update: I’m sick of having to do my incompetent colleague’s work

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

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

Remember the letter-writer who was sick of having to their incompetent coworker’s work? Here’s the update. (Reminders: The incompetent coworker is Ron, his boss is Kate, and the letter-writer’s boss is Joe.)

A couple weeks before your answer to my letter went up, Kate quit her job out of nowhere! Here is where I should point out that she had what everyone in the office has independently characterized as “horrible undiagnosed/unmedicated ADHD” (which I, as a longtime diagnosed/medicated ADHD-haver, can pretty much confirm) and was sort of constantly in trouble for not doing various parts of her job. Well, we’re now pretty certain she had an executive-dysfunction freakout about a massive grant to our organization that we have historically relied on to fund parts of our budget, lied to everyone about how she was working on the application, and it built up and built up to the point where she knew the situation was unsalvageable, so instead of coming clean to everyone, she simply got a new job and quit this one, giving us zero notice about this grant situation. So that was fun to deal with. (We ended up explaining the whole series of events to our contacts at the foundation and got an extension on the application, but this explains exactly what kind of person hired Ronald in the first place. And also — because he currently has no official manager at the moment — why he has not yet been put on a PIP or fired.)

Anyway, onto the Ronald Update.

I don’t know what to say here other than that conditions have NOT improved. In the weeks before the holidays, Ronald so badly screwed up several projects that when I returned, I learned that the bulk of his job duties in that area had been reassigned to me and a much younger assistant in another department, Shannon. It’s been fine — I honestly spend less time doing this stuff myself than I had before, fixing his errors — but it’s still infuriating, and neither Shannon nor I can figure out what he does all day now.

Remember when Ronald referred to me as “Joe’s assistant” in front of everyone and it sparked a tense conversation about how I had a whole job that in no way involved being an assistant? Well, a couple weeks ago, Ronald pulled me into an email thread involving materials that were overdue to an outside agency (HIS FAULT!), and in doing so both threw me under the bus and referred to me as both “his” employee and a job title that was completely NOT my own! I ended up fixing the issue and forwarded the thread to Joe; Joe replied to Ronald with an all-out reaming about his mismanagement of the project and quoted heavily from my official job description; and Ronald responded with ZERO apology, another weird under-bus-throwing reply, and concluded it with a sarcastic “Wooooow” [sic].


So — that brings us to this week. Joe and I have had many, many hard conversations about how the Ronald Problem is untenable, how we cannot continue to work under these circumstances, and this week, Joe was on vacation and I was in charge. The main task for the week revolved around getting an email with a video out on the morning of a very important anniversary for our agency. And this would’ve happened if RONALD HAD NOT LIED ABOUT HIS ABILITY TO EDIT VIDEO, AND SHANNON HAD NOT HAD TO STEP IN TO SPEND SIX HOURS EDITING THE VIDEO ON THE DAY OF THE ANNIVERSARY. But ALAS. That email went out at almost 6PM. I ended up leaving work two hours late. And — adding insult to injury — I was subsequently dumped by the person I’d been newly seeing for being almost two hours late to the date we had planned. (This was probably a bullet-dodging thing as I was very apologetic, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ronald has now managed to blow up both my professional and personal lives.) So… it’s going great.

I don’t know when/if you’ll print this, but all I can say is that I hope very dearly that when/if you do, there will be some resolution to this situation. Because this is literally insane.

Update to the update:

Well, we still don’t have a replacement for Kate. Ronald still has a job and still doesn’t bring much to the table, though he’s chilled out considerably with all the weird missteps and miscommunications. I don’t actually know what he DOES all day (neither does my boss), and Shannon and I still do most of the work that would typically fall under his job description, but I don’t seethe every time he crosses my eyeline anymore, in part because it just isn’t healthy to carry around a grudge like that and in part because there simply isn’t an end in sight and you just have to get used to it.

There are numerous other weird, dysfunctional things that have happened at this place recently, but none of them have been Ronald-induced, and for the meantime it seems like our long collective workplace nightmare has come to a middle.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. King Friday XIII*

    Every part of that is infuriating. How is there not someone who is in charge of this buffoon?

    1. soontoberetired*

      Someone is in charge, and doesn’t care. We just had a conversation at work about people we know who don’t do anything and now the get away with it because management involved doesn’t believe the evidence, or just doesn’t care. Or says things like “haha, that’s just how they are”. At least in my organization that kind of management will eventually be dealt with but it is so frustrating in the meantime.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I once worked in an office where someone was mysteriously not beholden to anyone and ran his own side gig out of the office, when he was actually there. I was a contractor and he was a FTE and everyone’s best guess was that our department manager was a coward and the guy who never worked kept threatening to file EEO complaints. I’m sorry that Ron is one of those untouchables, for whatever reason.

          One day OP and Shannon will move on and the dumpster fire that ensues will not be their problem. Because that’s what happens – people get fed up and THEY leave because they are competent humans. And the results are predictable.

          Good luck, OP.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed – there is a boss, but Ron isn’t raining on their parade yet, so they don’t care. It’s going to be a predictable storm when all the people who are picking up the pieces do leave.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            I’m not sure that Ron is untouchable, just that Kate’s failure to manage him properly AND her hasty departure have him in a weird zone right now. Whoever is above Joe and (formerly) Kate is probably swamped with putting out fires, filling in gaps, and trying to hire Kate’s position. With any luck, upper management will figure it out shortly. Barring that, here’s hoping that Kate’s replacement will quickly suss out the problem.

