my best employee is disappointed that I’m not dealing with a bad employee

A reader writes:

I am a newish manager and dealing with a staff personality conflict I’d love some help with. About six months ago, I became the manager of a business I’ll call The Teapot Emporium (I’m trying to anonymize this so I’m going to use tea as a stand-in). The various staff members there had been working at the site for 2-10 years before I came. We have a few employees who serve tea, recommend teapots to customers, and run tea-themed programs. And then we have support staff who unpack new teapots shipped to us, at times apply some finish to the products, process them, and then put the teapots on our shelves for the public to browse and for our tea servers to use.

I have a tea server I’ll call Sarah who is a rock star. Customers love her. She works hard, is dependable, and puts on the most amazing programs. She alone is responsible for a sizable chunk of our sales and foot traffic. Then there is Celia, one of the support staffers. She is … not a rock star. She’s always 5-10 minutes late for work, even though she mans our customer service desk first thing in the morning. She could be better at customer service. And she can be sloppy with her processing. It turns out, because there was no one else to train her when she was hired, those responsibilities fell to Sarah, who had to check all of Celia’s work on top of her own job responsibilities. This happened before I came on board, but it seems to have soured their basic relationship. No one is hostile, but at best their relationship is strained polite and at worst cool.

Everything seemed more or less okay until recently when Sarah informed me that Celia sometimes takes weeks to process a new batch of teapots (which should take 2-3 days) and that Sarah had recently discovered a new teapot hidden on a workroom shelf for six months that Celia had forgotten about. Celia’s workstation is a total mess, a mix of new teapots, pieces of paper (some covering said teapots), discarded teapots she’s “rescued” for personal use — all mixed together on carts, shelves, boxes on the floor. Celia was off that day, so Sarah and I fished out all the new teapots waiting to be processed and put them on a single cart. When Celia returned, I spoke to her privately, explaining the importance of organization and processing effectively and presented her with a color-coded priority system.

This seems to have pushed Celia over the edge, because ever since then, as soon as a box of new teapots comes in, she opens them in private and then hides or covers them until she’s done processing them. Then she puts them on the public shelf herself.

Now Sarah is coming to me complaining that she wants to see the new teapots when they come in, she’s excited to browse what we’ve got, she can help prioritize items for processing, and it helps her work to know new inventory. However, Celia doesn’t want to let her see the teapots she’s unpacked. Celia feels this is micromanaging and is offended Sarah feels the need to “check her work.”

Yesterday we got a new box of teapots, and Celia immediately hid them after opening the box. Sarah then sent me an email begging me to conduct a three-person meeting where she and I clearly lay out processing expectations for Celia. I felt that was an overreach and talked to Celia privately, who said she knows teapots as well as Sarah and there’s nothing in her contract saying she has to show them to Sarah before they’re placed on the floor. She also asked to speak to a union representative because she feels she’s being bullied by Sarah and, again, there’s nothing written in her job description specifically stating she has to show teapots to a tea server before they’re placed on shelves.

I’ve checked around with other Tea Emporium managers, and they’ve all agreed that while there’s nothing in writing saying that tea servers get to inspect teapots after processing, it’s pretty weird that Celia won’t let Sarah look over the unboxed new teapots. I don’t really like drama or confrontation, so I told Sarah to just let Celia keep processing the way she had been, but that I’m working on the situation. I also told Sarah that I’m going to honor Celia’s union meeting request, and together we’ll work it all out.

Since then, Sarah has been distant. In fact, every time she looks at me I feel almost disappointment in her eyes, like she doesn’t trust me anymore. The last time I told her I was working on the situation, she said to just forget about it and whatever I chose to do was fine. She seems deflated and all because I didn’t make Celia show her the new teapots we’re receiving.

I do think Celia is being a little unreasonable, but I don’t think forcing her to work in a way she’s uncomfortable with is the answer. I really believe a solution can be reached through consensus, not force. But Sarah now says she doesn’t care and to hold the union meeting without her. What do you think, is Sarah’s poor attitude warranted?


You’ve basically told Sarah to be less invested in good work being done — to ignore that Celia is hiding items from people and deliberately shrouding her work in secrecy so she can’t be observed or held accountable — because you don’t like confrontation. So of course Sarah is deflated! You took a conscientious employee who was invested in work being done well, and told her you’re not going to deal with a situation that’s directly affecting her. Why would she want to attend the meeting, given all that? In fact, there’s a good chance Sarah is looking for another job, or will be soon.

There are some things you can decide by consensus, but not everything — and part of your job as a manager is to step in and give direction when something isn’t being done well. You can’t avoid that just because you don’t like drama or confrontation — and if you try to, you will lose good employees, who won’t want to work in those conditions.

And of course, it’s not “drama” to give feedback and lay out expectations for how someone does their job, or to address it when there’s a problem. That’s part of your job. (And Celia’s attempt to claim that she doesn’t have to comply because it’s not in her written job description is absurd — managers need to give direction on things outside written job descriptions all the time — and I’m wondering why you’re letting that go unchallenged.)

To be clear: This isn’t just about Celia not letting Sarah see new teapots. That’s probably the least of it! The issue is that Celia takes weeks to do work that should take a few days, forgets some items entirely, and deliberately hides her work from any oversight. For Sarah, a conscientious employee — and one who was pulled into having to train Celia — that’s frustrating. Hearing that you’re allowing it because you don’t want make Celia “uncomfortable” has got to be maddening.

Sarah looks like she doesn’t trust you anymore because she doesn’t trust you anymore! You’re going to need to decide if you’d rather keep the great employee who’s raising reasonable concerns — the one who’s responsible for a sizable chunk of your sales and foot traffic — or the bad one who’s deliberately hiding her work and being defensive, if not outright antagonistic, when she’s asked about it. You probably can’t keep both.

{ 672 comments… read them below }

  1. Czhorat*

    Hiding her work as a response to perceived “micromanaging” (which strikes me as just plain managing) is a tremendous red flag and should have gotten her a stern talking to WITOUT prompting from Sarah.

    It’s perfectly reasonable that not everyone works at the same pace and not everyone is a “rock star”; if a 2 hour task takes someone a half-day that’s likely within normal variation. If a 2 day tasks takes several weeks that is not normal variation; it’s either someone who needs training, who needs accommodation for a disability, or who is deliberately slacking and needs to work harder. It’s the manager’s job to figure out which.

    Extreme silo-ing of work is an issue anyway, even absent performance concerns; what if Celia got hit by a bus/won the lottery/ran off to join the circus? It’s not reasonable for everything she’s working on to be hidden and “eyes only”.

    Sometimes it’s EASIER to let people slide, but it isn’t better.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes! They are the company’s teapots, not Celia’s. Management (including OP) get to decide what happens to company property.

    2. Smarmboy*

      What is with all the people writing in saying “I don’t like confrontation”? You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it. It’s part of your job. I mean, at some point, you’re just asking to be told that it’s ok you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to do. Manage already.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Or labeling handling employee issues as ‘drama.’ I find that so dismissive, condescending and infantilizing, plus it conveniently lets managers off the hook. Don’t become a manager if you can’t/won’t handle employee issues!

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          And the best way to ensure that you have a lot of drama is to avoid dealing with issues like this. This stuff festers.

          1. StarTrek Nutcase*

            And the best way to ensure that you have excellent employees leave is to worry about pacifying poor or mediocre ones. This is a morale killer as OP is already experiencing.

        2. weho*

          Also, OP shouldn’t be referring to this as a “staff personality conflict”. It is not a personality conflict and dismissing it as such is avoidance of OP’s duties (it also maybe sounds a little like “Oh this is just a catfight and both of them are at fault” which is icky but very common when a supervisor wants to avoid dealing with a problem employee). This problem here is ONE employee who is not doing her job, which is a significant issue in itself and is leading to other problems including low morale. The other employee is not at fault.

          This is such a common scenario – managers, do your job!

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            It’s so common for people to talk about “personality” when they are actually discussing behaviour. Personality is about attributes that are relatively stable over time and manifest in different contexts / environments. The problem here isn’t that one is an introvert and another is an extravert and they need to figure out how to work together. The problem is that one of them is behaving in a way that’s obstructive to the other.

            1. Momma Bear*

              What I didn’t read is that Celia’s workflow has really improved – she’s hiding the work she needs to do but is she doing it any better/faster? And in the meantime, Sarah is being hamstrung in her ability to be the rockstar she’s capable of.

              Drawing in the union feels like more hiding by Celia, vs really addressing the problem being her own work. Sarah sounds defeated. If I were Sarah, I’d feel like what’s the point if I wasn’t getting support from my manager and going to get dragged to a talking to by a union rep because my coworker was underperforming and I dared call it out. Celia doesn’t want anyone (Sarah) to check her work, but has she proven she doesn’t need someone (OP) to check the work? I don’t think Sarah wants to check the work so much as be able to effectively do her job, which this situation is preventing. Celia has made it about Sarah, but it’s really her own poor management of unboxing teapots. If Sarah was never in the picture and you found out Celia was hiding teapots, would you respond the same way?

              Think of it less as confrontation and more doing the job of managing that needs to be done. All too often what happens when things aren’t addressed is they just fester. OP, if you don’t deal with Celia more effectively, Sarah will leave and I hazard to guess that will have a significant impact.

              1. Lab Boss*

                regarding the union, what Celia is doing here is playing right into a stereotype that helps give people a bad opinion of unions: that poor performers can use their protections to jam up anyone trying to hold them accountable for bad performance.

              2. demmzzz*

                I am in a similar situation with a coworker and manager. I can’t speak to her overall quality of work, but in the “team player” category, she just strikes me someone who is not a team player (something that was heavily emphasized to us when we started). This coworker is cagey about committing to things I request of her (which are her job), and will often not share information with me when I ask. I talked to our manager about this who said “oh I know, she won’t share information with me either! It’s so frustrating!” Like what? You are her boss! Tell her she has to do this stuff!

          2. Ellis Bell*

            Yeah, OP lost me as soon as they said “personality conflict”. This is a conflict between getting the work done, and hiding the work that isn’t getting done.

          3. Observer*

            Also, OP shouldn’t be referring to this as a “staff personality conflict”. It is not a personality conflict and dismissing it as such is avoidance of OP’s duties

            Agreed! My first thought when I saw that phrase was not what we actually got – but I was absolutely sure that it probably wasn’t a “personality conflict.” And gee, it sure is not.

            This is not a personality conflict by any stretch of the imagination, OP. It’s someone refusing to do her job and *you enabling it*.

        3. T.N.H*

          It’s also so often used to describe women-presenting employees and rarely used for cis men, even if the circumstances are nearly identical.

            1. Emily*

              Oh yeah, there is a huge element of sexism to what gets labeled as a “personality conflict”. It’s also an excuse for managers to dismiss an issue as something they don’t have to deal, but this is not a personality conflict, this is a huge, glaring performance issue on Celia’s part that OP *must* deal with. Also, as a manager you need to be able to manage (managing is not the same thing as as confrontation).

            2. Sincerely Raymond Holt*

              As soon as I read “staff personality conflict”, I immediately guessed it would be between 2 women.

          1. ccsquared*

            Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen men get a pass for outright petty behavior towards other employees that has nothing to do with work getting done, but a woman has a work-related issue with someone, and it’s instantly “ugh, drama!” It’s like all of our job descriptions have “keep the social peace at all costs” written in somewhere in invisible ink.

          2. ThatOtherClare*

            It was a massive hack for me at my current workplace when I realised that men are just as petty/bitchy/gossipy/insert sexist trope here, as women are. Often more, actually, because their little sulks and tiffs fly under the radar more often.

            It’s extremely powerful to understand that Luke doesn’t actually believe what he just told you, he’s just in a sulk because he had to pick up the slack for Peter this week; or that scary grumpy Ron is just lashing out at everyone because his role is underappreciated, and if you treat him with respect in both public and private he’s actually really nice; or that John will suck up to people, then throw them under the bus – even when the bus is parked – to make himself look smarter by comparison, and everyone at his level and below is mad at him for it.

            1. Lab Boss*

              every single name you used there matches someone I work closely with, which was really weird to read (even if the personality flaws in your comment don’t match my actual coworkers!)

          3. Aqua*

            I’m sure I’ll just get accused of nitpicking but why are “women-presenting” and “cis men” the two genders here? it really reads like you think there’s “cis men” and “people who are basically women”. Trans men are not, generally, presenting as women, and we’ve had letters from trans men talking about unexpectedly gaining male privilege, so there’s no reason to talk about cis men specifically. Why not ” people read as women” and “people read as men” if you want to refer to how someone’s gender is perceived in the workplace.

            1. LadyVet*

              Because it’s not just about how people present, it’s what they’ve been socialized to believe is acceptable behavior. Cis men have much more leeway to be mediocre.

        4. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

          I also find that’s is more often labeled “drama” when it’s between women in a way that its not when it is between men. Or that if there’s a woman and a man involved, the woman is being “dramatic!” It’s a pet peeve of mine.

          1. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

            Oops, this was just said. Sorry- I should read through all the comments before I comment. BUT YES. +A BILION.

        5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          And it has major sexist undertones, because it’s almost always applied to situations involving women.

        6. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          Or calling it a personality clash, and trying to frame it as both parties having valid points. Hell, no.

        7. Artemesia*

          or dismissing employee incompetence and resistance that makes another employees job difficult as ‘personality conflicts.’

          Sarah should be gone before this gets fixed and then tge OP can have someone in her position who works as well as Celia.

          Managers who don’t manage sometimes find themselves managed i.e. fired.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        at some point, you’re just asking to be told that it’s ok you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to do

        Eh, sometimes. Other times, people write to advice columns as a way to psych themselves up for having a tough conversation, or because they know they need a nudge in the form of someone telling them “yes, you do have to have this conversation (and here are some scripts to get you started)” and the advice columnist provides that.

      3. Dawn*

        This strikes me as a retail position, and after working in retail for a decade my general experience with it is that people are usually promoted to management because they are good performers on the floor, and they accept it because it’s the only promotion path open to them.

        All of which is to say, I’m not saying that the OP is inherently a bad manager, but retail managers typically have no real training or education in management and no particular desire to pursue it as a career path – they take it because it’s the only way to get a raise, guaranteed full-time hours, and often benefits but they aren’t necessarily people who really want to be doing that job.

        Retail corporations could prevent a lot of this but for a number of reasons they choose not to.

        1. Cat Librarian*

          It strikes me as a library setting. But the points you make about management and promotion are parallel.

          1. adele*

            I thought it was a library as well. Processing new books, putting them out on the shelves.

            I recently got promoted so I don’t process the new books anymore, and I do miss it quite a bit. I miss getting to know the books while ordering, unboxing, and adding them to the ILS. I still see them on the shelves, but it’s not the same and they don’t stick in my mind as strongly. If it’s a library, I get Sarah’s frustration.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              If it’s a library, oh boy do I get Sarah’s frustration!

              I’m retired now, but I used to be a librarian, a cataloger, to be exact. If someone who was supposed to be cataloging and processing new books was taking an inordinate amount of time to do it, that would definitely be a problem. If they were actually HIDING new books to conceal how little a work they were getting done, that would be SERIOUS problem, maybe even a firing offense!

              I actually hope this isn’t a library, because the idea of someone getting away with hiding new books from other staff is so far out of line that it’s mind-boggling to me. it sure sounds like a library, though. 8-\

        2. Dawn*

          I am forever shocked by the sheer number of AAM readers and writers who have worked in a library, a career I was previously convinced had five total available positions throughout North America.

          1. demmzzz*

            It’s because libraries expanded a lot of what they do in the last couple decades. You need all the classics of cataloging and reference, but now you have special areas like programming (for events and stuff), web management, circulation (managing interlibrary loan is usually a position), children’s, adult, and YA are often their own position each, and that’s just public libraries. Consider that most government agencies, schools, universities, law firms, and even some companies have their own internal libraries as well, each with specialized positions, and it becomes a much wider field. THEN on top of that, you organizations and companies that support libraries that also hire librarians…

          2. LibraryEmployee*

            Libraries have also gained a (deserved) reputation for being toxic workplaces. I’ve compared a former role to being in an abusive relationship- my manager was about as willing as the letter writer to handle the issues.

      4. RagingADHD*

        I find it concerning that so many normal managerial conversations are labeled as “confrontation” in the first place.

        IME, people who are avoidant of any type of friction or disagreement, tend to respond that way because they don’t have a wide repertoire of approaches to discuss topics that other people might be touchy about. It’s either “confrontation” or nothing. I’d procrastinate talking to people, too, if those were my only two choices!

        It’s perfectly normal for a manager to give guidance, instruction, and correction to employees, and none of those things have to be confrontational. I think a lot of managers really need training on their communication skills.

        1. Emily*

          “I find it concerning that so many normal managerial conversations are labeled as “confrontation” in the first place.” This!

        2. AcademiaNut*

          I find that “confrontational” is often used as a synonym for “potentially difficult”.

          If an employee has been slacking off, producing sub-standard work, or behaving in inappropriate ways for a long time, addressing the problem is probably going to somewhat unpleasant. There isn’t going to be a magic set of words that get through to the employee and produce results, but are also so gentle and tactful that there’s no pushback, hurt feelings or resentment. Not being able to have those conversations, though, means that you can’t actually manage, and results in situations like this, where the problematic employee is unaffected, and the productive, reasonable, hard working employee is made unhappy and encouraged to leave.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Of course there are no magic words. But if a manager has the mindset that every “potentially difficult” conversation is a confrontation (ie adversarial, aggressive, or a “gotcha” situation), then that is going to reinforce their tendency to shy away from necessary managerial discussions.

            And in fact, good, productive managerial discussions should not be aggressive, adversarial, or a “gotcha” setup, no matter how difficult they may be.

            1. Dawn*

              I think you’re maybe assuming the wrong definition of “confrontation” here though.

              What we actually say is that some people are non-confrontational, and the meaning of non-confrontational is “avoids difficult conversations with others”. That’s it, that’s all; I think you’re reading more into what this word implies about the people it’s referring to than is actually there in the colloquial meaning.

          2. Merrie*

            Agree. In my field we rely a lot on support staff, who are typically underpaid and don’t need much training before they start working in the field. And we deal with this sort of thing constantly.

      5. birb*

        I am so sick of weak willed leaders who think they’re entitled to leadership titles, pay, and authority that impacts other people feeling like they shouldn’t have to have hard conversations or make sacrifices or be personally uncomfortable, to the detriment of their teams.

      6. Moonstone*

        I don’t understand why so many managers frame it as “confrontation” to begin with. This isn’t a personal beef and there is no need to have a confrontation to begin with. The manager needs to step up and do their job and stop framing this issue as “drama” – that just needlessly escalates something into a seemingly interpersonal issue when this should all just be business.

        LW, you have one employee who is hiding her work, not completing it within a reasonable amount of time, and basically acting insubordinate. You are going to lose that rock star if you keep this up.

        1. Lab Boss*

          I think “it’s just business, it’s not personal” has gotten tied so much to companies acting badly to their employees in the name of pure profits, that a lot of people forget how true it is. I’ve had conversations with people at work that may have been mildly uncomfortable, but would have been mortifying or infuriating in my personal life- because at work, it’s part of the job, it’s just business.

      7. Sleeve McQueen*

        It took me a while as a manager to figure out that hoping something will go away if I don’t tackle it head-on does not work. Ever. All it means is that I spend way more time agonising over it and dreading it and then by the time you have the “confrontation” it’s also now a billion times worse than if I just dealt with it when it first arose. So if you’re a “I hate confrontation” type it might help to reframe it as “this is me avoiding an even more unpleasant confrontation”

        1. Badger*

          Yes absolutely. Continuous feedback/adjustments will serve you far better than having a Big Talk once or twice a year. It will give your employee more pointers what you are looking for, reduces frustration all around and, in a majority of cases, makes the big performance talk unnecessary.

          If you (general you and OP) look at the feedback examples that Alison provides on this site, they are not adversarial or rude, it is just a normal part of daily business and no one has to leave those conversations feeling bad.

          However if you ignore the kind of performance issues Cecilia shows for months, eventually things will blow up spectacularly.

    3. Laura*

      The combination of hiding her work AND being disorganized and taking weeks longer than she should to complete some tasks should have gotten her on a PIP immediately. She needs to be held to a much higher standard or else the star employee (and other good employees) will leave and the store will suffer.

    4. mztery123*

      I hope that the almost unanimous view that OP is not acting as a professional manager should doesn’t prevent them from coming back to update. I would be really curious to see if they are able to ameliorate the situation

      1. PinkHairAnalyst*

        Respectfully, LW, perhaps managing isn’t for you. Managing requires handling “confrontations”.

        Sarah has legitimate concerns, and you seem to be avoiding the issue and not fixing it.

        Celia is a plain problem employee. Having a personal stash of teapots that were broken (that’s theft, that inventory needs to be damaged out), taking weeks to do a task that takes a couple days (with plenty of errors that shouldn’t be made), causing issues when approached (the whole not in my job description and union thing, she’s trying to hide from consequences and not take responsibility for her mess ups), hiding work (which affects the tea servers, AP, inventory management and whatever else).

        Let me pose this question, LW. If AP comes asking “where is this inventory” or “this invoice needs to be paid and it’s the third request”, or “this vendor will not do business with us until we pay for past inventory”; what will you do then? Celia hiding things and failing at her job leaves you on the hook for those questions. It also might leave someone higher up on the hook too.

        Are you prepared to deal with the fallout? Keep in mind, Sarah can go above your head and air out all the dirty laundry.

    5. So they all cheap-ass rolled over*

      A 2 day task taking two person-weeks is (possibly unsolvably) inefficient.
      A 2 day task taking two calendar weeks is probably a failure of prioritization. It can be solved, though not by hiding things.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        A 2 day task taking two weeks could also be a sign of basic incompetence. OP needs to find out if Celia is incompetent, inefficient or just plain lazy, or if she does not really understand how to do the job and is in need of more training. The OP has got to talk to Celia and find out why Celia’s not getting her work done in a timely fashion and (worse!) hiding it from co-workers, because her ability to solve his problem is dependent on that.

        It sounds to me like Celia has been getting away with murder because of OP’s reluctance to handle this, and that has to stop if OP doesn’t want to lose Sarah and possibly other good workers.

        OP, don’t think of this as confrontation; think of it as problem-solving. The first step is gathering information, much of which is going to have to come from Celia, which means you have to TALK TO HER.

    6. Observer*

      Hiding her work as a response to perceived “micromanaging” (which strikes me as just plain managing) is a tremendous red flag and should have gotten her a stern talking to WITOUT prompting from Sarah

      Ding, Ding. Ding. Ding!

      OP, this is completely correct. Why on earth are you allowing this to go on. Sarah would probably not have dug in her heels if YOU had insisted on keeping some oversight on the incoming teapots. Instead you allowed Celia to do something utterly bizarre.

      The rest of the comment is also well worth your consideration.

    7. Candace Green*

      If you cannot handle conflict, I’m sorry, but you really cannot be a manager. Find a way to deal with it, or you will soon lose all your good people and be left with a staff of Celia clones.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, indeed. Someone describing themself as “non-confrontational” in the sense of “I want to avoid difficult conversations at all costs” should be an immediate and automatic disqualification for any kind of supervisory authority at work.

        I hope Sarah finds a new job quickly because I’m certain that the LW’s unwillingness to deal with Celia appropriately is frustrating for Sarah.

    8. Mama o'3*

      Am I the only one that thinks she’s being secretive because she’s deciding what tea she wants to take home??

    1. Boof*

      yea this is getting a bit ad hominem; plus we have zero info on compensation models. Maybe (hopefully) Sarah gets some bonuses for all their sales etc.
      That being said, it makes total sense to 1) want to give your sales rep a preview of what teapots are about to come out so they can work the room and 2) make sure said teapots come out in a timely fashion the way that they are supposed to, which is what Celia seems to be fighting against.

      heck I almost wonder if Sarah reads AAM when they reached out to their manager to try to lay out clear expectations on output for Celia (which is absolutely a reasonable thing to want to know/ to tell an employee, and would help Sarah as well, to know what turn around to expect and tell customers about!)

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    As soon as a box of new teapots comes in, she opens them in private and then hides or covers them.

    OP, this is bizarre. This is Celia being wildly unreasonable, and you landing on “If all the reasonable people bend around Celia’s unreasonableness, then there won’t be drama!”

    Reasonable people do not enjoy this dynamic. They look for other jobs where the unreasonable people are not allowed to hide things.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah. I can’t think of any company where it’s OK to open new inventory in private ?!?! Like I’m not saying Celia is stealing things but if they were legitimately teapots I’d worry she was keeping a few for herself.

      1. Czhorat*

        Even if not, hiding them in her private stash creates too high dependency on one person.

        What if Celia quit unexpectedly? What if she got sick? Someone else needs to know what she’s working on.

        1. Ashley*

          If she won the lottery and stopped coming to work how would anyone have any clue what to do next?
          Given there is a union and union rep, this isn’t a small 5 person operation, there should be protocol and transparency so others can jump in if needed.
          Also, it is good business practice to make sure everything is above board and someone with purchasing power isn’t violating any company policies…. and burying extra product in an order without documentation could be quite feasible depending on your suppliers.

        2. Observer*

          Even if not, hiding them in her private stash creates too high dependency on one person.

          True. And that’s a problem even if she is *good at her job* And also documenting stuff.

          But she is BAD at her job, and even worse at documenting stuff. How on earth is your AP paying the bills? How can anyone manage inventory? How can you make sure that stuff is appropriately stocked and and available *for purchase*? How can you interact with customers around your products when you have no clue of what’s coming and going?

          OP, one of these days you will get in trouble because you have no way to manage any of the moving pieces here. Fortunately, it seems like someone else does the ordering, so at least you can find out what was ordered. But you have no way to know anything else you need to know. Because someone is *hiding* the information! And that person’s processing is sloppy, inaccurate and unpredictable.

          All of which is to say, that if you don’t put a stop to this, you’re not only going to lose Sarah over this, you could do lasting damage to the shop and to yourself.

        3. Anax*

          Seriously, it reminds me of when I was twelve and avoided telling my parents how that big essay was going. “It’s going fine, I don’t want to talk about it!”

          In that case, I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, of course, other than a little procrastinating – but it definitely spoke to a desire for independence and fear of criticism which are probably normal in a kid, and… well, childish in an adult.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        She has already stolen some broken ones (this was only mentioned in passing by OP). Anywhere I know of, it is stealing just as much to divert broken/returned/etc stock as it is “good” stock and people can be fired just for that. There was a spate of it when my ex worked in a warehouse; it was mail order and often when things were returned, they would be tossed out as it was too time consuming to reprocess them, and people started taking the returned items home. A bunch of people were fired for it.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I fully believe you, but is this really how it should be? Those items aren’t being donated, they’re just being trashed and people got fired for taking home stuff that would otherwise end up clogging up the landfill. That seems morally wrong to me.

          1. essen*

            I can’t speak for Captain, but in my own job, we have processes to handle this sort of thing, so that these things get used by someone for business use. I work in government, so “Oh, this extra thing is no longer needed for its initial intended use for , I’ll just take it home with me” is government corruption and invites deeper corruption.

            1. essen*

              *”…intended use for (insert reasons here), I’ll just take it…”

              I used the wrong brackets so the comment got partially eaten, whoops.

            2. Jay*

              That explains a LOT.
              Budget hawks and 24hr news networks looking for the next scandal will be all OVER that. Like, you are specifically named on cable “news” and the internet. And then the crazies come for you.
              I don’t work for the government now, but I have.
              And warehousing literal garbage because everyone is too afraid of what will happen if the wrong person finds out they threw it away is a very real thing.
              In my current position we actually have a big box of free stuff for anyone (but especially our field personnel) to take if they want it. Usually it’s stuff people bought as little ‘comfort’ items in the field that they no longer want cluttering up their lives when they rejoin the real world again. But it’s also some kinds of equipment that is still perfectly usable for hobbies and personal interests, but does not meet the standards for deep field work anymore. For instance, lets say someone dropped something off a cliff, and it’s fine, and they were able to use it until they got back. But next time someone drops it off a cliff, it will be immediately unusable, so we will never send it out in the field again. But it’s still usable for light camping trips. So, we just let someone have it, as long as there is nothing else we can do with it.

          2. Snow Globe*

            The thinking is probably that if people are allowed to take home “damaged” items, then a lot more items may become “damaged”.

            1. Tio*

              There’s two main problems. One, yes, you may see damage increase, but generally the thing that gives you a bigger headache is who is and isn’t taking things home. Some people being allowed to take them and some not, some people taking more than others and causing resentment, some people who never get the ones they want, etc. In smaller companies this tends to be easier to work out than in larger companies due to less demand but you still get some weird standoffs.

            2. Dawn*

              That’s part of it, the other side of the coin is that if you have enough employees giving away unsellable-but-perfectly-usable product it will actually cut into your profits because the people they’re giving it to won’t be buying it now.

              And then there’s sometimes a third angle; in my company for example it’s normal to send unsellable products back to our in-house repair team to salvage for spare parts they’ll use to repair other products.

              I’m not saying that it’s necessarily reasonable or unreasonable but it’s definitely in play.

          3. Tio*

            Some companies allow this and some don’t care. I feel like if they cared more it would have been a bigger part of OP’s letter, although I definitely can see why they wanted to throw that in.

            OP, if Celia’s not allowed to take those teapots, you should bring that up to her as well, not just shrug about it, unless you’d do that with everyone.

            1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

              Yeah, I know someone who works in a hardware store, and anything that gets returned by a customer for being defective gets a specific code that means “destroyed/destroyed in field” aka “we threw it out or else an employee took it home.” (I would guess the same is true for things that arrive broken, but I don’t actually know.) Sometimes the things are still fine and the customer was just using them wrong, but for the store it’s not worth the time to test, or the risk that it’s an intermittent problem that will show up for the next customer.

            2. Oregonbird*

              I can’t imagine a union job with a contract setting out theft as a protected action. OP should attend that meeting with Celis with all the paperwork in hand to begin the process to fire for cause.

