my team won’t accept any replacement for an employee who died

A reader asks:

A year ago, one of our employees, Jane, was killed by a drunk driver. Jane worked here for almost a decade and was well-liked. We have an EAP and offered paid therapy services to anyone who needs it as well as fully paid bereavement and time off to attend the trial, no questions asked.

A month after Jane’s death, her replacement started. However, three months after starting the job, she suddenly quit without notice. We offered to the runner-up from our search, but he quit after four months. We hired another person, who lasted three months and just quit last week.

HR told me the last hire said in her exit interview that she was leaving because she couldn’t handle working with Jane’s old coworkers and manager. She said she resumed job searching almost as soon as she started here because of how bad it was. She had tried to address it with the manager but nothing changed. Apparently the first two replacements for Jane’s job also both said they couldn’t handle it and the manager had done nothing.

They all reported being constantly compared to Jane, accused of hostility or coldness for arranging the desk differently than Jane had it, and having things like “if Jane were here…” or “some of us still care about Jane” said aloud to them. We’ve been told the manager participated and accused them of being awful for “disrespecting” Jane when they brought their concerns forward. One was asked how she could sleep at night after taking Jane’s job.

I work in a different building and had no idea any of this was happening (I also don’t know why HR didn’t act on these complaints until now). I had thought the first two replacements left because they couldn’t handle the pressure.

I understand Jane’s death is upsetting and difficult for her coworkers, but what they are doing cannot continue. We can’t keep hiring people every few months. I know I need to talk to the coworkers and manager about their behavior but given the emotion behind this I don’t even know where to start. I am way out of my depth with this.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. KatEnigma*

    Yep, at minimum that team needs to be dispersed, starting with the manager. I’d look long and hard at if the manager should even be employed there any longer.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I’m not entirely clear if that’s the case or not. The thing that jumped out at me from reading the original level is that literally nobody ever sat down with the team and said: “this isn’t acceptable, knock it off”. The manager feed the toxic dynamic and upper management completely ignored a veritable parade of red flags.

      The manager needs to go. Probably completely. But it’s probably worth at least getting a new manager in with a “sort your stuff out or the door is to your left” message. Especially if breaking up the team is inconvenient. Sometimes people need to be told the things they shouldn’t need to be told.

      That the fact that the problem was allowed to fester so long does complicate fixing it.

      1. CityMouse*

        I agree, that manager needs to go. You don’t tolerate a manager who runs off three employees.

      2. Worldwalker*

        Should anyone *need* to explain this behavior isn’t acceptable?

        Someone asking how you sleep at night after “taking Jane’s job” — like if they didn’t take the job, Jane would somehow come back to life and return to it? — isn’t a thing that happens in any kind of normal reality. It’s not a thing that anyone, ever, should consider acceptable.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          They shouldn’t. But an unfortunate reality is that people do sometimes need to be told things they shouldn’t need to be told. Especially in a situation where there worst impulses are being encouraged by someone in a leadership role. You need the team and trying to correct the one you have is worth a try.

          1. KatEnigma*

            No. It’s a truism that people don’t always understand things they shouldn’t have to be told.

            That doesn’t mean LW or anyone owes them handholding or warnings or anything. Some things are so egregious that the natural consequence of not figuring out what most people would just know is that you get your comfy coffee klatch disbanded.

            This isn’t not knowing office norms type things because you came from an underprivileged background. This is basic human decency level.

            1. nerdalert*

              It’s less that they don’t understand, and more that they’re so wound up in their own feelings that they need a reminder that the rest of the world is waiting.

        2. demmzzz*

          This was particularly bizarre to me. Jane is dead. No one is “taking” her job. This has a lot of “you’re not my REAL mom!” vibes.
          “Shut up Sally, you’re not our REAL receptionist. Just cause Jane died, doesn’t make you the receptionist!”

      3. VRex*

        Yeah, that manager definitely needs to go. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were a major instigator by talking with the other workers behind the new person’s back.

        The company went above and beyond handling the loss. Now someone needs to sit the entire department down and give them a huge reality check.

    2. Artemesia*

      No question. This team needs to be disbanded. And the space needs to be re-arranged.

      1. Jade*

        Yes. And why did LW not do some investigating after the first two jumped ship?

        Bad management all around.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Darn it. I was thinking that too and was hoping I just missed the update somehow or other.

      It’s just so dang weird! I know that grief is unpredictable and people can be very illogical, but this is So. Weird. I can understand that feelings are not logical, but you’d think – or at least I would – that once the words “How you sleep at night after taking a dead woman’s job?” formed in your brain, you’d at least pause and think, “Now, wait a minute here.”

    2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      Not so far, I asked for one on a recent update request post as did a few other commenter.

    3. allathian*

      Nope, but it’s one of the posts that I really want an update to. I hope they rearranged the office and moved the whole team elsewhere.

  2. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    This one was one I wanted an update on – I really hope everything worked out okay in the end.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Me five, or six, or whatever it’s gotten to by the time I finish typing this.

              1. GG - See you tomorrow situation*

                Sometimes we don’t get what we wanted just like the old online game buddy, where he/she says, GG guys se you tomorrow. That person was last seen online 9 years ago :(

      1. Sharpie*

        Since Alison put out a call for updates from previous letter writers, it’s possible that she has an update to this that will be published in the next few weeks. We can only hope, anyway, because I’m another one on the list of those wanting to know what happened!

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This is the first of the “revisit old letters” where I immediately remembered the original. Good times.

      1. VixLynEll*

        I go SO excited thinking that there might be an update. Disappointed that there wasn’t.

        1. Aquamarine*

          For a second I thought it happened AGAIN in another office. Whew, glad that was not the case!

  3. Belle Anna*

    Everyone should search up the original letter from when it was posted. It has many more details and context than is posted here. Without it the thoughts and comments posted here might change drastically.

    1. Yoyoyo*

      Yes, one important detail was that several employees actually witnessed Jane being hit while crossing the street after work. Of course it doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it is a much different situation than simply learning that a close colleague has died.

      1. EPLawyer*

        While that was extremely upsetting it does not justify driving people out of the job that needed to be done. Those folks needed (paid) time off, not be allowed to run off someone for — checks notes — re-arranging Jane’s desk. The comment How can you sleep at night knowing you took Jane’s job was really beyond the pale. The employee didn’t take Jane’s job by scheming to get them fired. Jane unfortunately died in a horrific way. The employee did not nothing by taking the job.

