update: my employee is freezing out a manager after he joked about King Charles

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 employee was freezing out a manager after he joked about King Charles (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much for publishing my letter! I read the comments but didn’t participate. I know more about the British monarchy than I ever thought I would, so that is a plus!

I took your advice and talked to Kate directly. She said the King Charles comment was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and she has a “personality conflict” with William. Right now, the two admin work for our department equally. Kate requested we structure this so each admin reports to 3 managers and she is not assigned to William.

I told her I would take this under consideration and asked everybody else what they thought. The other managers were negative to neutral about this idea. William pulled me aside later that day and said that he does indeed had a personality conflict with Kate but he didn’t think it would get this bad. William’s perspective is that Kate “mothers” him in a way that makes him uncomfortable. Some examples he gave were things like asking him where his jacket was when it’s cold out or telling him to drive safe when he’s going off site. William noted that she does not make these comments generally, just to him, and it feels awkward and infantilizing. He responded to them by either ignoring her or changing the subject, but always felt he was appropriate when they communicated about their actual job.

After more consideration and some input from other managers about what they don’t like about assigning admin, I spoke to Kate directly again and said we are unable to assign administrative assistants to specific managers and she will need to find a way to work with William. Kate said she will work with William as long as he is “respectful.” I told Kate to focus on just work with William and to avoid personal conversation because clearly they do not mesh well.

Really hoping I do not have another update for you because everybody smoothes this out!

{ 294 comments… read them below }

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Yeah, asking to completely restructure the organizational pipeline so she doesn’t have to work with someone she doesn’t like is pretty extra.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not just that she doesn’t like him. She doesn’t like him because he won’t accept her boundary crossing! Talk about “extra”.

        1. allathian*

          Indeed. But apparently she doesn’t do this boundary crossing with anyone else, and they can work with her. If Kate sticks to just business with William from now on, even if they aren’t collegial, William may be perfectly happy with that.

      2. Worldwalker*

        And then saying she’ll only work with him if she considers him sufficiently respectful.

        Remember, this all started over a trivial joke about the king of another country, not her BFF or anything.

    2. yala*

      She sounds like a pill. What do you want to bet that “respectful” means responding appreciatively to her “mothering?”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – I stopped asking my 8th grader if they have their coat middle of last year – natural consequences are great teachers.

        Sounds like unfortunately there needs to be a lot more monitoring of what Kate is up to, I have a feeling William is t the only person who is being uncomfortably mother henned by Kate.

        1. Koifeeder*

          Yeah, my mom stopped doing this to my brother at about that point too.

          She still does it to me, but that’s because I genuinely forget and am miserable, so I appreciate the reminder.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            True – I think it’s about knowing your kids, and helping them in the way they need. My oldest doesn’t need reminders about their coat or shoes – my younger still does. But the older one does need reminding about taking coats Off because otherwise they get too hot, and are confused as to why.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Replying to my reply – it’s never appropriate to mother hen your coworkers – your coworkers are adults, respect them enough to treat them like adults.

        3. Tinkerbell*

          My now-9th grader has worn a hoodie every day for about three years, including in the summer when the temperature is well above 100 degrees. I have given up.

        4. Observer*

          Sounds like unfortunately there needs to be a lot more monitoring of what Kate is up to,

          Absolutely. This is incredibly bad judgement and inappropriate

      2. Your Computer Guy*

        If I ask the answer is always “no” so I stopped asking and now everyone wears their coats.

      3. Selina Luna*

        I do, but my kiddo is 2. I figure I’ll stop asking him around the same time he starts going to a school that doesn’t pin notes to his jacket with a safety pin.

    1. MEH+Squared*

      This stuck out to me as well. I have had a decades-long argument with my father about this because I never get cold. He’s a narcissist who used to insist I put on a coat because he was cold. Then we would fight when I refused. It’s bad enough when it’s an actual parent–it would be infuriating coming from a coworker.

        1. Pibble*

          “I’m cold, go put on a sweater” is a statement that comes from my narcissistic grandmother’s mouth on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with concern, and everything to do with her utter inability to conceive that other people have different internal lives than she does. (Seriously, conversations with her are WILD.)

          1. No sweater!*

            My mom says this as a joke, and we both laugh. I cannot imagine what it would be like from someone serious. Ugh.

          2. MEH Squared*

            You absolutely nailed it (including how wild the conversations can get). It’s all about how he felt and why I absolutely had to have felt the same way.

        2. Cat's+Paw+for+Cats*

          It’s not necessarily motivated by concern, overly or otherwise. It can be a type of control, or even an insult, as in “You’re too stupid to exist in this world without me.”

        3. MEH Squared*

          Trust me, it wasn’t concern for me. He told me to put on a coat because HE was cold–not because I was. And I said it was indicative of his narcisstic behavior–not that it was the whole story.

          Regardless, it’s not appropriate in the workplace for someone to say it to their coworker.

        4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          It’s not that a narcissist is overly concerned. It’s that a narcissist is incapable of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. I’m cold so you must be cold too. The fact that people have different metabolisms, clothes, etc. kind of whooshes over these people, with the result that they are incapable of empathy.

    2. no mother henning*

      I had a coworker who mother henned me –– always asking about reasonable things (work/life balance), but 1) they weren’t my boss/I wasn’t accountable to them for this and 2) they refused to accept when I didn’t want to talk about it, or took a different approach than they did. So condescending. It 100% ruined my relationship with them.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Yup. I had a colleague who did this and no justifications/explanations/sidestepping would make her stop. What did work? Calling her “mom.” A couple of sufficiently-sounding-joking “OK, Mooooommm…” remarks and suddenly she no longer felt compelled to ask me loudly in front of a board meeting about where my coat was.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        Oooo, I’m torn on that one because I’ve had a colleague do that to me and other female colleagues at my site and oh man, it was not ok. Now it wasn’t truly mother-henning but he was refusing to wear required PPE in our workplace and it’s part of our job to insist that it be worn so yeah, I’m gonna ask you where your f’ing hard hat is if you’re out in a hard hat area without it (for like the 4th time that week) and if you answer with “ok moooom”, I will report your condescending butt to at least your manager if not HR both for talking to me like that and for refusing to wear required safety gear after numerous reminders (and to be clear, I’m nice about it the first 2 times before I’ll start getting much less gentle – which usually leads to feedback about being a aggressive or nagging or the above mentioned “ok mooooom”, so yeah, it’s fun being a female in a male dominated field sometimes).

        Now, this doesn’t sound like that, so if that’s what you gotta do ok, but I’d be careful with that sort of response.

        1. Boof*

          Required safety gear and optional outerwear are very different things and a sarcastic response to being asked about it is inappropriate to one and not the other

        2. Observer*

          Come on. Why should @RabitRabit “be careful” with that kind of response to someone who is overstepping just because there are people somewhere in the world whose job it is to ask people about what they are / are not wearing, how they are driving, what’s going on with their health etc?

          *You* are simply doing your job, and anyone who gives you grief, in this manner or any other form, needs to get slapped down. But that doesn’t give anyone else a pass for over-stepping. In fact, if you start monitoring people whose gear is none of your business, you don’t get a pass either. Now, I know you are not doing that. My point is just that simply because a response is wildly inappropriate in one context does not mean that that response is inappropriate in a different context.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        I’ve used the “Thanks Mom” on an older sister who was in the habit of doing the “do you have your jacket, do you have your phone, do you want me to pack a lunch for you?” routine with me when I’d visit her. (Note: we are both grown ups and have been for some time)
        One calmly delivered “Thanks Mom” response stopped her cold. ( For a while, it’s a thing she slips into easily.)

        But that is a powerful shut down that I’ll never use trivially … because it really cuts to the core especially for people who have that overly helpful boundary challenged tendency IME. Though at work, if someone was pulling that stuff, I might not have that same hesitation, because unless your job is managing a gaggle of pre-schoolers, that energy has ZERO place in most workplaces.

      1. Airy*

        In my observation coworkers who “mother” someone (or “father” or “parent” as the case may be) can turn pretty nasty if they don’t get the gratitude and loyalty that they expect in response. William’s lack of appreciation for the unwelcome attention may have been the tipping point.

    4. Mack*

      Yeah, I always hate hearing that. I chose clothes for my actual comfort, not for others to think I’m comfortable. But I have the opposite opinion on “drive safe” – to me that’s an innocuous pleasantry like “have a good weekend” and it doesn’t seem parental. I’m curious if I’m offending people with it though – is it patronizing??

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Depends. He said she uses it specifically when he goes off site, so it doesn’t strike me as it being used quite that way. He’s also already annoyed by her, so it might land differently. She also apparently only says it to him. All these things separately might not be a big deal but the combination is a little much. You’re probably fine though.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Agreed. It’s the combination that’s driving William up the wall. I had a coworker that used to do that to me (acting like a mother hen). It never bothered me if anyone else said “Drive safe!” if they knew I was going on a long trip because it was just a nicety and a acknowledgement of me having to bear with being in the car for hours. But the combination of all her behavior towards me made that comment very grating when she said it.

          She also once told me I shouldn’t stop anywhere along the trip and get out of the car by myself…on a 6-hour drive! I’m sorry, but I have bio needs…and well…whether I make a pitstop or not was none of her business! I’m an adult!

      2. Dust+Bunny*

        It’s patronizing.

        How patronizing sort of depends on the situation, but I can’t picture myself saying it to my own coworkers since we’ve all been driving for long enough and we all know what even the worst driving conditions are likely to be in our area. It’s unnecessary and, yeah, patronizing.

        1. Ace+in+the+Hole*

          Perhaps this is a regional/cultural difference?

          In my area it’s quite common to say “Drive safe!” as a generic parting phrase. It’s not said as an instruction or reminder, it’s more like wishing someone well. Similar to how we might say “Have a safe trip” when someone is leaving on vacation… I’m not ordering them to mind their safety while travelling, I’m expressing hope that they will have a trouble-free journey.

          This doesn’t come across to me as any more patronizing than other common pleasantries like “Have a nice weekend.”

          1. UKDancer*

            Same. I would say “drive safely” is a fairly normal farewell imparting a wish for a pleasant and safe journey. In contrast telling people to wear a coat is very weirdly overreaching.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, it’s the modern day version of the precursor to “good bye” (ie godspeed)

              The problem in this particular case is the context.

              1. Splendid+Colors*

                And he’s being singled out. If it were just a regional pleasantry, she’d do it for anyone leaving for the day. Not just William going on field work.

