my employee yelled at a coworker — but I don’t think she should apologize

A reader writes:

I recently joined a public agency as a director after working in the private sector previously.

One of my employees, let’s call her Anna, works with various employees from the IT department in a working team on projects that are very much needed to advance our team’s work. She does her job super well and has great working relationships with all but one person from the IT team, let’s call him Barry.

There’s a long history of a fraught relationship between Anna and Barry that long predates my time here. They are equals in terms of org level and responsibilities (Anna handles responsibilities of a product owner and Barry is a developer, if that helps). Basically, Barry doesn’t do the work that the working team mutually agrees is his to work on and thus causes lots of extra work for other team members. He then wastes even more time by trying to explain why he couldn’t do the work, and/ or is trying to gaslight Anna into thinking that issues that arise from him not doing his work aren’t issues or are her fault (this isn’t just what Anna tells me; others on different teams see it, too).

For various reasons related to this agency, putting Barry on a PIP, moving him to other responsibilities, or getting him fired is not an option. There had previously been mediation between Anna and Barry that didn’t change anything.

Things recently came to a head where yet another thing wasn’t done by Barry, he was wasting peoples’ time in a weekly developer meeting, and Anna initially calmly and then “with a very loud voice” told him to “please leave the phone conference.”

Anna and I just had a meeting where Barry’s manager, Jason (he’s also new-ish to the situation), requested an apology from Anna for “humiliating” Barry and stating that Barry isn’t motivated and can’t do his work because of how Anna treats him (solely based on the one interaction from said phone conference). Any attempts of explaining the situation in context from our end were essentially blocked.

I’m totally there that it’s not okay to yell at someone and ask them to leave a phone conference. But I’m also feeling frustrated on Anna’s behalf and empathize.

Barry not doing work caused Anna’s reaction, not the other way around. Anna is also not responsible for, nor has direct management of, Barry’s work and motivation. Also, stating that the interaction was “humiliating” for Barry seems … off? Not professional, not appropriate, not conducive to a good working relationship, sure, but my sense is that it’s being overblown to distract from Barry’s issues.

We left the meeting with Jason stating that the respective sides would talk about how to repair the relationship (on our end) and how to address performance gaps (on Barry’s end), and that Jason and I would then reconvene to talk about next steps.

In any other situation, I’d agree that taking ownership and apologizing for yelling would be the right thing for Anna do. But for reasons I can’t quite put into words, this feels really icky and frustrating to me in this particular situation. Anna also just told me she’d “die inside” if she has to apologize to Barry, especially when there’s no acknowledgement of his contribution to the issues.

How would you handle all this?

The idea of Anna having to apologize to Barry feels wrong to you because Barry — the person who’s causing all of these problems — isn’t being held accountable in any way. Making the person who finally snapped after Barry’s bad behavior went unchecked for months/years apologize while Barry doesn’t receive any consequences proportionate to his offenses is wrong-headed and unfair.

What should happen is that Jason needs to have a serious conversation with Barry where he lays out the issues with his performance and behavior and says something like, “While Anna shouldn’t have raised her voice, we’re seeing the consequences of long-running frustration, and that’s the piece we need to address on our side.” And I suspect if Anna saw real action being taken on that, she would feel a lot more comfortable acknowledging to Barry that she shouldn’t have raised her voice. But asking her to do that when Barry is allowed to continue Barry-ing without repercussions is, frankly, a bit sick.

If Jason keeps pushing for that, hold firm. Say that Anna has been pushed to the brink by months/years of intransigence from Barry and that while you agree she shouldn’t have raised her voice, she is not the primary problem, and that you are not willing to alienate an excellent employee by forcing an apology without addressing the actual problem. Say you feel strongly that there needs to be a plan in place to resolve the Barry issues before anything else happens, because the situation has become untenable. Anna’s outburst is a sign of that, not a separate thing.

It could also be useful to give Jason clear documentation of the many times Barry has neglected to do his job in the last, say, six months, if that’s something you and Anna can assemble. If she has records of follow-ups and nudges (“I emailed Barry on 4/16 to remind him this was due,” etc.), include those as well. You want to present Jason with clear records of what’s been happening, especially since he’s new to the job and probably doesn’t realize the extent of the problems.

I also want you to challenge the idea that it’s impossible to move or fire Barry. Maybe your agency really does work like that, but most of the time when people say that what it really means is “it would take a huge amount of work and time to fire Barry.” Because you’re not Barry’s boss, you only have so much influence there — but that would mean it’s a problem with Barry’s managers, not that it genuinely can’t be done.

Also, I’d like to know more about your power here. Do you have the authority to say that your team will not work with Barry anymore? Or to start regularly going over Barry’s head and straight to his manager when he’s not doing the work he’s been assigned? (You almost certainly have the power to start doing the latter, even if you can’t do the former.) If Jason isn’t willing to hold Barry accountable for his work, then make this Jason’s problem so he feels The Pain of Barry more often.

{ 359 comments… read them below }

      1. Brambles are not the only fruit*

        It looks like Jason is becoming part of the problem himself. By wilfully failing to understand the extent of Barry’s shortcomings, he’s failing in his duty as a manager. State the case fully to Jason and make it clear that the onus is now on him to sort it out. Agree a very precise timelime with him for seeing improvements and if neither can keep to this timeline then it’s time to go above Jason’s head.

      2. OMG, Bees!*

        Absolutely he is, and being new, he hopefully is going by the method of not making changes until he has observed the team for a few weeks. But he needs that extra info of not working with other departments and delaying projects

    1. RIP Pillowfort*

      Then it’s time to put the “we don’t fire people for performance” to the test and really let Jason know that Anna isn’t apologizing and Barry needs to get it together.

      If they won’t fire Barry for his outright insubordination and lack of completing his work- they certainly won’t fire you for completing your work but being fed up with Barry’s attitude. I seriously doubt they can’t fire him. They just don’t want to. Then it needs to be Jason’s pain- not Anna’s or the OP’s to deal with.

      Disclaimer- I work for gov’t and you can absolutely fire someone for this lack of performance. They just have to want to go through whatever process is necessary.

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        Yes, if they truly don’t fire people for performance, then no need for Anna to apologize because there’s no consequences if she doesn’t. In fact, I’d encourage Anna to tell Barry that going forward, to chuck him off the conference call when he starts up or do whatever works for her.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Oh definitely just cut him off the conference call. Because clearly he doesn’t like being told to leave — so just kick him out.

        2. Ellie*

          The way that I handle this is to immediately close the meeting, ‘This discussion is going around in circles so I will take it offline. Let’s reconvene tomorrow’. I can’t be accused of embarrassing anyone, and most people are grateful to get a bit of time back. Then I speak to the people I need to speak to separately. Then, I find a way to stop inviting Barry to any future meetings.

          I am a software lead and I have been Anna so, so, so, many times. What is it about computer programming that protects these Barry’s who do no work and then actively create work for other people? Then when you push to let them go, you end up getting some vague story about giving people a chance, he’s the only one who knows about X (and refuses to train anyone else in it of course, because it’s so complicated lol), he’s been here for 10 years and we can’t get rid of him now, etc. etc. It’s like all the nerds from high-school rallying around one of their own, because you can’t possibly exclude anybody. That’s not how the working world works!

          Anyway, OP, Alison’s advice is excellent, but if you get told no anyway, then I suggest telling Anna to exclude Barry from the team’s meetings. Give him his own low-priority work (documentation, help files, extra test cases… something that no-one’s going to care about if it isn’t done), that doesn’t depend on anyone else, and track it separately. Remove him from the scrum team, or whatever it is you’re running. He clearly isn’t suited to it, and its wasting too much time.

          Then wait for someone high up enough and strong enough to notice he’s redundant, and offer him one. And don’t make Anna apologise. Knowing that my boss had my back made a huge difference to me when I was Anna. It’s pretty much the only thing that kept me in the role.

          1. Anna*

            “It’s like all the nerds from high-school rallying around one of their own, because you can’t possibly exclude anybody.”

            This is it exactly, I totally agree. I’ve found this pattern in nerdy friendship groups as well (see the missing stair as popularized by Captain Awkward) and this list of geek social fallacies –

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        And if they truly DON’T fire for performance as advertised, both Anna and the OP need to start looking elsewhere if they haven’t already.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, they are *definitely* going to lose Anna if Barry is allowed to continue on this path.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            I’m guessing that they’d be fine with that. Either Barry is a sacred cow or a relative of the CEO, is my guess.

        2. Clorinda*

          I would be surprised if Anna isn’t already looking. Companies that protect their Barrys lose their Annas.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Depends. Anna could (in the US) transfer agencies, keep her benefits, and get away from Barry. Or if that’s not an option for her, becoming a contractor isn’t unheard of – some companies like to poach from the feds because of the insider expertise. I wouldn’t bank on Anna not going anywhere.

              I would take this outburst as Anna at the end of her tether and the company really needs to consider who is more valuable – Barry (and/or Jason) or Anna. And/or whoever else is feeling the brunt of Barry who is watching this go down. If Jason’s response is to make the victim apologize, Anna might not be the only one fed up.

              1. Aspiring Ansel Adams*

                OP says she’s been there for years already with this situation going on. Anna clearly doesn’t envision a future in the private sector. I suppose she could put in for an inter-agency transfer.

                1. 1LFTW*

                  Oh, she still might!

                  The thing about a lot of government jobs (at least where I am) is that once you put in a certain number of years, like 15 or 20, you’re fully vested in your retirement benefits. It’s not at all uncommon for people who started early in their careers to leave for the private sector in their 40s or 50s.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        That’s why this is the strongest card to play:

        “If Jason isn’t willing to hold Barry accountable for his work, then make this Jason’s problem so he feels The Pain of Barry more often.”

        Gather the history details, summarize and provide to Jason, to give the new guy context of what’s been happening, how long Barry has be a black hole for the team.

        And then every time Barry fails to do what the role he’s in requires, like he always does, you kick the issue to Jason. Every single time. And if he is none response or tries to deflect, send the monkey back your way, kick it back. It will likely be useful to bring it up to your manager, mention it’s been a chronic issue and you’re going to approach it this new way, so she can have your back if Jason or Jason’s manager try to point at you or your team as an issue.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          If Jason doesn’t respond, that sounds like an issue to escalate to Jason’s manager. “We’ve been waiting for a response from Jason on this time-sensitive matter. Is he out this week?”

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. Any time Barry doesn’t do what he’s meant to, that goes to Jason. And nobody in the meetings needs to waste time listening to Barry’s excuses and gaslighting.

      4. Archi-detect*

        I have a friend who is a manager in the government- he said he couldn’t hate someone enough again to get them fired. The pain of it was all the steps and daily documentation and dragged out for months as I understood it- sometimes someone should be fired but someone in the process decides it isn’t worth the effort.

        1. yeep*

          At a public university and can confirm this happened for a friend of mine, and at the end of the process, the manager STILL wasn’t allowed to fire the employee, they just extended the PIP.

          1. House On The Rock*

            I also work for a public university and have witnessed the same.
            In my old department we had someone who was a horrible fit and never should have been hired. Their current manager put them on a PIP, but whiffed some bureaucratic detail and HR made them restart the process several times, with the minimum time for a PIP being 3 months. I inherited this employee and was subjected to months malicious compliance by the employee and hand waving by HR.
            Part way through I think the 3rd iteration of the PIP the employee finally quit, but I always wondered if I’d have been able to fire them if they hadn’t left!

        2. Someone Online*

          I am a manager in state government. You can fire someone – after I had an employee on her third PIP I was almost there – but she quit. It takes dedicated time and attention but sometimes it is really, really worth it. Not because she necessarily left any faster than she otherwise would have, but because other staff could see that something was being done.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            In most cases I’m aware of, it’s not usually visible to other staff that an employee is on a PIP. Usually the most folks will be able to get in cases where someone is on a PIP is “we know this is an issue, and we are handling things.” No more details than that. But I agree that even if it takes time and attention to go through the process to fire a Barry, it’s worth it because if you DO manage to fire them, it makes the workplace better for everyone else. And sometimes, it does convince the Barry to leave sooner on their own.

            1. Cinn*

              Not to mention if you finally prove you can, actually, remove problem employees, it might make a few other maybes buck up their act.

          2. megaboo*

            I work in county government and disciplinary action is not public. If someone put in a records request, I guess. It’s hard when you keep the high performing in the dark about whatever action is happening.

            1. 1LFTW*

              I mean, it is, and it isn’t.

              I lived through a situation like Barry, where a lot of people were feeling the pain from a problematic employee, and we all talked with one another. When our new manager *also* started talking with us, it became clear that she intended to do something about the problem worker. It took some time, but ultimately, action was taken.

