I think my employee is being maliciously compliant

A reader writes:

I manage a team of about 20 part-time employees. We work in a creative field, but my department is strictly customer service oriented. I like to think I’m a fine manager; my employees like and respect me and they make for a kind and wonderful team.

But I have one employee, Eric, who has struggled with performance issues, namely an unwillingness to take feedback, an unprofessional attitude towards customers and coworkers, and generally being combative. He has been warned several times and was placed on a PIP, which he passed. Through all this, he has shown a disdain for me as a boss, which I, and others, suspect has to to with me being a woman.

Since passing his PIP, Eric has really amped up his customer service … literally. He has become obnoxiously loud while on the phone with customers, makes a huge show of being extra nice and overly positive, and generally behaving in a way that makes it clear that he is DOING A GOOD JOB. I always acknowledge good work, and I have made a point to give him a little extra so he doesn’t feel like he has to make a big show of it, but it just seems to fire him up more. It’s become so aggressive in the last few weeks, I can’t help but feel this is his way of being maliciously compliant.

I can’t continue working like this but I’m not sure if addressing it is the right move. Maybe I’m reading this all wrong and his loud enthusiasm is genuine behavior, in which case I would just be an asshole. But at this point I’m actually considering finding a new job because I can’t tolerate this for much longer — he’s completely worn me down.

It is maybe also worth mentioning that he has said to me, my boss, and anyone who will listen that he does not enjoy this job and wants to do something else. But when we’ve attempted conversations about career aspirations, he can’t give an answer except that he “wants to be in charge.” As far as I can tell, he’s not looking for other work, except for the one full-time position he applied to in another department and was turned down from, so there is really no end in sight for this behavior.

Is this worth addressing or should I just suck it up? I am so torn between this being a professional issue and a personal one.

I wrote back and asked, “Can you give me more specifics about what the amped up customer service looks like? Is it exaggerated to the point that a customer might notice and be put off by it? If you hadn’t known him before now and he was a new hire acting like this, would it seem off to you?” The response:

Some examples of things he has recently started doing:

– speaking to customers like he’s addressing a classroom of three-year-olds
– taking an excessively long time to solve simple customer problems
– promising things to customers we can’t deliver on, such as telling them something won’t be a problem to fix when we can’t fix it at all (and then letting me have the difficult conversation with them)
– a weird one: telling white lies such as saying I’m in a meeting or out sick when really I’m just on lunch
– when we openly talk about a difficult regular customer or universally disliked task, going out of his way to say he never has issues with that customer or he loves doing that task

Customers probably view him more as someone who lacks social skills rather than as off-putting … from their perspective, he seems like he’s trying.

But a new hire acting this way would definitely seem off, even with the learning curve of a new job. We usually start new hires on a 90-day probation period. I don’t think Eric would make it past that if he were hired today.

Yeah, you need to fire Eric.

When I first read your letter, I thought it was possible that this wasn’t really malicious compliance and his behavior wasn’t really an F-you. Unlikely, but possible.

But reading your list of specific examples … he absolutely intends it as an F-you.

Moreover, there’s plenty of actionable stuff here to address. He’s not even good at malicious compliance, because he’s left the door wide open for you to discipline and/or fire him for what he’s doing.

You said you’re torn between these being professional issues or personal ones — but they’re clearly, unambiguously professional ones. In fact, they’re so very much work issues that you have to address them.

Frankly, I think you should just fire him — he was already struggling with performance, an unprofessional attitude towards customers and coworkers, and general combativeness. Now he’s being condescending to customers, taking too long to solve customers’ problems, and promising them things he should know will be problems. Any one of those on its own would be something you should strongly consider firing him over. All of them together? You should do it today.

This isn’t PIP territory (especially since you’ve already tried that route, and I’m guessing that he’ll just hew to the terms of the PIP as long as it takes to pass it, and then he’ll revert to form). This is “you’re being actively and intentionally difficult, this is not working out, we are ending your employment today” territory.

If the reason you haven’t done that is because your employer requires you to go through another PIP … well, first it’s worth arguing that this should be an exception to that. You’ve done one PIP and you’re continuing to encounter serious problems, plus Eric is demonstrating that he’s not acting with good will. PIPs are for people who aren’t intentionally trying to mess with you. But if your company won’t budge and forces you to go through that process again, then you should lobby for it to be as short as possible (weeks, not months, especially since you’ve been through this process with him before) and it needs to include language making it clear that you need to see sustained and permanent improvement and if problems recur again, you wouldn’t do a third PIP. If you need to convince your boss, “He wouldn’t make it past his 90-day probation period if he were hired today” is good framing to use.

But you need to make sure he goes — for the sake of your customers, your other employees, and your work overall.

Read an update to this letter.

{ 344 comments… read them below }

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Exactly what I clicked to say — malicious compliance would be doing what he’s told to the letter, not lying to customers or coworkers.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        At this point, it doesn’t even matter if he’s being bad at his job maliciously or not. He’s continuing to be really bad at his job, and OP needs to fire him.

        1. ferrina*

          This. If your employee is regularly giving customers bad information, that’s worth a firing.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Especially when he’s doing it to make the LW have to deal with customers who were told “sure, we can do XYZ!” when that isn’t possible. That is petulant, spiteful, and deliberate.

    2. Heidi*

      What struck me is that all of the original problems that got him on the PIP (unwillingness to take feedback, an unprofessional attitude towards customers and coworkers, and generally being combative) are all still there, just morphed into an pseudo-positive passive-aggressive form. It’s worth the work it takes to get rid of someone like that.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Yes, every behavior listed seems like a hostile interpretation of the feedback that was in the PIP. Obnoxiously performing enthusiasm and helpfulness seems like he’s shouting “Look I took the feedback and changed, you were wrong that I was unwilling to take feedback” through his behavior. Speaking to a customer like they are a toddler is still an unprofessional attitude towards customers, even if it’s unprofessional in a new way. He’s switched from combative to passive-aggressive, but that doesn’t make his behavior better.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      I was just about to say this as well. Eric’s not complying with anything except being an @$$hole. He’s doing a very good job of that. He needs to be fired with cause. Let’s hope OP has many documented examples of Eric’s behaviour to avoid any chance he’ll sic an employment lawyer on the company over some frivolous wrongful dismissal suit.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “Yeah, this is just straight-up malice.”

        Yes, agreed! You don’t need to continue to employ someone who is being openly hostile!

        I agree with all of Alison’s advice, especially the part about this affecting the other employees. I would lose all respect for and confidence in a leader who didn’t fire a guy like this. OP, you must fire him immediately, if for no other reason than if you don’t, your staff won’t respect you.

        But you do have PLENTY of other reasons!

      2. Goldenrod*

        “Yeah, this is just straight-up malice.”

        Yes, agreed! You don’t need to continue to employ someone who is being openly hostile! I agree with all of Alison’s advice, especially the part about this affecting the other employees. I would lose all respect for and confidence in a leader who didn’t fire a guy like this. OP, you must fire him immediately, if for no other reason than if you don’t, your staff won’t respect you.

        But you do have PLENTY of other reasons!

      3. OMG, Bees!*

        Funnily enough, a lot of people on the sub Reddit for that also got the concept of Malicious Compliance wrong. This is just straight up malice and he is being intentionally difficult and condescending. Fire his tuchus! Especially if this behavior wouldn’t have saved him in the notice period.

    4. Ferris Mewler*

      Exactly. Smiling and being really obnoxiously cheerful while you a) purposely drag out solving a simple problem, b) lie to customers, and c) condescend to customers is not compliance. It’s just passive-aggressiveness.

    5. Jaydee*

      Exactly! From the initial letter, I assumed he was being at least adequate at his job but just very obviously and loudly to basically signal to LW, “Look, I’m doing Good Customer Service. I’ll make sure you know every single time I do Good Customer Service.” Which would be annoying and worth a conversation. But not necessarily fireable if he responded quickly to a “Duly noted. You can do your Good Customer Service quietly from now on, thanks.”

      But he’s doing customer service loudly and *badly* (he’s condescending, slow, and he lies). He needs to not be employed there ASAP.

    6. narya*


      It sounds to me like this guy is just daring them to fire him. I hope if OP has the authority, she’ll maliciously comply with his wishes, fire him tomorrow, and not waste another second of her life thinking about it.

    7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      He has the malicious part down pat, but he’s horribly failing on the compliance part here.

      Honestly – he just needs to go, and as soon as you can before he starts costing the company customers.

    8. goddessoftransitory*

      THANK you. I was struggling with how to classify this–He’s not Amelia Bedelia, he’s the Grinch pre-heart-enbiggening. He couldn’t make it clearer he holds the LW and the job in contempt.

  1. starsaphire*

    Just a thought…

    After you fire this guy, go through everything he had access to and look for any malicious action. From where I’m sitting, he kinda seems like a shrimp-in-the-curtain-rods kind of guy, if you get my drift.

    1. BatManDan*

      I can guess the theme behind “shrimp in the curtain rods,” but if there is an actual case you can relate or link to, it sounds like a promising (and by that, I mean “entertaining”) story to read!

        1. starsaphire*

          Thanks FrogEngineer! Beat me to it, but yes, that’s exactly it. It’s very much a trope at this point – there’s an old classic SF book in which this is done, but with Limburger cheese and an HVAC vent – but the shrimp story is by far the most well-known.

          And honestly, this Eric dude sounds exactly like the sort of dude that will go through an editable database and replace random customer first names with naughty words.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        You can google this, probably. It’s not an AAM thing.

        But it refers to someone being slighted, so they put a raw shrimp in a curtain rod, which eventually rots and smells, and nobody can figure out where the smell is coming from.

        1. zuzu*

          Sure, the shrimp are going to go bad and stink. For a while.

          But aren’t they going to dry out and possibly mummify as well? That’s usually what happens with dead critters, and it stops the odor. It’s not going to take long for even a large prawn to dry out.

          1. beep beep*

            Depends on how warm and humid your area is, I suppose. Summer in some areas of the US South… When I was in high school, a skunk somehow got into the school’s bathroom vents and died during finals week. You could smell it up and down the halls and in every classroom on that side of the building until they could get someone in to remove the body, and even then for a day or so after.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              When I worked at the library, the borrowed magazines came in a cardboard sort of purse. Someone dropped one off which had been sprayed by a skunk and it fell into the behind-the-counter area on a Saturday night (we were closed on Sundays at the time). Monday was…memorable. For a couple of weeks.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          The book Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie features this happening to a guy’s new car.

          1. ACM*

            My mom ‘knows someone’ that actually happened to back in the 70s. Guy’s vengeful ex put sardines on the engine block of his car. She wouldn’t say she was the vengeful ex but she was awfully certain it would work.

            Sand in someone’s oil was how my paternal grandmother took out a car, so I guess automotive sabotage is a family trait on both sides.

            1. Csethiro Ceredin*

              How funny!

              One of my grandfather’s friends put a fish behind the hubcap of his friend’s new car as a prank (spoiled young rich men in like 1930-1940) and the dealers had the seats out and everything looking for the Source of the Smell – they only found it when it froze in the Montreal winter and started rattling.

      2. Shellfish allergy*

        But of an urban legend, but if you google “shrimp in the curtain rods divorce” you’ll find it.

      1. Shrimp Emplaced*

        This is my new name.

        And yes, agree that OP should review Eric’s access points for sabotage.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I agree. This is not a give Eric any time thing but walk him out thing. Those things mentioned are not “compliance”. He’s lying about your availability to make you look bad. He’s lying to customers to make you look bad. He’s taking forever on tickets to make the company look bad. He needs to go.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Assume the shrimp is already emplaced is now my go to phrase when worried about employee vandalism.

        1. Caliente Papillon*

          Now I picture a guy in an action movie yelling “The shrimp is emplaced, the shrimp has been emplaced!” into a walkie-talkie lol

    2. LaFramboise*

      or even, to echo starsaphire, go through his work files and back up anything BEFORE you fire him. but yeah, get him gone.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    he has said to me, my boss, and anyone who will listen that he does not enjoy this job and wants to do something else. But when we’ve attempted conversations about career aspirations, he can’t give an answer except that he “wants to be in charge.” As far as I can tell, he’s not looking for other work,

    Yeah, this guy is just a fundamentally miserable SOB and is going to make everyone else pay for it rather than actually address it himself. I had an uncle like this. He was never happy with anything his entire life, except momentarily when he was getting something at someone else’s expense (as is happening here when he gets under management’s skin).

    Get him out of everyone else’s hair.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      And, sure, I’ve had jobs I hated and jobs that had a bunch of tedious customer service, but then I actively started looking for other jobs that I hated less instead of taking it out on everyone else. He has options here, he’s just not taking them.

      1. Pescadero*

        I wouldn’t necessarily be sure he has options…

        I’m a pleasant person, and my co-workers and bosses have always liked me… but I’ve never had a job I didn’t hate.

        I hate the necessity of having a job. Any job. There are no options except resign yourself to suffering as little as you possibly can at a job you hate until retirement.

        1. allathian*

          Sure, but I assume that you keep your hatred of needing to work to yourself rather than taking it out on your coworkers (and customers if you have a CS job).

          And even if he’s going to be just as miserable in his next job, that doesn’t mean the LW shouldn’t fire him now. No *reasonable* person expects managers to be able to affect what employees think and how they feel about things (although plenty of unreasonable managers have tried to do just that) but they certainly have the right to expect their employees to behave in a professional and appropriate manner and to enforce such expectations.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          But you still have the option of not being a jack*** to your coworkers. The rest of that is yours to address, if you care to do so. Not addressing it and living with the misery is another option, but it’s not anyone else’s fault.

    2. BatManDan*

      How do people like your uncle get that way? What influenced them to treat the rest of humanity in that manner? I’m genuinely curious!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        No idea. My mom and my other uncle are normal, at least in regards to the percentage of their lives they’ve spent being grouchy. But when you look through old family pictures, Grouchy Uncle is NEVER SMILING. Even as a kid. He just was never satisfied with anything and always felt like the world was picking on him.

