an employee keeps complaining about her boss, who I manage

A reader writes:

I have an employee who I’m having a hard time understanding how to manage.

I manage Jessica, who manages Cynthia. Cynthia is very meticulous and holds people to incredibly high standards. This sometimes makes her difficult to work with, as she gets upset when others don’t work in the same manner as she.

Cynthia frequently complains to me about her manager, who takes a much more right-brained approach to her job. Jessica’s management style is loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow. I believe in our culture, Jessica’s approach is beneficial.

When Cynthia complains about Jessica, I have tried to redirect her to work it out with Jessica directly and to be more adaptable to different management styles. But she continues to complain to others and to me, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve asked her not to do this, but it seems like she feels I’m not doing my job if I don’t discipline Jessica in some way.

I believe she wants me to agree with her and put the same kind of pressure on Jessica that Cynthia puts on herself, and I’m not interested in being that kind of manager. I am happy with Jessica’s performance. If I don’t take the action Cynthia believes I should take, she sulks and complains to the other employees.

In all honesty, Jessica is much easier to work because she doesn’t get so worked up about everything. In my opinion, I’ll take a team player who moves at her own pace over a hard worker who complains about everything. Do you have any words of advice for dealing with Cynthia?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

  1. Someone Online*

    A strict level of conscientious attention to detail is a wonderful trait to have as an individual contributor, because it is what it takes to do a good job in that role. Someone who manages multiple other people can’t have that same level of detail, because they are looking at multiple projects with multiple people. It’s just a different job that requires different strengths. It doesn’t sound like Cynthia recognizes that.

    1. Keymaster in absentia*

      Learnt this the hard way. What qualities made me a great techie (I can see and analyse it all) made me, initially, a piss poor manager.

      Because you can’t control people like you do a spreadsheet. You need to divest the logic.

      One of my colleagues at the time was my exact opposite – very hands off, more into how everyone felt than what was done – and was pulled into the same management training with me. Because he was wrong as well.

      (Btw that management training was where I was introduced to AAM :) )

    2. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      And this problem is not limited to Cynthia’s interactions with Jessica.

      Cynthia has a soft skills deficit that needs to be addressed. She could end up being a problem for the entire office, not just her boss.

        1. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

          Yep. I *left a job* because of the Cynthia on the team. Loved the job, but I could not deal with the Cynthia. The Cynthia was not even my boss- just a coworker- and it was horrible. I am friends with the Cynthia on LinkedIn because I never, ever want to work with her again, and will never apply to any company she’s currently working at.

          1. Frodo*

            Ugh, I worked with a Cynthia, too, and left because our manager was a frightened wimp who hated confrontation. The manager and the Cynthia still work there while so many other people come and go.

          2. Cactus_Song*

            Yeah, I’ve worked with a Cynthia too. I had great respect for her attention to detail, but her bedside manner – especially towards me – was not great. I got on very well with everyone else on the team (my former boss still tells me I was the best admin she ever had) and really loved that team, save for the Cynthia. She made things uncomfortable enough for me that I mentioned it in my exit interview because they were trying to shift her into management and I didn’t want someone else experiencing what I had experienced with her.

            And to be clear, this was partly her penchant for nitpicking details – which she caught me out for, fairly, a few times. And I always thanked her and fixed the issue. She caught everyone out – that was her whole deal. But she also made it clear she just didn’t like me. She would exclude me from group stuff, she refused to have any catch ups with me despite both of us having regular catch ups with every other team member, and she was just never nice to me. She was nice to everyone else – just not me. For my entire time there, I could not figure out what I had done.

            After I left, I found out she had asked several male team members multiple times if they thought I was “pretty,” so that sort of solved the mystery.

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        Yup- anyone who consistently complains about someone else is already problematic, but then the acting out because you won’t do what she wants/see it her way is just too much.
        I have friends I pass on these days, the kind that demand to be agreed with in all their opinions/needs or what have you.

      2. duinath*

        fr. when your manager’s manager has asked you not to do something and you just keep on doing it one suspects there could be a variety of problems with your performance and behaviour at work…

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      So much this. I’ve seen people take that level of detail into management and it winds up as micromanagement and/or bottlenecking everything.

    4. BethRA*

      “A strict level of conscientious attention to detail is a wonderful trait to have as an individual contributor,”

      Often, yes, but this is only true if the details they’re focusing on truly matter, and the “strict and conscientious” isn’t really just “rigid and refuses to consider someone else’s ideas/needs/ways of working.”

      1. Taketombo*

        Oh this. One of my collegue’s direct reports is incredibly detailed oriented and misses the forest for the trees loudly and at length at least half the times she speaks in a meeting.

        Today we were having a meeting regarding a major overhaul of SOP that is publically viewable about billing for llama grooming – we’re sending it out to a consultant for external review – she goes off in front of both our team and the consultant about how this doesn’t address the auditing of llama grooming bills (a closely related field) and it takes 15 minutes and a reminder from the director (3 levels above her) that auditing has it’s own SOP not being addressed here.

        She’s brought this up in every meeting for the past 6 months. Which, yeah, we do need to update the airing SOP too, but one thing at a time. I have a very hard time listening when she speaks.

        1. BethRA*

          Yeah, my “Cynthia” was became well known for similar behavior – even when the Llama Auditor SOP’s DIDN’T need updating, they just had different needs.

          It didn’t help that when he was either asked to back off, or was venting about people “not listening” (hello, pot…), his regular refrain was “it’s just that I really care about making sure a job is done right.”

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Oh yes! I know people who were let go because they couldn’t take direction about how many hours to work, when to delegate, and what to prioritize. Conscientious to a fault, rigorously accurate work, but they couldn’t adjust even when directly told not to work overtime, or to follow work imposed priorities and methods.

  2. Gigi*

    For me, this is a diversity and inclusion issue. There are many brains in the world, and they all work differently. If everyone works the same way in an office, then everyone likely thinks the same way and you’re going to miss something important.

    1. Cabbagepants*

      “But it sounds like you’ve considered Cynthia’s concerns and are confident in your assessment of the situation.”

      This… wasn’t really clear to me from the letter. It sounds like LW likes Jessica and Jessica’s style, but I don’t see where the LW has taken a hard look at whether there is any truth to LW’s complaints. Like if Cynthia is constantly having to work extra hours cleaning up Cynthia’s messes, then that would be a valid complaint.

      1. Cabbagepants*

        yikes, nesting fail and I got the pseudonymns all wrong! I’ll correct and repost as a top level comment

      2. Lea*

        I really wondered if Cynthia’s complaints are about Jessica’s style or about Jessica’s style of MANAGEing cynthia, which might be a completely different issue.

        Has lw really investigated if Jessica is managing appropriately or are they just dismissing Cynthia bc of personality? That would be my question. Someone you like can be doing a bad job too

    2. HonorBox*

      Absolutely. But if Cynthia is unable to work with others who think or work differently, it is a bad fit. She is upset that Jessica’s approach isn’t the same as hers, is taking it over Jessica’s head, and then taking it to coworkers. That’s undermining Jessica and not helpful to anyone. While it is important to have different backgrounds and approaches, but if someone is only able to work within their preferred methods, that’s a bad fit and is taking valuable time away from actual work.