          3. CubeFarmer*

            Exactly this. We had a colleague who really propped up her department. Even her director did not know as much about his own program as she did, and he seemed to resent her for this. Well…she left. The results were predictable. The director, who didn’t understand the skills he needed to hire, made a horrible hiring choice. The replacement, who was so clearly in over his head, lasted about a month before he GHOSTED the job. (This is legitimate professional job. Who ghosts?) Anyway, the next hire was made out of desperation, someone who is at least somewhat competent, but does not have the breadth or depth of experience or knowledge you need in this position. So, a lot was lost.

          4. goddessoftransitory*

            Much sooner rather than later, I hope! I get the LW having to let go of the frustration for sanity’s sake but I hope the “that’s how things are” reality doesn’t sap their motivation to GTHO.

      1. Babanon5*

        I’m leaving a job with a couple of people the higher ups have deemed as “oh just how they are.” So satisfying to leave.

        1. Kelly*

          I worked at a university and the most incompetent, petulant employee there was referred to as “just a child.” She was 28.

          1. LobsterPhone*

            I had a similar experience with a toxic manager who liked to create drama…she also liked to reproach me for expecting the person reporting to me to do their job. I apparently should’ve been more reasonable about her capabilities because she was ‘only young and didn’t have much experience’…we were two years apart in age, both almost 30 and had been working in libraries for a similar period of time.

      2. 2 Cents*

        I had someone like that at my old job. We were convinced he knew where the CEO had buried some bodies (not out of the question…)

      3. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker like this. He had a very specific skillset (that he was generally good at, and the work he did was required by law), but he desperately needed a manager, and not just someone to approve his vacation time.
        But this guy (Bob) wasn’t easy to work with. Not because he was a bad guy in any way, but he had very few social skills and was just a firehose of words. Eventually my 2x boss ended up as Bob’s manager and did some actual *managing* (from across the country) and it was amazing how much more useful work we got out of Bob when there was someone to keep him out of his favorite rabbit holes. But it took a lot of time and effort and asking for outside help learning new management strategies, so when 2x boss left Bob was left to flap in the wind until they used COVID as an excuse to lay him off.

        It’s frustrating to think how much good work Bob could have done if someone had bothered to manage him instead of leaving him to his own devices for 5 years.

    2. Owlet101*

      Had this happen in my workplace. The boss didn’t like confrontation. So it was easier to make everyone babysit the coworker vs. actually manage them. Or let them go.

  2. ScruffyInternHerder*

    …and after yesterday’s ever-so-satisfying end to the bananapants saga of the incompetent HR who won’t do anything about my coworker who’s mad about surgery related weight loss/medical leave/medical documentation holds no weight/Bob can suck it?

    This is similarly unsatisfying. Lots of good karma to the LW. I hope we hear a better update soon.

  3. Richard Hershberger*

    So with no replacement for Kate, presumably Ronald reports to the next higher level, likely Joe’s boss? What is this nameless one doing? Anything?

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Presumably. I’m thinking he’s more like an orphan in the org chart, which may be a huge part of the issue (well, there are probably several huge parts to it).

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yep, and in my experience, sometimes employers wait for the new supervisor to be hired in order to give them the opportunity to evaluate the ronalds and then either fire/replace them or not. So, as long as Kate’s role is vacant, Ronald may be sittin’ pretty.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Which is a terrible thing to do to a new supervisor. Three weeks into my last job, my grandboss say me down and told me all about how one of my direct reports was awful and incompetent and they were so glad to finally have a supervisor on board to start the documentation that could eventually lead to termination. It was not in any way what I had signed up for.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Betting this may be part of the problem – and also that the new manager coming in above Ron won’t be thrilled with the “surprise project” element of you get to deal with Ron.

          2. JJJJ*

            >so glad to finally have a supervisor on board to start the documentation that could eventually lead to termination

            What a pathetic, cowardly cowardlything to say.

          3. Contrast*

            I dunno. PIPs and firings are part of a manager’s job. You didn’t expect it quite that soon, but you definitely signed up for it.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Sure, but not on Day 16. PIPs and firings are also part of Totally Minnie’s grandboss’s job, and they didn’t do it.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                This is exactly what I meant. I was expecting to have to give employees corrections and have difficult conversations sometimes, up to and including firing people if necessary. I wasn’t expecting to be told in my first month, basically, we know this person is terrible and should probably be fired, but we haven’t done any of the groundwork on it yet so we’re excited we can offload this unpleasant task to you, our newest hire.

                1. Contrast*

                  As I said, you didn’t expect it quite that soon. However, it’s not offloading when it’s your own direct report, and even if they had started the process, it would still be unpleasant. I’m just saying it was a part of your job, not something that was off-loaded, and not something you didn’t sign up for.

                2. MsM*

                  “even if they had started the process, it would still be unpleasant”

                  Well, yeah, but that unpleasantness would be directed at the people who’d been around for the stuff that necessitated the firing, not the new manager who could (reasonably) be challenged on why they were just taking everyone’s word that this needed to happen instead of being willing to wait and see for themselves. Sure, they may technically be a direct report, but when you’ve only had a couple of weeks’ exposure to them and are still trying to figure out how everything works? Yeah, I’d call that offloading the problem.

                3. Crooked Bird*

                  I’m with you on this. I’ve been involved with organizations where the attitude was “Fresh meat! Let’s offload every task we’re tired of doing!” And really–fundamentally–there’s a difference between firing or disciplining someone based on your own experience (as *they* would have been doing if they’d done it) and firing them based on someone else’s say-so, where you just have to assume everything’s honest and above-board. Even though it’s only “start the documentation”–you can’t ever quite know if they may be unfairly prejudicing you against the person upfront.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              It’s totally a dereliction of duty for the grandboss not to fire someone they know needs firing in the meantime, and instead wait for a new boss to come in and tell them to start the process from scratch. Competent managers don’t want incompetent people lingering. She signed up to manage, and fire if necessary, people poorly performing under her, not to fire people who’ve been poorly performing for eons and everyone knew but no one wanted to bother. It’s a separate can of worms.