        In theory I get that this probably means that he wasn’t getting whatever he needed, but generally speaking he wasn’t lacking–he had a nice family, a solid job (family business handed to him by his dad, that was successful enough and could have been very successful if he hadn’t been so difficult), etc.–but apparently it wasn’t what he needed to fill the hole. And of course he wasn’t going to do any introspection to figure it out.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Sounds like one of those people who just want “more.”
          More what? More everything.
          But you have “X”
          Well, I don’t have Y and Z!

            1. ferrina*

              He’s pinning his happiness and life contentment on external rather than anything internal. If he’s constantly relying on external circumstances to find fulfillment, then he’s constantly letdown when external circumstances don’t give him inner peace. He’s looking for something externally when that thing is only found internally, and rather than doing the introspection to ask “what will truly make me happy?”, he’s blaming external things/people for being insufficient.

              I’ve seen this commonly in narcissists. There’s a constant victimhood. Either they have had everything stacked against them and you need to pity/praise them, or and if you don’t then you’re just one more person that’s turned against them.

              If you want to do more research, positive psychology is a branch of psychology that covers resilience and inner peace (i.e., exactly what your uncle doesn’t have). For narcissism, my favorite resources was Dr. Ramani’s YouTube channel.

              1. metadata minion*

                Yeah, I think most people have probably done the “if I just get X, my life will be so much better!” thing, getting stuck on one tiny factor as the solution to everything, and then getting angry or depressed when X doesn’t in fact magically fix everything. (And obviously there are occasionally times where getting, say, decent pay or an effective migraine preventative really does make your life so much better) But for some people this seems to be their standard operating condition and then they’re just constantly mad that things don’t Make Everything Better.

                1. Anne*

                  This reminds me of something from one of Geneen Roth’s books on women and food- women who believe that their lives will be fixed when they are thin. Especially the women who actually lose weight. They realize that the only thing different in their lives is the size of their jeans and are absolutely FURIOUS.

            2. Dawn*

              My life improved an awful lot after I came out and realized what was actually missing the whole time.

              I’m not saying for sure that’s what’s happening in this case, just that sometimes it’s very much related to a sense that something is wrong but not being able to truly figure it out and/or admit to it.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Was it Vanderbilt who, when asked how much money was enough, answered “just a little bit more?” One of those Gilded age robber barons. But yep, they keep going to the hardware store for butter and refuse to believe that the world won’t set up a dairy aisle next to the hammers to make them feel better.

        2. GrumpyZena*

          My son is like this – he’s astonishingly adversarial and views most things as a zero-sum game. He’s also capable of great joy, and not just in moments of triumph, and can be wonderfully sweet and kind (I say this for balance!).

          He’s 7, and we’re pretty sure he’s autistic (literally waiting for his assessment to come back) – so he misinterprets social cues and read a lot of intent as malicious (I think he does this as a defensive tactic – assume the worst and at least he’s prepared??). He also has a very skewed sense of justice – his brother taking a toy from him means that he gets to push his brother over, scream in his face, and accuse me of favouring said brother when I intervene. He just has a harder time existing in the world, basically.

          I don’t say this to armchair diagnose, but this experience has made me wonder about a lot of “weirdly prickly” people I have encountered!

          1. Pam*

            I’m ADHD, and I was a little like this when I was younger. My sense of justice and fairness was very different from the worlds. Part of it was that the world wasn’t made for my brain, so things were already unfair for me. I guess I was trying to make rules fit to make the world more fair? For me, I was playing the game with a different set of rules from everyone else. Add that to a little kid’s ironclad belief that the world is fair, and it gets messy.

            The emotional regulation will change as the kid gets older. Part of it is that in elementary school, the emotional part of kids’ brains just aren’t fully developed. If I remember correctly, it doesn’t stop developing until the early 20s? Even then, you can still change patterns of thoughts and behavior (neuroplasticity is the technical term for brain development after the brain stops growing). And they’ll learn more about social interactions. When I was in high school, an adult mentor told me “Most bad teachers aren’t out to get students. Honestly, they barely even know the students’ names.” That changed my whole viewpoint.

            ND kids will learn more strategies. These days there’s a lot more research out there than when I was a kid, and there’s some great social media influencers who can help you and your kid learn more strategies and feel less alone. Some influencers are much better than others (and some are outright harmful), so screen carefully.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I’m autistic–it runs in the other side of my family–and I would hesitate to attribute that as the source of an outsized sense of justice, although if he’s just THAT FRUSTRATED overall the lashing out might just be the avenue of expression of the underlying frustration.

          3. Lily*

            You’re describing my autistic daughter! She has a … challenging… personality. Good luck to you and your family. I mean that sincerely.

            1. GrumpyZena*

              Thank you! I find Missing the Mark on Twitter to be a great resource in supporting children like ours. Also search “pathological demand avoidance” – it’s a behaviour profile sometimes associated with autism, in case you aren’t familiar with the term. I’ve heard PDA described as being “an adult trapped in a child’s body”, which fits my son pretty well.

              He simply views it as egregious that I get to make decisions and do things that he does not (of course, all kids think that from time to time, but his behaviour around this is *extreme*).

              I know that one day his disregard for hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake and refusal to be cowed are going to make me so proud of him, but MAN it is a hard road getting there! Solidarity!

        3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          There’s a guy named Jer Clifton who did his PhD research on what he called “Primals”, fundamental world beliefs. (Search for Primals 26 beliefs.) I found them fascinating! How each person has a different configuration of the blocks explained a lot to me. I’m not sure we’re always taught these things, some of it seems to be inborn.

          Uncle sounds like he would identify with the pieces that have to do with the world acting with intent on them as well as the the pieces around the world being miserable, threatening, and unjust.

        4. Cedrus Libani*

          I have a Grouchy Uncle too. Mom’s normal. Their childhood was fine. My read is that it’s Main Character Syndrome; these people don’t have much empathy, so they see others as NPCs who exist to play a part in their story. They resent having to watch cut-scenes in which NPCs are doing stuff that’s not relevant to their own story, and they have no concept of reciprocity; the main character gets stuff from the NPCs because that’s what NPCs are for.

          1. Inksmith*

            That completely describes my dad. Like, of course I want to listen to him go on about his hobbies and find it fascinating, but it doesn’t compute when I want the same thing.

        5. Feral campsite raccoon*

          Some people are just born that way. I always feel sorry for them, even when they drive me crazy- that’s a hard way to live.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Obviously, I don’t know Dust Bunny’s uncle, but in my experience, a lot of these people genuinely believe everybody is out to get them and that the only way to survive is to “get your retaliation in first.”

        I think it can either be due to actually being poorly treated at some point (being bullied as a child or having abusive family members) or else it can be something people are taught. I’ve had some students that will insist that they had to hit somebody because the other person was annoying them and “you can’t just let him get away with it.” A lot of the time, I don’t think they are even annoyed by what the other person did; they’ve just been raised to believe that if you let anything go, you’ll look weak and people will take advantage of you so you have to “win” every encounter.

        I don’t know if that’s true with Eric, but it does sound like he feels the need to be in charge and finds it insulting to be criticised or told what to do, especially by a woman so he feels the need to get the better of her and possibly make her requirements look ridiculous…”see how being nice to customers sounds!”

          1. ferrina*

            Leave. Your partner won’t change unless they want to change, and unless they are actively taking action on their own (not just when you cajole them or when they are showing you what a “good person” they are or “how hard they are trying”), it’s a pretty good bet they don’t want to change. In their minds, they aren’t the problem, everyone else is.

            You don’t deserve that. No one does. Trust me, after the initial shock wears off, being alone is so much better than that treatment.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Yeah, you can’t fix that.

            I mean, it’s up to you how much you want to live with it, but don’t stay in the hopes it will change. Either accept it and take care of yourself, or leave.

            For the record: My uncle–he’s deceased now–left his long-term girlfriend with essentially nothing because he was too busy spending it on himself and not planning for anyone else in his life. She “worked” for his business for years, but without an official paycheck because everything was a “business expense”, so she hasn’t paid into Social Security in decades and is now eligible only for the minimum. And, yes, he was a selfish a**, but she went along with it because she loved him, I guess, and assumed he would take care of her. She’s in her late 70s and left high and dry.

          3. There You Are*

            That was my ex. No actual hitting involved, but his core belief is that everyone is trying to take advantage of him so he’s going to take advantage of them first (and so thoroughly that they’ll never be able to take advantage of him, ever).

            In my ex’s case, he has really, really, really extreme ADHD (inattentive type) and even after we found the right medication for him — which took years — it only dialed his extreme All Of My Problems Are Caused By Other People behavior down from an 11 to maybe an 8.

            I stuck it out for 17 years which included four couples’ counselors, a support group for me, an ADHD coach for him, two personal therapists for him, and group therapy for him.

            In the end, I couldn’t take living under the same roof with someone who was not only determined to be Unhappy ™ but also needed me to be the main source of their unhappiness.

            I wish I would have gotten out sooner, though.

            1. Anon for this*

              My marriage was a lot like that, down to the duration and attempts at therapy, etc. etc.

              Unfortunately “All Of My Problems Are Caused By Other People” is impossible to fix because the mechanism for fixing things is broken, because after all All Of Their Problems Are Caused By Other People, and what changes could they possibly enact to address that?

              The best I could ever do was move myself out of range. I’m sure I’m still causing all of his problems, decades post-divorce.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Reformed asshole here who had that very same ‘I’m entitled to everything I want!’ attitude way back. It comes from a mental picture of yourself as a wronged party who is ‘owed’ positions of power, money, respect, romantic partners etc because you just…earnt them by living your life. Any tiny thing you’re denied becomes further proof that you’re being punished.

        Then comes the ‘I’m smarter than everyone else and that’s such a daily struggle’ attitude and well, it’s an unpleasant road.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          What changed your thinking? You’re obviously a thoughtful and insightful person now. Was there an event that forced a reckoning or did you wake up one day and just…think differently?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Mentioned it in the other post but it was a combination of a ‘stop this or be fired’ talk from my boss and finally accepting that there was something seriously wrong in my head that needed professional help. Mostly the former.

            That and age! I don’t think any of us are the same person in their late 40s as they were in their early 20s.

        2. OP*

          This describes Eric incredibly well, based on my observations and what I have learned from others…. but I am trying to separate his intentions from his actions, for professional reasons. Unfortunately, this make the whole situation less black-and-white, and my black-and-white HR administrator won’t permit a termination based off that alone. Eric knows he has to make an egregious mistake at this point to get fired, and is otherwise untouchable (I know, I know). It has always been hard to fire someone at this company.

          In the meantime, he manages to find all my buttons and presses them all day long.

          1. ferrina*

            Does he regularly violate the provisions in his original PIP? That might sway things.

            Otherwise I guess you could just waste your time with rules-lawyering another PIP, but if you do that I’d have a conversation with HR about how long you need to keep playing this game. I’d also put No Lying as a provision in the PIP- Liars have a remarkably hard time not lying.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            My sincere sympathies because that sounds like hell. If HR won’t accept him lying to customers as a dismissible offense then it he’s the question of what they *will* accept? Are they waiting for him to say in an official email that he doesn’t respect women or thinks this job is beneath him or, god forbid, waiting till he does something outright illegal?

            If HR won’t let you get rid of this guy then I bet he knows it. What a nightmare.

          3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            But that’s just it — his intentions DO NOT MATTER. Do not get caught up in WHY he is doing what he is. Focus on the is — He is lying to customers. How on earth can that not be considered egregious? Its not even a mistake, he is doing deliberately.

            You need to lay out to HR exactly how what Eric is doing, not his attitude, but his actual actions are harming the company. Lying to customers is a very serious thing that affects company reputation.

          4. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

            How is repeatedly lying to customers about what your company can deliver *not* an egregious mistake?

          5. higheredadmin*

            OP, I managed someone like this in a similar environment. (One of of seemingly endless calls with HR ended with me saying “do we ever fire people here”? Huge pause, and HR rep says “our focus is on helping people develop” and I just hung up in frustration.) Eric is crazy like a fox – a miserable person whose miserly leaks out into everything, but who is canny enough to know when to stop to keep the job. It is like PIP whack-a-mole (my Eric had an issue with timeliness so I started tracking when Eric got in. So Eric starts coming in on time, and then starts taking long lunches. So the game moves to regulating lunches, and then it goes to when people leave.) Here’s my advice. Assign Eric all the work that Eric should be doing – don’t let this a-hole behaviour mean Eric doesn’t have the same work. Keep documenting and pester HR on a regular schedule. And other than that, set up HUGE boundaries for yourself. Eric is an adult person and not your responsibility beyond delivery of work. Don’t let Eric tell you about his personal life, and don’t let Eric get to you. You will never “fix” Eric. Make a practice of shutting that jerk out of your mind from the second you leave work – every bit of time you spend ruminating over Eric is wasted energy. You might find some relief in letting go, and Eric *might* ease off a bit if he isn’t getting a reaction. And if you do decide to leave, make very sure to tell HR that their incompetence in dealing with someone like Eric is a big reason why you are leaving.

          6. Sparkle Motion*

            Why isn’t his lying to customers a fireable offense on its own? Having to do damage control with customers afterward shouldn’t be acceptable to HR. Maybe HR misunderstands the law and needs a refresher (from Legal)?

            1. OP*

              It’s so nuanced. It’s easy to pass off his lying and willful incompetence as genuine mistakes, and calling it out (which I have) makes me look like a micro-manager (he is doing the job, just not perfectly or exactly how I want it every single time- how can anybody live up to that expectation).

              The folks in my office make our fair share of mistakes, myself very much included. The difference between our mistakes and Eric’s mistakes is that we have the deductive reasoning identify them and solve them before they become larger issues. Eric either a) cannot identify when he makes a mistake b) leaves mistakes unresolved or c) “doesn’t know what to do” because he was “never was shown how to do it” and has to put 90% of his calls on hold while he asks me a clarifying question- one that I certainly clarified at one point, sometime even just earlier in the day.

