my boss finally saw the light about my horrible coworker — but I’ve been warning him for years

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my company for eight years. I’m a senior manager and a very high performer. I’ve received multiple raises and promotions. I’m very calm and pragmatic and don’t easily get pulled into drama. It’s a small company and there are a lot of great things about it, including 98% of my coworkers who are all very experienced and professional. I really love my job.

The one glaring exception is my coworker Petunia. Petunia and I are both senior managers, and she started about a year before I did. She’s never been anything but awful to work with. She’s a liar and a manipulator and regularly drops the ball on her work in a way that not only impacts me and my work, but the work of the entire company (and in some cases the income of our coworkers who make commission selling our products). I strongly suspect she has mental health issues and I know she has a serious problem with alcohol. Most people in the company see Petunia for what she is.

Unfortunately one of the few blind spots is the company’s owner, Bob. Bob is Petunia’s direct boss and my grandboss. I work closely with Bob, and my direct boss, Jorge, is Bob’s most trusted and long-standing employee. Jorge is extremely supportive of me and is equally as outspoken about Petunia.

Bob grants Petunia endless rope — she gets away with stuff that would have anyone else severely disciplined or fired. I generally like Bob, but one of his weaknesses is his ego and Petunia knows exactly how to manipulate him. She’s completely different with him than anyone else. Over the past few years, I have raised issues with Petunia’s work with Bob and how it negatively impacts the whole company. Many others have as well, but I’ve been the most vocal. The responses range from “I’ll handle it” (which means he’ll say something to her once but never follow up or ensure she’s actually doing what he asked) to frustration with me for bringing the issue up. It’s ground me down and been demoralizing over time. Jorge has had the same experience.

Cut to this week. I just got back from a two-week business trip with Petunia and several other coworkers. Petunia was a disaster on the trip: tons of drinking, verbal abuse, and lack of professionalism with customers. It was two of the of the most stressful and exhausting weeks of my life. As a group, we approached Bob (who was not with us) towards the end of the trip with these issues. He removed Petunia from the last few days of the trip and fired her the following week.

In the week following Petunia’s departure, dozens of things have come to light that illustrate what a disaster she was and that she was doing no work at all. Most of the insight has come from important external partners. Bob finally seems to be “getting it” about her. I was right about literally everything I “accused” her of and then some.

On the one hand: yay, I got what I’ve wanted for years. On the other hand: this is not so easy for me move on from. I would really like some acknowledgement from Bob that he took her side over mine (and Jorge’s) repeatedly, that he didn’t listen to what we were saying and that he favored her over not just me but also all other employees who are also long tenured and very trusted. And we were totally right.

I want him to know that he lost a lot of employee trust and credibility through his handling of Petunia. We have no HR and I don’t think he’s going to be super open to this (his mentality is that he fired her so it’s handled). Is it reasonable to expect some kind mea culpa from a boss in this situation? Should I bring it up at all? Or should I just take the win and try to move forward? I’m not interested in leaving. The good outweighs this issue and I’m afforded many benefits wouldn’t easily find elsewhere. But I’m finding this a tough pill to swallow.

It’s reasonable to think that a manager in Bob’s shoes should acknowledge that the issues you’ve been raising were valid and that it took him too long to see it and act. A good boss would do that. But if that’s not how Bob rolls … well, you’re just going to make yourself frustrated waiting for him to do it.

One way to increase the chances that he’ll have that conversation with you is to bring it up yourself and frame it as, “Is there anything I could have done differently?” That’s not really what you’re seeking to find out (although if Bob has a good answer to that, it would be interesting to hear!); this is just a way to raise the topic without framing it as “I freakin’ TOLD you.”

So, for example, you could say something like: “You know I and others have had serious concerns about Petunia for a long time and have tried to raise them — and I’ll be honest, I’ve been frustrated that I couldn’t find a way for you to see what I was seeing. Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, is there anything I could have done differently on my end that would have helped bring it all to light earlier?”

I’d like that conversation better if Bob were your direct boss, but some grandboss relationships would still allow for it. If yours doesn’t, maybe Jorge can raise it. Jorge could also let Bob know that the staff is demoralized by how this all played out — that their feedback wasn’t taken seriously and that Petunia was allowed to rampage through your company for so long, and that it wasn’t until external partners spoke up that he took the problems seriously.

If none of that pushes Bob to acknowledge his role in what happened, then that’s just who Bob is and all you can really do is factor that into your thinking about him moving forward. What you’re expecting is reasonable; you just may not get it.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

    You’re not going to get that admittance from Bob, and you have to decide for yourself whether or not you can live with that. Good luck.

    1. ferrina*

      Yep- Bob will never say mea culpa.

      LW says that one of Bob’s major weaknesses is his ego. A person driven by their ego generally won’t admit to a long-standing weakness or where they failed in addressing a major issue. His version of events is the one that lets him save the most face, and anyone asking him to humble himself could be perceived as a troublemaker to Bob. Sorry, LW.

      1. Ultimate Facepalm*

        Yep – anyo9ne who forces the person with the fragile ego to look at themselves is perceived as being the problem.
        It always will have to be his idea. ‘Since you handled Petunia’s behavior so well during the trip and made the best decision for the company by firing her, what can I do to ensure you have the most visibility into things like this in the future, Bob?’ (eyeroll)

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Yes, I’d stay quiet and just enjoy the peace now the troublemaker has been fired.
        The OP’s wish for an apology / acknowledge of error is likely to seriously offend Bob and his ego.
        Even asking how the OP could better raise such issues in future would make Bob feel defensive.

        1. Bye Felicia*

          I would agree. Do not go attack your boss with your thoughts why it wasnt done before.

          He has seen the problem and addressed it. Process your thoughts and feelings and move on.

      3. honeygrim*

        Yeah, I doubt you’ll ever get Bob to acknowledge anything about the Petunia situation other than he fired her.

        One of the worst kinds of people to have any sort of power is someone who cannot admit they were wrong. Unfortunately, you’ve got that kind of person as your grandboss, LW.

    2. oranges*

      1000% this. People like Bob don’t EVER admit they were wrong. The fact that he finally took action is the victory here. Take it and run.

    3. Sloanicota*

      It seems like OP is looking for some kind of closure from Bob; I think she’d be better served to try and find it for herself. She knows she was right and did get what she wanted. The risk is did Bob learn anything? Probably not, so it may well happen again (shades of Edward II here for me – tangent, sorry). But it’s not OP’s job to teach her bosses anything.

      1. Anne Shirley-Blythe*

        Thanks for the tangent! Granted, I’m a Yank, but (1) how did I not know about this, considering my UK history fascination and (2) we need an HBO series PRONTO.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Yes,OP, if Bob ever announces that he’s made the greatest hire EVER and that he’d like you all to meet Hugh Despenser Jr., then it’s time to polish up your resume and get out ASAP!

        1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          Wait, is OP Isabella of France? In which case, go ahead and ask your family for help, but maybe try not to get involved in their drama because it will lead to the end of your line…

    4. Person from the Resume*

      OTOH LW can you reframe it in your mind as “Petunia has been fired! Bob has seen the light.”

      It completely sucks that it took 9 years for Bob to finally do the right thing, but he has done the right thing. And this means that you do not have to work with Petunia any more. It would be great for him to publicly acknowledge his mistake to the people he has ignored. And it will also be great for him to examine why he didn’t listen to everyone telling him the truth earlier.