        1. Antilles*

          The how can you sleep at night remains especially baffling to me because the new hires were both outsiders that didn’t know Jane. Like, the honest answer to that question is something along the lines of a completely befuddled “wait, who is Jane, again?”

          1. EPLawyer*

            Actually the first two were internal hires. But they still might not have known Jane personally. But it still befuddles me because Jane was, you know dead, did they expect her to keep doing her job? Or that the job would be retired like they retire numbers in sports?

            1. Paulina*

              Who was doing the work while they were in between hires, anyway? The load would normally have to be shouldered somehow, and that should have made the coworkers more receptive to a replacement, even if they weren’t immediately as good as Jane had been at the job.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                From the OP’s comment on the original post (Will (the letter writer)), the job requires specific education and licensing, which nobody else on that team has. So I’m guessing that in the gaps, there just wasn’t anyone doing the work.

        2. Dances with Light*

          Paid time off = free vacation time = a reward. Yes, the employees who witnessed their colleague’s death need help (another commenter suggested accessing the EAP for counseling) but most of all they need to stop chasing off anyone who takes the job once held by Jane. They do NOT need to be rewarded for asking an innocent colleague how they can sleep at night after taking “Jane’s job”!

          Only reward behavior that you want to encourage is a basic, commonsense principle as applicable to management as it is to parenting, friendship, marriage and every other form of human interaction. Reward ANY behavior and you’ll get more of it!

          1. EPLawyer*

            Oh the paid time off was to help them deal with their grief. Not to get them to stop chasing people off. It’s what SHOULD have happened before it ever got to the chasing people off stage. Maybe if they had time to process what happened, they might have been more realistic about what someone moving into the role meant. Yes they were given bereavement leave but that is usually 3 days.

          2. Peachtree*

            Are you kidding me? The colleagues were rewarded for witnessing a brutal accident that killed their colleague? I hope you never witness an accident. If you do I hope you enjoy the “reward”!

            1. Worldwalker*

              I think Dances thought the paid time off was to be given after they ran off three new hires, not before any of that happened.

              1. Dances with Light*

                Yes, that’s exactly what I meant! Time off and counseling right after witnessing that terrible accident would indeed have been an excellent idea. Time off AFTER they chased away everyone who was hired to do the late Jane’s work would send a totally different message.

                Bottom line, though: I do hope that this was resolved in a way that enabled that job to be filled, that the traumatized colleagues got some help and that everyone understood that it’s absolutely unacceptable to bully an innocent person who takes over someone else’s position – whether or not that person has died.

                Power can be very, very heady; the realization that “By doing A, I can cause that person to do B!” can go to people’s heads and distort their perspective. Jane’s colleagues almost certainly didn’t start out to go on a power trip when they drove away three people, but all of us are human – and all of us are subject to impulses and desires that we’d rather not acknowledge, even to ourselves. Very few people who go down a dark path actually started out intending to do just that – they took one step, then another, then another, and found themselves going where they’d never dreamed they would.

                1. Jojo*

                  They got paid time off right after though. That’s in the OG letter.

                  “(The company has an EAP and offered paid therapy services to anyone who needs it as well as fully paid bereavement and time off to attend the trial, no questions asked.)”

        3. Estrella the Starfish*

          of course it doesn’t justify the behaviour but it provides some context to the very extreme reaction. They aren’t just upset, they are traumatised and trauma can make people behave in ways that are difficult to understand. They absolutely need paid time off, and likely more psychological intervention than an EAP can provide. Their behaviour absolutely needs to be addressed but the context is important in addressing it.

          1. Happy Peacock*

            “likely more psychological intervention than an EAP can provide.”

            EAPs don’t provide psychological intervention. Rather, they connect people with service providers. If the paid therapy services that were originally provided were not sufficient, the EAP would connect people with a provider who give ongoing services.

            I think the company provided a fair amount of support to deal with the trauma. Just putting the time frames together, it was probably a good year between Jane’s accident and LW writing in. At this point, the details of what caused Jane’s death are less important, and correcting what has become a culture of bullying new hires is what’s important.

          2. Freddy Mac*

            It’s a business, not a hobby. If they have PTO, they can take it, but it’s not the businesses burden to carry otherwise. They didn’t kill the worker.

            The entire department should have been terminated for cause. No if’s, and’s or but’s.

            1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              Except that even from that cold-blooded perspective, it’s probably not more economical to fire all of the people with institutional knowledge and hire and train an entire department of new hires.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                Frankly, if my organization fired an entire department with no warning like that, I’d be job searching immediately. Yes, even if they were behaving badly. Because what’s to stop them from firing me with no warning?

                1. Observer*

                  In case like this?

                  The behavior is so egregious that I think a lot of people would be more like “What took them so long!?”

                2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

                  Given that this team was so internally infamous for their bullying that someone was prepared to give notice rather than work with them, I doubt their coworkers would be concerned.

            2. lilsheba*

              Yeah I don’t think so. They are being terrible at how they are treating new hires yes, BUT what they witnessed and experienced was the about the most traumatic thing a person can see. I can’t even imagine how I would react to something like that. They need some serious help not being fired for cause.

              1. Observer*

                Sorry, there are plenty of people who have witnessed horrific things. And they don’t treat people like that. And the employer did offer such help as they could give.

                The most I would do is fire the manager and then put everyone else on notice that this is LAST CHANCE.

              2. Rebecca*

                I’ve actually seen something that traumatic (I found my father after he hung himself).

                Would it be OK for me to walk into his old office and rant about how the new person in there slept at night? Of course not. Seeing something deeply traumatic doesn’t give you license to act in an irrationally cruel way to others. What these coworkers did is downright cruel. They put their emotions above someone else’s livelihood. That’s outrageous.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  I’m so sorry for your loss, and that you had that really awful experience.

            3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Wow, that’s cold. The people in that company are just that – people. Treating them as such is not only the morally right thing to do, it’s also better for productivity if your staff aren’t barely holding it together.

              I am absolutely not defending their behaviour. It’s awful and it cannot continue. But coming in and firing everyone without anyone even talking to them about the problem is also awful. Taking away their livelihood is a big deal. Yes, we shouldn’t have to tell adults not to do this kind of thing. But some people need telling. They deserve a chance to shape up.

              1. Observer*

                But coming in and firing everyone without anyone even talking to them about the problem is also awful.

                What is there is “talk about”? MAYBE, just maybe, you could tell them that this is their LAST CHANCE. And MEAN it. Like, here are resources to get help, but anyone who tried to bully someone in this role is out the door. Because the company *cannot* countenance this kind of behavior. It does not matter why they are doing this.

