I’m caught in the crossfire of my coworkers’ petty complaints about our company

A reader writes:

The company that I work for has made a few changes recently, prompting disgruntlement from coworkers in my four-person department. We are all equal in seniority and the HR manager doubles as our manager.

Previously our department was left to its own devices, resulting in a slack approach to work from my three colleagues. However, over the last few months, a number of changes have been introduced with a trend towards increased monitoring of our output.

These changes are not too much of a concern to me, as I already work the correct hours and give my full effort during the work day, and HR has mentioned that I am the quickest to reply to queries from other departments. However, the changes have not gone down well with the other three in the department, who spend a fair amount of their day watching Youtube, catching up on TV, socializing, and complaining about the workload or the company.

As part of the changes, we were each required to complete a spreadsheet detailing how long each task on our portfolio took and submit this to HR. After two of my colleagues left a substantial amount of hours unaccounted for, despite claiming overtime, they were summoned to HR. One of the two, Charlotte, has been frantically searching for additional tasks to add to her portfolio, which included transferring a small number of tasks from my own portfolio without asking my permission (which is the standard practice). I have notified HR that this transfer was involuntary, as I don’t want them to think I am offloading work to colleagues when I have no need to. However, I have not told HR anything about Charlotte’s motives. I also emailed Charlotte (who works from home) telling her to ask before reallocating tasks to herself in future, prompting her to call a coworker and complain that I was being unreasonable.

The other colleague summoned by HR, Amanda, has made no such effort and I suspect is job hunting. The rest of us noticed while covering Amanda’s work during her vacation that she is behind on her work and often completes tasks after the deadline.

As part of a protest against the changes, my three colleagues have decided to boycott staff events, including a company-wide summer banquet in June. I intend to attend the banquet and have accepted the invite. However, I have been trying to tread a line between my desire not to join the boycott, while at the same time not being ostracized from my three coworkers.

I would be grateful for your advice on how to handle the banquet and also what I should do if Charlotte helps herself to any more of my own task portfolio going forwards.

If you’re trying to stay out of it, the best thing you can do is to just project detachment and a bit of boredom with it all. The vibe you want is that you’re not interested in getting sucked into anyone’s battles on either side and you’re just there to do your job. You’re not urging your coworkers to clean up their acts, but you’re also not joining them in their outrage. You’re just … doing your job without a ton of emotional investment either way.

You can’t make them not be annoyed by that. They might be! But you won’t be giving them a lot to work with.

If they ask why you’re going to the banquet or anything else where they’re trying to get you to join them in their (nonsensical) fight with the company, just be very mild and very boring:

*”Eh, I’m not that bothered by it.”
* “I’m not really invested in any of it. I come to work, I do my job, and I try not to get bothered by anything.”
* “I don’t know, I think the banquet could be fun. They won’t really care if we go or not.”
* “I’m not that bothered by the changes.”

This won’t make you their favorite person, but it’s unlikely to get you ostracized. And if it does … well, you’re working with loons but at least it sounds like they might not last much longer there. And who knows, they might even respect your commitment to not caring.

If Charlotte helps yourself to more items from your portfolio in the future, just be matter-of-fact and direct: “I’ve got X and Y in my portfolio and have them covered. Like I said before, please don’t take work from my portfolio.” If she still keeps doing it after that, you probably need to escalate it to your manager (but you can use the same mild, kind of detached approach there — you’re not outraged, you just need Charlotte to stop).

{ 154 comments… read them below }

    1. Lana Kane*

      That was precisely what I thought. It can sometimes be tough to maintain the stoneface throughout the rant, but the lack of reaction is, IMO, what works.

    2. Consonance*

      I had a roommate shortly after college who had extremely strong feelings (both positive and negative, but mostly negative) about literally anything. I finally realized that her negativity was encouraging my own, so I decided to have fewer feelings. Every time she proclaimed “I hate that!” I’d say “Oh, I don’t really have feelings one way or another about it.” She pretty quickly stopped talking to me and soon we parted ways. It was honestly the best outcome. No big fight, no petty bickering, just quiet annoyance that I wasn’t there for it. Much better for my own peace of mind than getting drawn into her drama.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. I had one of these, too, except it was always personal friendship/relationship drama. I did a lot of vague “hmm”ing and “uh-hunh”ing that year.

        1. fidget spinner*

          I was at a restaurant with a new friend. There was a band playing, and I could not hear a word she was saying as she was telling me about the relationship drama she was involved in. So I did a little experiment.

          I just mirrored her facial expressions and nodded. Whenever she paused, I said “yeah” and nodded fervently.

          It worked perfectly. I guess it’s sort of the opposite of “grey rock” ing because I was encouraging her to keep talking…. But still, it was fascinating how people just sort of hear what they want to hear when you’re mirroring them….

          1. coffee*

            I mean, you were communicating “I agree, go on” so I don’t think it’s at all surprising that she thought you agreed and she kept talking!

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            Although you may have agreed to wear the puffy pirate shirt on a TV interview….

      2. Juicebox Hero*

        Yes, in my experience drama llamas just want an audience for their gripes and/or someone to argue with. Once they get the message that you’re not it, they tend to start looking elsewhere.

        1. Alan*

          Absolutely! I learned this by accident. I wasn’t trying to grey rock, I was just bored and distracted by the drama. As soon as I said I wasn’t particularly interested, people looking for drama to feed off immediately left me alone.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Exactly. Don’t feed the drama. Don’t give them opportunities to get themselves worked up. There’s no sense in arguing with them.

      And yes, if they turn into jerks because you’re not enthusiastically jumping on board with their nonsense, that’s about them, not you. It can be uncomfortable to have someone mad at you, but please remember that you’re not responsible for their feelings.

