ex-employee has been logging into our database, can I ask my coworkers to stop praising my bully, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Former employee has been logging into our database for months

I am a database system administrator at a higher education institution and was out of the office for a while on FMLA. During that time, a coworker with whom I’d collaborated closely left for another job. He left on not-great terms because he wasn’t being given the resources he needed to do his job effectively and wasn’t willing to deal in the politics/play the waiting game until he could get them. I enjoyed working with him and understand why he chose to leave when he did. We traded personal contact information and have been in touch once since he left.

Today I was looking through some users and came across his name. I noticed that his user account was still active, and when I went to deactivate it, I found evidence that he’s been logging into our system for the past 2.5 months since he left the organization. I can’t find any evidence that he’s done anything nefarious despite the fact that he has full access to every part of the system, but I’m unsettled by these actions.

I’m not sure how to proceed at this point. I know my manager was swamped during my absence (our team is already too small to support its growing user base without me being gone), but this is a major oversight. I’ve asked and tried to set up processes regarding deactivating accounts, but with employees spread out over campus and no access to their administrative records, I have no way to know when someone leaves or changes positions. I feel like this is a good example of a time when something could have gone horribly wrong, but I’d be dragging my former coworker’s name through the mud to prove a point if I use this case in discussion.

Should I reach out to the coworker and tell him what I found? How should I address these future security issues with higher-ups when I have little standing to enforce anything and no access to that information? We’re dealing with student information, and I take their privacy and security very seriously but don’t feel like I have the necessary support to protect them effectively.

Don’t contact your coworker without first talking with your manager. Doing that would look too much like you were trying to help him cover up a pretty major breach of your systems. (In fact, it would be that.) This isn’t about throwing anyone under the bus. This is about alerting your employer to a serious security breach; what they want to do from there is up to them, but you are absolutely obligated to speak up (and have a duty of loyalty not to go to him first).

Once that’s done, you can certainly use this an example of why better policies are needed — but the first thing is to tell your boss what you found.


2. Can I ask my coworkers to stop praising the person who bullied me?

How reasonable is it to ask my teammates to stop praising another employee from a different department who was a bully? I am okay with speaking about this person in a working manner (“Petra suggested this on the budget issue, so let’s go with it.”), but there are two people on my own team (one is my manager) who will lavish praise on them (“Petra is a genius! She is so great at her job! This company is so much better with her around!”).

I spent a better portion of a year working with Petra, an internal client who behaved terribly to me and others assigned to her project. It was firmly bullying behavior that affected project outcomes, relationships within the project team, and my health. I’ve heard many stories of her doing interpersonal damage around the company, though I can’t deny she is strong in her realm of work.

My teammates and especially my manager know about my experiences, though it doesn’t seem like they have caught on to the extent. I feel somewhat disrespected when they speak so lavishly about Petra. They’ll add a quick acknowledgement after they’ve started because they suddenly remember whom they’re talking to: “I know you wouldn’t say this about her, but she is so amazing!” or “I know you had a bad experience, but I just love how smart she is.” That tells me they remember my experience, but choose to continue saying these things to me. It’s disheartening that her bad behavior is minimized and my experience is dismissed, especially by my manager. They can say it to others, I just don’t want to hear it myself.

Is it reasonable to say “Hey, given my history with Petra, and you may not realize the extent of the damage she did, but can I ask that we keep our talk about her to strictly business?” Or is it asking too much and I should just ignore it? I don’t expect this special consideration for any other of our clients, many of whom are difficult to work with but not bullying. Plus, I’m in the camp we shouldn’t keep jerks around just because they are good at their job.

Yeah, it’s probably asking too much. You can’t really tell people not to say positive things around you about a colleague who still works there; you’ll come across as overly precious or prima donna-ish.

At most, the next time she’s lavishly praised, you could say something like, “My experience with her was very different. I’d be glad to share it privately sometime if you think it would be useful to hear another perspective.”

But I think you’ve got to mark this down to them having legitimately positive experiences with Petra and not realizing the extent of how harmful your interactions with her were or writing it off to a personality conflict rather than something more serious. That might sound dismissive, but it’s so much more common for two people to just not get along than it is for someone to be truly monstrous that it’s understandable that people might assume that. And they might figure that even if they did hear more details, because people tend to assume there are two sides to every story, or that each person is bringing their own baggage to the situation — especially when they know and like both people involved. You don’t have to like that, but looking at it that way might make it feel less personal. (And to be clear, I don’t think it’s great that they’re lavishly praising her around you, but you can only control your side of it.)


3. My colleagues don’t like how enthusiastic I am about our sales competitions and incentives

I work in a competitive sales environment where there are bonus opportunities and other performance driven incentives. I am quite competitive, and of course where there’s competition I like to win. I am no sore loser though, as I strongly believe it’s the taking part that counts and always give it my all without being ruthless. However my colleagues don’t seem to like my enthusiasm and I often get ridiculed by them for it, e.g. telling me to “calm down, it’s only a prize” (whatever it may be that day/week/month) when I get excited about an incentive. I also hate when they tell me to “get a life” when I express how much I love my job and how lucky I am to have found a job I actually like. Other times, I get the feeling that I am annoying them just by being me and doing my job well and enjoying it too. I am quite a positive person, and sometimes all my colleagues seem to do is moan and groan about the most trivial things about work.

I’m getting sick of it but don’t know what I can say or do to change things. It’s starting to get me down a little, as I know some of my colleagues talk about me behind my back because I actually caught a pair of them in the act and confronted them about it. Of course, they just brushed it off as “banter.” Sometimes I feel like I’m back at high school, with me as the geek and the rest of my colleagues as the “cool kids” who don’t seem to get that the point of our job is to be enthusiastic and competitive. I know that they are probably just jealous of my successes or maybe there are some of my coworkers who are as passionate as me but playing it cool. I also think sometimes maybe they are mega game playing and keeping their cards close to their chest because some of them do have just as good sales figures as me, if not better, yet they still grump and groan and don’t really show any enthusiasm for winning bonuses or incentives (until they do win of course!). I really need some advice on how to deal with this kind of office politics as it’s starting to make me dislike my workplace because even though I try to be nice and upbeat with my colleagues, they are continuously negative and I dont want to end up hating a job I love just because of the people.

Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being excited about competitions and incentives. That’s exactly the reaction your company hopes that you’ll have, after all. But it sounds like you might be sharing your excitement a bit too much with people who don’t see things the same way you do, and that you might be better off not attempting to share it quite as much with people who aren’t as into it as you are.

Think of it like anything else: If you were passionate about, say, Game of Thrones and talking about it all the time, your colleagues who were not so into Game of Thrones might get annoyed and want you to tone it down. In this case, you’re assuming that your excitement is focused on a shared interest — since you all work on the same team — but in fact, they don’t really share that interest, not in the same way that you do. I know that that sucks to hear, especially if you’ve been assuming that this is a group ready-made to share your perspective, but … they just don’t. You can still be excited, and maybe you can find other people there who get excited too … but you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment if you’re looking to unenthusiastic colleagues to welcome displays of enthusiasm. (It could also be a culture fit issue, and you might take that into account the next time you’re looking for a job — there are workplaces where this kind of energy is a perfect fit.)


4. Answering “what’s your greatest weakness?” with “Kryptonite”

Recently, on a board I am on, someone posted that you should answer “What is your greatest weakness” with “Kryptonite.” Many people on the board thought it was clever and said they would use it. I thought it was funny but a pretty bad idea, unless you planned on following up with “But seriously, my biggest weakness is…” What do you think?

Don’t do it. People who suggest this kind of thing are missing the point of why interviewers ask the question; they actually want an answer. If a candidate said that me, I’d laugh politely and then wait for a real answer. And if I didn’t get one, I’d explicitly ask for one.

For the record, I don’t ask that question in interviews — but I certainly ask variations of it (like “what areas have past managers encouraged you to work on improving in or do differently?”) and I’d be annoyed if a candidate didn’t give me a serious answer. I know there’s a feeling out there that it’s a gotcha or a bad question, but it’s not a good strategy to refuse to actually engage on it, which is what a joke answer does.

Plus, it’s never, ever a good idea to get your answers to interview questions off the internet. The whole point of an interview is to figure out if you’re a good fit for a job; using canned answers isn’t in your long-term best interests, if you want to end up in a job that you’re good at and happy in.


{ 265 comments… read them below }

    1. Anonofcourse*

      Agreed – usually because bullying is done in private and the public face is lovely. Then (in my case), after I left, I was contacted by ex-colleague1 who had been told by ex-colleague2 she should talk to me about what was happening for her. Turns out ex-colleague2 had observed the bullying (and not said anything for fear the same would happen to them) and then heard and observed the same things – including the same phrases used – towards ex-collegue1. Everyone still thought the perpetrator was wonderful. Ex-colleague1 left the organisation, and bully moved on to the next person.

      1. jamlady*

        Ugh, it’s always the same story! Bully went after my VP, she quit – then went after me, I quit – then went after my newly Director and VP-less staff, and everyone but the narcissist on the team (whole other issue) quit. The department is pretty much gone except for the narcissist who doesn’t realize she’s being used, and everyone believes the bully is such an angel and that the 12 people who fled were the problem. The math of toxic workplaces with a useless HR team is mind-boggling.

    2. Despachito*

      I think you are, sadly, spot on.

      Bullies can have an amazing side, be funny and can mask very well … but even if they DON’t and do everything in plain view it hurts to see that people seem to be oblivious to the bullying (unless THEY are the target of it of course) and only acknowledge the good side of the bully.

      When I see this I lose hope in humanity :( I wonder why this is, and how can people be so short-sighted – because they may not be the target of the bully NOW but definitely can in the future, wouldn’t it be in their own interest to nip the toxic behavior in the bud, instead of rewarding it? I side-eye this perhaps even more than the bully themself.

      I have no advice for the OP but feel strongly for her. I would be tempted to repeat that Petra is not so great every time they praise her. I am aware that this is not a healthy thing but neither is having to face the situation OP is describing. I would also be probably polishing my CV.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        I think people carry over family of origin behavior to the workplace. If mom, dad or a sibling was a bully, the way to survive is to make yourself very small and quiet and compliant so you aren’t next. We grow up, but inside is that little kid who’s afraid. The higher ups don’t want to deal with it, just like the extended family, neighbors, school and church didn’t. If the bully is a troublesome person, they don’t’want trouble.’ If the bully is a high performer, they see it as fhe cost of doing business.

    3. Karma finally got him*

      I’ve also seen that siding with the bully is often the case. However, I’ve found that over time the praise dissipates as more people are subjected to the bully’s actions.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I think that depends how clever they are about it. One of my colleagues was bullied by someone who just obviously lost her temper and shouted at her in front of everyone, and the sympathy was very much with my colleague. Maybe if you’re the smart, manipulative kind of bully you keep people inside, but I don’t think the “publicly losing it and bawling your head off” kind does.

      That said, the other managers at her level didn’t bloody DO anything about it.

      1. Ganymede*

        I remember one job I was on (freelance) where Jane told me Anne was bullying her, and Anne told me separately that Jane was bullying *her*. Both rather troubled personalities, and both of them in the right *and* in the wrong. Thank heavens it was only 2 months…

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I’m interested in this perspective because it sounds like a one-time thing and I don’t think of one-off bad behavior as bullying. Not that it’s ok, it’s just a different kind of not-ok than bullying, which I think of as more of a pattern of behavior.

        1. bamcheeks*

          No, it was something she did every few weeks or so. Honestly, it was like some kind of weird Freudian relationship, entirely on BullyBoss’s part. BullyBoss managed my colleague (who also became one of my good friends!) and they were from the same ethnic background, and BullyBoss would alternate between acting like a supportive mentor and being very, “I see a lot of myself in you!” and just having a massive go at my friend and ranting at her for being unprofessional or disorganised or how could she POSSIBLY think that those boots were appropriate officewear or whatever. To me, it looked like the flipside of “I see a lot of myself in you!”, in that she’d pick up on some trait or awkwardness in my friend which reminded her of something she hated in herself, and pick on my friend for it.

          I think it was 100% the kind of thing where if my friend had stood up to her, she’d have stopped immediately. However, every time it happened my friend would just freeze in shock and confusion and wonder what she’d done wrong, and I think that freeze/submit response exasperated BullyBoss even more, or she took it as kind of validation that she was right or something. BullyBoss would eventually stomp off, and my friend would be like, “I don’t know what I did wrong, did I deserve that?” and all of us at the junior level would be like, NO, that was shit! And your boots are the same as mine! She’s just a freaking bully!

          There were several other decent managers at the same level as BullyBoss on the same floor as us who would hear the whole thing, and they’d often check in with my friend and see if she was OK and similarly tell her it wasn’t her fault, but as far as I know they neither addressed it directly with BullyBoss and tell her to stop it, nor took it to the head of department. And I still think that was pretty shitty of them!

