my boss won’t do anything about my slacker coworker

A reader writes:

My colleague “Andrew” and I work in a specialized department for a mid-sized company (about 150 employees), each of us covering one half of the company with no overlap. We both work remotely while the teams we support are on-site in offices across our region, so we rely heavily on Microsoft Teams and email. Our boss, “Sam,” is very laid-back — he’s supportive without micromanaging us and rarely pries as long as we’re getting our work done.

Andrew is great in his role… when he’s actually doing it. Over the past few months, though, he has been incredibly difficult to reach. He’s not responding to emails, is always “away” on Teams, and only answers messages hours or sometimes days later, if at all. We have a weekly in-person meeting with another colleague, and while it’s informal, he regularly blows it off without letting us know he’s not coming. I’m aware he had issues with tardiness/attendance before we worked together, but I’m unsure of the extent.

Recently, I covered for Andrew while he was on a lengthy vacation, and it was evident he had been neglecting important, time-sensitive tasks leading up to his trip. He clearly had not been responding to many of his clients, letting things pile up. I worked very hard juggling his half of the company along with my own while he was out, fielding calls and messages from angry clients and frustrated coworkers (though people were very complimentary of my work). The doubled workload meant quite a bit of overtime for me.

The last day of Andrew’s vacation, I sent him a list of important updates and ongoing projects and let him know I’d be happy to chat if he had questions. No response, and it’s been almost two weeks. After he got back, I sent him a message asking how his trip was. Crickets. Since his return, he’s missed meetings and emails, and I’ve had multiple colleagues ask if Andrew was still on vacation or if I knew where he was. It’s hard to see messages coming in for him going ignored, but they aren’t my clients and the combined workloads are too much for me to manage alone.

I no longer know how to defend Andrew to his (understandably frustrated) colleagues, and I’m feeling pretty put out that he hasn’t acknowledged my covering for him in any way.

In my last one-on-one with Sam, I let him know what was going on because I’m concerned for the other staff and clients, and while Andrew’s poor performance shouldn’t reflect on me, I suspect this will bring consequences for our department as a whole. Sam wasn’t surprised. It sounds like other people had also brought this up with him before I did, and he agrees it’s an issue. However, Sam had not had direct reports in a long time until our department was created a year ago, so he’s getting used to being in a managerial role again and I know he tends to soften the message when giving feedback.

What else can I do? Should I talk to Andrew directly? We aren’t terribly close, and he can be somewhat volatile — sometimes he’s standoffish and other times he’s warm and engaging, and I never know which he’ll be. I’m also at a loss as to what to say when colleagues come to me wondering where he is. So far, I’ve been sticking to a brief, “I’m not sure about Andrew’s schedule today” but it sounds so oblivious. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to throw him under the bus, either. How should I handle this?

There’s nothing you can do to manage this problem beyond what you’ve already tried.

That’s bad news because you’re clearly frustrated and worried that Andrew’s unresponsiveness could blow back on your team. And it’s legitimately aggravating to watch a co-worker flagrantly ignore the standards you’re both supposed to be held to — and even more aggravating to watch your manager act as if there’s nothing he can do about it.

But if you shift your perspective a little, it can be liberating to acknowledge that you’ve done everything you could reasonably be expected to do, and now the problem is out of your hands. Andrew will either do his work or not. Sam will either manage him effectively or not. You’ve alerted Sam to what you’ve seen, and from here it’s up to him. You don’t manage either of them, so there’s nothing more you can or should do.

It’s definitely not your job to try to get Andrew to manage his work differently. If he seemed like someone who would appreciate a heads-up (“People keep complaining that they can’t reach you and are sounding increasingly concerned about it,” say), that could be worth offering. But since you say Andrew has been volatile in the past, that’s not something you’re obligated to take on. It’s Sam’s job to deal with that, not yours.

You’re also not obligated to cover for Andrew when co-workers ask where he is. The response you’ve been using — “I’m not sure about his schedule today” — is fine. You’re worried it makes you look oblivious, but I’m betting your colleagues will read between the lines and understand you aren’t the issue. If you want, though, you can start sending people to Sam when they ask! Tell them, “I’m not sure about Andrew’s schedule, but you could check with Sam.” It’s possible that if Sam starts receiving an influx of queries about Andrew’s whereabouts, it could spur him to take more action than he has so far. But again, either way, it’s not your problem to solve.