      But if you liked your job well enough to live with Petunia as a coworker for 8 years, you should be able to reframe this as a quirk of Bob’s that you are willing to live with now that Petunia is no longer around.

      Look at it this way, when the problem was occurring you had a Petunia problem and Bob problem (cause Bob’s management was bad). Now you just have a Bob problem (still may have a blind spot for certain people), but with Petunia gone hopeful you won’t see too many ongoing issues with Bob ignoring other terrible, drunk, and destructive coworkers.

    5. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      Instead of focusing on the apology you’ll never get, maybe instead think about how to prevent the next Petunia from doing the same thing.

      You will probably need to appeal to Bob’s ego, like Petunia did. For example, you can cite to specific things Petunia did to manipulate Bob, and (holding your nose, because they actually worked) praise Bob for recognizing them for what they were when he finally canned Petunia.

      Maybe Bob feeling good about himself for knowing all the tricks will help him recognize those tricks in the future.

    6. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      This was my first thought, too. Bob is never going to admit he had a hand in this situation by enabling Petunia for so long. If the job really is worth it, find a way to let go and move forward.

  2. Zzyxyz*

    You say in your letter that one of Bob’s weaknesses is his ego. Makes me think it’s going to be hard for him to admit he was wrong! Especially to anyone else, even if he knows it deep down. I wouldn’t push this; just take the win and be glad things are better now.

    1. MsM*

      Yep. Especially when it doesn’t sound like he ever outright denied Petunia was a problem; he just didn’t want to deal with it until he had no choice. I don’t think her being gone is going to change that.

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      Speaking of the ego part, I feel like I missed a day of Psychology 101 or something. How does having a big ego = liking to keep under-performers and disastrous people around? Legitimately confused at the connection.

      Or maybe there is no connection but OP worded it like there is

      1. Feral Humanist*

        Petunia knew how to play to his ego; she made HIM feel good, and therefore he kept her around, even against good advice from literally everyone else, it sounds like.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It’s also likely that the people criticizing her were 1) focused on solving the issue rather than making him feel good, and 2) were implicitly criticizing his judgement for hiring/trusting/liking her.

          When your stick-in-the-mud, grumpy coworker says you should stop hanging out with your friend who is always so nice and makes you feel special, who are you going to listen to?

      2. Rocket Raccoon*

        My take was that Petunia played to Bob’s ego. Instead of doing her work well, she spent her effort playing up to Bob, and he fell for it.

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        Most likely she was always flattering and sweet talking him in order to get on his good side. He liked how that felt so he developed a massive blind spot to her bad performance and other problems. The Bobs of the world will think “but she’s always so nice to me; she can’t possibly be as bad as everyone’s saying.” Because to the egotist, it’s all about them.

        1. Ama*

          Yup, a common problem with people with big egos is they think they are too smart to be manipulated like that so they don’t recognize it when it happens.

      4. WeirdChemist*

        Big ego = refusing to admit he was wrong. Wrong about hiring petunia, trusting petunia, keeping her around, not giving credence to complaints about her, etc…
        Admitting he was wrong about any of those things means accepting that he was deficient in someway, and someone with a big ego won’t be doing that!

        1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

          And, weirdly, on the flip side people with no self esteem also do this constantly. I’ve never been able to make sense of it, but I guess some people are just really afraid of admitting to a mistake.

          1. ferrina*

            Big egos and no self-esteem aren’t mutually exclusive. Psychologists that study narcissists often say that narcissists often greatly dislike themselves but can’t admit that to themselves, so they seek constant validation and praise from other people to soothe their own self-loathing (narcissists are also famously terrible at self-reflection, so most have no idea that they are doing this).

            And there you have it. Someone that has no self-esteem but has no self-reflection to realize that they have no self-esteem (and no understanding or drive to correct the real issue), and so they self-soothe through self-aggrandizement and demanding that others play to their ego. Make them feel good because they are incapable of feeling good without external validation and they feel entitled to feel good about themselves.

            1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

              Yeah as soon as I wrote that I thought that maybe “insecure” would be a better word, but that also isn’t quite mutually exclusive. Basically, people on both extreme ends of the spectrum sometimes exhibit the same behavior.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              And they will also push back or seek to eliminate from their realm any truth-tellers who attempt to shine light on issues or even people who just point out “hey, is this an issue we should look at?” Because that threatens their fragile (and false) positive opinion of themselves.

      5. DramaQ*

        People who have big egos like to surround themselves with yes people, people who treat them like they are the smartest, most brilliant person in the room. I’ve seen it happen at every job I’ve ever had those who know how to play people tend to be the ones who get granted the most leeway and favor with the boss. Petunia made Bob feel good about himself so he kept her around because he liked it. Bob feeling liked and like a big fish in a small pond is more important to Bob than running his company well or retaining the employees who are actually working. Bob only faced reality when he realized his ego stroking was going to cost him external customers. Petunia finally made Bob look bad in a way Bob didn’t appreciate and his ego in reponse to his customers won out. I bet $5 if Petunia had just been out of control with the LW and her peers that Petunia would still be working there.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          “Bob feeling liked and like a big fish in a small pond is more important to Bob than running his company well or retaining the employees who are actually working.”

          That’s a great way of describing it. It’s like Bob’s mission, goal in running the company was one thing (feeding his ego, getting attention, praise) and most of his senior managers’, employees’ missions, goals in doing their jobs were seemingly doing their jobs and having the company run well, meeting the needs of customers so the company will succeed, they will still have jobs.

          Often that is the case with senior executives (or even other employees in a company) … they are there because it feeds some psychological need they have for ego feeding, attention, sense of purpose, or just getting paid the most they can, but it mostly can happen through/in parallel with having an organization run well and accomplish what its stated objectives are. But throw a manipulative-Petunia and a needy and easily flattered-Bob into the mix, and the CEO’s needs overshadow everything else.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Completely agree. I have been able to say “I told you so” ONCE in my career – my CEO hired someone who was unqualified and had no respect for how things in our (highly regulated) industry worked. I was tasked with supporting him (cleaning up after his mistakes) and he tried to get me fired more than once, but my CEO knew me well and basically brushed him off with “that doesn’t sound like her.” I eventually got rotated off this guy with a warning, but he went through two more admins in under two years before burning out and leaving the industry altogether.

      I got to look my CEO in the eyes and say “I told you so,” but I only said that because I knew my CEO didn’t have a huge ego despite his success and would understand why I needed to get it off my chest. Bob clearly is not that kind of guy.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I find that people like Bob who are more ego- and emotion-driven than observational and introspective need to take time to absorb lessons like this; likely his first reaction will be defensiveness. I’m not saying don’t bring it up, I think Allison’s suggestion is a great way to nudge Bob along, but I think it’ll take months if not years for him to have some perspective on what happened with Petunia and to be able to learn from it.

    1. Donutsaregood*

      Agree. I think if op brings it up now, he’ll be defensive. But randomly, 4 years from now, Bob’s suddenly going to say “God, what a disaster Petunia was. She really pulled the wool over my eyes.”

      1. Antilles*

        Even if that moment of realization occurs, he’s still not going to admit it to LW. If his mentality is already that it’s dealt with because she’s gone, there’s no way he’s going to admit to OP “oh hey, by the way, back in 2024, you were right about Petunia.”

