out what they were doing and train everyone to be like that. But they were grabbing every single three minute password reset that would come through, and not ever touching the “replace laptop screen” that was going to take hours of their time and days of delay. The manager was getting what he was measuring for – the two metrics that were being communicated were “number of calls closed” and “average calls that are open in your box” (things that would have a delay, like waiting for a part or having to research a solution).

        We did manage to solve some issues – we did have one guy who’d document every ticket like he was Alexander Dumas waxing about the Parisian sewers (of course, SuperCloser NEVER documented – there is a happy medium to be had) – but we also started changing the way we measured and what metrics we used.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          I would argue that in the situation you described the problem wasn’t really the employee but rather the metrics being used at the time.

          If you are only going to measure the number of tickets closed and time to close, what the employee did makes sense and was doing what you were really asking. You might have wanted to ask them to do all other work but if it was going to be counted against them really you didn’t want them to until the metrics were fixed.
          This is similar to someone meaning one thing but asking something else.

          Asking someone “Do you have keys to the bathroom?” Person says “Yes” and you get upset because they didn’t give them to you. You might have meant “Do you have the keys and can you give them to me?” but that was not what you actually asked. There is a difference.

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            Yup. It’s the metrics for sure. When you say, “your goal today is to sell 20 pounds of burgers”, you’re just ASKING for some clever cook to start making overweight patties to hit the metric.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Metrics can be a very, very tricky thing for that reason. It is hard, nigh on impossible, to design them to measure what you actually want without making them so complicated that tracking is a full-time job in itself.

            I’ve seen one case where “active time” vs. “idle time” of a machine was tracked… until someone noticed they could set the machine slower and get more active time per job. That person got a reprimand, because it’s obviously cheating, but there are more edge cases like grabbing only a certain type of job.

            Personally, I’ve had the situation where “closing case by writing doc” was worth 100 points and “closing case by refusing idea” was worth 25. Except that the former could take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks worth of work, and the latter took 1-2 hours… incentivizing exactly the wrong thing. Plus I received so little cases that I, as proved by simple arythmetic, couldn’t hit my goals even if I wrote up every crap impossible idea that came across my desk , while others hit their goal just refusing cases… It was part of my reason for quitting that job.

            It has made me very, very skeptical of metrics of any kind.

            1. Observer*

              It is hard, nigh on impossible, to design them to measure what you actually want without making them so complicated that tracking is a full-time job in itself.

              That’s actually generally not true. Sure, there can be exceptions. But in a lot of cases, if you clearly understand what you are looking for, it is possible to create the correct metrics.

              1. anonymous73*

                Yes but how do you measure issues when one type could take 2 days to resolve and another could take an hour? Some things just can’t be measured with numbers that tell you what you need to know. The issue that took 2 days to resolve – is that because the person was new and still learning or because it was a bigger issue that took some digging and collaboration with others? Sure you could categorize tickets, but numbers still won’t tell you the whole picture.

          3. My Useless 2 Cents*

            There is nothing wrong with an employee maximizing their metrics, true. But when they are doing so by cherry picking and doing incomplete work at the expense of their coworkers, that is entirely different. If all employees were following the same rules, then the metrics they were tracking would have been fine. Personally, I think management would have been better off putting employee on a PIP and told they cannot cherry pick incoming work and had better start documenting properly. Always looking for loopholes is not smart, it’s dishonest.

            1. Cmdrshpard*

              The other coworkers could have done the same thing and that probably led to the policy/metrics getting fixed faster.

              An employee following a crappy policy is not to blame for said crappy policy, it is the companies fault.

              It was not really a loophole because employees were allowed to pick the tickets, it was something everyone else was allowed to do they just didn’t do it.

              Rain said once the policy/metrics were fixed the employee preformed how the company really wanted them to.

              From a workload perspective it might not actually be a bad thing having someone hyper-focus on PW resets if there is enough demand/need, while other people focus on harder tasks. The problem was the company was considering/placing the employee as a Rockstar compared to others, when really 5 PW resets=1 monitor replacement and those employees should have been seen as equal.

        2. A Poster Has No Name*

          My husband got burned by crappy goals like this once upon a time. They were evaluated solely based on number of tickets closed and he refused to cherry-pick tickets. Unlike his coworkers. So, his “performance” was significantly “below” his coworkers because he ended up with the more complicated issues.

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            Early in my career I got dinged on that as well. So I sort of suspected what I was really looking for and at – but just had to gather the data for management that their metrics were poor and figure out a way to change the metrics (which was far more complicated – both convincing management that obviously bad metrics were bad and then getting in metrics that actually took into account the difficulty of the ticket and removed the uncontrolled delays – that required systems changes). And yeah, SuperCloser wasn’t a bad guy, he was just gaming the system to the detriment of his coworkers. When we changed the metrics, his behavior changed.

            One effect of this was that SuperCloser was pretty smart (you sort of have to be to game a system) and pretty on top of things (again, the way the system was gamed). Change the metrics and we got a lot more value out of him as a problem solver than we did as a password changer.

            (And we gave Victor Hugo more documentation tasks – he was really good.)

    5. Skytext*

      That was my thought as well. Part of the reason they are not as productive as him is because he is jumping in and doing the work before they can get to it. And denying them opportunities to further develop their skills.

    6. pancakes*

      Are they expected to be far more productive than they currently are by anyone besides Tim, though? It seems their work product is not out of line with what higher-ups expect. It seems to me that no one here has a real problem with the way they’re performing besides Tim.

    7. still anon*

      I’m in a high pressure, deadline-heavy solo (by preference) position and sometimes need help during busy times. Yes, it’s a pain to slow down and train someone, and to let them sort out their own workflows once they understand the basics, but part of my job is also to mentor people and help them learn new skills, so I suck it up. It’s good experience for me, and in the long run it’s nice to know there won’t be a complete shitshow when I jump on the lottery bus someday and never come back.
      No one will ever be as fast or productive as I am at my work, at least while I’m here, so instead of losing my shit, I pivot to being a better trainer when needed.

    8. Prospect Gone Bad*

      this is a good catch but I take it differently. I shared a group email at my last job and when I was the most senior person, I was responding to 80% of the problems even though I was under no obligation to. There is alot of social and customer pressure to get things moving, I didn’t work in a vacuum and couldn’t let complaints sit just to prove a point about even workload. I feel like Manager needs to manage the work flow a little more

      1. Fran Fine*

        I didn’t work in a vacuum and couldn’t let complaints sit just to prove a point about even workload.

        Why not? Were you explicitly told by your manager that you couldn’t?

    9. Dust Bunny*

      If he lets other people take on some of his work he won’t be twice as productive any more, and then where will he get his sense of superiority?

      I am generally happy to take work over from overworked coworkers but if Tim were one of them 110% I would expect him to interfere and not actually let me do it, which would be the real problem for me–not the extra work, but his inability to stay out of my hair.

  8. KRM*

    OP, if he threatens to quit every few months because he thinks more junior employees should be more productive, you just have to let him. Sounds like managing his freakouts is taking up a lot of your own mental space, which is not worth it for you. Just tell him that if he wants to quit you’ll understand, and to let you know when his last day might be if he does. That may even stop that particular behavior set if he realizes he can’t get attention from you that way anymore.

    1. Ames*

      Exactly? I am willing to bet a lot of money that he is marching around and bullying colleagues.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      My husband is a bit of a Tim. He has one sped when he’s working. Let’s say he makes widgets and make 3x more in a day than all the other widget makers. No one asks my husband to make more, it’s just how he works. The others are meeting the production goals. But my husband does get a larger raise and has a lot of flexibility and leeway with his schedule because of his efforts.

      He used to complain to me about others not doing as much. And I said they are doing what they are asked. You don’t like working at a slower pace. That’s a you thing. You can go work elsewhere but I promise you’ll likely end up in the same situation. You can keep being upset about it or you can let it go. Not everyone can manage to work at the pace he does, and that’s ok! There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Eventually he did let it go. He does his work at the pace he’s comfortable with and doesn’t concern himself with whatever everyone else is doing.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        This is such a good comment. Sometimes keeping your eyes on your own plate is the way to go!

  9. Essentially Cheesy*

    I think this sounds like a very passive-aggressive way for Tim to ask for a promotion so he can boss around coworkers. I could be wrong though.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This was my exact take! I think the complaining about coworker’s productivity is a bit of a red herring and that Tim is struggling to articulate that he feels thwarted in his own career ambitions. He doesn’t sound ready for management but that’s probably what he wants. OP mentions that he might feel like he can’t get promoted because the rest of the team can’t handle the workload without him, and that may be party why he fixates on this (and it’s true that sometimes really strong individual contributors are considered too essential in t their current roles to be promoted – which typically just means they need to leave their current org to advance).

      1. KRM*

        I might agree except for the constant “threatening to quit” over his coworkers perceived lack of productivity. If Tim thinks he can’t get what he wants without threatening to leave, then he needs to just be allowed to leave (not that he would, but that’s another story).

      2. Fran Fine*

        OP said Tim indicated a desire to be promoted to handle project-based work, not people management.

      1. Essentially Cheesy*

        Yes I’m guessing he’s kind of insufferable in person, which makes him working from home probably a lot easier for everyone in the department.

        1. Ames*

          I didn’t think of that. His working from home is probably why they have employees left. Having said that, I need to walk away from the email regularly and I work from home…

          If Tim was doing this and I knew about it I would instantly sit down with management and ask them why they are discussing my performance with a colleague who has no right to that information. Depending on how egregious it is I might file a formal complaint (something I’ve never done before).

        2. Prospect Gone Bad*

          I’m not even trying to play up the “be kind” rule too hard, but people are making pretty big unkind claims here. Yeah he could be insufferable. He could also be many things. But what about this letter makes him insufferable? Seriously. For all we know he complains to his boss but puts on a smile and answers coworkers questions. We have no idea. I don’t like the constant assuming bad intentions that people do on the interwebs

          1. MsM*

            “what about this letter makes him insufferable?”

            The regular threats to quit? At a certain point, he’s either gotta follow through on that or commit to working with the coworkers he has. Which means focusing less on changing them and more on exactly what would need to be shifted to give him a more reasonable workload.

          2. Lunar Caustic*

            . . . Did you miss the part where he considers his perfectly adequately performing coworkers as totally incompetent and worthless? True, we don’t know if that is a direct quote from him or a summary by the LW, but the strength of the language suggests that he is quick to devalue people who aren’t just like him. If that’s not insufferable behavior, I don’t know what is. I’d argue this very attitude–Be a workaholic or you’re worthless–is exactly what has made US working culture a living nightmare for most employees for decades.

