my employee quit over a misdirected email

A reader writes:

I have two employees who can’t stand each other but they’ve managed to be civil and professional. Sarah is a mid-top performer with a consistently good work product. She’s not a superstar but she is dependable. Dani is temperamental, doesn’t always listen to peers, and has created problems for her teammates when her part of projects either missed the mark or missed the deadline. Dani is on a PIP for performance issues but has been making an effort to improve.

Last week, Sarah had apparently had enough and fired off an email to a friend at work listing all of Dani’s shortcomings. She intended to vent to a friend but she sent the email to Dani. Dani, understandably hurt, came in the next day and quit. While there’s a part of me that’s glad Dani is gone (she was difficult to manage and struggled to get along with anyone), she was leading a critical project with a tight deadline. And now the project will be delayed. I’m asking myself if there should be consequences for Sarah. On one hand, she was just venting and didn’t intend for Dani to see the email. But on the other, her actions have created a serious business issue. She seems to alternate between being upset that this happened and celebrating that Dani is gone.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Chronic nail biting in meetings
  • My boss wants me to hire her friend

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. Englebert Humperdinck*

    If Dani was “on a PIP for performance issues”, she should not have been “leading a critical project with a tight deadline”. Any serious business issue that results is on the OP.

    1. Venus*

      Not necessarily. Dani could have been leading the project before the PIP, and the work might mean that everyone has to lead critical projects with tight timelines.

      I agree that it’s likely the project would have been impacted by Dani’s PIP if they didn’t improve, because they would have been let go at some point, but having Dani lead a project while on a PIP isn’t always a bad plan.

      1. ChiliHeeler*

        She might also have specific knowledge about the substance of the project that made her the best choice.

      2. CityMouse*

        You should anticipate anyone on a PIP might quit before potentially getting fired. The reality is ANY employee could quit but especially one on a PIP.

        1. alex*

          This is true. My company had an employee who quit shortly after being put on a PIP. Most people thought the PIP was an extreme overreaction from management, including the employee, who basically told the company to kick rocks. There have been problems since she was working on projects right up until her last day and now clients feel a bit in the wind since their contact person is gone. Just a bit of a mess all the way around.

        2. Allonge*

          Indeed – at the same time though, in most offices there are not an unlimited number of people to give work to.

          And if someone is on a PIP, they need ways to prove themselves, so it’s also unfair not to give them bigger things to do – in that case, just fire them.

          1. MassMatt*

            I disagree. Someone on a PIP is not working up to standard, they need to improve on basics of the job, talking about it being “unfair not to give them bigger things to do” is misplaced.

            A PIP is about improving your work to measurable standards in order to keep your job, not an opportunity to prove yourself. Good employees earn those opportunities by showing they can handle the existing work well.

            1. Allonge*

              Maybe we don’t mean the same thing by proving themselves?

              I don’t get the sense that Dani’s project was outside of her normal work, that it was a reach task. If it’s part of the job, then it should be part of the job while on a PIP – the point of the PIP is to prove that you can do the job after all.

            2. Katsi Souza*

              What if leading projects with a tight deadline *is* a basic part of the job though? You can’t expect improvement on the basics without giving them a chance to do the basics. Otherwise, why do a PIP at all?

      3. umami*

        Agreed. Sometimes the best evidence you can have that someone is not a good fit for their job is when they have extra support/guidance of a PIP to improve and still can’t. Lessening expectations isn’t the goal – bringing them up to expectations is the goal. So reassigning work so that they can be successful doesn’t solve the underlying issue.

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly this. The PIP is intended to test if the person can do the basic functions of the job while ensuring that the person has the support needed. If Dani’s role was to project manage, she should be project managing while on the PIP.

          1. AlsoADHD*

            While that part is reasonably true, it also shouldn’t be as big a blow if someone on a PIP leaves suddenly, since it’s super likely they’d be looking elsewhere for work anyway. I’ve never been put on a PIP, but my advice to anyone who ever is put on one is to put as much energy into finding a new job as possible. There should always be some ability to transition, but especially in this circumstance, there should have been a transition plan to enact.

      4. sofar*

        Agreed. We just sent someone through a PIP, and we have such a skeleton crew, we literally didn’t have anyone else to put on the existing project with the tight deadline. In fact, making that deadline became part of the PIP. The person did quit before the end of the PIP and the deadline, and that cleared us for hiring a contractor to get the project done.

        Sure, not “ideal,” but many companies are staffing so far from the ideal these days.

      5. Pizza Rat*

        I agree. If the purpose of the PIP was for Dani’s performance to improve, she needs to be given the chance to perform her duties. A person can lead a project or team while on a PIP, they should just have specific metrics to meet and more monitoring to ensure they are working towards the desired improvements.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Even more so when the problems in the PIP are:
      • Misses deadlines.
      • If the deadline is met, the submission is unusable and someone has to redo it.

      1. Lydia*

        If the PIP is about missing deadlines or submitting subpar products, you don’t remove deadlines and projects. How are they supposed to improve their performance if you take away all the things they would normally do for their job?

    3. Observer*

      If Dani was “on a PIP for performance issues”, she should not have been “leading a critical project with a tight deadline”. Any serious business issue that results is on the OP.

      The OP clarified in the comments on the original letter. Basically, she was the only person available to do the project, and the project was a core part of her job.

      Also, I sympathize with the OP. They also mention that Dani should have been on a PIP a long time ago, but her prior manager did not manage her, for whatever reason. So, the OP was trying to manage the situation – either she was going to get to where she needed to be or she was going to wind up fired. But that stuff does take time.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Well, the manager didn’t manage well, obviously- because Sarah turned against Dani with a scurrilous e-mail. And she had to rely on Dani to lead up a project, even while under a PiP. Regardless, it’s the manager’s job to keep staff under control.

        When an employee is put on a PIP – several things can happen.

        – if the PIP was put upon the employee in a good faith gesture, and if Dani had performed adequately – it’s “good work, Dani” and you ALL move forward.

        – the employee on the PIP can tell you to pound sand, and depart. The employee may feel that , ” hell’s bells, I have this PIP on my record. (Justified or not) I’m not going anywhere here with that in my HR file for any managers to look at. I’M OUTA HERE”

        – the employees who turned against Dani – as I said – should face disciplinary action. You as the manager are supposed to ensure that decorum and professionalism are maintained.

      2. Tiger Snake*

        That makes sense, and having been in similar boats I understand the reasoning – but it still seems like something LW should have prepared contingency plans for. Either letting the project fail as a part of Dani’s dismissal was an option – in which case, no impact other than what was expected has occurred – or LW needed to have a lot more handholding as this project was meant to be about helping Dani get up to the level that she needs to be at so that she didn’t need to be on PIP. But a key word there is ‘helping’.

        Regardless of the option and why Dani needed to run the project, surely it should be something that was being managed as at risk given she was on a PIP at the time?

    4. BellaStella*

      Agree and also what what said in the reply that management inaction, over a period of time where co workers have to deal with not great colleagues …. is also why this is an OP issue not entirely a Sarah issue.

    5. anon_sighing*

      Thank goodness this was the first comment because LW really wants their cake and to eat it, too. If Sarah is punished for this, she might start to realize Dani wasn’t the issue…a lack of management of Dani that the rest of them were forced to deal with was.

    6. Wintermute*

      This just doesn’t work in the real world.

      If you have one incident manager, even if they’re on a PIP they, by necessity, will be handling your critical incidents. There are many jobs where there’s one person or a few people in the whole outfit with the skills required so if it’s ever going to get done either they will do it or you must hire a contractor or consultant.

      This is why it’s so important for companies to specify in policy, and managers to think about and get straight in their own head, what are “PIPable” offenses and what things would indicate such defective thinking that you cannot trust them to continue in their role that long.

      1. WootWoot*

        Yep. Also, nobody’s perfect and it really depends.

        I have an employee who is stellar in a lot of regards, but struggles with administrative issues that are so persistent that a PIP is probably in her future. I’d still trust her with 75% of the things in her job description — I just can’t not put her on a PIP for the remaining 25% because of the nature of the issues.