              OP, if your company provides educational opportunities, take some basic management courses. I’d also recommend finding a program to find your voice as a manager – practical self-confidence practice. Learn how to say the sentences you can’t even shine yourself saying right now. Like, ‘No, you can’t continue to steal and hide the company’s stock.’

          4. Student*

            If you let employees take home broken stock, then you have created an incentive for the employyes to break your stock.

            You can do something with the broken stock – you don’t need to throw it out, necessarily. Some options even get it to employees through a controlled and accountable process. But you abolutely cannot just let the employee that broke the item just do whatever they want with it, or you get lots of intentionally broken stock.

            1. I Have RBF*

              One job I had replaced people’s laptops every two years. The older ones that came back were often pretty battered, and some were downright gross. We didn’t want to e-waste them all, because they still had life in them, but they weren’t suitable for business use. What we did was clean them up, wipe them and put a basic OS on them, then we would have an annual auction where employees could bid on them. I actually ended up with one that I wiped and put Linux on, and used for a decade until the hardware died.

              But this was a defined process that had multiple people to say “Yep, this machine is too old, it can be surplussed.” We couldn’t take a new laptop and finagle its way into surplus – it had to be a certain age, and we recorded them when they came in by their serial number.

              Having one person receive, hide, and then declare “broken” some items that they subsequently take home is shady as hell. At least two people should sign off on discarding items, and one of them should be the manager. Yes, it is better for the environment if broken/surplussed stock can be kept out of the landfill, but the opportunity to acquire such things needs to be available to the whole team, not just one sketchy employee.

              1. Lab Boss*

                we did something similar until management decided there wasn’t enough profit in selling old computers, and e-wasting them cost money, so they just put them all in as basement graveyard. I can neither confirm nor deny whether any of them ended up fully wiped clean and then mysteriously vanishing en route to the graveyard.

          5. Nina*

            I used to work in a big (huge) testing lab where companies would send in examples of their manufacturing batch of, say, very nice wine or expensive caviar, to be tested for pathogens and to confirm they met export requirements. When I started there, it was totally acceptable for a bottle of wine that had been opened in a sterile room, had 1 mL removed for testing, resealed, and and then stored in the fridge for the 30 days we promised customers to store things, to go home with a staff member once the 30 days were up. The customer thought it had gone down the drain and didn’t want it back, the staff knew it was safe and good to drink (because we’d tested it), and nothing got wasted.

            The problem was that there was no fair way of parceling out who got what. The convention was that if your name was on the test sheet, you got first go at whatever it was, but that just meant people would rush to the sample queue and grab the ‘nice’ samples to test (and lay claim to), so samples of, for instance, leaves or dirt or swimming pool water, that also needed to be tested, would get left behind and run overdue. Assigning samples in order of seniority didn’t help, because a couple of the lab managers, while scrupulous about work assignments and pay reviews and mentoring, would earmark the nicest samples for people of their own nationality (or those who sucked up to them). And ‘you can have nice wine and things’ became an unofficial perk of certain labs that actually tested those things (but not other labs) and started fucking up the pay scales. In the end the company said ‘no more’ and all samples had to be tipped down the drain or into the skip.

            If it’s a manufacturing or processing plant, there’s also the risk of staff deliberately damaging things to be allowed to take them home. It just adds a conflict of interest. If Celia gets to see and handle teapots that are damaged and thus free to take home before anyone else does, that’s not fair to the tea servers who might want a teapot of their own but can’t have one because they’re all being snapped up by the unpacking staff. It also gives her a powerful incentive to use her teapot expertise to say ‘this one isn’t up to scratch, we’ll have to bin it’.

            1. ThatOtherClare*

              That’s so tragic, because all it would have taken was for one senior person to keep track of who took something home last, and to cycle through everyone in the same order each time (swap for the next person in this round for non-drinkers, seafood allergies etc, if needed). Then everyone would have been able to take stuff home. Instead, nobody gets anything.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            I read this to mean that she is: “discarded teapots she’s “rescued” for personal use”. Have I misread what personal use means here? I think putting ‘rescued’ in scare quotes made it clear.

            1. Serial enthusiast*

              I work in a library and when we weed items from the collection, we encourage people to take what they can use in their personal collections home. Staff that are particularly sensitive to discarding old, duplicate, or damaged books tend to ‘rescue’ more titles than other staff.

              I imagine that a teapot emporium could potentially have a similar system and the habit of rescuing damaged materials may seem like a noteworthy character trait while not being considered theft.

              1. Ael*

                I’m assuming this letter writer works in a library too, based on a lot of the cues about programming, managing new inventory, and the fact that it’s union l.

                1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                  I was wondering what sort of teapots could easily be hidden by paperwork on top of them, but if it’s books/articles/loose papers, that would make a lot of sense.

                2. Bitte Meddler*

                  I feel like it’s OK to speculate on the particular work environment in this instance. There are a bajillion libraries in the US, so just saying, “This sounds like a library,” doesn’t give any extra clues as to which *specific* library the OP works at.

                  Though I’m having trouble tying the part about needing to do some work on the inventory before putting it out on the public shelves to a library. Unless it’s putting protective jackets on the books? (Sorry, I’ve never worked in a library).

                3. Turtlewings*

                  @Bitte Meddler — Oh, there’s a ton of processing new books have to go through before being put on the library shelves. Spine labels, barcodes, book jackets, security tape — not to mention being cataloged and put into the system, which is no tiny amount of work!

                4. Boof*

                  Interesting thought, but it seems like there’d be less pressure to get the latest arrivals out within a few days, unless we’re also talking about reshelving returned books; well I won’t speculate too hard but somehow I thought this was more about sales and that sarah’s commission and company profits would depend on it, and while I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything more slipshod from a library I can see how it might seem a little less urgent

              2. Lils*

                I also read this as being a library. Oof, the number of Celias I have encountered who feel Personally Enmeshed With The Collection. They will absolutely question decisions about what is bought, how it is processed, and how it is used. I have had to tell people “do not fish items out of the trash–they are in the trash for a reason.” OP, I would not only tell Celia in no uncertain terms to stop hiding items from colleagues (there is a reason Sarah needs to see incoming inventory) but I’d also start checking her work closely. Odds are she is making creative decisions on processing based on her personal ideas of how things “should” be done.

              3. asturdysoul*

                I think it’s a bookstore, in which case receiving damaged inventory is a common occurrence, and often the retailer will just request a credit from the supplier and is then free to “discard or destroy” the damaged books (i.e. let staff take them home, put them out on the sidewalk labeled “FREE,” etc.).
                If Celia is following that procedure and taking home the damaged books for herself without telling anyone else, it’s not theft, but it’s a little selfish. When I was a bookseller we’d always make it a point to put damages in a box in the back where anyone could rifle through and take them home, and if we got a damaged copy of something that we knew was really up another bookseller’s alley, we usually gave them a heads up/first dibs. I worked at a really small store, though.

              4. Jill Swinburne*

                Huh. When I worked in a library, we had to pay our 50c apiece for weeded items just like the public. Only difference was we got first crack at them. I got some good books that way!

            2. Laura*

              I’m reading “discarded” as “thrown in the trash to be taken to a landfill” and I don’t see how that’s stealing. It’s already been trashed.

              1. Ipomoea*

                If this is a library (which I’m reading it as due to also being a library employee), when we “discard” items, it means “boxing to be sent to a third party who will sell them as used items and we use those profits to make up gaps in our budget for things like programming”. For me to actually trash a book it’s got to be moldy/severely water damaged/ripped up.

                1. Laura*

                  I know a lot of people are saying library, but I also work in a library (albeit a specialized library, not a public library) and I don’t think it’s that, mostly because OP mentions sales. I guess they could mean “items being checked out,” but it’s weird to me that one specific employee would be responsible for driving the most books being checked out. IDK. I read it as some kind of retail situation.

            3. Mona Lisa*

              As a former retail employee, I read this as items that were marked for the dumpster that she’s taking home instead. We would have clothes, decor, or books that were used in displays that would be labelled as trash when the seasons changed, and employees would often take home useable materials instead. I didn’t read it as purposefully nefarious.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          Depending on the nature, location of OP’s employer, there’s a good chance there are specific requirements for writing off damaged or dead stock goods.

          For example, in any for-profit company I’ve worked for, if the company is accounting for stuff correctly, those items were sitting “in inventory” as an asset on the company’s books. When the company decided to dispose of them, they were removed from the company’s inventory assets in the books, and charged off as an expense in that same period. Not actually physically segregating them and not physically disposing them, instead keeping them kicking around the property to be rescued or reused with no evidence they were actually scrapped and gotten rid of can create issues with the company’s financial reporting, tax returns, etc.

          There’s also the issue of how on earth does this company know the if goods are received in good order, in time to actually pay their suppliers for it according to terms. Do they just automatically assume everything is A-Okay? Or just hold off payment for months waiting on this super slow employee to get around to finally processing it? )

          Now this particular business may have some other approach to managing incoming goods, and how they are accounted for, what they officially do with breakage items.

          But I’m pretty sure that there are very few places where official policy is that the person who does goods receiving of incoming items is allowed to be all Secret Squirrel about what has come in, not even letting their manager see it, hiding it until weeks or months after it’s received AND also is entitled to skulk around collecting broken items and unilaterally deciding if, when, how, they get repurposed and who gets to keep them. Because that just creates opportunities for opportunistic theft, systematic fraud (including things that will get the attention of government agencies you REALLY don’t want to deal with if avoiding unnecessary hassle, drama is your goal in life), incompetence and screwing up critical business relationships with suppliers, shipping companies and as OP is finding out, other employees who are just trying to do a good job.

        3. Observer*

          Anywhere I know of, it is stealing just as much to divert broken/returned/etc stock as it is “good” stock and people can be fired just for that.

          That may be true. But it’s far from universal.

          The bigger problem is that this stuff – which might be ok – was mixed with other stuff. Which means that, on top of all of the other issues here, there is a good chance that way more stuff goes missing than should. Sloppy = stuff getting kind of lost (ie somewhere around but not found in a timely fashion). Sloppy + not kept separate from personal stuff? For sure stuff getting really lost.

        4. Momma Bear*

          And with no oversight/unboxing in the dark, no one but Celia knows if they were really broken on arrival or not.

        5. seespotbitejane*

          Idk, this read to me as “bookstore” which could be totally wrong, but with books unsold stock is returned to the publisher to be destroyed but since books are heavy we rip off the cover to send back as evidence of their destruction and the body of the book is supposed to be shredded or something. Everybody including the managers knew that it was a big deal if we were caught not destroying the books but also we all loved books so folks would occasionally snaffle ones they wanted and management looked the other way.

        6. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I don’t think she has stolen them. It sounds like she is not disgarding the broken ones. For some reason I am getting librarian vibes with this letter. So I’m thinking they are book or other materials that are in bad shape.

      3. Heart&Vine*

        And even if she’s not stealing them, I can’t imagine hiding any kind of work from my boss and getting away with it. Can you imagine your boss coming up to you and saying, “Where are the expense reports you were supposed to submit?” and you respond, “I don’t have to tell you! That’s not part of my job description. I’ll keep them where ever I like until I’m ready to submit them!”. Any sane organization would say, “Either turn over OUR property to us right now or you’re fired.”

      4. I&I*

        My read is that Celia has difficulties being organised and is feeling panic and shame about it, and is hence trying to hide any point where she might be struggling.

        If so, OP … well, welcome to your first time as a manager trying to help an employee perform to standard without making their panic or shame worse! Gotta grasp that nettle some time.

        1. Observer*

          If so, OP … well, welcome to your first time as a manager trying to help an employee perform to standard without making their panic or shame worse!

          You’re making a big leap here. In any case, that is not the OP’s job. It never really was their job, but if they had stepped up to the plate right away, it would have made sense for the OP to think about this *potential* issue and try to work around it. At this point? Nope. Celia and truly gone off the deep end, and the OP has created a monster. The only focus here needs to be getting things back on track. Not in a way to shame Celia, but the OP can’t be worrying about Celia shaming herself.

          1. Lab Boss*

            I disagree. The best case outcome here is finding a way to correct the behavior in a way that makes Celia perform well (for both human kindness reasons and to avoid the disruption and expense of losing her and having to rehire and retrain). Fixing the problem is more important than fixing Celia, of course, but a good manager can and should treat even poor performers with grace. OPs already-made mistakes could mean it’s too late but going into it with the attitude “this employee is off the deep end” is pointlessly hostile.

          2. Badger*

            Hu? No I agree actually, this is where a manager needs to manage by helping a person succeed.

            Sure, we’re a little beyond gentle hand holding at this point because Cecilia was allowed to choose such a weird process, but if OP wants to keep her and she does have an issue with organization, correction and help with organizing her work is the way to go. (To a reasonable extent. If she doubles down and won’t be corrected, she might need to
            to leave.)

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, and Celia’s reasoning of “well it’s not technically written in my job description so I don’t have to do it!” is just childish. Literally. My 8yo uses the same logic to tell me that I didn’t say he couldn’t have chocolate and Doritos for breakfast, therefore he can.

      My 8yo got a quick reality check, and Celia needs one too. Of course her entire job isn’t written down- it would be several hundred pages of listing the things that she can and can’t do, and seriously, does she want to memorize all that? That’s a giant waste of everyone’s time. So she needs to display good understanding and judgement in regards to the core components of her job, and OP needs to prioritize and clarify the job as needed. It is needed now, and OP needs to say “this is how I expect you to do your job. Being a team player is an essential component of your job, and this is what it looks like.” It is a core component of OP’s job to make sure Celia is doing her job.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        p. 172: You may not defenestrate the head of marketing.
        p. 199: You may not lock the head of marketing in the basement.
        p. 251: You may not cover the head of marketing in post-it notes to make a mummy.

        1. Volunteer Enforcer*

          On the one hand this is funny, but on the other this is why common sense and good judgement exists. *Face slap*

        2. Random Dice*

          Oh well if we’re going to get all MICROMANAGY…


          Points for proper use of defenestrate.

      2. Cat Tree*

        It’s the Air Bud theory – there’s nothing in the rule book that says dogs can’t play basketball! Not a good idea to model professional behavior on a kids movie though.

        1. Alf*

          In Toronto last year, we had a canine mayoral candidate disqualified from running – not because she was a dog but because she wasn’t eligible to vote (under 18 and no proof of citizenship).

        2. Heart&Vine*

          It’s Russell’s Teapot analogy. Just because I claim there is a teapot circling the moon doesn’t mean there is. If I want people to believe it, I need to give them proof. And since you can’t prove a negative…

          If Celia wants us to believe she DOESN’T have to turn over new teapots because it’s not written down somewhere, she needs to show us where it says she CAN hide those teapots in the first place.

    3. StressedButOkay*

      Agreed – OP, what Celia is doing (hiding things!) is not normal behavior or normal reactions. This reminds me of, years ago in an old job, it was discovered that someone who management kept letting do their own thing had hidden an entire desk full of uncashed checks instead of processing them. People had been complaining about not getting things on time for ages and other issues (and people who sent those checks were ALSO complaining) but nothing was done and accounting lost several people to good jobs. That person finally left and the only reason management discovered it?

      They’d locked up the entire desk and taken the key, so they had to bust into it.

      This is a situation where you know she’s hiding product, on purpose and refusing to work with you and Sarah. You can’t know if she’s doing anything else but you know she’s doing this and you’re going to lose Sarah, if you haven’t already.

      1. Laser99*

        Right. She’s going to lose her “rock star” employee and be stuck with an incompetent one.

      2. Librarian manager here*

        THIS! I had a report on a PIP for exactly the behavior of Celia. EXACTLY. Weekly coaching meetings, training on procedures she should have known. Taking a week to do something that should have taken an hour. Hoarding discarded materials. Documenting was a part time job AND I was dragged into Union grievance meetings for my “micromanaging” behavior and that was a nightmare. A year and half of the PIP until we discovered thousands of dollars in uncashed “friends” checks stashed in her desk. Oddly there was only one complaint about uncashed checks and a lot of covering up by peer union members.
        All other complaints were discovered in her email account after she was fired.

          1. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

            Based on their username it’s short for “Friends of the Library.” Most libraries can’t do fundraising for themselves outright, so supporters will sometimes form a “Friends” group that will run used book sales and other fundraising events. With that fundraising they then donate some or all of the money to the library – generally as checks.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I worked in an office once where a worker had to leave unexpectedly, reason not important. When the worker’s area was cleaned out, there were a frightening number of teapots hidden away the worker just didn’t want to deal with and which were supposed to be processed weeks earlier. This was not a good employee.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I worked in an office where someone had a drawer for anything she found too difficult to work on. Fortunately there was no irreparable harm done, but the potential was terrifying – the wrong kind of “hidden teapot” could have put the whole place out of business.

        When the backlog was discovered she was let go (actually very gently, with lots of job hunting support).

        1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

          In Australia we call that the “too hard basket” (it’s usually not literal, though!)

        2. starsaphire*

          Ditto, only in this case, the person squirreling away everything that they didn’t want to deal with was in charge of HR and handled a lot of finance stuff… and it was way more than a drawerful. Like, stacks and stacks of papers all over the floor.

          1. Rainy*

            I was part of a local chapter of a hobby organization many years ago that had a problem with this, namely that a member of the executive team who was responsible for sending stuff in to the national organization got overwhelmed and just…stopped. When people would ask about the progress of their whatever, she’d say that national hadn’t gotten back to her yet, so the perception in my area of the leadership of the overall organization was absolutely terrible, because all this stuff was just pending, sometimes for *years*, and she also really resisted stepping down from that office because someone would find her drawer, and then box, and then room of shame (though of course no one knew that at the time).

            It took a combination of pressures exerted from multiple directions over a long period of time to winkle her out of office like a very very reluctant escargot, at which point all of a sudden the new person Got Things Done. Although they also apparently almost had a nervous breakdown when they saw the Room of Shame and realized now they were going to have to process all of these forms ASAP.

            1. Rainy*

              (Why wasn’t she just removed? In a very nerdy hobby organization, ousting someone for non-performance qualifies as a combo violation of GSF1, Ostracizers are Evil, and GSF2, Friends Accept Me As I Am.)

              1. Lab Boss*

                Especially in a world where people are getting less and less traditional socializing and seem to be growing more awkward anywhere outside of their comfort zone with people, the Geek Social Fallacies are critical to understand and should be required reading.

        3. Lily C*

          Are you me? I’ve had to deal with this situation, in a law firm, multiple times, over the years as we’ve replaced legal assistants. I’ve found several legal documents with looming deadlines hidden under piles of papers that should have been put into case files and not hoarded in drawers. Things have actually gotten better as we’ve moved into a mostly-paperless office and upped the pushiness of our calendar reminders.

      2. Festively Dressed Earl*

        That’s basically the plot of “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I see OP’s empathy for Celia here, and I agree that a simple feedback conversation “seems to have pushed Celia over the edge”, but OP has blamed themself for the “push” instead of simply realising that Celia was so unmoored and lacking confidence in the work that she’s unusually close to the edge. Empathy is an okay response but you want to channel that into: more support for Celia, or more training and check ins, or even ripping the band aid off sooner and firing her towards a better fit. But OP really can’t continue to let Celia work in the closet, under a sheet, flinching when people glance her way. That’s not an empathetic resolution for Celia’s mindset any more than it is good business sense.

    6. Festively Dressed Earl*

      ^^^^THIS.^^^^ And OP, consider that Sarah isn’t the only person Celia’s poor work and passive aggressive habits are affecting. All your other reasonable employees have to work around this missing stair, and while they may not have the capital that Sarah has to push back, rest assured that they’re watching how you handle this. You may want to bring this up in the union meeting, because this is not just a Sarah vs Celia issue.

      1. Observer*

        All your other reasonable employees have to work around this missing stair, and while they may not have the capital that Sarah has to push back, rest assured that they’re watching how you handle this.

        Yes indeed. But also, eventually, it’s likely that someone who *does* have the capital – and in fact *more* capital than the OP will push back.

        Like when the head of AP wants to know why there is no record of the green dragon teapots the GragonScape Teapots has billed us for three times? And, by the way, we get some of our most popular teapots from us but they won’t fill any orders till we pay for it. And, yes, we know that it showed up because they got us the shipping info!

        I could think of a half a dozen scenarios where someone else with some clout is going to wind up dealing with the fallout, and it’s not going to be pretty.

    7. Arts Akimbo*

      This. If she isn’t careful, OP is going to lose her star performer while deep in the process of placating the problem performer.

  3. Jane Bingley*

    I’m also deeply sympathetic to Sarah given that she had to train Celia but apparently hasn’t been given any kind of authority to direct her. It’s incredibly frustrating to feel responsible for someone’s work but not given the power needed to fix it! All the more reason for LW to step in and manage.

    1. Malarkey01*

      To add to that, she and manager spent a day fixing everything and Sarah was probably incredibly excited that the issue would be solved. Backing off that now is probably way more demoralizing and making it a problem with her performance (by labeling it drama and getting her to participate in union meetings and defending herself is so far over the line).

      I would be out of there so fast everyone’s head would spin- and you have to assume the customers who love her will follow her.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah it probably seemed to Sarah like “oh good OP knows how bad it is now, and something will get done about it.” And then the thing that got done about it was Celia was allowed to *get worse* with no consequences.

    2. Lab Boss*

      this is NOT saying Sarah is in the wrong (she isn’t), but the training part jumped out to me. I wonder how much of Sarah’s frustration is related to things Celia does poorly that don’t actually affect Sarah and aren’t her responsibility to correct, but getting stuck training Celia put her in a mindset of responsibility. It wouldn’t be the first time I saw a strong, conscientious employee feel like there was so much expected of them (even things that really weren’t) that it contributed to frustration and burnout.

  4. Panhandlerann*

    Celia, it sounds like, should have been let go long before now! She is clearly doing a crummy job and being dishonest (the hiding) to boot.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah when the first thing was that she works the customer service desk but is frequently late: that was a problem in and of itself before we got to everything else. That’s a job that requires you to be there at a certain time because it’s client-facing.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      This is the only reasonable response. I don’tn understand LW writing all of this, HIDING MERCHANDISE!!!, and think that Sarah is unreasonable. I am floored by this underreaction.

    3. Avi!*

      This letter is a perfect example of ‘read what you just wrote and try again’. Every single thing in the writer’s description of events screams out that Celia is the entire problem and needs to go, not allowed to double down on the same kinds of poor behaviors without consequences.

  5. the impossible girl*

    I hate to say this, but if you don’t like confrontation – maybe being a manager isn’t your thing.

    1. Not a manager*

      As someone who said no to multiple manager job because, among other things, I don’t like confrontation, this letter sadden me a lot.

    2. T.N.H*

      Completely agree. What if this were a bigger issue like sexual harassment or an actual hostile work environment? Not liking confrontation will eventually get you into legal trouble.

    3. WeirdChemist*

      The LW is so afraid to rock the boat, they don’t care if everyone else is left to drown. This is not a good management strategy. And to continue to boat metaphor, your good employees will start jumping ship.

      1. Sunny*

        The boat is already rocking – Celia is rocking it so hard it’s almost upside down. OP’s job is to right the boat – by doing their job.

        1. Random Dice*

          I think that they’re Moana and HeiHei the chicken, clinging to a storm-tossed overturned boat hull and yelling at Maui not to turn the boat rightside up because that’s drama.

          /I may have taken terrible liberties with that movie

    4. ferrina*


      A manager by definition needs to be able to handle conflict as it arises. A manager thinking that every conflict is inherently “drama” is a really bad sign. Conflict means that there is a difference of opinions, and the manager is there to be the arbiter. And yeah, sometimes staff members need to be told no. “No” is not a dirty word. When the manager declines to act, they are forgoing a key component of their job.

    5. Trippedamean*

      I disagree. Confrontation isn’t my favorite thing either, but I now recognize the utility and importance of it. When I was a brand new manager, I didn’t understand that, but I had to learn it in order to become a better manager (which I was strongly motivated to be). People can change and grow, and this is just the kind of situation that could inspire the LW to do better.

      1. Rex Libris*

        Yeah, you don’t have to like conflict (and a lot of managers who do like it create their own sort of drama) but you do have to effectively handle it when it arises.

      2. T.N.H*

        Yea, I think it’s important that not liking confrontation as a personality trait isn’t the issue. You have to learn to address things head on, sometimes in the moment and with appropriate authority. Anyone can figure out how to do that but it might be more difficult for people with certain dispositions.

      3. alanna*

        One of the most transformative things that has ever been said to me as a manager is “Getting comfortable with conflict is a skill you can practice.”

        You do not have to like confrontation to be a good manager. You do have to understand that it is part of the job that has to be done. I also think it can be helpful to be a little conflict-averse because not everything has to be a conflict! Many conversations can be approached in a spirit of curiosity or collaboration. (I’m not sure this particular example is one of them.)

        1. Ael*

          This is so true! In my early 20s and before, I hated conflict and would do a lot more work and put up with weirdness to avoid it. Then I grew up a little, and although I still dislike conflict I don’t run away from it, and I’m willing to take it it and get to the other side. It’s done great things for me professionally but also personally, and all you can do is practice to get there. I’m still practicing.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I like your last paragraph, because I think a follow up approach to Celia could have been done with a very positive tone and with a lot of kindness; something like: “This is a collaborative work space and I don’t want anyone to work in isolation. This is about being excited to share what we’re working on, and yes I expect that of everyone”. Sure, you do have to be okay with blunt no’s and not caring what people think, but it’s a strength to not want to go there straight out of the gate.

    6. hypoglycemic rage*

      I definitely don’t want to ever be in a management position because I know I am a lot like LW.

    7. Adereterial*

      And on the flip side, if you DO like confrontation you’ve no business being a manager either. Liking implies you might seek it out or prompt it and that’s not good, either.

      I don’t like confrontation, but it’s part of my job sometimes. You need to be prepared to be confrontational if the situation demands it – liking it isn’t necessary or desirable.

    8. Hokey Puck*

      Not liking confrontation is not is not the issue, its the “i dont like this so Im not going to do it” that is the problem. Few managers enjoy confrontation, but you have to do it anyway.

    9. EC*

      Exactly. No one enjoys having difficult conversations with bad employees, but if you want to be a manager that’s literally the job. Managing. Its also extremely bad management to write off the good employee’s frustrations about behavior that affects her ability to work as “drama”.

    10. MicroManagered*

      I heartily disagree. What kind of creep LIKES confrontation? Being able to DO confrontation when needed is not the same thing — but that’s a skill that can be developed.

      1. Trippedamean*

        I wouldn’t even say that it’s bad to like confrontation. If it’s confrontation for confrontation’s sake, it’s bad. But confrontation is often required to get to the root of the problem and find a solution for it, which is good. In the latter sense, confrontation is great. Problems in the workplace should be solved. Like everything with managing, it’s a balancing act that should be dealt with thoughtfully.

      2. allathian*


        Sure, being so conflict-averse that you prioritize avoiding uncomfortable conversations at any cost is very bad. But enjoying power for its own sake is no better, which is why the best managers I’ve had have all been people who see it as their mission to make it as easy as possible for their reports to do a good job, rather than either lording it over their underlings because they have the power to do so, or being so committed to being liked that they avoid conflict even when that means protecting a missing stair from the consequences of being bad at their job.

      3. EchoGirl*

        I mean, it’s not a binary, though. Most people may not enjoy confrontation, but there’s some people for whom it’s not that big a deal and others who are much more conflict-adverse. I think when people are talking about people who “don’t like confrontation”, they usually mean the latter and are just kind of understating it.

        To be clear, this doesn’t get the manager off the hook; if you’re going to be in that position, you have to know that this is part of the job. I’m just saying that the reaction of thinking the only alternative is “enjoying conflict” is missing a lot of nuance.

    11. Ellis Bell*

      I have a really lovely interim manager (IM) who doesn’t like confrontation either, and it’s been interesting to say the least. We’ve gone from letting people just not do their jobs, to calling a special staff meeting where we were all (slackers and conscientious alike) told that we had better start doing our jobs, or IM would tell the grandbosses about the people who were not doing their job. So basically a group scolding. Great meeting! Oh, and when I asked for help in my department (the work is considered prestigious) I requested colleague A or B because they could handle the type of work. IM agreed to let me have colleague A, but when I mentioned on a team email that colleague A was helping out, IM went into a tailspin because someone else might get offended that they weren’t asked to do the work. IM asked me to “keep it on the DL” and regretted not letting all people on the team self select into the role. I politely declined to keep it quiet (impossible) and reminded IM that it was my request and to send any beef my way because I had no problem letting people know what potential they had to work on stuff with me. I can readily forgive IM though, (they really are truly lovely!) because they clearly hate and despise managing, and won’t be doing it once the regular manager is off maternity.

    12. Anax*

      Agreed, and equally important imo – a manager needs to advocate for their employees. Sometimes even with upper management or other employees.

      Shouting at Celia and telling her she’s a bad person won’t help – that would be purposeless confrontation and ‘drama’.

      Advocating for Sarah to have equitable and reliable work conditions and workload – that’s going to take a confrontation, but it’s worth it.

      That is literally your job, LW – to be the person who makes sure Sarah has what she needs to succeed. You aren’t doing that.

      It’s your job to get Celia what she needs too, if possible – but not at the expense of Sarah, and not if Celia isn’t willing to work toward a solution.

      Sarah has told you what she needs to be successful and happy in her job, which is an absolute gift and a sign of trust. The fact that you’re not using that information effectively, or treating it as the gift it is… yeah, she’s almost definitely job-hunting. I would be.

      (In fact, I am, and that’s one of the reasons.)

  6. Spicy Tuna*

    If you are a manager, you have to be comfortable with people not liking you. In order to effectively manage people, you are going to have to make decisions that people won’t like.

    1. Some Words*

      And when you know one of two people are going to be unhappy, make sure the unhappy one isn’t your star performer.

      Right now you have two unhappy employees. One of them is acting, frankly, bizarre. Does she need more appeasing, or to have her performance brought into acceptable norms?