      1. Heart&Vine*

        OP doesn’t get into specifics but I do think this situation requires a thorough going-over before judgement can be passed. What are Cynthia’s specific complaints? Is Jessica lackadaisical about responding to important messages which leaves Cynthia stressing about getting things done on time? Is Jessica habitually 10 minutes late to meetings with clients which Cynthia then has to explain and apologize for? Is Jessica handing things off to Cynthia that she should be doing herself but got distracted? None of these behaviors are malicious on Jessica’s part but can definitely negatively effect Cynthia. If OP is certain that Jessica is demonstrating professional conduct and getting all her work done and Cynthia’s issues are merely personality grievances and/or impossible expectations, then yes, this is definitely a Cynthia problem.
        But if Cynthia’s complaints have any validity to them (i.e. Jessica’s attitude/work style/etc. are negatively impacting Cynthia’s ability to do her job), then there needs to be a bigger conversation that OP mediates between Cynthia and Jessica.

    3. Observer*

      here are many brains in the world, and they all work differently. If everyone works the same way in an office, then everyone likely thinks the same way and you’re going to miss something important.

      That’s true. But if there is a type of brain that cannot accept that someone else could have a valid approach, that is fundamentally dysfunctional in any sort of cooperative space, or in a space where you have to deal with a manager who is not a clone of you.

      Also, if you look at the comments on the original post, the OP gives some examples of the “issues” she’s bringing up, and to be honest she’s just out of line.

      1. Lea*

        Ah I’ll have to hunt that down bc from the letter it really wasn’t at all clear to me if these were valid complaints or not

        1. Lea*

          Ok I found only one real example and that too seems on the fence to me?

          If I’m an employee and create a training program and the person who follows me ditches it without discussion it’s reasonable to be a little miffed and we really have no idea how effect this program
          Or the previous program is.

          It still sounds style/personality based without any real data.

          1. Observer*

            Well, the example is one that is pretty obviously over the top – typical library volunteer trainings don’t need to be “intensive”. And the OP is clear that they believe that the new person is actually correct that it is not needed.

            Also, there is a difference between “being miffed” (which an adult should be able to curb the expression of) and constant harping.

    4. hbc*

      Maybe, but the solution to Rigid Rule Followers in a diverse environment is not to let them keep complaining about everyone who’s not a rigid rule follower. Cynthia is welcome to hold herself to rigid standards and follow every written and unwritten rule to the letter, but she is not allowed to declare that her coworkers are slackers when they leave at 4:55. She’s free to think it all she wants, however.

  3. Cabbagepants*

    “But it sounds like you’ve considered Cynthia’s concerns and are confident in your assessment of the situation.”

    This… wasn’t really clear to me from the letter. It sounds like LW likes Jessica and Jessica’s style, but I don’t see where the LW has taken a hard look at whether there is any truth to Cynthia’s complaints. Like if Cynthia is constantly having to work extra hours cleaning up Jessica’s messes, then that would be a valid complaint.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I was thinking the same thing — could be a mix of legitimate problems and “I just don’t like her style” complaints, and LW should be careful not to lump everything into the latter category without considering it further. (Totally possible that all the complaints are in that latter category! It’s just… not my top guess, based on her having a “fun” management style.)

    2. NervousHoolelya*

      I wondered whether there was more context in the original letter (because sometimes the letters get edited and condensed for Inc.), and it looks like there are some details about the context in that version that explained the LW’s assessment of their styles a bit more. I’ll nest the link below.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Yea, after reading the original letter, Cynthia needs to move on with her life’s work.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          Thanks for linking! I think this quote from the OP says it all: “I keep asking myself, if Cynthia were not here anymore, how would the department suffer. I think the department would suffer only in arbitrary ways that Cynthia has invented for herself.”

          1. Abundant Shrimp*

            Second the thanks. Before I read OP’s comments, my thought was “does Cynthia maybe want Jessica’s job?” but no, Cynthia just wants to complain about everything under the sun (not limited to Jessica).

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              Cynthia doesn’t want Jessica out. Cynthia doesn’t want manager out.
              Cynthia wants ALL THE PEOPLE OUT of the library.
              It is for books, not for people. Books can be cataloged and shelved PROPERLY. They don’t undermine the system by “taking shortcuts,” “being friendly,” “talking.”
              My Junior High School Librarian who would tell people, no, you can’t take out that book.

              1. 1LFTW*

                Not in a library, but I’m dealing with a colleague like this at the moment. She’s not my manager. She’s not a manager at all. But dang if she doesn’t feel like hers is the One True Way of doing things, and the rest of us (including our actual managers) are varying degrees of incompetent.

                I tell myself I’m actually doing a favor when I fail to read her mind, because she’s only happy when she has something to criticize.

                1. 1LFTW*

                  Ugh, that was supposed to read “…varying degrees of incompetent, and thinks it’s her place to tell us so in excruciating detail”.

      1. herefortheupdates*

        There was some additional context given in the comments. The OP was responding under the username Manager. Basically Cynthia was often complaining about something new, not just the manager.

    3. Behavior Observer*

      I agree, I had the same concerns. Hopefully LW did look into specific concerns (if there was any). LW could find that Jessica is easy to manage, but miss that she’s, for example, unclear on expectations or deadlines for Cynthia. And in that case, feedback to Jessica on how to better support Cynthia is warranted and an action item other than just “disciplining” her.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        This seems right to me. I have both very structured and more go-with-the-flow folks on my team, and figuring out how to manage people with those different styles takes some work. Jessica may be doing a great job, but it may also be the case that Jessica could be giving Cynthia more structure, or communicating with her more openly about why deadlines are shifting.

        I find that outright saying “I know that this request is vague and out of your comfort zone, but I know you can do a good job” can help in some cases, or just talking with an employee about the nature of the work on our team and the chance to build skills in flexibility. Just acknowledging that there are different work styles and work environments and being clear about the one you’re in and the styles of the people you’re working with can go a long way!

        That said, Cynthia’s incessant complaining to her manager’s manager doesn’t necessarily bode well.

    4. AlsoACynthiaType*

      Yeah. I work with a “Jessica” type who makes twice as much as I do (and I feel pretty fairly compensated, except that I know what we both make), but I’m the one actually filing paperwork (and figuring out what paperwork needs to be filed), catching mistakes, correcting them, taking the trainings, etc.

      “Jessica” misses deadlines, doesn’t stay current on policy, and largely only does the fun and “big picture” parts of the job. She can because I exist. And I wouldn’t mind so much except for the salary gap. Maybe that’s what this Cynthia is really objecting to as well.

      1. Ccbac*

        yeah, I too have been the person who had to pick up the paperwork backlog when working with/for a Jessica and…. it was not fun.

        Incidentally, it was also at a public library (which is where Cynthia/Jessica work based on the original letter). So there would be times when I’d have to say things like “hi Jessica, remember when you said you’d handle using the booking software to schedule storytimes for the new year? well, storytime is tomorrow and it looks like we never booked a room. only the 10 person max room (per the fire marshall) is available. do you want me to cancel, ask people to sign up, or close the room once we hit the maximum capacity?”

        and Jessica’s response would be “I’m sure it’ll be fine, we can just squeeze!” and she would then act like I was the most unreasonable no fun person for being concerned about the room’s capacity (story time was often attended by upwards of 60 people. to be very clear, no part of my job was assisting Jessica and I was absolutely not responsible for her room bookings or paperwork. I was responsible for things like ensuring compliance with various policies, though with no way of enforcing policies and many people did not abdide. Jessica was my manager though had little to do with the day to day of my job)

        this happened time and time again and, for the most part, things were “fine” until the Incident (a one off event that, per town policy, related to insurance/liability, required some paperwork to be filed in advance as well as x number of staff people per xx number of anticipated attendees with various caps on attendance depending on the space used). Jessica did not file the required paperwork and someone got hurt. luckily, I had an email to Jessica checking in about the paperwork with her response of “pls don’t worry about it. I’ve got it covered. it will be fine” so I was in the clear. there was subsequently a review of library policy and it turned out the fun laid back go with the flow bosses were massively not in compliance with very basic things.

        also, the comments about “intensive teen training” in the original post really got me too. we used teen volunteers and had to really revamp the training programs after incidents involving taking toddlers to the bathroom without their parents, teens accessing confidential info, hanging out in staff only sections and more. anything involving kids, probably does need intensive training to make sure everyone is safe and while most of the time, it may be “fine”, but all it takes is one incident that could have been prevented for it not to be fine.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Just because you’re using the same fake names, it doesn’t mean that it’s the same situation. Being more easy going and less strict does not equate to failure to follow proper policies.