    2. Smithy*

      Yes. And in addition to this, thinking about good openings and face savings exits are important.

      Essentially, if you’re in a conversation where he were to bring it up, seemed relaxed, didn’t have an important meeting coming up on the calendar – then using Alison’s language could work. But also, finding and accepting that his response may just be something along the lines of “you did everything perfect! no notes!”

      For the OP, I also think it might be helpful to take that step back and acknowledge that while they were correct – overall Bob has been able to create a workplace that even with her presence was a 98% great place to work. Sometimes qualities that allow the Petunias of the world to slip through the cracks for years are also part of what has built that 98% great work place. Things like assuming the best in people. While that allowed the negative with Petunia, what has it given you that’s been positive? Bob is ego driven, so it may mean he’s able to identify how the egos of others are motivated in ways that are genuinely meaningful?

      I don’t share this so much as a means of excusing Bob’s behavior – but moreso allowing the OP to find peace with the status quo.

      1. Katydid*

        That advice would help me if I were in the LW’s shoes, Smithy; hope it helps them!

      2. Carmina*

        “face savings exits” – excellent point! Too often people think about how to bring things up but stop there.

    3. Festively Dressed Earl*

      I was thinking the same thing. LW says it’s been a week since the business trip, with various Petunia failings now coming to light. Chances are that Bob is still in the process of finding Petunia fires that may have been years in the making, figuring out how to mitigate the damages, and calculating how much revenue his business has lost/still stands to lose because of Petunia. If Bob is an otherwise decent and competent guy, he’s already struggling internally with how Petunia played him. I disagree with the other commenters who say Bob will never acknowledge his error, but it’s going to take him some time. Following Alison’s script a month from now would probably yield better results than following it in the immediate aftermath of Petunia’s departure.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yup, just dealt with this same nonsense at ExJob and the big boss won’t admit that the coworker who was a big part of why I left is a manipulative liar who does no work. He hired her, of course, so naturally *can’t* actually admit the problems because then he’d get blamed for it all. I feel so badly for my ex-boss bc she’s still dealing with all of it.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Also should mention that when I went over his head to the board about it when I was leaving, he got mad and told the staff the next week that if we have problems with other coworkers we should 1. go to the coworker (we did) and 2. go to him (we did). Gaslighting, what?

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Also also, I read a *fantastic* book about people like this that helped me tremendously. Unfortunately, the title of the book includes a diagnosis so I won’t name it here, but the author is Martha Stout. She wrote two books on the subject and I read her 2nd one, about outsmarting these kinds of people. It had a whole chapter about what to do if you work with someone like this and it was really useful for me and my former boss. Luckily you, OP, are rid of Petunia, but it might give you some info about why Bob wasn’t receptive to criticism of her nor probably will be receptive to “I told you so” kind of statements, no matter how nicely they’re worded. I like AAM’s phrasing; if you can figure out how to do that organically you might get some insight into what happened.

    5. crchtqn64*

      I had a similar situation. Came back from maternity leave to find out we had a new grandboss and within a month, I knew it was not going to work out. I warned our great Grandboss and he dismissed me. By the time a year passed, every report of his had put in a HR grievance (except for me and my manager, since we were trying to stay neutral). Was put on a PIP and then fired.

      When I spoke to Great GrandBoss, he wouldn’t admit it was bad hire, just “not the right fit.” Great Grandboss had hired him without others input. Took 2 years for him to finally IMPLY that it was a bad hire.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    You are not going to get this. Your options are to make peace with that or find a job somewhere where you don’t have to see Bob and his refusal to admit he was wrong five days a week. People who are this resistant to seeing problems do not admit they were in error once the problem is gone–“it’s handled” really means “stop bringing it up”.

  5. WeirdChemist*

    Woof, I have definitely been here before at an old job and it completely sucks!

    I ended up bringing it up to my old boss at my exit interview (after my Petunia had been fired), and his response was “gosh I didn’t realize how bad it was!! You should have told me!!” Ignoring the fact that every time I brought up these issues with him he would usually interrupt me mid sentence and change the subject without acknowledging anything was wrong… Oh, but I should have pushed him harder on the topic!

    Gah, so glad to have left that job! That frustration over the situation stuck with me for a while even after I left

    1. WeirdChemist*

      And agreeing with everyone here that you will likely get no real apology from Bob! Unfortunately you will likely have to figure out how to mentally move on from this on your own :/

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I also agree with this take. Some suggestions for mentally moving on:

        1. Apply to one (1) new job every time you are annoyed that Bob hasn’t apologized about Petunia. If your annoyance dissipates before you complete and submit the job application, great! You’re no longer annoyed. If it doesn’t, you’re opening up options for yourself. You have a choice whether you want to stay at this job where your grandboss annoys you or want to move on.

        2. Write a list of everything you like about your job (coworkers, work tasks, benefits, etc.). Keep it handy and read through it every time you are annoyed with Bob to remind yourself that the good still outweighs the bad.

        3. (Do this one at home) Write out all the things you have said/want to say to Bob about Petunia. Write a response letter to yourself from the perspective of Bob saying all the things you wish he would say to you: “Dear Letter-writer, I’m sorry I did not listen to you much sooner about how Petunia was a bad worker. I realize I have lost some of your trust by letting it get to the point where Petunia was ruining relationships with clients before I took action…” etc. Throw away the things you have said/want to say, and keep the letter “from” Bob. Read through it every time you want an apology from Bob. (This is adapted from Captain Awkward’s give-yourself-closure-don’t-write-to-your-ex advice.)

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Another suggestion for getting past it, if LW plans to stay in the current job:

        Look for ways to ward off the next Petunia from taking root in the organization, possibly in collaboration with LW’s manager.

        Because whatever CEO’s issues are, a Petunia being able to go months, years without doing their job indicates a structural performance management issue in the organization.

        Were there ever written and agreed on goals? Were there measurement and feedback systems in place to observe, document progress towards goals, open action items, accomplishments? Was anyone systematically looking across the board at key processes, functions, deliverables in the organization to be able to, ya know, manage things?

        Even if Ego-Bob would have ignored any and all evidence of a gaping Petunia-shaped black hole in multiple core processes, and negative impact on other employees, clients, income, profitability, seeing him wave all that off could have been an early red flag for competent people, giving them a push to look elsewhere, sooner, no matter how hypothetically good their jobs were. (without having to struggle on for years until Petunia went down publicly in an alcohol fueled fiasco)

    2. ferrina*

      Oh, the gaslighting is so real.

      “You should have told me how bad it was!”
      I did. Repeatedly. A couple times while I was on the verge of tears. And it was always hand-waved away with “well, you just didn’t do it right!” and “I know Petunia, and that doesn’t sound like her” and “I don’t have time for this- you figure it out”.
      It’s amazing how many people think that minimizing a problem in a conversation makes the actual problem magically get smaller.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, this! So frustrating to work for someone who won’t deal with conflicts and awful staff. Argh.

    3. Sunshine*

      I had a boss do the “you should have told me” thing. I had a problem coworker and when it became impossible to ignore anymore my boss said I should have told her. I said, “I did tell you.” She said, “You should have kept bringing it up until I did something.”

      Sure, because constantly bringing up something your boss doesn’t agree is a problem is the normal, right thing to do???