          2. LittleMarshmallow*

            Same, I’m in the Midwest though so there’s a lot of that sort of thing.

            I say “drive safely” or “be safe” (I work in a fairly dangerous industry) all the time… and I actually mean it out of concern… not the narcissistic way people are saying it’s used in… it’s common in our workplace to say stuff like that to each other.

        2. T*

          That’s not what ‘drive safe’ means at all. It’s just a general wish that you reach your destination in one piece, not implying that you, yourself, don’t know how to safely operate a vehicle. There’s always an element of danger to driving, especially from other people on the road.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        I also interpret it as an innocuous pleasantry.

        “Have a safe drive” may be a more neutral phrase, since it’s more well-wishing than telling someone what to do.

        1. SemiAnon*

          Innocuous pleasantry if you she does it to everyone, but not if only directed at William (or, say, only the younger employees she tries to mother).

          1. Stacy*

            Yeah, but all he has to go on that she only does this to William is his word. If we don’t take Kate’s word about William being rude without double-checking, why take Williams’s

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Except Kate didn’t say William was rude, she said she has a personality conflict with him and gave no further examples. William gave examples of the behaviors Kate exhibits that bother him.

        2. Nesprin*

          “Drive safe” or “Have a Safe Drive” == probably fine

          “Oh, be careful out there, you need to pay attention when you’re driving”== probably less fine

          1. Splendid+Colors*

            I almost-tripped (but caught myself with some footwork) when I was paying more attention to a creepy dude than to the sidewalk. Creepy dude warned me to “pay attention to where you’re walking, you could fall down.”

      4. ThatCameOffJaded*

        I am now wondering the same thing. I frequently say “drive safe” to anyone who I know may be embarking on a long drive. Currently questioning all my life choices

        1. LittleMarshmallow*

          Same… good heavens now I’m all self-conscious that anytime I say “be safe” or “drive safely” or anything along those lines is just infuriating all of my male colleagues especially since me and other females in my office have been “ok moooom’ed” (see previous comment… it was about being called out for safety violations which is part of my job… you don’t have to like it but I’m expected to do it). But yeah, I already spend half my life apologizing for existing so this comment thread has been fun.

          1. allathian*

            You’re probably fine as long as you say “drive safely” or “be safe” to everyone. I can understand William being uncomfortable if he’s singled out. Hopefully now that Kate’s mad at him the infantilizing behavior will stop.

            There’s nothing infantilizing about ensuring that people wear the PPE that their employer requires them to wear. You’re just doing your job to prevent injury and liability. That’s not the same as asking a coworker if they have a coat when the weather turns cold.

          2. Dust+Bunny*

            Or you could just say something else? “Have a nice evening”? “Have a good trip home”? Something that isn’t their responsibility.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          No, I think it’s maybe a BEC moment. Except that she only said it to William. If you say it to everyone, because you genuinely hope they arrive safely, you’re fine.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Agreed. Reminds me far too much of the woman at work who used to ask me each day where my coat was.

      (I’m menopausal and frequently go out in 10c weather in a T shirt)

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      My parents still do this to me and I am 41. But they are my parents and not coworkers. And it sounds like William is a manager position over her too!

  1. The Prettiest Curse*

    Sorry that we gave you so much extraneous knowledge about the British monarchy, OP! I hope at least some of it gave you useful context. And I hope that your employees will be able to work together professionally regardless of their personal feelings about each other, which is always tricky.

  2. Velawciraptor*

    I’m concerned that the follow-up conversation didn’t include anything about William’s concern about Kate trying to mother him. It sounds like the dynamic is that Kate is older than William and doesn’t appreciate the younger person being in a position of authority over her, seeing it as disrespectful. Hence her trying to insert authority otherwise with the mothering behavior. That goes beyond just focusing on work and avoiding personal conversation and needs to be addressed.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m more or less neutral on this. I can understand not wanting to go back and forth with the “well this is what bothers this person about you” conversation, though I certainly would have encouraged William to bring it up himself. But at the end of the day the message really is “you both need to behave in a civil manner”.

      My guess is there will be another update on this.

      1. Absurda*

        Yeah, we know the problem from William’s perspective but what does Kate have to say about it? Did she give any examples of William being disrespectful? Does he constantly make disparaging comments about the royal family around her just to irritate her?

        If he’s doing something then that needs to be addressed, too. If she can’t produce any examples or anything specific he’s doing to disrespect her (other than the one comment) then you can focus on counseling her.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        A message of “you both need to behave in a civil manner” is only really appropriate if both people are behaving in an uncivil manner. There isn’t much to suggest that’s the case but I’m not sure that OP has really dug into this as much as they needed to.

    2. Prefer my pets*

      I had the same thought. It sounds like their “conflict” is solely on Kate and she needs to be seriously counseled about her behavior. Office mothering is so toxic and undermining.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’m wondering if Kate is mother henning others as well – but that William right now is bearing the brunt of it. Definitely think some more oversight on Kate and her behavior is needed.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Totally agree. What Kate took offense to was not offensive, if I remember the comment correctly. It was a wry comment. People are allowed to make those. The entire issue seems very driven by Kate, particularly now that William has provided his side of the situation.

        I would personally not have entertained the idea that reassigning work was even a remote possibility. I would have said I would look into the “personal conflict” further, but that’s it. And I’d have come back and told Kate to cut out the “fussing” at William. She’s not his mother.

        (Frankly, I have to take my own advice wrt my own actual children, but I maintain that as long as I will be the one caring for you when you are sick, I have stake in you wearing proper clothing out of doors. Note that I don’t fuss at my spouse over this, as he’s a grown adult.)

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Agreed. I didn’t get the impression that Kate was really told to knock off her attitude. “Mothering” problem aside, she still doesn’t get to decide to work with William, or not, if he’s respectful enough to her.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the OP did tell her that she just needs to focus on work and doing her work, and skip the personal stuff. For most people that would be clear enough.

        Given her bad judgement, though, who knows.

      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        William is one of the managers that Kate supports. Unsure if Kate reports directly to William (sounds more like an admin pool), but William is definitely not a peer.

    4. nom de plume*

      Agreed. Sorry, OP, but this intervention on your part doesn’t get to the root of the problem. There may have been no need to address the mothering issue specifically, but “you two just need to get along” does… nothing. It doesn’t assign personal responsibility, suggest follow on, offer tools (“avoid personal conversation” is just not realistic) and more than that, doesn’t address Kate’s over-the-top reaction to the Charles comments.

      I’d be surprised if this is the last of this issue.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I’m not getting the impression from her response that Kate is going to do anything differently. She still wants to refuse to do her assigned work if William isn’t respectful enough.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Yep, she has reserved for herself the right to stop working with him again as soon as he doesn’t meet her undefined idea of “respectful.” She also has not admitted anything problematic in her own behavior and does not see a need to meet any similar standard of respect towards him. But mainly, OP remained conflict avoidant and did not properly address Kate’s behavior, the changes she needs to make, and the consequences of not making those changes.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      I’m not sure that aspect raises to the level of needing to be addressed by a manager.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think this is where I land too – though I agree with the general consensus that by not addressing the root of the issue it’s almost certainly going to resurface.

    6. Jules+the+3rd*

      Yep, that’s how I read it. The conversation needed to include “working with William is a requirement of the job, and that includes treating him as a competent adult.”

      I might go back and nudge William to say something in a professional manner to Kate about it when she’s doing. Not as a light-hearted joke, but as a quiet “Hey Kate, please don’t talk down to me” when she asks about the coat.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, this bothered me too. I feel like OP did not handle Kate’s behavior directly enough and tried to accommodate her rather than telling her she needs to adjust her behavior. Kate is probably left thinking that it is still an issue of a personality conflict and William is as responsible (and as responsible for fixing it) as she is. But it is her behavior, regardless of personality issues, that is problematic.

      And OP should not accept her saying that she will work with William as long as he is “respectful,” because she is indicating that she gets to be the one to determine what “respectful” means and whether he is “respectful” enough. That is not her call to make. OP needs to tell her that she needs to work with him, and that she is free to report any issues to OP, but that her job is to be respectful and do the work, regardless. William will get his own directives and his own expectations/consequences as management sees fit. And if she finds his behavior disrespectful enough not to work with him, and OP does not agree, then she won’t get to keep her job.

  3. Jennifer Strange*

    I’m curious how old Kate is in relation to William? I could be completely wrong, but the whole “mothering” thing, and her saying she’ll work with him as long as he is “respectful” reads to me that she may be older than him, so I wonder if there’s some level of a “you should respect your elders” vibe going on.

    1. Dust+Bunny*

      Weirdly, the coworker who mothered us the most was one of our youngest employees at that job, and I think she felt insecure about being the youngest. Everybody else was a little older, had more work experience, had more education, etc., and I think all she felt like she had was that she was the oldest of a big family and surely must have better domestic skills than all of us “career women” (not that this is always the situation but I think it was in this instance, based on what else we knew about her), so she was constantly fussing over our clothes, the weather, how we drove, what we ate, giving us cooking and housekeeping tips, etc.

      If we had also been younger and more insecure it would have been maddening.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yes that’s eldest sister syndrome, she must have felt strange being the youngest and needed to prove herself. It can be charming in a young girl, but she could well turn into a Kate if she’s not careful.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am guessing older and probably not thrilled to have him in authority over her. But OP made a huge mistake in letting it end with Kate agreeing to work with him if he is “respectful.” She has reserved for herself the right to repeat the unacceptable behavior and to judge for herself whether he meets her undefined notion of “respectful.” OP has not seen the end of this problem, and it will only be worse next time. She did herself no favors by choosing conflict avoidance over effective management.

  4. Antilles*

    Really hoping I do not have another update for you because everybody smoothes this out!
    Given Kate’s response of “only if William is ~respectful~” (eye-roll), I’ll bet right now that you *will* be providing another update letter to this…

    1. Mid*

      Yeah that was my first thought too. That doesn’t sound like someone who is “getting it” or understanding why her behavior is inappropriate.

    2. ABCYaBYE*

      Yeah I was thinking the exact same thing. I think this is a perfect place to go back to Kate and say that William has agreed to be respectful, but Kate also needs to do the same… and then be prepared to offer specific details when she asks.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Also, it needs to be clear that Kate does not get to determine whether William’s behavior is “respectful,” at least not to the extent where she uses it to excuse her failure to do her job. OP needs to tell Kate that she has to work with William as part of her job, and failure to do so will result in disciplinary action up to termination. OP also needs to tell her that if she has any issues with William that she thinks would warrant professional consequences, she can report those issues to OP, and OP will work with management to determine if the conduct is problematic and what, if any, consequences should take place for him. But it is not for Kate to make that determination and she does not get to simply choose not to do her job, unless her intent is to resign.