      You know the correct answer. I understand you’re uncomfortable. Do you have friends or family who can role play some uncomfortable work conversations with you? Practice should help alleviate your stress around having difficult conversations.

      1. Shiara*

        I do want to say that it’s possible (in other situations) for the perceived star performer to be the unreasonable one and overreaching in wanting oversight and control over other staff’s processes. I’ve been at companies where certain rainmaking sales people could be borderline abusive to support staff.

        It’s understandable that LW, as a new manager, is having some difficulty figuring out how to manage Celia so Sarah doesn’t have to overstep her role to get what she needs for her own role. But she definitely needs to focus on Celia as the problem here.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. Being a rainmaker obviously shouldn’t protect someone from the consequences of treating other people badly. But in a situation like this, where you (the LW!) either let Celia continue being a bad employee and eventually, probably sooner rather than later, lose Sarah, or do what’s necessary to ensure that Celia’s poor performance is dealt with. Granted that this is a unionized environment, outright firing is probably not an immediate action, but even in unionized environments it’s possible to fire employees for cause, including poor performance. It just means that you’ll have a few more hoops to jump through than managers in an at-will environment.

          I doubt you’re going to be able to keep both Celia and Sarah, now you’ll just have to decide which of them you want to keep, and quickly, because Sarah is undoubtedly looking for another job by now.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        This just reminds me of the times a really good performer, who also is reasonable and so can be flexible, work hard towards deadlines, change course mid stream when needed, be a team player for the good of the group …

        was the person the manager took for granted, gave the smaller raise to or the less desirable shift, project assignment to.

        Because the manager didn’t want to deal with the grief that the not-great employee would give them if THEY didn’t get what they wanted. “Oh, Sarah will understand, she’ll take one for the team. But Celia will pitch a fit …” so Celia gets the raise, the extra flexibility, gets treated with kid gloves.

        OP, I’m glad you wrote Alison for advice on this. Because, to quote a line from Sports Night, “you’re doing a big thing badly”

        Hopefully you still have time to fix this. Follow Alison’s advice. And I’d be honest with Sarah, admit you screwed up and then take concrete decisive steps to fix the Celia problem.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah when the problem was presented as rock star Vs not rock star, I thought the rock star was being impatient with someone’s training process or something. But this is “I agreed with a high performing employee about improving the process and organisation of a low performer at first, because it was obviously bad and I assumed the low performer would want to know how to do better. However, then the low performer became difficult and I don’t want to any more”.

    2. Cicely*

      Yes, this. As a manager myself, I’d MUCH rather be respected than be liked. Of course, both are possible, and it’d be hard to find the person who enjoys being disliked, but in a situation like yours, LW, you might have to choose between the two.

      R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It will get you very far over all else.

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    I don’t really like drama or confrontation.

    Most of us don’t. But sometimes we nonetheless lean into it, because bad behavior needs to be confronted. Drama often needs to be dealt with–and not by telling all the reasonable people that they need to bend and accommodate the person who dares to be the most unreasonable person in the room.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t know anyone I actually like who enjoys confrontation, but I know tons of people who do it because they have to to get the job done, and because it’s usually unfair to someone else if they don’t.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        And I think that’s the problem with people who don’t like drama and confrontation avoiding it, that it leaves those who are comfortable with it in control and those aren’t usually the people you want in control.

        Celia clearly doesn’t care if she causes drama or confrontation or if she makes Sarah’s life or the LW’s life more difficult so if they worry about engaging in drama or confrontation and try to appease her, well, she has it all her own way.

        I know this is easier to say than to do and it’s not always easy to find a balance between being nice to people and not allowing them to rule the roost, but it isn’t causing drama to intervene with somebody who is hiding stuff.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Also, the longer you avoid it the bigger it gets. Stuff that could have been handled with much less drama and confrontation when it was a new problem requires a lot more to dislodge it once it’s entrenched.

    2. Specks*

      And ironically, if the way you deal with drama is by letting the unreasonable, dramatic person rule the roost because you’re too scared to confront them, all your good employees will leave and you will end up with all the drama llamas and no functional programs. So OP, either you suck it up and deal with it now, or you end up losing good staff and then getting the exact environment you don’t want but will deserve at that point.

      1. Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god*

        It’s like keeping a necrotic toe that then kills the patient just because the doctor couldn’t deal giving bad news. Like what?!

        1. Random Dice*

          That’s a good analogy.

          Celia is a black rotten toe that’s spreading gangrene to the body.

          Sarah is the one suggesting a doctor should really do something about the toe.

          The doctor is worried that amputation is icky, so telling Sarah just not to look at the toe.

      2. ferrina*


        All this does is set up a situation where the person who is willing to behave the most outrageously gets what they want, and the reasonable people have to work around them. And the reasonable people generally get fed up and leave, or detatch to the point where they are doing very mediocre work (this is what quiet quitting was made for).

        When the manager refuses to manage, why would anyone else want to work there?

      3. Cicely*

        I’m one of those decent employees who left because my former boss refused to manage someone who should have been fired. The person who was in the role prior to me also left for the same reason. I just don’t get why some managers let that happen.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I also think framing the issues in this letter as “drama” or “confrontation” (by the LW, not you) also kind of reinforces the idea that dealing with workplace issues productively is somehow a bad thing. Managers need to manage, and addressing issues in the workplace or working through specific problems in someone’s work isn’t “confrontation”, it’s just managing properly. You get to decide as the manager how adversarial you want to be, and you don’t have to make it confrontational if you don’t want to.

      1. allathian*

        Added to that, good managers aren’t unnecessarily confrontational. I suspect that most people don’t thrive in an unnecessarily adversarial environment, I certainly don’t. I vastly prefer a collaborative environment where the baseline is that people are trusted to do their jobs properly until proven otherwise, and that interventions happen when they’re necessary. Managers are there to ensure that the employees have the tools they need to do their jobs as well as possible given the available resources, and to help prioritize tasks if necessary, and to give employees the feedback they need to improve, and sometimes this means putting the employee on a PIP or firing them. Some thanks for a job well done, if only to acknowledge that you recognize that the employee has done a good job, is also good.

        I’m not a “snowflake” and I didn’t grow up expecting to be thanked for every little chore I did, but I wouldn’t want to work in a “no news is good news” environment anymore. That only makes for a very adversarial relationship between managers and employees, because if you expect bad news every time you see your manager, it’s hardly likely to help build a good, professional relationship between managers and employees.

    4. Antilles*

      In my experience, if you try too hard to avoid all drama/confrontation, it usually ends up resulting in MORE drama and confrontations long-term.

    5. Generic Name*

      Managers who are conflict-avoidant often create drama inadvertently. Instead of making decisions and directing your team, you are allowing the team to govern themselves, which creates drama. When expectations are unclear, it creates drama. When you characterize a workflow conflict between staff as a “personality conflict”, it creates drama. You can either step in and manage Celia and give her direct instructions, and if she doesn’t follow that, you can put her on a PIP. Or you can keep doing what you are doing and you will lose Sarah. OF COURSE Sarah is acting like she doesn’t trust you and is disconnected from her job. Frankly, I’d be surprised if you can salvage the situation. Expect Sarah to resign for another job within 6 months, probably sooner.

      1. Ael*

        Seriously. I get that library jobs are hard to find (my best guess of this workplace) but putting up with these conditions and being told you’re making “drama” would at minimum cause employees to start looking for work, and probably be a bit checked out

  8. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OP – Sarah is lookiing for a new job. You have told her she is not valued, even if you did not use those words. You valued Celia, who you should have caught is doing a poor job long before Sarah complained, about Celia.

    You are not addressing the problems with Celia’s work. The teapot hiding is only one problem. She is consistently late making other people have to cover the desk. Plus the other things you listed before you got the teapot thing.

    I don’t know if you can save your relationship with Sarah, but you better darn well try. Don’t just discuss the possibility of a meeting. Show by your actions exactly what you are doing to solve the Celia problem. This doesn’t mean include Sarah in the disciplinary discusion. It means make it clear to ALL your team, that cooperation and doing your job well are MINIMUM expectations. Because I can bet that the other team members are seeing how you treat your best employee and realizing the same could happen to them.

    Not dealing with a problem employee lowers morale of everyone. As manager your job is to manage. If confrontation is not something you like, then you need to reconsider being a manager. Because being a manager means doing some hard things that aren’t enjoyable but must be done to have a good, not just functioning, team.

    1. Czhorat*

      The good news is that there’s not a bigger staffing issue because Celia will stay there forever, because she knows that she can dodge uncomfortable criticism by hiding.

      So OP is creating an environment in which there will be more Celias and fewer Sarahs.

      1. Glazed Donut*

        Yes, this – If Celia is deciding HOW she does her work and WHEN she does her work — and this is deemed fine by management — why should she look elsewhere for a job? There are few places where someone in Celia’s position would be able to make those calls unchallenged, and even dig their heels in when someone in a higher position questions them. I’d be surprised if this didn’t foment a spirit of entitlement with Celia with other reasonable requests being denied.

    2. STLBlues*

      I think this is a really good comment about how it’s impacting other team members. Sarah is definitely disappointed in you, yes. But you’re also teaching everyone else who works there that (1) you won’t act if someone is acting unreasonable, (2) good work does not “get” you anything there – because, if anything, you’re prioritizing the person doing bad work, and (3) bringing something up to you isn’t worth it because you won’t act on it.

      Over time, I’m afraid other people working with you will simply leave rather than try to address any issues. You will have an entire team of Celias and no Sarahs. Is that workable?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yup. I have experienced a work environment where bringing up things that were making people miserable wasn’t worth it because the people in charge wouldn’t do anything about it. I left and so have several others.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        And you’re teaching them that saying “I want the union rep!” is a ‘get out of jail free’ card because you don’t want to deal with that. The union rep isn’t going to do Celia any good when you lay out the performance issues with them present. They won’t advocate for her to do whatever she wants just because she’s in the union. You have to be prepared to manage, and be prepared for Celia to be angry, but given that she’s the underperforming employee here, that’s fine. It seems like keeping Sarah is worth much more than keeping Celia.

    3. Tired of This*

      It consistently amazes me how many managers simply do not provide feedback or direction because it makes them uncomfortable. Managers like this prioritize their own comfort over the performance of their team.

      1. SarahKay*

        I mean, I get it. I hate giving negative feedback and having confrontations, but when I was a manager I forced myself to do it.
        Longer-term, I realised that this in particular meant that a manager’s job is not for me and I’m now a very happy individual contributor.

        OP, you have to make the choice between a) being a poor manager, and risking losing many of your best staff; b) giving the tough feedback and accepting a certain amount of confrontation when needed with a poor worker; c) stop being a manager.
        Good luck.

    4. The Rafters*

      Not only is Sarah not valued, she is actually being punished (meeting with the union over something that is not. her. fault. She’s 100% looking for a new job. Oh, and OP, the only people I’ve ever known to hide their work were trying to make themselves indispensable b/c they were the “only” person who could perform thus and such a task. Newsflash: it never worked.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        We ‘lost’ a work hoarder recently. She had refused to document her work, refused to train a back up. In fact, long after she left and long after her replacement was hired, a sympathetic (and also bad) manager was regularly in contact with her for emergency help, while the replacement person was shut out.

      2. ferrina*

        the only people I’ve ever known to hide their work were trying to make themselves indispensable

        Truth. Whether it works or not depends on how good their manager is. A bad manager will fall for the act and let it slide. Everyone will try to work around these people- both the original bad actor and the bad manager who protects them.

        OP will get a nasty wake-up call when Sarah leaves and the customer base quickly dwindles when no one else will step up to the level of service Sarah has been providing.

      3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        There is another scenario, one I’ve been trapped in due to executive dysfunction and fear of criticism. When I am overwhelmed and behind and scared of consequences, I’ll hide. Maybe I’ve just fallen behind or don’t really understand what I’m supposed to do but rather than asking for help I’m hoping I’ll figure it out and catch up before anyone notices. Or not making work in progress visible because it’s messy and I only want people to see a result that I feel good about.

      4. I Have RBF*

        I’ve been in the position of there not really being anyone else, except my PhD boss, who knew how to do a portion of my job. It sucked. I couldn’t get a full week’s vacation, because no one could do that one essential task. I kept trying to get someone else to learn. Nope, too busy. Well, when I had a stroke and because disabled, someone else had to.

    5. Cinn*

      “Not dealing with a problem employee lowers morale of everyone.”

      So much this. As someone who has had managers say “they’re dealing” with a problem/issue/situation (delete as applicable) whilst nothing is actually done – often reiterating it too -, I can say with confidence that Sarah no longer trusts the LW, that her effort will be much lower and that she’s almost certainly looking for a new job.

  9. Butterfly Counter*

    Hmm. I might disagree a little with Alison on this one.

    I totally agree that the OP needs to take more control over Celia. Make sure that Celia comes in to work on time, does her tasks in a timely manner, and fixes her issues with customer service and attention to detail. Like, yesterday.

    But OP needs to let Sarah know that OP will be checking Celia’s work and that it isn’t up to Sarah to do that any more. I think if Celia knows Sarah is looking at inventory to help herself out and not to find fault with Celia, Celia should be okay with Sarah looking in the boxes. If not, again, that is an issue to take up with Celia along with everything else.

    I’m guessing Celia is feeling like she has two bosses and is rebelling at what she believes as Sarah doing her own quality-control over Celia. That needs to be done only by OP.

    1. 2 Cents*

      I bet Sarah is looking for the new inventory because this sounds like a retail situation, and since Sarah is bringing in the most customers, is probably looking for the new things to sell. That’s what good sellers do — look for the new stuff. No, she doesn’t have jurisdiction over Celia, but Celia is not only messing with Sarah, but with store profits and basic functions!

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        I am 99% sure this is not a retail situation, but one where the point of the place is helping customers find things they will enjoy, and new items are often what they are looking for.

        1. Hazelfizz*

          I’ve been picturing (despite the chain-store structure and the union) an extremely small hobby-supply store. And yes, that’s exactly what an enthusiast employee wants to see and recommend: the new colorways of fabric fat-quarters, or the new Euro-game, aut cetera.

      2. Portia*

        Yes. Any capable salesperson is going to want to see everything they have available as soon as possible. She started checking on Celia specifically because Celia is the one who hides things.

        Sarah’s been put in a spot where she has to try to address the problems Celia is creating on her own — and now that’s blown up into accusations and union reps, and no wonder Sarah is ready to say the heck with it.

        The acknowledged best employee can’t do her job as well as possible if Celia is hoarding stuff in the back. To tell Sarah to back off while Celia does as she pleases is, as everyone is pointing out, an excellent way to lose Sarah.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          My take is that Sarah noticed issues first because she trained Celia and also because she checks out all the new teapots when they come in. But, in doing so, she’s noticed a lot of mistakes. Therefore, when Sarah is doing something for Sarah’s job that includes looking at the boxes Celia has, Celia feels as though she’s being evaluated and criticized by Sarah, so Celia is hiding the teapots.

          If Celia knows that only OP is evaluating Celia and that Sarah is just wanting to look at the teapot for her own job, I think that will solve things. OP needs to step up and be the manager so Celia doesn’t think Sarah has any power over her.

          1. Observer*

            Celia feels as though she’s being evaluated and criticized by Sarah, so Celia is hiding the teapots.

            Yes, we understand that. And that’s unacceptable. Both because Sarah has the right to check the inventory as it comes in. But even if she did not, it is STILL not ok for Celia to hide stuff. Because she is hiding it from everyone. This is absolutely NOT acceptable.

            It is also utterly unacceptable that the OP is allowing Celia to act in a way that directly negatively affects Sarah. If Sarah were doing something *wrong* that would be one thing. But she is actually doing the *right* thing – just something that Celia does not like. That’s just too bad for Celia.

            I totally agree that the OP needs to step up and manage. But they should absolutely not give any credence to the idea that Celia has any standing whatsoever to decide who gets to see the inventory when it comes in, nor should they accept the legitimacy of behavior that is problematic on it’s own – and is clearly designed to hide her problematic performance.

          2. Kevin Sours*

            I don’t. Celia is hiding the teapots because she doesn’t want to be evaluated and criticized. The criticism is valid. OP stepping up and doing it isn’t going to be Celia any happier.

            1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

              But it might make Sarah happier, since OP rather than Sarah will have to have the PITA conversations with Celia and right now OP is avoiding that.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        I suspect that Sarah wants to look at the inventory in process so she knows it’s there so she can push to get things expedited (“help prioritize items for processing”) when she needs them. Celia is hiding stuff because to avoid that pressure.

        Sarah shouldn’t be doing that. But then she shouldn’t *have* to.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I think Celia is rightly feeling like she got caught slacking so now is trying to hide her work so she can’t be caught instead of fixing her problems getting her work done timely.

      Celia will not be comfortable with Sarah because Sarah is the one who noticed her slacking and brought it to LW’s attention. Celia is being defensive and deflecting blame onto Sarah and LW (bullying, micromanaging, union complaints) instead of acknowledging her problems and working to fix them.

    3. Water Everywhere*

      My guess is that Sarah finally complained because the LW has been there 6 months and doesn’t seem to be doing any real managing. LW names Celia’s ongoing visible issues (chronic lateness, messy workstation) but seemed completely unaware of Celia’s slow processing times and thought ‘everything was more or less okay’. Yes, Sarah should leave the oversight of Celia’s work to LW but LW isn’t doing it. This is a manager in name only. I hope Sarah finds a better workplace.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        OP definitely needs to ask themselves how come Sarah has better oversight of Celia than Celia’s manager.

    4. moni179jo*

      Yes, Celia needs to be managed (probably managed out) but Sarah is overstepping by expecting that the resolution will be exactly what she suggests. Another commenter mentioned how frustrating it is to basically be responsible for someone but have no authority to actually hold them accountable; it sounds like the checking that Sarah was asked to do over Celia has long passed, so it needs to be made clear that she isn’t responsible for her performance just because she originally trained her. She can still be frustrated with performance that doesn’t support the rest of the team, and bring that to her manager of course, but she doesn’t need/get to review and evaluate all of Celia’s work.

      1. John*

        Sarah is “overstepping” because no one is managing Celia, a problem employee whose work affects hers, and Sarah needs it to change.

        She won’t need to overstep if the LW decides to actually manage Celia.

        I hope the LW will learn from this. If LW is committed to change and recognizes how much of a mental shift is needed, maybe. I’ve not seen many managers like this actually change.

      2. Starbuck*

        I don’t think Sarah is overstepping at all, because from what LW wrote, she’s not giving Celia direction or correcting her – she took things to the manager, as she should, because there was an issue with Celia’s work that was affecting Sarah’s ability to do her job. Sarah did the right thing here! She’s not asking to “review work”, she just wants to see the product she needs to sell and noticed things were late/missing, and again – brought that to the boss, not Celia.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          It’s an overstep. But it’s the kind of overstep that happens when something needs to get done and nobody is doing it.

          1. Starbuck*

            How is it an overstep at all for Sarah to tell her manager how she’s having a harder time doing her job because of someone else’s poor work? That’s usually how it’s supposed to go in a functional workplace, you take concerns like that to your boss. Again, she’s not trying to correct Celia herself so I really don’t see the overstep issue.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              She’s doing more than reporting to her manager, she’s inserted herself into a bunch of processing. For instance “email begging me to conduct a three-person meeting where she and I clearly lay out processing expectations for Celia”. Plus wanting to see the teapots as the come in so that ” she can help prioritize items for processing” very much does seem like she wants to check Celia’s work.

              Sarah appears to be trying to insert herself into places she really shouldn’t be inserting herself. But she’s doing it because the people who should be taking care of those things… aren’t.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                Sarah can see that OP isn’t doing her job properly so she’s trying to loop OP in and make her do her job.
                What I don’t understand is why OP was brought in when it was obvious Sarah would have rocked that position.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Taking workflow issues to the manager isn’t overstepping. I agree that Sarah should not dictate what the outcome should be, but Sarah isn’t a fool; “Oh let’s allow Celia to just hide under a bush” is no solution at all, and Sarah has stopped caring about a solution at all as a result.

      4. Oregonbird*

        I can’t imagine a union job with a contract setting out theft as a protected action. OP should attend that meeting with Celis with all the paperwork in hand to begin the process to fire for cause.

        OP, if your company provides educational opportunities, take some basic management courses. I’d also recommend finding a program to find your voice as a manager – practical self-confidence practice. Learn how to say the sentences you can’t even shine yourself saying right now. Like, ‘No, you can’t continue to steal and hide the company’s stock.’

    5. TopBanana*

      I think this comment makes an important point that’s been otherwise overlooked. I don’t think it’s bad to give Sarah a bit of distance from Celia, since it looks like Sarah has been Celia’s de facto manager for a while. But the way to do that is NOT to disempower Sarah – it’s to step in and be a more effective manager in the ways that Allison has outlined.

    6. ferrina*

      I’m torn on this. I’ve been Sarah and I’ve been OP.

      Sarah has probably felt like she’s been responsible for managing Celia and picking up her slack for quite a while. It’s not Sarah’s job, but if Sarah didn’t do it, then Sarah wouldn’t have the resources she needs to do her job (because Celia would hide things). Sarah needs Celia to do Celia’s job so Sarah can do Sarah’s job (i.e., she needs to know what inventory is coming out so she can sell that inventory to customers and have the knowledge she needs to build relationships with customers- I guarantee Sarah’s knowledge and relationship building are what is bringing those customers through the door)

      OP can only tell Sarah to stop managing Celia if OP is willing to manage Celia themself. Right now if OP says “don’t manage Celia”, no one will manage Celia (which honestly sounds like what Celia wants). Then Sarah won’t get what she needs to do her job. OP either needs to step up in the management, or give Sarah the authority to manage (and don’t go shocked Pikachu when Celia complains about being held to normal expectations).
      If OP steps up, they can tell Sarah “Celia and I have had a conversation about expectations. This is between me and her now. I would like to continue to check in about your experience with Celia and in general.” (and have regular 1:1s with her)

      But right now OP has set up a lose-lose scenario for Sarah.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This was basically my take, too. Sarah is in a position where she needs Celia to do Celia’s job so that she can be effective in her own (Sarah’s) job. She is invested in being awesome and wants things to move smoothly, which means she’s been raising issues with their manager. Which is what she’s supposed to do.

        I’m not sure where I see Sarah really overstepping. She and the LW had to go to Celia’s workspace when Celia was away and discovered issues. I didn’t read the letter to indicate that Sarah was doing that on the regular. Or that she was trying to tell Celia what to do directly, like giving orders. She’s communicating to her colleague about how that colleague’s decisions and work affect her job.

        The status quo is basically asking Sarah – the LW’s rock star – to do her job with serious impediments. Unless those impediments are dealt with, Sarah is going to stay checked out. It’s a corollary of the adage about not caring more about your job / success than management does. If the manager doesn’t care about these issues getting fixed properly, why should she?

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah, Sarah’s not overstepping at all – from what LW wrote, all the concerns she’s taken directly to the manager, not to Celia herself. She’s citing issues that affect her work and asking the manager to address them. All very reasonable!

      2. Kella*

        Exactly this. I have absolutely been Sarah, where I recognized a gap in management and realized I had to take on responsibilities that shouldn’t have been mine in order to cover it. Sometimes I overstepped by doing this but it was because management wasn’t giving me clear indicators that they had it covered. So it can both be true that Sarah overstepped *and* that she was justified in doing so.

        It’s likely that Sarah’s motivations for looking over Celia’s teapots were mixed. She probably had valid reasons related to her ability to do her job *and* it was an opportunity to monitor Celia’s performance, given that OP had already demonstrated that they weren’t covering that. The one place where I noticed Sarah actually overstepping in a way that I think merited OP intervening was this: “Sarah then sent me an email begging me to conduct a three-person meeting where she and I clearly lay out processing expectations for Celia.” Sarah didn’t need to be involved in laying out processing expectations for Celia. Or rather, there wouldn’t be a reason if OP was actually managing Celia, so Sarah asking to be part of that process is an indicator of the lack of management.

        If OP steps up and fixes the Celia problem, it’s possible Sarah may need her expectations to be explicitly readjusted so she knows she needs to let go of the responsibilities that were never hers to begin with. But that won’t be possible until those responsibilities are actually covered.

      3. Observer*

        <i.OP can only tell Sarah to stop managing Celia if OP is willing to manage Celia themself.

        Yes. I would be willing to bet that if Sarah thought that the OP would actually manage, she would be more than happy to step back. Instead, she put herself out there and the OP basically told her that Celia is upset and so OP and Sarah need to “work it out” without making Celia “uncomfortable.” And Sarah is being dragged into this meeting that she clearly has no interest in. The OP is the one who wants her there, because somehow they seem to hold Sarah as responsible for the issue as Celia.

        And now that Sarah is saying “Never mind, YOU figure it out” the OP is upset.

        But right now OP has set up a lose-lose scenario for Sarah.


    7. Kel*

      Sarah isn’t checking on Celia’s work; Sarah is doing the legwork to make sure she’s able to do the best job she can.

    8. Baunilha*

      I didn’t see it as Sarah wanting to check Celia’s work per se, just that she became aware that Celia’s faulty process was impacting her own work and is coming up with ways to minimize that. If Sarah needs good teapots to attract customers and just realized some of the interesting teapots are taking way too long be available (or simply never become available at all), it makes sense that she would want to be more involved in a process that affects her own job.

    9. DaniCalifornia*

      I have been a Sarah before. Had to train every new person, they did not live up to standards, and then had to help with extra work because of them while the managers would do absolutely nothing about it. But the managers expected me to stay on top of everything. This is on the manager now to rectify. They are walking on egg shells around Celia and expecting everyone else to do so, when in fact Celia needs to up her work game and be managed by the manager.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        “But the managers expected me to stay on top of everything”. Yes, from a certain manager’s perspective if rockstars just keep rocking hard enough, then everyone else can just ignore the dead weight they’re forcibly dragging around the stage.

      2. gmg22*

        “Had to train every new person, they did not live up to standards”

        Important to keep in mind here that when no one ever lives up to standards, that too is a management failure — either to hire the right people for the job or to put in place the kind of training procedures that set employees up for success. LW has to clean up this mess now, but “hire someone else who is just … I don’t know, better” and then let Sarah handle the training again is not likely to solve it without attention to the details of the onboarding process.

  10. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

    OP, be prepared for Sarah to leave, and probably soon, because you have shown that you don’t (and won’t) have her back; you’ll avoid confrontation at the expense of good employees; and people will be able to weaponise their job descriptions to avoid doing work they don’t want to do or to get back at colleagues.

    At every possible turn of this saga, you have acted in exactly the wrong way. I hope you’ll take Alison’s advice, and the advice of the commentariat, to heart and sit Celia down, explain to her that just because it’s not in her job description doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to do something.

    Go ahead with the union meeting that Celia requested, but go into that meeting armed with examples of Celia’s failure to do her job, because she needs to know that you know (and are watching and are tracking) her BS, so that she can’t keep pulling this.

    1. TootSweet*

      I wonder if this is one of the things holding back OP from taking the proper actions up until now: the union piece. I think there are plenty of managers who are a little intimidated when there’s a union involved. But that doesn’t mean OP should not have taken the bull by the horns sooner. And if Celia, at that earlier time, wanted to get the union involved, so be it. Having union employees doesn’t mean you can’t, or don’t have to, take action.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        My relatively new at the time manager had to work for months documenting a truly awful new hire’s problems before firing.
        I mean like triple what a reasonable person would consider adequate documentation for an employee threatening legal retaliation. The union took a peek & decided all was good to proceed. It happens.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          I stepped into a situation with someone who had been in the position for years without their performance being addressed, and they were in the union. I went through all the proper steps; it took nine months, and there were a few times I was basically yelled at for holding them to a set of standards. It was HARD. But that’s the manager’s job, as sucky as it may be sometimes. If you don’t do it, you’re encouraging bad behavior, and encouraging your good workers to leave.

      2. John*

        Except the LW isn’t complaining about being constrained from managing. They just don’t grasp what acceptable managing looks like.

      3. LCH*

        i also think the union part of it threw OP and made her unsure of what she could and couldn’t do around this. so she might need to guidance from her workplace on how the union fits in and what it can and can’t dictate.

      4. Starbuck*

        But OP clearly hasn’t even tried. It sounds like there’s plenty for them to document, if they cared to. But they seem to view keeping Celia as an underperformer as a foregone conclusion. Which is very bad management.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Sarah checking out is very much a bad sign. It reminds me of a pattern that emerges in marital breakdowns. One spouse is dissatisfied with how things are going – often around distributing chores and responsibilities – and raises the issue with the other spouse. Nothing changes. The cycle repeats several times. Eventually, the first spouse decides they’re done and stops trying to make things better while they get organized to leave. It’s not worth it to them to argue and they don’t care about making things better. From the second spouse’s perspective, things are great! They’re not arguing anymore! This is a great sign! Then they go all shocked Pikachu when their spouse leaves.

      Unlike the other spouse, the LW recognizes it’s a bad sign. Though probably not just how bad a sign it is. Unless there’s major change, the best case scenario is that Sarah is checked out and becomes average. As far as best case scenarios go, that one sucks pretty bad for everyone.

  11. Dollars to Donuts*

    I think what’s making the letter writer uncomfortable is that Sarah is inserting herself — I’m guessing she does not really need to see new inventory the day it arrives, and said that as an excuse to keep an eye on Celia. And that’s why the letter writer called it “drama.” I think they are correct that Sarah shouldn’t be doing that — because that’s the letter writer’s job! As the manager, they should absolutely be checking her work, since she has been under performing.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      If the LW is uncomfortable with that, she should do it herself. Right now Sarah has to butt in because the LW isn’t handling it.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, exactly. Sarah has resorted to ‘Right, I need to see every teapot as soon as it arrives, because otherwise I have no idea what Celia is hiding and what should be coming through to me, and I can’t do my job properly if I don’t know which teapots we have available’. Sarah shouldn’t have had to resort to that, but she has, because she’s trying to keep up her own high standards while having absolutely no support from either Celia or the OP as her boss.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yes, this. My understanding is that Sarah didn’t operate this way before there were major problems. That suggests that this stuff is a response to the issues.