      1. Frankie Bergstein*

        Oof, ouch! I would be mad indeed.

        “You should have kept bringing it up until I did something!” translates to, “this is your fault; I am needing to get creative to blame it on you so I don’t need to introspect or do anything differently!”

  6. Observer*

    What you’re expecting is reasonable; you just may not get it.

    Exactly. Another way to put it is, you are being REASONABLE, but you are probably not being *realistic.*

    It stinks.

    1. kiki*

      Yes! A good boss would realize that they wildly dropped the ball on handling Petunia and reach out to the folks who had tried to tell him about her behavior throughout the years.

      But it sounds like this boss has some ego issues that mean this is unlikely. Persistently pushing to get this acknowledgment and apology will likely be fruitless and may frustrate you more than you already are.

      If you are a fan of this job and are otherwise happy there, in your shoes I would limit myself to seeking out this apology/acknowledgment a few times the ways Alison suggested, but then I’d let it go. Not because you don’t deserve it, but it’s better to not drive yourself crazy and foster negativity about a company you like overall that just resolved your biggest issue with it, albeit belatedly.

    1. WeirdChemist*

      Having been in the LWs shoes myself, it really doesn’t feel like a win in the moment though. I totally get their frustration!

      They won’t get the apology they want from Bob, but I completely get why they’re holding onto some bad feelings over the situation

      1. Observer*

        Very much this.

        I think that they would be best off accepting this. Not because they are wrong, but because it’s going to be better for their mental health.

        But, it’s also something to keep in mind going forward. Bob may be a good boss, but this is a real issue.

      2. Daryush*

        I’m going to say though, I don’t think we in the comments should be validating letting the LW hold onto these bad feelings.
        Honestly, you got what you wanted, the situation has been handled. Don’t change the goalposts so you can continue to feel bad even after you got what you want.

        1. WeirdChemist*

          Oh yeah, the LW *should* be moving towards getting over it and moving on, but in the short term I think feeling upset is normal.

          The LW *didn’t* get what they wanted, what they wanted was for Petunia to be fired/reprimanded years ago. Instead, the LW had to be miserable at work and faced verbal abuse for years, all because of Bob. And yeah, better late than never, but they still suffered unnecessarily for way longer than they should have. In a better world, Bob would apologize for that (he probably won’t in this world though)

          It might take some time for these bad feelings to fade. Some of the commenters here seem confused why the LW didn’t just start immediately jumping for joy, and I was just adding my 2 cents on why I didn’t when I was in a similar situation. It’s demoralizing being in that situation for so long and that feeling doesn’t just disappear overnight. Time (and distance) did make it better for me though!

        2. basically functional*

          This sounds like dismissiveness at best and toxic positivity at worst.

          The LW’s feelings are valid. Yes, she got what she wanted eventually, but the years of frustration she went through still had an impact. If the goalpost was “boss listens to me and values my input” rather than “Petunia gets fired,” then no goal has been scored and no post has been moved.

          It’s ok to feel bad when bad things happen. Of course the healthy thing is to get over it and move past it, but denying the validity of your feelings is not the way to do that.

    2. HR Friend*

      Yeah I have to agree. I was in a similar situation a few years back. I had a snake of a co-worker who upper management liked. They couldn’t/wouldn’t see the qualities that the rest of us saw, so it was a contentious few years. Eventually she flamed out dramatically and quit. To be honest, I couldn’t care less now or then about leadership’s reaction to her quitting; I was just thrilled she was out of my hair. Focus on the positive, LW!

    3. L-squared*


      You got what you wanted. Why sit around and worry about it.

      Bob has been like this for a while, and OP was able to deal with it. Now that he has seen the light, just move on. Either get over it, or get a new job. But it seems you are really asking “Is there a way for me to say “I told you so” to Bob”, because I feel like that is what would make you happy.

    4. Sara without an H*

      +1. Enjoy Petunia’s absence. Bob will not (and probably cannot) publicly acknowledge his error. The best you can hope for is that he’s processed it internally and won’t make a similar error in the future. Only time will tell.

  7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    Bob considers the problem handled, done and dusted. He’s not going to apologise. Why would he? He’s the top guy, people aim to be the top guy because they don’t like having to do stuff like apologise and curry favour.
    I would say that, going forward, you need to be able to point back to remind him of what happened, that you and Jorge were right about so much for so long. If ever you get another Petunia, you need him to believe you this time, and take action more quickly.

    Is there any chance that he was having an affair with Petunia at any point? Or did she have some dirt on him? Or was it just that she was good at kissing up and kicking down?
    Whatever, make sure you have a convincing little spiel to to trot out any time you might want to prevent the same thing happening again.

    1. MaskedMarvel*

      Life doesn’t have to be that complicated. some people are just good at being different things to different people

      1. FromCanada*

        THIS. Some people are really good at managing up and kicking down or sideways and it doesn’t always take anything else for the boss to not see it.

      2. K8T*

        +100 – it’s weird (and vaguely misogynistic?) to infer that he may have only kept her around because he was sleeping with her. Many, many below average workers are great at making sure their bosses think they’re great – no conspiracy needed.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Probably just that he hired her, so never wanted to admit that was a mistake.

  8. Mehitabel*

    I agree with Alison’s final thought on this. Talk to Jorge about this, and then let it go and let him deal with Bob. Expect nothing, because nothing is likely going to be what you get.

  9. Lab Boss*

    I was once in a similar situation, although I moved on to a new job and only then were my pair of Petunias fired (I suspect I was just doing such a good job that it covered up how bad they were- with me out, more work fell on them and they imploded). Although I’d left, I ran into the boss that had refused to fire them for so long and asked about it- he claimed to have no idea what I was talking about and said basically, “well, you griped about them but you never said it was THAT bad.”

    There’s a slim chance Bob is self aware enough to realize he messed up- but I wouldn’t hang my hopes on that. If you open the discussion, be prepared to hear “well, you should have told me how bad it REALLY was!” even if you did, in fact, tell him how bad it really was.

  10. Busy Middle Manager*

    Wow this is going to be my “favorite” letter of the year (as much as you can love this sort of letter) because I identify so, so much. So does my best friend at his job. His “Petunia” (going to use “P” since I think Petunia sounds too child like and cute) got fired; mine is still keeping up the illusion at my job.

    My friend has an equally strained relationship with his boss now, just like you. How can there be trust when you get ignored so many times but ended up being correct? I think the issue is that upper management at most jobs are too much in a rush to “let’s just move forward” and not take 30 minutes to talk through things so you can actually move forward.

    I know it’s small consolation, but you are so lucky that P had substance abuse issues. It gives a concrete reason to let someone go. Most of us don’t have the smoking gun on our “P” and are left stewing as per why it’s ok when they consistently drop the ball, or wonder how grand bosses magically don’t see that Petunias drop the ball but notice small flaws in other people.

    What PO’d me was when people were “gossiping” on my team about P and grand boss seemed annoyed at that, but not at the content of said gossip. IMO the “gossip” was simply them saying “I can’t believe P gets away with that” combined with “so how do we work around them” and them just seeking validation that they are not nuts. Seriously, what do grand bosses expect when they let the stench of mediocrity permeate an organization by letter Ps hang around for ages?