      5. Wildbow*

        My read on the situation was that there’s some angle like nepotism involved, and Barry has a privileged position where he’s not going to be fired unless it’s egregious, and people have complained, only for managers to say they’d lose their jobs if they stuck their neck out, and it won’t achieve anything.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It seems very common for there to be an assumption that public sector=cannot be fired, minority/disabled=cannot be fired, or unionized=cannot be fired. In almost all of those cases, no, the manager just needs to document the performance/behavior issues and follow the progressive discipline procedures.

          It seems pretty frequent that just starting progressive discipline will alert the problem employee that they need to find another job.

          1. Union Steward in City Government*

            This is absolutely the case. It isn’t because the union jumped in and said you can’t fire them; it’s because somewhere, someone didn’t do things the way they’re supposed to be done. A manager can’t just say they’ve talked to someone three or four times about an issue, they need to take the time to put it in writing that the conversation happened. Believe it or not, it’s for the manager’s benefit as well as the staff member’s.

    2. lemon*

      Or he knows and doesn’t care. I’ve seen this play out so often with development teams. They tend to keep jerks around because, the company reasons, their technical skills make it worth putting up with. I think it might also happen more often with developers who have worked at the company for a long time. Hiring a new developer would mean paying them a market rate, which is probably higher than what the jerk employee is making. I also think there’s a fair amount of bias against “non-technical” folks in these arenas. Some developers feel like a non-technical person, like a product owner, shouldn’t be able to tell them what to do because they’re not a developer, so what right do they have? It’s truly maddening.

      1. Typing All The Time*

        This is true. Old job had a troublemaker who would blow up at people. We all went to the publisher to complain and he told us that no one could replace her because her job’s salary level was so low.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          But if Barry isn’t doing anything anyway, then getting rid of him and not hiring anyone else saves on salary and the same amount of work gets done (or more, because no one has to work around Barry anymore).

          (This is all in the abstract, of course. The LW obviously knows more about how firing and hiring work at her agency than we do, and it’s entirely possible that Barry is doing some work somewhere that doesn’t involve Anna. But sometimes, getting rid of someone without replacing them can lead to an overall increase in work productivity.)

      2. I SuperBelieve In You, Tad Cooper*

        Ding ding ding. I saw this at a start up I worked with; that place had two Barrys in IT/Development who effectively held the company hostage by refusing to do work/refusing to do work in any way but their own way. They were so hard to work with that they drove out several good employees, who were clear about why they left. Our CEO would openly talk at happy hours—at which both Barrys were present and in earshot—about how she had repeatedly tried and failed (somehow??) to fire them. Because they were “geniuses” and “we’d never find anyone better at their jobs.”

        I moved on years ago, but last I checked, they’re both still at the company.

          1. Mairead*

            Haha, I used to work for a company which employed The Most Obnoxious Man In The World. So many people either quit or refused to work with him again, but he just continued. To be fair, he was genuinely very very bright.
            AFAIK, he’s retired now and I’d say there was great celebration that day.

            1. Legal velawciraptor*

              I had one of those. She’d made so many claims to HR and Title IX about discrimination (higher education), that the University was afraid to move forward with any PIP or disciplinary action, because she threatened to sue for retaliation. There was dancing in the streets and celebratory cake when she left (on a completely fabricated resume, no less), and everyone breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

      3. I Laugh at Inappropriate Times*

        My boss calls it the bullshit to benefit scale. As long as the bullshit doesn’t outweigh the benefit, they’ll put up with a lot of bullshit.

        1. kupo*

          Unfortunately, they usually miscalculate the benefit. IME (as a Sr Software Engineer) the “10x” developers are just offloading 90% of their work onto everyone else (documentation, refactoring to make the code readable, fixing their bugs (in usually difficult to decipher code), etc. etc.). But because they can pound out a whole feature over a weekend they’re “geniuses”. The rest of us could probably do that, too, if we didn’t take any care to do all the “boring” bits like documentation, ensuring the code is readable to junior devs, going through rounds if peer reviews, planning out the strategy with colleagues etc. The “10x” engineers get to skip those parts, offloading it to the rest of us to do later (because it will need maintenance at some point, so it still needs doing).

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Huh, I’ve never worked for a company where someone could build a solid reputation on fast but hacky code. I guess there are some benefits to having software developers as managers (to counterbalance the disadvantages such as many would rather be writing code than managing).

            Though I did work for a company that was so focused on numbers they fired the person on our team who did the lion’s share of mentoring and documentation and were probably surprised when everyone else’s numbers suddenly tanked.

            1. kupo*

              Well, at the place where I saw the worst example of this, the guy did write fairly solid (if not always SOLID) code, and I got the impression his reputation came first and then once he became so revered he started doing the hacky, *just get it out* kind of stuff. The manager was an engineer at that place, but was promoted up from IC so possibly already looked up to this guy before becoming his boss (but the guy didn’t *really* have a boss from how it appeared to me, anyway).

            2. Ellie*

              I’ve been in this situation – trying to defend the one senior on the team who had poor metrics, because he was the friendliest, most extroverted person on a team of introverts, who was doing all the work of teaching the new ones. I showed a graph on what happened to the team’s metrics plotted against when he was absent from the office. That worked nicely.

              But he was no Barry, and neither are the fast hackers who don’t document or do any kind of maintenance. Barry’s do absolutely nothing, while promising people they will, mess around with the codebase, and generally making work for other people. At least, that’s how I understood the Barry in the letter. People who are fast but hacky generally get discovered pretty quickly when their luck runs out and the new feature they bragged about fails spectacularly. Barry’s slide along in the background because no-one’s quite sure what they’re doing (which is usually nothing, or close to it).

          2. Wendy Darling*

            Most engineers can bang out a whole feature in 2-3 days of work if they can get everyone to stop bothering them and then just write crappy, illegible code! It is not that hard to write bad code quickly if you don’t have any interruptions, and you don’t have to worry about trifling issues like making it make sense. I’m increasingly convinced that those guys are not special, they are just assholes who talk a good game.

            Honestly one of the best things to happen to tech is that the “bastard operator from hell” type is going extinct. Over time it has become way less acceptable to be an asshole even if you are very, very good, and it’s a net benefit to the field generally — it makes it less gatekeep-y and way more welcoming to people who aren’t nerdy white straight men, for instance.

            And I’m saying this even though I am a total curmudgeon who wants nothing more than to sit in a basement and code while my stakeholders all leave me the heck alone. When I was a teen I wanted to be a BOFH when I grew up (I was born 10 years too late). Instead I’ve become a perfectly good engineer who also has social skills and can interact with people pleasantly and respectfully, and I force myself to stifle and phrase it politely when what I want to say is “THIS IS A TRASH FIRE AND I WANT THE HEAD OF WHOEVER MADE IT LIKE THIS”.

            1. lemon*

              ugh. my manager built his career on being able to push out a hacky feature in a few days and then hype it up like it’s the most innovative thing since sliced bread. unfortunately, this means he’ll never be able to get another job, because this is the only place that’ll put up with him. so this organization is stuck with him. which is a shame because he somehow has a penchant for hiring nice, talented young devs and then running them into the ground.

      4. ferrina*

        Yep. Or the boss feels like if the incompetent person gets called out, the the boss could get called out, and the boss is protecting their territory.

        Honestly, I’d return pain to sender. In this case, Jason is the sender. OP should step in and make this whole thing as inconvenient to Jason as possible. When the only way for Jason to save face is to cut Barry loose, usually the Jasons will look out for themselves.

        1. Pretty as a Princess*

          THANK you for this great framing. “Return to sender” is going in my “catchy phrases playbook.”

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Captain Awkward calls it “return awkwardness to sender” and I LOVE it.

      5. MigraineMonth*

        As a developer, I’ve never understood resenting the product owner/project manager.

        The majority of things I really care about are in my area of expertise and therefore project managers/ stakeholders/ end users don’t care about at all. It’s my fellow developers I get into (generally fun) arguments with about database structure and whether to use inheritance. Sure, there are a few legal/ ethical things in the borderlands where I’ll dig my heels in, but mostly I make decisions in my area and they make decisions in theirs.

        I want project managers to tell me what to do! It would be a lot of work to figure all that out on my own. Yeah, project requirements change in the middle of the project, but you have to expect that to happen.

        1. lemon*

          it seems to be a special kind of developer who is like this. usually (not always) it’s the self-taught, libertarian-leaning “run fast and break things” boys who are guilty of this.

          Bt yes… project managers and POs are amazing and under-appreciated.

      6. Em*

        I’m in IT and we have genuine issues with some of the POs that cause major problems, like huge production issues our release manager has to scramble to fix because they didn’t know a functionality was xregional and failed to test properly, releasing a bunch of region specific changes that screwed up other regions’ processes.. but it’s made so much worse by the non-collaborative and shitty attitude IT (in general) has towards business oriented roles. Some of our POs have real potential but they still don’t get support because the assumption is they suck and aren’t worth the time investment. It’s frustrating. I’ve yet to see a manager that has any clue how to fix it.

    3. Beth*

      Maybe, but he should. How do you manage someone and not see that they’re failing to turn out any work? How do you have a team member whose working team agrees that he doesn’t do his work, who has a history of needing to go through mediation, and not be aware of his issues? For OP, at least, I don’t think it matters if Jason is ignorant of Barry’s issues or choosing to dismiss them–either way, he’s clearly not going to be a partner in getting this resolved.

      At the very least, OP, I hope you can push to get a different IT team member assigned to Anna’s project(s). You might not be able to fire him, but you can make him his own team’s problem instead of yours. If you’re insisting that his team assign someone who can and will do the work, either instead of or in addition to him, then the lack of work becomes their staffing issue.

      1. Orv*

        In my experience this often happens in IT when the manager is someone who doesn’t have an IT background, and doesn’t really understand what their subordinates are supposed to be doing.

        1. lemon*

          Yes! in this case, problem employee manages to spit out just enough technical BS to convince their non-technical manager that it’s a genuine technical problem and not a lack of work effort.

    4. Dandylions*

      Yeah time to make Jason feel the pain of Barry. Everytime a client complains, copy Jason and say – Barry can you update client on what the progress with X task is?

      Internal, external, copy it all so Jason has the full picture. I’ve had to use this once and within 2 weeks the issue was acknowledged and a fix was in place within a month.

      That said it’s concerning to me that Jason stonewalled any discussion of the factors leading to her loudly asking Barry to leave the phone conference. I’d dig I to what is up with that.

      1. Voice from the commercial sector*

        Bombarding Jason with a torrent of cc: e-mails isn’t the answer. Superfluous cc: e-mails tend to get ignored.

        OP needs to sit down with Jason and present a coherent case of why Barry is underperforming.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          It sounds like they did that and Jason wants Anna to “repair the relationship”. If sitting down with Jason doesn’t solve things the only real path forward is to make Barry Jason’s problem.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I think that sit-down was with OP, Anna, and Jason–maybe Barry and maybe not. I think a meeting with JUST Jason and OP is next on the agenda.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          The point isn’t (onlyl) to get a response from Jason – it’s to document all the times Barry’s not done his work AND the fact that Jason is ignoring them. If he won’t do anything (and it’s clear he won’t), then having the email chains will be useful in escalating to Jason’s manager.

    5. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Seen it many times. And so often the new manager wants to declare a clean slate, as if issues that predated them can be reset to zero.

    6. Audrey*

      The advice to make Barry a bigger problem for Jason is SPOT ON. As soon as it’s more painful for Barry’s manager to ignore the problem than to just address it, I think they’ll take action.

    7. ag*

      And so the only play is to explain to Jason that your employee will not be apologizing and that Jason needs to deal with his report who doesn’t do his job. And then, every time he doesn’t come through forward the issue to Jason; if Jason doesn’t deal with the first two or three timely then forward to Jason’s boss with a summary of the issue.

      Brian needs to be fired and so build the record and make it someone else’s problem.

  1. FattyMPH*

    Anna is already job hunting. If LW genuinely wants to do right by her, let her know you don’t want her to leave but if she finds a workplace that is capable of treating her better, you’d be happy to give an excellent reference.

    1. JR*

      This is absolutely right. OP, when you’re faced with an uncomfortable choice in this situation, whether to do something or not do it, it’s important to keep in mind that the consequences of not doing it are not “status quo”, but rather “Anna leaves”.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      In the meantime LW, please do everything you can to shield her from this BS. Don’t drag her into any meetings around Barry (unless they’re part of a serious investigation around his behavior with consequences for him.) Don’t make her answer for Barry’s refusal to do his work.

