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

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker kept bringing her “problems” that weren’t problems … and they definitely weren’t her problems? Here’s the update.

This feels like a lifetime ago! As you and many commenters picked up, my manager was… not great. The reason the Emily problem grew so insufferable was because our manager didn’t want to manage her. Despite telling me that she agreed with me and that she would speak to Emily, she did the bare minimum; I found out that some of the meetings she promised never actually happened. I think this was partly because Emily’s schedule rarely overlapped with our manager’s, making her an easy problem to ignore. Our manager had a habit of “managing” like that, so it’s not surprising that, within the two years I was there, every single position in my department turned over at least once.

After reading your advice, I did my best to have Emily make a list for me rather than constantly interrupting me. This worked briefly, but she soon started coming up to me and saying “This is urgent!” for “problems” that were really, really not urgent. When I did get a list, it was mostly things that were, shockingly, not actual problems. I was careful to act quickly on items that made sense, even if it was something very minor, hoping that Emily would feel she had contributed. But, she soon realized that I wasn’t acting on all of her list items, and she began arguing for every single item to be resolved. I directed her to our manager every single time, but Emily despised our manager, so nothing ever came of it.

Fast forward to June: Emily is still there, but no worries, because I got a new job! My last interactions with Emily, though, were a complete circus. The day before my last, she found out that I had interviewed for the same job as her (a different job than the one I accepted) and she was LIVID that I hadn’t disclosed it to her. The truth is, she had told me about her interview, and I didn’t say anything about mine because 1) I was certain her reaction would be volcanic, and 2) I was lukewarm on that company, and was pretty sure I was going to take the other offer I had on the table. On my last day, she STOMPED into our shared workspace, refusing to make eye contact with me, threw her things on her desk, and STOMPED out to the public area. A few minutes later, she saw me working on a piece of equipment, stomped back into the space, and, with a raised voice, told me to get off of it because she needed it IMMEDIATELY. I calmly replied, “Okay, Emily, that’s fine.” She glared at me and said, “I am SO disappointed in you. You knew you had another job lined up and you still interviewed for a position YOU KNEW I WANTED. I NEED IT MORE THAN YOU.” I said, “Emily, everyone can interview for whatever jobs they want.” She then raised her voice again and started blatantly insulting me, to which I immediately said, “I’m sorry you feel like that, but I am not going to be spoken to that way.” I walked away and continued wrapping up my things.

A few minutes later, a coworker asked me why Emily was nearly in tears, in the public area. I pointed her to our manager, and said to bring any behavioral issues directly to her. The last thing Emily said to me was that she was “disgusted” by me for interviewing for a job I knew she wanted.

I started my new position the following Monday, and I have never been happier or more satisfied with my career. It’s a better title, with much better pay, doing work that I love. The organization’s culture is absolutely fantastic. I work with so many talented people, and I have a wonderful manager. I’ve gotten glowing reviews already, which I think is a direct result of working in a positive, professional, friendly, flexible workplace that truly values its staff.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Goldenrod*

    “I’ve gotten glowing reviews already, which I think is a direct result of working in a positive, professional, friendly, flexible workplace that truly values its staff.”

    YES! Agreed. What a great update. Emily is a big baby, but you handled it perfectly. Congrats!!

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      OMG, LW, you are amazing! It’s so hard to remain centered when a crazy co-worker is attacking you verbally. Your reactions on that last day are instructive. Thanks so much and good luck in your position. That government office is very fortunate to have hired you!

    1. ferrina*

      Emily is being so weird about this. It’s not a zero-sum gain here, and you are under no obligation to tell her what jobs you are applying for. And she definitely isn’t the judge of “who needs it more” (because that’s toootally how hiring decisions are decided…..)

    2. Miette*

      Am I right that Emily was angry with OP for interviewing for a position that Emily wasn’t even offered, and OP ultimately turned down? That’s banana crackers. You’re well away, OP.

    1. goddessoftransitory*


      Although I admit I would pay a shiny new dollar to be a fly on the wall during her interview for The Only Job Worth Having And It’s HERS.

  2. SereneScientist*

    Didn’t Emily resign based on LW’s first letter? What on earth is even happening here, geez!

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      That’s what I thought too! She resigned in March, with an end date at the end of April, and then they just let her stay all the way through June? OP, your former company is bananas!

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wonder if Emily rescinded her resignation when she didn’t get the other job that both Emily and OP both interviewed for?

      And if not great manager decided that a semi-trained Emily was better than nobody with OP leaving for a new job?

