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My team/role:

I'm part of a team of 6 (1 senior (myself) 3 'standard' and 2 junior/trainee) that would broadly be described as "data analysts" and we report to a 'Analytics Manager'. Our everyday work isn't really important to the question but we are essentially tasked with routine reporting, answering ad-hoc questions from business people using the information we have access to [1], and attending meetings to present results.

We have a fair amount of turnover in this team as there is often a route from junior/standard analyst into a more technical role in another department.

My situation now

Our newest hire, 'Jane' has been with us for about 18 months. She does good work but in that time I have become increasingly annoyed and unsettled with her. The problem is she seems to see everything in terms of "certain doom"... any meeting that gets called will bring bad news, she snoops on shared meeting room calendars (and free-busy information on personal calendars) to try to find out if anything is going on. "Who is in the same meetings? Sam from HR is showing as busy at the same time as our boss and Department Manager Hannah!" etc.)

Any time a meeting gets called with all of us Jane will comment something like "Oh, we're about to find out our fate...." She genuinely seems to be afraid or apprehensive about the meeting (not just psyching us out) as I have seen her numerous times shaking, unable to eat etc. ahead of what are actually routine, but last-minute meetings.

Even in the absence of meetings she will start speculating about the future of our team, like "I'm sure they are looking into ways it could be automated" or things like that. She's explicitly said she thinks our department has a max lifespan of 2-3 years so she's already planning what she'll do about being laid off. She gossips about meetings she's seen on the shared calendars like "'Resourcing review with John and Claire?' They must be looking to spend less on the XYZ project?" ...

Her most recent days off she said she was preparing her house for (selling) downsizing and so on.

In general any email, announcement, development that happens... she seems to go into it with the nuclear sense that "well, that's it! We're definitely all going to be laid off" and then when it doesn't happen - she persists with all of us with questions like "do you think so-and-so was lying?" "What did you make of what X said, is it plausible?" "well, they didn't say anything at this meeting but how can we tell whether that's genuine or they were just lying again?" etc.

It's exhausting.

I was upbeat about my role, and about the future of the company, but I'm starting to wonder if Jane is on to something.

I may be a 'senior' analyst but I don't have any management insight as in privileged information or anything like that.

Question: How should I approach the Jane situation? Can I speak to her directly (and with what?) or should I take it to management for example?

[1] as an example of the sort of thing we do: A product manager might ask "What % of customers who took up a new subscription as part of a retention offer cancelled it within 12, 24 and 36 months and what reason did they give for cancelling?" We don't have a standard report for that, but we know how to extract that info.

None of the "ad hoc requests" have had anything to do with the future viability of the company, as far as I can tell.

  • 12
    Do you have a question that we can answer? That's what this is here for. – thursdaysgeek Sep 11 at 22:23
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    Have you actually talked to her about why she thinks this way? – Chan-Ho Suh Sep 12 at 1:03
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    I am in a bit of a weird place of being seen by Jane (and probably others in the team) as sort of a proxy for management, but I'm actually just their peer with a more senior title which means that I do the more involved/unexpected/unusual requests, I have to spec out work tasks for the rest of the team if we receive an unclear requirement, etc. But I can see how the others see me as an 'authority' though I'm actually not! – C0ff3e Sep 12 at 19:44
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    I followed the question until but I'm starting to wonder if Jane is on to something. To me up until that point you seem to indicate that she's reading details from nothing - but then you mention she might be onto something. Is it that this behavior is wearing on your mental health or that you find some validity to these claims? – Chris Sep 12 at 21:50
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    @Chris I don't see any details that would suggest there's a problem, but she is so persistent and I'm not infallible... that I am now starting to doubt myself! – C0ff3e Sep 15 at 15:38
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There are two different answers.

The first is that "Jane" is likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by becoming ever more negative that she leaves, or is terminated, when there was absolutely nothing at all wrong with the business. I would tell her this immediately -- share with her whatever concerns, or lack thereof, that you may have.

The second is that "Jane" may eventually become such a drag on morale that she has just got to go. Share with her the emotional drag that she is creating on you, and how that is impacting your work and your productivity.

