can I ask my manager to fire my coworker?

A reader writes:

Today my supervisor had a meeting with everyone about our recent employee survey because she was upset and surprised with the results. Our survey has us on average lower than other sections in things like job satisfaction, safety, stress levels, happiness, diversity, working together as a team, etc. She wants to address these things moving forward, but in the meeting (with everyone present), no one was willing to bring anything up and I could see how upset it was making her.

Now she’s giving us homework to think about how she can make things better at work.

I have an honest answer: fire our awful office manager, Jane. She’s a bigot, hyper aggressive, extremely nosy, complains about everything, does the bare minimum, resents having to do her job, wanders into other areas to bother people, and honestly makes work hostile. I try to minimize my time in the office because I don’t want to be snapped at every day. Or yelled at or any other thing that she feels like doing.

However, my supervisor would have a horrible time finding someone to replace Jane and train them, which I assume is why she hasn’t done it.

So we’re stuck in this miserable situation where people are willing to give feedback anonymously that they’re unhappy but no one seems willing to tell the people in charge the real reasons. Which I can’t blame them for, because it wasn’t like I was going to tell my supervisor and director to please fire Jane in front of the entire staff, including Jane. But she seems really honest that she wants feedback and she’s really pushing for it. We’re all union but if the proper paperwork is done, people can be fired.

So is this the right thing to do? Give her honest feedback and tell her that work would be better for everyone if she would fire Jane? Or is that going too far?

I’m so afraid we’re going to be stuck like this forever where the higher-ups keep asking for feedback after getting bad reviews but no one is actually willing to tell them anything. I was the only person who spoke up today at the meeting about other issues even though we all grumble about it in private and I don’t know what to do. I’ve considered leaving my job rather than dealing with Jane in the past and I worry about any new hire we get being attacked or getting into a fight with her because she’s so aggressive. I’m actually frustrated with my supervisor that she hasn’t fired her already and it has made me respect my supervisor less because it’s gotten so bad.

But I don’t really know what to do. I suspect that asking my supervisor to fire someone will not be appreciated. But it’s also true that getting rid of certain people would make people a lot happier at work.

You can raise the problems with Jane without saying “fire her.”

You can say that Jane is the source of significant unhappiness on your team — that she’s difficult to work with (give examples), makes bigoted comments (give examples), complains and is negative, and on and on. You can say that your sense is that people are reluctant to raise it because it’s awkward to complain about a coworker, but that it’s at the point where you’ve seriously considered leaving over it and you’re minimizing your time in the office so you don’t get snapped at.

Whether to not to fire Jane is your manager’s decision, but you have standing to raise, in detail, the serious problems Jane is causing. (And if your manager can’t figure out from that feedback that you probably think Jane should be fired, saying it outright won’t help anyway.)

I do want to note that it’s tricky to give feedback on behalf of your entire team. You can talk about what your own experience has been with Jane, and you can say that you’ve seen her treat other people that way (assuming you have) and that you’ve heard others share how upset they are about it (assuming that’s true). But framing it as “the root of everyone’s unhappiness is Jane” can be tricky, especially if people might deny it if your manager asks them directly.

But it also sounds like your manager probably sees enough of Jane not to be totally shocked by this feedback. If that’s the case, then your manager probably isn’t very interested in/willing to tackle difficult problems, have uncomfortable conversations, and do the entirety of her job — which means she’s likely to be hard to work for in other ways too. (Also, it’s very unlikely that she would find it impossible to replace Jane; it’s not a horrible burden to hire and train a new office manager, and if she’s ever implied that, that’s further evidence of the role she’s playing.)

Give the feedback, but it might also be worth thinking about how long you want to stay.

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. CubeFarmer*

    Unless LW’s boss is an idiot (not impossible) she knows what’s going on with Jane and doesn’t want to address it. Personally, if the boss needs an anonymous survey to see that things are wrong AND those who took the survey don’t want to speak publicly about it, that’s a problem and boss as a manger need to do things differently.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, I think that this is as much a boss problem as a Jane problem.

      Because how does your boss not know that Jane is a problem? And what makes her think that anyone is going to speak up about problems that were surfaced in an *anonymous* survey, during a general *public* meeting?

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe Jane is a lot less difficult with LW’s boss than with LW and her colleagues. Maybe either Jane or the boss sits in a different area and the day-to-day issues are less noticeable. Maybe LW just doesn’t have to deal with Jane as much or is more inclined to brush off how difficult she is and doesn’t realize how much it’s impacting overall morale. Maybe she finds Jane impossible but assumes that other people must be having a better experience since she never hears anything negative about her from anyone else. Or at least these factors let dealing with Jane slip down her priority list.

      Probably the boss should be more aware, but I don’t think it’s an automatic “she’s an idiot” if people aren’t willing to talk openly with her about it.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I think in writing that I was assuming that LW’s boss doesn’t necessarily directly manage Jane – that boss is multiple levels up or Jane is adjacent to LW’s team or what have you. If LW and Jane share a boss then that’s less excusable.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I think it is very possible for a boss to maybe know that Jane is kind of a pain to work with and that people don’t really like her without knowing it’s actually much worse than the realizes to the point that people are avoiding the office and considering quitting because of Jane specifically.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yeah, there’s a difference between being aware that people groan and grit their teeth when they have to work with Jane because she’s known to be difficult, and being aware that people groan and grit their teeth when they have to work with Jane because she’s cruel and abusive. If the Boss doesn’t observe it directly and all they see is the negative reaction going in on one end and a reasonably good quality work product coming out on the other end, they may be assuming the missing piece in the middle is someone who’s more garden-variety unpleasant/curt/demanding/frustrating, not someone whose behavior is this far beyond the pale.

          I mean, I unfortunately still think the most likely story here is that Boss knows enough, and just can’t or won’t do her job. But there’s at least some plausible version of this story where Boss actually doesn’t know.

      3. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

        LW Here. My manager is slammed and is a very hands off boss. She also doesn’t work in the same area as Jane so she doesn’t interact with her as much as others. I wouldn’t be shocked if she is underestimating how frustrating Jane is due to her now having to interact with her as much. But at the same time, they’ve worked together for 15 years I think so she has to have some idea I think?

        1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

          Could it be that your manager needs evidence and is asking y’all to help out with that?

          If her hands are tied with getting your Jane Problem fixed, she may need to bring evidence of Jane’s being a problem to those tying her hands.

        2. Momma Bear*

          It may be that she’s used to working around Jane?

          At this point I’d ask for a one on one with the boss and tell her that you felt like she wanted more specifics, but likely nobody felt comfortable in that situation/publicly. Give her some examples about Jane and ask for her to intervene with Jane on behalf of the group. Jane may be a long hire and hard to fire/hard to replace, but none of us is truly irreplaceable. And/or Jane may need to change who she reports to/how she interacts with the team. I had a tough to get along with coworker. They didn’t get fired but the big boss buffered me with a project manager and now we’re fine. I just needed some backup. Your boss could do something similar.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Yeah, this is the time to ask, “What if Jane won the lottery and quit? What would we do then?” The office wouldn’t shut down, so start thinking about what would actually happen.

        3. Sarah M*

          If/when you speak to your manager, lead with the most problematic issue, which is the bigoted commentary and/or behaviors. Start with the most egregious (aka objectively hard to argue with or excuse), and go from there. State your concern that it has a) upset and offended her fellow employees, and b) “possibly” or “could” create legal problems for the company. Then you can add some of the other issues in descending order of magnitude (yelling at people, abrasiveness, etc). Verbally abusing others is also fireable (if TPTB are willing to do something about it), so now you have at least two things that management really needs to put a stop to, pronto.

          Again, stress that not only do her colleagues hate working with her, she is creating potential legal issues for the Company. I’m using soft words like “potential” here because I’m assuming you aren’t a lawyer. You can therefore adopt a tone of Concern For The Company (And Morale), while actually maintaining your credibility because you won’t come across as Ms. Google, Fauxttorney At Law – ergo out over your skis. Your manager *should* be alarmed enough by “bigoted comments” + “possible liability for the Co.” to act. It may start with the obligatory PIP, though. I hope this situation works out for you all.