    3. The Eye of Argon*

      Why the heck would she want to leave? This job lets her do exactly as she pleases without consequences. If she went somewhere else, she might get some mean horrible manager who’d actually… MANAGE HER and expect her to do WORK, and not let her get away with stomping around throwing tantrums and bothering coworkers.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        *Ding, ding, ding*

        Though the June thing jumped out at me too. Why was she still there two months after her last day?!?! Ugh.

        Another SOOOOOO happy for OP!

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I also wondered this. Was she expecting to get the job that OP also interviewed for and had quit based on that? Had she quit without another job lined up and then changed her mind when she realized that she still needed the money? Or did she have a job offer that fell through because someone at that company realized what a terrible person she is? (Naturally I hope it’s option 3 here but I don’t know that we’ll ever find out, will we? OP, please comment and tell us!)

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Was she expecting to get the job that OP also interviewed for and had quit based on that?

            that was my thought. And manager, who is hemorrhaging staff in the two years OP has been there happily took her back because manager sucks.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              OP commented downthread that Emily was expecting to go back to her old company and for some reason Old Company didn’t want her back…can’t imagine why….So the answer is even more ridiculous than I was expecting it could be.

      2. ferrina*

        Yep. That tracked. An avoidant manager who lets her misbehave without consequences…why would she leave before she wants to?

        I worked with someone who did this too. She was put on my team because she was supposed to be leaving in 3-6 months….last I heard she was still there several years later. She also wasn’t great, and chased a couple people off our team. Management was also hands off and a big problem there.

      3. higheredadmin*

        EXACTLY. This type of person just wears everyone down to the point where they can just do whatever they want because nobody has the energy left. This works especially well where there is some weakness in the management line, so even with a strong manager if the next person up doesn’t have the energy to let them go the drama continues because Emily will get busy wearing out the more senior person. If you don’t get them out quickly it just escalates. (As to why this person creates “problems”, it is so they get total control of their work. Emily is only working on what Emily wants to because Emily is finding all of these special problems. Eventually the real work will flow around her and she will reach peak do nothing without consequences.)

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I worked with someone like that–always making lists of customers to call back (for no real reason) and conveniently avoiding answering the phone.

    4. LW*

      LW here! I should add: Emily resigned under the *assumption* that her old job would want her back. They did not.
      So, she essentially begged to stay a few extra months, and our manager agreed. I was not in favor of it at all, but I was told it would “only be a few months” and that management didn’t want to go through the hiring process during a busy time.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, hey, OP, thank you for telling us this!! And it was sort of a variation on my option 3 above. So glad you are rid of her and your previous alleged “manager.” Congrats on the new job!

          1. Coffee Bean*

            Yes – congratulations on your new job. Sounds like you really landed in a good place. And the way you handled Emily is stellar.

      2. An SEO*

        Hahaha her old job was like “NOPE, we’re not going down THAT road again.” I can’t imagine this isn’t her first horror hayride.

        1. The Eye of Argon*

          Her old job probably threw a Farewell, Emily party AFTER she left :D

          Your former company is going to be reaping what they’ve sown for a long time, because it’s going to take a great big shovel to dig her out of there at this point.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup – betting they made polite “you’re always welcome back noises” while internally singing “ding dong the witch is dead.”

      3. Tedious Cat*

        Thank you for your update and also this update to the update, which made me cackle out loud and scare the cat. Best wishes for you in your new Emily-free position!

      4. MigraineMonth*

        It astounds me that anyone would think Emily is better than having no one at all. Clients were *scheduling around her*, she was distracting and exhausting every coworker, she was throwing temper tantrums…

        Some workers are so extra, replacing them with a fichus plant would improve the role’s job performance.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Some workers are so extra, replacing them with a fichus plant would improve the role’s job performance.

          Ha! Hahahaha ha!

      5. RunShaker*

        I wonder why Emily’s old job didn’t want her back. that’s crazy that Emily thought old job would take her back!

        Congrats on your new role LW!

  3. Daisy*

    Congrats on your new job OP!
    For all the managers out there – this type of “compassion” to a problem employee is being cruel to your good ones. The easy-to-manage ones have options and will leave and you will end up with a toxic workplace.

    1. Observer*


      I’ve mentioned this saying multiple times, but I think that managers really need this engraved in their minds: One who is compassionate to the cruel is cruel to the compassionate.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I’m extremely grateful to the manager who told me early on in my supervisory training that sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a person is tell them a hard truth. They won’t like it in the moment, but if they take it to heart it will make their career better in the long term.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m also willing to bet that OP’s former manager is always confused about why she can’t keep good employees (in my prior experience they always are confused).

