updates: coworker’s inattention to detail, employee blames others for her mistakes, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker’s inattention to detail impacts my work (#3 at the link)

I ended up speaking to my manager, who talked to his manager, who presumably talked to him. I haven’t seen positive changes. I have noticed other poor/odd work habits in this coworker, and our other teammates have also commented on them (e.g., we have a recurring meeting that he says isn’t on his calendar–it’s been sent to him repeatedly).

I did change how I write up defects when I know it’ll be assigned to him. Instead of putting all the information in the defect ticket, I just write “see tasks” and then write up a subtask for each specific thing that needs to be addressed. It’s more time up-front on my end, I shouldn’t have to do it (as per my supervisor; also developers are expected to task out their own stories), but it keeps me from having to review the same work 3 times or having to sit on a call with this developer just to read aloud what I wrote in the defect.

Long term, we’ll see what happens. For now, I’ve found a better way of handling my direct work with him.

2. My employee blames others for her mistakes

I can’t say that there’s any revolutionary news. I’ve not had much success with this subordinate. She just feels personally attacked with every critique, even as I explain that it’s not about her as a person. I have been using your phrasing, but she will not sit down and just listen. I’ve even tried just to phrase it as a “this doesn’t feel like the most efficient way of doing things anymore as we’ve expanded, do you have ideas for a better system? You know this role best, so what would make it work better?” She tells me I’m the boss and she’ll do what I want. I’ve told her I want a new way to do it, and there’s just – nothing. Absolute radio silence. I follow up and get the same response. Rinse, repeat.

As I mentioned, there are multiple reasons that I couldn’t just let her go (without covering my butt, at least): disability, potential ageism claims, telling me she’d sue former employees if she had the money, and a lack of candidates for the position. Not only do I need to protect my business and myself, I’m already short-staffed and overwhelmed, so I can’t just walk her – I’m unable to take on any other roles at the moment.

That said, we switched to a new computer system this week, and one of the big pros is that it enables me to gather hard data on the job she’s doing. Before, it was done much more manually, and it was such a mess that all I knew was that she wasn’t doing a good job, but not how terrible it was. Every time I’d try to look at what she was doing, she’d say the Word or Excel file just disappeared on her, or she had created a duplicate that wasn’t shared, or she was doing it on paper, or or or. Since we don’t work in the same physical location, I was at a loss as to how to gather the evidence I needed when it just kept “disappearing.” Now, I have all that information at my fingertips – I was even able to ask today why nothing had been completed last week. Of course, another staff member was blamed for not doing her part of the job, but she couldn’t give me concrete examples (nor could I find any on my own investigation). I’m getting on the right track, but there’s still some ways to go.

3. My coworker keeps pressuring me to get pregnant

Unfortunately, as many commenters predicted, my coworker’s repulsive behavior did not get better, even after I was firm (nearly to the point of rudeness) with her intrusive and bizarre questions about my personal life. I also came to realize that this was merely one hellish facet of the most toxic workplace I have ever encountered, and six months in I began to look for something else. One thing I did not mention in the letter was that my coworker was also asking me to cover her work because she was a parent and needed more flexibility – all while continuously insulting me for being single and childless. It was Not Great to come to work for a long time, but because there are so few jobs in my field, I felt stuck.

I finally prepared to jump and had decided to leave with nothing lined up (shortly behind four other coworkers who also escaped) – but to my delight I found a great new job, in a great new city! With respectful coworkers! In the end, the woman obsessed with my reproductive choices was left with my workload and that of another employee she had also been inappropriate with. They still haven’t filled our jobs, months later. Thank you so much to you and everyone who commented – you all helped me to see that I didn’t need to put up with intrusive and inappropriate behavior.

4. Why do highly qualified people stay at dysfunctional companies? (first update here)

In retrospect, I wonder if Evil VP was actually evil, or if some senior people whipped each other up into a frenzy and it needlessly trickled down to the rest of the office. Evil VP is still here, but I don’t interact with his department, so I don’t know the lay of the land anymore.

Our office remains open, but we’re all still working from home. Only a handful of people go into the office at all. The office manager has tried a variety of incentives, but no one comes in – we’re not even sure if people will come to our holiday party. All this to say, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when our lease is up on the office space.