  2. Yoyoyo*

    For #2…I don’t bite my nails but I compulsively pick at my cuticles, sometimes until they bleed. It is embarrassing, and while I don’t know that I’m doing it sometimes, I am very aware that others see it and I already feel less than professional for it. I would assume that the nail biter knows it’s a problem and has tried many ways to stop doing it. For me, the only thing that works is nail enhancements (acrylic, etc.) which are not affordable for me. I also can’t afford therapy for my OCD so I don’t really have a good option to stop the behavior. We know we do it, we know it’s gross, and we often can’t stop.

    1. mentha spicata*

      I have the same issue and, honestly, I’ve always been glad that’s the form my compulsion took instead of nail biting! I feel like it’s less noticeable than nail biting (e.g. if I’m picking at my fingers under the table in a meeting) and also, for lack of a better word, has less of a juvenile/childish connotation. I’ve mostly arrived at a place of giving myself some grace about it and just making sure that I always have some of those skinny bandaids.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I bite AND pick! Worst of both worlds!

        I don’t find I bite my nails much at work, though, but do pick my cuticles here, usually under the desk or table. I joke that I’ve recreated the Black Swan cuticle scene a few times in my office, but always alone. (It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t good, either.)

        And I have tried a million things since I was 5 or 6 years old to stop biting. I was on a good streak for about a year in 2016. Then the election happened and all bets were off. My biting is very related to anxiety for me.

      2. Anony*

        Cuticle picker checking in. I’ve never been able to break the habit. I keep my nails short and my cuticles moisturized as much as possible — otherwise, I will fuss with them constantly. I try to do my nails when I can, but eventually that makes them weaker, so I have to give them breaks.

        Beyond that, the only thing that helps is having hand lotion/cuticle cream and cuticle clippers on hand at all times — I literally own 4-5 of everything and keep them at my desk, in purses, etc. When I have dry hands or a hangnail or whatever, if I deal with it immediately, I will leave it alone. Otherwise, well, you know the rest.

        Anyway clearly I’ve thought about this way too much, which should indicate how much work it is to manage!

      3. Ollie*

        I wore acrylic nails for 10 years. It mostly solved the problem. I also found mental health meds for my anxiety helped. I still pick a little bit but it is vastly improved.

      4. Adds*

        I used to bite my nails all the time. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize I was biting them. I’d always referred to it as a nervous habit (knowing what I know now, it’s probably more a stim) and it got worse if I was stressed out. The one thing that helped me the absolute most was keeping a nail file and clippers in my purse (and my nightstand and the side table on my end of the sofa) so I could smooth out any rough spots on my nails before I could start biting them. I don’t know if it would help with cuticle picking unless that stems from having rough spots or snags in the nails.

        Now I rarely bite my nails. I just twist my hair and tie it in knots when I’m tired or stressed out.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I also worry that if the manager tells the person to stop, they’ll be so focused on not biting nails that they’ll miss a lot of the meeting’s content. Would the boss rather they pay attention or not bite nails?

    3. mreasy*

      I got my tongue pierced to stop the nailbiting and it worked! But the picking… I actually have an appointment to get extensions this weekend and just hope they last because they are expensive and the only thing that will work.

      1. mreasy*

        all of that said, though, there are some MUCH nicer and more realistic looking press ons available these days… maybe that would help with the cuticle picking? I have a bandaid on my thumb right now because of this. ugh.

      2. HappyEveryDayNow*

        Hi mreasy, I was a long-time nail-biter; tried everything for years and nothing worked. Until…I had my nails silk-wrapped with extensions. It probably took 6 months (and yes, I tried to bite through those wraps and polish!) but the change finally worked. I’ve kept my nails short and natural ever since (years) and can’t imagine starting again. While it may not be for everyone, it worked for me. Good luck.

    4. Marshmallows*

      I’m a nail biter still at 40. I would offer the perspective also that, if a full fledged adult is nail biting, it’s not likely that they haven’t tried everything they could to stop. It’s really hard especially when you don’t realize you’re doing it.

      I would say that for meetings, I bring a fidget toy and suck on a cough drop as that helps a lot, but that only works if a fidget toy is an acceptable alternative in your business culture. If you’re going to judge for the “distraction” at anything short of sitting still, then really I’d say it won’t be possible for your employee to meet your expectations. My fidget toy of choice is an acupressure ring. It’s quiet and small so it’s about as minimally distracting as possible.

      Where I work, it’s also acceptable to stand in meetings so that helps me too. I would very much struggle if I wasn’t allowed to use my alternative fidget methods. So please, try to be open to allowing some fidgeting if you want to see a real change in the nail biting.

      1. Thedude*

        I was a nail biter for 60 years. Yes, I’m shocked as well that I managed to quit! I didn’t do it in meetings though. They could hold pens or sit on their hands.

    5. Editor Emeritus*

      Thank you for this. I stopped biting my nails years ago after many attempts, more or less cold turkey (after an interviewer looked at my hands folded on the table, minding their own business, and exclaimed “you bite your nails!”)*

      Before I quit, I kind of hated myself for it, but I honestly couldn’t help it. I think the only thing that keeps me from going back to it is keeping my nails fairly short, so that it makes me feel like I’m in charge, not my compulsion.

      *Although this led me to finally stop for good, I do not recommend doing this to someone. We don’t do it for fun.

    6. Throwaway Account*

      Even just nail polish works for me but I have to heal my cuticles to the point that it is safe to get my nails done! I really don’t know why the fancy colors/nails helps!

      I recently had a bad streak, like very red and bloody all the time and I got Griply Rubber Ring Finger Tip Grips. They are for working with paper and money. I satisfied the itch to pick by just rubbing the little nubs on the surface of them. It got me past the bad patch and I actually stopped for a while. Now I’ve stopped the grips and am back to a level of picking I can manage.

      Maybe the grip tips will work for others? I’ll post a link in a reply. Oh, and I got multiple sizes as my fingers are all different and I preferred them on all or just some fingers at different times

      1. Anony*

        Re: fancy colors, not sure if this is true for you, but I’ve found that when my nails are shorter, tidy, and my cuticles are fully trimmed and moisturized, it helps a lot. But when they’re all of that AND painted it’s like an extra incentive to leave them alone bc they look and feel so good.

        Of course, once they grow out and chip again, all bets are off.

      2. Chas*

        I wear chewable jewelry as a similar type of solution for biting my nails, as it gives my mouth something to work on without being too obvious that that’s what the necklace is for. (Although I’m usually more likely to bite my nails when I’m alone and no one can see what I’m doing otherwise, so I’m not sure how well this would work for the employee in the letter)

    7. Dogwoodblossom*

      I used to bite my nails and pick at my cuticles till they bled, now I just pick at my cuticles sometimes. I tried acrylic nails for a bit and it did help but they’re so expensive, plus the nail techs always always always scolded me for having picked at my cuticles so it was never like a fun experience. But I’ve found making sure I always have an emery board within reach and painting my nails regularly really helps with all of it. Right now, I’ve got about 3 coats of nail strengthener on. It looks like clear polish but if it scratches off you just goob more on over the top. I also have a bunch of those little nail scrapers, and orange sticks, and cuticle nippers, all the little torture devices. You’re not supposed to use them to actually cut your cuticles but I absolutely do because if I keep them clear then there’s nothing to pick at. Sometimes I nip them too close and make them bleed but it’s usually much less bad then if I kept picking at it. I don’t think my grandma would be satisfied by this state of affairs, she used to constantly scold me about biting my nails (super helpful, thanks grandma!) but I’m satisfied with the improvement.

    8. JK!*

      What worked for me (for nailbiting) was gradually reducing the number of fingers I allowed myself to go at.

    9. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      You are all my people. I’m so frustrated that I can’t quit picking at and biting the skin around my fingers. I tried nail wraps (in the hopes that when my nails looked nice I’d want to keep my hands nice) but they feel weird. I am now trying fidget/spinner rings and trying to fidget when I get the urge. So tired of this issue but clearly it’s a tough habit to break.

    10. HiddenC*

      I was a compulsive nail biter my entire childhood and young adulthood until I was 20. One day I stopped and I didn’t realize for a few months until my nails got long enough for me to notice, and then I was mystified until I finally realized that it happened when I learned to knit (my best friend in college taught me). I had started compulsively knitting at all times (I made like 40 garter stitch scarves in the first couple months), and as a result I stopped compulsively biting. I’m nearing 40 now and other than occasionally biting off a hangnail, never went back to it.