        4. Annie*

          I’ve found sometimes that Managers sort of like to have someone who is no-nonsense. Your manager could be slammed and think that Jane is doing a good job keeping things in-line, not realizing how demoralizing she is to the rest of your team.

    3. Ex-prof*

      Having worked with a Jane, I think that this may be partly true but that it would still help to complain. It gives the boss another data point to work with.

      I asked my boss point blank why she kept our Jane, especially after Jane referred to students of color, more than once, as “you people”. To their faces.

      My boss said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that hating Jane created unity among faculty. I think this may actually have been the reason.

      (The way it ended was that Jane took extended leave after spraining her ankle and then sued, I’m not sure over what. But Janes do sue.)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        If she thinks hating Jane brings people together, I’m sure everyone hating your boss for not doing anything about made people even more of a team!

        1. Ex-prof*

          We all loved my boss though. In retrospect I believe she knew perfectly well Jane would sue at the drop of a hat, as indeed she did.

          1. Rose*

            The fact that she would sue does not even begin to justify your managers behavior. People file frivolous law suits against former employers all the time. It wouldn’t be an ok excuse to make your team deal with that and it definitely was not an ok reason to subject students to racist treatment.

            1. Emily*

              Rose: This!

              LW, I strongly suspect that your manager is the real problem here. Of course people aren’t going to speak up in a group about things they put in an *anonymous* survey.

    4. rollyex AKA deli sand*

      I think it’s unlikely the boss does not know Jane is a problem of some sort, but think it is very possible they underestimate the extent or depth of the problem.

      That’s a “boss problem,” but one that they might work to address by removing Jane or putting her on a PIP.

    5. kiki*

      Not necessarily. Sometimes folks like Jane are really good at staying on good terms with leadership while being absolute nightmares to everyone else. And managers assume that folks will speak up about a terrible coworker/performer/etc. to them but it doesn’t actually happen. Managers forget that it’s awkward to bring up a poor performance from a coworker and there’s a tendency for employees to assume that management is already aware of how bad this person is.

      I think LW should have a candid conversation with their boss about how much Jane is negatively impacting the team. They shouldn’t say she needs to be fired, but they should definitely bring up clear examples of Jane’s terrible behavior.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes this. I’ve worked at an organisation where the CEO’s executive assistant was pure poison but very, very clever at hiding it. The face she presented to the CEO and board was sunshine and roses, and she was really good at the visible side of her job so the CEO saw her as indispensable.
        It was only when a few folks were brave enough to give candid feedback during 360s that the facade began to slip and eventually she got so out of control she was let go. But not before undermining many people.

      2. Delta Delta*

        This exactly. I worked with a handful of Janes all at once. They all were awful to the coworkers, and to each other, but somehow always perfect with the boss. It wasn’t until the boss was on the receiving end of some Jane Behavior that that particular Jane lost her job.

        1. MassMatt*

          If the boss does not deal with this particular Jane, a department of Janes is exactly what is coming.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yeah, I’m feeling OP is taking on the lion’s share of emotional (and now practical work) that rightly belongs to the manager.
      Manager is hand wringing, “I surveyed the team. They are unhappy! I don’t know what to do. I don’t know why.”
      Even if this is true, asking the employees AGAIN to spell it out, is not managing. It is hoping that someone drops an answer in her lap.
      This isn’t Smithers telling Mr. Burns that the employees want more tarter sauce, this is a serious work issue that the manager is refusing to see.
      OP, you don’t have to fix this for her. She’s not trying to fix it for you.

      1. kiki*

        I see what you’re saying, but at a certain point the manager cannot take action unless they know what the problem is. Perhaps the problem should be obvious to them but for whatever reason it is not. That reason could be because the manager is bad at their job, but it could also be because Jane keeps the worst of their behavior out of LW’s view or something.

        While it ideally would not be on OP to have to spell out exactly what/who their issue is, it seems like that’s the only realistic path forward where this issue could be solved. Once LW makes sure their boss knows what a problem Jane is, LW can observe and see how their manager reacts– they may be pleasantly surprised.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          When my organization had so-so results coming out of an employee engagement survey a few years ago, the VPs of each department organized “listening tours” within their own department, where a fairly junior admin person would be assigned to interview everyone in the department individually about what they were happy with and what they were unhappy with and any specific changes we wanted. Then the admin would compose a summary document with a list of all concerns raised, and a paragraph or two of comments about the themes that emerged most often.

          From what I gather, it was an effective approach at least in my department. The admin who conducted the tour was junior enough and had little enough power that nobody felt awkward complaining to him he had no personal influence over. Of course, a big part of why this worked was because on a really fundamental level there was trust in our department. We trusted when they said our feedback would be kept confidential, and nobody worried that our VP was the kind of person who would secretly try to squeeze identifying information out of the admin after the fact. People would’ve been reluctant to complain to the VP’s face mostly because we’re a pretty nice bunch and it would have been awkward and uncomfortable to laundry list everything that’s going wrong on the VP’s watch right to their face, but certainly not because anyone feared the VP would react unprofessionally or retaliate against any of us.

      2. NotTheSameAaron*

        In some offices, the next step is starting to look for excuses to fire people. Suddenly that extra minute that you take to return to the office after lunch (because stairs) becomes an “unexcused absence” and out you go. Rinse and repeat.

    7. Goldenrod*

      Seriously. LW’s boss definitely KNOWS what Jane is like. Perhaps she is pretending not to see it because she actually likes Jane and approves of the way she acts. Or maybe she’s just lazy.

      I’m glad Alison called B.S. on this:
      “Also, it’s very unlikely that she would find it impossible to replace Jane; it’s not a horrible burden to hire and train a new office manager, and if she’s ever implied that, that’s further evidence of the role she’s playing.”

      That’s ridiculous. “Office manager” is not the most difficult role to fill. I am an office manager, and if I did even ONE of the behaviors listed here, I would consider myself a failure at my job! Having a positive attitude and treating people kindly is actually a big part of the job, because we set the tone for the whole office.

      I personally would conclude that LW’s boss knows about Jane, and either approves of her or doesn’t care. LW can definitely provide the feedback in the way that Alison suggests, but this whole situation reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “You can’t wake up a man who is pretending to be asleep.”

      Personally, I’d be looking for the exits.

      1. Dorothy Zpornak*

        “it’s not a horrible burden to hire and train a new office manager”

        Actually, it is if the organization in question is refusing to pay a salary within market norms. A lot of incompetent people get and keep jobs that no one more competent would settle for because the positions are so underpaid. It’s how the Janes of the world stay in business. I don’t find it at all difficult to believe that this manager worries that position will stay unfilled or that she will end up with someone even worse than Jane if that’s the situation here.

        1. Observer*

          <i.I don’t find it at all difficult to believe that this manager worries that position will stay unfilled or that she will end up with someone even worse than Jane if that’s the situation here.

          In which case, it’s a management problem as much as a Jane problem. Which also means that it probably won’t help the OP to say anything to their boss. And that would also explain why no one would say anything, on top of the issue of being in one group where things would uncomfortable anyway.

        2. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

          LW Here. We’re a huge state institution so we tend to offer under the current market rate when it comes to salaries but like to brag that our benefits make up for it. We also have some trouble hiring people because most people don’t want to take a pay cut now for a pension someday in the future. But we do get applications so it’s not impossible, just need the right person.

    8. Fikly*

      Agreed, the actual problem is that the manager has created an environment where people do not feel safe bringing up massive issues to her, and isn’t taking any action on massive issues to begin with. The two are probably related!

    9. pally*

      Given Jane is an office manager and probably interacts with all levels, it would be hard to believe management didn’t know how truly awful she was. Even if she toned things down with the managers.

      However, from my own experience, it’s not always obvious. See, my direct report had been giving other lab techs (who did not report to me) a difficult time (not to the level of Jane though). She apparently was very short with the other techs, gave them dirty looks from across the lab and commented on what she felt was their lack of work ethic.

      I had no idea about this- until after we had layoffs -which included my direct report. That’s when the remaining lab techs told me about what was going on. I wasn’t in the lab much and had no idea this was going on. My report sure didn’t mention anything about her ‘distaste’ for the other lab techs. I assumed they all got along fine. I really wish they had clued me in when all this started. I would have shut it down stat.