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I identify so so so much with this too, from my recent ExJob. And your last paragraph hearkens back to the letter from earlier this week (yesterday only? it’s been a long week) about gossip. I commented in a couple of threads about how the word gossip can be used by powerful people as a way to control others less powerful by telling them that gossip is bad and judging people for it. But what they’re really doing is preventing the less powerful people from sharing information that the powerful folks don’t want the less powerful folks to know.

      Anyway, my old boss at ExJob is pretty POd at the head of the org who doesn’t seem to see how awful their P is there. She has no trust in that head of org anymore and it’s pretty damaging to the entire org, because my old boss isn’t the only one there who feels that way.

  11. Baby Yoda*

    At old job we had a Petunia, and always figured she had something on the boss or board members since they overlooked her antics. It took decades until one day she went off when the chairman of the board’s wife was in the office, and was finally fired.

    No one ever acknowledged what we’d been complaining about all those years. (on a side note, one of the employees then bought a “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” ringtone which management did not seem to mind.)

    1. Anna3*

      I’m googling “Ding-Dong the witch is dead ringtone” for when my Petunia is dead!

  12. TeenieBopper*

    Yeah, I’m going to echo everyone else and say you’re not going to get any sort of acknowledgement or apology from Bob.

    Just start practicing your “I Told You So” Dance for when you walk out the door (when you eventually leave).

  13. learnedthehardway*

    This is SO similar to stuff my spouse deals with at work – similar situation: small/midsize privately owned business with long term employees and an owner who is very loath to discipline anyone or hold anyone accountable. Entrepreneurial owner, not a great people manager, lets people walk all over him because he’s a softie, essentially. He’s too nice for his own good, and some people are taking advantage to the real detriment of the business. It’s maddening to watch and it IS costing the company business and reputation. The owner will acknowledge that he is making mistakes in how he is managing the company, but seems unable to make changes to his management style. That’s a problem with successful entrepreneurs sometimes – they don’t have the management training to know how to handle these issues – esp. the ones that creep up on them over time.

    I wouldn’t ask the boss what you could have done differently – that doesn’t deal with the real issue and it might lead to the owner not realizing or taking ownership of their own failure.

    Instead, Jorge (and possibly the OP) should talk with the owner about processes that could be put in place to ensure a Petunia situation doesn’t happen again. That might mean getting a fractional HR director – ie. someone who does HR for a few hours each week, and who can act as a business partner to the owner – or a business coach who can help the owner develop the backbone to really manage. Or it could be that the company puts in an annual performance review process (I’m assuming they don’t have one). Jorge should also advise the owner that employee morale has really suffered and that the owner should recognize this and make commitments to hold people accountable in future so that the rest of the workforce can trust that the company won’t suffer.

    It’s worth pointing out that the owner’s own professional development is important to the success / stability of their business. It sounds like they need help to develop their leadership / management skills. It IS doable, but they have to take the initiative.

    1. Lisa*

      Agreed. LW, you’re unlikely to get an acknowledgement or apology, but if you focus on “what can we do to ensure this doesn’t happen again” you might get some good changes.

    2. Industry Behemoth*

      OT, I’ve read that entrepreneurs are often good at building a company, but not at ongoing administration once it’s established.

      Thus their tendency to always be moving on to the next thing. And their companies sometimes failing depending on the management that takes over after they leave.

  14. Web of Pies*

    I’m sorry you went through this, but you’re VERY lucky he came around at all! Most bosses would not.

    Source: I had a comically bad coworker who did the same stuff as Petunia with maybe more targeted bullying of coworkers. His employment ended when he went to jail, but the boss still raves about how he was the best hire ever. Multiple people quit over how awful this coworker was.

    1. ferrina*

      Wait……the boss is talking about how the “best hire ever!” was great right up until they unfortunately lost out on said best hire because he went to jail?!?!

      The delusions are strong with this one.

    2. Heffalump*

      What did he go to jail for? If it was for something he did in his private life, I can see how a tool like your boss would think he’d been a good hire.

  15. Never the Twain*

    An acknowledgement isn’t going to happen. Bobs are easily capable of believing both that most of their staff are continuously complaining drama queens, and that in the one case where there was a real problem Bob acted instantly and decisively to address it.
    This counts double if you and your co-workers were so ground down by his imperviousness that you hadn’t seen any point in raising specific issues in the previous 6 months or so. In that case, no one else but Bob was capable of seeing that there was a problem, everyone else was blind. What would they all do without Bob, asks Bob?

  16. EmmaPoet*

    I agree with everyone else here- Bob is not someone who sounds prone to self-reflection and looking at his screw-ups. I don’t see him apologizing- I do see him potentially turning it around to blame you at worst, and flap his hands and say, “Nobody told me how bad Petunia was!” even if you spelled it out in small words and semaphores at best.
    Take the win, and take on board that Bob sucks and you can’t change it. You should consider what that means for you down the line and whether you want to stay on.

  17. Yup*

    People with ego problems protect their ego at all costs. The fragility beneath it can never, ever be exposed—at the cost of everything, including relationships.

    You can try to make this conversation happen, but chances are it won’t work and you’ll be left even more frustrated.

  18. Ashley*

    I think the benefit of the conversation outlined in the response isn’t really to get him to admit it (if he does, amazing). I think the benefit is so you have that conversation logged and done in case there’s a future problem/blindspot. “When we talked before, you had told me that doing x would help me be more clear about the level of issue so I’m doing x to make sure we don’t have the same disconnect from before” gives you waaaay more impact when raising whatever the issue might be and will help you push through the ego.

    1. Observer*

      I think the benefit is so you have that conversation logged and done in case there’s a future problem/blindspot.

      Yes. BTDT. It was a different situation, where I got dinged for not being “forceful” enough. Referring back to that has been useful on other occasions, because I had made it clear that the only way I could have been “more forceful” would have run afoul of some expectations. So, I go back to that and point out that I cannot do “X”, even though I’d like to.

  19. CubeFarmer*

    You’re not going to get that admission. The only thing you can do, moving forward, is point out similar issues early and say something like, “I don’t want this to become a Petunia-type situation” is this something we can handle before it becomes a disaster.

    I’ve dealt with at least one alcoholic colleague–who finally “left” because he died. I didn’t work with him directly, but he seemed high functioning. Seemed, is the operative word. Once he left, we all discovered the mess he left behind.

  20. Not on board*

    Yeah, you’ll never get an admission from Bob. And Bob will be upset if you bring it up, since he’s ruled by his ego. He knows you were right deep down but he’s going to gloss over it until he’s convinced himself there was no way to know about how bad Petunia was.
    The only thing that maybe Jorge could do is ask Bob what he thinks about creating a documentation system going forward to deal with employee issues, maybe by citing the need to have one due to covering your butt if there are ever legal issues. (eg, you fire someone like Petunia and they claim discrimination but documentation of their performance problems act as a backup to protect the company)

  21. Abogado Avocado*

    LW, I’m really sorry you’re in this situation. I agree with the previous commenters that Bob isn’t likely to change and that your role here is to determine how whether you can live with his failings as a manager or whether you can’t. If you can’t, it’s time to find a new job.

    I would, however, go further than merely asking Bob if there was anything that you could have done differently to show him the damage that Petunia was causing. Consider asking a couple follow-up questions, including, “What information finally brought you to the decision to fire Petunia?” and “What sort of proof would you need in the future to determine if someone is badly messing up in their position?” Certainly, you’d like concrete answers to these questions, but Bob may not immediately be able to provide them. If he has any capacity for self-reflection — a big “if” here — these questions should cause him to reflect on what happened and, ideally, allow him to provide some clues about how the future can be differently from the past.

