Vacation-shaming co-worker
September 5, 2018 9:56 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a co-worker giving me the cold shoulder when I take a day off?

I’m having problems concerning time off with my coworker. She and I work together unfortunately, so I can’t avoid her. She is the type to never take time off. She claimed that when she started working at the company, she never took any time off. Some take week or so long vacations and are always at work. I prefer to take a long weekend or a couple of days off.

Anyways, I took a half day off for the holiday last weekend. I told her 3 weeks in advance, so she knew. She brought it up the Thursday before and I told her that I was traveling to see a sick friend. Coworker then says, “Why can’t you go on Saturday instead?” I asked her what she meant. (I thought she would stop talking about it. Did it help? No, she continued to talk.)

She then goes into how I should leave early Saturday and go then, blah blah. I just said that it wasn’t possible. The boss approved it, so who cares?

Anytime I take time off, she gets upset. I notify her well in advance, but it doesn't matter to her. Yet she will be gone the whole month in December and that’s okay. If her friends are taking off, that’s okay because they’re her friends. Or it's okay if "Fergus" takes time off because "he never takes time off."

When I return after being out, she'll give me the cold shoulder. When I returned after the weekend, she acted chilly towards me. She focused her attention on the intern and made it obvious that she wasn't being as social with me.

It's funny because then coworker herself left an hour early, but didn't tell me until an hour before she left. She looked all smug and gave me a smirk as I was trying to do work.

The next day, she came in and acted like nothing happened. She's talking to me like we're best buds. WTF??

Caveat: She and the boss are best buds- as in , they vacation together and hang out outside of work, so going to boss is not an option.

Caveat 2: Ever since I started a year ago, she's had issues with me. When someone compliments me on my work, she gets upset. Someone put my name first on a forwarded email and she was livid. There is no "team" with her and she is very unpleasant to work with.

Any advice until I can find a new job and get out?
posted by Kobayashi Maru to Work & Money (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, there's really not much you can do except try really hard not to care what she says. If she tries to dig into your reasons for taking time off, just let her talk and then walk away. And, yeah, if she's making your work life really hard then definitely ramp up the efforts to find a new job.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2018 [29 favorites]

"Honestly, It's none of your fucking* business when I take time off."

*substitute your favorite curse word here.

Every time I'm out sick (which doesn't happen very often) there's a guy here who brags that he always comes to work when he's sick and I always just ask him what he wins for doing that.
posted by bondcliff at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2018 [50 favorites]

Also, never give her the reason why you're taking time off. If she asks, just tell her "it's personal." That way she doesn't get to decide what a valid use of your time is.
posted by bondcliff at 10:09 AM on September 5, 2018 [82 favorites]

She sounds like one of those unpleasant people who is constantly in competition and who just frankly dislikes herself and looks for any way to feel superior and better than everyone else. All you can do is ignore and put double the time into job applications. In the meantime, get comfortable with saying "Thanks for the input", "I'll think about it, thanks" and making it into a joke for yourself. I like to make annoying peoples' names into a verb, as in 'Wow, Amy's over there Amying it all up again," then noting to myself that she's annoying.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 10:15 AM on September 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

Keep all interactions with her cold, straightforward, and professional. Let her know in advance that you're taking time off, do not engage further than that. Ignore the bluster before and after. You don't have any obligation to answer her questions, so don't.
posted by Fig at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

Your sort of buried the lede with caveat 2 that she's had issues with you since you started... sounds like classic workplace bullying. But I'd go one of two ways on it:

- IF you think she can be logical and compassionate, you could ask for a 10 minute meeting and explain your logic of PTO - that you take off smaller amounts for long weekends, it suits you and your lifestyle better, and you are taking off PTO you've earned, just like her. There is some *tiny* chance that she is just not realizing you are doing it this way, and then when you are taking off time more often than those who chunk vacation, she doesn't realize it (the 4 quarters v. dollar bill problem). Maybe if you clarify reality for her, she'll chill.

- IF like you mention she's got issues, and she's just kind of a jerk trying to guilt you unnecessarily - don't worry about it. You have the time approved, you earned it by working, go enjoy it.
posted by RajahKing at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

"it's personal"
"Thanks for the input"
"I'll think about it, thanks"

To add to the above:

"Great idea"
"I'll take it under advisement"
"My opinion is different"
"That's one opinion"
"You're right as usual"
"I'm afraid we have to agree to disagree"
"Stop judging me"
"Seems like we see things differently"
"That certainly is your opinion"
"That's nice"
"I know you see it that way- you keep telling me"
"That's a formal possibility"
"Isn't that wonderful"
"I wish you the best with that"
"I have other plans"
"Well that makes one of us"
"You do it your way and I'll do it mine"
"Are you aware of how critical you are"
"One hardly knows what to say!"
"What an interesting viewpoint"
"Duly noted"

In my experience, smile and say as little as possible. Ignore her- she wants you to see she's 'right'. I say a lot of these phrases in my head when I'm frustrated, but you might see something that works!
posted by maya at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2018 [40 favorites]

