I promoted one employee instead of her coworker, and now my whole team is upset

A reader writes:

I am a long-time manager, but promotions are a rarity on my team. When an unexpected opportunity for a promotion arose earlier this year, there were two obvious candidates: Annie and Beth. Annie was more of a star individual contributor than Beth, and also had more experience covering the open position. But Annie can be volatile, and in particular has a history of butting heads with Jane, who would be her direct supervisor in the new role. So I chose to promote Beth, who has better soft skills and an excellent relationship with Jane (they’re good friends outside work). When I gave Annie the bad news, she said that she had determined that she was not a good fit for the role anyway and did not want the “drama” of the higher level position.

Since then, Annie has continued her excellent work and been scrupulously polite. She does, however, avoid Beth and Jane when she can. She has also stopped going “above and beyond.” She no longer volunteers for the hardest assignments when we’re in a pinch, and has opted out of all social gatherings. The gatherings are not technically required, but I do think that they’re important for team-building purposes. I’m disappointed, although not really surprised, that Annie seems to be boycotting them.

The problem is that a tense unhappiness has settled over the rest of the team. General consensus seems to be that I used Annie to cover the position without a promotion and screwed her over by promoting Beth instead because Beth is Jane’s friend. Beth and Annie’s respective relationships with Jane were absolutely a factor in my decision, but Beth is more than qualified for her new role even setting that aside.

Is there any way I can ask Annie to smooth things over with her colleagues? Can I ask her to tell them that she didn’t want the promotion anyway, or at least encourage her to stop boycotting happy hour? Beth does not deserve the team’s extreme lack of enthusiasm during what should be an exciting and celebratory time for her.

The fact that Beth and Jane are good friends outside of work makes this a real clusterfudge — because of course it looks to your team like that’s why Beth got the promotion despite not being strong of a performer as Annie, but also because you really can’t have someone manage their “good friend.” It’s rife for bias and lack of objectivity, and for the appearance of those things.

Even without the other issues, Beth and Jane’s close friendship should have given you serious pause about moving Beth into that role — at least without a very serious conversation about how their relationship would need to change, and assurance from each of them that they agreed and were bought into that, and even then it would be tricky (depending on exactly what “good friends outside of work” means). That doesn’t necessarily mean Annie should have gotten the job instead (volatility and a history of butting heads with Jane might also be prohibitive), but it might mean you needed to look at external candidates.

As for what to do now … don’t ask Annie to tell her coworkers she didn’t want the promotion. Based on her behavior since she said that, it’s unlikely that’s really true (and it’s significant that she only said that after she knew she wasn’t getting it). And don’t ask her to resume coming to optional happy hours; she’s entitled to decide she doesn’t want to socialize outside of work. She’s also entitled to stop going above and beyond — and I suspect that if you really think about it, you can understand why she has: she’s gotten the message that doing that doesn’t pay off, and she’s not in a place where she’s inclined to do extra favors at the moment. That’s fair. None of that means Annie is a saint, or even that you should have promoted her instead. But it does mean that the way you want to handle this isn’t the way to go.

I’m hopeful that you were transparent with Annie’s about your concerns about her volatility and relationship with Jane, enough for her to understand why those things were an obstacle in promoting her. But you’ve still got this Beth/Jane friendship landmine to sort out, not to mention your team’s reaction to everything that went down. Those aren’t problems that Annie created, and it’s not fair to look to her to solve them for you.

{ 603 comments… read them below }

  1. Smooth Criminal*

    LW, please be aware that Annie is probably also looking for a new job, as she should.

    1. Tisserande d'Encre*

      Agreed, this sounds like a pretty difficult team dynamic that isn’t being managed as closely by the LW as I think I’d like if I were in their position. (I’d especially be interested to know if the LW spoke with Jane at all before this promotion was decided?)

      1. Harvest Kale*

        “I’d especially be interested to know if the LW spoke with Jane at all before this promotion was decided?”

        Wondering exactly the same. This did Jane NO favors. A star performer was denied a deserved promotion because of the perception that she “butted heads” with Jane, and Jane was given a personal friend to manage. This undermines Jane as a manager in so many ways.

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah….so if the case is that Beth is truly the best person for the job, this also does Beth no favors.

          I know that posting the job and doing interviews takes more time, but if these promotions truly are that rare then it likely would have done everyone in this scenario a favor to post the job. Even if just internally. It would have given the OP, Jane and the organization as a whole the ability to say that through the interview process, Beth was the best candidate for this position. And then give Annie and anyone else who perhaps applied the ability to ask for feedback on what they need to do to improve.

          For all we know, there are other people on this team who would have wanted to try for this role – and again even if the feedback would have been “lack of experience”, it opens the door to have that conversation which does help employees. As it stands the process feels like it lacks transparency and for those on the team dissatisfied with the outcome, that’s likely what needs to be addressed.

          1. Harvest Kale*

            Also true. Really, nobody won with how this was handled. Jane is now perceived by her org as someone immature and unprofessional who plays favorites and promotes her buddies, plus she has all the difficulties that come with being made manager of a personal friend. Beth is seen as having leapfrogged the more qualified person because she kissed up to the boss and is now being managed by a friend, which is at best awkward. And if Annie really did have a soft skills deficit, she was given no apparent coaching or opportunity to grow in that area. She just got screwed over with no warning and is now expected to solve a problem not of her making.

        2. Middle Aged Lady*

          If someone is volatile, that undermines their status as a star. What I wonder is if the OP addressed the volatility in the past and told her it’s the reason she didn’t get the promotion. I don’t like working with volatile people. I wish more managers would address it as part of performance reviews. I don’t care how much work someone does. If they fly off the handle, they aren’t good employees.

          1. Harvest Kale*

            “Volatile” is a super strong word, and you are right that normally you would only use this about someone who flies off the handle or is very reactive and inappropriate. But nothing else in the letter fits with Annie being volatile or abusive or scary. She backed down without a fuss when passed over for promotion; the whole team apparently considered her the better fit for the job; she was a top performer before and hasn’t dipped her performance after; and most tellingly of all, the OP was going to hand off responsibility for managing and messaging this mess to her – not a task you’d assign to someone volatile. The only evidence we have to weigh against this picture of a professional and competent women is that she one time “butted heads” with Jane. That’s really nonspecific. It feels like the OP is exaggerating issues with Annie in an effort to justify a bad decision made for shallow reasons.

            1. Zelda*

              As one data point, I have sometimes been called ‘volatile’ or similar terms because I have facial expressions.

              1. allathian*

                Bingo. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I show frustration at work on the regular. I don’t play poker because my poker face is non-existent, and I’ve never really learned to hide my true feelings. This basically meant that when I worked retail in high school and college, I’d pace and mutter in frustration when I was alone in the back room/warehouse or break room, and cry in the bathroom on the regular. I was basically masking, in the sense of spending a great deal of mental energy on controlling my facial muscles as much as possible and smiling until my cheeks hurt, even if I didn’t know there was an actual term for it.

                When I switched to an office job, I’m really glad that I had my own office at first (basically nearly everyone in my building did at the time), but switching to a two-person office was hard for me at first and my mask slipped more than once. Fortunately I had a good office mate who only asked if I was okay, but even that was a bit embarrassing so I resolved to do better.

                My emoting at work is generally limited to swearing under my breath at my computer, but WFH has been a true blessing to me, because I can grimace at the computer and rant and rave in my office as much as I want, and only need to mask during meetings (which in my case rarely take more than 10% of my working hours each week), and even then I can relax if I’m muted and my camera’s off. I like my job in general, and I’m not saying I’m frustrated all the time, either. But it’s very hard for me to hide even tiny moments of frustration, and I’m very glad whenever I don’t have to do that.

                Even so, I’ve been called volatile by more than one former boss when my mask has slipped more than usual, and it’s one reason why I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a people manager.

            2. Tiger Snake*

              I think that when you’re viewed as a superstar, you also get additional unreasonable expectations. That makes the label of ‘volatile’ without concrete examples all the more difficult to justify.

              What for another person might be simply “they had a different perspective because of their experience and it took a bit of discussion for them to understand what we actually wanted here” becomes “stubborn and argumentative”. What for another is “at maximum capacity and not able to take the task on” becomes “unwilling to step up and inflexible”.

              1. Cicely*

                Eh, we are supposed to take the LW at their word, and we aren’t owed examples of what they say. “Volatile” it is; all else is needless speculation.

                1. Tiger Snake*

                  And we are taking her at her word. She thinks Anne is volatile. We don’t know what volatile means, because it is an arbitrary word with an infinite spectrum of potential definitions. She hasn’t given us any information or examples about what volatile is; so it could equally mean Anne will calmly state when she disagrees with Jane in front of others, or that she starts screaming.

                  And one of the factors of that spectrum is that you assign the word differently to different people based on what you expect from them. Hence the comparisons to other similar labels that a superstar gets unfairly labelled with when a lower performer would be given much more leeway.

            3. maelen*

              The LW says “a history of butting heads with Jane.” That could be one time, but it implies at least a few times to me.

              1. Also-ADHD*

                But not that she regularly butts heads with everyone or that Jane isn’t part of the issue there, especially with the fact is was seen as a positive (not a negative or even neutral) by LW that Beth and Jane were friends. Which suggests to me the dynamics at this org and with Jane especially might be off in ways that have nothing to do with Annie.

            4. Middle Aged Lady*

              True. We don’t have examples of OP saying in what ways Annie was volatile. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    2. Dawn*

      And I’d imagine the rest of the team is, too. If the only way up appears to be to be close friends with a manager, you can either make friends with a manager, or go somewhere that promotions are made on merit, and most people would choose the latter.

      1. Beth*

        I’m surprised LW didn’t foresee this being a problem. Yes, there are soft skill reasons to justify Beth’s promotion…but when the public image is “star employee denied promotion, team lead’s friend got it instead,” of course there are issues!

        LW, I’m wondering if there’s a part of you that’s avoiding this situation–ignoring the obvious image problem, trusting Annie too easily when she said she didn’t want the promotion anyways, hoping you can get Annie to smooth over the team morale issue–because it’s hard and uncomfortable and not what you want to be doing. If there is, that’s understandable, but it’s not an instinct you can afford to indulge. You’re this team’s manager. Something about how you handled this promotion process–maybe who you picked, maybe how you messaged the pick, maybe your team’s overall level of trust in your judgment–has created this problem. It’s your job to fix it, not Annie’s.

        1. Campbell*

          Especially when it sounds like star employee was temporarily doing the job before they decided who got the promotion

        2. Also-ADHD*

          If Annie has such a soft skills deficiency that wasn’t chosen despite other merit, I can’t imagine how she’d be the best one to smooth over the team’s feelings anyway, as their peer. Why offload even more emotional work of management to her if she’s so lacking there?

          1. Flossie Bobbsey*

            She’s not lacking there, LW just thinks she is. It’s very telling that the rest of the team is standing behind Annie and that LW believes Annie has standing to smooth this over. Goes directly against LW’s claim that Annie lacks soft skills. All clues in the letter point to Jane, not Annie, being the one who’s hard to work with.

            1. AlsoADHD*

              This is what’s confusing to me. I try and take LW at their word, but I wonder how much LW has actually reflected on the team’s reaction as judgement on *their* decision and the process.

              This sucks for Beth, sure, because I feel like the reality is that Beth probably has some good qualifications as well (you can have 2 people who are well-qualified for a promotion, on a team like this where promotions are rare especially). And now people think — possibly correctly — that Beth got the job because she’s friends with Jane, and it’s soured it for her. A better process, even with the Beth promotion outcome, may have led to the team buying in.

              This sucks for Annie because she was apparently covering (it sounds like) and maybe felt blindsided or frustrated for being overlooked, and now LW wants even more emotional labor from her! Getting solid work, no drama, etc. is already 10/10 best outcome for LW here. I hope Annie is looking elsewhere. She has no hope/future at this company, I can already tell! Whether she is truly volatile, I can’t tell. Her current behavior and the fact that the staff, on their own, seem frustrated on her behalf and like her — that suggests to me that the perception of her as volatile could use some examining. Maybe she was, but she’s worked on herself considerably–but LW still remembers a time three years ago (when perhaps Annie was going through other stuff etc) that something went down. Maybe Jane is hard to work with or clearly favors Beth over Annie, and it’s caused issues in the past. Maybe Annie has a style that’s slightly different than Beth’s or LW’s and LW is slightly biased and finds Annie volatile because she understands her less.

              People have all kinds of ideas. I saw someone on here once say they would find it appalling if a direct report appeared visibly frustrated in a 1:1, but I think that’s wild–seems against all the psychological safety training I’ve had as a manager. (My direct reports share their frustrations with me all the time! I consider that an essential part of management, and a 1:1 a really appropriate place to share.) I think this is why adjectives can be tricky and examples are sometimes better, but I know the length often causes these pieces of confusion.

            2. JelloStapler*

              In some organization cultures with toxic positivity issues, “volatile” or “negative” can mean “not sunshine happy all the time,” or “doens;t do whatever I say with a skip to their step” i.e., has real human feelings or puts down boundaries. Since LW reads as if they want to avoid anything uncomfortable for themselves- it makes me wonder.

          2. Elbe*

            Of course it’s hard to tell from just one letter, but it almost seems to me that the LW lacks some soft skills.

            The LW seems really confused/disappointed about things that most people could reasonably predict. Handling morale is a manger’s responsibility, so it’s truly odd that the LW would suggest that Annie is the one with the soft skills to smooth things over.

            The LW really doesn’t seem to understand their team’s perspective or how to deal with everyone’s very understandable feelings on the situation.

            1. MM*

              LW said they were a longtime manager who doesn’t deal with a lot of promotions. I wouldn’t be surprised if their sense of being “experienced” caused them to be overconfident and not consider the fact that they’re not experienced at doing this specific thing. It may be less a lack of soft skills than situational hubris, or it may be a lack of soft skills that LW has learned to compensate for better in their more routine duties. (Or of course any of the less generous scenarios being discussed in these comments, but that’s not what this comment is about.)

              1. NotYourMom*

                This is true, but it’s also interesting that the LW points to Annie’s soft skills as a reason she did not promote her, but then lacks the skills to manage the situation and wants to put the burden of managing reactions on Annie.

                When looking at that in the context of the comment that Annie is “volatile” … well, I’d be quite curious to hear some examples of Annie being volatile. Because the situations that LW is putting Annie into, and the things they are being upset with Annie for in this letter are not fair.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Exactly. The folks who are upset may also be taking a second look at at their own jobs and likelyhood for promotion or that extra effort will be appropriately rewarded.

        I expect Annie to be looking for a job. LW, don’t ask her to go to Happy Hour or do anything “extra.” She did extra and got nothing so now she’s opting out. I would, too. Why spend more time on a job that’s clearly going nowhere? It’s not her job to make it look pretty when it’s not.

        It is potentially problematic that Beth’s workplace friend is now her boss. LW needs to focus on the conflicts of interest there vs trying to make Annie take the fall for this decision. I’ve worked for friends and by necessity our friendships needed to change or end (at least for the duration of the job). They need to be extremely professional and transparent at work. The fact that the team seems upset indicates that this is not happening.

        Annie was considered good enough cover the role, but not good enough for a permanent placement – were any of these concerned addressed with Annie? If not, that’s poor management by LW and/or Jane.

        I think LW should have looked beyond the two obvious folks and opened it up to outside candidates or even people beyond their department. Now that it’s done, LW needs to do the clean up and own their decision.

        1. Jaina Solo*

          So much this! I had a boss take it personally when a promotion fell through and I told her we should go back to my actual job (i.e. stop doing the extra stuff). She was so upset about that and the next review I had was essentially based off her displeasure of that conversation; she painted me as a subpar worker in it. If I’m not getting promoted, why the heck would I do more work? What weird kool-aid are people drinking that they think we’re honored to take on more work without more pay?

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Definitely. And other team members may be as well. While Annie may not have been a good choice for the role to you, others on your team feel otherwise. Beth’s friendship with Jane only makes this visually (and actually) worse. OP needs to go into damage control mode immediately.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This right here. I’m genuinely astonished at how management thinks employees should just disregard the appearance of things as if nepotism or favoritism don’t exist. “I would have made this decision no matter what so just disregard the fact these two are besties.” Like it’s a McDonald’s order or something!

        It doesn’t matter with the OP thinks if that appearance of favoritism is coloring every single thing on that team and harming it.

        1. Blame It On The Weatherman*

          Yes, I hate when managers treat their staff’s reacting logically to the appearance of favoritism / nepotism / unfairness as though that reaction is somehow “playing into drama” or something. Nope, adults have eyes and brains and are allowed to react to the situation as it actually is, not as management wishes it looked like it were.

        2. Also-ADHD*

          LW didn’t make it only because they were besties, but it sounds to me like that did factor in positively for Beth. The only other vague thing in her favor (vs Annie—both are probably qualified) is nebulous soft skills, which there’s no indication Annie was given coaching in, and which aren’t quantified vs her strengths over Beth. The main reason Beth was selected was she gets along with Jane better than Annie, it sounds like—which is inextricable from their friendship if they are friends.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        Love your username, Escapee from Corporate Management! I totally relate! I agree that OP needs to do some serious damage control. Annie is classically quiet quitting. Why should she go above and beyond, when the result of her doing it in the past yielded a big nothing when it came time for a promotion? The optics are glaringly bad here, no matter what the reason for promoting Beth. Alison is right, you not only have to figure out how to smooth over the issue with Annie, but also the rest of your team.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      Yep. I’m not saying that she should have been promoted – soft skills are important, and that and her relationship with Jane should have been discussed before. But promoting someone because they have an ‘excellent relationship’ with someone because they are friends? Yikes.

      Annie got the message loud and clear that going above and beyond will get her bupkis at your organization. And yeah, you did screw her by having her fill this position.

      Is there any way you can get her some sort of bonus? Again, not downplaying how important it is not to be volatile at work, but you just promoted someone because they were friends with the boss and screwed over your star performer who was already doing the job in the process.

      1. RIP Pillowfort*

        Yeah that’s like Example 1 in our conflict of interest discussions at work. “Excellent relationship” should be based on working together and working with others.

        Not to say you can never have friends from work! You have to be aware of how that’s a conflict of interest and work to address that.

      2. ferrina*

        Seriously! It’s one thing if Person A can’t stand Person B, but it’s another thing to say “friends work better together”. I can’t tell how much of an issue Anne’s soft skills are- does she have a history of problems with her supervisors? Have she and Jane gotten into yelling matches? Or is she more neutral with Jane while Beth is Jane’s friend?

        I’d be so angry if my status on the team was based on who I was friends with. That’s turning promotions into popularity contests.

        1. Miette*

          Excellent points. I am also left wondering where reports of Annie’s reputation for volatility and butting heads with Jane come from. Jane? Or has OP witnessed it? I’m more Team Annie the more I think about it.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, based on the letter we have no idea what ‘soft skills’ are counting against Annie. It could very much be a situation where the team values directness and management does not, or where telling a difficult client to sit down, behave, and wait their turn seems “volatile” to OP, who is not the one dealing with them. OP, in the future, one of the things you will have to ask yourself when dealing with hires and promotions is whether you’re aiming for effectiveness in the team, or the appearance of harmony – team building happy hours, by the way, are the appearance of harmony.

          1. Colleen*

            Let’s be honest. Certain behaviors from certain groups get termed “volatile” or “aggressive” when that same behavior from other groups is labelled strong or assertive. Wondering if that’s at play here.

            1. JelloStapler*

              +1 or organizational culture and how it reacts to people putting down boundaries or not being happy happy all the time.

      3. Cmdrshprd*

        “but you just promoted someone because they were friends with the boss and screwed over your star performer who was already doing the job in the process.”

        Eh I think that is a mischaracterization of what happened.

        Someone doing an interim job/position is different than them doing the full/actual job. Often in an interim you just want that person to cover the basics and not the full scope of the position. Annie may have been able to do that, but not the actual job long term. Even being a start individual performer, moving up is often a lot about relationship building with other managers on the same level and people above/below. It is hard to know without the details, but taking OP at their word that Annie lacks soft skills it is certainly likely that Annie was not a good fit long term. Annie might have been able to keep the ship afloat, but not get it moving in a forward progress direction.

        I have known lots of people that were great coworkers/star contributors, but I highly doubt they would have been good managers. I think we have seen this often people get promoted because they are excellent teapot builders, but teapot builder manager is a different skill. To be a good/great teapot builder manager you might not necessarily need to be the best teapot builder, but just a good teapot builder with good soft/people skills.

        Now it might have been a mistake to promote Jane, and OP should have hired an outside person, but it seems that Jane got the job partially because she can get along with Jane, but primarily because Jane is a good teapot maker, and has good/great soft-skills.

        It seems like OP might have been between a rock and a hard place. If Jane was the best internal candidate, but has a scarlet letter because she is friends with the boss, OP could have hired from outside, but then people might have been mad/upset that OP did to promote from within. If they had hired an outside person people likely would have been upset about that, if promotions/openings are few and far between.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          But I’m not sure how much the “soft skills” are actually down to being Beth friends with the manager Jane.

        2. Also-ADHD*

          It sounds like there wasn’t a clear process either way, with open mindedness to who can do the role. The fact that LW wanted Annie to smooth it over is insane to me. They should’ve figured they’d lose Annie over this, definitely lose any above and beyond, etc. To expect Annie not to mind, even if she would’ve turned it down (which I’m not sure she would’ve), is absurd. To expect people not to notice you promoted Jane’s friend over who they feel is the best team member is also absurd. Yes, there are other considerations, but I wonder at anyone judging soft skills of management in this situation in a way, because no one was really given any chance or information. It sounds like a decision was just made behind the scenes.

          1. Annie E. Mouse*

            This is exactly it! I know we accept LW at their word and give them the benefit of the doubt, but the facts that 1) LW didn’t see an issue with the friendship, 2) believed Annie when she tried to save face about not wanting the promotion and 3) expects Annie to smooth over the favoritism feelings on the team suggests that LW is not well equipped to evaluate anyone’s soft skills. I believe LW might think Annie is lacking, I just don’t think they really know what good soft skills look like.

        3. Monday Musings*

          Soft skills are just that, skills. They can be developed. It’s a cop-out to pass over someone for promotion because of a perceived deficit in this area which is why so many organizations are meh. This is also how organizations stay non-diverse, because folks get along with and are more comfortable with their own kind.

          OP you’ve lost Annie, rightfully so. You didn’t even offer her training or coaching in soft skill development, instead you punished her for her personality. Don’t add to Annie’s problems by expecting her to solve the problem you created. Your company does not promote the best, the message was clear.

          1. Elizabeth Weir*

            It’s a cop-out to pass over someone for promotion because of a perceived deficit in this area which is why so many organizations are meh.

            I completely disagree. Soft skills — skills like integrity, good judgment, ability to “read the room,” relationship-building, networking, and so on — are vital, and the success of an organization is more likely to hinge on them than on who has the most teapot assembly certifications.

            Of course soft skills “can be developed” — so can teapot assembly, probably more so — but that takes time, and when the organization is looking to fill a position, it has to assess the credentials of the candidates before it. As for “this is how organizations stay non-diverse,” diversity is not always the most important criterion in filling in open position.

            1. AD*

              Completely agree — and I’ll just add that soft skills cannot always be developed, or improved on. Sometimes you can — depending on a lot of factors! But not always.

              Also, I don’t think this situation is a binary. I’d argue neither Annie nor Beth were the only options here — an external hire would have probably been a better alternative.

            2. Colleen*

              She didn’t say they didn’t matter. She was focused on “perceived deficit.” Is there actually a deficit? Has it been addressed with Annie? If there was no Beth in the picture would the “perceived deficit” have come up?

            3. Tiger Snake*

              But we don’t know how many of those were needed for this promotion vs the skills that Annie was actively demonstrating and taking ownership of, either. We know this is a promotion, but we don’t know to what or what type. We don’t know what the critical skills and functions of the role are, because in the determination the LW has given us they were never factored in.

              So either the promotion process was done wrong from the very beginning, or both Annie and Beth have all the necessary skills – soft and technical – for the role, and the LW picked based on which she thought was going to cause less interpersonal conflict between her senior staff.
              Since the LW was concerned about having to interfere with drama, the second is how she sees having measured the decision she made. The main drive of the decision was because Annie and Jane have argued in the past. The decision wasn’t because Annie’s soft skills are deficient – she meets the quota, but Beth exceeds that part just like Annie exceeded at the actual work.

              And that means that; yes, there would be time and opportunity for Annie to build and learn those soft skills on the job.

            4. Shakti*

              Yes!! Soft skills are vital to being a good manager!! I know more people that have quit over soft skill problems than any other issue tbh they’re often underestimated as important, but soft skills in the case of doctors save lives and millions in malpractice lawsuits

          2. Bear Expert*

            Soft skills can be developed and taught – I’ve managed a team where that was the biggest challenge for us. It took doing some careful hiring and explicitly rewarding developing and using soft skills as well as coaching to get to a more successful place.

            But while I was doing it I turned down an internal hire who said they knew everything important for the job, the technical parts. They were not interested in learning additional skills, they were interested in winning/beating people with the skills they already had. They were not appropriate for the collaborative approach my team needed, and they were hurt and confused that I’d hire someone else when they were so obviously right.

        4. Olive*

          I posted just a few days ago about good management and “no surprises”.

          A good manager should know what her employee’s short term and long term goals are, and if one of those goals is a promotion, the employee should have a clear picture what it will take to be a serious candidate – both what the criteria for consideration is and what she specifically needs to work on.

        5. Elizabeth Weir*

          Thank you for this post, @cmdrsheperd. I think the commentariat (which is notorious for disliking socializing/networking) is being far too quick to disagree with the choice of Beth. This is one of those situations where the person passed over for promotion — regardless of who it was — was likely to leave the company, and where you’d hear grumbling from the lower ranks about the choice either way.

          1. Worldwalker*

            We don’t have a lot of information about the actual situation in the office — we’re getting only one person’s point of view — but we do have one critical thing: The reaction of the rest of the team.

            If Annie didn’t have integrity, good judgement, relationship-building, etc., skills, nobody would care if she wasn’t promoted. In fact, they’d be happy for it. “I’m so glad that nice Beth got the promotion instead of mean Annie.” But they’re not. They would have preferred Annie to Beth.

            So we’re getting a second-hand read on what Annie’s soft skills are like, and it seems to me that she is at least as good as Beth in those skills involved in working with the rest of the team. She might be “volatile” (whatever that means) but the fact we’re seeing, second-hand, is that the team likes her better than Beth.

            That’s a fairly significant piece of input, from a totally different observer (or set of them). It appears that the only people who think Beth should have gotten the promotion are Beth herself, of course, along with Jane, Beth’s close friend, and the LW. Everyone else would be happier working under Annie. That is not a minor piece of data.

            1. Elizabeth Weir*

              If Annie didn’t have integrity, good judgement, relationship-building, etc., skills, nobody would care if she wasn’t promoted. In fact, they’d be happy for it. “I’m so glad that nice Beth got the promotion instead of mean Annie.” But they’re not. They would have preferred Annie to Beth.

              This argument assumes a lot of things that may well prove untrue. For example, it assumes that all justified decisions are popular. In reality, most decisions create winners and losers — and the losers don’t always gently go into the good night gracefully, particularly where there were sound arguments for and against the decision. For another example, it assumes that the occasions in which Beth had the opportunity to display integrity were widely publicized within the company; in reality, highly sensitive matters, the ones that challenge our sense of integrity, may only be known to leadership or others on a “need to know” basis.

              Unfortunately, leadership is not always a popularity contest.

              1. Tiger Snake*

                Semantics argument; management isn’t always a popularity contest, but leadership does need popularity :P

                Real argument: We don’t know what the additional job duties of the promotion are, so we’re not really able to judge what level of leadership they need. But if the rest of the team like Annie better and Annie’s a superstar, that’s not telling us she’s popular, that’s telling us that she has been demonstrating leadership skills and many soft skills, if not management skills, in her current work.

                We can probably assume Annie’s done a lot of mentoring and helping other people with their work, with Beth hasn’t, because of all the comments about how she’s now stopped going above and beyond.
                But more than that, it actually makes me speculate about the nature of the disagreements Annie has had with Jane in the past. Because when I think that, my brain jumps to “Has Annie been acting as the voice of reason to call out when Jane’s expectations of the team have been out of whack, like you often see people called to do on this site?”

              2. allathian*

                No, but the fact that Beth and Jane are friends outside of work, should by and of itself have disqualified Beth from consideration, regardless of any other factors. Regardless of Jane’s ability to actually manage Beth, the fact that they are friends is going to mean that the teams will consider this a nepotism hire. This is doing Beth no favors either, btw, because nobody on the team will ever judge her management skills on their own merits, she was a nepotism hire and she’ll always be judged as one.