                Taking away their livelihood is a big deal.

                Why is it too big of a deal in response to atrocious behavior, but it’s not a big enough deal for people who did nothing wrong? Three people lost their jobs over this!

              2. Worldwalker*

                Taking away their livelihood is a big deal? How about the three totally innocent people (who are also just that — people) that they bullied into quitting? And the fourth who was about to quit if forced to transfer? Unlike the bullies, who were being intentionally and knowingly cruel, those people did absolutely nothing to deserve what was done to them. Nothing to deserve being made miserable for months and driven to quit. We’ve seen enough letters from people working in toxic environments, about problems ranging from “simply” crying at the thought of having to go into that office for another week to actually developing disabling physical symptoms from the stress. It’s those people who deserve our sympathy, not those who chose to inflict that on them.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        How awful! I don’t think I could keep working somewhere with that memory associated with it.

      3. Momma Bear*

        It’s an understandable trauma, but that’s where you get grief counselors into the building, encourage people to seek therapy/use the EAP and give them some understanding if things like the anniversary are hard for them. Their reaction still needs to be handled, though. Like two hires ago.

      4. Observer*

        In a way it’s important, but fundamentally it’s not really relevant. Because the behavior going on is unconscionable. And Management / HR messed up big time.

        What makes it worse is that the company DID handle the immediate aftermath well. They offered counseling and they allowed people to go the funeral and take bereavement leave no questions asked. Which means that the company did provide as much as they could to help people.

        If people had left because they couldn’t deal with the situation, that would be totally understandable. It would have been really unsurprising if there had been significant turnover in the department. But instead the group bonded in cruelty. That is NOT an understandable reaction to a trauma.

      5. Miette*

        Another was that the manager not only failed to stop it, they participated on a certain level. I sure wish we could get an update on this one!

      1. Momma Bear*

        I tried to post it – it’s from 2017. Just copy the title of this post and you’ll find it.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I read the original. WOW, there were rumors going around the company about how bad it was and STILL OP didn’t know. Exactly what was she managing then? She thought deadlines were missed but THEN found out they weren’t. Wouldn’t she have known if deadlines were missed? Or should have known.

      The whole company sounds like a problem. If people are ready to quit rather than take over a role, there is a HUGE issue. A conversation about how this can’t continue is not enough. You literally need to say — this stops NOW or else.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, abject failure of management up and down the chain. And the OP seemed to think that being in a different building was a good reason for missing all of the red flags, or rather red banners and klaxons.

      2. HB*

        ” Exactly what was she managing then?”

        The work. Which is what he’s supposed to be managing.

        Someone can make deadlines but still decide to leave because the pressure of meeting said deadlines is unbearable. His comment about deadlines not being missing/no performance issues is merely reinforcement that his original assumption was incorrect. It’s also likely/possible that when he asked the manager why the person left that person implied that they were having trouble with the deadlines/workload (because that person isn’t going to volunteer that the team was being super toxic).

        Also everyone is talking about giant red banners and klaxons as if everything was super easy to see by someone *not* looking for it. We have all this evidence now because the OP *did his job* and investigated upon being alerted to the situation. Rumors about managers tend to spread among *non managers*.

    3. Llellayena*

      I do wish that letters that are repeat posts would have the original letter linked as one of the three “related links.” It would help with getting the additional context (and any related updates) for those of us who read this article here rather than finding it directly on Inc.

      1. Saberise*

        I think she once said she doesn’t do that because she wants people to go to the Inc article since she gets paid per clicks. When she provides the link to the prior posting of it she gets less people going to Inc. Usually its pretty easy to find it through the search box.

        1. Inky*

          Do you know if she gets paid if I click but then run into a paywall at Inc and don’t even get to read the article?

          1. Other Alice*

            I hope so… I always click on the link, but Inc is unreadable because the entire screen is covered by ads.

            1. NL*

              You have to scroll down and then you’ll see the article. It’s not intuitive because normally you’d X out the ad covering the article but in this case you scroll down.

        2. Caterina*

          I wouldn’t mind clicking on the Inc. links if they didn’t cover nearly every square centimeter of my screen with ads. Sometimes there is literally only one single line of the actual article visible on the whole screen.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I also get really frustrated by this! Like, I get why they use ads, but why do they have to make the text unreadable?!

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        The search function on this site is really good. Just search on the title.

      3. Happy Peacock*

        You have to keep in mind that when a letter is re-run, it is not for the benefit of the original LW. It’s for the benefit of someone else who might have a similar situation. The additional context and updates from the original situation are not that important to someone who might have a similar situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, exactly — since they’re reprints from letters that are at least several years old, the columns for Inc. are less “let’s solve this one person’s very specific and individualized problem with all possibly relevant context” and more “advice that will be relevant to managers in general,” which means that details that were added later in the comment section normally don’t get included (and sometimes if there’s a lot of context from the original letter, it doesn’t all need to be included either).

    4. Not Telling*

      The context of the managers, coworkers, and workplace environment from the original letter only makes things worse. People should be ashamed of themselves.

    5. KayDeeAye*

      I get the trauma – truly I do – but that still doesn’t excuse anything that has been done to these poor folks who just want to do the job they have been hired to do. The manager is particularly at fault here, IMO. If they are truly this traumatized, they need to get a job somewhere else where they can get a fresh start and they need counseling, lots and lots of counseling. Lots!

  4. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I can understand grieving for a coworker who passed tragically, and even can understand not wanting to use certain spaces/items (see the letter a week or two back about the office no one was comfortable in). But I must admit, I would have a very hard time identifying specific job duties with a coworker so strongly that I would drive away any replacements. This team needs to be disbursed and given how poorly the manager handled the situation I’d consider a demotion for them at minimum. The coworkers were jerks, but the manager was a jerk AND did so in a way that makes their ability to do their key role questionable.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This! We lost one of our employees suddenly and everyone was really upset . . . but nobody abused his replacement. And it was a job that did, actually, have pretty specific job duties (which meant that we really did need to replace this person ASAP so the rest of the team wasn’t overworked).

      1. Momma Bear*

        Same. One of my old coworkers had a heart attack and died suddenly. We moved one of his team into that role and backfilled from outside. We actually had the opposite reaction – that it was comforting/better for a colleague to take the role than hire a stranger.

      2. Sunflower Sky*

        The same thing happened at my agency! A much loved and much respected colleague. Mike, died very suddenly, and all of us were devastated. We went to the funeral home, sent cards and let his family know how much he’d meant to us all.