One thing here you can address, though (or, more accurately, that you have standing to push Sam to address), is the impact this is having on your own work. While it sounds like Andrew’s unresponsiveness doesn’t directly affect your workload most of the time, it sure did when he was on vacation and you had to do his job as well as your own. Being expected to cover a job that had been neglected for months is very much your business, and you’d be on solid ground declining to spend extra hours cleaning up after him in the future. So if you’re asked to be Andrew’s vacation cover in the future, it would be reasonable to remind Sam what happened previously and ask for a plan to ensure you’re only covering the work that comes in while Andrew is away, not cleaning up everything he might have shirked in the weeks or months before he left.

One caveat to all of this: It’s possible there’s more going on with Andrew than you know and which might change your assessment, or at least your frustration level, if you did. For example, it’s possible that he has a health situation or family crisis that he’s arranged to take extra time off for. He could even have formal medical accommodations in place that allow him to miss more work than he normally could. If that’s the case, both Andrew and Sam are still managing things badly — there should be more communication about Andrew’s availability and Sam should be stepping in to ensure requests to Andrew aren’t just being ignored — but the existence of that type of accommodation isn’t always visible to co-workers. My hunch is that this probably isn’t the explanation (it sounds more like Sam is just a weak manager), but it’s useful to keep in mind that you might not be privy to everything that’s happening behind the scenes.

Ultimately, though, there can be real relief in deciding it’s not your job to solve this. You’re certainly not being paid to solve this, and you can leave any agonizing about it to the person who is.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 112 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    For OP, I think the biggest thing is to just make sure you’re not trying to do two jobs at once. If Andrew’s work goes undone because he’s not doing it, then so be it.
    And honestly, that might even be the spur Sam needs to address this: As long as things get generally dealt with, it’s easy to shrug it off, but once there’s actual consequences to Andrew’s slacking, the impact might change things pretty quickly.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Agreed. Continuing to do the good job that you are doing and trying not to let this bug you is about the best you can you do. Keep Sam in the loop about how it affects you, because one day this may all hit the fan and you want to make sure it is blowing away from you.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      100%. I would practice aggressive hands-off-ness. If there is no overlap, then document when you report issues to your boss, so it’s clear that you aren’t the problem and that you informed others of the situation, but other than that, do your job without worrying about his. Find a noncommittal response to give when people ask about him and stick to it.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Fourthing this: It’s easy for Sam to keep light-touching it if the work is getting done.

      It’s been a year–it sounds like he need some coaching on how to manage.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Seriously. A year is quite a long on-ramp for anyone to still not be doing the core of their job; it’s ridiculous for a manager with previous management experience.

    4. Artemesia*

      And every complaint you can get, especially from a client should be directed to Sam. Weak managers like this only manage when THEY are inconvenienced; they are totally good with YOU doing twice the work.

      And if this becomes onerous for you, it is a sign to step up a job search. Sometimes weak managers solve the problem by redefining the roll of the competent employee to do ALL the work.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      I think OP isn’t doing Andrew’s work for him, now that he’s back from vacation. The only thing she’s doing is soft-pedaling his unavailability to other staff and clients.

    6. sundae funday*

      Right… OP is actually positioned well to defend themselves here, so long as they are firm about stuff like covering for Andrew’s vacation in the future, because each employee has a very set amount of work, so it’s obvious who is slacking.

      I’ve been in a similar role, but one without such clear delineation, so when my coworker slacked off, I had to do her work as well because it was technically still my responsibility. If I could go back in time, I would communicate with my boss that I was doing more than my share of the work because he didn’t notice as long as it all got done. I was way too passive and felt like I was “throwing my coworker under the bus,” even though she threw me under the bus… daily…. (Seriously she showed up late, left early, and took long lunches, leaving me to do everything (amongst other issues), and I didn’t say a word!? Why was I such a pushover??)

    7. GreyjoyGardens*

      Agreed that OP dropping the rope (and letting Andrew hang himself if it comes to that) is the thing to do. Drop the rope, don’t cover for Andrew, and let Sam step up and do the managing. It might be a good lesson/training for Sam in how to handle some difficult tasks that are part of a manager’s job – unpleasant but need to be done.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – don’t wear yourself out preventing Andrew or your manager (for not managing) from failing.

    9. Julie Smith*

      “I don’t know where Andrew is today,” (slight emphasis on the “I”), “but you’re welcome to contact Sam, who is Andrew’s manager.” (Hand over a pre-written sticky note with Sam’s contact info on it. Go back to your task.)