    5. Chili Heeler*

      I think people see it as not rocking the boat. It takes less energy to pretend it’s not happening (or that it’s not a problem) than deal with things.

      1. Burms*

        There was a bully at my first job long ago. She was not good at her job, spent a lot of time on a company program the organized stuff like softball and tickets to events. I think I was her target because I did not have the time or inclination to go out after work on Fridays and get plastered. Our supervisory team seemed to give her a passs on her mediocre work and ignore that she was not spending enough time on the cases on her desk. Then came her wedding. I was thankfully not invited to this shindig and somehow she did or said something there that made the rest of the team very frosty to her. It was then that we learned that she had married the son of a Sr. VP in the other division. I relocated with my spouse not long after and never heard the rest of the story.

    6. Cabbagepants*

      it’s almost by definition. Bullies that don’t get most people to like and defend them are classed as jerks and get pushed out of the social group. A bully is a jerk who knows how to maintain social approval.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Or the bully is at the top of the tree already and can pick out a victim with no backing (what I call pureblood privilege for HP fans). Especially if one of the higher ups doesn’t like the victim anyway.

    7. Daisy*

      My experience is the “kiss up, kick down” bully and the “pick one from a group” bully are much more prevalent than the indiscriminate bully so often portrayed by media. IME they tend to be as charming to others as they are mean to those they pick on.
      I hope OP found a job with a much better manager, I’m not at all impressed with that one.

      1. Clare*

        Yes. They’re also experts at setting up situations to make it look as though the victim is incompetent and the cruel things they say are justified.

        1. Quill*

          Also, they will pick an “acceptable target” more often than not, so… isolated from your other coworkers? Don’t participate in the same religious holidays? Don’t quite fit into the office socializing culture because you have to get the job done and then go home? People are already paying a lot less attention to your side of the story than of the person who is already observing all their favorite rituals.

          Plus, a bully generally makes a first accusation / implication that maybe you’re not so good at your job, or you’re a grouch who can’t take a joke, etc. So by the time you complain you’re seen as retaliating.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            And the bullies often have buddies who will back up/make excuses for the main bully, expecting similar treatment when they need it.

      2. BethDH*

        And unfortunately I’ve run across bullies who worked by making their victims look like the perpetrator. This seems especially common in the workplace.

        Note that I don’t think this applies to OP except that things like this have the larger effect of making people not trust stories about bullying or sometimes even bullying they see. Bullies are experts at setting up traps that manipulate both their direct victims and their audiences.

    8. boof*

      Honestly, a major problem is bullies/abusers themselves often accuse others of the same behavior they are doing (maybe they even believe it, who knows) so while I try to just be supportive/don’t need to play detective if someone is just sharing a story that happened to them, if I was actually interacting with both people and being told to modify how I behave about them, that’d be a lot more challenging. I would of course try to be sensitive about someone’s wishes to not praise someone they’ve said was horrible to them, but overall there’s a lot more weight of “what do I know about each of these people and how do I handle this information” at stake. Some bullies can be charming (pedantic moment; I think of abusers as being more manipulative (uses abuse for some sort of personal gain, even if it’s a pretty short sighted gain) and bullies as more “beat up a vulnerable target to prop up a weak ego” so maybe less skillful / more impulsive) but some bullies also play the victim which just makes it particularly hazardous to jump to someone’s side when you really don’t know the situation well.

      1. cactus*

        Yeah, one of my distant co-workers (white) has a racism problem and has spent a year accusing the people of color and white people who ask her to knock it off of bullying. This is so un-artful that she may be on her way out…but sometimes bullies are sneakier about this move. If some of her coworkers have had similar experiences, that may be influencing the caution that’s causing OP’s valid frustration. It’s a tough problem!

    9. CommanderBanana*

      I think it’s also really common for bullies to have favorites. I’ve worked for more than one person who would pick someone(s) to be their favorites, or pick one person to bully. And it’s possible for people to be treated very differently by the same person, or for those not being targeted to stay quiet / praise the bully to avoid getting on their bad side.

    10. OP#2 here with an update*

      I’m the letter writer for #2 and reading the comments today, I’m both touched by the amount of empathy that has been shown and disappointed at how many of you have had to go through the same experiences. I’m sorry this negative behavior is so prevalent.

      Update about that project with Petra: it was a project that would typically take 3 months to complete. I had it for the better part of a year before I was able to transfer it to a teammate (only time I requested being off a project). They had it for months and didn’t finish either (not sure why; I assume it was the same reasons). That teammate left the job (not due to Petra, as far as I know, as they seemed to get along), and I agreed to return as I was the only one with the skillset and thought we must be close to finishing. Unfortunately, it was a few more months of the same manipulation and it left me battered once again. What we ended up releasing was pitiful for the resources spent. My manager seemed to believe me less and less about how bad Petra’s behavior was, even after I pointed out the timeline, which made me feel worse and doubt myself even more, proving your point that people tend to side or favor the bully.

      Update about me: I left that job shortly after and decided to pursue another industry more aligned with my interests. It took a while, but I am in a much better place now. Overall, I learned and grew from every experience. So interesting to read my letter today, your responses, and think about that time! Thanks, all.

      1. boof*

        Thanks for the update and sorry to hear it. Given the project floundered under another person, sus that they didn’t have similar problems.
        I hope you never have to deal with again but if you do, an aggressive cc your manager and documentation campaign to show you are holding up your end of things can be helpful. So glad to hear you are in a better environment!

  1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

    OP2 I’m sorry that you had to deal with this – the original bullying and having to listen to people praising your bully. I hope that things have gotten better!

    1. FellowDBAGeek*

      As another systems geek, I would hesitate in situation #1 to say ‘Colleague XYZ’ has been accessing the system. I would have to report ‘an account labeled as belonging to them’ has been doing so though.

      It’s a small but important distinction to make.

      1. The account may be compromised, and be a human being but NOT the person I think that’s actually accessing it.
      2. The account may be in control of the person I think, but being accessed by an entirely automated process or other application that’s been forgotten.
      3. The person may have given their credentials to someone in the department before they left during training, and the other person is still using it.
      4. The person may be unknowingly accessing it, via some other system integration. Outlook can automatically file emails in some systems for example, and silently appear to be that person even when they don’t remember it’s doing it at all.

      The only factual thing the OP knows is that credentials that shouldn’t be active are still active, and that’s the accurate thing to pursue shutting down.

      1. RememberingOtherStories*

        Oh – good point!

        Years ago, we found an issue with separation of duties because someone took advantage of another user’s maternity leave, found their credentials and continued to use them while she was out. This resulted in approval of payments that were fraudulent. This was only discovered because the user returned from leave and noticed that her user id showed up on the activity report while she was out. The dollar amount of the payments were immaterial (think tens of thousands of dollars in an agency that had billions of dollars of funding) so it might not have been discovered otherwise.

        It’s possible that someone other than the ex-employee is using their credentials, taking advantage of the lag to deactivate accounts. Notifying the manager so that a due diligence can be performed is important especially if the user’s account has access to financial or internal applications.

      2. kiki*

        #2 Was the first thing I thought– it’s possible that ex-colleague built an automation or tool of some sort that’s still running and uses his access credentials.

      3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Thanks ever so much for supplying a specialist’s knowledge that most of us don’t have – es, it’s very plausible that some or all of those things could have happened in this case! And I really like your suggested phrasing; we’re all human – and most humans do NOT want to throw their friends under the bus or put the wishes of their workplace above the well-being of said friends. (And of course there could be consequences for OP’s friend if OP tells the manager that Friend is accessing the system; no more good references from THAT workplace, for one!)

        But this entire workplace sounds chaotic and sloppily run – not toxic, per se, but surely it’s a red flag if people are leaving because the administration is so disorganized that they can’t/won’t/don’t ensure that their employees have what they need to do their jobs. This is the least that people should expect from their employers! And it certainly sounds plausible that a place that scattered failed to close out an employee’s access when that employee left; just one more symptom of a much deeper workplace problem.

      4. BubbleTea*

        It took months after I got a work laptop to persuade my personal laptop to stop logging into Microsoft stuff with my work credentials. I hadn’t even realised that Word was linking into my Outlook account but when I tried to install my own licence (needed for different work), it wouldn’t let me because there was already a copy on the computer. I don’t remember how I finally managed it.

      5. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        There are DEFINITELY things set up in my current account that would continue modifying records after I leave (assuming my account isn’t deactivated — and if it is deactivated, a bunch of processes would break).

        I’ve also been the person who, weeks after being laid off, logged into a tool that I used personally as well as professionally (not as bad as it sounds — my personal account was granted access to the org’s resources), found that I could still see a bunch of systems that I was willing to bet had not had their passwords rotated, and emailed my ex-colleagues going, “UM, maybe y’all should evaluate the user list on this system.” But I very carefully did NOT attempt to log into those systems.

      6. Observer*

        The only factual thing the OP knows is that credentials that shouldn’t be active are still active, and that’s the accurate thing to pursue shutting down.

        That’s actually not the case. For one thing, this is multiple log ins, which is very different than forgetfully logging in once. Also, I suggest that you look at the original, where the OP added some more information. Most important items:

        1. The OP was able to check the IPs that the log ins were coming from, and they were coming from the guy’s house and 2 places where ex-CW had traveled to.

        2. The system in question could be accessed via SSO and via direct log in. Originally ex-CW had been using SSO. Shortly before leaving he changed his login to direct, with no SSO.

        Each one by itself knocks out some of your theories. Together, they make them all pretty much impossible.

      7. Turquoisecow*

        #3 was my thought, I don’t know how good this company’s security is but I’ve definitely worked places where IT dragged its feet on setting up new logins so I used my boss’s or a coworker’s in the beginning. And without someone remembering to nag IT to make it happen, maybe it just…didn’t, so the person is still using those credentials.

    2. 2023 is Ending Soon*

      My toxic co worker from years past was not exactly a bully, but she made things so unpleasant that I was driven into a mental breakdown. She just wouldn’t back off or act like an adult. Company (church) paid for counseling for me to deal with it, but they still think of it as a personality conflict. These things can do real damage.

  2. duinath*

    i would be so tempted to respond to every compliment petra received in my hearing with a clear and obvious example of bullying behaviours from her. sadly, that would most likely just make me the outcast in the office.

    1. BellaStella*

      Agree. Working with bullies like this where they gaslight people into thinking they are the bees knees while bullying others is horrendous. But as noted above most times bully is protected and management wants to shutter their eyes as it means they are not managing well.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      “Oh, really? Because when *I* was working with her…” would get QUITE the workout from me.

      1. the cat's ass*

        had one of these at Oldjob. Dr. Rebecca’s rejoinder got a big workout from me, and a few folks actually said, “oh, that was my experience, too.”You are never the only one bullies are beastly to.

    3. Slaw*

      I think all these replies are crazy. Liking who you work with is not a requisite of a job. OP said themselves that “I’m in the camp that we shouldn’t keep jerks around just because they’re good at their job.” That’s insane talk. That’s literally what employers are paying for, someone to do a good job, not to be best friends with everyone.
      We don’t know what the “bullying” behavior was here, but it seems like OP is the only one having a bad experience with Petra. It sounds far more likely that this is a case of two people who just don’t get along with each other.

      1. Not Totally Subclinical*

        In most workplaces, part of doing a good job is having collegial relationships with your coworkers. Not, note, being “best friends” with everyone, but being civil and professional.

        In comments on the original post, OP said that Petra yelled at them, withheld important project information, lied to them, and didn’t show up to meetings. OP had clearly asked themself the same question — “am I being oversensitive because I don’t like Petra?” and had come to the conclusion that no, Petra’s actually a jerk.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          And that description makes Petra most emphatically not good at her job. She may be good at the specific tasks she was hired for, but attending meetings and collaborating effectively are all part of being not even good but meeting basic requirements of a job. If she can’t pass on accurate information and doesn’t attend meetings, she is actively poor at her job.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        I’d disagree that that’s insane talk. Somebody who bullies their coworkers is not, in my opinion, good at their job. They may be good at the technical aspects but most jobs require some elements of collaboration and if you are horrible to people, they will be reluctant to ask you for stuff or may hide problems so you don’t pick on them over them and all those things lead to work issues.

        On top of this, people do not want to work with jerks so even if a jerk can do his or her own job well, the company will lose other equally good or better people who aren’t willing to be bullied. And the best people have options and are unlikely to hang around to be bullied.

        No, you don’t have to be best friends with everybody, but you (general you, obviously) do have to maintain a professional relationship with everybody and be approachable and willing to engage with others. It’s really not worth having a bad atmosphere on your team, losing good workers, having bad communication and people hiding work issues just to maintain somebody who is “good at their job.” There is doubtless many other people out there equally good and able to behave civilly and refrain from bullying and abusing people. That’s kind of a bottom line thing.