              1. Contrast*

                How do you know “no one wanted to bother”? You are speculating about the internal state of someone you have never met, whose workload while doing their own job and someone else’s you know nothing about.

                Nevertheless, nobody ever promised that new managers only have high performing employees. If she only signed up to manage people who develop problems after some unspecified number of weeks of being their manager, she, and you, vastly misunderstand the realities of, well, jobs.

                1. Aitch Arr*

                  You are taking this oddly personally.

                  Managers aren’t only responsible for their direct reports, but their indirects as well, especially when there’s a management vacancy in between.

                2. Kella*

                  When a job post is vacant, the responsibilities under that job don’t stop existing. They are either put on hold or they are transferred to someone else. If no one tends to these responsibilities while the job is unfilled, that neglect causes a mess.

                  It was upper management’s job to transfer the responsibilities of documenting and firing that problem employee during the time that the direct manager job was open. They neglected to do that. *They* caused a mess.

                  They offloaded the job *of cleaning up their mess* onto Totally Minnie, apparently without including that information being included any of the interviews or job descriptions. That’s why it is something Totally Minnie didn’t sign up for.

                3. No no no all the way home*

                  It may help to look at it from the perspective of the new boss and what some possible outcomes are. Coming into a new job and immediately having to fire someone could have a serious negative impact on the new boss’s ability to work effectively if the reasons for firing aren’t apparent to the new boss’s other reports and co-workers. It risks having the new boss looking like a tyrant, could instill fear in their other reports resulting in multiple issues up to losing employees, and overall creating a far worse situation to manage in than if they didn’t have to immediately fire someone. If you can’t imagine that these types of things happen then I don’t think there’s anything anyone could possibly say that would let you see this the way everyone else in these comments apparently sees it.

          4. Babanon5*

            yep, this. It often ends up looking like the new supervisors choice too. Because no one wants to say “actually everyone knew this guy needed to be fired and no one told him lol”.

    2. Contrast*

      Do Joe and Kate report to the same person? Doesn’t matter. I am used to orphan employees reporting up to the next level boss, as you say. So, the person who was Kate’s boss, and maybe that person is also Joe’s boss. In practice, they just don’t have a manager bc the next level manager doesn’t typically have time to manage all their direct reports AND the direct reports of the manager who left. I’ve been in that situation, and it really hurt my career.

  4. CatCat*

    Ugh. No one is fixing this because “his” work is still getting done. Until it stops getting done, the problem will remain invisible.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I agree, but that email to a client throwing OP under the bus. I appreciate what Joe did. I really do, but Ronald’s “wooow” illustrates that yes, he is invisible. Joe needed/needs to escalate to executives that this lunatic is has gone off the grounds.
        The solution is: OP and Shannon to handle the work; Joe reprimands Ronald; Ronald replies aggressively/snarkily. Repeat.

        Joe needs to write to Alison and ask how to escalate. Because he seems to think his hands are tied. He protects his team from Ronald being a jerk, but they are still doing the work!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – the real problem here is that Ron is an invisible morale cancer and the immediate managers don’t know where they need to escalate the Ron problem to.

    1. EPLawyer*

      THIS. The org is happy because the work is being done.

      OP I know you went to this job for better work life balance but you are not getting it. You need to consider looking for another job. As you noted, Ronald is not the only problem.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      THIS. It sounds like as far as senior levels can see, everything is fine because the things are getting done. Right now, you, Shannon, and Joe are feeling all the pain and people up the hierarchy are feeling very little. What would happen if you stopped picking up all the slack? What if you started enforcing your work hours pretty strictly and started asking Joe what to prioritize? Like, today you can either finish up [your work] or you can [handle a Ronald f***-up], but not both, so which is more important? Ideally, Joe would do the same with his manager.

    3. ferrina*

      It’s not invisible; it’s hidden under a layer of other issues.

      Joe knows that there’s the Ronald Problem and is lobbying to have it fixed, but the fix is to fire Ronald and hire someone competent.
      But the Ronald Problem is eclipsed by the Kate Problem, and generally leadership wants to hire a manager before they staff the department. That way the new manager can staff as needed to support their vision of the department.
      I’m wondering if the Kate Problem is hidden behind additional problems, but LW probably wouldn’t be in a position to see it.

      In this case, returning pain to sender would probably hurt Joe, who is trying to get the Ronald Problem solved.

  5. Antilles*

    Just going to note this for everybody:
    A couple weeks before your answer to my letter went up (ed.note: January 2023), Kate quit her job out of nowhere!
    Update to the update: Well, we still don’t have a replacement for Kate.

    Presuming the update-to-update was fairly recent, they’ve had an empty chair managing Ronald for six months.

    OP, you don’t have a Ronald problem, you have an upper management problem.

    1. The Dude Abides*

      This smells like a government office, as a management position being vacant that long is not shocking in the least, coupled with Ronald not being put on a PIP or let go.

      1. LYN*

        I’m an admin in Academia and I can attest that we have Chair positions vacant that long or longer.

    2. She of Many Hats*

      LW – I don’t know if you or Joe have cred built up to take this higher up the chain of command above whoever isn’t managing Ron but it may be worth it to point out to them and/or the board that Ron has jeopardized several key project and/or grants (know that Kate screwed the big one) and continues to cause delays and increased costs to the foundation due to correcting his incompetency. Maybe have your HR team make sure Ron’s credentials are legit – may be grounds for immediate firing.