  • I agree with this, but I don't understand what you mean by saying there are two different answers. The two points are similar and could be combined. – Chris Sep 12 at 17:25
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    @Chris - Not really. A person can be privately neurotic and not affect anyone else. Someone else can be a morale-killer without believing THEY are going to get axed. – Julie in Austin Sep 12 at 19:08
  • Sure, but both things could happen, why not bring up both points in the discussion? It sounds like you're saying OP should decide for one option. Or do you have any advice which one should be used? – Chris Sep 21 at 23:06
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This won’t change until either you tell her, or she is laid off.

Meet with her and talk to her. Tell her that her continuous moaning gets on everyone’s nerves, that she is wasting time instead of being productive, and that if she doesn’t stop, you will talk to your line manager to get rid of her because if her effect on the team.

Then whenever she comes up with these things you tell her loudly in front of everyone that she is interfering with the team’s morale instead of doing her work, and ask her to remember what you said about her position.

  • I'm going to add that Jane may need professional counselling, here. This behavior is symptomatic of childhood neglect, (but not necessarily the cause). She probably needs to get some help. Ask HR about how to best handle this. – Wesley Long Sep 12 at 15:40
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    @WesleyLong Yes. "Ask HR" is the answer. "Tell her" is not. – Alex M Sep 13 at 22:21
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An important consideration when thinking about Jane's attitude is that she has likely formed her current beliefs based on things that she has observed in her past. Layoffs are traumatizing. Even if you aren't laid off, it can be traumatic to see your peers or friends get laid off.

For some people, this sort of trauma creates fear or anxiety. Anyone who has lived a typical adult life can probably relate to that - I know I can, and even in a sense to Jane's disposition. I've worked for employers that did mass layoffs, and it had me at my wit's end for a long time afterwards.

That leaves you with a practical question: what can you do about it?

Ultimately, before answering that question, it's important to answer the fear itself. The thing is, Jane has nothing solid to go on. Fear like this is built off conclusions that come from assumptions, not facts. Jane does not know for a fact if she is about to be laid off or not, and she probably never will actually know that. As data analysts, your whole team should be used to the idea that there is a difference between an assumption and a fact! Whenever I get nervous about "signs" that there may be danger in the company's future, I try to remind myself about that. There's no use getting upset about something that you don't - and can't - actually know is true.

And, being in a leadership position, when I have staff on my team that act similarly to Jane, I try to gently remind them of that. Of course, words can feel empty, so it's also a good step to take action rather than just speak words about what people should or should not be feeling. Jane may be a hard worker, but helping her tie those "clues" to actions she can take can be a big help in getting her to redirect her energy away from anxiety, and towards positive results.

In other words, when someone is constantly upset about something, sometimes all they need to do is focus on taking a small step towards acting on something related to that fear. Even if this doesn't change the outcome significantly, it can be good from a mental health perspective, since it engages your mind in a productive manner instead of letting your idle brain focus on fear.