        And then we warmly welcomed the man who’d been hired to do the job that Mike once held. It would never have occurred to any of us to have asked him “How can you sleep at night after taking Mike’s job?” We’d showed Mike how much he meant to us while he was alive, but life is for the living. Mike would never have wanted any of us to mistreat his replacement – and I doubt that Jane would be pleased to see HER former colleagues abusing HER replacement either.

    2. CityMouse*

      I mean I had a boss die (she had cancer but the sudden decline was unexpected) and if anything we banded around the new manager to help him out.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      This is extremely timely for me, because one of my coworkers did die fairly tragically last January. Not quite like this, but she left feeling unwell in December, it turned out to be cancer and she died maybe a week after I for one heard for sure that it was (I’d guessed, based on the tests I’d been told she was having, but I’d been hoping it would turn out to be something less serious and I certainly didn’t expect it to happen so quickly).

      Her replacement finally started about two weeks ago and we are all glad to finally have somebody in the role. Yeah, it’s a bit weird and we miss our previous colleague but that doesn’t mean we don’t welcome our new colleague.

      1. Worldwalker*

        A co-worker and friend died of leukemia a couple of weeks ago, and I was unable to make it to the services. I’ve still got a big gaping hole there, and it’s never going to fill in completely. I keep thinking “I need to talk to Wakeen about this” and there’s no more Wakeen. It’s singularly awful. But I can’t imagine abusing whoever eventually takes the job (if it doesn’t just get spread around among the rest of us; we all wear enough hats to make a Jaegermonster delirious). It’s not their fault he died. Wakeen-the-person and Wakeen’s-job are two totally different things. One is a person who should still be here and isn’t, and I’ll miss forever. The other is a job the company needs to get done, which was done *by* a person but isn’t that person. I am not my job; none of us are.

        If anything, tying a person’s memory forever to their job is rather disrespectful of the person, for whom the job was just a thing they did, not a thing they were.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          Yes! I was thinking the same thing as your last paragraph. A person’s job isn’t and shouldn’t be them.

    4. Apostrophina*

      I think I may have even commented about this on the original post, but I kind of understand the impulse: a member of my old department passed away suddenly some years ago. When a new hire from another, related department was placed at that desk for convenience while they made permanent space for him, I knew it would be weird, but I was really taken aback at the part of my brain that yelled “What are y0u DOING at [Coworker’s] DESK?!” whenever I walked past that area for a few weeks.

      However, while I understand the impulse, I kept that angry voice between my own two ears (where it belonged) until it went away.

  5. François Caron*

    Holy crap! Some people really can’t move on even when they were offered help! I’m surprised it involves the entire team!

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I think the fact that the manager bought into it so hard has a lot to do with that.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I always wondered if the manager was the ringleader in the whole mess. It makes a lot more sense if say the manager and one or two of the higher ranked members of the team were the ringleaders that didn’t let anybody else fill Jane’s slot while also keeping everybody else on the team silent and heads down lest they be the next person turned on and forced out of a job.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Could be. We are at several levels removed. But people in crisis look to leaders to set the tone. If the manger and senior team members are acting a certain way it signals “this is normal and okay” to people who are hurting and looking for somewhere to lash out. The idea that people are quietly opposed and staying quiet out of fear isn’t an assumption I’m willing to make, but I think people might have easily responded to different leadership and might still have at the time the letter was written.

        2. Zephy*

          I’m betting it was one, maybe two people actually saying these horrible things to the people hired for that role. Probably someone who gets their social needs met at the office, at the expense of their coworkers who don’t do that. We’ve all worked with someone like that – you know it’s not worth saying anything to them, because they’re either besties with the manager or the manager will consider it an interpersonal issue where you’re the problem, because Needy Nat over there is the one actively complaining to the boss about it.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, the LW posted one comment.

      It did explain that disbursing the team wasn’t possible, nor was breaking up the role. But it didn’t explain anything else. The only thing they KIND of addressed was why they didn’t realize that they had a problem, but their answer leaves a lot of holes. Because they don’t address how they didn’t realize that *3* resignations in less than a year was a sign of a problem.

      1. Happy Peacock*

        They said they knew they had a problem, but they thought it was a “job is too tough” problem rather than an “employees are bullying new people” problem.

        1. Rainbow*

          To be fair, my last job has gone through an awful lot of people in my old team (4 managers and many team members left in the past 4 years) – not quite 3 a year but not far off, and more senior folk are only burying their heads deeper in the sand.

        2. Observer*

          Yes, but even that should have triggered some investigation. When two internal hires flame out – and bail without notice, that should tell you something. Even when 2 non-internal hires bail that way that should be a red flag. When 3 people in a row – in less than a year! bail that way, then SOMETHING is going on. I get that they might not have realized that it was a bullying situation, but at minimum you are dealing with really bad hiring. Also, people who find the job too stressful because of the workload, they generally don’t fail to give notice. So that should have also been a sign that hiring was REALLY, really bad or there were some team / manager dynamics playing into the situation.

          TLDR: I don’t fault them for not realizing that the bullying was happening. I *do* fault them for not realizing that multiple people flaming out like this might just indicate a problem that they should take the time to look into. Even for a department that’s in a separate building.

          I also fault them for being so detached from the department that even though the rest of the company knew that this team was a toxic place, the LW had absolutely no idea that there might be an issue.

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          A “job is too tough” problem is a problem that needs to be addressed pretty sharply AFAIC.
          Our friend and neighbour was promoted to a really tough job. He stuck at it for a couple of years and then was congratulated because the previous two guys had had to leave because of burnout. He was then promoted to another position with heaps more money and a chauffeur.

      2. SnowyRose*

        It can really depend though. The work my team does is very different than what most of my coworkers do. It’s far more constant, time-sensitive, and the interactions we have with our members is different. Most internal transfers don’t last because of that. So I could see the initial assumption being related to workload or the nature of the work versus what was actually going down.

  6. WellRed*

    I’m glad the OP knew they needed to tackle this but “working in another building” isn’t a great excuse for this going on so long.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Yeah. I remember this when it was first published and it’s a complete failure of management at every conceivable level. And fundamentally needs to be addressed as such.

      1. Observer*

        Totally. And I found it a bit disturbing that in their one comment they simply didn’t seem to see where they had fallen down.

      2. Momma Bear*

        And there was a bit in the first publishing about how “word got around” and it was so bad that someone had her resignation cued up rather than be shifted into that role. They couldn’t hire from within because no one wanted it. Way more dysfunction than it first appears.