                It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that everyone on the team except Beth is looking for a new job, not just Annie.

          2. Kevin Sours*

            Being passed over for a role you’ve already been covering in favor of another internal candidate is going to sting harder. If Beth was the best person to be promoted *why wasn’t she covering the role already*. The fact that the team is very much on team Annie also says something about Annie’s soft skills.

        6. Anony*

          It’s quite possible someone would be upset no matter what choice they made, but that’s also part of being manager. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can strive to create a fair and transparent process. If OP had realized that Annie wasn’t a great fit but it wasn’t appropriate for Beth and Jane to be in a supervisor/employee role, then the answer from my end is to expand the hiring pool. If people grumble about not promoting from within, so be it — at least you can point to a fair and clear hiring process. Internal candidates were considered first, it didn’t work, so you opened up to external candidates.

          In this case, OP passed over Annie — which may or may not have been fair. Being an interim doesn’t always mean you were right for the job. But OP seems to view Beth and Jane’s friendship as a positive, when that actually should have been a serious impediment or outright disqualifier for Beth. And now OP wants Annie to do the work to make the grumblings go away, when that is in fact not her job. None of that is a great look here.

    5. Generic Name*

      Yup. I used to work for a company where people would be “close friends outside of work” with their subordinates, and it’s an indication of serious issues with company management overall. This is not on Annie to fix a situation that you created.

    6. Also-ADHD*

      And maybe not just Annie! If I were on this team and ever wanted to advance my career, I’d leave more quickly because of this too and I’d definitely not bother going above and beyond (even the folks that aren’t Annie) because I’d assume it was more about who was better liked, too political for my tastes. (Likability at some level is always part of it but good friends being considered first, particularly because of their good relationship with a superior, is a bad look.)

    7. Uff*

      She is guaranteed looking for a new job, and possibly others on the team. I’m also questioning the volatile relationship between Annie and Jane. Is it truly that volatile or does LW sees it that way because they don’t like to manage a conflict? Yikes on trikes!

  2. Dawn*

    I’d honestly like to know how you expected this to go over with Annie, who, in spite of a clear kick in the teeth, has by your own admission still continued with her excellent work. I don’t even know if I could manage that in her place.

    1. A. Smith*

      I have the same wondering! How in the world was Annie supposed to take this and in what world would it make sense for Annie to own “smoothing things over”??

      The delusions abound in this letter/scenario.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I would like to know too.

      Who would keep going above and beyond, volunteering for last minute and/or tough work, and attending happy hours? You do realize Annie has to get something out of those extras? Does the OP want something for nothing?

      1. Lab Boss*

        I have a hunch that OP doesn’t think of Annie’s “going above and beyond” as ACTUALLY being above and beyond, as in “more than is expected or required.” Annie was a high performer and it sounds like the assumption was that she’d automatically continue to perform highly no matter what- so of course, you promote someone else and know Annie will continue to perform highly. So now Annie just “no longer doing extra” ends up being viewed as “Annie is slacking/pouting/letting the team down.”

        There’s probably a term for this… something akin to Anchoring? Where Annie’s performance got pegged at a certain level and now this job will probably always consider her at a default “meets expectations,” even when she’s outperforming most of the team.

        1. Samoth*

          It’s not exactly “lying flat” but that’s the thing that comes to mind for me – the core idea of rejecting overwork seems to line up with Annie no longer going “above and beyond” here, unless I’ve managed to significantly misinterpret something.

          1. Lab Boss*

            It’s not even “lying flat” or “act your wage,” both of which carry (to me, at least) some connotation of doing the bare minimum. Per OP, Annie is STILL doing “excellent work,” she’s just not going out of her way to do extra, or take on the very hardest projects- and she’s still being looked at sideways. Annie should find a new job, not because of the issues around the promotion and perceived cronyism, but because OP’s letter makes it clear that her giving 100% and taking on all the extra work will always be seen as “meets expectations” and anything less will be a problem. She can’t get ahead.

            1. Observer*

              Annie should find a new job, not because of the issues around the promotion and perceived cronyism, but because OP’s letter makes it clear that her giving 100% and taking on all the extra work will always be seen as “meets expectations” and anything less will be a problem. She can’t get ahead.

              Well, the issues around the promotion are a signal of dysfunctional management. Which is also manifesting in the OP’s very unreasonable response. Which means that you are 100% correct about the rest of it. Unfortunately for Annie, but it’s also likely to bite the LW as well.

            1. Dawn*

              “The reward for toil had been more toil. If you dug the best ditches, they gave you a bigger shovel.” – Terry Pratchett

        2. TootsNYC*

          a baseline shift, perhaps.

          It’s what I often fear when trying to earn an “outstanding” rating.

        1. Elizabeth Weir*

          Exactly. Annie should stop racking up teapot certifications (or whatever) and do more networking/relationship-building herself.

      2. ferrina*

        Sure sounds like OP is wanting something for nothing. OP is already getting really good work from Annie, but now really good work isn’t enough? That’s ridiculous.

        Annie’s understandably frustrated and jaded. She went above and beyond and was passed over. Why would she go above and beyond before? OP just demonstrated that it’s not about who does the best work or the most work- it’s about who has the right relationships and soft skills. Annie doesn’t have the right relationships, so she knows it’s unlikely that she’ll ever get promoted. She has no reason to go above and beyond*, and OP is ridiculous in expecting that she should. *though she should still do good work, and it sounds like she is!

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          “OP just demonstrated that it’s not about who does the best work or the most work”

          But doing the best work inherently includes soft skills. Sure you can have a teapot maker A that produces 10 high quality teapots an hour, but they are mean/yell at coworkers/supervisors etc… and you have teapot maker B that produces 6/7 good quality teapots an hour and they are nice, easy going, gets along with people. I would 100% say the best teapot maker is person B, not person A.

          Idk what OP means by volatile in regards to Annie, but if she is mean and or yells, gets angry frequently, I would say that automatically takes her out of the running for being the best employee, no matter how much or how great her work product is.

          1. Jessica*

            Given the way OP expects Annie to continue to do extra without reward, though, I’m wondering what “volatile” actually means in this context.

            The only concrete example OP gives is that Beth is good at working with Jane (her friend outside of work) and Annie isn’t. They “butt heads.” But what is Jane like to work with if you’re not her friend?

            The same qualities that get me reviews that identify me as a high performer could, if one wanted to take a jaundiced view of them, be considered “volatility.” Specifically, I do sometimes “butt heads” with other coworkers: if I think the direction we’re going isn’t in line with our actual goals, I speak up.

            I think I’m polite and professional about it (and I still have warm relationships with most of the people I’ve disagreed with), but I’ve had some people who didn’t like me disagreeing with them and standing my ground when I had data and they didn’t. I get praised for handling things with grace, but there are a handful of people who don’t like me.

            Being a high performer takes *energy.* It takes passion. And it takes willingness to push back, take charge sometimes, ask questions that others don’t want to ask, and lots of other things that need to be handled with delicacy and empathy. Most people who have to lead difficult projects aren’t going to manage to bring the project home *never* having ruffled any feathers.

            And that’s before we get into that a lot of qualities that make a high performer are qualities that women get penalized for (yes, by other women, as well as men). The same behavior that, in a man, is confidence and leadership is abrasiveness or stubbornness in a woman.

            So is Annie “volatile” because she hasn’t handled disagreeing with Jane well? Or does Jane not take it well when Annie disagrees with her?

            Is Annie “volatile” because she doesn’t have good soft skills? Or does she sometimes, in taking on what OP identifies as difficult projects, have to push back and make decisions that people disagree with in order to land them?

            Does Beth have good soft skills? Or does Beth just avoid difficult projects that might require ruffling some feathers to get done? (To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being accommodating and picking your battles, but teams also need people who are willing to do the uncomfortable things.)

            The fact that the only data we have on what makes Beth good at soft skills and Annie volatile is how each works with Jane (Beth’s friend!) doesn’t really paint much of a picture.

            I hope Annie gets a job somewhere that values her and, if she is “volatile,” helps her shape her passion into a superpower.

            1. Caliente Papillon*

              All of this what I was thinking. I know we’re not supposed to doubt LWs but in this instance I wonder if LW is clear eyed enough to see/ know what’s going on.
              As soon as people who do a lot and go above and beyond and ya know, decide to do what everyone else is doing since they’re not getting anything for hard work, its suddenly time to clutch pearls and freak out for those who were taking advantage the whole time.
              LW hasn’t been called out directly, but I think they have certainly been responded to in kind.
              And expecting Annie to “smooth over” the situation that the manager created?! Just no, LW. This entire situation is on you.

              1. Observer*

                All of this what I was thinking. I know we’re not supposed to doubt LWs but in this instance I wonder if LW is clear eyed enough to see/ know what’s going on.

                I think that there is a caveat to “believe the LW” and that is “unless there are significant signs that something is off.” In this case, I see no signs that the LW is being deliberately dishonest. But I do see some pretty clear signs that the LW a very unreliable narrator because their judgement is so bad. And I think that’s what you are responding to.

                And expecting Annie to “smooth over” the situation that the manager created?! Just no, LW. This entire situation is on you.

                Seriously! I really can’t wrap my head around what their thought process here is.

                1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                  I just took a quick look at the commenting rules and I think this is most connected to giving LWs the benefit of the doubt / not jumping to a negative interpretation (under the rule to be kind) and people being experts on their own situations (so believing them when they say that a situation has bad vibes, feels sexist/racist/homophobic/etc.).

                  I’d argue that these questions are intended to be kind and helpful to the LW, by suggesting that she may be misreading the situation. Alison will also gently question LWs about things they write for similar reasons. And there are aspects of the letter that are ringing alarm bells on this front. None of this means that the LW is a bad person! We all have biases and misread things sometimes.

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              Yes totally. I was the high performer at work, clocking up more work on all three tasks I was doing despite only working part time. My work was excellent. My colleagues also produced excellent work but often stayed late to get it done.
              And my boss had some choice words to describe me, volatile could well have fit the bill for him, because I stood up to him and refused to do certain things. There was a project he wanted me to do, which normally was within my remit, and I refused because it was huge, I wouldn’t have had time to do all my other work, and he’d negotiated a lower price than usual and I would have had to find a contractor who’d agree to lower rates. He was telling me to bully one of our contractors into doing it, I refused to bully someone into accepting lower rates.
              He was furious with me and said, fine I’ll deal with it myself. He bullied a contractor, who proceeded to not hand in any work as agreed, and the whole thing became a nightmare and he had to renegotiate the deadline and hire a new staff member to work on just that and nothing else to get it done in time.

            3. Banana Pyjamas*

              I concur. The letter also demonstrates that Annie copes by disengaging, which is only volatile if she rage quit, but she appears to quite quit. It really seems Annie earned an unfair reputation as volatile because she had a history of disagreeing with Jane. It’s unlikely the rest of the team would be upset about Annie being passed over if she were truly volatile. It’s possible Annie wasn’t a good fit, but Beth WASN’T an appropriate choice BECAUSE she’s friends with Jane.

              1. allathian*

                Indeed, and in a situation like this, disengaging is a completely rational decision. Why go above and beyond if you don’t get rewarded for it? I hope Annie’s using all that mental energy she’s saving by disengaging to look for a new job.

            4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              This is a great question, Jessica. We don’t have details in the letter to understand what the LW means by “volatile.” There is no description of volatile behaviour. The absence of details means we can’t be sure either way.

              I’m also curious what “butting heads” means here. I could certainly be described as butting heads with people from time to time. Usually, this means I am calmly and factually pushing back on something. Recently, we were told that the most senior leadership wants a project done by a particular date. Based on my experience of doing the project before, the deadline is absolutely impossible. I have been clear and direct with my grand-boss that I think the timeline is not feasible. Did I butt heads with her?

              I’m fortunate to be in a situation where I can say these things to her and have it be totally OK. If that wasn’t the case, and my grand-boss was very invested in nobody pushing back, my actions could be seen as butting heads. Now, if I had told my grand-boss that the timeline was f***ing ridiculous, senior leadership were incompetent for even suggesting it, and I wasn’t even going to try to meet the deadline, that would be a very different scenario.

              As other commenters have noted, the fact that the team is backing Annie here suggests that they don’t see her as volatile.

              LW, I’d encourage you to take a hard look at Annie’s actual, specific behaviour to identify whether there are real problems with how she has acted or whether something else is going on. Try to describe these things in objective words, without focusing on people’s emotional reactions to Annie’s behaviour. Is this an “Annie said she disagreed with the prioritization” situation or an “Annie stormed off when I told her how to prioritize and didn’t return for 40 minutes” situation?

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                It’s sorta like how some people interpret “rudeness” from someone not being sufficiently deferential.

                1. Salty Caramel*

                  Oh my this. Every person who has ever said I have an attitude problem is someone who wanted their ass kissed.

            5. Elbe*

              Very well said. The scenarios you’re describing match my first reaction to the letter.

              The same qualities that get me reviews that identify me as a high performer could, if one wanted to take a jaundiced view of them, be considered “volatility.” … And that’s before we get into that a lot of qualities that make a high performer are qualities that women get penalized for

              100% this. If women have to be “likable” first and foremost, they’re not able to do the things that high performers should do, like suggest improvements, flag issues, speak up when things are going off course.

          2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            Or … we can say that Person A is the best teapot maker, and Person B is the best teapot maker supervisor.

            Just because you’re good at one job doesn’t mean that you’re optimal for the next one up.

            1. ferrina*

              True. I guess I’m skeptical because OP doesn’t really offer any evidence why Beth would be good for this promotion beyond nebulous “soft skills” and she’s friends with Jane. It’s not clear what the responsibilities of this promotion are, or why Beth is the better fit with the responsibilities. OP just left a lot out of the letter about the decision, and it makes me wonder how much OP really thought about what this role truly needed and how it fit the candidates.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                And there’s no mention of talking to Annie about her volatility and finding ways for her to improve her attitude, or maybe simply recognise that when she puts her foot down, it’s for a good reason, because she does have better vision of the projects in hand.

                1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                  Came here to say this. If Annie hasn’t gotten any of this critical – in both senses of the word – feedback, that’s a major problem with how she has been managed. The letter doesn’t say anything about attempts to performance manage Annie, though that certainly doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened.

                  This is super important for how the LW and Jane decide to manage the team going forward. If there are major things that are preventing people from being promoted, management owes those employees a clear conversation about it.

            2. Also-ADHD*

              This is true, but the fact that the team clearly feels Annie was slighted moves against this stone to me as being a firm explanation. Especially since it sounds like there was no formal interview process and review beyond LW making a decision.

              1. Momma Bear*

                This. Even if they did not hire someone from outside the company, having a formal application, interview, and consideration process with all interested parties would have at least not looked like a popularity contest. LW makes it sound like they unilaterally picked from two folks on the team.

            3. Elbe*

              This is true, but I’m not sure it’s the case here.

              The LW really undercuts the ability to take this stance because they repeatedly chose Annie – not Beth – to fill the position previously. If Beth is clearly the better person for the role, why is Annie the go-to? Something doesn’t add up.

            4. Salty Caramel*

              Thing is, if Supervisor Y is Person B’s friend, they shouldn’t have a reporting relationship.

            5. amoeba*

              If you “are mean/yell at coworkers/supervisors etc”, you’re definitely not the best individual contributor either, unless you literally work completely isolated from everybody else and never have to be part of any team or communicate with anybody in any way.

          3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            It’s tricky, because we’re light on details, and some of the details we get in this letter are contradictory. Annie is “volatile”, but she’s clearly well-liked by her team, apparently took Beth’s promotion in good grace, and evidently has enough soft skills that LW’s first instinct is getting Annie to smooth the waters with the rest of the team. Beth has “better” soft skills, but the team isn’t enthused for her promotion, and other than being on good terms with Jane the LW doesn’t provide any examples of those skills.
            LW doesn’t need to prove to us that Beth’s soft skills really did make her the right choice. But it sounds like she’s going to need to prove it to the rest of the team, so she may need to think about exactly what skills Beth’s bringing to the table and how they’ll be useful, because it’s not really coming through in this letter.

            1. linger*

              OP seems somewhat distanced from the team, and thus overly concerned with the impact on Jane alone of this hire. That distance suggests those “team-building” meetings may not have had the effect OP wanted. (Did OP and Jane also attend those, in roles as “part of the team”? Because they don’t seem considered as such.)

              An interpretation that is consistent with OP’s account is that the team prefers A because (i) they know she’s a higher performer at the work they share, and (ii) they know she could do/ had been successfully doing at least that part of the supervisor role visible to them [noting that covering a role short-term need not mean performing every long-term part of it], and (iii) they interpret any “volatility” A exhibits as passion for the work, and/or (iv) they don’t see it because it is directed upwards rather than downwards (thus “butting heads with Jane”, possibly [in their view] necessarily).

              1. AlsoADHD*

                Yes, the team might see Annie as better protecting *them* from Jane, for instance, and really know Beth will not. I’ve seen situations like that.

          4. Elizabeth Weir*

            A that produces 10 high quality teapots an hour, but they are mean/yell at coworkers/supervisors etc… and you have teapot maker B that produces 6/7 good quality teapots an hour and they are nice, easy going, gets along with people. I would 100% say the best teapot maker is person B, not person A.

            I would say that Person A would be the better teapot maker, but Person B the better *leader*.

            1. amoeba*

              I certainly wouldn’t enjoy working with A in either of those capacities. Individual contributors don’t work in a vacuum either, if you’re unpleasant to work with, that’s still a (significant) problem!

          5. Tiger Snake*

            Clearly Annie has more than enough soft skills that the LW expects her to be able to smooth all the ruffled feathers of the whole team though!

            Annie’s soft skills were not insufficient or deficient. She wasn’t picked because she lacks them. LW explicitly says she wasn’t picked because she and Jane have argued in the past, and that is in no way the same thing. Everything we’re being told is that Annie met every criteria for the role – it’s just she exceeds the technical criteria and Beth exceeds the soft criteria… except now that the soft skills need to be used, LW expects Annie to be the one to do that too, not LW, Jane and Beth.

          6. NotYourMom*

            Contextually, OP has given us reason to doubt her judgment of soft skills which is fuelling these responses.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        Yeah. Having covered an open position in hopes of getting it full time and being passed over Annie now wants to go back to doing the job she’s actually being paid to do. Shocker.

      4. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

        What was funniest to me about this letter Annie’s smoothing over a mess created by her own boss would be outside of her non-managerial job description, i.e. going above and beyond, which she has specifically been declining to do.

    3. Not on board*

      Yeah, I get that Annie wouldn’t make a good supervisor, but Beth’s friendship with Jane also makes her a bad choice. Perhaps sitting down with Beth to discuss the appearance of favoritism and how to combat that, now that the situation has been created. Also, perhaps some kind of bonus for Annie in acknowledgement of her above and beyond excellence of the past.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        I’m not convinced Annie wouldn’t make a good supervisor if her not getting the job bothers the team and if the main butting heads/volatility issue is with Beth’s friend, Jane. That doesn’t mean she would make a good supervisor, but I don’t understand how she could smooth over the team IF her soft skill deficit is so large.

    4. BurnItAllDown*

      Yikes on bikes. You’ve basically told Annie there is no room for growth for her with the company, told everyone it is necessary to be friends with management to get promoted and that good work and volunteering for the tough stuff in a pinch gets you zero. Take a beat and look at this from Annie’s perspective. How would you feel? What incentive does she have to do anything other than the minimum for you? Please do not ask Annie to try to fix this for you. One, she won’t. Two, that’s insult to injury.

      1. Palliser*

        I’ve been in this situation in the past, where I was the most competent person on the team, but a colleague was promoted because she never pushed back on truly ridiculous management ideas (even though they would have hurt the workflow). Of course, I got a tranfer out of the department shortly thereafter.

        I’m in a different phase of my career now, but in two year’s time my boss will be retiring and either I will be promoted to MD, or they will hire externally. I have way more allies now, but I have made clear to my management that if I’m not promoted, I won’t be there to prop up the sucessful candidate.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Annie doesn’t seem to be doing “the minimum”. She’s just doing the job she’s paid to do instead of the one she was hoping to get promoted to.

    5. Typing All The Time*

      Same. In this position, Annie would have to control her volatility while still performing her duties. It can be learned.

    6. Ms. Carter.*

      Yes, the shock about Annie pulling back when it became clear that going above and beyond would not be rewarded is…something else. Like, come on.

    7. Cubicles & Chimeras*

      I’ve been Annie. The irony was, much like the manager here has discovered, they couldn’t afford to lose their top performer. So they didn’t promote me, but wouldn’t let me go to another team internally for a promotion either. Was the absolute most frustrating world to be in. And it wasn’t just me who saw that but every employee I managed (because I was managing without the title) and they quickly learned to jump ship early to another team or be absolutely stuck in that team forever without a promotion.

      I’ve not forgiven that manager. I got out taking a step down because I couldn’t take it any longer and years later I’m still a bit bitter about it. (And the person who got the role? Someone who only butted heads with me when I expected her to actually do the shitty parts of her job. And spending all her time socializing with her friends at work didn’t change once she became management.)

      1. Dawn*

        Yes, well, case in point of what happens when you can only incentivize people to keep working with you who wouldn’t have other options elsewhere.

        1. Cubicles & Chimeras*

          I mean, joke was on them in the long run. Not only did I get out, I have a network, inside and outside of that team. I still actively help people on that team get into other teams because I refuse to let one person get stuck like I did.

  3. Hills to Die on*

    I wonder what options there are for switching Jane with another supervisory position?
    Maybe also talk to the whole team about working with each of them on leadership development? That way they can see that you care about advancing people.
    Also, does Annie know why she didn’t get the promotion? She should know.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Yeah and Jane’s “close friend” got the promotion instead of her, which is really bad optics.

        1. Jaina Solo*

          Honestly this piece is what’s most disastrous for LW. They will lose Annie, no doubt, but by promoting someone to be managed by a friend, LW has guaranteed there will be some kind of emotional fallout down the road. And given how they expect Annie to manage the team’s emotions, LW won’t be able to handle it. Talk about lacking in soft skills–LW is the most lacking in soft skills that I can see.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        But does Annie know that her difficulty in getting along with Jane is why she didn’t get it? Because knowing “I don’t like Jane” and knowing “I don’t like Jane, which cost me a promotion” are two very different things. It kind of reads like maaaaybe OP did consider Annie for the promotion but didn’t chose her because of the soft skills.

        And hey, yes, OP should not have promoted Jane’s friend to be her subordinate! But we are an intelligent group and two things can be true at the same time: OP looked at the data she had* and made a bad choice from that data, but also there is data there useful to Annie’s future.

        *Yes, I’m assuming the “volatility” and “butting heads” data are legitimate and that OP just didn’t give us any examples (because sometimes letter writers try to keep it short and don’t include examples of things — we see that a lot in updates!).

        1. downtown*

          it sounds like Annie doesn’t know how to handle conflict in the workplace at all and specifically has engaged in beef with Jane who would be her supervisor if she had been promoted. it does no one in that situation any favors to promote Annie and the team dynamic would likely still have been tense except people would be wondering why the missing stair was promoted over someone also skilled for the position who doesn’t cause conflict at work. the team would be asking if Beth was denied the promotion bc of her outside relationship with Jane and would likely result in them pulling back from being socially engaged with their bosses in HH and the like. I’ve been riding out an Annie being promoted and after three months the only acknowledgement management has made of their mistake is they’re now dissolving the entire team our Annie was promoted to and she’s been given 60 days to find a new job on her own but isn’t likely to because her work doesn’t outweigh all the bridges she’s burned. she won’t stop complaining in public slack channels that all her reports were offered jobs internally and she wasnt

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            That’s a possibility, but based on the details actually in the letter, we don’t know that Annie has engaged in a beef with Jane. The only evidence that Annie doesn’t know how to handle conflict is that the LW has called her “volatile.” Maybe she is! But it’s worth considering the possibility that Annie is actually fine, just not as deferential as Jane and the LW want. For example, your Annie is spewing negativity on Slack. The LW doesn’t suggest that her Annie is doing anything of the sort, just being a bit withdrawn and not going the extra mile.

            Glad to hear your Annie is on her way out, though, since that all sounds awful.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            it sounds like Annie doesn’t know how to handle conflict in the workplace at all and specifically has engaged in beef with Jane who would be her supervisor if she had been promoted

            That’s exactly what I mean, and what I suspect Hills to Die on meant by does Annie know that the way she acted on her dislike of Jane is the reason she lost the promotion? If the only explanation OP gave Annie was “I gave the promotion to Beth because she’s friends with Jane” then I think Annie is owed the fuller explanation of “you openly act on your dislike of Jane by (example), (example), (example) which gave me serious pause on promoting you to work directly with her. If promotion – whether in this role or another – is something you want, I would need to see you change that behavior. It is ok to dislike someone, but you still need to act professionally towards them.”

            1. NotYourMom*

              Where in the original letter do you see that Annie openly dislikes Jane though? Saying they butted heads doesn’t necessarily mean that. OP left a lot of information out, and this is jumping to fill that in for them.

  4. fish*

    It seems like you saw this situation coming for a long time. I wonder if there was a way you could have coached Annie to help get her ready for the role, since she’s such a star.

    Like, yes, technically you may not have done anything wrong, but the really excellent thing would have been to help your star grow in the ways she needs to.

    1. fish*

      I say this as someone for whom some parts of my job are just harder for me, naturally. Doesn’t mean I can’t do it, but I had to learn it and practice it.

      I’m grateful I had bosses who gave me a chance to grow, and that I wasn’t forever relegated to be stuck at a certain level.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “I’m grateful I had bosses who gave me a chance to grow, and that I wasn’t forever relegated to be stuck at a certain level.”

        But I think there is a difference between a boss showing giving a chance to learn how to provide feedback to people, or how to use ABC database, but “learning/teaching how to not be volatile” I think is a different ball game. People should not expect to be taught how to be nice at work, that is something you should work on your own time. Learning how to manage, use tools/tech is a different story.

        1. fish*

          I disagree, I hate the perception that soft skills can’t be learned like other skills.

          Teaching someone from scratch, yes, that’s outside of scope. But “here’s how we do it here” is totally relevant, whether that be databases or soft skills.

          I think “here’s how to approach our leadership with new project requests” or “how to say no say so Jane can hear it” is just a applicable as “here’s our software system.”

          1. Jake*

            During onboarding we have an entire hour long training from the COO on something as simple as email etiquette and culture for our company. Definitely a soft skill. Definitely teachable.

            1. Sam*

              Imo it all comes down to – is the person honest, can take feedback and training and share soft skills with their team?

              I concur soft skills is teachable and learnable. I have learned a lot of work-related soft skills at AAM which should have been evident except it wasn’t part of the office culture I was in. And my first 5 managers never told me how I needed to behave to fit into the wider team.

              The sixth one I learned a lot of soft skills from by observation. He was mentored by someone really good because he was originally my peer and high performer with volatile mannerisms.

              He would use curse words and raise his voice when our colleagues disagreed with him. When he got to shouty stage (bc we didn’t accept his ideas) he would get a last loud word in and storm off. He never considered human diversity – such as ladies of a certain age have certain biological ailments which a young man has never experienced.

              When he was promoted to manager, his verbal and body language was taught to be more persuasive instead of overbearing. He learned to apply his high intelligence to manage nicely, including being considerate of others who are not like him.

          2. Irish Teacher.*

            I think it depends on what is meant by “being volatile”. To me, that would indicate more than a lack of soft skills. I would normally take “being volatile” to imply being snappy, getting angry, refusing to work with people she dislikes, berating people… Those aren’t really easy things to change in the work context.

            However, given Annie’s reaction to this situation, it seems like the LW may mean something rather less serious when she says Annie can be volatile. I would expect a volatile person to react to something like this by screaming and shouting or accusing Jane publically of favouritism or something like that.

            If “being volatile” means Annie is direct and doesn’t always defer to authority, then yeah, those are skills that can be taught. If it means she occasionally throws temper tantrums and screams at people, then that is more prohibitive, though yeah, in the latter case, I’d expect some sign of it in her reaction.

            1. Momma Bear*

              I think it matters what LW meant by “volatile”, too. Seems to like it can’t have been so bad because there’s no mention of Annie being formally reprimanded and she was asked to take on the duties of that role for a time. So why is the butting heads a problem now?

          3. Cmdrshprd*

            I am not saying soft-skills can’t be taught I do think they can.

            “I think “here’s how to approach our leadership with new project requests” or “how to say no say so Jane can hear it” is just a applicable as “here’s our software system.”