  2. Dover*

    Yes, stop covering for Andrew! The boss won’t do anything because he doesn’t see the full scope of the issue and things are mostly getting done. I am guessing it may take a few months for Sam to realize the depth of the issue, but keep at it as more and more of Andrew’s customers express their frustration.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Gotta love that Andrew went on vacation and it didn’t actually change the amount of work he did.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Problem is, if Sam goes on vacation, he can pretty much guarantee that Andrew isn’t going to cover a damn thing. That bodes poorly if their job is the kind where things still need to be completed while they’re out of office.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      This. OP, don’t do Andrew’s undone work. When people ask about him, refer them to Sam–“Oh I’m not sure of his schedule today. You can ask Sam”–lather, rinse, repeat. If Andrew is ostensibly on vacation, cover what needs covering, do not do anything, even time sensitive, that he has left undone. If you need that to do the covering work, go right to Sam with “I need X to finish up Y this week for the report, but X wasn’t completed by Andrew before he left, and I don’t have the time for that. What do you want me to do?”. Make it Sam’s problem more than you have been. It’s all you can do, but it should take pressure off you.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Cannot agree more. OP it is NOT your job to defend Andrew to anyone. He is your coworker, not your report. The more you cover for him AND Sam as noted below, the less likely anything will be done. You don’t have the authority to do anything about Andrew so pass the problem to someone who does — Sam. ANY TIME someone calls YOU about Andrew or his work — direct them to Sam.

      2. Old Cat Lady*

        Couldn’t agree more! It is not OP’s job to shield an adult from the direct consequences of their own actions (or inactions).
        Definitely throw them both under the bus and send any inquiries about your coworker’s whereabouts to your boss.
        These types of people only learn when they are forced to sink or swim.

    3. what the nope*

      Stop covering for Sam too. As long as OP buffers Sam from the effects of poor management, nothing will change.

    4. My Useless 2 Cents*

      It might not be that Sam doesn’t see the full scope of Andrews slacking but that it doesn’t directly effect him. OP, make sure you don’t monitor Andrews work/lack of work (that’s Sam’s job) and it will come across badly to be seen checking up on Andrew. But do forward ALL queries coming to you about Andrew and Andrews work to Sam to deal with.

      My biggest issue would be feeling like “I” couldn’t take a vacation since who would cover my work when Andrew isn’t even doing his own. I would have a very serious conversation with Sam about that as well.

      1. Silver Robin*

        This is a really important point! If OP leaves and their clients get ignored, then that can blow back on OP even if it is not their fault. OP could warn folks ahead of time – “I will be out from X to Y dates, so please contact so and so in the meantime” – but it still means OP comes back to disgruntled clients they now have to sooth and it risks losing those clients if the ball is dropped hard enough.

      2. Elly*

        I don’t know… might be a great time to take a vacation to make it clear how much work Andrew is not doing. Though the mess that would like create may not be worth it.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah I agree with the part about forwarding things to Sam because if you make this more Sam’s problem then maybe Sam will actually do something about it. It sounds like OP doesn’t have to cover Andrew’s work at least at this point, but questions about where Andrew is or why he isn’t responding have to be annoying, so maybe if OP forwards them all to Sam, Sam will see it’s a big problem. And it should be Sam’s problem, not OP’s.

  3. Zombeyonce*

    Maybe Andrew and Ronald from the last letter can start a business of their own where absolutely nothing gets done and everyone’s either sending snarky messages or on vacation.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      There are lots of reasons why Andrew might not be present that do not involve working a second job. Some were even mentioned in Alison’s response.

      This kind of fanfiction is ultimately not helpful because LW can’t really do anything about it. The why is not LW’s responsibility.

    2. Regular Human Accountant*

      100% what I came here to say. Every question having to do with Andrew should be not only referred to Sam, but I would copy Sam on the reply as well. Make it his problem until it becomes too large for him to ignore.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I can see why people think this, but I don’t think so. For one thing I think he’d be more careful about doing the bare minimum so as to continue going under the radar.

      I think Sam does know the reason for it, but is handling the “can’t tell OP or others because it is confidential” part badly.

    4. DivergentStitches*

      You wouldn’t think that’s a thing, but it definitely is. One of my teammates is working 2 other remote jobs, he told me. I’m just like wow.

    5. Texan In Exile*

      Well he might be getting paid for two jobs, but he’s definitely not working two jobs.

    6. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      Ha! I was thinking this as well. J2 is clearly taking more time than he thought and J1 is starting to get suspicious.

      That is the first rule you don’t break when Over Employed.

    7. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      Exactly what I thought. And there’s probably another OP and another Sam at job #2.

    8. My Name is Mudd*

      Yup. He’s overemployed, and this is his J2 or J3. He’s just coasting now, either waiting to be fired or seeing how long he can go without doing work.

    9. learnedthehardway*

      He might be, or he might just be burnt out, or maybe he’s taking the “quiet quitting” thing way too far.