              1. Bear Expert*

                Yeah, document when you train him on something. And then when he hasn’t learned it. Not being able to learn his own job function is also underperforming and a reason to fire him.

                These are work related issues, this is a performance problem. It sucks because documenting and managing all of this is a giant PITA, but it’s one you have to do.

              2. Critical Rolls*

                You have an HR problem at this point more than you have an Eric problem. I agree with others that Eric’s state of mind and intentions need to be left out of this. I wouldn’t worry about being seen as a micromanager, because HR is functionally requiring it of you. I recommend relentless documentation, so you can bring things like “answered the same question for Eric three times on Wednesday,” “Eric needs assistance 85% more often than colleagues,” “Eric required 10 hours of remedial support in the past 10 days,” “Eric’s average call time is 23% longer and leads to resolution 45% less often,” “Eric promised undeliverable services twice this week,” “Eric failed to meet the metrics of his previous PIP in XYZ ways.” Customer complaints are golden in situations like this, too. But really, it seems like you need to be ready to leave. I hope there’s some way for you to signal this without endangering yourself. “Eric’s behavior is affecting morale on the team, I’m concerned we will start losing better-performing team members over this.”

                On a personal level, I’d say do what you can to disengage emotionally. I know he’s obnoxious, and the fact that he’s doing it on purpose and not suffering consequences is infuriating. But try thinking of him as the neighbor’s dumb yappy dog. All his misbehaviors are products of being a miserable sod. He’s not locked in combat with you, because he’s not a worthy opponent. He’s annoying, but he’s more pathetic. Shake your head in pity, make a note, and move on.

            2. NaoNao*

              Eric can easily say “Oh, I misread Outlook/that email/I misheard/I misunderstood” or “She told me to tell customers she was in a meeting!” or “I didn’t say that, the customer misunderstood” or any number of things. It’s a telephone game: from Eric to customer then from customer to OP to HR. By the time it gets to HR, who knows what *exactly* Eric said. It’s all too easy for Eric to take advantage of that lack of chain of custody, so to speak.

              Plus, saying “she’s in a meeting” rather than “on lunch” doesn’t rise to the level of “cover up” or any other legal concern from where I’m sitting. It’s one of those social and moral choices you very well *know* is wrong but it’s hard to prove and hard to articulate why it’s wrong.

              1. Sparkle Motion*

                Just to clarify, I mentioned “legal” because it’s unclear to me where HR got their unreasonable standards for firing, not because Eric’s behavior needs to meet a legal standard before he can be fired.

          7. Bear Expert*

            Ignore the investigation into his intentions and internal emotions, that doesn’t matter as his boss.

            Document everything he does that is sub par work. He only closes 12 tickets a week, the average for people in his position is 38.

            He was asked to speak at a reasonable tone and volume again today, and returned to being loud and condescending an hour later. (Insubordinate, can’t take feedback, and …still being inappropriate with customers)

            Stick to observable facts, not your emotions. Or his. Assign normal levels of work and continue to give normal feedback to Eric, and document that you do. Drag HR into meetings regularly about what the process is for developing Eric’s work to an acceptable standard, since repeated PIPs aren’t getting there. Point out how much of your time, their time, and an entire underperforming staff member is being wasted when you could be hiring a new employee who would meet basic performance standards.

            Right now Eric is only your problem, make sure HR is involved and feeling the problem too.

          8. Observer*

            Unfortunately, this make the whole situation less black-and-white, and my black-and-white HR administrator won’t permit a termination based off that alone

            I think that the reverse is true. You are MUCH better off focusing specifically on his behaviors. Anything on the list you provided is a problem, regardless of his motives.

            The most egregious ones are being rude to customers and lying to people.

          9. goddessoftransitory*

            Have you considered leaving?

            Because you are being set up to fail. Your boss refuses to see the writing on the wall–hell, at this point Eric is gleefully spraying graffiti on every wall in sight with impunity. If you are being rendered powerless, there’s no point in trying to cadge battery after battery to try to keep going.

            It may feel like Eric “winning,” but just organizing your resume, doing some searches, will hopefully remind you that YOU are the valuable employee here, who is being thrown away to appease this massive twit. I’m not saying walk out tomorrow with no plan, but I AM saying that you are being disrespected not only by Eric but by your boss, and that’s not a tenable situation professionally or otherwise.

            1. Enai*

              Yes, this. OP, Eric is a pain and your company won’t help and the situation won’t change. Get out if you can and let the chips fall where they may.

          10. MassChick*

            That is so frustrating! Could you take a step back, depersonalize this and make this an exercise in strategy?For example, could you find his buttons and press them while you work to desensitize yours? I don’t mean that to be (just) petty but maybe it will force him to make that egregious and fireable mistake.
            Be bland and non reactive? Remark or document that he takes x % longer than necessary to close an issue? If he is being exaggeratedly loud say calmly that he seems agitated and stressed? In other words purposely misinterpret his actions just enough so it seems to him that his actions are missing their target?
            It is unfortunate, but since HR is of little help you may have to outwit him subtly.

          11. Anne Elliot*

            “Eric knows he has to make an egregious mistake at this point to get fired, and is otherwise untouchable.”

            I would definitely push back on this, through repeated conversations if necessary. It’s bad HR to decide that only a huge problem justifies moving someone out, while a million little problems receive no action. It’s the cumulative nature of the little things that makes them into a big thing. I would actively manage Eric by addressing every single little thing he does with appropriate feedback and correction. Let’s see how he likes having a sheepdog nipping his heels every time he tries this nonsense. And I would document every instance and report it to HR, to make sure they are also experiencing the cumulative nature of his shortcomings.

            I also suggest a conversation with HR and your boss where you flag for them the extent to which having to manage Eric, but without being permitted to manage him out, is negatively impacting your own job and your ability to manage effectively. You don’t have to disclose that you’re actually considering leaving, but I would probably heavily imply that the option is on the table. Let them know that there are today, and may be in the future, company-wide impacts that extend far beyond subjecting you to the daily unpleasantness of managing a toddler.

            Manage him actively. Keep the pressure on him. Report it actively to HR. Keep the pressure on them. There’s no need for this to be only YOUR problem, with no pain to the company or to Eric. If you’re uncomfortable, they can be too.

        3. Harper the Other One*

          Keymaster, I just wanted to say I am so appreciative of both your introspection and your willingness to share your experiences here.

      4. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        BatManDan, this question keeps me up at night sometimes. I truly can’t understand that level of self-defeating selfish nastiness. WHY?!

      5. Bk*

        The fact that the guy in the letter’s only aspiration is to ‘be in charge’ is a pretty big hint.

        In any social animal, there are some animals that are heirarchy-reactive. They always want to be at the top, but that’s their ONLY goal. They do not care about forming close bonds with others.

        Sometimes they’re able to get pretty high up in their social group based solely on pushing others around, in which case they become a bullying, even violent leader, always thinking they have to be the loudest and the toughest, lest someone steal their coveted position of power. Most of the time they end up around the middle or bottom of the mix and exude resentment towards their leader and bully those they see as beneath them.

        This behavior is especially well-observed in primates, and ultimately humans are just primates. If a person’s only drive in life is to have power over others, without any drive to make a meaningful connection with people or to use that power for anything, then they’ll either be a very poor leader or will be in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction because their only route to happiness is blocked by their own incompetence and self-obsession.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Especially not women. I highly doubt he’d treat them with respect. He wants a position by virtue of… being a man? …and is angry that people know he doesn’t meet the requirements.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          There’s a whole subculture (of men) who believe this. I found my (dead to me) nephew’s twitter account and it’s horrifying what he retweets. There are men who truly believe that they are superior to women in every way and they are so angry that women are not doing what the men think they should be doing.

          1. La Triviata*

            Back in 2017 a Google employee wrote his “manifesto” about how women (assumed to be incompetent) were being hired at the expense of men (assumed to be competent). Ditto for non-white people. He didn’t last long after that.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              If my nephew had a corporate job (which he never would because he thinks that kind of conformity is for losers), I suspect he would not last long, either. I was able to find his twitter account because he posts under his own name. He is quite proud of his opinions, although he doesn’t share them directly with Mr T or me.

    3. Smithy*

      Just want to echo back to OP4 from the previous list….I’m not saying they’re a poor performer. But I do think that the emotions of hating your job, hating your boss’ job, hating your company and hating your profession can lead you on a track to ultimately acting like Dust Bunny’s uncle or Eric. Essentially, a kind of burnout that leads to lashing out.

      If there is ever a moment where you have a chance to step back and address any of the factors that are making you that unhappy. Either at work, with yourself or in your homelife – do yourself the favor and a favor to everyone who ends up around you and spend time trying make it even just a little better. Life has far too many ways of being very long.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        That might be true, but ultimately there comes a point at which the reason WHY you’re snapping really doesn’t matter because it’s equally unpleasant for everyone else around you. Lashing out at others is not acceptable behavior, including for burnout, and it won’t be helpful in the long run.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, this.

          He doesn’t have a real answer for why he’s unhappy, and his “solution” is one for which he is demonstrating he’s unfit. This is on him to fix.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        I think it’s more than that. What stood out is: “He can’t give an answer except that he ‘wants to be in charge.'”. That screams somebody unhappy with his position because he thinks he deserves better. With a side helping of chaffing because he’s taking orders from a woman. It echo’s the recent letter with the guy who didn’t do the things he needed for a promotion but complained relentlessly that he didn’t get it. He can’t except that he does deserve a promotion and so decided that it’s everybody else’s fault.

      3. Anonono*

        This is great in theory. The only problem is you have to want to do that in the first place. People like Eric or Uncle Dust Bunny don’t do it because they legitimately don’t see that they are the problem. It’s not them; it’s the world, it’s the job, it’s everyone around them. Except it happens at every place they go, and they never can put their finger on why that is.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      I have no patience with people whose goals are both vague and entitled. You want to “be in charge,” go home, line up your stuffed animals and give them marching orders while playing your favorite Sousa marches on the record player.

  3. Maxine*

    Anyone of those examples would not, as customer, make me think “oh well, he tries, he is just socially awkward, bless his heart.” I would have to see really, really professional skills from the rest of the company to make up for his lack and make me want to return as a repeat customer.

    1. Observer*


      OP, when you talk to your HR / decision makers, please emphasis this. This is terrible customer service, and you are almost certainly losing customers over this.

    2. Might be Jeb*

      Someone who was truly just socially awkward would not have been able to manage the distinction between “awful but legal” and “disallowed behavior”–which this guy seems to be doing, at least superficially. (His behavior may in fact be fireable when you step back and look at the whole, but your initial take on it was “malicious compliance,” and I think that implies a level of passability.)

      But that is a game that someone who is *actually* socially awkward can’t play! In other words, this guy knows what he’s doing and is even worse than he seems at first glance. Get him OUT. And, good luck!!

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, between that and the fact that he could meet the requirements of the PIP (and it sounds like he waiting until he passed it to start this) it sounds very deliberate.

    3. zuzu*

      This is exactly the kind of thing that “This call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes” is made for.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yeah, if a staff member made me promises that turned out to be difficult / impossible, I’d be PISSED.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I did that once at a very long-ago job, but it was a MISTAKE. Acknowledged, apologized, and not repeated. Eric strikes me as someone who would never give an apology, or it would be a very backhanded “Sorry you feel that way.”

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Oh, I’ve definitely messed up, too. And acknowledged/apologized. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of customer service apparently telling people to come in to the store for something we definitely couldn’t do. It wasn’t fun.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Agreed. If I’m treated badly by customer service personnel I don’t think ‘oh maybe he doesn’t understand social norms’ Ijust think ‘bellend’.

  4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP your assessment of his new work style is half right. And I’ll give you a hint. It is not the compliance part. This is 100% your little brother in the back seat of the car with his finger one inch from your face saying, “I’m not touching yoooouuuu.”
    And your reaction proves this.
    You think you somehow need to to be the mature one, to keep it strictly professional.
    You think being annoyed isn’t mature or professional.
    Like your parents saying, he’s little; you’re older; you need to ignore him.
    You think HR will say, you are the manager; you need to give him another chance.
    If tell them what you told Alison, they really shouldn’t. If they do, you can say no. You might not win, but you can and should advocate for yourself, for your department and for your customers.
    This guy is an ass.
    He doesn’t have to be a permanent pain in yours.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I was thinking it’s like a kid kicking a seat on a plane. He’s not “hurting” you but he’s not making any friends and failure to stop him is reflecting poorly on the rest of the travel party.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I really like your point about how the LW may be interpreting her annoyance with Eric. Annoyance can definitely be a sign that two people aren’t compatible interpersonally. In that case, a good manager will set aside her annoyance and stay professional. It wouldn’t be reasonable to treat employees differently based on how much you like (or dislike) them.

      But that’s not the case here. The LW’s annoyance with Eric is providing her with useful information. If I was a customer dealing with Eric, I’d also be annoyed. If I was his colleague, being subjected to his antics 40 hours a week, I’d be super annoyed. And extra super annoyed because he seems to be getting away with being generally unpleasant and making other people’s jobs harder.

      1. No Longer Working*

        Yes! Imagine his coworkers when they learned he passed his PIP! “He… PASSED??? Oh no. Time for me to start looking elsewhere….”

        1. not a hippo*

          Yeah I quit over an Eric before. We all went to the manager (& I mean everyone, I’ve never seen that place united on ANYTHING except for the hatred for Eric) and she acted like his behavior was no big deal even though he was telling clients dangerously incorrect info and making disgusting remarks about other coworkers.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Building on this OP and Momma Bear, is definitely too far into feeling Eric’s failure at his job is her fault.
        OP, it is your responsibility to manage him. He is choosing to be a prick.
        He’s not “not succeeding in his role;” he is actively sabotaging his work.
        You are not his mother, his sister or his even his life partner (who’d probably have shown him the door!). His self destruction is not a reflection on your abilities.

  5. Observer*

    OP, I think that reframing the problem would be helpful.

    Firstly, as others have noted “malicious compliance” requires actual *compliance*. That’s not what is happening here at all.