  • If she complains that she thinks her job will be automated, maybe there are ideas she has that she can implement on her own to add value in ways that can't be automated. Automation should be a primary tool of a data analyst, not an enemy. Maybe she can automate portions of what she's already doing, to free up her time to focus more energy on the difficult problems that actually need a human brain.
  • If she thinks that the group will be dispersed because it isn't seen as valuable, maybe she can help by focusing on displaying value. People in "report generation" functions are easy to take for granted, even though their outputs may be critical to the business operation. Taking a few minutes each week to actively reach out to, and engage, business leaders or customers of your team can help keep you fresh in their minds, and if you're fresh in their minds you will be more likely to be seen as valuable.
  • If she is ultimately still afraid of being laid off, perhaps she can do her own analytics on the current job market (on her personal time, of course - not at work). Data analysts are in high demand right now. Talking to a recruiter or looking at open positions elsewhere may ease her mind, even if she isn't interested in jumping ship. If she does get laid off, there are almost certainly lots of companies that would be eager to have a skilled data analyst on staff, so she probably won't have as hard a time finding another job as she thinks.
  • On a similar note, it's always a good idea to stay current, as a way to keep yourself hire-able. Maybe she can spend some time learning new tools, or taking training classes, as a way to keep her resume fresh and up to date. This may even be something your current employer is interested in sponsoring, to help her contribute to her current work more effectively. But doing so may also ease her mind about getting re-hired if she is laid off, since she will have a more impressive resume.
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    I was going to say much the same thing, but I'm seeing it a little deeper. I'm betting Jane comes from a neglectful childhood. – Wesley Long Sep 12 at 15:39
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    I think this answer touches on an important thing that the others miss, which is that it may not be valid to assume that Jane is acting in an objective way. She appears to be exhibiting some anxiety and as the manager I think it's in your capability to improve that situation. – Chris Sep 12 at 21:53
  • When you have one person out of a group who constantly behaves in a way that's different than the group, I agree that it may need attention. A manager can't be responsible for Jane's attitude, but a manager may be able to offer coaching or suggestions that help Jane handle things better herself. – dwizum Sep 13 at 12:32
  • Interesting thoughts but ultimately there's nothing actionable in this answer for OP, who is not this person's manager. – Alex M Sep 13 at 22:21
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Sounds like if management would find out about that then 'Jane' might get her "prophecy" fulfilled for herself b/c she is creating toxic environment by demoralizing the team members. In lot of cases there is no good way to find out if your department and your role is going to be terminated up until you are called to HR. Even if some people on the team are getting terminated that doesn't mean that you would be affected (Office Space illustrated that perfectly when whole bunch of people got fired but Peter got promoted).

I personally hate such people and try to avoid them. If that doesn't work try to make clear that you don't want to be part of such conversation. Different approach would be try to support the person and might try to work out the issue or direct a person towards professional help. What approach to take is up to you. I think at this point you probably should enjoy your work, learn as much work related stuff as you can, keep track of your accomplishments and just in case keep resume updated.

On a side note it looks like somebody has a lot of free time so the can run analysis on the others people meetings, etc and might need more work.

  • +1 for Office Space reference – dan-klasson Sep 12 at 7:23
  • Actually I hadn't linked it to the movie 'Office Space' but I do know it. She is totally the type of the guy (can't remember his name, sorry!) who hears that they are getting consultants in to the company and says "Consultants! I told you! We're all screwed.." and probably works himself info another heart attack... – C0ff3e Sep 12 at 19:34
4

Talk to HR.

I would advise against talking to her yourself because you mentioned you're not her manager, just senior to her. It sounds like she's having major anxiety issues and could need help.

I have seen her numerous times shaking, unable to eat etc.

She might be having panic attacks at work and could need to see a professional.

This could even be nothing to do with work, she might be having financial issues or other trouble which could cause loosing her job to be devastating and causing her to obsess over it.

The best you can do is talk to HR (or her line manager) and tell them you're concerned for her and explain the reasons.

  • HR is not her friend. Don’t mark her as a troublemaker. – Mateusz Stefek Sep 16 at 23:32
  • I'm not saying mark her as a trouble maker I'm dying raise concerns about her well being. I do also mention one manager of another choice but it's really ops call on what the hr is like in his company. In my experience, they are there to help – Bee Sep 17 at 7:02
2

This happened at our company. But in our case we were the ones doing it. The remaining 3 people in our team after 15 were laid off. We did this as a coping mechanism, because yeah, morale gets destroyed when 90% of your area is laid off. But we learned to laugh it off. Our boss didn't like it, but she learned to laugh with us when she called us and we would answer "uuuuuuh", or "yeah this is it", "it was a pleasure programming with you guys".

Or when someone came in a little late we would say "dude we were worried about you, we thought you were fired!". It's a running joke in our area.

Joke's on us, as our boss quit last week and we're now REALLY worried about our future.

Sharing my anecdote because I don't find a question in your post. So I thought it may be amusing to share.

  • I've been in the same position before (project going badly, downsizing, people quitting, so it was just a matter of time until something happened). But that doesn't seem to apply to OP's team or project. – Llewellyn Sep 12 at 10:20
  • But this is not the case in the situation described in the initial post. In their case it looks like the person who's joined the last to the perfectly fine team is destroying the morale of everyone else. It doesn't look like somebody got even fired. It is just one person with a lot of time on their hand to crossreference all the calendars of the other people and then take that to support the idea of everyone is going to be fired. – AlexanderM Sep 12 at 14:44
2

I'm going to echo dwizum's suggestion that Jane isn't making up all of this off the top of her head, and it has to be coming from somewhere. Jane probably has some prior experience with being laid off or fired, and she probably sees some similar situations happening in her current environment to her past one(s) where she's had bad experiences.