      1. Fikly*

        As a manager, it’s your responsibility to create an environment where your reports feel safe – not just are safe, but feel safe – in reporting things like this to you.

        Their jobs depend on it. They have no way of knowing that you won’t retaliate, and it’s usually lower risk to say nothing and job search. It’s very hard to prove retaliation, especially with at will employment.

        1. Jelly*

          Totally agree. Also, I don’t understand why any manager expects employees to discuss their discontent in front of their co-workers. Good grief! One-on-ones take longer, of course, but that’s a reality of a qualitative assessment.

      2. Observer*

        I really wish they had clued me in when all this started. I would have shut it down stat.

        Did they know that? Did they have a path to do so? You weren’t in the lab much, so how and when were they supposed to tell you?

        And if the only time someone has a chance to say anything is in a meeting like the on the OP’s manager called, that’s even worse than the manager just being busy and out of the office a lot.

    10. MassMatt*

      I would never rule out the likelihood of the boss being an idiot, or spineless, or both.

      Yes, IF she is aware of what is going on in the office, she SHOULD be aware that Jane is a PITA. But the boss may not be in the office much, or have much interaction with Jane, and no doubt Jane is sure to act cheery and helpful (and not bigoted!) to the boss.

      Given she is getting all this anonymous feedback and her reaction is to have a general meeting (to solve problems or silence the complainers?) putting people on the spot, I don’t have much if any faith in the boss.

  2. Czhorat*

    To be honest, any one of these – especially “makes bigoted comments” – should be grounds for firing.

      1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

        LW Here. Unfortunately, all the comments were verbal. And not against people we work but against trans people, homeless people and black people and other racial minorities.

        It sounds like I need to keep literally word for word records for the future, if I’m going to tackle it from this angle.

    1. Abe Froman*

      Yeah, honestly, that would be the area I would focus on. Bigoted comments are 100% a deal-breaker and should be an unambiguous firing, where I could imagine a poor manager trying to explain away “difficult to work with.” Considering the manager hasn’t acted thus far, it seems unlikely that she will, but as Alison often says “Make it more difficult for her to not act than to keep the status quo.”

    2. not nice, don't care*

      Forcing people to be the targets of hate crimes as part of their work environment has legal ramifications too.

  3. Ladycrim*

    A decent employer would have taken disciplinary action against Jane long ago for the bigoted comments alone.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I wonder if the supervisor even knows that part. I’ve found bigots who know they are bigots are pretty good at not being that way around authority figures.

    2. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW here. I”m under the impression she’s been coached before and had to take classes to help her get better at communicating with coworkers. But none of it was recent and I don’t think it fixed the issue.

  4. HonorBox*

    As I was reading, I was thinking exactly what Alison suggested. You can’t go in and demand that Jane be fired, but you can absolutely share 1:1 what may have led you to answer the survey questions the way you did. Especially if others are feeling the same about Jane, they could offer feedback in a more private setting, as well.

    I don’t have a ton of faith that your boss is going to do anything with the feedback, given the use of anonymous surveys and asking for an airing of the grievances, but perhaps if there’s enough specific feedback given privately, your boss may see the light. Or they’ll see the light when people start to find other opportunities.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It would be great if you could also get your workers to weigh in, although I understand why they don’t want to – but OP should be very careful with statements like “everyone knows” Jane is the reason for the dismal scores. I find that the same people who like to b*tch and moan about something will often, frustratingly deny it even if directly. They may lie in the faces of managers and cover for Jane, either out of some vague worker solidarity of not wanting to get someone fired, or out due to the powerful pull of status quo.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        This exactly. It would almost be better if OP could get one or two people on the team to go into the meeting with the boss as a group so that it feels less one-sided and less like something that is going to get back to Jane/lead to her retaliating or trying to ferret out who “told” on her.

      2. ursula*

        Maybe if LW has any coworkers they *do* trust, they could tell those coworkers that they are planning to mention some of the problems with Jane in private to the Boss. And say it would probably help if some other people were willing to mention at least 1 or 2 issues with Jane as well, in their own conversations. You don’t have to officially collude or strategize your messaging in order to, maybe, embolden someone else to also speak up a bit in whatever way they can.

        1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

          LW Here. I’ve absolutely considered this, getting a group together but going by the feedback here, I’m going to need a lot more concrete information before I can take that step.

      3. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

        LW Here. Yeah, what you described is exactly what happened when I asked a coworker today for details about an issue with Jane. When I asked for dates from a recent incident, my coworker declined to give me the information and instead said that Jane has been better recently when the day before we’d been talking about potentiality talking to our manager about her.

        People don’t want to speak up for their own reasons. It’s also very possible that I’m the only one who is seriously bothered by this which I’m taking into consideration.

    2. Erin*

      Jane might be a jerk, but it sounds like the LW has a personal problem with her. There’s no mention of Jane’s specific behavior beyond the LW’s interactions with her, and generalized feelings of “is a bigot”, “does the bare minimum”, “complains about everything”, etc. Pinning all of the team’s problems on Jane isn’t realistic.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’m not saying all the problems are with Jane (clearly there are some issues with management as well), but it’s weird to side with Jane when the only thing we know about her is that she has demonstrated that she is a bigot, snaps/yells at people in the office and the OP has considered quitting their job to avoid her.

      2. Dahlia*

        If the survey is asking about diversity in the company, “My coworker spouts bigoted retoric in the office” is valuable data. That’s not a “generalized feeling”.

      3. Danish*

        “Is a bigot” isn’t really a “generalized feeling” sort of observation. It’s not like “has a (generally) bad attitude”. And even if someone is just giving “bigot vibes”, that is… also a problem?

      4. Airy*

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect OP to provide examples of each aspect of Jane’s bad behaviour in a letter to an advice column which needs to be kept fairly concise. “Is a bigot” is unlikely to be a “generalised feeling,” more likely based on specific prejudiced things OP has heard Jane say, but do you really need a list of them to take OP at her word?
        OP should absolutely give specific examples in any complaint they make to management, but that’s a different situation.

      5. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

        LW Here. Yeah that’s a fair criticism. I definitely have a personal problem with her because of crap she says and how she treats people and how’s she’s treated me in the past.

        I generalized a lot of things because I assumed that it I gave every detail about everything my question wouldn’t be answered and I might accidentally doxx myself.

        Jane is definitely not the only problem at my workplace and ironically another co-worker who was a little hard to deal with has just quit. But there’s no way Alison could give me advice for all my work related problems so I only asked for advice on dealing with my most serious issue.

  5. Misty*

    Saying how impossible it would be to replace Jane reminds me of a comment my dad made years ago. Someone was saying a certain employee was not replaceable, my dad said “So if they die on a car wreck on the way home the company will have to go out business?”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        My second boss had a poster, “The cemeteries are filled with irreplaceable people.”
        He was gifted it after ending up in the hospital with a stress induced illness.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I am hoping that it means friends/family gave it to him after he was starting to recover, to remind him to take care of himself before the company.

              1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                That’s how it was taken. We were very young, so I think the reality was outweighed by the sentiment of it. We were afterall, ultimately invincible 20 somethings.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, I feel like that poster is kind of vague and could be taken two ways: 1) No one is as irreplaceable as they think or 2) People who think they are irreplaceable work themselves to death trying to keep everything afloat

              I think I would interpret it the first way but I guess the gifter in this case was viewing it the second way?

              Very odd either way. A weird gift and a weird thing to hang in your office for employees to see as it could come across kind of threatening to them lol

            2. MigraineMonth*

              That was my take, too. Sort of a “remember that as much as it feels like you’re the only thing holding the company together, it will be fine if you take a week off”.

    1. Sloanicota*

      A longtime office manager is certainly really annoying to replace, particularly if the last one was ousted unwillingly so didn’t write down all the passwords / deadlines etc. Even a pretty bad office manager may be only one tracking certain things (in my nonprofit, it’s been a fairly lousy year following the departure of ours). But, these things can happen, and perhaps in a bigger office it’ll be less painful than you’re picturing. Ultimately, you may find a lot of improvement with new eyes on your processes, even apart from the improved morale.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        We had a longtime office manager and I’ll be honest I don’t really know all of what her job entailed but I’m sure she was considered indispensable because she’d been doing it so long. She was also kind of a grump. Definitely nothing to the level of this letter, but I will say that once they ended up having to replace her… the new office manager was like a breath of fresh air. Everyone just loves working with her and she definitely ended up doing a lot of process improvements.