    4. AnonInCanada*

      I was just about to say this but you beat me to it. Give your colleagues nothing to be annoyed with you, and if they’re annoyed with you anyway, oh well, no sweat off your back. Let them simmer in the stew they created.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        This. And they will be. either way! They are in permanently pissed mode.
        Misery loves company, but it doesn’t treat it well.
        You can complain along with them, but guess what! It won’t stop them. It won’t fix the situation. And it won’t build some bond through adversity. It’s Semper Fi, not Semper Finance Officer. You are not in mortal danger. You are people in an office doing office work.

        1. Teapot Connoisseuse*

          “It’s Semper Fi, not Semper Finance Officer.”

          I cackled so loudly at this!

    5. OMG, Bees!*

      I’ve never had to grey rock in a workplace, but yes, it is effective and helps with your own piece of mind on what you can control (your own emotions in a frustrating situation)

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, be glad that up until now the other 3 people in your department haven’t tried to drag you down to their level through peer pressure.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      As someone who is constantly pressured to leave early by nearly all my coworkers, and who is treated as a sympathetic ear by both sides of a current power struggle, this is a very fair take. Try to remain neutral, stick to the facts if/when you do need to advocate for yourself with them or others, and disengage as much as possible.

        1. Ellie*

          Yeah, every time I’ve been the one working overtime when others were leaving early, they’ve been fine with it, and I think secretly relieved to have someone who was covering their work.

          After reading the advice though, I’ve realised I’m a bit of a natural grey rock. I’ve been nicknamed ‘Zen’ and ‘Ninja’ (because I quietly did all the work when no-one was looking) and been told that the way I seem to let things wash over me ‘is a good way to be’. So I can confirm that this approach often does work, and does in fact earn you respect.

        2. Chas*

          My guess is that if everyone else leaves early, then they don’t feel bad or think they’ll look less bad if they leave early as well. Or if it’s the sort of office where everyone’s output is judged against each other, then having one coworker who consistently works the whole time or stays late doing “extra” and gets more done as a result will raise the bar of what’s considered a reasonable amount of work for everyone else to be given.

    2. Original Poster*

      I am glad this is the case & I think the main reason is because I have been careful to play along just enough to avoid suspicion so far

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yeah, don’t let the emotional vampires get ahold of you. They want you to agree, to join them, but like the legend tells us, they have to be invited in.
        Nod and walk on.

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Personally I think people having to fill out a spreadsheet to show their work is a waste of time. Its busy work that takes time from your real job.

    However, it looks like this is what management landed on because they realized your coworkers were slacking. Of course, a good manager would have noticed things like missed deadlines sooner and addressed that with the specific person. You also have a management problem not just a coworker problem.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I’m thinking it may an initial management step before either getting rid of the dead weight, or re-evaluating the departments FTE requirements.

      1. ABC*

        Same, it’s probably already too late for Charlotte and Amanda, and only Amanda realizes it.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This, and Amanda’s response to disengage and actively job hunt is valid. Charlotte’s dishonesty is the bigger issue here.

          1. Observer*

            Amanda’s response to disengage and actively job hunt is valid

            Agreed that looking for a new job is valid. Disengaging? No. She’s not only not doing her job, she’s lying about the amount of hours she’s working. The only correct response to be caught out on the involves stopping to do that, and stopping to take pay for not doing your job. Whether that’s through actually doing you job to minimum standards (which she’s not) or quitting (or doing the former till she can do the latter) doesn’t matter. But you don’t ethically get to get on your high horse and continue to refuse to do your work because you don’t like how your management is monitoring your work.

            Charlotte’s dishonesty is the bigger issue here.

            Agreed. Charlotte’s behavior is a major red flag. I think that the LW needs to be very careful here. And I think that the grey rock suggestion and strategically looping in their manager is a good approach. ie Telling the manager about Charlotte’s motivations is not their place. But making sure that the manager knows that the LW is not sloughing off their work *is* appropriate and is *not* “tattling”.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              I thought Amanda realizes her cushy job is ending. She’s been slacking the whole time and now someone is looking at her. She doesn’t get paid enough for that nonsense, so she will leave before things shake down. But overall, it’s nothing new for the group.

              1. what even*

                This assumption that everyone who sucks at their job only sucks because the job sucks is super annoying. As someone who has been a high performer in most jobs, while colleagues do the bare minimum, at this point I just assume anyone taking this position is also used to doing the bare minimum.

                Anyone who has been in the workforce knows there is a significant percentage of the population who are lack self motivation and are completely fine with mediocrity.. Regardless of employer behavior.

    2. PotsPansTeapots*

      It’s unclear from the letter, but my first assumption was:

      1. There was a shift in management philosophy if not actual managers
      2. The spreadsheet was to get a ballpark idea of their workload, not necessarily a permanent thing.

      In any event, it doesn’t seem like OP is particularly bothered by the management at their company.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Definitely, the spreadsheets are meant to start shaping things up and having management get a sense of what the workload is. especially if the company has been hands off with that team up until now.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I agree. I’ve seen management do this before for that reason. And I have also seen people “claim” tasks/responsibilities that weren’t theirs.

          2. ferrina*

            This is how I read it. I’ve done a temporary spreadsheet to get a sense of how long tasks are taking my team. I’ve even done a temporary spreadsheet for myself to figure out where all my time was going!

            I suspect the HR manager is trying to understand what tasks are on each person’s plate and how long those take so they can understand who is slacking and what the expectations should be.

            1. LostCommenter*

              I also keep track of what I spend my time on. Mainly because then I know how long a certain task takes and I can use that in my planning. It’s also nice to look back and see what you’ve accomplished, especially if it’s a lot of small things you do regularly, to assure yourself that you were productive.

          3. Tio*

            Same. We routinely use these for staffing evaluations and they’re not meant to be a minute-by-minute accounting but more of a general daily/weekly time estimate.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Agree. I thought it was a type of internal auditing exercise, so they could see the total workload and how it’s breaking down.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This was my thought: There has been some leadership turnover and the spreadsheet is a temporary measure intended to make sure the place has a realistic assessment of the workload and distribution. I don’t like spreadsheets myself but this doesn’t seem like the worst idea if it’s temporary. It just caught Charlotte and Amanda with their hands in the cookie jar.