        1. boof*

          yes – House was an entertaining show to watch for a while (for me) because he’s doing everything wrong and he’s actually a terrible doctor, for all that he’s supposed to be a brilliant “Diagnostician” (whatever that is. I am a doctor; that show had no relationship to medicine except superficial words)
          Same thing with work; someone who is toxic but very good at a specific thing is probably not worth keeping around; someone who is simply “good” and not toxic would likely be a net gain

  3. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

    Ha! If an interviewer asked me literally what my greatest weakness is, I would absolutely start with a deadpan “Kryptonite” before going on to a real answer. Their response would be a nice data point to help gauge whether the people I’d potentially be working with realize that you can add lightheartedness even in serious stressful situations.

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I get your point about humor. I would also find it a potential red flag if an interviewer showed they don’t approve of any jokes in an interview – is this maybe the office where humor is forbidden? But Kryptonite is a pop culture reference and it’s always possible that someone doesn’t know what you’re talking about. And that could get really awkward.

      1. ceiswyn*

        It could, but that could get tricky on the job as well, given that I am a massive nerd who likes bantering about nerdy subjects.

        I do get on fine with plenty of non-nerds, both professionally and socially, but Kryptonite is such a mainstream reference that not recognising it stands out as unusual. I’d have to spend part of the rest of the interview checking that the person wasn’t actively anti many of my subcultures.

        1. Roland*

          I really don’t think it’s quite as mainstream as you think. As always there is a relevant XKCD. To avoid link moderation, googling “xkcd 2501 average familiarity” will bring up the one I’m thinking of.

        2. Despachito*

          Not being aware of them does not necessarily mean “actively against them”, it can very well mean “indifferent to them”.

          I think I vaguely remember Kryptonite has something to do with Superman. So I would read it as “she is probably trying to be funny, that’s mildly annoying and she is reading the room wrong because I don’t get it”.

          I still think you are right it can serve as a good test of whether you would gel together well, because even if you find you don’t that is not necessarily a negative – if you feel strongly one way and your employer the other, it is better to find out earlier than later.

          1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

            I definitely didn’t mean someone would be active against Superman, though there probably exists someone in the world who is, and probably also someone who has some bad Superman-related traumas, but that wasn’t the point. I think we need to consider things like age and culture here. For example, maybe the interviewer has grown up in a country where American superheroes aren’t such a big thing.

          2. ceiswyn*

            I’m aware that not being aware doesn’t necessarily mean ‘actively against’, and that there are a number of alternative reasons for what I would consider an uncommon gap in knowledge. It’s a single data point that indicates further things to probe.

            I also think that ‘it’s a pop culture reference so someone might not get it’ is a poor reason to avoid a particular comment. Because you can say that of literally anything. Should I avoid scientific references because my interviewer might be unfamiliar with science? Literary references because they might be unfamiliar with literature? This is going to be one stilted interview…

            1. Despachito*

              “I also think that ‘it’s a pop culture reference so someone might not get it’ is a poor reason to avoid a particular comment. Should I avoid scientific references because my interviewer might be unfamiliar with science? ”

              I actually think it is an excellent reason to avoid such a reference if you want to impress this person, or at least not to put them off.

              Of course you may not want to impress them (and have your own reasons for that,) but the point of these references usually is to strike a common chord with the other person, not to fall flat. And if you do not know the person well enough, you are risking the latter, and you may not want to do that during an interview. Above all when the reference is absolutely unrelated to the field you are interviewing for (I’d understand using a scientific reference if you were interviewing for a job in science but this is not it).

            2. Observer*

              It’s a single data point that indicates further things to probe.

              Honestly, I think you are making a mistake. There are soooo many more likely reasons why someone would not get the joke – even someone who actually is aware that kryptonite has something to do with Superman. You’d be wasting your time. I think that there are lot better signals to dig into.

              Having said that, I do think that if you say kryptonite and immediately continue, “But seriously my biggest weakness is xy”, I don’t think it’s a big deal. And I don’t think that most people would get annoyed at that, even if they didn’t get the joke. Now, if they get visibly annoyed that you made a joke, even one that falls flat, that would be a signal I would want to dig into.

              But I would honestly be worried at anyone who reacted to people not getting a joke that references a specific pop-culture meme as a red or even orange flag that “needs to be investigated.” Because that carries a LOT of baggage.

            3. Allonge*

              Seriously, you cannot imagine a 30 minutes – one hour professional discussion without pop-cultural references that is not stilted?

        3. RussianInTexas*

          I work with a bunch of immigrants, mostly from East Asia. Not the STEM folks, but mostly women in customer service and such.
          I guarantee that many will have no point of reference to most of the “nerdy” culture.

          1. Someone Online*

            And if you are judging potential coworker matches based on “nerdy” culture, you risk having a workplace that is very insular and only hires a certain type of person. Which can lead to unconscious bias against certain types of people who may be excellent employees but not stereotypically nerdy and cause workplaces to fall in to group think that ultimately lead to a weaker workplace.

            1. ceiswyn*

              I agree that this is a concern. As I say, I get on perfectly well, both personally and professionally, with people who aren’t nerdy. This isn’t about seeking to only work with nerds! This is about seeking to work with people who don’t actively disapprove of my subcultures.

              And once again, since this seems not to be coming across clearly, I am not taking ‘does not recognise Kryptonite’ to indicate that someone is definitely anti-geek; that would be absurd. But someone from the same culture as me missing that shared mainstream cultural reference would seem sufficiently odd that I’d want to check out the possibility that it might be a flag. I’ve encountered a lot of people who look down on sci fi, and it’s tiresome to have your interests disparaged.

              1. Despachito*

                I think the problem here is the disparaging of other person’s interests in general, not the sci fi or any other particular interest per se.

                It is up to a decent person to live and let live, and the fact I am not personally into X does not mean I am allowed to lecture a X lover that X is wrong.

                However, I would also expect that X fan would not bore me to death with too much information about X (a mention about going to X-con and being excited about would be OK but deeper references would be wasted on me and frankly would be annoying to me).

              2. tell*

                “But someone from the same culture as me missing that shared mainstream cultural reference would seem sufficiently odd that I’d want to check out the possibility that it might be a flag.”

                Why is their missing that same cultural reference the odd variable here? Talk about one-sided.

          2. annabelle*

            “I work with a bunch of immigrants, mostly from East Asia. Not the STEM folks, but mostly women in customer service and such.
            I guarantee that many will have no point of reference to most of the “nerdy” culture.”

            I assure you, your coworkers have heard of Superman.

        4. Olive*

          It’s quite a leap to use your interview time to make sure that one interviewer doesn’t dislike your subcultures simply because they didn’t find “kryptonite” as funny and clever as you did.

          It’s reasonable to make sure that an entire company’s culture won’t bully or ostracize you because of a subculture you’re part of. That has nothing to do with one person not being a superhero geek. Of the people who interviewed me, I only work regularly with one of them. At least one of them doesn’t seem to have any overlap with me as far as personal interests go. This has no bearing on the company culture as a whole.

      2. And if you start to win, I go on my phone*

        I think the joke suggesters imagine a world that ends with the punch line. Maybe it’s just because you can talk any joke to death but I just feel like it’s not that funny. “Chocolate” would be funnier IMO, but still not worth it.

        1. Jenna Webster*

          I totally agree that “chocolate” would be funnier – I’m going to have a hard time not saying that if I get this question again!

        2. sarcastic fringehead*

          I met with a career counselor who actually recommended answering the “greatest weakness” question with a food joke. She said that interviewers would find it relatable and humor builds rapport. (She also said that of course you should immediately follow with a serious answer.)

      3. Antilles*

        it’s always possible that someone doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
        Yes, it’s possible, but that’s true of literally every single joke under the sun; there’s basically no experience that’s truly universal enough that everybody is going to laugh.
        But I think Superman/Kryptonite is a mainstream enough pop culture reference that most Americans would get it or at the very least, understand that you’re making a joke even if they don’t quite get the reference.

        1. Observer*

          But I think Superman/Kryptonite is a mainstream enough pop culture reference that most Americans would get it

          Nope. And worse, even if that were true, it would still leave a huuuge swath of people out because “most” doesn’t necessarily mean “99.9% of working adults”. It doesn’t even necessarily mean “85% of working adults”.

          Making a joke and moving on is not the end of the world. It’s hanging the conversation on a quite specific pop-culture reference.

          1. Antilles*

            You really shouldn’t be “hanging the conversation” on a joke though. The better way of using humor in an interview is you make a quick joke/reference, give it a second or two for your interview to chuckle (or not), then you immediately move along to your real answer.

            If you’re just saying “Kryptonite” and stopping there, even if your interviewer does get the reference, that’s a bad strategy.

            1. Observer*

              You really shouldn’t be “hanging the conversation” on a joke though.

              I agree. I’m just saying that it’s even worse when it’s a joke that a lot of people won’t get. And it’s bad in a way that goes beyond the issues that Allison highlights.

              But, yes. Don’t hang a conversation on any joke. It’s annoying. Even when everyone gets it.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        Most people are going to get that it’s a joke even if they don’t get the joke. And if you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t get the joke, doesn’t get that it’s a joke, and doesn’t respond well to “sorry, it was a joke” then that’s an important data point.

      5. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I was once asked ‘what’s my Kryptonite’ by someone trying to make points with me, and I replied ‘a signed contract by a major publisher for a series of books I’ve written’. That shut that down pretty quick.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      There are some jokes that people have heard so many times they are no longer funny. I would expect kryptonite has reached that point for many interviewers.

      1. Czhorat*

        That’s another good point. “What’s your biggest weakness” is the biggest cliche in job interviews.

        If you say “Kryptonite”, “sometimes I work too hard/care too much”, or something similar it’s going to land as thinking you’re clever in the same way everyone else does.

        That said, it depends on you. If that kind of humor is your natural inclination then that it’s probably fine if it segues into a real answer, but it might irk the interviewer in a way that hurts your chances.

        1. Echo*

          The “sometimes I work too hard/care too much” one is funny to me because that IS a real weakness and I see it play out in all kinds of ways, from burnout, to refusal to delegate or assigning unrealistic workloads, to not being able to let things go or let work go into production when it’s not 120% perfect.

        2. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

          “What’s your biggest weakness” is the biggest cliche in job interviews.

          Exactly. If they’re going to trot out something that rote and uninteresting, then I reserve the right to try to make it 7% less uninteresting by trotting out that kind of wisecrack to start my answer, haha

        3. Ray Gillette*

          I also hate it because while in theory it can be a good question, in practice most people asking it are doing so because they read it on a list of common interview questions and don’t actually know what kind of answer they’re looking for. How much self-reflection does one really expect (or need) from a nineteen year old who’s applying for a part time cashier job?

      2. Liz lemon*

        Agreed, I would find this joke very tired and probably not laugh! I wouldn’t be judging them for making a joke, but it also wouldn’t build any rapport. I’d rather just hear the actual answer

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I understand the intent, but I think this could also come off as “doesn’t know when to take things seriously”. Anyone who’s had to deal with a colleague (especially someone in authority) whose reaction to a serious situation is to say “Delete all the evidence! Hahahahahahaha” or whatever – will know what I’m talking about.

    4. Dinwar*

      I’m on your side with this.

      An interview is a two-way street; I’m trying to determine if I can work there as much as they’re trying to determine if they want me there. And frankly, if someone’s going to be bothered by a mild, routine joke about something that is part of the culture I live in (and which isn’t offensive by any means), I don’t want to work there. Yes, absolutely give a real answer, and in the incredibly unlikely chance that they don’t understand a quick “Never mind, I was just joking, here’s my real answer” should suffice for any sane interviewer. If it doesn’t, well, that’s a huge red flag. I don’t want to spend 8-12 hours a day with people who consider normal human interactions to be unacceptable.

      As for making things uncomfortable, well, that’s a normal part of the “Getting to know you” phase. Or, to put it in Management-Speak: Group formation goes through four phases, Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing. The first two are uncomfortable because we don’t know each other and don’t know what’s going to cause problems. The third is uncomfortable because we’ve gotten to the point where we’re comfortable enough to actually voice our opinions. So 3/4 of group formation is uncomfortable in some way. The inability to handle the extremely mild and extremely common “discomfort” inherent in normal human interactions rather strongly suggests that the first three phases of group formation are going to be extremely rough, to say the least. Again, this is a red flag to me. Not necessarily a deal breaker–I’ve worked with such people, often establishing a good working relationship with them–but certainly a negative that I’d need to weigh before accepting the job.

      1. Allonge*

        I think you are vastly underestimating the likelyhood of someone not getting this.

        Maybe you work in an industry where everyone is a nerd/geek or is surrounded by ones and it’s not an issue! But there are millions of people who don’t know and don’t care what kryptonite is, and you are introducing an embarrassment point for… what exactly? How hilarious is this joke, really?

        1. Dinwar*

          “I think you are vastly underestimating the likelyhood of someone not getting this.”