            The examples you gave are 100% within the scope of being taught at work. But I think being told “You should not be volatile or it will hold you back at work.” or trying to actually teach/work with an employee so they are not volatile is not reasonable to expect at work.

            Maybe this is just my own interpretation, but having to be told “Don’t be volatile.” Is on par with having tell someone “Don’t hit your coworkers.” That is not something that people should need to be told.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Not everyone grew up well-socialized. Not everyone is, even as adults. Not everyone is wired so that they’re as easily capable of it as you appear to think. I have mental checklists of how to interact with people — one for the signs of someone being bored with a conversation, for instance — that I depend on. I’m not neurotypical; I’m just fairly good at pretending to be. Meanwhile, the software I use is so internalized that I just think in it. “Don’t hit your coworkers” is pretty obvious, but “don’t give one-word replies without making eye contact” is not so much. Or “don’t talk their hind leg off,” for that matter. “Count to ten before you respond” is something people can learn — and it’s no more obvious to me than how to do loop selections in Blender is to you.

              1. Elizabeth Weir*

                Not everyone grew up well-socialized. Not everyone is, even as adults.

                Choosing between two qualified candidates for a promotion is not the place to be compensating for people with poor, “non-well socialized” upbringings.

                1. Worldwalker*

                  I never said it was.

                  I said that teaching people how to interact with coworkers can be just as important as teaching them how to interact with databases. It’s unwise to select certain necessary skills and say “we’ll teach people these” but for other, equally teachable, skills, say “people have to learn these on their own.” If you want the best workers, you should be teaching them whatever they need to do the job, whether it’s how to use the database or how to interact with coworkers. Otherwise, you’re needlessly discarding useful employees over your own personal quirks.

                  And by the way, being neurodivergent is not the result of a poor upbringing.

            2. Very Clueless*

              Don’t be volatile, should be obvious BUT you’d be amazed how many people I’ve worked for in upper management who were extremely volatile and kept moving up the ladder. Or people in independent contributor roles who were never reprimanded or fired. Companies often have different standards, especially when it comes to soft skills – not to mention some of the most volatile were the biggest sycophants to the higher ups (yes people, take credit for the good news, dodge the bad). If Annie’s been getting great reviews because no one ever wanted to bring up the volatility aspect and is now surprised it’s holding her back, that’s on her company too.

        2. I edit everything*

          No, but a good manager can point out the issue and say “This behavior is going to be a problem if you want to move up in the hierarchy. Some recent examples are X and Y.” And then, if they have any leadership courses, mentoring programs, etc., make sure the employee is aware of them and how to access them.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yes, if I’m snippy with my coworkers I tend to think “well, that was a bad moment but they were the ones slacking off and I needed X or Y.” If my manager explicitly told me that she cared and needed to see me act differently, and especially that she didn’t feel I was promotable unless I fixed this, I would put a lot more effort into that area, as opposed to putting all my effort into X or Y that I’m trying hard to get done and that I see as my job. It’s not clear Annie got this feedback.

        3. Snow Globe*

          If that is something that will keep your star performer from being able to move up, at the very least you make it clear what the issue is, and encourage the employee to work on those soft skills. Often people in Annie’s position aren’t really aware that’s an issue, unless their manager tells them. And many managers won’t tell them because soft skills are subjective.

        4. Kay*

          This isn’t entirely true actually. If you have a good employee who is lacking in soft skills, it can be extremely beneficial to try to work on improving those. It is certainly harder than “here is how you use the database” but it also is much more valuable. You generally need a really good manager to be able to coach someone through this, which I don’t have confidence LW is that person, but I have seen it done successfully.

          1. SarahKay*

            Seconding this. I used to have to work with ‘Fergus’ from another team and while he was extremely competent at his job he was just… hard work. All the time.
            I’d suggest x and he’d just tell me all the ways it couldn’t be done, and nothing about how maybe y might be a suitable alternative.
            Fergus got a new manager who really invested time in coaching him on soft skills and the difference was night and day. Suddenly all Fergus’s knowledge was being used to help get things done instead of finding obstacles, and working with him became an enjoyable and effective experience.

          2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            My question is, are these real, actual deficiencies in soft skills? Because I’ve experienced firsthand that “lack of soft skills” can all too often be “you pushed back once on a terrible idea” or “you walked down the hall with your head tilted disrespectfully” or “you weren’t sufficiently sycophantic to a manager.”

            1. Red_Coat*

              Yep- at an old job I got dinged on “soft skills” because I sometimes squint (and look mad) when reading something that’s hard to see. (Small print, scanned handwriting).

              I have strong doubts that the OP is a reliable narrator for ‘poor soft skills’ and ‘volatile’.

        5. M2*

          But was she volatile? By the sounds of the letter Jane doesn’t sound great either. Any decent manager (not even good manager just decent) would never manage their friend, let alone good friend. And the LW sees nothing wrong with that.

          To me those are huge red flags and shows that maybe Annie has a point! Or maybe she isn’t volatile, maybe she just isn’t buddy buddy like Beth and Jane since they are friends!

          Wouldn’t you be upset if you were a star and passed over for someone’s good friend? Maybe Annie saw blatant favoritism or someone doing lackluster work who was at a higher level?

          1. Kevin Finnerty*

            I, too, wonder if Annie might actually have been in the right in whatever moment she was “volatile” considering the rest of the contents of the letter.

        6. Jake*

          Soft skills, including how to be nice, are most certainly teachable. I had a mentor that informed me that the office staff next door thought I was about to rip their head off every time I went over there because I’d open each conversation with something like, “I’m having an issue procuring these screws, I’m sure I’ve screwed this up, but why haven’t they been delivered?” instead of “hey, how’s it going today? I’m good, but I wanted to check in on…”

          Taking somebody from a raging jerk to pleasant might be out of scope, but a lot of the “lack of soft skills” that I see and hear about are much less dramatic than that.

        7. Also-ADHD*

          That’s very not true. Most managers have soft skills they need to improve, and most don’t get leadership coaching soon enough frankly. Soft skills can be learned. A lot of times, they can be learned quite quickly, since so much is perceived. If Annie was a jerk, she wouldn’t be handling this so reasonably frankly. The deficiencies don’t sound wild—like if someone sexually harasses coworkers or dehumanizes them, that’s not fixable. But if someone presents their ideas too rigidly or needs to improve their word choice a little, that’s very fixable. And Annie clearly has several soft skills herself if she can pull off the hardest projects (project work generally requires hard and soft skills).

        8. Worldwalker*

          How to interact with co-workers — which can vary greatly in different workplaces, by the way; consider the examples we’ve had of the Halloween prop builders versus the office that prohibited all humor — very definitely *is* something that should be taught, just like how to manage, or use the database, or pretty much anything else. Why lose a good employee because you expect them to learn something, anything, on their own time when you could teach it to them? That’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

          As an example, I can, and routinely do, learn how to use software and more physical tools on my own. That’s a lot easier for me than learning how to get along with co-workers would be; that’s taken me decades to learn, and I’m sure I’m not all that good at it even now. (thankfully, we’re mostly remote) Why set aside some skills as “legitimate to teach” and others as “must learn on one’s own” with no regard to the needs of the person learning them? And the needs of the business, for that matter?

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, when Annie said she had realized she didn’t want this role–which might be true, or might be face-saving–the thing to do was push into that a bit and figure out if it was a genuine realization on her part (maybe the next level up regularly have to do early mornings and that does not work with her school drop-off needs) or if you needed to be able to spell out what roles her going above and beyond would qualify her for on your team.

    3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      This, 1,000% percent!

      OP would be doing Annie a real favor by telling her, clearly and honestly, how her soft skills impact her chances for promotion. AAM is filled with letters from distraught managers about subordinates who do excellent work BUT who also throw tantrums when they don’t get their own way AND whom no one wants to work with as a result! This can hold back even an employee with the best skills in the company. If you can’t work with others, you can’t move up to a position in which your uncontrolled temper gives you a greater number of subordinates to abuse.

    4. Lucia Pacciola*

      Forget coaching Annie, where was the coaching for Jane?

      Jane gets to play favorites at work, being friends with one team member, and enemies with another, and instead of calling that out and managing it directly with Jane, LW just seems to give her a free pass, and arrange the promotions to suit Jane’s workplace favoritism.

      1. WellRed*

        Where does it say Jane plays favorites? You’re allowed to be more friendly with some people than others, it’s human nature. The problem now arises that OP created, by promoting Beth and o work directly under Jane despite knowing of their relationship.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Agreed. And even if the coaching isn’t about preparing for a specific promotion (which may or may not materialize), it can still be super helpful for making Annie a better employee in general and improving the dynamic on the team. I know I’m happier and more productive when I have good, comfortable relationships with my colleagues. Tip-toeing around someone who is legitimately volatile would be unsettling.

      1. ferrina*

        legitimately volatile

        Heh. I see that caveat. And that’s a really good point- if Annie is volatile, that should have already been addressed. It’s not healthy for a team to have someone that volatile! It causes a lot of stress, even without a promotion in the mix. You’re always on eggshells wondering if volatile person is about to go off on you.

        So either OP is falling down on the job by not addressing Annie’s volatility, or the ‘volatility’ isn’t an issue worth addressing. And if it’s not worth addressing, why is it only being brought up now? If Beth is such a strong candidate, it’s enough to say “Beth is a stronger candidate because she excels in XYZ, which is what this role needs”.
        Which leads me to wonder if Beth isn’t a strong candidate, and that’s why OP seems to be negging Annie. If you can bring down Annie, then Beth looks better in comparison, right? I’ve worked for a scary number of managers that operate that way.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. Though I can imagine Beth being a reasonably strong candidate (with the obvious downside of looking like it was because she was friends with Jane) and the LW is post-hoc rationalizing her choice.

    6. Pizza Rat*

      She did do something wrong. She promoted someone into a position where a friend supervised them.

      That said, you are absolutely right about what the excellent thing would have been.

  5. Ex-prof*

    “General consensus seems to be that I used Annie to cover the position without a promotion and screwed her over by promoting Beth instead because Beth is Jane’s friend.”

    Not surprising. That’s also the impression I got just from reading about it.

    Annie’s probably using the freed-up Happy Hour time to apply elsewhere.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      By the OP’s own admission…that narrative is true so I don’t get the confusion in the letter about it.

    2. Bridget*

      As soon as OP stated that Beth and Jane were good friends outside of work I was like “oh, no”. A long-time manager really should have had the same initial reaction, my goodness.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        Yeah I did a double take when the LW treated the friendship like a plus point instead of a serious strike against promoting Beth!

    3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Yeah, I had to go back and re-read it twice, and… that’s still how it looks to me, honestly.

      LW, you need Beth and Jane to get some distance in their relationship at work ASAP, and you need to really start talking up Beth’s qualifications for this role – in a way that doesn’t mention either Annie or Jane, and is both really honest and really specific. Like, if her main qualification is soft skills, think “I’m looking forward to the Cranky Client meeting; Beth is really good with at redirecting people and I bet she can even keep Cranky on track.” If it hasn’t been too long, you might see if you can get Annie a bonus in recognition of her hard work covering the position previously (since she presumably got paid at the same rate she would’ve if she hadn’t stepped in). Your whole team is watching how this plays out, and at the moment they’re mostly seeing that going above and beyond gets punished, but schmoozing might get rewarded.

    4. A Significant Tree*

      That does seem to be an accurate description of the situation. Annie was going above and beyond (i.e. working at promotion level) up until she was passed over for that promotion, explicitly because Beth being friends with Jane was more important than merit by OP’s own metrics. There was no description of whether Jane played a role in causing friction with Annie, or whether Jane’s judgment in being ‘good friends’ with someone who was in a subordinate role before this promotion should be in question.

      The OP really needs to manage this well. The message that was sent with this promotion is that friendship > performance, and not soft skills > hard skills. If promotions really are a rarity on that current team, I hope Annie finds another, better opportunity as quickly as she can.

      1. samwise*

        She was working at promotion level EXCEPT FOR soft skills– OP says Annie is volatile and Beth has better soft skills. That can be enough of a difference, even without the Jane-conflict (annie) and Jane-friendship (Beth).

        If it’s a job where soft skills are important, that can be enough to prevent the promotion.

        1. Student*

          …which is why OP expects Beth, with her superior soft skills, to smooth things over with the team.

          Oh, wait. Nope! OP says Beth has better soft skills. But when OP wants somebody to use soft skills to make the team function better, the person OP actually plans to ask to do the soft skills work is Annie! Interesting, isn’t it?

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Well, no it’s not really interesting. Beth can’t use her soft skills to smooth over a thing that apparently originated from other people’s feelings about Annie. If the team is mad on Annie’s behalf it makes sense that OP thought Annie would be the only one to smooth it over – not because of soft skills or lackthereof – but because Annie’s the only one credible to say “don’t be mad on my behalf”. I’m not saying the situation isn’t a hot mess anyway, but this particular aspect of it isn’t the smoking gun some folks seem to be suggesting it is.

            1. Andromeda*

              My thoughts exactly. Still not a great look for OP to be grumbling that Annie has withdrawn from team-building activities just after she was passed over (managers, if this is an expectation, *please just clearly spell it out*). But if Annie really didn’t want the promotion, yeah, saying so probably would help a bit… though I still don’t think it’s Annie’s responsibility to say so.

            2. NotYourMom*

              Beth can’t smooth this over, no. But she can help with that – distancing herself personally from Jane, talking positively about Annie, and plenty of other actions.

              Asking Annie to smooth this over is awful. And if Annie’s soft skills were so bad that she is “volatile” … well, I wouldn’t be asking someone volatile to smooth this over. OP’s descriptions of Annie’s actual behaviour dont match the word “volatile”, though.

    5. doreen*

      My impression also. And if Beth is such a better choice for the promotion, why was she not a better choice to cover?

    6. Fiachra*

      LW seems to think the fact that Beth is qualified for the role negates the accusation that the friendship was the reason, but it doesn’t necessarily. If Annie was more qualified, and Beth got the job anyway, then the friendship with Jane was more than just ‘a factor’, it was potentially the decisive one.

    7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I could argue that stepping in temporarily to cover doesn’t entitle someone to get a promotion. But it’s still really bad optics. And, as other commenters have mentioned, having a formal process to choose who to promote would have potentially gone a long way to preventing this from appearing super unfair.

      Gotta say, I’m curious why Annie was the one to cover if Beth was the better choice?

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this.

        However, that doesn’t change the fact that Jane’s friendship with Beth should have, on its own, disqualified Beth as a candidate for promotion, regardless of any other factors. I’m not saying that Annie would necessarily have qualified for the permanent position in spite of being an apparently popular interim manager, but in that case the LW should have initiated a formal hiring process and posted the job externally.

        I’m really wondering about team dynamics here. How involved is the LW with the operational management of the team? How exactly did Annie “butt heads” with Jane? Was it a case of Annie speaking up for the team when Jane set an unrealistic deadline on a project? Is Beth less willing to take a hit for the team, and thus less popular with them? In my book, one of the most crucial skills of a frontline manager is to advocate for their team when upper management sets standards that are impossible to meet.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Totally agree with all of this. And yes, Beth being friends with Jane is a huge problem. Heck, it wasn’t great even before. I really like my grand-boss as a person. We’re not too far apart in age. It’d be cool to be friends in other circumstances. I have no idea if she would want to be friends with me, because both of us are aware of boundaries and have a warm, professional relationship.

  6. fish*

    I say this as someone for whom some parts of my job are just harder for me, naturally. Doesn’t mean I can’t do it, but I had to learn it and practice it.

    I’m grateful I had bosses who gave me a chance to grow, and that I wasn’t forever relegated to be stuck at a certain level.

  7. TG*

    100% agreed here – you should have promoted who was best for the role and maybe used it as an opportunity to promote Annie and give her the chance to improve her soft skills and work with Jane to show how people can overcome challenges and be a great employee. She 100% sees that her extra efforts were for nothing so I don’t blame her for doing an amazing job still but not going above and beyond and avoiding Jane and Beth. You created this problem yourself and your team thinks that Beth got the job because she gets along with Jane and that’s really bad optics! And I admit it – I’ve been the Annie in this situation and did the exact same thing and left the department for a promotion to another and not kidding – they’ve never found anyone who could do what I did and have three contractors attempting it.

    1. Cj*

      it’s hard to believe that the letter writer has been reading ask a manager for very long time or they would have known that promoting somebody to work underneath her good friend is a bad thing, not a good thing.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I don’t think the LW is a long-time reader (or at least I missed where it said that), but my pet theory is that a lot of people writing in aren’t actually regular readers, they’re just people who found AAM when googling “work advice blog” or whatever. They’re not necessarily keyed into what seems like an obvious problem to people who have been reading this site for ages. They’re looking for advice to a specific problem, not people who just enjoy reading advice blogs.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        The enduring appeal of advice columns–and their focus on relationships–is because people feel their personal situation is unique and so the generic past advice doesn’t apply.

        1. Arthenonyma*

          I mean, true, but I think most of the time it’s more banal than that. People often have a very fixed idea of what the problem is they need to solve – we see it all the time, we see it right here. They’re therefore going to be googling for advice on solving that problem – which is unlikely to help them if it’s actually, as in this case, the wrong problem or the wrong perspective on the situation.

          A large number of people – possibly the majority – also just really have no idea how to break down a question or problem into keywords that will get them information about it. If it can’t be typed into google as a full question, they don’t know how to search for it.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Well, soft skills are not “extras”–if she wanted the promotion Annie should have worked on them beforehand.

      I feel like this should have gone to another candidate entirely–it’s a problem both that Annie didn’t have the people skills and that Beth is friends with Jane. It mostly looks lazy that this company just promoted whoever they had on hand rather than looking for someone who had neither of those problems.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, it’s really not impressive that the LW is now asking if she can get Annie to fix it for her. She’s the manager–it’s on her to fix it.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Totally missed that. LW, you don’t delegate managing to your subordinate, especially a subordinate you just passed over for a promotion. YOU need to speak with your team. YOU need to address Annie’s concerns. YOU also need to clearly explain to Annie why she did not receive the promotion and then accept the feedback that you did not develop Annie’s soft skills.

          1. Momma Bear*

            And what would Annie say anyway? What does LW expect Annie to be able to do here? This is a leadership problem and LW decided Annie was not leadership material.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, the solution is not to tell Annie that she has to reassure the two people with more power, and make them feel good about stuff, and then tell the rest of the office that they are all living in the best of all possible llama grooming teams so the rest of the office should stop simmering.

          1. Irish Teacher.*

            Especially given that the reason for not giving Annie the promotion is apparently her poor soft skills and her volatility. Telling somebody “your people skills aren’t good enough to put you in a role where you would have to deal with conflict situation, but we want you to use your people skills to smooth over conflict due to your lack of promotion” seems like she is losing on both ends of the spectrum.

            A volatile person is the last one I would ask to intervene in such a situation.

        3. ferrina*

          Yeah….that’s extremely problematic. “Hey, I know that you’re really disappointed and feel unfairly used and cast aside. That said, can you convince everyone that you’re actually happy about this?”

          Also- OP says that Annie is “volatile” and lacks soft skills. But OP is considering asking Annie to tactfully manage the communications and perceptions on this? OP’s ask requires a pretty high level of soft skills.
          So which is it, OP- does Annie lack soft skills (and therefor lacks the skills to manage the perception) or does she have the soft skills (so could manage it and you misrepresented her skills)?

      2. AD*

        I agree — it seems an external candidate would have been the most appropriate choice here. Strongly disagree with the OP here that Annie should have been the one who was promoted — no! Volatility and lack of soft skills are not minor issues. Neither Annie nor Beth should have been the one chosen here.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Additionally, being good at the work doesn’t always translate into being good at managing the people who do the work, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that Annie working extra hard should have guaranteed her the promotion. She doesn’t get a pass on being volatile; if anything, that’s worse in a manager.

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            This. I’m good at the work I do. I would be a terrible manager. Heck, I can’t even get anyone in my house to take out the trash when needed – how can I get an employee to have the Johnson report on my desk by EOD Friday?

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Same. I’m organized enough to keep myself in line but no more; I am not a great people person; I get overwhelmed easily with the extra responsibilities that would come with getting promoted at my current workplace. I very much want to remain a worker bee.

        2. whimbrel*

          I’m kind of skeptical about the volatility descriptor, too, because the only example LW gave of Annie’s volatility was ‘she butts heads with Jane’. I can’t help but wonder how much of what LW sees as ‘butting heads’ was in fact legitimate issue-raising.

          1. ferrina*

            Yeah, that stood out to me too. “Volatile” is a code-word I’ve often seen to mean “a woman who speaks truth to power”. One of the most level-headed people was called “volatile” and “emotional” because she was direct- if a project wasn’t going to work, she’d say “it’s not going to work because XYZ. We can fix it if we want to do ABC, but that’s going to cost $DollarAmount”. That wasn’t what the C-Suite wanted to hear, so she got labeled “emotional” and “not a team player” (she was absolutely a team player; my whole department loved when we got to work for her and would argue over whose turn it was to work with her this time).

            At the same time, I’ve worked with people who were truly volatile. They would suddenly lash out at you because you didn’t know something that they didn’t tell you (most volatile people I’ve worked with have an expectation that you’ll read their mind). Interestingly, none of the truly volatile people I’ve worked with have been great at their job. They’ve been good, but I never would have described them as a star performer.

            1. downtown*

              I think it’s pretty telling that she used volatile when otherwise softening her language around Annie’s behavior. I’ve seen “combative” “aggressive” “uncooperative” “not a team player” for women who are assertive and firm in their stance. I’ve only even seen volatile applied to the coworker that spent six months literally screaming and yelling at me because she disagreed with my work. and because she was a star performer with a niche advanced degree I was talked to about being more “thick skinned” about feedback because I kept calmly saying “yelling is not an appropriate behavior for the workplace” and dropping off calls when she did so. it’s a pretty big barrier to promotion in general when as an IC you’re seen as “butting heads” on the regular with the person you’d be directly reporting to.

              1. Observer*

                I hear you. But I also think that it’s pretty telling that everyone else on the team is totally steamed over this. Because even with the issues around Beth’s relationship with Jane, people would almost certainly not have wanted Annie promoted if she did the kind of thing you describe. And they certainly would have understood why the LW chose not to hire her.

                On the other hand, would even the people who told you that you needed to be more thick skinned ( which is pretty gross in that context, to be clear) have expected this woman to “smooth things over” with other staff on behalf of someone who she had NOT yelled at? And who had gotten a promotion that she had been hoping to get? I suppose that it’s possible, but that’s even more delusional than telling you that you are the problem here.

                Which is to say that the LW’s description of Annie is highly suspect. And in any case, their solution and the solution for the new problem that they are considering are terrible and the mark of a really poor manager.

                1. Tally miss*

                  Annie is volatile with Jane, a higher level manager who thinks its fine to be friends with a lower level employee. It makes me wonder if Annie is the problem or is Jane with her lack of boundaries.

        3. Also-ADHD*

          Yeah, but how volatile is Annie actually based on her reaction and the fact that the team likes her and LW wanted her to smooth this messed up situation over? I feel like true volatility isn’t a small thing, but it sort of depends on what volatility means. I’m leaning towards it means she is sometimes stubborn in disagreement or visibly frustrated when talking with her direct manager LW about reasonable frustrations at work, rather than throws temper tantrums and threatens people, and that’s kind of at worst. It may be that Jane is just an issue to work with if you’re not her good friend? I have no idea, but LW doesn’t really give us much to go on for what’s wrong with Annie besides the adjective volatile and that she butts heads with Jane particularly. But a volatile person isn’t someone you’d ever consider asking to smooth over things with the team, especially after you passed them over, so I was confused.

        4. Monday Musings*

          “Soft” skills are just that, skills that can be taught. As a high performer, Annie should have been coached in this area and advised about the impact of her perceived lack of soft skills on her career in that organization. We can learn not to bring our whole selves to work and that we play roles when in the office. Otherwise, these assessments of soft skills deficiencies become indictments of personalities, which s totally not fair. And no, an external candidate for a promotion when good people are already there sends a message loud and clear that the organization does not promote from within no matter how well you perform. I would like to know what OP considers “volatile” because in many cases that’s having any reaction to anything.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, both internal candidates come with big “buts”, and this seems like an excellent opportunity to do a proper recruitment process, possibly even advertising externally. Beth and Anni would both be able to apply, of course! But I can’t really understand why you saw it as a limited choice between Beth and Annie.

        1. Anna*

          Yeah it sounds like there was no application process, which would have been a huge mistake. An application process give the candidates a chance to contextualize their strengths and address their weaknesses.

          It doesn’t help the optics that a formal application process would probably have benefitted Annie, as someone who produces standout work product.

          1. ferrina*


            Having a formal application process is so important. It gives candidates a chance to argue their case and address concerns, and even just show their interest! At OldJob, they liked to default promotions. In one case, I unexpectedly said that I wanted to be considered for a promotion that had been slated for someone else, so they ended up doing interviews for the internal candidates.

            It turned out that my boss hadn’t been sharing what my work was and had only been talking about Other Candidate. Boss and Other Candidate were friends going years back, and I was an outsider to their clique. Boss had been hiding what I had been doing and talking up Other Candidate. Big Bosses were shocked to learn what I had been doing (which considering the revenue my projects had been generating, was pretty worrying that Big Bosses didn’t know anything. Where did they think the money had been coming from?). There was also plenty of background work and infrastructure that they hadn’t realize I had been doing to improve efficiencies. I didn’t get the job, but I was able to correct some pervasive misconceptions about my work.
            Oh, and I immediately started applying to other jobs. I had much more experience and had been consistently doing higher level work, including both technical and soft skills. But my Boss had undermined me so thoroughly that there was no way I’d be promoted at that company.

          2. bamcheeks*

            I think it really depends whether “standout work” is what the promotion needed! We talk so much here about why the stellar IC isn’t necessarily the person with the skill set for a managerial/supervision role: I am actually genuinely surprised how many people seem to be taking it as read that Annie was done dirty and was the obvious right choice for a promotion based on being the strongest performer in the team, when that seems precisely the wrong way to handout promotions to me. But a clear person spec which showed whether outstanding IC work OR soft skills, project management, commercial mindset etc would make it much more likely that people wouldn’t see “mates with Jane” as the key criterion.

            1. Andromeda*

              yes, absolutely. Hell, maybe Annie *didn’t* actually want the promotion and would prefer to be a very high-performing IC instead — which would be prudent, if she knows her soft skills aren’t amazing (also, even good soft skills don’t necessarily a good manager make. Building connections isn’t the same thing as managing people.)

              I think it’s still unfair to ask Annie to essentially mollify the rest of the team by putting on a smile or going to more events. The promotion decision wasn’t Annie’s, it was OP’s, and she shouldn’t have to bear responsibility for it especially in a climate where women are often unfairly asked to smile and pretend everything’s ok for everyone else’s sake.

      4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        The way I read it, Annie has been filling in this position already, so one of the problems LW is going to need to contend with is how necessary were the soft skills, really? For some jobs, they’re critical, and this might be one! But in that case, why wasn’t Beth filling in, rather than Annie? And since team consensus seems to be that Annie was treated poorly, that sort of implies Annie wasn’t doing an obviously bad job.

        The whole thing seems to be a mess, and LW has her work cut out for her if she wants to turn the team morale around.

        1. Mango Freak*

          That’s a great point. Soft skills shouldn’t be treated as lesser (and in fact can be harder to train or “pick up” quickly) but are we actually talking about job-related soft SKILLS, or are we talking about a person who doesn’t communicate in quite the same way as OP and/or Jane, whose personality quirks/workstyle has at times clashed with others’ but who’s still generally liked and respected by her colleagues?

        2. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

          There’s a big difference between being able to do a good job filling in for however many weeks while and being able to do a good job for months or years. It’s very possible for the soft skills Annie struggles with to be important to the role but her specific weaknesses just didn’t come up (“can be volatile” implies to me that this isn’t something that happens every week) or maybe Annie wasn’t expected to do the duties those soft skills are needed for since she was just filling in.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            I can also see that for the interim role they needed the technical skills just to keep the boat afloat so Annie was/is the better interim choice, but in a long term/full time position they needed soft skills/relationship building more to actually have the boat move forward.

          2. Worldwalker*

            It’s also possible that Annie isn’t struggling with soft skills at all, given how the remainder of the team would clearly prefer to work under her rather than Beth.

      5. Banana Pyjamas*

        100% if it’s true that Annie is volatile then neither Annie nor Beth were appropriate choices.

      6. ccsquared*

        I agree, but it is painfully common for people to not get feedback on soft skills because they can get written off part of the person’s personality and assumed to not be coachable. Certainly, if Annie was told her “volatility” and interactions with Jane needed to improve, and she blew this advice off or needed more time to make sufficient progress, it’s on her, but then, it should have been really easy for LW to explain to her why the promotion went to Beth.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Promoting Annie is not the solution here. You don’t put someone into a managerial position hoping they suddenly get the skills they don’t have. That’s a disaster for everyone, including Annie.