        2. Lea*

          Yes I was really wondering if the ‘too intense’ teen policy involved safety and protection of kids and teens while working with children and hey, maybe that was actually important

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            If the LW said it was too intense I think we can take their word that it was too intense.

            1. amoeba*

              LW also specified in the comments that the volunteers are currently doing just fine without the rigid training and rules.

        3. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

          >So there would be times when I’d have to say things like “hi Jessica, remember when you said you’d handle using the booking software to schedule storytimes for the new year? well, storytime is tomorrow and it looks like we never booked a room. only the 10 person max room (per the fire marshall) is available. do you want me to cancel, ask people to sign up, or close the room once we hit the maximum capacity?”

          >and Jessica’s response would be “I’m sure it’ll be fine, we can just squeeze!”

          At that point it falls under Alison’s “Illegal or unethical” exception.

      2. Allonge*

        OP writes that Cynthia ‘holds people to incredibly high standards. This sometimes makes her difficult to work with, as she gets upset when others don’t work in the same manner as she’.

        This does not sound like ‘Cynthia expects things kept to compliant with applicable laws’, it sounds like Cynthia expects boss and everyone else to confirm to all rules she ever heard about or made up. Not the same thing as you and your boss.

    5. Nom*

      Totally agree. There may well be very legitimate issues with Jessica that Cynthia just isn’t able to articulate well. In my experience grandbosses have very little understanding of the management skills of those underneath them.

  4. Throwaway Account*

    I learned AFTER I left my last place of employment that my manager’s manager knew that I was at loose ends without a project to take on and that managers were not happy with me about it BUT SHE DID NOTHING ABOUT IT! Please take Alison’s advice and make it clear to Cynthia that this is the job, she has to know that!

    Some background, my job was split between projects and customer-facing services (think info desk for walk-in questions and projects to serve the public). For multiple reasons, including general mismanagement, we were not given many projects but we could propose them. So we proposed them. Everyone in my department was always told no – we used a lot of AAM tips to try to find out why, including asking! As an example, at one point I was asked to create a program but to not run it so well that a specific manager would steal it from our department. The place was a mess but it took me a while to realize that.

    I was told by my new coworkers that they knew my boss’s boss personally and so they asked her about me. She told them I was great when I had work to do but was unhappy when I did not. Why the heck did she not tell me or tell my boss to tell me, this is the job, project-based but few actual projects, does it make sense for you to stay here? I really wish someone made that clear long before I finally figured it out and left.

  5. Reality Check*

    I am a Jessica and worked with a Cynthia before. It almost certainly is very frustrating for Jessica. I hope OP shut it down, because for the Jessicas of the world, it’s like having a yappy little dog constantly nipping at the ankles.

    1. Ccbac*

      and for the Cynthia’s of the world, it’s like having to be the one adult in the room who cleans up after all the toddlers have had their fun and made a giant mess!

      (calling a detail oriented woman a yappy little ankle biting dog is a choice that says a lot about a self-described Jessica of the world….)

      1. new old friend*

        And describing the Jessicas of the world as toddlers incapable of keeping track of themselves *also* says a lot about a Cynthia. We can go around in circles trading insults, or maybe we can make like every Hallmark movie ever and acknowledge that a balance of going with the flow and keeping on top of work is important, and being obsessive about order isn’t always the Right Way.
        As LW says in the initial letter, they work in a library, where flexibility is highly prized.

      2. Reality Check*

        She never had to clean up a mess of mine. She just wanted everyone to do everything exactly as she would.

        1. Billy Preston*

          ha, same with my Cynthia. If something wasn’t done to the letter the way she wanted it, things were wrong and Someone Must Pay. Even though we’d done it very well before and since her. OP is satisfied with Jessica’s work quality, so we should take that as given.

      3. Tio*

        Being detail oriented is not what that comment seems to be about. Although I don’t think it was the best description, it seems more about the constant complaining and refusal to accept any other ways of thinking, which can come from someone detail oriented or not.

      4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        “it’s like having to be the one adult in the room who cleans up after all the toddlers have had their fun and made a giant mess!”

        You think that because you think your way is the only way and don’t understand the division of labor. The Cynthias of the world are hired to deal with the details–they like details and they’re good at them. They often lose sight of the big picture and take on too much work for themselves. The Jessicas of the world are involved in work where other people deal with the details and it allows them to look at the bigger picture. They can sometimes make mistakes in the big picture when the details are important to the big picture (which sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t). These two types of people can be very complementary to each other if they appreciate the other person’s strengths.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          This. I am a detail person. I work in fundraising for a theatre, but I work on the backend (database admin, reports, essentially managing the details of the department). My boss on the other hand basically needs to be able to focus on the big picture of everything going on. Do I sometimes get a little frustrated if I have to remind her (or my colleagues) about things? Sure, I’m only human. But I also recognize that my strengths and their strengths work in tandem, and the result is that we’ve keep things running pretty smoothly! I think the important thing to recognize is that just because a system is the best one for me doesn’t mean it works for everyone, and that’s okay.

      5. Caliente Papillon*

        I don’t really think it’s about that- many of these Cynthia types are simply control freaks who don’t like it that they can’t be in charge and control others. If Jessica is getting her work done, she’s not leaving any messes for Cynthia to clean.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I had this type of conflict with someone, although we were ‘peers’ (with different managers but worked together on projects) rather than in a reporting chain. I never heard that she’d complained about me but I know people often vent about colleagues (to other colleagues or at home / to friends) so I’m sure she must have done, “Captain dddd is so loosey goosey about everything! No plan! Everything is just done on the fly!” (these were traits that were beneficial, as we were facing situations that changed almost hourly and any real plan would get instantly undone or superseded by events). Meanwhile I was complaining about her that “Jane is so rigid and will only act once she’s 100% sure of the details, she dots every t and crosses every i about every.little.thing even when it doesn’t matter and visibly gets uncomfortable when things change!”…

      Who was ‘right’ out of me and Jane? Neither really as they are just different approaches (although too far in any direction is probably bad) but we can’t deny that some approaches are more fitted to some situations than others.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        I had two trainees like this. J thought V was impossible rigid and uptight and refuse to provide the frequent updates V requested/demanded. V thought J was thoughtless and uncaring and thus redoubled her requests/demands for updates on their shared project. I thought they were both very good as long as we didn’t try to force them to work together.

        Our org was very invested in the MBTI (I know, I know) and when our group went through that process it was actually very helpful to V and J because they were able to give each other a bit more grace. It never got easy, though.

        1. Lea*

          We did a different personality training at work and it is helpful to think about people’s personal styles and the reasons and validity to all of them. I think it takes all types

      2. Joielle*

        Very similar situation when I started my current management role around the same time that a colleague also started a new management role on the same level. I am a very go-with-the-flow person who doesn’t get worked up about much, and she took my lack of panic as a sign that I didn’t care or was neglecting details. So she would take it on herself to check in on any of my work that even tangentially related to hers, and I spent a lot of time being irritated and also offended that she thought I wasn’t doing my job. Eventually we both settled into our roles, she realized that I actually was not letting balls drop, I realized that she was just anxious about any potential impacts to her own team, and we work together well now. But it took a while for the issues to work themselves out.