          I disagree. The probability of someone not knowing who Superman is is low enough that it falls below my threshold for worrying about it. He is one of the most recognizable fictional characters in existence, right next to Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, and more recognizable than most historical figures. Now if I say “Wood and the color yellow”, the story would be different–Green Lantern doesn’t have the same cultural saturation, and unless I saw some reason to assume the person understood the joke I probably wouldn’t make it.

          Further, if the unlikely event does occur, I can shrug, say “Just a joke, my real answer is…” and provide my real answer, which was always the plan anyway.

          Further, how exactly is a missed reference and a joke landing wrong embarrassing? Such things are a normal part of interpersonal communication, the sort of thing that will absolutely happen from time to time. If the interviewer flubs handling that, it’s a good sign that they’re going to make more serious mistakes when there’s vastly more at stake. A person who can’t handle a minor, inoffensive, and extremely common joke that misses the mark is probably not going to be able to handle a discussion about work approaches, or about production rates, or any other discussion that involves someone’s livelihood being on the line. That’s good information to know as the interviewee. It tells me that this person is extremely thin-skinned and doesn’t interact with other people in normal ways. That may be fine–I’ve worked with people like this–but it’s going to make the job less than ideal, and in combination with other factors it may push me over the edge to not accepting the job. Please remember that I’m not saying “If they don’t get the joke I’d walk away”. What I’m saying is that if they treat this as a huge deal, rather than a normal thing that happens sometimes, THAT would be, if not a red flag, than at least a dark orange one.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            Agreed, I think the likelihood of someone in the US knowing who Superman is and what kryptonite does is pretty high (maybe I wouldn’t advise it elsewhere) but even if they don’t, I think their reaction here tells the interviewee how the interviewer reacts to humor.

            Say they know nothing about kryptonite and don’t even know you’re making a joke, do they respond with something like “I’m not sure what you mean, can you expand on that?” or do they get angry and consider you unprofessional for trying to make a joke? Or they do know what kryptonite is, do they judge you as an unprofessional boor or do they just kind of roll their eyes or go with the flow? If making jokes is a part of your personality and you don’t want to end up in that office one of the LWs described where they were formally reprimanded for making a jokey comment, then this is valuable information about whether you want to take the job. If the LW in the No Jokes Office had done this in an interview, they would have gotten valuable information. Obviously that’s an extreme case, but if the hiring manager has no sense of humor and reacts with extreme negativity then you might decide not to take the job.

          2. Colette*

            Kryptonite as a weakness is different from knowing who Superman is.

            I know Superman exists; I don’t think I’ve watched a movie or TV show about Superman since the 90s, and I’ve never read the comics. So while I’d get the reference (and wonder why someone I was interviewing was wasting some of our limited time on a rather sad joke), someone 10 or 20 years younger than me could easily not understand it.

            Yeah, if they followed up with “seriously, I struggle with X so I make a point of doing Y and Z to make sure it’s not an issue”, it wouldn’t be a big deal – but it would never be a positive, so why do it?

            1. Dinwar*

              Miscommunication is an inevitable risk when using a language as poetic as vernacular English (see G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and…well, pretty much any author who’s wrote on the subject of writing in English for more detailed discussions on this). We go into every conversation, professional and non, with the assumption that the other person shares certain cultural touchstones and with the understanding that sometimes we miscalculate. At the point where Superman–again, one of the most widely recognized characters in our culture–is considered too high of a risk, you’ve basically abandoned any hope of having a conversation with the person.

              As for why I’d do it, this conversation illustrates it. An interview is partially to establish whether the culture is a good fit for both parties. I would consider a culture that reacts with the hostility this forum has shown to extremely common jokes and widely-recognized references to be a horrible fit for me. If nothing else, the nature of my work involves this FAR more uncomfortable than a joke you don’t get–decaying animals and pieces thereof are commonplace in my line of work. If you can’t handle a joke you don’t like, you won’t handle me very well. Further, part of my personality is to interact with people as human beings, in normal ways–and I’ve done sufficient research to know that allusions to widely-recognized cultural icons are part of normal interaction within any culture. I know that I function best in environments where I connect with my coworkers on a personal level, so a job where I can’t do that is not going to be a good fit for me.

              For my part, I’d rather know that the culture is antithetical to how I operate during the interview stage, before I invest too much time and effort. It allows me to more easily cut my losses and allows you to more quickly turn your focus toward someone who is a better fit.

              1. Allonge*

                And on this same forum we very often have comments on difficulties with context-switching, understanding implied communication and a billion other things that will make it difficult for someone who is not a full-on geek to get what you are saying when you go with a one-word, meaningless to a bunch of people, answer to a very common interview question.

                One sci-fi word, out of context and out of left field, is going to confuse a bunch of people – how many do you think have only seen it in writing and don’t necessarily get what you are pronouncing? Claiming ‘it’s a joke’ also has bad connotations.

                Again, if you want to restrict your interviewing to all nerds environments, that is ok. In general, throwing random in-jokes into a job interview is not a necessarily a winning move.

              2. Despachito*

                The issue with jokes is that you should read the room first. And try to be critical whether whatever you are going to say is really funny.

                I have had my share of people thinking they are funny but actually appearing as obnoxious and holding up a process. If this was in a normal working process everybody just internally rolled their eyes and waited for them to finally finish to be able to get to the point.

                If confronted, such person would usually double down and say something about the other people lacking the sense of humor, they were not even considering that this may be because what they said was not funny and/or out of the place.

                If you say “If you can’t handle a joke you don’t like, you won’t handle me very well. “, it sounds to me that you suppose you would be cracking jokes at every occasion and blame me if I don’t find them funny, and I would definitely want to avoid that.

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          It really doesn’t matter, though, because another part of normal congeniality is being able to gloss over a brief joke you don’t get and get on with the conversation.

    5. Despachito*

      I am afraid testing the sense of humor in a situation like that in which you had virtually no possibility to read the room beforehand is risky and may be perceived as obnoxious rather than funny.

      First, as it was mentioned, you are relying on an assumption the person in front of you is familiar with the reference (which may not be the case) and even if they are, they may not be a fan/find it funny.

      Second, you have no idea about the person’s sense of humor – they may or may not have it, and even if they do it may be different from yours. You have no chance of knowing that during an initial interview unless you are a psychic.

      Third, you probably know nothing about this person’s workload. They may be swamped with work and perceive every digression as taking up their precious time.

      There is a risk that this answer would not be interpreted as a proof of “ability to add lightheartedness even in serious stressful situations”, but rather as a proof of “clueless goofing around in stressful situations” which is not necessarily a positive trait.

      So I’d rather err on a less funny side during an interview.

      1. I get it, it's not funny*

        Thank you – if someone did this in one of my interviews I would judge them for having a poor sense of humor, and also judge them for having poor self awareness.

        The maker of this joke has a disconnect between how funny they think they are (confident enough to throw in this joke in an interview!) with how funny they ACTUALLY are (using cliched lines in times that don’t need that style of joke!).

        1. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

          Hahaha, this makes me laugh. If my interviewer decides, on the basis of a single, innocuous, lighthearted word to introduce my real answer, that I have a “poor sense of humor” and a “poor sense of self-awareness,” and that trying to add the tiniest bit of levity to a clichéd and tired interview question is a sign that I grossly overestimate how funny I am—then they are doing me a favor by declining my candidacy, and are validating the effectiveness of my reason for using that single harmless word in the first place XD

    6. per my last email*

      In the alternative, when I’m interviewing someone I consider an answer like Kryptonite as a trite, overused cultural touchpoint that shows no imagination or creativity. It’s lazy. I don’t mind light-hearted moments in interviews but don’t repeat a tired joke.

    7. Kayem*

      I’d probably find it funny as an interviewer, at least until I heard it half a dozen times.

      Whenever someone asks me what’s my kryptonite, I usually tell them kittens. Though in an interview, I’d probably follow that up with a work context answer. But seriously, it’s definitely kittens.

    8. Velociraptor Attack*

      Personally, that answer would read a little off for me because at some level it boils down to a job candidate comparing themselves to Superman so it’s also in line with the greatest weakness being that someone just works too hard.

  4. Pip*

    Re #2 – I think you’ve gained invaluable information about your company, manager, and peers in how each is minimizing Petra’s misbehavior (to her peers and folks with less power than she has) to achieve her success while at the same time equating her successful completion of work deliverables as positive personal characteristics (“she’s a genius”). It may be a defense tactic in the face of a bully with power. It may be ignorance. Either way, you are unlikely to change their opinion of her without spending political capital better served more directly on yourself. Is this the only orange flag on your team? My CEO gave a talk recently where he said that it’s more important for one’s career development to work for a great boss at a good company than to work for an ok boss at a great company. What probably made working on the project with Petra worse is that you could see what was coming and that few, if any, were motivated to effect change. Valuable information to have going forward. Love the name Petra. She’ll eventually flatten your manager too. Boulders, once in motion, pick up speed.

  5. Was the Grink There*

    I feel like OP3 is conflating ‘being enthusiastic about and enjoying’ these work contests with how often she talks about them / gushes about them to coworkers, which is not the same thing. People might be on board with OP participating with enthusiasm but find it weird to bring up in conversation or try to cheerlead for your employer, especially in an insistent way.

    1. Was the Grink There*

      (Basically, the options aren’t between what OP is doing now vs cynicism. It doesn’t have to dampen OP’s enjoyment to just dial it back a little interpersonally. Especially the “I love my job” comments might annoy coworkers who have complaints or annoyances with their positions, even everyday ones, and sound like OP is weirdly obsequious to the business.)

      1. Sloanicota*

        We had a brief exchange on the weekend thread about the meaning of “tryhard” as an insult. ‘Overly obsequious’ is a good way to put it!

      2. JustaTech*

        I used to have a coworker who was forever talking about how much she loved her job and how lucky she was to have it. At first that made sense because she was a temp-to-hire who’d been unemployed and so was really motivated to keep the job (because yo, bills).

        But after a while it started to feel a bit “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”. Maybe she was trying to counter our other coworker who could be very negative, but man, there are better ways to do it than been very nearly fake chipper about work.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s hard to tell at a distance, because the coworkers may have been legitimately raining on the whole parade, and unbearably negative…but I did get a kind of “unstoppable positivity” vibe from OP. Which is great in moderation; being positive is the sweetness of life, but adding too much sugar is definitely a thing. I think if my colleague were being overtly and out loud happy about just loving their job, it would be about five minutes before I would be hoping for a complete subject change, and I say that as someone who loves their job. I also thought the perspective on the other successful colleagues was way off; there is no need to “play close to the chest” when you’re good at what you do. It’s absolutely possible, indeed common, to not care about fluff and incidental rewards as much as you care about the job, and your job performance. It’s also possible to be good at what you do, while being real about the challenges. OP struck me as being quite confused about the difference between appearances and actual results.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I used to have a boss who’d sing the song from the Lego Movie and did bounce around proclaiming that life was great and the company was exciting and everyone just needed a more positive attitude.

        Got old first day. He might have done well in sales but goddess knows why he ended up in IT.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I was thinking about a past discussion of email punctuation marks and that the exclamation marks are concentrated heavily in sales. A memo the engineering team would adorn with periods–and perhaps one wacky semicolon–the sales team would render! as! this!!!!!!!!

        2. Sally Rhubarb*

          When that movie came out, I was working at a stupidly dysfunctional place. We all quickly turned the lyrics to “Everything is awful/Everything is awful when you’re working at [Job]

        3. RVA Cat*

          I literally pictured Chris Pratt as a live-action Emmett. Yeah that would make you my BEC reeeal quick.

        4. Sloanicota*

          Ha! My work also loved that song and referenced it often, but we were generally being ironic / sarcastic when we did (and even in its original usage, the song is ironic!).

        5. Quill*

          “Everything is awesome!”
          *Trips over a bundle of plugs*
          “Server outages are great when you’re part of a team!”

        6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Oh God. My worksona is all cheery and positive but if I heard that occurring, people would see my true personality and it wouldn’t be pretty

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        I agree going with Alison’s game of thrones example, I like(d) game of thrones and would enjoy talking about it with coworkers, but if I had a coworker who talked about it non-stop and game it so much praise, it would annoy me and turn me off from talking about it with them and/or at work.

        If OP really as overly enthusiastic as they come off in the letter even coworkers that feel similarly might be turned off.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I did, too.

        I legitimately love my job most of the time, but I don’t go around telling my coworkers that all the time because, yikes, that would get old. They don’t need to be dragged into my Full Enthusiasm all the time–they have their own work to do and their own drains on their energy and mental space. They don’t need me to demand more energy from them, too.