People like your coworker are hard to deal with. It is hard and probably not worth your time/energy to try to change her behavior. Looking for another job elsewhere is a good plan. However, in the meantime, I like to mess with these people in the following way: I am super friendly and happy with them. I ignore any cold shoulder, silent treatment, active hostility, or other negative behavior. In public, private, whatever, I am pleasant, friendly, supportive, complimentary, etc. However, I also keep everything very impersonal. Never share anything that is meaningful to you. Never give details of your time off or weekend/after work plans. Keep everything super generic. Ignore any mean comments. Kill her with kindness. This is good in a couple of ways. Pleasant interactions are less stressful. You feel more in control and more powerful because you know that you are doing this because having a real and honest relationship with this person is completely unimportant to you. You are also not giving her any ammo to complain about you. Good luck.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2018 [32 favorites]

Yeah, this sounds like her issues go way beyond the vacation question, and I don't think addressing it with her will do you any good. I recommend you just keep your head down and provide a bare minimum of detail ("I'll be out on Friday." If and only if asked, "A personal appointment." If asked why it has to be that day, "This was the only day the scheduling worked out" and then decline to dig into it any further. Better yet, institute a shared calendar so you can just mark down vacation days and not have a dialogue about it at all.)

Civil, generic, totally impersonal, she doesn't get to know thing one about your personal life because she's shown that she can't be trusted to use personal information in a respectful, collegial way.
posted by Stacey at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

I deal with people like this by professionally and politely confronting them directly. I use specific facts and situations to back myself up. I never do this without a lot of time, thought, and consideration of what I'm about to say. I politely ask them into a conference room and calmly but confidently address the situation directly. 9 times out of 10, they are so shocked by the fact that I called them out on their bullshit that they stop.

My guess is she's unaware of it and it's passive aggressive because she has personal issues in her own life that she can't or won't deal with.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:50 AM on September 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

Oh and I agree with the above posters that she's bullying you. Bullies need to be called out on their bullshit, or it sends the message that their behavior is acceptable. It's not.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've also found the approach agatha_magatha describes to be helpful. Always be friendly yet bland. Polite yet impersonal. I think of it like exercise; instead of lifting weights to strengthen my arms, I'm being nice to strengthen myself (mentally and emotionally) against this person's poor behavior. I'm also building up a reserve of good behavior that I can point to if the other person does something like go to the boss with complaints about me.

I also find it helps to make myself see the other person's behavior as amusing. This can be a "fake it 'til you make it" thing if you're really feeling bothered or hurt, but in the long run, it can help you keep emotional distance from the situation.
posted by neushoorn at 10:55 AM on September 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

"What an odd thing to say." Meet her gaze until she turns away.
posted by emelenjr at 11:15 AM on September 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

She sounds like a horrible person and I'd call her out on the spot every time she did this to me, even (perhaps especially) if she did it in front of other people. "I don't see why the way I choose to use my accrued time off is of any concern to you and I would appreciate it if you stopped behaving as if it's your business."

But then I'm That Guy. This advice probably won't work for people who aren't also That Guy.
posted by fedward at 11:27 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hang a calendar on the wall with your work schedule, if you actually need to notify her in advance. (Not clear from your question why this would be, since you're "co-workers," but ok.)

I don't understand the reason for the cute, oblique rejoinders suggested above. Just say, "My work schedule is no business of yours." And if she persists, you can add, "If you have a problem with your working conditions, speak to [HR or equivalent]."
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:35 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Document your interactions with her, including the advance warning you give her about days off (or anything else).

Be sure to communicate by email.

If she does not reply by email, document when, where and what time you have interactions, and the result of the interaction.

When your coworker confronts you like she does, pull up these detailed notes and explain that you have already notified her, etc.

Document these conversations, too.

Ideally, pushing back will shut this person up.

If that doesn't work, you can then use this documentation if you need to approach HR to mediate, or talk to an employment lawyer about remedies for workplace bullying should HR ignore the issue.
posted by JamesBay at 11:37 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Stop giving her explanations, for one thing. Send an email to her and anyone else who needs to know when you'll be off and cc your boss.

If she tries quizzing you, do not provide any explanation other than you'll be out. If she asks you why you can't do some other thing instead, suggest she talk to the boss about it. Even if the boss is her buddy, even if the boss personally agrees you should never take time off (but in all likelihood the boss doesn't give a shit about your coworker's attendance boasting either) they're probably not going to actively interfere in a way that might run afoul of local regulations and might even tell her to knock it off.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:49 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

If she takes monthlong vacations she absolutely is taking time off. And it's not a competition but.. in many industries taking a long vacation is FAR more disruptive than a day here and there. Don't accept her framework of what counts as taking time off. Not saying you should press her on this-- she's rude because she sucks, not because you take time off-- but don't let her get in your head and feel guilty/self-conscious about taking time off.
posted by acidic at 12:02 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

People who never take vacations are often covering up fraud.