  6. Corelle*

    I agree with Alison’s advice. I do think that you could add in that you’ve had discussions with other coworkers and have gotten the sense that your frustrations with Jane are shared with multiple other members of the team. I would not name them.

    Two possible reason to share the feedback, even though your manager probably already knows that Jane is a source of discontent are 1) if your manager is getting pushback from above on dealing with Jane, this kind of feedback can be helpful ammunition, and 2) if the survey results are shared above your boss’s level and she has been avoiding dealing with Jane, this kind of feedback could help those above her light a fire to fire Jane.

  7. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    Reading between the lines, sounds as though LW and team may worry about the manager not keeping sources of negative feedback anonymous when talking to Jane, and they rightly may fear retaliation. I have had this happen where feedback that was given in confidence was subsequently shared with my name on it and LW is not wrong to worry about the consequences of that. Agree that overall it sounds like a manager problem!

    1. Curious*

      I have a friend who told me this is the exact reason she lies on her feedback surveys. It is very easy to identify who provided the submissions.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        I recall overhearing a boss boss mention turning off IP tracking on a survey to make it extra confidential. Now when I fill them out I do so knowing they know exactly who said what, but they can’t admit it without blowing their cover.

      2. Cyndi*

        I refused to complete the “anonymous” employee feedback surveys at my last job because you had to input your employee number at the beginning. Maybe this was supposed to ensure one response per person, but if so there must have been some other way to do it. I wasn’t going to be honest with my employee number attached and if I wasn’t going to be honest, why waste the time?

        1. MigraineMonth*

          That’s hilarious. There are so many subtle ways to track people, but they went with “put your unique identifier here”??

        2. Wired Wolf*

          Mine uses your company ID and last four of SSN…a lot of people think that the phrasing of “all responses are confidential” also means “anonymous”. No. For whatever reason, when I filled mine out there were two supervisors–one of them who sabotages me or tries to on a more or less daily basis–sitting about two feet away “chatting” (look pal, you’re the one who tells everyone that the outer office is not for taking breaks!).

  8. Snax*

    If there’s something Jane does that makes your job less safe (you mentioned “safety” in the questionnaires at the beginning) I’d bring that up first. Like, today. Unsafe practices are more likely to be lawsuit/workers comp territory, and your boss should want to address that most urgently, even before worrying about Jane’s terrible attitude and bigoted (!!!) remarks.

    For example, I’d mention “Jane urges us to cut corners to deliver faster, at the expense of our safety – she makes fun of workers who wear PPE” (or whatever is true) ASAP because that’s more than a morale issue.

  9. Frickityfrack*

    Who is convincing these people that an office manager is impossible to replace? I mean, I’ve done it, it’s not always the easiest job, but it’s certainly not rocket science. And it sounds like even a totally mediocre one who is a decent human being would be miles better than Jane. The only way I can think that it would be that hard is if they live in an area with a tiny population? Heck, even then, fire her and have no office manager. I’m guessing staff would be happier splitting up what little she does and not having the toxicity she brings.,

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes! “hard to replace medical specialty”, or “hard to replace person who knows how our legacy built-in-the-late-80s system works”: legit! Sometimes worth trucking along with the guy everyone hates because you need their hard skills. But there’s no core skill set to managing an office that makes up for terrible people skills and inability to get along with colleagues because those *are* core skills of the role.

      1. RVA Cat*

        To your first example, even Dr. Strange needed to be replaced as a surgeon after his car accident.

      2. Confused*

        Yeah, what makes my office manager the hardest person to replace in our office is exactly her strength in the skills that LW’s office manager desperately lacks. LW doesn’t even make it sound like Jane is good at the hard skills of the job. Surely, there are many mediocre office managers that LW’s boss could hire who aren’t also rude, nosy bigots.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, I didn’t get that statement either. Good office managers are often underrated and the fact that it is a skill set can get overlooked, but it’s not a niche specialty requiring years of training that few people have. Institutional knowledge has value, too, but how much are they losing because they can’t keep other employees?

  10. Sudsy Malone*

    Just want to affirm for OP that, as someone else who works in a union shop, that’s no reason that Jane can’t be disciplined and ultimately terminated with cause. If anything, I’d wager it should be even more obvious to your boss how to proceed, because I bet your CBA lays out some form of progressive discipline policy with clear steps and escalations. Just because Jane can have a union rep in the room or file a grievance doesn’t mean she can’t be disciplined or fired—it sounds like there’s more than enough cause. I don’t know if this situation is more on your boss or HR/upper leadership for not training managers on your discipline process, but it’s ridiculous it’s gone on this long, especially given the bigoted comments. Good luck!

    1. Velawciraptor*

      ALL of this. I’ve fired unionized employees before. It requires good documentation, but if you do it right, it’s not hard.

      Also, if, as an office manager, she manages other people, she may not be covered by the CBA at all. Which would make everything easier.

  11. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP writes about an anonymous survey, but nobody was confident or comfortable with that label to enumerate Jane’s actions.
    I’m curious why OP wants to go in now and say “Jane is the problem” but did not include that in the written survey.
    Yes, the boss seems to want honest answers. The fact that she is not getting them IS a large part of her answer. There’s a failure in leadership. Nobody said, “manage the aggressive racist,” because they don’t feel she will.
    If you have a 1:1, put it back on her.
    “What specifically were you expecting us to bring up? Where do you think the problem is coming from.”
    If she hems and haws, generally says, “I don’t know! I wish people would tell me! I want to help!” but doesn’t offer hint one that she has a clue that her people are unhappy because of X, Y or Jane, then she’s really just out of her depth in this position.

    1. mb*

      yeah, I was wondering about this. Anonymous surveys usually have comments sections – you could easily list Jane as being a source of problems and list a few things that multiple people have witnessed so that the comment can’t be traced back to you specifically. It may not make a difference but at least it would be spelled out why people are unhappy.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yes, that’s what I’m wondering. In the “tell us any specifics” section, NOBODY wrote anything specific? I’m wondering if A LOT OF PEOPLE wrote something specific and the manager wants to find out who has a problem with Jane (maybe to act on it, maybe to protect Jane) but instead of DOING HER JOB and observing Jane and talking to Jane, she wants people like OP to tell her.
        But again, she’s not doing her part, so I wouldn’t step in to fill that void.

        1. MassMatt*

          It’s hard to know whether the boss wants to help and is simply ineptly scrabbling for answers (as LW seems to believe) or on a witch hunt to find and burn the heretics. Calling a general meeting for people to get specific in front of the whole team could fit either. Neither are good.

      2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        We have a bi-monthly anonymous employee survey that only has questions with the range of answers, no open comments at all. Which is frustrating, because we want to clarify that when we answer “Totally agree” to the question about the extent to which you identify with the statement “I understand which aspects of my job require me to be onsite,” what we mean is “I understand that no aspects of my job actually do require me to be onsite, but the big boss has already said he likes to bump into people at the coffee machine, and that was his motivation for saying none of our jobs were fully remote.”

    2. Ari*

      Two possibilities here: 1) people are afraid the surveys really aren’t anonymous and/or 2) the company didn’t provide a place for details. My own company is great at the second one. They send out all kinds of anonymous surveys but the questions only have radio buttons for you to assign a 1-5 rating. There’s no free text space to write out explanations or mitigating factors or details.

      1. Jessica*

        I once had a temp job doing data entry of survey results, and the saddest part was the ones where people had handwritten impassioned notes in the margins about how the response choices offered were not adequate for what they wished to communicate.

      2. Observer*

        the company didn’t provide a place for details.

        I’d be willing to bet that that’s at least part of it.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        The surveys we’ve done in my office are in theory anonymous but I didn’t know the feedback would get broken down by team and analysis of it would be sent to the team leaders–which sounds kind of like what happened here. I was mildly annoyed by that because our team was small enough that even if you didn’t know exactly who put what it didn’t feel super anonymous.