      Heck, set up a few if-then scenarios for what she can do when Barry inevitably engages in XYZ unprofessional behavior so she doesn’t have to give any emotional energy to deciding how to react. Invite her to forward any messages to you to deal with that are even remotely associated with Barry being Barry so she never has to give them another thought. And so forth.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, if you can act as a buffer between her and Barry even temporarily, the time to do so is now. If Barry pulls his tricks on you as well, it might help Jason realize that the problems aren’t Anna-specific and happen even when you’re gray-rocking Barry.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          For real, OP, do this. Anna will be forever grateful to you for it. I know of what I speak, as I just left a job with and because of a Barry and my boss (you) did her absolute best to keep my interactions with our Barry to a minimum. Sadly, my old boss still has to deal with Barry but because that org won’t do anything about their Barry, my old boss is also looking to leave asap.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Oh, and also? If you can somehow get yours and Jason’s boss to help you figure out what to do here, that would be worth a lot. I’m guessing that person already knows what Barry’s shtick is but getting that person’s insight and/or support would be really helpful.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yup, even if this means attending the team meetings for a while so you can shut things down when needed, rather than it being on Anna to keep things moving.

          1. Ellie*

            I do this. You have to be careful that you’re not undermining Anna’s authority, but attending meetings just to help keep the peace can help a lot, if Barry will listen to you and not her. It also helps when Jason pushes back – you can say you were there and heard exactly what happened, and she wasn’t being rude.

      2. r.*

        Reducing contact isn’t really an option here. A Product Owner and a Developer on the same team are necessarily going to have much contact with each other.

        To explain in a few sentences of what is/should be going on here in both Anna’s and Barry’s day-to-day work:

        Basically, the PO tells the developers what goals they want to accomplish, the developers will try to figure out how they are going to do it, figure out options with various upsides and downsides, and so on. Once the PO and the developers have an agreement on both what to accomplish and how to accomplish, the developers will build it, and once the developers are done building it the PO gets to look at it and either accept or refuse it.

        The entire process (of the various types of Agile Methods) they are running is built on PO and developers talking with as little intermediaries — this is key; you can have other subject matter experts, of course, but the important part is that the relevant players talk with each other instead of to each other via intermediaries — as possible directly to each other, in order to minimize information loss, misrepresenations and increase cycle rate/shorten feedback cycles.

        Injecting an intermediary into the process because Barry can’t adult would sabotage what makes the methodology work and is, as a matter of fact, designed to avoid.

        This is complicated by the fact that from the business’s perspective, the Product Owner *is responsible* for the product, and they are the primary interface layer between the team(s) building the product and the company commissioning the product. Anna does not have direct responsibility to manage Barry, but she has high-level responsibility for the outcome produced by the team Barry is part of.

        Like all methodologies it has assumptions, strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately one of the assumptions is that teams running it don’t have Barrys nobody can do anything about, and one of the weaknesses is that the usual ways to mitigate having a Barry you can’t do anything about is much more expensive than in other methodologies.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          LW’s responsibility is to Anna, her work output, and the greater public taxpayer. Not to the theory of Agile project management methodology when it is explicitly not working for this government agency, and when as you clearly state it requires good faith interaction on both sides. Barry is breaking the process so they need to *iterate the process* to one that minimizes the damage he can cause to the agency’s work.

    3. Morgan Proctor*

      From a government job? No way. That’s the real issue here. Government jobs are dreams for lots of people, and people will endure way more abuse there than they would in the private sector. The LW says that the issues between Anna and Barry predate their time there, so it’s been going on for a while. Anna is still there, probably because the benefits of working a government job outweigh the abuse she’s taking from Barry.

      1. Yes Anastasia*

        Not true. I work for a state agency. At the risk of generalizing, older employees are staying but the under-40 set are leaving for better opportunities, including sideways moves to other government agencies. At my agency the issue is pay as well as work conditions, but these days it’s impossible to say for sure that people will stick around in these roles.

        1. BestBet*

          This has been my experience as well. A lot of agencies got rid of pensions during the Great Recession and once there’s no pension, those golden handcuffs are gone.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Yeah I’m currently in local government and the benefits I got at a private university were better than I have now. No pensions either place, and the health benefits are fantastic here, but even when my employer contributions to my retirement fully vest, it’ll be less than the match I got 10 years ago.

          2. Taketombo*

            I just opted in to a pension at my public employer. It fully vests the same year I’m eligible to take it, so even though I’m over skilled for my (fairly compensated) role today, I’ll be in this seat for the next two decades: a promotion would mean more money, but I’d be leaving the union behind and could be fired without cause.

        2. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Don’t forget health insurance. People with chronic conditions could die or go bankrupt in the gap between jobs.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        It really depends. I work in the private sector, and we have 3 “types”:
        1) working there until retirement;
        2) working there until minimum retirement benefits kick in (5 years);
        3) working there for now, but open to new opportunities.

        Yeah, there are some people in category 1, but a lot of the workers who aren’t close to retirement are in 2 or 3, and I know a number of coworkers with in-demand jobs who have left.

        I’m planning on staying until minimum retirement benefits kick in, but if working conditions get bad enough (e.g. having to deal with a Barry), I would leave in a heartbeat. Union benefits are really nice, but the salary isn’t that competitive until you’ve been here for a number of years and there isn’t as much chance for merit-based promotions/raises.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        “Fatty MPH” is the name of a fat liberation activist, though I’m not sure that this commenter is the same person. I believe it is reclamation rather than shaming.

      2. it’s gonna be bye bye bye*

        In the fat activism community it is WIDELY preferred to say “fat” than other medicalizing or condescending euphemisms for such. Most fat activists will lightheartedly self-identify as a [whatever] fatty (with “whatever” being another interest or characteristic.)

      3. basically functional*

        The word “fat” is not inherently shameful unless you think being fat is shameful. It is (or at least should be) a neutral descriptor. It is the term preferred by the vast majority of fat activists. Who do you even think is being shamed here? This is a chosen username. You don’t get to police how people self-identify.

    4. Khatul Madame*

      If all this is going on in a government agency, this might not necessarily be true. In the US government employees are very unwilling to resign, except in rare cases for much higher compensation in the private sector. It is hard to give up job security and good benefits provided by the Federal government.
      Yes, this contributes to toxic atmosphere and misery in some places in government. So Anna may feel stuck, because “she cannot leave” and Barry is unfireable.

    5. Ellie*

      Do we know that Anna is job hunting? I’ve been Anna before and I’ll be damned if I’ll let any Barry drive me away from my team and a product I’m happy with. What helped was being told I had a difficult job that I was doing brilliantly, and never being made to apologise or feel like any of it was my fault.

  2. Mmm.*

    I’m curious: Does Barry do better on projects where he’s working with men? Would he say he’s “humiliated” if a man raised his voice?

    I’m actually not one to immediately jump to sexism, but something isn’t sitting right here.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I figure Barry is someone who has a harder time respecting the authority of women, but Jason is raising serious red flags too. He’s the one who used the word “humiliation” and blamed Barry’s behavior on Anna. Even if he was just repeating what Barry requested him to, he refused to listen to the LW about additional context.

      It’s possible LW swapped genders around for anonymity and there’s something else going on besides misogyny, but this absolutely feels like Barry (with Jason’s support) is looking to put Anna “in her place” for reasons that have nothing to do with her behavior or qualifications. Please keep careful documentation LW, and don’t hesitate to escalate the issues to whichever part of your agency handles EEOC-style discrimination issues.

      1. The Straight Truth*

        Yeah, I think Barry introduced himself to his new manager with a bit of background on the “ball buster” project manager who doesn’t really understand what they do in Jason’s department.
        And damned if he wasn’t right. There she goes emasculating Barry in a meeting.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        The entire meeting with Jason had “tone policing” written all over it. “Well, maybe we would have addressed your concerns if you hadn’t been such a bitch in how you raised them.”

        Spoiler: no, they wouldn’t have.

    2. Productivity Pigeon*

      I agree.

      “Humiliated” sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my mind.

      I don’t think sexism as a possible cause of Barry’s issues changes how the LW should tackle this, but it might still be illuminating.

      1. Ellie*

        Yeah, it doesn’t change anything, unless Barry is stupid enough to use a word that he shouldn’t, and OP can use that as something tangible that she can action. In his heart, he might not respect Anna because he has opinions on what a technical person should look like, but ultimately I very much doubt he would work any harder if he had a male product owner instead.

        Of course, the framing could have been Jason’s, not Barry’s. That’s probably worth thinking about.

    3. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      I was thinking this too, especially since Barry is in IT. Having worked in IT, there is a good amount of sexism. And also the whole “humiliation” thing. Doubt if a man had snapped at him that they’d be demanding an apology.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yeah I’m trying to keep my assumptions in check here but it’s all just so…. gendered and gross.

    4. tree frog*

      Yeah, the way that Barry seems to expect Anna to manage his feelings for him, while actively making her job harder, is really gross. Why is it her job to make him feel motivated at work? What?? I don’t understand how Jason passed that on without questioning what is going on with Barry.

    5. Charlotte Lucas*

      I was thinking the same thing. Women are less likely to be allowed to show frustration than men are.

      About a year ago, after months of overwork and my new manager not sticking up for his team, I expressed frustration to someone on a different team. Somebody said something to my manager (based on who likely did, it was due to concern for me). My (male) manager then gave me a talking to about my attitude, etc. (I am known for being cheerful and calm.)

      I apologized to everyone on the other team, more because they didn’t need to deal with it. But I also made clear to everyone that it was based on my work-life of the past so many months. (And, yes, I have a number based on when my manager took over the role.)

    6. Ellis Bell*

      The thing that pinged my sexism alert was the suggestion that Anna’s niceness has a direct effect on Barry’s effectiveness. If only Anna had enough magic pixie dust!

        1. Voice from the commercial sector*

          You have no evidence of this. There are plenty of incompetent government workers, both male and female, and the problem of it being difficult to fire them relates to civil service protections, not gender.

          1. Voracious Virago*

            Nah; the intense misogynistic overtones of this whole situation do, actually, provide plenty of reason to suspect a female employee would not be granted the kind of leeway Barry has been going given.

            1. Ellie*

              There might be plenty of incompetent workers out there, both male and female, but in my 25 years in IT, you know I’ve never encountered a female Barry? Every female programmer I’ve ever worked with has been terrific, without exception. It’s not a big sample size, but how weird is that? Maybe they self-select out?

          2. Mango Freak*

            This is not a legal trial; no evidence is required. Counterfactual conditionals are a perfectly valid kind of logic/formal semantics, and this one is based on general knowledge of well-documented phenomena.

            The court’s recommendation: stand down, friend.

            1. Voice from the commercial sector*

              So be because “this isn’t a trial,” you can just throw anything out there you want, with nothing to substantiate it? Gotcha.

          3. Mango Freak*

            (Further, your own comment contains a conclusion unsupported by evidence: that because civil service protections make it difficult to fire men and women working in government, those protections are applied consistently and equally, and gender is never a factor.

            If it’s hard to fire incompetent government workers, couldn’t the government workers whose job it is to enforce gender parity be doing so…incompetently?)

    7. metadata minion*

      Agree, especially if the LW is also a woman while Jason is a man. LW, is there any chance of getting management/trustees/whoever is at the top to start caring about Barry if you start pointing out the gender disparity? Normally I’d say it was frustrating but doesn’t really change the recommendation, since Barry isn’t going to stop being a sexist jerk any more than he’s going to stop being a garden-variety unisex jerk, but if women aren’t allowed to be jerks, that’s potentially actionable.

    8. OrigCassandra*

      This occurred to me as well. It’s not a sure thing based on what’s in OP’s letter, but if the genders from your letter are accurate, OP, it’s something to triangulate regarding both Barry and Jason. In your shoes I’d talk to Anna first, keeping an open mind, to see whether there’s additional history you haven’t yourself witnessed.

    9. Twix*

      This definitely occurred to me, but I’m not sure if I’d jump to it because claiming to be “humiliated” over something like this is also a classic DARVO technique used by people who don’t want to be held accountable.

    10. learnedthehardway*

      I think it is too far to go to read sexism into the situation AT THIS POINT – not unless Barry has a clear history of refusing to cooperate with female coworkers but does deliver for male coworkers.

      Objectively speaking (and although HIGHLY DESERVED) being kicked out of a meeting because you didn’t get the work done that you were assigned to do would be VERY embarrassing. That has nothing to do with gender. Barry would have felt humiliated whether a man or a woman had sent him to sit in the hallway.

      I am in no way suggesting that this was the wrong approach. After years of nothing effective being done to get Barry to perform, I think it was brilliant on Anna’s part to make it hurt and to really put Barry in a situation where he faces some kind of consequence from his peers. I don’t think she should be required to apologize at all, and I think the OP should have her back to refuse to let her do so.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        It’s important to acknowledge that still in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty Four that women catch flack for justifiably losing their shit in ways that men do not. There is sexism in play here, it’s just a question of to what extent.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Man gets “humiliated” by a woman calling him out for bad behavior. Instead of addressing that behavior, his manager insists that it’s the woman’s fault for not being nice enough and aggressively pressures her to apologize. That’s more than a hint of sexism and it’s all right there in the letter.

            You seem very invested in the idea that we should make the default assumption that it can’t possibly be sexism unless there is overwhelming proof. But that, unfortunately, is not the world we live in and trying to pretend otherwise is a large part of the problem.