  10. Observer*

    Alison is correct – you can’t make him see it your way, and you should not try.

    If he wants higher level. project management type work, that’s a legitimate point. And you may want to seriously think about if / how you can promote him to do that kind of work.

    What should NOT be part of your calculation: How hard it will be to replace him in his current role. Because one day he’s going to leave anyway, so you may as well be thinking about that in the back of your mind. And part of that is thinking of how you can keep his skills and institutional knowledge, even if in a different role.

    Make sure that you are clear on this – and that you make it clear to Tim that you will not make decisions on whether to move him into other roles based on others’ productivity.

    What SHOULD be part of your calculations:
    Hard skills relevant to the higher level work he wants to do. Figure out what skills he would need to have and which ones can only be learned while in the role. For the ones that you need to be in the role for, what indications do you have that he would learn what he needs to? For those you can develop in advance, what does he already have, and what is that path to obtaining them? Can you lay that out for him?

    Soft Skills: These skill are not just “nice to have”, they are crucial for many types of roles – pretty much any time you have to manage people or work closely with others, you NEED those skills. And right now, Tim is showing a significant deficit in that regard. His behavior is immature (and that’s probably kinder than he deserves), and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how to manage people, workloads, and project. So if he really wants higher level work, you need to lay this out for him. He CANNOT place responsibility for his issues on others and he can’t make demands of the sort he is, because they not just unfair, they are unreasonable and unrealistic.

  11. animaniactoo*

    I think the answer to “I might just quit” should be “I would be very sorry to see you go if you do. If there’s something OTHER than other employees being more productive that you think will help, please let me know.” i.e. – wrap being valued in the answer of “if that’s what you think you need to do”.

    I would also question his deadlines – you say that you tell him that he doesn’t have to get it all done. But – as someone who has sometimes felt this kind of over-responsibility for getting it all done… what’s the likelihood that the work WOULD get done – by whatever deadline exists – if he’s not going this overboard on it? Because he might be looking at an aspect that you’re not… and maybe you need to be paying attention to it. Including asking him to point you at projects that he feels would be in danger of missing a deadline for you to address getting it done… by not him.

  12. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I have been this person and now manage this person, so I love this letter because it’s so real. I think the easiest thing to do is be objective and acknowledge the pay discrepancies and remind him of his raises. It sounds silly when you write it out, but many people who get paid more to deal with more crap forget that that was the reason for their raise, and they keep complaining about the same things. Sometimes they need a general reminder about the way things are. As long as you’re not listing out actually salaries, I think it’s very OK to say “that’s why you get paid more.”

    1. Sloanicota*

      If I was OP, I’d also make clear that the behavior I expect from Tim is no more complaining about other people’s output. That’s not his job and you’ve addressed the issue with him before. Him bringing it up again is inappropriate.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        Yes, I was a bit surprised Alison didn’t mention the need to cease and desist on this behavior too.

        1. pancakes*

          I think that’s in there. “But it sounds like this is just Tim’s opinion and you don’t share it — in which case you need to tell him more clearly, ‘I am happy with the rest of the team’s work. They are producing at the level I expect from them and for which they’re paid.’”

          1. Sloanicota*

            Somehow I think there’s one more step. “I consider the matter closed and I don’t want you to bring up this issue again.” Some people would get it without it being said but maybe not Tim. Then if he does bring it up again, you can say “we talked about this before and I need you to stop focusing on the productivity of people you don’t manage. This is becoming a performance issue. It can cost you your job if you keep focusing on this point in our conversations when I’ve asked you to focus on X and Z.”

      2. Prospect Gone Bad*

        have you ever worked on a team? Things going wrong is part of being on a team. It is reasonable to call out coworkers not doing their parts. In fact it’s an utterly basic part of working in a team. I have no idea why you’d think it’s “inappropriate” unless he’s doing it every day

        1. Lunar Caustic*

          But the LW has made it clear that everyone else is fine. Tim is calling out problems that don’t exist. That is not okay and needs to stop.

        2. pancakes*

          It’s not reasonable when the person trying to do that 1) isn’t managing the team and 2) the person who is in charge doesn’t agree with that person on what’s going wrong.

        3. What a way to make a living*

          Because they aren’t doing anything wrong, he just thinks everyone should be exactly the same as him. Same work life balance, same priorities, same pace of working, same theory of work, same goals…

          And he thinks they are “totally incompetent and worthless” if they’re not.

  13. Forrest Gumption*

    Sounds like the OP needs to talk to Tim about snobbishness and perfectionism, both of which seemingly Tim suffers from. OP should be candid about how holding others to Tim’s own incredibly high standard is not only unrealistic, but a form of self-sabotage.

  14. Dark Macadamia*

    Gosh, I can’t imagine why there’s so much turnover in the Tim-adjacent role…

  15. Wisteria*

    “we have reiterated to him many times that he is welcome to step away from his work when he needs a break, and allow other, less experienced people on the team to pick up the slack.

    he’s concerned that if he’s too good at his current role and his direct coworkers aren’t carrying their weight, he won’t be able to get promoted or do more project based work as opposed to the transactional stuff he does now.”

    LW, where are you in this? Are you taking an active role in assigning lower level work away from Tim and onto the other team members? Are you enforcing the assignment when Tim does it anyway bc he’s faster and better? Are you sponsoring Tim for project based work? Have you discussed a path to promotion, including finding development tasks? All the things that you tell us about Tim are within your ability to take action on. Instead of telling Tim not to let the door hit him on the ass, try being a manager.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      People are blaming Tim for not “stepping away” but Manager needs to take some responsibility. You can’t just say “oh take it easy.” You need to make it possible for them to actually do so.

      1. MsM*

        I’m just not seeing the part where management hasn’t made it possible. There’s no mention of this being a particularly deadline-driven work environment, or demanding clients, or anything that would contradict the flexibility that’s being offered. Just Tim refusing every attempt to get him to actually use it.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          We really don’t know either way. “Take it easy,” is a fine thing to say until Tim actually does take it easy and stuff doesn’t get done. Which may be something Tim has convinced himself of with no backing, or it could be reality. But OP needs to manage and figure it out.

    2. Fran Fine*

      Are you sponsoring Tim for project based work?

      I would love for the OP to answer this because it appears to me that this is the crux of Tim’s frustration. He’s knocking it out of the park, doing more work than everyone else, and is still doing transactional work he no longer has any interest in doing. OP needs to try to find him some projects to work on ASAP so he can stay out of his colleague’s business and focus on his own career growth.

  16. Princess Xena*

    Hm. I’ve met Tim’s before and on one hand, he might do better in a position where he’s working with several other driven, high-producing people that can match his pace. On the other hand, in my experience, a lot of this mentality comes from undervaluing other people’s contributions and mentally belittling them – a sort of ‘can’t do this one thing so they’re terrible across the board’ that I have found unpleasant and toxic.

    I would strongly encourage OP to go back and get a good idea on the social dynamics of what’s going on and then come down hard on the bad behavior. Being stressed is one thing, belittling coworkers is another – and I’d bet that Tim is not offering to train or support coworkers to reach his level of productivity either.

  17. TimeTravlR*

    Perhaps Tim needs to learn to dial it back a bit. That is, leave something for the others to do. And if they don’t do it exactly right, that’s ok. They won’t learn if to do it as well as Tim if they don’t get the opportunity.

  18. Clobberin' Time*

    LW, Tim has told himself a story where he is so much more productive than everyone else and he is a misunderstood martyr. That story is emotionally very important to him. You are not going to logic or soothe him out of believing in this story, because there is nothing you can offer him that beats the feeling he gets from this narrative.

    Instead, STOP ENGAGING. To steal a Captain Awkwardism, make it very boring for Tim to bang on about this grave injustice. Make listening noises like “wow, that must be rough” and change the subject. Stop being the Guildenstern to his miserable, put-upon version of Rosencrantz.

    I bet you will hear a lot less from Tim when he no longer has the fun of you being a bit player in his story.

    1. This is Artemesia*

      Sounds spot on. Trying to accommodate this guy just feeds into his soap opera. I’d call him out on the ‘I may quit’ — ‘well I would hate to see you go but you need to do what is best for you.’ THEN stop engaging. The next time he whines about doing more, it is ‘well you have been given big raises and promoted to senior because of that so it looks fair to me.’ Then stop engaging on that.

      And this guy is not promotable; you don’t put people like this into management positions.

      The one action I would take is to start assigning work if that is not being done now. Don’t let him choose tasks and grab all the work or all the interesting work. Assign everyone and manage more closely.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Plausible — I’ve worked with several Tims and they do like an audience.

      If I were the OP, there are a couple of things I’d check out. One would be workload distribution. Given Tim’s seniority and track record, I’d try to make sure that he got the more complex and difficult cases to work on, and route the more mundane stuff to the junior staff. (Admittedly, I don’t know what industry the OP is coming from.) I’d also want to do some discreet checking on Tim’s relationships with coworkers. If he’s broadcasting the fact that he thinks his colleagues are all incompetent, that needs to be addressed.

      But if both of these issues were resolved, I’d do as you suggest and stop lending a sympathetic ear. “Well, that sounds rough. How are things coming on Project Bandersnatch?”

      At some point, Tim will probably leave to go where he thinks he will be appreciated. And then the pattern will start over.

  19. Sigh*

    I don’t have a solution or advice for you. I don’t really agree with the Tim side of this issue (I think you’re doing great managing the situation-plus listen to Alison)… but I do want to say I think it’s great that your company acknowledges accomplishments with monetary, shout outs and title changes

  20. Orange+You+Glad*

    Tim mentioned he feels he cannot take on other projects due to the pace of the transactional work. Can you find more projects for Tim to work on? If you go this route though, I would lay out the expectations with him – “You are expected to do 25 transactions per day and then focus on the projects you are assigned”. I would also recommend having clear expectations as far as the pace for your whole team, regardless of level.

    I can sort of relate to Tim’s frustration with others who work slower, but he has to learn to let it go. He gains no benefit by pushing himself to reach goals that have not been set for him.

    1. Observer*

      Can you find more projects for Tim to work on?

      Only do that AFTER you lay out expectations for behavior and he *show that he can follow them*. His behavior right now is a problem and is almost certainly affecting the overall productivity of the team in a bad way. That needs to stop before you give him even more responsibility.