      Unfortunately I still have to keep my nails short because they’re very weak (it’s genetic, my mom’s are the same way) and break if they get more than a couple millimeters long, but I’m glad I don’t bite anymore.

    11. Chirpy*

      I used to bite my nails, and while I did manage to mostly stop, even 20 years later I still occasionally do it. The first time I remember trying to quit was 4th grade. It really is a compulsion. We know it’s gross, it hurts our fingers, and yet…it’s so very hard to quit, because for many people it’s a symptom of anxiety or other issues, and not just “a habit.”

      (What worked for me was borrowing my friend’s horrible Calvin Klein scented nail polish, so I smelled it when my hands got near my face, and I also had to curb the compulsion to pick off the nail polish.)

    12. Paint N Drip*

      I am similar, but a hair puller. Can look normal-ish, can look VERY abnormal for an office space, but either way I’m not really in control. This really decimates my ability to perceive myself as professional enough to improve my work situation :(

    13. Teapot Connoisseuse*

      I have exactly the same issue. I’ve noticed I principally do it when I’m engaged in passive concentration (trying to stay focused on reading a document or listening in a meeting). I don’t have a solution, but just wanted to offer solidarity!

    14. Kat*

      Several coats of gel polish, using an at-home kit? Gel cure lamps have come down *so much* in price over the last few years. Thick (Somewhat, not so thick that it looks strange) gel dulls nail edges so it’s difficult to pick at anything.

      I was a cuticle picker for about 15 years and broke the habit permanently. I don’t even pick at my fingers when my nails are bare now.

      That being said, it does take some time and effort to learn how to apply it properly so it might not be what you’re looking for.

    15. Media Monkey*

      my daughter is a skin/ cuticle / nail picker/ biter, mainly related to anxiety. the only thing outside of nail enhacements that has made a difference is spinning rings/ fidget jewellery. we get them from Calm Collective (I think they are UK based but there will be others i;’m sure!). they look like normal jewellery so absolutely professional and spin silently.

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    She seems to alternate between being upset that this happened and celebrating that Dani is gone.
    OP, this is literally how you describe your own reaction.

    Sarah should have put some sort of check in place to avoid sending that email. But if the response to Dani has been that management threatens they are a few months away from possibly putting a note in her file about all the mistakes that her coworkers have to work extra to fix, then this is pretty much on management for letting the negative impact continue.

    1. Meemur*

      flashback to 18 year old me writing a bitchy text message about my boss and sending it to my boss. it still haunts me 22 years later

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My sister in law was looking for a new job and tried to send her resume to a friend to proofread but accidentally sent it to her boss instead. She’s brilliant so she explained it as “Oh she’s applying for jobs and I sent her my resume as an example!”, but her boss was the type to totally melt down if she found out you were looking so she was stressed about it for weeks.

  4. Anh*

    I wonder if Sarah REALLY accidentally sent the email to Dani, or was it her intention from the beginning, and she just used a reasonable excuse to appear innocent and get what she wants (Dani being gone)?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think Dani quitting is an unusual response, and not one that Sarah could have anticipated. Much more likely is Dani raging to all management levels demanding that something be Done About Sarah, while coworkers and management conclude that Sarah is significantly at fault for bringing all this drama.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Yeah – Sarah couldn’t have predicted with any certainty that Dani would quit.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Or coworkers are glad that Sarah finally unloaded Dani and they can stop doing Dani’s work for her, waiting for Dani to contribute her part of the project, and listening to Dani’s tantrums.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Um, sure.
          The possible responses included:
          a) Dani immediately gives her 5 minute notice and quits.
          b) Dani escalates the insulting email to every layer of HR and management.
          c) Dani keeps quiet about the email but begins plotting an elaborate revenge involving Pop Tarts.
          d) Dani is thrilled that her attempts to bug Sarah have born such fruit. She prints out the email in the largest possible font and uses it to paper her cube.
          e-z) Other things.

          In this particular universe, Dani took option (a).

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

        I wonder what all is going on. It could be my own biasis but I see a bit of what happened to me in Dani. Got ganged up on by 2 coworkers for not doing the same amount of work as them, even thought I was not fully trained in all areas. Later, after the manager who had my back was laid off, those 2 and others kept making comments like I made too much noise, took too much time off (I had a medical issue).
        All in all I wonder if some of the problems Dani had was because of the other coworkers.

        1. Lydia*

          There’s no indication that’s the problem here. The OP has knowledge of Dani’s work, and her work was lacking. Hence the PIP. Nobody is saying Dani deserved to get a crappy email from Sarah, but Sarah wasn’t the ongoing problem that Dani was.

        2. WootWoot*

          Yeah. Honestly, I read half these responses and I think people are freakin’ psychos.

          I also had a member of management “accidentally” send a humiliating and untrue email about one of my employees to an entire group of project team members, and it was awful. We dealt with it immediately because regardless of how Dani is performing in this case, it’s completely unacceptable, shitty behavior to blast people — it’s in fact bullying, depending on how it’s structured and who it involves. But, like, my employee did quit pretty quickly after that — she felt, not incorrectly, that having people gang up on her like that and retain their jobs was a sign that she couldn’t necessarily be protected there. And she had some performance issues, but the incivility and the ganging up on her, destroying her reputation with her coworkers, was a serious blow to her ability to do her job and feel valued as a member of the team.

          It’s somewhat surprising she quit, but not outside the realm of predictability. Honestly, Sarah needs to be held accountable, and not simply by having to maybe pick up some of Dani’s workload because Dani’s not there to humiliate any more. Someone who does that kind of thing in the office will do it again, and it’s a serious professional deficiency.

          1. Java*

            I think you’re placing too much of your experience on the letter.
            Sarah was trying to vent to a friend and made a mistake, not actively trying to publicly humiliate Dani and rally coworkers to do the same.

            Professionally speaking, it’s never a good idea to put your unfiltered venting about crappy coworkers to a friend in writing, but it’s not inherently bullying.

            Your situation is very different than the one in the letter.

        3. Purrformance*

          I also feel like someone who was in a situation similar to Dani. I transferred departments following a restructure at company I work for and was quickly handed a massive workload after brief training. The person I work for is brilliant and important to the company, but they’re also disorganised and that made my workload even larger. At some point I became so overwhelmed that I’ve made a very silly mistake (not the one that resulted in any loss of business), which some of my coworkers promptly reported to my manager. When he offered me extra training, the same colleagues commented that he is being soft on me for not putting me on PIP and managing me out, which was relayed to me via someone else. At some point I was so stressed from work that I felt like quitting, and if I saw a email that laid out all the complaining about me then, I’d also have walked out, but not before going to HR.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Maybe????? But that is a far stretch to assume or know someone would quite based on a vent email. And based on OPs description of Dani, sounds like Dani doesn’t get along with her peers anyway, so I can’t imagine an email venting about her would be all it would take to get her to quit.

      I think what is more plausible is Dani already had 1 foot out the door and used Sarah’s email as a reason to quit that day and not give notice. If Dani is petty, they may have also hoped to get Sarah in trouble by using the email as their reason for quitting.

      I’ll admit, some of my doubt that it wasn’t intentional is that early in my career, I fired off an venting email to a friend at work about one of our colleagues that frequently annoyed us. However, I accidentally sent the email to the annoying colleague instead of my friend. He called me out on it immediately and I had to apologize for it. Lesson learned for me is to not vent about colleagues to friends through email/messaging. And as I’ve become older and more professional, I save the occasional vent for my spouse and not amongst coworkers.

    3. ferrina*

      There’s no indication of that, so Hanlon’s razor applies:
      “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    4. nodramalama*

      I doubt it. She had no way to predict Dani would leave and any other scenario causes a lot of havoc for Sarah

    5. AlsoADHD*

      Since Dani quitting is a generally unpredictable reaction (many people would not have quit), I can’t imagine Sarah master-minded it. She was probably overstressed, frustrated, and it was a human accident. Still, a bad look, but it sounds like things with Dani were very persistent. I think maybe the best way is for LW to chat with Sarah about it very honestly: They both feel relief Dani is gone, but what happened was a bad scene. I’m guessing Sarah feels both of those things, LW feels both of those things, and they could just clear the air. My money is on Sarah vows to be much more careful in future (if it’s ever even needed) and feels a bit mortified, though lucky it worked out how it did.