    1. Pete*

      I wonder if asking these types of questions before Petunia was fired would have been helpful? Or if there were ways to stroke Bobs EGO would have gotten faster results.

  22. Heffalump*

    I thought immediately of Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

    When this book came out I read a review of it saying it explained, among other things, “the coworker who will say anything to win an argument.” I once had a coworker like that (one of the most toxic people I’ve ever met), and I had to run out and get the book. It did indeed fit my ex-coworker to T, and I’d say it fits Bob.

    The authors dedicated the book to their spouses, rather charmingly: “We have made mistakes, but not in our choices of life partner.”

    1. Heffalump*

      There are several editions of the book, with different cover art. I chose the Wikipedia link partly because of the painted-into-a-corner motif, which was the edition I read.

      When I finished the book, I thought, “Well, that may explain my coworker’s behavior, but it doesn’t excuse it.”

  23. Kitano*

    I agree with the masses – you won’t get an apology from Bob.

    That said, there is a valid discussion to be had on systems you all could implement to prevent this in the future. That is a discussion that Jorge, Bob, and others at the highest levels should have to develop ways to prevent this from reoccuring. The key, though, is that it has to be kept impersonal – it cannot be the “dog pile on dumb Bob” hour. You need him to see himself as leading the conversation and contributing to the new systems that would be implemented. And he may be totally disinterested in prevention! That’s also an outcome you need to be prepared for, sadly.

    Still, it’s worth raising the topic and seeing where it goes. Wishing you good luck!

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      This is a good point. If it’s being revealed to Bob now that work wasn’t getting done that he thought was, the conversation doesn’t need to involve Petunia at all and instead should be about instilling safeguards and QCs to check what work is happening.

    1. ego v. ego*

      And is its own display of ego-the need to seek validation and recognition for being “right.”

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, if you’re unlucky you may even have to apologise for being right, if it was your egoistic boss who was wrong.

  24. Sneaky Squirrel*

    Take the win and let it be. Sure, you could ask, “Is there anything I could have done differently” but it won’t be constructive feedback. Bob is not going to give you acknowledgement that you were right. Likely he’ll get frustrated that you keep bringing it up after it’s been handled. If he tries to offer feedback, it will be along the lines of telling you ways you could have given feedback that you already tried.

  25. Ashley Armbruster*

    I admire LW for her positive attitude about loving her job. Even if 98% of my coworkers where amazing, having a “Petunia” and “Bob” who put up with her antics would ruin that for me.

    1. Annie Nominous*

      I wonder if it’s possible the frustration over Petunia has been such a blinding distraction that it’s kept LW from noticing other problems.

  26. Karen*

    The only additional thing that might work (and you’d have to play it carefully) is to actually play to his ego. Yes, do all the things like asking what you might have done differently because you’d like to learn how to prevent such things in the future, also per avocado above maybe discuss his thinking etc… but you might be able to subtly let him know that people are really appreciative that he took a stand, that he is the kind of boss who respects input. As I say, would have to be careful so it doesn’t come across as sarcastic or insincere, but you might be able to subtly point him in the direction of reputational gain being possible when he is open to feedback. This has only worked for me once. Some ego types are too dense. Glad you got your win though! enjoy.

  27. Not A Manager*

    Don’t do it. Bob will gaslight you and explain how you failed to communicate properly. You’ll wind up more frustrated and upset.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Hard agree. I am getting a strong”this is a girl problem” vibe from Bob (if OP is a woman). There is a certain kind of Bob that believes all conflict between women is petty and silly. In fact, these Bobs expect conflict between women. Jorge is your only hope if that describes your Bob. All my sympathy.

  28. It's Me. Hi.*

    I wonder if you think it will provide some sort of closure? From my experience, it doesn’t. There were a ton of people who, it seemed to me, turned a blind eye or enabled my boss’ shitty behavior to me b/c her value to the company was greater than my feelings. I heard all sorts of things from these folks about how terrible she made them feel – I felt validated, but ultimately, it didn’t change anything. That person is gone now and it’s a much better place for me. Your mileage may vary, of course. Know that you’re right and move on. (All speculation here; thank you for coming to my Ted Talk)

  29. Reebee*

    Easily one of the best frameworks of advice I personally have seen here. Truly insightful and so useful. Thank you, Alison!

  30. Sparkles McFadden*

    Take the win and find a way to let it go. From my personal experience, the Pentunias of the world rarely get fired, and especially not by their protectors.

    I actually do like Alison’s suggestion for how to approach Bob, but I really think you may just end up more frustrated than ever. Bob’s ego won’t allow him to think he was wrong. Just remind yourself that you and your colleagues did a stellar job of finally getting through to Bob. That’s no small accomplishment!

  31. Data Nerd*

    My boss and I both raised issues like this about our Petunia who worked on another team, and were told that we were bullies. Then our Petunia got into a car accident and had to be out unexpectedly for an extended period of time and our Bob came over and said “Petunia hasn’t been doing the required tasks for the job!” No duh, Bob! Our Pentunia also got fired, but we also NEVER got an apology for being ignored or for being called bullies for raising the issues. So unfortunately I think you’ll just have to take the win and move on.

    1. jez chickena*

      Bully = Anyone who points out what the boss’s favorite does wrong.

      I have been there….

  32. DannyG*

    I’m wondering what went on in the year petunia got there before the LW? Was there a threat of an ADA suit or something similar which left Bob thinking that she was untouchable?

  33. Excel-sior*

    you speak glowingly about your work and it sounds like this was Bob’s one blind spot. if thats the case and you have no other issues with him, I’m tempted to say let it go. if not, then you should re-evaluate, but it doesn’t sound like it.

    i think we’ve all had instances where we feel differently (rightly or wrongly) about a coworker than everyone else. as the big boss, Bob should have been more aware, but is this enough to gloss over everything else that’s positive?

  34. Chauncy Gardener*

    Oh geez. Currently in a similar situation, although not as terrible as Petunia. I have just realized that our company’s Petunia is the owner’s huge weak/blind spot and will eventually bring him down at some point. I’m on my way out and can’t wait. The owner expects me to give him strategic advice etc (i.e. that’s my job), but I can’t say a thing about Petunia2 anymore because he’s basically sick of hearing about it. And once all the shit hits the fan, I’ll be long gone and he won’t remember anything I told him.
    Huge eye roll and I’m stoked to be leaving.
    I have much empathy.

  35. Common Taters on the Ax*

    “Is there anything I could have done differently?” is a great stand-in for “I TOLD you so.” I’ve had to make do with “I recall that we discussed this,” which only self-reflective people pick up on.

    I’ve had people claim they said the opposite of what they did, and I honestly think it’s bad memory at least some of the time. “Is there anything…?” might trigger a genuine search of the true-memory bank in at least some people.

  36. ijustworkhere*

    You might get some satisfaction over simply telling Bob how you feel–in a professional manner of course. Riffing off Allison’s suggestion:

    “You know I and others have had serious concerns about Petunia for a long time and have tried to raise them — and I’ll be honest, I’ve been frustrated that when we brought them to you, they weren’t addressed. It created a lot of difficulty for the rest of us. I hope we’ve shown you that we have the company’s best interests at heart and that we can work together more collaboratively in the future if we see future issues. ” That doesn’t require him to do anything but says what you’re feeling.

    don’t know if you have that kind of relationship, but if you do, It might be worth a shot.