    2. Banana*

      I have been Tim-like in the sense of feeling unable to tackle higher-level projects because there is so much tactical work to do, even if me doing it was not necessary. I know I was not this Dramatic about it though, for Pete’s sake!

      Here are some things that helped me:

      A – Being unassigned from the tactical work altogether and told to go focus on projects.

      B – Being pushed to train up my juniors in the more challenging tactical things I felt like I couldn’t share before. And clear messaging from my managers to the juniors, making sure they knew they were expected to learn and do it. If my boss found out I was doing a tactical task because no one else knew how, by George I’d better have someone next to me learning and preferably have them doing it while I instructed. I did not withhold this stuff out of a need to feel essential (I don’t think), usually it was work I hoped would soon no longer be necessary, or work I thought should not be done in the first place, so I artificially created difficulty in getting it done.

      C – A boss invested in my project work with regular check-ins and progress updates that mirrored the focus on tactical results. (If my boss is always following up on our TPS reports and never on plans to change the layout of the warehouse, it’s easy to get impressions about which is more important.)

  21. KHB*

    Instead of approaching this as “getting Tim to realize” that you’re right and he’s wrong, have you tried really listening to him to understand where his feelings of anxiety are coming from? Because I doubt they’re coming from nowhere.

    You say he’s never been put under pressure to “get it all done,” but it sure sounds like he’s feeling that pressure. Have you asked him why he feels that way? Is there an issue with the quality of his colleagues’ work, not just the quantity, so that he feels like if he wants something done right, he has to do it himself? If his colleagues do a poor job on something, does he feel like it reflects on him somehow?

    It sounds like he’s feeling taken for granted, and it sounds like (by calling him the “old reliable”) you might actually be taking him for granted. If you want to continue to be able to rely on him, you might want to consider approaching this differently.

    1. Observer*

      It sounds like he’s feeling taken for granted, and it sounds like (by calling him the “old reliable”) you might actually be taking him for granted.

      I thought about that – but here is the thing. They ARE rewarding him. He is being paid a lot more than others, and he has other privileges that others are not getting.

      AND the OP is actually listening to him. If you ask me, that’s actually part of the problem because the op is giving Tim *too much* credence.

      1. KHB*

        I don’t think this is about money, though. Nowhere does it say that Tim feels like he’s underpaid or under-rewarded. His anxiety is coming from somewhere other than that.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true. But the point is that it’s not coming from the company taking him for granted. In employment nothing says “We appreciate you” more than higher pay and additional perks that others don’t have. (NOT sarc!) He’s also getting lots of shout outs and praise from others as well.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          But it sounds like it might not be from work. Work might be a convenient vehicle through which he can manifest it and a convenient set of scapegoats for the resulting stress, but I would bet money Tim is like this in other aspects of his life, too, or would be if he didn’t have work as his outlet.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          OP chimed in up above that all their department’s work comes from other departments via a ticket system. I wonder if it’s just the nature of the ticket system (where generally there is never an end to the work coming in) that is stressing Tim out? So he and his coworkers are all being as productive as their manager expects them to be, but because Tim mentally can’t handle the fact that there isn’t an end to the workflow he’s stressing out and harping about his teammates not being as productive as he is, because then there would be an end to the workflow and all the Tim’s of the world are happy.

          As for how to fix that, I wonder if it would be possible to change how tickets are handed out so that Tim doesn’t see how many are waiting in the queue?

          1. Fran Fine*

            + 1 to your first paragraph and YES to your last sentence. That may actually help a lot of OP can figure that out and reconcile it with their ticketing system and procedure of having everyone go in and assign work to themselves.

          2. anonymous73*

            If they’re working from a ticket queue unless they create a new one just for Tim, they can’t separate it…plus that’s not realistic if they’re all doing the same work. I did app support for a few years after a new application launched and it was just me (Tier 2) and 1 help desk analyst (Tier 1) working that queue. There was a constant abundance of tickets every single day and I was working major overtime to try and get the count down. It was never ending. Now I wasn’t like Tim, complaining about my colleague and how little work he was doing, but I was stressing myself out and not asking for help because I thought I could handle it myself. I finally had a meltdown that resulted in my manager hiring 3 contractors to help. If Tim has anxiety about the constant flow of tickets, he needs to express that, not complain that his colleagues are incompetent. But honestly it sounds like he likes being a martyr and it’s all self inflicted.

        4. Clobberin' Time*

          Tim has apparently told the OP that the great injustices he suffers at work are affecting his personal life. I would bet that the order of operations is actually in reverse – something is going on with Tim’s personal life (or as a result of his personal behavior) that’s affecting how he sees his job.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        The higher pay and senior title may be adding to the stress Tim feels. It is not a reward for his higher productivity, it is an expectation that all the work will get done in a timely fashion.

        OP, take a look at your department communications not just your one-on-one with Tim. I’ve been in a similar position as Tim where I was the high-performer in a dept. And sure, all the one-on-one communication was “you’re doing great”. However, the dept. communication was “there is too much sitting in the dept. inbox… we have to step up and make sure things are getting done!” and “project turn around is too slow… we all have to do our part!” or I’d take a week off and come back to “We are really backed up after last week, let’s all buckle down and see if we can get caught up!” The one-on-one messaging did not cancel out the stress from the dept. message coming from manager.

        1. Camellia*

          This is an excellent point! Kind of like the ‘you have unlimited vacation time’, where no one feels like they can take ANY vacation.

      3. Pescadero*

        “He is being paid a lot more than others”

        He is being paid more. The letter does not say ” a lot more”, and never addresses whether the extra pay is commensurate with the level of extra work.

    2. Nanani*

      It’s possible that the higher pay etc still aren’t enough, as Tim may have fully outgrown the role.
      But it’s not LWs job to dig into his anxiety – they’re not a therapist, they’re a manager.

      1. This is Artemesia*

        Outgrown implies he should be doing higher level work. Nudges like this are not management material, so what is this higher level work?

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      It sounds like it’s internal pressure–and Tim would carry that with him into other jobs.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, my guess is that Tim’s anxiety and perfectionism are either just an integral part of his personality or are due to something in his background (like maybe he had very pushy parents or had a bad experience/underperformed in a previous job and is over-compensating).

        I could obviously be wrong, but it doesn’t sound like it’s anything in the job that is stressing Tim out. He is the top performer, gets more praise than any of his co-workers, has been explicitly told he does not need to work as hard as he is and just works 40 hours (I know that’s not a JUST, but I mean it’s not like his hours are unreasonable) from home and he is still so stressed it’s having an impact on his home life? Assuming there is nothing else going on, it sounds to me like Tim is a perfectionist who puts unreasonable pressure on himself and others.

        My guess is he is the sort of person who feels everything is his responsibility. Not only must he perform perfectly at all times, but he must ensure everybody else does too.

        Not sure how actionable that is for the LW though, as I get the impression this is more of a Tim-thing and may not be specifically related to work at all. It may be just how Tim is.

    4. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Finally. It took this far scrolling to find someone not calling him a jerk or making up stuff about him, saying “he probably also does X” stuff that is not in the letter

  22. CatCat*

    He claims to be so stressed about his work that it affects his home life.

    Does your company have an EAP? Next time Tim says something like this about stress, it’s a good opening to recommend the EAP. “We certainly don’t want you feeling this level of stress. Let’s take a look at your workload and see if we can take something off your plate. In addition, I’m going to send you a link to our Employee Assistance Program, which can assist with resources for stress at no or low cost to you.”

    Who knows whether it’s work or something else causing the stress but he’s blaming work, but there may be more going on than you can reasonably resolve as a workplace manager.

    1. MsM*

      Even if there’s no EAP, it might still be worth offering to be flexible about scheduling if he needs an hour a week for therapy or other mental health support, or simply encouraging him to use his PTO/take a vacation if he hasn’t been. Basically, “I’m happy to work with you on reducing your stress to the extent I can, but you gotta find some way to deal with it that doesn’t involve stressing everyone else out or treating them like morons.”

  23. Super Duper Anon*

    I would look at this from the perspective of the other employees. If I came into this position, I would initially understand that Tim had the better perks, the senior title because he is more senior, and a higher productivity level and be totally fine with that. But if over time, my manager was trying tactics to get me to be as productive as Tim, being told to my face (or just inferring, I can’t tell if Tim is saying it outright to other people or just the manager) that I am worthless and incompetent, and Tim was also hording work because he has to be the most productive one, I would remove myself from that situation.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah I think when workplaces allow themselves to be held hostage by employees they think are “too valuable to discipline,” they may be missing out on hidden costs of enabling bad behavior. OP does state that all the Tim-adjascent positions turn over a lot. Perhaps that’s in part because Tim is poisoning the well. I assume there’s also no succession plan if anything happened to Tim, but that is not sustainable way to operate since he could get hit by a bus any day. Sometimes people like Tim can hoard work and make themselves indispensable on purpose, and it can be subtle, but a good manager has to step in and ensure it doesn’t happen.

    2. t-vex*

      Yeah, no one seems to be addressing the turnover with the other employees. I wonder if all of Tim’s extra stuff is turning into a disincentive for them.

  24. A+New+CV*

    It might be worth investigating his interactions with his colleagues in terms of his put-upon attitude. Not to discuss salaries, but do they know he is paid more to do more? Or do they all think that getting better at their jobs means they will be stressed and overworked too?
    I had a report who was paid considerably more (for her supervisory position) than her colleagues, who, unbeknownst to me, constantly complained to the rest of the staff about her over work and responsibilities. I didn’t realise until after she was gone that she had allowed her colleagues to think she was paid only a fraction more than they were. They all just thought I was taking advantage of her. When she left, no one wanted to apply for her role because they thought it was too much work, not realizing it was also almost double their salary.

  25. Sparkles McFadden*

    I get that you see Tim as your go-to guy who always delivers, but he is also a problem. He may very well be the reason that you have high turnover. Tim might be jumping all over his coworkers, haranguing them for not doing thing “his way” or not working quickly enough. He may be taking work away from someone else, or acting as a defacto assistant manager telling his coworkers “the right way” to do things. Some people take the responsibility for everything on themselves and they’re often as detrimental as the people who try to take as little responsibility as possible.

    Part of being a manager is addressing behaviors that cause problems in the workplace. Tim’s complaining is something that needs to be addressed and you’re not doing him any favors by not telling him that it needs to stop. Calmly explain that he is being compensated for his contributions and outline where his responsibilities begin and end. Be very clear. Paint the lines on the highway and tell him to stay in his lane. Then talk to him about his goals and find out what he’s hoping to accomplish with the complaints and go from there.