    3. Coverage Associate*

      What struck me about OP3 is the enthusiasm for both the competition and the prize. The competitive people I know are enthusiastic regardless of the prize. I wonder if OP directed the expressions of enthusiasm to one or the other if OP would get better reactions. “The person who increases their sales the most this month gets every Monday off next month. Gosh, what would I do with a 4 day workweek?!” Or, “The prize is a ham, but the goal of increasing sales by 15% is a great challenge!” Not both. People who are excited about both are rare in my experience. In particular, we read all the time on here that the only universally liked incentives are money and time off.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yup, the LW seems to be assuming that not being enthusiastic about the prizes = not being enthusiastic about the work and/or being poor at their job and knowing they have no chance of winning, to the point of assuming that those who are better than her at the job but hate the gamification much be game-playing, whereas in my experience it’s often the opposite.

        I mentioned below how when I challenged a class to go a week without detentions, referrals to year heads, etc and anybody who did would get a bar of their favourite chocolate, it was the kids who were most often in trouble who were enthusiastic because to them, that was a challege. The kids who had probably never had a detention in their lives looked at me like “why is this even a challenge?” and were completely bored by the idea.

        Not that it isn’t possible to care about something for its own sake and enjoy gaming/competition. The LW sounds the sort of person who does, but it’s not the default and they don’t seem to be considering the possibility that their colleagues might find the competition detrimental to team work or a waste of time or feel they are being treated like children who need an incentive to do good work when they had every intention of doing well anyway.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I wonder if OP’s enthusiasm for competition comes across as enthusiasm for competition with them, rather than competition against an abstract idea of numbers or whatever. There are some people who are really motivated by hitting a stretch target, and some people who are motivated by beating their co-workers, and you can have a bit of a nasty clash if most of the team is the first type and LW is the second type.

      Also, LW, I am generally pretty easy-going at work and more likely to be amused than irritated by a SuperHappyPositiveEnthusiasticCoworkers– but if I got any hint that SuperHappyPositiveEnthusiasticCoworker thought I was jealous of them, that would definitely dilute my positivity towards them. I don’t think you actually are all that positive if you start ascribing nefarious motives to your colleagues for being less enthusiastic than you.

      1. bamcheeks*

        why is THIS the comment that gets through the spam filter, and the one where I didn’t eff up the HTML tags is trapped forever.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          If your comment goes into moderation, it’s probably best to just wait instead of reposting, or it will probably just show up twice eventually.

      2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        How else could competition possibly be construed? OF COURSE it’s competing against colleagues. That’s why it’s “competition” and not “challenge”.

        1. Elsajeni*

          I mean, the outcome is the same, but I do think there’s a distinction between “this is great, I love trying to get the highest sales numbers” and “this is great, I love outdoing Carl and Jane and Darryl!” Even if you’re competing for a prize, at the end of the day, you and your coworkers are all on the same team; you don’t want to be the person who errs too far on the side of seeing them as Rivals.

    5. Also-ADHD*

      Granted, I didn’t enjoy sales even a little, and I’m not competitive, but I would feel extremely alienated by someone excited to compete with me and thinking that’s positivity. I’m not wildly excited about incentives generally, but I’m definitely not excited about incentives that pit me against my coworkers. Of course, I’m not in the same job type as LW and would be poorly suited to that job! But I can see that getting really old immediately. It’s especially going to get old if LW often wins. If you often win, you look like a sore winner if you get too excited every time there’s a prize/contest and especially if you’re trying to get folks into it because they might figure “Sure you’re excited, you always win”.

    6. ursula*

      Yeah, this jumped out at me a bit: about the other colleagues “who don’t seem to get that the point of our job is to be enthusiastic and competitive.”

      … *is* that the point of your job? I wonder!

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I think they are also confusing between enthusiastic and competitive about the work with being enthusiastic and competive about doing better than their coworkers.

        I can see that sales is about being positive about the product and marketing it with enthusiasm and being competitive with competitors, but that doesn’t mean you have to try and win prizes and do better than your coworkers. In a lot of cases, it’s better to work with them and try and get together to ensure your company succeeds.

        They seem to be assuming that if their colleagues aren’t positive about the games and about going to work in general, they won’t be positive about the product and that if they aren’t motivated to win prizes and competitive with their colleagues, they won’t be motivated to increase their sales figures. Even though they can see this isn’t always true because they say some of the best sales people who outperform them groan about the contests.

        There’s a bit of confirmation bias involved, I think as they seem to be assuming “anybody who cares about doing a good job will love their job and enjoy the contests” and when anybody who doesn’t enthuse about how much they love their job and how great the contests are has great sales figures, they assume that person is lying and is actually really competitive and trying to play down how invested they are so people won’t notice them doing well.

    7. It Takes T to Tango*

      Another possibility is that the team isn’t enthusiastic about the work contests because all they ever get are little prizes instead of silly things like raises and better benefits. There are only so many $10 Starbucks cards and gift hams I can take before I’m ready to tell management what they can do with their incentives. If I had a team member gushing over the contests on top of that, I’d go mental.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Does anyone else get a mental image of the ham from Green Eggs and Ham, complete with bow wrapped around it, from the phrase “gift ham”?

        1. Quill*

          I do not like gift cards and ham
          I do not like them Sam-I-am
          You give them instead of a raise,
          while we work many extra days

      2. Allibaster kitty*

        This is such an important point. At my previous company they are offering up to $100 cash for being the best at something between now and the end of the year. First of all, being the best at this one thing does not necessarily mean something good due to the nature of our business but also, $100??? It should be so much more and maybe they should just give appropriate bonuses to people.

    8. no new tricks please*

      I wondered if this person was perhaps very young and childless/otherwise unencumbered by outside responsibilities. That might allow them to work overtime and/or take on extra tasks that we grumpy, burn-out parents (or people with a lot going on outside of work) would find either patronizing or unbearable.

      Yes, yes, you’re a very excited puppy. The rest of us Old Dogs have seen all this before and we know what it amounts to in the end (not much).

  6. nnn*

    I wonder if OP#2 could leverage everyone else’s enthusiasm for Petra into having them work with Petra so OP doesn’t have to

    1. Daisy*

      Excellent idea. Especially if non-manager cheerleader ends up on the downside of the bully. IME that is unlikely to happen though, as bullies have a keen sense of power dynamics and keeping themselves safe.

  7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    3. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic when *asked* by a coworker about your opinion of the job. It’s another entirely to counteract anything negative they say about it at any time with ‘but I love my job!’

    One is solicited, the other is not. If you are regularly responding to peoples lack of interest/‘it’s just a job’ comments with peppy enthusiasm it’s a fundamental lack of manners. Whatever you’re enthused about in life I can guarantee you’ll end up working or interacting with people who think it’s the singular least interesting thing in the world.

    Kids, football, sales figures, fishing, golf, diets, whether Dune is a masterpiece of literature (I got told to stop lecturing on the Bene Gesserit political power at one workplace ahem)..the list is endless.

    Bottom line is, you’re going to be boring to someone.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I got exhausted just reading the letter. There’s a reason why I’m not in sales, and it’s because I find effusive positivity exhausting, even if it’s genuine.

      I like working for my employer as much as I imagine I’d enjoy working for any employer, but I really appreciate the fact that nobody expects me to fake enthusiasm for mundane tasks that I’m paid to do. This makes it much more likely that I’ll show my enthusiasm when I actually feel it. I don’t expect to feel enthusiastic about my job, but it’s a nice bonus when it happens.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I think there’s a cultural divide here too, since that kind of OTT enthusiasm at work would be *really* bizarre in the UK (although I have seen it). The stereotype of the ‘can’t complain’ stiff upper lip tends to run true.

        Even if you genuinely love your job; actually saying that would be seen as a bit weird. ‘I really like what I do, most days’ is a compliment of high calibre.

  8. JustAnotherTues*

    re: #2 – The framing I’d use would be: “You like working with Petra because of her genius despite her bullying; I didn’t like working with Petra because of her bullying despite her genius.” Followed by a sad smile.

    1. Mollie*

      This right here. It’s factual without being grandiose and doesn’t require any covering up of what happened.

    2. Generic Name*

      OMG, this. And in my 20 year career, I’ve never met a bully who was as smart and skilled as everyone assumed they must be. Bullies get to where they are by…….bullying people! Not by being smart or knowledgeable or dedicated or hardworking.

  9. Cmdrshprd*

    for OP1 I know this happened a while ago, but I would caution them to confirm it was actually the ex-employee that was accessing the system (where was the IP address from that was used or other location tracking) and not another university employee using the person’s credentials.

    I’ve known organizations that don’t deactivate accounts right away but give another employee access in case any info is needed. things happen and the account never gets turned off and the other employee keeps accessing the account because they need stuff and it is easier to log in under john doe than doing something else.

    1. Roland*

      OP4’s question is so relevant just reading the AAM comment section. Some commentors here love suggesting clever one-liners as if IRL people accept those when they are looking for a real answer.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Suggesting snappy one-liners is a coping strategy in itself, though. I am sure there are a few people who truly believe they’d snap back with a Joss-Whedon-level quip (insert obligatory eww), but for most people, the “I’d be tempted to say [smart-aleckery]” is a fantasy about how you see the situation and how you’d LIKE to respond if there wasn’t a power differential or a relationship to preserve. It’s a way of affirming someone’s irritation or hurt or disgust. It doesn’t mean people really think they’d say those things in real life.

    2. Lilo*

      However, it is important to stress that’s not LW1’s call to make. every IT Policy I’ve ever worked with has been consistent, you report it and let the proper people investigate.

    3. Phryne*

      In my quite large educational organisation, accounts are linked to the HR- and student registration systems. No contract / valid registration, no access. It can be a pita to deal with sometimes, but this is a perfect example of why they designed the system is the way it is.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      OP #1 – for anyone in this situation, unless you have good reason to know that whatever is going on has been formally cleared, go directly to your manager and/or your security department immediately. Do not pass go, do not reach out to coworker first. There is no good reason for a deactivated account to still have this access. The best case is that there’s been an error somewhere and that their account name has somehow been associated with a different account. Everything else is downhill from there. As a general rule the security/IT departments would rather have you come in with a false alarm than end up having even a faint chance at a massive databreach.

      1. JSPA*

        This was exhaustively covered back in 2019.

        Including (in the comments) some highly-relevant additional information from the LW that rendered explanations involving errors (and automated processes) less likely:

        ” I can see when and where the log ins are happening, and they are definitely separate events though. We can use a system username and password or single sign on to log into the system. About a week before he left, he changed his username password, and around the time he left, he went from exclusively using SSO to using only the username login. IP addresses correlate to his home and other known locations.”

        That still leaves open some (unlikely-to-fiction-writing) possibilities, e.g.

        he chose to get in for some very narrow purpose (e.g. checking his old mail rather than forwarding his mail)–though that’s not actually a defense, especially for multiple intrusions. If you come from academe, “I will retain access to my email for an extended period” can become a default assumption (not that it should be).

        He passingly asked permission, when leaving, to log in to get his files later, boss (like an idiot) told him he could, and he pushed that to way beyond a reasonable limit. (This may seem unlikely to you, but I’ve seen it.)

        He was white-hat hacking with the intention of documenting the security breach (a combination of “I’m doing you a favor you don’t deserve” and “you know you are idiots, right?”).

        Someone was going through a ton of trouble to frame him by spoofing the IP addresses.

        He automated a fairly in-depth sign-in process which however only launches whenever and wherever he reboots his laptop, whether that’s at home or his other habitual locations, such that there are seperate / occasional events. (What makes this semi-plausible is that if he were doing it nefariously, he’d have hidden his tracks better?).

        But all in all, even if the ex-employee was not necessarily engaged in espionage or troublemaking or anything nefarious…and even if the moral onus is on management for happily leaving things desperately insecure despite prior warnings…Alison and the commentariat were and are right:

        if the LW followed some sort of coder “bro code” rather than going to their manager, they’d have been complicit in what’s formally a felony (even if not one that would likely be prosecuted, absent evidence of malice).

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. There should be a way to report something and if there is not, then that’s a problem in itself. I hope OP reported it and let an investigation find out what needs to be found.

      3. I Have RBF*

        I would assume that the database account never got deactivated along with the rest, and that they never logged out. I work in IT system administration. Often a person’s main account to get into the network will be disabled properly, but their secondary and “one off” accounts will not be. They can’t get into the network to log in to the account, but it may still be active inside the network.

        It doesn’t mean that that person is logging in. But is still a big problem because if the system is penetrated their account may get used by someone else improperly, and they now have no way to prove it isn’t them.

        So I would raise it as “I noticed X’s old database account never got deactivated and it is still logged in. Should I route the ticket to get it deactivated or do you want to?” That way you aren’t throwing the old coworker under the bus, but you still are pointing out the administrative oversight and vulnerability.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Wow, a nesting fail magnet, how do you do it? :P
      Anyway – hopefully LW’s manager would’ve given permission for anyone else to use those credentials or will know who to check with, so notifying the manager is still the right idea. (And if no one gave permission for the password sharing, then whoever’s using the account can’t be too surprised when it gets shut down!)