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Yes. That’s such a manipulative phrase—who’d reasonably argue that someone should work with someone who is disrespectful? But “respectfulness” is subjective enough that you just know Kate is soon going to have a long list of instances in which William wasn’t “respectful” enough.

      1. Dust+Bunny*

        This is totally a loophole. No matter what William does or doesn’t do it won’t be “respectful” enough.

      2. Koifeeder*

        I’m not thinking there was intentional manipulation, but I’m reminded of something I read somewhere about how respect can mean “treat you like a person” or “treat you like an authority” and how sometimes when people say they’ll respect someone if that person respects them, it means they’ll treat them like a person if the other person treats them as an authority. That’s the vibe I’m getting here- which is really bad since William is Kate’s manager! She should not be expecting to be treated as an authority, and cannot mistreat her manager because she wishes to be an authority over him.

        1. allathian*

          William isn’t Kate’s direct manager. Seems to me like there’s a pool of admins providing services for multiple managers, and the OP is Kate’s manager. Kate’d prefer not to work with William anymore because he’s not acting respectful enough for her liking.

        2. Madame Beck*

          I’ve seen that specifically regarding the police: a cop will treat you as a person if you treat that cop as an authority.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That’s what I was wondering — what does Kate consider “respectful” from William? If it’s that he responds as she wishes to her [s]mothering attempts, she needs to be told more directly to knock it off.

      4. I+am+Emily's+failing+memory*

        Exactly. Manager should say something like, “I support everyone’s right to be treated respectfully by their colleagues in this workplace, and to do that effectively I need to know when there’s a problem so I can speak the offender. In your role, you don’t have the authority to unilaterally decide to ignore reasonable work requests from William. If there’s any further trouble with him, please alert me, and unless you’ve been asked to do something against our policies or the law, complete the task as requested.” No matter what happens, she needs to understand that refusing to do legitimate tasks is never the appropriate way to handle the problem.

      5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Since Kate found that silly joke disrespectful, I do not think any manager should let her get away with saying she can return to not doing her job if, in her opinion, Kate determines his behavior to be disrespectful.

    4. ferrina*

      Yeah…..I think we’ll be getting another update to this.

      LW, make sure you keep the conversation open with William- checking in with him specifically on his relationship with Kate (making sure your employee is working well with others is part of your job as manager). Keep talking with Kate- give her immediate feedback on her performance, including her treatment of others. Her judgement hasn’t been the best so far, and I’m sure you’ll have more to talk with her about (with the goal of coaching her to establish a productive relationship with colleagues).

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I agree with ferrina. You’re still going to need to keep an eye on this situation. In particular, you should check in with William from time to time to make sure Kate is completing his assignments in a timely manner and not backburnering them because she likes other managers better.

    5. IsbenTakesTea*

      I agree. It’s professionalism to be respectful regardless if the person you’re interacting with is respectful or not; if they’re not, then you may need to go to your manager or HR, but that doesn’t give you a pass on doing your job. I’m guessing you’ll have to pull out the “Interacting professionally with William is part of your job. Do you feel you can commit to that, or is this role no longer a good fit?” conversation.

    6. The+Person+from+the+Resume*

      I agree. It sounds like you didn’t address the fact that Kate “mothers” William.

      It sounds like you may not have really addressed that Kate was in the wrong to freeze William out in the first place. Only that it needed to stop.

      William admitted to you there was a personality conflict, but you couldn’t tell because he was being professional. Kate is behaving completely unprofessionally. There’s probably more to fix here.

      Others are pointing out that Kate may be expecting some sort of extra deference/respect from William possibly because of age. She seems to find the other 5 managers respectful enough, but is having a particular problem with him.

      1. madge*

        So much this. And because William clearly isn’t one to complain, the next time there’s a Kate-harassment problem, OP might find out via William’s resignation letter.
        Definitely worth discreetly checking around regarding Kate’s interactions with others. It’s possible that no one wanted the dedicated-assistant system because they might get assigned someone they don’t want.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Have to say I was wondering about that very strongly. I suspect that Kate annoys or mother hens other people in the office, but at the moment William is bearing the brunt of her attentions.

          Please keep tabs discreetly on what Kate is doing – I doubt that William will come back to you with more complaints, and I also strongly doubt that Kate is going to pull things together and be respectful to William.

    7. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Also: “respectful” to whom? Kate? Or the British royal family? This whole thing came to a head because William’s joke about King Charles was “disrespectful.” So Kate’s “only if William is respectful” response doesn’t even recognize that the joke is exactly the kind of thing she needs to let go.

          1. madge*

            hahahaha, love it. And, if you wonder whether or not it’s possible to swallow sunflower seeds whole while laughing…I now know it is.

    8. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      I would have thought that the OP asked kate how William has disrespected her, besides just the king Charles comment.

      1. Absurda*

        100% agree. I really wish the OP had dug a bit deeper into why Kate thinks she’s being disrespected rather than just assuming she’s 100% the problem. I agree freezing William out was unacceptable and unprofessional but I still think understanding what the other straws on the camel’s back were is important.

        If she’s just being oversensitive (like she doesn’t like his tone or he never says please/thank you) that’s one thing. If she actually has a legit grievance (he talks down to her, bullies her, yells at her, etc) that’s something else entirely.

        1. Zorak*

          Yes, that comment is a red flag to Kate’s thought processes. I’d bet she thinks that William brushing off her small “mothering” comments (tiny attempts at asserting control maybe?) is “disrespectful.”

          For William’s part, while “Drive safe!” is a pretty standard/common goodbye phrase for anyone who’s leaving to drive anywhere (and doesn’t imply that you think they won’t), the coat thing does sound like an annoying type of comment to deal with on a frequent basis. But brushing it off and dealing professionally with actual work-related things is the right way to handle it.

          Kate needs to 1- stop looking for things to find disrespectful (the Charles joke is such a nothing thing to get mad at), 2- stop categorizing things she finds annoying as “disrespectful”, and 3- resolve to work with him professionally even when he is doing things that annoy her.

    9. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – it sounds like William gets office professionalism, but that Kate is clueless.

      I’m sadly anticipating another update with more info on Kate and further issues.

    10. Youngin*

      Yeah, I am not hopeful. Especially if OP didnt talk to Kate about her weird mothering vibe as well. Her “as long as he’s respectful” insinuates she will find a problem with him no matter what since she just doesn’t like him. It honestly sounds like she creepily overstepped, maybe even conflated their relationship in her head, and when he did not worship the royals the way she did she took it personally.

    11. Irish Teacher*

      Yup, that raised major red flags to me, especially given the original issue. It sounds like “I will work with him on condition he never says anything I dislike.” I know people differed on whether or not his joke was offensive, but…it sounds to me like Kate is seeing it not just as a poor joke or in bad taste, but as disrespectful to her. It might be appropriate to add that caveat if the issue had been something extremely disrespectful like William mansplaining to her or something, but…it doesn’t sound like he did anything that was deliberately aimed at her.

      Plus, “I will work with him so long as he is respectful” sounds like it could mean that she expects him to defer to her.

      I may be wrong but it really sounds like Kate’s attitude is “well, OK, I’ll work with him so long as he does everything my way and never says anything else I find offensive. And I’d have my doubts about whether or not she feels the need to take equal care about not saying anything that might offend or annoy him.

    12. Curious*

      Respectful to whom? Kate? King Charles? The Royal Family? Lese Majeste isn’t a crime in the UK, let alone here in the US (where this Kate and William are).

      1. londonedit*

        And as many of us said on the original letter, if Kate thinks William’s joke is ‘disrespectful’ then I’d suggest she never actually visits Britain and sees the sort of jokes we make about the Royals…

        1. UKDancer*

          Oh yes we satirise and mock them a lot. I mean what William said was a pretty mild joke (albeit not a hugely funny or original one) in comparison to what you see in the UK.

    13. Observer*

      iven Kate’s response of “only if William is ~respectful~” (eye-roll), I’ll bet right now that you *will* be providing another update letter to this…

      Oh, yes.

      OP, please take all of this feedback on board, not as criticism but useful information and perspective.

    14. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      OP made a huge mistake in letting it end with Kate agreeing to work with William if he is “respectful.” She has reserved for herself the right to repeat the unacceptable behavior of refusing to work with him and to judge for herself whether he meets her undefined notion of “respectful.” OP has not seen the end of this problem, and it will only be worse next time. She did herself no favors by choosing conflict avoidance over effective management.

      OP should also have never given any serious consideration to the idea of accommodating Kate by seeing if things could be reassigned. The other managers were not ok with this, and I am guessing they do not want to be stuck with Kate all the time. Clearly they did not feel Kate’s behavior should be accommodated, but OP is not getting the hint and is not choosing to be an effective manager. Conflict avoidance won out over managing well here.

  5. Momma Bear*

    I had a manager I could not stand but I also didn’t feel like I could work with him professionally. I think now that everyone’s had a talk, they can get back to business. Kate sounds like the problem here, really.

  6. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I agree that Kate sounds like a lot and that we will be getting another update on this one.

    It is not clear from this update just how much you managed Kate and her expectations. Did you soft-pedal the feedback about how Kate is treating William? It sounds like you did given that she got the last word and said she would work with him as long as he was respectful. OP, you put that in quote marks, so you know that the conversation was not clear to Kate.

    I hope you will follow up with both Kate and William to see how it is going so you can address any ongoing problems directly and in a timely manner.

  7. Phony Genius*

    With the amount of respect Kate seems to demand for the royal family, I wouldn’t be surprised if she insists on being called Catherine instead of Kate.

    (Yes, I know the names have been changed in the letter for anonymity (and irony), but it’s still fun to envision this.)

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      I agree that Kate is wrong.

      I don’t think wanting to be called by your full name at work is not one of the things she would be wrong about, even if you are otherwise a difficult person to work with. People can be wrong about most things but still be right on some things.

      The only way I could see it being wrong is if she allowed literally everyone else but William to call her Kate and insisted he calls her Catherine.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          I think I did, was it supposed to imply that she wants to be called “Catherine the Great?”

          It has been a while since I took European history but I think Catherine the Great was from Russia?

          1. Virginia*

            I think the names Kate/William are supposed to refer to King Charles’ son William and William’s wife Kate Middleton (full name Catherine).