    10. I have RBF*

      While it’s fanfiction, I would say that the odds are high. He went from doing his job to not doing his job and being unavailable. Either he has a major crisis in his personal life that is eating all of his time and headspace, or he’s working another job.

  4. Akcipitrokulo*

    You’re not throwing him under a bus. He’s leaping under it all by himself.

    This is not your issue to solve – bear in mind that you CAN’T. You do not have the tools to solve this. This is not your fault.

    1. Dona Florinda*

      Think of it less as throwing him under the bus and more as “letting him deal with the consequences of his own actions”.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Right. The bus is coming whether he calls for it or not. It’s his choice to keep lying there in the middle of the street, dressed in dark gray.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I remember being super stressed because a simple project still didn’t have a list of requirements more than a year after it had been assigned to me. I could have gathered the requirements, but every time I made an attempt the project lead would block me. My manager couldn’t break the deadlock either.

      The solution? I stopped trying, and I decided it was a joke that kept getting funnier the longer it dragged on. It made it to 23 months!

  5. DrSalty*

    Throw him under the bus. It’s his fault, he’s not doing his job. Stop covering for him.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      It’s not even throwing him under the bus!

      Referring folks to Sam is 100% the right call. You don’t supervise Andrew, so it’s not surprising that you wouldn’t know his schedule, but Sam should.

      1. KR*

        Yuuuup – this dude is placing himself under the bus. If he didn’t want to be there he would be doing a better job communicating his availability or doing the job he’s paid to do.

  6. Richard Hershberger*

    This falls solidly in “Don’t care about the job more than your boss does” territory. If Sam doesn’t care to do something about Andrew, then neither should you.

    1. Silver Robin*

      +1 not OP’s job to care (though the conscientious among us still burn seeing the lack of care)

      1. Nero'sNightWatchman*

        I’ve been wrestling with this for awhile now. I’m working towards letting the bosses earn their pay.

  7. Dr. Rebecca*

    Absolutely send every one of those emails/calls querying his whereabouts to Sam. It does three things: 1) shows how big the problem is; 2) shows how much it effects you; and 3) puts the responsibility back on Sam to manage/on Andrew to be responsible for not doing the work.

    1. connie*

      Yes, this is such a minimal thing to do on top of what LW is already doing. Just bcc Sam habitually, even if you say you don’t know where Andrew is and the person needs to ask Sam. If you are getting calls, shoot Sam a tally at the end of the day about how many you got and say that you are directing people to him.

  8. Victoria Everglot*

    I would absolutely stop covering for him. “I don’t know where he is. Ask Sam.” “Unfortunately, I can’t help you with that, that’s Andrew’s (job, problem, whatever). Ask Sam.” Every time someone called or emailed or whatever looking for Andrew or asking about something that’s supposed to be his department or complaining about him, I would forward them on to Sam. No more covering or excusing. No more doing *anything* for him or on his behalf. Sam may be new to managing but it does not take a management genius to know “doesn’t do his work and no one can reach him” is not acceptable.

    1. singularity*

      Definitely do this. Don’t soften your language at all, LW. Be honest and to the point. “I don’t know where Andrew is, I haven’t been getting any responses from him. Go talk to Sam.”

      You aren’t responsible for Andrew’s tardiness or lack of responsibility. Let him fail and make it inconvenient for Sam to ignore.

  9. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    I have so been where this letter writer is right now and one thing I really struggle with is not doing the work that needs to be done when my Andrew should be doing it. It feels different when you’re in a public service role and not covering Andrew could mean a family doesn’t have childcare for the summer.

    I’ve gotten to a place where I’m pretty good at not covering non-essential work and just letting people be annoyed that it’s either not done or poor quality work, but I can’t figure out the best course of action when it’s essential work with immediate, material impact on the public we serve.

    1. Silver Robin*

      Spitballing ideas:

      – CC your boss every time you have to step in so there is documentation for how often you are doing this; use this to argue for raises or whatever benefits you can

      – Flat out put the client work on your boss’s plate; if Andrew will not do it, ask your boss how to deal with it since your plate is full. Do it every time.

      – If Andrew reports to somebody else, push your boss to speak to their supervisor. See if you can ultimately start CCing them, or referring the clients to them.

      – does your agency have a complaint line? If you get folks who are irritated with your Andrew, refer them to the complaint line and tell them Andrew’s name

      Disclaimer that I have no idea how well this might work in your particular context and it is oh so hard to be dealing with a situation where people go without when coworkers drop the ball. It is immensely frustrating, so sorry you have to deal with it.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Again: This is why Sam/your boss needs to be in the loop. Nobody is asking you/the OP to not do stuff and not tell anyone–they’re saying redirect it to Sam/the manager and make it crystal clear that it’s a problem and plans need to be made to have it handled that go beyond the OP/you just doing two jobs.