      2. Katie*

        My manager has had me do this in the past too and I have never took it as monitoring. Its always been ‘I know she is working but what are those things she is working on? Is she overloaded?’

        I have also done this for my team multiple times to prove the point that extra staffing was needed. This has sometimes been successful and sometimes while they agreed more people were needed higher ups wouldn’t fund it.

        In this case though… its probably proving they are overstaffed with people who don’t work.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Plus it’s also useful in giving the manager visibility into:
          – when an employee is doing a particular task that is a duplicate of some other one, or isn’t really needed/useful anymore but no one bothered to tell them;

          – when a particular task/project takes a LOT more time than the manager expected. The time needed may seem “normal” to the employee since it’s always been that way, or the time has crept up over the months, years because other parts of the process (inputs, tools, etc) have broken down and the employee just adds workarounds to keep completing the same output.
          Manager can then re-prioritize, eliminate nice-to-haves, or remove roadblocks that are dragging things down as needed.

          I’ve had that last one happen early in my career, when there was some particular database that got locked down or decommissioned, so I no longer could simply “run a query/extract” to pull in data needed for a weekly report in < 10 minutes. I figured TPTB had a reason for pulling the db … the place was prone to random cost cutting, silo-ing data… I didn't want to complain so I just soldiered on (Suffered from a bad case of "good girl-itis" just get it done, don't complain, in those days.) I tracked down and creatively cobbled together other sources for the data but it would take hours to pull together, and sometimes depended on other people to get me access to what I needed it (so some favor calling-in, and delays on top of my own work time)

          Manager didn't notice because my output was the same and I was keeping up with everything else and not complaining, even though I was overloaded. But one day she noticed I was staying late and asked me what I was working on, so I explained the new process. She didn't actually say the words "oh, honey …noooo" but her face and sympathetic tone got the message across. The next day I had credentials to a different system that I had no idea existed, but that had access to everything I needed on demand.

      3. Original Poster*

        Hi PotsPansTeapots
        Just to clarify
        1. As briefly mentioned at the top of the letter there has been a few changes which move the company in the direction of more monitoring, from being completely hands off before. It is still less micromanaged than most of my previous jobs, the personnel in management has stayed the same
        2. The spreadsheet was initially presented as a one off but since the letter was sent in we have been advised it is to be updated monthly

        1. Tio*

          Monthly is more often than I would do this, but it sounds like management was expecting the times to line up with their expectations so it would be a one-off… and then found out that people couldn’t account for huge chunks of their time and went “Hmmmmm maybe let’s do this a couple more times to make sure it’s not off base”

          Actually this sounds like a good management practice and response to the information they received to me

      4. Exit Persued by a Bear*

        Yes. Assuming that this is either a one time thing, or a quick regular thing that only takes a few minutes, I don’t see too much problem with it. The company wants to know how long individual tasks are taking, and are asking the staff how long things take. I’ve worked places where they use much more invasive ways of measuring these things, and places where management simply decides how long something *should* take, and gets upset if it doesn’t actually work like that, so honestly I’d much prefer this approach.

        And tbh, if deadlines are being missed, the first thing the company should be checking is if staff have enough time to reasonably get the work done, so again, asking how long staff feel they need to do work seems reasonable.

    3. MsM*

      Or management is trying to build a paper trail that will allow them to let the underperformers go. Which, yes, should have been noticed and dealt with earlier, but if they’re taking steps to rectify it, I don’t know that OP needs to mount an urgent search just yet.

      1. CJ*

        Cynical of me, but if the employees you’ve concerns with write their own receipts and proceed to commit minor forms of fraud while writing said receipts, well. As a manager, that tells me _volumes_ about the path forward for those employees. It changes the conversation from “we need to work on time-task management” to a whole different conversation. (And the worst part is that the worst of these types of employees are so willing to write those incriminating receipts!)

    4. Antilles*

      The problem is their department didn’t have any real management (and no, I’m not counting the HR person pulling double-duty). Upper management seems to have realized this and is implementing the spreadsheets as a quasi-timesheet system to get a better handle on where things even stand.

      1. MassMatt*

        Right, and once people get into the habit of spending most of their day watching YouTube and social media they start to treat it as an entitlement and get indignant that they have to… work?

        I’ve inherited team members like this from prior bad managers and it’s very hard to get their attitudes to change, it’s usually easier to hire and train new people.

    5. Medium Sized Manager*

      I’ve done it in the past before – mine was 4x as long as my coworkers and clearly showed that they weren’t pulling their fair weight. It was a one-time exercise (like this) and it can be a pretty simple indicator of whether or not there’s soooo much work that overtime is the only option.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, I got that the overtime claims were what triggered the spreadsheet ask–they’ve been hands off because work got done, but now they’re wondering if they need to rebalance workloads, or hire someone else, or it’s just a fluke of a particularly busy time, so that people aren’t having to work overtime on the regular. Now it just so happens that it’s showing up that the other three in the department are, in fact, not actually getting work done or needing overtime, but that’s not OPs problem. Right now they can continue to do their work while seeing how it all shakes out. If it’s handled badly going forward, they might want to think about a new place, but right now ‘wait and see’ may just result in a good outcome.

        1. Medium Sized Manager*

          Exactly – I am sure the others are already aware that the work is not lining up with the hours, so this is a good way to validate those suspicions. I know a lot of people are rightfully skeptical of management, but there are only so many ways to evaluate work. “Just leave me alone to do my work” only works when people actually…do their work.

        2. New laptop who dis*

          I guess we are getting to the “find out” part of the situation! This team had a nice cushy job where they could screw around and didn’t have to work too hard… and then they had the nerve to ask for overtime!