As for my own job – last time I wrote, I had just been reorganized to a new department. For awhile it was okay – I enjoyed the role more than my old one. But then I was assigned some very frustrating projects. I started dreading work. I was absolutely miserable for several months. I wasn’t making progress on any of my work, and my manager received his own promotion and couldn’t assist me. Luckily, a year and a half ago I applied for a new internal position on a team I really liked. I’m much much happier than I was before! I’m excelling in my new role. During my annual review, my manager rated me as Exceeding Expectations, which required a lot of extra work on her part. She also promoted me to a manager position. I’ve regained my confidence and am excited to see what the future brings.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Melanie Cavill*

    #3 – I once had a random vendor approach myself and a coworker and ask when we were going on maternity leave. Neither of us were pregnant (or older than 24); we were quietly discussing another coworker’s ongoing mat leave. It was so weird and gross. Your pain is shared by many.

  2. AOK*

    #1: From one quality professional to another, a robust process would have a QCPC system in place to log turnbacks against the inputs to your process (based on the SIPOC model). Logging official turnbacks to your process, properly categorized, will give lovely data points to strengthen your case against this slacker. It will also point to gaps in HIS process that allows him to complete only portions of his process instead of the whole thing.

    1. OP#1*

      I’m OP#1. We changed/updated our logging process shortly after my original post was published so I’m waiting for someone to pull and review those metrics…. I don’t foresee him being terminated but we are in the early stages of a large-scale reorganization so we’ll see what happens.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I’m a contractor on a government program that is HIGHLY resistant to using modern tracking methods and tools for data and configuration management. There is a clunky, 15-year old homegrown system to route documents for review; none of the government employees will use it. I and others have presented briefs on powerful data and project planning tools that the agency has available; the government managers on this particular program have determined that these aren’t needed and the creaky system is perfectly acceptable.

        Why the resistance? Because the current tools and systems provide extremely accurate metrics and show exactly who the holdups and work not performed stem from.

  3. coffee*

    “As I mentioned, there are multiple reasons that I couldn’t just let her go (without covering my butt, at least): disability, potential ageism claims, telling me she’d sue former employees if she had the money, and a lack of candidates for the position.”

    Well, looking at it another way, she’s already told you she can’t afford to sue you, and you’re currently paying her to do nothing, so having the role empty would just mean you would be paying nobody nothing to do nothing.

    1. Daisy*

      This! OP, you sound like a nice, caring person. Tying yourself in knots over the “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios that very likely won’t happen. I would bet dollars to donuts after you fire her you will wish you did it much earlier.

    2. KateM*

      Yes, I was thinking that surely there can’t be too serious lack of candidates for a position where one doesn’t need to do anything.

    3. Luna*

      Heck, if there’s enough documentation of problems with her work, attempts to improve it, and that not working out, she can claim whatever she wants is the reason for being let go, and you have every proof necessary (in court and out of it) that prove that that’s not the case.

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      Absolutely this. Isn’t it better to have no one, rather than have someone who actively sabotages your work and processes?

      1. Snow Globe*

        Yes! And, as always, it’s important to consider the impact on other employees. If I had a co-worker that was not doing her job, and she constantly blamed me and others for her mistakes, and I saw management doing nothing to change the situation, I would be looking for another job. I suspect that if the LW doesn’t fire this employee, they may lose other [good] employees.

        1. Hakky Chan*

          Absolutely – the morale hit of watching someone get away with not working is huge. It clearly sends the other employees a message.

    5. Ah Yes*

      Agreed. This seemed like a whole list of excuses to me because OP doesn’t want to pull the trigger and let this employee go. Firing people is hard, but this is for the good of the business – letting go of an employee who clearly does not care to do any better and is actively sabotaging.

  4. I should really pick a name*

    #2 please talk to an employment lawyer about the actual risks of firing her. I suspect it’s not nearly as risky as you seem to think it is.

    1. KH*

      It’s really hard to prove age discrimination even when it’s blatant. Blatant like firing people doing good work because they don’t “fit the culture” by acting like frat boys. She’s already said she can’t afford to pay a lawyer, which means she doesn’t have a strong case they’re willing to take on a contingency basis.

    2. allathian*

      You can fire a bad employee regardless of minority status, as long as you have the documentation to prove that they’re fired for cause, such as being incompetent at their job.