  4. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    Emily tries but misunderstands, ah ooh
    She’s often inclined to borrow somebody’s dreams till tomorrow

    — Pink Floyd

  5. That'sNotMyName*

    Wow. What a…wow. I’m glad you could move on. It seems there’s no changing her or at least nothing you could do.

    Reading these always makes me feel better after many years of worrying that I was “that colleague”. I’m rather reserved and socially awkward when I try to push past that. Also, I have a number of commitments outside of work, so I try to focus on getting things done and don’t socialize much, but try to be friendly. As a result, coworkers have assumed I’m mean and/or stuck up. But never have I ever done anything like the people AAM answers questions about.

  6. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I went back and looked at the original post. I’ll say now what I said then — Emily is, indeed, a pain in the neck (or whatever), but the real problem in this situation is your manager-who-wouldn’t-manage. Now that you’ve moved on, they get to enjoy having Emily on the job!

    Congratulations on your new position!

      1. allathian*

        Yup, same. When a manager refuses to manage, the stellar performers and even most average ones will leave, and only the mediocre and poor ones who might find it difficult to get hired elsewhere stay.

  7. Hunter*

    I had an Emily at my workplace. She was an HR Director who had ascended to that level by virtue of simply being at the company for a long time. Because she had nothing of substance to do, her chief task was inventing problems at the company and starting “commissions” and “working groups.” Every so often Legal would be pulled into one of these groups and have a flurry of meeting invites and spreadsheets with useless data sent to us along with her many, many emails. If we pushed back she would inevitably complain and bend the ear of someone in the C-Suite, who would get worked up into a lather over the buzzwords she used, like “noncompliance” and “ethical problems,” and then we’d be ordered to look into these things anyway, and would generate a bunch of work product that she would point to and be able to say that something of substance had been done. She was like some kind of corporate risk ouroboros, and essentially allowed free reign for her inquisitions, until she finally ticked off the head of HR. After that she was summarily demoted and put under strict supervision. She quietly left and now works as an HR Generalist at another company.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*


      Corporate Risk Ouroboros

      That needs to be cross-stitched on a pillow and sold in an AskAManager gift shop

  8. Alex (they/them)*

    according to the original letter, Emily should’ve left in April!!! good for OP for getting out of there.

  9. cubby*

    this is wild bc i had a coworker named emily recently who lasted barely over a month due to similar shenanigans ending in a meeting where she cleared the room by attacking our boss and he let her rant for like an hour straight. HR investigated all the wild shit she’d been saying to everyone and let her go. the timelines line up so closely i’m tempted to believe it’s the same person.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Wild coincidence, and kind of scary that there are two of them out there! But the name Emily here is most likely a pseudonym so I doubt they’re the same person.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Well, since this person’s Emily was still working there when OP left, probably not.

    3. Uncrustable*

      Also had an unstable coworker named Emily who had a massive scary breakdown in the office that included punching her computer lol. What gives with Emilys!

  10. Petty Betty*

    Ugh. I remember my co-irker’s Emily tendencies. She was so mad that I didn’t tell her I was interviewing for another job outside of our company, or that I’d gotten it, and that she had to hear about my leaving from our boss (who was on maternity leave and shouldn’t have texted her to tell her, it should have been me to tell her later that day). She took it as a personal insult and spent my remaining time attempting to act as if she were my boss (one of the many reasons why I was leaving). I spent my time heavily enforcing my boundaries and our job titles while I wrapped things up.

    She didn’t get my title, and she’s still there, 7 years after I left, same position.

  11. Atlantis*

    Emily is ridiculous.

    My coworker and I interviewed for the same job. We knew pretty early that we were both going for the same job. We ended up comparing notes about our interviews afterward to see if we had been told the same things.

    They offered her the job, and she took it. I’m super excited for her, cause I wasn’t sure if I would want the job if they offered it to me, and I’ve since gotten a job that suits me a lot more.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I have to wonder if Emily talked about tasks that OP actually performed in that job interview. In which case no wonder she’s upset that OP also interviewed for the same job… She’d have been caught lying.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Oooh – good point. I’ve interviewed people who have worked for the same company before, and let’s just say it is VERY interesting to see different perspectives. (Hint – one person was doing the work; the other person was taking credit).

    2. Bread Crimes*

      I’m currently finishing up grad school, and with the field I’m in being as small as it is, I think every job I’ve applied to has had at least one of my colleagues, if not two, also applying for it. So we… talk about interpreting the requirements in the job ads, and swap our materials around for commentary, and encourage each other. It’s great! Maybe it helps that our field has such a tight job market, none of us really expect to make it to the final interview stage anyway, so it doesn’t really feel like a “competition” the way it would in other places. Or maybe we’re just decent people.