      What should have been done is long before this promotion came up is explained to Annie what needed to be done in order to advance. If she wanted to. if she didn’t there was no point in putting her in the temporary role either.

      Beth should also have been told that if she wants the promotion she cannot be friends with her boss. And hello, what is going on with Jane that she is hanging out with a subordinate. Doesn’t say a lot about her judgment either.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        +1. Soft skills matter in many positions and tend to matter more the higher one gets. We get disgruntled individual contributors when we promote people but managing others requires certain non-substantive skills.

        I would look into whether they can make Annie a “Senior Individual Contributor” or something that recognizes her talent without involving the Peter Principle.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        But you can’t un-ring the bell of Beth and Jane having already been friends. Even if they stopped hanging out outside of work starting now, there would still be legitimate questions about favouritism.

    4. Observer*

      you should have promoted who was best for the role and maybe used it as an opportunity to promote Annie and give her the chance to improve her soft skills and work with Jane to show how people can overcome challenges and be a great employee

      I agree with your first line, which is why I disagree with the rest. It sounds like Annie was probably not a good fit for the role, and trying to accomplish these other goals with someone who doesn’t have a core skill (which emotional regulation *is* for any position that needs to work well with others) is a bad idea. However, the LW *should* have considered looking a non-obvious candidates in the company and / or an outside hire.

      You created this problem yourself and your team thinks that Beth got the job because she gets along with Jane and that’s really bad optics!

      It’s not just bad optics. It based on truth. The LW is clear that they considered the friendship a plus. Of course people realize this. The real question is why does the LW not realize that people can see this.

    5. not nice, don't care*

      I have a manager who is such good friends with a direct report that most folks assume they are more than friends. So far I haven’t experienced any negative consequences from this relationship, but it’s way way over the top and is warping the norms and behavior of younger staff.

    6. Not on board*

      To be fair, you can’t promote Annie without addressing the volatility first. Promoting and then saying, oh by the way, you need to be better at soft skills, thereby subjecting people to Annie’s volatility until she manages to get a handle on that – IF she manages to get a handle on that. Maybe Annie’s anger/frustration with Jane is justified but she needs to be professional about handling that instead of blowing up and being seen as volatile.

      But that conversation should have happened long before anyone was promoted – and Beth’s friendship with Jane outside of work is a reason to NOT promote her. It would have been better to work on Annie’s soft skills before the promoting anyone, or to hire from outside.

      1. ferrina*

        You’re right on all of this, but I’m also wondering where Annie’s volatility disappeared to after Beth got the promotion.

        To recap- after being promoted, OP says that Annie 1) said she didn’t really want the role anyways, 2) has been scrupulously polite, 3) avoids Beth and Jane, 4) doesn’t volunteer for extra work or tough assignments but 4) still does good work, and 5) does not go to optional social events.

        None of that reads as volatile. With the exception of item 1 (which is a bit petty but super minor), most of this reads as a very mature and professional way to handle a crushing disappointment and sense of betrayal. OP doesn’t say that Annie is talking smack about anyone, Annie’s not doing bad work or even mediocre work, and there’s nothing about this that says that Annie has caused any drama at all. IME, volatile people blow up after a major disappointment. Maybe not right away, but certainly within a month. But it seems like it’s been a while and Annie has not shown any signs of volatility- so much so that OP wants Annie to take on the role of diplomat and talk to the team!
        So either Annie’s volatility magically disappeared with Beth’s promotion, or it’s triggered by very specific circumstances (not just crushing disappointment of being denied a promotion you feel you earned because you the other candidate being friends with the manager), or it never existed.

        1. Trillian*

          Or Annie has quit breaking her tail, is getting a chance to rest, unwind, and do other things she enjoys doing. “Volatility” if that means irritability, can be a sign of overwork.

    7. Elizabeth Weir*

      you should have promoted who was best for the role

      I see no evidence that LW failed to promote who was best for the role. On the contrary, she wrote that there were two “obvious candidates,” each of which had different strengths. She had to make a judgment call about which of those strengths was more important to success in the new role, which she did.

      The reality is that in a situation like this, the candidate that loses out is likely to leave. Had LW selected Annie, we could well be hearing about how Beth has stopped her efforts at relationship-building, how she’s displayed signs of quiet quitting, and how this company fails to value soft skills and refuses to promote people who spend time honing them.

      1. Worldwalker*

        “Being friends outside of work with Jane” is not a strength that will work well with the rest of the team, though. It’s clear that everyone but Beth and Jane disagree with the OP’s choice. That makes me think that the OP prioritized getting along well with Jane over every other possible consideration, like getting along well with the rest of the team, being trusted, and so on.

      2. Observer*

        I see no evidence that LW failed to promote who was best for the role.

        Really? You think that promoting someone who is close friends with their direct manager is promoting the best person for the role? That’s just not realistic.

        She had to make a judgment call about which of those strengths was more important to success in the new role, which she did.

        No they didn’t. She had a third choice, which was to look elsewhere. They don’t even seem to have considered it. That is NOT “hiring the best fit for the role” by any stretch of the imagination.

      3. Tara*

        I kind of see what you’re saying, because promotions can definitely be a popularity contest. However, it’s so obvious why LW did what they did.

  8. The Original K.*

    Those aren’t problems that Annie created, and it’s not fair to look to her to solve them for you.
    Amen. This is the crux of it. When I read that OP wanted Annie to smooth things over with the team, I thought “Oh, absolutely not.” I’d be very put off by that request if I were Annie. And even if there weren’t this promotion issue, Annie has the right to use her time outside of work how she pleases – she doesn’t have to go to happy hour if she doesn’t want to.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      OP wants Annie to do her job for her. OP, you are the manager, you have to fix this, not Annie.

      And part of this came about as a failure of management. Not only OP but Jane. Seriously Jane should know better too. But also OP, you needed to be managing Annie especially her relationship with her grandboss long before all this came up.

      I agree with the above. Annie is out the door. Because this whole place is a clusterfudge.

    2. Ink*

      And I can’t think of anyway that request goes well for OP. In Annie’s shoes, if I wasn’t already applying around that would clinch it for me. Annie’s word is unlikely to smooth over the bad optics, because even if she could say with all honesty she didn’t care… you still promoted the person who’s friends with a manager.

      And if Annie’s soft skills are such a concern, why would you expect her to be *able* to convince her teammates?

      1. Allonge*

        Ok, so having not-great soft skills in general (or at least not sufficient for a promotion) does not mean that someone cannot convincingly say ‘please stop being upset about this on my behalf, I did not want the job in the first place’.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          There are two pieces to this. First is how Annie would react to being asked. If she is volatile, with not-great soft skills, she is unlikely to take this in stride and say, “Sure, Boss, I can smooth things over, no worries!” with a smile on her face. (And she shouldn’t have to.)

          The second piece is lying to her coworkers about how not upset she is about it, for the benefit of OP, Beth, and Jane. If soft skills includes empathy, reading the room, and being genuine with others, then either this request is impossible for someone with good soft skills or Annie isn’t going to pull it off.

    3. Pink Candyfloss*

      This LW has a repeating pattern throughout their behavior in this letter, and it’s conflict avoidance/blaming LW’s decisions on others.

    4. Blame It On The Weatherman*

      Yes on the happy hours – optional means OPTIONAL, not “nominally optional but if you opt out I’ll resent it since I think it’s a nice and beneficial bonding exercise”. Have a team-building day during work hours if you want mandatory bonding. You have no rights to your staff’s time outside of work if they don’t truly desire to make the happy hours.

    5. Project Problem Solver*

      Look, if I was Annie and truly as volatile and lacking soft skills as OP says, I would absolutely be petty enough for this to backfire on her horribly:

      “Manager has asked that I tell you all that I told Manager I didn’t want the position.”

      1. ferrina*


        This is what makes me seriously question OP’s description of Annie as “volatile”. Either OP is naively optimistic or is misrepresenting Annie, because you do not send a volatile person to fix a diplomatic situation, especially a volatile person who feels mistreated by you! Heck, a non-volatile person who has been denied a promotion they think they earned is not asked to put on a happy face about their loss and boost morale! (at least not at reasonable companies). So either OP is the world’s worst diplomat or Annie isn’t actually as “volatile” as OP wants us to believe. Or both.

    6. Looper*

      The fact that LW thinks this is Annie’s problem to solve makes me seriously question how “volatile” she actually is/was. Maybe LW and Jane dump a lot of their problems and responsibilities on her and she’s had enough?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Could be. We know that the reward for doing good work is often more work. And work that’s above our paygrade, without the extra compensation or a title bump.

    7. Twix*

      Not only that, but if I were Annie’s coworker and was already upset about feeling like she was being treated unfairly, I would be extremely put off if I found out that our boss had asked Annie to defend their choice not to promote her to the rest of the team. It would absolutely come across as “You already screwed her over and your solution to people being unhappy about it was to give her a giant middle finger.”

      1. Twix*

        Like, Annie allegedly has a tendency to be volatile and there’s a good chance she’s at least thinking about leaving. Why in the world would you assume her response to that request wouldn’t be, say, a mass e-mail saying “Hey everybody, LW is apparently upset that you have opinions about how I was treated, so they ordered me to tell you I didn’t want the promotion I was passed over for”?

  9. Shopping is my cardio*

    OP – don’t be surprised if everyone in your team now assumes that in order to get promoted you have to be friends with the higher ups. That is exactly what this situation reeks of.

    1. Observer*

      Of course that’s what they think. Because it’s based on a very simple fact – the OP explicitly factored in Beth’s friendship with her grand-boss as a *plus* in their decision.

      The OP can tap dance around this all they want, but this was not a situation where you can say “soft skills outweighed technical competence”, which is a legitimate stand to take. This was a situation where “friendship with the boss was the tie breaker” and in the *wrong direction! To everyone that translates to “friendship with the boss outweighs qualifications”.

    2. Generic Name*

      I mean, that sounds like a pretty solid assumption to me. When companies hire and promote based on friendships, it does not bode well for the company. I recently left a company that is run this way. The founder promoted her personal favorites into company leadership roles, and the company is floundering. Nobody running the company has any education or experience in running a company, and they refuse to hire management/business consultants and think they can just figure everything out on their own because they’ve read a couple of popular business books. They’ve lost staff and can’t backfill positions.

    3. FL*

      Yeah, I wanted to be sensitive to the idea that Beth’s soft skills really do make her a better match for the position, but it’s so hard to get past the fact that she and the supervisor are personal friends. When someone hires/promotes their friends, it’s always obvious and it never looks like a coincidence. Annie can’t be blamed for the rest of the team thinking that Beth was promoted due to favoritism.

  10. ElizabethJane*

    “General consensus seems to be that I used Annie to cover the position without a promotion and screwed her over by promoting Beth instead because Beth is Jane’s friend.”

    … because that’s literally what happened? Even in your letter you admit you promoted Beth because she’s Jane’s friend.

    How did you expect this to go?

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      It doesn’t seem like she promoted Beth just because she’s Jane’s friend. The OP says that Beth is a good employee with good soft skills. Plus, the letter mentions that Annie can be “volatile,” which doesn’t sound like a great quality in a manager.

      That’s not to say that the OP made a great choice here. There’s the friendship dynamic between Beth and Jane, for one thing. But I’m not sure why people are skipping over the OP’s description of Annie.

      1. Ink*

        Because the letter also says Anie is still doing excellent work and being scrupulously polite. This is a pretty big snub, expecially because it’s not clear LW explained the why to Annie. Wouldn’t you expect that volatility to show up here?

        1. Dawn*

          That’s the other thing; I didn’t really want to bring it up because we are supposed to take the OP at their word, but….. I’m not seeing any indication of this volatility they refer to? I’d think that if Annie had a tendency to be volatile this would be an optimal occasion to display it.

          Which makes me think that maybe what OP means by “volatile” is more along the lines of “is obviously unhappy when I do thinks like favour people who are friends with upper management over her and won’t come to Happy Hour anymore” or “calls out the fact that Jane shows clear favouritism” (because Jane should have shut this down too).

          I don’t know for sure! But from where I’m sitting and what’s been described it sounds like Annie is currently being the only professional in the room.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I read “scrupulously polite” as possibly either “icy and distant” or “realizes now that acting out was a mistake”, otherwise it wouldn’t have been worth noting.

          1. Yorick*

            Right, the phrasing “scrupulously polite” implies something other than standard good behavior. I would guess something close to “icy and distant,” in a way you can’t really complain about.

            1. Also-ADHD*

              Well, yes, but that’s exactly what a volatile person probably couldn’t pull off when disappointed (I would think, but this is maybe too much hinging on an adjective that LW probably didn’t spend ages thinking up).

          2. ferrina*

            I read this as “not warm, but I can’t find any fault with her behavior”.

            Honestly, “scrupulously polite” is a good outcome when someone thinks they have been unjustly denied a promotion. I’ve had a front row seat to several people who were unjustly denied promotions and I’ve had it happen to me a couple times. Most common reaction seems to be to complain copiously or to repeatedly argue to people that they should have gotten the promotion, or disengage with work to the point that they are barely doing any work. Keeping your head down and quietly getting the job done well (while not going above and beyond) is usually considered best-case scenario!

            The only time I saw someone suddenly go cheerful when they got (what they felt) unjustly passed over, they were leaving the company.

      2. RIP Pillowfort*

        I don’t think people are overlooking that. I think they’re concerned the friendship wasn’t considered equally bad strike against Beth. Because to a lot of us it would have been a serious pause against promoting Beth to being managed by her good friend Jane.

        That’s textbook conflict of interest and had the appearance that the only way to move up is to be buddies with management.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        I absolutely wouldn’t want to promote Annie if she’s known to get into blowups with Jane already and Jane would be her boss. Even Annie herself should know that’s a bad idea, and perhaps she is aware of that since she seems to have said as much. Beth doesn’t get into blowups with Jane.

        That said, Beth and Jane are gonna have to end that outside of work friendship.

        1. Achtung, Baby*

          Agree, they need to consciously end the outside-of-work friendship. Last year, when my grandboss was hiring a new manager for myself and two peers, she promoted someone (Angie) from another part of the org who was very good outside-of-work friends with a peer (Stacy). Stacy and I are good friends as well as being peers in the same department, and she told me, when the promotion was determined, she and Angie purposefully stepped back from their outside-of-work friendship to avoid any appearance of bias. And they have. Yet I still have moments where I wonder if that unintentional bias is happening (with absolutely no evidence to say it is).

          I say that to say, it’s *very difficult* to not perceive bias exists when you know they had a strong friendship outside-of-work, even if there is no actual bias.

      4. ElizabethJane*

        True, there were other factors at play but the tone I’m reading from the lw is that she is confused that people are drawing that conclusion when she herself admits it was a contributing factor.

      5. Observer*

        What @Ink said. But also Beth *was* absolutely the wrong choice. And the OP’s judgement also seems a bit set against Annie. I mean dinging her because “She no longer volunteers for the hardest assignments when we’re in a pinch, and has opted out of all social gatherings”?! Gatherings, which are officially not required, mind you?

      6. not nice, don't care*

        Maybe Annie is butting heads/volatile with Jane because there is already rampant favoritism happening, in spite of all the heavy lifting Annie has done.

      7. Dido*

        Because OP doesn’t sound like a reliable narrator. How “volatile” can Annie be if literally everyone else on the team prefers her over Beth? OP probably thinks she’s volatile because she’s stood up to her crap in the past.

        1. Dawn*

          Yeah, that was honestly my read on it too, in a nutshell…. Annie is “volatile” because she pushes back – and I’m basing this on the evidence that the OP has presented us here, which is that Annie is still excelling in her role and still being perfectly polite in the face of serious provocation.

      8. The Rules are Made Up*

        It’s not being skipped over it’s being questioned because the OP showed no details of the volatility. Annie didn’t get the promotion then went back to doing her job well and other people are upset on her behalf. My interpretation is that the “volatility” is likely specific to her relationship with Jane but apparently hasn’t affected her relationship with any of her other coworkers who apparently thought she should have been promoted. And her volatility apparently didn’t disqualify her from covering the position before.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think it was a particularly bad idea to let Annie cover the position so extensively if OP had concerns about her soft skills. It’s fine to let someone gain extra experience here and there, but to allow a situation were everyone views the role as rightfully hers, is quite misleading and cruel to Annie. If OP had issues with Annie’s soft skills, they should have ended the coverage opportunity and/or given specific feedback about the changes needed. Taking temporary advantage of extra work she did because she is chasing the role was always going to eventually become apparent enough for the disapproval of others. I don’t know if other opportunities are available but OP might consider if she owes Annie more explicit coaching, or a more genuine role opportunity. Maybe she really is too volatile to promote! But if she is, don’t give the impression she’s close to a promotion if she goes above and beyond.

      1. ferrina*


        If OP had been really on their game, they would have split the coverage responsibilities between Annie and Beth. That way it would have also been clear that these were the two front-runners (optics) and allowed OP to evaluate their skills side-by-side. Especially since it sounds like OP already knew they were going to promote Beth, it would have been great optics to make it look like they were equally evaluated. Of course, that assumes the responsibilities are such that you could have split them. But even if not, it’s a bad look when Annie temporarily covers the position then loses it to a teammate who doesn’t have that experience. It might have helped to have Beth do the coverage for a little bit.

        1. allathian*

          I don’t think so. I think the mere fact that Jane and Beth were known to be friends outside of work should have disqualified Beth from consideration regardless of her skills. If Annie wasn’t suitable to take on the role for whatever reason, they should’ve recruited someone else from the outside. My employer wouldn’t allow a grandboss/team member friendship.

          Beth is never going to be accepted by the team. Because of her friendship with Jane, she’s going to be seen as Jane’s proxy on the team rather than an advocate for the team towards upper management.

          I’m convinced that the only “volatility” Annie ever exhibited was to push back on unrealistic expectations from upper management, and that this is why the team is upset on her behalf now.

          1. basically functional*

            You know, I keep seeing this idea that Beth should have been disqualified from receiving the promotion based on her friendship with Jane. But how is it fair to deny Beth a deserved promotion for (checks notes) making a friend at work? If Beth truly deserves a promotion, a smart company would give to it her while finding a way to restructure the reporting line so she wouldn’t be managed by Jane. (That last part is key; I am not saying it’s ok for personal friends to manage each other!)

            1. Dawn*

              That often simply isn’t possible, and requires jumping through some pretty extensive hoops as compared to just hiring/promoting someone else qualified, even in companies where it might otherwise make sense (i.e. a company large enough to have more than one manager in a position to oversee a certain position, etc.)

              I understand where you’re coming from but you simply cannot, when people have significant personal relationships with someone one or two steps above them, allow them to come under that manager’s reporting chain; realistically she probably already shouldn’t have had this relationship (which shows bad judgement on Jane’s part moreso than Beth’s, to be clear)

  11. A. Smith*

    I’m wondering why Annie was fit to cover the open position for so long, given all the other issues? If she was butting heads with the supervisor, then it seems someone else should’ve been moved into cover it, right?

    I’m also thrown at the assertion in the letter that Beth was more qualified when the given descriptions of the two is the opposite. From the LW’s own words, Beth only has likeability, at least from the supervisor of the role, over Annie. And while soft skills can be hard to teach… experience in the role should’ve counted for something?

    I’m of the opinion that the assumptions the rest of the team has made are probably far more closer to being accurate than not.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Note that they said Beth is more THAN qualified, not more qualified than Annie.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I took that to imply “Beth might not be as qualified as Annie but she is definitely still qualified to fill the role”.

        1. Myrin*

          What else would it mean? I. e. is there another way to read this? (Genuine question, not being a native speaker and all.)

          1. I should really pick a name*

            I was responding to a comment that said “I’m also thrown at the assertion in the letter that Beth was more qualified”

            1. Myrin*

              Yes, I know. I was replying to Irish’s comment, though (which, admittedly, doesn’t quite fit as a reply to your comment IMO anyway), I completely got yours.

    2. Antilles*

      To be fair to OP, it’s entirely possible that the lack of soft skills is much more relevant for a permanent management role than a temporary one.

      A team member who’s handling duties as an interim manager usually isn’t handling *all* of the duties of the permanent manager. Performance reviews are often put on hold during the interim manager rather than having a review written by someone who’s really a peer. If someone needs a difficult PIP conversation or fired, that’s usually covered by the grand-boss. The interim manager might not be super involved in marketing to external clients, etc. As for the butting heads with Jane, that might be something that you can put up with in a short-term couple month scenario but not want to set up as the permanent solution.

      I do agree with you that the assumptions of the rest of the team probably have some truth in them though, if for no other reason than the fact that OP straight up says (twice!) that the Beth/Jane friendship was part of the choice, so I suspect the rest of the team is picking up that scent.

      1. Jake*

        Yeah, I’ve seen a ton of roles where the top individual performer would be fine as a fill in, even for a few months at a time, but they will not be the top candidate for the full time role.

        That’s part of why as companies grow they tend to create career tracks for people like Annie where they can still progress by relying on what they are good at and avoid what they aren’t good at.

      2. ferrina*

        I don’t know, this part is confusing to me. Not the general practice of an interim candidate not getting a role (totally understand what you’re saying), but the specifics in this scenario are weird. OP only says Annie “had more experience covering the open position”. It’s not clear if Beth had any experience covering the role. Or if Annie had been covering the role after the previous person had left, or if Annie had been intermittently covering for the role under the person that previously had the role.

        Best case scenario- the previous person had trained Annie for the key coverage aspects of the role and Annie covered for their vacations. Maybe the responsibilities were something where you didn’t want too many cooks in the kitchen- a client liaison, for example. When the previous person left, Annie had automatically stepped in for a week or two on only the most essential parts while OP made the decisions.

        Worst case scenario- OP asked Annie to effectively do two roles while they made their decision. Annie had not previously covered the role, but OP needed someone to cover it and they chose Annie. Annie covers the role for a month or more while OP gets ducks in a row. Then OP suddenly announces that actually Beth has the role- even though Annie was the one that OP had called when OP’s back was against the wall.

        The part that is bugging me is that Annie and Beth sound like they were on the same team. Why wouldn’t OP have tapped Beth to fill the interim role? Usually when an internal candidate covers the interim role but doesn’t get the long-term position, they are losing out to an external candidate. Once or twice I’ve seen an internal candidate from a different team get the role over the interim candidate. But when the other candidate is literally on the same team and could step into the coverage role? Why didn’t Beth step into the role? If OP knew that they weren’t going to promote Annie (and it sounds like they knew early on), they shouldn’t have put Annie in a position where she was doing extra work. Even if Annie volunteered, OP should have assigned the work to Beth. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances, or maybe OP was just happy to play on Annie’s assumptions so they could get coverage. I really wish we had more information about this.

      3. A. Smith*

        This is a good point about often covering some but not all of a position as well as managing critical feedback.

        I think the core of my wondering is, if Beth was right there and more than qualified, why didn’t she get an at-bat? It seems to me that if LW knew an internal hire was possible (likely?) and knew the team knew that, it would make sense that a) everyone would assume covering the position was like applying and b) someone who had been allowed to cover it to the exclusion of others would be the likely choice.

        Of course, there could be mitigating issues, like Beth’s role at the time meant she didn’t have the capacity to cover something else. Even still… this just seems like such an avoidable conflict/issue. How do you not see this as (appearing to be) wasting someone’s time and try to get in front of it?

        Put another way, if they had gone with an external hire instead of Annie, I’d get it. But to have taken an internal hire over the person you let cover the role is wild to me.

      4. Elbe*

        I think that this would be a great explanation if the LW decided to go with an external hire.

        But it seems very odd that Annie would be the go-to if Beth – who is apparently qualified for the entire role – is also right there. Shouldn’t it be that Beth is the go-to, with Annie only filling in if Beth is unavailable?

        If the LW has always thought that Annie isn’t fit for the role, it’s a mistake to have her fill in. Most employees would be upset if they were the ones consistently doing the work, but then were passed over for the rewards.

      5. Kevin Sours*

        Evidence of Annie’s lack of “soft skills” is pretty thin on the ground. As far as I can tell the only issue is that she isn’t good friends with Jane and “butts heads” with her. Every other point suggests that Annie is scrupulously professional and gets along well with her peers.

        And if Annie was problematic in the role and Beth was the better fit all along, why not have her fill the role on an interim basis?

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m guessing Annie wondered that. Also all Annie’s coworkers seem to have wondered that.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      It’s not that uncommon for people who are not entirely what you’d want in a candidate to cover an open position temporarily. We fired our ED a few years ago and the position was shared with another similar institution until we hired a new one. Obviously, the woman filling the position, while absolutely qualified and competent, couldn’t have sustained being ED to two institutions indefinitely simply because of the work load, but she could do it while we interviewed candidates.

    5. Yorick*

      for all we know, the time Annie spent covering this work may have been when OP observed her butting heads with the supervisor

    6. Elbe*


      My first impression was that Annie is knowledgeable and skilled and assertive and that she ‘butts heads’ with Jane because Jane isn’t very good at her job. It sounds like management (including OP) is a bit cliquey and is just trying to take the path of least resistance. In my experience, when management has a lot of conflict with high performers, but gets along well with average or below-average performers, it tends to be that the management team isn’t the best. I’m reading into the situation quite a bit, of course, but there are just a lot of things that don’t really add up.

      – Annie is “volatile” but is somehow able to take this huge slight with professionalism
      – Annie lacks soft skills to the point that it disqualifies her for a promotion, but manages to be a star performer on her team and is also the go-to cover person for this exact role
      – Annie ‘butts heads’ with people, but is somehow so popular with her coworkers that her getting passed over for a promotion has caused significant upset in the org

      Something just seems off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP is missing the mark here.

      1. Thomas*

        Agreed. One person’s volatile butting heads is another person’s robust discussion. By promoting Beth, at best OP has given Jane a yes-woman, at worst they could be the kind of clique that ruins the whole team.

      2. allathian*

        I get the point that covering a position temporarily isn’t the same thing as doing it on a more permanent basis, although that does depend on the length of the interim posting. I’ve had an “interim manager” who covered the position for more than a year, and did everything a manager is expected to do, including performance evaluations and hiring. When the interim position was made permanent, they hired someone from outside the organization (I work for the government, and “permanent positions” are always open to external candidates, interim ones can be limited to internal promotions).

        I’d really like to know what exactly the LW saw as volatile behavior from Annie. I strongly suspect that she pushed back on an unpopular or unrealistic expectation from Jane and/or the LW, and that’s why Annie’s so popular with the team, because she’s willing to go to bat for them. There’s no reason to believe that Beth’s willing to do the same, and I rather doubt that she is, given her friendship with Jane.

        That said, Beth and Jane’s friendship should’ve meant that Beth stood no chance of getting the promotion, regardless of any other factors. I’m not saying that Annie would’ve been the perfect candidate, either, mind you, just that Beth should’ve been disqualified from consideration. I would find it pretty hard to believe that friend-friends would be able to stop being friends when one of them is promoted to manage the other. And in this case, it’s the *perception* that counts.

        The LW has built a Jane/Beth clique and shown that the only way to get promoted is to be friends with the boss. This will result in a culture of bootlickers being rewarded.

        I’m glad that my organization values promoting managers who are willing to advocate for their teams even when that means disagreeing with their own management. This doesn’t mean arguing about every little thing, of course, just a willingness to see things from the employees’ point of view and advocating for that when upper management sets completely unrealistic expectations.

  12. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

    Though there was definitely too much leeway given to talented jerks in the past, soft skills are not the only skills even in management – and a person who is sometimes abrasive isn’t always loathed by all their coworkers. If it’s any comfort, there was probably no ‘objectively right’ answer to this riddle. The first time Annie butted heads with anyone in the new role, especially if it was to the detriment of the team, probably would have had you questioning yourself too.

    That said, yeah, you cant ask Annie to solve this for you. You should have a case to make for Beth on her own merits, independent of her relationship with Jane and independent of Annie’s faults, that you can sum up to people who question you – not to persuade them but to indicate you thought about it. “Beth is good at managing relationships within the company” can be part of it but shouldn’t be the whole.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Is THIS irony?
      Annie lacks the soft skills to succeed in a position above her current role.
      Now I think my best option is calling on her to use soft skills to ease the transition of the coworker who got the position she wanted easier for me.
      Or is it just brutal?

    2. Observer*

      . If it’s any comfort, there was probably no ‘objectively right’ answer to this riddle.