            1. Enai*

              Look, sexism doesn’t exist. There’s just a long, long, loooong line of dots of crappy behaviour towards people perceived as women or too feminine, and woe betide anyone who even considers connectimg said dots and callimg the resulting shape out as what it is.

    11. Reebee*

      But that doesn’t mean it’s a case of sexism. The LW didn’t go there; accordingly, no one else should, either.

      Too easy, and therefore shields the real problem.

      1. Good Enough For Government Work*

        It might astound you to know that sexism continues to exist even if people don’t notice it.

    12. Jan Levinson Gould*

      Always possible, but I work with a Barry and he’s an obstructive, nasty PITA to both men and women equally.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I think this is where I fall. Is it possible? Sure, sadly, wouldn’t be surprised. Is it equally possible that Barry behaves just as badly with male colleagues? Certainly.

        No way for us to tell but certainly something the LW (who has more information than we do) should consider.

      2. Ellie*

        Yes, Barry isn’t a poor worker because his product owner is a woman. A man would likely have the same difficulties with him. Possibly though, a man would be able to take him on more assertively without getting criticised for it.

        I wonder if it’s worth OP using that in her argument with Jason, and their mutual boss. She could point out that ‘humiliate’ is a gendered term and that the exchange in no way rises to that level, so what is really going on here? Could that work to take some heat off of Anna?

    13. Snarkastic*

      I came here to see if anyone else felt this way when reading Jason’s response…

    14. Llama Doc*

      I agree. This is sexism, plain, pure, and simple. Women, especially smart women, are held to an extremely high standard of behavior. If she were male this would be a non-issue.

    15. linger*

      At the very least, we can predict that, in interactions with female coworkers, Barry will be … Barrier.

  3. woops*

    working in govt, we see a lot of this. terrible but “unfireable” people creating a toxic work environment and then productivity, excellent employees being held accountable when the inevitable problems arise. terrible leadership. you should support your employee fully, to the level of pointing out that the problem person’s manager is responsible for the entire situation by not managing the problem employee. vocally, loudly, and in front of their bosses.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Yup. In my government org, unless they intentionally injure or kill someone, a minimum of TWO YEARS of effort is required to terminate an employee after they pass their probation. In many cases, the original person managing the problem employee has moved on, often more than once, meaning that each subsequent manager is required to start the whole process over. And we’re not even unionized!

      1. First-Time, Medium-Time*

        My government agency is unionized, and it’s largely the same for us. There is ONE thing a person can do at my agency that is an instantly fireable offense (essentially, purposefully accessing information they are not legally allowed to access). Outside of that, and barring things like assault or blatant harassment, it would indeed take years of consistent warnings, thorough documentation, and further mentoring/on-the-job training before someone could be even considered for firing, no matter how toxic or unproductive they are. Just being an impediment to others’ work would likely not be enough.

        1. RedinSC*

          This is how it is where I work, in local government (union). If someone even meets the lowest level of competence, it’s nearly impossible to remove them. Even when they’ve missed work and not called in for 4 days!

      2. bamcheeks*

        It can certainly take many months in the UK public sector, but in my experience once you start that process of accurately communicating standards, documenting failures etc, and stick to it, the problem person realises which way the wind is blowing and starts making plans to leave, so it’s usually a lot less. And it’s extremely easy to hand that process over *if* you’ve done it as a formal process and everything is documented and you have the support of your managers.

        People like this aren’t really getting away with it because of complex bureaucracy, they’re getting away with it because of complacent management and short-term thinking.

      3. boof*

        I really question how it got this bad; I understand some job assurance/protection, and protection from “cleaning house” / favoritism every time there’s a new official, but come on! Firing someone for not doing their job shouldn’t take 2 years of concentrated effort of a single dedicated manager!

    2. Zona the Great*

      Yep. In my last role, my (FEMALE) boss told me on my first day to “tame my tits” and make sure none of the men see “the bounce” as she put it. Not kidding. In my first week, she told me no less than 5 times that she doesn’t like working with women. When I filed a civil rights complaint, they told me I’d be better off leaving. I did.

      1. RedinSC*


        That’s just a total WOW.

        I think even in my messed up bureaucrazy that would get some traction.

    3. Sparkle Llama*

      While I hate this workaround, a common thing in government is to reassign problem people to jobs where they are creating fewer issues. It may take less capital to get that accomplished than actually dealing with the problem by terminating him. Maybe you have some not actually that important research or you can toss a couple random things into a special projects type role. This won’t solve all of the resentment caused by someone not pulling their weight but at least you can at least reduce the impact on other people’s work.

  4. The Cosmic Avenger*

    That last part is key. If I were Anna or the LW, and Barry pretty much never does what he’s supposed to, I’d start directing all requests for Barry’s work through Jason, and if he complains, I’d tell him something like “X is not getting done, despite clear and civil communication with Barry about what is required (see attached), so we need your help to make sure it gets done”.

    1. Antilles*

      I agree.
      This sort of repeated annoyance to Jason very well might be the push Jason needs to actually deal with Barry rather than constantly cleaning up his messes.

    2. Dadjokesareforeveryone*

      Exactly. If you want Jason to realize how problematic his employee’s issues are you need to barry much make it his problem.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Absolutely this: Make it a pain in Jason’s posterior and also impossible for him to ignore/blow off. This needs to take up a lot more of his time and energy.

    4. ferrina*

      Yep. And OP can set up standing meetings with Jason on a weekly basis to review all the work that Barry hasn’t done. CC Jason on everything. Be ridiculously pleasant the whole time, but be clear that the (pleasant and professional and purely metaphorical) beatings will continue until work product improves.

    5. kiki*

      Yes! Right now the pressure of getting decent work out of Barry all falls on Anna. It’s easy to armchair manage in that situation and think, “well, if Anna were a better PO or manager, all would be fine.” But once Jason is actually charged with ensuring Barry delivers, he’ll probably recognize that there is a problem with Barry, not Anna.

  5. Yup*

    If a male colleague had done the “yelling,” Barry would not—dollars to donuts—have decided to feel humiliated or ask for an apology.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      We’ve got our own Barry. The difference is he actually does his work (slowly and tediously) but is just miserable, stubborn, and abrasive. It’s not that no one CAN do anything; just that no one WILL.

      Our conflict-averse but male boss is leaving after this week. His replacement is female and even more conflict-averse and of course our Barry is a misogynist on top of his other “qualities” so we’re stuck with him either until he decides to retire or the universe ends, and he’s already 71…

      Please note I have no problems with people choosing to work into their 70s and beyond if they want. Just him.

    2. Reebee*

      Please don’t generalize. We still have work to do, but times have changed, and it’s unfair to reduce every situation to sexism. Doing so only covers what might really be going on, like nepotism, laziness, etc. How are those problems supposed to be addressed if sexism is the answer to every slight?

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            The proof is a man claiming a woman humiliated him by raising her voice.

      1. smirkette*

        But it so often *is* an issue, if not *the* issue. Times have not changed that much, unfortunately.

        1. Reebee*

          …and so often it isn’t. I have worked years in jobs where some males were asses to eveyone.

          To glibly assume that’s what’s going on here is as presumptive and, quite frankly, petulant.

          Is it so impossible to regard this as anything else besides sexism? I mean, nepotism runs rampant in the workplace, too. Why is that not a candidate for what’s going on here?

          I have known, and do know, WAY too many men who would take a long walk into the ocean before being sexist; relatives, friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbors.

          Come on.

          1. Loredena*

            Because while Barry might be an equal opportunity ass, Jason’s response is fairly classic sexism

            1. allathian*

              Yes, this. We have no way of knowing if Barry would’ve treated a man as badly as he treated the LW, but Jason’s reaction is obvious sexism.

          2. C*

            It’s possible that Barry has been kept on because of nepotism and also that Jason’s tone policing was extremely sexist.

          3. 1LFTW*

            The men I know who are committed to combatting sexism say and do sexist things on the regular. The difference between them and unapologetic sexists is that they’re willing to listen when it’s pointed out, and make changes accordingly.

    3. Orv*

      Eh, maybe. Depending on the testosterone levels involved it could have also ended in a fistfight. Some guys get really hung up on other guys “disrespecting” them.

  6. Gimme all you got*

    “putting Barry on a PIP, moving him to other responsibilities, or getting him fired is not an option”

    If this is really true then there’s not much you can do. He can’t be disciplined or moved to another project? Time for you and Anna to pack up your bags

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      The only other solution I see would be to hire someone to do Barry’s work leaving Barry free to Barry away all day.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        LW may want to consider if there is a possibility of getting Barry reassigned away from projects LW’s team is doing, or Anna’s projects at a minimum.

    2. Little Bobby Tables*

      It would appear that one option remaining is to have everyone else maximize Barry’s humiliation.

  7. Le sigh.*

    This sounds so similar to what I’ve experienced at my current job, except instead of yelling at my Barry, 1 of my comments in Slack was “abrasive”. The abrasive comment was from my extremely sexist and pig of a boss. Our Barry acted in a similar way, but no one was holding him accountable. It’s crazy!

    No advice, just wanted to commiserate that you’re not crazy. I suspect there are a lot of sexist politics at play.

    1. Le sigh.*

      Wanted to add our Barry is immune from any accountability or any discipline.
      He’s is also a obnoxious and extremely rude. Ugh.

    2. Pizza Rat*

      In my experience, “abrasive” is only ever used to describe assertive women when I hear it in the workplace. Men who use exactly the same volume and tone are usually complimented for speaking their minds.

      1. Qwerty*

        PSA that we can totally start using these words to describe men too! In my experience, it helps remind people of what is *actually* abrasive and decreases how often women get slapped with that label. We’re actually making some progress in dealing with difficult/angry men at my company because of this.

        1. Caliente Papillon*

          Nice! And yup – I can’t remember what my husband said about something (lol) but basically when I zinged the word back to him for his behavior he list it from his vocab real quick. Actually I think it was a “you always” blah blah and I told him to cut it out but yeah when I started singing the same tune he finally cut the crap.
          I know for myself I was taught not to label and pigeonhole people like this – he wouldn’t stop out of being asked because it’s like Well what’s the big deal but when you do it to them they can finally see the problem lol

      2. Reebee*

        In my experience, “abrasive” was applied to anyone who was even politely straightforward. The then-boss cultivated a culture of butt-hurt over any and all professional disagreements.

        He left, but the vibe remained, and a bunch of us pragmatists quit in due time. Gender had no bearing.

      3. Khatul Madame*

        My boss, a man, referred to another man as “abrasive”.
        I am proud of my boss.

    3. BellaStella*

      Same. The missing stair on my team is exactly the same as Barry and yes my behaviour was questioned after this dude has been on three PIPs because he does not do his job. I keep documenting stuff as directed by HE and yes indeed sent to HR with so far no follow up.

  8. The Original*

    Yeah, the idea that you all have to just … let Barry not do any work strikes me as pretty ridiculous. If Barry’s boss doesn’t feel like doing the work it would take to fire and replace Barry, that’s one (bad) thing, but the work already isn’t getting done. To my mind you may as well fire/reassign him and hire someone who actually does the work – whatever hassle that interim period creates would be balanced out by the work actually getting done.

    1. The Original K.*

      Sorry, hit “submit” too early! That should be “The Original K.” above.

    2. The Other Sage*

      I have the suspicion that if Barry is allowed not to work and everything goes south, then Anna will be the one getting the bad consequences.

  9. Bobbo*

    In the government agency I work for… I mean yes we CAN fire people, in that several people were fired in the last fiscal year. But out of more than 10k people, and everyone who was fired had committed at least one crime. And several more committed crimes that didn’t result in them being fired.

    One person literally slapped her boss in the office. Police were called, she was charged with assault (this was dropped due to a restorative justice process). She was suspended for three days, and IT WAS REDUCED TO A SINGLE DAY due to a grievance. Apparently suspending someone for three days for committing a crime in the office is too harsh. On someone who didn’t even seem all that sorry.

    I would not say this is good for morale.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      This actually has me wondering — are Anna and/or Barry in a union? That might complicate the discipline process for Barry but also gives Anna another avenue for support if she is unionized. (I’m local gov but my role isn’t union-elgible for some reason I can’t quite figure out.)

      1. Coffee Protein Drink*

        That’s where I went. It’s not impossible to fire someone in a union, but it requires many more steps than with a non-union employee.

    2. Voice from the commercial sector*

      One person literally slapped her boss in the office. Police were called, she was charged with assault (this was dropped due to a restorative justice process). She was suspended for three days, and IT WAS REDUCED TO A SINGLE DAY due to a grievance. Apparently suspending someone for three days for committing a crime in the office is too harsh.

      Alternatively, maybe we need to re-think the concept of “restorative justice” and prosecute people who assault others.

      1. Parakeet*

        Restorative justice is generally done when the victim wants it. And the criminal legal system has plenty of other diversion programs, so I don’t see how restorative justice is different.