  10. Observer*

    I no longer know how to defend Andrew to his (understandably frustrated) colleagues,

    Why are you even trying. This is not your issue. I’m not suggesting that you vent to people or dump on him. But that doesn’t mean that you should even think about defending him. He’s not doing his job as far as you can see, and it’s not on you to pretend otherwise or find ways to excuse it.

    Just keep on telling people that you don’t manage him and send them to Sam.

  11. username required*

    At the moment it seems like Sam isn’t feeling the full effects of Andrew’s slacking off. So from now on whenever anyone comes looking for Andrew or following up about work that’s not been done just redirect them to Sam. Every. Single. Time.

    I’ve been in a similar situation and I hated not helping people when my slacker coworker wasn’t doing his job. But I came to the realisation that I was being paid 1 salary so I was going to do 1 job – my own. I will gladly help if someone is having problems or is swamped and needs a hand but I’m not going to do their work because they’re lazy.

  12. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    “I’m sorry, I don’t know. Andrew hasn’t been in contact with me. I would ask Sam, his manager.” Rinse and repeat, OP.

    As everyone else is saying, don’t do his work. Make it Sam’s problem, because it IS Sam’s problem.

  13. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    OP is in an unusually good position here! OP and Andrew have distinct, widely recognized and separate clients.

    Usually in these situations both OP and the slacker colleague have the same pool of work to do but only one is doing it. So be very grateful that Andrew’s issues are so Not Your Problem.

  14. Aelfwynn*

    Wait. What happens when LW needs to go on vacation? Is Andrew supposed to “cover” for them?? Because the fact that he can’t be trusted with his own work would DEFINITELY affect LW’s work in this context.

    1. HonorBox*

      That’s a fair question. I think I’d go to Sam with my task list for the vacation duration and ask how those tasks will be covered. And push back if the answer is “Andrew will…”

  15. HonorBox*

    OP, you sound like an incredibly kind person who wants to help everyone, works very hard and doesn’t want to make waves. Please remind yourself that Andrew (and Sam to an extent) is the one who has created the waves. Your job is to do your own job and not swim in and get pulled under by Andrew’s riptide. As others have said, you’re not harming Andrew by answering that you aren’t aware of his schedule and that people should check with Sam. That’s completely true. If Sam’s email is filled with different people also unable to find Andrew and whose projects are in various states of undone, that might show the larger problem and encourage Sam to take some sort of action. That doesn’t necessarily mean action AGAINST Andrew. It could mean that Sam needs to hire a temp if Andrew is caring for his mother, attending IVF appointments with his partner, whatever. Your job is not to cover for Andrew and work to fix issues that his inaction have created. Your job is to do your job. Sam’s job is to figure out how to ensure their team’s work gets done.

  16. Purely Allegorical*

    1. Stop covering for Andrew.
    2. When colleagues ask where he is, say you are not sure. Redirect them to Sam if they have q’s.
    3. When Andrew’s clients approach you, redirect them to Sam.

    As always with these things, you don’t have an Andrew problem; you have a Sam problem. Redirect as much of Andrew’s workload as possible to Sam — Sam will either manage it or not.

    1. Charlotte Sue*

      Is it not a thing to directly address one’s colleagues anymore? Even if Andrew isn’t responding I think it’s worth OP writing to him (email or teams) to say I’m not covering your work anymore now that you’re back, so ya better get on it (OWTTE). Just so OP can say they did in fact reach out to him.

      1. Observer*

        The OP already addressed everything they need to address. There is simply no obligation to spell out to someone that you’re not doing their job for them. It’s not like Andrew even asked them to.

        1. Charlotte Sue*

          No, they didn’t address everything. The OP asks: “ Should I talk to Andrew directly?” indicating they haven’t even done that yet. And to that I say yes. I don’t see why OP or anyone should tip toe around this guy, call him out. A peer can’t tell him what to do per se but they absolutely can ask what the hell is up.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t see any reason the OP needs to call him out. Andrew is not their problem or responsibility. They have made it clear that they are not doing Andrew’s work, and that’s all they have any responsibility to “address”.

            The rest is not their circus, not their monkeys.

  17. Bubbles*

    Yeah, I’ve been in this situation too, and felt horribly responsible, annoyed and frustrated, and in hindsight really wish I had taken a more liberating approach of deciding that it firmly wasn’t my responsibility to change.