        But either way, we were all gathered into a conference room where we discussed the various feedback. If OP’s situation was like that I think it is very reasonable no one wanted to specify “Jane sucks” in their survey.

        1. Observer*

          But either way, we were all gathered into a conference room where we discussed the various feedback. If OP’s situation was like that I think it is very reasonable no one wanted to specify “Jane sucks” in their survey.

          Well, given that the OP’s manager *did* sit them all down, it sounds like a fairly similar situation. So, yes, I can see why people might hesitate.

    3. not nice, don't care*

      My partner’s workplace just hired an employee cheerleader/trainer type person who sent a survey, ostensibly to ask about what kinds of stickers & candy employees prefer as rewards (I’m only being slightly sarcastic here).
      A fair number of respondents used the open comment boxes to unload novella-length descriptions of the unsafe working conditions, hostile supervisor, etc, since management refused to collaborate or even listen to staff ideas/complaints.
      That got some action.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Some of these “Corporate Cheer” types appear to have been left on the doorstep of Who Moved My Cheese? as infants and raised by the kindly votaries therein.

    4. AnonForNow*

      So, we do a lot of surveys where I work that claim to be anonymous but before we take it we select our department, then our role. I’m the only admin in my department, so for me, it’s not truly anonymous. The survey’s they take could be similar.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I’ve had that kind of survey before. When the items being talked about/complained about can only come from 1 place. Not anonymous when it can be narrowed down to 3 or 4 folks.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        If I identify my department and gender, my survey is now individually identifiable. Fun times.

    5. Michelle Smith*

      Respectfully, are you asking a rhetorical question? OP doesn’t want to be retaliated against and both OP and coworkers are smart enough to know that anonymous workplace feedback surveys are not actually anonymous.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        No, I understood the OP to believe the survey was anonymous.
        I do not.
        I think the manager is on a fishing expedition to confirm who wrote what, not why they wrote it.
        I thought OP was asking if s/he should take the bait and tell the manager, “since you asked for clarification, what I meant was Jane is horrible.”
        And I can see no good coming of that.
        Manager wants an easy answer or she would do the work herself. She would observe and manage. She wants someone to say X is the problem. And she can spin it into “employee has a problem with X,” not that X is a problem.

    6. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. So this survey was a hospital wide survey that all workers are requested to take. There is a spot for comments but all comments are kept from supervisors and directors. Only the top levels are given access to the comments. So I can write whatever I want knowing that the top brass is not going to try to find out who Jane in blablablah department is. During the meeting, my director admitted that he wished he could read the comments so they could know what people were saying.

      I have no clue if other people complained about here anonymously but no one was willing to say anything in front of her in the meeting room.

      I think I’m going to have to get more direct examples documented as opposed to generalities which is what I have now.

      1. Dawn*

        I honestly think that the fact that you work in a hospital is relevant and makes addressing this more imperative overall; “is bigoted” and “works in a medical setting” frequently add up to “causes people to receive unequal medical treatment” and often opens up the employer to legal action.

  12. Generic Name*

    I’m going to guess that Jane isn’t the only problem with this workplace. Just the biggest/worst. Any company that keeps someone like Jane around is not a company that is functioning well. OP, what would happen if you went home this weekend and just looked at what jobs are available in your area, and maybe applied to one or two? I would stop focusing on how to make your company functioning and focus on you and finding another job. You’re smart to limit your exposure to Jane, but you aren’t obligated to help your company do what they aren’t already doing.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    It’s a) not your problem how hard it would be (or not) to replace Jane, and b) if it really is that hard, that means Jane’s boss hasn’t been managing well. Nobody is that indispensable, or shouldn’t be unless they’ve been allowed to take over too much power and keep too many secrets.

  14. OrangeCup32*

    At my nightmare job which I just quit, complaining about our Jane (an unqualified, incompetent asshole with anger management issues- my nickname for her was Godzilla because of her screaming meltdowns) was the surest way to get you on our managers list to be “managed out” or fired or put on the next layoff list. Because Jane kisses her ass so much she has herself convinced she can’t run the department without her and nothing will change her mind, even though Jane outsources all her work to others. Both of them are the type to kiss up and lick down.

    Also, holding a public department meeting and actually thinking people will speak out loud about what they put on a survey is bad management, period. Our manager did that too and she is a terrible manager and poor leader in so many other ways as well.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Channeling the little rascals or Tom Sawyer, “got a good lickin’ for playing hooky.”

        But to your comment, remember the letter from the woman with the online store who was bamboozled into losing her sole rock star employee and subsequently her company because some termite employee came in and ate the business from the inside out?

    1. Angstrom*

      Yup. Some folks are all sweetness and light to those above and horribly nasty to those below. Even if you can pull the mask away the folks above may not believe the ugly reality of what they’re seeing.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Even if you can pull the mask away the folks above may not believe the ugly reality of what they’re seeing.”

        Or they may not care.

    2. Observer*

      Also, holding a public department meeting and actually thinking people will speak out loud about what they put on a survey is bad management, period.

      Yup. Which is why I think that perhaps the OP should start looking elsewhere unless there is something REALLY phenomenal about their job. It’s not a great job market, but it’s not a complete disaster. And of course, there is no reason they can’t start looking *before* they quit their current job.

      1. OrangeCup32*

        Absolutely, unless you’re independently wealthy, no one should quit a job these days before they find another one.

      2. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

        LW here. Unfortunately my job is very niche so either I stay or I look for an entire new field of work which I’m not willing to do at the time. I’m also still a trainee so I don’t have as many opportunities as a full trained person.

    3. Anonymous for this comment*

      I’d ask if you worked at my office but I know that can’t be it only because our Jane retired in 2021. If our Jane hadn’t retired, my boss would have employed her for the rest of my boss’s career.

      BTW my job has been so much better since Jane left. Just insanely better.

  15. metadata minion*

    Are you in a very rural area or something like that where there just aren’t a lot of job seekers at all? Because while a good office manager is worth their weight in gold, and it is absolutely a highly skilled job, it doesn’t involve skills or aptitudes that tend to be *rare*. It sounds like someone who would need to grow into the position would be infinitely preferable to Jane.

  16. Lainey L. L-C*

    I think sometimes the Janes of the world last long because they intimidate everyone including bosses/managers or know to treat the “right” people right.

    My Jane #1 was a manager in another branch who literally could not keep staff because she was so hateful and hard to work with – turnover was nuts. My branch also hated her based on the random times she would lash out at one of us if we had the unfortunate circumstance of having to deal with her. When our manager was retiring, there was talk of her moving up to our branch and every single one of us said we would quit the day it happened. She didn’t get that job but remained until that branch got shut down oddly because they weren’t doing well. Our district manager acknowledged she was evil incarnate and that he hated dealing with her as well.

    My Jane #2 systematically would go through and bully the other women (and there weren’t a lot in our branch). Start with one, make her miserable until they quit or lashed out – I was one of the few that did lash out and there was a whole fracas about that – and then she’d move on to next one. Our boss knew, the entire company knew, she wasn’t covert about it in the least, but she was sweet as pie to all the men in the company, and they tended to be the bosses so she got away with it. She ended up getting fired for something unrelated to her bullying, threatened to sue, and got another job and pretty much started her usual tricks again.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Wow. She sounds miserable inside and out. Imagine being her and going to sleep every night as her. She must feel so … not peaceful.

  17. not like a regular teacher*

    I worked in a place like this! Our anonymous survey had a comments section which we used to complain about our Jane…. The big boss called us all into an in person meeting to yell at us about “bullying” our Jane. Nothing ever changed. If I could do it over again I’d waste less time thinking things would ever improve under toxic/incompetent management, and put that energy into job searching instead.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I worked somewhere where the anonymous survey DEFINITELY was not. So I would never trust that.

    2. OrangeCup32*

      That’s what I did, spent my energy looking for a new job because I knew nothing was going to change

  18. Honestly, some people’s children!*

    I was a manager in a shift work environment and we had to rely to some degree on employees being willing to bring problems to our attention. There’s no indication here that that’s an issue but a “here are some concerns I have that may be helpful” with some “here’s what I’ve seen/heard” examples might be worth trying. Once anyway.