    Secondly, I have no idea why you are calling his behavior “amped up customer service.” What he is doing does not qualify as even barely competent customer service, much less “amped up”. Any single one of these is a PROBLEM in customer service, and should be addressed. As a pattern? All of these things? Your customers probably don’t seem him as just “lacking in social sills” but obnoxious and / or incompetent. And I would be willing to bet that you’ve lost more than one customer over this.

    Try to skip the PIP, if HR will allow it, since your original PIP was for poor customer service and he’s back to absolutely *terrible* customer service. But if HR insists, you need to do two things. One is make the PIP much more stringent and allow for the possibility of ending his employment before the end of the PIP if you do not see immediate progress. Also, build in to the PIP a follow up. Like if he “passes” the PIP and then there is more than one occurrence of any poor customer service issue (cumulative – so one time he condescends to customers, the next time he lies to them, that counts), and he’s gone.

    1. Annony*

      Yeah. This isn’t him doing an exaggerated good job. This is him objectively doing his job badly while being annoyingly loud. He is lying to customers, not fixing their problems and taking too long to not do anything. Do not make it a point to give him extra recognition. That part makes no sense to me at all.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yes to all of this. As a customer, I would not enjoy interacting with him. At all.

    2. zuzu*

      If this guy’s customer service calls aren’t being recorded, why not?

      If they are, is OP reviewing them? OP only talks about hearing the employee’s end of things and guessing what the customers’ reaction is. Does she *know* how customers are reacting, other than the ones she has to deal with after he lies to them?

      If OP is reviewing them, why haven’t they been presented to HR as evidence of why he should be fired for being in violation of his PIP?

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Also, build in to the PIP a follow up. Like if he “passes” the PIP and then there is more than one occurrence of any poor customer service issue (cumulative – so one time he condescends to customers, the next time he lies to them, that counts), and he’s gone.

      I really like this idea. His behaviour seems to be very deliberate and given that he passed the previous PIP and it sounds as if he didn’t start this until he was off the PIP, it really does seem like he will do what is necessary to get off the PIP, then go back to doing exactly as he likes.

      If he was doing this to show he was doing a good job, but just lacked the social skills to realise that that is not how you go about it, I would expect it to happen while he was on the PIP and trying hard to make a good impression. If he waited until afterwards…that gives me a very different picture.

    4. Curious*

      When I took management training, they were very firm about the distinction between performance and behavior, with a PIP applicable to poor performance, not bad behavior. So, while taking an excessive time to address a customer’s problems can be a performance problem, promising things that can’t be delivered is less likely to be so. Lying about your whereabouts is straight up misbehavior — and thus subject to immediate discipline rather than a (another) PIP.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        This framing of the distinction between performance and behavior is very helpful to something I’ve been dealing with in my workplace. Thank you.

  6. Antilles*

    Customers probably view him more as someone who lacks social skills rather than as off-putting … from their perspective, he seems like he’s trying.
    I doubt it. Based on your first three examples, I suspect what customers are actually seeing is this:
    -Why am I being treated like a toddler rather than a professional adult?
    -Why do even my simplest issues take forever to solve?
    -Why can’t you live up to your promises?
    -Why does one employee says my issue was an easy fix, then someone else does a 180 to say it’s totally impossible?

    1. HonorBox*


      Had the same thought. If I was a customer and had someone speaking to me like I was a toddler, I wouldn’t be a customer long.

      1. pally*


        I’d also be lodging complaints for sure. I can deal with someone who may not be quick about meeting my needs. And there’s always going to be one instance where a promise cannot be kept. But being talked to like I was a child- nope! – that’s going to be brought to management/complaint department or whoever. The company WILL hear about it!

        1. Cat Tree*

          Lodging a complaint is the best case scenario. Most customers will just stop using the company and may even tell others not to use it.

    2. Becky*


      The quickest way to lose my business is to lie to me in any way shape or form. I can take being told “No” what I am asking isn’t possible. But if you lie to me about it? You have lost me forever as a customer.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I mean, I have definitely dealt with customers who cannot accept “no,” but they are, to a person, Erics. Not at all interested in behaving like an adult but very very invested in blowing up and demanding endless pampering from management.

        Erics in the workplace are a thousand times worse, because their behavior makes the customers hostile towards the workplace as a whole. Then another employee or manager comes along with no idea of what’s just transpired and gets hit with a ton of rage and frustration that they had no part in generating but now have to spend a ton of time and energy on trying to resolve.

    3. Expelliarmus*

      I guess he’s banking on his behavior making the company in general look bad, because he’s just that spiteful.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This makes sense. He’s miserable and has no issue with burning things to the ground.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          I’ve seen that type in production as well. Example, the lab gives him instruction to make an add to a batch. He said he did, and brings another sample. The sample passes, but he jokes about not doing what the quality lab said to do.

    4. Ace in the Hole*

      Same. I would be extremely unhappy with an employee treating me this way and anyplace that allowed it to continue would permanently lose my business.

      Especially the condescending tone… other things might be mistakes or rare unavoidable problems, but there’s no excuse for talking to me like I’m a preschooler.

    5. Bear Expert*

      That last one would drive me absolutely bananas as a customer.

      I can plan and adjust for problems to take time, be difficult, etc… but I lose my footing when the story keeps changing.

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      If I was a customer being treated this way I very much doubt I would think “oh, he’s trying.” I have been, and dealt with, plenty of people who clearly were sincerely trying but didn’t have the information/training to do what needed to be done. It was very, very obvious and usually resulted in a more experienced person handling the thing.

      Somebody talking to me like I’m a toddler, dragging out simple issues, promising things and not delivering, and hearing different things depending on who I talk to would never be classified under “trying.” They’d be filed under “I do not know WTF your problem is but I want to talk to someone who can do something about this, now.”

    7. TeapotNinja*

      I wonder what feedback would the customers give about his customer service, if there was a completely random customer feedback survey sent to everyone he serviced in the past few months.

  7. ecnaseener*

    LW, you seem to be feeling trapped by the “malicious compliance” angle of this -set that aside. Talking to customers like toddlers, taking too long, lying to them, these are problems that need to be corrected, full stop. It doesn’t matter if his previous PIP included being more pleasant/helpful to customers – you’re allowed to say both “stop being rude and unhelpful” AND “stop being condescending / lying.” There’s no contradiction there. If you can’t fire him right away, treat the new issues like serious issues, because they are. If he plays dumb about not being able to understand the correct level of helpfulness to be, so be it! he can’t meet the requirements of the position, he’s fired.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      The lying is even more reason to not do a PIP. You can’t do a PIP about an employee lying less.

      1. ecnaseener*

        You probably can when it’s just lying to customers and not to people at the company. Obviously it’s still very dicey to trust him at all, but in this case you can monitor his calls and fairly easy enforce a rule of not giving false info.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – this isn’t compliance, in any way, shape or form. He may think it is, but luckily, he’s not actually being compliant. Everything is, however, malicious. There’s plenty that is actionable here:
      – promising what he knows the business can’t deliver to DELLIBERATELY CREATE customer service issues and inconvenience his manager.
      – talking down to customers in a way that is going to offend people (and harm the business)
      – taking an excessively long time to resolve customer issues – which is going to cause customer dissatisfaction (and harm the business)
      – lying to people about his manager being absent – inconveniencing them and creating bottlenecks in processes.

      I think the OP can make a good business case for firing the guy – and they should.

    3. Miette*

      I think you’ve hit on an important distinction here–I think OP assumes this “malicious compliance” means on the surface it looks like he’s acting like a model employee, and you’re the one who can’t deal with the Tracy Flick of it all. But that’s not the case at all. If he can’t sustain the right tone with customers, then he’s not a good fit for the job, full stop.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      Yeah. I wouldn’t even get into the whole doing it deliberately to screw with the manager part. Not because I doubt that’s happening but because it’s inherently subjective and becomes a vector for argument. There is more than enough objective problems to justify immediately walking him. Especially since he doesn’t have a pristine track record to start with.

  8. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

    I’m sorry. If someone told me they don’t enjoy their job, I wouldn’t be so casual about it. I know he has many, larger, glaring issues, but I don’t know why this (in the last letter too!) is taken with a grain of salt by so many people.

    I don’t love my job either. It’s not the best job I’ve ever had by far…and I’ve had jobs I’ve actively hated…but you don’t tell people at work that! I know people who’ve been fired strictly for “not being happy” with their job, or not positive enough (I’m not talking about being a negative Nelly, stick-in-the-mud either). And while I don’t love it, it pays me better than what I was doing, doesn’t aggravate my physical injuries, and has a lot of other fringe benefits.

    This guy sounds EXHAUSTING.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      In isolation, I don’t think someone saying they don’t enjoy their job is that bad. If they’re doing a good job, customers are happy, not being a drag, then fine! If they admit semi-privately that overall, they don’t actually like the job, what should a supervisor/boss do? I don’t think firing them is the right answer.

      Of all the things to latch onto in this story, Eric saying he doesn’t enjoy the work is the least important piece.

    2. Bear Expert*

      So much this. Loving your job is extremely optional. -Doing- your job, and being civil to your colleagues is not optional.

  9. Sharkie*

    I have worked in call centers and in customer facing jobs for most of my career. I know the exact type of loud convos he is having with clients, and it is just as annoying to his coworkers as it is to you!

      1. Momma Bear*

        If management is worried about staffing, point out that he’s taking so long it probably wouldn’t hurt productivity for others to pitch in since he’s doing terrible at what he does do anyway. AND getting rid of someone obnoxious could save you from losing Better Employee two cubes over who can’t stand him.

        1. MsM*

          Not to mention all the time being wasted trying to deal with the false information he’s giving out.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I would hands-down rather do more actual work than put up with someone like this, or watch while management dilly-dallied over firing someone like this.

    1. b-reezy*

      Same, I worked in call center tech support and know the exact crap he’s pulling. We all hated those people and so did our customers. I can’t recount every single instance I had helping someone where they would comment “oh the last person took forever to fix this issue last time!” and it was always the same couple of people.

    2. HonorBox*

      Yep. Don’t let this become a missing stair situation. Get him out before it becomes the norm that this is acceptable.

  10. Just Another Zebra*

    This isn’t even malicious compliance. It’s just being a jerk.

    I think first, OP, you need to shift from thinking it’s a personal issue. Like Alison said, this is 100% a business and management problem. The guy needs to be fired. If management insists on a PIP… well, I’d actually use his current behavior as a jumping off point. This is his reaction to the PIP, and it is detrimental to the business. If they don’t want an out-and-out firing, maybe having a single convo where you lay out “you must not do XYZ, or you will be fired” will pacify management so when he puts a toe out of line, you have some teeth to just fire him then.

  11. Madame X*

    He’s vocal about his disdain for the job, he’s condescending to customers, wastes their time, and he is generally on pleasant to work with. It sounds like he wants to be fired!

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Based on what? Employment law cases are long and arduous. You don’t just file and the company writes you a huge check. We are talking years. Discovery will show the firing was more than justified. I am sure the other employees who have to hear this crap will be more than happy to testify about what working with him was actually like.

        No, he’s just miserable and wants to be fired so he can say SEE EVERYONE DOES HATE ME, but he won’t actually DO anything about it.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          A trial will cost the company a lot of money. Most companies will settle without admitting fault, as long as the former employee signs a release when they get the settlement.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        Unless he’s a protected class he would have no claim to wrongful termination. It’s unlikely a lawyer would even take him on as a client.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          And even if he is a member of a protected class, he could still be fired, with perfect justification.

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            Yes of course.

            I meant that he would not be being fired for being a member of a protected class which would be the only way he’d stand a chance of suing for wrongful termination. Or I supposed being a whistle blower but we know neither of those things are the case here.

        2. Anonon*

          I agree that he has no chance of a successful suit based on what is in the letter but just wanted to point out that he is in a protected class, because everyone is. The class isn’t “female” it is gender, e.t.c

          This is why the bar to suing isn’t membership but being able to demonstrate that you are being disciplined or harassed because of that membership

      3. Khatul Madame*

        Yes, I agree that Eric most likely would no case, but… entitlement this size often comes with a side of delusions.

  12. Dr.Vibrissae*

    LW, you say that the customers probably think he’s just trying hard, but have you directly asked when you have had to deal with the un-deliverable promises he’s, made? Like specifically asked for feedback on his behavior/service on the phone? Because I would be enraged by being talked to like a child, lied to, and forced to stay on the phone for long periods to get a simple problem fixed. I wouldn’t care if it was incompetence or malice. It’s unlikely I would share that feedback beyond voicing frustration but it would absolutely taint my view of the service and my likelihood of continuing with the business (if I had a choice).

    The next time you have to deal with one of these issues that he caused, could you ask about the experience directly? Comments from customers about their negative impressions could help your case for firing.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Great idea – getting customer feedback would be a good way of demonstrating that the employee needs to be dismissed.

  13. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    He’s lying to your customers – not only that, he has a pattern of lying to your customers. And while telling them you’re in a meeting when you’re actually at lunch may be relatively harmless (either way you’re not available at the moment), when he promises things to customers he knows you (as a company) can’t deliver on, that’s actively harmful.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Honestly, I’d be very concerned about someone who lies about such banal stuff. There is *no reason* to lie about where the LW is. Like, I can intellectually understand why people lie about stuff – looking good, avoiding punishment, shame, etc. – but lying for the fun of it / to mess with people is a whole different thing.

  14. AppleStan*

    OP, I agree strongly with Alison’s advice — he simply needs to go.

    19 of your 20 direct reports who are PART-TIME EMPLOYEES are awesome…but this one PART-TIME employee is exhausting you to the point that YOU “need” to find another job?


    If you don’t already have actual documentation of these examples (your own written notes with dates/times/etc., copies of phone recordings with customers (if you have them)), then start documenting immediately, if your HR is going to require it. But honestly…you’ve spent probably 3 times as long dealing with an experienced employee as you would spend training a new one.

    Having been a colleague of someone similar, I can tell you that you are going to lose your good quality people if Eric stays around…because trust me, they are being affected by him, even if they don’t bring it to your attention.