      Disagree. There was an objectively right answer, and that was to consider a non “obvious” candidate. Even assuming that the LW could not anything about the sof sills issue that Annie supposedly exhibited.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Agree. OP coming from “I HAD to choose the lesser of two bad options.” Did she?

      2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        More candidates would have been better, sure. But choosing a non-obvious (or external) candidate would just get you questions about why you passed over two qualified candidates instead of one.

        1. Observer*

          But choosing a non-obvious (or external) candidate would just get you questions about why you passed over two qualified candidates instead of one.

          Not really. For one thing, the soft skills thing would be far more believable. For another, I don’t think that anyone would be questioning why Beth was not appointed.

          The bottom line is that there was a better and *right* way to handle it. Either Annie *does* have the skills and the LW should have recognized that and promoted her. Or Annie does *not* have the necessary soft skills, in which case the LW should have brought in someone new.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. In a company with professional hiring practices Jane and Beth’s friendship would’ve been enough to disqualify Beth from consideration regardless of any other qualifications. It’s the perception that counts, and I certainly wouldn’t be convinced that a friendship that extended outside of work would be over on the parties’ say-so.

          2. amoeba*

            Eh, it probably would have been objectively the better choice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would’ve gone down better with the candidates and the rest of the team!

    3. EAM*

      “a person who is sometimes abrasive isn’t always loathed by all their coworkers. ”

      I’d venture to say, given staff’s reaction, that they did not think Beth better for the role than Annie, and someone speaks to the fact that they think Annie should have gotten it. The implication being that these “soft skills” are not absent with everyone. If staff found Annie volatile and abrasive they wouldn’t be up in arms about this. They clearly think Annie deserved it. Which begs the question, are the communication issues between Annie and Jane purely on Annie’s end? I could imagine Jane may feel subconscious animosity to her close friends competition…

      But overall, you made a choice that you thought would make life easier on you (not having to manage Jane/Annie dynamics), not on who was actually better equipped to do the job and your staff is noticing.

      1. Pita Chips*

        Exactly. @hat does “butt heads” mean in this context? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. Alex*

    The reason most people bother going “above and beyond” is in hopes of a promotion. Same thing can be for attending a lot of social events outside of work (that I’m assuming she would have to pay for herself). You let Annie know that it’s not happening, and she’s responding justly. If you really want her to still give 110%, maybe consider if there are still actual benefits to her doing so, such as bonus structure or merit raises.
    Regarding the issue with Beth… you’ve said yourself that you ultimately chose her over Annie because of her having a better relationship with Jane. That does tell everyone else that even working the hardest and being the star employee like Annie doesn’t matter as much as being closer with and having a better relationship with higher-ups.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I see no point in Annie doing extra credit when extra credit doesn’t top her personality issues. Annie *should* dial back her unpaid work. OP shouldn’t be shocked at that or think she can say anything to Annie to get her to do it again. Let Beth do it, I suppose.

  14. Retail Dalliance*

    This is a whole lot of yikes-a-roni soup! OP, I hope that the response and comments will be helpful to you in sorting out how to proceed. I agree wholeheartedly with Alison here.

  15. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Oh, no.
    This is not Annie’s mess to fix. She did her best. It wasn’t good enough. She is processing it. That’s as far as her role in this goes.

    If people chose “Team Annie” and make the office dysfunctional, talk to those people. If they are making this a work issue, treat it like one.
    And if Beth and Jane are creating a clique environment (nothing sounds like they are), deal with that.

    (And why do you think Annie telling people she is fine with being passed over would help? Has anyone seen her butt heads with Jane? If they never had a full on blow out, it may well have looked like overworked, overachieving Annie was setting boundaries with overstepping Jane and personal friend Beth was helping a friend. Can you see how THAT would look?)

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I thought something similar. Was Annie being volatile because she ended up having to go above and beyond so often? Could Annie butting heads with Jane be Annie telling Jane that something would not work and why? When Annie said she realized she wasn’t a good candidate for the role, did she see the writing on the wall?

      Further: what happens when Jane has to give good friend Beth bad news, or put her on a PIP? Would Beth be volatile then?

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah, I’m taking LW at their word that Annie is in fact volatile, per the rules of this site, but I also left a job where I was told that my interpersonal skills were lacking because I took exception to the fact that a member who had sexually assaulted me at an event was invited back, and I was taken off the event (which I had run for 5-6 years) so he wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

        But I was the problem, because I ’caused drama’ by reporting the assault to our HR director, per the organization’s own policies and was then upset when I found out I had been lied to and was being retaliated against.

        Sure, someone could take my boss’s word that my interpersonal skills weren’t good, but that wasn’t true.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            It was a continual problem with this organization because they refused to actually ban members who had assaulted / harassed other members or staff (usually staff) from events and conferences.

            I’ve been in the conferences / associations world for going on 15 years and it’s a really nasty underside of this industry.

        1. Pita Chips*

          That’s awful and should not have happened. I’m glad you are away from that toxic place.

        2. Elbe*

          Wow, this is horrible. I’m so sorry that they behaved in that way. I hope you’re doing okay.

          Actual soft skills are important, but managers so often misinterpret what is meant by that term, or they just use it as a cover to punish people who raise any type of concern. I’m worried that “soft skills” is going the way of “culture fit”, where a once-valid idea is distorted to mean something really detrimental.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Will Beth realize that working FOR Jane is not the same as working WITH Jane? Will she see things that Annie (perhaps too bluntly?) pointed out about her work process?
        I’m not speculating, I’m recommending that OP keep a closer eye on the new paring than she thinks she has to because “they are friends.”

        1. Banana Pyjamas*

          Yes! Additionally both should receive coaching that they can’t be friends with team members as manages.

          1. allathian*

            This is why it was a mistake to promote Beth in the first place. The Beth-Jane friendship should’ve disqualified her regardless of any other factors. They’re creating a cliquey culture. Nobody’s going to believe that Beth and Jane are no longer friends no matter what they say.

  16. RIP Pillowfort*

    OOF OP. That’s a huge issue. Beth’s friendship with Jane should have factored into the decision as much as Annie’s issues with Jane.

    Annie’s issues with Jane were a coaching opportunity because you can’t let that go on your team. Beth and Jane’s friendship is a huge conflict of interest. I see that you wanted to focus on promoting from within the team. But you have to prep the employees for that.

    You as the manager have to address the unhappiness on your team. You can’t expect Annie to solve this because you are the one that ultimate caused it by making the decision. I know that’s harsh to read but it’s the truth. You need to speak to your employees and explain it. If you lean into the friendship as a decision factor- people are going to find that reasonably unfair.

  17. Yup*

    Annie’s volatile relationship should have been handled previously, and should have been part of her evaluations as a point to fix before she could be promoted. Right now the optics of this aren’t good.

    I’m always surprised to read letters where managers blame employees for their own bad management decisions and unwillingness to manage. I guess I shouldn’t be.

    1. samwise*

      We don’t know that. OP’s don’t give us every detail, just what’s pertinent to the problem at hand.

  18. Snarkus Aurelius*


    Regardless of what you think of Annie, you cannot ask her to fix the entire dynamic of your team. Do you think she’s solely responsible for that? Do you think if Annie starts going to **voluntary** happy hours again that everything will change? That’s not really how that works because in your head you’ve given Annie all this power when in reality you are the one who has it and you used it (as you should). It’s not Annie’s job to “smooth things over” when the reason for the conflict was not her decision; it was yours.

    As for not going “above and beyond” and helping out with hard assignments in a pinch, what did you expect? I’m not being sarcastic because Annie’s reaction is very typical, but I’m always amazed at management’s confusion. Annie had this promotion without officially having it because she had more experience, and I’m betting you didn’t pay her for that extra work either. You were getting something for nothing until something better (in your mind) came along, and now you want Annie to do more again to help you out. Although you admit Annie was good at the job, you promoted Beth who was merely nicer to everyone, including her prospective boss. What did you think was going to happen when you promoted Beth over Annie?

    It’s a very Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan situation.

    Perhaps Beth really was the best choice between the two. I don’t know. But *you* created the dynamic that you want Annie to make go away so you’re the one who has to change it, if you can.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      That’s not really how that works because in your head you’ve given Annie all this power when in reality you are the one who has it and you used it (as you should).
      This is a great statement. OP, stop focusing on Annie. You don’t have an Annie problem; you have a team problem.

      1. allathian*

        I’d say it’s more than that, the LW has a Jane/Beth problem. Promoting someone because they’re the friend of the boss is aways bad, without exception. This is why nepotism rules ban this practice in so many companies. I can’t imagine any employer with professional hiring practices would allow a situation like this to develop in the first place.

  19. Antilles*

    She has also stopped going “above and beyond.” She no longer volunteers for the hardest assignments when we’re in a pinch
    Well yeah! You have explicitly demonstrated that hard work, helping out when needed, temporarily filling the open position, being a star performer, and extra effort are all trivial compared to the much more important question of “are you BFF’s with Beth”. Why would she continue to do these things when you’re showing her you don’t care?

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      LW, did you work with Annie beforehand on her soft skills? Did you tell her that doing extra work was not going to lead to a promotion? If the answer to these two questions is “no”, then you set up this situation. I am not saying you should have promoted Annie, but you were willing to accept the extra work she did without thinking of what was in it for her. Now she knows and is giving you what you pay her for…and nothing more.

  20. SJ*

    It’s interesting that you say Annie has poorer soft skills, yet you want her to jump in and handle fix the culture on the team instead of handling it yourself, or having the person you promoted work on it. This isn’t a good look, especially with Beth and Jane being so tight. Can you really blame Annie for being less willing to go above and beyond? She has rightly realized that it will only get her more work and responsibility at the same pay rate. I’d be skipping the happy hours, too!

      1. Pita Chips*

        Right? In other letters, we’ve read about people complaining loudly behind the manager’s back, going over their heads, undermining them, or being just plain mean. Disengaging is a valid coping response here.

        1. Darren*

          I wouldn’t even call it disengaging. She is taking on board feedback at the moment.

          Annie has been told that technical skills at Beth’s level (who presumably also didn’t volunteer for extra work) is all that is required for promotion. So she should cut back on the extra work there that won’t assist with getting promoted. This will give her the additional time and focus she will need to work on the thing that she does need to get promoted which is “soft skills”.

          It’ll take awhile for her to come up with a strategy here, but she has the bandwidth to do so now. If that is going to cause problems I guess management was wrong about what was important for Annie to be focusing on.

    1. Petty Betty*

      I’m personally wondering what “can be volatile, and in particular has a history of butting heads with Jane” means in context. Does it mean that Annie shows her frustrations easily? Or that she is more vocal in her frustrations? Or that she shows frustration at all? Is she a cusser in a generally non-cussing environment? Does she disagree with Jane where Beth doesn’t and Jane gets irritated and they argue about it? Does Jane expect “yes” people and complain when she doesn’t have them? Is Annie a no-nonsense type of person who doesn’t kiss up to management (Jane specifically) and Jane doesn’t like it? Or is there an actual problem?

      Because honestly? If the rest of the team is side-eying the decision, and here we have a LW who is asking someone they say doesn’t have the soft skills to manage to use the very same unavailable soft skills to smooth over an issue that LW created by promoting someone else in her place… I’m side-eying this all the more. If I were an employee on this team and I had to be involved in this, I’d be side-eying so hard that I could look behind myself. If I were Annie, I’d be handling it exactly as this Annie is, and definitely looking for another job because I’ve been shown I’m not appreciated here and that I can absolutely do better and won’t be allowed to do better at this company.

  21. Yup*

    Also what’s considered aggressive in women is often defined as assertive and confident in men.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      OP writes about Annie and Jane “butting heads” but doesn’t offer an example.
      Was Annie ever “right” but just not gracious or polite about it?
      Like Jane told her to prioritize X over Z, but Jane thought that was a bad idea and told her?
      Sounds like Annie would do it anyway, but just needed to be heard.
      Or was it really, Jane said X and Annie says giraffe?

      1. Observer*

        Was Annie ever “right” but just not gracious or polite about it?

        Yes, I’m wondering very strongly about this. Because people generally don’t like volatile managers. So the fact that they are SO on “Team Annie” and clearly see Beth’s promotion as related to being good buddies with Jane, really makes me wonder about that as well.

      2. not nice, don't care*

        Has Jane already been showing favoritism to Beth, resulting in ‘volatility’ from Annie?

      3. Petty Betty*

        Or was she just right, period? We can hand-hold a manager and manage a manager’s feelings until the cows come home, but some of them are so allergic to being wrong that any wrongness is going to send them into a tailspin.

      4. samwise*

        I thought we were supposed to take OPs at their word.

        If we have to have every detail about OP, Annie, Beth, and Jane, we’d have a novel. OPs necessarily abbreviate.

        In this case, quite a few of the comments are assuming we have Saint Annie, and Feckless and Dimwitted OP.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          We shouldn’t disbelieve the events, but it’s fine to disagree with the LW’s interpretations,

          And actually, I feel that the commenters are doing a pretty good job today with explaining WHY they doubt LW’s interpretations. Namely that 1) Annie has handled the denied promotion surprisingly well for someone who’s supposedly volatile and 2) that LW’s decision shows an astonishing lack of foresight and people skills which casts doubt on their judgement in general.

          I do think that it’s entirely possible that Annie REALLY lacks the soft skills for the job (e.g. she could be fine with peers but confrontational with superiors) but either way OP definitely needs to brush up her communication skills. Impressions matter, and if you want people to believe you that your assessments are truly objective, you have to SHOW that they are objective. With concrete examples, for best results. Judgemental descriptions (like “volatile”) are never sufficient unless you have to keep it REALLY short – as in, a couple of sentences. Anything longer, and you’ll have to be specific, otherwise people will get hung up on which type of [judgemental description] you meant (the “volatile” where someone rants and screams? Or the “volatile” where someone is just direct and not afraid to voice disagreements? Without examples, it could be either…)

          1. Petty Betty*

            And it could be that Annie is “volatile” and “butts heads” with Jane specifically and not other managers, which could reduce the chances of a good working relationship between the two of them. If you have Annie being a direct report to Jane, and the two of them are so adversarial to each other to the point of open contempt (theorizing here for a second), I would not recommend that Annie get the promotion. HOWEVER, that does not mean I would recommend Beth for the promotion either, because I know that Beth is Jane’s friend outside of work and the optics are abysmal.

            Me, personally, I would want to get to the bottom of the whole Annie/Jane issue and want it mediated (if possible). I think Annie was probably a better overall choice out of the two candidates presented, but I think the deciding factor was potentially Jane’s personality, who LW didn’t really focus on near as much and seems to be assigning more blame on Annie rather than Jane (maybe because Jane is LW’s supervisor or just higher up in general?).

        2. Worldwalker*

          One critical aspect of the OP’s word is that she describes the rest of the team as being upset with her choice.

          That’s some third-party evidence about Annie’s behavior, and it contradicts what the OP says directly.

          It’s not refusing to take the OP at their word to look at all their words.

    2. fish*

      Yes. This jumped out to me too. I know we’re supposed to take the LW’s at their word, but is Annie really “volatile” and “butting heads?” Or is she…a woman with an opinion?

      1. Ground Control*

        This jumped out at me too. Is Annie “butting heads” with Jane because they’re not personal friends? It’s not clear to me that this is a negative thing, especially if Beth just does whatever Jane wants because they’re friends. I have a hard time giving the benefit of the doubt regarding Annie’s “volatility” considering everything else in the letter.

      2. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

        I had the same thought. At a previous job, a manager would have said that she and I butted heads. In truth, I was young and inexperienced and didn’t know how to manage up, and for her everything was a #1 priority, and I was only one person. I believe OP that they butted heads, but why? And… was that a bad thing? Because sometimes differing opinions make the end product BETTER, since you aren’t working in an echo chamber.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yes, I ‘butted heads’ with my last director because she refused to do any work and spent a little over a year out on mysterious ‘leaves’ while my coworker and I did her job with zero recognition.

      3. Arual*

        Maybe the Annie/Jane problem was all Jane, and Annie is an “innocent” bystander. Especially given Jane’s inappropriate friendship. I would say that Annie has great skills. Maybe OP’s skills are also lacking. All 3 of them should go and Annie be promoted. I’m sad OP is a long time manager because this is all wrong on so many levels.

      4. Ink*

        +1 I mean, if you’re ever going to have a volatile reaction at work surely this would be the moment? Has OP addressed the soft skills thing with Annie, and this is the result despite old behavior being held against her? That’s the most charitable read I can give this letter :/

    3. CG*

      Yes! (…And “butting heads” often implies an “on both sides”. If that’s what your team is seeing, what you perceive as “Annie butts heads with Jane” might come across at the staff level as “Jane dislikes Annie for no reason”.)

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This is the sentence I was trying to find when I typed “set boundaries.” I know it sounded to personal when this should be about the business needs. Advocates. YES.

    4. Elbe*

      Yes! Even women can have gender biases.

      Also, that part of the letter reminded me of the saying “A players hire A player. B players hire C players.”

      It very well could be that they don’t get along because Jane doesn’t like that Annie is making suggestions or improvements or pointing out issues when she’s covering for that role.

  22. AllyLila*

    If I were Annie, I’d be leaving as soon as I could. LW admittedly said Annie is a better worker, but promoted Beth, who had a better relationship/friendship with the supervisor (which is problematic and can lead to favoritism). Big red flag and a very questionable decision.

  23. subaru outback driver*

    After reading the 3rd paragraph, I will be surprised if Annie is still working for you in 6 months. In short Annie did the job and then you decided to give it to someone else. You are looking for Annie to now manage how you feel uncomfortable about it. I know folks on here use the term pants feelings for romantic situations, but this to me is the manager equivalent. You are wanting Annie to manage your manager comfort, that is not her job.

  24. FricketyFrack*

    Well, here’s proof that being a manager for a long time doesn’t make someone good at it. If I were Annie and LW tried to make their poor choices my problem, I might quit on the spot. It’s clear that instead of helping team members become more well-rounded, the LW just wants to take the easy way and is now trying to put it on someone else when it backfired. This entire thing was handled so poorly and it really feels like either Jane or Beth needs to be moved somewhere else.

    1. allathian*

      Preferably both. They’re creating a cliquey culture in the team and the LW isn’t helping. Jane and Beth’s friendship should’ve disqualified Beth from consideration. The fact that the LW saw their friendship as a positive reason to promote Beth makes me wonder about professional standards at this company in general.

      After college, one of my friends worked for a company that had a notorious “we’re all friends and family here” culture. But because they were also very scrupulous about nepotism and perceived nepotism, they also had a policy of never, ever promoting anyone internally. Ever. Oh sure, they paid good performance bonuses and she got a couple raises without promotions, but when she asked what she had to do to qualify for a promotion, her boss said “go work somewhere else for at least 4 years” and she did just that. To be fair, because the policy was the way it was, the company also helped her get a job elsewhere; her manager offered to be her reference and she was able to interview during working hours and could be perfectly open about interviewing, etc.

      She returned to the same company about 6 years later, 3 levels higher in the org chart, by which time all her former work friends had moved on. She stayed there for another two years or so, and after that she decided that the culture was no longer a good fit for her because she no longer wanted to spend so much of her own time socializing with her coworkers after work.

      She told me that by the time she left in her late 30s she was one of the oldest employees not counting the C-suite. Most employees also fit into the single and childfree demographic, and my friend had had 2 kids during the 6 years she worked elsewhere. The only reason she could take this job at all is that she’s the breadwinner of her family, her husband’s also employed but she’s the one with the considerably higher salary. Essentially he has a job but she has a career.

  25. KHB*

    Agree 100% with Alison that this is OP’s problem to solve, not Annie’s…but that raises the question: When a manager does something that loses her team’s confidence like this, what steps can she take to get it back? “You should have considered how this would look to your team in the first place” is not actionable advice, because OP is not a time traveler. The mess is made. How does she clean it up?

    This is the stuff that keeps me up at night, now that my career is starting to progress into management, because I can easily imagine myself making a decision that sounds good inside my head, but that goes over very differently with the rest of the team.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Reading through the comments, you will see people pointing out that OP did not have to choose between Annie and Beth. If there really is a position and the two most qualified people have deal breaker issues, find a third option.
      So the advice you should take away from this is if you think you are stuck with two options you don’t like, keep looking. THAT is doing your best.

      1. KHB*

        But that’s just more woulda-coulda-shoulda-ing. OP cannot go back in time to hire an external candidate any more than she can go back in time to do anything else. The question is, what CAN she do NOW?

        1. KHB*

          (And also: On a team where promotions are such a rarity to begin with, I’m not at all convinced that “hire an external candidate” would have been a better solution than either “promote Annie” or “promote Beth.” I can easily imagine an alternate-universe version of this post where OP’s saying, “Instead of working with either of my great employees about overcoming their roadblocks to promotion, I hired an external candidate, and now my whole team is demoralized, because they all think they’ll never get promoted.”)

          1. Elizabeth Weir*

            I can easily imagine an alternate-universe version of this post where OP’s saying, “Instead of working with either of my great employees about overcoming their roadblocks to promotion, I hired an external candidate, and now my whole team is demoralized, because they all think they’ll never get promoted.”

            Absolutely. OP is wrong to suggest that Annie needs to “fix” anything; but I see the choice to promote Beth as defensible.

            1. allathian*

              I don’t. In an organization with professional recruitment policies, Beth would’ve been disqualified out of hand because she’s Jane’s friend. Even if they decide to be professional about it, there’s absolutely no reason for anyone else to trust that the (maybe former) friendship wouldn’t affect the relationship in any way. Friends do not manage friends in a decently run organization, it’s as simple as that.

              We also really don’t know what Annie’s supposed volatility really means. But because Annie has the support of the team, I suspect that they trust her to advocate for them more than they trust Beth to do so. I don’t trust Jane to be able to manage Beth effectively regardless.

          2. KateM*

            I agree about the problems that external candidate could have caused.
            But if I worked in a place where promoting was such a rarity, I would be expecting never to be promoted anyway.

            1. KHB*

              I guess that to me, there’s a qualitative difference between “You’re not getting a promotion because there aren’t any promotions available” and “You’re not getting a promotion because when there IS a promotion available, we’d rather hire from outside the company than even think about promoting you.” The former is annoying but possibly tolerable: At some employers, it’s normal for people to stay in the same roles for years and years at a time, and that’s just how things are set up. But the latter is a slap in the face.

          3. linger*

            What we can say is that, because hiring/promotion decisions come up so rarely, OP has had little experience in managing them. So, OK, getting this one really wrong is understandable. How to get them right is useful advice for others, but doesn’t address OP’s specific situation. OP’s question is essentially how to unscrew the pooch. Unfortunately, as listeners to Dan Savage will know, that question does not have a clear answer. Though it’s at least a start for OP to realise it happened and she did it.
            The bright side, of sorts, is that OP will probably get more practice in hiring decisions soon, at which point the advice about better processes will be relevant.

        2. municipal worker*

          The first thing she can do from here is to own her mistake by saying the quiet part out loud. To Annie and the rest of the team. Acknowledge that in a healthy organization, Beth’s relationship with Jane would not be the deciding factor, but in this case it was. Starting a more formal mentorship program for staff who exhibit good leadership potential might help the company sand around rough edges like Annie’s volatility (or whatever else might be lacking with the next person) could help morale with the rest of the team.

          Finding another way to reward Annie’s history of hard work might help smooth things over with her. Could she get a bonus or raise? Could she get a different promotion? Even if it means realigning the entire reporting structure, it might be worth it to retain a good employee. And even if you ultimately can’t do that, if the team sees that you did your best to advocate for Annie, they will see that you have the integrity to at least try to clean up the messes you made.

          Last, does the company need to have guardrails in place between Beth and Jane? Was Annie was butting heads because of her unpleasant delivery of legit concerns? Do things run smoother with Beth because she is not the type to bring up these concerns at all, either because she isn’t deep enough into the weeds of the job to see the concerns or because she knows Jane has a history of shooting the messenger? Has this promotion made the company even more blind than it already was to potential trouble spots? What needs to happen to make sure that Beth is serving the company and not just Jane’s wishes?

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        But to KHB’s point, if you’ve made a mistake like this instead of looking for the third option, how do you get things back on track? We can look in the rearview window all we want, but eventually you have to move forward.

    2. Pescadero*

      “The mess is made. How does she clean it up?”

      She probably can’t. She has probably already lost Annie no matter what she does.

      Sometimes choices have consequences that can’t be avoided.

      1. KHB*

        That’s not the whole question, though. Annie may well be looking to leave, as she has every right to do. (And I’d argue that the loss of a single employee, even a talented one, shouldn’t be regarded as a failure of management, because it was always possible that Annie could have found another opportunity she liked better at any time.) But even after Annie leaves, OP has to continue to lead the rest of the team, which means she has to find a way to regain their confidence.

        OP made a mistake in how she handled this promotion…but it wasn’t SUCH a bad mistake as to be career-ending in its severity (at least in my opinion). So as much fun as it is to dunk on her in the comments, “you done effed up, so now you have to go away forever” can’t be the whole solution here.

        1. Katie Impact*

          Not career-ending, but I could see this being the sort of thing that only resolves when the manager is either transferred to manage a different team or finds a new position elsewhere. OP’s credibility with her current team is going to be hard to recover if their reactions are as universally negative as the letter makes them sound.

          1. TheBunny*

            OP allowed favoritism and personal bias to ne the deciding factor.

            I realize that KHB wants an answer as to how to fix this, but I really don’t think there is once you introduce this level of it into a job.

            Didn’t get the desk by the window but someone else did? Does Jane or OP like them better? Didn’t get your PTO days but someone else did? Oh Jane or OP must like them more than me.

            I hate to keep saying you can’t unring this bell… but you really can’t.

    3. Also-ADHD*

      Ideally, there is more to why Beth was chosen, and a clear rubric of how she fits the role best. (I’m not clear on this from what’s presented, but that doesn’t mean LW can’t reflect on and think on that.) Even if not, there’s a fine chance Beth is also qualified (even if LW had some blind spots and Annie was more qualified or an external candidate would be better or whatever).

      If Beth isn’t qualified, none of my advice works, but realistically I think LW needs to try and make the best amends possible with Annie for having her cover the role but giving it to a colleague without much formal process, give Annie meaningful feedback as to why the choice was made and coaching areas for Annie IF she ever does want to move up, and ideally a bonus for any extra work she did, if possible. Show the team Annie’s work is recognized. This is less for Annie, who should be looking for a new job, frankly (because I don’t think she’s ever going anywhere in this one) and more for the team. LW should also not expect Annie to step up unless a promotion path for ICs or such is made. Annie has been burned by doing extra. That’s that. If she ever starts again, accept it and welcome it, but don’t try and make it happen. Let her do her job and that’s that.

      Then, LW should conduct 1:1s with team members and ask for their feedback on the situation and actually listen. After that, LW could decide on a plan to explain the choice and work on the change management with the team. Assuming Beth does well in her role and the team sees that, this should be enough to regain trust if LW actually listens to and addresses the team’s feelings rather than brushing them off or wanting them to go away.

    4. TheBunny*

      Honestly? I don’t think OP can clean this up.

      I don’t think there’s anything left of this dinner once you scrape the burned bits off.

      In one act, she taught her team the following: that going above and beyond doesn’t matter, that decisions in the department will be based on how well you get along with the grandboss… and not in reality, just how it’s perceived, and that favoritism rules.

      You might MIGHT be able to unlearn one of those things from a team, but there’s nothing to get rid of all of them. It’s especially awful as based on OPs description of the aftermath, the whole team things she was wrong.

      To put it bluntly, she picked a lower performing employee who was friends with the grand boss for one of the rare promotions in her area.

      I honestly don’t see an effective way to walk this one back to gain the support of the team m.

  26. Alex*

    The fact that you promoted Beth *because* of her friendship with Jane is very problematic. That’s an awful message to send to the rest of the team–that being buddy buddy with potential bosses will result in being promoted more than doing excellent work and taking on higher-level tasks will. If Annie’s behavior was unacceptable, that should have been addressed separately. I’m unclear if “butting heads” means “Annie was rude and unprofessional” with Jane or if it means “Annie would voice disagreements with Jane sometimes”. If it is the former, then yeah, that’s a problem worth withholding promotions for. But otherwise, it’s not actually a problem that an excellent employee “butts heads” with a potential supervisor if she does so professionally and keeps it work-related. Sometimes that is a good thing! Everyone needs their ideas challenged and tested, and outcomes may well be improved vs. hiring only yes-people.

    1. Observer*

      My kingdom for a like button!

      I know that’s not happening, just making the point that this is spot on without my having anything to add.

  27. Sara without an H*

    LW, it looks to me as though you took what you thought would be the easy way out and now it’s turned out to be a mess. The fact that Beth and Jane are good friends outside of work should have been at least a yellow flag for you. I once managed someone who was good friends with a subordinate, and it was a nightmare.