I highly doubt your co-worker is committing fraud, but next time she comments about your vacation, I would, with a straight face, point that out to her. It's a giant red flag in audit situations.
posted by valoius at 12:26 PM on September 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

Why do you have to tell her you're taking time off? Could your boss set up a department calendar for approved time off? Or could you ask your boss if you can do this?

As a manager, I'd be livid if anyone was nosing into anyone else's PTO, as that's private, plus it's rude and unprofessional. It's also not her job if she's not your manager. She's undermining your manager's authority.

Even if you must notify her of absences, you never need to tell her why. "Vacation" is a response to the question of "Why are you taking vacation?" Invoke your manager whenever possible. "[Manager] approved me." If she responds with judgement: "that's one way to look at it." Then drop it. Say you can't chat now, you have to get back to work on [project.]

Rise above it. Don't get into it with her: you can't win, it stresses you out, and it reinforces her mistaken notion that she gets a say.

Vacation time is part of your overall compensation for the work you do. It's not a virtue to leave it on the table. That's like giving your employer money back out of your paycheck just to kiss up. She's way off on this, don't let her nutty views on this get to you.
posted by kapers at 12:32 PM on September 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Three weeks notice for a half-day off? You're already being way more accommodating to this person than is reasonable or normal.
posted by parm at 12:47 PM on September 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

Two more responses that you can use which are not explanations are "I don't need to discuss that with you" or "We're not going to talk about that". If she keeps asking for an explanation, just repeat one of those (like a broken record, every time she asks for an explanation). Then when you get an opportunity, change the subject or say you have work you need to do and walk away. If she lectures at or tries to shame you, I find that a neutral "Mmm hmm" followed by either changing the subject or getting back to work shuts that down. She's not your boss, so there's no need to care about what she thinks about how or when you take your PTO. That's none of her business.
posted by jazzbaby at 1:15 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

If her life has been reduced to really caring about other people’s time off then she is a pathetic creature indeed. I would remove myself from the situation but in the meantime I would just pity her.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:32 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's what I always wish I had the ability to do in situations like this:

posted by nosila at 2:11 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some take week or so long vacations and are always at work. I prefer to take a long weekend or a couple of days off.

Not to justify your colleague's behaviour, but I have noticed that people get weirded out by folks who don't take their vacation in week-long blocks or longer. (Even in positions without a fraud risk, even if they use all their PTO.) Although your manager may approve your style of PTO requests, it's often perceived as unorthodox - even though it's often less disruptive than having someone out of the office for weeks on end. Assuming you're not using your PTO to work 4-day weeks whenever possible, you're not doing anything wrong, but you may work somewhere where it's non-normative enough to attract attention.
posted by blerghamot at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

agatha_magatha has the right idea. I don't know why so many people in these threads seem to suggest unhelpful behaviors that will only serve to escalate conflict, but these strategies will not be helpful to you if you want to continue working there and your goal is to minimize stressful interaction with this person. If she persists in interrogating you about your PTO choices and you want to directly respond, you might say that work/life balance is important to you, that different people have different way of striking that balance, and that this is yours.
posted by slkinsey at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

“Why do I need vacation time? Haha you’re so funny! Wow, wouldn’t it be weird and unprofessional if you were seriously prying into my personal life. Some people are like that you know. Can I please grab those TPS forms?”
posted by Jubey at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

People who take pride in being overworked and over-exploited by their companies have some deep flaws I don't think you can ease them out of. Not only does she pride herself in being taken advantage of, she looks down on others who are not willing to do the same. It's a weird masochist psychology I find hard to understand, but it seems somewhat common in some industries. On top of everything else, sounds like she is a bully, using her petty power gained through being a company tool.

How good are you at being vicious? This seems like you've had enough established history to bring out the acid tongue.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:44 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say just brush it off, and stop giving any more information than absolutely necessary. You're taking personal time on XX day and that's that. If this person is not your boss, you don't have to negotiate with her, so don't.

You have my sympathies in dealing with this, though. Situations like this can be a real drain unless you set some strong boundaries.
posted by rpfields at 6:06 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh gods, this type of tiresome coworker.

Stop justifying the reasons for your vacation time and giving her an opportunity to argue with you. You'll be out on these days. For personal reasons. Period. Be pleasant but utterly neutral. If she wants to get all upset, that's...weird, and on her, and way beyond anything that you can control, so stop letting it affect you. Practice your pleasant robot scripted response: "I'm sorry if this upsets you? I'll be out on [these days] and will return [this day]. Cheers."

Look, your time off is part of your compensation. Use it. Use every single goddamn vacation day every single year.
posted by desuetude at 10:40 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is not about your vacation time. The vacation time is simply a convenient hook for her fault-finding. If you didn't take vacation, she'd focus on how you tie your shoes or some other damn thing.

However, if you take time off in the future and she gives you a hard time about it, express your sympathy that she can't get her shit together enough to take a few days off here and there.
posted by adamrice at 1:48 PM on September 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

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