    Final Note — before he is terminated from his employment, ensure that your IT department is fully prepared to do a “hard revoke” of all of his system access and grant you or someone access to his systems/emails/hard drives. Meaning while you all are in the termination meeting with Eric, his access in any way shape or form needs to be completely disabled. I agree with the above commenter — Eric sounds like a “Shrimp Shells in the Curtain Rod” kinda person.

    1. Observer*

      inal Note — before he is terminated from his employment, ensure that your IT department is fully prepared to do a “hard revoke” of all of his system access and grant you or someone access to his systems/emails/hard drives.

      Also, make sure that you have an extra layer of backup for *everything* he touches starting *today*. Because he’s likely to be even more malicious on his way out, or if he sees the writing on the wall.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Coming here to say this. He’s the PITA who hates his job but YOU want to quit? He’s warping your norms making you doubt yourself. Its right there in your letter, you think he is complying when he actively sabotaging YOU and the company. He makes you deliver the bad news so you are the bad guy, not him. You think this is a personality issue when its just this guy is a jerk who is really, really, really bad at his job. You know this. You do. Because you said if he were a new hire he would make it past the probationary period. Making it past the probationary period does not make one unfireable.

      Fire him. Today. You will feel better. The rest of your reports will be feel better. I bet you don’t even notice any change in workload since he is not doing his job anyway.

  15. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    – speaking to customers like he’s addressing a classroom of three-year-olds
    – taking an excessively long time to solve simple customer problems
    – promising things to customers we can’t deliver on, such as telling them something won’t be a problem to fix when we can’t fix it at all (and then letting me have the difficult conversation with them)

    Any one of those alone is enough to fire him.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yep. Your customers don’t want to deal with a slow, unskilled, condescending liar. Any one of those would have me spitting tacks as a customer. All three? I would find another vendor.

  16. Throwaway Account*

    I hope you are able to fire this person OP. I’m sorry, it all sounds miserable and I would want to avoid addressing this with him too. But that might be part of the problem, I’m not his manager so I get to avoid him.

    Others pointed out the impact this might be having on customers.

    I’m wondering what the other employees think of all this, they are working hard and this guy gets several chances to keep his job? Is he being paid less than the rest of them?

    I think you have to take action, right away. Look for things in the files that he has caused problems with, get HR to move things toward firing, and make sure your good employees see you as on top of things.

  17. MsSolo (UK)*

    If they push for another PIP, focus hard on the lying to customers, especially lying about your availability (because that’s easier to prove) and giving them false information about how fixable issues are. It demonstrates that he can’t be relied on to act in good faith, because he isn’t talking to customers in good faith (and I strongly suspect how he treats customers is going to carry more weight than how he treats his colleagues). If you can acquire some customer complaints against him, especially where he’s passed them on to you after promising them nonsense, that will lend weight as well. You don’t have to go fishing for them if your centre records calls, just make a note of when customers express frustration with him or make it clear that he lied to them so you can refer back to the calls later as evidence.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Wait. “Lying” about being in a meeting versus lunch is the smallest issue here. People make this error all of the time and don’t even realize it. “oh I thought you were off today, sorry” type stuff

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        But it’s easy to prove – if he says she’s off sick when they’ve already spoken that day, it’s an obvious lie. The work-based lies are likely to trigger an “oh, he needs refresher training” which prolongs the issue, whereas lying about your manager’s availability can’t be trained away.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          You can’t really prove that someone was lying instead of just mistaken over something like that. It makes much more sense to focus on the things that are still very much poor customer service if trying to make a case for firing him: speaking to them condescendingly, taking too long to solve their problems, and promising things that cannot be delivered.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        I’m going to give OP credit here to suggest she wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t enough of a pattern to stand out. And consistently doing it — particularly saying that she was sick instead of out to lunch — is weird, off-putting, and potentially going to cause her difficulties (it could keep customers from trying to contact here later in the day and end up making her look unavailable and unresponsive). In context it comes across as a significant lack of communication skills with customers.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I have said my supervisor was in a meeting when she was at lunch because certain patrons will attempt to demand I interrupt her break for things that are definitely not emergencies. They give me a lot less guff if they think she’s doing something professional vs. just eating. (She’s salaried, yes, but I’m still not interrupting her break because somebody woke up on the entitled side of the bed this morning.)

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, I’ve done this as well. This could be done in good conscience, so I wouldn’t bring up this specific example. I’d just say “No lying to customers”, and if I’m looking for PIP violations, the lunch thing becomes and easy one.

        But I’m with Alison- skip the PIP on this. He only complied enough to keep his job, not enough to actually improve.

      2. I Have RBF*

        That’s what I call a white lie. The truth would be “She’s not currently available, call back in an hour.” But he is saying “Oh, she’s out sick today” when you are just away at lunch. One is a nebulous truth, the other is a weird form of sandbagging. Yes, his lies form a pattern of sandbagging you and the rest of your team. He needs to go.

  18. Lemon Zinger*

    I worked with a woman who did all of these things. She had a hugely negative impact on clients and the people who worked with her. We lost multiple colleagues because they couldn’t stand her. She was moved to a less customer-facing role but the new role came with an office and that inflated her sense of self-importance. Unfortunately her manager was very reluctant to discipline her. It took her colleagues going over her manager’s head for them to say “Shelly, it’s not a good fit. You can resign or you will be terminated.” She resigned.

    Of course I disagreed with the “fit” thing because she was literally not doing her job the way it needed to be done. That is what’s happening with Eric. He’s not complying. He’s being malicious. He needs to go.

  19. HonorBox*

    OP, setting aside being condescending to customers, which is a HUGE issue itself, he’s making work more difficult for you and his co-workers. If you and likely others are having to clean up his messes, he’s not doing his job. It isn’t that he’s not doing his job well. He’s just not doing it. The amount of time and headaches you’ll save yourself and your team by letting him go will be drastic.

    Malicious compliance can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but to me, it reads as doing everything by the book, nothing more and nothing less. But it does involve actually doing the job. He is doing none of that.

  20. kiki*

    I think LW might be getting a bit hung up on Eric’s attitude towards customers isn’t as abysmal as it used to be but not realizing he’s still delivering super poor customer support. It’s just bad in a different way. These two are pretty bad:

    – taking an excessively long time to solve simple customer problems
    – promising things to customers we can’t deliver on

    The other ones may fall more into malicious compliance/annoying but not definitively poor performance, but those two are actually plenty bad on their own.

    1. Observer*

      The other ones may fall more into malicious compliance/annoying but not definitively poor performance, but those two are actually plenty bad on their own.

      Nope, those are also objective customer service problems. Generally speaking talking to adults like they are toddlers is flat out rude. That is an objective customer service problem.

      Telling white lies that make it sound like the OP is out is also an objectively bad customer service issue. Not as bad as the others, but that’s not a really high bar.

  21. Prospect Gone Bad*

    OK I will be the “I sort (but not totally) disagree with everyone” person here. I think this is the type of letter than is going to generate a lot of one-direction comments, based on how it’s written. But just saying “Eric bad based on three paragraphs” isn’t actually that useful when you’re the manager or director.

    I really want to know what was in that PIP that made Eric act like this. I know it’s not popular these days to do this sort of introspection, but are you 100% sure there wasn’t something in there that could be viewed as petty, unnecessary, or just harshly written? Not from your perspective, but from the perspective of someone being placed on the PIP?
    I mean, it seems like there must’ve been a criticism or two that wasn’t based in reality if Eric so vehemently disagreed with it. Maybe you took a specific example from the past and then worded it in a way that was too generic to be actionable?

    As per speaking to a room of 3-year olds. I lead meetings and sometimes I have to dumb it down and dumb it down to the point that it feels like I am doing that, but the other parties don’t see it that way and think I finally stopped being “technical” and started speaking normally. Are you 100% sure you’re not just thinking the speech pattern is condescending, because you’ve mastered the work from your end and it all seems so simple, but may not seem simple to a customer?

    I am not sure why those white lies matter to you.

    TBH I am chuckling a bit at his not wanting to commiserate with the difficult task. Again, TBH, I see both sides. I manage and lead meetings. I will listen to people complain about something for months, but at a certain point, I need to chime in and ask “is it really THAT bad?” or “are you doing anything to change it at all?” Of course no one can really judge this one perfectly because we don’t know the task.

    Main issue I see is the “promising things we can’t deliver.” I would have separate/direct meetings on those each time it happens.

    Lastly, I am taken aback at the mention of gender here. You work in a creative field, in 2023. A woman manager doing creative work was hardly groundbreaking even in the 90s. It reads like you’re putting up barriers to prevent an honest evaluation of what went wrong with Eric.

    In general I’ve found that the way to prevent things from happening again is to always look if I had any part in the thing. Even if it’s 10% me and 90% the other person, I find that if I don’t do the 10%, their 90% magically gets much smaller

    One more point, are you making yourself very approachable and open to discuss problems and the PIP itself? I feel like many letters can be solved with open communication (I know, boring) but some of this stuff shouldn’t have happened or festered. The fact that you see the work so differently from a subordinate means there was a breakdown along the lines. Again, doesn’t mean it was your fault. But you need to make efforts to fix it and prevent it in the future.

    1. cardigarden*

      I’m not OP, but 2 points: I understood “talking to a room of 3 year olds” as actually using Preschool Teacher Voice, and I have a report that absolutely hates working under me because I’m a woman. And I work in LIBRARIES. Longstanding gender diversity in an industry means absolutely nothing if you’ve got someone with that kind of attitude problem.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        That was my interpretation too. “Oh, of course we can help you, Mrs. X. We all just love helping our customers” sort of thing.

    2. Chipmunk*

      Misogyny happens even in fields dominated by women. Fwiw, I’m a woman in a creative field and I have definitely had male designers condescend to me.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      You work in a creative field, in 2023.

      Yeah, and? Misogyny didn’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight on December 31, 2022.

    4. Sprigatito*

      The point here isn’t that she’s a woman in a field with a lot of women, the point is that she’s a woman in charge of a man who thinks HE should be in charge. No matter what kind of work you’re in, if you’re female and in management you’re going to get men who automatically assume you’re incompetent just because of your gender.

    5. Fluffy Fish*

      So when provided examples of poor behavior, your response is to…blame OP?

      Nope. There is no justification for the following behavior.

      Eric is telling clients things can be fixed that can’t.
      Eric is taking an inordinate amount of time to solve problems.
      Eric is talking down to clients.

      Bad employees exists. We read about them all the time.

      We also believe letter writers here. Implying that a grown man’s behavior is somehow the fault of their (female) manger is a a pretty gross take.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        “Eric is telling clients things can be fixed that can’t.” this is the main one to focus on.

        As per what I wrote, we don’t know it’s condescending on the other end of the phone. Of course a manager presumably in a field for decades is going to think a basic explanation sounds that way. But as I wrote, I have 20+ years experience and often get to the point we talk like that because to the other party – that’s what they can handle, because a lot of the information is new-to-them. They don’t know all of the intricacies on our end. So the point of my comment is that the truth is most likely in the middle. I highly doubt Eric is literally using baby voice or talking to the customer like they are dumb, I’ve been working closely with QA and call center departments since 2010 and that’s just not a thing.

        As per “So when provided examples of poor behavior, your response is to…blame OP?”

        Two things:

        1) you have to stop looking at this as “blame” or someone being bad so they need punishment. OP presumably wants the situation to change, not just to blame. If letter writers just want to complain and not get feedback, they’d post on a blog
        2) It’s not even “blaming” OP. I am trying NOT to look at these in a vacuum. Yes we can take one thing and say “OMG that’s the worst thing ever fire them now!” But most employees and managers and presumably most of us here, are mixed bags. They do some things really well, some things poorly, they occasionally hit it out of the park, they occasionally fumble. I’m not going to take someone’s losses and highlight them and ignore the rest

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Are you serious right now? I too have 20+ years of experience. And?

          You know who had the relevant experience and knowledge in this situation? OP. The person who is in the situation. Who has been this persons manager. Who is not having a problem with any other employee. I have full faith that OP can judge how Eric is behaving to clients – its absurd to claim that just maybe OP doesn’t understand. Even if we entertain that ridiculous comment – the other issues are fireable in themselves.

          You are absolutely blaming OP. Saying you aren’t doesn’t change the material of what you wrote.

          It’s not about punishment. That’s not a supervisors role. They arent a parent and no one is getting sent to the principals office. It’s about what is the appropriate way to manage an employee. It is FULLY appropriate to fire an employee who is displaying continued problems adequately doing their job after all attempts to improve have failed. Eric is not doing his job. Eric has had trouble doing his job previously.

          We believe letter writers. Nothing you have said is anything other than not taking OP at their word.

            1. OP*

              Look, I question myself about this situation all the time- that’s why I wrote in. This situation is nuanced and I cannot capture the full picture of what is going on. I appreciate the discourse, so here’s some clarifying information:

              When I say “a classroom of 3 year olds” I don’t mean condescending- toddlers are people, too. I mean a caricature of what you would imagine to be a teacher of toddlers.

              If he is disrespectful or an error is made, when brought to his attention, the blame is shifted to me in such a way that I start to wonder if I am actually the problem, so I back off. It is subtle, it is generally publicly done, and he always sounds nervously caught off guard- NOT in a way that could be perceived as disingenuous by an outsider. Suddenly, I am the bad guy, and a bad manager, for calling out behavior that is ultimately a result of my own failing. This has happened many times, to me and specifically other WOMEN. No men have complained of this happening to them, but some have observed it happening to women.

              As a manager, I am always trying to make sure my employees are well-informed, well-trained, and than I am managing them is a style that meets them where they’re at, but I’m not perfect. Recently, I find myself focusing on all my failings and actively working to fix them even when 19/20 employees are very receptive to my current management style.

              After reading Alison’s response and all your comments, I now see that I’ve provided more for Eric than I have for any other employee, by a long shot. No matter what I say or how I say it, the end result continues to be the same: Eric cannot or will not do this job the way it needs to be done.

