9

I am friends with a coworker who has confided in me that she and several other members of her team are being completely demoralized by another team member. I will call my friend Alice and the other team member Bob.

Alice is a tester in the group and Bob is a developer. Bob refuses to use the processes that have been put in place which prevents Alice from knowing what work needs to be done. When Alice tries to find other ways to be productive, Bob gets mad that she isn't doing tasks that he hasn't given her the resources to do. He slows down the project, causes errors, and generally prevents her and everyone else on the team from getting their work done. And to top it off he is long time friends with the team manager (lets say Eve), and so he tells Eve that everyone else is slacking. Eve is either too blind to see what is happening or doesn't care. Alice is so stressed out that she dreads coming into work because she will have to deal with Bob. This has been going on for almost a year.

Alice and one of the other members on her team have decided to look for new jobs. I totally support them on this, because they shouldn't have to work in such an environment. But it feels wrong to not fight back. Alice and her team members have contacted an ombudsman who advised them to A) speak to Eve, B) speak to the local ethics officer, or C) meet with HR. Alice doesn't feel that any of those people will be able to help, and has decided to just give up and get out.

My question is, should I contact HR/the ethics officer before they leave? I know if I told her I was going to do that, she would ask me not to for fear of retaliation. I don't worry about retaliation from those two people, but I worry that their actions will let Bob know that Alice told and he will just make life for her even worse.

The reason I want to speak out is that it doesn't seem fair that Alice and others leave because Bob sucks. I feel that it's bad for the company if a team like this dissolves. And I feel like if they leave without letting people know why, Bob will just continue to be awful to the next people who get hired.

I also don't know how much I should say. I would like to tell HR/ethics officer that the situation is serious enough that most of the team is going to jump ship, but I feel like that could again cause problems for Alice. How much should I reveal to cause action, without getting someone in trouble?

I would ask my mentor, but she is also long time friends with Bob and I don't know if I can trust it not to get back to Bob.

For context I am in a large company in the US. My team has never had issues like this and generally most people say they love working at this company and have been doing so for 30+ years. That's part of what makes this situation so upsetting.

15

Alice and her team members have contacted an ombudsman who advised them to A) speak to Eve, B) speak to the local ethics officer, or C) meet with HR. Alice doesn't feel that any of those people will be able to help, and has decided to just give up and get out.

Alice has decided that life is too short to deal with toxic stress-inducing people ("assholes") and came to the conclusion it's best to just move on, even though she does have other options in her current position.

Personally, I think this is a wise decision, but more importantly it's her decision, and a decision you should respect.

The reason I want to speak out is that it doesn't seem fair that Alice and others leave because Bob sucks. I feel that it's bad for the company if a team like this dissolves. And I feel like if they leave without letting people know why, Bob will just continue to be awful to the next people who get hired.

You could raise the issue in general terms (without naming specific people), but imagine how it sounds like to HR: "I heard from some people in that team that Bob is a bit of an asshole sometimes to the point that people are leaving because of him". What is HR supposed to do with that kind of hearsay? Even if they wanted to do something (like issue an official warning) they wouldn't be able to, as there is no clear specific incident to act on.

The only way is for Alice or her team members to raise specific issues to Eve, or, if that's not effective, Eve's manager. A specific issue would be "Bob expected be to do X, but I never knew! How can we make sure that doesn't happen again?"

Note that the language focuses on solving the issue. Bob's anger/asshole behaviour is inappropriate, but if there are no miscommunications then there are no reasons for him to get Angry, and that will solve the issue.

From the language of your post it sounds like Alice never did this, and just endured Bob's behaviour for a year up to the point she's fed up with it. That was a mistake, and a lesson for her next job. There is nothing wrong with bringing these sort of miscommunication issues to management, especially not if you're constructive about it like in the phrasing I used above.

2

Not your problem

Alice is an adult. She has spoken with an ombudsman, who appears to have given her good advice.

Whether she acts on that advice is her problem, not yours.

Bob is Eve's problem, not yours. If Eve isn't doing her job, that's her boss's problem (again, not your problem).

2

1) In theory, if your company is as big/old as you say it is, then Alice will probably have an exit interview when she hands in her resignation. At that time she will have the opportunity to talk about Bob without fear of repercussion (she's already quit; there's nothing they can do to her). Let her say what she wants to say, not you.