          If they’d just stuck with the status quo they would have been fine.

          1. Medium Sized Manager*

            I said this to somebody else yesterday, but people really get too comfortable with overtime as being part of their base salary. I know inflation and cost of living and corporate greed is affecting all of us, but there has to be a level of understanding that using OT as base pay comes with risks.

            1. MassMatt*

              And in this case it seems as though the coworkers spent most of the day goofing off and needed OT to actually start getting anything done.

      2. fidget spinner*

        One time, my coworkers kept complaining about their workload… so I encouraged them to make a list of everything they did and I would do the same. I was like, “heck yeah, we’re too busy! Let’s make a list of everything we do and give it to the boss.”

        But they had already foisted a large amount of their work onto me, and I was doing way more than anyone else. My boss was like “oh wow, I didn’t realize you were doing all of this.”

        Which is a really valuable lesson, and it should’ve been common sense… but it wasn’t for me…. As long as everything is going smoothly, they aren’t going to notice that some people are slacking when their coworkers pick up the slack every time….

      3. Star Trek Nutcase*

        I worked with 3 other accounts payable staff. All invoices were paid in exactly same manner except for medical-related ones (10% of all) which were more time intensive. So accounts were split equally among us 4 and my 25% of total included medical despite time difference. Though only our manager could access it, I was aware that the software could generate reports that showed quantity of invoices paid
        by each staff as well as time spent on each. Any reasonable person would know this was possible.

        So one day, coworker S gets put on a PIP largely due to her low performance. S complained to us all about how unfair this monitoring was. I asked S how she could ignore the proof her numbers & times were 60% lower than mine and ~30% lower than other 2. S remained focused solely how how management was being sneaky.

        All that to say, over the years I’ve worked under crappy management at times but I’ve equally worked with crappy entitled coworkers who are indignant when management demands value for a paycheck.

    6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Fair comment. I can see how the spreadsheet makes sense as a temporary data-gathering tool, so that management can get a good read on what is actually happening on the team (and what isn’t). Rather than assuming things, they’re trying to get facts.

      I’d be super annoyed if it was a permanent requirement, though. Especially for people who were shown to be performing well. One of my pet peeves is management insisting on constant updates and tracking and progress meetings, which take up time I could be spending pushing forward on my core tasks.

      1. CL*

        I have a monthly report that I have to prepare showing the number of llamas I groomed and the teapots I pushed through the painting process. None of this is about llama or teapot quality or impact. It’s annoying and has no purpose but to show that my job is doing something each month.

          1. ABC*

            Agreed, I don’t get the objection either. Straight production numbers are a completely valid metric to track.

            1. Princess Peach*

              I can see both sides. I’m an academic librarian, and we monitor the number of patrons we work with. If I tell a student where the bathroom is, and I spend 20 hours working on a project with a professor, both those interactions count as “one patron.”

              What is not measured is whether my project with the professor helps them secure a grant that brings in money, leads to them bringing all their students to the library next semester, or whether they tell the rest of their department how helpful the librarians are. The difference in impact (and required skill & time) is significant, but that’s not measured in the strict count of “how many patrons did you talk to this week?”

              Since OP’s coworkers are not complaining about the type of measurements though, that does not seem to be the issue here. If I don’t talk to *any* patrons in a week, then hypothetical impact is irrelevant. That’s a decent starting place for figuring out workload and work distribution; it’s just not a good ending point for it.

              1. ABC*

                But all of that data qualifying could be happening behind the scenes and even in day-to-day business planning and operations. CL is just providing the jumping-off data. This is a very valid, normal set of data to deliver, especially only once a month. “This report doesn’t provide the full insight into and nuance of my job, so it’s not worth anything” is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

          2. Zombeyonce*

            I agree. It provides a baseline to show how you improve over time and also management an idea of what’s reasonable work product for new hires and how long it takes to get them to a standard level of production. Measurable production data are also useful for a resume.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              It also allows head-count planning and may trigger redesign of some roles.

              For example if you see that 30% of your 3 most senior, highest paid people’s time is spent on data entry every week, maybe you should create a lower level, lower paid position to take on that work, freeing up the senior people to do higher value, more interesting work and creating an entry level position to start building a bench, have coverage, etc.

        1. Primo*

          What did your boss say when you asked them about the purpose of this one, monthly report for tracking llamas and teapots?
          Also, how inefficient is the workflow at your company that your entire month of work is backlogged by this one report that happens every 4 weeks????

      2. FrivYeti*

        There are some good reasons to want time tracking to be permanent other than performance. If a task is taking a *lot* of work hours compared to the benefits it provides, that’s good to know. If you’re dealing with clients, it’s great to know what the ratio of hours spent versus time billed is.

        Of course, if you want that, basic time-tracking software (by which I mean, you click a button to say you’re working on this project, not something where the software is literally tracking what programs are open) is much less intrusive and much less time-consuming to use than filling out spreadsheets.

    7. Lucia Pacciola*

      I’m betting the whole exercise will be wrapped up by June, and that if LW sticks around they’ll be attending the banquet with a promotion and some new junior teammate roles to fill on their team.

      1. Venus*

        Yeah, I quickly thought that OP doesn’t need to have a good relationship with them because at least two won’t be there much longer, and I was glad to see Alison’s “it sounds like they might not last much longer there”. Sounds like the third person might be a good worker who agrees with the mood of the day, so if there are better, happier people hired then the relationship with OP should improve.

        1. ferrina*

          That was my thought too! One way or another, these folks are very likely on their way out. OP should just sit tight for 6 months- this will pass. I’d love an update from OP in the December updates to see if this is what happens!

    8. Alex*

      Yeah this happened to me at my old job for kind of the opposite reason–my manager was constantly under the impression we needed more staff in our department, and wanted to show data on how much work we all had and how much time each kind of project we did was.