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      It is easier to log in under john doe than doing something else.

      Like remembering the ever-changing complex password by writing it next to the thing it accesses.

      (This is not a ding on the workers just trying to get the information they need, while someone with an abstract theory about protecting information explains that it can’t be that much of a hassle to just put in a request for access, get that approved by upper levels, go through the usual five rounds of resetting to have the sign-in actually work…. gosh darn it, why is no one following out very secure protocol? Why are they trying to get around it? Surely all project deadlines can be moved out a few weeks if we explain the importance of quadruple-verifying who can see the coffee orders….)

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        This is very true. The NIST standards (National Institute of Standards and Technology) are the most common benchmark used as a security framework for audits and setting up security in companies. They changed their initial password requirement suggestions from “random jumble of letters & numbers, changing every [short period of time]” to “use a passphrase and don’t require resets too frequently” since they found that the end result of the extreme password requirements was an uptick in people writing down their password on a sticky note or using other non-secure methods.

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, as someone with knowledge of sys admin work – the account should be disabled and then systems urgently audited (and then better controls put in place). It worries me that someone was in a DBA position without knowing what to do in this type of situation, and without the company having their back. Sys admins etc are the guardians of the company’s crown jewels and that responsibility should be taken seriously by the company.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Yeah. The “former colleague’s credentials being used to log in” bothers me not because of the question of whether it’s Former Colleague using them (vs. having shared them or set up an automated process using them) but because the credentials were not immediately revoked (and that’s why automated processes should be set up using system accounts rather than personal ones, so that they don’t break when somebody leaves!)

      2. I Have RBF*

        It’s all too common that a person’s SSO accounts to log in to the network are properly disabled, but their special or “one off” local accounts don’t. I know this because I’m often the person who has to go find all the one off accounts and render them “no login”. I am a Linux sysadmin.

        This is why you should go through and regularly audit all of your non-SSO systems to check to see if the people are still there. While the original users are locked out of the network, a hacker who managed to get in to the network could use one of those accounts to cause havoc.

    8. Observer*

      but I would caution them to confirm it was actually the ex-employee that was accessing the system (where was the IP address from that was used or other location tracking) and not another university employee using the person’s credentials.

      Yes. The OP added some comments, including the fact that they did check the IPs that the log ins were coming from. They were not coming from inside the network, and the IPs matched ex_CW’s location.

      I’ve known organizations that don’t deactivate accounts right away but give another employee access in case any info is needed.

      That’s terrible practice. There are other ways to give people access to necessary information.

    9. FrivYeti*

      Also, depending on how access works, it’s possible that his home computer has been logging in without his knowledge when he boots his system up. This happened to me for about six months after I left a job; I had been using my personal laptop, using OneDrive as a virtual drive. When I left, my OneDrive account wasn’t deactivated, I didn’t notice because I never use OneDrive in my personal life, and thus whenever I turned on my computer it logged me into OneDrive and the Microsoft Office Suite.

      When I eventually noticed, I logged out and never logged back in, but no one ever contacted me about it, and I had managerial access to everything. It was a huge security blunder on their part, but not a malicious one.

    10. OMG, Bees!*

      Yup, same thoughts. I’ve worked IT and far too often HR/management wouldn’t tell us when someone quit/terminated/etc, but would sometimes have someone else log into the ex-employee’s account for awhile (usually to check email). I know we had to have quarterly ex-user account culls, but I don’t recall ever having someone logging in after leaving.

      1. Allibaster kitty*

        We have someone get someone else’s email so that things that come in can be addressed, but you cannot respond as someone else (it comes from your own email) and you are just receiving new emails until IT asks its ok to turn off (Usually 30-60 days when our partners should know the person is gone and if not, too bad)

  10. Despachito*

    OP 3 – I wonder about the overall atmosphere at work.

    I wonder how much frequent competitions with prizes can be an indicator of an unhealthy environment. Are the employees pitted against each other? Is the base salary lousy and you only can get decent money by overstraining yourself? I can imagine how it can be grating when you know that your employer is not being fair to you and your coworker waltzes in and sings praises?

    I am not saying that this is the case but look out for the vibes.

  11. ClaireW*

    OP3, it could be the competitiveness that’s putting people off as much as the extreme enthusiasm. I’m good at my job and I care about being good at my job – but I am not competitive and find it offputting when someone is constantly trying to be competitive or caring about being “the best” – as long as we’re all good at the job and pleasant to work with, that’s more important to me than winning.

    Though I’m also maybe biased because in NI, we tend to be much less visibly/vocally enthused about work and our jobs than our US counterparts, in the jobs I’ve had with US companies. Someone constantly talking about how much they love their job and are grateful for their job and love trying to work harder and harder and expecting the same from me… that would get old fast. Like I said I care about being good at my job, but at the same time, I work because I need to survive and sitting at a desk doing tasks to make someone else rich isn’t my lifelong passion and never will be.

    1. allathian*

      I agree with you in general, and I’m absolutely a work to live person. My job will never be my greatest passion, no matter how fulfilling or interesting it might be.

      That said, jobs in sales tend to attract competitive people, at least in jobs where they’re selling fairly mundane things. The “I have to win at any cost” types tend to do less well in high-value business-to-business sales where the most important thing is to provide the most appropriate solution to the customer, and where the profits are often made from repeat sales or maintenance contracts, and where finding the right solution for a customer is more important than closing the maximum number of sales in the shortest possible time.

    2. Flor*

      Your point about NI vs US workplace culture is something I thought of as well. The use of words like “moan” and “banter” suggests to me OP3 might be in the UK, and having started my career in the UK and now working for a US-based company, I find the chipper enthusiasm at my current company frankly exhausting.

      If OP3 is in the UK, then it could be a culture fit thing in the sense that showing such intense enthusiasm for your job just isn’t common in Britain, and office culture tends to be more reserved.

    3. Daisy*

      As someone who works for a US company…I would posit most of us work to pay our bills and aren’t that enthusiastic. However, I would NEVER say to the big boss (who is all about enthusiasm for his cause) that I work for a paycheck instead of to support getting whatsits into the hands of whoosits. With everything from rent payments to medical care depending on employment and a very shaky safety net it just isn’t worth the risk.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I’m American and I would fantasize about locking this person in the supply closet. But I would also be a massive failure at sales because I am not that energetic and am famously un-competitive. And I even love my job! But nobody needs to hear it all the time.

  12. bamcheeks*

    I’d be dragging my former coworker’s name through the mud to prove a point if I use this case in discussion

    LW1, you wouldn’t be dragging your former coworker’s name through the mud because he literally did log-in, knowing he shouldn’t have access.

    I’m doing a cost-benefit analysis here, and I’m coming from the UK where we have GDPR and student information security is a reallyreallyreallyREALLY big deal, but even absent that, I can’t really get my head around why you WOULDN’T use this as an example. Even if it is the most innocent explanation possible — say, he’s never deleted the app/shortcut/link from his phone, and every time he accidentally clicks that icon it briefly logs him in even though he shuts it straight away– the worst case scenario for him is that it affects his reputation or his reference, and if he’s in a standard student information role, then it’s going to be a no-no but not something that’s going to destroy his career prospects forever. If he’s in an sysadmin or infosec role himself, where it’s going to be seen as a more serious breach, well, frankly he knows better and it’s on him if he logged in regularly, even if it was simply to prove that his former employer sucks at infosec.

    On the other end, the worst case scenario of you not sharing it is that he is finding students’ phone numbers and sending them dickpics, or worse. And even if you know he’s not doing that, any of the other non-deactivated users who still have accounts months after they’ve left could be doing that.

    Even if you think the best of your ex-co-worker, and you’re sure he wouldn’t be doing anything that nefarious with it, your responsibility to the integrity of the system (and your students!) should absolutely override your responsibility to an ex-co-worker. This *should* make your managers’ sit up and take notice, and you should definitely use it as an example if that’s what it takes.

  13. Mollie*

    #2 it’s so annoying how people are so much more likely to believe that a bully was misunderstood or there was just a personality clash rather than considering that bullies choose who they are nice to in exactly the same way they choose who they are nasty to… that is, always strategically. If you know someone has bullied someone else and you keep heaping praise on that person in front of the victim, that’s not cool. it wouldn’t be precious of the OP to give a short ‘yes you’re right, that wasn’t my experience’ and change the subject and, if it keeps coming up, ask ‘is there a reason why you keep praising Petra in front of me while also talking about how she bullied me? as you already know my experience, perhaps you can leave me out of those conversations in future.’

    1. The Other Sage*

      Personally, I have even encountered a case where a dude seriously attributed my ex-boyfriend abusing me as a “personality clash”. He told me how it was the same between his parents. The dude knew that I broke up when my ex became more and more physical violent, plus I learned that his father once hit his mother.

      I wish I was making this up.

      1. boof*

        Uhg; well if he thinks anyone hitting another is a “personality clash” you’ve learned something unfortunate about them. Not worth trying to solve it but the gentle pushback and move on at least tries to stop normalizing it “Hm, I don’t think it’s ever ok to hit someone*” (and move on).
        *yes there’s a self defense exception, but given abusers will sometimes even say raising arms to block an incoming blow requires massive retaliation “in self defense” I’d even say there’s almost no self defense clause where hitting someone (over blocking them) is justified either. Only exceptions are someone really trying to do you serious harm, like attacking with a weapon, and you need to take them out fast or risk being killed; – so I guess if it’s bad enough that blows are “justified” then the police better be involved and charges pressed.

        1. The Other Sage*

          My therapist pointed out on the same thing: when someone excuses the behaviour of an abuser, it also tells you something about that person. Or as other have said: when someone shows you who he or she is, believe them.

      2. BubbleTea*

        Growing up around domestic violence skews your perspective on what’s acceptable. I was in my 20s when I fully recognised that I’d internalised the idea there was an acceptable amount of hitting a child. Working through that took a lot of therapy.

    2. Daisy*

      I suspect the manager would be thrilled if OP became a “Petra is a genius and how she treats me doesn’t matter” fan. It makes her life easier and I believe you are absolutely right in that bullies pick who they are nice to strategically. The manager wouldn’t be thrilled to have it pointed out she is being manipulated and doesn’t have the strength of character to resist.
      It sounds like the manager is a ‘secondary bully’ who jumps on the bullying bandwagon by the way she keeps bringing it up.

    3. coffee*

      Yeah, I also think it’s sketchy that they keep praising Petra so much instead of keeping it neutral.

  14. Irish Teacher.*

    When it comes to #3, I think both the LW and her colleagues are assuming that everybody thinks or should think like them. The LW is assuming that people who don’t like competition must not be very good at it and those who do well at it and are arguably better than the LW must be just pretending not to like it, whereas in reality, if anything, those who are good at it are often less likely to enjoy it because it seems pointless and like a waste of time. I remember once doing a competition with my students that anybody who went a week without getting in trouble with any teacher would get a bar of chocolate of their choice. The students who most often got in trouble were really enthusiastic about the challenge. The two really well-behaved students who probably never got in trouble in a year were looking at me like “how is this even a game?”

    I really doubt those colleagues are “game-playing.” It’s far more likely they simply resent being treated like children who need “little prizes” to “encourage” them to do what they were already doing well anyway. I know for me, that often takes a lot of the good out of it because now the boss and your colleagues will think you don’t care about your job even if you do do it well because they’ll assume you’re just trying to win the competition (as the LW seems to assume about those people who are doing well, that they must be taking the game seriously if they are doing so well, it couldn’t possibly be that they are committed to the job itself and couldn’t care less about the game and find it a silly distraction).

    On the other hand, the colleagues seem to think the LW also sees it as just a “silly distraction” and may well be seeing her as not taking her job seriously and needing a game to motivate her, when that is not likely to be true either. One can enjoy a game and also care about the job itself and assuming she only cares about the game is pretty silly.

    It is unlikely they are jealous of her. Especially since some of them are doing better than her. Being good at something for its own sake and not caring if you get a prize or not doesn’t mean one is really excited about the prize but “playing it cool.”

    I know this was written many years ago but my advice would have been that the LW should stop seeing this as trying to get her coworkers to see things her way and seeing this as being how they are “supposed” to be in her job (also, her coworkers should stop trying to get her to see things their way and stop assuming that her enthusiasm implies immaturity or lack of professionalism, when it clearly doesn’t as she seems to be doing her job well, but she can’t really control that part) and instead be a bit deprecating. “Yeah, I know it’s only a (*insert prize here*) but I’ve always been a bit of a gamer” or “oh, don’t worry. I do take the job seriously. I just think it’s fun to get a prize at the end too.”

    If she just made it more of a personality thing rather than assuming it means she is more committed to the job, I think other people might adapt their attitude a bit too.