    I’ve also been in another work situation where a colleague thought that I was the one who was doing my work badly and dropping the ball, while in actuality my workload was ridiculous and there was no way that I could manage it all. This colleague had never been informed by my manager that I had 4 times workload that any of my colleagues were doing because of a lack of staff due to a hiring freeze. When she did find out, she never accepted it and vented all her frustrations about my “lazy attitude” on me, which really was unwarranted as she wasn’t my manager and her attempts at making me look bad ruined my time at this company.

    In any case, I would say that Alison’s advice is spot on. Best to inform your manager that you can only cover for the most recent requests when covering during Andrew’s vacation time, and otherwise let the chips fall where they may as far as Andrew’s work is concerned.

  18. Fluffy Fish*

    Rarely is a question easy but this is it. You simply do – nothing. You do absolutely nothing about Andrew and the problems he brings. Andrew and is firmly not in your circus and neither is Sam.

    You do your own work and let the chips fall where they may.
    Any questions from clients or colleagues refer to Sam. “Not sure, check with Sam”
    Your work doesn’t overlap so there’s no need to take on his work.
    Any hit to reputation will come to the company, Andrew and Sam.

    You feel obligated to do something here because you care – about your employer, your boss, your colleague as a human being. It feels wrong to not care. I get it. But you can’t care more about a problem than the person(s) responsible for them. You’re trying to fix a problem that’s not yours to fix.

  19. Firecat*

    I disagree that there isn’t more you can do here. This is a perfect time to make sure your boss is aware just how much this is upsetting clients and internal customers.

    There are two ways to “pass on the pain” as an old mentor put it.

    The direct way, which I recommend but know your office. Every time you get an email from a client or coworker with a “Where’s Andrew I need X?” query reply to that email and copy Sam “I’m so sorry you can’t reach Andrew. I’ve copied Sam who may be able to help.” You can even keep a version of this text saved as a signature or lightening template to greatly reduce your time spent replying to the emails.

    The indirect method, which has less success but can be required in some passive aggressive offices, is to encourage the OP to reach out to Sam themselves. “I’m so sorry you can’t reach Andrew. Maybe Sam can help – here is Sam’s email.”

    I once had an internal department constantly making mistakes. After months of working with them on it my boss and I started replying to every customer complaint caused by that department by copying their director. After a week the director was like – what is happening here? They of course had a vague understanding that this was a problem but no clue it was that extensive. It was fixed permanently within a month.

  20. BellyButton*

    My inclination is to start sending unhappy colleagues to your/ his boss “I don’t know his schedule, you can reach out to Sam to let him know/ask about this.”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is a good approach and puts the responsibility exactly where it belongs. But be careful about getting bored delivering this message (which sounds like it will happen a lot) because it’s easy to start sounding snarky or passive-aggressive when delivering it.

  21. BellyButton*

    This morning I had a coaching session with a leader who has an Andrew on their team. I told the leader, “everyone knows Andrew isn’t performing, and they know you aren’t. Your team and the entire company are losing respect for you as a leader because you aren’t doing anything about a direct report who is under-performing. It is painting you in more of a negative light than it is Andrew.”

    1. stelmselms*

      What was their response? I have a boss who also has an Andrew and won’t do anything about it.

      1. BellyButton*

        He seemed generally surprised. Which surprised me. His job is to manage his people and if he isn’t doing that HE is under-performing just as badly as his direct report.

  22. Mmm.*

    I’m one of those people with medical accommodations that mean I’m away from my computer often. My team (except the manager) doesn’t know. I’m in an unlucky period of nonstop family emergencies, too. I’m glad this all was mentioned!

    I’m also having an issue where Teams automatically sets me to “Away” or even closes entirely.

    I was ready to defend Andrew at first! But…

    It doesn’t take me days or weeks to respond to messages. I don’t know how you can have an accommodation or “you don’t need to respond.” Especially when it comes to clients!

    I really do hope Andrew is okay, and this could legitimately be because Sam is allowing it to happen under too broad of an accommodation. But clearly something needs to change.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I also have had medical accommodations in the past. The key thing about accommodations is that they have to be reasonable. I bet you didn’t disappear for days on end without communicating with your bosses. I bet you had messages up when you would be slow to respond indicating that. I bet you didn’t let projects drop without speaking to your supervisor about your workload. All things that are reasonable to expect of a person who is dealing with serious issues. And Sam needs to do a better job too. He knows he has an employee with medical issues that make him inaccessible at random times with no predictability? Okay well then he needs to be on top of those clients. He needs to be communicating internally and externally that Andrew currently has limited availability and that Sam will cover the slack until Andrew is back full-time. He doesn’t have to disclose protected health information to do that.