      The problem with that was that my three coworkers were total slackers who inflated and exaggerated the time they spent on stuff. It was clear that objectively I had the highest workload and yet somehow also had the most free time…mysterious….

    9. WillowSunstar*

      I have to do it daily and we only get a half hour allowance for downtime. It gives me anxiety. Was always trusted to do my work in other jobs. Also some things take longer than the amount of time they assume so then I have anxiety I will get in trouble for that. Just let people work in peace and lay off the ones who don’t work.

      1. Orv*

        Yeah, the whole “I have to be constantly on one task or another with no time to plan my approach or regroup” would get to me.

    10. Observer*

      Personally I think people having to fill out a spreadsheet to show their work is a waste of time. Its busy work that takes time from your real job.

      Not always. 9 times out of 10 I would agree with you. But I think that in this case, it makes sense. I do think that since the LW has shown that their work is good, HR should drop this requirement with them, but a lot a HR departments are bit hung up on “fairness” or the perception thereof. And in this case, it might actually be the right call.

      Keep in mind that both of the coworkers who are flipping out in different ways proved that they are not only not getting their work done, but are effectively committing time card fraud.

      HR is, in my opinion, actually doing something that could turn out to be quite useful. Either the relevant staff are going to get their act together because the see that they are being monitored and that there is clear evidence that they are NOT doing what they are supposed to be, they will find other jobs for the same reason, or they will get fired and the company will be able to fairly easily show that it’s for cause.

    11. FL*

      A friend once had to do this in a previous job and their whole team collaborated to write down the same (somewhat inflated) numbers in order to prevent management trying to squeeze them for more work (what in the factories used to be called “speed-up” and what the business press now calls “quiet promotion”). It worked because everyone agreed on the plan and largely were fulfilling the expectations of their role. Ironically, you have to be conscientious and disciplined in order to most effectively slack off at work, otherwise it ends up like LW’s coworkers who fail to meet standards, inconvenience their teammates and get overly defensive when caught.

    12. Original Poster*

      The management seem to rely on clients to complain to keep track of all but the most essential deadlines, the only thing is most complaints come directly to one of the four in the department (and normally the person who is responsible for the missed deadline)

    13. Violet*

      I think it depends on the format of the spreadsheet and what else is going on. I fill one out every week for three years and counting now for my % time allocation to various projects. It’s not a to-the-minute level of detail, just approximate percentage of the weekly hours. It allows for better resource allocation as new projects come in and charging of the various business divisions the projects support. I would balk at timing daily tasks to the minute though, unless it was very temporary (just for a week or two) and there was a reasonable explanation of trying to redistribute those tasks or determine which ones need reevaluation of how they are done.

      1. I Have RBF*

        When I worked for a consulting company I had to track my time to the tenth of an hour. I had a running log that I used to then write my weekly time sheets from. Accurate billing was a must because some of the contracts we had were government, and they do detailed audits. If you were working on project C12345, you couldn’t bill P54321 or F13579. Some people were lucky, they would spend a week or two on only one project. Not me. I sometimes had two page timesheets because I touched so many projects. But I could tell you what I worked on and for how long months later, which I often needed to be able to tell people.

    14. Dek*

      I remember years ago when we were required to submit a daily schedule and I was just confused and a bit panicked because, like. What I’m doing on any given day depends on what project I’m working on and where in the project I am.

    15. TheBunny*

      Yeah this one got me too.

      I’m in my notice period and my micromanager boss wants me to send a list of everything I do every day so she is able to pick up when I leave.

      That’s a no. I’ll send a punch list and loop you in on what I’m doing and where I am in a task… but that’s my line.

      Obviously if I hadn’t already resigned I’d do it… but I’d be mad about it.

    16. Beth*

      My bosses pulled that sh*t on us at my old job — where we were all expected to do 60 hours of work in each 40-hour week, and the only people who weren’t horrifically overworked were our bosses. I hated hated HATED that damned spreadsheet. Fortunately, they only made us do it once.

      The worst hit was the most overworked of my colleagues — they got on her case because her spreadsheet showed clearly that her workload required at least 60 hours each week, and they just couldn’t understaaaaaand that.

    17. MigraineMonth*

      If it’s a permanent change, yeah, it could be a problem. I had one job where we were supposed to work 40 hours every week we weren’t working overtime, use PTO any time we went to an appointment, and also document our time down to 15 minute blocks. We were exempt and our hours weren’t billable, so it wasn’t any kind of legal/business requirement either.

      At the beginning I logged an hour each day to “admin” for all the stuff that isn’t heads-down working: email, getting coffee, helping others on the team, going to the bathroom, making microwave popcorn, staring blankly at the wall after completing one difficult task and before starting another, etc. I got in trouble for this, so from then on I logged half an hour each day to “admin” and half an hour to “time spent logging my time”, which was considered legitimate.

    18. Nameless*

      The fact that they’re reporting into HR makes me think that there isn’t a manager currently – and (this is semi-wild speculation on my part) that perhaps the situation with the former manager wasn’t great, and more HR scrutiny was required.

  3. Juicebox Hero*

    It sounds like Amanda and Charlotte are fooking around and finding out. They got away with it for a long time, but instead of accepting that the jig is up and getting on with their work, they’re acting like kids who get mad when you won’t let them cheat at Monopoly.

    Oh, man, I sounded just like my mother just now. I need a support group :(

    1. NorthBayTeky*

      No, no, that was my first thought as well. I really got the vibe the other 3 didn’t want to get back to work. I’ve had to do that spreadsheet game from. time to time. We even had a “task survey” in which we would enter our activity at 15 minute intervals. That was typically a 2 week exercise.

    2. Observer*

      Oh, man, I sounded just like my mother just now.

      LOL. It reminds me of the saying attributed to Mark Twain that when he was younger he was appalled at how little his parents knew, but w few years later he was astonished at how much they had learned.

      but instead of accepting that the jig is up and getting on with their work, they’re acting like kids who get mad when you won’t let them cheat at Monopoly.