    I’m also puzzled on what steps you were taking about Annie’s “volatility” and her “butting heads” with Jane? How candid were you with her about how her behavior would affect her prospects and what she needed to change? If you said nothing to her until you turned her down for the promotion, that was … not good.

    In your position, I think I would have tried to recruit a pool of applicants, either internal or external, and let Beth and Annie compete for the job if they wanted to. You might have hired one of them, or neither of them, but your choice would have looked less like favoritism.

    And, yes — Annie is definitely looking for another job. Why shouldn’t she? She already knows she has no future on your team. Asking her to smooth relations between Beth and the others is tone-deaf, to put it kindly.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’m also puzzled on what steps you were taking about Annie’s “volatility” and her “butting heads” with Jane?
      reminds me of the old saying, “don’t upset the horses.”
      So, Annie was getting work done and being a rock star for OP.
      Your comment made me see that in return, OP did not help/manage/mentor Annie for advancement. And OP didn’t advocate for Annie either. “I want to promote you but you have a big character flaw. Sorry.”

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        Yes but not flawed enough to save us when we needed someone. You were here for us but now, you know what, you actually suck.
        This is so bad that I’m really shocked by the LW, but then again this stuff happens a lot.

  28. Czhorat*

    If Annie HAD done the job in an interim/fill-in capacity AND is a higher performer overall than Beth I understand why she’s miffed – especially given the personal relationship between Beth and Jane.

    You said promotions are rare; when a rare opportunity comes up it’s very important to have as transparent a policy as possible with the appearance of fairness. It doesn’t sound as if that happened here; even if Beth WERE the objectively stronger candidate because of better soft skills the situation doesn’t make people believe that it is.

    The bit about Annie not going “above and beyond” anymore is SO understandable; if there’s no sign she’ll be rewarded for it, why would she? That one of the rare opportunities to advance passed her by sent a message loud and clear: her extra work is not appreciated enough to put her in line for a promotion over the grandboss’s buddy. She is absolutely job-searching now because you just told her that her way up is out the door.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      There was no interview process.
      OP told Annie, hey, I am giving Beth the role you’ve been in. I didn’t do formal interviews, so you didn’t get to advocate for yourself. I didn’t discuss where you could improve to keep the position while you were doing it. Thanks for understanding.
      I’d lose my shit.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah. If there’s an process of some kind with a chance to internally apply and at least somewhat of an interview it *feels* like it’s a real process.

        The way it goes it FEELS completely arbitrary.

  29. froodle*

    “So I chose to promote Beth, who has better soft skills and an excellent relationship with Jane (they’re good friends outside work)”

    Oh no.

    Oh, OP. You done goofed.

    Seen from the outside, this just looks like a better performer lost out on a promotion because the other candidate is buddy-buddy with the higher up they’ll be reporting to. That’s, uh… not a good look.

    If I was on that team, with no desire for the promotion and no clear favourite between Beth and Annie, I would be pretty perturbed to see this.

    and if I was Annie, I would a) definitely not be going above and beyond for you in the future and b) not putting myself in social situations where I might slip from “scrupulously polite” to something more ill-advised (though probably accurate).

    1. TWB*

      Yeah, this was a major fumble on multiple fronts by LW:

      If “volatility” with Jane was already a known issue, LW missed a managerial opportunity to coach, even before the chance of promotion was in play.

      The position should have been posted, at least internally, so that anyone interested could have thrown their hat in the ring. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that others on the team may have considered competing for the role, weren’t even given the chance, and are also salty about that.

      LW promoted largely based on “friendship with person who will now be managing person directly”, creating an immediate power imbalance, a conflict of interest, and the appearance of favoritism. Whether favoritism actually occurs doesn’t much matter anymore. The suggestion is there. And what happens if these two “good friends outside of work” have a falling out in their personal relationship that makes it impossible for them to continue to work together?

      LW taught Annie and the rest of the team, intentionally or not, that hard work doesn’t result in promotions, office politics does.

      To top it all off, after creating the problem, that had understandable and predictable consequences, LW wants someone else to fix it for them – the star performer who got shafted.

      I don’t mean to be harsh, but it makes me wonder how LW got to the position they’re currently in, if these are the kinds of decisions and and justifications they make. Sounds like they could use some management coaching, themselves.

      LW – YOU created this issue, YOU need to take responsibility for it, and YOU need to find a way to fix it that doesn’t include Annie having to cover for you.

  30. bamcheeks*

    I don’t know what the answer is from here, but my takeaway would be that your candidate pool needed to be a lot bigger than two people, each with significant negative attributes. Beth might have been an excellent candidate in the abstract, but her friendship with Jane is a hindrance in this situation, not a help.

    (I’m also confused about where Jane was in this process– if she’s the line manager for the new role, why was this LW’s decision? Was there any process here or was it just fiat by LW? I know I’m irredeemably public sector but I just don’t get how people think hiring can work like this and NOT cause exactly these issues!)

    1. roann*

      All of my professional experience is public sector where we have pretty strict guidelines about posting open positions and the interview/hiring process, so situations like this are just baffling to me. I think all the red tape required by government can certainly slow things down and sometimes it means you don’t end up with the best person in the role, so that’s a definite downside. But on the other hand, we’re pretty much forced to be transparent through the whole process, which I think really covers your butt in a situation like this. Maybe Beth genuinely was the best person for the job, but in not being transparent throughout the process, LW has really shot themselves in the foot and not set Beth or the team up for success.

  31. Super Duper Anon*

    Honestly, while I think that the data points of advice you are getting like you should have coached Annie about the soft skills beforehand, maybe hired an external candidate instead, had a talk with Jane and Beth before promoting Beth, etc. are all really useful in case you get into a similar situation in the future. I think there is no fixing this.

    Annie is going to leave. She will be polite and work hard enough to not get fired, but all her energy is now going to job searching. You can have that talk with Jane and Beth about friendships outside of work and perceived favoritism but the rest of your team won’t buy it. The ones bothered by it will leave too, eventually.

    Sometimes you make a mistake bad enough that you can’t recover from it and have everything go back to how it was before. All you can do is not make the same mistake again as you backfill team positions. Annie can’t fix this, you may not be able to either.

    1. Lab Boss*

      “She will be polite and work hard enough to not get fired,”

      Bingo. I found out, well after the fact, that at one point in my career there had been an effort to double-cross me on a planned promotion and raise. Apparently someone on my management chain said “if you do this to him, he won’t even argue. He’ll smile, go back to work, and you’ll all be astonished when he puts in his notice in a month.” I would have, and so should Annie- but I can’t help but imagine OP is going to be totally blindsided when it happens.

  32. Dido*

    Hmm, is it possible that Annie is only volatile with Jane because of Jane’s clear favoritism for people she’s friends with outside of work? Because it sure sounds like Annie has great relationships with everyone else on the team, considering how much they’re willing to go to bat for her.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      That might be true, but “volatile” is still not a characteristic I’m looking for in a promotion candidate.

      1. Dido*

        I guess I should’ve put “volatile” in quotes, because OP has given NO examples of Annie actually being volatile, just sounds like she doesn’t put up with crap.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Yeah. I’d think that someone who was actually volatile would have ragequit right away when they were told Jane’s BFF got the promotion they worked for.

        2. allathian*

          Yes, this. I suspect that Annie advocated for the team when the LW or Jane, or both, set unrealistic expectations, and they prefer Beth who’ll try to do as they say, even if it means an extremely unhappy team.

          And just how effectively is Jane going to be able to manage Beth, anyway?

  33. Mehitabel*

    I’ve been the Annie in somewhat similar situations. And I did exactly as she did; I told my boss I didn’t want the promotion anyway, I remained scrupulously polite with boss and co-workers, and I cut all ties except the strictly professional ones. No happy hours, no lunches out, nada. And I left as soon as I could, because why on earth would I want to stay somewhere where I’m good enough to ‘cover’ a job but not good enough to have the title and pay?

    And I’m sorry, but someone being ‘good friends’ with their new boss being a good reason to promote them? Nope nope nope nopity nope. It’s one of the best reasons I can think of to do the exact opposite. Clusterfudge, indeed.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I was the Annie, except that the person who took over was from another location and they explained it away that the other candidate had some sort of extra knowledge of other offices. I suspect there’s more to it, but … whatever.
      My interest in going above and beyond went exactly as far as me giving a quick tour of some of the changes that I had put into place to make the team work smoothly and consistently, and stopped as soon as the new person decided to disregard every piece of it or to even ask a single question about what was there. So, my small reserve of generosity was spent and never recovered – with the new supervisor, and with the entire management team.

  34. A Girl Named Fred*

    So I don’t mean this to disagree with Alison or any of the commenters, as I 100% agree that this is a problem of the LW’s own making and they can’t ask Annie to sort it out, but as someone who doesn’t have managerial experience I don’t see anyone saying what LW should do to repair the situation. They can’t ask Annie to do it, of course, but they also can’t un-ring the bell of promoting Beth. Do they go to Beth and Jane and have that conversation about how their friendship needs to change? Or how should they approach the team at large (if they should at all) about the current atmosphere?

    Again, not trying to disagree or absolve LW of their decision, just trying to learn for my own growth! I’d probably end up never trusting this boss again, so I’m curious what steps if any they should take to work toward that trust from the team again.

    1. fish*

      I think there’s some good stuff in the comments:
      – Try to recognize Annie’s work another way (like a bonus or a Senior Individual Contributor title)
      -Coach Annie to get her what she needs to advance in future
      -Be transparent with the team about Beth’s strengths and what’s needed for the role
      -Have a serious talk with Beth and Jane about how to manage perceptions of favoritism
      -Investigate *why* Annie and Jane “butt heads” – is Annie “volatile” or is there a Jane problem here (like she only likes yes-women, and Annie tells her honestly why things don’t work)
      -Investigate OP’s own perceptions and preferences – seems like they prefer low-conflict situations at all costs and have some unrealistic ideas about employee motivation and recognition, this may be blinding them to other things

    2. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

      I think part of the reason there is no advice on how to solve this problem is that it is, at the core, unsolvable.

      You promoted a senior manager’s friend to be her direct report, when the other contender butts heads with said senior manager. The optics for this are poor. There isn’t enough smoothing over the LW can do to convince the team Beth didn’t get the job BECAUSE she is Jane’s friend. Even if Beth does an exemplary job, there will always be whispers of “she got that job because she’s friends with Jane”. The fact that promotions are hard to come by make things even worse.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Super Duper Anon’s comment above has the skinny on this. The answer is you can’t. But it’s a really good read about why.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I definitely thin a conversation with Jane is the first step, but I don’t know what relationship LW has to Jane, or why LW was the decision-maker if Jane is managing the role. If LW is senior to Jane, then a “you can’t be friends with someone you’re managing, pull back” conversation is absolutely in order. If Jane is senior to LW, I’d approach it more as “have you any suggestions on how I handle this”. I don’t really understand at all how Jane’s friendship with *her direct report* seems to be treated as an a priori and unchangeable fact.

      1. KateM*

        I wonder, too, what could the relationship be, considering that the letter leaves an impression that OP decided all by themselves who to promote to be Jane’s direct report. I can only imagine OP to be the top gun who does all these decisions for everybody.

        1. bamcheeks*

          See, that seemed possible, but so did LW being the actual direct line manager of Annie, Beth and the rest of the team, and being asked by Jane to nominate someone for promotion because she knows the team best. Neither sounds like a great plan to me, though!

            1. bamcheeks*

              Yeah, or if not exactly a peer someone who reports to the same person. So

              Jane, Grade 8, Head of Llamas, Alpacas, and Other Camelids
              LW, Grade 7, Llama Manager
              Annie, Beth, Calvin, Demilola etc, mix of Grade 4 and 5s, Llama groomers

              Jane says to LW, “I’d like to create a Grade 6 Special Llama Project Lead, directly managed by me, who will take more of an outward-facing role communicating about Llama Groomin and Llama Needs to our internal and external stakeholders. Who’s ready to step up from your team?”

    5. Ellis Bell*

      Super Duper Anon summed it up pretty well when they described this as probably unfixable. There are some takeaways: 1) OP should start to see the friendship of Jane and Beth as a problematic detail rather than a bonus, (but even if they successfully manage this dynamic, no one is ever going to see this as anything but a popularity promotion ) People may still leave because of the dodgy jobs-for-mates optics. 2) If Annie’s former above and beyond work ethic is now missed by OP, then OP has to stop taking it for granted and provide a real reward and reason for Annie to do more. The problem is it probably now needs to be a real right-now promotion, not a someday promotion, and OP says those are rare. 3) You can’t tell your team what to think and you certainly can’t tell a disappointed staffer to tell the others what to think (especially if they’re really likely to disagree with the message). They’re allowed to see this as a dog’s dinner so long as they’re civil and professional. My main advice to OP would be to take their lumps gracefully without making it someone else’s problem. I think this is something that just has to be viewed as a learning experience.

    6. TX_Trucker*

      Sometimes you mess up so badly, that you can’t recover from it. I think everyone here realizes that the Annie got screwed and is looking for a new job. I suspect in a few months the OP will also be looking for a job. In my opinion this is not a temporarily disgruntled team, but a permanently changed dynamic that will become a miserable management situation for the OP.

  35. Pink Candyfloss*

    As soon as I read “they’re good friends outside of work” I knew what the rest of the letter would say. A predictable, if unfortunate, outcome – this manager shot themselves in the foot, whether or not it was avoidable.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Same. I immediately copied it to put into a comment with: “Well this is where things went wrong…”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, I hit that line and was like “Well there’s the effect that goes with your cause.”

  36. M*

    Yikes on bikes. Annie is making the right choice to step back and step down on doing anything extra for you. And now you want to *blame* her for it and make *her* smooth it over. That is one thousand percent not on her – it’s on you and your poor choice.

    Not only did you send a clear message to Annie, but to the rest of the team as well. I do hope they all apply elsewhere.

  37. OverCorporate*

    It is crazy to me in 2024 that OP even included pieces about the employee was NOT promoted no longer going above and beyond or offering to take challenging projects and tasks.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Because unscrupulous employers have perverted what productivity means to their advantage.

      When Annie was going “above and beyond,” that’s Annie doing her job well. But, according to the OP, when Annie only does what is in her job description and nothing more, that’s the “bare minimum” even though her salary is matched to it.

      That’s why Quiet Quitting never made sense to me. Why would anyone do beyond what’s required of them on paper if they’re not going to get anything out of it?

    2. Very Clueless*

      It’s because they assume the hard working, loyal employee will continue to do so – especially if it’s worked so far. I’d bet that there had been conversations that highly implied (never promised, never in writing) that if Annie worked hard and proved herself that she’d be happy when the next promotional opportunity came around. Now OP is shocked because the person they’ve been taking advantage of, finally realizes it and is saying no more.

  38. Mehitabel*

    I’ve been the Annie in somewhat similar situations. And I did exactly as she did; I told my boss I didn’t want the promotion anyway, I remained scrupulously polite with boss and co-workers, I did exactly what was required of me and nothing more, and I cut all ties except the strictly professional ones. No happy hours, no lunches out, nada. And I left as soon as I could, because why on earth would I want to stay somewhere where I’m good enough to ‘cover’ a job but not good enough to have the title and pay?

    And I’m sorry, but someone being ‘good friends’ with their new boss being a good reason to promote them? Nope nope nope nopity nope. It’s one of the best reasons I can think of to do the exact opposite. Clusterfudge, indeed.

  39. Statler von Waldorf*

    Put me in the big list of people who wondered how LW, a self-described “long-term manager” expected Annie to respond to this. From my reading of the letter, Annie’s soft skills are far better than the letter writers, because I even I could have seen this situation developing easily and my soft skills are absolutely terrible.

    On the plus side for the letter writer, this situation will mostly resolve itself once Annie quits and moves on to a better job.

    1. Paint N Drip*

      RIGHT? Or how she expected the other team members to react? The optics of the situation alone…

      But I don’t agree that Annie leaving will resolve the situation, just most of OP’s feelings. Unless the OP moves into a different portion of the business, I genuinely think they would need to start fresh at a new job to leave behind the reputation they have gained with this move. I know if I saw a ‘long time manager’ be so obtuse on so many levels, I would lose respect for them that they wouldn’t be gaining back.

      1. KateM*

        Well, all employees except for OP, Jane and Beth leaving would also be a chance for OP to start fresh…

  40. Anonymous cat*

    It always amazes me when managers on here complain someone no longer “goes above and beyond” or doesn’t volunteer for the hard stuff—right after something bad has happened in the workplace.

    Do they not see cause and effect?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I guess there is a human thing, to tell yourself that you should have tried even harder, and gone abover and beyonder, and if you just do that going forward…

      To my fellow goody two-shoes, I implore you not to do this. Look at outcomes. Did you do X thinking it was right, but then it didn’t have the outcome you expected? Then X was not the right choice, and you should try something different going forward.

    2. Snow Globe*

      I think they may be thinking that maybe they would have offered Annie the next promotion that comes up —but not if she’s no longer going above and beyond. “Why doesn’t Annie realize that?” is what the OP is asking. The answer is because Annie won’t be around by then.

  41. Poison I.V. drip*

    Regarding the word “boycott:”

    A boycott is a protest and seeks to call attention to itself. Declining to go to a happy hour because you’re not feeling it is not a boycott. LW’s repeated use of the word is telling: they’re looking for something hostile in the act of choosing not to socialize after work. I don’t believe they’re best situated to evaluate Annie’s motivations.

    1. M*

      That stood out to me too, and makes me wonder if OP is now trying to find a reason to fire Annie?

      Since they seem like they’re blaming Annie for the whole thing going sideways anyhow…

    2. fish*

      Good point and calls into question their descriptions of Annie as “volatile” and “butting heads” as well

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Good point. I’ve had to ‘boycott’ a lot of work activities in the past few months because of a nasty recurring sinus infection and the allergies from Hell. I’d be pretty pissed if I found out someone was holding that against me.

    4. Cmdrshprd*

      Eh, maybe, but I think the term “boycott” has taken on /been used to mean not participate. I have used, and heard people use “boycott” to say they are not doing something, not because they are actually protesting or trying to call attention to x thing.

      I am boycotting dairy, for health reasons. I am boycotting X movie because I am not a fan of x actor.

      What you mention is certainly possible but could be just a common word to indicate Annie is not going to any happy hours.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I think the negative connotation we are giving the word comes from, as fish writes, OP using “volatile” and “butting heads” to describe Annie, while describing Beth as “best friends” implying smiley faces and rainbows, with Jane instead of “obsequious” or “fawning.”
        I am not saying Beth is either. I’m saying OP chose words for a reason.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ Agree. The LW herself is describing Annie as boycotting the happy hours. That is pretty crappy.

    5. penny dreadful analyzer*

      If Annie is so volatile and head-butting and generally lacking in soft skills, why does OP want her around for purely social activities anyway? If her personality is so bad, you’d think it’d be a relief not to have her around when you’re all trying to relax.

      1. KateM*

        Because that would hopefully demonstrate why she was not promoted, maybe? Only one would think that everyone knew that already.

  42. Darkling*

    She has also stopped going “above and beyond.” ….. LW, anyone would in Anne’s situation. You asked her to go above & beyond before by covering the position, she did, and she now knows exactly, with real world examples, what the reward for that will be.

    Don’t take “I didn’t want it anyway” as an honest response. It’s the polite fiction we are all programmed to repeat to save face for ourselves and others. It’s practically a script, Anne followed it, and you shouldn’t express surprise that the script turns out to be fictional when Anne leaves and others on the team follow.

    1. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

      Might we consider the “I didn’t want the drama” response… a use of soft skills?

      1. Paint N Drip*

        Ironically I think YES we can! Frankly the way Annie is described as acting is showing that she definitely has soft skills, self-control, etc.
        I believe that OP is reliably narrating their understanding & experience, but I’m not sure OP is a reliable narrator about Annie’s skills/personality based on the other info provided

      2. Petty Betty*

        Yes. And when she said “I didn’t want the drama” the unspoken ending of that was “of dealing with Jane’s continuous favoritism and your poor management skills”.

    2. Snow Globe*

      Even if it was absolutely true that Annie didn’t actually want the job, she would still be disappointed to hear that the LW had decided to give the position to someone else, without actually talking to Annie about it.

  43. Eric*

    It’s irritating when companies schedule off-hours social activities, call them optional, and then get annoyed when people don’t participate. If they’re essential, then use work time for them.

    1. Caliente Papillon*

      Yes but here LW just wants Annie to go as a performance to the team that all is well. I feel that the LW is a little heartless when it comes to Annie and her feelings. Or something…maybe it’s blinders because LW really wants to defend their position.

    2. Sacred Ground*

      Yes, this leapt out to me as well.

      OP, don’t call them optional if you’re going to hold anyone’s non-attendance against them in your judgement of their work performance, like at all. If you are going to judge people for skipping them, tell them it’s not optional.

      It’s a false sense of entitlement to employees’ time after hours. After all, it’s not like showing up to these things, going above and beyond, excelling at your job is going to get one a promotion at your company. It’s all about who you know, apparently.

  44. Doctor Fun!*

    I’m very confused, the description of Annie as “volatile” doesn’t really square with all the other descriptions of her as an excellent worker and star contributor who goes above and beyond and (until being passed up for promotion) volunteers to take on challenging extra work.

    But the fact that she “butts heads” with the person who would have been her direct supervisor in the new role, and that Annie herself says she didn’t want the “drama” of being in that role, points to a problem with Jane, not necessarily with Annie.

    Congrats, LW. You promoted the wrong person, did so for crummy reasons, and now are expecting the person you treated rather shabbily in all this to do all the fixing for you.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      If the OP thinks Annie is “volatile” and prone to “butting heads,” then why is the OP looking to Annie to fix the group dynamic?

  45. Hiring Mgr*

    Too late for this one, but if the choice is between a volatile employee who doesn’t get along with their prospective boss, or that boss’s good friend from outside work, I’d say go with option C, or wait ’til a better candidate emerges, or look outside the team/org.

    1. Elizabeth Weir*

      But that carries its own downside in terms of creating poor morale, too. The remaining employees will think, “this organization so rarely has opportunities for advancement, and when one came along, they looked outside the organization when there were two well-qualified candidates available.”

      The reality is that in an organization where promotion opportunities are scarce, they will always create morale problems among the losers.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        The point was that there wasn’t two well-qualified candidates. One was (if we accept OP’s word) disqualified due to her volatility and the other was disqualified due to a personal relationship with the supervisor.

        The only potential morale problem here is if this isn’t clear to the rest of the staff, but that seems like a communication issue.

  46. Sneaky Squirrel*

    I can see why this is hard to justify to the team because it reads that Annie was stronger at the skills needed to do the role. It sounds like Annie’s peers saw it that way. But soft skills are important too. If you are confident that you made the correct and fair decision in deciding who to promote, then stand by it and ensure that Beth and Annie understand the decisions that went into play.

    But do not ask Annie to defend your decisions or force her to change her level of engagement. She may have said she didn’t want the promotion after the fact, but that doesn’t mean she’s not disappointed and her colleagues may be perceiving her disappointment. Work with Annie to get the soft skills she needs and help her navigate her career but also know that she may be looking to leave if there’s no room for upward movement. If Annie feels more supported and her peers see it, it could help to lessen the tense situation.

    1. Observer*

      If you are confident that you made the correct and fair decision in deciding who to promote, then stand by it and ensure that Beth and Annie understand the decisions that went into play.

      Except that the LW did NOT make the correct and fair decision here. The fact that they are now thinking to make *Annie* do the clean up here, using an after the fact justification, speaks volumes.

      But do not ask Annie to defend your decisions or force her to change her level of engagement.

      This. This time 1million.

      know that she may be looking to leave if there’s no room for upward movement

      I don’t think that there can be any doubt but that she’s looking to leave. If the LW wants to have any chance whatsoever to retain a top performer, they are going to need to totally re-asses their judgement here and then work with Annie on what it would take to make her promotable. I’m not saying that this will work – it probably won’t. But it *might* and it *might* help the LW smooth things over with the rest of the team who see what they did here.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      While soft skills are important, sometimes “abrasive” reads to coworkers as “the person who publicly points out that management exempted themselves from having to work over the long weekend when they told the rest of us it was critical for The Big Project, and the public shaming made them rethink that new rule.”

      (A favorite early AAM letter was the guy who had repeatedly butted heads with management, and so while his duties had expanded because he was really good at the job, and he trained all the new people, he couldn’t get promoted. Which AAM told him. In the update he’d changed jobs, and the new place was happy to promote him.)

      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        I want to give LW the benefit of the doubt as they know their staff and we don’t, but I too question whether Annie is really that abrasive and volatile when she’s handled the disappointing news so professionally and has colleagues that are supporting her this strongly.

        1. Debby*

          This! I am wondering if she is that volatile and abrasive, why would her peers think she should have been promoted instead of Beth? And, if promotions are rare in the LW organization, then what does she think Annie has to look forward to if she stays in this job? I have had this very same thing happen to me, and my boss was so shocked when I found another job. So Annie, if you are reading this and recognize yourself in the LW letter, I say good luck to you!

        2. Worldwalker*

          This. All of the evidence we have about Annie’s behavior, from the way she handled the denial of the promotion to the team’s support of her, contradicts the OP’s use of the word “volatile.” If she was that volatile, wouldn’t she have stormed out, not just quietly begun acting her wage? And wouldn’t the team have been happy, not unhappy, to see Beth being promoted?

          I wonder if “volatile” describes only the Annie/Jane relationship, and to what extent that’s actually a Jane problem?

    3. Elizabeth Weir*

      If you are confident that you made the correct and fair decision in deciding who to promote, then stand by it and ensure that Beth and Annie understand the decisions that went into play…. But do not ask Annie to defend your decisions or force her to change her level of engagement.

      I very much agree with these two sentences, and I think they’re the best advice offered on this board. The choice of Beth was very much defensible, and no decision in a situation like this will be universally popular. As I wrote above, many promotion decisions inherently carry a risk that the person passed over will leave, and that team members adjacent to the person passed over will also leave. That’s ultimately in the nature of running a business.

  47. Person from the Resume*

    Wow! The only shocking thing in this letter is in the parenthesis but it’s a doozy.

    Annie is fine/great. Her reaction is professional.

    The LW has got to manage her office and team and not ask Annie to do it for her. And while she’s at it consider why she thought it was a good idea to promote someone to report to her good friend outside of work. That was a reason NOT to Beth and is most likely part of the problem now. If Annie is so volatile and lacks soft skills, why do her coworkers have her back so solidly?

  48. Do you live on planet earth?*

    Your team has lost all respect for you – as they should – you made a very, very poor decision. Their read is right and you are 100% wrong. Asking Annie to use those “soft skills” you claim she lacks to smooth over your reputation with the team is abhorrent. I am absolutely gobsmacked that you still feel like she should go “above and beyond” for you when you treated her like this. She is in full letter-of-the-law mode until she can move somewhere else. I hope the entire team jumps ship quite frankly, you deserve nothing less.

    1. A Cat named Brian*

      I was Annie at one point. My boss was originally my coworker. She got promoted even though she didnt have credentials, couldnt do her job and expected me to continue to do my job and hers. She repeatedly told me I was the terrible manager, had me called into higher ups because i stopped going above and beyond. No over time, no lunches when she was there… She was completely shocked that when I left, half the team came with me. And I had resumes from others that I so wished I could have gotten hired but there weren’t roles at that time.

  49. Emily (Not a Bot)*

    If you want Annie to keep going above and beyond, figure out some way of compensating her for it. Maybe that’s restructuring her job to include more things that interest her. Maybe that’s figuring out what a path upward would look like for her, or skills she could learn that would be useful at her next job (either within the company or externally). If you can give her a raise or other financial/time off benefits — obviously, everyone loves money and time off!

    I say this as someone who has sometimes gone way above and beyond and sometimes definitely not — I’m not doing it purely out of the goodness of my own heart, I’m doing it because there is some benefit to me, but that benefit is not necessarily “because I will get promoted within my team.”

  50. Falling Diphthong*

    It’s possible–not probable, but possible–that Annie did not in fact want the promotion. Sometimes when something goes from “as a hypothetical, I have observed the social norm that I should want this to happen” to “this has a very strong chance of happening in the real world” then people recognize all the problems with the thing they are supposed to want.

    In that case, it makes sense to also re-examine “Why am I going above and beyond, when I don’t (want/expect) a promotion from all that effort” and “Why am a going to the Happy Hours, when I don’t enjoy that time and have realized I just care about putting in my 40 and being paid decently for that?”