      This whole situation really frustrates me. Thanks for making the point that even if Andrew has medical accommodations, this is not being handled appropriately by OP’s company.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      My former (now retired) supervisor was in a serious accident and was out for a pretty long time, but my workplace handled it by dividing his responsibilities between the person who was basically our second-in-command in the department and someone in the executive director’s office who had the authority to make the few decisions that SIC could not. There were no black holes of non-communication.

      Andrew might have very valid reasons for disappearing but if he does, the company is not handling them well and it’s still turning into the OP’s problem even though it shouldn’t be.

  23. Michelle Smith*

    Alison already gave great advice but I’d like to talk a little more about the vacation coverage. Whenever I needed vacation coverage, I always prepared every client file, made sure it was well organized, and attached a memo on the front letting anyone who might pick one up exactly what the status was and next steps. Coverage requires making sure that you aren’t overly burdening the other person in the process.

    I strongly suggest pushing back against any requests for vacation coverage from Andrew moving forward. If this is politically feasible for you, you can explain to Andrew that you spent X amount of overtime hours covering for him last time and ask him to use Sam as his coverage instead. If you can’t do that, make Sam his coverage anyway. By that I mean, anything that looks like it has been neglected for a long time or would require you to drop the ball on your own work to avoid overtime needs to be forwarded to Sam. Every time. “Hey Sam, this client needs a response and hasn’t been able to reach Andrew for 6 weeks. Can you please reach out to them? I’m not in a position to answer their question about why they can’t reach Andrew.” “Hey Sam, this client expected to receive the TPS report 2 weeks ago and hasn’t heard back from Andrew. If I do the TPS report for him, I’ll have to neglect doing the TPS report for my client X, which is due in 2 days. Which would you like me to prioritize, with the understanding that I cannot do both.” Etc. Make it Sam’s problem, not yours.

  24. Casey*

    On the coworker front, I have one of those consistently absent people. In this case my boss IS doing something about it, but these things take time. What’s helped me with the “where’s Andrew / why hasn’t Andrew done this / when will Andrew get me this thing” is a slight wry smile and a “I wish I knew” or “unfortunately, I’ve been wondering that too!” Seems to convey the idea that I’m aware of the problem but can’t solve it, without being overly gossipy or petty.

  25. e271828*

    LW, erect a cheap, simple “Somebody Else’s Problem” field around Andrew, Andrew’s clients, and the consequences that Andrew and Andrew’s boss are creating. Do your job, take care of your clients, and stay out of it.

  26. Boolie*

    If Andrew’s not responding to anything anyway, I would just write to him and say “I’ve been covering all your work and all your clients, and I’m not doing it anymore.” Full stop. Just tell him.

    1. Lenora Rose*

      LW hasn’t been covering his work except during an actual vacation. So this advice, though valid, is only applicable the next time there’s a vacation.

      1. Boolie*

        “The past few months” is what OP wrote. “Since his return… I’ve had multiple colleagues ask if Andrew was still on vacation or if I knew where he was.” So there exists an expectation that, even though Andrew is back, OP is currently fielding duties that should be his.

        1. Observer*

          The OP is not fielding them.

          However, the OP should be more explicit with people. “I don’t know where Andrew is. Ask Sam.” and “I don’t manage Andrew or his work. Ask Sam.” Those are the only two answers the OP should be giving about Andrew, his work or his whereabouts.

          1. Boolie*

            I don’t know why people are so hung up on “ask Sam.” Sam is useless. Andrew has not worked for MONTHS…This calls for a skip-level meeting.

            1. Observer*

              Because *Sam* is the person who needs to deal with the problem. It’s NOT the OP’s problem. They don’t need to have any meetings with anyone. They should simply redirect people to the correct address. If (or hopefully *when*) people realize that Sam is also not doing his job, they can have that skip level meeting. But none of this is the OP’s problem.

              Basically, it’s a polite way of saying “Leave me out of this. It’s not my problem. It’s my boss’. And if doesn’t help you, you can figure out who to talk to from there.”

  27. xylocopa*

    …are we sure that Andrew ever came back from vacation? has -anyone- spoken to him?

    1. Festively Dressed Earl*

      +1. They rely on emails and messages, neither of which Andrew is responding to. He’s not showing at meetings. Andrew’s not back at all.

    2. ONFM*

      That was 100% my take. I think Andrew never returned to work. Quit, fired, whatever – he’s gone.