    3. Woop Woop*


      At an old job we had a vacant management position (not in my department thankfully) for over two years.

      In that time, the backlog of that department’s work hit unprecedented levels. It was insane.

    4. ferrina*


      I once worked at a place where I only had a boss for about 10 months of the 3 years I worked there. It was highly dysfunctional, and no one had any clue how to run that department. The VP that was supposed to be in charge had no vision for the department, no understanding of what the department did, and had only taken over the department as a political move (She was angling to be CEO. She did not succeed). She delayed any kind of hiring because she had no idea what she needed in a candidate, and instead expected me (very, very entry level) to know how to run the department (I was about 10 years experience and a Master degree shy of what was needed for that).

      It was BAD, and it was part of a major leadership problem

  6. Micah*

    I am so confused about what Joe’s boss is doing in all this. Surely they should be supervising Ron?

    1. Contrast*

      Joe was never Ron’s boss. There would need to be some official re-orging to have Joe change his reporting structure to bring on Ron as a direct report. Who knows, maybe someone wanted that, and Joe said, “oh hell, no.”

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        They were the skip-level boss of Ron, but now he doesn’t have a direct manager, I expect he reports to them directly in some sense – but being the next level of manager up they are probably occupied with all sorts of additional stuff. Joe and Kate share(d) a mutual manager.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      this presumes Joe & Kate reported to the same person.

      It’s KATE’S boss who inherited Ron.
      If I were advising that person I’d officially transfer Ron to Joe for the duration of a gap in Kate’s position.

      Here’s hoping Ron doesn’t talk himself up entirely to get Kate’s job!

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Think of it like a family tree. Joe and Kate reported to the same boss, so they were like siblings. Joe can reprimand his own ‘child’ and Kate can reprimand hers, but their mutual ‘parent’ did not give Joe authority to reprimand Kate’s child.

  7. Contrast*

    OP, I think a lot of people will recommend that you leave this job. I think you should hang on to this job bc Joe is a very good manager. He has your back, and that’s hard to find.

    1. Just me*

      A very good manager who has your back is so important, and I agree that it should be taken into consideration when assessing whether to leave a job.

      I think another important part of the calculus, though, is how much the very good manager is empowered to insulate their workers from problems. If your manager tries their best to protect you but just can’t, (a) that may not be good enough for you, and (b) there’s no guarantee your manager will stick around; they may become frustrated and leave.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Your points exactly. If I were LW, I’d be looking for another job starting months ago. This situation may be at a point where it’s not getting worse, but it’s certainly not getting better.

        Joe is nice but he’s not actually helping here. Either he hasn’t been talking to upper management who could actually fire Ronald and rehire for his position, or he has and they’re not listening to him. Both lead to the exact same outcome: no change. Joe may have stopped Ronald from being an obvious jerk, but he’s not had any effect on any other aspect of this dumpster fire.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          There’s no harm in putting out some feelers, unless the industry is super insular. The LW has the ability to wait until finding the right new job.

    2. LW*

      You’re right, actually. Joe is great, has been very understanding about the frustration (his hands genuinely ARE tied as he’s in a weird position in the management structure) and has been helping me document this stuff as leverage to ask for a big raise when my annual review comes up. If that relationship weren’t so strong I might be job hunting.

      1. Contrast*

        “helping me document this stuff as leverage to ask for a big raise when my annual review comes up”

        Man, if Joe ever leaves, ask him to take you with him!

        1. Michelle Smith*

          This is also something you should think about OP. Joe may not be around forever, so I strongly suggest taking advantage of any of the support he’s providing for as long as possible. If it were me, I’d be looking for a new job, but working on that raise and/or title change in the meantime is a great idea.

      2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Oof. But, like, you could have a job with a great manager *and* a great environment. Instead you have this. What if Joe leaves because he gets fed up? Then where will you be?

        I think you are comparing this to your last job and thinking “it could be worse”. But it also could be better. It can’t hurt to look.

  8. Kevin*

    “I don’t actually know what he DOES all day (neither does my boss)”

    If your boss doesn’t know what an employee is doing, that boss is incompetent.

    Either the boss is taking concrete action to get Ron fired for cause, or the situation will never change.

    1. Two Dog Night*

      LW’s boss isn’t Ron’s boss. Unfortunately. There’s still a bunch of mismanagement happening, but not in that particular place.

      1. Dover*

        I disagree. Yes, Joe is not Ron’s boss, but Joe is causing additional work and stress for Joe’s team, so it’s Joe’s problem to address. That should be a peer-manager conversation, but since that role is empty Joe needs to identify the responsible leader and address the situation.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Yes. Joe has access to upper management that can do something about Ronald. Even if Kate is not there anymore. There is someone who supervised Kate. THAT person needs to be talked to.

    2. Contrast*

      Joe is not Ron’s boss, though.

      Bosses don’t just pick up stray employees when another manager quits.

    3. Xantar*

      OP’s boss is not Ron’s boss. However, SOMEONE is Ron’s boss even if that’s his skip-level manager, and I agree with you that THAT person is incompetent.

      1. Dover*

        Maybe not incompetent, just unaware. After all, LW and Joe have picked up the slack and things are still humming along. Joe needs to go to that manager and address the situation so they can see and fix the problem.

      2. linger*

        Nobody, even at a skip-level, is available to manage Ron now.
        Evidence: nobody was effectively managing Kate prior to her departure.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Unfortunately there is only so much Joe can do as “Not Ron’s Manager” in this situation. And to be honest it sounds like Ron has a pretty sweet gif at the moment, so you know he’s not going to voluntarily leave a job where he gets paid to do nothing all day long.