  15. BatManDan*

    OP3 – I can’t / won’t speak to how your co-workers SHOULD be behaving, but most people are not motivated by incentives or shiny trinkets. If they were, all departments would use them, and productivity / sales would be at an all-time high. In general, most folks assume that THEY are “average” or representative of their peers; you’re excited, that’s great, but statistically, your peers are not. (This is also why finder’s fees aren’t a reliable, or even a good, way to increase sales.)

    1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

      Would you mind elaborating on the finder’s fee comment? Not sure what you meant by that but referrals/partnerships are pretty common in sales

    2. JustaTech*

      I do not work in sales (I would be the worst sales person ever), but a friend was describing how the sales team he leads works and they have a constantly-updating leader board on who has the most sales for the day/week/month/quarter/year. And any time someone drops down a ranking it splashes a giant snarling wolf head.

      The thought of it makes me cringe, but he insisted that they liked it, and when he took it away for a while because he thought it was weird they complained until he put it back.

      So I don’t know, maybe sales folks are super motivated by competition and trinkets?

  16. Circus Monkey*

    OP1#…I disagree….Are you sure its him?….Could someone in the company be using his credentials?….At the company I work at the IT department is still using the credentials of a employee who left 2+ years ago on an adminstrative computer. P.S. I work in the I.T. ……and said former coworker did too….Im sure she left, she was a bit disgrunted with said company, I know where she is working now ….and Im still intact with her so I know she is not logging in from outside.

    1. bamcheeks*

      yikes! I mean, that is ALSO a security risk that a sysadmin should be raising to their managers if they can’t address it themselves. “Somebody is still using ex-colleague’s log-in, this is why we have to disable them” is a good argument if LW doesn’t want to fee like they’re dropping ex-colleague in it.

    2. straws*

      This and/or a system auto-logging in on a personal device would be my first thought. But… there are updates on the original letter (Search for OP#2*) that indicate it was him and on purpose. Hopefully some good change came out of this!

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      By not revoking access from a departed employee – you are exposing company resources to unauthorized access AND — AND — you are also exposing the former employee to the risk of false accusations.

      1. I Have RBF*


        In the end it doesn’t matter whether the former employee or someone else is logging in with those credentials. The credentials need to be revoked since the user no longer works there, and not doing so is a security risk.

  17. Amy*

    I’m a high achieving mid-career B2B sales person and mostly this kind of prize enthusiasm reads as very young.

    And it’s fine to be young! I too was more enthusiastic about things like Starbucks gift cards and nice coffee mugs when I was young. But now it’s the basically the equivalent of free pen to me. I’m only focused on the real prize – my actual sales goal, tied to my comp plan.

    It’s a pretty natural progression from what I’ve seen. But… I’d still probably tone this down by about 20% now if it’s a big focus or distraction.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I also got a very young/inexperienced vibe from this letter. I think when you’re early career, something like a competition is seen as a chance to prove yourself and that seems only seems invaluable until you feel like you’ve proved yourself. I wonder how many of their colleagues are veterans of companies where praise, head pats and trinkets replaced actual compensation and time off. The comparison with high school also read young.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Also the “they’re probably just jealous of me” reads very young as well.

        I hope that OP learned that, while it’s great to be enthusiastic and motivated at a job you really like, not everyone is going to act the same way. People who are not motivated by competition but just by doing their job well are going to read “unenthusiastic or unmotivated” by you, but you may not understand where they’re coming from. I hope they tried to forget connections with their coworkers instead of wandering around thinking everyone is unmotivated and jealous of them.

  18. I should really pick a name*

    I know that they are probably just jealous of my successes

    Any time you start thinking something like this, it’s a good idea to step back a bit. It’s generally a sign that you’re not seriously considering the other person’s viewpoint.

    If your coworkers are aware of your enthusiasm that much, I assume you’re talking about it a lot. Can you maintain that enthusiasm without talking about it?

    Consider the possibility that they find your talking about your enthusiasm as annoying as you find their moaning and groaning. Neither is right or wrong, people are just different.

    1. DramaQ*

      I caught that too and yes it would annoy me greatly that my coworker thinks I am either jealous, secretly trying to beat them or I suck at my job for not being as enthuastic as they are. This likely shined through in their tone of voice and behavior, especially if they constantly talk about it. I personally do not care for these types of competition because they tend to be in place of real compensation and recognition like promotions and a raise that covers inflation. “We gave you the opportunity to win a T-shirt, why aren’t you happy?!” The coworkers may have been around long enough to know that competing isn’t worth the time/energy put into it and instead are focusing on just doing their jobs. OP #3 needs to recognize that and dial it down several notches.

  19. A person*

    Many years ago I was asked at the end of a job interview “one last question, where does crude oil come from”. I definitely had not prepared for that question… and I’m very literal… so I stared at him for a second and then said “the ground”. He laughed which put me a little more at ease and said “well yes, but how did it get there”. And I then went into my high school science version of the answer. Luckily for me, this was a very long interview with many panelists and apparently my very concise answer didn’t hurt me as I ended up getting the job.

    That wasn’t nearly as awkward as all the times I’ve interviewed for internal roles and when asked “tell me about a time when”… I’ve had to answer along the lines of “remember when”, cuz my interviewer was there for so many of my examples…

    I agree though, that taking advice from non-reputable sources about how to answer interview questions isn’t wise. There’s a lot of misguided people on the internet and the point of an interview is to get to know you as the interviewee not how well you can memorize tik tok scripts, so I’d be disappointed as an interviewer if my candidates only came with canned answers that didn’t draw on actual experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t prepare your own examples and stories and memorize those, but they should be your stories about your experiences.

    1. Seashell*

      Was this an interview for a job in the oil industry or was this question just apropos of nothing?

      1. Czhorat*

        I was wondering the same thing. If you’re interviewing for a job as an accountant or something then “from the ground” is a perfectly acceptable useless answer to an irrelevant question.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah this is my question as well. I used to hire for a technical communications role and we would ask them an “easy” technical question to gauge how well they could explain it. The questions weren’t directly relevant to the role (because we didn’t expect them to have any direct industry knowledge as new hires) but they were in the general technical area.

        If this job is at an oil company, even if not as a petroleum engineer, it seems reasonable to ask them to explain where oil comes from (maybe also roots out diehard environmentalists?). If its for something completely unrelated, then the interviewer probably just doesn’t know how to interview.

      3. A person*

        Haha! The interview was for an entry level chemist position at a chemical manufacturing company (not in any way related to oil industry though, more ag-based).

        To be fair, they did ask real technical questions and I did answer all of them correctly. The oil question was to get to a point that “we never really know all the answers, we are always learning”. I don’t think it was as much for me as for him. Haha.

        I’ve been successful at the company for more than 15 years, but that definitely left an impression with me!

        I’ve also seen “what would you do if your car broke down on the side of the road” as an interviewer and have always been amazed at how many people that hasn’t happened to as I have experienced it many times and have many stories about what I did indeed do… haha. If I ever get asked that in an interview I’d be ready!

    2. Clare*

      Haha! Ask a silly question, get a silly answer. I think I’d probably have given the a very similar response.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      I was once asked the question “What is an atom?” The interview was for a chemist position, (The company was a polymer blending company, so it wasn’t appropriate) “What is a plastic or polymer?” would have been.

      But there were already some red flags flying, I removed myself from consideration in my thank you letters.

  20. Czhorat*

    #4 – “my biggest weakness is kryptonite” is the difference between a clever answer and a smart answer.

    Kryptonite is clever, at least marginally. If it fits your personality and you can pull it off it’s at least a bit of fun. The problem is that it’s a missed opportunity to give them a reason to hire you. That’s the real question behind each job interview question: “who are you as a worker and why should we bring you onto our team?” An answer like “Kryptonite” tells them – at the very best – that you’re funny and perhaps a bit clever. It also tells them that you’re a smart-alec who will use humor to deflect from a hard question you don’t feel like answering. It also tells them that you aren’t really prepared with a thoughtful answer to a cliche question.

    1. kiki*

      I think answering with kryptonite to start is very fun and if you’re a funny, clever person, this would be a good initial response to the question. But if you don’t have a real answer as well to follow it up, that’s not a good tactic. Being clever and funny with no substance will only sway inexperienced or bad interviewers. Granted, the working world is full of inexperienced and bad interviewers, so being a ham may be more successful than I initially predicted.

      1. Was the Grink There*

        The problem with that specifically as a joke answer though, is that it’s lighthearted and can be a cute little comment, but it’s such an overplayed dad joke that it doesn’t really qualify as “clever”. It’s like a very soft/broad joke that grandpas would tell, not exactly a sparkling example of someone’s adept sense of humor. Basically like when Chandler says “Chanberries” and Joey replies, “dude, that is some… gentle humor.”

        Which, dad jokes can be great (often because of their corniness!) but saying “Kryptonite” and expecting a laugh as though someone had never heard that before or thought it was genuinely a great joke might not get the data you want. If the interviewer responds with a polite chuckle and smile and then just waits for the real answer, the joke-teller might be thinking “they’re stodgy and humorless!” but in reality, it’s just that the joke-teller’s comedy skills are unsophisticated enough to be telling a two-point joke and expecting a ten-point laugh.

        1. funnyhaha*

          yes! it’s not clever or funny, it’s a lame joke from the internet. I’d be worried that the person, if hired, would think they were funny but would actually be extremely tedious.

  21. Coffee Snob*

    Yeah, LW 2, re Petra the bully.

    Not Recommending this, because YMMV,
    but in situations like this, I generally say something like “Mussolini got the trains running on time, so I guess nobody is all bad.”

    1. RVA Cat*

      That would…not go over well.
      I have to say, the person who came to my mind for Petra’s genius/bully dynamic is Joss Whedon with the OP as Charisma Carpenter.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yes. There are very, very few circumstances in which you can compare a coworker to Mussolini, even if you do so obliquely.

        Probably no such circumstances.

    2. Cyndi*

      This is inappropriate and rude, and also won’t even deal with the issue LW2 is trying to address, which is that their coworkers genuinely don’t know how horrible Petra was to them. This only makes sense as a response to people talking up someone they KNOW was horrible to you, and also it’s still really inappropriate and will justifiably alienate people.

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      The thing that’s relevant here is he actually didn’t. He put a lot of improvements on the Rome lines and neglected the rural lines. Kiss up, kick down, impress the management classes and abuse people he thought didn’t matter, and leave a legacy where people still think he actually achieved something.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      You might wanna check out the AAM post about the boss who put Stalin as ’employee of the month’.

  22. Scott M*

    #3 – I find that being self aware helps also. For example, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally say something like “Yeah I know I get a bit too enthusiastic about this stuff”. Sometimes its not so much that a person has a wildly different like/dislike/opinion/behavior. Its that they seem to be clueless about HOW out of step they are with the people around them.
    I myself have odd hobbies and interests. All my coworkers know this. However, they also know that *I* know I’m a bit different, and I don’t expect them to be excited about the same things.

  23. RussianInTexas*

    OP#1: You go to your manager first, absolutely. Right now. ASAP (ok, in 2019). And then you deactivate the access, and you don’t have to talk to your former coworker about it. And don’t worry about dragging him through the mud, he should have not done this.
    Fun story: a friend of mind is an accountant, and used to be a comptroller for a small software company. He was going to quit because he thought they were going down the drain, when they laid him off with 6 months severance. They also never deactivated his access (you know, a software company). His severance was structured such that he was getting basically paychecks. He would check the company’s finances to make sure they had money to pay him.

  24. Elemenop*

    OP 1 – I was kind of responsible for this once. I had been asking my coworker for a lot of information that from our system. He ended up giving me his login details so I could just pull the info myself. When he left the company, no one deactivated his account so I kept using it to get the info I needed.

  25. Nik*

    For LW2, if you say the “I had a very different experience with Petra” every time someone praises her, after a while they would (hopefully) get tired of hearing that retort and that would cause them to stop praising her around you.

  26. Pizza Rat*

    I really wish the criticism was not on the krypotonite answer but rather on the outmoded question. While an honest answer might show some self-awareness, when this question has been around long enougj that you can goggle a bullsh*t answer, it’s not worth asking.

    1. Czhorat*

      Allison had a reasonable variation of it in her response.

      I think a self-assessment of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses is of value. You’re right that this particular phrasing has become cliche and almost feels like a game. Then again, a candidate who uses a BS answer he got from the internet is also telling you something about themselves.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The problem isn’t that it’s not a legitimate question you want an answer to. The problem is that the classic phrasing is question that no sane candidate is going to give a candid answer to. You aren’t testing their introspection or finding out their weaknesses, you are testing their ability to cold read and dissemble.

        If you feel the need to ask “what is your greatest weakness”, give some thought to what you want to find out and ask that question instead. Whatever it is, it’s a better question.

        1. JustaTech*

          Once, as a very inexperienced interviewer I asked a candidate that question. His answer?
          “I’m not motivated.”
          Blink blink.
          He then went on to say that he never expected to get this job because lab jobs all go to Asian students so why bother?

          Needless to say we didn’t hire him, and that was probably the only time I would ever get an honest answer to that question.