          2. BethDH*

            On top of what Virginia said, I think I recall some trends where “Kate” was mostly used by close friends and tabloids, so it was considered by some to be too intimate to be respectful. I think the American equivalent would be people referring to the president by a diminutive nickname rather than “president LastName.”

          3. cardigarden*

            IIRC, once they got engaged, Kate Middleton requested that people refer to her as Catherine, because, idk, we can’t do nicknames in the royal family? It read to many people as weirdly putting distance between her pre and post married life.

            1. allathian*

              No nicknames in the Royal Family is funny, given that prince Harry’s given name is Henry Charles Albert David, and he’s always been known as Harry. Given that, it should’ve been perfectly fine for Kate to remain Kate even after the wedding. But many people change their names, or quit using a nickname, for various reasons. And for whatever it’s worth, Kate Middleton’s social standing changed substantially when she became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (subsequently Princess of Wales), so it’s understandable that she wanted to stop using her nickname to reflect that.

  8. Health+Insurance+Nerd*

    I don’t see this situation getting better. It doesn’t seem like the manager ever addressed the inappropriateness of their employee refusing “to acknowledge William or do any work for him”, which was initially the issue, nor did they address William’s issue with being mothered. Kate really needs to be advised, full stop, that it’s simply not acceptable for her to refuse to do her job or place the condition that she’ll continue to perform her administrative duties as they relate to William as long as he is “respectful” which can be a fairly subjective perspective.

    1. Sister George Michael*

      Agreed. Having two employees who are “avoiding personal conversation” is disruptive. I think the manager should have asked her an Alison-style question: “Being collegial to co-workers is required of everyone who works in this office. Are you able to commit to that going forward?”

      1. allathian*

        Depends on how it’s done, but it’s an extreme step to take. You don’t have to like everyone you work with, and if someone’s actively unpleasant to you, refusing to engage in anything except work-related conversation is collegial enough in my book.

    2. sdog*

      Yep, agreed. It sounds to me that Kate just turned it around when OP talked to her and blamed William. Maybe there are other instances of that, but what was the subject of this discussion was Kate’s failure to perform her admin duties. I think the focus of the discussion should have been that. If Kate has specific instances of disrespectful behavior, then she should be reaching out to OP to help address and not just simply refusing to perform essential aspects of her job. As for changes to the administrative structure, that would be determined based on the needs of the organization and not to benefit the specific personal preferences of certain employees.

  9. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I think Kate’s idea of “respectful” is that William stays respectful about the crown of the UK…which is not what is needed here.

    She is being disrespectful both by mothering this guy and by demanding everyone be nice about a foreign monarchy.

  10. English Rose*

    Great to read the update and really hope this works out. But oh my goodness, this has put into relief for me the reason I feel uncomfortable with new-ish hire “Jenny”. She mothers me in a very similar way (despite I’m older, but I don’t have children and she does, as do all the rest of the team).
    Samples: “Remember your dentist appointment”, “Don’t stay too late tonight”, “Didn’t you say you needed to get your car checked”. And so on and on. It’s all done in what seems like a genuine way and I couldn’t work out why it bugged me, but now at least I realise the reason!

    1. JustAnotherKate*

      I had a coworker who was my age, but was married and a parent, who did stuff like this. Finally I asked (nicely) if she thought I was having trouble managing my life, and she said she worried about me because I’d never had to grow up. This was news to me as a grown-ass adult with a responsible job, graduate degree, aging parents, mortgage, etc. so I asked what she meant. Apparently in her world, you only grow up when you have kids! I realize, being a parent is a whole other level of responsibility — but I didn’t need to be a parent to realize I needed to bring my umbrella to avoid getting caught in the rain!

        1. Rage*

          Wow indeed. I mean, technically, I’ve never grown up (and I refuse to LOL) – but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to manage my own life as a (mostly) functional adult.

          Fortunately, nobody at my job does this to me.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Ha! I show up showered, dressed, and medicated – my coworkers would not like to know how late I was up playing video games last night but good thing I’m not gonna tell them!

      1. Your Computer Guy*

        I didn’t truly feel like an adult until I was at a playground with my son and a random kid told on some other random kid to me. As in…
        Kid: “He threw sand at me!”
        Me: “Uh…well, that isn’t nice…probably shouldn’t do that.”
        Kid (to other kid): “See! She said not to!”
        And that was it, I realized that I was an adult.

        But in my defense, I still didn’t need anyone reminding me about appointments, that’s what the alarm on my phone is for. …maybe the phone is the real adult.

      2. H.Regalis*

        “Apparently in her world, you only grow up when you have kids!”

        I have a couple friends where this attitude ramps up when they’re jealous of someone else >_>

      3. Dust+Bunny*

        I literally just commented above about being mothered by a younger coworker who seemed to feel she had that authority because she was the oldest of a zillion kids and the rest of us were “career women” (this was definitely a job and not a career) who must surely be deficient in domestic skills because we’d been stunted by formal education.


      4. Observer*

        she said she worried about me because I’d never had to grow up

        I really gasped at that. What on EARTH!?

        but I didn’t need to be a parent to realize I needed to bring my umbrella to avoid getting caught in the rain!

        LOL! I hope you told her that. And that you also know how to tie your shoes.

      5. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I got that same attitude off another manager here (at work, not AAM – none of you are that rude!) who said I wasn’t an adult and didn’t know what ‘responsibility’ was because I didn’t have kids.

        I’m 20 years older than her at minimum. I think I can be trusted to know how to wash my hair, take my meds, drive a car without wrapping it round nearby landmarks..

    2. H.Regalis*

      That would make me want to put my fist through a wall.

      I’d say these people should go volunteer somewhere where people actually need this kind of help and care, but I think it’s more about power tripping bullshit than a genuine desire to be of service to others.

    3. Stargazer*

      At a previous job, we had an admin who would remind our boss about personal appointments on his calendar the same way she would remind him about meetings. For example, she would remind him that he had soccer practice so he needed to leave on time. They were similar in age, and I always read her as acting like his wife rather than his mother, and seeing this typed out, I am realizing that both wifeing and mothering are ridiculously gendered ways of viewing what is a blurring of professional boundaries.

      I believe the admin was coming from a genuine place of being of service and just didn’t see a boundary between meetings and soccer practice. Our manager took it in stride and would just say thank you the same way he would reply when she reminded him of a meeting. I don’t know what he thought about it. I will note that the previous admin did not remind our boss about any of his meetings.

    4. Aspiring+Chicken+Lady*

      My next door neighbor (we’ve shared two sides of the same house for 13 years) is much younger than I and is a chronic over-motherer. There are days that I have considerable difficulty stifling my “Look, I know I’m wearing socks and no shoes outside and it’s raining and I’ll regret it, but this was a calculation I made with my 50+ years experience on the planet, so thanks anyway.”

      She also does an excellent job of narrating what I am doing and telling me how I feel about things.


    5. allathian*

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Sounds like Jenny needs to be put on a severe information diet. That probably won’t eliminate the “Don’t stay too late” comments, but if she doesn’t know about your dentist appointment, she won’t be able to “remind” you of it.

  11. Dust+Bunny*

    Kate said she will work with William as long as he is “respectful.”

    Eh . . . this sounds like Kate leaving herself a loophole to keep up the shenanigans because William isn’t “respectful” to her standards. I’d be prepared to have to revisit this.

    1. sdog*

      Yes! Especially since this whole thing started because Kate felt that William was being “disrespectful to the Crown” rather than her personally.

  12. Pool+Noodle+Barnacle+Pen0s*

    “As long as he is respectful” is code for “as long as our interactions in reality always look exactly like they look inside my head.” Kate is basically guaranteed to cause more problems. Good luck OP. And thanks for not giving in to her attempt at bulldozing the office structure.

  13. Petty Betty*

    I’m not too hopeful on a lack of future updates here.

    Did you talk to others about potential mother hen tendencies from Kate? Did you follow up with Kate about her mother hen behavior towards William and how that, unequivocally, needs to stop?
    Her “respectful” comment should have had some conversation as well. What does *she* consider “respectful”? Is the respect going her way or towards the royal family or both? To me, it sounds like without very distinct parameters, she’ll continue to move the goalposts just so she can say he’s not following agreed upon guidelines, therefore she doesn’t need to abide by them either.

    1. NeonDreams*

      I think she meant respect towards her in general-likes, dislikes, opinions. With zero consideration that others may feel differently.

  14. Ozzie*

    I’m sitting here wondering what I would do if a coworker reminded me to take a coat and I… think I would just stare at them blankly. I wouldn’t even know what to do.

    If someone doesn’t ask you about the weather, assume they know how to dress themselves. I would be truly, truly dumbfounded.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      When my daughter was about three, I was out for drinks with some colleagues and I literally said to one of them, “Do you need to use the restroom before we leave?” And he just stared at me. And I was like, “Sorry! Default question before leaving anywhere with the kiddo at the moment!” and we both laughed.

  15. Moonhopping*

    Am I really going to be the first one to point out the sexism in “Mothering Him” Katie needs the know what behaviors to change. But William also needs to look at his own biases. I think being told to drive safe in bad weather is a version of have fun or good evening at the end of the day. For
    Some it’s a goodbye don’t die. And William is taking it as a subordinate telling him how to drive. He may be reading to much into it based on his past experience and Katie is being blamed for his reaction. I am not saying he is being biased but that it needs to be considered. If a male colleague said roads are slippery be safe would is be seen as Fathering?
    I stepped into a role that the description was to provide support, anticipate needs and send reminders on specific tasks to ensure timely completion (even to senior staff.) Even with this clearly laid out as the job in my first few days I got lectured by the person who approved the job description that I was not to mother them. When a new project was lined out and milestones set for me to track I was told “now I don’t want to feel like your mothering me”.
    Milestones were missed because they didn’t want me to remind them and I still got the now don’t mother me.
    After a while I changed the name of the reminder task assignee from me to a male co-worker (they were project owner) same wording, same format, same timeline and male co-worker was on top of things, helpful and on the ball.
    Logs of who actually created the tasks in our system was included in my resignation.

    This is loaded language and does beat further examination on both side.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      Without the reminder to wear a coat, you might be right. But no one says “wear a coat, its cold out!” as a version of “Goodbye, have a safe trip!” except …. well, mothers – and maybe a few fathers.

    2. Ozzie*

      I hadn’t thought about this and while I don’t think it is -necessarily- true, it -could- be true.