  10. H.Regalis*

    Ugh, yeah, asking Anna to apologize for one outburst while Barry gets away with years of being a terrible employee and coworker would be pretty galling, especially with the whole, “I’m sad and embarrassed that you called me out about being terrible and now you need to soothe my hurt feeling about that.”

    1. Reebee*

      omg, I just hinted at this experience in a different post. Spot-on description, H.Regalis. Spot ON.

      Looking at you, Larry.

      1. H.Regalis*

        Thanks, Reebee!

        I unfortunately had someone outside of work do this to me as well:

        Dude agreed to watch my pets while I was on vacation and then bailed after I had already left town. I had to call around and beg other people to fill in, otherwise I would have had to cancel my vacation and come home, because I wasn’t going to leave my pets to die. The whole time I was on the phone trying to find an alternate, Original Guy was blowing up my phone with texts about how he was having a panic attack because I was angry at him for bailing and he needed me to tell him it was okay and I wasn’t mad at him.

  11. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

    I would 100% tell Jason that Anna is not going to apologize, that this is symptomatic of Barry being undermanaged. But you will concede to including Jason on all correspondence with Barry, so that Jason can ensure Barry is being treated fairly.

    And then do that. Every request from every member of your team. Tell them to CC you on all follow up emails, in addition to Jason. CC Jason’s boss, if (when) the problem persists.

    I truly hope you don’t lose good staff to the Barry Problem, OP.

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      Copy Jason on EVERY request. Every email. Every meeting invite. Every trivial “hey team just wanted you to know Cinderalla is out of the office.” Every gosh-dang thing.

  12. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    I’m not even sure she yelled. She raised her voice. But perhaps that had to be done to be heard over Barry’s talking. If he was wasting time in a meeting, he wasn’t sitting there quietly.

    I agree, Jason needs to know what a problem Barry is. If he won’t listen, go over his head. Or every time Barry doesn’t do what he is supposed to do, direct the issue to Jason with a how would you like to proceed request. Make it Jason’s problem and something will be done.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I like, Jason gets cc’ed to death on literally everything, as a possible solution here.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yes. And it’s very easy to say “We just want you to make sure Barry is being treated appropriately” if there is any pushback. Making as much as possible Jason’s problem should help (especially because he’s new and I’m sure Barry is “filling him in” on everything in a very pro-Barry-anti-everyone else manner).

        1. Pizza Rat*

          I can totally get behind this. If Jason pushed back, I’d say something like, “We’re just being transparent.”

      2. Petty Betty*

        I think Jason SHOULD be cc’d on every single email going to Barry. Make Jason realize just how ridiculous it is that Barry just doesn’t do his work, and how accommodating the staff have been over the years in dealing with his idiocy.

        By all means, absolutely create that timeline, show the documentation, but loop him in on the here and now and continue to make Barry his Absolute Problem (man)Child going forward until he can’t ignore the issue.

        1. AnotherOne*

          I think Jason needs to not just be cc:ed on emails but be a mandatory participant in Barry meetings. All meetings right now. (OP should probably join these meetings as well. That way OP will know exactly what is happening so it won’t be Anna v. Barry and Jason)

          And if Barry gets better, he should still go to random meetings going forward.

    2. Productivity Pigeon*

      This is such a good point!

      What voice volume was *Barry* using? Why did Anna need to raise her voice in the first place?

      I sincerely doubt she started yelling (if that’s what she actually did…) at a calm, silent, and listening Barry.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      OP actually says ‘initially calmly and then “with a very loud voice”’
      So Anna started speaking at a normal level, but Barry took no notice, she only raised her voice because she was ignored. I declare Anna not guilty. Barry needs to be put on a PIP or fired outright, and should also go to get his hearing checked.

      Relating very very strongly to Anna here.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Good catch. Thank you. Yes if you first tell someone calmly, the next step is to be more firm, which might involve slightly raising your voice. Of course Barry would characterize it as yelling (consider the source).

  13. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    — I recently joined a public agency as a director


    — For various reasons related to this agency, putting Barry on a PIP, moving him to other responsibilities, or getting him fired is not an option

    The “fired” piece, probably. However progressive discipline (which is the public sector version of a PIP – OK, oversimplifying this, but you get the idea) needs to start ASAP.

    I have some guesses as to the “various reasons related to this agency” why moving to other responsibilities is a non-starter. At least one of them would be related to the PIP/progressive discipline situation, but I don’t want to speculate and blow up OP’s spot. However, it DOES sound like OP has no authority over Barry or Jason. If I was her, I’d be taking this entire situation to MY leadership and ask them to intervene.

    Also, “Barry isn’t motivated and can’t do his work” what in the actual F? Grow up, Barry.

    1. ChattyDelle*

      yeah. one would think “I have a sad ad now can’t to do my work” wouldn’t be accepted in any workplace. and tying it to the possible sexism discussed above, it seems really unlikely that this excuse would be accepted from a woman.

      1. Petty Betty*

        “A woman raised her voice and told me to leave because I wasn’t being productive and wasn’t listening to her or respecting her authority and now I’m sad and unmotivated to do my work… not that I really do the work I’m assigned to do anyway. Boo hoo. Apologize to me. Cater to me. Woo me back to motivation!”

    2. ABK*

      yeah. They already are moving him to other responsibilities, and giving his responsibilities to other people. Just cut out the middle step and assume he won’t do it and make your old plan B your current plan A. It will probably be easier/faster than what’s happening now.

  14. SheLooksFamiliar*

    While it’s good to know that Jason backs his team – some managers clearly do not – he’s too new to the org to automatically assume (ig)noble Barry has been publically wronged for no reason.

    OP, please take Alison’s suggestions on having a talk with Jason about Barry’s history of poor performance and behavior, and how Anna’s reacting to a problem that’s long overdue a resolution. But also be prepared for Jason to do nothing. As a new manager with your company, he might not be willing, or even know how, to handle this kind of situation. Have a Plan B, C, D, and beyond.

  15. H.Regalis*

    I work in the public sector at an “it’s sooooooooooo hard to fire people” place, and we have, in fact, parted ways with people who were terrible workers. Some of them quit before being fired, and some were actually fired. It’s a lot of bureaucracy to for managers to push their way through, but often it can be done.

    If it truly cannot be done where you are, you’re going to either need to go around Barry, leave, or resign yourself to a crappy situation where nothing will ever change.

    1. Voice from the commercial sector*

      Some of them quit before being fired

      Then that doesn’t address the root problem of government agencies being unable to fire people, or being able to do so only with considerable difficulty and years of delay.

      1. H.Regalis*

        I should clarify: The firing process was in motion, they just left before it was completed.

        I don’t know the best solution to this is. I am pro-union, pro-labor, and pro-workers rights. I think it’s important for workers to band together so they can get fair treatment. I’m really hesitant about people who are constantly down on unions, like unions existing is worse than people like the manager who fired my friend after another employee tried to rape her.

        Are there people who take advantage of unions and other protections to be huge assholes? Of course there are. Do unions and labor laws help protect people from being treated like shit? Yes. I guess the bottom line is I’d rather put up with a few shitty people being obnoxious than have everyone be exploited.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        “government agencies being unable to fire people, or being able to do so only with considerable difficulty and years of delay”

        Patently untrue.

  16. Midwest Manager*

    Hard agree with Alison that this needs to be dumped in Jason’s lap as to the extent of the Barry problem. If prior records of the issue are sporadic or difficult to assemble, start cc’ing Jason on EVERY communication with Barry about project deliverables. Everything. If Barry responds to an email and takes Jason off, add him back in with the next message.

    LW should make it clear supervisor to supervisor that this is how Anna has been instructed to communicate with Barry going forward. Furthermore, if there is evidence that Barry is treating Anna differently than others on the team, it could be helpful for ALL communications to Barry have Jason cc’d. If nothing else, there is now a time/date stamped trail for documentation purposes to create a PIP or other action by HR. If there’s a union in play, termination is much more difficult but still an option if Jason is willing to put in the effort.

  17. Mitchell Hundred*

    This isn’t at all relevant, but I recently rewatched the Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, and that’s who I’m imagining in this context.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      LOL. I thought of Barry Williams from the Brady Bunch.

      I am also very very very old apparently.

      1. RVA Cat*

        At least this one is just a bad co-worker, not a literal criminal like that actor.

      2. Mitchell Hundred*

        I can’t speak to that comparison, I went with Barry Lyndon because he’s explicitly portrayed as a lazy asshole in that movie.

      3. EvilQueenRegina*

        I was picturing the Grant Gustin TV version of him, so did a double take at the criminal comment before remembering that was the other Flash…

        They’d probably be better replacing their Barry with the Flash, because he at least could get stuff done quickly!

    2. RVA Cat*

      Barry Bonds for the “rules don’t apply to me” attitude, but at least he got off his asterisk….

  18. DyneinWalking*

    But for reasons I can’t quite put into words, this feels really icky and frustrating to me in this particular situation.

    That’s the double standard. One employee is allowed to act unprofessionally for years without repercussions, the other is reprimanded for one (1) instance of less-than-impeccable behavior after (presumably) years of provocation and frustration.

    They want to reprimand unprofessional behavior? That’s fine and totally appropriate! But the snag is that they need to reprimand ALL unprofessional behavior, AND according to the corresponding degree of severity.
    If they refuse to reprimand Barry, they have no logical reason to reprimand Anna; that would be a double standard.

    You are bristling at the double standard, and rightly so.

    1. Jazzy*

      Reprimanding Anna could definitely open the company up for liability for sex discrimination. The double standard falling along gendered lines is impossible to ignore.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Captain Awkward had a recent letter about this where the LW was uncomfortable that her sister snapped at her BIL seemingly out of nowhere but CA read between the lines and asked if maybe it wasn’t so out of nowhere? That is, maybe BIL wasn’t being very nice to sis for quite some time and it’s only when other ppl were around that sis finally snapped. This scenario is somewhat similar, only in this case we actually know that Barry is terrible to Anna instead of in the CA letter where CA just guessed that that could be what’s going on.

      I’ll share the link in another comment.

  19. Mark*

    Anna has a manager problem as well, why are you not pushing back hard to Jason on every single instance of Barry not doing his job and demanding action from Jason every single time. You are not supporting or protecting Anna at all here.

    1. mcm*

      well, it sounds like OP very recently joined the agency as Anna’s boss, and this has been a long-term issue. OP may have just gotten up to speed on the Barry issue, and not had an opportunity to really intervene before now. It would also be strange of OP to jump in without all the facts their first day on the job and start reprimanding Barry. OP just got in this situation and I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt as it absolutely sounds like they are trying to figure out how to best support Anna in this situation.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      OP is *literally* writing to an advice site for managers to ask Alison what he can do to more effectively support Anna. The bar for letter-writers asking for help should not be perfection.

  20. BellaStella*

    Thank you OP for this letter and AAM for this advice it is super helpful! OP I wish you were my manager!

  21. mcm*

    OP, please send an update when you do have your meeting with Jason/the situation progresses!

      1. Inconvenient Indian*

        Quit being a jacka$$. I doubt you would perform any better when you *just started your job*. You know, I’ve been reading this site for a long time and have literally never seen you post a helpful or constructive comment for letter writers. What is your purpose here? Offer something constructive or shut it.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        How is the OP letting Anna down? They are literally trying to help her.

  22. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    You can’t fire Barry, but it would be perfectly reasonable to ask to have someone else do the work Barry is supposed to do. I’m sure that paying someone to Barry’s work and paying Barry to do nothing will be worse than doing whatever it takes for Barry to be fired.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      And for Anna and LW, it really makes no difference, because at either way, it means no more having to endure the frustration, roadblocking of a missing stair.

  23. Djs*

    It’s telling that “Barry, please leave the conference call” resulted in “you humiliated Barry” and not “Barry was adding valuable insight and the call was useless without him there”

  24. Len Trexler’s Rabbit’s Lettuce*

    It looks like OP is at a public agency; it may actually be functionally impossible for Barry to get fired for poor- or non-performance. That’s how it works at my agency. If you have a PIP or failing review scores, you can’t get a raise or a promotion, but you don’t get fired. If the agency tries anyway, the union blocks it. The only things people actually can be fired for are things like time theft or breaking the law. (I pay dues and am not anti-union; just saying that’s how it works here. I don’t agree that that is how it should work, just noting that it does, at least here.)

    1. Hannah Lee*

      Is it time theft if someone clocks hours but then refuses to do their job (ie project tasks assigned to them that are in their scope of responsibility) ?

      1. Len Trexler’s Rabbit’s Lettuce*

        No, time theft would be something like clocking in for 9-5 and representing that you worked all 8 hours/didn’t use any sick time but you actually left the office at 12 to go take a nap. Or taking sick time when you’re really going on a cruise and then posting the pictures online. Stuff like that. If he’s still physically going to the office, it’s not time theft.