  26. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    What would happen to the team if Tim wasn’t the major producer? Would it fall apart or would it keep plugging along. Tim is stressed about level of production, is this perceived stress or is it based in realty that he needs to keep producing at this level? I would ask Tim what about the other team members producing more results in less stress? Is it that he will have less tasks to complete on a daily basis (and you as the manager have been overwhelming him) or it is feeling that there is equity in labor, which there is not.

  27. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    LW, you need to do way less.

    A reasonable person might grumble about this but when reminded that they have a higher title and better pay, would settle down. The rest of the team is meeting standards relevant to their role, and he’s exceeding the standards relevant to his role and has been compensated for it. He’s stressed by his own thoughts* and that is really all. Their productivity is not his business unless it causes him additional work/overtime, and that does not seem to be the case. The fact that other people are not him is not a work-generated source of stress, it’s a Tim-generated source of stress.

    Tell him why he’s off the mark, once, and if he complains again, ask how it’s actually (reality-testing) affecting his WORK, tell him the same solutions and end the conversation. Do not give this time or energy. I kind of want to suggest an EAP if you have one.
    *”Comparison is the thief of joy.”

  28. Xaraja*

    I’m the person who works very fast, gets a lot done and at a high quality, kind of no matter what the job is (I’m not good at sales, but I’ve done retail, data entry, customer service, very technical IT work…). The difference between me and Tim is empathy and gratitude. Empathy to understand to respect other people are different from me and have different skills and abilities I don’t have and they contribute to the world in their own ways that I should value. And gratitude to understand that my abilities aren’t something I earned or created. I’ve always been a quick learner and a fast thinker and good at finding the best way to get things done – it’s just how my brain works and that’s just the lottery of being human.

    A manager can’t really impart humility, empathy and gratitude to an employee. But, maybe knowing that’s kind of the problem, maybe the manager could impress upon the employee with this issue how other employees add value? Now just that they are warm bodies that keep him from having to do all the work, but things that are unique to them, like being really good at catching problems before they escalate into really huge issues, or working really well with customers, etc.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m in this boat, but I keep it even simpler than that — I do a banging job at my own job AND I DON’T GIVE A HOOT HOW OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING AT THEIRS BECAUSE IT’S NOT MY BUSINESS. If someone makes it my business, that’s a different story, but whether Sally up the hall is making her productivity metrics isn’t my problem unless someone makes it my problem. I’m making 200% of MY productivity metrics to the expected level of quality, and that’s where my productivity concerns stop. Why does Tim even know how his other coworkers are doing on their metrics, and is that a visibility loophole that can or should be closed?

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        That’s a good question about whether there’s a way to close off the information flow.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        100%. How my coworkers are doing is our supervisor’s problem, not mine. We all have some control over our workloads–as Tim does, even if he won’t use it–and as long as Supervisor is OK with how we’re doing individually, I don’t give a flying flip how much anyone else gets done.

  29. Reality.Bites*

    I wonder if Tim is unusually skilled at one or more aspects of the job and performs at a level others can’t match, or is unusually focused, or both.

    His seeming inability to understand that other people aren’t like him and never will be is what would trouble me in giving him different responsibilities.

  30. Hiring Mgr*

    Nobody should be having frequent clashes at work for any reason – that’s just not acceptable. I can somewhat understand Tim’s frustration if he thinks others’ performance is holding him back from a promotion or raise but he sounds like he’s handling it like a child – threatiening to quit every few months?

    I would suggest having a serious conversation with Tim – this behavior will only hurt him in the long run. And don’t indulge him by checking in to see how the others are progressing. (definitely stop doing that!)

  31. Sigh*

    I don’t have a solution or advice. I personally don’t agree with the Tim side (I think you’re doing great and Alison’s advice should help you along). I do want to say I like how your company in general compensates merit accomplishments with raises, privledges, titles and shout outs.

    Personal opinion I think Tim is bored and has outgrown his position or he’s one who constantly needs a Pat on the back

  32. Miss Muffet*

    I actually doubt he will quit because he sounds like the kind of guy who values (for himself) being the expert/go-to/old reliable. If he moves into a new role – especially at a new company – where he’d be starting over and learning a lot and at least for a while, not being the best, his ego probably wouldn’t be able to handle it. He finds value in this level of martyrdom, for whatever reason, and doesn’t *really* want to let it go.

    1. Ames*

      Instead of it reminding me of work issues it is reminding me of a domestic issue. The ones who constantly ‘sacrifice themselves’ because they want that identity instead of tackling the issue. Like domestic chores. Instead of raising children to clean up bit by bit, they moan when they are 20 and won’t do anything around the house.

      This is how different life areas connect together. A person difficult in an area like a job is also going to be difficult with family and friends.

    2. Apples*

      Agree with this, although I hope that he does find the will to move on sooner or later, because being able to sit back and think “not my problem!” in a new company can be such a fantastic feeling when you’ve had a ton of responsibility (albeit in this case self-assigned responsibility) on your shoulders for years.

  33. Ames*

    You should have never discussed employees’ performance with Tim. He is NOT a manager and he has NO RIGHT to have conversations with management about colleagues who are performing well (you’ve clearly stated this). It looks like you have done this multiple times. If I were YOUR manager you would be in trouble for this. If I was harsh you would no longer be a manager. Stop discussing private information about employees with other employees. I would seriously consider training for the role of how a manager is supposed to behave.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I don’t get the sense that the LW is telling Tim how much the others are producing, but that he knows some other way that’s transparent through the office. That’s not necessarily private. Talking about getting them to produce more was inappropriate but him complaining about facts he knows is not the LW’s fault. My senior people give me observations about the more junior people, because they work together in a different way, and that feedback is useful for me. Most of it is not complaining, so much as “Wakeen needs to do X more.”

      1. Ames*

        No. Tim can notice all he likes about colleagues but that does not mean a manager can share information. He has been promoted. He has received multiple pay rises. He can work from home permanently when others have to be in full-time. All of that can happen without discussing colleagues’ performance. This is how it goes:

        ‘We want to shower you with all these benefits because you are invaluable. You routinely go above and beyond in your dedication to our organisation’.

        What you don’t do is say ‘you’re right. Your colleagues move slower than a slug. I’ll talk to them even though they meet all the requirements of the job’

        1. ABCYaBye*

          There’s no point at which LW said anything about discussing the performance of Tim’s colleagues with him. You keep suggesting that the LW did something wrong by discussing performance with Tim, and we have nothing to suggest that LW has done so. Tim might be bringing up some perceived imbalance, but LW isn’t indicating anything to make us think they’ve agreed, called names like you’ve suggested now, or even address it with the colleagues.

          I’ll give you that Tim needs to stop complaining about something that isn’t a problem for anyone but him. And LW would be well within their right to put an end to that topic. But even if LW does acknowledge what is probably very apparent to everyone in the office – the fact that Tim produces more than others – that’s not speaking out of turn or doing anything to put down the colleagues.

          You need to step back from the conclusions you’re drawing. They’re not warranted nor is there evidence of it. LW came to AAM for assistance with the problem they have on their hands. Suggesting that they should be on a PIP or fired is not the point of this site.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      You were told above that you were being unreasonable, and having an extreme overreaction. There’s zero indication that OP is sharing anything inappropriate with Tim. Who says any of this is private information? You’re leaping to unwarranted conclusions.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      I think you might be projecting some personal experiences onto this letter, no? This is a very intense reaction as many others have said above and is deeply unkind to the LW who wrote in for help!

      I also think we just truly do not have enough detail to determine whether the LW was sharing private information about coworkers or having an appropriate discussion about how workloads are distributed across team members (even if we agree that the conversation should have been handled differently/shut down sooner).

  34. OrdinaryJoe*

    I have an employee like this … she loves the drama of being stressed, everything revolving around her and her knowledge of a large event, so busy and, because she’s salary, pointing out how many hours she works (at certain times of the year). Of course she has an absolute fit when things are removed from her plate, suggestions are made to make some tasks less labor intensive, and forgets that for many months of the year, she has a really flexible schedule and isn’t putting in 40 hrs a week. After trying multiple things, I’ve just given up an accepted that she likes to complain and feel like a martyr.

    1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      And I hope, as a manager, LW steps back and considers her own decision-making tree. “I knew Tim was completely wrong, so I did my best to yield to him completely at the expense of my other employees” was an alarming take to read. With no apparent comprehension of the disconnect!

      Very “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.”

  35. Eggs and omelets*

    Tim’s doing twice the work, but is he getting twice the pay? Probably not.

    I’d explain to him that he’s only making 20% (or whatever number) more than the people doing half the work, anything he does over that 20% represents free labor that he is providing to the company, and he’s be better off going for a walk or taking a nap than giving his time away to a for-profit enterprise.

    1. Ames*

      They have told him he can work less and he chose not to pick that option. This is a personality issue, not a work issue.

      1. Eggs and omelets*

        It seems they’ve told him that he is allowed to work less, but I’d be inclined to explain it as he’s acting against his own interests by continuing to work more.

        Imagine Tim is a farmer growing corn. Why bust hump to grow extra corn if you are just going to give it away for free to CornCo Industries anyway?

  36. voyager1*

    LW,
    Have you ever asked Tim if he trusts his coworkers to get work done. I see a lot of folks in the comments responding to how they read the letter. Personally I read this as Tim is at his breaking point and doesn’t feel management is managing his lesser performing coworkers. You say you are happy with the level of work they are doing but are they actually doing a good job? Is Tim having to do things for the team because other stakeholders don’t trust the rest of team? You say Tim gets a lot of praise! I wonder if Tim is what is keeping all balls from dropping.

    1. Observer*

      Personally I read this as Tim is at his breaking point and doesn’t feel management is managing his lesser performing coworkers

      It’s none of his business! Tim is not being asked to pick up their slack. So if he’s “breaking” because management is not doing something he thinks they should be doing, that is HIS problem, not the OPs. Even if he is objectively right that the others are not being well managed. And given his behavior, that’ not even something I would take as a given.

      I wonder if Tim is what is keeping all balls from dropping.

      Maybe. And maybe he’s what’s keeping others from staying on the team. If he is what’s keeping all the ball in the air, then he needs to stop grabbing the work and let the balls drop. The OP has made it clear that he IS NOT being expected to grab all the work. So, he should stop. Even if it turns out to be “malicious compliance”.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Tim can follow up on his own threats, then, and leave.