      That being said, I do think reminders to meet deadlines vs reminders to wear a coat aren’t the same. One is expected, one is… weird. (I think the “Safe driving” thing is weird under anything but adverse conditions if she only does it to him – if she says it to everyone though, it feels less weird) Which is to say, what you were dealing with regarding stuff that is directly work-related definitely feels like coded sexism. What OP is dealing with -could- be, if she says the same to everyone and he is the one getting up in arms about it. (and assuming there isn’t also a significant age thing going on, which is related but separate imo)

      I do agree it bears further examination on both sides though, since this is a possibility. But I think there is room for it to not be the case – there just isn’t enough context here to full swing me to this being the case. (which, realistically, doesn’t matter!)

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The other piece of it is that William clarified that she doesn’t seem to say these things to everyone as a version of “goodbye,” she specifically says them to William and only William.

        When we’re leaving work after dark, I’ll call out a general “drive safe!” to the team as a whole as we’re walking out into the parking lot. That feels different from if I were to single out one specific person and tell him to drive safely while not saying it to anybody else on the team.

        1. Ozzie*

          Yeah, ultimately this is why I remain dubious of this aspect with my own opinion. I would find it annoying at best. I just had a conversation with my mom yesterday about going running in the middle of the day because it gets dark before I get off work, and she told me about 6 times to stay safe. I’m in my 30s, mind you, and am running midday for this express purpose. If I had coworkers doing it to me on the reg, I would also be very annoyed – it wouldn’t really matter -who- that coworker was.

      2. ferrina*

        Agree. Reminders of deadlines aren’t the same as “Take a coat, it’s cold out!”

        Deadline reminders are part of your job- you need to troubleshoot to ensure your project is on track. It can be done annoyingly often (though there’s nothing to indicate you’re doing that), but it’s not “mothering”. Moonhopping, your coworkers sound sexist and awful, and I’m sorry that’s happening to you.

        Reminders of coats are generally not appropriate. Most people are perfectly capable of dressing themselves for the weather, so unless you have evidence that it’s welcome, just don’t do it. It sounds like this wasn’t the only time Kate unnecessarily told William how to be an adult. It is infantilizing.

      3. Double A*

        “Drive safe” has somehow over the last decade become a pat send-off in Northern California (and maybe other places), as innocuous as “Have a great evening!” or “Take care!” We say it no matter what the driving conditions are.

        But anything more than saying literally, “Drive safe!” would be a bit patronizing.

      4. Polopoly*

        I used to work for a company where we logged significant mileage on our vehicles for work ~150mi/day
        “Have a safe drive” was the equivalent of “bye”. We worked in healthcare so we all saw our share of accident victims so maybe that skewed our norms a bit.

    3. nona*

      “drive safe” wasn’t the only example, tho. We are taking the OP at their word that the totality of the examples established a pattern of behavior is not appropriate for the workplace. Your example is *you doing your job* and getting pushback. That’s not what is happening in the letter. The letter describes comments outside of the job description of those involved.

      And yes, if a male coworker was doing similar infantalizing behaviors to a female coworker, it would be problematic. It would probably have a different term, as you point out “mothering” is a gendered term, but the actions would still be seen as problematic.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. We also don’t know that it was a ‘drive safe’ as a friendly send off – I had one HR manager who would RAIL on us about not jaywalking (in a high jaywalking city) because if we got hit workers comp would not cover it. Not mothering, arguably in the scope of her job, still grating.

        Male manager to male subordinate? Still infantilizing. Is the language gendered? Sure. But I assume OP is reporting that second hand, so I can’t get too hung up on that detailed in this particular letter. William is unlikely to ever read this.

        1. Emily*

          I know this was not the main point of your post, but I feel like it’s important to point out: never take your employer/HR’s word that work comp won’t cover something, talk to a work comp attorney (said by someone who works for a Work Comp attorney who has heard people say multiple times “my employer said this would not be covered” when it would very much be covered) .

          As for the actual topic in the letter, I feel like OP did not do enough to put a stop to Kate’s behavior (should have told Kate to stop the mothering/paronizing nonsense towards William). OP is going to need to continue to monitor Kate closely.

    4. Cmdrshpard*

      You raise good points.

      It is possible that some aspects of Kates actions may not be mothering, but based on the other context, Kate telling William to wear a coat, and similar comments not being directed at other, it sure comes off as mothering.

      The drive safe on its own would probably be fine, I think I have said similar things to coworkers/superiors “Have a safe drive/trip/flight” etc…

      But honestly I can’t remember ever telling someone don’t forget your coat. With out having been asked about the weather before. I have asked and been asked how the weather/temperature is outside if a specific person has been out of the office recently.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’ve never told someone to remember their coat, but I’ve been told by people older than me who I work with several times not to forget MY coat. That’s gotten less frequent as I’ve gotten older but these weird family-esque dynamics do worm their way into workplace cultures.

        1. Moonhopping*

          I work in an area that get in to the single digits (Fahrenheit) during the winter and people talk about coats ALOT. I will walk the short distance to my car without one. I don’t like wearing one while driving and I get comments from co-workers all the time. It’s not heard of if you see someone leaving and their coat on their chair to remind them the same you would it the left a briefcase or purse. People also talk about road conditions and best routes to avoid problems. We are missing a lot of context. I think in part because having such a forward facing fandom does tend to make Kate feel less professional so it’s easy to assume a-lot on her part. The biggest takeaway is OP reds to hear and o at orb sides.

          1. Moonhopping*

            Just pointing out the lack of context could be part of office culture or Kate just saw him set it down and walk away from it or could have been totally out of left field. Context is a lot

      2. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

        I’ve told someone to not forget their coat! It was (1) a teenager, who was (2) living with me at the time. We were about to get in the car (so no carrying needed). She got bent out of shape because she was busy being a teenager just then. I reminded her that she didn’t have to WEAR it, just needed to have it available. She grumbled and got her coat. I consider that a completely acceptable instance of telling someone to get their coat, and I would never ever do that to another adult in my workplace.

    5. All Het Up About It*

      This is an interesting take!

      I know I too have been irritated by co-workers who told me, “Don’t stay too late” or “What are you still doing here? Get out of here!” But then I’ve been fine with it from other co-workers. It depended on if I felt like it was coming from a place of bossy-I-know-best or just a genial, friendly co-worker. With one co-worker when I did what you suggested and looked at some of my own biases, I was able to shift them from the first category to the second.

      I definitely see more conversations in OP’s future and agree with many Kate seems like “A Lot,” but I think Moonhopping has a good point, that it’s possible William needs to evaluate his feelings and responses. He responded to them by either ignoring her or changing the subject might not be the best approach and I could see how Kate started to feel disrespected if he ignores her with frequency. This also feels like a case where William just needs to have a conversation with Kate that she frequently says things to him that feel infantilizing and that he is an adult who does not need reminders about outerwear and driving habits, particularly when he is the only one in the office receiving this sort of attention.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        While I agree his approach isn’t the best one, I can also understand not knowing how to respond to someone who is infantilizing you (and only you!), especially if Kate has previously shown herself as someone who will ice you out over small things (like a dumb joke).

      2. ferrina*

        I think William’s tactic of ignoring/changing the subject isn’t bad. It’s usually the first thing one tries to de-escalate the situation (let’s them re-evaluate their behavior and what reaction they want from you while allowing everyone to save face). If she’s infantilizing him with such frequency that she’s regularly being ignored, that means her behavior is deeply pervasive and problematic.

        Even if he were ignoring her social comments this frequently, that isn’t license for Kate not to do her job. She needs to handle that professionally or looped in her manager. I’ve worked with a VP who would literally turn his back on me any time I spoke. He was a huge glassbowl and I left that company pretty quickly, but I still did stellar work and left with my reputation in good shape (I didn’t go above and beyond for that guy).

    6. HufferWare*

      Thank you for this perspective. I’m disturbed by how many sexist, ageist comments are being lobbed because someone whose job it is to remind people of the crap they need to do had the temerity to show concern for another person. Odd to me that no one finds it strange that William considers a woman (who may or may not be older than him) saying an innocuous comment about road safety to be “mothering” him. Like, who has the issue here? Dude sounds a little high strung and maybe more than a few mommy issues are coloring his view.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I’m disturbed by how many sexist, ageist comments are being lobbed because someone whose job it is to remind people of the crap they need to do had the temerity to show concern for another person.

        Good thing that’s not happening here. Infantilizing one person on a regular basis isn’t okay and is bound to make them feel awkward. If she were regularly saying “Drive safely!” to everyone as they left that would be one thing, but she only does it to William. And no adult should ever ask another where their jacket is.

        Like, who has the issue here?

        Definitely the person who iced out a supervisor because he made a dumb joke and asked that the entire reporting system be restructured to suit her.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “Definitely the person who iced out a supervisor because he made a dumb joke and asked that the entire reporting system be restructured to suit her.”

          Yeah especially held up against the person who waited until AFTER that meeting to quietly pull their boss aside and say “this has gone further than I anticipated I would like you to hear my side”.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        As others have repeated, the driving comment was not the only example and based on the details here it does seem to be somewhat targeted. I don’t want a coworker of any age or gender monitoring my outerwear or insisting they’ll only be civil if I’m appropriately “respectful”, which is a weird term in this context.

      3. Observer*

        I’m disturbed by how many sexist, ageist comments are being lobbed because someone whose job it is to remind people of the crap they need to do had the temerity to show concern for another person.

        And exactly what are you referring to?

        It’s not Kate’s job to remind people of things. It is CERTAINLY not her job to remind a competent adult to remember his jacket! And people have been pushing back on that because it’s not appropriate, and would be inappropriate no matter the genders, or relative ages.

        Odd to me that no one finds it strange that William considers a woman (who may or may not be older than him) saying an innocuous comment about road safety to be “mothering” him.

        That question only makes sense if you ignore the other example AND the fact that she does this only to him AND her out of line response to his joke. The fact that you choose to ignore all of the context is far more odd than people responding to the totality of what is being communicated.

    7. Stargazer*

      You are right. There is a blurring of professional and personal boundaries, and that should be the language that OP uses when she talks to Kate and William again (and like many people here, I am confident that there will be more conversations).

    8. Observer*

      I think being told to drive safe in bad weather is a version of have fun or good evening at the end of the day.

      Shorn of context? Maybe. But given that she says that ONLY to him, and that she ALSO gives him other instructions that are generally only appropriate from parent to a child, that’s not the most likely meaning here.