    2. Hermione Danger*

      If Barry isn’t actually doing anything, does that count as time theft? I’m genuinely curious about that. How is performance measured then? Simply based on him sitting in his chair at the office?

      1. Len Trexler’s Rabbit’s Lettuce*

        Pretty much sitting in a chair, yes. We still have performance reviews, but in practice, people aren’t fired for poor performance, even if it’s consistently really bad. And as you can probably imagine, it’s really important that we go to the office and sit in the chairs because otherwise, how will anyone know we’re working??

    3. bamcheeks*

      Does the union really have the power to “block” it, or does the union just act as an advocate for the fired person and require the agency to follow its own processes? The latter is what happens in the UK, and I’m honestly baffled by the concept of a union that takes hiring and firing power away from an organisation.

      1. Len Trexler’s Rabbit’s Lettuce*

        It depends on the agency, but at mine, yes the union can functionally block most firings except for things that are illegal. It’s not how it’s supposed to be set up, but in practice, that is what actually happens: no matter how rude someone is or how egregious their performance problems are, they’ll just get put on PIPs over and over again.

        1. Alternative Person*

          I’ve seen and heard similar. There were a couple of cases at my old workplace that should have resulted in people losing their jobs but the Union blocked it. A friend told me how there was one person at their job who kept getting shuffled around branches rather than fired thanks to the Union.

          I do see it from the Union perspective, they have to fight for the rights of every worker, no matter how odious but the ‘protect workers at all costs’ mentality is not healthy. There needs to be a point where the focus becomes negotiating a reasonable severance package, not keeping the troublemaker at the job.

      2. EmilyClimbs*

        When someone refers to a union blocking people from being fired in the U.S., they almost certainly mean that the process for firing someone is hard enough that management decides they don’t want to bother with it. U.S. employers don’t just hand over their firing power to unions either. Typically what happens is that the employer agrees that workers will only be fired for “just cause” and that there will be a process of warnings, opportunities for improvement, and progressive discipline, and that things that an employee is disciplined over must be properly documented. If the employer and the union disagree that the discipline or termination was proper, they often go to third-party arbitration (which typically has a financial cost) to settle the matter.

        If management tends to avoid going through the sometimes-tedious process of compiling documentation, escalating through the various steps of the process, and paying to go to arbitration when necessary, this may get described as the union “blocking people from being fired,” but it would be better described as management dropping the ball and refusing to take responsibility for their part of the process. (Also, the entire process is typically negotiated between the union and management– although this may not always be the case for public employees– so if the process is too onerous it is entirely in management’s control to push back on it in bargaining and insist on a process that actually works effectively, and if they don’t, that’s once again on them.)

  25. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Basically, Barry doesn’t do the work that the working team mutually agrees is his to work on and thus causes lots of extra work for other team members. He then wastes even more time by trying to explain why he couldn’t do the work, and/ or is trying to gaslight Anna into thinking that issues that arise from him not doing his work aren’t issues or are her fault (this isn’t just what Anna tells me; others on different teams see it, too).

    This is the only part that makes me a little queasy; I’ve been in Barry’s shoes before where people above my head that I did not report to had committed me to doing things that were outside my formal Job Description (and beyond my gifts, experience, and tools), and I had to dig in my heels, define my boundaries, and stonewall with “NMFR” until things became dire enough for others to perform their actual roles in the process.

    Things like altering a client’s graphics (it was not my/our asset to manipulate, and I lacked the guidelines to honor), changing or composing their data, client-facing calls, write-my-own-instructions, translation of copy, etc. Things that would have made peers lives easier by doing their work for them, or work that should have been outsourced to SMEs, at the expense of increasing the company’s liability.

    Before anything else, I’d verify through Jason that the work that wasn’t done actually is part of Barry’s actual job. It does sound like he’s a layabout, but I’d want to rule out the case he’s actually right and just not communicating that well enough or directly enough. Once that’s done, PIP him and help him move on to his life’s work.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      This is a good point – why is the team mutually deciding who is responsible for things? Shouldn’t their manager be assigning work?

      It sounds like Barry is a waste of space, but it’s possible that he’s not really supposed to be prioritizing whatever the team has decided he is supposed to be doing. A chat with his new manager should cover what Barry’s actual responsibilities and role is.

      That said, I think it is more likely that if Barry was the wrong person to be tasked with the work the team has divvied up, he would have said “I’m not a database administrator /widget maker / financial analyst, and this isn’t my job,” rather than letting people think he was simply slacking off for years on end.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        In an Agile environment, teams divy up work amongst themselves with the aid of a Project Manager.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That said, I think it is more likely that if Barry was the wrong person to be tasked with the work the team has divvied up, he would have said “I’m not a database administrator /widget maker / financial analyst, and this isn’t my job,” rather than letting people think he was simply slacking off for years on end.

        I’m wondering if that’s what’s being labeled as “gaslighting” since we don’t see any examples or details.

        Also, since there are references to years of this and everyone on LW’s team has problems with Barry and only Barry, I’m wondering if he’s the only one with enough tenure to enforce boundaries and/or is the only one too tenured to be readily bullied into tasks outside his role.

        It all borders on fanfic, but it’s also the kind of stuff that’s the mildest exaggeration/misrepresentation away from situations I’ve lived through, so would want to rule out before I go staking my reputation on trying to tie a Barry to a stake.

      3. Oregonbird*

        A tangled web situation is always interesting, but so rarely the case. Simply, he is a slacker. The OP can be depended on to mention his presence in two roles; it would change the situation completely.

    2. Daryush*

      Yeah, thanks for this perspective. I’ve definitely been on Barry’s side before, where all the non-technical people agree that I’m going to do something, but if I ask clarifying questions or point out discrepancies in their specs, then I’m being obstructionist.
      Hopefully Jason investigates thoroughly and he and OP are able to get to the bottom of it. Could go either way from what I read here.

      1. Parakeet*

        I’ve been in situations where I was actually in over my head or not getting enough support, because of being bait-and-switched on what my job duties were going to be. In one of those situations, I (not a man, FWIW) was shouted at by a boss (a man, FWIW) on a conference call with internal and external stakeholders for not having gotten something done. And yes, it was humiliating, among other things!

        I am having a very different emotional reaction to this letter than most of the commenters and maybe this is why. We all bring our own experiences to our interpretations of the stories in the letters. When I remove my own feelings to the extent that I can, and think about the tech context and its dynamics, I can see it going either day – non-technical people pushing something on a technical person unreasonably, or a dev who sees non-devs as lesser and behaves accordingly.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      I’m leaning away from this explanation for a couple of reasons. First, Barry is the only IT staff who Anna has problems with. Second, Jason hasn’t pushed back on the assigned tasks, when he clearly will have Barry’s back.

      Lastly, Jason’s objection wasn’t about the duties assigned to Barry, but to Anna’s raising her voice. That doesn’t sound like Barry is being put into roles that are off his page.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Yes, if these are tasks that shouldn’t be assigned to Barry then presumably Jason would have brought that up in the meeting instead of basically saying “Barry can’t do these tasks (that he was already not doing) until Anna apologizes.”

  26. BirdJinks*

    Obviously, Barry needs to be told to do his work.

    But if Jason won’t address that, then the next step is to insist that the working group not assign any of Anna’s tasks to Barry. He is unreliable, and Anna needs her work done.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I’d frame it differently, not specific to Anna. More like “Project Team x is working on something to support (core agency function) and it needs to stay on schedule otherwise (bad consequences to agency)”

  27. Parenthesis Guy*

    Tell Jason that Anna isn’t going to apologize. What are they going to do to her anyway if she refuses? They can’t fire her or really discipline her. They have zero leverage.

    I do think the timing here was unfortunate though. Jason was described as “newish” to the situation. If so, he may not understand what a problem Barry is and how he’s caused issues for years. In that case, what he saw was somebody yelling at his employee with minimal provocation. Without understanding of the back story, the logical implication is that Anna was out of line.

    The thing is that everyone on Jasons’ team must hate Barry. After all, they have to do his work. So, asking a few of them to stick up for Anna and complain to Jason about Barry should get Jason to understand the situation quicker. Not that I think it will help much. If Jason can’t fire or discipline Barry, then he can’t do anything his behavior.

    1. boof*

      Yeah, if barry gets to barry free of consequences, in no way should anna face consequences for being excellent except to barry. At most, LW should discuss with anna the optimal ways to deal with barry; hopefully she can have control of any conference calls and mute or kick barry if he starts wasting more than 2 min time. No apologies, no yelling or “raised voices”, just “ok barry, please do this next week, moving on” (and mute him if he keeps talking).

    2. H.Regalis*

      That’s a good point. If this is a “no one ever gets fired ever” place, then there should be zero consequences for Anna’s not apologizing to him.

      If there are in fact consequences for Anna’s not apologizing to him—either because she’s supposed to be more “reasonable”/gets pressure put on her to to be the bigger person/whatever and Barry’s The Unreasonable One, or because consequences only exist for employees who aren’t white men—then that’s a whole other issue.

  28. Knittercubed*

    How many people here have worked with a Barry? * hand raised*. They absolutely suck the life out of a job. If the general feeling is that nothing can be done, good people will be out the door.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      In an old jobs, we used to refer to the passive ones as “no ops” ie, they had no operative use when getting anything done. And if they couldn’t be reassigned, fired, etc, we just figured out workarounds so we didn’t have to deal with them.

      But Barry? He’s an active, petulant jerk variation. Not just a “no op” but someone who can make everyone’s life miserable with his emotional manipulative nonsense. And if management won’t deal with those types, LW is going to lose good people and the entire team is going to drag to a mucky halt.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        … hit enter too soon …
        -because if you allow the Barry’s to stay, everyone who can leave, will leave. And previously good employees who don’t leave will dial back their effort and attitudes. So you’ll be left with an entire team of Barry’s and apathetic non-performing “no ops”

    2. Jan Levinson Gould*

      Yup, I work with a Barry. My company actually does fire people, but somehow Barry had stuck around, most of that time as a manager which makes matters worse. An inept senior manager who had a short stint promoted Barry 10 years ago.

      Direct reports have quit because of him, others have demanded to be taken off projects with him or to have Barry taken off the project. The head of a key group we partner with recently declared his people will no longer work with Barry. Barry was being difficult and off-loading work that he should do onto two of my direct reports on different projects so I had them give me a writeup about the situation. Both scenarios were very similar and sent a formal complaint to senior management with the write ups attached. One of the senior managers said he is trying to mentor Barry, but that is completely unnecessary- he’s been in his role for 10 years, he should not need mentoring. Barry has told his manager he is un-fireable, but there are at least 7 or 8 people in the group that could do his job and better than him. He shouldn’t have direct reports.

      We’re going through small rounds of layoffs. I’m hoping he’ll get cut and I’m not alone in that sentiment.

      1. Laser99*

        I can’t understand why you would keep on someone who drives away other employees. Just it happening once would be enough for me.

        1. Jan Levinson Gould*

          Boggles my mind too. One guy who left 5 years ago made it clear Barry was the reason. Nothing was done about it and if anything, Barry had gotten worse since he’s proven he can be a jerk and get away with it. He’s easily replaceable too which makes even less sense. I, along with a few others at my level (same as Barry) have been making a lot of noise about how problematic Barry is. I’m cautiously optimistic something will be done.

          If one of my direct reports did something similar to OP’s direct, I too would not make them apologize. No way, Barry is the problem. One of my directs is on a collision course with Barry and I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar occurs in the near future.

          At a previous job, I had a horrible manager that chased almost everyone away including me. She was rewarded with a promotion.

  29. T.*

    Best of luck to Anna in her job search and good luck to you replacing her with someone who will put up with Barry. I’m sure it’s coming sooner than you think.

  30. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Yep. Make Jason feel the pain. That’s the only way to get movement in this situation.

  31. La Peregrina*

    I used to work with a Barry, too. He was slick and quite charming when the bosses were around. He came from a prestigious grad program in our field and talked a certain type of business jargon that my bosses just ate up, and though I doubt he worked 4 hours a day he occasionally produced something flashy enough to wow leadership. So they thought he walked on water.

    Meanwhile, he was rude and condescending to his colleagues – especially women – and he drove out at least 3 other employees on our team in his first year (two he helped get fired, the third left on his own). I was supposed to work with him on a top-priority project and he just refused to work with me, then lectured me on my “tone” in emails if I didn’t use enough exclamation points (seriously). I finally lost it one day on a call and yelled, and guess who was the one seen as at fault?

    The writing was on the wall so I started job searching, but thankfully my Barry left before I had to. It took years to repair my relationship with my boss and it’s still not perfect. But it’s amazing how much better work is without a Barry on your team!