      Yup. This is a fundamentally immature reaction. You expect this out of young children, but you would hope that by the time they are adults with a few years in the workforce, they would understand the concept of “actions have consequences” and “if you get caught with your hand in the till, it’s likely to not end so well.”

      There is also a strong thread of dishonesty as well, of course.

    3. WorkYourWage*

      It sounds like Amanda and Charlotte are keeping their output in line with their compensation (the fact that the team hasn’t been scrutinized until now strongly suggests that the team is bringing in or saving more money than it is costing), and the business is trying to widen that gap.

  4. Pikachu*

    “No, I will NOT eat this food my employer buys for me unless they lower their standards!”

    As the kids say… bruh.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This reminds me of the “I threw it on the GROUND!!!” video. Want to say it was Lonely Island Boys. “You don’t own me, hot dog man!”

          1. Pikachu*

            I had never seen this video before so I googled it, and I honestly lost it thinking about OP’s three coworkers saying this exact same line LOL

            1. Arglebargle*

              I too had never seen this and was NOT expecting the end part. I actually spit my lunch on the desk from laughing.

      1. whistle*

        My husband I quote this way too often. It’s so much fun the say THE GROUND with gusto!

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, the “boycott” thing is kind of hilarious. By all means don’t go if you don’t want to schmooze with people you’re annoyed with, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re somehow sticking it to the man in the process. Three people do not a boycott make, even if you’re actual customers!

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah, don’t go to something you don’t want to go to, but it’s not a boycott.

      2. ferrina*

        And it means that OP is free to connect with people that they actually enjoy. And when people think of OP’s department, OP will be the representative they think of.

      3. Generic Name*

        I know. So petty. When I was pissed at my last company (and was furiously job hunting), yeah, I did pull back on the optional social stuff, but not because I thought anyone in management would notice or care. I pulled back for the sake of my own mental health.

    3. Katie Impact*

      Honestly, if they actually do try to confront OP about going to the company dinner, shrugging and saying “Free food” wouldn’t be the worst response.

      1. Former Employee*

        That’s what I thought.

        Forget about anything to do with the changes and concentrate on the really important stuff.

  5. Sloanicota*

    My only pause, OP, is the portfolio reallocation. I get that nobody likes other people to mess with their work without asking and your coworker was wrong in her approach. Big picture, if these colleagues have been slacking, it is possible you’ve taken on more than 1/3 of the work of the department. The company might agree that this should change if they don’t get rid of your coworkers, and the work may be allocated differently between you, with some of it being taken off your plate. I’d try not to be super defensive about that – perhaps you can be proactive with your manager about what tasks you’d be happier to let go of and which are important to you.

    1. Not on board*

      If OP is doing 1/3 of the work of the department, and isn’t overworked or doing over-time, that tells me they have more people than they need and it’s happened because OP gets work done, while the others do not get any work done. They are collecting a paycheque while socialising and doing very little – this is not OP’s fault. OP wants to keep their tasks because they get them done and fill up their work day – they don’t want to be sitting there twiddling their thumbs. There is no reason for the colleagues to take any of their tasks without permission.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Counterpoint, if reallocation needs to happen, then it should be a discussion with everyone, not Charlotte just taking tasks in order to make herself look busy.

    3. Heidi*

      I guess it depends on whether Charlotte actually started doing the task she appropriated. The way I read it, Charlotte had listed the task as hers, but the OP was still the one doing it.

      1. M2RB*

        This is how I read it, and I was alarmed. I read it as Charlotte put on her own sheet that she had completed this task when LW had done the work – so she’s trying to claim credit for work someone else did. Major side-eye if that’s what happened!

      2. Original Poster*

        Hi Heidi,
        Just to clarify – Charlotte is actually doing the extra work she has signed up for – although it is only 1-2 hours per month so far

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I read that these were either things that had already been done but Charlotte was appropriating credit for them, or things that the LW does on an ongoing basis and Charlotte is appropriating credit but my or may not be planning to start doing them (and certainly wasn’t going to do them before she realized she was in trouble). I.E. that Charlotte is fibbing big-time in an effort to save her skin.

    5. Lady Danbury*

      If OP is happy with her workload, it’s more likely that there simply isn’t enough work for 4 people (as 3 people spending hours faffing about demonstrates) than OP is doing more than her fair share of work. The last thing OP should do is decrease her workload to less than full time (assuming that it’s currently reasonable) in order to give the slackers more work to do. Plus, it would help to present a distorted picture of the department’s actual needs.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly. There may not be enough work to go around, so the coworkers have been happy to do just a little then spend the rest of the day goofing off.

        OP should not decrease their workload. Especially with the new time-tracking spreadsheet. The manager wants to know how everyone regularly spends their time, and OP regularly spends their time doing these tasks. If OP wants to rebalance workload, that can be a conversation. But Charlotte can’t declare “I’m doing this thing you do now!”

    6. anon_sighing*

      Yeah, if these three were smart and evil rather than just plain lazy, they could throw LW under the bus as a “work hoarder” and the cause of their issues. “We tried for years to do things, but LW took all the tasks and wouldn’t be happy when we took them, so we stopped to maintain harmony.”

      My advice is to sincerely try to work with them and show your manager that you are. Drama met with drama isn’t the move. Just keep operating the way that you have been operating – because frankly LW’s position isn’t secure, they know 3 of their coworker’s have been slacking off and claiming false overtime and let it fester for years. The situation from outside isn’t as clear and neat as someone just looking in for the first time. It’s better to just present yourself as someone they’d like to keep in all around.

  6. Nomic*

    OP, it may be they are looking to clean house on your entire department (with good reason). Be sure you are documenting your work output so you aren’t tossed with the others.