      It sounds like the other employees are performing as expected. Beyond that, it’s not Tim’s business.

    3. Jo March*

      With Tim getting a lot of praise from other departments, I’d even wonder if OP knows the extent of everything Tim is doing. Everywhere I’ve worked, you figure out who actually knows how to do stuff and go directly to that person. It’s broken stair in reverse. Tim is an extra strong step so everyone is standing on him.

  37. Playing With Puppies And Kittens All Day*

    As someone who currently is in a somewhat similar position (although in my case my increase in pay does come with an increase in workload compared to my peers), I feel for Tim. I wonder if he feels like he can’t let any work go to anyone else because it won’t be done “right” – does any of his workload involve correcting others’ mistakes or cleaning up their messes? Sometimes I have found myself in the trap of just doing everything myself because otherwise the work done by others will fall back into my lap, now in need of fixing.

    I think Alison is spot-on that the best move is to stop engaging with Tim re: his concerns over his coworkers productivity and competence. Again, as someone who has been a Tim, the thing that helped me to let go was to hear from management that they considered the work being done by others to be acceptable/sufficient. It also freed me of the feelings of obligation to try and make sure everything goes “right”.

  38. happybat*

    So, how about Tim is asked to work part time? You could cut his hours until he is on a par earnings-wise with his peers and he could spend more time with his family? Bringing him in to the office for the days he does work might also be a good idea. It could help him to get some home-work separation.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Ooh, I don’t know. That would feel like a punishment to Tim–taking away his perks and cutting his earnings. If home-work separation is hard for him, and he wants to come back to the office, that’s one thing.

      And having him back in the office (even more disgruntled) will not be a treat for his coworkers, either.

      1. Observer*

        It would feel punitive, because it WOULD be punitive. There is simply no reason to try to find a way to reduce his income.

    2. Jam today*

      This could easily be seen as retaliatory. And per LW, his higher earnings aren’t based on overtime, it’s been merit awarded due to his high productivity.

    3. Observer*

      Bringing him in to the office for the days he does work might also be a good idea. It could help him to get some home-work separation.

      Tim’s behavior is a problem. Treating him like a child who can’t make reasonable decisions is not going to make that any better, no matter what the reason for his behavior is.

      Keep in mind that Tim CHOSE to work at home. It is a *privilege* that he has been given as a reward for his high performance.

  39. Floppy Ears*

    I wonder if this is really about the productivity of his coworkers or if it has more to do with his own view of how much effort his coworkers have to put into their work to be considered productive? Three different people can all put 100% effort into their jobs and all do different amounts of work. It’s not his place to judge how much effort others put into their jobs or their productivity level, but I can see where he would be frustrated if he feels he gives his 100% best and others don’t have to do so in order to meet the standard.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’m sure it is, but it’s not his business. If he’s frustrated and anxious about something when the others are working satisfactorily, and he has been told repeatedly that he doesn’t need to keep working so hard, then it’s on him to figure out how to manage his anxiety *without* taking it out on coworkers.

  40. bamcheeks*

    So … I think you might be making a similar mistake as the manager in yesterday’s letter who asked an employee to act on a complaint that she didn’t actually agree with.

    I don’t quite get where this is coming from, because LW seems pretty clear to me that they don’t think Tim’s complaints are reasonable, hasn’t asked how to approach it with non-Tim members of the team, and is asking how to get Tim to realise this complaint isn’t reasonable.

    That said, I do think you need to reframe your goals from “how do I get Tim to realise he has it really good” to “how do I tell Tim I’m not hearing this complaint again, and that he needs to figure out whether he wants this job or not”. I think you could do that by diving into What Does Tim Really Want — less work? a new job? a promotion? — and be clear with him about what is and isn’t going to change. But it’s also possible that What Tim Really Wants is for nothing to change but to be able to throw a tantrum every six months or so about how hard he has it and have his manager giving him lots of attention and time, and it’s really OK not to gratify that.

    1. MsM*

      I think Alison’s referring to the follow-up where OP says that when Tim complains about everyone else not being productive enough, OP goes, “Well, here’s what I’m doing to make them be productive.” That is tacitly acknowledging Tim’s complaints as valid, and it does need to stop: either by making it clear to Tim that OP is never going to demand that everyone else live up to Tim’s unreasonably high productivity standards, or by shutting down the idea that this is something Tim should be monitoring. Or both.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a reference to this part of the letter: “It seems he wants us to push his coworkers to be more productive. I generally will outline my tactics to do so, and then check in with him again a couple weeks later to see if he feels they’ve made a difference.”

  41. Generic Name*

    I have a coworker like this….and she just put in her 2 weeks notice. I’m sorry she’s leaving, and it will be a loss for our company, but a lot of her complaints she brought on herself. I hope she is able to find the balance at her new job she says she wants, but she also never takes any vacation and gasped in wonderment about how I just took a vacation. (I said, “….I just took it. It wasn’t a problem.”) OP, I don’t think you can do anything beyond what you are already doing. Your employee feeling put-upon and resentful should be a signal to himself that something is out of balance in his life, but that’s for him to figure out how to resolve for himself. He likely feels resentful because something is out of whack with his boundaries or something, but again, that’s not something you can address. Maybe one thing you could do is encourage him to take time off and point him to an EAP if your company has one, but really, this guy could benefit from therapy, but it’s not your place as a manager to say this to him.

  42. Lab Boss*

    Speaking from the POV of an overachiever and people-pleaser: OP, you say that you’ve told Tim he’s allowed to step away and let other employees pick up his slack, and that you don’t expect him to work overtime. That’s a great start. But please consider whether there’s unspoken messaging that’s contradicting those official policies. If the team is expected to collectively complete a given amount of work each week, Tim may feel like he has to work himself past his limits to be sure that it gets done. If he steps back, will the other employees actually be able to keep up? Or would he then be faced with having to work all the harder to fix their mistakes/catch up on the backlog of work from them not being fast enough to handle it?

    I’d encourage you first to consider whether the current system actually requires Tim to be working this hard, even if he’s being told he can relax a little. If that’s the case, it should be changed- things should never absolutely rely on one wild overachiever. If that’s NOT the case, sit Tim down and be frank with him about it. I have Tim tendencies in my life and put a lot of my self-image in “getting the job done” and perceiving that breaking my back was necessary to do so. I finally had a manager who really got to the guts of the issue, that if everything didn’t get done every week that was OK, there was no expectation of 100% completion, and all I was doing by working extra hours was setting expectations for myself that I really didn’t want to be held to.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Yes, this! If Tim truly did take a step back (or several steps), would the department be able to handle it?

    2. J*

      Without fail, no matter how many changes I make to myself and my values about work, I will fall back into old habits when I don’t feel supported on workload. I’ve had bosses imply or say I can scale back but the work queue never scales back and my personal backup coverage never increases. I like to call it the vacation test – were things managed enough in my absence that the amount of work waiting for me is minimal/my usual queue or is it backlogged the length of my absence? Because if it’s bad for a planned absence, imagine how it will be for an emergency absence.

      I’ve often benefitted from managers who put transparency into play. “We had 32 inquiries/week on average for 2021 and in 2022 we’re up to 50/week” and being clear about how we manage that shift (e.g. “I’ve changed our output timeline to 10 days from 5 days to help give you some room to breathe and anything high priority is being handled by me so you can focus…”). Sometimes I’ve just made the anxiety up and knowing year-over-year the inquiries are the same is a good check that I’m what’s changed and I need to simmer down.

      Your comment about self image really rings true – I’m left wondering how Tim wants to be seen by others and if he realizes how working this intensely might not be the only way for people to view him as a good employee. I think a manager could actually be a good person to have that conversation and also to balance it with what their idea of a good employee would be doing. If they don’t align, Tim could work on meeting outer expectations or he could view it as a sign to change roles to meet his own inner accountability measures.

  43. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    One thing that jumped out to me in this letter – OP, have you ever looked into total compensation once overtime is calculated, for Tim and his colleagues? The only reason I ask this is because it can make someone very prickly if they feel that their work ethic results in them not having the same overtime opportunities of their less motivated peers, which results in those less motivated peers earning more than them.

    IE if there is a cap on each worker making at most 20 widgets a week, and Worker A is productive, and makes 20 widgets in 40 hours, while Worker B meets expectations, and makes 15 widgets in 60 hours. If overtime at 2x wage is a factor, worker B is actually being paid 5 hours and 20 minutes wages per widget made (80/15), while Worker A is being paid 2 hours wage per widget made (40/20). If Worker A is only making twice what worker B makes, they may still feel resentful, because they’re actually being paid less per item of work product they make than Worker B (A makes 4x per part produced, but B is actually making 5.3x) – and they’re being told they can’t get any overtime pay, because they’ve maxed out how many widgets they’re allowed to make.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I’ll point out that the math on productivity there still holds up at time and a half for OT – Worker B would be making 4.6X per widget, compared worker A’s 4X.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Ooh, that’s a good point. OP says Tim isn’t expected to work OT but not whether he’s allowed to. I can definitely see being frustrated that I’m so good at my job I get 40 hours of pay while Bob is so slow he gets 40 hours of pay + 20 hours of OT. Of course even if Tim is allowed to work OT he may have to decide whether his time or money is worth more to him.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        That’s not Tim’s business if the organization is OK with Bob’s work, though. Tim could either ask for overtime, or back off (which he refuses to do). And being a tantrum-pants about it is not the way to address it, anyway.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Maybe so, but the better OP can understand what the root of Tim’s frustration might be the better she can respond to it. She can understand and empathize without agreeing or enabling.

          1. pancakes*

            If that’s the reason he’s behaving this way it’s inexcusable he hasn’t spoken up about it. Having a tantrum every few months and threatening to quit and being “routinely . . . aggravated” is a very poor substitute for communicating his dissatisfaction with his salary.

  44. kiki*

    Sometimes I think he’s feeling for other opportunities within the company, which is okay, but he’s concerned that if he’s too good at his current role and his direct coworkers aren’t carrying their weight, he won’t be able to get promoted or do more project based work as opposed to the transactional stuff he does now.

    Is there a reason he isn’t being given more project-based work? If so, does Tim know the reason?