      3. allathian*

        Well, if she really dots every t and crosses every i, no wonder you’re frustrated! She gets everything wrong no matter how hard she works. Oops.

        I hope you don’t take this as me nitpicking your language here (even if “dot every t and cross every i” is one of my favorite love-to-hate misquotes), just wanted to insert a bit of levity into a very frustrating situation.

        I don’t really do to-do lists, except a very general Excel-file that lists every task I and my coworker have to do, are pending, or have completed, and their deadlines. As much as I enjoy crossing off a completed task, I don’t plan my workdays in detail because if I do, the frustration of having to change my priorities on the run far outweigh any benefit I’d get from having a to-do list, because I don’t need a to-do list to keep me on task. Thankfully my boss trusts me to manage my own work process and doesn’t care how I do it as long as I complete my tasks on time, even if she loves to-do lists herself.

    3. ferrina*

      I had a sort-of Cynthia. I was her manager. She didn’t like my decisions and didn’t like the company’s priorities (that I had to enforce as the manager). I regularly advocated for my team’s ideas (including a lot of her ideas) and was even able to get partial support for a particularly tricky project (long history), but nothing I did would ever be enough for her. She would complain about me a lot. She derailed a lot of meetings to talk about things I had already said we needed to table.

      Finally she told my boss I was ‘verbally abusive’ and yelled and insulted her in meetings. This never happened; I never raised my voice at work, and I certainly never threw insults! My boss immediately called me in to reprimand me, and I pointed out 1) I didn’t do it, 2) that was utterly inconsistent with anything I’d ever done, 3) I consistently had extremely high marks from my team on our 360 reviews (including from Cynthia), and 4) I didn’t do it. Our Cynthia had escalated the drama to the point where we started collecting evidence for a PIP, because it wasn’t worth the drama of someone who was actively working to undermine her boss. Luckily she left on her own.

    4. Glazed Donut*

      I have been in OP’s position before. Even after we did a re-org and our-Cynthia moved to a new team, her complaints then switched to ANOTHER manager. Our-Cynthia’s co-workers didn’t change, so they just continued the cycle of negativity. One main reason I left that job: higher ups wanted to entertain our-Cynthia’s complaints (“everyone should feel happy at work!”) instead of letting managers actually manage and say “No, this is the job; this is what you do; this is your manager.” Every perceived slight, so much accumulated baggage…made for a fine work environment to become toxic under the guise of “family” (right?!).

  6. Cinnamon Boo*

    I actually thought that Alison would side with Cynthia on this. Not sure why. Maybe it was the way OP described the situation.

    1. Lea*

      Op was very vague and obviously playing favorites.

      Honestly I think Cynthia and Jessica need to do mediation is that a thing in library culture?

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        It’s not playing favorites to say that one person’s approach to work is better for the environment you work in.

  7. Foxy Hedgehog*

    My first concern reading this was the statement “Cynthia is very meticulous and holds people to incredibly high standards.” It sounds as though the LW in her mind has already given Cynthia permission to behave this way, because being “meticulous” and “holding people to incredibly high standards” are usually thought of good characteristics in a worker. If LW can stop associating Cynthia’s complaining with those positive traits, they will see it for the toxic behavior that it actually is.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That phrasing caught my attention, too. I’d be curious to know whether Cynthia has any authority to hold anyone to particular standards. That would significantly affect my answer.

      If someone described me like that, in my current role, that would be a problem because my role doesn’t include that kind of oversight. I help and advise, but I’m not the one who decides whether something is up to standard. But in other roles, it could be totally appropriate.

      1. Antilles*

        Cynthia certainly doesn’t have authority to hold her own manager (Jessica) to any particular standards. That’s not how a chain-of-command operates. You don’t get to set the standard for someone who’s above you in the chain.

        1. Lea*

          You do in some respects if they’re dropping the ball.

          I remind my manager of stuff if I think she’s forgotten bc that’s part of my job to make sure things get done. But we work well together if I had a boss that blew me off or couldn’t be trusted it would go differently

          1. Observer*

            Except that the OP is clearly not talking about basic compliance. And also, Cynthia is not reminding people of the things that it’s her job to remind them of.

            She’s also not just complaining to and about her boss. She’s also complaining about issues that are not hers to deal with. Maybe her old volunteer training was “better”. But it’s not her job any more, and she needs to back off.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Sure, but understanding her role would put the overall behaviour in context. How much Cynthia is operating outside of what is appropriate and acceptable by holding everyone to high standards depends on whether her role involves any of that. If her job involves quality assurance, it makes a bit more sense than if she’s an individual contributor working on her own tasks.

          This is more related to trying to figure out which parts of the problem are related to Cynthia and which to Jessica.

    2. ferrina*

      At first I thought Cynthia was the manager. Then I realized she was holding her manager to her (Cynthia’s) standards. That’s….not how management works. You can have preferred working styles and certainly talk to your boss about how you can both get the most out of the relationship, but at the end of the day, the boss is the boss. It’s literally in the name.

      1. Kara*

        Depends on the field. Are compliance, safety, record-keeping, or code involved? If so I’d argue that she not only has grounds, but even an obligation, to bring this up the chain.

        1. Lea*


          Chain of command isn’t magic, it doesn’t make the papers get filed or whatever needs to happen happen

          Good managers listen to their compliance people

    3. MsM*

      Interesting. I saw the “incredibly high standards” as “I feel like she’s making too big a deal out of things that really aren’t that big a deal.”

      1. ampersand*

        Same. Whether this is viewed as a positive trait is context dependent, but when you’re talking about holding other people to a high standard re: their work, and you’re not their boss, it’s not great. Cynthia sounds very difficult to work with.

  8. AnonForNow*

    I used to work with a Cynthia, and we both worked for a Jessica. Cynthia would complain to me about Jessica, and I ended up moving to another organization to get away from Jessica’s “incompetence” and Cynthia’s complaining. I also had issues with Jessica – I personally don’t think she was well-suited to the job – but the complaining from Cynthia made it harder for me to deal with and respect Jessica.

    The OP needs to understand that this isn’t just a “Cynthia’s unhappy” thing – this can easily affect everyone on the team.

    1. pally*

      Yes! This isn’t limited to just Cynthia and Jessica. Others ARE affected.

      My co-worker is a Cynthia. It is so stressful for me when she complains about Jessica and her management style. This is a regular thing too. She’s been told by management that she should consider that the job may not be for her. Result: Cynthia remains at the job and continues to vent. Management doesn’t want to fire her as she doesn’t have a lot of job opportunities out there.

      1. AnonForNow*

        It really is incredibly stressful. I started dreading any meeting with Cynthia because it would turn into a gripe session about Jessica.

    2. birb*

      In the past I was a manager in this situation. The employee was horrible, did this to any woman she perceived as a threat or in a position of authority over her, and the most frustrating thing was that she’d essentially frame it as “we” had a problem with each other, despite the fact that I was her manager, she was actively harassing me and several of her coworkers, and OFF SITE employees had formally complained about her spreading rumors about me (and notified me). It essentially all got brushed off as a “lady issue” and woman drama. I was being actively harassed and retaliated against with witnesses! Even after multiple write-ups for bullying her coworkers for legally protected statuses, she was promoted out into a leadership position elsewhere to “fix our drama problem”.

      I think people like this know they can get muddy the waters enough on who the “victim” is that they can get a lot of benefits and advancement from acting this way.