              One last thing: generally I do not find it helpful to dismiss someone’s lived experiences- but it can do irreparable damage. I do not tell people a task “is not that hard,” because I do not know everyone’s particular set of challenges. And what’s easy for you may be hard for me. As a manager (and as a human!) I am not here to pass judgement, I am here to provide support and be a resource, and make the workplace an enjoyable place to be.

              1. Snell*

                In your letter and through your responses, I do get the sense that you have a distorted view of the matter—seeing malicious compliance where there’s bald-faced noncompliance, thinking that customers see Eric as socially inept, when it’s more likely they think he (and other employees of your company) are professionally inept. It’s good to see that you’ve gained some clarity with the gut check provided by Alison and the comments.

                I will also note that when people say that treating customers like 3-yos is condescending, they don’t mean that you (nonspecific you, not OP-you) treat 3-yos badly. The reason people talk to 3-yos so gently and in very simple terms is because 3-yos are very new people. Presumably, your customers are not very new people, most if not all of them are full adults, and don’t need to be held by the hand to feel safe. You do all that for 3-yos because they need it. It’s not wrong to be new and inexperienced, which is what 3-yos are to the most basic aspects of living and existing in this world, but they still need the help and guidance of adults. It is insulting to do to a grown adult who doesn’t need it, because it presumes they’re at the competence of a 3-yo.

              2. Doc McCracken*

                OP, It can really mess with your head when someone is very gifted at gaslighting. That is what this employee is doing. He is gaslighting you and eroding your confidence and the morale of your entire department. His behavor is a cancer. Cut it out and fast before it kills your entire department. And don’t be surprised if your other employees throw a potluck after he is walked out the door.

                1. Ellie*

                  Yes, this is gaslighting to the nth degree. OP, I wouldn’t blame you for just wanting to be done with it all, but I’d make a case to your manager about whether you can do an immediate termination, and make it clear that you are thinking about leaving if you think it will help. This guy is toxic, he’s got you second guessing yourself. Write down a list of everything that he has done badly since the end of the PIP, including his attitude, and see if that gains some traction.

              3. Fluffy Fish*

                OP – you are 100% valid and in the right here. Prospect is off the rails with their advice.

                Not only that but it’s pretty clear you are a good manager – bad managers don’t self-reflect.

                Go and fire Eric and be at peace with it.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          Dude with a track record of poor performance continues to behave weirdly including telling customers things that aren’t true in several different ways. But you’re here to explain that it’s because the manager didn’t handle him gently enough and if she just made more of an attempt to understand him it would all work out. Screw that.

          There is little here to suggest that Eric is a good fit for the job.

        3. Darastrix*

          “I’ve been working closely with QA and call center departments since 2010 and that’s just not a thing.”

          As someone who works in a CS team for an answering service, I can assure you it IS a thing and worse behaviour on the lines are ALSO a thing.

          We have had agents CALL CUSTOMERS NAMES, not bother to read out the answer phrase and just say they can’t hear the person and hang up (um, you didn’t give them an opening to reply to, so of course they didn’t say anything), tell the caller to ‘calm down,’ when the caller was a doctor calling in for info that was not taken or taken incorrectly (we answer for medical offices), and had a caller complain that the agent who took their call sounded drunk or high.

          An agent talking down to a caller like they’re lacking in intelligence or babytalking them? Yeah, I can absolutely believe that it can and does happen.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I had somebody call me from my phone provider to try and sell me an upgrade. I told them that a) I was not in the market for a new phone and b) the “deal” they were offering was significantly higher than what I was currently paying and they interrupted me to say, in a tone as if from a principal to a student, “once I’ve finished you’ll realise the benefits,” then when I continued to refuse, started to quiz me about why I wasn’t buying it, in a tone of “justify your decision here.”

            I don’t know why I didn’t hang up; I think I was just too utterly stunned. I did e-mail my provider to complain because I was concerned that somebody could be bullied into accepting.

            But yeah, they may not have spoken to me like they were a preschool teacher, but they did speak to me like I was a recalcitrant teenager who needed to be told what was good for them.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        ‘I think this guy is being sexist’

        ‘Have you tried being nicer to him? Or considered that the fault is on your end?’

        Absolutely never fails that with any woman who complains about a jackass there’ll be a ‘but consider HIS feelings!’ response. We even saw it on that post about a guy caught jacking off in his office!

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Seriously. I have never seen so many mental gymnastics to explain why the little lady manager is maybe just not understanding poor wittle Eric.

        2. Pippa K*

          It. Never. Fails.

          More constant than the speed of light, more pervasive than the aroma of curtain-rod shrimp, it’s the most tiresome superhero, Manexcuser Man.

    6. Observer*

      I know it’s not popular these days to do this sort of introspection, but are you 100% sure there wasn’t something in there that could be viewed as petty, unnecessary, or just harshly written? Not from your perspective, but from the perspective of someone being placed on the PIP?

      Why is this relevant. There are a lot of situations where this question would be relevant. But even if the PIP were completely full of picky, petty, and / or overly harsh statements it still would not justify this kind of behavior. Full stop.

      I mean, it seems like there must’ve been a criticism or two that wasn’t based in reality if Eric so vehemently disagreed with it.

      In what world does that even make sense. There are LEGIONS of people who simply don’t accept perfectly legitimate feedback. Given the terrible behavior being described here, it would be totally unsurprising to find out that Eric is one of them.

      You work in a creative field, in 2023. A woman manager doing creative work was hardly groundbreaking even in the 90s.

      And? If you *genuinely* believe that sexism and misogyny don’t exist “in a creative field in 2023”. I have a bridge to sell you. Also, I would point you to the enormous amount of documentation we have that the problems exist. (MeToo didn’t come out of a lack of misogyny, including in the creative fields.)

      1. Pippa K*

        Yeah, that comment has a certain…familiar ring to it.

        The “couldn’t be sexism” claim is so tiresome I’m going to respond on the off chance Prospect Gone Bad is open to hearing this: sexism is still present in woman-dominated professions or workplaces. It often gets reflected and perpetuated by power structures (disproportionately men in leadership roles, pay disparities, workplace culture, etc.). It’s also still part of society generally so still shapes, for example, some people’s attitudes toward women in authority positions. And last but not least, people who’ve experienced sexism in a lot of settings for a lot of years are often quite expert and spotting when it is and isn’t happening, so if a woman says “this ongoing pattern of behavior from this person I regularly interact with seems driven by sexism to a degree,” I would bet my 82 cents to your dollar that she’s right.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          I’ll chime in too although I wont be holding my breath Prospect here will be interested.

          Sexism, like other isms, often isn’t blatant. Its not men loudly announcing that they think women are dumb. It’s subtle. Its tone, and context. It’s often cloaked in plausible identity – oh THAT’s not what I meant.

          Women experience it all the time. Seriously. All the time. At work, at play, by people we love, by society as a whole. We know what it looks like and feels like

          Because you don’t experience it and it doesn’t look like what you *think* it does doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

          When someone tells you theres sexism (or any ism) at play and you dont see it – thats a learning experience for you. Not for you to tell them its not real.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The best way to fix and prevent it in future is to get rid of this annoying, loud, condescending liar. Simple fix.

    8. Irish Teacher*

      I mean, it seems like there must’ve been a criticism or two that wasn’t based in reality if Eric so vehemently disagreed with it.
      I don’t think this is necessarily true. There are people who vehemently disagree with any criticism of them even if it is 100% accurate. A colleague of mine once told me she saw a student kicking another student right in front of her. He then got mad and almost threatening with her because he insisted he had not been kicking the other student and she was lying about seeing it. That’s an extreme case and from a teen rather than an adult, but I’ve seen plenty of other examples, some from adults.

      I guess it’s possible there was something in the PIP that wasn’t actionable or that wasn’t 100% accurate, but it’s also possible that Eric is just an unreasonable person who can’t take correction and given the full account we’ve been given, I’d be inclined to suspect the latter. Somebody who lies about the LW’s availability and makes promises they know can’t be kept isn’t somebody I’d trust when it comes to their disagreement with a PIP.

      1. Antilles*

        I agree. There’s plenty of people who vehemently disagree with completely legitimate criticism.

        But frankly, even if the PIP *did* include a criticism that was off-base or unfair, Eric’s reaction is still completely wrong. Even if he has a legitimate beef with the PIP, there’s no justification for Eric starting to being condescending to customers, taking unreasonable amount of time to do simple tasks, providing wrong information to customers, and telling white lies.

    9. Pippa K*

      I can’t think of many things I hate with a more fiery passion than someone telling a woman that if a man is mad at her and behaving badly, (1) he probably has his reasons, (2) those reasons are probably her fault, and (3) she should try to be more “approachable.” This would be a bad take on a social relationship, let alone one where he’s a dishonest, underperforming employee and she’s his actual boss.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, it’s a response a lot of women (myself included) have heard ad nauseam and sometimes in extremely traumatic circumstances.

        We’re tired of this. So very tired.

      2. Texan In Exile*

        And the “TBH I am chuckling a bit” part.

        Because Oh bless LW’s sweet heart she’s just too dumb to know better.

      3. Doc McCracken*

        I join you in your fiery passion of hatred. I love how men behaving badly probably have reasons but a woman could be going through literal hell and we dare not show a shred of emotion lest we be unprofessional.

    10. Elizabeth West*


      Full disclosure — due to a bunch of changes at Toxic OldExJob that were really hard to adapt to, I ended up on a PIP. There were a few things in it I disagreed with, including one blatantly WTF thing, but you know what I did? I made all the suggested changes and, more to the point, I kept up that level of performance.

      Eric is not only not doing this, he is going OUT OF HIS WAY to be a complete douche nozzle. That’s totally on him. He’s already been given guidance and has failed to implement it — he doesn’t need any more.

      I’m not saying there’s no room for examination — any time you have an employee situation like this, it doesn’t hurt to scrutinize anything that may have enabled the issue, but your comment, particularly the skepticism about sexism, is not coming off well at all. Perhaps you should examine that yourself.

      The company can do an evaluation of what went wrong with Eric after his annoying ass is gone.

    11. Not Today, Satan*

      I’ll just say I’m glad I don’t work with you, because your response comes off as condescending and entitled.

    12. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      “I am not sure why those white lies matter to you.”

      Eric said something could be fixed that could not be. That is not a white lie. That is a complete misreprentation of the company’s ability to address the issue. It is VERY serious that could have long term and possibly even legal repercussions.

      White lies are when you tell your best friend you love her new haircut when it is actually hideous. Complete misrepresentations about a company or a product are not white lies.

      1. ChemistryChick*

        I believe the white lies Prospect is referring to are where OP says Eric is saying she’s sick or on vacation when she’s really just at lunch.

        Doesn’t change the fact that Prospect’s replies are out of line for all the reasons everyone’s already pointing out, though.

    13. Cherries Jubilee*

      “There must’ve been a criticism or two that wasn’t based in reality if Eric so vehemently disagreed with it” –
      What?? This statement is bonkers. It’s your view that no one is ever unreasonable?

    14. Pink Candyfloss*

      Eric is an adult and Eric is choosing his behaviors with intention.

      Nothing on any piece of paper or written PIP has “made” Eric make the choices Eric is making.

      Poor judgement is making Eric make the choices Eric is making.

      Not any wording in a PIP.

    15. Unlucky*

      Yep. These were my thoughts exactly.

      For what it’s worth, my two cents is that it seems OP has formed a negative opinion about Eric, will view most or all of his work and actions in a negative light, and there’s probably nothing he can do to change that, especially as him passing the PIP seems to be an inconvenience for OP, which isn’t great. I’d advise OP talk to Eric and try and rebuild the relationship. You can motivate most employees into improved performance without resorting to disciplinary action.

      Eric may just be difficult, but that’s pretty unusual when you need to work to survive.

  22. LoV...*

    “promising things to customers we can’t deliver on, such as telling them something won’t be a problem to fix when we can’t fix it at all (and then letting me have the difficult conversation with them)”

    This is especially bad and worthy of sanction or outright firing even if this was the only thing he was doing wrong.

  23. Ellis Bell*

    Let’s say for a moment that it isn’t malicious (even though it definitely is, and it definitely isn’t any kind of compliance). Okay then, he gets to have it described as significant incompetence. You asked him to improve customer service and his idea of that looks like patronising and lying to people while working very slowly. You asked him to improve relationships with colleagues and he’s dropping them in it and pretending away issues. Plus he has no idea how to prevent simple problems down the line for others just by being honest and sincere. I would put very little effort into explaining any of this to him (he is dying to show just how much plausible deniability he’s got in his back pocket, so simply just don’t make any case he can answer to) just say the improvement isn’t good and you’re not sure how to explain the job to someone who’s being doing it so long without getting it. Also OP, you’re on his team too – it’s okay to be bugged by his being shit to you as part of his team. That’s a professionalism issue!

  24. Keymaster of Gozer*

    He’s one of those who absolutely LOVE to behave badly and when confronted on it say things like ‘but I was just doing my job!’ or ‘but you didn’t specifically TELL me not to talk down to customers!’ and they are NOT suited for customer service at all.

    Someone who is always looking for the next boundry to rub up against in an annoying fashion isn’t going to get any better. He’s doing the employee equivalent of hovering a finger next to your sibling and going ‘I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!’

    Get rid of him and I guarantee the rest of the team will breathe a sigh of relief.

    1. Properlike*

      Yep, I’ve met this kind of guy in the personal world too. Not sure why people are so confused in recognizing, or so eager to explain away, narcissistic/sociopathic behavior. Even after you point out the pattern.

      These guys can go for years because they LOVE the chaos.

      1. ferrina*

        Right?! They do not change. I’ve met both men and women that do this. It leads to the weirdest situations, like when I had to explain to a 30-year-old why it’s rude to talk over people or why a 70-year old didn’t understand why it was rude to talk at someone for 5 minutes then walk away when that person started to respond. Both claimed ignorance of the social faux pas, yet when the same thing happened to them, they understood perfectly well how rude it was.

        1. Properlike*

          They. Do. Not. Change.