      If a male colleague said roads are slippery be safe would is be seen as Fathering?

      Except that that’s not what she said. But if a guy was doing the same thing Kate is doing, in general? Yes, people would absolutely mention the inappropriate parental role the guy is taking. Unless he were doing it to a *young woman* in which case a lot of people might see it as being a creeper.

      As for the rest, I’m sorry you went through that. But there is not comparison between your experience and what is being described. She’s asking him where his jacket is! Are you seriously claiming that this is legitimately her job and that he’s just being a sexist jerk in pushing back? That’s just not reasonable.

      1. Dust+Bunny*

        If a male colleague said roads are slippery be safe would is be seen as Fathering?

        And also . . . yes? Yes, it could?

  16. Rain's Small Hands*

    I would be pointing out that it is not respectful to remind a grown man to wear a coat, that it has been noted that her behavior infantilizes William which undercuts him and is not remotely respectful, and until she learns to treat him with respect, she is on thin ice and has little room to complain about his behavior to her. You are talking to her about HER behavior, not William’s behavior to her.

  17. MissMeghan*

    I’m surprised to see everyone going so hard at Kate and siding with William based on our limited knowledge on their work dynamics. From Kate’s perspective, it may seem like a manager in a position of power over her ignores her completely unless he’s giving her work to do. She said this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it appears she was not asked what the other straws are, so we don’t know what examples of William’s treatment of Kate are out there. Yes, William has now explained an issue he has with her, which is fair, but this has not been discussed with her at all, it’s not like she has been told to stop and ignores it. Based on the information we have I’m disappointed that everyone wants to pile onto Kate and act like she’s the absolute worst and she will refuse to act reasonably or in good faith here. Treat them both like adults, give them both an opportunity to explain the dynamic from their sides, address it and move forward.

    1. Dust+Bunny*

      . . . because that’s what we have. Kate didn’t write in.

      AAM asks us to take LWs at their word unless there is significant reason not to, and there isn’t here.

      1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

        I agree with missmeghan that I wish we saw if the OP had asked how William was disrespecting her. Maybe there is more going on.

        1. ferrina*

          I’d definitely like more information on that- especially since it doesn’t sound like the other managers have a problem (Or do they? LW, did you talk to the other managers?)

          From what we do have, Kate has questionable judgement. She had options on how to act to the tasteless joke- ignore William, say that that’s not funny, ice him personally but still be professional….I’m also intrigued that her response was to propose to change the work structure. That’s an extreme reaction- “change the whole work flow based on a personality conflict”. Sometimes it’s necessary, but more often it’s an overreach by someone who doesn’t want to change their own behavior.

      2. MissMeghan*

        But we don’t have to pick sides and villainize people based on limited information. LW wrote in asking for advice (and then provided a much appreciated update), and sometimes the right advice is to make sure they’ve asked for all the facts, or to press a topic further or leave it alone. I’m not questioning anything about what LW was saying, I just don’t think the Kate hate is deserved or productive to LW’s situation. It could lead to missing a problem in the work environment because all the commenters pile on and say there’s no possible way Kate could have a reasonable concern here.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          People are deciding Kate is the issue based on the information we have. If you feel it’s not enough for you to decide who is at fault that’s fine, but we’re allowed to disagree.

        2. Zorak*

          Evaluating that someone is more at fault isn’t hating on Kate though. No one’s saying “What a whackadoo!”, this doesn’t rise to that level, but the red flags here are all flying above Kate’s battlements, not William’s.

    2. LawBee*

      Yeah, I’m curious about what else was going on. Maybe it’s just a personality mismatch – William is hands-off and Kate is hands-on. Or maybe William is a big jerk to Kate and no one else sees it.

      Kate’s still wrong for the freeze-out, and the King Charles thing is still really weird, but there seems to be a bit more digging that OP needs to do.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      From Kate’s perspective, it may seem like a manager in a position of power over her ignores her completely unless he’s giving her work to do.

      Where on earth are you getting that from?

      She said this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it appears she was not asked what the other straws are, so we don’t know what examples of William’s treatment of Kate are out there.

      She was probed enough that she said a “personality conflict” with him, so it seems she was given a chance to air further grievances.

      Based on the information we have I’m disappointed that everyone wants to pile onto Kate and act like she’s the absolute worst and she will refuse to act reasonably or in good faith here.

      The information we have is that Kate behaved unprofessionally in response to what was (at worst) a stupid joke. When spoken to about it she mentioned a personality conflict and asked that the entire reporting structure be changed for her. William said she behaves in a way that makes him uncomfortable, but that he has tried to work around it by either ignoring it or changing the subject (maybe not the best approach, but an attempt to be professional). While I’m not saying it’s impossible that William is actually at fault here, the facts would indicate that the problem lies with Kate.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Yeah, I don’t know where you get “a manager in a position of power over her ignores her completely unless he’s giving her work to do” but I honestly don’t know what is wrong with focusing interactions on the work?

        I mean, hello and goodbye are enough. Do you want him to chat with her every hour or ask her to lunch? I know I would not want that.

        1. Dust+Bunny*

          Yeah, this seems pretty . . . manager-y? How much and what kind of attention should I expect from my manager if she’s not giving me work?

          (I like my manager. No personality conflicts. But we don’t, like, hang out or anything.)

    4. sdog*

      But Kate didn’t raise the issues until she was talked to about her own performance/conduct. I think OP should address any concerns Kate has about William’s behavior towards her, and that should be talking point in their conversations. But not as an excuse for Kate failing to do her job, which is what seems to have happened here. If Kate is having issues with William because he is disrespectful, then that needs to come to OP so they can address together. If it’s a harassment issue, maybe it’ll need to go to HR. Kate can’t just decide on her own that she won’t work with him. And frankly, if the issues are like the Charles comment, I’m side eyeing Kate’s idea of “respectful workplace behavior.”

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I think it’s partly her comment about how he needs to be “respectful” towards her. That can be taken one of two ways – either he has been treating her dismissively and disrespectfully, which there is no evidence of or she wants him to treat her as his superior. The whole “some people use respect to mean being treated like a person/an equal and others use it to mean being treated as an authority.”

      Obviously, we don’t know how Kate means it, but given that the one thing we do know she got annoyed about is fairly minor and not disrespectful to her in any way and the fact that he has made complaints about her treating him in the way an adult would treat a child, I think there is some reason to suspect she may mean it in the way of “he needs to treat me as an authority and follow my advice.”

      Perhaps she just means “he needs to stop talking down to me” but…I would find it strange for somebody to be giving basic life advice and sort of “caring for” somebody who they feel talks down to them and treats them as inferior. It would be an unusual response. Whereas I would think it quite common for somebody who sees themselves in the role of mentor to both give that kind of advice and to expect respect in the sense of being treated like an authority.

      So it’s a guess but my feeling based on a combination of things makes me feel she expects him to look up to her or defer to her.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I agree with this, and a lot of this discussion is reminding me of the letter where two people kept reporting their third coworker to their manager for “disrespecting” and “undermining” them, but they never really gave any specifics about behaviors that needed to change, they just wanted their coworker to be punished. Using language that implies your coworkers are morally/ethically in the wrong without providing anything concrete to back it up is always going to feel kinda sketchy to me.

        If Kate had said something like “I’m willing to be civil when I work with William, but (insert specific behavior here) really bothers me and I need it to stop” it would be a lot easier for me to see her side. The fact that she said he needs to be “respectful” rather than pointing out specific changes she would like to see makes this feel very different. Ideally, OP should have followed that up with what a respectful relationship would look like, because just that word by itself gives no actionable information.

    6. Cmdrshpard*

      The latest interaction might be the straw that broke the camels back, but it is an unreasonable straw, so I do think it is reasonable to think that the previous straws may have been unreasonable.

      If Kate is taking offense to this, I do wonder what other things she took offense to that are not reasonable things to be upset about.

      The King Charles joke along with the mentioned instances of mothering by William, does make it seem like she is the one out of line.

      “From Kate’s perspective, it may seem like a manager in a position of power over her ignores her completely unless he’s giving her work to do.”

      This is not what the letter said, it said William would change the topic or ignore her comments. Ignoring weird/mothering comments is not that same as being ignored unless being given work.

    7. Kara*

      Kate flipped out and REFUSED TO DO WORK for a person who made a very low-key, non-offensive joke about the King of another country.
      She then asked for the entire department structure to be changed to accommodate her ire at this person so she didn’t have to interact with him.
      She finally grudgingly agreed to do work for the person she’s supposed to do work for “as long as he is respectful”.

      Without any other evidence, Kate *is* the problem here.

    8. Moonhopping*

      OP does need to go deeper. This could be Kate being difficult and overreacting. But OP doesn’t say much about how the rest of the team feels about
      Kates work and professionalism. It is not
      Uncommon for people, especially women to stand up for others when they will not stand up for themselves. OP really does need to make a better effort to understand why Kate doesn’t feel “respected “ did William do or say anything and since he is a manger Kate is not willing to say? This just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me. Not saying he did. Just saying OP owes Kate and his other employees the due diligence.

      1. Calamity+Janine*

        i’ll be honest, given this whole thing kicked off because Kate decided to leap to the defense of the literal king of England, i’m not so sure she’s swinging in defence of the defenceless here.

        also, kinda weird vibes you’re putting down by declaring that standing up for others is a primarily female activity. that’s just the sexist expectation that we have to do all the work of emotions and labor of social spaces for everyone else. if you try to fit that yoke to my shoulders, i’m just going to buck it off. it was never meant to be mine to begin with.

        and really, even if that is what Kate is doing, she’s had the chance to clarify and refused so she’s making a real hash of it lol.

        but given she’s apparently out to defend the feelings of a literal monarch?

        sorry, i just ain’t seeing her cause as virtuous and just here.

  18. Critical Rolls*

    It was very accommodating to actually investigate restructuring your whole reporting architecture to humor Kate, OP, but was it really called for? Kate needs to be able to do her job without freezing out or ignoring anyone. Even if she had a good reason to be upset — which she certainly did not — that conflict should have been resolved in a professional manner. Like other commenters, I’m rolling my eyes at the “respectful” loophole and the apparent lack of acknowledgement of her poor behavior. I’m anticipating that there is going to be more drama.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      Maybe it wasn’t called for, but I don’t think it was automatically a bad thing. For instance Kate’s final trigger to bring this up might have been her relationship with William, but perhaps there were other reasons that a change in structure would have made sense.