      But until Ron has a manager who is paying attention it’s going to still be lots of working around Ron. But Kate being a mess originally make a lot more sense of how the Ron situation started in the first place.

  9. Juicebox Hero*

    Poor OP. I can’t imagine waking up every day and having to work in Bizarro World. What the hell kind of company has a rule like “you can’t fire or discipline an employee who doesn’t have a direct manager”? That’s basically giving anyone whose manager quits/gets fired carte blanche to misbehave with absolutely zero consequences.

    At this point, the only way out is to hope they replace Kate with someone competent and tough, because I’ll bet you Ronald would rage-quit if he was held accountable for his behavior and crummy performance.

    1. Contrast*

      Is that a rule? I don’t see where the LW describes that as a policy. It’s more like the de facto situation. When there is a manager vacancy, there is no one to do the actual work of managing, like PIPs, discipline, or firings. I can’t speak to LW’s workplace, obviously, but the way it has worked in my previous workplaces, the next level manager is the acting manager, and the next level manager has too much work of their own to effectively start managing a whole new group of people. So the group without a manager is just … not managed, which stinks for them.

      Keep in mind that even though LW told us only about Kate, Joe, and Ron, that doesn’t mean there are aren’t other people who worked for Kate and other people at Kate and Joe’s level. It may not be a simple as some hypothetical Lucinda who Kate and Joe report to who just scoops up Ron and puts him on a PIP.

    2. commentarian*

      Beyond that rule (which, as you accurately pointed out, is absolutely bizarre), how in the world is it possible that no one is supervising Ronald directly? Even if my direct supervisor quit tomorrow, I would still have a boss who was managing and supervising my work. Did Kate not have anyone above her? What kind of org chart does this place have if Ronald is just a free agent?

      LW, this is incredibly frustrating and I hope you get some relief from this soon!

  10. Observer*

    OP, is there any reason you are not looking for a new job?

    Others have pointed out that what’s going on here is about waaaaay more than Ronald. It’s good that you’ve come to a place where you’re not overly stressing about Ronald just basically warming a seat. But what you are describing is absolutely organizational dysfunction that goes well beyond the one person.

    1. LW*

      Honestly? It’s a great job other than the dysfunction, which at this point (as I’ve taken pains to remove myself from the path of Hurricane Ronald since writing my original letter) has little effect on my day-to-day. I have no intention of leaving! There are some frustrating quirks and personalities, but I come from a professional background that is, believe it or not, 1000% more chaotic and demoralizing than this whole experience has been, and it’s not that hard to deal with. I’m actually taken seriously and treated as a valuable asset by major stakeholders at the organization, which has also rarely been the case at places I’ve worked before. Plus, the pay/benefits are staggeringly great and the work-life balance is the best I’ve ever had. You make trade-offs in life, and this is just one of them.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        So this is one of those cases where you sit back and pretend you’re an archaeologist or something, and you’ve discovered this amazing ancient culture that is just fascinating?

        Pretty sure I’ve done that on occasion myself, and I do understand it.

      2. Trek*

        Can you speak to the major stakeholders about how unacceptable this situation is and how it cannot continue?

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Have you tried pushing back on the extra work? It sounds like this company wouldn’t fire you even if you sent a grant application written in crayon, so they can’t make you work overtime. (Encourage Shannon to do the same; eventually, someone in upper management will notice there’s an issue if you make it their issue.)

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly this. It’s great that you’ve been able to distance yourself from the Ronald nonsense quite a bit already and quietly roll your eyes rather than get mad. Based on the letter, it seems like the final thing you want is to stop having to deal with last-minute crises and/or overtime because of his incompetence. I think you can start pushing back on that gently. Sometimes, things just won’t get done and management is going to have to figure that out.

        2. MsM*

          Yeah, Shannon’s the one I worry most about here. I’m glad she doesn’t actually report to Ron, but can whoever she does report to either push for her to be recognized for the fact she’s basically doing his job or get her out of this and make sure the tasks aren’t reassigned to some other hapless assistant?

      4. Zombeyonce*

        Do you know if Joe has actually let upper management know about Ronald and his complete uselessness? He’s the one with access and he could actually have an effect on this situation proactively rather than just stopping Ronald when he gets out of line. This could still get better if Joe makes an effort.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I’m curious about this, too. Like, Joe obviously can’t fire Ronald. But has he been clear with his own manager that the situation sucks and can’t work long-term?

  11. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I’m assuming Joe has very clearly and directly reported this sequence of events to the person overseeing Ronald’s department? And I’m hoping you’re job searching OP? Joe may be a great boss but great bosses can’t do much in a dysfunctional organization when they have no power, which seems is the case. I hope third times a charm and your next job is exactly what you need. I’m rooting for you!

  12. ecnaseener*

    Good grief. I hope Joe is nagging someone higher up the food chain about this. Incessantly. SOMEONE can fire Ronald.

  13. Choggy*

    I absolutely hate that you and Shannon have been tasked to handle Ronald’s responsibilities simply because he is failed spectacularly, and there is no manager will any cojones to get rid of him. That he continues to throw you under the bus and refer to you as his support staff is gross. This same scenario has occurred in numerous companies, as long as the work is getting done, all is good. Your boss is also no prize for allowing this to continue.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Your boss is also no prize for allowing this to continue.

      OPs boss isn’t Ronald’s boss and we don’t know how much power he has to stop any of this.

      1. Choggy*

        Telling Ronald’s boss that OP won’t be doing any more of Ronald’s work would be his role in this mess. But the path of least resistance is taken yet again in this scenario.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          We don’t know what he has and hasn’t done, and it sounds like (by the LW’s own words) he is doing what he can to support her.