  32. BBB*

    all she said was please leave the conference call? first in a calm tone (that was obviously ignored) so she said it again but louder?
    it sounds like Anna drew a definitive boundary, enforced it, and Barry is having a very disproportionate response to it. hard to not extrapolate some sexist behavior in how Anna’s words are being received (both by Barry and Jason)

    Get Barry out of the company before you lose Anna and probably the rest of your team.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Well, and also, being asked to leave a meeting that you are not contributing to is a reasonable thing! (This came up recently at my org where someone complained that they were being silenced/that their contributions were unwanted because a colleague repeatedly asked them to stick to the agenda items in meetings.)

      1. BBB*

        I do not understand any of this, I would do anything to get out of a meeting. if I don’t need to be here, I do not want to be here. even if I do need to be here, I don’t want to be here. I would cheer if someone asked me to leave a meeting lmao

        1. Lana Kane*

          What Anna should have done (I’m speaking facetiously) is spent a few minutes convincing Barry it was *his* idea to leave.

  33. Lavender Gooms*

    Frankly, you should have shot down the apology while in the meeting with Jason. I’m also baffled as to why you, Anna, and Jason were in this meeting but not Barry? And why you say that Jason did not allow you to explain the situation? If Barry is allowed to have his manager fight his battles for him then Anna deserved that same courtesy and you could have had a franker discussion with Jason about the behavior Barry has been displaying. Anna deserved your support in that meeting and it sounds like she didn’t get it.

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

    Incompetent people who are good at using manipulative language to avoid accountability are the bane of this “abrasive” woman’s existence.

  35. Trout 'Waver*

    Guys like Barry are a symptom and not the root cause. The swamp monsters don’t make the swamp; they go to where the swamp is.

  36. chellie*

    This greatly resembles how things go with the state IT agency that we are forced to work with, except that all we need from them is to keep us online and attached to the network. Mansplaining. Refusing to acknowledge that they have any responsibility for any of our problems. I have a friend who works for the private company that deals with all of the state’s IT issues that the state people are incompetent to do. The stories they can tell. 100 Barrys. I think the LW is applying a private sector standard of reasonable behavior to a situation that is beyond reason. The incredulity can last for years (my spouse has been in public administration for over 10 years after decades in the private sector and they come home enraged a couple times a month) The new boss at IT has already drunk the kool aid and is unable to be reasonable about this. Detailed documentation of the problems for sure. Then the last paragraph of Alison’s advice. Make Barry’s not doing his job a HUGE problem (and time suck) for his boss’s boss. Don’t worry about whether Barry should be on a PIP and ignore the request for an apology. Maybe consider you covering for her unexpectedly for a couple meetings just to get the focus off the apology request, which is the reddest herring. It will be a big investment of time but is likely to pay off because they will likely decide that it’s not worth the effort of aggravating you. If you’re relatively new you probably have limited political capital but you have a LOT of leeway to play dumb. “I’m still pretty new to public service so I hope you’ll help me understand how this (ridiculous situation, policy, whatever) works”. Over and over. Your staff already know how absurd this is and they know that your power is limited. It will go a really long way that they see that you get it and that you have their backs. You will never fix this with reason or force. You may be able to get Barry out of your hair by being tenacious. You cannot fix IT.

  37. boof*

    LW, if this accurate, say to jason
    “Barry didn’t do the work, wasted time at the meeting explaining that he didn’t do the work, and then ignored Anna’s initial attempts at moving the meeting forward; and you want Anna to apologize to Barry for being more forceful? No. We can discuss how to handle Barry in the future, including how to professionally keep him on track at meetings, I agree that raised voices are not ideal and I’m sure Anna would appreciate other methods. How about (barry gets 2 minutes to update his project, barry gets muted if he takes longer and ignores redirection, all work Barry misses gets CCed do jason for reassignment, etc)

  38. Fergus*

    I wouldn’t apologize, they don’t fire anyone so what they gonna do. wwwhhhhhaaaa!

    1. Caliente Papillon*

      Well…they don’t fire BARRY. We don’t know about the rest; there are often untouchables.

  39. SirHumphreyAppleby*

    Oof, real sense of deja vu here.

    I like a lot of people in this thread had to work with a “Barry”. He too would not only not do his own work, but also expected me to manage his feelings for him. As a product owner, its HARD when you get team members who – 1) don’t act as though they’re part of a team, and 2) act as though no one else understands their work.
    The way I worked it out was by making sure my records were detailed and publicly available. I would publish meeting notes and tasks in asana and linked them to Jira. Each of my projects always have individual slack channels, and I linked my asana and slack to make sure all delays, missing work, etc etc was always visible in Slack too, especially to “Barry’s” team and bosses.
    It got to a stage where “Barry’s” boss couldn’t log in without getting hit with slack notifications about issues.

    OP and Anna you HAVE to make this Jason’s problem.

  40. BatManDan*

    Part of the reason that I can’t work for ANYBODY else, but particularly gov’t, large corporations, or academia, is that I truly don’t understand why organizations allow barriers to getting rid of low-performers (or otherwise problematic employees). I mean, the intellect and/or competence of the organization and it’s leaders have to be seriously in doubt at this point. Even if the employee didn’t affect me or my department, I’d quit out of sheer disgust for an org that allowed this. But, I’m truly curious: How does this happen? What is the business case for making it hard to fire someone?

    1. Dinwar*

      The incompetent co-opt measures put in place to protect those who are competent but who’s jobs necessarily annoy people.

      To give an example: Safety staff at my company are told that they are not concerned with budget. “It’s expensive” is 100% off the table as a reason to not do some safety measure. This naturally annoys the project managers, because we’re in charge of finances and have to explain to the company why we just lost tens of thousands of dollars. Yet those safety staff are critical, both because of basic human decency and because having them is a requirement to getting certain contracts. So the company has put policies in place to protect them. I don’t necessarily have to work with a specific safety officer if I don’t want to, but I have to have one and they can’t be fired for good-faith actions.

      Someone who doesn’t want to do work can easily find a safety excuse to not do it. There’s no work, including filing paperwork, that’s 100% safe (something like half our injuries in the company I work for were “People can’t walk in office” injuries), and there’s always something more that can be done. As such, you can run out the clock on a project pretty easily pushing various safety systems and never get any actual work done. (A good PM and a good safety manager recognize this and can stop it, but you’ve got to actually do it.)

      That’s just one example of this sort of process. There are many. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that many managers don’t want to fire someone. Firing someone is a trauma, and again human decency comes into play–none of us want to be the bad guy. Sure, the manager is suppose to be that from time to time, but you can hardly be surprised that many put off the role! Besides, you’d have to defend firing someone, which can be really tricky in a lot of cases (unions, tenure, and the like). It’s not as easy as it sounds, and puts you at risk.

      I’m not saying this is good. I’m just saying that it’s not hard to understand.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Thank you for the interesting insight into work and safety. I never thought about the balance between getting the work done and maximizing safety.

    2. Daryush*

      It protects employees from bad managers. Let’s say you worked at your office for years, and all the sudden a new manager comes in and she wants to clean house to bring in her own people. How easy do you want to make it for her to do that?
      Anything that protects good employees is also going to protect bad employees. If you’re a good employee, she won’t be able to assemble all the supporting documentation to fire you. If you’re a bad employee, a good boss is going to follow through, assemble documentation, and eventually get rid of you.

      1. BatManDan*

        “cleaning house” happens all the time. It may be my entrepreneurial streak, but I’m fine with that; no one should have to work with someone they don’t want to work with (or that doesn’t want to work for them). I mean, it would suck getting laid off in those particular circumstances, but anybody that thinks that good work is some sort of leverage against getting fired hasn’t been paying attention for at least a generation or two.

        1. Parakeet*

          “no one should have to work with someone they don’t want to work with” would be more reasonable in a society where people didn’t have to work to afford food and housing and healthcare. Since we don’t live in that society, but instead live in one where paid work is an inherently coercive arrangement, safeguards for workers are appropriate.

  41. Dinwar*

    This is why full incident investigations are so critical. Sure, yelling at someone isn’t a fantastic thing (though tolerance varies). But you can only push people to a certain point before they snap–and if you do that, the fault is yours. You can put Anna through all the anger management or communications training you want, or fire her if you want, but it would be the equivalent of putting a new coat of paint on a car with a shot transmission and a leak in the break lines. And really, Barry isn’t even the root cause here. Jason is, or his higher ups are. Someone is consistently failing to do their job and is attempting to psychologically abuse a fellow employee (and let’s be clear here–gaslighting is abuse), and yet the victim is being blamed (that’s what mediation means in the context of such abuse)!

    I’ve seen all kinds of “incident investigations” that are super shallow like this, and the results are always worse than the problem being investigated. I’ve pushed back on a fair number of them on the grounds that the “solution” would kill someone. Same thing here: They’ve found a surface level problem they think they can deal with, and are refusing to see the fundamental flaw that’s driving all this.

  42. yet another Anna*

    OP, give Anna a good reference and hope she remembers you when her new job has an opening. Could I sometimes be more diplomatic/patient/tactful? Admittedly yes. Am I a boiling cauldron of rage about everyone who thought that tone-policing me was more important than EVER dealing with the work-related issues I was bringing up? Also yes.

  43. Garlic Microwaver*

    With all due respect, what type of environment, company or agency refuses to put an ill-performing employee on a PIP or terminate them? Does not sound like this perpetrator is a world-renowned fetal surgeon who can save lives before life is lived, or anything… So why keep him?

    1. Sparkle Llama*

      My guess is he is a relative of someone important in that agency or a partner agency. Or could be that there was a problem in the past with actual mistreatment of him and now he is untouchable for fear of a lawsuit.

    2. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      Some people are good at toeing the line, or their knowledge is seen as so critical that people deal with their crap, or they take advantage of a new boss, or they’re good at making everyone else look like the problem. I’ve seen all of it (incidentally, in a single person just like Barry!)

    3. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      Sometimes if there is a union it can make firing someone really difficult, that shuldn’t be the case with a PIP or moving Barry.

    4. RightSaidFed*

      I work in government. We have a severe underperformer in my department. His manager has been stonewalled repeatedly by HR and is still not on a PIP after repeated tries. All of his work is subpar. He has behaved badly. We have no idea why HR has been throwing up roadblock after roadblock. He doesn’t know anyone important. It’s Byzantine and bizarre.

  44. Wtf really*

    I’m completely baffled at all the replies excusing her for yelling at him. We don’t yell at people at work. Period. That’s the bare minimum for a workplace. Yes, other people can frustrate us. Other people can be shitty employees that should be fired and we can and should get them in trouble for their own misdeeds. But we don’t yell at people at work. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills reading these comments. lol

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      But was it truly “yelling” or just a firm raised voice. Sometimes a woman has to raise her voice because she is being talked over, and needs to make her points. The way the LW expressed it, it doesn’t sound like “yelling” which I think of as more emotional and less controlled, or in an emergency situation.

    2. Jazzy*

      Just out of curiosity, how far does that go? Like how much bullying is a person expected to tolerate before they can yell at their bully? How much is someone allowed to talk over you, interrupt you, etc, before you’re allowed to raise your voice to make sure you’re heard? Tbh it sounds kinda victim-blaming. Anna has *been* endlessly patient with Barry and lost her temper for a single moment after months of constant frustration. Anna isn’t a robot who can just eat her feelings forever until the end of time. Sometimes, yelling is a perfectly reasonable reaction to the situation, even at work.

      1. H.Regalis*

        Agreed. You don’t owe the world perfect calm at all times, and being visibly angry is not abuse.

        Is the yelling part of a pattern, or a one-off? Is it done to silence/control people and/or “keep them in their place”? Is the person yelling at people below them in the hierarchy who feel like they have to sit there are take it or else they’ll lose their job? Is it a reasonable response to the situation? If I’m at work and I see someone about to mix ammonia and bleach, I am most certainly going to yell, “STOP!!!!” and physically prevent them from doing that if they don’t stop.

        1. H.Regalis*

          A blanket policy of, “Yelling is always wrong regardless of context, and whoever is doing the yelling is always the bad person,” is going to get victim-blaming and tone-policing real quick.

      2. boof*

        Ideally you can mute the person or boot them from the meeting rather than yelling, but need to have control over the conference/call.
        I agree yelling isn’t ideal, but they do have to be given other methods to handle the (very well known at this point per LW) problem.

    3. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      LW is implying that the phrase yelling may not entirely truthful, based on thef act that with a very loud voice is in quotation marks. Plus when you stack Anna up against Barry, she is the more reliable narrator. Also, everyone make mistakes at some point, especially when they’re being driven bananas. If Anna had a pattern of yelling people wouldn’t be as quick to defend her.

      LW could say “I understand Barry said you yelled. I realize he may not be truthful but if you did, just try not to do it again”, but I don’t think they have the standing to say much more than that.

      1. littlehope*

        Also I think there’s a big difference between “Yelling in the workplace is fine,” and “This particular instance of yelling in the workplace is understandable given the context, and is not the problem that needs most urgently to be addressed here.” Pretty sure most of us are going for the latter.