      2. Annony*

        I do think that is the problem. Sarah has been forced into the position of being Celia’s pseudo-supervisor. She doesn’t have any power and Celia dislikes it since Sarah isn’t her supervisor. The OP needs to step up and take a more active role in managing Celia so that Sarah doesn’t feel like she has to and Celia can’t get away with not doing her job in a timely manner.

    2. In My Underdark Era*

      this was my take as well. Celia may even be correctly picking up that Sarah is treating her differently- does Sarah inspect every processor’s stock when it comes in or just Celia’s? still, Celia’s response of hiding stock (!!!) and pre-existing performance issues can’t take a back seat to that. LW, if you don’t want team members to be managing each other, you have to do it yourself!

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I’d be willing to bet it’s just Celia’s, because the other processors are putting the inventory out in a couple of days rather than several weeks.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’d suspect that yes, Sarah is treating Celia differently, because she has to.

    3. Smurfette*

      >Sarah is inserting herself — I’m guessing she does not really need to see new inventory the day it arrives

      There’s a big difference between “the day it arrives” and “when C decides S can see it”. And if S is responsible for helping customers, she needs to know what’s going to be on the shelves, and when.

      If she doesn’t know what stock is being unpacked she can’t help customers, and looks incompetent as well:

      “Do you have the new book by ABC?”
      “No idea, come back next week and see if it’s on the shelf.”

      1. not nice, don't care*

        Sounds like Celia is also bucking company culture by hiding new stock too. It may not be absolutely necessary for Sarah to see every new thing immediately, but it sounds like common in that company, and also helpful for people in Sarah’s customer-facing role.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Especially since part of Sarah’s job is running programs. The LW specifically calls out how amazing Sarah’s programs are. She needs to know what new stuff has arrived fairly quickly if they want her to plan programs around it.

    4. Saturday*

      “She can help prioritize items for processing, and it helps her work to know new inventory” seem like legitimate reasons for Sarah to see the new inventory. I don’t think she said the day it arrives, and I don’t see a reason to think she’s only trying to keep an eye on Celia.

      1. Annony*

        But even if it is only Celia, Celia takes weeks to finish processing inventory while others take 2-3 days. It isn’t unreasonable to treat Celia differently when she is that much slower than the others.

        1. Ashley*

          This – if Celia was taking 2 or 3 days this would definitely be a time to push back to Sarah about giving Celia time to do her job. But you are talking weeks which is causing issues for everyone downstream of Celia.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        This is an important element to tease out before the OP makes the best choice going forward. How do other processors work with Sarah? Do they shoot her a list of things unpacked? Invite her over to look? Does Sarah not look at anyone else’s stock at all?

        What is the difference in front of house and processor here, skipping the fact that it is Sarah and Cecilia? Because if Sarah is just asking Cecilia to act like any other processor, then this is 100% a Cecilia (and OP) issue in regards to the process. If Sarah wants Cecilia specifically to work differently than other processors (though let’s face it, understandably!) then the OP has a slightly different issue on their hands.

  12. Dust Bunny*

    You pretty much have this backwards, LW. You’re so unwilling to push the boundaries of your comfort zone that you’re protecting someone who is late, does bad work, is disorganized, is hiding things, and is interfering with other employees’ tasks.

    You’re a manager. You don’t get to avoid confrontation any more.

    Do you even want this job? Because you can’t do it effectively if you aren’t willing to learn to do some confrontation. It’s not fair to better employees and to the business as a whole if it’s more important to you not to be uncomfortable than it is to actually do your job. You’re going to start losing your Sarahs to competitors and be stuck trying to run the place with Celias.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This. If you’re going to be in management, you need to manage. If you don’t want to manage, get a different job.

      I think it may also be helpful to reframe the idea of “conflict” here. LW, you don’t have to convince Celia that you’re right or to agree with you. As Captain Awkward says, reasons are for reasonable people. And based on her behaviour, I don’t know that Celia is being a reasonable person here. As a manager, you certainly have some power over how job tasks get done.

      Instead of it being a conflict, you’re giving Celia a choice: she can meet requirements X, Y, and Z, or you can help her transition out of her role. Don’t get dragged down into irrelevant issues or frivolous debates. The message is that you need her to do X, Y, and Z, starting now. Can she do that?

  13. tinybutfierce*

    If you let mediocre employees carry on as they are for the sake of “avoiding confrontation/drama”, eventually you’ll be left with nothing BUT mediocre employees.

    1. not nice, don't care*

      Mediocre employees who will hunker down long enough to become shitty managers.

      1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

        Best insight of this whole comment group on this post. And current horrible bosses promote them, never ensure they’re trained, never gather feedback, don’t care how it’s affecting other people. And the cycle continues.

    2. The Coolest Clown Around*

      I actually just left a job like this. Nothing happened to underperformers except mild disapproval, and as a result the two people on a team of ten who did work ended up working harder to pick up slack for no reward. “My manager likes me better” isn’t a good enough reason to perform three times as well as the rest of the team so – I left. The other coworker who actually did work has her last day Friday. If you won’t reward hard work, Sarah will find someone else that will – or she’ll just stop working hard.

    3. NotHannah*

      Having been a “Sarah” in more than one workplace, I find the use of “personality conflict” in the opening line so frustrating! That is NOT what we have here. I have had management treat my (analagous) situations as akin to “these girls just don’t get along.” One even offered to take us both out to lunch. As if. Grrr.
      Agree with all the other smart people on here that management requires managing conflict.

    4. Chirpy*

      Management at my work won’t confront our Celias.

      We are now losing the Sarahs left and right. All of them.

      You will not change this pattern until you, the manager, confront Celia’s bad work.

  14. whatadeebee*

    OP seems to be blaming this escalation on Sarah being unhappy and not getting along with Celia. But I really feel like OP is sweeping the secrecy and hiding of company products under the rug! She is expending energy to shield her work from oversight so she can continue to do it poorly and outside of the established SLAs. She is hiding company product from people to avoid accountability! That smacks of an integrity issue and should not be tolerated, even if no one was complaining about it.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I don’t think it’s just avoiding accountability. Seems like an attempt at control to me.

  15. Ari*

    Celia’s “way of working” is a form of retaliation against your best employee. If you don’t think that justifies stepping in, then perhaps management is not the right role for you.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      It’s also a form of retaliation against the OP. When the OP tried to do the managerial thing and set up expectations for the process, Celia went off the deep end. She threw a passive-aggressive temperature tantrum and got what she wanted as a result.

          1. Ally McBeal*

            Yeah, what’s the heat-related equivalent of “hangry”? Because I lived in muggy climates for way too long and struggled as a kid to contain my outbursts during the peak of summer. Now I shell out a lot of money for central air because it’s worth it.

        1. Elsewise*

          Honestly, I get really crabby when it’s too hot out and I’ve probably thrown a few temperature tantrums!

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is a really good point. It’s basically “I don’t like you, so I’m not giving you what you want.”

  16. Nessie*

    I thought this was going to be Sarah overstepping with demanding how an employee be dealt with but her request is purely about the product and how the slow processing and secrecy affects her work. These are very fair points she is bringing up!

    You can’t be a manager if you don’t like confrontation. It is your job to be the middle man between your employees and manage conflicts like this, especially when one employee’s poor practices affects how the other is able to do their job.

    1. Art Teacher*

      Also I guarantee it’s affecting the clientele, too. If people are waiting for a popular new book to be released so they can read it and the library doesn’t have it (because Celia is hiding it so she can take 3 weeks to process it), they’re going to read it elsewhere.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Yes. If the clients see the new azure teapots with gold filigree at other locations, why can’t they buy one here?

  17. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, consider that by taking this pathway, you are not avoiding conflict and confrontation, you are extending it. Your problem employee continues to act in a dysfunctional way and you are not using the authority you have to end this. Often, the best way to minimize conflict is to take action upon seeing it.

    1. Ink*

      Exactly. 90% of this could’ve been over WEEKS ago. LW might still be closely supervising Celia, waiting for her to shape up or give you enough in her file to let her go, but Sarah would be out of much of this picture. There would be no hiding. There would not be enough ambiguity for CELIA to accuse SARAH of bullying! *You* are the source of much of the drama, because you keep siding with the unreasonable, mediocre-at-best employee and giving her free license to continue escalating the ridiculousness. You don’t just need to worry about Sarah, you are very close to Celia making the mess obvious to patrons all on her own. What are you going to say when someone asks why the Great New Teapot Model that came out last month isn’t on the shelves, and you have no idea if it even ARRIVED because Celia has the unprocessed box squirreled away in some corner?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Dang. I hadn’t thought about it this way, but it makes so much sense!

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      THIS! This is what OP needs to keep in mind. Problems like this are like water leaks. They don’t just go away. They just keep getting worse until you have a pipe burst (which will probably be Sarah leaving).

      It’s perfectly okay not to like confrontation or drama, but you really need to squash these things ASAP. They will not going away on their own.

    3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Yep. My husband struggles with this constantly – he fears conflict so much he imagines it everywhere, but avoiding small problems literally always lets them grow bigger. So ironically, the person who “hates conflict” is the biggest producer of conflict and is constantly having to deal with conflict.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      Yeah, this wouldn’t be as big of an issue now if it had actually been addressed when it was first raised.

  18. MsM*

    “I also told Sarah that I’m going to honor Celia’s union meeting request, and together we’ll work it all out.”

    OP, please reflect on the fact that Celia’s union meeting request is not just about having to show people teapots. It’s about the fact she claims Sarah is bullying her by…wanting to do her job more effectively? Holding her accountable for repeated mistakes? By acting like this is something they both need to work out equally, you’re effectively telling Sarah you think Celia has a point about the bullying, when really Celia’s the one trying to go over both your heads to get her way and you should be pushing the union to clarify that’s not how this works.

    1. My Useless 2 Cents*

      The meeting request is also about Sarah… nitpicking Celia’s work rather than doing her own job, going through Celia’s desk when Celia is not there, looking for errors to bring to the manager (OP), overstepping her authority to demand being included in Celia’s “disciplinary meetings”…

      I don’t think Celia is handling things well and “hiding” things are never the answer but I don’t think Sarah is the innocent golden child a lot of commenters her are making her out to be. Just because she is a teapot server rock star. It really sounds to me that there is a lot of questionable behavior in this situation and not all of it is coming from Celia.

      1. MsM*

        See, I don’t get the vibe Sarah is nitpicking and looking for reasons to get Celia in trouble rather than doing her job; she’s bringing these complaints because Celia’s obstruction is getting in the way of her doing her job, and it’s hard to see a valid reason for that when OP and Sarah can apparently accomplish in an afternoon what’s taking Celia weeks if not months. I’m also with the commenters who have pointed out that the previous manager did everyone a disservice by letting Celia’s training fall to Sarah without either checking in to make sure that was going okay or giving Sarah the authority to do anything herself if Celia wasn’t meeting expectations, and OP’s repeating that mistake by being equally hands-off.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        This is important. I’m not sure if I agree with you completely that Sarah is overstepping and we can’t really know from a stripped-down, anonymized post like this. But to be a good manager to both Sarah and Cecilia the OP needs to decide how they think processes work and tell both of her employees. She needs to be clear with Sarah that managing Cecilia is her responsibility and then actually DO IT. If Sarah needs to back off because she is treating Cecilia differently, then she should be told that, but at the same time Cecilia needs to stop acting differently from other processors (as well as the other tasks that she is failing at) and the OP has got to be clear on that.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          You posted while I was typing my comment below, but I absolutely agree on the process part! How should this interaction be going? Tell both of them clearly! And tell them what to do if the other person isn’t following the process as outlined.

          With managing, sometimes there’s something that’s generally worked fine without explicit instructions or written processes because the people involved have been there a while or work especially well together or are all pretty flexible, but then something comes along (team growth, training lots of new people, a new element of a process, a rigid employee, an underperforming employee) that means you have to get more formal. This is one of those times.

      3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Except there is literally no evidence that Sarah did any of that. She brought to her manager’s attention that Celia was not processing teapots fast enough — which was affect Sarah’s job. Exactly what someone is supposed to do.

        OP says she and Sarah went through Celia’s desk together. So Sarah is not taking it on herself to go through Sarah’s desk. She is assisting her manager.

        The disciplinary meeting is at the union’s request to include all 3, which Sarah actually does not want. So again, Sarah not inserting herself in the situation.

        So Sarah is not doing anything on her own here but doing exactly what a good employee should do. Celia on the other hand reacts to reasonable feedback — you must process the items within 2-3 days – by hiding her work.

        The ONLY possible overstep is asking to see the teapots as they are unpacked. Which OP confirmed is industry standard. So not even an overstep but something that is routinely done elsewhere.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        It’s so interesting how you’ve read the same facts in the letter and seen a very different framing than others in the comments… and I’m not sure you’re entirely wrong. I think Sarah may be doing some of this out of frustration and because OP isn’t managing effectively, but it’s hard to say.

        But regardless, I think the answer is for OP to be much clearer with everyone: with Celia about work expectations and potential consequences, with Sarah about her role vis a vis Celia and what to expect from Celia’s work and how communication between them should go.

        OP should be having a conversation with Sarah along the lines of “I am working with Celia to address the issues you have raised. In the meantime, if you become aware of any processing that takes more than a week, please let me know. You will not have access to preview Celia’s teapots for the time being but I hope to have that resolved and a process in place by early April. Please don’t poke around in her inventory or ask her about new teapots without checking with me until then. I know that’s not convenient for you and hope we’ll be able to resolve everything quickly to get a better workflow set up.” Or whatever. Give Sarah appropriate information and draw boundaries and let her know you’re taking things seriously. And then follow through on managing Celia to get the issues resolved.

      5. Observer*

        It really sounds to me that there is a lot of questionable behavior in this situation and not all of it is coming from Celia.

        To the extent that it’s true, the only other person being questionable is the OP.

        You have made up stuff that is not in the letter at all, and you have ignored the facts that the OP mentions – coming late, taking way to long to process things, losing / misplacing items that should have been processed and put on the shelves, and responding to legitimate expectation by *hiding* her work and the inventory that the store needs to operate. This is not just “not handling things well.” This is utterly unacceptable behavior.

  19. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I don’t like drama or confrontation either. But sometimes I have to be a parent and deal with bad behavior from my kids. Being a boss is no different. You take a deep breath and you do what needs to be done.

  20. Meemur*

    That last line really rubbed me the wrong way; Sarah is not the one with the poor attitude here! No one she’s disappointed in you, I would be too

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Agreed. Sarah does not have a poor attitude. She has the exact right attitude for this situation.

    2. Lily*

      Ah, but Sarah’s bringing the problem to LW, so she’s the problem! Not the employee that interferes with Sarah’s work or doesn’t do various aspects of her job, or insists she won’t do something because it isn’t written down explicitly in her job description…

    3. Anonymous cat*

      Definitely! That line really bugged me.

      This isn’t a poor attitude—she’s withdrawing from the job.

    4. ThatOtherClare*

      The person with the poor attitude here is Celia hiding teapots after being told by her boss to lift her shelving speed. Sarah comes across as having shown shown an exceptional degree of calm and poise throughout all of these provocations.

  21. HonorBox*

    Celia is making a power play/controlling an item because she’s realized she has some power, and that power has been, in essence, approved. If Sarah was an active bother to Celia in her requests to see the teapots, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t seem like what she’s asking for is outside of the norm. And in response, Celia is HIDING product so she has the power/control over what Sarah sees. She may not be in violation of any workplace rules, but she’s certainly violating the spirit of the rules.

    You (and Sarah) have witnessed Celia’s terrible organization. You’ve witnessed the fact that she’s misplaced product. You’ve witnessed that she’s not showing up on time regularly, and leaving a core aspect of her job undone. And now you’ve witnessed her actively hiding product while attempting to make a power play. And by doing nothing, you’re condoning it.

    LW, you need to tell Celia very specifically that she cannot continue to do what she’s doing. Hold her to her job duties. Because you’re about to lose someone who is well-liked and making you a great deal of money because you’re allowing a bad employee to continue with bad behavior just because you don’t want to confront her. If you don’t want to confront her and make her feel bad, show her the door.

  22. STLBlues*

    As a manager, are you willing to have a full team of Celias and no Sarahs? Because by avoiding confrontation, that’s what you’re managing towards, unfortunately. Poor performers (Celia) will get away with anything, and rockstars (Sarah) will find employment elsewhere.

    It’s not too late – but you do have to get comfortable with confrontation / challenging conversations. Would you be happy with an entire team of Celias? If not, why are you putting up with one?

  23. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

    Uff da. The ‘I’m protected by the union’ versus ‘I’m just trying to do the damn job’. Heavily unionised industries is something I have a LOT of experience with.

    But leaving that aside, and you’ll have to as a manager in this case, you’ve got to pare it back to the logics. Is someone blocking the work? If yes, it actually doesn’t matter what their personal feelings are (unless it’s a rare safety concern which this doesn’t seem to be) and getting things down to the bare job requirements and proper functions is key.

    When you’ve got staff acting up to ‘prove’ something to another or because their feelings are hurt it’s a Gordian knot. You can’t unravel that so that everyone is happy so don’t even try. Go back to basics.

    The job has to be done accurately and effectively. Bottlenecks are neither. Putting it all down in black and white is actually a really good way of avoiding union reprisal.

    Additionally: if you protect the inefficient that’s all you’ll be left with.

    1. Curious*

      I’m not familiar how things work with unions. Since you have experience with unions, can you provide some guidance on how the manager should handle the union meeting?

      1. Union Rep*

        I see both sides on this one. If OP has normally let Celia slide (which it sounds like she has), and only does something when Sarah complains, then Sarah kind of is messing with Celia by repeatedly bringing OP down on her. But of course the core problem there is OP’s failure to set a consistent performance bar with Celia, not Sarah being tired of Celia skating. I’ve repped bad employees. They tell me the story that makes them look good. I’m going to assume they’re right unless there’s strong evidence otherwise, I’m going to construe the evidence in their favor unless I see a reason not to, and I’m going to hold management to the contract no matter what kind of employee they turn out to be.

        That means OP can’t handle the union meeting with her current objective of “just work things out.” “Work things out” is management for “someone is getting screwed” and the union’s position going into the meeting will be “the person getting screwed better not be the member who’s made a bullying complaint.” Whatever doubts the rep might have, OP isn’t going to see them. So to deal with the bullying complaint, OP needs to be very clear that she’s correcting Celia’s work because there are legitimate errors. OP should also acknowledge that there may have been some confusion about Sarah’s authority but that it’s not bullying to tell a manager about a work quality issue or for a manager to act on those concerns. This will give the rep a better picture of the management side of the issue. That said, if OP hasn’t been documenting any of the problems with Celia, she needs to be clear that this isn’t discipline yet. Then everyone would at least know the score for next time. Celia is not going to admit she is doing anything inappropriate (because she thinks she’s not) and neither will the rep (because that’s their job), but there would be a private conversation after and OP might see a behavior change.

        Basically, be honest and have proof. As much as possible, I’m not interested in which worker is right and which one is wrong. My starting assumption is that the manager is being petty and screwing with someone on vibes – but if you bring proof that’s not the case then I’m going to try and help the worker who’s right. Problem is that having a meeting where you have to convince me there’s a performance issue before I back off is too confrontational for most people like OP, and so they fiddle around trying to magically turn Celias into Sarah’s instead of having the one difficult conversation.

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          Thank you for writing all of this out! You’ve provided an incredibly helpful insight.

        2. Librarian manager here*

          I have been the union rep AND I have been the manager tortured by the union representation and endless meetings defending my management, supervision and very clear expectations.
          ” My starting assumption is that the manager is being petty and screwing with someone on vibes – but if you bring proof that’s not the case then I’m going to try and help the worker who’s right.”
          My reams of documentation didn’t stop the numerous grievance filings against me personally that I had to defend myself from, charges of bullying, abusive behavior discrimination, micromanaging, and even lying in my documentation. (there was no evidence of any of this but there were a number of investigation meetings)
          Yes, I am still resentful years later. Not about the employee- she obviously had mental health issues. The colleagues who were the union reps acting like I was the one in the wrong, taking advantage of the the “helpless” employee. It doesn’t matter if you think that it “wasn’t personal” It sure felt that way at the time.

    2. Lilo*

      I had a trainee make a union complaint about me. The union quickly dismissed it after I provided documentation (trainee ended up doing fine, he actually thanked me later for helping him improve his work). You can’t shit down over someone going to the union, it just happens and as long as you’re doing your job it’s not a big deal.

  24. AD*

    You can’t manage a sloppy, underperforming report via “consensus”, OP. It’s not a discussion or a debate.

    This is ultimately falling on you to deal with and you seem like you want to shirk that responsibility.

    1. Tea Time*

      “You can’t manage a sloppy, underperforming report via ‘consensus’, OP.”

      THIS. If you believe in consensus above all, you should not be a manager. OP, you need to either overhaul your thinking *completely* and *immediately* (I recommend spending a weekend bingeing the AAM archives), or admit that your beliefs are incompatible with being in a managerial role.

  25. Really?*

    OP, you need to be a manager; and sometimes that requires doing things that are uncomfortable. We do not know how you are judged, but your metrics are likely to suffer if Sarah decides that she doesn’t need the Aggravation, and starts job searching; and rockstars can usually find a new job.
    Your job is to manage, which includes things like keeping rockstar morale high, and ensuring that the coasters perform up to scratch. And I’ve rarely run into a job description that doesn’t include “other duties as assigned” even in a union shop.
    It sounds like Sarah deserves an apology, and Celia deserves a PIP.

  26. spuffyduds*

    Ugggggh. This is giving me flashbacks to working in a library system where all the staff at all-but-one branch busted our butts getting new titles cataloged, processed and on the shelf, being careful to put titles that already had holds at the front of the line–and in one branch, new holds sat on the cart in the back room for days because one of the *volunteers* who only came in once a week “really liked processing books” and they didn’t want to upset her.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        Libraries are surprisingly full of bad managers and passive-aggressive mediocre staff/librarians.

        1. Sleepy in the Stacks*

          As a librarian, yep. And this letter is definitely a library setting in my mind.

          Libraries are full of non-confrontational managers/supervisors who hate stepping on other peoples’ toes for the sake of their own comfort. They willingly let teams fall apart because they won’t tell staff members to get their acts together (no, you cannot go disappear for 45 minutes to play on your phone when we only have 2 people to cover the service desk…)

          I’m lucky I work in a system where that is minimal and managers do address those sorts of issues, but it is a rare situation I’m in.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        The standout clue is that paper can cover the products in question. Either a library or maybe a bookstore.

    1. Hello.*

      I’m recommending to OP that they check out my new article on library management that was published in the December issue of Alki, which is the journal of the Washington Library Association. I wrote it specifically for new managers who may be uncomfortable with their new role.

    2. Que Sarah, Sarah*

      That’s what it sounds like to me, too. It specifically sounds like a tech services department I worked in where the manager never really wanted to be a manager, but it was literally the only path she had to advance. She was managing a large group of people who ranged from retired-in-place staff who didn’t want to change anything, ever, to brand new MLS grads who wanted to change everything immediately and make their mark on the library world. There was a lot of tension at all levels. We had at least two Celias and a revolving corps of Sarahs—the Sarahs would move on as soon as a better job came along. Some of the Celias had the ear of upper management just because they had worked there so long.

  27. Juicebox Hero*

    All I could think while reading this letter is “Sarah is going to quit on you, soon.” She’s been working her Darjeeling off for you and all it’s gotten her is a second, unpaid job (training Celia) and a ton of aggravation. Now she’s seen she’s got no reason to put in extra effort because she’s not going to see any good from it.

    You’ve also let Celia know that all she has to do is pitch a hissy and you’ll cave in to her demands rather than confront her. If she’s willing to cry bullying and drag the union into a simple procedural matter, I shudder to think what she’ll pull next now that she has the power and knows it.

    Alison’s right that you probably can’t keep both. Sarah regaining trust in you would take you dealing with problems immediately, efficiently, and decisively from here on out. Taking power back from Celia is going to be just as hard because you’re doing the equivalent of the wimpy parent saying “You get a time out when I count to three… 1, 2, 2 1/2… ok, 5, and I really mean it!”

    I’d also think about whether management is the right career, at least without taking more training in assertiveness and decision-making.

  28. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Consciously or not, deliberately or not, Celia is undermining Sarah’s hard work AND is using the OP’s extreme passivity as a manager to run roughshod over Sarah as well. By avoiding confrontation at all costs, OP is allowing Celia to continue to work slowly, sloppily and eccentrically. The upshot is that Sarah is not getting the information or the merchandise that she needs when she needs it – and the OP has shown her repeatedly that they won’t take any steps to ensure that the situation will be corrected. OP’s conflict avoidance has resulted in Sarah’s checking out and Celia’s feeling emboldened enough to threaten OP with union interference; Celia holds all the power here because OP is allowing her to!

    OP, please, PLEASE recognize that with a manager’s position, perks, power and pay goes a manager’s responsibility to perform unpleasant but vital tasks. This now includes documenting every instance of Celia’s refusal to give Sarah the information and “teapots” that she needs, establishing a reasonable schedule for Celia and putting her on a PIP as soon as possible. Frankly, I’d go with firing Celia now, but, if her union connections make that impossible, at least start the process rolling – preferably before you lose Sarah (who is now thoroughly demoralized.) And vow to yourself to never let your desire for a workplace filled with peace and harmony eclipse your professional responsibilities again.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Given that things have been left unaddressed for quite some time, I’d want to try to start with Celia with a blank slate and new expectations, rather than a PIP right away. If you can, give Celia a clear understanding of what you need from her, then go from there.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          You may be totally right. The only advantage I can see is that she could argue that she’s being asked to make big changes to how she operates (which is really just actually doing her job) because of changes in expectations, and that it’s “unfair” or “unreasonable” to start on a formal disciplinary process at this stage.

  29. Parenthesis Guy*

    I’m not sure what the manager can do in this situation. I understand why Sarah requested a meeting to discuss processing expectations. But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to go well as Sarah and Celia seem pretty dug into their positions. And given that the contract is in Celia’s favor, it doesn’t seem like the manager has the authority to do much in this case. It depends on how much authority the manager actually has.

    The manager could go scorched earth on Celia and try to fire her for being difficult to work with and an uneffective worker. But that’s risky because there’s a union. The union likely has rules about removing a worker, and the manager may not be able to fire the worker in this situation.

    1. HonorBox*

      I think the data that OP has, though, will help. There is history that Celia has been underperforming. She misplaced product for months. She is not on time regularly. If she wants to use the contract to her advantage, OP should use the contract to point out areas that Celia has not been holding up her side.

    2. Booster Seat*

      Having a union does not prevent you firing a bad worker – they put processes in place to manage doing so. OP needs to figure out what the process is for disciplining Celia and start the documentation, warnings, and other steps required to move towards termination. They probably cannot fire her today, but there will be a process to follow. OP needs to figure this out ASAP or risk losing their best worker – and probably others who are seeing how doing good work gets you treated here.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        “Having a union does not prevent you firing a bad worker”

        Thank you, I wish people would stop acting like it does. A union only prevents you from firing a bad worker when you yourself have been a bad boss by not documenting the issues and clearly working with Celia on what happens if the issues continue. It might take longer than a regular firing in a non-union environment, but it’s not like you need to just accept a bad employee because a union exists. Lots of people are “unfireable” in non-union environments too and the reason is the same: ineffective management of the problem employee.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Depending on the circumstances it can be harder than not. If this is public employment (which, the speculation about it being a library does point to), that is historically more difficult. However if you’re following progressive discipline (also see my note below re: time and attendance!) then the process DOES work. But it involves … confrontation!

    3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yeah. I was honestly team Fire Celia until I saw the line about the union. This is definitely trickier.

      That said, if you’re a Union shop, then you should have Labor Relations staff at your disposal in HR who can help you navigate this!

      1. Local Garbage Committee*

        Seconding talking to someone in Labor Relations/HR/Senior Management to make sure you are understanding the contract correctly! I think most contracts at this point have a Management Rights statement that allows the employer to be in charge of the conduct of their business as long as it doesn’t violate terms set out in the contract – and I’m sure ‘not hiding employer owned assets’ should easily fall under that.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I’ve never signed a contract that explicitly forbid me from hiding things. And yet, it was understood as an expectation that I would not hide things.

      Her contract probably does specify being at work on time in a customer-facing role, which she is also not doing.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Yes, I work in a union environment, and time and attendance issues are one of the few very clear cut fireable offenses. And, while it may be inappropriate for Sarah to monitor Celia’s teapot processing, it is absolutely within OP’s purview to do so, and to set expectations for processing times and transparency.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Ding! Hold her attendance accountable! We actually have ways to do this in our T&A system that accrue penalties.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yep it sounds like that would be an easy black-and-white point to hold to. Document all the times Celia is late. Follow whatever the requirements are for documentation in the union rules. Do not let Celia use the union as a cudgel against Sarah; consider it your job to keep Sarah out of this (and I do actually agree with the advice above to tell Sarah to back out of dealing with Celia and let you do it for now. Find workarounds that allow Sarah to do good work without interacting with Celia as much as possible; it will help Sarah restore her morale. But you have to actually be taking real action).

    5. ecnaseener*

      It doesn’t sound to me like the contract is really in Celia’s favor, it’s just silent on this topic — presumably because “don’t hide the the inventory” would be an absurd thing to put in a contract!

      What the LW can do is actively manage, instead of taking the least confrontational way out. LW can absolutely insist on inventory not being hidden. It doesn’t have to be about Sarah specifically getting to see it, all staff should be able to see it.

      1. metadata minion*

        And this is the sort of thing where a decent steward is going to say “hey, Celia, this is not ok”, because *Sarah is also a union member* and being in a union does not mean you have a right to make your fellow workers’ lives harder for no reason.