2) Presumably Alice isn't the only one who sees Bob as counterproductive. Assuming your company has productivity metrics, then presumably Bob's name has been dropped once or twice in those sorts of meetings. If the company chooses to keep Bob around despite knowing these things about him, they're digging their own grave. You shouldn't feel sorry for the company or feel sorry for Alice's team or anything about Bob. Rather, the feeling you should get is "Bob is the type of person who this company wants to hire, retain, and promote. Do I really want to be here myself or should I follow Alice out the door?" Companies that hire ad retain people like Bob all eventually get what's coming to them, given enough time.

3) Regarding Bob making trouble for whoever comes in to replace Alice, then that person will quit too. Eventually someone is going to ask the question: "Everyone on Bob/Eve's team is quitting, except Bob/Eve. I wonder what's causing them to quit?" and quickly come to the realization that it's Bob/Eve's fault, and that's where the story will end. That, and/or (because these two options are not mutually exclusive) Alice and those who quit with her will post reviews of the company on places like Glassdoor. Personally speaking, whenever I join a new company, I always look at Glassdoor reviews of that company, and if I see any red flags I definitely take notice. I have declined interviewing with companies before simply on the basis of the fact that their Glassdoor score is too low, and presumably most good developers who can go anywhere they want do something similar. So eventually this company will only be able to hire people who are desperate, not people who are good, and you know what happens then (see point 2 above).

4) As for what you should do, nothing. Consider your own situation and decide whether to follow Alice out the door. Once you've made that decision, you shouldn't do anything else. Let the chips fall where they may.

1

Well, let's start by getting this out of the way:

HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

The matter is already resolving itself and if you go to HR, you will achieve NOTHING other than earning the ire of Bob, Eve, HR and your mentor. It will look like you were the one who instigated the exodus of Alice and her coworker.

You will be slapped with the labels of "not a team player", and "instigator".

Honestly, if something like that happened anywhere I had influence, I'd be pushing to find reasons to let you go, and I'd find one. Employee handbooks are huge for a reason.

Everyone involved is presumably an adult. It is not your job to play hall monitor and report on your coworkers. Let the matter drop and let the chips fall where they may.

Yes, it's unfair. So is life.

Don't meddle in the affairs of others.

  • 6
    this is the most depressing look at how humans work I've read. I'm not sure why you would want to fire someone who was sticking their neck out to support the company, or why you would take the side of a bad manager. people in good companies will have a very different reaction I think. – bharal Nov 2 '18 at 20:12
  • @bharal So, you'd support someone who would disrupt a team and going behind a person's back as opposed to addressing the matter like an adult? – Retired Codger Nov 2 '18 at 22:01
  • 4
    i completely agree with @bharal on this one. Why would a Manager fire someone that is trying to bring something to their attention that is impacting the morale of the team? That makes no sense and is certainly not the sort of working culture I would want to be a part of. – Time4Tea Nov 2 '18 at 22:07
  • @Time4Tea because this person is not asking about going to the manager, but to HR. If the person brought it to MY attention, I wouldn't look to fire them, which is why I started with HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND as opposed to MANAGERS ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND – Retired Codger Nov 2 '18 at 22:15
  • 4
    So, you would fire someone for bringing up a concern with HR? That is still an extreme and negative attitude. In my company (large multinational), we have rules prohibiting retaliation for someone raising a concern, and you, the Manager, would likely end up getting fired for that. Personally, I think it is very important to set up a culture where people feel they can raise concerns freely, without fear of retaliation. – Time4Tea Nov 3 '18 at 12:50
1

Let Alice do what she wants. She’s going to make up her mind anyway. Maybe she will feel better starting fresh rather than staying with a company that supports an abusive co-worker. It’s good to support her and let her know she isn’t doing anything wrong.

Do you have team meetings to discuss projects? What happens during those meetings?

I recommend you take initiative to discuss processes on a team level with the angle that, as a team, you can do better. Make the case that your aim is to revisit the processes within the team, to clarify what they are as a group because there have been some questions or misunderstandings — don’t say by whom — and it’s causing miscommunication or performance issues, or whatever business reasons make sense. Explain that the goal is to make sure the processes are being followed, to make sure everyone is clear on the processes, to make sure everyone understands why they are important, that it’s important that missed opportunities for improvement and efficiency aren’t missed. Ask in the meeting what to do if processes aren’t being followed. Rinse and repeat until it’s clear that Bob is not cooperating.

tl;dr: Focus on the fact that the processes aren’t being followed, and not on the issue that Bob is a jerk.