    I’d also try to get to the root of what’s making Tim so anxious and see if he has suggestions for anything that could reduce his anxiety (besides changing his coworkers). You could float the idea of a 4-day work week, additional PTO, reduced working hours, etc. I don’t know the nature of this work, but one suggestion I have is seeing if you can identify a way for Tim to get more of sense of done-ness each day, each week, or on some other basis. Sometimes it can be hard on people to feel like there’s always more work to be done. So even if they know they can clock out at exactly 40 hours, seeing an endless backlog stresses them out.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Dollars to donuts, the reason he hasn’t been moved is they need his productivity doing the transactional stuff. His ability to do those tasks quickly is what keeps everything on track. If Tim leaves this role, the department will fall behind.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, that’s far more likely. We have people who are great at what they do, and we’ve tried to move them into higher functioning roles. Others who are good at what they do are never going to move because they have shown that while they are good a THIS thing, they just don’t have what it takes to take on a higher level of work.

          Tim sounds like the latter. Can this change with some coaching? There is no way to tell from this letter, but at this point, it IS clear that he’s not management material.

          1. Fran Fine*

            He’s not looking for a management position, though, at least not a people management one. He wants to do project work, and OP has said nothing in the letter indicating he doesn’t have the skills to do that kind of work.

      1. Longtime Reader and All That*

        Tim is too good to promote. He should get a better job but because he’s pulling all the weight, they’d rather hold him back where he is than move into a position that would work better for him. He’s maxed this job out. But as long as he’s producing more than everyone else, they won’t want to let him move on. He’s been clear about his goal- project work. But as long as he’s THAT much more productive than the others, there’s no incentive to let him move up.

  45. Lizzie B*

    Maybe I’m being too overly sympathetic to Tim, but honestly it can be exhausting to be the one that is both knowledgeable and productive in a role where it feels that others might not be as dedicated. Sure he works 40 hours a week, but seemingly at a tremendous pace. He might collapse after every day utterly exhausted and not get a quality worklife balance because he’s so anxious if he lets up a little and loosens the reins, things at work are going to tip over and suddenly everyone has to work 60 hour weeks. I used to do this until I went to therapy – I has so linked my self-worth to my productivity in the office that I was channeling all my energy into work and it left no energy for my friends, family or myself. It’s a form of burnout. It helped when I learned to delegate more and accept that other people were going to mess up in the organisation and that it wasn’t the end of the world, nor was it my responsibility.

    I’m speculating – but I think OP needs to find out if he’s a) controlling the work because he thinks other people are doing it badly and he has (justifiably) high standards b) feels under stress to be the performance star in the team so that everyone doesn’t have to work overtime or c) just an A**hat.

    The first two is an easy performance management fix: a) You can ask him to train up some of the more promising junior staff and then he gets to set his gaze on management and developing soft skills needed for that or b) others do need to step up to work at a slightly more intense pace so he can ease off and maybe oversee or review people’s work as a final quality assurance check.

    I would also add there is a d) potential – that the rest of the team know he’s really good at his job, passionate, dedicated and has high standards – and instead of this inspiring them to work harder and try to emulate him, they’ve just fobbed off their work because they know he will pick up the slack. If you’re absolutely sure this isn’t happening then address the attitude problem with Tim – but lordy if I had a fast, knowledgeable, productive worker I’d be absolutely putting them on the fast track to move off of transactional stuff and into more strategic work so it challenged them more. It’s a win-win – he gets to do stuff he feels more qualified to do and it might get him to slow down, and it allows the other people to step up and shine in their own right. I’m genuinely baffled by people saying ‘good riddance’ – productive and competent are rarer traits than you’d hope for at work.

    1. Longtime Reader and All That*

      I agree. Instead of letting him move up and do work at the level he has grown to, he is stuck in the role he is in because they need him to carry the whole team.

  46. Cheezmouser*

    I’ve been the Tim on my team before, and it’s not fun. There could be a couple of things going on here:

    A) Tim wants to grow out of his current position but feels like he can’t because the void he would leave would not be filled by his coworkers. So he feels “stuck” and is highly frustrated by it. He thinks the only way to get out would be to increase the productivity of his coworkers so that he feels confident that the team will be alright if he moves to another role, but your actions as the team manager are not helping increase the team’s productivity and over-reliance on him. This further frustrates him and contributes to him feeling like the only way he can advance is by leaving.

    B) Sometimes it’s not about the money or the perks, it’s about fairness. Does he feel like it’s unfair for him to do double the work of everyone else? (I’m assuming he’s not getting double the pay.) You said that you’ve told him that he’s welcome to slow down anytime he feels overwhelmed, but ask yourself if that’s realistic for him and the team. Who would pick up the slack, if the other coworkers are much slower and less productive? Would he be blamed if he slows down and the team misses a deadline? This may be another reason why he’s so focused on the lower productivity of his coworkers–he would like to pass the ball but doesn’t think anyone would be there to catch. Is he right?

    C) Tim could be frustrated that you, as his manager, are not listening to him. He is raising a problem (multiple times!!) and you don’t believe him. You freely admit that he does twice the work of everyone else and acknowledge that there is a work imbalance. He has specifically complained about that work imbalance, and said that he is stressed out. And yet, it doesn’t sound like anything has been done about it. Worse, it sounds like you don’t believe him, because you’re pointing out how he doesn’t do any overtime and you use language like “he claims” that he’s stressed instead of “he is stressed.” (Just because someone doesn’t do overtime doesn’t mean they’re not overworked and exhausted. Maybe Tim is able to handle 30 projects within his 40-hour work week, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting, nor that he wants to continue doing that.) Since you refuse to view the work imbalance is a problem, his only recourse is to see if you could build up the rest of the team so they can take on more of his work, or to get out. But his frustration is likely due to the fact that he’s repeatedly asking for help and not only doesn’t get it, but his manager is questioning whether he even needs help. He’s told you he does, multiple times. Why don’t you believe him?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “t doesn’t sound like anything has been done about it. ”
      He has been told he doesn’t need to work that hard. He’s choosing not to back off. This is on Tim.
      Sorry, but this sounds to me like it’s mostly driven by Tim’s ego and anxiety, and that is not on the OP to manage. And, if Tim can’t manage it better himself, he’s not leadership material.

      1. Cheezmouser*

        I disagree. It is the team leader’s job to ensure workload is fairly distributed among staff. (Note that I said fairly, which isn’t the same as evenly.) If one member of your team is complaining loudly and repeatedly about workload imbalance, it is your job to determine if the complaint is valid (OP freely admits that there is a workload imbalance) and then redistribute the work. Or be upfront about it and say “unfortunately we aren’t able to redistribute any work to your coworkers, so we will need you to continue doing twice the work of everyone else.” Then Tim can at least make a decision on whether he wants to continue doing that given his current pay and benefits.

        It might not be realistic for Tim to just back off. What if he does and things fall apart? He has no guarantee that it won’t come back to bite him. Nothing in OP’s letter suggests that OP has Tim’s back. Saying “you can ease up anytime” is a trap if there’s no plan for what happens with the overflow work. (This is not even taking into consideration industries where you can’t just let the ball drop without hugely negative consequences, like banking, payroll, or medicine.) It’s OP’s job to figure out what to do with overflow work.

        1. pancakes*

          “He has no guarantee that it won’t come back to bite him.” Apart from the reporting lines / org chart? He’s not responsible for managing this team. The person who wrote the letter is.

        2. rubble*

          from OP’s comments it sounds like there’s a shared, automatically updated list of tasks to do, and when one is done everyone goes back to the list and takes the next task, so no one is individually getting assigned work and there’s no expectation that the list is run down to zero tasks, just that things get done in a timely manner. it seems to be a “lower paid people are expected to do 20 tasks a day, and they are. tim is getting paid more so is expected to do 30 tasks a day, but is doing 40 and refuses to only do 30 even though he’s told that’s what’s expected of him” situation, not a “oh tim, are you done with that? good, here’s more work!” situation.

    2. MsM*

      “Maybe Tim is able to handle 30 projects within his 40-hour work week, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting, nor that he wants to continue doing that.”

      Except that OP’s made it clear Tim doesn’t need to be completing those 30 projects in the span of a week, but Tim’s doing and complaining about it anyway. If he’d actually step back and give OP a chance to assess what happens when he doesn’t, it might be easier to gauge where the other employees genuinely need to be stepping up and where he’s just decided everyone – himself included – needs to be meeting an entirely unnecessary benchmark. (Or if OP does end up blaming him for it not getting done for some reason, then he has evidence this is not a scenario where he can win and can focus on getting out.)

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      I agree with this! While Tim’s attitude towards his coworkers is unacceptable, increased pay and working from home only go so far towards perks. If Tim is truly doing twice the work of his coworkers, it’s probably true that he can’t take it easy. If this is a deadline-driven industry, it’s possible that Tim knows he can’t slow down, because his coworkers won’t get things done. If Tim has been ‘old reliable’ for a few years now, he’ll be blamed for dropping the ball. And he knows that.

    4. Cheezmouser*

      On point C above: this is the exact situation I’m dealing with right now, but as Tim instead of OP. I’ve been with my company so long and worn so many hats that the answer to the question “Who is the best person to handle this project?” is usually me. I have a new manager who started 6 months ago, and he didn’t understand why I kept complaining about being overworked. Yes, I had a higher title and higher pay than my colleagues, but I also had twice the projects. Even my colleagues have said, “I don’t know how you get all of that done.” I wasn’t doing much overtime, because 2 kids under the age of 5 means I need to stop work at 4pm on the dot to pick them up from daycare/school. But I was extremely stressed, to the point that I started getting heart palpitations. I brought my workload up to my supervisor, and his response was to ask me about my time management skills. (!!) It’s not that I’m inefficient, it’s because I have 30 projects assigned to me!!! I spent countless hours trying to prove to him that I was indeed overworked, drawing up charts showing how my responsibilities had grown exponentially over the last year, setting up task dashboards to show my productivity, sending him weekly project updates so he could see all of the projects I was working on. Of course, this cut into my time for actually working on the projects. But the most frustrating thing was that my manager did not believe me when I told him, explicitly and multiple times, that I was overworked and stressed. He finally took 2 projects off my plate, but then added 1 huge project the following week. When I complained about it, he sighed and said, “I just took 2 projects off your plate, why are you never happy?” (cue internal scream) I started brushing up my resume the next day.

      Dear managers: don’t do this to your top performer.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Exactly this. I deal with the same thing at my job. Last year we had an outside company come in and assess everyone’s workload. We were asked to fill out a list of our tasks, how long each task takes, and how often we do them. The goal, they said, was that everyone should have between 32-35 hours worth of work for an average work week (everyone is full time, 4o hours). My tasks? 52 hours for an average week.