  14. Gondorff*

    OP, you have all of my sympathy, having been in a very similar situation. However, is there any way that you can…not fix Ronald’s problems? A lot of what I see is that you (or Shannon) have been stepping in to fix his incompetence. Other than the stuff that has been recently(-ish) reassigned to you, what if you just…didn’t? It sounds to me like Ronald needs to fail, and fail hard in a way that impacts the organization for there to be any kind of change because to the higher-ups who are only looking at things in terms of what’s being done (not what it takes or, more importantly, who it takes to do it), there isn’t a problem.

      1. AnonORama*

        I’ve been in this situation in nonprofit-land, and decided I couldn’t “let it burn” because it would’ve hurt the people accessing our services. Much as it would’ve been satisfying in the short run to tell an incompetent jerk to kiss my butt and then walk away, leading to the loss of a bunch of funding, I knew I’d feel awful and I’d never be able to look our participant families in the eye. So hello, all-nighter! (Two, actually.)

  15. Amy*

    Is Ronald a nepotism hire? In possession of compromising photos of some higher up? If not, I don’t get how he still has a job.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’d put $ on nepotism based on my own experiences.

      The pattern of throwing someone else under the bus/getting chewed out for it/responding with snark at least fits what I saw. The untouchable was a sibling in my case. It was….frustrating to say the least.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Could be government work. As others have said upthread, workers without a manager is not outside the realm of possibility in government work. And there are lots of government adjacent industries where this might be the norm.

      No need for fan-fiction when there are workplaces where this is not at all out of the ordinary.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        With government, it’s possible to not have a direct manager due to a vacancy, but then your management falls to the next level up. At least IME with the Canadian govt, they love hierarchies – it’s hard to imagine someone with literally zero people up the food chain to report to, unless they’re already quite high up.

        That said, the nuance is that if your de facto manager is a notch or three up from whoever your normal manager would be… that person probably won’t spend a lot of time managing you, as they’ll have other priorities.

  16. Sparkles McFadden*

    This is so frustrating, even second-hand. If someone in management is assigning (or re-assigning) work, then that someone should be dealing with Ronald…and, yeah, LW’s boss needs to push back on this. He can’t do anything about Ronald directly, but he should be able to push back on the work going to his direct reports.

  17. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “seems like our long collective workplace nightmare has come to a middle.”

    That is some 1930s poetry right there. It is glorious and sad in its brutality.
    Ron screws around and up.
    OP and Shannon do his work.
    Ron responds aggressively.
    Joe reprimands him.
    Ron replies with snark.

    Even when he took his show on the road to a client, throwing OP under the bus! OP still did the work. Joe reprimanded him. He replied with snark.
    Joe needs to kick this upstairs.

    1. CV*

      “… come to a middle” could be a quote from the show Firefly. (One of many good quotes.)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        One of the best shows ever. I hope that the nightmare is closer to the end of the middle than the beginning of the middle.

      2. Contrast*

        Mal said it:

        “Well my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.”

  18. Jan Levinson Gould*

    Yup, sounds like a non-profit alright….

    Sorry about your situation OP. I’ve spent most of my career in non-profit work and my experience has been that non-profits are a trade off. Yes, sometimes the work life balance can be good. Yes, you feel like your work is worthwhile. Yes, sometimes they have great benefits.

    But often, the management just sucks. Not all non-profits fit this description… but many do I think.

    1. JH*

      I was arriving here in the comments to say the same thing. That unfortunately most non-profits have an upper management problem that causes much frustration amongst the “field/lower staff”. It’s really rough and why after almost a decade in non-profits decided to switch to consulting. My work life balance, mental health, and pay has been much better ever since!

      I’m sorry you’re having to go through this OP. It can be really tough to manage. And a lot of times mid-level managers, like yours have their hands tied and can only do so much. Good luck!

      1. MagpieRhymes*

        Adding my non-profit voice to this thread – they can be wonderful, but can also be -deeply- dysfunctional in many ways. Nothing the poor OP has described surprised me very much, sigh. I will say that there are well-run and (minimally) toxic non-profits out there, but they are often hard to get into because of the low rate of staff turnover.

        Best of luck, OP – it’s a wonderful industry in many ways, but not without its challenges!

    2. Stopped Using My Name*

      I’m in my first active non-profit role – before I was a member, now I do “work”.

      The dysfunction is astounding. I am committed to the cause, but the people….sheesh!

      I have committed to 2 years, then we’ll see.

    3. This Daydreamer*

      I lucked out in my nonprofit job. Great boss, great coworkers for the most part. But I still had to watch a six month saga of a remarkably bad coworker who really should have been fired much earlier than she was. But she WAS fired in the end. And unsuccessfully trying to throw me under the bus, to the amusement and annoyance of others.

  19. Mf*

    OP, have you considered leveraging the responsibilities you’ve taken on from Ron as ammunition to ask for a raise?

    I realize you might not even want the extra money, but asking might help drive home the point to management that Ron is a Problem. Also, if you’re going to do the extra work, you oughtta be paid more, even if you don’t want/need the money. It’s true principle of the thing.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        I second the idea of asking for the raise. Depressingly, I don’t think you’ll get one, but when that happens and you go find another job that values you more and/or sucks less, at least management will see a consequence to Ron’s incompetence.

  20. WatermelonPerrier*

    I’d be more worried that Ronald has a lot of free time, clearly has the ability to screw up with no consequences and has no oversight right now.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Ron might as well start openly watching porn in the office if he does nothing and has no consequences.

  21. Aelswitha*

    My blood pressure went through the roof reading this. The world is chock full of managers who are managers in name only. Everyone loves the title and pay, but so SO many of them don’t want to actually manage. Ugh. Joe, despite his brief foray into e-mail reaming clearly falls into this category.

