Problems with co-worker
February 16, 2020 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Problems with co-worker and I am now seen as the office rat

Can someone please give me some advice regarding a colleague (I'll call her Jane), Both myself and Jane are administrators for a very large organisation. Jane has been here forever and I've been here for 3 years following a promotion.

My boss is the overall manager of my department (I'll call her Lucinda) and Jane's boss reports directly to my boss (I'll call her Norah).

Firstly, let me say that my workload is much higher than Jane's or any of the other admins but I'm happy enough with that even though we are all on the same salary.

Since I've worked here I've noticed that Jane can be really awkward if I ask her for information however I've also noticed that if she asks me how to do simple admin tasks like how to word a letter, how to do calculations in excel.

In the past 6 months it's got really hard for me to get information from Jane:


Whenever I've arranged meetings for my boss - Jane will say that her boss is available - then when the meeting arrives her boss hasn't got it in her diary - even though I have confirmation from her that she is available. This really frustrates Lucinda who is waiting for Norah to arrive. I've had to resort to send electronic invites - but Jane won't accept them so it becomes a guess as to whether her boss will attend the meeting or not. I am fed up of having to explain to my boss that Jane did confirm etc - it's exhausting going back over the email trail every time.

Norah asks Jane to set up a meeting with Lucinda and other staff.i. Jane doesn't give me dates when Norah is available but expects me to give my boss's availability for like a month! The problem is that Norah will ask has the meeting been set up and Jane says she is still waiting for me even though I have given her dates. The onus is always on me.

Jane is supposed to take my calls when I'm at lunch or a meeting. I found out that she simply ignores them.

Jane sends daily information to put on one of our systems. She has access to this system and I have asked her to input the information straight onto the system to avoid duplication. Three times I've asked and each time she has stated that she would prefer me to do it. This IMO is a waste of time.

Jane vacation which is approved by her boss but doesn't tell me so I am left with her calls etc (I don't mind that - but please give me warning!).

I have accidentally heard her mocking my accent (I have a strong southern accent) to the other women in the office (there are 5 of us altogether). I know I shouldn't care but it did hurt me.

My boss noticed some things mainly due to Jane copying him in on certain queries and asked me about what was going on and I explained some of the above (plus other things to him). He had always had an idea that Jane is not pulling her weight so he told me to leave it and he would speak to Jane's boss which he has done.

I think it's made matters worse - Jane is now answering my queries quickly but one of my co-workers said that I shouldn't have gone behind Jane's back and they are all being really cold with me. I've got 4 years till I retire so leaving is not an option but the atmosphere is terrible.

How do I deal with this - deep down I know I'm now branded the office tattle but I was getting fed up of killing Jane with kindness in order to get information from her (which she avoids giving anyway).

I'm just tired with all the BS.
posted by ForeverTracy to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Commit to ruling by fear.

Anybody who seriously spends more than a few seconds nursing a grievance about "tattling" in the workplace is somebody who needs to pull up their big person pants and get the fuck over themselves. Where do they think they are, preschool?

The only choice you made that could perhaps have been done better, it seems to me, is trying to kill Jane with kindness in the first place. Better just to tell her that if she doesn't pull her fucking finger out and do her job properly you'll have no option but to raise these issues with Lucinda. Of course you'd take the rough edges off that warning by couching it in dead eyed corpspeak, and do it via email to give yourself a readily auditable document trail for when the shit eventually did hit the fan, but that would be the gist of it. You're her co-worker, not her fucking babysitter.
posted by flabdablet at 5:14 AM on February 16, 2020 [31 favorites]

I don’t think you did anything wrong. Jane was trying to throw you under the bus, you boss asked you about YOUR job, and you explained the struggles you’ve been having that prevent you from doing you job well. He tried to step in to solve those barriers, as that is part of his job.

There are some people who are very good at office politics and very bad at their jobs, and some who are the opposite. Sounds like Jane is the former and you are the latter.