    4. Student*

      “We don’t yell at people at work. Period. That’s the bare minimum for a workplace.” That’s a norm at your places of work. It’s not a law. It’s not a universal norm for all workplaces. I’ve worked places that range from:
      -Yelling is unacceptable in all situations
      -Yelling is unacceptable, unless you belong to a certain level of management or higher
      -Yelling is acceptable occasionally, but considered ill-mannered
      -Yelling is acceptable occasionally, no significant stigma but also not routine
      -Yelling is normal

      From this range of workplace experiences, I personally prefer something in the neighborhood of “Yelling is acceptable occasionally, but considered ill-mannered”. Yelling can be a helpful way to signal to someone that they are way out of line, after non-yelling methods have failed. It helps sharpen the attention of everyone else in the vicinity on whatever is being yelled about, and sometimes it’s necessary to draw that kind of attention. There’s a certain type of person who, in some situations, will not listen to words spoken softly-but-seriously, will not care about more passive “per my previous email” digs, but will start taking you seriously the moment you push back harder by raising your voice.

      It’s risky, because it’s easy to misuse or over-use yelling. It feels pretty bad to be on the receiving end. These are huge downsides that should be acknowledged and should lead to caution about using yelling in a workplace, for sure.

      I don’t think it’s a great solution, or the first solution that anyone should try. I don’t think it belongs in all workplaces. But, it can be very effective solution sometimes, and I don’t think trying to rule it out as “never appropriate” is actually a good idea. I don’t like getting yelled at, and it doesn’t help me in all or most situations – but it does help impart the seriousness of a situation to me when I have been on the receiving end.

      I’ll also flag that making yelling at work a strict taboo, rather than something that’s discouraged as an initial measure, unfairly disadvantages and stigmatizes people who are the victims of physical aggression or other non-verbal, out-of-bounds behavior. I yelled when a guy grabbed my crotch at work. I yelled when a co-worker was creating a huge fire hazard at work. I yelled when someone sexually harassed one of my direct reports at work. It drew attention to something that someone else would rather not get additional scrutiny, so that people would help me out (or at least stop and stare). It caused the people I was yelling at to physically step back and pause what they were doing, which can give you room to escape a bad situation. It’s not a cure-all – but it’s a tool we shouldn’t be too quick to discard.

      1. boof*

        Honestly I’m on team “yelling shouldn’t happen except in an emergency” but also if there is yelling one has to figure out why, it isn’t an aggressive “never event” the way swearing and name calling (or, of course, any physical aggression) might be.

    5. Industry Behemoth*

      Someone once yelled at me at work, then wouldn’t listen when I tried to clear the air after figuring out I’d misunderstood something.

      I found out separately they were under huge pressure from multiple sources, which were all understandable. So I chose not to report them.

    6. it's gonna be bye bye bye... oh, wrong song*

      From the description, it sounds like she snapped at him or slowly increased volume to cover his, not that she suddenly literally yelled. Also, lots of people use “yelled at” as a metaphor for “chastised in whatever manner”, especially people who are chastised a lot.

  45. Looper*

    Even if he isn’t fireable, making Barry aware that multiple people want him fired and will do so the moment it’s possible can be very useful as a motivational tool, whether it motivates him to do his job or to find employment elsewhere. Just because you can’t discipline Barry, doesn’t mean everyone has to bend over backwards to make Barry comfortable as he makes everyone else uncomfortable.

  46. CubeFarmer*

    Every organization has a Barry. For whatever reason, this person seem immune from responsibilities or the consequences of inaction.

  47. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    I wish the LW had gone into more detail on why they can’t fire Barry. Is Alison right and they just don’t want to because it would be a pain or is he the toxic CEO’s son and anyone who tries to fire him will be out the door before they can do anything.
    This question is hard to answer without that information because the correct answer is fire the guy that sucks at his job. Without knowing why he can’t be fired any advice we can give will just be generic.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Well, they did when they said they work for a public organization. Those of us that have previously or currently work in government already know how that works. It’s different everywhere, of course, and some places it may be less difficult than others, but it’s pretty universally known that there are a lot of hoops and headaches to doing so (and, this is by design, to protect from a full on patronage system, among other reasons). Some are due to rules and protections for all employees, some are because of unions, some literally have these protections baked into the law … etc.

      Why he either cannot be reassigned or put on a PIP/progressive discipline/what have you is another story. It is entirely possible that if she explained that more in depth it would reveal what public entity this is in reference to, and it is understandable that she would rather keep this as vague as possible.

      Also, and I mention this upthread as well, but my read is that OP has no authority over Barry OR Jason (and, I get the impression, Jason has no authority over OP). It sounds like Jason and OP are colleagues who may or may not report up to the same leadership. If not, that makes this even more difficult to address.

    2. Industry Behemoth*

      Yes. I’m wondering if Jason’s job is a revolving door, with managers quitting because they can’t do anything about Barry.

  48. JPalmer*

    Tons of valid points made by other commenters.

    Anna is already job hunting. The company is probably going to lose Anna or Barry. The best outcome is likely losing Barry.

    There’s a lot of things that could explain Barry’s behavior, so it’s probably a bingo pick of the following: He’s incompetent, he’s lazy, he doesn’t like his job, he’s a nepotism hire (I bet this is part of it), sexism, he’s waiting to retire, he wants severance, he knows he has leverage, he has a bone to pick with the project itself.

    I think LW needs to come down really solidly on Anna’s side.
    A variety of statements below seem relevant here:

    “I think there is a lot of context on the situation you are lacking. Anna’s behavior was less than ideal, but Barry’s consistent lack of performance and blame shifting is threatening one of our good performing employees. My recommendation is for you to have a conversation about Barry’s actions and . Barry is using you as a new shield to redirect away from why he isn’t responsible. If you aren’t able to do that, I question if you’ve been set up for success in not having the impact to manage someone who could be a better performer. If we make Anna apologize for a frustrated but justified and reasonably professional, we are sending a signal to Barry that his behavior is acceptable and that will invite future moments costing the team productivity and morale”

    Anna was honestly justified and professional. She did not lay into Barry in the meeting, which would’ve been a frustrated outburst. Like she could’ve said ‘Lets circle back to this later so we don’t eat up everyone’s time on an issue that they’re not relevant to’, but it’s alright to be a bit sharp, especially when someone is being consistently capital USELESS.

    If Jason doesn’t actually have the power to discipline Barry, Jason isn’t his manager. He’s a meatshield Barry can hide his shitty behavior for. Barry is a tumor on the team, letting him suck the willpower and time from others will only make his behavior grow more brazen. I don’t even think there is a path of “Try to understand Barry”. Tumors need to be cut out or the system dies.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      They’re not going to lose Barry. Barry is getting paid to do nothing. Unless something changes, he’ll never leave.

  49. Pete*

    Yes, let Jason and Anna know not only do you condone Anna’s actions, but you also encourage others to be a proactive leader like her. Also sit in in the next meeting and if Barry acts up you be the one to humiliate Barry.

  50. holdonloosely*

    The wildest thing to me is that even if Barry didn’t have a long history of being a jerk, what Anna did is incredibly mild to merit any kind of disciplinary response. She “initially calmly and then ‘with a very loud voice’ told him to ‘please leave the phone conference.'” She didn’t swear, didn’t call him names, even said please—and only raised her voice after being ignored when she asked calmly. There are workplaces, and not even highly dysfunctional ones, where this wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar, much less considered “finally snapping.”

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Seriously. Anna is actually trying to get stuff done. I don’t know if this is part of her responsibilities, but shutting down nonsense in meetings is part of the facilitator’s job!

  51. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Honestly, Anna telling Barry loudly to get off the call, after he repeatedly ignored her, seems like an entirely reasonable reaction to me. I mean, what was she meant to do at that point? What, specifically, would Jason have had her do instead? Just let Barry keep talking over her?

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Asking someone to leave a conference call for being disruptive and non-cooperative, even if it was in a raised tone of voice, is hardly comparable to two employees getting into a shouting match in the middle of the office.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, even if provoked and understandable I hope we can all generally agree that saying “fuck you” to anyone at work is not generally acceptable.

        Barry says Anna “yelled” at him, but OP seems (rightly) skeptical that that is even an accurate description of the situation. It seems possible that all Anna has done is finally lose her endless patience after years of dealing with someone frustrating.

        I don’t know if anyone has watched the bachelor spoof show “Burning Love” (highly recommend it) but there’s a scene where every time this one woman speaks up to defend herself the two men she is speaking with are like “hey, stop yelling” even though she is very clearly objectively *not* yelling. It’s honestly kind of a hard scene for me to watch–it’s funny in how ridiculous it is, but it’s also upsetting because it’s unfortunately really realistic.

        So maybe I’m biased but I’m definitely assuming that “yelling” was very, very likely to be an exaggeration of the situation if not a full on lie.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      I would dispute that Anna wasn’t provoked nearly as badly — in fact she was provoked to a much greater degree. In the letter you cite Ben overstepped but there does not appear to be any history. Instead of backing off and handling it “through channels”, Jane got into a shouting match.

      In the current case handling it “through channels” hasn’t worked. Barry hasn’t suffered an consequences for a long history of bad behavior. It’s that history and the lack of recourse that Anna has in dealing with Barry in a more appropriate way makes the provocation so much worse.

      It comes down to the point that Anna snapping and calling out his bad behavior gets sanctioned when his behavior has been ignored for so long is gross in a way that telling two people who got in a shouting match to behave like adults is not.

  52. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I guess my biggest question for OP would be why it was not okay for Anna to ask Barry to leave the phone conference if he wasn’t just not contributing but actively derailing the meeting? Which it sounds like is his MO, deny, derail, then gaslight to obfuscate. That Anna had to repeatedly ask him to leave the phone conference to the point of raising her voice to do it, makes Barry’s conduct worse. Not Anna’s.

    It seems to me the reason this whole situation seems icky is not just because Barry faces no consequences for his actions, but that everyone (but his new manager) is totally aware of what Barry does, how he does it, and that he not only doesn’t face repercussions but gets special treatment to boot. There is no way I’d apologize to Barry; and I’d make that very clear to OP and Jason.

  53. But not the Hippopotamus*

    I was in a similar situation and left after a year of a person just stone-walling everything possible. I got zero support from management and when I was told that I needed to fix things despite months of trying, asking for help or coaching and being told I was doing everything right… well, I left that group and, shortly after, the company. probably not enough money anywhere to make me go back.

  54. Raida*

    This only works with some good managers:

    You say Jason is new-ish?

    You get him, and his manager, and you and your manager, in a meeting. You list out in the driest and most factual way possible the issues caused by a refusal to performance manage Barry by previous manager.
    And your manager and Jason’s manager can have it out on determining if this is actually Jason’s fckn job, and make it clear he’s expected to do it.

  55. Reebee*

    LW, since you didn’t hint at sexism being at play here, I agree with what some other commenters have said: this likely won’t change for you unless those directly affected go elsewhere. That sucks, too, because they shouldn’t have to. I wish everyone the best. Relatedly, I am in my present job due to never-ending favoritism of a slacker and it’s been worth it since Day One.

  56. RagingADHD*

    When a relationship has broken down due to someone’s bad behavior, it is impossible to “repair the relationship” with one-sided feelings statements. There has to be a change in behavior first.

    Not afterward. First. Then you can start repairing the emotional part of relationship.

  57. Anonymouse*

    After going through the excruciating process of managing a useless employee out of a state position, I have a lot more sympathy for my colleagues who say they aren’t allowed to fire anyone. In practice, it’s an immense amount of work and you never know if someone high up is going to swoop in at the last minute and “save” the problematic employee. And once that happens, the attitude is even worse because they believe (not without merit) they are untouchable forever more. That’s why you end up with so many government departments being completely staffed by incompetent workers. The good people leave for more functional workplaces.

  58. NotSarah*

    I have a colleague that put the time and effort in to fire an under performing employee who was bad, just so unbelievably not good, at their job. The employee invoked their right to petition, request a hearing, engage the union rep every chance they could. In the end, it took about six months. Sure, it wasn’t pleasant or easy work. But at some point, the distinction simply can continue if you want to retain staff or hire competitively.

  59. I take tea*

    Just adding that I wanted to yell at both Barry and Jason when I read this. I would only consider apologizing for my tone if Barry first apologized for being an ass.

  60. Lady Knittington*

    There’s a meme I’ve seen going round the internet: “Manipulation is where they blame you for your reaction to their disrespect”. No idea why it’s suddenly come to mind.

    1. TickTech*

      Would love to have an update on this one, OP. I am not in the exact situation as your employee, but there are quite a few similarities I’m trying to proactively get ahead of (with less manager support, largely because they have less of the technical acumen than I do, so they’re less able to advocate when there’s a problem as opposed to after the fact).

Comments are closed.