  7. HonorBox*

    OP, is there a way to lock your spreadsheet, or at least track changes? The reallocation of tasks gives me pause, because as much as it stinks that Charlotte is taking from you to pad her spreadsheet, it would also make me worry that my work isn’t being fully documented. It sounds like there are good reasons for this new management approach, and I’d want to make sure my work was being accurately represented.

  8. Not Again*

    At one of my first jobs as a staffer at a law firm, I tried a handful of times to draw an experienced paralegal into conversation about some petty complaints I had about the job. She responded as if I had said something completely different. For example, if I said, “I can’t believe lawyer X waited until the last minute to give me this task,” she might reply, “Yes, I’m so glad the weather will be beautiful this weekend.” I guess I was a slow learner because it took me a bit to catch on, but I eventually realized this was just her brilliant strategy to avoid any drama. It taught me a valuable lesson about professionalism. I wonder if a similar approach would work help with your coworkers. They might be annoyed, but that seems likely regardless. If nothing else, they may realize that complaining to you is a waste of time.

    1. Snow Globe*

      I love this. (Also, for some reason I’m picturing Barbara from Abbott Elementary saying this.)

  9. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Yes, the bored grey rock persona is invaluable when dealing with company complainers! Bored people are boring people; it’s no fun to whine to someone who replies with detached, uninterested neutrality and absolutely nothing more. And it quickly becomes clear that the bored grey rock CANNOT be recruited into the ranks of office gripers and grousers!

    What Alison said was spot-on: Continue to work as well as you always have, project courteous but unmistakeable boredom towards people like Charlotte or Amanda and enjoy the company party! Politely but clearly socially separating yourself from Charlotte and Amanda will also signal to management that you do not share their values or their approach to their jobs. Because you definitely do not want to be lumped together with any of them!

  10. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, being ostracized by your three co-workers, while socially hurtful, may be the best thing for your career. Since management is looking to clean house, the more you are separated from the three slackers, the better.

    1. Paint N Drip*

      Agree wholeheartedly! It might be a little socially awkward right now, but it does appear that long-term culture shift will be in your favor. I hope you get some hard working colleagues soon!

    2. RVA Cat*

      True, but we also don’t want the OP to have to do all of their work along with hers. I’m curious what the third person is doing and how she might change when Charlotte and Amanda are out of the picture.

      1. Original Poster*

        Hi RVA Cat

        The third person who I didn’t mention much managed to avoid getting in trouble – I suspect by exaggerating how long he takes to complete tasks. Since I sent the letter Charlotte & Amanda have come up with a story about how they have underestimated their own workload which HR seems to be accepting

  11. Roboticized*

    Ooof, not coming down on the side of slacking, but can totally relate to change in management philosophy feeling draconian. In my case it went from local, sane, interactive policies to top-down insanity (ie, “Here is a temp for you today; we’ve only interviewed them online. You’ve never trained them at your facility and we didn’t check to see if there was a vendor available to use them on your roster”) There used to be humans enjoying having human interactions with neighborhood clientele (and caring about our stats)– now it’s dead-behind-the-eyes Stepford demos.

    1. Sunny*

      I’m not convinced this counts as “change in management strategy” so much as “we finally noticed you’re slacking and now you’re busted”. I’m not sure what these coworkers were expecting, if they were spending their day on YouTube and such.

      1. linger*

        One does wonder if IT has also been tasked with monitoring such use of company systems. In which case, coworkers are so busted, however they manage to spin their workload spreadsheets.

  12. K in Boston*

    I once worked for a (very much for-profit) company where company loyalty and buy-in to the mission were a HUGE thing (was literally told at my interview to “drink the Kool-Aid”). This created two kinds of factions: People who made being an employee there a big part of their personality and moral code, and People who thought it was super lame to actually like your job.

    I was on different parts of that spectrum across my time there, but for the most part was usually somewhere in the middle: I didn’t think it was a bad thing to actually like your company, but I didn’t particularly want it to be my life, either. Because I mostly didn’t care to get involved with all that, I adopted two viewpoints to apply depending on who I was talking to. One was all about “Yes, yes, we are doing great and meaningful work that is changing the world, we are God’s gift to our industry, we are angels on earth saving lives [in a wildly indirect way], etc.”

    The other basically was, “Look, I don’t really care about the company and am just in it for myself.” That might work for you, LW. Examples of this can look like:

    – I’m just here for the free food.
    – I’m just trying to get my paycheck and clock out.
    – I don’t really care what you do as long as it doesn’t affect me.
    – I’m just doing what I need to do to keep my job, ya know?
    – Eh, I’m just hoping there might be something interesting to learn from there, but who knows, maybe not.
    – I’m just here to do my work and go home.
    – It’s not a big deal to me, I just gotta know so that I can figure out my day.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Mental note to turn down jobs where I’m told to “drink the Kool Aid.” A job should never be anything like a cult.

      To mix metaphors, if the workplace is Game of Thrones, be Bronn and get your castle.

      1. Bast*

        It’s funny that you mentioning “drinking the Kool-Aid” and GoT — I’ve worked for a place where you were either VERY enthusiastically in or you were on your way out. I would liken that place to a Game of Thrones environment as well, and people would gladly throw you under the bus if they heard you say anything that could even be perceived to be “against the company/culture of the company.” It didn’t even necessarily have to be negative, per se — we switched software, and if you even mentioned preferring the old one to the new one and didn’t enthuse how much BETTER and how AMAZING the new software was, you were bringing “negative energy” into the office.

  13. WellRed*

    I feel like with any luck this problem will have worked itself by the banquet. They’ve begun steps to hold people accountable and your coworkers are boycotting…being required to do their jobs? How noble of them to stand tall for slackers!

  14. Science KK*

    I have an Amanda at my job sort of: “works from home” but when called she’s clearly at the beach, misses major deadlines or gets super stressed in the run up saying she’s too busy and overwhelmed, also loudly talking about job hunting. No accountability though unlike OP’s situation.