  51. miss_chevious*

    As a manager of someone who was volatile, I sympathize with OP and understand a bit of the dilemma that she was put into. My volatile person was also a woman (as am I) and was also extremely strong at the objective parts of her job, and interested in promotion. I tried for several years to coach her regarding her volatility and demonstrate how it was not serving to get her the role she wanted, and she would improve in the short term, but the next time she had a bad day it was right back to volatility and butting heads and bringing up issues that had been resolved 6 months ago in pages long emails to everyone involved. In short, the issue was un-coachable, and she ultimately quit as a result of me letting her know that if she didn’t improve in her work relationships, she would be put on a PIP. She objected, because her substantive skills were so strong, but ultimately her hard skills lost out to her lack of soft skills. We now have a woman in the role who has 90% of the hard skills my former employee had, but also has soft skills which more than compensate for the discrepancy.

    That isn’t to defend OP’s choice of Beth, which has definitely muddied the situation with the team, but just to say that volatility isn’t always something that can be managed out or corrected. Annie should definitely be told (if she hasn’t been already) what the considerations were with regard to not choosing her, and should be given an opportunity to grow the skills to tone down her volatility, but leave her alone with regard to her workload and socializing.

    1. Observer*

      It’s definitely true that actual volatility and bad people skills are a significant issue. There are, however, several major problems here.

      The first problem is that the LW did not seem to even consider the possibility of widening their pool. There are “two obvious choices” and therefore they did not even look any further, desptie the fact that relationship between Beth and Jane is a major issue.

      The second issue is that the LW did nothing up front to even slightly mitigate the major issue of the relationship between Jand and Beth. Worse, they don’t even recognize that it’s a problem! In fact, they think it’s a *good* thing. That’s a really big problem all on its own.

      And it’s also not clear that the LW’s assessment is even correct. I mean look at what they tell us – Annie responded fairly reasonably (even if they were not telling the whole truth) to the bad news. She also has continued to perform at a high level and *according to the LW* still behaves appropriately. In fact the LW says that she has been “perfectly polite”. That doesn’t sound like someone with no regulation. Oh, and they want to ask ANNIE to smooth things over.

      But even if they were correct about Annie, they still made the wrong choice.

      1. miss_chevious*

        Yeah, not disagreeing that OP’s choice was a problem. But we are to take OP at their word, so when they say Annie is volatile, I believe them.

        I find it interesting that commenters are concluding that OP is wrong about Annie because she made the wrong choice with regard to Beth.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Well we do take OP’s at their word but it’s ok to point out when things dont add up. I agree that OP’s assessment of Annie is that she is volatile. But it’s ok to not necessarily agree that OP’s judgement is correct.

          OP made a huge obvious judgement error in promoting a friend of the boss which will make people question their judgment as a whole. Also there’s not examples of said volatile behavior except for “butting heads” with Jane, Annie is being nothing but polite according to OP and the whole team apparently supports Annie which would also be unusual for someone who was truly volatile. It’s fair to question OP’s judgment when the OP’s own words lead you there.

        2. Worldwalker*

          The OP says that Annie is volatile, but all of the evidence she provides, from Annie’s behavior to the behavior of the rest of the team, goes against this. She says “volatile” but describes a very non-volatile person.

      2. TheBunny*

        I think OP saw the relationship between Beth and Jane as a good thing and it clouded her judgment to how bad the idea actually was.

  52. Khatul Madame*

    If the promotions on LW’s team are infrequent, LW is remiss in not planning this one far in advance. One year/performance cycle is ideal, but even six months would have been helpful. Planning would involve identifying possible candidates, any gaps in their profiles (Annie’s “volatility”) and helping them overcome these issues.
    Likewise, LW’s team is stable (inferring this from infrequent promotions), and it should not have been hard to guess how they would react to the shuffle.

    Hoping for an update to this letter!

  53. el l*

    Where was Jane in all this – “all this” being the decision to pick Beth over Annie? Was she advocating hard for her friend, saying “I can’t work with Annie,” or on the other hand studiously neutral?

    Because it’s a telling omission. Your employees are accusing you of favoritism, and as stands while we have no evidence on whether Jane connived, it sure sounds like you took it upon yourself to practice favoritism.

    Guilty as charged, and these are the consequences you’d expect.

    1. Elbe*

      This is a great point. The LW mentions that the choice was hers, but it seems reasonable that as the future direct supervisor, Jane would at least be a part of the conversation.

      1. el l*

        Thank you. Seemed odd that it wasn’t touched upon.

        More importantly, it’s the difference between “OP made a dumb call” and “Organization has a wider culture problem.”

      2. linger*

        Optimistic read is Jane recused herself because Beth was under consideration. As she should have.
        But did Jane give OP any direction as to what factors to consider in making the decision? It is telling that OP gave so much priority to the candidates’ relationships with Jane; it is not clear how much that comes from OP vs. Jane.
        A cynical read is Jane recused herself in an attempt to give enough plausible deniability to OP choosing Beth. If so, this has failed spectacularly.

  54. r.*


    there’s a bit to unpack here, because the way I see it there are four related but distinct angles at play here:

    Was Anne a bad fit for the position?

    I agree that Annie may have been an objectively bad candidate for the role, based on the information offered. That being said, I don’t see enough information here to clearly come out and say that she likely or certainly would have been — especially since she apparently was quite able to hold the position in the iterim.

    Was Beth a good fit for the position?

    I disagree, quite strongly, with that Beth was an obvious choice; Beth’s friendship with Jane would have made her, quite frankly, an obvious non-choice in my eyes, for reasons already pointed out by Alison.

    Did you do fair by Anne?

    Quite honestly you did not. You let her hold down the fort, go above and beyond what could have been expected, volunteered for the hardest assignments, and what did she get for that extra effort?



    What could you have done differently?

    Well, you could’ve been more transparent with Annie, preferably up-front before she put in all that effort that ultimately was not rewarded.

    This doesn’t look like it was only a couple weeks, so it should have been visible to you that Annie is really comming through in a major way here to cover for an open position, and you should have realized that this may be because she wants that position. The least Annie would’ve deserved was a honest discussion about that you’re seeing what she’s doing, and that you’re really liking it, but that she’s ultimately chasing something she won’t get.

    And who knows, maybe during that talk a productive discussion on what Annie would need to do to have a good shot at it could have happened. People can change. Annie apparently was able to hold the fort in the interim, and she’s been scrupulousluy polite since then. Perhaps she would have been able to mend fences with Jane, and work on being easier to approach and agreeable to work with. Now, however, we’ll never know.

    Speaking of recognition of Annie’s efforts, and since this wasn’t a situation that happened overnight, so some thought should’ve been directed to how to recognize that in absence of a promotion. A merit raise, a cash bonus, a PTO award, a course or certification that Anne would like but isn’t completely aligned with business, or any of the other options. Armed with that the discussion with Annie that should have happened but didn’t might have also had an additional avenue to explore, where Annie would not get the promotion, would still put in the work, but be much less disappointed than she is now.

    Lastly, don’t create situations where friends manage friends. If Annie was not a good pick then an external candidate should be considered, but the situation between Beth and Jane should never have been allowed to obtain.

    1. KateM*

      I’d think that a situation where friends are managing friends’ managers shouldn’t be created, either.

  55. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

    Oh, LW… this is quite a mess.

    Something that I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments – regarding Annie being ‘volatile’ and ‘butting heads with Jane’. Is this volatility ONLY with Jane? Or is it with others? And how does the rest of the staff feel about Jane? Is Jane difficult to work with? Is her friendship with Bonnie a plus because Bonnie is one of the few people who can work with Jane? Do Annie and Jane butt heads because they have differing (but neither incorrect) opinions about how to do things? The only context we have is that you promoted Bonnie in part because of her friendship with Jane. You can’t convince the team this isn’t the case (ie make Annie tell them she didn’t want it), because, frankly, it is the case.

    Do not be surprised when you lose Annie. Do not be surprised when you lose other team members down the line. This was a huge error in judgement that, truthfully, there is no way to fix.

  56. Dovasary Balitang*

    This sort of thing is so demoralising to Annies.

    I got passed over for an internal position where the person who was awarded the role was, in my opinion, not qualified for it. She was an endless source of frustration for my team prior to her getting the new role over me; that was the beginning of the end for me at that organisation. Even though the situations aren’t one-to-one, I imagine Annie feels similarly.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Thank you. Fellow Annie here. Our Beth’s better “soft skills” ultimately amounted to a remarkable gift for kissing up and kicking down, telling leadership whatever she thought they wanted to hear, showing up to work when she FELT like it, and…taking it out on her direct reports when it turned out (surprise!) that her fecklessness had actual consequences.

      She was in waaaaay over her head, and she became increasingly abusive to the team as the ineptitude started to expose itself. That’s when the projection really kicked in. We were frequently berated about our poor work ethic, incompetence, and bad manners. Then she’d leave on another vacation while the deadlines piled up around us.

      I was scrambling to get out from under her, but she lasted only 8 months before resigning in a fit of pique, saying her buddies in leadership had lied to her about how hard the job would be.

      We’ve gotten more accomplished in the 5 months since she quit, and things have improved on several fronts, but we are uncovering new messes she made all the time.

      This is what happens when you let the vain folks drive the bus.

  57. chewingle*

    “she’s gotten the message that doing that doesn’t pay off, and she’s not in a place where she’s inclined to do extra favors at the moment.”

    In case anyone is confused, this is what people are talking about when they complain employees are “quiet quitting.” If her job is getting done, done well, and no issues are arising, you don’t actually have a problem with your employee. You have a problem with your own expectations.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      And if you want your employee to do more than she’s doing, give a pay increase when you ask.

      Oh but no one wants to do that pay increase bit!

  58. Student*

    Something that I don’t think I’ve seen addressed in the comments or AAM’s reply yet:
    You mentioned you’re concerned about your team’s reaction to this decision.

    Lots of people have pointed out that you just taught Annie that going above and beyond is not a major factor in promotion decisions, but interpersonal relationships with the boss are a major factor.

    You just taught that to all the rest of your team, too. They’re thinking about how this impacts their futures, too – am I friends with important bosses? Am I wasting time going above my station to cover difficult tasks, when I should be figuring out how to become golfing buddies with management? Am I the wrong type of person – wrong interests, wrong hobbies, wrong demographics, wrong background, too technical and not enough of a social butterfly – to ever be friends with the bosses?

  59. pally*

    Jane may soon discover that managing a friend isn’t gonna do much for the friendship she has with Beth. That might result in some personnel changes as well.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Yeah, if Jane and Beth have a falling-out outside of work, the outhouse is going to hit the wind tunnel.

  60. Annony*

    “General consensus seems to be that I used Annie to cover the position without a promotion and screwed her over by promoting Beth instead because Beth is Jane’s friend.”

    The problem is that they are not wrong. While it strips away nuance, this is what happened. If Annie was too volatile for the position and her poor relationship with Jane made promoting her prohibitive, you should have had Beth fill in instead. The fact that you allowed Annie to be the main person to fill the position speaks volumes on who was actually more qualified. And you even say that Beth’s friendship with Jane was a factor in her promotion.

    So the problem is not that your team is misinterpreting what happened. It’s that they see what you value when considering promotions and do not like it. They do not owe it to Beth to celebrate the fact that relationships and connections are more important to you than skills. It does not matter if Beth exceeds the minimum requirements for the job. It matters if she were the most qualified or simply the most connected.

  61. Been There*

    I mean…what was this OP expecting? Nothing wrong with what Annie is doing now, and it seems like the OP should be fixing the tension with the team.

  62. Little guy*

    You provided no examples of “ volatility.” That appears to be another overused word like “toxic” especially when describing women. Sorry but I would never go above and beyond for you again. Why should she? Typical, the hardest worker gets more work and no rewards. Your team had it right. She had the work, but not the promotion. You have effectively killed her motivation and most likely that of your entire team. I would have lost all respect for you if I was on your team and would be looking to leave as soon as possible.

  63. M2*

    The problem is it sounds like you picked the person for a promotion based on personality and not who would be better for the role. You picked Jane’s good friend!! Jane shouldn’t be managing her “good friend” as it gives an unfair advantage to Beth.

    Does Annie actually butt heads or does she see these types of things happening frequently at your organization and is fed up? You never gave any examples of the volatility either.

    What you did will hurt morale. I wouldn’t be surprised if your entire team were looking for new jobs… I would be!

    If I were Annie, I too, would stop going above and beyond. What is the point? Why should she when you clearly looked over her excellent work to give a promotion to a good friend of the boss. It also sounds like you did use Annie and had her do the higher level work (which sounds like it was excellent) without a promotion, or raise and then gave that exact job to Beth… because she was friends with the boss and got along better with Jane. Of course she’ll get along better, Jane is her friend!

    Some of the best employees I have had challenged me and did not just follow and be “yes” people. “Yes people” are the worst and surrounding yourself with them will never allow you to grow. I want thought partners on my teams. Did you ever talk to Annie about the volatility? Was it actually that or was she seeing favoritism or something else happening at the work place?

    Honestly, to me it sounds like you shouldn’t be a manager. Good managers help their team members with skills including soft skills. If this was an issue, did you tell Annie? Talk to her? Role play ways she could handle situations differently? I know you aren’t meant to say anything negative on here, but that is where I stand. Your entire letter sounds like Annie was used. Using her work, using her to do the higher level work but giving the promotion to someone else, then wanting her to make you more comfortable and do your work for you! That is not what a good manager does. A good manager mentors and is communicative with their team about strengths, weaknesses, what they need to work on, etc.

    You’re creating a not great work environment and if I were Annie I would bolt and get a new job as soon as possible. If I were someone else on the team I would do the same. I would think being the best at a role wouldn’t mean you get a deserved promotion, but you had to be best buds with the boss and attend happy hours.

    The fact that Jane also allowed her good friend to work for her makes me question Jane too. Maybe Annie butted heads with Jane for good reason (no decent manager would manage their good friend). I have butted heads with manager who were toxic, bad managers, corrupt, or like Jane managed good friends. I always did so respectfully, but when you see bad behavior again and again it gets hard to go above and beyond.

    It is not Annie’s job to manage your feelings. You created this issue and if I were Annie I would do bare minimum and look for a job that actually respects and appreciates my abilities.

    Good luck when she leaves hiring a replacement!

    1. allathian*

      This sounds about right. I’m so glad this is neither my theme park nor my dinosaurs.

      I predict an exodus once Annie leaves, and that Annie will leave sooner rather than later. I also suspect that at least some of her teammates are already looking elsewhere, at least those who want a promotion. I also predict that the shit will hit the fan with a vengeance if there’s ever any conflict between Jane and Beth’s friendship and their professional relationship. Either Jane will have to manage Beth and the friendship will blow up, or else Jane’ll refuse to manage Beth on the grounds that it’d spoil the friendship.

  64. Falling Diphthong*

    Soft skills are very important, and if an LW said “I am great at designing propellers; why should it matter that I don’t have soft skills?” I wouldn’t want them promoted.

    However, management perception of soft skills can mean stuff like “We like Derek, who kisses up and kicks down. We don’t like Franklin, who pointed out that our new overtime rules wouldn’t work and it was super awkward and we had to change them.” Franklin might not get promoted, but he’s more popular with the team than Derek.

    Just a thought on why the team has sided with Annie, rather than going “Whew, so glad Beth with her great soft skills will be in this role.” Maybe they view Annie’s abrasiveness as being on their side.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Interesting point. I have to say that those at my job who have poor soft skills, in that they can be difficult to work with, would not have everyone’s support like Annie does.

      And we all know women are often dinged for the same interpersonal skills that a man would be praised for.

      It does make me question OP’s assessment of Annie’s soft skills. They certainly have terrible judgement in promoting a friend of their to be manager.

  65. Observer*

    LW, you are getting quite a shellacking here, and it must be hard to read. But I think that there are a few take away’s that you should try to get out of this. It may not help with this situation, but hopefully it will make you a better manager going forward.

    Firstly, as pretty much everyone here has pointed out, the outside friendship between Beth and Jane is a *problem* not an asset. Going forward, you *really, really* need to monitor Jane’s management of Beth vs the rest of the team.

    There are some other things about your letter that are confounding to me.

    Firstly the idea that you are even thinking of making this Annie’s problem is kind of mind boggling. It’s not just that this is not Annie’s problem to fix. It’s that you are asking for something that, at best is just incredibly insensitive, and at worst impossible. Why should she “smooth things over” with the rest of the office? She is not fighting with people or acting inappropriately.

    As for asking her to tell people that she didn’t want the job anyway? I’m sorry, the person lacking soft skills here is *you* not Annie. For one thing did it not occur to you that she didn’t really mean it, but was trying to save some face? What makes you think that everyone else would take it that way? In which case you’re asking her to make herself look childish (or worse) and will not help. But even if she was being honest, and people believe her, what makes you think it would help. That is NOT why you made the choice you made and *people know it.*

    But also, what Beth does or does not deserve is not Annie’s problem and never was. It is also not Annie’s doing. Why would you even think that that kind of framing is going to get you anywhere? And in doing so, you’ve made it clear that you simply don’t understand your responsibility vs that of your staff, nor about how team and interpersonal dynamics work.

    Lastly, the whole issue with after work social events. The idea that you have a *secret* requirement is a real issue on its own, but it’s also *absolutely* feeding into people’s perception of how you manage and who you promote. Because when you say that something is not “technically” required, but you still are *expecting*, that speaks to your management. And when that something is officially non-mandated *socializing*, well…. Everyone knows where your priorities are.

    Outside socializing can help team cohesion. Sometimes. But only if there is a reasonable team dynamic in place (and even then, not necessarily). And right now, the team dynamic is not very healthy. I suggest you read some of Alison’s letters about how to actually build strong teams. Strong arming people into socializing with people they have no interest in, and may actively not respect, is most definitely not the way to do it. Doing something about the favoritism you (and probably Jane) are displaying would be a good starting point.

    1. Marz*

      I wanted to highlight the part about “what Beth deserves”, I don’t think it is getting as much attention as a lot of the other, yes, admittedly strange choices, but that was the OP’s last, final word:

      “Beth does not deserve the team’s extreme lack of enthusiasm during what should be an exciting and celebratory time for her.”

      What an extremely weird take – like, yeah, promotion’s are exciting, but it’s not, like, winning the lottery? It should be a business decision on both sides, like, she didn’t get given an award, she got a JOB. I don’t dream of labor, darling, so to make it about “deserving” an “exciting and celebratory” atmosphere? You’re giving Captain Holt “Why is no one having a good time? I specifically requested it!” vibes, but without the charm and humor.

      And “extreme lack of enthusiasm” is just not…not that bad? I think that’s just neutrality. Please don’t try to require people perform enthusiasm. SO MUCH of the wording from OP feels very, “hmm…there is bias in here”.

      OP, you are worried about the wrong things! People are gonna interpret things based on their understandings, and they’re gonna feel their feelings, even if you stand by what you did, they see it differently, and that might have consequences for you! If you’re willing to listen, that might help. But I think right now you need to think about ONLY things YOU are willing to do. Asking Annie, jeez, that is the worst possible option, too, like why not BETH, the PERSON YOU PROMOTED, it really feels like you’re determined to think of promoting someone as throwing a party for them.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        This has been bothering me, too. LW has not noted her own relationship with Beth. Is she also a friend of Beth’s out of work? If not, why this concern that Beth is not getting a celebration? Finally, maybe the rest of the team doesn’t like Beth for good reason.

        Something really smells off here.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I am also very confused about why the task of winning the team’s hearts is Annie’s problem and why it is beyond Beth, as she has the soft skills for just such a challenge, right? I also totally agree with you that this is supposed to be a JOB for Beth, not a celebration of Beth. Seems like OP is used to Annie cleaning up all the unpleasant tasks.

      3. Petty Betty*

        I actually didn’t catch that last bit the first read through, so thank you for pointing it out. You’re right.

        We expect our friends and family to be happy for us, to be celebratory with us, when we get promoted and have good job news. We don’t expect our coworkers (and now our employees, if we’re now managing them) to have those same happy, celebratory feelings. Why is it so important for LW to want the staff to feel warm fuzzy feelings for Beth? Is it because they are currently actively showing a negative reaction on Annie’s behalf? Is there also some internalized bias on LW’s side that maybe LW wasn’t previously aware of?

      4. Decima Dewey*

        If OP thinks Beth’s promotion deserves a party, OP can buy a sheet cake and some ice cream.

    2. JM60*

      I think some managers get cause and effect backwards regarding socializing helping a team’s cohesion. For those who are more social, socializing with coworkers might improve their cohesion with each other, but such socializing is often more a sign of such cohesion more than it is a cause.

      For those who aren’t as social, the lack of socializing with coworkers usually isn’t either a cause or sign of poor cohesion with coworkers.

      In either case, having some requirement – officially or unofficially – to socialize outside of work rarely improves a team’s cohesion IMO.

  66. MuseumChick*

    Ooof. I can understand why you did what you did in promoting Beth but you really did drop the ball on this this.

  67. learnedthehardway*

    I’ve tried to look at this in a few different ways, but it does look like the OP made a mistake in promoting Beth over Annie.

    Annie was given the opportunity to be in the interim role, and seems to not have demonstrated the required soft skills for the promotion. In a sense, it was hers to lose, and she did – whether that was because she butted heads with Jane too much or overall wasn’t good at relationships management. She may be a fabulous individual contributor, but if she didn’t have the people skills, she might very well NOT be the right person for the more senior role.

    That said, if Annie was good enough to take on the interim role, and could achieved the soft skills with some coaching and training, then the OP should likely have either promoted her or brought in an entirely new person from outside the department (or organization), rather than promote Beth instead of Annie.

    But that depends on just how bad Annie was at managing the relationship with Jane and whether she was actively bad at managing relationships with the rest of the team. It seems that the rest of the team don’t feel she was bad at managing relationships with them, at all. And perhaps Annie had the right approach to Jane, as well. Butting heads isn’t inherently a bad thing – some differences of opinion or ways of doing things are okay and even optimal.

    In any case, it’s a bad situation and the OP is stuck with it. I don’t think you can realistically or ethically ask Annie to say she’s okay with the situation – she let you save face by saying she didn’t want the promotion, anyway, but clearly the team doesn’t buy that. Promoting Beth based in any way on her personal friendship with Jane was a mistake – and it ignores the possibility that Jane isn’t someone who should be agreed with about how things are done.

    I think you need to talk with your manager about this, and find some way to promote Annie – whether it’s compensation, another more senior role, or something. You’re likely to lose her, otherwise, and worse, the team clearly feel that the decision was not fair – the best you can do (if it is even possible) is to make this a “better things than this promotion were in the works, and that’s why you weren’t promoted” scenario. I would also closely monitor whether Beth’s friendship with Jane is a really a help or a hindrance to the productivity of your department, and be prepared to step in if it’s not going well.

  68. firsttimecommenter*

    It seems this questions was only half-answered. Now that the manager knows not to go forward with her initial idea, what should she do?

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’m not sure anything can be done at this point. The damage is done and is unlikely to be forgotten.

      If the OP wants everyone to move on, they’ll have to completely eradicate the fact that they promoted Beth over Annie because Beth and Jane were besties. That’s impossible.

      P.S. things are only getting to get worse after Annie leaves so more unavoidable bad stuff to come.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I agree. You can’t un-promote Beth, this is one of those “once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder.” situations.

        Annie has back off from putting in any extra effort at work and is probably job hunting, the rest of the staff has gotten a message that friends matter more than work quality (even if this isn’t true, it is the impression they have). The only thing the OP can do is learn from this and not make a similar mistake going forward.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      There’s nothing they can do, seriously. OP is looking for a magic fix. There’s not a thing they can say or do realistically that will fix this mess. It’s the definition of you made your bed now you have to lie in it.

      They screwed up and there’s no fixing it. They can’t un-promote Beth. Annie will leave and probably others are looking as well.

      People will continue to look at OP askance for promoting someone based on friendship over actual skills because that’s exactly what happened.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      Manage Beth and Jane scrupulously to mitigate the impact of their relationship on working conditions. Be gracious when Annie leaves and provide a good reference if one is asked for. Try to do better in the future to rebuild trust.

  69. Delta Delta*

    I’ve been Annie. Annie is absolutely on her way out the door. Annie will take business. It will require you to hire 2 people to replace Annie. Just be prepared, is all.

    1. Elbe*

      I’ve known an Annie. There was a member of another who I worked closely with. She’s a woman of color who was amazing at her job – coworkers loved her, clients loved her. Every time there was turnover in management, she was the interim lead. She did a great job and was sometimes even in the position for many months while they searched for a candidate. And every time the company filled the position with a guy.

      I was so happy for her when she left. It was awful to see her treated that way.

  70. SargePepper*

    Did Annie ever have anyone in her chain bring up that she should work on her softer skills? If not, management has really done Annie a disservice. Annie will most likely leave knowing the management isn’t even willing to spend the time to grow their talent. And I think she would be right based on LW’s accounting.

  71. Lady_Lessa*

    About soft skills. I have had to work on them myself, and when I had a chance to move up in my twice a year job, I said “yes” knowing that I would be working with someone that I had worked well before (except in a lower position). It was horrible, and the next day, I let the recruiter know that I did NOT ever work with the person again. Since then, I have done the same or next one up 3 times with different people/different locations. Not a problem, and I wouldn’t mind working with either group again, when the job is needed.

    So, the issues with Jane may not be all on Annie.

  72. Jake*

    I wonder if Jane is exceptionally hard to work with. So much so that it has permeated the thought process of OP to such an extent that promotion criteria includes handling Jane.

  73. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Let’s see. “Optional” outside of work hours team building events that aren’t really optional. Having team members shoulder management responsibility without management title or pay, while dangling a promotion in front of them. Promoting based not on merit but on personal relationships with higher-ups. Disappointment and confusion over team members behaving in a totally predictable and reasonable way. And last but not least, thinking it’s OK to ask your aggrieved report to do the hard part with your team for you, even though it’s 100% your job as a manager. Looks like we’ve got Bad Manager Bingo! Your prize is having to hire someone, possibly multiple someones, to backfill for Annie when she quits. Congratulations and good luck.

    1. Caliente Papillon*

      This also makes me wonder – why didn’t LW have Beth cover the position instead of Annie who they seem to have always known they weren’t going to promote?

      1. Elbe*

        I would love to hear the LW’s reasoning on this. If Beth is the right person for the promotion, why wasn’t she also the right person for the extra work of covering the role?

    2. Elbe*

      I agree. I don’t want to be too harsh on the LW, particularly because we have such little info here, but there are a lot of things in the letter that make me suspect that the LW isn’t the best manager. Despite apparently being an experienced manager, the LW:

      – Doesn’t recognize that Jane and Beth’s personal friendship outside of work is an issue, not an asset
      – Seems really surprised by Annie and the team’s reaction to the situation, even though it is very predictable to most people here
      – Claims Annie has poor soft skills, but then wants to ask Annie to “smooth over” the situation with coworkers so that the LW doesn’t have to
      – Says that Beth is the right person for the role but has regularly used Annie to fill in for that position in the past. If Beth is the objective better fit, why hasn’t she been filling in this whole time? The LW doesn’t seem to understand what a bad look (and how insulting) it is for one person to be doing the work while another person gets the reward.
      – Claims that Annie is volatile, but mentions only instances of Annie acting reasonably and professionally and being well-liked by her coworkers

      From the details we’ve been given, it seems like the LW is a bit of an unreliable narrator.

  74. iFeelYouAnnie*

    Ok I’ve got to know. Everything else I would say has been said except this. How essential is Jane to the operation that promotions hinge on getting along with her? Does Annie get along with everyone else just not Jane? Does Jane have no fault in that at all?

    While Annie definitely should be coached in soft skills I feel like there’s more to this story where either Annie is so volatile the rest of the team should realize she isn’t management material or that Annie is being penalized for ONE person. I’ve been passed up because of one person (who also wanted the promotion despite being told that they were not eligible) who was known to be very two faced and a very poor performer. Then they were shocked when my productivity fell and I later left!

  75. Ms. Murchison*

    I wonder if the LW also wanted to keep her star performer right where she was, instead of losing her to other work. LW might be miffed that the team’s productivity went down when she thought she was making a strategic choice to keep it high. Drive doesn’t come from nowhere; clearly Annie was driven by hopes of advancing.

    Also, including that last sentence sounds like the LW also considers Beth a friend. Which makes me wonder if the “volatility” label is code for not liking Annie’s personality.

    If Beth truly has better soft skills (instead of just being friends with management), I would have expected the team to support Beth. I wonder what Annie butted heads with Jane over. Perhaps they were issues where Annie’s position represented the team’s opinions and needs as well.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t know if you’re right about that first sentence, but OP has definitely considered trying to get Annie to make everyone feel magically better about some very depressing optics that are mostly depressing for Annie. For free and without considering what’s in it for Annie.