  9. arcya*

    I really think the LW needs to do an in-depth review of Jessica’s work and management. It takes a lot of energy for someone to continually complain, and the LW says Cynthia holds herself to high standards. Is she someone who typically wastes a lot of time and energy where it isn’t needed? It sounds like the LW likes Jessica on a personal level, which is great. Is she meeting measurable standards? Are the people who work for her having to pick up the slack from her “right-brained, go-with-the-flow” style? Could Jessica just be creating extra stress and uncertainty for the people who report to her, and Cynthia is just the loudest (or the one the LW personally likes the least)?

    1. Kella*

      I have been Cynthia-ish in the past and truly, there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with Jessica’s work in order for Cynthia to act in this way. Cynthia has a very specific, rigid idea about what acceptable performance looks like. When you are that strict with your definition of success, often you are not putting weight on the actual results, and instead are stressing about all the minute ways a person has diverged from the process as you think it should be performed. If I had it in my head that doing a task in a different way than I did it was “wrong” then seeing someone else do it that way would cause me immense distress and I’d feel compelled to try to fix it.

      I think actually OP needs to discuss Cynthia’s performance with Jessica. If Cynthia is getting this frustrated with a manager who by OP’s assessment is performing well and she’s unwilling to let it go, I worry about how she’s treating her reports. It’s unlikely that they all have the exact same workstyle as her and this approach often has little tolerance for mistakes, even if they are negligible or caught and fixed.

      1. It's OK not to be excellent???*

        I had a wonderful manager once tell me that the company was paying for C work, and I was stressing myself and everyone else out trying to make sure A+ work was delivered. This was very enlightening for me – in all my years of working, I had never had anybody tell me directly that it was fine to do just an “OK” job and honestly never even considered it an option.

        1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

          I feel this. After about 3 months into a new job where I hit the ground running & was working so hard to make the program excellent, a coworker sidled up to my desk one day and whispered “You’ve got to tone it down, ease up, stop working so hard…you’re making the rest of us look bad!” I was astounded. He said it was the type of place where people just do enough to get by, wait out their retirement, and not rock the boat by being too bad OR too good. I got out of there as soon as I could but not before it did a job on my mental health.

        2. RVA Cat*

          Former honor student here and I’m still frustrated by this. The adage “you can do it well, fast or cheap – pick two!” helps refrain it. Plus learning the concept of “goldplating” when the customer is also paying for the C work and does not want your A+.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            In project management, this is the balance between time, scope/quality, and resources. If one of these is vital, there has to be conversations about which of the others to adjust. Like, if the vital thing is meeting the deadline, are you going to allow scope / quality to take a hit or are you going to make sure you have a lot of resources on the project? If you don’t have the resources, are you going to adjust the timeline or the scope/quality?

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Some key questions in there, for sure. Aside from being personable, is Jessica meeting the requirements of her role? Is her team performing well, generally? As a whole, are they getting what they need from Jessica most of the time?

      Is Cynthia able to produce the amount of deliverables that someone of her level should or is she getting bogged down with making things so perfect that she doesn’t complete all her tasks? Is Cynthia’s negativity affecting the rest of the team?

      The result could be that they both need to grow and change to be more effective. It does seem to me that Cynthia is part of the problem. Sometimes a manager makes a decision that you think is wrong (or at least sub-optimal), even after you’ve explained the issues. At that point, unless it’s unethical or illegal, you kinda have to go with it.

    3. The day of Sue*

      The LW says they’re satisfied with Jessica’s work.

      I do not understand understand the excuse-making on Cynthia’s behalf. She’s a gossip, likely a bully, and needs to straighten up by way of LW, as Alison said, shutting it down.

      1. arcya*

        Cynthia could certainly be out of line. But as someone who has suffered under “right brained, go with the flow managers” who are unable to complete their own tasks or contribute anything to the team, and leave their work for the “unfun busybodies” who report to them, I really think this merits a serious look at Jessica’s actual, measurable work output. It does sound like there’s a bully here, but I’m not convinced it’s Cynthia.

          1. arcya*

            “Right brained” and “go with the flow” are literally the words the LW used to describe Jessica in the post. My point, which was perhaps too subtle, was that often these are polite terms applied to people who are actually careless and disorganized. All I am suggesting is that the LW critically examine Jessica’s work output. Not that Cynthia is necessarily right, but in the interest of the organization as a whole the LW needs to find out exactly what’s going on. Perhaps the LW has done these things! But in the information provided in the letter she has not. Dismissing potentially critical problems simply because you don’t really like the person telling you about them isn’t a great look.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              There is nothing to indicate that Jessica is unable to complete her own tasks and is leaving them for others. There is nothing to indicate that Jessica (or anyone for that matter) is a bully. There is nothing to indicate the LW is dismissing potentially critical problems, or that they are doing it because they don’t like Cynthia. You are projecting here.

          1. arcya*

            You’re so right nothing else could possibly be going on it’s much too silly to ever suggest a supervisor critically evaluate a problem

            1. edda ed*

              You brought up that you think there’s a bully in this situation, and you don’t think it’s Cynthia, which leaves either LW and/or Jessica. For my part, I don’t see signs of bullying in the letter as written, and I think that’s why Jennifer Strange thinks you’re reading things that aren’t there ( I agree with Jennifer on this point).

              If there is bullying here, I’d probably look at Cynthia first. For the record, I don’t actually think Cynthia’s behavior as described constitutes bullying, but this is for the sake of argument. But if Cynthia’s out as a possible bully, I’m seeing even less signs of bullying in LW or Jessica’s conduct. That’s because LW’s tangible actions here (telling Cynthia to address problems with her boss, then when those problems aren’t resolved, evaluating Jessica’s work and work style, determining it’s acceptable for their workplace, case closed) are pretty mundane manager duties, and we don’t get any description of Jessica’s behaviors at all, just a description of how she approaches work.

              If you think there’s a bully here in either LW or Jessica, I have to say, the signs are really subtle. I’m not seeing it, and it looks like most other commenters aren’t seeing it either. If you want to make that argument, you’ll be more convincing if you draw from the facts of the letter to support it.

            2. Jennifer Strange*

              There is nothing to indicate that the supervisor isn’t critically evaluating a problem, or that anyone in this situation is a bully. Again, you are reading a lot of things that aren’t there.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I think it’s worth it for the LW to check whether they’re satisfied with Jessica’s work based on thinking that the more casual approach is best in this environment or based on metrics/data. It’s certainly possible that Jessica is fantastic and the rest of the team is excelling under her leadership. It’s also possible that the evaluation is more based on vibes than it should be.

      3. Friendo*

        Very odd how many people in this comment section are not believing this, seemingly because they didn’t include “I am happy with her work and here are all the steps I went through to reach that conclusion”.

  10. Essentially Cheesy*

    Has LW had Jessica and Cynthia sit down 1:1 and try to work this out? Or how about if LW has discussed this with Jessica 1:1? It sounds like there is a lot of eye rolling done at Cynthia’s expense. It seems like Cynthia is being made out to be a pest but has there been any attempts at meeting in the middle between Jessica and Cynthia?

    I am getting the sense that Cynthia is not being given any credence and it’s making the problem worse.

    1. ferrina*

      I’ve seen this strategy go right, and I’ve seen it go wrong.

      LW says that they are happy with Jessica’s performance. Cynthia’s feedback has been considered, and LW has decided that she won’t be taking the action Cynthia wants. Whether or not that’s a good decision is irrelevant- we don’t have enough info to judge anyways.

      Next step is that needs to be communicated to Cynthia. First step is that the direct manager would have that conversation, but if the direct manager has had that conversation and Cynthia still is complaining about the same things, LW needs to have that conversation with Cynthia. “That is not expectations that I hold for my team, and I will not be implementing that. These are fundamental things that will not change. I appreciate that you brought this up, but now that we’ve discussed it, we need to move on. It’s not productive to keep rehashing this. Knowing that, how can we move forward?”