  5. Anonymous for this*

    I was literally sitting at my desk biting my nails when this popped up LOL I am very successful, I have my doctorate degree, I have excellent references- This habit…kicks my butt. I too can avoid biting them if I pay for acrylic nails, but I simply cannot afford the time or the money to consistently keep them. I WILL say, however, I am aware of time and place & there are meetings during which I would fight myself like crazy to avoid biting my nails. On a usual day though- it happens

    1. Socks*

      Another nail biter here, and I’m also someone who can only control it if I’m thinking very hard about Not Biting My Nails. It’s easy to remember to focus on not biting my nails during, say, a job interview, but a lot harder to think about it in every meeting of every day.

    2. MissBliss*

      The only time I have ever managed to NOT bite my nails was when I had thick, hard nails applied for my dad’s wedding when I was like… 10. They had to be Dremel’d off and ever since they came off, there’s no stopping it. It isn’t really a “habit” so much as a “compulsion” for me – otherwise, I’d have more power to stop.

      1. Feckless rando*

        Yes to the “compulsion” rather than “habit” thing! That’s what I always wanted people to understand when I was at the height of my nail biting (to the point where a photo of my hand was flagged as gore on Facebook) The only reason I stopped in my thirties was diagnosis and treatment of an anxiety disorder and OCD. I’m not doing this on purpose to torture you, mom. It isn’t fun for me either.

    3. sunny days are better*

      I finally quit biting my nails when I started polishing them all the time.

      I have a large collection of bottles on rotation and every week I switch to a new color. When my hand would go up to my mouth, I realized that I would wreck my polish and make them look terrible, and so my hand would go back down.

      That was many years ago, but that, along with Covid, finally helped me kick the habit. I still polish them all the time because now I like how they look.

      1. Lydia*

        This. In extreme circumstances, I’ll bite off a ripped or jagged nail, but now that I paint them (myself) about twice a week, I am surprised at how quickly they grow when I’m not biting them!

  6. Monkey Princess*

    Good God, people. What part of “don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want on the front page of The New York Times” don’t you understand?

    I vented about a client the other day online to a coworker. Wanna know what I said? Direct quote, because I still have the message up: “You have the patience of a saint. You are so kind and patient when you explain things for the hundredth time.”

    The meaning of this was “OMG I can’t believe you’ve had to explain this SO MANY TIMES to this COMPLETE AND UTTER IDIOT,” which I think she got. But I am NOT an idiot, so I did not say that.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I think the readership of the front page of the New York Times would read between the lines too, though.

      Better than literally calling the client an idiot? Sure. Something that would be fine if it got out? Probably not.

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Must be a slightly different “accent” or “dialect”. I read “sorry you’ve had to explain this a million times to this character while they’re asserting their constitutional right to be an abject idiot…”

      We’ve gotten REAL creative around here ::snicker::

    3. ferrina*

      I work closely with HR, and there is so much that goes unspoken in our meetings.

      Normal conversation:
      “Are we expecting any hesitations about this new policy?” (translation: okay, who do we expect is going to be obnoxious about this?)
      “Well, Team X has voiced some concerns, and I’ve gotten an impression that Team Y may also have some hesitations” (translation: Team X has been nattering at me non-stop, Team Y has been giving me the cold shoulder)
      “Do we know what is at the root of these concerns?” (translation: what’s their problem?)
      “Policy changes can be a source of concern for them- they juggle a lot and they are want to ensure that workflow isn’t interrupted” (translation: they complain about every. single. change.)

      It’s actually sort of fun, like having a code language.

      1. Student*

        As somebody who tries to support good policy changes, but also stop other people from raining pointless and burdensome policy changes upon my department – this sounds really contemptuous towards your co-workers. I’m sure it comes through loud and clear in interdepartmental interactions with them. No wonder they complain about every single change – they can’t trust the people making the changes.

        Yes, people are sometimes just scared of change. Sometimes they have valuable knowledge about their own work processes, too.

    4. S*

      If Sarah had sent a similarly diplomatic email (or tried to) Dani would still be her coworker.

  7. Alex*

    Sarah has probably learned her lesson about sending emails like that. Confirming that with her is a good idea but I don’t think any further action is required. She was complaining about a known problematic employee. Unless her complaints were protected-class-based (on gender, religion, race, etc.) I would consider she was having a human reaction to frustration, even if she had a lapse in judgement.

  8. Snarkastic*

    The constant nail biting to the point that noises (noises!) are made is definitely gross and unprofessional. I have some compulsive habits, but I’ve been able to manage not to do them in public for the most part (I understand that’s not the case for everyone).

    I think there is a limit to how much compassion we have for people when it comes to putting their hands in their mouths during work meetings. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s a hard line for me.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      If someone is doing something compulsively, it could be due to a mental health issue (OCD is the cause for a commenter above). That can take a lot of therapy to work out and people may not be able to afford it, or even get that kind of care (the waiting lists for therapists are long these days!). You don’t get to choose your tics.

      1. DenimChicken*

        I have OCD and it makes me do something similar, but I keep my hands out of my mouth in meetings. I don’t make loud mouth noises, because that is gross. I hate when people say “oh it could be ocd/autism/adhd” followed by am excuse for inappropriate or unprofessional behavior. It’s insulting.

        1. Bast*

          I think it can be helpful to reframe things in our mind, as we often attribute malice and there are often a dozen other reasons why something could be the case. The truth is, we simply don’t know. Attributing malice tends to make us more angry and handle things less well. I’m not saying that things CAN’T be malicious. For example, with nail biting or pen clicking or foot tapping or any of the other things/noises that tend to annoy people in the office, assuming that someone is a jerk who MUST be aware that these things are annoying others and is doing it in spite of that or to purposely annoy others tends to cast them in a negative light. It could be a reaction to nerves, intense concentration, or a symptom of something with a diagnosis, but I think others being able to reframe it as something other than malice changes the mindset and likely, the delivery of whatever they have to say about it.

          On an aside, even two people with the same diagnosis can struggle with different things, and both are valid.

          1. DenimChicken*

            I agree with your first paragraph, but I think it does a disservice to people with disabilities if we constantly toss out a potential diagnosis for any annoying behavior. I would say that there are better ways to reframe things.

            On the second, we simply don’t know what, if any, diagnosis the nail biter has. If they cannot stop and cannot avoid touching things after they put their hands in their mouth, surely an accommodation can be reached that doesn’t require her coworkers and clients to touch her spit.

            1. EchoGirl*

              I’m usually anti-armchair diagnosing, but I understand raising the possibility in this context for the purpose of pointing out that OP should, at the very least, be aware that it may not be something she can “just stop doing”.

        2. Zombeyonce*

          Things like OCD, autism, and ADHD can be pointed out as explanations, not excuses. I have one of those myself, and hope that someone learning that might start to understand why I do certain things whether or not it impacts them. I’m trying to show compassion and understanding for someone who may be experiencing these and unable to find help (or may just not be there yet), not censure, especially when the severity of and control over these symptoms is a wide spectrum.

          Again, we don’t know if it’s even the problem, but I referenced it because the person I responded to seems to be basing their compassion for others on the particular symptom that person has when people don’t get to select whether their issue is palatable or not.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      What does the hard line entail? That it’s something you would never do yourself? Great! I applaud you and wish I didn’t have this habit/tick/compulsion so I wouldn’t either!

      Or does it mean you would never work or interact with a biter? Or that you would say something? The former would be hard, I think, for the overall company to deal with. And if it’s the latter, by all means you could try? But for those of us still biting our nails into adulthood, we’ve already heard it from everyone and one more person weighing in won’t matter much.

      1. DenimChicken*

        My line would be that I won’t touch anything they’ve touched. That goes for anyone constantly sticking their fingers in their mouth and touching things in the era of covid. Or I’d straight up ask them to wash their hands.
        For a regular nailbiter who doesn’t do it constantly or only does it at their desk, I’d just assume the saliva is more contained and it wouldn’t bother me so much. A little stray saliva is human. Tons of stray saliva is a problem.