  19. Lorikeet*

    Sadly, I think LW has a Jane problem AND a manager problem. If the manager genuinely doesn’t see that Jane is a problem, then I question their effectiveness as a manager and if they see what’s happening but aren’t motivated to address
    it, then I also question their effectiveness as a manager.

    1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. That’s kind of how I feel about my manager and her effectiveness. She’s a wonderful person who I like quite a lot but isn’t great at the difficult parts of managing people. But I respect that’s she trying to be better at it.

      1. Emily*

        LW, respectfully, if she’s trying to be better she’s not trying very hard. It should be common sense that holding a group meeting is not going to get you honest/forthcoming answers about an anonymous survey.

        I’ve had managers I’ve liked as people, but who were very wimpy when it came to managing, and that is not acceptable when you are a manager. You *must* be willing to tackle tough issues.

      2. Doc McCracken*

        LW Is there a way to anonymously gift your manager Allison’s Books? (I’m totally joking here.)

        1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

          LW here. Hahahah, sadly I don’t think so. I supposed I could wait a little and then ask if she’s ever heard about the column and see where that goes.

  20. Ms. Elaneous*

    I would add to the excellent suggestions: run this by your union rep first for helpful hints. That’s what you pay your dues for.
    Ms. Elaneous

    1. Sharon*

      THIS. You don’t even have to name Jane. Just name some of the issues that are making it hard for you, and see if your union rep can approach management about how to address them and make the workplace better.

  21. Essentially Cheesy*

    I had a coworker like Jane once. She and I were like oil and water, our personalities were totally opposite. That is not why I didn’t like her (I can handle personality differences I think) – I truly felt that she did a very less than stellar job at her position. I had mentioned to her once, in July of that summer, that management wants people to focus on certain things and that she wasn’t really doing much of that. That people in that kind of position usually tend to get walked out. She mocked me and said she had never been fired and she never would be.

    A week or two later my boss and I were having a 1:1 to discuss some work and he had mentioned that my Jane-like coworker was So Excited to manage me once he retired. I gave him the most serious grim face that I could and quietly but sternly told him in the most serious way possible that if I ever had to report to her I would quit.

    I am not saying that’s the reason that she was walked out in August but I am sincerely hoping management maybe looked into things based on what I reported to my manager and did some independent analysis.

    So having quiet conversations work, from my experience. Management knows and perhaps needs that quiet but stern employee feedback. No one is irreplicable at work. Even if they tell you that they aren’t.

    1. OrangeCup32*

      One of my colleagues immediately put in for his retirement when our Jane was assigned to be his team’s manager. He was the lucky one of us! He had initially planned to stay another year or so but had always lived below his means and was able to do so. He did have to put up with her for one month, and she was so incompetent she didn’t inform anyone in HR he was leaving the company.

      1. Observer*

        nd she was so incompetent she didn’t inform anyone in HR he was leaving the company.

        How does that even work?

        Did it make anyone realize that she was out to lunch? And how did HR finally find out?

        1. OrangeCup32*

          He called HR to check over something related to his pension or 401k rollover and the HR rep was like… one put your retirement into the system. And her manager was like whatever, not my problem, she needs to do it. Whole department was rotten from the top down

          1. OrangeCup32*

            And to clarify this was after his last day so it probably delayed him getting his first pension check and they didn’t care

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Sometimes hearing a blunt “the day Jane is my boss is the day I leave this company” can be the jolt the higher ups need to realize that this isn’t a theoretical problem that they can pay lip service towards or ignore–that if X, who is a proven professional and valuable asset, says nope, there’s no “let’s work it out here,” if this happens I am leaving, then juuuuust maybe Jane isn’t as great as Jane purports to be.

  22. Meet Moot*

    I quit a job once and in my exit interview when asked what they could do better, I said point blank they had to fire our Jane. I was the fifth person to leave that workplace because of her and the owner/CEO was under the delusion that his conflict resolution strategies were working with her. She wasn’t very bright and always thought she was the victim.
    Six months later she was made redundant (not before two valuable staff members had started making plans to change company though).

  23. Lulu*

    From the boss’s side, I’d really want to hear this feedback. Assuming good intention on both sides of this (boss and OP), it can be really frustrating to hear after-the-fact from employees that they didn’t share something with you because “you’re busy” or “it would be hard for you.” Don’t make that decision for your boss. Bring the work issue to them (a coworker’s ongoing behaviors are causing work problems for the office as you believe is reflected in the survey), and let them do their job. I try really hard to be approachable and open to all feedback, and I’ve still heard this from employees who are overly worried about being difficult. Be difficult! It’s my job!

    1. Van Wilder*

      Agree. If your manager does nothing, at least you can leave the company knowing you did your part.

  24. Tupac Coachella*

    So, unpopular opinion: I wouldn’t say anything.

    Let me qualify that by saying that I don’t necessarily think that’s the best course of action. I know there are LOTS of better ways to handle this than “do nothing.” But when I think of what I would do if I were OP in the real world, I would job search without saying a dang thing. Unless OP has reason to think the manager is oblivious to this behavior (I got the impression she’s not, but it wasn’t 100% clear), she’s choosing not to deal with what sounds like some pretty outrageous behavior, and then getting mad when no one else wants to acknowledge it either. When you call someone out personally, there are a whole lot of ways that it can go bad for you-Jane is actually the manager’s good friend and they gang up on OP, nothing happens but Jane finds out what OP said and goes on a personal campaign, manager agrees and maybe even does something but quietly mentally classifies OP as a “mean girl” for singling Jane out…the ways it could go well seem to be much more limited than the ways this could bite OP. No way I’d jump on that grenade, this falls solidly within Your Boss Sucks and Isn’t Going to Change territory in my book.

    But then again I’m conflict avoidant at above average levels, so YMMV. Since that’s something I’m actively working on, I’m going to be taking notes as I read the comments on this one.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Look, I don’t think it necessarily means you are conflict avoidant to a problematic degree that you think you’d handle the situation differently. Maybe, maybe not. While I am definitely one who would raise this issue with the manager, I’m very, very vocal about things I think are wrong, even when they are actually none of my business lol. So it can go both ways. But it is important to acknowledge the ways in which this could go wrong, so that OP can make an independent assessment of the best course of action. Risk of retaliation is something that absolutely needs to be considered.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        On the other hand, if you’re so miserable you’re prepared to walk with nothing lined up just to get away from a Jane, fear of retaliation isn’t really worth fearing? Unless you’re afraid of physical harm type retaliation.

    2. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I don’t think you’re being conflict avoidant here and I agree with you that a better course of action may be to go find another job. I can’t accept that a supervisor is surprised that morale is low or that they’re not aware that one employee in particular is so bad that it’s causing a lot of morale issues amongst the rest of their staff.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      I agree with this. I am not conflict avoidant but I am fairly cynical. I’ve just seen too many instances where the messenger got shot and then kicked for good measure.

  25. Going Against The Flow*

    I’m of the opinion that you tell your manager. Give her the benefit of the doubt that while she may know Jane is somewhat of a problem she may not know the degree as how badly it’s affecting people. The Janes of the world seem remarkably good at acting completely different with higher ups.
    Your manager is actively looking for feedback. If no one provides it how do you expect anything to change. Give the manager a chance to make things better.

  26. CommanderBanana*

    I just went through this with a grotesquely incompetent and malicious boss that my last organization hired. She was just fired, after spending over a year of the year + she worked there on ‘medical leave’ sucking up insurance money while the org paid through the nose for a consultant to do her work.

    When she was there, she was so vile she caused half of our department to quit. We started raising concerns about her pretty quickly – and in fact, did want them to extend her an offer because of some serious red flags we saw in her interview – and were told to shut up and that if we couldn’t work with her, clearly we were the problem.

    I’m not sure what the end goal was. They ended up paying someone to not work for about 12 months, lost a combined 13 years of institutional knowledge, had to pay a huge amount of money for a consultant to do the job she was supposed to be doing, and ended up firing her anyway.

    1. OrangeCup32*

      I sympathize. My company has lost 100 years of institutional knowledge because our incompetent and awful management and I agree, not sure why no one cares about that.