            1. JustaTech*

              Honestly that kid (it was a student lab position, so not an actual minor but under 21), did us all a favor because he showed us exactly the kind of person who would answer that question directly, and why it’s a bad interview question.

    2. Roland*

      Well, as always, Alison’s answers focus on advice to the LW because they’re the ones who wrote in for an answer, and that sets the tone for the comments as well. Of course in this case the LWs might not be here anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you’re dealing with a situation, “this situation should not happen” is not very actionable advice.

      1. Pizza Rat*

        It is true it is not actionable. As someone in Lion in Winter said, “”Tis the mention I miss.”

        Allison validating what many of us feel is helpful.

    3. Observer*

      Sure, it’s not a good question. But that’s not a good reason to act like an idiot. And the answer is a lot worse than the question. By a couple of orders of magnitude.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        It’s a terrible question that is basically staying “cold read me and then bullshit an answer” but there is really no appropriate way to say “your question is bad and should feel bad” in an interview so you have to have an answer.

        (The alternative Alison mentions is a very different question)

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Come on. Making a small, inoffensive joke like this in an interview is not ‘acting like an idiot’. As long as one follows it up with a real answer, it’s fine.

        It’s a good example of interviews being a two-way street. If making a dad joke like this sinks my candidacy, this wasn’t the job for me anyway.

    4. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I think the answer was spot on. Allison points out that it’s not a good question, but the time to take a stance against the question is not in the middle of the interview. Giving “Kryptonite” as an answer is at best only going to get a few chuckles with pushback to seriously answer the question and at worst make your interviewers think you’re unprepared/not taking the interview seriously.

  27. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #1 – Definitely don’t call former coworker even if it’s just to investigate. Best case scenario is that you find out it’s not him and you’re letting him know that you left his account active which is now adding to the security risk if wanted to try anything. Worst case scenario, you’ve just told a known security risk of your plans to take action giving them lead time to react. You’re not throwing a friend under a bus by reporting that there’s a serious security concern because account xxxx which was never deactivated is showing signs of login activity.

    #3 – Is this coming up so frequently that it’s turning off your colleagues because it’s coming off inhuman? I would be exhausted if I’m talking about my weekend plans (as an example) and you came up to me and told me how great your weekend will be if/when you win the great corporate bonus you’re hoping to get. Many people perceive incentives to be corporate’s way of squeezing out as much as they can out of me in return for a few bucks. If you’re running around the company daily/weekly/monthly praising the corporate overlords for prizes that are relatively insignificant to your peers, you may be coming off as a little corporate puppet-like. It’s okay to be enthusiastic about your job/bonuses, but consider that your peers might genuinely have opinions on them that might not be enthusiasm even if they could use the money.

  28. Cyndi*

    Don’t know whether this is reasonable or just tinged by my own personal experience, but I tend to be very leery of coworkers who act like LW3–not just enthusiastic about the actual work, which is fine, but about all the trappings workplaces tack onto it, contests, mandatory fun, whatever. I’ve found that when employers start pulling anything negative those are the coworkers who want you to be enthusiastic about the BS too because don’t you like it here? At least you’re not somewhere else worse, right? Why won’t you just look on the bright side?

    TL;DR it comes across to me personally as someone who won’t have your back.

  29. Full-Time Fabulous*

    LW #2, I would love to see an update! I too am a victim of workplace bullying. I survived over 4 years under an abusive/bullying supervisor and her office pets, who were all too willing to be abusive/bullying to me as well. I ended up fired without cause so this supervisor could “reorganize” the unit, which was code for give her pets my job, and I am still at the organization but in a different unit. I still interact with my former boss and her pets in my current job and former boss’ best pal works in my office so I get to hear others talk about how great my bullies are on a regular basis. It hurts but I just don’t waste my breath because people who refuse to see who these people really are just aren’t going to suddenly see the truth based on my comments. I feel that the truth tends to reveal itself and in many cases the bullies have told on themselves with their own actions & words far better than my words can.

  30. CJ*

    for OP1, I know this is in the past, but right now, I’m screaming in the key of FERPA, depending if the dbadmin could touch any student data. This is immediately into “cover yourself only” territory. Mitigate and document what you found: don’t assume who or why. It’s not “John kept accessing his account after he left,” it’s “the account assigned to John was not closed properly, and was accessed from $IPs on $dates.” (Even if the department kept the account open for a new person and just didn’t change the handle, there are problems in regards to tracking who accessed student information.)

    1. Observer*


      But also “John changed his access just before he left”.

      And the fact is that even if he could not *change* anything, just looking at it is a problem.

  31. K*

    I’m troubled by the phrase “duty of loyalty” as used in the first answer. I may have some loyalty to my employer but it is far less loyalty than I have to my friends. I work in education as well (though, as a j actual teacher) and I will stand up for my colleagues against our district every single time, assuming I think they are correct on the merits. I have loyalty to them and to my students. Not to admin or the BOW.

    OP should report their former coworker if they feel he’s acted unethically. Not out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to an organization that certainly will not reciprocate.

    1. JaneDough(not)*

      K, there’s no workplace in which the accessing of private info by a FORMER employee isn’t huge unethical. Your example — standing up for CURRENT colleagues who object to some policy — is not at all the same.

      And, the LW (not OP — the person wrote a letter to the person/columnist who controls this website; “OP” is used for someone who posts something on social media with the goal of interacting with others who respond) clearly feels a duty toward the students, whose data is potentially at risk — how can that be a bad thing?

      Yeah, some workplaces deserve zero loyalty, and even the best will never be 100% loyal to employees — which is to be expected, because it’s a business, not a friend or relative. But having a modicum of loyalty to one’s employer is expected, in the same way that getting along with coworkers is expected. In other words, the employer pays wages/salary to employees not only for their professional abilities but also for their soft skills.

      1. K*

        Sure, report the former colleague. But not because of loyalty. Do it if it’s actually the right thing to do.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Can we not ‘correct’ people saying “OP”? This is just policing of word choice, which goes against the norms of this site.

    2. Observer*

      OP should report their former coworker if they feel he’s acted unethically.

      Accessing a system that you have no legitimate reason to access is by definition unethical.

      I may have some loyalty to my employer but it is far less loyalty than I have to my friends

      Duty of loyalty, whether to an employer or to friends does not encompass covering for unethical behavior. Nor does it encompass allowing your friend to harm your employer (just like it doesn’t encompass allowing your friend to steal from the the employer.)

      I work in education as well (though, as a j actual teacher)

      Then how do you not see the glaring problem with this person’s behavior? What this person is doing is both unethical and illegal.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        As noted “duty of loyalty” is a legal term of art. It’s a general thing so I wouldn’t say it has a specific meaning but it has a meaning. You don’t actually have a “duty of loyalty” to a friend.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        “Accessing a system that you have no legitimate reason to access is by definition unethical.”
        I wouldn’t go that far. Intent matters and I can think of some scenarios where there was no malicious intent. (For instance I have the login page bookmarked, the auth info in my password manager, and I click on the bookmark and hit “login” out of habit, or I have a script that logs in to monitor something and I forgot to turn it off).

        Note the comments on the original suggest inadvertent access is highly unlikely in this specific case.

  32. Coffee Protein Drink*

    I’ve met some people who aren’t satisfied with winning, they have to rub in, “You LOST, you losing loser,” when they do. That would turn off any positivity I had towards that person and has nothing to do with jealousy.

    I hope LW3 isn’t like this, and obviously they didn’t say so, but when I saw “they’re jealous of my success,” that’s what popped into my head.

  33. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – having worked in and around data security for years (although it was never my primary task) there are standard operating procedures to be followed.

    First of all – there should NEVER be a need to request passwords from a departing/departed employee. You set up your system with TWO trusted administrators with god-like powers. Should one leave for any reason, you suspend his/her access and create a new, second administrative ID.

    This also can save you nightmares should the departing employee bring litigation against you. His/her legal counsel will say “no contact with the company” – and this includes “well we need the passwords to ….”

    Second – standard protocol is to REVOKE computer access from a departing employee before he/she leaves the premises on their last day.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      OH YEAH – and it also protects the departed employee from accusations of sabotage.

      1. I Have RBF*


        It’s SOP at most companies to revoke network/SSO accounts when people are terminated or just leave. If they are being walked, I often get urgent tickets to kill their accounts while they are in their departure meeting.

        Where many companies fall down is by not also killing their one-off and administrative accounts. These accounts are often separate on each system, and not well tracked. I know I regularly audit those type of systems for term(inated) accounts so I can go through and revoke access for any that got missed.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Yes, but not until they are in that meeting.

          Sometimes someone is on the layoff list, and then just before the meeting it’s learned that the guy is untouchable — anything from a critical customer’s concern, to affirmative action considerations, to having a “no layoff” contract — I’ve seen accounts suspended and immediately restored. I’ve also seen guys and gals go into a layoff session and end up re-hired within the hour.

    2. Kayem*

      And if at some point you switched to a new internal system, for the love of bytes, do an internal audit of users. So many places just blindly port over all the users from the legacy system without checking.

      In the late 90s at a university that shall remain nameless, students, faculty, and staff could pick their own usernames. Eventually, they replaced the legacy system with one that had the standard FirstinitialSurname username scheme. Except they didn’t change existing usernames that didn’t fit the new naming convention, or even set up an email forwarding from the old to new and deactivate the old. Nor did they do a reconciliation between the various campus systems (payroll, bursar, library, HR, etc.). Which would be fine when those students and employees left because this university doesn’t let alumni keep their email addresses so of course they’ll be deactivated, right? Yeah, turns out the new system could not handle the legacy usernames so when HR sent over the deactivation request, only some of the connected university systems were able to process the request.

      And that is why over twenty years later, some long-gone students and employees can still access their pay stubs and library database access reserved only for current students and employees.

      1. Kayem*

        Oh, and the access of these systems are via a gaping back door left over from the old system. Granted, there’s not much shenanigans to be had by student credentials in the library database or employee credentials in ADP, but someone who knows what they’re doing could absolutely wreak havoc and I still can’t believe they haven’t fixed it.

  34. Former Auditor*

    Re LW1, under Sarbanes-Oxley, adequate internal control over systems access is an important part of any compliance audit.
    To the auditors, it’s less about whether ex-employee actually did anything with the access than the mere fact that his account was not disabled promptly, and that there seems to be no system in place to ensure that accounts are disabled when an employee leaves (or changes jobs within the organization). Though the company definitely should investigate what’s been done with that account.
    That so many comments suggest someone else is using the account sends chills up my spine. Authorized to get around red tape? Deplorable. Unauthorized? Downright frightening.

  35. Kayem*

    LW1 reminded me (tangentially, in a thought-leads-to-thought-leads-to-reminiscing) of my toxic OldJob, which never gave us the resources to do, well, anything we were required to do. IT security was nonexistent and the gaps in the system were horrifying. I had to use a personal email address as the office contact and database login email because my employers wouldn’t pay their bills and we lost internet access for a month, which was also tied to our website and email servers. When it finally was restored, the company president decided that since we were all using personal email addresses, they didn’t need to pay for email servers.

    There was also no one assigned to deactivate access in the system, not even someone whose responsibility was to change the contact email on the website. After I left, I was still getting everything from prospective customer inquiries to regularly scheduled data dumps of sensitive internal memos and documents, including financial data that they absolutely did not want me to see (which also happened to prove they were committing insurance and tax fraud). For months, I informed OldEmployer that this was happening and it was a security risk, by email and phone and even went back to the office a few times. They just didn’t do anything.

    Almost a year later, they sent me a threatening letter stating that I could be brought up on criminal charges for illegally accessing protected information I was not privy to. Turns out someone else who had left the company and was getting the same data dumps got curious and started reading the internal finance memos and handed it all over to the IRS and insurance company. Of course, I immediately turn this over to my lawyer, who sent them a bemusedly threatening letter back and I never heard from them again.

    Except that I still received those data dumps for three months after. They ended not long after a former colleague told me the company finally hired an IT security person. I feel sorry for whoever was stuck with that mess.

  36. Have you had enough water today?*

    LW1 – when I left my last role, I left clear instructions for my replacement on how to deactivate me in the system (could not deactivate myself as it needs to be done AFTER the final pay run). About three months later I clicked on the icon for the roster & payroll software so I could get the contact details for the company as my new company was looking for software & I liked this one…wouldn’t you know it, I was automatically logged in & had full access. I immediately contacted head office to let them know & they said they would sort it right away, but two weeks later when curiosity got the better of me I could still log in with full access. This went on for 14 months after my last day there & if I was an awful person I could have done a lot of damage.

    Information security should be a lot more important to companies than it is.

  37. Kirby*

    My “funny” answer to the weakness question:

    My biggest weakness is honesty when it comes to questions like this. My second biggest weakness is…

    Then I answer the question for real, and describe what I do to work on that weakness.

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