      It needs to be clear and unequivocal. I’ve been in a position where my manager wanted me to stop bringing something up, but would blow me off with “huh, I’ll think about that”. I thought I was fine to keep bringing it up until my manager blew up at me. I had no idea that others at the organization were already told that the issue wasn’t going to be addressed, and they thought that I was just complaining for no reason. It undermined my credibility and meant that I spent time working on solutions that would never be implemented. It can be hard to hear your boss say “I disagree with your assessment and/or priorities”, but it’s very important information to have.

      1. Lea*

        I feel like if Jessica isn’t meeting with Cynthia to discuss things, then Jessica is probably not being a good manager

        That’s part of Jessica’s job.

        1. Kel*

          Yeah, but it sounds like Cynthia would rather complain to LW. It’s definitely possible Cynthia isn’t telling Jessica any of this.

  11. Lauren19*

    If Cynthia is prety junior (or quite frankly even if she’s not), LW should have a conversation with her that there are multiple working styles, and no one is ever going to exclusively work with people who work like them. And a HUGE professional development goal of Cynthia’s needs to be to be able to work with various working styles. That’s a sof skill that you really can’t (or shouldn’t be able to) advance without.

  12. BellyButton*

    Has the LW looked at Jessica as a manager? She and her team may be producing the outcomes expected, but HOW she is managing her team may be the rea issue. Are Cynthia’s complaints about Jessica’s management style, her critical thinking, her decision making, or mistakes she is making in the work? I am not clear on what Cynthia has issue with.

    Regardless, Cynthia should not be bad mouthing or complaining to anyone and everyone about Jessica. That is a behavior issue that should be shut down. It makes Cynthia look bad, undermines Jessica, and can have a huge negative impact on the entire team.

  13. JelloStapler*

    To what extent has Jessica tried to slightly adjust her approach to Cynthia (in a realistic and genuine attempt)? In these efforts is C then being unrealistic or stubborn and still expecting more than what is possible?

    Or, is it possible that Jessica has not tried anything and LW is not investigating that possibility because she is fine with how J works?

    Not saying this is J’s fault- LW and J and even C may have tried to brainstorm and implement things to address the issues and C is not budging, or what C wants is not realistic or possible. But it’s also possible that C’s concerns are being dismissed because LW likes J’s work, period. Is C feeling ignored or dismissed with legitimate questions or concerns?

    In the end C still cannot sulk or complain to everyone who will listen.

    1. nodramalama*

      LW is happy with Jessica’s performance and management. There’s no reason for Jessica to change her management style and performance just because Cynthia doesn’t like it.

  14. name of the day*

    I feel like this is one of those posts that will have a lot of people (myself included!) projecting…

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Yup!! We’re getting a lot of people deciding that because they see parts of themselves in Cynthia, clearly OP has failed at reviewing and managing Jessica.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep! Several people are saying Jessica’s work is clearly lacking and needs remedial attention, when LW literally says: “I am happy with Jessica’s performance.

        Granted, I’m usually concerned when I hear a manager described as “loose, fun, go-with-the-flow”. Usually that’s code for “puts friendship over actual management” or “overly optimistic to the detriment of their team”. But outside of LW’s word choice, there aren’t any other signs that Jessica is a bad manager. Whereas Cynthia “gets upset when others don’t work in the same manner as she”, sulks when her Grandboss doesn’t take the action she wants, and continues to complain when her Grandboss has told her to stop.

    2. Doomed Project Lead*

      Yes, I was reading through the diametrically opposing comments and thinking that people seem to be immediately Team Jessica or Team Cynthia!

    3. edda ed*

      I was just about to make my own standalone comment about this. “I am a Jessica. Working with Cynthia is a drag” “I worked with a Jessica. It was horrible and I overworked to compensate for her.”

      No, you aren’t Cynthia and you aren’t Jessica and unless you worked at LW’s place, you didn’t work with them either. You don’t know enough to assert that Jessica is routinely leaving messes for Cynthia to clean up, nor do you know the extent of Cynthia’s fastidiousness. Maybe you do relate to some descriptions in the letter, but “I recognize myself in the letter, therefore, I know that Cynthia/Jessica is in the wrong and the source of the problem” is pure projection.

  15. Leslie Santiago*

    I had a direct report a bit like this. My manager went along with it, having separate 1:1s and tasking her directly, and in the end I just left. she was exhausting but the manager was the real issue because he was so conflict avoidant.

  16. Daveyg*

    Cynthia has gone over her Boss’ head to speak to Jessica’s boss and has done so repeatedly, this is inappropriate and could be considered as destabilising the wider team, Cynthia may well have other motives to keep making this complaint, it shows a basic lack of respect for the position of Jessica. The Author should really shut this down and explain to Cynthia that this is inappropriate, the author has hopefully discussed all of these interactions with Jessica. The big boss here needs to back Jessica.

    Sadly in my experience people like Cynthia who have a strong attachment to how they think, act, and get work done will often never be able to see another point of view.

    1. pally*

      Seconding your last sentence.

      Our Cynthia just will not accept that the management style isn’t going to be as formal as she believes it should be. It doesn’t need to be -the work is getting done just fine. Nevertheless, she wants things to be very rigid.

  17. HonorBox*

    Reading the comments, I’d agree that there’s a possibility that Jessica may be doing (or not doing) something that is truly a problem. That’s important to consider, for sure. Maybe there is legitimately something that could make things better for everyone. BUT, I’ve worked with Cynthias, and any management that isn’t their particular type of management is incorrect. I’ve seen push back on how initiatives were rolled out because Cynthia didn’t know enough information, even though it wasn’t an initiative that involved them. I’ve seen Cynthia push back on how they were asked to do something because it didn’t outline each step in the process (and this was a situation where it wasn’t possible to foresee every step along the way). I’ve seen Cynthia get upset because the boss had to be out of the office unexpectedly and she had to call someone to apologize for an inconsequential delay.

    I believe that the LW would have outlined actionable things if there were actionable things, like Jessica not being forthcoming about schedules or changes in procedures. It just sounds very much that Cynthia has expectations to be managed the way she WANTS, and not the way she IS. LW could do a little probing when Cynthia complains next, asking for specific things that could be actionable. But barring something coming from that conversation, LW needs to be clear that while Cynthia may not like Jessica’s management, Jessica is still the manager and LW has her back.

    1. ferrina*

      Oof, the Cynthia that needs All The Information can be really tough to work with. I work in an industry where we often don’t have all the information. Having someone that constantly needs everything laid out for them and won’t accept and deviation from the process is AWFUL. There are jobs where that is a great thing- my industry is not where you will find those jobs. Yet I’ve run into several Cynthias who tried to force the industry to match their workstyle. It’s just painful for everyone involved.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. What works in some highly regulated industries where compliance with regulations and processes can literally be a matter of life and death doesn’t necessarily work everywhere else.

  18. Sharon*

    When Cynthia complains, OP needs to refocus the discussion on specific issues (whether Jessica-related or not) that impact Cynthia’s performance and offer Cynthia coaching on how to handle them.

  19. Also-ADHD*

    That last note about considering such complaints is so important, but so is sharing your opinion if you disagree (after asking questions to see if there’s anything you’re missing etc). But it sounds like LW did consider the complaints, though I can see how Cynthia might be confused by neither being contradicted or seeing action taken—you really have to be clear and assertive in situations like this.

  20. Student*

    The main thing that jumps out to me in this letter is that you very carefully avoided explaining what issue Cynthia is complaining about.