      2. Observer*

        It doesn’t sound to me like the contract is really in Celia’s favor, it’s just silent on this topic — presumably because “don’t hide the the inventory” would be an absurd thing to put in a contract!

        I think that this is a very important point. And it’s really crucial for the OP to keep this in mind.

        What the LW can do is actively manage, instead of taking the least confrontational way out. LW can absolutely insist on inventory not being hidden.

        Exactly. *Someone* needs to see that inventory, and also make sure it gets processed, and processed timely. And Celia is hiding – from everyone.

    6. L*

      I very much doubt the contract is actually in Celia’s favour. In my experience (as someone whose job includes reading and comparing union contracts), most union contracts have a section on management rights that states that whatever is not covered by the contract or otherwise covered by law is up to management’s discretion, and almost certainly includes things like giving other duties as assigned and requiring work to be done in a timely manner and product not to be hidden.

      It does no favours to the union movement to perpetuate the myth that bad workers can never be disciplined or fired if you’re in a union shop. In cases like that, the union is there to make sure the discipline is warranted, is administered fairly, and that the proper procedures (probably outlined in the contract) are followed. Bear in mind also that Sarah is probably a member of the same union as well, in which case, the union has an equal duty to represent each of them.

    7. Irish Teacher.*

      The union doesn’t exactly make rules. The union’s power lies in its ability to strike. Yes, if the majority of staff in the union supported Celia and the manager fired her, they could strike in support of her, but…under the circumstances, that doesn’t seem likely.

      And yes, it is possible in some workplaces that there might be an agreement in place between the union and management where the management has agreed to make certain rules about firing people, but I doubt the management would agree to rules that prevented them from firing somebody who is behaving as Celia is (and they would still be the management’s rules, not the union, which is simply the combination of all the employees).

      I also don’t think it would be “going scorched earth to put Celia on a performance plan or similar that made it clear to her she needs to stop hiding items and complete her work in a reasonable time frame or be subject to disciplinary procedures. That sounds fairly reasonable to me.

      It wouldn’t be firing her for being difficult to work for or even being an inefficient worker, though the latter would be sufficient in most workplaces. It would be for being dishonest and deliberately ignoring the LW’s instructions (to use the colour coordinated system, etc). That would generally be grounds for firing and highly unlikely to provoke industrial action in retaliation, which is the only real power a union has.

    8. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I don’t think we can assume that the contract is actually in Celia’s favour. Celia thinks it is. But other managers have told the LW that just because a specific thing is not explicitly mentioned in the contract, then Celia gets to do what she wants. The LW needs to read the contract and talk to HR or someone to get a better understanding of what authority they have.

    9. Observer*

      And given that the contract is in Celia’s favor,

      No it isn’t. Keep in mind, that the fundamental issue is not whether Sarah sees the the new inventory. What *is* the issue – and what the contract pretty clearly DOES spell out, is that Celia needs to be there are a certain time and needs to get certain work done in a specific manner and in a timely fashion. If she did that, then Sarah would not need to see the inventory before it is processed, because all the inventory would be processed quickly enough for Sarah to do her job.

      But Celia is not doing her job, and she is hiding the inventory not just from Sarah but from the OP. Don’t tell me that any contract forbids the OP, as Celia’s manager, from overseeing Celia’s work.

  30. SleepyGirl*

    You’re letting Celia hold the department hostage and you’re teaching her that she can by not interfering and siding with her. Conflict is part of life and management. Most sane, reasonable people do not enjoy it, but it still is part of your duties. You are prioritizing your own comfort over everything else.

  31. Big Pig*

    I have some empathy for Celia, sounds like no one bothered to make sure she was being trained correctly apart from Sarah who might be a rockstar but it doesn’t mean she is a good trainer or necessarily the kind of person you can take new start questions to. People who didn’t get proper management support and training when joining an organisation can get very defensive when they are told they are doing things wrong because they have been muddling through. OP sounds like they are avoiding helping either employee too be honest.

    1. MsM*

      But Celia could still talk to OP about her lack of satisfaction with the training she’s received or why the color-coded system won’t work for her. Instead, she’s just complaining about Sarah being mean and digging in even deeper on a process that’s not working without communicating with anyone about exactly what the problem is.

    2. Juicebox Hero*

      LW says the other employees have all been there 2-10 years, so Celia’s had at least two years to settle into her role and find herself a mentor-type person if she needs one. That one is on whoever hired her and just dumped her on Sarah, not LW.

      I’d guess her messy desk, jumble of papers and teapots and junk and new, and attitude have been problems from the beginning because LW is probably replacing a manager who didn’t manage her effectively either.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Then OP needs to step in and solve that. Not just act like Celia can do whatever she wants for …. reasons.

      Oh and Celia is also consistently late. That’s not a lack of training because being on time when you man the front desk is kinda basic expectation.

      1. Big Pig*

        As someone with ADHD I probably have more empathy than most for cluttered work areas and time issues. I just get a bad feeling about Sarah, wanting to be allowed to reprimand a colleague just feels a bit icky. I am probably wrong but I just don’t feel truly comfortable saying that Celia hasn’t felt like Sarah is making her work life harder all along. Celia definitely isn’t dealing with it well but trying to limit interactions with Sarah and be left alone says to me that there is fear there and I always worry about people who are frightened of a colleague. As I say though, what do I know.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I would bet money that this is an artifact of a longstanding failure of anyone to manage Celia. If the LW and whoever preceded her had handled Celia appropriately, Sarah wouldn’t feel like she had to manage this for them.

          So basically it’s another mess created by bad management. I don’t have to try to manage my coworkers because I know our supervisor will do it; that’s not what’s happening here.

        2. Myrin*

          Oh, Celia has absolutely felt like Sarah is making her work life harder all along, it’s just that it’s her own fault.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          I feel the same way, I’m sure Celia feels that Sarah is so favored that she wants to protect her work that she feels ownership of.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            She didn’t seem to care about ownership of it when she let a new product sit for six months on a shelf in the workroom. It sounds more like she’s mad at being called out for sloppy work and is now behaving spitefully, even though it sounds like there are specific work needs that would make it necessary for Sarah to see the new inventory before they hit shelves.

        4. All Het Up About It*

          I’ve seen several people assume that Sarah wanted to be part of a discipline meeting. And maybe she did. But I could also see it as being Sarah wanted to have a 3 person meeting so there was a clear understanding of expectations and process. If OP has separate meetings, then it’s even easier for Cecilia to say things like “Well that’s not what I was told” and continue to gum up the works.

          It’s impossible to get 100% clear picture of the situation here (especially because despite claiming she’s a Rockstar, the OP is clearly irritated with Sarah) – but having a meeting where expectations for how the back of the house and the front of the house are going to work together isn’t automatically a red flag.

          1. MsM*

            Yeah, that’s also how I read it. I don’t think there’s any evidence Sarah wants Celia punished: she just wants to know what’s happening with the darn teapots on a predictable timeframe, not “whenever Celia decides she’s ready to provide an update,” which is all either Celia or OP have to offer her at the moment.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              That’s how I read it, too. More of a meeting to clear the air and come to a common understanding about expectations. In some organizations, it certainly could be seen as overstepping to want to be in that meeting, rather than the LW and Celia talking separately. In others, it would make sense as an opportunity for collaboration. Regardless, I didn’t get the sense that Sarah wanted to be there to punish Celia. Just to be heard and to help resolve the situation.

          2. Saturday*

            I agree – people are saying Sarah wanted to reprimand Celia, but I read it as Sarah wanted to get everyone together to set expectations about how they will work together. And yes, Celia’s way of working needs to change – stuff needs to be processed more quickly, and things can’t be stashed away and forgotten — but that doesn’t mean that the point of the meeting was to reprimand her.

        5. Jaybeetee*

          You have a point about Sarah wanting to be involved in conversations about Celia’s work performance when Sarah is not Celia’s boss. And with that, Celia might well feel like Sarah has started breathing down her neck, warranted or not, and one thing I’ll side with Celia on, is if someone suggested a meeting like that *to me*, I’d want union back-up too.

          If it’s a training issue on Celia’s end that she’s now dealing with defensively (and badly), the disciplinary process can root that out. She needs to be warned, then PIPed. She needs concrete performance metrics that she can meet or not meet. She needs training on processes she’s been doing incorrectly. If she fails the PIP, you know what to do.

          People are being rightfully hard on LW, but where I do have sympathy for LW is that she sounds like a new manager who has inherited a team that wasn’t managed properly to begin with, allowing these problems to fester – and LW’s own confusion on how to handle this issue suggests the lack of training is systemic. Sarah isn’t Celia’s boss, but was pulled into training Celia on top of her own work, and now Sarah’s work is impacted by Celia’s errors. Sarah’s frustration is very understandable, but she *does* need to get pulled out of that chain of command if she wasn’t supposed to be in it in the first place.

          LW has to deal with Celia’s work issues, not Sarah. Sarah can provide input on ways her work is impacted, but she shouldn’t be part of disciplinary conversations. If a “mediation” conversation is going to consist of both LW and Sarah reprimanding Celia, Celia is correct to bring in a union rep.

          Boundaries seem to have gotten blurred on this team before LW showed up, but she’ll have to cut the knot here. Deal with Celia using whatever processes you have. Check in with Sarah about whether there are ongoing issues. Don’t let Sarah participate in disciplining Celia.

          1. Starbuck*

            I don’t think Sarah wants any involvement in ‘disciplining’ Celia; she doesn’t want to be at the union meeting after all, and wasn’t the one who suggested it – Celia did that. It sounds like all she’s doing is bringing up the still unresolved issues impacting her work to her manager.

            I don’t really see any part where Sarah should have acted differently; it sounds like Celia is insecure and embarrassed about it being clear to others that she’s not doing her job well, and she’s trying to deflect that onto Sarah as an interpersonal issue when it’s really a performance issue.

        6. Tea Monk*

          Yea I certainly think the manager should be in charge of controlling this. If two workers have bad blood, having one reprimand the other even if one has a messy work space and is bad at tea pots is going to create more issues

          1. Starbuck*

            But where do you see Sarah reprimanding Celia, or even asking to? That’s not in the letter at all. Sarah is just asking the manager for the timeliness she needs to do her own job well.

            1. Starbuck*

              Oh nevermind, I was thinking only of the union meeting that Celia requested, not the other meeting that Sarah asked for. Still, I understand why she’d want to try to fix things since the manager doesn’t seem to be bothered to…

        7. Starbuck*

          As someone else with ADHD – Celia has got to ask for the help she needs or figure out a better system, or this job may not work for her. The manager needs to help her by giving clear expectations and deadlines, and not allowing slack where it isn’t acceptable (like being late in a front desk position). I have sympathy for Celia if she didn’t get good training when she started, but it seems like Sarah is handling things the right way by routing her complaints about how Celia’s underperformance is making her job harder to the manager.

          What do you think Sarah should be doing differently?

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      It sounds like Celia started off poorly because the previous manager didn’t see to her training. And now the way she can exert control is to hide things. Like, I understand the psychology in that–upthread mentioned hiding things as typical of people trying to make themselves indispensable–but it’s not something that should be coddled.

    5. Sloanicota*

      Ha ha I do slightly feel like this board is going to be 100% full of Sarah’s explaining why they’re great and why Celia should be burned in effigy. It’s possible OP has their finger on something about Sarah’s peer management that they’re not quite able to articulate. High achievers can be bad trainers and not always good coworkers, and OP might have to moderate that to get good performance from Sarah without letting her terrorize all the other staff / take on authority she doesn’t have / run off anybody else from the department. But that still requires OP to be active in their management of Celia and the whole program. If they’ve been guilty of sitting back and let Sarah run wild, this may be those chickens coming home to roost.

      1. Adds*

        Yeah, I was very very sympathetic to Sarah until I read this:

        “Sarah then sent me an email begging me to conduct a three-person meeting where she and I clearly lay out processing expectations for Celia.”

        My big hang-up being the “she and I” part where it comes to managing Sarah’s coworker. Sarah, girl, you are NOT the manager. I get that you feel like you have to manage the situation but it’s not your job, and that’s a huge overstep. If I were Celia I’d be pissed that my coworker, who is not in charge of making policy about me, is trying to make policy about me. I mean Celia is screwing the pooch here big time, 100%, without a doubt, but it doesn’t sound like she’s the only problem in this relationship.

        1. gmg22*

          Totally agree. What I see here is a cascading management failure. Celia was poorly onboarded and managed from the get-go. Sarah has been made to think she has to manage Celia in practice when in reality that is LW’s job. And of course now LW is stuck cleaning up a mess not of their own making. But no one else is going to do it, and LW is the manager.

          1. Bast*

            I read this as, “Sarah is tired of picking with Celia’s slack with no help from management. Sarah is trying to have a meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page, as Celia’s slacking has a negative impact on Sarah’s work, and everyone in this situation seems to have different ideas about what is acceptable.” I also disagree — in part– with this not being in LW’s control. Perhaps the stage was set wrong from the beginning, but LW has been refusing to properly address the problem, and the snowball continues to roll down the hill, gathering speed and size as it goes. LW’s refusal to confront and manage the situation, and thereby, exacerbating it, is indeed a mess of their own creation.

        2. londonedit*

          What else is Sarah supposed to do, though? She’s spoken to her boss (the OP) about Celia, OP has seemingly done nothing, so I’m not surprised Sarah has asked for a meeting where everything can be properly thrashed out and Celia can be asked to use the proper processes. I don’t think Sarah is trying to be the boss or trying to manage Celia, she’s just trying to remove the obstacles that are preventing her from being able to do her job.

          1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            Sarah could drop the rope. It would be easier for her, force OP to step up, remove Celia’s ability to claim persecution, and unless commission is a significant fraction of Sarah’s pay there’s no downside.

  32. Booster Seat*

    Sarah has, understandably, given up on you as a manager. And if she is as good as you say she is, she’s already job hunting. It is going to be really hard to rescue this situation at this point, because you have been avoidant and ineffectual for so long that whatever you do will seem questionable. Sarah will not be quick to trust you to handle things reasonably. But if you want to keep your excellent employee and start to be an adequate manager, you need to act now. No more delays. You need to figure out your plan and execute it now.

  33. ENFP in Texas*

    Moving beyond the “she hides the teapots because it’s not in her contract that she can’t” insanity, I have to wonder what her contract says about punctuality.

    “She’s always 5-10 minutes late for work”

    Seems to me that would be a contract violation…

    OP – you need to deal with Celia’s issues. Retrain her in proper procedures if necessary (by someone OTHER than Sarah), and be sure Sarah is aware that you realize Celia’s work has not been up to par and you are taking actions to correct that.

    1. Morgan Proctor*

      I also wonder what “contract” means in this context. Is this outside the US, and this is an employment contract? Or is LW talking about the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement? Because the CBA does not cover that kind of thing, and even unionized employees can have their job duties shifted within reason.

  34. Person from the Resume*

    Celia is always 5-10 minutes late for work, even though she mans our customer service desk first thing in the morning.

    It’s past pime to fire Celia for an obvious and concrete issue.

    Also LW, you are a terrible manager. The fact that you “don’t really like drama or confrontation” is no excuse. A part of a managers job is to deliver negative feedback, have difficult conversations, and put people on PIP, or fire them. Those are not drama; those are job duties of a manager. And, yes, it may involve confrontation if the person you are delivering the news to disagrees with you or doesn’t take it well. If you are unwilling to go into a possible discussion that could maybe be considered a “confrontation”, it is your responsibility to resign as a manager.

    And actually (1) you need to force Celia to work in a way she’s uncomfortable with like being on time for work and not 10-15 minutes late everyday and being a team player (2) there are some situations where you cannot obtain consensus and you do have to wield your management powers to make Celia be on time and work collaboratively with the rest of the team or you have to fire her.

  35. Morgan Proctor*

    Anytime a woman in the workplace has a legitimate problem with anything, it’s “drama.”

    I also want to remind managers everywhere that when a unionized employee requests a steward in a meeting, you do NOT have the option to say no. You are legally required to allow that steward in the meeting.

    1. Union Rep*

      Plenty of companies with long-standing union contracts routinely deny representation. But that’s fine, that just means they have to pay a $1000/hr lawyer to explain why it was actually fine and lose to the union’s $350/hr lawyer and my $40/hr ass.

  36. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t think this is that uncommon for a new manager – I had a situation just like this when I was first managing. You want to believe that professionals can work these things out on their own and you can avoid direct confrontation, but sometimes it’s just not the case. In my example, my own boss had to give me a talk about , some of the unpleasant tasks you have to do as a manager, confrontation is part of it, etc..

    1. Awkwardness*

      I want to give OP the benefit of the doubt too. It seems they are quite insecure und thus try to work out the situation in sticking to the letter of written procedures instead of adressing the conflict. Good for them to ask for advice!

      I think Sarah is overstepping a bit. It would be good for her daily work and beneficial for the business if she could see new inventory, but she has no right to request it. But Celia still is in the wrong. She cannot hide items to avoid accountability. Also, asking for timely processing of new items is neither micromanagement nor bullying and this should be made clear.

  37. Casual Observer*

    Years ago I worked with a Celia in a kitchen store. She was a cashier who did things how she wanted to do them and would get upset if anyone questioned her or tried to correct her. Management had given up on talking to her because she’d react emotionally and created more drama than they wanted to deal with. This made the rest of the cashiers upset because not only was she a pain to deal with, but her way of doing tasks often created more work for the other cashiers. They also became bitter over the fact that they would get reprimanded for any slight changes to procedure but Celia was allowed to essentially do whatever she wanted due to managements’ fear of her outbursts. Three cashiers quit, the rest just kept their heads down and complained in private.

    Eventually Celia did something completely outrageous that management could no longer ignore. She had been scheduled to work a private event at the store that the owner had paid a lot of money to host. A famous British chef was doing a cookbook signing and cooking demo at the store, so all staff were expected to help out in various roles. Celia didn’t like the role she was given, so she sat in the break room and refused to work unless she was given the job of famous chef’s assistant. Management flat out refused because the store owner was the chef’s assistant. This caused Celia to start swearing and throwing things, and then stormed out of the event, creating a scene in front of customers and the chef. The next day she came into work like nothing happened, so management sat her down to explain she could no longer work there. That was the last any of us saw her, and I can say the cashiers were a much happier group of people after Celia’s departure.

    OP, if you don’t want to lose Sarah, you need to deal with Celia pronto.

      1. Casual Observer*

        It wasn’t, though I wish it would have been because I would have loved to see the expression on his face when everything went down.

        1. Juicebox Hero*

          Or, if she’d gotten her way and got to be his assistant, watch the fireworks when their tempers both blew up at once. It would have gone viral.

  38. Donkey Hotey*

    At my last job, I was Sarah and my manager did everything possible to coddle and encourage Cecilia.

    I was going to write a big, long reply, but I realized that this sentence says it all.

    1. StrayMom*

      Same. I left that job shortly after their “Cecilia” came on board, but when I was asked to do some consulting work for the firm afterward, I heard from reliable sources that “Cecilia” was usually missing in action. Oh well. They’re now paying me twice my hourly rate to pick up the slack, while they pay her to, IDK, watch cat videos all day?

    2. asturdysoul*

      I was also a Sarah dealing with a Celia, but I made the mistake of complaining about it in a Slack DM to another coworker. Celia saw it on a communal computer that my coworker was logged into and complained to our boss.
      My confrontation-hating boss didn’t want to touch Celia’s poor work habits with a 10-foot pole, and instead opted to pretend like the easier route of scolding me “don’t talk smack about your coworkers on Slack” was a reasonable solution to the problem.
      Meanwhile, Celia’s telling other coworkers that I bullied her and suggesting that I probably do the same thing to them behind their backs, which leads one of them to ice me out when we previously had no issues at all. I quit a couple of months later.

    3. Bast*

      I have also been a Sarah, but a mid-level manager Sarah attempting to manage a Celia where upper management had a “hands off, we don’t fire people” approach. I left, and eventually, they did fire the Celia, but it took years.

  39. ILoveMyManager*

    Smacks of victim-blaming and DARVO.
    Sarah is getting nothing but accusations of bullying for raising reasonable issues. Celia is getting union support for doing her job poorly.

    Q: setting aside “avoiding drama”, what outcome do you really want? Do you want the teapots processed accurately aad promptly? Do you want forms completed in a timely manner? Do you want customers to be able to find the teapots they want so they can take them home – which should be a priority imo?

    Your current approach won’t get those results, I’m afraid.
    LW think you need to dig deep to get past your own discomfort, and support your strong employee fairly.

  40. Emmy*

    One of the hardest thing to learn as a new manager is having difficult conversations. But the LW has a laundry list of bad behavior and performance of Celia, and enabling/rewarding the behavior by not taking action.

    LW… YOU are the manager. YOU set the rules. If the items need to be processed in 2-3 days, hold Celia accountable for those metrics. Manage the performance when she is not.

    You are losing Sarah. Your rockstar is being actively blocked from doing her job. She has no more incentive to keep doing what she’s doing. You won’t have a good team if you treat them like this.

    As a manager, you must recognize that you cannot always make all your employees happy. You have to manage the business. The business needs teapots immediately after processing. What are you going to do to ensure that happens moving forward?

  41. Anonopotamus*

    I am the Sarah in a very very similar situation. It absolutely sucks. I’ve been trying to get out for over a year now…but it’s complicated for a multiple of reasons.

    I really don’t like that LW is calling this a “personality conflict”. My manager used the same phrase with me, and it was absolutely infuriating, demoralizing, and disheartening. Someone sucking at their job is not a goddamn personality conflict.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Same. I was told that Celia and I ‘had a disagreement’. No: she got mad that my performance ratings were that much higher than hers and charged into our boss’s office saying I must have tampered with them. I had not, but the boss decided to listen to her and I got a rubbish email about the accusation. I left in less than a year.

    2. L. Miller*

      It seems like if a manager can call it a “personality conflict” it somehow absolves them from dealing with it.
      And it the. falls back on the person who’s reaching out to their manager for help.
      If that person could’ve solved the issue themselves, I’m sure they would’ve.

    1. Awlbiste*

      As a librarian, this was my immediate thought. Libraries are founded on managers who end up being managers but are afraid of confrontation, it seems to be what the field attracts. There’s little to no training in management and if you want to make more money, you end up having to manage (mostly, at least in the US).

      The library world is full of Sarahs who just gave up because the Celias get away with everything. LW, if this is a library, those teapots need to get on shelves otherwise your entire reason for existing is languishing on Celia’s desk. Teapots (again, if US) that your taxpayers paid for.

      1. cso*

        Absolutely 100%. I left libraries for this exact reason. I kept running into Celias and managers who did nothing about them. I noticed the common thread of management issues, and decided to get out.
        If this is a library, I totally agree that those teapots need to be processed and get on the shelves ASAP – or OP is going to have some serious explaining to do.

      2. ManagementNot4Me*

        As a former library dept manager, you are correct, and it’s why I left management!

      3. Kevin*

        Sarah is frustrated because you’ve allowed this to continue and been cornered with bad faith logic by Celia. Sarah doesn’t believe you are credibly ‘working on it.’ She thinks it’s a sweep under the rug. OP seems to be taking the path of least resistance and losing a good employee in Sarah and not coaching Celia appropriately to improve her work. OP now has the worst of both. Put Celia on a performance improvement plan (PIP) which should include her attendance problem. It’s affecting customers and other employees. She either improves or you should change her duties or work on whatever termination track your contract allows.

    2. ThreeSeagrass*

      Yes, was coming here to say this. Sounds like either a library or a small bookstore. But my bet would be on library. These dynamics are too familiar.

    3. IllyriaShaw*

      The program part led me to think library. Also whatever the product is easily covered by papers and I kept forgetting teapots was a fill in and could not picture hiding teapots under papers.

    4. AvocadoQueen*

      If it is, or even if it’s any sort of retail, the hiding new books/items sticks out as bizarre. When a new box of books would come in at my past jobs, the whole department would gather around to see what was there and geek out about it. It was similar at retail jobs. And if the problem employee is cataloging, being able to be quick and accurate is basically the job description. Leaving things for months that should take day is awful. Library jobs are in short supply—you can find another person to do this job who’s a lot more efficient!

    5. Dovasary Balitang*

      I find this speculation a bit disrespectful. LW explicitly said they were couching their work in tea-related euphemisms for anonymity.

      1. Double A*

        I dunno, from the amount of people for whom this is familiar, it sounds like the LW could have said it was a library and it wouldn’t have narrowed down which specific library.

      2. JSPA*

        could equally be a museum, archive, historical site… not sure how many libraries are unionized, for that matter.

    6. Lolly*

      Came here to say the same thing! Absolute library energy from this, from the person with the desk so messy they’re losing books, to the manager unwilling to manage, to the star employee stepping up for presumably no additional pay or title bump.

      LW I highly recommend you reflect on the feedback here and really work to take it on board. Your job is not to just smooth things over for yourself at all costs, it’s to actually get the work done effectively through the people you manage.

      Libraries so often have wildly different standards of work for different people because managers are unwilling to actually manage, or simply don’t know how and don’t know that they don’t know that. So, ask yourself, what is a reasonable way of approaching Celia and Sarah’s jobs? If you had to write out their job descriptions to advertise hiring new people in their roles, would you include that the person in Celia’s role should make sure they hide the new material while it is processed? I’ll guess no, because that’s not reasonable for the job in general, you just think it’s reasonable for Celia to do that because it’s one step better than what she was doing before.

    7. Sara without an H*

      Retired librarian here, and I agree with Bitsy. Everything from a manager who doesn’t like “confrontation” to the over-investment in a problematic employee’s feelings screams “library.”

  42. trust me I'm a PhD*

    One thing that caught my attention is that OP says they want to manage via consensus, not force –– but by turning down Sarah’s request for a three-person meeting, OP & Sarah & Celia, OP actually missed a chance for consensus. Would the meeting have been uncomfy? Sure. But that’s how you get to consensus, or whatever consensus you’re able to get to in a situation like this –– you meet and talk. Instead, OP met privately with Celia, which effectively shut Sarah out of the loop.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Eh, someone commented above that this may have been appropriate. If the meeting was meant to be a “mediation” type situation between employees, that would be one thing. But if it’s meant to be a disciplinary meeting for Celia, Sarah shouldn’t be involved with that, and on that one thing I would side with Celia for balking at it (or wanting her own back-up with a union steward).

      There seems to be a larger issue here where Sarah is not, and has never been, Celia’s boss, but has been sort of pushed into this position where she was responsible for training Celia, and her own work is impacted by Celia’s errors. People are being rightfully a bit harsh with LW here, but I get the impression LW is a new manager who has inherited a dysfunctional team that the previous manager… never managed. And now the issues have gone on for months/years and are all the more entrenched. But if the issue is Celia’s errors, that’s squarely on the LW to deal with, and she can do that with input from Sarah regarding how her own work is getting affected, but Sarah should not be part of those conversations herself.

      1. Union Rep*

        Yep, having 3-way “consensus” meeting all about how one employee’s work wasn’t up to the other’s standards and has to improve when they’re at the same rank would have been way out of line. OP is lucky this didn’t come together, because I think this would have actually upset the union much more than if OP starts the documentation and discipline process with Celia independently.

    2. My Useless 2 Cents*

      OP did the right thing. Sarah didn’t need to be in the meeting and was overstepping. In spite of the past, Sarah is not Celia’s current trainer, supervisor or manager.

  43. Wintermute*

    this is all good advice but I would go further.

    You need to apologize and be up front if you want ANY chance to salvage this, and possibly your job with it because I’ll be honest if I was upper-level management and found out this went on, I would demote the manager effective immediately and re-evaluate if I should keep them employed at all, because they risked destroying a store by chasing off the people who get sales in favor of bad employees, that is risking MY money and career. a new manager might get mentorship and advice but I would legitimately worry this shows such a fundamental misunderstanding of what a manager is it’s a big deal.

    I would own up to this, take your high performers who were affected, including people not complaining right now if applicable and get your crow-eating bib out. Admit you dealt with this badly, you were irresponsible and you understand if they are trying to quit but you want a chance to turn things around before they leave.

    You don’t need to go overboard but you need to hit these points: 1) You’re new and made a lapse in judgement this will not be “business as usual” 2) you apologize for making them feel that being a dedicated employee was not respected. 3) you will make sure work distribution is equitable and everyone contributes fairly 4) you’re open to future feedback and hope your reaction in the moment this time did not sour them on ever giving you feedback again, and you commit to listen more openly and do right by them.

    IF you are lucky they won’t quit and take all your sales with them resulting in your store possibly closing.

  44. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, spell it out for you.
    Celia is the broken stair.
    Every time you step around that broken stair, you step harder on a functional stair.
    Sarah is consistently that functional stair.
    You can keep stepping around Celia and onto Sarah.
    Or you can fix the broken stair treat Celia like she is not a broken stair, hold her to the same standards as her peers and respond appropriately if she chooses not to follow the business standards (written or tacit).
    Your choice.

  45. Kelly*

    I understand that as a manager you can’t ask question about an employees diagnosis. However, Celia sound a lot like my daughter who is neurodivergent. My daughter has ADHD which causes executive functioning issues. You might read about Executive functioning issues so you could provide better training for Celia. Clues for me were being late, messy desk, disorganized etc. I know this is a side issue but thought it might help you.

    1. Wintermute*

      the way you do this though is by doing what was advised: tell someone they will be held accountable to performance and expect them to be an adult and work out coping mechanisms or if they cannot come to you asking for reasonable accommodations.

      1. tinybutfierce*

        This. I have ADHD that has negatively impacted my work in the past to varying degrees, both before and after getting a diagnosis and treatment; outside of any reasonable accommodations, it’s on me to manage that and be able to perform what my job requires of me.

        1. Wintermute*

          Same here, and while I appreciate that people want to be more sensitive these days to special needs, attempts to pro-actively do so often results in worse than doing nothing at all because they result in people indulging in stereotype and guessing based on wildly inaccurate pop-psych portrayals of disorders.

    2. geek5508*

      We are not supposed to armchair diagnose, and in any event, Celia has not asked for any type of medical accommodation

    3. Observer*

      You might read about Executive functioning issues so you could provide better training for Celia

      Nope. For a lot of reasons.