    LW and Shannon need to firm up exactly what their job descriptions entail, and what Ronald’s is, and absolutely refuse from now on to do his work or correct his mistakes. Draw a hard line under that – it’s the only thing that’ll work.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Joe is not now, nor has he ever been, Ronald’s manager.

      Managers generally have little ability to effect changes outside of their own purview.

  22. ShysterB*

    I can’t decide whether in my alternate universe version of this, I want OP to be promoted to Kate’s position so OP can then fire Ron. Because that would mean OP ends up actually having to interact with him, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  23. SMH*

    It’s time to escalate to HR or to the board or an executive above Joe. Someone needs to take ownership. My guess is that if you stop doing extra work the non profit will suffer but if you continue the problem aka Ron will never go away.

    I would be demanding a big raise to stay and start pulling back on all Ron related items. He screws it up you do not touch it or fix it. Let him deal with it and/or Joe and/or another higher up including missed deadlines. If he calls you out again send to HR along with the other emails and explain the harassment and ridiculousness of you having to correct all of his work and provide a list as well as how much extra time you are required to work.

    Update your resume and start interviewing because the situation sucks and isn’t going to change especially if you do not change or draw hard boundaries.

  24. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    Why can’t Joe or someone above Joe fire Ronald? I mean there has to be someone in charge of him? Who ever was Kate’s boss?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      It sounds like there’s a vacuum right now, and Ron is an organizational orphan. It’s been six months, and they haven’t filled Kate’s position. Whoever was above Kate hasn’t acted on this–whether out of indifference, or because they’ve got too much on their plate is an open question.

      1. LW*

        This is pretty much exactly it. The person above Kate’s role is the executive director, who is hard-working and good at the external affairs parts of the job, but pretty divorced from the day-to-day of lower level staff, and also loves to give people chances. Once Kate’s replacement is hired, we’ll see what happens – it doesn’t seem like Ronald contributes much and that SHOULD be obvious to whomever they hire, but… who knows?!

        All I know is that my constant lifelong fear of being abruptly fired over a first-offense minor mistake has totally disappeared and I can sleep eight hours a night again.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          From your comments in the thread it sounds like this job offers a lot of positives to counter the big negative that is Ronald, and Joe does have your back and does his best but his hands are tied.

          My only suggestion is to drop the Ronald rope as much as you can and throw him under the bus. If higher-ups are being shielded from how much of a problem he is then it will be harder to PIP/fire him when someone is hired to fill Kate’s place.

          And OMG Kate, wowza, my jaw just dropped when I read about the mess she left behind for everyone else to mop up. Unfortunately this seems to happen a lot! Though this is a bigger mess than most. No wonder you don’t fear being fired over a minor mistake anymore, which is GOOD. Enjoy your blissful sleep! (And may you find a more understanding date!)

  25. BlueSwimmer*

    Oof! I worked with someone like this early in my career. His dad was golf buddies with the ultimate boss. He was incompetent but astoundingly confident. He was put in charge of our team (over two very competent, more experienced women) and gave us directions for our next project that were so wrong they were the opposite of what we were supposed to do.

    We worked all week on these wrong directions (that the competent women tried to question and he responded huffily that he shouldn’t be questioned.) We did over time for a few nights. We came in and did double time on Saturday. Then the boss realized we delivered the exact opposite of what they needed and the nepotism hire came back from a meeting and very confidently told us that we were re-doing the project, now the way we had all known it was supposed to be done. He took no blame, didn’t apologize, just played it off that this was a new/extra project the bosses wanted.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’m picturing the “Flames….flames on the side of my face….” gif here.

  26. La Triviata*

    A previous job – a non-profit – was ridiculously overstaffed in certain departments. Some people would have one responsibility and refuse to do anything else. One man would spend most of his day reading the newspaper; sometimes he just sat and stared at the wall (really). They tended to hire friends and relatives who were often unqualified or just didn’t want the job; one young man felt that the job responsibilities were beneath him and so did some weird things with them. Almost the entire staff was hauled to the annual conference and the lower-level staff would be responsible for handling registration and details for the evening receptions, resulting in working hours 7:00am to 11:00pm (or later). The conference director would routinely disappear for extended periods, shopping or having her nails done or getting a massage. I left the organization, heaving a sigh of relief.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I’ve seen this before in nonprofits – some more dysfunctional ones operate as repositories for the otherwise unemployable who have friends or family as higher-ups or donors. (Rather like family businesses but fewer blood ties involved.)

      Whether or not the grant or donor money eventually runs out and the dead weights are out on their ears depends on if there’s a good cushion of competent people to actually keep that organization running. (With one small nonprofit I was tangentially involved in – as a one-time consultant – the answer was, eventually, “no.” It was such a rag-tag band of misfits that it just could not deliver the goods, so no more grant money or donations or government funds.)

  27. Non-profits can be wacky*

    Someone must be Ron’s acting manager. Has Joe talked to this person about how bad the situation is? Joe is commiserating with you about it, but it’s not clear that Joe is escalating things as he should. It doesn’t sound like Joe has told you what Ron’s acting manager thinks of the whole situation, which makes me think that Joe has not told the acting manager what is going on.

    An unrelated comment I would make is that wondering what exactly co-workers are doing all day will just lead to endless annoyance at many government/non-profit workplaces. I interact with a not-exactly-hard-working colleague in another department, and his supervisor, who started after he did, once gigglingly told me that she had no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. I resisted the urge to tell her I was pretty sure the answer was absolutely nothing on several days, because his customer-facing hours were cut from three days to one from reduced demand, and I’m pretty sure his non-manager, whose office is in a different building from his, didn’t give him anything to do instead on those two days that are now completely free. That’s an extreme example, but by no means an isolated one around here. His slackness doesn’t really affect me. If anything, he’s more responsive than he used to be now that he has more free time. So I just keep my mouth shut and don’t think about it.