  76. Elbe*

    It would have been helpful here to have an example of what ‘volitivity’ and ‘butting heads’ looks like for Annie.

    Because, from the info in this letter, it doesn’t sound like she really lacks soft skills. If she was able to professionally handle losing a promotion to someone whose performance isn’t as good and who doesn’t go above and beyond like she does, it makes me think that she’s not a total hot head.

    If Annie has a history of covering for that role, she may have legitimate reasons to butt heads with Jane. Without any examples, it hard to tell what the actual source of conflict is.

  77. SeasonalJade*

    This letter is so interesting to me because the LW’s perspective of Annie (that she’s “volatile”) doesn’t actually match *any* of the behavior described in the letter. That’s often a sign of bias – when someone assigns a negative but non-specific descriptor to someone, which is then contradicted by the facts of the matter.

    So let’s look at some facts:

    1. Per the letter, Annie’s work is “exceptional,” and she’s “scrupulously polite.” And, crucially, she has *remained* so, even after being passed over for a role she was already filling.

    The fact that she has remained so civil, even in the wake of taking a hit to her professional pride, speaks to an absolute *lack* of volatility, at least in this situation.

    She didn’t yell, threaten, boycott work projects, refuse to work with specific colleagues (avoiding them socially doesn’t count) or any number of ways in which she could have been disruptive or difficult, after being passed over.

    She just stopped going to non-mandatory events, and stopped taking on extra work. Which is all understandable and utterly fair.

    It sounds like she’s handled it with grace and aplomb in the midst of, frankly, a shitty situation. Good for her.

    2. Since LW doesn’t seem to be the world’s most reliable narrator, I think we can look to Annie’s coworkers for more insights on whether or not she is “volatile” at work.

    I have worked with some *incredibly* volatile people in the past, and let me tell you:
    a) No one wants them at happy hours and
    b) No one would be upset if they were passed over for promotion

    The fact that Annie’s coworkers are upset on her behalf signals that they’re probably not experiencing her as volatile. Again, if they were, and if Annie truly did have a pattern of volatile behavior at work, NO ONE else would be mourning the loss of the promotion. They would be celebrating.

    All that to say – LW, are you sure that you truly have evidence that your perception of Annie’s behavior and “volatility” matches the facts? Does she have difficult relationships with people other than Jane?

    If her issues with Jane are specific to Jane, or, if they’re normal work disagreements (ie working through a genuine disagreement in a professional way) then your perception of Annie may need adjusting.

    Since Annie’s behavior is otherwise described as polite and her work described as excellent, it just really makes me wonder what “butting heads” entails, and if it’s just within the realm of normal personality clashes in the work place, handled appropriately.

    Of course I only have a tiny sliver of context, and this is all just speculation, but LW, I would encourage you to take a step back and re evaluate how fair and objective you’re being with this whole situation.

    If you want to make things right, start with yourself. Examine your own biases and apologize for unfair treatment, and then work to make things right with Annie and your team.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Even the avoiding Beth and Jane part is “when she can”, not to the point of other letters where they describe people refusing to work with people entirely.

      What did LW expect? Sounds to me like Annie is doing her best after being, basically, demoted.

    2. Doctor Fun!*

      100000%, all of this. I know we’re supposed to take letter writers at their word, but absolutely nothing about this LW’s description of Annie squares up with the notion that she’s volatile and undeserving of promotion. LW really, really messed up quite badly here and doesn’t seem to realize it at all.

      1. Worldwalker*

        We are taking the LW at her word: in her description of Annie’s and the team’s behavior.

  78. I Fought the Law*

    This entire letter gives me the ick. Any manager who is still using phrases like “going above and beyond” and scheduling implied-mandatory happy hours in the current employment climate needs a reality check. I have to wonder if Annie’s past “volatility” involved pushing back on requests to “go above and beyond” without promotion or compensation, or calling out this department’s seeming toxicity, and if her butting heads with Jane actually originated with Jane playing favorites between Annie and Jane’s good friend Beth.

    I hope Annie finds a new job soon, and hopefully some of her colleagues will, as well.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Yes, I fear this is an unreliable narrator and I cannot get a sense of what is accurate or what is inflated.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      I’ve worked at plenty of jobs that had social gatherings during the workday. There was one place that had a meeting during the workday with free ice cream. I’ve worked at other places where they had events to go and volunteer as a team for a few hours on the clock. These aren’t things you had to attend if you were too busy working, but it was nice to show up once in a while. The idea that this has to be something after work on their own time is unfounded.

      In addition, you’re presuming that Jane is being unprofessional and supporting Beth over Annie. If Jane is doing that to the extent that you presume, then it’s likely that no one else would have been accepted for the role, and that the OP would have had to promote Beth anyway. Or alternatively, Jane would have sabotaged Annie until she eventually quit. In that case, this letter would be much different.

  79. asdf*

    I think you should give some thoughts to how you’re evaluating your employees’ soft skills. From your letter (which does not paint the full picture, which is why I’m telling you to give it some thought and not telling you you’re doing it wrong) it seems you might conflate soft skills in the workplace with outside-of-work friendships: Beth is a good employee for Jane because they’re close friends outside of work, Annie is a bad employee because she won’t hang out with colleagues off the clock.

  80. TheBunny*

    Egads. The Beth and Jane friendship is an absolute landmine.

    I get why LW made the choice, but IMO they needed to open up the role to outside candidates. One is too volatile…OK valid. But the other is friends outside of work with the manager.

    Alison didn’t say it…but I would argue there WAS favoritism in place here (albeit unintentional) as Beth for the role BECAUSE she is friends with Jane. Hard to argue thai isn’t the case when it was a factor.

    It shouldn’t have been…but it was and egads I don’t know of a way out.

    1. Tara*

      I disagree that the favoritism was unintentional. There’s no doubt LW understands the office social dynamics inside out. Something tells me she’s friendlier with Jane and Beth than she’s letting on.

    2. allathian*

      Nothing in the letter shows that Annie’s volatile, she’s behaved professionally and appropriately throughout, as told by the LW.

  81. Agent Diane*

    Nothing to add to the other comments but a request to the OP to provide an update towards the end of the year, please.

    1. Czhorat*

      I think we can guess at the update now:

      Six weeks after the events detailed in this letter Annie gave notice. Two months later two of the better-performing team members remaining followed.

  82. Cordelia*

    You seem to have given the position based almost entirely on how a person relates to Jane. We don’t really hear anything about what “volatile” means outside this relationship, and you say that Annie is “scrupulously polite” and that the other team members appear to be on her side, so her soft skills can’t be that bad. Beth, on the other hand, is friends with Jane. She doesn’t seem to be able to smooth the relationships with the other team members by herself, so where are her amazing soft skills? Or have you confused “soft skills” with “friends with Jane?” And mandatory happy hours – no thanks.

  83. MistOrMister*

    This letter somewhat reminds me of the one where the LW got to be friends with their report who loaned them a car and whatnot then gave an “It’s either her or me” ultimatum about a long time employee in that with both instances the boss seems to be letting personal feelings get in the way and feeling upset that someone who was passed over/demoted no longer goes out of their way for work. I agree that Annie’s volatile relationship with Jane could have meant she was not a good fit for the job, but it is not clear if any attempt was ever made to smooth that over. If the position was open for a while, surely there would have been time to bring that up. But, once someone who is arguably the stronger worker has been denied, being put out that they no longer go above and beyond is silly. People go above and beyond when they are trying to move up and/or when they feel valued. Being passed over for a mediocre worker who is friends with the supervisor for the position makes it clear that they are not a valued employee. I would have done the same thing and refused to keep taking the hardest work if I was in that position. The fact that others on the team are upset by this move makes me think Beth is not as strong a fit for the role as LW is saying and of course they all see that there is a certain amount of favoritism in the promotion decisions. It doesn’t even sound like Annie is acting out or speaking against Beth, Jane or the situation, so asking her to go to people and calm the waters would be especially absurd and my jaw about hit the floor at that.

    I am also gobsmacked that Beth got a promotion in part because she is friends with the supervisor outside of work!! I wonder if LW is someone who is so conflict averse that they value harmony in the workplace to the point of neglecting their duties as the boss. Because promoting someone based strongly on them being friends with their new boss is mindboggling.

    1. Been Annie*

      I’m curious as to what “volatile” means here, especially if the view of the situation is this skewed.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I wonder about that as well. Based on this letter, I’m inclined to think the LW is not as impartial as they like to believe. It seems possible that Annie has done something fairly innocuous but LW believes Jane was in the right therefore decided Annie was being volatile. Obviously I am making assumptions here, but I get the vibes of where a woman is legitimately upset about something and expressing their feelings in an appropiate manner but are told to calm down and stop being hysterical. It’s also possible that Annie might have a strong personality and thus any pushback or questioning she does is being deemed volatile even if she is acting perfectly appropriately. It would have been helpful had LW given some examples, although I don’t think it would have changed the advice unless Annie was clearly something of a loose cannon when interacting with Jane.

        1. Worldwalker*

          The problem with the unreliable narrator is that all the examples the OP gave, such as Annie’s reaction to not being promoted, contradicted her claim of volatility.

  84. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    Personally, I think the only solution that offers a fresh start for all is for the LW to find a new job. I think the well is poisoned here – if this is the kind of place where people stay for a long time, institutional knowledge is slow to forget. In addition, it’s only a matter of time before this will get around to LW’s manager, who likely won’t be pleased.

    Hopefully the LW can learn this lesson, move on and become the manager they want to be somewhere else, but I don’t see a way to recover from this that doesn’t harm someone. Even if the LW were to take responsibility and acknowledge a poor decision (usually my go-to suggestion), in this case, that would harm Beth. I don’t see another way out of the bad karma sandwich going on here.

  85. Been Annie*

    I don’t want to pile on here but I think you also 100% just told the rest of your staff that you promote people based on personal relationships outside of work. You, even if you were doing what you thought was right, just told your staff by your actions that their hard work doesn’t hold the same weight as outside friendships.

    I’ve worked in several offices where management hired and promoted friends. It was not a great atmosphere. What happens if someone has a serious concern about Beth’s management style? They’re not going to go to Jane for help, which means serious issues may go unresolved and cause a massive turnover. This also means they may see leadership tarnished as a whole, and not knowing who else Beth, Jane, or even you, are friends with outside of work, may prevent your staff from reporting things to HR. I’m sorry to say this and I know this may be hard to hear, but this choice probably made a lot of your staff feel unappreciated and unsafe.

  86. anony783*

    I can speak from the POV of Annie, because I am in a very similar position as her – star contributor with pages of accomplishments during year-end review, but my male coworker got promoted over me because he has a much better relationship with the one who this position would be reporting to. I stopped going above and beyond and completely opted out of team social gatherings. If anything, Annie is probably job searching already.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Unless you’ve realized that you just want to plug along until you meet some important to you deadline (you’re retiring in 3 years; a family illness is going to sap your time; you need extensive dental work which would be fully covered here), then I urge all Annies to make sure to include “… and I started job searching” as the third thing they do.

  87. That Crazy Cat Lady*

    This is not directed at you, LW, but just as a general musing based on my own experience, it astounds me how many employers think that a few verbal cheers and a “we appreciate you!” are enough to keep their best employees satisfied and still willing to put forth maximum effort. Instead of, you know, paying them what they’re worth, giving regular raises or bonuses, offering promotions that also come with added pay and benefits (not just a snazzy title that means twice the work for the same pay).

    1. Head-Butters United*

      Our leader is notorious for giving this kind of feedback to us at team events (“Head-Butter, you are gracious and helpful! Dog Lady, you are kind and funny!” etc.). But when she recently met with me to announce that my whole entire job was being overhauled and my responsibilities significantly increased, and I asked her if I could expect a change in my compensation, she got this slow, passive-aggressive smile on her face and soooooo gently, slowly cooed at me, “Noooo . . . these changes are completely aligned with your job classification, which you’re free to read . . . .” It was one of the coldest experiences I’ve ever had, and it instantly severed my ability to trust anything positive she says to/about me. I’m just playing a game of “pretend professionalism” until I can leave.

  88. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    OP, did you interview for the promotion? Or did you just think things thru? I’ve learned the hard way that I need to hear others’ opinions on things, because they don’t get stuck on the same things I do.

    “But Annie can be volatile, and in particular has a history of butting heads with Jane, who would be her direct supervisor in the new role. So I chose to promote Beth, who has better soft skills and an excellent relationship with Jane (they’re good friends outside work)”

    During the interviews you probably didn’t have, you would have laid this out clearly for each contender, as clearly as you did here. No softening the message! Lay it out clearly and ASK THEM each what they think. To Annie: “Can you find other ways to work with Jane, so that you’re not butting heads the way I’ve seen happen in the past?” and to Beth: “Can you work for someone that you’re good friends with, and trust them to say hard things to you?” (And while we’re at it, to Jane, since I assume she is also under your management: “Can you supervise someone who is your good friend, in a way that looks fair to everyone else here? Can you give her negative feedback if she does the job poorly?”)

  89. Esquire*

    It seems pretty obvious to me that Annie did really want the promotion from her reaction but besides that if my boss had promoted someone else over me and then asked me to smooth it over with the team I’d be pretty irritated. I’d have no problem explaining my decision to pull out but no way would I explain my bosses decision to not promote me. Apart of OP’s job as the boss is to figure out a way to smooth it over because OP caused the issue. I’m sure Annie will be on her way out the door soon especially if she does excellent work as OP says.

  90. Zona the Great*

    Annie is a shining light in this world.
    A beacon illuminating the way for all of we poor over-volunteered saps.
    A hero.
    All hail Annie.

  91. BBB*

    shout out to Annie for handing this whole situation with professionalism and class despite being treated dreadfully. good luck on your job hunt!

  92. AnonTiiime*

    I wonder how long Annie was in the interim role and whether her soft skills issues worsened over time. In my experience, it’s often difficult for ICs in an interim leadership role to get settled enough to become effective. Beyond that, your colleagues are still likely to relate to you a bit differently than they would someone who’s in the role permanently, regardless of whether they see you as a shoe-in. That creates its own set of challenges that are sometimes a bit more difficult to navigate confidently than when you’re actually promoted. The soft skills you need to be a first-among-equals IC are slightly different than those you need to be successful in a formal leadership role, and a team with rare promotions makes those differences a lot more difficult to navigate.

    Working in a few places with fairly flat teams, I’ve seen this dynamic play out more than once – people who were coachable at the outset languish then get messy while in interim roles or in the hopes that a new management role will be created.

  93. Grapes are my Jam*

    Oh, OP. I think the best manager move you can do now is to give Annie a glowing recommendation when her potential employers start calling you. Which will be soon.

    1. el l*

      Yes. Expect Annie to leave. And…yes, that thought should’ve been part of the decision making before picking Beth.

      1. linger*

        But OP is the only one we can advise here. And anyway, assuming someone in a managerial capacity would be needed as a reference, and some reference from this long-term position is needed, would you be happier using Jane as a reference in this situation?

  94. Parenthesis Guy*

    The best way to deal with this issue is to try and find a way to get a promotion for Annie. This could mean finding a way to transfer her internally to a promotion if you think she could be successful being managed by someone other than Jane. If you think she wouldn’t be successful in this role at all, then it may be by making her a senior individual contributor. But you need to give her some reward if you want her to continue to do what she did previously.

    You may want to rethink whether Beth was qualified for the position. It could be that your team thinks she’s largely useless and only has her job due to her relationships with higher-ups. That might explain why your team is acting the way it did.

    I will say that it may not be a kindness to promote someone to a role if it means they’d be managed by someone that wouldn’t like them. If Jane is unwilling to work with Annie, then Annie is the one who is going to be in trouble.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I see where you’re going with this but I honestly do not think it’s going to help OP. Even if they were able to finagle something for Annie – no one is going to look at it as anything but an attempt at a consolation prize and a cover for OP’s screw up (which is exactly what it is so that’s all fair). Including Annie – if she doesn’t leave, there’s about a 99.9 percent chance Annie will forever do what is required and that’s it – so long as OP is their manager at at least.

      What OP is looking for is a way to make everyone happy and for things to more or less go back to the way they were but that ship sailed.

  95. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Sorry OP but you have really screwed up here as a manager and now you are expecting Annie – whom you shafted – to smooth over your mess with everyone.
    That’s unreasonable and another example of expecting her to go “above and beyond” when she’s learned it brings her sweet FA.

    Her coworkers have also learned this, so you may see most of the team quiet quitting.

    Annie’s soft skills sound fine if her coworkers support her so strongly; her gracious reaction to being passed over shows no signs of “votility”

    Good luck to Annie in her job hunt – she deserves a fairer employer and manager.

    You’ve probably also made Beth’s position impossible, with a team that – rightly – believe she was promoted because she’s chums with Jane. She might also feel she needs a fresh start elsewhere.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      As to what you should do:
      Learn from all these mistakes pp you made
      Be gracious about giving references for Annie and any coworkers who want to leave

  96. Michele*

    I wonder about LW’s characterization of Annie as volatile. In this situation, where a volatile person might have blown up, Annie’s response is to politely withdraw. While Annie’s response of “didn’t want it any way” might be sour grapes (understandably), I get the sense that LW is retroactively justifying promoting a lesser employee simply because Beth will not give Jane any pushback.

  97. Head-Butters United*

    This is literally happening in my department, with the same effects on our team culture. And the results have been exactly the same: good people have left our team, others are looking to leave the team, and those who are still here have a significant down-shift in mood/motivation because we’ve all just witnessed that it doesn’t matter what we contribute or what our expertise is: if we’re not besties with leadership, we have no future.

    And the worst part is, “leaders” like that don’t actually care about their role in it, they lay the blame for the discomfort on the employees for having a normal response to a bad situation instead of on themselves for creating the situation in the first place. So, while they love the work output of people like Annie, they’d really just prefer us to be seen and not heard. And they’re actually totally fine with us self-selecting to leave the team because they just . . . don’t really like us. It makes it hard to show up every day and be a professional with people who you know for a fact don’t value you, and if/when you eventually leave, they’ll just tell everyone, “She wasn’t really a good fit, she was very unhappy here” instead of addressing the source of the unhappiness: cronyism, favoritism, cliques, micro-management, gas-lighting, burnout culture, and general poor management.

    I hope Annie gets a great new job where she is appreciated soon.

  98. Irish Teacher.*

    I realise I don’t have the full story and if Annie truly is volatile, that is a valid reason for not promoting her. But I do think there are some bad optics.

    I’m thinking of one school I worked in where the deputy principal was covering as principal after the previous principal actually died and then an outsider was promoted over him. He was extremely gracious and did apparently call on the staff to support her, but there was a lot of annoyance and I really can’t even imagine the likely reaction if it had turned out that the principal appointed had been a friend of say, the chairperson of the board. It would have looked like “jobs for the boys,” and “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” even if it wasn’t and she was genuinely the best candidate.

    Even if Beth was the right candidate, promoting a friend of the manager over the person covering the role is going to make people question if the decision was made fairly or if it’s a case of “who you know rather than what you know.”

  99. Susan*

    I came to suggest that this was an open position, so maybe the person who previously held it had been the one to get Annie to cover for their absences.

  100. SusieQQ*

    “Beth does not deserve the team’s extreme lack of enthusiasm during what should be an exciting and celebratory time for her.”

    Is LW also friends with Beth and Jane? Because the concern about Beth here when Annie is the person who got screwed over is kind of weird. And, not to beat a dead horse, but LW is the person who created the situation, not Annie. LW seems to be blaming Annie for it, and I don’t know understand that.

    1. Tara*

      My guess is LW has something to gain by sucking up to Jane, but I’m not sure it’s a promotion because they seem to be rare at this organization, according to the letter.

  101. Pita Chips*

    I really wish some people wouldn’t be so offended when someone stops doing extra work.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This! Instead of being offended, they should look into why these folks were willing to do the work and what happened to effect this change. This isn’t on them. Someone above them effed up badly.

  102. Raida*

    LW here’s where you’re at:
    Annie worked hard and did good work.
    She didn’t get promoted from it.
    There’s unlikely to be another promotion available soon.

    So why bother working so hard? All it gets her is more work.

    Now, if you can get her a *payrise* that’d be different! Is there opportunity to increase compensation without title change?

    If not, well she ain’t gonna start working harder again.

    But maybe you can get her help in the team dynamic. Discuss it with her – she said she didn’t want the promotion anyway to you, but now she’s avoiding two co-workers and has dropped off happy hour.
    Did she always dislike happy hour and this is just part of her overall ‘relaxing’ of the work she did? Or is she avoiding Jane? Or is she avoiding Beth? Did Beth do something wrong to her? Is she holding Beth and Jane up as one entity here instead of two separate people with two separate work relationships with her? Reiterate that Beth has the better soft skills you felt were valuable to the role, is Annie interested in training to help improve hers?

    And, finally, ask Annie is there is something she wants to make a complaint about in regards to Jane? Beth? You? And support her in clarifying it, going to HR if it’s the right thing to do. You’ve said she butted heads with Jane – should those instances have been escalated?

    1. Raida*

      Ideally, you can get Annie to be comfortable with Beth while acknowledging she still doesn’t like Jane.

  103. Tara*

    As someone who’s been in Annie’s situation, a few things come to mind:

    1. It looks like LW really played into the nepotism and has no right to expect Annie to go above and beyond anymore. She already did with no reward. Also, expecting Annie to smooth things over with the team is pretty shameless.

    2. Sometimes managers (and no, I’m not referring to all managers) will say things that aren’t necessarily true to justify their decisions. It makes me wonder if LW referenced one incident when maybe Annie was having a bad day and labelled her as “volatile” to justify promoting Beth.

    3. I’m guessing Jane had some input as to who got promoted and went with her own preferred choice. LW’s job might have been in jeopardy if she didn’t promote Beth…speculating a bit of course but just trying to look at the flip side.

    LW, rest assured that Annie is definitely looking for a new job now, and with any luck on her side, she’ll be out of your organization in no time. For future, if you think someone lacks soft skills, try to coach them on it by citing specific examples that impact the work environment. Not petty stuff like “you didn’t ask how my wedding planning is going” or “you refused to try the cookies Jane so kindly brought in”

  104. Dutch*

    If Annie was disqualified from the position for having too poor a relationship with Jane, Beth should have been disqualified from it for having too good a relationship with her!

  105. Eric*

    if you are going to use annies history with butt heads with jane as a reason to DQ her from the promotion, Beths freindship with Jane should have also been used to DQ her. From the outside looking in, it should have been Annies job or neither of them.

  106. Peanut Hamper*

    Given how Annie and your other employees have responded to this, it seems that it’s Jane that has a history of butting heads with Annie, rather than the other way around. Are you certain you are being objective about this point?

    I wish Annie the best in her job search.

  107. New Senior Mgr*

    OP, I’m a manager, and I can also say that going above and beyond on the regular is usually rewarded with more work. I hate that.

    Yet I know it’s true at my company.

    Let Annie be. She’s rightfully humiliated and embarrassed. The best way to protect yourself when this happen, is to pull back. Like a relationship you thought was pretty good only to realize the partner is just not that into you. The writing is on the wall, protect yourself at all cost until you can get out of the situation.

    I also agree that the best thing you can.m do for Annie now is to tell her the truth about your decision and that you want to help her develop for the next open promotion.

  108. Lusara*

    “General consensus seems to be that I used Annie to cover the position without a promotion and screwed her over by promoting Beth instead because Beth is Jane’s friend.”

    Because that’s exactly what you did. How did you think everyone would respond?

    And how did you think Annie would take it when you told her she wasn’t getting the promotion and it was going to Jane’s good friend instead? Did you really expect her to stay fully committed to her job and keep going above and beyond after you told her she isn’t going to get rewarded for going above and beyond?

  109. Danny*

    Ooooh LW you have messed up, and it sounds like will soon lose your top performer.

    The math ain’t mathin on this one

  110. Andrew*

    I don’t think I’m entirely convinced that you did the wrong thing here, LW. You didn’t give any examples, but I’ve encountered so many Anne types in my life that I don’t think you really needed to. High performers may be technically qualified for higher level roles (maybe even backfill managerial spots when necessary) but without the soft skills needed to be a leader, you’d be setting that team up for a toxic workplace really fast.

    In my last office, promotions were internal and based on seniority. After the program manager left, they were replaced with the most senior person, he was a high performer and great at the technical skills, but he was also so awful at dealing with people. The environment he fostered became so paranoid and toxic that people started jumping ship and now literally nobody other than him still works there since I left and it’s only been 2 years.

    Anne is probably going to move on and seek employment elsewhere where she can get higher up on the ladder, but that is just a fact of life in the modern workforce.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, the Peter principle is still going strong. But we don’t see any evidence of Annie’s volatility here. Certainly the team seems to prefer working with her over working with Beth, possibly because she’s willing to take their side in a conflict with management, and Jane and the LW want a yes-person who won’t push back on decisions that can effect the team adversely.

      Certainly a manager has to be able to make unpopular decisions occasionally to manage effectively, but a good manager should also listen to the objections of the employees who are directly affected by the decisions. I mean, if a manager sets a totally unrealistic deadline for a project, they should be willing to listen to the team lead who has the documentation to back that claim up. In that case, the team lead’s objection would be reasonable, not a sign of their volatility.

  111. Sacred Ground*

    So it seems LW is at least 3 levels above Beth and Annie while Jane is LW’s direct report. My guess is that LW is relying on Jane to tell her what’s going on with the team 3 levels below her and Jane may not be giving her an unvarnished report.

    Hence, LW’s assumption of Annie’s “volatility” and “butting heads” without giving examples is because she hasn’t actually seen any of these herself, instead relying on Jane’s word, who is Beth’s bestie. Maybe the unreliable narrator here isn’t LW, but Jane.

    As a few have asked above, where was Jane in all this? Did she not have any input into who she would be directly managing? If so, what was it? Did she push for Beth?

    Or maybe she had no input at all and this situation of having her direct report be her close friend has put her in an untenable situation where anything she does regarding Beth will be seen as favoritism. Assuming Jane wasn’t involved in creating the situation means Jane has now been undermined to her team by LW’s decision. In that case, add her to the list of people who might be looking for new jobs.

  112. StellaBella*

    Well thank you for publishing this letter. There are many nuggets of wisdom in the comments. A similar thing happened last year at my office and we are still dealing with the effects. And the person promoted is indeed the close friend of the boss, and is useless in doing his assigned portfolio. But sure new ideas and stuff he goes all in on. Does not actually do his job tho. And recently one of his reports has filed for sick leave and is out. Because of the abuse this missing stair heaped onto the employee. It is really bad when biases take precedence over fair merit processes.

  113. BirdUP*

    This happened in an office I worked at once – 4 of us interviewed internally for a promotion (2 of us had the tenure and experience where it was truly a no brainer) and our manager hired externally.

    Morale dropped, especially when it turned out the new hire was simply… not good at the role. She stopped coming in after 3 months with no explanation and this time my manager actually promoted from within our team to replace her.

    It stayed harmonious and happy on the team through the rest of my time there (and based on what I heard, long after that as well).

    Promote who does the work and gets along with the team, not who looks nice on paper

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and if the choice’s between someone who gets along with the team and someone else who gets along with management, promote the former. For all we know, Annie may well have had very good reasons for disagreeing with Jane.

    2. CC91UK*

      2 of my coworkers also applied for a promotion within the team last year (one of whom had 5 years experience in the team) and the head of department ended up hiring externally. Although the external hire is nice, I’m still a bit gutted that neither of my coworkers were given a chance to become a manager for the first time.

  114. NotYourMom*

    Expectations are out of line here. An employee was passed over for promotion (and that may have been the right call) and is behaving politely and professionally, and your instinct is to ask her to go above and beyond, attend after hours activities and smooth over other people’s feelings about her not being promoted? I feel pretty bad for Annie here. I’m wondering what else is coming across to her.

    And if I were Annie? I’m one foot out the door. So not only do you need to figure out a better way to manage the mood on the rest of your team, you need to decide now if you want to retain Annie and figure out if that’s even possible. If it is it will take preemptive work.

  115. FattyMPH*

    It’s honestly really entertaining to me when managers make objectively terrible decisions and are then so confused about why everyone’s unhappy. Alison’s response was so diplomatic that I worry LW will walk away not understanding that not only was he 1,000,000% wrong, but the general consensus is an accurate reading of the situation. The LW did in fact use Annie’s willingness to go above and beyond to cover the open position, then screw her by promoting a personal friend of the manager instead of the person actually putting the work in. I suspect that her “volatility” reflects the stress of doing 2 jobs for the salary of 1 under a manager who values “soft skills” over technical competence.

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