      The OP investigated, it appeared that there were more cons then pros and on to the next steps. Showing an employee that they would at least consider an alternative structure/option isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though I do think OP might still be going easy on Kate, because difficult conversations ARE difficult. Here’s hoping for another update, even if it is just “Kate and William have been managing to work together and no other interventions have been necessary.”

  19. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    So I still think that OP needs to have a different conversation with Kate. She should have asked how Williem is disrespecting her and also talk about the motherly stuff she is doing to him.

    1. ferrina*

      Agree, but be careful on the conversation about William disrespecting her. Don’t let Kate lead this. There’s a couple ways this could go:

      1. Kate feels like William isn’t respecting her authority, or has other unreasonable expectations. She’ll present minor or exaggerated examples of his behavior.
      2. Kate is genuinely being disrespected or treated differently by William. She may not be able to articulate it (maybe he leaves a conversation every time she enters, or talks over her just a bit too much).

      These may look the same- examples that don’t quite make sense or sit right with you. Either way, the response is the same- Kate needs to be professional, even when those around her aren’t. Focus on her behavior.
      Watch William, but don’t tell her that. If Situation 1 is true, this will make her feel like she’s right to expect deference. Keep an eye on the whole situation, and address in the moment. This isn’t him vs her- this is “how can we all work in a functional workplace?”

        1. allathian*

          Depends a lot on the organizational structure how that plays out. William is higher than Kate in the org chart, and because she’s an admin whose work involves providing admin services for Willian and his peers, she needs to do the work he tells her to do. But the OP is Kate’s manager, not William. In some organizations, including mine, it would be absolutely unthinkable for a manager to discipline or give corrective feedback to people who are lower in the org chart but not in their reporting chain. All that would always have to go through the direct manager, or their stand-in if the direct manager is absent and urgent action is needed.

  20. Elle*

    Kate is obviously *a lot*, as many other comments have noted. I’m especially struck by her lack of, IDK… resilience? A joke about the royal family was enough to start this brouhaha? And she’ll work with William as long as he is “respectful”? I feel like this is a shocking level of over sensitivity for anyone who isn’t an actual royal themself.

  21. HufferWare*

    Wait, WILLIAM is the manager? And instead of directly speaking to the admin about their dynamic he is making snide jabs at his subordinate? And KATE is the only one with a personality problem? Both of these people show a stunning lack of maturity but at the end of the day, William is the one with the power. Both of these people are contributing to this problem but one of them has less pull or job security.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m really confused by this take. I don’t see anywhere in either letter that William made snide jabs about anybody. Can you clarify what you mean by that?

      1. HufferWare*

        The reason this letter was sent in to begin with was because of the joke William made about the royal family, which he knew would upset her, and for which he did not really apologize for.
        From the original letter: “She told William that what he said was disrespectful and hurtful. William said he was sorry, but it wasn’t very genuine. Personally, I think William’s joke was fine but he should have known better than to make it around Kate.”
        Seems to me Kate tried to use words like a grown up at the time of the joke and William was churlish about it. They already had a personality conflict (created by William because instead of saying to Kate “please don’t remind me to take a coat”, he danced around the subject, never addressed it, and allowed it to fester into resentment. Not good manager behavior!) and he exacerbated it in a way that seems intentional to me. Again, I don’t think Kate is a saint, but I think William is no peach either.

        1. Heffalump*

          If the joke was fine, and I agree that it was, William was under no obligation to tiptoe around Kate’s irrationality.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          We don’t know he knew it would upset her. Lots of people are fanatics about things but able to roll with jokes (see all of the comments from sports fans in the original post). And you’re ignoring the fact that she completely iced him out over it. Your characterizing that as a “snide jab” is laughably overblown.

          They already had a personality conflict (created by William because instead of saying to Kate “please don’t remind me to take a coat”, he danced around the subject, never addressed it, and allowed it to fester into resentment. Not good manager behavior!)

          Except he specifically said that he is nothing but professional with her when talking about work. While I would encourage him to speak up about the situation, his behavior is still completely professional, unlike Kate’s when she was upset by something he said. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to say the personality conflict was “created by William” when Kate is the one treating him in an infantilizing way.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            Well, according to the OP: “[William] should have known better than to make [the joke] around Kate.”

            So yes, according to the OP, William knew that the joke had the possibility of upsetting (or at the very least annoying) Kate.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Just because the OP feels that way doesn’t mean William would feel the same, though? I know plenty of people who are obsessed with sports teams but I still feel I can comfortably make a joke about the team in front of them.

      1. Zorak*

        Yeah, we’ve been told of no “jabs” from William at all so far.

        And it makes sense if he only gave her a mild, “Oh, sorry to have upset you” type apology, since she’s the one overreacting. She seems to be taking it way too personally, or alternately she’s already so much at the BEC stage with William that she’s not differentiating between what’s actually wrong for him to do vs what’s just annoying her. She’s not picking her battles.

        Lots of people enjoy keeping abreast of what the royals are up to, but you can do that without simping for them so hard that you defend their honor from across the pond. (Heck, part of this country’s genesis was specifically not having to do that!)

    2. sdog*

      I’m confused, too. William is one of the managers, yes, who shares Kate and another employee as admin assistants. If you mean the Prince Charles joke, there’s no indication that was directed to Kate as a jab. Sounds like it was just people talking about the news. And if you mean that William should have addressed what he deemed to be infantilizing behavior directly with Kate, I don’t know what I think about that. Ideally, he could have, but I can see how he may have thought ignoring it would be better. Someone else commented above that they don’t know what they would have said if they were told by a colleague to remember their coat, and I have to agree that I, too, would be stuck on how to best respond.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        My boss makes some (well-intentioned but uncomfortable) comments about my appearance sometimes, and I do not like them but I usually just do some kind of awkward nod or smile and let her continue on her way because it is not the thing I want to spend capital on and it would be much more of A Thing if I pointed it out. While I would advise someone to handle that differently than I do if they asked me directly, passive acceptance is realistically much more common in the workplace. Especially with someone like Kate who you can expect to react badly.

        1. HufferWare*

          In your case you were the subordinate. William is not, he is a manager. And OP is not a subordinate and did not passively accept it. OP did the professional thing which was address Kate’s behavior directly with her. Again, I don’t think Kate is a stellar employee and possibly/probably does need to look for other work opportunities. But I also think OP needs to keep an eye on William because I would not want a manager on my team who could not diplomatically and professionally address personality conflicts with their subordinates.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Except William IS diplomatically and professionally addressing personality conflicts. He is not freezing her out or shouting at her, and he is remaining completely professional when discussing work.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Yes. “Let’s hash out every minor personality conflict” is not necessarily good management. And based on this letter, William didn’t realize it was going to escalate beyond “we kind of bug each other” – which is not a big deal.

  22. Veryanon*

    This manager is definitely giving the vibes of not wanting to deal with Kate. I get the sense that she is challenging on many different levels and is used to steam rolling over everyone because no one wants to deal with her. She sounds like a giant PITA, frankly.

    The manager needs to put their foot down and set expectations that she will work professionally and cooperatively with everyone, even if she doesn’t personally care for them, and if she’s not prepared to do that, she can leave. Seriously. People like Kate get away with their shenanigans because they are so unpleasant that no one ever holds them accountable for their behavior. It’s past time for the manager to do that.

    1. Emily*

      I agree with all of this. Kate sounds like quite the difficult personality, and OP needs to be much more direct about managing her.

  23. raincoaster*

    Kate is oddly servile to a monarchy her country threw off more than two centuries ago, and insufficiently servile to her actual manager.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I know you’re being funny but I still don’t love the word servile in this setting

      1. Zorak*

        What on earth is wrong with “servile”? That’s the vibe, she’s acting like a servant when she’s not one. It’s not an incendiary word at all.

        1. raincoaster*

          As a Canadian it always puzzles me when Americans show reverence for the British monarchy. That’s why I used such a strong word.

          And I mean, I had a subscription to Majesty Magazine back in the day, but that was just because Andrew was good looking back before he had the face he earned.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Americans are weird, won’t argue with you there! I just don’t like the implication that someone should be servile to their manager – but I hear you on the dark humor.

  24. Heffalump*

    Even assuming that there were many existing straws on the camel’s back, William’s joke about King Charles was innocuous and shouldn’t have been the “last straw.”

  25. Jennifer in FL*

    Does anyone else feel like the Iranian yogurt isn’t the issue here?? (h/t AITA ;D)

    I have a royal families of the UK/Europe hobby. As an American I get that it’s ridiculous for me to be so into it all, but it’s fun and and I don’t really care what you think, ya know? From the OP’s tone, I’m kind of getting the impression that some people at work think Kate’s hobby is mockable (whether thy voice that opinion or not). I don’t think Kate’s royal family obsession is the issue. She said it was the last straw. So what are all the other straws? If the OP didn’t dig into that, then there is further investigation to be done.

    It’s totally possible this is all on Kate….but two people admit to having a personality issue and trouble working together. I think it’s possible/probable that Kate IS “mothering” William, but I also think it’s possible/probable that William IS being “disrespectful” of Kate. If BOTH people have a problem, then it’s on BOTH people to fix it.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Except that William actually gave examples of what his issues were. Kate had an opportunity to expand upon the issue when she first mentioned the personality conflict and didn’t.

      1. Jennifer in FL*

        There’s a lot of reasons why Kate might not have expanded upon the issue without being asked to directly. She’s the admin, William is a manager. The power dynamics alone might have given her pause. But, I don’t see where the OP asked Kate what her specific issues were. If he did and I’m missing it, I apologize.

        I just feel like a lot of people are assuming that Kate is the broken step of the office. People keep saying she’s “a lot”/always gonna be a problem/etc. We literally don’t know that based on anything the OP *has* said.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I mean, we know she froze out a supervisor because he made a dumb joke, which was completely unprofessional. We also know that she asked the organization to completely restructure the reporting chain for her. Even if there are other factors at play (which is certainly possible) those two things without further information from Kate do make her look like the problem here.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              I agree, but based on the information we have there’s nothing to indicate that William is a problem.

              1. Stargazer*

                We have Kate’s word for it, as reported by the letter writer. If we take William at his word for things he reports about Kate, then we should take Kate at her word for what she reports about William. Don’t make the mistake of blowing off complaints from the Kates of the world just bc you haven’t personally observed as much bad behavior from the Williams of the world.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  Except that Kate didn’t report anything about William except that they have a personality conflict and that him making an innocuous joke was “the last straw”. That still doesn’t indicate that William is creating an issue.