          Those are the key words here.

          They may seem to change, temporarily… but only when it’s to their own benefit. But then they get revenge for being made to alter their behavior.

          Then they gloat.

          Those who defend the behavior or suggest it’s a YOU problem should also be considered suspect.

          1. ferrina*

            They may seem to change, temporarily

            Yes! I knew one guy that was conducted all his “changes” on a predictable cycle:
            Week 1: Enthusiastic growth. Praise him mightily! (he will not stop talking about how great he is for making the change that 1-2 times this week)
            Week 2: Performative struggle so you know how valiantly he was trying (praise him mightily!)
            Week 3: He had a headache/was tired/had a big project at work, and he couldn’t’ possibly deal with that and the change at the same time, could he?
            Week 4: Never mention it again. If you bring it up, immediately DARVO or revert to Week 3 tactics.

            This was always done on a perfect schedule. There was never any variation. He wouldn’t struggle mightily on Week 1, he’d never have a headache on Week 2 or sustain the change through Week 4. It took me years to catch on, but once I did, it was impossible not to see.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes, this is the “there’s no rule that dogs CAN’T play basketball” taken to tiresome and ridiculous extremes. There’s no rule forbidding Eric to fall down manholes either, but I’m guessing he doesn’t skip past the orange cones to plunge downwards.

    3. Mister_L*

      I once worked with what can best described as a gropey IRL spongebob squarepants.
      Since he was only going to work for a couple months before going to university, management didn’t bother putting a stop to that guy.

      Everyone was glad, when he finally left and I’m pretty sure, at least one person who had to work with him considered quitting instead of sitting it out.

  25. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    LW, I’m confused as to why you are considering leaving instead of just firing this guy.

    He is the problem, not you, and he is a BUSINESS problem. He is actively harming the business and that is enough to let him go.

    Fire him.

    1. pally*

      I had a difficult employee, and I had this issue as well.

      Speaking just for myself, the notion of firing someone really scared me. I assumed firing was reserved for persons who were stealing or doing active sabotage and the like. Also, you hear about lawsuits over firing people. I sure didn’t want that to happen. Figured I just had to grin and bear it (hey, managers aren’t going to like every person they manage). It was a very stressful ordeal. I seriously believed the only way to solve things was to quit.

      But we generated a whole lot of documentation that the person I managed was not doing their assigned tasks, was extremely unreliable, was causing issues with other employees.

      Then she decided to willfully ignore an important assignment. She cut coupons instead (back in the day when plentiful coupons were part of the Sunday paper). All. Day. Long. My boss told HR she was gone.

      Next day, we fired her.

  26. Lobsterman*

    I think it’s REALLY funny this guy hasn’t been fired yet. Where are these jobs where I can tell my boss that I hate the job and intend to do it poorly and not be fired on the spot?

  27. Gigi*

    I wish managers in general were getting more training on the difference between conduct and performance. A PIP is so often treated as a go-to for all problems, when really it should be confined to performance issues. If you are struggling to do your job well, a PIP would, in theory, give you the tools you need to improve and succeed. If you’re just acting like a jackwagon, that’s a conduct issue and managers should go straight to counseling with an outline of consequences if the behavior doesn’t stop.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Good point, I agree but would word it differently. I think a manager needs to think about whether they just want the person gone, or are OK with them staying if they change. If you actually want them to stay, in cases like this, PIP isn’t the way in this sort of case. A direct conversation about WHY is what is needed. Eric isn’t dumb, he knows what he’s doing, and there is a reason for it. Even if it’s a dumb or unprofessional reason. It doesn’t need to be confrontational. To the contrary, it will actually be more productive and you’ll get the info you actually want if you play up to their concerns and treat them like a horse that wants to be petted instead of a bad person needing reprimanding.

      You also need a vision on how your relationship is like after the BS stops. Can you as a manager visualize that? If not, that may be part of the problem. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t even explain to the employee what success looks like.

      1. Properlike*

        I disagree. This is the “just ignore him and he’ll get tired of it and move on” method of management.

        It never works.

        See also: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

        If you are, as you claim, so high-level that you have special insight, and remotely interested in self-improvement, then I suggest you have a good think about how effective you really are at your job.

        Guys like this make a game out of how close to the line they can get. They depend on the inaction and “understanding” of others who are frequently not directly involved.

        If you love him so much, you hire him.

        1. I Have RBF*

          This is the “just ignore him and he’ll get tired of it and move on” method of management.

          It never works.

          It doesn’t work for dealing with bullies and it doesn’t work for managers dealing with crappy, aggressive, sandbagging employees.

    2. Bear Expert*

      I have managed at companies where basically zero firings occurred without doing a prePIP and then a PIP, and then offering a mutual separation, and then a final warning and then a firing.

      I think if an employee had assaulted someone on company property maybe that would shorten the process? But for anything that didn’t require a police response, you did the hoops. Egregious behavior (like loudly espousing that women and POC were inferior) got shorter time durations on the steps, but they’d still be offered severance and a mutual sep.

      I don’t know how “stop being a racist POS” can be fixed with a PIP, but I’ve seen it tried by company policy.

  28. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Echoing that his behavior is not malicious compliance. I’ve done m.c. I was working 60-70 hours a week at one job but on Thursdays I left at 4:50 to get to a yoga class. I was told that work ended at 5:00 and not a minute earlier. I worked 40.00000000 hours and not a minute extra for all my remaining days. I would arrive at work at 7:50 and sit in the parking lot until 7:59 in order to not badge in to the building before 8.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      My old boss was like this. Thought nothing of it if you worked until six or seven in the evening.

      But come in five minutes late because there was a car accident and the police had to block off a bunch of lanes? Completely unacceptable.

  29. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    I supervised someone exactly like this! I wanted to fire him so damn bad (and was lead to believe in my interview that “cleaning house” was a primary reason they wanted to hire me), but suddenly my boss and everyone above her turned into chickensh*ts and suddenly claimed “they didn’t see that behavior” from this guy, or that I “needed to be the bigger person” or they felt this was more of an “interpersonal problem” between him and I.

    Even after he slammed my door.
    Even after he turned all the part-time employees against me.
    Even after he flat out refused to do the simplest work possible.

    He bided his time, enjoying being an asshole for nine months, knowing I didn’t have “permission” to fire him. And then when he’d finally become so egregious my boss couldn’t ignore it anymore and agreed to let me PIP him–he quit and sent a disgusting letter to the entire staff about me. And my boss and grandboss then wanted to take me out and celebrate. Celebrate what? Letting this asshole waste a staff position and blow through all the enthusiasm and energy I had for this job?

    OP, if the reason you haven’t fired this guy already is because your boss and HR are too chicken or they blame you for not being able to tolerate his behavior, or they make excuses for him, then YES, RUN LIKE HELL for a new job – it will never get better there.

    You are not the problem here, HE IS, and he KNOWS it, and . . . he’s ENJOYING it.

    Fire him yesterday.

    1. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      And BTW, lying to people and saying that you’re in a meeting or that you’re out sick (!!!) when you’re actually present and available is professional sabotage. Because how many times and how many people (that you know of!) has he said that to, and is CONTINUING to say it.

      Also, lying to customers that something is easy to fix so that you then have to deliver the bad news that it can’t be fixed is ALSO professional sabotage. It makes you look like a bad manager: your team doesn’t know what’s fixable and what’s not, and then you have to be the “bad guy” and deliver bad news.

      He knows exactly what he’s doing.

      You need to make a plan for the day you fire him: lock him out of all systems and email, require him to hand over any keys and ID or access cards, change any commonly used department passwords, and have security watch him collect his things and be escorted out. The guy I fired admitted to other workers he still had his gym card and planned to check out expensive equipment and just “forget” to return it before he moved out of state.

    2. pally*


      There’s more at stake here than tolerating a boorish employee. There’s the toll it takes on the manager (OP) and the co-workers. I’m betting the co-workers are wondering when that last straw will come so that this guy (Eric) gets canned. Meanwhile, they see what he does and start doing their own cost benefit calculation as to whether they should stay or go elsewhere.

  30. JustMe*

    This sounds just like my former coworker. OP, you must fire him. This definitely grates on you, but it also grates on your team and affects their morale if they see someone like this is being kept around.

    Also–you say it may seem “odd” to customers, but promising things that your company can’t do is a serious issue and they absolutely will notice. He needs to go.

  31. Coin Purse*

    Excellent advice from Alison. A PIP can work wonders for someone when there are concrete work flow issues involved. I’ve seen good employees emerge from a PIP. But that won’t ever fix a nasty attitude.

  32. Heffalump*

    But at this point I’m actually considering finding a new job because I can’t tolerate this for much longer — he’s completely worn me down.

    Yep, a bad employee driving out a good one, instead of the other way around. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s ever happened, but still …. I’m glad the OP asked Alison’s advice before it got to that point.

    1. Observer*

      Op think about this – if *you*, his manager who should have some authority, is being driven to consider quitting, think about the rest of your staff.

      These are part time jobs. Which means that they are not most of your staff’s primary source of income. Which means that they are more likely to quit anyway. Under these circumstances, you are going to see other people who are driven to not just *consider* quitting, but actually doing it.

  33. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    And BTW, lying to people and saying that you’re in a meeting or that you’re out sick (!!!) when you’re actually present and available is professional sabotage. Because how many times and how many people (that you know of!) has he said that to, and is CONTINUING to say it.

    Also, lying to customers that something is easy to fix so that you then have to deliver the bad news that it can’t be fixed is ALSO professional sabotage. It makes you look like a bad manager: your team doesn’t know what’s fixable and what’s not, and then you have to be the “bad guy” and deliver bad news.

    He knows exactly what he’s doing.

    You need to make a plan for the day you fire him: lock him out of all systems and email, require him to hand over any keys and ID or access cards, change any commonly used department passwords, and have security watch him collect his things and be escorted out. The guy I fired admitted to other workers he still had his gym card and planned to check out expensive equipment and just “forget” to return it before he moved out of state.

  34. New Senior Mgr*

    I couldn’t think of the word but it’s condescending and maliciously at that. I would have zero trust in this employee. What is he doing that you aren’t seeing?

  35. Aphra*

    I think I spoke to Eric last week. I had to call the multinational company that sold me one of their gadgets two years ago and it stopped working last week. I’d tried all the troubleshooting tips I could find online but without success so hoped there was something I hadn’t tried, hence my call. The ‘Eric’ I spoke to spoke to me like the one in the OP and, after taking an age away from the call came back to say that if I bought a new gadget they’d refund me the cost. Eh? No, I didn’t understand either. He said he’d send me an e-mail with the details. 24 hours later, no e-mail so I call again, to be told they can’t guarantee the lifespan of their gadgets which may last five years, two years or two months. By now, I’m unhappy and requested escalation to a supervisor. She was unmoved by what I’d been told in the first call, saying that’s not what they do for items a year past warranty. By now I was furious, though still polite (I’ve been in her position) and, because of the poor customer service, I’ve cancelled my subscription and they’ve lost a loyal customer of over 20 years. They won’t care but had I been told in the first place that the gadget had likely, regrettably, failed and nothing could be done, I’d have understood and just bought a new one but I was given an expectation that wasn’t met and that’s what loses customers, promises that aren’t kept. I accept that mistakes happen but it’s how they are rectified that could keep or lose customers and Eric is deliberately setting customer expectations which cannot be met. Customers don’t know or care that Eric is the problem, they only know that ‘you’ (the company) promised to fix their issue then didn’t. I’ve been in OP’s position, too, where customers were highly complimentary about ‘Eric’ who made them promises but not so enamoured of me, who had to tell them the truth. It’s soul-destroying for the colleagues who have to clean up the mess left by Erics.

    Eric in the OP is causing reputational damage to the company, additional work for colleagues and managers and doing it deliberately because he feels aggrieved about…who knows what? Protect your digital assets and march him out the door.

  36. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I get it…I’m a nice lady too, I want to be 100% certain someone is beyond help before I take action against them. I always give the benefit of the doubt even when I probably shouldn’t. It’s nervewracking. But he’s using his interactions with precious customers to “get a dig in” at you, and possibly leading your good employees to look elsewhere. If you feel yourself losing your resolve to take action against him, think about the mistreatment of the customers and how uncomfortable the other employees must feel. Hopefully that will strengthen you.

  37. Ms. Murchison*

    LW, this is not compliance at all. He is petulantly twisting your requirements to make trouble. The tactics you described are not compliance because they’re actively trying to alienate clients and undermine the business (patronizing tone to customers, lying, promising things he knows can’t be delivered). And as people above have stated, you can’t do a PIP for lying. It just makes no sense.

    But I came here to say that you need to take security precautions when you fire him. Let IT know, have security escort him out. This man thinks he should have your job and he’s already maliciously sabotaging the business. What will he do when he’s fired?

  38. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

    There is a simple way of determining the value of employees, and I can’t credit where it came from (heard about it in a leadership seminar at a former job). There are two metrics to look at when assessing employees- performance and value. Performance is are they doing the job as described and fulfilling the duties of that job. Value is how much benefit they bring to the org, as well as do they represent the org’s values.

    Your high value, high performing employees are your superstars- promote them, have them be leaders and mentors, and take on special projects.

    Your low performing, high value employees can usually be trained, coached, or mentored. Most new employees in a position fit this description.

    Low performing, low value employees are ideally fired or hopefully quit.

    The trickiest category are the high (or at least medium) performing but low value employees. Sure, they are doing the job, but they make life a living hell for supervisors and often for employees. They may have the skills to do the job, and sometimes even clients/customers/families like them. But they bring down the org with their bad attitudes.

    Frankly, Eric sounds like LP LV to me, but he is at the very least HP LV. I’m telling you, getting rid of him will make things better all around, not just for you. One of these employees resigned a month ago at my current job, and my role is now so much better not having to deal with them. A former job kept them on WAY too long, and it significantly impacted the quality of the service we provided.

    Show Eric the door, and don’t feel bad about it.