    3. Anallamadingdong*

      Ok I have been a nail biter my whole life. BUT, I know there is a time and place for STICKING MY HANDS IN MY MOUTH. Especially in this day and age, this is no different from licking my hands and then touching the table, the door knob, the coffee pot. I do not care how hard it is to control, nail biting is a habit that endangers the health and well being of other people and it is absolutely reasonable to tell them they need to control themselves.

    4. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      My hard line is that they don’t put their hands in my mouth. Their own hands in their own mouth affect me not at all – how could it possibly be my business?

      1. Frankie*

        Germs spreading through their saliva on every surface they touch
        That’s how it’s your business

    5. Google “BFRB”*

      Your comment is what I am always afraid other people are thinking or saying about me behind my back. I have tried everything to stop compulsive skin picking disorder, and I simply have yet to find whatever magic bullet surely exists to make my mental illness less of an imposition on people like you. I’ve tried supplements, acrylic nails, bad-tasting nail polish, CBT, CBD, and group therapy. Please do let me know how to fix this – I am dying to know!

      1. Jaydee*

        Same! The only thing that I’ve found that works* is a combination of being on stimulants for my late-diagnosed ADHD, working from home (reduced stress, different environment, access to nail care supplies and fidgets), and having something to do with my hands at all times.

        *When I say “works” I mean I can go months having nails long enough to wear nail polish and cuticles that aren’t bleeding. Doesn’t mean I haven’t bit a nail or picked a cuticle. Just…much, much less. But I’ll still periodically destroy all my progress and have to start over.

        I learned that the stimulants are a required part of that equation. Went off them last summer due to medication shortages and my nails were bitten down within days. I recently went back on them, and my nails are already starting to grow out again.

        I know it’s gross. I feel a lot of shame around all my BFRB type things. But between the BFRBs and ADHD and being a fat woman in the world, I spend so much time and energy just trying to make myself presentable and acceptable to others. It’s exhausting.

        1. Marcie*

          Oh Jaydee sending you a big virtual hug with your consent. I wish we could all be comfortable with who we are and not care what others think. Some day I will get there with so much therapy and I hope you will be able to as well. Sending you peaceful vibes.

  9. umami*

    Being on a PIP doesn’t mean you don’t have to do your work, it means you are expected to demonstrate improvement on areas of weakness. If they already were working on the project, then the PIP reinforces the deliverables that must be met to show improvement. It’s not meant to rework their responsibilities to doing the things they can perform successfully, because it’s improvement that’s required.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes but if the project is important, there should be some kind of contingency plan in place (if the nature of the PIP is linked to the nature of the project), because there’s already the situation that performance isn’t as it needs to be, and the significant potential that that won’t improve. So it seems irresponsible to leave a key project up to someone who’s underperforming with no backup plan other than shrugging and saying “see! Now this won’t be completed!”. If you have a process (PIP) where there’s a chance someone will be exited at the end of it, you don’t pin a key project on that.

      1. umami*

        PIPs are pretty much as much work for a supervisor as an employee, for this very reason. Providing the constant support someone needs to complete the project while also letting them improve (or not, as the case may be) is challenging but necessary, and also ensures that safeguards are in place. At least, that’s how I’ve designed them – there is at minimum a weekly check-in to assess performance along the way to ensure corrective action occurs throughout the project. In this instance, it doesn’t seem like the project fell through, so it sounds like there were some safeguards in place.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          But if there are no other options, that means the manager needs to have contingency plans in place and be really on top of the project so that they can take over at a moment’s notice if they have to.

  10. BFRBs suck but are not uncommon*

    Regarding what to do about the nail biter – jumping in right here to plug my all-time favorite organization related to Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors, a poorly understood and surprisingly widespread issue:

    (fair warning that there are some graphic photos on here because it is aimed at people who are skin pickers, but I think it’s so helpful for more than just that)

    pickingme dot org

    It’s absolutely full of helpful info for people who suffer from or just want to better understand skin picking and related BFRBs. Back when I worked it was a huge source of shame for me and occasionally tension with coworkers because they would comment without knowing what they were talking about.

    1. varsha10*

      Oh wow. I had no idea BFRBs had a name, and were a thing other people did too, until just this moment.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      omg I just want to give all of these people a hug. That looks so completely painful and stressful.

      1. BFRBs suck but are not uncommon*

        I mean, it is, but having a language for it and a community helps. So does lessening stigma.

        Also, those photos are people who are pretty severe sufferers at their worst. Most of us don’t look like that most days (although the range of severity varies widely).

    3. Elly*

      I have BFRBs and I hate it. If I could change one thing about me. I just don’t realize that I’m doing it. When I realize it I stop, and 30 seconds later I’m doing it again. I don’t want to do it. My hands need to do something to redirect my extra “focus energy” as I like to describe it. Fidgets help a lot, but I feel childish when I use them around other adults.

      If I’m not playing with my hair (my most common one) then I’m biting at my nails, or picking at my nails, or biting the inside of my mouth. I used to pull out my hair as part of my BFRB – but somehow I broke that habit a few years ago and I’m pretty proud of this. But the urges to pull are still there.

      I hope people understand that we try to stop. We try, we try , we TRY. I don’t want to bite my nails. I’ve tried everything.

      1. Allonge*

        I am sorry you are dealing with this.

        If it helps, I would 1000% rather someone has a fidget than hurt themselves.

        1. allathian*

          I concur. Fidgets, especially noiseless ones that are small enough not to bother people’s peripheral vision like fidget rings, are harmless distractions for people who need them to avoid hurting themselves or to help them focus.

          I’m glad that I more or less grew out of my nail and cuticle biting in my early 20s. I started by clipping my nails *very* short to the point that I was clipping them almost daily. I also used a clear nail polish that both tasted and smelled awful, even if the smell was only noticeable when I had my hand near my nose, and that helped me because it ensured that I never put my fingers in my mouth without thinking.

          I do pick at scabs, sometimes until they bleed again, but I never do that where anyone else can see me.

          I live in a temperate climate, meaning that our indoor air is fairly dry for most of the year, in spite of humidifiers and drip-drying laundry. This means that I get a lot of dry snot in my nose, and frequently channel my inner toddler by picking my nose and washing my hands afterwards. But I do this in secret, not even my husband knows of this unpleasant habit/moderate compulsion of mine. I’m aware that other people think it’s gross, but changing habits is hard and I don’t really care enough to bother trying.

      2. ferrina*

        Nice job on the hair pulling!
        I’ve read that this can be common with anxiety or ADHD. For ADHD, it can either be a way to get out extra energy/create stimulation or it can be a form of hyperfocus (or both). I’m ADHD, and I sometimes start hyperfocusing on part of my body, like trimming my nails a ridiculous amount or individually trimming ever split end. For me, the tough part is breaking the hyperfocus. Sometimes it can feel like a black hole that my brain can’t break the gravity of.

        Personally, I don’t judge when I see an adult quietly using a fidget. I entered the professional world before fidgets were an option, so I was constantly twirling my pens and/or disassembling them. I get it.

      3. Beany*

        I’ve become aware in recent years that I have this issue — for me (cismale, middle-aged) it’s primarily facial hair — perpetually running fingertips over my cheeks, worrying at stray hairs missed by the razor, but nailbiting is an issue too.

        I know it’s pathological, but didn’t have a name to put to it before, so I’ve learned something today.

  11. Elbe*

    I think the response to Sarah depends on what, exactly, was said in the email. How nasty did the comments get? Was it complaints about Dani’s work, or did it include personal jabs? Was the friend someone who was involved in the work, too, and may have had work interest in the feedback? or was it blatantly a venting session?

    Expressing frustration with someone work is fair game when it affects your day-to-day work. It’s unfortunate if the feedback was phrased more bluntly than it would have been if it had been given directly to Dani, but it’s also not out-of-line for a work conversation.

    If the email was mostly personal and full of put-downs, then I think it gets a bit dicey. Even poor performers need to be treated with respect. If someone isn’t working out in the job, then let them go – don’t bully them behind their backs.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is such a good point. There’s a biiig difference between “…she’s always late turning in her part of the project so I always am running behind on my work which makes me look bad to clients, plus she never spellchecks so I always have to go back and fix everything which takes even more time, I’m about to rip out all of my hair I’m so frustrated…” and “…did you see her last report? It’s embarrassing how dumb she is, no wonder her last relationship didn’t work out. I bet she’s an only child because her parents saw how ugly their first kid came out and decided to stop”.