  28. Bubbles*

    LW, I’m so sorry to hear this! Especially since you moved to this organisation to get away from this kind of nonsense.
    You sound like a very capable can-do person and you deserve better. And you should never have to accept getting overworked.
    Would a move with salary upgrade to another organisation not be a better idea? You can never be sure what the actual workload situation will be in a new company but with a salary increase, at least you know that you’ll be financially compensated.

  29. Bubbles*

    *Or else I would start seriously telling Joe that you’re prepared to leave over this if not solved within a month. Sadly, n many workplaces action is only taken when you’re making it clear that you’ve had enough.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      But she isn’t going to leave over this. She really likes her job, and Joe has her back.

  30. Usagi*

    I feel like the next step after the “woow” email is to not stop there, keep escalating it higher and higher until you reach SOMEONE who can fire him!

  31. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    [… Shannon and I still do most of the work that would typically fall under his job description….]

    This is why the Ronald Problem will never be solved. As long as Ronald’s work actually gets done (by someone), Upper Management does not see a problem, there is nothing to solve, AND Ronald wins.

    If possible, just stop doing Ronald’s job, then see what happens.

  32. Pitch Black*

    All the people who don’t do their jobs at my place of employment get promoted.

  33. e271828*

    OP, I know you haven’t been in this job long, but: it is time to start looking for a better job. This place is bad and it can be worse.

  34. There You Are*

    My company and my department are both great in almost all respects.

    One where they fail is that it’s hard to fire anyone for anything less than egregious / outrageous behavior or in a layoff.

    My manager and I once joked about a team member, Dean, who did squat-all while making a ton of noise about being super busy; and who was unbelievably rude to female co-workers. I asked why Manager hadn’t fired Dean and he said, “I’m trying; believe me, I’m trying. But documenting all of his missteps and laziness is a full-time job unto itself, and HR won’t let me fire him without first going through the PIP process, and THAT is another full-time job.”

    The joke between us afterward was that we now knew that we could eff off for 3-5 years — assuming no catastrophic financial downturn and layoffs — and still collect a full paycheck that entire time. My manager was like, “I’ve always wanted to get into data analytics and coding. I could spend 3-5 years teaching myself all the skills I’d need to get a good job in that area, and then quit right before Company finally put me on a PIP.”

    I almost hope that’s what Ronald is doing. Because the alternative — that he’s an incompetent, arrogant jerk — is just sad and infuriating.

  35. ArtsNerd*

    Ok, I am horrified for you, OP. This is awful and as other commenters are saying, the way forward is to make his incompetence upper management’s problem, even if it means letting programs suffer or fail. Which is not easy! I’ve been there. In my case, the program ended up failing in the end anyway, because AS IT TURNS OUT just making and my Shannon fix / do / re-do all the work wasn’t actually sustainable at all and the thread by which we were holding everything together frayed into nothing.

    And also…

    As someone who has only just today pulled myself out of a similar, albeit FAR shorter and less consequential executive dysfunction freakout* I kind of have to give Kate a slow clap standing ovation here. How many times have my people fantasized of this very thing? To just disappear into the sunset and leave the entire doom spiral behind? To start fresh on something new and novel enough to keep you motivated? And without even an interruption in her income, no less! Brava, Kate. May you thrive in a completely different field, in a totally different state, with a manager that actually manages you, in an entirely different life, and without ever having to face any of the people you left stranded on that bridge as you set it ablaze.**

    *lol at successfully getting ADHD meds right now when you have ADHD and no more meds.

    **Please note that this was written tongue-in-cheek, or with irony, or whatever literary term applies that I can’t access the nuances of because my brain is full of bees right now.

    1. TransmascJourno*

      I don’t think it’s possible to love this comment more than I already do. My heart is full of solidarity and my stomach is sore from laughing as I read this glorious, lionized scenario and pictured Kate driving a chariot of gold off into the blazing horizon, leaving peels of chaos in her wake.

  36. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Joining in with the chorus of “how does Ron still have a job?” Does he have dirt on someone higher up? Is he related to someone higher up??

  37. Retired But Still Herding Cats*

    IIRC, all of the prior “missing stair” coworkers I’ve read about here were seasoned legacies. Now here we are, apparently witnessing The Birth of a Missing Stair.

  38. Just sayin*

    “It seems our long collective nightmare has come to a middle” is my new favorite sentence (though I feel for OP).

  39. Maureen*

    There’s gotta be *someone* Ronald reports to. Find them and ask them what they’re paying him to do, document yours and Shannon’s overtime (if applicable) and show that he costs the organization more than he’s worth.
    The “bottom line” ought to get their attention.

  40. Observer*

    #1 – Interrupting coworker.

    Please do what Alison suggests. You may, or may not, get her to behave. But regardless, it will improve your position. It’s clear from what you say that people don’t like what she’s doing, and I suspect that they may be getting annoyed that you’re “letting” her answer for you. People are coming *to YOU* for a reason. They want *your* answer, and you are in perfectly good standing to insist on actually giving it.

    Once you start assertively – but still perfectly politely! – taking back the conversational thread, people will be able to see clearly what’s happening. Don’t argue with her. Just use Alison’s verbiage and then *start answering the question*. Do not wait for her reaction, just keep on talking. And if she tries to interject, just lift a finger and keep talking.

    To the extent that this would have any effect on how people see you, the only way it could harm you is if you let her continue this way. The minute you start pushing back, you regain that ground.

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