I’m not big on the office politics either, and when I had a work environment like you’re describing, I found another job. Even if you only have a few years until retirement, no reason you couldn’t look around to see if something else it out there. Office politics don’t change when they’re so entrenched, and some offices are more concerned with politics than productivity.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:16 AM on February 16, 2020 [13 favorites]

Accent-shaming is a huge nope. Jane can't do this, and must apologize. We both know she won't, or only will with HR involvement. I'm sorry you've been picked on this way. As someone with an accent that causes insta-othering everywhere, lemme tell you that there isn't a hell hot enough for accent-shamers.

Sounds like Jane is an information hoarder, a silo-maker: if information is power, she feels she loses it when she has to share. The information that she covets, however, belongs to the company. By not sharing, she's making the company less effective. I've seen a few of those, and the sigh of relief when they finally leave lasts for months.
… I've had to resort to send electronic invites - but Jane won't accept them so it becomes a guess as to whether her boss will attend the meeting or not. …

… Jane doesn't give me dates when Norah is available but expects me to give my boss's availability for like a month!
Frustrating as heck, but … your company doesn't run an Outlook or other calendar server so you can instantly see anyone's availability? Admittedly I've worked in engineering and tech, but the last company I worked for that had diary secretaries was two decades ago. It sounds like your company's policies allow people like Jane to become office tyrants who bestow BS on their workmates.

The only solution I can offer is that you've been heard. The co-workers that make your weekend a incline of dread as you near the hour you have to face them again are the worst. Your boss has your back, at least, and you're doing the right thing.
posted by scruss at 5:21 AM on February 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: This isn’t tattling. You tried to work with her, she wasn’t cooperating, you took the issue to your boss. This is 100% what you are supposed to do in a professional setting. My only feedback is that instead of taking a “killing with kindness” approach, you could have been more direct:

“Jane, I found out you are ignoring my calls. We both know it is important that those calls get covered. Can you do that?”

“Jane, You confirmed a meeting between our bosses that is supposed to be going on right now. Can you help me understand why it isn’t on your boss’s calendar?”

I would do this face to face and then follow with email.

If you continue to have problems in those areas after a direct conversation you take it to your boss, calmly explaining the problem, the impact on the work, and what you tried to do to resolve it. If your boss already thinks Jane is a problem, getting this kind of consistent, clear, dispassionate feedback about performance issues would be a huge help in managing her out. Since she has improved, you’re now waiting to see if it is a permanent improvement, or if she will start to backslide. Given the gossip going around the workplace, my money is on backslide and fast.

I worked as an admin many years ago, and there did tend to be an informal hierarchy in the admin ranks based on who they supported, even if titles and pay were the same. If you are supporting the big boss, you have an opportunity to be a leader and set the tone. Even if people are cold, you can be friendly and warm. Make sure people’s birthdays and work anniversaries get recognized. Advocate with your boss for stuff you all need - a new copier that’s doesn’t jam all the time or new scheduling software or desk chairs that haven’t been around since the last century. Whatever you know all the admins want, use your natural influence with your boss to help get it.

If people say you shouldn’t have gone behind Jane’s back - call that out as the nonsense that is. “No one is going behind anyone’s back. I talked to Jane about these issues repeatedly.” Then change the subject.

Another way to lead is to organize development opportunities for the admin staff. Helping everyone move to electronic calendars seems like super low hanging fruit here, but maybe your leaders prefer paper. A lunch and learn where each admin gets to share something they know how to do (an Excel skill, mail merge in Word, organizational strategies in email, etc.) gives everyone a chance to shine and learn and doesn’t cost anything except figuring out phone coverage for the hour.

This combo of being direct and not putting up with any crap from Jane and acting like a leader for the admins can help everyone here be more professional.
posted by jeoc at 5:39 AM on February 16, 2020 [38 favorites]

I was thinking as I read your question that Jane is just one of those difficult people to work with and your boss knew there were some issues, so you'd have to just let it play out, try to work more with Jane on her shortcomings (jeoc's scripts are perfect) and grin and bear it. And then I got to the following:

I have accidentally heard her mocking my accent (I have a strong southern accent) to the other women in the office (there are 5 of us altogether). I know I shouldn't care but it did hurt me.