      Are either particularly professional? No, but one is legitimate impersonal frustrations that reached the wrong audience, and the other is just plain cruel. The first requires gentle guidance at most, the second definitely brings serious questions into play and would involve a stern conversation, plus the note that even the faintest whiff of bullying in the future would have severe consequences.

      1. Elbe*


        If it was mostly complaints about her poor performance (and the effect that was having on the rest of the team), the blunt feedback in the email could have been a wake-up call that she wasn’t well suited for the role.

        Still, I think that most people would wait until they had something else lined up. The fact that she quit literally the next day makes me think that it could have been something a bit more than that.

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

      Also, it sounds like there is more going on. The descriptions the OP mentioned of Dani sound like their might be more going on, including bullying.
      “Dani is temperamental, doesn’t always listen to peers, and has created problems for her teammates when her part of projects either missed the mark or missed the deadline.”

      Why is she considered temperamental and why doesn’t she listen to her peers? Are her peers trying to boss her around? How is she temperamental? Also, why have her projects missed the mark or deadline and what has the OP (as the boss) done about that besides the PIP?
      Given that sarah is celebrating Dani being gone makes me lean more towards that Sarah was the problem.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I think you’re looking for things that aren’t there. Sarah may not be perfect, but by the LW’s own account Dani sounded like the problem. Some people are just jerks and ignore others because they think they know better.

      2. Blue*

        I have a coworker who is so much like how Dani is described that I would have thought this was about my workplace if she had quit. And every one of the best (or even just competent), most even-keeled people in my department have absolutely lost all patience with her and describe her the way Sarah sounds to have described her, and I wouldn’t call them the problem. (And before it seems like I’ve been going around trash-talking her to everyone and that’s the only reason I think everyone else feels the same, most people have either brought this up to me first, unprompted, or they’ve discussed it with coworkers who I’m close to.)

        It’s tempting to root for the underdog of the story and think that those who were mean in the story were the problem all along, and I think before meeting my coworker I would have thought the same, but honestly sometimes the underdog is the underdog for a reason. It’s not a great truth but sometimes people just aren’t cut out for a job. And it’s also not unlikely that if, everyone feels the same way about a person, that the problem is with that person. Of course, groupthink and bullying are a real issue and there are plenty of cases where they’re all wrong, but that’s not the only way things work out.

        1. Katsi Souza*

          We had one of those as well. Arrogant, thought he knew better than everyone, thought he was the only one who did the job right, blind to his own flaws and mistakes, thought all the policies were dumb, wouldn’t listen to anyone, etc. No one could work with this guy and no one could stand him. Even the quietest, kindest people in the department had a lot to say about him and none of it was good. Some people just can’t get along with anyone or get out of their own way and this is what happens.

        2. Java*

          ” sometimes the underdog is the underdog for a reason. “

          LOVE this line, it’s so true.
          I’ve met toooo many people who thought they were the underdog trying to make it in a room full of haters when in reality they were the jerk that everyone was just trying to deal with.

          I had a coworker who told us all about the horrible people she used to work with and how glad she was to join our team. Then she told us all about the horrible friends she had growing up… and in the last city she lived in… and in school… and then she got comfortable in our team and just got straight up mean. Idolized our boss purely because she was an attractive woman (who also wasn’t nice but was very good at her job), literally told a coworker she wouldn’t understand how hard it is to be our boss because the coworker was not beautiful like our boss is. Knowlingly spilled the beans about another coworkers secret pregnancy. Wouldn’t listen to feedback, took credit for everyone’s work and put her failures on other people, revealed information from upper management meetings with the intention of spreading gossip… the list goes on.

          I started to understand why all of her previous friend groups and work situations had turned out to just be full of “toxic” people.

      3. WootWoot*

        Probably so. I dunno. I’ve been in management a long time. At the moment I manage an employee who has a reputation for being “edgy.” But she usually is edgy after something inappropriate has happened. I wouldn’t bet that everyone’s being fair and kind to Dani, especially if they’re passing emails around behind her back about how much her work sucks.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          The LW describes Dani as “temperamental, doesn’t always listen to peers, and has created problems for her teammates when her part of projects either missed the mark or missed the deadline.” She’s lost the right for folks to be fair and kind to her.

    3. AlsoADHD*

      This is actually a really good point. Based on LW’s tone, I was imagining the actual workplace frustrations, but if she said anything really demeaning, racist, ableist, homophobic, etc. obviously that would be very different or even just something flat-out offensive but not “ist”. There’s a big difference between venting about the legitimate weaknesses and work issues and “Mean Girl”ing Dani or worse. I kind of assumed it was not anything innately offensive, as that would seem relevant to LW’s question and be included, but maybe that was a bad assumption?

  12. Lady_Lessa*

    I just wonder if Sarah was the person most responsible in picking up the pieces when Dani’s work was unacceptable. That also means that the work she is responsible for is falling behind, or she is having to work longer hours, etc.

    About Dani being both on a PIP and leading a time sensitive project. I’ve seen something similar at church. A friend wasn’t the most faithful in attending a course, and the teacher decided that “Oh, if she has more responsibility, she will step up and do it” Wrong.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    Nail biter: My issue here is that their fingers are in their mouth all the time and then they, what, shake hands and touch everything? Yuck.

    1. Nail biter*

      Nail biter here, we know! It’s embarrassing and we get sick statistically a little more often but most of us I know work very hard to avoid touching shared surfaces before washing hands.

    2. WellRed*

      Just think; they touch everything and shake hands and then put their fingers in their mouth. Now THAT is a yuck.

  14. Salsa Your Face*

    For the letter about the nail biter, I would gently suggest to the employee that they bring a (quiet) fidget toy to meetings, or start providing some quiet fidget toys to all employees at all meetings. There are many people, not just those who live with BFRBs, who could benefit from a tool that keeps their hands busy while trying to listen, focus, and participate in a meeting or a discussion.

  15. A. Nonymous*

    Sarah has poor judgement to have put any of that in writing in her work email/on her work computer.

  16. Dust Bunny*

    I sort of feel like Sarah and Dani are two related but not necessarily opposing problems.

    One, what Sarah did was unprofessional and would have been even if it didn’t impact the work product. At least if you just must vent to friends don’t do it from an account where you might accidentally cross streams with your coworkers.

    But Dani could have quit or failed her PIP and been fired, anyway, even without Sarah’s email, and you’d be in the same place. Yeah, it’s a pain that it affects the project, but it’s apparently been affecting a lot of people for awhile and you can’t reasonably expect them to tolerate that forever. Also, it sounds like in addition to being a not-great worker, Dani wasn’t a pleasant person, and that’s a double-whammy. (And if the plan was to keep her on through the project, then maybe consider this in the future if you’re tempted to leave difficult employees on important projects for convenience.)

  17. Jenna Webster*

    Sarah got an excellent result, albeit in an imperfect way. I think Alison is spot on – apologize for letting the situation become so disruptive and point out that she can’t write emails like this, particularly on work email. I’d also suggest telling her to come to you when she is at the end of her rope over things like this, but she would need some evidence that you would do something about it the next time. A PIP is a start, but that doesn’t mean you wait out her annoying behavior and leave her coworkers to deal with it until you can fire her.

    1. Anonforthis*

      Usually other employees don’t know their coworker is on a PIP, I think it would improve matters to know that *something* was being done.

  18. VaguelySpecific*

    I work with someone similar to Dani…they regularly display unprofessional behavior in front of both internal and external customers and their lack of attention to detail (in a quality role) causes issues for the rest of us on our team…and multiple managers over several years have never seemed to addressed it.

    My coworker and I actually use our personal phones and text each other or do it privately over voice calls when we need to vent. We are well aware that anything said in email or Teams might be monitored by IT and we don’t want our words coming back to haunt us (no matter how true we feel they might be ;) )

    1. The Rafters*

      Please be careful even with texting. You don’t want to be the recent LW who sent a text to a coworker that she’d meant to send to her Minister sister for a prayer request to rid the building of that coworker!