  5. Not So Super-visor*

    If LW#1’s coworker is remote, I’m going to guess that they’re OEing (practicing overemployment) which would explain the missed tasks and meetings that are mysteriously not on their calendar

    1. Gerry Keay*

      I don’t think there’s anything in the letter to indicate that.

      Honestly, I find it a bit distressing that anytime there’s an issue with a remote employee (which we don’t even if that’s the case here!), folks have started jumping to “they have two jobs.” It feels like this weird boogeyman — I’ve heard of maybe two instances of it actually happening but have read scores of posts and articles handwringing about it. Just feels like it’s another way to denigrate remote work and encourage increased corporate surveillance.

      1. Ssssssssssssssss*

        I work with people who regularly “I can’t find that email!” and it was sent only 24-48 hours prior. How many emails are they getting in a day? Did they delete it by mistake? Can’t figure out good search parameters? Did they forget where they filed it? It’s incredibly annoying. I get it when it’s a few months later but a day or two later, it’s baffling. Recurring meetings should be promptly accepted with reminders. Do they know how to Outlook, I wonder? Could they think the meeting invite by email is the same as accepting it?!

        I also didn’t get that impression of a 2nd job. Having said that, having more than one job could have been the case prior to COVID and it’s ongoing (and maybe now harder to manage).

        I had a coworker, while not missing meetings (as it was her job to schedule them), was not accomplishing all she could and should do, which was obvious every time her back up replaced her.

        It was a poorly kept secret that she was a travel agent on the side as well as assisting her son with his roofing business. She claimed it was never during office hours and it was impossible to track since she was clever enough to never use her work computer and only her cell. I suspect that a lot more was being done during work hours, enough to distract and delay many deliverables and caused sloppy work.

      2. kiki*

        Yeah, I mean, this employee working 2 jobs is a possibility, but even when we were all in-person I had coworkers who just actively avoided doing work or were bad at their jobs. I work in software, like LW1. There are a not insignificant number of software developers who make it all the way into their careers and have no concept of how to handle basic life stuff. I had a coworker who was a good engineer overall but “didn’t believe in bookmarks” so kept asking for coworkers to send him new links to really basic things like our team calendar. Finally his manager took him aside and was like, “I do not care if you do not believe in bookmarks, you can keep a word document full of links for all I care, but you cannot keep asking people to send you the link to our team calendar”

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yea even people smart enough to realize that ‘ the corner homeless man steps into a Cadillac ‘ or ‘ people go into the food bank from a Mercedes ‘ are just so stories eat up these over employment stories like soup. Just begging to make us commute for a 3 hour meeting

      1. Mongrel*

        Good old Hanlons Razor.

        And putting incompetence aside, it’s worth pointing out that not all people are suited to working from home. Some just need the structure of the office environment

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      I’m going to request an update on who pissed in everyone’s cornflakes regarding remote work.

      Srsly, this is like the…third? fifth? time it’s been brought up, many of those times by you. We get it, you don’t like/resent remote work. Give it a rest.

    3. Can't Sit Still*

      I had a co-worker who put so much work into avoiding work that she would have been a superstar if she’d put that much effort into actually working. She put a truly impressive amount of effort into shirking, though: Missing tasks, lost emails, meetings falling off of her calendar, client files that disappeared and reappeared at random, and so on. She seemed to have an entire strategy on how to avoid work or push it off on others. Really, it would have been easier, and less work, for her to just do her job, but she seemed dead set on avoiding it. It was absolutely maddening, but since her manager wouldn’t manage her, we worked around her. When she was finally terminated, there was actually LESS work for the rest of us, because things weren’t being overlooked, lost, or delayed.

      Some people just won’t or can’t do some or all of their job.

      1. Water Everywhere*

        Oh hey, I see we had the same coworker! It was truly astonishing how much work she managed to evade. She finally left voluntarily; management poked at the issues but ultimately did nothing. The result for us was the same as for you, as work that was her responsibility got distributed among the rest of our team and got done faster & better. Her position was not filled and eventually eliminated as not needed.

    4. Observer*

      In addition to what others have said, I’ll point out that it’s actually completely untrue that this would explain any of this. Certainly no more so than the much likely explanation that he’s lazy, incompetent and / or so full of himself that he doubles down on his mistakes even when they are pointed out and documented.