    I wonder what both Amandas have planned as their end game though. Find a job that’s less work? Find any job then go back to slacking? How does one know via a few interviews they’ll be able to get away with it? It seems odd to me.

  15. FrivYeti*

    The big eyebrow-raising thing to me is not merely that the workers were slacking, but that they were slacking while also *claiming overtime*. That really escalates the situation in my eyes from “there isn’t always enough work” to “deliberate attempt to defraud the company”.

    1. Observer*

      That really escalates the situation in my eyes from “there isn’t always enough work” to “deliberate attempt to defraud the company”.

      This x 1,000.

      There may or may not be a management problem here. But there is *absolutely* a serious coworker problem.

      LW, don’t worry about getting them upset. Be scrupulously professional with them, even collegial. But don’t trust them, document everything you do, and don’t worry about their annoyance. In the end it’s going to be a LOT better for you, regardless of how any of this plays out.

  16. And if there was a problem Yo, I'll solve it Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it*

    “Give up free food and drinks; in this economy?!”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Seriously. I’d be there trying to slip a wheel of brie into my purse.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I think there’s no problem with saying you’re going because there’s free food. That’s as good a reason as any for going to corporate events. Heck when I was younger and poorer I went to some very boring seminars a company in our building ran for the occupants because they provided a really good free lunch and doughnuts. I sat through some very boring events in order to get a hot meal.

      They should have no grounds to criticise you for going.

  17. anon_sighing*

    I feel like you’ve left out the ways in which they are trying to ostracize you, which limits exactly what you can do. All I can say is, if these people are out the door already, you need to protect your job, which you are doing already:

    > I have notified HR that this transfer was involuntary, as I don’t want them to think I am offloading work to colleagues when I have no need to

    I don’t know if you’re coworkers care about you at this point. Their entire ecosystem is crumbling and boycotting the “fun” work stuff is kind of a ridiculous way to get your point across. “I’m going to skip dessert after dinner – ha, that’ll show them I mean business!” However, in your coworker’s defense, your company sounds like a mess if this has been festering for so long with HR being your manager, too.

  18. CommanderBanana*

    I’ve been on both sides of this situation, sadly – gray rocking and information diet with these coworkers is the best way to go, and be aware of optics that make it look like you’re in a clique with them (since you’re remote this should be easier than if you were in the office).

  19. Volunteer Enforcer*

    This might be the most interesting “mundane” letter I have ever read. To try to explain, it’s not the most “out there” letter on AAM as unreasonable colleagues seem to be part of work life, but easily one of the most unhinged, unreasonable attitudes i have read about. Hang in there OP, great advice from AAM as usual.

  20. Elbe*

    Charlotte, has been frantically searching for additional tasks to add to her portfolio, which included transferring a small number of tasks from my own portfolio without asking my permission

    I’m not sure if this means that Charlotte is trying to add work to her plate that she can do going forward (since she knows that people can now see that there’s not a lot on her plate at all) or if she is actively trying to take credit for work that the LW has already partially completed.

    If it’s the former, it’s annoying. If it’s the latter, that’s a huge issue that the LW needs to bring up with someone. It’s pretty clear that there will be staffing changes going forward, and the LW needs to make sure that their work is being recognized. Who knows what she’s taking credit for when the LW isn’t around.

    1. Original Poster*

      Hi Elbe,

      Just to confirm it is the former – She is doing the task going forwards only


      1. linger*

        The catch is, will C. now also (be able to) claim she was doing the same set of tasks before your workload was monitored?

  21. Kate*

    Companies that make you fill out these self-report forms on how you spend your time are the WORST.

    1. Jess*

      This company may be justified. And the company may be using this as documentation to either wake up non productive employees or as documentation for their firing. I’d tell management if anyone was taking from my assigned tasks. I had a new colleague taking very easy assignments from my tasks without asking to booster themselves and called them out immediately.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        Sometimes it’s just to figure out which tasks/projects/customers are using how much resources. Sometimes you discover that a product or service is actually costing you money to deliver and something needs to change.

  22. Document everything!*

    OP tread carefully- sounds like in trying to cover her behind, charlotte may throw you under the bus (mixed metaphor anyone?)…. Keep very clear records. What’s assigned to you, What you’re working on daily, and especially anything that she randomly takes away from you. if she’s taking Work off your plate to pad her portfolio, she very well could be making it look like you’re not doing your job. Make sure you have documentation showing good work you’re doing . Trust no one and cya…

  23. Jess*

    Charlotte and Amanda are likely on their way out and company is compiling evidence. I would not want to be associated with their work ethic in any way, shape or form.

    1. linger*

      P.G. Wodehouse, of course, plays with it: “If not actually disgruntled, he was very far from being gruntled.” (Gruntle was in fact the original base [a dialect form meaning “to utter grunts (of pleasure)”], but it had long fallen out of active use, so this was a conscious backformation by Wodehouse; gruntled now appears with him as the source.)

  24. Panda (she/her)*

    I find it really interesting to read all the comments on this – it’s such a divisive topic! I recently instituted this with my team because I reassured pretty quickly that they were doing a LOT of work that should have been done by other teams, and I wanted to make sure I was tracking what those activities were and also ensure that the trend was going towards not spending as much time on them. It’s not intended to be forever, but it has been VERY helpful when it comes to identifying work that I can ensure gets handed back to other teams….which ultimately helps my employees!

    I have them do it weekly, but I only ask for estimates (like within an hour or two) in about 8-10 broad categories of work, most of which are actually pretty standard from week to week. I also show them how I’m using the data, and talk about why we’re doing this.

    Of course it did result in an interesting conversation with one of my employees, where I had to repeatedly explain that extended breaks, lunches, hours long socializing was NOT part of his working hours, and he still had to actually WORK during his work hours (we do not get paid lunches or breaks, and most of our staff are unionized).

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