    3. Sometimes supervisor*

      I mean, I get Emily’s emotional state. Quick anonymised version is I wanted to led big project, co-worker also did, went to her. And, on one level, I was fuming. Big project came with raise attached which I felt ‘needed’ more than her, was also the sort of thing that because of her role she’d have several opportunities to do again whereas this may be my only shot to do something like this in years.

      But on another and much bigger level, I knew this ridiculous. It’s not like I was entitled to lead the project or was owed it. It’s not like she wasn’t totally free to ask to lead the project if she wanted to. And she was really talented as well. I definitely never told her she shouldn’t have gone for it because I needed it and wanted it more than she did – I think the only word I exchanged on it with her was “congratulations”. At worst, I think I could have been accused of being a bit withdrawn immediately after the decision was announced – I was disappointed but I at least had the common sense to try not to take that disappointment out on other people.

      So, agreed – Emily is being ridiculous.

  12. Velveeta v. Cheddar*

    OP – reading your Emily post made my blood pressure go up and by the end I was forgetting to breathe. KUDOS to you for handling the literal circus so well – I don’t know if I would have made it out unscathed.

  13. Tedious Cat*


    Is it wrong that I hope Emily is still there making trouble for the supervisor who wouldn’t do her job?

  14. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Calling this the “Emily post” is giving me the giggles. Anyway, congrats OP on your new job! You handled the situation as gracefully as anyone could but I am tremendously happy that you are freed from it.

  15. Aphrodite*

    Of course I am happy for you. But in a way I’m rather sad that your having left that job means we can’t know what kind of havoc Emily is spreading around now. It’d sure be fun to know.

  16. Pants*

    I’m so happy you got away from Emily! I’m also really, really impressed you didn’t give a “GFY” to her when she confronted you. I think I probably would have.

  17. Veryanon*

    Emily sounds like an immature baby, but the real issue is the manager who wouldn’t manage her. I’m glad you got out of there, OP.

  18. Observer*

    I admire your restraint. Because Emily is . . . special. But the REAL problem is your manager who I would have described in stronger terms than “not great.”

    And explicitly directing people to your manager is a master stroke. Perhaps if enough other people complain often enough, it will become enough of a problem for her to do something about it.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I think the OP should be commended for doing a public service to former coworkers by directing them to bring issues with Emily to her manager.

  19. Emily*

    Well, first of all let me apologize on behalf of all Emilys. OP, I’m so glad you got out of there and got a better job. Frankly, it sounds like your previous manager and Emily deserve each other. I can’t stand when people claim they are being “compassionate” when they are really just enabling bad behavior. I also can’t stand when people invent problems just to make themselves feel important. It sounds like your previous workplace had some really serious issues and I am so glad you are out of there!

  20. Snell*

    So, here it is:

    1. OP interviews for multiple jobs.
    2. Emily and OP interview for the same job.
    3. OP takes a different job. Emily knows this.

    No matter what their mutual interviewer decides, OP won’t “beat out” Emily for the job, since they’re taking a different job. Emily knows this, and yet, it’s just another grievance against OP (“You knew you had another job lined up and you still interviewed for a position YOU KNEW I WANTED”??? They’re jobs, not a tray of cream puffs. OP isn’t hogging all the jobs for themselves). Emily is still in the running for that job, and yet…

    …Okay, Emily. Okay.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, like what the hell Emily? How does OP interviewing and not accepting a job Emily also interviewed for affect her in any way? Emily is a bucket of nonsense and drama.

  21. dmowl*

    I honestly wonder how people like this manage to exist in the adult world. I had a work friend in my field who beat me out for THREE jobs in a row (we hadn’t become close friends at that point yet, but we were friendly and respectful)! And yeah, maybe I needed them a little more urgently than she did, but she also needed a new job for her own reasons, and I never begrudged her it, and honestly, she was a bit more qualified than I was because she had an extra year or two under her belt. We all ended up landing in good places and learned from each other along the way. Like that’s life, you’re in the same field, you’re going to overlap in interviews. If you need the job so badly, try being a better candidate.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh one of those ‘I’m the main character and you’re all NPCs’ types. They’re rare but ye goddess are they stressful and bizarre. Everything has to be about them.

    I got yelled at by one ex coworker for getting married. Because she was single. That was a weird day.

    I’m glad you got out and look at this way: any time you and your friends decide to have a ‘who had the weirdest experience at work contest’ you’re walking away with the prize :)

  23. A small houseplant*

    Clearly Emily has had one of those movie switcharoos and is a 4 year old in an adults body.

Comments are closed.