        So, given that no one wants “Jane’s Job” maybe that job needs to go. Her duties have been picked up by someone else, right? So take a look at everything the team is doing, and re-assign things so no one has her exact role and call it something else.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          That’s really insufficient. You need to start by going back to the beginning and doing what should have been done in the first place. Sit the team down and tell them that what they are doing is unacceptable and needs to stop. Get a manager in who will enforce that, and start moving people out who can’t adapt. I think a lot of commentary misses just how much basic management of the situation just never happened.

          1. Snooks*

            I agree w/ Kevin, although I would make it clear that those who don’t or won’t stop the bullying and be cordial and professional with the next hire will be fired.

        2. Observer*

          Her duties have been picked up by someone else, right? So take a look at everything the team is doing, and re-assign things so no one has her exact role and call it something else.

          Actually, no they weren’t picked up by someone else, which is why HR finally did what they should have done to start with and talked to the OP.

          Also, the OP is explicit that they can’t just break up position because of the constraints of regulations.

      3. Goldenrod*

        “it’s a complete failure of management at every conceivable level”

        Seriously! I can’t even fathom treating a new hire this way, it’s so egregious – but especially on the part of the manager, who should have shut it down immediately.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Or upper management who somehow needed two people to leave and an internal candidate to aggressively nope out of being considered for the position before thinking “maybe we should look into what is going on here”.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I can’t tell from the letter what LW’s position was — if they were the manager’s manager, absolutely. If they were several levels above, I would give them a lot more slack for counting on HR to loop higher-ups in when the immediate manager isn’t taking care of things.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Never mind, I found the original letter which specifies LW was the manager’s manager. So yeah, that was clearly a big failure on LW’s part as well.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Nope. The first person going, fine. Things happen. The second person? If you are in any kind of management responsibility you need to dig in and figure out why you just lost two people in six months. You may not expect the festering heap of toxicity that exists. And maybe it’s just coincidence. Things happen. But at that point you need answers and LW was distinctly disinterested in getting them.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Not just left in six months, but didn’t even give two weeks notice. They wanted out so bad they just bailed, not even the usual courteous 2 weeks notice. That right there should have been a HUGE red flag. Especially as they were internal hires. They didn’t just bail on the job, they bailed on the company rather quickly. Which means they knew what was what.

          1. Observer*

            Especially as they were internal hires.

            This stuck out to me like sore thumb. Because it’s one thing when someone from the outside comes it and realizes that this is a disaster. But when it’s an internal hire, you expect them to have a better idea of what is going on.

            In fact, the OP says that they didn’t think anything of it because they assumed the the new people simply couldn’t handle the stress of the position. Which would be bad enough with external hires, considering that this was more than one person bailing so unceremoniously. But internal hires? Hoe does it make sense that 2 people with the right qualifications are sooooo out of the loop that they didn’t realize what they were getting into?

            The comments couldn’t have been easy to read. But I hope the OP did read and take all of it on board. And I hope they got the situation cleaned up.

            1. Estrella the Starfish*

              It’s worrying about the organisation generally that there are roles where management would be completely unfazed by multiple people quitting early on due to the stress of the job. That should have raised red flags in itself.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                yes, this is a serious situation and needs to be addressed. It happened to a friend and neighbour of mine. He worked so hard and was really depressed with how little progress was being made, and found out after a couple of years that the two previous guys in the role had left because of burnout. I was amazed that nobody had tried to redistribute duties to take some of the weight off his shoulders.
                He was handsomely rewarded for his time in that role but still.

        2. Nightwings*

          No, it was NOT fine for that team to have bullied Jane’s first replacement out of that job! Management should have stepped in when the bullying began – it’s hard to believe that absolutely NOBODY else saw or heard what was happening and realized that it was very, very wrong. Yes, Jane’s traumatized colleagues should have been offered help, but they should not have been allowed to take out their grief on an innocent employee.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I really don’t think Kevin meant it was fine to bully the first person out of the job. He pretty clearly is saying it’s fine (as in, understandable) that LW didn’t *realize* anything was amiss at that point in time.

  7. singularity*

    I hope this doesn’t come across as cruel, but I think this team should be broken up and rearranged into different locations. They’re co-dependent upon one another in their grief, and it’s an unhealthy dynamic that will not change unless there are drastic changes. They’re feeding off of each other with these behaviors and it’s helping drive people away.

    1. Heidi*

      A lot of the commenters on the original post said that this was the way to go. The OP posted a comment that said breaking up the team entirely or redistributing Jane’s work was not feasible, but they would consider replacing some people. I hope that did happen. Imagine the amount of bullying that must have taken place to drive 3 different people out of that job. This team is not normal.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I wonder how “not feasible” it really was, given that three people had already quit.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah I have to wonder how they’re dealing with this operationally.

        2. Happy Peacock*

          It was not feasible in the sense that it required specialized skills and a license or something. OP gave the analogy of if you need a lawyer, you can’t split up the lawyer duties to a bunch of non-lawyers.

  8. Momma Bear*

    There were many suggestions in the old letter comments about moving people. I think moving everything to a fresh start is part of the solution, but they also need to be met with to figure out if they can remain a team or if they need to be split up to allow the company/department to work effectively. I wonder what the outcome was, as the original was from 2017.

  9. Rick Tq*

    As I recall Jane’s job involved a certification the company was required to have on site so it wasn’t so much ‘Jane’s job’ as ‘Jane was our Certified Llama Grooming Inspector and we can’t operate without another one’

    1. Momma Bear*

      That makes it even worse. They’re actively blocking company compliance by driving off people from the role. That could be a whole legal mess. I’d not be treading lightly here.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Grief does weird things to people. And when you have leadership not only failing to correct the situation but actively feeding it, things can get weirder.

      1. Zee*

        These are adults. It’s their responsibility to figure out how to manage their grief and trauma in a way that doesn’t harm other innocent people. Just because you’re grieving doesn’t mean you get to bully other people. If you can’t show up to work and behave like a decent human being because of your grief, you shouldn’t show up to work until you have figured out how to do so.

    2. Student*

      There’s a reason that the term scapegoat exists and is ancient. This is a remarkably common way to deal with bad things happening. This team is using the new hires as scapegoats to expunge their own feelings about Jane’s death – blame and cast out the new hire(s), expecting that they’ll carry away the team’s bad feelings with them.

      It’s not a good coping mechanism, from a societal point of view, obviously. Their behavior is abominable.