    1. Mr. Mousebender*

      There’s only one set of circumstances under which I would be willing to have that conversation with a boss with a huge ego.

      That being my exit interview on the eve of my retirement. A Bob-type boss is likely to take this conversation as a personal attack, no matter how professional you are being. They can easily retaliate if you are staying in your current employment, and if they are feeling really aggrieved they may attempt to sabotage your chances of getting employment elsewhere. The latter has happened to one of my immediate family.

  37. Jiminy Cricket*

    I’d ask yourself why you need to hear that apology from Bob. What would it really change?

    Is it so you know you’re right, or that you know he knows you were right? You already know you’re right.

    Is it because you don’t trust him to make better decisions in the future? An apology isn’t going to make him make better decisions, and if you can’t trust him, you can’t trust him.

    1. Crooked Bird*

      Or is it because it feels like the narrative in Bob’s head is the Official one, and that narrative is wrong b/c it doesn’t include the reality of how much effort you made to warn him? Would it at least help somewhat if, I don’t know, everyone BUT Bob acknowledged the truth?

      Or maybe they already have…

  38. Jenna Webster*

    If he kept her around because she knew how to manipulate him to make him feel good, then he isn’t going to respond well to anything that would make him feel bad (like acknowledging he did something wrong). I think you may be in danger of losing ground with him, simply because he doesn’t like how you make him feel about his ability and behavior. It’s a dangerous road when he has all the power.

  39. I treated you like a son*

    I agree that you’re probably not going to get a Mea culpa from Bob. But I wouldn’t worry about that – you said in the letter that you love the job otherwise and Petunia was the only downside.

    You should be celebrating!

  40. Petty Crocker*

    Based on my experience with Bobs in my career: If Bob’s weakness is his ego, doing anything to poke at it is a dicey risk. He let Petunia slide for whatever reason and now it’s not only blown up in his face, there’s a slew of leftover shrapnel to sift through that remains as evidence of Bob’s failure to manage the situation. Someone with an ego problem is not going to want to revisit the personal failure and will likely refocus his discomfort with his failure into anger towards OP for bringing it up. Tread lightly.

  41. The Other Sage*

    A reasonable boss would have never permitted Petunia to behave the way she did for that long, and instead would have taken you and your coworkers seriously a long time ago.
    I’m afraid he won’t react in a reasonable manner to feedback about himself either, nor be willing to admit that he was part of the problem. That is very unfortunate, because that is what would allow him to grow and to do better in the future.

  42. Overit*

    I strongly advise against asking Bob what YOU could have done differently.
    That will only 1. enable his belief that he handled it properly before “given the info,he had” and 2. give him a scapegoat for his failure — YOU. I guarantee that if you ask that question, Bob’s narrative will be that “It was all LW’s fault bec she did not make me see the truth.”

  43. Annie Nominous*

    I really like Allison’s advice, because there might actually be an answer that Bob could give you; maybe he’s somebody who needs to see the evidence in black and white, maybe it will help him rethink how complaints are handled. But I also feel the hair on the back of my neck rising a little, especially as people are pointing out that an ego-driven boss will do their best to protect their own ego. I worry that Bob won’t take an employee asking “what could I have done differently” as a prompt for self reflection and instead seize the opportunity to declare “that’s right, this is *your* fault and let me tell you how!”

  44. TheBunny*


    Honestly I don’t think LW is ever going to get any sort of mea culpa from Bob.

    So many owners and managers seem to dismiss internal complaints as office politics or a personal dislike and not take something seriously until someone from the outside causes theb issue.

  45. RVA Cat*

    You know how sometimes you get a song stuck in your head and it’s like the universe is trying to tell you something? Today mine is “The Boxer” and the line “Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest” leaps out. That is Bob. Take the win and let it go.

    1. Mr. Mousebender*

      I wish this site allowed upvotes, because I officially adore your quote.

  46. spiriferida*

    I don’t think you need to ask Bob how you could better handle it – what it seems to me you’ve gotten out of this firing is knowing that it takes either a major incident or the dissatisfaction of outside partners to sway Bob’s opinion. So if something comes up again, your tactics if you can’t convince Bob or get him to implement some kind of HR might be to either convince him that those partners will have a problem with it, or convince those outside partners that they ought to bring up the issue to Bob.

    It might not be that you’re in a position to do this, or it might be that it feels like too high a level of managing up to be worth it considering how long this Petunia issue went on. I do agree with the others that you’re probably not going to get a resolution from this situation with Bob, though – and if you do, it’ll probably be years down the line when the issue isn’t so fresh in his mind.

  47. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I do worry, LW, that without Petunia there to be the load bearer for your discontent, you may find that the job is not so great. I really hope I’m wrong, but I’ve been there. Thinking everything will be better once [placeholder] is fixed… but [placeholder] wasn’t the totality of the issue.

    1. Volunteer Enforcer*

      I couldn’t agree with you more @CaptainVegetable. I thought my old manager at my previous job was the only problem…

    2. Heffalump*

      How much of the issue was Petunia–10%, 25%, 50%, 80%. 90%? I suspect towards the high end of the scale.

  48. Sara without an H*

    What you’re expecting is reasonable; you just may not get it.

    This sentence is going into my ever-expanding list of future AAM needlepoint projects.

  49. Chick-n-Boots*

    As someone who was 100% you some years ago, I can confidently say that you are never, ever, ever, EVER going to get that acknowledgement. In my situation things got so bad with this employee that the organization not only fired the terrible employee (who was my supervisor at the time and the big boss’ right hand) but got restraining orders against them for the company, myself and a colleague (the two most frequent targets of the insanity and the two essentially propping this person up at work). When it was all over, our big boss seemed genuinely surprised by everything and how dramatic the ending was and how seriously the company took it. Despite, you know, literal years of emails, meetings, and complaints – from us, from clients, from other people in the company – telling them what a problem this employee was on SO. MANY. DIFFERENT. OCCASIONS. (This included excessive drinking on the job, inappropriate behavior with interns, financial malfeasance, and just ghosting or doing terrible work for clients.)

    It was frustrating and baffling and the final nail in the coffin of that particularly crazy job. I’m very sorry it took so long for your big boss to finally recognize the problem and take action – but do not hold your breath for that apology or acknowledgement. Make peace, be glad she’s gone and move on with your life – be it there or elsewhere.

  50. pocket sized polly*

    I want to know why this trip is the one that did it for Bob, compared to all the other complaints. But you won’t ever get that answer so yeah, you need to decide to let it go and stay at that company or let it go and find another job. The third option, I guess, is to maybe leave for a new job but still die mad about it but like, that seems kind of dumb. You’re not going to get closure from this.

  51. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Trust me OP, at my (just resigned) former job I would have been glad for *that* manager to be dismissed, even with no acknowledgement. The head of my old team knows the problems but won’t act.

  52. Doc McCracken*

    LW- This is still very fresh. Give yourself, and Bob, a few weeks at least to process all of this in whatever way you need to on your own. Then when it’s not so raw, you can still have the conversation Allison suggested.