      The two most general are that it’s not appropriate for the manager to try to diagnose and then essentially try to impose treatment / management options on a person. The second is that even if the LW knew for certain that ADHD was the issue, it still does not really give the OP the kind of information, much less standing, to design training around it because even if it’s executive function issues, there are too many other variables at play. Again, Celia would have to provide a lot ore information for it to be helpful.

    4. ThatOtherClare*

      A colour-coded priority system seems like a pretty good start to me. I suspect that if the letter writer came up with that, they’re not exactly short on ADHD-friendly training ideas and systems. The job might just not be suitable for Celia, even with plenty of scaffolding. Not every job is suitable for every person, and there’s no shame in that. It’s kinder to Celia to make sure she’s in a job where she excels and feels valued, rather than to force her to stay in one in which she’s always struggling to keep up and she feels like a lead weight.

      This whole issue is caused by wider problems in society. If Celia could safely leave this stress and look for the role where she felt she could contribute the most, she probably would.

    5. BTDT*

      it doesn’t matter if Celia has some kind of diagnosis. It matters whether she is doing her job. She is not, and OP is minimizing it by calling it a personality conflict.

  46. Busy Middle Manager*

    I was the Sarah and it was so stressful to go through because managements’ stance was “well nothing serious has broken yet, so…” And I loathed the framing as a “personality conflict.” I had that too. How is me staying until 8:00 to fix an error the other person could have prevented if they understood the industry at all us having a “personality conflict?”

    1. Anonopotamus*

      I am currently a Sarah, and the “personality conflict” thing really pisses me off too, because my manager used it on me. Doing the work of two people because someone has not improved in the slightest after over a year in the role, with plenty of training/coaching (including a ton of consideration and flexibility to do that in ways that will work best for Celia) is fucking exhausting.

  47. Marshmallows*

    I don’t have anything to offer for advice, but as someone who has been pretty disappointed in how my manager is handling a poor performer that affects me regularly (attendance issues, not getting stuff done assigned to her, interfering in others’ work, taking credit for others’ work, and then the BEC stuff like repeating what I say while I’m saying it because she absolutely doesn’t know how to listen quietly and wants people to think she’s involved in stuff she’s not) with the argument that “well she was never properly trained so it’s not her fault”. I found this answer a little validating. I’ve been told that “well, if he thinks it’s acceptable behavior and wants to try to “fix” her, then there’s nothing you can do about it”… which is true, but that doesn’t mean to me that I can’t be disappointed in the handling of the situation and match my energy to that. I have stopped giving feedback about her because every time I do (even when I try to be as neutral as possible, “this behavior is affecting my work in this specific way”), because it seemed to just be hurting my relationship with my boss because he feels I’m being unreasonable. So yeah, message received and I pretty much hate it here. And side note… I can and have done her job, she cannot do mine.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, I’m really confused how OP expects Sarah to be reacting to the constant assurances of “I’m working on it” with no evidence that “working on it” entails anything but continuing to work around Celia. Hoping you find a better situation soon, and that OP figures this out before it’s too late (assuming it isn’t already).

    2. Yellow Rose*

      Do we work for the same boss, Marshmallows? I am sorry we are both in the same boat.

      My direct Supervisor is technically brilliant in resolving the new ERP system that we recently rolled out. I’ve spent countless hours cleaning up messes one or two team mates constantly make, both procedurally (affects inventories, accounting, invoicing) and most importantly, customer retention. I use to point issues out to the boss and was told she can’t make Broken Stair do their job correctly. WTAF? This boss was recently given a promotion and now has three other departments to manage.

      I started going directly to my peer, couching it as a heads up that this is not documented and I need to know where you left off with this issue; what was the issue and the resolution, or this is the third day in a row Mr. Babcock has called asking directly for you and he is upset. Please call them, unless you want me to. Or the refund they’ve issued did not make it to the customer’s account and the customer is upset, did it get processed?

      Broken Stair complained (today, in fact), now I’ve been told to bring all issues with the broken stairs to her, it is not my place to bring these issues to a peer. Now I have a rep of being a tattle-tale because Boss does not want to deal with the situation.

      I’m not sure Boss understands my motivation is not to get anyone in trouble but to address procedures and other issues in our weekly huddle on how do do X, improve customer experience and metrics and smooth interface with teapot fulfillment. All of which affects the company’s bottom line. Not my circus, I guess.

      My last contact of the day was from Mr. Babcock again, calling for Broken Stair; when told Stair is off on Mondays, the customer demanded the manager of our department.

      I operate in CYA mode now, which is exhausting; snipping and screen capping Teams and Emails for just such a time I may need to negotiate severance.

      I’m torn between keeping on keeping on, or resigning myself to the lackadaisical laissez faire to ride this out until I get sacked or the company shuts it’s doors (which is a distinct possibility with the way things are going company wide). Which is another can of worms, having been told by ‘Lazy Fair’ boss to quit taking ownership of things I work on.

      Every morning I log in, the thought as I punch the clock is ‘will this be the day I rage quit, or do I want to stay and watch this train wreck?’ My biggest shortcoming is I care too much.

  48. Magenta Sky*

    How many times have we seen this letter from Sarah’s perspective?

    And how many times has there been an update that ends with “But my new job is fantastic!”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I was just thinking this same thing. Sarah is a rock star. She can get a job anywhere, and then you’ll be stuck with Celia.

  49. Choggy*

    I have worked with probably one of the worst employees in the company, nothing has been done about them, I am completely demoralized, and it shows. So glad I’m retiring this year.

  50. Specks*

    OP, I want to put it bluntly for you. Sarah has two problems: a bad coworker and a bad boss. Thankfully, you can fix one of those before you lose your star employee.

    Sarah caught Celia not doing her job to the standard. To make it clear, catching that and ensuring that didn’t happen was your job, and you completely dropped the ball. She did you a big favor. In response, Celia not only didn’t start actually doing her job properly, but she started hiding the evidence… and you let her! So not only are you 1) not catching it when your employees don’t do their work, but also 2) are actively letting them get away with it when someone does catch it for you. And then when Sarah tries to do your job herself, because you won’t do it and she cares about it getting done right, you call it drama and place the blame on her. Of course Sarah feels like you’re more invested in covering up Celia’s mistakes and your own than keeping the library – sorry, tea shop – running well.

    So, what do you do? You go back to the beginning. You tell Celia that given her past inability to complete the job on time, it’s full transparency from now on, and you’ll be the one checking her performance daily. Make all the expectations clear to her: books go out in X days within receipt, other duties are to be done so-and-so. Then you set up systems to ensure she puts those books out in 2-3 days and make it clear that it’s a performance problem you’ll be logging if she doesn’t. You check up on the rest of her work that she’s likely not doing well either. And then you tell Sarah that all books will be out within 3 days and she can find the list or the books at X location. And you apologize for how you handled the situation.

    When you go to the union meeting, you bring data on how Celia is not doing her job and how she’s resisting attempts to hold her to reasonable standards. If you can get rid of Celia, great. If you can’t, you actually do your job and manage her.

    Chances are, you’ve lost Sarah anyway. But you can at least try all of this and maybe be a better manager by the time another issue comes up.

    1. Specks*

      Oh, and make the expectations of being on time for the desk clear. And log when she’s late.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “Sarah caught Celia not doing her job to the standard.”
      Louder for the manager’s in the back.
      to “THE standard” not to “Sarah’s own standard.”
      This is not a personality conflict.
      This is an employee bringing you a work issue to her manager and asking you to manage it.
      This is you throwing up your hands and unironically asking why Sarah looks so disappointed when you did in fact listen and respond to her concerns.

  51. Frustratedfromthesidelines*

    My husband is dealing with a purchasing manager who is habitually 3 weeks late in ordering or listing products for the business. I have no idea why the person’s manager (the company president) puts up with this and is afraid to set or enforce performance – and as far as I am concerned, that is the REAL problem.

    Needless to say, my husband is looking for another role. The only thing really keeping him on is that his role is more interesting and broad than anything else he can find elsewhere. (Note this means he does the work of 3 people for the salary of 1.)

    1. Magenta Sky*

      A long term bad coworker is never the only, or even the biggest, problem. The boss who refuses to deal with it is.

  52. ENFP in Texas*

    “She seems deflated and all because I didn’t make Celia show her the new teapots we’re receiving.”

    The fact that OP seems to think this is he only reason why Sarah is upset really makes me feel like OP needs to re-evaluate their ability to be a manager.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yeah, I don’t think Sarah wants to see the damn teapots!
      I think Sarah wants OP to be aware that new teapots came in, Celia has a plan to process them, Celia processes them and moves on to the next thing.
      She is not upset that she is not now managing Celia’s workload, it’s that OP is not now managing OP’s workload.
      You missed the point on this one, OP.
      I know people are jumping on you here, myself included, but you are not seeing the problem is not between Sarah and Celia. It is between you and Sarah. It always has been. She brought you a problem. You put it back on her.

  53. BellyButton*

    OP., you need to reframe your thinking in a couple of areas. Directing an employee to change their process is not “drama” or “conflict” it is management.

    Sarah may not need to see the inventory as it comes in, however, by seeing it she is better at her job, she is assisting your customers better and more efficiently. By prohibiting those two things you are either not meeting the needs of your customers if this is a library (like many of us suspect) or if this is a sales position, then you are ultimately jeopardizing your profits, Sarah’s success, and possibly her income if it is commission based.

    The conversation you need to have with Celia is about how her behavior is negatively impacting the entire team and your customers. It takes everyone, front line staff and support staff ,to be successful and right now her decisions/processes aren’t what is best for anyone. Processing new inventory in the the open isn’t about oversight or micromanaging, it is about being transparent about the inventory and the workload. You, as the manager, need to know what and how much is coming in so you can evaluate the workload for Celia and the others who process it. You also need to be aware of what is in so that you can support the front line staff with their knowledge of the inventory and possibly any customers you may need to help.

    You and Celia both need to reframe how you are looking at this situation. As the manager it is your job to help Celia see the bigger picture, but right now you aren’t seeing the bigger picture.

    1. Dr. Doll*

      Can we stipulate that this manager is NEW and is seeking HELP, so we can lay off the snark. She does not deserve to be spoken to like this.

  54. TotesMaGoats*

    OP-You are rightly hearing a lot of negative feedback on your decisions. Sarah likely has one foot out the door. I’d be pushing her to put two feet out the door. You can manage and discipline employees even when they are in a union. Management might not be your cup of tea but you are in it and this is not how to handle it.

  55. Falling Diphthong*

    Just saying: I have not signed a contract that prevents me from slipping into every commenter’s workplace and hiding their stuff.

    So by the measure of things that are not specified in the contract, expect to never figure out where I hid those llama grooming brushes, teapot lids, and antimacassars.

  56. Workerbee*

    OP, it would be worth examining why you are okay with Celia hiding work (!!) and then not even getting around to it for weeks, AND why you consider Sarah as the bigger issue.

    Sarah is not causing problems for you or at you. Sarah is a high-performing employee being sh*t on by Celia, who is also hiding behind alleged union rules.

    It makes me think you’ve been too long in other environments where people harsh on/freeze out the person protesting being treated poorly rather than doing something about the person being the a**hole.

    Regardless: Celia is CHOOSING to behave the way she is. She is not accidentally carrying teapots to a distant shelf and hiding them. She’s also hiding BEHIND as many loopholes as she can find so she can continue to choose to be a terrible employee.

    The question is, are you going to continue to CHOOSE to hide as well? Do you want to find, when you poke your head back up out of the sand, that something you could have prevented has happened and left you off much worse?

  57. Elle*

    Addressing conflict and having difficult conversations are the most important things managers need to do. It does not come naturally to most of us and we need constant support and training to do so. Another thing I’ve needed to learn is to not dismiss complaints. What I see as a minor situation I need to take it as seriously as the person bringing it to me so it doesn’t blow up.

  58. I should really pick a name*

    Sarah had recently discovered a new teapot hidden on a workroom shelf for six months that Celia had forgotten about.

    Regardless of if Sarah specifically gets to see the new teapots, this is a HUGE argument against allowing Celia to hide them.

    1. Dinwar*

      The liability on this could be HUGE. If I keep sample bottles with preservative in them onsite for six months they can become hazardous waste. Same thing with batteries–they have to be stored correctly or they become hazardous waste. Certain lightbulbs also do this. This is “Millions of dollars in fines and jail time” levels of bad.

  59. Camellia*

    “I also told Sarah that I’m going to honor Celia’s union meeting request, and together we’ll work it all out.” Yeah, that always works out so well.

    I had a co-worker once that decided to hate me because her ex-husband bought the house next door to me and my husband, after their divorce. She started doing things like refusing to give me project updates and other stuff. It got so bad that our manager finally decided to have “that meeting”.

    Except when we all three were in the room he stood up, said, “You can work this out together”, and walked out.

    These managers prove the Peter Principle hands down.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      WHAT?!?! Yikes!!! Please finish the story, I need to know, what did you do in response?!?

      1. Camellia*

        We just sort of looked at each other for a few minutes, then went back to our desks. Not long after that I was moved to a new team, for which I was glad.

        I did have other people comment to me that she was just like that; one example was that she had gotten mad because someone was talking about getting a new car and this woman suggested a particular make and model, then got mad that the person bought a different one. So just another ‘missing stair’.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          combined with “drama llama”
          The missing stair can be a self contained problem. Don’t disturb her, work around her, it’s fine. The combo drama stair, well, that’s a special little space of hell!
          “I demand this!”
          “I demand other person do that!”
          um, well…
          “Hey, other person, do me a solid and make ridiculous concession so low producing employee won’t bother me anymore. Thanks.”

      2. Camellia*

        We just sat and looked at each other for a few minutes, then went back to our desks. I was moved to a new team a couple months later.

        I did have people tell me that she was bananapants overall. One example, someone was going to buy a new car and this woman suggested a particular make and model, then got mad when the person bought something else.

        So just another case of a ‘missing stair’.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This reminds me of the letter recently from the manager whose female employee was hit on by a man a conference. The solution in following years was to keep her from being around him. Great. She just wouldn’t go to conferences that he was attending. His company offered mediation. Alison stated clearly that this wasn’t a mediation issue. Female employee did nothing wrong, does not need to compromise and wrongly forced to compromise this long.
      You did nothing wrong. There was no compromise to made. Sarah did nothing wrong. There is no compromise to made. She isn’t even asking to manage Celia’s work. She’s just asking manager to manage.

      And yes, please. What happened?

  60. JelloStapler*

    This is what makes good people leave when a boss expends more energy to protect a bad employee because they don’t want to deal with it and then heaps more stress on the good employee or slaps their hand for pointing out issues.

  61. a giant ant*

    I might be reading too much into this, but as a former library worker it immediately jumped out to me that Cecilia is delaying processing of the new releases so that she can have time to read the ones she is interested in, and Sarah wants to see them when they come in so that she can put together a timeline of “I saw these books on 3/4 and they didn’t get processed until 3/18 but Cecilia’s Goodreads shows that she finished this on 3/11”.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      I am also in libraries and think this could plausibly be in a library setting. If you are right, Giant Ant, and Cecilia is indeed delaying so she can read the new releases, that is a HUGE problem. (I assumed she was just slow and wanted to hide that; I’ve certainly seen that before.) Many libraries now have ways for library users to request an item as soon as it’s ordered, so popular books already have a waiting list. Cecilia can certainly get on it herself, but she cannot be allowed circumvent the process.

      OP, if you are indeed in libraries, Cecilia is causing a fundamental problem in how your library works.

  62. Catch and Release Isn’t for the Workplace*

    By not doing what’s in her job description (arriving on time, performing to a certain standard, working relatively efficiently), Celia really has lost the freedom to point to anything as “not in her job description.” Of course people, including Sarah, are going to ask for more input and knowledge over Celia’s processes when they can’t trust that Celia is actually going to get her work done well (or early) enough for them to do theirs properly.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*


      Having regular check-ins with a manager every day wouldn’t be in a typical job description, but it could be something that a manager requires when someone is put on a PIP.

      Also, I’m positive the job description has some line about “and other duties as assigned”?!

  63. Margaret Cavendish*

    OP, you say you don’t like confrontation – I would reframe that as “difficult conversations” in a work context, but the principle is the same. By avoiding the difficult conversation with Celia, you’ve forced yourself into a difficult conversation with Sarah! And it will lead to other difficult conversations – the union meeting for sure is not going to be easy. You may also end up having difficult conversations with your customers, your boss, or even her boss, depending on how this all shakes down. So the conflict is inevitable at this point – the question is not how you can avoid it, but which one makes most sense for the business?

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      Also, given that the union is involved, I hope your manager is involved as well! This sounds like it’s literally above your pay grade at this point, and you definitely should not be navigating this on your own. Good luck!

      1. Boof*

        Yes, with the union involved I think the LW should clearly document what Celia’s duties are, run them past the union rep, and document every time Celia does not meet them. Maybe Celia will shape up with clear coaching, or maybe they will move on on their own if they realize they’re not up for the job; or maybe they will try to use the union as a shield for not doing what they need to do. I don’t think Unions appreciate that much either but you do have to be sure to document the issues so it’s clear to them if that’s the case and you’re needing to move on to a PIP or firing.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          and for this union meeting keep Sarah’s name out of it.
          Don’t say Sarah brought it to your attention. Don’t sat Sarah showed me Celia’s workspace. Don’t say, Sarah feels….anything.
          Stick to what Celia is and isn’t doing.

          1. Observer*

            <i.Stick to what Celia is and isn’t doing.

            Yup. The problem is not what Sarah wants, but what Celia is doing and not doing.

            And that includes hiding the inventory.

  64. Emily*

    At my work place I’m kind of the Sarah and the Celia was just “reorganized out” on Friday of last week [somehow they couldn’t fire her? IDK] and honestly the fact that it took so long is going to take me a long time to recover from mentally. When I was pulled into the meeting to let me know about the change I had actively been looking at job postings to make a change and seek greener pastures to get away from my workplace’s Celia.

    1. Workerbee*

      I mean, I’d keep looking if you weren’t already. Your org has definitely shown you how ridiculously it handles important things, plus it has affected you in significant ways.

  65. Kara*


    So, LW, you spoke to Celia privately, telling her that she needed to do better and instead of doing her job she started hiding new arrivals from the staff? On top of always being late as well as all the other problems you described? And you think Sarah is the problem here?

    The more I read of this letter the more my jaw dropped. If Sarah isn’t looking for another job now, she likely will be soon. You’ve shown her that you’ll reward slacking and bad attitude over a valuable and productive employee – and blame the valuable employee for the problems.

  66. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    Here’s how you hold someone accountable in a union environment: da rules. 5-10 minutes late every day? Process with a documented sequence and an agreed upon time frame to complete? These are clear expectations that can be enforced. Hiding inventory? Is freaking absurd. Ask the inion rep for the union position on hiding inventory. No one is going to say oh sure hide it. Celia is failing on the basics so she has 2 choices: bring up her game, or play games. OP, you’re letting her choose Door #2.

  67. FattyMPH*

    This echoes a pattern I’ve seen before: dismissing and actively choosing not to support resolution of legitimate workplace conflict between two workers because they’re both women so it’s just “drama.” Sarah has told you that Celia is obstructing her process for doing her job to the best of her ability and your response is “I don’t care about building a workplace culture where we empower each other to do good work.” Yuck. And on top of it being obvious that Celia has needed remedial training from a manager, not someone in a totally different job role, for such a long time? This is the kind of thing that drives people not only out of the workplace, but the workforce.

  68. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    LW, I think it would be helpful for you to review some of Alison’s recommendations about managers not softening the message and practice saying those words out loud.

    It may also help to write down some of the concerns you have (such as “but what if Celia responds with x?”) and figure out responses to them.

    For example, is it indeed in her contract that she CANNOT be required to show others her work?

    What are your disciplinary measures options?

    Have you laid out to Celia how she needs to work and tell her that she’s not allowed to unbox her teapots in secret?

  69. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I’d really like to hear Celia’s side of things on this one. It does sound like she is not handling things well but I don’t like what OP is saying about Sarah’s behavior either. It certainly sounds like Sarah is trying to manage Celia when that is not her job, that is OP’s job. Is Sarah bullying Celia but getting away with it because she is a rock star at being a server?

    I mean I get it, it is very frustrating to not be able to do your job because a coworker is not organizing or doing their job properly (eerie similarities to my current job – and I would be Sarah!) but does Sarah need input in Celia’s processes? Does Sarah need access to the teapots as they arrive or perhaps she only needs access just before they are put on the shelf? Does Sarah’s job involve teapot inspection after processing or is she truly nitpicking Celia’s work?

    It sounds like OP needs to spend a little more time focusing on what Sarah is doing, what she is demanding, and what she actually needs to do her job. Not just focusing on what Celia is doing. As many letters here demonstrate, bending over backward to accommodate Sarah because she is a “rock star” isn’t necessarily good for the business either.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Sarah is a rockstar, and needs to know what’s going to be on the shelves. Sarah is doing what she is doing because LW is not managing Celia effectively.

      To quote LW:

      [Sarah] can help prioritize items for processing, and it helps her work to know new inventory

      So, no, Sarah isn’t nitpicking Celia. Celia is being totally unreasonable and LW isn’t doing anything about it.

      (Also, Sarah is probably looking for another job at this point. I know I would be.)

      1. spiriferida*

        Being a rockstar in one area doesn’t preclude someone from slipping in behavior that isn’t entirely appropriate for the situation, even – especially – when the behavior from Celia is a source of frustration. If your manager isn’t appropriately managing your colleagues, it doesn’t make it appropriate behavior to manage them in your boss’s stead. It’s an understandable reaction, but it can contribute to a hectic and even toxic work environment, depending on the severity of it. Even just reacting to a coworker with frustration and exasperation doesn’t make for a great working environment.

        The thing about this situation is, for once we have the manager writing in! Usually Alison’s advice in a situation like that is for the person being frustrated by their inept colleague to make it their manager’s problem, not to take it out on their ineffective coworker, but at least this time the manager can be told directly what needs to be done, instead of being steered towards it. The solution is for the LW to step up and start managing both, of course. That way the problems with Celia are being handled, and the LW can head off any inappropriate overstepping from Sarah if it does show up.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          I don’t think Sarah is trying to manage all aspects of Celia’s work, though; she’s just trying to manage those aspects of Celia’s job that impact her own job. There’s a difference. Sarah can’t do some aspects of her job until Celia does her own job. And that’s not happening in the time frame that it should be happening in.

          1. spiriferida*

            Depending on how it’s done, that can still be an inappropriate overreach, though! Especially in a union environment, where job responsibilities can often be delineated by contract.

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              True, but again, wouldn’t be an issue if Celia were being managed properly by OP, up to and including being managed out.

    2. Smurfette*

      > bending over backward to accommodate Sarah because she is a “rock star” isn’t necessarily good for the business either.

      Except that OP isn’t doing *anything* to accommodate Sarah: “I told Sarah to just let Celia keep processing the way she had been”. Oh, and asking Sarah to attend the union meeting to discuss her alleged bullying of Celia. That’s literally all OP has done.

    3. Boof*

      I think “a former sarah”s comment below you is insightful; while it sounds like the primary focus should be on Celia’s oversight and anticipated turn around, if there are reasons why the workflow/relationship with sales is particularly stressful, that could be worked on.
      The comment below suggested part of the problem was where the teapots were stored (in the same space Celia’s actively working) made it feel overly invasive to go check them out; so maybe having a separate processing area would be a huge help.

    4. Heidi*

      I get the sense from the letter that Sarah and Celia’s jobs aren’t really siloed to the extent that Celia not doing her job well doesn’t affect Sarah. One can’t maintain a functional front of the house indefinitely when the back is a dumpster fire. I can also imagine a high productivity type would try to put out the fire herself if the people in charge weren’t doing it. It’s a losing battle for Sarah to try to do Celia’s job, but if it’s coming from a place of trying to protect the quality of her own work, I can sympathize.

    5. Observer*

      Does Sarah need access to the teapots as they arrive or perhaps she only needs access just before they are put on the shelf?

      It sounds like if Celia were doing her job properly, then it would be enough to see what’s going on just before they go on the shelf. But since she’s routinely leaving such a long lag time (weeks is an *eternity* in a lot of environments) and sometimes even forgets about them, she probably does need to see what’s coming when it comes in.

      As many letters here demonstrate, bending over backward to accommodate Sarah because she is a “rock star” isn’t necessarily good for the business either.

      Except nothing that anyone is suggesting is CLOSE to “bending over backwards”. Expecting someone to get *all* of the incoming inventory processed, correctly and timely, is simply a baseline of what should expected. Even having Sara see what’s coming and helping to prioritize what gets processed first is hardly egregious, since Celia is sooo far behind and Sarah knows what the clientele wants. Certainly allowing her to see the stuff is no big deal, and allowing the LW to see is, again, just BASELINE expectations.

  70. A Former Sarah*

    I’ve been Sarah. And I was overstepping, but there was also a Celia problem. Despite the anonymizing, I work in the industry, and can tell what we’re talking about here. When I was a new tea server, I was very invested and enthusiastic about getting the teapots out. And I was checking up on my Celia, and I could see there were delays.

    Now, the thing I didn’t pay attention to, which makes me cringe now that I’m much more well established in Teapots, is that the items were at/on/around Celia’s desk/workstation. Me checking up on everything felt to Celia like micromanaging but also like an invasion of her workspace. She correctly called out that this was invasive, particularly since I wasn’t her manager.

    The issues were solved a few ways, but for helpful suggestions: new protocols were initiated so that once teapots were unpacked, any not actively being worked on were moved to a public space (outside of Celia’s workstation), where there would be available for anyone to see/check on, until Celia took them back to work on them. This applied to items started but not completed during Celia’s workday. Celia’s manager also worked on new processing protocols, and had Celia start reporting how much time they were spending on teapots, but that was all between Celia’s manager and her, not with me. I was correctly removed from that management line.

  71. Other Duties as Assigned*

    I’ve was a Sarah in a previous job and it’s absolutely demoralizing. Based on her change in demeanor, I’m guessing Sarah’s applying for other jobs right now and you will indeed lose her.

    I think it’s telling that the “you may also like” part of the site for this story has the epic “my employee gave me an ‘it’s her or me’ ultimatum” from 2021 linked—another example of failing to manage a poor employee at the expense of a good one.

  72. CommanderBanana*

    I don’t really like drama or confrontation

    You may want to rethink your role here. Framing handling employee issues as “drama” or “confrontation” is inappropriate. It is your job to handle employee issues. If it really isn’t your strength and you don’t want to do it, management may not be the right fit for you.

    1. Optimus*

      10000%. In my 26 years in the workforce I have heard issues labeled “personality conflict” many times. And every time, without exception, it was referring to an issue in which one employee or a small clique of employees was actively preventing conscientious employees from performing their job. In other words, a work problem, not a personality conflict. And every time, without exception, the person who said it was in a position to stop it but was scared to make the jerks angry so they decided to make the good workers angry instead. Brilliant.

  73. BellyButton*

    OP, I recommend reading the books by Douglas Stone “How to have difficult conversations” They will help.

  74. Optimus*

    I will never understand the people who accept a management job when they really actually don’t want to manage. Being the manager means MANAGING, which isn’t always easy or fun. You have to be willing to civilly but firmly tell people when they are doing something wrong. Even if they don’t want to hear it. The *work* requires that you manage the *human beings* doing the work.

  75. Michelle Smith*

    “You’re going to need to decide if you’d rather keep the great employee who’s raising reasonable concerns — the one who’s responsible for a sizable chunk of your sales and foot traffic — or the bad one who’s deliberately hiding her work and being defensive, if not outright antagonistic, when she’s asked about it. You probably can’t keep both.”

    Respectfully, that ship may have sailed. Once you lose an employee’s trust like that, it’s not unusual for them to continue looking for another job even if their Celia is fired or quits or otherwise moves on. Because the problem in Sarah’s eyes still remains – the manager.

    1. BellyButton*

      Exactly. If this letter had been written from the perspective of Sarah, the response would be ‘you have a manager problem and should job hunt”

    2. Boof*

      If the manager turns things around and if Sarah hasn’t yet found a job yet she’s eager to move on to, the situation may be salvageable. I agree trust once lost, takes work to rebuild; but it is possible!

      1. Michelle Smith*

        You’re right and of course the manager should change and do better even if Sarah still leaves. But realistically, I’m putting myself in Sarah’s shoes and I know I would not stick around to wait and see if/how things improved. I would move on.

        1. Boof*

          Sarah should absolutely be looking around; just saying I think it’s possible to rebuild trust if Sarah doesn’t find anything they decide is worth jumping for for a while

  76. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    If I were OP I would be very tempted to tell Celia “The only reason we are here – the only reason we have jobs – is for The Teapot Emporium to make a profit. You’re actively standing in the way of doing that – hiding inventory, refusing to communicate with your coworkers, etc. If everybody acted the way you did, we’d all be out of a job pretty soon. This needs to stop now.”

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      While technically true, I suppose, it would be incredibly de-motivating to me if someone said this to me. There’s nothing less inspiring to me than being reminded that there are people out there profiting off my labour, nor a manager who threatens my livelihood in pursuit of said profit instead of just dealing with me like a regular person who isn’t performing.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Well maybe there’s a better way to word that, but that’s the reality. Work is not a social club, it’s a way to make money. If the company doesn’t make money, none of us have jobs. Celia is acting as if her actions have no impact on the company and her coworkers, and I think she needs some cold water to the face.

      2. Mango Freak*

        OP did deal with Celia like a regular person who isn’t performing. But Celia isn’t “not performing.” Celia is actively hindering the basic functioning of the workplace. We’re beyond trying to “motivate” Celia; we’re at “this is a warning that you’ll be fired soon.”

        Teapot Emporium can’t exist if they don’t stock and sell teapots. Celia and OP can only proceed based on a shared understanding of that basic fact.