      However, as a method for coping with random bad things, it’s very effective for some of the individual perpetrators. Some people cannot cope with the idea that bad things happen outside our control, and this is one of the ways they try to pretend they can exert some control over the uncontrollable so they don’t have to face their fears around their lack of control.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But it just goes to show that the whole office is toxic. Sure, it’s undoubtedly awful if a close coworker dies, but it’s not normal to effectively blame their replacement for it.

        I also think that the whole team is more emotionally enmeshed than it should be. The death of a coworker shouldn’t leave a team emotionally devastated for years. They need to accept that a coworker they liked is dead and that they have to move on, and particularly to accept that someone else needs to both use Jane’s old desk and that they need someone to do Jane’s old job.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah. I suspect that things got worse before they got better, so the OP wouldn’t want to come back. They got a bit of a pile on, and people didn’t really buy their excuses (although most people were polite about it.)

  10. Sara without an H*

    I went back and looked at the original post. One second reading, this sad situation seems to be a symptom of deeper organizational problems. Three people quit without notice and HR didn’t think to clue in grandboss until Number 3 screamed & ran for the exit??! Company structure is such that it’s impossible to reorganize the team or reassign any job functions??? This does not sound like a healthy, well-managed organization.

    My own recommendation would be to first, replace the unit supervisor who contributed to the harassment and refused to act on complaints. If it’s really impossible to reorganize the group (and I’d push back on that as much as possible), at least reorganize the layout of the office, so the new person isn’t sitting at Jane’s old desk. I also think the OP really needs to be more proactive in managing this group while a new manager is being brought on board AND for a few months afterward.

    If it hasn’t been done already, maybe arrange for some kind of formal memorial to Jane — maybe a plaque/photo in a public space to acknowledge her years of service. This might help people who felt that their friend was being forgotten.

    Lastly, I would have a vigorous discussion with the HR team.

    1. Observer*

      One second reading, this sad situation seems to be a symptom of deeper organizational problems.

      Very much so.

      Three people quit without notice and HR didn’t think to clue in grandboss until Number 3 screamed & ran for the exit??!

      Worse. That was not enough to get them to talk to the OP. It took trying to *force* a *4th* person into the job and having that person – again the *fourth* person – be ready to walk off rather than take the job, that caused them to talk to the OP. Basically, it’s wasn’t until they couldn’t fill the job that they finally looped the manager in.

      And the OP didn’t immediately ask why in heavens name they didn’t speak up sooner.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, the whole organization seems to be cursed with passivity. If the OP is out there and sees this, I’d really, really like an update.

      2. Berkeleyfarm*

        That’s a great point. It’s only when they couldn’t just keep filling the job because of the toxic environment that they looped the grandboss in.

        It did sort of sound like the environment was well known in the organization, except to the upper management (or at least the grandboss) … a lot of time active bullying gets written off as “drama” or “just a personality clash”.

  11. Not Milton*

    Maybe you should just consider retiring her job title. That sounds reasonable.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Given the fact that the job involves some kind of regulatory compliance, that might not be possible. They might be required to have a Llama Fur Inspector on staff, and calling them a Llama Hair Inspector wouldn’t satisfy whoever is in charge of accreditation.

  12. BellyButton*

    I can’t imagine treating anyone like that! I also can’t imagine HR not doing something after they first learned of the problem in an exit interview. I would have been on that with leadership and the entire team within seconds of reading it.

  13. HonorBox*

    We had a tragic death in my office just about a year ago and were able to rework his position into something “new” for the organization. That might be the way to go here.

    We never went out and advertised his specific role when it came time to hire. There was a lot of thought for how to replace someone who was like Jane. We made changes to actually make that one role into two separate roles. And we basically issued a moratorium on calling it “his office” when we found someone to fill part of the role. And we haven’t ever called it “his role” when moving forward. Because it isn’t “his” role any longer.

    I think the LW needs to focus on getting the team to stop comparing anyone to Jane. It isn’t her role. It isn’t her office. While tragic, Jane’s absence has to be viewed as you would any other role that is vacant and being filled. The team has to be made aware that they can still grieve Jane and keep her in their memories, but not to the detriment of others and not to the detriment of the business.

    1. HonorBox*

      And yes, I know that there was a compliance issue so there were things that couldn’t be changed… but the thought still holds. If there’s a new way to frame that role and make it less about “the job that Jane used to do” or “Jane’s old job” it forces people to get through the fact that someone new is doing that NECESSARY job. Not having someone do that work is going to be far worse for everyone if it is indeed a necessary function.

    2. Observer*

      We had a tragic death in my office just about a year ago and were able to rework his position into something “new” for the organization. That might be the way to go here.

      Honestly? I don’t think so. Yes, if it has been done to start with, that would be one thing. At this point though, you have such atrocious behavior that the hammer simply has to come down. Because these people are not going to be good colleagues to anyone in the company at this point unless and until they know that their job is on the line.

      And even then, I’m not so sure. I think the OP really needed to face down the fact that they might need to replace everyone, or most of the people on that team.

      1. HonorBox*

        I was approaching this as more of a hindsight being 20/20 thing since it was an old letter. Thinking someone might be reading this and have a similar circumstance they’re facing.

        But you’re right. The behavior of the colleagues was awful.

  14. Aquamarine*

    I don’t think the treatment of the new people was ultimately driven by grief/trauma, even if it started out that way. It crossed over into bullying behavior.

  15. Zee*

    I found this letter and peoples’ responses so frustrating.

    That entire team should get fired.

    They bullied 3 people out of a job. They made innocent people’s daily life miserable. They caused serious financial & career disruptions (the original post mentions “the first replacement quit without having anything lined up. The second replacement took a job with a lower title than he had here.”)

    Is it awful that Jane died in that manner? Yes. But you don’t keep getting second chances after behaving this way.

    1. Observer*

      I think that a lot of people agreed that it would be perfectly appropriate to fire people, even the whole team.

      What I found frustrating was that the OP was really resistant to the idea. They did acknowledge that they MIGHT transfer *some* people “if it will help.” (In the comments.) Absolutely no acknowledgement that they might need to do a bunch of firing.

      1. Happy Peacock*

        It’s possible that it is appropriate but not feasible. The LW said they couldn’t break up the team, and we should take them at their word. They aren’t required to justify the decisions they make to a bunch of internet strangers who are working with only the sparsest of context.

        1. Observer*

          Sure, they are not required to justify anything. But it’s reasonable for people to draw conclusions based on what the person says.

          The bottom line is that the only way things were going to change for the better there was if the company was ready to start replacing staff. The OP made it clear that they did not see that. They also indicated that they were resistant to figuring out how to do that.