        They took away a single task, that I do once a year and takes about an hour.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      OP commented elsewhere that there’s a pool of tickets, and people go and grab several to work on. When they finish those, they go back and grab some more. It sounded like the tickets were fairly transparent–workers would know if they’re getting 5-minute or 2-hour tickets.

      Tim can start grabbing 5 instead of 8 at a go. He can get up and walk the dog before he goes to grab more tickets. He can stand up and stretch between individual tickets. There are things he can do to lighten up his load. Maybe OP needs to be very specific with Tim about these small steps; sometimes saying, “It’s okay to slow down a little,” doesn’t really register without stating concrete steps.

      1. Cheezmouser*

        +1

        I like this suggestion. It might also be good to look at workload from different angles. Maybe if Tim handles 100 tickets per day and the other coworkers handle 60 tickets, but Tim’s getting all of the 2-hour tickets because the other coworkers don’t know how to handle the more complex tasks, then that is potentially a team training issue that OP needs to handle.

        Or maybe look at the performance evaluation metrics. If the team is evaluated/given bonuses based on maintaining an average ticket close time of 1o minutes, then Tim may feel like he has to grab a dozen tickets at a time to make up for his coworkers averaging 20 minutes. Or he feels like he needs to grab all of the 2-hour tickets because his slower coworkers will take 4 hours to do them, setting the team further back. The ideal response would be to coach the team to higher performance (as Tim is suggesting!!), not to overly rely on Tim to throw himself into the gap.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Agree with all this. I believe that OP is being sincere when she tells Tim he can back off and not push so hard but there could be a lot of hidden incentives like you mention that are making him feel like he really can’t back off.

          What’s going to be key is for OP to figure out which is happening: Is Tim accurately reading the situation and the system needs to be adjusted to REALLY allow him to ease up? Or is Tim off base in how he interprets the situation and OP needs to coach him on what the real expectations are?

  47. Just Another Zebra*

    I’m going to be a bit of an outlier for this one, but I feel for Tim in this situation. The department I work in at my company has become a bit of a “catch-all” department, where every task / responsibility / whim seems to find their way onto our desks. There’s only 2 of us, but we’re responsible for so much because everyone else is newer. It gets exhausting. Tim’s burnout might be self-induced. But it might also be that his newer coworkers keep leaving him the more difficult tasks, or that they know he’ll pick up their slack. I think it might be warranted to have an in-person, sit down meeting with Tim and have him voice his concerns with examples. It may be a general sense of feeling overwhelmed, or it could be “on this date Jake sent me this task and said he didn’t know what to do. And then Molly ‘couldn’t find’ this document, and when I sent it to her she said she was still confused. At that point it was easier to do X myself than teach them.” Or Tim is just a curmudgeonly person and needs a change of scenery.

    OP, I think you need to ask yourself what the cost / benefit would be of Tim resigning. Does his output make him someone worth making adjustments for to keep? Or is his attitude and behavior so negative that him leaving – even without having ‘old reliable’ – would be an overall positive? Something to consider.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      As I said elsewhere, I was this person, then I managed this person. When I was in the position, I got loads of “oh that’s hard only they know it.” As if it was perfectly fine to bust my butt to learn it and learn through error and asking loads of external parties questions, but heaven forbid they did the same thing. . Everyone wanted the few paper pusher tasks you could do while listening to the radio, leaving me with the pile of stuff that was filled with errors, customer calls, emails to state authorities and channel partners that would take alot of follow up to resolve, one-off situations, conference calls with VPs and legal, etc. It was a breeding ground for resentment

    2. Dust Bunny*

      They’ve made adjustments. He’s been offered a reduced workload but won’t take it, so presumably they could afford to replace him. But I would guess he doesn’t want to start over as the new guy somewhere else where he’d have to rebuild his overachiever reputation.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        It wasn’t a reduced work load, though – it was a breezy suggestion to take it easy. If OP says to Tim “given your title an salary, I expect you to complete X tickets, and your newer coworkers to complete Y” that gives Tim a more concrete frame of reference. It shows him how much of a breath he can take. I don’t disagree that Tim’s attitude is part of the problem, but I don’t think he’s a villain either.

        1. Camellia*

          Exactly! Tim is very focused and driven, and vague statements don’t help him. Give him, AS WELL AS THE REST IF THE TEAM, concrete numbers/targets/goals, and see what happens.

  48. Lyngend (Canada)*

    If you say he can reduce his work, would it be possible to reduce his hours to say 32, but keep the same pay? Say it’s for his mental health and a reward for his long service.
    Will force him to lighten his load, and address his complaint with work stress. Without it being an actual demotion.
    Or are there any other perks you can offer like wfh?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “e. He has remote work privileges that his coworkers (at lesser pay rates) do not.”

      He has WFH.

      My guess is that he’d see 32 hours as a demand to achieve his previous workload but in 20% less time.

      At this point, I think the OP needs to tell him sternly to cut it out, and then forcibly reduce his workload, both so he can’t (reasonably) complain about it any more and so everyone knows that the department can, in fact, function without him. He won’t like it, but I think that’s just who he is.

  49. ABCYaBye*

    Tim may be the type of person who can’t slow down. He may be the type of person who, after finishing all of their tasks in 6 hours, HAS to find more to do. If either of those are true, there’s not going to be much you can do about it, LW. That’s who he is and you’re not going to be able to change it.

    Offer Tim once more what you’ve been offering him already – a reminder that he can step back, that he doesn’t have to do as much, that he does get paid more and have some perks others don’t. And then remind him that you’re the manager and it isn’t his worry to look over the shoulders of his coworkers. That’s your job…

  50. Apples*

    Any chance Tim is a developer or other tech role? Because this sounds really recognisable and relatable. “Compelled to do everything he can, as quickly as he can, all day long” isn’t something you can necessarily manage someone out of, because that feeling of “mastery” IS the motivating factor. It’s like trying to manage a dog out of barking at the postman – to you it looks like the dog is stressed and you’re trying to convey that he doesn’t need to bark, there’s no danger and nobody asked him to, but the dog ENJOYS BARKING! My advice is to find him someone equally smart/motivated to bounce off. If you give him something more difficult to do but he still feels like he’s the only smart one in the room, he’ll still be miserable. If there’s nobody else around, let him know it’s time to move on.

    1. Apples*

      Oh, and one important factor is that he needs someone to vent to about his coworkers. You are obviously not a safe/appropriate person to do that to because you can’t join in (as a manager it would be inappropriate for you to say “yeah, Bob really sucks!”). Whoever you pair him with needs to be someone he can safely complain to. As long as Tim isn’t taking it out publicly on those coworkers, accept this as necessary blowing off steam.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        But is Tim venting, or is he trying to get the OP to do something about what he sees as a problem? If it’s the latter, another sounding board who doesn’t have the authority to manage the other team members isn’t going to satisfy him.

        1. Apples*

          It’s hard to tell from the letter, but since LW has repeatedly offered productivity plans and Tim is still unhappy, either LW’s plans didn’t work or he’s not after plans. They’re probably having this conversation:
          Tim: Bob is a moron! He’s spent three weeks on this ticket!
          LW: Well, we’re planning to give Bob more support and training in CSS.
          Tim: But you don’t understand! That won’t help! Bob is an idiot!
          LW: You may be more productive than Bob, but that’s why we pay you more.

          When this could be more useful:
          Tim: Bob is a moron! He’s spent three weeks on this ticket!
          Friend: OMG, I know! It’s literally just changing the colour of a button! What’s up with this idiot?
          Tim: believe it or not, my manager is happy with Bob’s performance, even though he’s so slow. Well, guess that’s why they pay him less!

          Tim feels validated, he’s comforted that he’s not completely surrounded by idiots and that he has some support, and even if he keeps bringing it up to LW he’s already spent the emotional strength on ranting to his work friend. Some people might consider the second conversation ‘toxic’ in and of itself, I suppose. But if LW’s assessment of Tim’s productivity is true, they’re asking him to deal with lots of people less skilled than himself and Tim is clearly not into teaching/mentoring those people, so his frustration has to go somewhere. (Or Tim himself needs to go somewhere else.)

          1. pancakes*

            “they’re asking him to deal with lots of people less skilled than himself” — How, exactly, is he being asked to deal with this? It seems to be a simple fact that many / most of his fellow employees don’t work at the same speed Tim does. The letter doesn’t suggest that his coworkers are in fact less skilled. It says they’re less productive than Tim, which isn’t quite the same as them being less skilled. Everyone besides Tim seems fine with this arrangement.

    2. pancakes*

      The Tim I worked with was a lawyer. I’m sure they can be found in many professions. The one I worked with wasn’t smarter or more motivated than anyone else; he wore more of his anxieties on his sleeve. He also made a lot of errors as a result of his compulsion to speed through everything. Being visibly stressed all the time isn’t a reliable indicator that someone is smarter or more motivated than others. Sometimes it means they don’t have many coping mechanisms besides work for dealing with stress.

  51. CommanderBanana*

    “Many others have come and gone over the last three years.”

    Did it occur to you that maybe Tim is the reason you’ve had so much turnover?

  52. CoveredinBees*

    Hmmm, Tim sounds like someone I know and love who is very perfectionistic. For the most part, it is directed inward, causing stress and anxiety. However, there is also a regular occurrence of , “I’m so much better at teapot handle pulling than Lucinda, I’ll just do it.” The pressure to do all of these extra things come from perfectionism and feeling the other person isn’t up to the task. I also went through the exhausting experience of having to do a group project with someone like this in college so I know there are at least two of them out there.

  53. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    If you promote this fellow or move him to a more challenging job, please don’t give him people to supervise. No one will ever measure up to his impossible standards.

    I wonder though, what do these kinds of ppl need or want? Constant praise? Fawning? Worship? And this guy is already being recognized. Projects “worthy of him?” His high public self-esteem could be hiding a very low private self-esteem. What kind of anxiety pushes him to work the way he does?

    I would set him straight once and for all and advise him to bring complaints to you that are true complaints.

  54. BethanyBW*

    I’m wondering if Tim is picking up on workflow problems and assuming they are people problems. It may be worth trying to redirect Tim’s energy on that front to your advantage. Have you mapped the flow of work to Tim and to other staff? Are some flows being built around Tim’s ability to handle a lot of volume, rather than in a way that actually makes sense from an efficiency perspective? Involving Tim in mapping all of that out may give him a better place to use some of his frustration productively, and may give you some insight into just how much you actually are or aren’t over reliant on Tim.