                  Don’t make the mistake of blowing off complaints from the Kates of the world just bc you haven’t personally observed as much bad behavior from the Williams of the world.

                  Except that we haven’t witnessed (through OP’s account of events) any bad behavior from William. Kate didn’t point to one thing that he has done. William pointed to a couple of things.

          1. Jennifer in FL*

            It was absolutely unprofessional to freeze out a manager. There’s still a job to be done. I don’t know that asking to restructure the reporting chain was a huge deal/unreasonable- I think if it was, OP would have shut down the ask immediately? Maybe not? I dunno. At any rate he DID ask for feedback on the idea, and told Kate no. Kate needs to accept that decision and act professionally moving forward.

            But none of that is a reason for the OP to not cover his bases and ask Kate straight out if there are other issues with William. That conversation needs to be had.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              But none of that is a reason for the OP to not cover his bases and ask Kate straight out if there are other issues with William. That conversation needs to be had.

              My point is that it sounds like the conversation was had and Kate simply stated that it was a personality conflict. OP can’t force Kate to expand on that if Kate doesn’t want to.

              1. Despachito*

                But if Kate is not specific, she is (very fairly) at risk that she will not be believed.

                I agree that unless OP directly asks she will not know what really happened.

                From what we know so far, however, it seems to me that Kate is fairly unreasonable (taking offense at a mild joke, refusing to cooperate with William (!), demanding the change of department structure (!), the strange conditioning of her ability to work with William by him being “more respectful” (!!!) and being vague about what this means.

                While William seems pretty normal, he was specific about his concerns, and his choice to ignore the “mothering” thing seems perfectly professional to me (he seems to try to avoid unnecessary drama, and the “mothering”, while certainly annoying, is not related to work and by ignoring it he does not disrupt anything).

                Asking Kate to be more specific what “respectful” means to her could be helpful, but as I am writing this I realize that what is even more important is not caving to her shenanigans, telling her that there is no question she could refuse to cooperate with William, and if he indeed does something atrocious she should go to OP in the first place, not decide on her own that she would refuse to work with him and disrupt the entire work process. The benefit of this would be that Kate would have to be more specific and OP would know whether she has genuine concerns or is just being unreasonable.

  26. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Years ago, I was the William in this situation, and I ended up quitting. When I put my notice in, I cited the ongoing conflict with Kate as a primary reason I started looking. My boss has the nerve to tell me he would have rather lost Kate. If you value William, don’t let this go.

  27. allornone*

    For those thinking that there may be more to Kate’s side than what is in the letter, you might be right, BUT ultimately, she was in the wrong the minute she stopped doing part of her job because she didn’t like the boss who assigned those tasks to her. I’ve had bosses I hated with the fire of a thousand suns, but I still did work for them. Because I like being able to buy food. And pay rent.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Strongly agree. William’s style of dealing with the issue may not be everyone’s favorite, and that’s fine and fair, but he kept things professional if chilly (which Miss Manners approves of).

  28. Heffalump*

    There’s quite a cycle of rude jokes about Bill and Hillary Clinton. I’m a liberal Democrat and a fan of the Clintons, and I’ve never taken offense at one of these jokes. I’ve even passed them on to other people. I can take a joke, particularly when it isn’t even directed at me.

  29. Prefer my pets*

    Please check with all the people Kate interacts with, not just William. If she’s pulling this undermining-as-mothering crap with someone above her in the hierarchy, I absolute guarantee she’s doing the same thing to others with less ability/capital to ignore her or push back. If she refuses to work with a manager and calls him disrespectful because he doesn’t bow to her on all the social stuff, can you imagine how she treats, for example, a younger admin who objects to being nagged about her meal choices, clothing, chronic illness management, or whatever?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Mm that’s a good point. I was thinking more along the lines of “other managers probably have similar issues they aren’t raising” but peers or subordinates are also important people to look out for.

  30. Kimberly*

    I was kind of split on if her comments were rude.
    1. I frequently will tell people to drive safe as we separate and go home. Given the fact the streets around here flood if someone spits, it is kind of common. If she was just telling him – then it was inappropriate.

    2 I run hot – always have. I was threatened with a write up for not wearing a coat at recess. It was the upper 60s. I thought the principal was joking and said – It is warm enough to swim. (I’m from Texas but spent summers on PEI, Canada. Their August is about the same temps as our January. So my temperature range for swimming is 67F – 100+F). He didn’t like the joke. So the next day I brought in some emergency skin meds left them with the nurse. Wore my jean jacket out to recess bc it is the only one I had. Stopped in his office – and showed him the rash I got from being hot. Asked if I needed to get formal ADA accommodations or if I could just wear clothes appropriate for the weather and my chronic skin condition. He left me alone about that. I went to the nurse and treated the rash – it was gone in 24 hours.

  31. Ari*

    It doesn’t sound like you addressed the actual issue, which is that it’s inappropriate for Kate to refuse to do part of her job. It doesn’t matter if she likes William or not. As long as he is acting professionally (and nothing in either letter suggests that he isn’t), then she needs to do the job she’s paid to do. If she doesn’t like the job any more, then she needs to find another one. Or, if there are real issues with William’s behavior, then she needs to share those with OP or HR so they can be handled. Giving the caveat that she’ll do the work as long as he is “respectful” (whatever that means to her) is a red flag that you are going to have more problems. Kate isn’t getting the right message.

  32. sc.wi*

    I can totally understand how the mothering comments become ridiculous. There is a woman at my workplace (in a position junior to me, for the record) who constantly makes comments like that, under the guise of “I’m just such a mom!!” It was a very minor annoyance at first, but it is now terribly obnoxious. Comments about the heaviness of a coat, the coverage of shoes, the absence of a scarf, etc. become extremely infantilizing if left unchecked.

    (she’s leaving soon… thank goodness)

    1. Sara without an H*

      For some reason, managers are reluctant to deal with this kind of role confusion until it gets to the point where people are screaming at each other. Much better to step in early and say, “You are a mother at home to your own family. Here you are an Office Manager (or whatever). Here’s what we need from you in that role: ….”

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I think it’s often hard to correct behaviour that seems to be coming from a place of kindness or concern. You can even imagine the AAM headline “My Manager told me off for wishing him a safe drive”

  33. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I know I’m coming late to the discussion, but the comments are going down a rabbit hole. Let’s start over.

    You did the right thing by not changing the way the admins are organized to suit Kate. That said, I think you need to manage her more closely going forward. Like some of the upstream commenters, I’m not sure what kind of behavior William is showing that Kate thinks is “disrespectful.” Try talking with her more about how things are going in general and with the execs she supports, including William. Make sure she understands that you’ll support her if she has a legitimate grievance, but not if she just refuses to work with someone whose style she dislikes.

    It would also be worthwhile to ask around about how others perceive her. If “mothering” behavior is how she tries to form bonds with others, you’ll need to have a conversation with her about role clarification, i.e., she’s not a “mom” while at work, she’s an administrative assistant.

    Document everything. As I keep saying until I’m blue, it’s better to have documentation and not need it than to need it (desperately) and not have it.

    Short form: don’t just hope everybody settles down. Keep in touch with both Kate and William and watch out for signs that things are starting to curdle between them. (If you haven’t given your HR team a heads-up, you should. They may have some useful advice.)

    Good luck! “Personality conflicts” aren’t fun to deal with. I wish I had $5K for every time I’ve had to sit down with employees and say, “You don’t have to like them personally, but you have to get along well enough to get work done.” I could have retired years earlier.

  34. Observer*

    OP, what are their respective ages? Also, it William the only male manager?

    In any case, please keep a VERY sharp eye on Kate. She’s angry at William because he won’t let her mother him?! In what universe does she get to do that? It reminds me of the letter about the woman who was trying to blackmail a coworker into coming back early from his honeymoon so she could go to some wedding. It turns out that that was just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg.

    It sounds like much the same is true here. The wild over-reaction to a stupid joke was just the symptom of terrible judgement that is, so far, showing up as incredible boundary crossing behavior. The thing is I would be worried about what other boundaries she’s crossing.

    My questions in the beginning of this comment are about trying to figure out what’s driving her boundary crossing and where you are the most likely to have further problems. But, in any case, terrible terrible judgement. Keep an eye on her.

  35. Snoflinga*

    Oh balls, have I been infantilizing my coworkers? I work in a very tight-knit office and get along very well with everyone as far as I know. I often tell people to drive safe when they’re headed offsite, or when they’ve handled a crisis I have told them I’m proud of the work they did. I don’t think I’ve stooped as low as reminding people to wear a coat, but… oh no. I’m a mom, and older, and now I’m concerned that my work friends think I’m treating them like children. Ugh.

    1. allathian*

      Wishing someone a safe drive can be as innocuous as wishing them a good day or a good weekend. I think you’re fine as long as you treat everyone basically the same, and don’t single out anyone in an infantilizing way.

    2. Observer*

      ?I don’t think I’ve stooped as low as reminding people to wear a coat, but

      Yeah, that’s a big, fat red line that you shouldn’t cross.

      And while complimenting people on the work they have done is nice, maybe you should find a different way to do it that isn’t “I’m proud of you”, unless you actually trained them or are their mentor.

      But from what you say, it sounds like you’re mostly OK. “Drive safe” said to everyone is generally a pretty innocuous statement.

    3. Calamity Janine*


      if you’re self aware enough to worry, odds are good that if your coworkers thought you were being smothering and reacted the way William has done, you’d have picked up on those social signals of “i don’t like this and don’t appreciate it so i’m going to let it just become a complete no-sell”.

      when it’s a mutual supportive thing, many people are fine with it. especially if the office is tight-knit and everyone has this sort of atmosphere. what makes it weird is singling out someone else and, crucially, continuing to do it when the person is sending out those I’m Uncomfortable With this signals and not returning the energy at all. if you’re describing your office as tight-knit, i think it’s likely that people are indeed comfortable with it, and are reflecting that same energy right back at you instead of letting it awkwardly flop.

      similarly i think that people would be receptive if you’re sincerely worried enough to ask someone outright “oh gosh, that doesn’t bother you when i do that, does it?”. that opens the door for someone to say “actually it does bother me a little”. but, again, the vibe i’m getting is that you’ll get back “omg noooo it wouldn’t be the same without you telling us to drive safe, Snoflinga!”

  36. Tiger Snake*

    Hey, does anyone else notice that Kate is the one saying King Charles is the last straw, but William is the one that gives actual examples? That seems weird.

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