    Is that because the specifics of the issue are irrelevant and you’re very concise, or is that because you think it might change the advice to something you don’t really want to hear?

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      If you scroll up, you’ll find the link to the original question, and OP had commented with more specifics (under “Manager”).

      1. Lea*

        Did anyone see specifics there beyond the one where Cynthia created a training
        Program orientation and the new person just ditched it?

        Because I think that’s another area where I can see both sides and is certainly not a clear indication that Cynthia’s complaints are not valid

  21. manager lady*

    Until I saw this was a revisit of an old letter, I thought this was written by my boss! I am the Jessica in my situation and it is awful. Bosses, shut it down if it happens in your workplace.

  22. Cafe au Lait*

    I’m Jessica and my coworker is Cynthia. I get so frustrated because IMO Cynthia gets stuck on the wrong priorities. In addition she wants things to be formally communicated, never ad hoc and she has trouble winging instructions. For example: when I first started managing my unit, I wanted a set of keys placed in a cup on my desk by a mental sculpture. My Cynthia wanted me to take a photo of the sculpture and corner so she knew exactly where to put the keys.

    The amount of work it would’ve taken for me to take the photo, load it by email and then send it was more than it would’ve taken for her to reread my email, look for the sculpture and cup.

    I’ve been learning how to take lots of deep breaths and count to ten

      1. Not Totally Subclinical*

        I would find it a pain in the rear to do this in the cell phone era; my phone isn’t connected to my work email.

        And unless the desk in question is extremely cluttered or has multiple sculptures and cups, “put it in the cup by the metal sculpture” is an instruction that should be reasonably easy to follow. And if Cafe’s Cynthia isn’t comfortable with figuring it out, SHE can get up and walk down to Cafe’s office and take a look or ask to have it pointed out while she’s there, rather than make Cafe do the extra work.

    1. Going Against The Flow*

      The picture thing may be a bit much, but I can never fault someone for asking for documentation or asking for things in writing. I have witnessed so many “I don’t remember it that way” or “I’m sure I told you” or “that’s not what I took away”. It saves so much time to pull up an email saying “yes you did ask for 50 not 15 copies of the llama grooming report.” Also when people refuse to write it down, I instinctively stop trusting them (a lesson learned many times over)

    2. allathian*

      Sounds like your Cynthia is either very literal-minded or has learned not to trust instructions not given in writing, or both.

      I don’t have any reasons to mistrust my managers or coworkers, but I undoubtedly have some undiagnosed aural processing issues because I just can’t deal with verbal instructions. If it’s written down, I can check it later, but if not, I keep second-guessing myself and it leads to anxiety I’d rather not deal with if I don’t have to. Taking notes can sometimes help, but if I take notes I’m a mechanical recorder, it just means that I remember even less of what was actually said. When I was in college, I had to read my own notes to understand what was said in lectures, and given the choice, I’d far rather read an extra 1k pages than attend a course of 10 (largely useless to me) lectures. I mainly attended lectures for the Q&A sessions.

      But I’m glad I’m in a rigid enough environment (government) where it literally doesn’t count if it’s not in writing. I also love IMs.

  23. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Reading this letter and the comments on the prior letter (OP commented as Manager on the original), I think I can extrapolate the following two things: the workplace OP is at does not have a lot of hard and specific rules/procedures, and Cynthia is the only one unhappy about this. If OP had asked around and other employees had started saying “I didn’t want to be the only one who said it, but yeah, Jessica’s been dropping the ball on X and Y”, then it would be worthwhile to focus the investigation more on Jessica. But if everyone else is content with having a more relaxed workplace, then it sounds like Cynthia is experiencing a rigidity clash. As someone who definitely prefers “here are the rules, here are the work guides, here is who you go to for help”, I can somewhat sympathize with Cynthia, but her behavior is clearly over the top. This level of venting sounds extremely unpleasant!

    1. ampersand*


      I wonder how Cynthia’s doing now. We often hear about people who try to control things at work because other things seem out of control. I’d love to know if this was an issue of “Cynthia needs to change her mindset” or “Cynthia needs to change her job.”

  24. Sara without an H*

    I took a look at the original letter. (Thanks, NervousHoolelya, for posting the link.) I was not surprised to find that the author of the original post was in charge of a library.

    When I started my career in librarianship, there were two distinct personality types attracted to the field: those who liked to make and enforce rules, and service-oriented types who would dance on top of the reference desk if it would make a patron happy. Librarianship has changed a lot over the years and the personality profile has shifted in favor of service, soft skills, and communication. The Cynthias have not been happy about this.

    While I sympathize with the commenters upstream who have had to clean up after disorganized managers, I agree with Alison that the LW needs to shut Cynthia’s behavior down. Yes, it would be good to do a little investigation and see if there was anything solid under all the complaints, especially since (I gathered) Jessica was new to management. But chronic complaining is disruptive in any workplace and letting it go on risks demoralizing Jessica.

    Letter Writer, if you’re out there, could you send us an update?

  25. Amfhka*

    I wonder if Cynthia has ever even brought her concerns to her actual boss (Jessica) instead of jumping up the chain to constantly complain? It seems that Cynthia should find another role that suits her: as Jessica’s performance is up to par. I agree that librarianship has changed: and it is for the better. People like Jessica make libraries lovely. If Jessica is actually disorganized and it actually negatively impacts people: coaching should help her, right?

  26. Kella*

    I’m confused where people are getting the idea that OP likes Jessica but wondering if Jessica’s work is actually good enough.

    OP says, “Jessica’s management style is loose, fun, and go-with-the-flow. I believe in our culture, Jessica’s approach is beneficial.” and ” I am happy with Jessica’s performance.” and “I’ll take a team player who moves at her own pace over a hard worker who complains about everything.”

    But OP’s descriptions of Jessica are not about her personality, they are about her work quality and style. And OP says Jessica’s work quality is good.

    1. Lea*

      I think because she also said something about Jessica taking her time and being slow?

      Idk what they means precisely in a library, but I think the details were so minimal it was hard to judge

      1. Lea*

        Hang on I can’t delete but it gave the impression that she’s slower rather ‘moves at her own pace’

        Don’t know what that means here

  27. Billy Preston*

    Ha this could have been about me (Jessica), my boss (Cynthia) and my previous boss (OP), now Cynthia’s boss and my grandboss. Grandboss “didn’t want to step on any toes” and so allowed bullying and micromanaging to an extreme degree. So I got out. It was also in libraries, interestingly enough!

    1. Interested Observer*

      Yep, my boss was a Cynthia who would put in 90-hour weeks when nobody asked her to, jeopardize her health, and micromanage everyone. She would turn on notifications for every edit made on our Google Docs. Meanwhile grand-boss (OP) was nice, chill, empathetic, a person who deserved to be director, let alone a manager. She encouraged honesty and candor. She liked us both but when she got feedback from me about my boss micromanaging and bullying, she sided with her and sent me packing. Gave me the valuable lesson that you can’t make a dream job work when your boss is a nightmare, even if her boss is nice.

      1. Billy Preston*

        This, exactly! If you direct boss is a nightmare there’s nothing to be done. At least we’re both away from these people now.

  28. JLC*

    While I cannot honestly say I’ve been a full Cynthia in the past, I did learn the hard and slow way that being meticulous and having high standards often is not appreciated as much as you’d like it to be. OP can help Cynthia by making it explicit that their company culture values things differently than she does (i.e. more flexibility and a lower standard than high attention to detail and high standards — for example, are we making toys or medical devices?)