      1. Olive*

        It’s interesting that people seem to mostly be sympathizing with Sarah, but castigated the LW who accidentally sent her coworker a text meant for her sister. (And I don’t think as some people did that there was any evidence that she intended her sister to name the coworker publicly).

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I think because what Sarah did sounds like venting related to real issues being caused by Dani (maybe not great, but understandable) whereas what that LW did was ask her sister to put in a prayer request for her problem employee to leave the company (or something to that effect) which is a very different can of worms.

        2. VaguelySpecific*

          I do think there is a fine line between venting about a coworker and asking someone to pray for that coworker to leave/be fired.

          Neither meets the strict definition of professional, but the first is at least understandable to me. Maybe my lack of religiousness is showing??

          1. ScruffyInternHerder*

            That’s my thoughts – its “venting with a coworker” vs. “venting to a third party or possibly asking a third party to intercede”. They’re very different. Probably both unprofessional to some degree at a minimum.

            1. Heffalump*

              Asking a third party to intercede isn’t necessarily wrong. But it makes a difference whether the third party is a manager or God.

        3. Observer*

          It’s interesting that people seem to mostly be sympathizing with Sarah, but castigated the LW who accidentally sent her coworker a text meant for her sister.

          These are two fundamentally different situations. Sara was venting about a peer who is causing problems and who is NOT being managed to all appearances (and the OP makes it clear that until they took over Dani’s work, the situation was actually not being managed). The other LW was a manager, so the power differential is significant. Also, they essentially praying for something negative to happen to their employee. And they seemed to be praying instead of managing, which is not relevant in this current situation.

          I do think that the email was unprofessional, and I hope that the LW was able to have a productive conversation. But it’s a really, really different situation.

          1. AlsoADHD*

            The LW who sent the text wanted people fired (or worse) and “gone from the building” and was praying instead of managing.

            The LW was the manager, so that was really a different situation. They were also direct reports. Dani wasn’t Sarah’s direct report (that would be WAY worse) and I think it’s implied she said mostly venting about Dani’s actual shortcoming related to how it impacts her at work (though we don’t know).

        4. Czhorat*

          I’m not particularly sympathetic towards Sarah, TBH. She was, at the very least, unprofessional.

          I don’t think she needs to be fired, but she was in the wrong and that needs to be made clear to her.

        5. Glen*

          apart from everything everyone else has pointed out (and the fact that the other LW was the manager is a biggy)…

          There would likely be more focus on how right or wrong Sarah’s behaviour was if it was Sarah that wrote in.

        6. ostentia*

          The difference there was that the LW was actually the employee who she was complaining about’s manager. She had the power to do something productive instead of asking for prayers that her employee would quit. Sarah was just Dani’s coworker and had no power over her.

  19. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    I sympathize with nail biters, as I am generally pro-allowing-stimming*, and I also can’t handle watching people bite their nails. It’s way beyond “mildly gross” to me and more like nails on a chalkboard.

    *Don’t know if this is specifically stimming but similar enough to fall under the same principle.

    1. green*

      Same. On both counts.

      And as my own misophonia has gotten worse over the years, I’ve had a harder and harder time spending time in close proximity to noisy habits. I have a friend who seems to be the loudest nail biter ever, and will sit down RIGHT NEXT to me on a couch and go to town, and I miss half the conversation because it’s so loud and distracting. I was a nail-biter as a kid and I definitely sympathize, and I feel terrible, but I find that I’m fighting myself to not physically lean away from the loud cracking and slurping sounds that are literal inches from my face. (She’ll lean in to close-talk while in loud spaces… and will continue to bite while leaning in.) I absolutely understand that this probably means it’s either *very* subconscious or *very* difficult for her to stop. But I get so distracted between wanting to not be obvious about my discomfort and actually feeling uncomfortable. And I *want* to spend time with her because I’ve known her for so long and I like her – but it’s less and less fun to be with her, but I also don’t want to hurt her feelings and I feel awful about it.

      (With apologies for my own venting here! I am very, very open to any suggestions for practical and kind ways to handle this.)

      1. MissBliss*

        As a nail biter, if this is a dear friend of yours, I think it would be okay to mention your misophonia. It won’t stop it – because probably you’re right, it’s either, or both, very difficult to refrain from or totally subconscious – but it might cut down on it because knowing that about you might make her a little more situationally aware.

        I would probably personally couch it as “I’m so sorry to bring this up, but I have this thing called misophonia and as it’s been getting worse I’ve started to notice that you bite your nails. I’m sure it’s an unconscious thing, since that’s how it was when I bit my nails as a kid, and I don’t expect you to just stop, but I wanted to bring this up since sometimes I have physical reactions to noises and I wanted you to know why.”

      2. allathian*

        As a former noisy nail biter, my advice is to say something to her about how your misophonia is affecting you, and that the sounds from her nail-biting are a trigger. If she’s a good friend, she’ll understand that you can’t help your misophonia any more than she can control her nail-biting.

        Unless she’s completely oblivious to other people, sooner or later she’s going to notice that you’re stiff and uncomfortable in her company, and wonder why.

        I suggest seeing her in a less noisy environment, where she isn’t biting her nails inches from your face.

  20. Kella*

    OP1, I think it’s important to recognize that Dani’s decision to quit with no notice before the completion of a critical project is an extension of her existing performance problems and not the fault of Sarah. With Dani’s documented history of missed deadlines, poor output, and interpersonal conflicts, it’s not at all unlikely that there would have been serious problems with this project regardless of what Sarah did.

    So when you address the professionalism issue with Sarah, don’t blame her for the fact that this critical project is now in jeopardy.

    1. Tio*

      While her decision to leave is her own choice, and Sarah should in no way be penalized for how that turns out, this is actually something that could be a reaction of some sorts of non-PIP employees too. Especially ones with a sensitivity to bullying, which Sarah’s email could easily slip into if she’s not careful. I think it’s worth mentioning, not in a “look what you caused just by this email” sort of way, but in an “This kind of thing can happen and damage both you and the person you’re talking about” kind of way.

      I saw this happen at an old job where someone quit because she saw an email between two employees complaining about her (It was up on a screen, not sent to her, and there are suspicions that the resident pot stirrer may have tipped her off, but end result basically the same) and she said it was because she couldn’t stay where people were talking about her behind her back and “Secretly hated her”. She wasn’t a bad employee either, they just didn’t like the way she did certain things. So while I don’t think Dani’s reaction is common (and for the record I believe Dani’s PIP had way more to do with the quitting than the email, the email just gave her more of a face saving out than admitting she wasn’t going to finish her PIP) this could lead to a broader conversation about why you shouldn’t send these emails at all and how it can damage people (in addition to the other points people have mentioned)

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I mean, if I was on a PIP and thought I was gonna get fired (and so presumably was not very happy with my job) and then another employee sent me a mean email about myself, I’d be sorely tempted to just walk out the door also.

        Then again I gave notice at a job I hated and where my boss considered me a poor performer because my boss berated me over email in all-caps bold italics and that was the last damn straw, so I may be biased.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          berated me over email in all-caps bold italics

          Oh my. I hate to imagine what other unprofessional garbage you had to put up with before that happened.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            It was the last straw after a long line of Mean Girls shit that included going around getting lunch orders from every single individual in the office except me and the one other person she was mad at, and insisting I come to the office for our 1:1s and then either canceling them or not coming to the office for them herself.

            Mostly she was just mad that she’d had to hire me (she hadn’t wanted to hire a data analyst at all but people above her insisted), mad that I’d had the temerity to negotiate my salary higher, and mad that my analyses did not confirm her assumptions. The job was fully doomed from the start, in retrospect.

    1. Czhorat*

      Yes, absolutely.

      I don’t think she needs formal discipline, but definitely earned a serious discussion about professional judgment and what is and is not an appropriate way to speak about a co-worker.

      This should be taken into account should she be considered for any more responsibility and she needs to know that further missteps like this can and will lead to disciplinary action.

    2. Curious*

      I think that the logical consequence for Sarah’s action is to add completing Dani’s project to her plate.

      1. Lydia*

        That is what’s known as “natural consequences” in counseling circles, if my friends are to be believed.

  21. EC*

    Take the win. Dani was a temperamental poor performer that for some reason hadn’t already been fired. Problem solved! In the future don’t give bad employees lead roles on important projects.