  27. Sneaky Squirrel*

    If you feel safe discussing your concerns one on one with your supervisor, spell out your concerns about Jane. Point to real life, direct examples of the behaviors that are causing lower morale and the impact it has on your work. Don’t recommend that they fire her because you don’t have that standing, but don’t hold back just because they’d have a hard time replacing her. That’s for them to worry about.

    But stepping back, is it really just Jane that is the problem? Because if your supervisor is “upset” and “surprised” and also unaware of Jane’s behaviors, then it sounds like they’re disengaged. Even if everyone was afraid to give feedback about Jane, Jane’s behavior likely isn’t going unnoticed. And the way your supervisor is approaching this (i.e. in a group meeting where people who have already identified they don’t feel safe are now expected to out themselves) tells me that they really aren’t invested in making the culture better.

    A good employer survey is supposed to help identify areas of improvement, but the results shouldn’t be a total surprise. The employee survey should be a confirmation of the areas they need to work on with some insights as to whether they’re moving the needle in the right direction.

  28. La Triviata*

    Currently, we have an accounting person who’s been with the organization for 20+ years. She’s a bully – tosses information back saying something’s incorrect (i.e., internal account numbers) or incomplete, but refuses to give correct information or even how/where to find the information. Or say how/where but it was inaccessible (i.e., only accessible to directors and higher). In the past, she’d sometimes drive me to tears. She’s still here, but she’s working remotely and her responsibilities have been seriously curtailed. For which I am truly grateful.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      This. There should be 1 Jane incident, managed well – as in, “cut that out, Jane, not appropriate here. Get professional and (as my mom would say) get civilized.” – and Jane straightens out and acts normal and is a team player.

      I blame management

  29. Yup!*

    A supervisor should never be shocked by results like this. Their job is to know what’s going on and have a sense of the place and people.

    That the supervisor is now asking employees to do their job by listing—not anonymously—why things aren’t good, is one of many red flags.

    Jane is still there despite her issues because this is the work environment that’s been allowed to develop.

  30. Alex*

    I wonder if it’s possible that LW has particular issues with Jane that aren’t shared, at least as strongly, by other colleagues. Someone like a Jane can clash with a particular coworker, really get under their skin, etc., but gets along fine with others. If LW’s sentiments don’t represent the feelings of at least a majority of the team, that may explain the boss’ reluctance to do anything.

    1. Observer*

      If LW’s sentiments don’t represent the feelings of at least a majority of the team,

      That seems unlikely, though, given that the scores of the whole department are below the rest of the company.

    2. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. I think it’s fair to say that I have the most issues with Jane in my workplace. She doesn’t get along with anyone but others are willing to talk and interact with her more while I strictly try to avoid her. I know that she annoys other people but they are more willing to put up with it while I’m not. And I respect that. Reading these replies makes me think that maybe I’m the one who needs to chill a little and get more documentation.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        So I hope you read this even though it’s the next day. You do not need to get documentation before even talking to your boss. You don’t need to prove a conversation happened. *You* are a witness to any conversation you have had or heard. You don’t need documentation to get advice from your union rep.

        Your boss may need to get documentation compiled to discipline Jane, but that’s their job, not yours. Talk to your boss and see how they respond.

        Being the one willing to speak up doesn’t mean you’re the only one who can’t stand Jane – and this isn’t a personality conflict. Bigotry and safety issues aren’t interpersonal problems. You do not need to chill (i.e. do nothing). A lot of people are irrationally afraid to “rock the boat” even when nothing bad will happen.

        1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

          LW here. Thank you for writing this. I read it and I’ll take it to heart about what I do next. I think that people are either scared or too tired to deal with rocking this boat.

  31. Two Fish*

    I wonder if the difficulty in replacing Jane is a euphemism for, if we fire Jane she’ll sue whether or not she has a case.

  32. Suzannah*

    Jane sounds like a nightmare. But – does she have any power over LW?
    If not – and if things were so bad I was thinking of leaving over her – I’d give it right back to Jane. Not fighting with her (who needs that?), but looking her in the eye and saying, “I will not be spoken to that way/listen to your bigoted comments, and then turn and walk away. In fact, I’d turn on my heel and walk away if she approached me at all.
    I know; easy for me to say. And who knows the repercussions? But if you’re actually thinking of quitting your job, that for me would be a final effort.

    1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. She doesn’t have any power of me but she’ll refuse to do her job in a timely manner if she gets upset or she’ll make it harder. Or pick a fight which I don’t feel like getting into.

      At this point I grey rock her a lot but that doesn’t really fix the ongoing issue.

  33. Ruth*

    I had a terrible manager. She bullied people, lied to both her staff and her managers, even had complaints filed against her with the FEHA. When upper management finally realized she was putting the firm in legal hot water (I actually had a small role in this, since the secretary for the managing director was a family friend to whom I managed to mention that our boss hadn’t passed out the employee handbooks we were all supposed to sign), they didn’t fire her — they “promoted” her to a position where she had no reports and basically didn’t do anything. Neat solution! Even after she left the whole department had PTSD — people in other departments wondered why we were not interacting with them, even after she was gone, because she’d convinced us we weren’t allowed to.

  34. Sparkles McFadden*

    A great manager would not be surprised by the results and already be trying to fix what needs fixing. An OK manager would be disappointed with the results but would think “I really need to pay better attention to what’s going on here.” A bad manager gets upset and grills everyone, hoping to find the people who said the negative things and get them to stop saying negative things. The goal will not be to improve things. The goal will be to make sure everyone knows they need to say things are great even when they are not.

    You can’t fix this because your real problem is your boss.

  35. WillowSunstar*

    I have to wonder if Jane is somehow related to a higher-up in the organization, or at least has some sort of outside connection with them. I’ve seen things like this before and that was why the Jane — or John in one case — was not fired.

    1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW here. It’s the opposite. We’re a huge state organization with tens of thousands of employees. One person being a jerk to 15 people isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of the entire institution. I know this employee has been put in classes before to “help” her get along with people and I can’t say that it helped.

      I think my manager really just doesn’t want to have to find someone new and train them unless it’s the absolute last option.

      1. Emily*

        “I think my manager really just doesn’t want to have to find someone new and train them unless it’s the absolute last option.”

        Then your manager is absolutely the problem here.

  36. hodie-hi*

    It’s certainly not too late to give your feedback as Alison suggests. The more of you who follow suit, the more likely you are to see action.

    That said, anonymous surveys can be a good opportunity to drive action. The way to do this is for everyone to give details about Jane’s behavior and how it affects them as well as the business. Don’t just say how you’re feeling about the office, about the work, etc. Be specific, be objective, and give examples.

    “The last X times I was in the office, Jane said and did these things:
    Interrupted a conversation in the break room with bigoted, negative commentary (specific details) which resulted in…
    Came into my office and said A about B and C, which distracted me from my work and caused me to miss that day’s deadline, made me concerned that she was sharing information about B and C that should be confidential, etc.
    Complained about having to do tasks L, M and O which are a normal part of her job. These complaints make me reluctant to ask her to do these tasks, which means…
    Collectively, these have discouraged me from coming into the office and… and… and…”

    Many years ago, most of our office… including myself… were very specific, named bad actors and described behavior and the affects on ourselves and the business. As a result, grand-grand-grand bosses flew in and conducted a series of meetings with about six or so of us in each session. They also did some investigations. The end result was spectacular. There was a firing, a demotion and permanent black mark on someone else’s record, and two divorces.

  37. Dawn*

    Something you said jumped out at me: “… it wasn’t like I was going to tell my supervisor and director…”

    So here is a perfect opportunity if your manager isn’t willing to take action! If I’m reading this correctly, your director has also asked for this feedback! And so if you have the conversation with your manager and if she seems reluctant to act on it, there’s a level above her who has also explicitly requested this information!

    1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. I’m just so worried to go to my director over my supervisor. Especially since I haven’t specifically talked to my supervisor. I really like her and I don’t want her to get in trouble. I just want her to manage better or at least manage this one person better.

      It does sound like I need a lot more concrete information before I take any more steps though.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I think Dawn was suggesting that you try the supervisor first and if there is no improvement in a reasonable amount of time / you get brushed off, going to the director.

        Concrete information is good, but it sounds like you’ll get what you need within like a week. And I think you can include past events, even if you don’t remember the exact date. Or the exact, verbatim wording of her bigoted comments. You can position it as examples of the type of things that you have to deal with from Jane.