  53. AnonNY*

    Yup, worked with a “Petunio” for years, and it finally took my current boss to do the work to get rid of him once and for all. There were many hurdles, including a condition they had which was chronic, so they took multiple leaves of absence. The company was very generous, and they took full advantage by being maliciously compliant and weaponizing his incompetence. In these cases, you have to find a way to be grateful the issue was resolved, even if it was not in the timeframe or way you would have preferred.

    1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      I may have to name my next pet Petunio. Love it!

  54. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I can’t believe how many people have known Bobs and Petunias! I will throw my hat into the ring too. Our Petunia was asked to leave the company. Our Bob never apologized. This was 20 years ago, so safe to say I’m over it now, but it stung for a while. I just decided to accept the solace that her ways were finally exposed and she was out of my life.

    And, more importantly, I vowed never to be treated like that again, which was empowering.

  55. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

    At a previous job, the office manager told me that an absolutely wonderful, fantastic person would be starting as our new receptionist the following day. She said that we were lucky to get Sandy, because Sandy’s previous supervisor had to lay her off, and the supervisor cried herself to sleep that night because the company was going to lose Sandy. The office manager told me to be extra nice to Sandy, because she was so wonderful.

    I wasn’t the least bit impressed with her. Not only did I not see anything wonderful about her, but it appeared to me that she had never had a job before. Eventually, she confided in me that she had never had a job. She had graduated from high school two years earlier and spent her days watching TV. Her parents told her to get a job, but she said that she made appointments for interviews and never showed up, and told her mother afterwards, “They don’t want me, Ma. Nobody wants me.” And then she would cry, and her mother would cry.

    Then her mother had a bright idea. She said, “Write up a resume and pretend that you were a receptionist at my company. When you have to provide a reference, tell them to ask for Mrs. Phillips. I’ll tell everyone at my company that all calls for Mrs. Phillips should be given to me.”

    So Sandy’s mother was the one who provided the glowing reference for Sandy. Sandy hated working at our company, and she was constantly nasty to everyone and did shoddy work and called in sick when she wasn’t really sick (she told me this). But the office manager refused to fire her, because that would mean that she (the office manager) had made a mistake in hiring Sandy and telling all of us how wonderful Sandy was, and the office manager just hated having to admit that she was wrong about anything.

    Luckily, after a couple of years, the day came when the office manager told me that she had a talk with Sandy, and it was agreed that Sandy would leave, and she could get unemployment, plus the office manager would give her a glowing reference in the future. I was so happy that it never occurred to me to expect the office manager to apologize to us.

    Most of the time (but not this time), if a company is reluctant to fire someone, it’s because that employee is the relative or friend of the owner, or the friend of a relative or the relative of a friend of the owner.

    1. Heffalump*

      I suspect the fake reference wasn’t the only mistake Sandy’s mother made in raising her.

      1. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

        You’re right about that! Sandy told me about going on vacation with her parents to some Caribbean island (I can’t remember which one), and she brought marijuana with her on the plane. (This was many, many years ago when marijuana was completely illegal in the USA and in a lot of other countries.) And she claimed to have bought marijuana when on that Caribbean island! She wasn’t caught. So she either behaved disgracefully when on vacation with her parents (and she had told me that her parents had paid her way), or she was a big liar and had never carried marijuana. Either way, her parents hadn’t done the best job raising her.

  56. Me*

    I can’t believe so many people have a Petunia. Ours left for another job 2 months ago, and I feel like we’ve all been through a trauma. With her gone, it’s incredible how much better my mental health is.

    I have come to realize how little actual power local management has, and have to promise myself not to stay if there are future Petunias.

    I am just now in a head space where I’m grateful she’s gone when fixing one of her messes we find. At first I was bitter at having to fix it.

  57. el l*

    There are people who learn from their mistakes, and who have the self-awareness to see how their action (or in this case inaction) knocked everyone’s credibility down a notch.

    Bob sure doesn’t sound like he’s one, and that he’s never going to be one. Many, especially in high positions, do not. He’s not going to suddenly develop self-awareness because of this experience.

    I was in a similar situation, and when I left an old job, I wrote up a document explaining why I was leaving. And I gave it to my boss, who then told me essentially that it was likely to anger the people he reported to. And so I decided to withdraw it. Not because I cared about whether they were angry. But because it’s only worth going to the effort of teaching people when they will take seriously what you say and learn from it.

    Otherwise, what’s the point?

  58. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Bob will never admit how wrong he was and he will not be happy with you pointing out that he dropped the ball, badly. Let it go.

  59. Sybil Writes*

    My best advice is to wait 2 weeks and see if you can let it go or live with it and get on with the new normal. If it is still really eating you up, consider whether it is time for you to move on to a new situation. Because, to me, it sounds like a mixture of wanting to give Bob a great big “told you so” (an understandable, but not particularly admirable or practical desire) and almost wanting to punish Bob in some way. I believe if you are still bothered in 2 weeks, as opposed to genuinely enjoying the new vibe in the workplace, it might indicate that you just don’t trust or respect your management enough to move forward.
    Disciplining employees, dealing with issues as serious as a drinking problem and terminating someone, especially without the support of a strong HR team is some seriously stressful stuff. Clearly Bob’s performance has been a disappointment to you, and possibly rightfully so. I fear that extracting your “pound of flesh” from him won’t make you feel better, and may lead to you moving on to a new job anyway (will he consider you his next Petunia?) Better to stick to the high road if you’re going to take that trip. Resentment (and it sounds to me that you resent the years of speaking up and being ignored) is corrosive and usually does more damage to the person feeling resentment than their target.
    I don’t see any way you can make Bob “eat crow” and come out ahead professionally or personally.
    I wonder if, rather than rehashing anything in the past, if you could pull together some resources or a proposal for outsourcing some HR services, including EAP services. Whatever else she was, Petunia sounds like she is approaching being an unemployable alcoholic. This is a terrible and terrifying situation for anyone to be in and very difficult to turn around alone. It’s a shame that an EAP resource was not available to her. Being part of a solution, rather than dragging out the problem might be one way to advance toward the status of trusted advisor/highly valued member of staff. Tap in to your better angels!
    By the way, I can’t help wondering if any of your clients on that 2 week trip did not contact Bob directly, leading to the firing as much as anything else.

  60. Pickle Shoes*

    I’d talk to Jorge so you know he’s informed, even if the morale problem is obvious to him, and try to let it go. It’s what I do when I have an issue with my grandboss, since I can trust my boss. We’ve all known each other about the same amount of time, in various roles, but you don’t always know when someone is going to get testy about hierarchy.

    It really doesn’t hurt to keep in mind how Petunia handled Bob, either. Managing him was apparently the only thing she did incredibly well there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for manipulating people as a rule, but it’s important to know your audience.

  61. Heffalump*

    I suspect Petunia was fired for offending customers and her terrible treatment of her coworkers didn’t enter into it. Funny how that works.

  62. Paul Z*

    Bob will never admit that he was wrong, especially if it also means admitting that you were right. It simply won’t happen. You can give up waiting for it.

    But an even bigger problem is: if this company is big enough to have at least two layers of middle management (Jorge and OP), you ABSOLUTELY MUST have an HR department! It is long past due! This is utter madness! Bob’s non-management style is just asking for some disgruntled ex-employee (maybe Petunia, who knows) to sue him out of existence.

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