          What you or I think about that is not what’s important. The effect that this kind of thinking *is* important. Not to the AAM commentariate, but to the LW and their company.

          It is a bit annoying and frustrating when someone shows up asking for help and then dismisses everything that they are being told, tbh. But that’s not the big issue.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      But firing everyone with no warning is going to cause serious financial and career disruptions for these staff.

      I don’t know that I’d count these as second chances, since apparently nobody has told them that this needs to stop immediately. Yes, adults should absolutely already know that this behaviour is awful without needing to be told. But one of the principles of AAM is that messed up environments skew your idea of what’s normal and appropriate. So I say have an Extremely Serious Talk with everyone. Probably individually. Then deal with anyone who isn’t willing/able to be a basic amount of nice to all their coworkers.

      1. Zee*

        But firing everyone with no warning is going to cause serious financial and career disruptions for these staff.

        Yes, but that’s the consequences of their own actions. That’s not at all the same as what happened to the new employees.

      2. Rick Tq*

        If the problem still exists I thing the solution should be a final STERN warning the bullying behavior has to stop to the whole group at the same time the late Jane’s office/shrine is emptied and cleaned.

        If or when one or more people blow up at ‘disrespecting her memory’ they have found the ringleaders to be fired on the spot.

        Harsh? Yes, but as I recall Candidate #4 stated they would quit the company rather than move into the group, so this level of pathology needs to be excised sooner rather than later, and it had been over a year since Jane’s death when the letter was published.

  16. RedinSC*

    A lot of folks are talking about how the team should be broken and up and moved around. That just really isn’t possible in a lot of situations. In my last job, our teams were all very specialized. They couldn’t have taken a person from one team and then added them to, say my team to do their work. It was very silo’d and people were hired for very specific roles. No one from my team could have done the other team’s jobs with out a LOT of training, and same with that team.

    So, I completely believe the letter writer when s/he says we can’t redistribute the team. I do think that the supervisor of that team probably needs to go, or minimally go through a LOT of management training. I think that team needs to be put on notice that their behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences, and I think that the organization needs to look at their communications and figure out why the gossip culture rules there, but that people do not feel comfortable going to management to bring up really glaring issues.

    1. Observer*

      So, I completely believe the letter writer when s/he says we can’t redistribute the team.

      True. But they can fire people and replace them – even replace the entire team, if need be.

      And, yes, it would probably be a lot of work. But the company was already is a bucket of trouble over this. Not getting the issue resolved ASAP was going to wind up being a lot more work and lot more expensive. Because this level of turnover in a compliance related position with legal requirements is can torpedo a department anyway. The OP would be better doing it on their schedule rather than wait till the situation deteriorates to the point that they are being cited (and possibly fined/ shut down) by regulators.

      I do think that the supervisor of that team probably needs to go, or minimally go through a LOT of management training.

      Only choice one works. It’s not about training. This was not about a manager who was inept or not knowledgeable. It’s about a person using their position to bully innocent people. Training doesn’t help that.

      I think that team needs to be put on notice that their behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences

      Yup. Including firing.

      I think that the organization needs to look at their communications and figure out why the gossip culture rules there, but that people do not feel comfortable going to management to bring up really glaring issues

      This. This is 100% true.

      1. RedinSC*

        I do think they could fire the whole team, but also, you’ve got a company that is bigger than 100 people, right? (LW says that they manage 9 with 100 indirect reports). I’m assuming that there are others there that have the same number of people, so several hundred all around, minimally.

        Will firing the team get to the point of making the case that “we will not accept bullying and gossip culture” or will that make things worse? It’s pretty complex, and dealing with the underlying problem, for me, is the bigger issue rather than getting rid of that one team. Will other teams bully them….OMG, you too team X’s job! HOW COULD YOU< YOU MONSTER! I don't think it's a 1 team and done issue.

        1. Observer*

          Will firing the team get to the point of making the case that “we will not accept bullying and gossip culture” or will that make things worse?

          I don’t think it’s going to do anything about the gossip culture. But it 8might* do something about bullying. At the least, it will stop the behavior.

          Will other teams bully them….OMG, you too team X’s job! HOW COULD YOU< YOU MONSTER!

          This is not a team that is “well liked”, as Jane was. They have a terrible reputation in the company. No one is going to go to war over a group that is known to be so toxic that someone was ready to resign rather than spend even one day there, even without a job lined up.

    2. Happy Peacock*

      “So, I completely believe the letter writer when s/he says we can’t redistribute the team. ”

      My team is specialized, although unlike Jane, we don’t have any specific required licenses or certifications. I’m lolling a the thought of either redistributing us or firing us all. Sure, either could conceivably happen. We could go to roles outside our specialty that any smart person could do (and most of us would quit bc we have invested many years and several graduate degrees in our specialty). And mass firings are always an option. That’s not what makes me lol.

      The part that makes me lol is what happens next. Both distributing us and firing us would mean the entire team would have to be rebuilt with outside hires from scratch. Sure, let’s disrupt the business for a couple years while we rebuild that talent pool. Let’s lose our competitive advantage in our market. Let’s miss out on million dollar contracts bc we don’t have the capability to support them. Let’s take a reputational hit that take even more years to recover from. It would cause a bigger problem than it solves.

      I like how AG tossed the problem back in Jane’s manager’s lap to solve: Bottom line, *someone* needs to fill the role. We cannot remain in business without a Certified Person. What are *you* going to do to keep someone in that role?

      1. Zee*

        They don’t mention any details about the other employees’ jobs, but it is entirely possible that if Jane’s former position required niche skills and there are not many people who have that particular certification and that the other positions don’t have similar requirements, it very well could be more efficient and cost-effective to replace the other 8 team members so they can keep someone in that position.

      2. Observer*

        Both distributing us and firing us would mean the entire team would have to be rebuilt with outside hires from scratch. Sure, let’s disrupt the business for a couple years while we rebuild that talent pool. Let’s lose our competitive advantage in our market. Let’s miss out on million dollar contracts bc we don’t have the capability to support them. Let’s take a reputational hit that take even more years to recover from. It would cause a bigger problem than it solves

        The problem with this premise is that it assumes that the negative fallout you are describing is not already happening. When 3 people bail out of a job in less than a year, you know that you’ve gotten less than half a year’s work out of them. When that job becomes essentially unfillable, that means you have a team that is semi-permanently down one person. Which is going to be disruptive even if the job is something that is mundane and low skilled that pretty much every person in the team can pitch in on. When the position is one that is niche and MAY NOT legally be performed by any other person on the team, what happens? When it’s a key role tied to regulatory compliance, what happens? When it’s both, what happens is that you might as well have fired the entire team because you have a team that *cannot* deliver what is needed. And reputational hit is even stronger that what happens when you have to rebuild the team from the ground up. Because not only can you not deliver, people hear about WHY you are having this problem. They will hear about the abject lack of management / management by wishful thinking. And that’s going to be a whole reputational hit of its own.