The best thing you can do, both for you and for her, is to understand where she's coming from. What are those signs that she sees that she's worried about? Why does she think, when her direct manager and her section manager and HR are all busy at the same time, that they must be meeting together, and they must be talking about firing her? Obviously this is a fairly ridiculous leap of logic, as managers are busy all the time, so Jane probably has a reason for thinking this.

To put things into perspective for you, I had an experience once, where I was laid off, and I saw it coming from a mile away. I didn't voice my opinion to my colleagues like Jane is doing, but I figured out everything else and I had similar nervous tensions to how Jane must be feeling. Essentially, we had biweekly standups with the CEO of the company who told us on a regular basis how awesome we all were, how many clients and users we had, how much he was looking forward to various things, and so on, but as a developer I knew we (the whole dev team) was not providing value and our digital product, to be frank, sucked. Like, really sucked. Like, if I paid for this thing, I would be asking for a refund within 5 minutes sucked.

So there was a disconnect between what the CEO was saying and what I saw on the ground, and I was simply awaiting the day when I'd be pulled into the meeting with HR. And then one day I walked into the office and saw I had been scheduled for a meeting with my boss and HR; up to this point I'd had no reprimands or performance issues, but based on what I'd been seeing on the ground I knew things were not going well. Of course, I ended up being laid off in that meeting, along with at least 1 other developer, and 4 others followed shortly thereafter including some business people (the whole company was about 50 people, so 6 people is a sizeable loss).

Perhaps Jane is seeing something similar in your company to what I saw in mine, and if she's right then you should heed her warning. Maybe there is something to what she's saying and you should listen to her. Or at least, by listening to her you can maybe assuage some of her anxiety.

2

I saw a couple warning signals in your question:

I have seen her numerous times shaking, unable to eat etc. ahead of what are actually routine, but last-minute meetings.

and

Her most recent days off she said she was preparing her house for (selling) downsizing and so on.

This sounds like pretty clear evidence that Jane is experiencing some serious anxiety issues. This could be simply coming from an irrational fear of being laid off, or there could be deeper issues at play that we don't know about. Either way, it's clear that Jane needs help!

Here are a few suggestions for how to help Jane:

  • Try to be supportive of her work; she may simply be feeling underappreciated or discouraged, and a friendly word from a senior colleague could go a long way in helping her overcome this.
  • Try to rationalize with her that things aren't as bad as they seem. Reminding her of other unscheduled meetings that turned out to be innocuous might help.
  • Be careful in how you go about this if you choose to do this! If you feel close enough to her as a friend, it might be good to encourage her to seek professional help with her anxiety. Obviously, if you choose to do this you will need to find a way to do this discretely and respectfully so that she understands that your suggestion is coming out of a desire to help her and not to shame her in any way.

You mentioned that her attitude is starting to affect you. Here are a few suggestions for how to help yourself:

  • Don't focus on Jane's negativity. Remind yourself that you're great at what you do and keep on doing it! You didn't get your senior position for nothing! Talk to yourself and don't listen to Jane.
  • There's nothing wrong with telling Jane you would appreciate it if she didn't share he speculations about getting laid off with you (or the team). Don't say that they are causing you stress since this might give her some sense of validation and reinforce her irrational fears. Try simply saying something to the effect of, "Let's not get too focused on the 'what if's'. It's not healthy or productive, and we really don't have anything to worry about."
  • If things continue without improving after you've tried at least some of the above steps, then it is time to speak to Jane's manager (or possibly HR, but I would try Jane's manager first) about your concerns.
0
  • This needs to be taken to your common manager; if you have a good relationship with him, something like the following may help: "Hi, [Manager]. Jane is doing very good work, but she still a little nervous about her role and place in the company, and seems to be concerned about her future here. Maybe you could talk to her and plan some development with her.".

  • Talk to Jane: "I think you are over thinking the situation of the company. I don't see any real evidence that it's now worse than the last x years"

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