  22. Jan Levinson Gould*

    For LW 3, I was once forced to take on a contractor who was thrust upon me by the CEO (5 levels above me). The contractor was a total nightmare and when I tried to wrap up her engagement when the work ended, she went running to the CEO who forced an extension. I had multiple problems with that contractor so I apologetically foisted her onto another manager who needed a warm body with plenty of warning. A few months later the work again dried up and we were finally able to get rid of the problematic contractor. Now she’s blackballed within our organization since she pulled a lot of shenanigans – the CEO is too senior to really care and she used up all of her favors with him. She is now contracting with two of our clients, so she’s still in our orbit.

    So to the OP, if your spidey sense is telling you it could be bad, do what you have to do to avoid being forced to bring on someone you don’t want to. Right out the gate the boss’s friend will be getting special treatment which could immediately cause resentment by others. You’re lucky you have a solid HR contact and use it if necessary.

  23. struggles not to stim*

    For all my nailbiting and skin/hair picking friends: There are soooo many fidget toys available now, a quiet fidget toy is significantly more professional than biting or picking. It’s hard to completely stop but with practice you can redirect the urge to something else for the length of a meeting; like picking at a mini koosh ball (without snapping the strands), manipulating a spinning ring, manipulating the ever popular ‘snake toy’ (they come apart so you can make a smaller one that’s easily concealed in your hand if you’re nervous about it being visible), squeezing a marble back and forth inside a mesh tube, or using your favorite part of a fidget cube (get the ones by original designer Antsy Labs, the quality of knockoffs is all over the place).

    1. VaguelySpecific*

      I have magnetic spheres to play with (the small ones squish around like slime in your hands without the mess) as well as some rubiks cubes on my desk that I fidget with in the office. At home if I’m on a call and need something for my hands, I usually have a knitting or some other simple craft project nearby that I can work on while still participating in the call (unless it’s a video call, which very few of mine are)

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, my hands need to be active. I just got a fidget-ball from a vendor who dropped by. There’s also my halo ring/necklace and, at home, a baby dragonstaff.

        You can also look into knuckle-rollers and similar things, depending on how self-conscious you’d feel being seen with them.

  24. Bri*

    If you are going to talk shit about a coworker with a friend, gossip with them in person! Don’t write any of it down, let alone send it to/from work email!!

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

    1. I know this might be an old letter but Good for Dani for standing up for herself. Regardless if she was on a PIP and a bad coworker what Sarah did was wrong. I wasn’t on a PIP but I had my own Sarah who messaged me, basically saying I was lying, and then tried to cover it up. I wish I had stood up for myself and brought it to the manager. On the flip side I can see Sarah’s point, especially if she was unaware of the PIP or behavior had gone on a while. I think the OP would be wise to talk to Sarah to see why she felt that venting in an email to a coworker was a good idea.
    2. How much noise does nail biting have? Unless they are slurping or clicking their teeth or something I don’t see how it can be that distracting. This seems really odd thing to focus on. Also, “The nail biting was not present during the interview process, which means the habit may be somewhat controllable. ” This just seems so wrong. The person could have just started nail biting. Also, some people can go years and then the habit starts again. One thing I would suggest is if the person needs some sort of fidget type of thing.

    1. Viquesos*

      This seems like an unkind read of the situation. If you had a similar situation it seems to be colouring your view of what is happening here.
      Dani is the problem here and behaved horribly.

    2. allathian*

      Nail biting is a very common misophonia trigger. Misophonia means that a noise the person finds unpleasant causes a reaction that’s completely out of proportion to the volume of the noise. Nail biting is more complicated than that, though. We don’t know if the LW was distracted by the noise or because they were grossed out by the nail biting itself. There’s no getting around the fact that many, if not most, people think that nail biting is a disgusting habit/compulsion, about on a par with picking your nose in the presence of other people. (I pick my nose, but I know that most people are grossed out by it so I only do it in private and wash my hands thoroughly afterwards.)

  26. Raida*

    Don’t use work emails or chat systems to talk shit.

    If you’re gonna do it, and can’t manage to do it including full proofreading, formatting, bullet points to become a dry statement of issues and concerns – then definitely don’t do it because your tone will come through.

    They are all a Business Record. They can be used in lawsuits. They can be used to find documentation and processes.

    Teach Sarah that. If you want to vent, and you cannot see a way that would be a legitimate business record, then dn’t use work systems to do it. Do it in person, away from work and workmates. Do it via personal devices and external systems.

    Write it out and then come back ten minutes later and delete it all so you can vent and essentially ‘proofread’ it into non existence.

    But do not send gossipy or bitchy emails using work systems.

  27. anon for this comment*

    As a cuticle/nailbiter, who does not know that they’re doing it while doing so, the only things that have consistently worked for me:
    1. having my thyroid be horribly at the wrong value (low thyroid makes nails soft and weak; for some reason for me it also makes them itch a lot less, but is not a state I want to be in for other reasons).
    2. working a manual job that made my hands stink no matter how much I washed them
    3. wearing a face mask due to the pandemic

    I’ve just…stuck with #3, mostly because I love getting way fewer colds, but knowing I’m not nailbiting at my coworkers is a plus.

    1. Indolent Libertine*

      I was finally able to stop biting my nails by first setting one hand as off limits, and then adding the other one *but* leaving one finger as fair game. That somehow was enough to scratch the itch, and that went on for a number of years. Eventually I stopped biting the last one too without really noticing when; I just looked down one day and behold, there was a nail growing there. I actually didn’t think there was any way I’d ever stop, but… I need clippers now!

      I do other fidgety things with my hands; I definitely need to look into getting some fidget devices.

  28. Rosacolleti*

    #2 I have a hair twirler. She can do it obsessively in meetings with clients and at her desk which 10 people can see on their peripheral vision. Very distracting and unprofessional.

    I addressed it and I wasn’t surprised that she said it’s an ADHD Anxiety thing. I asked her to try to acknowledge to herself when she is doing it, as a first step. It was astonishing how quickly it dropped off. I didn’t want to draw attention to it but I wanted to acknowledge her effort so I let it go for several weeks and then brought it up in a super calm moment. She said that it has really helped that id taken the softly softly approach.

  29. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    I’m a lifelong nail biter in a serious way. It’s awful. It hurts, I know it’s gross and unhygienic. I have tried so many things… but yes I do recognise that in high level meetings with stakeholders, I have to find ways to try and manage it. Not always possible.

    BUT one thing that has been amazing in recent months is gel bottle biab nail treatments! I don’t know if you can get them near you. They paint on a false nail, with biab under it, strengthening your nail. Then they paint over it. They look smart, natural, clean. And they’re unbiteable! So the change in texture has helped me break the habit and the nails themselves underneath are now very strong, healthy, normal length etc.

    I don’t know that it’s appropriate to recommend but perhaps there’s a way to mention them in conversations, as she may have never heard of this and think false nails are all those horrible ones that harm you and fall off. If she ever talks about being a nail biter herself, maybe that’s a good time to bring it up.

    But do be sensitive. It really isn’t a simple habit to break. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when people tell you “stop it” or whatever.

  30. AF Vet*

    I was a nail biter… until I joined the military. Not because the military was less stressful (HA!), but because at Officer Training School I learned to carry nail clippers in my pockets at all times to deal with all the loose threads on our uniforms that would earn demerits. Ever since I’ve kept clippers on my car key ring or in my wallet. If I can clip them to a smooth edge, I have no desire to bite them. If they break off and I don’t have clippers? The hard edges are being nibbled away within minutes. (Same thing with a rough cuticle edge.) I have clippers on my car ring, in my van, in my nightstand, in a bathroom drawer, in my main backpack / purse, etc.

    Also I’ll second that having at least a coat of Nail Envy (strengthening base coat) or akin makes my nails feel pampered, which makes me less inclined to pick at them.

  31. Petty_Boop*

    Dani didn’t quit “over a misdirected email”. That’s a red herring. Dani quit because Sarah was talking shit about her and listed all her failings in an email that would have gone to someone else if it had not been missent to Dani. Sarah may be the better “performer” at work, but she is still not a great person. That was petty and uncalled for and she should suffer some repercussions about it IMHO.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      While I think it was ill advised, I don’t think there is anything wrong with venting. I just wouldn’t do it over email.

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