        I think I would start with firing the manager and giving everyone else, maybe excepting the other ring leaders, a last chance. But build into your planning the disruption that will happen if you need to replace the entire team. Because of the threat of firing doesn’t check the behavior, you might as well not have a team in place.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      You’re right that they can’t take the members of this oatmeal monitoring team and transfer them to the account, llama grooming, and teapot education departments.

      What they could do is move the entire oatmeal monitoring team out of Building 3 and into Building 5, where the OP works, and re-arrange the seating so there’s no obvious, visible “Jane’s desk.”

      1. RedinSC*

        Yes, that could potentially work. It might, at least, get the OP to see how this gossip culture is working.

  17. Cacofonix*

    I remember this letter and agree that it was a tragic situation for everyone. And I know the LW commented on the 9 or so direct reports and 100+ indirect reports of whom Jane was one, so I get that a grand boss like this wouldn’t know details of why people quit. But what I’ve always wondered why, when such efforts were being made to take care of this team after something so especially awful was why the LW wouldn’t have paid closer attention to this particular team for a time afterwards, support the manager, pay attention to (and give grace for) work output, and absolutely, employee turnover. That never made sense to me.

    1. Observer*

      Well, to be honest, nothing in the situation made any sense.

      I mean, even in 2017 companies managed to have reasonable insight into teams that were not even in the same building. How does someone say with a straight face that not being in the same building is an explanation for being so out of touch with the department? *Especially* since everyone else in the company knew what was going on! How do you explain hearing about this and not reflexively demanding to know why in heavens name no one in HR thought to escalate it?

  18. John O*

    In life I tend to be pretty blunt in my responses and this site has nudged me to be less so, but in this scenario someone in leadership needs to be crystal clear to the organization that these past and future new hires weren’t brought into replace Jane they were brought in to fill an open and needed position. It’s been a year and if people can’t accept that mindset in its entirety they need to assess whether they should stay or move on themselves.

  19. ClergypersonAAMSuperfan*

    I understand that this was an old letter, but in case any readers are in a similar situation, it sounds to me like the organization made space for staff to deal with the loss outside of work (therapy, time off) but may not have adequately marked the loss internally and given people permission to grieve. Unresolved or suppressed grief can definitely present as hostility to others, especially new community members in a similar role or that somehow remind people of the loss. A simple non-religious ritual marking the one year anniversary of the death (light a candle, share memories) could be healing.

    1. Observer*

      Eh. What was going on here went well beyond being garden variety hostility. Even that would have been unacceptable. But what was going on went well beyond that. It was vicious, cruel and intentional. A “simple ritual” like lighting a candle is NOT going to pull anyone back from that abyss. And at this point, the last thing anyone needs is a shared session on “How wonderful Jane was” because that’s just going to feed the associated “and how TERRIBLE anyone in that role is.” That’s tragic, but true.

  20. Raida*

    “…for arranging the desk differently than Jane had it…”

    I would move the team. Different physical desks, different layout, preferably a different room, new equipment where possible, sitting with another team so they have exposure to other people.

    Then a new person would not be at Jane’s Desk or using Jane’s Chair or having the phone different to how Jane had it – because it would be a different desk, in a different room, seen from a different angle, with different lighting, different coworkers, etc.

    And I would be clear with the next person that you are their direct contact if there are any issues they feel their manager isn’t addressing.
    And I would say that *in front of the manager* after also discussing it with them in private.
    So that everyone is on the same page: we are acknowledging the grief, we are stating clearly that we have an expectation of professionalism, we are all going to do our best, we have mechanisms to address issues if grief results in unprofessional behaviour, we have changed the surroundings to limit the appearance of a new person inserting into Jane’s spot.

    Also if possible I’d make the team bigger, just with some job-sharing and job-shadowing to cross-train in and out of the team for exposure to different coworkers . And, to be clear, to know that if I needed to replace the two people stuck on Jane, I’ve already got their replacements half-trained.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Yes, if you can’t break the team up organisationally, you can at least break them up physically. Manager has to go (and is probably easiest to replace) and the rest of the team need to understand that if the organisation can’t keep a replacement for Jane, then there’s no point in them keeping the rest of the team. They’re putting their own jobs at risk.

  21. Be Careful What You Wish For*

    Sounds like they are volunteering to divide Jane’s workload up between them so she doesn’t need to be replaced…

    1. Rick Tq*

      Per the LW, they can’t replace her. Jane had a specific qualification/certification required for the company and none of her coworkers could fulfill the requirement. I think the example was needing lawyer who was a member of the Bar, not a paralegal.

  22. Queenie*

    Not specifically related to any particular letter… but this has been suggested in the past and I’d like to add my vote. On the columns that are being printed in other pubs like this one, is there any way we could get a header message letting us know? It seems like a very small addition to save a lot of potential confusion from the regular readers. Thanks!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The columns that are printed in other publications are always posted at 12:30 eastern time. Occasionally, updates or other columns that aren’t linked to an outside pub are posted at 12:30 ET but if you want to avoid letters that are answered in an outside pub, avoid the 12:30 ET post.

  23. Berkeleyfarm*

    I, like many others, would love to hear an update for this one.

    It really is a sticky situation because it’s definitely the “new normal” for that team and getting things back in the direction of “decent human behavior” that aligns with professional norms is going to be so, so difficult. Very tricky when you consider the compliance angles that have been mentioned.

  24. Ajay*

    It seems the organization is toxic. Most people knew the problems but the top managers didn’t. HR did not take any action. It seems HR treats other bullying in the same manner. Most probably the attitude is supported by the top people.

  25. Anonymous For Now*

    I don’t know why no one suggested a middle ground, at least not that I saw anyway.

    One thing I agree with is that the manager/supervisor should be demoted or fired. That person sounds like a ringleader or at least a cheerleader for the rest of the team.

    The other thing I would is to put everyone else on a PIP for their attitude. While notmally a PIP isn’t used for that, I think this situation is an exception.

    Then if one more new person leaves and it is due to bullying, find out who was the worst of the bunch and fire them.

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