  28. Waving not Drowning*

    I worked with an Andrew – and it was so so so frustrating and soul destroying. My Andrew had underlying health conditions, so whenever he’d screw up, he’d go off on sick leave, we’d scurry around cleaning up his mess, document what we’d done, he’d return and say things weren’t as bad as we said they were, and then the whole cycle would start up again. When he was at work, he was rarely at his desk, he’d disappear with his ipad for long periods of time – particularly when there were sporting events on that he was interested in watching.

    Unfortunately our work was such that it couldn’t be left undone as there were legal ramifications if it wasn’t completed to a strict process and timeline, so we had to run around and fix his problems.

    Successive managers would try and put him on a PIP, but he’d argue that it was his health/discrimination. He was also frustrated and wanted out of his job, but, his reputation in our workplace was that he’d never get past the reference stage.

    Its one of the few times that I have lost my temper at work, and yelled at him, because we were working to a tight deadline, he’d been mucking around, long absences from his desk, I’d been doing overtime to try and get us back on our timeline and trying to find out from him what stage he was up to – only to discover he’d been at work for 2 hours at that point, and had completed NOTHING for a meeting that was in 1 hours time. There was no way I could do 2 hours of his work in 1 hour, plus my work. I am not proud of it, but I lost it, and told him off. A team mate lead me out of our office in tears.

    This went on for YEARS, and things worked MUCH more smoothly when he was off on sick leave. We were actually relieved when he wasn’t there.

    One day, while I was doing my usual sorting out of his mess while he was on sick leave I found some data that was not quite right – I investigated further because I was completely confused with what I’d found. Turns out he’d been falsifying data/records – and not terribly well! I had no option but to escalate it up to my manager – who escalated to her manager, and then he escalated to his manager. When my Andrew returned to work, he had a big meeting with our Grandboss, and he was never seen again….. (well, he came back into our office, quietly gathered up his WORK PROVIDED laptop and left – he went off on sick leave for months, and then when that ran out – we have a VERY generous sick leave allocation – and then he tried to come back……to which he was told, no, he couldn’t return). I felt horrifically guilty for a very long time! But, part of my job was cleaning up after his messes, so it was legit that I was looking through his work.

    1. Zarniwoop*

      “Unfortunately our work was such that it couldn’t be left undone as there were legal ramifications if it wasn’t completed to a strict process and timeline”

      Legal ramifications to you personally or to the organization? If the latter then by doing coworker’s job to avoid disaster you’re caring more about the organization than the managers who aren’t managing. And they’re paid more than you to care more than you.

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        The thing about working in a group responsible for managing legal and regulatory obligations is that regulators and industries at large don’t really care that a bad manager wasn’t disciplining a bad employee. They care that someone or a team of someones is collectively responsible for this obligation and that it didn’t get done.

        Consequences might not be personal in the sense that you’ll end up named in a lawsuit, but “I knew we had a legal obligation and I didn’t do it because I don’t work overtime/won’t cover for slackers” isn’t a legal or reputational defense at anywhere but the lowest levels of an organizational hierarchy (and even then, it’s wildly variable).

  29. LifeBeforeCorona*

    It sounds like Andrew has a second job and his vacation may have been a ruse in order to work on a big project for it.

    1. econobiker*

      In the “over employed” world, taking vacation from Job1 is either a way to find out if Job2 is better and then let Job1 coast until it withers and gives the employee the boot.

      OR a way to get fully ramped up on Job2’s new employee in-person intake like HR etc stuff, have technology issued, etc. especially if it is remote.

  30. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    OP, telling the truth is not throwing someone under a bus! The bus-throwing is when you LIE and say that something is someone’s fault when it is not. Just saying “No, I don’t know where Andrew is and I wish I had a different answer for you” is the truth and should not reflect badly on you. If anything, your reasonable co-workers will feel bad for you, rather than thinking this is any fault of yours.

  31. a clockwork lemon*

    I had an Andrew on my previous team–turns out they were in the diagnostic and early-treatment phases of a very aggressive Stage 3 cancer. Our manger was sympathetic to the fact that we were all burned out and covering for one additional person who was working inconsistently and at irregular hours, but ultimately there was a medical accommodation in place and he straight-up wasn’t allowed to tell us anything beyond “Yeah, I know, it’s a bad situation.” My team eventually found out when the coworker in question showed up on video in the team meeting wearing a headscarf and explained to us what was going on, then told us that certain parts of her treatment protocol meant she couldn’t predict when she’d be feeling well enough to work.

    It sucked that there wasn’t better communication in place, because the way our coworker wanted to handle the situation made it basically impossible for the rest of us to triage our own workloads to cover for her. But it made me feel good about my company and direct-line manager to know that they take employee accommodations AND related confidentiality requirements very seriously.

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