    1. saskia*

      Agreed — Eric sounds like he’s underperforming and has low value. And FYI, what you’re describing sounds like a 9-box grid :) The X axis is Performance, and Y axis is Potential.

      Eric may have passed his PIP, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be let go. He sounds like a bear to work with, honestly. Good luck, OP, and stand strong.

      1. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

        Interesting! The speaker showed it just as four boxes, but I can see the 9 box one being helpful as well.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          I heard it as

          * Could but won’t – fire

          * Would but can’t – train or find a different position

          (Also goes to what the director of highly-technical customer service, where downtown at a customer cost $1,000s a minute, at an old job told me. He stopped hiring for skill and started hiring for attitude. “Skills can be taught,” he said.)

          1. ina*

            “Skills can be taught”

            Simple but seasoned insight. You can teach someone anything you could learn systematically from a book; you just need the time to mentor them a bit and monitor their progress. It’s much harder and more time-consuming to teach someone how to be pleasant and easy to work with. Soft skills are such a Catch-22 to coach – you have to have someone receptive to the coaching to begin with and those people tend to not be so hard to deal with that they need a lot of coaching in soft skills and personality.

          2. Cat Tree*

            Yeah, my company does behavioral interviews and almost no technical questions, especially for mid- and entry-level positions. I care about specific “soft skills” depending on the position. I can teach the technical part. I’ll admit that one time I over-corrected and hired someone who *couldn’t* learn the technical part, but he also lacked some of the soft skills. My interview technique has remained pretty much the same though, because I already know that an interview is a limited amount of data to make a decision from, and sometimes it just doesn’t go right.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Both are a thing, apparently. Performance vs. Potential is 9-box, Performance vs. Value is 4-box. (Because it’s apparently easier to judge value–either they bring it or they don’t.)

        1. saskia*

          Ah, gotcha. Thanks for the info. Now that I look it up, there are so many different 4- and 9-box templates. I like the one whose axes are just “will” and “skill.”

          I have to say, I’d rather judge somebody’s potential rather than their value. If they’re not bringing value, why were they even hired?

    2. AnonORama*

      This is interesting! I have definitely been a high-performing, low-value employee, and it might’ve been helpful to think of it that way. It certainly wasn’t helpful to think of it the way I did: getting frustrated and becoming a grouchy little ball of resentment because I wasn’t getting fantastic reviews/raises/promotions due to “personality stuff.” Why should that matter if I was beating my numbers? Um, because…I was hella dismissive, condescending and otherwise treated internal stakeholders like crap? Which is not a cool way to act toward other humans?

  39. Sara without an H*

    LW, why are you hesitating? This guy is a poor fit for a customer service job, is rude to customers, and insubordinate to management. I can almost guarantee you that his coworkers are fed up with him. Why do you let him stay?

    If firing him seems “mean,” consider that Eric himself says he’s not happy with the work. By letting him go now, you’re freeing him up to find work that’s a better fit for him.

    Just do it.

    1. Nea*

      Yeah, he says he wants to “be in charge,” so why not put him entirely in charge of his own career path ASAP?

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    This is dependent on your company policies and location, but in general just because someone has managed to pass a PIP doesn’t mean they have to start with a completely clean slate as if the PiP never happened.

    It sounds like you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in Eric, but honestly I can’t see one good reason to keep him. I think your other employees are noticing and will respect you even more if you tackle the issue.

  41. noncommittal pseudonym*

    An aside – did we ever get an update from the linked question about the coworker putting mistakes in the LW’s work? I just reread that one and it’s a doozy.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      If there’s an update to a letter, then the update should be directly linked as the last line of the post after Alison’s response. Alison started doing that a while back and had someone go back and add it to all older letters that had an update. So if it’s not there, no update.

      Read updates to this letter here and here.

  42. ina*

    I read the initial letter and thought the same as Alison. It does sound a little like there is personal friction between you two and some speculation of his sexism/misogyny that might color your view of everything this guy does as being from that angle and amplify things to another level. However, after reading the follow-up…it’s all coming together as: he sucks at his job and hates the work he’s doing. heck, he’s even SAID as much.

    I think he “wants to be in charge” because he thinks it’s easy-peasy, telling others what to do without having to do it, with high pay – which might feed into his dislike of you (of course, I won’t discount misogyny or sexism feeding into it though). However, he can barely do the job he was hired to do and he thinks he’s somehow qualified to move up without any effort? Geez.

  43. FitPro not Fitspo*

    LW, not only would I, as a customer, object to all the examples you listed, I would also blame YOU, as the manager in charge of his performance, for the fact I had to deal with it. In the end, it doesn’t matter how big a jerk the guy is, his actions are your responsibility. If he can’t be trained, he needs to be fired.

    1. Observer*

      Yes. And as a customer, you would be right.

      OP, you are seeing a customer service person doing bad things and you are not stopping him, In fact, you don’t even have the clarity to realize just how egregious he’s being to customers. You need to put a stop to this.

  44. Falling Diphthong*

    He does not enjoy this job and wants to do something else.

    OP, I had deduced this from his behavior well before we got to this line, where he is making sure to tell people in case they missed all the cues.

    There’s a reason that the standard advice around here for people who don’t like their jobs is to look for something different. One part is that you might get pushed out before you are ready. Another is that you start acting bitter and unpleasant and that affects both your references and your attitude in the interviews for those other jobs. Leave before you are publicly showing contempt.

  45. Sprinkles*

    As an older woman, condescending young, male, customer service people are common and absolutely a reason for terminating my relationship with a business. Ask a frosty Texas bank about when I yanked $750K in deposits over an @$$ of an account manager a few.months ago. His.misogyny is hurting the business and he’s trying to force you to leave.

  46. not a hippo*

    I’ve dealt with coworkers like Eric and CSRs like Eric. As an employee, it had me going to my boss like “dude either he goes or I go” and as a person calling the help line and getting an Eric, it’s made me refuse to ever use that product/service again and tell everyone I know to avoid said product/service.

    Fire his ass.

  47. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    LW, you call this “a weird one”: telling white lies such as saying I’m in a meeting or out sick when really I’m just on lunch

    So, Eric is lying. Doesn’t matter how big or small the lie is, he’s lying. Doesn’t matter if he’s lying to customers or colleagues: he’s lying. For the sake of everyone else there, fire him. (Remember, he’s being a bad employee to you, but he’s being a bad co-worker to them and making their jobs harder.)

    1. FitPro not Fitspo*

      also he is 100% doing this to imply that OP is generally unavailable. If he just said she was at lunch, that’s something regular, predictable, and totally relatable, because generally we expect the humans we interact with to need to eat every day. A list of increasingly preposterous reasons she isn’t available, however, comes across very differently, and that is indubitably his goal.

    2. starsaphire*

      “Pattern of dishonesty” is how I see this.

      OP, try that phrase on your HR. “Pattern of dishonesty” and “repetition of fundamental errors despite continuous and repetitive coaching.”

  48. a.p.*

    The fact that he openly talks about not liking his job is an important point for me. I think that proves that he is doing all of this intentionally, with full awareness, in an attempt to make everyone else as miserable as him. I think your other staff are probably just as fed up! Dealing with Eric however you can (it sounds like HR might put up some hoops to jump through) will demonstrate perfectly that you take issues seriously, and won’t let one person ruin the workplace for everyone else.

  49. Cherries Jubilee*

    OP, this isn’t complicated and it isn’t compliant. He straightforwardly needs to be fired, immediately.

  50. Not your mother*

    Shut off any access he has to anything and then walk him. In that order. Absolutely do not let him go back to his desk. He can wait at reception while someone packs his stuff.

    I had an employee who ignored all directives and would argue about how you were wrong rather than change. It took an inordinately long time to walk her for several reasons, but once we got our ducks in a row we had a meeting with her. She was still arguing about the same old stuff so someone packed her desk and met her with the box of her stuff at reception. It was so weird.

  51. Heather*

    I think part of what is happening is: He had behaviors that resulted in him being put on a PIP. Now, he doesn’t do THOSE behaviors; he has adopted different, worse behaviors. That does not mean the PIP succeeded! Imagine if you had an employee who constantly showed up late, and you told him he had to be on time or be fired. So he started showing up on time, but drunk. Does that mean he succeeded at the performance goals? NO.

  52. Zarniwoop*

    “But at this point I’m actually considering finding a new job because I can’t tolerate this for much longer — he’s completely worn me down.”
    It’s a truism that employees quit because of bad bosses. A boss quitting because of a bad employee would be an interesting new twist!

    1. Mister_L*

      I disagree. Middle managers ready to quit because of bad employees they can’t / aren’t allowed to fire is almost a classic by now.

      1. Pink Candyfloss*

        And that’s on the manager’s own boss not letting the problem employee be solved.

        So it’s still leaving over bad management!

  53. Stoppin' by to chat*

    LW – Would LOVE an update on this in the future if you’re comfortable doing that.

  54. lilyp*

    This reminds me of the part in Ella Enchanted (a children’s fantasy book about a girl who’s fairy godmother “gifts”/curses her with always being obedient) where Ella is trying to rebel against her curse in choir class, so she sings very softly until the teacher tells her to sing louder, then bellows until the teacher says to sing quieter, then goes back to singing quietly (but not quite so quiet as at first) until the teacher says to sing louder, etc etc etc until after much haggling she gets backed into a reasonable volume. That is to say, if your bosses do insist on giving him fair warning and a chance to improve regarding these new issues, be prepared for him to stop doing this stuff but immediately develop a third round of completely different issues that also skate the edges of actionable while being designed to push your buttons (messiness? forgetfulness? over sharing? calling out at the last minute? there’s endless options…). It might be worth asking your bosses explicitly how many rounds of problem behavior whack-a-mole they’re willing to go through with this guy in the name of fairness.

  55. OP*

    I have read all your comments and I think it’s clear that I have been working in this environment so long that I’ve lost touch with what’s normal and what’s entirely unacceptable. I really truly thought Alison was going to say this was a me problem, that’s how deep in I am. To hear a loud and clear “fire him” from Alison and so many of you was totally unexpected.

    Someone above named it, and I’ve suspected for a while, that this is a form of gaslighting. I have felt crazy for letting this take over my life and your input has provided a lot of clarity.

    But ultimately, this is on me. I have become afraid to call out bad behavior and poor performance because he so easily turns it around on me (and then I feel bad for even thinking it was a problem and questioning if I’m fit to be a manager). But now that I see this is a real, not made up issue, I feel confident speaking up. I gotta do what I gotta do. Thanks all for the boost.

    Btw the next suggested post is “employee always calls out sick after feedback” and I chuckled because guess what else Eric does.

    1. Boof*

      Glad to hear it op
      — if over 90% of your team is working fine with you
      — if others have also noticed Eric’s attitude seems off
      — even if you’re just spending a whole heckovalotta more time and energy trying to get Eric to do what everyone else is doing without nearly as much coaching

      It’s ok to say it’s an Eric problem not a you problem! It’s not even a referendum on Eric as a person* (*I mean, he does sound pretty obnoxious, but that doesn’t matter, this is a transactional routine-exchange-of-labor-for-money situation not the gates of heaven) it’s a referendum on whether he’s doing his job adequately or not and if not, someone else can! And hopefully that will allow Eric to find something he actually excels at too (no control over that, but at least it sounds like chances are you be able to move on to an employee who will actually do the job without so much fuss )

    2. allathian*

      Glad to hear it! Good luck and I hope to see an update from you soon about how you got rid of Eric.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Incredibly glad to read this!

      Seriously, OP, you have NOTHING to lose by refusing to play this game any longer. What, your boss is going to fire you? They won’t get rid of an employee who’s actively sabotaging their business and coworker’s morale, they’re not gonna fire you.

      But you can quit. Because of this crap I know you’ve seen that as being “driven out,” but it is really your asinine company losing a hugely valuable asset because of their actions. If you don’t want to deal with Eric, it’s fine to get a better job, leave, and let them reap what they’ve sown.

      1. Enai*

        Yes, even if your company finally lets you fire Eric, it’s still the kind of company that would rather alienate you than let you fire a disruptive employee, OP. Do you really want to stay there?

    4. not a hippo*

      I don’t think this is your fault. He’s a grade A prick and he’s intentionally messing with you to get his own way.

      Good luck!

    5. Pink Candyfloss*


      Written records of conversations, saved emails and chats (or recordings of calls) or whatever you need to do that creates a physical manifestation/paper trail of Eric’s behaviors as noted by everyone above (and yourself).

      Sometimes seeing the mounting pile of documented incidents can help snap you out of this type of gaslit thinking (and help show others the true scope of the issue to support Eric’s removal from the company).

  56. Master Procrastinator*

    This reminds me of a guy we fired at my former workplace – he was openly malicious than Eric, but he was terrible at his job, lazy and arrogant. He had a massive victim complex and started court proceedings the same day he was fired for refusing to follow orders and not meeting a single KPI. This was all during his probationary period, so the organisation was well within its rights to terminate, even if there hadn’t been major performance and attitude issues. But he believed he’d been let go on the basis of discrimination, so his case had to he heard. He also stole property from the organisation (a small charity) and tried to claim what would have been a significant chunk of the company’s annual income. I have to admit, I REALLY enjoyed presenting a load of solid evidence against him to the tribunal, and also seeing his face when he discovered the I shared the protected characteristic he cited in his case. He claimed that everyone else was treated favourably compared to him because of his identity, and he also couldn’t believe that a ‘young’ woman like me could have enough experience to he his manager… reader, we were the same age.

    My advice to OP (beyond what Alison and others have said about getting clear that his conduct and incompetence are enough for immediate firing) is to meticulously document the facts. Also, if HR won’t back you, what do senior leaders further up the chain make of all of this? If the whole company culture involves a refusal to deal with toxic and damaging behaviour, you may be right to consider leaving. But it sounds like it could be worth trying to advocate strongly for yourself, your team, the customers and the company first. He will absolutely take others down with him given half a chance – I’d be taking this further up the hierarchy. Good luck!

  57. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Eric is sexist and deliberately doing these things to undermine you, OP. I hope we have an update where he’s been let go and your life has improved.

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