  • I think you can say that there have been misunderstandings without being specific once or twice but if after two meetings Bob is still doing the wrong thing and you bring it up again, Eve is going to ask who is still having trouble. I think that if the OP says anything, this is the best way to go about it. I just think repeating runs the risk of being pressured to name names. Hopefully, the answer to what to do if the process isn't followed prevents 'rinse and repeat' from even being necessary. – BSMP Nov 5 '18 at 18:04
  • @BSMP Basically after the first meeting, or the 2nd or third time it’s discussed, it’s brought up that at the last discussion, ABC processes were outlined, no one had questions, but they are still not being followed. The meetings are to understand why. If asked for an example, they say Bob did X but he should have done R. Then they ask Bob why he did R in this case. The point is to make it less personal, Bob is being a jerk, and more action based, Bob is not following process despite repeated discussions. – user70848 Nov 6 '18 at 22:17
  • they say Bob did X but he should have done R Sure, but the only reason the OP knows that Bob did X is because Alice told them, which could lead to Bob retaliating against Alice. – BSMP Nov 7 '18 at 6:42
  • @BSMP He could, but it seems like his method of retaliation is to not follow process...but Bob agreed to follow the process. So if he retaliates in this way, it only strengthens Alice’s argument that processes are not being followed. Bob becomes his own example. – user70848 Nov 9 '18 at 3:02
  • But Alice isn't the one making the argument, the OP is. Alice has very explicitly rejected the option to go to her manager or HR and OP knows that Alice is afraid of retaliation. I thought part of the point of this answer was to respect Alice's decision that she didn't want to be involved in bringing it up at all. – BSMP Nov 9 '18 at 6:12
1

I agree to an extent with some of the other answers that say 'it isn't your problem'. That is true - it is the Manager's problem to solve. However, if this is happening in the team you are working in, and it is impacting morale, then it is affecting you, and I think you should be entitled to raise it as a concern.

I think it depends to some extent on the culture of the company you work for, and how approachable 'Eve' is, as a Manager. If 'Bob' is doing his job badly and it is dragging down the whole team, then in the ideal scenario, 'Eve' would be an approachable (and smart) Manager and would welcome any concerns being raised about issues that could negatively affect the team. If that is the case, then I would recommend having a private chat with Eve about your concerns. If you do that, don't name anyone else except 'Bob' (so that you don't implicate 'Alice' or anyone else). Basically, approach it from the point-of-view that you are concerned about some of Bob's methods and you feel it is having a negative effect on the team. Provide some examples to show the sorts of problems you perceive him to be causing.

Then leave it at that - you will have done all you can and it's now up to 'Eve' to decide what to do about it. If 'Alice' and the other person do leave, then that may substantiate what you were saying and cause 'Eve' to look more closely at what 'Bob' is doing, which may help in the long run.

However, again, it depends on the company culture. In the company I work for (a large multinational), there are rules in place that prohibit retaliation against anyone, just for raising a concern to their Manager or HR. Most professional companies take the view that part of ensuring a healthy and productive workplace is making sure that people can raise any concerns freely, without fear of punishment.

However, your company may not work like that, in which case you should be more cautious. Only you can be the judge of that.

0

At my place, we have a daily standup meeting. If I was Bob and behaved as he does (and I very much hope I do), then I very much hope that Alice would say "I've finished testing ABC, but now I am stuck because XYZ is supposed to be tested next, and Gnasher hasn't delivered anything yet". And then my boss would ask my why that is and I better have a good reason.

And our "process" is very simple: I build and upload a version ready for testing, and assign all tasks/bugs that are supposed to be done/fixed in this version to Alice (or to the QA lead, who will then assign it to others). Anything I didn't assign to them cannot be tested because it's not included in the version that QA has.

My boss Eve (no, his name isn't Eve) doesn't have to take anyone's word for anything. If I didn't assign things to QA then QA is told they cannot test it. If I assigned things incorrectly that are not done/fixed, then QA wastes a bit of time and will report bugs.

What Alice and her colleagues should do: Whenever Bob causes trouble, send an email to Eve, describing as objective as possible what trouble Bob causes, and asking Eve what to do about that. Obviously keep copies of emails and responses. If Eve receives daily emails like that, maybe she takes some decent action. If not, her manager might take action. And since Alice and colleagues feel they are on their way out, there's not that much risk involved.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.