      3. ThatOtherClare*

        But there’s ‘processing teapots slowly’, and there’s ‘hiding teapots after I gave you a colour-coded system to process them faster’. The first is “a regular person who isn’t performing”. The second is a deliberate obstructionist.

    2. Boof*

      Yes I don’t know if that’s the right motivational speech; more like “the basics of this job involve processing new shipments within 3 business days, and being open and collegial with colleagues, especially the sales team who will be trying to sell these teapots as soon as they can. Knowing that, can you do this job?”

  77. Doofus*

    If I understand correctly, part of Sarah’s job is to recommend product to customers. If information about new product is deliberately being withheld, she can’t recommend the product and it won’t be sold. If no one at Teapot Emporium has noticed the drop in sales, they will soon and OP will need to come up with a better excuse than not liking confrontation.

    1. Raida*

      And if Sarah’s planning for events utilises having knowledge of what’s upcoming as early as possible, then that’s another part of her role that’s negatively impacted.

  78. DramaQ*

    Cecilia hiding inventory should have been put to a stop immediately. She’s actively hiding your inventory from not only Sara but you! It’s fine if you want to put in place don’t mess with it till she is done but for her to open it, make off with it and refuse to allow anyone access? Unacceptable. How do you know she isn’t taking your inventory? What else is she hiding that you are unaware of because you are afraid to confront her and she knows it? And why is it taking her so long to process things that others can process in less time? What is she doing with your inventory? I think Cecilia needs a day off and you go through your ENTIRE inventory with a fine tooth comb. Do not be shocked if you not only lose Sarah but later on you find you are missing a heck of a lot more.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      Yeah, hiding inventory is a big deal. A REALLY big deal. Coming in late to a customer service job isn’t great obviously, but hiding inventory would be considered theft in a lot of places.

      OP, do you know at what stage the hiding is happening? That is, does she mark the teapots as received before they disappear? That’s a problem because it leaves the rest of your staff running around looking for the blue flowered teapot that the system says arrived last week, thereby wasting time and annoying customers.

      Or does she mark them as damaged, or not received? That’s a problem because your organization will then make a claim to the supplier to have them replaced or refunded; if they turn up later it opens your organization to claims of fraud.

      I get that difficult conversations are difficult. But as a manager, you’re responsible for the inventory as well as the staff, and you have to make sure the inventory is correct. Especially now that you know it’s happening, you might find yourself in a very difficult conversation with your boss if you don’t do something about it!

  79. TA DA!*

    “I do think Celia is being a little unreasonable, but I don’t think forcing her to work in a way she’s uncomfortable with is the answer.”

    It’s called a job. If I could only do things that make me comfortable, I would only work for $1,000,000 a day.

    She is not “uncomfortable”. She is refusing to do her job in a way that is best for her, her coworkers, and the company.

    OTOH, LW, I’ll let you manage me if I could get away with doing nothing and getting paid.

    1. BellyButton*

      When someone says they don’t want to make one person in the situation uncomfortable, I counter with “but you are willing to make other person uncomfortable?”

    2. Heffalump*

      “OTOH, LW, I’ll let you manage me if I could get away with doing nothing and getting paid.”

      You’re assuming that you’d be in Celia’s position, not Sarah’s.

  80. Harper the Other One*

    OP, lots of folks are covering the human resource mistake being made here. But there are significant additional risks to the business here! When Celia opens those boxes, is she checking them against the invoice/shipping label? If not, how do you know if you’ve received everything you’re supposed to? When it’s inventory count time, are you going to end up with 10% extra shrinkage representing Celia’s hidden received items? How many sales are you losing when someone comes in for a purple teapot and there are none on the shelf because they’re all in Celia’s stash? And this is all assuming no nefarious motive like theft/fraud, just Celia being a terrible but not actively criminal employee.

    1. Smurfette*

      Yeah, I’m wondering how books, sorry, teapots, get lost and NOBODY NOTICES? Where are the controls? Where are the checks and balances? My friendly, informal book club had better systems in place.

    2. Observer*

      But there are significant additional risks to the business here!

      Yes, you’ve provided a pretty good list. Also, how is AP managing? Are you double ordering stuff because no one knows that stuff showed up? Are staff wasting time and souring relationships with vendors by following up on orders that Celia “forgot” to process? Are staff running around spending extra time verifying what shipments came in, because she’s not processing stuff?

      I’m sure that others could think of some more issues.

  81. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Letter Writer, what happened to the color-coded priority system presented to Celia? Did you simply suggest that or did you, as her manager, give her clear instructions about how to perform that part of her job responsibilities? You have the authority (and the responsibility) to give clear instruction/direction when the process of how the work is done matters. Here it sounds like you intervened, but never followed through to hold Celia accountable to the expectations you set. An employee doesn’t simply get to ignore your instructions because she prefers to work differently (apparently without any oversight). How clear you were when setting those expectations should drive how you respond now– at one end of the spectrum you’d be explicitly clear now that she needs to use the prioritization system you implemented or face consequences. At the other end of the spectrum (if you were already direct and explicit) you are responding to an insubordinate employee with a formal warning or disciplinary action.

  82. TiredLibrarian*

    Coming from the library world, this reads like a public library scenario; a YS librarian (Sarah) puts on a ‘cataloger’ hat to train Celia who works the front desk and handles processing new materials. Now, when Sarah wants to read through materials she likely selected for purchase, Celia refuses to show her? This is not Sarah’s problem and there are many other red flags about Celia that were alarming (especially if this IS a library setting). Red flags: a wildly disorganized workspace where new items and discarded (i.e. weeded) items are mixed and covered with other papers, an unwillingness to show work in process (work which doesn’t require confidentiality), and an inability to catalog/process new materials in a timely manner.

    OP mentions that she’s working with a union which means she can’t fire Celia at will. However, OP can and should start documenting these incidents under insubordination. Sarah may not have direct oversight with Celia, but OP does. It may not be in the strict job description, but if OP tells Celia to allow Sarah to view materials before they’re processed and she refuses, that’s insubordination and the union wouldn’t be able to defend refusing a simple request. If I were OP, I would plan to put Celia on a PIP if her work station and attitude towards her work (and holding onto weeded materials!!) doesn’t improve. This kind of poor work will affect the collections on your shelves AND the rockstar employees if it’s not addressed. If you’re truly a manager, you need to manage this conflict and reflect more seriously on the impact Celia is having in your workspace.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      Also a librarian, also thought this could potentially be in a library setting. Our front-lines staff frequently looks through books waiting to be processed, and in both public and academic library settings I’ve been in, it’s normal to give a heads up as to what items should be given priority based on patron needs, items with a holds list already, etc.

  83. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

    It should be obvious, but somehow its never said…

    Expecting someone to do the job they are paid to do is not bullying.

    Being upset because someone is being paid to do a job, and they are not doing it, and making your job harder, is not creating drama.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      I’m a manager in a unionized environment as well, and there’s a clause in the CA that literally says “it is the function of management to manage the organization” – including controlling operations and directing employees. It’s literally Celia’s job to do her job, and it’s OP’s explicit right to make sure she does it.

      1. Petty_Boop*

        Let me fix that, “It is OP’s explicit OBLIGATION to make sure she does it”!

  84. BecauseHigherEd*

    I know teapot is used to protect the anonymity of those involved, but I just love the image of a beautiful, serene Japanese teahouse with elaborate tea ceremonies and all this drama happening on top of it.

  85. Magdalena*

    I’m sorry as soon as I read “staff personality conflict” my heart fell.

    This is not a personality conflict.
    This is a bad employee making things harder on purpose for a good employee and you taking the bad employee’s side.

    You are clearly showing Sarah you won’t stand up for her when she’s being bullied. You seem to be losing sight of the fact that dealing with workplace conflict is literally your job. This is what a manager does.

    My heart breaks for Sarah. It has to be awful to be disrespected by her own manager like that.

  86. Fluffy Fish*

    Colleagues having a problem with another employees poor work that affects them is NOT a personality issue.

    This is often used by male managers to describe a conflict involving one or more female employees.

    It’s gross and biased. Stop doing that.

  87. Cat Tree*

    LW, think of it this way: dealing with Celia’s poor performance is part of your job. You don’t have to like confrontation, but you do still have to do it anyway. If you liked doing it, they wouldn’t have to pay you for it. Sometimes when I’m doing something I don’t like, I frame it as this is the part of my job that they’re paying me for.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      I think that the continued use of the word “confrontation” is part of the problem. It is NOT a confrontation to clearly and firmly set expectations regarding job performance. Done professionally and calmly, there is only drama or confrontation if Celia takes it poorly and creates that situation. In that case, one steps it down, and says, “this is what I need from you, if we need to escalate this to upper management/the union/whoever, we can, but I am not going to argue with you about how I need you to do your job.” The OP needs a spine, because clearly the lack of one is allowing her to bend herself out of shape to keep Celia “comfortable”!

  88. Sarah Mlynowski*

    Calling it “drama” got my back up. Not saying this necessarily is at play here, but when I was most actively harassed and threatened by another coworker, it was another woman, and our male manager dismissed it as “girl drama.” I moved on, and when she was eventually fired, she made copies of the keys and came back at night to destroy documents.

    The kind of man who never takes women seriously can’t tell the difference between “drama” and “actionable problems” because in his heart of hearts he doesn’t really think women are capable of the latter.

  89. TG*

    You need to learn to manage, hate to say it or you’ll drive Sarah out the door. Celia doesn’t dictate her work – you do. You need to tell her clearly the expectations and document processes and timelines and hold her accountable to those. End of story. This is NOT bullying and her threat is ridiculous. You’re asking her to do her job I. A way that is best for all involved. Good luck and I hope we can an update where Sarah hasn’t walked out on you!

  90. TA DA!*

    Also, while I am not on team Celia, I am wondering why you waited until she was out for a day to then go through her workspace to clean it up. I 100% agree that a workspace is not a personal space and that it does belong to the company and people can go through your office and desk if that is necessary. But it does seem a little weird that you would choose to do that while she’s out, and choose to wait for a seemingly single day that she happens to be out to do it. No warning, no communication about that to the person who is in the workspace. It seems strangely passive and aggressive, and if I were Celia I would feel a kind of way about that too. Especially if the person who instigated going through “my” stuff was my coworker who I already have a history with.

    There’s probably something to the story that’s missing because obviously LW cannot go through every single little incident, but Celia is a human person as well.

    LW, I don’t think you are handling this very well and perhaps management isn’t for you at this point in your life and career. The only time you actually took action is when the problem person wasn’t there, and you have basically washed your hands of this.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Because insisting on doing this with Celia at work is confrontational. OP would rather do it when there’s no possibility of that.

  91. SaltyAdmin*

    As a former Sarah, I did leave a job over similar circumstances. And I think it took that for management to realize how bad things with my Celia really were when I was no longer there to make sure things got done correctly, because they let her go 3 months later.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*

      Similar thing for me. I was once a Sarah and I raised a complaint about a coworker who was a Celia. Celia was let go by their manager, then the CEO stepped in and re-hired them. Four of us quit. Then Celia quit, knowing that their new direct manager was building a case for them to be fired again.

      OP, you need to move fast for this to not happen to you.

  92. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am not sure why you want to be a manager, LW, if all you want to do is avoid conflict and confrontation. The comments may be rough to read but I hope you will go through them because I’m sure there’s a lot of good advice here. Here’s my take on things:

    Celia is hiding the teapots because she doesn’t want anyone to be able to see that she’s not doing her job. Your solution to addressing the fact that Celia is not doing her job (and thus making Sarah’s job more difficult) is to classify the entire thing as some sort of personality mismatch where Sarah is equally to blame (and any union meeting will set that in stone). Sarah doesn’t trust you because she now knows that you have no interest in addressing actual problems.

    For awhile there, she got her hopes up that someone might actually deal with Celia, and she’s now discovered that you just want everyone to pretend everything is fine, so she’s going along with what you want. She’s telling you “Whatever you decide is fine, boss” because that’s what you want to hear. If Sarah seems “deflated” it’s probably because she’s been through this with the manager before you, and the manager before that, and the manager before that.

  93. Heffalump*

    I can relate to this. I once had a coworker, “Hortense,” who was generally a jerk to other people in general and to me in particular. In a nutshell, she would make unjust criticisms, and she had a real gift for making any given point in the most tactless manner possible. She had been there for several years, and I heard quite a few war stories about her.

    One day “Pamela,” who had also tangled with her, called an impromptu meeting with “Steve,” our manager. Steve behaved like a textbook wimpy manager. A couple of his comments:

    “You can’t discipline a person for being tactless.” It wasn’t just tactlessness, it was unjust criticism. I suppressed the urge to say, “If her tactlessness were directed at you, you’d damn well do something about it.”

    “If I lean on her, she may quit.” I replied, “If you don’t rein her in, everyone who has to deal with her is a potential quit.” Steve had no response to that.

    The good news is that Hortense quit a couple of years later. For months afterward, Pamela and I would tell each other, “It’s so much more pleasant around here!”

    Steve did nothing to improve my opinion of him as a manager.

  94. Chad H.*

    Good employees need good management. Bad employees need you to manage.

    You sided against your good employee and chose not to manage the bad one.

    Lesson learned, I hope.

  95. Barbara*

    OP your answer is in your question!!

    why did Sarah who works in the floor trauma back of house worker? and she did a poor job of it too??

    C needs remedial training and strict expectations from a co worker who works the same job. Sarah needs to mind her own business. You need to learn to manage or get a different job which doesn’t involve being in charge of employees.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      You’re blaming SARAH for Celia being a train wreck? It is probable that Sarah used to do that job before moving into her current role. That’s not uncommon. Also, remember that the details in this letter were anonymized, so there isn’t necessarily a “back of house/front of house” situation, in reality. There may not BE another “coworker who works the same job” to give her “remedial training and strict expectations.” (Side note, coworkers should not give “strict expectations”…that comes from the boss, not peers.) What Sarah is asking for directly impacts her doing her job and she doesn’t need to “mind her own business,” when there is a direct impact to work getting done, poorly, slowly and IN HIDING.

      Wait. Are YOU Celia in disguise?

  96. Mark Greene*

    You are going to lose this employee. This employee is distant because you are not doing your job. I left my last job over a manager that would not manage. You need to tell Sarah this is being taken care of and show it.

    1. Sarah Mlynowski*

      That thing where everyone else has to listen to you and tell you all your ideas are good!

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I mean, I’m not sure this is entirely fair. A lot of people, myself included, struggle to know what those positions are really like because we’ve never actually done them or fully examined what is required. And I don’t blame people for accepting a promotion that comes with increased pay without fully understanding either because so many people are so desperately underpaid and there is so much pressure to climb the ladder, at least in the industries I’ve been in. Like think of how many people don’t realize until they actually have kids what it’s really like to do the day in and day out of parenting – just having been a child once themselves is not enough to really get it. I think the same thing applies here.

      1. Mango Freak*

        Okay, but I’d still wonder. In a literal sense. What DOES someone think the pay increase is for, if they’re then going to say, “I didn’t get involved because I don’t like drama and confrontation?”

    3. CommanderBanana*

      LOL right? If you are a “I hate drama and confrontation! Waah!” person, managing is not for you.

      And to be honest, when I hear anyone say that about themselves, it lets me know that I don’t really want to spend time with them. The “I hate drama!” people are generally surrounded in drama, in my experience.

    4. Looper*

      “I hate drama or confrontation, so instead I do nothing until confrontation and drama is all that remains.”

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ This. Or, all the drama and confrontation becomes other people’s problem, because I have let it become other people’s problem. How many “you don’t have a mother-in-law//father-in-law//whatever-in-law problem, you have a spouse problem?” letters do other columns run?

    5. Irish Teacher.*

      I think a lot of people have experienced managers who go to the opposite end of the spectrum – who are bullies or micromanagers – and often people who are good employees themselves don’t fully see the need for even some more reasonable management shows of authority. Many, if not most, people tend to think of themselves as normal so if they care about their work and would do it well without too much oversight, they assume everybody would and think that managers are just making rules for the fun of it and when they are a manager, they’ll give people the autonomy they will thrive under.

      The problem is that not all employees are good. I know as a teacher, I had to learn the equivalent, because again, most teachers were good, hard-working students and I know I thought a lot of the rules in school were unnecessary or that people were making genuine mistakes (eg, that students who didn’t do their homework had a good reason that had prevented them from doing it) and I had to learn that a number of students do set out to break the rules and do things like deliberately not completing their homework if they think the teacher won’t punish them (whereas I assumed that people either genuinely forgot or had some crisis that prevented them from doing it and that being punished wouldn’t fix those).

      I’m guessing a similar situation might be the case here, that the LW was a good and diligent worker and saw her manager as being there as a support and micromanaging as something that merely got in the way of her doing good work, so that is how she manages her employees. Which would work well with good employees, but…doesn’t work so well with people like Celia, who see it as giving her the opportunity to get away with stuff.

    6. Dinwar*

      It would help if companies would invest in management training.

      I would love to know the LW’s career path. FAR too many people I know get into management via the “I’m good at my job so they keep promoting me” path. Which can work, but just as often results in horrible managers. There’s nothing in chemistry training, or accounting, or welding, or animal husbandry, that teaches management skills. Those who become managers via doing the work tend to think that what’s necessary to do the work is what’s necessary for managing the work. If you’ve got management training or experience, you’re probably laughing at this point, because the actual job of management is so different from the job of an individual contributor that it really is a totally separate thing. My job as a manager is as different from geology (what I’m trained in) as geology is from accounting or data management.

      If a company doesn’t train its people, the people suffer. And there’s already indications that this company doesn’t train people very well. And we know that management is hardly ever trained.

  97. H3llifIknow*

    OP. Read your letter as if it were written by someone else. The contortions you’re going through to make “Celia” comfortable are going to throw your back out soon! I am baffled by why you keep an employee around who doesn’t do her job, HIDES work, and is a disorganized, petty presence in the workspace, all the while treating your BEST employee as if she’s some sort of problem child for being engaged and enthusiastic. You…are not a good manager. You either need to grow a spine, or admit to your leadership that you are not suited to this role and step down. Wowsa.

  98. Wendy*

    it sounds like you also allowed her to intimidate you with the union meeting. is that part of it? are you sure of your authority?

  99. kiki*

    This is hard for any manager and especially a new one, but you have to take a step back and look at Cecilia’s performance overall instead of taking each issue she has with Sarah as a new and separate thing. Sure, perhaps Sarah doesn’t need to look at all the pots right away, but it’s a flow she had for years. Why does Cecelia get to change that flow unilaterally? Is this change to the flow really helping Cecilia? Shouldn’t the solution here be one where Cecelia process the new pots in an efficient manner?

  100. pcake*

    OP, to be clear, this is not a “staff personality conflict”. This is allowing a poor employee to sabotage not only other employees’ work but also the company. Your rockstar employee is likely to leave – and you say she’s responsible for a lot of sales. Yet you don’t do anything to make her life easier or to make sure the company’s products are on time to customers. And since many of those sales are Sarah’s, she has no reason to continue to work hard bring them in.

    When Celia arrived late to man customer service the first time, you should have let her know this was unacceptable as it’s a customer facing job. Certainly by the third time, she should have been warned, and after that, since the rest of her work is extremely slow and substandard, she should have been let go. By letting her continue, you show anyone who works hard to do their jobs that you value Celia’s comfort and poor work above theirs – because, apparently, you do, either because you feel sorry for Celia or you’re very confrontation-avoidant. I feel sorry for Sarah and the other employees who have to work harder to take up the slack knowing you aren’t helping them.

    Your job is to manage all the staff, not just let Celia slide, and you’re not doing what it takes to keep the company healthy, either. I’m sure you mean well, but you seem to let some sympathy for Celia trump everything.

    Btw, I’ve been that rockstar employee – it awful to work in thos circumstances, and once I’d had enough, it was easy to get a job where they valued me, and Jane will and should do the same.

  101. Katy*

    This sounds like a case of chronic undermanagement leading to a toxic workplace environment and bad habits all around. By not managing Celia appropriately and consistently, you are creating an environment in which Sarah feels she has to step in and do it for you because it’s impacting her job. In a normally functioning workplace, Sarah would be overstepping by trying to manage Celia, and it’s a bad habit for her to be developing. But the reality is that you have created a management vacuum and someone is going to have to fill it if the workplace is going to run as it’s supposed to.

    You can’t manage an underperforming employee with half-measures. If you speak to Celia about her work and retrain her, then you need to hold her to the same clear standards as other employees or let her go. By going, “Oh, well, she’s fixed some of the problems and she doesn’t technically need to show Sarah the teapots,” you are deliberately ignoring a missing stair and expecting others to work around it.

    Now, it may be that you have a plan for how to deal with this, but it’s understandable that Sarah doesn’t believe that you do, because you haven’t shown any sign of dealing with the problem before. If you want to keep her, you will have to show that you are stepping up, setting a common set of procedures and expectations, and taking the responsibility for enforcing them.

  102. Abogado Avocado*

    LW, you may dislike drama and disagreement, but an effective manager can’t mediate their way out of a situation where an employee is not doing their job. Where there are non-performing employees like Celia, an effective manager puts them on a PIP or finalizes the documentation needed to fire her. Effective managers do not ask their star performers to put up with another employee’s shoddy work and passive-aggressive conduct, especially where it affects the star employee’s work.

    I get it, you’re new at this and it’s tough to be the “bad guy” in this scenario. No one I know enjoys firing poor performers, even after the person has had several chances to improve their work. Still, if ever there were a situation where you must act on behalf of good work — and not what passes for Celia’s “work” — this is it. And, truly, this is part of growing as a manager, as difficult as it is.

    You can do this. Let us know what happens.

  103. UnionPartnersAreDifferent*

    One thing I don’t think people are taking into account: If Cecelia is truly union, that changes the “job description” part of the advice. Union contracts are a very specific area of employment law; I work with union employees in my day job and it is often not as simple as “so add it to the job description” depending on the contract.

    I don’t think the advice is wrong! But it definitely complicates things in a way that I think other commenters probably don’t have experience with.

  104. CraigT*

    For god’s sake, you’re the boss here. Act like it. Straighten the trouble making low performer up today. Stop rewarding her behavior. Managers who always try to mollify their low performers at the expense of their productive workers, soon manage themselves out of a job.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      Or find themselves with no good workers who will stay once they realize that literally everyone else is NOT a good coworker.

  105. Florp*

    I am wondering if both OP and Celia misunderstand what a union does. I’m far from an expert, but collective bargaining agreements usually specify pay and benefits based on the type of work and experience level (which is similar to a job description), but not a specific individual’s job description. They include workplace safety standards and grievance procedures.

    Unions will get involved with disciplinary procedures (for example, if you formally charged Celia with stealing teapots for personal use), but they can’t force you to keep an employee that steals, and they can’t force you to let your report pretend she doesn’t have a boss.

    *You can always fire a bad employee, even with a union.* Collective agreements specify the process through which an employee may be terminated for cause, so you can’t just randomly fire someone for funsies. The collective agreement may require a certain number of written warnings with HR present, a PIP, etc. Having a union just gives you guidelines for collecting evidence of incompetence or malfeasance and properly presenting that evidence to HR and the employee in a timely manner. The union may lodge a complaint if the process isn’t followed, but they aren’t going to force you to keep an employee who is refusing to do her job to the detriment of her coworkers. (Speaking of coworkers, is Sarah in the union? If so, the union has to protect her as much as they do Celia.)

    Unions aren’t going to be involved with the day-to-day running of the department unless your company has a history of egregiously bad treatment of employees. The union likely has nothing to do with an individual employee’s job duties. “Collective” bargaining means the contract represents a group. The agreement is an overall contract between management and employees, and management has rights under that contract as well. Usually that includes management having the right to change job descriptions to reflect changes in the business environment.

    Unless Celia is the only person who does this specific job at your company, you presumably have other people in the same role who do the job without hiding merchandise and delaying sales. It’s really hard for Celia to argue that the same job description applies to her differently than it does to them. The employees who succeed in that role should be your benchmark.

    Go to HR post-haste and outline Celia’s performance problems, with specific examples, and loop in your own manager who will hopefully back you up. Don’t wait for this to come to your bosses attention through Celia and the union–they will wonder why you haven’t been on top of this. HR will give you specific steps to take regarding formal warnings. You should be documenting every interaction with Celia. List the date of the conversation and exactly what you said to her, along with her response. Use the most professional coaching language you can muster, and you can leave Sarah out of it completely:

    “Celia, these teapots belong to the company. We have responsibilities to receive and inventory them properly, and then process them efficiently. I can’t keep accurate inventory when you hide them. Accounts Payable can’t pay an accurate bill if we don’t know what we received. Our department is losing the opportunity to make sales and we are falling behind our peers. My boss will hold us all responsible if we underperform. Your actions are affecting other employees and the overall performance of this department. I can’t let you work to different standards than other employees with the same job. I need you to store the merchandise in an organized manner where it can be properly tracked, and we need to process new merchandise within X days of receipt. You don’t have to be friends with Sarah, but you have to be professional and polite. Can you commit to that?”

    If she says no, she’s being really unreasonable and it’s highly unlikely her union will somehow prevent her from getting warnings and a PIP. She’s probably going to sulk or throw a fit, but that’s just another piece of evidence to document.

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      “I am wondering if both OP and Celia misunderstand what a union does”

      Most people don’t, and that’s not by accident. There’s been a long and coordinated assault on the public perception of unions in the last fifty years, because it’s easier to take advantage of your employees when they don’t have any collective bargaining power. In the age of social media, I’ve noticed the anti-union propaganda has gotten a lot worse.

      I’ve been part of the process in the firing of union employees. It’s never as hard as everyone makes it sound.

      1. Spaceball One*

        Same here. In the union shop I was in, our union leadership did not want to keep low performers around (because it ultimately damaged our customers’ perception of the whole shop) but they did require that the process leading to termination be followed. I had three wimpy managers come and go before I finally had one who was truly ticked off by the blatant and ongoing performance issues of one coworker on our team. It took a while but she documented the issues, did the PIPs, etc., satisfied the union and finally cut him loose.

    2. KL Loophole*

      Great understanding of collective bargaining agreements! I’m currently working in a union’s benefit office for over 9 years now and that’s my understanding.

  106. Emily*

    I think every manager should have to read this letter and Alison’s response, especially this part:

    “There are some things you can decide by consensus, but not everything — and part of your job as a manager is to step in and give direction when something isn’t being done well. You can’t avoid that just because you don’t like drama or confrontation — and if you try to, you will lose good employees, who won’t want to work in those conditions.

    And of course, it’s not “drama” to give feedback and lay out expectations for how someone does their job, or to address it when there’s a problem. That’s part of your job.”

    This has been an issue at both jobs I’ve had since graduating over 10 years ago: weak managers who are afraid to deal with problem employees, and it does exactly what Alison says it does, it drives the conscientious employees away. OP, I really hope you take Alison’s advice to heart and follow it. Also, I hope you understand that Celia’s “bullying” claim is utterly absurd.

  107. tinaturner*

    You’re forgetting that she comes in late all the time. That’s something you can get on her about. Along w/her other bad habits. If she should decide to QUIT, is that “bad” to you? Why? Youre bullying a good worker by indulging this bad one.

  108. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    This isn’t a case of people getting what they want (to look at things or to hide things), it’s a case of how the business works. Presumably, you need the shipments to be processed and put out in a timely and orderly manner so people can find/use/sell them… and yes, fill in if somebody is out sick.

    I have absolutely left jobs because management didn’t want to deal with somebody’s refusal to do theirs when it impacted mine.

  109. Library person*

    This is definitely a library. Libraries love to put people into management with zero management training or support, which leads to keeping bad employees until they retire or move on of there own free will.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      There’s something in the the letter that hints at a library, BUT bad management is definitely not restricted to libraries.

      Lots of companies and government services mistakenly assume someone that can do the job well, can management people who do the job well.

      1. Emily*

        OP was trying to make this anonymous and per the commenting rules, we are not supposed to speculate on things like this. Whether or not it’s a library does not change Alison’s advice in any way, and multiple places have weak managers that refuse to manage (like I said in my previous comment, it has been an issue at both my workplaces, and I’ve never worked in a library).

    2. MuseumChick*

      Me, a museum person scrolling through the comments…reads this…laughs and cries at that accuracy. Libraries, museums, archives, etc. All have this problem.

  110. Just a Moving Truck on Storrow Drive*

    I’m the Sarah in a similar situation right now…watching management protect and fail to hold accountable a problem employee. It’s caused me to completely disengage and pour much more energy into my job search. You should still work to properly resolve this situation, but more than likely, it’s too little too late.

    1. Ipsissima*

      I’m one of several Sarahs right now. We are collectively letting our Celia drown in her own incompetence because everything else we’ve tried has gone nowhere. Is it having a disastrous effect on our work? Yes. Is it affecting other departments? Yes. Will management finally start managing when the other departments complain? We’re about to find out!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This is probably the only reasonable course of action. You’re making it management’s problem to solve, rather than going to great lengths to solve the problem or mitigate the damage.

  111. WriterDrone*

    I used to work with a Celia. In our particular case, she was avoiding being crosstrained so she could be assigned additional tasks. She’d drag her feet on the tasks she had, mostly servicing items sent in for repair or routine maintenance, using all but one or two days of the window we had for either sending completed items back to the customer or giving them a quote for repair. This ignored the completion tasks another coworker and I also needed to perform between her task and shipping the items out. We were constantly rushing to meet deadlines that the entire team was judged on even though it meant dropping other tasks once she was finally done. She would also get mad at me if she was out and I did some of “her” work even though performing those tasks as needed was also in my job description. Management would just tell us to figure it out which really meant that they maintained the status quo. She’s still there, I left for greener pastures.

    1. Raida*

      “Figure it out” means “I don’t understand and I don’t want to why can’t you be nice and not make problems for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”

  112. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, I have a question for you: what do you think a manager does? If you asked good managers, they would include:
    * Setting and enforcing workplace policies
    * Hiring good employees and firing non-productive or difficult employees
    * Building a team culture that rewards productive behaviors and diminishes unproductive ones
    * Ensuring employees improve over time and taking action if they don’t
    * Resolving workplace disagreements before they become conflicts

    Based on your letter, you seem to exclude (maybe not intentionally) all of these responsibilities. Given that, what are you actually doing as a manager?