    What really helped me what the quote attributed to Epictetus paraphrased as, “you can’t control what happens, only how you react to it.” This means Cynthia will be much happier if she adapts to the organizations norms and reacts differently OR finds a new position/organization that more closely matches her values. Neither is right and neither is wrong, just like Jessica and OP.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Hi, JLC — I’ve managed several Cynthias in the past. One thing that I sometimes struggled to get across was that being meticulous, careful, and having high standards were good things in the right place, but not everywhere. Not everything is worth the extra time to make it perfect — what was needed in our case was to get most of the work mostly done right and out the door. As they say in the tech industry, “geniuses ship.”

      Oh, and thanks for the Epictetus reference — I’m a long-time fan.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. Sometimes perfect is the enemy of good enough, and sometimes good enough means simply done.

        I’m a translator. Sometimes a quick draft is good enough, sometimes I have to spend as much time rewriting to get it just right as I do on the draft.

        1. myfanwy*

          Exactly this – sometimes the client wants a polished text they can publish, but sometimes they just need to know what something means and they need to know quickly. In which case they won’t thank me for taking the extra time to give them the shiny version.

  29. Interested Observer*

    I think I can speak to this situation a bit better from my own experience. As an individual contributor, I’ve been managed by a Cynthia that I didn’t get along with and it bubbled up to our director after one anonymous feedback survey I filled out candidly. At the end of the day, they moved on from me, but I know things could’ve gone better if it played out differently. I disagree with Alison here and would love to have more information.

    Cynthia is complaining about Jessica – are they both delivering results? How is Cynthia as an IC? Are her complaints about Jessica valid – aka is she cleaning up Jessica’s messes? How many complaints are Jessica problems vs organizational woes (processes, etc.)? Who does Cynthia think highly of and why (aka is there a way you can shift her to another team with a manager who is a better fit)? I think it takes a lot for an IC to trash a manager that blatantly especially to a director and so casually given the repercussions. It’s important to shut down the comfort of this while addressing root problems.

  30. Raida*

    “… but it seems like she feels I’m not doing my job if I don’t discipline Jessica in some way.”

    How about instead of doing this in isolation you put them in a meeting with you to discuss it?

    Just be open and look at this as a work problem: Your direct report is not managing her direct report in a way that works for her.
    Cynthia, what does a successful manager that supports you look like?
    Jessica, what does a successful direct report look like?

    Will it suck?

    But refusing to do anything about a COPLAINT TO YOU ABOUT YOUR DIRECT REPORT is not any kind of solution, nor is saying “you should talk to Jessica. you should tell Jessica to change.”
    No, YOU tell Jessica to change, if change is needed.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I disagree. Sometimes an employee is unreasonable and cannot be managed the way they want.
      Instead of a joint meeting, the OP needs to be more proactive.

      She should check again that Jessica is doing a good job and that their library does not need more rules and rigid procedures. If so, then shut this issue down:

      Tell Jessica that she will inform Cynthia that she agrees with Jessica that the rules & procedures are sufficient.
      Tell Cynthia this and also that consequently she should stop complaining about this particular topic to her.

      Cynthia sounds unsuited for work in libraries, at least in libraries where people are allowed.

    1. edda ed*

      Then it’s for the LW (the highest boss in this situation) to determine which of and whether Cynthia’s complaints have merit. From the letter, the LW has already done this and deems Jessica’s workplace practices acceptable. Preemptively, please don’t invent hypotheticals to argue in one direction or another, especially without basing it on the text of the letter; it’s not the problem the LW came to AAM about and if you guess wrong, it’s entirely irrelevant.

      For Cynthia’s part, whether she’s right or not, she shouldn’t sulk and complain to other employees like this—her coworkers shouldn’t have to suffer in morale because of a problem between her and Jessica. The LW has redirected Cynthia to take up her problems with Jessica with Jessica (this way, the LW has not undermined Jessica as a manager). Cynthia hasn’t done this so far as I can tell, but she continues to complain to her coworkers and the LW, people who are not her boss, the person she does have a problem with. If Cynthia had been the one to write in, the advice probably would be to take it up with Jessica directly and to Jessica’s boss if that goes nowhere, but…she’s gone to Jessica’s boss, and her arguments haven’t gotten traction. So the advice would also probably point out that Cynthia is in an intractable situation, and she’ll have to decide whether she can work in these conditions, then act accordingly.

  31. Emmy*

    I think there are two opportunities here.

    First is the conversation with Jessica. One of the things people managers need to learn is how to effectively manage all staff, and not everyone has the same needs. A kum-by-yah approach to some people may be great, while others need more structure. Understanding team dynamics makes team productivity higher. I had one employee who was super sensitive and everything made her cry, so I had to keep communication simple and clear. Another worked more effectively with a tough-love approach. While the LW might say that Jessica is effective, if there are team members who aren’t successful, then she may not be. Is there an opportunity for Jessica to take a clearer approach with Cynthia while still keeping a low-stress dynamic? Probably.

    Second is the talk to Cynthia. She has to understand that her complaints are disruptive. She needs to have a candid conversation with Jessica about what she needs to be set up for success. She also has to understand that the “Cynthia way” is not the ONLY way. This was the best advice I got when I was working my way through the ranks. I was a Cynthia in my 20s. Learning that I can keep myself to high standards while still working with others was a hard lesson and took time to adjust to, but has made me better in the long run. It took a great mentor, reinforcement, and a manager that wasn’t afraid to call me out when I strayed.

    I’m leary of any advice to tell Cynthia to stop talking at all, especially with co-workers. The current NLRB is very pro-employee right now and Cynthia’s discussion of her working conditions could be protected activity. I think the approach isn’t to “shut her up,” but rather to have her see how it is disrupting the team and productivity, and her energies should be focused on her work.

  32. Jenna*

    I’d like to share an alternate perspective of a similar situation. I know it’s not this person’s situation.

    I have a coworker much like Cynthia. She’s a pain to work with. But our “easy going” boss doesn’t actually do much. From her boss’ perspective, she’s meeting goals, but only because our Cynthia is so afraid of her own work (or our clients) suffering as a result, Cynthia is constantly cleaning up after our manager. And her boss responds in much the same way as in this story. Because SHE doesn’t see a problem with the manager, Cynthia is dismissed as difficult or not a team player, when the easygoing manager is just as detrimental to the team by not carrying her weight and by leaving behind messes the rest of us have to clean up. In a way Cynthia is falling on the sword for the rest of us.

  33. Not your Sweetheart*

    How “loose” is Jessica’s management? Is she holding her reports accountable? If Cynthia is doing extra work because Jessica isn’t actually managing anyone, then she has a right to be upset.
    I worked for a manager that sounds like Jessica. She was so “fun” and “easy going” that some of my co-workers slacked off and the rest of us had to pick up the pieces. Despite several complaints, my Jessica remained. Until one day, the GM came in at 9am to see me (the night auditor who should have left at 7) at the front desk by myself with a huge line and a broken printer. My neither of the 7am shift people had shown up – again. Jessica was gone within a week. Her replacement was much stricter. But once everyone was showing up on time and doing their jobs, he was able to relax and be more fun)

    1. edda ed*

      I went back to the original letter, and while I could have missed something else, I’m pretty sure the only concrete example the LW gave was about Cynthia wanting to institute “intense training” for teen volunteers at their library. No one else at that library agreed that teen volunteers needed intense training, and the responsibility of overseeing them went to another employee (which worked out fine). If that’s typical of Cynthia’s high standards, I’m not going to buy that Cynthia is carrying everyone else’s weight. It sounds more like she’s creating work for the sake of it, not for the benefit of the patrons/library/her coworkers.

      Teenage volunteers at a library do not need “intense” training to do their work. If intense training was required for the work, the library shouldn’t be assigning it to teen volunteers to begin with.

Comments are closed.