        One thing that might help would be flagging policies that Jane is violating. Bigoted comments would violate any policies or directives about respect for all people. She’s not just a jerk, she is breaking [THESE SPECIFIC RULES].

        1. Dawn*

          Yup, this, and just to add…. I’m not sure that someone who allows bigotry and abuse in the workplace to slide is actually someone to really like and not want to get into trouble?

          Just something to think about. This doesn’t sound like it’s a small thing that the ball is being dropped on, it sounds like your whole office has been terrorized by this woman for some time now and nothing has been done.

  38. Lobsterman*

    As with so many AAM letters, the real answer is “start applying to other jobs, and try not to engage.”

  39. AveeeeeeenoAddiction*

    Holy moly, this could have been written by my department. The bad apple in our large group is also someone who’s considered “difficult to replace,” and unfortunately in this case, we *never* fire anyone, just passive-aggressively push them out. The problem with my rotten apple is that they are very church/family friendly and puts on a great first impression too; if you hadn’t worked with them regularly, you might not know how awful they are. I personally regret not speaking out against them or reporting each offense when it happened.

  40. Chickadee*

    Jane reminds me of Anger Management Guy. AMG was probably(?) the worst part of my first post-college internship, but he was just the tip of the dumpster fire. Between AMG, Sleeps with Interns Guy, and Bragged About Stealing Carkeys Boss, I genuinely wonder if any interns have died and/or sued the organization yet.

        1. Chickadee*

          Ha ha sorry! It’s actually better/worse than it sounds – she noticed one of the work vehicles had been left unlocked, so took the keys and drove off to see how long it would take someone to call her and tell the keys were missing. Which is a bonkers things to do by any measure, but this occurred in a remote, isolated area so pushed it towards the “almost stranded employees in the wilderness” territory. That particular event predated my internship, but she brought it up during our onboarding as a point of pride(?). She also told outrageous lies about the previous group of interns… while they were sitting in the room. It’s the worst place I ever worked, if I wasn’t fresh out of college & clueless about workplace norms I would have quit the first week. (Probably on day 2 when they told me not to take lunch breaks and only pack food I could eat while hiking.)

  41. Armchair Analyst*

    There’s a lot going on here. I really thought the problem was going to be about the manager berating everyone to give morale improvement ideas in a meeting, because of a survey that seems to have been more broad and formal.

    Did the survey results go straight to all employees? If they came from administrators or management, shouldn’t they also come with guidance on how to solicit and encourage improvements and employee engagement?

    Even if the employee who brings everyone down is fired, the manager will still be there, managing poorly.

    I know we are to take the LW at their insistence on what the problem is. I agree that employee should go, and don’t ask your manager that directly.

    And also think big here – what will actually make a better more effective workplace and department. Maybe better management and guidance and a sense of trust throughout the whole organization.

    1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

      LW Here. My manager didn’t really berate us, I did feel like she honestly wanted feedback but doing it a group was terrible. No one wanted to speak up.

      We don’t get the survey results, they go to the supervisors and directors. This is the first time in 5 years at the job that we’ve talked about the numbers which means something’s up. My manager and director and both begging for feedback, but people won’t talk. Or hell maybe they are talking but not in front of other people. My manager is taking classes now to help improve her managing and part of that is asking for more feedback from us. Which may or may not help depending on what people say.

      1. SunbeamNaps=winning*

        LW, out of curiosity, is there a chance your supervisor was told there was a problem *but doesn’t know/ realize it’s a person*? I could absolutely see a supervisor (clueless, or believing the best of everyone, or whatever) who just gets told her department’s morale results are terrible, who then calls her reports together to find out if it’s the lack of coffee flavors or bad odors from the next office, lack of pay, or some other environmental or company issue that’s causing the problem. I wouldn’t expect that to necessarily need a private conversation were I in her shoes.

        Full disclosure, I’m spoiled by a boss that asks for feedback in a group, follows up in 1:1 meetings to take individual concerns as well, and actually follows through on both kinds of feedback without telling tales, so I have more belief that managers at least try to act in good faith than may be wise.

        1. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

          LW here. I just don’t know. Part of me thinks how can you not know Jane is a problem? She’s seen how she talks to people, Jane has snapped at my manager before, I know another lady complained a lot about Jane before retiring and we’ve complained before about things not getting done in a timely manner that were Jane’s responsibility. So part of me is upset because how can you not know? But with the way she acts, I left to believe that either she doesn’t know or worse, she knows and isn’t doing anything.

          I suppose it’s possible that she is talking to Jane privately but since nothing has changed, I don’t know if that matters at all to the rest of us.

          But to be fair! Not every issue in the workplace is related to Jane. There are some other problems that my manager is working on that have nothing to do with her. And we just had a person quit who was hard to deal with so that’s going to shift the dynamic again.

          This is the first time my manager has ever gone so hard in getting feedback but I also think this is the first time she got pretty bad survey feedback too.

  42. Still Learning*

    Years ago I contributed to pushing out a colleague who was preventing progress. I don’t recall him being personally offensive but he was too busy trying to come up with ways to micromanage the rest of us to do his own job. The key was assembling several of us who had a good reputation in the organization to go to the manager as a group and lay out the issues.

  43. Tai*

    You have a union! Congratulations! Please see your shop steward. They may have some ideas about what you can do. This is part of the benefit of working in a union job.

  44. Gonnagiverepliesashot*

    LW Here.

    Thanks so much for replying to my letter!!! I can’t believe it! I really appreciate it and all the comments that I’m reading too.

    I think you’re completely right about not giving feedback on behalf of the whole team. Reading some of the comments made me suspect that I’m the one most upset with this person while others are more okayish with it. I’ve meant to keep track of specific incidents but never did since I took the option of minimizing all contact with Jane so I wouldn’t have to put up with her. The result is all my information is very old and not very helpful.

    But it sounds like I need to start a document with real times and details. I really like my manager but she isn’t the kind of person to want to deal with difficult people. So the more chill relaxed people get managed like normal and the problematic people get ignored or put off until it can’t be delayed anymore. Or at least that’s how it feels to me. It’s very possible she’s talking to people and coaching them and everything, but you wouldn’t know by their actions.

    I don’t think she’d be totally shocked to hear about this behavior. As for why it hasn’t been addressed, I just don’t know. I guess I’m kind of scared to ask because I might find out that she knows all of this but doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      One possible explanation for why you seem the most bothered is that your colleagues’ beliefs about what is normal or OK in a workplace have gotten twisted in the time that Jane has been there. You said in comments that you’re a trainee, so I’m guessing you joined more recently than many of your colleagues.

      If my guess is correct, your colleagues may have had more experiences with management brushing them off or refusing to deal with things. A while back, I found myself in a situation with a supervisor who was making me and the rest of the team miserable (though nothing nearly so egregious as what you describe). We discussed the possibility of raising our issues with management, but had no confidence that anything would come from it. So we didn’t bother. It wasn’t worth the time, effort, stress, etc. After a long time of this, it can definitely turn into learned helplessness.

      Keep in mind that your colleagues’ responses on the survey also show they’re not happy. Obviously, we don’t know that Jane is the cause, or the biggest cause. But you have evidence that it’s not just you who is unhappy in this environment.

  45. JelloStapler*

    You could also say “I cannot speak for others but the sense I get is that I am not the only one.”
    This may help her gently open the door to ask specifically about Jane so people feel okay and comfortable sharing.

  46. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    Document everything, get your coworkers to document everything, go to leadership together and lay out the documentation and the impact it’s having on all of you. No need to ask for a specific outcome (firing Jane.) If her behavior is so bad that people are considering leaving the company anyway, what do you have to lose.

    I had to do this years ago with a coworker who wasn’t mean like Jane, but was a slacker who took credit for my hard work in our weekly standups. I documented every time I noticed him sleeping at his desk or playing computer games. My boss couldn’t ignore the evidence. Deep down he knew this person was a problem, but bosses often will ignore a problem until they can’t ignore it anymore. My evidence was key to getting the guy fired, though I never specifically asked for that. Do it and don’t feel bad! You deserve to feel safe at work.

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