  55. MurpMaureep*

    I used to manage someone similar to Tim who, while good at his job and dedicated, was very full of himself and was also extremely well compensated (he in fact made considerably more money than I did as his manager). He was also very quick to blame others even in cases where he was partially, or fully, at fault. My route to working well with him was long and twisty, but my advice to the LW is to not to buy into Tim’s narrative of “I’m the best, everyone else is incompetent, they need to be better, I’m worth my high salary”.

    Stop enabling all facets of that immediately – don’t share information with him on how you are managing others, don’t agree/imply that others are not pulling their weight, don’t stroke his ego by agreeing that he’s invaluable, don’t heap praise on him for doing his job, and don’t let him think that he’s irreplaceable.

    I can almost guarantee that his coworkers (and others) are beyond embittered over him pulling down the big bucks and garnering accolades while he denigrates his teammates. This surely has already caused morale issues that are further impacting productivity.

    When I managed my Tim I also had to manage others shutting down and, in so many words, saying “give it to him, he makes twice what I do and he’ll just criticize my work”.

    Bottom line is that the “lower performing” staff are probably more worth developing than an expensive prima dona. Be at peace with his leaving if expecting him to act like an adult drives him away.

  56. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    I’m going to go with different advice – If you want to make best use of Tim, Tim needs to be involved in becoming a “multiplier” with the more junior colleagues. This is tough for a manager to coach, but for my technical work, we try and have Tims partner with juniors to help them make conceptual leaps and catch complexities earlier to help them accomplish more. It’s not easy, and there’s some soft skills to work on for Tim, but reframing the discussion of it as a long term project to make Tina and Theo into people with Tim’s skills in 5 years, and how he can support that development, might make it less fraught. Maybe Tony and Tara aren’t ready to take on more, but are independent, and Tracy and Thom need some basic support so they don’t have to rework as much. Maybe Tamara can take on some more advanced tasks but needs someone to review and help her iterate.

    Framing this as an opportunity for Tom to propose how he, personally, can support the team members development as part of being a senior can maybe help him become less frustrated, as it becomes less out of his control. This needs help from his manager, but if it works, is great for everyone.

    1. Observer*

      but for my technical work, we try and have Tims partner with juniors to help them make conceptual leaps and catch complexities earlier to help them accomplish more.

      That would be a great idea, if the OP’s department can manage that structure. The real catch here is that Tim’s current attitude is totally at odds with that kind of work, though. You simply cannot do this kind of work when you see people who are not as good as you (yet) as “incompetent and useless”. So if the OP wants try this and it’s otherwise feasible, they need to lay it out clearly.

  57. Mill Miker*

    You say Tim is allowed to take on less work, but what does that actually look like?

    If there’s an unending queue of work, and Tim is expected to process the queue for so many hours, and he moves through tasks at a certain rate… what’s supposed to change so that he can do less work?

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone who’s gotten into a groove with their work to slow their pace – that can almost harder than speeding up.

    The queue is unending, but maybe Tim thinks that if his coworkers also went faster, it would dry up, and then he’d finally be able to relax. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation oh his part though.

    Can Tim’s hours be reduced? He’s a high performer in a role where you can’t actually “accomplish your tasks for the day”, so he’s drinking from a firehose with only a clock letting him know when he can stop.

    Would it be possible to arrange things so that Tim can actually “finish” a days worth of work? You said you did some stuff to eliminate cherry-picking of tasks, but maybe something that comes with being “senior” is a separate queue of high-value tickets that are just for Tim, that he can actually run out of.

    If not that, then maybe he spends half his day on the queue, and half his day on some other projects that have timelines that aren’t “as much as you can get done in the allotted time”.

    I think there’s a mis-match between “what Tim can get done in a day”, and “what Tim can handle getting done in a day, every day” that can only be resolved by actively placing limits on Tim’s maximum workload.

    1. pancakes*

      “He’s a high performer in a role where you can’t actually ‘accomplish your tasks for the day’, so he’s drinking from a firehose with only a clock letting him know when he can stop.”

      What’s wrong with the clock? It’s reliable. The same hours come around every day.

      1. Mill Miker*

        I’m saying that maybe Tim feels overwhelmed because he can’t actually sustain working at his rate for 8 hours a day indefinitely, but doesn’t have another measure for “has done enough today”.

        The advice that Tim can “ease off” isn’t really actionable as long as the job is “process this queue for 8 hours” unless Tim has some other metric he can use for rate limiting.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t see why “process this queue for eight hours” isn’t actionable by this explanation. If he needs to get a lot more out of his own work day than 8 hours of work (a sense of having completed something grander, for example) I think that’s probably a Tim problem and not something management can resolve for him. I don’t know how you square this view with Tim trying to get the rest of the team to speed up their pace to match his, though. If he is trying to ease off by making everyone around him hurried or stressed, he has some very bad and self-regarding ideas about what the rest of the team is there for.

    2. Observer*

      You said you did some stuff to eliminate cherry-picking of tasks, but maybe something that comes with being “senior” is a separate queue of high-value tickets that are just for Tim, that he can actually run out of.

      Based on what the OP mentions in the comments, that just not possible. Ticketing systems don’t really work that way.

      You said you did some stuff to eliminate cherry-picking of tasks, but maybe something that comes with being “senior” is a separate queue of high-value tickets that are just for Tim, that he can actually run out of.

      I don’t think that that’s realistic. Tim has been given reasonable parameters for his work. If his issue is that he can’t deal with the existence of an ongoing queue that’s something he needs to figure out how to manage. You simply cannot expect management to reconfigure a ticketing system to allow someone to feel like the have, to use someone else’s analogy, a “clean plate”. It’s just the nature or working with these types of jobs and systems.

      1. Mill Miker*

        Lots of ticketing systems do work this way, it’s just usually called something else, like “escalating to tier 2 support” or whatever makes sense for the business.

  58. scooter34*

    I worked with Tim.

    It was all a love fest in the couple months – I was the quickest learner he had ever trained, it was so nice to have someone who cared, etc. I was slower at first, but as I got trained I managed to complete my work within the 40 hours allotted to each customer. I continually had to ask Tim for customer files that he stored on his own personal drive rather than our shared collaboration – so every week started out with me having to humor him to get the basic info to do my job.

    Then they moved Tim to another role because of a vacancy. Suddenly I was being picked apart at every turn. Tim did the schedule and I went from weeks in a row of similar clients to bouncing around in jobs – work that no one but a very experienced software installer could handle (like….Tim). When I would contact him to ask for clarification on a process that he had demonstrated one time six months earlier, I got scathing emails about how it was time for me to figure things out for myself. Management had no idea how to do his job because the company had been acquired by a larger company and Tim was the only one to handle his role consistently for a decade.

    I was let go on a Monday after Tim reported to our boss I hadn’t worked on a client’s account for the whole week. The manager told me to save my excuses and hung up. When I sent her an email and copied HR later advising that Tim had been looking in the wrong place (because the client had requirements to use a different remote connection software than the one we normally used, of course Tim saw no connection!) I never got a response. He’s still there, six years later – complaining all the time about everyone else’s poor work habits, while ensuring no one else can ever get to be as good as he is.

  59. Chickaletta*

    If I understand correctly, Tim’s sole complaint isn’t about his workload or pay, it’s about other people’s workload. Any suggestion to approach Tim with changes he can make won’t work – he’s not going to be happy until Other People change and that’s where he’s a jerk. He needs to be told that other people’s workload is none of his business (nicely of course). I can’t imagine complaining about what my coworkers do or don’t do! But I suspect that this is just the way he is – I’d bet my lunch that he’s the kind of dad who questions B’s on a report card and tells his kid to do better when they come in 2nd place, and the kind of husband who vetos his wife’s vacation plan ideas and which mattress to buy.

  60. HufferWare*

    Could Tim possibly be the reason you have such high turn-over? How is his attitude towards other employees? If I worked for a team with a guy who made significantly more money than me, had full time WFH while I was in the office daily, was intentionally taking my work for himself to prove some personal point, treated me like an idiot, and told me my work is not up to par, and isn’t even my manager? I’d be out of there! Is Tim truly an MVP or is he just very efficient at the cost of the development of the rest of your team?

    1. MurpMaureep*

      +100

      Tim’s impact on his coworkers has to be factored into how he’s managed. They most assuredly see that he gets a lot of praise and perks but also doesn’t treat others well. That’s going to make them question the organization’s values and, likely, be less motivated and committed over time.

      When I moved from individual contributor to management, I quickly realized that high maintenance high performers are almost never worth the trouble, especially when they cause morale issues on the team. You end up not only managing the “high performer” but also the dissatisfaction of others.

  61. Tom H*

    How much experience does Tim have in this field, especially prior to this job? The description makes this feel like the kind of role where Tim may have started at entry-level or slightly above. When you’re that much of a high performer you sometimes get skipped over for various development conversations because everyone assumes you know it all already and they don’t want to get in your way. Tim might think his only way out is doing his current job better, and then he looks around at all these other people doing 50% of what he does and despairs. He might just need a couple pertinent questions about his goals.

    And aside from that…there’s a limit to how long you can know your job better than anyone else around you does without losing your damn mind, IME. Even if Tim just wants to do this exact job extremely quickly forever, he needs some sort of exposure to people who know things about those tickets that he doesn’t.

  62. What a way to make a living*

    It is all very well being able to work at twice the pace and get through twice as much, but do you need that?

    If so, yes you need to manage the rest of the team to pick up their pace. If not, then Tim is being ridiculous.

    Also, I would bet there are things the “totally incompetent and worthless” colleagues are better at than he is. No one is worthless (!) and few people are truly incompetent. Just in the wrong job, or haven’t been clearly told they need to operate differently, or whatever.

    It doesn’t sound like the other colleagues are doing anything wrong at all. But Tim’s behaviour is likely to make people feel demoralised, infantilised and demotivated. If you’re considered worthless and incompetent unless you do twice as much work, even when it isn’t necessary, then it isn’t surprising if you’d end up feeling like there’s not much point in speeding up at all.

  63. markie mark*

    Maybe see if he can be a part of the solution for developing the junior staff, if you think he can control his frustrations. While it has potential risks, you need to build up your junior staff, but be prepared to end it quickly if necessary. Plus you and he can see if he would be appropriate for higher level roles right now.

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