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      This is my thought on the situation. As a manager, if there is a process issue then a) management should have been aware and b) management should work on fixing and creating efficiencies. Why is your sales person telling you that inventory isn’t processed for 3 weeks? You should have MIS reporting that tells you that. And OP’s way of ‘getting everyone in the room to get along’ is a poor excuse for OP’s failure to make the call and order change. If Celia is really that bad, replace her. If not, then improve the systems around her. Either way, this is not Sarah’s place to get involved.

  113. Just Thinkin' Here*

    I generally agree with Alison’s response. I would add though, it sounds like Sarah was allowed to manage Celia’s workload at one point and continues to try to do so. Sarah is not Celia’s manager, OP is. That’s why Celia is pushing back the way she is – because the OP didn’t intervene when they should have and instead allowed Sarah to overstep her position. Is Celia disorganized, or is the ordering system for teapots a mess and she’s doing the best she can? Is there a better supply methodology that you can enact that takes Celia out of checking all the teapots? Either way, the manager should have stepped in months ago to solve this problem. Now you’ve got two upset employees – one who is doubling down and one who has checked out.

    1. Mia*

      I’ve been scrolling to see if i’m the only one who thinks Sarah isn’t perfect here either. Maybe it’s because we don’t have enough detail, but it does appear that Sarah *may* be overstepping. I worked retail and there was an attitude of “let the top sellers do whatever they want.” Sure, you want to create an environment in which top performers can thrive, but they can’t rule the roost. Sarah might *like* to look at the new inventory right away, but maybe that really does interfere with Celia’s workflow (or, the workflow of a person in Celia’s role who worked harder.) And the use of the word “micromanaging’- maybe the actual issue is that Celia chafes at being managed by someone who is not her manager?
      Celia’s definitely in the wrong, but I’m getting kind of an entitled, pushy vibe from Sarah. That said, the hiding inventory, rules-lawyering the employment contract, etc. – Celia’s an issue.

      1. Emily*

        I think you’re missing the part where Sarah was responsible for training Celia, so it is understandable she would have an investment in Celia’s work. I also doubt Sarah would be trying to oversee so much of Celia’s work if OP was actually doing their job as the manager, but right now OP is not doing what they need to do as the manager.

  114. Mainer*

    Does Sarah actually need to see the teapots as they come in? Is Celia the only one doing teapot processing?

    I would personally be pretty upset if someone “cleaned” my office on a day I was out instead of just talking to me about my workspace. A lot of rockstar performers are rockstars because they’re perfectionists, and sometimes those standards can be applied to others. Is Sarah is crossing boundaries or trying to manage Celia when it is no longer her job?

    Celia must feel pretty uncomfortable if she’s hiding work and calling union meetings. What is Celia’s side to this story?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think you missed a lot of details from the letter.

      Celia’s desk was an absolutely mess and hid a bunch of merchandise that should have been dealt with months ago. Her desk and work area are not her personal property, and management has a perfect right to expect it to be reasonably neat and professional looking and to go through whenever they need to.

    2. CB212*

      Since OP mentioned events around the product, I’m imagining something like a bookstore, where the children’s room workers need to know when they can schedule an event around the new releases they’re expecting; or a home goods store, where the kitchen department want to demo the new mini waffle makers when they come in. I could see that it would make sense for the floor lead to want to know what’s in the pipeline to hit the shelves.

    3. Anonymous cat*

      But Sarah didn’t unilaterally clean Celia’s desk area. The manager did it with Sarah’s help. It probably did upset Celia BUT responsibility for that decision falls on the manager.

      And if there was a whole cart of materials to be handled, then the manager definitely needed to check on what was happening.

    4. Raida*

      I agree – Celia was not doing great, and then her workstation was rummaged through when she wasn’t there.
      And a new system was introduced to her, which she had no say in, I’m guessing little to no training in, and let’s also guess the manager didn’t catch up with her to see how it’s going and what needs to be tweaked.

      Then what happened? Well she’s super protective of her work now, and hides it so nobody touches it.

      OP hadn’t seen the workstation, and Sarah was confident nothing would happen without the freedom for OP to dig through the mess without Celia being there.
      That tells me that Sarah didn’t think OP would act, or that OP would be swayed by sad puppy eyes from Celia, or that Celia could explain away the mess.

      So OP does not catch up with staff regularly, hadn’t seen the workstation, and doesn’t indicate they work on improving things without drastic examples.

      If I were Celia I’d be freaked out and angry too – although I wouldn’t hide things, I’d probably complain to my manager’s manager about favouritism and bad management. It’s the perfect example – instead of talking to me my manager overhauled my workstation at the prompting of their rockstar, put in place a new system I don’t understand and doesn’t work, and now the rockstar is complaining to them again… I feel bullied.

  115. Eckerslee*

    This is not about a “personality conflict” and characterising it as such demonstrates that you are not understanding your role in this. This is about a failure to manage on your part, and a failure to perform on Celia’s. The one person here who does not show a poor attitude is Sarah, whose reaction to your lack of action, refusal to do your job, and willingness to tolerate Celia’s ongoing and repeated failures is entirely reasonable and understandable.

    You are looking at this situation all wrong. You need to change your perspective if you have any hope of putting things right.

  116. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I find it ironic that LW is dismissing Sara’s warranted and reasonable change of energy as “drama” and a “personality conflict,” while at the same time appearing to take it very personally. (“Since then, Sarah has been distant. In fact, every time she looks at me I feel almost disappointment in her eyes, like she doesn’t trust me anymore.”)

    You don’t get to have this both ways, LW. The reason this cognitive dissonance is bothering you so much is because you’re not doing right by your rockstar employee as a manager, and you know it. Celia needs to be put on a PIP until she demonstrates that she can do the job to an acceptable standard. The necessary oversight and coaching need to be done by you, the manager. Best of luck. I hope it’s not too late for you to fix this before Sara leaves for a better job.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Good point. There is definitely a double standard going on here because Sarah does her job and Celia throws a fit when it is pointed out that she isn’t doing hers.

      Part of managing is to treat all your employees the same. This isn’t happening here.

  117. Manage Your Employee*

    Covering/hiding the merchandise when it comes in, not letting others see her work – that isn’t just a red flag for poor performance, that is a red flag for theft. Celia may well be skimming or redirecting inventory. Delaying it reaching store shelves is a good way of hindering inventory management – it makes it harder to compare invoices for shipments to inventory on shelf if there is an unknown quantity of merchandise in the back.

  118. Mia*

    “Sarah then sent me an email begging me to conduct a three-person meeting where she and I clearly lay out processing expectations for Celia. I felt that was an overreach and talked to Celia privately…”

    You know what…that IS an overreach. If Celia’s messing up, a meeting with Celia and her manager is completely appropriate. But if I were Celia, I wouldn’t be pleased that a random third party was in the meeting. Celia’s mistakes affect everyone, not just Sarah. Why should Sarah be in what’s essentially a disciplinary meeting? The issue, as others have pointed out, ISN’T a personality conflict (and therefore Sarah has no business attending the meeting). It’s a failure on Celia’s part to meet expectations. That falls squarely in boss-employee territory and it’s an extreme overstep for Sarah to include herself in this meeting. Thinking about it, I assume Sarah wants to be in the meeting because she thinks LW won’t come on strong enough, but still. (Or, less charitably, she thinks that becuase she’s good at her job she’s entitled to be a de facto manager of everyone else- ive certainly worked with a few of those. )

    1. Emily*

      Sarah has every right to doubt OP won’t do their job, because so far OP isn’t doing their job. OP could certainly decline to have Sarah as part of the meeting, but then OP needs to meet with Celia and clearly lay out the expectations and how Celia is not meeting them and what Celia needs to change.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      It 100% is a overreach. But that needs to be viewed in the context of Sarah trying to do jobs that OP and Celia should be doing and aren’t. OP’s response of “no, I’m handling this” is correct as far as it goes, but then she has to follow up by *actually handling it* and there is no indication that’s happening.

    3. DramaQ*

      If I had to hazard a guess since Sarah is the one that trained Cecila and the manager is bending over backwards to accommodate Cecilia that she wanted to be in on the meeting in case Ceclia threw her under the bus and turned it into a “training issue”.

      “Well Sara never TOLD me I can’t hide inventory when it comes in!”

      I mean look at her response to her actual manager, it was that’s not written in her job description and don’t make me get the union involved.

      That doesn’t mean Sara didn’t overstep but the manager created the situation by putting Sara in a position where she’s been responsible for Cecila without giving Sara any actual authority to be in charge of Cecila.

      The Manager needs to grow a pair and deal with Ceclia.

      And I’m sorry I am not buying the idea Ceclia is acting this way because she is otherwise an excellent employee that was put in a bad spot with Sara thinking she’s the boss of everyone.

      Hiding inventory not just from Sara, but her own manager AND taking 3 weeks longer than everyone else to process it is a HUGE red flag. The whole “drama” with Sara is a smokescreen and Ceclia knew the manager would take the bait.

      The manager absolutely should go through everything on her desk and demand all the inventory on it and all the records to make sure they match. Something else is going on beyond Sara. I think Sara has a hunch but has no proof. She’s trying to get their manager to do their job and they aren’t. The meeting was one last cry for help. The manager could have absolutely said no Sara I am not doing a three party meeting BUT your concerns are valid I will handle it. Then actually freaking handle it.

      Boy do I have the feeling there is going to be a heck of an update and wouldn’t be shocked if neither Celia or the manager are employed once the can of worms is finally opened. SOMEONE higher up is going to eventually notice how long inventory is taking.

    4. Mango Freak*

      Why wouldn’t Sarah reach over? There’s a big ol’ obstacle, in the form of a manager who won’t address a huge problem.

      This is the behavior of a Helpful Good Girl who’s been shown one too many times that Brats and Screw-Ups will be protected, and only bad behavior will get results around here.

      OP has a full-blown crisis on her hands. She’s insulted Sarah to her face, and made clear that her value to the company isn’t…valued. This is Sarah’s desperate attempt to make OP manage, because she cares about the work they do. But she’s *pissed*.

    5. Raida*

      I concur.

      But it’s an opportunity for OP to sit down with Sarah (alone), get in writing the impacts on her ability to perform her job well, impacts on the store she sees, and any suggestions for training – do we have good documentation, what tasks should all staff in Front Area be across, what are FAQs, what are effective training techniques (if any), where do we fall down in not having processes in place?

      Sarah clearly is trying so. goddamn. hard. to get this fixed she’s either A) Offering to do all the goddamn work with the 3-way meeting or B) Thinks is OP is in the room Celia will accept this training and do the job better.

      Either way it’s not good. Either way it’s an offer of a lot of effort, and for stuff that the manager is supposed to be doing. And either way the manager needs to be clear Sarah is not involved in other staff’s performance management, and as a manager it’s important OP gets her feedback.

    1. Raida*

      And personally I dislike the idea that it took Celia being on a day off, Sarah poking around her workstation, then coming to OP to show them the problem.

      Does OP literally never go near Celia’s job? Did they not notice the mess? Do they not already have expectations around organisation, tidiness, timelines?

      And then they see the mess, hustle around in it, present Celia with a Shiny! New! System! that she has no say in, I’m guessing very little training, and OP isn’t catching up with her to see how it’s going?
      Clearly it didn’t go well – she freaked out and started hiding work because two people on her day off rummaged through her workstation and now she’s paranoid and protective – but still inefficient and now also defensive with her boss!

      That’s OP thinking “Oh i just need to say i want something and it will change exactly how i imagine it” instead of “Oh i need to discuss issues with my staff to find solutions”

  119. Observer*

    I’m coming in late so probably repeating a lot of what others have said.

    But at the heart of what Alison said is this:

    Sarah looks like she doesn’t trust you anymore because she doesn’t trust you anymore!

    Nor does she care anymore – if she is not actively looking for a new job, I would be utterly shocked. And she is *right* – she should absolutely not trust you because you are not trustworthy as a manager. What’s more your *other* staff will also not trust you. They see what is happening, and I’m sure they are hearing an earful from both of them. And your good staff is going to draw some conclusions – ones that will not bode well for your ability to manage the place.

    And by the way, you staff is probably also worried that you are going to throw them under the bus when an unreasonable patron comes along. (See the letter about the principle who allowed a parent to tell a teacher to stop nursing to see what happens when you are more interesting in playing nice than doing your job. And someone is going to tell me I’m being harsh, but what do you think you staff is thinking?)

  120. MuseumChick*

    Just want to add my voice to others saying that 1) Sarah will likely start (or already has) looking for a new job if you do not get a better handle on this situation 2) Your statement “I don’t really like drama or confrontation.” is true for most people but when you are a manager it is literally your job to deal with both.

    The biggest problem here I see is that you have not set clear expectations for Celia and her work. Including keeping an organized work area, processing things in a reasonable manner, behaving professionally with other staff, etc. To be blunt, that issues here really have nothing to do with Sarah, they have everything to do with your management (or lack there of) of Celia who has been allowed to throw a tantrum and face no consequences from you. I also would no longer trust you if I were in Sarah position.

  121. Kt*

    It doesn’t sound like Sarah is anyone’s boss, and never should have been put in a position of low key supervising Celia. Fix that first. Then fix Celia.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      That doesn’t work. Especially not now. Sarah is trying to work around the fact that Celia isn’t doing her job and is overstepping in the process. You try to “fix” Sarah before you fix Celia and you are just sending the message to Sarah that her doing her job just isn’t that important.

      1. Raida*

        Also, if Celia is feeling pressured by Sarah already, saying “Sarah’s now your supervisor” is only going to create more tension and make Celia feel attacked. Which then becomes bullying complaints. And saying she’s being retaliated against by her supervisor.

        Celia needs to be managed separately.
        Then if there is a change where Sarah becomes a Trainer or a Train the Trainer or a Supervisor or something, it is not being chucked into this mess with the one person she should not be managing.

  122. Ms. Murchison*

    I’m still boggling at the idea that Celia responded to a legit and grave concerns with her workplace performance and behavior with “show it to me in writing!” and the LW thought that was a valid response.

    LW, I hope you take the feedback to heart because you’ve gravely damaged your relationship with one of your best employees and are at risk of losing her because you can’t (or won’t?) see how unreasonable Celia’s behavior is. Celia should have been on a PIP before she started hiding product (!?!) from sales people. Hiding product should have triggered a come-to-Jesus talk with you, not bending yourself to her will. I hope you can shift approaches before you lose Sarah.

  123. DameB*

    OP — Your rock star is looking for a new job, most likely. As a general rule, smart people try to fix a problem and when they realize that the powers that be (that’s you!) aren’t going to fix it, they know that they have two solutions: learn to live with it or leave. She’s gonna leave.

  124. MassMatt*

    I’m trying very hard to stay kind here, this letter bothers me because I was a Sarah many years ago and my boss did everything they could to let things slide with Celia and make it seem as though I was the problem. I left, and other good employees did too.

    LW, Sarah is demoralized (because of your inability to manage) and probably looking to move on ASAP. You are going to have to deal with Celia, the longer you wait the more Celias there will be in your department.

    You desperately need to learn to be a better manager. If your job doesn’t offer any training, then seek out a mentor on your own, or read books, or this blog. Or stop being a manager and move to a contributor role.

    1. Mango Freak*

      I SO HOPE she is. But there’ve been too many depressing letter updates here from people who stuck around for years after much worse :(

  125. Tiger Snake*

    Sarah and Celia are peers. They’re close to the same pay range, aren’t they?

    In addition to everything Alison has said, doesn’t what you’ve said sound like you’re telling Sarah that her hard work and effort isn’t appreciated? That the fact she’s a superstar isn’t valued, and she’s not going to be given more opportunities, bonuses or higher pay than Celia? You both recognise the problem, but there’s neither effort to address the problem or recognise the difference in what the two of them are bringing to the table.

    That’s demoralising from a personal effort level as well.

  126. Ciela - NOT the problem child*

    OP, if you dislike drama, I can almost promise that you will have less of it if you let Celia go.
    Where I work, we had issues with Lots Of Drama last year. But there was one particular employee involved with 90% of the instances of drama. He no longer works here, and… drama has been reduced to almost nothing.

  127. Raida*

    “But Sarah now says she doesn’t care and to hold the union meeting without her.”

    Hi Sarah? You were never going to be invited to the union meeting.

    You are not involved in the performance management which that meeting would be about.
    Nor are you going to be invited to a meeting about you bullying someone with their union rep.

    You need to step back, give me time to deal with this, and accept that other staff member’s performance management is not, let’s be very clear about this, not something you are involved in. It is very VERY poor management to involve you in it beyond getting feedback from you.

    So I need to you, in writing, lay out all the impacts Celia’s processes have on your job, your performance. Nothing emotional. Nothing about what you’ve tried in the past. Nothing suggesting solutions.
    Just give me impacts.

    That I can work with.

    1. WellRed*

      I agree. To be sure, Sarah isn’t the problem but OPs inability to manage this situation has allowed Sarah to be too involved and Cecilia (is that the name?) to get defeats then hide stuff! Cecilia has been on the defense since OP and Sarah did her job one day(they had the right to do that, but maybe we could have forseen this outcome?) I mean, Cecilia is the actual problem but let’s step back and look at the mess op has inadvertently allowed to spring up.

  128. Anna Von Beaverhausen*

    There are two employees underperforming in this scenario. One is Cecilia and the other one is the OP.

    Sorry OP, you haven’t done your job and now this problem has festered into a huge mess. You’re at risk of losing your best employee because you’ve chosen not to support her as that’s the easier path for you.

    You need to follow up on this and correct this situation ASAP.

  129. Gravator*

    Ok so the fact it’s a library (I mean, duh) is making Celia’s hoarding of the new inventory SO MUCH WORSE. seriously. Patrons are going to notice that eventually. Sarah is going to leave for better pastures, as she should (and she needs to be very blunt and comprehensive about why she is leaving, that it’s both a Celia problem and a manager problem), and patrons are going to go to branches with better selections and availability of new releases.

    If Celia’s duties at all involve patron-facing ones, I doubt she’s excelling at that either. And let’s be honest: libraries, at least in the US, can’t really afford to bleed good staff for very preventable, honestly stupid problems like this right now. They have more than enough real, serious problems to deal with. When those real problems show up at the circ desk, do you want a team of Celias to handle them? Because you’ve seen how Celia mishandles even the simplest task. You’d want a team of Sarahs AND you wouldn’t want them to be so demoralized by having to work with rampaging Celias that they’d look at a horde of book burners and be like, “yeah you know what? You guys win, go put whatever creationist, idiotic drivel you want on the shelves, I literally don’t care anymore, go teach your kids to only read a Chick tract for all I care since Celia is apparently the only employee who matters here.”

    So if you don’t want that, then as one manager to another: grow a spine and actually manage Celia (including turfing her if need be), and then apologize to Sarah,and then maybe let her hire and supervise Celia’s replacement.

  130. Peace Out*

    This sounds eerily similar to a situation I was in fairly recently. I was the conscientious employee. I’d get told to train someone and that person wouldn’t want to follow my instructions, but do it “their way” taking hours or days longer to do their work, losing paperwork, not processing paperwork correctly, etc. Instead of our manager telling them I need you to following Peace’s instruction, they’d throw their hands in the air, tell me to leave them to it “they know how to do it” and weeks later, when they were so far behind, I’d get handed their work on top of my own. Problem was there a year and when I realized no amount of me talking to management about the issues were going to ignite change, I left. Much happier now. oh, problem and manager no longer work for the company either. karma.

  131. Aardvark*

    Sarah is distant because she has given up and looking (or at lest considering looking) for a new job. You don’t have long to resolve this before you will loose your rockstar. And you definitely don’t get to act surprised if she resigns

  132. Mark*

    I am very late to the teapot party but OP, all I see is a lack of action on your behalf.

    Celia is consistently 5-10 min late. Have you addressed this each and every time? Have you had the conversation with her today? You were late today, this is unacceptable. You need to be at your desk at 8 am every day ready to deal with customers. And the next day have the same conversation, you were late again today, the job you do requires you to be ready to serve the first customer at 8.00 am, this is your clear job role and there is no wriggle room. Day 3 you are there at 7:59 to clearly observe her following your clear expectations and opening at 8:00 am. If she swans in at 8:01 have the conversation again, you are required as part of your job to start at 8:00, not arrive at 8:01, throw your bag on the desk and say to the customer hold on a minute love until I start the computer. Document it all and keep referring to your document every single time it happens. By week 2 you are seeing a pattern that is not being rectified. By week 3 you are asking her what gives and does it make sense for you to keep working here if you cannot commit to a basic requirement of the job.

    Act immediately and clearly on any issue as it comes up.

    And so on, call out the bad behaviours, each and every time, be very clear what the basic expectation of the job is and hold her 100% accountable in every meeting, with or without the union rep. Act very swiftly, same day if possible. Document everything. And by week 3 you will be saying, this is our clear expectation, that you keep your workspace clear and tidy. I pointed out failures on the 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, & 10, and here we are again on the 15th with the same issue. I have clearly told you 6 times the bare minimum expectation, that all paperwork be in a single stack on your desk always and I see no improvement. Given you seem incapable of following this very simple basic requirement of your job, not to mind being late 8 out of the last 10 working days, I need you to understand how serious this all is, you are in danger of loosing your job. My next step is a formal PiP.
    Celia wants to have a meeting with you and the union rep, how about 2 pm this afternoon or 9 am in the morning. Have the conversation then and there. It is a clear requirement of the role that new stock is unpacked, processed and shelved within 3 days max. This teapot was here 6 months, that is 177 days late by our expected timeline. These 20 teapots were found covered in paper 5 days late. These red tagged teapots which I expressedly said to process as a priority Thursday still have not been done and today is Monday 3 working days behind the deadline. Why is Celia not doing a basis function of her job within a typical timeframe and why is this consistently an issue as I have documented? I want to see an immediate improvement.

    And the interactions with Sarah. Tell Celia.. Sarah is the profit maker, her clear vision for teapots and knowing what our customers want makes her very valuable to this company. If you are hindering her from being able to do her job then, you Celia need to stop that behaviour so that our company can carry on making a profit.

    You are failing in your job to take action with a problem employee who is not doing her job to a good enough standard.

  133. Librarian manager here*

    I have read through all of the comments and one thing that hasn’t been mentioned.
    In addition to the OP working with HR to develop a PIP in step discipline aligning with the job description and the union contract, there should be meetings with OP’s immediate supervisor.
    What is the strategy for coaching this employee to succeed? What are the specific requirements, tasks to be completed by what date? What are consequences if the employee does not meet those very specific expectations? What managerial professional development resources are available to OP to improve their management skills?

  134. Frances*

    I once worked for an organization that depended on an Accounts Payable clerk who turned out to be useless. She was old enough to be my mother. She simply couldn’t stand being managed by someone like her daughter. But my boss kept giving me stuff to give to her to do and she would make a face or have an attitude when I would give her stuff to do. She was nasty, rude and often unresponsive. People were afraid of her. Her work was terrible and she couldn’t get basic stuff. I also believe the boss didn’t know how to deal with her either and in the end after he left I figured out there was something else going on between them. It seemed liked they were best friends outside of work.

  135. Hybrid Employee (Part Human, Part Wolf)*

    Where, in your facility, is there a space so unwatched that Celia is able to hide weeks’ worth of inventory? Like, literally *how* is she hiding it? How is Celia accessing spaces you can’t and finding hiding places you cannot see? In addition to the Celia problem Alison and the other commenters have articulated, you have a facility oversight problem!

  136. Confused*

    I might regret saying this…but I don’t get it. I understand why Sarah brought it to OP’s attention in the first place, but now Celia is hiding the teapots and Sarah just wants to see what they’ve got in advance ext. Are there not other tea pot people Sarah can go to to see what has come in? By this point it does seem Sarah is overly invested in Celia’s job.
    The first bit – that was fine. Bring it to managers attention that Celia is not doing her job, manager sorts it out. From there it’s surely on Celia? OP should be checking in with Celia, not Sarah because [from what I understand] Sarah is either on Celia’s level or or her level in a different branch. She is not her manager. If I had a colleague checking on me all the time, I’d be annoyed as well.
    However, that said, Celia needs to be kept a closer eye on and for OP to see if she is actually using the colour coding system that she’s supposed to be using. I.E. doing her job. But that should be on OP, not Sarah.

  137. Garblesnark*

    Sarah needs to be removed from the role of half-managing Celia immediately, by way of OP stepping into actually doing that role.

    Which requires both OP saying “We are not doing joint meetings with Celia where we both tell Celia how to do her job, because you are not Celia’s manager” and OP actually managing Celia’s performance, including requiring that Celia’s work be done both reasonably timely and reasonably publicly.

  138. Bananas yo.*

    Listen, I’m not saying this is a library, but similar situations have happened at almost every library I’ve worked in.

  139. Hedgehug*

    “Sarah’s poor attitude” !?!? What!!???
    There are definitely poor attitudes in this letter, but Sarah’s is not it. Sarah’s attitude seems to be the only one that cares about the company succeeding.
    She’s about to quit because you are enabling Celia to sabotage Sarah’s ability to do her job well, and you’re going to be stuck with Celia who sucks at her job and is working very hard to be sneaky and underhanded, then you’ll be begging for Sarah to come back.
    The only way to save this is to fire Celia and apologize profusely to Sarah for breaking her trust.

  140. Nom*

    Thank you so much for this response Alison. I have been a Sarah almost constantly throughout my career, and it’s maddening to see work being done well as my manager’s last priority.

  141. Professional Straphanger*

    Speaking from experience, the day that Sarah told LW “It’s fine, don’t worry about it, whatever you decide is fine” is the day Sarah decided to start looking for a new job.

  142. StrangeCat*

    As a person who worked with inventory let me concentrate on another issue – WHY is Celia still employed?
    LW writes that a teapot has been forgotten for 6 months – is there no regular inventory being done? Because if you are not processing the teapots while accounting processes invoices you will have a lot of ghosts in your inventory and a simple yearly count will open the gates of Accounting Purgatory.
    Every delivery has a huge rat’s tail of invoices and tracking – if a vendor contacted you and asked, whether you have received a shipment what would the answer be? “We have a Celia, who likes to hide stuff”?
    Does your accounting regularly write you angry e-mails about not being able to process invoices and balance the inventory?
    Have the “salvaged teapots” been properly removed from the inventory and company balance? Or are those still company property?
    Depending on where you are (EU here) proof of inventory done is a part of yearly tax review – so currently Celia is a simple danger, judging by inventory only.
    I assume, LW will soon have talks with accounting and if they can provide no answers there will be measures taken by the company against LW.

  143. Where do I even begin...*

    So grateful to have found this site because for the first time in years, I realize I am not alone!  I could be Sarah!  (Please be gentle as this is my first time commenting!  I greatly apologize for the length but this will be great therapy that has been years in the making!)

    I worked at ABC widget-maker for several years when Boss was hired.  (Found out just recently that when Boss interviewed, she told her friend who now works for ABC widget-maker that she didn’t want the job because she doesn’t like to deal with conflict and had never managed!)  Big Boss (her boss) is scared of her and lets her do whatever she pleases, including temper tantrums, throwing things, pouting, etc.  She throws everyone, including me, under the bus to make herself look better to him as well.

    Boss spends most of her day on her personal phone or at long lunches, so has zero clue what anyone is doing, nor does she care.  She also comes in late 10-15 minutes every day and leaves early several days a week to “work from home” so she doesn’t have to use PTO but is unreachable.  

    Boss treats me like an assistant and expects me to share with her what goes on in the department because she cannot see or hear anything from her office.  I was asked on several occasions to include information that would be “helpful for co-workers’ reviews” but nothing has changed.  Boss has a very strong personality (and I do not) and can leave you being manipulated without even realizing it!      

    While I am in between Boss and co-workers, I am not officially in any type of management role and do not want to be!  It’s unspoken and expected from her and her boss because of tenure and knowledge.  I’ve begged for help too many times to count because co-workers lack of doing their job and that their mistakes make my job more difficult.  I’ve pretty much given up and just end up fixing as I go along and doing most of the work!  As long as the widgets go out, it doesn’t matter what goes on behind the scenes, according to Big Boss.

    The two other co-workers in my department have been here two years with very little experience.  Per Boss, “We just needed bodies.”  One is completely disorganized like Celia, makes continual mistakes and doesn’t even try to improve and the other plays on her phone, actually sleeps at her desk, and you never know her mood, so everyone walks on eggshells.  Oh and both are late every day with coffee in-hand!  Boss overshares a lot of information so I know there’s no arrangement!

    I think my final straw was when co-worker 2 snapped rudely at a customer, Boss and myself at the same time and Boss said nothing.  She later told me that she would leave it to me if she should address it. 

    I’ve been with the company 13 years and Boss has been here almost 8.  This is only a SMALL taste of what goes on and I probably should have left years ago.  I’m no spring chicken, am emotionally worn out and very scared of ending up somewhere just as bad or worse.  I don’t want to be in the same bad environment making less because I make great money and have very good benefits.  If I’m going to be miserable at work, I might as well get paid well.  (I can talk myself into and out of anything so here I am years later because of fear.)

    Thank you for listening.  I know this is all over the place.  There is so much more I could have written but it sure felt good.  I have been numb for several years and have made excuses that it’s all in my head and that I should be grateful that I even have a job! 

  144. This is about libraries isn't it*

    Celia needs to be managed, and Sarah doesn’t need to be involved anymore at all. She cannot be hiding the new teapots because she doesn’t want any accountability and I believe her union rep will agree. Sarah should not be the one checking on this, though, her manager should!

  145. anon_sighing*

    Why would you accept a management position when you dislike confrontation? When Sarah finally has enough and leaves, you will have zero wall between you, Celia, and dwindling sales….

    I can’t say more that Alison hasn’t.

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