  6. Kevin Sours*

    ” but there’s still some ways to go.”
    Where exactly? You’ve said “all I knew was that she wasn’t doing a good job, but not how terrible it was”. She doesn’t listen, hasn’t gotten better, and shows now inclination to do either? You really don’t need to figure out exactly how she’s screwing things up. Is she even a net positive to the business let alone justifying her salary?

    1. WellRed*

      I was so confused. What is she waiting for? OP if you have any other employees they are watching you…not managing. Be prepared to lose them while you tiptoe around the dead weight.

    2. Olivia*

      I took it as part of the problem was that she didn’t have data to back it up, but now with the new system that data is accumulating. However, I don’t think repeated instances of “the file disappeared” or “well, actually I work on a different copy than the one you see” or “I was doing it on paper” (???) need to be accepted. You work on a different copy? Okay, stop doing that. That excuse is used again? I told you to stop doing that. And files do not just repeatedly disappear. Computer-literate people do not tend to think that files just “disappear” outside of rare occurrences–that file is generally somewhere, and the average worker would try to find it if it was something they were working on. And if she’s doing things in Excel or what have you, the claim that she was doing something on paper sounds kind of ridiculous. These nonsense excuses should be pushed back on. I imagine that it’s exhausting going back and forth with an employee like this, so maybe after a certain point it seems not worth the effort to keep pushing back, or it’s taking too much time away from other things. But a supervisor doesn’t have to let them control the conversation. If they keep saying ridiculous stuff, you don’t have to treat it as a legit excuse.

  7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    Update 1 (lack of attention to detail) sorry to say, from the original letter and update it seems clear that your colleague needs a PIP (or similar process) and may or may not be able to improve although it seems unlikely.

    However, since the problem has now “gone away” from management’s perspective since you have a way to handle it, I don’t think that PIP etc will happen any time soon, or at all. See what happens in the reorg (your comment above) but prepare yourself for nothing to happen about him.

    I have seen variants of this situation so many times!!

  8. Luna*

    #3 – Seriously? On one hand, insists you get pregnant, but at the same time expects you to take over more work because she has kids? Aside from the fact that I am sure she would not have helped, at all, if you *had* gotten pregnant and ended up requiring more leave from work for appointments and similar, just… what the F? Forget being direct or even ‘to the point of rudeness’, go full on rude, become a total B to her and tell her exactly where she can shove those words the next time she opens her mouth.
    Could this even be construed as sexual harassment at the place of work? Continuing to put your nose into this part of the private life of a colleague?

  9. Vice President of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    OP #3

    [“ One thing I did not mention in the letter was that my coworker was also asking me to cover her work because she was a parent and needed more flexibility – all while continuously insulting me for being single and childless….

    In the end, the woman obsessed with my reproductive choices was left with my workload and that of another employee she had also been inappropriate with. “]

    Isn’t karma great?

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Reminds me of a quote I read somewhere ages ago: “keep your words soft and sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.”

  10. Observer*

    As I mentioned, there are multiple reasons that I couldn’t just let her go (without covering my butt, at least): disability, potential ageism claims, telling me she’d sue former employees if she had the money, and a lack of candidates for the position. Not only do I need to protect my business and myself, I’m already short-staffed and overwhelmed, so I can’t just walk her

    So, you CAN let her go, you just don’t want to do the work. I get that you’re short staffed, but the amount of time you are spending on this person would be far better spent in “covering your butt” and getting rid of her. Also, I’d be willing to bet that one of the reasons you are finding it hard to staff is that you are spending so much time and energy on her that you don’t have the bandwidth to do other parts of your job (such as hiring!). AND that people don’t want to work with someone like that nor for an employer that allows this kind of misbehavior. People with options won’t come to work for you – and if this is such a niche position, the good people will have options.

    1. AD*

      I’d also add that “lack of candidates for the position” sounds a bit like excuse making. How does OP know this? How specialized is this role? Is this just another way of saying “I don’t have time to go through a hiring process right now”?

  11. Rob S*

    #2. The fact that you can tell us you have firm data that NOTHING was completed by her at all last week is enough reason to let her go immediately. What excuse could anyone possibly have for completing no work in a given week if they had taken the week off.

  12. Kinsey*

    on #4, maybe it is time for the employer to stop trying “incentives” to return to the office and instead start laying down the law, ie you will be fired if you don’t come back!!!

Comments are closed.