Stop there, do not pass go, etc. This is workforce harassment, full stop. You need to sit down with Jane the next time you hear this (or now, if it was recent or is frequent) and tell her you heard it, tell her it hurts you, and ask her to stop. That's all. If it happens again it's time to go to your boss, who should be obligated, legally, to escalate to HR. The rest of it is just Jane sucking at her job, but that will work itself out separately, especially if your boss already knows.
posted by SquidLips at 6:33 AM on February 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I should add - I asked a previous question somewhat similar to yours, where I had a difficult co-worker and management was aware of the issues that I had raised.

The result? Said person no longer works there and I've been promoted twice since. All I had to do was keep my boss informed, play nice with the co-worker, and let them dig their own hole.
posted by SquidLips at 6:41 AM on February 16, 2020 [24 favorites]

You didn’t do anything wrong. I know office unpopularity can be really hard, but it’s not a sign of who’s right and who’s wrong. Better to have Norah and Lucinda respect you than to stay quiet just to get the office gossips on your side.

I bet your accent is lovely!
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 AM on February 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Wait, is Jane incompetent and trying to cover up, or competent but a toxic shithead?

I mean, you sound blameless either way, and the way forward is the same: do your stuff well, sail calmly onward, be honest with your boss when Jane gets better/worse, and throw some "Bless your hearts" like caltrops behind you.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:06 AM on February 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

I agree that you didn't do anything wrong, and the best way to deal with the others is through polite civility. They will get over themselves eventually.

If anyone says anything to your face, you could reply with something like "I tried multiple times to deal with her directly and didn't get anywhere, so I needed to take steps to make sure I could do my own job."

In your shoes, only if they escalate and especially if I thought it would get back to Jane, I might be tempted to add "She's just lucky I didn't go to HR about her harassment over my accent."
posted by rpfields at 8:01 AM on February 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Your boss asked you a direct question and you answered truthfully, confirming what she already knew—in no way is this “tattling.” Keep doing this! Frankly, they may be looking for reasons to get rid of Jane. Don’t lie to your boss, and if your coworkers ask you about it, all you need to say is your boss asked you a question and of course you had to tell the truth.

Your other coworkers will get over it eventually. Jane is spreading bitterness and that’s not your fault. Higher performers are not always the most popular and that can be lonely, but if you remain your friendly and professional self, they may realize they’re on the wrong team. I went through something like this and I sought out new office friends in different departments, and made sure I had a lot going on outside of work.

Yes, outlook or google calendar will solve your scheduling issues! As a bonus, it will leave a record of who said what when so Jane can’t misrepresent anything.

Retaliation and mocking your personal characteristics are NOT okay. These are serious offenses and you should keep a record of these things and share with hr or your boss if/when you’re comfortable doing so.
posted by kapers at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Admin can be so fucking toxic. Remind your coworkers that it's a WORK place and your boss asked you a question and you answered. Not your problem after that: let them know you'll tell your boss they were asking so she can schedule a time to go over it with them herself. That'll shut them up. And document everything the do in retaliation. It's always a huge shock to this kind of admin when they get disciplined because they feel they deserve special treatment but they are subject to the same rules as everyone else.
posted by fshgrl at 10:24 AM on February 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The accent thing is bad, but...your boss is her boss' boss? She's undercutting her boss by confirming meetings that do not appear on her boss' calendar. This is extremely bad, and her boss should be pissed. If you haven't done it already, I'd create a folder of copies of confirmations for the meetings that her boss didn't know about (or use tagging if you have it in your email client) so you don't have to go searching when the shit hits the fan, or if there's an opportunity to give your boss an accounting of the problem.

Don't feel bad about raising the level of professionalism, but in companies that have been around forever there will invariably be these pockets of slackers and it comes as no surprise that they're resistant to change. Just don't stick your neck out and take the role you're being forced into too far, making it your mission to straighten these people out or something.
posted by rhizome at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

I also don't understand why everyone is not cc'ed on these meeting invites. That seems like the way to go.
posted by fshgrl at 2:55 PM on February 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

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